At the moment the wounded man was wearing only his bloodstained pants, but Laura knew there would not be time to put all the clothes on him. “Just help me get him into the jacket, Doctor. I'll take the rest and dress him later. The jacket will be enough to protect him from the cold.”
Reluctantly lifting the unconscious man into a sitting position on the examination table, the doctor said, “He shouldn't be moved.” Ignoring Brenkshaw, struggling to pull the wounded man's right arm through the sleeve of the warmly lined corduroy jacket, Laura said. “Chris, go to the waiting room at the front of the house. It's dark in there. Don't turn on the lights. Go to the windows and give the street a good looking over, and for God's sake don't let yourself be seen.”
“You think they're here?” the boy asked fearfully. “If not now, they will be soon,” she said, working her guardian's left arm through the other jacket sleeve.
“What're you talking about?” Brenkshaw asked, as Chris dashed into the adjoining office and on into the dark waiting room. Laura didn't answer. "Come on, let's get him in the wheel-chair.
Together, they lifted the wounded man off the examination table, into the chair, and buckled a restraining strap around his waist.
As Laura was gathering up the other clothes and the two quart-sized jars of drugs, making a bundle, padding the clothes around the jars and tying it all together in the shirt, Chris raced back from the waiting room. “Mom, they're just pulling up outside, it must be them, two cars full of men across the street, six or eight of 'em, anyway. What're we going to do?”
“Damn,” she said, “we can't get to the Jeep now. And we can't go out the side door because they might see us from the front.” Brenkshaw headed toward his office. “I'll call the police-” “No!” She put the bundle of clothes and drugs on the wheelchair between her guardian's legs, put her purse there, too, and snatched up the Uzi and .38 Chief's Special. “There's no time, damn you. They'll be in here in a couple of minutes, and they'll kill us. You've got to help me get the wheelchair out the back, down the rear porch steps.”
Apparently her terror was at last conveyed to the physician, for he did not hesitate or continue to work at cross purposes to her. He grabbed the chair and wheeled it swiftly through a door that connected the examination room to the downstairs hall. Laura and dais followed him along the gloomy corridor, then across a kitchen lit only by the illuminated digital clocks on the oven and microwave oven. The chair thumped over the sill between the kitchen and the back porch, badly jarring the wounded man, but he had been through worse.
Slinging the Uzi over her shoulder and jamming the revolver into her waistband, Laura hurried around Brenkshaw to the bottom of the porch steps. She took hold of the wheelchair from the front, helping him trundle it to the concrete walk below.
She glanced at the areaway between the house and garage, half expecting to see an armed man coming through there already, and she whispered to Brenkshaw, “You'll have to go with us. They'll kill you if you stay here, I'm sure they will.”
Again he offered no argument but followed Chris, as the boy led the way down the walk that struck across the rear lawn to the gate in the redwood fence at the back of the long property. Having unslung the Uzi from her shoulder, Laura came last, ready to turn and open fire if she heard a noise from the house behind them.
As Chris reached the gate, it opened in front of him, and a man dressed in black stepped through from the alley, darker than the night around them except for his moon-pale face and white hands, every bit as surprised by them as they were by him. He'd come along the street beside the house and into the alley to cover the place from the back. In his left hand, gleaming darkly, was a submachine gun, not at the ready, but he started to bring it up-Laura could not blow him away, not without cutting her son down as well-but Chris reacted as Henry Takahami had spent months teaching him to react. The boy spun and kicked the assassin's right arm, knocking the gun out of his grasp-it hit the lawn with a thump and soft clatter-then kicked again at his adversary's crotch, and with a grunt of pain, the man in black fell backward against the gatepost.
By then Laura had stepped around the wheelchair and interposed herself between Chris and the killer. She reversed the Uzi, raised it overhead, and brought the stock of it down on the assassin's skull, struck him again with all her might, and he dropped to the lawn, away from the walk, without having had a chance to cry out.
Events were moving fast now, too fast, they were on a downhill ride, and already Chris was going through the gate, so Laura followed, and they surprised a second man in black, eyes like holes in his white face, a vampiric figure, but this one was beyond the reach of a karate kick, so she had to open fire before he could use his own weapon. She shot over Chris's head, a tightly placed burst that pounded into the assassin's chest, throat, and neck, virtually decapitating him as it catapulted him backward onto the alley pavement.
