It’s Saturday, so it’s time for another chapter from The Pericles Conspiracy. We’re now almost a third of the way through; it’ll be a few more months to reach the end. As always, if you don’t want to wait you can go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
Into The Fire
Jo pushed a low-hanging branch out of her way and stepped into the clearing, her heart pounding in her chest and Agent DiStefano’s plasma pistol in her right hand alongside her thigh. The scene in the clearing made her stop in surprised shock.
Agent Calderon was on the ground, groaning through gritted teeth and grasping at his left knee, which was scorched and blackened by what Jo assumed was a plasma shot. His pistol lay on the ground about three meters from him – a kilometer away for all the good it would do him. Agent Moore stood in a shooter’s stance almost directly in front of Jo, her pistol held in both hands and trained on Malcolm and the third agent.
Malcolm stood behind the third agent. Jo could see the metal bands of the handcuffs around his wrists, but the chain between them had been severed somehow. He had his left arm wrapped around the agent’s neck, pinning the agent close to his body. In his right hand, he held a plasma pistol pointing at the agent’s temple.
“Put down the weapon, Ngubwe,” Agent Moore said, her tone crisp and professional, though it also carried a hint of frustration.
Malcolm shook his head and took a step back, dragging the agent with him. “Back away,” he shouted in return.
Agent Moore showed no sign of complying. She moved forward in time with Malcolm, her pistol never wavering as she sighted in on him. Malcolm was almost a full head taller than the agent he held captive. Jo imagined it would not be hard for Agent Moore to shoot him in the head, if she meant to.
Malcolm called out, “Put your gun down and back away.” He was beginning to sound desperate.
Jo saw Agent Moore flex her hands on the grip of her pistol and cock her head slightly. She was getting ready to fire.
Before she realized what she was doing, Jo took two steps forward, out from beneath the canopy of branches and into the open, and raised the pistol she was holding, pointing it at Agent Moore’s back.
“Do what he says,” she ordered in her best Captain tone.
Agent Moore froze and glanced back at Jo. Malcolm’s eyes widened in shock.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Agent Moore said, her expression and tone growing harsh with sudden fury.
“The right thing. Finally,” Jo replied. She stepped forward and to her right, keeping the pistol trained on Agent Moore. “Put down your weapon and back away.”
The agent swallowed, her eyes flickering between Jo and Malcolm. She flexed her hands on her pistol again and she swallowed.
“Have you gone mad? You’re killing yourself, do you know that?”
Jo shrugged and moved over to Malcolm’s side, being careful to keep Agent Moore in her sights. As she walked, she put on her command face and said, in her best Captain voice, “If I’m already dead, I guess I’ll have no problem taking you with me. Put. Down. The. Gun. Now.”
For a moment, Jo had the sinking feeling that she might actually have to follow through on the threat. It was easy enough to say it, but contemplating actually pulling the trigger… She was not sure if she could really do it.
Apparently her doubt did not show through on her face, because Agent Moore’s expression changed from cooly in control to doubtful. She licked her lips and glanced to the side where Agent Calderon still lay in obvious agony – he was out of the fight even if his weapon had been near to hand – then back toward Jo. Their eyes met and Jo saw the doubt become fearful certainty. A few seconds passed then, ever so slowly, Agent Moore raised her hands and tossed her weapon off to the side.
“Good. Now turn around and get on your knees.”
As Agent Moore complied, Jo looked over at Malcolm. He looked haggard, and no wonder after the last few moments. Jo did not want to look in a mirror herself right then. What the hell was she doing?
Malcolm gave her the briefest of smiles and said, “This way, Jo.”
Moving as quickly as he could with the agent in his grasp, Malcolm backed away toward the trees on far side of the open area. Jo followed and in short order they stood beneath the overhanging branches. Agent Moore had not moved, no doubt expecting a plasma shot in the back if she did.
“Now what?” she asked.
In response, Malcolm twisted his foot between the agent’s legs and pushed forward, sending the man sprawling.
“Don’t move,” Malcolm ordered. Then he turned to Jo and said, “Let’s go.”
Malcolm sprinted away. Jo hesitated only a heartbeat before running to join him.
* * * * *
“What made you change your mind?”
Jo gritted her teeth and clung to the handle on Malcolm’s car door as he took a turn at a higher rate of speed than she would have preferred. As in their last meeting, he had parked not far outside the Parque. This time he did not bother with the blindfold or the security walk around, though. They just hopped in and he floored it.
Tires squealed as the car skidded for a moment, then Malcolm righted it and sped away north down Bahía del Caraquez. They passed a hospital on their right, then he turned the car hard to the right again, onto Ambato.
“Where are we going?” Jo asked, not bothering to answer his question.
“We established a new safehouse north of the city,” he replied in clipped tones. “If we can get on Highway 35, we should make it there relatively quickly.”
