Authors: Tara Janzen
The elevator finally came to a grinding halt in the alley, and the Chevelle took off like a bat out of hell, all smoke and tires and rumbling exhaust. Scout was only half a second behind the car, bolting for the cage door, when he grabbed her and held her back.
“Wait,” he said softly, his attention caught by a black Mercedes sedan slowly turning the corner up 19th at Wynkoop. The car was crawling along, making the rest of the traffic go around it. The back window was about a quarter of the way rolled down.
He didn’t know the car, but he knew the pale blue gaze and the leonine head of white hair of the man in the backseat. Scout would, too. The mission room in Con’s flat in Bangkok was plastered with images of the man: Randolph Lancaster, the spymaster.
. He tightened his grip on Scout and saw her shift her attention to the street and pick up on the Mercedes—and he felt her moment of recognition.
The window rolled up, and the sedan pulled to the curb. A man got out, not Lancaster, but a real piece of work named Rick Karola. At least that was the name he went by now. Who knew what his name used to be? Not Con, and not Jack, but Jack would bet that Lancaster knew the guy’s former name, rank, serial number, and to the dollar what he’d been worth when the spymaster had chosen him to headline an Atlas Exports invoice.
Things hadn’t gone so well on that deal, and Karola had ended up as a short-term memory lab rat with a storage capacity of about two weeks’ worth of current data, enough to get a job done. He was a big, blond, rawboned guy with a butch haircut wearing a light gray suit. His eyes always had a certain vacancy in them, but he was supremely tough, hard as nails, and Lancaster held his leash. Jack had gone up against him twice, but
being as how the last time had been over a year ago, odds were that old Rick wouldn’t remember him, the poor slob.
But there was no sense in pushing his luck.
“Come on,” he said, moving Scout forward, his hand still around her arm. They needed to get out of the alley and away from Steele Street as quickly as possible. Even with all those cars leaving, there were still people in the building who would want Scout back and his head on a pike. The unexpected, unprecedented addition of Lancaster and his goons to the party made it even more imperative that he and Scout exfiltrate
. Lancaster out in the open. Jack could see his and Con’s original plan of getting on a plane to Paraguay going up in smoke. This was a rare and golden opportunity for some major mayhem, for final justice. Con’s personal hit list of some of the worst scum on the planet had been whittled down over the last few years. Tony Royce, an ex-CIA spook Con remembered showing up at Dr. Souk’s Bangkok lab and spending way too much time staring at him and Garrett Leesom like they were rats in a cage, was dead. Erich Warner, the obscenely wealthy, psycho German underworld drug dealer who’d bankrolled Dr. Souk’s experiments, and his bitch-girl bodyguard, Shoko, were dead. The demented Dr. Souk was deader than a doornail, his brains blown out by someone in Washington, D.C., which left Randolph Lancaster as the last loose end. The whole twisted, evil enterprise named LeedTech would disintegrate without Lancaster at its head.
And then maybe Con could rest. He needed it, especially if Scout’s intel turned out to be true. Everything would change then. Jack knew Scout had been on the boss’s case to slow down, to back off the mission a bit, maybe even take on an extra operator. But she was wrong. An extra operator wasn’t going to turn this trick,
and Con wasn’t about to slow down or back off while Randolph Lancaster was doing his dirty deeds. No matter what he needed, the boss knew what he had to do: Step up and move fast before everything unraveled.
Because, baby, things
unraveling, and nothing faster than Con.
. Jack saw it, had been seeing it for a while, and maybe that was another reason he’d been on the run.
Maybe he didn’t want to be there when the end came.
Maybe he didn’t want to watch it happen and know there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to stop it—no grand heroics, no last-minute coming to the rescue.
No way to watch Scout’s heart break.
So he’d been steering clear, keeping busy, and staying as far away as he could get—until these Steele Street boys had taken her.
. He was back in now, deeper than he’d ever been, because there was no walking away after seeing Lancaster on the street. Even with Dr. Souk dead, the bastard was still running his LeedTech enterprise, using a knockoff lab in Bangkok and, from what Jack and Con had been hearing these last few months, coming up with some pretty weird stuff, altered warriors who made Karola’s life look like a cakewalk.
