“Miss Shield,” the voice came light, friendly, as if speaking to a lost child.
Marise’s eyes drifted up to meet the Officer’s. They hadn’t taken her in. Instead, she sat at a table in the same cafe she’d been thrown out of just hours before. Thankfully, Allen’s shift had ended and a couple baristas had taken up the slack. She wished they’d deposited her at a bar instead and served her free drinks, but she’d take what she could get.
She couldn’t remember the Officer’s name. His face held hints of beauty, but the haggardness robbed him of it. For the moment, he played the caring lawman. “Miss Shield, we need to know what happened.”
She picked up a hot coffee, sipped it gingerly, her tongue feeling like a slab of raw beef. She swallowed, forced herself to speak, “I saw a friend enter the building. I decided to follow him.”
“Why didn’t you join him?”
She smiled, bitter and wry. “I’d had a bit too much to drink.” She paused, considering what next to say. She leaned into the table, bracing herself against the lightness in her head. “And I’m nosy.”
The Officer peered at Marise, then continued to tap away at the pad. He smiled. “What’s your friend’s name?”
Her eyes narrowed, but he didn’t seem to notice. She considered what little she knew about Raine, the fact that he had dangerous people looking for him. The type that wouldn’t mind sacrificing a few of their own to get to him. She pulled a name out of thin air, hoping she’d be able to get it past the Officer. “Heath Richards.”
The Officer stopped, muscles going rigid. A flash of doubt panged her. Thankfully, he stared at the table. “Richards, hmm.”
“I think that’s right,” she added.
His eyes snapped to her, gone the casual friendliness he’d shown earlier. Now, a much harder beast revealed itself. “We have reports that you encountered a Mr. Raine Morgan here and, that after a short period, followed him. I’m going to have to ask you to be forthright with me, Miss Shield, or else we’ll have to find a more suitable place to ask these questions.” He let this hang in the air as she took another long drink of the rapidly chilling coffee.
She set the cup on the table, precise with her placement over a ring worn into the wood. Folding her hands in her lap, she looked him in the face, her tone even and calculated. “Some asshole decided to chat me up, but I sent him packing. That happens a lot, when you’re dressed this way.” A smile swept across her face. “They think you’ll show them something different, but when the clothes come off, it’s all the same.” She provided a small flourish, as if snapping suspenders. “Could that’ve been your Mr. Morgan?”
“And about the reports that you followed him out?”
“We all have to go home sometime.”
The Officer watched her. He opened his mouth to say something when she stood.
“Excuse me, Officer.” She picked up her bag, turned to head to the back of the building.
“Wait!” Metal scrapped against the tile and the place went quiet. With all eyes on them, the Officer said, “I didn’t say we were done.”
“Thank you sir, but I have to go to the ladies’ room. Lady issues.” A blush came to his cheeks and he nodded. He stepped around the table, as if he planned to follow her. Her heart pounded in her chest. She went to shake her head when she noted a man in a grey suit approaching from behind.
“Cale,” the man said, leaning in and directing his fellow Officer toward the other end of the room. The conversation had filled in once more, though many eyes remained attentive. The Officer, Cale, turned to watch her go, but the man caught his concentration.
Marise ducked down the hallway, trying to quiet her thudding heart. Though splattered with blood, she’d kept composed and together. The music, something low and jazzy, filled the hallway as she paced herself. She tried to figure out the best way to play this new lie, but knew she didn’t have much beyond what she’d said. She knew so little of the man that any fabrication could set off all sorts of lies.
An employee slipped through a door that read in large block letters, NOT AN EXIT. He gave a sheepish smile, ducking his head before fully taking in the woman in front of him. His mouth went slack as she pushed past, forcing the door open. It hit the brick wall with a great bang. She didn’t dare look back as she spun around the corner. She pushed down the alleyways, following the lines of walls, not really paying attention where she went.
Frayed papers skittered across the pavement. The dry sound complimented her pounding feet. She passed smoky windows, fires burning in barrels. Her breath came in quick bursts. She took turns at random, dimly aware that the world around her had shifted darker, less refined. Her footsteps slowed, less frantic with the stretching time.
Peering skyward, she caught nothing more than wires and concrete. She recognized the part of town, not that she’d spent much time here. Far off, the ceiling, the street above, quivered with trams.
The buildings, cramped and pressed in upon each other, resembled more of a single unit than a long line of separate entities. Whispers coalesced above, baring down as she drew her bag closer to her chest.
A shout called out from behind her, down the alleys. She spun on her heel, craning to see if anyone had followed her.
Nothing. Not a living soul. She looked up, at the open windows, the drifting curtains in the breeze, but she still felt the prickling sensation of eyes on her. She pulled the bloody jacket around her, ignoring the stiffness of the fabric.
Shaking away the sensation, she slipped into an empty doorway, looked through the windows to each side. She spotted little other than cobwebs. Taking a deep breath, she tested the knob. Locked.
With a glance over her shoulder, she started to work on the lock. The sounds of the alley came alive behind her, conversation, the scuttling of boots, the changing of money. She closed her eyes, fingers twisting, working. Each small click sent a spiral of shock shooting through her back. She looked over her shoulder, then the lock snapped open.
She slipped inside, closing the door and pressing against it. Footsteps echoed on the other side. She slowly slid the lock back into place. The knob shook for a moment, muffled voices on the other side hung there, but eventually moved on.
The empty space in front of her yawned, creaked as if alive. She collapsed to the ground, the first tears dotting her face.