Bones of the Lost
HEART POUNDING, I CRAWLED TOWARD the brick angling down to form the edge of the recess. Craned out.
More footfalls. Then heavy boots appeared at the top of the stairs, beside them a pair of small feet, one bare, the other in a platform pump.
The feet started to descend, the small ones wobbly, their owner somehow impaired. The lower legs angled oddly, suggesting the knees bore little weight.
Anger burned hot in my chest. The woman was drugged. The bastard was dragging her.
Four treads lower, the man and woman crossed an arrow of moonlight. Not a woman, a girl. Her hair was long, her arms and legs refugee thin. I could see a triangle of white tee below the man’s chin. A pistol grip jutting from his waistband.
The pair again passed into darkness. Their tightly pressed bodies formed a two-headed black silhouette.
Stepping from the bottom tread, the man started muscling the girl toward the loading-dock door, pushing her, a hand clamping her neck. She stumbled. He yanked her up. Her head flopped like a Bobblehead doll’s.
The girl took a few more staggering steps. Then her chin lifted and her body bucked. A cry broke the stillness, animal shrill.
The man’s free arm shot out. The silhouette recongealed. I heard a scream of pain, then the girl pitched forward onto the concrete.
The man dropped to one knee. His elbow pumped as he pummeled the inert little body.
“Fight me, you little bitch?”
The man punched and punched until his breath grew ragged.
Rage flamed white-hot in my brain, overriding any instinct for personal safety.
I scuttled over and grabbed the Beretta. Checked the safety, thankful for the practice I’d put in at the range.
Satisfied with the gun, I reached for my phone. It wasn’t with the flashlight.
I searched my other pocket. No phone.
Had I dropped it? In my frenzied dash, had I left it at home?
The panic was almost overwhelming. I was off the grid. What to do?
A tiny voice advised caution. Remain hidden. Wait. Slidell knows where you are.
“You are so dead.” The voice boomed, cruel and malicious.
I whipped around.
The man was wrenching the girl up by her hair.
Holding the Beretta two-handed in front of me, I darted from the alcove. The man froze at the sound of movement. I stopped five yards from him. Using a pillar for cover, I spread my feet and leveled the barrel.
“Let her go.” My shout reverberated off brick and concrete.
The man maintained his grasp on the girl’s hair. His back was to me.
He let go and straightened. His palms slowly rose to the level of his ears.
As the man rotated, another fragment of light caught him. For a second I saw his face with total clarity.
On spotting his foe, the man’s hands dipped slightly. Sensing he could see me better than I could see him, I squeezed further behind the pillar.
“The fucking slut lives.”
You’ll die, too, fucking slut.
“Takes balls to send threats by e-mail.” My voice sounded much more confident than I felt. “To bully defenseless little girls.”
“Debt to pay? You know the rules.”
“Your debt-collecting days are over, you sick sonofabitch.”
“Says a dozen cops racing here now.”
The man cupped an upraised hand to one ear. “I don’t hear no sirens.”
“Move away from the girl,” I ordered.
He took a token step.
“Move,” I snarled. The guy’s fuck-you attitude was making me want to smash the Beretta across his skull.
“Or what? You’re gonna shoot me?”
“Yeah.” Cold steel. “I’m gonna shoot you.”
Would I? I’d never fired at a human being.
Where the hell was Slidell? I knew my bluff was being sustained by coffee and adrenaline. Knew both would eventually wear off.
The girl groaned.
In that split second I lost the advantage that might have allowed him to live.
I looked down.
Fresh adrenaline blasted through me.
I raised the gun.
He closed in.
I sighted on the white triangle.
The explosion echoed brutally loud. The concussion knocked my hands up, but I held position.
The man dropped.
In the murky gloom I saw the triangle go dark. Knew crimson was spreading across it. A perfect hit. The Triangle of Death.
Silence, but for my own rasping breath.
Then my higher centers caught up with my brain stem.
I’d killed a man.
My hands shook. Bile filled my throat.
I swallowed. Steadied the gun and stole forward.
The girl lay motionless. I crouched and placed trembling fingers on her throat. Felt a pulse, faint but steady.
I swiveled. Gazed at the man’s mute, malevolent eyes.
Suddenly I was exhausted. Revolted by what I’d just done.
I wondered. In my state, could I make good decisions? Carry through? My phone was back at the house.
I wanted to sit, hold my head in my hands, and let the tears flow.
Instead I drew a few steadying breaths, rose, and crossed what seemed a thousand miles of darkness. Climbed the stairs on rubbery legs.
A single passage cut right at the top. I followed it to the only closed door.
Gun tight in one clammy hand, I reached out and turned the knob with the other.
The door swung in.
I stared into pure horror.