Read Loose Ends Online

Authors: Tara Janzen

Loose Ends (9 page)

J.T
.—back from the dead. Her heart was pounding, and aching, and the building seemed to be coming down around her ears. The last explosion from somewhere above on the higher floors had sent a tremor racing down through the walls of the garage. Corinna had trembled, and scrunched down in the passenger seat, her hands over her ears, Jane had trembled with her.

J.T., my God
. Hawkins had been in full-out kick-ass mode, his gun drawn, his war face on, and Dylan had been right behind him, a rifle to his shoulder and held at the ready.

She had to warn them. This was so awful. If one of them accidentally killed J.T., it would be too horrifying. He was alive, and she didn’t understand any of it, how it could be possible. They’d buried him, but so help her
God, she’d seen him, and she’d seen the photo on the driver’s license, and it was J.T. Somehow, someway, those bones in Sheffield cemetery were not J.T.’s. He was here, in Denver, trying to blow up Steele Street with hand grenades—and she didn’t understand any of that, either.

Stay down
, Hawkins had told her, but she needed to pull herself together and go find them, tell them who they were chasing, before disaster happened.

Still shaking, she reached for the door handle, and
hell
, another explosion sounded from up above, rocking her world one more time, and she buried herself back in the seat.
My God
. There was no getting into the middle of this business, not without making it all worse. Hawkins and Dylan wouldn’t shoot J.T., she told herself, not once they saw who they were after.

But what if J.T. really is bent on destroying the building and everyone in it?
The thought flashed across her mind. She’d seen him throw those grenades, and he’d looked like he knew exactly what he was doing, and if he did, then he needed to be stopped—and she didn’t even want to think about that. The scars on his body hadn’t come without a price, and some of the prices people paid changed them forever.

Forever and ever
—and just the thought hurt. That J.T. could have come back as an enemy of the chop shop boys. She knew they’d all run wild as teenagers, stealing cars and getting into nothing but trouble, and she admitted that on some level she’d liked knowing he’d been a street kid just like her. It had made their unexpected friendship and affinity for each other more real, made what had happened that one crazy night between them less embarrassing and more of something to believe in.

She’d been wrong, and maybe she was wrong now. Maybe Conroy Farrel was a man who had been changed with plastic surgery to look like J.T. and he really was an enemy of the Steele Street crew.

Oh, God, that opened up a whole new realm of danger … and yet he’d picked her up off the garage floor and put her in the car, and in the seconds when she’d been cradled in his arms, she would swear that for the briefest moment, he’d pulled her even closer against his chest and pressed his face into her hair.

She didn’t know what to think, except that she needed to get out of the damn car and do
something
to keep the situation from turning into everybody’s worst nightmare. She reached for the door handle again and another damn explosion rocked the night, sending her back into the seat with a whole new game plan:
Catch my breath, stop shaking, and figure out how to get the
hell
out of 738 Steele Street
.

And now that she thought about it, wasn’t she sitting in one of the fastest pieces of iron to ever come out of Detroit?

She looked and there wasn’t a key—no such luck. But there were plenty of wires under the steering column.

Moving quickly, she opened her zebra bag and started looking for the knife she always carried: a pearl-handled, four-inch frame lock with a partially serrated blade.

Con entered the tenth-floor loft and locked in on the woman standing in the middle of the room:
Five feet five inches. One hundred and fifteen pounds of female curves and hard muscle. Auburn hair, blond streaks. Glacial, calculating stare, and a .22-caliber rimfire rifle perfect for delivering tranquilizer darts
.

Dangerous.

And staring down the muzzle of his Wilson Combat .45, she had to be thinking the same thing about him.

He saw no reason to kill her. Scout and Jack were clean away, with the concussion part of Jack’s flash bang still echoing in the air. The woman hadn’t flinched during
the explosion, which took more than nerves of steel. It had taken a lightning-fast process of sequential logic: She would have already been informed of the flash bang explosions in the garage and figured out that a team working together to rescue Scout Leesom would be using more of the same, not throwing fragmentation grenades at each other.

