Slay the bear before sleeping in its cave.
— Tilok proverb
Sam knew about the New York underground and the old subway stations, especially along the financial district. The city tried to keep the more obvious entrances closed, but it was like trying to keep ants out of a farmhouse.
They looked across a chamber, perhaps a quarter of the size of a football field. The old tunnel disappeared into the black, and what once had been an opulent waiting area of gleaming tile and polished wood had become like a gilded carriage left to rot in the carriage house. The base of the walls seemed to be favored for campsites. Maybe that was because if a man had his back to a wall, he didn’t have to see behind him. The next most popular residential areas seemed to be around the base of the pillars.
Smoke filled the place, and to see far, you ducked down to get beneath the acrid haze. What Sam could see of the ceiling was pitch black from soot. Flame from the barrels angled toward the tunnels indicating that most of the draft came from that direction.
“What do you call yourself?” “Lugger. Or Dog Man.”
“Dog Man is pretty apparent. How do you come by Lugger?”
“When I was a kid, I played football. I was a lineman, and when I would forget myself, I used to pick up the opposing guards and carry them. Hence, Lugger.”
“How do you like it down here?”
“Beats up there. You look like a Greek or an Indian or something.”
“I use liquid tan. No harmful radiation.”
“Is that true?”
“No. How do we exit this place quietly and far from Christopher Street?”
“You go down the tunnel if you wanna come out a long way from here. Last day or two, the tunnel’s been a bad place, though.”
They were near one end of the old loading platform and so, to their left, the tunnel was maybe fifty feet. To the right it was much farther because it would be necessary to traverse the entire main hall of the station to start down the far segment.
“Right or left to get out of here?”
“You’re kind of out of luck. Left tunnel has the best exit and it’s a long ways to daylight. But, like I said, the meanest, craziest sons of a bitches is down there.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Mostly people down here live and let live. Most are too crazy or hopeless to hurt anybody. Couple days ago, some gang guys came down. No fun. Raped a girl. I think they still got her back there.”
“Let’s go get the girl and get out of here at the same time.”
“That tunnel is one place that Lugger and Big Dog don’t go right now.”
“Not even for two hundred bucks?”
“Damn, you trouble my soul with that kind of money. I came down here to get away from greed and corruption and such, and now you lay it in front of me.”
“Let’s go. We’ll discuss greed on the way,” Sam said. “Grady, you should have an extra gun.” Sam handed her a 10mm semiautomatic. “Get each hand on a butt.”
“I don’t have a gun,” Lugger said.
“I’ll shoot twice as fast and that way you won’t need one,” Sam said.
Sam picked up Lugger’s light, snapped it off, and handed it to him. “When I tell you to turn this on, give me light.”
Sam used his own small light to guide the way. They walked across the old concrete floor and Sam could imagine better days sixty years ago when New York’s finest made their way through a highly crafted underground structure exhibiting the proclivities of an era when craftsmen labored for hours over a few square feet of handwork. Lights in classic brass fixtures had radiated colorful tile mosaics that overlay the walls, ceiling, and floors. Signs had been created from the tile and embedded in the walls. In those days it didn’t usually occur to people to mar and deface public property.
Now the place had become a haven for those left in the wake of a society committed to mass production.
There were only two or three darkened campsites in a di rect line to the tunnel. Sam was concerned that soon their hunters would find a more palatable way down into the under ground.
“What are the other ways in here? Tunnels?”
“Yeah, but what are they? It’s part of the two hundred dollars.”
“I’ll give you a free history lesson. In the real world I operated one of the trains.”
They came to a big drop down into the concrete well that held the track. For a moment the talking stopped as they lowered themselves off the edge of the concrete down to the crushed rock. When everyone was down, they started walk ing. Sam took Lugger’s big light and handed Grady the smaller. The tunnel was thirty feet wide. At the sides it was packed earth.
“You have heard of the City Hall subway station. Closed down in 1945 because the curve was too tight. The cars got too long and they put the doors in the middle of the car and it didn’t work on that tight curve. This station was the same thing. Happened in 1945, just like City Hall. If you look back, you’ll see the curve in the track in front of the platform. The big cars wouldn’t fit around the curve for offloading. With the doors moved to the middle and the longer car length, they no longer had the right fit to get people on and off. They kept the old City Hall pretty nice. It didn’t get torn up and they still sometimes run a subway on the track past the platform. But they more or less forgot about this one until it was too late, and now they don’t really want to get into the fact that the homeless people ripped the thing apart. All the brass fixtures are gone. All the tile is messed up, smoked up, or fallen down. At City Hall station they plugged all the stairways but didn’t plug the track. Here they did both-“
“It’s fascinating,” Sam interrupted, “but how do people get down here?”
“I’m getting to that. Relax.”
