Authors: John Farris
"Melanie got a boo-boo," Mia said. She looked at her daughter. "You should see yourself! Can't you get up?"
"Yes, Ma, just give me a sec. I mean it's not the most fun thing that's ever happened to me." She reached out to Eden, who drew back with a sharp intake of breath, as if the kindly gesture had scorched her skin. Behind her the elderly gent who had been hit in the breastbone by the rifleman's second shot was getting to his feet, wheezing and laughing. Eden whipped her head around at the sound of his laughter, whipped it back to Chauncey. Eden's mouth was open as if her jaws had locked.
Some of the cookout guests were casually watching the helicopters that hovered in the sky north of them. Others had gathered around Eden and Chauncey, forming a human barrier between Eden and the sniper.
"Whoever he is, he can shoot," Wick McLain said ruefully. "Hell, I hope this doesn't spoil the party for everyone."
All within earshot assured Wick that they were having a great time.
Chauncey sat up, stretched. Someone handed her a napkin to mop her forehead. She tried to touch Eden again. Eden scrambled back on all fours. The little girl in Mia's arms laughed, spitting cookie crumbs.
"Looks like they're comin' in," one of the chopper watchers observed. "Wonder how many of them there'll be?"
"Does it matter?" The elderly man who had been drilled through the breastbone chuckled as he poked a finger into the hole in his necktie. "Those ribs'll keep, won't they, Wick?"
"But if there's enough of
," Wick said, jerking a thumb in the direction of the helicopters, "nobody's gonna have any appetite left."
Mia gave him a stern look and made a side motion of her head in Eden's direction. Eden was still crouched on the patio floor, eyes jerking around in her head; Eden was already far gone into a limbo of silent hysteria.
"Poor thing," someone said.
"Part of her education. But she doesn't need to see this," Chauncey said, getting to her feet. "Unless she wants to. I can tell she doesn't. Isn't that right, Eden? Better go in the house for a little while. Lie down. You're part of us now. Nobody's going to bother you, ever again. Promise, kiddie."
ake us down! Take us down now!" Robert Hyde shouted to the pilot of Alpha helo. The chopper descended to the headland in tactical attitude, a gut-clenching ride.
"They're taking her into the house!" an observer on Bravo helicopter reported.
"Get over there, over there, sit on the house! Nobody else goes in or out! There are children down there! Use flash bangs, tasers, and pepper spray where necessary! We already have a drag coefficient of two!"
"Sirâ" the sniper in Alpha helo said, "sir, I know I couldn't have missed, but the other girl, the one I hit in the head, I don't believe thisâshe's up on her feet!"
"Drag coefficient of one," Hyde corrected with a tight smile. "And shut the fuck up."
Geoff said in a voice that only a couple of the men and women aboard either helicopter heard on their headsets: "Don't go down there. I'm warning you,
He had one hand cuffed to the frame beneath the seat he was in. For several minutes he had not taken his eyes off his father.
As Alpha helo circled and went in a small crowd of cookout guests was walking toward the anticipated LZ not far from the edge of the bluff. Lightning flashed in the east. They were not a welcoming committee. None of them were smiling. The tall figure of Wick McLain was out front, like a patriarch, his full handlebar mustaches luffing in the wind.
"Does anyone see weapons! Are they in resistance mode?"
"For the love of God," Geoff said miserably, and closed his eyes at the jolt of the hard landing.
Six FBI agents from the San Francisco SWAT team, in full protective gear, exited Alpha helicopter twenty yards from the deliberately oncoming men, women, and teenage children. The agents wore no identification. Robert Hyde was mindful of the static he knew he was going to hear from the Justice Department. Until he set the AG straight about the importance of this mission.
"We're here for Eden Waring!" the team leader used a bullhorn, although the helicopter was making very little noise; standing directly beneath the rotors it would have been possible to have a whispered conversation.
Wick McLain, still in the lead, said in a reasonable voice, "You are on private property. It also happens to be sacred ground. You now have the chance to return to your helicopter and leave without further incident."
The agents fanned out in a semicircle and began to advance.
"Step aside, please!" roared the bullhorn. "We only want Eden Waring! We know she is in the house! Bring her out! No one will be hurt if you cooperate."
Wick McLain turned to the others, one of whom was his son Roald, and said in a tone of quiet amazement, "Now they tell us they don't want to hurt anyone! What say you?"
They shook their heads in unison. There were a couple of low-pitched ominous growls. Wick gestured for restraint, smiled, and turned to his son, who looked back at him eagerly.
Wick considered the precocious boy's request, fingered his extravagant handlebars. The others murmured their approval.
," his father said to Roald.
ierce yelpings, shrieks of greed, and liquid'moans of pleasure. A noise like the dry hiss of 'hoppers in a plague year. Screams from the SWATsters outside the helicopter as flash bangs, tasers, and jets of pepper spray failed to protect them from an onslaught they were totally unprepared for, from horrors that had no reference to anything they'd ever seen. Their minds broke before their bodies were sundered.
Twisting in his seat, Geoff McTyer shouted to the pilot, "Get us out of here!"
His father was calling for Bravo chopper, for firepower and ground reinforcements.
"No!" Geoff said. "You damn fool, we'll all be killed! Don't go near them! Fall back!"
The five men remaining in the helicopter saw nearly unidentifiable lumps of human beings flying from the midst of the carnivores' picnic to pelt the fuselage and windows. Something hurtled through the open doorway and lay twitching on the deck. It had the head of a man with his lower jaw and an ear neatly removed. The tongue stood out from the depths of the throat like a dog's pink erection. The sniper who had taken two shots at Eden Waring attempted to slam the door shut. Something dark and shrill came at him, gliding beneath the helicopter blades. He was snatched from the doorway by the six-inch talons of a young but beautiful gryphon.
