Page 36

“I’d rather steam clean the trunk later.”

She had a sudden, horrifyingly clear thought. “He’s Revived, right? He’s chipped. They’re tracking him!”

“Relax. I had one last shot Manny had given me just in case, and I gave it to Reynolds before I stuck him in the trunk. It’s loaded with tracking inhibitors. He’s off their radar, for now anyway.”

“You’re sure you got rid of anything that might be bugged?”

“Stripped him, threw him in the river, soaked him, and gave him the hikers’ clothes to put on,” he confirmed. “This isn’t new to me, Bryn. Relax. We’re okay.”

She didn’t think so.

She didn’t think she’d ever feel okay again, honestly. But the miles disappeared under the humming tires, and the beauty of the mountain scenery lulled her into what was probably a false sense of peace. Somewhere, Joe and Riley were fighting to get to Manny, if Manny and Pansy still held their bunker secure. Somewhere, Jane was kicking walls and thinking about how hard she was going to torture them when she got her hands on them.

Somewhere, the rest of the Fountain Group, learning of Reynolds’ disappearance, might be starting to sweat. She hoped so.

Night fell, and he kept driving, taking roads that seemed sketchy at best, until she’d thoroughly lost her sense of direction; navigating by the stars was a skill she’d developed back in Iraq, but you could actually see stars in the desert. Here, smothered by the trees, she could see only thin strips of inky sky, with hard chips of stars shimmering through. Not enough to place herself.

“We’re here,” he said, and slowed the sedan to a crawl as he made a last turn. Ahead, there was a clearing in the trees, and a fence that wouldn’t have been out of place in a prison—fifteen foot walls topped by razor wire, turreted guard posts, and blazing security lights that popped on when they came close enough. The glare blinded them, and Patrick brought the car to a stop and put it in gear.

“Get out and keep your hands up,” he said. “Do what they say.”

“Where the hell did you bring me?”

“Just don’t talk if you can help it.”

She had to settle for that, because an amplified voice was telling her to do exactly what he’d just instructed—out of the car, hands up. Patrick complied, and she did, too, though she didn’t feel too good about it. The road was sharp gravel, and it dug into her knees as she followed instructions to kneel, hands on head.

Moving figures emerged from the blinding glare, and though she could have reacted—violently—she didn’t, because Patrick didn’t. The shapes resolved into armed, burly men, none of them too clean, who pushed the two of them facedown and handcuffed their wrists behind their backs. Bryn’s tender new skin protested at the harsh handling, but she didn’t complain. Ten seconds later, she was on her feet and shoved shoulder to shoulder with Patrick.

“We safe?” she asked softly. He nodded, but his slitted eyes were searching the glare for something.

She saw him relax when he found it: another shape heading toward them. As he reached them, the blinding halogens turned off, leaving only general illumination, which seemed like pitch darkness after that scorching of her eyeballs. When she blinked away the afterimages, she saw a medium-sized man standing there, staring at Patrick. He had a narrow face, narrow dark eyes, lank shoulder-length brown hair, and he looked hardened and sunbaked, like the rest of them.

“Son of a bitch,” he said. “Look who’s come home.”

Then he pulled out a vicious-looking bowie knife and held it point-up under Patrick’s chin. The point dented the flesh, and blood welled and ran down the steel.

“Walt,” Patrick said. “Been a while. You mad?”

“What gives you that idea?” The knife stayed where it was. Walt’s mouth stretched in a smile, but it wasn’t much of a reassurance. “Who’s the bitch?”

“Mine,” Patrick said. “Hands off.”

“We’ll see.”

“You going to slit my throat or kiss me?” Patrick asked.

“Well, now, I was considering that first thing, but if you want kissing I’ll see if I can find a couple of volunteers. You left some bad feelings behind in here. Why come back?”

“Had to,” Patrick said. “I’ve got heat on me.”

“And you bring it here?”

“I bring it to the man who can handle it.”

That made Walt smile again, a dark, angry sort of thing that made a shiver run up Bryn’s back. “Get them and the car inside,” Walt said. “Sweep everything. Don’t want no federal ears in here.”

“Fair warning,” Patrick said. “I have a man tied up in the trunk. He could be dead. Or not.”

