Devils Due Chapter Seventeen


’’You can't be here,’’ Kavanaugh said. He backed up, collided with a padded cubicle wall decorated with crayon drawings and clipped-out Dilbert cartoons. ’’You can't be here. You're dead.’’

’’Do I look dead?’’ Simms asked mildly.

’’I saw you die.’’

’’What, the vision you saw of your man coming up behind me and putting a bullet in my brain?’’ Simms smiled. ’’In some reality that happened. Not this one. You should learn to parse time lines better, Gil.’’

Kavanaugh glanced desperately around, but he was trapped. Lucia, to his right, had her gun on him;Simms had him from the front. A blank wall to his left. A cubicle wall at his back.

’’An endgame,’’ Simms continued, ’’is nothing but the last moves of a foregone conclusion. You were always going to lose, Gil. It was just a matter of sacrificing enough pawns to draw you out.’’

’’Like her?’’ Kavanaugh's eyes cut to Lucia. ’’Two for one, is that it?’’

’’Oh, they're not my pawns,’’ Sirnms replied. ’’We may very well be theirs. Didn't you understand that when you failed to keep McCarthy in prison by stealing Jazz's files on the case? Or by trying to have him killed inside? This had to happen. Inevitability at work, and neither you nor I have anything to do with it.’’

’’You're insane,’’ Kavanaugh said flatly.

’’You've made a fortune out of the disasters of others,’’ Simms said. ’’So have I. Maybe that does make us insane. It definitely makes us culpable.’’

’’Then kill me.’’

Simms smiled. ’’Now that is inevitable.’’

Lucia, intent on holding aim in an achingly difficult position behind her back, heard the elevator doors rumble open, and shifted her attention that direction.

Uniformed guards. ’’Simms!’’ she yelled, and darted out of the line of fire. Kavanaugh was already moving. When she looked back, Simms was gone, Kavanaugh was heading for safety, and she was on her own. Again.

She dodged through the cube farm, hoping she wouldn't reach a dead end, and somehow found the stairs. She elbowed the handle down and tried to decide which direction would be best. Down was obvious, and that was why she hesitated.

’’Lucia!’’ Jazz's voice echoed in the stairwell. ’’Get your ass up here!’’

She breathed a sigh of relief, wished she could wipe her sweaty hair out of her face, and took the stairs up at a run.
* * *

Jazz and Ben met her on the seventh floor landing, and Jazz had the handcuff keys out. She spun Lucia around and worked the lock, and Lucia, panting, said, ’’What the hell happened?’’

’’Complicated,’’ Jazz said briefly.

’’Jazz got the handcuff key and Taser out of your purse, opened her cuffs and took out the guards,’’ Ben said.

’’Okay, not so complicated.’’ The handcuffs clicked free. ’’Simms is here.’’

’’Yes. I saw him.’’

’’EMP go off?’’

’’Their servers are completely dark. If Manny has managed to take down the backups - ’’

’’He will.’’ Jazz looked vivid with the excitement of the chase, green eyes gleaming. ’’All of them. Cross Society servers, too.’’

’’What?’’

’’I talked Borden into it,’’ she said. ’’We tracked the system through Gabriel, Pike &Laskins, and found their server nodes. Manny's working on it. By the time this is over, both sides should be down for the count.’’

’’Except for the psychics.’’

’’Yeah, well. Beyond going on a killing spree - which I'm not in favor of for once - I don't see a way around that.’’

’’Maybe it doesn't matter,’’ Ben said. Lucia pulled out her gun and checked the clip. ’’Simms said that their psychics are specific in their predictions. Maybe they can still help people. It's when it gets to be a strategy that things go to hell.’’

’’You know what? Not my problem.’’ Jazz looked at each of them in turn. ’’You good to go?’’

’’Yes. Where?’’ Lucia asked.

’’Roof. Kavanaugh's got a nifty black helicopter.’’

They took the stairs at a run.

Kavanaugh was already on board, and the rotors were turning, when they banged through the exit. Lucia's feet slid on gravel as she stopped. Kavanaugh was facing them, and his eyes widened. He said something into a headphone.

’’Uh-oh,’’ Jazz said. ’’That's not good.’’

Max Simms was in the helicopter, too. Handcuffed.

