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Short story – Crime

Short story - Crime, Short story - Mystery, Short story - Suspense

The Runner – Part Four

He walked swiftly and purposefully, his navy Italian suit and crisp white shirt allowing him to blend in easily with the crowd spilling out of the tube station. Strongly built, mid-30s, with close-cropped hair and a neatly trimmed beard, he fitted right in with the thirty-something bankers and businessmen walking round the City. Their expensive suits and inflated sense of status belied the precariousness of their jobs. It was Friday lunchtime, everyone winding down for the weekend, leaving their desks and screens to reward themselves in the expensive bars and restaurants near their offices. The heavy traffic was at a standstill so he crossed the main road, walking quickly between cars and vans: he knew his route and the area well. Checking his watch, he turned left towards the busy shopping area filled with outdoor cafés: thirty minutes early. He sat at the nearest free table and ordered an espresso.

Two smiling girls, laden with backpacks and brandishing an open map, approached him. ‘Excuse me, could you show us how to find our way to the nearest tube? We are so lost.’ As one girl pushed some loose strands of golden hair behind her ears and smiled at him, her dark-haired companion attempted to spread a map on his table. He put out his arm to block her and the map, his eyes never leaving the blonde girl’s face. ‘It would be great if you could just . . . ’ The words faded away as the smile started to falter. His arm remained outstretched and the dark-haired girl looked hesitantly at her companion, waiting for a cue. Still he said nothing but just stared, knowing she would break first. She scowled and swore at him under her breath, then nudged her companion.

They roughly bundled up the map and turned to leave, mingling back into the crowds of shoppers. He watched them approach a group of smartly dressed businessman sitting at the café opposite, their large table strewn with empty wine glasses and half-eaten plates of food. They were only too happy to give directions, flirting and smiling, unaware that when the girls left they would be missing two mobile phones and a laptop bag.

Checking his watch again, he threw some coins on the table then made his back on to the main thoroughfare. Crossing in to a side street, he walked past smaller shops and fewer people then turned right into an alleyway. Halfway down was a metal door with a buzzer and pad. He tapped in a six-digit code and pulled the door. It didn’t open. He frowned and re-entered the number, more slowly this time. Again, the door didn’t open. A prickle of fear crept up his neck. Hesitating for a moment, he knew he had no choice but to go ahead. The cameras would be on; they would know he was there. He buzzed and, after a moment, the door opened with a click.

He blinked in the darkness of the stairwell. Glancing up, his hand instinctively reached inside his jacket but he saw no one looking down at him. He straightened his shoulders and climbed the two flights of stairs quickly, feeling a damp sheen of sweat starting to collect under his shirt.

When he reached the unmarked black door he tried the handle, half-expecting it to be barred too. It swung open and he stepped into a dark, bare room, the unwashed windows on the far side covered with grime and dimming the daylight. It looked like an old office space, the business it once housed long gone. The walls were shaded, the wood chipped and marks on the paint showed where notice boards and shelving had once hung. The room was almost empty except for a cheap old wooden desk, a couple of mismatched plastic chairs and a man who put the fear of God into Gibbs.

Grey was on the phone, his back to the door. He didn’t look round or acknowledge Gibbs’ entrance but there was no doubt he knew who was standing there, waiting. Grey paced slowly, listening intently to whoever was on the phone as he walked over to look out of the grimy window. His tone was quiet, controlled and, though there was no sound except the distant hum of traffic, Gibbs couldn’t make out anything Grey was saying other than his final words: ‘Do it now.’ The call finished, but still Grey didn’t turn round or acknowledge Gibbs. It was an unnerving and effective way of setting the tone of the meeting.

‘So. What went wrong?’ Grey asked, slowly: only then did he turn to look at Gibbs. The newcomer stood straight and tall, his broad shoulders and athletic build perfectly clad in the expensive wool suit under the arms of which sweat patches were creeping. Grey knew at a glance that Gibbs was desperately trying to hold his nerve.

‘She has proved to be more resilient than I thought but I am confident we will get her,’ Gibbs replied.

‘More resilient than you thought? You were the one who recruited her. You brought her in. You bloody well vouched for her. Have you any idea what a screw-up this is? She could bring the whole thing down around us. She’s leaving a trail of dead people behind her and is starting to attract the wrong kind of attention.’ He spoke with a quiet menace, not even raising his voice. He didn’t need to.

