Prague, Old Town
Four stories above the street, Prague’s ocean of rooftops raced by in a blur as Jules Sibeko sprinted over one snow-dusted eave and rode the wave to its neighbor. While the last of his tracking beacons adhered to the roads at a predictable speed-limit-minus-two-miles-per-hour—the rate at which Jules had rehearsed every likely route—he kept one eye on his phone and one on the next obstacle. The real-world exercise proved more difficult than any dry run, though. He hadn’t expected snow, either; a rare sight in April.
So he adapted. His rubber-soled feet planted more firmly, sought out nooks and crannies protected from the weather, and although it shaved between five and seven percent off his speed, he was still able to traverse the skyscape in pursuit of the thieves. In these moments, whatever the conditions, all that mattered was one foot after the other, timing his jumps so his fingers gripped the lip of the next vent, wall, or recess just so, and to progress smoothly and silently.
It was the closest he ever came to flying.
Even the air gave little resistance as he leaped a sixteen-foot gap to the adjacent building. He barely felt the cold rushing by except through his ski mask’s eyeholes. His midnight-blue bodysuit, a smooth cotton-Lycra blend, custom-made in China, clung to him over thermals and with his backpack coated in the same light-absorbing material it offered better camouflage in the city’s shadows than the matt-black outfits he’d worn in the past. Sure, he resembled a cosplay enthusiast fallen on hard times, but the getup worked for him.
He glided over a ridge of terracotta like a tightrope walker, thankful for the clouds overhead; little danger of his silhouette betraying his position. Toward the edge, he sped up, preparing for the twelve-foot jump to a balcony. As fast as he dared, his foot gripped the peak’s edge, knee bent, and he threw his bodyweight forward.
This time, in addition to propelling himself over the distance, he dropped four feet before landing on the wooden balustrade, only four inches wide, where he slipped on the snow. Momentum pushed him onward faster than predicted. But he spun in mid-air, kicked his legs over his head, and planted both feet firmly on the balcony.
Fluidly resuming his forward motion, he scaled the penthouse skylight at half-speed.
Back clear of tweaks.
Knees bending, straightening; no pain.
Neck retains full motion.
Conclusion: no injuries from the mishap.
At full pace, executing an even riskier shortcut over a series of plush apartment buildings, a casual witness might mistake Jules for a thrill-seeking free runner. But this was no pastime. His years of training with parkour masters, of honing his body and learning every trick of every trade he might need, it could all be about to pay off tonight. That he could, in a couple of days, be kicking back and consuming pizza for the first time since his fourteenth birthday, trying beer for the first time, and perhaps even a melt-in-the-middle chocolate pudding with cream, it caused his mouth to moisten and he lost another three seconds in time.
The tracking beacon halted at a street Jules scouted two days ago, an alleyway housing a fried chicken takeaway and a bookmaker, plus some clothes boutique. From his rooftop perch, he couldn’t quite see beyond the shadows at the back-end of the narrow passage, so he side-stepped to the foot-wide slab running along the bookmaker’s angled roof. Lying flat, the snow crunched beneath his weight and melted into a freezing slush. He peeked over using a rifle scope.
A two-year-old Range Rover, black of course—do these guys ever drive anything else?—ticked over in the chill night. Most tourists were now indoors. Even the drunks. And those snug within the 4x4 showed no hurry to leave.
As if assessing their position.
As if scanning for a tail.
People such as these rarely looked up, though. If they did they might spot Jules, contrasted heavily against the snow, but he was just another vague shape atop a roof in a world of CCTV, covert surveillance teams, and drones. No way would they be looking for Jules four stories above their heads.
The passenger door opened and out stepped a buff Caucasian dude: a dark suit with no tie, blond hair with a neat, trimmed beard. His breath misted as he scouted the scene, pretending to check his watch. The gun under his armpit flashed for less than a second, but Jules recognized the butt of a Sig-Sauer P229. When the guy walked, he favored his right foot by a ratio of less than an inch, indicating a backup piece on the ankle. Barely noticeable, but it was there.
