This has been one wild ride, and I have loved taking it together! I’ll keep posting free short-stories each week while we are in quarantine, so check back on Tuesday!
The shocking conclusion to Drive. Drive for your life or they will kill you. Hang on to your hats, because this is the story of an illegal road race and the people, willing and unwilling, who must race for their lives.
Drive can be purchased at Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.
Copyright ©2017 by Jamie Aldis. First Published in 2007. Published by Valsaga Publishing LLC. Cover Design copyright ©2015 Valsaga Publishing LLC. Cover art copyright © Stevenrussellsmithphotos | Dreamstime.
All Rights Reserved. This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
by Jamie Aldis
Chapter Six: Rainbow’s End
Private Airplane, somewhere over New York State – Sunday, afternoon
Sarah Williams stared out the window of the plane at the silver ribbon of a river far below. Her heart hammered and her thoughts still spun since she had seen Jason, her dead husband, shining on the wall during the briefing at the airport. He had died in the accident that had nearly killed her. He had died in the Race they had run years ago. He had died and the Race had hired her to work for them, because she had been tragically widowed during that race. During their race. He was dead. But he wasn’t. He was racing again, and with that pretty little Anne. Maybe it wasn’t him. Maybe that wasn’t her dead husband. It couldn’t be him, because if it were him, the Race had lied to her about him being dead. Why would they lie? So it must not be her husband. But it looked so much like him. She had to know, she had to. How could she find out?
Her fingers tapped nervously on the bare sill beneath the airplane window as she stared at the passing landscape. The Niagara Falls International Airport stretched beneath them, zooming closer. They were setting up their communications center in a rented lodge on the river, and she was going to be very busy once the plane landed. Usually they leap-frogged the checkpoints, but something had all the supervisors in a frenzy, and their orders had changed to put extra staff at Niagara.
“I heard that they are terminating the race here,” George said, leaning near her to get a look out the window. He’d been a good plane companion, leaving her to her thoughts. “Do you think that means we’ll be laid off? I wonder if they’ll even give us a ride home,” he mused. Sarah grunted enigmatically. George was usually wrong with his fear driven worries.
“Yeah, I heard that, too,” Peter from the seat in front of them said over the top of the seat. “My brother Paul, who was sent here a week ago to set things up, said that their orders changed this morning, and they are setting up quite the blow out!”
“What does that mean?” George frowned in irritation.
Peter shrugged, “Hell if I know, you know how it is, non-disclosure and all that.”
“Oh, stop gossiping like a bunch of hens,” Alicia snapped. “We are about to land, and we all have plenty of work to do.”
Sarah watched the runway get closer and closer until finally they bumped onto the wheels and rolled to the hanger where a number of vans were waiting to transport the employees and equipment. Sarah thought about her dead husband. She had to find out if that man was Jason.
Falls View Lodge, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, noon
Sarah Williams slipped into the hotel room with a thermos of coffee in one hand, a stack of magazines under her arm, and a Subway sandwich bag hanging from her wrist. She slipped the room key into the pocket of the photo ID badge she wore around her neck. All the furniture was buried under so much electronica it looked as if a Tiger Direct warehouse had exploded. She tossed a chagrined smile at the surprised man sitting at the table behind four large plasma monitors and a dizzying array of complicated equipment.
“Hey, Mike, I’ve been sent to relieve you,” Sarah said.
“Really?” Mike blinked in disbelief. He’d been manning this post for 48 hours, and the company didn’t like it when the monitors weren’t watched at all times. On the screens were blinking colored dots following crooked, intersecting lines.
Sarah nodded solemnly, as she put her coffee and sandwich on top of the printer. She had been working since 5am, and knew tomorrow would be a tough day, so she was not at all happy to be told she was going to be on watch duty all night, too. It was a boring job, but she had an eye for detail, and a skill at hypothesizing a racer’s motive for choosing a given route which got her assigned to this post frequently.
“Wake me at sundown, ok? I don’t want to miss the fun,” Mike said, as he gratefully left the uncomfortable hotel chair. Sarah tapped her code into the keyboard to sign in, and Mike keyed his to sign out. The board was officially hers.
She wanted to ask what the fun after sundown was going to be, but if working for this super secretive company had taught her anything it was that curiosity was the fastest way to get someone to stop telling you what you wanted to know.
“Will do. What’s the sitch?” she asked, nodding toward the screens.
“We’ve got some teams grouping together,” he pointed to several clusters of dots. “I’m sure the order to break those up will come soon, so I was writing that report up.”
Sarah nodded, knowing that order would never come since John James, all of them, had been ordered to bottleneck the racers on Goat Island later. She knew how to keep her information to herself, too.
“There are a few teams who seem to have no clue where they are going,” he pointed to the large scale map on one of the monitors which showed a few colored dots far from everyone else. That was the sort of thing Sarah was expected to analyze and guess what had led them astray. Sponsors never liked it when their teams displayed gross ignorance or stupidity, though their opponents loved it. And that’s what this was all about, after all, amusing the sponsors.
“Is everything all set, then?” she asked, hinting at secrets.
“Mostly. The supplier is waiting on delivery of the C4, but he’s expecting it in the next hour or two, so it should be in position by the time the Colonel gets here. HQ has been calling every half hour for updates on that, and they are getting pretty antsy, but the supplier says it’ll be there.”
“Does the Colonel get a call or a text, and when?” Sarah asked. She didn’t even know who the colonel was, but delivering messages on time was her main responsibility in this room. It was a measure of how agitated the higher ups were, that her briefing for this post had been left to the person she was relieving of duty. Fortunately Mike thought she was just testing him, since his eyes narrowed.
“Bright will flash the verification, and the text goes out then.” Mike tapped the slightly wrinkled and stained operations folder that sat on the desk. The exact wording of the text messages she needed to send out and when was there. Apparently John James was in charge of the last minute changes, not the communications center.
“Ok, thanks. Sleep well,” she sat in the chair.
“Just call me at sundown, ok?” Mike asked.
She slipped the headset onto her ear as Mike left with a wide yawn. A quick glance at the log for the number, and she called the supplier. She jotted her own log entry down as the phone rang.
