360 Days Ago
Two miles and five minutes later, and I still had no idea how in any hell known to man I was doing any of what I was doing. It should have been impossible. There was adrenaline, of course, but adrenaline couldn’t teach you things you didn’t know. Blind luck didn’t begin to cover it either. I hadn’t been guessing, I’d absolutely known what I was doing. I just didn’t know how I knew.
According to the GPS, I was getting close to where the vehicle had been spending most of its time. As I drove down a one-way street, I kept one eye on the display and the other watching the buildings along the street.
I should call the police. Stop in front of the building and call them. That would be good enough, wouldn’t it? I could make sure that whoever was in there with Potter’s granddaughter didn’t take her anywhere before the police could get there.
But what if whoever it was had orders to kill her if he didn’t report in? Or what if something else happened? Oh my god, what if another one of their people had been watching the house and saw me take off in the first guy’s ride? I hadn’t even thought about it until now, and when the possibility did occur to me, my heart almost stopped. The girl could be dead right now, just because I hadn’t thought it through all the way.
Then I saw what I was looking for. The GPS confirmed it. It was an old, boarded up building that had, a couple of years ago, been one of those family restaurants. There was a single, ancient pick-up truck sitting in the lot with what looked like a load of furniture in the back. Other than that, the place looked deserted.
This had to be it. I parked the SUV across the street and down about a block to stay out of sight. Then, for a couple minutes, I simply watched the building. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, to indicate that anyone was there.
Was I wrong? Maybe the GPS was off. Or maybe the SUV had been here for a completely unrelated reason, or gone to one of the other buildings.
But the more I watched the boarded up restaurant, the more convinced I became that I wasn’t wrong. Someone was in there with Potter’s granddaughter, and if I didn’t do something, she was going to be killed.
After another moment of hesitation, I shut off the engine and got out of the vehicle. Closing the door after me, I started to make my way across the street. I took the long way, around the far back side of the lot, rather than approach the restaurant from the front. There was still a risk of being seen, of course, but at least it wasn’t quite as obvious.
Then again, I realized as I approached the rear service entrance of the restaurant, I still had no way of getting inside. The heavy metal door wasn’t going to budge just because I asked it nicely, let alone do so quietly enough that whoever was inside wouldn’t hear it.
Sure enough, the heavy door was locked. It probably didn’t open from the outside at all. As I ran my hands over the edge, I wondered if some super-special door opening skill was going to randomly appear in my brain the way driving the car, using the GPS, or fighting had.
Sadly, nothing jumped into my mind. “Right,” I whispered, “Open sesame.” Hey, it was worth a shot.
However many shots it was worth, my eyes still bulged out of their sockets and I nearly peed myself when the door began to open. I really did have magic door opening powers!
“Yeah yeah, whatever, I need a smoke!” A male voice, decidedly unfriendly, shouted from just on the other side of the door as it froze in mid swing.
Okay, so I didn’t have magic door opening powers. Someone was coming out. Caught between relief and disappointment, I hurriedly ducked aside so that the door would block and cover me when it opened the rest of the way.
From somewhere further back inside the restaurant, I could hear a muffled voice shout for whoever this was to at least remember to prop the door open, because he wasn’t coming out to let him in again.
I wondered which one of these guys was the Dayle that the guy back at the house had mentioned.
“Fuck you.” The man muttered as he emerged. I saw the side of his head as he ducked to grab a crate of bottles and pushed it in front of the door. Then there was the click of a lighter and a long exhale as the man began to enjoy his cigarette. If he’d turned his head any further to the right, he would have seen me cowering back there. Instead, he took a few steps away and muttered something about getting the hell out of this place.
At first, I barely dared breathe. This was so stupid, so very, very stupid. These guys were going to kill me.
And yet, if I did nothing, Mr. Vames’s granddaughter would die. I had done enough damage to the world already. If doing this tiny little bit to help meant risking my life, then I would.
Slowly, carefully, I took a single step out from behind the door. The smoker wasn’t tall, standing barely an inch over me, and was fairly hefty. He was also bald, his pale skin heavily covered in tattoos. He took another drag from the cigarette, oblivious to my presence only a couple of feet behind him. Eyes riveted to the back of the man’s head, I inched to the left. Gradually, I moved further and further until I was in front of the door opening. Risking a quick glance over my shoulder, I saw an empty supply room and a hallway further in. Great, one potential crisis averted, the guy’s partner wasn’t standing there in plain sight.
