Something's Gotta Eat T. Rexes - by Elizabeth Bear, Steven Brust, and Emma BullAct I | Act II | Act III | Act IV | Act V
"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.
This, too, is probable, according to that saying of Agathon: '"It is a part of probability that many improbable things will happen.'"
In the end--or was it the beginning--it had been the reliably bizarre luck and the information-mining abilities of one Solomon Todd that gave them their break, or so he told himself at the time.
After everything started to go bad, after he really understood what they were up against, he was moved to consider if he had been played. Led. If some fraction of the horrors that followed were on his head.
But at the beginning, it seemed like a break.
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2014
"Beale must have been ready for a long time," Todd said.
Daniel Brady set a cup of coffee by Todd's left hand. Hafidha Gates sprawled across the couch on the other side of the bullpen, a tablet resting on her chest face-down in a strictly decorative capacity.
Renee's couch, Todd thought, with a tiny stab of guilt. If only they'd figured it out sooner--
It was what it was. And they were doing everything they could.
It was dark outside the windows. City-dark, not real-dark. Not Oolitic, Indiana dark. But what was, this side of the middle of the north Atlantic?
Todd tried not to look at the clock in the lower corner of his monitor. He definitely wasn't registering that the hour was a single digit, and that digit wasn't a one.
"Yeah," Brady said. "He's vanished like a tapeworm up a stray dog's ass. You don't do that without a plan. Cash. Identities."
"He's been baiting us," Hafidha said, with a lip curl that might have been a snarl. "Since day one. Since fucking two thousand and seven. He's been enjoying the game, seeing how far he could stretch his luck. How much he could get away with it."
"Not just his luck," Todd said wearily. "The laws of probability, so true in general, so fallacious in particular. Edward Gibbons. Maybe he decided it was really unlikely we'd figure it out."
"That'd be a fucking subtle manifestation." Brady sipped his coffee, kicked the toe of one shiny loafer. His pants cuff broke just so; Todd wondered when Gray had started buying Brady's clothes. He wondered if Mehitabel was still awake. She wouldn't mind if he showed up on her doorstep, looking for a shoulder to sleep on.
"That'd be a fucking lot of grande mocha frappuccinos," Hafidha agreed. "But there's cop skills, too. They also play into it." She tapped the back of her tablet meaningfully. "All right, Solomon, share your wisdom. Where the hell do we look next?"
"At the beginning." They were all tired. Too tired. "Victimology and profile. If we understand where Beale came from, we'll know where he's going." He stood. "Tomorrow. When everybody's here. Go home."
"Home," he said, and they both sighed and lurched to their feet, exactly as if he still had the standing to give anybody an order.
Esteban Santiago Miguel Domingo Reyes Fomosa y Ibarra stood in the doorway of his daughter's room and watched her sleep. It was just as poignant as all the Lifetime movies made it out to be, and he felt mildly embarrassed for experiencing the emotion in such stereotypical terms. The part of his brain that was always running check sums and analyses, meanwhile, chose that moment to be archly amused about both emotions.
You're a piece of work, Stephen Reyes.
His phone beeped in his pocket. He stepped hastily into the hall, one hand pressing it into his leg to muffle any more sounds.
It was from Sol. 10 A.M. Preliminary profile and victimology.
It didn't say of whom.
It didn't have to.
Nikki Lau knew that wiping her palms on the fabric of her carefully- pressed trousers was a sign of weakness. She rummaged her aching brain for signs of strength and confidence, because her assembled team was watching her.
They were arranged around the briefing closet table doing a bang-up job of showing positive attitudes, but she knew the difference between show and the real thing. Rupert Beale. Rupert Beale, for God's sake, had blindsided them so thoroughly that betrayal wasn't even the right word.
She filled her lungs with stale, shared air. "We had to start with the assumption that any information about Beale we got directly from him could be tainted. As it turned out, there was hardly anything he concealed or lied about."
Esther Falkner nodded. "Which suggests he believes there's nothing in it we can use against him."
"He could be right," Brady offered, from the wall he held up with his broad shoulders.
"Normal humans are pretty bad at threat assessment." Arthur Tan tapped gently with the eraser end of his pencil on the file in front of him. "Gammas probably are, too, unless they're special that way. Beale's not hiding anything except his present location, which says he doesn't think anyone's smart enough to use what he's given away."
"I hate people like that," Hafidha said. She gazed bright-eyed at the photo of Beale on the screen behind Lau and coiled a corkscrew of her hair around her index finger. "Really. Fire of a thousand suns."
Flirty and predator, Lau thought, and had to swallow before she could go on. "So, Rupert Beale, born in 1965 in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago. At the age of eight he was hospitalized for pneumonia, and remained in Cook County General for six weeks."
"Pretty serious case," Todd murmured. "Even in 1972 hospitals weren't big on extended stays."
"That may have been when his first exposure to the anomaly occurred." Lau thumbed the remote in her palm. Beale's book-jacket photo was replaced with a yellowish snapshot of a square-faced, red-haired man and a densely- freckled boy. The man was beaming, a baseball in one hand, the boy's shoulder in the other. The boy glared into the camera.
"Charles John Dacovitz, a hospital orderly, shot his wife and son on the pediatric floor of County General, then killed himself. We haven't been able to determine if Beale had direct contact with Dacovitz, but he was almost certainly on that floor at the time of the shootings." Lau recited the facts with as much cool distance as she could.
"Is that one of the stories we got from Beale himself?" Tan asked.
Chaz, who'd been silent, attentive, and surprisingly un-twitchy thus far, curled his lip a little. "Oh, yeah. There's a television interview. He says, quote, 'That may have set me on the path to becoming who I am.'"
Tan turned to Chaz, distressed. "That was on purpose, wasn't it? The way he put it."
"He's having a great time," Hafidha agreed.
"When Beale was released from the hospital," Lau continued, because if she didn't she might not get another chance, "the doctors prescribed fresher air than he was likely to get in the city. His parents sent him to live with his uncle and aunt, Gene and Linda Krupe, who had a farm near Plainfield, Illinois, outside Chicago." She thumbed the remote again to bring up a newspaper photo from the 1960s of a school ice-cream social fund-raiser.
The location was the yard of a big, rambling farmhouse, built on a prosperous farm where the owners could afford the latest 1890s architectural touches: gables, dormers, an arched sleeping porch, turned railings and gingerbread, decorative shingles. The house was painted a sensible and thrifty white in the photo, like the big dairy barn and outbuildings showing behind it, and stood at the top of a long, gentle slope of green lawn shaded by mature maples.
"The Krupe cousins were grown up and moved out," Brady said, picking up for her. "Son in the Army, daughter married and moved to Indiana. Rupert was effectively the only child of a middle-aged farming couple until high school."
"He didn't go back to live with his parents?" Reyes asked.
"Ten months after he got out of the hospital, his mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Maybe the family thought it would be easier on him to stay on the farm and miss the fun."
Hafidha rocked back in her chair, and Brady caught it before it whacked him in the hip. "Please tell me Mister I'm-So-Clever had a miserable young adulthood."
Brady grinned down at her. As far as Lau could tell, it was the unconsidered smile, the one that didn't come with reservations about gamma-hood. "Sorry, Miss Thing. Good student, lettered in varsity wrestling and the swim team, popular with the ladies. His aunt and uncle seemed to think he was God's gift to the universe. After that, four years at Illinois State University majoring in criminology. Joined the Chicago police force--"
"You skipped one," said Chaz.
"Wait, I've got this." Hafidha stared into nearby unoccupied space. "And may I say the irony of combining Rupert Beale and a city named Normal is not lost on me."
"Old, old joke," Todd said, but he was smiling.
Hafs stuck her tongue out at him, then went on. "ISU campus police report. Frat-boy hazing incident in which one guy jumped from a roof and two more were supposed to catch him, and really, don't ask me how anyone could have thought that was going to work out well. One of the catchers was our boy Rupert. As any sane person would expect, there were injuries all 'round. Beale got a busted collarbone. The catchee got a concussion."
Brady glowered from Chaz to Hafidha. "So why's there no report with the real police?"
Chaz tipped his head back to meet Brady's frown. "Because schools used to cover up fraternity hazing abuses and get away with it."
"Jesus in a leisure suit."
"No argument there."
Lau took the temperature of the room again. Falkner, Reyes, and Todd seemed surprisingly calm and contained, given they'd had the most contact with Beale. No, that wasn't true: Chaz had met with him often at Idlewood in the context of the survivors' group. And Chaz, though he might not be twitchy, wasn't anything like calm. In his stillness Lau thought she could read something deep and cold and...formidable. Hafidha and Daphne, Lau realized. That's why.
Hafs and Danny were nearly symmetrical in their anger. They both tended to rise to a challenge with a lot of "Oh, yeah? Sez who?" anyway, and they were focusing a concentrated pissed-offedness on Rupert Beale.
For Tan, still New Kid, Beale was a gamma. Not just a gamma, because that was never true. But Beale was their quarry, their perp, not someone he'd shared bits of his life with. His presence reminded everyone else that this was their job.
Lau clicked the remote again to bring up the next photo: a scene of so much ruin it was hard to identify its component parts. Shattered concrete, twisted rebar, the back end of a gray SUV, and a police car logo scarred and folded on a crumpled door panel.
Into the stunned silence that followed, Todd said, "One person walked away from that: Rupert Beale. Well, dragged away. His left hip joint was effectively powdered.
"He and his partner were answering a suspicious vehicle call when the vehicle in question, an SUV with two men in it who'd just beaten and robbed a rival gang member, went out of control and punched through the third-floor apron of a parking structure. It landed on Beale's and his partner's squad."
