“How the hell did this happen?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
The draft blowing through the corridor seeped into Amanda’s damp clothes and she shivered uncontrollably. Shifting in the uncomfortable plastic chair she had been placed down in, she stared down at her shaking arms wrapped tightly around her body and held her breath to stop herself from hyperventilating. Even with the door closed, she could hear the conversation clearly, neither of them were attempting to keep their voice down.
“They knew where we were, knew how to get in the building undetected, I barely got her out of there alive.”
“Yes, and I lost three of my best agents in the process, what the hell am I supposed to say to the Director?”
“Tell her that it’ll be worth it when Kellum Knight is put behind bars where he can’t hurt anyone else.”
Her mind replayed the last hour on repeat. The sharp crack of the door being forced open, the eardrum-bursting bangs of guns going off, a crash of glass and then nothing but the woosh of air as she was forced through the window and down the fire escape, the ice cold rain punishing her bare arms.
Without a mirror, she could only guess just how much of a mess she looked. Her normally thick black eyeliner smeared down her cheeks, her hair a straggly mess of wet tangles and her clothes ripped and bloodied.
What the hell had she gotten herself into?
“And how may I ask are we going to get her to the trial without her or any more of my men dying? We’ve still got to get her across the state to the courthouse, remember.”
“I have an idea, but you’re not going to like it.”
She paid no attention to the man standing to attention a few feet away, hand resting on the gun clipped to his belt nor to the few nightshifters scurrying through the hallway, slowing down and glancing at her as they walked past, like she was a car crash on the side of the road. Most staff had gone home hours ago, long before the attack on the safehouse had begun.
“If you’re thinking about who I think you’re thinking about, then no, not them.”
“I already made the call.”
“Agent Black, this isn’t a good idea.”
“I know they’re unconventional-”
“Unconventional? They’re uncontrollable, unprofessional, they lack any formal training and don’t listen to orders.”
“And they’re the best protection team out there, not lost a client yet.”
“Are you sure?”
“There has to be a mole in the agency, it’s the only explanation for how they found us. If I trust any more people in this building to protect her, she won’t make it to trial.”
“.....Fine, we’ll do it your way, but if she doesn’t make it to the courthouse in time, it’ll be all on you.”
“I’ll take the risk.”
Amanda jerked when the door swung open. The surprise forced another flood of adrenaline through her system and the bitter taste in her mouth returned.
Amanda looked up at Agent Farah Black, hating the expression of pity looking back at her. The same look she had been seeing on everyone’s faced since they first brought her in. She knew now why they looked at her like that. Because they all knew she was completely screwed.
“Are you okay?”
Was she okay? Amanda couldn’t help the snort that left her body. She was the furthest thing from okay. Her life had been completely turned upside down by a single cigarette. She was never going to get to see her brother or her friends ever again and there was a madman who wanted her in the ground. The snort turned into a sov and suddenly her throat was tight and moisture threatened to escape her eyes.
“Come on.” She placed an encouraging hand on Amanda’s shoulder. “Let’s go sit at my desk, I can find you some clean clothes.”
Amanda’s muscles protested when she rose from the chair. As they walked down the corridor, Farah’s hand didn’t leave her arm, her skin warm against Amanda’s and she appreciated the gesture.
She was guided through the building to an open bullpen, Farah navigating them both through the maze of empty desks. The overhead lights were off, the room illuminated only by small desk lamps and the glow from identical computer screensavers.
Farah’s desk stood out from the others in the room. Every other desk was messy, piled high with files and papers, whilst Farah’s was neat and orderly. Even the pens were all lined up by colour. The only personal item was a framed photo of her and a man looking down the camera with matching expressions.
Farah followed her eyes and smiled. “My brother, works for Homeland Security,” she explained. She motioned towards the seat placed at the side of the desk. “Sit, I’ll be back soon.
Amanda lowered herself down into the plastic chair and listened to Farah’s footsteps as she left the room. Alone, Amanda’s thoughts went back to the last forty eight hours. It had been Farah who had found her mid panic attack and calmed her down, driven her to the FBI office and told her she needed to testify. Amanda knew she didn’t have much of a choice, not when her testimony would be the only thing to put Kellum Knight behind bars. Right now she wasn’t even sure Farah could keep her alive long enough to make it to trial.
She found herself tapping a beat out on the edge of Farah’s desk to calm her nerves and she wished she was back home with her crappy TGI Friday’s job followed by Saturday night band practise with her brother. It may not by her dream life, but it was safe and simple.
