Seroje jogged out of the park, heading for the nearest shopping area. She ran hard to shove out the emotions she was feeling. The exertion helped her to concentrate.
At the local twenty-four-hour “we sell everything” store, she bought a phone that was pay-as-you-go. She activated the phone in the store and called for a cab to take her back to the hospital to get the rental car.
Seroje drove back to her storage unit and put everything back, except her backpack with her laptop and the purse with the revolver. She reloaded the revolver and then swapped out the partial box of ammo in her purse for a full one.
Seroje drove the van to the nearest rental car drop-off and walked away. She stopped not at the nearest fast-food place, but one further away. The place was busy with people ordering breakfast and seniors getting their cheap cup of coffee. She found a corner booth and set up the laptop, duplicating the access she’d had on her phone and tapping into the restaurant’s wi-fi to check on OSLO.
OSLO was still up and operational after the fire, which she knew wouldn’t burn the building down. The poor accounting lady whose candle she’d used would probably get fired for leaving the candle burning.
Seroje had more options on her laptop than her phone and soon she was in watching the tracking system, seeing where the ring was located. It was now in Craig’s building, probably in his office, she thought.
Seroje didn’t know her next move. She sat in the fast-food place, drinking soda, free refills, with one large order of fries, for the next six hours and using the restroom. She was glad her period was done.
OSLO would need some time to recalibrate, to figure out that she was not in a rental car, that her car was not at the airport and that the ring had moved and was now useless. She knew she had time to think.
An idea formed in her head. She got into OSLO’s email system and into Harold’s email. One piece of email got her attention. His wife was having him pick up their son after soccer practice and take him over to a friend’s place for an overnight.
The time was three pm.
She packed up, leaving the fast-food place with only the plan of keeping OSLO busy, but she needed some transportation to make that happen. However, she didn’t want a cab since she needed a little more flexibility. A nearby neighborhood provided the transportation. A car parked in the shade under a tree looked promising and it wasn’t even locked.
Seroje laughed to herself while she pulled on her gloves. Only a few months ago, she’d gone through the OSLO training on how to start a car without a key. The car started with ease and she drove off, heading toward the suburbs where Harold lived.
His subdivision was perfect. There was only one way in and one way out. Seroje parked the car outside of the subdivision, then walked the neighborhood looking for the perfect spot, a place where she could stand unobserved, but still see the street. She needed a place with easy access for getting out of there and back to her car.
The revolver was loaded. Her gloves were on, and she had the patience, standing still in the shadows. Neither the girl walking her dog nor the dog noticed her.
The time was six-fifteen pm.
Harold’s car turned up the street. Seroje calculated its speed and the distance, then at the correct time, she stepped out into the street in front of the car. She faced it, watching the front bumper, calculating who was in the car. Harold was alone. She fired three shots through the windshield, then ran, hiding the gun in her purse. Once out of sight of the car, she slowed as if she was out for a jog until she reached her car.
Seroje drove to a busy grocery store and parked the car in the middle of the lot, making sure it was surrounded by other cars. She waited until it was dark before returning the car to its original place, turning the headlamps off before her arrival so she’d stay undetected. She jogged off into the darkness to find a place to wait until tomorrow morning.
She wondered what Harold was thinking. What did he think about the three shots through his windshield? What did he think about the fact that she could have killed him?
She found a small park in a quiet neighborhood and settled amid some bushes, leaning against a large tree. The neighborhood settled down early and she figured it was because everyone worked the next day. She couldn’t remember which day it was, but her new phone that sat in front of her told her it was now Thursday.
The time was two forty-five am.
A woman dressed in a light pink nurses outfit left for her shift at work. She lit up a cigarette while she pulled out of her driveway. The smoke wafted out the window as if the car was on fire. Seroje wrinkled her nose at the smell.
The time was five am when Seroje rose and stretched, letting the blood circulate in her legs, before walking off, heading toward a fast-food place she’d not been at before. She ordered a large soda and a croissant, eating before setting up her laptop. Her access to OSLO was still undetected, and she accessed Harold’s email again.
How do you like being shot at?’
She sent the email from Harold’s own account. An email from himself to himself.
She didn’t expect him to figure out how to answer her as she sipped her soda and spent some time checking out her finances. Her bank account showed she’d been paid her monthly salary for August with the overtime bonus as well as her August expenses. She moved a large chunk of that money into her savings, looking forward to seeing if they’d pay her for September. She figured she had more than enough money to be unemployed for a while as long as she didn’t need to buy too much more ammo.
Seroje focused back on OSLO. The cameras showing the parking lot verified that Hank was at the office. There was a maintenance truck for a company that handled fire and smoke damage cleanup.
