By Gil Hale — corbidae@yahoo.com

Part Four

Otto wished he’d left the estate. It would have been better to have dealt with these problems from the Ackerman building. When word had come from their subcontractor during the morning that the local men they’d hired to frighten the nurse had failed, Karl had called him, angry and worried—particularly as it seemed it was Larabee’s team who’d been there. The situation had been made much worse when a few hours later, Alderways reported that they thought the nurse and all her family had left—possibly with the ATF men, but they were not yet sure. She’d been there immediately after the incident, but when their representative reached her house it was empty. The neighbours said she’d kept the boy home and had probably gone two or three hours earlier, right after Alderways had spoken to her.

Could she have been taken for questioning by the ATF men? The director, Travis, said not. Could she have known more all along about what was happening than they realised? Otto thought of what his father had said about animal cunning, but he still believed she was too stupid and too meek even to have thought of deceiving her superiors.

Now there seemed to be more trouble. Karl had called his security man who was watching the ranch and had gotten no reply. Feeling things seemed to be unravelling, he’d sent out the men who’d been there before. They reported the same complete lack of activity at the ranch, but Parish was missing. They were scouring the area now, but he seemed to have disappeared completely.

Otto had to stop the old man finding out about all this. He still had far too much control of their servants and worse, their finances, and he had always been unpredictable when he was angry. He was getting stranger now, too; senile perhaps, but unfortunately not in any way that looked like allowing Otto to put him quietly away somewhere. Instead he was still giving the orders.

Over coffee that morning, his father had demanded he stay on the estate. “You realise Otto, that while you are hunting Larabee, he will be hunting us.” The idea was ridiculous. Larabee had been virtually an imbecile, and what Otto feared was some kind of exposure, not physical danger. How could anyone know the Ackerman connection anyway? Even with D’Aubin all their dealings had been through other subsidiaries.

The concept of Larabee as actually dangerous to them made no sense, but his father had predicted it with such certainty that, briefly, the thought had chilled him.

Chris had believed that the pain of the shocks to his body was as unbearable as it could get; the agony of the jolt, the smell of his own flesh scorching, the restraints ripping into his limbs as he fought to escape it. But he had somehow come through it with the words they wanted to hear still unspoken, the names they wanted secured in some burned core of him. This assault on his mind was worse; this truly frightened him. His body was still twisted from the seizure, there was blood and spray on his lips and the stench of his own waste, but far worse even than those was the terrifying feeling of confusion, of everything that made him himself shaking loose from the centre.

The old man stooped over him and his face was calm and predatory, a torturer who knew his craft. “That was the lowest dose, Mr Larabee. Just a taste of what we can do to you—what we can take from you.”

Chris wrenched violently at his restraints. He was truly afraid, and some of the men around the room were enjoying it. He’d never forget their faces… But the old man’s calm assurance was the most frightening thing, and the knowledge that he would do exactly what he’d threatened.

But Chris hated him silently and didn’t talk.

Somehow, from some well of stubborn, damn-them-to-hell refusal, he drew the strength to maintain his defiance, so now they were about to attach the electrodes to his head again—and he fought and fought against the restraints and the…

Restraints broke?

He was on his feet before he realised he was waking from a nightmare. Sweat drenched his hair, and he was shaking so much that the reality of the seizure was even more vivid in his memory. The light was dim, and he’d no idea for a moment where he was or what was happening. As he looked around in confusion, he saw wooden walls, and the concerned faces of Vin and Ezra. The fact he wasn’t alone was a staggering relief.

He stood still, panting as if he’d run a sprint, waiting for his head to clear.

… Vin in the doorway, what looked like sunset light behind him… Ezra picking himself up from the floor rather painfully, his mouth split and bleeding…

He remembered the frantic struggle in his nightmare, and put that alongside Ezra’s battered face.

“Fuck.” It was one word he hardly ever had to struggle for. That probably said something, but right now he didn’t want to know what. “Ezra… sorry.”

Why should a stumbling, two-word apology make Ezra look so startled and pleased? Vin came in, put his hands on Chris’s arms, no pity in the blue eyes, only understanding.

Blue eyes…

“Vin,” he said, the name clear in his mind now.

“Yeah,” Vin said, managing to get a whole lot—relief, encouragement, hope—into the word. “You’re getting it back, Chris!”

“Recovering your memories may be an unpleasant process for you, but the gains are more than worthwhile,” Ezra agreed.

Chris looked at the blood trickling down Ezra’s chin, contrasted with the warmth and acceptance in Ezra’s expression. He felt the unchangeable friendship that Vin could only express by his firm grip on Chris’s arms. The nightmare, still vivid in his memory, began to lose its power.

He shivered a little as his sweat-soaked body registered the chilly air. Vin came in and closed the door; Ezra handed Chris a thick jacket. Chris pulled it around his shoulders and slowly sat down on the mess of sleeping bags and blankets.

Vin squatted in front of him. “It’s just getting dark. I took Parish to Purgatorio; my friends’ll keep him out of circulation till we’ve time t’ deal with him. Whoever sent him knows he’s missing though. I saw th’ car again when I was comin’ back, so I took th’ truck up further and came back on foot. There was three more crashin’ about, lookin’ for him. I could’ve taken them one at a time, but that might’ve stirred up more trouble than we want. They gave up searchin’ but they’ve left two guys in the car watchin’ the drive.”

“They must be convinced we’re here,” Ezra said. He was out of Chris’s line of sight; probably sparing Chris having to watch him patch his face up.

“Ain’t us they’re lookin’ for now. From what I heard, they’re hopin’ Buck and the others will head here.”

Chris realised he was starting to follow conversations more easily. It was partly that he was feeling better—the few drugs Rosa had still had to administer had finally cleared his system, and so many things happening at once seemed to have kick-started his brain. But it was also a long-forgotten familiarity with these two, with the sound of their voices and the patterns of their speech. There was something healing about Vin’s quiet drawl and Ezra’s elaborate vocabulary.

Chris picked up now on Vin’s last statement. “Why?” he asked.

“Why are they hopin’ the guys will come here? I only heard bits of what they said, but it sounded like Buck and the others have that nurse of yours, Rosa. Maybe she wasn’t as clear as we thought, I don’t know, but she’s safe enough with the team. And Parish’s bosses aren’t happy about it; they want to find her.”

The word ‘team’ distracted Chris. The images that had been fleeting before seemed clearer and easier to grasp now that he had names to put with them. Buck. Buck, changing little over the years, laughing with him in the good times, loyal in the bad, a friendship so deep-rooted the storms had never done more than shake it a little. Josiah … wisdom, compassion and a punch like the kick of a mule. Honest, straightforward Nathan, with a natural gift for healing. Then there was the kid, JD, and Chris remembered how his eagerness made the world seem fresher.

He said the names aloud.

Vin waited silently a while, then said, “You ready to see them?”

Chris turned around to see Ezra dab his swelling mouth. He thought of six witnesses to that nightmare instead of two—and one of them JD. The kid could handle it, but Chris didn’t want him to have to.

“Not yet,” he said.

He still had no real idea of how much time had passed in the hospital, or how he’d been rescued, or where the rest of his team was. Or why there seemed to be so little communication…

His memories of those first hours in the car were fuzzy, but he thought he’d balked at seeing any more people, and then there had been someone yelling at Vin on the cell, or had he dreamed that?

“They… pissed off?” he asked.

“Not with you,” Vin said.

