He stopped, tilted his head, thinking about her answer. “I know? How could I…” He shook his head. “No, you’re lying.”
“If you kill me, they’ll hunt you down.”
“They’ll never find me. I’ll have fifty million dollars and a new identity.” He pulled her to her knees. “I had great plans for you, but now I’ll have to change them. Too bad you had to be so nosy. You’re making me do this…”
ALEC BUCHANAN WAS THE AGENT IN CHARGE. HE LEANED over the hood of his car. In front of him was a map of the area that one of the policemen had grabbed from his glove compartment. Two plainclothes detectives flanked his sides, and one aimed a flashlight toward the map, watching while Alec sectioned off zones for each team to search. The police and FBI agents were gathered in a vacant parking lot at the end of the huge complex, an industrial area of warehouses and storage units. Most workers had gone home for the night, so the streets were empty.
“This will take days,” an officer complained in a whisper to his partner. He happened to look across the car at Agent MacAlister and immediately regretted the comment.
“What about Lemming’s vehicle?” Alec asked a detective.
“Every cop in the city is searching for it. We’ll find it.”
“He could have parked his car inside one of these buildings.”
A young policeman in uniform stepped forward and spoke to Alec. “Excuse me, sir, but I know this area. I think I can help.” He pointed to the map. “Prescott ends here,” he said. “The buildings to the east are boarded up. I know. I’ve had to drag kids out of there. The city’s going to tear them down, but they haven’t gotten around to it yet. There are several places a car could squeeze in…alleys, too. I’d start there and work my way east.”
He pointed to another section. “This three-block area here is filled with self-storage units. Some have fences around them, others don’t. I don’t think he could hide a vehicle in there. He’d have to park on the street…or maybe in between the units.”
Agents and policemen fanned out in every direction to circle the area and slowly move in. Alec made sure every cop in the city was on alert, but the warehouse district got priority. At the moment, it was the only lead he had.
Another agent, Hank Sawyer, took over so that Alec could search with Jack. They got into Alec’s car and headed east. They drove through the broken gate of a wire fence and turned onto 70th Street.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Jack said. “He’d have a reason to go to one of the self-storage units. When the team searched his home and his office, they found computer files, but they didn’t look for the hard copies. Kirk Halpern said there were hard copies shipped back. Lemming had to have stored them. Those missing discs could be here. Look where we are. No one’s going to ask questions when you rent one of these. If he paid cash and used another name…”
“Why would he bring Sophie here?”
Jack shook his head, feeling at though he was grasping at straws, but desperate to have an answer. “He plans to pick up his stuff and get out of Chicago. Maybe he wants to get even with Sophie. Maybe she was getting too close…I don’t know. One thing I’m sure of: if he has her and he plans to run, he won’t take her with him.”
Alec made the turn into a narrow alley between two tall buildings. With the headlights turned off, the car rolled forward at a snail’s pace. Most of the streetlights were burned out or broken. Up ahead a bulb hanging off a post flickered and buzzed repeatedly. Emerging onto a street, they saw a police car four blocks away patrolling slowly, on the same mission.
“Stay in the alleys,” Jack said. The night air was fogging up the windows. He rolled his window down to get a better view as they drove up and down the tight passages.
“Wait,” Jack said suddenly. He stuck his head out the window and squinted.
Three alleys over, neatly tucked between two rusted Dumpsters, was a car. Alec pulled to a stop.
“That’s it,” Jack said. “That’s Lemming’s.” He got out. “Call Sawyer. Tell him, no sirens, no lights.” He slowly walked down the alley, studying the doors on the left, while Alec followed, concentrating on the units on the right. The rolling doors were big enough to drive a truck through, indicating the volume behind them was large. Next to each garage door was a side door. Everything was locked up tight.
Jack had almost reached the end of the row of doors when he saw a sliver of light peeking beneath the rubber weather stripping. He moved closer, straining to hear sounds.
A man’s muffled voice was low and threatening, but Jack couldn’t make out what he was saying. Then he heard a scream…Sophie’s scream.
He shot the lock, kicked the door in, and raced inside, taking in the scene all at once: cardboard boxes stacked high, a flashlight propped on top, the beam directed at Sophie. She was on her knees on the floor. Lemming, in the shadows, stood over her holding a crowbar. He was swinging it down toward Sophie when Jack shot him.
