Monday, October 31, 2011

Chapter Twenty-One

Meskhiyev's goons took all of the weapons off me, and I let them -- not like they were going to do me a hell of a lot of good anyway, as none of them was likely to have even a single bullet in it. Fuck.

Fucking Mike. I'd known the guy for two years. When had Umbra gotten to him? They just waltz in while some cholo was shooting at me with an AK-47 and drop a pile of money on his desk? Or was it before that, even?

"Take our friend to the holding area down the hall," Meskhiyev said. "We found a perfect use for him. Kenneth will show you where it is."

I looked at Mike, who was nodding. He was also frowning, and lighting yet another Marlboro Light.

"Come on, pal. Let's not make this any harder than it has to be," he said, sighing and blowing out smoke.

Kenneth was a big dude, and Mike had one of his Glocks trained on my back. He might not have been the fastest guy, but I'd gone shooting with him before. His reactions were great, and he was a deadeye. All I'd do if I ran for it was get a nice hole blown somehwere in me, and I was pretty damned tired of getting shot by this point.

"How long have you been in on this, Mike?"

"Only a couple of months longer than you have, man," he said.

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

"Jesus. Wake up. You know how much business we don't get. Really think I can support a staff the size of the one I maintain? Umbra owns the bail bond shop, Jake."

"Then that means..."

"Yeah. We're both Umbra employees. Though I doubt your recent adventures have put you in the running for employee of the month."

As soon as Mike said that, it clicked. What he'd said back in the Excursion before we jumped out and ran for the doors -- it was from the U.S. Army Ranger Handbook. I'd read it once on a particularly boring war movie, where I'd found it laying around. Mike was a former Army Ranger, and probably former Umbra Security. Or maybe not so former, after all.

I guess I've never been great at reading people. I mean, sure, I like to tell myself I can see a certain look in a jumper's eye when I confront them and they're going to run, but I don't think you have to be John Fucking Douglas to see that. They're already in fight or flight mode, and if their eyes are darting around rather than sizing you up, chances are pretty good they're going to bolt. But that's about the extent of my people-reading abilities.

Still, when I looked into Mike's eyes as he and Kenneth led me down a long hallway towards a block of offices at the edge of the building, I could swore I saw something there. Regret. Sadness. That he didn't want to be doing this, and that we were, after all, friends. It could have been wishful thinking on my part, but if I got a chance, I knew I'd try to play it. Not like I had a whole lot of other options at this point.

"So what's Meskhiyev's plan for him?" Mike asked. If there was something in his eyes, it wasn't in his voice -- he sounded as level and steady as ever.

"Hey, every good conspiracy needs an Oswald," Kenneth rumbled, turning to Mike and grinning. "We leave him here when everything goes boom, and he gets counted as one of the missing. When the police go looking for him -- eventually -- they'll find a whole bunch of crazy shit at his apartment. Won't help that we'll mess with his police record, too. You'd be surprised how easy it is to create a Chinese collaborator. Boom. Insta-terrorist."

Mike nodded.

"I see."

I'd never seen Mike move as fast as I did then. Guess he must have been keeping some of those Army Ranger skills sharp, because his right hand suddenly became a blur. Before I knew what had happened, Kenneth was gurgling on the floor, a large blade stuck directly through his throat. He twitched for a few seconds, then stopped moving altogether. Mike wiped the blood off of his right hand onto Kenneth's black trouser leg, then pulled out a Marlboro Light and tucked it in his mouth.

"She's at the other end of the building," he said. "Umbra has offices here under the name Global Computing. The bomb is in the waiting area there, tucked in a cubby under the receptionist's desk."

Mike lit the smoke and looked at me. He reached into his jacket and handed me both Glock .23s.

"You can shoot me now, but that'll bring a lot of people down on us, make it harder for you to get to her. Go down to 5 and take the back stairwell up to 6. It'll put you right at Global's door. You succeed, find me and we can settle up after. If not... well, we'll both be dead anyway. Go."

I didn't wait for Mike to tell me again. I was off like a shot before I even considered hitting him -- old habits, I guess. I mean, the guy was my best friend for the last two years. It's only recently I found out he's an Umbra scumbag. Though, to be fair, I guess I'm an Umbra scumbag, too. It was all getting a little too confusing, and I don't even think I could blame the concussion anymore.

I ran down the nearest staircase to the fifth floor. Every fourth light in the hallway was on, which meant that everyone had probably cleared out for the night hours ago. The back stairwell was a bit of a jog, but I was wrong earlier when I said my adrenaline had run out. Either that, or I had produced more, because I was running faster than I knew I could, and for once, I was feeling no pain. I stopped at the entrance to the back stairwell, not even a little out of breath, and slowly opened the door. These interior stairwells were like speakers -- if I slammed the thing open, it was sure whoever was waiting on the next floor up would hear it. I pushed the door open just enough to squeeze through, then closed it behind me as softly as I could. I ascended the stairs sideways, one at a time, moving on the balls of my feet. There were only fourteen steps and a landing between me and the sixth floor, but it took me almost a full minute to reach them.

