The car pulled into the lot. Parked between the fifth and sixth ring of sale vehicles. Stopped.
Walking away from the window, Abbie came to Christine, grabbed her arm.
“Why were you here?”
“I’m not talking to you.”
Doors opened, feet crunched into the gravel, doors slammed.
“We’ve no time for this. I told you why I’m here: a little girl, in danger. Worthy. She’s what matters. But I’ve been doing this a long time; I’ve learned to trust my instincts, and my instincts say trust you. But you’ve got to give me something. Did you kill this man?”
Footsteps; growing louder as the newcomers closed on the dealership.
Christine was frozen in indecision. Didn’t know what to do, what to say. Needed to trust someone but couldn’t bring herself to trust Abbie, and there was no one else here. She needed a push.
The front door swung open. Boots moved from uneven gravel to smooth tiles. There was no hesitation; the newcomers stepped inside and fanned out like they owned the place. There was no caution, no fear. As far as Abbie and Christine’s safety was concerned, that was a bad sign.
The door fell closed.
Christine made a decision.
“This guy, Davesh, owns this place. He’s a sleaze, a creep, but does a lot for the local community, for charity, so no one wants to believe he could be dodgy.”
“But you did?”
“Right. The cars in the lot; Davesh ships them in from Europe. Sells them cheap but makes plenty of money. I suspect the majority are either stolen or cut-and-shuts. You know, two cars welded together after a crash.”
“Then you know they’re dangerous. As often as not, the cars fall apart, often while travelling at speed. They’re not vehicles, they’re death traps. I came looking for evidence, and I came late because I thought I’d be alone. I didn’t expect to find Davesh waiting here alive, let alone dead. You can believe that or not, but it’s the truth.”
Downstairs, laughter. At least one man, at least one woman. It was impossible to tell how many in total. But Abbie had only seen one car. Difficult to tell from the distance, but it had looked like a five-seater, and only then if you were generous enough to include the cramped middle seat in the count.
Abbie had questions for Christine. Plenty of them. They’d have to wait.
“Time to move,” she said.
Downstairs, someone threw open a door. Abbie didn’t know which, but there were only two options if you excluded the entrance, and Abbie doubted the ground floor office intrigued the newcomers. Taking Christine’s arm, Abbie dragged her towards the hall. They left the knife.
“There’s only one way out,” said Christine. “We’ve no chance.”
“There’s always a chance,” said Abbie. Which wasn’t true but at least sounded good.
They entered the hall. Abbie pushed Christine through then pulled the door to. Not closed. Ajar, as when Abbie had arrived. She stepped to the first door on her left. Another office. Locked.
Footsteps on the stairs.
“Oh God,” said Christine.
“Shh,” said Abbie.
The feet kept coming. Step one, two, three, four.
Christine pulled closer to Abbie. Her fists were clenched. Maybe she was thinking about a dust-up, preparing to throw some punches. Abbie doubted they’d get close enough to the newcomers to throw anything other than insults. The brazen, cocky attitude of those downstairs indicated a fearlessness crooks usually only displayed when armed. Sometimes with knives. In Abbie’s experience, guns were more likely.
The corridor was narrow. If the newcomers came into the upstairs hall and started shooting, Abbie and Christine would be torn to shreds before they could so much as ask the crooks their favourite colours, let alone their ideal passtimes.
Abbie worked on the door.
The feet kept coming. Steps five, six, seven, eight.
Done. Abbie rose. Turned the handle, opened the door.
Steps nine, ten, eleven, twelve.
Abbie pushed Christine into the office she’d unlocked.
The door from the stairs began to open.
Abbie followed Christine. Turned the handle right, pulled closed the door, turned the handle left. Stepped back.
The newcomers entered the hall in single file. Abbie counted four sets of feet. They paused where Abbie had paused, by the water cooler. Abbie tried not to hope they were about to gather around and discuss the latest episode of Celebrities Go Scuba Diving or whatever was the newest reality craze. Abbie didn’t watch a lot of telly.
