And that’s how they found her three hours later—slumped unconscious across from a dead man in the tiny room. If the police were competent they would have found her hours before because the trail of blood Scounger had left behind was easy to follow. Whoever had fired at them should also have arrived. But no one came. So she had sat there alone and afraid, not daring to leave, not daring to stay, until shock and lack of air had caused her body to shut down for recovery.
When the two officers finally opened the door, their hands carefully gloved and the weapons ready, they thought at first that both inhabitants were dead. As they cautiously entered, the blood spattered young lady jerked awake, roused more by the book-scented air released into the room than the officers’ presence.
For Sandra, there was no moment of forgetfulness, but every thought and fear coursed through her the moment she awoke so that it was as if she had never fallen unconscious. In that moment, she saw the officers, knew that they would ask questions and chose the easiest and safest course of response.
She burst into tears and crawled towards them, her pitiful and relieved voice garbled by her sobs. Seeing the pretty young woman in need instantly snapped the officers from meticulous investigation mode to saving victim in distress mode. They helped her out and into the sunshine and calmed her down and asked her questions, their expressions sympathetic and understanding. She was simply an honest citizen who had been approached by a strange little man. In a friendly mood, and not wanting to be rude, she had allowed him to engage her in small conversation, when suddenly they had been fired on and he had grabbed her and dragged him with her. She thought maybe he was going to use her as leverage against his enemy, but she didn’t know. That sort of wild thinking was normal of victims of this sort of trauma. When the man had died in the little room she had been too shocked and afraid to move.
After taking her to the hospital they drove her home to her apartment, promising that they would continue their investigation and apprehend the criminal and come and question her more later, once she had recovered from the shock.
Sandra lived the next three days in fear. Her nights were nightmare filled and restless. Every moment she expected someone to put a gun to her head. When she went to the kitchen for a glass of water she was sure that there would be someone waiting for her, by the sink, gun ready. And when she drove to work in the morning her ears strained for the sudden explosion of a gun over the dull roar of her car engine. Her boss tried to send her home that first day, having seen, like everyone else, the pictures in the newspaper. But she insisted on staying, to keep her mind off of it. They all said they understood. But they didn’t. No one understood because no one knew. Because she had lied to all of them. She was not paranoid simply as a result of the stress. She was not just a victim. She was a target.
She would have been on a plane the next day, if she had anywhere to go, any family or friends far away to visit that she wasn’t afraid of endangering.
The second day she didn’t go to work. She didn’t want them to find her there and kill more people, in the same way that they had killed the old woman in the street.
The only thing in her small empty apartment that at times distracted her from her thoughts and fears was cooking and eating. So she made tons of food and ate tons of food, never really tasting or enjoying it. A couple times she ate so much that she threw up.
Finally, on the fourth day, it was her empty cupboards that drove her out of the apartment and to the grocery store. She had been too afraid to shower, because that would make her more vulnerable. So she changed her clothes, pulled back her hair into a greasy, dirty-blonde ponytail, and washed her face.
The grocery store was bright and noisy compared to the solitude of the past two days and she had trouble focusing on the list she had forced herself to write.
She was selecting yogurt when she quickly looked up to see someone approaching. Every time anyone past her she looked up, always expecting them to be holding a gun. Never expecting them to be the person who walked towards her now, pushing a half filled cart.
It was Garith.
For the first time in all the years she had known him, he was wearing blue jeans. And a striped button-up shirt, and running shoes. His black gloves protruded somewhat suspiciously from the blue and black stripes and she wondered for a moment why he still wore them when they looked so out of place. Then she remembered the last time she has seen his hands—blackened and burned.
She stood staring at him for a moment, but he just walked passed, giving her no acknowledgment. Shocked, she looked after him as he turned the corner at the end of the isle. He had seen her—she knew he had. Those black eyes that she had once found so attractive had met hers. But why had he said nothing? Then she realized. There were other people around. He could say nothing without endangering her. Her body went back to examining the yogurt, but her mind was racing.
Her shopping cart was almost full when she met him again. This time she was halfway down a deserted isle, choosing between two cereal boxes when he entered the other end of the isle. He walked casually up to her and picked up a box of cereal.
“This kind is especially good,” he said, “my children keep requesting it. My youngest son can’t get enough of it—it’s all he wants to eat.” He handed her the box he was holding and took another off the shelf to put in his own basket.
“Uh, thanks,” she said, once she had recovered from her surprise and realized that she was supposed to play along with his game. She put the box into her cart, sliding the note that had come with it into her pocket. He meandered off down the isle and she made her way to the cash register.
She unfolded the note while sitting in her warm car, before she had turned on the engine and rolled down the windows. It read:
Meet me tonight at 11:30 in the parking lot of the Dollar-Dragon store on Clearway Ave.