Chris found he was rediscovering the ability to read Vin’s thoughts from a flicker of expression.

Something was wrong here. He might not be up to dealing with it, but he was damn sure he could cope now with hearing it. Since he’d listened to Parish’s story, questions had buzzed in his mind, more than he could form even to himself. He needed to hear the whole story of what had happened since… or rather before… What the hell was it he’d been refusing to tell the old man? He didn’t know any more.

He wrenched the disorientating feeling under some sort of control, and sat back against the wooden wall. He was tired again, though he must have slept through a long stretch of the afternoon. Well, tired or not, he was staying awake now.

“Talk,” he told Vin and Ezra. “From… the start. Why? How long… in that place. How’d you find me?”

It was the most he’d said at one go since he woke up in a blank white room to a mind full of emptiness. Vin was right, he was getting it back, and faster now. Vin and Ezra looked as relieved about that as Chris felt… they also had a look he couldn’t have named, but could definitely recognise.

“All of it,” he said.

They glanced at each other. There was the slightest of nods from Vin to Ezra. He found that he understood this quite effortlessly. If Ezra was to be the spokesman, that meant it needed a smooth shine to gloss over some rough surfaces.

“Vin… tell it,” Chris said. “Ezra—coffee.”

They looked at him.

“Kind of a long story, cowboy.”

“Some parts are undoubtedly more relevant than others.”

It was hard enough finding words in the first place. Chris wasn’t wasting time saying something new. “Vin… tell it,” Chris repeated. “Ezra_”

“I know, I know, coffee. I must say your recovery seems to be proceeding apace.”

“Ain’t forgot how to lay down th’ law.”

It was perhaps unfair that hearing them grumble made Chris feel better. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate everything else they’d given him. He did; more than he’d ever be able to find words for even if he recovered all his old ability. It was just that listening to them mutter and try to wriggle out of telling him something—now that really did make him feel normal again.

This had been one of his better ideas, Josiah thought, as he watched Rosa’s mother share a recipe for butternut stew with Mrs Dubose. Once they’d heard Rosa’s story, it had been clear she’d be safer somewhere far from Alderways, preferably somewhere that only Team 7 knew about. Josiah was feeling slightly guilty about Orrin Travis, but if Orrin was angry about not knowing exactly where they were or what they were doing, he’d put all the more effort into the investigation, and they’d done their best—Rosa had given a full statement, and JD had faxed it to ATF headquarters.

If Orrin didn’t know where she was, no pressure could be put on him. Josiah doubted he’d be grateful, though.

They’d debated where to go for a while. None of their homes, nor the ranch, would do; the ATF would call there if no one else did. Ideally they needed a place no one would associate with them, where Rosa’s little family could be comfortable and where they could trust the discretion of the people.

That was when Josiah had thought of the arrangement Jake Schiller had made for Sammy. Those were definitely people who could keep a secret…

“I know the apartment’s small,” he said to Jake when he got through to him and explained a little of what he wanted. “But I hope it wouldn’t be for too long.”

Jake had taken barely an hour to get back to him. “Mrs Dubose says not to worry; her niece has an apartment in the same block. Between the two of them, they can accommodate three people, though it might be a bit tight.”

It wasn’t quite as tight as Josiah had feared. Rosa’s mother gained the comfortable spare room in the niece, Carola’s, apartment, which was just along the hallway. Lyndon had a mattress on the floor of Sammy’s room, and Rosa was happy with the couch. Mrs Dubose insisted that they all pack in for a meal, and wouldn’t hear of Buck fetching take-out, though she did let them help clear up.

Josiah went down with Rosa to take out the trash, and was glad of the opportunity for a quiet word with her. “You must feel as if your life’s been turned upside down.”

She smiled a little. “The important things in my life are here. Actually, even though it’s been a strange day, I’m glad. I kept telling myself the job at Alderways would work out, that I was being paranoid about the place. Then Chris came in, and I had to question everything again—but I was afraid I guess, of what sort of reference I’d get if I left, of how I’d look after Lyndon. And Chris needed me. I didn’t know who he was, or that he had anyone else. Now he’s safe with Vin and Ezra, all I want is to make a new start.”

“If you hadn’t been at Alderways, I think Chris’s situation would have been desperate,” Josiah said.

“I should have found some way to help him earlier, or done more. When he first saw Vin… the expression on his face… I’d never understood how alone he was feeling.”

“You were there for him,” Josiah said, not to reassure her but because he was sure it was true. “I know he’ll want to thank you himself, when he can.” He paused, not sure how she’d take it, then added, “Seems like you were a real answer to prayer.”

Rosa smiled rather ruefully, “And you were an answer to mine. But let’s neither of us mention it to my mother, okay.”

When they squeezed back into Mrs Dubose’ main room, Nathan was about to go off to spend the night helping Jake out at the shelter. He’d asked Rain to go to her mother’s again, he didn’t want anyone at their home address, even if that seemed a little paranoid. Keeping with the ‘better over-the-top safe than unpleasantly sorry’ approach, Josiah suggested Buck and JD should sleep in the living room of Carola’s apartment.

“I can’t see how anyone could have traced us, but we can’t leave these folks unprotected tonight. I’ll watch as well, but since Rosa’s going to be on the couch out here, I could do it from the car.”

“Oh, no, please stay inside,” Rosa said. “I’ll feel safer if I can see you. Anyway, I’ll never get to sleep; there’s too much buzzing around in my head. I’d rather have someone to talk to.”

“Be a pleasure,” Josiah said truthfully. He glared at Buck, who’d raised an interested eyebrow. “Mrs Johnson looks tired, why don’t you escort her along to Carola’s place.” Carola had already gone some time before, to make sure everything was ready. Buck didn’t lose the hint of amused curiosity, but he co-operated cheerfully, charming Mrs Johnson along and cuffing JD to hurry him up.

“And it’s time you were in bed, Lyndon,” Rosa said as they went.

Lyndon was the least happy of the three; he missed his own stuff, and didn’t like not knowing when he’d see his friends again. Sammy was older, and although they seemed to get along fine, Lyndon was not quite easy with him yet. Rosa went though to the bedroom with him, accepting the grumbles and wisely not making promises she wasn’t sure of keeping. Sammy came and sat next to Josiah.

“Agent Sanchez,” Sammy said softly.

“It’s just Josiah, son. Was there something you wanted to ask me?”

“Is Chris really safe?”

“He’s with friends. He’s still recovering,” Josiah said, hoping that was true.

“Can he tell you where to find the people who hurt him?”

“I don’t know.”

“Would it help if I could find where I walked? When I ran away. I understand maps and stuff now. Mrs Dubose helps me with my schoolwork and I’m doing good.” He looked with open love at the old lady busy in the kitchen area. “At school they think she’s my granma. I wish she was.” He remembered what he’d started saying. “I think maybe if I tried, I could work out where I ran from, to near enough. I know I walked from th’ East, ‘cos I kept the sun behind me till it was over my head, then in front of me. I know how long I walked, though I weren’t quick. But there couldn’t be so many real big places out there, could there?”

Josiah had only heard a little of Sammy’s story, and had had the impression the kid had been wandering around lost for a while after getting away from a ranch or something similar. They’d gotten the better lead from D’Aubin, and since then events had followed one on another so fast they’d not even thought about other lines of investigation.

Now he wondered if they’d missed something significant.

“This was a really big place?”

