I was less clear on the basement’s layout since it wasn’t on any of the plans Skylar had found. I got the sense the basement had been dug out after the building’s completion, and I couldn’t go crazy with grenades. Not because of support beams or load-bearing points or anything. Dick was down here, and I was trying to save him, not kill him.
I leaped down the stairs three at a time and my heel slipped on the last step. All I could hear was my own panting, and I looked back up the stairs at the metal door, lit by a bare incandescent bulb. On my way out, that doorway would be a choke-point that could kill me. But once I got back upstairs, my escape was just down the hall. I could deal with it on my way out, once I had Dick.
The door upstairs opened, and I ducked around the corner as something metal tumbled down the stairs. I was four yards down the hall by the time it detonated. A screech scoured my ears in their earphones and I shut my eyes against the flash. I kept my head low and charged down the hall. Who knew how many people Silvers had on my ass now?
The next turn opened into an antechamber, with one door each on the left and right, and a metal table in the middle where two men sat. They knocked their chairs around leaping upright, but I pointed my rifle and one of them raised his hands.
I said, “Get down on the ground!” They were frozen; neither went for a gun. “Get down on the fucking ground!” The taller white guy on the left knelt first; I kept the gun in his face and patted along his chest and sides. Nothing but a pistol at his waist. The other man, a wide-eyed black guy, was halfway down to his knees. He held his hands aside as I patted him down, too.
I had no need to shoot them. I dropped their guns into a coat pocket, then stepped around them and shoved the tall man toward the doorway, so that he collapsed. “Get out,” I said. “March down that hall and get the fuck out. Keep your head down.”
“What the fuck is going in?” the tall man said.
“Just do what she says, Marvin,” the other guy said. He staggered to his feet and the two began to march toward the door.
“Double time!” I said. “Clear out!” When they were through the doorway, I kicked the table over, pointing its surface at the way I’d come in. If Silvers kept coming after me, I’d take her down here. I considered putting a bullet through the table to test its thickness, but I didn’t need more attention yet. Visual cover would have to do.
The two men were a few seconds gone when I heard a gunshot and a pained wail down the hall. A woman yelled something, and I opened the Jackhammer’s cylinder and loaded in fresh shells. I was still digging for a fresh HK416 magazine when I heard a pair of tiny crashes ahead. The lights in the hallway had gone out.
The antechamber itself was dim, and I was a sitting duck behind a table. I pointed my USP at the dark hall doorway with the unloaded assault rifle against my knee. Then there was a blinding light in the doorway, and I jerked down as a bullet slapped the side of my helmet.
I emptied half my pistol into the doorway, knowing the shooter was just around the corner. I ducked behind the table, slapped a new magazine into the assault rifle, and pulled back the bolt. Another shot, and this one punched through the metal table a foot to my right. So much for defensive cover.
What the hell could I do? I pointed my rifle over the table, looking down the sights into the darkness. I said, “Silvers, it makes my life a lot easier if I get to kill you now instead of later.”
From the dark, Silvers said, “You’re not leaving this building alive, you know. I’m guessing this is Lenton? Barbara Lenton. I thought we’d killed you in Garrison.”
I fired, trying to sink a bullet through the basement wall, but Silvers just laughed. She said, “It’s no use, Lenton! The boys deeper in know you’re coming. They’ll be here in a few seconds.”
“Will they now,” I said, and I shot into the dark. More laughter. It was like something from a movie, high-pitched and evil.
Silvers said, “I might consider letting you out alive. That is, if you—”
I said, “You want me to kill Dick or shoot my own foot or swear loyalty to you or something. Whatever! Bring the thunder or get out of my way, bitch!” I could hear footsteps from the other halls now, left and right. The doors would burst open and more gangsters would spill in, guns blazing. I’d be caught from three sides.
I stuck my USP in its holster and threw the Jackhammer’s strap over my shoulder. Then I threw a grenade down the hall, and Silvers made an involuntary shriek as she sprinted away. I tried not to laugh as I forced the table up against the door on my right, jamming it under the handle. Even if it slipped, its weight would keep the door shut for a few more seconds. As I turned, the left door opened and a crowd of black-clad gunners burst out, right into my line of fire. I spat buckshot on full auto, aiming at necks and groins. Three of the thugs staggered and collapsed in the doorway. I saw one left, holding back, and I poured two more shells into him.
Something was pounding on the door behind me, the one I’d blocked. A bullet burst through the surface, puckering the metal around its hole. So the doors weren’t bullet-proof, either. I reloaded my rifle and shot right through the door, spraying wide.