“If we want to live, I need to understand how people can get down here, either in front of us or behind us.” “City officials, my ass. Who exactly is chasing you?” “No one who gives a damn about Luggers or their dogs.” Despite that, Lugger walked faster, and they kept pace. “You were telling me the ways into this station.” “Okay. Understand this principle. Manhattan is solid rock. So people like us don’t dig in it. The stairs into the sta tion are all cemented in. That part is like what they originally did at City Hall station. In this tunnel where we’re walking, the overhead grates and emergency stair exits are sealed. Back at the station there is one more air vent that does go to a grate that is half covered by a building. In the past people have been able to get through the grate, but just recently they have a steel sheet under it. I wondered how you came down because nobody has had that grate open for the past few weeks. There’s a tunnel from the building, but they boarded that up.”
“We came through the wall of the building. I’m told that they drilled the hole in the concrete when they were looking for something. Maybe a steam pipe or something to do with the subway,” Sam theorized.
“Nowadays people get here mostly by running down the live track. At either end of this side track, there’s a cement wall. But it doesn’t go all the way to the top of the tunnel in this direction. I think it’s a dam for water when the side tunnel starts filling from heavy rain. Down the other direction the hole to get out of the abandoned track is really small. I don’t fit.”
“Is the other surface hole into the station as hard to travel as what we came down?”
“Harder to find because it isn’t exposed to the outside. Easier to come down.”
“How about ahead of us?”
“All operating subway tunnels have a grate every six hundred feet. The grates open with a bolt lock. You just slide the bolt out of the hole, but you can only do it from underneath. But like I said, this track was abandoned for good. Over time they just paved over the grates above the track or welded them up and put in a steel plate. So there’s no getting out ex cept over the top of the wall at the end of this tunnel, and then we’ll be on the live track of the 1 and 9.”
“Is there a hot rail in here?”
“I thought this might be part of the PATH line.”
“No, that’s through the rock over there a piece and down. PATH runs under the 1 and 9.”
Suddenly lights came on, shining in their eyes. Sam used Lugger’s big light and shone back. There were seven men and four had metal pipes or chains. Three were fishing out their knives. No guns in evidence.
Sam waved everybody back, handed the light to Lugger, and walked forward alone with an automatic in each hand. He sized them up as a mean, confident crew with less dirt on the clothes than should be the norm down here. They were in various stages of growth on their beards. One was of good size, the others average. He wondered how often they came underground.
Behind them stumbled two girls, both in bad shape. Their heads hung. They had bulky coats wrapped around them, but their legs and feet were bare, probably nude under the coats.
“We just want to pass.” Sam paused. “And we’re taking the girls.”
The leader looked around and grinned while three of the guys pulled guns. “We do the takin’ down here. We’ll start with the money and then we’ll take her.”
“You guys have six semiautomatics aimed at you. All you’ve got is a few relic revolvers, aside from the Beretta.”
“Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!”
Sam shot. Sound exploded through the tunnel. The bullet missed the leader’s head by inches. Shock etched their nervous faces, everyone leaning forward at once, ready to start a war.
The leader tried to be nonchalant but put his finger to his ear as if to check its integrity.
“The next bullet goes in the middle of your forehead.”
“We’re gonna die right here,” the leader said.
Sam knew he had a problem. “Last I heard, gang leaders still had balls. I’ll fight you. If I win, you let us pass and we take the girls.”
“What if I win?”
“Then you’ve got one less guy to deal with.”
“Killing you will be a pleasure. And after that, having her.”
Sam handed one gun back and put the other in his pants.
“You still got a gun,” the leader said.
“How about you?”
The leader raised his hands and turned.
The leader reached down and removed a small revolver.
Sam handed back the second gun.
“You wanna come hit me with a pipe?”
“What are you, one of those kung fu assholes?”
“Nah. No kung fu. I could teach you to pronounce it some other time. But like all good martial-arts practitioners, it is now my duty to ask you not to fight. There is no reason not to let us pass.”
The other men looked a little nervous and began to spread out.
“Think about it. If you win, my friends here will have a case of the nerves and they’ll start shooting hollow points out of these semiautomatics and you guys will have bullets going in the front of you and blowing holes out your backs the size of grapefruits. And your intestines will probably rupture and spew shit all over your insides and it will take, say, thirty minutes to actually lose consciousness and it’ll hurt like hell as you’re dying. Then you’ll think back to how it was that you could have just let us walk through. Of course you’ll be shooting at my guys, but they have Kevlar vests, and you don’t, so you’ll need a head shot. So if you’re lucky, you’ll lose the fistfight and just suffer some broken bones.”
The bangers took another look at one another.
“You gotta pay to get through. We’ll take her and some money.”
“Okay. Well, let’s fight then, one at a time.”