“Yeah. Big as a town, I guess, only it wasn’t buildings, just land and trees and one real big house. When men came they had to drive a long way or come in helicopters. There couldn’t be lotsa places like that.”

“You’re right,” Josiah said. He still hesitated a little, because he didn’t want to bring back distressing memories for the boy, and he was also sure that what Sammy remembered couldn’t be used for evidence or a warrant. The boy had been confused at first and now far too much time had passed. But it could give them a place to start looking for who had taken Chris—and why. Their other leads were disappearing. Josiah had called Jacobson, and even though Alderways looked like suffering badly on this, no one would give the FBI anything on the elusive Mr Fischer. JD had called the PD, and the men who’d threatened Lyndon were local thugs, and the PD wasn’t having much success tracing the contract back to its source.

“I’d like to look at some maps with you in the morning,” he said to Sammy in the end. “Maybe we could drive to where Chris found you, if Mrs Dubose and Jake think that’s okay.”

Sammy beamed. “I’d like to help Chris, and the folk on the estate,” he said. “It ain’t right to whip boys and make them work so hard just ‘cos they’s black.”

“No, it’s not,” Josiah said quietly. “It’s not right to forget that all human beings are precious in God’s sight.”

“Chris was the first white guy ever treated me like I was human at all,” Sammy said. “You get the maps Agent… Josiah, and I’ll try real hard to work out where I walked.”

Rosa came back in. “Lyndon’s just about asleep already,” she said. “Thank you for sharing your room, Sammy.”

“I like it,” Sammy said. “I didn’t have friends before, and it’s nice. I usually go to bed about now. I won’t wake him up, will I?”

“No, I think he’ll like having someone else in the room,” Rosa said. She went to help Mrs Dubose finish off in the kitchen and came back with a couple of mugs of coffee.

“After today, I rather like having someone else in the room too,” she admitted to Josiah. “Can you tell me a bit more about Chris and what happened to him, and how it connects with these people, or is it all… secret, classified?”

“I’ll tell you what I can, and you tell me about Chris and how he was,” Josiah offered.

They gradually fitted more comfortably together on the couch, talking, thinking, finding an unexpected pleasure in each other’s company. For both of them though, it was beneath the shadow of needing to know how Chris was, and needing to see justice for what had happened to him.

Vin had talked. Seemed to him he’d been talking for hours. Ezra had made two pots of coffee, the sun had gone down, they were shivering a bit in spite of the kerosene heater, and he was still talking.

It didn’t feel like he was making much of a job of it, and sometimes he wasn’t sure Chris was taking too much in—he’d look kind of blank, but if Vin stopped for more than a minute, Chris’d sign him to get on with it, so he did.

He’d tried not to get into the details. Better just to give Chris the facts, those were hard enough. He wasn’t sure if Chris had any idea before that it had been as long as half a year he was missing. Vin skipped the leads that hadn’t gone anywhere—which had been most of his and Ezra’s life for those months—and tried to skip the fact they’d been suspended.

That was one of the points where Chris stopped looking blank and tried to say something.

“We decided to look at everything from the beginning again,” Vin said.

Chris shifted. The shadows under his eyes looked like black bruises in the dim light of the cabin, and he was leaning over against Ezra rather than sitting up by now, but somehow he didn’t miss this. “Work?” he asked.

“We’d been plannin’ to take some vacation,” Vin said.

Chris made a gesture that Vin knew only too well meant cut the bullshit.

“Okay, we were suspended,” Vin said, not happy about having to admit it. “Those bastards in Team 3, McGinty and Weiss, they picked a fight with us. Josiah backed us, but Travis wasn’t having any of it. But we’d have taken time anyway.”

“One… time?”

Vin shrugged. “Maybe Travis wouldn’t’ve suspended us for that, but we’d had some trouble before.” He wasn’t going to say how desperately they’d been hunting for Chris, how many lines they’d crossed. Chris had his own way of doing things, but he generally kept the book in there somewhere. He went on hastily, “Then we finally got lucky. Went back to the week before, looking for any little thing, and came across a statement from Jim Dunning at the store that you’d been in for a cola and sandwiches. Maybe it was a bit like grabbing at straws, but we know you never drink cola, so we went and asked some questions of the Dunnings, and for the first time they told us about the kid, Sammy. They’d never_”


He’d learned long since to react quick to that kind of urgency in Ezra’s voice. He hadn’t seen any change in Chris—couldn’t even now—but Ezra must’ve felt something. Vin was just in time to catch Chris on the other side, so that with both of them holding him he didn’t crack his head so hard on the wall when the first spasm hit, and then they had time to haul him forward into the middle of the floor before the really violent muscle contractions started.

“Front ‘n back,” Vin said shortly as Chris’s elbow caught him. One in front and one behind would be less like restraints and make it easier to hold Chris without hurting him. Vin bit his lip as Chris’s head cracked against his chin, but then he had him safe, his hand behind Chris’s neck, holding the sweat-soaked hair and pulling Chris’s face in against his shoulder. Ezra had his arms around Chris from behind, so Chris was pinned between them. They could feel every violent spasm of his limbs and torso.

Had to be some sort of sense memory of the shocks, Vin thought, and the ugly picture he’d already gotten from Parish’s words became more unpleasantly vivid. Every flailing movement told him how much Chris had suffered. It couldn’t go on long though; Chris hadn’t the strength. After one final convulsive arch of his back, he went limp, suddenly boneless and flopping through their arms where a second before it had taken all their strength to hold him still.

“He’s breathing all right,” Ezra said, his voice more shaken than it ever was after a shoot-out, as they eased Chris into a safe position on the floor.

Vin rested a hand on Chris’s chest, felt the strong and steadying thump of his heart. “This is my fault,” he muttered. “I was talkin’ on, should’ve realised, it was the kid they’d been askin’ him most about…”

“I didn’t think of it either, I could have stopped you had I been more alert.”

“He never told ’em where Sammy was, lost everythin’ else rather ‘n that. No wonder the kid’s name spooked him.”

Ezra stretched out one of the sleeping bags and covered it with a blanket. Silently they moved Chris onto it, and Vin didn’t know whether to be relieved or worried that he didn’t stir. Ezra put the other blankets over Chris, tucking them around him with a gentleness that he didn’t often allow to show. He used the end of one to blot some of the sweat from Chris’s hair, and Vin saw that, like his own, Ezra’s hands were still shaking slightly. Vin heated the water again, made more coffee and added a generous spoon of sugar and slug of whisky to each mug. They sat in the dim light, drinking it slowly and watching over Chris.

Hahn Reichert was glad these days that he’d had an elevator put in from his suite of rooms to the basement. He still made himself use the stairs from time to time, stiff and painful though the process was, but the elevator was far more practical. He stepped out into the large basement room and handed another armful of files to Berndt.

They were two old men, in a world that had moved on. Berndt was a little younger, a little less stiff, but no more at ease than Hahn if he left the estate. There was too much of everything, shops, media, people of all races crowding together around the streets. Hahn had accepted long ago that the old dreams could never be fulfilled now in the way they’d once believed. This country and even his fatherland had gone soft; women flashed their bodies like whores and no longer cared for the old values of the children, the home. No, he and Berndt were content to be out of it all.

Otto never came down to the basement. He saw it as a dusty repository for his father’s old papers, probably for his father himself. He’d been too busy and distracted this week to realise it was now becoming a repository for all the other papers in the house as well. Hahn and Berndt worked slowly, very slowly these days, but steadily, and they needed little sleep.

