Authors: Tara Janzen
“If J.T. really is alive, and he did this, then he’s insane.”
Squinting against the pain of the lights, Monk pushed himself to his feet. He deserved the woman. For all the pain he’d been through and for all the pain ahead, he deserved the few moments of pleasure to be had with this golden creature—the soft tenderness of her skin, the sweet smell of her taking the stench of his own sweat out of his nostrils.
He picked up speed, lured by her struggles. He couldn’t have devised a more perfect trap himself. She was easy prey.
So close, so fragile, so very afraid—and rightly so. He was the unexpected death. The one no one had ever imagined—because no one had ever imagined him before Dr. Gregory Patterson.
Thirty yards and closing, and he felt saliva forming on his tongue. She had no chance, no chance at all.
The police were spreading out, circling around the neighborhood, the sirens coming closer. He could hear them on two sides now, but he had the seconds he needed to snatch her out of her world and into his, where he was the only thing she would smell, and feel, and hear, and see. He would consume her senses. If she bit him, and he’d been bitten by women before, she would taste him, as well, but he would allow only so much of that
and then he’d break her jaw. After that, there would be no more biting.
Women. They were such a solace in a lonely world. He’d had women, lots of them, and they were all so endearingly helpless. Even the rare ones who fought him endeared themselves to him with the feebleness of their attacks.
And a shot rang out.
Con didn’t have any trouble finding the source of his quickly ratcheting fear—Jane, standing next to the junked truck, blasting away with her .380, shooting into the dark.
With two shots left, she stopped pulling the trigger but kept her pistol aimed straight ahead. Her chest was heaving, her body trembling.
“Jane!” He called her name and hoped to hell she didn’t have a knee-jerk reaction and just swing around and shoot before she knew it was him.
To the girl’s credit, she did not budge off target.
“J.T.?” she cried out, her voice tremulous.
“Yes,” he said, going along with the name. His gun was drawn, and he was monitoring his approach, coming in behind her, looking for whomever or whatever she was shooting at, and not seeing anything—but he sensed there was something out there. His hackles were up, his internal warning system on full alert. There were enough cops running around to give anyone a wake-up call, but he didn’t think any of them were lurking in the dark behind the dumpsters, waiting for another chance to get shot at by a beautiful girl in a slinky gold dress.
No, whatever was out there wasn’t a cop. A trace of
unusual stench ran through the rank scents of garbage, gas, and rotting produce, a chemical smell of sweat and metal. It had been in the air when he’d first come through the alleys. He didn’t know what in the hell it was, but the police were starting to spread out all over the neighborhood. Squad car lights were spilling into the alley area from the east. He had to get Jane and head west as quickly as possible. He was running out of time, his body temperature rising, his gun hand starting to shake.
“J.T., be careful.” She kicked a loop of wire away from her, sounding frightened out of her wits. “It’s … it’s back there, something.”
Something they didn’t have time to deal with, not with the police closing in and him falling apart.
Coming up next to her, he kept the area in front of him covered with his pistol, wondering if what had scared her could have been something as simple as a stray dog, or another homeless guy setting up house, or just some trash skittering across the pavement—but he didn’t think so.
“Come on,” he said when he reached her side. “Let’s get out of here, before the cops show up.” And they were less than a minute away—way less.
She didn’t hesitate to move out with him but kept her gun drawn. A police cruiser turned into the patchwork area of parking lots and junk, its light bar going full-out, and when he broke into a run, she did, too.
“You heard me, babe. Stand down and get your butt home,” Dylan repeated, and he didn’t like repeating himself. When he gave an order, he wanted to hear only one thing in reply: Yes, sir.
“Crutchfield is expecting me. If we want him, and we do, it’s better to play the hand the way we dealt it.”
His wife had a point, but so did he.
“The game has changed. We’ve either got a player we don’t know about, or J.T. is a certifiable psychopath.”
Cherie signaled him that she had Grant on the line, and he gave her a short nod.
