From Chapter 1: The Delinquents
They had it all planned out. The car shop was an easy target, a stand-alone building next to a dilapidated strip mall long ago emptied of tenants. The owner was either too cheap or too trusting to even wire it with an alarm and usually went home well before dark. They would get in, grab whatever parts they could and be back home in no time. Joey had already arranged to trade the parts for a crate of strawberries and several portable players pre-loaded with illegal music.
Randy was not entirely comfortable with the idea of stealing, but decided to go along with his friends. The boredom of school-mandated community service activities was getting to him, and there were only so many thrills available from video games.
There was something else, too. He had finally asked Julie to go out with him on Saturday. Surprising her with an exotic treat of fresh strawberries--the real thing, not the dry flecks found in Good4U Bars--would be an impressive way to start the date.
The four of them were clustered around the large worktable in semi-darkness, filling their backpacks with parts and discussing what they would do with their share. Ric had just finished making fun of Randy's dating plans--the guy was still a jerk, even if he stopped openly harassing Randy after Joey told him to lay off--when the lights came on.
The owner must have entered the shop through a side door because they did not see him until it was too late. Having caught them red-handed, the man looked surprisingly mild, almost amused. He waved at them dismissively, pointing towards the exit.
Randy, relieved at the chance to get out with no further trouble, headed for the door. The rest of the group dropped the backpacks with visible annoyance, but also started moving out. Joey, the last in line to leave, suddenly changed course, closing the distance to the owner in a few quick strides. The man saw the coming attack and was able to partially twist out of the way. He took a punch to the ribs rather than the solar plexus and wasted no time hitting back. Ric turned away from the door, eager to join in the fight. Tim rolled his eyes at the obvious stupidity of the situation, but went over to help nevertheless. Randy just watched, not joining in the beating but unable to stop it.
From what Randy could see, the shop owner could hold his own in a fight, but the attackers were about two decades younger and had the advantage in numbers. Within minutes, the man was down on the floor in surrender, curled up in an attempt to protect his stomach and face from further blows. Ric and Tim grabbed their backpacks from the worktable and left, unwilling to linger at the scene, but Joey was not finished. He bent down and reached for a heavy wrench on the floor.
Randy found himself jumping on Joey from behind without even making a conscious decision. Joey lost his balance, falling, with Randy still on top and holding on to his right arm to keep him from taking the wrench.
Joey threw his left elbow back, and Randy, keyed up as he was, heard the crunch a split second before he felt anything. Pain, once it came, was literally blinding. He fell backwards and was still trying to blink tears out of his eyes when he saw Joey grab the wrench. The shop owner was still down on the floor, groaning softly, a helpless target. Randy was in no position to stop the attack, but...
"It's not his fault Maggie's dying!" he screamed, and that was precisely the right thing to do because Joey froze in his tracks.
It was also precisely the wrong thing, Randy belatedly realized, as his friend, instead of coming to his senses, simply re-directed his rage.
"It's not his fault, Joey," Randy repeated, tears flowing freely, no longer only from pain, "It's not my fault either. I'm sorry."
He wanted his last words to be more meaningful, somehow, but it was the best he could do.
From Chapter 16: The Irishman
By the time Daniel finished shoveling snow and returned to the Center, he had no time left for painting. He did, however, linger in the shower. The hot steam made him feel better, temporarily getting rid of the cough and reducing the tightness in his chest. Still, it was time to admit that he needed the medicine, and it meant ...
Daniel pulled his duffle bag from under the cot and retrieved a small pouch from one of the inside pockets. It contained the two objects he had sworn to never give up. He first took out the ring, a silver-plated band inset with a small cubic zirconia. Annie would have been so delighted to have it. He could not offer it to her now. He was incapable of supporting himself, let alone a family, and the ring had become nothing but a remnant of a lost dream.
The second item was a small cross, made of pure gold. Daniel had not worn it in years, and yet he felt heartbroken at the thought of giving it up. He did not understand why. Contrary to a popular stereotype of artists, introspection was not his strong suit.
Daniel put his small treasures away, finished dressing and went downstairs to the Center office.
"Good morning, Mrs. Fisher, how are you?"
"Oh, hello dear! Up so early?"
"Well, you know. Early bird gets the job. Would you tell Harry I'd like to talk to him today?"
"Sure, Danny. He should be here around noon. I'll ask him to wait up. You stay warm out there."
