Long Lost Page 40

No response.

’’Terese?’’

And then I heard the whirring, screeching sound of a power drill.

The adrenaline spike snatched my breath away. My eyes squeezed shut, but only for a second. No time to waste. My legs tingled, but I pumped them even harder.

The drilling sound stopped, and then a man\'s voice came on:

’’Payback is a bitch, don\'t you think?’’

The refined English accent, that same cadence as when he said to me in Paris: ’’Listen to me or I will shoot you dead . . .’’

The man I hit with the table. The man in the mug shot.

The line went dead.

I grabbed my gun, running now with one hand holding the cell phone, one hand holding the weapon. Fear is a funny thing. It can make you do some miraculous things you\'ve read all the tales of people lifting cars off loved ones, for example but it can also paralyze you, do crippling things to your body and mind, make it difficult to draw hard breath. Sprinting can suddenly feel heavy, like trudging dreamlike through deep snow. I needed to calm myself even as the terror tore a hole in my chest.

Up ahead I could see Karen\'s house.

The young blonde stood by the front door.

When she saw me, she disappeared inside Karen\'s house. This was so obviously a trap, but really, what choice did I have here? The call from Terese\'s phone the sound of the power drill still rang in my ears. That had been the point, hadn\'t it? And what had Win said? Ten minutes. Probably down to six or maybe seven by now.

Should I wait? Could I?

I ducked down and moved closer to the houses. Hit my speed dial. Win said, ’’Five minutes.’’ I hung up.

The blonde was in the house now. I didn\'t know who else was there or what the situation was. Five minutes. I could wait five minutes. They\'d be the longest of my life, but I could do it, needed to do it, had to stay disciplined in the face of pure panic. I stayed low, crouched under a window, listened. Nothing. No screams. No power drill. I didn\'t know if that was a relief or if I had gotten there too late.

I kept down, back against the brick. The window was above my head. I tried to picture the layout of the house. This window looked in on the living room. Okay, so? So nothing. I waited. The gun felt good in my hand, the weight a comfort. Guns of any size are substance. I was a good shot, not a great one. You had to practice a lot to be great. But I knew to aim at the center of the chest and I could usually come close enough.

So now what?

Stay calm. Wait for Win. He was good at this stuff.

’’Payback is a bitch, don\'t you think?’’

The refined accent, the calm tone. I flashed back to Mario and those damn holes, the unfathomable pain while hearing that damn refined accent. How long had that gone on? How long had Mario had to endure the pain? Did he welcome death in the end, or fight it?

Sirens crackled in the distance. The police heading to Mario\'s maybe.

I don\'t wear a watch anymore, so I checked the time on my cell phone. If Win was accurate and he usually was he was still three minutes from arriving. What to do here?

My gun.

I wondered if the blonde had seen it. I doubt it. As Win has pointed out, firearms are rare in the UK. Whoever was inside that house would probably figure I would be unarmed. Hard as it was, I put the gun away, back in my leg holster.

Three minutes.

My cell phone rang. The caller ID showed me that it was Terese\'s phone again. I said a tentative hello.

’’We know you are outside,’’ the refined voice said. ’’You have ten seconds to walk through that door with your hands up or I shoot one of these fine ladies in the head. One, two . . .’’

’’I\'m coming.’’

’’Three, four . . .’’

No choice. I jumped up from my crouch and sprinted to the door.

’’Five, six, seven . . .’’

’’Don\'t hurt them, I\'m almost there.’’

Don\'t hurt them. Duh. But what else was there to say?

I turned the knob. It was unlocked. The door opened. I stepped inside.

The refined voice: ’’I said, hands up.’’

I put my hands high in the air. The man in the mug shot stood across the room from me. He had white tape across his face. His eyes were the black you get from a broken nose. I would have taken some satisfaction in that, but for one thing, he had a gun in his hand. For another, Terese and Karen were on their knees in front of him, hands behind their backs, facing me. They both looked relatively unharmed.

I glanced left and right. Two more men, both with guns trained on my head.

No sign of the blond girl.

I stayed perfectly still, hands up, trying to look as nonthreatening as possible. Win had to be close by now. Another minute or two. I needed to stall. I made eye contact with the man I\'d fought with in Paris. I kept my tone even, controlled.

’’Look, let\'s talk, okay? There\'s no reason ’’

He put the gun against the back of Karen Tower\'s head, smiled at me, and pulled the trigger.

There was a deafening sound, a small spurt of red, absolute stillness;a moment of suspended animation followed, and then Karen\'s body dropped to the floor like a marionette with her strings cut. Terese screamed. Maybe I screamed too.

The man began to swing the gun toward Terese.

OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod . . .

’’No!’’

Instinct took over and it was a mantra: Save Terese. I dived, literally as though I were in a pool, toward them. Bullets from the two guys on my left and right rang out, but they had made the common mistake of covering me by pointing their guns at my head. Their aim ended up being too high. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Terese rolling away as he started training the gun on her.

Had to move faster.

I was trying to do several things at once: keep low, avoid bullets, get across the room, pull the gun from my leg holster, kill the bastard. I was closing the gap. Zigzagging would have been the preferred route here, but there was no time. The mantra kept ringing in my head: Save Terese. I had to get to him before he pulled the trigger again.

I screamed louder, not out of fear or pain, but to draw his attention, to make him at least hesitate or turn toward me anything to divert, for even a half second, his goal of shooting Terese.

I was getting closer.

Time was doing the in \'n\' out thing. Probably a second, maybe two, had passed since Karen\'s execution. That was all. And now, with no time to think or plan, I was nearly on him.

But I was going to be too late. I could see that now. I reached out, as if I could cover the distance that way. I couldn\'t. I was still too far away.


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