"Improbable," Chaz breathed, with what sounded like respect.
"The accident ended Beale's career on the force. It may also have been the trigger for his conversion, and the basis of his mythology. He had a stake, as he saw it, in knowing when the unlikely would become likely, or could be made to be likely. He could see the potential Rube Goldberg machinery of causality. All he had to do was step in and adjust a ramp here, a spring there, to make the events happen."
"Speculation," Reyes said, his voice rusty. "But based on sound observation."
Todd beamed at him. "Thank you, Professor."
"So we have three locations where Beale experienced significant trauma," Falkner said, her level gaze on Lau. "Cook County Hospital, the ISU campus, and the parking structure. Do any of them look like a place Beale might go to ground?"
Chaz opened the file folder in front of him and spidered his brown fingers over the pile of paper inside. Like the laptop lying closed in front of Hafidha, the file was a polite fiction; everything in it was in his head. "The parking structure, no. The whole block was bulldozed and rebuilt two years ago, and the street turned into a pedestrian mall. It would take a lot of abstraction to identify it with the original accident."
"Even if you're crazier than a barrel of shithouse rats with the lid nailed down?" asked Brady.
Chaz blinked in appreciation, and Lau filed the Bradyism away for use elsewhere. "The hospital's trickier. So much has changed that it's not the same buildings, or even the same institution, really. But Beale's identification with it isn't necessarily institutional." He looked up from his files. "Though Dacovitz was a hospital employee, and one of his stressors was probably hospital management. I'd say the hospital's about fifty-fifty."
"And the campus?" Falkner asked.
"There's the similarity with the accident that triggered his conversion. Struck by falling object. The life-changing component doesn't seem to be there, but it's hard to tell without any real investigation at the time."
"No public statements from him about it?'
Brady shook his head. "Which is either significant or not."
"Victimology?" Falkner prompted.
Tan set his pencil down. "Victim, know thyself. Because in addition to anomalous criminals, which fits the pattern of a vigilante killer, Beale targets law enforcement. Or rather, specifically, us. Like the vigilante, he sees himself as doing our job. Unlike the vigilante, he's actively interfering with the WTF. He's saying, 'I'm better than you,' but if he believes that, why bother to hold us back?"
"We're his experiment." It was Reyes's voice, so they all knew where to look. But Lau couldn't remember hearing Reyes say anything in quite that way before.
"But he's not in the sciences," she said.
"He sees himself as a researcher. It's in his books, in his relationship with the ACTF, his involvement with the survivor group. He'll change one thing and see what happens. Because the more you know, the more you understand of what's probable and why."
"Rupert Beale thinks I'm his lab rat." Hafidha's eyes narrowed, and her fingernails tack-tack-tacked on her closed laptop. "Wonder if he wants some bubonic plague?"
"Let's try to narrow down the geographic profile, then. And what's the status on Idlewood?" Falkner asked.
Lau shook her head. "They've kept a lid on information about the...the disturbance. So far, more or less. The families are cooperating. But how long that's going to last--"
"Call in favors," Falkner said, and looked at Chaz.
Chaz's iPhone was staring him down, and he wasn't winning. Still, he put the call off for as long as possible--two whole-grain bagels with almond butter and honey, five carrots, and a milkshake--before sighing, picking the damned thing up, and calling a number that was still near the top of his "recent" list.
It only rang once.
"Chazzie!" Tasha McAndrews said, delighted. "You up for Old Rag this weekend or do you have holiday plans?"
"Maybe neither," he said. Her voice eased the thing that tangled around his lungs, making it easier to breathe than it had been. "I need a super-duper huge favor, though."
"Hear it," he countered. "Look, your new senatecritter--"
"This is a work favor."
"After a fashion. She likes to try to stay on the right side of history."
"Inasmuch as one can, sure."
"Well, we've got some history on our six right now, closing from out of the sun. If you take my meaning."
She made a possibly noncommittal noise.
He continued, "Something's going to break soon. Break big, and break bad. And I think she--and possibly An Historic Personage to whom you once introduced me--would find it advantageous to get out in front."
"I'm doing you a favor?"
He smiled, and let it get into his voice. "Believe it. I'm going to offer information, but I'm going to ask for spin control. Want to go get lunch? This doesn't belong on a phone."
She said, "Sure. I'll text you," and signed off.
Chaz looked at Brady across the space between their desks and sighed. "We're still cops, right?"
"Technically, I suppose."
Brady tossed him a blueberry Clif bar. "Thanks for letting me be Freamon."
Chaz had the opposite thing to an appetite, but he ate the Clif bar grimly. Between chews, he said, "We need to get ahead of Beale. Chasing after him isn't working."
Brady gave one of his big-dog sighs and leaned back in a chair that protested. "That's just it. Given everything I know about serial-killer psych, and given the amount of time and effort Beale has invested in us as victims--the lengths he's gone to to bait us, to torment us, and to generally gloat while we chased his laser pointers like a pile of spastic cats and never once looked for the hand--now that we're on to him, I'm shocked he's managed to keep from doing what I'd expect."
"I'd expect the cocksucker to be baiting us. Ripper letters. Digging his grave with his tongue. How's he keeping tabs on us?"
"Or he's gloating somewhere we wouldn't think to look," Chaz said thoughtfully. Two more gritty bites of Clif bar met their doom while he mulled it over. "That would please him even more, wouldn't it?"
"Chaz," Brady said. When Chaz looked up, he saw Brady grinning at him--the manic, bright-eyed I see what you did there grin. "Villette. What's the name of that crackpot website Dice and Reyes and Todd keep tabs on?"
"Call Todd," Chaz said, bolting out of his chair on a spike of adrenaline. "I need to talk to Hafidha."
He didn't quite shoot through the door to her burrow. Her lifted finger and concentrated expression brought him up short. He hung on the doorframe left-handed, leaning in.
As soon as her finger dropped, he blurted, "Hafs, if he was using his gammability--"
He flipped his hand to indicate the immediate irrelevance of munchkining Rupert Beale's powers on the sliding scale of Who's driving this bus? "Anomability. To get stuff without leaving a paper trail. Like, misdelivered Amazon packages of Kraft macaroni and cheese or whatever. Would that make anything in the system come up colors for you?"
She pursed her lips. "Odds ain't bad," she said. "I'll go spelunking."
"Experts call it caving," Chaz said, with a tight smile.
The wad of paper she heaved at him only missed because he caught it. It crumpled, dry and light, scratching his palm. "Out," she said. "Momma's working."
Hafidha paused just inside the door to the bullpen, breathing quickly, a little disheveled. "Guys," she said. "Something just came up all colors." She paused. "Something weird. A mail-order box of a gross of condoms went missing on Monday in Ohio. The tracking information is all woo-woo."
That's the technical term, Chaz thought, but did not say. The old joke stuck in his throat as he looked at Hafidha and thought of how different everything was.
"Yuck," said Lau. "God, I hope that isn't Beale."
"Could be a touring magician," Todd said. He looked around at the sea of blank faces. "'Hope I didn't ruin your evening?' No?"
"No," Falkner said. She didn't seem happy.
And waves of dismay seemed to radiate from Brady, so strong Chaz couldn't be sure if what he was feeling was the mirror or just garden-variety human empathy.
"It's Beale," Brady said. So upset he didn't swear. From the expressions on Falkner's and Todd's faces, they got it, too.
"Why would he want twelve dozen condoms?" Chaz asked.
"IEDs," Brady said. But Falkner started speaking at the same moment, and he let her take the lead.
"Pipe bombs," she explained. "You put the black powder in a rubber before putting it in the pipe. Then you don't have to worry about blowing yourself up if you don't wipe the threads down when you screw the caps on."
"What's he going to blow up?" Lau asked.
"Figure it out." Falkner turned on the ball of her foot and headed for her office. Once she was inside, door shut, Chaz saw her pick up the phone before she flipped the blinds down.
"Right," Todd said. "Brady, you and Chaz get on that. Hafidha, we get to find the condoms."
Chaz noticed that Todd was again giving orders, and still nobody seemed inclined to point out that he was a civilian now. In fact, Tan turned in his chair and asked, "What about me?"
"Keep working on the victimology," Lau said. "You've got the most distance from it." She sighed. "And I've got more phone calls to make."
Hafidha sat in her temple, heels drawn up so her legs rested crossed on her chair, fingers steepled before her mouth, eyes closed and face unseamed--a serene bodhisattva of the electronic age. Arthur Tan paused in the doorway to her temple, uncertain if he should enter or withdraw. But as he watched, her nostrils quivered and her eyes flickered open behind the pink plastic vintage frames.
"Is that coffee, Artful?"
"And it's yours," he said. He set it in the Designated Zone, marked off by yellow-and-black striped tape atop a filing cabinet that held yarn, not paperwork. Far away from any of the room's more modern technology. He pulled a bakery bag from one coat pocket and set it beside the coffee cup.
Hafidha snatched it like a mongoose nailing a snake, without rising from her chair or even uncrossing her legs. She peered inside and cackled. "Sticky pecan buns. Arthur, you shouldn't have."
"Can't have you wasting away." He laid a wet-nap next to the coffee, too.
Behind and around her, the flash of data across a dozen monitors continued unabated. She ate the pastry daintily, reverentially, but without hesitation. She chewed with her eyes closed, and sipped creamy coffee between bites.
She was nearly done with the second pecan bun when one of the monitors ceased its nauseating flicker and stabilized on something that looked like a page from a database. Around it, one by one, other monitors ceased their scrolling and settled on similar information. Tan felt a flutter of excitement in his chest, as if he were watching a slot bar come up cherries.
