My second entry to the contest, for any readers. Feel free to critique!
In the split-second it takes for the voice to echo in the massive penthouse it rings out again.
Andy is promptly held back with a hand, a gun drawn to point straight at Phoebe.
"You can't try and keep me safe, Andrew. Your 'job' has already put my friends in danger."
Sammie's business-like tone and disregard for his shock only add to the strangeness of the situation.
"Well, Phoebe, or whoever the hell you really are, I've got some news for you." Sammie's eyes narrow as she addresses the woman, "...You're going down."
Phoebe laughs, waving her gun around haphazardly.
"Yeah, says you and what army, exactly?" she turns to Jeff with an incredulous look, "Is this some kind of joke, bro? I gotta say, the gun-wielding chick is a nice touch! Where do I get one?"
He shakes his head, sighing sharply.
"Don't worry about that. Your birthday present is with me right now."
Phoebe lets out her cackling giggle once more, studying Sammie, and dashes off to the next room, returning with Melissa in a neck hold and the cold steel of her gun's barrel pushed into her hostage's neck.
"Ah, so you mean the three lambs I caught in here weren't my gift?"
Sammie remains silent and calm, following the raven-haired woman's steps with her own weapon.
"Let them go."
"And I repeat, N-O. No. Put your gun down and I might not kill your friend here."
She grins and her fingers start to draw the trigger back, counting down loudly.
Melissa quivers suddenly, eyes shut and breaths shallow.
A moment later and Phoebe falls to the ground, a bullet in her skull and Sammie's gun still outstretched.
Phoebe's goons look to be making a move but Andy pulls out a gun of his own and shoots one while Sammie blasts the other.
Melissa moves away from the bodies and shakes her head in disbelief, backing into the wall with a surprised blink.
The gun falls from Sammie's hands and she rushes to her friend, hugging her tightly and attempting to comfort her.
"Are you okay, Melissa? Hurt anywhere?"
She nods slowly, pointing to the nearby bedroom.
"The others are...in there. Tied up."
Sammie moves to free them but Melissa grabs her wrist instead.
"Since when are you such a good shot, Sam?"
"My granddad used to take me out on his property and taught me how to use a rifle...and, well...I had to be a good shot, so I was."
Melissa accepts the answer and heads into the room to undo the knots holding Dom to the bedpost as Sammie does the same for Sarah.
Dom, instantly noticing the amount of Phoebe's blood that has splattered onto Melissa's shirt and the tear-trails down her cheeks, jumps up to inspect her for injury with his unbound arm.
"Did that psycho hurt you, Mel? I swear I'll kill her-"
Sammie walks up to the two with a sobered look, interrupting with a monotone voice.
"I already did."
There is a strange moment of silence before Andy walks in and breaks it, Sarah turning on him with a scowl.
"Jeff or Andy, whichever you prefer, we have a few questions to ask you I'm afraid."
Sammie pulls out a cell phone, about to call the police to report what has just happened, but Jeff pushes it away.
"No. They've probably gotten my photo onto their most wanted list again...you can do that after I've left."
"You...you're leaving?" Sammie asks, surprised she hasn't managed to grasp the concept despite their earlier discussions.
Sarah looks at them both strangely, grabbing her own phone.
"If you two don't explain what's going on I'm calling the cops myself."
Andy nods, "We will, just...not here. Somewhere...safer."
He turns sharply and walks to the elevator, followed by the other four.
They follow his gaze only to note the blood smears where Phoebe's body had been and the gaping openness of the window.
"Now we really have to get a move on." He mutters, not even bothering to see if his sister is alive or dead.
Andy starts to press the button to call the elevator up but, realizing that it is already coming up, strides quickly to another door.
"We have to take the stairs."
Sammie follows without question, Melissa quick on her heels.
"How is it that you still trust Jeff even after he kidnapped you?" Mel hisses at her friend as the group dashes down the stairs.
"He's done a lot of bad things, but he doesn't want to hurt any of us. Besides, I...I-"
The sound of footsteps behind the group speeds them up considerably despite the fatigue coming on from the constant running.
"THIS is why you don't get a penthouse apartment." Sarah mutters under her breath, panting.
Andy stops abruptly, pulls a canister from his jacket, and throws it back where they had come from.
"Get out at the next floor." he says quickly, sprinting once more.
Dom reaches the door first and holds it open as they rush through, Andy taking the lead again straight down the hall past various apartments with the sound of collapsing bodies following them.
He pauses and, noting an empty elevator, herds them all in and presses the button taking them to the basement parking lots.