And that would be the reason Malcolm picked such a late hour for their meeting. It was not just some cliché cloak-and-dagger act, after all. A getaway in Quito’s middle-of-the-day traffic would have been laughable. But now, they just might make it. Except…
“That’s not going to happen,” Jo said, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that was caused by more than Malcolm’s hard turn to the left onto Venezuela.
Malcolm glanced at her and, seeing her expression, grinned and let off the accelerator. “You’re right, of course. It wouldn’t do to get pulled over for speeding, would it?”
Jo shook her head. “No, but that’s not what I mean. I… Aw crap. Don’t hit anything for a second.” She unhooked her seatbelt and leaned forward then shrugged out of her jacket. Quickly checking that she had everything from its pockets, she rolled down her window and tossed the jacket out into the night.
Malcolm raised one eyebrow. “Bugged?”
Jo nodded. “But that’s not all.” She rubbed at her shoulder and imagined she could feel the bump from the locator concealed there. “They injected me with a locator device.”
Malcolm’s other eyebrow rose and he glanced at the shoulder. “Crap,” he said, echoing Jo’s words. “Ok, I know a guy who can take care of it.” His eyes flicked to the rearview display and he frowned. “If we can make it to him. They’ll probably follow us at a distance, set up roadblocks…”
His frown deepened as he turned right onto Jose Mejia. The intersection with Highway 35 lay ahead, but he did not seem to be relaxing at all.
Jo swallowed despite the dryness in her mouth and tried to suppress the anxiety within her. They were not caught yet; there was a chance they could still get away. Wasn’t there? “We’re not screwed are we?”
Malcolm glanced at her. His frown lessened and he shook his head. “Not yet. But we’ll have to move quickly.”
Keeping one hand on the wheel, Malcolm reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a mobile communicator. He tapped its screen to life and made a selection. A few seconds later, the electronic beep which announced his call being answered sounded over the car’s internal speakers, followed by a male voice.
“Robert, do you know what time it is?” The man’s accent marked him as a local to the Quito area. His voice was deep and gravelly, and he sounded sleepy and more than a little annoyed.
“I’ve got an emergency, Raúl.”
“What else is new.” The man on the other end of the line grumbled something unintelligible then inhaled deeply. In her mind’s eye, Jo imagined him sitting up, throwing his feet over the side of his bed, and rubbing his eyes as he woke up fully. Finally, he said, “Alright, what’s up?”
“I need an internal locator removed. Right now.”
“I’m serious, Raúl.”
The man groaned softly. “Robert, that’s a tricky procedure. I need special tools, a lab… It’s not just something I can throw together.”
“Well you’re going to have to. They’re after us and we don’t have a lot of time. I’ll be at your place in ten minutes.”
“What? Hell no, don’t come here.” The man inhaled loudly again. “Meet me at the usual spot in twenty. Ok?”
Malcolm glanced at the rearview again and nodded. “Alright. Twenty minutes.”
The speakers went silent as the call ended.
Jo looked at Malcolm in confusion. “Robert?”
Malcolm chuckled. “I don’t advertise who I am very widely, Jo. Raúl is a good man, but also a tad,” he looked at her with a raised eyebrow, “shady, if you know what I mean. But if there’s anyone who can get that bug out of you, it’s him.”
“That’s a comfort.”
Well, it was not, really. But Jo was committed now. Even if she was not sure she had done the right thing by siding with Malcolm, there was no going back. She was just going to have to trust him, and his ‘shady’ friend. Wonderful.
She took a deep breath. “Where are we meeting him?”
“In the short-term parking lot at the airport.” Malcolm must have noticed the confused look on her face, because he chuckled and continued, “It’s controlled airspace, so it’s not likely we’ll be pursued or observed by aerial units. And there’s always a lot of people coming and going, even at this hour.” He winked at her. “Makes it easy to blend in.”
“Ah. That makes sense, I suppose.”
The airport was a bit over twenty kilometers away, past a line of peaks east of the city. Throughout the drive, Jo expected to see the flashing blue lights of police cars in the rearview, or blocking the highway ahead. But there were none. As Malcolm pulled off the highway Jo managed to relax a little.
Maybe Agent Moore had been so delayed by Calderon and DiStefano’s wounds that she decided to wait. More likely not, though. Thinking about it, Jo decided she would not likely use the local police unless she had to; a public spectacle was the last thing the NSA wanted. So there would likely be no flashing lights and squad cars. But they did want the rest of Becky’s cell, and Jo had the locator in her shoulder. Maybe Agent Moore would wait after all, hoping Malcolm and Jo would lead them to the rest of his companions before they got someone to remove the locator.
Jo dismissed the thought. Agent Moore had never struck her as particularly clever, but she was not a complete idiot. She would have to know that Jo would try to get the locator out first thing.
Which meant the agents were on their way, and Jo would likely not see them until they were on her. So much for relaxing.
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.