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|The Prey Series|
The Singular Menace: Rampage
No way out.
The smell of oil and rust and wet rot was all the sharper for the total darkness. They were trapped in the bow of the ship, heavily armed hunters above them on deck. Shay's pistol was cocked and cold in her right hand, and she held X's collar in her left.
Someone not far away was moving back toward the stern. The wolflike dog twitched against her grip, ready to fight.
Harmon, the ex-soldier, invisible in the dark, touched Shay's sleeve and whispered, "We need to go up. Get between the support beams and the deck."
"What about X?"
"He's gotta climb with us...."
Combat boots rang on the metal stairs, and then a voice, unintelligible, and the faint glow of a flashlight, still a hundred feet away, behind a stack of shipping containers. The rumble of the engines was muted this far forward, but the vibration caused the old freighter to creak and moan. Shay and Harmon were wearing soft running shoes, and the freighter's metallic complaints would cover the sounds of their movement.
A man's baritone voice, hard with a hunter's intensity: "Hey there's one! Rick, he's heading aft, he's heading aft. Get him! Get him!"
Shay and Harmon had released a group of prisoners human experimental subjects from the ship's holds. Now the security men were chasing them down.
The echoing voices seemed to move away... but there was another soft, unnatural rattle from nearby.
"Still there," Harmon whispered. "Too big for a rat."
Shay: "Look at X. He can see them."
The dog was straining into the darkness, his one cybernetic eye glittering like a firefly.
Harmon: "Don't shoot unless you have to I'm gonna hit them with the light."
Harmon had an LED flashlight, small but powerful. Two seconds after he'd warned her, the light beam lanced into the dark... and found a pack of zombies: four of the recently freed human experiments.
The Asian men, round faces slack beneath shaved heads, blinked into the light, BB-sized bronze knobs on their scalps, which were striped with red surgical scars. They were dressed in loose green cotton shirts and pants, like hospital scrubs, and plastic slippers.
The three in back retreated, each holding on to the waistband of the man in front of him, shuffling backward into the darkness again. They made hoarse, growling sounds as they went, "Owwwww... owwww... awwww..."
Shay blurted, "Oh my God..."
The fourth put up his hands in the universal sign of surrender and asked in fragmented English, "You are help us?"
At Shay's nod, the man turned and called softly to the others in another language.
"Korean," Harmon said. "I don't understand it, but I know the sound."
Shay thought the man might have been calling the others back, but the three faded into the dark.
Another man's voice, far away: "Check the bow. Harvey, Stan, check the bow. There must be some of them up there...."
"We gotta go now," Harmon said. He shined the flashlight up at the underside of the deck. The interior of the hull, as it came to the bow, was braced with rusty steel crosspieces spaced a foot or so apart, like shelves in a bookcase. The crosspieces were a foot deep, and the hull rose at an angle, rather than straight up. Almost a stairway.
"Gotta go," he repeated.
The fourth zombie stood staring at them, gold pins winking from his scalp. Shay said, "You have to hide. You understand me?"
"I go with you."
"Can you climb?"
Harmon and Shay were both climbers, and scaling the rusty crosspieces would not normally have been a challenge for them. But with a dog and a zombie and guns in their hands...
Harmon said to Shay, "Lead the way. Get X up there. I'll help this guy."
"Come on, boy," said Shay, and the dog went with his girl as he always did, up toward the underside of the deck in the faint, hand-cupped illumination of Harmon's flash. X was moving at Shay's hip until a front paw missed the fifth brace and his body pitched forward into the gap. Shay caught him around the belly and pulled him back with a snapping motion like a cobra's. The dog gasped but regained his footing.
The Asian man, an awkward climber, came next, steadied by an occasional touch from Harmon. As they came up under the deck, Shay felt a draft of cooler air that stank of the muddy river. She leaned into Harmon and whispered, "Feel the air? Where's it coming from?"
"Dunno... but let's go that way."