The doors slide shut and the unit descends smoothly, the slight background music a stark contrast to the racing pulses inside.
"Now, there might be a unit waiting for us as soon as we get there." Andy starts, "So drop to the floor like your life depends on it, seeing as they'll shoot eye level first."
Sarah shakes her head in disbelief.
"Are they even allowed to shoot at all? We didn't even do anything!"
"They've probably found the bodies in my apartment. You've all associated with me by being in my company and resisting police force. You could be accessory to murder. And I just used a Fentanyl derivative on one of their squads. The FBI have enough to jail us all without the fact that I'm internationally wanted. That just means they can use lethal force to stop me."
The elevator chooses to stop at that moment, the fear in the air becoming palpable.
It takes a split-second for the group to react and flatten themselves against the glossy tiling, bracing themselves for the possible rain of bullets.
Only silence meets them as the doors open.
"Get up," Andy barks out, "They didn't bother to cover this exit."
The five are running again in moments, Andy stopping beside an SUV with keys already out and the vehicle chirping in greeting.
He takes the driver's seat and Sammie sits beside him, Melissa getting squished in the middle of the back row between Dom and Sarah.
Soon enough it roars out of the parking lot and up through the ramp leading out into the streets.
Sammie blinks against the brightness of the sun as she clicks the radio to a classical music station, locking the doors of the car and pulling her seatbelt on.
The second movement of Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' fills the space with a delicate peace, the movement of the string instruments enough to create a miniature world that slows the rapid thoughts firing off in the car.
Dom puts his hand on Melissa's and offers her a small smile.
Sarah leans her head on the bulletproofed window.
Sammie takes a book from the glove box and starts to peruse it.
Andy manages to blend into traffic and meets the speed limit for once.
They could easily be out on a drive and not running from the authorities in the pursuit of freedom and the truth.
But minutes or perhaps hours later Andy pulls over beside an unmarked building and turns the radio off.
The peace is shattered.
He promptly gets out of the SUV and throws the keys to a bald man nearby, disappearing into the building with the others close behind.
The air smells of cigarettes and stale leather, secrets and danger.
Andy takes the creaking stairs up through the cramped quarters and knocks on the heavy oak door beyond them thrice, waiting until it swings open to stroll through.
It closes loudly behind Dom, the last of their group.
A few shady-looking personalities are lingering about the perimeters of what looks to be a makeshift pub, tobacco making the interior hazy. Andy walks to an empty table and gestures for his companions to sit, sighing as he settles into a wooden chair.
"It's time to tell you all the truth then, I guess."
He gets no reply and continues.
"You probably know by now I have connections to the Polish mob. It's a whole lot more than connections, though. Phoebe and I were the elite muscle of the group.
It was all because of this project. A whole army of street kids were kidnapped and put into squadrons where we were 'broken in'. Sure, they fed us...sometimes...but they focused more on teaching us combat and stealth techniques, putting guns in our hands and getting us to shoot cans ten yards away.
The rules were pretty easy to understand; perform, and you lived another day. Fail, and you were beaten. Most of the younger kids died off but Phoebe and I were lucky to be in our teens. Some of the trainers did terrible things to her though, took away what little dignity she had left.
We were close, brother and sister close. Had each other's backs.
Eventually we were deemed to have graduated the system and got our first set of missions. Kill off this gangbanger, that politician, steal this document.
I didn't like the life, but Phoebe thrived in it. She rose to the top. Became one of the big cheeses.
She changed things. Made sure that I could leave the mob without anyone in my way, even offered me a place beside her.
I refused, but she didn't mind. I managed to make a good living as an assassin for hire outside of the mob.
Neither of us had or have any reservations when it comes to killing, but Phoebe was ruthless. Anyone who opposed her or she thought opposed her got lead in their throats. The guys that hurt her earlier were tortured until they died of pain.
But soon enough she was getting rid of her best fighters and needed more to keep her power alive. Phoebe decided to restart the program we'd been in as kids.
Obviously, I was mad as all hell. She cut me a deal, though, told me that if I brought her someone each year that she could get to do her dirty work she wouldn't do it. Phoebe called it her 'birthday present'. Was always so into codenames for everything."
Sammie looks uncomfortable a moment and picks up where Andy stopped.
"I was the 'present' this year, and Andy's apartment was where I'd be delivered. That was what I heard on the phone before Andy took me into his car. But then he explained and told me that this was the year that he was taking Phoebe down, that he was planning to dismantle her entire organization. My role in it all was to keep Phoebe from getting suspicious. I was the bait, what would keep her from realizing it was an ambush. And I also managed to help corrupt some government files on Andy while I was at it."
