“Go,” he gasps. “Go.”
“Don’t die. Please don’t die,” I whispered, choking on adrenaline and fear.
But he is dying and we both know it.
And I have to keep moving. More will be coming.
Drawing one more shuddering breath, I attempt to calm myself as I stand. I cross the room and enter the security code for the wall safe my protector had installed. I empty everything in to my go-bag and turn back to the body of my protector. Trainer. Savior.
A broken sob escapes before I can choke it back.
What am I going to do? How can I do this without you?
I push down all the fear and grief and focus on the plan. He had drilled this plan in to me for years. I hoped I would never need it but he made sure I knew what to do.
A survival plan in case he was killed.
I hesitate standing next to him but force myself to find his gun and add that to my bag.
Then I go to the bathroom to wash the blood off my hands and tears off my face. I strip. My shoulder throbs. There’s a cut on my side but it’s not too deep. I’m going through the motions, bandaging my wounds quickly and efficiently as I’ve been taught.
I know I don’t have much time. I stuff all my clothes in a garbage bag and dress again with clothes from my bag. Jeans, a black tank top, a gray hoodie and sneakers. Nothing memorable.
I pick up both bags and move to the hall closet. Crouching before the open door, I remove a hidden panel in the back wall.
My little sister’s wide terrified eyes blink at me from the hidden crawl space.
“I hid. Just like we practiced.” Her voice is scratchy with fear. I squelch my own tears, knowing she needs me to be strong right now.
So I nod, trying to smile reassuringly. I try to pretend this was just another practice drill. “You did so good,” I tell her.
She crawls out of her hiding spot and into my arms. I squeeze her tight for a brief moment, then set her down.
“Time to go now. I have your bag.”
“What about Andre?”
“He can’t come with us this time, sweetie. This time it’s just us.”
I see her bite her lip nervously but she doesn’t ask anymore questions.
“Up,” I instruct, lifting her back into my arms once I get the bags situated. “Close your eyes until we get outside. Promise?”
“Promise,” she whispers her pledge, squeezing her eyes shut tight.
I take us through the apartment avoiding Andre and the bodies of the men who attacked us, doing my best to shield her from total knowledge of what happened here. She already knows far more than a six year old should.
They’d only sent three which tells me he wasn’t sure it was us, was just following a tip. If he’d known for certain I was here he would have sent a dozen men at least, not willing to let me get away again.
I know too much.
But when they don’t report in, he’ll know. And I can’t rule out there’s at least one other still outside in a vehicle.
Andre’s plan was a good one. We have provisions in place. My sister and I should be able to disappear again, if we move quickly.
We take the stairs to the basement so we can leave through the emergency exit in the back. Andre had taught me ages ago how to dismantle the alarm. We take a bus to nowhere, just watching to see if anyone else is following. Renee is quiet as she sits beside me holding my hand tightly. She learned long ago how to be silent and take up no space and she reverts to this state when she’s afraid. As her sister, it hurts my heart that she can’t cry and yell and act out like a normal six year old. But in this moment, this is what I need for her to do.
To be invisible and let me work.
Let me protect us both. As Andre prepared me to do.
After an hour switching between bus routes I am satisfied we’re not being followed and hail a cab, giving him the name of a hotel on the outskirts of the city.
I don’t want the hotel. But if someone ever does find him and ask him about the two young girls in his cab this is all he’ll know.
I want the storage facility half a mile away. That’s where I’ll find additional supplies and a car that Andre insured was untraceable.
And three hours after we were ambushed and Andre killed, my sister and I are driving away, leaving Philadelphia. Heading to Chicago.
I don’t know if Andre would agree with my choice of city. But I feel it’s where I need to be.
I hope I’m not wrong.
Renee is sleeping in the back seat, a stuffed elephant clutched to her chest.
I review everything Andre has taught me. Focusing on his instructions helps me keep the terror at bay. I prepare myself for what I will need to become in this next phase of my life.
Smart. Aware. Disciplined. Patient.