They edged along the supports and, ten feet back toward the stern, found a service ladder and a hatch. The hatch was not entirely tight: the rubber seals had either ripped or worn away, allowing a thin stream of night air into the hull. A wheel hung from the center of the hatch. Harmon let a bit more light seep through his fingers and muttered, "Looks like it hasn't been opened for a while. Take the flash. Don't drop it."
He turned the light off and handed it to Shay, who cupped her fingers over the lens and turned it back on.
Harmon was a large man, and strong. He stood on the ladder, got a grip on the wheel, and tried to turn it. It moved a half inch, then stopped with a nearly inaudible clank. "Get the light closer...."
A latch that fit into the wheel mechanism was preventing the wheel from turning. Harmon tried to pull the latch free, failed, then began hitting it with the heel of his hand. After a few blows, it began to move, and he managed to push it the rest of the way over. With the latch open, the wheel turned reluctantly but steadily, and a minute later, Harmon pushed the hatch up enough to peek out at the deck.
"We're right where we came aboard," he said. "And... we're moving backward."
Down below, more footsteps, and this time, a brilliant beam probed the interior of the hull, where the prisoners had just been. Then a man's gruff voice: "We're clear here."
The footsteps started away, then another man shouted: "There!
There they are! Stan, go left, three of them going left!"
The Asian man whispered, "They catch my friends."
X's throat vibrated it would have been a growl, but Shay had her arm around his chest and squeezed. The dog understood the warning and went silent. The footsteps and the light from the flash began to move away.
"Now what?" Shay whispered.
"We've got a way out now we could be over the side in two seconds," Harmon said. "Maybe we hang here, see where they're going."
"What if they turn around and go out to the ocean... like, all the way to North Korea?"
"Probably want to get off before then," Harmon said.
"Funny," she said.
Shay Remby was a slender sixteen-year-old, a rock climber with serious muscles in her shoulders and arms, currently with brutally cropped black hair. A few weeks earlier, her hair had been long and a striking fiery red but a few weeks earlier, she'd never fired a gun, never handled a firebomb, never left a man standing on a toilet with a noose around his neck... and only a few days earlier, she'd been a sworn enemy of the man who now stood with her in the dark rusting freighter.
The trouble had begun when she ran up against the Singular Corporation of San Francisco. Singular was experimenting on human beings on human brains. If the company succeeded in its research efforts, the consciousness of one person could be transferred into the living brain of another. If the transfer was made from an old body to a young one, life could be prolonged almost indefinitely. There was no limit to the number of bodies that could be used. The minds of the donor bodies would be wiped in the process a deadly science in which one life was sacrificed for another. Nobody expected there to be volunteer donors.
The cost of the program was astronomical. The beneficiaries were necessarily the richest and most powerful people in the world. And the program was necessarily top-secret.
That is, until Shay's brother, Odin, without really knowing what he was getting into, stole information from a lab that revealed the existence of the Singular research program. Singular was frantic to eliminate the leak. Shay and her friends were doing anything, everything, to turn the leak into a flood and expose Singular's crimes preferably before Singular eliminated them....
The Asian man clung to the crosspieces, a foot below Shay and X, and asked in his rough English, "You are who take Fenfang?"
Shay, surprised, nodded, then realized he couldn't see her. "Fenfang, yes! How do you know her?"
"I was at prison when you take her.... I see you then. Your hair is not same. Is Fenfang okay now?"
Shay said, "We can talk when we get out of here...."
She didn't want to tell him there had been a firefight a half hour earlier, off the boat, and Fenfang had been shot. Shay didn't hold out much hope.
They could hear boots on the deck overhead coming closer to the hatch, then passing by and receding.
After a moment, Harmon whispered, "Security check."
The Asian man asked, "Are we in the ocean?"
"No. We're going inland," Harmon said. "We have to get off the boat and bring the cops down on them before they get rid of those prisoners."
"Let me get up on the deck," Shay said. "Check the possibilities."
Harmon pushed the hatch lid up, and Shay climbed past him onto the deck. The cloudy night sky was a smooth, creamy color to the west, over San Francisco, but here, straight up, there was nothing but deep, starless darkness. Ahead of the ship, she could see the lights of a bridge high over the water and could hear the righteous thump of a decent rock band.