’’Oh, dammit!’’ Lucia took aim, but the chopper was moving and the shot was risky;with Simms in the aircraft any shot she could make would be potentially lethal. She let her gun fall back to her side.

Simms was watching her with those wide, cold blue eyes. Smiling in that creepy, secretive way. Lucia felt McCarthy's hand on her shoulder, urging her back to the cover of the concrete wall. ’’Guards could be coming!’’ he yelled over the chop of the rotors. The helicopter was ten feet up, and rising. ’’This is done - we can't do anything. Let's go!’’

There was a flutter of color on the gravel, something red, half buried under a handful of rocks. Lucia ran for it, grabbed it, and made it back to the safety of the wall as the helicopter gracefully spun in the air, preparing to head out. It exploded.

The concussion hit with a wave of pressure that triggered Lucia to involuntarily cover her head and close her eyes, and then the unbelievably loud roar of the explosion rolled over them.

She forced her eyes open and saw the blackened shell of the helicopter heading back to the roof at terminal velocity.

’’Run!’’ she screamed, and pushed the other two ahead of her.

They made it to the back of the roof just as the wreck crashed in a fireball, sending blazing fragments spinning. Rotors broke loose and pinwheeled wildly. Lucia went flat, taking Ben and Jazz with her, while metal hissed overhead. Some of it embedded itself in the low wall at the edge of the roof, as if a nail bomb had gone off.

She felt heat on her back, then slaps. She was on fire. She rolled and stripped off the blue-and-white-checked shirt. Jazz was slowly getting to her feet, staring at the inferno that was melting the tar around it in into a hissing pool.

’’Holy Christ,’’ she said. ’’Two psychics, and they didn't see that coming?’’ She holstered her gun and held out a hand to Lucia, but Ben was ahead of her, a strong presence lifting her upright.

He had a long bloody cut on one cheek that would need stitches. Other than that, none of them was harmed.

Lucia tried to get her head together. ’’We need to retrieve the EMP and get the hell out,’’ she said. ’’Now.’’

Jazz nodded. ’’And how do we do that without running into their guys coming up?’’

McCarthy, for answer, unbuttoned his flannel shirt to show the vest underneath. He had his old badge on a chain, and he pulled it out so it showed on top of the black ballistic nylon. ’’Show your Kevlar,’’ he said. ’’Get out your guns and follow me.’’

They hit the stairs, and were two flights down before they heard the sound of running feet headed up. The fire alarms were pulsing again. The building was a kicked ants'nest, people flooding in from every floor, confused and afraid.

’’Make way!’’ McCarthy yelled. ’’Move right! Move right! FBI! FBI!’’

And, miraculously, it worked. In the confusion, nobody had time to question;even uniformed guards pressed to the side as they plunged down another flight, then another and another.

They burst through the stair doors onto the server floor and headed for the room at a dead run. It didn't matter now who saw them;everyone was running, clutching purses and briefcases and laptops. Yelling questions and panicked instructions.

When they opened the server room door, Ken Stewart was standing there, swaying, with the EMP. It was dead, of course. But it was physical proof of what had just happened, and it had Lucia's fingerprints on it.

Their guns leveled on him. ’’Drop it,’’ McCarthy said. ’’I mean it, Ken.’’

’’You're going to jail.’’ He looked feverish, spots of color high in a chalk-pale face. He coughed, and there was blood on his lips. He wiped it off on his sleeve. ’’I'm dying, but I'll still see you in hell.’’

He could barely breathe, Lucia saw. He'd looked sick before, every time she'd seen him - progressively worse, in fact. Coughing. Taking pills.

Taking antibiotics.

’’Oh, my God,’’ she said. ’’Anthrax. It was you.’’

Stewart dropped the EMP. It hit the floor with a heavy boom, and McCarthy edged forward to pick it up. ’’Watch him,’’ he warned, and holstered his gun. Jazz and Lucia kept their aim steady, but Stewart just stared down at McCarthy with furious, glittering eyes. ’’Why? Why try to kill her?’’ Ben asked.

’’Because it got to you.’’

McCarthy's back was to them, but Lucia saw rigidity in his shoulders, down his spine.

’’Where'd you get it? The anthrax?’’

Stewart grinned, showing bloody teeth. ’’Amazing what you can find, working anticrime task force. Bullshit redneck biochemists all over the place these days. Think they're saving the world from whatever it is they hate. You were right, Garza. I'd been to that lab before. Bought myself a nice little present.’’

