Kelly was in a perfect place to watch the Hankins apartment just before 7:00 AM. The garage door was an easy target to watch. She calmly drank her Starbuck’s instant Morning Joe coffee and munched on a couple of Kudzu’s glazed donuts. She laughed at herself, in a stakeout drinking coffee with a breakfast of donuts. Was she a real cop or what? She kept telling herself this guy is dangerous. Was she really planning on searching his apartment after he left? Why not? He never went back to his place until after 4:00 or 5:00 PM. She had plenty of time. She could search his tiny apartment in less than an hour.
When the garage door went up at 8:05, Kelly was so focused on her entry plan, she nearly spilled her coffee reacting to a rush of adrenalin. The gray Explorer backed out of the garage, waited for a break in traffic and merged into the westbound traffic on Fraser Street. Kelly waited five minutes and walked the half block to the garage. The people door on the side of the garage was partially screened from the street by a large oleander shrub. The hinges were rusty, and she was sure they would protest being used. No problem. No one was home. The lock may be a different problem. It had a patina of rust and tarnish. She wasn’t really good at lock picking yet. Kathy had coached her but she was a long way from being proficient. This deadbolt lock was old and wouldn’t have the newest technology. Sweat was dripping down her sides as she struggled with her two picks. She was sure she was using the right procedure. The damn lock was just corroded. Five minutes later, with a curse and an angry twist of her top pick, the dead bolt slid back into the door. Taking a firm grip on the doorknob Kelly pulled and, with a protesting groan, the slightly warped door opened.
She quickly stepped inside and slowly closed the door but did not even try to pick the double-keyed lock closed. Light from one very dirty window allowed her to make out objects in the garage and the corner staircase. Giving her eyes a few minutes to adjust, she moved across the garage and started up the steps, staying close to the wall where stairs were always the sturdiest and less likely to squeak. She reached the small landing. Kelly tried the knob. The door wasn’t locked. She eased the door open just far enough for her to slide through.
Kelly had no way of knowing Hankins hadn’t gone to work. He was less than a half-mile away in the paint supply area of Walmart buying duct tape and a few other items for his painting business. After that he was going to pick up some frozen meals. He wanted to hurry back to Sally. He should kill her today. Why then was he thinking he needed several meals? Using her name was also a mistake. It made her more of a human to him. He had been lonely for so long. Hankins knew she couldn’t stay, and he couldn’t let her go. It was only a question of time and impulse. Sally had to die.
The first thing Kelly saw when she eased through the door was a fully dressed woman in a rumpled bed. She even had her shoes on. The duct tape across her mouth, around her legs and wrists was a frightening contrast. Kelly was at the bed in three strides and in seconds had the tape off her mouth. The woman was gasping so fast her words where jumbled. The cry for help came through. Kelly hurried into the kitchen and came back with a knife to cut the tape off her legs and arms.
The woman clung to her and gasped, “Hurry, get me out of here! He’ll be back soon! He’s crazy! He’ll kill both of us!”
Kelly said, “Are you hurt? Are you able to walk?”
“No. I’m not hurt, just terrified, and I don’t know if I can walk or not. Help me up.”
Kelly got her up but she couldn’t walk by herself. The tape around her legs had been very tight. As Kelly was mostly carrying her to the door, she was berating herself for not bringing her handgun. Kathy had told her not to go anywhere without a weapon. You either had it all the time or you would find yourself unarmed when you need it.
Hankins finished his Walmart shopping and was driving back to the apartment, staying within the speed limit. When he was in sight of his garage door, he keyed the remote opener. The door failed to open. He knew the batteries were low and needed to be replaced. Outside the garage, he tried again. The door went up with its usual creaking rumble.
Kelly was just starting down the steps when the door started up. She spun around and pushed Sally back inside the room.
Sally cried, “He’s back! He’s back! God! Help me.” Kelly grabbed her and said, “Be quiet! Get on the bed. Stick some tape across your mouth! Hide your ankles and wrists! No time to call 911. Don’t say anything and do not look at me! We need the surprise.”
Kelly could hear the garage door closing and Hankins’ footsteps on the stairs. He would soon be opening the unlocked door. The door swung open and Hankins with his arms full of packages saw only something moving incredibly fast. Kelly hit him chest high with a textbook side kick to the chest, packages partially deflected the kick but the force sent him tumbling to the garage floor where he bounced up against the Explorer. She didn’t know if he was carrying a weapon or not. She didn’t want to give him any chance to get back into the apartment and Sally. Kelly decided to fight him from the small landing outside the door.
Hankins rolled over and got to his feet. The light wasn’t good and he was sure that was a woman on the landing. He had no idea Sally could fight like that. He had just taken the hardest kick in his four years of studying martial arts. He started up the steps. The woman was wearing jeans and sneakers. It couldn’t be Sally. He called out, “Who are you?”
“Your worst fucking dream. Come up these stairs and I will kill you. You sick pervert.”
“What do you want?”
“We came for you.”
“You know. The Professor, your boss, sent me to find you. He wants you for running away after the fire. We didn’t expect to find a woman here. You have some explaining to do. I don’t like your chances. My assignment is to keep you here until others arrive. You don’t have enough time to get past me, and I don’t think you could. I’ll kill you if I have to.”
Hankins paled when he realized the man from Herat had found him. He was without mercy. Dying at his hand would be terrible. He had to take this woman first. If he could get past her and get his notebook and hidden flash drives, he might have a chance. Escaping from al Qaeda, just to have the cops all along the East Coast searching for him, was not much of a tradeoff. He gathered himself and started up the steps.