During the day, Jessie thought, this street wasn’t bad at all. It was narrow, yes. The shadows in it were certainly deep. Still, during the day, it probably just seemed like a cramped street between two tall buildings. Now it seemed like an alley. A dark alley. Jessie shivered a little.
It was her own fault they were here. There was a bus stop right outside of the Treehouse, and she and Suma had been sitting there waiting for the next bus quite safely. But Suma wouldn’t stop complaining about the guy she’d spent the evening with and Jessie was getting tired of listening to it, so she’d queried the MTA expert system for a better route home. That had told her they had another 45 minutes to wait. However, if they walked about a mile they could catch a bus off the main line stop with one arriving every five minutes and one less transfer on their trip home. It had been cold, and while Jessie was fine Suma was shivering. Worse she didn’t even seem to notice it because she was more than a little tipsy. In the well-lit stop outside of the heavily trafficked Treehouse walking seemed like a better idea than going back into the club and potentially running into the guys they’d just walked away from.
Now, cutting down a dark alley at midnight, it seemed like a very stupid idea indeed.
There was a clang from behind them. Jessie stopped then, almost unwillingly looked over her shoulder. The alley, no it was just a street Jessie decided, was flanked by the back doors of a bunch of businesses. There were dumpsters scattered along it, and in a couple of places trash bags just sitting on the ground. There wasn’t much wind and all of that trash smelled a little, though not much thanks to the cold. There was light from a loudly buzzing sodium bulb a few dozen feet back, but it was very yellow and seemed to hurt more than it helped. She watched for a long moment. Nothing moved.
Suma tugged at Jessie’s jacket. “Um, why’d you stop?” The words came out a little slow and the short Indian woman wasn’t standing quite still. Instead she drifted just a bit side to side.
I didn’t think she’d had that much, Jessie thought. In fact, she was certain Suma hadn’t drunk that much. Suma was a total light-weight, but she refused to acknowledge it so Jessie always kept an eye on her drink. Before Suma had gone to play pool she’d only drunk two margaritas and those things were little more than kool-aid as the Treehouse mixed them. That man must have ordered her something stronger while they were playing. OK, Jessie decided, I’m downgrading him from “impolite” to “jerk”. His friend hadn’t been that bad, but if an ax murderer got them because the friend had been trying to get into Suma’s pants, they were both definitely going on her list.
“It’s nothing I guess. I heard a bang from back there. Probably just a rat in one of these dumpsters.”
“Rat!” Suma practically shrieked.
“Cat,” Jessie quickly amended. Her friend hated rats. “An alley cat. There’s probably some old fish in one of these dumpsters.” That sounded stupid. Were they in a newspaper comic strip? But Suma nodded, then clamped a hand onto Jesse’s coat and they started forward again.
They’d made it forward a dozen feet, just to the halfway point of the alley, when there was another bang from behind them. Just a cat, just a cat, Jessie thought. She reached out and wrapped her arm around Suma’s back then picked up the pace supporting her friend slightly so the other woman wouldn’t stumble.
They were approaching the end of the alley when a half-dozen quick, regularly spaced, bangs sounded from behind them. The sound was very deliberate. It wasn’t like something falling, which would have been irregular, or like anything an animal would have made. It really sounded like a human deliberately pounding on the side of a dumpster.
It didn’t matter. They were only about 10 yards from the main street, so Jessie put her head down and hurried for it. Unfortunately, Suma wasn’t on the same page. She looked backwards, and wobbled then stumbling slightly into Jessie as she did so. Jessie was ready for that though, and she caught her friend without slowing and made it another three paces while Suma walked looking backwards.
“It’s not a cat. It’s a man.” Suma said, her voice sounded mostly bemused.
Jessie finally stopped and looked over her own shoulder. It was a man, or at least it was partially a man.