She ran, but not fast enough. They caught up with her just as she rounded the corner of the alleyway and began to head for the main road. Freedom was so tantalisingly close. The first man to reach her threw himself at her: his flailing limbs failed to grab hold of her, but the lunge was enough to throw her completely off balance. Tripping over her own feet, Eden fell hard onto the ground, her hands dragging along the rough surface. She immediately scrambled to her feet and lurched forward, but she didn't get far before the second man collided with her with an angry roar. He bowled into her side with enough force to knock all the breath out of her, leaving her gasping on the ground. Before she could even draw in another gulp of air, an arm thudded down onto the back of her neck, grinding her face into the floor.
Ignoring the grit in her eyes and mouth, Eden lashed out viciously with her fists and feet, but then coughed in surprise and pain as someone grabbed her arm mid-strike and twisted it hard behind her back. A second later, her other arm followed. But it was only when Eden felt the cold of the metal against her wrists and heard the chink of the handcuffs that she stopped struggling. The sound of the lock clicking into place echoed with an air of dreadful finality. Instead she lay still, listening to her own sharp breaths, cursing the fact that she had tried to escape in this direction.
Suddenly the pressure on the back of her neck lessened as the man stood up. Instantly Eden rolled over onto her back and kicked at him, colliding solidly with his kneecaps. He fell to the ground with a cry of pain and a shouted curse. But, pushing herself up with her elbows, Eden only managed to get to her feet for a few seconds before the second man grabbed her shoulders and drove her back down to the ground. "Oh no you don't!" he grunted. This time it was Eden who cried out in pain as her whole body weight crashed down on top of her bound wrists, the metal of the handcuffs digging into her back. Instinctively she twisted onto her side, forcing her weight instead onto the hand on her shoulder.
And it was then that she heard of subtle click of the safety catch being released from a gun.
The man at her shoulders gave her a look of plain disgust; he shoved her shoulders down once more before hurrying to stand next to his companion. All three were breathing hard.
Slowly, carefully, Eden pushed herself up onto her elbows. She gazed across at the two men with an equally venomous glare. "You wouldn't dare kill me," she said, her voice low.
The man with the gun chuckled in-between breaths. The other reached down and pulled out his own gun, quickly flicking off the safety catch too. Eden took the opportunity to study them both: the taller one, the one she had kicked, was obviously the leader, but apart from that the only thing she could conclude was that these were definitely not policemen. That was a surprise.
"We can't kill you," the leader said, sniffing. "But we can hurt you."
Eden gave him a withering look. "You think that will help you?"
"Give us the casket!" the other man burst out. He looked around nervously, but Eden couldn't tell if his was worried about the police turning up, or Orpheus and his men.
She sighed impatiently. "I have my hands handcuffed behind my back. I couldn't give it to you even if I wanted to."
He shifted anxiously, moving his weight from one foot to the other. "Where is it?"
For a moment, Eden considered her options. The second man was obviously still scared of her, even though she was immobilised. That could be useful. It was telling that neither had approached her to look for the casket themselves. But she knew neither could afford to hang around. If they took the casket from her and left her alive, would Orpheus be any more merciful when he caught them than if they killed her too? Probably not.
Lifting her head, Eden looked into the eye of the leader. "Do you really think Orpheus will let you get away with this?" she asked softly. Inside, she was more curious about these two rogue thieves than she was scared of them.
The leader shook his head. "Orpheus isn't going to catch us."
Eden raised an eyebrow. "I really wouldn't be so sure about that."
"Orpheus is too arrogant," the leader snapped. "He's not going to be ruling this city much longer."
This time Eden actually laughed. "And you two are going to stop him?"
"We stopped you."
"You got lucky."
They glared at each other, and suddenly Eden felt embarrassed at the situation she was in. She'd been careless, arrogant. Her mind had been so focused on avoiding the police that she hadn't even considered the possibility that other thieves might be after the casket too.
"Take it," she said wearily. She jerked her left shoulder forward. "It's in my front pocket here."
The two thieves exchanged a silent glance. Slowly, reluctantly, the short nervous man stepped forward, obviously wary. He knelt down next to her and his hands reached for her jacket. They shook slightly, and Eden sighed in annoyance as he hesitated again. "Just take it," she snapped, then glanced back at where the leader still held the gun. "Do I look like I want to be shot?"
It hurt to see her beautiful prize in the hands of this amateur, but Eden didn't move as the man drew out the casket and shuffled back to his leader. But as he dropped it into a rough sack, Eden stirred and murmured, "It took months of planning to get that. Don't screw it up."
The leader took obvious satisfaction in tightening the drawstrings around the neck of the sack. "Orpheus will punish you when he learns that you've failed."
Eden laughed again. "Worried about me, are you?"
"No," the man replied. Lifting the gun, he shot four bullets into the wall above Eden. To her shame, she flinched as pieces of rubble crumbled onto her head. "But the police are all over the place tonight, looking for this." He gestured to the sack. "I'd rather deliver you into their capable hands than leave you to face Orpheus. Consider it an act of mercy."
Her eyes were on the leader: she didn't see the shorter man draw out a long rope. When his hand clamped around her leg she jerked back instinctively, but by then it was too late: he wound the rope tightly around her ankles, shutting them together hard.
Somewhere in the distance, they heard a siren start up.
"You're despicable," Eden said with disgust.
The leader just smiled, lifting the sack with the casket over his shoulder. Unable to resist, Eden sat still as the shorter man eased a strip of fabric into her mouth and tied it tightly at the back of her head. Then she could do nothing but glare.
"I hope the police find you before Orpheus does," he said. Aiming at the wall once again, he emptied the gun into in. The shots echoed around the alley. The sirens got closer. Throwing the empty gun down by Eden's side, he began walking away. "Come on, Myers," he muttered, and the shorter man followed.
Eden waited until both men were definitely out of sight before beginning to struggle against her bonds. There was no way she'd be able to get the handcuffs off without help, but she should be able to cut the rope around her ankles; at least then she'd be able to run away before the police arrived. She wasn't scared of them, but she had no desire to spend the night in a cell.
Wriggling her body on the ground, and feeling like a fool for doing so, Eden managed to get her hands into a position where she could reach the small knife that was concealed in a pocket behind her leg. Bending her legs upwards, she began to saw at the rope.