Chapter 29: Arrival
Los Angeles out the windshield was metal and glass, entirely different from her view of San Francisco’s white stone buildings. And then they went down Kanan Dume Road, cutting across the shrub-covered hills and through the deep notched canyon down to Malibu by the ocean.
“It’s almost like a small town,” she said as they reached the end.
“Almost. Malibu is twenty-seven miles long and a block wide. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. The Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH, follows the shore between the beach and the mountains and the town built up around the road.”
He drove immediately to the Point Dume Beach access and parked next to the public changing house on the cliff side.
“Deena, I’m absolutely beat. We’re not far from Katy’s house, but I have to catch some sleep before we investigate. There’s a bathroom over there if you need it. Hopefully, we’re out of sight. We should be safe here for now.”
He leaned back in his seat and was breathing heavily within the minute.
Deena quietly unlatched her door and went walking on the beach.
There were a couple of other cars parked nearby. Joggers passed by every few minutes. One of them turned to watch her, giving her a smile.
Luther woke to the sound of potato chips crackling.
“Ah, the sleeping beauty awakes,” she said. “Here. I’ve saved you some beef jerky.”
He blinked his eyes hard a couple of times to clear his vision. The smiling face next to him looked pretty good.
“How long have I been out?”
“Hmm, a little over four hours. Did you know you snore?” She held out the snack food sack.
“Not yet. I need to make a visit to the little room.”
Mid-morning air helped him wake up. It was getting warm, but the strong tang of the sea was refreshing on its own.
There were a number of surfers out, including a pair of parasailers. It was a lovely day to spend at the beach.
Others had parked near his location. His Chevy was almost blocked in.
Deena was sitting half out of the car in the open doorway. While he was asleep, she had changed from her gold outfit to embroidered blue jeans and a gauzy white top.
I should have suggested she buy a bikini. She’d look hot.
She already looked adorable. His smile faded. She shouldn’t be here. It was far too dangerous.
Back in the car, he took the offered jerky and cold bottled water from the overpriced vending machine.
“We’ll have to move. I want the car parked where I can burn rubber on the PCH if we’re spotted. This car can go faster than the road can handle. We might even have a chance of getting away if we do it right.”
Deena asked, “What do I do?”
“Sit right here, out of sight.”
“Not on your life! I came here because I can help.” She looked fierce.
He tried to be calm. “It’s too dangerous. I lost both of my parents to these people. I’ve probably already lost Katy. They had a deadly reputation before this ever started. They’ll kill you without a second thought. Do you really want to risk it all?”
She raised her chin. “Do you really want to give up on Aunt Katy just because you’re too scared? Or too macho to be smart?”
He shook his head. “This is crazy! Katy’s already dead, and all we’re doing here is walking into a trap. I’m going to get us out of here before they can spring it on us.”
“No, you’re not! You can’t keep me in this car. Do you think you can? Even Malibu has phone books, I’d bet. I’ll find her myself.”
He thought about it. The only thing that kept him from acting was that it would take some slow and careful driving to get out of this parking place—and Deena wasn’t above jumping out off a moving car.
She said, “I’ve still got muscles, if you’re thinking of holding me. I did some running, on the beach this morning. I can still run fast.”
“You can?” It threw him off. He felt his control of the situation dribble away, second by second. “I’m just trying to keep you safe.”
She smiled, “I know. But we need to think this out, not just blunder through it. What did you plan to do?”
He sighed. Deena had been impossible to control from the moment she invited herself on his day trip to the redwoods. Maybe she was right. Talk and plan first, then act.
“I had intended to park the car on the northbound side of the highway, downhill from Katy’s apartment. Then I was going to walk up to where I could see her place and see if there were any evidence of it being staked out. If it looked clear, I would knock on the door.
“At the first sign of trouble, I’d fly downhill just as fast as I could and drive away. Hopefully they wouldn’t be able to catch me.”
She frowned. “You wouldn’t call first?”
“I did that, back on the laptop, remember? Someone else answered. I suspect they have her phone tapped or rerouted. They couldn’t do anything about a call from Utah, but if it came from Malibu, they would be down on us in a flash.”
“Use the laptop again.”
He was pleased she was thinking cautiously. But he shook his head. “Don’t use the same trick twice. If they figured it out, they’ll be ready for us.”
She nodded. “Okay, but I think I should be the one to walk up to her apartment. You stay in the car with the engine running. I can run faster than you can.”
He frowned, “Can you really run thirty miles per hour?”
Deena blushed. “Okay, maybe not now. I tested it. My muscles are still strong. When I tried to really turn on the gas, I did go faster, but then I faded within just a couple of seconds. The nanobots left my muscles in great shape, but there’s something else they did to help my stamina that isn’t there anymore.”
