Chapter One: Safe
Safety. The word echoed in the girl's mind as she ran her finger along the old leather bound books. The thing they had bought her secrets with, the only thing they could give her that she had so desperately craved. And now she had it; there was nothing they could offer her now that she didn't have. Her life was hers, and that was all there was to it.
The bookshop was old, as were most of its contents. The leather bound books were often ignored by the younger generation and only truly appreciated by those much older than the girl. However, occasionally she would catch a glimpse of another member of her own generation among the dusty pages and smile a little at the fact she wasn't alone. For the first time she felt like someone else understood her strange ways.
Most people in the store had predictable types of stories: grandparents looking for something to read to consume their free time, mothers desperately trying to cling to children as they wreaked havoc pulling books off shelves only to discard them onto the floor, or the occasional teenager looking for something for either an English project or some new adventure to lose themselves in.
It was sort of magical- the only thing these people probably had in common was the books that brought them here, the only life adventures they would ever share together would be through characters that were never real to this world. It made the girl smile as she continued along the shelves, thinking about her plans for the rest of the day. It was a strange thing for her, for most of her life her days had been planned for her, either by her controlling father or by fate. For once she felt free to do as she pleased, and she found a sort of happiness in the thought.
But all good things must end. The girl continued to run her fingers along a line of books, crouching down to a lower level and pretending to thoroughly examine the spine of a golden colored book, while really examining the men that stood at the end of the aisle.
Something about them didn't fit. The way they seemed almost uninterested in the mysteries of the books put her on edge, the way their eyes skimmed over spine after spine like they weren't looking for a title or an author but for something else entirely. Years of training told her that they had found what they were looking for. The pair exchanged a few hushed whispers that were far less a secret to the girl than they would have hoped. She sighed as she thought about the layout of the bookstore and the surrounding streets. She had memorized maps of the town as soon as she had arrived, and she knew the layout of the bookstore due to the fact she had spent everyday here since her arrival, knowing that its location was central and public enough that surely no one would try anything there. Or so she'd hoped.
She gave up scanning the books to focus her attention on the problem of the two men and moved over to the next aisle, taking careful note of when the pair of men appeared, once again, at the opposite end of the aisle to her. Not as subtle as they used to be but she wasn't in the mood for games anymore. Only forty-five seconds- that was the delay time she would have if she left the store to get away from them. Could she make it down an alley? Even if she could, most of the alleys were long and she would be easily spotted along them.
Deciding leaving was her best hope she exited the shop calmly and began to mingle among the crowd flowing either direction in the street. She quickly pulled off her leather jacket and handed it to the homeless man she had noticed was always outside the Starbucks next to the bookstore. This left her in a white hoodie rather than a dark jacket that might give her a few more seconds before the pursuers realized it was her. She moved easily through the crowd, her small frame and determined walk made it easy to slalom between the ordinary citizens of the town. She couldn't look behind her: they'd be checking for anyone who was looking the wrong way. Their eyes would be more drawn to someone looking suspicious, so her best bet was to keep walking and checking in the mirrors of the cars that had parked along the side of the street.
Her walk quickened in pace as the crowds grew thinner. She knew she had to make it to Chaff; it was probably her best shot of getting out of there alive. Turning sharply down a long alleyway she broke into a sprint, focusing completely the other end of the alleyway. If she could make it-
Then the van appeared. Naturally there had to be a van. A man appeared around the side of the van and she realized she didn't have a choice anymore. She grabbed the pistols from her waist and fired the first few shots into the man, not taking any chances. She pivoted quickly and shot one of the approaching men easily before jumping behind a nearby Dumpster and waiting for the next.
"I know you're there, princess," he sneered. Sure the girl had been more difficult to find than most of the others he'd been sent to track down in the past, but that was his job. Simply to retrieve objects that had wandered astray and teach them a lesson or two. So what if one or two of them made it a challenge every now and again, now that he had her she wasn't escaping. Especially with his two team mates lying dead on the cold unforgiving ground.
The girl growled at him mentally before standing and quickly firing a shot that tore through the man's hand like it was merely air, causing the gun he had been holding seconds before to fly across the alley. He let out a scream like a wild animal and the girl considered killing him then, so as not to draw more attention to them.
"Listen closely. I know who sent you and I know why. In fact I know a hell of a lot more about him than he'd like to think, and I have no problem heading to the cops with it if that's what it'll take to get him to fuck the hell off. And I don't care how many more of you idiots he sends after me; I'll get rid of you all just like I did your companions. I'm giving you one chance to tell me exactly what he wants with me and I might consider letting you live. You have one chance. He's already taken everything I have so I have no problem taking down a few of his hopeless henchman if they have the idiocy to think they can take me on and live to tell the tale. Clear?" she spat at him, standing a few feet away and keeping the pistol pointed perfectly at his heart. At this range there was no chance she would miss.
"I'll tell you nothing," he hissed back. She shrugged and shot at his thigh, managing to get a direct hit. If she did decide to take mercy the leg would most likely have to be amputated. It had been shot in such a way that the blood was spurting out onto the cold concrete of the alleyway, indicating that the hit would become life threatening in a couple of minutes.
"I'm giving you a chance to get help, if you just cooperate. It's not too much to ask really is it?" she smiled evilly at him, knowing the action would only aggravate him more. An aggravated, dying man was far more likely to make stupid mistakes and that was something she wanted to encourage at all costs.
