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Authors: Blair Bancroft

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BOOK: Limbo Man
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Wanna bet? He almost said it out loud. Instead, he leaned against a wall at the foot of the stairs and watched her shove cash in a machine. His mind screamed,
Don’t stop, don’t stop, there’s no time for tickets
, but one glance at the six-foot barricade between them and the subway platform, and he could see why she had to buy their way in.

She slid his ticket through the scanner, motioned him through, following on his heels. “We’ll grab the first one that comes by.”

He was all in favor of that.

They stood with their backs against the wall, feet on a floor pockmarked with decades of discarded chewing gum, tobacco, and stuff too
disgusting
to think about. They kept their eyes fixed on the wooden spokes of the man-high turnstile, while listening for footsteps coming down the cement steps. Fear exaggerated the smells: dank tile, mold, too many unwashed bodies, urine, disinfectant cleansers, rodents . . . decay. Imminent death.

And then they heard it, a distant rumble, becoming a roar . . . a headlight glimmering into a ray of hope. An electrified lifeline.
Escape
. The doors slid open. They made a run for it. Shouts. Men running down the stairs. The doors slid closed. The train rumbled into motion, gliding into the dark tunnel. And safety.

The subway car wasn’t as deserted as Nick had expected at this hour of the morning, but none of the five others in the car were near enough to hear their conversation. For some reason he hadn’t lost the hat, and in typical New Yorker fashion no one gave them a first glance, let alone a second.

Like it or not, he had to say it. “I am sorry I laughed. You are a most excellent babysitter.”

“Yeah, right.” Her lower lip was quivering.

“It’s okay to be scared now.”

“They died for you, and I’m not sure you’re worth it.” 

She spat the words at him, and he supposed he deserved it. How could he possibly be worth the lives of three federal agents? And he had to agree with her assessment of the situation. Two carloads of automatic weapons against three guys with nothing more than eighteen-shot Glocks . . . “So what now?”

But she was bent over her high-powered
cell phone
, scowling because the tunnel that was carrying them away from danger was also protecting them from any semblance of a wireless signal.

“We need to change subway lines just in case. When we do, I can go above ground and check the train schedules. I have an idea where we can hide out for a while.”

“You can’t just call your boss and get brought in?”

“I could, but right now Manhattan seems like a big hot cauldron. The sooner we get out of it the better. Until I can figure out how the bad guys found us, everyone’s the enemy.”

“Your boss will be unhappy.”

“He’s not really my boss. I’m on loan, remember?”

“And maybe soon to be out of a job,” he pointed out, feeling a strange empathy for a woman who seemed to be in the process of shredding the rules and regulations of several federal agencies.

“Doubt it. I’ve got connections.”

“Ah . . . you are a
made
member of the FBI.”

She flashed him a look that was almost a smile. “I guess you could say I’ve made my bones, but this was supposed to be the case that made my career. More like it’s going to make me dead. You are one dangerous s.o.b..”

“Sorry.”

“Borough Hall coming up. Legs okay? We need to get off.”

“I’ll make it.”

 

Vee noted Nick’s green eyes staring up the steep staircase to street level with something that looked like resignation tinged with anxiety. Was he putting her on? Not. Tough guy or no, he’d spent the last two weeks in the hospital. Vee scowled, reminding herself it was her job to make him like her. But, oh, how she hated the loss of control. “Can I trust you to stay here while I go topside? You won’t go chasing off on your own?”

“What
own
? I don’t have any
own
,” he shot back with a bitterness she hadn’t seen before. “Remember?” he taunted. “No money, no ID, no friends, and someone out there is trying to kill me. Go. Read your time tables. I will prop up this wall until you come back.”

In spite of his protest, a wave of relief swept through her when she returned to the platform and found him true to his word. Vee never doubted he was a superb liar and could con her into almost anything if she didn’t keep a sharp watch. But right now they were both in deep doo-doo. She’d proved she could do her job, and he needed her. Not what you could call mutual trust, but what the hell. “We have some time to kill—”

“An unfortunate expression.”

Vee closed her eyes, heaved a sigh. “Let’s go. We have to change platforms. Hopefully, not many stairs involved. Coney Island by moonlight, how does that strike you?” She was ten feet down the platform before she realized he wasn’t following her. When she turned around, he was frozen to the filthy cement floor, eyes wide and staring, seemingly struck by some unknown fear. “What?” she demanded, striding back to stand in front of him, arms crossed.

“Cold chills,” he murmured. “Don’t know why.
Plachoy. Ochen plachoy
.”

Bad. Very bad. Vee thought about it. “Coney Island is next to Brighton Beach. Lots of Russians in Brighton Beach. Is that it?”

Nick shook his head. “Could be. All I know is my head’s screaming,
No Coney Island
.”

“Fine. We’ll go Uptown, stay underground. Guess this isn’t the scenic tour after all.” Vee grabbed his hand and dragged him in the opposite direction from the train to Coney Island.

Mistake. She’d made a careless mistake. She should have remembered about Brighton Beach. Just because she’d gotten them out of a tight spot once tonight didn’t mean she could rest on her laurels.
Dammit!
What else had she missed?

They were walking toward yet another concrete tunnel, searching for the Uptown platform on a different subway line when it hit her. Vee halted so abruptly Nick bumped into her, what little breath he had left whooshing out before he stood stiffly, hand on her shoulder, swaying ever so slightly. Vee took out her
cell phone
. She stared at it, took a deep breath. If she tossed it, she was cutting the umbilical cord. But someone had known where to find them tonight. Someone not a friend. After a silent but anguished farewell to her electronic marvel, Vee tossed it down onto the filthy cement. Raising a foot neatly encased in a stylish ankle-boot, she stomped it hard. Once. Twice. Three times, before stalking to a trash barrel and tossing the remains inside.

