She was, of course, right about that. They did, and Bryn finally shook her head and said, “Fine, I won’t tell him. But we need to get going. By the way, I bought Snickers. What’ve you got?”
“Hair dye,” Riley said. “And scissors. We’re both getting makeovers.”
• • •
They had one more stop before night closed in around them, and after some discussion Joe and Patrick decided to choose a motel for the night. No-tell roadside inns were plentiful, at least; the pink stucco place that Joe picked seemed likely to have been in business since the 1950s at least. It catered to kitsch, but it was definitely not much in terms of technology. Flat screen televisions still only existed in the realm of science fiction, and air-conditioning was a leaky window unit. At least it was clean, and quiet, and the hot water worked.
Bryn cut her hair short, and applied the hair dye, which turned her from dark blond to a brunette. Riley, on the other hand, elected to go punk—shaggy hair with purple streaks, and a black dog collar with spikes.
“That’s not regulation FBI. I’m pretty sure,” Bryn said, as Riley fluffed her hair into a spiky shag.
“Good,” she said. “If we get time, I’ll get some nose studs and a low-cut top. The less they look at my face, the better.”
They had an uneasy night’s sleep—and a short one. Bryn ate protein bars every few hours, and it seemed to help assuage the anxious feeling of hunger . . . not completely erasing it, but pacifying it. We still need meat, she thought. She wondered if she could convince her friends to find a diner for breakfast that didn’t mind serving an almost-raw steak. The very thought made her mouth water.
She was on her way to the van when she noticed how quiet it was. Yes, it was a rural area, off the freeway’s constant hum, but there seemed to be such a deep well of stillness in the early morning that it keyed her instincts up to alert.
Bryn changed directions and went to Patrick’s door, and rapped softly. He took only a couple of seconds to open it, and she stepped in and shut it behind her. “Trouble,” she said. She wasn’t sure, but she also wasn’t willing to be gratuitously stupid.
Patrick didn’t doubt her, or even take a glance outside. As she dumped her kit on the floor and opened it to remove the PS90, he did the same, only he took out his shotgun. It was a good choice, she thought. They also silently separated out their ammunition on the bed, ready for reloading.
Patrick paused in the act of reaching for another shotgun shell as a voice called out from beyond the window. “Hello, honey, I’m home!” It was Jane. Bryn couldn’t possibly forget that voice, and she saw Patrick close his eyes briefly in a storm of emotion that probably wasn’t love and relief. It lasted only a second before he gathered himself, slammed the shell home, and pumped the shotgun.
“They’ll already have us boxed,” he said. “She wouldn’t announce anything until she was sure of her position. She thinks she’s got us cold.”
“Maybe she does,” Bryn said.
“We’ll make it a fight unless she’s got more upgraded models with her like you and Riley, which I doubt; Jane always did want to be the strongest person in the room. She won’t want anyone who’s in danger of upstaging her. If she’s got an Achilles’ heel, it’s her ego.”
He was talking calmly, but quickly, and he took up a position to the right of the curtained plate glass window. Bryn took the left side. She knew, from her own reconnaissance of her room, that the bathroom’s high, narrow, barred window wasn’t so much of a threat. It’d take time and energy for an enemy to get through, and it would be noisy as fuck.
No, Jane would favor the frontal assault, as usual. Patrick was right, Jane needed to show them who was boss. Especially Patrick. Especially Bryn.
“We’re screwed, aren’t we?” she asked Patrick, without really looking at him.
He didn’t look back, either. “Probably.” She saw a ghost of a smile in her peripheral vision. “Let’s make the bitch pay for the privilege of killing us.”
They didn’t actually have the chance, because right about then, there was the sound of a helicopter. No, not just one—lots of helicopters. The dull chopping sound got loud, crisper, until it was an overhead drone.
Bryn swept the curtain aside to look, and saw ten military helicopters hovering over the little motel—fully armed and armored, state-of-the-art death from the air. They were in perfect formation, tightly grouped, and the threat could not have been clearer. They didn’t even make any announcements.
“Right,” Patrick said softly. “That’s it, then.” And he was right. If Jane had managed to summon up that kind of firepower, they had nothing to match it. Their armory—however good it might be for a running operation—wouldn’t stand for long against rockets and high-capacity aerial machine guns.
But then something very odd happened, because the helicopters didn’t attack; they just hung there in the sky. It didn’t look like the formation was aimed at them at all.
