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She said it to Bryn, and her gaze was fixed on the barely visible blood beneath the grass and mud stains on her shirt. Bryn froze a second, darting a glance at Joe, and knew he was on high alert, too.

“Not my blood,” she said, and smiled just a little. “I’m fine, thanks for asking. Joe, help me get Patrick in the truck, will you?”

Joe didn’t hesitate. He dragged Pat up, and Bryn took his feet—not that Joe couldn’t do it all by himself, but she needed an excuse to get away from further scrutiny. Together, they carried him to the SUV, easing him into a seat. Riley went around to the other side and got in as well. Brick took the driver’s seat, and Bryn backed up toward the passenger side.

“A moment,” the Russian doctor said again, insistently. “You’ve been hit, or you stripped a corpse that was shot. There is no other explanation for—”

Brick calmly pulled a sawed-off shotgun out from under his seat and pointed it right at the two Russians, and said, “And we were all getting along so well. Guess detente never lasts, right? Leave the girl alone, unless you want to hear the bad things that happened to her while she was being held naked in a warehouse until we rescued her. Yeah, she stripped a corpse. Killed him her own damn self. You wouldn’t?”

His flat delivery, and the forbidding look in his eyes, reinforced the threat of the shotgun, and although the Russians didn’t raise their hands in surrender, they didn’t give them any more trouble or ask any more questions. Brick handed the shotgun to Joe, who stepped in and took the back passenger seat behind him, keeping the aim steady on the other two.

“Thanks for the hospitality, folks,” he said. “Let’s do lunch sometime, eh? Vodka and borscht on me.”

Brick backed the truck out in one smooth, fast motion, and led the convoy out of the farm, back on the service road. This time, they didn’t take the corn shortcut, but followed the grids of dirt roads all the way back to the freeway.

Joe rolled up the window and said, “Nice gun. Can I keep it?”

“Hell no,” Brick said, and held his hand up. “Family heirloom—man, get your own.”

“I had some nice stuff, but it got run over by a friggin’ train.”

“Sounds like the start of a pretty good country song.” Brick grinned, and handed the shotgun back to him. “You can keep it warm for me.”

“Careful, that’s how I married my wife.”

The banter eased some of the coiled tension in Bryn’s stomach, but she wasn’t sure they were out of the woods—or the tall corn—quite yet. “How did you know about this place, Brick?”

“Did some work for those folks a while back. We were friendly. As friendly as people like us get, anyway. They’re all right. A little tense, but ain’t we all just now.”

“They’re Russian spies,” Riley said. “They ought to be tense, operating on American soil.”

“They’ll pull up stakes and be in the wind by the time you report ’em,” Brick said. “Which is too bad, because they had a nice setup out here in the big nowhere. Not like they were hiding nukes or anything.”

“Then what are they doing?”

“Providing a way station,” he said. “Food, clothing, shelter, medical assistance, communication, that sort of stuff. You know. The CIA has similar places all over Europe, and in Russia, too. Part of the game, lady.”

“I don’t think it’s a game.”

“Your mistake. It is, and it never ends, and it never has a winner. You score points, you lose points, players and sides come and go, but the game itself never stops. Hasn’t since the first nations in the world started talking instead of fighting. Spycraft’s the world’s second oldest profession. Has a lot in common with the first oldest, too, only you’re doing it for your country.”

Bryn wasn’t sure whether that was depressing or inspiring, but she was more concerned with Patrick, who was definitely waking up now—and from the shallow, rapid breathing when he opened his eyes, was also fighting back some extreme disorientation and nausea.

“Patrick?” She took his hand and held it, and after a blank few seconds, he turned his head to look at her. “Patrick, how’s the head?”

“I think I’d like to have your nanites right now,” he said, and tried for a smile but didn’t quite make it. “What the hell happened?”

“IED in the car on the side of the road, we rolled, you hit your head, full-on firefight. We even got hit by a train,” Bryn said. “Sorry you missed it. It was pretty epic. Also, there were Russian spies.”

“You’re making this up.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”

“Jesus. Where’s Jane?”

“I don’t know exactly, but I expect she’ll be coming for us again soon. We’re meeting up with a medical team; they’ll check you out.”

“Not necessary,” Patrick said, but she didn’t like his pallor, and she thought his pupils were looking a little strange. “Just give me a weapon.”