“Loretta called me. J.T. and Jane were spotted at Mama Guadaloupe’s, and shortly after the sighting, King Banner and Rock Howe were massacred in the alley, and I mean massacred, not just killed. They were overkilled, literally torn to pieces. Hawkins and Creed are there now, and I need you here.”
He heard her swear softly under her breath, the shock hitting home, but it took her less than a moment to rally, her voice growing hard.
“All the more reason to pick up Crutchfield, Dylan, and you know it.”
“And Kid is on it. He’s already at O’Shaunessy’s, but I need you here.” About another ten seconds and she was going to have him on his knees.
“Dylan, my job is going up against bad guys. It’s what I do, and I—”
He heard the insistence building in her voice, and he cut her off.
“This isn’t about you, Skeeter,” he said. “It’s about me, and I
you here. If we lose Crutchfield, we’ll get him another day. If I lose you …” He couldn’t even say it.
Thank God, she didn’t make him.
“I’m turning around now.”
“Good.” That was good. Very good. Now he could breathe.
She’d shot him, the bitch. Shot him clean through the meaty part of his upper arm, in one side and out the other. Her next shot had grazed him, and the last had gone wide of its mark, but the bitch had hit him solid with her first bullet.
It was a new dynamic, a woman with a gun, unexpected, most unwelcome. Worse, it had been one helluva shot, at fifteen yards, with him on the run and moving in on her fast and low. She wouldn’t be an easy catch, but he would catch her, and her helluva shot was going to cost her. She could have died fast and clean, but now she’d added to his pain, and he was vengefully angry.
She would pay for his blood with her blood.
It was justice.
They both would pay, her and Farrel. The Bangkok beast had taken her from Monk, interfered in the kill, and sealed his doom. His death would not be a simple one, either.
Monk cowered deeper into the trash and boxes behind the grocery store and tore off one of his sleeves to bind his wounds and stanch the flow of blood. Million-dollar blood is what Dr. Patterson had called it, and Monk couldn’t afford to lose it. MNK-1 had been worth a million dollars on the open market, all because of the
chemically enhanced brew pumping through his veins and transforming him.
Four months, that’s how long he’d been with Patterson in Bangkok, four months of being on and off a gurney while they’d injected him and transfused him and genetically cut away at little parts of him and added other parts for their experiments and their controls.
And then Lancaster had come and gone, all in less than a single afternoon. Monk hadn’t had a chance to prove himself—until now.
Farrel had the woman, and if Farrel was anything like Monk, there’d be damn little of her left by morning, nothing left for him.
He felt a howl rising in his throat, raging to be released, but he held it in, tamped it down, and swallowed his pain, subsuming it with another need. More cops had arrived. They were cruising the streets and heading into the alleyway and parking lots, looking for him.
They wouldn’t find him.
With the sleeve tight around his arm, he worked his way to the edge of the grocery store’s loading dock and levered himself up onto the platform. From there, he climbed to the roof. A giant cottonwood tree overhung the gable behind the neon sign proclaiming Bagger’s Market to the world, and, grabbing hold of the biggest limb, he swung himself out and upward into the branches. It was easy from there to make it to the next tree, and, high up in the heart of that cottonwood, he settled in to wait. The ground was crawling with cops and cars now. They were killing him with their lights and sirens.
They’d come in from both ends, east and west, and were everywhere, like the bits and pieces of trash littering the area. If she hadn’t shot him, he might have made it out of the cordon. He’d lost precious seconds taking the hit and tying up his wound—the bitch.
He dug in his pocket for more silver gelcaps. Dr. Patterson had given them to him along with the glasses to help mitigate his searing sensitivity, and they worked—to a point. Huddled in the treetops, he breathed into the pain, his eyes squeezed shut, his hands over the glasses. Patterson had promised him new eyes, and if Monk had let him live, he might have gotten them. Except by then the die had been cast. Patterson would have as soon destroyed him as helped him.
