Val wasn’t fond of the guy who was poking her in the back with a pistol, but she was glad he was staying so foolishly close to her. Right within easy grappling distance. It was almost like he didn’t realize that firearms were intended to be ranged weapons.
“This the place?” Boyers asked one his henchmen, looking up at an abandoned theater that hadn’t been seeing good days even five years before when it shut its doors forever. It was a small three story building nestled into a mixed use development to the south of Atlanta’s more prosperous metro area.
“It’s the right address,” the guy with the gun to Val’s back said. His breath reeked of the cheap booze he’d been swilling with his boss and, for as unpleasant as that was to breath in, it also made Val smile.
Coming into a gun fight more than half drunk meant you would be sure your reflexes were superb when they were in reality slowed to a snail’s pace. From Anna’s expression and how she rolled her eyes when Val cast her a questioning glance, Anna was aware of their captors’ weakness too but didn’t want Val to move on it yet.
“Figures she’d be hiding out in a place like this.” Boyers smiled broadly at a joke he never got to complete because even in his semi-addled state he noticed something was wrong with the picture before them. “Wait, where’s Donny?”
Boyer’s other men looked around. There was a car parked outside of building, but no one was in it. And no one was waiting for them outside the building. And as far as anyone of them could see, all of the lights in the building were off.
“Give him a call,” Boyers ordered the guy holding Val at gunpoint.
He didn’t take the pistol away from her back, which said he wasn’t completely plastered, but Val felt an itch in her fingers as she heard him start to call Donny’s number on his cellphone. Between the alcohol and the distraction of being on the phone there was no chance he’d get a shot off before Val could get the gun away from him. Ann shook her head though. Not yet.
With nothing else to do, Val eavesdropped on her captor and could hear the phone ringing and ringing with no one answering.
“He’s not picking up?” the gunman said.
“These guys,” Boyers said, shaking his head. “Come on, let’s get these two inside.”
Val allowed herself to be prodded forward, leading the small group into the theater’s darkened interior through it’s broad and open front doors.
In its prime, the Royale had been as grand as its small footprint would allow, and the bones of that grandeur were still visible in the moonlight that streamed through the broken windows. A pair of spiral stairways, long fallen into disrepair, wound up to the balcony level while the faded and mildewed remains of what was once an opulent red carpet covered the ground floor like a crimson tide gone to rusty brown.
“Hey! Donny! Larock! Stets!” Boyer called out to the hollow darkness of the theater. “Where are you guys?”
“Maybe they decided this was not a place they wanted to be?” Anna asked. “It does not seem very friendly here. At least not for people like you.”
Boyers whirled on Anna, his hand rising as though he intended to hit her but he checked himself at the last moment. Meeting Anna’s gaze had that effect on a lot of people. It wasn’t so much that she was unafraid of the violence he intended. Fear didn’t enter into the picture. What lay in the depths of her icy gaze was a sleeping bear that was all too ready to awaken if the thin layer of civilization Anna surrounded herself was cracked. She wasn’t a violent woman, but she had lived too long and seen to much to be overly burdened by mercy or restraint when the situation called for their absence.
“You keep talking,” Boyers said, backing off without meaning to. “This place is going to be get real unfriendly for you as soon as we find my guys.”
“Sounds like there’s something in the back,” Val said, lying through her teeth to draw Boyers crew deeper into the theater.
All of the fun waited inside, but she caught sight of a flicker of motion above them.
Except it was too early for any traps to be spung.
She risked a quick look up again but couldn’t see anything in the shadows of the high ceiling. She knew better than to doubt her senses though. Someone was up there. Which was odd. Of all the allies they had, or could call into service, Val couldn’t think of any that were particularly gifted at clinging to ceilings.
Her pulse quickened at the thought of a rogue element coming into play. Boyers and his men were idiots. They were at most ten minutes away from multiple broken bones, followed by their arrest, and then years spent in a maximum security prison.
If there was someone here who could wall crawl on the ceilings though, that meant Val might get a decent work out for a change. Since the shadowy presence seemed to be something of an ambush predator, Val decided to keep Boyer’s attention focused elsewhere for the time being. There were a lot of dangerous things that lived in dark corners. Val dearly wanted to hear Boyer’s reaction to running into one of them unexpectedly. Little girls had nothing on high pitched screams compared to terrified adult males.
“I don’t hear anything,” Boyers said, some animal part of his brains trying to alert him to the danger he was in, but failing to pierce the bravado he substituted for actual thought.
“Sounded high pitched, like someone crying,” Val said. As bait went, it wasn’t terribly subtle. Boyers expected to find Jenny inside the building, so of course he assumed she would be crying. In his conception of the world, she was just a scared, helpless woman after all, wasn’t she?
“Somebody find a light,” Boyers said and started walking forward, slowly and with his gun held in a shaky hand before him.
As they walked into the theater’s main auditorium, Val noticed that there were some sounds that she could make out. They weren’t high pitched though. Instead they sounded like the sort of low moans that barely conscious and noticeably injured men made as they struggled to either escape or regain consciousness.
A flicker of motion to their side caught Val’s eye again. Someone had run behind one of the grand pillars that held the balcony up.
Also, one of Boyers men was missing. Or perhaps it was two. Their party had consisted of six of Boyer’s men (including Boyer himself) with Anna and Val held at gunpoint. A quick glance showed that only the two gunmen, Boyers, and the guy beside him who was holding a light remained. Val began to wonder if the theater was Jenny’s hiding spot, or if it was something very different.
Someone who ran away from people as violent as Boyers was might not look for a place to hide. They might look for somewhere that they could secure. Someplace that people who came after them might regret finding. And they might not be alone.
