Chapter 14: Fools Rush In – part 6
The executive level was a ghost town. Jake had visited on a handful of occasions, always accompanied by one of his parents. Each time the spacious, daylit lobby had hummed with quiet activity. Gibson and his Chairmen masters had tens of visitors each day. Despite that, he only recalled seeing a handful of guards. Seeing none now was a good sign, he hoped.
Dad led them straight to Chairmen Butler’s wing, with Ri-as-Gibson bringing up the rear. Like Mom, Lynn, and Captain MacKenzie, Jake kept his eyes down for the most part. That and his slumped shoulders made him look defeated, and kept him from watching Dad’s odd movements. He was walking funny. Kind of stiffly. Jake prayed that it was part of Dad’s act, and not Almeida having resumed control.
When they were twenty feet from the receptionist’s teak and marble desk, Dad stopped and turned around. “Wait here,” he said with a Spanish-sounding accent, not quite looking at Ri. For an instant Jake’s heart stopped; he’d never heard his father do an accent in his life. Then Dad winked, faced forward, and strode up to the pretty blonde behind the desk.
Reassured, Jake enacted the next part of the plan. He imagined what Butler, the other Chairmen, or the real Gibson might do to traitors. A brainwipe was one of the more pleasant possibilities. What really scared him was magic. Jake didn’t know what the witches could or couldn’t do. The smoke creature Carlyle had sicced on Mom and Dad had been bad enough, and Jake was sure the witches could manage much worse. Ashlynn had said herself that she was too inexperienced to protect them all.
Jake’s musings quickly prompted genuine, gut-twisting fear. If–when–Butler scanned them, he’d sense the real thing. Jake hoped it would be convincing enough.
“Gibson and I are here to see Butler,” Dad told the receptionist. “With guests.”
The curvaceous woman glanced at the closed door to Butler’s office, then donned a polite smile. “I’m sorry, Chairman, but–”
Ignoring her, Dad marched up to the door, reaching for the handle. The door swung open before his fingers touched the metal. Butler’s voice carried through the doorway. “What is it, Almeida?”
Standing in the threshold, Dad stated, “MacKenzie, Harris, Myers, and their offspring are responsible for this mess. Gibson and I secured them.” He glanced over his shoulder, nodded into the office, and disappeared inside.
With his heart thumping in his chest, Jake moved forward with his family and supposed captor. A quick glance at the receptionist showed her occupied by her computer monitor, so Jake slipped the silicone ear plugs he’d been palming into his ears. In his peripheral vision he saw Lynn, MacKenzie, and Mom do the same.
As Jake entered the room he brushed his hands over his front pants pockets. Through the denim of the right pocket he felt his prism and the coral anti-magic talisman Lynn had made. His left pocket held a small piezoelectric alarm. Ironic that a handful of small objects would be more effective against the Chairmen than high-tech weaponry. That was the theory, anyway.
“That’s far enough,” Ri said with Gibson’s voice. His words were clear, albeit muffled from the ear plugs. Jake and his fellow “captives” halted.
Keeping his head bowed, Jake glanced around. Mom stood in front of him and MacKenzie before Ashlynn. About ten feet in front of them was Dad, with his back to them. He faced Butler, who frowned impatiently over his glass, marble, and wood desk. The floor-to-ceiling windows twenty feet behind him displayed a view of the island and ocean that would have been breathtaking if Jake had any breath to spare.
The door clicked shut behind them, doubling Jake’s anxiety. He resisted the urge to embrace his emotionless alien side. His act had to be convincing for a little longer.
Butler turned his disdainful gaze from Dad to Ri, who’d moved to Jake’s left. Jake snuck a quick look at hi–her holding MacKenzie’s semi-automatic rifle at the ready. Butler sniffed, “Took you long enough.”
Ri’s Daniel face looked appropriately contrite. “Please accept my apologies, Chairman.” Then she trained her rifle on Butler and fired.
Everything seemed to happen at once. Jake dove to the ground as another burst erupted from the gun, and one of the piezo alarms shrieked. Even with ear plugs Jake wanted to cover his ears to deaden the piercing wail. Lynn, MacKenzie, and Mom had hit the floor as well. Dad kneeled, wincing from the noise as he fumbled his ear plugs in place. Then Jake heard something truly bizarre: laughter.