“Hello, this is Jean from Bright Industries checking up on our order,” she said to the coarse voice that answered the phone.
“You people will nag a man to death! Like I told the other guy an hour ago, it’ll be here. I’m expecting my guy at one. You’ll be the first to know when it gets here,” the man snarled.
“I’ll arrange for pick up at one, then.” The line went dead. Sarah shrugged as she checked the operations folder for the number of the team assigned to pick up the delivery. Had Mike said it was C4? She sent the text to the assigned team with the time and location of pick up. They had their orders, and needed no other information. She’d have the answers without hesitation if the bosses called about the delivery. It was time to find out where everyone was; she studied the monitors, hovering over colored dots for the information pop-ups.
She lingered over light blue, Anne Collins, who seemed to have teamed up with Nathan Reynolds. The two phones were at the same GPS on I-76 in south western Pennsylvania. Most of the teams seemed to be in the same general area, within a county or two of each other. Except for that cluster of teams heading north on the I-476.
Sarah stared at the light blue dot. Was her husband alive? Was he in that car? It had to be someone else, because her husband was dead. The phone was ringing before she realized she had dialed Anne’s race phone. A woman answered, sounding cautious and confused. That must be Anne.
“May I speak with Jason Williams, please?” Sarah asked politely.
I-76, Gibsonia, Pennsylvania – Sunday, after noon
“Hello?” Anne answered her race phone. Jason Williams shot a glace at Nate whose phone had not rung. Nate shrugged and looked at Anne in his rearview mirror. She had been sleeping in the back seat for the past several hours. “It’s for you,” she said, passing the phone up to Jason.
Oh shit, I’m a dead man, he thought. He took the phone and placed it to his ear, a sickening lump twisting his stomach.
“Hello?” he ventured.
“Jason? Jason is that really you?” his dead wife said.
“Sarah?” Jason’s thoughts exploded and stopped simultaneously.
“Jason! Oh my God! It IS you! They told me you were dead!” she said.
“Sarah, they murdered you,” he said at the same time.
“Oh Jason!” she started to cry and Jason’s heart ripped in two. “Shit! I have to go!” The line went dead.
Jason clutched the phone, staring at its black screen. “That was my wife. She was kidnapped to get me to race five years ago. They murdered her when I didn’t win. My car went off the road a hundred yards from the finish line. In the hospital, they showed me pictures of her murdered body.” His voice was flat and hollow. Anne and Nate exchanged a look in the mirror. Her hand settled warmly on his shoulder.
“She’ll call back,” she said.
Goat Island, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, afternoon
The parking attendant lifted the bar and let the blaring ambulance into the parking lot, saving Tiffany Davis and Lucia Harris an $8 they didn’t have. The last gas run had bled them of all money, but they were here now, and that was all that Tiff could think about. Luc kept insisting they had to find the checkpoint, and whenever Tiff stopped or slowed down, her friend had started screaming and going crazy. Tiff was pretty sure she was going a little crazy herself. She rubbed the exhaustion from her eyes and grabbed Luc’s hand. She pulled her unusually silent friend to the glossy, colorful map that stood near the visitor’s center.
“Cave of the Winds,” she pointed. It looked like she was going to have to figure out how to steal a couple of rain slickers.
Goat Island, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, afternoon
Retired Colonel Jack Brown lined up his BMW motorcycle in the crosshatch area at the front of the parking lot. Mary looked stiff as she swung her leg over and dismounted. His own back ached, but pain meant you were still alive. She was his tough little wife, and she had never complained about anything in their forty-five years of marriage.
“Let’s find this waterfall, shall we?” he said. They paid the rental fee for the ponchos, and he ran up the stairs, knowing his wife would follow him anywhere.
Cave of the Winds, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, afternoon
Jennifer Miller stared in awe at the power of the waterfalls before her. The vapor saturated the air, and mingled with the tears that flowed down her face. She wouldn’t know she was crying, except her tears were hot. Chelsea would love this view. She vowed she would bring Chelsea here, when she got her daughter back. She had to get her daughter back. Her cheeks burned a little bit hotter with the tears.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” a kind old lady patted her hand, mistaking Jenn’s tears for awe at the view. The lookout platform was quite crowded in the mid-afternoon of a holiday weekend. Brian was scouring every inch of it, looking for the checkpoint marker. They were in the right area, she was sure, since she had spotted several other teams. No one looked like they really knew anything more than she did.
“I want to bring my daughter here,” she said to the kind old lady. She got another pat on her hand, and then the woman moved off, her eyes filled with a sorrow that made Jenn’s heart ache.
“It’s not here,” Brian slipped through the crowds to stand next to her, water dripping from his nose and chin. “I know we are close, what are we missing?”
“They probably wouldn’t put the checkpoint in such a public area. Didn’t we pass another path on the way up?” Jenn asked.
“Yeah, it was closed, remember. The sign said it used to be a path behind the waterfall, but rock falls made the path too dangerous and it was closed last decade or something?”
“I didn’t see that, but it sounds about right,” Brian said. “Which way? Back the way we came?” He moved off in that direction.
Jennifer stared at his back for a moment. It was the first time since they got that call that he hadn’t argued with her. She brushed her scalding tears from her eyes.
She ducked under the chain with the “No Access” sign and hurried into the dark cave, her heart hammering madly.
“Are you sure this is it?” Brian asked nervously.
“Let’s follow it and see,” she replied. The tunnel was unkempt and more than a little dangerous. Or maybe she just had a touch of claustrophobia. Loose rocks littered the floor, and rock falls piled up here and there. In one place they had to climb over a pile, and she kept looking up into the darkness above listening for sounds of a new fall coming down on their heads. When they topped it, however, they were rewarded with the flashing red light of the checkpoint marker.