No. There had been no other choice. He’d had to kill Patterson, and he had to suffer now, but soon he would slay the bastard Farrel and take his remains to Lancaster—lay them at his master’s feet, and thus he would be welcomed home. Lancaster had the resources and the men to fix Patterson’s mistakes. Monk would be the whole, pure soldier he was meant to be.
It wouldn’t be long now.
. Con jerked Jane to a halt at the edge of the alleyway and pulled her back into the shadows with him. His heart was pounding, his pulse racing, and it pissed him off. If he was going down, he couldn’t afford to go down tonight, not in this damn alley.
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a handful of pills.
La vida loca
, crazy, crazy frickin’ life, living on gelcaps and justice, or at least his version of it.
He popped another blue gelcap in his mouth, hoped it damn well worked this time, and shoved the rest of the pills back in his pocket.
Out on the street, a cop car roared up and came to a screeching halt. Then another did the same, with both sets of policemen quickly getting out of their vehicles—and he had to wonder what in the hell was going on. These guys were on the hunt, with more police coming in from every direction. Why?
Two thugs on the losing end of a fight in an alley did
not warrant this kind of law enforcement reaction. Even with gunfire involved, it seemed excessive. Or maybe he’d just been living in the Third World for too long.
He and Jane were in a narrow walkway between an Italian restaurant and a club bar, and people were starting to come out of both buildings, wanting to see what all the excitement was about.
He turned toward her and refrained from a weary curse. He wasn’t doing a very good job of taking care of her—or of getting rid of her. It had stopped raining, but the air was still damp, and she was shaking like a leaf.
“Put your pistol back in your purse,” he said. “Are you cold?”
“N-no.” Which only left option B—her being damned scared, and more than a little roughed up.
Scraped knee, scratches on her arms and face, torn dress, and her jacket long gone back at Mama’s, and she was still exquisite, still looking like a woodland sprite, if Gucci had taken to designing woodland sprites this year.
“Here,” he said, taking her arm and pulling her closer. “Lift your face, let me look at you.” He knew what he looked like. He was a rough-and-tumble, ready-to-wear type of guy with a knife wound in his side and blood running down his leg. Luckily, he was wearing dark jeans.
She, on the other hand, needed some straightening up and some calming down if they were going to stroll into the crowd on the sidewalk without every cop on the block noticing that the beautiful girl in the gold dress looked like she’d been dragged through the alley backward.
All they had to do was get across the street, into the neighborhood of old houses, and they could disappear.
She tilted her chin up, and he combed through her hair
with his fingers, getting a couple of the tangles and a few twigs and leaves out.
They’d been lovers, and he’d let her go. It didn’t make sense.
He smoothed his thumb over the satiny skin of her cheek. “Why did I leave you?” He really needed to know.
“W-work,” she said. “You had a job to do.”
“What kind of work?”
“With the Army. You told me once that your boss was a general.”
In the big picture, that made perfect sense. Even without his memories, he’d known he was a soldier. All his skills, all his technical knowledge was tactical and weapons-based.
Pulling up the edge of his T-shirt, he gently wiped the scratches on her face. She was a mess, her teeth chattering, the look in her eyes a distressed clash of confusion and fear.
“I-I sh-shot it,” she said, her voice trembling right along with the rest of her.
“Shot what?” He went ahead and straightened her dress, but it had gotten torn again, and there was only so much he could do with it. So he rearranged the buckle on her belt to front and center and hoped no one would notice her clothes were a little topsy-turvy. She still had all her jungle bangles on her wrist, so that was good, and throughout it all, she’d kept a death grip on her zebra-striped purse.
“I-I sh-shot that … that—that thing back there,” she said, her breath still not quite caught.
He looked down at her for an instant more, then looked over her head to where they’d just come from.
“What kind of thing?” He searched the shadows again for any movement other than the cops, who were
. They needed to get out of here.
He checked the sidewalk to see if there was enough cover yet.