Something scurried over his foot. It was hard to tell which one of them was more surprised. He jumped and the rat, or whatever it was, took off like a rocket up and over a fence.
He paused for a minute to let his heart slow down, but considering where he was, it wouldn’t be slowing down much.
He turned around to check if he’d been followed: so far, so good. His next challenge would be the gate at the end of the long dark alley. Was it locked? Could he climb over it? Considering that the windows in the wall to his right were all barred he was praying that the gate was open. His only other option was to follow the rat over the wall but that would put him right back where he had came from…the courtyard of the building he was running away from. On the other hand, his former tormentors had just inherited and a very jumpy rat.
He felt sorry for the rat.
He felt guilty about leaving without her, but when his opening came she wasn’t where he expected. He opened doors looking for her but he could hear them coming up the front stairs. If they caught him he was unlikely to get another chance, and then they would both be dead. He put aside the guilt, he would do his best to get her out of there. He would find help and they would set her free. He told himself that. If he lost her, if they took her somewhere else, there would be time for self loathing and guilt later.
As he closed in on the gate, he could see it was unlocked. Almost too easy. Way too easy. If they were waiting out of sight behind the gate, it would be over. But then, no one would be guarding the house.
He followed the rat over the fence.
He had made his bet and that meant going all in. He flew through the patio door and ran up the stairs. The house was quiet. And there she was standing outside of the bedroom, half dressed and so terrorized that all she could do was stare at him. It was a stare devoid of hope, blank and unthinking. He grabbed her and he half dragged her down the front stairs. The front door was slightly ajar, a green light on the alarm panel told him it was disarmed. If they were by the alley, by the gate, the front door would be hidden from view.
He took her by the shoulders: “This is may be our only chance, you have to run damnit.” She spit in his face but he ignored it, and when he took off running she followed right behind. They zigged and zagged between blocks putting as much distance and as many turns as they could between them and the house. They had no money, no cash, no ID but they ran into a Starbucks and hid in a bathroom for about 20 minutes until her shock began to wear off.
A barista saw them come out and asked if they were alright. They said yeah, sure, but she poured them a cup of the house coffee and after making sure the coast was clear snuck them each a croissant. They thanked her and found an isolated table.
The coffee and the pastry revived her enough to realize what he’d done and she was hanging onto him for dear life. He could feel her trembling; it came in waves, shudders so hard that he shook too. They heard sirens and saw police cars and ambulances rushing by, it startled them, because everything startled them. Just another afternoon in the teeming city.
They thought about asking to use a phone to call the police, or maybe calling her brother to come get them, but what if they were still being chased? They couldn’t take that chance. His own house was on the other side of town, way too far to walk and hers was out on the east coast. So they settled on the police; there would surely be a missing persons report filed on them. And to be honest, they had to let them know what was going on right under their noses.
Then suddenly, their problem solved itself.
A pair of policeman came in and started flirting with one of the baristas. Appreciating the attention, she asked them what kind of trouble they were getting into.
“Crazy day. Some sort of gang or mob take out over on the Blvd. Frigging mess.”
His partner chimed in, hoping to impress the barista, “yeah, real bad hombres. Some deal gone bad I guess.”
She was still shaking but untangled herself from his arms and got up the nerve too approach the cops. She asked one of them, almost in a whisper, “That big house with the red shutters?”
The officers looked at her “Yeah, you know anything about it?” asked the one with stripes on his sleeve.
“No, just curious.”
“Well, I wouldn’t go near there for now. The detectives are over there and a bunch of press. Seems like there was some pretty shady stuff going on in there.”
“You never know” she said.
The sergeant was anxious to get back to the barista before his partner horned in. “Yep. You never know.”
© Glenn R Keller 2023, All Rights Reserved
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