Mr. Bright sat on a folding chair, in front of a wall of water. His back was to the cave wall so he could gaze upon the waterfall, and watch the tunnel approach. He wore a raincoat and wide brimmed rain hat, but managed to look impeccably sharp. The waterfall behind him was glorious. It was so thick it nearly obscured the view out of the cave, but in one spot the water passed around some obstacle farther up and you could see the magnificence of Niagara Falls arcing into the distance. The roar was intense, and rainbows were everywhere. Jennifer stared, holding her breath in the presence of such natural majesty. Tears once again slipped down her cheeks, her eyes burning from too many of them.
“Welcome to Niagara Falls, Mr. and Mrs. Miller,” Mr. Bright said cheerfully. “You are in first place. Your clue will arrive shortly, but first we have a reward for you. At the rockfall, if you turn to the left at the top and climb down into the darkness, you will find a staircase leading up. At the top, there is a magnificent view. Be sure to look through the binoculars.”
“Where is my daughter!” Brian growled.
“All in good time, Mr. Miller. Go look at the view. I’m quite sure you’ll like it,” Mr. Bright smiled and turned his gaze back to the waterfall, ignoring them completely.
Hope surged in Jenn, and she pulled on her husband’s arm, “Let’s just go!” She clamored over the rock pile, ignoring the fear in her hammering heart. She descended into the waiting darkness. The opening was so small it tugged at her clothes. She waited for her husband to follow her, and together they carefully ascended the black spiral staircase. The metal felt corroded under her hand, but the steps seemed secure. She jumped when the race phone rang. The light it cast made the narrow circular staircase even creepier.
“It’s the clue,” she said.
“What’s it say?” Brian growled.
“It says, ‘Over the Rainbow and through the woods. Climb the highest high, to ride in the Sky.’”
A grunt was the only response Brian gave. When the glow faded from the screen she slipped the black phone back into her pocket and continued to climb the long, dark, spiral stairs; the rust crunching beneath her feet. It ended at a black ceiling.
“That bastard!” Brian said, turning to head back down.
“Wait,” she hissed. She could hear the waterfall, and she was certain there was more here. She pushed on the ceiling, and was rewarded with a small crack of light. “It’s a door!” She pushed again, but could only raise it a few inches.
“Let me,” her husband said. She crawled over him, gripping the corroded railing like a lifeline. They managed to swap places and her husband climbed high, grunted and heaved, lifting the door on his shoulders, his legs bunched strongly under him. With a strained grunt, he pushed the door over his head and it crashed open, revealing the blue sky above them. They climbed out onto a disheveled lookout balcony. The wooden railing around it was broken and sagging in places, but their footing was on stone. It was even dry. They stood above the waterfalls, the water cascading below them, crashing impossibly far. Jennifer swallowed the lump that choked her throat.
“Those must be the binoculars,” Brian said pointing to an old pillar with a hinged viewing scope on top of it. It was aimed away from the falls upstream. A faded sign talked about the history of Rainbow Bridge, which crossed the river not far upstream. He looked through it. “Nothing, it’s black.”
Jennifer walked up to it, read the instructions. “Put a nickel in it.”
“A nickel? Aren’t these a quarter?” he muttered, digging in his pants pockets.
“They are now,” she said. She took the nickel from him and dropped it into the coin slot where it jingled its way down with a satisfying clunk. The blackness snicked back, and Jenn looked through the viewers.
She looked at the bridge, and someone was waving madly. She squinted, adjusting the focus on the binoculars then gasped. “Chelsea!” she yelled.
Bridal Veil Cave, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, afternoon
Mary Brown climbed over the wobbly rock fall. Her husband had caused several pebbles to clatter and echo in the narrow passageway when he climbed over it, so he had tossed back a warning for her to be careful. Another couple in the race had been heading out of the tunnel when they found it, so Mary knew they weren’t the first to this checkpoint. She nearly cried with relief when she spied the red light of the line. Her husband was talking to Mr. Bright, who handed him an envelope. Their voices were drowned out by the roar of the waterfall behind them. It was so beautiful. That sight was almost worth the pain she felt in every limb. She sat on the top of the rock fall, balancing carefully on the sharp points. She rubbed at her chest, feeling light headed and breathless. Her husband’s stamina awed her. She refused to complain, however. Retirement had knocked the wind out of his sails, so when he told her he wanted to travel the country she had agreed. She thought he had meant an RV, not a motorcycle. But how could she dim the sparkle in his eyes as he proudly showed off his new purchase? And when he had filled with purpose and life listening to the call from the race phone that first day, she knew she could not take that away from him either. She had never expected it to last so long, however, or be so tiring. If only she could lay down and go to sleep. Even the sharp rocks wouldn’t stop the unconsciousness that tugged at the edges of her mind.
The race phone chirped in her pocket.
Sky Pod, CN Tower, Toronto, Canada
That was clear enough. They had been promised a shortcut. Her husband had left Mr. Bright; he had that hard-eyed look he wore when he got home from certain missions.
“We need to go,” he said curtly, gesturing for her to climb off her rocky perch. She closed her eyes, tried once again to catch her breath. Her chest felt so tight, maybe it was the water vapor in the air and the elevation. She climbed down and heard him clatter the stones behind her.
“Twenty meters down there is a turn into an alcove, there is something in there we need to pick up,” he said.
“I’ll keep an eye out,” she said breathlessly, too tired to be curious. “The next checkpoint came to the phone,” she added dutifully.
“Good. There is something we need to do first, though,” he said grimly. What would make him sound like that? She knew better than to ask him.
They found the alcove easily, once they knew to look for it—a darker shadow in the dimness of the unlit cave tunnel. A large duffel lay on the ground. There was only one, so she assumed this was part of their reward. Jack grunted when he picked it up, so it must be heavy. She led the way out of the cave, passing two young girls who were coming in. One of them looked Mary straight in the eye and muttered feverishly.
“Stop them, they must be stopped.”
Falls View Lodge, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, afternoon
Sarah breathed a sigh of relief when her supervisor finally left the room. She had come so close to being caught making an unauthorized phone call when her supervisor had walked in a few hours ago. Fortunately, the stern woman had been focused on the papers in her hand, and not on noticing that Sarah had quickly terminated a phone call.