The stairwell had a tiny window in the center, and I flattened myself against the wall next to it and slowly peeked out. No one in the hall, at least not that I could see. I pressed my ear to the crack between the door and the frame and listened. Except for the sound of my own breathing, which sounded way too loud, I heard nothing. No movement, no sound. If ever there was a go time, I suppose it was right then.

I used the same care in opening the door to the sixth floor as I had to the fifth. No one jumped out at me, and about ten or fifteen yards away, I saw the door for Global Computing. It was closed, and there was a floor-length window on the side opposite me. I crouched down in the hallway for a few seconds, but nothing moved near the window.

The temptation was to shoot right through the glass with one Glock as I kicked open the door and sprayed the room with bullets from the other. Panic, chaos, and hopefully a pile of dead Umbra Security people. Problem there, though, was that Laura wasn't expecting me to show up, so she wouldn't know to drop to the floor. If I just peppered the room with gunfire, my chances of hitting her were pretty good.

I won't lie and say I didn't consider doing it anyway, even after I thought about Laura. But I didn't just open fire wildly. I suppose that counts for something.

But I did kick in the door, mainly because I couldn't think of anything else to do, and time was a factor. And I lucked out and caught them sleeping. There were only four Umbra Security guys in the room, probably because they didn't think they needed any more than that to handle a 120-pound girl scientist. Only one had a weapon in his hand, and as I cleared the doorframe, I saw he had it pointed halfheartedly in Laura's direction as she worked on the device in front of the receptionist's desk. He tried to turn the gun on me, but I put one in his forehead before he could even complete his turn toward the door. I kept both guns up and pointed at the other three guys, who were across the room.

No one said anything for a second -- everyone just froze. I guess shooting that dude in the head was a real conversation killer. One of the Umbra guys started to put his hands in the air.

"Come on, Laura. Gotta move," I said.

"Give me one of those guns," she told me. "I can't wrestle this thing into the bag by myself."

I walked sideways, never taking my eyes off the Umbra guys, keeping both guns pointed at them. They stayed motionless, and I backed over to where Laura was now standing.

"Take the gun from my right hand," I told her, still dead-locked on the Umbra Security people.

I felt her reach around and place her hand over mine, and I slowly released the Glock into her grasp.

"Got 'em?" I asked.

"Got 'em."

I turned my head and looked at the bomb. It was roughly cylindrical, about three feet long, and covered in a steel casing that was new since the last time I'd seen it.

"This thing operational?" I asked.

"I've had it done for a half an hour. Just stalling until you showed up," she told me.

There was a green, military-style duffel bag on the floor near the bomb. The device was heavy, but I managed to wrestle the bomb into the bag and get the whole mess slung over my shoulder in a matter of seconds. I took the Glock back from Laura.

"Head for the door. Stairwell outside and to the right. I'll catch up with you in a couple of seconds."

Laura didn't need to be told twice. She was out the door in a flash, and I cocked my head at the Umbra guys in front of me. I wasn't entirely sure what to do with them -- if I just bolted, they'd surely raise the alarm and chase after us. That was no good. But I didn't want to just kill them all -- one body on my conscience was quite enough, thanks.

"Sorry, gentlemen. I'm going to have to kneecap you," I said with a sigh.

"Try just below the knee," one of them, a tall Hispanic guy, said. "Better chance we'll recover, less chance we'll have to hunt you down and rip your legs off."

"Fair enough."

* * *

I had a key to the Excursion -- Mike gave me one months back when the Beast was in the shop. I didn't think about it until Laura and I were in the truck and moving, but I realized Umbra might be able to track the vehicle. Of course, I had no other car, and there was really nothing I could do about it other than hope they couldn't track us. If they did, I'd just have to deal with it.

"You OK?"

It wasn't me who asked, though common courtesy and chivalry dictated that it should have been. It was Laura.

"I'm still breathing. That's enough," I said. "Could use about a sack of painkillers, but I'll hold."

"Good. We need to get out into the desert. Can you handle that?"

"Yeah. You're going to disassemble the bomb?"

"Yes. Well, kind of. I'm going to detonate it."

I thought about it for a second, and that made a lot of sense. Umbra couldn't rebuild it if there was nothing left. And out in the desert made sense, too -- didn't she say the thing's effective range was only about a kilometer? Or a mile? One of those.

On one of my Vegas trips in my youth, I'd decided to rent a car and drive out to where Area 51 was supposed to be. I never saw anything but blank, open desert. Just the kind of place you could set off a nuclear bomb with no one knowing. So that's where I headed.

It took six hours to drive out that far, and no one seemed to be following us. Out past Rachel, NV, we drove for another 20 miles before we found a nice, empty stretch of nothing with mountains on either side. I drove off the road about a mile and a half, but the mountains didn't seem to be any closer. It was as good a spot as any.

As we unloaded the bomb from the back of the SUV, my cell phone rang. That was odd, because it was off. And the battery was supposed to be dead. But it rang, and I noticed a Nevada area code. I shrugged and answered it.

"Hey, Jake. Wanna tell me why you're dumping a nuclear device on my front lawn?" Jason Black asked.

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