The time was a few minutes after five when the elevator door opened and she listened to footsteps come up to the door. Keys jingled. Tony entered and shut the door. He looked around the room, pausing when he finally spied her.
“You okay?” he said.
“Yes,” she said, remaining where she was.
“Did you eat anymore?” he said, heading to the kitchen.
“No,” she said, having forgotten about the sandwich.
He put on water to boil.
“You don’t look okay,” he said, watching her.
“I am fine,” she said.
“You don’t like to look at people?”
Her eyes jittered across his carpet.
“I can see you just fine,” she said, tensing as the elevator door opened and someone walked down the hall. The steps stopped by Tony’s door. Her eyes stopped jittering as she focused.
“My neighbor across the hall,” he said in a quiet voice.
The door across the hall opened and closed.
Tony pulled out plates and put pasta into the boiling water.
“Do you want some dinner?” he said.
“No,” she said. “I still have the sandwich.”
“The person watching the shop finally left about four,” Tony said. “The guy drove to a building on 14th and...”
“I know the building,” Seroje said, knowing it was the OSLO building.
Tony watched his pasta boil.
Seroje counted seven minutes.
Tony drained the pasta.
“You sure you don’t want some?”
“No, I am fine,” she said.
He filled a plate with pasta, then topped it off with Parmesan cheese, oregano, and olive oil. He sat on the couch and ate.
Seroje liked the smell of the oregano, wondering if it was fresh from the garden. She wanted to go back to the garden, knowing she couldn’t sleep here.
Tony turned on the TV. A soccer game played.
He fell asleep with his empty plate beside him on the couch. Seroje waited until dark and left the apartment, taking the stairs all the way down. She wanted the exercise. The air was cool, and she jogged the long way around the building to the door that led to the elevator to the rooftop garden.
The rooftop was pitch black. She felt a huge relief, allowing the darkness to swallow her up as she sat cross-legged against one of the raised beds. The scent of oregano surrounded her.
The garbage trucks again provided a wakeup call.
The time was four am.
She stepped through her Tai Chi, twice as usual, but it wasn’t until she did her ten minutes of meditation that she heard the door to the rooftop open.
Tony sat, placing a glass with ice and a soda down.
“Do you ever sleep?” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
“I mean in a bed. What time did you leave last night?” he said.
“Dark,” she said, taking the glass and pouring it full. She drank all the soda.
“And you’ve been up here the whole time?”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s peaceful. I like the smell of oregano.”
“You still didn’t eat your sandwich,” he said. He pulled a bag out from behind him. “Bagel. Eat something.”
“I gotta run my cab,” he said. “Want to ride with me? Something to do until tomorrow and I’ll take you to the park.”
The sound of a helicopter echoed against the building.
“Maybe,” she said, taking a step away, giving herself some time.
The helicopter drew nearer and louder, yet it was still not visible. She moved over to her backpack, putting on her gloves and taking out the revolver as if she was checking it. The helicopter came into view and she verified what she thought. The same call numbers were on this helicopter as the one she saw over the “we sell everything” store.
“When you tell your mama that we couldn’t marry, tell her it’s because I can’t have children,” Seroje said, speaking the truth.
Tony glanced over at the helicopter.
“We better go. Now,” he said.
“If I hear it or see it, it’s too late,” she said, and she shot him, taking care to aim and put the bullet along side his head. He dropped hard. Blood oozed over his face making the wound look worse than it was.
She knew she’d saved his life as the door to the roof was kicked open and Hank walked in with his gun drawn. Her hand released the revolver, and it dropped to her feet. Hank looked battered and bruised on one side of his face and he looked pissed. He walked up to her and punched her in the nose.
She took the hit, stepping back two steps from the force, and feeling the shock wave flow through her. The second hit, however, caused her to lose her vision and she stumbled into one of the raised garden beds.
She had the vague impression that Hank wasn’t alone, but the people had come in after Hank hit her.
“Fucking bitch,” she heard him say while she was dragged to her feet and out the door.
“What about him?” someone said.
