As Valentine came through the doors, one of the night managers called out to him, seeing the rifle slung over his shoulder. “Excuse me! Sir! You can’t come in here with that! Hey!” Valentine ignored him, and cruised the aisles quickly, looking for Andrew or Liz. He found them near the beer cooler, both of them standing and talking.
Andrew saw him first, and stepped between Valentine and Liz. “I don’t think you want to be here, man,” he said. “Go home.” He was so pissed that he didn’t see the rifle.
Liz did, though. “Jesus, Valentine, what’s the gun for?”
He grinned, but didn’t bother to unsling it. “Like it? It’s a souvenir. Reminded me of old times.”
“You know him?” Andrew asked, looking from Liz to Valentine and beginning to think that maybe giving him the benefit of the doubt about the video–because who’d do that to someone on purpose?–and not trashing his face had been a mistake.
“From LA,” Liz replied, not taking her eyes off of Valentine.
“Liz here thought she could just leave us all behind,” he said. “Thought we’d forget all about her. But we didn’t, did we?”
“What, did you bring Pogo with you?” she said caustically.
“You should thank old Pogo,” Valentine said. “He helped me figure out where you went. I know you didn’t mean to disappear on us like that. You aren’t in your right mind. I came out here to help you.”
Liz shook her head. “No, Valentine. I don’t need your help. Thank you,” she said, clearly not meaning it, “but go home.”
“Goddammit, you owe me,” he growled.
Andrew had unconsciously stepped out from between them, but as Valentine’s voice rose he interposed himself again, hands upraised. “You guys–Valentine, come on. Just let it go. Whatever you guys have to fight about, why don’t you just forget it. Come on–you came three thousand miles because you’re pissed off? I don’t care what happened between you two, it’s not worth it. And if you think it is, I’m going to help her beat your ass,” he added with a smile that didn’t feel as malicious as he hoped it looked. “Maybe you should just go back to LA.”
Valentine took a quick step forward and shoved Andrew violently backward, and in that instant it was on. Andrew staggered back into the glass doors of the cooler and then went after Valentine without another word. The two men clashed, throwing high and low punches, and Liz jumped frantically in, trying to separate them. The manager who had yelled at Valentine appeared at the head of the aisle and yelled, “I’ve called the cops! I have!” but made no effort to join the scuffle. Liz managed to pull Valentine away from Andrew and spun him away, knocking him to the floor.
Unfazed, Valentine got to his feet, tossed his hair out of his face, and unslung the rifle.
“Oh, shit,” Liz said, tugging Andrew backward and moving back herself. She was mentally counting the number of steps it would take to get out of the aisle. “Ondrew, he’s crazy. He’ll shoot us.”
“He seems to prefer knives,” an icewater-laced voice called out. Where the store manager had been, there was a woman in black. She couldn’t have been more than five feet tall, but her voluminous skirt and oversized sweater made her look larger. The baleful expression on her face had much to do with her apparent size as well. “Don’t you, asshole?”
Liz gaped. Andrew recognized Nikki and a dozen questions collided in his mouth at once, coming out as, “Here?” Valentine heard the voice and whirled with the gun butted against his hip and pointed at the ceiling. When he saw Nikki, he went chalk white and slack-jawed.
She charged him while he was frozen. By the time Valentine began lowering his rifle, she was close enough to grab the barrel. She pushed it toward the ceiling and twisted; he pulled the trigger anyway. The report was deafening. A ceiling tile shattered, and suddenly the gun was in Nikki’s hands, pointed the wrong way. She chopped the butt brutally across Valentine’s jaw, and he went down. “Run, you guys,” she told Liz and Andrew, deadly calm, standing over a man a foot taller than she was. Both of them stood where they were for a moment, shocked by their diminutive friend’s sudden appearance and easy violence. Andrew snapped out of it first, and pulled Liz away.
They ran for the front doors. Cashiers and customers sprawled on the floor, hands over their heads; a few had bolted. They jumped over the prostrate ones. There was a crash from the aisle they’d just vacated, and then a louder bang as one of the cooler doors shattered. “That was Nikki,” Liz said, still not believing what she’d seen. She’d been so sure in her heart that Nikki was dead that her mind was resisting the update.
“Where did she come from?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did she do?”
“I don’t know!”
Valentine reached the end of the aisle before Liz and Andrew made it out the front doors. “STOP!” he shouted, raising the gun to his shoulder and firing a shot past Liz. One of the store’s front windows exploded.
They stopped running. Liz turned quickly and shoved Andrew, sent him stumbling through the automatic doors, out of harm’s way, and then raised her hands and faced Valentine.
“That’s okay,” Valentine said, lowering the gun. “I don’t want his ass anyhow. Where the hell is my money?”
She tried to put on an innocent, confused look, and failed completely. So the half-formed memories were true. They’d stolen the money. She and Valentine and Pogo. “I thought it was ours,” she said after a long moment.
“That was before you took it all and ran.”
“It was an accident, Valentine. I didn’t even remember where it came from. I’ll even give it back, if you want–“
“Shut up!” He brought the gun up to his shoulder again, and Liz crossed her hands in front of her face palms-out, cringing in expectation of a bullet. “I don’t want to hear that shit. You broke the promise, and that’s all that matters.” He motioned with the gun. “Go on. Outside.” She did as she was told. Outside, Andrew was gone. Liz saw his truck, but there didn’t seem to be anyone in it.
She could hear the cops coming. “Give me your hands,” he told Liz as he pulled the side door of a battered Ford van open. Nikki was already in there, unconscious and wrapped in duct tape. She stuck her hands out and he quickly taped them together. Once he had hobbled her with tape as well, he pushed her into the van.
Behind them, people had begun to run screaming out of the grocery store, even though the danger was past. A truck went peeling out of its parking space, spun perilously close to the van, then accelerated out toward the street. Fucking rabbits. Valentine brought the rifle up and squeezed of a quick, irritated shot after it before jumping into the van.