Field of Fire
Series: The Jericho Quinn Series #7
Published by: Pinnacle
Release Date: December 27, 2016
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In the icy reaches of rural Alaska, special agent Jericho Quinn is enlisted to hunt down the man who created the powerful chemical weapon, New Archangel.
The first target is Dallas, Texas. A deadly nerve gas called New Archangel is unleashed upon the City of Angels, claiming innocent lives, spreading nationwide panic, and fueling global fears of another attack. In the icy reaches of rural Alaska, special agent Jericho Quinn is enlisted to hunt down the man who created the bioweapon—a brilliant Russian scientist who is trying to defect and hiding in the Alaskan wilderness. But time is running out. The scientist is beginning to lose his mind to dementia. If Quinn doesn’t find him before the Russians do, the entire western seaboard and beyond will feel the wrath of New Archangel—and darkness will fall upon the earth.Add on Goodreads
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"…races along at a breakneck pace until the last shot is fired."
Near Anchorage, Alaska, 3:25 P.M.
Jericho Quinn knew an ambush when he saw one. He rolled the throttle of his gunmetal gray BMW R1200GS Adventure, leaning hard over into the second of a long series of S turns. Sometimes called the two-story bike of the motorcycling world, the big GS flicked easily on the twisty road. A chilly wind bit the tiny gap of skin between the chin of his helmet and the collar of his black leather jacket. Behind him, riding pillion, Veronica "Ronnie" Garcia squeezed with strong thighs, leaning when he leaned, moving when he moved as he negotiated the narrow, seaside road. Her soft chest pressed against his back, long arms twined around his waist.
Popping the bike upright on a straightaway, Quinn shot a glance in his side mirror and watched the grill of a dark panel van loom behind him. It came up fast, pressing aggressively on the winding two-lane that ran on the narrow ledge between mountain and ocean. Quinn bumped the throttle again and sped up, easing farther to the right and buying some distance while he considered any and all options that didn't end with him and Garcia as twin grease spots on the asphalt or Wile E. Coyoted into the mountainside.
The van accelerated, moving close enough that it filled Quinn's side mirrors with nothing but chrome grill. Just as he was about to swerve onto a gravel trail that cut off toward the ocean, he got a clear view of the guy at the wheel. A kid with a thick mullet haircut pressed a cellphone to his ear while gesturing wildly with the hand that should have been reserved for steering. Quinn kept up his speed but took the shoulder instead of the trail, allowing the van to barrel past before the next blind corner. For all Quinn knew, the guy never even saw him.
He'd ridden the Seward Highway south of Anchorage hundreds of times while growing up and knew there was a passing lane less than a mile ahead. Cell phones, sleepy drivers, drunks, turds with mullets — all made Quinn want to beat someone to death with an ax handle — but road rage had no place from the back of a motorcycle. No matter the traffic laws, the reality of physics dictated a right-of-way by tonnage if you wanted to stay alive.
"I'm proud of you, Mango," Garcia's sultry voice, spiced with a hint of her Cuban heritage, came across Quinn's Cardo Bluetooth headset as he flicked the leggy BMW back onto the highway proper. "You didn't even mutter when you yielded to that dude."
Quinn poured on more speed, sending up a tornado of yellow leaves from a tiny stand of birches along the road. "I'm not much of a mutterer," he said.
"Yeah, well," Ronnie chuckled, "you're not much of a yielder either."
Turnagain Arm, a narrow bay off the Cook Inlet of the Pacific Ocean, lay to their right, silty waters white-capped and churning as if her tremendous tides hadn't quite figured out which way to flow. Craggy peaks of the Chugach Mountains loomed directly to their left in a mix of rock, greenery, and waterfall that tumbled right to the shoulder of the winding road.
Quinn moved his neck from side to side, letting the adrenaline brought on by the idiot in the van ebb — and taking the time to enjoy the ride until the next idiot barreled up behind him. He flicked the bike around a basketball-sized rock that had come to rest in his lane. Here and there, great swaths of stone and shattered trees that had been bent and torn by avalanche, fanned down the mountainside, just beginning to heal from the previous winter.