Val saw a trapdoor at the other side of the theater flash open and close in an instant. Whatever else was true of the theater, they were definitely not alone in it, though it was still possible that they were the only human beings who were present.
No more of Boyer’s men disappeared before they reached the door to the backstage area, but Val felt the creeping weight of someone watching them from the shadows and as she got backstage she saw why.
In the staging area behind the main curtain, Boyer’s first crew was strung up and groaning. They were hung from the rafters by cords that were looped around under their arms, and around their waist and legs. Some weren’t moving, all were painfully contorted, but from the ones that groaning, Val guessed that none of them were dead. That didn’t make the tableau and less disturbing though.
“Boyer,” someone called out in a lilting voice. “We’re waiting for you Boyer.”
Boyer whipped his head around. It was plain which direction the voice was coming from, but he was still jumping at the shadows that seemed to press in around him. He was so nervous though that he missed the fact that the men who’d been holding guns on Anna and Val had vanished.
Boyer started to creep forward, taking the lead, and Val saw Tam peek out from behind a door as he passed, beckoning Anna and Val to slip inside.
“What’s going on?” Val asked in a whisper once they were safely separated from Boyers and his remaining henchmen.
“You found Jenny?” Anna asked.
“And her friend,” Tam said.
“I thought all her friends had tried talking to Sera?” Val said.
“This one’s a special friend,” Tam said. “Give her a moment and you’ll see.”
“What’s happening now?” Anna said.
A trio of gunshots rang out.
“Phillip Boyers just provided us will all the evidence we’d ever need to get him convicted for Murder 1,” Tam said, and threw open the door casually, not bother to remain quiet any longer. “He just shoot to death a startlingly convincing replica of Jenny Williams and her daughter Meg. And he did it on camera.”
Tam held up a finger to forestall questions and opened casually the door they were hiding behind.
“Isabella? Is he disarmed yet?” she called out.
“He still has his arms. They’re just in a few extra pieces now.” The woman who stepped from the shadows ahead of them was even darker skinned than Sera had been. What caught Val attention though wasn’t her piercing gaze, or her lithe, hard muscled figure, or the early wrinkles of age that creased the woman’s skin. It was her perfect, white teeth. Especially the ones that were just a bit longer and pointier than a human’s were really supposed to be. “You’ll want to give this to the police when they get here though.”
Isabella offered Boyer’s pistol already inside a plastic ziplock bag to Tam.
“We seem to be in your debt,” Anna said.
“I feel like I’m a few steps behind though,” Val said. “Wasn’t the plan that you would get here before we did, sneak Jenny out to safety, and then setup some surprises for Boyers’ crew.”
“I did,” Tam said. “Jenny’s safe and sound. I just found that there was already a surprise waiting here for Boyers. It’s really your story to tell though Izzy. Could you fill my friends in?”
“I was the one they sent to collect Jenny in the first place,” Izzy said, her gaze flicking back and forth to read Anna and Val’s reaction to the revelation.
“You worked for Boyers?” Anna asked, a frown of disbelief creasing her lips.
“No, I work for the people he reports to,” Izzy said. “Or I used to, I guess.”
“What made you quit?” Val asked.
“Jenny shot me,” Izzy said, a proud smile spreading across her face.
“Ah, that was the blood they found at her place then?” Anna asked.
“Yeah. I surprised her, and she surprised me. Then we surprised each other,” Izzy said.
“Not quite how I hoped our reunion would go, but I’ll take it,” Jenny said, stepping out from behind a curtain that led to the dressing rooms. In one arm, she held Meg who was sleeping with the profound peace only briefly seen in a contented infant. In the other Jenny had a sensibly sized black semi-automatic. Val made a mental note that Boyers was probably lucky Tam had been in charge of setting up the sting to take him down. Neither Jenny nor Izzy looked like they were interested in merely terrifying him out of his wits and extracting the evidence needed to put him away for life.
“Your reunion?” Anna asked.
“We were classmates,” Izzy said.
“We dated,” Jenny said, nudging Izzy with her elbow and rolling her eyes.
Val glanced at both of them. Dating was easy to imagine. They were both attractive enough, but classmates seemed unlikely. Jenny was around Val’s age, in her early 20s. Izzy looked closer to Anna’s age, if maybe a bit younger. Mid-forties in all likelyhood.
“It was in high school,” Izzy said. “I’m not quite as old as I look.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Anna said. “Perhaps it is something we can help with though.”
“I don’t think so,” Izzy said. “I made some mistakes and I don’t think I can walk them back.”
“We’re going to need to move too,” Jenny said. “Izzy’s bosses are going to go nuts when they find out that Phil’s out of the picture.”
“That we can definitely help you with,” Tam said and dialed her phone. “JB, can you book the Marigold estates for two more residents?”
“The Marigold estates?” Jenny asked.
“Yeah, you’re sister’s going to be staying there for a week or so while we sort this out, and I think she’ll be kind of happy to see you safe and sound,” Val said.
“Sera’s staying there?” Jenny said. “Oh my god, Izzy, do you think we can?”
“I think that’s a fantastic idea,” Izzy said. “I should probably take off though. With Boyers down, the powers that be at PrimaLux aren’t going to be after you anymore. If I hang around, you’ll just get caught in the backblast when they come for me.”
“Wait, Boyers was reporting to PrimaLux?” Tam asked.
“Those were the guys backing Larson, that real estate guy in North Dakota, weren’t they?” Val asked.
“Yes,” Anna said. “It seems their reach extends a bit farther than we imagined. Ms Isabella, I believe we know someone who would be most interested in speaking with you, and if there’s anyone who can offer you shelter from your former employers, it’s her.”
“Yeah, Charlene’s all about giving people second chances,” Val said. “Even people with pointy teeth.”