Hafidha looked up at him and smiled.
"Jackpot," she said.
"Mislaid shipments," Hafidha said, standing in the briefing closet and looking not at the projection screen but at her team. She knew what the screen showed--screenshots with highlighted lines, each showing where a shipment of something or other had gone undelivered and been re-ordered. She didn't know what her team would show. And it was strange and comforting both to see Reyes in his habitual chair once more, back to the wall. "Here's a job lot of electronic eyes; and here's one of plumber's o-rings. Some black spray paint. Framing nails."
Everybody else traded glances. Everybody except Todd, who kept his gunmetal eyes very calmly, very placidly on Hafidha's gesturing hands. The rest of the team seemed nervous, high-strung. Ready to move. Todd turned his devil duckie key fob over and over in relaxed hands, the left one cupped to hide his missing fingers.
Lau tapped her fingertips together. Blunt nails, painted dusty pink. "Todd, did you want to report on the Conceal This! web-site?"
He gave her a deferring wave. Reyes made a face, and Hafidha winced in sympathy, thinking of Hope Mitchell, and one of Beale's more successful attempts to fuck up all their lives. Hope had been a big fan of the conspiracy newsletter in its print zine days, before she knocked some of Reyes's teeth out with a chisel and got herself strangled by the Thing That Eats T. rexes.
Lau took a breath and continued,. "So Todd and I did a little digging on the message boards, and we found a bunch of messages that conform to Beale's writing style, though they were stamped from various different users. They're all posted through anonymizers, because the bastard is clever. But Hafidha hacked the back end for us, and there's one private message from one of Beale's apparent sock puppets arranging a dead-drop transfer of some 'highly sensitive' information with another user at a location off the highway, not too far from Gary, Indiana."
Hafidha said, "Which leads me to my next point. The notable thing about the data I've been pulling regarding misdeliveries is that, while a lot of stuff gets lost in the mail, in the past six months all of the ones that tweaked my spidey-sense... have gone missing in the upper Midwest."
Brady fidgeted with his coffee cup. "He's using his anomalous ability to redirect shipments to his safe house."
"Why not just order them using fake identities?" asked Tan, then answered his own question. "Right. He's baiting us. He wants us to find him."
"And who are we to disappoint?" said Chaz, but there was unmistakable tension in his voice.
"I asked Chaz to play pattern-master with the addresses I got," Hafidha said. She waved at Chaz, who didn't stand.
"He's got to be attempting some kind of countermeasures," Chaz said. "But the thing is, if we assume that in the wake of...Idlewood...he's moved to an endgame, he's only trying to stall us long enough to get set up. He won't want to sit and wait forever. If he wanted to vanish, he'd just vanish, and we'd never find him again. He could live in the wind forever, with what he can do. Or at least as long as the anomaly leaves him a liver."
Reyes made a noise. Everybody looked at him, and he waved it away with a hand, but they kept looking. "It's not an endgame. Beale thinks he's smarter than we are. He thinks he's smarter than the anomaly. But the behaviors observed by the BAU in our interviews with killers--all the way back to Douglas and Ressler--are still controlling him. He involved himself in the investigation. He pushed closer and closer to the people most likely to catch him, because he was sure we couldn't. He can't vanish until he's beaten the people who know about him, and is sure we know he's won. And since Beale thinks he can even beat the anomaly, he doesn't think he'll need an endgame. He thinks he'll live forever. Beating the odds is part of his mythology."
"Shit." Brady was looking at Reyes, shaking his head. "How are you even possible?"
"You've done okay without me," Reyes said.
Chaz looked at his hands. Hafidha held her breath. Everybody waited.
Chaz said, "The combination of the geographic profile and the offender profile suggests that he'll have gone home. He'll want familiar turf for his showdown."
"Chicago," Falkner said.
Chaz nodded. "Brady and Tan have a theory."
"He's still crazier than a barrel of shithouse rats." Brady looked around at the assembled faces, and offered an apologetic half-smile.
"That's not the theory," said Tan. "We've been looking at locations of previous trauma. But Beale values control, not chaos. His home base will be someplace where the odds didn't turn on him, where things always worked right."
Hafidha felt the lights go on, but it was Lau who spoke. "Uncle Gene and Aunt Linda. Captain of the wrestling team. The golden boy."
"He's at the farmhouse," said Brady.
"Great," Hafidha said. "Let's go set fire to it."
Chaz's head jerked up. "Hafs--"
"To flush him out, stoopid. Not to barbeque him."
"We can't." That was Reyes. Hafidha hadn't realized she could miss being annoyed by that tone of voice, but there it was; she'd missed it.
Brady snorted. "The hell we can't. Staties and the local field office will be all over it."
"Rupert Beale takes advantage of probability," Reyes said in his most clipped and professorial style.
"Which, with incendiary devices, makes a lousy cocktail," Todd sighed. He wiped his palms over his brow and what was left of his hair.
Tan cleared his throat. "Establish a perimeter and starve him out?"
"Crap. No, we can't," Hafidha said, which made everyone stare at her. But Reyes was nodding. She wanted to hit him for it, just a little. Instead, she said, "Secure perimeter, heavily manned and lit up like daylight twenty-four-seven...until something goes freakily wrong with the generators, or we get a nice Midwestern tornado, or everyone comes down with a fucking norovirus."
"We have to go in after him." Chaz said it, because her baby brother didn't let other people do the heavy lifting.
Brady scowled and smacked the wall behind him with the flat of his hand. Hafidha pretended not to jump at the boom. "He knows we're coming. He wants us to come."
Lau clasped her hands tight in front of her and leaned forward over them. "If we lose him now, we probably lose him for good. Chaz is right. Reyes is right."
And what are the odds Beale knows that already? Hafidha thought. Since everyone else was thinking it, too, she kept quiet.
Esther Falkner put her hands on the wall she leaned against and pushed herself upright. "Get your things," she said to her team. "We're going to Illinois. Todd--"
"Todd is coming," Todd said, rising to his feet with the agility of a man twenty years younger. "I'm licensed as a private citizen to carry a firearm, Esther. And you need me."
She frowned at him for a moment while Hafidha's heart accelerated. Then Falkner sighed through her nose. "All right. Hafidha, you're with us."
Reyes stood. Falkner glowered at him. "Stephen, you have a little girl."
"I'm retired," he replied. He glanced at Todd and smiled. "And I'm no Solomon Todd."
Falkner let it slide."Tan... I'm sorry, but you get to mind the ranch this time."
"I warm benches better than anybody," he said. "Never fear."
Hafidha expected Falkner to raise an eyebrow and point out that anchor was a key role, and hardly benchwarming. But Falkner just shook her head, once, and headed for the door.
It was as quiet a flight as Falkner had ever endured. Her team huddled near the front of the Gulfstream, drinking coffee, pretending to read, and occasionally making desultory conversation. She was the commanding officer: she should do something to ease the tension.
But for the first time in her career, she couldn't think what.
At least it wasn't as bad as going after Hafidha had been. But that was cold comfort, and not something she could say out loud.
Finally, Hafidha looked up from her hands-free session of Angry Birds and barked laughter. When everyone turned to look at her, she shook her head and said, "You know the worst thing? The Bug was right. Somebody is out to get us, and has been all along."
Chaz stopped gnawing his thumbnail long enough to reply. "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day."
"Not if it's digital," Hafidha replied.
"Good flight, special agent.," said Esther, the first one down.
Bear kept his face straight. He was, to be sure, technically still a special agent; but even now, in the post-Hoover years, he couldn't get away with that beard, that hair, or with his bike leathers anywhere that involved contact with the public. Or even other agents, with the WTF being the notable exception. He used to do his best to look the part, before a .38 slug did things to his hip that he still couldn't think about. He was grateful for the employment, and more grateful that he could still walk; and calling him "special agent" had always been Esther's private joke.
Behind her, Villette said, "Tell me the truth: you've been gradually dropping the ceiling on this thing, haven't you? Just to see when we'd notice?"
"Don't piss off the bear," said Lau. "The Gulfstream is his weapon. He's liable to pick it up and throw it at you."
"Rar," agreed Bear. Then, "Go get the bad guys," he told Falkner.
"I always do," she said. "Take care of my glider."
"My glider," he said automatically as the others followed her down.
As his payload walked across the tarmac, he frowned. Do they look more nervous than usual? he wondered. He shrugged and returned to his post-flight checklist.
"Spooky," said Daniel Brady, since no one else had said it and everyone was thinking it.
The house was on top of a gently sloping piece of what had been Illinois farm country. The sensible white paint was peeling and gray; the porch rail sagged and showed missing bits like a mouthful of bad teeth; the rooflines dipped like the backs of old horses. The big shady trees from the photo were gone, replaced by a windbreak row of poplars dying of neglect and age. The old lilacs and mock oranges and viburnum that had ornamented the foundation had gone feral and enclosed the place like a jungle.
The barn was still there, fallen into itself like a decayed rib cage, and the cockeyed shed they now crouched behind. But the rest of the farm was gone. Bulldozers were at work down the road on an office park. The scrub fields and softwood thickets that had been cultivated land ten years ago would go the same way soon.
It was a heavy-handed metaphor for something, but Brady didn't have time to argue with the set designer.
"Judging by appearances," said Lau, who never judged by appearances, "the biggest danger is having the damned thing collapse around our ears."
"I'm leading," said Falkner. "Then Brady, Gates, Todd. Villette, bring up the rear."
