Kyle sat on his haunches to one side of the door and used the end of a tactical folder to tap out the message.
He was good at this, the five words going out in nearly rapid-fire dull staccato clanks against the door.
It took me three passes to decode it in my head. I needed practice.
Mouse came up next to me. "This gonna work?"
"It's what we've got at the moment," I said. "Other than trying to dig our way out."
"I found food packs, water bottles, and toilet paper in that stack Kyle knocked over," said Mouse. "Won't help with digging."
* * *
My optic clock read: 16:12:44
Over an hour since Kyle started.
I looked over at him.
He was now sitting cross-legged in front of the door, still tapping away.
"Kyle," I said.
He stopped tapping, turned to look at me over his shoulder. "Yeah?"
"When's the raid supposed to take place."
He drew back the sleeve of his uniform shirt and glanced at the dim blue glow on the inside of his wrist. "About an hour forty-five. At 18:00."
"Capital plant. Just outside of Redding."
"Leaving from here?"
He shook his head. "From French Gulch. They've got vehicles stashed around town. SUVs. Trucks. Four Hummers. They're on their way down there by now. Take 'em at least an hour to haul gear and weapons on foot and by ATV."
"That much equipment," I said. "They planning on taking down the factory?"
Kyle nodded. "Yeah."
"And Capital's waiting for them."
He grimaced at the thought. "I know."
Then: two muffled cracks.
Then a third.
Gunshots. Just outside.
Kyle leaped to his feet and sprang back from the door.
I dropped into a fighting stance, felt my body tense.
The lock clanged.
The door squeaked open.
And Tina stepped through, a pistol in hand. She saw us and grinned. "Good thinking, big bro," she said to Kyle.
"Gunshots," I said.
Tina nodded. "Me. Had to put Rico down."
"The big guy?" said Mouse.
"Yeah," said Tina. She pushed the door open further and we all stepped into the tunnel.
A meter and a half from the door, Rico lay facedown, blood pooling beneath his torso, the back of his head looking like a ruptured melon. Two meters away from him were a pair of electrical leads attached to a Taser lying on the floor.
I looked at Tina. "And a Taser?"
She shrugged. "Got 'im before he boosted. But he didn't go down." She indicated ths pistol. "So I greased him. Before he ended me."
"Everyone out?" said Kyle.
"Yeah," she said. "I stayed back to look for you."
"Rico standing guard?" said Kyle.
Tina nodded. "Said Dylan already sent you"--she inclined her head at Kyle--"and two others ahead to the site. Friggin' liar. I heard your message. Left, then came back."
Footfalls. Far end of the passage.
A figure carrying a duffle bag in one hand and two rifles slung over one shoulder stepped into the glow of a wall lamp then stopped short, eyes going wide at the sight of Rico's body. "Shit--!"
I recognized him from the dirt road earlier. The Claw member with the hook-nose.
Tina gestured at him. "Bag."
Hook Nose nodded, took one last look at the body, then skirted past it, toward us, and set the bag on the floor. "Here they are," he said.
"So what the hell's going on?" Tina said.
Kyle told her.
While he did, I went down on one knee, opened the bag, reached in, pulled out the Twins, and looked them over.
Their weight felt good in my hands.
Like reuniting with old friends.
Old good friends.
"Okay, already," said Mouse, dropping to one knee next to me. She reached in, pulled out her wakizashis in their scabbards, grinned, and let out a short cackle.
Mouse loves her pointy toys.
I checked the mags on both guns, then the chambers.
Loaded. Round in the pipe.
Slid them into my shoulder rig.
Then back into the bag for my spare mags, slipped them into the mag holders on my gear belt, then pulled out the two MP5s and the three extra mags for each.
"Ready?" said Kyle.
I rose to my feet "Where's Beck?"
Kyle frowned. "Why?"
"Tell me where he is and we'll get out of your hair."
"What about Dylan?"
"Not my fight."
"After telling us about Dylan, you're just gonna leave?" Tina said and leveled her AK-47 at me. "Fuck that. You want Beck, you gotta go through me."
"Don't be stupid," I said. "Time's wasting. Your friends are on their way to get killed. You better help them."
"Heartless bitch," said Tina.
"Been called worse," I said.
"Believe her," said Mouse.
Kyle put a hand on the barrel of Tina's rifle. "Hold up." He looked at me for several seconds. "I get it."
Tina shot him a puzzled look. "What?"
A grin crept across Kyle's face. "She'll help if we hire her."
"Smart boy!" Mouse said, applauding. "Surpised you're not Mac's second."
Kyle made a face. "Long story." He nodded once at me. "Okay. I'm hiring you. Help us take down Dylan and keep Claw from getting blown to hell. How does ten grand sound?"
Mouse gave a low whistle.
"Sound good," I said.
"Where do you have ten grand?" Mouse said.
"Nevermind that," said Kyle.
"Are you crazy?" said Tina. "She's--!"
Kyle leaned in toward Tina's ear, said something, and Tina went saucer-eyed. Then he drew back, his face grim.
She looked at him. "You sure?"
Her expression went grim, too. She looked at me and nodded once. "Okay."
"Okay." I looked between the two of them, then at Kyle. "Now, Beck."
* * *
It was another "waiting room," this one further down the tunnels, beyond the big cavern, and also housed supply crates behind a thick metal door.
Beck got to his feet when Mouse and I and Kyle stepped inside the cave.
He looked a little worse for wear. His clothes were dirt-stained and rumpled and he had a nice shiner beneath his left eye and a cut on his lower lip.
"You okay?" I said.
He nodded then indicated the lip and black eye. "Except for these."
"They do anything to you?"
"Some bald asshole pistol-whipped me back at the aerodyne," he said.
"He won't bother you again."
"Brought me in here. Shut the door. Haven't seen anyone 'til you guys came in. We leaving now?"
"Not yet. You're gonna stay here a little longer."
He shot a suspicious look at Kyle.
"Don't worry about him," I said. "He's with us now."
Beck nodded. "Okay. But one thing."
"Got anything to eat?"
* * *
Kyle had opened one of the supply crates and let Beck help himself to some ration bars and water bottles then came out of the cave and closed the door and stood with us in the tunnel outside.
"How far to town?" I said to Kyle.
"Three miles," he said. "Let's move."
(to be continued...)