Part Ten: Chapters 71-93
"Any day now, Archer," Simon said under his breath, checking his watch for the thousandth time. It was now exactly 9:56, or two minutes later than the last time he'd checked, which meant that it was about forty-five minutes since Jeremy had taken off, or fifteen minutes after the time Jeremy had said he'd be back. How long did it take to buy beer, anyway? Of course, it was Jeremy he'd sent after the stuff: Jeremy would probably spend half an hour trying to find a beer to please his own snotty-ass English-faggot palate before making his leisurely way back, five miles per hour under the speed limit all the way, just to piss Simon off.
Kicking his feet stiffly up onto the couch Simon finally let his curiosity get the better of him and picked up the magazine that Jeremy had abandoned on the coffee table, which he'd been eyeing askance for fifteen minutes now. It was written in English, at least (Simon had been expecting Italian, or possibly French, just for maximum snot value) and it read like one of Sandra's ubiquitous fashion magazines ramped up to the nth: instead of pictures of five-thousand-dollar handbags and stories about famous actresses, there were pictures of fifteen-million-dollar condominiums on the Mediterranean (Jesus) and stories about European people Simon had never heard of and wouldn't care about if he had. A couple of pages were dog-eared. Simon couldn't really tell why those particular pages were marked, but he had the horrible (and vaguely funny) suspicion that reading Jeremy's magazine was making him into some kind of accessory before the fact.
He was flipping through the magazine, lulled into a bemused stupor by the glossy photographs of a completely alien lifestyleSETI was wasting their time, the extraterrestrials were already here and their UFOs had vast black marble floorswhen his landline phone rang. Simon blinked and looked up, then gingerly swung himself off the couch. Normally no one called the landline except telemarketers and wrong numbers, but the caller ID box said Old Line Hotel, which had to mean Jeremy, calling on the landline for some strange, super-polite, ultimately English reason. Simon swept up the phone. "Yo, Archer," he said. "Took you long enough."
"Ah," said a voice that Simon didn't recognize, sounding confused and taken aback. "I'm sorry... may I please speak to James St. John?"
"Sorry, you've gotwait." Belatedly Simon realized: one of Jeremy's omnipresent aliases. "I mean, uh, he's not here right now," Simon said. "Apparently I'm playing secretary tonight, so... can I take a message?"
"This is the concierge's desk at the Old Line Hotel, on Jay Street," the voice said. "I'm calling in regards to the meal for two that he'd orderedI apologize for bothering you, but he doesn't seem to be answering at the number that we have on record for him."
"Huh," Simon said, a faint line appearing between his eyebrows. "No one's answering? Not even his service?"
"No, sir. It just rings through to voice mail. I tried twice before I pulled this number up from our call records."
"Huh," Simon said again. Deep in the back of his mind a nearly-subliminal alarm started to sound, and he could only ignore it for so long. "Can you hold on a sec?"
"Yes, sir," the concierge said.
"Thanks." Simon carried the handset over to the window and stuck his finger in the miniblinds, pulling them down. His Jeep was still therethe subliminal alarm suddenly got liminal as hell. "I need to let you go," Simon said, dropping the miniblinds and spinning around. "Something's come up that I have to check on."
"Yes, sir," the concierge said again, startled. "If you should see Mr. St. John..."
The rest of the concierge's message, which Simon suddenly could not have cared less about, was drowned out by the shrilling of Simon's cell phone, at his waist. Simon shut his eyes in relief. "Hang on, that's probably him now," he said to the concierge, taking his phone off his belt and snapping it open one-handed. Pulling the landline phone away from his mouth, Simon put his cellphone up to his other ear. "Archer, what in hell"
"Hello, Suh-Simon," said someone who was most definitely not Jeremy.
Simon froze, a phone to each ear, the alarm in his mind switching over to a triumphant chorus of I told you so, fucker! I told you! When he could move again he put the landline phone gently back down in its cradle, hanging up on the concierge without further ado. "Farraday," he said, fighting to keep his voice even.
"Nice night, isn't it?" Farraday made a breathless little uh! sound, like punctuation.
"Eat me," Simon said. His free hand snapped open and shut again. "What do you want?"
Farraday laughed his jittery little spill of a giggle. "Just a buh-bit of business," he said in a hiccupping sing-song. "I just called to ask you if you're muh-missing something."
Gentlyvery gentlySimon reached up and pressed his knuckles against the rough plaster of the wall, like a slow-motion punch. "What do you want?" he said again, unable to keep it from becoming a growl at the end.
"I duh!don't want anything," Farraday said, now openly gloating. Simon pulled his fist back about two inches and hit the wall for real, pulling the punch at the last instant but causing a hairline crack to appear all the same. "I just wanted to let you know that you were missing suh-something," Farraday went on, "and maybe I'll let you have it backuh!later. Or maybe not. I don't know yet. It depends on how I fuh-feel."
"He doesn't have anything to do with this," Simon said. It felt like he was listening to himself from a long way off, at the other end of a tight and red-lit corridor of rage. "He's not a part of it. He's got nothing to do with you. Let him go."
"The fuck he's not a part of it!" Farraday screamed, making Simon jerk the phone away from his ear. As quickly as Farraday had lost his temper, he found it again, but the gloating, giggling note was gone now. "If you wuh-wanted to keep your friend out of it, you shouldn't have brought him in. See? It's all your fault." Farraday made an uk! sound. Simon heard a faint but definite thump.
"Let him go," Simon repeated. He sounded very calm, from here. "Let him go, or tell me what you want in exchange."
"I suh-said, I don't want anything," Farraday said, pretending to patience. "Muh-maybe all I wuh-want is for you tuh-to know that I've got hi-im and you cuh-can't do a-anything abou-bout it."
Simon closed his eyes and bowed his head, listening to Farraday's tics spin madly out of control with an absent sort of horror. Blindly he punched the wall again, doubling the length of that small crack. "If you hurt him," he said, and stopped, because finishing that sentence would either fail to live up to the level of threat that he'd like to convey or destroy his temporary and hard-won calm. He would not be goaded into shouting or threatening Farraday. He would not.
"If I huh-hurt him, it'll buh-be because I wuh!want to." Farraday's crackling giggle made Simon grit his teeth. "You cuh-can't stop me. You can't even fuh-find me. Maybe I'll call you again luh-later and you cuh!can beg me to luh-let him go."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you," Simon said evenly.
"Oh yes," Farraday breathed, exalted. "I-If you beg puh-prettily enough maybe I'll suh-send part of him back" and the connection cut off with an anticlimactic click.
For a moment Simon stood just where he was, head lowered bullishly, eyes closed, fist pressed to the wall. The little crack snaked out from under his first two knuckles, shedding tiny flakes of plaster onto the back of Simon's hand. His phone beeped once and Simon closed it with absurd and extreme care, his phone disappearing into his fist with barely a click. "Shit," he said under his breath, letting his hand fall away from the wall. "Shit" His head jerked up, his eyes flew open, and he slapped his cellphone back open, jabbing in Sandra's phone number one-handed.
"Sandra," she said in his ear a moment later. "What's up, boss?"
"Sandy, before I say anything, I need you to not shout or raise your voice in any way," Simon said, his voice staccato with restraint. "Okay?"
Sandra, getting the wrong idea entirely, sighed in tinny resignation. "What did you do to yourself this time, boss?"
"This is not about me," said Simon. "Is Diana Fontaine still there?"
"Yes?" Sandra said, the resigned note in her voice fading into something that sounded very much like dread. "I can hear her through the speakers. She's reading something. Occasionally she sighs."
"Farraday's got Archer," Simon said. The other end of the phone went very quiet indeed. "I don't know how, or why, but somehow he got the drop on Archer when Archer went to pick up dinner. He just called to gloat. I need you to get everyone to base now, and I need you to do it as quietly as possible, because I do not want Diana Fontaine to know about this. Get me?"
The silence from the other end was total, Sandra apparently not even breathing. "I get you," she finally said, her voice brisk but mercifully quiet. "Nate's in the other room, but Johnny and Mike are both out somewhere."
"Good," Simon said, meaning it. Without noticing he started to pace, back and forth. "If Honda's out, you don't have to extract him from under Diana Fontaine's nose. Call Texas and pass it on. I'll call Honda. Then get Specs out of his room and go, as quietly as you can, and I'll meet youshit."
"What?" Sandra demanded.
"Swing by on your way and pick me up," Simon said, pulling down the miniblinds and glaring out at his Jeep. "Archer's still got the key to my truck."
"Will do, boss," said Sandra. "Calling Texas now." She hung up without another word.
With his left hand Simon flicked open the drawer of the coffee table, revealing a tangle of black webbing that he really hadn't wanted to see there. "Shit," he snarled again, and spun on his heel, heading for the bedroom and the holstered gun on his bedside table, his stride almost fast enough to be a run.
later he was thudding down the stairs outside his apartment, gun drawn,
cell phone open. He dialed Jeremy's phone number, covering all the bases
even though he knew there was no way he'd get that lucky. He was right.
His phone rang; a second or so later, another phone rang less than twenty
feet away, startling him. Simon jogged over, numb, and plucked Jeremy's
discarded cell phone out of the bushes where it had been thrown. Its screen
was cracked and dark, and there was a smear of something that looked like
blood on its silver case. "Shit," Simon said under his breath.
The horrible little bar that Mike and Johnny were currently in had two (2) advantages, as far as Mike was concerned: it was close to the hotel, and it was so deserted on weekday nights that the staff apparently didn't give a shit that the two of them had been sitting in this booth for a couple of hours nursing a single beer apiece and airing their grievances. Or, well, Mike was airing his grievances, and Johnny was occasionally saying a few words. Same thing, really.
"Fucking sucks," Mike said, taking a tiny sip of his beer despite the fact that it was flat and warm. As long as he kept that beer moving, he was a customer. Right? Right. "I am so not looking forward to going back there tonight, shit, if it's not Princess Di on my ass, it's Sandy. For two fuckin' cents I'd sit here until last call."
Expressionlessly, Johnny shifted in his seat, digging around in his back pocket. Mike watched him do it, half an expectant grin already on his face. Johnny thumped back into his seat with a sigh and tossed two pennies on the table, then settled back and picked up his own nasty flat beer, not quite grinning himself.
"Ooh, big man's callin' my bluff," Mike half-sang, sweeping the beer-damp pennies off the table and into the palm of his hand. "And you know I'm way too macho to back this ass up, so guess we're sittin' here until two"
"Beats listening to you snore," Johnny said.
"I do not snore!" Mike cried, gesticulating frantically and nearly splashing himself with beer in the process. Mike yelped. "Oh, shit, look what you made me do! I go back to the hotel smelling like beer and I might as well have PREDATORS WELCOME written on my forehead in big red lettersshit, it'll be a competition to see who gets to rip my balls off first."
"Yeah?" Johnny said, interested. "Gonna give me the odds so's I can place a bet?"
"I'll give your mom the odds," Mike said happily.
Johnny snickered. "My momma don't need your kind of odd, Honda."
"Oh, Texas, that wasn't a racist insinuation you just made, now was it?" Mike said, delighted. He slammed his half-empty mug to the table and leveled a finger at Johnny. "I know all about you fuckin' inbred white-trash redneck cracker sonsabitches"
Johnny reached up and lazily slapped Mike's hand away. He opened his mouth to retort, but got no further than "Cracked your" before their phones both rang in near-total synchronicity, Mike's The Imperial March punctuated by Johnny's insistent ringing. They blinked at each other, then fished out their phones. "Springheel," Johnny said over the ruckus, eyeballing the little screen on the outside of his phone.
"Templar," Mike said, checking his.
They looked at each other. "Shit," they groaned in unison. Johnny flipped his phone open; Mike pushed away his half-full beer and answered his own, his stomach tying itself into a knot. "Yeah, boss."
"Honda, I don't know where the fuck you are and I don't care," Simon said right off, rapping it out like he did when his blood was up. Mike was already sliding out of the booth, Johnny right behind him. "Get out of there, get in the van, and get to base. I need you right now."
"On my way," Mike said. He fetched out his wallet and tossed a tenner on the table. "What's up? Besides the obvious."
"Farraday's got Archer," Simon said. "Now, Honda. Break some laws getting here."
"Jesus fuck," Mike breathed. He shook it off a moment later. "Okay. Okay. Texas is with me. We're en route."
"Good," Simon said, and he severed the connection with a bang.
Mike snapped his phone shut and stuck it back on his belt, then glanced back at Johnny. Johnny nodded at him, still on the phone, and headed for the door. "Right," Johnny said into his phone, shoving the door open and heading out into the cool. "I'm with Honda now. On the way."
"Fuck," Mike said, letting the door slam shut behind him. Overhead one of the busted neon letters flickered back to life and he glanced up, startled.
suggested, snapping his phone back into its clip and taking off. Mike squawked
and bolted after him.
Nate sat in the passenger seat, his arms folded tightly and protectively over his belly, staring out the windshield and seeing nothing more than vague blurs of light, red and white. Beside him Sandra was almost completely silent, so focused on her driving that she seemed to have forgotten he was there, leaning forward over the steering wheel like it would somehow get them there faster. Nate shut his eyes and tightened his grip, his fingers digging into the flesh of his arms.
Not ten minutes ago he'd been sitting at the little desk in his hotel room, listening to the speakers broadcasting Diana Fontaine with half an ear and wandering around on the internet, ostensibly looking for a better set of tech sheets for the broken cell phone but really, in all honesty, not doing much of use. His own cell phone had rung and for a moment he hadn't thought much of ithe'd expected it to be his mother, or maybe, if he were lucky, one of the guys from the labbut then he'd pulled it out of his pocket and discovered that the call was from Sandra. Sandra, who was literally twenty feet away from him. Something had to be wrongbut Nate answered the phone hoping against hope that there was a different, innocent explanation.
And then Sandra had ordered him to go into the bathroom and shut the door behind himself, in a low, brisk, businesslike tone, and Nate's evening had gone entirely to hell.
"Hang in there," Sandra said from beside him, and Nate jumped, startled. Sandra hadn't even glanced at him, he'd swear to that. Which meant that either he was broadcasting fear like a radio tower or she'd made a shrewd guess. Or both. Possibly both. Because he was scared, he'd admit it. He was scared out of his mind.
"I'm okay," he said, his voice a little rusty with disuse. "Um. Can I... can I turn on the radio?"
Sandra started to say nohe could swear he heard the 'n'but then she darted a swift, concerned glance in his direction and visibly changed her mind. "Go ahead," she said, as kindly as she could. Nate nodded and leaned forward, turning the radio on and leafing quickly through Sandra's presets; he left it tuned to the first station he found that was playing music instead of commercials. He wasn't sure which one it was.
The music helped, sort of. It took the edge off his thoughts. Which was good, because whenever he thought about Farraday abducting Jeremy he wound up wondering if Farraday was hurting Jeremy like Farraday had hurt him and that always led him right back into the sinkhole of his own memories, and as patchy and incomplete as some of them were, they still had the power to make him break out into a cold sweat
Sandra hit the turn signal and swung into Simon's apartment complex, the wheels of her car bumping sharply against the incline. Simon was standing at the bottom of the stairs, shifting impatiently from foot to foot, his gun in one hand and his cell phone in the other. As soon as Sandra stopped the carbefore, even, reallySimon made for it, pulling open the back door and throwing himself in. Nate heard him hiss in aggravated pain as his body hit the seat. "Go," Simon said shortly, pulling the car door shut behind himself. Sandra nodded and went.
For a minute or so no one said anything. Sandra was wholly occupied with driving, and Simon with finding a comfortable position in which to sit, and Nate with not thinking about it. "I can turn the radio off," Nate finally said, his voice small. "If you want."
"Yeah, Specs, I'd appreciate it," Simon said from behind him.
Nate nodded and punched off the radio. "I hope Jeremy's all right," he said inanely, filling the silence.
"I don't think Farraday will have hurt him yet," Simon said. "No percentage in it."
"Guess not," Nate said. He rubbed his arms absently, trying to get warm. "It's just. Well. Um. I know I probably shouldn't, but I like him, you know? Jeremy, I mean. He's a pretty nice guy. For what he is."
Simon said after a quiet moment. A momentary gust of wind sent dead leaves
and rain skirling across the windshield. "I like him too, Specs."
The coffeemaker beeped, once, and Dave looked up from his ragtag bank of computers, startled. Hadn't he just put that pot of coffee on a minute ago? Come to think of ithe checked the clock on the closest monitorif it was after ten, should he be having coffee at all?
