Mark leaned out over the edge of the roof, gazing down at the alley below, but not really seeing it. Johnny’s birthday that night promised to be a festive event, but Mark wasn’t sure he would be able to enjoy it. Donahue had been briefly interested in his unofficial investigation when Mark had identified Chris-R, but that had died down as the drug dealer’s background was investigated and no connection to Johnny was found. It was all just coincidence, Donahue had said. Of course, he still had yet to come up with an explanation for Chris-R’s bail money.
And now Mark had to spend the evening in the lion’s den, at a party celebrating the life of the man he was sure had killed his partner, all while knowing the investigation had stalled again. All while pretending he was enjoying himself. He gritted his teeth. He had to put on a good show. Being at this party would edge him ever closer to Johnny, and who knew how close he’d have to be to find the evidence he knew was there. As he shifted position, the comforting weight of his Glock 22 pressed against his side.
A long, sleek black car pulled to a stop in the alley below. Finally dragged out of his chain of thought, Mark watched as the driver got out, walking around the vehicle to hold open the passenger door. As Lisa slipped out a side door of the apartment building, taking three steps to cross the space between her and the car, and ducked inside, Mark’s eyebrows knitted in confusion. He didn’t recognize the car or its driver, and something about the authoritative way she nodded at the driver seemed strange. A quick check of his watch confirmed that Lisa should have been home, preparing for Johnny’s birthday. What could be so important that she’d have to leave now? Mark wondered.
Something – instinct, maybe – told Mark he had to know what was happening, and he ran to the other side of the building, vaulting over the small wall to land on the fire escape. The metal rattled and thundered with his footsteps as he raced to the bottom, not bothering to extend the ladder as he fell for the final storey, dropping to the pavement.
Around the corner he could hear the car’s engine starting, and he sprinted to the apartment building’s small parking lot. As he threw himself into his own car and jammed the key into the ignition, the black car zoomed by, heading down the alley and into the street. Mark twisted the key and the engine roared to life, but despite its eager sound, Mark pulled out slowly, keeping a careful distance from the black car.
Three cars back, he thought to himself as he reached the street where Lisa’s conveyance had taken a right and let a minivan and a truck pass. He slid out into the traffic, watching the black car in short, stolen glances as they moved down the street.
For a while, keeping his distance was easy. The traffic gave Mark camouflage, places to hide. But after a few miles, the traffic began to thin. The sparse flow of cars gave Mark fewer options, and he worried that his persistent presence would become noticeable. As he realised they were heading to the outskirts of the city, he backed off, keeping long stretches of roads between him and his prey, rather than vehicles.
Eventually, the sleek car whipped into the parking lot of an old warehouse. From his position nearly two-hundred yards back, Mark could see the glint of sun off the jet-black exterior as it turned. He slowed, pulling to the side of the road where he’d be less noticeable, and got out. Keeping his body low, he jogged towards the warehouse, his gut telling him he didn’t want to be noticed by Lisa or whoever she was there to meet.
When he reached the warehouse, the black car was empty, its driver gone along with Lisa. Crouched behind the vehicle, Mark eyed the windows lining the warehouse warily. There was no way across the vast expanse of the parking lot without being seen if anyone bothered to look outside. Deciding there was no other way in, he dashed across the pavement, the full force of the sun illuminating him for all to see.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Mark flattened his back against the wall of the warehouse next to a wide set of double doors. He reached out for the door’s handle, his palms sweaty as he edged closer. His hand wrapped around the rusted, metal handle and he pulled.
The door opened a crack with a squeal. Moving slowly, Mark inched the door open, not wanting to make a sound. When it was just wide enough that he thought he could slip through, Mark felt something hard and unyielding press into the back of his head.
“Get up,” a gruff male voice commanded from behind him. “Put your hands up.”
Mark did as the voice said, turning as he did to see his attacker, a short man with his head shaved bald. This earned him a smack across the face as the butt of the man’s rifle rammed into his chin. Behind him, Mark could hear the door slam shut.
“Did I tell you to turn around?” the man demanded.
Mark stayed silent.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m meeting a friend here,” Mark lied. “She told me she needed a ride home.”
“Oh, yeah? Who’s this friend?” the man asked with a smirk.
The man sputtered for a moment, before declaring, “Bullshit!”
“It’s true,” Mark nodded. “You can go ask her. She’s inside right now.”
The smirk told Mark the man wasn’t buying it, but the fact that it didn’t reach his eyes said that the man didn’t want to face the consequences if it was true. “Yeah, well,” he muttered, “We’ll see about that. Turn around.”
Still keeping his hands above his head, Mark turned. He was sure he had bought his entrance until a hand patted his sides. “I’ll take that,” the man said triumphantly, as he unholstered Mark’s Glock and shoved it in the back of his pants. “Now get moving.”
