St. Louis, Missouri
Elena dashed to her office as soon as she entered the offices of Velasco Investigations. Rose stayed in reception and picked up Tyler's phone. She punched in Allison's extension. "Allie, come see me in the lobby." She hung up.
Allison ran into the front lobby. "Something wrong, Rose?"
"I need three airline tickets, now."
"Where to and for when?"
"I don't care. I just need them now."
Allison gave Rose a puzzled look. "Do these tickets have to be real?"
"I don't care," Rose repeated. "I just need the tickets."
"Right." Allison sat down at Tyler's computer and booted it up. "Rose, I can get what you want but I need to know what it is."
"I need three airline tickets out of the country. Sexton is in my home and has Maria."
"Got ya. Three tickets out of the country coming up. How does Mexico sound?"
"Not far enough, but it'll work."
The workstation finished starting up. Allison logged into her own account and started typing. Elena returned, lugging a large case. "I have what I need."
Rose looked at the case. "What's in that?"
Rose nodded, then looked over at Allison. "How is it coming?"
"Hang on, Rose. You want this to look official, right? I need to get logos, flight information, the whole works. Sexton might want to verify all this. The confirmation number is going to be a pain, though. I'll have to make it up. If he calls it in, the ploy's over."
"If he calls it in, that's enough time for me to do what I need to do."
Lepinski walked into the office carrying two styrofoam cups. "I figured you'd be here. Thanks for telling me where you went."
"I'm sorry, Detective," Elena said. "We had to move fast on this."
"What happened in the apartment? Was he even there?"
Rose shook her head. "No. He's in my home."
"I'll call dispatch and get SWAT out there," the detective offered.
"No," Rose said forcefully. "No cops. Not even a scent. One whiff and my girl is dead."
"Velasco, this may be the time for police intervention."
"Detective," Elena said, "there's a lot that you don't know and that I don't have time to explain right now. Trust me, though. Rose and I know what we're doing. We have the training. We just need the time. Have the police ready a few blocks away, and have them go there quietly. Let us do our job, and we'll hand over everyone in a nice package."
Lepinski looked from Elena and Rose then back. "Okay. But I'm putting a time limit on you. You have a half hour starting from your arrival at the house. After that, Metro PD takes over. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Elena said before Rose could speak.
Rose glared at her partner as she asked, "How much longer, Allie?"
"Should be coming out of the colour laser printer in a moment," Allison said. True to her word, the Hewlett-Packard colour LaserJet came to life. Two pages printed.
Rose picked up the printed papers and read them over. "I think he'll believe these," she said.
St. Louis, Missouri
198 Addison Avenue
Sexton paced in front of Amber and Maria. "This is taking too long," he said. "Your mother has five more minutes before she starts making funeral arrangements."
The cordless phone rang. Sexton motioned Amber to answer it. The green-haired girl walked across the living room to get to the chair where the phone had landed. She picked it up. "Hello? Rose, we were just talking about you. You got them?" Amber turned to Sexton. "She has your precious tickets. Can we go now?"
"I want them here in my hands."
Amber turned her attention back to the phone. "He wants them here. Oh, okay. Anything I should do? But I'm all rested up already. Alright, bye."
"What was that about?" Sexton demanded.
"She's on her way here with the tickets. Give her ten minutes."
"Eleven minutes, and your corpse will be greeting her."
St. Louis, Missouri
198 Addison Avenue, Outside
Rose parked her Aerostar across the street from her home. She stepped out of the van, keeping an eye on the house. On the other side of the minivan, Elena got out and opened the sliding side door. She hauled her case from the back and set it down on the van's floor. Rose joined the Russian woman behind the van. "What is that?"
Elena opened the case, revealing a rifle broken down into several pieces. She began assembling them. "A Tigr rifle. Perfectly legal."
Rose bent down to take a closer look. "Like hell it's a Tigr. Elena, that's a damned Dragunov. How the hell did you get a sniper rifle through Customs?"
"The First Amendment allows Americans to own rifles." Elena placed the scope on the top of the rifle.
"There are still limitations on military weapons."
"You must be mistaken, Rose." Elena slid home a full clip of ammunition. "This was lovingly maintained by my father, who bequeathed it to me when he passed away. I miss our hunting trips together."
"Your father went hunting with an infra-red scope?"
"It gets very dark in Russia."
Rose rolled her eyes. "Fine. What are you planning on doing with this non-Dragunov SVD not-a-sniper rifle?"
