Malone bolted for the door, but stopped at the top of the stairs. Just like back in Copenhagen, the flights here right-angled downward, the only difference being that instead of three there were two landings. Ian was right behind him, but Malone turned and whispered, “Stay here.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“I’m sure you can. But Miss Mary may be in trouble and I can’t worry about you, too.”
The boy seemed to understand. “Help her.”
He pointed. “Stay put.”
A wooden rail lined both sides of the stairway. He planted a hand on each and pivoted his weight upward, easing down to the landing. He repeated the process to the next and stared down the final flight of stairs at the ground floor, into the bookstore. Fifteen wooden steps were between him and there, any one of which would announce his presence. But before he could decide on what to do, a shadow appeared below.
Then a man.
Headed onto the stairs.
He retreated into the second-floor doorway and peered past the jamb, spotting one of the men from the street coming his way. He waited until the man was halfway up, then burst from his hiding place and, using the two handrails again as pivots, hoisted his body up and slammed the soles of his shoes into the man’s face. He released his grip and fell forward, feet pounding the oak steps, legs leaping to the ground as his target hit the floor and tumbled between a row of shelves. Groggy, the man tried to stand, but a fist to the jaw sent him back down. Malone quickly searched and found a 9mm automatic.
Gun ready, he crept to the end of the shelves.
Three more rows lay between him and the counter.
“Here,” a man’s voice said. “I’m waiting for you.”
His gaze darted to the front door, which was closed. Through its glass people could be seen milling back and forth on the dark sidewalk. Someone stopped and tried the locked knob, then walked off.
He leveled the weapon and allowed it to lead the way.
At the third row of shelves he stopped and peered past.
The second man held Miss Mary from behind, a gun to her right temple.
“Nice and easy,” the man said.
He kept his weapon aimed and ready. “The point of this?”
“The flash drive.”
Who was this guy? And how did he know to be here?
“I don’t have the flash drive,” he made clear.
He kept his gun aimed.
Just one opening, that’s all he’d need to take the bastard down.
“The kid has the drive,” the man said. “Where’s the kid?”
“How do you know that?”
“I want the drive.”
“Give it to him,” Miss Mary said.
No fear laced her words.
“Do you have it?” Malone asked her.
“In the metal box. Beneath the counter.”
News to him. But what he saw in the woman’s eyes gave him comfort. She wanted him to do it.
He crept toward the counter.
The man and his captive stood at the far end, on the outside. He stepped inside and reached below, finding a metal container. With his left hand, the right one still aiming the gun, he snapped open the lid to see pounds, pennies, and pence scattered inside, along with a flash drive, the same size and shape as the one he’d read earlier.
He retrieved it.
* * *
Ian had made his way down from the top floor, using the handrails just as Malone had done. He found the bottom of the stairs and, to his right, saw a man holding a gun to Miss Mary.
The sight of her in danger frightened him.
She was the only person in the world who’d ever showed him real kindness. Never asking or expecting anything, she simply cared. Her suggestion that he sleep in her store and keep an eye on things was just her way of making sure he was out of the cold. Neither one of them ever voiced the truth, but they were both aware. Earlier, he’d returned to the mews for the plastic bag because the two books were a link to her. Seeing them reminded him of this store, her soft voice, her gentle ways. If he was to ever have a mother, he hoped she would be like Miss Mary.
He heard Malone’s voice, then Miss Mary’s, both discussing the drive in a metal box.
She was good.
He watched as the man with the gun told Malone to
If he could catch the man off guard, Malone could act.
He gripped the book, cocked his arm, and said, “Hey, you bugger.”
* * *
Malone heard Ian’s voice and saw a book fly through the air. The man with the gun raised an arm to deflect it. Malone seized the moment to re-level his weapon, but before he could fire, his target lunged left.
“Get down,” he yelled.
Miss Mary dropped to the floor.
Malone fired into the books, toward where the man had fled, careful with his aim.
Where was Ian?
He found the end of the first row of shelves and tried to spot any movement through the books toward the store’s far side. He spotted a shadow two rows over. He darted down the aisle, between the rows and the front windows, using the solid wooden ends for cover.
“Stay down,” he yelled again to Miss Mary and Ian.
At least he had the front door covered.
Then he remembered.
He heard footfalls pounding upward and dashed down an aisle toward the doorway that led to the upper floors. He approached with caution, keeping to one side. A quick glance past the jamb and he saw the man on the landing.
Two rounds pinged off the concrete floor a foot away.
Behind him, Miss Mary had retreated to the counter, seeking cover with Ian. Knowing they were okay, he made his move, firing a shot to clear the way, then rushing up the stairs.
He found the landing and hugged the wall beside the doorway leading into the second floor. The room beyond was empty, but a window at the far side was open. He spotted a fire escape, rushed over and glanced down, spotting the man fleeing down an dark alley behind the building.
He heard shots.
In the bookstore.
And glass shattering.
Then more gunfire.
* * *
Kathleen stared into any old books through one of its plate-glass windows, spotting an older woman and a young boy near the counter. To their right, amid the shelves, she saw a man coming to his feet. He bent down and lifted one pant leg to reveal a gun strapped to his leg. She reached beneath her coat for the weapon Mathews had given her and, at the same time, tried the knob to the front door.
She kicked its wooden half, but the door held.
The man was now standing, gun in hand, advancing forward to the end of the shelves.
The woman and the boy were unaware.
She stepped back and braced her weapon.
The man saw her.
He hit the floor and she fired through the door’s glass half.
Shards crashed down.
People on the sidewalk scattered.
A woman screamed.
She searched for the man with the gun.
Then he appeared, to her right, in another row of shelves, farther from the woman and the boy, but with a clear shot of her. She shifted left and fired again, through the opening her first round had made in the glass. The man was using the end of the shelving for cover, which seemed solid wood. His gun appeared and, as he fired, she dove to the sidewalk yelling, “Everyone get down.”
Most people had fled, some out into the street.
A few lay on the chilly pavement.
Three rounds came their way.
Others were approaching the store from behind her, seeing the commotion but unaware of what was happening.
A new surge of people crowded the sidewalk.
Somebody was going to get hurt.
Her attention returned to the store and she saw the man rushing out the door, into the crowd ahead of her.
She came to her feet and aimed.
But too many people were in the way.
* * *
Malone dashed back to the stairs and rushed down, stopping at the bottom. “Ian. Miss Mary.”
He heard people outside and realized that the glass in the door was gone.
“We’re here,” Miss Mary called out.
He darted toward the counter and saw that both were okay.
A new face stood ten feet away. A woman. She was maybe mid-thirties, short auburn hair, thin, attractive, wearing a beige overcoat. Her right hand held a gun, its barrel pointed to the floor.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“Kathleen Richards. SOCA agent. Here on official business.”
He’d worked with the Serious Organized Crime Agency while with Justice.
“Why are you here?”
“Actually, Mr. Malone, I was hoping you could answer that question.”