Brenkshaw had come through the gate behind them, pushing the wheelchair into the alley, and Laura felt bad about having gotten him into this, but there was no going back now. The back street was narrow, flanked by the fenced yards of houses on both sides, with a few garages and clusters of garbage cans behind each property, poorly revealed by the lamps on the intersecting streets at each end of the block, with no lights of its own.
To Brenkshaw, Laura said, “Wheel him across the alley and down a couple of doors. Find a gate that's open and get him into somebody else's yard, out of sight. Chris, you go with them.”
“What about you?”
“I'll follow you in a second.”
“Go, Chris!” she said, for the physician had already rolled the wheelchair fifty feet, angling across the alleyway.
As the boy reluctantly followed the doctor, Laura returned to the open redwood gate at the rear of Brenkshaw's property. She was just in time to see two dark figures scuttle out of the areaway between the house and garage, thirty yards from her, barely visible, noticeable only because they were moving. They ran crouched, one of them heading toward the porch and the other toward the lawn because they didn't yet know exactly where the trouble was, where the gunfire had come from.
She stepped through the gate, onto the walk, and opened up on them before they saw her, spraying the back of the house with bullets. Though she was not on top of her targets, she was in range-ninety feet was not far-and they dove for cover. She could not tell if she hit them, and she didn't continue to fire because even with a magazine of four hundred rounds expended in short bursts, the Uzi could empty quickly; and now it was the only automatic weapon she still possessed. She backed out of the gate and ran after Brenkshaw and Chris.
They were just going through a wrought-iron gate at the back of a property on the other side of the alley, two doors down. When she got there and stepped into the yard, she found that old eugenias were planted along the iron fence to the left and right of the gate; they had grown into a dense hedge, so no one would spot her easily from the alley unless they were directly in front of the gate itself.
The physician had pushed the wheelchair all the way to the back of the house. It was Tudor, not Victorian like Brenkshaw's, but also built at least forty or fifty years ago. The doctor was starting around the side of the place, into the driveway, heading toward the next major street.
Lights winked on in houses all over the neighborhood. She was sure that faces were pressed to windows, including those where lights had not appeared, but she didn't think anyone would see much.
She caught up with Brenkshaw and Chris at the front of the house and halted them in shadows near some overgrown shrubbery. “Doc, I'd like you to wait here with your patient,” she whispered.
He was shaking, and she hoped to God he didn't have a heart attack, but he was still game. “I'll be here.”
She took Chris out to the next street, where at least a score of cars were parked at the near and far curbs along that block. In the rain of bluish light from the streetlamps, the boy looked bad but not as awful as she had feared, not as frightened as the physician; he was growing accustomed to terror. She said, “Okay, let's start trying car doors. You take this side, I'll take the far side. If the door is open, check the ignition, under the driver's seat, and behind the sun visor for keys.”
Having once done research for a book in which a character had been a car thief, she had learned among other things that on average one out of seventeen drivers left his keys in his car overnight. She hoped the figure might be even more in their favor in a place like San Bernardino; after all, in New York and Chicago and LA and other big cities, nobody but masochists left their keys in their cars, so for the average to work out to one in seventeen, there had to be more trusting people among other Americans.
She attempted to keep an eye on Chris as she tried the doors of the cars along the far side of the street, but she soon lost track at him. Out of the first eight vehicles, four were unlocked, but no fans were in any of them.
In the distance rose the wail of sirens.
That would probably drive off the men in black. Anyway, they were most likely still searching along the alleyway behind Brenkshaw's house, moving cautiously, expecting to be fired upon again.
Laura moved boldly, with no caution whatsoever, not concerned about being seen by residents in the flanking houses. The street was lined with mature but squat, stunted date palms that provided a lot of cover. Anyway, if anyone had been aroused at this dead hour of the night, they were probably at second-floor windows, not trying to look down at their own street through the palms but over toward the next street, toward Brenkshaw's place, where all the shooting had been.
The ninth vehicle was an Oldsmobile Cutlass, and there were keys under the seat. Just as she started the engine and pulled her door shut, Chris opened the door on the passenger's side and showed her a set of keys that he had found.
“Brand new Toyota,” he said.
“This'll do,” she said.
The sirens were closer.
Chris pitched the Toyota's keys away, hopped into the car, and rode with her to the driveway of the house on the other side of the street, farther up toward the corner, where the doctor was waiting in the shadows along the driveway of a house in which no lights had yet come on. Maybe they were in luck; maybe no one was home at that place. They lifted her guardian out of the wheelchair and laid him on the rear seat of the Cutlass.