This was no amateur.
The man nodded to the Range Rover and a slender woman with copper hair shining brightly under the fluorescent lights climbed into the street carrying a metallic briefcase and wearing an emerald green trench coat. Head down, age indeterminable, Jules assumed she was Lori, the name he picked up during his recent low-tech surveillance of potential antiquities middlemen.
Emerald green coat.
That’s a bold look.
Shame Jules was about to ruin her day.
He lowered his scope and returned it to his pack.
As the Range Rover departed, the woman marched into the alleyway, and the blond man closed in four feet behind while her free hand remained in her pocket.
From his backpack, Jules removed an extendible baton, currently retracted into a twelve-inch tube, and a three-pronged grappling hook attached to a bungee cord. He slipped the baton into the loop on his belt next to three throwing knives, on the side opposite to a half-dozen dime-sized smoke bombs that made his fourteen-year-old self squeal with delight at the ninja-type equipment. His twenty-three-year-old current self concentrated on the serious business of now.
And there was no squealing. Of delight or otherwise.
After stashing his pack, Jules wedged the grappling hook between two steel rails atop the fire escape, fed out the correct amount of elasticated rope for this height, wound the slack around his hand, and noiselessly positioned himself above the alley, calculating his targets’ pace. As soon as the red-haired woman passed under him, with the bodyguard maintaining his four-foot distance, Jules dropped.
Again, his fourteen-year-old self called from the past to highlight how thrilling this should be, but all that entered modern Jules’s mind was how the cord should slow his descent from one-point-two-five seconds to a full three, depositing him approximately four feet behind the man with the Sig.
Within one second, he was plummeting at ten meters per second. Half a second later, the bungee cord pulled tight around his hand, slowing him to five m/s, and as he neared the ground, it dragged his speed back in fractional increments, until he halted smoothly, touching down with only the tiniest scuff, closer to three feet from the target than his intended four. And that slight break in the silence, his disturbance of the air, was enough to alert the bodyguard.
The Sig appeared in the man’s hand as he spun, safety flicking off in one expert action. Jules let go of the cord, flicking it forward, causing it to behave like a whip. The end snapped in the minder’s face. He winced. The distraction was enough for Jules to fling the baton out of its loop and into the guy’s wrist, releasing the gun. Before it hit the floor, Jules caught the firearm, rolled aside, and aimed at his opponent’s right ankle. Unsure which side the backup piece lay, he fired both outside and inside the limb, striking the gun on the second guess—inside.
As the bodyguard fell, clutching his lower leg and checking for damage, Jules sprinted after the woman who had already taken flight. He caught up with her beside the bookmaker’s, the raised Sig-Sauer enough to halt her in her tracks.
“Hey,” Jules said. “Look at that. You lose.”
She glanced at the man on the ground before fixing Jules with widening green eyes. Younger than Jules expected, between twenty-five and twenty-seven, a couple of years older than himself. Her skin looked pale, red cheeks extenuating the light shade; an English rose in appearance. But when she spoke, she was pure southern-belle; Alabama if Jules wasn’t mistaken.
She held up the case. “Take it. Please. Just don’t hurt me.”
Her bodyguard found his feet, pointing the backup firearm from his ankle holster—a small Walther. “Put it down and back off!” Another American, his accent blander, probably west coast, practically the polar opposite of Jules’s Brooklyn tone.
Jules grinned beneath his mask. “That’s a risky move, friend.”
“Not your friend. And since you went for my leg instead of putting one in my head, I’m guessing you don’t wanna kill anyone here. But I have orders, and I’m not so picky.”
“Army guy, huh? Ex, I’m guessin’. But you can’t shoot me.”
“You won’t be the first to be wrong about that.”
The red-haired woman slowly retracted the case, eyes roving, lips stiff. This wasn’t her regular field of work.
“I don’t mean you’re afraid to kill me,” Jules said. “I mean … aw heck, I’ll demonstrate.”
He swung the gun toward the muscle head. The guy pulled his trigger once, twice, clicking dry both times.
