Chapter 16

As they arrived, Brian noticed the unmarked car that was still staking out for him. This is what he was hoping for, only this time he hoped they recognized him.

“This is the place,” Brian said. “You may want to park over there to avoid the video cameras.”

The driver did and killed the engine. Brian grabbed the door and Vadim pointed the gun at him and said, “Slowly!”

“Yeah, ok, no problem,” Brian said.  He got out and waited for everyone to join.  He turned directly to face the stakeout unit, hoping they were paying attention.

They were. The two cops got out of the car, so Brian turned toward Susan and the Russians.

“Ok,” Vadim said. “Let’s go.”

Brian moved in behind Susan and said quietly, “Keep walking no matter what.”

One of the cops yelled, “Excuse me, NYPD, we need to speak with you for a minute.”

The two Russians turned. Brian and Susan kept walking.

“Hey you, stop!” yelled the cop. Brian kept walking.

Both Russians still had their hands under their jackets. One of the cops yelled, “Hey you two, let’s see your hands!” The two Russians paused, looked at each other then pulled out their guns and ran back to the car.

“Run!” Brian yelled at Susan. “To the door. Keep your head down to avoid the cameras.” 

He stayed behind her, to block, as the police and Russians exchanged a few shots. Susan reached the door first and opened it. She and Brian ran in and Brian turned the door lock.   Brian saw the security guard stand up to check out the commotion. Brian yelled at him “Hey Joe, there are guys with guns out there, you may want to hide.”

Joe peeked around the corner, the ducked back behind the door. Then, he ran over to the desk, dialed 911 and ducked down behind the desk. Brian walked over to the inner security door, entered a four-digit code, then pulled the door open. He and Susan entered the storage area. They ran about a hundred steps and stopped. Brian reached into his pocket and pulled out a small set of keys. He unlocked his unit and found what he was looking for, and medium-sized black backpack. Then, he grabbed his other mobile phone and he closed the unit and locked it. 

Susan asked, “You decided to use this time to retrieve stuff from your storage!?”

“Well, I need this stuff, and I was here…” Brian said. “Come on, let’s go.” They ran a few more steps and heard a large sheet of glass breaking. “Oh crap, they’re in. We’ll have a minute or so while they try to get through the other door.”

He opened a stairwell and they started climbing the stairs.

Vadim and his partner were now in the office, with the driver exchanging shots with the cops. Vadim found the guard under the desk and asked him how to find Brian and Susan. He showed them the monitors and said they were headed up the south stairwell. “Show us,” said Vadim.

The guard opened the security door and pointed down the hall. The two Russians left him to pursue Brian.

When Brian and Susan got to the top level, the door to the roof was locked. He forced the door open and they ran towards the side of the building, toward a larger apartment building.

“What’s the plan?” she asked

Brian took off the backpack and heaved it four stories to the roof of the apartment building. Then he looked over at Susan. “We’re going up there,” he said.

“What, how?” she asked, looking a little worried.

“Do you trust me?” he asked.

“You are not going to throw me up there!” she said.

“No, of course not,” he said. “We’re going together. Do you trust me?”

She looked up, and then back at Brian with a concerned look. “Yes,” she answered.

Brian walked over and picked her up, then walked a few paces away from the warehouse. Then he took two steps and jumped at a slight arc toward the warehouse. Susan reached around Brian’s neck and squeezed tightly. Just as they reached the top, Brian realized he miscalculated and he overshot the height and they ended up landing hard and, as a result, both fell and rolled a bit.

Brian helped her up. “I’m really sorry about that and sorry for getting you mixed up in all of this,” he said as he retrieved his backpack

“What is going on?” she asked.

“We still need to move fast,” Brian said. “Those sirens you hear are on their way here.”

He grabbed her hand and they walked to the other side of the apartment building. They reached another wall, but only about a story or so. Brian picked Susan up again and leaped to the top, this time with a much better landing. They walked to the other side of the building and found a fire escape.  They used it to walk down this section of the building. Brian helped Susan down the last few steps. Next, they walked over to a roof access door. It was locked, but Brian pulled it open, breaking the lock.

“I’ll send them some cash to cover the repairs,” Brian said. They walked in and down 10 flights of stairs to an exit, now on the opposite corner of the block from where they entered the storage facility.

“Ok, look casual,” he said. “We’re going to walk a few more blocks and catch a cab.”

“I can get an Uber,” she said.

