Ally tugged at the stethoscope around her neck and smoothed the stolen lab coat. The gray industrial carpet was hard under her feet. The tile floor of the crossing hallway was a few yards ahead. She looked at James. “Which way?”
In the hallway a few people walked by with morning coffee. The lingering caffeine in the air taunted them. James glanced at the emergency exit sign on the wall. The blue scrubs hung loosely on his shoulders as he pulled on a surgical cap. He pointed at the hallway. “There. Then left.”
They moved quickly into the hallway. She started to read the office signs as they walked. “203, 205, 207. This is it.”
James turned the handle and pushed open the steel door. The office had been gutted. The left half of the floor was missing. Yellow painted safety railing split the room. At the far end was a single flight of stairs leading to the floor below. Electrical service panels lined the walls. He looked over the railing, seeing nothing but an old wooden desk and double-doors in the wall below. She shouldered him into the room and closed the door. “Come on. The desk.”
They walked down the stairs, alert but moving fast. The desk looked like it was from the 1950s. All metal with two drawers on the left. A telephone on sat on the scratched desktop. He dug a crumpled piece of paper from a front pocket and punched in the number. He tapped his foot, waiting. He nodded when the other end picked up. “We’re here. Wait a sec.”
She pulled the old Timex from her bag and held it for a second. The metal case was cold and twitched with each tick of the second hand. She placed it gently on the desk, taking time to center it. They glanced at each other, both nodding. “Yeah. It’s ready,” he said into the phone.
A grid of red lasers swept over the desk. He looked up but couldn’t see where they came from. The lasers scanned over the desk, narrowing in on the watch. Once they found it, the grid tightened and started to spin around on the watch face.
She watched the red glow. “I feel like I’m at the self-check.”
He put his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, “Hush.”
He ignored her glare. Then he rolled his eyes at the voice on the other end. “You happy now? I told you it was the real deal.”
After a second he hung up the phone. The lock on the desk clicked as the top drawer slid open slightly. Ally snatched the drawer open. They both paused, staring at the stacks of one hundred dollar bills. He looked at her with a smile. “I hope you brought the bag.” He noticed her shiver as she kept her eyes locked on the money. He let the moment pass. “Seriously, you did bring the bag, right?”
She snapped her eyes to his and let out a low laugh. She pulled a black nylon backpack from her shoulder bag. “Yeah, I did. Worry wart.” She pushed the bag at him and glanced at the upper level, “Get it loaded.”
There was a slight tremble in his fingers as he stuffed the stacks into the bag. He finished and tied a knot in the drawstring. He slung it over his shoulder and nodded towards the lower set of double doors, “Let’s go this way.”
She looked back at the desk, then at James with a raised eyebrow, “What about the watch?”
He slid it into his front pocket. With a slight twitch of his head he started moving towards the doors. She moved to catch up, and was along side of him when they reached the doors. She stopped and put her hand on the door’s push bar, “Why this way? That’s not the plan.”
“That hall up there is about to get real busy. The morning shift starts soon.”
Ally’s nostrils flared as she took a deep breath. She breathed out while pushing open the door. The cool air washed in as they stepped onto the polished concrete floor. The corridor had a low ceiling, and dim wire caged work lights along the wall. A slight breeze was blowing from the right.
He turned and started into the breeze. His voice was low, “This way.”
She lightly shoulder checked him, and pointed to the left. His mouth started to open and she shook her head. They locked eyes and she opened hers wide and nodded twice. She relaxed when the tension left his shoulders and he returned the nod. Halfway down the corridor she pointed at the door to the stairs. She opened it and he followed her into the stairwell. Two floors up, she stopped and nodded at the sign by the door.
“The maternity ward? How’d you know?”
She smiled. “The stairs on the fire exit sign by the elevator. I was hoping this connected.”
“Hoping? This is not the plan. We’re supposed to meet in the alley.” He was working to keep his voice low, and it came out in a hiss.
“You went off plan first by taking the lower hall.” She pointed at the bag. “We’re targets now. I want bright lights and middle-class wage slaves around me. Not druggies and hookers.”
He took a breath, “Our ride?”
“I’ll call her. We’ll meet a block over.” She pointed at the bag again, “Split it now.”
“Yeah, it’s a trust thing. So I don’t have to worry about you taking off.” She opened her shoulder bag and held it out to him. Her feet shifted into a fighting stance.