edge of sight
Sam hatched her entire escape plan from the floor of her bedroom closet. There, with her laptop and phone, she figured out how to fashion a disguise, sneak out of her apartment in the middle of the night, and maybe not get caught and killed in the act.
Until that very moment, though, she didn’t know where she would go once she got out. She needed a friend, obviously, but more than that, she needed someone who could help her find out just how close the police were to catch the man she saw kill Joshua Sterling. Cause they sure as hell weren’t telling her anything.
And then, surfing through news stories on her computer, hidden in her closet with her apartment door barricaded, she saw the name and instantly had her answer.
Vivi Angelino. Normally, she would not be high on Sam’s list of friends – former friends, in this case, since they’d grown so far apart in the last three years – who could help in this particular jam. But seeing her byline as the author of the lead story on the Boston Bullet crime investigative web site catapulted Vivi to the top her list.
Vivi, a relentless reporter with a nose for news and inquisitive streak that didn’t know the meaning of the words ‘no comment’ was the perfect person to help. She would know what was going on inside the Boston PD, she would know if they had any suspects in custody or under investigation, and she would understand exactly why the police weren’t offering any protection to the eye witness.
She knew Sam’s history with the local cops. She also knew…no they’d just keep him out of it. The man had done enough damage to Vivi and Sam’s friendship. She wasn’t about to let the hurt of hearing his name keep her from getting the help she needed.
She opened her phone and scrolled down the recent calls. Now she understood why Vivi had called her twice this past week after several months without even a hello. Sam hadn’t considered returning the call – she hadn’t really talked to anyone but the police this past week. But Vivi probably wanted to interview Paupiette’s employees if she was covering the crime. Well, Sam would give Vivi the scoop of a lifetime…if she could give Sam some inside information.
She tapped the keypad of her phone and sent the text.
Hey. Saw your story on Boston Bullet. R u home?
That was innocuous enough in case anyone was tracking her calls or texts. She hit send and let her gaze linger on the headline.
Police Hit Brick Wall in Sterling Case.
The headache that started in the wine cellar a week ago clobbered Sam’s temples with every word Vivi had written. No break in the case. No clues to the killing.
No evidence, no motive, no suspect…no witnesses. Police suspect professional assassin at work.
Two words stood out at her. No witnesses. That meant the police still hadn’t released the fact that there was an eye witness; at least they’d kept their word on that.
What other information were they withholding? Sam had to know if they had anyone in custody or on a suspicious persons list. And, despite the man who’d come between them, Vivi was definitely the person to help her find out.
But she couldn’t risk having this conversation on the phone. This would have to be in person.
Requiring her escape plan to work.
In her hands, the BlackBerry vibrated, flashing Vivi’s name like a lifeline.
Long time no hear from. How are you?
Yeah, really long time. How to respond…how was she? Scared to death, in hiding, desperate? She went for direct. Can I come over?
She squeezed the phone, willing Vivi to understand that she meant now, and not ask why.
Sure. Come on over.
She stared at the response, affection and appreciation swelling her heart. Now that was a true friend. No questions asked – a minor miracle considering this was Vivi Angelino, and every sentence started with who, what, when, where and why.
Thanks, she wrote back, then turned the phone off before a barrage of questions lit the screen. Sam would answer in person. If she had the answers.
Staying low so she didn’t make a shadow, she crawled across her bedroom floor for the wig and sneakers. She’d found the black wig in the back of the closet, a leftover from some college Halloween party costume when she’d gone as Cleopatra.
Well, Cleo was about to buy Sam some air and information, and hopefully a disguise that would get her right past anyone watching for her. Right past him.
Assuming he was out there. She had to make that assumption; it was the only way to stay alive.
She stuffed her hair under the wig, itching where the cheap netting clawed her scalp. Still low enough not to be seen through the windows, she shoved her feet into a pair of Nike’s, tied the laces, and duck walked to the bedroom door. She moved stealthily through the windowless hallway, then crawled through the living room and made her way across the linoleum floor to the kitchen door.
Now came the tough part. Leaving through the back door from a second floor of a house…with no back stairs.
As quietly as possible, she stepped out to a small wooden deck overlooking the Brody’s fenced in back yard. In all the time she’d rented the place, Mr. B. had promised that he was going to build a little stairway so Sam could have access to their yard. He hadn’t gotten around to it, but Sam knew her landlord would move heaven and earth for her, after what The Innocence Mission had done for his cousin in Arizona. When he’d learned Sam volunteered at the organization, he’d actually lowered the rent.
But still hadn’t built the stairs. Even though he knew damn well it didn’t meet fire code. But that turned out to be a good thing. Anyone who’d staked out her place would focus on the front, the only exit from the upstairs apartment.
No one would watch the fenced-in backyard, or the dilapidated second floor porch that was home to her plants and a place to catch some rays. No one would suspect that she would put on a wig and dark clothes, jump off a second story deck fifteen feet off the ground, then slide through a secret opening in the fence, follow the alley to the corner of Prospect and Somerville Ave, where cabs were always parked outside to take drunks home on a Saturday night.
No one -- especially not the man with bump in his nose, the pock-marked cheeks, and the deadly pistol who, right this minute could be parked in a car across the street, waiting for her to leave.
She crawled to the railing, glancing at the houses on either side, both dark for the night. In fact, the entire Somerville neighborhood was pretty quiet, but it was summer and most student renters were gone now. Leaning over, she gauged the drop. Maybe not fifteen feet. Maybe twelve, and if she hung from the side, only about seven to the soft grass below. A little risky, but not exactly skydiving without a chute.
