Friday, February 21, 2020

Shadow Men – 23 – Rafe and Steele

"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.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Shadow Men – 22 – Rafe and Steele

Rafe gestured toward the ceiling and the floor. Steele pointed to the bedroom, then up. With a nod Rafe walked there quickly and quietly. Steele waited until he was inside then took two small metal boxes from one of the suitcases. He put one against the front door of the apartment and set the motion sensor before he carefully inched away. Once he felt it was safe he hurried to join Rafe.
The bedroom window was already open enough for them to exit onto the fire escape, which was invisible from the rooftop where Steele had seen movement. Rafe started up while Steele set the second box on the escape's landing. As soon as Rafe was far enough up, Steele set the sensor and then with great caution so that he didn't rattle the landing or the stairs he crept up to join his partner.
"Roof?" Rafe mouthed.
Steele shook his head then pointed to a window on the top floor of the building. With a nod Rafe carefully continued up. When he reached the top landing he took what he needed from the backpack and went to work on the window. By the time Steele joined him Rafe had it open and had checked to make certain the room behind it was empty. A minute later they were back inside the building and the window was closed again.
"Just in time," Steele whispered against Rafe's ear when two men passed the window as they crept down the fire escape.
They both smiled tightly when a blast shook the fire escape a minute later, followed almost instantly by a second one from inside the building.
"Get us out of here," Steele said, secure in the knowledge that Rafe knew several escape routes from where they were at the moment.
Rafe cracked the door open, checked the next room and then crossed it to the front door of the barren apartment. A cautious look told him the hallway was empty. He stepped into it, Steele right behind him, and when he pointed they moved down and across to the disabled elevator. Steele cocked an eyebrow in question. Rafe's lips quirked in a slight grin. He took a short pry bar from the pack, inserted it between the elevator door and the wall and pushed firmly. The door silently slid open enough for him to get his hands on the edge. He forced it open about two feet then whispered to Steele, "Service ladder."
Steele saw what he meant when he moved into the opening. He held on to the edge of the entrance to gain leverage as he leaned sideways to grab the ladder's upright rail and then swung onto a step. Rafe slipped the remaining strap of the backpack over his shoulder and stuck the pry bar in his waistband. Then he inched into the space between the door and the wall, used his body to keep it from closing, and held out his hand to grip Steele's wrist. Steele took hold of Rafe's wrist firmly and anchored his other arm around the ladder. Rafe stepped off into space, the door closed behind him, and Steele yanked hard. Rafe grabbed the ladder and they both heaved sighs of relief.
"Knew that would work," Rafe said with more confidence than he'd felt moments ago.
"Umm hmm." Steele chuckled softly. "Down?"

Monday, February 17, 2020

Shadow Men – 21 – Rafe and Steele

"The windy city, my ass," Rafe grumbled. "It could use some wind to blow away the heat."
Steele chuckled as he watched his partner fan himself with a flyer he'd found on the floor of their hideaway. Admittedly it was unseasonably hot but not as bad as Rafe was making it out to be. Steele knew him well enough to know it was nerves that were getting to him whether he'd admit it or not.
They had been in the city for a week now, first on the north side and now in a small apartment building in the Hyde Park area not far from the University. This was Rafe's first home, not the apartment but the city. He'd grown up here, in Little Italy, and that's where they'd headed the first day. Not to visit Rafe's family. They wanted nothing to do with him and hadn't for years. Instead, Rafe got in touch with an old and trusted friend, one who had nothing to do with the Colonel or his people.
Angelo had greeted him like a long lost brother. At Rafe's request and without asking him why, Angelo had found them this apartment. "Trust me," he'd said, "there ain't anybody who's going to question you being there because there ain't anyone living there. Just make certain no one sees you coming and going."
No one had and after four days they were still waiting, with varying degrees of patience, for their contact to let them know it was safe to come see him. Steele, because he was the calmer of the two, had spent his time with his nose buried in anything readable. Rafe was the high-strung one, he always had been. His idea of killing time, other than the obvious, was to range the vacant building until he knew it like the back of his hand, all five floors of it.
"We could always go down to the basement, it has to be cooler there," Steele suggested.
"Barely," Rafe growled. "When's the bastard going to call?"
"Temper, temper. You know it'll happen when it happens and not before."
"I'm about ready to go find him and the hell with what he said."
Steele refrained from replying because he wasn't certain but what he agreed with Rafe. He was not, however, going to tell him so until he gave it more thought. He crossed to the window, stood to the side to stay out of sight while still able to look out over the neighborhood. There would be one advantage, he thought, in going to their contact; no one would expect them to.
The man was powerful, the reason they'd chosen him, and when he gave an order he expected it to be followed. He had ordered them to wait until he gave them permission to come to him. Steele wondered if it would queer the deal if they disobeyed him. With the information they had about the Colonel, his gut feeling was that once their contact got past his anger he'd be willing to look at it and hopefully do what was necessary to stop the bastard.
Steele started to turn to tell Rafe they'd do it when something caught his eye. He couldn't have said why but it did, just a quick flash of light from the roof of the building opposite theirs. It would have meant nothing if he could have seen the cause—however, no one was visible. And as Rafe had pointed out in frustration, there wasn't even a breeze that might have caused something to move on the roof.
He turned, finger to his lips, and pointed to the backpack that held the information as well as some of their tools. With a nod Rafe grabbed it and slung it over his shoulder then checked his weapons. Steele took his sheathed knives from under the battered sofa pillows where he'd hidden them, strapping them to his forearms.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Shadow Men – 20 – Rafe and Steele