’’You stupid, twisted bastard,’’ McCarthy said. ’’How long have you worked for Eidolon?’’

’’Since they told me you shot three people in the head. I trusted you, man. I liked you.’’

’’I liked you, too,’’ he said, and backed up. ’’But you got played, Ken. Just like I did. Only you got played a hell of a lot worse.’’

’’And he's about to get played one more time,’’ Lucia said. ’’Surveillance was digital, and it's as trashed as everything else. All that's left is physical evidence.’’ She tossed Stewart his gun, careful to keep her hand wrapped in the sleeve of her shirt. Even sick as he was, he caught it out of the air, steadied it and instantly focused it on her.

And fired.

Click.

’’Thank you,’’ she said. ’’I removed the rounds, obviously, before I returned it to you. And by the way, those two men on the floor? They're on your service weapon. Just like the three bodies in Kansas City were on Ben's. I hope you have better luck explaining it.’’

McCarthy had bagged the EMP, and now zipped the backpack shut with a decisive jerk. Stewart was staring uncomprehendingly at the gun in his grasp. He coughed again, and more blood spattered his hand as he tried to cover his mouth.

’’Oh, man,’’ McCarthy said, watching him. ’’I hate you, Ken, but I don't hate you that much. Get some help.’’

He shouldered the backpack.

They joined the rush downstairs.
* * *

Lucia sold the van for cash at a sleazy-looking, no-questions-asked lot on the outskirts of town, and used the money to buy them plane tickets. They shipped the guns and bulletproof vests to a dead drop that Manny had set up in Kansas;they could retrieve them later. The journey back to Kansas City was short and uneventful, and Lucia managed to sleep most of the way.

Before they landed, she pulled out the red envelope she'd retrieved from the roof and read the words that Max Simms had left them as a legacy.

EVERYTHING YOU DO MATTERS. PROTECT YOUR CHILD.

And, scrawled apparently in haste, P.S. - TRUST BORDEN

She showed it to Jazz, and saw some inner tension finally relax. That had been hard on her, not trusting Borden.

Manny picked them up at the airport in his new red Hummer. It was so outrageously attention-seeking that Lucia had to laugh, wearily, at the sight of it. She curled unconsciously into McCarthy's warmth on the way to the warehouse, and the weight of his arm around her shoulders felt like the best safety she had ever known.

’’We need to get you to a doctor,’’ McCarthy said softly, just for her ears. ’’Have you checked out.’’

’’I'm fine.’’

’’I mean - ’’

’’I know what you mean. I'll go and let them do the poking and prodding, but everything's okay.’’

Talking in code. That would have to stop soon;they'd have to tell everybody the news of her pregnancy. Probably not the details, but the fact, at least. Uncle Manny. Aunt Jazz. The kid would, at least, have a colorful childhood.

They were pulling into the armored ground-floor garage when Manny suddenly said, ’’What do you want to do about the guest?’’

’’Guest?’’ Jazz looked blank for a second, then chagrined. ’’Oh, shit, I forgot. Susannah, right? She's still here?’’

’’She's upstairs. What do you want to do with her?’’

Jazz sighed long-sufferingly. ’’I guess I'll take her for the night. Tomorrow we can figure out a long-term solution. New identity, new life - ’’

’’Let's just get through the rest of the day without anybody else dropping dead,’’ Lucia said.

’’Sounds like a good plan.’’

They trooped wearily up the stairs, pausing for the obligatory code entries, and as he opened the top door, Manny said, ’’Pansy, we're - ’’

And Susannah Davis shot him.

The sound of the hot crack echoed off of concrete and steel. Manny staggered back into Jazz, who caught him reflexively, yelling something Lucia couldn't catch because she was already moving past Jazz and Manny, cutting behind a concrete pillar.

Susannah Davis had a gun, and she had Pansy as a shield. She was holding Pansy's silky black hair in one hand, pulling her onto her tiptoes to keep her in place. Pansy appeared terrified, eyes round in horror. Susannah jerked her backward, moving fast, trying to keep the killing angle.

Lucia instinctively went for her gun.

