Vengeful, p.35

Vengeful, page 35

 

Vengeful
 



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“Now, Agent Rusher,” she continued, “let’s disc—”

  He didn’t give her a chance to finish. Dominic took a deep breath, like a swimmer before a dive, and jerked backward, the world parting around him as he slipped out of time, and into the shadows.

  The room hung in perfect stillness, a painting in shades of gray—Rios, frozen, her face unreadable. Hancock, halfway through the door. Dominic, still handcuffed to the table.

  He rose, pulling the stapled pages toward him, and got to work prying the bit of metal loose. He worked the sliver free, then straightened it out, and began fitting the slim bar between the teeth of the handcuff and the locking mechanism. It took several tries, the weight of the shadows like wet wool draped across his limbs, and a red welt rising on Dominic’s wrist from the constant applied pressure, but finally the lock came loose. He pried the handcuff open, repeated the same grueling process with the other side, and was free.

  Dom fastened the cuffs back around Rios’s wrists, then ducked under Hancock’s frozen arm into the hall. The air dragged around him like an ocean tide as he approached the nearest control room. There was only one other soldier there, a female agent named Linfield, sitting in front of a console, and frozen mid-stretch. Dominic freed the cattle prod from her holster and brought it to the base of her neck before stepping back into the flow of time.

  A flash of blue-white light, the crackle of current, and Linfield slumped forward. Dom pushed her chair aside and started searching, hands flying across the keyboard.

  He didn’t have long. Every second Dom stood in the real world was a second exposed, a second he could be caught, captured, a second alarms were going up, and soldiers were invariably crashing toward him. And yet, despite it all, the world narrowed as he typed, his heart racing, but the pulse strong, steady. He’d always been good under pressure.

  Dom didn’t have time to figure out which cell Victor was being kept in, so he chose the fastest option.

  He opened them all.

  * * *

  ONE minute Victor had been pacing the confines of his silent, empty cell, and the next the world was plunged into motion and sound. An alarm, high and bright, wailed as the farthest wall of the cell dropped away, the solid pane of fiberglass retracting into the floor.

  Lights flashed white overhead, but instead of going into lockdown, the facility seemed to be opening. Coming apart. To every side, Victor heard the metal crank of seals breaking, doors unlocking.

  About time.

  He stepped out of the cell, only to find himself in a second, larger chamber, this one cast in concrete instead of plastic. It was roughly the size of a small airplane hangar—he circled until he found a door. It swung open under Victor’s touch and gave way onto a white hall.

  He made it three steps before whatever Dominic had managed to cause was suddenly reversed.

  Doors slammed, locks sealed, alarms cut off and then started again, the lights no longer white but a deep arterial red, like a twisted game of Simon Says.

  But Victor didn’t stop moving.

  Not when a hail of distant gunfire echoed in a nearby hall, not when boots sounded on slick linoleum, not when plumes of white gas began to pour through the overhead vents.

  A barrier slammed across the hall in front of him and so Victor doubled back, holding his breath as he swung around a corner, found himself face to face with two EON soldiers, helmeted and armed.

  He lunged for their nerves as their weapons flew up, but Victor was too late—their fingers reached the triggers an instant before his power could reach them.

  The shots rang out, a burst of gunfire, and Victor lunged sideways, but the hall was narrow, and there was no escape.

  A bullet—not a tranquilizer this time, but slim, piercing steel—grazed his side right before his power knocked the hands on the guns off course. But Victor’s own hold faltered too, and in that stolen second the guns adjusted, retrained on his head, his heart.

  The soldiers fired, the hall filling with the sharp retorts, and Victor braced for the impact.

  It never came.

  Instead, an arm wrapped around his shoulders, Dominic’s body twisting in front of Victor like a shield as he pulled them both back into the dark.

  The world went suddenly, perfectly, still.

  They were standing in the same place, in the same hallway, but all the violence and urgency had been sucked out of the space, replaced by silence and calm. The advancing soldiers hovered, frozen in time, the bullets carving lines of motion as they hung suspended in the air.