“I wasn’t aimin’ for your leg,” Jules said. “I was takin’ out your backup piece.”
The bodyguard tossed the Walther hard at the wall and advanced, but Jules side-stepped behind the girl and firmed his grip on the Sig, stopping her would-be savior.
Jules returned his attention to the redhead. “Okay. Lori, right? Let’s have it.”
She presented the case in a shaking hand. “I’m not Lori.”
“I don’t want the decoy, hon.”
“Decoy?” Not-Lori took a single step back, a minuscule shake of her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”
With his free hand, Jules ruffled her sleeves, then yanked them up all the way to reveal two bare arms. He retreated from her and focused on the man instead.
“Clever,” Jules said. “Hand it over.”
“I thought they’d send more men,” the minder replied.
“Where is it?”
“Where is what? This?”
The man tugged up his left sleeve to expose—pinched tight on his forearm—the item Jules had pursued across the globe for nine long years: a bracelet made of stone, infused with metallic green flecks, spanning a circumference broken only by a half-inch gap, forming a tight letter C. That gap made it technically a bangle, not a bracelet, but Jules didn’t care about the distinction. He concerned himself with one, solitary factor.
Jules released the Sig’s magazine and popped the chambered round, tossed the gun up onto a second-floor fire escape, and charged at the bodyguard. He pulled up short of a bull-like attack, calming himself in time to prevent what was obviously a well-trained individual from countering early. The man had no such qualms.
He jabbed at Jules’s throat. Jules twisted away and simultaneously shoved the bodyguard off balance, then kicked the guy’s standing foot, dropping him on his backside.
The ex-military man rolled aside and drew a knife from behind his gun holster.
“What is it with you people?” the man asked.
“Me people?” Jules said.
“These objects aren’t supposed to be collected like trinkets.”
“I don’t know who you think I’m with, friend. I just want what belongs to me.”
The man harboring Jules’s property relaxed momentarily. “You’re not with Valerio Conchin?”
Jules palmed one of the mini flashbangs from his belt. “I don’t know who that is.”
With a flick of his thumb, he set the smoke bomb to its shortest fuse, and threw it forward. The flash of light and eruption of potassium chlorate made the guy jerk back, drop his knife, and hold his eyes. To his credit, he didn’t scream.
And with the redhead frozen in his peripheral vision, Jules moved in hard: a flat hand to the man’s throat and a heel through his jaw sent the muscle head tumbling, allowing Jules time to grip the bracelet and straighten the man’s arm, locking it in place at the joint. He tugged and twisted, levered the bangle as low as the wrist, but it was stuck there.
“You won’t get it off,” the woman said, taking a single trembling step forward.
Jules maneuvered the arm around and forced his foot into the man’s shoulder blade, so its owner lay face down.
“We had to use a whole load a’ cooking oil just to get it on there,” the woman insisted. “And it hurt like hell.”
Jules strained, pulling up skin, causing the man on the ground to gasp in pain. “I won’t lose it now. Not when I’m so close.”
“Please,” she said. “It belongs somewhere safe. You say you’re not with Valerio, then trust us.”
Jules twisted the object. “I’m taking it with me.”
“No. Please try to understand. If Valerio wants the Aradia bangle, we have to secure it.”
Jules slackened his grip on the stone jewelry, but held his subject firm underfoot. “What did you call it?”
She frowned. Took one step forward. “The Aradia bangle. You own it, but you don’t know what it’s called?”
A hundred questions flew through his mind. Yes, he wanted it back, but that was all he knew. And he would never let it go again. It was his before, and was now his again.
Or, more precisely, “It was my mom’s.”
As the woman’s frown deepened at his words, Jules rolled the ski mask up over his mouth, and spat on the man’s wrist, mashing the stone bangle into the saliva. The man cried out more than before as Jules wrenched at it with all his strength. The movement drew a line of blood, but that aided the slick surface. Jules spat again and, for just a second, the ornament appeared to glow, its flecks of green catching the streetlight.
And then it popped free.
