The Judas Strain

Page 61

But Seichan refused to meet Gray's eye, glaring instead at Nasser. Her fingers curled into a fist on her knee.

"But all that ended," Nasser said. "The ambitious bitch. We were both vying to rise to the next station in the Guild hierarchy. The last rung to the very top. But we came to a difference of opinion. About how to acquire you."

Gray swallowed. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Seichan wanted to use her wiles to lure you into cooperating of your own volition, to help the Guild follow Marco's trail. I, on the other hand, believed in a more direct approach. Blood and coercion. A man's way. But when the Guild decided against her plan, Seichan sought to take matters into her own hands. She murdered the Venetian curator, stole the obelisk, and fled to the United States."

Seichan crossed her arms, glowering back in disgust. "And you're still piss-sore that I beat you to the prize. Again."

Gray studied Seichan.

All her talk of saving the world. . . could it have all been a lie?

"So I followed her to the States," Nasser continued. "I knew where she'd be going. It was easy enough to lay a trap."

"Where you missed killing me," she scoffed, "once again proving your incompetence."

He pinched his fingers up between them. "By a fraction of an inch." He lowered his arm. "Still, you kept to your original strategy, didn't you, Seichan? You still sought Commander Pierce out. Only perhaps as more of an ally now. You knew he'd come to your rescue. You and Gray against the world!" He laughed coarsely. "Or are you still playing him, Seichan?"

Seichan merely sniffed in derision.

Nasser turned back to Gray. "She is nothing if not ambitious. Ruthless. She'd step over her own dying grandmother to rise up in the hierarchy."

Seichan leaned forward, glaring. "But at least 1 didn't kneel quietly while my mother was murdered before my eyes."

Nasser's face clenched hard.

"Coward," Seichan mumbled, falling back into the seat with a satisfied sneer. "You even murdered your father while his back was turned. Still couldn't face him."

Nasser lunged at her, a hand going for her throat.

Gray instinctively knocked Nasser's arm away.

Maybe he shouldn't have.

Still, Nasser pulled back on his own, his eyes sharpened by hate. "Best you know who you're in bed with," he said savagely to Gray. "Should be careful what you tell that bitch."

The combatants settled silently to their corners. Gray eyed Seichan, realizing that for all her bluster she had never denied Nasser's statements. Gray reran the past days' events over in his skull, but it was hard to concentrate with his head pounding and fear wormed deep into his belly.

Still, there were some realities that were hard to dismiss. Seichan had murdered the Venetian curator to get the obelisk. In cold blood. And when they'd first met years ago, she had even tried to kill him.

Nasser's words echoed in his head.

Best to know who you're in bed with . . .

Gray didn't know.

Ultimately, he didn't know whom to believe, whom to trust.

Gray knew only one thing for certain. There could be no missteps from here. Any failure threatened more than just his life.

7:05 P.M.

Harriet struggled, sobbing in terror. "Please, no . . ."

Her wrist was clamped in the vise of the guard's grip, pinned to the table, her hand flattened under the same guard's fist. The blowtorch hissed a few inches away.

Annishen held the open jaws of the bolt cutter over Harriet's splayed fingers. "Eenie, meenie, minie, mo . . ."

She lowered the jaws toward Harriet's ring finger. The diamond on her wedding band glinted under the bare bulb.

"No . . ."

A loud crack echoed, startling them all.

Harriet turned her head as Annishen straightened. Two yards away, the guard who had been cradling Jack's chin, forcing her husband to watch the impending mutilation, cried out and stumbled back. Blood poured from the guard's nose.

Jack lunged out of the chair, twisting away from where he had just headbutted the guard. As he turned, he yanked the guard's pistol out of its holster and swung it around in his cuffed hands.

"Get down, Harriet!" he said, firing at the same time.

The guard who had been holding the pistol against Harriet's cheek took a round to his chest. He flew backward. His gun skittered into the darkness.

The second guard released Harriet's arm and went for his weapon.


From the corner of her eye, Harriet saw the man's cheek and ear vanish in a mist of blood and gore. But her full attention was on Annishen. The woman had already dropped the bolt cutters with a clatter and snatched her pistol from the tabletop. She was whip-fast, turning on Jack.

Harriet, her arm still on the table, lunged and grabbed the blowtorch. She flashed the flame over the woman's hand and wrist. Annishen screamed. Her gun fired. A wild shot struck the cement floor and ricocheted away. The woman's sleeve caught fire as she fell back, dropping her pistol.

