Here is the first half of Chapter 7 of Hard Stripes, the novel intended as a prequel to my existing science fiction series. As with The Fox and the Eagle, I’m dividing the story into episodes of about six chapters each. This post is the first half of the first chapter of Episode Two: The Stripening (placeholder title).
The first six chapters were previously posted here:
“I think we can do without these.”
Richter removed Kyrie’s handcuffs. The group had just arrived at a nearby safe house, a nondescript two-bedroom apartment on a quiet street in Mission Valley. They were waiting for the FBI to assign extra agents, as the CIA in the region couldn’t supply anyone as quickly. Lauren had taken Eva upstairs to get cleaned up, leaving the two men alone in the apparently bare kitchen. The room had light sage wallpaper and a linoleum tile floor, and smelled like it hadn’t been used in a long time. Wearily, they sat down at a table, lapsing into silence for moments. Kyrie willed himself to stand back up.
“Thank you for extending me your trust again,” he said, heading for the sink.
Richter set aside the duffel bag he was carrying. “Just do me a favor and don’t disappear on me tonight. I still want a career in the CIA after tomorrow.”
Kyrie took opened a couple of cabinets until he found a glass, and filled it with water. “My best bet is to stick with you.”
Richter opened the bag and pulled out the Colt carbine that Kyrie had picked up during the fight. “I’m sure they’ll get this shit straightened out soon.”
“You still have the Colt?” asked Kyrie after draining his cup.
“After what just happened, do you seriously think I’m going to hand this over to the local cops? I would have kept the AT-4, too, but I didn’t have anywhere to hide it.”
Kyrie removed his shirt and inspected his bandages. “I like the way you think.”
“Besides, there might be some clues about our attackers here. For example, it’s a Colt lower receiver with a Fabrique Nationale upper. What does that tell us?”
Kyrie grabbed a washcloth from the bathroom and put it under the tap. “That sounds like it came from a National Guard armory. Do you think it could have been stolen?”
“We won’t know until we run the serial number, but I was thinking the same thing.”
Richter removed the magazine and racked the charging handle. A cartridge fell from the chamber and he caught it with his right hand. He inspected the magazine.
“You only had two rounds left in this mag,” he said.
“I’m glad I hit my target when I did. I wouldn’t have relished trying a mag change with that 240 shooting at me.”
Kyrie began cleaning himself with the washcloth. Richter field-stripped the carbine and looked it over.
“We should phone in an order for pizza, beer, and weapons cleaning kit,” Richter said, inspecting the ammo.
“I don’t think that contacting anyone on the outside is a good idea right now,” replied Kyrie.
“I wasn’t serious. This place should be stocked with food, if it’s a bona fide safe house. Check the cabinets.”
Kyrie searched the rest of the kitchen and came up with a bunch of dry and canned goods. “How about beef stew and Saltines? I’m too exhausted to fix anything more elaborate.”
Richter watched the other man as he grabbed a pot for the stove. “Was this your first combat action, Kyrie?”
“I was in a brief shootout with a perp during a traffic stop a few years ago. He missed, I didn’t. He survived though.”
“I see you’ve worked on your marksmanship since then.”
Kyrie chuckled. “My shots missed his heart by an inch. Honestly I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with taking a life.”
Kyrie sighed as he worked the can opener. “What, are you worried I’m going to suffer from PTSD?”
“Everybody deals with combat stress differently. You seem to be handling it a little too well, so yeah, I’m worried about you.”
Kyrie unceremoniously dumped the contents of the can into the pot, and turned around. “What about you?”
“I was in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan last year, on the Pakistani border. We had some scrums, nothing too elaborate. Most of my kills were from a distance. It made it a little easier, I guess.”
Nodding, Kyrie searched the last of the kitchen cabinets. “No booze whatsoever, can you believe this shit? The CIA needs to get their priorities straight.”
“I’d settle for that giant pitcher of margarita that I had at the restaurant earlier. Never did get a chance to have any. You can change the subject if you want, Devonai, but you need to deal with…” Richter trailed off.
