Page 17

“No, I didn’t press anything,” Riley’s voice finally said, flat and calm. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to have company up top, and they won’t be rent-a-cops.”

“On the plus side, they might assume that we are, at least for a second,” Bryn said. “If they know that security’s on the premises and just descended.”

“You think it’ll slow them down any? Because if it’s Jane’s people, they’re not worried about innocent bystander breakage.”

That was true. Worryingly true. Bryn counted the seconds, and when she reached seventy she quietly said, “Get ready. Stay against the sides.”

Joe and Riley took the left, and Bryn took the right, and as the light spilled into the elevator’s cab through the grate, so did a rattle of noise, and the smell of gunfire. Worstcasescenario, Bryn thought in a burst of adrenaline, and time seemed to slow down.

She moved faster.

Opening the grate was too slow; they’d be hit multiple times, probably in the head, before that could happen. So she simply took hold of the grate and shoved, popping it loose from its moorings, and the heavy thing toppled fast and heavy—landing on and smashing two of their attackers to the floor of the lobby. Bryn didn’t pause; she jumped out, aimed, and it seemed almost as if she were laser-targeting each gunman with split-second accuracy.

Seven shots, delivered as fast she could pull the trigger, and seven people went down, hard. Riley was shoulder to shoulder with her, also firing, and before Joe had even moved out of the elevator, the lobby was silent, save for twitches from the fallen bodies. The smell of blood and relaxing bladders and bowels mixed with that of the gunpowder.

Jane’s people, but Jane wasn’t with them. And none of these, as far as Bryn could tell, were Revived; at the very least, the head shots had put them down and out for now. Bryn bent and scooped up two assault rifles; she tossed one to Riley and slung the other over her chest, and looked around the place. It was small. There was a gift shop off to the left that sold T-shirts, hoodies, and—inevitably—salt-related items such as lamps and table condiments. She was more interested in the small food counter that was next to it, though, and vaulted the counter and through the swinging doors to the back, where the refrigerator was kept. They did simple food here, like burgers—sure enough, the raw materials were in place. Bryn grabbed several tubular packs of raw ground beef, and shoved them in her pack.

Riley knew what she was doing, even if Joe wouldn’t have; they exchanged nods, and Joe went on checking their downed enemies for pulses. He looked up when he reached the last one and shook his head. “Okay, officially it’s a bloodbath, and ladies, I am a little creeped out,” he said. “Time to get the hell on the road. We’ve just become public enemies.”

Bryn agreed. There were two menacing-looking trucks outside belonging to Jane’s people, but she had no doubt they’d be jacked up with GPS; stealing them was a nonstarter, unless she wanted to lead Jane right to them. “Let’s go.”

On the way out, though, she picked up the phone and dialed 911. “Seven gunmen dead at the Underground Salt Museum,” she said. “Two security guards alive but in need of assistance below.” She hung up as soon as she was sure the operator had gotten the information, and joined Riley and Joe, already halfway across the parking lot.

They headed out on foot.

There was no real cover out here, but they used what there was—trees, mostly, and some ditches. They intersected the main road, and looking back toward the museum, Bryn spotted a black SUV heading toward them at high speed. The timing was nearly perfect.

The SUV barely hit the brakes long enough for the three of them to pile in.

Brick looked up from his map as Bryn slammed the door shut, and the truck accelerated smoothly forward. “Any problems?”

“Nothing we couldn’t handle,” Riley said. Joe didn’t say anything, but there was a tight muscle in his jaw. He hadn’t liked any of that, but he was professional enough to keep it to himself. “Any sign of pursuit?”

“Jane’s people are converging,” Brick said, “but they split up chasing the other vehicles. The ones you killed back at the museum would have been in charge of this side of the box.”

So, he knew there had been trouble, and the question had just been to establish how fast they’d lie to him. A test they’d failed, of course. Riley’s gaze brushed over Bryn’s, and she saw the FBI agent was aware of that, too. “Sorry,” Riley said. “But I meant what I said. We handled it.”

“You’re leaving a messy trail of bodies,” he pointed out. “And some of them were back at that train, and might point straight to me. So excuse me if I’m not feeling the love and trust right now.”

“Are we breaking up, Brick? Because I’d like to keep my engagement shotgun,” Joe said. He sounded flippant, but he wasn’t. The atmosphere inside the truck was grim and tense, and there was a moment when it felt like things might come to violence.