The other option was using the drainpipe and windowsill, which looked really easy in the movies, but probably didn’t execute so well in real life. Plus, Mrs. Brody was a light sleeper and that was their bathroom window. Close enough to the bedroom to be heard. Lights would come on, questions would be asked, anyone staking her house would be on red alert.
She opted to hang and drop, climbing over the railing then shimmying into position, a splinter of wood stabbing her finger. Ignoring the sting, she peeked down to the ground, her breath caught in her throat.
She could break a leg.
Damn it, Sam, stop second guessing and move.
A car drove up Loring, ambient light falling over the yard and the side of the house, moving slowly. Way too slowly. Slowly enough to take pictures of her house, maybe? To plan how to break in and shoot the witness in the head?
Hell yeah, that slow.
She let go, falling for a second in a surreal kind of slow motion, air whooshing past her ears, almost blowing the wig off. She landed with a soft thud, rolling right, then stayed perfectly still, waiting for the stab of a broken bone.
Everything still moved. Stashing some stray hairs back up under the fake wiry ones, she took off to the back corner of the yard, to the broken boards where she’d watched the neighbor’s kids come in and out playing hide and seek a few weeks ago.
Back in the good old days when she could sit on her own balcony and not wait for a sniper’s bullet to hit.
The boards lifted easily, as they had for the kids. On the other side, the alley was nothing more than the back fences of the houses on the next street, a holding place for garbage and dumpsters, not wide enough to park a car. She broke into a slow jog, not fast enough to get someone’s attention, not slow enough to get shot.
Following the route she’d mentally mapped out in advance, she tore through the first intersection, even though there were no cars in sight. The streetlights of the main drag beamed beaconlike, the first glimpse of a yellow cab earning a satisfied “Yessss” through her teeth.
As she approached, the driver sat straight, probably waking from a nap. When she opened the door and he turned to her, for one horrific second she half expected to see him. Beak nose. Pock marks. Silenced pistol.
But only a sleepy black man looked at her, nodding as she threw herself into the back and yanked the door.
“Brookline. Corner of Tappan and Beacon in Washington Square.” She slid deep into the seat, cloaking herself in the darkness.
“You runnin’ away from somebody, miss?”
Somebody. “Just, please, I’m in a hurry.”
He got the message, driving silently down Mass Ave over the Charles, where the thud of her heart matched the clunk of the wheels on the bridge. By the time they were on the Boston side of the river, her pulse started to resemble normal.
She put her hand on the phone in her pocket, but she resisted the urge to take it out, turn it on, and read any texts Vivi might have sent. She’d tell her everything once she got there. Now, she had to remain on high alert.
At every turn, she checked behind them, the lanes next to them, the oncoming traffic.
“No one is following, I promise,” the driver said with a quick smile. “Seriously. You can relax. You are safe.”
Relax? Safe? He had no idea.
She’d never relax or be safe until they caught, convicted, and imprisoned the guy who killed Josh Sterling. And as long as she was the only living witness, half the cops in Boston wouldn’t care if the killer made her his next victim. They were laughing their Irish asses off at this one, she just knew it.
Of all people to witness a murder.
The cab rumbled over the train track and brick bumps of Beacon Street, side by side with what had to be the last Green Line car for the night. It stopped at Tappan, blocking them from making a turn.
Sam leaned forward and peered up the block to the red brick apartment complex she’d once called home, a wave of nostalgia hitting her. She’d had some fun in that building, working at the ad agency, making friends – including Vivi. Going to Vivi’s parties…
Don’t go there, Sam.
But wasn’t that the reason she hadn’t been back here to see her friend for so long? And that was wrong. She shouldn’t have let what happened – or didn’t – come between them. And considering that she had, Vivi was an angel for opening up her home at one in the morning.
All that history was just that…history. Women should never lose a friendship over a man. No matter who he was or what he did.
Just as the train rolled away, a man stumbled out from around the corner waving helplessly at the back of the train, teetering on the edge of falling over.
“There’s my next fare,” the driver said. “Even if he’s dead broke.”
Sam smiled. There were good people left in the world.
“Just drop me here, then,” she said. “I’m going right up to the first building. That way you can pick him up.” She stabbed into her jeans and pulled out a little leather case, handing him two twenties, twice the fare. “This’ll cover him, too.”
“Thanks.” He turned to look at her, the sleepy gaze replaced with warmth now. “Hope the son of a bitch doesn’t find you.”
“Here.” He handed her a card. “Call me if you need a ride somewhere else tonight. I won’t be far.”
She took it and nodded thanks, then slid to the door, and threw it open. Waiting for one car to pass, she crossed Beacon, securely under the streetlight and well within sight of the bright red lights of the Star Market.
The entrance to Vivi’s apartment was less than a hundred feet ahead, but with each step, it seemed to grow darker up that hill. Jogging the rest of the way, she looked to Vivi’s fourth floor corner unit, but didn’t see a light.
Her heart dropped. Hadn’t she waited up?
She slipped her phone from her pocket, touching the screen to life. No new texts.
Slowing her step, she considered the possibilities. Vivi fell asleep. Vivi wasn’t alone. Oh, she hadn’t thought of that.
The front of the building was always dim, but Brookline was such a pretty safe area, it hadn’t really seemed to matter before. Now, the shadows seemed ominous and threatening, with one pathetic light from inside the locked entryway. At the callbox, she reached for V. Angelino in Unit 414.
Just as her finger touched the plastic a hand clamped over hers. From behind, a man’s body slammed against her, stealing a gasp as her wig was ripped off and strong, large fingers slide into her hair.
“The wig’s a waste of time, Sam.” His breath was as hot as his voice. “I’d recognize that ass anywhere.”