SATURDAY, OCTOBER 31

HALLOWEEN

She woke in the morning to the sound of him moving around the room. “What time is it?”

“Eight,” he said slipping on a sweater. “I have to go. Kevin needs to get over there. How’re you feeling?”

“Not good.” She pulled herself up in the bed, and immediately discov­ered every muscle in her body was sore. Her head throbbed, and she felt hot. She wanted to go back to sleep. That’s it, she thought. I’ve got the flu. She slid back beneath the covers. “Do you have to go?”

He reminded her that he also needed to pick up the car. It was still in the Imtech parking lot. “It won’t take long,” he said.

“Richard?”

“Uh huh.”

“Hurry back, OK? And promise me you’ll be careful.”

“Promise.”

Rawley dropped him off at the gate just after nine. “You want to know my advice?” he said as Kirby was climbing out of the car.

Kirby leaned back in to look at him. “What’s that?”

“Don’t get into any more trouble than you need to.”

“Good advice. Especially coming from a man who’s already late for work.” Kirby tapped his watch to signify the time.

“Well then, shut the fucking door, Richard, and let me outta here,” Rawley roared. “I got work to do!”

Kirby pushed the door shut and Rawley pulled away from the curb. He waved without looking back.

Kirby took his keycard from his wallet and used it to open the gate — Patterson never came in on the weekends. He went up the drive and un­locked the door to his car. He hopped in, started it up, and drove the car around to the other side of the building where it could not be seen from the street. He should have done it the day before — he didn’t want people to know he was there.

But it was probably too late. When he came back he noticed that Ro­sen’s Bentley was parked outside the lobby. He hesitated. He didn’t want to run into Rosen if it could be avoided.

He could see that the lights were on in the lobby, and that it was empty. I’ll have to chance it, he thought, using his card again to open the door. The first thing he remembered when he went inside was the ADVISE exam from the day before. He had almost forgotten about it.

He went across the lobby and punched the RESULTS button on the ADVISE keypad. Prompted, the display immediately asked for a patient name. He entered his wife’s name, CASSIE KIRBY. He expected to be prompted next for her patient ID colors, but instead, he got a different message:

The display flashed on and off repetitively, alerting him to an input error.

That’s odd, he thought, I typed it in wrong?

He tried again, taking care to enter her name correctly. But it came back the same. The display continued to blink. No such patient record. The only way that could be was if he had typed her name in wrong the day before, which he was sure he hadn’t done. Either that or someone had been there before him and cleared her record.

Instinctively, Kirby swung around to ask Sato what she knew, only to find himself alone. On the other side of the lobby the floor number above the elevator was changing. It was coming down. Without thinking about it, he walked quickly toward the reception desk where he intended to hide himself. But halfway across he remembered the ADVISE display. He turned around to look at it. The thing was still blinking.

Damn.

The floor number changed from L2 to L1. He hesitated, wondering if he had enough time to make it across to the display and shut it off before the elevator arrived. He was starting to move toward it when he heard the bell chime. He ended up vaulting the reception desk just before the eleva­tor doors opened.

From behind the desk he listened as someone stepped out, the slow patter of their shoes clicking on the marble floor. They stopped in the middle of the lobby.

“I don’t want any screw ups on this one, Tom,” he heard Rosen say. “It’s just too fucking important.” His tone was one of extreme agitation. “Just put everything else aside and see it gets done. I want an end to it. Understood?” He lowered his voice. “Cock this one up and the whole fucking country will have to deal with the consequences. I’m not taking the fall for that. You hear me?”

Next he heard McCormick’s voice. “I’ll let you know as soon as it happens.”

“The sooner the better.”

Then they were moving again, their footsteps receding toward the front of the lobby. Kirby heard the door open, and close. He lifted his head and watched them as they got into their cars. When they drove away he went over and shut off the blinking display. Fortunately Rosen and McCormick had been too preoccupied to notice it.

Rosen had clearly been upset, but what had he meant when he’d said the whole country would have to deal with the consequences? The conse­quences of what? What did McCormick have to get done?

There was no way of knowing.

Kirby went over to the elevator and inserted his card. At least he could check out the basement while he was there.

He stepped out of the elevator into near darkness. Every overhead light in Production had been switched off, leaving him standing in the dim ambient light of airliner-style aisle markers at floor level. They ran all over the level, outlining the paths to be taken in case of a blackout. Contrary to what the lighting suggested, however, Kirby didn’t appear to be alone. From the recessed corridor at the end of the floor — the one he’d come back to check out — the faint glow of a room light was visible.

