Beauty & the beast some.., p.8
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       Beauty & the Beast: Some Gave All, p.8

           Nancy Holder
 
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  The cop cocked her head, and Heather really, really, really didn’t know what to do. Help was standing right here. She could write them a note and they could send a SWAT team.

  If they even believed her.

  Then she heard J.T. rasp, “Heather. I heard you screaming.”

  Oh, my God!

  “I heard your accident.” Then it dawned on her: kidnapped. This Private X had rammed J.T.’s car and abducted him.

  “Oh, my God, J.T.!” she cried. The cop raised her brows. “What a close call!” Heather swallowed hard. “I’m so glad you’re all right.”

  “Very good,” said the electronic voice.

  “Sure,” she said cheerfully. She put her hand over the phone. “It’s my friend. He’s okay, basically.”

  The uni reached out a hand. “Good. I need to confirm that you have his permission to be on these premises while my partner does a sweep. If I may?”

  “Oh, of course.” Heather cleared her throat. “So, J.T., right before your accident, you told me to call nine-one-one, remember? So they’re here to check on that noise I heard and they want to make sure I have your permission to be here.”

  “What are you doing?” the electronic voice asked shrilly.

  “So here’s the officer now.” She extended her hand to the woman. Surely she would see how hard Heather was shaking.

  “Yes, sir,” the officer said into the phone. “May I verify your name, sir? And that you are the legal occupant of this location?”

  “Where did you hear the noise?” the other cop asked Heather. She was holding a massive flashlight.

  Heather wanted with all her heart to pay attention to the phone call but now this officer was waiting for her response.

  “Outside.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Like someone sneaking around.”

  “Could it have been a cat or a possum?”

  “I don’t know!” Heather cried, and then she tried to smile apologetically. “I’m sorry. I’m just… like I said, I was just supposed to stop by to make sure he had, ah, turned off his curling iron and then I heard about the accident and I’m kind of losing it.”

  The cop glanced at a framed news article on J.T.’s desk, complete with a photo of J.T. And his thinning, short—but curly—hair. The headline read: J.T. FORBES, PHD, RECEIVES BEST SCIENCE PROFESSOR AWARD.

  “Curling iron,” the cop said flatly.

  “He got implants. Those plug things,” Heather said. She was sweating like crazy. Her mind was racing. She was afraid she was going to start laughing hysterically because this was all way too insane and she was scared to death.

  “Okay, sir, thank you,” the tall cop said, pressing a button on Heather’s phone.

  “Don’t hang up!” Heather shrieked. She caught herself. “I mean, I’m sorry, I’m just kind of on edge.”

  “That’s all right, Ms. Chandler,” said Ms. Tall. “That’s why we’re here.” She flipped open a little book and wrote something down in it. “Are you by chance related to Detective Catherine Chandler?”

  “Yes!” she cried. Then she caught her lower lip between her teeth and cleared her throat. “Yes,” she said much more calmly. “She’s my sister. She can vouch for me about the curling iron. I’ll give you her number. She’ll want to know about this right away.”

  “Very well,” the tall cop said. She handed Heather back her phone. “Go ahead.”

  Heather nearly fainted with relief. Cat was smart. If she could make Cat understand what was going on, Cat would not only know what to do, but she’d take action. That was exactly what Cat was, an action hero. She dialed her sister.

  Short Cop said, “I’m going to take a look around outside.” She went out the front door.

  The tall cop shifted her weight as Heather listened to incessant ringing. An image of Walker thrusting out his hips flitted through Heather’s mind. He still hadn’t called. That was the very, very least of her problems now.

  Cat’s phone rang some more. And kept ringing. The call went to voicemail and Heather said, “Cat? J.T.’s been in an accident. Like the one I was in a while ago? With David Scheckman?” Scheckman had kidnapped her to lure out Vincent.

  Then Heather texted her helphelphelpineedyou

  “Looks like she must still be on a case,” she told the cop. “It figures. Tonight was the night she was supposed to make dinner.”

