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HURRY UP AND SECURE HIM to the chair,” Henry said. “Thorazine or no Thorazine, I don’t want to have to worry about either of them being loose and getting difficult to handle when we start cutting.”

It appeared that they weren’t going to wait for Yuri to show up. While that was one less man to worry about, Alex knew that he had to remain aware that Yuri could show up at any moment. The nurse had said that they were early, though. Maybe Henry had decided to grab the glory, and Jax, for himself.

Alex kept an eye on the knife hand of the orderly in front of him. He knew that it was the hands that were the killers.

“Put your arms behind your back,” the big orderly growled as he seized Alex by the hair.

Alex knew that if they restrained him he would have no chance at all. Jax would have no chance.

He had run out of time and options.

He remembered lessons Ben had taught him from a young age, warnings that you couldn’t always choose the fight. The best thing to do was to avoid a fight, if you could. But the way that it all too often happened, his grandfather had told him, was that you would find yourself in a fight you didn’t want, outnumbered, and outmatched in weapons. That was because people would generally only attack if they felt confident enough in their superiority to feel sure of the outcome.

Alex recalled, as a boy just entering adulthood, being troubled by the warning. It didn’t seem fair. He asked Ben what he should do if he ever found himself in that situation. That question was the gateway to a whole new level of training.

Ben had told him that in such a case there wasn’t any such thing as fair. His only chance was speed, surprise, and violence of action.

Henry stepped up beside the orderly facing Alex. “Come on, let’s get this over with so we can get to her.”

As the man with the zip ties took a step forward, Alex pushed his shoulders back against the man behind him, as if trying to back away from the two knives in front of him. The man behind leaned in to keep Alex from sliding the chair back. That was exactly what Alex had wanted him to do.

There was no choice now. He had only one chance.

Alex pressed his shoulders against the man behind him. The man pushed back.

In an instant of exquisite, unrestrained rage, Alex put all his force into screaming a battle cry as he uncoiled, throwing a mighty kick squarely into Henry’s chest.

The blow was powerful enough to break ribs. It drove a grunt from the big man as it knocked him back.

The orderly in front of him was so surprised by the sudden burst of movement that he stood motionless for just an instant. An instant was all Alex needed. With Henry clear, in that instant when everyone else was frozen in shock, before the man behind could get a better hold on him, Alex bounded out of the chair and seized the wrist of the hand holding the knife.

With an iron grip on the man’s wrist, Alex dove under the arm and came up behind. As he sprang up he used all his momentum and strength to violently twist the arm up in a way it wasn’t meant to go. The shoulder popped out of its joint. Sinew separated with a sickening rip. Alex spun around, taking the arm with him. In less than a heartbeat the man’s shoulder was torn apart enough that the arm was useless.

Jax was the only one who had been ready for the sudden attack. At the same time as Alex was taking out the orderly with the knife, before Henry could recover, Jax threw her legs around him, pinning his arms to his side. She locked her ankles.

The man with the ruined arm let out a shriek of pain that echoed through the shower. Alex wrenched the knife from his dangling hand. The shock and pain — the violence of action — had immobilized the orderly. Without giving him any time to recover his wits, Alex immediately rammed the captured knife three times in rapid succession into the small of the man’s back, aiming for the kidney.

By the way the orderly’s mouth opened with a scream that couldn’t make its way out, the blade had found its mark. He twisted toward the floor, the torn arm hanging, the other reaching blindly back toward the fatal wound. On his way down, Alex ripped the knife across the man’s neck, severing arteries, to be sure of the kill.

At the same time the second orderly dove in toward Alex before the first had smacked face-first onto the floor. Alex dodged to the side. As the man missed, slipped on blood, and crashed headlong into the wall, Alex wheeled around, stretched up, and slashed the ties holding Jax to the shower pipe. Her hands sprang free.

She kept her legs tightly locked around Henry as she gripped his hair with both fists to keep from being thrown off his back. As exhausted as she had to be, Alex knew that she couldn’t last long. Fortunately, the violent kick, besides breaking ribs, had taken enough of the fight out of Henry that she was able to keep him immobilized — at least for the moment.

Alex knew, though, that the big man would recover his senses and wind all too soon and become a raging bull turning on her. Even so, Alex could do no more than free her before he had to turn to the man bounding back off the wall and coming at him, slashing with his knife.

Out of the corner of his eye, Alex spotted the doctor scrambling away toward the door.

Alex ducked under a wild swing, the knife missing his face by a good foot. As he sprang up, Alex punched a quick thrust of the blade in under the man’s armpit, hoping to hit the space between ribs. He felt the blade slide over bone on the way in. The orderly cried out and jerked back. Alex had wanted to puncture a lung, but as heavily muscled as the man was, he wasn’t sure the relatively short blade had gone deep enough.

It slowed the man for only a second. He came back at Alex, swinging with a vengeance. Alex had to dance back to avoid a half-dozen savage thrusts. He waited and picked his spot, and when the man thrust again, Alex stepped inside the attack and slashed down across the wrist. His blade cut cleanly through tendons drawn tight. Once parted, they snapped back up into the man’s forearm. His fingers instantly lost their ability to grasp. The severed veins gushed blood at a prodigious rate.

The knife clattered to the tile floor. As Alex went for it, the nurse swung the chair. Alex ducked. The chair shattered across his back. In the grip of rage as he was, the pain seemed distant.

