Chapter 26

The Chinook was greeted at the airport by a mass of Hunters, doctors, and a handful of MCB Agents. The doctors rushed us over to a big hangar where an improvised medical center had been set up. They checked us over for any injuries to make sure we hadn’t been bitten. The Hunters stood between us and the MCB Agents, probably to keep the Feds from shooting us “just to be safe.”

Fortunately, while there were a handful of injuries – mainly civilians who’d been hurt in the mad rush to get out of the church and then into the helicopter – no one had been infected, so the civilians were ushered into the main medical facility to be checked over both physically and psychologically (not everyone has flexible minds like us Hunters), the rest of the Hunters set off in search of the armory to re-up and re-arm, and the MCB Agents stalked away to look for more civilians to threaten.

I wandered aimlessly about the command center, not really sure what to do or where to go. Even though I’d purged my stomach of every ounce of bile back on the Chinook, I still felt an overwhelming urge to vomit. Every time I closed my eyes, even to blink, I saw Griz’s face, I saw the wicked, bleeding scratches that had already become infected, and I saw his body explode in a shower of blood.

Doctor Bryson’s words echoed in my head with every step I took. “You will have to make the choice between two lives. The person you save will live, but the other will die.” I’d made the choice: I’d saved Myron’s life, but in doing so had left another man – a good man, a brave man – to die a horrific death.

I don’t know how long I wandered around the makeshift base – time had become a hazy blur – but I eventually found myself entering a small hangar that had been converted into a mess hall or restaurant. It was only about a third full; most of the people on-base were either sleeping or prepping to go back into the city. I wandered into the very back, away from everyone else, and plopped down at a table in the very farthest corner.

I couldn’t get the vision out of my head. Even with my eyes wide open, I could still see Griz’s upper body get torn apart by the two little frag grenades. The moment replayed itself over and over in my mind in slow motion as it etched itself permanently into my brain.

Doctor Bryson had lied to me. He’d said that I would only be able to save one of them. But as I watched Griz’s death replay itself in my mind a dozen times over, I realized that I could have saved them both. If I’d taken not even half a second to help Griz get back to his feet, then the two of us could have gotten Myron to the Chinook, and everyone would have gotten off that rooftop alive. But I hadn’t done that. I’d ignored Griz, and in doing so had left him to the zombie’s.

I killed Griz.

A National Guardsmen – actually a Guardswoman – walked over and asked me if she could get me anything? Something to eat, or drink… would I like a cup of coffee? I waved her away. My stomach was still tying itself in knots, and either way I just wanted to be alone.

“Damn, kid. You look like you’ve been gut-shot.” I looked up to see Doug and Dominique walking over to the table.

“Guys, I’d really rather be alone right now.”

“Tough shit,” Doug said as he slid into the seat across from me. Dominique stood behind him, arms crossed over her chest. No one spoke for a while: they stared at me while I bored a hole through the table with a thousand-yard stare. I finally got sick of feeling their gazes on me and sighed in disgust.

“Look, I get it, okay?” I snapped, “I screwed up. I know. I screwed up, and got Griz killed.”

“Wait, what?” Doug said, “Kid, you didn’t—”

“I left him to die,” I continued, ignoring him. “You know it and I know it. I could’ve gotten him on the chopper, but I didn’t. I fucked up, and now he’s—”

WHAM!!! My heart skipped a beat and I almost fell out of my chair in surprise as Doug abruptly slammed both of his fists down on the table. All eyes in the cafeteria turned towards our table, but Dominique shot each person a glare that would’ve made the Terminator shake in his boots, so they quickly went back to minding their own business.

“Bullshit,” Doug snarled, “That is absolute bullshit.”

“No,” I bit back, “It’s the—”

“Shut up,” Doug ordered. I opened my mouth to protest, but he cut me off, “No, you shut the hell up and listen to me. I saw you on the roof. We both did. You did everything exactly right. You did exactly what you were trained to do.”

“No I—”

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up and listen? You did exactly what you were supposed to do back there.” I just shook my head. “Okay, answer me this: what’s your job? No, scratch that: what is MHI’s job?”

“To kill monsters,” I replied sarcastically.

“Wrong!” he said, then made a sound like a game-show buzzer.

“Huh? Have you been smoking something?”

“Our job is to save people from monsters,” Doug said, “even if it means we die doing it. You know that, I know that, Dominique knows it, and so did Griz.”

