Home Chapter 33
“Breaths come in pairs except the first breath and the last breath.”
Anam Cara, John O’Donohue
He had to breathe.
Through the smoke and chemical stench, Vincent fought for oxygen. Each hitched effort tore… a halting and jagged agony.
Hidden in a cleft of stone, Vincent braced into the tight corner, still assaulted by the ringing aftermath of the flash grenade, his eyesight impaired if not damaged.
Catherine and son were close, alive, mostly unhurt … and terrified.
And you’re worthless to them.
The first sound that reached him through the muffling effects of the blast was Jacob’s shrieking cry … and Snow’s barking yell.
“Call for him!”
Rapid blinks finally transformed the floating red image across Vincent’s vision to streaking gray shadows. Balance wavering, he inched to the edge of the crevice and dipped around the corner to see the bloody face of Snow, his arm bracketing Catherine’s neck, his weapon pointed at her temple.
“Call for him, bitch!”
She held their screaming child through a vicious shake.
“No!” she gasped out.
The killer searched the dark with his lamp, the frantic red beam bouncing in every direction. Finding nothing, he threw off the lamp and dragged Catherine further into the tunnel towards the Whispering Gallery.
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty…” Snow taunted, brandishing Catherine and Jacob, whirling them in his search.
“I’ve got you skank and you brat, kitty,” he yelled as loud as his broken nose and low-pitched voice permitted, “and I think she’s lying to you. The little fucker looks nothing like you!”
Vincent leaned against the hidden black walls to keep himself upright enough to follow.
“If you don’t come out,” Snow growled, “I’m going to shoot them. Make no mistake!”
He didn’t doubt the man.
Vincent staggered into the open.
“I’m … here.”
Snow’s gun went from aiming at Catherine’s head to his direction.
“Let them go,” Vincent begged, arms hoisted in surrender.
“Telling me what to do? Now that’s funny,” Snow said. “You don’t have the power here.” To prove his point, the assassin reached around and placed the barrel against Jacob’s back.
“No!” Catherine cried, attempting to wrestle the baby away, but Snow gripped her tighter, choking her with the scissored arm on her throat.
“This 9-millimeter can blow a hole through both of them,” the killer said as his eyes found Vincent’s. “And I will if you take one step closer.”
Vincent froze, hands still raised.
“You called for me, Snow. I came. This is between us. Release them.”
“Why should I? So you can cut me up like you did Gabe’s men?” He hauled Catherine to the edge of the room to check the next hallway and to gain more space between them.
“They never should have been … caught in your brother’s enterprises.” Vincent couldn’t help the gasp in the middle of the thought. The pain from where the assassin’s bullet bit his thigh was maddening.
“Sure.” Snow nodded. “But she shouldn’t have been playing with fire. She’s no saint.” He drew his pistol back to her. “She’s a part of this. Weren’t you, Chandler?” He spoke in her ear, a mockery of how a lover might. “She knew the stakes, working for the D.A. She knew someone like Gabe could send someone like me. Don’t fool yourself, Vincent. She lives for the hunt, just like us.”
Snow sneered, his tone slipping into a quiet snarl. “In fact, Chandler, you’re worse. Worse than him … worse than me. Your weapon,” he pointed to Vincent with his gun, “has a soul.”
Catherine turned as much as Snow’s grip would allow and wheezed out, “So did your brother’s.”
Fury contorted Snow’s features, and he pressed the pistol hard into Catherine’s cheek.
Her pain ripped through the bond.
“Stop!” Vincent yelled.
Too far to reach them before he shot her … even if he weren’t fighting the encroaching black every minute he was upright.
“Why are you doing this?” Vincent wheezed.
“Because this is what I owe,” the man answered, nodding at the rightness of his own statement. “Because this is what I do. And because you took my brother from me.”
Gabriel had to die for his crimes and for the threat he posed.
But Catherine’s captor had been Snow’s brother, and there was a price to be paid.
“Then take me,” Vincent countered. “Take my life for your brother’s.”
“Vincent—” Catherine rasped in protest.
“No,” Snow said, interrupting her. “You didn’t kill Gabe. She did. The pact was clear.” He wiggled his finger to draw attention to an obsidian ring.
A gift from the dead man, perhaps? A seal on their promise?
“Everyone involved must die.”
“That vow … is …” Reprehensible, shattering to both victim and murderer. “You don’t have to do this.”
But the killer shook his white-blonde head. “What else is there, except this?” he asked with a dangerous simian grin, all teeth and spite.
With no warning, Snow threw Catherine and the baby towards Vincent.
He caught them just as they hit the ground, too slow, too damaged to keep the full brunt of the fall from them. Gathering to him, Vincent turned so his body enveloped both with the circle of his arms.
Snow would kill them, and it would end here, everything they’d struggled to create—their family, their dream, the bond they had forged, all the good they’d tried to do—it would die here, like their baby’s cries.
“This is what I do,” the killer repeated in that frozen moment.
There was no time for words—
I love you.
To his wife, to his son.
To a life barely begun … to the love who should never have had to endure pain or injustice.
Vincent surged back with no hope. No hope, except the prayer that his body would be enough to save them from the strafing bullets a half-second away from descending on them.
He rounded on the black barrel of the gun. Through the arc of his swing, a glimpsed streak of silver…
The first shot rang out.
It should have been the last thing Vincent heard. The fire from the muzzle, the last thing he saw. It should have been death.
But the millisecond before, the clang of metal hitting metal, and the shot went sideways.
Vincent’s blow connected. His enemy fell to the floor with a grunt.
A call came from behind Snow.
His brother—like a ghost, like a miracle—stood on the Whispering Gallery bridge, arm outstretched, his knife on the ground a few feet away from Snow, covered with dust and blood.
Despite his wounds that now included a slashed hand and the jagged bicep gash, the assassin fought to reach the gun that now lay on the sand beside them.
Vincent kicked killer back as Devin rushed into the hall to retrieve both pistol and blade.
Snow saw his chance to inflict death slip away and seemed to choose another path.
He stopped struggling.
Rising to his knees, he cradled his ravaged arm while staring into Vincent’s eyes.
“Do it, monster,” he goaded.
Odors of blood and sweat, the overwrought and shrill cry of his son, the rough sound of his name from Catherine’s bruised throat, all reminders of what might have been lost … what had been lost—Jon, the man in the car, all those who had fallen in this man’s twisted hunt for vengeance.
Even Devin’s presence, even his son’s, would not prevent the brutal rise, the narrowing shift….
This must be done.
This must be … over.
The defiant stare of his enemy … prey …
… madness suffusing, growl erupting.
Vincent reared for the killing strike.
Everyone recoiled, ducking for cover as another shot exploded through the hall. From where it must have hit, they heard the surprised yells of others—William, Cullen, Jim—their too-late reinforcements.
Vincent looked for the source of the gunshot and saw a young man brandishing a shaking pistol now trained at Vincent’s chest. The man’s other hand made a clumsy tug for a wallet in his suit pocket. He let it fall open to a badge.
“I’m Agent Morrissey with the F.B.I. Drop your weapons. All of you are coming with me.”