Voices penetrated the dreams that flitted through my sleep. Dreams of things that had happened, of things that were and of a future no one knew. I opened my eyes and found Truscott crouched low to the floor. His hackles were raised and he shook with anticipation. I leaned out over him and saw three men in blue lounging in the front room. I had deliberately chosen a small room behind what was left of the front desk.
The door of the room hung heavy on its hinges. I peeked out again and watched the men closer. I recognized the leader, it was the man with ice blue eyes who had shot me. And with him were Smelly and Ken.
“God, are you playing with me?” I asked softly.
I slunk back into my corner determined to wait them out. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. Darkness would be my friend from now on. Snippets of their conversation floated towards me.
“Do you think he’ll come through?”
“Is she really... it or... a...?”
“Oh, she’s worth... and... more.”
Maniacal laughter filled the air and I cringed. Whoever they were looking for was not going to get away. I wondered who they were hoping to find and who was going to come through with whatever. The men moved closer to my hiding spot and to my horror I began to understand their conversation.
“That Dante Brooke seemed most determined to get her back at all cost, Boss.”
“I know, Ken. That’s why we are going to find her.”
“Well, what does she look like?”
“Like any girl from the slums. Skinny, brown hair, blue eyes.”
I froze. Dante was looking for me and these men were out to get me. Did Dante know what he had gotten me into? There was no guarantee they would leave me unspoiled before handing me back to Dante. Not that that mattered. I couldn’t fight against three of them. It would take all my wits just to get out of this building.
“Then how are we to know which is the right girl?”
The boss sighed and responded as if he were talking to young children. “Because she has a large brown dog with her and a white streak in her hair.”
“When do you think we will find her?” That man seemed entirely too eager to get his hands on me.
“After dark. She won’t trust this place in the daylight. And no one is going to touch her. He wants her back unspoiled.”
There were groans from the other two men but they were soon quieted when the boss threatened to keep all the money to himself. They spread out to wait for the darkness to descend.
I had heard enough. It was a risk but a risk I was willing to take. I was going to get out of here, now. I had the element of surprise. They would be tired by now and slow. At least, I hoped so. Their voices grew quieter and I crawled to the front of the closet. I couldn’t see anyone so I made my way to the desk. There was a small hole in the back of it and I pressed an eye to the wood. The boss man with ice blue eyes had taken the only chair left in the room. Ken was nowhere to be seen, which worried me. Smelly lounged in the doorway across the room, cutting his nails with a jackknife. It was the only weapon I could see between the three of them but I knew one had a gun. I wasn’t about to be shot again. I settled in to wait.
An hour later I studied the three men again. Smelly was snoring and I could see the blue of Ken’s shirt upstairs on the balcony. Ice Blue Eyes had nodded off to sleep and a line of drool stretched from his mouth to his crisp blue shirt.
I grinned. This would be easy. Creeping along the backside of the front desk I reached the end closest to the front door. I measured the space. Four large steps and I would be free. I slipped out my bow and strung it. Taking one of my new arrows out, I tested the arrow head. It was good and sharp. There was a blacksmith living on the Brooke’s property and he had made me three dozen good arrow heads. This wasn’t the ideal situation to test out the new heads but it was as good as any. Taking one of my knives out, I clenched it in my teeth. It never hurt to have one in easy reach. I loosened the rest and stood up. Nothing else in the room stirred.
With Truscott shadowing my every step I began my trek across the room. It was possibly the longest distance I ever had to walk. Every move I made was measured, tested, deliberated.
I was one step from the door when something behind me stirred. I spun around to see Smelly rising to his feet. I raised my bow and aimed for his chest. This was no time to just shoot to wound. I would have to eliminate them permanently if I wanted to get away.
He grinned at me and reached out to touch Ice Blue Eyes. I shook my head and pulled back harder. Smelly didn’t take the warning and I loosed with accuracy I didn’t know I possessed. Smelly looked down at the arrow in his chest and in shock at me. I nodded and turned to leave. There was a thump as his body hit the ground and I knew I’d better move fast. The boss man would be awake now.
There was a strange ache in my stomach like I had just eaten something spoiled. But I had no time to pay attention to it. A shout behind me propelled my legs into action and I took off down a side street. Truscott loped beside me, his steadfastness giving me hope. But up ahead standing in the intersection was Ken. How he got from the building to the streets I would never know and neither would anyone else. I took the knife from between my teeth and tossed it at him. The blade bit into the side of his neck and blood gushed forth.
I shivered as he died in front of me but I snagged my knife back as I passed him. He reached out with one hand, pleading. But I was beyond caring. If I had to kill to get my freedom back so be it, I would.
I turned down another street. There was an angry shout behind me and I knew that it was Ice Blue Eyes. He was the one I was most scared of. The other two had been easy to defeat, they hadn’t a whole brain between them. But the man who they called Boss was made of tougher stuff. He was smart. I darted up the stairs and into an abandoned factory.
In the shadows of the afternoon sun the large machinery looked menacing. I shivered as the floor creaked above me. I hurried across the work floor and out the back door. Truscott growled and launched himself at a person in blue. For a moment I thought it was Boss but this person was shorter and fatter. He screamed as Truscott’s weight slammed him onto the sidewalk. He stopped moving and Truscott was on to the next person. I tossed a knife at the nearest person and began running. How had they figured out where I was?
Truscott began to growl in earnest. At the end of the street stood a tall man with three angry looking German Shepherds on leashes. They had tracked us. I bit my lip and looked behind me. More men. The man let the dogs go. I hated to kill innocent animals but if I didn’t do something to stop them... I didn’t want to think of the consequences. I shot short towards the dogs. They all stopped and whined. I sent another shot in their direction. Their handler was yelling at them to move on but they were smarter than that. Turning tail they raced past him and took off somewhere else. The men behind me were closing in fast. Truscott gallantly knocked men over and dodged around others. I loosed another arrow. To my right where the fronts of more factories. I could fight better with things to hide behind.
Whistling I bounded up the steps of another building. Truscott nipped at another man’s leg and raced after me. I pounded through the building, propelled by the shouts that were beginning to penetrate the walls. They were angry, but so was I. I would not go down without a fight.
I burst out into the sunshine again and skidded to a halt. A large black car pulled up at the beginning of the alley. I was trapped. The men were closing in faster and faster. I began to run towards the car. Perhaps I would be able to jump over the car.
But then the back door opened and Dante stepped out. I stopped. What was he doing here?
“Crystal, come home.” Three simple words but to me they were shackles, tying me to the world I had no interest in.
I shook my head. “No, it’s not my home. It’s yours. My home is in the east slums. Unless you plan to drive me there don’t expect me to get into that car.”
Dante walked towards me just as a man flew out of the door behind me and wrapped his arms around me. Truscott lost it and launched himself at the man. Dante shouted something but his words were lost in the chaos that ensued. I struggled in my captor’s arms but another man had joined him. They were stronger than me. Someone grabbed Truscott and wrestled him to the ground. Dante’s chauffer hurried over and reached for the struggling dog. Truscott relaxed and wagged his tail. Elise’s brother spoke gently to my dog and then led him to the car.
I sagged in the men’s arms and they relaxed. I knew then that I wasn’t going anywhere but back to my gilded cage to be Dante’s prize. I would be the tool he used to change the world. Dante moved so he stood in front of me. He took my chin in his fingers and forced me to look into his eyes. They were filled with sorrow and disappointment.
“I thought we understood each other, Crystal.” He nodded to a man and something pricked my arm.
The world blurred and then turned black.