The Judas Strain

Page 48

"Go!" Gray said. "Get your asses up there!"

They fled around and around, leaping steps.

They reached the halfway point when a spray of automatic fire rang off the bracings, wildly shot, but effective enough to chase them off the outer stairs and into the heart of the scaffolding. They pounded along the planked flooring of this level.

Gray pushed ahead of the others. "This way!"

Running in a half crouch, Gray raced toward the nearest wall.

They were at the level where the dome rested atop the church. A row of arched windows, the same windows that both Gray and Marco had marveled over, ringed the dome's bottom.

Gray lifted his rifle and strafed the window that lay at the end of the level. Glass shattered out. He did not slow. He reached the window, used the butt of his rifle to clear more glass.

"Out!" he yelled to Siechan and Vigor.

They flew past him as more gunshots pursued them, ringing off the steel bars and chewing through wood.

Gray followed them out, perched on an encircling ledge.

The afternoon sun blazed.

Istanbul spread below them in all its jumbled beauty, its chaotic mix of ancient and modern. The Sea of Marmara glowed a sapphire blue. Farther out, the suspended length of the Bosporus Bridge was visible, spanning the strait that led up to the Black Sea.

But it wasn't that bit of engineering that held Gray's attention.

He pointed to the church's southern I, to where the exterior scaffolding clutched that side of Hagia Sophia, under repairs.

"Down there!"

Obeying, Vigor led the way around the dome, sidling along the narrow ledge. Once even with the scaffolding, Gray leaped off the ledge and onto the sloped lower roof. He slid on his backside down to the scaffolding, holding his rifle high.

He banged into the bracings and turned around. Seichan was already coming, keeping on her feet, half running, half skiing, heedless of the risk. Vigor was more cautious, on his backside, scooting in spurts and starts.

Seichan came to a steady stop, arms out to grab a strut.

She had her cell phone out, yelling into it.

Gray caught Vigor and helped the monsignor under the railing and over to the scaffolding stairs. They fled down. Luckily there was no guard on this side. The commotion must have drawn him off.

Reaching the ground, Seichan led the way across a small greenbelt to a side street. A yellow taxicab skidded in a wishbone around the far corner, spun its tires, and sped straight at them. Seichan backed away, with a wide-eyed look of confusion.

The beat-up taxi sideswiped at the last moment and braked to a squealing stop.

The driver leaned toward the open passenger windows. "What the hell are you all waiting for? Get your asses in here!"


Gray climbed in front. Seichan and Vigor in back. Doors slammed.

Kowalski took off, smoking the tires and tearing away.

Seichan fought the acceleration enough to lean forward. "This isn't the car I left you with!"

"That piece of Japanese crap! This is a Peugeot 405 Mil6. Early nineties. Sweet for speed."

Proving it, Kowalski revved the engine's rpms, downshifted for the next corner, twisted the wheel, throwing them all to the left, then planted back on the power and shot out of the turn like a rocket.

Seichan hauled back up, red-faced. "Where—?"

Sirens erupted behind them, streaking around the same corner.

"You stole it," Gray said.

Leaning forward, nose by the wheel, Kowalski shrugged. "You say carjacking, I say borrowing"

Gray twisted around. The blazing police car was fading back, outgunned by their engine.

Kowalski sped around the next corner, throwing them all in the other direction, dictating the features of the car. "It's got a perfect weight to horsepower ratio, power steering stiffens at higher speeds ... oh! And it's got a sunroof." He lifted his hand off the gearshift to point up. "Nice, huh?"

Gray leaned back.

Kowalski lost the police in another two turns. They found themselves a minute later, puttering with the busy traffic headed out of Istanbul's old district, lost in a sea of taxis.

Gray finally calmed enough to turn back to Seichan. "Five hours," he said. "We need to get over to Hormuz."

"The island of Hormuz," Vigor elaborated. "At the mouth of the Persian Gulf."

Seichan held a hand against her side. The exertion must be taking its toll on her. She looked pale, but she nodded.

"I know the place. Lots of smugglers and gunrunners use the island, crossing from Oman to Iran. Shouldn't be a problem."

"How long?"

"Three hours. By private jet and seaplane. I know a man."

Gray checked his watch. That would leave them only two hours to find the last key and use it and the others to unlock the obelisk's riddle. His heart began beating harder again. The excitement had stemmed his fear for his parents. But now . . .

