Novel: "Renegade" Chapter 4

(Cover is a work in progress)
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 much more than she bargained for.

Chapter 4
(New to 'Renegade'? Start here)

     My hands slowly went up. I held my palms open, to show that I wasn't armed. I knew that sound—that heart-stopping sound, and I had been caught completely off guard. In the business I was in, I'd heard that tell-tale click enough times to recognize it, but I'd rarely been on the receiving end. You hear it on television and in movies all of the time, and there's a very good reason for why it's constantly used for dramatic effect. The real thing, however, is not so entertaining; it's scary. Frightening. It sends chills down your spine, and thoughts of murder through your head. There is no comforting feeling of an assured victory when faced with an actual weapon—because, contrary to the plot of almost every fictional story out there, the hero doesn't always make it home safely.
     Adrenaline flooded through me as the aforementioned images of death raced through my brain, and my body told me to run. Run, Elena, my instincts urged me, escape this predator. Run. Instead, however, I did the opposite of what my body wanted me to do. I forced myself to remain as still as possible. Why? Because when you've got a gun to your head, you don't run—it's too late for that. You pray. You pray you'll survive long enough to exploit some grand opportunity, or find a weakness in your attacker, or anything that will put you in a better situation. You don't run when you're two feet away from that little thing that goes bang.
     "Slowly turn around," a voice calmly directed me. The voice, presumably belonging to the person holding the deadly weapon to my head, sounded distinctly male. And calm. Did I mention calm?
     I obeyed the man, keeping my hands in the air as I slowly turned myself around to face my potential murderer.
     And then I attempted to go all offensive on his ass.
     I immediately turned my movement forward, reaching out to grab the gun and jerk it to the side, away from myself. At the same time, I twisted my body slightly and kicked at my attacker with my leg. The kick barely made the guy flinch, but it did allow me to quickly wrench the weapon free—which I immediately pointed back at him.
    The man smiled. "Good," he said, that calm confidence never wavering, "although that move wouldn't have worked were this an actual fight."
     His words and easy manner threw me off, and I couldn't help frowning in confusion. I held the gun steady. "What?"
     "What you did there—the disarm, it wouldn't have worked. Any sudden movement would have scared a real gunman into instinctively pulling the trigger," the man responded. "You had the right idea, but executed it a bit early."
     "What?" I asked again, my mind racing. I tried to shut it all out, to focus on that moment only. "No, what did you mean by 'an actual fight'? What are you talking about?" He tried to move forward slightly, and I nearly jumped back a step. I stared hard at him, my eyes conveying a warning.
     "Relax," he said, his hands were lifted at waist-level, "were this an actual fight, you would be dead. You're not dead. I'm not here to hurt you."
      "Pardon me for thinking otherwise," I muttered tartly, my gaze never leaving the man.
     He smiled again. "The gun isn't loaded. Try it."
    I started to pull the trigger, but stopped myself and went for the magazine and chamber instead. I popped out the first, and slid open the second, going through the motions quickly and efficiently. Both were empty, and I couldn't help but blink in surprise. Why in the world would someone put an empty gun to my head when killing me wasn't on their agenda? I didn't understand it.
     The man casually took the firearm from my hands once I had reinserted the magazine. There was no point in holding on to it, I thought, considering it was friggin' empty. "Sorry about that," he said, "I wanted to see how you'd react in such a situation." He glanced over the gun, likely from habit, and slid it back into its holster.
     I straightened a bit, but I remained cautious and ready to act if the need arose. "Please do feel free to elaborate on that," I responded, with a huff of indignation. "Normally those with friendly intentions don't go around threatening people with unloaded guns,"
