The approaching car was hauling ass down the middle of Main, tires straddling the white line, RPMs in the red. It must have been doing sixty or seventy, the racket of the engine reverberating between the dark buildings, high beams flooding his eyes.
It had just occurred to Ethan that he might want to get out of the road when he heard the RPMs fall off.
The Jeep Wrangler that had taken him up into the mountain so many times before slid to a stop in the crosswalk in front of him.
No doors, no soft top.
Ethan heard the emergency brake engage.
Marcus stared at Ethan from behind the wheel, a grogginess in his eyes hinting that he hadn’t been awake for long.
Over the idling engine, he said, “You gotta come with me, Mr. Burke.”
Ethan put his hand on the padded roll bar.
“Pilcher sent you to get me at five in the morning?”
“He called your house. No one answered.”
“Because I’ve been out all night doing what he asked me to do.”
“Well, he wants to see you right away.”
“Marcus, I’m tired, cold, and wet. You tell him I’m going home, taking a shower, and getting some sleep. Then—”
“I’m sorry, but that’s not going to work, Mr. Burke.”
“Mr. Pilcher said now.”
“Mr. Pilcher can f**k right off.”
The traffic signal above them threw alternating colors on the Jeep, on Marcus’s face, on the gun he was suddenly pointing at Ethan’s chest. It looked like a Glock but Ethan couldn’t be sure in the twilight.
He studied Marcus—anger, fear, nerves.
The shake in the gun was barely perceptible.
“Get in the Jeep, Mr. Burke. I’m sorry to have to do this, but I got my orders, and they’re to take you to Mr. Pilcher’s office. You were a soldier, right? You understand that sometimes you gotta do what you’re told, and whether or not you like it doesn’t matter.”
“I was a soldier,” Ethan said. “I flew the Black Hawk. Carried men into battles I knew they wouldn’t return from. Unleashed hell on insurgents. And yeah, I took orders.” Ethan climbed into the passenger seat and stared down the barrel of the pistol into Marcus’s stormy eyes. “But I took them from men who had my total trust and respect.”
“Mr. Pilcher’s got mine.”
“Good for him.”
“Your seat belt, Mr. Burke.”
Ethan buckled his seat belt. Guess he wasn’t going to get that recharge after all.
Marcus holstered his weapon, released the emergency brake, and shifted into first.
Popping the clutch, he whipped the Jeep around on the snowy pavement, and floored it up Main Street, the back of the Wrangler fishtailing as the tires sought out traction.
They shot past the hospital doing fifty-five, still accelerating as they approached the darkness beyond the edge of town.
When the road entered the forest, Marcus downshifted into third.
Ethan had been uncomfortable walking home, but at least he’d been moving enough to keep the blood circulating. This was miserable, the wind screaming into the Jeep, chilling him down to his core.
Marcus downshifted again and veered off the road into the trees.
Maybe he wasn’t thinking clearly, but the last thing Ethan intended to do was show up for a meeting with Pilcher.
As they neared the boulders, Marcus reached into his parka and pulled out something that resembled a garage door opener.
In the distance, a triangle of light began to spread across the snow.
Marcus brought the Jeep to a stop at the foot of the rock outcropping.
The wide door in the cliff was still opening, sliding up and back into the rock.
Ethan’s fingers were so numb he could hardly feel them gripping the knife.
He flicked open the blade and leaned over in one movement.
The curved point digging into the side of Marcus’s windpipe before he’d even thought to react.
His right hand slipped off the steering wheel, reaching for the gun.
Ethan said, “I will open you up.”
Marcus put his hand back on the wheel.
“Squeeze that wheel like your life depended on it, because it does.”
The mountain was wide open now, light shining out from the tunnel onto the snow and the surrounding trees.
Ethan spoke into Marcus’s ear.
“Very slowly, take your right hand off the wheel, reach down, and shift into first. Keep your hand on the stick and drive into the tunnel. Once we’re inside, turn off the engine. You understand what I’m telling you?”
“I don’t want to hurt you, Marcus, but I will. I’ve killed before. In war. Even in this town. I’ll do it again. Don’t think I won’t just because I know you. That will not be a factor.”
Marcus’s hand shook as he palmed the gearshift and worked it into first.
He gave a little gas, and they rolled slowly into the tunnel.
Marcus brought the Jeep to a full stop just inside like he’d been told.
As the door lowered behind them, Ethan pulled the gun out of Marcus’s holster—a Heckler & Koch USP, chambered for .40 cal.
He wondered if there were cameras watching.
Marcus said, “You’re finished. You know that, right?”
Ethan twirled the HK so he gripped it by the barrel. Marcus saw it coming, started to cover up, but Ethan caught him flush on the side of the head with the butt of the composite stock.
Marcus sagged back and would’ve toppled out of the Jeep but his seat belt caught him. Ethan snatched his identification card off his coat, unbuckled him, and let gravity pull him the rest of the way down onto the pavement.
Then he unbuckled himself and climbed over into the driver seat.
Jammed his foot into the clutch.
Cranked the engine.
Soon, he was hurtling up the road into the mountain.
The giant, hanging globe lights hummed above him in the massive cavern, but otherwise, the superstructure was quiet.
Ethan checked the load on the HK.
Had to laugh.
Of course there was nothing in the chamber.
He ejected the magazine—empty as well.
Tossing the pistol into the backseat, he stepped down out of the Jeep.
At the sliding glass doors, he dug Marcus’s ID card out of his pocket and swiped it through the reader.
The Level 1 corridor was empty at this hour of the morning.
Ethan took the stairwell up to the next floor.
The long stretch of checkered tile gleamed under the fluorescent lights and the corridor echoed with his footfalls. It felt strangely illicit walking these hallways by himself.