As they neared her hideout everything seemed amplified to her. Her breathing seemed too loud, her pulse raced too fast, and she swore they’d find her.
“Check the exits,” the one in charge said. “No witnesses. We’re sending a message.”
An extremely muscular man nodded and she felt fear pour over her as she began to panic. She knew what that meant, they’d be checking the staircase shortly. Her fight or flight kicked in and she knew she had to get the fuck out of there. It didn’t matter where, as long as it was not here with these men that would kill her if they found her just like they’d killed that poor man. But she knew she couldn’t run down the stairs. What if he knew the ins and outs of this place? Familiarity would beat quickness, he’d be on her in an instance and she’d be dead. She refused to allow that to be her end, not on her first day of independence. On the day she swore would be the true beginning of her life.
As difficult as it was, she prepared herself for him to open that door, and when he did she stood flat behind it. She stood as close as possible to the edge allowing for a full swing of the metal door. She willed herself to hold her breath as he stood there watching, obviously checking for any movement. The stairway was completely dark each door illuminated by an “Exit” sign. If he moved from his perch, if he went down the stairs or back up, she’d be found out, she knew it.
Her eyes closed and she made a promise to herself that she would not go out like this. She wouldn’t, she swore it, this was not how her life was supposed to end.
“Anything?” One of the flunkeys asked.
“Nah, quiet as a mouse.” Gwen almost melted against the wall when the door began to close, but she held herself still, listening, making sure she was in the clear.
“The elevator?” The one who seemed to be the second in command asked.
“Fine, it’s loud as hell, no one’s touched it.”
“Alright let’s go.” She watched as the “boss” strode in front of them as if he held the entire world in his hands and with one flick of a finger could crush anyone he pleased.
“Think anyone will call the cops?”
“Nah, you know how they are. Cops don’t fuck with black neighborhoods,” Mr. Second in Command responded.
The boss smirked and it sent a dreadful shiver down Gwen’s spine turning her blood ice cold, “And if they did, we’d take care of them. This is Matherio turf and I don’t let anyone touch what’s mine.”
She waited in her hiding place for at least ten minutes after she heard the elevator screech. Rusted coils tightening and expanding through years of neglect. It surprised her that they reached the lobby safely. That they had been allowed to live another moment, just fine, without a care in the world when they had taken someone’s life and would have taken her’s had she not been careful. At that moment she lost faith in karma, in the promise that cosmic justice existed to punish those who wronged others.
She counted, stood quietly straining to listen for the sound of a car starting. In the distance, she heard it, booming music bass so loud that even from here it hurt her ears. As the harsh noise faded away she ran from the stairway, but the body, that body, it stopped her. She couldn’t be like them, leaving him there so carelessly.
She knocked on every door, screamed, yelled for people to answer. People who she knew was there. But no one ever came. No one ever opened the door, no one ever turned on a light, no one ever attempted to help her. She knew then that the people were afraid. The sing-song phrase came to her mind “Snitches get stitches” and she realized then that these people lived by that motto. At the end of the day, their fear won over their humanity, and with a defeated sigh she gave one more glance to the corpse that lay on the floor before running for her own life.
She ran back towards town, spotted a 24-hour gas station, and begged the cashier to use their phone. She spoke a mile a minute, words blurring and spilling out of her from exhaustion and shock. He gave her his cell phone and when she reached the police operator she nearly collapsed from joy. She told them everything, what she had seen, the body, what he looked like, how many men their were, what they’d said, but when she told the woman the address she felt a shift in her tone. Subtle, but something in her tensed and became dry. She promised to send someone to the scene and Gwen waited, eyes glued to the door.
She waited for two hours, and she never saw a single police car pass by.