Jules released the man’s arm and skipped away, holding the item that had consumed the whole of his adulthood.
The whole of his adulthood so far, he reminded himself. He had plenty of life ahead of him.
The woman checked on her minder, who sat upright against the wall beneath the door light of the fried chicken place, cradling his damaged wrist. Both glared at Jules.
“Sorry, but the bracelet’s mine,” Jules said, and turned to find himself face-to-face with a third person.
“My sentiments exactly,” the man replied in a deep-throated Australian accent.
The newcomer stood at least six-eight, almost a foot taller than Jules and twice as wide, most of it muscle. Dark-haired, he possessed a jaw the shape of a shovel. Ten local cops moved into place behind him.
“Now hand over the Aradia bangle, and Mr. Conchin promises no one else’ll get hurt.”
Jules stepped back and gazed up at the shaved mountain gorilla. “Hand over the what now?”
“The trinket.” The new man pointed at the object in Jules’s possession. “Hand it over, and you won’t be hurt.”
Jules flicked and detonated two smoke bombs in quick succession. The man merely flinched and grunted. But the flinch was enough for Jules to duck out of the way and sprint back past the bookmaker’s.
Cops had rarely been a problem in the past, especially in developed countries, so bound up in procedure and protocol. In Britain, he even escaped capture once by climbing a construction site scaffold. He later learned they gave up the pursuit in case he harmed himself in fleeing. It was one reason he trained so hard at scaling buildings as quickly as possible.
As Jules leapt and gripped the first fire escape, ten cops streamed past the big guy, ignored the two people Jules robbed, and headed straight for him.
Despite being dressed as local cops, at least one should have tended to the injured man. Also, Prague cops typically carried the short recoil CZ-75s pistol, or if they were feeling adventurous, an H&K MP7 submachine-gun for major ops. These guys wielded a mishmash of weaponry, including Uzis and AK-47s. Jules couldn’t pinpoint the exact makes as he was too busy smashing a second-floor window by the time they opened fire.
Jules dived through the jagged pane ahead of the slugs impacting the surrounding wall, rolled to his feet, but did not stop to apologize to the elderly man and woman who sat bolt upright in their bed, instead pushing on through the door and out the small apartment’s exit. The home lay above the clothes boutique, so Jules sprinted up the first staircase he came to, reasoning it must eventually come out on the roof.
On the floors below, doors crashed in, voices rose, orders issued, and boots thundered on stairs.
At the top, the fourth floor, Jules found the door locked tight. Chained, in fact.
Some fire exit.
He descended to three and kicked out a window, exposing himself to the alley below. As soon as he slipped out, the enormous man shouted in Czech to open fire.
“You want this real bad, huh?” Jules pushed his arm through the bangle and shimmied to the fire escape’s wrought iron rail, hopped the couple of feet to the adjoining building, and gripped the drainpipe with both his hands and knees. He monkey-climbed for three seconds, the time he estimated it would take an average ex-soldier using a black-market machine-gun to draw a bead on him, then pushed away from the wall before the bullets rained in.
While the gunmen repositioned below, he snagged the lip of the roof, heaving himself up to where he’d left his backpack. The next building was connected to this one, so no sooner had he retrieved his grappling hook and snatched up his bag than the fake cops had shot out the chain barring the exit and poured out.
Using the building’s air conditioning units as cover, careful on the snow underfoot, Jules evaded yet more bullets and raced toward the edge, a huge chasm between this roof and the nearest safe haven. In a flat-out sprint, he ran the numbers:
Thirty-two feet, possibly thirty-two-point-five.
The world record long jump is an inch or so shy of twenty-nine-point-five-feet.
My record is twenty-five-point-seven feet.
The approaching lip is two feet lower than the current one.
To reach it, after the apex of my leap, I would drop at five meters per second, which is fifteen feet…
Even at optimum reach, I’m one-point-five feet short.
And no fire escape to land on below; the building is sheer.