Shay took a fast look around, listened, then stepped to the edge of a bank of steel shipping containers and peeked around. A hundred yards ahead, on the near shore, bright lights had been strung over a concrete pier that jutted out over the water. Thirty or forty people were dancing on the pier, and more moved back and forth between a bar and the dance floor. Another bunch of people sat on folding chairs, watching the dancers, chatting.
She moved back to the hatch and dropped down the ladder.
"I know how we can get the cops on the boat. Lots of cops. In ten minutes."
A moment later, Shay cracked the hatch again and stood on the ladder with her head poking out. Harmon muttered, "If you hear anyone, pull back."
Shay got on the phone. Twist answered on the first ring: "Where are you?"
"We're still on the ship. We're going inland, away from San Francisco. Where are you?"
"Looking for you."
"How's our friend?" She was staying away from names, in case they were being monitored.
"She didn't make it."
"Oh no... Oh God." Shay turned to look down at Harmon. "Fenfang..." She shook her head.
From below, the Asian man asked, "What is trouble?"
At the same time, Twist said, "Tell me where you are."
"We can't have gone far." She looked up the river and said, "We're going to create an emergency."
Twist heard her out and said, "That plan has so many problems I can't even begin to list them all. But... it could work."
"Look for us after the fireworks," Shay said, and closed the hatch.
The ship was a dark shadow moving up the river, traveling slowly but steadily away from the scene of Fenfang's murder.
Shay's group was tracking it: her older brother, Odin, a computer hacker who'd precipitated the fight with Singular; Twist, the rich, thirtyish artist who ran a hotel for street kids and runaways and had helped Shay escape a pair of pimps on her second night in Hollywood; Cruz Perez, one of the teens at Twist's hotel; and Danny Dill, a former hotel resident and now a marijuana grower from California's north coast. Cade Holt, another teen living at the Twist Hotel, guided them through the night from a hideout in Northern California. Still aching from a beating delivered by Singular security people, he was talking to them through throwaway cell phones as he looked at satellite photos on Google Earth.
Twist was driving the Jeep, Odin in the passenger seat beside him, when Shay called in her plan. He had begun to point out all the crazy flaws when Shay hung up. Cursing, Twist filled in Cade, who relayed the news to Cruz, who was following in a Toyota truck, and Danny Dill, trailing him in a Volvo. Cade said, "If it's an old freighter, it can't be moving fast. It's only been gone a few minutes. One or two miles an hour... it won't be to the Antioch Bridge yet."
"What's the Antioch Bridge?" Twist asked.
"It's a bridge across the channel they'll be heading right toward it," Cade said. "Let me look it up.... Ah, Wiki says it's got a hundred and thirty-five feet of clearance, so they'll be able to go under it. That looks like the best place for the pickup, if they really pull this off. A road goes right down to the river."
"Get us there," Twist said.
Cade guided them back through town. The tight convoy moved at the speed limit: they couldn't afford to be stopped by the police. For one thing, the backseat of the Jeep was still wet with Fenfang's blood. They'd rushed her to the hospital... too late.
Cade was calm enough, had been since the shooting. "You'll be coming up to a left turn... past a marina... it'll take you down to the water."
Twist said, "Have cars Two and Three circulate; I'll run down to the water and look around. Keep an eye out."
Twist took the turn, passing an open gate and a private property no trespassing sign, and he and Odin found themselves on a blacktop road crowded with vehicles. At the end of the road, well off to their left, they could see lights and hear music.
"That's the party," Twist said. "That's the target."
Twist turned the Jeep around, and Odin said, "This has to work. The Singular guys cannot get away."
Odin and Fenfang had begun a romance a few days before the girl was killed. She'd died in Odin's lap, and he was reeling from the shock, emotions roiling. But the idea of trapping Singular was focusing his mind.
Twist and Odin got out and looked downriver. "Is that it?" Odin asked.
"I think so." There were moving lights coming their way, but slowly. "Gotta be sure, lots of ships going back and forth...."