Frowning, he looked back at the screen and the monstrous, endless text file that he was still slowly splitting up into several smaller endless text files. He was almost nine-tenths of the way through, and if he just kept at it for two more hours he might actually finish... and if he finished, he'd feel okay about going home and getting some sleep. He'd be home and in bed by one. No problem.
Dave slumped back in his chair and closed his eyes, rubbing his face with both hands. He liked working late, to a certain extent: it was quiet except for the faint squeaking of janitor's carts and no one was here to look over his shoulder. Still, he'd been here for thirteen hours now. He was tired. Also vaguely sticky. Maybe he ought to go down to the men's room and splash some water on his face.
He considered the idea in a wan, patient way, then dismissed it and went to fetch another mug of coffee instead. It was late. No one cared. He could wait to wash up until he got home.
Dave had just settled in to spend some quality time with his coffee and his text files when he heard the door at the far end of the hallway burst open and admit at least two people, running like hell, their shoes squeaking on the vinyl tile. Dave glanced up, frowning, then went back to work. This was Special Ops, after all, and emergencies didn't always wait for business hours. No one was yelling for help or firing a gun, so it had nothing to do with him, although he found himself wondering idly which team was having such a crappy night.
He was still wondering that when Mike kicked open the door to the saferoom and burst in, Johnny right behind him. Dave yelped and recoiled, nearly flailing himself right out of his chair. "Where's Templar?" Mike demanded to know, screeching to a panting halt not five feet away.
Dave grabbed hold of one of his desks and hauled himself back upright, panting a bit himself from the sudden adrenalin rush. "I-I haven't seen him!" he wheezed, blinking madly.
"Must have beaten him here," Mike said over his shoulder. Johnny nodded. Mike looked back at Dave, starting to develop a grin that looked pretty purely crazy. "Shit, did I scare you?" he asked with a certain amount of relish.
"Um," Dave said warily. "You startled me a little."
"Aw, it's okay, you can admit it, I scared you!" Mike reached over and thumped Dave's shoulder, hard enough to make Dave's chair jump and roll about six inches back. Dave frowned and pulled himself back up to the desk. Mike whooped and twisted around. "Shit, Texas, you see that, David-Brassoff-Dave's-Fine here nearly put a foot through his monitor, am I good or what?"
"Or what," Johnny said from the other side of the room. "You want coffee?"
"Shit, yeah." Mike untwisted himself and propped an arm on the side of Dave's desk, beaming at him in a wholly unsettling way. "Aw, you had my coffee waiting for me and everything, that's so sweet, babe," he said.
"Um," Dave said.
"Guess we'll keep you around, then," Mike said, ruffling Dave's hair and making him duck. "If only because you fill out that sweater so nice, you know?"
"Um," Dave said again, glancing down at his sweater in some consternation.
"Nah, I'm totally kidding, actually we only keep you around 'cause you've got a nice ass, you know?" Mike blew him a kiss before heading for the conference table, plucking his mug from Johnny's hand along the way. Dave, wondering if there was something he didn't know about Mike or what, found it prudent to sit very still until the bulk of the table was between the two of them.
Mike had barely dropped into his seat before the door at the end of the hallway boomed open again. "There they are," Mike said, slugging back some coffee and baring his teeth.
"You think?" Johnny said, and then the saferoom door burst open again and the room was suddenly full of people.
"Okay," Simon said, so obviously high on adrenalin and anger that he was nearly shaking. He slammed his hands through the air like he was trying to physically push people to the table. "Okay, everyone sit, we do not have time for formalitieswhat in hell are you doing here?" Simon said, his attention suddenly centering on Dave. Without waiting for an answer he spun on his heel and confronted Sandra. "What'd you call him for?" Simon demanded to know.
"I didn't," Sandra said, glancing at Dave, her eyebrows drawn down.
"Um," said Dave. Simon went kind of still. Dave steeled himself and went on. "I was working late," he said. "On the computers."
"Christ, so you were still here?" Simon said, then dismissed the entire conversation with a shake of his head and an impatient gesture. "Never mind, it doesn't matter, I don't have time to care about you right now. Get back to what you were doing and keep it quiet. Everybody else, sit."
"Woof," Mike said under his breath.
Simon, either not noticing or ignoring it, turned on his heel and started pacing, three steps right, three steps left. Dave decided that the best thing to do right now was hunker down in his computer chair and pretend to be invisibleit was working for him so far, anyway. "Okay," said Simon. "Okay. As you guys have probably all heard by now, Farraday got the drop on Archer somehow, and Christ, let me tell you, if we get Archer back in one piece I am never going to let him forget it. But that's not important right now. What's important is that by abducting Archer" Simon stopped where he was "Farraday has finally made his fatal mistake."
Everyone else was quiet. "Why?" Nate finally said, pushing up his glasses with one quivering hand.
"Because Farraday's got absolutely no idea what he's got." Simon paused and let them all absorb that, his hands flexing at his sides. "Bet you anything you'd care to name. He thinks Archer is just some friend of mine, get it? And it's Archer. Jesus Christ, that's sure going to fuck up his night. If Farraday leaves Archer unattended for thirty seconds"
"Assuming Jeremy ever regains consciousness," said Sandra.
"Or, uh, that he's still alive," Mike added. Sandra shot a glare in his direction. Instead of quailing, Mike stared back, a truculent expression on his face. "What?" he said sullenly. "Keep telling you guys Farraday ain't the same asshole he was"
"If Farraday leaves Archer unattended for thirty seconds," Simon said again, leaning on it hard enough to squash them all, "then Archer is going to get himself free, and we all know that Archer can take care of himself. I don't think we have to worry too hard about Archer's safety, although yeah, it's a concern if he doesn't regain consciousness."
"So, um, what's the plan?" said Nate. "We sit here and wait for Jeremy to call and tell us where Farraday's hideout is? That would work"
"Not exactly," Simon said, sticking his fingers in the front pocket of his jeans. "See, that's the other reason that Farraday just fucked up. Nate, fire up your computer and track the tracer with this number on it, will you?" Simon produced a slip of paper and held it out.
Nate didn't move for a second, blinking at Simon in confusion. In the end, it was Sandra who got it. "You put one of the FBI's tracking chips on Archer?" she asked in disbelief. "Not that I am complaining at the moment, but that's all kinds of illegal, boss"
"It was a joke!" Simon insisted, throwing up both hands. "I tagged him with one of those little bastards the first time we metwell, okay, the secondand I've sort of... kept doing it ever since, okay? As a joke. I like making him throw his stupid expensive jackets away out of sheer paranoia. My point is, he's got this tracker" Simon waved the piece of paper like punctuation, and belatedly Nate edged out of his seat and ran to grab it "in the inside front pocket of his jacket, and as long as he's got that jacket on him, whether he's conscious or not, he's going to lead us right to Farraday."
"Fucking perfect, boss," Mike said, slapping the table. "If I didn't know better I'd swear you set him up, you know?"
The pause was small, but it was there. "Not exactly," Simon finally said, hooking his thumbs through his beltloops and staring away over Sandra's shoulder somewhere. "I wasn't lying when I told you that I tag him as a joke. I did it to him when he went to Cincinnati with us, too. But I'd also be lying if I didn't tell you that it hadn't crossed my mind. I never lied to Archer about the danger he might be in, but I'm also not above using that danger to my advantage."
"Fuck," Mike said, his voice a weird mix of respect and revulsion. "That's cold, boss. Awesome, but cold"
"We can discuss the dubious ethics of it later," Sandra cut in. Mike subsided into a sulk beside her. Sandra didn't appear to notice. "So that's why you stayed at home instead of coming to the hotel with us? Is that it? Making yourself into the only available target?"
"More or less," Simon admitted, still staring at the wall. "Plus mostly I wanted to recuperate in my own goddamned bed, but, uh. Yeah. More or less."
"Shit," Sandra said. "Did you at least let Archer in on your little plan?"
Simon didn't say anything. After a moment he reached up and rubbed his temples.
"Shit," Sandra said again, looking down at her hands. After a moment she shook her head sharply and looked back up. "I think I hate that, but right now I don't think I have time to hate it. So we'll track down Archer's jacket and see where it leads us? Is that what you're suggesting?"
"With a little effort," Simon said, unfreezing and turning on his heel. "Unfortunately it's not as easy as pushing a button and producing a thief. What's the range on those things, Specs?"
"It depends, Templar," said Nate, his nose nearly pressed to his monitor. "Ten miles or so? Less if there's a lot of metal between us and him. I'm getting the program up now."
"All right," said Simon. He took a deep breath. "Next. Sandy, I want my badge back." Sandra was silent, looking at him. After a moment in which she said nothing, Simon added, "Please."
Still Sandra said nothing, and the silence lengthened. Dave was afraid to move, but his eyes kept flicking back and forth, watching the wordless conversation that Simon and Sandra appeared to be having. "All right," Sandra finally said, looking away. "I suppose that these count as extenuating circumstances."
"Boy, howdy," said Simon. "I promise you that I'll go to bat for you if Upstairs says anything about it."
"Believe me, I expect you to," Sandra said, pushing her chair back and standing up. Her voice was like flint. "But I'm not just doing this out of the goodness of my heart, Templar. I don't want this thing of yours busting up on my credibility later. You set Archer up all by yourself and you can take the fall for it, because I'm not going to."
"Fair enough," Simon said, after a hesitation so short as to almost be invisible. "You give me back my ID right now and I'll make sure it doesn't stick to you in any way."
For a moment they stared at each other. "Deal," Sandra finally said, stepping into Simon's office. Instead of getting on with the briefing, Simon waited, staring at the wall again, tapping out an absent rhythm against his thigh; a minute or so later Sandra reappeared with a black leather ID folder.
Simon took it and stuck it in his back pocket, closing his eyes and faking a shiver. "Oh, man, that feels good," he said with a quick little smile. A nervy laugh rippled through the room. "Okay," Simon said. He opened his eyes. "Okay. As far as I'm concernedas far as any of you are concernedI'm now back in charge of this team. Anything that I tell you to do from now on, I will take responsibility for, assuming that you do it. Business as usual. Are we clear?"
The momentary tension vanished. People shifted and nodded. "Clear, boss," said Mike.
"Great," Simon said, clapping his hands. "In that case: Springheel, Honda, I want you two to cut that shit out right this second." Sandra went very still. Beside her, Mike flinched back like Simon had smacked him. "Do you hear me?" said Simon. "I need you two at the top of your game. I need all of you at the top of your game. And no one is going to be able to work up to potential when the two of you are having some kind of, of divorce over there. Okay?"
"Boss," Sandra said carefully.
"No, don't 'boss' me," said Simon. He uncrossed his arms and ran a hand down his face, for just a moment looking tired as hell. "Look, don't you guys get it? Can't you see what Farraday's trying to do here? Look at us: I've been shot, Archer is gone, Specs is terrified, Honda and Springheel are at each other's throats, Texas is, uh, well, okay, Texas is fine, and Rich is dead." The last part of the sentence cracked out like a gunshot. "Don't any of you see it?"
The room went quiet again. For a moment, the loudest sound in the whole room was that of Nate twisting halfway around in his computer chair to look at the others; everyone else might as well have been frozen. Dave held out against it as long as he could, but in the end, he couldn't resist any more. "He, uh," Dave said. Simon didn't exactly look at him, but his eyes slid right. Dave swallowed and went for broke. "He's trying to hamstring the team, isn't he? Causing havoc in the ranks."
"Yes!" Simon cried, slashing a hand through the air in Dave's general direction and then wincing. "Exactly! That! What what's-his-name"
"whatever! said!" said Simon. He put his hands on the table and leaned into them like he was trying to stare his whole team down at once. "Jesus Christ. Look at us. This is not the kick-ass team that I am accustomed to leading, okay? This is a, a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off all running around pecking at each other"
"How does a headless chicken peck at anything?" Mike put in, apparently suicidally unable to resist.
"Very carefully," Simon snapped. "Okay, fine, a bunch of headless chickens running around tripping over each other, is that better? But my point is that he did this to us on purpose! For revenge or just for, for utility, I don't know, but he is trying to destroy us as a team and you guys are letting him. Christ."
Sandra abruptly shook her head, waking from her stasis. "There's one problem with that theory," she said, "although I personally consider it a given."
"Yeah?" Simon said, calming a bit. "Enlighten us, Spring. What's the problem?"
"If your theory is true," said Sandra, "then Diana Fontaine is definitely working with Farraday." Beside her, Mike stirred and then settled.
Simon nodded. "That's true. One does kinda require the other. But guess what, folks: here's where we find out where her loyalties really lie."
"How?" Mike said suspiciously.
"Oh, boy, Honda, am I glad you asked that," said Simon, straightening up. "Here in a sec you're going to pull out your cell phone and you're going to call her at the hotel. When she answers, you're going to tell her this and nothing else: that we are going to be late getting back to the hotel because Farraday's unknowingly finally made a crucial error and we're about to be breathing down his neck. Encourage her to stay in the room and keep her head down. That's it. No details. Nothing else. If she presses you, tell her that you can't talk about it and you have to go."
"And then we see if she tries to warn Farraday or if she stays put," Sandra said.
Simon pointed at Sandra. "Exactly."
"One problem," said Johnny, speaking up for the first time since the briefing had started.
Simon twitched and looked at him. "Yeah?" he said. "What's that?"
"She runs to warn Farraday that we're on to him and Archer's in deep shit," Johnny said. "He ain't away by then..."
Simon hesitated and let his head drop, hooking his thumbs in his beltloops again. "Yeah," he said, quietly. "That's true. If he hasn't gotten himself free by then, there's a good chance he's a dead man."
"So?" said Sandra. "What do we do?"
After a moment, Simon looked up, his face set. "It's a risk I'm willing to take," he said flatly.
A susurrus of shock ran through the room, leaving them all buzzing with it. "Cold," Mike said again, shaking his head, still sounding half-awed and half-revolted. "That's just cold."
Simon, something about the way he said it silencing them all. He wiped
a hand down his drawn face and added, "That's faith."
Jeremy swam back to consciousness in dusty-smelling darkness, some unknown amount of time later. For a long time it was all he could do to keep himself conscious, the darkness greying out and swimming back in again while his head throbbed and his stomach rolled. Eventually he forced himself awake, only to discover that he was bound hand and foot and lying on an uncomfortable floor somewhere, face turned to the wall.
As far as he could tell, wherever he was, he was alone. Still, he regulated his breathing to mimic unconsciousness as best he could and spent a little while listening with all his might. It was more difficult than it might have beenhis ears were ringing, which really made his day completebut eventually he sighed and took a deep breath. Alone, then. Oh, good.
Shaking his head a little (and nearly fainting again for his troubles) Jeremy pulled himself together and took stock. Probably concussed, nearly electrocuted, certainly bruised all to hell, and unable to feel anything in his extremities but a dim, tingling numbness: whatever he was bound with, it was cutting off his circulation. Pressing his lips together he flexed his fingers and was rewarded with a bolt of pain in both wrists for his efforts, sharp enough to make him bare his teeth. Still, the pain was better than that disturbing numbness.
Twisting one hand around and up as best as he could, Jeremy groped blindly at his wrists and found hard plastic sunk deep into his flesh. He ticked his thumbnail off one of the jagged teeth of the hard plastic thing and sighed in relief. A zip-tie. Reasonably easy to deal with, all things considered. He stopped, listened again, and then slid his fingers up into the sleeve of his jacket.
The little sheath-knife had a triangular blade barely longer than the last joint of his thumb, but it was wickedly sharp, as Jeremy proved to himself by promptly fumbling the blade and nicking one of his wrists with it. He winced, inwardly cursing that damned numbness, and forced his fingers to hook properly around the T-shaped handle. After three deep, steadying breaths Jeremy let his left hand go limpno problem thereand attempted to slide the blade into the tiny space between zip-tie and flesh.
He gave himself a nasty slice in the process, but now was not the time to worry about such things. He closed his eyes and pulled up on the blade. It bit bloodily into his wrist again, but the other edge caught on one of the zip-tie's teeth; a moment later the plastic snapped and his left hand was free.
Jeremy peeled the plastic out of the deep and reddened groove that it had carved in his flesh, then bit his tongue against the sudden and painful resurgence of feeling. As soon as he could he transferred the knife into his left hand and cut his right hand free, gashing that wrist as welldamned numb fingersbut freeing his hands. He pulled his knees to his chest and cut his ankles free, then dropped his knife carefully to the floor in front of his face and rubbed his hands together, wincing.