Brady, who had always been tail-end Charlie, didn't argue, couldn't argue, didn't have to like it.
"Assume he'll have eyes on us as soon as we step into the open," said Todd.
"He's no sniper," said Brady.
"And he'll want us in the house, where he has control," said Villette.
"How do we enter?" asked Lau.
Todd huddled over, did something Brady couldn't see on the ground, then announced, "Front door."
"The front door is exactly as safe, and unsafe, as any other," said Falkner. "Why?"
"My secret weapon," he said, holding up a twenty-sided die. "I numbered each door and window."
"Randomizer," said Villette. "He's playing with probabilities, so we play right back."
"Darn," said Hafidha. "I was hoping for Call of Cthulu."
Brady refrained from commenting on the fact that Todd had been carrying around a twenty-sided die.
Falkner looked like she wanted to say all sorts of things, but settled for, "Floor plan?"
"Got it," said Hafidha. "Locked in."
"What would you think," said Brady, "of calling in an airstrike?" He didn't even get a courtesy laugh. He glanced over his shoulder: police cars, ambulances. Lined up by the roadside and waiting.
Waiting was all they would do, unless the team called for them. This was no job for the Regulars. But Brady thought longingly of screwed-up law enforcement sieges of the past, in which the forces of order opened fire through the windows, or threw in canisters of tear gas that set the building on fire. The job, done right, demanded that you didn't shoot first, and you took the bad guy alive if you could. Besides, tear gas cannisters and a hail of bullets might get awkward around a guy who fiddled with probability.
But damn, if there'd ever been a time for a Waco or a Chris Dorner in the cabin in Big Bear, this was it. He checked the straps on his ballistic vest, and made sure his backup weapon wouldn't hang up on the bottom edge or slide down and pinch.
"Tan?" Falkner asked.
"Loud and clear," Tan said in Brady's earpiece, and everyone else's. "There's no unusual activity on the monitoring sites Agent Gates set up. The recorder's on."
"Okay, move out," said Falkner.
Weapons out and down, they crossed the fifty feet to the front porch and stopped. The door had once had a window, but the glass was gone. Through the empty square Brady could make out a dark front hall. Flashlights came out without anyone saying a word. Deep breath time, thought Brady. Shouldn't the door have been boarded up? He narrowed his eyes to study the rotting frame, and saw-- "That's a Post-It note."
Falkner crouched at the foot of the steps, sighting across their warped surfaces. She did the same to the floorboards of the porch before she stepped on them and bent to read the note. The face she wore when she looked back at them over her shoulder had no expression at all. "It says, 'Welcome in.'"
Brady felt his pulse speed up. "Show-off," he said.
"Tan, this is Falkner. We're going in. Mark the time, please."
"Wait." Todd's voice had the sharp crack to it that always went straight to Brady's spine.
Falkner turned back. "What is it?"
Todd moved forward, staring at the door handle and the keyhole, then poking his head through the broken window. He took out a pair of pliers and some latex gloves. "Tell you what," he said. "How about if I lead?"
If Todd had thought about it, he would have considered it an odd kind of comfort. No one else, except maybe The Cowboy, would think of it as comfort: creeping along at about ten yards a minute, flashlight in one hand, service weapon in the other, eyes straining, looking for what the next death-trap might be, knowing there was one. But it was a comfort, because this, moving in on the target, team at his back, was what Solomon Todd was made for.
Right behind him, Falkner would be wondering if Beale had planted that first trap, the electrical charge on the doorknob, deliberately to warn them: "Traps ahead! See if you can find them all!" Maybe so, but that wasn't Todd's concern: his interest was in finding the next one, and nothing else. Hafidha and Chaz had memorized the layout of the house, and Falkner, Lau, and Brady were watching for Beale, which left Todd free to watch for--
There. He held up a hand and focused his light on a gap in the wainscotting. There was a matching gap opposite. Photoelectric, no doubt, rigged to a pipe bomb right...there, in the ceiling. "Duck," he said.
"There's another note," said Falkner. "End of the hall, too far away to read."
Did that mean Beale expected them to get past this one? Or was he trying to distract them?
"Disable it?" said Villette from his tail-end Charlie position.
"I would, but I'd be more likely to set it off trying."
Two of them back to back would be clever, thought Todd, and looked carefully at the next several feet of hallway. He found what might have been a pressure plate under a loose board, and guided them past it.
The note, in the hasty script of someone who wrote his first drafts longhand, read, Nice save, Agent Todd.
He shivered; he couldn't help it. He checked around and under the note carefully. Then he flicked it off the wall and handed it to Falkner. She frowned and stuffed it in her trouser pocket.
They inched up to a pair of doors, just before the hallway would open up into what Hafidha said was the living room. Todd spent a lot of time on each. The one on the right was rigged to go off when the door moved. "I don't see any way past that one," he said. "So we'll assume he isn't here."
"It's a bathroom," said Hafidha. "I doubt he'd wait there by choice."
Across from it was what had once been a sun parlor, but now was empty even of furniture. The windows were boarded up, and there were no traps.
"I'm glad he doesn't have an infinite supply," said Lau.
Todd grunted and led them back out of the room. A left turn. Farther up and further in. Or do I have that backward again?
"About due for another," he said. He was starting to get a sense of Beale's psychology. People had patterns. Gammas, even more so. And trap -makers, Todd had found, usually had an orderly sort of mind.
He shone the beam ahead and saw nothing, nothing--a shadow on the wall, just a wavering ghost, thin as a hair.
"Aren't you glad you brought me along?" he said, crouching down to show them the matte-black trip wire. It pleased Todd to be doing something useful with Uncle Sam's poisonous legacy. "I do my best work in the dark."
He glanced up, thinking, I bet I'm pissing Rupert off something fierce right about now. His flashlight picked up a glint of metal just before he saw the muzzle flash; the report, horribly loud in the confined space, seemed to come a long time later.
Arthur Tan had heard "to do is to be" at least as often as anyone else who'd either been to college or knew someone who had, but he'd never before considered the negative.
Words came through the crackle of static; most of them Tan recognized--barely--as Todd's voice. "Clear," he would say, then there'd be a pause. Then, "Stop, got one." Then, "Stay to this side," or, "Stay low," or, "I can get this one." Those phrases and words, in Todd's voice, going from crisp, no-nonsense urgency to what Tan couldn't help but think of as a Northern Drawl.
Sweat was running down the back of Tan's shirt. Christ, they're calmer than I am,. Then, Of course they are. If I were there, I'd be calmer.
He tried to fill in the empty time by doing--making sure the logs were up to date, that the recording gear was working. It didn't help. The trouble with being on the bench wasn't the bench, it was the being.
The sound was like a burst of white noise, of infinite volume and precious little duration. It took him almost a second to identify it.
Falkner saw everything. That's what agents do, said a detached part of the detached part of her mind. We see things, and we remember what we see, and then we report it.
The gun was a big one, a .50 cal Desert Eagle 1911 GR, magazine holds eight rounds plus one in the pipe. The hands gripping it had stubby fingers and poorly manicured nails, and the cuff of the shirt in the unwavering flashlight beam--that had to be from Lau--seemed purple.
She kept seeing. She kept seeing everything. She brought her own weapon up at so close to the same time Todd did that for an instant there was the illusion that her arm was raising both weapons.
The muzzle flash was brighter than the flashlight, and faster than the raising arms, because Beale had been waiting, and because her speed, and Todd's were only human, after all.
Hafidha's was not. Falkner, who saw everything, didn't see Hafidha move, just saw her appear, between the gun and Todd.
The muzzle flashed only once, then gun, hands, and shirt cuff were all gone, and Hafidha was knocked backward into Sol, who caught her with his flashlight arm as he kept his service weapon raised. Someone cried out, "Hafs!" and it took Falkner a while to realize it was her.
Nikki Lau's flashlight beam, now joined by Brady's, never wavered.
Falkner stepped up next to Sol, noticing that her light was also steady. There was an impossible tension, watching, moving only what was absolutely necessary, and the echo of the shot died out; it had seemed to have lasted for a long time. And then there came the smell of cordite, harsh and sick-making and meaning so many different things in so many different times and places.
"Hafs!" said Chaz. "What--"
"Literalizing the metaphor," she said, and coughed.
"It'll take more than one little old bullet to kill a big tough gamma," said Hafidha.
Too fast and too slow, thought Falkner. That's how it always happens. No time to act, but plenty of time to watch it all happen, every detail. She wanted to know how seriously Hafidha was hurt, wanted to know so badly it made her teeth ache, but she didn't dare look away. She had a job to do. Two jobs--make sure Beale didn't get another shot at them, and watch everything, so she could remember it, and report, because that's what FBI agents did.
"Tan," she said. "Agent down."
Todd got all of half a step past Hafidha before Falkner's voice, with a crisp, flat, "No one moves," stopped him as effectively as a stone wall would have. Beale was up there, and had just shot Hafidha. Beale had aimed at him, but she--
"There are still traps," said Falkner, her voice level.
Todd risked a glance back. Lau was holding her flashlight, her service weapon in the other hand, both hands together; perfect form, just like she'd been trained. Her face was as expressionless as it always was when she needed to do the impossible. Brady and Chaz were on their knees with Hafidha, Brady keeping pressure on a wound in her armpit, over the edge of her vest. Where so damned many cops and soldiers got it. Blood ran black over Brady's hands.
Bloody luck. No, not luck; probabilities. He made a grunting sound and turned toward the darkness where Beale had disappeared.
"Todd!" said Falkner.
He nodded and turned back, next to Falkner, watching, waiting, holding. Do your job, you stupid nit. Trust your team, and do your job. Anything else will make things worse.
