Part 8: The finale. You can read the previous parts here:
You see, this is why you don’t follow strangers through the streets. Sam had to bite her lip to keep the snide response to her inner thoughts from slipping out. Now would be a terrible time to talk to herself. She glanced at her dead phone and then at the stony faces of the men. There were three of them, and they stood frozen with indecision. The pistol was still aimed at Ilia’s head, but the wielder’s finger lay along the slide instead of on the trigger. That had to be a good sign, right?
The loud trilling of a ring tone shattered the silence, startling Sam. She covered her wildly leaping heart with her palm and frowned. At first, she’d thought it had been hers that had jangled to life, but the screen was still dark. One of the men answered his cell phone with a greeting in a language she was thinking might be Russian.
The conversation was terse, and the man pressed end and nodded at the others. He and another of the men left the room, leaving the man with the gun and Ilia behind. The gun wielder shifted so that his back was turned entirely to her. Ninja-ballerina time.
Sam carefully extracted herself from between the boxes and crept forward. If Ilia saw her, he gave no indication, his face remaining placid and his eyes unfocused. As she moved, she reached into the open crate and snatched up a vase. The plastic covering rustled slightly, and the man began to turn toward her, but she swung the vase down. It shattered across his skull and rained down on the pavement. The man stood for a moment, and she thought him unphased, but then his knees buckled, and he landed with a loud thud on the floor.
Ilia was on his feet in a flash, though he seemed unsteady. He snatched up the gun and then turned his frown on Sam.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Her eyelids narrowed, and she crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m saving your ass. I thought that was apparent.”
A smile teased at one corner of his lips for a moment before he squelched it. “Damn it, Sam. This is bad.”
“They’re coming back.”
Ilia tensed and turned toward the door. “Hide.”
Sam ignored him and stooped over the unconscious man. She patted his chest and pant pockets, just like the cops always did in the mystery books she’d loved in her youth. Ninja-ballerina-cop. She nearly snorted but resisted the urge.
“Now.” He growled the word and waved his hands at her in a shooing motion.
If she’d had a gun, she might have shot him for that. God, she hated being shooed. Her hand landed on something hard and rectangular, and she almost whooped. She pulled the phone from the man’s breast pocket and dashed back to her hiding spot. The door swung open, and someone swore, this time in English. Her eye found the gap between the crates and came to rest on Anton. He and four others stood in the doorway, their mouths agape.
Ilia had hefted the unconscious man and held him upright with one arm wrapped around his neck. With his other hand, he pressed the gun to the man’s temple. “Drop your weapons.”
Anton shook his head. “I don’t think so. I always knew there was something off about you. You a cop, Leiv?”
Ilia’s smile sent a chill down Sam’s spine. “No, and my name is not Leiv. It’s Ilia Samarin.”
Anton’s face paled, and one of the other men said something in Russian (she was sure it was Russian at this point, if only because Anton and Ilia were both definitely Russian).
Ilia responded in the fluid language and then to Anton he said, “Did you think you could steal from Alexander and get away with it?”
Anton pressed his lips together. His jaw muscle jumped, and he seemed about ready to argue with Ilia, but he remained silent. Ilia’s bicep bulged with the effort to keep the unconscious man upright. It was a beautiful thing, really, and Sam found herself lost for a moment, studying the perfect form of his arms.
Not the time. Pull it together before he gets himself shot. There was something about the confident splay of his shoulders and determined set of his jaw that put her at ease, perhaps a little too at ease. She pulled in a deep breath and studied the cell phone in her hand. Calling the cops wasn’t an option. Someone would hear her, and she would end up getting herself and Ilia shot for sure. Her finger hovered over the screen for a second and then typed in her sister’s number and created a new message.
The conversation at the front of the room was becoming more heated, the strange language flowing at an incredible rate.
Kirsten, it’s Sam. I’m in trouble.
Sam? Whose phone number is this? Did u drink another bottle of wine all by urself?
Mixed up with some seriously bad ppl. Hiding. They have guns. Pls call 911. 1645 Pier Drive
Jesus. On it. Call when ur safe.
“Are you here to kill us?” Anton asked the question as if it was of little consequence, as if he were merely talking about swatting at flies.
Ilia shook his head. “My job is to confirm the location of Alexander’s possessions and send proof of who is responsible for stealing them. How he chooses to punish you is not my business or my concern.”
Anton’s nostrils flared out. “Only a snake would turn men over to the likes of Alexander.”
“You’re not men. You’re rats, and you deserve whatever comes of this.”
Anton drew his gun so quick that it seemed to materialize out of the air. The crack of gunfire was deafening. Ilia cried out and spun as blood sprayed outward from him. Sam screamed and jumped backward. She gasped and tried to slow the thundering of her heart.
