The girl made her way to join Mckenzie at the front of the car, who proceeded to point and gesture at various sections of the enormous engine, moving his hand around whilst trying to make his actions appear as deliberate as possible. He'd occasionally tug on a cable or twist a screw cap, even burning himself on a particularly hot radiator valve. 'What I'm doing is checking for, uh, leaks', he assured the girl, who by this time was out of sight of Clara, and more interested in what she was reading on her cellphone than the 'leaks' Mckenzie had tried to convince her he needed to find. Clara, still stood by the passenger side door, got to work. She glanced into the car, spotting a designer handbag, it's contents half-spilled out onto the passenger seat, facing away from where Clara was stood. Clara glanced around over her shoulder, noticing that the road was quiet. She reached her hand in and pulled the top of the bag up so she could see some of the contents, making out what was clearly a purse. She crept her fingers along the top of the bag in a 'walking fingers' kind of motion, desperately trying to get enough purchase to reach for the purse without having to pull out the entire bag. She felt the soft leather of the purse, and squeezed her fingers together in a pinching movement. Nothing. She tried again but just couldn't seem to get a firm hold on her prize. She tried a third time, before giving up and changing her hand position, trying instead to find a zipper clasp she could pinch hold of. She knew that the quickest thing to do would be to get into the car, but that would make the car move and risked giving the game away. She tried one more time, before realising that this wasn't going to work. She made a mental note of the bag, taking a 'snapshot' in her head so she could put everything back exactly as it was, and grabbed the bottom of the bag, quietly sliding it over to the passenger seat. She glanced around her, sensing the coast was clear enough, and scooped the bag into her left arm, her right arm removing the purse and opening it as quickly as she could. Her eyes glossed over the stacks of notes inside, trying to count them as quickly as she could. She knew without having to try too hard that she'd already spotted at least 20 $50 bills. She'd hit the jackpot.
'Can I help you?', a deep voice in a broad Russian accent quizzed from just over her right shoulder.
'Daddy! I'm so glad you're here, these guys were just helping me...' The girl hopped excitedly around the side of the passenger door, confronted by the sight of her father, and the 'mother' she thought had come to her rescue, holding her purse in one hand, and $2,800 of her money in the other. 'What the fuck?! You're robbing me?!’
Before Clara could even consider a response, the huge 'paw-like' hand of the Russian mobster had been clamped around Clara's throat, the force with which he threw her back toward the car making her head bounce off of the metal work like a tennis ball. The man wasn't that tall, maybe 6ft, but he was broad. His face was chiselled, clearly a man in his mid to late fifties, with the eyes of a soldier, someone who'd seen things the majority of us couldn't imagine in our worst nightmares. His hand, one of the only parts of his body that Clara could see at this point, was littered with tattoos; Russian writing and stars clearly his preferred subject matter. He was wearing about two day's worth of stubble, his nostrils flared in anger, his mouth sealed shut, his demeanour a quiet-calm that could erupt without a moment's notice. Whatever he had in store, it wasn't phasing him one bit. Clara could do nothing else but stare into his eyes, and what she saw wasn't good.
Clara winced and let out a whimper, the only sound she could make with the diminishing oxygen in her lungs. She was beginning to panic, and the Russian's grip seemed if anything to be getting tighter. She used both hands to claw at his one hand, convinced that her feet had actually left the ground by a couple of inches. His daughter stood by his side, staring back at Clara.
She hates me, she wants her Dad to kill me, I'm in real trouble
', Clara thought, not that she needed to read the girl's thoughts for confirmation on this occasion.
'Why were you robbing my daughter?', asked the Russian, not releasing his grip even the tiniest amount, suggesting that he wasn't actually looking for an answer. 'You see her in trouble and you think you can make some fucking money from her? You Americans think we're the bad guys but you do this? To a girl who needs help? Have you any idea who I fucking am?' Again, no response required. Clara didn't know exactly who he was, but she knew who his collective was. The tattoos on his hand, the soulless stare in his eyes, the ridiculous wealth he's able to lavish on his daughter. Clara's clearest vision of the day was quickly looking like it might be her last conscious thought; she'd picked the wrong girl to scam.