It was, she realized, aimed straight at Jane. Patrick’s ex—tall, strong, and crazy—was standing beside a fleet of five converted Humvees, and even if she was trying not to look intimidated, her posse with her wasn’t doing the look so well, staring up at the hovering ceiling of doom. Big guys, heavily armed and Kevlared, but as nervous as mice in a field with a hawk soaring overhead. They were disciplined enough to hold their ground until she gave the signal, at least, but once it was given, the retreat was decidedly not casual.
“Did you expect this?” Bryn asked. Patrick gave her a curt shake of his head. “Are we in bigger trouble?”
This time, the skin around his eyes crinkled in what was almost a smile. “You know, I’ve learned not to assume anything,” he said. “Let’s wait and see.”
Jane was the last to retreat. She was holding an assault rifle—hard to see what it was, but it looked deadly enough—and she lifted it and aimed it at the window. Bryn stepped back, out of sheer instinct, but Patrick—Patrick didn’t move. He was a clear, easy target if Jane decided she didn’t care about the consequences.
But she did after all, because she laughed, lowered the weapon, and got in the Humvee. As soon as her ass was in the seat, it did a fast U-turn and sped away, all the others falling into formation behind it. Three of the helicopters split off, following, but the trucks distributed their retreat, too, and the remaining formation shifted. Bryn couldn’t understand what was happening at first, but then she saw it—more helicopters coming, from the direction to which the Humvees had fled. Not as many in this formation, but enough to make it an Apocalypse Now kind of fight.
The two formations settled into a hovering standoff, each protecting their own forces.
“Jane has air support, too,” Patrick said. He sounded a little numbed, which was pretty much how Bryn was feeling about things as well. “Christ. We’ve got air support. What the hell is happening?”
“I think ours came from Riley,” Bryn said. “She made a call yesterday, to her friend Jonas. I’m guessing he pulled in some favors, just in case. I didn’t tell you because I knew you wouldn’t take it so well.”
“I’d have been angry about it,” he acknowledged. “And we’d all be dead because of me being too low-profile. I expected her to bring a small strike force, not the frigging armored division.”
“She knows what you expect. Which is why we can’t let you run the strategy against her, Patrick. You know her, she knows you, and you can’t get out of each other’s way. Let Riley run it. Jane won’t see that coming—just like she didn’t expect this.” Bryn gestured at the helicopters. One was dropping out of formation, graceful as a falling leaf, toward an open spot in the sparsely occupied parking lot. It touched down, rotors still at speed, and a tall man disembarked. Like Jane’s people, he’d come prepared for war, with body armor and fearsome personal weaponry. At his side was another man, shorter and wider, who was wearing what looked to Bryn’s eyes like the uniform of an army major.
Riley stepped out of her room, and a second later, Joe Fideli followed her. He had his own PS90 with him, but carried at port arms—a friendly but cautious gesture. There was no question he had Riley’s back.
Bryn and Patrick exited, too, and reached the two newcomers about the same time as Riley and Joe.
“Brick,” Riley said, and extended her hand to the man who wasn’t in uniform. He ignored it and pulled her into a hug. “Ooof. Been working out, madman?”
“Yep, little bit, here and there. Looks like you were right about the trouble, Riley,” Brick said. He let Riley go, and his lively dark gaze fixed first on Joe, then Bryn, then Patrick. “I’m Jonas Wall. Brick, to my friends. Riley says you’ll fall into that category. Hope she’s right, because I just put my ass on the line for you.”
“You’re not the only one,” Riley said, and extended her hand to the man standing next to Brick. “Major Plummer. Been a while. How much trouble are you in right now?”
He shrugged; it was impressive he could shrug, given the amount of muscle he packed on those shoulders. Definitely a bodybuilder. “We’re conducting maneuvers,” he said. “Way I see it, I have less to explain than our opposite numbers across the way. I’ve got authorizations. They’re black ops-ing it in a very public way, and I promise you that right now there are some scrambles going on to cover asses. But Agent Block, you’ve got a problem, too. A big one.”
She laughed. “You mean, in addition to the people who almost mowed down the entire motel?”
“Yeah. I’ve already gotten countermand from up high, so I have to pull out and head back to base. I’m doing that at a leisurely pace, because we’re having mechanical problems, as you can see.” His pilot leaned out of the helicopter and held up a wrench. “Very serious issues. He’ll be a while fixing that, for safety. My point is, these jackholes may be conducting their own off-the-books operation, but they’ve got coverage somewhere in the Pentagon. Maybe elsewhere on Capitol Hill, too. You need to be careful. This is some political shit.”