Didn’t matter. Wasn’t going to happen.
Had they seen the office door close? Knowing she stood almost no chance if so, Abbie clenched her fists. If she had to go out, she’d go out fighting.
Stay safe. Come back to me.
Oh, get lost, Bobby.
Then someone spoke. A man. A low, gruff voice. A smoker’s voice.
“One at the end.”
That was positive. Abbie checked over her shoulder, expecting to see Christine cowering in a corner. She was pleasantly surprised. There was a desk at one end of the room, and Christine stood on Abbie’s side of it, back straight, eyes focused. She looked ready to charge if any unfriendlies burst in.
The newcomers proceeded along the hall. The speaker had already referenced the office at the end. These lot were probably connected to Davesh via his criminal activities, assuming Christine had told the truth. If they knew him, there was no reason to enter any office but his.
Regardless, Abbie wouldn’t relax. She moved towards the wall that separated her hiding place from the corridor beyond. If anyone tried to enter, she’d take them out before they knew what had happened. Then it’d be her vs three. Possibly her and Christine vs three. If Abbie struck fast and barrelled into the hall, there was a chance they’d make it out alive.
If someone tried to enter this room.
No one did.
The leader of the pack reached the door and carried on. Abbie heard him pause outside Davesh’s office.
She heard the door swing in as two more sets of feet passed Abbie.
Then the pack leader stepped into Davesh’s office. There was a pause, then a violent, twisted curse. Then another.
The final set of feet sped up, following the two that proceeded him into Davesh’s office.
For a third time, the pack leader swore.
Then another voice. Also male. Softer; clearly afraid.
“What happened? Is he dead?”
Which answered the latest question dancing around Abbie’s mind. Had this group returned to the dealership to deal with the corpse of the man they had earlier murdered.
“Course he’s dead, moron,” said the smoker, the leader. “Don’t get much deader than this.”
Footsteps, behind Abbie. Turning, she saw Christine come up beside her. Their eyes met.
Here was a woman who hadn’t trusted Abbie as far as she could throw her a couple of minutes ago. But they had experienced the arrival of the newcomers together; had reacted together. Hidden together. It was a situation that created imaginary bonds and trust that wouldn’t last. Christine wasn’t looking to Abbie with anger. She was seeking guidance.
What do we do? she mouthed.
Abbie wasn’t sure but answered anyway, mouthing, Listen.
“What now?” This was a woman. Her voice was quiet but penetrating. Abbie had no trouble hearing it one room down.
“We’re screwed is what,” said the worrier. “Orion’ll blame us. You know what he’s like.”
“Shut up,” said the smoker. “Forget Orion for the minute. This is what it is. We can’t bring the prick back to life, so we make the best of it.”
“How?” The woman again.
“Take everything. “Files, laptops, the ciggie packets from his bins. Everything. We don’t need him alive. We just need what he knew.”
Abbie took a step back, took Christine’s arm, nodded at the door. Let’s move.
Christine’s eyes widened. Are you sure?
And from next door, the woman again. “You want us to gut this office or all of them?”
Abbie gave Christine a pointed look as the leader, Smoker, responded.
“We gut the building; take anything that might be relevant. Ain’t a chance I’ll risk missing something so we can get to bed quicker. We do this right, get the stuff, then we’ll deal with the body.”
Abbie was tugging Christine towards the door. They were taking a significant risk, but what choice did they have? Abbie had no intention of taking on four unfriendliness who were probably armed and definitely in a bad mood. Even if one of them seemed to be a wimp. She certainly didn’t want to get caught in a room with no way out. Fleeing, for now, was the safest option.
Next door, the group started gathering items. Once their arms were full, they’d dump what they’d stolen in their car and return for more. If they emptied Davesh’s office before they filled their arms, they’d move right on to room two. Abbie and Christine’s room.
There was no time to waste.
