Ashley went into the bar and headed for the back as if she was meeting someone already waiting there for her, surveying the place as she went.
Brass racks. Dark mustard walls. Rest rooms at the rear.
An unoccupied booth just short of them, which she chose as her place to sit, and which she found had a clear line of sight up the aisle, to the door, letting her see anyone coming in or going out. None of them were beefy men in security guard uniforms, or seemed interested in peeking at the back or asking questions.
It wasn’t a couple of minutes before a waitress came to her table to take her order. Ashley had a gin and tonic heavy on ice. She sipped a little, spilled the rest, then left money for the bill and the tip and went to the women’s rest room.
There were two stalls on one side, two sinks with mirrors over them on the other.
No one was standing in front of those sinks, while a quick check showed a pair of tan boots under the door of the nearer stall. The one next to it seemed empty, however, so she went inside, and extracted from her duffle a long-sleeved white blouse, knee-length blue skirt and black ballet flats into which she changed. She then emptied the jumpsuit’s pockets into an empty off-brand black purse, except for the disc case, which she strapped to her upper thigh using an elastic garter, figuring that it would be safer there than in a purse someone might try to snatch out of her hands.
Last but not least, she extracted a set of hairpins, a wig cap and a longhaired black wig from the duffle. She pinned up her hair behind her head, slipped on the cap, and then slid the wig on, front to back, over the cap. She then checked that the bathroom was still empty, proceeded out of the stall and using her reflection in the mirror over the nearer sink brushed her hair into place.
Ashley satisfied herself that her appearance was passable, and then considered the matter of her exit. There was, of course, the way she’d come in, but there was also a window set high in the wall next to her stall which seemed big enough for someone to fit through it. On the other side of it was, sure enough, an alley. It seemed to be empty, no one lurking outside, no doors in sight from which someone might see her making a curious departure.
The window’s handle was rusty, but when she turned it the panel rotated upward and inward—functional if unsightly. She kept turning it until she raised the panel high enough for a person—at any rate, her slender self—to try to pass through beneath. Ashley used the sink to help her up toward it, dropped the duffle bag through it onto the ground outside it, and then climbed out after it.
The maneuver was awkward, but she managed to complete it before anyone else came in. The duffle went into a garbage bin. Then she reached back into her purse, got out a pair of glasses with auto-tinting lenses, slipped them on, and then continued through the alley, heading away from the bar’s street front.
The sense of freedom and beauty Ashley experienced while flying over the city was gone, as was the fear she felt fleeing Thorn’s headquarters. Now the grime and grit of the street dominated her senses as she saw the alley’s far end in the glow of a nearby street lamp, across which an animal that was either a small dog or a really large rat skittered.
She crossed that animal’s path, exited the alley and headed for the subway. The nearest station was five blocks south, one east. Her new clothes were far less suited to jumping fences than the jumpsuit she’d discarded, so she avoided the alleys and stuck with the streets. Again she walked as briskly as she could manage without seeming like she was running, without seeming like anything more than a woman headed home after getting off a late shift at work, or a bad date.
Just half a block out of the alley Ashley noticed another cop car passing by, dome light off and siren silent. She didn’t look at it directly, just watched it from the corner of her eye as it seemed to keep pace with her. She was almost certain the officer riding shotgun was looking straight at her. But then the car accelerated and drove off, leaving her behind.
She pressed on, passing into pedestrian traffic, overtaking and being overtaken. Another block after that she noticed that one of the other pedestrians had been thirty feet behind her the whole time. He wasn’t dressed like the guys from the office, she didn’t think. But then what was to stop him from putting on a jacket, concealing the security company insignia?
As the man passed under a street lamp she saw the light shine off his bald head, but didn’t catch his features before he passed into shadow again. She remembered the man who’d gone over the desk after her—
She stopped walking in front of a drug store’s window, as if something in the display had caught her eye, and slid a hand into her purse to grasp the handle of her stun gun.
The man walked on by, and as he closed she saw in the glass that it wasn’t the man from the office.
Ashley allowed him to get a dozen yards ahead of her before she started walking again, and stayed behind him until he turned the corner and disappeared from sight without his ever having looked back at her. Just to be safe she decided to go in the opposite direction, crossing at that intersection and moving herself that one block eastward earlier than she’d planned.
As she continued walking she ate an energy bar and took a swig from her water bottle, then spotted the entrance into the station for which she was headed another block on. She didn’t see any more cop cars or suspicious pedestrians or black Mercedes-Benzes in the time that it took to reach the stairs down into the underground, where the harsh lights made the concrete and metal below the street seem far harsher than the concrete and metal above it.
Ashley used her visitor’s pass to get past the turnstile, then onto the platform, where once again she saw a uniformed cop. Inwardly she cursed the luck that gave her a third run-in with them in this short trip, but the officer paid her no mind as she waited, then walked into an empty car.
Feeling naked in there, Ashley got out her cell and pretended to play a game on it while watching her surroundings. At the next station the train halted and another person got on now, a young woman with a Qpod in her hand and a bud in her ear who looked like she wouldn’t have noticed if the train ran straight into a wall.
She was joined by two more people at the next station, and then a party of five at the one after that, the car getting steadily more crowded as the train headed up the line, people moving to points north, others completely leaving the island behind for the mainland. More people, more cell phones. If any of them took a real interest in her they didn’t give away the fact as the train tunneled underneath the Harlem River, into the Bronx.
At Yankee Stadium she got out, crossed the platform and boarded the train running back south with an eye open for anyone else doing the same. As far as she could tell, no one did. So she rode past the station where she’d first got on, then got out and took the Trans-Hudson back to Newark.