Poughkeepsie, p.31
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       Poughkeepsie, p.31

           Debra Anastasia
 

  Eve put her hand on her earpiece and spoke over her shoulder. “I’ll get the roof. NOW!”

  The remaining mercenaries turned their guns on the three, but the triangle of family was faster and ready. Cole’s bullet hit the taller mercenary in the head. Eve’s ludicrous rifle blew out the rooftop man’s vulnerable neck as he tried to rearm himself. He fell off the building in spectacular fashion like a stunt man in an action movie. Only there was no cushion to prevent the crunching noise his body made on the pavement. Beckett riddled the shorter one with a pistol full of bullets. Start to finish, this crazy mercenary ambush had lasted less than thirty minutes.

  “There were eight,” Cole said in the silence of the stilled guns. “They sent three to follow Mouse so they could grab Blake. How many dead, Eve?”

  “Five here.” Eve knelt by the nearest dead man to ransack his pockets.

  Beckett turned to his brother. “Cole, take the bike and go to Kyle in the hospital. You need to be with her. Keep an eye on Livia too.”

  Cole held his arm out. “I want to help you make sure Blake’s okay.”

  Beckett wrapped his arm around the one Cole offered him. “Bro, go to Kyle. Stay out of this next fight. I won’t be able to deal with you behind me and Blake in front of me. You can’t ask me to decide which one of you to defend first. Please, Cole. Give me peace of mind.”

  Now sitting on the ground, Eve scrolled through a complicated-looking communication device.

  Cole leaned in for a back-pounding and murmured in Beckett’s ear. “Blake and I need you alive too. Don’t forget that.”

  Beckett inclined his head toward the motorcycle. Cole lifted it and revved the motor to life. He stuck the handgun Eve had passed him into his waistband.

  “I’ll pray for you.” Cole said. Then he set the motorcycle in the direction of the hospital.

  Beckett watched him leave. At least one was safe now. Cole had been his biggest concern—kidnapped, for Christ’s sake. But now Blake and Mouse moved to the forefront. He wanted three miracles tonight. It was the prayer of a devil. How dare he even ask? But Beckett had no shame. The thought of Blake walking around with a trail of trained killers behind him stopped his heart. He had to give Mouse some backup. Eve was mumbling. He turned to listen.

  “According to their last communication, they found Mouse and they’re tracking the hearse.” Eve looked at Beckett’s phone. “Mouse’s last text said he’s almost to the train station.”

  “Text Mouse and tell him how many guys to look out for.” Beckett stomped over to try to make sense of the gadget in Eve’s hands.

  “I did. I’m waiting for a reply. Let’s roll out.” Beckett and Eve quick-marched the distance out to the Hummer, and the engine rumbled to life in the stillness of the night.

  As he drove, Beckett’s eyes found the beautiful, fierce soul next to him. She bit her lip and watched his face like it was a TV.

  Beckett curled his lip into a sneer. Thank the fuck outta you, he told her silently.

  Eve’s eyebrow rose in return. You’re welcome.

  “Baby, I want to take you far from here. I’m going to take you where the water’s as blue as your fucking eyes.” Beckett leaned in for a tender kiss, with one eye on the road. “I’m going to take you there as soon as this is over.”

  Eve grabbed the roll bar as Beckett accelerated like a mad man. A lot had to go wrong for this evening to turn out right.

  37

  Patterns End

  MOUSE HAD BEEN THROUGH a bunch of shit with Beckett, but tonight felt all wrong. This was different. Their control had finally slipped.

  As he drove like a maniac toward the train station, Mouse tried to plan a strategy. As soon as he had Blake, he’d take him to the outskirts of town. Mouse desperately wanted to be at Beckett’s side during this uncertainty, but he’d never stray from a command. At least Beckett had Eve. Mouse adored Eve. If he could admit it to himself, he had a bit of a crush on her. But he never would—that would feel traitorous. He would never be that. Fucking Merkin.

  He approached the train station parking lot just as a police car came blazing in with its lights on. Mouse changed his path and pulled alongside the woods near the platform. The cops grabbing Blake right now might be the best thing. Maybe Livia’s dad had sent a cruiser.

