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
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
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
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
“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
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 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
“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
A single passage cut right at the top. I followed it to the only
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.