The Wrong Girl
As consciousness returned, Taylor felt a dull ache which consumed his entire body. His head burned like it was on fire, pain radiating from the side of his skull. Eyes still closed, his hand reached out, and felt matted hair. The blood had dried completely. Taylor cracked his eyes open, trying to gauge how long he’d been out.
The answer was, he’d been out for a while. His eyes were blurry, and the light that filled the room made his aching head throb more. The one thing that was readily apparent was that the light was daylight, streaming in through a window. That meant he’d been out for ten hours, minimum, which was bad.
As his eyes started to focus, fighting off what he hoped wasn’t concussion, Taylor realized he recognized the window. Looking around he confirmed he’d been moved into his room at the hotel, and tossed on the bed. He sat up, and groaned, trying to work out what had happened. Being in the room he rented didn’t make sense. He remembered going for the guard, going after Mary Jane on an impulse, and being dropped by another one of the guards. He also noted that Kara wasn’t with him, meaning either she’d run for it, or they’d decided to take her back. Since they’d been inside the warehouse, running didn’t make sense, so they must have taken her with them. But the fact he wasn’t dead meant she hadn’t spilled the beans on him, or at least not yet.
So they thought he was pushy and aggressive, but still believed he was a buyer for an unnamed series of clients. Maybe they had decided to get rid of Taylor permanently but it was too risky, not knowing his client, and they chose to dump him as a better alternative.
Pressing a hand to his head and fighting back the nausea that was threatening to take over, Taylor pushed all those thoughts away. They were all maybe, could be, and didn’t matter one way or another. He was alive, he didn’t have Mary Jane, and Kara, who he had started to feel responsible for, was missing.
A thought jerked his head up, looking toward the vent, which was closed. Unscrewing it, he pulled out his real IDs, his gun, and his sat phone. That was something, at least.
He was startled when the satellite phone rang, just staring at it, trying to get the thought of it ringing past his still fuzzy brain, then lifting it to see the numbers on the caller id screen. It didn’t mean anything to him, beyond the country code not being either Russian or US.
“Hello,” he said, finally picking it up.
“You’re alive,” a relief filled voice said.
“Who...” Taylor said, trying to place the unknown voice.
“It’s Kara. We don’t have time, they’ll be back soon.”
“How did you know to call?” Taylor said dumbly again, fighting his brain to get into gear. He was still shaken enough to be having trouble picking up on things, but he’d managed to shake loose enough to recognize how slow he was being, which is a frustrating combination.
“The back of your phone had instructions for calling. I memorized the number when I was in your room talking to you.”
The phone had only been out in the open for a few minutes while she was in the room. She must have an amazing memory if she’d managed to memorize the calling instructions and the phone numbers so quickly. Combined with how quick she had been during the few hours they’d been together, Taylor couldn’t help but think this girl was something of a genius. An actual one and not just what you’d call someone who was clever.
“I talked the man who purchased your friend into taking me with him. I know we crossed the border, but I have no idea where you are. I will try to call you when I know where we’re going, but I’m with her.”
Taylor’s brain finally caught up, “Are you OK?”
He heard her make a sound on the other end, but her voice remained forceful when she spoke, “I’m fine. The girl is too, for now. They are waiting to get her back to wherever home is for the fun to start.”
“Is it just the three of you?”
“No, it’s fatso, some men, and your girl. There are almost ten men with guns, mostly the men guarding the auction, and Timor.”
Taylor could hear the fear creep into her voice at Timor’s name. She had made it clear she was afraid of him and wanted to stay far away from him. His being there meant something though. Timor wasn’t just some flunky, he was involved in the entire smuggling operation, according to Reznikov, which meant the fat man was also someone of note. It also explained why so many of the guards had left the warehouse, which opened some options for Taylor.
“Try to stay away from Timor,” Taylor said.
“I always try to stay away from him, but when Timor calls for you, you don’t say no. And the way he looks at me...”
“I’ll find out where you’re going and come for you. Stay with Mary Jane, that’s the girl’s name, and I’ll come for you.”
“You’re going to owe me more than money for this.”
“I’m good for it. I promise I won’t leave you behind with them.”
“I have to...” she started to say, and the phone went dead.
He hoped that was because she’d had to hang up in haste, and not a sign that something had happened to her. He had meant what he said. When Taylor went down, Kara had placed herself next to Mary Jane and managed to stick with her and still get a message back to Taylor. That was not only brave, but it was also damn impressive. If this came off, the only reason would be because of Kara, and he wouldn’t forget that.