  Mouse tiptoed to a place where he could see the platform. The police lights pierced the night and made it hard to focus on the form running up the stairs. Is that Livia? There was clearly no Blake here, and the person who now definitely seemed to be Livia reached the cruiser and killed the lights for a moment. Mouse stepped out from the cover of the trees and jogged toward her. What the hell is she doing here? Did she steal her dad’s car?

  He was almost to the steps when he started shouting. “Livia! Wait, Livia!” She ignored him and climbed back into the car. She hit the gas and the cruiser jumped off the curb by the staircase.

  Crap. Mouse double-timed it back to his car and slid into the driver’s seat. He’d assumed she was headed for the main road and overshot the parking lot. But then he saw her car again, the white of the police cruiser almost glowed in the dark. Why the hell is she parked there?

  Mouse dialed Livia’s number, but immediately got her voicemail. What the fuck? He stashed the hearse near the abandoned police cruiser at Firefly Park. He pulled his Glock from the glove box, and when he cut the lights, he noticed a glow coming from the center of the woods. He slammed his car door shut. Thoroughly confused, Mouse reached for his phone in his grandmother’s bag. As he retrieved it from the tangle of yarn and knitting needles, he heard a rush of air and footsteps that were a whole lot closer than they should be before he’d even seen the men.

  On pure adrenaline Mouse sprinted in a zig-zag pattern for the treeline. He found a thick tree and used it as cover. The pine needles that carpeted the ground softened the sounds of the feet headed his way. He tried to concentrate on how many. One, now two. Two to deal with. Was this part of the group moving against Beckett?

  He took a quick peek, but the woods were too dark. The men were professionals. They moved sporadically, not making their path obvious. Everyone seemed headed for the fire. Mouse moved as quietly as he could and slid his cell phone back into Meemaw’s bag. They might be tracking his phone. It vibrated, like an angry bee, just before he let go of it. Mouse looked at the screen:

  We killed 5. 3 on ur tail. Pros. Kevlar vests n helmets.

  Cole and Beckett safe ~Eve

  There could be one more than he’d thought. Mouse slid the phone between two skeins of yarn. His hand grazed one of his wickedly sharp, double-pointed metal knitting needles. Using an old Tom-and-Jerry-style trick, he threw the needle as far away as he could. It made an impressive clatter in the quiet night. He saw one of the men step out of the darkness next to his cover tree and motion to those behind him to head in the direction of the sound.

  He was extra thankful for Eve’s text. In the dim light Mouse would have gone for a head shot, but now he settled his aim on the side of the mercenary’s neck. The Glock seemed loud, even with the silencer, and the man dropped before the noise had finished repeating in the dark.

  Mouse’s tree immediately lit up with automatic gunfire. A bullet pierced his upper arm, and his own shout of pain was louder than the gunfire. These bastards had silencers too. Mouse made sure his Glock was in ready position. He had to take a chance to get the two remaining men. He waited for a break in the gunfire and did a forward-roll out from behind the tree. His maneuver gave him a perfect shot at mercenary number two.

  Mouse aimed for the belt and hit the man just below his navel. Another quick pop and the man was hit in the thigh as well. Mouse hoped he’d ruptured the femoral artery. The man would bleed out from the gut shot and leg wound within seconds.

  The third mercenary was well-hidden and had fabulous aim. First, he hit Mouse’s hand, blowing the gun from his grip. Next Mouse felt his center invaded by metal. His lungs felt like raisins as he tried to remain standing. Gravity pul
led him down. The landing jarred his back, and his legs felt bent in the wrong direction.

  The third mercenary came to stand above him. “Tell me where the homeless one is, and I’ll just kill you. Don’t tell me, and I’ll figure out how to skin you with my pocketknife.”

  The voice had a hint of an accent Mouse had difficulty placing. Mouse’s breathing was shallow and his brain seemed not to fit in his skull. Pain brought sound from his body even as he willed himself to be quiet. He knew now that he was going to die. But he had one last mission from Beckett. I have to finish this. Mouse took quick stock of what parts of him still worked. He could move one of his hands, and one eye seemed good. The other was open, he was pretty sure, but it saw nothing.