‘This is your mess. I am calling everyone else off. You brought her in and you can get rid of her. You worked with her and you trained with her, so you must know how she thinks. You’ve got a week to close this off.’ Grey stared at Gibbs intently, reading in his face every nuance that Gibbs was desperately trying to blank out.

‘Don’t have any misplaced loyalties on this one, Gibbs. Either she dies or you die. It’s the only way you can save yourself. You have one week. Go.’ Grey turned away, signalling Gibbs’ dismissal. After hesitating for a moment, Gibbs realised there was nothing more to be said and left the room. He ran down the stairs, two at a time, and went through the heavy door into the alleyway. He stretched his fingers then clenched his fists, repeating the exercise until he felt his heart rate normalise. He started walking, slowly, running his fingers around the inside of his shirt collar then pulling down his cuffs and straightening his jacket to release some of the heat from his back and neck. It calmed him while he allowed his mind to pause, briefly.

His thoughts started to come together as he walked through the crowds, passing four or five tube stations. The pace of his steps picked up as his mind started speeding through the possibilities and the consequences.

She’d saved his life once. She had the strength and stamina of men twice her size. He had trusted her. She was the first person he thought of when Grey told him a position had opened up on the team.

The one thing he hadn’t factored in was the strength of her integrity; it was her greatest weakness where this operation had been concerned. Why couldn’t she have just taken the money and left her conscience behind, like the rest of the team?

He had dreaded it coming down to this. But he knew it was inevitable when he had heard Jackson had been found dead, dumped in a hotel skip.

She was feral when she was cornered, completely ruthless. Gibbs needed to get to her before she realised who her pursuer was.

To be continued

With grateful thanks to Lesley Close – Editor

© 2017 LIZ LOSTY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Short story - Crime, Short story - Mystery, Short story - Suspense

The Runner – Part Three

She drove north on the motorway for about two hours, using the time in the car to think, to take stock. She knew they would be looking for him; it would only be a matter of time before they realised something had gone wrong. But how was he going to contact them, what was their procedure? Would he have used the mobile phone that she had dumped down the grating? It must have been a pay-as-you-go, nothing to tie the phone or number to anyone except calls made and received. It would only have been used a couple of times on this one job, then destroyed.

She knew she had taken a risk by stealing the car, but the priority had been to get off scene as quickly as possible in case he had support positioned nearby. She instinctively knew the number plates would be fake. How clean was the car? What other risks had she taken?

She signalled to turn into a service station and parked the car away from the main forecourt to avoid being caught on camera. She got out and casually looked around. There was no obvious tail: it was a good two minutes before the next vehicle, a school minibus, pulled in to get petrol. She opened the boot and ran her hands quickly and expertly around every seam, fixture and crevice. Nothing. Closing the boot, she opened the rear door. Leaning in, she ran through the same careful inspection process before moving to the front seats. She slid the passenger seat as far back as she could then, angling her body, she sat in the footwell and looked under the dashboard. Her heart sank, even though she had known all along she would find it somewhere. Sitting back, she started to think. Just fix this problem first before planning anything else. And don’t ever assume you will only find one. She checked the rest of the car and the engine, but found no other trackers.

She looked over at the minibus, a bunch of excited kids on their way to a football tournament. Some of them spilled out of the shop, loaded with sweets and fizzy drinks and shouting excitedly to those waiting on the bus. They looked so young, so happy. Some were already dressed in their team kit even though it was now dark and the only football they would see tonight would be on TV. She looked away. She couldn’t do it; her conscience wouldn’t let her.

‘Alright darling? Lost something?’ The man’s voice made her jump, even though she had seen him in her peripheral vision. She had assumed he would walk past her towards the shop. ‘No! Thanks. Actually, I was just trying to find a pen. Could you lend me one? Just need to write down a number while I remember.’ She had already scanned him and knew he was no threat, given his weight, laboured walk and food-stained clothing. She turned her full-on smile at him, knowing the effect it would have on a fat, lonely, middle-aged trucker.

‘Yes, sure sweetheart. Always happy to help a damsel in distress. Come with me back to my wagon and let’s see what I can do for you.’ He chuckled suggestively.