“Yeah,” I said lamely, “but…”

“But what? Look, Dominique and I both saw what happened. When you got to Griz and that custodian, the zombies were right on your heels. If you’d stopped to help both of them, they would’ve overrun you. Griz knew that. He knew the three of you wouldn’t be able to make it, so he bought you enough time to get to the chopper.”

“But… it isn’t fair,” I said.

“I know it,” Doug said, his voice suddenly kind, “I know it, kid.”

“No, I mean… I mean he survived Black Hawk Down. He was Delta, he survived being trapped in a hostile city for nearly fifteen hours, under fire the whole time. It isn’t right for him to have died like that, here, in his own country at the hands of a bunch of mindless undead… things.”

“You’re right,” Doug agreed, “only Griz wasn’t Delta.”

“Okay, a Ranger, but either way…”

“He was Air Force.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, Air Force Pararescue. He fast-roped in on the first crash site, stayed there trying to get the pilot’s body out. But you’re right; it wasn’t fair for him to die like that. But I don’t think he cared.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what the motto of the Parajumpers is?”

“That Others May Live,” I said automatically. I’d been a huge military junkie back when I was a kid and had memorized all sorts of random trivia like that.

“Exactly,” Doug replied, “You didn’t know Griz, but to him those words were more than just a motto: it was his code. He lived and breathed it every day of his life. He knew that the day might come that he’d have to lay down his life for his fellow Hunters, and he was more than prepared to do that. He knew what he was doing up on the roof; it was his choice. It wasn’t your fault. Understand?”

“Yeah,” I said weakly, “yeah.”

“Hey, I know you’re hurting,” Dominique said, “we all are. Hell, I went through my Newbie course with Griz.”

“How do you deal with it?” I said, “I mean, I’ve lost people before…”

“But not like this,” Dominique said, “I hate to say it, Steve, but the only reason I can cope is because I’ve been in your shoes too damn many times.” She let that sink in for a minute before continuing, “You’re going to lose friends in this business, Steve. There’s no way to avoid it. You know what the stakes are.”

“I know,” I said affirmatively. “I mean, I’d known going in that it was a possibility, but there’s a difference between knowing something in the back of your mind and seeing it happen.”

“Yeah, especially like that,” Dominique said, “At least he didn’t suffer long.” All three of us nodded somberly.

“You good?” Doug asked after a minute.

“No,” I said, “but I’m better than I was.”

“Good, ‘cause I  remembered why we came lookin’ for you in the first place.” At my puzzled glance, he explained. “That horde of zombies that hit us at the church wasn’t heading that way by chance. It was moving towards City Hall.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because virtually every zombie in the city is either outside City Hall or else making its way towards there,” Dominique said, “We’ve hit them very hard tonight; we figure we’ve taken out between one half to two thirds the total number of zombies in the city, so we think whatever created them is holed up in City Hall and has summoned the rest of the horde to protect it.”

“And we’re planning on hitting City Hall and taking out the creator,” I surmised.

“Bingo,” Doug said.

“When?”

“Yesterday,” Dominique said, “Re-up and re-arm and meet over at the flightline for briefing ASAP.”

******************

There were eight of us crammed into the back of the Hind: Me, Dominique, Shannon, Chris, Scotty, Doug, a National Guardsmen who claimed to have been a sniper in the Green Berets, and Agent Simpkin. We were one of two choppers that was going to hit City Hall. The other was a National Guard Black Hawk containing Sam Haven’s team plus four Hunters from other teams. That added up to a team of not quite twenty, far from ideal, but it was all that could be scraped together on such short notice. We were circling City Hall, and the sight below made me feel ill. The streets were literally overflowing with zombies. We’d be overwhelmed the second we hit the ground.

Fortunately, we weren’t going in alone.

“Scalpel, this is Gunfighter Five-One. Be advised, we’re commending our run. Recommend you clear the airspace around the target building ASAP.”

Scalpel was the code name for the strike team, while Gunfighter Five-One was the leader of a flight of four AH-64 Apache attack helicopters belonging not to the Army, but instead to the Monster Control Bureau. Gunfighter would sweep the streets around City Hall clear of zombies, leaving them clear long enough for the Hind and Blackhawk to get us on the ground and then for us to get into the building. Once we were inside, they would then provide suppressing fire, keeping the horde away from City Hall until we could find the Zombie Creator and neutralize it. Of course, the whole plan hinged on the Creator actually being in City Hall. If it wasn’t and the Apaches ran out of ammo before we could get out of the building and back to our choppers…

“Copy, Gunfighter. Scalpel is vacating airspace. You’re clear to start your run.”