Hahn no longer wanted to sleep. Over the last few months, sleep had become his enemy. He blamed Larabee for it.

It had nothing to do with fearing the man—in a way he did, perhaps, but that was more the sort of respect you felt for a soldier on the opposite side of a war. And Larabee was a soldier, whatever his official role under the law, a courageous, dangerous man. Hahn did believe, as he’d said to Otto, that now Larabee had escaped he would be a threat, but that would not have kept him awake for a minute. He hadn’t feared killing or being killed for more than seventy years.

No it was the dreams, the new nightmares, that he did fear, and these were Larabee’s fault—it was as if he had unleashed some slow-moving earthquake, cracking apart the rock-solid certainties of a lifetime.

The first time it had happened was the day after he’d sent Larabee as a comatose wreck to Alderways. The nightmare had been all too familiar at first, one that had tormented his sleep intermittently for many years. He was running, desperately, through the bombed-out streets of Berlin; he was struggling to find his way, because every landmark was obliterated; he was cursing as he ran, knowing that if he was too late, Hans and Frieda would die. And of course, he was always too late, and he would suddenly take a final turn and see in front of him the smouldering rubble of their house.

Sometimes he would wake up at that point. More often, he’d dream of pulling away the hot stones with blistered, bleeding hands until he found the small broken body. As he had in reality, in his dream he’d know it was Hans even before he turned it gently over and saw his son was dead.

The grief had never changed, but somehow over the years it had become a part of life. It was only since Larabee that the nightmare had taken a new and shocking turn. Now in his dream, Hahn would dig and heave away the stones, and find the tiny body, and turn it over—and instead of his son he would see some other child: a little negro boy; an idiot mongol baby; a gipsy toddler with miniature gold hoops in her ears; even a skeletal infant like the few survivors of Belsen. But he would feel the same grief.

The first time it happened, it had shocked him so much he’d seen the dawn in with half a bottle of vodka, filled with revulsion and self-loathing. It was a betrayal of his son, and his cause, to feel that same mourning. Negroes, the handicapped, worst of all the Jews, they should be worth less sorrow than a good dog.

But the nightmare came again and again.

He knew it was because of Larabee. The man had been prepared to suffer appalling torture rather than reveal the whereabouts of a black slave boy he could hardly have known. It wasn’t simply a defiant refusal to give in, though that had been there. But Hahn had been taking a personal interest in the torture, and he was good at reading a man in extremity. Larabee had believed that boy was somehow worth the cost of protecting him.

He’d understood what that cost would be, too. Beneath the anger and defiance, Larabee had been violently afraid of that last series of electric shocks, but he’d still chosen to let it happen.

You suffered like that for your family or your fatherland, not for some scabby, whipped runaway slave.

But in more than half a century, he’d never seen a man he could respect like Larabee…

Dismissing it with difficulty from his mind, he ordered Berndt to fetch the other items he wanted to hide in this room. Berndt would not ask questions; he never had. He was stolid, sometimes cruel and completely loyal to Hahn. He would do exactly what he was told, and never talk about it, especially to Otto.

It was very important Otto knew nothing.

“Y’ think we done wrong?”

Ezra didn’t need to ask Vin to clarify that question. He’d been asking himself the same thing for the last couple of hours. Should they have taken Chris for proper medical care; should they have provided statements to the police and done everything by the book; should they have joined up with the rest of their team?

“I don’t know,” he said.

“This way… it’s turned out kill ‘r cure.”

“Chris has gained more in two days than he might have done in weeks under orthodox medical care,” Ezra said. He was quite certain that any doctor who had seen Chris on the day they took him from Alderways would have had him instantly placed in another institution, quite probably a better one with a more enlightened drug regime, but how could Vin and Ezra have done that to him?

“I do still believe that this is the choice Chris would have made—did make, if we understood him correctly,” he added.

“He’s hurtin'”

Ezra had no answer to that. Chris was hurting, and all Vin and Ezra seemed to be able to do was to hurt along with him.

“But he is progressing,” he said eventually. “And although I’m no psychologist, it does seem to me that what he’s gaining is in some proportion to what he’s suffering. In spite of these… set backs, reactions to returning memories… you would already hardly recognise him as the man we rescued from Alderways.”

Vin looked uneasily at Chris, who hadn’t stirred since that last alarming episode. Ezra followed his gaze. Chris’s appearance seemed to give the lie to his last words: his face was as gaunt as ever, the shadows under his eyes deeper, all the normal, predatory grace of the man apparently lost.

“He may not be well, but he is Chris again,” Ezra offered, though he wasn’t really any more confident in their choices than Vin.

Vin nodded. “Yeah,” he murmured. “That’s what I’m holdin’ to. When I first saw him, it was like he was empty, just at first. No surprise, neither—electric shocks, ‘n then being in that place half a year, probably drugged up a fair bit of th’ time. But he did know me… knew us…”

“After so many months it must have been hard to believe a world really existed outside the walls of Alderways.”

“Yeah. I think that’s what he was waitin’ for, though he didn’t know it. The nurse, Rosa, she’d done a hell of a good job. He must’ve been on the way back fer a while, because he’d kept it hidden how he was getting’ fit.”

“But it needed something more to start him remembering properly,” Ezra agreed. “And of course, she couldn’t give him that, she had an entirely false history. I cannot imagine being in that situation, struggling to remember while being given information that contradicted true recollections—with even someone trustworthy like Rosa using the wrong name. It would destroy your attempts to regain an identity. Even so, he must have been fighting through it.”

“He was almost there, I reckon,” Vin said. “Maybe it was th’ right time fer us t’ find him. Guess that’s what J’siah’d say. But I don’t know we were right not to get help.”

“The choice is still open to us,” Ezra said, but even now, in spite of that last alarming seizure, he believed the decision was really Chris’s.

Vin met his eyes. “Yer thinkin’ it’s up t’ him, and I guess it is, if he can make th’ choice. We been runnin’ blind, and tryin’ t’ do what he seems t’ need, that’s been th’ only path t’ take. But if he wakes up sick or worse, I don’t think we c’n go on.”

That was the fear Ezra had been refusing to acknowledge to himself. What if Chris woke with that blank look in his eyes, that mindless lack of recognition that had shocked Ezra when he first saw him, and this time it never changed? He knew they hadn’t been deluding themselves about Chris’s progress: he’d fought through to an understanding of what was going on, had found words and now names again; part-broken he might be but he’d still showed the leadership in him again—the only leader who Ezra had ever voluntarily followed. But how secure that recovery was, Ezra had no idea, and as he watched Chris sleep, he was silently afraid.

It was another hour before Chris stirred. By then some of the lines of pain on his face had smoothed and relaxed a little. Even so, Ezra braced himself in case Chris woke with some return to the violent reaction they’d seen earlier.

“Chris?” Vin managed to make it softer than a whisper, but somehow perfectly clear. “You wakin’ up?”

He sounded as if he had no doubt or concern about it, but Ezra could see he was stiffly tense.

Chris moved, opened his eyes, squinted as if even the dim light hurt. A long, long pause made Ezra feel as if something was scraping nails down his heart. Then Chris’s mouth quirked in the slightest beginning of a smile. “You two… got nothing better… to do?”

Ezra beamed inanely with relief, caught himself and hastily composed his features.

Chris moved cautiously to sit up. “Shit, my head aches.”

