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Intimidate would have been a better name for the command.

She thought about trying to get one of her barbs into the dog’s skin but doubted they were long enough to make it past its thick fur. And it wasn’t like the thing was going to sit there and let her pet it.

The Batman wannabe relaxed a bit, or she thought he did. It was hard to be positive about what his muscles were doing under the armor.

“All right, now that we’ve broken the ice, let’s talk.”

She waited.

“Where is Daniel Beach?”

She could feel the shock on her face even as she tried to suppress it. All her theories whirled around again and turned upside down.

“Answer me!”

She didn’t know what to say. Did the department want Daniel dead first? Make sure the loose ends were all tied up neatly? She thought of Daniel, exposed and unconscious in the center of the tent – not exactly a strong hiding place – and felt sick.

Batman stalked angrily toward her. The dog reacted, moving to the side to allow the man through even as its snarl grew in volume. The man shoved the barrel of his SIG Sauer under her jaw roughly, knocking her head against the barn door.

“If he’s dead,” the man hissed, “you’re going to wish you were, too. I’ll make you beg me to kill you.”

She almost snorted. This thug would probably hit her a few times – maybe, if he had any creativity, he would cut her up a bit – and then he’d shoot her. He had no idea how to generate and maintain real pain.

But his threats did tell her something – he apparently wanted Daniel alive. So they had that one thing in common.

Resistance was counterproductive at this point anyway. She needed him to think she was out of the game. She needed him to relax his guard. And she needed to get back to her computer.

“Daniel is in the tent.” She pointed with her chin, keeping her hands raised. “He’s fine.”

Batman seemed to consider this for a moment.

“Okay, ladies first. Einstein,” he barked. “Herd.” He pointed to the tent.

The dog barked in response, and moved around to her side. It poked her thigh with its nose, then nipped her.

“Ow!” she complained, jumping away. The dog got behind her and poked her again.

“Just walk, slow and steady, to your tent thing, and he won’t hurt you.”

She really didn’t like the dog behind her, but she kept her pace to the injured hobble she’d been faking. She glanced back at the animal to see what it was doing.

“Don’t worry,” Batman said, amused. “People don’t taste very good. He doesn’t want to eat you. He’ll only do that if I tell him to.”

She ignored the taunt and moved slowly to the curtained access point.

“Hold that open so I can see in,” he instructed.

The tarp was stiff with the layers of egg foam. She rolled it back as far as she could. It was mostly black inside. Her computer screen glowed white in the darkness, the monitors dull green. Because she knew the shapes, she could make out Daniel under the blanket, just a foot off the ground, his chest rising and falling evenly.

There was a long moment of silence.

“Do you want… me to turn on… the lights?” she asked.

“Hold it there.”

She felt him come up behind her and then the cold circle of the gun barrel pressing into the nape of her neck, just at her hairline.

“What’s this?” he murmured.

She held perfectly still while his gloved fingers touched the skin next to the gun. At first she was confused, but then she realized he had noticed the scar there.

“Huh,” he grunted, and his hand dropped. “Okay, where is the switch?”

“On the desk.”

“Where is the desk?”

“About ten feet in, on the right side. Where you can see the computer screen.”

Would he take off the gas mask and put on the goggles again?

The pressure of the gun disappeared. She felt him move back from her, though the dog’s nose was still pressed against her butt.

A slithering noise hissed across the floor. She looked down and watched the thick black cord for the closest work light whip past her foot. She heard the bang when it fell over but no crunch of glass.

He dragged the light past her, then flipped the switch. For a fraction of a second she allowed herself to hope that he’d broken the light, but then it flickered to life.

“Control,” he commanded the dog. The snarling started again, and she held herself very still.

Aiming the light in front of him, he stepped into the tent. She watched the wide beam sweep the walls, then settle on the form in the middle.

He moved into the room, sliding into a sinuous gait that was totally silent. Obviously a man of many skills. He walked around the body on the floor, checking the corners and probably looking for weapons before he focused on Daniel. He crouched, removed the blanket, examined the bloody restraints and the IV, followed the sensors to the monitors, and then watched those for a moment. He put the light down, angling it at the ceiling to get the widest spread of illumination. Finally, he reached down, carefully removed the gas mask from Daniel’s face, and set it on the floor.

“Danny,” she heard him whisper.



atman ripped the black glove off his right hand and pressed two fingers to Daniel’s carotid. He bent down to listen to Daniel’s breathing. She examined her attacker’s hand – pale skin, fingers so long they almost looked like they had an extra joint. They looked… familiar.


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