What do I do?
Anny gazed at her blank expression in the mirror.
What am I supposed to do?
She stood there, staring. And hoping those men hadn’t followed her to the mall. She might have been staring too long. Some kid was looking at her.
They’re going to find me here, she thought. The mall’s closing soon. She shut her eyes and sighed. Opening them again, she was met with that same empty gaze, no closer to coming up with a plan.
She looked herself over. Grey eyes, pale skin, silver-blond hair. That’s what the men would be looking for. Maybe she should buy a hat. Or a wig. Anything to cover up the hair. It was short and straight, normal enough. But the colour would give it away. Like a spotlight. Now that she looked at it under the bright lights of the boutique, it did look almost white. A dead giveaway.
Unable to look at the mirror any longer, she turned her attention elsewhere. Slightly annoyed, she realised that the guy next to her really was staring.
She met his gaze. “What?”
He turned to her, a pair of thin lips smiling beneath a swoop of a nose. “Somebody in trouble?”
Rolling her eyes, Anny turned away. She didn’t need to deal with a nosy kid on top of everything else. But as she exited the boutique, he followed. She cast a toxic glance over her shoulder before picking up the pace. Get lost, man. I really don’t have time for this.
Something landed on her head. She gasped and grabbed at the baseball cap.
“Hmm, a little better,” said the kid. “It hides most of it, at least.”
“What the–?” She whirled around and threw the hat back at him. “Leave me alone!”
“What’s with the attitude? I’m just trying to help!” He came up behind her and put the hat back on. “Your hair will give you away if you don’t suck it up and wear the darn thing.”
This time she stopped, ignoring the hat on her head. “What did you say?”
“The hair,” he repeated, pointing to his head. His own hair was fiery orange, too bright to be natural. “That’s what people look for first.”
She stared at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah. Right.” He wasn’t convinced. “Listen, kid, you want some help or not?”
“Kid?” Seriously, how old was this guy? Younger than she was, for sure. And the freckles didn’t help. “Just leave me alone, okay?” She headed for the elevator.
But he wouldn’t let her go. “Geez!” he exclaimed, pulling up beside her. “You’re one tough crocodile! What’s the matter? Bad day?”
It had been a really bad day. And she was just about fed up with this dumb kid and his obnoxious little smirk. She swung around and stuck a finger in his face. “Listen man, I told you to…” But before she could finish, she caught sight of a stranger past the kid’s shoulder.
He pushed her up against the wall.
She tried to push him away when he kicked her shin. “Kiss me or you’ll get caught! Is that what you want?”
She didn’t have time to think. He leaned in and she let him do it, eyes wide open. It occurred to her that this was her first kiss.
He backed away. “Did it work? Is he gone?”
Impatient, he turned around to see for himself. The man with the sunglasses was heading straight for them.
“Nope.” He bolted in the opposite direction, pulling her by the wrist. “C’mon, we gotta go.”
Skidding into the elevator, they scrambled to shut the doors. Anny found the buttons first and pressed them furiously. The man was steps away from the doors as they closed, but he was just too late. They had escaped by seconds. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and sighed.
Way too close…
The strange kid pursed his lips in thought. “Dang,” he said. “Meddlers, eh?”
She glowered at him. “What’s your problem? What are you trying to do?”
“Wow. Where’s the gratitude?” He leaned against the wall and popped his lips. “I think this would be an appropriate time for you to say, ‘Oh, my hero!’ and shower me with affectionate kisses.”
Her eyes went wide. “I can’t believe you just said that! You’re such a creep!”
“And you’re a troublemaker,” he said. “Whatcha runnin’ from, Cinderella?”
“None of your business,” she replied, quickly adding, “Why do you even care? Why did you do that?”
The heat rose to her cheeks. “Slobber all over me!”
“Rude!” He crossed his arms. “I was only trying to help, y’know. Always works in movies.”
“Maybe that’s because ten-year-olds don’t go kissing adults in movies!”
“I’m not ten!” He stuck out his tongue. “And you’re not an adult!”
“I’m more of an adult than–”
She turned around. They both gasped as the elevator doors slid open.
The man with the sunglasses was waiting for them!
As he reached out to grab her, Anny screamed, stumbling backwards and falling to the ground.
There was a jolt. The doors closed, jamming the man’s hand and forcing him to pull it back out. And once the doors were sealed, the elevator dropped.
The kids screamed as they fell two levels in two seconds, the lights flickering overhead. For a moment, the elevator went dark. And then, with another jolt, they came to a halt.
The lights came back on. They stared at each other. “What was that?!” cried Anny.
