Authors: Tara Janzen
“Almost to our front door. I just sent the elevator to bring her up to the office.”
“Good. Where’s everybody else?”
“Creed, Quinn, and Travis are doing rounds,” Hawkins said. “I’ll have them head toward seven. Red Dog and Kid took guard duty on the girl. They’re up on ten with her now.”
Dylan nodded. “Get a shooter on the south side of the seventh floor, whoever is closest.” To put J.T. down chemically was their plan, their best bet, even after the failure of the ketamine, even with the risks involved. Half of Dylan’s team was carrying .22 rimfire rifles loaded with drug darts, but they’d changed tranquilizers to Halo-Xazine, also known as Halox, if you were buying top-of-the-line brand-name stuff, and Shlox, if you were selling it on street corners to day-trippers. “Tell everybody we may be having company.”
Inside the Challenger’s trunk, Con felt the freight elevator come to a stop and heard the door open. By gunning the engine a few more times, Cherie the computer geek got the car to lurch into the building and across the floor until it shuddered to a stop.
. Her driving had just about made him seasick.
He waited until she got out and he heard her footsteps recede, and then he waited some more, searching the silence. One by one, she went up a flight of stairs, and when he heard a door open and close, he popped the trunk just enough to peer out.
“Alpha One, ready,” he said softly into his radio.
“Copy, Alpha One.” Jack’s voice came back at him over the dedicated channel.
The building was cool. The lights were low. A long, slow look around revealed a couple dozen other cars, a lot of them classic American muscle, and a lot of those were Camaros. On the north end of the garage, he saw the stairs Cherie had gone up. The door at the top of the stairs was flanked by a set of large windows overlooking the cars. All of the windows were shuttered from the inside, making it impossible to see what was going on in the room behind.
After slipping out of the trunk, he kept low to the floor and moved into the shadows close to the wall. The
plan was simple: Head to the tenth floor, create a diversion along the way to draw these boys down on top of him, give them all a run for their money, and when Jack had Scout out of the building, get the hell out of Steele Street and the hell out of Denver.
No one else could have done it, not the way he could do it—fast and clean and damn near risk-free. The only reason these guys had gotten to him last time was because he’d been distracted with other business, mostly the banshee bitch who had been tearing his house up with a .50-caliber rifle mounted on a gunboat and the twenty or so armed troops she’d had with her, all of them bent on destroying him. He wasn’t distracted this time. The Steele Street boys had his undivided attention, and he knew where they were and what they wanted: him. Scout was just bait, a very poor choice on their part. Four days of recon had given him precise knowledge of the outside of the building and the surrounding area and a damn good idea of the layout of the inside of the building—very few windows, the freight elevators, and the cars coming and going meant work areas and warehousing on the lower floors; big windows and lots of lights on the upper floors after dark suggested living areas. He could find his way around without too many problems. As a matter of fact, he could find his way around with damn few problems.
Continuing his observation from close to the wall, he looked across the garage full of cars again. His senses were extremely acute, but he wasn’t prescient, or omniscient, or any such thing, and yet … and yet he knew where the door under the staircase went—to a couple of storerooms and an out-of-the-way corner room with a table, a few chairs, and a refrigerator full of beer.
Looking the door over from top to bottom, he tried to place the sense of knowing, then decided it was only logical, he supposed, to have a fridge full of beer somewhere
close to a garage, where guys might be working all day, someplace to go and sort through business and any personal junk that was getting in the way, a place where the gloves came off, a place to tell the truth, to put your guts on the line, to tell the guys what you really thought about the shit hitting the fan on your last mission.
Yeah, these guys had missions, not car sales, and they had a bullpen behind the door under the staircase. It only made sense; that was all.
Holding steady up against the wall, he let his gaze track more slowly across the garage, going from Camaro to Camaro, to a badass 1970 Chevelle SS 454, cherry red with double black stripes. Another funny feeling went up his spine. He knew that car. He knew it had a 780-cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor under the hood, and he didn’t care how much sense a Holley four-barrel made on a 454, he shouldn’t know that. No way in hell.
