Chapter 1 - Prologue
No one takes much notice of the young girl when she slips into the tavern. She quickly shoves the door shut behind her, only allowing a few snowflakes to blow inside and melt on the wooden floor. She moves swiftly through the nearly-empty dining room and into the bathroom after taking a peak at the bar in the next room.
Its high stools don't hold many patrons, most of whom balance precariously. The shelves of bottles reflect the dim light from the overhead fixtures, bathing the whole room in a warm glow. The harsh fluorescents of the bathroom are a strong contrast and she blinks her eyes to adjust.
A flush comes from one of the stalls and she ducks into the open one. She reads the drunken messages and phone numbers left in permanent marker while she waits for the woman to leave. As soon as she is alone, she dials a number on her phone.
"Change of plans. Don't go inside. It could be dangerous," the voice on the other end says immediately. The girl doesn't respond. "You're already inside aren't you? Your uncle is going to have my head."
"I just wanted…"
"Stay where you are. Don't talk to anyone." Click. She resumes deciphering the drunken scrawls. When the bathroom door swings open again, a familiar voice drifts inside.
"Joey!" Neither the speaker nor the one addressed have a reason to be there as far as she knows.
Does Headquarters know they're here? Do they know it could be dangerous?
"I thought you were supposed to be on-call this week," slurs a drunken David loudly. Not good. They all need to get out of there, especially with David in such a state. The girl sidles from the restroom, making sure not to draw attention to herself. Her destination - the long wooden bar that dwarfs the rest of the quaint room - seems so close, but she never gets a chance to quietly ask to speak with David outside.
"Hey Sammy! I thought you had a job for Mr. G tonight." Busted. She is unable to hide the shock from her face. In her moment of bewilderment, she is quickly trapped in strong arms from behind. With the reflexes of a trained professional, her limbs fly and she wriggles free… barely. The bartender and another man hurdle the bar, heading for Joe and David. The latter breaks a bottle over the man's head while Joe dodges his attacker with ease.
The trio is sprinting at the door when a gun explodes. The bullet may have hit David if he hadn't stumbled over a chair and Samantha is sure she feels the air ripple as the projectile passes her head before breaking a sconce less than a foot away. She freezes with her hand on the door, weighing her options.
If she were alone, she'd be halfway across the parking lot by now. The gravel would be kicking up by her feet as she escaped the range of the guns. She wouldn't slow down and soon the bar would be left behind in the dark. She can't leave them though. They'd be even worse off than the sticky situation they are in now.
"No sudden movements, Miss. Hands on your head and take a couple steps away from that door." The man who shot the gun is obviously in charge here. "Come on now. Slowly," he coaxes, tearing her from her thoughts. Having no other option, she does as she's told.
Her brow crinkles slightly, as she assesses the situation. Outnumbered. Five to three… well the third is slumped over vomiting after the short adrenaline rush. Her hand itches to reach for her gun, heavy on her hip, after realizing there is only one weapon visible and threatening. Joe should have one too, assuming he is actually on call. The two glance at each other, both at a loss as to how to proceed.
Their decision is quickly made for them as their backup charges through the door, startling everyone from the handful of petrified customers who are too stunned to escape, to the bartenders and busboys, to the group requiring backup. Her eyebrows pull closer together as she scans the help that has arrived. Mr. O'Riley stands out - a captain and very talented man - but she doesn't recognize the other five on his heels. They have the numbers now, but these guys must be fairly new.
In a flurry of movement with flashes of metal, guns are drawn on both sides. The room falls silent. Only occasional heavy breathing can be heard. It feels as if time has paused for a moment while each individual analyzes the situation and evaluates their options. It is impossible to consider every scenario - too many factors, too many people crowding this building.
"Bring her over here." It is the man that shot the gun what seems like so long ago. No one seems surprised that he is the first to speak, but it does snap everyone from their thoughts. Time is no longer paused, but it still feels slower than before. Only two men are no longer frozen. They have both taken a step towards Samantha when she realizes she is the only "her" there.
She stands firmly between the two groups, gun drawn now in an unwavering hand. Her pursuers hesitate until their leader speaks up. "Put it down." He sounds amused.
"Or what?" is her quick response, which is met with a chorus of chuckles.
"Where did you find her, Mr. O'Riley?" Samantha snaps around to see Mr. O'Riley's reaction to this direct address. She is surprised they know each other, but Mr. O'Riley isn't fazed.
"I'm…" Samantha is quickly cut off. She allows the interruption from Mr. O'Riley, being more confused than insulted.
"This is Mr. Colman's niece," he lies. The man in charge nods his head in approval at the mention of another captain that he is apparently familiar with. Samantha can no longer suppress the utter confusion that has been threatening to spread across her face.
Who is this man? Why does he know these prominent men? Why doesn't she have any idea who he is?
The grip on her gun loosens as she struggles to figure out the situation before her. Stupid mistake. It is jerked out of her hands by some invisible force to go sailing across the room into the hand of the man in question. Confusion quickly turns to disappointment on her young, transparent face as he tosses her weapon to the ground.
"Now bring her over here." Her resisting is useless as she is easily overpowered by his two cronies and brought to the ring master of this little circus. He pulls her close after she is handed over and runs his gun through her hair, causing her squirming to recommence. "Don't do that, miss, unless you want a bullet buried…"
"Enough!" Finally Mr. O'Riley speaks up. "What are your terms?" This inquiry sends a smile across her captor's face.
"My terms?" he sneers. "I had planned on killing the lot of you. You may be talented sir, but an old captain, a couple drunkards, and a bunch of children aren't exactly a force to be reckoned with." His tone drips with condescension, especially when commenting on the youngness of the group. New recruits have no place here even if they are of age, but how could anyone expect something so routine to turn into such a mess?
Wasn't that why she was here? This wasn't supposed to be dangerous.
"But I'd consider keeping this one. She has potential. What do you think about that?" He leans in so that his face is nearly touching Samantha's. Her response is to elbow him in the stomach, which earns her a bruise-worthy knock to the head with his gun. She doesn't cry out, but the sound of metal on bone is plenty loud and the anger coloring her face is enough indication of what she's thinking.
Mr. O'Riley sees this, and he knows he really ought to do something. Samantha senses that something is still strange with Mr. O'Riley and she won't be getting much help there. This is clear to her so she decides to take matters into her own hands.
The countdown on her fingers begins at five. Her splayed palm is clearly visible to her group. Four… the looks on the newbies' faces mean they see the countdown and know they will have to act soon. Three…