She watched him weave his fingers in concrete fist. His hands were different than Alex deep valleys, softer.
“How many have you captured?”
“We’re competing?” she teased, feeling the uncomfortable itch to hit him. “I’ll lose – three. You?”
“All of them.”
His face was still up for a smack, she decided and smirked. “Oh, good, you can give me tips.”
“Perhaps some other time.”
“I’m Margaret.” She offered her hand for handshake.
He shook her hand only once, but she could tell he hadn’t shaken many hands, for that only shake nearly pulled her shoulder out of the socket. He released it immediately and jumped up.
“Well, twit, time to get up. You don’t want to sit amongst this shit here forever, do you?”
“Don’t call me that!”
“I can call you whatever I want.”
“Well,” she mocked his speech, “I can’t go on calling you an ass, can I? Polite girls don’t do that.”
“Didn’t you just say you were climbing ropes?”
She felt a twitch in her neck. Years went by, but this misconception of circus girls being stupider than blonds was still painful to hear from men you met first time.
“No,” she reached her hand out so he could pull her up, “I climb silk – that makes me smarter than a monkey.”
“Whatever you say.” He pulled her up.
Great, she thought, the only one she knew, who could do what she could, and the only expression he used was whatever.
“Raymond wants to talk to you.”
She dusted her behind clean from the dust. They didn’t have a cleaning lady to sort such things out. Usually the old woman on the second floor got enough once a month and she filled that duty. Hearing her roar was good price compared with paying extra to cleaning service. Apparently it had been two months. Probably she was on a strike again.
“I want to talk to Alex first.”
“That’s what he wants to talk about.”
“Oh?” she pulled the jumper back down and started to go outside, when she felt him grab her right arm and speed up. “Hey!”
“You run out on me first, remember?” He hissed coldly and pushed her further out of the door and over the road to the small bench sitting under blooming lime tree. It smelled like honey and made her head swoon. He forced her down next to Raymond, who was sitting there, hands idly over the metallic back. He sat himself on her other side, entwining his hand around hers and twisting their fingers together.
She tried to free her fingers, but as response, he simply tightened his hold and pressed his thumb on the back of her knuckles. She immediately stopped trying, pushing her fingers straight to show him she won’t try again.
“You’ll ruin your coat,” she started, trying not to concentrate on the pain coming from her palm. “Getting rust out is pain in the ass.”
That received tight squash from the soldier, but she didn’t please him with a cry nor even looked to his direction.
“You can toss it in wash with him.” She added and was again punished with squeezing. She was pretty sure that this one did the trick and she could hear the crack in her small bones, but instead looked at Raymond in the eyes.
Raymond chuckled quietly, eyes flying back and forth between them. “Yeah, you two work nicely together.” She moved to say something, but he moved his weight to his legs and breathed in. “Now, to the more serious matters. Have you seen Alex since they captured him?”
She thought of her momentary illusion in the basement and sighed unwittingly. “No.”
“Why did you decide to help him – you know him?”
“Answer the questions.” Kenneth hand stayed firm, but she knew his eyes were resting on her now and Raymond was waiting for her to elaborate on it. “We need to know if we can trust you.”
“And you’re deciding this on this random quiz? Good god, I’m dead – they are dead!”
“Answer the questions.” He said calmly and fixed his hold around her fingers.
“It was nothing, we had coffee once.”
“When I was still playing monkey.” She said with venom and felt the twitch that went through the hand holding hers.
She didn’t elaborate further. He can ask his dog later if he so wanted.
“You can trust me as far as this mission goes. I have my reasons why I’m doing this. So,” she asked after a quick pause, “what’s your plan then?”
They looked at each other and shrugged. Oh great, she felt the stirring begin again in her stomach, if they were really resorted down to using her, they really were down to their wits.
“We need to clean the ground and find out first how they are kept there and then get them out one by one.” Raymond said.
“That might have worked an hour ago, but I’m afraid you need to change your plans now.”
“Why?” Kenneth’s pulse rose, she could feel it through his ring finger.
“Yeah…” the sick feeling in her dug deeper. “There are few more, who are interesting capturing them besides that group…”
“The two guys that came from the house.”
