She shook her head, feeling a renewed stab of pain. She gritted her teeth, trying to move. She was confined. She wasn't tied up, just confined in a tiny space. She could hear commotion from beyond. Voices. Arguing.
"Shit! How do we explain more bodies in the swamp?" someone demanded. A chill swept through her. She suddenly knew why Andy hadn't known what happened to her. This killer struck from hiding with swift determination.
The blow that took her out had come from behind. Andy had probably been asleep. She had never seen whoever had come at her.
That kind of thinking wasn't going to help. She had to get out of whatever she was in.
Determined, she began to feel around. And then she knew. She was in the trunk of a parked car. Did they—whoever they were—think she was already dead?
It better not be you, Julian, she thought, madly searching in the total dark and stifling confines for a latch to pop the trunk. It better not be you, because so help me, I will haunt you into eternity. I will learn how to move things. I will drive you insane.
She swallowed a rising sense of panic and concentrated on her task. She didn't know what kind of car she was in. If it was a fairly new model, there had to be some kind of a release.
She would never find it, she thought, her panic rising.
Not if she let herself be consumed by fear. She had to get control of herself. She had to go slowly, methodically. She had to search.
She began to sweat, but somehow she forced herself to be calm. It felt as if hours went by, though she knew only minutes had passed. She could hear the rasp of her own breathing. She had to find the latch. Had to. If she didn't, she would die.
She wasn't sure how long it took her to find it, and when her fingers hit it at first, she couldn't make it work. Again, she warned herself not to panic. To just press and pull until the latch released.
And then… it gave.
She was sure the sound would alert her attackers.
She didn't dare pause, no matter what. If they were going to shoot her, better it should happen with her at least making a dash for freedom.
She grabbed the rim of the trunk, hauling herself up, cursing the dizziness that spun in her brain with her sudden movement. She crawled out, falling into thick grass and slime. She could still hear the voices, but realized they were a slight distance away, by the road. She had gotten out of the car on the bayou side.
She staggered halfway to her feet, and looked toward the foliage and the water. She knew they were there, though she couldn't really see either. Didn't matter. She half crawled, half ran into the welcoming damp, gloom and darkness.
"There," Brent said.
There was an old-model Ford with a huge trunk on the side of the road. The trunk was open.
There was no one by the car.
Joulette pulled off the road. Another car pulled off directly in front of them, jerking onto the embankment.
"Haggerty," Joulette said with a sigh.
Brent leaped from the car; the detectives did the same. "How the hell… ?" Massey was muttering.
"I got the call from the station," Haggerty said. "Let's spread out. That way we can follow any possible tracks. Let's hope she's not already dead."
Brent didn't need instructions. He had already started running.
She had to be found quickly. And by him. One of the men on the road was involved.
He just wasn't certain which one.
She had reached the water and was carefully trying to keep to the trees as she hurried along the edge. There were boats here and there along the bayou, shrimpers' boats. She had been just about to step onto one when she heard her name.
She wasn't certain if the sound had come from the boat or from the water… or even from the group of trees ahead of her.
But he had seen her.
She slipped back into a grove of trees.
Then she saw him. He hadn't been on the boat; he had been just steps ahead of her.
"Nikki!" he called again.
She turned and tore in the opposite direction, racing as fast as she could.
Away from him.
Blindly, she tore through the foliage. She didn't know whether to return to the highway and pray an innocent driver would stop for her or simply find someplace to hide. She paused for a moment, breathing hard, knowing that her decision might well mean her life.
A branch snapped behind her. She hunkered down into tall grass that rimmed the bayou. Her hands fell on a thick branch. Her fingers curled around it.
In the darkness, she heard him approach. Julian. It was Julian. He was almost on top of her. She got to her feet, the branch in her hand.
She swung out with it, striking as hard as she could.
He moaned and started to fall.
She didn't wait to see him go down. She ran.
Massey headed westward along the water. He didn't know whether to call out or not. He gritted his teeth, listening.
What the hell had happened? How had it all gone so wrong?
He heard the sound of foliage rustling behind him, and he turned. As he did, his peripheral vision showed him the dock to his side and the ramp leading to a shrimp boat.