Still holding Christine’s arm, Abbie grabbed the handle, turned it right, opened the door, turned it left, let go. Glancing into the hall, she saw Davesh’s office door. Wide-open. She could see the back of a bald guy, working his way through a filing cabinet. Christine’s eyes widened.
Ignoring her temporary companion’s fear, Abbie nudged Christine into the hall and stepped out after. As though she was a worker bee, this was her office, and she was going home for the day, she turned back and retook the handle. Turned it, pulled the door closed without a sound, turned it. Released.
The bald man was still working through the files. Able to see no one else, Abbie met Christine’s eye.
Retaking the frightened woman’s arm, Abbie led her down the hall. They didn’t run because running was noisy, and they’d be caught. Abbie didn’t look back because she knew looking back wouldn’t help. If they were seen, the viewer would shout. It was human nature. Abbie would get fair warning.
Christine tried to look back once. The moment Abbie saw her neck twist, she squeezed her companion’s arm and shook her head. After that, Christine kept her eyes fixed on the goal ahead.
They reached the water cooler, the door to the stairs.
From Davesh’s office, someone said, “Son of a bitch.”
This time, Christine did spin. Abbie glanced back, but no one rushed into the hall. They weren’t the subject of the slur. So far, the baddies hadn’t made them.
Abbie released Christine, took the handle, opened the door to the stairs. All with that same calm caution.
She nodded to Christine.
Christine did as told, taking the top step and working her way down. Abbie was pleased to see she didn’t rush, didn’t stomp. Her movements were almost silent.
Once Christine was three or four steps below, Abbie stepped after her, dragging the door behind, turning as she moved until the door was almost closed, and Abbie was facing Davesh’s office.
The bald man at the filing cabinet rose, twisting as he did to face the gaping office door.
Abbie closed herself onto the staircase. Paused.
“Hey, what the hell?”
And turned to Christine.
“Okay,” she said. “Run.”
As though Baldie had heard Abbie and believed she was talking to him, he burst from Davesh’s office and charged down the corridor. With a squeal, Christine almost tumbled down the stairs in her haste to reach the bottom.
Abbie turned the handle at the top and opened by an inch the door into the upstairs landing.
Christine turned the handle at the bottom. Pulled.
Baldie was still coming. Listening, judging every step, Abbie waited. Lowering herself, she raised a leg while trying to retain her balance on the narrow stairs.
“It’s locked,” Christine screamed.
Abbie booted her door. It flew out, crashed into Baldie, sent him spinning. The force of the blow sent Abbie backwards. Grabbing the bannister, she just about escaped falling down the stairs.
“It’s locked, it’s locked,” Christine was saying, still tugging the door.
Baldie was rising. A woman appeared at the end of the hall, exited Davesh’s office, withdrew a gun from her jacket. Unlike Baldie, she was calm, collected.
“We’re trapped,” shouted Christine.
“Try pushing,” said Abbie.
She was turning as she spoke, rushing down the stairs after Christine, who now shoved the door and spilt onto the ground floor. Abbie raced down after.
Baldie returned to the stairs’ peak as Abbie reached the ground. A hollow thud signalled the firing of a silenced pistol as Abbie stepped onto the dealership’s sales floor. The shot smashed the wall, missing Abbie by inches.
As though desperate to reclaim his spent bullet before someone else stole it, Baldie barrelled down the stairs.
Christine was at the main doors. She looked back at Abbie, who nodded. Pulling the door open, the young woman disappeared into the night.
Baldie burst onto the sales floor, gun ahead of him, pointing towards the spot where Christine had been, seconds before.
He growled, and Abbie appeared in his peripheral, arms swinging.
A metal stool smashed his face, shattering his jaw, pummelling his skull, sending him crashing to the ground.
With the state of his jaw, screaming only made the agony worse. He couldn’t stop himself. Not until Abbie appeared above him, raised her boot, brought it crashing into his face, cracking his already damaged skull against the hard floor.
The bald man with the broken jaw went quiet.
