“What was that?” I woke up on a shivery winter night and started searching for my specs. “It’s so dark, seems the middle of the night… what a nightmare I had.” I thought, resettling to sleep. “Hey no! That’s not a dream. Someone’s banging the door. But at this hour! What is the time now? Where’s my cellphone? Goodness, it’s 12!” I paused. Another bang followed… making me really frightened now. I’m alone at home and it seems someone’s trying to break down the door. Should I… open it? Of course not, I decided, burying myself under the blanket. But curiosity got better of me. A minute later, I got up from the bed, walked down the corridor and looked through the peephole.
Oh my God. It’s Bertha!
I opened the door hurriedly, “Bertha!” a barrage of questions flooded me. “Is everything alright?”
She pushed me in, “Listen Laura. There is no time to explain. We have to get out of here right now.”
“What’s going on?”
“Laura just grab a backpack and come out with me, please, just grab your essentials… cards, some money, snacks, water and anything else you want… just dump them in a bag.”
“I’ll explain you everything on the way. They will come any moment; they were following me.”
Don’t know why Bertha’s fear catches me also that I start packing, wondering all the time if it all was a huge joke played on me when suddenly there was a loud… CLANG! The glass window had shattered.
“Oh my God,” Bertha cried. “They are here.”
Bertha ignored my question. “Bring your back-door key, fast.”
“I’ve a car parked at the back. We’ll creep up there quietly and escape. Or they’ll get us.” She grabbed my green jacket from the hanger rack, and held my hand tightly. I followed Bertha and saw a blue car parked five yards from our house. We got up quietly and Bertha started driving. In no time we were at top gear.
“Hey, hey! Slow down!” I shouted.
“They’ll get us, can’t you understand,” she said with a sharp swipe of the steering wheel.
“Bertha, who are they?”
“Listen,” she said pressing the accelerator. “Just a few hours ago, four men came in our house to visit my Dad. Dad took them to his study. Shouts could be heard from the room though I couldn’t catch the conversation. After some time, Dad came to my room, took out a file from his jacket and whispered to me that I should get out of our house from the back door and somehow meet Mr Peterson’s to hand over this file,” Bertha said as a bullet shot crashed the side mirror.
I shrieked as this made me unnerved as the car moved left but somehow Bertha managed to hold her poise and steadied the steering wheel. It made me realize what a good driver she was.
“They are following us,” Bertha said in a matter of fact way as if bullet shots were as natural as grabbing ice creams. “We will have to distract them. I am taking the left lane, then the flyover, so many by lanes are joining there. We can camouflage. Sit tight.”
A moment later, she did something which made my eyes pop out of its sockets. “Take this. Might come handy,” she said rummaging her pocket.
“Is that a… revolver?”
“I don’t have a license. That’s illegal!” I exclaimed. I couldn’t stop my eyes to look back again and again to see how far they were.
“What’s your priority? To stay alive or to be legal? Can you spot them?” she added.
There was sense in her words. The first priority of every human being was to stay alive. I shrugged off and proceeded with her inquiry, “No, seems they lost us. Where did you get this?” I asked.
“Dad’s,” she answered. “I was not ready to flee but Dad told me this is the only way how I can help him survive. I don’t know who are they but I can understand that they are after these documents. I was so afraid I came to you first. Laura, will you be on my side? I want to save Mom and Dad.”
I touched Bertha’s hand, gathered some courage and said, “You did the right thing. Let’s go to the police station first, then we will go to your place and then we will go to Mr. … what did you say?
“Mr. Peterson, my Dad’s colleague. A very kind person. I went to his place last thanksgiving.”
“Let me call 911”.
“No! Dad strictly told me to not go to the police, I didn’t have the time to ask him why…”
Bertha’s Dad was a lawyer and was working with the government. Something was seriously wrong, otherwise why would he ask her to not to involve the police? What come may, I told myself that I would be by her side at this hour of crisis.
“Can you see them coming?” I heard Bertha saying.
“No. Don’t worry, we’ll… what’s that? Hey, hey! Don’t go further. Stop, Bertha. Stop.”
Bertha stopped the car with a jerk. “It’s my home… Mom… Dad…” that’s all she could utter.
There was roaring fire everywhere with smoke billowing out of the windows of the Harris Residence. Fire engines swarmed the lanes with men in uniform trying their best to douse the fire. The sparks were flying so high that it seemed that the fire was going to come and swallow us all. The heat seemed to be scorching us, even from the distance. We could notice police cars patrolling the area as well.
I hugged her round. A tear rolled down my cheek, as I recalled my memories of this house. Now it was engulfed by an unsparing fire.
“Laura let me go! That’s my home.”
I held her tight. “Bertha, I don’t think it’ll be wise to go there now. The police have cordoned the area. I’m sure they’ll save your Mom and Dad. We will have to follow what your Dad told you to do: saving the documents. Listen, our only way now, is to go to Mr Peterson. That’s how we can save these.”
She acted mechanically and took a turn and the side mirror reflected a green car, silently coming towards us.
“Bertha they’re tailing us. Fast. Let’s hit Mr Peterson’s place.” I saw the speedometer’s reading was raising gradually. “Be careful. We can’t let the police mark us. Do you know any shortcut route?”
Bertha kept mum as she suddenly took the right lane. She acted like a robot but I could see the pain in her eyes.
With a sudden rise of speed, sharp swipe and tremendous pressure, which could send me flying out of the window, Bertha turned the car sideways, and drove across the gap in the divider and shot like a bullet through another alley. After a few furious minutes, she slowed down.
