“I want them gone. That’s the only way you’ll get her back.”
Sierra zipped across Marshall Avenue Bridge towards the St. Paul. Snow whipped through the city, gripping it in an icy embrace. Sierra weaved through traffic like a Formula One racer desperately racing towards the finish line.
The voice on the phone; that calm, low baritone voice, haunted her memories. “Your daughter’s brave. The gun hardly frightened her at all. Even when stuck under her chin. A brave soul you raised. She’s safe…but only for now.” Only for now, that last line repeating itself like a chant. Sierra fought hard against the visions that engulfed her, a horrific film reel that wouldn’t stop. Her grip on the wheel threatened to rip it from its stem; her frozen breath like a great fist in her chest.
“Jessica…” Sierra wailed at the empty air around her. “Goddamnit. I didn’t want this, not this.”
The Beretta 9mm laid on the passenger seat, the loaded weapon resting like a coiled snake. Eleven years, eleven years away from the pull of the object of black steel and metal. Even in her panic she felt it calling for her now. Sierra crossed the bridge and drove deep into downtown St. Paul. She looked at the clock on the dashboard: nine-twenty. Everything needed to be finished by ten.
“It was easy finding you,” the middleman had said earlier. “We have contacts everywhere; police, city hall, registries. Names change, but photos never do. You got careless, arrogant in your hiding. We found you. You left us. Now you must pay your debt to the Syndicate. Either their blood or your daughter’s.”
Theirs or your daughter’s.
The Penfield Apartments loomed in sight. Sierra parked across from the building. Nine-thirty, nine-thirty. Stepping out a cold wind struck her deep, blistering the bones in cold. She walked straight to the building entrance, the gun in her holster inside her coat. An old couple walked past her, oblivious. Sierra’s heart raced faster, the rhythmic beats echoing in her ears like a tin drum.
Inside the lobby she looked quickly, spotting a camera near the security desk. No guard on duty; typical security, never there when needed. The camera was too far away to get a good read on her face. She looked at the mail slots on the wall, finding the name of the man she needed: Parker Savage. “The famed prosecutor,” Sierra said. “Got everyone scared. Even me.”
Sierra got in the elevator. Her heart was trying to escape from her chest, breathing more ragged as she passed each floor. Got to stay calm, be steady. This has to happen, no choice. No choice, no choice. The doors opened on the seventh floor. Sierra stood outside the elevator, looking down at the long hallway. She had been down many hallways, through many doors, always delivering skill and precision to her work. Then, the Syndicate came calling, forcing a job she could not do. A family, all of them, they had to go. She had always stuck to her core principle-no women, no kids. She refused. But you can never say no to the Syndicate. She fled and Jessica came. Maybe the pregnancy changed her mind, a chemical reaction that awakened a part of her she did not know before. When Jessica was born the change that took hold of her would not be reversed. She moved quickly to erase herself from that life. She and Jessica fled, to hide and make a new life, a better one.
Now Sierra was back in the hallway, the dark hallway that called back to her. She looked further down the hall and saw a figure standing there. Black suit and red tie, tanned leathery skin with cracks forming around his mouth and cheeks; a cigarette dangling from his lips. The middleman was there, a specter calling out to Sierra from her mind.
“You know what to do. It must be done.”
“Why? Why me, damnit?” Sierra said.
“You’re good, you can’t deny your talents. But your loyalty was weak. We don’t tolerate weaklings. You’re lucky we didn’t kill you.
“I can’t. I can’t do this.”
“You want to throw her away? Blood must be taken, you only have the choice of who.”
“Crazy. All crazy,”
“The world is crazy. Those that embrace it can live with anything, accept the dark that is the world. Those that try to rise above it will always be dragged back down.” The middleman chuckled. Sierra blinked, the middleman was gone.
“Crazy, all crazy,” Sierra repeated to herself. She looked at her watch, nine forty-five. She walked down the hall to door 405. She knocked and waited. The door opened a few seconds later. A sliver of light spilling out into the hallway. Sierra saw half of Parker appear through the crack of the door.
“Can I help you?” Parker asked. Sierra didn’t answer at first. She looked at him, passed him.
“Excuse, ma’am. Do you need help with something.”
Sierra looked at him, eyes now focused only on Parker. She said, “Yes, yes you can help.”
The gun pressed hard against Parker’s face. Done so fast he couldn’t react with a scream or cry for help.
“Inside, now,” Sierra said. “No noise, keep everyone quiet.” She pushed Parker back into the apartment and closed the door. Sierra saw in the living room a woman and a young girl on the sofa looking at the TV. Sierra pushed Parker into the room, the woman was the first to see the gun pressed against Parekr’s face. She naturally screamed. The young girl, the daughter, followed suit when she saw her father in peril.
“Shut them up,” Sierra yelled at Parker. She pushed him over to his wife and daughter and trained her gun on them. Parker, babbling and crying as much as the wife and daughter, worked on getting them to stop screaming and reduce the noise to sobbing and pleadings. Sierra looked at the young girl. She looked like Jessica; same small face, same soft skin. Innocence in her eyes just like her own daughter.
“What-what is…what is this?” Parker cried out to Sierra. “What are you doing?”
“On the floor, now,” Sierra ordered. She held up her gun, training it on Parker. ‘Everyone on the floor, on your stomachs, now.”
“Please, don’t hurt my family-
“On the floor, goddamnit.”
The scared souls trembled and sobbed their way to the floor. The daughter’s cries grew louder and louder. Sierra started to hear Jessica’s voice; Jessica’s cries over the phone now ringing in her ear. Please, mommy, please. Help me, please.
Help me, help me, mommy, mommy, mommy.
A tear fell from Sierra’s eye.
Three shots fired. Silence fell over the apartment. The smell of gunpowder lingered in the air. The tears kept falling down Sierra’s face. She heard in the distance her daughter’s cries for help and the last cries of the girl that laid on the ground before her.
She sent photos of the bodies to the middleman. He demanded physical proof of the hit. He was satisfied with everything and kept his end of the bargain. Jessica was returned to Sierra, safe and sound. Sierra looked at her young girl, her daughter, resting in bed. Jessica slept peacefully, her mind retreating to the realm of dreams, escaping the events that happened today. Sierra stood there at the entrance of Jessica ‘s room. She didn’t know how long she stood there, she just wanted to make sure that her daughter was really there.
The middleman’s words haunted her still, the words he spoke before he left. “You won’t leave again. The deed you’ve done has bounded you to us, to the Syndicate. You work for us now until the day you die. Step out of line again and your daughter will pay. You know what we are capable of. Remember her, remember this day when you feel you want to leave. You do, she dies.”
If you leave, she dies.
“I’m sorry,” Sierra said to Jessica. Sierra walked back to the living room and took a seat on the sofa. She rested her head on her hands, taking in deep breathes. Snow fell outside, slowly blanketing Minneapolis in angelic white.
The cries of Parker’s family rang in Sierra ears.
“I’m so sorry.”
BIO : Sean O‘Grady is a Southern California desert rat currently living in South Korea, the land where they eat dogs (it’s true, but in small doses). He’s an English teacher and enjoys writing about criminals and screw-ups just trying to survive and make a buck.