The Saints

Page 40

Sam dared to look up. Other masked parents had appeared on the roofline. They moved toward Sam’s father.

“Goddamnit, we’ve given you everything you wanted,” Sam’s father said. “This stops now. One of our men, a good man, died yesterday in Colorado Springs trying to get your precious above-ground pool. Killed by a pack of teens.”

“Waaaah,” Gates said, imitating a baby’s cry.

“This has gone far enough, you little—”

His mom approached his father on the roof, sunlight glaring off her lilac helmet. She touched his arm, talking him down the way she always did when he got like this. Seeing her gentle way here, in McKinley, was too much for Sam to handle. Sam felt his eyes get hot, grow wet, and overflow. He was crying. Sam didn’t cry, he hadn’t cried since grade school. An easy breeze made the tear streams go icy on his cheeks.

“If you’d just give us another chance, we could all work together, and figure this out,” Sam’s mother said without amplification. Her voice was small and sounded far away.

“Oh, you want us to work now?” Gates said.

Gates pulled a yellow metal box cutter out of his pocket and held it up for Sam’s mother to see. He extended the triangle of razor blade out of the box cutter’s handle with a push of his thumb. Then he began to cross back toward Sam, box cutter in hand. Sam let out a fearful grunt that was muffled by the tape over his mouth. His legs shook uncontrollably. Sam knew Gates was out of options, a message had to be sent, the only thing that would make an impression was to go to town on Sam like he’d never done before. Mutilation beyond recognition. It’s what Sam would have done.

“No, Jason, don’t!” Sam’s mother shouted.

His father pushed his mother away, and she fell back. He flipped his motorcycle helmet visor up. He pulled a rifle up from the ground, and laid the long black barrel over the razor wire.

Instant screams erupted from the crowd, and people scattered. They ran for the exits.

The rifle cracked. Sam jumped. Dirt kicked up beside Gates’s feet. Sam’s father lifted the rifle for a reload. An empty casing ejected from the gun and spun down three floors to land in the quad.

“You stay away from my boy, you bastard!”

Never in his life had Sam heard his father express that sort of emotion about him. He stared up in shock as the Saints ran for cover, leaving Sam alone, unguarded. His father pulled the rifle butt up to his shoulder and leveled the sights at Gates.

“Run, boy!”

Sam didn’t hesitate. He obeyed his father’s command at once. It felt like old times. He took off, running as fast as he could with his hands bound behind him. Sam dodged. He weaved. His father kept firing. Nobody was trying to grab him, they were running for their lives. Sam worked his way through the chaotic crowd, and escaped into the hall. Every gunshot he heard told him how wrong he’d been.

His father loved him after all.



Will pulled open the closet door. Empty. They were in the middle of a mad search for Sam, in a first-floor classroom that smelled like rotten milk.

Pruitt ran into the room, clutching a rifle that he’d fashioned into a club. The barrel was wrapped in athletic tape for grip.

“No sign of him in this hall,” Pruitt said. “I checked all the lockers.”

Gates punched the blackboard nearby, and Will was surprised to see it crack.


“Gates, calm down,” Will said, keeping his voice as measured as he could. “We’ll find Sam, and everything’ll be fine. There’s only so many places he can hide.”

Gates started pacing and muttering to himself.

“You know what Sam would do if he was in our place? He’d get on the PA,” Will said. “He’d have P-Nut giving news updates until there was nowhere left to hide. Let’s get every gang organized. I mean, we’re all in this together, right?”

“Nobody else gets him,” Gates said. “Sam belongs to me.”

Pruitt crossed the room. “Listen to Will, he’s making sense …”

Will felt huge relief that he and Pruitt were on the same side of this.

Pruitt continued. “It doesn’t matter who captures Sam—”

“I want him!” Gates said, squaring off to Pruitt. “I want that motorcycle helmet fuck up there to see exactly what happens when he crosses me!”

“What are you gonna do?” Will said.

Will looked to Pruitt whose forehead was crinkling with concern.

“You can’t kill him,” Pruitt said.

“I can,” Gates said. “Right in front of their eyes. They’ve had it coming for too long.”

“Get a grip, Gates,” Pruitt said, walking toward him, using his size to get his point across. “Those adults up there are not the same adults that made our life miserable before. It’s only gotten this bad because you took it too far!”

Gates’s eyes were crazy. “How can you possibly be on their side in this?”

“I’m not on their—”

“They’re evil, Pruitt! Adults are the enemy. You know this! Why aren’t you furious?!”

