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While Anna struggles with her new identity, the Shepherds mission continues.
But a mistake is made. One that may compromise one of their own.
At the same time, their opposition intensifies, as Special Agent Jack Randall of the FBI returns from the cold to become the head of the investigation. He quickly monopolizes on the Shepherds mistake and zeros in on the band of assassins. But even if he manages to capture one, will the other Shepherds allow it?
With the General refusing to back down, and the White House under increased pressure to defeat them, the Shepherds soon find themselves face-to-face with Jack Randall, and the outcome is like nothing either party expected.
The first two chapters of Resistance:
“Fighting corruption is not just good governance. It’s self-defense. It’s patriotism.”
Anna watched as the smoke billowed out of the boat. She had heard nothing after pushing the button, but her target obviously had. She’d seen his head jerk around for a few seconds before smoke appeared through the open hatch. The man had waved at it, and then had tried to duck under it before she had lost sight of him. She had expected it to come out of the cockpit post, but it obviously had found an easier path downward and into the interior of the boat. Maybe the open hatch created a wind tunnel of some kind? She dismissed the thought as a shout went up from another boat. She looked around her and saw several people pointing and staring as others ran down the dock. One of the other captains stopped at his own boat long enough to grab a fire extinguisher. She returned her gaze to the boat in time to see the lawyer stumble off the stern and land on the dock. The smoke was thick and white, more prevalent than she remembered from her army days, and it just kept coming. The cloud now reached from the boat all the way to the other side of the canal. The man with the extinguisher disappeared into it as others pulled the lawyer to his feet. She lost sight of him again when the breeze shifted.
With a start, she realized it was past time to go. She backed away from the railing and into the gathering crowd, her spot immediately filled by a fellow bar patron. With everyone’s eyes on the docks, she managed to cross the bar and leave without drawing attention. She found her way to the concrete wall of the canal and walked along it toward the park. Her hand snaked inside the bag and she palmed both phones, keeping them hidden until she reached the end where the wall took a jog and the marina ended. As she turned the corner, she let the phones fall from her hand and into the water. Their splash was covered by the sound of an approaching siren. Another joined it from her left and she looked that way as casually as she could. A police car was coming right at her from a side street, and she turned her head away just as it took the corner. A young couple approached, pointing in the direction of the smoke, and she used the opportunity to turn and see what was happening.
The smoke was a thick cloud that covered most of the marina and reached well out into the canal, the wind slowly pushing it out towards the sea. A fire truck was approaching from the other side; she could hear its air horn clearly as it pushed through the traffic. The path behind her was clear. No one seemed to be following her. Still, she needed to leave the area. She turned and headed for the parking lot.
She spotted the strange car in her spot long before she reached it. Her car was gone! Her eyes frantically searched the lot for it and she forced herself to keep her breathing and pace normal. What had happened? Had somebody tried the door and found it unlocked? What about the key? She had hidden it in a place where only she or Dayton would have known to look for it. Did it get towed? There was no reason for it to be. A million thoughts went through her head. Was someone watching her? Was she being set up?
“Don’t panic. Think it through,” she told herself.
She passed the spot where her car had been without breaking stride, and continued on down through the parking lot. She had two choices. Keep moving, or hide in place and move when it was safer. But where to hide? It was too far to walk, it would take her hours and nobody walked over the causeway. She could go shopping for a few hours on Ocean Drive, but that meant appearing on multiple store cameras, and it was not something she wished to do. Besides, she had less than twenty dollars, not even enough cash for a cab. If she didn’t buy something, it would look odd. She could play tourist, wander around and gawk at the locals, but that wouldn’t work either as she looked more like a local than most. She passed a hotel and considered lounging in one of their beach chairs, but that would draw the attention of a waiter, who would ask her for her room number. Negative. She traveled on and the beach grew more crowded. Perhaps the beach? Hide in plain sight. Miami style.
Without breaking stride, she snatched a towel off a vacant chair and tucked it under her arm. Leaving the sidewalk, she angled toward the water and was soon weaving around the tan and tight bodies of the South Beach crowd. She looked for a spot and soon found a perfect one. Two men of her age were oiling up their already tan and muscled torsos. She dropped her bag next to them and spread out her towel. Without hesitation, she pulled the sundress up over her head and tossed it aside. Her bra followed a moment later, and she adjusted her thong to fit her existing tan lines. A glance at the two men confirmed her first impression. They were oiling each other and paying no attention to her. She made a show of digging in her empty bag and pouting.