The plans for the race had changed again, and her boss was here to make it all happen. The woman must be going a little deaf, because the headset was so loud that with a little bit of effort, Sarah could hear the other half of the conversation. Her boss’ words were always guarded and innocuous. It’s what was said on the other end that put ice in Sarah’s veins. It took all Sarah’s will power to look bored as she monitored the screens while her boss made call after call, and sent text messages to all the thugs in the field.
Sarah dialed Anne’s number. Her light blue dot was flashing on the edge of the parking lot. Sarah watched the red dot that was the colonel with his deadly pack approach Anne’s position. “Pick up. Pick up!” She muttered as the phone rang without being answered. No one ever failed to answer their race phone.
Goat Island, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, afternoon
Nate pulled into the crowded parking lot and found a space near the exit. It was far from the paths to the rest of the park, but he was primed for a fast getaway. It could only help, especially since there was no parking available closer to the front. An ambulance sat in the emergency zone, it’s lights whirling, it’s plates from Florida. Looked like the girls made it. Near it was the sleek BMW motorcycle. They were definitely not first.
Jason had been silent and brooding for hours, ever since that phone call. Nate expected him to vanish any moment, since the man had always had his own agenda in this race. Nate suspected that agenda revolved around the wife who was supposed to be dead but apparently had called Anne’s race phone. Anne believed the clue meant they were looking for an old path or bridge that once went into the rocks, behind the waterfall at Cave of the Winds. Nate kept scanning the area. He felt jumpy, and tight. It was the feeling he always got before a big fire broke out, or the alarm went off for a multi-car accident on the freeway.
Nate saw the crisply dressed angry man who stood impatiently near the visitor’s center. He saw him, and dismissed him because in a place like this there were always irritable fathers and husbands with no patience for the quirks of being a tourist.
“It should be somewhere in here,” Anne said, pointing to the long, crooked line of stairs drawn in cartoonish clarity on the park map.
“Anne Gropdich!” the menacing shout rang through the clatter of tourists and Anne’s face drained of color. For one heart chilling moment, she looked at Nate with stark terror in her eyes. Nate spun to face whatever came, and saw the man he had dismissed. He was a moment too late to stop the bruising grip that took Anne’s arm. “I’m taking you home,” he said, the threat clear. Anne tried to break her husband’s grip.
Jason cold-cocked the man so fast even Nate hadn’t seen it coming. Anne stumbled as her husband jerked back, his grip releasing so violently red welts formed on her arms. They looked like they would bleed.
Anne’s husband backed away, shaking his head, clearly not used to fighting. “Two of them!?” he screamed, “You fucking whore! I’m going to kill you for this!” Two police officers stepped up. One aimed a gun at Jason, and the other grabbed Anne, pulling his handcuffs out of his belt.
Her race phone rang.
Goat Island, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, afternoon
Retired Colonel Jack Brown gave a wide berth to the arrest happening near the park map. Some racers seemed to be involved. Good, he thought, fewer people for him to compete against, though he did wish that the nice man Nate was not in the middle of it. Good man, Nate was, the kind of man you wanted at your back in a bad situation. He set the heavy duffel of explosives down next to his bike, and opened up the storage box for some bungee cords. Maybe he should ask Mary to stay here while he set the charges. She was looking a bit pale, and her breathing was labored. But he needed to be on the far side of that bridge when it blew, and if Mary stayed here, they would lose their advantage if he had to come back for her. So how was he going to strap that heavy bag to the bike, and leave room for her to ride.
He grimaced when the two women he had passed in the tunnel emerged from the path, headed for the ambulance they were driving. He knew he would only keep his advantage in the race if he fulfilled his mission quickly, and raced for the next checkpoint. The others did have an extra checkpoint to get to, while he got to skip ahead.
Setting charges on the bridge would be easy. He had done plenty of that in his military career. Good thing he was the one who had won the advantage, or the savings the city thought it was making on having one of them do it for the race, for free, would have been cost much more in the long run for a bungled job. Then again, the instructions in the envelope had been very detailed, and would bring down the large bridge quite nicely. With all the bridge collapses that had been happening around the country lately, it was nice to see a city taking a proactive approach, and planning to build a new bridge, with new technology. Had to clear out the old one, first, though. The Rainbow Bridge was an icon of the Falls. Jack hoped they planned to build the new one quickly, since the bridge was a major artery between the US and Canada.
A shot rang out and he hit the ground fast, looking around. Nate grappled with the police officer and his gun. Some woman was being dragged off by a man and the other police officer, while a third man Jack had seen traveling with the woman on the race was diving to intercept them. People were running and screaming, but other than the danger of a wild bullet, he and Mary were in no immediate danger. He grabbed her arm to pull her behind the motorcycle, at least until that gun was in someone’s control. Her arm had a stiffness that made him finally look at her. Her face was pale, and her eyes were wide and horrified. The bag of explosives was unzipped, her hand pulling it open. Her other hand clutched her chest just before she collapsed.
“Medic!” he screamed out of long habit. He jerked to his feet and grabbed the girl in the scrubs as she reached for the door of the ambulance. “My wife! I think it’s a heart attack!”
The girl screamed with pain and fainted. The other one, with the crazy eyes, launched herself at him, “Your wife is dead, and you must stop. Stop, before you kill all the others, too! Your wife tells you not to do it! Do not kill them!”
He pulled away from her, his thoughts slicing in half. He fell on his wife, fingers to her throat. Nothing. Her eyes were open, blank. No pulse. No life. He screamed his throat raw, his face upturned, accusing God. The world fell silent, blackness shutting out everything except the mission. You survived by focusing on the mission and nothing else. His training taught him that. There was only the mission. He zipped the bag shut, strapped it onto his wife’s seat on the motorcycle, and sped out of the parking lot faster than thought. First the mission and then he would see his wife again.
Goat Island, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, afternoon
Brian cursed the construction crews that clogged the roads that had been clear just a couple hours earlier. Workmen in orange vests and construction vehicles were blocking the road and traffic was all but stopped. His daughter was on Rainbow Bridge, and he had to get to her. They had managed to get out of the parking lot, and off the island, but apparently they were rebuilding the roads to the bridge.