  Victor dragged in a few steadying breaths, but when he tried to speak, nothing came out. The shadows were a void, swallowing not only color and light, but also sound.

  Dominic’s face was a grim mask a foot from Victor’s own as the soldier’s hand tightened on his sleeve, and he tipped his head in a wordless command.

  Follow me.

  XIV

  THE LAST EVENING

  FIRST AND WHITE

  ONCE again, Marcella had chosen to wear gold.

  She’d come a long way since that pivotal night on the National’s roof, shedding not only her husband but the scalloped decadence of that first dress, trading it for the polished sheen of white-gold silk. It molded to her body like liquid metal, rising up around her throat and plunging down between her shoulder blades, pooling in the small of her back.

  To my beautiful wife.

  In a certain light, the milky fabric seemed a second skin, the soft shimmer brushed onto bare flesh, turning her to gold.

  What’s the point of having beautiful things if you don’t put them on display?

  Marcella tucked a coil of black hair behind one ear, admiring the liquid way the gold earring fell from the lobe. A bracelet circled one wrist. Her nails, painted to match.

  If beauty were a crime.

  A net of white-gold beads, like a band of stars, over her hair.

  Does she come with a warning label?

  Her heels, thin as blades and just as sharp.

  My wife, the business major.

  The only drops of color the steady blue of her eyes and the vivid, vicious red of her lips.

  You don’t want to make a scene.

  Her hand drifted to the mirror.

  I always thought you were a brazen bitch.

  The glass silvered under Marcella’s touch, burning black in spots as if it were film, erosion spreading until it swallowed the gold dress and the blue eyes and the red lips set in a perfect smile.

  Jonathan was leaning against the wall, fidgeting with his gun, ejecting and reinserting the magazine the way Marcus used to punch the end of his pen when he was restless.

  Click, click. Click, click. Click, click.

  “Stop that,” she ordered, turning toward him. “How do I look?”

  Jonathan gave her a long, considering stare. “Dangerous.”

  Marcella smiled. “Come zip me up.”

  He slid the gun back into its holster. “Your dress has no zipper.”

  She gestured at the heels. He came forward, and knelt, and she lifted one foot onto his waiting knee.

  “No matter what happens tonight,” she said, tipping up his chin. “Keep your eyes on me.”

  * * *

  SYDNEY woke up in an empty bathtub.

  She was curled on her side, wrapped in a large comforter in the deep white basin, and for a second she had no idea where she was. And then, haltingly, she remembered.

  The Kingsley. June. The hotel, and the cup of too-sweet chocolate.

  Sydney got to her feet, head pounding from whatever June had put in the drink—and grateful she hadn’t drunk more of it. She stumbled out of the tub and tried the bathroom door, but the handle only turned a couple inches.

  Syd knocked, and then pounded. Threw her shoulder into the door and felt the resistance, not of a lock, but an object forced against the other side. Syd turned, surveying the small, windowless room, and saw the note sitting on the sink.

  I’ll explain everything when this is
over.

  Just trust me.

  ∼J

  She felt herself tremble, not with fear, but anger. Trust? June had drugged her. Locked her in a hotel bathroom. She’d thought that June was different, that she saw Sydney as a friend, a sister, an equal. But for all that talk of trust, of independence, of letting Sydney make her own choices, June had still done this.

  Syd had to get out of here.

  Had to find Victor, and save Mitch.

  She felt for her phone, only to remember she’d left it on the coffee table. But as she dug her hands into her bomber jacket, she felt the small metal tin with Serena’s bones in one pocket, and the cool steel of the gun in the other. June obviously hadn’t thought to frisk her. After every thing, she’d treated Sydney like a naive child.

  Syd drew out the gun, fingers flexing on the grip as she aimed at the doorknob, then reconsidered, shifted the barrel toward the hinges on the other side.

  The shot echoed, deafening, against the tile and marble, hard surfaces reflecting it back at an earsplitting level.