He shifted his attention to the next car, and the funny feeling going up his spine got sharper, even more intense. Sleek, deep blue, so blue it was almost black, a 1967 Pontiac GTO glimmered in the low light, beckoning.
Corinna, Corinna …
the words of a golden oldies song drifted across his mind.
Corinna, Corinna …
Sweat beaded on his upper lip, and he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.
Corinna—it was the car’s name. He knew it deep down where it counted, and it unnerved the hell out of him. Who named their cars, he wondered, then instantly knew the answer.
These guys named their cars. He looked back to the Challenger,
, then returned his gaze to the Chevelle
. Next to Angelina was Charlotte
the Harlot, a 1968 Shelby Mustang Cobra. He knew them all, but how?
When in the hell had he been here before?
And if he knew all these damn cars, why didn’t he know the answer to that question?
He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth again, felt his pulse racing, and moved forward, out from the wall and toward the GTO. She was a beast, tough, and she gleamed with dual exhaust and red-line tires. Her windows were rolled down, and coming up on the driver’s side, he leaned on the doorframe and looked around the interior of the car.
“I’ve got movement coming up on Corinna,” Skeeter said at the same time as Dylan heard Creed in his earpiece.
“I have a shot.”
“Can you positively identify the target?” he asked, speaking into his mike while walking over to his computer.
“John Thomas,” Skeeter said.
“J.T.,” Creed confirmed.
“Copy. Stand by.”
There was a slight pause.
“Boss? I repeat. I have a shot.”
Dylan heard the hesitation in Creed’s voice, the hint of confusion, but he gave the same order.
“Stand by. Hold red.” There were risks. The team had debated, considered, and calculated them, but the choice came down to Dylan. This early in the game, he hoped there might be another way, what Dr. Brandt at Walter Reed Medical Center had called the possibility of “memory cognition.” If being in a home environment triggered any kind of memory response in J.T., and if Dylan could talk to him, explain to him that he wasn’t in danger, they might be able to avoid a confrontation.
That would sure beat the hell out of the Halox. The
tests Dr. Brandt had been running on the drug had been inconclusive at best. Brandt thought the Halox would work on J.T., sedate him without doing even more harm, but he didn’t
. He had not been able to give Dylan any assurances of how bad it might get if the drug proved toxic to someone whose body chemistry had been altered as severely as J.T.’s.
“Stand by?” Skeeter asked, her confusion more blatantly expressed in the eyeball-to-eyeball look she was giving him.
“Get Brandt on the horn. Now,” he ordered. “I want him available, if we do this thing.”
She immediately punched a number into the closest secure land line. “What’s up?”
“Eight weeks,” Dylan said. “What in the hell took J.T. eight weeks to get his ass to Denver to get the girl back? Hell, he knew exactly where we’d taken her.”
“We came up with three explanations,” she said without missing a beat. “A miscalculation on our part of the girl’s importance to him—”
“Which we now know we got right,” he interrupted her. “He’s here. He wants her back.”
“That he would elevate planning over expediency,” she continued. “That he’d take his time to consider contingencies and recruit a team.”
“Or the ketamine put him down hard.”
He could tell from the look on her face that she remembered just exactly how hard he had been put down by the chemical soup Souk brewed up for his Thai syringes.
“The Halo-Xazine might be a real bad deal,” she continued. “We considered that, Dylan, and chose to go ahead with drugging him.”
Of them all, only Red Dog had a physiology even close
to J.T.’s, and that girl couldn’t take an aspirin without paying the price. So she didn’t. Not ever.
“Brandt didn’t think it would kill him,” Skeeter reminded him.
“But it might make him wish he was dead,” Dylan said, remembering all too clearly what Souk’s drugs had done to him, and how to a slightly lesser extent than Red Dog it made his reactions to other drugs unpredictable. Gillian only took meds given to her by Dr. Brandt, and over the years, those meticulously researched drugs and dosages had made it easier for her to manage her physical condition.