By the time he'd forced feeling back into his fingers, he thought he was probably doing well enough to sit up. He braced both bleeding hands against the floor and pushed himself upright, swaying groggily back against the wall that he'd been turned against; dimly, through his sudden attack of vertigo, he noticed that the wall was made of metal. Interesting. He filed that away and turned his attention back to getting hold of himself.
Once he felt reasonably steady, he cleaned his little knife off on his shirttail and slid it back into its sheath, nearly cutting himself again in the process. He felt weak and slack with fatiguedoubtless the after-effects of being hit with that much electricityand he had to force his fingers to stop shaking before he reached into his jacket. The cuts on his wrist smeared blood across the front of his shirt. He thought he might be quite put out by that later on.
The housing of his goggles was cracked, one chunk of the smoked glass missing entirely. Jeremy hissed in dismay (equally upset by the possibility that the goggles might be broken and by how much it was going to cost him to repair the bloody things) and then put them on, tightening the strap despite how badly it exacerbated his headache. Come on, he thought, and touched two fingers to his temple. The goggles snapped and sparked once, startling him, but after a tense moment the infrared display flickered grudgingly to life and the room leapt into existence.
Jeremy took a deep breath and looked around, absently rubbing the marks on his wrists again. The windowless room was plain and empty, with corrugated metal walls and a concrete floor, andJeremy touched the floor and rubbed his fingers togetherit was covered in dust. As was he, he suspected. There was only one way out: a plain metal door with a glass window in it. Well, then.
getting to his feet nearly undid him all over again, forcing him to catch
himself against the metal wall lest he fall down. Despite everything, Jeremy
couldn't resist laughing ruefully, barely louder than a breath. "I am going
to find this so professionally embarrassing later on," he
muttered, groping for the little pouch stashed in the small of his back.
"Yeah," Mike said. "Yeah. You lay low, okay? Don't leave the room, don't use or answer the phone. That's an order." He paused and laughed what was just about the most forced laugh Johnny had ever heard, although it'd probably do you if you didn't know Mike.
The rest of the team was silent and still, none of them actually looking at Mike but all of them listening. Although the tracing program was running Nate wasn't typing anything into it, and Johnny couldn't even hear the new guy breathing. Sandra was staring down at her hands, folding and refolding them with little dry sounds. Simon was standing at the head of the table with his arms folded over his chest and his eyes shut.
Diana Fontaine's voice buzzed faintly against Mike's ear. Johnny glanced up just in time to catch Mike shutting his eyes. "Don't worry," Mike said. "We'll get him. He's really screwed the pooch this time. Okay? Okay. Wish me luck." Diana's voice buzzed again. "Thanks," Mike said, and he forced himself to laugh again and then closed his phone. "So?" he said, putting it back on his belt. "How was that?" Now that the call was over he sounded kind of odd to Johnny's ears: usually a Mike with his game on was a hyperactive Mike, but right now he sounded flat and off.
"Perfect," said Simon, flashing Mike a thumb's-up. "You're the man, Honda, and I mean that. How'd she sound?"
"Uh. Scared? Worried? Something. I don't know." Mike shrugged. "Guess she'd be worried either way, though, huh?"
"Guess so. It'll all come down to what she does." Simon spun around. "Nate, my man, tell me what's up with the tracking."
Nate made a startled little noise and looked up from his computer. "Well, I'm not getting a signal from the chip right now, boss, but I guess that's not too surprising."
"Yeah, not really. I mean, he's got to be close, but probably not 'within ten miles' close." Simon rubbed a hand down his face. "So: time to break out the handheld units, right?"
"Right," Nate said, pushing his chair back. "Just to be sure, I want to run one of them up to the roof and try from there before we do anything else. Okay?"
Simon snapped his fingers. "Good idea, Specs." Nate vanished into his supply closet and started banging around; ignoring the racket, Simon turned to look at the rest of them. "Okay, folks, listen up," he said. The banging from the closet got a bit quieter. "Assuming that Specs has no luck scanning from the roof, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to split us up into two teams: Spring, you take Texas in your car, and Honda, I'll be going with you in the van. Each team is going to take one of the handheld units and drive around the city, looking for the signal. For starterscrap." He snapped his fingers at the new guy, who came back to life with a startled sound. "You. Get me a map of the DC area."
"Yessir," the new guy said, kicking his chair around and waking up one of the million computers in his zone. "One sec."
"Don't call me sir," Simon snapped, losing it for a moment. He shook it off a second later. "Anyway. My team is going to head north. Springheel's team is going to head south. When we hit 495, my team will go west and Springheel's team will go east" Simon drew the semicircles in midair with both hands "so that we cover both halves of the loop. If we make it to each other's starting places without picking up some kind of signal, we will start working the city grid." Simon paused and raised his voice. "Specs, you stay here and start working out a driving pattern for the grid, in case we need it. If someone gets a hit on a handheld, we will call you and relay that information so that you can be looking it up while we reconvene back here."
"Okay," Nate called back.
"Map," the new guy said, pushing his chair back.
Simon nodded and strode over, putting a hand on the back of the new guy's computer chair. "Okay, here. Honda and I will take 295 heading north; Spring, I want you two to go hit up 395 and head south. Sound good?"
"Got you, Templar," Sandra said. "Do we really need to reconvene here, though? The second team could just drive out to the first team's location."
"We'll reconvene somewhere out of the way, yes, but someone will be coming back for Specs," Simon said. "I am not letting Farraday split this team up again. When we go, we all go."
"Fair enough," Sandra said after a pause.
Nate bustled back out a moment later carrying two sturdy gray plastic things cradled against his chest. A thin sheen of sweat stood out on his forehead. "Give me a sec," he said, dropping them both on his desk and turning them on.
Simon studied Nate for a moment, then reached over and put a hand on his shoulder. "You okay, Specs?"
"I'm scared," Nate said, so abruptly that it made him sound almost angry. He picked up the piece of paper and started punching numbers into the first handheld device. "Don't worry, I'll deal with it."
Simon squeezed Nate's shoulder and then let his hand drop. "So, anyway," he said, addressing the room in general, "once we have a signal to start from, we're aaaaall going to pile in the van and follow the signal in on the... laptop... shit."
Every eye in the room went to Rich's old laptop, just dead as hell, currently sitting on top of one of the desks in Rich's old lair. After a moment, the new guy reached up and fetched it down. "I can reformat it and install the software while you're gone," he said tentatively. "I'll just need the discs."
"I'll burn it off for you," Nate said, not looking up from the handheld. His hand shot blindly to one of the drawers of his own computer desk and hauled out a spindle of CDs, plunking them down on the desktop with a thud.
away. "Goddammit, Rich," he said under his breath, so much venom in his
voice that it kind of took Johnny aback, despite everything. After a second
he shook his head once, sharply, and raised his voice. "Okay. Yes. Do that.
Specs, as soon as you can, run to the roof and do your check. The rest
of you get ready to go." He stopped and took a breath, glancing around
at everybody. Johnny could almost say it with him: "Let's do this thing."
The view from the little window in the door was completely unedifying: a narrow hallway, made out of the same corrugated metal as the room he was already in, extending off in both directions farther than he could see from in here. Jeremy checked the window in swift, darting bursts, unwilling to be framed in it should someone come by and glance in his direction.
Unlike the room, however, the hallway was lit, if only dimly. Bare, ugly, dusty bulbs provided sickly yellow light, just barely enough to see by. Jeremy tried the knob. Locked. Well, of course. After another quick glance out of the window, he lowered himself gingerly to his knees and studied the lock. It was almost literally nothing: ten seconds with the lock-pick gun would get him in or out of here, and as far as he could tell, there was nothing blocking the door from outside. In that case, some preparation was in order.
He let himself slide back to the floor, leaning back against the door and shutting his eyes wearily. He'd only been kneeling for twenty seconds or so and already the muscles in his thighs were quivering like he'd run a race. He listened with half an ear while he rested and heard nothing, not even the faintest echo of footsteps. Still, he wasn't such an optimist as to think that he'd been abandoned here, and once he'd caught his breath, he crawled back over to the corner where he'd originally been put and lay back down.
The little first-aid kit he carried was necessarily a bit on the sparse side, but it did yield up a couple of aspirin, which he swallowed dry, making a horrible face. He scrubbed as much of the blood off his wrists as he could using the tail of his (by now thoroughly ruined) shirt and inspected the cuts. Only one was still bleeding, and that sluggishly; he put a bit of medical tape over it and called that good enough.
He was debating the merits of taking two more aspirin when he heard the approaching footsteps, quick and nervous.
Ripping off the goggles he tucked them firmly against the curve of his chest, out of sight of the door, and scrubbed both hands through his hair to put it back to rights. Whoever it was, they were coming fast; he grabbed one of the zip-ties and thrust his hands behind his back, wrapping the zip-tie back around his wrists as best he could and clumsily pinning the cut ends in places by pressing his wrists together. He'd just have to hope that whoever it was didn't notice that his ankles were no longer bound. He took a deep breath and let his head fall back to the concrete, half-closing his eyes, less than a second before the beam of a penlight stabbed through the door's narrow window and caught him in a spotlight.
He forced himself to breathe slowly and evenly, not daring to move a muscle, not even to relax. The penlight swept down, then back up; Jeremy played dead, not without finding himself somewhat grimly amused that after this he could quite nearly call himself a method actor. After an endless ten seconds, the penlight snapped off. Whoever it was retreated back up the hallway.
Jeremy waited until he could no longer hear footsteps before shaking the zip-tie off his wrists again and pushing himself upright. There was no point in waiting around any longer. His captor, having just satisfied his curiosity, probably wouldn't come back to check on him for ten or fifteen minutes, at least. As escape windows went, it was positively enormous. Picking up his goggles Jeremy put them back on and crawled back to the door, putting his ear to the metal and listening for five seconds before digging out the little silvery lock-pick gun. He would just have to hope that the rattling didn't attract too much attention.
He slid the pins into the lock, then closed his eyes and said a silent prayer, not so much to any particular god as to his own personal luck and whatever cosmic abacus kept track of such things; then he opened his eyes, firmed his jaw against the quiver in his muscles, and pulled the trigger.
Fifteen seconds later Jeremy eased out into the hallway, already feeling horribly exposed. He pulled the door nearly shut behind him, stopping just short of engaging the lock, just in case he needed a bolt-hole to retreat to. A glance to the left revealed a long hallway, full of doors just like this one, that ended in a blank wall. Some sort of storage facility, then. The hallway to the right was nearly the same, only instead of ending in a blank wall, it ended in a gaping square of blackness. Or what would have been blackness, had he not had the goggles on; instead it ended in a gaping square of greenness, with large square shapes lurking beyond the opening.
Well, then. One way to go. No point in hanging about. Straining his senses to the utmostor what passed for his utmost in this stateJeremy moved down the hall as swiftly as he dared, silently grateful for the concrete flooring. It made a much better sound baffle than it ever had a bed. Jeremy rolled one sore shoulder and winced.
The hallway opened up into a largish and high-ceilinged storage room, lined on all sides with boxes and crates ranging in size from 'two-man job' to 'tip the bloody forklift over'. The centre of the room was empty. An enormous set of double doors gaped open on the opposite wall, doubtless meant to accommodate the aforementioned forkliftsthe space beyond was clearly gigantic, even in comparison to the room that Jeremy stood in now. It was also brilliantly lit. Every fibre of Jeremy's body rebelled against stepping into that light.
Stepping into a convenient shadow, Jeremy leaned against one of the larger crates, caught his breath, and took stock. He was starting to have a few suspicions about his location. Testing them, he looked up, promptly causing himself a fit of vertigo that nearly dropped him to his knees. Jeremy squeezed his eyes shut and shook it away, then looked up again, both hands on the crate just in case he should go all dizzy again.
of large rectangles that marched along the ceiling stood out like windows
in the darkness. He closed his eyes in momentary relief, then set about
picking his way to a different corner, where a pile of smaller crates stood
stacked up on one another.
"Anything?" Mike asked for approximately the four hundredth time, scanning the road in front of them as he accelerated past a slow-moving sedan. It was close to 10:45 at night and 495 was only mildly clogged, which meant that Mike was weaving in and out of traffic with abandon, the needle holding steady at seventy-five miles an hour. The bubble light was stuck to the roof of the van but not currently on.
"Not yet," Simon said, not doing a good job of concealing his impatience. His eyes hurt from staring at the green-lit little screen that was infuriatingly refusing to register anything. His chest ached from... well, from everything. A lot of things. On his knee, his free hand flexed, closed into a fist around a handful of his jeans, and opened again. "I'll tell you."
"I know," Mike said, ducking his head a little. "I just... yeah. Sorry, boss."
"It's cool." Simon hefted the bulk of the machineit was surprisingly heavyand swung it in an arc from right to left, just in case. The device failed to register so much as a blip.
Mike patted the steering wheel in an odd, falling rhythm, then sighed and stopped. "And, you know, I'm sorry about the whole... you know, the whole thing with Sandy. It's just"
"Not now, Mike," Simon said, although he reached over to clap his hand to Mike's shoulder and take a little of the sting out of it. "Believe me, I understand, okay? I get it. It will be dealt with. But right now, I've got bigger things to worry about."
Mike deflated. "Yeah, I know," he said. "Just wanted to, you know, to apologize"
Behind them a siren whooped, startling them both. A police car pulled out from the left-hand shoulder and fell in behind them, lights and sirens going. Simon rolled his eyes. "Oh, Christ."
"Whoops," said Mike, hitting the switch for the bubble light. "Guess I was speeding a little, huh?"
"I hereby give you permission to speed however you see fit," said Simon, twisting painfully around and grabbing the radio handset off the unit behind him. The blue light strobing on top of the van had already confused the police car, which was falling back a bit; Simon hit the transmit button and didn't bother to conceal the irritation in his voice. "This is the blue Chevrolet van with the by-God DC Government license plate number GT-2862, registered to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and currently on official FBI business, wanting to know if you are blind or what."
He let go of the button and waited. Unsurprisingly, the police car behind them didn't respond, but after a few seconds its lights flickered back off and it dropped away, quickly getting lost in the traffic behind them. "I think he flipped us off, boss," Mike said, turning the bubble light back off. "I for one am totally hurt and shit."
"You think he's mad at us?" Simon asked, checking the little screen on the handheld device. No blips had registered during the mini-fracas. "I'll send the MPDC a fruit basket on Monday. With a little card that says 'For Officer Butthurt'."
Mike snickered and fell silent, all his attention temporarily diverted by the intricacies of blowing past an entire convoy of nearly-identical little commuter cars. Simon twisted around againowand put the handset back, then settled in with the handheld tracker again. He reached up to massage his aching side without really noticing that he was doing it, prodding at the tender flesh around the wound.
"I, uh, I'm kind of starting to worry here, boss," Mike said a few minutes later, fidgeting with the steering wheel. "I mean, 495 isn't that far across, you know? And between Sandy's car and the van we've pretty much covered most of it already..."
"It'll work," Simon said, willing himself to believe it. "We just need to get lucky, that's all. You heard Specs: metal messes with the signal, and metro DC is not precisely a picturesque little adobe village."
Mike frowned at the windshield, then hit the turn signal and heeled over into the left lane. "Guess so, boss," he said dubiously.
Simon said again. It had better, he thought, resisting the
urge to cross his fingers underneath the bulk of the tracking device.
No more than halfway up the stack of crates and Jeremy had to stop, resting his forehead against the cool metal wall and blinking until the ominous black spots cleared from his vision. Oh, yes, 'up' had seemed like a wonderful idea from the ground, particularly when there was no retreat and not much going forward, but he was quite clearly in no condition for 'up'and should he put a foot wrong and turn 'up' into 'down', the concrete floor was unlikely to be welcoming. Still, no help for it. He reached up and caught the lip of the next box, easing himself up another four feet.
His captor could be returning to check on him at any time. Jeremy suspected that he still had a good ten minutes, but he couldn't be sure; he kept one ear open for the sound of those echoing footsteps, even as he slowly dragged himself up towards the high warehouse ceiling. It seemed no closer than it had from the ground, but it was an illusion he was used to. It would seem like the ceiling was a hundred feet away until he could reach out and touch it.
