His eyes narrowed. “I knew it!”
Liam clapped his hands together. “Focus. Where does this garage tunnel lead in the building? Up to the lobby?”
“It connects to the same elevator bank the main garage uses, just a level lower. It goes straight up and down the back of the building. You need a key card to tap in and out, but, again, Priyanka.”
She flipped her long curly hair back over her shoulder.
“All right,” Chubs said. “Seven floors, including the lobby. If we split up, a few of us can start searching from the top floor and the rest from the second story. We can meet in the middle.”
“You are for sure coming with me,” Vida told him. “No arguments. You haven’t held a weapon in four years.”
“I was not going to argue with that.”
“I’ll go with you, too,” Liam said. “The kids can take the lower floors. We’ll meet on the fourth floor, by the elevators. Is there any way to take out the security cameras?”
“When we get there, I can try,” Priyanka said. “See if I can’t get the whole system to loop.”
Everyone was nodding. Everyone but Max, who looked a bit sick.
I don’t want to hurt anyone else….
We’d already made him break that promise to himself when he fought Cubby. I wasn’t about to do it again.
Roman had taken notice, too. In his usual quiet way he said, “We’re going to need transport out of the city. Can you take point on that? Find a quick escape route through the blockade?”
Max nodded eagerly. “Just leave one of the burners with me. I’ll keep you updated.”
Chubs gave him the one he’d been using, and Liam handed us Sam’s old phone.
“Text only,” Vida said. “And only on the encrypted app.”
“U! N! No! More!” The chants were getting closer. “Let us vote for Joseph Moore!”
Vida went first, keeping her back to the wall as she moved to the edge of the alleyway. She motioned us forward, pulling Max closer to her by the collar of his shirt. “Are they moving in the direction of the garage?”
He nodded. “It’s north of the building. If they stay on this street, it’s a straight shot up Tenth Street.”
That seemed like a good bet, given the police barriers that blocked access to either side of Locust Street where vehicles had been left abandoned and trashed.
“Our favorite lady’s back,” Priyanka whispered to us. “I’ve missed you, Lady Luck.”
As the first wave of marchers passed us, heading the opposite direction as they carried their signs like flags and their flags like cloaks, Vida led us out into the fray. The protestors spilled over the sidewalks, packing themselves together to march forward, forward, forward, forcing us to push and weave through them to get past. A few soldiers gathered on the streets that connected to ours, both watching and keeping the crowd on their set path.
Liam ended up right beside me, stumbling as someone accidentally elbowed him in the chest. I reached out, looping my arm through his to steady him. Vida’s dark hair was just visible through the waving signs. I kept track of her the best I could, trying to spot the others.
A familiar hot rush of pressure slid along the back of my mind, sending a shiver down my back. It was gone before I could process the feeling.
Liam shuddered, pressing a hand to his chest. “I feel like someone just walked over my grave.”
I stood on my toes, searching the surrounding buildings. Nearby faces blurred as my anxiety grew. Up ahead, Priyanka turned, finding my gaze as she conducted her own search for the only possible source.
WE PEELED OFF FROM THE protestors one by one, following Max as he led us down a sliver of a street, one that didn’t even have a sign to identify it. If we hadn’t been following Max, I probably would have walked by the entrance altogether. The garage door itself blended almost seamlessly into the graffiti on the brick wall it had been carved into. He pointed to the small black square that was posted over the top left corner of the entrance.
“That’s the remote access,” he said, glancing at Priyanka, but she only had eyes for the security camera posted above the other corner.
“Is she…working?” Liam whispered to me.
“I can hear you just fine,” Priyanka said. “And yes, I am. Give me just one more minute….This is a pretty firewall they’ve got. Lots of…layers…”
Roman shook his head. “We can’t go through this door. There has to be some kind of vent….”
He followed the edge of the building, somehow squeezing himself into the narrow space between the garage’s wall and the office building adjacent to it. Finally, Roman reached an opening along the back of the building that looked about as big as a closet. My heart jumped as he disappeared, and then jumped again as he leaned back so I could see his face. “I’ve found it. Tell the others.”
Liam raised his brows at me. “Very dreamy.”
“Can you not?” I said, pushing him toward the opening. To make the fit work, he had to shed his belt and plaid shirt, leaving him in a gray undershirt. Chubs looked doubtful about his ability to slide between the buildings, but tried anyway. Priyanka went next, sucking in a hard breath and tearing the back of her shirt in the process.
Before I followed, Vida turned to Max. “We’re going to need some kind of service vehicle, I think. Something with an excuse to be on the road that won’t necessarily be stopped and searched. If you can’t find that, see if you can figure out a road that isn’t being monitored.”
He nodded, his brow creasing. “I’ll do my best.”
“You have about twenty minutes to do better than your best,” Vida told him.
The others had already pried off the metal vent, and Roman had crawled inside. We found him standing over an unconscious security officer in the booth by the massive door.
Roman led us down the length of the small, empty garage, until we reached a pathway shaved out of
the concrete. It sloped down gradually before evening out. We were so far beneath the street that we couldn’t even hear the sirens from the police or the chanting of the crowds. Overhead, the fluorescent lights flickered in time with my driving pulse.
Just breathe, I reminded myself. Find Ruby. Get out.
It was that simple. Don’t set off alarms. Don’t alert security. Find Ruby. Get out.
I rolled my shoulders back, feeling a static charge snap against my teeth.
The pathway fed into a small elevator bank, just as Max had promised.
“We’re only going up three floors. We can take the stairs,” Roman suggested to Vida. “It might draw less attention than multiple stops.”
Vida gave a nod of approval. “Good idea.”
Priyanka stepped forward, pressing her hand to the keypad. The elevator dinged with each floor it passed on the way down. We all cringed at the sound.
“Fourth floor in front of this same elevator bank,” Vida said. “Twenty minutes. No matter what, that’s the meet. We’ll reassess if we have to.”
I nodded as they stepped inside. “Good luck.”
The doors shut, carrying them away. A sickening feeling of dread wormed through my stomach. Roman brought up a hand and rested it on the nape of my neck. At the touch, I turned toward him.
“Come together,” he said softly, “leave together.”
I nodded, setting my shoulders back. I pulled the burner out of my pocket again, and began recording. Priyanka had already bypassed the lock on the stairwell’s door and was holding it open. With a deep breath, I followed them in.
The building’s power was a low hum in my ears. The concrete of the stairwell had been painted and sealed, the edges of the steps covered in rubber to prevent slipping. A strip of glow-in-the-dark tape ran along the side of them, almost brighter than the small fixtures on the walls. Only every other one was lit, like they were on reserve power, not full.
“Maybe they did evacuate the building,” I whispered.