Quinn could relate.
It felt good to be back — back in his home state, with a badge back in his pocket, and back on his bike with the woman he loved on the seat behind him. Along with the two guns and Japanese killing dagger that hid under his black leather jacket, he bore as many scars as the avalanche chutes that cut the mountains above him. Some of the wounds were still painfully raw.
Ronnie bumped the back of his helmet with the forehead of hers and worked in closer behind him, giving him a playful squeeze. She was a strong woman, just a few inches shorter than Quinn, with broad, athletic shoulders and strong, alluring hips. Far from fat, her Russian father had called her zaftig. Her ex husband — a man who wisely steered well clear of Quinn — described her as having a "ghetto booty." But if the powerfully aggressive BMW reminded Quinn of The Death Dealer's black warhorse, Veronica Dombrovski Garcia was no helpless maiden, cowering at the feet of a Conan or John Carter of Mars. She was a beautifully fierce warrior princess, clutching her own sword and flanked by pet tigers. Quinn's seven-year-old daughter had privately confided to him that Garcia looked an awful lot like Wonder Woman.
As strong as she was, Garcia's squeezes were considerably weaker than they had been, absent the ferocity they'd once possessed. It was understandable. Her treatment at the hands of sadistic captors had left both shoulders badly damaged, one requiring a lengthy surgery and months of physical therapy to repair. There had been concerns that she might not be able to use that arm again at all.
It would take a while, but Quinn was sure she'd heal, maybe only to ninety percent — but ninety percent of Ronnie Garcia was ten percent above any other woman Quinn had ever met. She pushed the limits being out of her sling, but he wasn't really in a position to admonish her.
Gripping the handlebars, Quinn rolled his own shoulders back and forth, feeling the tell-tale pop and grind of damaged gristle and working out some of the stiffness and after-effects of being shot by a Chinese terrorist just months earlier. Emiko Miyagi, friend and defensive tactics mentor, had done wonders with shiatsu massage and her specially designed, if incredibly painful, yoga routines. He could deal with physical pain. It was the thought of being incapacitated that haunted him.
The official written orders from the Air Force doc at Andrews had been to take it easy. But in an off-the-record chat, he'd told Quinn to work the injury until he started to "piss it off," and then dial back some. Riding the bike definitely pissed off his old wounds. He found the hyperawareness and attention to balance it took to negotiate the mountain roads and prosecute the tight turns on the leggy Beemer to be just what he needed to put a bow on his recovery process — both mental and physical. In any case, disobeying doctor's orders was part of his DNA. He'd been doing it for weeks, adding dead hangs and then pull-ups to his physical therapy regimen as soon as he could make a good fist. His old man had once lamented that Jericho could burn calories just sitting in the corner and looking mean. The older he got, the less that was true, so exercise was a necessity, injured or not.
Quinn knew he might not be a very good yielder, but he was a good healer. At nearly thirty-seven, the mending just took a little longer.
Both he and Garcia wore beaked Arai dual-sport helmets, his gray with an airbrushed paint job of crossed war-axes on the sides, hers canary yellow. Racing gloves and full black leathers protected them against an accidental dismount and the icy crispness of an Alaska autumn. Icon Truant motorcycle boots offered protection to his ankles but allowed him the freedom of movement to run should the need arise.
Though not a heavy woman by any stretch, Garcia was ample enough to make an extremely pleasant backrest. Her warmth seeped through Quinn's leather jacket, bringing with it an added layer of comfort against the chill and an excited happiness that he hadn't felt since his daughter was born.
Garcia gave him another playful squeeze. It sent a twinge of pain through Quinn's bruised ribs but he didn't care. His father had often urged him to lead the kind of life that bruised ribs. Now, as an agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations or OSI, he'd been assigned to work directly for the President's National Security Advisor — doing the things that needed the heavy hand of his particular skill set. He wasn't about to let a couple of old wounds — or some jackass with a mullet — stop him from enjoying this trip with Garcia. They'd been apart for far too long, and now he'd finally gotten her to his home state.