Haggerty was coming down the ramp.
"Massey!" Haggerty shouted raggedly.
Massey stared back at him.
Then he made a beeline for the man, catching him on the ramp, gut-punching him with his shoulder and bringing him down.
They struggled on the ramp for a moment, then both men crashed into the water.
The sound of many footsteps and thrashing sounded behind her. Nikki looked over her shoulder but kept running. There was another shrimp boat ahead. This one was large, with a dock and a ramp.
Was it a safe place to hide? Better yet, was there a weapon of some kind aboard?
She started to run toward it, then came to a dead halt, nearly crashing into a man. Soaked and staggering, he got to his feet directly in front of her. She couldn't halt her impetus and crashed straight into his arms, nearly sending both of them down again.
He righted himself, groaning.
"Nikki… Nikki… I'm Haggerty… FBI. Massey… is a rogue cop. He attacked me. Come on… come with me… I'll get you out of here. You'll be safe."
She stared at the man, stunned, pulling back, not trusting anyone.
"Jesus, we've got to hurry—"
"Let her go!"
Nikki jerked around. A second man was coming from the water.
Detective Owen Massey.
"Nikki, that man is a liar. He claimed to be an FBI agent. I don't think he is. I think he lied to us. I don't know how, but he killed Garfield, and he killed Andy."
"How the hell could I lie about being an FBI agent, Nikki? Think. Massey has been on the take, covering up while he's been pretending to investigate."
Nikki looked from one man to another.
Massey slowly raised his gun, aiming at Haggerty. Haggerty, a firm grip on her, thrust her behind him, taking aim in turn.
When he heard the cry, Brent spun around, then dimly saw through the darkness that a figure was rising.
Julian. He staggered toward Brent.
"Nikki… she must think that I… Brent, she… went that way." Then, even as he pointed, he fell, groaning.
Brent hunkered down by him, grabbing him by his lapels. "You were with her."
Julian groaned again. "Yes, and the cops were with us. And they got hit, too. They had me in the back seat, her in the trunk… they started arguing about who should kill us. Jesus, help me, I hurt all over—oh, God," he gasped.
"I'm on… I'm on a corpse. Look," he demanded.
But it wasn't the sight of the decaying corpse that caught his attention.
It was the spirit that rose from it…
Someone he recognized from a picture he had so recently seen…
There were sirens in the night again, Nikki could hear them. More and more. The police were coming.
Would they come in time?
Even now, she didn't know which man to believe.
She looked from one man to the other, knowing that the guns would fire any second, that the explosion would be deafening, that one would die…
And if it was the wrong one, she would die, too.
"Drop them. Both of you." It was Brent. Brent's voice, deep and furious in the dark of the night.
Haggerty's hold on Nikki tightened as the sharp command grated out. He and Massey both turned, firing wildly. She was still in Haggerty's arms. Was he protecting her?
Or was he about to use her as a shield?
"Blackhawk!" Massey cried. "Thank God—"
"Blackhawk!" Haggerty echoed. "Take him, for the love of God. I've got the girl. She's all right. Get Massey before he shoots her for the hell of it."
"Put your weapons down, both of you," Brent commanded.
"He'll shoot me," Massey protested.
"He'll shoot me."
Brent moved down to the marshy embankment near the shrimp boat. He appeared entirely casual as he came between the two men.
"Drop your weapons," he said again, quietly, with grim determination. Then he turned and faced Haggerty.
"Drop it," he repeated.
But Haggerty shook his head. "I'll kill her."
"I don't think so," Brent said calmly. "Don't you see them? Garfield is there, to your right. And the real Haggerty—who you left in the muck and brush, as well—is there, on your left. Both good men, and you killed them."
"What the hell are you talking about? They're both dead!" Haggerty shouted.
But he must have felt it. Nikki did. Cold. Like ice. She didn't dare move, but she was certain that Brent was right.
"Drop the weapon, because if I let them take you… well, they'll make you die slowly… and in agony," Brent said. "Hey, why not? They were good men. They had everything in the world to live for, and you… come on, surely you can feel them by now?"
"Holy… oh, holy… " Massey whispered suddenly.