Ezra moved hastily to prop him up, Vin equally hastily to check the back of his head where he’d cracked it against the wall. Chris muttered something that definitely wasn’t thanks. Ezra’s grin tried to come back. He suppressed it firmly.

“Y’ got a bump, but it’s not much,” Vin said. “I’ll get you some Tylenol.”

Chris pushed himself up so he wasn’t leaning on Ezra’s arm, took the tablets and washed them down with cold coffee and said, “Time?”

“Around ten.”

Chris rubbed a hand wearily over his eyes, made a visible effort to remember what had been happening and suddenly straightened a little. “Sammy?”

“Safe,” Ezra said quickly. “Safe and well, and living with a charming elderly lady.”

“We talked t’ him,” Vin said. “Him and those folk at th’ Holocaust place and that lying bastard of a professor.

“And having ascertained that you might be at Alderways, we inveigled ourselves in, confirmed it, and you know the rest.”

Neither he nor Vin wanted to prolong this story; there were too many booby traps they might trip on. Chris thought silently, his face taut with concentration. Thought turned to an expression Ezra knew well and welcomed. Chris was angry.

“I remember… some,” he said. “Enough. Prof set me up. They wanted… the boy. Sammy. Used… the works. Damn near talked.”

“But you didn’t,” Ezra said. “What really puzzles me is why they didn’t kill you, though. Once it was clear you were beyond speaking, why Alderways?”


“I’m sure they were extremely unpleasant, but…”

“Nah, he don’t mean it like that,” Vin said. “He means they really were Nazis.”

Chris nodded. “Old man… there was an old man… the real thing. Didn’t kill me… blond, Anglo-Saxon … fighting…” He shook his head in frustration at the slow way the words came. “Whisky?”

“Don’t think that’s a good idea,” Vin said.

“I do.”

They compromised on an ungenerous amount in a fresh cup of hot coffee. If Chris was right—and if they were understanding him correctly—it seemed Chris had stumbled on something truly bizarre, and very nasty. Chris drank his coffee, the fierce look of concentration never leaving his face. When he put the cup down , he seemed to have come to a decision.

“Payback… time,” he said.

“Still nothing,” Karl Adler reported tersely. “No sign of the nurse or Parish, no sign of any of the ATF men, not a hint of where Larabee could be, and D’Aubin flew out from Denver International the same day he talked to Sanchez and Wilmington. Obviously decided his skin was worth more than his career.”

“Unsatisfactory,” Otto said. “Who do we have we could put pressure on at ATF headquarters?”

“No one who knows anything. A reasonably reliable source told me that the people in charge are nearly as worried as we are about where these guys are and what they might do next. I think we may have identified the elusive Mr Stanford and his brother, though. Two of Larabee’s team, Tanner and Standish, were suspended recently, and they fit the descriptions.”

“That’s far from helpful. We need to bring these men out into the open. What about wives, girlfriends, dependants?”

“Sanchez has no one listed, nor Wilmington, though he seems to have dated every eligible woman in the city. Jackson has a pregnant wife, so he should be the weakest link, but their apartment is closed up and we haven’t traced her yet.”

“I have to report to my father within the hour. Can you think of anything remotely positive to tell him?”

“We’re looking for Mrs Jackson; emergency procedures are being put into place in all departments of Ackermans. The director of Alderways is remaining completely loyal.”

“So he should. His late father was in the German-American Bunde in the thirties. He understands what’s at stake.”

“We all do.”

Otto could not understand how their normally efficient intelligence system could have lost track of so many people. Karl said Parish was reliable; his disappearance had to have something to do with this affair, but the ranch appeared as empty and deserted as ever according to the men watching it. He wondered if Karl really knew all his employees as thoroughly as he thought.

“When are you relieving the men at the ranch?” he asked.

“Not until morning at the earliest. All my security men are working on other leads.”

“I’ll send two from the estate to arrive sometime in the early hours. Tell your men they’ll be coming; that should help to keep them alert.”

“They’re always alert,” Karl said, irritated.

“Well, my father appears to think Larabee is some kind of superman, though I’m more inclined to the belief that his team have him hidden away somewhere because they don’t want the world to know what a wreck he is. Father insists the men are all warned to take extra precautions.”

“Alderways still say he had almost no mobility, and couldn’t even speak.”

“Argue it with my father yourself. He says that whatever happens, he wants you here by lunchtime to morrow to report to him personally.”

The silence at the other end of the conversation told him that Karl was beginning to share Otto’s view that his father was becoming more of a problem than an asset. Unfortunately the estate staff were either mindlessly loyal to him, or were cowed slave labour bought in from Paraguay, and the old man would probably have taken some nasty precautions to avoid a takeover.

Maybe something that looked like an accident?

Reluctantly he dismissed the idea. Deal with this Larabee incident first, then perhaps he and Karl could plan the old man’s permanent retirement.

“Make the Jackson woman your priority,” he said. “His wife and unborn child, or Larabee? I don’t think that should be a difficult choice for any man.”

Nathan was glad to make himself useful at the Boulder shelter. There were plenty of minor medical needs which he could help with and Jake was pleased to have another volunteer on the premises. But by midnight it was mostly quiet. Nathan sat down in a battered armchair in the office and had time to worry.

He wished he could have seen Chris’s medical notes, altered and fictitious as they might have been in part. His acquaintance at Alderways had talked of electric-shock therapy that had gone wrong. Nathan knew that the ‘therapy’ part would be inaccurate, but the mention of electric shock had come up so often it was likely to be true. What that might have done to Chris… In Nathan’s opinion it was a barbaric procedure with horrible side effects even when it was medically prescribed. As a torture it was vile and destructive. Yeah, he was more than worried about Chris.

Vin and Ezra were on his mind too. He was comforted a bit by the thought that what they lacked in medical knowledge might be made up for by their very thorough knowledge of Chris. Even so, he guessed they’d be having a hard time and he wished he could help.

Most of all, though, he worried about Rain. He missed her, and he was sorry to be absent for any of the pregnancy—and he was afraid for her. The feeling grew as the night wore on. Perhaps her mother’s wasn’t far enough from their home. It wouldn’t be so hard to find her maiden name and trace the address if someone was determined enough.

Ruthless enough.

Would it be paranoid to call so late at night? He’d be disturbing her sleep, and adding stress when she didn’t need it, possibly for nothing, and yet his fear seemed real enough.

He called Josiah first. At least Josiah would be alert, and his perspective would help Nathan judge whether his own fears were unfounded.

For just about the first time in his life, he found Josiah prepared to be more worried than he was.

“You think I should call her then?” Nathan said.

“I do. I think she should be somewhere much less predictable.”

“But where? We have friends, but are they really harder to trace than her mother?”

Josiah thought for a moment. “Rain knows the religious community who look after Hannah, and Hannah isn’t listed anywhere in my records—even on the team only you and Rain and Vin know about her. No one would ever think of that, and the sisters would welcome her in the middle of the night, their door’s always open to someone with a need. I’ll call them if you like.”

Relieved, Nathan agreed. When he reached Rain on her cell phone she was sleepy, but understanding. Maybe they were being paranoid, but with the baby to think of, she’d rather be too careful than take a risk.

“I’ll leave now,” she said. “Mom’s a heavy sleeper, so I’ll just leave her a note—I’ll say you needed me urgently!”

Nathan could imagine what his mother-in-law would make of that—and say to him next time they met—but he was too relieved Rain was moving to make any objections. He was finally able to relax a little when she called again from the safe haven of the Sisters of St Agnes.

