The guy was built like one of those Harley thugs from street-gang movies. In other-words, a brick shit-house that might’ve given Juan Torres a run for his money. That is, until he was slammed backward against a wall of shelves by the tiny, blonde NSA agent. Barnet watched with an almost sick satisfaction, smirking at the debilitated pain in the guy’s face. Sarah pressed a gun to his head with one hand, twisted his testicles with the other.
“Kieran Walters, asshole! Where is he?”
“Bitch, I… don’t know who you’re… talking about,” he said an octave higher than expected.
She gave an angry twist, “Tell me, or I rip ’em off!”
Barnet was leaned against a car a few feet away, its hood open. He crossed his arms, casually, “You might wanna’ do what she says. I’m not sure she can do it, but personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing her try.”
“Sick fucks, both of–” A twist and a sharp inhale cut him off. His voice was even higher, “Alright, alright.” Sarah released him enough to speak. “I seen him come in here. He wanted a fleet of SUVs. Yah. And when I asked him to sign the paperwork, he dropped a briefcase full’a money on the table.”
Barnet moseyed over, “We’ve found the fleet, all twelve of ’em.”
He spoke through curled, nicotine-stained lip, “What about the last one? Thirteen?”
Sarah readied to squeeze again, glanced back at Barnet, “What d’you think?”
“Walters seems like the type to account for this.”
They exchanged a glance and looked back to the guy for an explanation. He shrank away as best he could. “The guy… Walters… didn’t know, but I had trackers in the trucks. Just in case… something happened.”
He grit his teeth, fearful of another twist. The two agents had a silent conversation of tilted and raised facial features. Finally, Sarah looked back, “Give us the tracker’s I-D frequency, we pretend this little infraction never happened. We’ll even keep your parole officer from hearing about it.”
“Yeah?” She raised an eyebrow. “And I can keep the money?”
Barnet shook his head pitifully, “The NSA doesn’t give a shit about Walters’ money, or yours, just quit jerking us around.”
The guy swallowed hard, nodded. Sarah released him, but kept her gun up. It followed his half-limp around and into a nearby office. He sat behind a desk, nursed himself with a gentle hand and typed with the other.
“Fuckin’ bruised ’em, I think.”
He switched out hands to scribble down a series of letters and numbers on a memo pad, then tore off the page for Barnet. He went back to cradling himself, with both hands this time, “That’s it. Feed it into any GPS monitor and it’ll show up the next time the truck starts.”
“Why the wait?” Barnet asked.
He shrugged, breathed carefully, “I dunno. That’s just always how the system’s worked…. I’d say I wish I could offer more help, but we’d all know it’s a lie.”
Sarah safetied her pistol, slid it into her hip-holster, and stepped away. Barnet moved to leave, nodded at the guy, “Best to get some ice on ’em before too long.”
“Yeah. Right. I’ll do that.” The door to the office shut. “Asshole.”
A bucket of ice water splashed Kennedy’s face and torso. She choked and coughed, gasping for air and spitting out inhaled water. Walters’ fingers nursed his wounded neck as she shook water from her face, opened her eyes to see him lean in at nose-length again.
“That wasn’t very smart. Try some it again, I’ll strip you naked and feed you to my men.”
Her eyes burned with hatred. Her emotional control had returned in full-force, and was currently tempering her fear into active hatred and undeniable logic. “No. You won’t. Not if you ever hope to get anything out of me. My guess is, until then, you’ll keep me as safe and sane as possible. Otherwise, you. Are. fucked.”
Walters straightened from his lean and began to laugh. He looked back at one of his men, “Maybe I was wrong about this one. Maybe she is a smart girl.”
Walters nodded to the man. He stepped to a nearby door and threw it open with one hand, the other clasped around a Kalashnikov. Someone was thrown toward him. He dragged them in, forced them forward at rifle-point. The person stumbled, hands bound with rope and mouth gagged with a swath of cloth.
Kennedy’s eyes widened at Melissa Fannon. Juan Torres’ bombshell sister looked like hell. She’d passed the point where any amount of time could make her look whole again, no matter her skill with make-up.
