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Omega, p.26

Omega, page 26

 part  #3 of  Alpha Series

 

Omega
 


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  "Makes sense." I stood up. "I'm ready. Now what?"

  There was an assault rifle on the bed, and a pistol with a spare clip. He gestured at the smaller weapon. "Take that. Don't use it unless I tell you to. We get in the Rover and drive to Rio as fast as we can. We should be there already, but we got...sidetracked." A grin, eyes sweeping over my body and back up to my eyes. "I can't say I regret the delay, but we're gonna have to haul ass to make it up."

  He preceded me outside, rifle at his shoulder, barrel sweeping side to side, covering me as I got into the ancient SUV. He tossed the heavy bag of gear into the back seat where we could both get at it, apparently now more concerned with access to it rather than hiding it. He was in the driver's seat within seconds and was backing up, the gate already opened.

  We were twenty minutes away when I realized I'd stepped over the three dead bodies without even glancing at them, not so much as a flinch or twist of the stomach. I was getting used to it, it seemed.

  I wasn't sure if I was okay with that or not.

  *

  The drive to Rio de Janeiro was utterly uneventful. Could have been just another road trip with my boyfriend, except for the fact that we were in Brazil, and that my boyfriend was loaded down with enough guns to take on an army.

  And that I had an actual, factual boyfriend.

  Other than that, it was just any old road trip.

  I was about to say something to that effect, but I never got the chance. The windshield exploded in a shower of glass, the front tire popped, and a hail of bullets riddled the body of the SUV. I ducked, covering my face, and Harris twisted the vehicle to the right. He gunned the engine, rounding a corner, the tail end sliding with a squeal of tires, the body swaying. I heard the chatter of machine guns, heard bullets thunk into the body. Harris cursed under his breath and hauled the vehicle around another corner. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, ducked down beneath the window, staying out of sight. He was completely focused, driving with one hand, jerking the shifter back with the other, glancing in the mirror. We were in the middle of downtown Rio, on a road that ran parallel to the beach. The sea was on our right, the city on our left, not a cloud in the sky. Another tire-squealing turn, and we were darting between the maze of buildings, flat tire flopping and the rim grinding.

  I dared a peek behind us, and saw a small black sedan following behind us, and as I watched a dark head popped up from the sunroof, leveling a huge machine gun at us. "Shit!" I ducked back down, just in time.

  The back window shattered and rounds thudded into the seats behind us.

  "Shoot back, Layla. The driver, the shooter, the engine, doesn't matter. Just return fire."

  I swallowed hard and grabbed my pistol off the seat between us, twisted in place and took aim over the top of the seatback. I aimed at the windshield, held my breath, and squeezed the trigger. The windshield spiderwebbed but didn't shatter, so I fired twice more, and finally it broke with a spray of white glass shards. I saw a face, then, dark skin and a goatee. I ducked again as bullets hit the seat, passed through, and smashed into the dashboard. I popped up, fired twice, and ducked back down.

  Harris glanced at me, a smile on his face.

  "What?" I demanded. "What the hell is there to smile about?"

  He jerked us around a corner, jammed on the brakes, and then floored the gas and spun the wheel to swerve around a slow-moving truck. Another glance at me. "You. You're sexy, shooting my gun. Ducking down behind the bench like it's going to stop a bullet. You're just hot as fuck. A woman with a gun in her hands is kind of a turn-on for me, I guess."

  All I caught was the part about the bench not stopping a bullet. "So I shouldn't duck, is what you're saying?"

  He shook his head. "Do you intentionally ignore the best parts of what I say to you?"

  "Me not getting shot is pretty important, I'd think!"

  "True, true. But ducking behind that bench isn't going to do anything. Their shots have already gone through." He reached to the side and fingered a ragged hole in the aged leather.

  I sat up, realizing he was right. I took aim at the driver and fired, and this time I hit him. He grabbed his arm, and I saw red spray on the window beside him, and his car swerved. That was all it took. He lost control just long enough to slam into the back of a service van, the front accordioning and crunching under the rear bumper. I heard shouts and screams, and then we were around the corner and out of sight.

  "I hit him! I got him!" I shouldn't have been elated, but I was. "I'm a badass!"

  Harris laughed. "You sure are, baby. Good shot."

  "Am I bad person for not even feeling bad?"

