I’m a day late posting this. Sorry about that. Could be worse. Could be raining. 🙂
And now, strap yourselves in for another chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. We’re now about a third of the way through; it’ll take 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.
Around The Bend
“Are you sure they’re on to us?” Jo shouted.
The van lurched again as Malcolm turned quickly, nearly knocking Raúl and Jo over again. Then the van’s motor noise grew louder as he accelerated. Finally, he answered, “Pretty sure. I passed two sedans going the other way. They stopped in the middle of the road and made u-turns, so either they’re NSA or they both really want to stop at McDonalds.” He gestured ahead and to the right, where they were about to pass a pair of the famous golden arches.
“Small chance of that,” Jo muttered. More loudly, she said, “Can you lose them?”
“In this?” Malcolm sounded incredulous, earning a scowl from Raúl. “Did you get the locator out yet?”
Raúl muttered something in Spanish, probably a curse. “I was about a minute away before you did that. Now I have to get re-setup.”
Malcolm cursed as well then nodded. “They’re about a hundred fifty meters back and coming up fast. I’ll do my best to lose them, but it won’t matter if you don’t get that chip out.”
Raúl squatted to retrieve the MRI unit and gestured for Jo to sit again, muttering, “You think I don’t know this? You came to me, remember?” under his breath. When he looked back up at Jo, he was still scowling. “Alright, it’s probably going to hurt more since we’re in a bigger hurry. You up for it?”
What was she going to say, no? Jo nodded and held out her arm.
The van lurched again, more mildly as though Malcolm had just changed lanes abruptly. Jo wedged herself into the corner as best she could while still allowing Raúl access to her arm.
Reattaching the MRI took longer than it did the first time, or maybe it just seemed that way because of the new tension in the air. Raúl had to readjust the clamps a couple times before it would stay; maybe one of the clamps got bent when it fell? At least the image came back after he energized the unit, just as clear as it had the last time.
Another lurching came, along with the squealing of tires, as Raúl adjusted his pinchers and Jo nearly fell to the floor again. But she managed to keep herself still by pressing hard against the wall of the van with her outstretched feet. As Malcolm completed the turn, the van rocked and for a moment it almost felt as though it was going to go over. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful end to the night? But then it righted itself and he drove straight again.
Jo really wished she could see what was going on outside. The tension of being chased and apprehension over the advertised pain to come was bad enough, but all the rocking and rolling was beginning to make her head spin. She normally did not get motion sickness, but for whatever reason she felt a mild nausea coming on. Maybe it was the…
A sharp pain in her shoulder distracted Jo from that line of thought. She heard herself crying out and bit down hard, gritting her teeth again. She favored Raúl with a glare that would send one of her crew members scurrying away to hide, but he did not notice. His gaze was locked onto the MRI display, which now showed the ends of the pinchers pushed deep into her muscle but not quite to the locator. Worse…
“Is that thing moving?”
Raúl nodded and Jo’s nausea was joined by a sudden terror. In a near panic, Jo had to force herself not to rip the equipment off of her shoulder and jump off the bench, and to hell with this procedure. But then that would mean leaving that…thing…inside her. Shuddering as reason pushed panic down, she focused on Raúl.
“I missed it. They are designed to resist removal,” Raúl explained. “If their sensors detect tampering, they activate and burrow in deeper.” His eyes left the display and met hers for a moment. His expression was almost pitying. “Sorry about this.”
He actuated the pinchers and agony ripped through Jo’s shoulder. Unable to hold back a scream, she felt as though she had been run through by a pair of red-hot pokers. Then just as she had almost recovered, the pinchers twisted and jerked, sending another lance of pain through her shoulder. She gasped and slumped back, breathing in and out with quick heaving breaths.
The interior of the van spun for a moment before she could right herself. Finally she took a deep breath and sat up again, wiping tears from her eyes with the back of her right hand. The pain had reduced to a dull throb, maybe a four or five on a scale of ten. Normally that would be enough to be far more than annoying, but compared to the fifteen she just experienced it almost felt like heaven.
She looked over at Raúl and demanded, “Tell me you got it.”
He nodded and held up the pinchers for her to see. They were covered with a thin coat of blood and grasped a small metal object between their tips. Seeing the blood prompted her to grasp at her shoulder with her hand. When it came away blood-free she raised one eyebrow in surprise.
Raúl smiled ever so slightly. “It’s treated with a coagulant, so the wound seals almost immediately upon removal.”
Jo nodded. That was standard for invasive medical instruments these days; she should have figured it would be that way with Raul’s pinchers as well.
