Chapter 28

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The distance to the wall behind Hill and Borders was a matter of feet, easily covered with a few good strides. Hill, with Borders's assistance, crashed into the dead bricks. The impact caused an avalanche of red dust which burst forth like a sandstorm. The heavy humidity forced the dust towards the ground, but not before it attacked their eyes and their lungs. Hill's hold on Borders broke as the two men began coughing and rubbing their eyes, trying to clear out the grit, trying to regain their vision.

The cell phone fell from Hill's pocket, skidding across the glass floor, and falling over the edge, dropping at the feet of the wary men below. They looked up, catching sight of the scuffle. Jeopardy reached back behind her shoulder to grasp the handle of a knife, but before she could throw it, a shot rang out. It sunk into a rotted wall as Hill ran for the ladder. What had been the perfect opportunity for Lady Brenda and Jeopardy to escape, quickly became a memory.

As Hill scurried down the ladder, the two terrorists continued firing, disintegrating the posts and walls. It increased the thickness of the dust, impairing vision. The dust weighted down by humidity, spread out past the glass floor, falling towards the terrorists. As it touched the level below, it began to form a whirlwind, rotating in a slow circle. It grew in size and intensity, its height ascending and wideness expanding. The two terrorists attempted to back away, but the defaced wall hindered them pressing against their backs.

The whirlwind increased in size, its spirals scraping the decomposing walls, adding the debris and dust to its mass. The front of the cloud began to change color, from brown to a faint shade of white, overlaid with a red cross. The terrorists pressed against the wall, the wind screaming in their ears, a sound of death. The massive dust cloud thickened, taking the form of a man. A face and arms came into view. The left arm held a large shield, emblazoned with a red cross. The right arm held a sword.

The two men screamed, their faces pressed against the wall that held the bones of St. Peter. A nightmare, a fiend from their bedtime stories, a crusader, stood before them. They prayed to Allah, who didn't listen. The sword raised above them, coming down, stopping the screams of one of the men. By now, Hill was at the bottom of the ladder. Eyes wide, he stared at the apparition. He watched in horror, as one of the men fell to the floor, his throat spewing life's essence. Bringing up his Glock, he fired at the swirling dust, the round spiraling through unabated, striking the terrorist on the other side. Fearing for his life, he grabbed the cell phone from the clay and raced down one of the darkened passageways.

On the level above, the air choked and blinded Borders and the two women. They held one hand over their mouths and with the other tried to shield their eyes. They were unaware of the conflict below. The whirlwind ceased as quickly as it had started, and the dust, laden with particles of moisture, sagged to the floor. They rubbed their eyes, the grit removed by tears. Licking their lips, they spit out the grime, the centuries-old dust, possibly laden with unknown contagion. The dust, encased with moisture, obscured their view of the scene below and the eternal crusader. Borders let out a brutal cough, his throat again constricted with dust. Behind him, he heard the hacking of the two women, trying to clear their lungs. He looked back and saw them both on their knees. Hill was nowhere in sight. The dust gradually dissipated enough making it possible for him to see beyond the glass floor to the space below.

Down there, the dust had yet to settle. It still filled the air, obscuring sight. Through the haze, Borders captured a faint glimpse of two bodies on the floor and a small green light that seemed to float. The bomb. Hill must have set the device and was now nowhere in sight. Borders staggered to the edge of the glass floor and held on to a decaying wall frame. The knowledge of the bomb invaded his brain. He knew he had to disarm it, and wondered if there was enough time. He convinced himself that Hill would not detonate the device until he, himself, was clear.

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