She ranked her ride in next to his and gave him a smile, and he offered to buy her a beer, which she accepted, because . . . why not? She needed the helicopter to circle for a while, waiting in frustration.
She drank her beer sparingly, crushed the biker’s hopes as gently as she could, and fended off overtures from a dozen others. A trip to the bathroom took her toward the back, and from there, it was a quick, stealthy trip to the employees’ lounge. Nobody was inside, which was lucky, but then they were pretty busy. She rifled quickly through lockers, and found a set of car keys.
She left the rest of the cash she’d taken from Manny’s safe—about a thousand—stuffed in the locker, as a dollar sign apology, and went out the back door.
The key fit a battered Ford, which was probably worth about what she’d left in the locker. Bryn had taken the precaution of throwing on a stolen jacket over her clothes, putting the backpack in a big trash bag, and tying her hair back in a ponytail; she didn’t think anyone would be able to pick her out easily, and she made sure to keep her face turned away from the still-circling helicopter.
When she drove away, the helicopter didn’t follow.
Once she was safely away, Bryn drove fast. She ditched the hot car a mile from the safe house, wiped it down to remove any prints, and jogged the rest of the way back.
So far . . . so good. She hoped.
Once back inside, thanks to Pansy’s remote control of the gates and elevators, Bryn dumped the supplies in the refrigerator, then went to find Joe and Riley. Riley was sound asleep on the sofa, wrapped in a fluffy blanket; Joe was in the kitchen, making something out of canned foods. “You took your time,” he said, and stirred something that looked like baked beans. “Trouble?”
“A little,” she said. “I had eyes on me from the sky. Helicopter.”
He froze for a few seconds, then continued stirring. “So, that’s not so good.”
“The thing is, they couldn’t have picked me up coming out of here unless they had a way to track us, Joe.”
“You think the van’s compromised?”
“I think we have a bug, but it’s not on us. We know the Fountain Group had found Ziegler, because we got that intel out of their files. But if they’d found him, why hadn’t they grabbed him?”
“Shit,” he said. “Because they bugged him, goddammit. I didn’t check him. I patted him for weapons, but—” He turned the burners off on the stove and followed her to the bedroom area; the closets still had a few clothes on hangers, plain things for both men and women. He grabbed the essentials, and he and Bryn headed for Thorpe’s cell.
Pansy opened it without comment. She’d heard everything, of course; this wouldn’t be enhancing their already rocky relationship with Manny, and Bryn felt the cameras on them like lasers. As the door swung open, Bryn stood guard while Joe went in with the clothes. “Strip,” he told Thorpe, who looked at him warily. “Down to your skin, including your glasses. Put this on.”
“I need my glasses.”
“You can have them back once we check them out.”
“You think I’m bugged?” Thorpe looked outraged, then color drained from his face, and he yanked his glasses off to stare at them. When Joe extended his hand, Thorpe surrendered them, then stood and began to unbutton his shirt.
Bryn turned slightly away, giving him privacy. It didn’t take long. Joe tapped her on the shoulder and handed her the discards as Thorpe fastened the new pants (a size too big, but acceptable). “Burn them,” he said. “I’d be real surprised if Manny didn’t have some kind of incinerator around here.”
“Back left—” Pansy said, but Bryn cut her off.
Joe paused, watching her. “No?”
“If there’s a bug, they’ve already got us. What we need to do is throw them off track, and the only way to do that is to lead them somewhere else. Pansy, is there underground access out of here?” Silence. Bryn sharpened her tone. “Pansy, we don’t have time! Is there underground access? We need to get this thing out without being spotted!”
Suddenly, the link went dead.
Everything went dead. The lights went off—the air conditioner fluttered to a stop. After a second, a constellation of red strobe lights began silently flashing overhead.
“Shit,” Joe said. “I was really looking forward to those beans. C’mon, sunshine, let’s move.” He grabbed Thorpe by the collar and propelled him out the open door, where Bryn took the doctor by the arm. She dumped the clothes on the floor, and the glasses as well.
“Get Riley,” she said, but she didn’t need to; Riley was already there, looking pale and focused as she put on her shoulder holster and snugged a leather jacket over it. She’d put the spiked dog collar back on, too—it covered a barely visible pink line where Thorpe’s slice had healed. “Riley, grab the backpack in the fridge. That’s food.”
She nodded and headed that way. Bryn checked the elevator, but the power was dead, the cage locked down.
