Vengeful, p.30

Vengeful, page 30

 

Vengeful
 



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  Dumont nodded once.

  “You’re not an EO, are you?”

  A short sideways flick. No.

  “Are they waiting for your signal?”

  The doctor shook his head and tried to speak, his words muffled against Victor’s palm. Victor drew his hand away, and the doctor repeated himself.

  “They’re already here.”

  As if on cue, Victor heard doors swing open, the shuffle of steps.

  “I’m sorry,” continued Dumont. “They have people at my house. Watching my family. They said if I—”

  Victor cut him off. “Your motives are irrelevant. The only thing I need to know is how to get out.” He slid the gun’s safety off. “Exits. Tell me.”

  “There’s a service elevator—the others won’t stop here—and two internal stairs.”

  And of course, there was the way they’d come in, the most direct route—and the one with the least amount of cover.

  Boots shuffled across the linoleum nearby, the harsh overhead lights casting shadows on the plastic sheeting. Victor needed to be able to see his targets. But he didn’t need to be able to see them clearly.

  He reached for the nearest shadow and it buckled with a cry as the pretense of surprise shattered, and shots rang out, and the fifth floor plunged into chaos.

  * * *

  VICTOR’S hand twitched, and two more soldiers went down screaming, before they cut the lights. A second later he heard the telltale sound of a metal clasp, the hiss of air, and then the canisters came rolling across the ground, filling the air with smoke.

  “Hold your breath,” he ordered, dragging Dumont back against the wall as scopes traced red lines through the billowing white. The smoke burned Victor’s eyes, clawing at his senses, and through it all the crackle of energy was spreading through his limbs—warning.

  Not yet, he thought. Not yet.

  The service elevator groaned open, and Victor had time to see the barrel of a gun, the first traces of black armor, combat boots. He twisted sideways, releasing his hostage as he ducked out of the soldiers’ line of fire.

  Dumont threw up his hands as Victor reached the stairwell.

  “Don’t shoot!” called the doctor, coughing as the smoke hit his lungs.

  The soldiers pushed past him as Victor surged into the stairwell and started down.

  More footsteps rose up from below, but Victor had the high ground now. By the time the first soldier saw him, Victor already had their nerves in his grasp. He twisted the dial all the way up, and they fell, like puppets without strings.

  Victor rounded their bodies and continued down. He was nearly to the third-floor landing when the first spasm hit.

  For a second, he thought he’d been shot.

  Then he realized, with horror, that he was out of time. The current arced through him, lighting his nerves, and he bowed his head, steadying himself against the rail before forcing his body onward.

  He made it to the first floor, and opened the door just in time to see a soldier heading straight for him, weapon raised. Before Victor could summon the strength or the focus to bring the soldier down, someone else had done it for him.

  A silencer swung into view, followed by three muted thumps as the gun fired point-blank into the side of the soldier’s head. It wasn’t enough to pierce the helmet, but it caught him off guard, and half a second later the shooter—a female doctor—stepped into sight. She stepped right into the soldier’s arms, and then—almost elegantly—drove a blade up under his helmet.

  The soldier dropped like a stone, and the female doctor turned on Victor.

  “Don’t just stand there,” she hissed, her voice strangely familiar. Footsteps sounded overhead and below. “Find another way out.”

  Victor had questions, but there was no time to ask.

  He turned and continued down the stairs toward the hospital sublevels. Burst through a set of doors into an empty hall, the sign at the end marked morgue in small, mocking letters. But beyond that—an exit sign. Halfway there, the next spasm hit, and Victor stumbled, one shoulder slamming hard into the concrete wall. His knee buckled, and he went down.

  He tried to force himself back up as the doors swung open behind him.

  “Stay down!” ordered a soldier as Victor collapsed to the floor.

  “We’ve got him,” said one voice.

  “He’s down,” said another.

