Left to Run – Blake Pierce

Beneath an evening sky dripping with the final glimmers of sunlight, Adele glanced at Agent Masse’s trembling hands. His upper lip was beaded with sweat, and his Adam’s apple bobbed as he stared down the barrel of his service weapon. Noting her attention, Adele’s new partner flashed an uneasy smile followed by a quick thumbs-up. The gesture caused Masse to momentarily release his weapon with one hand, before uneasily readjusting his shaky grip. Adele resisted the urge to scowl. Her eyes narrowed over her own sidearm, which pointed steadily down the open-air walkway on the second level of the motel. On their right, a thin, rickety white railing—half rust and half steel—provided a precarious barrier between the stretch of hall and the courtyard below. Backup was delayed—something about a gunman at a gas station that had rerouted most of the units in the area. But they couldn’t wait. Hernandez had proven slippery in the past. For now, all she had was Masse and her own sense of foreboding. Adele glanced over the railing at the rectangular pool; the unnaturally blue water reflected the residue of the evening light in crystalline flashes and gentle motion. A diving board on the opposite side occupied the space next to a metal entry ladder dipped into the water. The heavy scent of chlorine lingered in the air, mingling with the proximate buzz of traffic from the adjacent street. Glimpses of stagnant cars could be spotted through the gaps in the motel’s separate wings.

“Eyes up,” Adele murmured, quietly. Her back pressed into the popcorn siding of the low-rent motel. She felt a trickle of dust against the nape of her neck, but kept her motions steady as she eased forward, sliding along the wall. A woman stared out from a window across the courtyard, owlishly surveying the FBI agents’ approach. Adele glanced at the distant woman and gave a slight shake of her head. The motel tenant ducked out of view behind the window streaked with greasy fingerprints and breath stains. Agent Masse bumped into Adele, jarring her attention back to room A7. She flashed a scowl at her new partner. “Careful,” she muttered in a ghost of a whisper. Masse raised a placating hand, again releasing his grip from his service weapon.

Inwardly, Adele suppressed a groan of frustration. As cantankerous as he was, one thing could be said for John Renee; he despised amateur hour. Now, back in San Francisco, Adele found she missed the tall, scar-faced French agent. Purely professionally, of course. Of course. John was an excellent shot, reliable when faced with danger, and—most importantly—he wouldn’t keep bumping into her outside a killer’s motel room. “Would you stop that, please?” she whispered at last after the third accidental knee into her thigh as they both eased up the walkway. “Sorry,” Agent Masse said, a bit too loudly. Adele stiffened. From within A7, she thought she heard movement.

She stared at the door, her pulse in her ears. Then all fell silent. Adele waited, wetting the edge of her lips, her ears perked, her eyes fixed on the silver door handle beneath the card-reader slot. Jason Hernandez. Suspected of two counts of barbarous murder. Adele had spent the previous week going over the toxicology reports. Jason had pumped his victims full of methamphetamine before bludgeoning them to death in the living room of their own home. Allegedly, she thought to herself. Images flashed through her mind. She pictured crimson stains on an ornately patterned Turkish carpet.

She recalled the horrified expressions of the cleaning staff who’d found Jason’s work. And of course, the crimes had occurred in the Hills. Rich and famous couple murdered? Step aside, homicide, hello, FBI. Adele nodded toward the door, keeping her weapon raised. Her new partner hesitated. She tried not to roll her eyes, but in a fierce whisper said, “Key card. Hurry!” Agent Masse stiffened like a deer caught in headlights. The young agent stared at the side of Adele’s face before her words finally seemed to register. Now moving too quickly, as if to make up for lost time, he hurried past her, rubbing against the rusted white railing facing the pool. His hand darted to his right lapel pocket, where he fiddled with a button.

Adele stared in disbelief. Masse’s cheeks reddened, and he mouthed Sorry while finagling the button a bit more. He couldn’t seem to undo it. With a wince, Masse holstered his weapon and, now with both hands, he reached up and unbuttoned the pocket. Finally, his gun still holstered, he pulled out the key card the motel clerk had provided. With a still quivering hand, the young agent inserted the card in the door. A small green light flashed over the L-shaped handle. Masse stepped back, his young face surveying Adele. She nodded pointedly at his hip. Again, blank face.