  I’m scared, Meemaw. Her spirit filled him to the brim, gently plugging the open hole in his center. He wasn’t surprised to find his working hand in her knitting bag. He wiggled his fingers and begged them to grasp. Soon they had a tenuous hold on another double-pointed needle. It took more effort to curl his hand tightly around it than anything Mouse could remember.

  Mouse spoke and was surprised that now, this close to the end, his voice finally sounded a little deeper. “I’ll tell you, man. I’ll tell you.”

  Mouse didn’t have to try to make his pretend confession quiet; the words were almost ghosts of themselves anyway. The man leaned in close, and Mouse jabbed his arm out and up, thrilled to see the speed his hand provided for his final act as Beckett’s bodyguard.

  The needle lodged deeply in the mercenary’s eye. Mouse pushed it deeper until it robbed the man of all his functions. He fell backward in a spectacular show and kicked up a pile of leaves, one of which landed over Mouse’s gasping mouth.

  All three were dead. I did it, Beckett. I saved your brother.

  But Mouse had two more tasks to perform before he drifted away in the pool of blood forming below him. He dragged his hand to his shirt and ripped it aside to reveal the tattoo above his heart.

  This fucking leaf. I want one clean, last breath. His hand wouldn’t move from his chest. Come on. Please. The leaf tasted like dirt. Mouse wanted this last pattern, his breathing, to be pure. But he had a greater goal. Meemaw. Please help me.

  Her spirit surged through him again. His hand inched up. Close to his neck. Close to the goddamn leaf. Mouse’s hand kept moving right past the leaf and his dearest wish for a last fresh breath. He heard the rhythmic clattering of his grandmother’s needles and knew he was almost done. Almost.

  His miraculous hand went higher still, past his head. He stretched it as far as it would go and pointed it in the direction of the glow he’d seen from the parking lot. Mouse pointed to where he believed Blake might be. Just in case you need it, boss.

  In the night, on the soft carpet of pine needles, his body was still. The leaf that had hampered his last breath fluttered to the ground beside his head.

  The glistening beauty of the rising moon illuminated Mouse’s bare chest and revealed a familiar tattoo with a music note, a cross, and a knife. But in this case, Chaos’ mark featured an addition. The knitting needles fit perfectly into the montage of brotherhood.

  Patterns.

  But this pattern had to come to an end.

  38

  You’re My Friend

  Kyle.

  Hearing the words from Beckett had provided little comfort. Cole needed to see her. He needed to touch her sweet face without the duct tape. The chemical the mercenaries had used against him wafted up nauseatingly, burning his throat. The white button-down shirt he’d thrown on to make a snack for Kyle at the church had been through much more than he’d intended. He had to be rid of the smell. It was awful.

  Kyle. He twisted the handle of Eve’s ridiculously fast motorcycle. It responded willingly. Cole took one hand off the controls and ripped his shirt open. He let the wind take it off his body. He looked quickly to see it flutter behind him like a flag of surrender before it deflated on the asphalt.

  Kyle. Now clad only in his jeans and socks, he leaned into turns and took the sidewalk when the traffic impeded his forward motion. The blue signs with the H guided him toward the hospital and called to him like sea nymphs. As he rolled over a bridge, he tossed the gun Eve had given him. When he finally saw the building that held Kyle towering formidably in front of him, he took a deep breath. Channeling Beckett, Cole aimed the motorcycle straight at the ER’s automatic doors.

  He filled the waiting room to the brim with the engine’s growl, but after a quick glance at the shocked people in carefully lined chairs, Cole moved the motorcycle forward.

  When he got to the curtained maze that kept the sick from having to look at one another, he cut the engine and laid the bike on its side. The hospital personnel looked mildly surprised and curious to see a shirtless, shoeless man and a motorcycle. Anything could happen in an ER and often did. Calmly and without moving too quickly, one of the nurses paged security over the intercom.

  “Kyle?” Cole looked around wildly. He was beyond functioning as a rational human being.

  “Kyle!” His need for her strangled him.

  “KYLE!” Cole beat his chest with his fist, bending at the waist with the force of his cry. His head snapped up. He’d heard her soft, sleepy voice.

  “Cole? Cole? Please, Cole?”

  All the people who should spring into action in the presence of a screaming, half-naked man in a hospital now started in his direction. The door to his left was open. He darted in and pulled back the privacy curtain.

