Lin wiggled out of her good clothes, folded them neatly, and put them back into the plastic bag. She glanced around self-consciously before pulling on the threadbare slacks, then the tattered blouse. Two buttons were missing, leaving an awkward gap just under her breasts. She patted the gap as closed as she could then sat to put on the goddamn shoes. She missed good shoes most of all. She stashed the plastic bag, now containing her one and only good outfit, and quickly made tracks.
Michael would be pleased with the package. Antibiotics, antiseptics, morphine, and copper wire – all items on the priority list. Lin’s contact had done well.
She became aware of the Coyotes as she walked the isolated stretch along Manufacturing Way. Glancing over her shoulder she saw thee of them hanging back a couple of hundred feet. Realizing she was aware of them they quickened their pace.
“Hey grandma, what you still doing out?” one of them called.
She walked faster, cradling the heavy bundle closer to her chest.
They began jogging to close the gap. “What’s your hurry, gran? You know, you shouldn’t be away from the Villas on your own.”
“Maybe she wandered away from the bus,” one of the others joked. They laughed. She bloted. They laughed all the louder. She heard them running too, quickly closing the gap. There was no way she would get away. On impulse she stopped and whirled around to face her tormentors. They reigned in quickly, a bit surprised by her move, but not put off for long. One of them, the apparent leader, smiled at her. The other two peeled off, one flanking left, the other right.
“Leave me alone, you spoiled brats.”
The leader pretended to be affronted. “Sounds like we got a crabby old lady here, guys. Thinks we’re spoiled brats,” he finished in a crybaby voice. The guy on the right slid out of view. “What you got there, gandma?” the leader asked, pointing at the bundle.
“Nothing you’d want.”
“You got that right,” a voice said from behind.
She whirled round to face him. He danced back a few steps, grinning.
The guy on the left grabbed her shoulder. She tried to spin away from him, but the leader grabbed her arm. She shoved against him with the bundle. He glanced down at her chest, where her blouse sagged open.
“Hey, she’s still got tits!” They all hooted.
“Still looks good enough to do,” one of them said.
“Hell, yeah!” Arms wrapped around her from behind. She threw her head back, making solid contact with a face. A stream of curses followed, and though he let go the other two jumped her. She flailed at them ineffectively, trying to protect the bundle while also using it as a shield. The leader just grabbed it and tossed it away, then reached in and ripped her blouse open, sending the remaining buttons flying. A bloody face shoved itself in front of her. “You’ll pay for this, you bitch.”
A beam of light flashed over them. The boys looked up, startled, then quickly released her, backing off.
“What’s going on here?” A tall figure approached, hidden behind the powerful beam. The light shot from person to person, washing over Lin two or three times. “That’s enough of this nonsense,” the voice said. “You boys get your butts home before I run you in for creating a nuisance.” Relieved, crying, Lin fumbled to try and hold her blouse together. The light jabbed at the boys again. “You heard me. Get!” The boys fled.
The light switched off. Lin was momentarily blind.
“Little bastards.” The man moved closer. Her eyes slowly adjusted and she saw he was Guard, not a night watchman. Her eyes flicked to the bundle. “I’m real sorry about that, ma’am. I see that kind of crap every day. I hope they enjoy their old age. Did they hurt you?”
She shook her head. “No.. not yet.”
The Guard stepped away to pick up her bundle.
“I’m glad I happened along when I did. I hate to ask you, ma’am, but I need to check your bag here.”
Her breath caught.
He pulled open the draw strings and shinned his light into the bag. He poked around a bit, turned off the light, and drew the strings taught. She could hardly believe it when he handed the bag back to her. “We just have to make sure. There have been some thefts around here lately. Squad room always blames it on you oldsters. Those three punks, more likely. Do you have another blouse?”
She shook her head, no.
The light flicked on again. He searched the sidewalk and the nearby lawn, but was only able to find one button. “Hope you can rustle up some more. At least the material didn’t tear. Can I give you a lift somewhere?”
Her instinct was to say no, but she really wanted to put distance between herself and the Coyotes. “Away from them,” she finally managed. “Down the road, to the next bridge, or the one after.”
“I can do that.” He escorted her to his car, held the door open for her.
He dropped her off at the bridge over the tram line. “This where you live?”
“I’ll try and keep an eye out.”
When his tail lights disappeared she scrambled down the bank. She listened hard, searching the darkness for hidden threats. Once convinced she was safe she opened the bag to inspect the contents.
It appeared to be nothing but a collection of old rags and discarded packing material. Miraculously, her contraband was still well hidden, wrapped in rags near the bottom of the bag. She could not believe her luck. She pulled them out, one by one, to check her inventory. Her heart sank when the last bundle felt wet to the touch. She carefully unwrapped it and let out a little gasp of dismay. The bottle containing antibiotics was in shards.
Lin broke down and cried.