Toshi knew violence. It was his bread and butter. But the carnage in the hotel corridor astonished him. Kurisaka's men lay in steaming piles, blood soaking the floor and walls. Half his mind processed the slaughter in a split second. The other half of Toshi's brain appraised the gargantuan black man rapidly advancing with a set of outstretched pistols. He was as huge as Kurisaka, round belly, big features. But not as soft or clumsy. He came at Toshi like an athlete, fast and sure of himself, and opened fire.
To a trained killer like Toshi, the entire clash unfolded in slow motion. Toshi charged too, ducked as he ran, raised his automatic, scanned his target, even as the big man's first three shots passed close over his head. Toshi recognized the man's Kevlar instantly, altered his aim from chest to head, squeezed the trigger.
It took only a single shot. The big man's left eye exploded with a wet splat, blood thick, squirting like a ketchup packet squeezed too hard. The bullet exploded from the back of his skull, bone and flesh and goo flying, a horror-movie, special-effects nightmare.
Toshi watched him, fascinated. The giant didn't fall immediately. He stood up ramrod straight, head twitching, mouth opening and closing. He took four halting steps back, lurching stiffly like a windup robot. Parts of his body refused to believe in death. There was a long, slow exhale.
Then he toppled over backward, hit with a floor-shaking impact, arms and legs sprawled wide. Toshi picked his way over and around the bodies of Kurisaka's men. They had not been Yakuza, but they were tough men, good fighters. And this big black man had been a mighty warrior also. It had been a good death. Toshi stood over him, studied the ruined face. Who was he? What had been his part in this? One of the assassins, perhaps, who wished to claim the bounty on Kurisaka.
In the end, he was just another of the many dead.
Joellen Becker emerged from the stairwell and smelled it immediately, the stink of blood and gunpowder and bowels loosened in the final death throes. She looked both directions up and down the hall. At the far end, a man in black stood over Fat Otis's prone form. Otis had done his job well. She'd handle the lone survivor before moving on to execute Kurisaka.
Samson's voice in her earpiece: "Becker. Dammit, Becker-where are you? I need some help here, and I mean right fucking now!"
Becker ripped out the earpiece, tossed it away. You're on your own, sport.
She drew the six-shooters again, stalked the hall toward her target, deliberate steps. Go in quick. All business. She thumbed back the hammers, the cylinders clicking and turning. Arms up and straight. She took a dozen steps toward him, fixing him in her sights, before squeezing the triggers.
He'd already turned his head, spotted her. He was catlike, leapt to the side. The six-shooters thundered, slugs flying past him. She saw the shoulder material of his jacket rip, dust and thread flying, and she wondered if she'd even drawn blood. She fired the six-shooters until they spun on empty. Click click click.
He returned fire from his crouch, off-balance but on target. Three shots slammed into the Kevlar beneath Becker's leather jacket, almost knocked the wind out of her. She dove on the carpet, more shots passing over her.
She looked up, saw him ejecting the spent clip. If he reloaded, she didn't have a chance.
Becker launched herself up from the carpet and into a full sprint in one smooth motion. She pumped her legs and arms as the clip fell, bounced off the carpet. Becker was within four feet of him as he pulled out another clip. She planted herself. He slapped the new clip home.
She spun, a roundhouse kick.
He lifted the pistol, squeezed the trigger.
Becker's boot connected with the gun, the shot going off into the ceiling, plaster and dust. The gun flew away. She aimed another punch for the man's nose. Put him down quick. Get on to Kurisaka.
He caught her fist, twisted her arm. She grunted, jerked away, a flurry of fists to his gut and head. He blocked, counterpunched. She blocked the one aimed for her chin, but took a hard hit in the kidney. Becker winced, stepped back to regroup, but he wouldn't let her. He pressed the attack. A kick followed by another punch. She sidestepped the kick by a fraction of an inch, ducked the punch.
This bastard is good.
She dropped to the floor, attempted a leg sweep. She knew he'd dodge it. She popped up again, jabbed three times fast with her tight little fist. She connected on the bridge of his nose all three times, his head snapping back, eyes round and surprised.
He staggered back out of her reach, wiped his nose and looked at the blood. A thin smile. "Not bad for a woman." Thick accent but clear enough.
