Zoe was a nervous wreck. She sat on the edge of her bed, tapping her feet on the floor and chewing on her fingernails – something she hadn’t done since graduate school. Zeb was just as bad. He had actually given himself a migraine waiting for word from Espinal. He was now lying on his bed, a cold washcloth across his eyes, waiting for the painkiller she had given him to kick in. The television was still on, but turned way down low, so as not to disturb him, even though she really wasn’t paying any attention to what it was showing. Something about Mesopotamia, she thought.
Webb startled her knocking on the divider door. He gave her an apologetic smile and glanced over at Zeb. “I think we should keep the curtains closed from here on out,” he whispered, nodding over to the uncovered window. It was getting to be late afternoon, and it would soon grow dark enough outside that they would be clearly visible from the parking lot.
“Okay,” she whispered, getting up.
Webb stayed her with a gesture. “Let me,” he told her. He went to the window and cautiously peered outside. Then, he gasped.
“What?” Zoe jumped up and looked over his shoulder. There, in the parking lot below, was her car – right where they had left it. But now…
It was on fire.
“Oh my, gosh,” she breathed.
“What’s going on?” Zeb asked, an edge of panic in his voice. She turned to him and saw he was getting up to join them, though she saw only severe pain in his slightly unfocused eyes.
Webb cursed under his breath and suddenly shoved her into her brother as hard as if she’d been kicked by a horse. “Get down!”
A loud bang and the shattering of glass followed his command and Zoe heard him scream, once. She and Zeb had fallen to the floor next to his bed and she was trying her hardest not to scream with absolute hysteria. Zeb had his arms wrapped around her head and had tucked his head close to hers. “It’s Seve,” she said in panicked despair. “It has to be.”
“Just stay down,” Zeb warned. “Webb?”
“Stay down!” Webb ordered. She could hear him speaking to someone on his phone, apparently reporting the attack.
Then she realized she smelled blood. She wriggled out of Zeb’s grasp and crawled toward the end of the bed. “Zoe! What are you doing?”
“Webb’s hit,” she called back to him. She could see him now, where he had landed under the little corner table. She crawled over to him. There was a lot of blood. “Webb? Can you hear me?”
He looked at her, gritting his teeth against the pain and said, “Backup is on the way. Get your brother and barricade yourselves in my room.”
She ignored him and kept looking him over until she located the gunshot wound. He’d taken a bullet in his chest, left side. She licked her lips nervously. This was bad.
“Keep pressure here,” she told him, placing his hand over the wound. Then she crawled over to her bed and pulled her medical kit down onto the floor and brought it back to him. She didn’t bother with gloves, it was far more urgent to stem the flow of blood before he bled out on the floor.
“Zoe, go,” Web tried to order her.
“I’m not leaving you to bleed to death, okay? Just hold still.” She cut open his shirt and packed as much gauze as she could lay her hands on against the opening of the wound. With every new layer, she had him press down on it while she fetched more.
That is, until his eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness. “No!” She piled on more gauze and then put a large adhesive dressing on top of the lot. She knew it was better not to move him, but also knew that Seve would end him once he got in this room.
“Zeb, help me get him into his room.”
Zeb crawled over to her under the window and she pulled the duvet off Zeb’s bed. She instructed her brother on how to help slide Webb onto the blanket so they could pull him into the other room more easily.
She dragged her medical kit with her and they shut and locked the dividing door. Outside in the halls, she could hear other hotel guests screaming and running.
Zeb pulled the curtains shut, though she was fairly certain Seve would already be inside the building looking for them. He then moved the round table out of the corner and propped it up under the handle of the door that opened onto the hall. “We need to get him into the bathroom. And we need to block that other door.”
“I’ll get him the rest of the way,” she said.
Zeb nodded and she pulled Webb into the bathroom and shut him in, hoping Seve would never find him. When she got back into the room, Zeb had wedged one of the two chairs that had been with the table against the divider door.
“It doesn’t have a real doorknob, so this is the best I can do,” he said, panting and placing the heel of one hand against his temple. She’d almost forgotten about his migraine. He had to be in agony right now.
She went to the phone and tried to dial out to 911, but all she heard was a recorded error message telling her that all circuits were busy and to please try her call again later. She hung up with a frustrated growl.
“What is it?”
“The phone is overloaded, I can’t call out and my cell phone is in the other room.”
Zeb looked around and then tossed her what she had to assume was Webb’s cell. It must have rolled out of his hand and onto the floor as they moved him. She called her hospital directly, thinking she might get through easier than to the 911 dispatchers.
She was relieved when it was the shift manager who answered. “Charlene, it’s Zoe. No time to explain but I need an ambo at the Dune View Hotel on State and Oleander, room 205. Male, mid-forties maybe, gunshot upper left quadrant. It’s urgent. And Charlene-”
“Yes, honey, what is it?”
“Tell them we have an active shooter.”
