Several things happened simultaneously. Kenz screamed. A large bore pistol appeared in her hand as if my magic, pointed straight at my head. An insanely loud shrieking, warbling noise blared outside the car, and in barely more than a heartbeat I engaged the thrusters of the propulsion system hidden under the car. It operated independently of the engine, and before Bradbury could react, she was flattened against her seat, gun flying in the sudden G forces.
I yanked hard on the steering controls while pressing buttons to deploy the stubby wings that gave my car stability in flight. I never actually said that my car no longer functioned as a flyer even if I did strongly imply it by driving away from the park instead of taking to the sky. I heard a moan from the passenger side but my attention was directed to not flying into any trees and getting as far away from the area as possible as quickly as possible. As for what would happen when Bradbury recovered, well, that would be up to her. My stomach was in knots.
I was on my own. When I took on the assignment, I had agreed that I would not seek help from the others in case it went wrong. If I could not handle it, I would die. Bradbury was stirring, rapidly recovering from the sudden acceleration, and I wondered what she would do. She still had the gun and it looked big and deadly. I popped the fake panel of the dash board revealing the control system. My fingers busied themselves laying in a course.
Bradbury sat up straight, “What the hell just happened?” she demanded. Her eyes went wide at the sight of the ground far below and she turned pale, then she skewered me with a scalding gaze. “You lied,” she declared. It wasn’t a question.
“Well, I don’t think it would do you any good to shoot me now, we are a couple of thousand feet up and climbing.” I cut my eyes to her, but she seemed to have come to the same conclusion. The weapon was lying in her lap. “I don’t know how they followed me, but it appeared that some of your friends showed up.” I engaged the auto pilot with instructions to follow the program I laid in.
“You lied about your car,” she reiterated, “what else have you lied about?”
I snorted, “Oh, just a couple of things. Who I am. Where I live. Nothing big. Oh, by the way, I don’t have a granddaughter.”
Silence reigned, then Bradbury finally began to chuckle, then laugh out loud. “I suppose that would be reasonable to expect.”
I nodded, “Quite reasonable indeed. At first it was purely to keep from being tracked. I figured that someone with The Library would have to know if I had more banned books. After you made contact with me, I had no way of knowing if you were sincerely looking for information or not.” I cast a meaningful glance at her weapon. She had not moved to touch it, but now reached down and picked it up.
“I agree. You had no way of knowing what I wanted from you.” She blushed. “Librarians do have a reputation.” She looked at the gun and then up at my eyes. I saw sincerity and a little sadness. She held it out to me, grip first. I was stunned. Before I could speak, she continued, “I always go about armed for many reasons. One is that a lone woman is not safe. Another is that I was partly expecting exactly what happened to occur.”
I raised an eyebrow, “You expected me to be trailed?”
Kenz shook her head. “Not you. Me.” My mouth fell open and she laughed, not a small, dainty chuckle or a silly giggle. She threw her head back and roared until I was too confused to speak. She finally wound down and wiped her eyes. “I got a new secretary a few months back and I think she is a plant. Ever since the night I let you escape, she has been acting more and more strangely. I know she has been monitoring my communications.”
“So?” I asked.
“And I recognized her back there. She was the one on your side of the car. Now I know she was a plant because she was wearing the full Enforcement Division uniform. Librarians 1st Class, such as I am have enforcement privileges, but ED is made up of the true professionals.” Kenz looked at me hard, “She wasn’t aiming at you, she had her weapon trained on me. By the way, they are probably trailing us now.”
I shook my head and grinned, “Nope, no one is following. This car is one of the new technologies I told you about. Besides, I know about ED and their vehicles. They are better than the rest of the things on the road, but they are still far behind what this one can do.” As I had been conversing with Bradbury, I was also watching the monitors. The radar screen on my dash showed clear.
I circled the hills around my home and saw no one around. Even the radar blips were gone, so I landed. As soon as my wheels touched down, my garage door opened at the side of the hill. Kenz gasped. Rocks, grass, even some shrubs lifted as the door gaped wide in the ground. I nosed my car down into the dark cavern. Small green lights glowing in the dimness informed me that my security had not been breached. I smiled over at Bradbury. “Welcome to my home.”
