Janet searched for something to say to break the tension in the air between them. Desperate to change the subject, she seized upon the first thing she saw.
“Hey, there’s a dog outside. It’s looking right at me.”
“Yeah so what? It’s probably just a stray.”
The words were scarcely out of her mouth before the dog bared its teeth and began barking. Another dog leapt out of the tall weeds and launched itself at the door, striking it with a thud that echoed in the cavernous warehouse. Janet was staring at the door in stunned silence when Andrea seized her sister’s hand and pulled her towards the basement.
They stumbled down the chipped concrete stairs as footsteps sounded on the floor above their heads. In the dark recesses of the basement, Janet could make out the shadowy hulking masses of manufacturing machinery. Andrea pulled her down on her knees beside a massive piece of equipment.
Janet followed her sister’s lead and slid on her belly beneath the machine. Andrea ran a sweaty hand along the bottom until she found what she was looking for. Janet thought fleetingly, had her sister been here before? One yank and a door opened. Andrea slithered in and pulled up her sister along behind her. Andrea noiselessly closed the trapdoor. They clung to one another and waited.
Dust tickled Janet’s nose. She fought the urge to sneeze. The dogs were coming close. She could hear the dogs’ claws clicking on the concrete floor. Andrea and Janet held each other tightly in the filthy crawl space, listening to what sounded to their frightened ears like an army of men shouting to be heard over the incessant barking of the excited dogs.
The men’s booted footsteps pounded the floor, as they rushed around searching for the sisters. One of the dogs snuffed around the base of their hiding place and began barking. Janet caught and held her breath, her eyes wide with fear, waiting for the awful moment when the door would open and they would be dragged out.
What if they set those dogs on them? Janet could practically feel those razor-sharp teeth sinking into her yielding flesh. They sat folded together, motionless for what seemed like hours, barely noticing cramps setting into their joints.
Just when Janet thought she could bear the suspense no longer, she heard footsteps retreating and all at once, the ordeal was over. Their pursuers had obviously missed the trapdoor. The men resumed their search upstairs and eventually left them alone.
When the silence resumed, Janet could hear the scuttle of vermin in the gloom around them. She moved to slip out. Now that the fear of capture had gone away, claustrophobia was closing in. She could feel herself about to begin hyperventilating.
Andrea grabbed her arm and shook her head. Janet signed and resigned herself to a few more moments in the cramped space. When they emerged, Janet allowed herself the luxury of a sneeze. Stiff legs conveyed them back up the stairs. The sunlight that shone weakly through the dusty window panes was reassuring after the dark, fetid basement. Janet fixed her sister with a stern look.
“How on earth did they find us?”
“Do I look like a mind reader? Who knows how they tracked us down?”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re not telling me something.”
“I tried to tell you and you said you didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Yeah, well I changed my mind. Allowing you to keep secrets is obviously bad for my health. You’ve been here before haven’t you?”
“Yes, but they don’t know that.”
“How the hell do you know what those people know? And who is ‘they’ anyway?”
“I don’t know their names.”
“Alright smart ass, what have you done or what is it that they think you did?”
“They may be under the impression that I have something that belongs to them. ”
“I’m going to assume you have it. Where did you get it?”
“Steve gave it to me for safekeeping.”
“So give it back to Steve so they can chase him.”
“It’s valuable. I’m not just gonna hand it over to a bunch of strangers. Something tells me they’re not gonna just let us go on our merry way afterwards. My gut tells me that the minute I hand it over they’ll kill both of us. These are the kind of people who hold grudges.”
“How do you know it’s valuable? Let’s face it sis, you’ve screwed over so many people I would need a spreadsheet just to keep them all straight. How do you know what those people want?”
“Because Steve told me all about it. He was going to double cross them and then sell it to the highest bidder.”
“Let me get this straight. This Steve guy tells you he’s about to screw over a bunch of dangerous people and you decide to join him? Just give this, this…what is this thing that has everybody all worked up?”
“It’s a talisman.”
“Give Steve back the stupid talisman so that we can go home.”
“I can’t do that Janet.”
“You can’t do it? What you mean is that you won’t give it back.”
“No, I mean I can’t give it back to Steve.”
“I’m probably going to regret asking but why can’t you give it back?”
“I can’t give it back because that was Steve’s dead body that we stepped over last night.”
“Wait a minute. I thought that guy was some stranger who broke into your house. You mean you knew him? Why the hell did you shoot him? Don’t tell me you shot him so you could keep the talisman.”
“Don’t look at me like that Janet. I had no choice. All I wanted to do was split the proceeds from his little sale. If you knew about some of the favors I’ve done for this man you would realize that I earned half of that money. I helped him get the damn thing. Of course, at the time he said it was just a little gift he had given to a woman and once they broke up, she wouldn’t give it back. What he didn’t tell me at the time was that she was a doorkeeper.
“She was a what? A doorkeeper? What like a doorman at some fancy high-rise apartment building?”
“No stupid, doorkeepers are part of an order that dates back to ancient times when they would guard religious assemblies against spies and magistrates. Of course, they’ve evolved into something much more…deadly. I almost died helping Steve get that damn talisman, but that’s a story for another day. The point is, he
wouldn’t listen to reason. He started threatening me. You know I don’t do well with threats. The next thing I knew, he was attacking me. Nobody puts their hands on me. Not anymore.”
Andrea’s expression hardened. Janet had seen that look before and knew she meant every word. There was no point in arguing with her. Andrea’s temper always made things go from bad to worse. Janet jumped at the sound of a sudden knock at the door. Her first instinct was to run back down to the basement and crawl back into their hiding place.
Andrea put a restraining hand on her arm and went to open the door. Janet couldn’t believe her eyes. She pounced on her sister and dragged her back from the door.
“Are you crazy? It’s probably those men. They must have doubled back.”
“Why the hell would they pause and knock on the door? Relax, I know who it is. I called Ethan on the way here, while you were passed out in the van. He’s going to take us someplace safe so that we can figure out what to do next.”
“How do we know we can trust this guy? Let’s face it Andrea, you don’t have the best track record with guys. Does he know about the talisman?”
“Yes, but he doesn’t know how valuable it is. I’m telling you we can trust him. He’s my ride or die.”
“He’s your what?”
Andrea rolled her eyes and went to let Ethan inside.