The radio shut off right in the middle of Neil Diamond’s ode to Sweet Caroline. The windshield wipers stopped midswish. In the back seat, Colin muttered, “Ow!”
From the disgruntled tone of that pained ow, she gathered that he’d come to the conclusion that brute strength wasn’t the answer. Just as she’d figured out that cutting every last wire she could reach—which she’d done—wasn’t going to accomplish anything much besides stilling the windshield wipers and silencing Neil Diamond.
Small mercies, maybe, but no real help.
“Hurt your leg?” she asked, with no more than the barest hint of snark. After trying the brake, steering wheel and gearshift again in a series of quick, hopeful actions without any apparent change in anything, she freed the lock pick from her garter belt and used it to attack the door handle in hopes of going through that vulnerable spot to access the door’s locking mechanism.
“Having any luck with your undie armory?” he fired back.
The door handle broke away from the door. Beneath it was a small hole penetrating a layer of insulation—and a solid steel panel, courtesy of the bulletproofing she’d had done to the Jeep. The hole was too small for the pick to even fit inside.
“Damn it,” she said.
“I take that as a ‘no.’” He was in the process of letting down a seat so that he could more easily access the rear cargo area.
Grimacing by way of an answer, she grabbed the phone with the intention of calling 911 and reporting a kidnapping in progress, namely theirs. Whatever the repercussions of dealing with the police might be, it couldn’t be as bad as what the CIA had in store for them. Although what could the police do—set up a roadblock for the Jeep to smash into? Not good with the speedometer approaching (she looked and winced) forty-five and no way to stop; shoot out the tires? That was a terrible wreck waiting to happen—she wasn’t quite sure. Anything, though, was better than what they were currently doing, which was going not-so-gently into that good night.
Smash. Smash. Colin kicked savagely at the cargo door window as she started to punch in the emergency number.
“Who bulletproofs their damned windows?”
She paused, glancing back at him. “Oh, I don’t know—the person everybody is trying to kill? The same person who armor-plates the chassis, by the way, which added extra weight to the doors, which meant the locks had to be reinforced, which is why kicking at everything is just not going to work.”
“Yeah,” she confirmed, and turned her attention back to the phone in her hand. Before she could punch in the final 1, it rang. Only one person had that number. Answering, she said, “Doc?” Then when he didn’t answer added anxiously, “Doc? Are you there?”
“God damn it.” Colin slammed one more vicious kick at the cargo door with predictable results. “You couldn’t have told me that sooner?”
“Need to know.” She threw that at him before saying “Doc?” again into the phone.
Colin’s less-than-polite answer was lost to posterity as Doc’s disembodied voice came at her.
“I screwed up. They’re onto me.” The shrill words tumbling over each other riveted her attention to the phone in her hand, and never mind the large and irate man cursing under his breath in the back. “Boss, they’ve got an intrusion detection system I never saw coming and it made me. I’m trying to pop your door locks but they’re erasing my code as fast as I can write it and I—”
His voice dissolved into an incomprehensible garble.
“Doc? Doc?” Even as she called to him, the screen went black except for a blue circle swirling in the middle. “Get out of there! Can you hear me? Run!”
Visions of a team of government assassins storming Lifson’s office to take out Doc made Bianca sweat. Calling his name while frantically punching buttons did nothing but make her crazy. There was no reply, the phone itself didn’t make a sound and the blue circle stayed on the black screen. She had little doubt that the call was being jammed. There was no way she could get to him, nothing she could do. Glancing back at Colin, she said, “Did you hear what Doc said?” Her voice sounded harsh from being kept so tightly under control. Giving way to emotion did no one any good.
He responded with an affirmative grunt. “At least we don’t have to worry about the call being tracked and leading them to us. They already know where we are.”
That display of pure self-interest narrowed her eyes. “Really? That’s what you’re concerned about?”
Crouched in the cargo area, he was pulling up his pant leg to, she saw, access the gun in his ankle holster.
“If you’re worried about your friend, I wouldn’t. He doesn’t strike me as being stupid enough to just sit there and let himself be found.”
Good point. A lightning review of Doc’s handiness with computers raised a fair degree of certainty that he would have put safeguards in place to prevent his work from being traced back to a specific location. And the fact that Colin now had weapon in hand proved a potent distraction.
“What are you doing?”
He pivoted to face the cargo door. “Getting ready to shoot the fuck out of the bloody lock.”