  The other woman smiled. “Isn’t that always the way with sisters? I have three of them.”

  “Wow. That’s a lot.” Heather felt as though she was going to shatter from sheer nerves.

  The other police officer re-entered from outside. She said, “There’s a couple of homeless guys outside. They look harmless but I think we should escort Ms. Chandler to her car.”

  “Curling iron’s off, right?” the tall cop said.

  “It’s funny how often people are just certain they forgot something,” Heather agreed.

  “They come with timers now,” said the tall cop.

  The short cop was scanning the room. Her gaze focused on something and her eyes narrowed. Heather traced her line of sight with her own. They were looking at J.T.’s chemistry equipment.

  “So is Dr. Forbes conducting experiments here?” she asked.

  That must have been some kind of code; the tall officer began drifting toward the glassware, Bunsen burner, and microscope as if they might jump out at them.

  “Yes, he’s just always working, trying to find a cure… for whatever he’s doing. I don’t really know.” Oh no, they don’t think he’s making meth or anything like that, do they?

  She returned to the computer console to pick up her bag. J.T. had been amazed by the size. He said it was big enough to carry around a bazooka.

  That gave her an idea. She smiled at the two officers and said, “I’ll just make sure I, um, flushed the toilet and grab my stuff.”

  They were still walking toward the lab setup. Heather zoomed toward the bar, ducked down, found the tranq gun, and stuffed it in her bag. Then she hurried into J.T.’s bathroom and looked for other weapons. There was a scattering of women’s toiletries—had to be Tess’s—and she glanced in the shower to grab a razor. So she had a tranq gun and a razor. And some spray deodorant. She could use it like Mace, maybe?

  The cops were peering into J.T.’s microscope. Suddenly she was extra-freaked. What if they weren’t real cops? Maybe they’d killed the real cops on their way in and they were from the same group that had killed Vincent?

  I don’t know that anyone killed Vincent. Vincent is not dead!

  She placed her hand in the bag, resting it on the tranq gun, and said, “Okay, I’m ready.”

  “I’ll go out first, just in case,” the tall cop said.

  Heather whipped her head around to see what the short cop was doing. She was looking over her shoulder, then up toward the ceiling and around the room. Taking it all in. Her radio chattered and Heather jumped a mile. The officer replied in cop-speak that all was well and they walked outside together. Cat had used a squad car, so Heather had taken Cat’s personal car and illegally parked in an alley, which the officers pretended not to notice as she unlocked it and slid behind the wheel. They waited until she started the engine and then gave her a wave.

  She was numb as she slid into the traffic. She was hyperventilating. With trembling fingers, she opened “Find My Friends” and caught her breath when J.T. came up on it. It was an old result and it was about to refresh; she stared at the map hard, then took a screenshot and emailed it to herself, Cat, Tess, and Vincent. Then the map reported that there was no result for her friend; it had refreshed, and J.T. had disappeared.

  She texted all of them: J.T. kidnapped, was HERE. Call me asap.

  “Queens. Long drive,” she muttered. As she merged into the traffic, she kept dialing Cat, Tess, and Vincent and there was never, ever any answer. Maybe they had all been kidnapped.

  I guess it’s up to me, then.

  Every fear she had ever had rose inside her. She remembered when
Cat had announced that she wanted to become a cop. It was after she had watched their mother gunned down in front of her. All Heather had wanted to do was cry, and be comforted, and try to forget the awful nightmare. She had run away from the violence as hard as she could. But Cat had faced it, and not only faced it, but embraced it. Heather’s big sister waded headlong into the deepest, darkest pits of human degradation every day and risked her life to bring innocent people justice.

  As she drove, she looked at the hundreds of cars around her. Not one person inside any of them knew about beasts. Or kidnappings. If she asked for help, most, if not all, of the passengers would turn away. She was utterly alone in this. This is what it had been like to be Cat for two years. Unable to tell one person, not one, about Vincent, plus juggling trying to act normal around her own sister, Heather.