“Roger that, Scalpel. Gunfighter is inbound.”

I could barely hear the radio exchange. Shortly after take-off, I’d learned that the interior of the Hind had been modified with a kick-ass sound system, and Skippy apparently made it a habit of blaring heavy metal at maximum volume whenever the chopper was in the air. His music of choice on this flight was Cabbage Point Killing Machine. I wasn’t too familiar with that group, but they actually sounded pretty good (I’m picky when it comes to metal bands), and apparently Owen’s younger brother was their lead guitarist. I made a mental note to buy a couple of their songs off of iTunes once I got back to Scranton. Assuming of course that I didn’t have the encounter with Robert first.

Whoever designed Philadelphia, or at least City Hall, was an idiot. The building sits right smack-dab in the center of the intersections of Market and Broad Streets – the two busiest streets in Philadelphia. The two roads are forced to curve around the building in what amounts to a huge traffic circle, which in turn causes a perpetual traffic jam around the historic building.

Now, however, the traffic circle actually came in handy. Each Apache picked a different side of the building, swept down from the moonlit sky, and opened up with their chain guns. It was absolute carnage. The big 30mm shells from the chain guns slung under the Apaches’ noses were designed to kill armored vehicles. Any zombie that was hit was instantly vaporized, and shrapnel from the impact took out any zombie within a good thirty feet or so of the actual hit. After less than five seconds, the square of roadway around City Hall had been cleared. A minute later, the streets leading into the roundabout had likewise been swept clean of the undead.

“Scapel, Gunfighter Five-One. Target area is cleared, you are go for insertion.”

“Roger that, Gunfighter,” the Black Hawk pilot responded, We’re going in. MHI chopper, take the south side of the building. We’ve got the north.”

“Roger,” Skippy replied. “Set-ting down… now.”

The Hind touched down in a storm of dust, debris, and pulverized Zombie bits. The team was on the ground and moving towards the old building seconds later. We reached the door, only to find it locked. It took Scotty five seconds and one breacher round to solve that problem.

When I passed through the doorway into City Hall’s lobby, I was expecting an immediate shootout. We all were. The briefing had said the building was full of zombies, and it would be a bloodbath of a firefight just to make our way into the building, let alone get to the Zombie Creator.

Imagine our surprise when we rushed into the lobby with our guns up and ready only to find it deserted. Dominique recovered first.

“Move in,” she barked, “stay alert. We need to clear the rooms.” She turned to her radio. “This is Turner, we’re inside. South Lobby is deserted.”

“Sam here, we’re inside too. North Lobby’s quiet as a tomb. Ain’t there supposed to be zombies here?”

“That’s what they told us, Sam. We need to clear the building. Tell your guys to stay sharp.”

“Roger that,” Sam said, then chuckled. “Say, did you know my middle name’s Roger?”

“Yes, Sam,” Dominique sighed, “You’ve told me. At least twenty times.” Sam just laughed. “Anyway, if you find civilians, get them somewhere secure until we can evacuate them.”

“Roger that,” Sam replied. Over the radio, I could hear him winding up for another crack.

“Don’t even think about it, Haven,” Dominique warned, acid in her words.

“Damn it, Turner, you ain’t no fun sometimes.”

“Will you shut up and get moving?”

“Roger that. And don’t worry, I won’t. Sam out.” Dominique rolled her eyes in frustration. Simpkin shook his head in amazed disbelief.

“Move it!” Dominique snapped, venting her annoyance at Sam Haven on the rest of us.

We systematically moved down the hallway, clearing each room one by one. The first room we found was a conference room, it was empty. Simpkin decided that any civilians we found were to be brought back there. Dominique concurred, so the rest of us Hunters decided to go along with it. Scotty and I took point, ready to turn any zombies into undead pulp with our shotguns. Amazingly, we encountered no zombies whatsoever as we made our way deeper into the building. We did, however, find a few civilians, mostly in ones and twos holed up in offices. One person from our group would run them back to the conference room. Chris had gone back there with the first group we’d found and was now guarding it: his machine gun would make short work of any zombies that stumbled across the civilians.

Eventually, it came down to Me, Doug, and Agent Simpkin. It was the last office on the hall. The door was locked. Doug kicked it in. A woman’s scream shattered the quiet hallway.

