Gray set Fiona down, freeing his arms. He wiped his face clean with the sleeve of his Armani jacket. Fiona stayed at his side, one hand clutching his belt to keep anchored to him amid the throng.

The gate appeared ahead.

Gray nodded toward it. "If anything happens…run. Keep going."

"I don't know if I can make it. Side hurts like a bitch."

Gray saw that she was limping now, scrunched over slightly.

Up ahead, Gray saw security guards trying to control the crowd through the gates, keeping the press of bodies from crushing anyone. As he watched, Gray spotted a pair of guards standing off to the side, conspicuously not helping with crowd control. A young man and woman. Both snowy blond. The bidders from the auction house. In disguise, they guarded the gates. Both had bolstered pistols, palms resting on them.

For just a moment, the woman's eyes met his in the crowd.

But they shifted away.

Then snapped back again.

Recognition.

Gray backpedaled through the crowd, fighting the current.

"What?" Fiona asked, pushed behind him.

"Go back. We need to find another way."

"How?"

Gray edged off to the side, swimming against the riptide. It was too hard to retreat straight back. A moment later, he broke free. Only a handful of people still bustled around him, a small eddy in the greater current.

They needed better coverage.

Gray saw that they had reached the edge of the deserted parade route. The floats had ground to a stop, lights still blinking, but no music. It seemed the panic had spread to the float operators. They had abandoned their chariots and fled. Even the security guards had moved to the gates.

Gray spotted the open door to a cab of one of the floats.

"This way," he said.

He half carried Fiona away from the crowd and ran for the float. Over the cab towered a giant illuminated puppet of a gangly duck with an oversize head. Gray recognized the figure. From the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Ugly Duckling."

They dashed under one of its upraised wings aglow with twinkling yellow lights, plainly meant to flap. Gray helped Fiona into the cab, expecting to be shot in the back at any moment. He climbed in after her and closed the door, snapping it shut as quietly as he could.

As he glanced out the windshield, he appreciated his caution.

A figure appeared ahead, stepping out of the crowd, dressed in black. Grette's killer. He did not bother hiding his shotgun. All attention had diverted to the front of the park. He circled the edge of the retreating crowd, staring out toward the lake and parade circuit.

Gray ducked with Fiona.

The man passed within yards and continued down the line of abandoned floats.

"That was close," Fiona whispered. "We should—"

"Shh." Gray pressed a finger to her lips. His elbow nudged a lever. Something clicked in the dashboard.

Oh crap…

Speakers buried in the puppet overhead erupted.

—QUACK, QUACK, QUACK…QUACK, QUACK, QUACK—

The Ugly Duckling had awakened.

And everyone knew it.

Gray straightened. Thirty yards away, the gunman swung around.

There was no hiding now.

Suddenly the cab's engine growled. Glancing over, he saw Fiona sitting up, popping the clutch.

"Found the key in the ignition," she said and shifted into gear. The float lurched forward, swinging out of line.

"Fiona, let me—"

"You drove last time. And look where that got us." She aimed straight for the gunman with the shotgun. "Besides, I owe this bastard."

So she had recognized him, too. The man who murdered her grandmother. She had shifted into second by the time he raised his shotgun. She barreled The Ugly Duckling had awakened.

And everyone knew it.

Gray straightened. Thirty yards away, the gunman swung around.

There was no hiding now.

Suddenly the cab's engine growled. Glancing over, he saw Fiona sitting up, popping the clutch.

"Found the key in the ignition," she said and shifted into gear. The float lurched forward, swinging out of line.

"Fiona, let me—"

"You drove last time. And look where that got us." She aimed straight for the gunman with the shotgun. "Besides, I owe this bastard."

So she had recognized him, too. The man who murdered her grandmother. She had shifted into second by the time he raised his shotgun. She barreled Returning his attention to the row of levers, Gray grabbed the left-most one. It only made sense. He yanked it down. Gears ground. The Duckling's left wing, raised a moment ago, flapped low. It struck the gunman in the neck, clotheslining him from the side, shattering vertebrae. The man was lifted off his feet and tossed aside.

"Go for the gates!" Gray urged.

The Ugly Duckling had its first taste of blood.

—QUACK, QUACK, QUACK…QUACK, QUACK, QUACK—

The siren call of the float cleared a path. People scattered to the sides. The security guards were crushed back by the crowd. Even those in disguise. The service gate next to the main entrance, thrown wide earlier to ease the crush of fleeing people, stood open.

Fiona aimed for it.

The duck shattered through it, tearing off its deadly left wing. The cab shuddered, and they were on the streets. Fiona headed away.

"Take the first corner," Gray said, pointing.

She obeyed, downshifting into the turn like a pro. The Duckling flew around the corner. After two more turns, Gray urged her to slow down.

"We can't keep driving this thing," he said. "It's too conspicuous."

"You think?" Fiona glanced to him and shook her head in exasperation.

Gray found a long wrench in a tool kit. He had them stop at the top of a hill and waved Fiona out. Shifting over, Gray popped the clutch, jammed the wrench on the accelerator, and jumped to the curb.

The Ugly Duckling took off, lights blazing, clipping parked cars as it fled downhill. Wherever it finally came to roost, the crash site would divert the attention of any trackers.

Gray headed in the opposite direction. They should be safe for a few hours. He checked his watch. Plenty of time to reach the airport. And Monk. He would be touching down shortly.

Fiona limped beside him, eyes glancing back. Behind them, the Duckling trumpeted into the night.

—QUACK, QUACK, QUACK…QUACK, QUACK, QUACK—

"I'm going to miss him," Fiona said.

"Me, too."

4:35 a.m. HIMALAYAS

Painter stood by the hearth. He had risen from his chair upon the pronouncement of his death sentence.

The massive guard had come forward three steps when Painter rose to his feet, but Anna had held the man back with a raised hand. "Nein, Klaus. Alles 1st ganz recht."

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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