The Lion's Den

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Joel has an apartment down the street from the mayor, but I am. I wouldn’t think they would be that obvious… but then again who would they be hiding from? It’s not like anyone would be looking to make that connection – I get the impression Joel is too underground to attract the attention of prying eyes.
 
“What’s the security like on his place?” I ask Emma, aiming for casual and landing on suspicious.
 
“Just a door alarm, but I know the access code - he never changes his passwords. Wait, what are you thinking?”
 
“Did he keep any guns there? I’m getting tired of being a sitting duck out here – it’s only a matter of time before bullets start flying again and I want to be able to send some back.” Somehow my voice doesn’t waver; it almost sounds like I know what I’m talking about. I try not to think about why Emma knows Joel's password.
 
“You want to break into his place?” Emma’s not quite yelling but she’s heading in that direction in a hurry. I walk quickly back to her, turn her around gently, and guide her back the way we had come. “What are you doing?”
 
“We can’t stand out here, discussing the finer points of B&E, without attracting attention we don’t want or need,” I tell her as we reach the intersection and hang a left. “Besides, and this is a very remote possibility, we might find something in there that sheds some light on this mental situation of ours. Maybe even something that clears Joel’s name, which would let us ask for his help again.”
 
“You don’t believe that,” she says without looking at me as we turn down the lane that leads behind Joel’s apartment building. I keep silent to avoid digging myself into a deeper hole. It’s amazing how well this woman knows me after such a short time – I can’t put anything past her. Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to, but it’s a hard habit to break after long years of relying only on me, myself, and I.
 
We come to a stop behind the three storey red brick building that houses Joel’s place and look up in unison. There’s a fire escape that zigzags down the back of the building, coming to a stop within jumping distance of the ground. I absent-mindedly run a hand over the back of my left leg as I wonder just how much vertical I’ve lost.
 
“Top floor, I assume?”
 
“Of course,” Emma replies, her whisper accompanied by the sound of a gloved hand running over her bullet wound. Suddenly I’m not sure either of us can make that jump. “I can’t believe we’re doing this. What if he’s home?”
 
“Then this will be very interesting indeed. You don’t have to come with me, you know. If anything goes wrong at least -”
 
“I’ll be there to help you,” she finishes as she moves to stand underneath the bottom rung. My heart constricts painfully as I watch her standing there, ready to dive into danger with me yet again. “Give me a boost – I don’t think I can reach that on my own.”
 
I crouch down before her, interlacing my fingers to make a step for her snow-crusted boot. Placing her hands on my shoulders, she places a foot into my hands and takes a deep breath. Without any discussion she bounces once, twice, then on the third we rise together. Just as her hands grasp the ladder my left leg spasms sharply and I fall onto my hip, sending another stab of pain shooting through me as concrete meets bone. I swallow the shouted epithet that leaps to my lips and look up to see two legs swaying precariously over me.
 
“Are you okay?” Emma asks through gritted teeth. I wave her upwards but don’t move, afraid that I’ve just sentenced myself to wheelchair duty for the foreseeable future. She manages to shoot me a doubting look before pulling herself high enough for her foot to gain purchase. In moments she’s standing on the second floor landing of the fire escape and staring down at me.
 
“Bloody hell,” I mutter as I slowly return to standing, putting no weight on my throbbing leg. I might be able to make it doing a one-legged jump but I’m going to look awful stupid if I don’t. Like the fat kid in the playground that can’t reach the monkey bars two inches beyond his outstretched fingers. Emma’s still looking down. Damn it.
 
I drop to a crouch once more, this time with my left foot in the air behind me and my hands on the ground. I lock my eyes on the bottom rung and block everything else out; I don’t allow myself to see Emma’s worried eyes, nor the image of me not making this jump. With one final curse I push up, throwing my hands upward, my fingers searching for cold metal.
 
“Yes!”
 
Emma’s triumphant shout almost causes me to lose my grip but I manage to hang on. My forearms and biceps scream in protest as I haul myself up, one finger-numbing rung at a time. By the time I join Emma on the landing my chest is heaving and sweat is trickling down my spine, turning into icicles as it goes. She plants a quick kiss on my lips before turning and scrambling up to the third floor and I follow more slowly, the pain suddenly less severe.
 
We reach the fire exit door and I produce my lock picking gear. My best pick was left behind in the mayor’s office so it takes me a few tries before the door swings open and we step inside. The heated air of the hallway feels like Barbados after being out in the cold for so long.
 
“It’s the third door on the right.”
 
We leave a trail of melting snow in our wake as we approach the apartment with the golden 309 proudly displayed diagonally on its pitch black door. This lock gives me even more trouble than the first one but just as I’m starting to feel like a complete hack that satisfying click comes to my ears and we’re in. Emma closes the door behind us before flicking a lightswitch that would have taken me precious minutes to find on my own.
 
The first thing I notice is that the apartment has been alarmed.
 
The second thing I notice is the smell.

The End

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