The Judas Strain

Page 62

Monk lunged and grabbed his ankle. His prosthetic hand clamped hard as Jessie fell away. Monk's shoulder wrenched with fire as he caught Jessie's weight. The young nurse hung upside down below him, screaming a string of Hindu curses ... or maybe it was prayers.

"The rope!" Monk yelled down to him.

One of the rigged lines hung ten feet away.

Monk began swinging the man. Jessie understood, his arms out, hand clawing for the rope. It was still too far. But only by a foot.

"I'm going to throw you!"

"What? No!"

He had no choice.

Monk's shoulder burned as he swung Jessie one last time, "Here we go!" Monk tossed the nurse underhanded toward the line.

Jessie tangled into the rope, scrabbling for the wet line. His body began falling, sliding, kicking. Then he hooked a leg and found a grip. He braked and halted his plunge. He clung to the rope, his cheek against it. His lips moved in a silent prayer of thanks—or maybe a curse aimed at Monk.

With the boy safe, Monk rolled back atop the bridge and crawled with caution. The winds pounded him, but he reached the nest of rigged ropes.

Another lightning strike blasted behind him.

Monk flattened as thunder deafened. He stared back over a shoulder as the net jolted like a trampoline. The rear of the bridge shattered upward from the strike, the wooden slats on fire. One of the tribesmen flew high in the air, arms pinwheeling, while electric-blue current crackled through the netting to either side—but the acrobat landed safely among his brethren.

Lucky man, but there was no going back now.

Only one way to go.

Monk grabbed the nearest rope and dropped through the net.

He slid down toward the rain-swept helipad and landed cleanly.

The rest of the army followed.

Ducked low, Monk hurried to where the others had gathered near the staircase that led down from the helipad. Jessie was already directing the tribesmen, pointing toward Monk, toward Ryder. They would split up from here. Monk would go after Lisa. Ryder and Jessie would head down, clearing a path and readying the boat.

Behind Monk bare feet slapped the decking as the last of the army drained down from the sodden net.

Monk turned to Ryder and Jessie. "Ready?" he asked.

"As we'll ever be," Ryder answered.

Monk glanced over at the raiding party, armed with bone axes and AK-47S. Lightning flashed, limning the army with fire. Eyes glinted from ash-painted faces.

In that momentary flash Monk felt a twinge of misgiving, a moment of unease. He shook it away. It was just the storm feeding his fears.

"Let's go find my partner, and get the hell out of here."

5:02 A.M.

Lisa lay strapped to a steel surgical table, tilted at a forty-five-degree angle. She hung from her arms, wrists snugged in plastic ties over her head. Her legs were loose, unable to touch the floor. She wore only her hospital gown. Cold sweat plastered the thin cotton to her skin, while the steel of the table chilled her back.

She had been tied here for over an hour.


Hopefully, forgotten.

To one side a stainless-steel tray held a line of tools used for forensic autopsies: cartilage saws, dissecting hooks, snipping scissors, postmortem needles, spinal cord chisels.

Dr. Devesh Patanjali had removed the tools from a black leather satchel, held open by Surina. He had precisely lined each instrument atop a stretch of green surgical drape. A steel bucket hung from the foot of the inclined table, ready to catch the flow of blood.

While he laid out his tools Lisa had attempted everything to dissuade him from the torture to come. She had tried appealing to his reason, explaining that she could still be useful. That once Susan was recaptured, Lisa would lend her full support to derive a cure from the woman's blood and lymph. Hadn't Lisa already proven her ingenuity?

Despite her best arguments, Devesh had ignored her. He simply lined up each tool, one after the other, on the tray.

Eventually, her arguments turned to tears. "Please . . ." she had begged.

With Devesh's back turned, Lisa's attention had turned to Surina. But there was no hope to be found there, only a deadened disinterest, her face carved in cold marble. The only bit of color was the ruby bindi dot on her forehead, reminding Lisa of a drop of blood.

Then Devesh had received a call. He answered it and grew plainly excited, pleased with what he was hearing. He spoke rapidly in Arabic. All Lisa understood was the word Angkor. Devesh left, stalking out of the room, shadowed by Surina. Devesh hadn't even looked back.

So Lisa hung here, not knowing what was happening.

But she knew her fate.

The polished surgical instruments glistened. If she shifted, the blood pail rattled at the foot of the table. She teetered between exhaustion and a keening edge of terror. She almost welcomed the return of Devesh. The waiting, the anticipation, threatened to unhinge her.

Still, when the door finally did open, she cringed, gasping out slightly. She couldn't see who entered, but she heard the click-clack rattle of wheels.