     "True, but I'm an exception," he replied, coolly folding his arms over his chest. His tone became more serious. "I am an envoy of the organization known as the Twin Talons, a group of skilled fighters doing the same thing as you. We heard of your potential, and I was sent to investigate. Assuming I found you capable enough, I was then instructed to offer you an invitation to work with us,"
     What, now? I'd never even heard of such an organization. "And... seeing as you're still here, I'm assuming you found me, ah, 'capable'. Capable of what, exactly?"
     "Defending yourself," he gestured at the holster on his waist, "controlling your emotions, and of being able to turn a bad situation in your favor. Essential qualities for anyone in this line of work."
     "Right," I said slowly, "so, let me get this straight here," I paused briefly to gather my thoughts. This was strange. Really strange. Not what I expected at all. "You point a gun at me, late in the evening, no less, and then you want to know if I'm interested in joining your little secret society. Is that really how you'd planned this going down, or are you just improvising?"
     "Little bit of both, really," he replied, nonchalantly. "But we are not a secret society. Those words have an undesirable connotation these days."
     "I see," warily eyeing him, I asked, "What are you, then?"
     He leaned his tall frame back slightly to rest against the wall of the apartment building. "We're a group of people who don't like to stand around when someone else is in trouble," he said, "we find society, in general, repulsive and work to take down some of the folks responsible for others' misery. Were you to accept the invitation, you'd be doing the exact same things as you're doing now. Just on a slightly larger scale," he explained patiently.
     His words resonated with me. That had pretty much been my objective since I began these acts of crime fighting. If I accepted, I could finally go after the criminals I'd never been able to touch.
     I thought about it. It would make sense for me to join, wouldn't it? To work with other like-minded individuals who had similar goals as myself.
     After going through the tempting list of possibilities, I finally replied with a simple, "No."
    "No, I don't accept your invitation," I said, "it's exactly what I'm looking for, in a way, and it sounds too good to be true. I don't know you, I've never heard of your organization, and I'm doing just fine on my own. I'm not risking it."
     The envoy stared thoughtfully at me for a few seconds. "You're sure?"
     "Quite," I replied, "I don't see any good coming out of something like that." I glanced down at myself, remembering my belt that was still in the bush by the entrance. "Look, thanks for the, uh, invitation, I suppose, but I've gotta get going—"
     "Hold on a second," the man interrupted me, straightening up to dig something out of a small belt pocket of his own (what did I tell you a little while ago? We all tend to wear very similar gear). He handed me a plain white envelope. "In case you happen to change your mind," he smiled.
     I turned the envelope over in my hand. There was no writing on either side, but it was sealed with a thin piece of rounded metal, which was colored a dark red and engraved with the silhouette of a double-headed eagle, the eagle itself being encircled by a silver ring that contained a couple of silver olive branches.
     "Normally people use wax," I commented, referring to the metal seal.
     The envoy laughed. "Indeed, but they apparently found metal a better fit." He paused before continuing to add, "I find it makes a pretty nice memento."
     I lifted an eyebrow in a look of skepticism. "Wouldn't think you were one for sentiment," I said.
     "Ah," he smiled, "we're all human, yeah? Everyone's got a little soft spot somewhere."
     I blinked. "Yeah."
     "Well, it's a shame you declined my offer, but it was a pleasure holding a gun to your head," he said, turning to leave. "Do get in touch if you change your mind; we always have room for potential such as yours."
     "Uh, got it, thanks," I replied, admittedly still confused by this entire encounter. I grabbed my belt on the way out of the apartment's entrance, and started back the way I came.