A motorcycle with a large duffel bag strapped to the passenger seat rolled by, waved through the other side of the barricades by the construction crew. Brian cursed and banged the steering wheel as he was allowed to inch forward at a snail’s pace while his wife tapped her fingers impatiently, leaning forward to see if she could spy an alternate path, or a break in the traffic.
Goat Island, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, afternoon
“They aren’t cops!” Nate yelled as he lunged for the gun. It fired as he pushed it into the air, hoping no one was hit as the crowd screamed and dove for cover. He’d been a fireman in the state of New York for his entire adult life, and he knew a New York state cop uniform when he saw it, and these guys were wearing the wrong color. They had the wrong bearing, too, more like thugs. When the cop’s partner lunged for Anne instead of using his radio to call for backup Nate knew he was right. Anne was being hauled off, grabbed by her husband and the fake cop. Jason grabbed the cop and threw a punch. The gun fired again, and Nate pulled his attention back to his own fight. He pushed the gun higher, cocked his neck, and head butted his adversary in the nose. The man yelled, and let go of the gun to drop to his knees and hold his bleeding, broken nose.
“Freeze right there!” he yelled, stopping Anne’s husband. Jason had his knee on the back of the other cop’s neck, pinning him face down to the ground. Anne jerked her arm out of her husband’s grasp. She slapped him, hard.
“I want a divorce!” she screamed in his face. She walked to stand behind Nate, or maybe just behind the gun that kept her husband at a distance.
“This isn’t over,” he said.
“Yes, Philip, it is,” she said. “Now leave before I shoot you myself!”
Nate waved the gun a little, “Get your buddy and go,” he told Broken Nose. Jason slowly released the guy he’d been kneeling on and backed away. The two thugs ran off, into the Visitor’s center, which Nate thought an odd choice. Probably felt safer in a crowd. Or maybe they needed to clean their shorts. Bullies rarely liked being on the other end of the gun.
“Get out of here!” Anne screamed. “I never want to see you again!” In the hush that followed the ring of her phone sounded strangely loud. She answered it, like a robot, turning her back on her husband in a final act of rejection.
Nate kept his eyes on the man who glared, but decided to leave. He backed toward the parking lot, disappearing behind a Hummer.
“A colonel with C4 is going to blow up a rainbow?” Anne repeated into the phone. “What are you talking about? Hello? Hello?”
Nate stuffed the gun into his pocket and looked toward the only colonel he knew. The motorcycle was gone, Luc was sobbing over the dead body of the colonel’s wife Mary, and Tiff was struggling to push herself up, her face ashen and pinched.
“Was that Sarah?” Jason asked Anne, reaching for the phone.
Anne shrugged, “I think so, she hung up.” She looked between Nate and Jason, her eyes had the shocked stare of a trauma victim. “She said a colonel with C4 is going to blow up a rainbow. Then she hung up. Is he gone?” She looked around the parking lot.
“He’s gone,” Nate assured her.
The phone rang again. Jason snatched it from Anne’s hands before she could react.
“Sarah?” he said. A look of relief flooded his face, then he grew pale. Fear then anger followed. He nodded. “Be careful, Sarah!”
Jason looked at Nate, his eyes had grown hard. “Sarah says there is a colonel who is going to blow up the Rainbow Bridge. We need to stop him.”
Goat Island, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, late afternoon
Drew pulled into the parking lot. Traffic was blocked up getting out, even an ambulance was stopped while trying to leave the parking lot. He saw more than a few racers stuck in traffic, so they were no longer as far behind as they had been, after the girl went the wrong direction. Fortunately she had finally shut up and sat in silence when her father had told him he needed to head east. He’d hauled across New York State as fast as his very fast car could take him. He figured they were behind, but as long as they were still in the race they were still in the race. Or something like that. At least he could drive faster now, and didn’t have to follow this old man and his annoying, but hot, daughter around anymore. It wasn’t such a bonus that they were riding with him now, but he’d take what he could get.
He and the daughter were running up the stairs after forking over twenty bucks, while the dad rested in the car. Smart man, Drew couldn’t ditch ‘em if he was in the damn car. At least he wasn’t likely to steal the car if his daughter was with Drew, so everyone was happy. Sort of. He spied someone who looked familiar dodging under the chain and running back down the stairs.
“Over there, I saw someone,” he said to Lexi.
“Following people, your speciality,” she sneered, but she ducked beneath the chain and slipped into the cave.
Rainbow Bridge, Niagara River, New York – Sunday, evening
Retired Colonel Jack Brown tore the tape that secured the second charge at the base of the column. Now he had to climb up and begin to set the charges in the under supports of the bridge. The traffic seemed oddly loud for a bridge that would be empty in just a couple hours, but the construction crews and detours had been going up when he passed by on his way to the bridge.
Just a few more charges, one more mission, and he would be able to see Mary again.
Falls View Lodge, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, evening
“I need to grab some dinner before the fireworks,” Sarah’s boss said. She was coming back, and soon, so this was Sarah’s only chance. She started the routine backup of files onto tape. While that was going, she grabbed one of the portable devices they sometimes gave to operatives and programmed it with Anne’s and the Colonel’s signal. Finally she programmed the numbers she thought she might need into her own cell phone. When the back up was finished, she stuffed the tape and the portable into a small backpack.
A quick peak into the hallway showed no one was nearby. She ran down to the room with the ice and vending machines and stuffed the backpack behind the vending machine. The elevator door was opening just as she slipped back into the communications room. She struggled to slow her breathing and her heart rate, plopping into the chair trying to look as if she hadn’t left as her boss walked in carrying a soda and a sandwich.
Her boss narrowed her eyes, “You look flushed, anything happen?”
“No, we are good across the board,” Sarah said. “Dinner didn’t agree with me,” she explained. “I’ll be fine.”
Her boss nodded uncaringly. She sat down in front of the board, and put on the headset. A quick scan showed everyone in place. She called her boss, someone Sarah never heard, saw, or even heard mention of other than when her boss called in to report.
“The charges are in place,” she said. A few moments later, “Stateside only, sir. Yes, sir. Everyone is in position. Yes, sir.”