"Making sure Amber and Maria are safe." Elena kept low behind the van, setting up using the vehicle's hood to rest the rifle on. She peered through the scope. "I see two, three, no, four heat signatures inside, just through the window," Elena reported. "One large heat signature on the couch. No, wait, that's two on the couch. Chances are that they're Amber and Maria."
"Do you have a shot?"
"One, but the others may shoot either back at us or at Amber and Maria. I'm not taking that chance."
Rose looked over at her house again. She took out her cell phone and dialled her home number. The trill of the cordless phone could be faintly heard outside. After the third ring, the call was picked up. "Amber, listen carefully. I have the tickets for Sexton, but I need you ready for a distraction. Just keep them off balance. No, not like that, and suggest it again and I'll shoot you myself. Ah, Sexton. Just telling my employee that I have your tickets. I'm just outside. That's my van across the street." Rose nodded. "Alright, I can do that, but I want to talk to my daughter first." She held up the papers Allison had printed and waved them. "See? Thank you." She waited until her daughter was placed on the line. "Maria? Are you okay? I know, dear, and you'll be free soon. Just keep your head down and stay close to Amber. Give me back to Sexton."
Leaning against the van, Rose continued, "Okay, I'm satisfied. How do you want me to deliver the tickets to you? Uh-huh, okay." She started to cross the street. "I'm on my way right now. Do you want me to knock or ring the doorbell? Alright." Rose reached her driveway. She walked along it and up the stairs to her front porch. "I'm there now. I'm putting the tickets into the mail slot." She lifted the metal covering over the slot and slid the papers through. "There." She backed away from the door a step. From behind the door, Rose heard a chair being moved out of the way. She waited for a moment, then heard Sexton on her cell phone. "Okay, but I want to see your hostages. We had a deal, Sexton."
St. Louis, Missouri
198 Addison Avenue, Inside
"You heard me, Velasco," Sexton said into the telephone. "The tickets are useless unless I can get to the airport." He held out his hand. Smith deposited the papers received through the mail slot into the outstretched limb. "You'll get the kid and the other one back after we get to our flight."
"We do have names, you know," Amber said.
Sexton covered the mouthpiece. "Rollins, shut her up."
Rollins pointed his MP-5 at the green-haired woman. "Best do what he says. It would be a pity to kill someone as attractive as you."
Amber blushed. "You're think I'm cute."
"Rollins," Sexton growled. He uncovered the mouthpiece. "I want a car, full tank of gas, and no cops. Then your little girl will be safe." The rogue agent looked over at Amber. "She might be an object lesson in what happens if you don't do as I say." He pointed his Remington twelve gauge at the green-haired woman. "You have twenty minutes, Velasco, then your employee will count as an on the job fatality." He disconnected the call. "Rollins, go see if these tickets are real."
"What about the girls?" the agent asked.
"Smith can watch them."
"Smith will kill them."
Sexton glanced at the destination on the tickets. "Only if he wants to walk to Mexico City." He glared pointedly at Smith. "Got me?"
"Yeah," Smith growled. He moved over to stand beside Rollins. "As long as these bitches don't give me any lip."
Rollins walked over to Sexton to get the phone. "What airline?"
"Delta. Confirm the flight."
Rollins started dialling the airport's phone number. Smith loomed over Amber and Rose, switching the aim of the barrel of his MP-5 submachine gun between the two hostages. Amber stuck her tongue out at her new guard. "I'll cut that out and make you eat it," Smith threatened.
"Ooh, scary," Amber said with mock fear.
Smith raised his submachine gun, ready to pistol whip the green-haired girl. "Do I have to smack you to get you to shut up?"
"Feeling manly now that you've threatened a one-armed girl with no weapons?" Amber continued. "I'm sure you feel like a real man now. Go ahead, hit me if it'll make you feel better. I bet it won't, though. Because you still won't get me to shut up." Amber stared at the man, looking directly into his eyes. "A woman that you can't control."
"Someone please shut her up, please?" Rollins asked. "I can't hear the blasted voice system."
"I'm trying," Smith yelled.
"You're not that good at it." Amber stuck her tongue out at her victim.
Smith swung his MP-5 butt first, striking the green-haired woman across the face. Amber fell against the back of the couch, her good hand gingerly touching where the weapon hit. Maria sat still in shocked horror. "I said, shut up!" Smith roared.