  Kyle. There she was, propped up in a hospital bed. Only one of her eyes was completely open, but she smiled and held her arms out to him. Cole crawled onto her bed, right over the footboard and up to her arms.

  “Kyle, I was so afraid.” Cole lifted his head from the comfort of her bosom to see her face again.

  She smoothed back his wild, knotted hair. “It’s you. It’s you. It’s you.”

  A crowd in the doorway interrupted their loving revelation. Nurse Susan stormed into the room.

  Cole ignored them all and kissed Kyle’s sleepy lips. “I love you, Kyle. Thank you for being alive. They didn’t hurt you, did they?”

  Kyle sighed. “They hurt me so much when they took you, Cole. That’s the worst pain on earth. The worst.” Kyle kissed his forehead and ran her hands over his back. “I’m your shadow. I love you too.”

  “I take it you’re the Cole she wanted so badly we needed to sedate her?” Susan ran a quick visual check on him while he took inventory of her official patient. “You have a nasty head contusion, young man.”

  Cole nodded, touching Kyle’s cheek.

  “What the hell is this?” John bellowed, pushing his way in roughly. “What’s going on?”

  Susan stepped in front of him. “This gentleman is your daughter’s best sedative,” she said. “I suggest a gentle approach.”

  John met Susan’s eyes. “Fine.”

  Susan bustled off, mumbling about ice, and chased away the security personnel and other employees who came to help after the commotion.

  Cole noticed Kyle could open both eyes now.

  “Daddy, this is Cole Bridge,” she said. “He’ll never be far from my side.”

  Cole shook off the magic of her touch and stood to greet her father. “Sir, I’m sorry to meet you under these circumstances. This is all my fault. I didn’t protect your daughter.”

  Kyle tried to get up immediately.

  “Stay in bed.” John pointed to the crumpled blankets she nested in.

  She reclined, but remained as focused as it seemed she could in her groggy state.

  John sighed as he looked Cole up and down. “Cole, is it? Do you have a good goddamn reason for screaming and climbing into my daughter’s bed with no shirt? What the hell do you do for a living?”

  Cole fidgeted and tried to look more clothed. “Sir, I’ve been working at the church. But…” He turned and smiled at Kyle. “That situation may be changing.”

  John rubbed his eyes. “This has been the weirdest
goddamn night.”

  Kathy, the receptionist from the precinct, tentatively knocked on the door. “Excuse me, John? I just wanted to drop by and make sure you guys didn’t need anything. I heard from the boys what was going on.” When one of their own was in trouble, the wall of blue tightened up around him.

  “Kathy. Hey, thanks. Yeah, I made a lot of calls trying to figure things out. Could you grab Livia for me? I’m sure she’ll want to see her sister now that she’s awake.”

  John turned to face Kyle and her half-naked, half-holy boyfriend. Then he froze. He held up a finger as if to stop someone from talking, but the room was silent.

  “Where’s Livia?” he asked.

  John turned back to Kathy. He had the panicked look of a parent whose toddler has wandered off.

  Kathy held up her hands. “I didn’t pass her on the way in.”

  “Can you stay with these two? I’ll tell security to keep close.”

  With a nod, Kathy stepped into the room and set her purse on the chair.

  John soared through the door, but returned just a few minutes later—before anyone left in Kyle’s room had thought of what to say to one another. They’d watched silently as Nurse Susan brought Cole a scrub shirt and an ice pack.

  “The cruiser is gone,” John announced. “And not just because Livia thoughtfully parked it somewhere. I gotta reach the station.”

  He opened his cell phone and dialed. “Burt? We need an APB out on my daughter, Livia. I think she took my cruiser. No, she’s not dangerous! But she’s in danger—I just know it.”

  Returning his attention to the room, John asked, “Cole, what do you know about Livia?”

  Cole stood again, though he kept hold of Kyle’s hand. “Beckett told me Livia was here at the hospital with Kyle. He was going off to find Blake and protect him from the mercenaries that are left. We believe there are three still looking to harm him.”

  John had visibly tensed at Beckett’s name and clenched his teeth at the word mercenaries. After a couple of false starts, he finally asked, “Is there a way Livia could’ve known Blake needed protecting?”

 
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