Read an Excerpt
The man had taken his own family hostage.
Mac Mackenzie could feel the fear and hear the joker’s wife and three children crying as she quickly scaled the side of the house, all the way up to the roof. Her destination was a small third-floor window, around the back, that was open a crack.
Stephen Diaz’s evenly modulated voice came through her radio headset as he and their team leader, Dr. Joseph Bach, waited on the ground below. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Subtext: Tick tock, bitch. We’re waiting on you. . . .
Although, okay. The bitch was her own embellishment.
In the entire twelve years that Mac had known Diaz, he’d never once addressed her with anything other than respect. Including the night—a long time ago—when she’d embarrassed them both by planting herself, naked, in his bed.
Here and now, Mac didn’t bother to answer him. She just quickly and soundlessly crossed the rain-slicked roof—which was actually slate.
No doubt about it, someone who spent a truckload of cash on the freaking roof of their house in these trying times had money to burn. And/or money to buy expensive illegal drugs—especially the kind that came with the claim that the user would live forever.
Yeah, that whole never die, always look twenty promise that the drug oxyclepta di-estraphen—known by its street name, Destiny—brought to the table was hard for a lot of people to turn down. Especially those who already had all of the cars and fancy houses and pairs of shoes that their billions of dollars could buy.
Although it wasn’t always the case that the addicts she and Bach and Diaz helped contain were über-wealthy. Some of them had been using the needle for so long that they’d sold off everything in their lives that had any kind of value. Homes, cars, exotic pets. Yachts, jewelry, designer clothing—none of it worth more than a miniscule fraction of its original price in this craphell economy.
Except for their weapons.
These days, a Smith & Wesson or a SIG Sauer—even in shitty condition—was worth more to most people than a Beemer. Especially considering the skyrocketing price of gas.
But eventually the frequent fliers even sold off their guns and ammo, and the cash went into a vein. But damn, they sure looked good, because Destiny gave them youth and good health, as long as you could ignore the whole violent addiction thing. Although looking hot didn’t prevent them from accidentally ODing or worse: hitting the joker-point and going noisily insane.
Some users jokered earlier than others—like their current hostage-taker, who apparently still had enough money to keep the heat on and the lights burning in this three-story mansion here in the richie-richest part of one of Boston’s few remaining still-posh ’burbs.
“Okay, I’m finally there,” Mac breathed into her lip microphone, knowing that everything she told Diaz would be heard by Dr. Bach, too, even though their leader didn’t wear a headset. She dipped her head down over the edge of the roof to get a peek into that partially open window. As they’d suspected, it led into a small bathroom. The shade was up and the light that spilled through came from a fancy fixture out in the third-floor hallway. She reached over and unfastened the screen, pulling it from its frame. “Status?”
“All inhabitants are still on the second floor,” Diaz informed her. “In the master bedroom. Dr. Bach thinks our guy’s dosing again. What are you picking up? And please don’t do it if you can’t block the fear.”
Fear and confusion from the family was a given. And since, in this case, there were four of them, that fear was a powerful force that left a strangely metallic taste in Mac’s mouth when she lowered her mental shields enough to let it in. But three were children, and even though she didn’t know for sure, she would bet her life savings on the fact that at least two were under the age of ten. Because, from them, she felt a still-strong blast of hope. This can’t be happening. Daddy loves us—this must be a mistake. . . .
As for their joker . . .
“I got some serious no-fear from our guy,” Mac reported to Diaz. “Just a shitload of rage.” She sent the window screen silently flying, like a giant Frisbee, well into the neighbor’s yard. “Beneath that? Jealousy, to the point of hatred. He’s gone.”
“We believe he’s double-dosing in an attempt to read his wife’s mind,” Diaz reported. “Dr. Bach’s picking up signs of the vill’s increasing telepathic power, but it’s bouncing all over the place.”
“Maybe he’ll do us all a favor and OD,” Mac said as she reached down again and pulled up on the bottom half of the double-hung window.
The damn thing jammed.
True, she wasn’t in the best position to muscle it up, hanging over the edge of the roof with virtually no leverage.
And even if she got it open all the way, it was still freaking small—just as narrow as they’d all imagined it would be from down on the ground.
And that was why she’d been sent up here instead of Diaz, who was nearly twice her size. Usually, she backed up Dr. Bach as he made a first-floor entry, while Diaz climbed the outside walls and gained access through an upper-floor window, easily unlocking and opening it with his mind.
But every other window in this Victorian monster of a house was painted tightly shut. And not even their esteemed leader Dr. Bach had the power to break that kind of seal without making a shitload of noise.
