On The Run
He turned the knob slowly, afraid of what was on the other side of the door. “Just move, Jackson. Damn.” I pushed past him, throwing my shoulder on the door. It flew open, slamming against the adjacent wall with a bang. Dust billowed out of the abandoned apartment, choking the both of us.
Over the hem of my shirt I could make out the floral print couch my mother found at some flea market. She thought it was the cutest thing and my dad didn’t have the heart to tell her it was just as ugly as the curtains. I wondered if she ever thought about me anymore. A sliver of light from the hallway poured into the sparse living room. I hurried inside, pulling Jackson behind me. Tad skittered in at the last minute, his paws making taps on the aged hardwood. I threw the deadbolt on the door and fumbled for the light.
It blasted the dank living room. End tables with inch thick dust left untouched for decades, the curtains sagged sadly. The furniture still had dents in the seats from where my family shared countless dinners. Back then it was easy, hiding who I was. Who I’d become. I must have been looking a little too long at the miniature kitchen table. Four chairs, four place mats that waited patiently for us to come back. To share a meal together again. But, now, I knew, it would never be the same.
“I’m just saying.” Jackson scratched his head, pulling me from my thoughts. “We ain’t know what was in here. You said you ain’t been here in over ten years.”
I crossed the kitchen into the pantry, pulling out the broom. Jackson threw open a window. The city’s night sounds flooded in. Shrieks from partygoers. The blaring horns of taxicabs. I wondered how long we could stay here without someone catching on. I was sure the neighbors could hear through the paper-thin walls. We had to stay the night and then move in the morning. I put the broom back. If someone were to come looking for us, I wanted this place to look untouched.
“Just don’t touch anything.” I said, pulling a vase out of Jackson’s hands and sitting it back on the mantle. “We can only stay here one night.”
“Why?” He whirled around. “I thought this was a safe house?” Panic was in his voice. High and alert. Jackson was afraid. Truthfully, I was too. I knew someone was tracking us. It didn’t matter how quickly we moved, how fast we destroyed evidence. Everyone left a trail. No one was invisible.
“It isn’t anymore,” I responded solemnly. This place wasn’t home anymore. “Are you going to tell me what happened tonight or what?” I hunkered down on the floor. Tad took that as his opportunity to jump in my lap, nuzzling his nose in the crook of my leg. I scratched between his ears and he was satisfied, his little leg kicking happily.
I looked up at Jackson whose eyes were trained on the window, listening. The sirens were long gone. We’d crossed state lines. We were okay for now, but who knew how long it’d take before someone would track us here. His muscles looked stuffed in my Women’s medium sweatshirt. Blood was seeping through the fabric.
“Take that off,” I ordered. “Bring a fresh shirt and the first aid kit from the bathroom. First door on your right.”
Jackson obeyed, ripping off the bloody shirt. I watched him wince when he pulled it over his head. His undershirt was soaked through. He pulled that off too. Blood was spattered all over his broad brown chest. I ripped my eyes away from his back. The one I used to massage after his long nights doing undercover work.
“In here, Tammy?” He called from the back of the apartment.
Then there was a knock at the door.
Tad’s ears perked. Jackson flew from the back room like a tornado. The handgun that was at his waist was in his hand. Tad let out a growl, then several clipped barks. My hands felt numb. My chest warmed.
“Who is that?” Jackson whispered, his voice husky. “Tam?” He asked again when I didn’t answer.
The person knocked again.
Someone had heard us come in. How? I used the emergency code that opened the back stairwell. I retraced my steps. What had I missed? How did they track us already?
“Tam!” Jackson’s whisper slammed me back to reality.
I whipped my gun out of my holster. Tad barked, louder this time. His nails clawed at the hardwood. Someone had heard us. “We have to open it now.” Jackson nodded to Tad who would not stop fucking barking.
“Shh,” I demanded, but that didn’t help.
“I told you we should have left him,” Jackson tapped his foot at Tad who paid him no attention. “Who is that, Tammy?”
“I know you’re in there, just open up!” Someone called.
“Probably a neighbor,” I heard myself say. My voice was surprisingly calm. “Just let me talk to them.” I tucked my gun away and Jackson crept behind the door.
“If it’s not a neighbor, shoot.” He nodded, picking up Tad, ready to make another run for it if we had to.
“Wait!” Jackson cried, as I reached for the knob but it was too late.
I pulled the door open, and in a blur someone tackled me, pinning my back to the ground. A shot gun barrel bum rushed into my mouth, slamming against my teeth and forcing my tongue backward. The metal tasted like sawdust.
“What are you doing here?” Someone screamed, but I couldn’t see. Tears streamed out of my eyes, blocking my vision. My tongue blocked my airway. Dots spotted my eyesight. I couldn’t breathe. My hands were pinned.