The entire risk assessment took no longer than two seconds, so instead of leaping to his probable death, Jules absorbed the spike of fear in his gut, controlled his breathing, and swerved left. As soon as the operatives posing as cops rounded the air-con units, the lead men opened fire again.
It left Jules little choice.
Rather than taking the direct route over adjacent blocks, he darted right again to where more vents grew from the rooftop. The spacing and zigzag design provided no solid cover, but gave no clear line of sight; they would have to get very lucky to wing him even.
He planned tonight this way particularly because most parts the city featured wide boulevards dotted with alleys and delivery access, the buildings mostly close together, so he could compensate for the wider streets too. And that’s where he threw himself next: out, into the void of the night, four stories above a road fifty feet wide.
Jules swung his grappling hook, snagged a thick telephone cable spanning the street, and let himself drop. The metal claws slid forward with his momentum and the frozen moisture.
The slippery sensation of being out of control for several seconds felt alien throughout his nerves, but the elasticated cord stretched as it fought with gravity to stop him hurtling into the asphalt at inhuman speed. It reached its limit with Jules still twice his own height off the ground, but he’d decelerated to a virtual stop. He let go, and the cord snapped upward like a band flicked from a thumb.
With the swing carrying him forward, he performed a mid-air backflip to slow himself, landed on both feet, and rolled behind a parked car.
Another bungee cord lost.
Gunfire erupted from the roof, peppering the vehicle, but Jules was already assessing his body again.
Slightly jarred knee.
Ankle took more impact than intended.
A ten-to-fifteen percent decrease in efficiency.
“I can live with that.”
He kept low, using the cars as cover, until he located an alley. As the men at ground level emerged to give chase, he ducked out of sight.
The fence at the end was no problem, which he gate-hopped, and then tuned-in to his mental map of the central city blocks.
Sticking to the melted snow puddled on the asphalt and paving slabs where he could—less of a trail that way—he turned left then right, not looking behind him at all. He only slowed momentarily to check his mom’s bracelet was still secure.
The Aradia bangle as they called it.
Hiking into one of the Old Town’s squares dotted with tourists catching a few final drinks under the outdoor heaters of overpriced bars, Jules peeled off his mask and reduced his speed to a brisk amble. Snow flurries dusted across the terracotta tiled roofs of a church Jules estimated at around 14th Century, unsure of the clock tower opposite, but then he never researched more than he needed, no matter how intriguing a place’s history.
Extra facts clouded his mind, but the snow on the medieval buildings reminded him of a fairytale book. Not a specific one, just the fantastical feeling of a childhood story revisited.
He disengaged one arm from his backpack to appear more casual and ripped the Velcro strap from his chest that released his torso from the blue overalls, leaving a maroon Breaking Bad shirt on view and the gloves in place as he figured he could use them. He dropped the bracelet into his pack and tied the overalls’ arms around his waist so he fitted in with the other holidaymakers returning to hotels after skinfuls of beer.
Jules had played the fish-out-of-water African American student plenty of times before, though, so this wasn’t difficult to pull off.
He only needed the cover for three minutes anyway, as he made his way to the backyard of a disused restaurant, shut down for refurbishments before the foreign trade really picked up in May and June. The tarp came away from the stashed Suzuki GW250 with ease.
Jules donned the pre-prepared crash helmet and leather jacket and swapped his tactile gloves for thicker, more appropriate ones. He fired up the motorcycle and eased it into the square, drawing attention from various groups of exhausted revelers as he rumbled by.
Once clear of the tourist hotspot he gunned the engine and sped up to thirty-eight miles per hour—yeah, two below the limit—and pointed his nose north. The streets sped by, and Jules thought about the toppings he would soon choose, and where to make his purchase.
Backgammon Pizza was the only real option. A small chain when he was a kid, now a global conglomerate to rival Pizza Hut and Dominos. It was where his parents took him for his fourteenth birthday, restaurant pizza being a true luxury in the Sibeko household. Although he had no clue what to order back then, he did so anyway, relishing the independence, the opportunity to choose as he wished outside the supermarket frozen goods aisle: pepperoni, red onions, and tuna. The waitress pulled a face, but accepted the request along with his parents’ more traditional options.