  He shrugged. "I'm not really the best person to ask, I don't think. My perspective is kind of skewed."

  "I guess you're right." I glanced at him. "So when you say a woman with a gun in her hands is a turn-on, do you mean that literally, or...?"

  Harris shot me a look as I posed for him, holding the weapon in both hands out in front of me, arms straight, hair blowing in the wind. "Baby, if we weren't running for our lives, I'd stop and show you how literally I mean it."

  "So do you have any fantasies regarding me and guns?"

  He shifted on the seat. "Um." A glance in the mirrors. "Yeah, actually. But I'm going to save that one for when we're out of this."

  "Come on, Nick! Just tell me what it is."

  He blew out a breath. "Let's just say it involves you wearing nothing but a bandolier of shells, with my M4 in your hands."

  "I can see how that would be sexy. It'd have to be a big bandolier, though." I smirked at him.

  He pulled out his phone. "The point, Layla, is that the bandolier isn't big enough to cover everything." He handed it to me. "Call Thresh. He's in the contacts under his name, obviously. Tell him we're coming in hot."

  I found the contact entry, touched it, and held the phone to my ear. It rang twice. "What'cha got, boss?"

  "It's Layla, actually. I'm with Harris and he says to tell you we're coming in hot. Whatever that means."

  "How hot?"

  "I don't know what that means. I mean, I know I'm pretty hot, both literally and metaphorically--"

  "It means you've got pursuit," he interrupted, sounding both irritated and amused at my rambling. "Bad guys after you. In danger."

  "Oh. Yeah. There was one car behind us, but I shot the driver and they're dead now. Or probably dead. I don't see anyone else right now, but they have a tendency to show up when you least expect it."

  "You shot the driver?"

  "Yep!" I sounded proud of myself, because I was.

  "From a moving vehicle?"

  "Well, it wasn't a headshot or anything. I just winged him, as Harris would say. He crashed."

  "Nice. Okay, well, tell Harris that I'm on the runway, engines idling, ready to go. I'll be in the cargo hold, ready to cover your approach. Got it?"

  "I'll tell him." Click. I glanced at the phone, and then handed it to Nick. "What is it with you men and not even saying 'bye' before you hang up? It's rude!"

  He shrugged. "I don't know. It's a guy thing, I guess. Or maybe it's a military thing. We don't waste time with pleasantries. No point and no time."

  "Anyway, Thresh says to tell you he's on the runway, engines idling, and that he'll be in the cargo hold ready to cover our approach."

  "Perfect." He gestured at my pistol. "Reload."

  Turns out I didn't need to reload, because there was no one else behind us and we arrived at the airfield a couple minutes later. We got out of the SUV and ran up the ramp to the cargo hold of a massive, twin-engine aircraft. The scene actually reminded me of that scene from the cartoon movie Rio, where the awkward American girl and the gumpy Brazilian bird guy are in the Carnival float, chasing the birds onto an airstrip. Except, there were no birds on the airplane, just all seven feet of Thresh--and holy Moses, St. Peter, Jesus, and Mary herownself...Thresh was shirtless, wearing nothing but a pair of cut-off cargo shorts, the ends frayed and ragged. He was the most heavil
y muscled man I'd ever seen, easily rivaling both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne Johnson--and I'd say Thresh probably had the advantage. I stumbled as I passed him, gawking openly. I mean, that kind of build didn't do it for me, sexually speaking, but it was still a hell of an impressive sight.

  He winked at me. "Take a picture, sweetheart. It'll last longer." He had a massive machine gun in his hands, the kind of gun you usually see mounted on the sides of helicopters in Vietnam war movies.

  "Don't call my woman 'sweetheart,' you big asshole," Harris snapped. "I'll kick your ass."

  Thresh glanced from me to Harris. "Your woman?"

  "You fucking heard me."

  "All right then." He eyed me again, assessing rather than leering. "So, when you say 'your woman', what does that mean, exactly, boss?"

  Harris was in the cockpit, flipping switches, settling a headset on his head. He turned around and glanced through the open door. "It means shut the fuck up and mind your own goddamned business, that's what it fucking means."

  Thresh's eyebrows rose. "Whoa, dude. Uptight much?"

  "Uptight?" Harris rose out of the seat, pulling at the headset. "I'll show you--"

  "Harris! Sit down, shut up, and fly the fucking airplane. We don't have time to measure dicks."

