The Passage Page 20

"Agent, I know you're angry-"

"You're goddamn right I'm angry. And we had about fifty witnesses, starting with the nuns. I feel like dropping her off at the nearest cop shop."

Sykes was silent a moment. "I need you to focus, Agent. Let's just get you out of state. Then we'll figure out what happens next."

"Nothing's going to happen next. This is not what I signed on for."

"I can hear you're upset. You have a right to be. Where are you?"

Wolgast took a deep breath, bringing his anger under control. "At a gas station. South Memphis."

"Is she all right?"


"Don't do anything stupid."

"Are you threatening me?" But even as he said the words, Wolgast knew, with a sudden, icy clarity, what the situation was. The moment to break ranks had passed, at the zoo. They were all fugitives now.

"I don't have to," Sykes said. "Wait for my call."

Wolgast clicked off the phone and stepped into the station. The attendant, a trim Indian man in a turban, was sitting behind the bulletproof glass, watching a church show on TV. The girl was probably hungry; Wolgast got some peanut butter crackers and some chocolate milk and took it to the counter. He was looking up, noticing the cameras, when his handheld buzzed at his waist. He paid quickly and stepped outside.

"I can get you a car out of Little Rock," Sykes said. "Somebody from the field office can meet you if you give me an address."

Little Rock was at least two hours. Too long. Two men in suits, a little girl, a black sedan so plain it couldn't have been more obvious. The nuns had probably given the plate number, too. There was no way they could go through the scanner on the bridge; if the girl had been reported as a kidnap victim, the Amber Alert system would be activated.

Wolgast looked around. Across the avenue he saw a used-car lot, strings of multicolored banners fluttering above it. Most of the cars were junk, old gas guzzlers nobody could afford to fill anymore. An old-style Chevy Tahoe, ten years if it was a day, was parked to face the street. The words EASY FINANCING were stenciled on the windshield.

Wolgast told Sykes what he wanted to do. At the car he gave Doyle the milk and crackers for Amy and jogged across the avenue. A man with huge eyeglasses and a flapping comb-over stepped from the trailer as Wolgast approached the Tahoe.

"A beaut, isn't she?"

He got the man down to six grand, which was nearly all the cash he had left. Sykes would have to see to the money question, too. Because today was a Saturday, the paperwork on the Tahoe wouldn't hit the DMV computers until Monday morning. By then, they'd be long gone.

Doyle followed him to an apartment complex about a mile away. Doyle parked the car in back, away from the road, and carried Amy to the Tahoe. Not perfect, but as long as Sykes got somebody to ghost the car by the end of the day, they'd be untraceable. The inside of the Tahoe smelled too strongly of lemon air freshener, but it was otherwise clean and comfortable, and the mileage on the odometer wasn't bad, a little over ninety thousand.

"How much cash do you have?" he asked Doyle.

They put their money together: they had a little over three hundred dollars left. It would cost at least two hundred bucks to fill the tank, but that would get them to western Arkansas, maybe as far as Oklahoma. Somebody could meet them with cash, and a new vehicle too.

They crossed back into Mississippi and turned west toward the river. The day was clear, just a few clouds ribboning the sky. In the backseat, Amy was motionless as a stone. She hadn't touched the food. She was just a little bit of a thing, a baby. The whole thing gave Wolgast a sick feeling in his stomach-the Tahoe was a rolling crime scene. But for now he had to get them out of the state. Beyond that, Wolgast didn't know.

By the time they were approaching the bridge it was nearly one o'clock.

"You think we're okay?" Doyle asked.

Wolgast kept his eyes straight ahead. "We'll find out."

The gates were open, the guardhouse unmanned. They sailed through easily, across the wide girth of the muddy river, swollen with spring runoff. Below them, a long line of barges pushed obliviously northward against the foaming current. The scanner would log their vehicle signature, but the car would still be registered to the dealer. It would take days to sort it all out, to check the video stream and connect them to the girl and the car. On the far side, the road reclined to the open fields of the western floodplain, sodden with moisture. Wolgast had thought about the route carefully; they wouldn't hit a good-sized town until they were nearly to Little Rock. He set the cruise control for fifty-five, the posted limit, and headed north again, wondering how it was that Sykes had known just what he'd do.