Pruitt wanted to answer, but Gates didn’t give him a chance.

“You know what they did! They told my baby brother they would take him to safety. The military said they’d protect him—”

“That’s not how it—”

“You were there, Pruitt! That soldier shot Colton in the head!”

Pruitt threw his rifle across the room in a rage and it clattered against the wall. It made Will jump. He didn’t know what to say or how to help ease the situation. This was something he wasn’t a part of. Pruitt pushed Gates, who stumbled back to the blackboard, confused.

“You’re right!” Pruitt said. “I was there. Except what I remember doesn’t match this story that you like to tell people.”

Pruitt loomed over Gates so completely that Gates had nowhere to look but up into Pruitt’s shaggy beard.

“And I can’t stand to listen to you keep lying,” Pruitt said. “I don’t care if Will’s here. Let him hear this. He needs to hear this.”

“What are you talking about?” Gates said, shrinking.

“You, me, and Colton were out scavenging in that subdivision. What was it called?”

“Deerlake …”

“Deerlake, right!” Pruitt said. “Then, we saw one soldier. In a haz-mat suit. You remember that?”

Gates shook his head. “There was a mobile unit. It was picking up infected—”

“No, Gates! There was one soldier. He saw us and ran. We couldn’t let him get away, he’d come back for more. So we went after him.”

Will watched Gates closely. He blinked like his eyes were on fire. His cheeks trembled with his lips.

“No, that’s not how I …,” Gates said. He shook his head continuously.

“You and Colton were always faster than me. The three of us split up, and searched all around that neighborhood. And when I caught up with you behind that big yellow house, someone came running around from the side yard and you shot, and he went down.”

“That’s not what happened,” Gates muttered.

Gates was clutching his long hair. His eyes were flared wide, like he was seeing the whole scene play in front of him. He was breathing in soft pants. Will stared, speechless.

“You were a mess when you saw Colton on the ground. You couldn’t talk, nothing. And I didn’t blame you. That’s why I told you to go back to camp. Somebody had to bury him, and you were too out of it,” Pruitt said.

Gates was sobbing now, moaning and covering his face. His long white hair draped over his hands.

“When I got back to the others and heard you’d told them all that a soldier shot Colton when he’d tried to turn himself in, I went along with it,” Pruitt said. “Because it was an accident and it only would have hurt morale if they knew. But somewhere along the way, you started believing your lie.”

Pruitt put his big hand on Gates’s shoulder and shook him. Gates still covered his face, shaking underneath.

“I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to face it and move on. You shot your brother, Gates. You killed Colton.”

Gates screamed. He pulled something out of his pocket and jabbed it into Pruitt’s gut. Pruitt stumbled back with a groan. Gates charged the giant and tackled him to the ground. Will could feel the impact through his sneakers when Pruitt’s heavy body hit the floor. Gates and Pruitt grappled. Pruitt couldn’t move as fast as Gates, who slipped behind Pruitt and wrapped him in a headlock.

Will moved toward them. “Guys, stop it. We should be—”

Will stopped short when he saw what Gates had hit Pruitt with—the yellow box cutter he’d threatened to use on Sam in the quad. He dug the triangular blade into Pruitt’s left temple and dragged it across his forehead, just under his hairline. Pruitt howled. Will jumped back in horror and fell over a nearby chair.

Gates dug his fingers into Pruitt’s open wound, and the giant screamed louder. Gates’s hooked fingers bulged under Pruitt’s skin. He tightened his grip on Pruitt’s scalp and pulled. The wound opened like a mouth. The underside of Pruitt’s scalp was a red, wet carpet of nerves without skin. The exposed cranium below was ivory white. Pruitt’s scream went silent. He must have been in shock. When Will looked back, he saw Pruitt squirming on the floor, trying to hold his loose flap of scalp on.

Will stood up and bolted for the door, but Gates jumped into his path. He held the box cutter up, pointing it at Will. Pruitt’s blood dripped from Gates’s hand. Will put his hands up and backed away from the blade.

“Don’t do this, Gates,” Will said. “Whatever’s going on we can—I don’t know, man. It doesn’t have to go like this.”

Gates looked at the blood-smeared box cutter in his hand, then back to Will. Pruitt groaned low. Gates’s face was red from strain, his cheeks were inflated and spit bubbles percolated at his lips. Will kept one eye on the open door twelve feet behind Gates, waiting, hoping, praying that someone would walk past.

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