If I kicked the crate to make it stop blocking the door, the guy would hear it. Instead, I leaned down ever so slowly, heart hammering its paranoid drumbeat as I watched the man for any sign that he was about to turn around. Slowly, carefully, I put both hands on the crate and gave it the slightest, gentlest push I could while lifting it just a little so that it wouldn’t scrape as much on the ground. The crate moved, and the man continued to smoke. All I had to do was push it a little bit more, and then the door was free. I caught the door with my foot and carefully eased my way backward. I didn’t dare look away from the man while I was still potentially in his sight.
Once I was inside the store room, I stepped behind the doorway, using a hand to keep the door open. When I peeked one more time at the back of the smoker’s head, I saw him toss the cigarette on the ground and stub it out with his foot. It was now or never. Releasing the breath I had been holding, I took my hand off the door and ducked back. The door swung closed, and I heard the man shout a curse just as it clanked shut.
Great, now I was inside the building and one of the thugs was trapped outside, for now at least. I didn’t know if he’d go around and break in through one of the boarded up front doors or windows, or wait for his partner to let him in, but either way I needed to move quickly.
There was a muffled bang against the door, so for the moment at least, the guy seemed to be waiting for his partner. Good. Stay lazy, Mister Tattooed Thug. Stay lazy.
The store room led to a hallway with a broken tile floor and stained walls with the piping partially exposed. At the end of the hall I could see what was obviously the front dining area. Normally there would be a door to block the sight of the service hall, but it was missing. To the right was a pair of doorways, one of which led to a tiny closet, while the other was clearly a manager’s office of some kind.
There was another doorway to the left, this one midway between the other two. From the gleaming metal sink I could see from my position, it was clearly the kitchen. And if the sound of televised football was a clue, the other guy was somewhere in there.
Of course, the question now became, was the girl I was looking for in there? It made sense; they’d want to keep a constant eye on her, wouldn’t they? Unless they had her locked up somewhere else like a basement or something. Did restaurants have basements?
Biting my lip, I risked a quick peek around the corner of the doorway. As I’d already figured out, I was looking at the kitchen. Long metal counters, lots of sinks, stoves, the lot. Naturally, anything that wasn’t nailed down or too heavy to move had been taken out a long time ago.
The kitchen itself was empty, but there was an open doorway at the back. Two doorways, really, but the other just led to what looked like had been the bar in the front. It was the other doorway that interested me, because the television sounds were coming from there.
I’d barely taken three careful and paranoid steps into the kitchen when there was another loud bang from the back door. It sounded like Tattooed Maybe-Dayle had found something to hit it with other than his fist or foot. I jumped, but not nearly as much as I did when the voice from the direction of the television shouted, “Okay, okay, I’m fucking coming!”
There were footsteps, and I had half a second to react. The fact that I practically fainted in that moment was almost a boon, because it helped me duck behind the long metal counter in the middle of the kitchen quicker.
I heard the man stomp through the room, and I quickly crawled around to the opposite side of the island. Turning over to crabwalk backwards so that I could see the other door, I watched as the blond man, who was several inches taller and noticeably thinner than his tattooed partner and wore a brown tweed suit, moved into the hallway, cursing the whole way.
Now, I had to move now. Scrambling to my feet, I ran through the doorway the guy had come through.
This had quite clearly been a staff room of some kind. There were two ugly wooden tables in the middle, a chalkboard that still had a few notes about time off and safety written on it, and a row of lockers to the side. On one of the tables was an old television that was the source of the noise.
And sitting on the floor in the corner was a little girl, maybe seven years old, who had been handcuffed to one of the exposed pipes. There was also some kind of ball in her mouth, held in place by a few strips of duct tape.
As soon as she saw me, the girl’s eyes widened and she started to try to talk. Quickly, I held a finger to my lips, glancing over my shoulder. I heard the big metal door squeak open, followed by loud arguing. Good, keep bitching at each other.
My eyes swept over the tables. Key, key, please have the key here and not in one of your pockets, guys. I could see candy wrappers, a fast food bag, a couple of half empty soda cups, as well as the television, but no key. At least I was able to flip the TV off. It’s harder to think about escaping these situations with loud mouthed announcers rambling about sweaty guys hitting each other. And the arguing voices were drawing closer as the men approached. In near panic (to be honest, I submit the fact that it was not complete and total screaming panic as evidence of my growing insanity), I glanced at the side of the room and saw a large metal filing cabinet a few feet back from the door. Would it work? The louder voices reminded me that I didn’t really have time to think it through.