He needed to be stopped.
The minute he and Scout were out of the cage, she moved away from him, which was to be expected, but it still demoralized him, like he needed more of that. He turned away from Karola, keeping a steady walking pace—until a man stepped into the other end of the alley.
He and Scout both ambled to a stop, and he reached down and took a pack of cigarettes out of a cargo pocket on his pants. After knocking one a little ways out of the pack, he offered it to her and produced a lighter out of his other pocket.
“Sam Walls,” she said, wiping the tears off her face before taking the cigarette and bending over his hand for a light.
She was right.
Sam Walls, lowest of the low, another lab reject Lancaster had taken into his personal stable of wetwork wonders. This guy had been around for a long time. Despite his muscular build, the man had a squirrelly look about him, his dark hair a little long, a little greasy, his nose too thin, his jaw too weak. Sam had a great memory and a bum leg he’d gotten during some reconstruction work in Bangkok that hadn’t gone his way. It made him slow but not stupid, whereas Karola was stupid but not slow.
They made a helluva team.
So did he and Scout.
“Karola,” she said, and even without the question being spoken, he agreed. Of the two assholes moving in on the alley, he’d rather take on Karola.
“You want to be my drunk girlfriend?” he asked softly.
Her answer was to stumble and lean into him.
“You som-va-va-bitch!” she yelled, and let fly with one of her fists.
He grabbed her close, and caught her fist before she could land a good blow.
“All right, all right,” he said, annoyed as hell and making sure not to keep his voice down. “You wanna drink yourself sick and throw up all over yourself,
. Do it. But not on my dime, babe.”
“Not your babe!” She dropped her cigarette and swung at him again, and with all the visible disgust he could muster, he started hustling her back the other way, heading toward Rick Karola.
“The hell you’re not,” he said, lengthening his stride
and half lifting her off her feet to make sure she kept up. “I own you,
, and you’re going home.”
“Not your babe!” She tried to pull away, and he jerked her in even closer.
There were people on both sides of the street ahead of them, filling the sidewalks, and plenty of traffic, and Jack didn’t hesitate to call out.
“Tommy!” he hollered, lifting his free hand to wave, his gaze focused past Rick Karola, out of the alley, while still keeping the guy in sight. “Joe! Hey, guys! Wait up!”
Coming off the sidewalk and heading into the alley, Karola angled himself toward the opposite side of where Jack and Scout were walking out. Jack would have done exactly the same thing. The last thing a guy with a job to do needed was to get involved with a couple of drunks stumbling along having a domestic dispute, especially if they had friends, also possibly drunk, hanging in the wings. It wasn’t an insurmountable mess, if one of the drunks was your target. If they weren’t, it was just a mess.
Jack had a gray Buick Regal parked in a garage two blocks over, and the plan had been to head to the rally point, the Star Motel in one of the northern suburbs, where they’d meet up with Con and the three of them would wait out the night. The flight to Paraguay left at seven a.m.
Lancaster changed all that.
He and Scout needed to light somewhere long enough to contact Con and come up with a new plan and see what the boss wanted to do with her intel.
“Karola!” he heard Walls yell behind them, from the far end of the alley. “It’s fucking Traeger and the girl! Stop them! Wake up, man!”
Scout was already breaking into a run, and even with crowds of people in her way, she’d be impossible to
catch. The girl was quick, and Jack was right behind her, guarding her six.
At the end of the block, they rounded the corner, and Jack tagged her on the shoulder. She understood and ducked into the next doorway, a coffee shop Jack knew had a helluva double-shot latte and a small courtyard out back with a gate opening onto a private parking lot for some high-end condos. The alley driveway into the lot emptied out onto Wynkoop Street.
Once inside the coffee shop, they started down the east wall, both of them checking the street through the shop’s windows. They were almost to the door to the courtyard, when Jack came to a sudden stop. A smile instantly curved his mouth, and he reached for Scout, stopping her, too—
Con had jacked a Porsche, about an ’88, flat black and good-looking. He was idling in the turn lane at the light …
Jack’s smile faded, and an odd, disconcerting confusion took its place. He kept his hand on Scout’s shoulder and his eyes on the man driving the Porsche.