“What about him? He’s dead. Let’s go,” Hank’s voice said.
Seroje felt herself crammed into the elevator and she listened to the breathing, estimating there were four men plus Hank. His breathing was distinct, and she’d know him anywhere.
The elevator dinged and they dragged her out, then lifted her into a car.
She could taste her blood now, and her vision was clearing. Her nose no longer worked, clogged with blood, but she could taste the garbage smell and it wasn’t any better.
She knew where she was while they drove, but not the final destination. Her mind couldn’t calculate the time and for some reason her eyes couldn’t see the clock. The SUV in which she rode followed Hank’s battered SUV for what felt like a long time. The two vehicles pulled into the parking lot of a warehouse.
A sign revealed that the warehouse was within the confines of one of Craig’s industrial properties and looked abandoned, but she figured it was still too early if there were office workers. Then her mind reminded her it was Sunday. There’d be no one here. The men drug her through the building, which she realized was only a storage facility. This meant that even tomorrow there’d be no one there.
Someone pushed her down on a chair in an office that contained just the chair she sat on and an old metal desk. One man sat on the desk watching her. Everyone else left. She sat stiff and straight with her head tilted to allow the blood to flow off her face.
The man looked a lot like Tony, but he was older with a few more scars and pockmarks on his face. He watched her for a few minutes before checking where everyone else was, then came over to her, a little too close to her liking.
“Ya went too far,” he said with an Italian accent, looking as if he was going to punch her.
“Non è morto. Antonio,” she said with an Italian accent in a faint voice, telling the man that Tony wasn’t dead.
Hank walked in.
“Don’t talk to her,” Hank said in a sharp voice.
“She’s muttering. Can’t understand a word she’s saying,” the man said, going back to sit on the desk.
Hank paced, glared at her and left again.
The man pulled out a cell phone and made a call, but he stepped out of the office when it connected and Seroje could not make out what he said, but he spoke in rapid Italian.
Seroje didn’t know if this was a ray of hope or not. She felt beaten down as she sat there, concentrating on breathing. The four men with Hank were not OSLO employees and she guessed they were the Italian goons that Tony told her about. Two of them scared her, looking thin and haggard as if they survived on drugs. She was glad neither of those two men were watching her. The other two she recognized. She had seen them in the coffee shop the other day.
The man came back and sat on the desk, watching her. She didn’t move and fifteen minutes later he got a call. He listen but said nothing other than “Si” and ended the call.
He walked out of the office.
“You got your girl. We gotta go,” she heard the man say to someone she figured was Hank, because Hank answered.
“What the fuck do you mean? We got one other coming. We need you right there watching her,” Hank’s voice said.
“We gotta go,” the man said. “You got twenty minutes to get your own people out here.”
“But that’s the job,” Hank said, adding more profanity which echoed through the warehouse.
A conversation in Italian, muffled and unintelligible, transpired outside the office somewhere. The man came back and sat on the desk.
“Non è morto,” the man said to her, confirming what she already knew, that Tony wasn’t dead.
They sat in silence. Then the other man she’d seen in the coffee shop entered with a rag.
“Here. Wipe the blood,” the man said and then both men left.
The rag was warm and wet. She wiped until there was no clean area left on the rag, then dried her face with her shirt. Blood streaked her shirt.
Seroje sat for twenty minutes wondering if anyone was out there. She shifted in her chair. The creak brought Hank over by the door.
“Sit there and shut up,” he said in a loud voice, then walked back to where he’d been standing, out of sight.
Doors slammed and footsteps approached.
“These are the only two I could get,” Harold’s voice said.
He stepped into the doorway.
“God, she looks like shit,” he said.
Two men, OSLO employees, Dick and Sid, stood behind him. They were shady characters, having been on probation at work for inappropriate behavior. Seroje knew this meant the Italian goons were gone.
Two OSLO goons, Harold, and Hank. They had guns and she had a knife.
Might be even odds, she thought, humoring herself.
Then her body gave out, and she threw up the soda and passed out.