“No, we don’t want any proof we were here, especially for you,” Brian said.

“So, you robbed the Russian mob?” she asked as they walked.

“Yes, you could say that,” Brian replied.

“Why would you do that?” she asked.

“It’s not their money,” he said. “And I need it.”

“What do you need the money for, so badly, that you would rob the mafia?” she asked.

“It’s complicated,” Brian replied. “And I did give some of It to my friend for his startup.”

Sirens getting louder, two police cars appeared at the corner ahead of them, turning in their direction. They sped by heading to the storage center. Brian hoped no one was hurt.

“So why not get a loan or something like credit cards?” she asked.

“Well, I can’t get a loan for this, as I will have no way to repay it in the future,” he said.

“But those guys are extremely dangerous,” she said.

“I know, but not for me, not until you became involved,” he said. “Again, I’m truly sorry. I hope they do not recognize you.”

“Yeah, me too,” she replied, looking a bit nervous.

“Let’s get you home,” Brian said raising his arm for a taxi driving by. It pulled over and Brian opened the door, getting in behind Susan.

She gave the taxi driver an address and he headed toward the city. They were both quiet for the first few minutes. Brian was thinking about ways he could protect her. Should she stay with him? That would sidetrack his plans. He’ll start by assessing the security at her place. It’s probably already decent.  He looked over at her and she had a concerned look on her face. She looked back at him and smiled a little.

“So, I never promised you an exciting evening, but I’d say I delivered,” he said with a smile.

“Umm, yeah,” she said, still smiling. “A little too exciting. I was hoping for a quiet time to get to know you better. But it looks like I got to know you better in other ways.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said nodding. “A lot more than I really planned to share with you.”

“Oh really?” she said. “And I thought we were getting along so well.” She winked.

“Yes,” he replied. “We are.  But there’s only so much you tell a girl on the first few dates.  Wait, are these dates?”

Susan looked at him without comment.

Brian said, “No, I’m just the story, right?”

“No,” she replied. “It’s more than that, and I told you that.  I don’t know what this is. Let’s call it friendship.”

Brian replied, “OK. I like that.”

They arrived at her apartment and Brian paid the fare. He looked up and down at the building and the block. “Looks nice,” he thought. Susan approached the door and it immediately buzzed. Brian grabbed it and opened it, revealing a nice lobby, and a doorman, who had buzzed her in. “That’s reassuring,” he thought.

“This is nice,” he said.

“Oh, yes, I like it a lot,” she said. “It’s not cheap, though. But the amenities, and living in town, makes it worth it.”

They approached the doorman, sitting behind a desk. Susan said to him “Hi, John.”

“Hello Susan,” he said, “having a nice evening?” He looked her up and down, noticing the dirt on her skirt. “Did you have some trouble?”

“Well, a little, but it’s no big deal,” she replied. “This is my friend, Brian.”

“Hello, Brian, I’m John. Nice to meet you,” John said.

“Nice to meet you, too,” Brian said.

John was now standing by the elevator and had pressed the button to call it. The door opened.

Brian said, “Well, it looks as if you’re in safe hands here. I’ll call you later.”

“Oh, why don’t you come up for a few minutes and check out my place,” she said.

“Oh, OK, sure,” Brian said, following her into the elevator.

They got off on the fifth floor and her apartment was at the front of the building. She unlocked the door and they walked in. Susan turned on the light. “Ok, this is my place.”

“Wow, this is really nice,” Brian said. “Is it OK if I take a look around?”

“Yes, please do,” she said. Then she realized her phone was buzzing, so she retrieved it from her bag. It was Liz Murphy. “Hello,” she answered.

“Hey,” she answered, “what’s going on?”

“I think your guy was spotted tonight,” Liz replied. “At his storage center. Didn’t you warn him about the stakeout?”

“Yes, I did,” Susan replied. “What happened?”

Brian was listening as he roamed the apartment. He had a very acute sense of smell, not like a dog or other animal, but he was confident that no one else was here. All he could smell was her. He was also confident that Vadim and his comrade could not be here either, given they were probably still dealing with the police. Still, he looked around while listening in, as he could also hear quite well, too, including Liz’s side of the conversation.

Liz said, “He showed up with a few other people. We suspect two of them are associated with Russian organized crime. They were apprehended at the scene. But your guy and one other escaped, somehow.”

“Wow,” replied Susan. “Is everyone all right?”

“Yes, no one was hurt,” Liz replied.