They dove for each other, collided in a frenzy of punches, kicks, and blocks. He ducked, twisted. She lost track of him. Then the sudden blur of a fist, the impact spinning her head around.
Becker's turn to stagger back. She spit a tooth. It landed on the carpet between them. Blood on her lips and chin.
He charged her, and she punched. He caught her punch under his arm, held on tight, and wrenched. She heard more than felt the snap. He let go, and Becker scooted away from him, her right arm dangling useless and limp at her side. Now the pain. Even through the special drugs, she felt it throb the length of her arm. Oh, God. Oh, no. She willed the pain down to something manageable, fought off a wave of nausea.
Becker punched with her other arm, but her opponent batted it aside. He spun and kicked the broken arm. She screamed, the pain an electric assault on her system. Dark spots hovered in front of her eyes. She backed away quickly, trying to remember how far the stairwell was behind her. Maybe she could run, get away. Becker knew she was kidding herself.
Another blow to the side of her head, and she went to one knee. A kick and she was facedown on the carpet. She tried to push herself up, felt the man grab a fistful of her hair and jerk her head back, heard the snick of his switchblade and didn't have to guess what it was. An odd moment of clarity.
Even as it was happening, she could not quite believe it.
Becker felt the cold steel on her throat, then a white-hot instant of pain, then nothing at all.
Conner tried again: "Becker, dammit, I'm in a world of shit here. Where the hell are you?" No answer, and he didn't have time to wonder why. Another jarring impact against the bathroom door, the top hinge almost pounded apart. The giant on the other side was coming through, and the door would soon be so many splinters. Now or never. Conner had to do something.
Even something incredibly stupid.
He tied the grappling-hook end of the nylon line around the pedestal sink. He clipped the other end to his utility belt, made sure it was tight and secure.
Slam against the door again, wood cracking, shouts on the other side.
Conner peeled the backing off one of the explosive charges, slapped it against the center of the window, flipped the switch.
The man on the other side of the door screamed pure rage, threw himself against the door again. The top hinge popped, clanged on the tile floor. Conner put his back against the door, braced his feet against the bathtub. It was like trying to hold back an avalanche.
The window exploded, glass shattering outward, raining the sidewalk with glittering shards twelve stories below. Wind gusted and whistled through the bathroom. Conner grabbed the attach¨¦ case, bolted for the window.
Conner had seen Bruce Willis do something like this in Die Hard. Conner would have paid a million dollars for a stuntman to take his place. He took a deep breath and jumped headfirst through the window.
A sensation of wind, clothes flapping, eyes crunched to slits. For a split second, Conner swore he was floating upward, arms and legs outstretched, the lights of Pensacola sprawling and tumbling in the night. Then the nylon line jerked tight, almost snapping his back, like God yanking his leash in midair. The city lights blurred, the line flinging him into the glass two floors down. His head smacked. Bells. He struggled for breath, grabbed the line with his free hand, and righted himself. It was a long way down. Conner decided not to look. Anyway, there wasn't time.
He slapped the last explosive disk against the window, flipped the switch, and kicked out as hard as he could. He swung out and away from the window, then a slight pause before the return swing. Conner flew toward the window, and the charge detonated, the glass window exploding inward a split second before he swung through into the hotel room.
The woman within began screaming immediately.
Suddenly the line connected to Conner's utility belt went slack. A porcelain streak sped past the window. The pedestal sink. An image of the sink pulling him out the window flashed through Conner's brain. He yelped, fumbled at his belt, unhooking the line just as it was ripped out of his hands.
The woman still screamed. She threw a lamp. Conner ducked, ran for the door, worked the locks, and escaped into the hall. He ran for the elevators, but saw the stairs and took those instead. He flew down them three at a time, an iron grip on the metal attach¨¦ case. He slipped on the last flight, slid down the stairs on his back. He groaned to his feet, hobbled out the exit, into the parking garage.
There were another dozen people, half-dressed, rushing for cars.
Outside, the beginnings of a madhouse. An ambulance in front of the hotel's main entrance, a fire truck just pulling up, EMS swarming among panicked hotel guests. A bellboy gesticulating at a policeman. Red and blue flashing and high-pitched sirens a few blocks away signaled more cops on the way.
