A man lunged to her aid, his arms caught her.
“Thank you …” she began to mumble—then stared up into the face of Dr. Paul Cranston, the head of North Charleston Fertility Clinic.
A gun pressed into her side.
Another two men came up behind her.
The doctor smiled. “Ah, Dr. Cummings, it’s high time we finished our previous conversation.”
He motioned to the others. Strong fingers clamped on to her upper arms, hard enough to cause bruising—but a little manhandling was the least of her worries.
She glanced back up to the bright lights of the second-story window, heard a piano playing.
Cranston made a scolding noise. “I can guess what you’re thinking, but fear not, you’re not that unlucky. That side of the family knows nothing important, except how to spend money and sniff their noses at common folk. No, we’ve been following you since the hotel. I had men positioned outside when you made such a bold escape.”
Lisa stared back at him.
“We hoped you’d lead us to whomever you’re working with,” Cranston said and pulled a pen from his pocket.
It was Kat’s surveillance device. They must have found it in the lobby, but clearly they still didn’t know who left it.
“A shame,” he said and led her away. “Looks like we’ll have to do this the hard way. But difficult or not, we’ll find your partner.”
The buzzing shears rode past Kat’s left ear. Long locks of auburn hair tumbled down, falling past her shoulder and sliding to the floor to join the mound of hair already piled around the chair.
Still cotton-mouthed from the sedative, Kat sat on the seat in the center of the circular ward, with only a sheer hospital gown between her and the cold metal. With her wrists cuffed behind her back, she had to tolerate the humiliation—and that was surely the goal here, to break her down.
The other prisoner—a doe-eyed young woman in her midtwenties—watched from behind the glass door of her cell, offering her silent support. She and Kat were the only ones here. The rest of the cells appeared empty. The facility was clearly running low on raw material.
Kat remembered Dr. Marshall mentioning something about a lodge.
They’re demanding more research subjects.
Clearly, that was one of the purposes of this place, to supply human guinea pigs for various projects, collecting women who had no past, no families, who could easily vanish. And likely this was not the only such facility in the world. She imagined there were many other collection sites hidden around the globe.
But to what end? What was going on here?
From the corner of her eye, Kat studied the red steel doors and the embossed genetic cross.
Something important was happening at this particular clinic.
And she knew any answers lay hidden behind those doors.
Earlier, Kat had been forced to strip naked in her cell while Dr. Marshall performed a thorough physical, assisted by the orderly, Roy. Afterward, Marshall had vanished with a tray of vacuum tubes full of Kat’s blood.
Kat’s fingers curled into tight fists as Roy sheared the last of her hair away. They might have taken her clothes and most of her dignity, but she bided her time to win it back.
“All done,” Roy said, running a palm along the stubble of her scalp, raising a slimy chill over her entire body. “Always like it when you’re freshly shaved.”
Kat whipped her head away. “Go to hell.”
“Feisty,” he said with a laugh, glancing toward the locked door, likely looking for Dr. Marshall.
Clearly, the man spent most of his day being browbeaten and ordered around by the female clinician. He seemed to take pleasure in taking out his frustration on those left to his tender care.
His hand reached to the weapon attached to his belt. It wasn’t an electric cattle prod like Dr. Marshall’s means of punishment, simply an extendable baton. He’d used it on Kat once already, smacking her across her calves when she was too slow in getting undressed.
Her skin still stung.
Kat had noticed welts on the other inmate’s arms and legs.
Roy snapped his baton off his belt and, with an expert flip of his wrist, extended the weapon to its full length, likely compensating for shortcomings elsewhere.
“There’s not going to be any trouble, is there?” Roy sneered in her ear.
She gritted her teeth and hung her head.
“That’s more like it.” He rested the baton on her shoulder as he leaned down and undid her cuffs. “Stand up. Keep your hands behind you.”
She obeyed, her head spinning slightly from the aftereffects of the drugs. Cold air blew through the slitted back of her hospital gown as she turned to face Roy. She kept her hands behind her.
Roy reached the tip of his baton under her chin, forcing her head up. “That’s more—”
Kat whipped her arm around and grabbed the baton, yanking it toward her. Roy, caught off guard, got pulled closer. She swung her other arm wide, silver flashing in her fist. She drove the knife into his throat, below the larynx, severing the trachea.
Roy’s eyes stared at her, stunned, gurgling, unable to scream—but she understood his silent question.
She answered him in a hiss. “Because this cat has claws.”
Kat twisted the combat dagger hard. Blood sprayed a full yard across the spotless vinyl floor. In seconds, he bled out, and she let his body tumble to the floor.
She wiped the blade on his clothes and folded it closed. When Roy had first tossed her into the cell, waiting for the sedatives to wear off before stripping her and taking away her clothes, she had fought through the fog, freed her left shoe, and removed the folded combat dagger concealed in the sole. She left the lock pick hidden in her right shoe; unfortunately, her cell door did not offer access to the keyhole outside. As she put her shoe back on, she hid the blade under a fold of the blanket.
Later, when they had stripped her, examined her, and poked her full of needles, she waited until she had a moment alone, while putting on her hospital gown. Through the opening in the back, she slipped the folded dagger between her bu**ocks and held it clamped there—not the most seemly way to conceal a weapon, but sometimes a lady has to do what a lady has to do.
Then she had to wait for a time to get Roy alone.
She knew she would have only the one chance.
Taking advantage of the moment, Kat worked fast and stripped Roy of his keys, electronic pass card, and baton. She rushed to the other cell and unlocked it.
The young woman came staggering out, staring at the ruin of Roy’s body. “Thank you … my name’s Amy.”