“Words to live by, lady. The driver’s one of Joe’s guys; he’ll take care of you. He’s also got supplies for you. Um . . . can I ask where you’re heading? Because Anchorage isn’t on our radar as a Fountain Group hotbed of activity.”
“We’re not staying here,” Bryn said. “We’re going to Barrow.”
“Wow. Barrow. As in . . . are you renting a dogsled, too?”
“I have no idea,” Bryn said. “But I need to get there and get back, and fast. We have to make it to San Francisco in time for a meeting of the Trigon board of directors.”
“I—wow. Okay. So, you need one puddle jumper to Barrow. Let me . . . get on that. Bryn? Are you sure you’re—”
“I’m sure,” she said. “Thanks, Pansy. Tell my sister I love her.”
“I will. Be careful.”
“Am I ever?”
Pansy laughed, but it sounded hollow. Bryn missed her voice on the line when it was gone, and for a moment she just sat, hand gripping Patrick’s. Then she said, “You were serious? About Joe’s family?”
“Yes,” Patrick said. “Jane won’t flinch.”
No. Jane wouldn’t. Bryn knew that from terrifying close experience. “And . . . my family . . .”
He was quiet for a few seconds, then lifted her hand to press a kiss on the back of it. “Brick’s people are watching them.”
“It was just a precaution before. Now it might save their lives,” she finished. She wasn’t really close to her other brothers and sister; they’d all gone very different ways in their lives. Her mother . . . Well. They’d never been exactly Norman Rockwell portrait material. But that didn’t mean she didn’t love them, didn’t worry.
And her nieces and nephews didn’t deserve any part of this horror. If I’d known what was coming, she thought with a wave of dull, black despair, I’d have let Jane feed me to the incinerator. Except that would not have saved anyone else, ultimately.
The only thing that would save people, really save them, would be the destruction of the Fountain Group itself.
But first, she had to finish Jane. And for that . . . for that, she needed to get to the unlikely place of Barrow, Alaska.
The driver turned and rolled down the window up front. “Ma’am? I’ve been told to take you and Mr. McCallister to the airport. Your friend there . . . He doesn’t look so good. What would you like me to do with him?”
Reynolds. Bryn looked at the man; he was silent, eyes shut. His skin was starting to lose its elasticity now, and take on that muddy color of decomposition. Still days away from dissolution, but he was going.
“Once we’re in the air, take him somewhere nice,” she said. “He’s dying. When I come back—when I come back, we’ll figure something out.”
Reynolds roused at that, and looked at her. His lips moved in what might have been intended as a smile. It looked ghastly. “Something fast,” he whispered. “Please.”
“Yes,” she said. “I promise.”
He settled back with a sigh, and closed those cloudy eyes again.
“You should stay with him,” she said to Patrick. “They might still try to get him back, although I doubt it. They probably considered him a lost cause when we took him. One thing these people don’t seem big on is loyalty.”
“I’m coming with you,” Patrick said.
“I don’t need you for—”
“I’m coming,” he said. It was flat, and hard as steel, and she smiled, a little.
“I love it when you get all forceful,” she said. “All right. But don’t blame me if you get eaten by polar bears. It’s already snow season there.”
“I love the cold,” he said, and gave her a crooked smile that warmed her nicely. “And I trust you to take care of the polar bears.”
Bryn expected the driver to take them to the main terminal, where Alaska Airlines was, not surprisingly, the biggest business, but the driver went a different way . . . to an access gate that led to the extensive private plane section. “I thought we were taking a commercial flight,” she said. “Where are we going?”
“The supplies I brought are something you don’t want to carry in through security,” he said. “My instructions are to take you this way.”
They passed rows of small single-engine planes and moved on to glossier, more advanced models . . . and then to the private jets. The limo parked near something that had to be worth a million or more, a sleek needle of a plane that looked as if it might be equipped to go not to Barrow, but to Mars. The ladder was down, and as the driver opened the door for them, Bryn saw a familiar friend coming down to greet them.