“Your weapon,” Adele said, through clenched teeth. Masse’s eyes widened and he quickly unholstered his weapon a second time and leveled it on the door. The windows to A7 were closed, and the curtains blotted out the light. “He’s armed and dangerous,” Adele said, beneath her breath. Normally, the second part of that sentence seemed redundant, but with Masse, she couldn’t be sure. “If you see a weapon, don’t give him the opportunity. Understand?” Agent Masse stared at her, shivering where he stood, but nodded. Adele swallowed, staving off any of her own nerves. She adjusted her grip, feeling the cold heft of her weapon against her cupped hands. She endeavored not to betray her own discomfort—firearms and all they encapsulated had always been her least favorite part of the job.

Masse took a position on the opposite side of the door. With a significant look in her direction, he reached out with his right hand, his left still holding his weapon, gripped the door handle, and then— The door banged open. A wild shout emitted from within and someone slammed into the faux wood from the other side, sending Masse reeling. Her partner fired once, twice—without aiming. Agent Masse was sent stumbling to the ground by the continued momentum of the door. The bullets struck the ceiling. A blur of motion burst from within the motel room, streaking onto the walkway. The blur held something metal glinting in one hand. A weapon? No. Too small.

The figure didn’t turn left or right, and instead, with a shout, dove over the railing, lunging toward the pool below. The sound of Adele’s curse chorused with the loud splash! Adele trained her weapon and took three quick side-steps of controlled motion toward the railing. Her eyes flitted to the blue pool, then darted to the circling hedges. She leveled her weapon on the retreating form below… …and recognized him immediately from his sheared head down to the twisting tattoos of two snakes looping over his ears and curling at the base of his neck. The tongues of the snakes intertwined, tied in a knot between his shoulder blades. Jason Hernandez wasn’t wearing a shirt. He had a bit of a paunch, and his baggy pants were soaked against him now, but this didn’t stop the man from pulling himself with grunts out of the pool, then stumbling away from the edge, dripping wet and gasping as he tried to hop the hedge. He ended up tripping and cracking branches, landing in the brush, before—spitting and cursing in Spanish—he regained his feet and hurried toward the gap between the two wings of the motel, heading for the busy street. Adele’s finger tightened on the trigger, her teeth clenched. “Stop!” she shouted.

He didn’t. Again, she spotted something metal clutched tight in his right hand. A knife? A clear shot. She had him in her sights. But no—he was unarmed. Most killers didn’t need weapons though. Alleged killer, she reminded herself. Adele lowered her weapon and raced past where her partner was still trying to recover from a motel room door to the face. His nose poured blood and he had a dazed look where he sat massaging his chin. Adele hurtled past, yelling, “He’s getting away!” She sped to the end of the walkway without looking back.

No footsteps echoed in pursuit, suggesting her new partner was out of commission for at least a bit longer. Adele set her jaw as she reached the circling metal stairs and flung herself down them three at a time. Firearms were not her forte. But finding criminals was. She circled the stairs with leaping strides, watching as Jason raced toward the street. Adele lost sight of him as she cleared the staircase and also moved toward the street. But after a few strides, she pulled up short and hesitated, gasping, next to the browning shrubbery circling the blue water. Would Jason really use the busy street? People would see him. This part of the city was patrolled rather heavily. Jason would know this.

Her mind flipped back to the flash of metal she’d spotted in his hand. A knife? No. A weapon? Too small. Keys. They had to be. Her eyes flitted briefly back toward the walkway above. Keys to the motel? No. They’d used a keycard. She turned away from the street, her eyes scanning the length of the second wing of the motel around which the suspect had disappeared. Would he double back? Car keys—they had to be, right? Jason’s truck was in the motel’s parking lot; they’d seen it on their way in.

Adele nodded to herself and then, instead of heading for the gap between the buildings which led to the street, she turned and sprinted in the opposite direction. The motel’s parking lot was situated behind the buildings, hedged up against a large wooden fence, and bordered on all four corners by new red dumpsters with black lids. A hunch. But sometimes a hunch was all an agent had to go on. Adele could hear sirens in the distance, but they were still faint. She was on her own. She glanced back over her shoulder toward the stairs, noticing her partner slowly moving down, a dazed look still on his face as he shook his head. He staggered a bit, blood still streaming from his nose. Adele exhaled a resigned sigh as she hotfooted in the direction of the parking lot. She hopped another small hedge, grateful for all the time she spent jogging in the mornings.

She hurried along the side of the registration office, and then sidled past a chain-link fence and a red dumpster positioned at the back of the offices. The odor of two-week-old garbage wafted on the air and clung to her clothing. She ignored the smell and grunted as a jutting section of fence snagged her suit; a quiet rip, a flash of pain. But she pushed through, ignoring the tear through her outfit. Adele slid between the chain-link fence and the odoriferous dumpster before pulling up short and staring at the large black truck with jutting mirrors. The vehicle parked halfway between two spots behind a minivan. The front door to the truck hung open. Jason was already scrambling into the driver’s seat. He shot a look in her direction, then cursed loudly before slamming the front door and jamming his keys in the ignition. She heard a muffled rattling sound, and a string of oaths in Spanish.