“Yeah… You see, they, um… They’re not so much interested of saving them as they would be happy if to fire them up and blast both them and the gas to the kingdom come.”
“We’ll have to be faster then them, then.”
“They want to do it as fast as they can find the house.”
“They’re probably watching me until I go there.”
Kenneth’s hand was gone so fast, the only thing indicating him holding it, was the sudden numbing pain crawling up her right elbow. She massaged it, easing the awful sensation.
“You couldn’t tell this before?”
She shrugged. “Didn’t quite think of it before.” She looked at Kenneth and his dirt covered upper body. “Don’t worry. My brother is a monkey, too.”
He frowned harsh and jumped up, walking few feet away, where he crossed his hands on his chest and looked around openly.
“That was quick.” Raymond marked. “Half a year of planning and one girl screws it up.”
“Actually,” she wouldn’t bite that insult down, “it was one of your men, who decided to invade the local circus and got noticed by one of their victims!”
“They didn’t have time to get any victims!” Raymond blasted back. “I’m their doctor – I would know!”
“Sorry, doc – not your team. The previous team.”
“There are previous cases?”
“Probably they’re all dead by now. Hunt didn’t know what happened to them.”
“How much did you tell them?”
She tried to breathe, feeling really bad now. Talking about her screw up in trust was getting worse if talked about. “I happened to trust them, alright? I didn’t know anyone else to go to – I can’t get to Alex before they call me to catch someone, and even then he expects me to know all sorts of codes, which, by the way, I’m no expert on, and I had to talk to someone about this. At least I hoped to get their lion trailer and use this to move them – this metal should keep them, right? It got strengthened four years ago with steal wire. At least until we’d get to the address Alex would have give me. Where was I supposed to know Hunt was so eager to kill them all!”
“Blue van, fifty foot towards the Beranger street.” Kenneth cut in. “I don’t think they can see us, they’re parking skills are shitty.”
“Give them something to do, we’ll…” Raymond stood up.
She felt someone running their way. So must of Kenneth, because he looked in the same direction moment before she saw Hunt and Jameson appear from behind the grey Mercedes and pointed guns on their necks.
“GET DOWN! NOW!”
Margaret didn’t react at all. She jumped her hands up for a moment, but noticed then that neither of them was looking at her. Kenneth turned face up against them and slowly raised his hands behind his head. Raymond copied him.
They hadn’t held other guns in their hands besides the tranquilizer gun, but the ones they had now were very different from them. These were small pistols and the way they handled them, she knew they hadn’t held anything like it in their hands before. They were shoving their guns around like crazy, both checking on each other how to actually hold them, turning them sideways and changing the hand holding it often.
Kenneth and Raymond must have noticed it too, because she saw Raymond nod three times before Kenneth dash forward and knocking Hunt down in one strong punch while Raymond knocked Jameson down in two blows.
Then Kenneth turned around and gave her long stare that made her temples twitch.
“You’re awfully quiet?” he marked low.
Her eyes fell back on her brother. She wanted to respond to his damning accusation, but she couldn’t find the words. Of course she wasn’t ok with them knocking her brother unconscious, but at the same time this was best that could have happened to him. Just imagining him standing up against Tony or William took her near fainting.
Next thing she remembered was Kenneth’s hand pulling her up from the bench and over her brother’s unconscious body.
“Come on,” he called, feeling her defying his hand and trying to reach out to touch her brother, “he’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“He’ll only suffer a headache later.”
They pushed her in a dark green Mercedes and drove off with her eyes fixed on the side mirror until the bodies disappeared from the view. Kenneth was sitting on the back with her while Raymond drove.
Kenneth’s hand was fixed on hers and she knew that if she made any sudden moves, he’d catch her in half a second. She began to understand what made him so good at it. The only time he removed his hand was when Raymond took big watch from the glove department and reached it in the back. He put it back around his right wrist and placed his hand back on hers.
“Where are we going?” she asked after they drove for five minutes.
“Our place.” Kenneth replied, looking straight ahead over Raymond’s shoulder.
“Is it far?”
“Ten more minutes.”
She grunted and slouched against the back seat, feeling for a moment his fingers tighten around her wrist.
“So,” she tried quietly again after they drove next few minutes in silence, “who are the bad guys in this game? Them or you?”
