Somewhere in the house a clock struck midnight and announced the time to all who’d listen. Alex, layered as much as possible in the clothing left for her, wedged a chair under the doorknob to postpone discovery before entering the bathroom to trigger the hidden door. On the inside, an unused chemical glow stick hung from a nail and Alex snapped and shook it before closing the door behind her. Using the faint glow, she examined the secret passage with curiosity. Since she’d spent most of her life in apartments, she had little experience with single family dwellings but she still felt that hidden passageways were outside the norm. The walls, floor, and ceiling were fairly rough, like they’d used the lumber they’d discarded and deemed unfit for the public rooms of the house. Alex wondered if the intense cold was the reason there were no spider webs or other signs of dust as she couldn’t envision it being used too terribly often. Using the dim light from the glow stick, she carefully walked along the dark passageway until it branched off in two opposite directions. Uncertain of which direction to take, she chose the path that branched to the right and hoped for the best.
This passage actually contained a web or two as well as a light coating of dust. Faint light trickled through knotholes in the wood and she could use them to peek into the rooms as she passed. Most were filled with standard furniture such as a living room suite or a small dinner table and chairs, but one caught her eye and gave her pause: the kitchen. A kitchen meant knives and she would feel a lot better with some kind of weapon. The room was lit only by a couple of security lights and unoccupied so Alex searched for a way into it from the passage. Finding a small groove, she removed the clippers from their hiding place and, using the file, pressed along the groove until she heard a click. Careful not to bump into anything, she quietly searched through the drawers until she located the knives. She knew she’d not be able to use or conceal a large one effectively so she settled for a basic serrated steak knife and hoped it would do. Returning to the passage, Alex eased the door closed and resumed her trek only to come to a dead end. Cursing silently, she turned and made her way back to the passage that led to her room and this time took the left-hand branch.
About ten feet from the intersection, she encountered a set of metal stairs. Old and rusty, they spiraled to the floor below; Alex prayed they would support her weight. As she inched down them, she did her best to avoid the most rusted places. Each creak and groan of the ancient metal caused her heart to leap into her throat where it felt like it was clawing its way free. Her palms were sweaty on the railings which did nothing for her nerves as they often slid on the metal bars. Halfway down, her foot stepped onto, and then through, a rusty stair causing her to lose her balance as well as the glow stick. The ringing sounds as it bounced down the stair case echoed unnaturally loud in the small chamber. Barely catching herself before she followed her glow stick and tumbled the rest of the way to the bottom, Alex felt the bite of the jagged, broken stair on her ankle and knew she was bleeding. Without the light, she had no way to see how badly she’d been cut but the throbbing that had set in let her know it’d also twisted when she stumbled. Cursing her bad luck, she gingerly continued down the stairs by touch, taking far longer than she would have liked.
Reaching the base of the stair case, Alex grabbed the glow stick and used it to assess the damage to her ankle. The cut was fairly deep but not bleeding too badly. If she made it out alive, it’d need stitches so it could heal properly. Using the kitchen knife, she cut the hem off one of the shirts she was wearing and used it to bind the wound as well as provide a small amount of stability to the sprain. Pushing herself up from the floor, she braced against the walls to use them as a crutch of sorts and limped down the passage.
Sounds of people moving around and talking drifted up the passageway and alerted her that she was no longer the only one awake. Slipping the glow stick in her jeans pocket, Alex quietly hobbled forward to look for a way to see inside the rooms. She peered through one that was low enough to allow her to sit and rest her ankle and was instantly on full alert. Before her was a guard room and many of the men were moving around and getting dressed. If this was time for the shifts to change, Alex knew she had a small window of escape that she had to be prepared to use and it was closing rapidly. Rising, she moved down the passage with renewed determination.
The further she went, the colder the air got until she was certain she was away from the main house and close to the outside. When the passage came to a dead end, a white winter parka lay on the floor along with a pair of snow boots. Changing her shoes quickly, Alex winced as she tightened the boots around her injured ankle; perhaps they would provide some additional support. Zipping the white parka and pulling the hood over her head, she found a pair of thick gloves in one of the pockets. Triggering the latch, she whispered a prayer of gratitude to Katya, pulled on the gloves, and eased out into the bitter cold.
