Note: This book contains mild language.
By Eve Estelle
Description: Elena Belletori, a woman with a grudge against society, fights injustice with a vengeance - but when she is recruited by a like-minded organization, it turns out to be more than she bargained for.
(New to Renegade? Start here)
It didn't take me long to make my way over to 110th street. It wasn't far from the run-down property - couple of blocks, at most. Sure enough, though, the tiny lot of the Park 'n Go convenience store was littered with shattered glass. I peered out from behind the building next door, taking care that I wasn't noticed by the small crowd now gathering by what used to be the front entrance to the store - except now the metal frames that once held a pair of doors were bent out of shape and partly ripped from their hinges. Most of the people there were talking to one another, but a few were on their cell phones, presumably calling 911 or family or friends that may have been in the area at the time of the robbery. They were folks of all shapes and sizes, some wearing expressions of worry, while others wore expressions of curiosity, even amusement.
I looked past the gawking faces, quickly studying the scene and taking in as many details as I could. You always wanted as much information on your target as you could possibly get before confronting them, and analyzing the crime scene is a great way to get an idea of how your suspect operates. In this case, the excessive amounts of broken glass scattered around the lot told me that the thief was far from professional, but I would bet money that he had committed several similar acts before, simply because of the unnecessary damage that was done. Of course, the fact that he obviously did little to hide what he was doing from onlookers was also a blatant sign that he was reckless. Fun. Whether he was a danger-loving daredevil or simply a careless prick, reckless wrongdoers often commit the stupidest, most deadly errors. Don't know about you, but I'd really prefer not to end up as a little red stain on the floor.
After a few seconds of quiet rubbernecking, I felt I had seen enough. Time to get moving. Whoever had done this would likely still be close, but the longer I diddled around the farther away they would get. Garrett had texted me a short list of locations our transgressor had reportedly been seen at recently, so I dug my phone out of my pocket and shot a quick glance at the screen to figure out my next move. The obvious choice would be to head to the nearest area first, but when you're chasing a fugitive, you have to think like the fugitive. Now, if you had just robbed a popular convenience store, held a few people at gunpoint, and were now running from the law, where would you run to? Probably not to the building next door. You would want to get as far away from the scene as possible, avoiding places that were routinely searched, poked, and prodded by the authorities. At the same time, you might also run to a place bustling with activity. Assuming you could blend in without looking like you had just run down the neighbor's beloved cat, the flock of everyday people would offer you temporary refuge, decreasing your chances of getting caught. That option tends to be risky, though. There's always a chance that someone else in the crowd might recognize you.
I decided on the farthest place, called the Marietta Complex, which was an apartment building with a walking time of about ten or twelve minutes from where I stood. My plan was not necessarily to reach the complex, but to try to catch up with the suspect before he arrived there himself - if that was indeed where he went. It's not uncommon for fugitives to go back to places they're familiar with; committing a crime is not an easy thing, and it takes a toll on one's emotional state as well as one's physical body. Such familiarity can provide a sense of comfort for them. Many who do this kind of thing regularly believe that the guilt doesn't affect them; they can steal, assault and kill and never feel the pain, the wrongness of what they've done. But there's an issue with that: We're all human. We are aware, we feel. It may be so deeply buried that they never see it for what it is, but the emotional consequences will slowly eat away at the conscious of even the most hardened outlaw.
With that decision made, I glanced around to make sure that I would be able to step away unnoticed. I sped my pace up a bit once I was clear of the Park 'n Go. There weren't many people out and about that night, which wasn't unusual for those parts, but I still took the darkest streets I could find. This was done mainly out of habit, really, but I figured it was also my best bet of finding our perp. If he was smart. If not, and he had traveled the busier city streets instead, well, then it wouldn't be long until the police themselves caught up to him. An added bonus to trying the Marietta Complex was that, even if the suspect had gone somewhere else, I might at least find out where he lived.
I had been walking the silent streets for around eight minutes by the time I started to lose confidence in my decision about the Marietta. Actually, I started questioning my methods in general. I'd gotten lucky many a time while attempting to find people this way, but even so, I knew just how inefficient some of my methods were, and searching the night for someone who could essentially be anywhere in Rivergate - or beyond, with good transportation - can really bring you back to reality. I was no professional crime-fighter; hell, I couldn't even go after a true criminal - I'd get myself killed before any of the action even started.
Sometimes I wondered if it was all worth it. I mean, how much good could I possibly be doing by idiotically risking my own life - only to stop the evil plans of some petty thief who robbed a convenience store? Which are routinely stolen from, I might add. Indeed, sometimes it seemed like a pretty useless endeavor.
But then I would remember that little old saying about random acts of kindness, and I would think of each person my nightly actions had helped. I would relive the moment that they realized someone had come to aid them - the moment the fear that made their eyes wide, that rooted their bodies and held them in place, the fear that made them utter the whispers of prayer was suddenly replaced by the lifting feeling of hope, of thanks, of relief and even of defiance. The moment the fear vanished. I remembered that those people were why I did what I did. No matter how silly and inefficient my methods were, there was no way in hell I was going to stand around and act as a helpless bystander while someone became yet another victim of humanity's nastier side.