‘I’ll follow you over. Just let me grab my bag.’

She turned back to car and watched in the mirror as he reached the door of his wagon and lumbered up to the driver’s seat. Sprinting as fast as she could from the car to the wagon, she jumped up the step to the cab then slipped and fell into his lap.

‘Oi! You’re keen aren’t you?’ he laughed, making to grab her round the waist.

She immediately straightened up and moved away from him, appearing flustered. ‘Gosh, so sorry. Lost my footing there. Is that the pen? Do you mind if I have it?’ It was a cheap biro and, as quickly as he nodded agreement, she was gone. Running back to the car she gunned the ignition, leaving a puzzled and disappointed trucker staring after the rear lights of the BMW as it shot off to re-join the motorway.

Checking the rear view mirror a moment later and seeing no vehicle behind her, she finally allowed herself to let out a long, steadying breath. Where to now, what was the best strategy? She knew the fact that she didn’t have a settled plan or a fixed destination made it harder for them to predict her next move. They had bargained on her winning the fight against whoever they had sent in the BMW: that was why they had planted the tracker. But what would they think now?

It wouldn’t take them long to work out that the hit had gone wrong. He would have had to send some sort of coded confirmation to them so, when they didn’t get that, they would have been relying on the tracker. They would catch up with the trucker pretty soon, no doubt flashing badges, using blue lights and giving official warnings to force him to pull over. Checking, just in case, but knowing the tracker had been switched over.

She needed to sleep and eat, to keep her energy up and her mind functioning. After another hour of taking exits, joining new roads and zigzagging, she pulled into a layby where there was a mobile canteen. She bought a bacon sandwich and tea as well as extra bottles of water and some small snacks. After another hour’s driving she pulled into a picnic area and switched off the engine. A couple of hours’ sleep, then let’s see what first light brings. But the inevitable question kept going around in her mind – how long could she keep running?

The only answer was As long as they keep coming after me.

Short story - Crime

The runner: part two

It was only when she was on the coach and safely out of the city that she realised she didn’t know where she was heading. The tourists on the bus seemed to be mainly American with a few German and Italians thrown into the mix. No suitcases or luggage were loaded on board so they were obviously on a day trip to the city. They were all chattering away and showing off to each other, parading the presents and souvenirs they had bought, laughing and joking about the expensive t-shirts with the cheap slogans and an endless array of tea towels. They were oblivious to her quiet presence. After a while they all settled down and a few nodded off.

She knew it would draw attention if she asked anyone where they were heading, so she pulled her hat down over her forehead and feigned sleep to give herself space to think. It didn’t really matter where she was going, the further away the better. Not that the distance would make her feel any safer but at least the journey gave her some time to plan the next few days. That was as far into the future as she dared to think, and she really needed a clear head now. She was adept at breaking any situation down and compartmentalising it. Her training allowed her to assess the overall position, then address each problem sequentially.

Come up with a plan to address the first problem before you start worrying about the next one. That’s the only way to stay safe and sane. She’d had that drummed into her from the start. It just never occurred to her then that this would be how she would end up using those skills.

Somewhere to lie low where she wouldn’t be noticed, cash to buy her way out if she was, multiple escape routes planned, trust no-one, involve no-one, and have one other weapon apart from your hands, your feet and your brain. She normally chose a knife – it had obvious advantages.

The coach headed up the motorway at a steady pace, surrounded by rush-hour commuters making their long way home. She resisted the urge to scan from the window – she didn’t want to draw attention in case they had already had a car tailing her.

Eventually the coach pulled up outside a smart town-centre hotel. The hiss of brakes and doors opening woke up those still asleep, and everyone gathered up their shopping bags and belongings and began to file wearily off the coach. She got up and smiled politely as she pushed her way into the middle of the queue to get off. She pulled off her dark hoodie and hat, revealing a white t-shirt and letting her hair down so it fell around her face.

‘Do you need a hand with those?’ she asked the elderly lady in front, who was trying to move sideways down the narrow aisle while dragging shopping bags in both hands.

‘Oh that would be wonderful, thank you.’ The lady looked down at the bags, trying to decide which would be the easiest to hand over.

