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The Amaranthine Law

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Part 18

Andy looks around the impressive Victorian railway station, St Pancras, as she and Miranda made their way toward one of the exits. Miranda’s expression had gone from soft and, well, loving, to stony and laser-focused as soon as the Eurostar train pulled into the station. She slipped on her messenger bag and the small backpack and merely stood there waiting for the train to stop and the doors to open, like a statue, not even holding on.

“Are we getting another uber?” Andy easily follows Miranda’s stride but maneuvers the carry-on bag among the throng of people rushing to and from platforms.

“No, a London taxi will do.” Miranda pulls up her phone and taps at the screen. She doesn’t slow down and from Andy’s perspective, it is like the people move aside as if Miranda’s royalty. Perhaps they sense her determination and they’re not prepared to play chicken with this woman. Probably smart.

The long row of taxis makes it easy to find a ride and they enter one of them. Miranda gives the address, and soon they’re in rush hour London traffic. Andy, who is used to New York’s version of this, finds herself jarred by the fact that the taxi is driving on the ‘wrong’ side. When they reach a large roundabout, she gasps when the driver takes a left, even if she realizes that’s how it works here.

Miranda chuckles. “First time in London, I assume?”

“First time in Europe, period. And this driving on the left feels weird. Yikes.” Andy slides closer to Miranda. “Have you been here a lot?”

“Many times. I used to live here once. I was born here.” Miranda bites her lips and looks away from Andy. “It was a different city then. A lot different.”

“You’re from here? Huh.” Andy thinks back to the bio of Miranda she had read in Apollo magazine before she applied for the internship. “I read that you’re from Philadelphia.”

“I know. That’s the official story. The truth is, I was born in London and my family and I emigrated to the US when I was six years old.”

Why was that a secret? Andy knows the back of a taxi is not the place to ask these questions but makes a mental note to ask when they’re settled in Miranda’s condo. Which is another secret.

The taxi pulls over and Miranda pays the sullen driver. Stepping out, Andy looks up at the office building, confused. “Here?” she asks, turning to Miranda.

“No. Two blocks from here.” Miranda looks around and then starts walking. Andy grabs the handle of her bag and catches up with her. The streets here aren’t as busy. A few people on the sidewalks and no gridlock at the intersections.

Then Miranda stops and abruptly walks over to a window displaying women’s clothing. She seems to be perusing skirts, which is odd since Andy hasn’t seen her wear anything but trousers, jeans, or chinos. Now her eyes dart all over the display in the window.

“Miranda?” Andy murmur. “What’s going on?”

“Shh. Give me a moment. Miranda remains focused on the items in the window, but not on any one in particular. Instead, she shifts her angle and squints, as if she’s trying to read the price tags. “Listen to me,” she says, her voice low and stark. “I’ve seen the same man behind us at the station and now he’s thirty feet behind us on the other side of the street. We’re going to have to lose him.”

Lose him? All this agent vocabulary makes everything surreal. “You sure?” Andy tries to find the man in the window’s reflection, only now realizing that this is what Miranda is doing.

“Quite sure. We can’t lead him to my condo. Around the corner, a block from here, is a small square, or used to be, I believe it’s a parking lot now. We need to get there, as it’s another good place to hail a taxi. We must run, which means you have to ditch your bag. Is there anything you can’t live without in it?”

Andy trembles now. Miranda sounds so collected and matter-of-fact; she doesn’t even consider questioning what’s going on. “Clothes and toiletries. Nothing I can’t buy again. I have everything important in my bag.” She pats her cross-body bag.

“Good. Follow me.” Miranda hooks her arms under Andy’s startling her and start walking down the street. When they reach the next building, she nods to the right. “There’s a place you can get rid of the bag. The cars shield us from view here.”

Andy nods and slips the carry-on up a few steps and out of sight. Once she’s done that, Miranda lets go and starts running. Andy wants to look behind them but knows she must keep up with Miranda. She can’t lose sight of her.

They run past several shops and then Miranda makes a sudden right turn and Andy follows. They’re in a narrow alley between two buildings and to Andy, it seems the walls are closing in. Old cobblestones make it hard to run without slipping or twisting an ankle, but Miranda doesn’t slow down. The ankle boots are not ideal for running either.

The alley leads to a courtyard. Has Miranda made a mistake? Are they trapped in here? Andy is filled with questions but is too winded to ask. It’s not because she’s not in shape, she runs in Central Park twice a week, but more a question of nerves.

“Don’t slow down.” Miranda runs along the wall and when they’ve crossed the courtyard, she turns right again and they’re in another alley. Before they turn, Andy risks a glance across the courtyard and sees not just one man, but two, rush in.

“Two of them!” Andy gasps as she and Miranda hurry down the new alley.

“Fuck!” Miranda lengthens her stride. “We have to get to the square and there better be a taxi.”

Andy’s legs are burning, mainly for struggling to keep her feet level on the cobblestones. The alley seems longer and narrower with each step, but eventually, they burst out on the next sidewalk. Twenty yards to their left is what could be described as a square if not completely covered by cars and vans. Along the far side, a row of taxis is waiting for passengers.

Miranda waves and a taxi begins moving toward them. They meet it halfway. Miranda stops as it pulls out next to them and yanks the door open. Andy throws herself into it and Miranda closes the door hard behind them. “Drive. Just drive. There will be a 100% tip if you get us to this address in less than five minutes.” She rattles off a completely different address than before.

“Will do,” the driver says, a young girl, and floors it.

Andy holds on to the handle next to the seat as the woman turns a corner, almost on two wheels. Miranda is half-turned on the seat, peering out the back window.

“You ladies being followed, or something?” the driver asks as she tosses the taxi to the left is another intersection.

“My husband hired someone to spy on me,” Miranda says easily. “I’m grateful if you can keep well ahead of whoever among your colleagues they’re about to use.”

“Ah, those tossers in line after me? No problemo.” The girl circles another building, throwing Miranda into Andy who catches her just in time to keep her from slamming her head into a window.

“You have to hold on,” the girl in the front yells. “We’re almost there.”

“Pull up to number four.” Miranda pulls a credit card through the machine on the acrylic glass between them and the driver.

“Here we are then.” The stunt-driver-wannabe slams the breaks and moves into an impossibly small spot between two cars. “Nobody is behind us yet, so hurry up inside.” She grins at them through the back view mirror.

Miranda exits and moves to the heavy wooden door in the industrial-looking building. Andy manages to remember to thank the driver when she steps out of the taxi.

“Be safe. I’m off now so they don’t spot me. They’ll think I’m still driving you, maybe.” The girl drives off so fast, the tires squeal.

Miranda is holding up the door. Going inside the building, Andy leans against the wall as the door closes behind them with a loud thud. Through the dark windows, she sees another taxi rush down the street, passing them without hesitation.

“Damn…” Andy whispers and then she’s in Miranda’s arms.

“I’m so sorry, darling.” Miranda presses her lips to Andy’s neck. “Let’s go up.”

“Yeah. I hope you have something strong up there because I need a drink.”

Miranda chuckles against Andy’s skin. “I do. I have everything we need, for now.”

They enter the elevator, which size suggests this really used to be an industrial building back in the day. Miranda presses the button for the fourth floor and they ascend to a place to finally feel safe.

For now.