Chapter Fifteen

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We jolt backward. Tires squeal. I am hurled against the wheel-well and Mikhail cartwheels into the file cabinet, and now we're fishtailing, the skidding van tossing us opposite, my arm smeared into my cheek. I barely know left from right or up from down. Glass shatters outside but not our windows—maybe this thing is bulletproof? A keening alarm. Sour smoke in my nose.

Who is driving? I crawl forward to see. Mikhail grabs my hoodie.

His grip is fierce but I work myself free, kneeing him in the nose. Then barrel-roll to the far side of the cabin and struggle up.

He stands too. Bleeding, haggard, his face lumpy for the abuse I've doled out. Next to the crate now, he finds his own weapon.

"So?" I say, woozy, my field of vision rolling left. "Not like it's loaded."

He lifts a ridged object roughly the size of a crayon box. Slams it into the gun.

Before either of us can say another word, the van screeches forward. I lose my stomach as my feet fly out from underneath. My head slams the metal floor. I'm crumpled in a fetal position.

We accelerate sharply, then seem to brake, then whip 180 degrees around. Then with a concussive roar, we stop. I take a gauzy look around.

The rear doors are shredded, a steaming tangle of vinyl and metal. I am curled atop Mikhail's high-lacing boots. He didn't fall.

Why didn't he fall?

I peer up. His chin is slumped to his chest. Underneath it, the triangular tip of a metal slide. Four inches of it—glistening red, protruding from his yellow polo shirt. He is dripping. On me.

I squirm away and tug at the red on my hoodie, desperate, grossed out.

He's dead, oh man the guy is dead! I look into the slack face and panic. I have seen dead bodies before but never ones I made dead—or was present for the death of, or whatever's happened here.

What did happen? I pant for a solid minute.

Bulgaria or no, this guy has a family. Mother and father. A girl he kissed first.

My body throbs. My lungs take air in giant, quivering pulls. I hear a slow wheeze somewhere, below the chugging of the generator. (Which endured the crash.) I can't pinpoint the source. Radiator? Gas leak?

I raise myself to an elbow. Questions swirl through my mind, vague notions of jail and courtrooms and orderlies packing up Mom's things, but one is clear: who is behind the wheel?

A steel, subway-style door partitions the driver- and passenger-seats from the mangled cabin. I look through its oblong window.

I am afraid ... but my fear is maxing out, changing into a different thing. It's becoming permanent, a living part of me the way it used to around gangs or when hard drugs were being exchanged.

My fingers roam for that gun of Mikhail's.

If Jim Davis bursts through the door—if anybody in a yellow polo shirt does—I will shoot. I won't have no choice. Whatever this gig is, I know too much about it. Too much to be left alive. I wonder if the van's mad-pinball flight was an attempt to take me off-site, someplace where I could be disposed of. Maybe they finally decided I couldn't be bent to their will and would only ever be a hindrance to Blackquest 40.

"Yo."

Even through steel, even in a single syllable, I know that baritone. Like clean water rinsing my wounds.

"Cecil!" I rush forward leaving the gun. "It's you— yeah baby, it's you! How are you here?"

He squeezes through the subway door and we hug. His big belly is a pillow between us. I grip his surplus jacket tight, getting blood all over. A chuckle passes from his chest to my ear.

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