23: DRIVE ME CRAZY

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The drive down to Cape Town was a lengthy one, but for me, there was an upside.

I got to drive.

Driving was one of those generally mindless activities that I actually enjoyed. After all, even though usually the greatest issue is slow drivers and navigating around idiots, you never know what could happen. Especially when you're driving an off-road vehicle across South Africa.

Rebel had claimed the passenger seat as soon as it was established I would be driving, which left the other three men crammed into the back seat. There was a surprising lack of complaining, however, but that very well could've been because everyone was mentally preparing themselves for the unknown.

My anticipation of the unexpected had urged me into watching my rearview mirror with more vigor than normal. After we'd left Johannesburg, I had wondered if a large, silver SUV had been following us, but as I'd continued to weave amidst traffic I had lost sight of it.

"So," Sergeant said, breaking the longstanding silence, "last Legion and I checked, Gray's at a beach house."

"Beach house, hm?" Rebel echoed. "When'd he get one of those?"

"Probably when he decided he liked sharks," I muttered, maneuvering around a small sedan with both ease and impatience.

There was a short pause after I spoke before Legion asked, "Sharks?"

"Mhmm," I agreed with a short nod. "Gunner, why don't you tell them."

Gunner wasted no time. "The waters off South Africa are well known for juvenile great whites," he said. "Many tourists visit the country to go view them in cages; researchers take boats out to study them."

"And what, Gray likes sharks now?" Sergeant asked.

"I think he likes anything capable of killing," I said matter-of-factly. "Wouldn't surprise me if he figured he'd try to make friends with a shark. Maybe even recruit it."

Rebel did a terrible job of suppressing laughter at that, meanwhile Legion and Sergeant seemed to consider my words thoughtfully. "He did try to have a pet wolf once," Legion recalled slowly.

This time it was Gunner who was surprised. "He did? When was this?"

"He went through stages," Rebel said. "Some of them are better known than others, depending on how many agents were in HQ at the time. Risk and I heard of most of them despite being in HQ or not, since Boss liked to tell us about them."

"What happened with the wolf, then?" Gunner asked.

"You ever seen the scar on his left forearm?" Sergeant asked drolly.

I could see Gunner shake his head in the rearview mirror.

"That's what happened," Sergeant proceeded nonchalantly. "The wolf got too vicious, Gray responded in kind. I think it's safe to say we all know which one'a the two won that fight."

A murmur of agreement occurred from everyone else then, but I remained silent. I kept looking between the road before me and the road behind me; an eerie glimmer of silver kept sneaking into my periphery. The longer we drove, the more I was becoming convinced we were being followed.

I resolved not to jump to conclusions until we were in Cape Town. After all, there were any number of ways the SUV could go; they weren't necessarily going to Cape Town. But my intuition told me I knew better.

Silence continued after that, and for a solid eight hours I drove. Gunner was the first to nod off, and Rebel followed soon after; by the time we reached eight hours Legion was the only other one awake.

"Five hours to go," he noted quietly, a strange contrast from his usual booming voice. "You going to be able to drive the rest on your own?"

"Absolutely," I said without hesitation. I'd slept on the flight down to Johannesburg, and I had no further desire to sleep more. Especially not with our tail.

Legion chuckled quietly at that. "I don't know why I bothered asking."

I smiled to myself. "You should sleep, Legion."

"Yeah, and so should you," he pointed out. "Yet I don't think either of us will. Anyway, the other three are doing plenty of sleeping for the both of us."

I merely chuckled at that.

"Besides, you ought to have someone to talk to now that it's dark out," Legion said. "Wouldn't want you nodding off."

I scoffed. "You're just trying to convince yourself that staying awake makes you useful."

"Now, now, Risky," he tsked, "what have I told you about psychoanalyzing me to my face?"

I laughed quietly. "Clearly something I didn't listen to."

"There's a surprise," he retorted. "Listen, I really could do the driving for a bit . . ."

He was cut off by a stern head shake from me. "No."

"Why?"

I bit my bottom lip for a moment, again glancing in my rearview. "We're being followed." I paused, waiting for him to say something. When he didn't, I continued. "At first I thought I was imagining things, but eight hours in . . ."

"Too long to be a coincidence," he agreed. "All right, then. Keep on driving. We'll handle it when it becomes a problem. Granted, you might be sleep deprived and one of us may have to carry you and shoot at the same time--"

"Oh, shut up," I said, though a fond smile tugged at my lips all the same.

"Whatever you say, Captain," Legion said jokingly. "I'll be quiet as a mouse."

And though he and I both knew he had been joking, it only took him half an hour after that to fall asleep himself. I couldn't say I minded the quiet, though. Not to mention that the streets were less busy now; we were rapidly approaching four in the morning, so any cars we passed were few and far between.

Except that silver SUV. It still rode a safe distance from us -- too far for me to get a plate number -- but it was very much there. Gliding along like a ghost in the night, shadowing our every move. It was because of that SUV that I couldn't wait to get to Cape Town. Not because I wanted to escape, but because at this point, having it out in a fight would be a nice break from this constant running.

In a fight or flight situation, my first reaction was fight.

And I knew that once we reached Cape Town that that was exactly what I would do.

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