On the doorframe through which the gun had appeared, he saw a sticky note. RIP Solomon Todd.
That chicken hasn't hatched yet. He felt a dull, savage satisfaction over it.
Chaz's knees ached. His teeth hurt from clenching. He was frozen in place, locked, feeling panic rise up as he hadn't since--since Texas. I can't do this. I can't do this again.
A touch on his sleeve. Todd, gentle. Chaz shook him off, still not looking away from Hafidha. Her eyes closed, she breathed through gritted teeth.
"Hurts," she said.
"No shit," said Todd. "Chaz, stand up. Cover us."
"I wish Daphne were here."
Had he said that? Said that out loud? What a stupid thing to say out loud.
"Me too," Hafs said.
"Hafs, don't talk--" Behind him, Chaz could hear Nikki's voice. Calm, level. Talking to Tan, telling him to get EMS to the door they'd come in by. Not to let them enter the building. Too close, Chaz thought, but he didn't say it.
Todd touched his shoulder again. Chaz gave Hafidha's hand one last squeeze, passed it to Todd. Stood. Brady was breathing hard with the force he was putting on the wound. Chaz heard cloth ripping on the blade of a knife; Todd making a pressure bandage out of his nylon jacket.
So Hafs could be moved, of course.
They had to take her out. With the traps, no one could come in.
"Hey, Wabbit," Chaz said. "We're gonna get you out of here."
"No. Go get him," Hafs said.
"She's right," said Falkner, in a voice with dark water under rotten ice flowing through it. "We'll never catch up with him again."
"Lau," said Chaz, with someone else's tongue. His words sounded thick and far away. "Nikki. Get her out of here? For me? I need to know--"
"If you'd rather do--"
"No." Chaz didn't close his eyes, because he was scanning the darkness ahead. Reaching out with the mirror. Waiting for the ripple of reflection that would reveal Beale's presence. "I have to stay here."
He couldn't look at Nikki, either. But he trusted that she understood, that he had to stay and so he was trusting her with the thing he loved best. Because he did trust her.
He heard her clear her throat, start to speak. Stop herself. She started again. "Go get 'em, tiger."
But with the mirror stretched out with such tender sensitivity, he heard what she had swallowed, anyway. "You're the thing that eats T. rexes." is what she would have said.
"I'll go," Brady said. Trusting them to take care of themselves.
"No. I'll take her," Lau said.
Brady shook his head. "Me. You can't carry--"
"Please," Lau said. "What is she, a buck twelve? I'll be fine."
Chaz knew, of course. He always knew how heavy things were. It was part of being a monster. "One twenty-three with gear. Sorry."
He didn't see, but he knew from her voice that Lau rolled her eyes. "I deadlift two ten."
"Fine," Falkner said, ending the argument. "Just do it. Remember that the traps are still armed. And if either of you drops your vest to lighten the load, I'll skin you both before breakfast tomorrow."
"You hear that, Hafs?" Todd said. "We'll come see you tomorrow. You better be there."
"Nng... Make it worth my while?"
A forced smile in Duke's voice. Now Chaz's eyes ached, too. Duke said, "I'll tell you the Argentine racehorse story. For reals."
"Nah." There was a rustle: she must be squeezing Todd's hand. "Tell me about the fingers."
Todd huffed. "But you already know that, don't you?"
"What makes you think I'd look?" Her voice was stronger. Chaz's heart kicked him in the ribs. She was a gamma, after all. Todd and Brady were getting Hafidha to her feet, Lau moving into position to support her.
"I know you."
Hafidha said, "Evidence is not the same as a confession."
"Eyewitness testimony isn't worth a damned thing."
She coughed, pushed Brady back, and Chaz had to steal a glance as she leaned hard on Nikki and Nikki held her up, no problem. "Right. Go shoot someone for me."
She looked at Chaz. Chaz looked at her. Either one of them could have said something.
Neither one needed to.
And then Hafidha and Nikki were turning away, staggering, back the way they'd come.
Me and my big mouth, Lau thought--through the long black corridors, through the empty nightmare halls. Me and my big mouth. And, I don't quit when I'm tired. I quit when I'm done.
She should have had other mantras too, but she frankly couldn't remember them.
Hafidha stayed conscious, which made it possible. Oh, Lau would have gotten her out anyway--but she would have hurt her worse doing it, whether she had to resort to the fireman's carry or the less-widely-known but equally valid fireman's drag. And she probably would have dragged her right into a trip wire or an electric eye or something, and that would have been that: So sorry for your loss, Mrs. Lau.
Hafidha--staggering, stumbling, dripping blood through the pressure bandage--remembered where the traps were. And between the two of them, like a pair of mismatched Persephones, they came out of Rupert Beale's own underworld into the blue-and-white-and-red-lit night blinking, dragging their feet, so covered in blood that the paramedics who met them at the door at first didn't know which of them to put on the stretcher.
They shouldn't have let Lau ride in the back. That they did proved to Lau, as much as anything, how bad it was. But she sat there, crammed into a forward corner, and held Hafidha's hand. It was cold, so cold, even for a jammer. Lau didn't want to know how much of her blood was spread over the floor of the farmhouse outside Chicago.
She thought Hafidha had relaxed into sleep, or unconsciousness, as the paramedics worked over her. But those elegant narrow fingers squeezed Lau's shorter ones, and Hafidha turned her head as if seeking. "Hey."
"Shhh," Lau said. "Lie still. Easy. Just...stay with us."
The noise Hafidha made wasn't a laugh, but it wasn't anything else either. It bubbled, and Lau had a sudden horrible memory of Melinda Grossman fighting to breathe while her chest filled up with blood, with air. Hafidha spoke in strained tones. "You remember the thing in the hotel? Sorry about that."
"You weren't yourself."
Hafidha's fingers fluttered weakly in Lau's palm. "Oh, honey. Yes I was."
Tan got confirmation that Gates and Lau were in the ambulance and on the way to the hospital, and he checked the time. Thirty minutes since the shooting. "They're en route," he said to the idea of the team, the voices that, somewhere to the west of him, were the people he'd seen only hours ago.
He sat in Hafidha's chair, in her half-darkened room, in their empty section of the building, knowing he wasn't alone. Padma and the kids were at home. Someone was probably at work Down the Hall. The voices on the radio were living people.
But he felt as if he were lost on the surface of the moon.
"That's it for the first floor," he heard Todd say, and even through the static his voice was hard and flat.
"Tan, we're about to go up the back stairs," Falkner said.
"Copy that." Could his voice make it all the way to them? He planted both feet square on the floor and straightened in the chair. Fear wouldn't help them, not from this distance.
"Stop," said Todd. "Fourth tread, under the right-hand end."
"Got it," Brady said.
Wait, Tan thought, Check the next--
"And the fifth," Todd added. "Hope nobody's stiff in the hips today."
Arthur Tan came up through the bomb squad. He wanted to fucking teleport into that stairwell. But Solomon Todd was probably better at the job, anyway.
Still, he ought to be there.
"There's a classic," Todd said, savage and cheerful at once. Esther Falkner thought she knew, now, what he must have sounded like during the time before he took up journalism. "One wire at ankle height. You straighten up to step over it..." He shone his flashlight beam upward and around the corner of the hall. It caught the shadow of a second wire at shoulder height.
"Let's not do that, then."
Behind her, Brady said, "Villette. Keep an eye on our back trail. We cleared the first floor, but if he gets to the front stairs..."
"I know," Chaz replied. Once the acknowledgement would have come with an irritable edge. Not this time.
We're running out of house, Falkner thought. Unless he wants us to climb the attic stairs... No. Stay focused on now.
Something in her peripheral vision moved.
"There he is!" someone--Brady?--shouted. The white-noise burst of a shot. Tan clutched the edge of the desk, waiting.
"That room has a connecting door to the next one." That was Chaz, and not something he'd say if one of his teammates had caught a bullet.
"On three," Falkner whispered.
Gunfire, breaking glass.
"Hold your fire. Hold your fire." Todd.
Tan had enough time to lean toward the mike before the three shots came.
He felt his blood pressure spike, and somehow he was standing up, a sound he couldn't identify, didn't want to identify, loud and horrible and a scream and someone yelling and he couldn't tell who, none of it making sense going on and on you motherfucking sons of bitches what is happening there and another shot by itself, then someone calling out "Todd" but who was it? check the recording check the gear what is happening I can't tell what is happening hit the speak button "Tan here, what is the situation?"
How was his voice so even, so calm?
Once more, "This is Tan. I need a sit report."
No one answered him.
At first he thought there was no sound, but then he heard moaning, and all he wanted out of life was to know who was making it.
Tan never consciously reconstructed the events, but somehow knew what had happened--Todd had gotten them past all the traps, one after another, until Beale finally let them get close and detonated a charge himself.
From what distance? Had he taken himself out, too? Who was alive? Who was hurt? Goddammit goddammit goddammit.
"Tan here, what is the situation?"
No answer. Just harsh, dragging breaths. And, worst of all, not enough of them.
Danny Brady knows he needs to open his eyes.
Open his eyes, raise the hand he can feel still curled limp and sticky around the grip of his weapon. Open his eyes.
The screaming has stopped. Whatever that last sound was--footsteps. The gamma, closing on them. Coming to make sure. Brady can hear his own breathing, the bubble of blood on his lips. There should be pain, so much pain.
But he's in shock. He can tell because his hands are cold, he can't feel his legs. All he can hear is the footsteps. And something else. A taken and held breath. Beside him.
Somebody else on the team is aware.