The orderly used the opening to roll under Alex, knocking his feet out from under him. The nurse dove in with the syringe. Before she could stab it into him, Alex threw an arm around the orderly’s neck, getting him in a headlock that also served as an anchor point. He used the man’s weight to brace himself as he kicked the nurse’s hand before she could stick him. The blow broke her fingers. She let out a cry. The syringe went flying.

Alex had his hands full with the big orderly. It was like trying to hold on to a big, powerful, twisting, thrashing alligator. The injuries weren’t enough to put him out of commission; if anything they made him fight all the harder.

Alex seized his own wrist to lock his arm tight around the bull neck, applying pressure to the carotid arteries. At the same time he leaned back, pulling the man back over the top of a hip, arching his back to keep him off balance and under control, and to use the man’s weight to add pressure on his neck.

Above him, it was obvious that Henry was recovering. He twisted away from the grip of Jax’s legs. She landed on her back not far from Alex. Henry went for her. Jax kicked up into his groin. The blow staggered the angry orderly.

As Henry reflexively bent over from the pain, Jax snatched the keys on his belt. Alex couldn’t figure out what she intended to do with his keys, but he hoped she did something fast, or despite his obvious pain Henry would have her and start breaking her bones. He was big enough to break her neck with one meaty hand if he ever got it around her throat.

Jax scrambled away, staying just out of his reach. He called her every vile name in his vocabulary as he took swings, trying to grab her.

Jax pulled the keys out, gathering up the wire hand over hand as it unspooled, turning Henry, keeping him off balance. When it reached the end she scooped up a couple of broken chair legs. In a flash she twisted the legs into the wire, wrapping several loops of it around each stick of wood.

When Henry lunged at her, she dodged to the side and, with a good grip on her improvised wooden handles, gave the wire attached to his belt a mighty yank. It jerked him around. He stumbled a few steps. In a blink she circled around behind him.

Jax whipped a loop of wire over Henry’s head as she bounded up onto his back, compressing her body as she planted a foot between his shoulder blades. She let out a mighty cry of rage and effort as she used all her strength to straighten her coiled body while at the same time pulling on her improvised wooden handles.

For an instant, as he realized the danger, Henry’s meaty hands clawed at the wire around his throat. It was too late. As Jax screamed with effort the wire sliced cleanly down through his throat. Henry’s eyes bulged.

As Jax, her foot on his back, pulled the wooden handles she’d made, the wire knifed down through the carotid arteries as well as the esophagus and windpipe. It sliced all the way through everything but a bundle of the tougher tendons.

With most of the supporting neck muscles severed, his head flopped to the side. Alex could see that the wire had to have hit perfectly between two vertebrae, rupturing the disc.

The nurse screamed at the sight of Henry toppling over. Jax, a foot against his back and her hands holding the wooden handles as if she were holding the reins to a monster, rode the towering orderly all the way down. He hit the tile floor hard. His head smacked the hardest, making a sickening crack on impact. A thick red pool spread across the white tiles.

The instant Henry landed, Jax snatched the knife from his hand and sprang catlike up off the man, using him as a launching pad to make a dive for the nurse.

Just as the woman turned to run, Jax landed on her back. They both sprawled forward. Before they hit the floor Jax sliced the woman’s throat just as efficiently as she had once sliced Bethany’s throat in Alex’s bed.

Alex had been holding the orderly in a headlock for only a moment, yet already the man’s arms moved slowly, blindly, as he tried to fight for his life. When his arms swung, the hand with the severed tendons flopped without control. As he lost consciousness the fight was going out of him.

Alex used the opening to swiftly reverse his hold and throw a leg over the man. He used the leverage to give power to a quick twist that snapped the big man’s neck.

As the orderly went limp, Alex untangled himself and scrambled across the floor to Jax. She was just pushing herself up off the back of the dead nurse.

When she saw Alex her look of lethal rage instantly switched to tears of deliverance. She threw her arms around his neck. He felt a lump in his own throat. With the strength of her hold on him she wordlessly conveyed her profound sense of relief.

In the sudden silence, their breathing echoed softly in the shower room.

“Are you all right?” Alex asked as he held her head to his shoulder.

“I’m not sure. I felt like I’d become lost in some dark nightmare. I couldn’t understand it. I’m better, but I still feel strange, like I’ve lost my mind, lost myself.”

“You’re going to be fine. It’s the drugs they gave us. The rest of them will wear off in another day or so. Just stay with me. It will get better, I promise.”

She nodded against his shoulder. Now that the desperate fight had abruptly come to an end, the adrenaline rush was fading. Her arms loosened around his neck as her strength ebbed. Her voice, too, was weak.

“I thought it was over. I thought I was going to die hanging there. But when I saw you I knew it would be all right.”

He smiled as he held her shoulders and lifted her away from him. “We’re not out of this yet. I need you to stay strong a little longer. Get dressed. Hurry.”

Alex found the keys at the end of the wire cable that had nearly decapitated Henry. He hurriedly worked to disconnect the keys from the fitting at the end of the cable.

“I guess now I know how you felt,” Jax said as she pulled the jeans up her muscular legs, trying to cover herself as swiftly as possible.

“How I felt? What do you mean?”

“When I came to save you at your house and caught you with your pants down.”

Against all odds, despite the blood everywhere, despite the way his heart still pounded from the terror and rage, Alex laughed.

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