If I’d had time, I could have come up with a somewhat believable explanation as to why I was in a school that was supposed to be closed for the weekend. That was if I’d known things weren’t going to go as planned. But I’d suddenly heard hurried footsteps as I made to cut through the kitchen and the sound startled me enough that I had pulled the gun from the pocket of my hoodie just as he appeared. Too late for talking now.
The man was wearing a navy-blue ball cap pulled low over dark hair that covered the tips of his ears and curled on his neck, sported what looked like a weeks-worth of stubble on his chin, dressed in loose-fitting pale blue chambray short sleeved shirt, worn blue jeans, and grass-stained white sneakers. He’d frozen when he saw me and then reached a long arm down to grab the child who had darted ahead of him into the kitchen. The little girl made a frustrated sound and muttered something like “me… ice cream” when she realized she wasn’t going to be able to escape the hand that had hold of the back of her butterfly covered purple tee shirt.
“No,” I warned as he moved. But he wasn’t stepping toward me, he’d inched closer to the child. His head shifted up and I could finally see his face clearly as his eyes met mine. Dark, cold eyes. But the wide-set eyes and high cheekbones of this face were not those of the face I’d studied before I’d come into the school. The man who made it necessary for me to carry the weapon. I was the one with the gun, but I knew this could turn out in the worse possible way. For me.
The gaze left my face and slid down to the Glock I had trained on his shoulder. I saw it on his face. He recognized I didn’t want to use the weapon. Saw that I had no intention of harming the child. I was surprised I was able to read that much on his stone face. I saw his hand move slightly and I took a step backward. He was a big man. Even if I shot him, the full force of a lunge I was sure he’d still make, would send me toppling. I wasn’t a small woman, and I’d had my fair share of self-defense training, but bulk in motion was nothing to take lightly. The hand released the shirt to settle on the dark head of the little girl beside him. She had started to whimper nervously and moved to lean again his leg. The eyes came back to mine. No trouble now reading the emotion I saw burning in those near black eyes. Tension naturally heightens when children are involved. I took two more steps backward, snuck a quick glance toward the doorway to their right and sighed.
“Just let me go,” I said softly.
The request made his eyes go back to the gun, then up again to my face. He frowned, reached down with one arm and drew the now crying toddler up and against him. As the child’s arms went around his neck I took a step sideways and toward the door. He moved as well, out of the pathway. But I knew I wasn’t free and clear. I’d seen enough to know he wasn’t a man to just back away. Making sure the child was safe was the only thing keeping him from taking any kind of action. All his movement meant was he was guessing I wouldn’t shoot unless necessary. If I didn’t move soon I might as well forget about getting to the boiler room. To the man who was supposed to be waiting for me.
I took a couple more steps toward the door. I knew that door was my way out of the kitchen and into the hall that led back to the boilers. I’d studied the map. But the map hadn’t known about the man whose dark eyes were burning into me. Apparently, the man who had sent me in hadn’t known anyone else besides me and the man in the boiler room would be in the school on a Saturday afternoon. I tamped down the anxiousness that was steadily rising.
“I’m not here to hurt you. I have no more than five minutes. Just go. Get her out of here as fast as you can.”
Emotion flickered across his face. His grip on the child tightened and he nodded slightly. “Go,” he growled. For a moment I really wanted to know what he was thinking. But I didn’t have time for anything but to break into a run for the door. I heard heavy footsteps behind me and as I turned toward the boiler room I could hear him running in the opposite direction, the whimpering voice lamenting ice cream.
The whole thing, from the time he’d walked into the kitchen as I was cutting through to the time I reached for the door to the boiler room, hadn’t taken more than three minutes. It had felt like an hour.