Empty holster. They'd shipped their guns back. Damnation. There would be a small arsenal in the Hummer, but there wasn't time to fetch it. Manny had been hit in the stomach, and he needed a doctor now. He was propped up against Jazz in the doorway, holding his hands over the wound, staring at Pansy and Susannah. God, there was a lot of blood.

’’Don't you dare,’’ he whispered. ’’Don't you dare hurt her.’’

’’I don't want her,’’ Susannah said. ’’Callender. Garza. Out here, now. I'll let her go if you step out.’’

Lucia exchanged a quick look with Jazz. There was desperation in Jazz's eyes. Think of something. Anything.

McCarthy was even more helpless, trapped behind Jazz on the stairwell. Unarmed.

Lucia didn't see any way out of it.

’’Seriously,’’ Susannah said. ’’I'll blow her head off. I swear.’’ She sounded so very different from the beaten woman Lucia had rescued in the parking garage, and the scared one who'd talked about her abusive husband. Even from the manipulative fragile one who'd talked about the SubTropolis conspiracy.

Games, and games, and games. She'd even confessed to something, though Lucia hadn't realized it at the time. Omar. I let him in, she'd said, talking about Leonard. And she undoubtedly had. They'd been in it together, from the beginning. Playing the abused and abusive spouse, maneuvering to get things right where they wanted them. Omar had been a complication. Maybe Leonard had killed him, and maybe it had been Susannah, after all. No defensive wounds. Omar would have let her close enough.

Then she'd killed her own partner in crime to get a better chance at them.

Which she finally had.

It wasn't about Lucia herself. Susannah had had plenty of chances to kill her, but she'd never had a clear run at Jazz. Until now.

’’Stay!’’ Lucia snapped, when Jazz started to move Manny away from her lap. ’’Jazz, don't you move!’’ Because Jazz was the target. ’’Susannah, listen to me. You got paid to kill Jazz, am I right? You and Leonard? But things went wrong. You had to improvise. You've been out of touch. It's over. There's nobody left to pay you off. Quit while you're ahead. Don't make us kill you.’’

’’You're not going to kill me.’’ She stretched Pansy higher with a tug of her hair. ’’At least, not before this one bleeds.’’

’’There's no way out of this for you.’’

’’Trust me. There is.’’ Susannah looked utterly cool and calm about it, and very, very serious, and Manny was bleeding internally, and they didn't have time. ’’I'm going to start shooting Pansy now. Take off an ear, some fingers - ’’

Manny made a tortured sound and tried to move. Jazz held on to him, grim-faced. As angry as Lucia had ever seen her.

Lucia risked another look around the pillar. The situation was still the same, except that there was a flicker of movement somewhere in the back.

Borden.

He looked pale and scared half to death, but he was moving. He had his hands clasped in front of him, and for a second Lucia didn't remember why. And then she did, with a vengeance.

Careful, oh God, careful...

Jesus, his hands - he was still handcuffed. Surely Manny had let him loose...or Jazz, before she left... No, maybe Manny had followed orders a little too well, after all.

’’Susannah,’’ Lucia said again. ’’Susannah, don't hurt her. Listen, tell me what you want, okay? How much is it going to take to buy you off on this? A million dollars? I can get it for you.’’

’’My reputation's worth more than a million,’’ Susannah spat. ’’And I don't believe I'm not getting paid, so you can shove your bribery. Stand up, Jazz. Let me see you or I swear to God, I'll put bullets into Manny's little girlfriend until you do.’’

Borden was two steps away, right behind her.

’’No?’’ Susannah asked. ’’Fine. Manny first.’’ And she switched the gun from Pansy's head to aim at Manny's defenseless body again.

Borden looped his handcuff chain across her throat and yanked. She let go of Pansy and the gun to instinctively grab for the chokehold, and Borden yanked up and back, pulling her into him.

Lucia charged forward, shoved Pansy out of the way to safety, and got there just as Susannah's right hand rumbled for something in her left sleeve.

Lucia grabbed hold of Susannah's arm as the knife plunged toward Borden's groin. She twisted Susannah's wrist, and smashed the heel of her right hand up into the woman's nose. Borden, shocked, staggered backward. Susannah flexed her knees and slipped out of the noose of his handcuffs.

The knife was still in her hand, and from the way she held it, she knew how to use it.

’’Back!’’ Lucia yelled at Borden, and he retreated. He hustled Pansy to the doorway, where she collapsed to her knees beside Manny, holding him.