None of them managed to eat their pizza that night though. And Jules had abstained from junk food ever since.
He turned a corner, ready to accelerate up the approach ramp to the freeway out of town—or “motorway” as they called them here—but found it blocked.
Two of those black, bad-boy Range Rovers stood nose-to-nose, and an old military-style jeep lingered beyond them, manned by two fake cops.
They guessed my escape route.
No—probably more on the other passages out of town too.
Cop uniforms, bold enough to fire automatic weapons in public, able to block roads…
Who are these guys?
Jules screeched to a halt and spun the bike, rear wheel smoking and screaming, and tore away from the roadblock. It broke up, and the 4x4s sped toward him.
The Suzuki was no slouch, but here, on a wide road designed to accommodate eighteen-wheelers, it gave him little advantage against the brute force of these vehicles. If he could make it to the smaller arteries returning to the city, he could lose them thanks to the bike’s superior maneuverability.
The two Range Rovers’ raw horsepower brought them level and raced either side of him. He prepared to brake and branch off, but they were ready, with the pair closing in from either side and the jeep bringing up the rear.
A limo pulled up a hundred yards ahead, lengthways across the street.
Boxing him in.
Jules opened up the throttle and shifted through the gears for maximum torque.
The limo’s rear door opened and the giant from the alleyway unfolded himself to stand tall in the road, before hustling out the redhead in the green coat. He placed a handgun at her temple.
Jules had no idea who the girl was. Not-Lori. But she sure wasn’t with the men chasing him. If he got away, they had no reason to harm her, but he’d seen people murdered before, for less than such objects as the one he recovered tonight. And these guys were trying to kill him for his mom’s bracelet, after all. Something Not-Lori had been in possession of until recently.
Maybe they’d blame her.
Jules reduced speed. The Range Rovers matched him, guiding him rather than pursuing, dropping back until he skidded to a stop six feet from the huge guy and his hostage.
The bike chugged idle.
A second man climbed out of the limo. Early thirties, thick blond hair and a tan suit. Tailored by the looks of it. The man’s skin appeared sallow and yellow, so Jules figured the latest arrival suffered a form of liver disease.
“Hey.” Jules flipped up his visor. “You in charge?”
“You seem clever.” The yellow man wandered around the side of the limo, hands in his trouser pockets which rode his jacket up so it crinkled at the hem. “Which is great! Clever people tend know what I’m after. Then, after some utterly pointless macho posturing, they give it to me.”
Jules couldn’t place the accent, almost British, but not quite. He said, “I got ten other items like the bracelet. Nicer. Older. More valuable. I’ll hand ’em over at a place of your choosin’. But you can’t have this.”
“See? Posturing. Pointless posturing. How sad. I thought you’d be different.” The yellow man signaled to his guy. “Horse, shoot the girl in her pretty little knee, see if that loosens up our pal here.”
Horse? Was that the Australian hulk’s name?
“Wait.” Jules removed his helmet and his pack, took off his thick riding gloves, and unlatched the backpack’s flap. Opened it. “I swear, I can get you better pieces. Nothin’ special about this. I got a sentimental attachment is all—”
“Do you think we set up all this effort because we want some random artifact? Have you mistaken me for a common grave-robber in this business for the money? No. We want that specific trinket.” The yellow man clicked his fingers. “Now, please.”
The girl stared at Jules, arms rigid by her sides. Her stocking feet extended on tiptoes to ease the pressure applied by … what was his name? Horse? The man’s fingers enveloped her whole neck without throttling her.
Jules reached into the pack and grasped his mom’s bracelet. He could virtually feel it vibrating, urging him to not let it go now they were finally reunited. His shoulder stiffened. An ache in his gut spread to his chest.
He locked eyes with the yellow man. “Please … there’s nothing special about this. I can— ”
“Horse,” the yellow man said.
Horse pointed the gun at the woman’s knee, and Jules averted his gaze as he removed the bracelet from his pack. He could not bear to look at it now. Could not watch someone take it from him the way it had been taken from his mother.