She sent a text to the thugs who were all called John James. “Let the racers onto the bridge.”
The tension in Sarah’s stomach gurgled loudly and her boss gave her a dirty look. Sarah would never get a better opportunity.
“Dinner really isn’t agreeing with me, may I go to the restroom?”
The cavalier wave was her only reply. She raced out of the room, grabbed the back pack and hurried out of the lodge into the rapidly darkening evening. The Race had rented the whole lodge, and everyone was poised for the night’s big events, so the driveway was deserted as Sarah ran. It took her three tries to dial Anne’s race phone.
“Anne, listen to me,” she said urgently when the woman answered, “and do exactly what I say.”
Rainbow Boulevard, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, evening
“It’s Sarah, again, and she wants me to do what she says,” Anne said wearily. She was numb, and the entire world felt like it was underwater. She had been glad they were stuck in unmoving traffic, because she was sick of everything.
“Do what she says!” Jason urged.
“Are you sure we can trust her?” Nate asked. “Are you sure it’s even her?”
Anne couldn’t deal with the arguing. She didn’t want to listen. She didn’t want to do what someone else said. She didn’t want to breathe. She thumbed the speakerphone on. “You’re on speaker.”
“Jason! Oh my god, Jason! The charges are in position! They are going to let the racers onto the bridge. I think they are going to blow everyone up!”
“Who is they?” Nate asked.
“Who is that? Jason? Who is there?” the panic in her voice was thick.
“Just Nate and Anne, Sarah, it’s ok.”
“Nate, you mean Nathan Reynolds?” Sarah asked. “That’s right, I forgot you were riding with him.”
“Who are they, Sarah?” Nate asked again.
“The race. The FBI are on to the race, and I think they’ve decided to blow the bridge and everyone on it to end the race.”
“Sarah where are you?” Jason asked. “We’ll come get you!” he said.
“They won’t let you off the road! You are being herded to the bridge!”
“Like cows to slaughter,” Anne said to herself.
“The bridge that’s being set to blow up?” Nate asked.
“Yes! That’s what I mean. Everyone is going to die!” she said.
“We need to get off this road,” Nate muttered. “Can you help us get off this road?”
“What? Maybe. Hold on. I’ll call you back,” with that Sarah disconnected the line.
Anne blinked and stared at the dead phone. First she finally escapes her husband, even if that probably wasn’t over yet, and now whoever put her in this race in the first place is trying to blow her up? She was getting really tired of bullies playing games with her life.
Rainbow Boulevard, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, night
“About fucking time,” Drew muttered as he turned his engine over. The sweet bass purr of his baby always brought a smile to his face, but this time he might have to admit the construction guy flagging him on might be even better. They had been sitting still, in traffic, for hours. He couldn’t see any damn reason for the road being closed, though David said maybe there was an accident they couldn’t see. David looked like an accident already. He was a color no living body should be, and it creeped Drew out. Lexi sat in the back with her father looking like she had lost her puppy. ‘Course she was losing her father, so Drew cut her some slack for that.
Some cars were being waved left, some were being waved right. They better not try to make him go anywhere other than the bridge. He was going to get on that Rainbow bridge if it killed him. He had a race to win, and he better do it before the smart old man died and he lost his advantage. The flag man waved him left, which was where he wanted to go. He could see the bridge rising in the distance. Traffic was speeding up a little, though he saw brake lights on the bridge itself. He inched his way onto the bridge and was glad when he could see water rushing beneath him. They couldn’t stop him now, he sighed with relief. Looking around he saw a lot of the racers around him, plus the usual traveling types. That was good, it meant that traffic had leveled the playing field, and in a road race he would win every time. He and his little bumblebee were fast. It was the clues that tripped him up, but David found the clues dead easy. He hadn’t had to think to know where they were going this time. Of course, he had an annoying tendency to turn it into some history lesson or something, but as long as they didn’t lose time with that, Drew could put up with it.
Niagara River, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, night
Sarah balanced the laptop she had stolen on her lap, as she perched on a cold stone. The river rushed by, which would obscure the sounds she was making, if anyone was looking for her. Unfortunately, she thought she would not hear anyone coming, either. Her original plan had involved Jason picking her up on the road, but if he needed help getting off the road, she needed a place to work without being seen first. So she doubled back and headed to the river bank where she could see the Rainbow Bridge, and whatever sound or light she made would hopefully go ignored.
She quickly discovered the laptop would not do what she had hoped, which was give orders to the John James’s. She encountered a lot of encrypted files, but her boss used her pets name as a password. Sarah shook her head at that surprising bit of foolishness. The woman brought that tea cup dog with her every where, it wasn’t exactly a hard guess. The screen filled with folders of bank information and sponsors, and her bosses’ orders. Sarah stared in open-mouth shock. She thought she had grabbed an operations computer. This was the mother load. Only it did not help her get Jason off that road at all.
She dialed Anne’s number. Jason answered this time.
“I can’t help you as much as I hoped,” Sarah said quickly. She glanced at the portable which was tracking their position. “It looks like you are almost to the bridge. Just don’t get on that bridge. Do what you have to do, but please don’t get on that bridge. I can’t lose you again!”
“What do you mean it looks like we are almost to the bridge?” Jason asked. “You can see me? Where are you?” The pain and urgency in his voice made her heart ache.
“I stole a tracker when I left, we have tons of them, so one won’t be missed.” Unlike the laptop. Good thing her boss was busy coordinating an act of domestic terrorism and was too busy to notice her laptop was missing. Sarah needed to get very far away before the theft was discovered.
“What are you tracking?” he asked. Sarah shook her head. He was always asking questions when he’d have the answer if he just thought about it.
“The race phones,” she said. “Most of the racers are on the bridge already, you and a few others are still approaching. Looks like it won’t be long now.”
“You are tracking the race phones? Can all of them track the race phones?” Jason asked. It sounded like he was repeating something someone else had asked.
“Yes,” she said simply. His dot was nearing the bridge.
“We have to go now, where can Jason meet you and when? Somewhere not here, and don’t say it, just say something he’ll understand,” Anne had obviously grabbed the phone. Jason was protesting in the background.