     I had gone down the city streets this time, instead of the darker areas, thinking it was likely far too late to catch my convenience store thief. I had other things on my mind at the moment, anyway—I just wanted to get back to my parents' house. I felt a little guilty just letting him get away like that, considering he could now screw up someone else's night if he wanted to. However, my guilt didn't last long.
     I was about halfway to Sistine Avenue when I turned a corner and spotted red and blue lights flashing a bit further down the road. Two police officers were outside of their cruisers, pinning down and cuffing a man. I felt a sudden ray of hope, and quickly pulled my phone out and opened the photo that Garrett had sent; it was him. I could see the same red shirt, the same black baseball hat. That was the idiot who robbed the Park 'n Go. Hah. I couldn't keep the massive grin off my face as I watched them drag him into the back of one of the cars. I shook my head and laughed.
     I waited until the officers drove off before I started walking again. I made it back to the old garage with no further surprises, good or bad, and started to swap out my clothing. I put everything I could hang on hangers in the wooden cabinet, and anything that couldn't hang was placed on the shelf above. Once I was again clothed in my warm thermal and jeans, I grabbed my gray winter coat by its fur-lined hood and laid it on the nearby table.
     I looked at the envelope I had pulled out of my pocket prior to putting my jacket away. I pursed my lips, and couldn't help but wonder if I should have accepted the envoy's invitation. I shook my head and sighed, picking up my coat and putting the envelope into one of its pockets along with my hands.
     By the time I got back to my parents' home, I was absolutely exhausted. It wasn't much after seven, but I was nearly ready to conk out on that wonderful thing called a bed. I needed my car, if I was going to keep doing this. I needed my car anyway. That would mean paying a visit to my actual house, however, and I got an uneasy feeling just thinking about returning there. My car could wait a little while.
     My father was just coming down from the second floor when I stepped inside. "Evening, Elena," he said, grabbing the door to close it behind me as I came in, "how was work?"
     "Not bad," I replied, tiredly, "I brought you and Mom some of those raspberry shortbread squares that you guys love," I plucked a small zip-lock bag out of my coat pocket and set it on the nearest table. "They've been selling like hotcakes the last few weeks, so I made sure to grab a couple extras."
     "Oh, your mother will love that," he replied with a chuckle, "those little things are a gift from God himself, I tell you,"
     I laughed, and suddenly noticed the cup my mother had accidentally broken sitting on one of our little coffee tables. "Hey, you fixed it," I said to my father, gesturing at the glass that was once again in one piece.
     "Oh, yeah! Didn't I show you?" He walked the short distance over to the table and picked the cup up. He handed it to me so that I could examine it. "Knew my skills would come in handy one day,"
     "Carpenters don't generally fix cups," I smiled, "but you did a brilliant job with this one. Bet Mom was happy."
     My father nodded. "Thrilled," he said, "hey, besides, my work doesn't only apply to wooden things; those skills can be used elsewhere, too," he lifted his hand to gesture at the cup, and returned my smile.
     My father, as you probably have gathered, works as a carpenter these days. He was formerly a traveling tour guide, which is how he ended up meeting Isla, my mother. Working for the summer months in Estonia one year, she was a part of one of his tours that had been exploring in the capital's medieval Old Town area. However, when he and my mother began to live together, it became evident the the constant traveling would not fit in too well with the lifestyle that they wanted. So, he turned to another, more stable passion of his—carpentry.
     I found the little cup to be a great example of my parents' relationship; both of them had interests, and thus professions, that influenced and fed off of one another. First and foremost, they both enjoyed anything historical. My mother took her love of this subject and became an architectural historian—or someone who studies and works with the history of architecture. My father, after his tourism job, specialized in restoration carpentry, a form of carpentry that, among other things, involves restoring old buildings and structures. Mother was always finding places for him to help fix up. It's wonderful, really.
     "I suppose that's true," I allowed, humorously. My family had a running joke that, because carpenter's tended to be well-rounded in their skill sets, there had to be something around here that my dad couldn't fix. So far, he was winning.
     "Hey, I'm gonna get ready for bed—either of you need anything?" I asked.
     "Nah, get some sleep," he replied, gently patting me on the back, "I'll tell Mom you're home safe."
     "Thanks," I said. "See you in the morning."
     I walked over and opened the door to the guest bedroom, and immediately started to take off my coat, which had become excruciatingly hot while I'd been in the house. I hung the coat over a small office chair that sat in front of a small computer desk in the room, and walked back over to the bed and fell onto it.
     My mind buzzed with different thoughts. Old and new, they sped by so quickly that it was difficult to tell what they were even about. It was impossible for me to concentrate on a specific thought—except one. Despite dozens of ideas flying around inside my mind, there was only one that could hold my attention for more than five seconds.
     I sat up, staring across the room at my coat's pocket. The pocket containing that mysterious envelope. I could open it, I said to myself, see what's inside. There'd be no harm in simply reading it. Would there?

<< Chapter 3                                                           Chapter 5 >>

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