Andy chooses to speak again, ignoring the expressions of shock on the faces of Sammie's friends.
"Sammie used to be an informant with the police. She can hold her own pretty well and knows her way around computers. It made sense for her to be my choice."
Melissa's eyes widen.
"You were WHAT, Sammie?"
She chuckles in reply, uneasy.
"Yeah...Confidentiality for the win. Speaking of which," she says, hoping to change the subject, "Some of Andy's contacts, one of which happened to be jailed, were helping us eliminate the paper trail. For the both of us, all of our records and any proof of our existence will be wiped within a few hours. We'll cut and dye our hair, pick up the papers waiting at the airport and move to Tahiti."
Andy turns to Sammie with a pleasantly surprised expression.
"So you've decided you WILL come?"
Sammie nods and takes his hand, lacing their fingers together.
"Of course I will. Sure, things didn't really go to plan when Mel, Dom, and Sarah were held hostage in your apartment and I stormed in but we're all still alive aren't we? I want to help you stop Phoebe and people like her. I...want to be with you. I love you."
Andy responds by embracing her fiercely, being interrupted moments later as Sarah clears her throat.
"That's all well and good but what are the three of us supposed to do exactly once you lovebirds fly out? If we're still fugitives and all?"
Sammie shakes her head, sliding a sheet of crumpled paper across the table.
"This is what you'll give to the police. The killer and kidnapper's 'confession' that you were innocent, and also his suicide note. We'll tie and gag you all and leave you by a freeway somewhere you can scream for help."
"Wow," Melissa says quietly, impressed.
"I know, right? I'm still figuring it all out."
Andy looks at his watch dramatically and gestures towards the door.
"I think it's time we dropped our hostages off, my dear Sam. Wally's probably driven the police nuts by driving my SUV in circles downtown. Our other car's arrived too, I believe."
Dom stands, picking up the note.
"Then there's no time to waste."
"Phoebe! Get back over here, you little rascal!"
Sammie runs after the giggling toddler, hairbrush in hand.
Andy walks out of their house just in time to catch his daughter, laughing as she smears the paint on her hands onto his face.
"She's been running non-stop all afternoon," Sammie confesses, catching her breath and getting to work de-knotting Phoebe's unruly brown hair.
"So have you," Andy replies, stealing a kiss and getting hit in the head with the brush for it, "You should take a break."
The two turn to see Melissa walking over with a gift bag in hand, a deep green dress draped over her very obvious baby bump and a clean-shaven Dom close behind.
"You're such a busy bee, Sammie," she says as she hugs her, handing the present over, "You should learn to get someone else to do the housekeeping."
"She's already got me doing the cooking!" Dom laughs, earning Melissa's playful glare.
"Don't complain, sweetie, you're on vacation! Just wait until the twins come along!"
Dom's jaw drops.
Melissa smiles sweetly.
Andy laughs, handing Phoebe over to Dom.
"You're going to need practice with kids. I don't mind helping."
Melissa adjusts the strap on her purse and turns to Sammie, grinning.
"Aren't you going to show me around, Sammie?"
"Of course! You coming, Dom?"
He shakes his head, eyes widening as Phoebe tugs at his hair.
"I'm too busy being glad that Mel got me to lose the beard. Besides, Andy and I got some catching up to do."
"That we do." Andy agrees, still sporting his face paint.
Sammie laughs and gestures for Melissa to follow her into the house, kicking off her heels by the door.
"We got the porch re-done, and the kitchen has new counters too."
"Nice...weird curtains though."
"I made those."
"I know they're strange, I'm going to change them soon."
"How's Sarah, do you know?"
"Still in the hospital. She'll be starting chemo soon."
A moment of silence follows and Melissa manages to change the subject.
"Why did you name your girl Phoebe? That woman...tried to kill us all."
Sammie smiles sadly.
"Andy really wanted to. In his sister's memory. He thinks of her as a good person, just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Melissa nods slowly, gazing out the window.
"I still have a hard time believing that all this happened to us."
Sammie pours them each a glass of orange juice, a reflective look on her face.
"And to think, it all started with a call away."
"A call that you overheard!"
The two watch Andy and Dom conversing outside, Phoebe wreaking havoc and making a mess as they do.
"To be honest, Sammie," Melissa starts, "I'm kind of grateful it did. We have so much to look forward to. The Polish mob is crippled. The future is waiting for us."
"Amen to that," Sammie replies, holding up her glass, "Cheers."
Melissa holds hers up too.