Sarah blinked, then felt like a thoughtless fool. How could she not have thought the phones could be listened to? “Um, the place we first kissed. A week from now. Good luck, Anne. Tell him I love him,” Sarah disconnected the phone. She pulled the battery and the sim card out and threw all three pieces into the river.
“Fuck!” Her only hope was that no one had been trying to triangulate her end of the phone line, but if they were, they knew she was by the river. She decided to take the risk of staying here a bit longer, where she still had signal for the laptop. She opened the folder called “Operations Budget” and whistled in shock.
Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, night
Tiff pulled the ambulance onto the bridge and then stopped, once again, as traffic turned into red brake lights. Luc had been screaming for hours that they had to stop it, but she had quieted down now. She seemed to be chatting quietly with Heather, and her grandmother.
“We tried,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “It’s too late now, but Tiff and I will be with you soon.” Tiffany tried to ignore the ominous sound of that and focused on breathing around the bloody rattle in her chest.
Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, night
Nate grabbed the phone from Anne when she was done, and opened his car door. He was idling along a cement barrier just before getting onto the bridge itself. He tossed both his and Anne’s phones into the back of the pickup truck just in front of him, and slipped over the cement barrier. It was a bit of a drop, but not too far, though the incline down to the river and the base of the bridge was steep and slick. He crouched and waited. First Anne, then Jason slipped over. Fortunately the workers were not paying much attention to their location. They were supposedly locked in. The pickup truck inched forward, moving their signals farther along on whatever monitors were being watched. If they had been toward the back of the racers, there was little time left.
“What about the FBI?” Jason asked, his voice low and hushed.
“The FBI?” Nate blinked.
“The ones who were after the race. The ones who sprang Anne out of jail? Shouldn’t they be out here? They tapped Anne’s phone, and should have heard every word. Shouldn’t they be stopping this?”
“They probably weren’t real FBI. Or if they were, they were paid off by the Race,” Anne said softly. Jason cursed.
Nate started walking, half sliding, down the embankment. When he got to the bottom, he and the others looked until they found it, an explosives charge on the support pillar. Nate followed the wire up, and eventually he found him. Colonel Jack Brown was sitting from a lower rafter with his feet dangling.
“Colonel!” Nate shouted. He had to repeat himself several times before the colonel heard him and looked down. It was dark, and the river was loud, but Nate prayed he could be heard. “Don’t do this!” The man put his hand behind his ear and Nate cupped his mouth and shouted it again. The colonel looked sad, shook his head. Then he pointed downriver vigorously and held up two fingers.
“Two minutes,” he said, Nate could barely understand the words, but the vigorous gesture pointing downriver clued him in.
“RUN!” he screamed at Anne and Jason.
Rainbow Bridge, Niagara River, International Border – Sunday, night
Jennifer Miller finally saw her daughter. Chelsea was standing exactly where she had been hours earlier, when her mother had seen her with the binoculars. She wasn’t waving anymore, and she looked cold. Traffic had been brutally slow, and Jenn had almost given up hope, but seeing Chelsea still here was euphoric.
“She’s there!” she pointed, and her husband looked up. She pulled open the car door, and started running toward her daughter screaming, “Chelsea!!” Brian was close behind her, yelling her daughter’s name.
The young girl looked up and smiled. Jennifer felt as if a sunbeam hit her soul. Then the bridge rocked, followed by a thump. Chelsea looked confused, then scared, and Jennifer’s heart broke all over again.
“Chelsea!” She screamed, and ran as fast as she could toward her daughter. She was still running when her eardrums shattered, and the world went white.
Niagara River, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, night
Sarah jumped when the explosion shook the ground. The white flash lit up the night like lightening, and the sound of crumbling cement, screaming metal, and heavy splashes would haunt her dreams forever. She stared at the destruction and wept. She felt dirty, and responsible, and she prayed that her husband had somehow lived. She would find out in a week. She pulled the thumb drive from the laptop, then threw the computer into the river. She ran through the trees away from the river to find a road.
Niagara River, Niagara Falls, New York – Sunday, night
Anne pulled herself out of the cold water and gasped for breath. Her hands were bleeding from the death grip she had on the stones that kept her from getting pulled into the river’s current. She looked behind her at the blazing destruction of the international bridge.
“Anne? You ok?” Nate’s voice rang into the screaming night.
“Yeah, I think so,” she said. When they had leapt over the large boulders, Nate had pushed them into the water with a hissed order to hold on to something. She had barely managed when the air turned into fire. She’d been glad for the cold water when hot bits started pelting them from above. It was a miracle she was alive, with only a few scrapes.
They both heard splashes down river. Nate rushed out of his spot and ran to help Jason ashore. Anne pulled herself out of the river a little more slowly. They had nothing, and could not even trust any of the emergency personnel who would be rushing to secure the area.
“I think we better go,” she said. At least walking might raise her body heat enough to dry her clothes. Eventually. They were her only clothes, now.
Venada, Sonoro, Mexico – Saturday, sunset
“Gracias,” Nate said as he dropped to the ground from the back of the pick-up truck. He raised a hand to help Anne down. She ignored him. Jason climbed out behind her and the truck they had hitched a ride on rumbled away.
“We need to find the beach,” Jason said. They followed the smell of salty air, and the soft murmur of crashing waves. Soon enough the ocean opened before them, orange light gilding the watery expanse a lustrous copper.
“That’s beautiful,” Anne said. “I’m hungry.” The men exchanged a look that made her want to smack them. They should try hitchhiking across country without a dime, while pregnant, and see how hungry they got! Of course, they might understand her hunger better if she told them she was pregnant, but she had not.
“There is a cantina where we are going. We just need to find it,” Jason said.
“Which direction do we go?” Nate asked, looking up and down the beach.
“Um, I’m not sure,” Jason hesitated.
“If you don’t get me some food soon,” Anne threatened, “someone is catching and cooking me a crab!”