Anton’s snarled words spurred Sam into action. She threw herself into the tower of crates. They rocked away from her, back toward her, and then toppled over, sending the men scrambling in all directions. As they dodged the falling debris, she darted for the door. Something whistled past her ear, like an angry wasp, and she flinched away from it. A look over her shoulder revealed that Anton was in pursuit, his gun aimed at her.
She whipped around the corner just as he fired again. Her lungs burned as she raced toward the front of the warehouse. She ducked into an office and tucked herself under a large desk. So much for the heroine she’d always believed she would be in a moment of crisis. Tears slid down her cheeks, and she gulped at the air, trying to catch her breath. Her heart was so loud that she was certain Anton would hear it if he came into the room.
“Find her. Ilia may not have told Alexander yet. We may be able to find a way out of this mess.” Anton’s harsh voice echoed from the hallway just beyond the office door.
Sam pulled her thighs tight against her chest and leaned her forehead against her knees. She couldn’t stop those damned tears, but she fought to keep the sob trapped in her throat, rather than voicing it.
“Are you in here, love?” Anton’s charm was all grease as he called to Sam. “I think we got off to the wrong start. Just come out. I won’t hurt you, I promise.”
His shoes came into view, though the desk hid the rest of him. Sam bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut. Her heart leaped at the action, and she snapped her eyes open again. She felt about ready to puke.
You picked the most obvious hiding spot possible. Smart.
His shoes shifted and the dim light spilling in from a nearby window turned the black leather gray. He was coming around the desk. Sweat beaded on Sam’s forehead and her shoulder muscles tensed. This was not how she’d imagined she would die. She’d always thought it would be as an old lady surrounded by hoards of cats and countless dusty books.
Sirens rang out in the distance, swelling in volume, and her heart skittered in reaction. Anton cursed, and she watched as his feet retreated out of sight. She could hear him yelling in Russian and then the sound of the bay door at the front of the warehouse rolling open. The sirens grew louder as the rest of the building fell silent.
Just as she was about to crawl from under the desk, someone moved in the hallway.
Ilia? Her heart squeezed, and she rushed from the desk, cracking her head against the overhead drawer as she made her exit.
“Sam?” Ilia cut her off with his question. He turned into the office, following the sound of her voice. “Oh, thank God.”
“Oh, Ilia.” Sam raced to him, wrapping her arms around him and nearly knocking him off his feet. He grunted and swayed unsteadily. Sam leaned back and frowned at him. “I thought you were dead. How bad is the wound?”
He shrugged and then winced as the action pulled at the bullet hole in his shoulder. “I’ll survive.”
Sam guided him to the ground and helped him lean back against a wall. Shaking, she fumbled for a few minutes before managing to pull the stolen cell phone from her pocket and dial 911. She quickly related the events and requested an ambulance and then disregarded the dispatcher’s request to stay on the line. Instead, she pressed end and then turned her attention to Ilia once more.
“You’re bleeding pretty heavily.” She placed her palm over the wound and pushed down, ignoring his hissed protest.
“And you are a devil woman.”
“Do you need to leave before the cops get here?” Don’t ask that! You aren’t seriously considering helping him flee from the police, are you? Sam clenched her teeth together. God, she drove herself mad sometimes.
Ilia chuckled. It was a deep sound, and it washed over her in pleasant waves. “No, I don’t need to go on the lam. I’ve done nothing wrong here.”
“That’s right. I forgot you are only a vacuum belt salesman.”
His smile was wide, and it caused dimples to crease in both of his cheeks. God, that smile was unfair. No man should be able to smile like that.
“I’m a private investigator.”
Sam scowled at him. “Right. And Alexander is what? A benevolent aristocrat?
“No, Alexander is a dangerous man. He is a Russian businessman with few scruples and a penchant for violence. He assumed that the people who stole from him would not be stupid enough to sell his property in Russia, so he reached out to me to determine if they’d shipped it here.”
“But Anton recognized your name. I doubt he reacted the way he did because he knew you were a PI.”
“He recognized my last name, Samarin. My father worked for Alexander, just as his father before him. But he wanted a different life for me, so he sent my mother and me to the States when I was ten. I grew up here in Portland.”
“If that’s true, why get involved with a man like Alexander at all?”
“Well, for one, it isn’t wise to turn down Alexander. I made it clear that I did not wish to work for him, but that I didn’t mind doing a favor, so long as it didn’t force me to break any laws.”
“I wish I could trust you; it’s just…” Sam’s voice trailed off, and she issued a heavy sigh.
“I know. I don’t expect you to believe a word I say right now. But I do intend to prove to you the kind of man I am, once I’m all patched up. If you’ll let me, that is.”
She smiled and nodded at him. “I think I might need more than just a few Thomas Hardy books for all my heroics tonight, though.”
“It’s a deal.”
I was challenged by a friend to write a story about a dull woman who becomes interesting. This is the final post! I hope you enjoyed the fruits of this challenge.