It was well past midnight when Sarah arrived at the hotel with an escort. Before she left the station, the Chief had given her some cash and ensured she washed and put on new clothes because he didn’t want to risk the security turning her away at the entrance. Her task was straightforward.
By this time tomorrow, she and the girls had to be out of New York.
Her head reeled in confusion every time she went over her plan, and the only constant in her mind was Christopher’s reaction after he discovered her folly, but she couldn’t worry about him now. Putting their safety first, she focused on the task at hand. The plan was to catch the last bus to Oregon before Christmas, take the girls to her grandmother’s house, and hope that the old lady remembered her. Looking over her shoulder, she could see the Chief’s minion blending in with the guests at the lobby and watching a repeated game of football, and she groaned aloud.
‘God, help me,’ she mouthed as she approached the reception. There were three receptionists at the desk, and she walked towards the lady that wasn’t on the phone.
‘Hello, my name is Sarah Mckenzie. I’m with Christopher Wallace?’
The receptionist feigned a smile and said, ‘Just one moment, please.’
Sarah froze. What if she was contacting Christopher? He would be there in an instant. ‘I’m his kids’ mother, and I was with them earlier,’ she added quickly.
‘Huh-uh,’ the receptionist replied, examining her thoroughly. Even with her new clothes, Sarah was sure she didn’t meet the standards of an associate of Christopher Wallace in the lady’s mind. ‘I’ll make a quick call to alert the penthouse of your arrival. It’s quite late, and they didn’t tell us they were expecting guests.’
Sarah tapped her fingers anxiously on the counter, praying for a miracle. She couldn’t hear what the lady was saying because she had a strange accent, but the number of calls she had to make made Sarah nervous.
About half an hour later, the receptionist said with a smile, ‘You are free to go up, Miss Mckenzie. Apologies, the penthouse security will search you on arrival.’
Sarah heaved a sigh of relief as she all but ran into the elevator. Her legs were wobbly, and the thought of Christopher catching her made her heart pump ferociously. She was amazed at the level of security on their floor. Christopher wasn’t taking any chances, she thought. She went through two checkpoints before the detail close to their unit knocked on the door.
A man she was sure she had met before opened the door and looked at her with surprise. ‘Miss McKenzie, I wasn’t expecting you. My name is Carl. We met at the mall in Queens a couple of months ago.’
Yes, she did, she realized. Now she had another problem. She didn’t know why she thought Christopher would be content with the heavy artillery outside their door. How was she going to get the kids out of there now?
She entered the lounge slowly, and as she did, she scanned the lounge, and her gaze fell on a pocket knife lying by a plate of fruits. When Carl closed the door, she reached for the knife and pressed it towards his back. ‘I’m sorry. I need to get the kids and go,’ she whispered shakily.
‘Sarah, you need to calm yourself,’ said Carl gently. The pointy end of the knife was poking at his spinal cord, and he knew Sarah wasn’t herself. Any form of retaliation could end with him decapacitated or worse.
He had to think of another way.
‘They are sleeping in the bedroom. I won’t stop you from seeing the girls,’ Carl said, pointing to the door.
‘I’m not stupid,’ Sarah muttered. ‘You’re coming with me.’
With the knife to his back, Carl walked to the bedroom door and opened it.
Sarah relished watching the girls sleep so peacefully and regretted banging the door loudly to wake them. Penny was the first to open her eyes. At first, she was stunned at Carl’s presence in their bedroom in the middle of the light, but her expression changed when she saw her mother behind him.
‘Mum!’ she yelled, jumping out of bed but stopping mid-way when she realized Sarah wasn’t coming towards her.
‘Mum, what’s going on?’ she asked, holding her teddy bear as she tried to take a peek at Sarah.
‘Munchkin, what’s going on?’ asked Daisy, drugged with sleep.
‘Mum’s here, but something’s not right,’ said Penny.
Daisy sat up lazily and stared wide-eyed at Carl. ‘Uncle Carl, what are you doing here? Mum?’
‘See Sarah?’ Carl whispered to Sarah. ‘At some point, you will need to let go of the knife and go to your girls. I promise I won’t alert the guards. Whatever this is, we will work it out. Please trust me.’
‘Go the bathroom,’ Sarah ordered. Carl wondered what Sarah’s end game was because he knew she wouldn’t get past the security at the front door without Christopher’s clearance, but he obeyed to avoid trouble.
When Carl was inside the bathroom, Sarah quickly locked the door.
‘Mum, what are you doing?’ asked Daisy. Penny was frozen in surprise because her mum had a weapon.
Sarah turned to them slowly and placed the knife on the dresser.
‘Girls, we have to go. We are in danger,’ she said flatly.
‘Go where?’ asked Daisy, puzzled. ‘Aren’t you tired of moving around?’
Penny was stunned and kept staring at her mum like she was looking at a stranger.
‘I don’t have time for this!’ Sarah said irritatingly and dragged two traveling bags from the top of the wardrobe.
‘Pack your things, and let’s go!’ she ordered, raking her hair with her fingers. ‘No!’ challenged Daisy. ‘Dad asked us to stay with Uncle Carl and not leave the hotel.’
‘Daisy,’ Sarah said sternly. ‘Do as I say. Trust me when I say it is for our safety.’
‘Safety?’ Penny asked fearfully. ‘Herbert’s dead, right?’
Daisy pulled Penny towards her and held her close. ‘We are not moving from here,’ she re-iterated.
That’s it, Sarah decided. She opened their wardrobes and started packing some essentials without caring about the order. Daisy and Penny looked at each other in amazement.
‘I’m doing this for you and your dad,’ Sarah said, with tears streaming down her face. ‘If I am not telling you everything, it’s for your safety.’