“Oh, honey,” Charlene said. “Right, I got it. You just sit tight and we’ll get you out of there.”
“Thanks, Charlene.” She hung up.
Then, she and Zeb both jumped nearly out of their skin as a loud, cracking thump sounded from their room. She looked at Zeb and mouthed, “I think he’s breaking the door down.”
Zeb nodded and reached for her. She went to stand with him as they listened. Another huge pounding sound startled her and Zeb put his arm around her shoulder. He steered her toward the door to the hallway and whispered to her, “When we hear him start on the divider door, we run as fast as we can out this door, okay?”
She nodded. They each took one of the table’s legs, preparing to move it out of their way. A splintering crash sounded from the room next door and they knew Seve was inside. She nearly shrieked when he started thumping on the inner door.
Zeb nodded to her and they quietly removed the table, leaning it against the bathroom door to help protect Webb. She hated to leave him, but knew they’d all be safer if she and Zeb left. He opened the door just as a second huge cracking thump sound from the divider door and they rushed out into the hallway and sped down it in the opposite direction.
There were stairs at the end of the hall and an elevator. “Wait!” Zeb said as she started toward the stairs. He went back and pressed the elevator button.
“What are you doing?” she whispered harshly.
“Decoy, might buy us some time,” he said, reaching in and punching some buttons when the elevator door opened. Then he turned back to her and they ran down the stairs. She had to reach out and catch him a couple of times as he lost his footing, but they made it down to the lobby in one piece.
Other guests were pouring out of the hotel and into the parking lot. Sirens were wailing in the distance. And footsteps were pounding down the stairs behind them.
“Come on,” Zeb said, taking her hand and leading her away from the exit, toward the employees only area behind the reception desk. The first room they came to was an office, but it had another door on the opposite wall. They went through the door and found themselves in a hallway. To their left was only a door on each side that were labeled as bathrooms. To their right, an open door spilled bright white light onto the floor and the edge of a stainless steel rack could be seen.
“Kitchen,” she surmised, and they headed toward it. She was right, it was the hotel kitchen, though it was now empty of staff. They ran past steel counters and appliances, through a cloud of steam coming from an industrial-sized dishwasher, and to the rear door.
She was out of breath and Zeb’s balance was starting to betray him. They needed to get somewhere safe. Fast. They didn’t know which way was best to go, so they chose left, toward a huge Dumpster that reeked of rotten, wet food.
Behind them, a gunshot. The bullet pinged off the corner of the Dumpster. Zoe shrieked and Zeb yelled, but they kept going, trying to keep the Dumpster between them and Seve as long as they could. The corner of the hotel was up ahead, but she knew they’d never make it before Seve got a clean line of sight on them.
Zeb slowed just a bit, putting himself between her and Seve, despite her attempts to keep him by her side. He switched which hand held hers, to keep them running as quickly as they could. “Keep going,” he urged as she tried once again to pull him up next to her.
“But he’s got a clean shot at you,” she protested.
She discovered she was right again, only this time that wasn’t a good thing. Seve shot at them, but she felt no impact, no pain.
Zeb, however, went down with a gut-wrenching scream. She skidded to a halt as his hand in hers pulled her off balance. “Zeb!” She tried to pull him up to his feet but he’d taken the bullet in the lower back. “Oh, God, please don’t,” she prayed, crying.
“Go! Run!” Zeb shouted, pulling his hand out of hers. She looked up to see Seve bearing down on them.
She looked him in the eye and backed away, every fiber of her being screaming at her to run, but her heart urged her to stay with him. “I’ll be fine, Zo, I promise,” he said. Then he rolled onto his side and looked at Seve, who just walked calmly toward him. “Go, Zoe!” Zeb told her.
She sobbed and turned to run around the corner of the building. She heard Zeb shout, then another gunshot and dropped to her knees, tears raining down. She made herself get back up, though, using the handle of the shovel that was stabbed into the flower bed along the wall to steady herself.
She wrapped her hand around the handle and heaved up on it, ripping it from the ground. Thank God for landscapers, she thought. She thought she could hear footsteps running toward her from the direction she had just come. She pressed herself up against the wall and raised the shovel.
A moment later, Seve cleared the corner and she swung with all her strength, catching him in the face. Blood spurted and she knew she had broken his nose. He raised a hand to his face and aimed the gun woozily at her. She swung down this time, as hard as she could, catching his hand with the shovel’s edge. She heard bones breaking and he screamed in agony, falling to his knees.
The gun fell out of his bloody hand but she turned and ran-
Straight into Inspector Espinal. She screamed and flailed her fists for a second before she processed who he was. Then she collapsed against him, all the fight gone out of her. “Zeb,” she cried brokenly.
He patted her head and shushed her, then she felt herself being passed on to someone else. She didn’t know who, but at that point, she didn’t care.
“My brother,” she cried. “He killed my brother.”