Hefting my kitchen-sink purse onto my shoulder, I laid a hand on my office door’s handle and froze. My gut cringed, and I tried to remember what I’d forgotten. Meeting minutes danced with my swelling headache. The cascading accounts and paperwork that had flowed across my desk all week joined in, blurring in a mix of figures and security codes.
“Whatever it is,” I said to the door, “I’m sure it can wait until Monday.”
Turning the latch and exiting, I caught a brief glimpse of cubicle walls and florescent strips before the ubiquitous humming whined and then gave a sizzling pop. Every light blacked out, dousing the sea of beige into shadow, punctuated by the workspace pits of everyone else who had long since departed. The summer evening did little to challenge the darkness through the tinted floor-to-ceiling windows rimming the west wall, or spilling through the blinds at my back. The other skyscrapers along our block, however, twinkled around cleaning staff, like stars in a sky of steel and glass.
Must be another overload, I thought.
Closing my door, I fumbled in the clutter occupying my purse and withdrew my cell phone. I activated the panel, and held out the light as I navigated the corridors to the front doors. Recalling the stairwell being close to the elevator shaft, I plodded along, bent on finally escaping for the day. As I neared the receptionist’s barricade of a desk, however, I heard whispers.
“Go. Now,” said a hoarse and unfamiliar voice from down the opposite hall.
I slowed, and frowned. Who’s that? I wondered.
My Irritation spiked at some unknowns lurking about and I slipped behind the massive block of wood usually serving as an initial stop for new arrivals to my firm. Crouched low, I spotted a shadow along the corridor leading toward the partners’ offices. The figure stopped at each door label, obviously looking for one in particular. My stomach clenched as I tallied what lay in that direction, and realized what they must be after. I had put the confidential paperwork into the vault myself a few hours before.
You’re not getting those documents so easily, I thought.
I brought the receiver of the blocky telephone sitting amidst the receptionist’s paraphernalia to my ear as I watched the shadowed figure creeping. Silence hung on the phone, and I scowled at the inert device. Nestling the phone back into its cradle, I tried the one in my hand.
I’d never summoned police before, and the notion of calling for help set my teeth on edge. Unlike usual, however, I didn’t think I could handle this on my own. The soothing voice on the other end calmed my trepidation.
“Wellington PD. How can I help?”
“My name is Julia Caine,” I whispered. “I’m calling to report a break in at the Beranger Firm on 23 Olive Road.”
“Are you still inside ma’am?” the smooth talker on the end of the line asked amidst clacks on a keyboard.
“Yes.” I scowled at his impertinent question. Would I be whispering like this if I was outside? “I can see them heading toward our secure vault.”
“I have no indication of alarms going off.”
“Of course not, they cut the power to the floor. Maybe the whole building.”
“All right. I’m going to detour a car to your location now. Are you somewhere safe?”
The idea dawned I might not be, and I hunched lower. “At the moment I’m behind the receptionist’s desk. The burglars are just down the hall.”
“I want you to stay calm, ma’am. I’m going to stay on the line with you, okay?”
I rolled my eyes, and wished he’d stop calling me ma’am. “Fine.”
Lifting up on my toes, I spied over the edge of the desk. The hallway gaped, empty, but I caught scrapes and murmurs around the corner. Pressing myself against the sideboards, I strained to grasp a word or another detail I could use to identify the culprits.
Then, the carpet squished behind me, and a metallic ring found the back of my neck.
“Quiet,” said a curt woman.
A click sounded, reminding me of countless films where the safety’s unlatched right before the villains begin threatening or demanding things of the ill-fated hero. My breaths turned into frantic pants.
“Ma’am?” asked the officer.
The woman shoved the icy barrel deeper into my skin. “Say one word and it’ll be your last.”
I gulped and nodded.
“Put up both your hands,” she said, “and show me the phone.”
I extended both arms, holding the cell as far as I could from my ear. A gloved hand appeared, and plucked the phone from my grasp.
“Damn it,” said the woman as the officer repeated his query. Cutting off my call, she seized my neck in an iron-tight grip, thwarting an attempted glance over my shoulder. She pressed gun against me with more force. “Move.”
Together, we shuffled down the hall, until we reached the vault room’s gaping doorframe.
“Stop,” said the woman. She pinched my skin with dagger fingernails hidden beneath her gloves.
I kept myself from gasping as a figure moved in the dark.
“Who was it?” asked the owner of the hoarse voice from within the room.
“Caine,” said the woman.
The man’s chuckle, like rumbling boulders, sent a shiver through me.
“Perfect?” asked the woman.
A masked figure, dressed in black from head to toe, stepped out of the shadows and loomed in the doorway. The fabric seemed to strain around his mouth, implying a smile. “Do you know why?” he asked.
I felt the question directed at me, instead of the woman. Her initial threat, however, kept me mute, and I shook my head in ignorance although questions, like how they knew who I was, screamed to be voiced.
“Because you’re going to open the safe for me,” said the man.
My knees wobbled, hearing the certainty in his tone.
“You heard him.” The woman pitched me forward.
I stumbled past the man and into the dark, stubbing my foot against the vault. “I can’t…I can’t see,” I said, swiveling to face them.
A bright beam shot into my eyes, blinding me. Raising my hand to block the light, I saw spots for a moment, before the halo dimmed and my eyes adjusted to the glow.
“Quit stalling,” said the woman. Light glinted on the gun while the two remained obscured in shadow.
Gulping, I pivoted to find the vault’s dials illuminated by the flashlight’s beam. I lifted my hand, and saw it shake as both burglars stepped behind me, close enough their body heat pressed against my back along with their glares. I clicked one number, and then the next, with deliberate care, hoping the delay might give the polite policeman and his fellow officers, a chance to arrive and save the day.