“I’m not giving up my sweet heirloom shotgun,” Joe said. “I just got it. Rest, Pat. We’re good for now.” His tone was light, but he shot a glance back over the headrest, and Bryn could tell that he was concerned as well. “Brick, how far to that rendezvous?”

“Fifteen minutes once we make the highway.”

Joe didn’t say go faster, but Brick got the message, and the SUV accelerated as fast as the rutted dirt road would allow. Patrick hung on grimly to his seat belt, looking green and agonized, and whatever disrepair the freeway was in when they finally bumped up onto its hard surface, it felt like silk under the wheels, and Patrick (and all of them) breathed a sigh of relief. The flanking trucks closed in around them on the two-lane surface—not quite a box, but as close as it could get for the conditions. And Brick opened the throttle even more, blowing past speed limits to the point that the blur of corn and wheat outside the window became a disorienting kaleidoscope.

Patrick shut his eyes again, and she felt his grip on her hand tighten. “Are you okay?” she asked, and got no response. Dread gathered in her chest, smothering her. “Patrick!”

His hand slowly loosened, but his eyes didn’t open again. He didn’t respond when she called his name again, either.

“Brick!” she called, and heard the sharp edge of panic in her voice. “Brick, he’s out again!” She knew that was a bad sign, and rubbed her knuckles on his sternum—a painful sensation, one that would bring most people around.

But he stayed limp. He was breathing, though, and when she checked his pulse, it remained fast, but steady.

“Five minutes,” he said. “Can’t cut it down more than that.”

She knew he was right, but it still felt like an eternity. She kept her fingers pressed to his neck, feeling his pulse, and she thought his skin felt clammy. Shock, probably. They needed to get him warm before his blood pressure fell too far.

She was so intent on Patrick that it came as a surprise when the SUV braked, and she looked up to see that the lead truck was making a sharp left turn—again, an unmarked dirt road. This time, it wasn’t quite as rutted, or as long, and they pulled to a stop in a cleared area next to what looked like some kind of abandoned pumping station.

An unmarked black tractor trailer was parked there, and as the fleet of SUVs came to a halt, the back doors of the trailer opened, and three people bailed out, plainclothes but carrying red medical bags. From there, it all went very fast—they had Patrick on a gurney and into the trailer, which turned out to be a well-equipped medical bay, in minutes. There wasn’t room to observe, so Bryn was left outside, with the others, as they triaged his condition.

It took fifteen minutes for the man in charge—or at least, Bryn assumed he was the head doctor—to come back to report. “Pretty bad concussion,” he said. “No skull fracture, but there is bruising and swelling of the brain. We’re going to keep him here and run more tests; he needs rest and quiet, and it’s pretty obvious he won’t get it on the road with you. You want to stay with him?”

She did. Desperately. But that wouldn’t help—it would only hurt, in fact, and Patrick would be the first to tell her she needed to continue the mission and finish this, or it would all be for nothing. By staying with him, she might lead Jane to Patrick, when he was next to helpless.

So she swallowed and said, “No. I’ll check in on him, but I can’t stay.”

The doctor seemed unsurprised, and handed her a blank white business card with a phone number handwritten on it. “Here’s the number,” he said. “If he’s anything like our usual patients, he’ll try checking himself out of our care way too soon, but we’ll make sure he’s out of danger before we let him go. Anything else we should know?”

“We have heat all over us,” Brick said. “A shit ton of it, and some of it may spill onto you, so be prepared. Get somewhere safe and locked down.”

“Will do, sir.” The doc was definitely a veteran of combat, Bryn thought; he took the news with total calm, and climbed back into the trailer to give orders to his people. They shut up the trailer, and the drivers—whom Bryn assumed were combat trained—started up the truck and headed off down the dirt road in the opposite direction from the freeway behind them. Evidently, they had a different destination in mind.

Brick’s radio cracked as they headed for their own transportation, and he answered. “Go.”

“Sir, we’ve got some activity to the northeast.”


“No, sir, looks like it could be a drone. I don’t like it, sir. You need to get under cover immediately.”

“What’s our window?”

“Ten minutes at best.”

“Jesus, son, we’re in fucking Kansas—you know that? It’s as flat as a table, and we can’t outrun a drone. What assets do we have to kill it?”