Chapter Nine

I couldn't remember a worse time trying to sneak through an 'enemy' territory for a reconnaissance mission. Ninjas are dangerous, but they don't go walking around with a Glock stuffed in their waistband. I was damn fortunate that they were accustomed to the hallway lights being off, or I would have had to scale the building outside. No thanks…

The hallway filled and emptied with incoming and outgoing officers, detectives, even a sheriff or two. I sat motionless behind the same saving potted plant as before, heartbeat keeping in time with the nearby clock. It was here that I'd noticed a lull between rushes, every 15 minutes or so. The first few rushes were huge, and I damn near had to hide in the closet at first. After a while fewer and fewer people came through, until a lone cop or two clopped down the hallway.

I reached into my pocket, fingering the edge of a small tanto that I'd always kept on my self since I'd gotten it as a kid. I knew there was a chance I would get caught or shot trying to reclaim my bag. There was a chance I might be put in a 'kill or be killed' situation. Some unlucky cop with a wife and kids could be in the wrong place at the wrong time…

Usually you just think of cops as some conceited bastards that like to hear themselves talk and flash their guns around. To me, they're just there to take the credit – I honestly didn't give a shit. But stuck in that hallway for damn near an hour, listening to them yappin' about their kids having snow days off, or needing to get home and shovel the wife's car out – It just gets to you. Pissed off, depressed, I dunno. It wasn't important, not now.

The shift transition came to an end, most officers donning thick winter parkas before heading out to deal with the insanity. I crept through the shadows and managed to get into the elevator without anyone noticing a giant overdressed hunchback walking amongst them.

I hit the button for the basement floor before pulling myself up through the roof hatch to the elevator shaft. The shaft was dark, faint red worklights shone up a few floors above. I counted the dings as I descended, feeling a knot of anticipation forming in my stomach. If I could get my ass out of this, I could survive anything…

The elevator jerked and bounced once it reached the bottom floor. I began to lower a leg into the cart, when the door suddenly opened and two guys in lab coats stepped in. I shrank back, cussing silently as they hit a button to go up. That was when I saw a small lever marked 'Emergency brake' just to my left. I nearly threw my weight against the switch, and the elevator jerked to a full stop. The two geeky-looking fellas in the bottom yelped in surprise before jabbing as many buttons as they could on the elevator's console.

I pulled the tanto from my pocket, shaking my head. These two were talking so much, I probably could have climbed down without them noticing me. I started grabbing wires, cutting and pulling them out of order. The elevator went dark, quiet and dead in a matter of seconds. Needless to say, the two techies never saw me coming.

I was now stuck in a powerless and broken elevator with two techies that were knocked out via head conking a la the Three Stooges. You couldn't make this kind of stuff up, honestly.

I rooted through their pockets in the darkness, hoping for some key cards, key chains, anything. I succeeded in finding some ID cards, a couple of keys and a half-melted Snickers bar. Hell, a candy bar would be worth keeping at this rate. I found a pistol in one guy's underarm holster. Eh, Just in case. I stuffed the gun in my waistband before moving to the doors. I stepped over the two bodies and pressed my ear to the door. I didn't hear anything, but it wouldn't take long for someone to find out the elevator was trashed. I pried the elevator console open with my knife, slashing through the pile of lights and wires.

The doors opened with a faint hiss before quiet ensued again. The hallway was lit by a few bands of fluorescent lights on either wall, about a foot from the floor. I could have done the sneaky thing and pry the lights open, delicately dislodging the light bulbs enough to turn them off. But I'm not that patient, nor did I have time to fuck around. I knew I didn't have a lot of time left. I pulled the gun from my waist, gripping the barrel before smashing the lights with the handle.

The hallway was now dark, save for the dim red light from the sign pointing to the elevator. I looked at the gun and figured I wouldn't need it anymore. I pulled the cartridge out and dumped its contents on the floor. Down the hall a ways was a door marked 'boiler room'. I threw the gun inside and kept going.

I made my way down the hallway before I finally came to a door marked 'Evidence' in large block letters. The doorknob was a mix of regular key lock and high tech card-reading gizmo. I slid the card through the reader: a small green light flashed and I heard a soft click. I eased the door open, peeking inside. Another door – well, more like a gate. Chain link fencing separated the door from a high counter. Another higher chain fence separated the receiving area from the main storage area. The larger area was full of high shelves and countless file cabinets that nearly touched the ventilation ducts overhead.

A cool draft blew past my face as I carefully closed the door behind me. The chainlink door didn't have a key slider on it, but a regular key lock. This wasn't a problem… I pulled out the ring of keys and started going through each one. Of course, the key I NEED is the last one out of a stack of a dozen or so keys. The gate opened without even a squeak, and I exhaled in relief, stepping inside.

