Page 44

“I know,” Bryn said. She kept her hands on the table. “I could do that right now, if I wanted.”

It was a warning, but a gentle one, and she saw the recognition of it in Johannsen’s face. For a long heartbeat, the woman thought about it, and then sighed and crossed the small room to open the front door. She leaned out and said, “You, by the car. It’s cold out here. Come inside. I’m getting what you want.”

Patrick came in with all due caution, sidearm ready, and immediately saw Bryn sitting at the table. She nodded to him, and he relaxed. But he didn’t put the sidearm away, either. “Ma’am,” he said to Johannsen, as she shut the door behind him. “Starting to get a little worried.”

“I needed to make sure. Sit down, please. Hands flat on the table, just like your friend. I’ll get what you want.”

The shotgun was at port arms, not an active threat, but Bryn could see him debating the move. He finally said, “No, ma’am, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll go with you. Just in case of unfriendlies.”

“Well, come on then, let’s get this over with,” she said, and led the way into the back room. Bryn rose and followed after Patrick.

Inside was an entirely different environment from the rustic little cabin’s main living area; it hummed with computers and equipment Bryn couldn’t immediately identify. Huge refrigerators took up most of the space—they were all labeled, but the designations didn’t mean anything to Bryn. Ice cores, she supposed. Climatologists collected a lot of those, didn’t they?

Johannsen passed those by and went to a smaller stand-alone fridge, one that in another household would have held beer, most likely, maybe in a game room. This one held small vials and samples, neatly racked.

From two-thirds of the way back, on the second shelf, she picked out a single vial that looked just like the others. It had a handwritten label on it that read CT INACTIVE SAMPLE DND.

“Do not destroy—that’s what he told me,” she explained, and handed the cool bottle over to Bryn. “That’s all he gave me. I don’t know anything about it; I just kept it for him. Is it—is it dangerous?”

“No,” Bryn said. “It’s the exact opposite of dangerous. It’s a cure we need, very badly. Thank you.”

Johannsen nodded. She still didn’t seem certain, but she also seemed resigned, which was good. “You said others will come looking. What is this, some kind of—of big pharma espionage thing? How worried should I be?”

“How worried was Dr. Thorpe?” Patrick asked her. She met his eyes, and frowned. “You know the answer to that, and the fact is, he wasn’t worried enough. So judge by that. I’m sure Bryn already warned you others will be coming, and trust me, they won’t be so nice or so talkative as we are. You need to get the hell out of here, and don’t come back. Travel on cash only. Hell, take a freighter to Russia—that’s pretty safe, and it’s a shorter trip from here. But, Doctor—don’t come back. If you do, we won’t be able to protect you.” He glanced over at Bryn. “Is that everything you need?”

“I think so,” she said, and carefully wrapped the vial in a small square of bubble wrap she’d brought for that purpose, then folded it up and zipped it into an inner pocket of her parka. “Ready to go.”

“Doctor,” Patrick nodded, and backed toward the door. He still didn’t have his gun raised, but he was watching hers with unnerving intensity. He covered Bryn as she left first, then stepped out the door and jerked his head to let her know she should precede him to the outer exit, which she did.

Johannsen followed, shotgun still comfortably cradled in the crook of her right arm but threatening only the floor.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Bryn said. “Please get out of here. I really don’t want anything to happen to you. Dr. Thorpe wouldn’t have, either.”

The woman inclined her head, just a tiny bit, and that was all the reassurance that Bryn thought she’d get. Then she and Patrick were heading with all due speed to the SUV, starting it up, and driving down the bumpy trail toward the mailbox.

Patrick keyed the small radio that he’d clipped to the collar of his parka. “Joe, you ready? On our way out.”

“Bring coffee, it’s freaking freezing out here,” Joe said. “If I had to take a piss it’d probably be ice halfway down . . .” He paused, and his voice changed. Utterly. It went flat and cold and nothing like Joe at all. “Pat, we’re boned. Get—” He cut off. Dead air.

“Joe?” Patrick clicked the radio again, twice, and got nothing in response. “Goddammit. Floor it.”

She did, at least as much as she could, given the crappy road conditions; the SUV’s treads were packed with hard snow, and as the temperature dropped, the little thawing from the sun was freezing into slick ice. She hit a patch, and the vehicle slid to the right with a lurch, just as they rounded the curve and she spotted the Day-Glo yellow mailbox up ahead.