Quickly, I moved to the doorway. The two men stopped in mid argument to stare at me for a second as if they had no idea what they were seeing. To be fair, in the course of Kidnapping Thug 101, evading wannabe Nancy Drew was probably an oft-overlooked elective.
Before they could recover, I slammed the door shut and twisted the lock. A second later there was a heavy thud as the men slammed into it and began to scream at me to open the door before they yada yada lots of threats that made me want to pee myself, but really did nothing to convince me that I’d be better off with the door open.
Moving to the filing cabinet, I tested it. Yeah, I didn’t know what was in it, but it was definitely heavy. Taking a breath, I shoved against it once, then again, and the big metal thing tipped over. It fell toward the door with a terrible crash as the drawers fell open and scattered several folders and other random junk over the floor. It worked though. The cabinet wedged itself against it about halfway down to act as a brace.
And now I had successfully trapped myself inside a small room with a terrified little girl and no way out, while two furious men kicked and slammed at the door. Yay me.
The girl was sobbing and, to be honest, I felt like joining her. Sure the men were trapped outside, but that wouldn’t last forever. I needed a better plan, or at least one that didn’t involve getting killed and coming back as a vengeful ghost. We’d keep that one as Plan Z.
Plan A had to be… my phone! Quickly, I reached for it in my pocket. I could call the police, and then try to wait these guys out. Sure I’d have a lot of explaining to do, but it’d still be better than what those guys would do.
Except when I felt for my phone, it wasn’t there. Shit. Shit, I must’ve dropped it. Just perfect.
Without much else I could do, I hurried over to crouch in front of the girl and carefully undid the gag, wincing as the girl yelped from the tape yanking her hair. Finally, I took the ball from her mouth. “Are you all right?”
The kid looked at me, looked at the door, then looked back at me and shook her head. “I’m scared.”
“That makes two of us.” I informed her before looking around the room one more time, as if something would magically present itself.
“You’re scared?” The girl whispered. “But you’re rescuing me.”
“I guess that’s what I’m trying to do,” I admitted, “but it doesn’t mean I’m not scared. Sorry, kid, you got the girl who has no idea what she’s doing.”
“What about the window?” The girl lifted her free hand to point in the top left corner.
My eyes followed her finger and I stared for a moment at the glass opening. It was high, but with the help of one of the tables, we should be able to reach it. And, small as it was, we could probably both squeeze through.
“Hey, good eyes, kid.” I praised. “You know where the key is for these?”
When her head bobbed, I was almost ready to fist pump before she said, “In Zeke’s pocket.”
“Zeke’s one of those guys, isn’t he?” I waited for her nod and then sighed. “Okay, well, I doubt they’ll trade us for the rest of that bag of M&M’s over there.”
There was another loud crash as the men slammed into the door, and I flinched. We didn’t have time to waste. I needed to get this kid out. Again I scanned the room. Something glinted on the floor by the door, under the cabinet. Frowning, I crawled that way and looked down.
At first I was disappointed. It was just a couple quarters, a few bent pieces of metal, several employee name badges, and three small bobby pins.
Well those would be obscenely useful, if I had any idea of how to use them. As it was I might as well have found a stealth bomber parked in the corner for all the actual good they did me.
Another thud against the door reminded me that I had to do something. Frowning, I picked up one of the pins and looked at it.
Back at the house, I had taken care of that guy without breaking much of a sweat, despite never having thrown a punch in my life. I had just known what to do. Then there had been the GPS, and driving the manual. Maybe I could have given the fight over to luck, but not the rest. No, I had known exactly what to do.
And yet, staring at this pin and then at the handcuffs, nothing sprang to mind. I needed to unlock them. “Come on,” I said to myself, “learn how to do it. Spontaneous knowledge, ho. Activate knowledge download. Upload? Cypher? Wait, crap, he was a traitor. Go away, Cypher.”
“Ummmm….” If it was possible, the girl’s voice was even more scared now that she knew she was trapped in the room with a gibbering psychopath. “Who are you talking to?”