He also had a direction now. If there were more than ten of the guards from the warehouse, that meant the warehouse was almost empty, which completely changed his earlier calculations. Taylor’s bag had been strewn across the room, but his clothes were all still there, at least. Feeling the pockets of his jacket, he wasn’t surprised to find the money in there the night before was missing. But that was a problem for down the road.
Taylor found his extra clips inside of a rolled-up pair of underwear that had been overlooked, which is why Taylor had hidden them there. Clipping the holster to his belt, where it would be hidden by the coat, sliding the clips into one coat pocket and the sat phone into another, Taylor headed out of the room, ready to start getting some justice, finally.
Once he was outside Taylor could see the sun was still very low in the sky, meaning it was still early. He hoped that meant he wasn’t too far behind the girls. Knocking on the warehouse door, Taylor waited, gripping the gun in his pocket.
“You aren’t welcome here,” the guard from before said.
Taylor took a sudden step forward, putting his hand in the center of the man’s chest and pushed, using his body weight to force the guard through the doorway. At the same time, he withdrew the pistol from his pocket, holding it back enough to make it a reach if the man wanted to go for it.
It was a terrible shooting position, guaranteeing horrible aim and incredibly slow recovery time, but at this distance, none of that would matter to the guard.
“Move,” Taylor said in a flat, dangerous voice.
Seeing the gun, the man’s eyes went wide, and he backpedaled, almost tripping over the door jamb. No one was in the small entry room as Taylor crossed into the warehouse, letting the door swing shut behind him. Giving the man another push, Taylor stepped back, getting a better hold on his gun.
The guard glared but did as he was instructed. Taylor stepped forward quickly, pulled the gun at the man’s hip out of the holster with his left hand, then retreated to his original position.
“Let’s go,” Taylor said.
The man started marching toward the door to the large open room where the auction had taken place. As the guard turned the knob and started pushing the door open, Taylor kicked a foot out flat against the man’s rear and pushed hard. It left Taylor off-balance, his leg far extended, forcing him into an almost lunge to recover, which didn’t particularly matter since the only person close enough to take advantage of the situation was hurtling forward, having crashed through the door, hands already thrown forward to keep his face from smacking into the warehouse’s concrete floor.
Taylor bent his back leg, then powered through the now opened door behind the still falling guard, into the large room. Inside he found five additional men present, not counting the guard who had just been added to the mix. To his left, about fifteen feet away were two men, holding a third, who was bleeding from the nose and a split lip. A third guard was holding the bleeding man had his hand still raised in the air, the punch he had intended to land stopping as his attention was torn toward the door Taylor appeared through.
Across the room, standing next to the door that led to where the girls were held, was another guard, a gun cradled in his arm. Since he had a gun at the ready, Taylor identified him as the immediate threat and aiming the gun in his right hand, he fired twice. It was a risk since the walls were not very thick, and a bullet through one could end with a dead girl on the other side. Thankfully, both bullets impacted where Taylor aimed. The grouping was wide, with one hitting dead center in the man’s chest and the other impacting into his shoulder, but it was good enough.
The surprise was nearly total when he’d entered the room, the falling guard being the only warning any of the men in the room had that something was happening. The guard by the girls’ door never even lifted his weapon, only having the opportunity to look shocked before he dropped, sliding down the wall, leaving a red streak to show his passing.
Taylor’s head swiveled like a turret to the three guards and their victim to his left, bringing the gun in his right hand around even as he pulled the trigger on the weapon taken from the first guard.
The side of the head of the guard whose fist was raised in the air, still poised as he gaped at Taylor, exploded in a spray of brain and blood, splattering the three men he’d been standing in front of.
The other two guards were finally in motion, letting go of the beaten man’s arms and going for the weapons at their sides. It was, however, much too late for them, as both weapons Taylor held were now pointed, one at each man. While to an outside observer, it would seem that Taylor fired the weapons at the same time, there was actually a slight pause between when he aimed and fired the gun in his left hand, then aimed and fired the gun in his right. Even as good as Taylor was, he couldn’t aim two weapons simultaneously.
The man on the left caught the first bullet in the right side of his chest, spinning as he fell, the gun never leaving his holster. The man on the other side had a beat longer, and actually had his weapon clear of its holster as a bullet punched through his throat, and his body flew backward.