Jack fired again, but pain only made Annishen faster.

The woman danced to the side, kicked the table over, and dove with a trail of flame out a back doorway.

Jack fired another two shots, chasing the woman off—then was at Harriet's side. He hauled her up, hugged her tight, then hurried with her toward the stairs. "Must get out of here. The shots—"

Already shouts rang above their heads. The blasts had been heard.

"The freight elevator," Jack said.

Together they rushed toward the open cage, Jack hopping a bit with his prosthesis. Once inside, Jack hauled the gate closed and punched the button for the sixth floor. The second from the top.

"They'll have the main floor guarded. We'll head up. Seek a fire escape ... a telephone ... or just find a place to hole up."

He pulled Harriet to the elevator's back corner as the cage climbed past the main floor. Shouts reached them. Flashlights bobbled through the darkness. At least twenty men. Jack was right. They'd have to find another way out or some way to call for help. Failing that, they would have to hide.

The elevator continued to climb.

Jack held her.

She clung to him. "Jack . . . how ... you were so—?"

"Gorked?" Jack shook his head. "Jesus, Harriet, do you think I'm really that bad off yet? 1 know I had an episode at the hotel. I'm sorry I hit you."

His voice cracked a bit at the last.

She clutched to him, accepting his apology. "When they zapped you with the Taser, I thought something had gone worse neurologically." She squeezed him again. "Thank God."

"Stung like a son of a bitch. But later, when I realized you were only pretending to give me those damn pills, I figured you were trying to tell me to act up, to fake being worse off than I was, so they'd let their guard down."

She glanced up. "So you were faking all along?"

"Well, I really did piss myself," he said angrily. "But they wouldn't take me to the goddamn can."

The elevator stopped.

Jack opened the gates, waved her out, then closed them again. He reached through the slats of the wooden gate and pressed the basement button, sending the cage back down.

"Don't want them to know which floor we got off on," he explained.

Together they headed off into the gloom of the warehouse. It was full of old equipment. "An old canning plant, from the looks of it," Jack said. "There should be plenty of places to hide."

Somewhere far below, a new noise rose up.

Barking . . . agitated, excited.

"They have dogs," Harriet whispered.


Demons in the Deep

July 7, 4:45 a.m. Island of Pusat

It had taken too long to cross the island's net.

While Monk and his army crept over the roof of the world, the storm's eye had passed over the island and was headed back out to sea. To the east, the typhoon rose like a mighty wave, ready to crash again onto the island.

The winds were already kicking up.

Monk clung to the bridge's slats as the net rattled. Thunder boomed like cannon fire, and lightning crackled in shattering displays across the black skies. As the clouds opened up, rain slashed down with whipping snaps.

Clinging white-knuckled, Monk stared below.

The Mistress of the Seas floated in the lagoon, bright and inviting.

Ropes slithered from the net's underside and snaked down to the helipad atop the Sun Deck. Monk wished the helicopters were still here, but the birds had flown the coop before the ship had entered the island's lagoon.

That left only Ryder's boat.

More ropes dropped, making an even dozen, swaying in the wind.

Ahead, Jessie yelled out orders in Malay. The young nurse was only thirty yards away, but the winds tore most of his words away. Jessie sat on the net, his legs wrapped tight. He motioned and waved down.

The closest tribesmen ducked headfirst through the net, dropping away, like diving pelicans into the sea. Monk spied under the net. The trio reappeared, clinging to ropes. They slid with practiced skill as more ropes were mounted.

Slowly the army began to crawl again, flowing toward the rigged lines and down. Monk followed along the bridge. He reached Jessie as Ryder grabbed a rope and leaped through the net. The billionaire did not hesitate.

Monk understood his hurry.

Lightning slammed into the net's far side. Thunder clapped, deafening. Blue energies shot outward along the canopy's skeleton, but it faded before it reached them. The smell of ozone hung in the air.

"Keep off anything metal!" Monk screamed.

Jessie nodded, repeating his warning in Malay.

In another minute, Monk had joined Jessie. "Get below!" he ordered, and pointed down.

Jessie nodded. As he rolled off the bridge, the storm crested the island and blew with a sudden and sharp gale, roaring like a freight train. Jessie, caught in midreach, unanchored, was shoved bodily off the slatted bridge. He rolled out onto the looser camouflaged netting. His weight tore through it.

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