Harry frowned at Danny's appearance. He could tell the boy was in trouble; it was only a matter of finding out what kind. The ill-fitting clothes obviously came from a charity bin, and dark circles under his eyes indicated lack of sleep, illness or some combination of both.
"How's it going, Danny? Hit a rough patch, or what?"
"Here. Looks like you could use a warm drink. I'm buying." Harry reached for the coffee pot, filled both mugs and passed one across the table. The kid looked briefly as if he might object to getting a free meal, but said nothing. His fingers trembled as he brought the mug to his mouth, whether from nerves of a physical cause Harry could not tell, but time had clearly come for the direct approach.
"You asked to talk to me, kid. Let's have it. What can I do for you?"
Danny put down the mug and slowly met his eyes.
"I need medicine. Not something I can get here; the good stuff, imported. I have some cash, not much, and--this."
Harry winced at seeing the object in Danny's hand. Unlike the large, gaudy costume jewelry crosses worn by certain celebrities, this one looked to be real gold and was small. Small enough to be...
The Guide's eyes were soft, without accusation, but Daniel felt guilty even so.
"Is that your baptismal cross?"
"I can't take this. It's too personal. It means something, if not to you, then to your folks at least."
"OK." Daniel sighed in defeat. His thought briefly of Annie's ring.
"Thanks for the coffee, Harry. I ... I have to go."
From Chapter 21: Hits and Misses
Harry awoke in the back seat of a limo, dizzy and confused, but apparently unhurt except for the dull throbbing in his head. Bart sat across from him, still holding--not a gun--a Taser. That still did not explain the prolonged blackout, or the headache. They must have drugged him as well, to ensure he remained unconscious until he was safely inside the car.
Was Bart taking him to prison? The elaborate setup and private limo transport made a simple arrest unlikely. A quiet interrogation session, perhaps? ... Harry pushed back the rising panic as he considered the implications.
"What are you up to, Bart? Got a party planned, or what?"
Bart shook his head, and the profound sadness in his voice was more chilling than any threat. "Won't be long now. Please, just stay down."
The limo pulled to a stop in front of an apartment building. Harry gave up trying to make sense of the situation and followed his captor--or host?--inside.
A few minutes later, seated on a comfortable couch in Bart's living room, a drink in his hand, Harry almost wished it were a kidnapping or even a torture session--anything but what it had actually proved to be.
Chris noticed the dots reappear on the radar. This close to the target unequipped with air defense weapons, stealth no longer mattered.
Not a problem. He still had time. He tore the large key off the string around his neck and inserted it into a slot in the built-in access panel. The dark metal box inside the hidden compartment looked deceptively small, both for its weight and the wealth of destructive information it contained.
Chris hesitated only fraction of a second before flipping the activation switch. The transmission would start immediately and should not be interrupted even if the device got buried in the rubble, but just to be sure ...
He threw the box at the nearest window, easily shattering the glass, watching the heavy item plunge to the ground like a deranged kamikaze bird.
Chris started moving towards the door when he saw a helicopter hovering outside the window, a man in black armor pointing an oversized gun straight at him.
Alright. Better to die from a direct hit than get burned alive or torn to pieces in a bomb blast. And the bastards were too late to prevent the transmission. Chris smiled, raised his good hand in one-finger salute and waited for the attacker to fire the weapon.
"You don't have to watch, you know." Bart's voice was gentle, sympathetic. Somehow, it made Harry feel even worse.
"Yes. I do. So what's the big plan? Drop a bunch of bombs and call it a day? You think it'll solve all your problems?"
"Wasn't my plan, remember? My plan was to put Benton on trial, make a big show for the masses. Bainbridge might've stopped there. I still don't know if you played me on that one, by the way, but we're beyond that now. It's all over."
"Well, I guess you'll know soon enough. They'll pump the top floors full of tear gas. Flush all the techies out, so they have no time to do whatever your big backup plan was. Then, once everyone is downstairs, heading out ..." Bart trailed off, getting up from the chair, as if a few feet of distance would soften the impact of his words. "We know about the tunnels, Harry. Bottom line is, they might try to take a few Rebels alive, but for everyone else ..."
"That's ... no. They wouldn't. It's insane. Inhuman."
"I really am sorry. Here they come now."
Harry gulped down the rest of his drink and stared at the screen in helpless rage as the first helicopter arrived at the target.