He had to make sure she got the briefcase back. It was his duty. He had left it on her doorstep and was waiting in his car across from the driveway to be sure she received it when she came home.
The downhill slope of the drive prevented him seeing the briefcase from where he sat. It only bothered him slightly because he was only curious, but if someone else were to take it he’d see them coming up the slope to the street. There was nowhere else to go.
It was growing dark. He thought she’d have been home by now. He checked his phone for the time. 7:25. Okay, he decided. 7:30 I’m gone.
Within a minute a taxi turned quietly into the street and pulled up just before the lady’s driveway. Not one but two women emerged from the cab. Loudly. It was far too early for two drunken women to be coming home like that, he thought. But they weren’t drunk. Just happy. He wished she were alone. It would have made it easier.
He watched them walk down the drive, admiring the way the driveway lamps illuminated them from shifting angles as they walked. The one he recognised as Rochelle was slightly ahead of the other. Rochelle stopped abruptly and turned to her friend looking shocked. He opened the car door and began to step out. Should he try to get her attention and explain about the briefcase? She’d already refused it once. What was her problem? Her friend’s presence made him cautious and reserved. He hesitated.
Rochelle grabbed her friend’s hand as she ran back up the drive towards him and suddenly stopped again. She had seen him. Or at least seen his car. Did she recognise him? He couldn’t be sure.
Rochelle turned and pulled her friend down the drive, while the confused girl called out “What are you doing?”. Rochelle spoke in low tones he couldn’t hear but she was certainly very anxious. The two of them then walked quickly down the drive until only their bobbing heads were visible above the concrete.
Damn! What was this woman thinking? He stepped all the way out of the car and moved far enough across the road to see the two women going inside the last unit on the block which faced straight up the drive.
The man of the blue hatchback thought quickly. Why did this girl not want the briefcase? Should he just give up and abandon it? Should he insist that she takes it just so it’s out of his hands? He decided he’d give it one more go and began walking down the drive to the bottom unit. On the way he picked up the ugly tan briefcase.
When the old lady answered the door he presented the briefcase and said, “Hello, I believe this belongs to your neighbour, a young lady named Rochelle who lives up in unit three. Could you please make sure she gets it?”
* * *
Rochelle couldn’t believe they went to the trouble of bringing the briefcase to her home. She fought the feeling of panic and struggled to think rationally. She certainly didn’t want to be anywhere they could find her. Why her? Why couldn’t they just leave her alone? Must leave and go into hiding.
“Come on”, she said quietly to Tina as she grabbed her hand and quickly led her up drive towards the street. Not five steps up the she saw the car. This was a quiet street and Rochelle was familiar with most of the cars that were usually parked along it near her home. This wasn’t one of them. The driver’s door was slightly open. Did she just see it open? Not sure. Must have. They’re definitely watching me, she thought. That must be one of them now. Shit!
Her phone signaled an incoming text which spurred her into action. Ignoring the phone she turned and moved quickly down the drive with Tina in tow.
“What are you doing?” Tina shouted.
Rochelle kept moving while speaking firmly but quietly. “They’re watching me. Following me. The blue car up there. Don’t look!”
Rochelle led Tina to the unit at the bottom of the drive. Its front door and window looked straight up the drive. The man getting out of the car would see where they went but she couldn’t help that now. Apart from the slight head start there was something she knew that he didn’t. Just as Rochelle was about to knock firmly on the door, it opened revealing a confident and fit-looking elderly lady standing to one side, out of view of the driveway. Good old Ruby!
“Hi, Ruby! Can we come in?”
“Of course, Love. Come in”, she said, peering suspiciously up the drive from around the door frame. “Excuse the lounge. I was just doing a light workout. I saw you coming.”
Yes, of course you did. Thank you for being the Neighbourhood Watch rep, too, thought Rochelle as she spotted Tina standing open-mouthed, taking in the scene of various bits of gym equipment surrounded by lounge chairs and a coffee table that had obviously been pushed aside to make room. Rochelle was aware of the strategic alignment of exercise bike, curtain gap and driveway. She couldn’t resist a chuckle.
“Listen, Ruby. We can’t stay but we were hoping to use Plan C -”
“I know. That man up there arrived an hour ago. He left a hideous light brown briefcase at your front door and has been sitting in his car ever since. He’s coming down now. I know nothing. Go!”