Twist got on the phone to Cade: "Tell cars Two and Three to head back, look for the ship. It looks from here like it's a half mile away...."
"Going now," Danny said to Cade's instruction. A minute later: "We got it. That's it. It's right on the shoreline. They're turning, though. Jeez, I don't know if it's wide enough to turn here."
"The river's wide enough," said Cade, who was looking at a satellite image. "If they get turned, they'll be able to move faster."
A minute later: "They're turned they made it," Danny said. "They're heading back up the river...."
Cade warned Twist: "One, it's coming right at you."
"Got it," said Twist.
Harmon boosted X through the hatch, then climbed out on the ship's deck beside Shay. The Asian man followed. Harmon murmured to Shay, "You see those metal boxes bolted to the rail? The square ones?"
"They should have life rings in them. Get them. You'll be exposed, so move slow. And listen. Soon as I finish with the gun, we'll go over the side."
"Gotta be at least fifty yards to the shore. Maybe more."
"Not much choice," Harmon said. "We'll be okay with the rings... unless they shoot us, of course."
"We'll go off the far side of the boat, away from the shore. They'll be looking the other way, if they're looking at all."
The Asian man chipped in: "This is very, very dangerous. Very."
Harmon and Shay looked at him and said, simultaneously, "Yes."
"I go also?"
Harmon shook his head. "It would be best if you stayed, because you speak good English. What we are going to do will bring many American police officers here. You can hide down this ladder until they arrive. Then you tell them everything that happened to you."
"They will believe me?" he asked, and patted the knobs on his head. "And fix this?"
"Yes... we think so," Shay said. She turned to Harmon. "You still have that Sharpie?"
He fumbled in a thigh pocket, found the pen, and handed it to her. Shay said to the Asian man, "I will write this on your arm so you can call me.... Pull your sleeve up."
He pulled his sleeve up, and she wrote a phone number on his arm above his elbow. "Don't let anybody see this."
"You're Korean? Or Chinese, maybe?"
"My memories are confused, but I know them in Chinese."
Shay nodded; it made sense. "Do you know how or where you were captured?"
"No. But I think I am a soldier. I see myself with a gun," the man said.
From the deck, Harmon took the semi-automatic rifle out of the sling on his shoulder and called quietly, "If we're gonna do this..."
"You're a brave man," Shay said, touching the prisoner on the shoulder.
The man bowed and said, "Be lucky with this plan."
"Yes," Shay said with a thin smile. "We will need to be lucky."
The man moved back down the ladder but paused on one of the rungs to watch the girl and the dog go to the gunslinger's side.
"Party time," Harmon said.
Colored lights were strung all along the pier, and a five-piece band was knocking out disco tunes. "Old people dancing," Shay said.
"Hey! That's 'I Will Survive,' 1980s finest," Harmon said, peering through the night at the party.
"I wasn't born yet, so I wouldn't know," Shay said.
Harmon grunted, "Get the rings."
He jacked a round into the rifle's chamber and began unscrewing the flash suppressor. He wanted the flashes to be seen, the brighter the better.
Shay crawled slowly across the deck moving fast would catch the eye to one of the rectangular metal boxes welded to the rail. The box opened with a simple thumbscrew: if a ring was needed, you wouldn't want it to be hard to get at.
She turned the thumbscrew, popped the box: a thin white ring buoy was inside, with a short rope attached to it. She looked once toward the ship's bridge, saw no one, pulled the ring out, and slid it back across the deck to Harmon. "I'll get the other one."
There was a similar rectangular box on the opposite rail. She crawled over to it, and Harmon, behind her, said, "We're getting close."
Shay pulled the ring out and moved back to him.
"Tie it to your belt," Harmon said. He was tying the rope of the first ring to his own belt. "As soon as you're in the water, take your jacket off and throw it over the ring. The white's too visible."
Shay tied the ring to her belt, took the cell phone out of her jeans pocket, and zipped it into a water-resistant chest pocket in her jacket.
"Here we go," Harmon said. "I'm going to fire into the concrete abutment at the base of the bridge. Any ricochets will angle out into the water, but it'll look like we're shooting at them."
