Kate leaned against the closed door of her apartment, then whirled around and scrambled to lock all three locks. Her fingers were trembling so violently, it took several seconds to get the safety chain into its small round hole. Her first impulse was to crawl into bed, pull the covers over her head, curl into a ball, and not move for at least a week. If she was lucky, this would all be an awful nightmare, and at any moment, she would wake up and everything would be just as it had been several hours ago. Back to the worries about coming up with the rent, getting a good long-term job, having enough extra money to get the brakes on her car fixed and maybe even being able to afford a new pair of shoes.
But tonight Kate wasn’t so lucky.
She glanced down at her hands and realized they were splattered with dried brownish-red spots. Blood. She pressed her lips together and struggled to swallow the rush of bile that suddenly filled her throat. With increasing panic, she saw there were more dark red splotches all over the front of her tube top and skirt and even on the bare skin of her shoulders and chest.
Oh God, she had to get them off. Frantically, she clawed at the fastener of the skirt and yanked it off. She peeled off the tube top and dropped it on top of the skirt and added her shoes to the pile. Finally, she pulled off the long blond wig and tossed it on a chair.
Wearing only black bikini panties and a black strapless bra, she hugged herself, trying to stop the shivering that had wracked her ever since the first shots were fired. Her jaws ached from being clenched for so long. She needed a shower—a long, hot shower to wash away the blood and the horror and the death.
Kate crossed the room that served as a combination living/dining room with a kitchenette blocked off in one corner by a folding screen. Small, run-down, yet barely affordable, her apartment had, nevertheless, been her cozy hideaway . . . until now. Even with all the blinds closed, her drapes pulled, and the door locked, she still felt vulnerable and alone. At any second there could be a knock on the door from the police. She wasn’t ready. Not yet.
Kate knew she shouldn’t have run away. It wasn’t even a conscious thought as much as an instinctive reaction to flee. When she heard the sirens, she knew help was near, and there was nothing she could do for any of the men lying on the sidewalk. She melted into the growing ring of curious bystanders and watched the emergency activity. As more and more people arrived, she had slid farther into the background until she just stepped away and disappeared into the night. Sooner or later she would have to talk to the police. Later seemed to be the better plan.
She entered the bathroom and turned on the shower. It would take at least five minutes for the hot water to reach her second-floor pipes, so she finished undressing while it ran. Her fingers fumbled as she took off her left earring, then reached for the right one. Touching the empty lobe of her ear, she sighed. Damn! The sparkling crystal hoops had been her favorite pair. She stepped out of her panties, then unhooked her bra. As she tossed it on the bed, a hundred-dollar bill fluttered to the floor.
She blinked and stared at the crumpled bill for a few seconds without moving. Jameel had given it to her earlier in the evening, and because she hadn’t brought a purse, she’d tucked it into the cup of her bra. In all the excitement, she’d completely forgotten about it. Stepping over it as if it were a poisonous snake, she entered the shower and pulled the curtain closed behind her.
As expected, the water was barely lukewarm, but it still felt good, pouring over her, washing away all the physical reminders of the night. She scrubbed her face and body with a soapy washcloth until her skin felt raw. Even after the water ran cold, she lingered in the protective cell of the tiled shower until she started shivering again. Reluctantly, she turned off the faucets and picked up a towel.
She made a halfhearted attempt to blow-dry her hair, then wrapped a fluffy robe around her naked body. Suddenly overwhelmed by a debilitating exhaustion, she succumbed to her earlier instinct and crawled into bed. With all her lights blazing and her ruined clothes littering the floor, she closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep. As much as she hated to think about it, she knew nothing would change before morning. Sooner or later, she’d have to deal with it all . . . but for the few hours left until dawn, she would try to find peace in the depths of sleep.