Which, unfortunately, he was not going to be able to do just yet. The stack of crates that he'd chosen to climbthe highest stack in the storeroompetered out a good ten feet from the ceiling. Jeremy sat carefully down on top of the last crate and looked up, considering his options. This close to the ceiling the rectangles had resolved themselves into the enormous roof vents that prevented the warehouse from overheating; the one above him was halfway open, thank God for small miracles. Jeremy could see stars and high scudding clouds from where he sat.
Those last ten feet would be a problem, however. The ripples in the corrugated metal meant that he couldn't use the suction cups, which left him with the grappling hook. However, if he missed the opening and hit the metal ceiling, insteaddefinitely a possibility in his current statehe would advertise his presence to the world with a mind-numbingly loud gonging of metal against metal.
Shaking his head, Jeremy fetched out the hook and unfolded it, then let his fingers play over the metal while he thought. Oh, well, he eventually concluded, if it's ruined anyway... Pinning the grappling hook between his thighs, he shrugged out of his jacket and stripped his ruined shirt off over his head.
October cold struck him like a physical blow and he hurried back into his jacket, buttoning it closed over his bare chest as best he could. "Quite a fashion statement," he said under his breath, then bit into the blood- and dust-smeared silk of his t-shirt and tore off a strip.
It was loud. It was unconscionably loud, especially in this echoing room. Jeremy gritted his teeth and made quick work of it, all the while expecting to attract someone's attention. When his shirt had been reduced to a pile of cloth strips and he still had not been discovered, it was almost upsetting. He'd let himself be surprised and overpowered by the very same someone who wasn't perceptive enough to notice that racket? Oh, that was just embarrassing. Quite possibly for both of them.
Seated tailor-fashion on the top of his crate Jeremy wound the arms of the grappling hook with the strips of silk, covering as much of the bare metal as he could. His fingers shook a little, forcing him to take his time, despite his very real suspicion that he hadn't much time left to take; still, in the end he was wielding the world's most expensive padded grappling hook, and no one had caught him at it yet.
He debated standing up on top of the crate. He debated standing on top of the crate, having a dizzy spell, and promptly falling to his death. In the end he compromised and rose only onto his knees, letting a couple of feet of wire play out between his fingers and starting up a lazy spin. The padded hook whickered by in the darkness, moving faster and faster until the wire whined through the air; he half-shut his eyes to listen to it, letting his arm take the measure of his projectilethen his eyes opened, his hand rose into the spin, and the grappling hook arced out towards the half-open vent, wire hissing after it.
The hook passed through the narrow opening with a hand's-width of space to spare on either side and landed on the roof outside with a muffled kung! sound. Nothing but net, as the Americans said. Jeremy pulled at the wire (producing another series of muffled bumps and thuds) until the hook caught firmly on the edge of the vent. Excellent. Now all he had to do was climb up the wire while concussed and batteredwhose mad plan was this anyway?
With the last two strips of shirt wrapped around the palms of his hands for protection, Jeremy stuck his left hand through a loop of wire and got a good grip, then reached up as high as he could with his right and hauled himself up. Oh yes. Mad plan, he thought dizzily, hanging in mid-air with his thighs clamped around the wire, revolving gently in space. Still, nothing for it: gritting his teeth, he inched upwards.
By the time
he hauled himself up onto the roof, he was shaking all over. He forced
himself to at least reel in the wire before he braced his heels against
the lip of the vent and sprawled out on the roof, adding a fine coating
of rust and bird doings to the layers of crud on his (once really quite
nice) clothing. The chill October breeze plucked at his hair. Jeremy stared
unseeing up at the clouds and forced himself to breathe evenly, for the
moment too concerned about not passing out to even stand up and see where
"Got him," Johnny said suddenly, jerking upright in the passenger seat.
Sandra, startled, nearly veered into another lane, setting off a positive shitstorm of honking. With a grimace she slapped the switch on her bubble light, strobing the world with blue; the honking cut off abruptly and the cars to either side of her dropped back with an alacrity that was almost funny. She hit the turn signal and slid into the right-hand lane. "There he is," she said with some relish, glancing at the screen of the little handheld device and the small green dot that had just shown up.
"Callin' Specs now," Johnny said, pulling out his phone. "You call Templar."
Sandra nodded and steered her car over onto the shoulder, stopping on top of an overpass. Killing the bubble light with one hand she dug her phone out of her purse with the other and flipped it open, dialing Simon's number. She didn't even hear the phone ring before Simon's voice crackled through: "Tell me you've got him, Spring," Simon commanded.
"We've got him," Sandra said. "The blip just showed up a second ago. Texas is relaying the information to Specs now."
Simon was silent for half a second or soin relief, Sandra realized, with a little pang of sympathy that took her by surprise. In the passenger seat Johnny was reading out numbers, his voice low. "Where are you?" Simon demanded to know.
"South side of 495, in Maryland," Sandra said, ducking and craning her neck to look out the window. "Near Route 4 and Andrews Air Force Base."
"So within ten miles or so of there," Simon said thoughtfully. After a moment he audibly shook it off and got back to business. "All right. You two? You two are awesome. Here's what I want you to do: I want you to get off the freeway and find some place safe to park your car, and wait there for us. Keep an eye on the blip. If it's moving, I want to know that. If it's not, I want to know that too. If it vanishes again, I really want to know that. Honda and I will go grab Specs and head out your way. I'll call you again once we're en route."
Sandra said, nudging her car up to walking speed and folding the phone
away without bothering with goodbyes. Gravel crunched under her tires.
Beside her Johnny was intent on the little screen, watching the blip avidly,
like a hunter. Traffic fell away in the right-hand lane (thanks in no small
part to the blue bubble light) and Sandra pulled back out, goosing her
car back up to speed.
Simon slapped his phone shut and bared his teeth at the windshield in triumph. Finally. "Honda, how fast can you get this thing back to base?"
"This time of night? Eight minutes, and that's in this piece of shit," Mike said confidently, turning on the bubble light and sliding into the left-hand lane. Cars fell behind them as he accelerated. "You can fuckin' time me."
"I would, except that there is no need," said Simon. "After all, you are the man. Get me back to base in seven and I'll kiss you right on the mouth, swear to God."
"Oh baby," Mike nearly sang, putting the pedal all the way down. The van roared like an angry bear and surged past an eighteen-wheeler, nearly leaping forward into the next clear space on 495. "You sure do know how to motivate a man!"
Simon laughed and then fell silent, letting Mike concentrate. The van tore down 495 at a perfectly ludicrous clip and without really thinking about it Simon braced both feet against the floorboards in responsenot that it would save him if Mike hit something at this speed.
They were five minutes out and closing fast when Simon's phone rang again. Mike didn't so much as react, his eyes on the roadhe got into that sort of driving coma, it was like a Zen thing, Simon was used to itbut Simon twitched and dug out his phone. Nate. Perfect. Simon answered his phone with "So where is he, Specs?"
"Well," Nate said, temporizing.
Simon squeezed his eyes shut. "Specs, don't 'well' me, 'well' is for bad news. What's up?"
"Well, uh, it's not really bad news, it's just weird..."
"Specs!" Simon said, nearly barking it. With an effort he reined himself in. "Just tell me."
Nate swallowed. "The signal's coming from the middle of the Potomac, boss."
Simon seized up for a moment, assimilating this. Even his heart paused. "Shit," he finally said, shooting bolt upright in his seat, completely oblivious to the twang of affronted pain from his chest. "A boat? A fucking boat?"
"No wonder no one ever saw him if he was using the Potomac as his own personal highway!" Simon said, thumping his leg with his fist. "The goddamned river would take him to within five miles of anywhere in the city!"
"And it runs all the way down past Fredericksburg, too" A little warning light went on the back of Simon's head and he slapped a hand over his face, groaning aloud. "Oh, Christ, if he's out on the river in a boat how are we going to catch him? How in hell do I go about requisitioning a boat? Are we going to get into some kind of, of boat chase now? Jesus, I'm uncomfortable enough with Farraday on land"
"I don't even know if Honda knows how to drive a goddamned boat"
"Templar!" Nate's shout was squeaky, but all the same, it startled Simon into silence for a moment, which was all the time that Nate needed. Nate swallowed and plunged on. "I don't think he's on a boat, boss. I mean, I think you're right, I think Farraday has one, but for a boat to contain enough metal to flummox the tracking chip like that it'd have to be a battleship or something, and I don't think Farraday has a battleship"
"and if he does, we have way larger problems than we thought," Simon put in grimly.
"I think he's in a warehouse," Nate went on, nearly frantic with information, his words tumbling over each other in their need to come out. "A dockside warehouse. The older ones are mostly metal and they'd give him access to the river, so Farraday could come and go from there without ever touching a street, and the police don't actually go down there that much!"
"That's got to be it," Simon said, staring unseeing out the passenger-side window. For a moment he allowed himself the luxury of putting two and two together: the Potomac ran within a few blocks of headquarters, within half a mile of Nate's house, within a mile or so of Truslow Road... a determined psychopath with a motorboat and a good pair of hiking boots could reach any of them. His own apartment wasn't a quarter of a mile from one of the Potomac's little offshootsSimon shook his head sharply, coming back to himself. "Okay. Okay. Specs, we're incoming now. I want you waiting for us under the covered entrywe are going to stuff you in the van and drive like crazy. Grab what you need and have it waiting. There's no time to waste."
"Got it, Templar," Nate said, and then Simon snapped his phone shut. The river. Jesus Christ.
"After this I am totally learning how to drive a speedboat," Mike said suddenly. Simon jumped.
Three minutes later Mike screeched to a halt outside the covered entryway. Nate threw open the back doors of the van and jumped in, a small sheaf of papers caught in his teeth, his crowbar in one hand, his toolkit in the other; the new guy climbed in after him with Rich's laptop hugged to his chest and a couple of CDs racked up on one finger.
Simon twisted around in his seat. "Wait, whoa, okay, who said you were coming?"
"I haven't finished installing the tracking program on the laptop yet," the new guy said, hefting the laptop a little like he was trying to demonstrate his point. "I'll finish while we go."
"Okay, you know what, no," said Simon. "Nate can do it. I'm not going to complicate an already dangerous situation by taking an unknown quantity into the area with us. No way. Leave the laptop and go."
The new guywhat was his name?didn't even hesitate. "There's got to be something I can do," he said desperately. Those weird pale eyes of his were nearly glowing in the dark. "I'm not helpless, I'm carrying, I want to help"
Simon threw up his hands. "Christ, I do not have time to argue with you," he said. "If you're coming, then close the doors and sit." The new guy's legs immediately folded up underneath him and he plunked to the van's floor. "I meant in one of the seats," Simon clarified, "but hey, points for a speedy response."
Nate reached over the new guy's head and yanked the van doors shut, then threw himself into one of the two tech seats. The minute Nate's ass hit seat, Mike took off like a bat out of hell. "Okay," Simon said, raising his voice to be heard above the engine. "Listen up. I do not take kindly to this 'arguing with me' shit. For the time being I am your boss and I expect compliance. Do it again and you will not only be removed from my team but also officially reprimanded and possibly even fired. And if someone on this team gets hurt because you were arguing with me, I will kill you. Do you hear me?"
"I hear you," the new guy said, putting Rich's old laptop in his lap. The back of the van lit up as he raised the lid, bathing himself and the rear doors in weird bluish-white light.
"Good," Simon said, narrowing his eyes against the ghostly glow. "Then hear this: until we return safely to base, you will immediately and wholeheartedly do whatever I order you to do, no matter how strange or boring you think it is. I will not tolerate arguing, waffling, hesitation, discussion, or creative interpretation. Those are privileges reserved for the actual members of my team, and even they sometimes lose those privileges when the shit hits the fan. If you have a problem with that, tough shit. You made your choice when you got in this van."
The new guy looked up, even as he slotted the first CD into the laptop's drive. "I understand," he said, blinking.
"Good," said Simon, turning back around and pulling his phone off his belt. "First order: turn the backlight on that thing down. I don't want you blinding Honda while he's driving."
guy didn't say another word, but the light went out a second later.
Some unknown amount of time later, Jeremy stopped shaking. The black spots that had been massing threateningly at the edges of his vision receded. Pushing his goggles up to his forehead Jeremy first raised his head and then slowly got to his knees, moving slowly to avoid another dizzy spell, which would be catastrophic at this point. When the half-expected dizziness did not manifest, he pushed himself painfully to his feet and straightened up, scanning the horizon.
Really, the view was magnificent, especially looking north across the river, with the lights of the city spread out beneath the enormous bowl of the sky. The city across the river wasn't likely to be of any use, however; with a twinge of regret Jeremy turned his attention to the immediate area. The warehouse was one of six that Jeremy could see, all alike, all jutting out over the river. They were immensely long, tall, wide metal rectangles, and much to Jeremy's dismay they had no outcroppings that he could see; to climb down off this roof he would have to slide to the edge of the roof and rappel thirty feet straight down, with no stops along the way.
The temptation to do itthe needwas overwhelming. And it was true that down was easier than up. In his normal state making the drop would be simple. Child's play.
Jeremy shut his eyes and swayed in place. As little as he liked to admit it, he was simply not capable of getting down off the roof in this condition. No, that was untrue: he was certainly capable of falling off the roof, although he failed to see how it would benefit him beyond definitively making his nagging headache go away.
Sinking back down, Jeremy braced his feet against the lip of the vent again despite the complaints of his thigh muscles. The roof was obviously the safest place to hide from his captor, but he wasn't in any condition to stay up here, either; the slant of the roof was too pronounced. If he fell asleep or passed out again, he'd roll right off, and the vent's lip wasn't high enough to stop him. Back inside, then. The warehouse was enormous; surely he could find a safe place to hole up, at least, and an actual escape route at best. He nodded to himself, resigned, and pushed his goggles back down.
the wire back down through the vent and set the prongs of the grappling
hook by hand, hooking two of them firmly under the vent's lip. He wouldn't
be able to reclaim it, but it was a loss he was willing to suffer, particularly
since it would serve to leave a decent false trail. Gritting his teeth,
he wound a loop of the wire about his left hand again, then grabbed the
edge of the vent in his right hand and let his body slither back through.
"I mean, of course Simon was right," Sandra said. She made a frustrated little gesture with the hand that wasn't holding onto the tracking box, nearly smacking Johnny in the shoulder. "It's just... he doesn't usually read people the riot act in front of the rest of the team."
Johnny grunted, not really interested in having this conversation but unable to begrudge Sandra the friendly ear. Sandra's car was parked at one end of a convenience-store parking lot and the two of them were sitting in it, huddled up over the gray plastic box with their heads nearly touching, watching the little green dot blink. It hadn't moved much. Wherever Jeremy's jacket was, it was holding pretty still. Johnny didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
"But, then," Sandra said, making a painful little sound that was probably supposed to be a laugh, "it's Farraday, and it's Archer, so I guess Simon's a little more worked up than usual"
"Hold up," Johnny said, raising his hand like a traffic cop. Sandra blinked and stopped mid-sentence. Johnny tapped the screen. "Blip's gone."
"What?" Sandra said, craning around to get a better look at the screen, her shoulder pressing up against Johnny's. "Oh, that's not gooddid the batteries die?"
"Nope." Johnny leaned back in his seat and fumbled out his cell. "I'm callin' Templar. Here." He pushed the box into Sandra's hands. "You keep an eye on it."
Sandra nodded and took the box, resting it against the steering wheel. Johnny pulled up templar in his address book and hit the call button, chewing absently at the inside of his cheek in lieu of a toothpick. "Texas," Simon said a second later, his voice raised against the roar of the van's engine. Mike must really be hauling ass. "We're about two minutes away from your location nowwhat's up?"
"Blip's gone," Johnny said. Sandra reached past him and opened the glove compartment. Johnny shuffled his knees out of the way. "Didn't move a bit. Just came and went."
Simon let out a short, annoyed breath. "Okay," he said. "We can do without it if we have to. Keep an eye on the thing. We're almost there."
"Right," said Johnny. He hung up. "About two minutes out, Templar said."
pulling her hair back into a ponytail and snapping a rubber band around
it. "Let's get out and wait."
Mike went. Mike went like the goddamned devil was after him, safe to say. The satellite map that Nate had printed out was stuck to the dashboard, a big-ass red dot drawn in the middle of one of the oblong shapes at its center. "Shouldn't be more than three minutes assuming we don't hit any fucking construction," he said, eyes on the road, drifting the van smoothly around a pothole almost before his eyes noticed it was there. Even this big clumsy tank of a motherfucking van felt like an extension of his dick or something when he had his game on, and it felt pretty goddamned good.