“It’s okay!” Doug shouted, “We’re human! You can come out!” No one appeared. Instead, the scream tapered off and was replaced by sobbing. It took me a second to figure out where it was coming from; under the desk. I quickly pointed out the desk to Doug and Simpkin, then set down my shotgun and rifle.

“What are you doing?” Simpkin whispered. I ignored him, instead slowly walking around the desk and crouching down beside it. There was a young woman crouched under there. She was probably only a year or two older than me, but her face was so consumed with terror that she looked at least a decade older.

“It’s okay,” I said gently, “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m here to get you out.”

“You… you…” she stammered out between sobs, “Are… are you… the Army?”

“Well, kinda…”

“Oh thank God!” she cried, leaping out from under the desk and throwing her arms around me.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” I said as I tried my best to gently pull her off of me, “You’re safe now, okay? We’re going to get you out of here…”

“No, you don’t understand!” she said, suddenly frantic. “You have to stop her!”

“Her?” I asked. “Who?”

“I don’t know! She’s upstairs, in the City Council President’s office! She did this! She made the… things.”

“Where’s the President’s office?” I asked, suddenly deadly serious.

“Fourth floor, Room 407,” she said, “you have to stop her!” I was already racing for the door, snatching up my FAL and the Mossberg as I darted past them.

“Hey, wait, don’tOOF!” Simpkin gasped as I bowled him and Doug aside.

There was an emergency staircase at the end of the hall. I charged into it and took the steps three at a time, only pausing at the second story landing to replace my Mossberg in its sheath. There was a clatter on the steps below, and a moment later Agent Simpkin raced past me.

“Don’t you know to wait for backup?”

“I thought Feds could run fast!” I replied as took off after him. I soon found myself eating my words: he was fast. I was a pretty good sprinter myself, but I could barely keep up with the MCB Agent. By the time we reached the fourth floor, I’d worked up a pretty good sweat, but I didn’t think that Simpkin was even breathing hard. He charged into the hallway, with me struggling to keep up. We raced passed doorway after dooway until Simpkin suddenly stopped short and I almost ran into him.

We’d reached Room 407.

The door was closed. Simkin motioned for me to cover him, then kicked it open with one solid blow.

“MCB! Free—YEAAAARGH!!!!

I charged into the room, FAL up and ready. Simpkin was on the floor, gabbing at his leg and writhing in agony. I looked up. Standing behind the desk was an older woman – she looked like an older, scarier, and uglier version of Tia Dalma from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. A Voodoo Priestess. There was a doll sitting atop the desk, a big, ugly-looking needle shoved through its leg.

The Priestess was chanting something in a language I didn’t recognize and waving her hand above a second doll. She pulled another needle out of the folds of her raggedy dress. I knew right away what she was going to do. She never got the chance.

I snapped my FAL to my shoulder and started pulling the trigger as fast as I could. The Priestess screamed as a hail of heavy .30-caliber bullets slammed into her, throwing her back across the room and pinning her to the wall. I was firing so fast that I could barely keep the weapon on target. Then the bolt locked back on an empty magazine. The Priestess’ chest, abdomen, and part of her skull were gone, shredded into hamburger. She slowly slid down the wall, leaving a deep crimson smear in her wake.

Simpkin suddenly stopped screaming and gasped in relief. I tenderly grasped his leg, reluctantly as if expecting more pain, then began to massage feeling back into it.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, wincing as pins and needles suddenly shot down his thigh, “I’m good.”

NNNOOOOOOO!” Simpkin and I looked over towards the scream, and for the first time spotted the woman who’d been cowering in the corner of the room. It was the City Council President.

“Ma’am, it’s okay,” I assured her, “You’re okay. It’s over…”

“NO!” she screamed, “You don’t understand! You’ve ruined everything!” I blinked, my jaw falling open in surprise. Was she suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or something?

“What did we ruin?” I asked cautiously.

“It was the only way to save the city!” she ranted on, ignoring me, “The tax hikes didn’t work, the budget cuts didn’t work, there was nothing else we could do! I had to thin it out! I had to save the city!”

“Thin it out?” I asked, suddenly feeling ill, “You mean… you hired her to do this?”

“It was the only way! The city was dying…”

“The city’s almost dead now, thanks to you! There’s at least ten thousand people dead in the streets, if we’re lucky, and thousands more injured!”

