"By now anyone's who's left is searching the building for us," Steele said very quietly as he and Rafe stood on the top of the elevator cage, which sat at the basement level of the building.
"Then we'll just have to avoid them, won't we," Rafe replied just as quietly.
Steele bent and opened the elevator's escape hatch then dropped down into the cage, closely followed by Rafe. Rafe pressed an ear to the door and listened intently. Then he took the pry bar out of his waistband. Moments later he had the elevator door opened enough for them to slip into the dark basement. He pointed to a door across the hall from them then held up one hand with a shake of his head.
Steele nodded. He'd heard it too, the sound of a door opening at the top of the service stairs at the far end of the hallway. Rafe moved swiftly in the opposite direction to a door at the other end. Steele took his pistol from its holster, held it loosely in one hand, and followed his partner.
The room they entered had obviously been the building's laundry room at some point in the past. Two battered washers stood along one wall next to an industrial-sized dryer, the coin slots in all of them vandalized by someone hoping to find spare cash. At the far side of the room was another door flanked by two barred windows.
Rafe pointed to one of the washers and then the door they'd just come through. With a nod Steele helped him lift it and they put it in front of the door. Then Rafe set to work on the lock on the exit door while Steele stood guard. The muffled sound of footsteps came from the hall. Steele could hear the door of one of the other rooms open when its hinges squeaked in protest. He turned to glance at Rafe.
"Got it," Rafe mouthed. He inched the door open to peer out. A short flight of steps led up to ground level. Staying low he crept out and checked what he could see of the small waste and weed filled backyard. A man stood a few yards away, his back turned to the building at the moment, a rifle held over his shoulder. Rafe took one of his knives, perfectly balanced for throwing—and throw it he would, with the expertise born of long practice. But first he needed to get the man's attention. He picked up a large stone from a pile of litter that filled a corner of the stairwell.
He stood just long enough to hurl it with precision. It struck the back of the man's head hard enough that Rafe could hear the crack as it did. It would have been nice if it had knocked the man out but Rafe knew it wasn't likely to happen. He was right. He dropped back to his kneeling position as the man whirled around, one hand on the back of his head, the other weaving the rifle right and left as he tried to find who had hit him the stone.
That was all Rafe needed. He threw his knife, smiling in satisfaction when it hit its target, the man's throat just above his collarbone. Blood spurted like a small fountain. Rafe was on his feet instantly. He reached the man, who looked at him in shocked surprise even as Rafe pulled the knife free. Before the man could shout out, Rafe's fist connected with his jaw with bone-shattering force.
Steele was beside them seconds later. He picked up the man's fallen rifle then helped Rafe to drag their dying victim back to the stairwell where they dumped him unceremoniously in front of the door.
And none too soon. Someone pushed at the door from the inside, swearing when it only moved a fraction of an inch. Steele heard glass shatter as he and Rafe raced to the alley. They got to it just as someone fired a pistol from the broken window. Quickly they ran down between two building on the far side of the alley and onto the sidewalk. By the time they stepped onto it, Steele has holstered his pistol and dropped the rifle in a stairwell. A quick glance around showed them they were safe…for the moment.
"Through there." Steele pointed to a narrow passage between two apartment buildings across the street.
They spent the next twenty minutes working their way out of the area in that fashion until they were certain that no one had managed to follow them.