  He couldn’t get up, couldn’t get away. But Victor still had one weapon. The current climbed higher, the dial turned up, and he held on as long as possible, clutching to life one fractured, agonizing second at a time until the boots came into sight.

  And then, Victor let go.

  Let the pain crash over him in a final wave, washing everything away.

  * * *

  VICTOR came to in the dark.

  His vision slid in and out for a second before finally coming into focus. He was lying on a gurney, the ceiling much lower than it should be. Victor tested his limbs, expecting to find them restrained, but there was nothing on his wrists or ankles. He tried to sit up, and pain closed tightly around his chest. Two of his ribs felt broken, but he could still breathe.

  “I started CPR,” said a voice. “But I was worried it would do more damage than good.”

  Victor turned his head and saw the figure in the dark.

  Dumont.

  The doctor was sitting on a bench a couple feet away, half hidden by shadow.

  Victor looked around, and realized he was lying in the back of an ambulance.

  The seconds before his episode came back in fragments, broken frames, but they didn’t explain how he’d gotten from the basement floor to here.

  “I found you,” explained the doctor, unprompted, “outside the morgue. Well, I found the soldiers first.”

  “You didn’t turn me over to EON,” observed Victor. “Why?”

  Dumont examined his hands. “You could have killed me up on the fifth floor. You didn’t.”

  It hadn’t been an act of mercy. There had simply been no point.

  “And the soldiers?” asked Victor.

  “They were already dead.”

  “So was I.”

  Dumont nodded. “Medicine is full of calculated risks and split-second decisions. I made one.”

  “You could have walked away.”

  “I may not be ExtraOrdinary,” said Dumont, “but I am a doctor. And I took an oath.”

  A siren tore through the air nearby, and Victor tensed, but it was only another ambulance, pulling out of the bay. The bay . . .

  “We’re still at the hospital?” asked Victor.

  “Obviously,” said Dumont. “I said I’d help you live, not help you escape. Frankly, I was beginning to doubt your odds of doing either.”

  Victor frowned, feeling his pockets for his phone. “How long was I gone?”

  “Nearly four and a half minutes.”

  Victor swore under his breath. No wonder the doctor hadn’t driven away.

  “I should run some tests,” continued Dumont, producing a penlight, “make sure your cognitive function hasn’t been—”

  “That won’t be necessary,” said Victor. There was nothing Dumont could do for him now—nothing that would make a difference. And while four and a half minutes was far too long to be dead, it wasn’t long enough for EON’s enforcement team to clear out. They would still be on-site. How long until more joined them?

  Victor nodded at the front of the ambulance. “I assume you can drive?”

  Dumont hesitated. “I can, but . . .”

  “Get behind the wheel.”

  Dumont didn’t move.

  Victor wasn’t in the mood to torture him, so he resorted to logic instead. “You said they had eyes on your family. If you go back in there now, they’ll know you helped me escape.”

  Dumont frowned. “And how does driving you away make me less complicit?”

  “You’re not an accomplice,” said Victor, producing a pair of cable-ties from a toolbox. “You’re
a hostage. I can tie you to the steering wheel now, or later. It’s up to you.”

  The doctor silently climbed behind the wheel. Victor took the passenger’s seat. He flipped the sirens on.

  “Where am I going?” asked Dumont.

  Victor turned the question over. “There’s a bus station on the southern edge of the city. Drive.”

  Dumont hit the gas, and the ambulance peeled out of the bay. After a few blocks, Victor killed the sirens and the lights. He sat back in the seat, flexing his fingers. He could feel the doctor cutting glances at him.

  “Eyes on the road,” said Victor.

  Ten minutes later, the bus depot came into sight, and Victor pointed to an empty stretch of sidewalk.

  “There,” he said.

  As Dumont started guiding the ambulance off the road, Victor reached over, took the wheel, and jerked it, forcing the vehicle up onto the curb.

  “Don’t forget,” he said, “you’re in distress.” Before Dumont could protest, Victor zip-tied his hands to the wheel. “Do you have a phone on you?” Dumont nodded at his pocket.

