“Don’t really got time to stop and get cookies, Silver,” Jax says, and I ignore him and head inside the small shop, and just what I thought, an older gentlemen is behind the counter.
“I was wondering if you know anything about a church in town being up for sale?” I ask him, and he nods.
“If you take a right out of the parking lot and go about four miles then go over the train tracks, past Lord’s Jewelry, you’ll see it on the left. Someone bought it about three weeks ago, and they’ve been having work done to it.”
“Anytime,” he tells me, and I lift my chin then head out front.
“Church is down across the tracks on the left. I say one of us goes down and checks the area then comes back with intel, just to make sure we don’t need any back-up.”
“On it,” Mic says, taking off towards the church.
“You got any info?” I ask Jax.
“Uncle Nico says River and Snake are not related. They grew up in foster care together, and that’s why we didn’t know about him. Seems like River is Snake’s muscle.”
“Jesus,” I say, and I hear Mic before I see him. He pulls up close on his bike and doesn’t even shut it down before he starts to talk.
“Church parking lot is empty, and the doors have chains locking them closed. Across the street are some houses, and I saw a woman out front in her garden. She said this morning a van had pulled up, and a couple men took some stuff inside, but it’s been quiet since then.”
“Let’s go check it out.”
I look at Ellie then at the piece of wood I’m still holding in my hands. We didn’t find anything else, but I did find a hole in the roof. It’s small, but I think that with how weak it is, we can chip away at it, hopefully making it large enough to fit through.
“Hold this,” I tell Ellie, handing her the two-by-four. I go to where the hole is and peek through. The sun is setting, and I can see—at least from where I’m looking—it appears we’re in the forest. I press on the wood, and it bends slightly at my touch. I don’t know who has us, or if they are around so I don’t really want to make a lot of noise. I hold onto the beams in the ceiling where the wall pitches downward and put my foot to the wood, pressing hard, and my foot goes through the roof.
“Oh, my God!” Ellie whispers, and I stop what I’m doing to look at her, wondering if she heard someone coming.
“What?” I whisper back.
“I can’t believe I didn’t try that,” she says, and I almost want to laugh at the look on her face, but I don’t; I just turn around and press my foot a little higher. This time, more of the roof crumbles enough that I can stick my head out, which I do cautiously then look around. We’re about two stories up, but until we get out, we won’t know if there is a way down.
“I don’t know if there’s going to be a way for us to get down, but I would rather be on the roof than in here waiting for them when they come back.”
“Me too,” she agrees, holding the two-by-four a little tighter in her grasp.
I use my sweatshirt over my hands to pull more of the roof off. I know that if this spot is so weak that I can do this, then there must be others in the same shape, so once we’re out, we’re going to have to be very careful not to fall through. “I’m going to get out first, then you’re going to follow me and only put your body where I put mine. The roof is weak, and there is a chance we could fall through if we’re not super cautious.”
“Okay,” she agrees, and I push out through the opening, using my arm strength to lift myself out. I look around to make sure no one’s below then stick my head back in the hole.
“Come on.” I hold my hand out to Ellie, and she hands me the two-by-four. I set it aside then help lift her out onto the roof. Once she’s out, we both lean back against the shingles. I grab her hand and give it a squeeze. “If anything happens and one of us is able to get away, we go for help, okay?”
“I won’t leave you behind,” she says, shaking her head.
“It’s not about either of us leaving the other behind, but about getting help if we need to,” I tell her, and she looks away then squeezes my hand back.
“Fine,” she says after a long moment. I nod, turn onto my belly, and start to slide across the roof. It’s steep, and I know that one wrong move could have me tumbling to the ground. When we make it to the side of the house, I see there are wire cages set up. It takes a moment for me to realize what I’m looking at. Hundreds of dogs are stacked one on top of the other in two rows for about twenty feet. My stomach begins to turn with rage. I know these dogs are probably either fighting dogs, or it’s a puppy mill.
“Can we use the cages to get down that way?” Ellie asks in a hushed tone, and I look at her, shaking my head.
“The dogs will all flip out if we try, and if someone’s around, they will come to see what’s causing the dogs to go nuts,” I whisper, and she looks over me, down to the ground, then back towards the way we came.
“Maybe there is something on the other side.”
“Yeah,” I agree, and she leads us in the other direction. Halfway there, her foot goes through the roof, and she covers her mouth before a scream can leave it.
“It’s okay; just go slow,” I assure her when her body freezes and begins to shake. She closes her eyes then opens them before moving again, this time more cautiously. I follow behind her as she slides over the hole, and I do the same. The roof pitches at a steeper angle, almost like we’re completely vertical. I look down and cringe when I see how far we are from the ground.
“Don’t look down,” Ellie hisses, grabbing my hand. I bite my lip then follow her to a ledge near where the roof changes angles. “Someone’s here,” Ellie says, peeking around a corner of the roof. “It’s the guy who took me,” she whimpers, with fear evident in her voice. I hold her hand and she scoots back toward me.
“What is he doing?” I ask, looking around and noticing we are surrounded by forest on all sides.
“Taking dog food out of his truck,” she says, disgusted.
“Did you see a way down?”
“No, I didn’t really look though, ’cause he’s there and I didn’t want him to see me.”
“Our only other option is to wait until it’s dark, hope they don’t come to check on us, make our way down the side the cages are on, and then make a run for it,” I tell her.