By the time the van bringing Anthony Carter pulled into the compound, Richards was asleep in his office, his head on his desk. His com buzzed to wake him; it was the guardhouse, telling him Paulson and Davis were outside.

He rubbed his eyes, brought his mind into focus. "Bring him straight in."

He decided to let Sykes sleep. He stood and stretched, called for a member of the medical staff and a security detail to meet him, then put on his jacket and took the stairs up to ground level. The loading dock stood at the rear of the building, on the south side, facing the woods and, beyond that, the river gorge. The compound had once been some kind of institute, a retreat for corporate executives and government officials. Richards was a little vague on the history. The place had been closed up for at least ten years before Special Weapons had taken it over. Cole had ordered the Chalet dismantled piece by piece to excavate the lower levels and build the power plant; they'd then rebuilt the exterior almost exactly as it had been.

Richards stepped into the gloom and cold. A wide roof was suspended over the concrete dock, keeping the surface clear of snow and obstructing the view from the rest of the compound. He checked his watch: 07:12. By now, he figured, Anthony Carter would be a psychological wreck. With the other subjects, there had been time for adjustment. But Carter had been plucked straight off death row and landed here in less than a day; his mind would be tumbling like a dryer. The important thing in the next two hours was to keep him calm.

The space swelled with the headlights of the approaching van. Richards descended the steps as the security detail, two soldiers wearing sidearms, jogged in out of the snow. Richards told them to keep their distance and leave their weapons holstered. He'd read Carter's file and doubted he'd be violent; the guy was basically as gentle as a lamb.

Paulson killed the engine and climbed from the van. There was a keypad on the van's sliding door; he punched in the numbers and Richards watched it draw slowly open.

Carter was sitting on the front bench. His head was tipped forward, but Richards could see that his eyes were open. His hands, shackled, lay folded in his lap. Richards saw a crumpled McDonald's bag on the floor at his feet. At least they'd fed him. The window between the compartments was closed.

"Anthony Carter?"

No response. Richards called his name again. Nothing, not a twitch. Carter seemed completely catatonic.

Richards stepped back from the door and pulled Paulson aside. "Okay, you tell me," he said. "What's the story?"

Paulson gave a stagy, "who me?" shrug. "Beats me. Dude's just f**ked up or something."

"Don't bullshit me, son." Richards turned his attention to the other one, with the red hair: Davis. He was holding a sheaf of comic books in his hand. Comic books, for the love of God. For the thousandth time, Richards thought it: these were kids.

"What about you, soldier?" he asked Davis.


"Don't play stupid. You got anything to say for yourself?"

Davis's eyes darted toward Paulson, then back to Richards. "No, sir."

He'd deal with these two later. Richards stepped back toward the van. Carter hadn't moved a muscle. Richards could see that his nose was running; his cheeks were streaked with tears.

"Anthony, my name is Richards. I'm the head of security at this facility. These two boys aren't going to bother you anymore, you hear me?"

"We didn't do anything," Paulson pleaded. "It was just a joke. Hey, Anthony, can't you take a joke?"

Richards turned sharply to face them again. "That little voice in your head, telling you to shut the f**k up? That's the voice you should be listening to right about now."

"Aw, come on," Paulson whined. "The dude's mental or something. Anyone can see that."

Richards felt the last of his patience run out of him like the last drops of water from a leaky bucket. The hell with it. Without speaking he withdrew his weapon from its spot at the base of his spine. A long-slide Springfield .45 that he used mostly for show: a huge gun, a hilarious gun. But despite its bulk, it rode comfortably, and in the predawn light of the loading area, its titanium casing radiated with the menace of its perfect mechanical efficiency. In a single motion Richards popped the safety with his thumb and chambered a round, grasping Paulson by the belt buckle to pull him close, then shoved the muzzle into the soft V of flesh below his chin.