  Victor drew the cell from the doctor’s coat and threw it out the window.

  “There,” he said, climbing out of the ambulance.

  Now he had a head start.

  III

  THE DAY BEFORE

  EON

  STELL stood before the bay of screens, arms crossed, watching it all fall apart. Radio chatter crackled from the speaker on the desk.

  “No sign of target.”

  “Soldiers down.”

  “Seal the perimeter.”

  What a goddamned catastrophe, thought Stell, sinking down into his chair.

  Eli’s trap had succeeded, but his own agents had failed. Three of them were dead—two bleeding from their ears and noses on a sublevel, one knifed in the throat on the first floor—the rest had been fucking useless.

  Whether Victor had seen past the bait to the hook, or simply wriggled free, one thing was clear—he hadn’t done it alone.

  Several of Stell’s agents had been shot at by a male orderly, a receptionist, and a female doctor—but Stell had a feeling they were all the same person. One of his men had shot back, caught the doctor in the shoulder. At that same moment, halfway across the hospital, a doctor matching her exact description had collapsed, bleeding, in the middle of scrubbing in for surgery.

  The shapeshifter—Marcella’s shapeshifter—had been there.

  And she’d helped Victor escape.

  Stell took up his phone and dialed.

  “Joseph,” said that smooth voice.

  “Where is Victor Vale?” demanded Stell through gritted teeth.

  “You were cheating.”

  “This isn’t a game. You agreed to deliver him. Instead, you are the reason he’s still free. When do you intend to uphold your end of the deal?”

  Marcella sighed. “Men are always so impatient. Perhaps it comes from a lifetime of being given what you want, when you want it. Sometimes, Joseph, you just have to wait.”

  “When?”

  “Tomorrow,” said Marcella. “Before the party.”

  Stell’s chest tightened. “What party?”

  “Didn’t you get my invitation?” A stack of mail sat forgotten on the edge of Stell’s desk. He began rifling through it. “I considered holding on to him until after . . .”

  Stell found the card, crisp and white, with a gold M embossed on the front. It was unstamped. Someone had delivered it by hand. Stell broke the seal.

  “It would certainly keep you out of my way,” Marcella was saying, “but then again, I wouldn’t want you to miss the show . . .”

  Marcella Morgan and her associates . . .

  Stell read the invitation once, and then again—he couldn’t believe what he was looking at. He didn’t want to believe it.

  . . . Merit’s most extraordinary venture.

  “This is the opposite of lying low,” he growled.

  “What can I say? I’ve never been understated.”

  “We had a deal.”

  “We did,” said Marcella. “For two weeks. Beyond that, we both knew it wouldn’t last. But I have appreciated the ceasefire. It gave me time to print my invitations.”

  “Marcella—”

  But she’d already hung up.

  Stell swept a mug from his table. It shattered, dark drops of coffee painting the floor.

  In seconds, Rios was there.

  “Sir?” she asked, surveying the broken cup, the papers displaced in his search for the card, the crisp white invitation crumpled in his hand.

  Stell slumped back in his chair, Eli’s voice playing in his head.

  You made a deal?

  Someone this powerful belongs in the ground.

  Send me.

  Stell’s gaze went to the slim silver briefcase the board had given him, the collar nested inside.

  Agent Rios was still standing there, silent, waiting.

  Stell rose to his feet. “Prepare a transport team for tomorrow.”

  Rios raised a brow. “For which prisoner?”

  “Cardale.”

  * * *

  STELL found Eli sitting on the edge of his cot, fingers laced and head bowed, as if he were praying.

  Or simply waiting.

  At the sound of Stell’s approach, his head drifted up. “Director. Has my trap yielded any results?”

  Stell hesitated. “Not yet,” he lied. There was no reason for Eli to know about Vale’s escape, and a dozen reasons to keep him in the dark. Especially considering what he was about to do. “Have you been considering the problem of Marcella?”

