She lifted the poncho and pulled a handcuff key from the back pocket of her jeans.
Her fingers trembling.
It took her three attempts to finally get the key into the lock.
“Why?” Ethan asked again.
“We’ll talk when we’re safe.”
The bracelet popped open.
Ethan sat up, grabbed the key out of her hand, and started on the other one.
The elevator descended at a crawl between the fourth and third floor.
“If it stops and someone gets on, we fight. You understand?” she asked.
“No matter what happens, you cannot let them take you back into that operating room.”
The second bracelet sprung open and Ethan climbed down off the gurney.
Felt reasonably stable on his feet, no sign of the drug’s effect.
“Are you gonna be OK to run?”
“They just drugged me. I won’t be able to cover much ground.”
A bell above the elevator doors dinged.
It kept descending.
“When?” Beverly asked.
“Five minutes ago. But it was a muscular injection, not intravenous.”
“What was the drug?”
“I don’t know, but I heard them say I’d be unconscious within ten minutes. Well...more like eight or nine now.”
The car reached the lobby, still dropping.
Beverly said, “When the doors open, we’re heading left, all the way down the corridor. There’s a door at the end that will put us out on the street.”
The elevator shuddered to a stop.
For a long moment, the doors didn’t move.
Ethan shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet, ready to explode out into the corridor if there were people waiting for them, adrenaline flooding his system with that electrified alertness he always got just before a mission as the rotors spun up.
The doors creaked open an inch, froze for ten seconds, and then slowly screeched open the rest of the way.
“Wait,” Beverly whispered. She stepped over the threshold and peeked out. “Clear.”
Ethan followed her out into a long, empty corridor.
Checkered linoleum tile ran for at least a hundred and fifty feet to some doors at the far end, everything spotless and quietly gleaming under the harsh fluorescent light.
A door slam in the distance stopped them in their tracks.
Footsteps became audible, though it was impossible to determine how many people were coming.
“They’re heading down the stairwell,” Beverly whispered. “Come on.”
She turned and ran in the opposite direction, Ethan following, trying to dampen the slap of his bare feet on the linoleum and grunting against the jarring agony of what he could only assume were bruised ribs.
They came to a vacant nurses’ station as a door behind them toward the far end of the corridor banged open.
Beverly accelerated, turning and sprinting down one of the intersecting corridors, Ethan fighting to keep up, venturing a quick glance over his shoulder as he ran, but he was around the corner too soon to see anything.
This wing was empty and shorter by half.
Midway down, Beverly stopped and opened a door on the left-hand side.
Tried to usher Ethan through, but he shook his head, leaned in, and whispered into Beverly’s ear instead.
She nodded and rushed into the room, pulling the door closed after her.
Ethan walked to the door on the opposite side of the hall.
The handle turned. He slipped inside.
It was empty, draped in darkness, and, by what little light streamed in from the corridor, appeared to have the same layout as the room they’d kept him in up on the fourth floor.
He shut the door as quietly as he could manage and turned into the bathroom.
Groped in the dark until his finger found the switch.
Flicked the light.
There was a hand towel hanging from a rack beside the shower. He grabbed it, wrapped it around his hand, and faced the mirror.
Cocked his arm back.
You have thirty seconds, maybe less.
But his reflection derailed him.
Oh God. He’d known it was bad, but Pope had beaten the shit out of him—his upper lip twice the size, his nose giant and bruised like a rotted strawberry, a gash across his right cheek closed with what must have been twenty stitches, and his eyes...
A miracle that he could see at all. They were black and purple and encased in folds of swollen skin like he was in the throes of a near-fatal allergic reaction.
No time to dwell on it.
He punched the lower right corner of the mirror and held his towel-wrapped fist against the broken glass so it didn’t all fall out at once.
He’d struck a perfect blow—minimal damage, large fractures. He quickly picked the pieces away with his free hand, laid them out on the sink, and chose the largest of the bunch.
Then he unwrapped his right hand, hit the lights, and felt his way back out into the bedroom.
There was nothing to see but a razor-thin line of light beneath the door.
Edging forward, he pressed his ear against it.
The sound was faint, but he could hear the distant noise of doors opening and closing.
They were checking every room, and the slams sounded far enough away that he thought they were probably still in the main corridor.
Hoped he wasn’t wrong about that.
He wondered if the elevator doors were still open. If they saw the car down here, no doubt they’d surmise he’d fled to the basement. He and Beverly should have sent the elevator back to four, but there was no way to fix their oversight now.
Reaching down, he found the doorknob and grasped it.
As he turned it slowly, he tried to steady his breathing, to drive his BPMs back down into a range that didn’t make him feel on the verge of fainting.
When the latch had cleared its housing, Ethan gave the gentlest tug.
The door swung in two inches, the hinges mercifully silent.
A long triangle of light fell across the checkered linoleum under his bare feet.
The sounds of the door slams were louder.
He held the mirror shard and slid it between the open door and the jamb, inching it farther and farther, millimeter by millimeter, until it showed a reflection of the corridor behind him.
Another door swung closed.
Between the slams, there was the impact of rubber-soled shoes on the floor and nothing else. One of the fluorescent bulbs nearby was malfunctioning, flickering intermittently and throwing the corridor into alternating bursts of darkness and light.