I heard both door locks click as I stepped away. At least no one else could sneak in if I get stuck. Like that'll happen…

The air was dry, controlled for evidence preservation. The chainlink on the door was cold, even through my gloves. As I stepped forward, I could see over the counter and into the storage area. To my right there was a solid partition that reached up towards the open air. On the other side of the counter, I could see the tables covered with zip-loc bags, bright yellow ID tags stapled to each one. The piles of bags were neatly lined up on the counters, stretching around the room and into some walk-in space that I couldn't see into. I climbed over the counter and ducked down. There were piles of zip-loc bags everywhere.

"Shit," I muttered, "This is not good".

I started on the biggest bags on the floor: clothes, knives, cell phones, spray paint cans, crackpipes. No duffel. As I moved closer to the door of the storage area, the faintest rumble of voices came from further within. I slid up to the fencing, straining to listen.

"So this is everything?"

"Yep, Two bats and the duffel," a gruff voice replied. 'Damn thing weighs a ton. Dunno what the hell's in it."

Ding Ding Ding! Finally… I kept tabs on their location as I crept through the gate. The storage area was huge with dozens of shelves full of filing boxes. I kept my hand on the tanto in my belt as I ducked into an aisle.

"You said it was the only item in the alley?"

"Yeah, none of the bums in the alley claimed it. Said another figure owned."

I peered around the corner. There were two men standing there with their backs to me. One was a heavy-set older man with salt and pepper hair. The word 'Sheriff' stretched across the back of his jacket with big yellow letters. The other man was thinner, short with dark hair and a jacket. A snarl of rubber gloves stuck out of his back pocket. Probably CSI or something…

"Probably the same bastard that attacked Neely the next road over."

"Maybe it's a drug runner," The CSI guy said. He pulled two gloves from his back pocket and snapped them on.

They were both hunched over the bag, totally unaware that I was getting close enough to touch the hem of their jackets. I held my breath, reaching one hand toward the sheriff's gun holster, my other holding the tanto in a defensive position. I heard the zipper on my bag get undone.

"A bunch of magazines?" The sheriff suddenly stood upright. My hand bumped the smooth black metal of his revolver. I hitched a breath; the sheriff suddenly turned.

"What the-"

I ripped the gun from the sheriff's holster. I wrapped my arm around him, holding the knife to his throat before he could finish speaking. The tech spun around and put his hands up when he saw my gun in his face.

"Don't move."

The sheriff slowly put his hands up and took a deep breath. The tech was frozen, eyes huge and his face turned white.

"You're out of your damn mind, Kid…"

"Spare me the bullshit," I said. I pressed the knife to his throat. He hissed softly and stood still.

"Look, what do you want?" He said. I kept the gun aimed at him, watching sweat bead on his forehead.

"The Bag. Now," I said. I pulled the sheriff closer and nodded towards my duffel. The tech's eyes flashed a few times between the sheriff and me.

"Don't even think of trying anything," I said, cocking the gun. I was still trying to get used to the weight in my hand.

"Okay, okay," the Tech said, ducking his head. He slowly turned, zipping the bag shut and lifting it by the strap. I motioned him to come closer with the gun barrel. He slowly set the bag on the floor and slid it towards me. I waited for him to step back, and then nudged the sheriff hard.

"Pick it up," I said. He glanced over his shoulder before kneeling down. I kept the knife pressed to his neck as he grabbed the strap.

I caught him looking back at me again. Its not like he could really see what I looked like. I had a scarf over my face and a hood on. The only thing they could see was a three-fingered glove holding the gun. But I didn't wanna give him a chance of seeing anything. I knocked him upside the head with the pistol grip. He fell to his hands and knees, cursing. I kept the knifepoint on the back of his neck, gun still pointed at the now pale-faced tech.

"It'll be best for all of us if you don't do that again."

He touched the side of his head gingerly. A thin line of blood drew itself down from his temple. His upper lip curled into a snarl.

"Sonuvabitch", he said, "There's no way in hell you're gonna get out of here in one piece."

"You got enough problems to worry about yourself," I said. "Now, where is –"

The loud ring of the phone echoed loudly from the front desk, making the three of us jump. The tech took a step towards the door, and I glared at him.

"Don't answer that…"

"You're gonna have to."

I looked down at the sheriff, knife still pointed at his neck. He wiped the blood off his forehead as he sat back on his heels.

"If you don't answer, they're gonna come down here in droves."

Shit. I looked from the Sheriff to the tech for a moment, thinking. Whether we answered or not, we were going to end up surrounded. The best we could do was answer and convince upstairs that nothing was happening… The phone continued to ring loudly. I stuffed the tanto back into my belt and pulled my bag up over one shoulder.

"Fine, let's move", I said. I reached down, taking the sheriff by the arm and pulling him to his feet. "But if either of you flip out and tell them what's going on, you're gonna regret it."

I kept a grip on the Sheriff's collar, still holding the gun towards the tech as we made our way to the phone. I stopped just inside the area behind the counter, keeping the entry to the storage area to my back. I motioned to the tech to get the phone. He swallowed hard, picking up the receiver.