That brought . . . utter silence. And then Walt laughed, and took the knife away from his throat. “That’s what I always liked about you, Vaughn. You are utterly fucked up.” He turned and waved at his men. One slid behind the wheel of the sedan, and the others crowded around Patrick and Bryn and hustled them in through the parting gates. It was an efficient operation, maybe thirty seconds between gates opening and closing, and then they were inside the compound—she couldn’t think of it any other way—which was a tidily maintained, almost military style design. Barracks surrounded by neatly raked gravel. Their sedan was driven to an area that served as a motor pool, mostly populated by old, solid Humvees and four-wheelers, along with some pickups. A flagpole—empty at the moment—stood tall sentry in the center. Toward the center of the place there was something out of place—a square building with playground equipment such as swings, teeter-totters, and slides, all in camouflage colors.

Children. There were children here.

Their captors pushed them down to a cross-legged sitting position by the flagpole and withdrew to convenient shooting distance. They had a firing squad of four, which would be plenty to kill Patrick, but not enough to take Bryn if she needed to move. Of course, they couldn’t know that.


“Who the hell are these guys?” she whispered to him. He tilted his head toward her, just a little, but he didn’t take his eyes off their guards.

“Well, that’s Mel there on your end. He’s got a mean streak, so watch him closely. Next to him is some new blood—don’t recognize him. Third one is Paul, and then Queeg—he’s Walt’s best buddy. Kind of the second in command around here, or was, anyway. I’ve been gone a few years.”

“I meant who are they in general?”

“I know,” he whispered. “Short answer is militia. But it’s complicated.”

“Uncomplicate it!”

Even if he could have, or wanted to try, he didn’t have the chance, because one of the men—Queeg, wasn’t that cute—gave them a menacing glare and growled, “Shut up before I break your jaws.”

Patrick sighed and put his head back against the flagpole, closed his eyes, and just . . . relaxed. Bryn tried, but her brain was firing too fast, running on constant adrenaline and paranoia now. She counted at least thirty armed men, and she supposed most of them wouldn’t be outside and visible at this hour; the windows on the barracks and small houses glowed warm and bright, and for most people it was bound to be dinner hour. One reason their guards looked so grim, she supposed. Taking away dinner in a place like this, where dinner might be just about all you looked forward to, was probably a firing squad offense.

One thing: some of these men carried themselves with that unmistakable posture you earned from long hours in the military. Bryn knew she had it; she’d learned to recognize it at a glance, in others. These men were a long way from any army or marine base, but they still had the look.

Militias did tend to draw in the fringes of ex-military. So she knew they couldn’t afford to underestimate the danger.

Patrick had been here undercover. That was interesting and significant; she knew about his military service, but not anything law enforcement–related. If it was that at all. It could easily have been a black ops mission, she supposed, highly illegally conducted on American soil.

Walt reappeared, coming back from the motor pool with a pack of his men. Two of them were half-carrying Reynolds, who’d been dressed in a greasy-looking blue jumpsuit—air force surplus, from the look of it. He filled it out a little too much around the middle.

And he was talking. “—have to let me go. I’m telling you, these people kidnapped me! Right from my own house! Please, you need to call my people. They’ll pay you a handsome fee for rescuing me. . . .”

“Shut up,” Walt said in a pleasant kind of tone as he paused about three feet out of any reasonable lunging distance from Patrick and Bryn. “So, friend, you want to explain to me why you have a black man in your trunk?”

“I told you, they kidnapped me!” Reynolds blurted. One of his guards shook him, hard enough to make his teeth clack.

“I didn’t ask you,” Walt said without looking at him. “Well, Vaughn? Not going to ask you again.”

“He’s not lying,” Patrick/Vaughn said, and grinned. He looked different, suddenly, as if another person inhabited his skin. Creepy. “Son of a bitch screwed me on a deal. I grabbed him and took him for a ride. Just wanted to teach him a valuable life lesson.”

“You kidnapped this prick and brought him here? To my house?”

“He screwed you, too, Walt,” Patrick said. “That’s the beauty of it. Remember that shipment of Stingers that you paid for and didn’t get? Well, meet the man responsible. He jacked it and sold it to the Taliban.”

Walt looked away from Patrick this time, to study Reynolds, who was looking shocked now. “I—I don’t know anything about this!” he said. “This man kidnapped me and if you just call my people—”

“Hang on a second. My friend here just told me that you sold my Stinger missiles to the Taliban, so they could shoot down American planes. You don’t think we should discuss that just a little bit first?”