I had a thought that one of them could have used Dick as a hostage. I waited a few seconds, then dragged aside the table and opened the door. No Dick, just a few wounded gunners lying on the floor. One of them tried to raise a pistol and I shot her three more times.
Aiming my voice toward Silvers’s doorway, I said, “Let’s not pretend that any of us are getting any mercy today.” I ran down the now-unblocked hallway, stepping on a few legs along the way. The hallway turned right and I found a pair of dead-end rooms. There were open gun cabinets, chairs, even a fridge, but I had everything I needed. I doubled back.
No Silvers this time as I reentered the antechamber. I bound toward the opposite doorway, cluttered with buckshot-stuffed mooks. I could see another lit hallway further down; if Dick wasn’t down there, I had no fucking clue where he was.
There was a bang, and something hard hit my back. I staggered, and something else hit me, so that I tumbled onto my side, rolling to face my attacker. Silvers was in the room with me, aiming a gaudy silver-plated Glock 17 pistol, half-hidden behind the table I’d carelessly left in the corner. She was covered in concrete dust, her face seething.
Silvers said, “How many bullets do we need to put into you?”
My USP. I reached for it and Silvers shot my arm. But I clutched it, gritting my teeth and whimpering as I pointed it at Silvers.
Her eyes landed on the barrel. “That gun’s empty,” she said.
“Wanna bet?” I said. My right arm wavered with pain, and blood drained from a hole in my sleeve. But I held the gun aimed at Silvers’s chest. “I think, even now, I can take a bullet a lot better than you can.”
“You’re an idiot,” Silvers said. “No team, no escape route, nothing but you and your anger. What the fuck did you think you would accomplish today, Barbara Lenton?”
I laughed, and that hurt, too. One of the bullets had probably busted a rib. I laughed again, and Silvers’s face contorted into something demonic. I said, “You know exactly why I’m here. Is he down this hall?”
“You’ll never get to him,” Silvers said.
I shot the table near her middle and Silvers flinched. I said, “Is he down this hall!?”
“Yeah,” Silvers said. “Waiting for you like a princess in a castle. Oh, but he’s not so much of a princess now! Wait till you see him.”
I fired, and Silvers’s right shoulder jerked, bursting with red. She was on her toes in an instant, sprinting for the dark hallway faster than I’d ever seen. I pointed my shaking gun after her, fired, missed. I let it drop when she was out of sight.
I could go after her and kill her, take revenge. For Viola. But I wasn’t here for my dead best friend. I was here to save someone.
I lurched off the floor and stepped over the bodies into the doorway. The hole in my arm hurt just like the one from Garrison; I’d need to see a hospital, probably check for bone damage. But Silvers’s words needled me; I had the eerie suspicion that Dick was a lot worse off than me.
No more gangsters in my way as I passed down the hallway and followed it into the light. I guessed I was about under the loading dock, not too far from where I’d started. I stepped into a hallway with heavy-looking metal doors along the wall, three on either side. Each door had a slot at eye level, another by the floor. I peered into each room, trying not to block the light with my head. Once again I wished I’d brought a flashlight.
When I looked into the fourth cell, a tiny voice cried out. A rasping whine, barely human. I struggled with the lock a moment, sprinted down the hall, found a set of keys on a table. My heart was pounding, like it needed to escape the armor. I opened the cell door.
Dick was there, curled up near a bucket. Pale, naked, dirty, covered in dried blood. His head lifted up; one of his eyes was almost swollen shut. He saw me and let out another wail.
“My god. Oh my god,” I said, and I dropped my gun. I threw off the helmet and shotgun, the belt and trench coat. Dick cried out as I raised him to a sitting position and laid the coat over his shoulders. I said, “Dick. Can you hear me?”
“Barb,” Dick said in a voice like wet sandpaper. “Hey, sweetheart. You miss me?”
“You know I did,” I said. I held him under his arms, staring at his battered face. “Can you stand? I need to get you out of here.”
Dick shook his head and winced. “Leg broken. I can hobble.”
“Not good enough,” I said. I hung the guns back over my shoulder, where they pressed my satchel painfully into my back. “Come on. I’ll carry you.”
“Careful,” Dick said. A wail escaped his throat as I lifted him up, trying to ignore the dizzying pain in my shot arm. Dick was light, too light. His stomach was a mess of bruises, not a single inch the color it should be. Dick noticed my gaze and chuckled, and the sound came out like a whine. “Every night,” Dick said, patting his stomach. “Silvers. Kicks for kicks, I guess.”