‘Don’t worry I can take all of them. I’ll be right behind you, careful down the steps, now.’ She smiled confidently and the lady gratefully handed over the bags, slowly stepping down onto the pavement before turning, uncertainly. ‘No, don’t worry. I’ll carry them inside for you. It would be a pleasure.’

They joined the large crowd trying to squeeze through the one revolving door. She stole a few glances to her left and right but was surrounded by the tourists from the coach. They eventually made their way into the busy hotel reception and she instinctively checked the position of all the exits. She carefully placed the bags down beside their owner and smiled in acknowledgement at her grateful thanks. Then she swiftly melted back into the crowd and turned towards the corridor leading away from the reception, following the signs to the dining room. There were a few waiting-staff milling around, polishing glasses and adding the last few place settings. They looked bored before the evening sitting had even begun. She walked purposefully and didn’t make eye contact, quickly reaching out one hand to pick up a steak knife from the sideboard. She didn’t miss a step, sliding the knife down inside the waistband of her jeans. She kept walking until, hearing the clattering of pans and bad-tempered exchanges behind double doors, she went into the kitchen.

‘Can I help you?’ A sweaty and harassed-looking chef carrying a heavy tureen of soup was blocking her path. ‘No thank you.’ She side-stepped around him and kept walking, passing the bemused kitchen staff who were enjoying this challenge to their boss. The chef turned and shouted angrily after her. ‘You! Hey you! You’ve no right to be here, this is my kitchen…’ but she was already out the back door. A couple of kitchen porters were idly leaning against the outside wall, dragging out the last from the butt end of their cigarettes. One of them arched an eyebrow as she wrapped her hoodie around the long thin chef’s knife she was holding. He had his own problems with the law and immediately blanked the incident from his mind, turning to go back into the kitchen and the hell pit of abuse that was the dinner shift.

She turned the corner away from the kitchen, walking along down an alley littered with takeaway cartons, beer cans and bins, and found herself back out on the main street on one side of the main hotel entrance. The coach was still there, engine running, the driver patiently trying to help an elderly couple who were struggling with the steep steps. She quickly took a step back into the alley and checked the area around the hotel, the buildings opposite, the parked cars.

The arm around her throat pulled so tightly she was lifted off her feet, the surprise causing her to gasp and lose breath. She tried to donkey-kick but didn’t make contact with her attacker. She was choking, gasping for air, her arms flailing, trying instinctively to pull the arm away and release the pressure from her windpipe. She pushed back with all her strength and they both landed heavily against the rough brick wall but his grip didn’t loosen. She felt her face pulse with blood, her eyes bulging as her lungs screamed for air. She swung again but he pulled her back, using the wall to brace himself as he tightened the pressure on her neck. She reached up again, not to pull the arm off this time but further and faster to where she knew his face was, and jabbed both thumbs as hard as she could into his eyes. He had tried to pull back but couldn’t without loosening his grip. He grunted in pain and tried to turn his head but she made a vicious well-aimed lunge with her fingers and gouged into his eyes again. His arm dropped as he yelped in pain and his hands momentarily covered his eyes. She dropped the hoodie from her hand, revealing the chef’s knife, and lunged forward. He didn’t see the blow coming and he may not even have felt it as she plunged the blade into his chest at an angle, forcing it left and right once she had buried it in his chest, ensuring his heart was sliced and death instant. He dropped to his knees and then fell sideways, his hands still covering his eyes. She pulled the knife from his chest and dropped it to the ground. Her mind was rushing. Stop, think. What’s the first problem? Fix that, then the next.

She was panting heavily, the metallic taste of blood in her throat, adrenaline making her shake. She had to think quickly now. Was there anyone else? Did anyone see or hear? The alley appeared empty apart from the large dumpster bins with the hotel’s name on them. She flipped one open – it was half full of large black refuse sacks. She hauled them all out then grabbed the body under the shoulders and dragged it to over to the bin. She checked the pockets and removed car keys and cash, tossed the mobile phone down a nearby grate. There was no wallet or ID – no surprise. The body was heavy but she was strong and knew the technique. She lifted him onto her shoulder then stood up and flipped it backwards into the refuse bin before immediately turning to throw all the rubbish sacks on top, moving one or two from where they settled to ensure the body was covered. She closed the lid and looked around, still no sign of anyone. She looked at her hands. There was some blood, but her white t-shirt was soaked red from where she had dragged and carried him. She tore it off and wrapped the knife in it, then picked up the dark hoodie she had dropped and put that on. She checked the area around the bin to ensure she had cleaned up properly. She checked the waist band of her jeans and the small steak knife was still there. Satisfied, she moved swiftly back down the alley to the main street then paused to check again before turning right and walking away from the hotel, down the main street, the white t-shirt tightly bundled in her fist. She passed a bin marked for dog waste and discarded the t-shirt and knife there, knowing that no-one would pause to check what was there before dropping in more dog waste.