“Nothing special?” the yellow man said curiously.
Jules held still for a long moment until he realized the bracelet wasn’t “virtually” vibrating. It really was humming between his fingers. And when Jules steeled himself enough to turn his head in that direction, the green flecks were lit up, glowing, as they had when he spat on it and removed it from the girl’s minder.
It wasn’t a trick of the light after all.
His heart raced. He struggled to keep his face neutral. The prospect of parting with it now hurt even more.
Just what was my mom into?
“Now that’s interesting,” the yellow man said. “And really quite unexpected. But whatever. Larry.”
One of the cops from a Range Rover came forward with a white cloth sack and held it open. Jules released the bracelet, and it landed in the bag, the lights dying instantly.
“Sir?” Horse flicked his gun toward Jules.
The yellow man took possession of the bag. “Can we sweep the murders of a couple of Americans under the carpet here?”
“Done it before, sir.”
The yellow man sighed. “Fine, do it quickly.”
Horse shoved the girl forward. She stood beside Jules, frozen. The big man’s gun came up.
Jules had already palmed a throwing knife, though, waiting for the girl to get clear. He snapped his hand forward, and the blade launched. It sliced into Horse’s gun-arm, making him drop the weapon. Then Jules deployed two smoke bombs in Horse’s face, and swept the girl up, planted her behind him, and opened up the bike.
While the mercs gathered themselves, Jules dropped the remaining smoke bombs to obscure their escape. Before a single shot came their way, they were around the corner and gone.
With his arm patched up using his field kit, Dan Vincent steered the stolen van through empty streets, following the slow sat-nav function on his phone to the motorway north of the city.
The only clues for what happened after the alleyway came from a drone camera intended to monitor their handover of the Aradia bangle. Unfortunately, since he was not affiliated with any government agency, the “drone” was nothing more than a $300 toy store quadcopter equipped with a 4k camera that streamed via a jerry-rigged smartphone. It followed LORI’s Range Rover on the roads, monitoring fore and aft to check for tails, but it did not possess the range to cover rooftops with the efficiency of a ten-billion-dollar spy satellite.
“Who tails a target by rooftop, anyway?” he asked aloud.
He had no field intel beyond the direction in which the weird vigilante guy fled, and that Valerio Conchin’s men sped with Bridget the same way. When the shooting started, he ushered Bridget aside, but she screamed when a second barrage opened up unexpectedly. They became separated. The drone, controlled from their HQ, stuck with Bridget as long as possible, but it wasn’t up to the task of following a speeding motorcade.
He had told Toby, Bridget wasn’t ready for this, but with Harpal delayed, she was the only decoy on hand.
He slapped the wheel with his good hand. She was his responsibility. Sure, she was a capable kid, gusty and passionate about their work. But he was almost twice her age and ten times more experienced. He should have aborted and risked missing the handover. Verification could wait. Securing the item was the priority, not working out what it did. That was a luxury for Bridget and Toby to enjoy once the danger was over and Dan could drink a beer and pretend to look interested as their faces lit up with the realization that it was far more valuable or “impossible” than they expected.
Everything they recovered lately seemed “impossible.” Until it wasn’t.
This new player, though, he didn’t seem at all shocked when the Aradia bangle lit up. Barely even noticed. Meaning the criminal was intimately familiar with the artifact. And that made him as much a threat as Valerio Conchin.
Dan risked a check on the Uzi he secured from the lone guard Conchin’s ragtag mercs left to watch over him. It had already been fired, so he knew there was no jam, leaving the only variable as the number of bullets. He ejected the clip and weighed it in his hand.
Between five and ten rounds.
Not that it mattered much.
The guy who took the Bangle was fast, and he had skills, even caught Dan off-guard. But Dan was an ex-Army Ranger. He wouldn’t be sucker-punched like that again. And no amount of skill could dodge a bullet. Even if there was only one left, it would be enough.
But Bridget was the priority now. He could not lose focus on that.