“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked.
“Morning to you, too, grumpy butt,” Natalie Ford said, “What’s wrong with your leg?”
She kneeled down, the coffee sloshing in the travel cup in her right hand. The smell of it and her lit up my senses. Down, boy, I thought, too much adrenaline this morning. I filled her in on the two men chasing me and Cassidy and how I had twisted my ankle.
“You wiggle your toes?” she asked.
“Yeah, did all the first aid stuff. I’m fine, sprain at worst. You didn’t answer my question. You don’t live anywhere near here.”
Natalie looked around the Maplewood Apartments, a long glance at the building to our right.
“I, um, I have a friend that lives here.”
My stomach burned for a moment and my temples got a little hot. I nodded, my mouth open just enough to let out a small, “Ah.” It shouldn’t hurt, right? It has been, what, six or seven months? I mean, I spent most of this morning with Cassidy, ogling Cassidy like a hormonal teenager, and now an ex tells me there’s a friend worth waking up with and... This is more of the lizard brain that makes people do dumb things.
“None of my business,” I said, “Did you see Cassidy leave?”
Natalie would not look at me, but shook her head, “I just came down and saw you sitting here.”
“Damn, thought maybe we could catch up to her.”
“Yeah, me and... you were just gonna leave me here? Hurt?” I tried to smile at her.
She caught my meaning, “I should. Who’s the guys in the truck? And why are we not more freaked out about this?”
“Been a weird year. Never seen Hoodie before, but I would bet that it was the guy who called last week. Guy in the truck? No idea at all, never saw him.”
“But he said... Why would they come out now?” Natalie said, looking me in the eye.
I stared back at her. I knew she was worried. I mean, a few months ago she was tied to the floor of the library about to be a sacrifice. Now someone was here pushing against whatever stability she had. It occurred to me that someone might be me, crashing in on her life at this moment.
“I dunno, Nat. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah. I know. Not your fault, though, as far as I can tell.”
“I was cool a year ago. Just a boring librarian. Where were you then?”
She laughed and stood up. That was the wrong thing to say. I stood up, too, my ankle screaming under my weight.
“Look, Nat, I didn’t mean...”
She held up a hand, “It’s over. Which way is Cassidy’s? I’ll give you a lift.”
“I have no idea where Cassidy lives.”
She looked up at me, staring at me with eyes crinkled, “But you two...”
“We’re just friends. Jogging.”
“Well, then the town rumors-”
A bullet tore into the office door. I ducked, putting weight on my ankle that made me yell. I looked around and saw a red hoodie ducking behind a dumpster to my right.
“Oh, hell,” I said.
“Did somebody just shoot-”
I did not let her finish. I pushed her around the side of the building, stumbling as I ran away from Hoodie and toward the street. She dropped her coffee and some of the hot liquid splashed on my bare leg under my shorts.
At the street, I saw two vehicles coming from either direction. One was a grey sedan, the window down and red hair streaming out of it. Cassidy waved as she drove toward us, her hand pointing toward the other vehicle.
The black pickup roared from the other direction. I could still not clearly see the driver, but made out white skin and dark hair, including a big handlebar moustache and sunglasses covering his face. An arm stuck out the driver’s window, the hand balanced on the rearview mirror to stabilize the revolver the man held.
The two vehicles raced toward each other, engines gunning as each driver raced to where we stood.