Shielding the Innocent Target
“You’ll do what you’re told. It’s very simple.”
The unfamiliar female voice froze Paige Walsh in her boss’s office doorway. The threat in the unseen woman’s tone was unmistakable.
A shiver of unease cascaded down Paige’s spine and she nearly dropped the manila mail envelope she carried. She resisted the urge to peek around the half-open door leading into the expansive corner office on the top floor of the downtown Fort Meyers Southwest Professional Building.
Working late was normal for Paige and her boss.
But having visitors after hours certainly was unusual.
From where Paige stood, she could see her boss, Federal Prosecutor Donald Lessing, standing behind his mahogany desk. The floor-to-ceiling windows running the length of the wall revealed the darkened sky.
Who was the woman? What was happening?
“You won’t get away with this,” Donald stated, his voice quivering with a note of fear. His gaze darted to Paige. He gave a shake of his head before he returned his focus to his visitor.
“I won’t let you.”
“Then you leave us no choice.”
Paige frowned. Should she intervene? Did her boss need her help?
She took a step forward just as a man, dressed all in black with a shocking head of white hair and pale skin, appeared in Paige’s line of sight.
He held a gun aimed at Donald’s heart.
Shocked, Paige’s pulse spiked. A wave of dizziness washed over her. This couldn’t be happening.
Donald held up his hands. “Please, don’t do this.”
The gunman squeezed the trigger. A barely-there, popping noise burst from the barrel of the wicked-looking weapon.
Blood bloomed across the front of her boss’s chest.
Paige’s gasp rang as loud as a shotgun blast to her ears.
The murderer whirled to face her, his pale blue eyes locking with hers. Dead eyes. She’d never understood the term—until now. He had a red angry scar running from his left temple down to his neck.
Fear, feral and ominous, snatched the breath from Paige’s lungs.
From the other side of the office door, the woman ordered, “Get her. You can’t let her leave.”
It was all the impetus Paige needed to give in to the flight response clamoring through her system. Clutching the manila mail envelope to her chest, she raced down the law firm’s hallway toward the elevator. The terrorizing sound of pounding feet chasing her made her stomach contract and nausea rise to burn her throat.
If he trapped her in the elevator she would never survive. What would happen to her son?
She bypassed the elevator and ran for the emergency stairwell. She flung the door open hard enough to bounce it against the concrete wall. She charged down the steps, one hand gripping the rail to prevent her from falling face-first. Her heels clattered with every quaking step.
The man entered the stairwell behind her, rapidly closing the distance between them.
Panic flared hot, searing her insides. Her shoes were slowing her down. With a practiced maneuver, she kicked the heels off and continued barefoot down the rest of the fourteen flights of stairs to the lobby. The concrete scraped against the tender soles of her feet.
Faster! Faster! The word ricocheted through her mind.
Oh, Lord, please, let me get away.
She heard that same barely-there popping noise and the concrete wall beside her head erupted with bits of debris hitting her in the face. She screamed and hunched as she reached the lobby door. Still clutching the manila envelope, she pushed through the door, rounded a corner, and ran to the security desk at the front of the building.
Two security guards sat unconcerned in front of video monitors. Why hadn’t they seen what was happening?
“I don’t understand it,” one of the guards she knew as Sean said. “Something’s messing with the—”
“Help! Help, my boss has been shot.” Paige skidded to a halt at the desk.
The older guard, Edward, came out from behind the desk and gripped her by the shoulders. “Get ahold of yourself. Explain.”
“Someone shot my boss. The gunman chased me down the stairwell. Call the police!”
“On it.” Sean picked up the landline phone.
“Who’s your boss?” Edward asked.
“Federal Prosecutor Donald Lessing.”
Paige’s breathing puffed out in gasps and her heart thumped wildly in her chest. Cold from the marble floor seeped into the soles of her feet. Expecting the murderer to come blasting around the corner at any moment, she inched her way behind the security guard, unconsciously using him as a shield.
Moments passed before the wail of sirens filled the lobby and bounced off the marble flooring and mahogany paneling.
A swarm of police officers hurried inside. A uniformed female officer approached along with an older plainclothes detective who flashed his badge. “Detective Finley. What’s going on here?”
“Our security cameras are down.” Edward pointed to Paige. “She claims her boss has been shot.”
Claims? “I’m Paige Walsh. I’m a paralegal for Federal Prosecutor Donald Lessing.” Frustration laced her words. “We were working late. I went to his office—” She swallowed as the memory of the blood spreading across Donald’s chest reared its head, making her dizzy. “There were people in his office. A woman and a man. The man he—he shot Donald. He chased me down the emergency stairwell.”
Where was he? Had he given up?
But she’d seen him.
She could identify him.
That meant he had to eliminate her.
Her throat closed. Her stomach pitched again.
The assailants could be hiding anywhere. He could find her office and discover her name and where she lived.
Her father had warned her that working for a federal prosecutor could be dangerous. But she’d never really believed it. The situation was so surreal. Why would someone want to hurt Donald?