Thursday, June 28, 2007
Matthew Crowe was stopped at a red light when he heard the woman scream.
The scream came from his left, and he glanced out the open driver’s-side window at the Folsom Furniture plant. The main warehouse looked the same as it did in his youth, a pile of rust and bricks that resembled a long-dead industrial relic. He would have thought it abandoned. A spotlight shining on an open door at the front of the building and a tractor trailer with FOLSOM in blue letters parked at a loading door told him they were still in business.
He checked the light again; it was still red. He looked back at the open warehouse door. That was bad news. Business owners didn’t make a habit of leaving doors open, especially with thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise sitting behind them. Did something break in, or out? That was the question.
The woman cried out again, this time a hoarse groan. No mistaking it, someone in trouble. He checked—no oncoming cars—and turned left against the light.
As he turned, he heard a second shriek, a low growl that rose in pitch to a keening wail. He felt the shriek reverberate through his guts, felt his stomach and bowels get liquidy. The last time he had heard that sound, there had been blood and pain and cries for mercy. Leaving now was not an option. One of the bastards was after someone.
He gunned the Cavalier’s engine and rolled up the driveway, gravel crunching and popping under the tires. He swung the car into a diagonal parking spot in front of the warehouse. Hope nothing happens to the car. Rental company will be pissed.
When he boarded his plane, he never counted on something like this happening so soon. Ten years out of Lincoln and I run into Them the first night back.
Ten years away, first in the Army Rangers and then in cramped apartments and Motel 6s around the country. Hell of a way to live, collecting newspaper clippings, Internet printouts and interviews about creatures that shouldn’t exist.
But they did exist, and from the sound of it, one of them was on the hunt.
Throwing the car in park, he got out, unlocked the trunk and pulled out the tire iron. If he had an automatic weapon handy, it might be a fair fight, but the tire iron would have to suffice.
The warehouse was separated from a four-story factory building by an alley. At the end of the alley, another spotlight shone like sunlight at the end of a train tunnel. Matt watched for any sign of movement, any shift in the shadows. When nothing rushed from the alley, he moved ahead, tire iron in hand.
The woman cried out again and he heard footsteps flop on the concrete floor of the warehouse. Had she managed to slip away? It sounded that way.
Creeping up on the door, he peered inside the ware house, half expecting the thing inside to pop out and grab him. Here goes, he thought.
He ducked inside and looked up at the three-tiered steel racks, the highest of which ran twenty feet in the air. Crates, pallets and rows of shrink-wrapped furniture went on for what seemed like a mile. It also created hundreds of hiding spots. Moonlight filtered in through the high windows, but instead of providing welcome illumination, it seemed to create more shadows.
He glanced at the door. The bolt was a mangled lump of metal. Likewise for the rings that held the door’s security bar in place. Something wanted to open the doors, and had done so from inside the warehouse.
He ventured a soft, “Hello?”
The woman darted out from under the storage bays and into the center of the aisle. She ducked and scrambled underneath one of the lower racks. The darkness swallowed her up. Dammit, he thought.
He started down the aisle, aware that he could be ambushed from any angle.
A thundering crash behind him. Matt spun around to see a pallet of kitchen chairs piled on the floor. The plastic shrink-wrap had busted, and the chairs’ legs had snapped like kindling.
A second pallet of chairs tumbled down from the third tier and landed on the first pile. Matt realized the assailant was attempting to block the exit. It would not be impossible to leave through the door, but anyone who tried moving the chairs would be an easy target as they attempted to clear the exit.
Now he heard it move, thudding along the top racks, its breath coming in heavy, wet grunts.
Matt searched the racks, trying to get a glimpse of the woman. He crouched down, scanning the crates under the racks. “You in there?”
No answer came, so he continued to the end of the aisle. As he turned left, he heard footsteps, someone in a hurry. He turned quickly, but before he could square his shoulders, something hard and metal smacked his ankle.
Shit, that hurts! he thought, hopping in pain.
The attacker followed up with a shove; already off- balance, Matt toppled over and smacked the concrete. The tire iron clanged to the floor beside him. Being a Good Samaritan hurt like hell.
“You son of a bitch!” the woman said, and pounced on top of him. She raised the crowbar over her head and brought it down like a lumberjack. He blocked the blow, his arm smacking her forearms. The crowbar flew out of her hands and tumbled under a pallet.
Her primary weapon gone, the woman dug her nails into his cheek. He winced but managed to grab her wrists and hold them. “I’m trying to help you, dammit!”
She tried to pull away, but then it dawned on her she couldn’t get loose her shoulders slumped in defeat.
I’m not what dragged you in here, he thought.
“My God,” she said. “I’m sorry.” A tear dribbled down her cheek. He wanted to wipe it away for her but thought better of it.
She was straddling him, and he glanced at her Nike T-shirt. It had been torn across the belly; blood stained the white fabric and had dribbled onto her running shorts. Something had clawed her before she slipped away.
“Thank you,” she said. “For coming in after me.”
In the dim warehouse, her eyes stood out. Pale green, they looked like they could be sniper’s eyes under the right (or wrong) circumstances. She was compact and had the lean, smooth legs of a runner. Her curly black hair was pulled into a ponytail. He took her for about twenty-eight or twenty-nine.
Matt said, “We need to get out of here fast. We’re in here with someone very dangerous.”