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.