“Oxygen transport maybe. With a zillion little machines in your blood they could dynamically handle the oxygen load, the heating, maybe even your nerve impulses. Just be glad they left you in as good a shape as they did.”
“Yes, I had a nightmare last night of turning into a big puddle and sinking into the ground.” She shivered.
Luther pressed his point, “Then, there really isn’t a good reason you should go to the apartment instead of me, is there?”
Deena nodded, “Oh yes, there is!”
Deena’s heart was beating fast as she walked slowly up the street, wishing she hadn’t won the argument. Luther had been unnecessarily graphic in his description of what the bad-guys would do to her if they caught her. She was sure he was trying to get her to back out, and that is one thing she wasn’t about to do!
The street climbed the instant it left the highway. There wasn’t much flat land in Malibu, apparently. That much easier to run back to the car, if she spooked.
At the first bend in the road, she lost sight of Luther. She knew that was coming.
“Hello, Katy Ferril, you don’t know me, but I know you.” She whispered her introduction. She’d need it if Katy answered the door. Katy wouldn’t recognize her, not now.
That had been her ace card with Luther. The people he feared knew what he looked like, but even if they had a picture of Deena Brooke, they’d never connect it with the way she looked now. As far as they were concerned, she could be any Malibu girl.
She turned left at the entrance to the apartment complex. Number 113. Where is 113?
When she passed the mailboxes, something hard and metal poked into her back.
“Just be still, Miss Sawyer.”
The voice was flat and menacing. They think I’m Bryony!
“I’ve got her,” the man whispered. “Yes. Okay I’ll check.” He grabbed her arm and turned her around. His broad face showed confusion.
“Thompson,” he spoke into a radio, “it’s not her.”
Radio. They’ve been sneaking up on me using radio! Where are radio nanobots when you need them!
She forced herself to look angry, “I don’t know who you think you’re looking for, but if you don’t let me go I’ll scream!”
He didn’t pay any attention.
“I know! But she got out of his car. I don’t know. Maybe he’s got a dozen girlfriends. But I know this one is with him.”
They have Luther spotted! This was such a stupid plan.
Hard fingers gripped her arm and forced her back down the road.
“I’ll be in position in another minute.”
Deena walked, sullen, but following his lead. It wasn’t time yet. They turned at the corner.
I have just one chance at this. She opened her mouth and forced herself to breathe rapidly and deep. Oxygen. Get lots of oxygen.
The front bumper of the Chevy came into view. Almost.
She prayed, but she didn’t have time to put it into words.
Go! Using her re-tuned muscles, she broke free of his grip. Before he could react, and point that gun back at her, she kicked at his leg, hard.
She could hear the crack of his leg bone, but she was already running.
“Luther!” she screamed, as loudly as she could.
A few more steps, and she could see his face behind the windshield, eyes wide and startled. She put everything she had into the downhill run.
Out of the bushes next to the street, halfway between her and Luther, another figure appeared. He raised a large gun and aimed it at her. She saw a flash of light.
Luther heard Deena’s shout. He leaned forward, seeing her break free of a falling man.
Oh, no! They’ve got her!
Forgetting their plan as the fear wiped everything else from his mind, he reached for the door handle.
And then, the huge figure of many of his nightmares appeared out of the bushes. Thompson! It all appeared in slow motion as he dragged himself out of the car slowly as molasses. Thompson’s gun swung leisurely towards Deena.
Only the blonde racer appeared to be moving at normal speed as she came towards him with her mouth wide, screaming.
Pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow-pow. The rhythm of the bullets was businesslike, an even burst. Smoke and expended brass sailed away from the gun in Thompson’s hand.
Deena’s forward progress halted as the bullets knocked her off her feet and threw her back. He could see blonde hair fly around her face as she fell.
“No!” he yelled, racing around the front of the car, ignoring Thompson, ignoring his gun, ignoring everything but the sight of crumpled blue and white on the side of the road.
His heart was pounding in his chest as he reached her.
“Deena!” He turned her over.
Three large evenly spaced red splotches were spreading through the gauzy white fabric, the bullet holes were bubbling impossible bright red. Deena’s eyes were wide open and unfocussed. Her body was a limp as a rag.
He felt for a pulse on her neck. Nothing. He pushed his ear against her chest. Warm red blood smeared his face, but there was no heartbeat to hear. The blood had stopped gushing, merely oozing out as the heart no longer pumped.
“Deena?” he whispered.
Heavy footsteps were approaching. It was death coming for him, too.
Gently, he took her head and kissed her, tasting only her blood.
Sharp pain exploded in his head.