Dean stood up and made sure he could see Vlad as he trotted home. He dropped back to avoid looking like he was following as the young man strode down the side of the road. When Vlad slowed to cross Tilton Street at the light, Dean dropped in a crouch and pulled the lid off of a small trash can luckily near him. Vlad waited until the north-south light changed and crossed, moving south. Dean ran across through traffic that was sitting at the light.
The horns beeped angrily at him but he paid them no mind since Vlad had disappeared around the corner. He ducked between two shops, taking the alley out to Grover, where Vlad had crossed onto. He came out of the alley just meters behind his suspect. He followed slowly as before, not worrying about Vlad running. The young man trotted to a three-story brick building on the southwest corner of Grover and Tilton that said ‘Peak Arms’.
Most likely his apartment. Dean walked up the steps, noting that another homeless person was leaning on a cart taking shelter on the windward side of the building. As Dean passed the man, the homeless fellow grunted at him, so Dean upnodded absentmindedly, and continued walking past. He turned up the steps and pulled the door open, stepping inside.
The lobby was a small square that might have allowed five or six people to share the space. And the opposite end of the floor was a set of stairs going up. To his right, there was twelve mail boxes inset into the wall. Only three actually had names on them, the others were identified by numbers. To the left was a door that said ‘Staff Only’ that had two dead bolts on either side of the doorknob.
He took the stairs as quietly as he could, going up to the landing. The small landing was a square like the main lobby, with an archway that took up the far left third of the wall. Dean walked to the corner and listened once more. He heard some muffled voices and a child crying. Nothing sounded like it was in the hallway, so Dean turned the corner, and started down the hall. The hall was a person-and-a-half wide, with a warped linoleum floor that had a faded center where feet had worn it down. Three doors adorned each wall of the hall, the right hand ones were offset towards the landing a meter or so.
Two LED overhead lamps cast a weak illumination that made the air seem like a faint fog that blurred both color and sharpness. He crept past the closed doors, listening intently for a familiar voice. Hearing nothing but the fussing child, he continued down the hall to the next landing, this was a mirror of the first with the stairs at the far third of the right wall. As he moved silently upstairs, he heard muffled voices. There was an urgency to them that caught his attention.
He moved to the first door on the right, and heard Vlad’s voice muffled heavily by the door. Two other voices were in with him, one castigating him on showing up here. The second voice continued that he still owed them money and he wasn’t done yet. He had that girl looking for him and he’d better damn well reel her in. They had a quota to meet.
Dean clenched his hands, noted the number of the room, 3A, then slowly backed down the stairs. He knew he was onto something that needed to go to the police. The question became, what would happen if he did so? Would the two give up the girls? Where were they being held? If no one could find them, how could they be implicated as kidnappers? Would Vlad turn on them if he got caught? What would happen if he didn’t? The questions came hard and fast, and left him reeling for answers.
He went against his knee-jerk judgment of calling the police, and decided to find the girls before he called them. If I find them first, I can call from there with my cell and the cops can catch them with the girls. As he made the decision, he hear steps below him. Someone was coming this way in the hall. Prudence being the better part of valor, Dean retreated to the far end of the hall. The dim lighting left him hunting a dark spot like a cockroach who’d been startled by the kitchen lights coming on.
At the far end of the upper floor was a small landing. The opening upward hand been cover over and painted. Dean backed into the corner and lay on the floor, then peeked his head around the corner from ground level. He saw a police officer go to the door where he’d listened to Vlad talk to his unseen associates. He knocked sharply twice, pausing for a count of three, then knocking twice more.
The door opened as a woman carrying a baby stepped out, and he grabbed the door before it closed, and went inside. Dean wanted to go to the door to hear what was going on, but the door opened again moments later. The police officer stepped back out. He slipped what looked like an envelope into his back pocket, then draped his blue winter coat over it, hiding it from sight. He turned to the stairs, and walked back down out of sight.
He waited a minute, and, when nothing else stirred, he crept back to the first doorway, and listened. He closed his eyes to better focus on his hearing.
“So, who is Dean Youngblood?” said one of the speakers.
“That’s Youngwood, not blood. Merde! Do you even pay attention?” growled the second voice.
“Did the cop get us a picture?”
“No, just the name, he couldn’t get one snapped, apparently. We have his address. We could go pay him a visit.”
“Hey, can I leave? You talked to me, I’d rather not be around here” Vlad suddenly spoke up. There was silence for about five seconds.
“Sure kid, you can go. You still got a ways to go to clear your debt. Just keep up what you’re doing and you’ll clear it up in no time.”
“You said that before.”
“And you better listen, rather than running your mouth, bebe’. You might not like it if we call the debt in today, and you can’t pay.”
Dean heard Vlad stomp towards the door. He retreated back towards the alcove, getting four meters down the hall when Vlad yanked the door open, then slammed it shut. Dean looked back, certain he’d been seen, but Vlad was looking at his feet. His hands were clenched, then he rubbed his sleeve across his eyes before turning to the stairs and heading down.
There were a few other angry voices coming from the rooms near the two men, but they faded back into a sullen silence after a few moments. Dean crept back to the door, intent on hearing more. Halfway back he stopped and retreated to the alcove again.
If I stake these guys out instead of Vlad, I’m pretty sure I’ll find out what’s going on and where the girls are, if they’re still alive that is.
He waited for a few hours, and would have stayed longer, but one of the tenants spotted him. He assumed that Dean had snuck in, and raised a ruckus that had the residents chasing him out of the apartment. He went back to the office, then gathered up all his files and his shotgun, moving everything into his Jeep, and drove over to his parents’ house. He left the files and information with them, then drove back to his office to wait. Dean stopped on the way to buy a large coffee to help him stay awake that evening. Once there, he retreated to his office, and double checked that the shotgun was loaded.
It had a full magazine and one in the chamber. All the shells were number eight shot, which was guaranteed to turn a man into hamburger but not go through thin sheet rock. He sat up all night, waiting for trouble to show itself. When the sun came up and nothing happened, he picked up his files from his parents, and returned to the office.
I should find out who the cop was. They got my name from him, I’m sure of that. Are they going to set me up? Paranoia says yes, but how bad would it be? No use worrying about it now. I’ll just be way to wound up to do my job right. Gotta take it easy.