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IMAGER IS EVERYTHING
SECTOR THREE,11:00 P.M.
Like a relentless boxer, rain beat down on the city, first jabbing with sharp needles, then smacking Seattle with huge fat drops that hit like haymakers, the barrage punctuated by the ominous rumble of thunder and the eerie flash of lightning.
An unmarked black car drew to a stop in a rat-infested
Sector Three alley, the rain rattling the metal roof like machine-gun fire. Two men in dark suits climbed out, to be instantly drenched, though neither seemed to notice. Each wore a radio earplug with a short microphone bent toward his mouth.
Sage Thompsonthe man who'd emerged from the passenger's sidewas relieved that the headsets, at least,
seemed to be waterproof. In their coat pockets, each man carried one of the new portable thermal imagers that, just this week, had become standard equipment. Thompson
barely six feet, almost skinny at 180 poundswondered if water-tightness was among the gizmo's various high-tech bells and whistles.
Water sluiced down the alley in a torrent that seemed to express the sky's anger, eventually bubbling over the edge of a rusty grate maybe ten yards in front of them. Thompson was forced to jump the stream and his feet nearly slid out from under him as he landed and bumped into a triangle of garbage cans, sending them crashing into each other, creating a din that rivaled the storm's, his hands flying wide to help maintain his balance. Then his hands dropped back to his sides, the one holding his flashlight clanging off the imager in his coat pocket, the other moving to make sure his pistol was still secure in its holster on his belt.
The hefty man who'd been drivingCal Hankinsshone his flashlight in Thompson's face, huffed once, and eased around a dumpster that looked like it hadn't been emptied since before the Pulse. Moving slowly ahead, their flashlights sweeping back and forth over the brick hulk in front of them, the two men finally halted in front of what had once been a mullioned window.
The interior of the six-story brick buildingan abandoned warehouse, Thompson surmisedseemed a black hole waiting to devour them without so much as a belch.
Next to Thompson, his partner Hankins swept a flashlight through one of the broken panes, painting the rainy night with slow, even strokes. Darkness surrendered only brief glimpses of the huge first-floor room as it swallowed up the light.
"You sure this is the right place?" Hankins asked gruffly.
There was no fear in the man's voiceThompson sensed only that his partner didn't want his time wasted. At forty,
bucket-headed Hankinsthe senior partner of the duo
wore his blondish hair in a short brush cut that revealed only a wisp or two of gray. His head rested squarely on his shoulders,
without apparent benefit of a neck, and he stood nearly six-three, weighing in (Thompson estimated) at over 230.
But the man wasn't merely fatthere was enough gristle and muscle and bone in there to make Hankins formidable.
Still, Thompson knew their bossthat nasty company man, Ames White, a conscienceless yuppie prick if there ever was onehad been all over Hankins about his weight and rode the older guy mercilessly about it. Though he knew better than to ever say it out loud, Thompson considered
White the worst boss in his experiencewhich was saying something.
White was smart, no doubting that, but he had a sarcastic tongue and a whiplash temper that Thompson had witnessed enough times to know he should keep his mouth shut and his head low.
"This is the right place, all right," Thompson said, raising his voice over the battering rain. "Dispatch said the thermal imager team picked up a transgenic in the market in
"This is Sector Three."
"Yeahthey followed him here before they lost him."
Hankins shook his head in disgust. "Then why the fuck ain't they lookin' for him, then? What makes us the clean-up crew for their sorry asses?"
These questions were rhetorical, Thompson knew, though they did have answers, the same answer in fact: Ames White.
And Hankins spent much of his time bitching about
White, behind the boss's back, of course. But they both knew it was only a matter of time before White found a way to get rid of Hankins ...
. . . and then Thompson would have to break in a new partner, possibly one even younger than himself. Then he would be the old-timer. The thought made him cringe.
Not exactly a kid at twenty-seven, Thompson was the antithesis of Hankins: the younger man seemed like a long-neck bottle standing next to the pop-top beer can that was his partner. Married to his college sweetheart, Melanie, and with a new baby daughter, Thompson was the antithesis of
Hankins in terms of home life, as well: the gristled bulldog had been divorced twice and had three or four kids he never saw and didn't really seem to give a damn about.