“This is a lovely idea of Josiah’s,” Rain said. “I can tell I’m going to be spoilt here—I’m already being waited on hand and foot!”

“Don’t let it give you ideas,” Nathan said, though truthfully there was nothing he’d have liked better than to be there to fetch her a hot drink or a pillow for her back… and to have her take his face in her hands and kiss him thanks. He wanted to tell her how much he missed her, but knew if he started she would hear how troubled he was, and he wanted her carefree.

“I love you,” Rain said, probably guessing his thoughts. “Take care of them all. Bring Chris home to us. And don’t worry about me or the bump. We’re fine!”

Nathan still did worry, he couldn’t help himself, but it had lost that painful urgency. Some looming darkness, like a flock of Josiah’s crows, seemed to have been averted. Perhaps that was a good sign for the day ahead, which was very close now. He closed his eyes and tried to snatch a few hours sleep before dawn.

Chris had only the vaguest memories of the flashback triggered by hearing Sammy’s name but since then something fundamental seemed to have shifted in his world. For the first time since he woke in Alderways nameless and without awareness of anything about himself, he actually felt confident he would get his life back.

All through those months of struggle and setback and furious incomprehension he had simply been fighting because he wouldn’t give in. He’d been too lost to know he had friends looking for him; without cues his memories had been too confused for him to begin to piece together what had happened to him. Now he had hope in his grasp.

Hope, and a strong desire to see the end of the men who had somehow preserved a secret fascist enclave in the heart of Chris’s territory.

He understood a little better now why it was so hard to find words even when the ideas were clear in his head, but it didn’t make it any less frustrating. It was one of the reasons he was glad it was Vin and Ezra with him. Buck loved him like a brother, but the ways they thought were too different for Buck to find his broken sentences easy to follow. Vin and Chris understood each other so easily words often didn’t matter, and Ezra had a gift for getting into other people’s minds.

And for what he wanted to do now, he’d choose Vin and Ezra. It was payback time, a payback that had to be swift and unofficial, because he was sure the only way he could hit this group was to take them completely by surprise. Whether or not Vin and Ezra agreed, they’d follow where he led. He’d maybe bring in the others once there was no going back. He wanted to see them again, badly, but he could remember enough to know how it would go down if he called them now. Buck would be too relieved to have him back to be able to bear the thought of risking Chris’s neck again so soon; he’d want to call Travis in, and one of the other teams. It would be harder, professionally, for him not to do it, too. Chris could plead temporary brain damage or something; Vin and Ezra were suspended; but Buck was probably in charge of the team now… or Josiah, if Chris hadn’t dreamed Vin telling him Buck had sprained his leg.

He thought of Josiah and Nathan and JD. He didn’t want the kid in this yet; it had been ugly and would probably get worse, and maybe it was stupid but he was still reluctant for JD to see him stuttering for words. Josiah would be a solid comfort, but Chris didn’t want comfort, he wanted war. Then there was Nathan, and apart from the fact that he really didn’t want doctoring, Nathan was the only one of them with a wife. It was a vulnerability Chris hadn’t thought of till now, a reminder to him of how far he still had to go to be back to normal. Did his team realise the ruthlessness of the people they were dealing with? He spent a few minutes groping for Nate’s wife’s name.

“Rain?” he said to Vin.

“Nope; cold and dry.”

So much for not needing words. He tried again, and wondered how he’d ever explain the rest of his plan if he couldn’t even ask a simple question. “Nate… Rain?”

“That Rain? She’s good; she’s having a baby.”

Vin said it like it was the most ordinary news, and in some ways it was, a natural, expected part of Nathan’s married life, but to Chris it somehow symbolised all the stretch of time he’d lost. Something so important in Nathan’s life, and Chris hadn’t remembered Nathan’s existence, let alone imagined a baby.

His mind tried a convoluted set of calculations he wouldn’t have conceived of even a day before. If Rain had been pregnant before he went, maybe waiting to be three months before she told them, the baby could be nearly due. It wasn’t relevant to anything he was planning, but suddenly he had to know.

“How long?”

Vin frowned. “Can’t be too long. When’d Nate tell us?”

“September?” Ezra hazarded. “Yes, he was quite preoccupied all through the month.”

“She was throwin’ up a lot.”

It was clear that the whole baby thing had more or less passed them by. Chris was briefly saddened, because he could guess the reason—they’d been looking for him. He still hadn’t fully understood the current tensions between Vin, Ezra and the rest of his team, but he guessed now they went back a while. These were the two he’d have worried about most if his mind hadn’t been too scrambled to think. Buck would miss him just as deeply, but he had too much of a gift for life to be obsessive; Nate had Rain, and now even a baby on the way; JD a host of new experiences to distract him. Even Josiah had the faith to hand it all over to his God.

Vin and Ezra would have been obsessive, unreasonable and insubordinate in their search for him. Which in this case made him a lucky man. He’d have to thank them later though, when he had time and words. For now he had other more urgent things to communicate.

“Rain… not safe,” he managed.

“A potential hostage,” Ezra said, understanding quickly.

“They’ll have thought,” Vin said, but he was already digging out a cheap cell phone, and handing it to Ezra.

“JD?” Ezra asked.

“JD,” Vin agreed. “He ain’t so pissed with us. Put the sound up so’s we can hear.”

Chris couldn’t ask the questions he wanted, so he just waited in silence, until he heard JD answer the phone, bright, alert and eager regardless of the fact it was now well past midnight. It was the first time Chris had heard him in six months; listening to the words tumbling rapidly out was surprisingly refreshing. He concentrated on the young, clear voice, and followed the conversation better than he could have hoped.

Ezra didn’t try to answer the torrent of questions, and didn’t ask any of his own, though his face mirrored Chris’s surprise when JD told them where he was. Instead he cut through it all with Chris’s warning about Rain.

“Hey, that’s so weird you should think of it now!” JD said. “I just went along to talk to Josiah and he says he and Nate arranged just five minutes ago for her to go somewhere safer. He didn’t tell me where, I guess they think better not too many people know. Same with Chris I suppose. Is he okay? They said at Alderways he couldn’t walk or talk or anything, but Rosa says he was getting better.”

Chris held out a hand for the cell phone. He decided he could manage a few words for the kid without giving away what a struggle speaking was.

“JD,” he said.

“Chris? Chris! Hi, it’s so great to hear you again, I mean I know you’ll be okay with Vin and Ezra but it’s different hearing you, and the stuff they said at that hospital_”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m so glad. We’ve all been kind of worried, well especially Nate, but I think Rosa’s quite worried too—she’s a real nice lady, I didn’t have time to tell Ezra how we saved her little boy from these guys who tried to take him in a car, and of course she was shaken up about that too, but she likes it here, and she’s getting kind of close to Josiah I think—well Buck thinks, and I don’t always agree but this time I do because she was cuddled up with him on the couch when I went along.”


“I know. Buck can’t believe it either, only he’s not as interested as he would be usually—he’s too mad with Vin and Ezra. When are we going to meet up Chris? We all want to see you.”

“Soon,” Chris promised. “Maybe… tomorrow.”

“Can I tell Buck that? He went out—to check around, only really I think he just wants to be on the move. He’s been waiting six months to see you, Chris…”

There was no reproach in the kid’s voice, just a plea for his friend. It tugged at Chris, but he needed to go through with the plan he had, and if it worked the way he hoped, they would be calling the others in soon enough.