They'd been in Alaska for the better part of the week, going to the Musk Ox Farm and eating reindeer hotdogs in downtown Anchorage with his seven-year-old daughter Mattie. The two got along well enough that they shared whispered girl-secrets that they kept from him. To Quinn's astonishment, even his ex-wife Kim seemed at ease with the fact he'd brought his girlfriend up to spend time with his parents — an obvious final step before any more permanent arrangement.
The trip was never meant as a test, but if it had been, Garcia would have aced it. Every new place Quinn took her threw her into a state of childlike awe. If anything, she appeared to love Alaska even more than he did — which was saying something.
The pavement was still clear and dry but the mountains along the Seward Highway had been dusted by snow that same morning. This "termination dust" signified the end of Alaska's short autumn but gave the already breathtaking scenery an extra shot of beauty. Quinn couldn't remember the last time he'd wanted to impress anyone as bad as he wanted to impress Veronica Garcia. It was a difficult endeavor considering everything they'd been through together.
As if she knew he was thinking about her, Garcia moved even closer — if such a thing were even possible.
Quinn absorbed it all, flicking the BMW back and forth through a maze of rocks that had tumbled onto the road on the far side of a blind curve. Like Quinn, the bike was happiest when dealing with the rough stuff.
Garcia's husky giggle poured through the Cardo earpiece in his helmet. "She wiggles like a sassy woman."
"That she does," Quinn said, his lips pressing against the foam microphone. "But she doesn't wiggle herself. I wiggle her."
"You got that right —"
Always scanning, Quinn tensed at a sight a quarter mile up the highway, causing Garcia to stop mid-sentence.
He could tell by the way her body moved — or stopped moving — that she saw it right after he did.
A white Anchorage PD patrol car sat parked in a paved pullout overlooking the ocean. The driver's door gaped open and a uniformed officer crouched behind the back bumper. He was bent over the prone body of his partner, one hand on the downed man's chest, the other at the radio mic clipped to his lapel. A scant three hundred yards ahead on a long straightaway, a red pickup and a white Subaru sedan sped away, southbound, past the turnoff to the ski village of Girdwood.
Quinn slowed, using his left hand to unzip his jacket and reach inside to retrieve a black leather credential case. Pulling up on a fallen officer without ID was a good way to get shot.
The downed officer lay on his back, surrounded by shattered glass from the rear window. His eyes were open and he writhed in pain. A good sign, Quinn thought as he put his foot down to steady the bike and flipped up the visor on his helmet. A line of what could only be bullet holes stitched the side of the police car. The other officer, a younger man with the earnest look of a full-grown Cabbage Patch doll, glanced up at the sound of the approaching motorcycle. His big eyes narrowed with adrenalized intensity. He nodded at the sight of Quinn's OSI badge and returned to his radio traffic.
"... medics code red," the officer said, calling in help for his injured partner.
The officer's earpiece had come unplugged and the steady voice of the dispatcher spilled out of his radio. "All units, 10-33 for 25-Bravo-2," she said, advising others on the frequency to yield to the officer's traffic.
The young officer continued with his description. "Two white male adults, one white female. They ... it ... I mean ... the vehicle's still going south." His face was flushed, his voice a half an octave higher than it should have been.
Quinn recognized the wounded officer as Greg Sizemore, a man Quinn had gone to high school with. A patch on the shoulder of his navy blue uniform identified him as an FTO or Field Training Officer, which made his partner a trainee. New or not, the rookie was doing everything right by applying pressure to an apparent gunshot wound just above Sizemore's collar bone.
"Are both vehicles involved?" Quinn asked, nodding toward the tiny dots that were the pickup and the Subaru as they faded into the distance around a mountain curve.
"Only the white sedan," Sizemore said, grimacing at the pain from his wound. "The pickup came by just before the shooting. I think the white car must have passed him. Driver and ... front passenger are both armed. Don't know about the girl in back."