Using his hip to push open the door, Mark stepped inside. For a moment he hesitated, blinded to the dim light in the warehouse by the glaring sunlight outside. The barrel of the gun roughly poked into his back.
“Get moving,” the man repeated.
Mark inched forward, squinting as his eyes adjusted. The warehouse was packed so full it had been turned into a labyrinth of huge blocks that appeared to have been shrink-wrapped. The contents were white. Cocaine, Mark realised with a start.
They passed into a long canyon between two stacks of blocks. Ahead of them, Mark heard voices. He stepped out from the passageway into a well-lit clearing, where four people stood in a semicircle. Three of them, men, held assault rifles like the one urging Mark onward. The fourth one was unarmed, but gestured and spoke with a commanding presence. It took Mark only a split second to realise, his eyes widening, that it was Lisa.
“Oh, hi, Lisa,” he said with sarcastic cheer as he stepped into the circle.
Her eyes wide, a scowl twisted Lisa’s face. “What are you doing here?” she demanded, before rounding on the man behind Mark. “What is he doing here?”
“I found this little asshole sneaking around outside,” the man answered, pulling out Mark’s weapon and holding it out to Lisa. “He was carrying this.”
Taking the gun, Lisa studied it and gave a little smirk. “Glock 22,” she observed, “Standard issue for the San Francisco PD.” She focused on Mark. “So, how long have the police been watching me?”
“Months,” Mark lied. “They’ve just been waiting for you to slip up.” At Lisa’s raised eyebrow, he added, “They know where I am.”
“That’s funny, because I check out everyone who lives in the building,” Lisa smirked. “I know you’re not a cop. Or at least, not right now. What was the phrase that was in your file? Indefinite suspension?”
“That’s just a cover story,” Mark told her.
“If it were, it would be the laziest one I’ve ever heard.” Crossing her arms, Lisa paced in front of him. “So, you’re conducting your own little investigation here,” she thought out loud, “Which means you’ve been hiding in plain sight for almost a year. But then, why would you suddenly blow your cover? You’re not that clumsy. Unless…” Lisa broke into a wide grin. “Unless you had no idea what I was doing here. You’ve been watching Johnny, not me.”
“Oh, I’ve been watching you,” Mark shot. “You think I haven’t? I may be suspended, but I still know people with connections, people who trust me. They’ve got a whole file on you back at the station.”
“Aw, Mark,” Lisa pouted with faux sympathy. “Don’t feel bad for not getting it. After all, I’m just the naïve young trophy wife of a much older man with a mysterious past and Eastern European accent. That fool Johnny is the perfect cover, really.”
“You devious little bitch.”
“Careful, Mark,” Lisa warned him, aiming his own Glock at his chest. Around her, the three assault rifles of her lackeys raised in response, all pointing at Mark. “This is really the wrong time to insult me.”
Confused, unable to process what he’d just learned, Mark latched on to one thought. “You told me you love me,” he protested.
Lisa threw her head back in a cruel laugh.
“Man,” one of the men behind Lisa interjected, “She says that to every guy she bangs.”
His words were punctuated by the thunder of Mark’s Glock as Lisa whirled around and fired. The man’s head snapped back as the bullet buried itself between his eyes. His every muscle tensed, and his rifle sent a spray of bullets arcing into the ceiling.
Using the shock and sound as his opportunity, Mark sidestepped as he turned, grabbing the barrel of the gun behind him and ramming it into the bald man’s stomach. As the man doubled over, the wind knocked out of him, Mark yanked the weapon out of his hands and brought the butt crashing down into the back of the man’s head. He had time to see red welling up in the dent he’d left behind before he dashed away, disappearing into the maze of cocaine.
Bullets slammed into the blocks behind him as Mark raced around a corner and out of range. Cocaine began to pour in a fountain through the shredded plastic as he took a right, then a left, then another left, losing himself in the maze.
“What are you doing?” Lisa’s voice was screaming behind him, echoing off the warehouse walls. “Find him!”
Panting more from fear than exertion, Mark’s feet pounded across the cement floor, trying to put as much distance as he could between himself and the sounds of dual footsteps behind him. He wedged himself through a particularly tight gap between two of the enormous packages of cocaine and then slowed, stalking quietly, his ears pinpointing the position of the two other men as he started in a wide circle, planning to double back around his pursuers.
The large, clumsy men were easy enough to hear. Their heavy footfalls and loud, argumentative voices guaranteed that. As they kept rampaging through the maze of narcotics, Mark carefully edged around them, putting himself between the clearing in the center and the men attempting to track him.
Suddenly, a new sound split the air, the singing of struck metal, the same sound Mark had heard earlier, hurtling down the fire escape. He looked up to see a catwalk directly above him, and Lisa trotting across it in stiletto shoes, most of her legs visible under her dress from Mark’s vantage point. Her eyes scanned the warehouse below her, until they fell on Mark’s gaping face.