"I showed the night manager my ID," Sandra was saying from somewhere behind him, in response to a question Mike hadn't heard. "My car should be okay there as long as it needs to be, and I left him instructions to call HQ if we're not back for it by dawn, just in case."
Simon nodded; he was twisted around in his seat again, which had to hurt like fuck with that puncture in his gut. "Not a bad idea," he said. "If we don't show up by dawn then something's really fucked."
A traffic light was coming up and Mike's consciousness just kind of expanded to take in the entire intersection, noting that it was empty and that no cars seemed to be coming without needing to turn his head; he blew on through the red light without a problem, a momentary swell of triumph pushing against his ribs from the inside. Fuck, he loved this part of the job. His fingers jittered on the steering wheel. At this time of night on a Thursday the streets were mostly deserted, letting Mike own them all by default. He'd never been to this part of Maryland before but his gut knew which turns to take and which to avoid anyway, and they were there almost before he realized it, the glitter of the Potomac under the moon present at the edge of his vision, the row of warehouses looming on his right.
Mike slowed down, eyeing the chain-link fence around them. The fence itself looked to be all business, with barbed-wire panels up top to discourage fence-climbing. "Christ," Simon said. "Tell me that fucking thing's not electrified. I do not have time to wait for some property manager to come open it."
"You want me to knock it down?" Mike asked, cutting his eyes at Simon. "Big bastard like the van, no problem."
"I'll keep that in mind, Honda," said Simon, leaning forward to stare at the fence out the front windshield. "Right now, though, I'm aiming for something a little quieter. Christ, do they even have security?"
The warehouses slid by. The fence ended. Mike flicked off the headlights and pulled into the next parking lot over, rolling the van slowly to a stop. Even the full moon couldn't make that warehouse complex any prettier.
"Personnel gate over there," said Johnny from the back, tapping one of the rear windows. "Got a chain on. We could take that off no problem."
"I have bolt cutters," Nate volunteered, busily punching numbers into Rich's old laptop, which sat open in front of him. He referred to one of the handheld tracking doodads every few seconds.
Simon slapped the top of his seat back, drawing everyone's attention. "Okay. Honda, kill the van." Mike slid the van into park and pulled the key from the ignition. Simon nodded at him, then kicked himself the rest of the way around and winced. "Okay, listen up, folks. According to the last reading we got, Archer's jacket, and therefore probably Archer himself, is somewhere inside the second warehouse over. Do we have a reading again yet, or is it still blocked by the metal?"
"No reading," Nate said, looking up from the laptop. "I don't think I'm going to be able to draw a bead on it without taking a tracking device into the warehouse itself, Templar." His eyes were wide and worried behind his glasses; he was still sweating despite the cold.
"I see," Simon said, looking down at his hands.
"I, uh, I had an idea," Nate said. He stopped typing long enough to reach into his shirt pocket and dig out a small cardboard envelope. "This is another tracking chip like the one you put on Jeremy," he said, waving the envelope. "If someone carries it with them, then I can track both chips at once on the laptop and direct one to the otherkind of like, um, like playing Hot and Cold?" The words tumbled to a stop and Nate went a little pink, ducking his head. "We'll need the headsets, though."
"Headsets we can do," Simon said, looking back up. "And that's a damned good idea, Specs. The problem is that to do that, you'll need to go into the warehouse with us."
The van went very quiet. So quiet, in fact, that Mike could hear Nate swallow. "I, I, uh, yeah, I know," he said, looking down at his hands and fidgeting with the envelope. "I'll go."
"Good man," Simon said, very quietly. "Believe me when I say that we will keep you safe. Pass me the chip."
Without looking up Nate held out the chip, the paper envelope flapping like a leaf in his trembling fingers. Johnny took it from him and handed it to Simon, who stuck it into his own shirt pocket and buttoned the flap over it. Sandra put her hand on Nate's shoulder, earning herself a small but grateful little smile.
"Okay," Simon said, in that weirdly soft tone of voice that meant it was time to be all ears. Adrenalin roared through Mike like fire; he leaned forward, half-shutting his eyes to fight against the jitters. "Okay," Simon said again. "Here's the plan. Listen up. Uh, you. New guy. You are going to stay here and babysit the van: lock all the doors, put on a headset, and stay in the back. Keep an eye on one of those trackers, just in case. If anyone approaches the van without announcing themselves over frequency, you raise the alarm. If we start yelling for extraction, you start the van, you knock that goddamned fence down with it, and you come get us. If I tell you to call for backup, the radio's right there. Because you're new to this, I'll be nice and take a moment to explain that you are acting as this team's linchpin and backup strategy. This is not an unimportant job. This is not makework. This is the job that the guy you are replacing used to do. Do you understand me?"
The new guy nodded, hugging one of the handheld trackers to his chest. "I understand," he said. He seemed pretty calm. Mike, already twitching, figured that would last until just about when things actually started to happen.
"Good," said Simon, marching inexorably on. "The rest of you I don't need to explain things to. Here's the plan. Assuming that the fence is not electrifiedand I did not see signs to that effect, so I'm assuming notwe will cut the chain on that gate over there and cross to the second warehouse over, keeping to the shadows. Once we find a way in, we will go in, and we will split up." Nate made a tiny little sound, which Simon ignored. "Honda, Springheel, I want the two of you to go in search of Farraday, and I want you to stick together. I'm serious. Do not split up any further. Okay?"
"Okay," Mike said, his stomach clutching up for a sec.
"Right," said Sandra, her voice very neutral.
Simon nodded. "Springheel will wear a headset; Honda, I want your ears open. I'll also take a headset and move to retrieve Archer. Specs, I want you to find a place in the warehouse where you can get a reading off both chips, and I want you to guide me to Archer via headset. Texas, you stick with Specs, and you stick with Specs like a burr. Try to find some place defensible, if you can. No headset for you. Okay?"
"Got it," said Johnny. He and the new guy were the only two people in the van not visibly charged up; Johnny was poking around in his shirt pocket, probably looking for another one of those toothpicks of his.
"At this point in time I do not know if extracting Archer will take top priority or not," Simon said. "It all depends on his condition when I find him. I want you all to stand ready to come assist me, if I ask. Once I have Archer well in hand, I will make a decision as to what to do next. If any of you come across Farraday's boat, I want you to either cut it loose or sink it. Okay? Questions?"
"Templar" Sandra started to say, frowning.
Simon cut her off. "Spring, I know what you're going to say, and I can't even say that you're wrong. Yes, I'm going alone. Yes, I'm hurt. However, this is the way that we're going to do things. I'm counting on the two of you to deal with Farraday so that I don't have to. That's the best thing you can do for me right now."
"I'm not happy with it," Sandra said, her voice all edge, "but I understand. You'll call for help if you need it?"
Simon nodded. "Trust me."
"I hate it when guys say that to me," Sandra muttered, but she subsided, flexing her fingers.
"Any other questions?" Simon asked. He went silent. No one said a word. "Okay. One last thing: remember, if Diana Fontaine managed to beat us out here, Farraday may be waiting for us. I want everybody in vests, and I want everybody on their guard at all times. That includes while getting out of the van."
Johnny reached over and nudged the new guy's hip with his knuckles. "Vests and headsets are under that station," he said. "Scoot."
"What? Oh." The new guy edged out of Rich's old seat and into an unoccupied corner, sinking down as far out of the way as he could. Johnny disappeared halfway under the desk and dragged out the footlocker, popping the locks and passing the stuff out.
Mike wriggled into his vest, leaning back to avoid hitting the van's hornby this point in his life he was pretty goddamned good at getting into that thing while still sitting in the driver's seat, and he was already doing up the buckles by the time Johnny got around to shrugging into his. "Okay," Simon said, once again facing forward in the passenger seat, a little breathless from getting into his vest. "Texas, I want you to take point. Specs, give Honda the bolt cutters, your responsibility is the laptop. Spring, bring up the rear. Ready?"
Mike reached out and took the bolt cutters from Nate. The need to make a joke about it was momentarily dire, but it passed as quickly as it had come. "Ready," he said, echoed by the rest of the team.
raised a hand, and let it drop. "Texas, Honda: go."
The wooden lid of the topmost crate was rough against his cheek, but he couldn't bring himself to care. Jeremy shut his eyes and concentrated on catching his breath. Had he actually told himself not ten minutes ago that down was easier than up? He'd never make that mistake again. Down and up: they were both hell.
The cut end of the wire brushed against the back of his thigh, still swinging gently back and forth from that harrowing downward climb. Here in a moment, when he felt stronger, he'd make his way back down the pile of crates and find himself a bolt-hole of some sort. Even two or three hours of rest in relative safety would go a long way towards restoring his strength, and then perhaps he could make his way out of the warehouse in the dark hours just before dawn and find a public phone somewhere. He would derive a great deal of comfort from hearing Simon's voice right about now. Quite frankly, he would derive a great deal of comfort from hearing Simon call him an obnoxious English faggot right about now. He'd always found the name-calling to be rather charming, if he were to be honest.
He wished he knew what time it was. His abductor had stripped him of wallet, watch, and mobile phonelucky the man hadn't bothered to search his jacket!and the position of the moon told him only that it was somewhere around midnight. Still, while he might not know the time to the minute, he did know that it was time to get moving. Bracing his hands against the lid Jeremy pushed himself up onto one hip and slithered down onto the next narrow wooden ledge, leaving the wire dangling from the open vent above.
He was about halfway down the monstrous stack of crates when a forklift's engine rumbled to life in the massive and well-lit room that abutted this one. Jeremy froze, hugging the side of one massive box, and listened to the racket, only moving again when his thighs stopped complaining and actively started screaming. It was entirely too late at night and too early in the morning for this to be any kind of legitimate cargo hauling, as Jeremy well knew from many late nights of illegitimate cargo hauling. Still, fine. It was a distraction, whether or not his actual captor was the one in the forklift's seat.
By the time
his feet hit the concrete floor, the forklift was silent once more. Ah,
well. So much for that distraction.
Sandra was the last to leave the van. She paused long enough to grab the open rear door and swing it halfway closed; Dave Brassoff leaned out of the van and caught the door's inner handle, his eyes extraordinarily serious and calm in the moonlight, the familiar headset incongruous on his unfamiliar face. "Good luck," he breathed.
Sandra nodded once, sharply, and let the van door go. Dave pulled it gently shut, with only the barest click as the latch engaged, but Sandra had already dismissed both Dave and the van from her mind. She spun on her heel, once, studying the parking lot. It was empty. She completed her rotation and struck out after Simon, glancing from side to side. The night was so quiet that she could hear the traffic on 495, a few miles distant.
The dark shape that was Johnny was already at the gate, intent on the warehouse yard beyond. He had drawn his gun. Beside him, a second, larger dark shape was wielding the massive yard-long bolt cutters with extraordinary zeal. Moonlight flashed from Mike's momentary, maniacal grin. Sandra thinned her lips and jogged on.
By the time she caught up, they were all bunched up outside the gate, Mike just now patiently unthreading the chain from the fence. He dropped into a crouch and dropped both chain and bolt cutters into the scraggly patch of grass at the base of the fence; the bolt cutters could stay there until they returned. Johnny reached over Mike's head and unlatched the gate, pushing it open.
Sandra, braced for metaphorical impact, found herself oddly let down when there was none. No alarms rang, no security guards appeared to demand to know what they were doingthere weren't even any guard dogs, which was an unalloyed relief. Farraday, true to form, had chosen a bolthole with as little security attached to it as possible; a habit which worked in his favor, to be sure, but it was also a habit which would now work in theirs.
Johnny took five careful, sidling steps into the warehouse yard, moving sideways like a crab. The muzzle of his gun pointed steadily at the ground between his feet. After a moment, Mike followed, then Nate, then Simon; Sandra slipped through and closed the gate behind herself, pushing the latch back down. She scanned the parking lot one last time. Still empty, except for the vague, dark bulk of the van, oddly forlorn in its corner. Satisfied, she turned and ran to join the others in the shadow of the first warehouse.
Here in the shadow the others were defined only by the faint, pale shapes of their bare faces and hands. The shape which was SimonSandra would know it anywherereached forward and took Johnny by the shoulder, then pointed to the next warehouse. Johnny nodded and took off almost in the same movement, his gun whipping up to cover the alleyway between the warehouses before he vanished, again, into the shadow. After a tense moment, Sandra heard his faint, insistent hsst!
Simon pushed Mike's shoulder. Mike dashed off. Simon put a hand on Nate's shoulder, hesitated, then pushed Nate after Mike; Nate stayed down, frozen in place, for half a second before bolting after Mike and Johnny. Simon glanced towards Sandra. Sandra nodded. Simon nodded back and ran to join the others. Sandra followed.
They bunched up again just before the corner of the warehouse. Johnny dropped to all fours and eased his head out at knee level, taking a single glance before pulling back; beside her Sandra could feel Mike nearly vibrating with the stifled need to make a joke about what else Johnny could do while he was down there, a staple joke in Mike's somewhat limited repertoire. Johnny rose to his feet. "Got an open door," he breathed. "Lights on. Like an invitation."
"Think we're expected?" Simon whispered back. "Anywhere to shelter?"
Johnny shook his head.
"Okay," Simon breathed. "In that case, next building over first, then stick close to the wall on the way down." He touched Johnny's shoulder. Johnny loped for the third building.
A minute later they were all together again, at the north end of the third warehouse. Without bothering to check with one another Mike and Sandra drew their weapons, as well, bringing the number of guns out to three; Simon's fingers flexed like he was aching to follow suit, but in the end, he didn't. Nate hugged the open, dimmed laptop to his chest, his crowbar dangling from one hand.
Simon looked around the circle, then nodded. "Single file," he whispered. "Go slow. Hug the wall like it was your mom."
"Hell, I'll hug the wall like it was your mom, Templar," Mike whispered back, unable to resist. Sandra rolled her eyes and stepped on Mike's foot, just hard enough to make her point. Mike jerked his foot out from under Sandra's but didn't elbow her or anything, which was... just fine with her, right now. Johnny's grin flashed in the darkness and then he was gone, edging along the wall, heading for the spill of brilliant light at the far end of the warehouse.
One by one they joined him there, just outside the radius of the light streaming from the open door. By the time Sandra got there Nate was shifting nervously from foot to foot, holding out the laptop so that they could all see the two blips on the screen, an inch or so apart. Nate tapped the first dot, then reached out to tap the chestplate of Simon's vest, over his shirt pocket. Simon nodded. Nate tapped the other dotJeremy, or at least his jacketthen pointed off at an angle, indicating the back half of the warehouse. Simon nodded again.
Sandra glanced at the door. Through it she could see crates and boxes piled high, like any warehouse, and something which looked to be a forklift, and no one at all moving around. Simon touched Johnny on the shoulder, breathed "Opposite wall." and nudged him forward. Johnny dashed across the empty alleyway and flattened himself out opposite, craning to peek through the door. After a moment he nodded and waved them over. One at a time, they joined him.
"Through the door as fast as possible," Simon whispered. "Don't stop until you're up against that first big crate. Ready?"
Everyone around him nodded, even Nate. Simon held up three fingers. Everyone tensed. Simon folded down his third finger, then his second, then his first, then whipped his hand at the door. Johnny broke for it. The others were right on his heels.
Sandra was the last to enter the warehouse, only half a step behind Simon, less than ten steps behind Johnny. Her every nerve was on edge. She only had a heartbeat of time to look around, to spot the forklift parked half-on and half-off the giant conveyor belt with its lift raised all the way up and a single giant crate resting in the fork; before she could even properly articulate the thought that that looked awfully precarious, the conveyor belt started up with a rumble. Sandra threw herself backwards without a second thought, falling on her ass on the tarmac outside, screaming a reflexive, wordless warning.
Half of the forklift jolted forward on the conveyor belt. Half of it didn't. The forklift twisted to the side, already toppling, and the weight of the crate on top wrenched it the rest of the way over. Sandra had a single, fragmentary image of the rest of her team scattering before the crate hit the ground and exploded, sending what looked like gravel flying everywhere. She threw up her arms to protect her face, her feet pedaling frantically at the ground, pushing her backwards away from the door. Gravel ricocheted off her forearms with stinging, bruising force. The roar of the crash nearly pummeled her flat.