Amanda gasped and her head spun round sharply. Ignoring the twinge in her neck, her eyes fell on a man standing a few feet away from her. Rising from the seat, she took a couple of steps back away from the man and towards the wall.
“Who the hell are you?” she demanded. He was certainly no FBI agent. His hair was bleached white and held up in a mohawk, whilst his beard was dark and scruffy. With pierced ears and shapes of black ink across his skin, he looked more like a foe than friend. He stood tall, with broad shoulders, legs apart and strong arms folded across his chest, revealing a confidence that left Amanda alarmed. Amanda had thought she would be safe within the walls of the FBI. “How did you get in here?” And where the hell was Farah?
“Through the front door, like everybody else,” he answered with a shrug.
Amanda took another step backwards. “Are you here to kill me?”
“Kill you?” he repeated and looked at her in confusion.
“Oh good, you two have met.” Amanda’s eyes snapped to Farah as she re-entered the room, a plastic bag in one hand.
Amanda's eyes flicked between Farah and the stranger suspiciously.
“Where are the others?” Farah directed at the man.
“Outside. They're not big fans of this building.”
His reply and corresponding smirk didn't make Amanda feel any better.
“Amanda, meet Martin, he runs Rowdy 3 protection, he's here to get you to the trial.”
“Him?” Amanda balked, “You've gotta be kidding."
Farah sighed and stepped in-between her and the man she now knew was Martin. “Do you trust me?”
Amanda honestly didn't know how to answer. Farah had saved her life but she’d only known the agent for a couple of days. “I guess,” she finally admitted.
“Well, I trust him,” Farah motioned back to Martin standing behind her with a nod of her head. “He'll get you there in one piece.”
Amanda’s mind replayed the conversation she had overheard between Farah and her boss who certainly hadn't been sure about Farah's choice in protection. Farah was putting Amanda's life in the hands of a delinquent punk who didn't even seem to be armed. The only thing he had going for him was Amanda's mild attraction which she was choosing to suppress.
“Do I have a choice?”
“You could try your luck out there with Kellum’s goons?” Martin suggested.
Amanda sent him a sharp look over Farah’s shoulder. Martin didn’t react.
“Here,” Farah lifted the bag in her hand towards Amanda. “These should fit, I’m afraid it’s only some gym clothes but they'll do until you can get to a store.”
Amanda took the bag and briefly peered inside at the contents.
“Come on, I'll walk you both out.” Farah’s hand returned to Amanda's arm as she led her out of the room and back towards the entrance. Martin followed silently a few steps behind.
Outside, Amanda was brought to a stop in front of a black van. The van had been heavily graffitied and looked like it was about to fall apart from age. Martin brushed past Amanda’s shoulder and stepped up to the van. With a hard yank, the side door slid opened revealing three men inside.
The van’s occupants looked up suddenly to see what was interrupted their poker game. Each of the men were similarly attired in ripped denim, leather and chains and looked more like a small motorcycle gang than a team of bodyguards.
“Boys,” Martin acknowledged them with a nod. “This is our new client.” He stepped back to reveal Amanda.
“What the hell happened to you?” the smallest of the three men asked, less than tactfully.
Amanda looked down at her dirty outfit. Her damp jeans had started to rub and the cool night air was making her shiver again. “Someone tried to kill me,” Amanda responded with a bluntness she usually reserved for her brother and drunk men trying to flirt with her. She glanced at Farah. Was she really expecting her to get into that van?
“I really need their protection?” Amanda questioned, her voice low so it couldn’t be overheard.
Farah sighed, “We underestimated Kellum once, we won’t do it again.”
“But them ?”
“I told you to trust me,” Farah reminded her. “They’re unconventional but-”
“They haven’t lost a client yet,” Amanda finished. “Yeah, I heard.”
“They have my number,” Farah reassured Amanda. “If you need me for anything.”
The pile of cigarettes, dollar bills and beer can tabs being used as poker chips was pushed to one side and the three man spread out to make space for her in the back of the van. Her tired shoulders sagged as she resigned herself to the fact that she had little choice but to put her life in their hands. It seemed like every step forward was one step further away from the life she knew.
Her eyes met Martin’s as she slowly lifted herself into the van and slid onto the nearby bench. She still wasn’t sure what to make of him. His piercing eyes and solid jaw didn’t give away much of what he was thinking, let alone feeling. Without another word, he slammed the door shut behind her and climbed into the front seat. The engine rumbled to life as Martin turned the key in the ignition and her seat began to vibrate under her. When his foot pushed down on the gas pedal, her body was pushed back against the wall of the van from the force of the acceleration.