Of course, there were times when a shitload of noise came in handy. Sometimes this kind of takedown went more quickly and easily when she and Diaz followed Bach’s command to use good old shock and awe. Forget gaining entry by breaking the hundred-and-fifty years of paint that glued the windows shut. Just combine their mental powers to blow all of the glass out of the entire structure while flames erupted from the air-conditioning vents, balls of lightning exploded from every power outlet, and every piece of furniture in the place got up and danced.
Out-freak the frequent flier.
But this time, Bach didn’t want to go that way, and Bach knew best.
And that wasn’t Mac being snarky, that was Mac being real. Dr. Joseph Bach did know best. She wouldn’t be a member of his weird little freak-show commando team if she didn’t believe that with all of her heart and soul.
She strained to move the window, trying to gain traction on the slippery roof.
“Need help?” Diaz’s voice murmured in her ear, just as she finally pushed the window back down and got it realigned.
It went up much easier now.
“Thanks,” she said as she rearranged herself, preparing to slip inside.
“That wasn’t me,” he said.
“I was talking to Dr. Bach,” Mac came back. “I’m good to go. Anything else I should know?”
“Joker’s name was Nathan Hempford,” Diaz replied. “That’s all we’ve got.”
And that meant that this particular freak didn’t have a file—at least not one that Dr. Bach had been given access to as they’d rushed over here to step in and save the day, after the local Boston SWAT team had already failed to the tune of two body bags.
The villain-formerly-known-as-Nathan was a bullet-bender—they all knew that much about him. Thanks to the absurd quantity of Destiny pumping through his veins, he had developed the undeniably impressive mental power to stop a bullet in its path, and return it to the shooter with deadly results.
It was a very rare skill-set. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite so rare among the handful of addicts who’d jokered in the past few months. Must be something in the current local batch of Destiny—something that targeted a particular neural pathway.
And that was unusual. No two individuals had exactly the same powers—even those Greater-Thans like Bach, and Diaz, and Mac herself, who’d all spent countless hours studying and training and practicing, practicing, practicing to control their individual mental talents—talents they’d come by naturally, without sticking a needle in their arms.
Mac’s own skills were decidedly different from Stephen Diaz’s even though they both had achieved mental integration of a very high and very rare fifty percent. On paper, their skill levels were dead even. But their skills were individual and unique—which was why they shared the job of Dr. Bach’s second-in-command. Together, their combined talents made them nearly unstoppable.
And while Mac had talents Diaz couldn’t touch, that didn’t stop her from being envious of his.
The grass was always greener.
One of Diaz’s talents was his ability to maintain telepathic contact with Bach from a relatively longer distance than Mac’s erratic two-to-ten-feet, without a SAT signal or a headset. And these days? The SAT towers went down or the signal got jammed more often than not. That was why, also more often than not, Mac was usually the one entering the building alongside Bach, where she was able to communicate silently via hand signals while Diaz did the upper-window shuffle with Bach securely nestled, all snug in his head.
In fact, their current SAT signal now crackled with static as Mac announced, “I’m going in.”
Diaz came back, “We’ll give you ten. Nine . . .”
It was a tight squeeze through that little window, even for someone as small as she was. Mac went in feet first, which left her feeling vulnerable, particularly when the button at the waist of her cargo pants caught. But she wrestled herself free and in doing so scraped her face on the window’s rough bottom edge.
But then she was inside and moving silently toward the hallway, taking a quick scan of the landing and swiftly finding the stairs leading down.
She could hear Nathan, their joker, his voice tight with anger— a common side effect of the drug. “You think I didn’t see the way you looked at him? You think I didn’t notice? You think I didn’t know?”
His words were punctuated by what sounded like blows, and what were definitely screams and more crying.
“Don’t, Daddy, don’t!” one of the younger kids sobbed, as Mac moved faster, as Diaz went straight from four to one.
“Go. We’re go,” Diaz told Mac, adding, “Incoming,” as Dr. Bach chimed in.
He wasn’t talking to Mac and his voice wasn’t coming through her earpiece. It was inside of her head, and definitely in the joker’s head, too. Reverberating, it echoed and permeated, and even though she’d shielded against it, she felt it all the way through her skull and down her spine. It was scary as shit—or it would’ve been, had she not been on Bach’s team.
“I’m gonna fucking kill you, you lying bitch!” Their joker was back on his feet and threatening his wife sooner than Mac had expected, which was way not good.
Bach got louder and stronger, and this time there was no warning from Diaz—only a sharp crackle of static. And Mac thought she was fully prepped and shielded, but she must not have been, because the force of the word hit her, too. It lifted her up off her feet and she hung there for a moment with her brain on fire.
Scrambled and on fire, so that when Bach finally let go, she couldn’t snap back quickly enough to keep herself from tumbling down the stairs. She should have tucked and rolled. Instead she flailed her legs like a cartoon character building up speed to run away from an anvil dropping on her head. She felt something in her ankle give as she landed wrong on the edge of one of the stairs.