I listened for any signs that the thugs had been alerted, but I heard nothing. I decided to spend some time to imprison the Boss and quickly pulled out my knife. I cut his jacket and shoved a large wad in his mouth, then cut strips and bound both hands and ankles. He was out cold the whole time, but you never know how long something like that is going to last. I dragged him behind the desk and climbed the couch to stare out the window.
Tying up the Boss was meant to buy me time, but I still had to move quickly. I had no idea where I was, or how long it would take to get to a safe location. I thought about trying the mystery door behind the desk, but based on my limited knowledge of the building, I was guessing it did not lead outside.
Outside the window was a asphalt expanse, baking in the afternoon sun. I would have to run to a chain-link fence about twenty-five yards away, scale the fence and disappear before anyone spotted me. It was risky, but I had a gun, and I could fight.
The window was stiff and I thought I might have to break it, but after a few jolts I was able to pull it open. Cautiously I looked out. No one in sight. I pulled myself up and over the ledge, dangling my legs and finally dropping to the ground, hot against my bare feet. Immediately I turned and flattened myself against the wall, but nothing moved, no alarms sounded, and no gunshots rang out.
I took a deep breath, checked for thugs one last time, and sprinted away from the wall, leaping at the fence and climbing as fast as I could. All I could hear was my breath and the motion of the fence, and it would do no good to look back, so I really had no idea if I had been spotted as I threw a leg over the top, found my footing then threw another leg over. The top of the fence scraped my leg, and I didn’t quite get the foot hold I had expect and went tumbling down from the top, landing on my back.
I rolled over and sprinted away, searching for shadows to hide me. I found them across a street next to another old warehouse, but I didn’t stop there. Instead, I ran darting behind dumpsters and trash, turning corners and splashing through puddles of dirty liquid that I would have to gag about later.
I ran hard for ten minutes, winding through industrial areas haphazardly, until my body demanded I slow down and rest. I had been straining to hear a pursuit, but as far as I could tell, I’d escaped unnoticed. Still, I found a dark, locked doorway to rest in and held my gun ready in case I had any surprise visitors.
None came. As my breathing calmed I reconstructed my flight in my mind, trying to place myself geographically. I was not safe here. As soon as I was found to be missing they’d come for me, and on foot, I wouldn’t get far. Moreover, I didn’t know who was under the influence of the Boss. He could have control over more than just the warehouse. I needed to get back to Ethan. We needed to get the rest of Sheagul’s work and then we needed to destroy the rest so no one else could come after it. We needed to take down the Boss. I knew I could trust Ethan. History suggested I couldn’t count on anyone else. Well, except Randy. He was pretty reliable, but I didn’t want to involve him anymore if I could help it.
This was not a location I had been in before (not surprisingly), but I was guessing it was the next town east from home. This town contained the dirty working industrial sector that supported the cleaner, pretty town that Sheagul had deemed a good hiding place for his life’s work. I wondered that someone who was such a genius could think it was a good idea to leave dangerous information to a high school, no matter how difficult it was to find.
That didn’t matter now. What did matter, was that I was at least ten miles from safety, in enemy territory, dressed like a beat up prostitute, and shoeless. I had a gun and a knife, and I was no slouch at hiding, but I needed to contact Ethan somehow, and quickly.
I never remember a time when payphones were common. Oh sure, when I was a kid, I saw them here or there, but more often than not, they didn’t work, and no one had bothered to fix them because they never got used anyway. Still in moments like this, I tend to begrudge the removal of such historically important artifacts, since I didn’t have a cell phone and I really needed to make a phone call.
Well, a phone wasn’t going to drop out of the sky standing in this doorway. I needed to move. Based on my best guess it was close to 5 o’clock in the evening, which meant, workers would be heading home. The increased traffic could be beneficial in that it would offer me a choice of cell phones to steal, but I would have to expose myself to potential enemies to do so. I needed to find a busy street.
As expected, I started hearing and seeing more activity on the streets as I traveled, and at first avoided everyone I saw. I kept to side alleys and stayed in the shadows, until I ran into a major street that separated the warehouse district from a rundown business sector. If I’d had shoes and makeup to cover my bruises, I could have walked down the street almost unnoticed, but I didn’t want to draw undue attention, so I headed left, parallel to the major road until I saw what I was looking for.
The bus stop was nothing large, a bench next to the bus sign which was covered in graffiti. Trash piled up under the bench and the concrete was stained in a way that made you want to cover your nose even before you were close enough to smell it. A bus had just left, but three people still occupied the stop. That was good. It was used by multiple buses, which meant plenty of people.
Within five minutes three more people showed up, and a couple more after that. They all sat and stood lifelessly trying their hardest to ignore each other. It was time to make my move.