“Oh, hi, Mark,” she smirked with a little wave, leaning over the catwalk’s railing, before calling out to her subordinates, “He’s over here!”
She aimed Mark’s gun downward, and he had just enough time to throw himself to the floor before he heard the deafening report of the Glock at almost the same time as a thud where his head had just been. There was a soft hiss, and a steady stream of white power hit the back of Mark’s head.
He sprang to his feet and raced away before Lisa could fire another shot, shaking his head vigorously to dislodge the cocaine that had settled in his hair. “This way!” yelled a deep, male voice, before another added, “Get on either side of him!”
From their volume and words, Mark realised that they were on the other side of the house-sized slab of cocaine to his right, and they were coming around on either side. Spotting a niche to his left, just big enough to lodge his body into, he froze.
He heard rapid footfalls behind him first, and whirled to see a tall, muscular man emerge from around the corner, his assault rifle raised and ready. Waiting just long enough for the man to spot him, his trigger finger tensing as he grinned in triumph, Mark threw himself into the small alcove just as bullets ripped through the air, turning the narrow corridor into a death trap at the same moment that the other pursuer materialized.
A spray of red and white bloomed through the air in a sick cloud as blood and cocaine fell to the ground, mixing in a pink pool. The gunfire abruptly stopped, and Mark burst out of his hiding spot and peppered the first man, his face aghast in shock as his co-worker bled out on the cement, with lead.
“Did you get him?” Lisa’s voice called out. “Is he dead?”
Staying silent, his mouth set in a grim line, Mark ducked between pallets of drugs, keeping himself invisible from the catwalk. He wound his way through the warehouse, ignoring Lisa’s demands for an update as he searched for the stairs he’d heard her climbing a few minutes ago. He bent in a half-crouch, his body low and his feet quiet as he found the stairs and climbed.
Lisa was still frantically scanning the area below her for any signs of Mark or her men as he closed the gap between them. “Give it up, Lisa,” he told her as he pointed his weapon at her. “It’s over.”
Her back stiffened. “What are you gonna do?” she taunted. “Shoot me?”
“I doubt that.” There was a flash of silver as Lisa whirled around, aiming the Glock clutched in her delicate hands at Mark. She giggled as they kept their guns trained on each other. “See? I knew you couldn’t do it.”
“You’re not getting out of here, Lisa. Not on your own terms,” Mark maintained, although he was regretting not firing when he’d had a chance.
“Is that so?” Lisa asked, tilting her head in mock curiosity as she stalked forward. “Because I, for one, would be willing to let this slide. We’ve had so much fun together.”
“Keep back,” Mark warned as she kept moving forward.
“And I just happened to have a couple jobs open up,” Lisa continued, before asking, conversationally, “How’s the employment insurance holding up?”
“I’m warning you…”
“Sure you are.”
Lisa shoved the barrel of Mark’s rifle away at the same time as the hand holding the Glock lashed out, whipping the weapon into the side of Mark’s head. His ears rang as he stumbled, grabbing for his gun, and managed to grab hold of Lisa’s wrist. As long painted nails scratched at his face, Mark flung Lisa into the railing, trying to spin her around and pin her arms behind her back. The wrist in his grip flailed wildly, trying to get a bead on him, and he clasped his free hand around the gun. Forcing the barrel down and away from both him and Lisa, Mark squeezed her trigger finger, emptying round after round into one of the slabs of cocaine below.
The gun no longer loaded, Mark loosened his grip in relief. Lisa took that opportunity to snatch her hand free and hit Mark with the Glock again, bringing the steel down into his back before ramming it into the back of his skull.
The world suddenly swayed, his vision out of focus, and Mark teetered, leaning heavily on the railing for support. With all her strength, Lisa slammed both palms into Mark’s chest, shoving him off balance. His arms flailed as he reached for something – anything – to grab onto and steady himself, and found Lisa’s waist just as he fell backwards.
Holding tight, Mark pulled Lisa with him as he tumbled off the catwalk, plummeting down. Their plunge was brought to a sudden stop as they crashed into the block of cocaine the Glock had been emptied into, just a few feet below. The force of their landing sent up a cloud of narcotics like dust off an old couch that has sat on for the first time in years.
Starting to reorient himself just as the world seemed to slow down around him, Mark hopped into a crouch. Lisa kicked at him, trying to shove him away and climb down to the ground, but he grabbed her by both wrists and straddled her, pinning her on her back. Her eyes furious and wild, her pupils dilating, she gave one last thrash before she gave up, understanding that she was trapped – physically, at least.
“You know,” she started, her voice a low, sultry whisper, “I really do love you.”
His mind foggy, his breath ragged, Mark glared down at the blonde beneath him. “I know,” he answered, before leaning down and roughly kissing her, tasting her lipstick and the cocaine that had caked every inch of her smooth skin.