I'm trying to make these episodes stand alone, but if you want to read them as a series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.
Geoffrey grabbed the handrail for the next flight of steps down and leapt the last three steps and the landing for the flight he was on, because Pepper and Cinnamon were almost a full flight ahead of him.
"I'm taking it both of you are armed?" he said, hoping they wouldn't notice he was slightly short of breath.
"Of course," said Pepper.
"Not yet," said Cinnamon. "I've got a cache behind the electrical box two floors up from the emergency doors. Almost there."
"You don't keep any in your apartment?" said Geoffrey, too shocked to care about whether the others noticed he was more out of shape than they were.
"Well, yeah," said Cinnamon, "but we were in a hurry to leave. I've got to keep them locked up and everything to meet regulations."
Sure enough, they encountered a large electrical panel a few flights of stairs further down. Cinnamon reached underneath, typed a code into an unseen number pad, and a lid flopped down. She placed one flat palm against the underside, and reached around the edges for catches Geoffrey couldn't see from his vantage point half a flight up. A metal box dropped out of the larger one. Cinnamon opened it to reveal two different types of handguns and two boxes of bullets. She shoved the boxes of bullets into the side pockets of her cargo pants after giving the guns to Pepper to hold. Geoffrey watched her lift out an inner tray and remove an ankle and a shoulder holster.
"Where are we going, anyhow?" said Pepper as Cinnamon loaded and holstered the guns.
Geoffrey closed his eyes to concentrate. "The PATH," he said. "It's open all hours and there's lots of security cameras. They'll be less likely to want to make a fuss with an audience."
"Unless they just plan on killing us first and frisking us later," said Pepper.
"Too messy," said Geoffrey.
"That assumes they care about messy."
"Ready," said Cinnamon, with pointed brightness. "There's a door that leads to the service tunnels just past here. From there it's not too hard to get on the PATH, if you don't mind getting a little dirty."
Geoffrey started following Pepper as she moved behind Cinnamon, but he frowned. "It might be better to switch to official channels once we get past the cordon," he said. "Get on those security cameras."
"We're armed," said Pepper.
"With concealed weapons," said Geoffrey.
"I'm leading the way by rank," Cinnamon sang out. "So Geoffrey wins by a nose. Now everybody shut up, because we have to be quiet for this next part."
Cinnamon led them through a short series of tunnels, all lit by electric utility lamps anchored to the tops of the walls and exposed to the outside via grates laid over the tops. As they passed through the last one, they heard a man's voice bark "Shit!", quickly followed by an "Ow!"
Cinnamon paused to look up, but Pepper and Geoffrey pushed her into the next tunnel before she could get a good view.
The tunnels led to a stairwell in a different highrise tower. Cinnamon unlocked the door with her skeleton key and guided them to the underground parking. Just as Geoffrey was pulling the door to the PATH behind them, a bullet ricocheted off the cement doorframe.
"Damn," said Geoffrey. "We better move faster." He noted that Pepper and Cinnamon had already started running, and he rushed to keep up with them.
Once they were in the PATH proper Pepper took the lead, taking them through the underground shopping mall as it passed through the basements of different downtown office towers. At this time of night, nothing was open but the subterranean pathways themselves, and they crossed through corridors linking to food courts linking to storefronts, over and over again.
At last Pepper pulled them down a short side corridor, which led to a set of escalators and street level. Instead of going outside, she led them up a second set of escalators to the main bank of elevators to the office levels.
"This area doesn't echo much," she said, "and it's dark. And I happen to know this building's security sucks."
"Are we still being tailed?" Cinnamon breathed.
"No. We lost them when we took that turn back at First Canadian Place," said Pepper. "But there's losing a tail and then there's losing a tail and gaining some ground."
"They know we got past the cordon," Geoffrey panted. "That guy on the grate..."
"Yeah, but they don't know where we went after that," said Pepper. "If we were just crossing the street underground, we should be well east of there by now. Instead we're several blocks south and west."
"What an incredibly shitty night," said Cinnamon. "I hate getting shot at when I haven't done any shooting first."
"Technically, that could have been anyone," said Geoffrey.
"No way," said Cinnamon. "This is Canada. Not enough people are allowed guns. If they're shooting at us, chances are way high it's the ones who are after us."
"True, but —"
"Sheila's right," said Pepper. "The part about tonight being a disaster, anyhow. I mean yeah, technically mission accomplished, but the fallout is way out of proportion for a simple substitution job, and the research for the hotel was completely off."
"How do you mean?" said Geoffrey.
"Just for starters, it would have been nice to know about the target's security detail. The brief said he hadn't hired anyone."
"Yes it did," said Geoffrey.
"No it didn't," said Cinnamon.
"Yes it did," Geoffrey insisted. "It said he has his own private security force he always brings with him. I was surprised he didn't bring anyone to the hotel restaurant with him. But never mind that. What did you find in the hotel room besides the USB key? It must have been something important, or else the target wouldn't have sent out all this heat."
"The brief didn't say anything about extra security," said Pepper. "Do me a favour, Geoffrey?"
Geoffrey turned to look at Pepper, and found himself staring down the barrel of her gun.
"Take out your weapon," said Pepper, "nice and slow and all those other cliches, and give it to Cinnamon. Then once you're done that, sit down on the floor. You've got some explaining to do."
To be continued...