It wasn’t Con.
And the implications of who the younger man was crashed into Jack’s brain in one crystal-clear moment of understanding.
. For another moment, and then two, it was hard to breathe. The man Jack was looking at changed everything.
“His name is Peter Chronopolous,” Scout said at his side. “They call him Kid Chaos.”
Kid Chaos, geezus
. Jack couldn’t take his eyes off him. He looked so much like Con, except younger, not so abused, not wounded, but just as tough, if that was even possible.
“I’ve been staking out the building for four days and haven’t seen this guy.” And they both knew he was better
than that. He and Con had fucking
the building, and they’d taken note of everyone’s comings and goings.
“He’s been with me 24/7.”
Not exactly what Jack had wanted to hear.
“He’s the biggest selling point they’ve got for their plan,” she continued.
“Which is?” He had a feeling he wasn’t going to like this next bit of conversation either.
“They want him back, Jack, and they want me to deliver him.”
He’d been right. He didn’t like that idea, no way in hell.
“Chronopolous,” he said. It was a Greek name, and, yeah, he guessed he could see some Greek in Con, Greek like Achilles, a warrior for the ages.
“John Thomas,” she said. “That’s what the J.T. stands for in Con’s real name. He was born here, raised here, and, according to them, stole a helluva lot of cars here.”
He brought his hand to his chest, and for another long moment, it was hard to breathe. John Thomas Chronopolous. This was it then, the end, one way or another.
“So you’ve been looking at this guy for two months.”
“And his story hangs together?”
“Yeah,” she said, her voice so soft, he could barely hear her.
He understood. Eight weeks of being with Con’s younger brother and having to accept that everything you knew about the man was different now would take the stuffing out of anybody.
It sure as hell was taking the stuffing out of him.
The light changed. The Porsche made a U-turn, heading back the way it had come, and Jack returned his gaze to the woman at his side.
She was so beautiful, her skin the creamiest, softest color, like café au lait, her eyes so green, a dark, rich color to match the lushness of her wild mane of chestnut brown hair.
Pure tomboy and all girl, that was his Scout.
What was going to happen to her?
She didn’t want him. She’d made that much clear. Most of the time, she didn’t even want him around, and she’d made that pretty damn clear, too.
So how was he going to be able to help her after Con was gone?
He didn’t have a clue.
Finding this Kid Chaos guy wasn’t going to change what was happening to the boss. Jack knew more about what had gone on in Dr. Souk’s lab than he liked to remember or admit, and no one who’d been in the cages was going to see their birthright of days—no way, no-how. Souk’s drugs were insidious, abominations, and they dealt an early death.
. Knowing it all these years and having to face it were two different things, and having to face it hurt. Con had saved him, and there wasn’t a way on God’s green earth for him to return the favor.
A man shoving his way through the people on the sidewalk caught Jack’s attention. It was Karola. Without a word, he gave Scout’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, and they both slipped out the coffee shop’s back door and into the falling darkness of the Denver night.
“So much for the Halox,” Dylan said, then spoke into his radio mike. “Kid, are you back in the building yet? Zach, give me your status.”
, Skeeter thought.
So much for the fricking Halox
“I think J.T. might have actually liked the new drug,” her husband continued. “Do you copy, Zach?”
, she did, too.
She was standing in the middle of the seventh-floor garage, looking across rows and rows of great American muscle cars, her gaze fixed on the high-tech garage door where Corinna, Roxanne, and Coralie had just disappeared. Angelina had gone down in the old elevator, but Skeeter didn’t have a doubt that Creed would catch up to the rest of them with the Chevelle. Kid had been the last one out in Nadine, his Porsche, but Dylan had turned right around and jerked that boy’s chain hard, telling him to get his butt back to Steele Street. Somebody had to stay in the building, and Dylan wanted Kid close. If things went bad out there, she knew Dylan didn’t want any showdown to be brother against brother. None of them did.