“Nobody.” I shook my head. “Never mind, I’ve got this.” But did I? As impossible as it had sounded that I could just suddenly learn things, I was just as confused by why it wasn’t working now. What was I doing differently? Every time it had happened before, I hadn’t done anything different.
Or had I? What had I been doing when the fight happened? I had thought about Eric James and the fights he would get into. After that I had thought about Aldridge with the GPS, and then my dad with the manual transmission.
Okay the very thought was insane. How? How was that even possible?
Bang went the door, and the filing cabinet slid a little. Okay, never mind my doubts. I had absolutely no other option except to believe in the unbelievable. Giving the corner one last glance in case that stealth bomber had ever shown up, I focused on the bobby pin again.
I did know one person who knew how to pick locks. Gesmine. She had shown me that she could do it back when we had gone to summer camp together a few years earlier. She’d offered to teach me, but I had asked when I’d ever need to know that stuff.
“Real smooth, Savvy.” I muttered to myself with a sigh before returning my focus to thinking about Gesmine picking those handcuffs back in the cabin, under the flashlight.
My eyes opened, and I bent the bobby pin into the right shape and took the plastic tip off before moving to where the girl was. “Hold still.” I told her and gently took her hand. Carefully, I slid the pin halfway in and did the work to bend it into the proper shape. A little more work and the handcuffs clicked open.
“Wow!” The girl gushed, rubbing her wrist. “How’d you do that?”
“I wish I knew.” I informed her before moving to slide the table over to the window. “Come on, let’s go.”
Climbing up on the table, I reached down and picked the little girl up with me. She was a little heavy for such a little thing (or maybe I just wasn’t used to picking up anything that weighed more than my backpack), but I doubted asking her to go on a diet would have an appreciable effect in the next thirty seconds.
“Okay,” I told her, “Let me get the window open.” It was a narrow window that simply pushed up and out. Or it should have. I had to strain and pry and push and shove, all while the filing cabinet inched with every few blows. Any second it was going to fall entirely and that would be the end of our great escape. Finally, I managed to shove hard enough that the window pushed up and open.
“Come on, kid.” I boosted the little girl up and gave her a push through the window. I heard a thump on the ground outside, followed by a yelp.
The door banged again, and this time the filing cabinet did crash. They began to shove the door open, even as I pulled myself up to the window. Now their shouts were inside the room, and I was halfway through the window and into the sunlight when one of them grabbed my leg. Desperately, I kicked out hard. My foot hit something fleshy, and I was released to fall the rest of the way through the window.
Now we both yelped, because I had fallen half on the cement and half on the girl I was saving. Okay, so this wasn’t the most graceful of rescues, but at least we were still alive.
And, in the interest of keeping that record going, I scrambled to my feet. “Come on!” I yanked the girl up and started to run.
We crossed the street, all the while expecting bullets to start chewing up the ground around us. Or I was at least. I wasn’t sure what the kid was thinking about. Ponies, maybe.
Fortunately, we reached the SUV without being shot, or suffering any heart attacks. We also didn’t see any ponies, so, you know, win some and lose some. “Great,” I said to myself before boosting the girl inside, “now let’s get out of here.”
Grumbling, I got in and started it up. We could see both of the men down the road, clearly looking for us. They could go right on looking, however. I had the girl and I was getting the hell out with her. When the traffic was clear, I pulled onto the road and U-Turned to drive away.
Ten minutes later, we parked in front of the police building. “Okay, what’s your name?” I asked the girl.
“Kacey.” She informed me. “Are we going to see the police now?”
“You are.” I told her, while using my shirt to wipe off the steering wheel, the GPS unit, and anything else that I thought I’d touched. I couldn’t explain what was happening to me, but I knew I didn’t want to suddenly be in the news. Not until I knew what the hell was going on with both myself, and with Gesmine.
I pointed out the window. “See that building there? That’s where the police are. You run right in there and tell them what happened to you.”
“You’re not coming?” She sounded even more scared at that prospect.
Swallowing, I shook my head. “I have to… I have to do something else. You go.”
She gave me one last doubtful look, and then bolted for the police station. The second she was gone, I slid out the other side and began to walk away from the SUV.
I had gone to Gesmine’s house for answers, and ended up getting a lot more questions instead. One thing I did know for certain though, as I glanced over my shoulder to see the little girl running into the arms of a policeman that had just stepped out.
I had done at least one good thing today.