  Thresh's eyes, already wide, widened further when Harris did as I said. The noise of the engines ramped up, and we bolted forward. Something sparked off the ramp and ricocheted around the cargo hold with angry ping-zzzzinggg-buzzzzz, and Thresh's hand--which was so big a fully-grown Pomeranian could have sat in his palm--shoved me to one side. He dropped to his knees, flipped a bipod out, and dropped to his belly. Our plane was howling down the runway, picking up speed, but Thresh didn't seem concerned by this as he took aim and opened fire at the black SUV roaring up behind us. I grabbed hold of the nearest object, which was a chain fastened to the floor and to the wall, clinging to it as I felt the ground fall away. The banging of the machine gun was the most deafening sound I'd ever heard, and it rocked Thresh's entire body back with each report. He fired in bursts of three shots, and on the fourth burst, the hood of the SUV crumpled, the front bumper buried itself into the tarmac, and the entire vehicle flipped forward. Contrary to Jerry Bruckheimer movies, it didn't explode in a fiery ball, instead just flopping forward onto its roof and rocking a few times before coming to rest.

  We were angled upward now, so the tail end was facing the ground at a steep angle. My stomach lurched into my throat. Thresh, meanwhile, calmly folded the bipod, shouldered the huge gun, and grabbed a chain near mine. He loomed over me, glanced down at me, and winked. The man was just enormous. It boggled the mind, honestly.

  He slammed his palm over a button, and the ramp folded up, darkening the interior and removing my view of the ground.

  I let my head thunk against the wall of the plane, and I blew out a breath of relief.

  "Well, that was nerve-wracking," I said.

  Thresh just chuckled. "All in a day's work, sweet--I mean, Miss Campari."

  "Layla."

  "I'm sticking with 'Miss Campari,'" he said. "Harris can be a vicious son of a bitch."

  I wasn't sure what he meant by that, so I just shrugged. "Okay. Well...I'm going up to the cockpit."

  Harris may have been a vicious son of a bitch, but I still felt Thresh's eyes on my ass as I walked forward to the cockpit. I turned and glanced at him, an eyebrow lifted. He just shrugged, making a face that said who, me? I don't know what you're talking about.

  I laughed as I took a seat in the copilot's chair.

  "What?" Harris asked.

  "Just Thresh. He's funny. I like him."

  Harris gave me an odd look. "Thresh is funny? Since when?"

  I waved it off. "So. We're finally going home?"

  "Well, to the Eliza eventually, but our route there will be a bit...circuitous. We're stopping in Miami first, and then to the Bahamas, and then eventually we'll take a chopper from St. Thomas to the ship. Gotta make sure we really lost them."

  "Think we have?" I asked.

  He didn't answer right away. "I don't know, honestly. I told you I'd never bullshit you, so I won't. You killed his best friend. I don't think we'll ever really lose Vitaly's guys until Vitaly is dead. "

  "Best friend?" I swallowed hard at that.

  "Reports are Cut was the only person Vitaly trusted, his best friend since childhood."

  "So I just made things worse, didn't I?"

  Harris glanced at me. "You did what you had to do. That's all you need to worry about."

  I didn't like the sound of that.

  And the fact that Harris stayed quiet as we flew out over the ocean, his brow pinched, worry on his features...didn't do much to reassure me.

  Nor did the roiling uneasiness in my stomach.

  We weren't out of the woods yet.

  17

  "I LOVE YOU," FINALLY

  After Brazil, Florida seemed relatively temperate. As soon as we landed--once again on a too-short landing strip in the middle of nowhere, Harris effortlessly bringing the big aircraft down with a single gentle bump and bark of the tires--Thresh, now clothed in a tight T-shirt and canvas boat shoes, jumped onto a waiting Harley and roared off without even waving at me.

  There was a Hummer waiting for us, but it wasn't the civilian version, the watered down derivative. No, this was the military Hummer, huge, wide, tan, with a sloping rear roof and a brutally spartan interior.

  Harris turned the engine over, and it made a rattling bass diesel growl. I buckled myself in and laughed as a thought occurred to me.

  "What?" Harris asked.

  "Just, you. I wish I knew how you do it."

  "Do what?"