‘There we go again,’ Daisy retorted. ‘This is why Dad wants nothing to do with you. You are normal sometimes, and other times, you are crazy. Which is it, Sarah?’
Sarah shook her head to chase away the nasty thoughts forming in her head, but in the end, she knew she had no choice.
She reached for the knife again.
Penny gasped and hid behind Daisy.
‘Get up and start wheeling those bags,’ Sarah ordered, pointing the knife at Daisy.
‘Are you going to hurt us?’ Daisy asked, challenging Sarah.
‘I will do whatever is necessary to get you out of here,’ Sarah replied.
A moment of uncomfortable silence passed before Daisy got up and took the handle of one of the bags. Penny followed her closely behind and grabbed the smaller bag.
They wheeled the bags past Sarah and towards the door.
‘One day, you will understand why I did this today,’ Sarah said wistfully.
‘That will never happen,’ Daisy said coldly, ensuring Penny walked ahead of her.
Sarah cringed at her tone but remained resolute. She didn’t mind spending the rest of her life earning their forgiveness, but she could only do this if they were alive.
Now, how was she going to get them out?
If she had to be honest, she didn’t think she would get this far.
There was an exit at the other side of the lounge in case of fires or other emergencies. Sarah hoped there was no security there even though it was unlikely, but it was their only hope.
She closed the bedroom door quietly and suddenly bumped into the girls, causing their bags to clatter to the ground.
‘Why aren’t you moving?’ Sarah asked, irritated.
They didn’t answer because they were looking ahead of them.
She followed their gaze and gasped when she saw Christopher leaning against the wall close to the front door.
The knife fell from her trembling hands as she struggled to speak.
Christopher put a finger to his lips to urge her to remain silent, then motioned the girls to wheel their bags back to their bedroom.
Sarah didn’t think she had trembled that much in her life as she watched the kids walked past her.
He was angry.
His perfectly chiseled jaw was set in a straight line, highlighting his almost unified brows as they came together in sheer rage.
The Chief promised he would delay him. When did he get back? It was over.
Suddenly, the phone in her coat’s pocket rang. She didn’t even know it was there.
A burner phone.
She retrieved it and looked to Christopher for help. He signaled to her to pick the call and put the phone on speaker.
‘Hello,’ she said with a trembling voice.
‘Well, where the heck are you? T-bone said he’s still waiting for you. What in God’s name are you still doing there?’ asked the other voice at the end.
It was the Chief.
While he was speaking, Christopher handed her a piece of paper, and she read it out loud.
‘I’ve got the kids, and I’m thinking of a way out. It will take a while. There’s security everywhere.’
‘Well, don’t keep T-bone waiting,’ he bellowed over the phone and hung up.
Sarah met Christopher’s gaze briefly before he started making calls of his own. She couldn’t read his thoughts on what he had just discovered, but she was relieved. She fell freely on the sofa close to her and took some deep breaths in anticipation of Christopher’s reaction.
Carl came out of the girls’ room, looking frazzled but relieved to see Christopher at the lounge. Sarah looked apologetically at him as she almost curved into a ball, bracing herself for what was to come.
It was nearly 3 am.
Regina Sacramento yawned for the umpteenth time and dragged her gaze to the hotel’s entrance in frustration. What the hell was taking so long? She thought about calling her father but grimaced at the tone she was anticipating at the other end.
She asked for this so she couldn’t complain. She wanted to feel Sarah’s life dissipate under her watchful gaze. It would make for the perfect Christmas present. That and getting to help Christopher get through the grief. She had to admit that when her father told her he released Sarah, she thought he had gone over the deep end, but when he gave his reasons, she smiled broadly. With three shots, Regina could end this. She could rid Christopher of all his attachments and settle into his life with ease.
But now, as she looked through her rearview mirror, she didn’t feel so optimistic.
She thought she was seeing things the first time, but they flashed past her again.
Men in armored vests moving covertly into the hotel like ninjas. Her palms watered as she crouched to avoid detection. Her gut told her something had gone wrong, and as she looked through the mirror again, she caught a glimpse of T-bone crossing the street and disappearing into an alleyway.
Their plot was in jeopardy.
With shaky hands, she called her dad while peeking through the window to see who was coming through the hotel’s entrance.
‘What now, Regina?’ he asked angrily.
‘Dad, something’s wrong,’ she answered in a high-pitched tone. ‘Something’s very wrong.’
Just then, she thought she saw Sarah coming out of the hotel in handcuffs and surrounded by five operatives. They didn’t use the main entrance. It looked like they used the fire escape.
What was going on?
Instinctively, she started her car and drove away from the scene, with her dad still at the other end of the phone.
‘Are you driving, Regina?’ asked the Chief. ‘Did you kill them?’
‘Dad, the FBI was on the scene, and they have Sarah,’ she stammered as she steadied her hands on the wheel.
‘What?’ the Chief asked, puzzled. FBI? Here?
‘That’s impossible. I didn’t get wind of this. Are you sure of what you saw?’ the Chief asked in confusion.
Just then, there was a knock on his door.
‘Regina, I have to go. I’ll call you back,’ he said hastily.
He took a couple of minutes to compose himself before answering the door.
‘Hello Chrissie,’ he said with a broad smile.
‘I apologize that I couldn’t get here sooner. Most of the stores were closed,’ Christopher lamented. He showcased a bottle of Merlot and some Chinese take-out.
‘I’m afraid this was all I could find at this hour.’
‘That’s fantastic, my boy! You did well to find these. Come in, come in. You know I like Chinese.’
Christopher walked past the Chief and settled himself on the luxurious couch. Behind him, the Chief pondered intently. The FBI?