Kenz grinned at me and reached for the door handle. She looked nervous but determined.
We stepped out into hell.
Shadows poured down the driveway and into the garage. Something large collided with me and I was driven to the concrete floor. I heard Kenz scream, but it was cut off abruptly. At the same time I heard a thud as she also hit the floor. I tried to yell, but could not breathe; something heavy had landed on my back. In seconds, my hands were yanked behind me and secured tightly Kenz continued to scream until someone struck her. I heard the sound of a solid object striking her head. She fell silent and my stomach fell. Rough hands grasped my ankles and started dragging me back up the driveway and into the light. I could see that Kenz was being dragged by another shadowy form.
I twisted around and tried to get a look at our attackers, but the setting sun was behind them. All I could see was dark shapes. “If you have hurt her, you had better kill me. I will come after you.” I hoped I sounded more confident than I felt.
“Shut up, old man,” a voice growled. “Considering how much trouble you are in, I can’t imagine you surviving any longer than it takes for us to learn everything you know. You will tell us about your associates.”
Bradbury and I were dragged into the light and dumped as four men surrounded us, weapons drawn. I sat up and looked at Kenz. She was conscious, but barely. A trickle of blood seeped down the side of her face. I wanted to howl. I barely knew her, but she was my responsibility. I got her into this. I just wished that I was a real hero so I could turn the tables and get us out of this jam. Unfortunately, I’m not. They would break me, and it probably wouldn’t take very long. I was just glad there were very few people I could actually betray. The Shadow Web was careful.
Two ED cars were parked on either side of the driveway. I wished I knew how they had tracked me. They must have capabilities we had not anticipated. As I waited, my hands going numb from the heavy plastic bindings, another car landed. A woman got out and approached. She was petite and had shoulder length hair, but I could not see her face. She drew her weapon as she approached. The four ED thugs immediately deferred to her. One spoke, “We have them secured, Ms. Hernandez. What do you want us to do now?
Hernandez raised her weapon and shot him full in the chest. He fell, twitching on the ground as she then turned the gun on the others and fired three more times. My mouth fell open. What? By now I could see that her uniform was also ED, and her insignia showed a high rank. Why had she killed her own men?
Hernandez ignored me. She quickly knelt beside Kenz, who was rousing. The small woman cradled Bradbury’s head in her arms and smoothed her hair, “Oh Ms. Bradbury, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Kenz’s eyes were wide, her brow furrowed. “What? Kristen? What are you doing here?” she pulled away from Hernandez, “Wait, you’re ED? I suspected as much, but why did you just shoot your people?”
Hernandez grinned, “Yep, boss, I’ve been ED for a long time.” She looked over at me, “And I’m also Shadow Web.”
I must have had a really stupid look on my face because she went on as she rose and cut Kenz’s bonds and then mine, “Mr. Smith, I presume? I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time. You are a hero in the Shadow Web. No one else was willing to put themselves on the line to get the codes to the network the schools use. I have been working for the Library for years and haven’t gotten them. We needed someone like Bradbury here on our side. Well done.”
Bradbury looked around, still in shock over what had happened, “Well, you will have those codes before nightfall. I’m in. All the way in.” Her face sobered, “But what about them?” She pointed at the four corpses.
Hernandez looked grim, “They will be disposed of. Sky cars crash all the time. Meanwhile, we have the opportunity to study them. It will take some creativity, but the official story will be of a terrible accident. Unfortunate, but it happens.”
I finally recovered my wits enough to approach Kenz, “I’m sorry I got you into this, Ms. Bradbury, but now that you are committed, please let me officially welcome you to the Shadow Web.”
She hugged me tight, “My name is Kenz, you idiot, and I need a drink. And a friend.”
I returned her embrace warmly, as Hernandez set about cleaning up the mess.
Inside, I poured two glasses of brandy and raised mine to her with a chuckle. "It might be corny, but 'Kenz, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.'"