Banter settled in the shadows at the end of the alley. Her stomach had butterflies. At exactly ten pm, the van came, and as she expected, it picked her up at a different corner. She calculated that the ride was about twenty minutes long, but she felt fewer turns. She wondered if they were going in a large circle, but the turns didn’t match this scenario.
The van finally stopped, and someone outside opened the door. Banter stepped out and the one thing she hadn’t thought of had happened. Her new worst fear was realized. She was in a new location.
There were loading docks, but there were a dozen of them and they were all loaded with semis. All of them were refrigerator units. There was a floral smell in the air. However, Banter could also smell an underlying pungent sour smell that reminded her of a particular part of town. It reminded her of the paper mill by the river. She calculated that she was now a few miles south of the other loading docks, where she should have been.
For a brief moment, she wondered if Bert was watching her bug and would know she was somewhere different. Then, she put it out of her mind. There was no hope that her bug would work. There was static overhead. She figured there was a camo net overhead as well because she couldn’t even see any of the city lights. There was one single dim light halfway up a pole that allowed her to see where she was going and not much else.
“Follow me,” the man who rode with her said.
Banter reminded herself to keep her face neutral and to remember her accent. However, she had to suppress a strong urge to curse about this change of events.
He led her over to steps that led up through a door and into the warehouse where the semis were being unloaded. Once inside, he indicated that she stop. He walked away.
There were more lights on inside the warehouse, but they were position only to give the forklift drivers enough light to work by while they unloaded the trucks.
Banter could see that all the crates being unloaded were marked with signage that read ’fresh flowers.’ She doubted that the crates were completely full of flowers or even if there were any flowers at all, even thought the air smelled like flowers. She was half expecting to see some sort of automatic spritzer spraying out the scent.
There was another man standing not far from the door. He approached her.
“The boss really likes you,” this man said. “You don’t see a lot of women hired guns very often.”
“Ah feel like a babysitter,” she said, putting a little scorn in her voice.
The man chuckled.
“Don’t worry. He has a whole list of people he wants gone. How did you get the silencer? I’d really like one.”
She figured he must have seen her first demonstration since she had neither the gun nor the silencer in view.
“Ah went to gun shows,” she said.
“Hard to find.”
“Ahn it takes a lot of gun shows.”
She wasn’t going to give him any further information.
“He doesn’t want to use the old job board any more. Too risky,” the man said, barely moving his lips like he didn’t want anyone to know he was talking to her.
He was standing turned away from anyone present, although the only people in view were those on the forklifts and the man she had followed who was now quite a distance away.
“Ahn what the hell does he want? My phone number?”
The man smiled, looking like he controlled a laugh.
“No. He wants you to use the other job board. Your password to find and get on it is p-e-e-n-u-t.”
“Cute,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“He’ll give you a lot of work. Just wait.”
“Ahm waiting,” she said.
“I’ll show you where he wants you to stand for tonight. Your pay for the evening is twenty thousand, but it’s on the new job board.”
“I hear you don’t like cash. I don’t mind.”
“Ah don’t like walking around with cash.”
“No one’s gonna mess with you,” he said with a serious face.
She followed him, trying to think what she could do. Even if she had her phone or even if she could pickpocket a phone, she suspected it wouldn’t work.
Midway down there was a raised walkway that stretched over some roller conveyors. The crates of flowers were traveling along these conveyors into the depths of the warehouse. He led her up to the top.
“You can stand up here and see everything. Have your gun out. Look mean.”
“Ah don’t think any of them are going to stick a pallet into their pockets,” she said.
“No, but it keeps them working fast and there’s no goofing off.”
He left, going down to stand where she figured was his post, right by the door she had come through. The man she came with was standing by a door inside the warehouse on the opposite side. Other than those two men, there were eight forklift drivers who seemed to be working steadily.
She drew her gun and twisted on the silencer. The response to her action told her that the workers were well aware of her and watching closely. They seemed to be working a little faster. The crates of flowers flowed faster beneath her.
A semi pulled out, having been emptied. There was no lull in the work since there were more trucks than forklifts. A short time later another truck backed in. She could see that the trailer was full of crates.
Banter was aghast at the amount. Even if the crates were half full of drugs or even a third, this was a lot of inventory. She hated that all of this would be missed.