The beaten man just stood, blood from his tormentors dripping down one side of his face, his eyes wide.
“Go,” Taylor said, gesturing at the door.
The word unlocked whatever had held the man in place, and he scrambled toward the exit, disappearing from sight as Taylor moved toward the two other doors.
“If you move, you die,” Taylor said to the man on the floor who had started to push himself up.
At the sound of Taylor’s voice, the man froze, looking at the gun Taylor leveled in his direction as he sidestepped toward the closer of the two doors on the other side of the room. The door to the area Taylor had thought of as the ‘client’ rooms, opened, and the manager Taylor had spoken to the previous day rushed through, holding unbuttoned pants with one hand and not wearing a shirt. More to Taylor’s interest was the gun he held in his other hand.
The man’s recognition of Taylor was visible across his face, causing a falter in his step and a moment’s hesitation, before he started to raise the gun. A bullet from Taylor’s weapon stopped the motion before his arm moved more than an inch, as it tore through his right shoulder, causing him to stumble. A second bullet followed the first, hitting the manager in the upper left leg with a wet smacking sound. The stumble from a second before, turned into a full collapse, as the injured leg gave way.
Taylor could see a blond head peeking around a doorway along a short hall the manager had just come through.
“Go back and hide until it’s safe,” Taylor said in Russian.
The girl just looked at him, no sense of recognition on her face. He repeated the command in English, eliciting a nod this time, followed by the head disappearing.
Taylor kept an eye on the uninjured guard and the downed manager, while also trying to watch the last, unopened door. After a minute of constantly shifting his gaze from one threat to another it became clear the situation was untenable.
“Girl,” Taylor called out in English.
The blond girl poked her head out, looking terrified.
“I need some help. Is there rope or something you can find?”
“There’s handcuffs,” a voice with a southern accent came back.
“Bring them here, please.”
She hesitated, looking at the bleeding manager and the guns in Taylor’s hands.
“I’m not going to hur...” Taylor started to say and stopped as movement caught his eye.
Apparently, the uninjured guard had decided Taylor was distracted enough at that moment to make his move, pushing himself across the floor to one of the discarded weapons from two of the dead guards that had ended roughly in his direction.
It was an incredibly stupid move. There was way too much ground to cover, and nothing to hide behind. Unless Taylor was completely oblivious, there was no way the move would have worked.
Taylor didn’t bother to shout a warning. His gun barked once more, and a bullet tore through the unprotected torso of the man, from right to left through his body. He stopped moving instantly, as if someone flicked off a switch. Blood began to pool under him.
“Well, I guess that solves that,” Taylor said, partially to the girl who had disappeared back into whatever room she was in, but mostly to himself.
Taylor walked closer to the manager, who was groaning and trying to hold his leg with his uninjured hand. Kicking the gun away, out of his reach, Taylor knelt next to him.
“How many guys do you have in here?”
The man just grunted. It, however, did not sound like a cooperative grunt. Taylor pressed the tip of the gun in his left hand into the wound in the man’s shoulder, causing a loud scream to erupt from his throat.
“You don’t want to make me ask again.”
“Five,” he said through gritted teeth.
“You sure about that? Lying to me right now would be amazingly stupid.”
“It’s only five,” he said again.
Taylor holstered one gun temporarily, checking the man for any other guns. It wasn’t likely the bleeding man would have much luck going for a hidden weapon, but better safe than sorry.
Finding nothing, Taylor drew the holstered gun and stood, stepping into the hallway the fallen manager laid in front of, opening doors and peeking in. There were four rooms in the hallway, all empty except for the last room on the right. The blond girl flinched back when he leaned into the doorway, gun first.
Lowering his gun, Taylor said, “You should be OK, now. After I check the rest of the building, I will see about getting you headed back home.”
She nodded, her eyes never leaving the gun Taylor held at his side. If things had been different, Taylor would have stopped and tried to reassure her, but he still had a section of the building unchecked that took precedence.
Taylor eased out of the hallway, a gun trained on the manager and the other sweeping the warehouse. Thankfully, everything was as he had left it. As much noise as he’d made, it was probable that the manager was telling the truth. Any other guards would have come running by now.
Not that Taylor could ignore that last door.
With one last look to confirm the manager wasn’t going to be a problem, Taylor headed toward the back of the warehouse, walking around the fallen guard. He wasn’t terribly surprised when he found the door locked. Stepping back, Taylor lurched forward, foot raised, its flat base impacting just below the doorknob.