She raised her weapon, pointing it at the window. “Stop or I’ll shoot!” she yelled. But Mr. Hernandez ignored her. He continued fumbling with the keys. Finally, at last, the engine revved. Jason stared out the window, his eyes wide in panic. The twisting tattoo of the two snakes seemed to pulse against his skin, and veins protruded from his temples. He muttered something she couldn’t hear through the glass, then shifted into gear. He slammed the gas.

There was a squeal of tires, and the truck darted forward, nearly colliding with the office building. Jason cursed inaudibly and readjusted his gear shift before glancing over his shoulder and preparing to reverse. Unlike the motel, Jason’s truck was in immaculate condition. The windows were clean, and the truck itself didn’t carry a single chip or dent. Some of the eyewitnesses who’d seen Hernandez follow his supposed victims home had claimed it all started when Mr. Carter nearly rear-ended Jason’s truck. Adele kept her weapon trained and braced herself, shoulders set, feet apart. “Stop, FBI!” she shouted. “Agent Sharp!” a voice called over her shoulder. For the briefest moment, she flinched and glanced back.

Masse was stumbling through the building nearest Jason—clearly he’d run around the street, going the long way. But now, this meant he was closer to the truck than she was. Masse spotted Jason; the young agent’s eyes widened, and he raised his weapon. “Wait!” Adele snapped. But Masse unloaded three rounds. Two struck the hood of the truck; the third shattered both windows, piercing clean through one and out the other. None of them hit Jason Hernandez. But, through the now scattered glass of the truck’s window frame, Adele had a good long look at Jason’s expression. He was no longer fiddling with the wheel or the ignition. He stared through the shattered glass, his eyes wide as if haunted, his features pale now.

He stared at the smashed pieces of glass, and then his eyeline traced the hood of his car toward the two smoking bullet holes in the front of his beloved vehicle. “Puta!” he screeched. Hernandez scrambled across the seat and flung open the passenger door before stumbling out. He was now on the opposite side of the vehicle from Adele, but closer to Masse. Adele tried to hold her posture, but growled in frustration; she’d lost line of sight. She moved quickly, still with controlled motions, trying to keep the two quantities within field of vision as she hastily circled the parking lot. Jason started toward Agent Masse, ignoring the gun waving in his face and Adele skirting around from behind. As she repositioned, Adele glimpsed his expression: Jason’s eyes were dilated, blood vessels throbbing in his neck and forehead. “Cavron!” he screeched, glancing from his ruined truck to the FBI agent who’d shot it. He seemed entirely indifferent, or perhaps unaware, regarding the weapon in Masse’s still trembling hands.

Adele’s earlier cry of “Wait!” only now seemed to register with Masse. His trigger finger was still white against the mechanism, but he seemed frozen. He waited, hesitating, glancing between Adele and the approaching form of Hernandez. He hesitated for a second too long. “No—don’t!” Adele shouted, but too late. Jason surged forward, ducking Masse’s line of fire, and tackled the young agent around the waist, sending both of them clattering to the sidewalk. Adele rushed forward, looking for an opening, her weapon raised. The cold concrete of the parking lot and the safety barrier provided a harsh surface against which Masse’s shoulder blades slammed once, twice as he tried to rise. But Jason snarled, punching and scratching the agent’s eyes. “Get off him!” Adele shouted.

Then she fired. Masse loosed a cry of terror. Hernandez, though, grunted in pain, spinning like a top and slamming into the ground next to the agent he’d tackled. “First one is the arm,” Adele snapped, weapon trained on Hernandez. “Keep struggling and the next is going in your chest, understand?” The sound of cursing and crying faded from Jason’s direction where he rolled back and forth, his teeth flashing as they gritted in pain, and he pressed his head against the rough sidewalk. Rivulets of red stained his fingers. Every few moments he would look away from his injured arm and turn toward his steaming truck, shaking his head with a renewed anguish. Adele sighed, then put her hand to her battery-powered field radio. “We’re going to need medical,” she said. She glanced between her partner, who was still shakily getting to his feet, and Hernandez’s writhing form.

She sighed again. “Better make it two.” Then, with a roll of her eyes, she approached Jason, handcuffs emerging from her belt.

.

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