Once wasn’t enough. It was a solid hit to the chest, but Marcus Lemming didn’t go down. He staggered back, gained his balance, and lunged at Sophie again. Running toward the man, Jack shot twice more as he grabbed Sophie’s arm and dragged her behind him. Finally, Lemming dropped, face smashed into the concrete floor, the crowbar still in his hands.
Jack knelt beside Sophie and saw the blood on the side of her face.
“Sophie, look at me. Open your eyes.”
She struggled to focus. She saw Marcus, then Jack leaning over her. He took her in his arms and gently lifted her. She tucked her head under his chin and felt him shaking. It hurt to move, but she forced herself to turn her head just enough to press her lips to his ear. “Two,” she whispered.
Jack understood. He looked up in time to see a shadow move between boxes against the back wall. With lightning speed, he threw himself on top of Sophie and fired. The shadow darted out and wildly returned fire. Jack emptied his clip and reached for another. Alec appeared in the doorway.
“Behind the boxes, left side,” Jack shouted.
“I’ve got him. Get her out of here,” Alec ordered. He fired once and moved in front of Jack.
They heard a click and knew the bastard’s weapon was empty now.
“I surrender. I surrender. Don’t shoot me. I’m dropping my gun and coming out. Don’t shoot.”
Hands in the air, Kirk Halpern stepped toward the light. The son of a bitch had a smile on his face.
THE SCENE AT THE HOSPITAL WAS CHAOTIC. SOPHIE HAD been taken down to radiology for tests and was now back in the emergency room, parked in a bed behind a curtain while she waited for the plastic surgeon to stitch her up. Regan and Cordie stayed at her side. A nurse and an aide recognized Sophie from her last visit, and both asked to take their dinner breaks.
Sophie had a blistering headache, but the doctor wouldn’t give her anything for the pain, not even an aspirin, until he heard the results of her tests.
“He’s waiting to hear if you’ve got a concussion,” Cordie explained.
“Is my father here?” Sophie asked. “I was talking to him on the phone when it happened.”
“He’s on his way,” Regan told her. “I heard he was giving the police a hard time over at the park. They found your phone by the fountain, and there was blood on it. He was beside himself.”
“Where are Jack and Alec?”
“They were here, but once they knew you were going to be okay, they left.”
“Thank God,” she whispered.
“What do you mean, ‘thank God’? We know how you feel about Jack,” Cordie said.
“So does my father. I don’t think it’s a good idea for both of them to be in the same room.”
Cordie patted her hand. “It will be fine,” she said as she glanced across the bed at Regan, gave her a look, and shook her head.
Sophie pulled a blanket over her legs. “It’s cold in here,” she said.
“You’ve been through a trauma,” Regan explained sympathetically. “Your body is reacting. Would you like another blanket?”
With tears in her eyes, Sophie said, “It was awful. I thought—”
“You can tell us tomorrow,” Cordie said. “It’s too upsetting for you right now.” Trying to brighten the mood, she added, “Mr. Bitterman was relieved to hear you’re doing okay. He’s very fond of you.”
“He’s secretly such a softie.”
“He said to tell you that Gary was arrested. He was hauled off in handcuffs.”
“Why? What did he do?”
Sophie gasped several times as Cordie repeated the conversation she’d had with Bitterman.
“What a weasel,” Regan said. Sophie didn’t disagree.
An aide pulled the curtain back and stepped forward with a tray. She saw Sophie, stopped cold, and slowly backed out, pulling the curtain closed again.
“What was that all about?” Regan asked.
“The staff isn’t very friendly here,” Cordie whispered.
A phone rang. Alec was calling Regan to tell her he wouldn’t be returning to the hospital. Dr. Halpern, whom Cordie had dubbed Dr. Frankenstein, was talking up a storm and didn’t want an attorney. They were taking advantage of the situation and getting as much out of him as they could.
The plastic surgeon took his sweet time getting to the hospital, but he was very kind, and he worked quickly. After checking the wounds to her face, he cupped Sophie’s chin in his hand and tilted her head, studying her.
“Beautiful skin,” he said. “Flawless. Good bone structure. Perfect nose…”
“She isn’t here for a facelift,” Cordie said, exasperated.