Sam turned to Grady and Michael. “Now, you make sure that whoever wins gets gut shot. Unless, of course, I win. Then you don’t have to shoot anybody.”
“I more or less specialize in the gut shot,” Michael said.
Sam had been moving closer to the lead man, the big fellow, who now had a pipe ready to swing.
“Here I am. Aren’t you gonna take a swing? Or can you feel that lead blowing out your backbone?”
Sam kicked in a blur right up into the man’s crotch. The man bent over clutching his privates. For the moment he couldn’t breathe. Sam yanked the pipe from his hands.
“If you check carefully, you’ll see that your nuts are still down mere, although they may have entered your abdominal cavity.” Sam swung the pipe up between the man’s legs, breaking the bones in his hands. When the man’s hands dropped, Sam swung again and hit the testicles a second time, square on. “Never threaten a woman.” With the man doubled over, he pinched off carotid arteries from behind the neck until he lost consciousness.
“Right on.” It was one of the girls back in the shadows.
A man with a badly scarred face was near the tunnel wall, but he began moving nearer the others. He had a gun pointed at Sam.
“You can start a shooting war, but most of us will die.”
“Especially you,” the man said. Sam stepped closer, clos ing the distance. In his fear the man wasn’t thinking about the metal breastplate in the flak jacket under Sam’s coat. He was aiming right at it.
“Either squeeze the trigger or get out of the way,” Sam said with remarkable calm. The hesitation was in the man’s eyes and it was all Sam needed. In a fast kick he sent the man’s gun hand up and then grabbed the gun hand on the way down. Sam jabbed his solar plexus, and as the strength left the man, Sam swiped his gun away. Quite deliberately he shot the man in the foot and left him screaming. One of the five remaining now grabbed one of the girls and put a gun to her head.
Grady stepped forward with her guns leveled. “Don’t touch her!”
The four others were looking uncertain. Sam walked to the nearest, a short, stocky, bald man, and held his pipe low as if he meant to repeat the performance with the leader. The man moved sideways with his head down and his hips back. Without taking his gaze from the man’s eyes, Sam brought the pipe up under the man’s chin, snapping the jaw. Despite the fractured jaw, the man swung hard at Sam. Sam blocked it with his own pipe and struck the nose palm up with instant results.
The man with the girl was backing away and Grady was moving forward, step for step. The three nearest watched Sam with wary eyes. At that moment feet running on the gravel distracted everyone; in seconds it seemed there were blue suits everywhere. Lugger and the gang members doused their lights. Two of the suits had lights. Sam took three strides and kicked one out while Michael, already surrounded by several men, instinctively went for the only remaining light. He kicked it out of the man’s hand and stomped it on the rock. Lugger’s dog was snarling and men were shouting as the dog lunged at them with bared fangs.
Sam whirled, knowing that someone had been coming at him from the side and behind. Everything Grandfather had taught him about darkness would be useful in the next seconds. He stepped to the side so that any light-filled memories would be misleading. A body passed close by. The footsteps stopped. He moved to a fighting stance and stood perfectly still. There is a sense that is not touch and is not sound or sight but may be a bit of all three unconsciously ap plied. Grandfather had said that there was an additional sense that, working with the others, created a certain sensation when another living being came within one’s personal space. Sam felt that sensation and placed the person at about three feet distant. He crouched. With his left hand he reached out slowly along the ground until he felt a shoe. At that instant he withdrew his left hand, put it to the ground, and pivoted on it, kicking hard where the leg should be. It was a knee-high kick. There was a scream as the knee popped. When the man fell, Sam was on him, first choking him, then using his left hand to line up the chin for a solid right punch to the jaw. He found a gun and threw it into the darkness. Then he found a knife, a switchblade-unusual for a suit-and kept it. He moved straight back to where Grady had been standing and discerned fighting nearby. From the sounds he guessed Michael was picking them off in the dark, much as he had done-only at Michael’s location there were many more men and they all had seemed to go for Bowden.
A few feet away, the dog was in a fight for his life. First Sam smelled the perfume, then he felt for and found two hands, each with a gun.
“Grady,” he whispered.
“I think they have Michael,” she said. Quickly he moved her to the wall.
When he turned, he heard someone nearby skidding on the rock. No doubt they were turning, trying to see. They seemed within a few feet. He concentrated, took a step back, then delivered a head-high kick with momentum. He pictured the point of impact and his heavy shoe connected with flesh slightly ahead of his anticipated strike point. But it was very solid and probably close to lethal. Whoever had been struck went down. Quickly he felt along the ground, foundthe body, removed and threw away the shoes, and sliced the Achilles tendon with the knife. No scream. The guy had blacked out.