“If we’re lucky?! That’s not enough! There’s still too many of them! I had to save the city, and now you’ve ruined it! You’ve ruined everything you… you…” the avowed, sometimes fanatical feminist wracked her brain for the most scathing insult she could throw at me. “You… you bad… bad… man! You bad… bad… bad… man! Men like you always ruin everyth—” I cut her off as I abruptly dropped my FAL, pulled the Mossberg from its scabbard, and pressed the shotgun’s muzzle against her nose. Her eyes crossed comically as she stared down the barrel at me.

“Good? Bad?” I racked a shell into the chamber. “Lady, I’m the guy with the gun.”

A trio of gunshots erupted and she dropped, two holes in her side and a third where her left ear had been. I hit the deck and went urban-prone, leveling my shotgun at the source of the gunfire. Agent Simpkin was leaning against the doorframe, his customized Delta Elite locked in an isosceles stance. Smoke drifted lazily out of the barrel.

“What the hell, Simpkin!” I shouted, “Why didn’t you let me—”

“Because I was enforcing the Unearthly Forces Collaboration Act,” he explained, “whereas if you’d killed her, Willard would’ve charged you with murder and gotten MHI shut down. And unlike most of the Bureau, I appreciate the help you guys give us.”

I was shocked into silence. A Fed who was actually okay with us operating? The radio suddenly crackled.

“This is Harbinger. Someone want to tell me what the hell just happened?”

“What happened?” Chris asked.

“All the zombies dropped dead all at once about a minute ago.”

“This is Andrews,” I said quickly, “There was a Voodoo Priestess in City Hall. She’d created the zombies. I took her out just a minute ago.”

“What the hell’s a Voodoo Priestess doing in Philly?” a voice asked.

“This is MCB Agent Simpkin. The President of the City Council hired her. Apparently, she thought the only way to save the city was to kill off a big chunk of the population.”

“This is Director Myers. Where is the Council President now?”

“She was in violation of UFCA, sir. I prosecuted her.”

“Good,” Myers said grimly. I felt a chill go down my spine at his words.

“Good work, Andrews,” Earl said happily, “Y’all get out of there. We’ll get a chopper in to pick you up in a minute.”

“Thanks, Earl,” I replied, “Out.” I turned to Simpkin. “Can you walk?”

“Yeah,” he said, “I’m good to go. Let’s get the hell out of here.” He grimaced slightly as he put weight on his leg, but I didn’t press the issue.

Unfortunately, Simpkin’s bravado only lasted until we reached the staircase. The elevators had all been disabled, leaving that our only option to get down, and no sooner had Simpkin started down than his leg clenched up and started to fall. He would’ve gone down hard if I hadn’t managed to grab him in time. It took the two of us a long time to get down the stairs. I wanted to radio one of the guys downstairs to come up and help us, but Simpkin adamantly refused. By the time the two of us got down to the lobby, everyone else had already left the building. As we walked through the door, cheers erupted from the sidewalk. The two of us stopped in surprise as both teams ran over to congratulate us, shake our hands, pat us on the back, whatever.

“Good goin’ Andrews!” Sam Haven said as he swatted my back so hard that I almost toppled over, “Wish I coulda seen ya waste that skank-assed, monkey-humping Commie voodoo bitch! You ain’t a half-Bad Hunter for a damn Yankee.” Sam was from Texas, and held Northerners in a relatively dim light.

“Thanks, Sam,” I said, wincing, “But Simpkin distracted her for me.”

“You call getting my leg all fucked up by voodoo distracting her?” Simpkin asked.

“Hey, it worked, didn’t it?”

“You got voodooed?” Dominique asked.

“Yeah, she used a doll on me, stuck a pin in the leg…”

“Get this man to a medic now!” Dominique ordered. Two National Guardsmen immediately appeared and whisked Simpkin into a nearby Hummer before he could protest. Everyone else gathered around me and continued with the high-fiveing and hand-shaking and back-slapping.

“Hey,” Shannon said suddenly, “Do you guys hear that?” A second later, we all heard the sound of a big V8 engine echoing down the streets. That engine sounded familiar. A little too familiar…

“No way.” I shoved through the crowd, reaching the street just in time to see The Beast come around the side of the building. Odette was behind the wheel, with Jon in the passenger seat. Both of scanned the crowd anxiously until Odette saw me. For what felt like an eternity, our eyes locked, and I could see her fear and anxiety suddenly evaporate. Then she jammed on The Beast’s brakes, bringing the big muscle car to a screeching halt. The car had barely stopped moving than Odette leapt from the vehicle and raced over towards me. I waved at her.