She kept walking past the shops and cafes until she got to a pub, busy with evening drinkers. Walking in, she saw the sign for the Ladies and prayed it would be empty. She was in luck, washing her hands thoroughly, the sticky blood clinging to her nails. She splashed her face and smoothed down her hair. Dark blue bruising was already appearing around her throat. How to get out of here? She went into the cubicle and checked what she had taken from the dead guy. Car keys with a BMW logo, cash, a knife. He wouldn’t have had the keys if someone was waiting for him. They would have kept them for a quick getaway when he returned from doing the job. It was a risk, but then what wasn’t? She walked back towards the hotel, scanning the whole time. The keys hidden in her pocket, she passed a red BMW. No joy. Walking on, she turned left past the hotel onto a quieter road, mainly offices rather than shops. There were plenty of parked cars, all empty, all quiet, apart from the black BMW parked at the end of the road whose lights flashed when she pressed the key in her pocket. She jumped in quickly and started the engine. The tank was half full, the radio was off and the car was completely empty, not even a log book or a sweet wrapper.

She pulled away, not yet knowing where she was going. The plan was to just keep running and, if they kept coming after her, then she had no other option. In her mind it was self-defence – who knew what a judge would say? But this was one case that would never end up in any court of law. There was too much at stake and the risks were too high. They would all go down if she ended up in court.

That’s how she knew they wanted her dead.

 

Short story - Crime

The runner: part one

He was standing quite still. He was some distance away, but it was definitely him, looking straight at her, and she knew then that he had been following her all the time, watching her.

He must have tracked her as she left the safe house that morning; he had been there all along, watching, waiting for her to make a move. She had changed her whole routine; no meet-ups, no contact, not even a morning run or grabbing a coffee, she had gone into total lockdown.  She was only a few days in, so she still hadn’t worked out a long-term plan, she was just lying low, regrouping. But still he had found her, he had been patiently biding his time, waiting.

She realised he must have been following her as soon as she broke cover. She shouldn’t have left; she had been warned never to leave unless she had her next move planned. Things just hadn’t worked out. But she had thought she was safe, that they didn’t know where to find her.

She had been careful as she left the house, not taking an obvious route, doubling back on herself. She had gone into shops, browsing books, looking at ready meals, reading magazines while all the time scanning the other customers, the street outside, anything out of place, anyone who might be following her. When she thought she was clear she relaxed a little, and walked further along the streets, through the suburbs and towards the city, taking no particular or predictable route, just walking and thinking. Then she saw the park, heard the sound of chatter, laughter, children playing. She impulsively turned around and walked towards the park gates. She saw the groups of people brought out by the sunny weather, some having picnics, some with young children, dogs, friends, families. So many normal, happy people, and she saw safety and maybe a way out. She walked along the pathway that divided the lush parkland and, with an almost imperceptible movement, scanned the faces as she walked past, noting the position of every group.

Then she saw him. Her stride halted for a split second then she walked on, faster, with renewed purpose. She realised then that they had really meant it. She would not be safe until she completed the job, maybe they would never let her go. He had meant for her to see him.

She felt again in her jacket pocket – the syringe was still there, pre-loaded and ready. She held it tight, frightened it might discharge in her pocket, in her thigh, and then it would be over.