  Eli rose. “My assessment hasn’t changed.”

  “I’m not asking for your sentence,” said Stell, “I’m asking for your method. How would you dispatch her?”

  “How would I?”

  “You do still believe you are the best equipped for the task.”

  A ghost of a smile. “I do.”

  “Let me be very clear,” said Stell. “I don’t trust you.”

  “You don’t have to,” said Eli.

  Stell shook his head. What was he thinking? “We still don’t know if you can even defeat Marcella.”

  Eli smiled grimly. “Haverty spent a year trying to find the limits of my regeneration. He never succeeded.”

  “Her power isn’t the only problem,” said Stell. “After all, Marcella is not acting alone.”

  “Neither am I,” pressed Eli, gesturing at the cell, at EON. “The hard part isn’t killing three EOs, Director. It’s collecting them in one place, and then separating them so they can’t work together. Do that, and your agents can take care of the other two EOs while I see to Marcella. I assure you, under the right conditions, defeating them is more than possible.”

  Conditions.

  Stell slid Marcella’s invitation through the fiberglass slot. “Will this work?”

  Eli took the card, his eyes dancing across the words.

  “Yes,” he said, “I think it will.”

  IV

  THE NIGHT BEFORE

  MERIT

  VICTOR needed a drink.

  He spotted a bleak stretch of low buildings, bland, forgettable, a bar sandwiched between them, and started across the street, digging his cell from his pocket.

  Mitch answered on the second ring.

  “We were getting worried. What happened with Dumont?”

  “It was a trap,” said Victor flatly. “He was only human.”

  Mitch swore. “EON?”

  “Indeed,” said Victor. “I got away, but I won’t risk leading them back to the Kingsley.”

  “Is that him?” called Syd in the background. “What happened?”

  “Should we leave?” asked Mitch.

  Yes, thought Victor. But they couldn’t. Not now. The movement would only draw EON’s further attention. They’d set their trap at the hospital, lain in wait. They’d gotten Victor to come to them, which meant they hadn’t been able to find him. But that didn
t mean they wouldn’t. Did they already know about Sydney? What would happen if they found her instead?

  “Stay in the apartment,” he said. “Don’t answer the door. Don’t let anyone in. Call me if you notice anything or anyone outside.”

  “What about you?” asked Mitch.

  But Victor didn’t have an answer to that question yet, so instead he hung up and stepped into the bar. It was a dive, poorly lit and more than half-empty. He ordered a whiskey and settled into a booth along the back wall where he could keep an eye on the bar’s only door and the handful of patrons while he waited.

  Victor had pocketed a battered paperback from the center console of the ambulance—now he dug it out, along with a black felt pen, and let the broken spine fall open under his hand.

  Old habits. The pen cut a steady path, blacking out the first line, and then the second. He felt his pulse slow with each erasure, each measure of text reduced to a solid black streak. The first word was always the hardest to find. Now and then, he searched for a specific one, and then erased the text around it, but most of the time, though Victor was loath to admit it, even to himself, the practice felt less like a physical act than a metaphysical one.

  He let the pen skate across the page, waiting for a word to stop its path. He cut through pride, fall, change, before finally coming to a stop at the word find. His pen skipped over a solo a two lines later, then continued down the page until it found way.

  Victor was running out of time, and out of leads, but he wasn’t giving up.

  Sydney, Mitch, Dominic—they all behaved as though surrender were a risk, an option. But it wasn’t. Some fractional part of Victor wished he could stop trying, stop fighting, but it simply wasn’t in him. That same stubborn will to survive, the very trait that first made him into an EO, now prevented him from acquiescing. From admitting defeat.

  Whatever’s happened to you, however you’re hurt, you’ve done it to yourself.

  That’s what Campbell had said. And the EO was right. Victor had always been the master of his fate. He had climbed onto that steel table. He had coerced Angie into flipping the switch. He had goaded Eli into killing him five years before, knowing Sydney would bring him back.

 
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