And then Brick smiled. A false smile, but a signal he was willing to let it go. “Date night’s not over yet, Joe,” he said. “I’ll let you hang on to it for a while. But fair warning: don’t you ever lie to me again, any of you, or this ride ends. Got me?”

“Yes, sir,” Bryn said. Riley was a little late, but she nodded, and so did Joe. “Sorry. It’s been a little bit more than we bargained for, and we thought we knew what we were getting.”

“No plan ever survives the first engagement,” Joe said. “The great ones are the ones who can change the plan and keep moving toward the objective. We’re doing it, Bryn. Chin up.”

She forced a smile, one she didn’t much feel, and closed her eyes for a while, as the SUV rocketed toward the next destination.

• • •

Surprisingly—and menacingly—there were no further attacks on them, all the way to Wichita, and then to Kansas City. No one mentioned it, but they all took it for an ominous sign. Still, maybe it meant that lack of military support had knocked the props from under Jane’s response plans, and losing so many foot soldiers so early had forced her to reassess her strategy.

Bryn hoped for that, anyway. But she didn’t count on it.

Brick’s SUV made some turns once they’d entered suburbia, and pulled into an industrial area—aging, mostly deserted, filled with unrentable factory space and weeds. There was another SUV waiting there, engine idling.

“Right,” Brick said. “It’s been nice, but this concludes our business arrangement. Riley, love you—don’t call me again. It ain’t worth it.”

“I owe you for the SUV,” Riley said, and offered her hand. He shook it, and smiled.

“You owe me a lot more than that, and it’ll be on the bill,” he said. “Vehicle’s fully stocked, clean, can’t be traced back to any of you. It’s got a laptop in it that’s clean, too. If you need more than what’s there, I hope you’re as resourceful as you are lucky.” He offered his hand to Joe next, and they shook solemnly. “Job offer’s open anytime, man.”

Joe nodded. “Good to work with you.”

Last, he focused on Bryn, and she said, “You won’t sell us out, will you?”

He laughed, but oddly enough, he didn’t take offense. “I get bought, I stay bought,” he said. “If somebody hires me to take you out in a year, that’s a different thing, but I’m not going to change into the other team’s jersey right now. And I promise, nobody in my organization will sell you out.”

“Okay,” she said, and took a deep breath. “One more thing. Could you check on my family? I’m worried Jane might come after them as leverage. I’ll pay.”

His eyebrows twitched, just a little, and he was silent for a minute, then said, “Your relatives are just normal folks?”

“Normal is a stretch. I have an aunt with four thumbs. But they’re not involved in any of this, and I’d like to keep it that way if I could.”

He thought about it for a moment, then said, “I’ll look into it. Fair warning: I may not take the job. But I’ll consider it, and if I don’t, I will let you know what’s happening with them. Deal?”

“Deal,” she said, and they shook on it. “Thank you, Brick. I’m sorry we met like this.”

“Yeah, me too. I might like you otherwise, sunshine.”

She nodded, grabbed the backpack he’d given them before, and bailed out. As she, Riley, and Joe walked toward the other vehicle, the driver of it got out and crossed in the opposite direction, like a prisoner exchange. It was all done silently and efficiently, and by the time Joe had taken his place behind the wheel, and Bryn in the front passenger seat, Brick’s vehicle was already cruising smoothly out of the parking lot. One quick turn, and it vanished.

“Suddenly I feel jilted,” Joe said, and put the truck in drive. “Strap in, ladies. Bumpy ride ahead. Bryn, navigate me.”

She’d already found the address that Pansy had sent, and punched it into the truck’s GPS positioning system. “It’s five miles away,” she said.

“Outstanding. We don’t have to wonder long what kind of reception we’ll get.”

He pulled the truck out to the street and followed the map’s glowing directions. Bryn took deep breaths and looked out; it was late afternoon, sliding toward evening, and traffic was light in this area even during rush hour—whatever rush hour meant, in Kansas City. Around them, people were living normal lives, even if normal life here in this part of town involved pushing a rusty shopping cart and scavenging from trash cans.

Speaking of that . . . Bryn hated to do it, but she grabbed her backpack, unzipped it, and took out one of the tubes of lukewarm hamburger meat. “We’d better power up,” she said to Riley, who nodded. Riley sliced open the tube with a knife, and took a handful of the raw beef. Bryn made a face and plunged her own fingers in; it felt . . . gross. But the smell hit her in a wave, and woke an insane tsunami of red-hot hunger that made her jaw ache, and suddenly, she was shoveling the slippery meat into her mouth and chewing, and the taste was like ambrosia and honey, like the best and rightest food in the world.