Page 4 of Beta (Alpha 2)

I managed to pass another hour, and then a third.

Then I heard tires on the gravel drive, the low rumble of an engine, the quiet thunk of a car door closing. I leapt to my feet, scrambled to the window, and peeked out. A low, sleek, black two-door Audi with darkly tinted windows sat in the driveway. A man stood leaning with his back against the hood, holding a cell phone to his ear. Tall and thin, dark hair slicked back, swarthy features, clean-shaven and wearing a slim black suit with a narrow black tie, white shirt. He nodded every once in a while, then thumbed the phone to end the call and shoved it in his pocket.

Two things worried me: one, he wasn’t Harris, and two, he had a handgun held casually in his right hand. As I watched, he ejected the clip out of the bottom of the pistol, glanced at it, replaced it in the chamber, and then pulled back the slide. He did this with a practiced ease that made my gut churn. This wasn’t right. Not right at all.

I didn’t stop to think. Slinging my backpack over my shoulders, I dashed through the house to the garage. I snatched the Rover’s key fob off the hook, stuffed it into my pocket, and went to hit the button that would open the garage door. But then I paused and listened. The front door was locked; I knew that for a fact. I’d locked it myself while waiting for Harris.

Silence, long and thick.

And then the smashing of glass. I imagined a pistol butt going through the small squares of painted glass in the front door, a hand sliding through to unlock and open the door. I waited until I heard the door creak open and close again before sliding into the driver’s seat of the Rover. I waited another few moments, hoping that the man, whoever he was, would check the upstairs bedrooms first.

I put my foot to the brake and touched the ignition button, opening the garage at the same time. The engine purred to life, and the garage door rolled up on oiled tracks. Thank god Roth kept everything he owned in pristine condition. As soon as the door was open high enough, I threw the Rover in reverse and gunned the engine, cutting around the Audi parked directly behind me. The truck bumped onto the grass, tearing up the sod, but then I was on the gravel of the drive, jerking the gear shift into drive and flooring the pedal. Dirt and gravel sprayed out, and the Rover leaped forward.

Crack. Crack. Crackcrack.

Was that gunfire?

I looked in the rearview mirror just in time to see the rear window splinter into a spider web as a bullet hit it. Then it collapsed altogether as a second round hit the glass. I screamed as a third round ricocheted off the side mirror, mere inches from my face. I spun the wheel, hit the brake, and then gunned the engine to bring the Rover around in a tight ninety-degree turn onto another side road. I heard an engine roar, and I knew the Audi was not far behind me.

I didn’t have time to even be afraid. The wind whistling through the shattered back window was evidence enough that this was no joke and that each choice I made from this moment on would determine whether I lived or died. I jerked the Rover around a left turn and then a right, driving too fast down the quiet early morning streets of a sleepy little French village. I didn’t even know the name of the town—I just knew it was somewhere in the far south of France. Near Marseilles, maybe? My knowledge of French geography was pretty much nonexistent. I was used to sitting in the passenger seat as Roth drove, letting him take me where he wanted to go.

A street sign ahead of me snapped backward, the metal dented with the impact of a bullet.

What was going on? Who was shooting at me, and why? Where was Harris?

I yanked the SUV into another left turn, and then a right, and I was out of the village and onto a straight two-lane highway leading out and away, vineyards on either side. I floored the gas pedal, feeling the powerful Range Rover engine bolt the vehicle forward. The needle quickly passed the forty miles per hour mark, then fifty. I risked a glance in the rearview mirror and saw the Audi behind me, about a quarter mile away and closing fast.

I’d watched Roth make a few phone calls in this car, so I knew what to do. I hit the command button, and told the system to call Harris.

The trill of a ringer filled the car, once, twice, and then Harris’s voice. “Miss St. Claire. Is everything all right?”

“No. It’s not all fucking right, Harris.” I gripped the wheel in both hands, the gas pedal floored, and the speedometer needle passing seventy. “A guy showed up. A black Audi. He had a gun. It wasn’t you, and it didn’t feel right, so I took the Rover and left, but now he’s chasing me. He’s shooting at me. I’m scared.” I tried to stay calm, but only managed to sound robotic.

“Shit.” I heard a rustling on the other side of the line, and then the roar of an engine and tires squealing. “Are you hurt?”

“No. But he shot out the back window, and one of the side mirrors. He’s right behind me, and he’s gaining on me. I don’t know what to do. He’ll kill me if he catches me. I know he will.”

“Drive as fast as you safely can and don’t stop for anything. I’m coming for you. I’m not far away.”

“I don’t know where I’m going, Harris!” The Rover was doing over a hundred now, and my ability to control the vehicle at this speed was shaky at best.

“There’s only one highway where you are. Which way did you turn out of the village?”


“Then you’re heading toward me. You’re in the Rover?”


A pause, tires squealing again, a horn in the distance. Sirens. “Good. Just keep going. Plow through anything that tries to stop you. Just go.”

“I am.”

At that moment, the right side mirror shattered and I shrieked, my hands jerking on the wheel. The Rover wobbled, and I fought to correct it, tapping the brake and wrestling the wheel to keep the vehicle from flipping. I was fishtailing all over the road, the tires screaming. As soon as I felt the Rover stabilize again, I hit the gas and was pushed back into the seat as the engine roared forward. The Audi was right behind me now, and I heard the reports of the pistol barking behind me.

There was a slow-moving truck ahead of me, a semi groaning up the steep grade. I slid out into the oncoming traffic lane and flew past it, then had to swallow a scream as I jerked the wheel to the right once more, cutting in front of the semi and narrowly avoiding a tan sedan of some kind. The semi blared its horn and flashed its lights, as did the sedan. I risked another backward glance and saw that the Audi had passed the semi as well.

Another pistol shot echoed, and I heard the impact as the bullet hit somewhere in the rear, one of the brake lights maybe, or the trunk hatch.