Amber worked her jaw, testing to see if Smith had broken it. Her face already showed signs of bruising. "Ooh, big manly man." Amber rubbed the side of her head. "Is that all you got?" she asked, meeting him eye to eye. "Feel proud?"
Red with rage, Smith cocked his weapon, slamming the bolt home. "I've had enough of you!" he bellowed. He brought the Heckler and Koch weapon back down, pointing it at the green-haired woman still glaring defiantly at him. "Shut--"
Blood and gore erupted from Smith's chest. A deafening boom followed. Smith looked down at the hole in his chest. His knees buckled, collapsing nervelessly under his weight. Maria screamed as the agent's lifeless body toppled forward on to her and Amber. The cordless phone dropped out of Rollins' hand.
Amber recovered from the sudden shock first. She pushed Smith's body off with her uninjured arm. The body fell to the floor with a thump. The green-haired girl stood up, grabbing Maria by the elbow.
Sexton whirled around, bringing the barrel of his Remington twelve gauge around. The front door banged open. The rogue agent turned around again, squeezing the trigger of his shotgun as he did so. Pellets riddled the front door, blowing out the window in it. "Get the girls!" Sexton yelled at Rollins. As Rollins fumbled with his MP-5, Sexton pumped another shell into the shotgun's firing chamber.
Adrenaline pumping through her veins, Amber dragged Maria out of the living room and through the kitchen to the back stairs. The teenaged girl stared behind her at the carnage and at the blood on her shirt. At the stairs to the basement, Maria stopped, trying to regain her balance. "Move, girl," Amber urged. The green-haired girl tugged on the teen's arm to get her going again.
From outside, Rose called, "Give it up, Sexton!"
The rogue agent adjusted his aim and fired again, the Remington shotgun at his hip. The blast punished already ringing ears. Parts of the door jamb ripped away. Rose spun around into the doorway, her Colt held level. Sexton dove towards the stairs to the second floor as two shots rang out. Another loud boom followed, the glass in the front window broke in its wake. Rollins fell to the floor beside Smith's body. Sexton chambered another shell.
"I'm okay," Rollins said. He looked up at the hole through the wall left by the rifle round. "I'm okay," he repeated.
"Go!" Sexton poked the barrel of his shotgun around the corner and shot. More glass broke. A pillow exploded in a shower of foam.
Rollins scrambled up to his feet and ran to the kitchen.
Rose shot three more rounds, trying to keep Sexton from stepping out from his cover. "Last chance!" she called.
Sexton responded by pumping the Remington and shooting blindly. He backed away from the stairs, towards the kitchen. Reaching the back door, he reached behind him to open it. Rose appeared in the living room. Sexton raised the shotgun, aiming it at the investigator. The woman ducked back into the front hall. The rogue agent kicked the storm door open and backed outside.
Downstairs, Amber led Maria deeper into the basement. The teenager stopped and grabbed the green-haired girl's arm. "No, this way," she said. Maria pulled Amber into a home office. The teen closed the door behind her as quietly as possible. Amber had a bewildered expression. "This is Mom's," Maria whispered. "She showed me a gun she keeps here." She started rummaging around the office.
Amber joined in the search. Above them, heavy footsteps came slowly down the stairs. Maria paused, listening, then tore open the bottom desk drawer. A small gun case sat below several file folders. The teen hauled the case from the drawer, scattering folders and papers over the desk and the floor. Putting the case on the desk's surface, Maria opened it. Inside laid a revolver, a Smith and Wesson Centennial Airweight, and six bullets.
The heavy footsteps reached the last step. The next footfall was muffled by the rug on the basement floor. Amber tugged on Maria's shirt. The teen shrugged the older woman off and picked up the weapon. She opened the cylinder. With trembling hands, she started loading the rounds one by one. The first bullet slid home into the cylinder. The second followed despite the shaking off Maria's hands. The third fell through the teen's fingers, clattering on the desk.
Amber pulled the teenager behind the desk, hoping that they were out of sight. Maria closed the Centennial Airweight's cylinder, only a third of its ammunition loaded. They waited, holding their breaths and hoping that they couldn't be heard.
Several shots fired, sound like one long, continuous barrage. Holes appeared in the door to the office. Maria screamed. The door crashed open. Rollins stepped inside, smoke rising from the barrel of his MP-5. "It's over, girls." He held the trigger down again, spraying bullets around the room. Sparks erupted from the computer monitor on the heavy desk. He stepped further inside, looking around the office.
