[Not sure what’s going on? Might I suggest you snuggle into the warm fuzzy blankey that is the previous chapter.]
The first blow didn’t break the door open, but I heard the sound of wood splintering as my body collided with the heavy oak.
“Ow,” I whined, rubbing my shoulder. “That hurt.”
“Sorry. One more time ought to do it.”
I rolled my eyes and went at it again. This time the door gave, not quite flying open, but splintering at the edges, revealing a crack big enough to fit a hand through. At that exact moment a piercing screeching banshee of a sound split the air. An alarm.
I turned and started to run.
“Wait!” Frog called.
“Are you serious?”
“I have to see what’s inside,” Frog yelled above the din.
And that…that was when I lost it. “There is NOTHING inside!” I screamed. “No secrets, no conspiracies, no aliens. NOTHING! You’re delusional Frog. Fully and completely crazy, you know that? If you want to go to jail then great. But count me out!”
I didn’t wait for a reaction, I just ran. But as I ran I looked over my shoulder and saw Frog kicking away at the splintered door frame. For a split second, even then, I considered going back to help him, or at the very least to drag him kicking and screaming out of the building with me. But I was too angry and too scared to follow through on any those thoughts. So instead, I ran.
The screaming alarm followed me through the twisting hallways, but as I ran it started to grow fainter. There was a moment of confusion when I wasn’t sure I was going in the right direction; I had a vision of stumbling around through endless hallways while the police closed in on me. But then I got my bearings, and I found the disused hallway me and Frog had come in by.
My hand was on the doorknob when I heard the sound of sirens blaring outside. I started to open the door, and then thought better of it. If I went bolting out there now I’d only make myself a target. So I doused my flashlight and huddled behind a rusty file cabinet. The sirens died outside, and I heard someone hammering against the doors at the front of the building. The sound echoed through the empty halls like a drum, boom, boom, boom. Then the sound stopped and there was a long moment of silence followed by a splintering crash. I heard the clicking of boots on the tile floor and the distant crackle of radios. It was only then that I realized that somewhere along the way, the whine of the alarm had disappeared.
That should have been the moment to make my move, while the police were getting their bearings inside the building. Assuming they hadn’t left someone on guard out front, I would be in the clear. And yet I stayed put. I kept thinking about Frog, visualizing him in that forbidden room, snapping away with his digital camera. He would be waiting until the last possible minute to make his escape attempt. If he misjudged the time available or got too engrossed with what he was doing he would be caught. Done for.
You should have stayed, that voice in my head told me. You should have helped him. He needs you. He needs someone to be his reason.
No, I whimpered. Not me. Someone else. Please, let it be someone else.
He saved your life, the voice reminded me.
Some things aren’t worth saving.
And it wasn’t until I heard the confused shouts, the pounding of running feet that I bolted. I opened the door and scrambled up the steps, then broke into a sprint for the other side of the street. There were old buildings there, built when the city had been fresh and new a hundred years ago, built close together, but in some places not quite touching. I ran for one of those narrow slits of darkness and squeezed through.
But when I had pushed myself back into the cloak of shadows, I turned back to see what would happen. The beams of flashlights bounced chaotically out the windows of the building, on the first floor and then, a little later, on the second, converging on the corner of the building closest to me. I heard a crash, and a shower of glistening glass shards rained down from one of the windows. A moment later, Frog leaped from the same window, landing awkwardly in the shrubs below.
At first he didn’t move, and I held my breath with fear, but then he picked himself up and started to run.
Three faces appeared in frame of the broken window, and then ducked back inside; the beams of their flashlights careened back the way they had come.
As Frog sprinted for freedom I breathed a sigh of relief and focused on making good my own escape, squeezing myself further back into the thin space between the buildings.
You know how when you go to tour a cave almost all of them have something called Fat Man’s Folly or the like where the cave gets supposedly gets so narrow that us fatties can’t get through? Except, even as big as I am, I’ve never gotten close to being stuck in one of those. But here? Here was different. As I pushed further back into the narrow alley I had the impression that the already-tight space was getting even tighter. Maybe it was just my imagination. Maybe in the dark with the adrenaline coursing through my veins I only thought I could feel the walls squeezing me tighter and tighter, the rough mortar from between the bricks, scraping at my sides like claws. Maybe. But there was a moment, a single terrible moment, when I was sure I was stuck for good, that I had wedged myself in here so tight that I would never get out. I closed my eyes, and I’m ashamed to say I felt tears trickling down my cheeks.
I stood there like that for more than a minute, sandwiched between the two buildings before I finally got myself pulled together enough to try again. I took a few long deep breaths and then forced every possible ounce of air from my lungs, sucking in my considerable gut as much as possible, and slowly, painfully, I moved.
After that moment of panic, it seemed things got a little easier, the pinch between the buildings not so harsh, but it was still several minutes before I made the other side.
My first instinct was to bolt for Frog’s Jeep, but I held back, making sure the coast was clear. It was a good thing too, because down the dock I saw the bobbing beams of flashlights sweeping over the area. One of them almost caught me full in the face, but I squeezed back into the narrow space just before it passed over my hiding place.
But the steps were coming closer. In a few seconds they’d be able to see straight down the alleyway and I’d be trapped. There was nowhere to hide. Going back the way I had come was out of the question. For a moment I considered trying to bluff my way out of it, after all they hadn’t seen me, just Frog. But it wasn’t much of a plan. Even if they bought that I was just some random stranger, the fact that I was crouching in a narrow alley would convince them I was guilty of SOMETHING. But then I heard the crackle of a radio and the flashlights stopped.
I couldn’t make out the words that were said, but it was obvious it was something serious, because the three officers took off running back in the direction they had come. And after several minutes of waiting to be sure they were really gone I stepped out into the darkness.
No shouts. No flashlights. No running footsteps.
I took a few more steps, and then something animal inside me took over and I lit out for Frog’s Jeep as fast as my legs would carry me. I stumbled that last few feet to the Jeep, and leaned up against the side door breathing heavily. After a few seconds though I realized something was wrong. It was too quiet. Frog should have been yelling at me to hurry up and get in the Jeep, but the only sound I heard was the thumping of my own pulse in my ears. I turned and looked to find that the driver’s seat was empty. “Frog?” I hissed into the darkness. “Frog where are you?”
And that was when I felt myself being shoved up against the side of the Jeep, my arms being twisted around behind me, and the unmistakable metallic zip of handcuffs closing.
A familiar voice growled in my ear, “You’re in so much trouble Price.”
I winced and turned to face my captor. “Hi dad.”