As Clara came to, she began to realise she was on the floor, her eyes opening slowly, making out the shape of the enormous tyre of a Range Rover Sport just an inch or so away from her face.
'Clara come on, wake the fuck up. We need to leave!' It was Mckenzie's voice, which Clara figured was a positive thing. She turned and rolled over, her head pounding from the impact of thudding against the cold, hard concrete, her eyes doing their best to keep their state of single-vision. Mckenzie was hunched over her, his hand reaching down and grabbing her's, pulling her up to her feet with an almost aggressive amount of force, something she'd gladly have chastised him for in any other circumstance, but right now anything that was going to help get them out of this situation was alright with her. As she was lifted up, she tilted her head down to her left, spotting the large Russian man slumped on the floor, a metal pipe covered in equal amounts rust and blood laying near his head, his daughter a mix of uncontrollable panic and anger as she attempted to wake him up. Clara knew that Mckenzie may have made their situation a whole lot better, or a whole lot worse; it really all depended on how the next few minutes played out. Before she fully understood what was going on, Clara realised she was running, unaware of speed or direction, just following Mckenzie, hopefully to safety.
Clara glanced ahead of her, trying to gain some idea of where they were heading, and spotted the bakery, the scene of their previous crime, only a few yards in front of them. She took some reassurance from this, it was nice to spot a familiar landmark when you're running for your life, but it also meant that, unsurprisingly, they hadn't travelled far in the last 15 seconds since she was lifted up to her feet. They needed to get more ground between them and the Range Rover, which by now either had a very angry, or a very dead Russian mobster next to it. Either way, they were entirely responsible. As she approached the doorway, Clara willed her body to turn right, bringing her parallel with the street so she could continue running, but her legs it would appear had other ideas, and she wobbled before slouching left, the glass window of the bakery the only thing stopping her from landing flat on her face. Then suddenly, a 'pop', before the huge glass window that was keeping her upright shattered, her body dropping into the empty space and snapping painfully against the window frame, before dispatching her, bloodied and bruised back out onto the sidewalk. Clara had spent so much of her life hanging out with the 'wrong crowd', living in the bad side of town, but despite this the sound of a gun firing was pretty alien to her, and her initial feeling of surprise at how different to the movies it sounds in real life was quickly replaced with the realisation that this guy meant business. She needed to move, and she needed to move now. Clara hoisted herself up to her feet, doing her level best to keep her head as low as possible, whilst doing everything she possibly could to convince her legs to start moving her forward. She glanced back at the car and could clearly see the Russian standing tall, not even attempting to mask the handgun that was pointed in her direction. Another 'pop', followed immediately by something sharp stabbing the left side of her face. Clara screeched and grabbed her left cheek, terrified at the damage a bullet to the face would have caused, pulling her hand away to reveal a small amount of blood, before noticing the bullet hole in the wall next to her, a moment of microscopic relief in amongst the chaos.
Clara continued to run, aware that the Russian would continue to take potshots at her until she was out of his line of sight, but also aware that like so many criminals, he didn't really know how to use his weapon. She figured that if he only pulled off one more shot, her luck might continue, but the more shots he had, the better his aim was going to get, and the more likely he was to find his target. She was also aware that Mckenzie was nowhere to be seen, and despite the bleakness of the situation for both of them, she couldn't help but be a little upset at his preferred attitude of self-preservation. She glanced ahead of her, seeing that she was coming up to a crossroads, an ideal chance to bolt down a different street, maybe jump into a taxi or dive into someone's backyard. She was running faster than she'd run for a long time, her eyes scanning the horizon looking for a hiding place, something she could make use of. She looked in front of her, making brief eye contact with a man, somewhere in his mid to late twenties, his right hand held up in a 'stop' motion, his left hand reaching into his jacket for something. Clara read him; '
He's a cop
', she thought. '
He wants to know why I'm running, he can't work out whether I'm the threat or not
'There, he's got a gun!', Clara screamed, stopping only momentarily to point out the Russian. It took only a half second more for the off-duty cop to unholster his weapon and take aim.
