he warehouse was dark and quiet, a relic from an era before cargo containers rendered dockside buildings obsolete. Little glass remained in the windows, and elaborate graffiti covered the walls. The few lights that remained only made the shadows deeper.
The woman approached without fear, moving from dark to light and into darkness again. She opened a door in the side of the building, shifted the cargo she carried over her shoulders, and sidestepped through.
“Natasha,” a voice said in the darkness. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“It’s nice to see you, too, James,” the woman said. “I brought you something.” She slid the unconscious girl off her shoulders and dumped her on the floor. “An early Christmas present.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”
“She’s one of you.”
Jim hesitated. “Bullshit.”
Natasha lit a cigarette. The flare of the lighter reflected off several pairs of eyes in the darkness behind Jim. Some of them were pointing guns at her, she was sure.
Jim stepped forward and crouched by the girl. “Where did you find her?”
“Now, there’s the interesting thing. I was paying a visit over at Cooper’s—”
“Yes, well, Cooper wasn’t there at the time, so I took the opportunity to look around, and there she was.”
Jim stood and looked past her at the door. “You took… from Cooper? Fuck!”
“Yes, well, as much as I don’t like you, James, I thought she was better off here than with that rat.”
“How very altruistic of you.”
“I’m a giving woman.” She took a drag from her cigarette. “Well, see you guys around. I don’t want to be here when Cooper shows up.”
“Well, he’s certainly going to suspect you before he thinks of me. After all, why would I do something like this?”
“Yes, Natasha, why?”
She smiled. “Cooper is a rat. You are now the rat trap. And this,” she prodded the girl with her toe, “is the cheese.”
“You fucking bitch.”
“Oh, come now. You can handle him here, on your own turf. And don’t tell me you think I should have left her with him. One of your own?”
“So we do your dirty work. The least you could do is be here when Cooper arrives.”
“No, the least I can do is vanish and leave Cooper to you. Which is what I’m going to do.” She stamped out her cigarette. “See you, James. Later, guys,” she said to the darkness behind him. She turned and walked out, never looking back. She was reasonably sure they wouldn’t shoot her. She was half a mile up the quay when she ducked into the shadows and watched the three long, black cars glide past, headlights off. Her brow creased. She had known Cooper would react, but she hadn’t thought he could put together that kind of army so quickly. She continued walking. One way or another, one of her problems would be removed.
As she walked, the sound of gunfire erupted in the night behind her. She did not look back.
Allie awoke slowly. Someone was holding her, and running. The arms were strong and warm, but she was being jostled. There was noise everywhere, shouting and gunshots, and the smell of cordite and blood filled the air. She had been stolen again, she knew, but there was something about these new people she felt, perhaps in their scent, perhaps in the way the man carrying her was shielding her, that made her like them better than the last man who had stolen her.
“Get her below!” a voice shouted nearby. Allie liked below. She had always liked the dark places under the ground; she felt safer there. There was a scream somewhere behind her, then the man carrying her grunted and stumbled. He pitched forward and narrowly avoided crushing her as he fell.
“Go,” he said. “Get to the trap door.” The man pulled out a pistol and rolled over in a pool of his own blood and began firing. “Go!” he shouted back at her.
Another person, a woman, grabbed Allie’s hand and pulled her along, firing over Allie’s head. Allie looked back and saw a man standing over the one who had been carrying her. He took aim at the head of the wounded man and fired. Allie forgot to move her feet and stumbled as the woman pulled her forward. She fell, and the man walked toward her, then twitched and fell, his face ruined.
“Come on,” the woman said, but Allie did not obey. She could see them all clearly now in the darkness, and she realized that the people who had stolen her this time could see as well. They were like her. The attackers were wearing things over their eyes, and they could see too, but it wasn’t the same.
The fog that had been clinging to her ever since the first time she had been stolen was fading, and she knew what to do. She saw a piece of metal lying on the floor. She reached for it, lifted it, and drove it with all the force she could muster into the goggles of an attacker as he came through the door. He fell to the ground, his head broken open.
“What the fuck?” asked the woman behind Allie.
“I don’t like those men,” Allie said. There weren’t very many left, but most of the people like her were also down. She wanted to get below, to follow her instinct to seek shelter in the shadows of the depths, down, down, always down when there is danger, but her friends were in trouble, and as her mind cleared she knew she had to help them. She reached out and began to pull the other men’s strange goggles off, one by one. Blind, they were helpless.
The woman behind her reloaded her pistol and opened fire on the invaders who were now groping for cover or dashing for the rectangle of light that was the door. Outside she could hear them regrouping, and a volley of cannisters flew in through the windows. All her new friends were running now, heading for the trapdoor, as smoke began to pour from the cannisters. The smoke reached one of the running men and he fell to the floor, twitching. She caught a faint whiff of something she had never smelled before, yet it still filled her with a nameless dread. She turned and ran in a blind panic, wanting nothing but to get below. Around her, she smelled the fear of her new friends.
Natasha watched from a hillside rooftop as the three black cars sped away from the warehouse. It would not be easy for them to escape; the police were descending on the scene in cars and helicopters, and they had the area cut off. She had reached her vantage point in time to watch Cooper’s men storm the warehouse, then suddenly retreat, and resort to filling the warehouse with something more than just tear gas. They had failed to reclaim the girl and had tried to kill her instead. That seemed extreme even for Cooper.
She didn’t turn around. “Hello, Cooper.”
“I thought I might find you around here somewhere.”
“I’m not one to miss a good show.”
“Seems like you knew it was going to happen.”
“I keep my ear to the ground.”
“You don’t seriously think I’ll believe that those jokers could have taken the girl. This has your handwriting all over it.”
Natasha shrugged and fished a cigarette out of her purse. There was a gun in there as well, but there was no chance of her getting it out without finding a bullet in the back of her head first. “Don’t sell those jokers short. They handled your guys down there.”
“You have no idea what you’ve done.”
“That girl might seem like one of them on the surface, but she’s not. She’s dangerous.”
“What were you doing with her, then?”
“That’s not important.”
Natasha lit the cigarette. “Whatever.”
“Look Natasha, I know you don’t like me—”
“—but you’ve really opened up a can of worms this time. If you don’t help me put things back, all hell’s going to break loose.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“I’m not being metaphorical.”
“Just because they prefer the basement to the penthouse doesn’t make them evil.”
“You’re talking as if you like those guys.”
She blew out a long stream of smoke. “No, I just hate you more.”