That's where Chaz was standing.
Gamma tough, and behind the soft cover of the rest of the team's bodies. Chaz is conscious. Chaz is thinking. Maybe bleeding, maybe injured. Maybe dying. But holding his breath.
Head fuzzy, left hand numb, and he can't stand up. That which doesn't kill us.
He can't hear anything beyond the ringing in his ears, and he can't see much beyond the stupid flashlight beams, now all pointing at different and random sections of the floor. And in their narrow glare are revealed slices of those he loves, twisted, broken, not bleeding. He doesn't have to think to know what it means that they aren't bleeding. The fractured mirror flashes out, confirms what he already knows. Still and red.
But he is bleeding. Good. That which doesn't kill us.
Movement? Yes, Brady. Brady is still alive. Good, then, says something that isn't real. Saving Brady will justify doing what I'm bloody well going to do anyway. But no. No. That isn't--
Villette, you idiot! Not now, not now. Think later.
Brady needs to open his eyes. He needs to raise his gun.
His eyelashes are stuck, blood or something. But he blinks, blinks hard, sees blurry light and shadows. Sees a shape bending over him, a pale face that isn't Chaz's, the glint of a shining, shining wire between two fists.
Chaz's left leg is under him, twisted up. Broken? Sprained? Fine? One way to find out. He puts pressure on it, and the pain travels all the way up, getting as far as his mouth before he clamps it shut. He thinks it will hold him. Good. That which doesn't kill us.
Do something. Do anything. He thinks of Todd saying, It is better to be remorseful than to be room temperature. He thinks, But I am not going to regret this at all.
Someone is moving toward Danny. Something shines in the figure's hands.
Someone is yelling in Chaz's ear. Arthur. Shouting for a sitrep. Chaz holds his breath again. He can't answer.
Brady convulses, brings his hand up hard from the shoulder, all his gifted and hard-won strength focused in one blow. He'll never get a shot off. The gun is a club.
He connects. Hard. He loses the gun. He hears it thump and scrape across the floor, somewhere all the way over there. Shit.
Beale spins back, falls on his ass and hands. Behind Brady, from where he lay half-protected by the doorframe, Chaz comes up off the floor with a roar like an enraged alligator, pistol locked in both hands, long legs swinging as he steps over Brady, kicks out, knocks Beale sprawling.
Chaz is on his feet, and the pain is beside the point. .40 Sig in one hand, and, miraculously, flashlight still in the other. A trial step, pain, but yes. It works. For an instant he catches Brady's eye.
That which doesn't kill us provides us the opportunity to return fire, he thinks, and lets mirrored wings flare wide, luff and fill around him, catching crimson off of everything and shattering his image around the room as he picks up one heavy foot and the step becomes a lunge, the whimper behind his teeth becomes a howl.
A shot slams Brady's ears as the gamma rolls away, scrabbling, another scream--not a voice Brady knows this time. The noise Chaz is making isn't even human, and now the noise the gamma is making isn't either.
Brady pushes, hard. Sit up. Situpsitupsitup--
Another shot. And the room, the blood, the stink of voided bowels--it all spins away, like the time-travel animation from one of those sixties TV shows.
"Arthur," Brady whispers. "Arthur. We're fucked."
The next thing he sees is Chaz's face, close enough to kiss. Dripping blood from a broken nose, the left side of his face scoured and scraped, already swelling. "Brady. Can you hear me? Stay with me. The ambulance is coming. Stay with me."
Every night, Esther calls. Around nine, if she can. Later or earlier, if she can't. It's the deal she and Ben made early on, half-wordlessly, as much by sympathy as through negotiation.
Tonight she didn't call.
Rebekah was just home from college, fussily refreshing finals postings. Deborah was trying on her prom dress--a beaded floor-length ivory A-line number that made her mahogany hair and olive skin glow (and Ben's heart squeeze with her incipient adulthood)--one more time.
Ben was fretfully playing solitaire and totally not sitting by the phone. All three of them should have been in bed, but Ben was well-accustomed to the largely nocturnal habits of people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine. And it's hard to sleep with a little knot of anxiety in your belly.
The doorbell--much too late for a social call--came like an electric shock. He got to it even before Deborah, which is saying something in a house with a teenage girl. She might have been afraid her prom date would catch her in the dress.
Ben paused, one hand on the lock, the other on the handle. He braced himself and glanced in the security mirror Esther had mounted outside the side light window with a screwdriver and four mismatched screws.
It was Stephen Reyes. He had his daughter, Autumn, on his hip.
Ben rested his forehead against the wood for a long second before he made himself pull the damned door open.
It was five thirteen in the morning, Eastern Daylight Savings Time, when Stephen Reyes walked into the Emergency Department of Mount Sinai Hospital. His reflection in the revolving door looked every bit as crisp and professional as he did not feel.
In the past six hours, he had been awakened--that was the wrong word, because it implied he had been sleeping--by Arthur Tan's dead calm voice on his cell phone. He had made three personal visits, and arranged that Ben Falkner watch Autumn for a day or two.
"We'll get her home," he'd told Ben, knowing it was bullshit. "You sit tight. We'll take care of everything."
Knowing Esther Falkner was never coming home again. Knowing that some things were too damn big and terrible to be taken care of.
He'd accepted Gray Putnam's offer of a lift on a private jet belonging to a ridiculously wealthy, ridiculously idle Putnam family friend whose not-too-distant relatives had included several Northeastern congressmen and a lieutenant governor. "After all," Gray said, red-eyed in tailored pajamas, "I'm going your way."
Gray was parking the rental. Reyes looked around. In the hushed hour of early morning, the ER was as quiet and still as ever an ER was. Somewhere, someone moaned softly. One person slumped sleeping in a plastic chair in the waiting area. Another watched the silenced TV vacantly, kept company by a little girl who looked like she'd been crying. A tall, broad woman behind the admitting desk looked up from her monitor, a game of Spider Solitaire reflecting green in her spectacles.
"May I help you?"
"I'm Dr. Stephen Reyes," he said, stepping forward. Letting his Chicago accent color his voice in ways he never would in D.C. "I'm looking for--"
"Special Agent Lau," she said, understanding. Suddenly consolatory. "She's in the surgical waiting room. Just up that way, elevator. Follow the signs."
"Somebody will be right behind me," Reyes said. He was already walking away.
Gray didn't catch up by the time he made the elevator, or by the time he found Lau. She didn't see him at first, because she was curled in a chair, head in her hands. She was still wearing her unfastened tac vest. It was sticky and brown with old blood.
"I brought you clothes," he said, and held up the duffel bag. She didn't look up.
He hadn't really expected her to.
He sat down beside her. "Civilians are going to be coming in soon."
That got her attention. Lau would think of somebody else. Somebody who might be horrified by a blood-covered FBI agent. She took the bag when he handed it to her, didn't stand. Her fingers seemed sluggish as she closed them on the strap.
"There's a bathroom across the hall," he said. "Go."
She stood up, exactly as if he had any right to tell her what to do, and went. When she returned, she wore a clean shirt, a cardigan against the air-conditioned chill. A pair of jeans. The blood was mostly scrubbed from under her nails, and her fingertips were pink with the scrubbing.
He handed her the coffee next. He'd dumped two packets of cocoa mix into it, and she made a face when she sipped it. But her complexion looked slightly less greenish a moment later, so he guessed that the sugar was doing its work.
She dropped the duffel, heavier now with her bloody clothing and tac vest in it, beside a chair. She did not use the chair. "I should never have left them."
Reyes studied her drawn face until she hid it behind the paper cup once more. He decided on brutal honesty. "Then you'd be dead as well."
She nodded. "You're probably--"
"No probably. What would you have changed?"
"Nothing," she said. Then, "Hafidha didn't make it."
"Shit." They'd still been working on her when he got on the plane. He'd--
He hadn't actually believed...
He hadn't believed. He'd known it was possible. But he'd...
The string of titles of authority in a fistful of languages. The rainbow of tinted contact lenses. The sharp-edged jokes. All her, and not her, because they could have been part of someone who was not Hafidha Gates.
Except they weren't. Now they were gone, with her.
Sol, Esther, Hafidha. And the part of him defined by them was gone, too.
He sat very still. When the thing in his throat would let him speak without weeping, he asked, "Where's Villette?"
"Sedated, for now. Danny's still in surgery." She sipped--gulped--again, her throat working as she swallowed. "We can go in and sit with Chaz if you want. He should be awake in a couple of hours."
She'd been waiting for him, in other words. He wished he'd decided to suffer the awful hospital tea. He needed something to do with his hands. Still no Gray. Maybe the parking ramp had eaten him.
Maybe he was quite sensibly crying in the car.
"In a minute. Finish your mocha." When she looked at him quizzically, he answered the unspoken question. "We're waiting for Gray."
She winced, then looked into her cup and seemed surprised to find it empty. "Ben?"
"Home with the kids. Mehitabel went over." So had Tricia, after he called her. But he didn't think Lau needed to hear that now. "Somebody from Honolulu field office is going to have to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Gates."
The cup was still empty. Her face stilled, and he watched as she considered the intersecting ripples of tragedy rolling forth from this night's work, lapping over one another and expanding, ever expanding. "I should never have left them."
Reyes made a curt, hard gesture with his left hand. "Yeah, well. Neither should I."
That was fourteen shots--the Sig's whole magazine. Wasn't it? He was under pressure. Even he might have lost track. Maybe it was fifteen. There might be one more.
No, the striker hits nothing. It was seventeen. Well, that's that, then. Walk out. Forget he knows what steel and polymer taste like.