Maria stood up, Smith and Wesson in hand. She pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked on an empty chamber. Rollins looked over at the girl. He turned in place, bringing the submachine gun's barrel to bear on the teen. Maria kept pulling the trigger. The revolver clicked twice more before a gout of flame shot out of the barrel. The bullet dug into Rollins' thigh. The teen kept shooting, a second round hitting the agent in the shoulder. The MP-5 fell from limp fingers. Rollins clutched at his leg.
Amber ran over to the fallen agent. She pulled the machine gun away from Rollins. She looked over at Maria who was still pulling the Centennial Airweight's trigger. "It's okay, Maria. You can stop."
Maria set the gun down on the desk. She stared at the wounded agent. "Oh. Oh, God," she said.
Amber turned her attention to Rollins. "You move and I'll finish the job."
"I surrender," Rollins groaned.
Amber joined Maria. "It's okay, Maria." The green-haired girl lead the teenager to the ruined swivel chair. "Just sit down and . . . and don't look. Just breathe deeply. Okay? You can do that for me? Just, just breathe deeply."
Upstairs, Rose crept through her home, using the walls as cover. She stayed low,
trying to stay out of sight of the kitchen window. Rose heard the back door slam shut and gunshots from the basement. Behind her, Elena entered, moving silently and leading her way with the barrel of her Dragunov. "Elena, check downstairs," Rose said in a low tone.
Elena nodded. A blast from the shotgun shattered the back window. Glass flew through the kitchen. Shards landed in the living room. Elena raised her rifle to her shoulder and fired once into the back door. The bullet cored through the door, sunlight coming in through the hole. "Rose, go!" she called. As her partner entered the kitchen, Elena moved to the stairs to the basement, deftly avoiding the dead body of Smith. Keeping the Dragunov at her shoulder, she stepped into the doorway, the rifle's barrel pointed towards the bottom of the stairs. She crept down, step by step.
Reaching the basement floor, Elena smelled the odour of cordite. She approached the first closed door. Testing it with her foot, the Russian woman found it solidly closed. She lowered lowered the barrel of the Dragunov so she could twist the doorknob open. With a push from the Russian, the door swung open a crack. Elena backup and raised her rifle again. She prodded the door to open further using the Dragunov's barrel.
The room was unlit. Elena peered through her infrared scope. All the items in the room remained at room temperature; no heat bleeds could be seen. She backed out, switching her aim back down the basement hallway. The Russian saw light coming from an open door. She padded softly on the rug, her breathing controlled and even. Reaching the doorway, Elena poked the rifle's barrel into the room.
"Don't come any closer!" Amber yelled. "I got a gun! And I know how to use it!"
Elena dropped the rifle's aim to the floor. "Don't shoot," she called. "Amber, it's me."
"Elena? Oh, God, am I glad to see you. Well, not see you because I can't see you yet, but, well, you know what I mean."
Elena allowed herself to smile. "I'm coming in. Don't shoot me."
Elena stepped into the home office. Amber knelt on the floor beside Maria, who was sitting in a pink swivel chair. The last of Sexton's men lay on the floor, trying to staunch two wounds. "Amber, is everything under control?" She noticed the blood on Amber's shirt. "Did you get hit again?"
"I'm shot?" Amber looked down at her t-shirt. "Gah!" She patted her chest. "No hole. Still, ew!" The green-haired girl wiped her bloodied hands on her jeans. "It must be from that guy upstairs. I think he was shot."
"He was," Elena said. "How's Maria?"
"She wasn't shot, either, but she's not doing so good." Amber pointed to the Smith and Wesson on the desk. "She used that gun there to shoot the bastard bleeding on the floor."
"When we go upstairs, call Lepinski and have him send the paramedics in." Elena nudged Rollins. "Can you walk?"
Rollins nodded. "I can try. I'm not going to run."
"Good," Elena said. "I'm not going to shoot you in the back, then." She motioned with her Dragunov. "Get up."
Rollins' first attempt at standing up left him in a heap on the carpet. With Elena watching him like a hawk, the agent used the corner of the desk to pull himself to his feet. Amber helped Maria stand up. "It's okay," the green-haired girl said soothingly. "We're safe now that Elena's here. She knows how to take care of us."
Elena addressed the wounded agent, "Start going, back upstairs. Don't even think of trying anything." She moved out of the way to let Rollins hobble past her.