“Hausler was in custody before the meeting with Eva,” began Richter. “He never knew where the meet would be held, that was my idea.”
“So how did his friends know where to find you?”
Richter’s eyes grew wide. “Shit! Am I really that fucking stupid?”
Grabbing a cell phone from his pocket, Richter pulled out the memory card. He stood up, dropped it on the floor, and smashed it into the tile with his heel.
“Was that Hausler’s phone?”
“Yes.” Swiftly, Richter began to reassemble the carbine. “Hill! Hill, get down here, now! Devonai, your weapons are in the sea bag.”
Lauren came quickly down the stairs, surprised to see the men arming themselves. “What’s wrong?”
Richter loaded and charged his rifle. “Hausler’s men have been tracking our location with his phone. We’ve been compromised. I destroyed the phone, but we’ve got to get out of here, now.”
“Holy shit, Richter, you forgot you had his phone on you? Were you born a fucking idiot or did you have to work on it?”
“Sorry, I got a little distracted by the platoon of assholes trying to kill us. Besides, I’m not a highly trained spook like you. Get Eva ready to travel and call it in. We need an alternative location immediately.”
Lauren swore to herself and ran back upstairs. Kyrie holstered his pistols and threw some food into the duffel bag.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Richter. I wasn’t thinking about that either. I just assumed that they had Eva under surveillance.”
Richter topped off his magazine with one of the loose rounds. “I’m kind of pissed that they gave me the impression that Housler was some sort of small-time middleman, not the kind of guy that can rally several heavily-armed goons to his cause.”
“Where are we headed from here?”
Evangeline and Lauren came back downstairs, the latter woman carrying a Remington 870 and a red nylon trauma kit. She passed off the kit to Kyrie.
“What’s the plan?” asked Richter.
“We’ll evac to FBI headquarters,” she replied. “Devonai, call Agent Fledgling and see if she can rendezvous with there.”
Richter retrieved Kyrie’s phone and handed it to him. “You don’t want a police escort? Or a hundred FBI guys?”
“I don’t want to call the cavalry unless we think we’re being tailed. There are already too many people involved in what was supposed to be a top secret project. We have enough of a mess on our hands trying to explain why the Gaslamp Quarter turned into Saigon tonight.”
“How long will it take to get to the FBI?”
Lauren said, “We’re two blocks away. There was a reason this apartment was chosen as a safe house.”
“Hausler would have to be suicidal to try to hit us so close to the Bureau,” said Richter.
“After tonight, I’m not taking any chances.”
The others finished gathering their things while Kyrie made the call to Mara.
“She’s on her way,” said Kyrie. “She said there won’t be anyone but a skeleton crew at the Aero Drive location at this time of night, but security at the building is still good.”
“Assuming he doesn’t have another AT-4,” said Richter, scanning the street through the window. “No further word on the Huey, I take it?”
Lauren shook her head. “The FAA confirmed that no Iroquois operators filed a flight plan in the area in the last 48 hours. Where it came from, and where it went, are still a mystery. Our own bird and the cops are looking for it but there are a lot of uncontrolled airfields around here. The Air Guard is still on alert, for what it’s worth.”
“That ain’t worth much. No disrespect, Devonai, but they couldn’t possibly respond quickly enough.”
“Everybody ready?” asked Lauren. “Let’s move out.”
The group exited through the apartment’s tiny front yard. The street appeared to be deserted, but Richter kept out a steely eye while the others loaded into the van. The only sound was crickets chirping; even the dull roar from the airport had died down. Lauren was driving, and Kyrie and Eva were in the back seat, so he took the front passenger seat. Lauren rolled the van slowly onto the street, and turned north toward the airport.
“This is turning into the longest day of my life,” said Kyrie.
“They’ll have cots at the Bureau,” replied Lauren.
Richter glanced at Eva; the girl was already asleep. “She doesn’t seem to be burdened by a guilty conscience.”
Kyrie nodded solemnly. “That’s what I’m worried about.”