Note: To read the entire story from the beginning click here.
We dove through the door as I heard bullets crash into the wall over our heads. Lola was clinging to my arm now, making it difficult for me to get my piece out of the shoulder holster. Not that it was going to do me much good against a tommy gun.
We were in an alley, the night black between the warehouse we fled and its neighbor a few feet away. More bullets tore through the wall behind us. The whites of her eyes shone in the blackness. “What should we do?” she asked.
My plan was a simple one—get as far from that place as possible as quickly as possible. I turned toward the mouth of the alley as a dark shape stepped around the corner and stood in silhouette against the slightly less dark night beyond the alley. Even if I could take that guy down there would be others. I started the other way and was lucky when the man waiting there decided to light a cigarette. No way out either end, and no way back. “In here,” Lola Fanutti whispered, crossing the alley. I heard the jingle of keys, quickly silenced. “This is one of mine as well.”
The gunfire died down. The man at the top of the alley didn’t move; he just peered into the inky blackness. It wouldn’t be long before someone came through the door we had just used, and it wouldn’t take long for them to figure out where we went. I wanted to smash through the door, but if it was like the one we had just used that would be difficult. If I failed, the sky would be falling before I got another chance.
“Damn it, damn it, damn it,” she began to mutter and I heard the hysteria creeping into her voice.
“You can do it, Mrs. Fanutti. Just take a breath and relax. They’re going to be careful stroming the office, especially if they want you alive.” Whoever they were. Me, they wouldn’t be concerned about one way or the other, as long as they got what they wanted.
The door opened with a soft click. “Call me Meredith,” she said as I slipped in behind her. I closed the door behind me and threw the deadbold as quietly as I could. In the silence of the warehouse it sounded like a lead pipe had fallen from the rafters. “My husband is dead,” she said in a voice that somehow didn’t echo, “I’m not one of them anymore.”
I stepped into the blackness but she put a hand on my arm. “This way,” she said, leading me toward the back, where I imagined there were large doors for loading cargo off the wharves beyond. As we moved through the shadows I heard someone test the door behind us. After a pause there came a crash and the sound of cursing. It wouldn’t be long now. I followed her as she groped her way as quickly as she could toward the door and freedom. We were almost there when someone outside tested the door, rattling the latch and calling something back to others. Too late. She turned back to me, her pale face seeming to hover over the black collar of her dress. Then she dropped to all fours and started groping around. I crouched down as well.
“There’s a trapdoor here somewhere,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t want to draw attention to the things we ship.”
The door we had come in flew open in a hail of gunfire. “Spread out,” a gravelly voice behind us said. “Find the lights.” Footsteps echoed through the building.
As I groped I felt the floor move beneath my knees. “Damn,” she whispered. “Something’s holding it shut.”
“That’s me.” I shifted and she swung open the trap, revealing a darker rectangle in the floor. She sat on the edge, dangling her feet into the nothingness, then turned to find the ladder. I followed as closely as I could without stepping on her fingers and pulled the heavy door shut.
“There’s a latch,” she said from below me. In the complete darkness it took me a long time to find the hardware and slide it home. I heard voices above, and footsteps crossed directly above me. When the lights came on I could see a thread of light around the square of the trapdoor. Carefully I continued down until my foot found solid floor. When I released the ladder it was like it had never existed. There was just me in the darkness.
I felt her hand find my shoulder. “I think it’s safe to light a match,” she said, almost in my ear. I dug one out and brought it to life, nearly poking her in the eye in the process. I shielded my eyes from the blinding glare and surveyed our surroundings. The room was square, the walls were bare stone sweating in the flickering light. The floor was stone and there was no door that I could see. There were a few crates lying around the perimeter with no plan or pattern. Lola’s—Meredith’s—face was lined with worry, showing a fatigue I had not seen on her controlled features before. The flame reached my fingers and I dropped the match, plunging us into darkness more profound than before. I felt her move closer to me in the blackness.
“Is there another way out of here?” I asked.
“No.” I felt her shiver, transmitted through her hand to my shoulder.
“May as well make ourselves comfortable, then.” I thought of the dinner I had left on the table next to Alice’s. She would have had it packed up to take back to her apartment for her mother. It would be there now, in the icebox, while she sat and wondered where I was. “I’m going to light another match so we can find a place to sit.” It flared to life with phosphorescent vigor and we moved quickly to one of the larger crates. It was a little small for the both of us, but neither of us wanted to sit separately. We both needed the contact in that terrible night.
We sat in silence for a while, knowing nothing but the dank air and the warmth where our legs touched. We listened to the footsteps above and heard an occasional muffled voice. Once there was a gunshot followed by more excited voices and cursing. “You have any idea what’s in these boxes?” I asked quietly, still surprised by the loudness of my own voice in that small space.
“Bourbon, most of them,” she said. “Some Canadian whiskey. The machine guns aren’t coming in until tomorrow night.” I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not. “We could try drinking our way out of here,” she said. That sounded like a good idea to me, but I didn’t say so. She shook again and I realized she must be cold; I took off my jacket and draped it awkwardly over her shoulders. “Thank you,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“No problem,” I said. “Happens to me all the time.” Obviously a lie, since I was still alive. “Not much to do but wait.”
After what might have been an hour and might have been three, the footsteps died down above. Still we heard occasional footsteps, pacing around the warehouse floor above. Meredith tightened her grip on my arm every time they came close, but my heart leapt into my throat when the heavy tread passed over the trapdoor and paused, stamping to test the acoustics.
Tune in next time for: The Cat’s Claws!