"I said no," he growled, meeting her calm gaze with his fierce one.
"Pity," the girl sighed and turned away looking like she would simply leave the man there.
He quickly scrambled to where his own pistol lay and aimed at the girls retreating figure.
Only she was far faster and the sound of the single shot echoed down the alley, bouncing off the walls leaving no doubt about the events that had just happened.
She had been safe for a week. They had promised her a lifetime and she should have known it was too good to be true. Should have known that whoever was chasing her wouldn't have just rolled over and let her be. Putting on a pair of gloves that she carried everywhere in her jeans' pockets she ducked down and rummaged in the men's jackets, searching for anything useful. She took the money from their wallets and a cell phone. She made sure to return the wallets exactly where she had found them. She crushed her own phone on the ground before throwing the remains in the surrounding Dumpsters.
She opened the back of the van, making sure that there was nothing overly suspicious in there. All she noticed was a large dog-crate that she assumed she would have been travelling in if the men had succeeded in their twisted task. "First class accommodation. Thanks, boys," she sighed before slamming the van shut and heading round to the drivers' side and jumping into the seat easily.
A black bag was situated in the passenger seat and she quickly emptied the contents onto the seat. Her hands grabbed the only British passport and opened it, unsurprised to find her own face staring back at her. She had always hated the way her photo looked, making her appear like some sort of criminal. The name next to it startled her slightly though.
"Johanna Mason," she read. "Thought they would have at least tried to give me a new name," she thought out loud. She examined the other three and found the pictures matched the men outside. There was also some extra cash and a few documents she decided were unimportant- most just seemed to be files about her.
Pulling out the cell phone she quickly dialed the number she had had memorized basically since she understood the concept of numbers.
"Chaff it's me," the girl greeted the man she thought of as an uncle. "Yeah, I'm on the corner of 78th Street, I'll head over to the other side of the town meet me there with my things," she demanded and he mumbled something unintelligible. "Look just be there," she snapped and hung up. She knew he'd be there. He wouldn't be happy but he'd be there.
She took one last look at the bodies on the ground, where their blood slowly decorating the dark cement. She could burn them, pack them in the back of the van and watch the fire dance over them. But it wouldn't explain the bullets in them and questions would be asked about who'd lit the bodies. It was more believable to leave them like this and let people assume they'd shot at each other.
Walking through the back streets, she started thinking through her next move. Obviously she had to leave; they knew she was here now. She obviously couldn't go to the idiots at witness protection, there was some sort of trail they'd managed to follow to find her and she wasn't known for making the same mistake twice.
Droplets of water began falling from above and splashed on her head. She sighed and pulled her hood up over her head; suddenly thankful she hadn't taken the witness protection program's words so seriously. If she had thought it would all be ok, she could have easily been heading off to some evil lair (which was probably somewhere off the coast of Mexico given how unoriginal the whole plan had been) in a dog crate, heading for her imminent death.
Eventually she stood at the edge of the river and looked over it, wondering how far she'd have to go before this would end. She needed somewhere to think about her next move before she carried it out. But at the moment the only place she could afford to be was out of here.
"Yo Johanna, you awake in there or what?" a familiar voice called from across the parking lot. Johanna turned and smiled at the familiar figure approaching her.
"What you got for me?" she asked, admiring the car across the otherwise abandoned parking lot. The sleek curves of the car were highlighted as the setting sun reflected off its edges. She could tell just by looking at it that it would purr as she glided along the freeways.
"Ferrari California. It's a bit flashy but it'll get you where you need to go then you can trade it for a good price," Chaff explained, dangling the keys in front of her.
She grabbed them quickly before he had a chance to snatch them away and try to strike some ridiculous deal with her.
"I don't know. It's pretty. Might be fun to keep it," she thought out loud, smirking slightly as Chaff shot her a frustrated look.
"Pretty doesn't blend in. You need to blend in if you want to survive. I thought that was the first thing your father taught you." Chaff crossed his arms over his chest, looking at the girl he'd known since her birth, thinking about how she'd never change.
"Look how well that one ended," she sighed, more to herself than Chaff. Missing her father was an odd thing; she used to long for the day she would escape from his paranoid, intensive ways, but now that he wasn't here, she wasn't really sure what she was meant to do.
"Not everyone's fate is the same," Chaff pointed out.
"So we should just do whatever we want and choose not to learn from the mistakes others make and be doomed to repeat wasted lives over and over?" she questioned rhetorically.
"You're both doing the same thing though. Running will get you nowhere," he sighed, knowing there was no point in arguing with the girl. Once she'd made up her mind that was the end of it.
"But you've forgotten, my father ran from something and I'm running to something far more fortunate." The girl smirked before heading in the direction of the car.
"Your dinners on the seat," Chaff shouted after her. "Even psychos have to eat, you know," he muttered after her watching her figure retreating into the distance. She was headed to God only knew where, with a determination that would have even the devil running in the opposite direction.
Author's Note: So this is kind of something I've been toying with for a while, and now (well technically don't have time for it but still) finally got round to. So at the moment there will be one update a week, which will probably become more regular after November. But yeah, reviews would mean the world to me, as this is something that I would one day love to try and turn into an original idea, so yeah pretty please?