Shay checked her knife in the sheath at her back, shoved her pistol into its holster, and got a good grip on both the life ring and X's collar. Harmon braced his left hand on the rail, and faster than Shay could count: Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang...
The gun held a thirty-shot magazine, and Harmon let it all go. Shay heard screaming from the party and half stood to look over the rail as Harmon slammed a second magazine into the gun tossing the first one overboard.
As he lifted the gun to his shoulder, they heard another gun, not far away, and several slugs banged off the shipping containers overhead.
Harmon said, "Sonofabitch, hold on...." Moving in a crouch, he stepped to the corner of the pile of shipping containers and peeked toward the stern of the ship. Three stories up, silhouetted in a lit window at the ship's control level, he saw a man with a rifle. He said, "Trying to push our heads down. He'll see us if we go over the side."
Before Shay could ask the question, Harmon stepped from behind the container stack and fired a dozen shots at the control level. Glass shattered, a man cried out, and the ship began to drift. "Get ready to jump!" Harmon called. He fired a half-dozen more shots at the control level and then emptied the gun at a safe angle past the party onshore. The party had dissolved in chaos, people running, screaming, chairs tipping over, the band members abandoning their instruments and jumping down from the stage to run for cover.
Harmon heaved the rifle over the side and said, "Go! Go now!"
The water was a long way down, and dark and forbidding, but there was no choice. Shay got X's paws on the rail, then squatted on the rail herself, and Harmon snarled, "Go!" and she launched herself and pulled X with her. X followed without resistance, over the rail and fifteen or twenty feet down into the murky water. She gasped a breath before she hit, went under, kicked back up. The water probably wasn't too cold, if you were measuring with a thermometer, but it felt like ice, a shock, and her clothes tried to drag her under her jeans and her sneakers.
Shay focused on pulling in the life ring and holding on to X. When she had the ring, she lifted it up over X's head, and the dog put his paws on the inside of it, as though he'd done it before. She remembered Harmon's direction about her jacket and pulled it off, threw it over the ring, and, wrapping it around X's head, said, "Okay, boy, you're okay...."
The ship was nearly past them, and she looked for anyone tracking them from the outside rail, but it was difficult to see much of anything in the dark. A hand caught her shoulder, and she turned to Harmon, who sputtered and asked, "You okay?"
"Clothes want to pull me down," she said. The ship was past them now, heading under the bridge.
"We'll be hypothermic in five minutes, we gotta get moving toward shore. Kick. Like a sidestroke..."
"Look at the ship! Look at the ship! It's gonna hit the bridge!"
It didn't sound like a car accident.
It sounded like the world's biggest bass drum, and then there was a screeching, scraping howl as the ship's metal hull bit into a concrete abutment under the bridge.
The sound seemed to go on forever, and they treaded water for a moment, then Harmon said, "Gotta swim, gotta swim."
There was no current. Shay launched into a sidestroke so she could tow X along in the ring, but they'd gone less than a dozen yards when the dog ducked his head beneath the rim of the ring and swam away from them, directly toward shore. She lost sight of him and was now thinking about his robotic hind legs: would the electronics Singular had placed in his brain and body short out in water?
She shouted, "X, go faster, faster!"
Two minutes, three minutes. Harmon was right about hypothermia. He was pushing his ring next to hers, and he asked again, "How are you?"
"Cold... ," she said, and her teeth chattered.
"I'm going to push down on my side of your ring. You push down your side, and when it's under, heave yourself up on top of it, if you can."
They both heaved, and Shay managed to crawl on top of the ring... almost lost it sideways, but righted herself.
Harmon: "Now just a breaststroke..."
"How are you?" Shay asked.
"I've got more bulk than you, so I won't get hypothermic as fast.... Keep paddling...."
They heard X bark. Shay lifted her head and caught sight of what looked like a gray shadow, but he was on his feet, out of the water. She kicked harder. Two minutes later, Harmon's feet touched bottom, and he said, "I'm walking." Shay rolled off the ring, clambered up the rocky shore, and hugged her wet dog.