“I don’t know!” said the kid. “I thought you did it!”
“What? No!” With shaking legs, she rose to her feet, groaning as she hobbled out of the elevator.
“Hey!” he said, still at her heels. “Where ya goin’?”
“Leave me alone!” she said, still nauseous from the elevator. “I have to get out of here.”
“Then follow me,” he said, grabbing her wrist again. “I have an idea.”
She shook off his grip. “Hands off! There’s no way I’m following you anywhere!” A moment later and she was heading the other way. “This isn’t some stupid game! These guys mean business, they have guns and–”
He started laughing.
She spun around. “What?”
“Guns!” His face was red, he was buckling over with laughter. “Even if they did have guns, they wouldn’t know how to shoot ’em!”
“Wait…” She eyed him suspiciously. “You know them? How do you–”
“Hostile, two o’clock!” He went for her wrist as her head was turned and yanked her into action. “Gotta make a run for it!”
“Wait, where are we going?” She thought she heard footsteps behind them, but didn’t dare look back a second time.
It wasn’t until they had reached the mall’s atrium that they stopped to take a breath. From their place next to the railing, Anny could see the ground floor down below and the other floors overhead. The crowds were growing dangerously thin as closing time approached.
The kid stuck his head out into the open and looked around. He groaned.
“What is it?” she said.
He turned back from the railing and brushed past her. “Just wait here. Don’t go anywhere.”
“Are you nuts?” she exclaimed. “If I stay here, they’re going to–”
“I spotted them on the first and third floors,” he said. “Don’t move.” And off he ran.
Anny was torn between running and waiting for him to return. If he was right, and the men were above and below her, then maybe it was a good idea to stay put. Then again, she didn’t know how many of them were after her. She had only seen two back at the morgue, but here at the mall, they seemed to be in a dozen places at once.
Frustrated, she kicked the railing. What did she do to deserve this? How did she get into this mess? Her mind still spinning, she turned at the sound of footsteps.
Another man was running towards her!
Without a moment to lose, she bolted the other way. She knew she couldn’t outrun him, not for long. But she couldn’t hide, either. Turning the corner, she entered another hallway, wide and long, and searched for something, anything, that would buy her time.
But she slowed her sprint as someone screamed up ahead. Turning her attention to a distant sports shop, she froze in place as a golf cart crashed through the doors and flew into the hallway. The tires screeched on the smooth floor as the driver accelerated.
Anny could only stare in shock at the kid behind the wheel. This was too crazy. This couldn’t be happening!
He whipped the golf cart around and stopped at her feet. “Anybody order drive-through?”
“You’re insane!” But Anny knew the man was close behind her. The insanity of the situation didn’t stop her from climbing into the passenger seat.
The kid pulled hard on the steering wheel, swinging the cart around to face their pursuer. Laughing, he pushed the gas pedal to the floor. They weren’t going all that fast, considering it was only a golf cart, but to the man who stood facing the oncoming vehicle it might as well have been a speeding locomotive.
The man shouted and dived for safety. The golf cart missed him by inches.
“Woohoo!” The kid waved his arm at a group of shoppers up ahead. “Get out of the way!”
“You’re going to kill someone!” cried Anny, gripping the seat as they careened down the hall.
“Relax, kid. I got this.” He laughed again as the cart knocked over a jewelry stand.
Security was after them now, calling for them to stop. The kid glanced at the scene in his rear-view mirror and laughed even harder.
He’s psycho! thought Anny. This kid is totally psycho! She had no idea what his plan was, if he even had a plan at all. They were nearing the end of the hallway.
“Stop!” she cried, realising they were headed for the stairs. “You’ll kill us!”
He laughed some more as they bumped past the steps, the roof of the cart rattling all the way down. Anny tried to yell at him again, but her teeth were rattling along with the roof. Finally, they were back on the first floor and on their way to another wide hall.
But just as they were about to enter the next phase of their chase, Anny screamed. A toddler was wandering dangerously close to their path. Without waiting for her driver, she yanked the steering wheel to the right and jerked the cart away. But no sooner had they changed direction than they were headed for another obstacle, a tall pile of teddy bears stacked in a neat pyramid.
The kid made a desperate effort to brake, but it was too late. They crashed right into the foot of the display, sending the bears flying in every direction as the cart swerved to a halt.
With no time to lose, Anny crawled out of the wreck. She pushed the bears aside, fighting to escape the pile before those men caught up with her.
But the moment she got a foot on solid ground, someone grabbed her arm. And before she could fight, someone else had the other. With a swift, rough pull, they yanked her to her feet.
Game over. She was caught.