08 August 2008

Unholy Crusade, part five


They waited. Outside, rain pattered on the windows. In the lounge, water leaked in through a damaged seal around the window frame. The flat became icy cold.

Cartwright buttoned up his jacket and stuffed his hands in his pockets. 'Bloody hell. Nobody could live in this place. It's like a fucking freezer.'

'Shh!' hissed Seth.

Footsteps echoed up the stairwell.

Seth crept to the kitchen door and pressed himself up against the wall, hiding as best he could from the view of anyone entering the flat. Cartwright did the same in the lounge.

A floorboard creaked outside the door to the flat.

The handle clunked, the door cracked open. The men waited, straining to hear and sound.

None came.

They waited. Still nothing.

No choice, Seth thought. Got to check.

He risked a glance into the corridor. The door was open, revealing wet footprints on the carpet in the stairwell. The carpet in the flat was bone dry.

He looked down the corridor toward the lounge, saw Cartwright staring back at him. Seth motioned toward the stairwell. Cartwright nodded his assent.

The men crept toward the door, with Seth scanning the carpet outside. There were footprints outside the door, leading up from the stairs to the left. After that, nothing. The trail seemed to simply end.

Seth stopped at the doorway and looked around. There was no sign of life outside the flat. No noise. No movement. Nothing. He stepped out into the stairwell and looked around.

A woman was crouched in the corner at the far end of the hallway, by the stairs leading up to the roof. She stared at him, her face completely devoid of emotion; her eyes wide. She looked like a fieldmouse that had been cornered by a cat.

'Why are you here?' she asked. Her accent was strong, but Seth could not place it. Dutch perhaps, or German.

'I would ask you the same question,' said Seth.

'That's not an answer.'

Seth stepped forward, his hands raised in front of him. 'We're not looking for any trouble. We're here about the warehouse.'

The woman stood up slowly as he approached. She was in her late twenties, medium height, scruffy and malnourished. There were burn marks on her hands and face. Her short, blonde hair was matted and dirty. She stank of stale sweat mixed with a sickly sweet aroma.

'What about the warehouse?' she asked, eyeing him warily. She looked ready to bolt at any second.

Seth stopped walking, but kept his hands raised. 'We just want to know what you were doing there. That's all.'

She pulled her grimy overcoat tightly around herself, hugging it close like it offered some sort of protection. 'None of your business.'

Cartwright walked up beside Seth. 'Men died there!' he hissed. 'Of course it's our business.'

'Stay back!' she ordered.

'He's right,' said Seth. 'We need to know what you were doing there.'

The woman shook her head.

Seth lowered his hands. 'Look, maybe we can make a deal. You tell us what we want to know, and in exchange maybe we can help get you sorted out.'

'I'm fine.'

'You don't look fine,' said Cartwright.

Seth glanced at his subordinate. 'Cartwright, you're not helping.'

'I was just – hey, wait!'

Seth turned back just in time to see a shadow dart across the wall. A metallic echo sounded from the floor above.

'Shit!' Seth shouted as he ran toward the staircase. 'Come on!'

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