I walked purposefully up to the stop and stood behind the bench, where it was less likely that anyone would notice my lack of footwear. Now to find an accessible phone. In this day and age everyone has a phone and when they are trying to avoid any contact with the humans surrounding them, they pull out their phones and pretend to be totally enthralled by them. Three people sat on the bench an older gentleman talking on his phone, a middle-aged woman holding her purse tightly in her lap, and a younger woman texting. The other five stood, four of them with phones in front of their faces, unlikely to put them away soon. I couldn’t see a phone on the fifth man. It probably existed, but I didn’t want to get caught looking too closely.
I’d have to bet on the older gentlemen. Hopefully his conversation would end and I could take the phone from wherever he put it. I wished Ethan was here. This was his expertise not mine. Another commuter joined us, coming to stand near me in the back. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him glance down towards my feet then glance quickly away. Slowly he shuffled a few steps further from me and when he did I saw what I needed. Sticking out of his pocket was a phone, begging to be stolen.
I waited until a bus was visible, heading our way. One of the sitters stood and I casually walked by the man, slipping the phone from his pocket as I did so. He didn’t notice. Then I blatantly took the seat recently occupied, crossing my leg and kicking my bare foot restlessly as if it was the most normal thing in the world to wait for a bus shoeless. I hoped the man would get on this bus, and I was in luck. He gave me a sidelong glance before stepping onto the bus.
I pretended to be enthralled with the phone just like the rest of them. Only two other people were left. They kept their distance. The phone was password protected, but that was easy enough to override, and I quickly typed Ethan’s number in and sent him a text message.
Huntington and Westfield. ASAP. J
Once the message had sent, I put the phone down next to me and acted bored. Another traveler came and sat down. I stood to study the almost unreadable bus schedule, then casually walked away, disappearing back down an alley as soon as possible. Hopefully the man would realize his phone was missing and find it before someone else stole it. Or a Good Samaritan would take it and track him down. He could only assume when it was found, that it had fallen from his pocket at the bus station. What he would make of the random text message, I didn’t know. By then I would be long gone.
Huntington and Westfield were the cross roads a quarter of a mile from here. I’d seen it on the map at the bus station. Ethan should have no problem figuring this out. If everything went smoothly, he should easily make it to the intersection within an hour, but for now, all I could do was wait. The intersection in question had a fairly new drug store on one corner, a partially abandoned strip mall opposite, and office buildings on the others, one well maintained, the other outdated with dingy windows and brown weeds at its base. I chose this building as shelter while I kept my vigil.
My vantage point was not on the corner of the intersection, but back where the driveway to the parking lot entered the street. A good number of cars were still in the process of exiting the lot for the day, so I stayed behind the dumpster out of sight. By the time an hour had passed the parking lot was all but empty and most the dingy windows were dark. The sun had set and twilight was quickly settling in for the evening, which I found particularly comforting, since night provided the perfect cover and I’ve never been afraid of the dark. I left the cover of the dumpster, thankful to be away from the smell and waited by the wall of the building, watching the entire intersection.
A few people passed on the sidewalk twenty feet away. Most didn’t even notice me. The darkness continued to grow and there was still no sign of Ethan. I was in another waiting game, this time entirely at the mercy of my partner, and I had no idea where he was or what he was doing or if he was in trouble or out halfway across the world looking for me in—I don’t know—Morocco or something. I couldn’t think of any reason why he’d look for me in Morocco, but the exhaustion and adrenaline were leading my mind on rapid scenario changes. My focus was gone.
Darkness had fully enveloped the street, leaving the glare of the rhythmic traffic lights hypnotizing when a car I didn’t recognize approached slowly, passed through the intersection and continued on. I almost didn’t notice it, but a few minutes later it was back, perpendicular to its last path. Again, it drove through the intersection and slowly disappeared. Could this be Ethan? Could it be the Boss?
It would be cosmically unlucky if the Boss had somehow found the phone I used, realized it was me and tracked me down to this intersection. It couldn’t be him. On the other hand, perhaps he and his minions were just scoping out all the major intersections near the warehouse. Of course, they wouldn’t know which direction I would go, but they could have been asking around about a shoeless, bruised, scantily dressed girl.
The car in question drove by again, slowly again, and I tried to see in the windows, but it was too dark. It stopped at a red light, then continued on, pulling off into the shoulder 500 yards beyond the intersection. The engine turned off, but no one got out. This car clearly had an undue interest in the intersection, and I could think of no reason why my enemies would be drawn here. The car could just be an old man waiting for his wife to finish up in the drug store too, but I really couldn’t hide here all night.