“Love you, Ruby!” Rochelle kissed her cheek and beckoned Tina to the back of the unit, into the courtyard, straight to a gate in the back fence. Rochelle put a hand on the gate and paused. Tina heard a faint click and Rochelle pulled the gate open. Rochelle and Tina stepped through the gate into a wide strip of vacant land.
* * *
The old lady who answered the door was stooped over and looked frail and confused. She mumbled incoherently, her eyes darting around uncertainly. The man immediately regretted butting in with his business before assessing her mental faculties. Or even before letting her acknowledge his presence at the door she just opened. The poor dear shouldn’t be living here by herself. She should be in a home. But elderly folk these days won’t admit they need help with the simplest things. This was going to take time.
He was becoming frustrated. He wanted to get home. He wanted to be rid of this briefcase. He just wanted to get it back to Rochelle and move on. He had seen the girls go into this unit. All he had to do was go in and give Rochelle the briefcase and leave. The silly old lady probably wouldn’t even notice. Or he could leave it with the old lady to give to Rochelle but the old lady would only forget. No good either.
Now he was doubting himself. He considered giving up and leaving it at her doorstep. He could take it home with him and try do deliver it another time. When he had less to do. When he felt like it. On the other hand he was determined to see the job completed. He had set out to do this so he was going to finish it. But he could feel his temper getting the better of him.
* * *
A few trees here and there dotted the dark landscape. More houses could be seen directly across from where they stood.
Rochelle spoke as they walked quickly. “Okay, just so you don’t freak, I’ll explain.”
“Good, I’ve been waiting.”
Rochelle tried to keep calm and rational. “We’re being chased, I’m being chased. I don’t know by whom or why. It’s actually freaking me out a lot. Probably more than most people would be but…” She realised she didn’t want to go there. Not yet.
She looked very troubled, Tina thought. “Amsterdam?”
“Yep, Amsterdam. It’s to do with that stupid briefcase. I just want to get away from it and get these people off my case.”
“Pardon the pun”, Tina interrupted, smiling.
“Shut up, Bitch! Not funny.”
“Sorry. You gonna get that text?”
Rochelle sighed. “It’s one of the usual. It’ll say something about keeping the briefcase.” She pulled out the phone, read the message and held it for Tina to read.
“Get the briefcase, now. Keep it with you!”, it read.
“I bet that guy in the car sent it. He’s watching me to make sure I take it.”
“Why didn’t he just call out to you or give it to you in person?”
“I don’t know! I just know they know way too much about me for my liking and I don’t know who they are. They know where I live and have my phone number and everything. And they’re too cowardly to let their own number through on the texts they send me. And like I said before that freaks me out more than it would anyone else.”
“I can understand that it freaks you out, babe, but why more than anyone else?”
“I can tell you about Amsterdam.” Even in the fading light, Tina could feel Rochelle’s eyes becoming cold. She could hear it in her voice.
Tina stared back for a short moment before answering. “Fine. Where are we going now then?”
Rochelle felt Tina deserved to know more than she was willing to provide. “I’m sorry. I just won’t feel safe in my own home tonight. I need to go somewhere else.”
Rochelle continued, “Okay, this is a pipe line reserve. People walk along here all the time, it’s quite safe. See, there’s someone now with their dog.”
Tina observed the silhouette of a person being pulled along by a large dark dog-shape going the other way near the houses on the other side of the reserve. And looking around, she spotted two more figures about fifty metres behind them. Yes, lots of people around. Very safe.
“After I got to know Ruby when I first moved in here, she said if I was ever in trouble at home, you know, single girl living alone and stuff, to come to her and she’d execute Plan B.”
“Cool! I thought she was pretty amazing. Fit as a horse by the looks of her. She must be – how old?”
“Seventy-eight, sharp as a razor. I wouldn’t want to be her enemy. Anyway, Plan B involved just staying with her. Plan C is the escape route out the back. Never thought I’d need her. She literally is a life saver.”
“I’ll say! So… where to from here. Looks like a road.”
“It is. It’s the street my court comes off. This curves back around up the hill there. We’re going the other way – “
Two black cars with tinted windows approached and slowed down. Rochelle suddenly had a terrifying flashback. She only had time to think of grabbing Tina and turning the other way when suddenly two silent assailants approached rapidly from behind and pulled dark hoods over their heads. Hands placed over their mouths prevented them screaming. The two black cars pulled up to the kerb and Rochelle was bundled, kicking and struggling into the first vehicle. Tina, likewise into the second. Both cars drove off at an inconspicuous speed and separated at the first intersection.