A gurney appeared into view, pushed from behind.

A small figure was draped atop it, tied down, spread-eagled.

Devesh spoke, shoving the gurney so it came to rest directly in front of Lisa. "Sorry for the delay, Dr. Cummings. My call took longer than I anticipated. And it took me some time to track down our subject here."

"Dr. Patanjali," Lisa begged, staring at the gurney. "Please, no .. ."

Devesh stepped over to his tools. He wore a white apron over his clothes, having shed his jacket. "Now where were we?"

Off to the side, Surina glided into view, hands folded, demure. But her eyes held a rare flicker of fire. Angry.

Devesh continued to speak. "Dr. Cummings, you were quite correct earlier. Your expertise may prove of value as we finalize our study. Yet still, it seems some punishment is in order. Someone will have to settle the debt of blood that I can't collect from you."

Lisa stared down at the gurney, at the gagged and wide-eyed figure.

It was the girl, the same child whom Devesh had threatened earlier—then let go and murdered Dr. Lindholm instead. But there would be no scapegoat this time. Devesh intended to slaughter this little lamb, while making Lisa watch.

Devesh pulled on a pair of latex surgical gloves and picked up the cartilage knife. "The first cut is always the worst."

As Devesh turned, gunfire chattered, sounding distant but still loud.

He paused.

Another blast of a rifle erupted, echoing up from the floor below. "Not again," he sighed out in irritation. "Can't they keep these patients restrained?"

More blasts.

Devesh slammed his knife to the tabletop, rattling the other tools. He nicked himself and lifted a bloody finger to his lips. With a deep scowl, he headed again to the door.

"Surina, watch over our guests. I'll be right back."

The door slammed closed.

As if caught in the wind from the swing of the door, Surina flew to the table. She collected the cartilage knife and returned to the strapped child.

"Don't hurt her," Lisa warned, a threat in her voice, impotent though it might be.

Surina's eyes flicked with disinterest at Lisa. She swung her attention to the child, raised the knife, and slashed out in strokes of flashing steel—the child's bonds fell away. The strange woman scooped the child in her arms, to her shoulder, then glided to the door.

Lisa heard the quiet clicks as the door opened and closed, leaving her alone again.

Lisa frowned. She remembered Surina offering a candy to the same child earlier, a rare compassion. Lisa recalled Surina's eyes when she first came in here, feral and wild, like a lioness. Angry. It seemed this lioness retained some compassion for the most innocent. Perhaps this rescue was some bit of grace to compensate for her other cruelties.

Either way, she was gone.

Lisa imagined Devesh's rage when he returned, already inflamed by another breakout. There would remain only one person here upon whom he could vent his frustrations. Lisa struggled against her wrist ties. The pail bumped and clanked.

Gunfire continued, some blasts louder than others, coming from different directions. Lisa realized more than one firefight was under way. She searched around. What was happening?

Automatic fire exploded accompanied by crashes of glass, sounding just yards away. More gunshots followed, accompanied by shouts and a strange ululating war cry. The fighting went on for a long minute.

Behind her the door burst open.

Lisa froze.

A half-naked figure leaped into view, streaked in black, nose pierced by a sharpened tusk, crowned by a shock of emerald feathers. He hefted a sharpened blade, bloody to the elbow.

Lisa pressed back against the table, frozen in fear.

"In here!" a familiar voice yelled.

It was Henri.

Boots pounded behind her. A cold blade slipped between her wrists. Plastic ties snapped and popped away. Lisa slumped off the inclined table, scrabbling not to fall. A figure caught her.

He spoke in her ear. "So if you're done just hanging around, how about we kiss this Love Boat good-bye."

She sank into the man's arms, shaking and weak with relief. "Monk ..."

5:19 A.M.

Devesh knew something was wrong when a flurry of rifle fire exploded above his head, two decks up. It rang out from the direction of the science wing.

Devesh stood halfway down the lower-deck passage, surrounded by a group of seven guards and their Somalian leader. Blood flooded the carpet here—but they had found no bodies.

Now the gunfire above.

Devesh craned up. Before he could react, klaxons erupted, ringing throughout the ship, sounding the general alarm.

What was going on?

More gunfire blasted above. Again from the science wing.

"Back up!" Devesh yelled, and pointed his cane at the stairwell.

Turning in unison, the guards headed back—but down the hall, a short figure flashed past an intersecting passageway: bare-legged, dressed in feathers and rattling bones, his body daubed in black.

One of the island's cannibals.

He'd had an assault rifle in his hands.

The guard leader swore.

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