When it was over, all except the trickling sound of pebbles succumbing to gravity, Sandra slowly lowered her arms, her heart hammering. She was alone in the alleyway, the doorway in front of her blocked off by a twisted mess of splintered wood and mounded stone. One of the arms of the forklift was just barely visible, jutting out into midair at a crazy angle.
to her feet and threw herself into a pool of shadow away from the door,
already reaching for her headset.
The roar of the crash snapped Jeremy out of his concussed stupor, and he jerked his head up so fast that he nearly gave himself another concussion on the low roof of his bolt-hole, which would have been an exceedingly unromantic way to kill himself. What in God's name?
The claustrophobic space that he'd found between the crates was barely larger than his own curled-up body and a good ten feet off the ground. Still, he'd never been afraid of tight spacesone simply couldn't be in Jeremy's professionand the space could only be reached by climbing a stack of crates and then eeling through a crack that was barely a foot wide, so in the end he'd chosen relative safety over relative comfort. With his knees drawn up to his chest, he even had something like a pillow on which to rest his aching head.
Placing both hands on the rough wood around him, Jeremy strained to hear something, anything. For a long moment all he could hear were the echoes of that rending crash, and it was with some difficulty that he talked himself out of climbing back out of his hiding place and going to investigate the noise; for all he knew, it was a ploy to lure him out. He hadn't heard anyone go by to check on his former prison, but he couldn't swear that he would have, not in this state.
He thought he was hallucinating the voices, at first; he had a head injury, after all. The voices were pitched so low that he couldn't make out a single word, just a faint hum at the threshold of his perceptions. It didn't surprise him. What surprised him was that he was not hallucinating any more vividly than he already was.
The sound of Simon's voice in the other room: that was definitely a hallucination, brought on by Jeremy's naggingly desperate desire to hear it. Jeremy closed his eyes and smiled ruefully at himself. One piddling little head injury and all his self-sufficiency went flying out the window
"Honda!" Simon yelled from the other room, and Jeremy's eyes snapped open again. All right, not a hallucination. How on earth had they foundoh. Oh.
"Oh, Simon, really," Jeremy muttered under his breath, half exasperated and half relieved beyond all measure. He patted absently at the ruins of his jacket, wondering where, exactly, the chip was stashed this time. Oh, well. The filthy thing was getting thrown out in any case. No point in worrying about it just yet.
his legs under himself Jeremy started the slow and painful process of wriggling
back out through the miniscule crack between the crates.
"Sound off, people!" Simon wheezed into his headset, putting his back against a crate and drawing his gun. He was alone on one side of the impromptu barricade, and he hurt like hell after the dive that he'd just taken. Gravel was still stuttering down the sides of the pile and rolling outwards in all directions; he'd have to be careful when he left or he'd slip and fall and hurt himself some more. "Everyone all right?"
"Fine," Sandra said more or less instantly, her voice all on edge. Simon could hear her through the headset and again through the open, blocked doorway, like an echo of herself. "I'm trapped outside but unhurt."
"What?" said the new guy, still outside in the van. "What?" Simon ignored him.
"I-I-I'm all right," Nate said a second later, his voice shaking. Simon could hear two of him, as well, although he seemed to be farther away. "Texas is here with me, he's okaybut I-I dropped the laptop when the forklift came down and now I can't find it, I think it's under the crate, it's gone, I'm sorry"
Simon shut his eyes. "It's all right," he said, aiming for and mostly hitting 'calm'. "You got an initial reading, that'll have to do. What about Honda?"
"He's not with us," Nate said, swallowing.
"He doesn't have a headset," Sandra added.
"Shit," Simon muttered, then raised his voice. "Honda!"
"Yo!" Mike yelled back. "I'm all right!"
Simon exhaled in relief. "Stay put!" he yelled, then hit the headset button again. "Okay. Change of plans. Spring, you say you can't get in the door?"
"It's blocked pretty good, Templar," Sandra said. "I can try to clear it, but it'll take a while."
"Leave it. There has to be another way in, probably down at the river end of the warehouse. Go find it, get in here, and meet up with Honda. I don't like having him out of contact and I do not want him taking on Farraday alone. When you find the entrance, tell us all where it is. We will wait for you. Got it?"
"Got you," said Sandra. Dimly Simon could hear her footsteps outside, retreating.
"Specs, Texas, find somewhere safe to hole up," Simon said, glancing left and right. "Once I find Archer I may need your help, so hang loose, but be safe. Okay?"
"Okay," Nate said. "Be careful, Templar."
"That goes for all of you, too," Simon said. "Be"
The warehouse's huge banks of overhead lights all snapped out at once, plunging them into the dark.
"careful shit," Simon said, instinctively cringing back against his crate and straining to see in the sudden pitch blackness. Strangled yelps came from all directions: the rest of his team, as startled as he was. "Okay," Simon said, gritting his teeth. "Change of plans again! Someone get those lights back on, I don't care whoI'm going after Archer now."
"Good luck, Templar," Nate said, worried.
"Yeah." Simon put a hand on the side of his crate and gingerly followed it to the corner, kicking away loose gravel before he took each step. He knew there was a gap in the crates over this way, he'd seen it before the forklift trap went off...
By the time
he reached the corner of the crate, his eyes were starting to adjust to
what little light was left. Scattered moonlight was shining in from the
large skylight things overhead, and there was the faintest hint of unpleasant
yellow light in the direction he was heading. Off to his left, a narrow
corridor snaked away between the crates. Simon set off at a slow jog, every
footstep making his chest ache, holding his gun up and ready.
"Stay put?" Mike muttered indignantly, whipping around in a circle, straining to see over the tops of the crates that rose like wooden walls around him. He'd thrown himself straight forward when the forklift came down and there was now one fuck of a big gravel pile between him and all the others, not that he could see it any more. "Stay put? What am I, a potted fuckin' plant now?"
At least being told to 'stay put' meant that no one had gotten hurt. That was something.
After a bit of consideration, Mike sidled about ten yards away, to a convenient corner formed by the intersection of two crates. Putting his back to the corner, he brought his gun up until the muzzle kissed off his cheek and waited. That was 'put' enough, right? Simon wouldn't want him to be unnecessarily exposed, right? Right?
He didn't dare shut his eyes all the way but he still slitted them about half-closed, the better to listen to his surroundings. It was dark anyway, what was he going to see, more darknesssomeone scurried by on the other side of one of the boxes and Mike froze, barely daring to breathe again until he heard the terse rumble that was unmistakably Johnny, speaking too low to be understood. Mike relaxed and blew out a breath, wanting to laugh at himself but reining it in.
The footsteps faded away to the north and everything went quiet again. Mike glanced left, then right, straining to hear. Sooner or later Johnny and Nate would find their way to him, and Nate had a headset, and once Mike met up with someone with a headset he could get in touch with Simon and get permission to do something beyond staying put. Mike had never wanted a headset quite so badly in his entire life.
His hand stole down and touched one of the panels of his vest, bulged slightly out over the square shape of his cell. His cell was offstandard procedurebut he could turn it on, set it to vibrate, hope that someone realized he was adrift without orders...
Somewhere behind him one of the huge warehouse doors rumbled open, and the darkness lifted, just a bit. Mike glanced around, taking advantage of the new light. He still saw no one. He wasn't totally sure if he was happy about that or not.
Two or three minutes dragged by. Mike stubbornly stuck to his spot despite the feeling like there were ants crawling on his skin. He was not going to fuck up this operation like he'd fucked up the last one, he was going to follow orders, even if it meant missing all the action
A flicker of yellow light from off to his right startled him. A flashlight? He wouldn't be surprised if Nate had brought one. Nate was the kind of guy who always had a light, a Swiss Army knife, and a bit of wire in his pockets. If it was Johnny and Nate, well, Mike could probably get there from here, meet up with them, get his new orders.
And if it wasn't, Mike kind of wanted to know who it was.
For a moment he stuck to his corner, arguing silently with himself, watching the flashlight bob slowly through the maze of crates. Farraday wouldn't use a flashlight unless he had a good goddamned reason: the fucker was ex-Army, he'd have to know that the light stood out like a beacon. It had to be Nate. "Shit," Mike growled under his breath. He jogged anxiously in place for a second, then broke right, heading towards the light.
Almost immediately he ran smack up against another stack of crates, directly in his path, forcing him to veer left. Now he was heading almost directly away from the flashlight, the walls of crates rising high and unbroken to either side, forcing him to cross almost half the warehouse before a break in the crates finally let him turn right again. The weak beam of the flashlight was almost lost in the distance. Mike hissed in exasperation and broke into a jog, heading back towards the moving, bobbing light. He was totally not staying put and he'd get in trouble later
The drawback to this plan hit him as he got close. He didn't exactly want to announce himself and then go walking face-first into Farraday, but at the same time, he didn't really want to burst in on Johnny and Nate unannounced and get shot (or hit with a crowbar) for his troubles. Mike slowed, trying to move quietly. He'd edge in close enough to see who it was first.
It made the last few seconds of his chase perversely irritating, to be sure. Twice he slunk around a corner just in time to see the light rounding a second corner ten or fifteen feet away, its bearer already out of sight. Finally, the third time it happened, Mike caught a glimpse of the bearer's ragged shadow thrown against a crate and snorted at himself, breaking back into a jog. He knew that shape, for sure.
"Spring!" he hissed, rounding the corner. "Shit, girl, wait up" The words died in his throat and Mike jerked to a startled halt, his gun automatically leaping up.
to face him, the flashlight splashing gaudily across the floor, only it
wasn't Sandra after all, and Sandra would kill him if she ever found out
that Mike had thought it was"Mike," Diana Fontaine said, her hand rising
to her throat.
Nate stood beside the open door with his back to the wall, his gun in one hand, his crowbar in the other, and tried to control his racing heart. His heart wasn't having any of it. He glanced over at Johnny, looking for support, or comfort, or something. Johnny nodded at him in the semidarkness, then went back to watching the door. It wasn't much, but it'd do him, as Johnny would say. Nate glanced away again, watching the flashlight off in the distance with a fear that bordered on supernatural.
"I'm almost through this fucking fence," Sandra muttered over frequency, accompanied by the soft musical jangling of Nate's bolt cutters shearing through wire. "Who puts a chain-link fence around the dock side of a warehouse anyway?"
Nate reached up and touched the broadcast button over his left ear. "We're waiting for you at the door," he said, as softly as he dared. Any softer and Sandra might not hear him. Any louder and someone else might.
"Good," Sandra said. "Have you seen or heard anything from Honda?"
"Not specifically?" Nate cleared his throat. "Someone's using a flashlight on the other side of the room. It might be Honda. I don't know if he has a light."
"Way to broadcast your location, Honda," Sandra muttered. It sounded like she was talking to herself, so Nate didn't bother answering. After a moment there came a much louder jangling sound, loud enough that Nate could hear it both through the headset and in real life. "I'm through," Sandra said. "Heading your waywait, no, I see Farraday's boat at the end of the dock. One sec." Her footsteps thudded dimly off in the distance, receding into silence; after a moment, there was a faint splash. "Templar, I have set Farraday's boat adrift. Far as I can tell it's heading out to sea."
"Good work," Simon said, his voice ever so faintly metallic with distance. Even just his disembodied voice was oddly reassuring. Nate's heart slowed a bit more. "Let me know when you're in."
"Heading that way now," Sandra said. Nate flicked his fingers at Johnny, who nodded again and faded back a step. He'd barely done so before Sandra slipped through the narrow opening and joined them. "Templar, I'm in," she said, touching her own left ear. "I'm going to look for Honda now. Texas and Specs will stay here and guard our exit unless you need them."
"Got you," Simon said a moment later. "I need silence on frequency now."
Sandra let her hand drop and glanced at Nate. "Flashlight?" Nate pointed, trying really hard to keep his hand from shaking. Sandra raised up onto her toes and craned her neck, then nodded. "Texas, give me a leg up? I'm not negotiating Farraday's maze from ground level unless I have to."
Johnny grunted in acquiescence and dropped to one knee, putting his free hand on the ground for balance. Touching one hand to the nearest crate to steady herself Sandra stepped lightly onto Johnny's shoulder and scrambled up onto the top of the crate from there. She left a clear pale sneaker-print on the shoulder of Johnny's vest. Johnny slapped at it until it faded, his face crinkling up into what was almost a grin.
Wood creaked faintly under Sandra's weight as she stepped from one crate to the next, making her way into the warehouse proper. "Stay safe," Nate whispered after her, but either she didn't hear him or didn't have time to respond, because no answering whisper came back. He strained after the faint sounds of her movement until he couldn't hear them any more.
Silence fell again. The flashlight had stopped moving. Nate found himself watching it in near-superstitious awe, only to remember that if it wasn't Farraday, that meant that Farraday was somewhere else, maybe nearby, maybe counting on that flashlight to distract Nate so that he could get closeNate made a tiny strangled sound before he realized that he was going to do it, jerking his eyes away from the lure of the flashlight and checking all the exits again.
Johnny glanced at him, then away again. Nate flushed, his face burning with shame. God, he felt so paranoid"Not gonna let him near you again, you know," Johnny said, his voice low but matter-of-fact.
"I know," Nate said, going redder yet. "I justI feel so stupid."
"Yeah? Why's that?"
Nate swallowed. "Because I'm way more scared than I ought to be," he said. "I mean, it's just one guy, rightI was thinking the other day about how somebody tried to kill me with an exploding satellite once and it still frightened me a lot less than Farraday does. Farraday gets to me."
"Can't blame you for that," Johnny said. He still wasn't looking at Nate. Instead he was continuously scanning the area, his eyes flicking back and forth. "Farraday's pretty scary."
Nate glanced at him. "Well, yeah, but I shouldn't let him get to me like this, you know? I mean, no one else is running scared like this."
"Yeah? Who told you that?" Johnny's eyes flicked towards him again. "Me, I'm scareder'n hell."
Nate gaped at Johnny for a second before shaking his head and recollecting himself. "Now you're just trying to make me feel better," he said accusingly. "You're scared of Farraday? You?"
Johnny shrugged. "Not Farraday exactly, although I guess that's part of it. Guess what I'm scared of is that he's gonna try and hurt you again."
"Oh," Nate said, when he could.
"Ain't gonna let it happen twice," Johnny said. "Ain't gonna let it be my fault twice."
Nate swallowed, then reached up to scrub his sleeve over his burning cheeks. "I guess you should really be scared for Jeremy, then. He's the one who's really in danger right now, not me."
"Nope," Johnny said. "He's Templar's lookout, and his own. I like the man fine and I don't like that he's hurt, but he's none of my responsibility. Sorry if that's cold."
"Guess it is, a little." Nate looked away. "It just makes me feel so helpless, you know? Like I need babysitting."
Johnny considered this for a moment, then grunted. "You want, then, I'll leave you here to guard the door. Expect Templar could use my help"
"no that's all right," Nate said, all in a squeaky rush.
"You sure?" Johnny asked, glancing at Nate again. Nate couldn't quite tell if Johnny was smiling or not.
"I'm sure," Nate said. Abruptly he holstered his gun and hunkered down, making a smaller target of himself. "You don't have to rub it in, you know."
"Wasn't trying to." Johnny shifted. "You wanna know something?"
Nate blinked up at him. "What?"
"Ain't here just for you," said Johnny. "I'm here for Templar and me, too."
"I keep telling you, it wasn't your fault, not really"
"It was," Johnny said grimly, "mine, and Templar's, and a little of your ownmuch as I hate to admit that out loudbut mostly it was Farraday's fault, and far as I'm concerned he used up the last of his chances when he shot Templar. He comes anywhere near us and I'm gonna put him down like the goddamned mad dog that he is." Nate stayed just where he was, suddenly too petrified to move. After a quiet moment, Johnny went on. "Some people just need killin'. Templar shoulda believed me when I told him that." Nate made a little strangling sound. Johnny glanced at him again. "I scare you?"
"A little," Nate squeaked.
"Wasn't my intention," Johnny said, "but I'm not gonna lie to you, either."
Nate swallowed and looked away, poking the side of the nearest crate with his crowbar. "You probably should have."
"Yeah, probably," said Johnny. "Guess that statement'd be all the proof of premeditation anyone needed, huh."
"If I told them about it," Nate said, with a bravado that he really wasn't feeling.
Johnny snorted out something like a laugh. "You got my back, huh?"
"... yeah," Nate said, straightening up again. "Us against the world, right?"
"Yeah." Johnny scrubbed one hand over the bristles of his crewcut with a raspy sound. "Thing is, I told you 'cause I want you to know how serious I am. He ain't gettin' near you again, no matter what I gotta do to keep you safe."