One more little problem. She loosened a middle button on her shirt and made sure the GPS locator in her bra was turned off. It was. So what else . . . ?

She frowned at Nick, studying him from head to toe. She pulled off his hat, ran her hands over the thick canvas. Nothing. “Turn out your pockets,” she ordered. “Check yourself out.” Damned if she was going to feel him up. Nick grabbed her shoulder as he nearly toppled over while checking right down to the narrow hems of his jeans. Vee focused on his gym shoes, bit her lip.

A quick glance around the platform revealed a young man who looked like a college student, standing hands in his pockets, waiting for the next train. His foot-size? So who cared if Nick’s toes pinched? It was better than being dead. “Take off your shoes.”

She had to give him credit. Nick didn’t so much as blink. He leaned against the wall behind the trash barrel, took off his shoes, and handed them to her. A crisp hundred dollar bill rapidly convinced the young man that if someone wanted to exchange a pair of brand new gym shoes for his ratty old pair he wasn’t going to worry about a little moonlight madness on the Metro.

“Has it occurred to you that you set him up?” Nick asked as he struggled into gym shoes a size too small.

“Oh, God.” Vee looked back, but the young man’s train had come and gone, taking him into the miles of tunnels beneath the city. “Hopefully, the bad guys have good eyesight,” she murmured, adding more briskly, “And maybe the shoes weren’t bugged.”

“And only the good guys can read the signal if they were?”

Vee shot him a singeing glance. “You know I wouldn’t be doing all this if I didn’t suspect we have a leak. Come on.” She reached for his hand. “We have to find the Lexington line.”

“So how does a girl from Florida know about New York subways?”

“I grew up in Connecticut. Coming into the city for the day was always a big adventure. Now move it. The bad guys could be hot on our tail.”

“Not the same as investigating, is it?” Nick said a few minutes later as they waited for an Uptown train. The miserable man was looking at her with a shrewd sympathy that made her squirm. “Action, I mean. Giving the bad guys the slip?”

“I’d love to know where you picked up all the American idioms.” And, yes, investigation was a far cry from being plopped into the middle of a guns-blazing street fight and hot pursuit. But she’d never admit it.

“So would I,” Nick returned. “Maybe they sent me to one of those spy schools where they teach you how to blend in, be a real American.”

The train roared into the station, saving her from
finding an answer to that one.

In near silence they rode all the way to 125
th
Street. They’d have a forty-five minute wait for the train departing Grand Central at 5:35, but trapped below ground like a mole in a hole was wearing thin. A wait in semi-fresh air on the elevated platform at 125
th
seemed like a good deal. Unless there was a GPS locator they hadn’t found, it would take a truly omniscient bad guy to locate them here. And by boarding the mainline train at 125
th
Street, they were spared wandering through the vast cavern of Grand Central, exposed like mice in a maze.

Five o’clock, and Vee could only hope all was well. They had their choice of benches while they waited for the train to New Haven. Nick sat slumped beside her, head down. Vee reached out, settled his hat more firmly on his head.

“Could I ask where we’re going?”

“Some place no one outside my own family knows about. We’ll be safe there until I can sort out the good guys from the bad guys.”

“Give the bad guys some credit, woman. They probably staked out the hospital.”

“How did they know you were alive? How did they know you were in Bellvue?”

You really think your own people—”

“Maybe not, but I’m not taking any chances. Fortunately, I have someone to turn to I can genuinely trust.”

“Right.” Nick’s skepticism was palpable.

“My father.”

Nick mumbled under his breath. Vee thought she caught something about Feebs—or was it feeble?—females.

“I just saved your sorry ass, and this is what you think of me,” she snapped.

“I said thanks, but maybe it was all a fluke.”

“My smoke bomb was a
fluke?

How could he?
“You think I actually wanted this job? You think I
like
babysitting some big-time Russian mobster?”

Oh, shit
. The green eyes set deep in his bruised and swollen face turned to Arctic ice. It suddenly occurred to her that, weak as he was, Nick could still snap her neck with one hand.

“You’ve known all along, haven’t you?” he breathed, his gargoyle facing morphing into demon. “Just when in the fucking hell were you going to get around to telling me?”

 

Chapter 4

 

Vee squeezed her eyes shut, her Frost pride screaming,
Idiot!
. Shame threatened to overwhelm her. How could she have blurted it out like that? Easy to blame her brain lapse on flying bullets, their heart-pounding underground escape. But the truth was, she was an investigator, not a Jane Bond. When it came to derring-do, she was as green as grass.

She’d been chosen for her looks,
dammit
. And because she spoke Russian. Not exactly the right criteria for evading a bunch of assassins.

Nick’s fingers were biting into her arm hard enough to raise bruises. Not that she could blame him for being pissed. The experts agreed he wasn’t faking his amnesia, yet the
Feds
had known who he was all along and hadn’t told him.

Not the way to turn an asset. How could she mine his memory, learn what DHS needed to know, if she didn’t tell him what few facts she knew?

Trailing a tarted-up female agent in front of him wasn’t exactly kosher either.

“You will tell me. Now!” He was breaking her arm and still she couldn’t look at him.

“I’m sorry,” Vee murmured. “I’m a latecomer to this scenario. I had my orders.” Yeah, and so did the Nazis. “You’re a wiseguy, I’m a cop. I don’t have to tell you anything. Now let go! You’re hurting me.”

Nick’s fingers snapped open. He leaned forward, plunged his head into his hands. Silence stretched, broken only by the sounds of sparse traffic on the road below, the distant rumble of an elevated Metro train on its way to the northern suburbs of the city.

BOOK: Limbo Man
4.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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