He walked down the pathway alongside the east wall, wondering again what could be on the other side of it. He came to the corridor. It was short. Just two doors; one on the right which looked like a broom closet, and another which provided passage to a room behind the wall. It was a solid wood door, hinged, with a beveled glass window and a sign below it which read RESTRICTED ACCESS. The light inside was on, but all he could see was a blur of colors, a patch of blue light, like a computer monitor perhaps.

The whole design of the door seemed out of place. Instead of the auto­mated design on offices elsewhere in Production, this one had a keyhole lock and a lever for a handle. Kirby slowly tried the handle. It wouldn’t move. The room was locked.

He was pondering his next move when he heard the sound of metal castors rolling across the floor. A blob of dark green moved quickly away from the monitor. A few seconds later he heard shoes shuffling on the floor as the chair was dragged back. Someone was in there, working.

Kirby looked up through the glass, hoping to see a piston and arm assembly attached to the top of the door inside the room.

He was in luck. The rippling V-shape of the mechanical arm could just be made out, confirming that — once it was opened — the door would slowly close by itself. All he had to do was wait for the right moment. He turned and tried the handle of the broom closet. It opened, allowing him to step inside. He pulled the door shut, leaving only a small crack to see out into the hall.

It was uncomfortable standing there, but sooner or later the person was sure to come out, even if it was just to go to the bathroom. Kirby just hoped it would be sooner.

“Mom, can we have breakfast now?”

Rebecca was staring at her as Cassie searched for the car keys.

“Grandma’s going to feed you. Go put on your sweater and help Na­than with his shoes.”

I’m hungry. Why do we hafta go to Grandma’s?”

Cassie found the keys in Kirby’s coat pocket. “She’s going to take care of you for the day. Hurry up, we’re about to leave.”

Rebecca went back up the hall. “I’m going to take my picture book,” she said.

Cassie was getting worse. Now she was wheezing too. Her head still hurt, but she figured she was well enough to take Rebecca and Nathan to her parent’s house in Mission Hills. She didn’t want to risk them coming down with what she had. Her mother could take care of them for a day or two. Besides, she’d have enough on her plate that day just coping with Montoya’s visit.

Cassie was standing in the living room wondering how she was going to survive the day when she noticed a large black truck parked across the road. It looked like an oversized UPS delivery vehicle but without the company insignias. She could see two men inside it. They were just sitting there.

That’s strange, she thought. There were only a few houses on her road, and the others were further up. She couldn’t think why the two men would be there. What were they waiting for?

Rebecca came back into the room. “Nathan won’t put his shoes on, Mom.”

Cassie kept her eyes on the truck across the road. “Tell him he won’t get any breakfast until he does.”

Rebecca turned and ran back up the hall yelling, “Mom says you gotta put your shoes on…”

Were they watching the house? She couldn’t tell.

She went over to the front door, switched on the alarm system and walked back to the window. They were still there. She went to the front door again and opened it, setting off the alarm. It beeped quietly, remind­ing her that she had just alerted the local County Sheriff’s Office of a possible break-in at her address. She closed the door, locked it, and waited several seconds before punching in the code that deactivated the alarm. Then she went back to the window, picked up the phone, and dialed.

“Yes, this is Cassie Kirby out on Eastlake Parkway? That’s right. I activated the alarm by mistake.” She listened as the dispatch operator logged the details of her call. “Actually I was wondering if you had a car in the area,” she asked.

“You require sheriff’s assistance?”

“There’s a suspicious vehicle parked across from my house,” she said. “There are two men inside it. I can’t figure out what they’re doing here.”

Cassie went to the front door, opened it, and walked outside as the woman at the other end of the line questioned her. “How long?” she said. “I’m not sure. I just noticed them.”

The two men stared at her from across the street. She stared back, making sure they knew she was watching them. While the woman on the phone was telling her that a Sheriff’s car would be sent to check on the truck, the driver leaned forward and started it up.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “They’re going…”

Rebecca came outside and looked across the street.

“Go back inside, Rebecca.”

The truck moved off quickly up the road. It turned around at the cul-de-sac and came back.

“Do you still want a car sent around, ma’am?”

