“Annie. Annie! Wake up!” Auggie’s voice was quiet and dead serious.
“What?” Annie came conscious in seconds, and matched Auggie’s whisper.
Auggie put his finger to his lips and listened hard. The next moment, he and Annie both moved with utmost speed and silence, sliding from the bed to the floor. Annie moved ahead of Auggie, creeping down the stairs. The lock was being picked, and before Annie could get to her gun, the door slid open.
Auggie heard the men shout to each other in surprise when they saw Annie lunge for them with the upper hand. For a split-second, before he, too, moved into action, he imagined her, clad in his T-shirt, barefoot, like a pouncing tiger on her prey. He was barefoot, too, wearing only sweatpants. They were both at a huge disadvantage over the men and their big boots.
Auggie moved low, using every ounce of his training and his hearing. Annie was in a scuffle, that much he knew, yet she managed to give him a direction, and that and the heavy breath of the man gave him enough information to make his move. He lunged, making contact with the huge, hard, body. That being done, he was now at a clear advantage. He twisted his body almost under the man, and turned, flipping his opponent over his back, an old move from wrestling. Contact-fighting was muscle-memory; he just knew what needed to happen. He jumped on the man’s chest, left hand on the man’s neck, his right making contact with the side of the intruder’s head. He felt the man’s grip on his slacken a bit, and let his awareness expand to Annie’s own fight. He pushed off the downed man and sprung to his right, hitting a chair with his hip. Annie turned the man she was fighting and Auggie came into contact with him. He let two fists fly and then felt his first opponent on his back. He ran backwards, hoping he was turned in a direction that would give him a hard object to ram his back against. He was in luck, as he felt the man trying to choke him slam up against his credenza, setting the whole thing on its side, its contents smashing in their drawers and the things on top shattering as they crashed against the floor.
“Annie!” he shouted, needing a location above the chaos.
“Here!” she grunted, still twisting with the assailant. Auggie moved with speed and pulled the man off Annie, knocking him to the ground, and snapping a jab into the man’s cheek. Immediately, there was a quiet hush, except for their heavy breathing.
Auggie turned his head. “Annie?”
She stepped over to him, putting her hand on his shoulder. He stood up, enveloping her in his arms, feeling both their hearts beating against his chest. When he could, he let her go, bringing his hands up to her face, and pulling her forehead to his.
“I’m okay,” Annie assured him. “I’m okay.” She broke the embrace. “We have to get you out of here. Where is your safe house? You need me, Auggie, you gotta tell me.”
Auggie thought hard. “No. If I’m anywhere in this city, he’ll know.”
“Then we have to leave. Get what you need for the road, okay? Do you need help?”
She watched a flutter of anger and defiance cross his face, but the shadow passed and resigned was the word Annie thought of at the expression that replaced it.
“I’ll get what I need. Will you need to stop at your place?”
“I have everything here that I need.”
“Okay. Grab it. We need to tie these two up and call in the cleaners. I think Joan may believe me now.”
“Get your stuff. I’ll see to them.”
Auggie packed as much gear as he could fit in his messenger bag. He took a warm jacket and a pair of sunglasses. He had money and his passport, he checked everything once and then he was ready.
“They aren’t going anywhere,” Annie said. “I gave them a little something to keep ’em quiet until Calder sends someone in.”
Auggie looked dismayed and then awed. She surprised him and still she didn’t. Annie always seemed to have something up her sleeve. He stopped when his boots crunched over what probably once were his white hands bookends.
“Annie? My cane! My cane! My keys! They were--” He gestured toward the mess that was his entryway.
“Got ’em!” He felt her push the wallet against his forearm as she bent for his keys. He felt them cold against the back of the hand that had the wallet and he put them inside his jacket. When he had finished that, he felt the metal of his folded cane on his wrist, and as he took it, she held on to it for a moment.
“We’re doing this together, right?” Annie asked him. She saw his face soften into a smile that melted her heart and she let go of his cane.
