He eased the car a block up the street, and turned left into the parking lot with the neon bodywork sign overlooking it from a second-floor window. How was it that he had never noticed it before? A quartet of lampposts shed cones of light onto the otherwise dark parking lot. Eddie slalomed around the bright spots and parked in a dark corner from which he could see both the front of the building and Solid Rock down the street. His was the only car in the lot. Eddie exited the car, quietly closed and locked the door, and jogged to the front door of the building.
Ducking inside, he found himself in a rectangular two-story lobby with a staircase that wrapped around the perimeter so that climbers faced four different directions before arriving on the second-floor landing. From the landing you could look down at the front door or straight out a large central window that overlooked the parking lot. An archway opened from the landing into a long, poorly lit hallway with doors on both sides. A sign on the first door on the left identified Ace Massage. The door was locked. Eddie was about to ring the bell when some motion outside caught his attention.
A vehicle was entering the lot at a good clip. Rather than sliding into one of the marked parking spaces, it zoomed right up to the sidewalk in front of the glass doors and stopped so hard that the front end dove. Cops or robbers? Probably someone who really needs a restroom right this minute.
Eddie stepped back to the landing. He heard three vehicle doors open and shut. Okay, it’s not a guy who couldn’t wait. The front door of the building opened, and a group of people spilled in—two Asian women closely followed by two men. Neither girl was Nicole. The women started across the lobby, but the taller of the two men grabbed their arms. “This way,” he growled, herding them roughly toward the stairs.
Bully boy was vampire pale, dressed all in black and wearing a white man’s afro. Behind him trailed a suntanned body builder type with an ugly mug. Something was familiar—
Loudmouth! That physique and the hard lines of that face couldn’t be mistaken. And the other guy was probably Ronnie Big Hair. His appearance matched Eddie’s memory of the visitor he had glimpsed in Solid Rock’s sanctuary the night of the big meeting with Bowers. Seeing Loudmouth and rbh together proved the sinister purpose of Ronnie’s visit to the church last year. Shawna had been right. These people tried to kill me.
Eddie ducked into the hallway before they turned the first corner on the stairs. This was not a good place for a confrontation—there wasn’t much room to maneuver. And they’d use the girls as shields or hostages. Think! They’ll be here any second.
He hurried past Ace Massage and took a ninety-degree right into an even narrower passage just as he heard the first footsteps come through the archway behind him. They stopped in front of the door to the massage parlor. After a few seconds the door opened and a woman’s voice said something Eddie couldn’t quite make out. He heard the foursome trooping in. Then a voice he knew all too well said, “Wait a minute. Give me the key to the bathroom.”
A door to Eddie’s left had a sign identifying it as a restroom. Five seconds later, footsteps were coming down the hall toward him. The only other door off this hallway was to a janitor’s closet at the end. A yellow bucket with wheels and a mop leaned against that door. Heart pounding, Eddie grabbed the mop and used it to wheel the bucket out into the main hallway just as Loudmouth was turning the corner. The little ruffian had to turn sideways to avoid a collision.
“Oh—excuse me, sir.” Eddie mumbled the words mostly to the floor, barely looking up at the man as he passed. He hoped that Loudmouth would not really register his presence, that the mop and bucket would grant him a menial laborer’s standard cloak of invisibility. He kept his shoulders slumped, his walk that of a tired man who was resigned to a joyless job. He turned right at the corner and headed to the back of the building. He felt rather than saw Loudmouth’s eyes on him.
Will he recognize me after almost a year?
“Hey,” Loudmouth said to his back. “What happened to the regular janitor I always see in here?”
“Couldn’t tell you. Don’t know him. I’m just a temp.” Eddie spoke over his shoulder, without changing his pace. He briefly wondered if lying to evil people for a good cause was a bad thing.He could still feel Loudmouth watching him as he went through the exit door at the far end of the hall.
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