Authors: Robert J. Crane
Table of Contents
THE GIRL IN THE BOX
Robert J. Crane
THE GIRL IN THE BOX, BOOK FIVE
Robert J. Crane
Copyright © 2012 Reikonos Press
First Kindle Edition: 2013
All rights reserved
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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They’re coming for me
, he thought, as he hurried down the sidewalk. The wind cut straight through him like a razor
as it whipped through the space between the buildings and tore leaves from the trees that protruded from the sidewalk planters.
Downtown Minneapolis is somehow far colder than Dante’s last layer of hell
, he thought as he avoided a steady stream of men in suits.
All the worse to know it’s coming to an end soon
. The crisp smell of fall permeated the ebb and flow of exhaust fumes from passing cars. He huddled tighter in his coat and pushed his hands in his pockets, stretching the material as he did so.
Downtown was bustling but not too busy. Though you couldn’t tell it by the dearth of sunlight, it was afternoon. The lunch rush had subsided and rush hour had yet to begin, so he was able to keep his route without worrying about fighting his way through the crowd. He passed a cafe that extended onto the sidewalk, only a table or two occupied. His hand ran over the cold metal rail that separated the empty tables from traffic passing by. As he caressed it, he felt a pause, a reluctance to go. In summer, on weekends, every table would be full, with a line of people extending out the door, waiting to be seated. It was a good place; he’d eaten there a time or two himself and enjoyed it. He lingered now, each step hesitant, a slow drag, as though the sidewalk were holding him back from the inevitable.
Here, there—either way, they’re coming
If only I had more time
, he thought.
He reached the entrance to his apartment building, and as he stepped into the revolving glass door, he caught a flicker of something in the reflection; eyes. Eyes focused on him. He followed the gaze back to a young man, blondish hair, in his twenties,
unremarkable save for the fact that he’s watching me
. The blond man’s eyes flickered elsewhere and he disappeared down the street after a moment, almost fading into the minimal crowd.
The revolving door discharged him into the lobby, where bronzed trim and marble floors made for a stunning spectacle. Full—length tapestries hung in four places around the room and a center desk controlled access to the elevators. He ignored the splendor around him, thinking again of the young man on the sidewalk who’d been watching him. He’d seen too many gazes like that lately, eyes following him in the streets as he walked, did his shopping, went to the clubs and talked to women. The tentative feeling gnawed at him again.
Flashing a smile at the security guard behind the desk, he made his way to the elevator bank. The doors were bronzed, reflective, and fit with the decor in the rest of the lobby. He waited after punching the button for the elevator, his fingers tapping out a rhythm on his pleated khakis. He looked down and saw the faint discoloration of the tan made wet by his fingers and he pushed them against the cloth harder, wiping his sweat there.
, he thought.
Casting a look and a nod back at the guard, he waited for the elevator. The revolving door in the lobby discharged another man, heavyset, with a balding head. He was big, older, wore a suit, and passed the security guard with a nonchalant wave. The big man came to the elevator as it dinged and followed him in.
“How ’bout them Vikings?” the big man asked. His face bore scars of old acne, and when he smiled, his teeth were yellowed from either coffee or tobacco.
Why does he have to turn this into an awkward moment? Was there something wrong with silence?
The younger man returned the smile, weakly, wishing the elevator went faster. “I don’t watch football,” he said, feeling the distance between them in the elevator and wishing it were considerably more.
“Oh, man, they’re off to a great start,” the older man said. “I haven’t seen a start like this since the year Favre was with them.”
The younger man maintained his pleasant smile; he was good at that. “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, but good to hear.”
“Ah, you should watch,” the older man said, and turned back to the front of the elevator. “Great stuff.”
“It’s not for me. Too violent.” He smiled politely and watched the dial slowly move until the elevator dinged and he sighed in not—too obvious relief. “Well,” he said with a nod to the older man, “this is me.”
“Oh, yeah, right,” the older man said, and squeezed his large frame to the side of the elevator. “Have a good one, okay?”
“You, too.” It even sounded sincere.
The elevator opened to a long hallway, and at the end was a window, autumn sun shining through it onto the red carpeting. The walls were done in crimson and beige tones, warm and inviting. He walked, trudging almost, enjoying the heat that came from the radiators on the walls around him after the chill of the street.
Winter is going to be terrible
, he thought.
If I’m even around for it
. Misery settled on him like the chill weather, and he shuddered.
A woman emerged from the doorway across from his, only a few feet ahead of him. Her hair was long and blond, and she was striking, willowy, athletic—and surprisingly busty, he wasn’t too distracted to notice. His smile was easy, it didn’t just pop up like some cheesy car salesman—it started slow, and spread across his entire face, a warming effect that he’d practiced long and hard to achieve. He didn’t feel much use for it right now,
but for her
... “Hello,” he said.
She returned the smile. She was stunning, her hair falling to her shoulders, the green in her eyes giving her a warmth that he couldn’t recall seeing in any of the women he’d dated recently. “Hello,” she said.