“Silvers won’t hurt you ever again,” I said, putting my helmet back on with my busted arm. But now I was carrying too much weight, and I could barely move. What could I leave? The guns were evidence that could lead police back to Ingram, especially the Jackhammer since Dick owned its factory. I finally detached the clasp on my rifle’s strap and kicked it down the hall. With any luck, it would look like it belonged with the heap of fallen weapons and bodies. I took a few steps and kicked it further, carrying Dick.
“Wait,” Dick said. “There’s someone else, a woman, in that other cell.”
“Is it Viola?” I said. I didn’t allow myself to hope.
“Then I don’t care,” I said. “The police will be on this place soon. They’ll get her out.” Dick sighed. I said, “I’ll at least unlock the door.”
I braced my leg against the wall, supporting Dick’s weight with my knee as I shoved a key into the cell’s lock. It didn’t turn. I stuck in two more keys, and when the third one worked, I yanked open the door and staggered away, without looking inside.
No one got in our way. The antechamber held only bodies, bullet holes, and blood. Dick prodded my collar with his fingers and I stopped. He wanted me to let him down onto one leg. “You need to use your gun,” he said. There were tears in his eyes, but from pain or emotion I couldn’t tell.
“Okay,” I said. I supported Dick’s weight with my left arm, and he hobbled beside me, panting. My right hand was clenched around the USP, even as blood ran into my glove.
“Heh,” Dick said. “You made a mess in here.”
“They were in my way,” I said. I supported Dick as we limped into the dark hallway, and my foot crunched on broken glass. The lightbulb. Dick’s foot landed on a shard and he wailed with pain. I picked him right up again, and I managed to point my USP forward even as I supported his legs.
Dick said, “Silvers isn’t a lesbian. I figured that much out. She—she tortures everyone equally.”
“Shh,” I said. I hated to imagine what pain he felt, what she’d put him through. My bullet wounds were nothing in comparison. “No more of that. You’re going to be safe now. I’m going to save you.”
Dick said, “Wake me when I’m in heaven, then. That’s the only safety I expect.”
We weren’t going to heaven. But I held my tongue. Instead I said, “I’ll wake you when we’re on the road. How about that?”
Dick laughed. The sound was raspy, but it was stronger now, almost like his old self. “Atta girl.”
Stairs. Door. Lightbulb. Both of us breathed hard as I climbed, and Dick was the one who gripped the door handle at the end. He hesitated and I took the moment to catch my breath.
There were probably a dozen people with guns waiting beyond the door. The cops could be there, too, scared and trigger-happy. There was a good chance we were about to die.
“Open it,” I said. Dick grunted and pulled the handle. I stuck my foot in the crack and opened the door.
There wasn’t a single person in the hall ahead, just bodies and rubble. I clenched my pistol as I carried Dick through the carnage. I took a right, away from where I’d come in, toward the emergency exit at the end of another hall.
In a little alcove I’d passed earlier, an alarmed emergency exit waited. If I’d come in this way, I’d have brought the entire base down on me, just twenty feet from my all-important entry point to the basement. But I had no such concern now. I pushed open the door and the fire alarm screamed. Dick shut his eyes as I walked out into the sun.
There were no cops waiting in the yard, no one. Maybe Silvers’s people were rushing back toward the basement, or maybe they were busy with damage control in the bombed sections. Then I heard a gunshot in the distance, on the other side of the building. I looked and saw red and blue lights shining on the lawn, but the police cars were out of sight. I wondered who had fired first, the panicked gangsters or the police who’d come to investigate an explosion. Whatever. At least they were out of my way.
I jogged down the corner, even though it made Dick hiss, and made it to my car. I opened the passenger side door and laid Dick, panting and grunting, in the seat. I popped the trunk and tossed in my guns, the ammo satchel, the armor, my helmet. I slammed the trunk door and watched curiously as a lone man sprinted out of the office building toward its parking lot. He scrambled into his car and pulled away without glancing in my direction. I laughed as he mounted the curb on his way out of the lot.
Then I slid into the driver’s side seat of my car. In the daylight, Dick looked like an art piece born from knives and clubs instead of brushes. His mouth hung open and his good eye peered at me. He could see my bleeding arm, my sweaty and stress-worn face.
“You’re beautiful,” Dick said, his head slumping. “You know that?”
“It’s okay, Dick,” I said. “I’ll get you somewhere safe. No one will hurt you anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” Dick said, and a sob broke from his lungs. His eyes closed and he began to shake. “I’m so sorry, Barb.”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t trust myself to speak. I pulled away from my parking spot and aimed us toward the highway. We were going home.