“Tomorrow,” he said again, and hoped that was how it would go down. “Ez wants… to talk.”

Ezra correctly interpreted this as an invitation to finish the call. Vin was grinning.

“What?” Chris asked as Ezra put the cell away.

“He never noticed,” Vin said. “JD never noticed one thing different about that call. For the kid, it was just a normal conversation with you. Y’ never say more than three words at a time!”

“Shut up… Tanner,” Chris growled, and realised with annoyance when Vin’s grin widened that that was still only three words. He felt better for talking to JD though. And he hoped Buck would understand…

Meanwhile the night was getting old, and he had a plan to try to explain to Vin and Ezra.

Hahn sat in the darkness of his high suite, drinking schnapps and looking out over the estate. He’d seen a car leave soon after midnight, and a word with the night doorman confirmed what he’d guessed, Otto had sent two of their own security men out. A mistake, Hahn thought. While they were using men from Ackerman, no one could lead Larabee directly to the estate. Otto still would not believe Larabee was out there somewhere, waiting to strike at them. Hahn, however, had enjoyed hunting until the last few years, and knew there was nothing so dangerous as a wounded predator.

That was not what troubled him as he stared out into the darkness though. The present seemed almost dim compared with the vivid scenes of the past. He saw sights and faces superimposed on the night, ones that he’d thought he’d forgotten over the years. He saw acts he’d done—because it was ordered, because it was for the Fuhrer and the fatherland, perhaps simply because of the cruelty in the human heart which only needed an excuse. And he seemed to see every act through Larabee’s cold direct eyes. It was as if the electric shocks had created some infernal link. He gulped at the schnapps.

He had a decision to make, and he needed the night to consider whether it was simply an old man’s insanity, his brain crumbling under the weight of years—or whether it was the one thing left to do if he was to die any kind of warrior. He thought he wouldn’t get longer than a night. When Parish disappeared he’d taken it as confirmation that Larabee was not simply hiding somewhere licking his wounds. Hahn knew, with the sort of intimacy that torturing a man could provide, that if Larabee could move and think, however damaged he might still be, he’d be coming for them.

The night was clear, but the two men watching the ranch were not alert enough to take advantage of it to see the minimal shifting in the shadows near the ranch. They glanced out of the car occasionally, but one was smoking and one looked as if he was sending a text message. As he put his phone away, he made some joke to his companion. Vin had no chance of hearing it. The car was shut up against the cold. It was probably nearly as chilly in there as it was outside, though Vin had heard them run the engine briefly while he was approaching.

He slipped back through the darker parts of the yard to where Ezra and Chris waited for him. It had taken a while, and some inspired guesswork from Ezra, to understand what Chris wanted to do, but Vin had it down plain enough now. Chris thought that the men behind his disappearance had the money and power to have a very effective intelligence network—Ezra’s rewording of ‘own fuckin CIA’—and that any official investigation and planning for raids would give them far too much warning. They’d be at red alert anyway after Alderways.

Chris wanted to go for the heart of the organisation, the secluded estate Sammy had escaped from, where Chris had been tortured and where the ‘godfather’ of the fascists remained.

Find the place, find the excuse to take action, then call in the rest of their team, that was Chris’s thinking. Time enough to alert Travis and others when the fight had already started.

Chris reckoned they would find enough to justify their actions retrospectively, or that was how Ezra translated it, also transforming: ‘Ezra… can con ’em after’ into ‘I will certainly endeavour to explain our course of conduct in a way which exonerates us from actual consequences, if not private remonstrance’. Vin thought Chris was right. A predictable course of action would be to organise enquiries centring on Ackerman, Alderways and possibly men like D’Aubin. No one in their right mind would plan a three-man attack on a place which probably had its own private army. They should have the advantage of surprise if nothing else.

Chris, shivering so much that Vin doubted again the sanity of going along with this, looked his question now instead of making the effort to speak.

“Should be okay,” Vin said, “but I think we need to move fast. They look kinda cheerful, like they’re hoping to get away home soon. I’d say they’re expecting t’ be relieved.”

In the starlight, the half smile on Chris’s face was colder than ever. “More come… more to take down.”

There was no arguing with that.

Now came the part of this plan that Vin liked least. “One of us c’d do this,” he said to Chris, like he’d already said twice.

Chris cuffed him with a freezing hand for doubting, and moved off into the darkness before there could be any more discussion. They waited until they could be reasonably sure he was in position—not too happily. “He appears to have all his old familiarity with the ranch,” Ezra muttered.

“Yeah, but he ain’t movin’ right yet. Though I guess we’re the ones that need to do the fast movin’. Come on, let’s get in place.”

They were in position well before the blond haired figure showed, stumbling in an exaggerated manner where the security light would come on and pick him up. Vin’s worst fear was that the men in the car would simply draw their guns ready to dispose of the problem once and for all, and he and Ezra were ready to act very quickly. But Chris was right. The men in the car didn’t see the staggering man as any kind of threat; they jumped out, the smoker saying, “It’s him, I’m sure it’s him, where’s the photo,” as if they were going to stand there and check it before they did anything. And Vin and Ezra took them completely by surprise, one from each side, and had them down and immobilised before Chris joined them—no longer staggering, but not moving with his old fluid ease either.

“Away… from here,” Chris said.

Ezra removed the keys from smoker’s pocket and locked the men’s car. Vin appreciated his attention to the tiny details; if more arrived the impression that the men had left in good order with some sort of purpose in mind would make them less wary to begin with.

They dragged both men to Chris’s workshop. The barn might have been more convenient, but they’d disturb the horses and anyone who came might hear them. The workshop was a bit small but had the advantage of a number of sharp tools and heavy blunt instruments. Ezra put a sheet of board up to cover the one window, then they switched on the light. Chris picked up a chisel and looked thoughtfully at the man Vin had mentally dubbed ‘cell-phone’. He was the one Vin would have picked too. He had a softer—and to be fair, more pleasant—look to him. Smoker was a hard case.

Chris took a step forward, looming over the men who were propped against the rear wall, and made a gesture to Ezra to do the talking.

Ezra smiled with ominous charm at the two men. “Mr Larabee is considering whether the mere prospect of a kneeless, and possibly sexless, existence will be enough to encourage you to talk to us, or whether he needs to demonstrate on one of you ‘pour encourager l’autre’.”

Vin’s role in these dramas was usually the dumber heavy there for the disposal of the bodies. He reckoned he did it well. For now, he spent a while selecting the most suitable hammer, while Chris and Ezra watched the men silently. Smoker stared back, but cell-phone looked as if he was wondering just what he’d gotten himself into—and hoping that perhaps he’d wake up and find it wasn’t real after all.

Vin handed the hammer to Chris. “They some of th’ ones who did you over?”

Chris shook his head. “Same… breed.”

“We never did anything to you,” cell-phone said, his voice coming out unintentionally high and squeaky.

“My word, if you sound like that now you hardly need to lose anything to sing soprano,” Ezra said, with a detached interest that was more chilling than violence.

Vin squatted down so he could get in their faces. “Y’ know what they did t’ him though,” he said, with a jerk of his head at Chris standing like an avenging spirit behind him. “Y’ know all th’ different sorts a pain they used t’ try t’ get him t’ talk, and how when he wouldn’t they used their box of electric tricks t’ screw up his mind.” The anger he really felt bled through into his voice. Even smoker flinched. Cell-phone said high and fast, “I don’t know anything about anyone being tortured!”