Shay called quietly, "Twist?"
There was no one to meet them.
Shay checked her jacket pocket. The phone inside seemed dry, and when she hit the switch, it lit up.
She called Twist. Before she could say anything, he asked, "Where are you? Are you hurt?"
"We're under the bridge...."
"We realized we'd be trapped if we came in too close. Head out toward the street. You gotta sneak past the marina, then across an access road, past a whole bunch of boats in a parking lot. There are a lot of people from the dance wandering around. If the cops show up before you get out, get in among the boats and keep moving toward the street. Call when you get there. We're parked behind a building a couple of blocks away. That's the best we could do. You gotta hurry; about a million cops are gonna be here in the next five minutes. Man, that ship hit the bridge, and now everybody in the world's on the way...."
Harmon took Shay's arm, said urgently, "Look!"
She turned back to the ship, saw a body hurtling toward the water, then another.
"Oh my God! They're throwing people off!"
"No, no. I think they're the Singular guys, getting off the ship," Harmon said. "They know what's about to happen. That means they're gonna be right here with us. Let's go...."
They jogged out toward the street. Off to the side, they could hear people yelling for help: the partygoers.
There was enough ambient light to make good time, and Shay held on to her phone and kept X at her side. They ran past the marina, across the access road, and straight on. There were sirens, lots of them.
The first cop cars turned before they got to the boat lot, rolling down toward the marina where the party had been. Another pair were on the ramp going up the bridge....
"It's happening!" Shay said. "It's happening! They're going for the ship!"
"Keep moving," Harmon said.
Then a police car turned down the road toward them, its lights sweeping past as they dodged into a cluster of cabin cruisers.
The car stopped, blocking the street. "Did they see us?" Shay whispered.
"I don't know I think we were covered," Harmon said.
The police car idled where it was for another minute, then started rolling toward them. Moving slowly. They faded farther back into the cover of the boats. A minute later, the car was past them, continuing toward the water. They'd been squatting behind a boat trailer, and now they began threading their way through the parked boats again.
Harmon called quietly, "Stay away from the bows of these boats there'll be a trailer hitch out in front of some of them. If you hit one running, you'll break your leg."
Fifty yards more, then Harmon slowed and grabbed Shay's damp shirt. "Getting close to the street. We need to call Twist again."
"Not yet," Shay whispered, and pointed at X, his ears erect, his muzzle sniffing the air. "Somebody's coming behind us."
Harmon turned, listened, then pushed her shoulder down. "Lie flat. Keep the dog quiet. It's one of the guys from the boat."
They froze in place, beneath a boat, with an axle between them and the approaching man. He'd chosen the same route they'd taken, for the same reasons: it was open enough to move through quickly and still provided cover.
The man kept coming, and just as he got to the boat, he suddenly dropped into a crouch, looking ahead... and then his eyes turned toward them.
Harmon said, "Freddy, I'm pointing a pistol at your head."
"Goddammit, Harmon, that was you, wasn't it? Back on the ship."
"Yeah. Where're you going?" Harmon asked.
"A long way from here. I'm done," Freddy said. "So are most of the other guys. Ginsburg and me are hooking up and heading for Mexico and then maybe farther south, the tri-border. Maybe go to Africa there're jobs there."
"How'd that happen?"
"The ass is falling off the company," Freddy said. "We've all been talking about you and what you told Butch and Jim. We think you're probably right. When we signed up, we didn't know what we were getting into, but it's getting pretty clear now. There's some bad shit going on, and Thorne's lying to us. That research ain't legal, no way."
"No way," Harmon agreed. "You got a ride out of here?"
"No, we're running. Man, I walked through Baghdad in the dark, right in the middle of the war, so I won't get caught here... if you let me go."
"You got a gun with you?"
"Keep it in your pocket. You try to ambush us farther up the line... well, we got the dog with us. He can see in the dark and he'll tear you to pieces. I'm telling you, Freddy, he'll kill you."
"I'm not messing with you anymore. I'm out of it."
"Go, then," Harmon said.