We can regroup and raid after I’m done here, she thought, trying to be optimistic.
Another truck left.
Movement caught her eye. The man standing by the warehouse door had opened it and was holding it open. He almost seemed to be standing at attention.
A group of men came in.
Banter counted seven men, all with handlebar mustaches. She recognized Marcus and the drug lord. Another man also stood out. She decided this was the bigger fish that Ray was hoping for, and that this was the man that everyone was emulating. His mustache was bigger and curled more. His hair was perfectly styled. His suit was tailored. It was almost a fluorescent blue. There was also the sparkle of gold jewelry around his neck and in his ears. There were flashy rings on his fingers. He was such a flashy dandy of a peacock that she thought he made the drug lord look almost dingy in his black suit. All the others also wore black suits.
A whiff of cologne rose up to her just as all the men turned to look at her. She heard the murmur of voices over the noise of the forklifts and got the impression that she was being introduced. Banter lifted her gun, making it more visible. A black gun tended to be invisible against her black hoodie. Then all the men turned away, looking toward their destination. She thought it was funny that she seemed to be hardly of interest to them.
The other man opened his door for them. All seven men disappeared inside. Banter caught the sight of stairs going up before the man closed the door. A few moments later, a light turned on overhead revealing a large room with a window that looked out over the warehouse. She saw all the men file into the room and sit around a table.
The cologne seemed to overpower the floral smell. She decided that the new man was wearing this cologne as well as the drug lord. She figured if the others weren’t wearing it then it must be an expensive scent. Perhaps too expensive for their tastes.
“Someone’s doing some good marketing,” she muttered. “To sell that stuff.”
She wrinkled her nose, thankful that the floral smell gradually erased it.
Having the time, she scanned the warehouse in front of her. There were no cameras, not even fake ones. However, she did catch sight of the antenna. It was pointed inward.
She also figured that the workers were imported and probably didn’t speak English. All of them were skinny with long black hair and straggly beards. She found it disturbing that they seemed well-practiced in unloading the trucks.
“You’ve been at this a long time,” she muttered.
The warehouse was hot. There was no breeze coming through. She thought that the refrigerator units would contribute some cool air, until she realized they weren’t running.
Definitely no flowers, she thought. She decided there were probably scent packets in the crates. Besides, the warehouse seemed a little too clean and tidy to her. One would expect the occasional leaf or petal to escape, she thought.
She adjusted her hoodie, but there was no way she was going to keep cool. Sweat dripped down her forehead. She wondered how the other two men were doing in their dress slacks and long sleeve shirts. They were dressed in black and were almost invisible where they stood.
She wondered how many men were in the back and what they were doing? It was silent in that direction which led her to believe that there weren’t forklifts moving the crates once they reached the innards of the warehouse. She wondered if the white vans were on the other side being loaded to be sent to the other loading docks like Jose had thought: the restocking night.
This is going to be a long night, she thought, counting the time it took to unload a truck. Another truck left and another one backed in.
Standing this long was getting tiring. She paced the length of the walkway and back. Forklift drivers flinched when she moved. That made her wonder who had stood there before? And how many had been shot?
Banter’s ears picked up a noise. She paused in her pacing since the walkway tended to make a tinny noise when she moved, and she listened hard. No one else in the warehouse seemed aware. She was surprised she picked it up because there was also the noise of the forklifts. The noise was a deep bass like someone was playing music in their car and the bass was set too high. She was reminded of teenagers out for a joy ride.
This is not a good place to be, she thought, thinking of teenagers arriving at the wrong spot at the wrong time. She hoped she wouldn’t be required to pick them off. The thought caused her some concern.
The rhythm of the bass changed. It was getting closer.
Banter swore she heard a helicopter, but another semi pulled out just as she did, interfering with the sound.
The sound was clearer through the dock door where there was no longer a truck.
The sound had a fast rhythm like a dog who was hot on a trail.
There was gunfire.
Every single forklift stopped and the men dove to the floor, covering their heads. The men by the doors pulled out guns, but kept to their posts.
Banter unscrewed her silencer and made it disappear into her hoodie.
Through the one open dock door, she saw movement.
There was more gunfire. Then the door to the warehouse burst open so fast that it threw the man guarding it to the ground. He was overcome fast. The first few police through the door were in full protective gear.
