This story is by Shane Fitzpatrick and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The wind was carrying small white and pink cherry blossom petals through the air, spring gusts dusting the front steps of our building. I could hear Alison’s voice in my head, “You’re carrying a lazy man’s load,” as I dropped the folder inside the door.
I was carrying two boxes, the folder and a bag full of groceries through the revolving doors, when it fell from my grasp. The papers scattered everywhere, fatigue setting in. I hadn’t slept in three days.
I cursed aloud in the lobby and collapsed to the floor. The wall of brass fronted letterboxes above me were catching shards of sunlight from outside, reflecting light onto the doors of the two lifts, giving them an angelic hue.
Two sealed boxes, the same size as a Chinese takeaway. The ashes of my family encapsulated within. I kissed both, wanting the cardboard to press back like flesh.
I ripped off my face mask and cried. I had to cross the threshold, without them. Alison’s perfume would still be lingering in the hall, as she always sprayed it before closing the door behind her. Mark’s socks would be lining his bedroom floor, or thrown at the wash basket, not in it.
I wiped the tears away and picked up the pages, the last page being the initial coroner’s report. I had pulled in some favours from colleagues and my boss at Interpol, told me to take as long as I needed. The report stated that “death was instantaneous in both cases.” Shot at close quarters, double tapped they called it.
I heard the bullets and saw Alison falling to the ground. Mark had slumped backwards, off the swing. A single gunman fled the scene, a bald head glinting back at me. I ran to their aid, fruitless as it was. It was clear they were gone.
Reviving the fresh memory brought a thirst. Grabbing a bottle of water from my bag of groceries, I guzzled it down, drowning self-loathing. Dehydration had set in, my hands raw from sanitizer, fingers yellowing again from the last few days smoking. Alison told me to quit when Mark was born, nine years ago. I did, but I associated it with grief, sucking in release with each pull.
I replaced my mask as a striking young lady with red bobbed hair and a long black leather jacket, walked through the door. She confidently walked to the lifts, removed her oversized sunglasses and pressed the button to go up. I waited behind her, keeping my distance waiting for the ding. She didn’t make eye contact or acknowledge my presence.
She walked into the lift, pressing the button for sixteen. I noticed the marking of an erased tattoo on the base of her left index finger. The skin was slightly discoloured, like a scar from a burn, in the shape of the letter U, turning toward the interior of the palm. The hairs on my arm stood up.
Scrolling on her phone, she stood facing the number panel on the left side of the lift, exactly on the yellow “Two metres apart” sticker. I was on the opposite one, on the back right of the elevator. I placed the boxes on the floor behind me, guarding them.
She didn’t ask me what floor I was getting off at. Alison always said that the lack of sleep made me hypersensitive, forever a policeman.
“I’m sorry, I don’t recognize you. Are you new in the building?”
“I’m looking for a place at the moment,” she said as we began to move upward.
“On the sixteenth floor?”
“Yes.” We finally made eye contact. There was recognition in her prolonged swallow, despite the guised layer of masks.
“Oh really? Which number? Because I know a few people on the sixteenth floor.”
She paused as if stifling a cough, held a finger up and fiddled in her handbag, retrieving a tissue and coughing into it. I kept my gaze on her other hand, falling back into the bag.
I knew who she was. I dropped my bag and the folder, lunging toward her.
She pulled out a small Makarov pistol and I forced her hands upward. She squeezed off several shots in quick succession, high into the ceiling above us into the shaft.
I used my elbows to smash into the side of her head, but her strength, despite her lean frame was unnerving me. Her face although struggling, looked even more menacing than her mugshots in the folder at our feet. Her perversity in adversity made her cackle. She tried to bite my ears, kicking and screaming like a caged, rabid animal. Her wig slipped, revealing blond locks underneath.
As we thrashed for control, we didn’t hear the cables snapping above.
We dropped rapidly.
We were plunged into darkness, off our feet. I fell toward the back of the cabin as she grabbed a handle near the door. We heard another metal cable snap and we hung at an angle. The sound of metal grating, wires straining and cogs grinding hard against one another, fighting to keep us in midair, was nauseating.
The grinding started again, metal against metal, making us brace. I had no clue of how far we had fallen, but going on experience, the rise to my floor from the street normally took about ten seconds. We were approximately halfway up when we started to fall.
Then the final snap came.
I braced for impact, gripping the back handrail. My attacker lost her grip, landed facedown and fell unconscious.
Whatever metal had landed on the base of the shaft before we crumpled downward, shot up through the floor of the lift compartment, sending a metal spear akin to a javelin, right through my left leg. It pierced the meat of my thigh above the knee. The tip of the spear rose about two inches out of my leg, oozing blood. I managed to pull my jacket off and fashioned a tourniquet, stemming the bleeding. Her Makarov pistol lay beside the lift door, out of my reach. She had shot seven times, at least one left in the chamber. I slipped into a lull.
I saw my beautiful wife Alison, and nine-year-old son Mark, beckoning me forward, out the revolving doors, to the swings and park opposite our building. It was our escape for the last year.
Alison’s brown hair flowed, her skin glowed, Mark skipped with enthusiasm laughing, down the concrete stairs.
They wore billowing white robes with small red stains. As they descended the steps, a blood trail followed them, like Hansel and Gretel dropping breadcrumbs.
They reached the road, and a speeding black van ran them over. With a big U, stenciled on the outside. They bounced off the bumper and flew away like angels, not a gun in sight.
Agitated voices, sirens and an angle grinder scything through a door woke me and stirred her.
Blood was seeping from her ears, flowing slowly through her blond locks. She was sucking through red teeth as she sat up. Her gun was nearer to me than her.
“You’re exactly like your father,” I uttered.
“You don’t know who I am,” came her curt reply.
“Your name is Valentina Kursev, daughter of Vitali. He was the boss of the Wolomin crime syndicate, before he fled Poland. He paid off the Polish Police to avoid prosecution. He came here to hide with you, Valentina, here in Ireland, Cork specifically. You came over in 2011.”
“Well done, you know something! But you do know what has to happen here?”
“You will die here. You killed him with your Interpol investigation. You understand, right?”
“My investigation put him in prison. Cancer took him.”
“Cancer brought on by stress, caused by you!” she screamed, vitriol in her accent, pointing her index finger.
“So, you decided, to take my only son and wife in retribution?”
“He screwed up! He was meant to kill all three of you! They died two quick deaths if you must know. It was good enough for me.”
“Good enough? My family are in those two boxes!” I pointed at the two containers, my outstretched hand disguising my true intent. It was enough to distract. She showed a semblance of remorse, her eyes cast downwards.
I reached into the plastic bag and retrieved my service revolver, a Sig Sauer P226, pointing it toward her. She kicked to retrieve her pistol, lying now between her legs, her fingers around it.
“Who killed my Alison and Mark, Valentina?” I raised it closer to her face.
She sniggered, swallowed and shook her head.
“Find out for yourself – I’m not a rat,” she said before turning her own gun on herself, shooting up through the chin.
The hatch above us opened and brown brass light flowed in, bouncing in from the letterboxes, landing on my prone leg.
The sweet smell of the parks’ cherry blossoms wafted down to me, reminding me that I might never find their killer.