“Wow, hey,” he said, as she walked on, turning slightly to watch him as he continued to speak, “looks like we’re neighbors.” He almost slapped himself in the forehead for the sheer ridiculousness of that statement. He held the smile on his face in spite of it, and saw the return from her.
“Well, I guess I’ll...” He watched her receding back as he admired everything about the shapeliness of it, “...see you around.”
Still got it, at least
. His smile turned genuine again, but she did not turn to respond, and arrived at the elevator as it opened again, revealing the big man who’d ridden up with him.
His smile vanished and he pivoted abruptly to walk back toward his door, as though a simple change of direction could make the big man disappear. He cast a look back and the two of them were standing there, at the elevator, waiting, watching him. He felt a pang of uneasiness and looked in the other direction, toward the end of the hallway where the stairs were. There, waiting, was the blond man from the street, staring down the hallway. With him was a shorter, muscular man with a blunter face and blond hair a shade sandier than his companion.
He drew a sharp breath and felt a tremor of recognition, seeing all four of them now.
They’re here. Blocking the stairs and the elevator. No retreat
. He hesitated only a moment as he fingered his keys in his pocket and felt for the right one, knowing that movement would seal his fate, would spring them in motion against him.
He felt the key, the grooves, how it differed from the plastic top of his car key, how much larger in size it was from the key to his padlocked storage unit in the basement or the one that unlocked the safety deposit box at his bank. He looked again, and they had all begun the walk toward him, all four of them—
he thought, looking at the blond whose eye he had been trying to catch
only a moment before.
, the big man,
, the blunt—faced man near the stairs.
And Zack Davis. Of course he looked familiar. He’s
He brought up the key and lunged the last few
feet to his door, fumbling, sliding it down the side of the lock, as he missed on his first attempt. He looked again, and Byerly was coming at him now, leading Davis, with Forrest coming fast from his left, walking, but faster than any human had any business doing. He felt the panic rising now, as the key plunged into the lock and he turned it as he worked the handle.
He threw himself through the door and slammed it behind him, throwing down the deadbolt and hitting the hand lock. He let his head fall against the door and his hand dipped into his pocket, retrieving the phone within. His fingers dialed the number by memory, and he thrust it against his ear, feeling it rub against the stubble on his cheek that he had thought was so sexy when he cultivated it. A deep breath, then another, and he heard it ring.
He felt a presence, and he felt the first THUMP! outside his door as footsteps stopped in front of it. He turned his head to the right and saw the figure in black, shorter than he, a mask covering all but the eyes. He saw the flash of blue in them as the figure started to move.
“What the—” The butt of a submachine gun came up and clipped him across the jaw, hard. He felt the phone slip from his fingers as he hit the ground. The phone skittered across the wood floor of his apartment, and he could hear a small, tinny voice from the speaker as it did so. He felt his palms pressed against the cool of the wood, felt his cheek land on it, tasted the blood in his mouth as he bit his tongue and spat it, the deep crimson getting lost in the dark cherrywood tones.
He rolled to his back and saw the figure standing over him, clad all in black, mask covering everything save for the eyes. “Overly dramatic, wouldn’t you say?” he asked. “All black, in the middle of the day, in downtown Minneapolis?”
The black—clad figure’s head cocked and he took his opening, hitting the figure with a fast kick that it had to dodge.
A woman, he realized as he clambered to his feet, noticing the curve of the hips under the black clothing, the shape of breasts hidden under the tactical vest—
she’s good, though,
he thought. She wheeled back, away from his kick, and he saw the submachine gun fall from her grasp, caught by the strap hung diagonally across her shoulder. He pressed forward as she fell back and he threw a punch that she dodged, as his fist carried through the drywall, making a hole that swallowed him up to the elbow. “I don’t like to hit girls,” he said in a low tone, pulling his hand free of the wall, “but you’re not leaving me much choice.”
“No, you don’t hit them.” Her hands came up in a defensive posture. She let loose a kick that hit him on the jaw and sent him to the ground. “You just kill them.”
His face slammed into the floor, bouncing off the boards. A spinning sensation caused his inner ear to waver, and he let his hand remain under him, as it snaked its way back into his coat. He heard her move over him, and just as she got to him, he turned over and the pistol came with him, pointed into the face hidden by the black mask. Her submachine gun was pointed at him, his pistol at her. Her eyes got wide, and he started to squeeze the trigger.
A gust of tornado—force wind blew through the apartment and caught him, lifting him off the ground and hurling him against the wall. He landed on a table and heard the wood crack and splinter as he broke through it, then felt the shock of his nose colliding with the floor. He shook his head, feeling the blood run down his upper lip. Through cloudy vision, he saw another figure by the sliding glass door to the patio, this one a man. An expansive view of downtown Minneapolis was stretched behind the man, this one without a mask. He had a camera rig headset on and was silhouetted against the light shining behind him.
, he thought, head swimming.
Alpha. Son of a—