Banter dropped to the floor of the walkway and released her hold of the gun. She slid over the edge and dropped the ten feet to the ground where she sprawled flat. The rolling conveyor partially concealed her.
There was more gunfire and she saw the man who was guarding the other door drop. Then the warehouse seemed to swarm with police.
Banter caught the light in the upper room go out. She wondered if they were going to pretend they weren’t there or if there was a back door out of there.
Then there was a dog sniffing the top of her head.
“Put your hands behind your back.”
Banter felt instant relief. It was Corey. She did as he asked. He put handcuff ties on her.
“Check the room upstairs,” she said in a whisper. “Bigwigs.”
She caught Corey waving someone over.
The man nodded and took off.
Corey helped her to her feet.
All of the forklift workers were getting handcuffed and being led out.
Patsy growled at them.
“Where’s your gun?” Corey said in a mutter.
“Up on the walkway,” she said, barely moving her lips.
More workers were escorted from the depths of the warehouse. They all had their hands on top of their heads, moving in single file.
Two men in full protective gear led others through the door and up the stairs. There was some gunfire, then the light was switched on.
Banter couldn’t see all the men. The drug lord was toward the back of the group with a few of the others in front of him. She could see that they had guns drawn, but they dropped them once they realized they were out numbered.
Corey moved her out from behind the conveyor. He had a hold of her hoodie and his gun out, completing the charade that she was under arrest. More handcuffed workers were led out. Corey paused to let them go out first. Patsy growled while the workers passed. Her leash was looped around his wrist.
The first man led out of the upstairs room was the drug lord. He didn’t look happy. Banter knew to put an unhappy face on herself. When the drug lord was led past, she glared at him like this was all his fault.
Only four men were led out. She didn’t see Marcus or the peacock dandy. She wondered if three were hit or three managed to escape. When no one but police was in view, she let Corey know.
“There should have been seven up there.”
“Two were shot,” Corey said. “You missed the hand signals.”
He gave her a gentle push to get her walking.
He stopped in his tracks.
“This is Corey. Upper room should have contained seven. We’re missing someone.”
She could see he was wearing an ear piece and microphone.
Banter saw some men regroup.
Corey again gave her a gentle push to get her walking, and they left the building.
Outside, Banter was reminded of the first case that she and Corey had worked together on. The place was overrun with police and FBI. There was the sound of helicopters flying overhead. However, this time there were police dogs on the perimeter. And Patsy growled at anyone who came close to them.
Then suddenly if felt like a war had broken out. Rapid gun fire seemed to be coming from the roof. Corey pushed her down to the ground. She felt her handcuff ties removed and a gun shoved into her hand.
Banter saw two officers go down. One looked like Jed. She was now pissed. With her hands free, she rolled, aimed and fired. She aimed more on movement on the roof than anything else. The movement stopped and the man dropped out of view. However, she could see three more. They were all armed with semiautomatic weapons.
There was a gap in the camo net which allowed her to see the roof top which was now lit up. She suspected the helicopters had flood lights. But that worked both ways. The men up there could see over the net and under it.
A single shot from above changed the focus of the men on the roof. Another man went down. Banter figured there was a sharp shooter on the helicopter.
“You’re just provided a good distraction,” she said, taking aim.
She fired again and another man dropped. The last man looked around then ran when he found he was the last man standing. Banter hardly aimed and fired again at the same time there was a shot from overhead. That man dropped out of sight. Banter wondered if both of them had hit him.
There seemed to be a moment of silence, then everyone rose to run. There was a dash of movement toward the two officers down.
She was glad to see them both sit up, but they looked hurt. Hopefully, they were just knocked down by bullets that hit their protective vests.
“Shit,” she said. “Any more surprises?”
Out of the corner of her eyes, she caught a flash of blue and suddenly understood what had happened. The men on the roof had provided the distraction allowing their top man could escape.
“Corey,” she hissed at the same moment she took off.
Banter didn’t know if he heard her or not. She ran full out toward the edge of the building, but stopped when she reached the corner. There was fencing another six feet beyond the building creating a corridor between the building and the fence. With care, she peered around. The blue of his suit shone like a beacon, but he was already too far away for a shot and running fast.