Holly Nelson cowered in what her lover, Frank Jordan, called his panic place--a false space behind one wall of the bedroom of Frank's condo, approximately two feet deep.
"...check the place for his bitch ... waste her too..." she heard through the plaster wall. Surrounded by countless kilos of marijuana, she clenched her teeth against a squeal that would surely give her away.
Two men, having hurdled the building's electronic entry code, busted in on Frank slumped into his recliner, listening to dance club music on his surround sound stereo.
Caught unaware, Frank had been unable to reach the panic place, but during the scuffle outside the bedroom, she'd dove for cover and secured the door from the inside. Now she was in darkness, straining to listen.
The stereo was abruptly turned up. She swallowed hard at the possible implication and her body stiffened. She dared not breathe.
Suddenly, two sharp thuds broke through the music.
Her body began to tremble. She looked down at her shaking hands and willed them to be still, but they wouldn't stop. Her body refused to obey her command.
Footsteps became clearer. The men had entered the bedroom.
She recognized the sound of sliding doors. They were now rooting in the bedroom closet. The clink of clothes hangers and the rustle of clothing being chucked about confirmed her assumption.
Earlier, a business associate of Frank's, a man he addressed as Marty, had shown up unannounced for a none-too-friendly conversation about how Frank's life-style was drawing attention to 'the operation'.
She could tell that by Frank's humour turning sour, he'd been rattled by the drop. When Marty left, he ordered her to get ready. They would go out on the town.
She had been getting ready, and not happily at that, when the goons had entered the condo.
Frank had built the panic place himself and hid the entrance behind a pivoting chest of drawers. This chest of drawers was now a hair's breadth away from the men seeking her out.
A phone rang. Holly startled and slipped to the floor then gasped quietly. She froze. The phone in her bedroom rang again. A frightening pause followed. Holly had stopped breathing.
"You want me to pick that up, Wally? See if it's her?"
"Are you insane?"
Their silence seemed to last a lifetime. Had they spotted the panic room door? She went stiff as a board.
"Sorry, Wally, I wasn't thinking. She's not here, man."
Holly breathed a sigh of relief.
"Shit! Well, she'll turn up somewhere. And when she does.... Let's go."
Yes. Yes. Holly willed them out--out of the condo.
The sound of their footsteps waned, and a door shut, barely audible.
Just in case their leaving was a ruse to bring her out of her hiding place, she stayed put.
The glowing minute hand on her watch indicated that she'd remained trapped in her refuge for ten long minutes. What would she find when she came out, Frank's lifeless body? She hoped they hadn't blown his brains out. What a mess that would be to clean up.
What was she thinking? She couldn't stay in the apartment with a dead man! She'd gather a spare change of clothes then never return to this dump.
What if they had someone watching the building entrance? She gave herself a mental shake. One thing she knew: she couldn't stay here.