The feathered goddess, another of the wonders in this whirligig of the unearthly, had a blemish on her forehead, puckered like the navel of an orange. Her long blond hair flowed in flight between the great spread of wings. She gripped the sniper by his shoulders, sucked out his eyes, then flung him to the rocks at the edge of the sea and turned toward the house, soaring with a cry of transcendence past Bravo helicopter. The sky was low and brawling, suffused with lightning.
Chauncey's father, doomsday in his eyes and hands outflung as carnage stained the ground around him, cried out, "
are the intruders and despoilers of our peaceful community!"
A fusillade of tracers from the .50 millimeter cannon aboard Bravo lit Wick McLain up, but he absorbed twenty rounds and stayed on his feet. He raised his hands again. A dust devil swirled in front of him, turned dark and grew with tornadic force. Bolts of electricity illuminated the faces of terrified men in Bravo.
Alpha helicopter began to lift off but was pulled back to the ground by gleeful youths with the strength and appearance of yearling grizzlies.
"Cut me loose!" Geoff McTyer pleaded with his father as the giant chopper strained and trembled, the rotors a smoky blur while the pilot tried to get them airborne.
The largest of the were-bears leaped straight up, almost ten feet from the ground, and into the helicopter through the doorway. It landed light on its toes and looked around with an intimidating roar, lunged and removed the pilot's helmeted head with a single blow, sending it like a cannonball through the wind screen. The helo dropped straight down. Geoff's face smashed into the pilot's seat. Two front teeth snapped in half. The were-bear turned to Geoff, who was crouched behind the pilot's seat with blood on his mouth. Scintillant fur stood out in a ruff, around the bear's head. It drew back a paw for another swipe. Geoff closed his eyes, dropping his head wearily. What a hell of a day.
But the decapitating blow he expected didn't come.
"Yo. What's this?"
Geoff looked up again.
"What? Did youâ?"
The were-bear said in a teenager's voice, breaking at every third or fourth word, "Why are you handcuffed to the seat? You one of them or not? What's your name?"
"Geoff. I'm ... no. I used to be. FBI, I mean. None of this is my fault! I didn't want them to come. I told them not to. What in God's name are you?"
name? God's forgotten about us," the bear said, voice slipping again, falsetto to basso. It reached down, grasped the cuff that held Geoff to the seat, and broke it open with an easy twist.
"Where's Eden?" Geoff asked, his own voice shrill.
The were-bear looked cautiously down its long nose at him.
Behind them Robert Hyde came off the deck where he had been lying stunned since the helo's hard landing and shot the beast five times in the face and head. It fell backward out of the chopper. Hyde lunged after it and slammed the door shut.
There was a stunning flash in the sky as Bravo helicopter was destroyed by a bolt from the twister. Father and son flinched as their copter was buffeted by the shock wave and bombarded with debris. Glass that could not be armored because of weight considerations was chipped and spider-webbed.
"CAN YOU FLY THIS?" Hyde demanded.
"I don't know! I've only logged ten hours in our police helicopter! This thing is like the space shuttle!"
"Fly it, or we'll die here! Get us off the deck!"
Geoff unsnapped the harness of the headless pilot and wrestled the body out of the left-hand seat.
"Blood," he moaned. "So much blood!"
"Don't quit on me AGAIN!"
"Shut up, God damn you! My hands. Slippery." The odor of gore all over the seat turned him away, gagging.
His father was pointing the Glock at him, as if the threat had any substance. Geoff made no move to assume the controls. "Not without Eden!"
"We'll figure that out later. Do what I tell you!"
"You son of a bitch," Geoff said, and with his left hand raising the collective he sent the madly vibrating, smoky helicopter flapping out over blue water like another panicked gull, leaving storm and slaughter and the
noli me tangere
of Moby Bay behind.
den, get up! Come on, snap out of it, we're getting you out of here!" Eden lifted clouded, eyes. She was crouched in a darkened corner of Chauncey's bedroom. Her mouth fumbled with the effort of producing speech.
"Who ...'re you?"
"I'm Bertie. The big guy in the doorway is Tom." Subvocally she added,
We're friends. You can trust us
. But Eden held back.
. What's happening?"
"A lot of bad stuff. You don't want to see it. I think you've seen enough already." Bertie, holding Eden up, glanced at Tom.
"We're okay," he said. "No telling for how long. Let's move."
"Where are you taking me?"
"To see your mother."
"Betts?" Eden said, her eyes wandering in confusion. But Bertie, who was bigger and much stronger at this point, succeeded in half carrying her toward the front of the house.
"Your real mother."
"You're lying. Where's Chauncey? I saw Chauncey get shot! Then sheâHuh. She just ... got up, like it didn't happen. But it
"Sounds like a neat trick. Tell us about it later. Tom?"
There was an explosion that shook the house, the black sky flushing orange. Debris peppered the roof. Sherard, holding the Holland and Holland rifle in one hand, pushed the screen door open and glanced outside. Thick oily smoke rolled past the house from the ocean side.
"One of the helicopters," Sherard said. "Let's get our girl to the SUV."
"I don't want to go!" Eden wailed.
"She's getting windy again." Bertie smiled gently at Eden. "You'll like us better when you get to know us." She let go of Eden with her right hand, propped her chin up gently with the left, and knocked her cold with a solid uppercut.
Sherard tossed his rifle to Bertie and gathered Eden up, throwing her over one shoulder, wincing as his game leg shuddered.
"Can you make it?" Bertie asked anxiously.
"What do you think I am, obsolete? And where the devil did you learn the haymaker?"