The lights surrounding the perimeter of the compound momentarily blinded her as she left the dark passageway and made her more aware of how dangerous her escape could prove to be. Shaking from both the cold and nerves, Alex hugged the wall of the building she’d just exited while looking for any kind of gap along the outer wall. Through the heavily falling snow, the wall, crafted from metal and concrete, appeared to encircle the entire villa except for the front gate. With a guard house on either side, Alex ruled it out fairly quickly. There was no way she could manage to get out without being seen and caught. She could hear the guards chatting as they went about their patrols and plastered herself against the building once more, her heart pounding in her chest. Months of inactivity had made them careless, however, and they never saw the figure huddled against the side of the building. Waiting until the patrol had passed, Alex darted across the open yard to hide between a pair of vehicles. Her breath was coming in rapid pants and she feared it’d give away her position but, after several minutes with no alarms, she risked moving towards the back of the cars to assess her next target. Again, the perimeter wall had no obvious gaps or breaks and Alex despaired of ever leaving the compound. Then, she saw something that gave her a bit of hope. A utility shed stood close enough to the wall that, if she could get to the top of it unseen, she should be able to make it over the wall.
Watching the patrols, she noticed they spent more time chatting on either end of their route than walking the perimeter. Alex waited for them to pass until they both had their backs to her, prayed her ankle would continue to support her, and quickly ran for the shed and crawled beneath it. For once she was thankful the snow was falling so quickly as it covered her tracks almost entirely before the guards reversed their patrols to make their way back. When they met once more, they chatted for a brief period and then continued on their way. Alex slowly eased towards the wall from under the shed and backed straight into an armed guard catching a smoke out of sight of his superiors.
“Кто вы? Что вы здесь делаете?” Alex shook her head in confusion at the guard’s questions, having no way to understand what he said. When he unclipped the radio from his belt, she knew she had to act quickly or be captured once more.
Stepping forward, she grabbed the back of his neck in one gloved hand and pulled him down for a deep, hard kiss. The guard resisted only slightly before turning to press her back to the shed and pushing his tongue into her mouth. Stifling her disgust at the taste of tobacco and alcohol, she freed the knife from her pocket and plunged it deeply into his sternum. He fought against the pain but the serrated blade caught on a rib and refused to pull free. After several terrible moments, the guard dropped to the ground, his eyes as cold and lifeless as the snow he now rested upon. She knew she’d see his face in her nightmares; his dead eyes staring into nothing, unseeing and unblinking. Alex could feel the bile rising as she stripped the guard of his radio, side arm, and the extra magazine he had in his pocket. Shoving him under the shed, she pushed the bloody snow on top of him. Unable to fight the turmoil in her stomach as the acrid stench of blood wafted up from the snow, she vomited until there was nothing left in her stomach. Using a handful of clean snow to wash the taste from her mouth somewhat, Alex covered the evidence of her weak stomach before assessing the wall and how she’d make her escape.
The concertina wire that coiled along the top edge would be intensely problematic; Alex had no desire to cut herself to ribbons during her escape. The door to the shed was locked and she eyed the man she’d stuffed under it, feeling a bit nauseous at what she knew she’d have to do. Waiting for the patrols to pass the shed once more, Alex steeled herself to search the dead guard for a set of keys. Unhooking the key ring, she cycled through them until one finally unlocked the door. Alex crawled into the building, staying low in case there were windows that would give away her position. Inside, she found exactly what she needed: a large plastic bin and some bolt cutters. The step ladder was tempting but the bin might not look as suspicious on first glance. Running a shaking hand over her face and into her hair, Alex prayed this would work and she would find someplace safe to hide until she could reach a US embassy that could get her home.
The guards hadn’t returned from their last patrol and Alex knew her window of escape had just shrunk to miniscule proportions. A fresh set of guards were about to come on duty and they’d not be as careless as the ones who were tired and ready to go sleep. Quickly pulling the bin close to the wall, she climbed on top of it and snipped the concertina wire. Alex cringed at the loud metallic ping as the two ends coiled tightly away from the break point and, choosing speed over grace, she scrambled over the wall to drop to the snow on the other side. She spotted a copse of trees about twenty feet away and sprinted for them, never seeing the shadow that watched her flight and shifted position towards her. Quickly, she darted around the trunk of one of the largest trees and then peered back towards the compound to see if anyone had noticed her and called the alarm. Relaxing slightly when there wasn’t an immediate outcry, she backed further into the woods and right into a firm, male chest. Just as she was about to scream, a leather glove pressed tightly over her mouth and she was dragged further into the sheltering tree line.