  Sydney fired twice more, then threw her weight into the door again, felt the hinges break, the wood swing free.

  And she was out.

  XV

  THE LAST EVENING

  EON

  THE white halls stretched in a strange tableau.

  Soldiers kneeling at corners, and frozen mid-stride in halls. A woman on fire, the flames licking at the soldiers trying to approach. A man on his knees on the ground, arms being wrenched behind him. Clouds of gas lit by the red strobe of the emergency lights.

  And weaving through the scenes, Victor and Dom, making their way out of EON. It was slow, agonizingly slow, the air dragging like water at their arms and legs, and Victor holding Dom’s sleeve like a blind man—and in some ways, he was blind, blind to the path through the maze.

  And then Dominic dropped.

  There was no warning. Not even a stumble.

  He simply sank to the floor.

  Victor knelt too—it was that or let go—but as Dom’s back came to rest against the wall, Victor saw the front of his uniform, black on black, but shining wet.

  The bullets had torn tidy, coin-sized holes.

  The shootout in the hall. In that brief instant, when Dom had surged out of the shadows and before he’d pulled them back—

  “You fool,” muttered Victor, soundlessly.

  He pressed his hand against the wound, felt the shirt soaked through with blood. How Dominic had stayed on his feet so long, Victor didn’t know.

  Dom shuddered, as if cold, so Victor severed his nerves, and said, “Get up.”

  But Dominic couldn’t hear him.

  “Get up,” he mouthed again.

  This time Dominic tried, rose a couple of inches, only to slip back to the floor. His mouth moved, the words lost, but Victor understood.

  Sorry.

  “Sorry,” said the ex-soldier—and Victor realized that he could hear Dominic’s voice this time. The shadows were crumbling around them, color and life sweeping in through the cracks. Victor tensed, tightened his hold on Dominic’s arm. But it wasn’t his grip that was slipping.

  It was Dom’s.

  “Hold on,” ordered Victor, but Dom’s head lolled to the side, and the colorless, soundless space between time collapsed back into chaos and noise, gas and gunfire.

  Blood slicked Victor’s palms, streaked the floor, stretched behind them in a vivid breadcrumb trail, shockingly red against the sterile white surfaces.

  Victor started to draw Dominic to his feet, but the ex-soldier was dead weight now, his skin gray, waxy, his eyes open, but unseeing. Victor let go, easing the body back against the wall as soldiers barreled around the corner.

  This time Victor moved first.

  No hesitation, no calculation, just blunt and brutal force.

  He dropped them like stones in deep water.

  Victor stepped over their limp bodies.

  The facility’s front doors came into sight, one long, empty hall standing between him and freedom.

  And then a soldier stepped through the wall in front of him.

  There was no sliding door, no hidden hall. She came straight out of the wall, as if it were an open door. She stood before him, unmasked, dark eyes sharp and a cattle prod hanging from one hand.

  An EO, working for EON.

  Victor didn’t have time to be surprised.

  The soldier lunged for him, blue light crackling across the top of the baton. Victor leapt backward, reaching for her nerves, but before he could get a grip on them, she cut sideways, vanished again through the wall.

  An instant later, she was behind him.

  Victor spun, catching her wrist just before the electric baton found bare skin.

  “You’re troublesome,” he said, the words swallowed up by the wailing alarms.

  He wrenched her nerves, and the soldier gasped in pain, but didn’t crumple.

  Instead, she slammed her boot into Victor’s wounded side.

  He went down hard on the white floor, and she was on top of him—or would have been, if his hand hadn’t shot out at the last second, dragging her body to a stop.

  The soldier fought his hold, even as he forced her hand to turn the cattle prod back on herself. Her eyes narrowed in concentration as her will warred with his, but Eli was loose, and Sydney was lost, and those two things made Victor immovable.

  He flexed one hand, drove it toward his chest, and in a mirror motion, the soldier drove the cattle prod into her own.

  Blue light, the crackle of energy, and the EO collapsed, unconscious.