Quickly—probably too quickly to seem natural—I exited my shadowy wall and strode down the sidewalk. If it was the grandpa waiting for granny at the drug store I could walk past casually enough, but I had to hope it was Ethan and get to him before he decided I’d moved on.
My bare feet had stiffened while I waited. I hadn’t noticed the pain of running and walking barefoot before. The adrenaline had wiped it away, but now I flinched at each step, annoyed because bare feet were nothing compared to my other injuries, but they were distracting.
When I reached the corner, the light was red and the traffic steady. I pressed the cross-walk button twice and then fidgeted waiting to cross. The light took its time changing, making me nervous and I pushed the button three more times and looked behind me which was stupid but finally the light ahead turned green and I crossed the street.
Ten feet from the far sidewalk, the car started its engine. It was all I could do to keep from running, but I managed to keep a quick, but controlled pace. Twenty feet from the car the passenger side door opened from within. I saw a hand push it open. It wasn’t any of the hands that had beaten me.
Without hesitation I slid into the passenger seat, yanked the door shut, pushed down the lock, leaned back, and let out the hugest breath I think I’ve ever had. “Took you long enough.”
Ethan had an amused question clearly written across his face as he viewed my attire. “I could say the same for you.” Despite his amused expression, he was alert, a gun in his hand which rested on his lap. His other hand was on the steering wheel. “I’m guessing you want to get out of here,” he said pulling away from the curb, then coughed, “Nice outfit.” Just as we pulled into traffic.
I almost punched him. We drove away from the intersection, Ethan constantly watching the rear-view mirror to make sure we weren’t being followed and I slid down low in the seat, finally able to relax now that he was in charge and we were leaving the Boss behind. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing.
“Jamie you look awful,” Randy suddenly said from the back seat.
“Aaarghh!” I yelled practically jumping through the roof of the car. I hadn’t even known he was there. “Randy! What are you doing here?” Ethan, again, looked amused. I glared.
“Just spending some quality time with your foster father,” Randy said a little bitterly.
I felt a twinge of guilt. “I told you only what you needed to know, Randy. I’m sorry.”
Ethan changed the subject. “Are your injuries better or worse than they look.”
I contemplated the question, thinking back to my image in the mirror earlier that day. “Worse.”
“There’s not time for that,” I said. “We’ve got to get the rest of Sheagul’s work. I have some new leads and we’re out of time. We also have to take down the gentleman responsible for my current appearance.”
“I’m guessing you didn’t leave him on friendly terms,” Ethan said.
“I left him gagged, unconscious, and hog tied.”
Ethan rolled his eyes, glanced back at Randy and switched languages. “Next time you tell me what’s going on,” he said in Russian. Or at least something like that. I was still a bit new to the Russian language. “We’re partners, you can’t just go off on your own like that. Got it?”
His words annoyed me, but I could hear the concern in his voice. “Fine.”
“What’s going on?” Randy asked leaning forward.
“Why are you here, Randy?” I asked.
“I’ve been keeping a close eye on him and tonight when I got your message I brought him along, figuring if you escaped they might come after him to get to you.” Ethan switched back to Russian. “You shouldn’t have involved him.”
“I didn’t intend to,” I shot back. “We need to get to the library. We can spend the night finishing the work, then destroy it and track down the Boss.”
“Sorry, the man in charge of…all this,” I said pointing to myself.
“You didn’t even get his name?” Ethan asked.
“Sorry I didn’t have time to ask him we were too busy sharing our hopes and dreams for the future,” I snapped sarcastically.
“You’re going to get cleaned up tonight. Get some rest. We’ll storm the library later,” Ethan said. I tried to interrupt, but he stopped me. “The Boss will expect you to head to the library and we are not prepared to face him. One night won’t matter.” He concentrated on driving. We were not headed back to the house that had served as my foster home. I couldn’t go back there. I looked behind, searching for a sign we were being followed. Ethan noticed. “We’re clear. I’ve been watching. Don’t worry. What phone did you text from anyway?”
“I stole it,” I mumbled, but Ethan looked at me proudly.
“You stole someone’s phone?” Randy piped up. He sounded appalled. I kept forgetting he was there.
“Yes, but I left it where it could be found again,” I explained.
Ethan was grinning now, which was not an expression he wore often, but one that complimented his features nicely. Quickly the grin disappeared. “Did you tell the Boss anything?”
“A little,” I admitted. Ethan glanced my way. “He would have killed me if I hadn’t, and I was trying to get information from him too, you know. I didn’t give him enough to get very far, and some of it wasn’t even true.”
“Did you get information from him?”
“Good.” We pulled into a modest but well maintained motel. “We’ll discuss everything in the morning.”