“Boys? Could I maybe get some of that oil? I seem to have forgotten mine.”
“Sure, us locals take care of our girls.” One of them handed her the bottle without an offer to help her apply it.
“Thank you,” she cooed.
Anna applied a thick coat as quickly as she could, before handing it back with a smile and settling down on the towel where she could turn her head to see toward the marina. The smoke had dissipated, and she could see the flashing lights of the police and emergency services vehicles in the distance.
“What’s going on over there?” one of the men asked.
“I dunno. Maybe a boat fire?”
“Great, that’ll tie up the tourist traffic for a few hours. We won’t get out of here until after four.”
“Fine by me. I’ve got nowhere I need to be.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
The man rolled over and adjusted his sunglasses. Anna watched him out of the corner of her eye as he got comfortable. She was close enough to him that a casual observer might think they were together, even if his boyfriend was just as close on the other side. The beach was crowded, but Miami people didn’t mind being close together. She always thought of pictures of Rio when she came here: nothing but tan and half-naked bodies for over a mile. She was naturally camouflaged.
She decided to stay where she was, at least for now. If the boys weren’t leaving until four, maybe that would be her way out. She’d sunbathe for a while, then see if she could make some friends. She still had to get off the island. That, and she needed some time to think.
What had happened to the car? And where the hell was Dayton?
His name was Harper. It was his fifth or sixth name—he had lost count—but this one had stuck for the last ten years, so he kept it. Not that he needed it today as there wouldn’t be any introductions being made.
He had started out like most in his field. First the military, then work with contractors, then a ride on the revolving door with other branches before being tapped by the Secret Service and rising to the Vice President’s detail. There, his skills had been noticed, and he’d quickly become the VP’s go-to man when things needed to be done quietly. He wasn’t even sure if he was a government employee or not anymore. Like the others on the man’s detail, he had blurred those lines a long time ago. His LLC, which existed on paper only at a PO box in Delaware, received paychecks for consulting fees on a regular basis, and he had long ago stopped wondering where they came from.
Today he was moving pieces in place. Like a game of chess, he would position people and equipment in various locations, and when the time was right they would strike with a lethal punch. Since this war was not the declared type, the pieces would then fade away, usually propelled by a large paycheck, some to be saved for later use and others discarded. Or eliminated. That was always an option. One of the pieces he was meeting today was new, and he hoped there would not be a need for that.
A hotel lobby used to be safe for such meetings. Now they were crowded with cameras, so as he left he kept his head down and his eyes under the brim of his baseball cap. It got an adjustment as soon as he left the double-wide doors. The valet brought his car up and he slipped the man a tip before sliding in. The seat had been moved but the mirrors were still in place and he added sunglasses after making the adjustment. Between the hat, the sunglasses, and the tinted windows, he was confident his face would be hidden from any cameras he encountered on the way.
It was a Thursday night, and that meant football. He had picked a sports bar near the airport for the meet, counting on it being full and loud, and pulled in around the corner from the main entrance. The bar had outside seating under a metal roof. It vibrated with the passing planes, and the TVs on the wall shook along with them, but he didn’t care. The noise was a positive in his book. He entered the bar and slipped to one side before scanning the tables. He saw them seated outside at a corner table, both of them staring up at the screen over their heads. Amateurs, they should have been watching for him. He circled around and was in front of them before they noticed, but he dismissed the error; they were simply not trained as he was. They did however have other skills, ones that Harper’s employer needed.
The short haircuts and the sunglasses sitting on the table identified them as aviators. Unlike the commercial pilots around them, they were military and far from their base. The taller one eyeballed him nervously and picked at the label on his sweating beer, while the other just nodded a greeting. It was his third time working with the older one, a first for the new guy.