  Victor rose, swept around her body to the wide glass doors. But they didn’t open.

  There was no escape.

  * * *

  MITCH didn’t know what to do.

  His car idled a hundred feet beyond the high metal gates of the EON complex as the rain turned from a drizzle to a downpour.

  He sat behind the wheel, now jury-rigging the butler’s small black box to hack the gate’s frequency instead of tracking signals. That would get him closer to the building, but it still didn’t answer the problem of how he was going to get in, or rather, how he was going to get Victor out. Or even where to start looking for him.

  There was a guard in a security booth inside the gate, and who knew how many officers inside the building, and it would take a hell of a lot more than a smartphone and a hacking fob to crack the security around a place like EON. Which meant, if Mitch was getting in, he’d have to use force.

  He was still wracking his brain for the best of several bad plans when the rain eased a little, enough for Mitch to make out the building’s front doors—and the distinctive figure standing just beyond them.

  Victor.

  Mitch hit the button on the black box, and the gates to EON began to slide open. He gunned the engine and shifted into drive, tires skidding in the rain before lurching forward through the gate, and straight toward EON.

  Victor leapt out of the way just before Mitch crashed his car through the front doors. The glass, reinforced as it was, didn’t shatter, but it did buckle, bow, and as Mitch reversed the car, Victor was able to pry the doors open and slip through.

  He threw himself into the front seat.

  Mitch’s foot was already on the gas.

  The guard from the security tower was running toward them, but Victor flicked his hand, as if the soldier were only a bug, a nuisance, and the other man collapsed.

  Mitch’s car, its front end a mess of crumpled metal, barreled through the open gate and drove away.

  He checked the rearview mirror—nobody was behind them, not yet. He glanced sideways at Victor.

  “That’s a lot of blood.”

  “Most of it is Dominic’s,” replied Victor grimly.

  Confusion washed over Mitch. He didn’t want to ask. Didn’t really need to. The only answer that mattered was in Victor’s eyes as they avoided his.

  “Where’s Sydney?” he asked.

  “
I don’t know.”

  “You drop me off,” said Victor, “and you find her, and then you get the hell out of this city.”

  “Drop you off where?”

  Victor pulled the invitation from his back pocket. It was crumpled, and bloodstained, but the gold lettering on the front was clear.

  “The Old Courthouse.”

  XVI

  THE LAST EVENING

  DOWNTOWN MERIT

  THE rain was finally easing by the time Marcella stepped outside.

  Three cars sat idling on the curb ahead, one elegant black town car flanked by two SUVs. The security detail swept around them, four men in crisp black suits, raised umbrellas masking them from sight.

  Marcella wasn’t taking any chances.

  Stell would be getting desperate, and desperate men did reckless things.

  They reached the sedan, and Jonathan held open her door. When he wasn’t wallowing, he could be quite a gentleman.

  Marcella slid into the backseat, and noticed she wasn’t alone. A man sat across from her, tan and elegant in a pale gray suit. He was staring out the window, and sulking profoundly.

  “Well?” asked Marcella. “Did you get to her in time?”

  The man nodded, and spoke in that familiar lilt. “It was a near thing,” said June, “but I did.”

  “Good,” said Marcella briskly. “You’ll bring her to me, of course, when this is done.”

  June’s borrowed eyes flicked sideways, but when she spoke, her voice was steady. “Of course.”

  Jonathan climbed in on the other side. Marcella had no trouble seeing June behind her many faces—but Jonathan jumped a little at the sight of a stranger.

  “Johnny boy,” cooed June. “Rest easy, now, the prodigal EO has returned to the fold.”

  Marcella considered June. “Is that what you’re wearing?”

  The man’s mouth tugged into a wry smile. “Am I too pretty?” And just like that, he vanished, smooth, high cheekbones replaced by a bag lady with a hooked nose. “Is this better?”

  Marcella rolled her eyes, glad to see June restored to her usual humor.

  “Surely,” she said, “there’s a happy medium.”

 
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