Monk leaned forward. "Fifty bucks if you get me there in under five minutes."
Acceleration threw Monk back into the seat. That was more like it.
In two minutes, the jumble of brown brick buildings appeared. They flashed past a sign that read Georgetown university hospital. Tires squealed into the visitors' parking lot, almost sideswiping an ambulance.
Monk threw a fistful of bills at the driver and leaped out.
He squeezed sideways through the automatic door, impatient when it opened too slowly. He ran headlong down the hall, dodging patients and orderlies. He knew which room in ICU.
He ran past a nursing station, ignoring a yell to slow down.
Not today, honey.
Monk winged around the corner and spotted the bed. He ran, fell to his knees in the last steps, and slid in his sweatpants up to the side of the bed. He hit the lowered side rail rather hard.
Kat stared at him, a spoonful of jiggling lime green Jell-O halfway to her mouth. "Monk…?"
"I came here as soon as I could," he said, panting, winded.
"But I just talked to you ninety minutes ago on the satellite phone."
"That's just talking."
He shoved up, leaned over the bed, and kissed her square on the mouth. The bandages were wrapped around her left shoulder and upper torso, half hidden by a blue hospital gown. Three gunshots, two units of blood lost, collapsed lung, shattered collarbone, and lacerated spleen.
But she was alive.
And damn lucky.
Logan Gregory's funeral was set for three days from now.
Still, the pair had saved Washington from a terrorist attack, gunning down the Waalenberg assassin and stopping the plot before it could come to fruition. The ceremonial gold Bell was now buried deep in Sigma's research labs. The shipment of Xerum 525 intended for the Bell had been found at a shipping yard in New Jersey. But by the time the U.S. intelligence agencies had tracked the shipment—encumbered by the vast web of Waalenberg-owned corporations, shells, and subsidiaries—the one last sample of Xerum was found degraded, left too long out in the sun, gone inert due to improper refrigeration. And without the fuel source, the Bells, even those recovered from other embassies, would never ring again.
Monk preferred evolution the old-fashioned way.
His hand drifted to her belly. He was afraid to ask.
He didn't have to. Kat's hand covered his. "The baby's fine. Doctors say there should be no complications."
Monk sagged again to his knees, resting the side of his head on her stomach, relieved. He closed his eyes. He snaked an arm around her waist, gently, careful of her injuries, and pulled tight to her.
Kat touched his cheek.
Still on his knees, Monk reached to his pocket and lifted out the black ring box. He held it out, eyes still closed, a prayer on his lips.
Monk opened his eyes, staring up into the face of the woman he loved. "What?"
"I said okay."
Monk lifted his head. "Are you sure?"
"Are you trying to talk me out of it?"
"Well, you are on drugs. Maybe I'd better ask you—"
"Just give me the ring." She took the box and opened it. She stared silently for a moment. "It's empty."
Monk took the box and stared inside. The ring was gone.
He shook his head.
"What happened?" Kat asked.
Monk growled. "Fiona."
The next morning, Painter lay on his back in another wing of Georgetown University Hospital. The table retracted from the doughnut-shaped CT machine. The scan had taken over an hour. He had almost fallen asleep, having rested very little over the past few days. Anxiety plagued his nights.
A nurse opened the door.
Lisa followed her inside.
Painter sat up. It was chilly in the room. Then again, he was wearing nothing but a threadbare hospital gown. He sought some manner of dignity, tucking and snugging, but finally conceded defeat.
Lisa sat down next to him. She nodded back to the monitoring room. A clutch of researchers from Johns Hopkins and Sigma had their heads bent together, the focus of their attention on Painter's health.
"Looks good," Lisa said. "All signs of internal calcification are receding. Your lab values are all returning to normal. You may retain some minor residual scarring to your aortic valve, but possibly not even that. The rate of recovery is remarkable…dare I say, miraculous."
"You may," Painter said. "But what about this?"
He ran his fingers through the white streak of hair over one ear.
She reached up and followed his fingers with her own. "I like it. And you're going to be fine."
He believed her. For the first time, deep down, he knew he would be okay. A shuddering sigh flowed from him. He would live. There was still a life ahead of him.
Painter caught Lisa's hand, kissed her palm, then lowered it.
She blushed, glanced to the monitoring window—but she didn't pull her hand from his as she discussed some technical matter with the nurse.
Painter studied her. He had gone to Nepal both to investigate the illnesses reported by Ang Gelu and as a personal odyssey, a time for private reflection. He had expected incense, meditation, chants, and prayers, but instead it had turned into a hellish and brutal journey around half the globe. Still, in the end, maybe the result was the same.
His fingers tightened on her hand.
He had found her.
And though they had been through so much together in these past days, they still barely knew each other. Who was she really? What was her favorite food, what made her let out a belly laugh, what would it be like to dance with her, what would she whisper when she said good night?
Painter knew only one thing for certain as he sat in his gown, all but naked next to her, exposed down to the level of his DNA.
He wanted to know everything.
Two days later, rifles fired their last shot into the blue sky, cracking brilliantly across the green slopes of Arlington National Cemetery. The day was too bright for a funeral, a glorious day.
Gray stood off to the side as the funeral ended. In the distance, overlooking the clutch of black-suited mourners, rose the Tomb of the Unknowns, eighty tons of Yule marble quarried from Colorado. It represented loss without a name, a life laid down in service to the country.
Logan Gregory was now one of them. Another unknown. Few would know of his heroism, the blood shed to protect all of us.
But some did.
Gray watched the vice president pass a folded flag to Logan's mother, draped in black, supported by his father. Logan had no wife, no kids. Sigma had been his life…and his death.