He doesn't know if that happened, either. Maybe he's only imagining the smell of smoke up close, and the taste.
The ruling "good shoot" is such a curious judgement. "Good" isn't the word he'd use.
But. No, the slide locks open when the gun is empty. If there had been any more bullets, he would have known.
He would have known.
So it's not real.
It didn't happen.
It's just a dream.
And he'll keep telling himself that until he nearly believes it.
Memory is just a story we tell ourselves. It has very little relationship to objective reality.
You won't win, Bug.
I won't let you.
Someone squeezed his fingers. Insistently.
Chaz opened his eyes. Focused through the familiar sedative haze. Found Lau's face, Reyes behind her. Felt a rush of terrible apprehensive relief--
The mirror was a reflex now; easier to reach out and feel the answer to his question than to open his mouth and ask. So he reached out--
And read the answer staining Nikki's expression before he ever felt it staining her heart.
"Well," said Bear, "I never expected--" and stopped. He had been about to say "--to see the two of you be first on board," but then he saw the look on the faces of Special Agents Lau and Villette. Or, rather, the lack of expression. Villette's non-expression was the gift wrap on a whole lot of swelling, lacerations, and bruises.
He stood beside the gantry stairs, one hand on the rail, and his heart gave a thump. He said, "What--?"
"You didn't hear," said Lau, making it a statement. "We're your only passengers this trip."
"Unless you count the body bags," said Villette, cold, and distant, and it was like he was being intentionally hurtful, because if he'd been anything else, Bear thought, he'd have broken down.
"Brady's going to make it," said Lau. "He's still in the ICU," she added in the tone an air traffic controller used when you called in a Mayday.
"Esther?" said Bear.
Lau shook her head and they went up past Bear. They sat down next to each other. They didn't hold hands.
Half an hour later, Bear had to supervise the stowing of the body bags. Black. Featureless. He touched each one softly, a kind of benediction.
It was another hour before he felt able to fly.
Nikki sat on the front of the bare desk, in the emptied office. No one had moved into it after Reyes retired; everyone was used to things as they were, after all. The way they'd never be again.
She could have sat behind this desk, but it wasn't that kind of conversation.
She'd thought for an instant about doing this in the office next door, which still had amenities like lamps. And books and framed documents and family photos and a spare jacket on the hook on the back of the door. So she only thought about it for an instant. She could hardly bear to go into that room; it would be worse for him.
He stood looking out what used to be Reyes's window as if there were something to see, instead of Foggy Bottom's air-water mixture. His arms crossed his chest, his long, big-boned hands hooked over his shoulders. A breastplate, not a hug. Where there's no comfort, there can at least be armor.
She laid the manila folder on her knees, but didn't open it. "Frost's autopsy of the subject," she said. Her voice bounced back from the bare walls. The report had arrived by courier, along with a condolence card. Because Madeleine Frost was nothing if she was not proper.
He nodded as if at something else.
"Cause of death" --other than thirteen torso shots that would have killed him more slowly-- "was the gunshot at very close range between the eyebrows." Like an execution.
This time he didn't bother to nod. His face was as empty as the office, lit with the same gray, cold light. It would fill up again with something, but she had no idea what it would be, or how long it would take.
"There'll be an inquiry. And this is going to look... It'll make IA nervous. Sympathetic, but nervous. You should know what you're going to say."
She heard him breathe out; his chin came up a little, and his mouth pressed thin. "I submitted my resignation."
To be shot in the chest; to catch the force of explosion in the breastbone--it would feel like that. "No."
His head turned and his eyes focused on her.
"Not-- Are you insane? Not now. Chaz, you can't leave now."
"Oh, bullshit you're sorry. Tell me you're making a really lousy joke."
He unfolded his arms and let them hang slack, as if he didn't know what they were good for. "I can't stay, Nikki. I can't stay and put it all back together and lose it again in five or ten or however many years. I can't do it."
She wanted to say, You won't lose it. But not so long ago she would have said that, and believed it. Maybe he would have believed it, too. It turned out not to be true. "You're grieving. Your head's not straight. This is not the time to make this decision."
"Sure it is. If I wait, I might forget--how this feels. I did once. False sense of security. Now is exactly the time."
"At least stay long enough to train a couple people from Down the Hall. Chaz, we're it. You, me, and Art. We're the unit. Don't make me do this by myself."
His eyes dropped, and he smiled faintly. "You can do it by yourself, you know. You'll find what you need, and you'll pick the right people. Pete, if you can shift him. Go get Saul Zingermann: he'd be great. He's too ambitious for Minneapolis homicide. And he's still young enough to make the age cutoff for Fibbie hiring. You'll do a good job."
She drew breath to tell him off, to insist he stay, to beg. But he was gone already. She could see it; should have when he came in the door. She'd seen him tested and weak and stretched so thin light came through him. But he'd had fight in him. Now the fierce brittle thing that pushed him forward was broken.
"Have you been to see Brady?" she asked instead, and didn't realize until his eyes squeezed closed that she'd known it would hurt and that she'd done it on purpose. Some profiler.
"How is he?"
"They moved him to Johns Hopkins," she said, rich with irony. "Still in the ICU." He stared at her until she said, "No. Too much damage. He won't walk."
A shudder twitched the cloth across his shoulders. "Right."
"You should go see him," she said, gentler.
"So his survivor guilt and mine can meet up? There's a marriage made in hell. Do you know what he'd say to me?"
"No. And neither do you."
He smiled, a hard expression; his weight shifted, his shoulders squared, his head straightened on his neck. "'Oh, look. This time everybody dies and Villette walks away without a scratch.'" He said it in Brady's voice. Her stomach clenched.
"No, he wouldn't." Maybe he would. But he wouldn't mean it, not for long. Brady was like that. And Chaz knew it--ah, of course. Brady's voice, but it wasn't Brady talking.
Forgiveness was a process, and took too long. Chaz would be out of reach by the time it started. He was out of reach now.
"What will you do?" She knew it was an admission of defeat.
He shrugged. "Something else. Somewhere else." The expression that crossed his face looked painful. "Search and rescue. Short-order cook. Sherpa. I'm a man of many talents."
She looked down at the folder; she'd forgotten that was what she clamped between her fingers. When she'd carried it into the office, she'd thought this would be a different conversation.
She looked up.
"You really don't need me. But if someday you do? I'll come back."
"How will I find you to tell you so?"
He smiled, lightning and sorrow and kindness. "Hello? Supervisory Special Agent Nicolette Lau? You'll find me."
Two steps; then he stopped and touched her hand. It didn't last long enough for her to turn her palm up and close her fingers over his. He went out the door and shut it behind him.
Oh, god. No, she could cry later, at home. That, she realized, was what the woman who'd sat at the desk in the next office had told herself, again and again.
Lau put her grief away, to unpack and study later. There was too much work to do.
Somebody was knocking, but Chaz had no intention of getting up and opening the door. Whoever it was had a pretty good hand with a lockpick, though, because after fifteen minutes of steady knocking and calling there was about five minutes of scratching, and then the door clicked open.
By then, Chaz had recognized the voice. He didn't get off the couch or lift his head.
"Shit, man, you gotta eat. You must be down ten pounds already. I brought--lunch, I brought lunch."
The Bug growled with hunger. Chaz wasn't in any mood to give it what it wanted.
"Chaz. What would Daphne say?"
"Fuck you," Chaz said. But when Dice started lifting leftovers containers out of the greasy bag, he took the first one and a plastic fork. Takeout from the pub Dice worked at. Probably cleaned out the fridge at the end of his shift.
Chaz ate, because it was easier than arguing--and the more he ate, the easier it got. Finally, his stomach hurt too much to take another bite.
He looked up at Dice.
Dice gave him a bottle of Guinness that Chaz hadn't seen him open.
"I'm a bartender," Dice said. "Talk."
Chaz took it. He drew a line through condensation with a fingertip.
Dice pulled another one from the bag by his feet and opened it.
"I don't know what to do," Chaz said. "I can't do this any more."
Dice nodded. "I know what that feels like."
"Yeah, I bet you do." The stout tasted malty and rich, bittersweet. "Somebody else can hold your rope, but you have to do the climb." It took him a little while to get up the courage to ask,"So how'd you deal with it?"
Dice shrugged. It set his piercings swaying. "Did something else."
"Yeah," Dice said. He pushed his broken hand--more mobile now, with therapy--into his side below the ribs. He swigged beer. "You know what we say when it hurts?"
Chaz snorted. "Pain is only weakness leaving the body until you're twenty-five."
"Riders say, 'Fuck you. Get hard.'"
"'Be strong to be useful?' I don't feel much of either right now."
"Hey, I've got something for you. From Geraldine. Todd's P.A.? She said Mehitabel said Todd wanted you to have it. If...if anything happened. You know."
Chaz closed his eyes, bit his tongue. When he opened his lids again, a devil duckie key fob was sitting on the coffee table.
"She said Todd said you'd know what to do with it."
"He used to carry this everywhere," Chaz said. "Hafidha gave it to--"
He looked at Dice. Dice nodded. Chaz wedged the Guinness between his knees--it made his bones ache--and picked the thing up. It took him less than twenty seconds to figure out the twist that exposed a USB plug.
"Fuck," Chaz said. "It's a flash drive."
He laid it on the table, where it reflected in the glass. The contacts in its belly touched a little puddle of condensation. The LEDs inside began to cycle red, blue, violet, green.
"Fuck you," Dice said. "Get hard."
He held the bottle out by the neck.
"Do something different," Chaz said, and clicked Dice's bottle with his own.