The two male occupants of the truck watched Cassie closely as they passed, their faces devoid of emotion. It gave her a chill.

“Ma’am?”

“No. Thank you,” she said as the truck turned the corner of the road. “They’ve gone.”

Something about the look of those two men had rattled her. She couldn’t stop thinking about it all the way over to her parent’s house. She dropped off Nathan and Rebecca but refused to stay more than a few minutes.

“Where’s Richard?” her mother asked out on the front lawn.

“He’s at work.”

“He works too much, that boy.”

“I’ve got to go Mom, I need to get some rest. I’ll call you tonight.”

By the time she pulled back onto the I-5 she was tired. Her legs were actually trembling as she drove. She felt intensely cold, then hot. She was developing a fever.

She drove south for several minutes, passed through downtown, and saw the water of the Bay off to her right. The turnoff to Highway 75 ap­peared. On the spur of the moment she pulled off the I-5 and headed up over the Bay Bridge to Coronado to find her husband. The incident with the truck and the two men was still fresh in her mind. She no longer wanted to go back to the house by herself. If Richard’s car was still parked in the Imtech lot she could wait for him to come out. Maybe she would even collapse into his arms as she had the day before.

“Please be there,” she whispered.

She crossed the bridge, stealing a glance at the water in the bay. But the chain-link fence erected by city officials to ward off suicide attempts did an equally good job of spoiling the view. The water disappeared behind a gray blur of wire and rails that had received city-wide loathing.

She came off the bridge, went up Sixth Street, and turned into Par Avenue. It was then she glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed the truck — a large black truck like the one she had seen earlier across from the house. It was turning into the street behind her. No way, she thought. She slowed down to look at it, the hairs on her arms standing on end. But the truck was too far back for her to get a good look at it. She told herself it wasn’t the same one; she sped up again.

At the end of the road she stopped outside the gate and looked through the Imtech fence, searching for Richard’s Oldsmobile. But she couldn’t see it. Damn, she thought, I missed him.

She did a U-turn and headed back up the street. She was relieved when she couldn’t see the truck. But as she approached the end of the street, there it was again, parked up ahead near the corner. It was facing away from her, ready to head back out.

She felt a sudden sense of fear. The avenue was deserted, the truck had no reason to be sitting there. It was the same one.

Cassie hit the brakes, and the car slowed to a stop in the middle of the road.

She sat there, staring at the truck, wondering if she wasn’t being silly. Maybe it wasn’t the same one. Maybe she was overreacting.

She looked around, then at the truck again. Her heart was beating rap­idly. What am I going to do, just sit here? Until when?

She started moving again. What she needed to do, she thought, was get out into traffic again. At the same time she chided herself for thinking that anyone would be following her. It was ridiculous. She sped up. As she passed the truck she turned her head to get a look at the driver. A shrill sensation of nausea shot through her as the same expressionless face she’d seen thirty minutes earlier returned her stare.

Oh, God. Her whole body shuddered as she jammed her foot on the accelerator. Whereas minutes ago she had been filled with lethargy, her entire being now seemed to flood with energy as she prepared to get out of there as quickly as possible.

She went around the corner too fast. The back wheels of the car lost their traction on the road, causing her to skid a moment before she took her foot off the accelerator and regained control. The car straightened in the lane. Behind her, she saw the truck in the rearview mirror pulling out onto the road.

They’re following me!

She put her foot back on the accelerator and drove.

If there was anything he hated about this work, it was doing it on the weekends. Rawley drummed his fingers on the dashboard while staring up at the house. He knew Rosen was in there — he had seen the Bentley turn up the drive shortly after he’d arrived.

The thing was, having to wait in one spot always made him restless. It was the reason he took the overseas assignments at the CDC. He liked to keep moving. The last time he’d done anything like this for the CIA was ten years ago. He’d forgotten how much he’d hated the weekends. All day in one spot was too much. Just the thought of it was making him jittery.

What he really wanted was a drink.

Somewhat wishfully he opened the glove compartment and searched it. It was force of habit; he kept a half dozen tiny liquor bottles stashed in the same place in his own car back in Atlanta. He slammed the compartment shut and looked up the drive. He had been keeping an eye out for Rosen all week, and so far he hadn’t seen anything that indicated he even needed to be there. Certainly the perceived threat to Rosen seemed an imaginary one. No one had paid him the slightest undue attention since the incident out­side his gate on Monday.