"This baby runs good for being so old," Rafe said, not for the first time, as they drove toward Rome.
"I agree. Too bad we have to dump her soon."
"Let's hope whoever finds her gives her a good home." Rafe watched the signposts for the exit they wanted and turned off the highway into Salerno. As they'd been there several times in their careers they knew exactly where to head to accomplish the trade-off. Less than half an hour later they were back on the highway in a car that looked nothing like the one they'd driven out of Canolo.
* * * *
"He's willing to listen to us," Rafe said after he'd closed the phone. He tossed it into a nearby trash container and they continued on their way.
Steele nodded. "But can we trust him? So far we're zero for two in that department."
"It's a chance we'll have to take." Rafe paused to glance in a shop window. He saw two well-dressed men staring back at him. Again he and Steele had become other people. His green eyes were now a deep blue while Steele's blue ones were brown. Under the clothes they wore was padding that added thirty pounds to their lean, muscular frames. Both were clean-shaven except for Rafe's mustache. He caught Steele looking as well and winked. Steele's lips curled up in a brief grin before they moved on.
They had been in Rome for two days but now, with that phone call, they would soon head halfway across the world. Both of them were hyperaware of every person around them on the busy sidewalk, their eyes flicking from face to face even though they knew that if some of the Colonel's people were here they would be hard pressed to know it until it was too late. The man was no fool; he wouldn't send someone they'd recognize—not now.
Their next stop was an office building just ahead of them. As they reached it the doors opened and a small crowd of people came through—employees off for their lunch hours. Rafe and Steele fought the flow to enter a modern lobby. With a nod of his head to the security guard at the front desk, Rafe headed to the bank of elevators with Steele right beside him. They caught one just as it emptied, stepped in and waited for the door to close. Steele saw a woman racing to catch it and held the door for her.
Seconds after she entered Rafe pushed the button for the top floor. The elevator rose swiftly. As it did, the woman reached into her large purse and handed Steele an envelope. He opened it, checked the contents and then gave her a similar, if somewhat thicker, one in return. She smiled, pressed the button for the twelfth floor and when the elevator came to a stop she stepped off. Rafe hit the '14' button, and just before the two of them left the elevator he pressed two more.
They moved quickly down the carpeted hallway to the men's room. As they entered, a man turned from the sink, dried his hands and gave a brief nod toward a stall before he left. Steele went to it, picked up one of the two suitcases it held and handed it to Rafe.
Ten minutes later two different looking men walked out of the men's room. One was tall, blond and carried more weight than a man of his age should around his stomach. The second one was equally as tall but much less pudgy. His hair was brown with gray at the temples. Each man wore a business suit and carried an attaché case as well as a suitcase or garment bag. The blond pushed his heavy glasses up on his nose when they slid down. They entered the elevator when it arrived, mingling with the others who were on it. When it reached the ground floor the blond haired man hurried out of the lobby as if he was running late. He flagged down a passing taxi, got in, and it disappeared around the corner.
The brown-haired man strolled out of the building, turned left and meandered down a block before he made another left onto a side street. A cab pulled over and he got in. Forty-five minutes later Rafe and Steele, each ignoring the other, boarded the flight from Rome to Chicago's O'Hare airport.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Shadow Men – 19 – Rafe and Steele