'NYPD, drop the weapon!', he screamed, his standard-issue pistol targeted squarely on the mobster, who clearly un-phased by the sight of another gun, fired back what was either a warning shot, or yet another badly placed round.
'Fuck!', yelled the cop, as he ducked and weaved to move to some cover, shoulder barging Clara in the process, knocking her down off of her feet and onto the sidewalk. He fired back, his bullet flying with a far greater degree of accuracy than the angry Russian’s, slicing against the mobsters' right arm before continuing it's path, finally ending up in the leg of his daughter, still stood by the Range Rover just a few feet behind him. She screamed in pain, whilst her father, now struggling to aim his weapon, admitted temporary defeat.
'Motherfucker! You're both fucking dead', he yelled, grabbing his daughter by the arm and hobbling over to his car before speeding off. Clara winced as the adrenalin began wearing off and the pain of her various cuts and bruises started to kick in. She went to lift herself up, the firm hand of the plain-clothed detective pushing her forcefully back down.
'No you don't', he responded, 'it was you I was coming to arrest sweetheart.' Clara lay there, held in place underneath the young cop's knee, listening as he called in the license plate of the mobster's car, spotting the oh-so-familiar sound of sirens in the distance as they took chase, and waiting for a car to come and collect her. She looked into the officer's eyes, read his thoughts for a moment, and knew that her monumentally bad day was far from over.
Clara was sat upright in a chair, her hands wrapped behind her back and bound tightly together with plastic cable, tight enough that her little finger had gone purple, throbbing in pain. This was the first of a few signs that suggested to Clara that she was in more trouble than usual. A lot about her situation was painfully normal to her. This wasn't the first time she'd been in a Police station, and as she glanced around at the dull grey walls, the cold metal table and the one-way mirror covering the length of the room, she felt oddly at home. She'd been in her fair share of trouble before, and was well aware that every time she ended up back in a holding cell she was one step closer to spending a considerable spell behind bars, losing her life to the system. It was her astonishing ability to tap into people's thoughts at random that had proven pretty useful here. It's amazing how easy it is to talk your way out of a prison sentence when you know exactly what the judge needs to hear.
But this occasion felt different. Something wasn't right, and an irritating, nagging voice in the back of her head, like an itch that you just can't scratch, told her that she was in more trouble than she could imagine this time.
The door to the room swung open, and a man in his mid to late forties strode into the room. Clara didn't recognise him, a fact that she added to the mental pile marked '
reasons why I'm screwed this time
'. Clara had gotten to know most of the DIs at most of the precincts around NYC at some point in her life, and whilst a new face specifically didn't worry her, there was something about this guy she didn't like. He was about 5ft 11, just the shorter side of 6ft. He was clean shaven and wore a particularly expensive suit, a sure sign that this guy had been drafted in for something in particular; whoever Clara was about to speak to, she knew it was no longer NYPD. He had piercing eyes, short, meticulously kept dark hair and a smart looking watch with a leather strap. He paced the room for a while, before delicately pulling a chair out from the other side of the table and sitting down, crossing his legs and reading from a pile of papers he'd brought in with him.
'You're in trouble, you know that right?', he quizzed, a broad Glaswegian accent catching her completely off guard. 'As in, fucked. Seriously.'
He paused, as if waiting for a response, one which Clara wasn't about to give, and one that it would appear, he wasn't that worried about hearing. He tapped on the pile of papers with his index finger, then pointed back and behind himself, as if trying to pinpoint the exact spot downtown where Clara's attempted robbery had just taken place.
'The girl you tried to rob was Valentina Lebedev. She's 17 years old, soon to graduate high school, currently nursing a bullet wound that won't kill her but will certainly make prom night a lot less magical for her.'