He ordered a beer and watched a bit of the game for appearances sake before dropping his coaster on the floor. When he retrieved it, he swapped it for one he had borrowed a few weeks ago. On it were written coordinates, times, a few details, and a dollar amount. The senior man examined the numbers, and his eyes bulged a little when he recognized their corresponding location. A nod of acknowledgement was all that he gave before slipping the coaster in his pocket.
“Will this be soon?”
“Sometime in the next thirty days.”
“Then I think we’re good.”
Harper rose without another word and walked away, taking his beer with him. He placed it on the bar, where it was quickly grabbed and disposed of, before leaving out the side door. He had already checked out of the hotel. The flight back to DC would leave in forty minutes. The baseball hat went into the first trashcan he saw; he hated the things. After finding another bar inside the terminal he ordered himself another beer. He burned the time nursing it and replaying the meeting in his head. The older pilot had proven to be reliable; he hoped the younger one was smart enough to follow his lead. The man had a young wife and a new baby; the money was sorely needed. If that wasn’t enough to keep him on track, well, they had other options.
Finishing his beer, he pulled the cell phone from his pocket and waited for the security software to link and then scramble his text message.
“Transport in line” was all it said. The former Vice President would know what it meant.
“Good” was the reply.
They called his flight, so he powered the phone off before boarding. A pair of headphones kept any chatty seatmates at bay, and he feigned sleep for the two-hour journey to avoid them altogether.
The boys were leaving. She had to make a decision. She had talked them up a bit on two opportunities, but she had ended it before it got too far. Mostly to make jokes about passing tourists or to comment on the cruise ships leaving the docks.
“Are you heading anywhere toward downtown by chance?”
The bigger one cocked an eyebrow at the question. “What happened, girl? How’d you get here?”
Anna made a show of being embarrassed to tell. “I got in a fight with him on the way here and, well, I ditched him at a stoplight. Problem is, I grabbed my beach bag and left my purse behind. Asshole’s got my money and my keys. I’ve got no way to get home.”
“We can drop you downtown; that’s no problem. What about him? Is it your place or his?”
“Oh, it’s my place. Security can let me in. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve lost my keys. I’ll be all right.”
“What about him?”
“It was something stupid, and he’s not the type to get physical. We’ll fight for a minute, then get naked.”
The men laughed. “Good for you.”
They packed up and she followed them to their car. A pair of officers in uniform were on the sidewalk examining the crowd, and she adjusted her path to put her new friends between them and her. Looking for her? She couldn’t tell. The car was a BMW convertible, and the top came down to let the heat escape. She would have preferred if it’d stayed up, but she really couldn’t say anything. They pulled out and headed south: right toward the marina. A pair of police cruisers sat in the parking lot with their lights still on, and she saw a very plain van parked next to them. An evidence unit? She had hoped her “bomb” would be written off as a prank. Evidently not. She spotted the lawyer’s car still in the lot as well. Were they still questioning him or was he just waiting for them to leave?
The boys were chatting away over the sound of the radio and the breeze as they headed toward the causeway. To her horror, she saw another cruiser parked on the side of the road with an officer standing outside it examining the passing traffic. Was he stopping people? The traffic was slowing for no reason other than him being there, and she felt the car she was in do the same as they got closer.
She saw it a second too late. The officer had a camera set up on a tripod and was recording the passing cars. She ducked behind her new friends and swept her hair across her face to hide her features. It blew around as they passed, so she couldn’t be sure if she’d been successful. The boys dismissed the cop as soon as they were past him and sped up to weave through slower traffic.
She gave up trying to hear them over the roar of the wind and sat back in the seat with a frown.
Facial Recognition Software. Dayton had warned her about it. It was a growing concern as more and more departments got the training and access to the database. They would gather video from every source they could and compare it to people they had on file. She knew how it worked. It was basic math really. The software would pin the distance between her eyes, nose, mouth, and other features to come up with a facial fingerprint. Then it would run it through the database until it had a match. It could be defeated with glasses and makeup to a point. She’d had sunglasses on and had used her hair to disrupt the shape of her face, but had it been in time? Hopefully she would never find out.