Seroje checked Hank’s email, but there was nothing from his wife and she didn’t know if he had any kids. She used a mental map and figured out what route he’d take home. He’d probably start protecting himself more, so she figured she’d have to do this further away from his house.
Seroje thought of a possible spot and she didn’t need a car to get there.
New mail arrived in Harold’s inbox.
Sirojay, lets end this misunderstanding. Come into the office.
Harold couldn’t spell her name right.
I’m already in your office, she emailed back, knowing that would send them into a panic.
Then she remembered there were multiple buildings.
But which office?, she emailed.
She closed up her laptop, putting it in her backpack, and left the fast-food place. Hank had to go home sometime, if his wife hadn’t thrown him out yet. Seroje had the time and patience to wait and see if he came the route she thought.
Seroje jogged to the location she had in mind, using only pure logic that Hank came this way. The road was a short cut around one of the busy intersections toward his house. There were lots of routes for her escape, including a busy strip of businesses: a bulk item store, an electronics store, the “we sell everything” store, and a couple of gas stations.
She positioned herself, hiding in some bushes against some old lady’s house. The spot was perfect, except for an orange tabby cat that kept bothering her until she hissed at it, sending it up a tree.
A stout, gray-haired old lady came out the back door. She wore a light blue dress and white tennis shoes with tan support stockings.
“Muffin. Muffin get out of that tree,” the old lady said, with worry in her voice. “Muffin. Oh, dear.”
Seroje sighed, knowing she had to get rid of the old lady. She eased out of the bushes, taking her gloves off.
“Can I help?” Seroje said, coming around the house.
“Oh, Muffin is up in the tree,” the old lady said, wringing her hands.
Seroje searched her mind for solutions, knowing she’d not be able to approach the cat since she was the one that sent her running up the tree in the first place.
“You have a can of tuna?” Seroje said as she stared at the old woman’s shoes.
“Oh, yes, why?”
“Open it for the cat. That will bring her down,” Seroje said.
The old lady hobbled into her house, while the cat stared at Seroje.
“Meow,” Seroje said at the cat while she stared at the base of the tree.
The cat dropped from the tree.
The old lady came out with the can.
“See, it already worked,” Seroje said. The cat was now sniffing her shoes.
“I didn’t open the can yet,” the old lady said as Seroje figured she’d not scared the cat at all and that the cat knew this as a trick, having the old lady wrapped around her little paws.
“You’ve fed her before after she’s been up a tree?” Seroje said.
“Oh, yes,” the old lady said with a laugh.
“Well, now that she’s down, I’d not feed her.”
“But she needs to be rewarded,” the old lady said.
“Maybe she just needs some attention,” Seroje said, wanting to leave.
“What’s your name?” the old lady said. “I’m Tabitha. You’ve met my Muffin. Such a sweet girl.”
Seroje now felt that it was the old lady that needed some attention, not the cat.
“Jane. I’m called Jane. Can we sit on your front porch?” Seroje said, deciding to change her tactics.
“Oh, certainly, let me get us some tea,” Tabitha said, looking pleased.
Seroje walked around and sat on the front porch. This proved to be a good vantage point. She could see the street and the intersection where Hank would come through. She put her gloves back on.
Tabitha hobbled out with two glasses, looking pleased at having company.
“Thank you,” Seroje said, staring into the glass. There was a film over the contents. The tea smelled stale. She pretended to sip, making sure her lips didn’t touch the glass, then put the glass down.
Tabitha talked non-stop, telling stories for the next hour and a half, only sipping her tea when her voice became dry.
Seroje sat, spilling tea on the other side of her, making it look as if she was drinking it while she ignored Tabitha. Hank’s car came into view. She knocked her remaining tea over.
“Oh, sorry. Can I have some more?” Seroje said to Tabitha. “Looks like you need more too.”
“Oh, yes,” Tabitha said, hobbling into the house, taking the glasses with her.
Seroje stood on the top of the steps behind one of the porch support pillars, watching the car. There were four people in the car. Hank had company. Protection? She waited until the car passed before trotting down the steps and out into the street. She aimed, firing two shots into the middle of the rear window of the car. Then she ran around Tabitha’s house and into the back door, locking the screen door behind her.
Tabitha was mixing instant tea from a can into the two glasses, unaware of what was going on. Three men ran through her back yard, split up and started combing yards. Seroje moved up to Tabitha’s front door. Hank was standing by his car looking shaken while he was on his phone. His rear window was shattered. No one in the neighborhood seemed aware of what happened despite the loud report of her gun.