So she’d held her ground, and in the same heartbeat that it had taken for him to assimilate all the information, he stepped back out the door and started down the hallway.

Her first tranquilizer dart sailed past less than an inch from his arm. She was fast, but not fast enough, not against him. He could hear the two men following him round the landing between the ninth and tenth floors, and judging from their speed, he had half a minute to come up with an alternate route.

He chose the door across the hall. It wasn’t locked, and as soon as he was inside, he understood why. There wasn’t anything inside the room, not even a whole floor, and where there wasn’t any floor, there were trees growing up from the level below, tropical trees.

He didn’t hesitate.

He knew where he was going, and that was
down
. He swung himself through the hole in the floor, with the trunk of one of the trees at his back. He felt a tug at his ear, knew he’d lost his radio earpiece and mike, and dropped into a jungle—plants everywhere, the loamy scent of soil, the soft heaviness of humidity, and somewhere, the sound of a waterfall, the rush of noise, the splashes, the swirling eddies, and the lapping of the water up against the tile edges of the pool.

Yeah
, he knew the rock-faced water feature, remembered welding the frame, the heat of the molten metal, the brightness of the sparks through his welding mask, the craziness of the idea from the get-go, a waterfall on
the ninth floor of their old building—but he wasn’t taking delivery on any more goddamn memories. His bucket was full, and if he wanted to get out of this place, he needed to stop remembering and keep moving.

He was out the door and heading down the hall to the stairwell when he heard the woman shout at the two men to go back down. Then Con heard her drop into the jungle behind him.

Tough girl
. He almost grinned. Most men thought twice about taking him on. But this girl was fast and unafraid to use her advantage, even if it meant going up against him alone. Those two guys who’d followed him up the stairs were seconds behind her. He could break her in half before they caught up.

He hit the stairs and vaulted over the rail to make the landing below, and he kept going. When he reached the seventh floor, he heard the sound of someone coming softly and quickly up from below. So he bailed on seven, leaving the stairwell and entering the garage where he’d first come in, keeping close to the wall, all his senses on high alert, searching for threats, and suddenly there were plenty.

He saw a rifle leveled at him from one of the office windows, another damn dart gun, the shooter concealed behind the wall. The auburn-haired woman chasing him had stopped at the entrance to the garage. Behind her, the first two guys were almost to the seventh floor, and from the other direction, the other person coming up the stairs. Five shooters and looters—and then two more, sliding through the shadows on the far side of the garage.

And suddenly that was a few shooters too many, with more than half of them armed with tranquilizer guns.

Oh, hell, he knew what they wanted—to put him down with another dart of dope—and he couldn’t let it happen, not while he had a breath left in him. Ketamine
or Halox, he had a feeling it didn’t matter which one they hit him up with. The damn Monkey Morphine had almost killed him last time, and Shlox was bound to do the same.

He hadn’t stopped running since he’d seen Jack and Scout go over the balcony up on ten, and he didn’t stop now—and he never once pulled the trigger on his .45. With an eight-round magazine, he could have had them all, but probably not without taking return fire.

And besides, the two guys on the edge of the shadows looked startlingly familiar, startlingly alike—tall, lean, and mean, with longish blond hair and the same pale-colored eyes, the same shape to their faces. One of them had been in Paraguay. Con had fought with the guy, and in a split second of comparison, he knew which one—the man on the left, the one with the rougher looks, the harder edges, and the bitching long knife sheathed on his belt. The man pictured in the photograph he’d taken out of the GTO. It was the same face, but with some years added on.

Yeah
. That guy was a fighter, fierce, and so were the other six operators with him in the garage. They had Con covered on three sides, which only left him one way out: the way he’d come in, through the freight elevator door.

From one tenth of a second to the next, he changed direction, running down through the line of cars, and then an engine fired up, a rich, deep, rumbling roar of horsepower and headers. The sound filled the garage, and it was easy to see which beast was shaking.