They laughed as if they didn’t believe her. Jason started walking along the beach, the water on his right. Anne wondered how many little crabs would make a good meal. Too many, probably. Her stomach rumbled. Hopefully Sarah had made it here, and had food. Money would be good, too, but food would be better.
Suddenly the feel and smell of her own grime was intolerable. She angled her walk toward the water and found it surprisingly warm. Encouraged, she waded deeper. The men kept walking, discussing their destination. With a small smile, Anne reveled in her tiny moment of privacy and dunked her head underwater. She scrubbed her itching scalp vigorously, praying she had no lice. Her clothes were ragged and filthy, but they were all she had, so she tried to rub off as much dirt as possible. She stood, taking a deep breath.
“Anne!” Nate yelled a bit nervously, looking up and down the beach.
“What?” she said, exasperated.
His head jerked toward her in the water. “Oh,” he said lamely. “Tell a guy the next time you are going to disappear underwater, ok?”
Anne felt petulant but she nodded. Really, she owed her life to this man, and it was because the three of them had looked out for each other that they had made it this far. She was grateful. She was also dead to the world she had known, supposedly having died in that bridge explosion. It grieved her that she would never see her friends again. Her parents were gone, so at least she wasn’t losing that, like Nate had. They knew that if the Race ever discovered them alive, they would not stay that way long. Then again most of her friends were Philip’s friends. At least she never had to see him again, now that he thought she was dead, too. He had not wasted any time announcing her memorial service on the internet.
“If there is a cantina, I didn’t want to smell like I belong in the outhouse, even if I look like it,” Anne protested. “The two of you could use some cleaning up,” she added.
The three of them tried to get their bodies as clean as possible in the warm waves of the Mexican sunset.
Rosa’s Cantina, Venada, Sonoro, Mexico – Saturday, night
Sarah sipped a tropical drink with a colorful umbrella whose name she could not pronounce. The sun had set in glory, as it had the past two nights since she arrived. She sat in the cantina, excited and worried. She prayed every day that Jason had survived the explosion. Nate and Anne had been declared dead. Sarah knew the Race would make sure all the racers were declared dead in that explosion. Better to not have any lose ends, after all. Loose ends like Sarah. She hoped she had covered her tracks well enough.
The door opened and a trio of vagrants entered the cantina. The bar tender started protesting, and moved out from behind the bar. Anne heard a snippet of voice, and stood straight up, looking at the vagrants intently. She barely recognized her own husband. She slipped a fifty dollar bill, American, into her palm and hurried to the bartender.
“It’s ok,” she urged, “I know them, I’ve been waiting for them.” She grabbed his hand, shaking it eagerly, palming him the bribe. She’d been tipping well since she got here, so he didn’t even blink and nodded acceptance.
“Oh my god, Jason!” She crushed her husband into a tight embrace, tears streaming down her eyes. She had not seen him since he supposedly died in the race five years ago. He was wet, and her clothes got damp.
“Do you have any food?” Anne asked. Sarah laughed at the starved look in Anne’s eyes.
“Yes, of course!” she said, leading them to her table. Anne did not hesitate before she started devouring Sarah’s half-eaten dinner. All three of them stared at her.
“We haven’t eaten much,” Nate apologized. Anne kicked him under the table.
“You survived. You all survived!” Sarah breathed. She clung to Jason’s hand, pressing her entire side against his as they sat at the table. He kept staring at her, memorizing her face. She could barely look at him, instead she held his hand, vowing she would never let go. “You’ve been declared dead,” she said to Nate and Anne.
“We know. We checked out the internet a couple times on our way here,” Nate explained.
Sarah pulled a few pieces of paper from out of her purse and handed one to Anne, and one to Nate. Anne had finished Sarah’s food and was downing the fruity beverage. She took the small paper and slurped the rest of the drink as she read the long series of numbers and letters.
“Bank account,” Sarah explained. “It’s all yours.”
“How did you get this money?” Nate asked warily.
“I stole it from the operations budget,” she whispered.
“They are going to kill you for that,” Jason gripped her hand so tight her bones ground together.
“It was on my bosses’ computer, with her passwords. I framed her for it,” Sarah said calmly. At the horrified expressions on her companions faces she added, “She’s the one who told me you were dead. She’s the one who recruited me to work for the Race. I had no idea what they were really doing until you turned up alive, and I dug deeper into restricted files. She’s the one who executed the orders to blow up hundreds of people on that bridge! As far as I’m concerned, she deserves what’s coming to her. I just decided we deserved a little by way of damages, seeing as how we all have to live in the wind, now.”
Jason put his arm around her. “We are together, now, baby. That’s all that matters.” She nodded, tears stinging her eyes.
“How much is in the account?” Nate asked, fingering his slip of paper.
“Five million,” Sarah said softly.
“And my share of that?” he asked, nodding.
“That is your share, five million,” she corrected him. “And five million in Anne’s. Ten million in ours.”
“You stole twenty million dollars?” Jason gaped.
Sarah shook her head, “My boss stole twenty million dollars. That’s what was in the operations budget. There was more in a few other accounts, but I didn’t think I needed to be greedy.”
“Why share with us?” Nate asked. “You could keep it all to yourself.”
Sarah shook her head. “You brought Jason back to me. I owe you for that. Besides, I’ve seen what too much money can do to people.”
“Wow, thanks,” Nate said. He looked stunned. Anne just stared at her with wide eyes, her hands over her stomach. “I wish they hadn’t gotten away with it all, though.”
Sarah smiled, feeling triumphant. She placed her thumb drive on the table. “I’ve got it all right here. Everything that was on my bosses’ computer.”
“The sponsors?” Nate asked.
“Maybe, I’m not sure, it’s encrypted.”
“What are you going to do with it,” he asked her.
“I hadn’t decided. I thought we’d decide together when I saw you.” She leaned into her husband, grateful to share the burden.
“Oh my god,” Anne said to herself, looking down at her hands, “we are going to be ok!”
Sarah frowned at the woman. “Anne, are you pregnant?” she asked.
Anne laughed, “Why yes, yes I am!” Nate looked gobsmacked and Jason just looked confused.
“How about we order some more food, then?” Sarah grinned.