That train of thought made me shake my head and keep going. No way. I'd seen too many people hurt in my lifetime. I had the ability, the will, to help some of these others out. I would just have to make the most of what I had. Even if that meant running up and down the streets of a shady neighborhood hoping that I would somehow happen upon my criminal.
Who, much to my disappointment, was nowhere to be seen as I approached the entryway for the impressive apartment building.
The Marietta was far from luxurious, but it was certainly a bit more than I would expect a convenience store robber to be living in. There was a decently-sized pool - which was being used purely for decoration at this chilly time of year - separating the four tall structures that made up the complex. The pool was encircled by concrete pathways, each one leading to one of the buildings, with the largest leading to where I stood in the entrance. The property was in need of a few repairs, but even just a simple coat of paint would've done it wonders.
I looked around a bit as I strolled past the empty security guard outpost and started to remove the belt that held my gun, spray, knives, and various other things that would get me arrested. I stepped off to the side of the entrance, and quickly dropped the belt into a small bush to be retrieved later once my business here was finished and I was clear of the apartment's residents and employees. I would still appear suspicious to those who saw me, even without the belt, but my goal was to find the guy Garrett had given me information on, not to look friendly and befriend everyone at the complex. Still, I definitely did not want to frighten anyone and make them think that they were in danger. That would somewhat defeat the purpose of why I was there.
After making sure my appearance wasn't going to cause some poor desk clerk to hit the panic button, I calmly walked up to the nearest building, the doors upon which had gold vinyl lettering declaring the building as "M-1." I assumed it stood for Marietta building 1, or something of the like, considering the neighboring structures were all labeled "M-2," "M-3," and "M-4." I saw no security devices around the doors - for example, a key card reader or even just a phone system - and so I had no problems stepping inside.
The lobby, though small, was clean, cozy, and empty. There were several lounge chairs placed about the room, but none were currently in use. Coffee tables, both round and small as well as long and rectangular, sat either in front of or beside each chair. The lobby's color scheme was easy on the eyes, and used mainly light tan, even cream coloring with dark blue accenting. Numerous well-kept floor plants gave the place a burst of dark green. Doors branched off into other areas of the complex, most of which presumably lead to hallways containing apartment rooms and stairwells. One of the doors was left open, however, and I could see cleaning supplies bulging out from every shelf, hanger, and storage bin. Elevators, two of them, also blessed the left and right walls of the lobby.
I glanced around, and quickly spotted what I was looking for. A woman sat behind a small counter on the opposite side of the room, her attention divided between the papers on her desk and her computer screen. She smiled politely as I approached the counter.
"Hi, welcome to the Marietta Apartment Complex. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Hi," I responded, trying to return her smile as best as I could, "I'm looking for someone. I don't know his name, or if he even lives here, but I do have a picture and would like to know if he's been by here recently," I started digging my phone out of my pocket again and opened up the image Garrett had sent along with the suspect's recent locations. Don't ask me how he got these things - Garrett and I weren't exactly friends, though our relationship was positive. He was an extremely resourceful guy, but little more than an acquaintance. I really didn't know much about him or his tactics.
"Hmm," the woman said, frowning at the image, "you say you don't know his name?"
"Afraid not," I replied. "Do you happen to recognize him?"
She studied the image a bit more. "I think I have seen him around..." She pursed her lips, pausing. "Have you met this man before?"
I didn't see how that question was relevant, but I answered her nonetheless. "No," I said. "Never seen him before." The woman glanced at me after I spoke, but I couldn't read her expression.
"Pardon me for asking, but for what reason are you trying to find this gentleman?" Her tone remained one of professional curiosity, but I could sense the careful scrutiny beneath her words.
My heart sped up and I hesitated. I wanted to smack myself in the face for doing so, because it was a fairly simple question, despite the underlying suspicion. It was only a split second hesitation, but it certainly wouldn't make the lie I'd have to come up with any more believable. "I had found his number online and contacted him to pursue business matters," I ended up saying, "we were supposed to meet around here, but he's yet to show up."
I couldn't tell if the woman bought my lie or not, but she at least didn't push for more information. "He did come by here not too long ago," she said after spending a moment looking at the photo again, "I don't have any information that would help you find him, but I can confidently say that he does not live in one of our apartments."
I nodded, putting my phone back in my pocket. "Thank you," I said, "I just wondered if he lived here - thought maybe I might be able to run into him later, in case he forgot about our meeting."
"Wish I could be of more help," the woman replied, smiling apologetically. "I do hope you can arrange another meeting."
"I'll definitely be trying," I smiled, and turned to leave. "Thanks again."
"Have a nice night, ma'am."
I sighed internally as I walked back towards the doors that I entered through. Dammit. Our perp wasn't here. He had been here though - that was at least something. What, I don't know, but something.
I stepped back out into the chilly night air, turning to make sure the door had closed before starting forward. I heard a strange clicking noise, and froze in my tracks. My heart stopped as I realized that there was a gun to my head.