Rosemary Brady heard the voices from the hall, and so she had a suspicion before she walked into the hospital room how it was going to be. But it didn't matter. She had the bit in her teeth now, and she was going to do what she should have done years before.
So when she and Jim walked in past the privacy screen, rapping on the doorframe and calling cheerfully, she wasn't surprised to see a dark-haired handsome man lean back from the bedside as if he'd been caught out. Danny's hand was still raised, reaching for him.
Rosemary almost heard the comic-book screech as Jim set his heels. That didn't matter either. Because Danny was lying there somehow diminished and scared, when he was as big and bronze a man as his father, and she couldn't bear to see him looking small.
Rosemary Gilmer Brady was no small woman herself, and she made herself as big as possible when she marched up to the bedside and stuck out her hand. "You must be Gray Putnam," she said. "I'm your mother-in-law."
Danny choked and started coughing. Behind her, Jim started to say something that was about to turn into "Now just wait a cotton-pickin' minute--"
"I'll go," Gray said, standing. He looked it--gray, she meant--all gray around the edges like somebody who hadn't slept in days, or eaten, and it made Rosemary's heart ache.
"You will sit right there, young man." She was still holding out her hand, and as she'd guessed from the shine on his shoes, he was too well brought up not to take it.
Into that space of time, Jim said, "Rosemary--"
She turned, still clutching Gray's hand, and she looked her husband in the eye. Nobody was ever going to say that Pearl Gilmer's little girl backed down when her own son needed her. "James Patrick Brady," she said, "you are going to listen to me. Our son is lying in a hospital bed, and all you can do is complain that he has somebody who loves him and wants to take care of him? I am ashamed of you."
He'd puffed up, all right. But before her eyes, she watched him deflating. And taking a breath. And saying, "I'll just go get a cup of coffee, then--"
All three of them spoke at once: "Dad--" "Jim--" "Mr. Brady--"
--but it was Gray who kept talking. "Mr. Brady. How about if I go get you a cup of coffee? I think your son wants to see you, sir."
"Two sugars," Rosemary said as he headed for the door without giving anybody time to collect their thoughts. "Easy on the cream."
She thought he must have caught her conspiratorial wink by the way he smiled.
After Dice left--he offered to stay over on the couch, but Chaz didn't want him knowing that Chaz was sleeping in Hafidha's room, could only sleep in Hafidha's room, if you could call it sleeping--Chaz watered the plants. Because it would be ridiculous to let them die now, after everything. He picked a dead leaf off the Cuban oregano, then a live one, and put the latter in his mouth.
It tasted like once upon a time.
He went downstairs to his computer, because all of Hafidha's were useless to him. He flipped the slender MacBook open and plugged the devil duckie key fob in. It flashed again, circling lights in seven colors. The drive's contents filled his screen.
Chaz opened a file marked Notes-synthesis at random, flicked to the middle, and began reading.
...seems likely that Hakes drew his inspiration as much from horror films and games (Andromeda Strain? Resident Evil?) as from the medical literature. However, under the influence of his mother's obsession, he did grow up absolutely steeped in medical terminology, etc. Compulsive behavior (hers/his). Attention-seeking (hers/his). He talks to us because we're literally the only contact he has.
Contrast McCain. No need for public recognition. Entirely internalized--despite the fact that the motivating force arises from his rejection by his father/brother. Attachment disorder? Profoundness of lack of self-worth: he thinks he is a poison so he becomes one. (attached file, notes and photographs of supporting documentation. Newspaper reports, missing persons, his brother's "miraculous" cures. Power of suggestion. Power of self-suggestion.)
McCain's medical knowledge much less than Hakes, though general knowledge base broader.
(attached documentation, Hakes childhood medical records, reports of sessions with Reyes, others. Reyes post-incident medical report. Hadn't seen that knee X-ray before. Ow, Steve. Ow.)
Chaz bit his thumb, took a breath, and opened another file at random. This one was named Chapter 17.
Chapter 17: UNDERWORLD
In the summer of 1972, I was nineteen years old. The same age, it turns out, as Michael Dominic Bellamo. But while I was between semesters at Penn State--and soon to leave it for a career change I'm still legally bound not to discuss--Michael Bellamo was embarking on his own education as a serial killer.
He hadn't yet graduated: his first known stranger murder would not be committed until January 15th, 1975. But on June 1st, 1972, he matriculated.
The FBI became involved in the case in 2012, a year and a half after his death...
"Fuck me," Chaz breathed. "Of course Duke was writing a book."
It was late. Really late; he knew without glancing at the clock, because he usually knew.
His hand went out and picked up his phone. He dialed without looking. It was answered on the second ring by a groggy voice, sweet with sleep.
He'd made the right choice. He could still regret it on occasion.
"Tasha," he said. "I need just one more favor."
She laughed in his ear. "It's never just one more, Spider-Man."
Reyes stood in the open door of his apartment and watched Chaz Villette stalk away down the hall. His shoulder blades were visible in outline under his cotton shirt. Reyes was glad there'd been leftover ropa vieja and rice in the fridge.
He felt old, and helpless. He'd wanted this to happen for so long that it had become his equivalent of "Next year in Jerusalem"--the thing you said with every intention of making it a reality, while knowing it never would be.
But now it would be. Reyes had always been too old and too tied to the consequences to do it, that was all. It was someone else's job.
He could almost hear Solomon Todd's annoying chuckle. "Oh, like you've never suffered from conflicting emotions," he said to it, and to the empty air.
Gray was sleeping in his chair, which was just fine with Danny. The worry lines in Gray's face had smoothed out, and his hair was tousled.
After they'd moved Danny from the ICU to Acute Care, Danny had tried to scare Gray off with stories of how it was going to be, living with a cripple. He'd laughed in Danny's face. Then he'd stared at Brady patiently, with big dog eyebrows, until Brady stopped talking.
Then he'd snorted and said, "It's a good thing we moved into your place instead of my apartment. No stairs."
Now, Danny just wanted to look at him. Look at him, and not think too much about the funerals he'd be missing, the ones Gray would have to go to in his place.
He pulled the weird white TV over on its awkward arm and turned it on, muted so it wouldn't wake up Gray. He flipped through the channels, looking for a soap opera or something equally risible. He would have gone right past the news--he didn't want to know--except a familiar gangling body ensconced in a blue-upholstered horseshoe chair arrested his stabbing finger.
He fumbled for the volume control just in time to catch Chaz's tenor voice answering a question. "...in 2002, the federal government established a secret FBI task force under Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Stephen Reyes, specializing in tracking down crimes committed by individuals under the influence of this phenomenon, which we referred to as the anomaly. I was one of the agents involved."
The camera shifted briefly to the host. "Can you tell our viewers something about what the 'anomaly' is, exactly?"
"Well--" Chaz grimaced, his familiar thinking-Muppet face.
Brady's chest seized. Distantly, he wondered if he were having a heart attack. Wouldn't that beat all?
"We are not entirely certain of the mechanism, frankly. But over the last twelve years, the Anomalous Crimes Task Force and related professionals have at least developed a good set of metrics for how it works, how to identify it, and how it's spread. I can tell you that it's extraordinarily rare. Chances are you will never meet someone affected by the anomaly." Chaz smiled disarmingly. The camera loved his fucking cheekbones. "Unless you meet me."
Brady found control of his hands--at least they still fucking worked--and shook Gray's elbow, hard. Gray awoke with a start. Brady gestured frantically for his cell phone, and Gray handed it over. Then he caught sight of what was on the television, and what little color remained in his patrician face drained right down his neck.
Brady hit speed dial with shaking hands, waited through a ring.
Nikki said, "Danny, you should be--"
"Nik, shut up. And for the love of God, turn on the news."
"Do it," Gray said over his shoulder, aimed toward the phone. Nikki must have heard it, because she stopped arguing mid-word. He heard typing; of course she was in the office, in front of her computer. She'd grab a live stream.
She gasped into the phone.
Gray grabbed Danny's shoulder this time. He gestured back to the TV.
Danny's jaw actually dropped as an announcer he didn't recognize said, "In a related story, we now take you live to a press conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for reaction to recent revelations concerning the secret prison facility maintained by the United States government in Virginia--"
"Fuck, Nikki," he breathed into the phone. "I gotta go. I gotta call Chaz up right the fuck now and tell him to get his ass to fucking Croatia."
There was a banging on the other end of the line, the sound of a door slamming open. An angry voice Danny recognized as that of Victor Celentano.
"I'm sorry, Danny. I didn't hear you," Nikki said. "I've got to run. Get well soon."
Charles Travis Villette got up out of his chair. He unclipped the microphone from his collar. He said thank you to the techs and the sound girl and the makeup guy and the World Famous Television Personality. He wiped the pancake makeup off his face with cold cream, fighting back a stabbing memory of three dead women brought on by the scent.
His phone, silenced, buzzed against his hip. A text message from Gray Putnam, which meant from Danny.
He glanced at it anyway, even though he already knew.
As he walked out the door, eight FBI agents--Pete Pauley, Lisa Marshall, Gordon Francis, Marion Hastings, Stanley Murchison, Arthur Tan, Victor Celentano, and a green-faced Nicolette Lau--were walking in.
Murchison actually brushed his sleeve. He had to stop himself from reaching out and pushing Lau's hair off her cheek.
Not one of them saw him leave.
He turned and watched them out of sight, into the building. He held his breath, then made himself let it out again. He had to breathe. It would be all right, he told himself. Breathing came first. He just had to remember to breathe.
The old world is dying away, and the new world struggles to come forth: now is the time of monsters.