Panic set in and then I heard Jackson’s footsteps pad over. “Drop the gun, bitch.” I heard him cock the handgun, ready to squeeze the trigger. The girl eased the gun out of my mouth. Seconds later, Tad whimpered then let out an ungodly squeal when Jackson’s back hit the ground in a crash. A shot exploded through the ceiling. The girl spun to her feet, bringing the butt of the gun down on Jackson’s throat.
“What the fuck are you doing here, Tamela?” The girl smoothed her fire red hair off her face. Her soft eyes had grown hard since I’d last seen her. No longer the quiet girl who followed me like a shadow. She was grown now. Fierce. Ready to kill, much like I’d been at her age.
“Who else did you think it was?” Her chest heaved. She let the gun off Jackson’s throat and he sputtered out a pitiful cough. She leaned against the door. Feet padded down the hallway above us. “What are you doing back here?”
“We have to go.” I spun to my feet, searching around for my terrier who was probably holed up in the nearest corner.
“We aren’t doing anything,” she protested. “You came here once before and ruined everything. Why come back, Tam? What did you do?”
I didn’t have time to argue. I found Tad in the pantry. He was licking his paw. It was most likely broken. He growled fiercely when I reached for him, his little body quaking with pain. I picked him up anyway. He bit down on my wrist hard. His teeth pierced my skin and then his dry tongue licked me, his attempt at an apology. I understood. It was the way of the world. Bite first then apologize.
Jackson was on his feet when I came back into the living room. Angela was on her knees, a smirk on her face. His gun on her temple.
“I’m going to blow her brains out, Tam. Who is this?”
“Jackson,” I started.
“Yeah who am I, Tamela?” Her eyes slid over the moneybag on the floor and then back up at me. “You’re on a job? And you brought it here?”
“I’m not on a job!” I fired back and she sucked her teeth.
Footsteps in the stairwell. Someone was coming. Feet beat at an odd pace. There were more than one set. “We have to go, now!” I grabbed our go bag but Jackson didn’t move.
“Answer me!” He bellowed.
“We don’t have time for this!” I screamed back.
“I can just drop kick him again if you want,” Angela mumbled, examining her fingernails. Jackson pushed the gun on her head.
Shadows loomed in the hallway. People were coming. They were just feet away.
“She’s my sister! Let’s go!”
I pushed Jackson’s shoulder when he whipped the moneybag off the floor in one motion. In my arms, Tad whimpered again. I’d have to give him to someone. He was only going to slow us down. “Mommy’s sorry,” I whispered into his ear. I closed the door behind us just as two guys in suits skid around the corner.
“Fuck.” I heard Angela say.
The three of us barreled down the hallway together, pushing through an Emergency exit. The alarm wailed, shattering the night’s silence. It would wake up the whole building for sure. I heard the crack of a gun. Something whizzed past my ear. The wall ahead exploded. Plaster shot in our mouths.
“This is all your fucking fault, Tammy!” Angela screamed, firing back over her shoulder. Tad cried louder and louder. I was afraid too. But, I couldn’t cry.
“Which way?” Jackson screamed when we reached the alley. Our car was parked in the garage under the building. We’d have to abandon that too.
“Come on,” Angela said, slipping around the corner and onto the crowded sidewalk. A Range Rover was stalled at the end of the street. Two people in the front seat.
“Oh, hell no.” I stopped on the sidewalk, recognizing their lined faces. A group of guys eyed us curiously as they passed. “You brought Mommy?” I stomped.
Angela shrugged. “Either get in or get shot.”
“What the hell?” I heard Jackson say. His eyes were hot on mine, burrowing into my skull. He was pissed.
I looked back, calculating how far away the garage was; how much longer we had. The seconds ticked down in my brain. I had to get in. Tad bit down on my wrist again, confirming my answer. We clambered inside the car and it pulled off, bucking a U in the street just as the two men made it on to the sidewalk. Their heads craning above the crowd to see which way we went.
Angela sat back in the seat, relieved. She pulled her shotgun off her shoulder, resting it between her legs. She leaned on the barrel. The car ride was uncomfortably silent until Jackson said, “Tam, what in the hell is going on? I thought your whole family was dead?”
I opened my mouth to explain.
“Oh is that what she told you?” My mom’s voice floated from the front seat. EWF’s September sang out of the radio.
“Leave it alone, Mom,” I warned.
“Don’t take it personally, honey. That’s what we have to tell everybody.” In the driver’s seat my father chuckled.
“Who are you people?” Jackson looked around at us. I dropped my head. How could I explain?
“Oh honey,” my mom cut in. She never had any problem with answering the tough questions. “Surely you didn’t think you were the only one on the run…?”
See where it all began…
SHORTIES: Hanging Writer’s Block out to Dry
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