The car made it to the mainland without another camera appearing and was quickly swallowed up by downtown traffic. Anna made small talk until they got within a few blocks of her condo. At the next light, she gave them each a hug and a peck on the cheek, and they left her on the sidewalk. She waved and walked in the opposite direction of her condo until they were out of sight, then circled the block. Pausing at the corner, she shielded her eyes and gazed up at her floor. The balcony appeared as she had left it, but then she could only see a fraction of it. She circled the block again checking out the parking entrance and the front. Nothing looked out of place. She could see the security guy behind the counter through the glass entrance. Brian something; she forgot. A bodybuilder who liked to show off his arms in a uniform shirt a size too small. But he was polite, and thorough, and just a bit intimidating—evidently, it was what the owners wanted him to be. She took a deep breath and walked in.
“Hello, Ms. Olson.”
“Hey, Brian. You won’t believe this, but I lost my key. Can you get me in?”
“Sure, hold on one second.”
She watched as Brian activated the video timer, then placed a sign on the desk. “Back in five minutes,” it read. She had only seen it twice, and it usually meant he was either in the bathroom or making a delivery. The surveillance cameras would now record the lobby and other entrances continuously until he returned and reset it. All of this information had come to her via William, and as usual he had been right. Brian punched his access code into the cipher lock on the key vault and found the one to her condo before standing and joining her.
“You got some sun,” he observed.
“A little. The tourists are mostly gone now, not as crowded.”
“I still use the tanning beds. You lost the keys at the beach?”
“Not sure, but most likely. I have a spare set.”
“Okay then. Let’s go.”
The elevator ride was quick, and they stepped out on her floor to see it just as she had left it. Brian used another key to hold the elevator before he stepped to her door. She stood to one side as he worked the key into the lock before pushing it open a foot and turning around. She eyeballed the gap nervously while managing a fake smile.
“No problem. You have a nice night.”
She was tempted to ask him to wait but didn’t, instead she stepped in and shut the door behind her. She examined the interior and listened, but she heard nothing. Stepping to the nearest chair, she pulled a loaded Glock 9mm from a holster attached with Velcro to its bottom. Taking comfort in the weight of the weapon and keeping it in front of her, she cleared the kitchen, dining room, laundry, and balcony before working her way down the hallway to the bedroom. Some motion caught her eye, and she realized it was the shadow of the bedroom curtain blowing in the wind. Had she left the slider to the second balcony open? She couldn’t remember. Keeping the gun in front of her, she edged around the corner.
A pair of feet dressed in casual shoes and khakis were resting on a table. The man attached to them was out of sight, sitting in a chair around the corner. With a glance behind her, she edged farther into the room. Slowly, the man’s legs appeared, then a hand holding a beer. It was one of hers, from her own refrigerator! Two more steps, and she saw his profile looking out over the ocean.
“About time,” Dayton said. “Where the hell you been?”
“The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference.”
White House Chief of Staff James Cook settled back in his chair and tossed the report on the table in front of the man who had brought it. It was thin and he said so.
“I know,” the Attorney General replied. “But it’s all we have right now. Agent Randall is reporting daily, but they have little to go on.”
“What about Texas? The judge’s case is offering nothing?”
“In Texas, they basically have half a crime scene, the other half drove away with the shooter. The Morretti case has more. I think concentrating his assets there is the right call. At least until we have something new to add.”
Cook tapped a finger and gazed out the window for a moment before thinking out loud. “It’ll be Sunday soon, and I don’t know what we’re going to say yet.”
The AG nodded but offered nothing. The Chief of Staff was referring to the Sunday morning talk shows. The Twelve Shepherds had been the main topic for the last few weeks, and every producer and talking head were requesting guests from the West Wing. Cook had sent Parker twice into the fray, and he had so far done well, but that wouldn’t last—he was simply running out of ways to say, “the FBI is investigating.” The people wanted results, and the government didn’t have any yet.
“A description and some really lousy video footage. I need more than that. You’re sure Agent Randall is getting everything he needs?”
“We’ve granted every request, and they all get flagged for my attention. So far he hasn’t asked for much, but then he doesn’t have much to go on. He’s plugging away at what he has, and sometimes that’s all you can do. Deacon thinks it’s best to let him run with it. I agree.”
“Hummph,” Cook answered. He had to agree as well, even though it wasn’t his style. Cook was known for applying pressure until he got what he needed, but he also understood when that was counter-productive, and this was unfortunately one of those times.