"Okay, now I'm starving." Rafe leaned on his elbows as he looked down at Steele.
A good night's sleep had done wonders for both of them. Add to that an amazing bout of morning loving and they were definitely ready to face the day.
"Then you're going to have to move because for some strange reason we can't fix breakfast if we're lying here."
"Actually," Rafe said after he kissed Steele thoroughly one more time and then rolled off him to sit up, "I doubt we can fix breakfast anywhere here. If there's food in the fridge, it's probably growing green mold."
"Lovely thought that." Steele got up to hit the bathroom after he'd retrieved his kit from his backpack. While he was in there Rafe went to the bedroom window and cautiously looked out between the curtains. He could just see the street, which seemed to be empty. A check of the time told him it was midmorning and thus the lack of pedestrians was not surprising.
Steele returned a few minutes later, clean-shaven and with his hair combed back off his forehead, which gave him a completely different look from what he'd had for the last few days. He eyed Rafe then nodded.
"Go take care of business and then you're getting a haircut."
"Like hell," Rafe grumbled as he ran his hand through his too long, curly black hair. One look from Steele and he knew he was doomed, and why, so he vanished into the bathroom. When he came back he was grinning. "No scissors."
"Sharp knife. Sit." Steele waited until he had and then set to work. Fifteen minutes later he deemed the job finished.
Rafe took a look in the ancient mirror over the dresser. "Not as bad as I expected," he said when he'd turned back to Steele.
"You knew it wouldn't be. Now get dressed. I was thinking touristy."
"With a touch of 'Yes, we're heading out to hike'," Rafe added. "It will explain the backpacks."
With that decided they dressed accordingly from what clothes they had with them. The dirty, bloody clothes they'd arrived in went into a trash sack Steele found under the kitchen sink, set for disposal in the closest waste bin.
"Ready?" Rafe asked as he opened the back door just enough to check if anyone was out there. Two doors down he saw a middle-aged woman hanging laundry out to dry and held up his hand. When she finally went back into her house, the two men walked swiftly to the back gate of the small yard then down the narrow alley to the street. The area was residential but three blocks away they could see some shops. They both donned sunglasses and walked casually toward them.
"Food," Rafe said, pointing to a small café. They continued on past it as they carefully checked the area for anyone who seemed too interested in them, even though they were not the only tourists around. When they were certain it was safe they returned and went inside. Rafe took the lead once they'd found an empty table in back. He ordered for them in Italian flavored with a hint of a German accent. Then as the waitress started to leave he asked Steele in flawless German what he wanted to drink. Steele replied in kind and Rafe passed his wishes on to the girl who nodded and smiled at them before she left.
The food turned out to be excellent and as they ate they talked, in German, about which way they should go on their hike. At one point Rafe flagged down the waitress to ask her opinion and she made a couple of suggestions. When they finished and left, after a quick check to again make certain no one seemed interested in them, they started toward the center of the town and then veered off onto a small side street at Steele's insistence.
"Something?" Rafe asked as he looked back over his shoulder.
"Just a feeling, nothing more, but under the circumstances I think now might be a good time to head for the hills, and not the way our waitress suggested."
"Or…" Rafe eyed the car park directly ahead of them. "Come on."
There were several cars there, but only one that caught their eye as being a good choice. It was in the back and had a layer of dust and dirt on it that said it hadn't been driven in quite some time. They crossed to it as if they owned it. Rafe took a set of tools from a pocket in his backpack, picked one and moments later opened the car door. Then he tried to start it. When it wouldn't, Steele, being the mechanical one when it came to cars, lifted the hood. After a few minutes, while Rafe kept a weather eye open for trouble, Steele told him to try again. The engine chugged and stalled. Steele made another adjustment, and it turned over. Soon they were out of the car park and on one of the roads that would take them away from the town.