Raúl turned to his lab bench and deposited the locator into a small cup with a threaded top, then screwed a cap onto it. “It will keep its charge for a few hours, so you’ll want to get rid of it somewhere.” Turning back to her, he held out the cup.
She took it and was about to say thanks when the van lurched again, this time from an impact. There was no way she could have stopped herself from falling off the bench this time. She found herself sprawled on the floor with Raúl on top of her.
“What was that?” Raúl demanded.
Malcolm jerked at the wheel, trying to get the van back under control as it veered from side to side. “They’re right on us,” he said in a strained voice. “The one on the left just hit us in the quarter panel with its fender.”
“Goddamnit,” Raúl said, “I just had this van refurbished.” He pushed himself up and off Jo then bounded forward toward the cockpit area.
Jo followed, a bit more slowly. She worked her shoulder gingerly; it worked but it would be uncomfortable for a while, she suspected. She reached the cockpit just as the van lurched again, this time to the left, and was barely able to brace herself against the back of Malcolm’s seat to prevent falling over.
Raúl strapped himself into the passenger seat and cursed. Jo could see why. The two side view displays showed the pursuing cars on their flanks. At least three people sat in each car, no doubt armed. This was bad. Very bad.
The car on their left began moving forward as Jo looked up at the street ahead. And saw traffic moving across their street at the next intersection. Her heart leapt into her throat.
“Red Light!,” Jo screamed at the same instant that Raúl, watching the sideview displays, shouted, “Hit the brakes!”
Malcolm slammed on the brakes and the van abruptly slowed to the sound skidding tires and the smell of burning rubber. Jo stumbled forward and pressed her palms into the dashboard to keep from falling into the windshield. They fishtailed and stopped just before the painted line marking the stopping point for the red light.
The two pursuit cars shot ahead of them into the intersection. The car on the left, already accelerating, had to swerve to avoid crossing traffic but made it through and slammed on its brakes. The car on the right was not so lucky. A car traveling from right to left hit the pursuit car broadside, sending it careening away, the entire passenger side caved in. A second car, traveling the opposite direction, struck the first, and then was struck in turn by another car coming up behind it.
Jo, Malcolm, and Raúl sat in silence for a moment, stunned.
“Right, right! Turn right,” Raúl shouted, pointing in that direction. He had a point; the pileup had stopped traffic from left to right and they had a clear avenue of escape in that direction.
Malcolm nodded and hit the accelerator again. The van lurched forward and turned hard to the right. In her peripheral vision, Jo saw the first pursuit car maneuvering to turn around; they would not be in the clear for long.
Very soon they were in violation of the speed limit and quickly gaining on the traffic ahead. Another intersection loomed; the light was green. A small sedan ahead signaled its intention to turn right. Raúl pointed at it.
“We need to ditch the tracker. Follow that car, Robert.”
Malcolm nodded and slowed so as to not overtake the vehicle, then got into the turning lane. Raúl turned to Jo and held out his hand. She blinked, unable to comprehend his meaning for a moment. He shook his hand insistently and looked back at her in annoyance. It clicked. She still had the tracker.
Feeling like an idiot, she handed the small device to Raúl. He took it out of its container and put it into a different case, which he pulled out of the glove compartment.
Jo glanced at the rearview. Still no sign of their pursuers. Malcolm turned right, about a fifty meters behind the sedan.
“Get up beside him,” Raúl ordered. He rolled down his window as they got up next to the other car and tossed the tracker out. Its new case struck the top of the sedan and stayed put; probably it was magnetic.
“Pretty slick,” Jo murmured, earning a quick grin from Raúl.
Another intersection loomed ahead.
“Turn left here,” said Raúl.
Malcolm complied and soon they left the sedan, and the tracker, behind. Jo let out a sigh of relief and sunk back onto her heels between the two cockpit seats.
“I thought they had us there, for a moment,” she said breathlessly.
“Yes, well, they didn’t,” Malcolm said. He looked calm, but Jo noted more than a hint of relief in his tone.
Raúl sounded only angry. “You’re fucking paying for the damage to my van, bendejo,” he said, wagging a finger at Malcolm.
Malcolm just nodded. “Of course. It’ll take a bit of time to get…” He stopped talking as his eyes locked on the rearview display.
Jo glanced over and felt her spirits sink like a stone. The pursuit car passed the intersection behind them, following the sedan as planned. A couple seconds later, however, it came back into view, speeding in reverse. It skidded to a stop facing down their street then accelerated straight toward the van.
“Oh shit,” she breathed.
* * * * *
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.