Dr. William Francis Brandt, the doctor who’d first seen Gillian the night she’d been tortured, had made a new career for himself out of researching her and Dylan, all in hopes of being able to help them and of reproducing the drugs they’d both been given. His lab, equipment, salary, and assistants were all funded by the Department of Defense, who were banking on him to replicate Dr. Souk’s ultimate warrior research while simultaneously overcoming the negative side effects, like memory loss. Dylan hadn’t lost his memory, but neither had he physically become the ultimate warrior in the way that Gillian had become Red Dog.
Over the years, the good doctor and his associates had restored about ninety percent of Gillian’s memory, but they’d only had nominal success in re-creating Souk’s drugs, which was fine with Dylan. The last thing SDF needed was to be going up against a bunch of chemically altered superwarriors.
, the realization came to him.
Hell. Nothing was ever easy.
The smell hit Con first, vinyl and gun oil, pizza, a trace of cola, and a chocolate bar or two. Or half a dozen, he decided, seeing the pizza box and a bunch of candy
wrappers on the back floor alongside a few empty sports drink bottles and soda cans. Looking forward again, he noticed a small dent in the dash, and an unbidden grin curved his lips. That was where Danielle Roxbury had all but buried the spike heel of her size-six, silver sandal the night they’d been parked out at the…
His face suddenly felt hot. In his mind, he could see where they’d been, the midnight blue GTO pulled up next to a mile-long strip of asphalt that came from nowhere and went nowhere, a stretch of street laid down on the eastern plains, past the city limits and the suburbs, a place to race cars. And there had been cars, dozens of them from all over the Denver area, jacked-up, souped-up, ready to blast down the strip and test their drivers’ mettle, racing for pink slips, cold cash, and glory.
He saw too much—the color of Danielle’s blouse, silky yellow, the tightness of the skirt pushed up around her waist, the headlights of the cars racing at the other end of the dead-end street. She’d been kissing his face, kissing his mouth, and calling him by name …
For a fleeting second, her voice was so soft and wondrous, the memory painfully stark and clear—but he couldn’t hear the name. He could nearly see the shape of it on her mouth, but he couldn’t hear it.
. Memories were such goddamn unreliable things, dangerous things. At least his were. There’d been a few times in the last six years when he’d thought he remembered something, but none of it ever tied together. None of it had ever given him anything except a frickin’ holocaust of a headache, which he could sure as hell feel coming on. He started to push away from the GTO, when a piece of paper clipped to the driver’s-side visor caught his eye. He reached in and flipped the visor down, and his heart caught in his throat, hard and sudden, holding him stock-still where he stood.
The paper was a picture of three men and a car, the
photograph creased and faded where the clip held it to the visor. Corinna was the car, and a man with long blond hair, a rough-looking golden boy with a surfer’s easy smile and a wicked-looking sheath knife on his belt, was leaning back against her hood—the man who’d come after Con in Paraguay. Standing next to him was a younger guy, a good-looking kid with a jarhead’s haircut and a shit-eating grin. And next to the kid was a guy Con recognized without a doubt in his mind. The man was strongly built, ripped, and lean through the waist in a stark white T-shirt. His hair was dark and longer than the kid’s, but not by much. Like the younger guy, he had straight, dark eyebrows and deep-set eyes. Both were broad-shouldered and tall, the same height. Both had dimples when they smiled, especially the younger one.
Both had been cut from the same cloth. And somewhere, at some time between when the photograph had been taken and now, the older one had been cut in a hundred different places and had a scar to mark every wound. Con knew who he was looking at. There was no mistaking what he was seeing, and it made his gut churn.
A brother and my life before …
before he’d been butchered and put back together by Dr. Souk.
The heat in his face spread, running down his neck and onto his shoulders, sliding like water down his chest to his stomach and down his legs to his feet—but doing nothing to thaw the block of ice his heart had become. It was beating hard and slow, feeling like a half-ton weight.
This wasn’t a memory. This was real, the evidence staring him in the face. He had a brother, and they’d been together in this place, standing next to the GTO, along with the guy with the blond hair and the big knife.
He pulled the photo off the visor and stared down at it in his hand, and the longer he looked at it, the tighter
the knot in his stomach grew. A brother.
. He needed to wrap his mind around that, but not now, later. He was already edging too close to his own personal disaster.