"Don't you understand," Richards said quietly, "that I'd shoot you right here just to put a smile on this man's face?"

Paulson's body had gone rigid. He was trying to cast his eyes toward Davis, or maybe the security detail, but was facing the wrong way. "What the f**k?" he sputtered against the clenching muscles of his throat. He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing up against the muzzle of the gun. "I'm cool, I'm cool."

"Anthony," Richards said, his eyes still fixed on Paulson's, "it's your call, my friend. You tell me. Is he cool?"

From the van, a long silence. Then, quietly: "'Sall right. He cool."

"You're sure now? Because if he isn't, I want you to tell me. You get the last word on this."

Another pause. "He cool."

"You hear that?" Richards said to Paulson. He released the soldier's belt and pulled his weapon away. "The man says you're cool."

Paulson looked like he was about to cry for his mama. On the loading dock, the security detail burst out laughing.

"The key," Richards said.

Paulson reached into his belt and passed it to Richards. His hands were trembling; his breath smelled like vomit.

"Go on now," Richards said. He shot a look at Davis, holding his pile of comic books. "You too, junior. The both of you, get the f**k out of here."

They scrambled off into the snow. In the few minutes since the van had pulled up, the sun had lifted from behind the mountains, giving the air a pale glow. Richards bent into the van and undid Carter's shackles.

"You okay? Those boys hurt you anywhere?"

Carter rubbed his damp face. "They didn't mean nothing." He swung his feet from the bench and lowered himself stiffly onto the ground. He blinked and looked around. "They gone?"

Richards said they were.

"What this place?"

"Fair question." Richards nodded. "All in time. You hungry, Anthony?"

"They fed me. McDonald's." Carter's eyes found the security detail, standing on the dock above them. His expression told Richards nothing. "What about them?" he asked.

"They're here for you. You're the guest of honor, Anthony."

Carter narrowed his eyes at Richards. "You really shoot that guy if I'd said to?"

Something about Carter made him think of Sykes, standing in his office with that lost look on his face, asking him if they were friends.

"What do you think? You think I would have?"

"I wouldn't know what to think."

"Well, just between us, no. I wouldn't have. I was just fooling with him."

"I thought you was." Carter's face broke into a grin. "Thought it was funny, though. You doing him like you did." He shook his head, laughing a little, and looked around again. "What happen now?"

"What happens now," Richards said, "is we get you inside, where it's warm."

Chapter EIGHT

By nightfall they were fifty miles past Oklahoma City, hurtling west across the open prairie toward a wall of spring thunderheads ascending from the horizon like a bank of blooming flowers in a time-lapse video. Doyle was fast asleep in the Tahoe's passenger seat, his head wedged into the space between the headrest and the window, cushioned against the bumps in the road by a folded jacket. At times like this, Wolgast found himself envying Doyle, his powers of oblivion. He could turn his own lights off like a ten-year-old, put his head down and sleep virtually anywhere. Wolgast's fatigue was deep; he knew the smart thing would have been to pull off and change places, catch a few winks himself. But he had driven the whole distance from Memphis, and the feel of the wheel in his hands was the only thing that made him think he still had a card to play.

Since his call to Sykes, their only contact had taken place in a truck-stop parking lot outside Little Rock, where a field agent had met them with an envelope of cash-three thousand dollars, all in twenties and fifties-and a fresh vehicle, a plain-wrapper Bureau sedan. But by then Wolgast had decided he liked the Tahoe and wanted to keep it. He liked its big, muscular eight-cylinder engine and swishy steering and bouncy suspension. He hadn't driven anything like it in years. It seemed a pity to send a vehicle like that into the crusher, and when the agent offered him the keys to the sedan, he waved them off imperiously, without a second thought.

"Is there anything on the wires about us?" he'd asked the agent-a fresh recruit with a face pink as a slice of ham.

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