Freddy started to move away, then hesitated and said, "I appreciate this, letting me go. So I'll give you something. There's another Singular base that you guys don't know about. It's in the desert, a little less than two hours by private jet, southeast of San Francisco. There's a good private landing strip and some nice ranch houses, a little lake with some bass in it, but not much else. I flew it four times as security and to pass out drinks and keep an eye on the passengers. I got the feeling it was in Arizona, east of Phoenix, or maybe New Mexico? The passengers going down were okay, but coming back up, most of them had had some kind of surgery done on their heads."
Shay asked, "Old people? Rich people?"
Freddy said, "Didn't see you back there. You the chick who kicked Thorne?"
Freddy chuckled. "He is really pissed. You won't want to spend any time with him, you know, in private."
"I wasn't planning to," Shay said. "So, old people? Rich people?"
"Yeah, I'd say so. Wrinkles and bling."
"Who were the pilots?" Harmon asked.
"Two guys named Walt and Barry. No last names. Got a feeling they flew for the agency at some point. Hey gotta go. You guys take care. And, honey, stay away from Thorne."
They saw no one else as Shay forged a path to the far edge of the lot. She signaled a stop with her free hand, and she, Harmon, and X crouched behind the last boat so she could call Twist.
"Come now. Last boat."
At that moment a white SUV skidded to a stop twenty-five yards away. A door popped open and a man got out. He moved like a military operative like Harmon, like Thorne, like Freddy and rather than try to hide himself, he shouted boldly into the dark, "Pickup! Pickup! This is Red! Pickup! Pickup! This is Red!"
Harmon hissed to Shay: "Stop Twist."
Shay called Twist back and said, "That SUV in the street is Singular...."
"Got it. Too late to stop now. I'll blow right past him."
Five seconds later, Twist went by in the Jeep.
Red glanced at the passing Jeep. When it was out of sight, a man came jogging down the road, in the open, and jumped into the SUV. Then another showed up, and a third. Sirens were getting closer, lots of them, and all different flavors: cop cars, ambulances, fire trucks.
Red was still in the street, shouting, "This is Red! Gotta go, gotta go!"
Another man broke cover, slid into the SUV, and shouted, "I'm the last one!"
They heard Red ask, "Where's Ginsburg and Freddy?"
"They're running on their own. So's Butch."
"Ah, shit." Red got into the SUV and took off. At the first chance, he turned a corner and was gone.
A moment later, Twist called and said, "I'll pick you up where the SUV was. Thirty seconds."
The Jeep was moving fast, but pulled over at the last second. They piled into the back, led by X.
As Harmon yanked the door shut, Twist said, "Cops everywhere. We've gotta get out of here."
Shay leaned forward and placed her hands on her brother's shoulders and murmured, "Fenfang." She didn't know what else to say.
"They shot her. She was running right to them and they killed her," Odin said bitterly.
"I'm sorry," Shay said, and pressed her face into his neck. "I'm so, so sorry."
"How did this happen to her?" Odin asked. "She lived in China. She was going to college and was living her life, and she ends up in America, with her head cut open like some worthless lab rat.... How did that ever happen?"
"There's no making sense of it," Twist said as he cranked the wheel and took them onto a well-lit boulevard. "Stop trying, all right? You gotta stop trying...."
"I've got her blood on my hands," Odin said.
"No, you don't," Twist said sharply. "This isn't your fault."
"Oh God," Shay said. "He does."
Odin had spoken literally: he was holding his palms out in front of him, and splotches of dried blood were visible as they passed under the streetlamps. "We'll stop somewhere so you can clean up," Shay said.
Harmon had already set his pistol on the floor and was pulling off his wet jacket. He held it over the seat to Odin and said, "This will work."
Odin took it. Then he squeezed some water out of a sleeve, rubbed his hands together, and choked back a sob.
24 February 2019
The Prey series, the Virgil Flowers series, the Kidd series, The Singular Menace, The Night Crew, Dead Watch, The Eye and the Heart: The Watercolors of John Stuart Ingle, and Plastic Surgery: The Kindest Cut are copyrighted by John Sandford. All excerpts are used with permission.
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