“She’s not fucking dead,” Hank’s voice said, managing to break through her hazy pain.
“Those goons hit her too hard,” someone’s voice said.
“Where the hell is Craig?” Hank said, not revealing he was the one who’d hit her.
“I called his office and left a message that he call me immediately. Celia didn’t know where he was, and he’s not answering his cell phone,” Harold’s voice said. “It’s the weekend. He’s probably off with some girl and turned his cell phone off.”
“We should just kill her now, damn it,” Hank said.
“We need to wait,” Harold said. “We need to know where he is first. His jet isn’t at the airport. No one knows where it went since the pilot didn’t file a flight plan like he should have.”
“A jet just can’t disappear like that,” Hank said.
“Well, it certainly did when he went down to his island,” Harold said. “Lucky we sent someone down there to check and happened to see him on the big island, but she saw the guy.”
“She’s fucked everything up,” Hank said. “You said I could pick the place to get rid of her. I want to do it now.”
“You wait. A dead body makes a terrible lure,” Harold said in a cold voice. “We need to make sure we get him where we want him.”
Seroje coughed, wishing she hadn’t, but she couldn’t always control what her body did.
“See, I told you she wasn’t dead,” Hank said.
Someone pulled her up so she was leaning against the wall. She was in the same office, but Harold was sitting in the chair. Sid was by the door. Dick stood by her, being the one that pulled her up. Hank wanted to pace the floor but couldn’t because he was avoiding the blood she’d dripped on the floor, the bloody rag, and her vomit.
Swelling closed one of her eyes. She couldn’t breathe through her nose. She wanted a soda, but her mind told her she’d never taste another one, but her mind was also sharp and clear because of the pain. Her eyes didn’t jitter, and she had one plan left. She had her knife, and she was going to slit Hank’s throat.
She ran her hand along her leg, down past the ragged cut in her jeans, the fashionable cut. Her hand touched the sheath, then continued on to her knee. Her hand stayed at her knee while the truth sunk in. The knife was gone. They had to have seen it when she was out because she didn’t remember the Italian goons touching her and taking it.
She didn’t have a knife. The thought echoed in her head and she had nothing left to think of. She phased out and lost time.
Sid sat in the chair in front of the door with his feet up on the edge of the desk, playing a game on his phone. She didn’t remember him sitting there before. The light was on in the office, and only the emergency lights were on in the warehouse. She didn’t know the time, but decided it was dark.
“What time is it, Sid?” she said.
He ignored her while he continued to play his game, some sort of arcade game that involved his thumbs and tilting the phone.
“You’re gonna run your battery down,” she said in a quiet voice.
“Got my charger,” he said, not pausing in his game. “Damn.” He’d lost. “Quit bothering me.”
Hank ran up to the door, looking excited. “We got him. Let’s go.”
Sid stood up, ready to leave the room.
“With the girl, you idiot,” Hank said.
Sid stepped over and pulled her up to her feet by grabbing her arm, holding her up as she stumbled. Her feet weren’t ready to bear weight. He seemed to understand and paused a moment for her to gain her balance, then pulled her out of the room.
Hank and Dick were waiting for them. Harold was not there any more. They pushed her into the back seat of the Hank’s SUV. Only Sid sat back with her while Hank sat on the passenger side and Dick drove.
She was correct in thinking it was night. The time on the clock in the SUV showed nine minutes after eleven. The drive took forty-seven minutes.
They were at another of Craig’s properties. His company’s name was on a large sign, visible when they drove through the gates. The place looked to be another warehouse, but there were semi-trailers parked within the fencing, indicating it was used more. There were no other vehicles when they pulled up next to the front entrance. There were no lights in the building, other than the few emergency lights required.
Seroje expected them to get out and go inside, but they all sat in the car. Hank tapped his leg with impatience. Ten minutes later Harold’s car pulled up.
Hank got out.
“Wait here,” he said to his guys, then he turned to speak to Harold. “What’s the setup?”
“He said to meet here. Said he was going to be here the next couple days for an audit,” Harold said.