Someone else, probably the woman, was descending the stairs. At this point, an ordinary person would panic. Maybe flap. They would undoubtedly flee, desperate to escape before backup arrived and started firing.
Abbie wasn’t ordinary. As though she had dropped her bus pass and was bending to reclaim it, she leaned over and collected Baldie’s gun. No rush, no fuss. Two steps to the left, from where the weapon had landed, and Abbie was at Baldie’s feet, his body between her and the door through which the stair descender might soon emerge.
Abbie crouched and shifted forward. The gun in a one-handed grip, she covered the door ahead while searching Baldie’s jeans and jacket.
No identification, no money, no phone. These guys were professionals. The leader would carry a mobile—no one else.
Two spare clips for the gun. Abbie took them and shoved them in her pocket while pulling her weapon’s trigger.
Someone had been easing the door open. Abbie’s bullet smashed the wood; the door swung closed. Whoever stood on the other side would be taking one or two steps back, a little way up the stairs. They’d be formulating plan B.
Abbie had slowed them down. She hadn’t stopped them.
Abbie found something else in Baldie’s back pocket. Smiled.
This could be useful.
Casting a final glance at the guy she’d attacked, Abbie rose. He needed hospitalisation, but his team wouldn’t take him nor call an ambulance. Nor would they leave him like this. They couldn’t risk him talking to the cops. Not that that would be easy. From a practical point of view, that was, given his jaw.
That left two options: take him with, or kill him.
Either was fine by Abbie. She wouldn’t end his life: he was unarmed, defenceless. Nor would she protect him from his people. As far as Abbie was concerned, their business was concluded.
The door opener hadn’t come again. Abbie hadn’t heard them move but knew they were there, listening. Waiting. There was every chance this was all part of the plan.
The stairs were the only obvious route from the first to the ground floor. Abbie hadn’t checked all the rooms upstairs. It was possible Smoker or the mysterious fourth person had found a way to the lot from one of the upstairs windows. Even now, they might be crunching into the gravel, circling the building, preparing to flank and execute Abbie.
Obviously, Abbie couldn’t let that happen.
It was time to go.
The shooter on the stairs was listening for Abbie’s every move. If they heard her head for the main exit, they’d burst from the stairwell firing. Put a few bullets in Abbie’s back. End this thing here and now.
That was annoying. If possible, Abbie wanted to further even the odds before leaving.
After shattering Baldie’s jaw, Abbie had dropped the metal stool at her side. With one silent step, she brought it within reach.
Time was of the essence. Abbie bent at the waist, collected the stool, turned towards the building’s exit.
No sign of the enemy, but Abbie expected company any second.
Leaning back, she swung the chair across the room. As it moved, whistling through the air, so did she, stepping over Baldie’s body and to the right of the stairwell door.
She grabbed the handle, pointing her gun towards where the crack was about to appear, at an angle, so the muzzle was aiming up the stairs.
The stool crashed down, hitting a desk, bouncing into the air, and bounding off a window.
Abbie turned the handle, pulled the door back a couple of inches, shoved the gun’s barrel into the crack.
The chair bounced off the floor and came down with a dull, echoing thud.
At the same time, Abbie pulled her trigger, once, twice, three times, moving the gun left and right as she did, covering the staircase.
With shot four, she yanked the door wide. With shot five, she stepped through to the foot of the stairs.
The woman had been waiting. When Abbie started firing, she had attempted to flee to the upper floor.
She hadn’t got far.
One of Abbie’s shots had hit her in the hip, another in the base of her spine. Now she was groaning, sprawled across the stairs.
Her gun was still in her hand.
The echoing of the fallen stool ceased.
“Drop it,” said Abbie.
The woman tried to turn. She did not release her gun.
It was all Abbie needed.
Twice more, she pulled the trigger.
The woman fell still.
Abbie took no time to relax in the peace and the silence of her victory. She wasn’t safe yet.
Baldie was out of action. The woman in the stairwell dead.
Two down. Two to go.