Next, he belly-crawled back to the central struggle. A man moving fast tripped over him. Instantly he felt for the shoes. Ordinary street shoes. Michael and Lugger wore boots. After slashing an Achilles and eliciting a scream, he upended the man, yanked off the shoes, and threw them.
Next he crawled up the thrashing body of the panicked man, found his neck, and choked off the carotids. The man began flailing and throwing wild punches. A fist smacked Sam’s jaw, but he held on until the man quieted.
He went back to the fight sounds, again on his belly, and found boots under two or three men. Knowing that Michael was on the bottom made it easy. He cut an Achilles on one man and that started the screaming. What made it even eas ier was that the suits wore no body armor. They weren’t cops. Sam unleashed a flurry of fists and kicks on unpro tected backs and flanks.
As near as Sam could tell, the man he had slashed was screaming in French that he had been cut. For the suits, castration would come to mind and fuel the paranoia.
Sam found another man trying to hang on to Michael, felt his ribs, lined up and delivered a powerful kick that broke several. Sam was careful not to puncture the lung with the free-floating ribs. The bodies rolled free now and Sam fol lowed the booted feet to grab Michael, who still had one gun. He could feel the lethargy in Michael’s body from the beating. Grabbing him and leading him, he joined with Grady.
He found Lugger by sense of smell. Like Michael, Lugger was held down by three suits. Quickly he broke ribs and left two men in misery, both with a sliced Achilles. Once he got Lugger to the wall, Lugger’s dog came on a sharp whistle. In the dog’s mouth hung a new plaything, a piece of bloody fabric. They moved a hundred feet down the wall and turned on the lights long enough to grab the girls. They were beat up and didn’t look like they could run far. Michael and Sam each carried one. They walked several hundred feet before coming to the wall that now separated the 1 and 9 track. It was an easy jump through a hole to get onto the live track. They went only a short distance before they came to an emer gency escape. They went to the platform below the grate, where Sam got a signal on the cell phone. They called Yodo, who was bandaged and functional, to bring men and sur round the grate. It required a wait of thirty minutes. Grady and Michael took the girls, opened the grate, and emerged onto the sidewalk, surrounded by ex-cops with guns. Sam slipped out another exit twelve hundred feet away.
His next order of business was to find out what a powerful law firm wanted with Michael Bowden-and who they wanted it for.
“What do you suppose is going on, Figgy?” Sam was on the New York end of a conference call with Jill in LA, and Figgy on another phone allegedly at the French offices of the United Nations.
“The guys on the street got by the police pretty fast-that tells me it was something like diplomatic immunity,” Sam continued. “The police call it a bizarre misunderstanding. They say people from the foreign service of an unnamed government saw Americans in trouble, followed them to an underground passage, and were injured by parties unknown. Which is a lie.”
“Well, it could have been any foreign government.”
“Yeah, that speaks French.”
“Sam, I hear what you’re saying, but either you trust me or you don’t. It wasn’t France.”
“Tell me how you know that.”
“I’m on both sides of the ocean. I have it on good authority from both places.”
“Uh-huh. Do I have it right that your clients have you at the UN at the moment?”
“In New York, then. This choice of location wouldn’t be because Michael Bowden is here or because you think Georges Raval is here.”
“I guess it wouldn’t be illogical about Bowden. Raval, I don’t think so.”
“You gonna tell me what your people are doing?”
“Same as you. Looking for Gaudet. Stop him before he hurts somebody.”
“What’s the latest from Benoit Moreau? When am I going to get that interview?”
“I’m sure any day now. But you know she’s told all she knows. She can’t help us catch Gaudet any more than she already has.”
Benoit Moreau had moved into a sublet apartment in Manhattan’s garment district-an area where there were few apartments. The usual occupant was on a trip to Europe. Benoit was calling herself Jacqueline Dupont because worldwide there were thousands by that name. From the apartment she used the phones to set up the escrow arrange ments in Switzerland, kept track of Baptiste, placated the ad miral. Constantly she had to keep in mind what Baptiste knew and what the admiral didn’t know, and vice versa. Good news that this would be her best and last exercise in duplicity.
She called Gaudet, who was getting impatient.
“When will I see you?”
“Soon, when I’ve arranged everything. At the moment I’m having trouble with Raval and trying to make a deal with Bowden for the 1998 journal.”
“How do you know it is 1998?”
“All that matters is that I convince the French government that it is 1998 and tell them the page.”
“Why does Bowden sell this to you?”
“He doesn’t own the rights to the Chaperone process. This is his best chance to make money and be done with it.”
“I am hungry for you. It has been a long time. I hear that prison has not aged you.”
“Be patient. We have bigger things to do now.”
“When you can come, I will need advance notice. There are many precautions.”
Next she wrote an e-mail to Sam. Finally she dressed to meet Georges Raval for the first time in more than a year.