The doctor smiled at her. “The three of you could play Charlie’s Angels.” Turning back to Sophie, he said, “You won’t need Botox for a long time…as long as you don’t lead a stressful life. I’ll need it some day. Plastic surgeons live with stress.”
Sophie would have laughed if her head hadn’t been aching so.
“You think you’ve got stress? How many bullets have you dodged today?” she asked.
The doctor could tell he was in dangerous territory, so he changed the subject. “You don’t have a concussion,” he told her, “so you get to go home and sleep in your own bed.”
Sophie’s father arrived at the hospital in time to drive her home. He suggested that he stay the night with her, but she refused. She’d already had the same argument with Regan and Cordie. She promised to go right to sleep after he left.
Sophie was exhausted and felt grimy. She was careful not to wet the bandage on her face as she showered. After slipping into her nightgown and brushing her teeth, she dropped into bed. Her exhaustion had wiped her out, but she wasn’t sleepy yet, so she turned on the television and surfed the channels. She stopped on the cooking channel. She’d never watched it before. Jack liked the shows, though. What was he doing now? Had he finished with Halpern? She hoped he’d gotten answers. Would he call her tomorrow?
She fell asleep wishing she was in his arms and wondering if he was thinking about her.
JACK COULDN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT SOPHIE, AND EVERY half hour or so he would leave the interrogation room and call for an update. He knew when she left the hospital, and he knew when she arrived home.
He had to take breaks to get away from Kirk Halpern anyway, and so did Alec. The doctor turned their stomachs. When the urge to smash his face in became too strong, Jack would know it was time to get up.
Halpern had sure fooled him. He had seemed like the mild-mannered, scholarly type, sitting in his worn chair talking about his deceased wife and praising Sophie for being so compassionate, but now that his game was over, his true colors came rushing to the surface. He didn’t have to pretend modesty any longer.
Halpern was smug and conceited, and he wanted them to know how clever he had been. Gaining respect for his superior intellect was obviously important to him. Alec and Jack played along, anything to keep him talking.
“You never know how stupid people are until you live with them,” Halpern said.
“Eric and Marcus thought their little secret, their little Alpha Project,” he said mockingly, “was so safe, but figuring out what they were up to was hardly rocket science. After the first year, I knew they were plotting something. Any child can operate eavesdropping equipment, and breaking passwords and codes is so easy, I make it my hobby. You can get pretty bored with nothing to do but watch wolves.”
He went into great detail about how he listened to conversations and snooped through their files.
“The cherry on top was that Marcus was keeping a journal the whole time. Hiding it under his mattress was a smart move, don’t you think?” he asked sarcastically.
Jack asked him specific questions about the scientific discovery.
“Eric came up with the formula,” Halpern said. “I think he may have already had it the first year we were at Inook together. It was by accident that he discovered what it could do and how adrenaline altered its effects.
“We’ve already discussed Ricky, Agent MacAlister. Don’t you remember that I told you he was a mature alpha male? They started experimenting on him right away. Eric would tell Brandon and me that he needed to take blood, that he was checking for different micro organisms, but I knew what he was really doing. He was injecting the animal, and after a while, when Brandon and I branched off to study other packs and didn’t show any interest, he didn’t even bother to bring back vials of blood.
“I don’t know how many injections Ricky was given, but I started noticing a slight change in the wolf. Of course, I pretended I didn’t see anything, and Brandon was too self-absorbed to notice. After a while, Ricky was getting stronger and bigger.” He chuckled as he added, “A wolf on steroids, only it wasn’t a steroid he was getting. This was a wonder drug with incredible benefits and no side effects.
“Eric and Marcus continued their experiments on other animals when they went back to Chicago. They had set up a lab. It’s all in the journal.”
“How did Sophie Rose play into all of this?” Alec asked.
“When their prime subject, William Harrington, was lifted to the test site, they found out she knew him, and had, in fact, talked to him at length. She had e-mailed him before they shut down his website; she left messages on his phone. She even went to his apartment looking for him. They wanted people to think he’d left on a long trip…just in case. But she wouldn’t leave it alone. Then when Harrington was killed, her card was found, and they got scared that she might know too much.