“Joe?” she said blankly. “How—I just—”
It didn’t matter, suddenly. She flew at him and got a great big warm hug in response, one that lifted her right off her feet. When he let her go, Patrick was next—back slapping included, as per the Man Code. “Inside,” Joe said as he stepped back. After the limo driver opened the trunk, Joe grabbed a couple of olive-drab duffels and tossed them to Bryn and Patrick. She was surprised at the weight of them. “We probably don’t have too long. You know what to do?” He directed that last at the driver, who nodded and helped Reynolds out of the limo and into his wheelchair. That wheelchair was loaded on a standard handicap-accessible lift on what was, to Bryn’s eyes, a standard, well-used airport vehicle—something no one would glance at twice here. The limo driver exchanged jackets and hats with another man waiting on the tarmac. The limo quickly cruised on, heading somewhere . . . else, and the airport van moved off to blend in with the general flow of secured traffic.
“All aboard,” Joe said. “We’re ready to roll.”
It was . . . quite the plane. Bryn had never been in anything like it—rich wood paneling, thick carpets, plush seats, and tables. Like an upper-class social club, only in the air.
And on the plane were Manny, Pansy, Liam, Riley, and Annie. The full complement from the supposedly impenetrable missile base.
Annie practically leaped on Bryn, all babbles and hugs and more hugs, and Bryn clung to her, tears burning and breaking loose as she buried her face in her sister’s hair. She didn’t even hear what was said. It didn’t matter. She understood. And she never wanted to let go, except that Joe touched her shoulder and said, apologetically, “Strapping in time, ladies.”
“Right,” Bryn said, and pulled back with a deep breath. She held on to Annie’s hand a moment more, then went to the empty seat next to Patrick and secured the safety belt. “Somebody want to tell me exactly what’s going on here? Because I’m a little—”
“Confused? Good,” Manny said. He was sitting calmly, working a crossword puzzle and wearing square reading glasses, which looked oddly delicate on him. “If you are, then I’m hoping the Fountain Group is a whole lot more baffled.”
“I—how did you—”
“You don’t really think that I ever stay someplace that doesn’t have a secret way out, do you? And when I say secret, I mean not even Pansy knows, until we’re ready to use it. Sorry, sweetheart. But you know.”
“I do,” Pansy said, and put her head on his shoulder. “Long story short, the Fountain Group’s hired guns are still watching the complex, and there’s enough activity going on to keep them very interested. They’ve made at least a dozen attempts at cracking it, but they’re still—what’s that word we like so much, Manny?”
“Stymied,” he said with more than a little relish. “Stymied, exactly.” He filled in another word on his puzzle. In ink, of course. “Everybody knows I’m a paranoid freakazoid who likes to hole up in bunkers against the end of the world. It’s useful.”
“You are a paranoid freakazoid who likes to hole up in bunkers. I’ve been to your . . . houses,” Joe said.
“I’m perfectly capable of adapting when I need to,” Manny said. “We routed all the communications back through the bunker, of course. Everything’s programmed to make them believe we’re still in place there. We even made it look as if Riley and Joe fought their way into the bunker.”
“You didn’t?” Bryn asked. Joe, seated across from her, shook his head.
“Never got that far,” he said. “We got a message on paper to wait in a parking lot for a ride. Next thing I knew, we were on this plane headed somewhere completely new.”
“And . . . where was that?”
“You don’t need to know,” Manny said, “because we won’t be going back. I just needed the lab for a while.”
“Did you synthesize the shutdown drug?” Bryn asked.
“I have the analysis under way,” he said. “I think there’s another way to take it than what Thorpe did. If it works, it could change everything.”
“You think it’ll be ready in time?”
“That,” he said without taking his attention from his crossword, “is a good question. No idea.”
She wasn’t sure that she should believe him; Manny’s paranoia might be a convenient disguise some of the time, but it was also a fundamental truth about who he really was. It was important to never forget that if he thought it was prudent to lie to her, he’d lie without a qualm. He’d want a holdback weapon against her.
And he was probably right about that, given what she’d become on this trip. What she’d done. What she was capable of doing.
She didn’t press him, just nodded and settled back for takeoff.
That was when she heard a bark and a scrabble of claws, and her gorgeous pet bulldog Mr. French appeared at her feet, panting and gazing up at her with big, dark, adoring eyes. She picked him up and cuddled him as he wiggled and whined and licked tears from her face. “How—?”