Conner didn't know if it was possible to look inconspicuous, didn't know if it was worth trying. He threaded his way through the Chicken Little frenzy of running people, found Fat Otis's Lincoln, and climbed in the passenger side. He sat low, willing himself invisible, and clutched the attach¨¦ case, Joe DiMaggio, the American icon he'd just repossessed.
He watched the entrance of the hotel, eyes darted between the front doors and the parking garage. Come on, Otis, buddy. Come on. Where are you? Let's get the fuck out of here-oh please will you just hurry your fucking ass up and come on come on come on!
Conner knew, in the way people always seem to know the worst, some kind of tragic clairvoyance, that Otis wasn't coming. He thumbed the throat microphone. "Becker, if you can hear me, I'm out of here. Okay? Time to go."
Only the static hiss of dead air in his earpiece.
Conner scooted into the driver's seat, ducked under the steering column. It was easier with the old cars. Some of the new models couldn't be hot-wired. The repo business was getting tougher. His hands shook, but soon he had the wires out and spliced, started the engine on the first try. He sat up in the seat.
About a billion more police had arrived, they were fanning out, widening the perimeter around the hotel entrance. Conner wouldn't be able to hang out any longer. He looked once more for Otis, but when the SWAT van arrived, Conner figured that was it. Time to go.
He pulled out of the parking spot, drove a dozen feet when a uniformed cop stood in front of him, held up a hand.
Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit.
Conner rolled down the window, all smiles. His heart beat like it was trying to escape from his chest. "What is it, Officer? A fire?"
The cop ignored the question. "Not through here. Turn it around."
Conner made a three-point turn, tried to keep it smooth. He pulled away, resisted the urge to stomp on the gas. Soon he was away from the hotel, the flashing lights, the racket of sirens, and the jabbering crowd. Conner felt light-headed, stomach woozy. Had he lost too much blood, or was he just exhausted, nerve-fried?
He thought of Otis and felt numb. Was the big guy still alive? Conner's gut told him no. He made no plans to avenge his friend's death. He didn't even want to know, didn't care about the details. He would claim not to know Fat Otis if the police ever came asking.
Conner hoped Otis would understand.
Ahira Kurisaka stood naked in his hotel bathroom, the wind on his sweaty skin raising goose bumps. He'd exerted himself almost to the point of collapse. Knocking down the door, ripping the pedestal sink from the floor, and heaving it out the window was all more exercise than he'd had in a long time. He stood at the windowsill, sucking air and looking at the gathering police vehicles below.
Someone cleared his throat. Kurisaka turned, looked down at Toshi standing in the bathroom's ruined doorway. The Yakuza killer looked bruised and bloodied. His jacket was torn. But the man stood at attention, waited for Kurisaka to speak.
"Tell me what's happened," Kurisaka said.
"An attempt on your life, Cousin," Toshi said. "I personally dispatched two of the killers, which is why I was not at your side when the third man broke into your suite. I apologize for the dereliction."
"No," Kurisaka said. "Not an assassination attempt, not this time. They took the DiMaggio card. Your killers were a diversion."
Toshi's stoic expression wavered in obvious disbelief. He composed himself quickly. "We might have a more immediate problem, I'm afraid. The local authorities will be here soon."
"We'll use the diplomatic credentials," Kurisaka said. "Why else would I have two ambassadors and the deputy minister of the foreign office on the payroll?"
Toshi doubted it would be that simple but said nothing.
Kurisaka turned back to the open window, gazed at the cityscape. "I don't know what to think, Toshi." He'd believed his DiMaggio card a prize to be envied. Then Hito Hyatta had yanked the rug out from under him, had made him feel naÏve, idiotic. He'd called the card cute. And then, in the middle of the night, someone had felt the card worth a daring raid on Kurisaka's heavily guarded hotel suite. Kurisaka no longer understood his world.
Toshi cleared his throat. "Cousin?"
"Do Yakuza generally suffer such an attack unanswered?"
Kurisaka thought for long seconds, understanding dawning in his eyes. "No," he said. "No, we do not."
Kurisaka did not see Toshi's wide, wicked smile.
"Gather the men," ordered Kurisaka.
Toshi's smile fell. "They are dead, Cousin. Every last one of them."