“Fuck it,” Rawley said turning the key in the ignition. “I need a drink.”

He drove away from the beach-view end of the street and stopped at the intersection to Sixth Avenue. He was waiting for a break in the traffic when he saw Cassie drive past. She didn’t even notice him. He was sur­prised to see her there, and even more surprised by the speed she was traveling. For a residential area she was driving fast.

So was the truck that roared past seconds later.

Cassie checked her mirror again. The truck was staying with her, but she had a good lead on it. She grabbed at the car phone with one hand, then dropped it as a corner came up.

The wheel almost slipped from her hands as she took the bend, only narrowly missing

a white Ford Contour as she went around. The scare put a sickening knot in her stomach. She didn’t have time to pick up the phone again before the second corner came up. This time she put her foot hard on the brake, yanked the wheel to the right when the car had slowed enough to take the curve, and then jammed her foot back on the accelerator. The car shot around the corner perfectly, startling both her and several other drivers alerted by the noise of her screeching tires.

As Cassie was momentarily tossed about in her seat her hair flung across her eyes and stuck to her face. She realized then that she was sweating. She was also panting from the adrenaline rush. She brushed the hair out of her face and concentrated on the bridge coming up ahead.

I’ll be all right, she thought. Once I get over the bridge. Downtown San Diego was just on the other side. But when she looked in the mirror, all she could see was the dark grill of the truck closing rapidly on her.

It was going to run into her.

She gasped and put her foot to the floor. But nothing seemed to happen. Then, just as she was bracing herself for the impact of the truck, the high gear kicked in and the car shot forward with a roar from the engine.

Across the road at the toll booth, people watched from their cars as a blue Buick Regal barreled up the bridge with a large black van following close behind. For several seconds she was able to pull away from the truck. Long enough to see it recede in her mirror to the point where she could again see the faces of the two men. She couldn’t take her eyes off them. The one on the passenger side was clearly yelling at the driver, making hand signals to go around her. But when he tried to do so by going to the inner lane, she cut him off by moving across with him.

It was then she realized, with rising panic, that she was traveling much too fast for the slow-moving traffic up ahead. About a third of the way across the bridge she found herself braking again and being forced to move back to the outside lane. The only unobstructed portion of the road pinched off toward the side of the bridge, which was where she suddenly found herself, behind a slow-moving lime green Sparklett’s water truck.

There was nowhere else to go.

She checked the mirror, but the truck had gone. Before she had a chance to ask herself where it had gone, a large dark object was approach­ing her fast from the left. She didn’t even have time to gasp before the truck slammed into the side of the car.

The Buick shifted underneath her, throwing her hard against the driver’s door. She felt sudden pain, as though someone had struck her over the head. Instinctively she put her foot on the brake as the car veered to the side of the bridge. She heard a loud crumpling noise, felt the lurching sensation of another impact as the car struck the side of the bridge and seemed to jump into the air. The world around her had become a confusion of swirling colors and opposing forces, tugging her in every direction as she awaited its abrupt conclusion.

Holy shit!” Rawley felt as if someone had wrapped a cold hand around his heart.

Up ahead he had seen the van strike the Buick and send it off into the side of the bridge. He watched in disbelief as the car struck the concrete wall at an angle, catapulting its rear into the air. The car spun clockwise 180 degrees before landing on its rear right wheel. It then twisted off violently toward the side of the bridge.

Rawley’s heart sank as he watched the Buick roll completely in the air and head out over the bridge railing toward the water, twenty stories below.

But the car never cleared the fence. Instead it came down hard, back to front now, impaling itself on the metal railings. Rawley lost sight of Cassie as the front end of the car disappeared below the bridge. Only the back half of it stuck up in the air.

At first, he thought he had witnessed a straightforward accident. Reck­less driving on the part of the van’s driver. Most of the traffic had contin­ued across the bridge. The few vehicles stopping did so a fair distance beyond the accident site. Only the van had pulled up immediately.

While Rawley sped up the bridge he saw two men jump from the van and run back toward Cassie’s car. One of them, the faster of the two, was short and wiry. The other man was heavyset and lumbered along in an overcoat. As Rawley drove toward them, the shorter man glanced at him before crossing to where the Buick hung from the edge of the bridge.

It was then that Rawley noticed the stocking stretched over the lower part of the man’s face. His accomplice was wearing one too.