Chris brought the chisel closer. “Get… on with it,” he told Ezra.

“Now that they understand the situation and how very ungenerous we are feeling towards them and their organisation,” Ezra agreed. He looked down at their prisoners. “We need information, gentlemen. We need clear and coherent directions to your employer’s estate and an escort when we decide to drive there.”

“Fuck off!” said smoker, not very convincingly.

“But we don’t know!” Cell-phone’s howled protest unfortunately sounded as if he might be telling the truth. “We work for Ackerman, but we don’t know the bosses there. I wouldn’t even know the estate existed if Parish hadn’t talked about going there, and even he went by helicopter. We can’t tell you!”

“There’s only one way for us to prove the accuracy of that statement, I’m afraid,” Ezra pointed out.

“But the guys who are coming to relieve us are from the estate!” cell-phone said very fast.

“Shut up!” his companion snapped.

“Vin… gag,” Chris ordered.

Vin rammed a relatively clean rag in smoker’s mouth, checked how securely he was tied, then dragged him by the scruff of his neck out of the workshop.

“I’ll make it quiet,” he said to Chris for call-phone’s benefit.

“Not… too quick.”

Smoker was not a likeable guy, but he wasn’t a coward. Vin saw in his eyes that he expected to be disposed of, but he kept his head, looking about for an escape that wasn’t going to happen. Vin wondered where to stash him. Out in the open wasn’t an option, he’d die of hypothermia. In the end, he hauled him all the way across the yard to the ranch house, unlocked the mudroom door and threw him in there. He’d still be cold, but he shouldn’t actually freeze.

Back out in the yard he paused and listened. There was the distant sound of a car, and although the road might occasionally be used at this hour, it wasn’t common. He went quickly back to the workshop where cell-phone was practically choking himself telling Chris and Ezra everything he knew. Judging by their faces, it wasn’t much.

“Car’s coming,” Vin told them. “Couldn’t tell yet if it’s coming here, but there’s a good chance.” He picked up a piece of cloth that Chris must have used on the Ram sometime. Ezra shook his head and gagged cell-phone with his own clean handkerchief instead.

“Never let it be said that I’ve descended to the level of mere thuggery,” he murmured.

Chris switched off the light, and they uncovered the window.

Two or three minutes later a car—a black Mercedes Vin thought—did indeed pull up near the ranch entrance. The men in it didn’t bother to switch off their headlights as they jumped out and walked towards the other, empty car.

Two men. One was well into middle-age but powerfully built and something about his face and the way he moved suggested to Vin that he’d be tougher than smoker, who’d been by no means a pushover. The other was much younger, blond, athletic, probably a perfect specimen in the eyes of anyone dumb enough still to believe in a master race.

Ezra must have thought the same, because he murmured, “I assume we’re all agreed we go for the Aryan wunderkind?” Vin dug an elbow in his ribs because it didn’t need saying; Chris another from the other side because he was still annoyed by having to concentrate on Ezra’s vocabulary unless it was vital. Ezra sulked silently between them after that while they watched the men discover there was no one here to relieve.

Vin thought the younger man looked as if he’d be brave enough, in an arrogant sort of way, in sport or some outdoor expedition, but not tough faced with the pretence of uncompromising brutality. He was inexperienced; Vin could see that from the way he moved, whereas his companion had almost certainly served his time in someone’s armed forces.

“See if they… split up,” Chris breathed.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Vin began to worry they might simply get in the car and drive away, but after a brief conversation they must have agreed to check around the ranch first. This gave Vin, Ezra and Chris the chance to get into a position where they remained in darkness but able to use the light of the headlights to watch the men’s progress.

The two of them stopped outside the mudroom.

“Shit,” Vin muttered.

Even trussed up as he had been, smoker could probably make a noise by knocking something over, if he’d heard the car and had the presence of mind.

“Take ’em… now,” Chris said abruptly.

It was lucky they had the advantage of surprise. Even with it, and with the extra man, this wasn’t anything like as easy as taking the other two had been. Vin and Chris got the tough one down and semi-conscious, but at the expense of a cut cheek-bone and a swelling knee for Chris, while Vin was left with a nearly numb left arm and a rib on the same side that he hoped was just badly bruised. Ezra dealt rather more neatly with the wunderkind, fighting by the rule book for just long enough to allow him to get overconfident, then resorting to street tactics that had him down in seconds.

They had to resort to flex and duct tape to finish tying these two. “We’ll need to go to a hardware store if we’re going to keep doing this,” Vin muttered.

“We’re done,” Chris said. The blood on his face was already congealing in the cold air, and he wiped it impatiently away. It made him look even more deadly as he indicated the young man. “This one… do fine. Name?”

The young man was silent, his chin tilted up arrogantly, but there was a hint of uncertainty and fear in his eyes.

“He… was there,” Chris said softly.

Vin could imagine it: there to learn, to see a better man broken, to learn there was nothing the master race couldn’t do if they chose. He drew his knife, and although the kid tried to hide it, it was clear he flinched. Vin didn’t say anything, just used three skilful cuts to slit straight down the kid’s expensive coat and through his shirt. Maybe scratched him a little; definitely showed him what the knife could do.

“Name?” Chris said again.

The young man still didn’t answer, but the arrogance was giving way to wide-eyed shock. Spoilt, Vin thought. Told all his life he was something special, and believed it, and now he was finding it hard to comprehend the way he was being threatened. Vin ripped the slashed coat and shirt roughly from him. He’d feel less special shivering half-naked in the yard.

He wasn’t sure if it was the threat of the next cut or Chris’s face, hard as an avenging army, that forced the first crack.

“Leo,” the kid said, before Vin could move again.

Chris smiled coldly. They had him now. It was just a matter of time. Vin could almost have felt sorry for the youngster if he hadn’t been one of the bystanders while Chris was tortured. Leo was out of his depth—probably employed on the estate with a view to eventual promotion in the firm, but not remotely prepared for what he was facing now.

Breaking Leo wasn’t pleasant but wasn’t prolonged. By the time they’d finished with him the kid was barely holding back tears of humiliation and fear, but he was theirs, and all the defiance had leaked away. It was just possible he’d find the courage to lead them in a wrong direction, but Vin doubted it. Leo was confused, ashamed and very frightened, and that wasn’t a good combination for thinking clearly. Besides, Ezra had given the impression they knew more than they did about the estate and its owners.

Chris wanted to reach the estate before dawn, and that ought to be possible in the powerful Mercedes. They had no idea of the security there, but forcing instructions about the route out of Leo was just the first step. He’d already said the monitoring devices at the outer end of the road would recognise the license plate from any estate car and he wasn’t a gifted enough liar to have deceived them. Once into the woodland around the main buildings, they’d have to make some quick decisions, but Vin still thought that the enemy’s attention would be turned much further away, expecting trouble at Ackerman or searching the ranch for their missing men.

“Let’s go,” Chris said. He was limping slightly now, and the blood smeared down one side of his face emphasised its gauntness, but still he managed to give the impression of unstoppable determination.

“Y’ got t’ feel sorry fer that small army he’s takin’ on,” Vin murmured to Ezra as they pushed Leo into the car.

“I wonder whether they have the imagination to be afraid,” Ezra agreed, settling behind the wheel. The Mercedes, purring with smooth power that made Ezra nod approval, made swift work of the empty roads. Vin put all his earlier doubts aside. They’d seen Chris do the impossible before. They’d be with him all the way this time.

Continue on to Part 5 of 6