The sirens were very close now, and in fact a police cruiser shot past at the far end of that block, on the side street, red beacons flashing, heading toward Brenkshaw's block.
“You'll be okay, Doctor?” she asked, turning to him as she closed the back door of the Cutlass.
He had dropped into the wheelchair. “No apoplexy, if that's what you're afraid of. What the hell is going on with you, girl?”
“No time, Doc. I have to split.”
“Listen,” he said, “maybe I won't tell them anything.”
“Yes, you will,” she said. "You may think you won't, but you'll tell them everything. If you weren't going to tell them, then there wouldn't have been a police report or a newspaper story, and that record in the future, those gunmen couldn't have found
“What're you jibbering about?”
She leaned down and kissed his cheek. “No time to explain, Doc. Thanks for your help. And, sorry, but I'd better take that wheelchair too.”
He folded it and put it in the trunk for her.
The night was full of sirens now.
She got behind the wheel, slammed her door. “Buckle up, Chris.”
“Buckled,” he said.
She turned left at the end of the driveway and drove to the far corner of the block, away from Brenkshaw's end of the neighborhood, to the intersecting street on which a cruiser had flashed by only a moment ago. She figured that if police were converging in answer to reports of automatic-weapons fire, they would be coming from different areas of the city, from different patrols, so maybe no other car would approach by that same route. The avenue was nearly deserted, and the only other vehicles she saw were not fitted with rooftop emergency beacons. She turned right, heading steadily farther away from the Brenkshaw place, across San Bernardino, wondering where she would find sanctuary.
Laura reached Riverside at 3:15 in the morning, stole a Buick from a quiet residential street, shifted her guardian to it with the wheelchair, and abandoned the Cutlass. Chris slept through the entire operation and had to be carried from one car to the other.
Half an hour later, in another neighborhood, exhausted and in need of sleep, she used a screwdriver from a tool pouch in the Buick's trunk to steal a set of license plates from a Nissan. She put the Nissan's plates on the Buick and put the Buick's plates in the trunk because they would eventually turn up on a police hot sheet.
A couple of days might pass before the Nissan's owner noticed his plates were missing, and even when he reported them stolen, the police would not treat that news with the same attention they gave to stolen cars. Plates were usually taken by kids playing a stupid prank or vandals, and their recovery was not a high priority for overworked police laboring under heavy caseloads of major crimes. That was one more useful fact she had learned while researching the book in which a car thief had played a secondary role.
She also paused long enough to dress her guardian in wool socks, shoes, and a pullover sweater to keep him from catching a chill. At one point he opened his eyes, blinked at her, and said her name, and she thought he was coming around, but then he slipped away again, muttering in a language that she could not identify because she could not hear any of the words clearly.
She drove from Riverside to Yorba Linda in Orange County, where she parked in a corner of a Ralph's Supermarket lot, behind a Goodwill collection station, at 4:50 in the morning. She killed the engine and lights, unbuckled her safety harness. Chris was still buckled up, leaning against the door, sound asleep. Lying on the back seat, her guardian was still unconscious, though his breathing was not quite as wheezy as it had been before they had visited Carter Brenkshaw. Laura did not think she would be able to doze off; she hoped just to collect her wits and rest her eyes, but in a minute or two she was asleep.
After killing at least three men, after being shot at repeatedly, after stealing two cars, after surviving a chase that had harried her through three counties, she might have expected to dream of death, of blasted bodies and blood, with the cold chatter of automatic-weapons fire as background music to the nightmare. She might have expected to dream of losing Chris, for he was one of the two remaining lights in her personal darkness, he and Thelma, and she dreaded the thought of going on without him. But instead she dreamed of Danny, and they were lovely dreams, not nightmares. Danny was alive again, and they were reliving the sale of Shadrach for more than one million dollars, but Chris was there, too, and he was eight years old, though in fact Chris had not been born at that time, and they were celebrating their good fortune by spending the day at Disneyland, where the three of them had their picture taken with Mickey Mouse, and in the Carnation Pavilion Danny told her he'd love her forever, while Chris pretended that he could speak in an all-snort pig language that he had learned from Carl Dockweiler, who was sitting at the next table with Nina and with Laura's father, and at another table the amazing Ackerson twins were eating strawberry sundaes. . . .