  And I was so angry with her all the time, Heather thought. I knew she was keeping secrets from me but rather than try to understand, I just got madder and madder.

  The only person in all the world who had known what Cat knew—besides Vincent himself—had been J.T. And he sure hadn’t signed up for that life. He was sweet and smart, but he wasn’t a fighter like Vincent and Cat. Or like Tess, for that matter. She wondered how that felt for him.

  For her, it was extremely terrifying. But it didn’t matter how it felt. It was what she had to do.

  Then her phone map went completely kerplooey—the result of a bug in the new upgrade—and she tried to decide what to do. Just drive and hope the directions came back or what?

  To her left loomed a stone pedestrian bridge completely covered in graffiti. Gang tags, she figured. The very worst place to stop. She drove on, scanning for a better spot, and realized she had just missed a merge.

  “Damn it,” she said, and swerved into a little industrial park that looked to contain nothing but auto body shops, and put the car in park. She squinted at her phone and tried to recalibrate, holding it close to the driver’s side window to catch a few more bars. Nothing. She extended it toward her windshield, mentally willing the phone to behave. Time was racing by. For all she knew, J.T. was dead by now. Maybe she should call 911 again. No. Bad idea.

  While she held the phone next to the window, she reached down into her bag and pulled out the tranquilizer gun. It was then and only then that she realized it wasn’t loaded.

  “Great,” she muttered. “Fantastic.”

  There was a sharp rap on her window. She jumped a mile and looked up. It was a young, dark-skinned man in a hooded jacket smiling down at her. Beneath the glare of a streetlight she saw that he was tapping on her window with a gun.

  She fumbled to put the car into drive and take off the emergency brake. But she was shaking too badly and nothing happened.

  Then he pointed the gun straight at her. She gasped and then she pretended she was Cat and thought, So what’s he going to do when I just blow out of here? The odds of hitting me are much lower than most people realize.

  But what if the odds are in his favor?

  She kept her eyes glued to his as she tried to find the gearshift. Brake, she reminded herself.

  Then movement in her peripheral vision startled her into looking straight ahead for a second—

  She jerked.

  The car was surrounded by men. And nearly all of them had guns, and they were pointing them straight at her.

  A dozen—a hundred—horrible scenarios rocketed through her mind—she liked the ones where she died instantly the best of all—and then the guy with the scars made a circular motion with his free hand. He wanted her to roll down her window.

  No way, she thought, but it wasn’t like she had bulletproof glass windows or anything. She remembered all her self-defense classes about fighting back and not appearing weak. She started to pick up the tranquilizer gun but realized that as soon as they saw it, they’d open fire. With a scream of “Aiya!” she laid on the horn, got into drive, got off that brake, shifted into drive, and rabbited forward. The men scattered and Heather slammed into a cinderblock wall. Her body jerked forward, then whipped backward, and probably the only reason the airbag didn’t deploy was because she hadn’t built up very much speed.

  The guys broke into cheers and applause and Heather’s hooded friend aimed his weapon at her again. All she had to do was figure out reverse. That was all—

  —and then she heard a “chirp-chirp” and the guy opened her door himself. He squatted down on his haunches beside her. He was holding a remote control fob in his hand.

  “Fire!” she screamed, which is what you learned in self-defense class, because no one would come to your aid if you screamed for help.

  “Hey, calm down, girl,” he said. “Man.”

  She swallowed hard. “I’m a student. I work part-time. I don’t have very much money and my sister is a cop.”

  He pulled in his chin. “No shit?”

  “No shit. So don’t try anything or she will put your ass in the electric chair!”

  He and his thugs burst into laughter. She was aware that he was dangling his gun between his legs and she could push him over with a well-placed side kick and make a run for it. Except there was no place to run. This place was crawling with gangbangers.

  “I just dialed nine-one-one,” she informed them. “The police will be here any second.”

  “Nice try, but you ain’t got no bars, baby.” He held up his own phone… identical to hers.

  “I do,” she insisted. “I have a special police frequency.”

  This was hilarious to them. She told herself she would not burst into tears or plead for her life. And she would go down fighting.