“No! Wait! Stop! Steel panels in the doors! Ricochet!” She sang out the urgent warning as the Jeep hung a sharp left onto a four-lane street. The unexpected move threw her against the door and knocked him on his ass. The Jeep picked up speed. The speedometer read fifty with a steady upward crawl. The light spilling into the interior changed character, grew dimmer and colder—
It was the glow of white Christmas lights.
Bianca had shed her coat and was scrambling into the back seat as the import of that registered. A comprehensive glance out the windows confirmed that they were zooming up the access ramp to Talmadge Bridge at the approximate speed of a bullet train. The thing was, the other end of this section of the bridge, the one that led into South Carolina, was temporarily closed for repairs. The only place they were going right now was Hutchinson Island, where, because it was a—wait for it—island, their ride would of necessity shortly be over. The question was, where exactly would they end up? Besides the Westin and the convention center, there was an unfinished motorsport track and a fair number of abandoned buildings and lots of parcels of undeveloped land.
The better to murder you in, my dear.
What felt like a cold hand dug its claws into her chest.
She said, “We’re going over the bridge. Only thing it leads to right now is a little speck of an island in the middle of the river.”
“You trying to tell me that the end is near?” He crouched on the balls of his feet. His weapon was in his hand. The slight quirk at the corner of his mouth alerted her that that was supposed to be a joke. She was so wired she couldn’t even smile.
“Yes.” Crawling past him into the cargo area, she fought to maintain her balance as the Jeep whipped around a gray Hyundai and ran right up on the rear of a red Chevy Malibu that at the last minute moved over to let them pass. “Put the damned gun away and help me.”
“Help you what?” He dropped the pistol into his jacket pocket.
“Kick the door open. If we both do it together—” She sat on the cargo area floor with her back wedged against the remaining upright second-row seat for leverage and let her words trail off. The implication was that their combined strength just might do the trick. Truth was, much as she hated to face it, extreme strength had been built into her DNA. If ever there was a moment to test what degree of strength they were talking about, she figured this was it. Having him help her kick provided cover if she did manage to break the door open. And it was always possible that the additional strength he brought to the table might be the little extra bit of oomph that did the trick.
With a nod he positioned himself beside her. Their arms bumped as the Jeep bounced and swayed. Both of them sat flat on the rough pile of the carpet, legs bent, right feet ready, hands braced beside them for support. Her black pump with its hidden spike in the heel looked positively dainty next to his black lace-up oxford, which was probably the one with the concealed knife. Her slender, black-stockinged leg looked fragile next to the muscular, trouser-clad length of his.
What was it they said about appearances?
“On three. Get ready to jump.” Colin’s voice was tight. He knew as well as she did that jumping from a moving vehicle, especially one traveling as fast as the Jeep was, was perilously close to suicidal. Like hers, his eyes were on the dark expanse of asphalt unspooling behind the car. Following cars posed a danger, too, although there was enough distance between them and the closest vehicle that in theory it should be possible to roll to the side of the road without getting flattened. The Jeep was on the bridge proper now, speeding toward the apex, which was a good eighteen stories above the ribbon of black water that was the river. Outlined by the soaring cables with their wrapping of twinkly white lights, the view encompassed the lit-up waterfront and the city and even the bay beyond and was spectacular.
Too bad she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate it.
“On three,” she agreed.
Colin said, “One—”
Or, rather, he started to say it. He didn’t even get the word all the way out before all four doors plus the cargo door popped open. A vortex of chilly, river-scented air swirled through the Jeep. It caught Bianca’s hair, whipped it around her face. The unexpected blinding, coupled with the sudden onslaught of sound—the swoosh of the wind, the growl of the tires, the rattle of the flapping doors—was momentarily disorienting.
“Doc.” Pushing her hair out of her face, Bianca acknowledged the probable architect of their deliverance with a gasp of relief: it had to mean that he was alive, free and functioning.
Then the Jeep, with a fresh burst of speed, made a sharp right turn, careened across the adjacent lane, hit the low concrete barrier separating the road from a whole lot of nothing and flipped skyward, sailing between the twinkling cables like a Falcons’ football being kicked through the goalposts for the extra point.
Thrown head over heels, Bianca saw a jumble of Christmas lights and thick black clouds and gray carpet and seat backs and Colin, with a yell, being ejected through the open cargo door. In the dizzying moment before reality took hold and she fully understood what was happening, she smashed into the corner between the upright seat and the wall—and felt the Jeep tilt nose-down and plummet like a stone toward the river.