“Them?” Kenneth’s black brow rose.
“Who is Sergeant Isley, Withrow, Silver? That doctor of theirs – Judith Hagen– and that bald man?”
“Isley’s sergeant now?”
“Why does it come as a surprise to everybody?” she wondered, looking at him.
“Fort is sergeant. Tony was his pet dog.”
“Oh, wow, that really explains things.” Things like why he seemed so agitated after they captured Alex again. “He is really worried for them.” She continued.
He snorted, pulling Raymond’s look to back for a moment. “Who told you that?”
“His eyes, right! It’s fear, dummy, he is afraid of them.”
“How would you look if you’d just shot one of your friends?” she shot back and pulled her hand away, crossing it on her chest.
“You really shouldn’t guess on things you don’t understand.”
“I understood that as clear as day,” she whispered, thinking back on the second day, when he met him back in that alley, remembering his friend, “one can’t fake grief.”
“How many are there?”
“Six, seven if you include Alex. How often do they get out like that?”
“They’re still kept in the basement?”
Her phone rang and everybody in the car jumped. She searched it out from her pouch. Her heart sank.
“One more has done a runner.” She said quietly, staring at sergeant’s number.
“Answer it.” Kenneth said, turning his eyes out from the car window. His face was suddenly stricken with sadness and she knew why, feeling her hands shake as she pushed the phone open and pressed the speaker against her ear.
“Where are you? We’re coming to pick you up!”
“I, I’m…” she had no idea where they were. She hadn’t paid any attention to houses flying by or how many turns they had made.
Raymond stopped on the next corner and pointed at the street sign right above them. She quickly looked up.
“I’m at Darlington and Canton.”
“Stay there, we’re coming there!”
The call ended and she closed it. “Something big is going on.” She said. “They told me to wait here.”
“Why you think it’s bigger than usual?”
“It was Tony, I don’t know him that well, but I know, when man is in panic and he is definitely panicked.”
Her breathing quickened. She didn’t like surprises. Not since she met with them – each meeting ended with either shooting someone or in horror in some other way and the more she experienced it, the less she wanted to meet with it.
“They will be here soon.” She felt Kenneth’s hand again. This time it wasn’t trying to crush it, but it was consoling her.
It wasn’t helping. Her breathing got faster and she felt panicking herself, shivering like a small bunny.
“Here,” she heard and her eyes followed his hand that flew away from hers. He removed his watch and closed it around her left wrist, holding it strong to stop it from wiggling.
“How’s that gonna help me?” she cried out.
Raymond probably had the same question, because he looked at them puzzled, too.
“It will keep your damned hand from shaking!” he burst laughing for a moment, though it just as empty as everybody else’s. He pressed his both hands around it. “It has camera built in it. If you click the green button here, “he showed small one on the bottom, “it will film everything and we can see it later. I want it back, you hear?”
It was covered with several smaller dials and big black eye in the middle of the hands. It was too big for her hand, heavy titanium laying around her wrist as if she had just tried on one of her father’s watches. Thankfully it wasn’t so big that it would’ve fallen off. Still, she had to push her thumb out a bit to prevent it happening.
She nodded and pushed the door open. Then she closed it behind her and filled her lungs with fresh air.
“That watch does no such thing!” she heard suddenly Raymond’s muffled sound from the car.
“Shut up! She needs to feel that someone’s got her back, that’s all.”
Her shoulders slumped and all the security she had felt a moment ago went flying off like swans in the winter. The last of it went when she felt the car behind her take off and drive away.
She choked the watch around her wrist like it was shackles left by her slave master and she was indeed the monkey, who had been allowed for a walk in a garden.
“Shit.” She swore, trying to regain her confidence. Even if she wasn’t feeling it right now, she knew she couldn’t fall apart now. Alex and his men were still relying on her and she had to give her best to catch them.
She actually felt thankful for that weird shot of confidence Kenneth had injected her with.
“Only to get them free later.” She chuckled. She knew they’d recognize the watch if they saw it. She quickly flicked it over her wrist and hid it in her bag.
She was massaging her temples, feeling more and more the effect of not having breakfast, when Nathan’s car screeched next to her and she turned around.
“So?” she asked immediately when Silver pulled the backdoor open and she sat inside.