She walked through the park purposefully, looking for the exit, knowing he was following. She left through the main gates and crossed the busy road that ran alongside the park, dodging through the slow-moving traffic. She turned right at the junction and down the main avenue, walking amongst the rich tourists and slow shoppers, blending in, unobserved, except by him, until she arrived at the hotel entrance. She had been told that the target would be there, staying all week, and that he would be expecting a visitor.  She reached inside her jacket for the baseball cap and pulled it tightly on her head, then walked through the main entrance and across the lobby with her head tilted down and her hands in her pockets.  She glanced at the reception desk to see if she had been noticed, but they were too busy checking-in a large group of Japanese tourists. She deftly moved around the large crowd and their luggage, heading for the stairs rather than the lift and hoping her presence would appear on as few security cameras as possible.

Once in the stairwell she pulled on gloves and took the stairs two at a time until she arrived at the third floor. She paused.  She was sure she had heard someone in the stairwell below and knew he was still following her.  Moving silently along the corridor she got to room 307 and knocked.

‘Just a minute.’ The man’s voice was cautious. ‘Who is it?’

‘It’s a special delivery, the gift you ordered from Mason,’ she replied calmly, glancing around to check that no one was in the corridor. She felt a sudden surge of adrenaline as she heard the bolt and chain slide back and the heavy hotel door swung open. He looked at her, his hair still damp from the shower, his hotel bathrobe hanging loosely open at his chest. He was older than he had appeared in his photos, unfit, his lifestyle had finally caught up with him. He looked at her quizzically for a second, as if he might recognise her from somewhere. She moved fast, shoving him back into the room with a force that knocked him off balance and kicked the door closed behind her.

He swung a fist to her face but missed; she had anticipated it and stepped deftly to the side. Then in one swift movement she turned and plunged the syringe hard into his chest with practised force, knowing as his eyes widened in shock that she had hit his heart first time. He tried to grab her but she stepped back, just out of reach, and watched him as he gasped in pain, his arms clutched across his chest as he dropped heavily to the floor, his body jerking and fitting, his face contorted in pain. She stood over him for a few seconds longer, just to be sure it was done, before pulling out the syringe and putting it back in her coat pocket.

She turned, opened the door and stepped into the corridor, checking it was clear of any guests or staff before closing it softly behind her. She walked swiftly towards the lift area, opened the door that led to the stairs and ran down them, quickly and silently, exiting into the lobby and walking calmly across the plush carpets and through the milling guests, scanning all the time.

He was sitting in one of the armchairs, reading a paper. He looked up at her and she gave an almost imperceptible nod as she walked through the door. The busy street was filled with shoppers and tourists and she disappeared into the crowd. As she peeled off the gloves and stuffed them into her pocket, her pace quickened. She knew he would be following her. She walked past the first few shops, looking far ahead for the right one, then suddenly turned and disappeared into the entrance of a large department store.  Without stopping, she grabbed a smart dark blue jacket and put it on before taking a summer scarf from another display and wrapping it over her hair. She dropped to her knees, as if to tie a shoelace, and crouched, silently watching the entrance. Then he walked in.

She stayed low as she saw him walk briskly past, feeling his intensity, his focus. Then she got up and walked quickly back to the entrance, flinging the jacket and scarf onto a rail before she left. She started walking faster, weaving among the crowds of shoppers and tourists. She passed a group of well-dressed ladies, talking loudly and animatedly, their expensive jewellery glinting in the sunlight. She bumped into the group and caused one of them to stumble, then smiled her apologies and walked swiftly on. She slipped the expensive Hermes purse into her jacket before going into the next pub she saw and walking into the toilet.  She locked herself in a cubicle, hid the syringe in the toilet cistern and checked the purse. Some high-end credit cards but no chance to use them. There was a wad of notes, enough cash to get her through the next few days.

She left the pub and walked towards the main square, filled with outdoor cafes and tables. At the far end a tour bus was parked up in a side street, waiting for the final members of its cargo of tourists to return. The engine was running, but the driver was pacing around a few feet in front of the bus, checking his watch and puffing furiously on a cigarette.

She smiled confidently at him and jumped on to the coach, taking an empty seat. The last few stragglers arrived apologetically with sheepish smiles, dragging full shopping bags.  The driver stubbed out his cigarette on the cobbles and climbed aboard. The brakes hissed, the bus roared into life and started to pull away.  She slowly let out a breath and sank deep in her seat.  She wasn’t sure if she had lost them, but at least she had bought herself some time to come up with a plan. Her heart sank with the knowledge that she would never be free of them now.

Then the realisation dawned on her; there was only one way out.