Joe was on his knees in the middle of the road, blocking their path, with Riley right behind him. Bryn hit the brakes, and cried out as the SUV kept sliding toward them. The front tires hit a patch of raw snow, bit, and held, throwing both her and Patrick forward into their safety belts, and as Bryn took a deep breath of relief she realized that something was very, very wrong with Joe and Riley.

Joe was on his knees, hands at his sides. Riley was standing behind him, her eyes fixed on the cab of the SUV.

And she had her gun pointed right at Joe’s head.

Patrick threw open his door and stepped out on the running board, drawing dead aim on her. She wasn’t afraid of that, of course. She even smiled, just a little.

“Even if you get the sweet spot, I’ll still pull the trigger,” she told him. “Nobody has to die here, Pat. Toss the weapon and step away from the vehicle. Bryn, shut off the engine. Now.”

She didn’t have much choice. Going forward meant hitting Joe first. Bryn jammed the SUV in park and turned off the engine.

Patrick, after a long, torturous moment, held up both hands and tossed his sidearm into the snow ten feet away—equidistant between him and Riley. Then he jumped off the running board, shut the truck door, and knelt, hands laced behind his head.

“Bryn,” Riley said. “Same thing. Toss the weapon, get out and on your knees.”

“Sorry,” Joe said. His voice was clipped and tight with fury. “Never saw it coming. Should have, I guess. But you get so used to your pets you forget they can bite.”

“I said I was sorry,” Riley said. She sounded calm and amused. “Bryn. Count of five, I’m blowing his head off, and then I shoot Patrick. If it comes down to the two of us, I’ll probably still win. You know that, and you still lose these two. I don’t want that, and neither do you.”

Red fury rose up inside her, a hot spiral that made her hands tingle with the need to rip into Riley’s flesh. She wondered if it showed in her face; it must have, because Riley tensed and took hold of Joe’s collar in a tight grip.

“Don’t,” she said. “Out. Do it.”

Bryn popped the door, tossed her gun, and knelt down, hands behind her head. “You’re working for Jane.”

“Never,” Riley said. “I told you, I work for the government. I always have, and I always will. This doesn’t have to go badly. Just give me the formula, and I’ll let you all go. You’ll have to hole up with Johannsen at her cabin, but you won’t freeze to death, at least. I’m sure she’s got transportation to get you back to the plane once it thaws in the morning.”

“Salving your conscience?” Patrick asked. “You know we need the formula to stop Jane. And we still don’t know if the sample Manny has is any good.”

“That’s right, and this might be the last viable sample, so no offense to your personal vendetta against Jane, but your government needs it more. I’m sorry, but my mission diverged from yours. We’ll take on the Fountain Group. You know we’re better equipped to finish this.”

“I know the government’s half owned by these assholes,” Joe said. “You know that, too, Riley. Jesus Christ, you were there. There was a whole helicopter regiment ready to blow our balls off in the middle of the Heartland. What makes you think the people you hand that over to will do the right thing?”

“He’s right,” Bryn said. “Riley, think. Your orders could just be the Fountain Group taking the easy way out, and getting you to do their dirty work for them.”

“We’re boned anyway,” Joe said. “She’s been making reports, which means somebody along that chain of command will have leaked it. We’re just lucky they haven’t killed us yet—”

“Shut up!” Riley said sharply, and yanked on his collar. “Joe, you know I like you, but you’re talking bullshit. Nobody is going to sell us out. I work for the FBI, not some banana republic Bureau of Corruption. . . .”

Bryn could have sworn that she heard something, but it probably wasn’t the drone itself; those were eerily quiet. It was probably the missile it released, hissing toward its target. It was a split second of knowing, with a sinking feeling of horror, that something wasn’t right, and then Dr. Johannsen’s quiet, remote cabin exploded in a fireball that lit the snow with hot orange an instant before the concussion wave slammed into her, knocking her forward, and blew the SUV into a sideways skid. She’d fallen with her face toward it, and so she saw the windshield and windows explode like jagged safety glass confetti as it slid . . .

. . . toward Joe and Riley, who’d both been knocked over as well.

Riley had just enough time to wrap arms and legs around Joe and roll him out of the path before the heavy weight of the left front tire tore through where they’d been.

Bryn lunged for the gun she’d thrown away; she saw that Patrick was doing the same, fifteen feet away on the other side of the trail. They both came up armed at almost the same second. Riley was pinned under Joe’s weight, and somehow, he’d come up with a backup weapon—a knife, which he was pressing right over her carotid artery.