Jazz came running toward Susannah, and so did McCarthy.

But Jazz got there first.

Susannah was unprepared, even though she was as quick and dirty a fighter as Lucia had ever seen. Jazz slammed her forehead into Susannah's bloody nose, grabbed her knife hand and almost effortlessly flipped her around. It was like dancing;Susannah began the turn off balance, ended on one foot, kicking for Jazz's face. Jazz floated backward, grabbed her leg and torqued it sideways. They both went down. Susannah twisted and yelled, and the knife flashed -

And Jazz jerked out of the way at the last possible second, a move Lucia would never have attempted. She didn't have the strength or the speed...

Susannah missed, couldn't check her own momentum, and a flick of Jazz's wrist buried the blade in Susannah's side, hilt-deep.

’’Oh, shit.’’ Susannah yelped, surprised, and pulled it out.

A jet of bright arterial blood arced as high as a fountain.

’’Shit,’’ she repeated, and laughed. ’’That just sucks. Somebody call me an ambulance.’’ She jammed fingers into the wound, suddenly clammy and gray-faced. Wobbling.

Lucia picked up the fallen gun, watching her. Jazz deliberately turned her back to go for the phone.

Susannah flipped the knife, and prepared to throw it at Jazz's exposed back.

Lucia fired.

Jazz didn't even turn around as she dialed 911.

Epilogue

It was, the doctors informed them at the hospital, a serious but not life-threatening wound. Some bowel resection, and he'd be uncomfortable for a while, but Manny was going to live.

And so would Susannah Davis, who'd been absolutely livid that Lucia had wounded, not killed her. The FBI had been happy to take her back, after all;Agent Rawlins had even seemed smug about it. Lucia had suspicions that they'd been used, again.

She intended it to be the very last time.

Their offices had been open again for six weeks when she went to the doctor for an examination. McCarthy went with her. There was an ultrasound, and for the first time, she saw the tiny gestational sac, with a flickering heartbeat of life.

She couldn't reconcile that miracle with the cold invasiveness of what had been done to her, but she couldn't not love her child, in that moment.

’’Beautiful,’’ she whispered, and caressed her still-flat stomach. ’’Oh, God, Ben. So beautiful.’’

He touched the screen, tracing the outline of what would become their baby. He didn't speak, but she could see the love in his face. In that moment, he was luminous.

And when he got her home, McCarthy made slow love to her in ways that told her without words how deep the emotions went in him. To the bone. To the soul.

The next day, Pansy came into her office with an opened FedEx envelope. She was trying to be offhand, but it was obviously a struggle. Lucia, in the middle of a client meeting, immediately asked for a recess and stepped outside, shutting the door behind her. Jazz, sensing trouble, was already there.

’’What?’’ Lucia asked. Pansy mutely tilted the envelope so that they could see inside.

A red envelope.

’’The good news is, there's no powder,’’ Pansy said. ’’The bad news is, it ain't Valentine's Day.’’

Lucia sucked in a deep breath and took the envelope out. It had JAZZ CALLENDER AND LUCIA GARZA block printed on it. The FedEx label came from a firm she'd never heard of: Black &Foxworth, Attorneys At Law.

’’No,’’ Jazz said. Simple and definite.

’’No,’’ Pansy confirmed, with a decisive shake of her head. ’’Not that I get a vote, but...no.’’

They both looked at Lucia, whose vote did count. She looked at it. Turned it over and studied the invitingly open flap, the cream-colored sheet of paper showing like a tease.

’’Shredder,’’ she said.

Pansy dragged the device out from behind her desk.

Lucia dropped the envelope in the teeth of the machine, and it chewed it into ribbons in five seconds flat.

’’We make our own choices,’’ Lucia said. ’’deal?’’

’’Deal,’’ Jazz said, and they shook on it.

They were walking away when Pansy said, ’’Um...I think there was a check in there.’’

And Lucia began to laugh, and Jazz joined in, and just for a moment, there was brightness all around them.

’’Well,’’ Jazz gasped, ’’that was hell of a choice.’’

’’Shut up, Jazz.’’

’’Ooh, touchy. Love you too.’’

’’Go earn us some money.’’

’’Somebody's got to, if you're going to shred all our income...’’ Jazz grinned and went back to her office.

Lucia sat down at her desk, smiled and resumed work.

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