“Here’s hoping emergency exits still work,” she said, and followed the flashing red exit signs to a small hallway and a thick steel door. It had a keypad and an alarm sign next to it, but it also had a push bar, and when she hit it, it creaked open onto a dark, steep stairwell.
More bullet holes in the wall here, she noticed. And more blood on the stairs. None of it looked fresh, at least; that was some comfort—but it was yet more evidence, if she’d needed any, that Manny and Pansy had reasons for their security. “Down,” she snapped at Thorpe, when he hesitated. The emergency lighting had kicked in, and the red strobes gave the place a nightmarish horror-movie vibe, but she managed to pull him down the steps to the first landing, then the second. There was a door there with another push bar, and she almost hit it . . . and then glanced back to the concrete underpinning the stairs.
There was another door there. It was subtle and recessed, but there.
Bryn tried the handle. It had probably been electronically locked, but since the power had been cut, it also sighed open . . . on utter darkness. No emergency lighting here. It smelled damp and earthy, but there was a fresh quality to the air, and she felt a faint breeze. “This way,” she said. She hesitated until she saw Joe at the top of the steps, and pointed; he nodded and tossed her a flashlight.
“I’ll get the go-bags,” he said. “Got a weapon?”
She shook her head. He dropped down his Glock, and she shoved it in the back of her pants, grateful for the solid weight of it. Thirteen shots. Not enough, but a start.
The flashlight showed them a tunnel—concrete, round as an oversized piece of sewer pipe. A thin depression in the middle channeled a muddy stream of water, and stains waist-high on the walls showed that it had gotten flooded at least once . . . but thankfully, not today. Today, in the faint distance, the sun was shining beyond a rusty slanted grating.
Joe and Riley caught up to them halfway down the tunnel, and Riley took charge of Thorpe as Bryn put on a burst of speed and arrived at the grating first. She gestured for them to stay back in the shadows, and carefully assessed the view.
It was a view of a dingy culvert, weed-grown and with a lifeless stream that had turned a peculiar shade of poison green. No signs of life except insects, though from the beer bottles and condoms she was fairly sure people weren’t strangers here. What kind of people would find this romantic, she wasn’t sure she wanted to imagine, though.
The grating looked rusted in place, but that was camouflage; it was hinged, and after she popped the catch on the inside, it swung smoothly open without so much as a squeak.
Bryn stepped out and waited. No sounds except traffic somewhere close by. No helicopter hovering. She gestured for the others, and they moved out in a tight, fast group down the culvert, which turned into a ditch. . . . Choked with trash and rusting metal, it became impassible after about half a mile, and Bryn scrambled up the side, using tough, spiny weeds as handholds, to peer up at ground level.
They were in the clear. Twenty feet away lay the rusty chain link back fence of a busy shipping operation, with teams loading boxes onto semitrucks. When Bryn looked back the way they’d come, though, she saw flashing lights. Police, or at least, something official. Manny’s Kansas City hiding place was definitely blown wide-open now.
Her cell phone rang as she offered a hand to Thorpe, who was boosted up by Riley, and she answered it as she gave Riley an assist after him. Joe waved her off. “Hello?”
“You made it?” Pansy asked.
“Looks good so far,” she said. “We found the tunnel. We’re about to find ourselves some transportation, but you’ve done enough. Don’t get involved any more than you have to.”
“I can’t help any more,” Pansy admitted. “Manny’s blowing fuses right and left, and I have to shut down. One last thing, though—I’ve got the name of someone high up in the Fountain Group. If you want to take the fight to them, it’s probably a good place to start, especially if Thorpe can really do what you think he can.”
“Yeah, jury’s still out on that, but we’ll see. Give me the address.”
“I don’t have it. The best I can do is tell you it’s in Northern California.”
“I know. I wish I could give you more. The name is Martin Damien Reynolds. Ignore all the false trails, there are a ton of them. Look for him in California. . . . Bryn, take care. I’m so sorry.” Pansy clicked off, and Bryn had the feeling that if she tried redialing, she’d get voice mail, at best. Probably a message that the number was out of service. When Manny cut ties, he burned them, too.
“Let me guess,” Joe said. “We’ve been dropped.”
“Like the proverbial hot potato,” Bryn said. “Maybe we can stow away on one of these trucks.”
“Maybe,” he said doubtfully. “They’re pretty busy, and with four of us it’s tougher. Probably a better bet to boost a car from the employee lot.”