“So do I get to know names?” she asked, drawing on her last reserves of fortitude.
“That’s Gripps,” Martin responded from behind the wheel. With his thumb he motioned back to the bearded man opposite her. “He’s Vogel,” Martin’s thumb pointed in the direction of the smallest member of the team who grinned at her widely. “And that one right there, he’s Cross.”
Amanda looked at the last of the three men being introduced at her, sitting at the far end of the van. Each of them looked dangerous in their own ways. Gripps was built like a house, strong shoulders and arms that looked like their could do a bit of damage. Vogel whilst lacking in muscles, made up for in craftiness. There was a devious glimmer in his eyes and an energy that reminded Amanda of a Jack Russell. Finally, Cross had a darkness in his eyes. He definitely had some strength to him but he was also long and lithe enough to be quick and agile. She wouldn’t want to get on their bad side, though looking at them she wondered if they even had a good side.
She was relieved to feel the heating turned up high and the warmth seeped into her stone cold bones. Her tense muscles relaxed and she leant heavily against the wall of the van. It had been late when they had been attacked and it was only getting later. The van stayed on the road for a long time, though without windows or a watch, she wasn’t sure how much time had passed.
Martin had put on some rock music a few minutes into the journey. He kept the volume down and Amanda wondered if he was keeping it low for her benefit. Either way she was grateful. A dull pain in her left temple was refusing to budge and she knew the only thing that would shift the headache would be sleep.
The van slowing to a stop woke Amanda up and she looked up at her protection detail for answers.
“Cross, stick with her,” Martin ordered before jumping out. Vogel and Gripps climbed out the back and shut the doors behind them. Amanda’s impatience grew and she huffed in frustration as minutes went by in the dark van. Finally, the side door was slid open and Martin motioned for her to get out.
“Where are we?” she asked, ignoring her muscles protesting from her feet landing on hard cement.
“Motel,” he responded. “Room’s this way.”
He walked ahead, Cross bringing up the rear as they led her to her room for the night. Amanda’s first impression of the motel was low and only got lower as she was guided into room 204. Everything in the room was different shades of brown and there was a noxious smell which she identified as a combination of stale cigarette and cheap air freshner.
Her eyes fell on the closed door at the back of the room which she knew had to lead to the bathroom. She dreaded to think what state it was in but she was too desperate for a hot shower to care. Gripping her plastic bag of gym clothes tightly in one hand, she cross the room and opened the door.
“Leave it open.”
Amanda froze with her hand on the door handle. “Are you kidding me?” she groaned and twisted her head to meet Martin’s eyes. “Not a chance.”
Martin stared back at her stubbornly. “Door ajar,” he countered.
“Door closed but I leave it unlocked, final offer,” Amanda stared him down and after a long stalemate, Martin relented and nodded.
Amanda stepped into the bathroom and shut the door sharply behind her. For the first time in hours she felt like she was able breathe again and she found herself stood rooted to the spot for a long time sucking in lungfuls of air.
Not wanting Martin or the others to barge in and wonder what was going on, Amanda turned the shower on, dialing up the heat as high as possible, peeled off her clothes and stepped into the bath. The scalding hot liquid washed away all the night’s trauma. The dirt and the blood slid down her body and she watched it disappear down the plughole. Looking down, she noticed a new bruise blooming across her ribs where Farah had dragged her out of the window. It was purple and blue and she let out a hiss when she examined it and prodded it too hard.
When the water began to cool, Amanda switched the shower off and grabbed a towel from the nearby rail. She dried herself quickly and yanked the gym clothes on to avoid cooling down too fast. Standing in front of the mirror, she gathered her wet hair up into a ponytail with a band from around her wrist. She didn’t need to see her reflection to know how bad she must look but the shower had helped her feel closer to human than she had in a while.
Martin was standing by the door when she exited the bathroom. Vogel was laid out on one of the twin beds, Gripps was sat by the door and Cross was nowhere to be seen. She assumed he was outside patrolling or something.
Catching Martin’s eyes take in her new attire, Amanda tried not to look self conscious. The grey track pants were loose and too long for her whilst the vest was on the tight side.
“First thing tomorrow you’re taking me to get something to wear,” she said firmly, making it clear it wasn’t a request.
She attempted not to think about the cleanliness of the sheets as she slid under the covers, or the three men awake in the room as she tried to sleep. With the events of the day still running through her mind, she wasn’t sure sleep would come but as soon as her head hit the pillow she was gone.