Quinn felt Ronnie tap him on the shoulder. He scooted forward against the gas tank, giving her room to get off the bike. The bullet looked to have caught Sizemore just above his vest, probably destroying his collarbone. Blood seeped up through the rookie's clenched fingers but he appeared to have it stopped until an ambulance arrived. Ronnie peeled off her helmet, shaking out long black hair, and bent to help.
"You good for me to go get 'em, bud?" Quinn asked, looking at the downed officer.
"Hell, yes," Sizemore grunted, stifling a cough. "Sons of bitches shot me. Tear 'em up."
The rookie looked up at Quinn. "We have units responding from South Anchorage and a Trooper coming north from Summit Lake —"
"Tell them the man on the bike is a good guy," Quinn said, before flipping down his visor and giving the highway behind him a quick head check. A cloud of smoke rose from the BMW's rear tire as he rolled on the gas, falling in after the white Subaru.
The GS accelerated quickly, scooping Quinn into the seat as it ripped down the highway. He leaned hard, nearly dragging a knee as he rounded the first corner past the Girdwood cutoff. He pushed from his mind the fact that the only thing that kept him upright were the two rubber contact patches where his tires met the pavement, each about four square inches.
Quinn's mind raced ahead of the bike, looking for rocks, vehicles jumping out from side roads, and any other obstacles that could send him over the side of the Seward Highway in a flaming ball of twisted metal and leather.
He toed the Beemer down a gear, feeling the aggressive pull of the engine. The speedometer on the GPS display between his handlebars climbed past ninety and then a hundred miles an hour. The Subaru moved fast, and the red pickup stayed tight on its tail, but Quinn began to gain ground the moment he left the downed officer.
Still a mile back, Quinn watched the red pickup move up as if to pass the little Subaru on a long straightaway. Instead of passing, the larger truck jerked to the right, untracking the sedan and sending it spinning out of control and slamming it against the mountain on the left side of the road. The red pickup flew past, smoke pouring from its rear tires as it skidded to a stop, and them began to back down the middle of the road toward the wrecked Subaru.
Quinn reached back with his left hand, feeling along the metal cargo box until he found a one-liter metal fuel bottle.
He was still a little over a half mile behind the Subaru. At his present speed, the GS would close the distance in less than twenty seconds. It took Quinn a few of those precious seconds to flip the latches that held the fuel bottle in place, but he finally felt it snap and brought the bottle up by his handlebars, holding it tight in his left hand.
Ahead on the left, people began to boil out of the wrecked Subaru, surely stunned. They'd shot a cop, so Quinn still considered them plenty dangerous.
He eased off the throttle but kept the bike moving around forty miles an hour as he neared the man who'd climbed out the driver's side of the Subaru — the shooter. The man from the red pickup was already engaged in a shouting match with the Subaru passenger, who'd made it out first. Quinn saw the gun in the Subaru driver's hand when he was still fifty feet away. The sneaker-like Truants would allow him to fight and run better than his usual motocross boots, but he wanted to tenderize the men as much as possible before he even got off the bike.
Quinn goosed the throttle, closing the distance in an instant, bringing the aluminum bottle up just in time to catch the driver in the side of his head with a resounding "tink." Two pounds of aluminum and fuel traveling over forty miles an hour dropped the witless shooter in his tracks. Quinn let the bottle go the moment after impact, grabbing a handful of brakes and skidding the bike to a hard stop along the asphalt shoulder. He drifted the rear wheel during the slide to bring the back end of the bike around so he was facing his threat.
He got the Beemer stopped in time to watch the driver of the red pickup, an older man with a tweed driving cap, slap the Subaru passenger in the ear with an open palm, driving him to his knees. The female passenger from the Subaru threw her hands in the air, wailing and cursing as if she was being beaten herself, but giving up immediately. Quinn drew his Kimber 10mm from the holster tucked inside the waistband of his riding pants and scanned the area.
The man in the driving cap had drawn a gun of his own and now trained it on the downed Subaru passenger.
"Jim Hoyt, DEA," he shouted to Quinn. "Retired."