“Hey…”

WHAP! I took a step back in surprise, my cheek stinging where she’d slapped me. All conversation immediately ceased as everyone turned to look at us.

“Okay…” I said slowly, “I know I was a jerk to you before, but I’m not sure I deserved that…”

“Don’t you ever do that again!”

“Do what again?”

“Give me something like The Beast,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “I thought that you… you knew you weren’t going to make it off that roof.”

“I almost didn’t.”

“I know, I… I heard about Griz. But I thought you were going to… to…”

“To not make it on purpose?” She nodded. “No way. You know I couldn’t do something like that. Not to my family. Not to you.” She looked up in surprise at my last words.

“What?”

“What what?”

“What did you mean by that? ‘Not to you’?”

“Well… ah…” My mind suddenly blanked out. I hadn’t realized I’d said that part out loud. How was I gonna explain that? “Odette… I… this is probably going to sound crazy, but… but the truth is… I…”

“What the hell?” Sam said suddenly. “Holy shit!” Odette and I looked over just in time to see the mustached Hunter raise his big rifle skyward and fire into the air. I winced at the massive .45-70’s report before glancing upward towards the full moon. A shape crossed in front of it, a giant winged something that, when silhouetted in the moonlight, looked like the old Batman emblem. I felt my blood turn to ice.

“Garlgoyle incoming!” Doug shouted. The Hunters all opened up on the massive stone behemoth while the National Guardsmen ran for cover.

I snapped my FAL to my shoulder, drew a bead on the gargoyle as it pitched forward into a dive, and pulled the trigger. Click. I hadn’t reloaded after turning the Priestess into Voodoo Pulp. I sprinted towards the building as I fished a fresh magazine out of my vest, tracking the gargoyle as it swooped gracefully down towards the sidewalk. As I hit the bolt release, I realized what the stone beast had targeted.

“ODETTE! MOVE! GET OUT OF THERE!” Odette was crouched behind a lamp post, firing her UMP at the gargoyle. She’d tunneled in on the beast so completely that she didn’t realize that it was heading right towards her. “NNNOOOOO!!!!

Too late, Odette recognized the danger. She backpedaled away from the lamppost, desperately trying to reload. The gargoyle smashed the street lamp like it was a toothpick before it landed on the sidewalk in front of her. She screamed in absolute terror. Moving impossibly fast for something so huge, the gargoyle grabbed Odette in one huge stone talon and leaped back into the air. The others tracked it with their weapons but didn’t fire, unwilling to risk hitting Odette. I could only watch helplessly as the giant creature flapped its wings to gain altitude, then swooped away, banking northwest, out of sight.

Straight towards the Art Museum.

Dominique was already on the radio, shouting orders to everyone on the frequency. “Get AWACS to track that thing, but do not engage it! It’s got one of our people. As soon as it hits the ground and we can confirm it’s let her go, hit it with everything you’ve got. Have the MCB send in gunships if you have to! I want everyone on the ground who can get that thing in sight to track it. Get in your vehicles and do not let it out of your sight!” she got off the radio and turned to us. “That means you too people! Get going! Hey, Andrews, what the hell are you doing?”

I was already at The Beast. I tossed my FAL and Mossberg into the passenger seat before climbing in and closing the door. Dominique suddenly realized what I was doing, and ran over to try and stop me. She grabbed at the door latch, but I’d already locked it. The engine was still running. I let off the parking break, shifted into first, and floored the gas, peeling away from the sidewalk. I wound around the building until I reached Broad Street, then turned onto it. I roared down the block, turned onto 16th Street, then turned off right away onto Race Street, raced around the Memorial Fountain, and barreled onto the Ben Franklin Parkway.

The Parkway was littered with half-eaten corpses. I could see the gargoyle soaring over the Parkway, Odette clenched tightly in its talons. It was already starting its dive towards the Art Musuem. It crashed through the roof as I turned onto Kelly Drive and pulled up in front of he Rocky Steps. I stopped the car, killed the engine, then grabbed my weapons and climbed out. I slid the Mossberg into its scabbard, slung the FAL over my shoulder, and double-checked that my Katana was still in its scabbard. I didn’t have the wakazashi   Dan hadn’t given it back to me yet. Then I began marching purposefully up the steps towards the museum.

I knew Robert was already waiting for me.

Chapter 27

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