Walters smiled with a sadistic satisfaction, “Now, my bows, they’ve already had their way with this one. I figure though, you’re a… medical professional, took an oath to “do no harm–” He felt at his neck with a sickly wince. “And my guess is, that extends to this–” He knelt down, grabbed Melissa by the back of the head, “this poor, cowering creature here.” He threw her head forward, stood up, and pulled a gun from his hip. He stopped between Kennedy and Melissa, gun aimed at the latter, “Now, she doesn’t know where they’re holding her brother, but you do. You can see where this is going, I imagine. In case you don’t, let me just say, I have no problem killing her to get you to talk.”
“What if I don’t?” Kennedy asked, eyes locked on Walters’.
He cocked the pistol’s hammer, “Maybe we should find out.”
Kennedy grit her teeth. Walters hesitated. Melissa’s eyes were stuck in a traumatized stare. She’d clearly been through something. Kennedy hoped, whatever it was, Walters was lying about it. All the same, she was at a loss. If she gave them the information, they’d have no use for her anymore, and they’d kill her. Then, they’d kill Melissa, raid the NSA Safe-house, kill Mendez, Torres, and whomever else got in the way.
She looked up at Walters, “How do I know you won’t kill us afterward just for the fun of it?”
Walter’s head tilted in agreement. He knelt to match his height to hers, eyes boring holes into her own, “Well, I suppose, that’s just the risk you take.”
Kennedy inhaled a sharp breath. Her stomach churned. “Alright. No games.”
She took a breath, and relayed an address. Walters immediately ordered his men to ready up over a two-way radio, put the man in the room on guard and left. It was only a matter of time before he realized the address was a fake. With any luck, the real NSA safe-house next door would intervene.
Sarah’s sedan pulled into a space a few places down from the Dentist’s car. He’d been and gone since lunch, and was currently inside working on one of his patients. Barnet and Sarah eased from the car, neither much in the mood for talking. They still had to get upstairs, begin monitoring the GPS signal, and hope, when it registered again, it would lead to Kennedy… and that she’d still be alive.
They pushed into the building as a vehicle rolled up behind them. They ignored a shout as four doors opened. The building door shut, and Barnet’s mind blocked it out. He was too focused on finding Kennedy. Upstairs, they had only the vaguest sense that something was off. A loud crash sounded, but given the place below was a bar, it was neither uncommon nor alarming.
Sarah took a place at her laptop, keyed in the GPS ID the ex-con had given them. Barnet stood before the two, scarred patients with his arms crossed. His thoughts were only of Kennedy and an undeniable guilt at involving her. She’d only been gone a few hours, but she could be dead by now, maybe worse. In his line of work, death was quick, simple, with no time for undue suffering. More often than not though, guys like Walters excelled in make suffering a deranged art. He didn’t want to admit any of it to Sarah, as her hope kept him going, but his own was a facade that could easily disintegrate if not careful.
Kennedy Hart. She shouldn’t be here. She was a nurse, not an agent. Hell, she hardly had a life outside work. To think it might be over so young, so needlessly, wounded him. He may not have put the gun to her head, but he’d damned sure put her in position for Walters to. He and the Agency– the NSA, that was prepared to disavow Barnet’s entire operation if things went sideways and the wrong people found out what was going on. Barnet wasn’t even sure anymore, not really.
He’d sussed out what he could from what he hadn’t known. Hot Iron had never been solely about locating and eliminating Walters. That was the one thing he’d lied about. The NSA was intent on taking Walters in, interrogating him with prejudice, and getting everything from him they could. They’d charge him in a secret court, and shove him in a cell so deep underground he’d be dead a decade before anyone learned he’d been caught. In the meantime, they and the other acronym agencies would use whatever they’d learned to forward their own, particular agendas.
It made him sick to think of it. Half truths and white-lies. That was what he’d given to Kennedy. There was no way to avoid the guilt. He’d been as honest as he could be, told her enough to know to keep herself safe, protect her job from the people holding it hostage. It wasn’t enough. It never could’ve been. He doubted full-fledged field-training would’ve put her in the right place to take on Walters. The man was a trained, ex-mercenary on a warpath. The entire CIA hadn’t been able to keep him leashed, even then the NSA hadn’t been able to catch him. What hope could Kennedy have in his hands?
It was on Barnet’s watch that Kennedy had been hit and captured. Her T-boned Taurus was still being combed for clues at the crash-site. What a waste of effort and time. It could’ve been better directed elsewhere, at finding her, at squeezing every last resource the agency had to do so.