“Are they coming?” she broke her silence, asking in a voice that bore no emotion.
“No,” I had no extra words to say. I could only empathise her by being there with her.
“That’s Mr Peterson’s place, Oh God…” cried Bertha. In front of Mr Peterson’s house, the police and the ambulance were visible. His lawn was sealed, neighbours were standing here and there.
“It’s over,” Bertha buried her head in her hands.
“Let’s move, don’t stop here, people will notice us.”
“I think, he’s no more, Laura.”
Things had started getting more and more complex, but I chose to console her, “This might be something else, let’s take a round, we will come again to check the situation.”
Bertha didn’t say anything but a tear spattered her lap. I held her shoulder tight. She looked at me and nodded. I could realise how helpless she was feeling inside. We heard the ambulance gone. As we were moving, we both saw a car slowly coming from a side drive way. Fear caught us so violently that Bertha sped up the car.
“Bertha, we cannot give up, we’ve to think out. Please try to remember. Did your Dad mention any other whom you could trust?”
“Can’t you think of anybody… who could be trusted?”
“Well…” she said wonderingly. “There was a lady… I heard Dad and Mr Peterson… mention her sometimes… Miss Anne Robins…”
“Where does she stay?”
“I guess nearby.”
“Oh gosh, that green car again. Run.”
Bertha didn’t pause to think. She pressed the accelerator. But this time they outsmarted us. There was a sharp and loud bang, as the car and ours came side by side and they hit the rear side, fracturing it. As the car came at arm’s distance, a man suddenly aimed his revolver at Bertha. She took a full ninety-degree spin and drove through the corn fields right into a clearing and stopped.
“Are you ok?” I exclaimed.
“Yup… you? I realized the situation, fraction of a second before,” she panted.
“Well, we have survived.” We looked at each other and smiled. Seemed after a long time.
“Roll on to the Robins’,” said Bertha gearing up the car.
“Um… do you have any clue why your Dad told you not to go to the police?” I asked Bertha as we were driving; clear of the crooks.
“Nope… but I guess he is handling a case which is against the police. Otherwise why would he tell me to avoid them.”
“So, the men who entered your house, were policemen?”
“No. They were not the cops,” Bertha looked at me in a grave way. “I mean, when I saw them, they were not in uniforms so I don’t know. God! We need to get a gas station. Where should we go? Where exactly are we?”
“You carry on, I am checking the GPS, nearest gas station should be mentioned there, don’t worry.” I told Bertha very confidently though I know that it’s not that easy as I say, my hands were shaking when I was trying to find out our own location. As luck would have it, I spotted a nearby gas station. We stopped there with lot of anxiety and keeping a good look if they are coming. It was a suburb, dingy area, which turned interesting after a few minutes of our arrival.
“Excuse me, can I use the phone?” a lady said, panting. “I’ve an emergency you know, my friend Mr Harris’ house caught fire, I need to call them up, but I left my cell phone at my home. Please help me to make a call.” The lady appeared so stressed that she was shouting at top of her voice.
For a moment I saw a desperate flash of hope in Bertha’s eye, she was about to say something, but I held her tightly and whispered “No, this is not the right place, let’s get out of here and wait outside.”
She finished her call and came out of the place, unnaturally peaceful. We were there waiting in a dark non-noticeable place by the station. Her car turned right and we tailed her. She turned left, straight, right and right again when she entered a dark tunnel in which most of the lights had already been damaged and some were so dim that it was impossible to see anything beyond a few feet. We were scared to turn on the fog light. We felt that she might understand that we were following her.
Suddenly, with a screeching noise, she turned left and stopped the car across the tunnel, blocking us. She turned on her headlight, and sharply got out of the car and faced us in a pretend sweet pose.
“Come out dear,” she said. “You are Mr Harris’ daughter, Bertha Harris, am I right? I know everything darlings, please come out of the car. I am here to help you out, trust me.”
We were dumbfounded. Did she know us? We looked and nodded to each other because we thought this was our last hope, though I felt greatly annoyed at such adjectives from a complete stranger but kept control over my anger. Bertha was beginning to say something but the stranger cut through her.
“I know child… I know why you are here. Hand me the documents. It’ll be safe with me. That’s why I guided you here, in a quiet place.”
“How did you know about the documents? How did you know Bertha? She doesn’t know you… who are you?” I asked sternly.
“I know everything sweetheart, just do as I say, hand me those and feel free. That’s what you are supposed to.”
“Hand me those,” her voice became harsh, this time.
“We’d rather keep it with us,” Bertha said.
“Give it to me,” she yelled, as I saw she was moving her right hand slowly towards her pocket. But I was too fast for her and took out the revolver.
“Just don’t move, don’t move your hand, I’ll shoot,” I said aiming the revolver at her. “Come fast,” I murmured to Bertha as we tiptoed backwards to the car. As we got up, a fleet of cars emerged from every corner of the tunnel.
“FAST! Bertha, FAST!” I said as Bertha drove the car as if she was fighting with someone, gritting her teeth and murmuring continuously, “It’s a trap, a trap.”
But there was no means of escaping. People were following us and people ahead were soaring back towards us.
“Laura, which lane, right or left?” asked Bertha as she was progressing towards the crossing.
I was sitting like a dumb, she looked at me, I smiled as I remembered one of our favourite childhood games. I gave my fingers and said “Choose your pick”.
She held a finger and said “But what if we’re attacked there?”
I said in a stern way “It’s left.”
She looked at me and swerved the car to the left alley. We held each other’s hand.
We don’t know what’s waiting for us there…