“Are your guys sure that it was him?” Susan asked.

“Yes, they’re quite sure,” Liz replied. “They said he looked right at them and stared, as if he knew they were there, despite it being very dark. Susan, where are you?”

“I’m at home, why?” she replied.

Liz asked, “Weren’t you going to have dinner with him?”

“Umm, yeah,” she replied. “He’s here now.”

“The fourth person at the scene was a woman. A blond woman,” Liz said. “What the hell is going on?” Liz now sounded a bit frustrated.

“It was us,” Susan replied.

“What! What the hell, Susan?” Liz said.  She was angry now. “Why the hell would you go there and what are his dealings with Russian organized crime?”

“He’s not dealing with them. They kidnapped us,” she replied, now pacing.

“Why would they kidnap you?” Liz asked.

“It’s something he did. They’re mad at him,” Susan replied.

“The Russians don’t kidnap people they’re mad at. They kill them. He must be dealing with them, or he has something they want.”

“Yes, I know,” Susan replied.  “I’m trying to find out more.”

“So why were you guys there if you knew there was a stakeout?” Liz asked.

“I think he was relying on that,” Susan said. “He was hoping your guys would intervene, and they did, thankfully.”

“Susan, what if you had gotten killed?” she asked.

“I think that might have happened, otherwise,” she answered.

“How did you guys escape?” Liz asked. They had the whole block locked down within minutes and a wider radius shortly after that.”

“Liz, as soon as I have more information that I can share, I will,” she said.

“What do mean ‘that you can share’?” Liz asked. “I need to know everything. This is some serious shit now!”

“I know,” she replied, still pacing. “But there are a lot of things I don’t know and need to find out. I know it looks bad, but I know this guy. He’s not a bad guy.”

“You don’t know this guy!” she exclaimed. “You haven’t even known him for twenty-four hours. What could you possibly know about his intentions? Did you know about the mafia before tonight?”

“No,” she replied.

“Well, you don’t know what else you don’t know about this guy!” Liz shouted back. “You need to tell me everything you know, so I can help you sort this out. I’ve already gone out on a limb for you and told you more than I should have. But I was sure that you could get closer to him than the police could and I trusted you to be forthcoming, as my friend.”

“Liz, I am,” she replied. “But, please continue to trust me on this. He’s a good guy, but he’s crossed paths with these guys and he’s working it out. The situation tonight was a freak coincidence. They don’t know who he is, they just know his face, just this one guy.”

“What about you?” Liz asked. “What if they recognize you?”

“I know, that’s what I’m worried about, too,” Susan replied. “Did either one of them mention me?”

“No, they didn’t,” she replied. “They haven’t said anything. But I doubt that they would. And they’ve already asked for their lawyer and will probably be out in a day or so.”

“How will they get out, if they shot at the police,” Susan asked.

“Apparently, we shot first,” Liz replied. “They have permits and claim they were defending themselves.”

“Please let me know if they get out,” Susan said.

“I will, but you have to come clean with me,” she said. “Or I may not be able to help you.”

“Ok, let’s have lunch,” she said.

“Ok,” replied Liz. “Tomorrow. Call me in the morning.”

“Ok, Liz, I will,” she replied. “And, Liz, thanks.”

“Ok, call me,” and she hung up.

“She sounds pissed,” Brian said.

“Yes, she is,” Susan replied. “She didn’t even say goodbye. I understand why, though. This is a very serious situation you’ve gotten into. And gotten me into.”

“I know,” he said. “I can’t apologize enough.  I should have followed my instinct and passed on meeting again.”

“No, I’m glad you didn’t,” she said. “At least I think so, now. I may regret it later.”

“Ok, I know,” Brian said. “I’m going to leave you now. Here’s my number. If you need me and feel threatened, say ‘I need you’ and if you’re in immediate danger and with someone, say ‘I’d like to see you sometime’.  And if you’re being forced to call me, say anything else, especially if they force you to. Otherwise, the safe word will be ‘howdy’. If you don’t start with that, I’ll be on my way.”

“Ok,” she said. “How will you know where I am?” she asked.

“I’ll have a solution for that tomorrow,” Brian said. “It’s just a precaution and everything should be ok. I’ll call you tomorrow and, again, I am sorry.”

“Stop apologizing,” she said. “I tracked you down, right?”

“Ok, see you,” he said as he opened the door and walked out.

Continue to Chapter 17
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