“Where is this going, Carl?”
When the Chief of Staff used your first name, it meant that the meeting had just gone off the record. He settled back on the man’s couch and sighed.
“I’m not sure yet. But I can tell you one thing, the public is divided, and I don’t mean by a small margin. Half of them are calling the Shepherds traitors, the other half are sharpening their pitchforks and asking where they can sign up to join them. You should see the mail we’re getting. Half of it is calling us incompetent, and the other half is telling us to get out of the way. Some of it is listing names and pointing fingers at who they think should be next. We’ve had to call the Capitol Police and Secret Service a few times.”
“No, mostly hotheads spouting off and too dumb to realize they’re committing a federal offence when they do so. They get a visit from someone, and they get the message. If it gets worse though, we may have to make an example of somebody.”
Cooks head came around at that. “Not without calling me first. That’s all we need is some loudmouth on TV claiming we trampled on his first amendment rights to threaten government officials.”
“Threatening a judge, or a member of congress, is a class C felony.”
“Not without calling me first!” Cook repeated.
“All right, James, but it’s going to happen, and we just can’t ignore it when it does.”
Cook sighed and acknowledged the man’s statement. “I know, but until we can’t, we keep these lessons quiet.”
Carl nodded and wisely changed the subject. “You’ve spoken with the President about this?”
Cook glanced at his watch. “I’ll brief him this afternoon. He’s doing some photo ops right now; some Boy Scouts from Michigan, the Stanley Cup winners, stuff like that. It’s his form of a nap.”
“Want me to stick around?”
“No, I’ll do it. Just keep me informed if something new happens. You’ll have somebody brief Mr. Parker before Sunday?”
“I’ll have Deacon give him a call.”
“That’ll work. Thanks, Carl.”
The AG rose and gathered his paperwork before departing, and Cook walked him to the door. As soon as he was gone, Cook’s smile faded, and he gave some short instructions to his secretary.
“Tell Mr. Parker I need him.”
Cook turned and retreated back into his office. Crossing to the opposite wall, he opened the door to the President’s private study and walked the two meters to the door of the Oval Office. He listened first and heard the man himself talking to people who were obviously on their way out. Cook opened the door to see a group of large men leaving through the opposite door. He waved and smiled to the stragglers as the President grinned, slapped backs, and shook hands. As soon as they were gone, his secretary shut the door. The President scooped up a jersey off the couch and tossed it to Cook, who barely managed to catch it.
“Signed by the whole team. This is an awesome job!”
Cook held the jersey up and gave it a good look before replying. “Impressive, sir. Are any of these guys from America?”
“Don’t you ruin this for me. The teams from Detroit, the Motor City! That’s American enough for me. You’re just jealous they didn’t bring you one.”
Cook had never seen a live hockey game in his life, but he knew better than to go against the President’s fandom. “That’s true, sir. I am,” he deadpanned.
The President took his jersey back with a scowl and rounded the desk. “I have some Boy Scouts and then the Secretary of the Interior. What’s on your mind?”
Before he could answer, there was a tap on the door he had entered from.
“You called?” Parker asked.
“Yeah, get in here for a minute,” Cook replied. He turned to the President, who had painted a frown on his face. “Sir, I just talked with Carl, and we’ve nothing new on the Shepherds issue. Some weak leads on the Moretti shooting, but little else. I’m concerned about what we’re going to say come Sunday.”
The President turned to Parker. “You’re doing the shows?”
Parker exchanged a look with Cook. “I… don’t know yet. Am I?”
“You are. You can expect a call from Deacon, but he’s not going to tell you much. We need to say something to show the public we’re taking action.”
“What action? We’re investigating, but beyond that we can’t comment on the investigation without tipping off who we’re after.”
“Not that kind of action. It doesn’t have to be concrete, just something to appease the public.”
The President sank into his chair with a sigh. “If I react to the Shepherds now, it’ll say that they are right and we can’t do that. They’ll say we did nothing until a banker and a judge got killed. It’ll be spun that we didn’t care until one of the rich white people got taken out.”
“So travel in time,” Parker said.