“Oh, there you are,” Tabitha said, carrying the two glasses. She also didn’t seem to be concerned about the two gunshots. Seroje wondered if people just contributed it to the bangs of traffic one block over.
“I think we should sit in here,” Seroje said. “Thank you for the tea. It is delicious. Do you make it yourself?”
Tabitha’s living room was dusty, smelling of stale potpourri. The couch was covered with two throw blankets that didn’t match and smelled of cat pee. Tabitha sat in an old wing chair that was surrounded by the clutter of knitting magazines and gardening catalogs.
Seroje managed to find a place on the couch that was furthest from the cat pee and a place on the coffee table for her tea. The coffee table was also full of magazines and catalogs as well as ceramic figurines. A few were knocked over and broken.
She spent one hour pretending to listen to Tabitha and one hour of quiet because Tabitha had fallen asleep. The sun was setting when she left by the front door. Hank’s car was long gone and the glass swept up.
Seroje set out for the busy shopping area, thinking of finding herself some dinner as she crossed the street. She headed for the “we sell everything” store when her eyes caught the pattern of men under the parking lot lights and she found herself in a trap. Her gun only had the three shots left since she’d not reloaded.
Her only path of no resistance lay in front of her toward the stores. The “we sell everything” store and the bulk store were still busy with customers. She had only a few moments to decide before her path of no resistance closed.
She took off in a sprint toward the closest store. The men further identified themselves when they also broke into a run. There were six of them.
Damn, she thought, OSLO finally decided to even up the odds.
“Sorry, late for work,” she said, brushing past people as she entered the store.
She ran at an angle, putting as much store merchandise between her and the front doors as she could. This proved easier than she expected since the door she’d gone into was near the produce section and the coolers with frozen items. The coolers soon hid her, and she ran full out again, toward the back of the store. She entered the Employee Only section and headed for a back door.
She laughed to herself, thinking about where that helicopter was to rescue her, when a real one flew over the building, veering as soon as they’d seen her.
OSLO had ramped up.
She began to run again, but she had to tell herself to stop. Running was a mistake. She stepped into the back doorway of the electronics store, out of sight of the helicopter, waiting until the helicopter had drifted from sight. Then she stepped back out and ran to the back of the next store.
Seroje was in the bulk item store. She headed for the front, taking out her phone and calling for a cab. She was told it would take ten minutes since was one in the area.
An OSLO guy that she recognized as Chuck was patrolling the sidewalk and watching everyone come and go. She stayed behind a display, monitoring him. The cab arrived in six minutes and parked outside the door. Seroje waited while Chuck paced the sidewalk, turned and headed the other way. She took that time to dash out into the cab.
“A hundred bucks if you can get out of here without being followed,” she told the cab driver as she ducked down, closing the door.
The cab drove off.
Seroje found herself enjoying the intensity of the chase even though she was the one being chased. She felt focused and her eyes were steady just like after good sex. She could see everything happening around her in such clarity. However, now all she could see was the sky since the cab left the shopping area.
“All clear,” the cab driver said.
“Where’s the helicopter?” she said.
“Over the shopping mall,” he said. “Where to?”
She sat up to verify what he said. The helicopter was still hovering in the same spot and she could see the men still patrolling the sidewalk.
“You sound Italian,” she said.
“Si,” he said. He had black hair and brown eyes and was wearing a muscle shirt. She figured he was well into his thirties.
“Mi porti all’hotel più bello di cui sai,” she said in perfect Italian, telling him to take her to the nicest hotel he knew of.
“Si, signora,” he said, looking pleased.
“Grazie, Tony,” she said, reading his license in the front of his cab. “Greatly appreciate the help.”
“Any time, any time,” he said as he drove.
She was glad he remained quiet for the rest of the trip while he drove her toward one of the luxury hotels that overlooked the harbor.
“How is this one?” he said, pulling up to the hotel.
“Perfect,” she said, ignoring what his meter read. She handed him two hundred dollars. “Thank you for all your help.”
She left the cab to go into the hotel, giving him a final wink and a smile since that was what a woman was supposed to do to a guy who was helpful.
The hotel decor was glitzy and lavish. She didn’t think she’d fit in, but the clerk who registered her was attentive and polite as if she were royalty. He handed her the room key and asked if she needed anything else.
“No, thank you,” she said, taking the key. Then she left the hotel.
She wanted to use someone else’s wi-fi other than the hotel’s. There were a number of restaurants in the area. Seroje sat on the edge of a planter and logged into her laptop, snagging the wi-fi from the nearest restaurant. She hopped into OSLO’s network. Her access had not yet been discovered. She sent Harold an email, again from his own account to his account.
Tag, you’re it.