  Attack him. It will scare the others.

  But it wouldn’t. All he had to do was take one step backward and she’d be sailing into the dirt at his feet.

  So she opened her mouth to plead for her life and instead of begging to be spared because she was her cop-sister’s only family, she said, “Can I buy that gun off you?”

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  BELOW NEW YORK

  Vincent came to with a sharp gasp. He was sprawled on his back with his right leg bent underneath his left; he hurt all over and there was blood on his hands. And his arms. He raised his head and looked down at himself. His jeans were soaked with blood.

  What happened? What did I do?

  By the overwhelming stench he knew he was in a sewer. It was pitch dark but his night vision was functioning perfectly. He performed a visual pan of his surroundings, his mind working hard to piece together how he had gotten here. He remembered going to the warehouse and reaching the loading dock. And then…

  Vincent began to quake. Fear was like a net hoisting him up into the black night and carrying him away. It wrapped itself around him and tightened, cutting off his oxygen.

  There’s nothing to be afraid of, he told himself sternly. He pushed himself to his hands and knees, then rocked back onto his feet and stood. There were bruises on his bruises. With a doctor’s practiced touch, he examined himself for broken bones. As he walked forward, he limped, but he was pretty sure he had only strained some muscles.

  It was confirmed, then. This beast—or whatever kind of unholy creation it might be—could project fear onto prey or potential threats. It must have done the same thing to poor little Aliyah Patel. Even thinking about how he had felt—the abject terror—he wondered how a little girl like her could cope. Tess had told him they’d put her in a pediatric psych ward. As soon as he got out of here and checked in with everyone, he would look in on her. If only he could find words to comfort her without reassuring her that what she had seen was real.

  He moved as silently as possible through the tunnels beneath the city, concentrating on tracking his adversary. He smelled the blood on his fingertips and tried to send his mind back to the stretch of time he had lost, but each instant that he began to form an image, a haze of fear blurred it. It was as though his mind simply would not allow him to face his attacker. How was it possible, and who had invented it? Karl Tiptre
e? This would be an amazing tool in combat: Terrify the other side into immobility, then pick them off one by one. Or as a means for conducting interrogations: Calibrate the fear-reaction and take notes as your subject babbles and begs not to be harmed.

  This stinks of Muirfield, he thought. Or of the people who funded Muirfield. The world’s rich and powerful, their tentacles deeply sunk into financial markets and advanced technology, ruling the world and serving up horrors for anyone who got in their way.

  I’d be happy to get in their way again, he thought fiercely. And bring them down.

  Had someone sent Mr. Riley that letter in order to flush out anyone who might be moved to strike against them? Or had the beast been directed to target Vincent through Mr. Riley, because he was the last loose end from the debacle in Afghanistan?

  He feared for Mr. Riley. Unless, of course, the old man was in on it. Maybe he had invented the contract between Lafferty and Gheeta Patel and used it to gain entrance to the Patel home. Maybe the Patels had known something about what had happened to Lafferty. Hell, maybe Gheeta died because she knew Lafferty. All Vincent’s letters home had been censored, but the army did make mistakes and allow sensitive, classified material through. Maybe Lafferty told Gheeta things no one should have known.

  But why would Mr. Riley help the very organization that had destroyed his stepdaughter?

  Maybe they had Lafferty and were using her as a bargaining chip. Or maybe he was just afraid of dying a more agonizing death than the one his cancer was offering him. Vincent had been waterboarded during his army training. It had nearly broken him, and by then, he’d been a hardened soldier. Do that once to a frightened old man…

  Or simply appeal to his patriotism in some way, with some twisted story…

  What about the string of murders here in New York? Was Indira the beast’s first or its seventh? Had the beast eviscerated each one as payback for the terrible thing that had been done to it? To him? To her? Or was it under the control of the army?

  And how am I going to fight this thing if I panic like this?

  Just thinking about it made him tremble. It engendered fear at a deep, base level. It would take more than a force of will to stay in command of himself.

 
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