What the…”

Rawley brought the car to a screeching halt three lanes out from the side of the bridge, just as the first man jumped up on the rails and tried to get a look inside Cassie’s car. He was stretching his thin neck back and forth as the second fellow arrived behind him. This one remained on the bridge — too large to gainfully climb the rails. Rawley hopped out of the car and started across the lanes.

Hey!” he yelled. “What are you — ”

Before he knew it, the fellow on the rails had produced a handgun and was twisting back to take aim. Holy… Rawley rolled right as a poorly-aimed round struck the concrete ahead of him. A moment later he was springing off the concrete. The larger man pulled a shotgun out from his overcoat and braced it on his hip. But Rawley was faster, already skim­ming across the hood of his car to safety as the trigger was pulled. He landed hard on his back as the shotgun blast shattered the windshield overhead. A hail of glass fragments peppered the road around him.

Jesus!

Of the few passersby who had stopped on the other side of the bridge, all were now running for their cars. By the time Rawley popped his head up again the two gunmen had already turned back to the Buick.

His rage mounting, Rawley scrambled into his car and grabbed his gun. He didn’t know whether Cassie had survived the impact or not. But he wasn’t about to give those two scumbags the chance to finish the job.

As Rawley crawled out through the windshield onto the hood of the car, the smaller gunman was attempting to open the rear right door of the Buick. It was the only door he could reach without leaving the bridge entirely. But the door frame had been compressed during the impact and the door was jammed.

“Through the window!” he yelled pulling himself off the car and back onto the iron railing.

Without hesitating, his partner lifted the shotgun to shoulder level and quickly pumped two rounds through the window. Glass exploded out over the water of the bay. But before he could get a third shot off, the unex­pected sound of a .38 caliber handgun being discharged sent the two gun­men ducking and twisting to see where it had come from.

Rawley sent another round toward the shotgun, but once again failed to hit his target. Shots came back. But he had succeeded in rattling them, and the two men immediately retreated toward the van.

Rawley didn’t try to chase them. Instead, he let them get back in the truck and drive off. Pushing his gun inside his belt he set off toward the Buick, uncertain about what to expect when he got there. He felt sick at the thought of the two shotgun blasts he’d failed to prevent. If only he had fired sooner…

He climbed up on the rails. The driver’s side of the car was hanging down over the water, making it difficult to see inside. Slowly, he crawled out onto the car, toward the rear right window. When he reached it, he punched out the ragged honeycomb of remaining glass. He looked inside, and the first thing he noticed was that the air bags had deployed. They had been shredded by the shotgun and now hung limply off to the left. The back of the driver’s seat was missing two large chunks where the rounds had passed through. But there was no blood, or any other sign of Cassie he could see. The only visible evidence of what had happened to her was provided by the driver’s door, which hung open, pulled down by gravity toward the water. He could see the surface of it glittering far below him.

You motherfuckers!” he shouted.

Rawley struggled to back his way off the car. As he was doing so, his Smith & Wesson came free from his belt and slid down the side of the car. He tried reaching for it, but it went too fast. It hit the rim of the panel beneath the door and spun off into the gap between the front of the car and the bridge. He watched it fall toward the water until it disappeared from sight.

“Shit.”

Back on the bridge he ran around to the rear of the car and looked down over the rails. He thought he might be able to see her. But the bridge obstructed his view of the water. He thought about climbing over the rails to get a better look. But then he caught sight of something off to the side. Something hanging beneath the car.

It was Cassie. She was alive.

Her legs seemed to have gotten tangled in the seat belt as she was thrown from the car, and now she hung from a twisted knot at her ankles — her two feet jammed hard against the edge of the door. She looked to be unconscious, her arms hanging down loosely over her head as though she had been caught in an endless but poorly executed dive to safety.

It had only been a matter of minutes since the car had flipped onto the railing, but already Rawley could hear sirens in the distance. Help was on its way. As he crossed the road to wave the vehicle down people surged in his direction, their eyes wide as they clamored to see what had happened.

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In the storytelling tradition of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy comes a tale of climate-induced chaos sparked by the hottest year on record. High action follows page-turner suspense after an undisclosed ecological catastrophe changes the face of Northern China.

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Leonard Crane

Leonard Crane

Heavily science-oriented. In the past I have spent time dabbling as a: physicist, novelist, software developer, copywriter, and health-related product creator.

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