Corinna, Corinna
.

Con didn’t hesitate. He took the fastest available escape, rounding the rear end of the GTO and reaching for the door. He jerked it open and instantly saw the woman leaning over from the passenger seat, under the steering column.

“Move over,” he commanded, because it was faster
than ordering her to get out and waiting for her actually to manage the deed.

She jerked up at the sound of his voice, which got her out from under the steering column, and he slid into the driver’s seat. Her hair was wild, her eyes wide, her face stark with shock and more than a trace of fear.

Just like the last time she’d seen him, he thought with a fleeting weariness. She had a knife in her hand, and after throwing the car into first gear, he disarmed her and closed the blade. It was all one motion, and it was over before she had a chance to realize that he was hijacking her ride.

Just as well.

She’d done her job, and done it damn well, hot-wiring the Pontiac. The rest was up to him.

He shoved the knife in his pants pocket, working the pedals and the gear shift, and spun the car’s steering wheel. The tires squealed and smoked. The freight elevator door was dead ahead, and in a flash, he got a memory he could use: The elevator worked off a pressure plate twenty feet from the door. Drive over it, the door opened. The old contraption on the other side of the building was all levers and cables, but the new one they’d installed was high-tech.

They. Them. The other guys. Us
.

Perfect.

He’d been stretched pretty thin of late, and this place was crashing down around him from the inside out, starting with the city of Denver and ending here on Steele Street.

He heard shots, and when he checked the rearview, he saw the auburn-haired woman and one of the blond men break for a gold GTO, another 1967 like Corinna. The dark-haired guy from the stairs, the one who’d yelled “Jane,” was running for the Sublime Green Challenger Con had ridden in on, and the other blond guy
from the shadows was making his break for a red 1970 Chevelle with black racing stripes and that big 454 under the hood.

So this was going to be a race—but not much of one. He had the fast elevator to the street all locked up, which left everybody else either to wait in line or use the gothic contraption.

Corinna rode over the pressure plate. The door slid open, and Con hit the clutch and worked the brakes, letting the beauty roll into place. The elevator controls were easily reached through the open driver’s-side window. Con punched
GROUND FLOOR
, checked the rearview mirror, and time stopped.

It stopped like the cut of a knife—suddenly wounding, brutally deep. It took his breath, and for a split second, it lifted the veil between
Then
and
Now
.

Peter—running into the garage and stopping to stare at the escaping car, his chest heaving, his breath coming hard.

Kid Chaos—the name Con had given the boy, something to toughen him up.
Geezus
, he’d been such a little nerd. But like all the others, the whole Steele Street crew, he’d been worth saving time and again … 
and again … and again
. Forever and always.

Con’s heart wasn’t cold now. It was on fire, burning with an ache he didn’t know how to control, his gaze meeting his brother’s and the instant connection revealing all that used to be.

Yes
. The word and the feeling welled up inside him, filling him with a painful longing.

Yes
.

Then, with a
whoosh
of sound, the solid metal door fell back into place, closing him off from the garage and taking the younger man from his view. Immediately, the elevator started its rapid descent. The loss twisted inside him, bringing his hand up to his chest, but with each
floor they dropped, the memory grew softer, the pain lessened.

Out of sight, almost out of mind
, he thought, like so many of his memory jolts, and when the elevator stopped with a small shudder and the door opened on the ground floor, he was out of 738 Steele Street.

Hand back on the wheel, Con gunned the engine, and Corinna rolled onto the street, sliding into a break in the traffic.

Working the car up through her gears, he shot a glance across the interior of the car to the woman still perched sideways in the passenger seat—Jane, a plain, homespun name for a very exotic creature. Her mouth was slightly parted, as if she’d been taken by surprise, which he could guarantee she had been. Hell,
he’d
been taken by surprise. Her eyes were still wide and stark with shock, and he didn’t blame her for that, either. She didn’t look like she’d caught her breath yet, let alone figured out her current situation.

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