October the 8th 2033, Saturday
The cab pulled up to the curb, squeaky breaks announcing its presence. Precisely why she stopped far from her destination. After handing the cabbie a fifty, she clutched the canvas bag, exited without a word and hustled toward the shadows surrounding the nearby buildings. A tiny strip mall with a gourmet pizza shop, cigar bar and bakery marked the end of the business side of Main Street. None were open, not a surprise considering the time. Sporadic traffic came through the drag as she walked north in the direction of the Sunny Hill Apartments.
She studied the area trying to determine where exactly she was in New Jersey. Upper Edgewater was near the New York boarder considering the travel time but far from any destination she’d ever had in the state. Not her preferred locale, the town seemed upper first class.
Dina returned her attention to the problem at hand. She needed to make contact. She cleared her head, breathed in the crisp fall air. With no thoughts cluttering her concentration, she tried reaching out to Duncan. Connecting from a distance was a difficult task but she had to try. All her energy targeted Duncan while she continued down the street.
She willed him to hear.
A half a block later she felt the beginnings of a headache and stopped trying to link with him. Same results every time she tried in the last few days. Rubbing her temple, Dina sped up, fearing what she would find when she arrived.
Duncan always answered her. He’d never let three days go by without contact, no matter what they may or may not be arguing about. This wasn’t like ignoring a phone call. He couldn’t turn his head off, unless he was hurt or dead. Since she knew he was alive, the former applied. How hurt and why swirled around her head like gnats.
The answers lie ahead.
Dina reached the soccer park on the corner, swung her head around taking in the location. She crossed the street. Two of the blocks had rows of houses as far as she could see. On the corner opposite the park, an old Victorian house converted into a hair salon stuck out like a sore bright pink thumb. Dina waved off the bitter chemical smell coming from the back of the property and continued down the sidewalk. Houses on both sides eventually gave way to larger lawns and industrial buildings. She weaved through the curved road until it ended. Beyond a large patch of woods, she noticed the sign for the hidden apartments.
The two-story u shaped building came into full view a few steps later. She slowed, reached into her bag and retrieved a pair of binoculars. Dina stopped at the hedges, set the binoculars for night and peered through them. Each section of the u had an apartment, six in total. Duncan’s address was 2B, which logically should put him in the upper middle section, right where she couldn’t see from this vantage point. She lowered the binoculars and attempted one last time to link with Duncan.
Knowing he was here and not responding to her definitely pissed her off, mostly because it scared her and she hated fear more than anything else. That fear brought her here. Considering what it took these days to shake her in her boots, Dina would never fail Duncan when it counted. Never. No matter what.
Deep breath, followed by a slow, relaxed exhale helped her to clear the clutter from her overworked brain. It took a few extra seconds this time, but Dina did what she had to and reached out to Duncan. At first, thinking his name then silently asking him to hear her.
Answer me, please, let me know you’re okay.
Another pinch of a headache came before a reply. Focusing on the pain kept the fear tied back. She cut across the lawn leading toward the main entrance. She sauntered up the concrete walkway heading for the door, glancing to the second story windows, none of which showed any light.
“Can I help you?” a gruff voice asked.
Dina lowered her eyes to a tall, beefy, ginger kid of about twenty standing before her in some Men in Black get up, minus the sunglasses. “No,” she muttered, turned her torso away from him while slowing her steps.
“Afraid I can’t let you in,” he said, raising a hand and altering his steps sideways to meet her.
“And who are you, carrot top?”
He grabbed her wrist, jerking her off balance. “Sorry, you’re going to have to leave the premises. This is private property.”
“Whoa,” she snapped, kicked his thigh hard enough to make him tumble back a step. “Don’t touch me. And this is an apartment building.”
Ego perhaps, led to overkill when he straightened full height and pointed a gun at her. “Look, don’t want trouble or a mess, lady. Leave.”
Dina looked the man right in the eyes. No longer a rookie, but not quite a seasoned pro, he peered back trying to seem tougher than he was. She didn’t need the link to get to the truth but used it anyway just to be certain. He stared, waiting for an answer, and only when she felt a solid connection did she speak: “Do you know who lives here?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“Then I don’t trust you and I’m done playing around with a rent-a-cop,” she replied, approaching him with a no bullshit stare. “Just put it down.”
“Can’t do that.” He debated his own words for a moment, fighting, then reaffirmed his grip and straightened his arms, the barrel pressed into her collar bone. “Ma’am—”
Dina didn’t let him finish. She swept his legs, butting him backwards at the same time with a fist pound to his shoulder. Before he landed she pressed her palm against his forehead. “Sleep.”
The man thudded to the ground, eyes shut, peacefully breathing despite the impact. Dina grabbed the gun, popped the clip, de-cocked the loaded shell, and threw all three pieces in separate directions before heading through the main doors. Half expecting another security guard or two, she smirked in pleasant surprise when she made it to the stairs unseen. A quick glance down each hallway yielded nothing of interest, so Dina jogged up, staying on the balls of her feet when she reached the landing. Inching along the wall, she neared the edge to listen. With her eyes closed her hearing grew sharper and a slight breath of life filled her ears.
Someone guarded Duncan’s door.
Never one to shy away from her gifts, even if it came down to her looks, Dina knew how to do what needed doing in just about any given situation. Playing the flirt was easiest. She unzipped the black leather jacket to the middle of her breast line to show just enough cleavage and red satin bra for attention. After peeling off her gloves and shoving them in her back pocket, she shifted her canvas bag to casual mode draped on her shoulder.
Dina rounded the corner, stopped short, and flashed a wicked-sweet grin. “Oh, hi.”
“Can I help you?” an equally ginger kid, though this one slightly older and by the looks of him probably related.
“Is Duncan home? I’m 1B,” she said, pointing backwards. “He has my spare.” She must have done something wrong because he removed his weapon and shoved it upward. Her hands shot up in protest. “Whoa, slick.”
“How did you get up here?”
No time to think, Dina reacted as quickly as she could, met his eyes and forced a link between them. Her anxiety, the fear of whatever happened to Duncan and even a bit of guilt fueled her emotions making the link stronger, quicker. Exactly what she needed. “Put the gun down.”
“Can’t do that,” he repeated the same line as his mate like some clone. She couldn’t risk an itchy trigger finger so she reasserted her control and repeated the order to lower the gun. Slowly the guard began dropping his arm. “Okay.”
“Open the door,” she demanded.
“Okay,” he replied and promptly unlocked the door with several taps on a glowing blue keypad. Oddly high-tech for her brother, but perhaps part of the puzzle too. Dina approached the guard, still in his slight trance, placed her palm to his forehead and put him to sleep too.
He slid to the ground, Dina entered the darkened apartment. Specks of light came from the bottoms of doorframes, not nearly enough to see anything clearly. She stepped lightly, slowly, letting her eyes to adjust. Dina paused at the edge of the dim hallway light to listen again. This time she heard no breathing, took a few more steps.
Someone touched her shoulder.
It wasn’t Duncan.
Dina instinctively grabbed his wrist, crouched and jerked the man forward, tossing him over her shoulder. He landed flat on his back. Before she could stand straight, a dark hand shot out, latching onto her ankle. She spun, attempting to kick him away, but he was much bigger and stronger than the two lackeys guarding the building. One hard tug and she fell to her knees. Without light, without sight, she was practically helpless. Dina scrambled toward the door. The man dragged her back as he began to stand.
His boot slammed into her stomach shooting pain through her body. Dina coughed, cradled her body trying not to vomit from the sheer force. She looked up, the man had a weapon in her face. When he squeezed the trigger she heard Duncan shout.