Parker paced a bit before replying, forming the idea as he did so. “Announce the findings of an investigation, or better yet, the creation of a special team of some kind. One that was formed months ago to address the Shepherds issue. Just make everything retrograde, and it’ll show you’ve been on the problem for months. All it needs is a catchy name.”
The President twirled a pen while he considered the idea. He looked up at his Chief of Staff. “Will it work?”
Cook looked at his deputy. “What kind of findings can we announce?”
“It doesn’t matter. That won’t be the story. The story will be the existence of the… Corruption Task Force. We’ll pull people from every department and make it work.”
“Better make it the Anti-Corruption Task Force; we don’t want to send the wrong message.”
Before they could continue, there was a knock on the door and the Presidents secretary stuck her head in. “Sir, your one o’clock is here.”
“I need a moment.”
“It’s two o’clock now,” she scolded.
“I know.” He waved her away. Parker and Cook exchanged an amused look. Mrs. Lancaster had been with the President since he was a mayor and was not intimidated by his current title in any way.
The President waved them toward Cook’s office. “Draw up your plan for this task force, or committee, or whatever, and get it back to me. I want to see a rough draft tonight.” He paused and Parker took the cue and left.
“What’s our exposure here?” the President quietly asked when he was gone.
Cook checked the door before replying.
“You mean from the Shepherds? Will they target us? Is that what you’re asking?”
“My predecessor is, by every definition out there, a war criminal. When I took office, I basically absolved him of his crimes. So I’m asking, yes, will they target us?”
Cook frowned. “I don’t know, but I’ll give it some thought.”
Anna stared at him open-mouthed. The gun did not waver. All he offered was a disarming smile.
“You ass! You took my car and left me there! On purpose!”
“Okay, calm down. Can we point that thing somewhere else first?”
She looked at the gun in her hand and back at him. She kept it where it was.
“First tell me why.”
Dayton dropped his hands and gave her a look. “You know why.”
“Am I done? What? I didn’t pass one of your stupid tests, so you’re cutting me loose? Just let the cops scoop me up and lock me away?”
“Think it through. If that was true, would I be sitting here right now?”
“How do I know you’re not just waiting for the clean-up crew to come and take everything away? Erase me again?”
“You’ve been gone for hours.” He sipped his beer. “They’d have left some time ago.”
“So this is another test, see if I can get away clean with no help? Seriously?” The gun dropped to her waist, and she fought the urge to throw it at him.
“I needed to know if you could keep your head and make a proper exit, one which wouldn’t draw attention or lead back to you in the future.”
Anna stewed silently for a moment. She was still pissed, but now curious as to how she had done.
He smiled as he pulled out his phone. He punched a few buttons before showing her the screen. It was a profile shot of her on the beach, ninety-nine percent naked and covered in oil.
“I’d say you failed at the drawing attention part, but I have to say I approve of your camouflage techniques.” His grin was back.
“Fuck you.” She spun to leave.
“Where are you going?”
She yelled over her shoulder as she stormed out. “I have sand everywhere, salt in my eyes! My hair is a rat’s nest and I’m still covered in oil! On top of that, I’m pissed!”
Dayton heard the sound of the refrigerator slamming shut, and the rant continued as she walked back. “Never mind that I haven’t eaten in hours, and there’s an asshole sitting on my deck, drinking my beer! What the…”
She rounded the corner to find herself yelling at an empty chair. She spun in the doorway to find him right in front of her. He took a step toward her, and she was suddenly against the wall, his face inches from hers. The rant died in her throat, and she sucked in a breath before meeting his eyes. He was looking at her like he hadn’t before. His hand traveled down her arm, and she bit her lip when it quivered. His hand found hers.
Taking the beer from it he stepped back. Their eyes stayed locked before he broke away and walked to the door. He took a pull on the beer before opening it and stepping through. Before it closed he spoke.
“By the way, you passed.”
She let the breath escape and stared at the closed door. What was going on with him? Something was stopping him, something deeply rooted.
Her legs cramped, and she sank down the wall to a crouch. She was exhausted: both mentally and physically. Emotionally, she was a mess. She could solve the first two easy enough; it was the third that would take some work.
Pulling herself up, she walked to the bathroom. Tonight called for the Jacuzzi tub. It would be the first time she used it.
