I could feel Jeff’s heartbeat against my chest, going in synch with mine. My face was smothered, and he smelled like cigarettes and ink and baby wipes. Comfort smells.
And then I felt his hand in a place where I never wanted Jeff Coleman’s hand to be.
I tried to shrug him off, but his grip grew tighter.
“They’re shooting at us from inside the apartment,” he whispered, his breath tickling the side of my face.
“This is your movie, Kavanaugh, not mine. You tell me.”
I had a flash of Rusty Abbott’s warning that accidents happen.
But an accident is falling off a ladder, getting hit with a baseball, having a fender bender.
It’s not being shot at outside a dead drag queen’s apartment.
At least not in my world.
“We have to get out of here.” Jeff was still whispering.
“How?” I was afraid if we got up, they’d start shooting again.
Before he could answer, however, we heard the sirens. One of the neighbors probably had heard the shots and called the cops. Of course, whoever it was didn’t feel compelled to come outside and see what was going on.
Two police cruisers rolled into my line of vision. We were just one story up, and I could see them between the slats in the railing overlooking the parking lot. They stopped just below us. Right in front of the Gremlin. That wouldn’t do.
Another shot rang out, and while Jeff had loosened his grip a second ago, he now clutched me again. But I wasn’t caring much at the moment. I didn’t want to be in the middle of a firefight.
“You up there!”
It took a second for me to realize one of the cops was shouting up at us.
“Get out of the way!”
Right. Like that would be easy. Didn’t he think we’d be out of the way if we could? And I didn’t much like it that he was alerting those inside the apartment that we were out here, huddled on the ground.
Jeff started shimmying a little away from the apartment door. I had no choice but to shimmy along with him.
It was awkward. I was on my back, Jeff on top of me, and my movements were crablike, while his were similar to a crawl.
It took us ages to move about six inches. We were closer to the railing now, and I could see the cops barricading themselves behind their cruiser doors. One of them had a bullhorn.
It was a little like when the wicked witch told Dorothy to surrender by writing it in the sky. It had the same effect, anyway. Nothing.
At least they’d stopped shooting.
Jeff slid off me onto his stomach next to me. I rolled onto my stomach, too, and we watched through the railing as two of the uniforms dashed out from behind their doors and toward the building. We waited for more shots, but none came.
I pulled myself up onto all fours, rocked back onto my heels, and slowly stood, backing up as I did. Jeff was mimicking me.
There was another stairway just a few doors down. We backed up until we reached it, then ran down the stairs two at a time. My heart was pounding again as we reached the bottom, which led into the pool area.
I took a couple of deep breaths, leaning over and putting my hands on my knees. I felt a hand massaging my back.
“You okay, Kavanaugh?”
I nodded and looked up to see Jeff staring at me with a worried expression.
“This was a bad idea,” I said. “I told you we shouldn’t come here.”
He stepped back and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Okay, so it was a bad call. But who knew?”
I was about to give him a smart-aleck comment back when movement to my left caught my eye.
Someone was lowering himself off the corner balcony. He wore a backpack and a baseball cap.
“What the-,” Jeff muttered.
The guy dropped to the ground, rolled over, and landed on his feet in a total James Bond way. The cap had come off, and I saw dark hair, a raised hand like a wave hello.
I took a step on instinct, but he shot off like the Road Runner being chased by Wile E. Coyote.
Jeff was already shouting at the cops.
I was speechless. Because I’d recognized him.
But it wasn’t a him.
It was Charlotte.