“Here? There’s nothing here,” Hank said, sounding exasperated.
“Craig likes to scope things out before audits. This is exactly what he does before an audit,” Harold said. “You’ve never been at one.” Harold shivered. “Take her to the conference room. He’ll be here soon.”
Sid dragged Seroje out of the car. Both Sid and Dick got on each side of her to half hold her up and half lead her along. Harold unlocked the building, and he and Hank led the way.
The offices looked used, but then they passed across the warehouse toward a conference room that looked less used. Boxes were stacked by the doorway, making them move sideways to get through the door. There was only a faint night light in the room.
“Lights switches are up front,” Harold said as Hank shut the door, but before they could go further, lights brightened over them.
“What do we have here?” Craig’s voice said from the other end of the conference room. He was but a shadow.
Seroje stiffened, feeling fear. All three honchos and two goons. The sound of a magazine sliding into the gun caused her heart to skip a beat, then pound harder.
“We found her,” Hank said. “Causing trouble.”
“Yes, I know,” Craig said, cocking the gun and walking forward two steps, but he was still in the shadows. “She’s been causing a lot of problems for OSLO. Costing a lot of money and driving you two crazy.”
Hank emitted a nervous laugh.
“Didn’t know you’d gotten back into town,” Harold said.
“Never left,” Craig said.
“Oh, I saw the jet gone,” Harold said.
“It’s in a hangar getting its annual check up,” Craig said.
Seroje’s eyes adapted to the low light and she could tell that Craig was watching her, but she couldn’t read the expressions on his face.
“Seroje,” he said in a quiet voice. “Did you not know that Oslo is my middle name?”
Her chest felt tight. Seroje didn’t answer. She realized she’d done what everyone else had done, ignored what they did not see, because he never used his middle initial, let alone the full name. His signature didn’t include it. Any of the documents she’d seen with his name had only his first and last name.
“Can’t look up what you don’t see, can you?” he said.
That was the one secret he’d kept from her. The one secret she’d not seen, felt, heard or smelled.
“I don’t even think Harold and Hank knew,” Craig said. “And they worked for me.”
She felt panic rise in her chest.
Another nervous laugh escaped from Hank.
“And they really fucked up,” Craig said with a nasty tone to his voice.
There were four shots, fired in rapid succession. The muzzle flash was visible for each shot. The shock wave for each shot stuck Seroje like bullets and her heart rate shot up, pounding in her ears.
She felt Sid and Dick release her. The smell of gun powder filled the room. She heard the thuds, but it took her some time to realize she and Craig were the only two left standing.
She panted, not fully registering the turn of events. Waiting for that last bullet.
She breathed for what felt like an hour, but was probably just seconds. She coughed.
Craig didn’t move. The men on the floor didn’t move either. The smell of pee from the dead men joined the smell of gun powder.
“I love you,” Craig said. “I want to marry you.”
Her ears still rang. Was he toying with her?
OSLO was bad. A bad organization that did bad things. His organization.
He approached her, placing the gun in a shoulder holster hidden under his suit coat.
She swallowed, knowing he’d made a mistake. The same mistake all the others had made.
“I’m sorry things got out of hand,” he said, raising his arms to go around her.
Seroje put her arms under his coat as if to hug him, taking the gun out of his holster.
She shot him in the chest.
He swayed against her, but she pushed him back, taking his phone out of his pocket when he sank to the floor with a look of total astonishment. She hit the 911 emergency call feature.
“I’ve been shot. Help me,” she said with a rough impersonation of him, giving the address of where he was.
Seroje walked out the door, leaving the phone by him on the floor still connected to 911 and dropping the gun by the door. She left through the same door she’d come and looked in Harold’s car. Her backpack was on the front passenger seat. She grabbed it and slung it over her shoulder.
She made it to some bushes halfway down the street before sliding down to rest and watch when police cars arrived and then a few moments later, the ambulance.
Seroje rose, walking to the parking garage, taking hours to do so and getting her car. She drove home without taking any unnecessary turns, then sprawled on her bed still covered in blood and cried.