He held out his hand and felt hers slip into his. “We’re doin’ it together. Like we do best.”
They locked up and left the building, Annie’s eyes protecting them both. He could feel her body turn with her head as she constantly kept on their point.
They reached her car and she unlocked it as they approached. She placed Auggie’s hand on the passenger side door handle and hurried to the driver’s seat. She tossed her bag in the back and pulled away from the curb as Auggie got his phone out and called Joan.
“I wanted you at the safe house,” Joan admonished. “You had to be stubborn as usual, Auggie. Where are you headed?”
“Not sure yet. I’ll call you when we get there. We’ll have a burner phone.”
“I’m… sorry. I should have believed you.”
“Yeah, well, it’s too late now.”
He ended the call and put his phone away, thinking about strategies.
“We’ll have to ditch this car once we cross the state line,” Annie said. “He’ll be looking for the plates. How many goons to do you think he has?”
“I can’t even hazard to guess.”
“Why is he targeting you? Why your team?”
Auggie scrubbed his hand over his face. “There could be any number of reasons.”
“And the most plausible?”
“Let’s just say we changed a lot of plans that never saw the light of day.”
Auggie sat back, fighting the urge to tell Annie to leave him at the next bus stop and let him take his trouble off her back. But he knew he needed her. He could not do this like he used to. He needed a working pair of eyes to be successful, and he couldn’t feel safer than having those eyes be Annie’s. He could worry about everything else. They just needed somewhere to set up shop. Then, maybe he could get to the bottom of this before anyone else was taken off the chess board.
“Auggie?” Annie’s voice sounded slightly unsure.
“The gig with the nature and the cello in the Islands is still on the menu,” he replied with a tantalising tone.
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”
“Annie, if it makes you feel any better, I hated to believe me myself. And everyone shutting me down… even Tony.” He took a breath, his eyes lowered. “Made me doubt myself.”
He felt her hand on his knee. “Don’t ever doubt yourself, Auggie.”
Did she mean more? That he’d been right about her, too? He turned to her. “I’m sorry I’ve got you into this.”
“It’s okay.” Auggie could hear the grin on her face. “It’s what we do.”
He chuckled. “We definitely don’t do anything with half intentions.”
“Nope. Why be undercover when you can be dead?” Annie spoke lightly, and Auggie relished the tone.
He pushed his lower lip out in a nonchalant kind of way. “Why have a vision problem when you can be totally black-blind.”
“Why bother even having a condition unless it’s totally heart related and could kill you?”
Auggie sobered. This wasn’t so fun.
“I’m joking, Auggie.”
“I know. But that one isn’t funny.”
“And yours is?”
“Mine won’t kill me.”
“I’m fine, Auggie.”
“I’m still gonna worry about you.”
“Well, then we are perfectly suited, because I’m still worried about you.”
Auggie pressed his mouth together. “Okay, let’s take that energy and use it to figure out what our plan will be.”
“Cross the line. Ditch the car. Find another car. Get a room somewhere and start tracking.”
“Yeah, that’s about where I was headed.”
“We’re still a great team.”
“Of course we are. It’s like riding a bike.”
“Can you? We might need an alternate form of transportation.”
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
He heard Annie’s smile as she said, “Keep an open mind, Auggie.” He felt her squeeze his thigh and he couldn’t help but smile. This was not what he wanted. This was not how it was supposed to happen. However, the only place he could imagine being in was one where he was with Annie. And if they were on the run, it meant he was important to someone, either for his brain, or because he was capable of causing those great harm. Inside, hammering away in his chest was a charm of excitement, of how it used to be when he was in the heat of a mission. He had to keep a clear head and think of it as a mission, not as his life endangered in revenge.They could do this. They could figure this out, between Annie and him. That much he knew. The trust in their partnership had not been this strong for him for a year, and the idea of it, strong and true, made the smile on his face hang around for the rest of the drive across the state border. He would go anywhere with Annie Walker.