"Hello?"

My gaze was locked onto his. I strained to hear the other side of the conversation, but all I could hear was a low buzz. I could see the tech's hand trembling as he spoke with whoever was on.

"Any problems? No, everything is fine…"

The Sheriff was still next to me, nursing the cut on his head. He glanced at me briefly before shaking his head in Disgust. I glared at him before turning back to the tech. the conversation had degraded from short sentences to just yes or no answers. The muscles in my leg started to twitch – this was taking too long. Then he glanced at me, eyes darting up and down. He was giving them my description. I stepped forward, raising the gun again.

"Get off right now," I growled. The tech's eyes got huge.

"Don't shoot," he blurted, raising his hands (and phone) in the air. The phone buzzed loudly, and I knew I only had a few minutes until I was surrounded-

The gun went off, kicking back nearly out of my hand. The tech gave a startled cry as he fell to the phone. The phone landed somewhere in the room.

"Dammit!" Hollered the sheriff. He lunched at me, struggling to get the gun. I kicked him hard enough to make him double over and through him into the storage area, shutting the gate.

A loud bang came from the front door – backup was trying to bust their way in. I stuffed the gun in my belt, adjusted my bag and scaled up the chainlink fencing.

"Get down here, you bastard," The sheriff said, staggering and coughing. The Sheriff tried to climb up after me, shaking the fencing. I didn't hear anything from the tech by the counter and half-wondered if I'd actually shot him.

The banging on the door got louder as I made it to the top of the fencing. Just above me, the ventilation shaft loomed overhead. There was a flimsy looking grate on one end, easy enough to pull off. The door below me suddenly crashed open, cops cramming themselves into the space behind the gate.

"Stop right there!" One shouted. The cocks of a dozen pistols clicked loudly.

"Sorry, places to go..." I said, teetering on the top of the fencing. I launched off the fence and reached for the grate.

Time slowed as I traveled mid-air, the thought of missing the grate and landing about twenty feet below forcing its way to the surface. My fingers caught the lip of the grate, and then I was suddenly falling –

"Fuck.."

I suddenly was jerked back and forth; my arms feeling yanked out of their sockets as I hung in mid-air. I looked up – the grate was attached to the vent by a hinge on the bottom edge.

"Dammit, he's gonna fall!" I heard from below me. I couldn't see below me, but I'm sure they were still trying to come up after me. Someone took a warning shot at me, the bullet bouncing off the side of the vent. I took a deep breath before reaching upward, pulling myself into the ventilation shaft.

"Come down now or else!" More bullets pinged and dinked against the side of the vent. One grazed my leg, nearly causing me to lose grip.

"Fuckin sonuvabitch..." I roared as I pulled my legs inside the shaft. It stung real bad, like a red-hot poker touching my leg. I ground my teeth as I crawled through the maze of tunnels, listening for the sounds of an exhaust fan that would lead me to the outside. I could hear alarms going off through the vents as I scrambled through the darkness.

I sure got myself into one hell of a clusterfuck this time. It was gonna be damn luck if I didn't get caught at this rate. I was making random turns, trying to remember where in the building I had been in. I thought I was going in circles, when the squeaky grind of a fan played its song of freedom and escape.

I came up as close as I could, peering through the whirling fans and to the outside. It opened to an avenue, letting store signs and traffic lights shine through. The vent had another grate on it to keep trash and rats out, but I could see a few screws holding the whole thing in. I had to struggle in the cramped space, but I managed to grab the tanto in the back of my belt and started unscrewing the whole contraption off.

A group of legs suddenly ran by, and I pulled back. No doubt I'd have to make a run for it as soon as I removed the grate. I knew there was a subway entrance nearby, the question was how many cops and cars were in-between. The pain in my leg only made things harder to concentrate. I felt blood seeping down my leg as I managed to get the last screw undone.

I worked the grate loose, peering outside to see anyone standing nearby. Finally, I pushed the grate out and crawled out onto the snow. I got to my feet, only to fall against the side of the building in pain. It took a few deep breaths before I started gimping as fast as I could across the street.

I narrowly missed a few speeding taxis, not without a curse or two, as I made my way through the snow. I could see the entrance to the subways just ahead of me.

"Police! Stop where you are!" A voice shouted from nearby. I turned, seeing two armed officers coming towards me. A few panicked shoppers jumped and lost their bags as I forced my way past the crowds to the tunnel stairs. I clutched my duffel close, squeezing through the mass of people and getting into a subway car.

"Don't let that train go!" I heard from behind. I worked my way up through to the front of the train, towards the part hidden further into the subway tunnel. I came to the door of the car and stepped through, closing the door behind me. I jumped onto the ladder and climbed onto the roof of the car.

I watched for a few minutes, when two or three cops came through the partition between the cars. It was a few more minutes before they came back through, looking pissed-off and dejected. I took a deep breath and laid my head down as the train finally started to move…