Although he was nearly doubled over with his hands over his ears, Butler stood behind his desk laughing. “I knew you’d turned. All of you,” he spat. “I foresaw it. You’ll never guess what comes next.”
Jake felt more than heard something heavy fall to the floor. He looked and found Ri laying on her side, gasping. Blood oozed around her hands clasped over her stomach. The gun sat to her left, ignored.
Jake gaped at Ri, stunned. Butler knew. There’s no way–
The plan, Jake!
Although he wasn’t sure who’d yelled, the telepathic reminder snapped Jake out of it. He rounded on Butler, fishing his crystal from his pocket. Before he connected with it, he felt Dad’s cool energy. Snarling, Jake focused on the Chairman’s internal carotid artery. Dad was already pinching it shut, cutting off the flow of blood to Butler’s brain, so Jake shifted his attention to the coronary arteries. A heart attack plus a stroke should do the trick.
Butler wheezed, falling back into his chair. Jake grinned as he squeezed harder. He was vaguely aware of MacKenzie scrambling over to Ri, and his mother and sister moving out of view. Then Dad’s energy winked out.
Jake’s concentration splintered. “Dad?” he called, and the piezo alarm silenced. Jake watched his father–no, Almeida!–toss the now-silent gadget aside. Then pain lanced through his head, and he sunk to his knees. Through watering eyes Jake saw that Mom, Lynn, and MacKenzie had done the same.
“You thought you could take me–take us out with a fucking alarm?” Butler snarled, pacing around his desk towards them. He ignored Da– Almeida as he passed him.
Almeida placidly watched Butler stop and lean against the desk. “Are you injured?”
Butler whirled around, nearly losing his balance. “What the fuck do you think? Yes, I’m fucking injured!”
“I’ll dispatch them, then see–”
“No!” Butler roared.
The pain in Jake’s head lessened, as did the pressure holding him down. He pushed back gently while the Chairmen argued.
“–I’m doing the dispatching,” Butler said. He marched over to MacKenzie, slowing as he passed Ri’s prone form. “Shapeshifting freak,” he muttered, then stopped in front of the captain.
Still holding the rifle, MacKenzie lurched to his feet. “Now,” Butler said, staring the Scot in the eye, “I want you to apologize for all of the trouble you’ve caused. All right?”
“I’m sorry.” The words were forced through MacKenzie’s gritted teeth.
Butler shook his head. “I’m just not feeling it. Prove it, Captain.”
MacKenzie’s eyes went wide. His hands shook as he raised the rifle. Inch by inch it twisted around until the barrel bit into the underside of his chin. His finger pulled back on the trigger even more slowly. Jake clawed at the force keeping him in place, but the gun fired before he could break through.
Three bullets turned the back of MacKenzie’s head into a fountain of gore. His body dropped to the ground.
A banshee wail rang out, and Butler flew across the room into the wall. The pressure holding Jake vanished as Mom sprinted past him, heading straight for Butler.
“Mum!” Ashlynn shouted, exchanging a panicked look with Jake.
Jake’s mind raced. Through force of will he shoved his whirling thoughts aside and dove into the void. Help Mom, he told his sister. As she darted off, Jake assessed the situation. MacKenzie was dead. Ri was close to joining him. Lynn and Mom were dealing with Butler. That left Almeida in Dad’s body. The thought and meeting his father’s lifeless eyes made the void shudder.
You can’t win this, boy. The alien’s thought was bone-numbingly cold.
Jake allowed his body to shiver. That remains to be seen. Dad was in there. He could help him fight. So he mentally connected with his prism, smiling from its cool energy. Then a shadow fell across the room.
Don’t look don’t look don’t look, Jake told himself, but did anyway. His connection snapped as his jaw dropped.
An enormous creature filled the width of the room, blocking the windows. Its ridged tail lashed, scales shining coppery-brown in the remaining light. One of its clawed feet slammed down, making the floor shudder. The monster’s serpentine neck twisted to pan its dinosaur head across the room. Its blue-gray eyes met Jake’s, thrumming power through him.
Should be slitted, Jake thought as he scrambled backwards. He couldn’t look away from the dragon’s round-pupilled eyes.
Carlyle, Ashlynn whispered.