Nate started to say something in response to that and stopped, mostly because... well, what did you say to something like that? "I guess I do feel a little safer now," he finally said. It sounded lame, because it was, but, he realized, it was also the truth.
Johnny said. "That's all I'm askin'."
By the time Simon made it through the maze of crates to the far end of the main storage area, he was already breathing hard, much to his disgust. The ache in his chest had punched its claws in and settled down to stay, and he was getting a stitch in his side, to boot. Christ, he couldn't even jog a couple hundred feet any more.
The massive doorway that led into the secondary storage area gaped in front of him, big enough to admit a couple of industrial-sized forklifts side by side. He followed the metal wall up to it, going slowly, letting himself catch his breath; by the time he stopped and put his back to the wall a foot away from the door, he was more or less okay except for that nagging, persistent ache. He cocked his head and listened with all his might. He didn't hear a thing.
Simon took a deep breath and held it for the count of three, steadying himself, focusing his thoughts. On three he spun around and into the doorway, the muzzle of his gun stabbing out to threaten nothing more imposing than a bunch of wooden crates. Simon let out that steadying breath and took two rapid steps into the room, stopping with his back to one of the crates to let his eyes adjust.
The room itself was darkened, like the one that Simon had just come from. The three smaller hallways that led off from the far side of the room were lit with a dim and sickly yellow light, though, which wasn't quite enough to see by, but was enough to pick out the edges of things. The walls of the room were lined with crates, huge piles of them, all pushed back to leave the center of the room ominously empty. Anything that crossed that open, empty space would be neatly backlit by the hallway lights, framed in the massive, open doorway behind him: a perfect target. Killing floor ran crazily through Simon's mind and vanished again. Just the thought of crossing that empty space while Farraday was loose made the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
Jeremy could be anywhere. Jeremy could be nowhere. Simon wasn't about to call out, not yet, not with Farraday still out there somewhere. Bringing his gun up until it nearly touched his cheek, Simon scanned the room again and decided: he'd search the hallways first. That would allow him to start at the far end of the warehouse and work his way back; maybe by the time he had to search this room Mike and Sandra would have apprehended Farraday and Simon could just start shouting. Assuming Jeremy was in any condition to hear himSimon shook his head sharply, forcing himself to dismiss the thought.
Left hallway first, Simon decided, partially because it seemed logical and partially because he wouldn't have to cross that open space to get there. Simon nodded to himself, let his gun drop to point at the floor, and set off along the left-hand wall, sticking as close to the piled-up boxes as he could. Every few steps he checked over his shoulder, making sure that Farraday hadn't stepped into the doorway behind him.
He was a little more than halfway across the room when Farraday swung silently out from between two of the boxes and jammed the muzzle of a small gun up against the back of his neck.
Simon jerked and froze, his own gun half-raised impotently, threatening nothing. The gun against the back of his neck was smallalmost certainly the same .22 that Farraday had used to shoot him in the parking lot a couple of weeks agobut if Farraday pulled the trigger right now the bullet would go through the meat of his throat. No matter what it hit, trachea or artery, he'd die, and fast. "Drop the guh-gun, please," Farraday said, almost sounding amused.
Simon bared his teeth in a furious, helpless grimace and let his gun fall to the concrete in front of him. "Good," Farraday said, and then he made a little uk! sound, the muzzle of the gun jerking just a bit. The front sight of the .22 scraped painfully against the back of Simon's neck and Simon tensed, certain that the spasm would pull the trigger, toobut Farraday only brought it back to bear. "Now kick it away," he said. Simon hesitated until Farraday jabbed the gun against the back of his neck hard enough to push Simon's head forward. "Kick it away!" Farraday repeated, much less amused now.
With a little hiss, Simon hooked the toe of his sneaker under his gun and sent it clattering away, skittering over the concrete until it was lost to sight. "You realize that if you kill me, the sound of the gun will bring the rest of my team running," he said, striving for calm. "I sure wouldn't want to be you then."
"I wouldn't cuh!count me out so easily," Farraday said, incongruously cheerful. His gun hand didn't waver this time, even as he twitched. "Hands on your head. Slowly, nuh-now."
Simon brought his hands up slowly, linking his fingers together behind his head. Farraday was so close, all he needed was a chance to grab the asshole's gun hand and it would all be over"Don't move," said Farraday, and the gun pulled away from the back of Simon's neck. Farraday took three quick steps backwards, moving out into the middle of the room. "Tuh-turn this way."
for that. Simon turned in a slow circle, his fingers flexing on the back
of his head. Farraday stood not six feet away, the muzzle of the gun a
tiny black hole aimed unerringly at Simon's left eye. For a moment they
eyed each other, Simon furiously, Farraday idly, like Simon was some kind
of interesting bugthen Farraday sighed a little and grinned, his shoulder
jerking back. The gun didn't waver a bit. "Hello, Simon," Farraday said,
laughing a little. "Fancy meeting yuh-you here."
Blood roared in Mike's ears. He was still pointing the gun at Diana, less from any actual need to threaten her with it and more because he was currently too shocked to stop. "Aw, shit," Mike finally choked out, and just like that his paralysis snapped: "Aw, fuck, lady," he said, "I can't believe I bought your shitI went to bat for you!"
"I'm sorry!" Diana whimpered, wide-eyed and frozen in place like a deer in the headlights, staring at the gun as if hypnotized. "I didn'tit wasn'the was threatening me..."
"Yeah, right, sure," Mike said. He readjusted his grip on his gun, bringing it up to point directly at her face. "You know what, I'm sorry, but I'm not gonna buy your shit any more."
"Please listen to me!" Diana's voice nearly rang off the raftersor seemed to, anywayand she winced away from it, as startled by it as Mike himself was. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I didn't want to, but he told me that if I didn't help him... something bad would happen..."
"Yeah? When was this?"
"Yeh-yesterday afternoon." Diana sobbed once, reaching up to scrub her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket. "He called my hotel room, do you understand? I don't know how he got the number or found me or anything!"
"Jesus fuck, and you didn't tell us?" The muzzle of the gun dipped an inch or two as Mike stared at her over it. "We could have moved youwe could have all been killed!"
"He scared me!" Diana Fontaine covered her face with both hands and sobbed again, the flashlight jutting up past her ear at an angle. Her voice was queerly muffled. "He knows where my parents live! He said so! He told me where he was hiding and said that all I needed to do was come warn him if you got too close and then I could go, and I was going, and then you caught me, and oh God, Mike, I'm so sorry!"
Mike sucked his lower lip into his mouth. "How'd you get here, anyway?"
"I-I called a cab from the hotel," Diana said, sniffling a bit. "There's a convenience store a couple of blocks away, he saidI was going to walk down and call another cab so that I could get back... I'm such a coward!" She burst into fresh sobbing, scrubbing madly at her eyes with both hands.
"Aw, shit," Mike said, lowering the gun until it pointed at the floor. "Yeah, okay, you fucked up big-time, I ain't gonna lie to you about that. The man just tried to drop a forklift on us 'cause he knew we were coming, and if any of us had died, that woulda been your fault." Diana sobbed again. Mike grimaced and looked away, staring over her shoulder instead of watching her cry. "And either way you've made enough of a fool out of me, so I'm gonna take you back to the entrance and let Templar decide what to do with youbut if you're telling the truth, then you'll probably be okay in the long run. Extenuating circumstances or some shit, I dunno, you're the lawyer here."
Diana jerked like Mike had called her something much worse than 'lawyer'. "Oh, God, I'm going to get disbarred!" she choked out, like this was just now occurring to her. "No matter what kind of charges get filed against me or whether they're dropped laterhe's still technically my client, oh my God, what am I going to do?"
"Guess the real question is 'what have you done'?" Mike said, glancing over at her and then away again. "I mean, shit, I got some sympathy, I guess, but again, you're the lawyer, you should have thought of that before you did this, you know?"
"I know," Diana whispered, abruptly dropping into a crouch and putting her arms protectively over her head. Startled, Mike jerked the gun up, then let it fall again. Diana didn't even notice. "Oh, God, it's all my fault. I'm the one who got involved with him in the first place and then he started threatening my family and I just... I was too scared to think! I'm going to lose everything and it's all my fault!"
Mike winced. "Actually," he said, "I were in your shoes, I'd be blaming him, not yourself"
"No," Diana said from under the protective cradle of her arms. "No, it's my fault. It's all my fault. I should have told you yesterday, I should have trusted you" The words choked off there and she sobbed again.
"Well, uh, yeah, duh," Mike said, shifting from foot to foot. "I know you don't much like me and mine but we sure as hell coulda protected you if you'd just said something."
"I know. Oh, God." Diana snuffled, bringing one hand down to rub at her eyes. "I kept telling myself that I should and being too scared to, and then I made such a fool of myself throwing myself at you like that and I couldn't bear to tell you after thatI'm such an idiot!"
"Guess so," Mike said dubiously.
"What have I done?" Diana said, her voice soft and thick. "I'm so sorry, Mike. I never meant toI didn't want to hurt anybody. Least of all youyou've been so good to me even though I was such a bitch back then..."
Mike opened his mouth, discovered that he couldn't think of anything to say to that, and closed his mouth again. Diana went quiet, huddled up on the floor, occasionally sniffling. "I," Mike finally said, and against his better judgment he came within a hair of following that up with never saw you, okay? when a thoroughly unimpressed voice rang out from overhead: "Oh, Jesus," Sandra said in disgust. "I am going to be sick."
Mike yelped and reeled back half a step, his gun jerking up and dropping again. Diana let out a thin, surprised shriek and fell right on her ass, which under any other circumstances Mike might have found hilarious, but as it was he was a little too busy trying not to have a heart attack. Diana Fontaine scrambled to her feet even as Sandra jumped down from her perch atop one of the big wooden crates, landing neatly on all fours a few feet in front of Mike. "As amusing as it is to watch you practice your alibi on Honda," Sandra said, rising to her feet, "there is only so much of that helpless-little-girl shit I can take."
"I-I don't blame you for not trusting me," Diana began, her voice tremulous.
Mike couldn't exactly see Sandra roll her eyes, but he could pretty much hear it. "Give me a fucking break," Sandra said. "You aren't crying. Honda here may be too much of a guy to know fake crying when he hears it, but back before I grew a brain and a spine I pledged a sorority, okay, and some of my former sisters were so much better at that shit than you are, you have no idea."
"I'm not faking!" Diana cried, covering her face with both hands and sobbing again.
"Really?" said Sandra. "Okay, then, put your hands down and point your flashlight at your face."
"Whuh-what?" Diana said, snuffling.
"If you've really been crying over there, your eyes ought to be really red and wet by now," Sandra said. Diana went still, her hands still tented over her face.
"Uh," Mike said, fascinated and a little disturbed by this sudden girlsplosion going on right in front of him.
"Shut up, Honda," Sandra said crisply, glancing over her shoulder at him before looking back at Diana. "Well?"
"You don't have to be so rude!" Diana said, snuffling again. Suddenly it sounded just a little fake to Mike; he wondered if it had sounded like that all along.
"Oh, Christ, now she's pulling out the 'you're mean' card," Sandra said. "Newsflash: this isn't high school. Calling me 'rude' is not going to make me feel bad. If I was the kind of girl who got upset at the thought that somebody, somewhere might not like me, I sure as hell wouldn't have joined the FBI. Give it up. Point your flashlight at your face."
Fifteen feet away, Diana was quiet, her hands still over her face. After a long moment, Sandra nodded. "Don't want to, huh. Can't blame you."
"I don't have to prove anything to you!" Diana said, her voice shrill. She let her hands drop, pointing the flashlight at the floor again. Mike leaned to one side, straining to see her face, but in the semi-darkness he couldn't tell if her eyes were red or not.
"Well, to a certain extent, that's true," Sandra said. "But right now, it's not about proving anything. It's about interrupting Honda before he actually fell for your 'poor helpless me' act and did something terminally stupid. You might have been able to get past him, but you can't get past me, not that easily."
"I'm not trying to get past anyone!" Diana insisted. Her free hand rose and knotted in her collar, twisting it.
"Liar," Sandra said. "You know what really pisses me off about all this?"
Diana went still, sniffling once, apparently not willing to give Sandra the straight line she was looking forso Mike supplied it. "What?" he asked, genuinely curious.
Sandra glanced over her shoulder at him again. "Because she's been fucking with you all this time," Sandra said. "And she's not allowed to. You belong to me."
Mike, not exactly certain what he was hearing but secretly thinking that he might like it, blinked twice and shut up. Sandra looked back at Diana Fontaine, who was as still as a statue. "They all belong to me," Sandra said, waving one hand in a gesture that took in the whole area. "They're all like the obnoxious dick-obsessed brothers I never had. My point is: they're mine. Not yours. And I'll never forgive you for playing roughly with my toys."
"Your toys? Oh, God, could you be any more condescending?" Diana said, rallying a little, tossing her head. "You could at least treat him with a little respect"
"oh, do not even give me that shit" Sandra said tiredly.
"I think you're jealous"
"you're damned right I'm jealous, he's mine"
"at least I'm nice to him!"
"Oh, yes, because when I think 'nice' I think 'toyed with my emotions and tried to get me killed on two separate occasions'," Sandra said, throwing up her hands. "Do you have any idea at all how much you're not fooling anyone besides Honda?"
"I don't know what you're"
"talking about, yes, I know," said Sandra. "Did you know that Honda and Texas went back out to Truslow Road the day after Farraday pinned you down there? They came home with the cell phone you threw away, all in one piece, bagged and tagged according to regulations. It even still works. We're maybe two days away from figuring out for certain if it really was bugged."
Diana's eyes went wide, but again, she rallied. "You can listen in on cell phone conversations remotely with the proper radio setupthey're not on any kind of secured network. Everyone knows that."
Sandra sighed. "And you realize that whennot ifthe rest of my team manages to bring Farraday down, we'll be able to tie the .22 that shot Simon directly to your law office, right?"
"What?" said Diana, taking half a step back. "I don't know what you're"
"talking about, yes, we established that," Sandra said, faking patience. "And you do realize that we have access to the phone logs for your hotel room, right?"
"I didn't call the cab from my room," Diana said quickly. Maybe a little too quickly. "I used a pay phone"
"Remember when you said that Farraday called your hotel room to threaten you?" Sandra said. "Yeah, me too."
Diana twitched back, slightly. "I-I meant"
"Please don't try to tell me he called your cell phone," Sandra said. "Because we have your cell phone in a little bag at HQ, getting taken apart by the lab right now."
"I wonder how many of your fingerprints we'd find if we dusted the place where Farraday's been sleeping," Sandra said, glancing ostentatiously over her shoulder. "I wonder if any of them would match the hundreds of fingerprints we took from Nate's garage." Diana jerked like she'd been pinched. "Come to think of it," Sandra said, "I wonder how many other ladies' fingerprints we'd find in Farraday's hiding place. Farraday always was kind of a dog, you know, and you're really pretty dumb."
"I am not!"
"Yeah?" said Sandra. "Then ask yourself this, if you're not stupid: why is Amanda Winston so pissed off at you right this moment?"
"I..." Diana Fontaine took another half-step backwards, then drew herself up, her chin lifting. "I don't have to listen to this," she said, the Ice Queen of Mike's nightmares all over again. She spun on her heel. "I'm leaving."
Sandra drew her gun and racked the slide so fast that Mike barely saw her do it. The sound of it stopped Diana Fontaine in her tracks. "The hell you are," Sandra said, leveling the gun at the back of Diana's head. "Diana Fontaine, I am hereby placing you under arrest, and I suggest that you come along quietly."
Diana Fontaine turned back around, slowly. "In that case I have something that I'd like you to see," she said, with vast, soul-eating disdain. "I'm going to reach into my jacket to get it."
For a moment Sandra was silent, taut enough to make Mike quiver. "Fine," she finally snapped. "Do it slowly. And if you try to point anything that even looks like a weapon at me, so help me God I will respond with force."
"I'll remember that you said that when I take you to court," Diana said coolly, reaching into her jacket and pulling out a squat black box of some kind, easing it out slowly before letting it drop to her side.
"All right, I see it," Sandra said. "What is it?"
In answer Diana Fontaine flicked her thumb. A small plastic cover fell to the ground and an enormous blue spark snapped across the top of the box"Shit!" Mike said, dodging to the side and jerking up his gun
"No," Sandra snapped, flicking out her free hand and stopping Mike in his tracks. "It's not a taser! It's just a stun gun." She put her hand back on the grip of her own gun. "Big one, though."