But first, another beer—if there were any left.
Jack fought his way through the crowd, weaving around those both standing and sitting, all of them ignoring the fresh bodies on the floor. The dead varied in countless ways. Some wore suits and still clutched briefcases in their hands, their faces ripped away by passing bullets. Others were covered with tattoos and blood, their bare heads marking them as skinheads. One of them sat in the corner and screamed as blood poured from both ears. The people around him seemed to not even hear. They smiled at each other and ignored Jack as he pushed his way through.
The train lurched and Jack lost his footing, landing on the sticky red floor. He looked up to see an old woman smiling at him, her feet resting comfortably on the bloody body of a Klansman still wearing his white robe. She wasn’t frightened by the blood pooling around her feet, nor by the gun in Jack’s hand. They stared at each other in wonder for a moment before Jack threw himself up and pushed on. More gunshots rang out from the car ahead, but the people didn’t even flinch. Jack squeezed around a man reading a paper and clawed at the door.
The next car was even more crowded. A teenager held an overhead rail and calmly scanned his phone while he stood on the body of a dead gang-banger, his body shredded by an explosion. Another tapped his foot to the tune on his earphones against the arm of a dead prisoner clad in an orange jumpsuit. The blood on his shoe rasped against the floor with each beat. Jack shoved the sight aside and fought the crowd toward the front of the car. More shots rang out, and this time the crowd gave a slight cheer before returning to their individual distractions.
“Get out of the way!” Jack screamed. Nobody moved. It was as if they couldn’t hear him. He struggled on, none of them even acknowledging his presence as he pushed and shoved. They seemed to grow in number the farther he got, and Jack was gasping for breath when he finally reached the last door.
More shots. Laughter.
He shoved the door open and charged inside.
A man and a woman stood with their backs to him. Smoking pistols were clutched in their hands, and they laughed as they pointed at the two fresh bodies on the floor in front of them. A man dressed in a blue suit with a red tie cowered in the corner. The couple leveled their guns at him.
“No! Please! I’m a senator!” the man pleaded.
The man laughed and raised his gun.
“FBI! Drop the gun!” Jack screamed.
The man slowly lowered the gun and turned.
The smiling face of Sam Shepherd met Jack’s wide eyes.
“About time, Jack. We were waiting.”
The woman stepped out from behind Sam and smiled at him.
“Where have you been?”
“Debra? What are you…?”
“Come on, honey. There’s one left.”
They both turned and leveled their guns again.
“No! Sam! No! Don’t!”
Jack raised his gun and fired just as the two of them did. The senator’s head exploded across the Plexiglas windows. An old couple sitting nearby softly clapped, the faded tattoos on their wrists plainly visible.
Jack jerked awake and rolled out of bed. The Hi-Power was somehow in his fist and he pushed it out in front of him as he leaped up and cleared the room. His heart threatened to explode out of his chest as he raced across the room and kicked in the bathroom door. He was about to repeat the process on the hallway door when he realized where he was.
His breathing slowed. The gun came down.
“You’re in a hotel. You’re in LA.” He talked himself down.
Jack tossed the gun onto the nearby bed and walked to the window. He parted the curtains and let the late afternoon sun flood the room before sinking to a seat on the bed. The air conditioning forced a shiver as it evaporated the sweat from his torso. Jack stared at the smog-shrouded skyline and mumbled a memorized paragraph to himself. After a few renditions, he was breathing normally. He checked the clock.
One hour. He’d intended to take only twenty minutes—just a little sleep. A combat nap, they used to call it. Normally it was all he needed to recharge.
Jack forced himself to his feet and walked on shaky legs to the bathroom, ignoring the pistol on the bed as he passed. Shedding his underwear, he stepped into the shower. First hot until his skin threatened to blister, then cold until he couldn’t take it anymore. He made a half-hearted attempt to dry off, but dropped the towel as soon as he reached the bed. He listened to the sounds of the air conditioner running until it automatically shut off and was replaced by the sounds of traffic from outside.
“God damn you, Sam,” he voiced aloud to no one.
Eventually the white noise drove his thoughts away. He rose to get dressed. The hotel had a bar.
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