Page 17 of Beta (Alpha 2)

“I know. But what good is rescuing him if you’re dead?” Harris gave me a long, penetrating look. “You’ve changed him, Kyrie. You have. And for the better.”

“He’s changed me, too.”

* * *

Forty-eight hours later, we were docking in Athens—the Marina Zea, Harris informed me. We shouldered our bags, ensured our pistols were safely secured but within reach, and set off on foot down the marina dock. The marina was set in a wide, circular bay with docks jutting out into the center, boats of all sizes moored and waiting for their owners. Beyond, multi-story apartment buildings rose in a ring, balconies and flat roofs ascending in serried ranks. From a distance they all looked uniformly white, but as we made our way from the docks closer to the city proper, I realized each building was different, some pink, some white, some yellow, but most of them adhered to the same basic design, block-shaped, balconies facing the street, with shops and stores and restaurants below at ground level.

There was a sense of age to the city that was immediately palpable, even from a distance, even without having spent more than five minutes here. We wove through the marina, passing trucks carrying loads of various kinds, families, groups of businessmen, gaggles of laughing children, pairs of women, couples, locals and tourists and old men with white hair and wizened, wrinkled faces.

We came to a place where the buildings closed in tight on our left, a portion of the marina on our right fenced-off for construction, the pavement narrowing to a space barely wide enough for us to walk side by side. Harris stopped, eyeing the cityscape around us. We were in front of a graffiti-scarred, old, low white building, boarded off and empty, a ten-foot-high chain link fence to one side. Located at the water’s edge were partially constructed piers and bare concrete pillars standing sentry in the dark waters. The city noise was dampened, muffled, and distant. There was no one in sight, the only cars passing back and forth half a mile away.

“I don’t like this,” Harris said, reaching behind his back to draw his pistol. “Something’s not right.”

As if his words were a cue, a battered blue metal door swung open, the door heavily marked with white spray paint graffiti every bit as illegible as the graffiti on the abandoned buildings and freeway overpasses back in Detroit. The door squeaked ominously and a man stepped out, followed by three more. Each man was dressed alike, in a sleek dark suit and a black T-shirt. Each man held a machine gun, the tiny kind I thought might be an Uzi.

“Took you long enough to get here,” one of them said. “We expected you yesterday.”

Harris stepped sideways so his body blocked mine. He said nothing, only stood silent with his pistol at his thigh.

“Nothing to say?” The speaker was a short, ugly young man wearing a sparse black goatee, his face marred by severe acne. His eyes were cruel and cold and dull. “Come on, then. She is expecting you two.”

“Fuck off.” Harris tilted his head to the side.

“I think no.” He glanced to either side in an exaggerated gesture, looking at his three companions. “We are four. You are two. We have these.” He waggled his machine gun. “You come now. Drop the gun.”

Harris looked sidelong at me. He seemed to be contemplating something. “How about you first?” He returned his attention to the men in front of us.

I didn’t see a way out of this.

I slid farther behind Harris, letting his body completely block mine. Hoping I was being discreet, I reached behind my back and withdrew my pistol, gingerly, quietly thumbing the safety off. What was I doing? I couldn’t do this. They had machine guns. I couldn’t do this.

Apparently I wasn’t being discreet enough, because one of the men shouted something in Greek, stepping toward me, lifting his gun. Three short, angry steps, and he was beside Harris and I was twisting away from him, loath to let him get his hands on me. Time distorted then, milliseconds drawing out even as everything sped up. Harris pivoted, his arm flashing out and wrapping around my attacker’s throat, jerking him in front of him. The Uzi waved, spat fire and noise, and then Harris’s pistol barked once and blood sprayed. I shrieked, but my hands were clutching my pistol in front of me, feet shoulder width apart, pistol cupped and supported as Harris had shown me, and my finger was tightening on the trigger, the black barrel leveled at one of the men. Harris shoved the dead body forward and stepped swiftly to one side, his pistol barking, once—twice—three times. Uzis chattered and the dead body jerked and burst red, but then the guns were silenced and bodies were crumpling, and I was still standing with my pistol held out in front of me, finger on the trigger, barrel shaking, pointing at empty space.

“Kyrie. Put it away. It’s over.” Harris spoke from beside me, his voice too calm. “Put it down. Put the safety on. Now, Kyrie. Now.”

I flinched at the whip-sharp note in his voice and lowered the weapon, pushing the button in to secure the pistol, returned it to the small of my back.

“I couldn’t—I couldn’t—” My voice cracked.

Harris’s hand touched my shoulder. “I hope you get through all this without ever needing to. I really do.” He bent and grabbed two handfuls of pant leg. “Come on. Help me pull these assholes out of the way.” Harris dragged the body backward a few feet, and then realized blood was leaving a wide trail. “Fuck it. Leave ’em. We need to move.”

He set off in a trot, stepping over bodies without a second glance. I followed less surely, unable to look away from the blood and the staring eyes and the gaping holes. Harris returned, grabbed my arm, and pulled me into a run, slowing only once we hit a main road and were able to get lost in the bustling crowd. I wasn’t following Harris at that point so much as being pulled by him without resisting. Seeing men shot and killed…I couldn’t move past it. Knowing someone had died was one thing, knowing someone had likely died when I rammed the Peugeot was one thing…what had just happened, that was something totally else.

Harris had us weaving in an erratic pattern, left here, right at this corner, down this alley and backtracking, and then we were on a bus and smashed between a crushing crowd of sweating locals. I was still nauseous and seeing holes in torsos and staring, unseeing eyes.

Harris’s voice filled my ear in a barely audible whisper. “I know you’re in shock, Kyrie, but you need to pull it together. It was us or them.”

I answered in a harsh rasp. “I know. I just—god…I keep seeing them.”