Tyranny Jones's insomnia had led her to the blank canvas in the breakfast nook. She did much of her painting late at night, her mind racing, unable to find sleep amid the lace and satin in her bedroom, a separate bedroom from Professor Dan's. She'd begun by painting the canvas, ended up painting herself. First, black toenail polish, then the fingernails black too. She liked it, found a tube of black lipstick, and did the lips.
In the bathroom's full-length mirror, she stripped naked and looked at herself. Tyranny was too tan to go gothic, so she resolved to stay out of the sun until she was nice and pale. She would buy a long, lacey black dress and a pair of combat boots. Yes, a good decision. It felt right, a timely reinvention of herself. Shake things up a bit. What would Dr. Goldblatt say?
She went upstairs, looked at Dan while he slept. His mouth hung open, a little drool on the chin. He appeared comatose and oblivious. She envied him. She went down the hall to her bedroom, took all the black clothing out of her closet, laid it out on the bed. She understood as a matter of course that she was inventing a project for herself, trying to trick her mind into paying attention to trivia, sorting clothes into piles, slacks and blouses and underwear and pajamas.
She put on the black pajamas.
In her bathroom mirror, she studied herself. She looked like a Marilyn Manson fan at a slumber party.
Her image makeover was interesting but not fully distracting. So Tyranny did something she almost never did. She went downstairs and flipped on the television. Maybe an old movie. Or music videos. It had been ages and ages since she'd zoned out in front of music videos.
Instead, a windblown news reporter told Pensacola that all hell had broken loose downtown.
"-have responded with fire trucks and ambulances. All off-duty police are asked to report in. The slaughter follows on the heels of a similar incident that happened only a few hours earlier at a downtown gentlemen's club." The reporter paused, touched his earpiece, a wire hanging past his shoulder. "I'm being told authorities have not ruled out the possibility of a terrorist attack. Apparently there is a contingent of Japanese dignitaries staying at the hotel. It hasn't been determined yet if-"
Tyranny flipped the channel, trying to find better pictures of the calamity. The Channel 2 news copter circled the Intercontinental Hotel, but without flames or smoke billowing from hotel windows it was a fairly boring view. Another channel showed the remains of a pedestal sink embedded in the smashed roof of an SUV. More interesting. She watched awhile longer, hoping to see some bodies.
The doorbell chimed.
At this hour?
She went to the front door, looked through the peephole. It was too dark to see anything more than a vague shape. Instead of reaching for the light switch, she said, "Who is it?"
"Tyranny, it's me. Please open the door."
"Conner?" She glanced up at the ceiling, wondered if Dan had heard the doorbell. It was a big house, and Dan was a sound sleeper. She'd told Conner to stay away. Was he here to cause trouble, pick another fight with Dan? He was such a fucking fucking fucking stubborn, stupid- "Conner, what are you doing here?"
"Jesus, Tyranny, just open the damn door."
She opened her mouth, wanted to tell him to fuck off. Go away. She didn't want to see him, couldn't endure any more of his pleas or professions of love. Couldn't stand breaking his heart, didn't have the energy to figure out how their lives would fit together or even if they could. It was all too much, and all Tyranny wanted was to hide in her room and try on black clothes and listen to a Duran Duran CD over and over again and pretend she wasn't a fucked-up head case. But no, here was Conner fucking Samson throwing reality in her face in the middle of the night like a selfish goddamn asshole, and yet part of her brain wondered if he'd like the new look, the black lipstick, and she wanted to kill him and kiss him and why wouldn't he just fuck off?
He pounded on the door. "Tyranny!"
"Shit!" She opened the door. "Fine. Get your ass in here. But stop yelling or you'll wake- Oh my God!"
Conner fell into the light, sprawled facedown in the foyer. He looked like hell, blood-smeared and pale as death. He clutched a metal attach¨¦ case.
"Oh, Conner, oh Jesus, what happened?" She knelt next to him, gently turned him over, pulled his head into her lap.
"It's been a long night," Conner said. "I think... if it's okay maybe... I'll just close my eyes for a minute." He passed out.
Professor Dan walked in, rubbing his eyes. He spotted Tyranny holding Conner's head in her lap. "This is just typical. In my own house." He took a closer look, saw the blood. "Oh, man. He doesn't look so good."