CHAPTER FIFTY

Daryl ran. It was a chancy game they were playing now. Not quite the hunted. Not quite the hunters. Not yet. Randy's plan took chutzpah. Lots of it. Each of them, intentionally drawing attention to themselves, and yet hiding. Let them catch a glimpse, here and there. Draw them off, take them out, one by one. He heard Randy's voice, harsh with the fever, the stress, yet so reasonable. Logical. Us or them. That's what it boiled down to. That part of the game Kurt and he abhorred, but was necessary now. They had come to the end of the road, literally. They could not run any more, no where left to go that these people would not follow them. Follow them and...

Daryl flung off his jacket as he ran, tossing it carelessly in a trash can. It would be seen. That was okay. It would be seen, but he wouldn't be. Lead them on. Tease them. Frustrate them. Anger them. Make them careless. Take them down. It had been years since he'd had to do anything like this, but the training had been thorough. He knew what to do. He just didn't want to do it.

He slowed now to a quick walk, mingling in with the crowd. Glanced behind him. Saw the man just entering the disorderly edge of the throng. Daryl slowed further. Thoughtful. The guy was new at this. It was pretty obvious he was looking for someone, as his head turned first one way, then the other, scanning the crowd. That was good, in one way. It would make it easier for Daryl to get rid of him. But it was bad, too. Daryl didn't like the idea of killing someone still wet behind the ears.


*****

Kurt stopped abruptly at the corner of a concession stand, appearing to browse the hand-chalked menu, watching for anyone hurrying toward him. No one. He started meandering away from the stand, rolling up his sleeves. Casual. Very casual. He kept checking his surroundings, the erstwhile tourist. It took a few minutes before he saw him. Leather jacket carelessly slung over his shoulder, baseball cap, stopping to check out the various stands, watching the mimes perform. The guy wasn't half-bad. Innocently random in his movements. But he moved when Kurt moved, stopped when Kurt stopped. Looked away when Kurt's eyes moved in his direction.

Kurt started looking for his spot. He knew this guy had to have come from the black van; no company cars had been close enough for this early a connection. It gave him pause. He still wasn't sure who these guys were, what their objective was. He sighed to himself. He would have preferred simply to disable their pursuers, but, as Randy had pointed out, that wouldn't put an end to things. Obviously, from their methods earlier, these guys were not averse to violence. And he knew Stockwell's ways, very well. For any of them to have a future, these people had to be dealt with in a conclusive manner.

It really came down to numbers. One man, he could accept. Not willingly, not easily, but he could do that. But he knew it would not end with just the men in the black van. Stockwell's people were here, or would be shortly. And Barish's, too. Sure, some would give up, turn tail when they realized their numbers were dwindling. And hopefully, it would send a message to all their pursuers. Don't fuck with us. Not any more.

Kurt watched the man in the baseball cap. He was good. Actually smiling at the people around him, chit-chatting with them. And yet he kept coming. Instinctively, Kurt knew he would have liked this guy. Too bad. Just too damn bad...


*****

Sam never looked back after sliding out of the van. His leg hurt like hell as he ran, favoring it as best he could. He'd known, from the minute Randy laid out his plan, that losing any assassin would be a matter of finding a place to hide and staying there. There was just no way he could draw someone into a trap and kill them. It would be suicide. So he never looked back, never thought about seeing who was there, or how close. His only hope was finding somewhere they couldn't look.

He moved deep into the crowd surrounding the cabanas. He was assaulted by the multitude of smells coming from them. Food concessions. Figures. That's why the crowd. His stomach immediately reminded him that it had been a long time since anything had been in it. But he pushed that aside; he was looking. Looking for that one person. That one type of person. And then he saw her.

Not the kind of woman he usually looked at twice. But the type he needed now. Pretty, not beautiful. Busy, competent, issuing orders to the people working around her without sounding like a drill sergeant. The busiest of the concessions. He noticed the fast turnover of customers. This woman was used to making fast decisions. And she was smiling. This was the one. He moved closer, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. He wasn't sure yet how he would get her by herself; his only objective right now was to be in the right place at the right time. And hope he wasn't spotted before he'd had his chance.

Every once in a while, the gods of luck would smile on him. Today was one of those times. He had no sooner reached the corner of the concession when the woman spoke to a co-worker and stepped out of the side door. Sam moved around the corner as she was lighting up.

"Excuse me..." He smiled that million-dollar smile.

She looked at him, curious, not alarmed. Good.

"I'm sorry to bother you, but, I'm, uh, well, I'm not feeling so good right now. I just had surgery and I'm afraid I overdid today. Would there be someplace I could just sit for a bit, get out of the sun? I really hate to bother you..."

"Hey, no, don't worry about it." Concern showing in her voice and face. "Here, come on in. You can sit in the back where it's cooler, okay?" She took his arm gently, and he allowed himself to be led into the welcome shelter. She took him to the back corner, clearing off a somewhat comfortable office chair and helping him settle into it. The look of relief on his face wasn't faked.

"Are you okay? Would you like something to drink, or eat, or...?"

"No, no, thank you, if I could just sit for a bit, I'll be fine. I'll stay out of your way. Thank you."

"No problem. Just stay put as long as you want. Is there anyone you'd like me to call?"

"No, I'm supposed to meet some friends here, but I'm not sure when they'll arrive. I'm a bit early..."

"Well, you just sit until you feel better. Let me know if you want anything, okay?" They smiled at each other.


*****

Randy stopped short once he got in with the throng on the boardwalk. He looked around, taking a deep, deep breath. He glanced behind him; no one stuck out. He began walking down the boardwalk, watching. He ignored the throbbing in his chest, the ringing in his head. He ignored the people shouldering past him. His mind was on one thing and one thing only.

He shouldered past the people on the boardwalk, ignoring the dirty looks that quickly turned to unease. One man spoke angrily after being pushed to the side. Randy turned and looked at him and the man stopped dead, apologized and hurried off. A small smile crept onto Randy's face. He wiped the sweat away yet again and resumed his search.

He was not unaware of the man following him. As long as all he did was follow, it didn't matter. He was also aware of others now, starting to move through the crowd. Whether they had seen him or not, he didn't know. Didn't matter. He would deal with them as they came. He'd done it before. He would do it again. The only thing that mattered was finding his friends. Once he did that, he was safe.


*****

Maggie pulled up behind the black van. She knew no one would be in it, but it was comforting just to have it there. She knew John was somewhere close and it made all the difference now. She sat in the gray van, windows down, and waited. She would be there, ready, when they found Face.