  "Magically procure guns and airplanes and military Hummers--"

  "It's not a fucking Hummer," he snapped, "it's a Humvee. A Hummer is one of two things: a piece of shit civilian vehicle that shares literally no DNA with what I'm driving right now, or it's a blowjob. This is a Humvee. It should never, ever, be called a Hummer."

  I widened my eyes. "Yes sir," I said, with a mock salute.

  He had the good sense to laugh at himself. "Sorry. I'm a soldier, and we tend to get picky about that kind of thing. A chopper is a motorcycle, not a helicopter. Pistols have clips, assault rifles have magazines. And AK-47s, M-16s, those kinds of things...those are assault rifles, not machine guns. What Thresh had on the cargo plane, that was a machine gun."

  "Noted."

  "Now." He glanced at me. "What was it you were laughing about, now that we've got basic terminology out of the way?"

  "It's just...none of what's happened to me has been like I thought it would be. In the movies, shooting guns is easy. You shoot someone, and it's no big deal. You shoot a car in the engine and it explodes. Running for your life is exciting. But none of that, except for you, is true. You're just like a movie character. Like, you show up with a bag full of machine guns--sorry, assault rifles. You go on not one, not two, but three real-life car chases with people shooting at us and everything. And we get away. And then you've got a real life Terminator who shoots big ass machine guns like it's a goddamned toy. And there's an actual plane just...waiting for us. And when we land...there's a military-grade Humvee waiting for us. Like, who can do that? Seriously. Who do you call that can just get a fucking airplane? Where do you get assault rifles? This shit doesn't just...appear in real life. But for you, somehow, it does. It's like magic."

  By now we were on a two-lane highway that led through absolutely nowhere, the horizon flat as a ruler in every direction.

  Harris just shrugged. "It's not magic, it's connections. I know a lot of people. A lot...of unsavory people. Just so you're totally aware, having a bag full of assault rifles is, obviously, highly illegal, regardless of what country you're in. But that's why it's called the 'black market', right?"

  I snorted. "I really do know better, I swear, but...I've always pictured the black market as being, like, a secret warehouse somewhere, like an actual secret marketplace.
Like you have a secret knock and shit, and there are tables full of guns and there's someone that runs a business called Goons 'R' Us. I mean, I do get that it's all online and whatever, but that's the mental image I have."

  Harris laughed out loud. "Goons 'R' Us. God, Layla, you're fucking hysterical. I'll have to tell Thresh about that. We can make it a side business. Maybe we can invent our own gun and call it the 'thugbuster'."

  "'You're mocking me, aren't you?'" I asked.

  "No, I'm not, I swear. It's just funny." I didn't really expect him to catch the Toy Story quote, but hey, I had to try. The situation just called for it. He shot me a glance. "And babe, life isn't like the movies. I spent a small fortune just on the guns. Being a badass is expensive as hell, which is something no one ever tells you. In reality, shooting a gun and hitting what you're aiming at is hard, and killing a man is harder. Car chases are fucking terrifying, and having people trying to kill you is worse. Cars rarely explode. Getting shot fucking hurts; I do not recommend it. Any of it."

  "I wish I'd known all that before I got kidnapped."

  "You're handling this better than you have any right to, by the way," he said, reaching over and taking my hand. "I think anyone else would have gone crazy by now."

  "Here's the thing, though. You don't really go crazy, do you? I mean, unless you legit have a psychotic break or a nervous breakdown, you don't really go crazy. You just deal with it. It sucks, and you hate it, and you wish you weren't going through it, but you deal, and all you can really do is keep going. And I suppose, as crazy as all this has been, it's not really that crazy, not if I consider everything else I've been through. But killing Cut? That was different. Really fucking different. I can't forget it. I'm trying. I'm trying so hard...but I just keep--I just keep seeing it. Feeling it. I can deal with shooting the guy during the car chase. That one I can justify as being like in the movies. I can pretend it didn't happen. I can forget it. But stabbing Cut in the eye with a pen? I can't forget that."

  And just like that, I was fighting hyperventilation. Zero to sixty in nothing flat. Suddenly I was sobbing--just immediate, bam, Layla goes full on baby.

  Harris pulled over on the side of the road, exited the Humvee, jerked open my door, and hauled me out. He held me against his chest. Let me cry. Didn't say a word for a long time. Just held me.

 
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