He held out his hand to Seichan. "I need your cell phone."

"To call Sigma command?"

"1 have to update them on what's happened."

Gray read her expression. She knew he was sidestepping the real reason. Still, she gave him her phone.

He sat back. In another few moments, he had Director Crowe on the line. He did update Painter on all the recent events, from the discovery of the second key through their escape.

"So it was the Vatican that had been infiltrated by a Guild mole," Painter said, his words dropping in and out a bit. "But, Gray, I don't think there's much I can do for you at the island. It's Iranian territory. Especially in such a short span. Not without alerting intelligence agencies throughout the Middle East."

"I don't want you to intervene," Gray said. "Just.. . please . . . my parents . . ."

"I know, Gray ... I get it. We'll find them."

Despite the promise, Gray heard the hesitation in the director's voice, the unspoken words.

If your parents are still alive.

8:02 A.M. Arlington, Virginia

They were being moved again.

Harriet balanced a glass of water against her husband's lips. Dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, he was tied to a chair. "Jack, you need to drink. Swallow."

He fought.

"Get that pill down," the woman barked, "or I'll shove it up his ass."

Harriet's hands shook. "Please, Jack. Drink."

Annishen was losing patience. The woman, dressed in black leather, had taken a call a few minutes ago and had called in the other guards, even those

on the street. Harriet had been dragged out of the old walk-in freezer where she had been locked up all night. It was a frightening place. A single bare bulb shone upon a double row of meat hooks, hung along tracks in the ceiling. Fresh bloodstains had streaked the floor, only haphazardly washed toward the freezer's center drain.

Then the call.

Harriet had been hauled out to attend her husband. Jack had been kept apart from her. They wouldn't let her stay with him. She had spent the entire night fearing for his life. He had been barely conscious after being struck by the Taser in the hotel room. She was horrified to find him bound and gagged in the chair, but he seemed otherwise unharmed.

He had thrashed against his ropes when he first saw her again. But he didn't really recognize her, not fully. He remained in a disassociative state, brought on by all the stress, the near electrocution, waking bound and gagged.

"Forget it," Annishen finally said, grabbing Harriet's shoulder. "The pills you gave him earlier didn't do anything."

"He was already agitated," she said, begging. "It takes time . . . and consistency of dosage. He needs this pill."

Annishen waved to her. "One more try."

Harriett leaned against her husband's cheek, holding his head with one hand, the glass in the other. He jerked back, but she held tight. "Jack, I love you. Please drink. For me."

She dribbled water over his mouth. His lips finally parted, an animal reflex. He must be thirsty. He finally drank, gulping the offered water. It even seemed to calm him. He sagged in his bonds.

Harriett sighed in relief.

"Did he take it?" Annishen asked.

"It should calm him in about an hour."

"We don't have an hour."

"I understand . . . but.. ."

Harriet knew someone must be looking for them. The longer they stayed in one place, the greater the chance they might be tracked. The more moves, the trail would grow colder.

"Get him up!" Annishen said.

The woman grabbed Harriet by the scruff of her shirt collar and hauled her to her feet. She was strong. She shoved Harriet toward the back exit. Her goons untied Jack. Her husband was slung between the two gorilla-size men, Armenian, heavy eyebrows. One held a pistol in a jacket pocket, against her husband's back.

Annishen gripped Harriet's elbow.

Jack howled as they began to move him, struggling. "Noooo."

"Maybe we zap him again," the guard said in a thick accent.

"Please don't," Harriet pleaded. "I can keep him calm."

The guard ignored her.

Annishen seemed to be weighing this choice.

"It's daylight," Harriet said. "If you carried him out unconscious .. ."

"There are taverns," one guard said. "On the street. I pour vodka on his shirt. No one think twice."

Annishen soured at the idea. Harriet imagined it was mostly because it wasn't her own. She pushed Harriet toward Jack.

"Keep him quiet or I'll Tase him into a drooling baby."

Harriet rushed to her husband's side. She took the place of one of the guards, an arm around Jack's waist. She rubbed his chest with her other hand.

"It's okay, Jack. It's okay. We have to go."

He looked suspiciously at her, but the angry set to his eyes and lips softened. "I want... to go home."

"That's where we're going.. . c'mon now, no fussing."

He allowed them to lead him to the back exit and out to a narrow alley, barely large enough for the overflowing trash bin. The sunlight stung her eyes.

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.