"I'm leaving," Diana Fontaine repeated, her voice only shaking a little. The crackling of the stun gun was a loud and percussive background note. "If you try to restrain me physically I will hit you with this. If you shoot me, I will personally see to it that you spend the next five years in one courtroom or another, as well as publicly calling for an exhaustive investigation by the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility that will almost certainly result in at least a black mark on your record. And if you shoot and kill me, one of my associates will see to it for me. Instructions have been left."
"You really want to play it this way?" Sandra said. Her gun didn't waver at all. "You have the guts for this?"
"I" Diana stopped and flexed her fingers, making the snapping spark dance in midair. "I haven't got any choice."
"Well, that's just bullshit," Sandra said. "Here's your choice. Drop the stun gun and surrender and I promise that you won't be hurt."
For a moment Mike thought that Diana would back down. She kept glancing from Sandra's face to the gun and back, the spark of the stun gun jerking back and forth as her hands shookbut all the same she swallowed and lifted her chin again. "I'm leaving," Diana said, her voice trembling. She took a step backwards. "Go ahead and shoot me."
Sandra sighed a huge put-upon sigh and slammed her gun back into its holster. "Bitch," she said, striding forward, "I do not even need a gun to deal with you" and she broke into a run.
Mike yelped. Diana gasped, falling back another step, then recollected where she was and what she was holding and stabbed the stun gun forward, drawing a blinding white streak through the air at eye levelSandra went straight down, sliding the last few yards on one hip, looking for all the world like a baseball player stealing home. The stun gun shot harmlessly over her head and Sandra kicked straight up as it went by, slamming her heel up into Diana's wrist. Diana shrieked, her hand jerking up and flying open, the stun gun arcing towards the ceiling
Clutching at her wrist Diana stumbled back another step, her eyes wide with terror as Sandra rolled upright less than a foot away. Diana whirled around and bolted but Sandra grabbed her arm, nearly yanking Diana off her feetwithout even looking up Sandra snatched the falling stun gun out of the air, brought it around in a tight arc, jammed it into the underside of Diana's chin, and hit the trigger.
The impact of the electric shock snapped Diana Fontaine's arms straight out away from her body. The flashlight flew from her hand and bounced off a nearby crate, rolling drunkenly across the floor until it came to a halt a few feet away from Mike, its yellow glow stuttering and dying. The air smelled like ozone and barbecue and Sandra was a black silhouette outlined by the brilliant blue-white stuttering of the stun gun as she held the trigger down for one second, two seconds, threeeventually Sandra let up on the trigger and Diana Fontaine slumped to the ground at her feet, still twitching and making little confused noises. "See?" Sandra said, breathing hard. "Told you."
Mike dared to breathe for the first time since Sandra had reholstered her gun and slumped sideways against a nearby crate, fanning himself. "Oh, shit!" he cried, forgetting himself for a second. "If that wasn't the hottest goddamned thing I've ever seen"
"Shut up," Sandra said, her voice so crisp that Mike actually did sooh, shit, was she pissed? She was pissed. "You are an idiot," Sandra snapped, confirming it. She pegged the stun gun off the concrete floor hard enough to shatter it and send the plastic bits flying, which was something of a relief, as Mike had momentarily feared that she was going to hit him with it next.
Mike straightened up, warily. "Yeah," he said. Rather than look at Sandra he fetched the flashlight off the ground and shook it until it grudgingly lit up again, even dimmer than before. "Guess I am, huh?"
"Such an idiot," Sandra said, pulling off her headset. Her hair was hanging about her face in messy tendrils and she combed her fingers back through it, reclaiming the rubber band as an afterthought. "Jesus Christ, Mike. You were about two seconds from letting her go her merry way, weren't you?"
Mike blinked. "Course not!" he said indignantly. "Shit, bitch couldn't pull that over on meI saw through her all along! Right from the start! Ain't no chick ever gotten the best of me!"
Sandra gave him just about the flattest look ever, making his heart quail. Mike hunched his shoulders and waited for it, already cringingoh, shit, this was gonna hurt like fuckbut a couple of seconds later Sandra sputtered and started laughing, startling Mike so bad that all he could do was gape at her. "Oh, shit, you're hopeless," Sandra said, still giggling a little, and before Mike could gather himself enough to respond to that Sandra took three steps forward, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him so goddamned hard that it was like all his Fourth of July fireworks went off at once.
Mike's eyes popped open and he made a completely un-smooth "Yurk!" sound in the back of his throat. His arms found their way around her mostly by reflex (and hugging a chick all mummified up in a Kevlar vest wasn't really all that exciting except for the part where it totally was) but she kept it up and after a second or so his brain started kicking him and screaming and Mike groaned and mentally told the rest of the world to go to hell.
Eventuallyway too soonSandra pulled back, shook her head slightly as if to clear it, and looked up at him. "Farraday," she said.
"Farraday," Mike agreed, breathless, unable to resist touching her face, running his thumb along her lower lip and marveling. "But later"
"We'll talk about it," Sandra promised, breaking away from himhe was pretty sure she did so reluctantly, or at least, he really hoped soand pulling her handcuffs from her pocket. "Let me just clean up this mess I made first, okay?"
"Oh, fuck," Mike said weakly, sagging against the crate again and rubbing the back of his hand across his lips. "Cuffing the lawyer lady, man, tonight is just full of hot"
or I will hurt you so bad your grandchildren will scream," Sandra said
evenly, hooking her hands under the semiconscious Diana Fontaine's arms
and dragging her towards one of the warehouse's support beams.
"As you can probably tell by the fact that we found you so easily," Simon said, fighting to stay (or at least sound) calm, "you're fucked, Cole. Sure, you've got the drop on me, but there are four other armed and angry people in this warehouse, and you can't keep that gun on me forever."
"Sure I can," Farraday said lazily. "And as for your friends, well, I suh-suspect they're a little distracted right uh-about now. I've haduh!" His left handthe hand not holding the .22, more's the pityjerked outwards like a rude gesture before returning to rest against his thigh. "I've had plenty of time to pruh-prepare for visitors."
Simon ground his teeth. Even in the dimness he could see Farraday's face twitch every time a tic slammed into him: one eye would bulge or wink, or his jaw would grate to one side, or his eyebrows would slam down. Farraday's tics had been disturbing enough three years ago and they were a lot worse now. The man couldn't stop. "You've got to realize I'll make a lousy hostage," Simon said, playing for time. "I don't cooperate with anyone, let alone with you."
"Yuh-you make a lousy everything," Farraday responded, snappily if not precisely truthfully, still grinning. "You're a luh-lousy cop who's alruh-ready lost his gun, and you're a ruh-really lousy friend to have."
"Yeah?" said Simon, not really wanting to agree with Farraday or anything but so pissed at himself right now that he couldn't help but do so, at least a little. "Why's that?"
"Guess you should ask your fruh-friend in the black jacket," said Farraday. His tongue squeezed out from between his teeth and he made a soft, choking guh! sound before biting it back again. "I buh-bet he's not too thrilled with you ruh-right now."
"So he's still alive," Simon said, as confidently as he could. "Thanks, Cole! I was wondering."
Farraday's grin dimmed petulantly. "I duh-didn't say that," he protested, his tics going into overdrive and turning his face into a study in kinetic motion. "Muh!maybe he's luh-looking uh-up from huh-hell ah-ah-already and huh-hating you-ou, huh?"
"Nah, I don't think so," Simon said, watching this process with a sick fascination. Mike was right: Farraday wasn't the same man he'd been three years ago. He was fucked up, plain and simple. "I think you just slipped and don't want to admit it now."
Farraday bayed out an annoyed sound and his entire face slammed shut. Simon couldn't help but wince backwards: it was grotesque. Farraday's lips peeled back from his teeth in a rictus of a grimace that squashed his cheeks, wrinkled his nose, and furrowed his forehead, and his eyes gleamed out of the blotchy rucked-up mess of his face like two pinpoints of filthy yellow light... then Farraday relaxed, his face smoothing back out. When next he spoke, his tics were minimized again. "It duh-doesn't matter," he said, flicking the fingers on his left hand. "No one knows this place like I do. I cuh-could shoot you and your friend buh-both and still get away clean. This uh-isn't the only hiding place I huh-have."
"Jesus Christ, Cole," Simon said, unable to keep from laughing a little, even though it came out sounding more nervy than he'd have liked. "You don't look so good. Federal prison not the rehabilitative miracle it's supposed to be?"
"Shuh!shut uh-up." Farraday's eyes narrowed and one foot jittered like the man was preparing to riverdance.
Mentally steeling himself, Simon poked at him again. If he could just make Farraday have another major spasm"Course, I guess they don't call it 'federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison' for nothing," Simon said, shrugging one shoulder. "How'd you like being some scumbag's little blond bitch, Cole? Not so much fun to be on the other end, is it?"
"Shut uh-up," Farraday said warningly, glancingor ticcingat the open doorway while still watching Simon from the corner of his eye.
"Make me," Simon said, hoping fervently that he wouldn't take a bullet through the eye now. "Come within grabbing range and let me get my hands on you. Or just shoot me again and bring the rest of my team down on your head like a ton of bricks. You've already fucked yourself by shooting me once, Cole. Do you have any idea how tenacious the FBI can get when it's about payback? Let me tell you: you haven't seen shit yet."
"I duh-don't care," Farraday said, baring his teeth in something like a grin. His head jerked to the side. "As luh-long as I get my ruh-revenge."
"Oh, your ruh-ruh-revenge?" Simon said mockingly. Just a little farther. "Oh, good. Have your ruh-ruh-revenge. You'll go back to prisonfor the rest of your life, this time. Or was that your plan all along? Been missing your buh-buh-boyfriend, Cole?"
"Juh-just for that I'm guh-going to kill your luh-little friend buh-before I go," Farraday snarled, his eyes bulging with fury. His bootheel rang off the concrete with a report like rifleshot, making them both wince. "Huh-he's guh-gonna know ih-it's buh-because of you and he wuh-won't be able to duh-do anything abou-bout it"
"See, that's where you're wrong," Simon cut in. "Poor Cole. You've got no idea who it is that you kidnapped, do you?"
Farraday's left fist hammered against his thigh, his eyes narrowing so blatantly that it could only be the result of a tic. "Yuh-you're just truh-trying to mess with muh-me"
"Afraid not," said Simon. As subtly as he could he unclasped his hands and made his fingers into claws behind his head. "Bet you anything you'd care to name that he's already gotten away safely. See, you don't know what you've got, but I do."
"Yuh-yuh-yuh-you're luh-lying," Farraday said, his teeth chattering.
"Nope," Simon said, widening his eyes. "Look at my face, Cole, and then just try and tell me I'm lying again."
Farraday studied Simon, so glaringly intent on Simon's face that his tics faded almost to nothing. "Ih-it doesn't matter," he finally announced. "I've still guh-got you."
"Not for long," Simon said. "Just until the rest of my team gets here. Couple of minutes at the outside. And the instant you pull that gun off me I'll crush you like a bug, Cole. You know that, right?"
"I-I-I" Farraday choked to a stop, his tongue out, his cheeks darkening. For a moment Simon dared to hope that the man was actually choking to death, but then Farraday spat out an "Uh!" sound, worked his jaw for a moment, and said, "I'll shuh-shoot you in the fuh-face if you truh-try."
"Oh, Cole," Simon said, shaking his head sadly. "Cole, Cole, Cole"
"Stuh-stop saying my nuh-name!"
"you really are a fuh-fuh-fuckup, aren't you?" Simon could barely stand still for all the adrenalin roaring through his system, magnifying his perceptions and slowing the rest of the world down. "Can't do anything right any more, can you? Can't kill me, can't even shoot Mike, can't scare Nate off"
"Uh-Ask your fruh-fruh-friend if I cuh-can't do anything ruh-right," Farraday spat. Little dots of foamy spit were collecting at the corners of his mouth. One way or another it wouldn't be long now.
"Oh, I'm sure he'd agree with me," Simon said, letting his voice go soft. "See, it's like I keep telling you: he's not just 'my friend', Cole."
"Yuh-yeah?" Farraday sneered, shuddering. The muzzle of the gun wavered just a hair off true and Simon had to grit his teeth to keep them from chattering with the sudden rush. "Whuh-whuh-what is he, then, yuh-your buh-buh-boyfriend? Thuh-that why yuh-you're suh-suh-so obsessed with muh-my ass?"
Simon paused, then stopped trying to restrain his grin. "Yeah, maybe he is," he said, softly. "And unlike you maybe I'm muh-muh-man enough to admit it."
For a moment Farraday was too busy choking on shock to do or say anything at all. His face purpled and his eyes bulged, his foot tapping out a rapid tattoo on the concretethen without warning his right shoulder jerked back and the .22 swung wide.
Simon was already in motion. Ripping his clawed hands forward he whipped off his useless headset and spiked it directly into Farraday's grimacing face, Simon himself not half a step behindthe headset hit Farraday right between the eyes and he reeled back half a step, choking out a startled little gk! sound. Simon grabbed Farraday's right wrist, neutralizing the threat of the gun, and it hurt pretty badly but right now he was too amped to care. Simon yanked Farraday's right hand straight up, stabbed his thumb deep into the nest of veins and nerves on the inside of Farraday's wrist, and drove his other fist into Farraday's face, rebreaking the man's nose for him.
Farraday's nose squashed to the side and snapped wetly under Simon's fist. The man set up a bellowing, choking clamor, trying to fend Simon off with his free hand. His left hand slapped hard against the side of Simon's head, making his ears ring, but Simon just bared his teeth and punched Farraday in the mouth, splitting his lip. "You fucked with Nate and you fucked with me and this time there aren't any witnesses to save your worthless ass," Simon snarled, squeezing Farraday's wrist until the bones ground togetherand still the man wouldn't let go of the goddamned gun, couldn't he see he'd lost?
Farraday's head jerked back and his eyes flew open, huge and white in the middle of his blood-smeared face. "Fuh!" he said, unable to vocalize any more coherently than that, and drove two stiffened fingers into the healing bullet wound on Simon's chest.
The explosion of pain crushed Simon to his knees on the instant, an immense blank wall of it worse than anything he'd ever felt. He couldn't even scream although Christ knew he was trying. Every muscle on the left side of his body convulsed, making him flop around on the ground like a fish out of water, he couldn't breathe, he could barely see, and somewhere in the back of his mind he was aware that he was bleeding like fuck as Farraday yanked his hand free of Simon's relaxing grip and stabbed the .22 forward at Simon's eye, his lips pulled back in a furious grimace
The sound of the gunshot was tremendously loud, the high metal walls of the room transforming it into a perfect echo chamber. Simon had a single heartbeat of time in which to think how appropriate that was for the shot that killed him, before he
somehow failed to die, although he could hear his brains splattering wetly across the concrete floor.
No. That wasn'tsomething wasn't right. Struggling against the fading shock Simon lifted his head from the ground and squinted, trying to see past the static that was still obscuring his vision.
Farraday was tottering backwards across that bare, concrete killing floor, one of his eye sockets now a huge, gaping hole. The .22 fell from his nerveless fingers to clatter to the ground. A mess of brains and blood and bone had splattered in a wide gory streak across the concreteit'd never properly come out, Simon knewand then Farraday dropped to his knees, wavered in place for a moment, and fell over, still twitching. Simon could see the opposite wall through the hole in the man's skull. Here in a minute, he might enjoy that.
"Took you guys long enough," Simon wheezed, barely able to raise his voice up above a whisper. The pain was receding, slowly, and his brain was starting to reassert itself, starting to wonder why no one was yelling now, or grabbing at him, or helping him sit up.
Simon struggled painfully up onto one elbow and finally realized what was wrong with this picture. For Farraday's brains to be smeared across the concrete to his right Farraday had to have been shot from the left, the wrong direction entirelyshuffling the weight of his body around Simon let his head roll left.
The gun was still smoking, slightlyhis own gun, the one he'd kicked away about a thousand years ago. Simon would recognize it anywhere, despite it being a Glock 22 like any one of ten thousand other Glock 22s out there. It wasn't shaking. Despite everything, despite there being a thousand good reasons for it to shake, Simon's gun wasn't shaking; Jeremy's hands were as still and sure as stone, still aiming Simon's smoking gun at the space in the air where Farraday's right eye had been. His firing stance, some little part of Simon's brain noted, was perfect.