“It’s in,” Sarah said.
Barnet nodded. Another crash sounded below. Four doors slammed shut outside. An SUV ground to a start.
“Hold on, we’re getting something,” Sarah said, the screen before her triangulating with a progress bar.
Barnet heard doors slam and suddenly knew.
His pistol was out, legs pumping for the building’s entrance. He threw himself through the office-door, bounded down the steps, then crashed through the building’s entrance. Tires squealed as he burst outside. His pistol rose, barked rounds. The SUV’s rear-window shattered. A tail-light burst. Sarah was out behind him, diving into the car. Barnet aimed one last shot, blew out a rear-tire on the SUV. It fish-tailed away over metal grating asphalt. Three tires screeched, whipped it around a corner. Sarah threw the car through a reverse 180, door open. Barnet reloaded as he jumped in. Rubber burned and peeled away after the SUV, the force slamming the doors shut.
They blazed through an intersection. Sirens blared and began to scream along behind them. They galloped forward, engine whining, pursuing the wounded truck. Barnet leaned from his window, fired wildly into the rear of the truck. Blood sprayed a window and someone in a rear-seat slumped sideways, dead from a stray round. Another person turned around.
“Down!” Barnet yelled.
He shoved Sarah beneath the dash. She fought to keep the car straight, blind. A Kalashnikov chattered, and spit ammunition and shell casings out the back window. Divots danced across Sarah’s hood and windshield. A double triplet of fire shattered the window over them. The sedan chirped and barked, weaved to dodge more fire. It died for a reload.
Barnet was up, “Keep it steady!”
He took a deep breath, aimed at the figure in the backseat. It fumbled with a new magazine. Timed slowed. Barnet breathed, squeezed. Blood and brain splattered from an exit wound. It spit across seat-backs and the windshield, threw the SUV into a frenzy as the driver struggled to wipe it away.
Time resumed. Screaming sirens and the squeal of sparking metal sounded over the bark of Barnet’s gunfire. The truck threw itself around corners, used its fish-tails to dodge the shots. A helicopter thumped into view overhead. Squad cars behind them suddenly surged forward to come even with them– the cops would have run their plates, deduced what was happening. The day’s earlier events assured everyone knew the NSA and FBI were hunting someone. The chopper pulled ahead with a bloodthirsty vengeance above, then sank like a stone to cut off Walters’ SUV.
The chase diverted into an alley, rocketed out the other-side into heavy traffic.
Walters ducked in the front seat, phone to his ear, “Kill them. Line them up and kill them both.”
The man in the room before Kennedy thumbed his phone, shoved it into a pocket. He advanced with his rifle on her. A hand grabbed Melissa, threw her at the far wall across from Kennedy. She knew what was about to happen, had only one chance to stop it. She was a nurse, knew human anatomy better than most. She’d have to put it to the test. But how? Could she? She was sworn to help people, but this was different, wasn’t it?
The man unlocked her first cuff. She had to wait until she was up. She couldn’t risk not having full leverage. There were a million ways to kill a person, probably more. Most of them she’d seen, either as attempts, or eventual successes. They all required both hands.
“Beside her, now!” Her second hand came free and he pulled her up.
Nothing mattered now except survival.
She straightened to step forward. His rifle was low, its butt even with his diaphragm. It wouldn’t take much. She moved to step. A fast grip and heavy jolt; the rifle-butt slammed his diaphragm. He fell back, breathless. She wrestled the rifle away. A heavy jerk broke it free. A moment later the butt crushed his throat. A crunch, and he was dead, spinal cord severed.
Kennedy’s chest heaved from the effort, mind still reeling. A flit from Melissa forced her into action. In a flash, she was beside her, rifle in hand, fighting knotted rope at her wrists. She freed the gag from Melissa.
“Y-you k-killed him,” she said, traumatized.
She fought the rope, “These knots. The rope’s too tight.”
“He h-has a kn-knife,” Melissa said, eyeing the body.
Kennedy hurried over to search him, found a pistol and a large survival knife. She slid the pistol into the waistband of her scrubs, then sliced through the binds on Melissa’s wrist.
“Ready?” Melissa nodded. “Stay behind me. We’ll get out of here. I promise.”