She screamed as the pickup whooshed past her, the wing mirror clipping her arm.
“Got you.” She fell back into the arms of the man who’d grabbed her. He helped her stand.
“Thanks.” She rubbed her arm: It hurt and was certain to have a huge bruise, but it didn’t feel broken. She flexed her elbow; sore, but it moved okay.
“I’m Sarah,” she said, turning to look at the man. “You saved my life.”
He nodded. “You’re welcome.”
The man was tall and slim and wore a black suit; if he was a businessman, he was from Wall Street, not this small burg. With sunglasses hiding his eyes, he looked like a film star or a stylish Mafiosi. She felt an unexpected tingle as he continued to rest a hand on her arm; as if afraid she might stagger back into the road.
“Can I get you a drink?” He released her.
“Uh, well, I need to leave town.”
“There isn’t another bus for two hours,” he told her.
“How else would you leave town?” His lips twitched as if he were about to smile, but his face remained expressionless. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”
He slipped his hand into the small of her back and she let him guide her towards the coffee shop. If she were with him, she’d probably be safer than trying to hide somewhere on her own till the bus was ready to go.
A bell jangled as they entered the shop and the half-dozen customers looked around at them, then looked away, uninterested.
“Two Americanos, please,” the man in black called, tossing some dollar bills onto the counter as they went past, leading her to a private booth.
A waitress brought their drinks over.
“How about a game to pass the time?” He took a packet of cards from the pocket of his jacket and began to shuffle the deck.
“You’re weird,” she said, then nodded. “Might as well pass the time.”
He dealt the cards. “Poker.”
“You’re not suggesting a game of strip poker?” Sarah asked. Why was she acting like this? She shouldn’t feel flirty, not now, but she did.
The man shook his head just a little.
“I’m not your type?”
“If I were looking for a lover, you would be exactly my type, Sarah.” His lips twitched again.
She felt herself blush a little. It almost felt as if life were worth living.
They started to play. She sipped at her coffee.
Suddenly, the man dropped his cards and half-turned his head. “We have to go.”
“What?” She looked around the wall of the booth, trying to see what was wrong.
“Come on.” He was already standing beside her as he took her hand and pulled her to her feet. As he led Sarah to the door that led to the washrooms, she heard the jangle of the bell and looked back: Two men had entered the coffee shop; she recognised them as Albie’s.
“This way.” The man in black led her into the ladies’ washroom and gave her a boost to the window. She managed to get it open and slithered through it. “Run for it.”
Sarah pelted off down the alley. When she glanced back, her saviour was just behind her.
She burst out of the alleyway and, once again, felt the man’s firm grip on her arms as he pulled her back before the cab struck her.
She threw her arms around him. “That’s twice you’ve saved me! Three times, if you count the coffee shop.”
She kissed his cheek. He almost twitched a smile.
“I know where we can go until the bus is ready,” he said, gently prising her off him.
They went via alleys and backstreets until they reached a scrap yard. Faded police tape flapped limply from a gatepost.
“In here.” He pushed a fence board back so she could slip inside.
“This place was in the news. Those three teens who were dealing crystal meth were murdered here. Albie had them killed.” She shuddered: The news report hadn’t mentioned her brother-in-law by name. She supposed the police knew he was behind the killings, but he was always careful to avoid incriminating himself. Just as nobody would ever prove he’d had Wayne killed.
“Why come here?” she asked as they headed for the shack that served as an office.
“I’m familiar with it and nobody will come here.”
Sarah shivered. Was he one of Albie’s thugs? Was this all just a ploy to kill her without witnesses?
As if he’d read her mind, the man said, “I know your brother-in-law well. Don’t worry, I mean you no harm, Sarah.”
They settled down on old wooden chairs either side of a rickety old table.
Sarah sighed. “I have to get out of here, start a new life. Not that I’ve any idea how: I’ve got money for my bus ticket and that’s about it. And, with…” She trailed off, then added: “I don’t know how I’ll manage.”
“You need cash.”
He took a wad of bills from his pocket and laid them on the table. “There’s fifty-thousand there in twenty dollar bills.”
“I can’t take that!” she gasped, wondering what he expected her to do to earn it.
The man gave a shrug. “We never finished our game.”
He took out another pack of cards and began to shuffle the deck.
“I thought you left those behind: How many packs do you carry?”
His lips twitched and he said, “Shall we play?”
“Why not? There’s still over an hour to kill.”
“Tell you what, I’ll wager this.” He tapped the money.
“What against? I’ve got nothing.”
“How about you bet your life?”
“What?” Her earlier fears resurfaced.
“Without it, you can’t start a new life. How long till Albie’s goons catch up with you if you’re running on air? If you lose…” He left the outcome to her imagination. “But, if you win, you get this fifty grand to start over.”
“Sure, why not?” If he was going to kill her, he was going to do it regardless. If he was just joking or the offer was real, then why not?
He dealt the cards and they began to play. The cards were very much in her favour.
“You win,” he said, sliding the wad of bills across the table to her.
“Really? No fooling?”
“Really. No fooling, Sarah. It’s yours.”
She took the money and slipped it into her handbag.
“Right, let’s get you both on that bus.”
They followed the back ways and he didn’t leave her side till she boarded the bus.
Sarah settled herself in an aisle seat near the back, hoping not to be spotted as the bus drove out of town. As it began to pull away, she leaned around her neighbour and got one last look at the man who’d saved her life. He watched the bus depart, eyes still hidden behind his sunglasses.
Her thoughts returned to his last words to her at the scrap yard: How had he known she was pregnant? Not even Wayne had known, before… She’d have to ask him: Somehow, she just knew she’d see him again.
The man in black slipped away, unseen. People only saw him if he wanted them to.
He felt no regret at throwing the game in order to let her live: It was merely a deferment. He would see Sarah again, one day, regardless, and her unborn son held so much potential. Everyone died, eventually, of course, but how they died was reflected in the… sustenance they provided, and Sarah’s son would offer them up in exquisite suffering.
His lips twitched the hint of a smile. He could almost taste them. Better, even, than those Albie gave him.