The dam of emotions collapsed, and the horrific images from the deepest recesses flooded my mind. Blood-curdling screams roared in my head, extinguished by the rattle of automatic gunfire. I am lost, trying to figure out what happened. Who am I? What am I doing here? Why is my face on fire? And then a foggy puzzle of memories slowly started piecing itself together. Casino. Tunnel. The heist. The bag full of cash. And right now I am the hunted animal.
My heart thundered as the numerous chopper blades whirled ominously above. The fluorescent light flickered and the reek of an unpleasant sanitizer filled my nostrils. The fire ate away the flesh on my face, and as I gazed in the mirror of the deserted restroom, the creature in the reflection wasn’t me. Through my blurred vision, I stared at the identical image of the monster I saw years ago in the reflection of the Vrbas River.
I knew I didn’t have much time, and I had to act fast. My survival instincts kicked in, and I had to escape from here by any means necessary. Any moment, bloodhounds could be storming in to kill their prey. I quickly washed my pepper spray- sprinkled face while my mind tried to calculate all the money in the big duffel bag. The money belonging to people who took from me.
I dried my battered face with paper towels. A deep breath saturated my brain with oxygen, and my mind cleared. There were no windows here, so I stepped toward the only exit–the door. Please let it be over. Get it done. No! It’s not over! Never give up!
Ready to face my destiny, I grabbed the door handle, when a tremendous crash on the other side made my heart stutter. Thousands of thoughts flooded my mind, all of them bad. I was inside long enough to give my hunters sufficient time to organize and prepare an attack. Are they breaching the doors to see if I’m in one of those rooms? Would they shoot me on the spot? Can I outrun them? I opened the door and waited a second, half-expecting a shoot-out. As I stepped onto the carpeted hallway, I realized the source of the loud crash.
The squeaky, plastic wheels of the housekeeping cart wiggled over the worn-out carpet as the cleaning lady struggled to control it down the deserted hallway. She stopped in front of one of the rooms, took her master key out, and disappeared inside. Passing by, I threw an inconspicuous glance inside as she performed her regular housekeeping chores. Business seemed to be as usual. The place looked like some kind of hotel, but each door I passed had a name plate under the numbers. A couple of old residents crawled by me.
The stale air was mixed with the smell of the synthetic air refresher, and the whole place seemed deadly quiet. Two more centurions chatted in front of the room. As I inhaled the surroundings around me, the lyrics of the song, Hotel California came to my mind–“you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
Another housekeeping lady closed the door and went on with her business.
“Can you tell me where I could find the house phone,” I asked in my most polite tone.
She directed me toward the lobby which was in the same direction I was already headed.
The lobby was decorated with either thrift-store or antique furniture–I couldn’t really tell-and it was filled with the old residents who excitingly gazed out the window.
“There is more of them!” an old, hunched-back lady exclaimed.
“What do you think, who’re they looking for?” a tall, pencil- thin, spectacle-wearing resident asked.
I saw the phone in the corner and confidently strolled toward it. Nobody seemed to pay attention to me. I sat in the worn-out chair and dialed the number. As I talked on the phone, I scanned the room, memorizing the layout. A moment later, I stood and glided toward the elevator. More residents crowded the lobby, and I knew I couldn’t stay here much longer without somebody noticing me. I realized this was some kind of a retirement home, and the youngest person seemed to be seventy years old.
Stepping into the elevator, I joined another red-faced resident. I exited on the desolate third floor and headed toward the window. There was a large gathering of spectators to the right of the building. Further down, a few Scottsdale police cars blocked the street. To the left, two uniformed cops guarded the perimeter. A few more of them walked down the parking lot. The self-preservation kicked in–the same feeling I had a long time ago during the war. I realize I was in the middle of the police ant-hill. The only way out is to pass right in front of them. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I turned around and headed back toward the elevator when a balding man in his early forties approached me. The name tag on his shirt indicated he was a manager, and right away I saw a suspicion in his eyes.