A.I.
Chapter 48

He said nothing more as my eyes began to adjust to the bright light. In a moment or two I could begin to see. I took a look around.

It was, as Spook had said, a barn. For the most part it was empty, a couple of bales of hay and, in the center, a table and several chairs with wires stretching away. More wires above held a string of light bulbs which lit the entire area.

There were only three of us in the barn, I saw: Joe, Estrada and me. As soon as I took this in I glared at Estrada.

"Where's—" My voice cracked. I cleared my throat. "Where's my family?" I demanded, my voice sounding rusty to my ears.

"Ah," he said. He gave me a tight smile. "They are nearby. Consider the sight of them part of your reward after you have—"

"No," I cut him off. "Now."

The smile fell off his face in an instant. "Mr. Heyward, you are in no position to make demands," he said coldly.

"If you want your 'demonstration, ' bring them now," I answered. "I do nothing until I see them alive and well."

"It could be arranged that you see them in a somewhat different condition," he told me icily. "I could give the order that their dead bodies be carried here."

The words sent a chill down my spine. I knew he was ruthless enough to do it. But I couldn't go forward without them here. I had to gamble, take the risk that I was on strong enough footing that he'd give in to get the "demonstration" he wanted. Later, I knew, would be too late by a lot.

"Not if you want anything from me," I said hoarsely. "Alive and well and here."

Joe was standing on my left and a little behind me. Suddenly he cuffed me across the back of the head hard enough to knock me off my feet. "You do what Carlos says," he growled.

I looked up at Estrada from the floor. "My family," I repeated, gritting my teeth.

Joe moved as if to kick me, but Estrada held up a hand at him. He stared down at me expressionlessly. "In time," he said softly, "you will learn to do as I direct."

I got slowly to my feet, my eyes on Estrada the whole time. I didn't say a word.

He seemed to make a decision. "Very well," he said. He pulled out a cell and hit speed dial. Then came a rapid string of Italian and he closed the phone.

"Your wife and child are being brought here," he told me. "Perhaps their presence will render you more cooperative. The man who brings them is armed, as are Giuseppe and myself." He reached into a pocket and pulled what looked to be some sort of automatic handgun about halfway out. I glanced at Joe; he had his gun all the way out and was pointing it at me.

"This place is some distance from the nearest house or road," he continued. "Gunshots will go unnoticed. As will any cries of those who may be on the receiving end of such gunshots. Or other things that may be done to them. Do I make myself clear?"

I nodded.

He said something to Joe in Italian. Then he looked back at me. "Did you understand?" he asked.

"No."

"I told him that if there is trouble of any kind he is to shoot immediately. First the child. Then the woman. And last you, but only to disable you, not to kill you. Is that also clear?"

"No trouble," I said, my heart pounding. Dealing with the guns would be up to me.

I heard the door slide open. As I turned Lee walked in carrying Johnnie. Right behind them was another of Estrada's gunsels, his pistol pointed right at her back.

Heedlessly I ran over to her and threw my arms around them both. She grabbed me back hard with her free hand. For a moment I was completely unaware of the hard men who surrounded us, guns in hand.

She shifted a little to clutch harder at John. I pushed back and looked at her. There was a nasty bruise on her left cheek, and the eye on that side was a little swollen. And John lay seemingly inert in her arms, no sign of his ordinarily lively movement.

I turned my face to Estrada. "What the hell—?" I began.

"Your wife may thank herself for her small injury," he told me. "She fought bravely, if foolishly, to prevent her capture and her son's. Indeed, she was responsible for the death of one of my men. I did not anticipate bodyguards, especially a woman. It is another way in which you have annoyed me."

I ignored him. "And the baby?" I demanded.

"They made him drink something—" Lee said to me.

"A sedative only," Estrada cut her off. "I do not enjoy the squalling of small children. He will awaken in perhaps an hour or two. If your actions allow him to awaken at all." The last was spoken directly to me.

I checked his pulse. It was strong, and he was breathing normally.

"Now, Mr. Heyward, it is time," said Estrada impatiently. "Your wife and child will remain there." He pointed to one of the hay bales. "You will sit here"—he pointed to one of the chairs at the table, on which rested, I belatedly saw, a laptop computer—"and do as I direct."

"Jackie, I'm so sorry," Lee told me quietly as I walked over with her to the bale where Estrada had pointed. "He told me he'd kill Johnnie if I didn't tell him. He had a gun right at his head. I had to say."

"I know," I said sympathetically. "It's OK, sweetheart. It's just a one-off. Estrada wants me to do something for him, then he's going to let us go." She gave me an unbelieving look; with the eye no-one could see but her, I winked. It was all I could do, she'd have to pick up the cue.

And bless her, incipient shiner and all, she did. "Then do it, please, Jackie," she said. "Get us out of here. I want to go home."

"Yes, do it, please, Heyward," mocked Estrada. "The computer here awaits. Work your magic."

I helped her ease down with Johnnie and then turned back to him. "Your man has my disk. I need it."

"Mmm," he said. "The disk you brought with you in defiance of my instructions. Remind me why you did this."

"You want me to 'work my magic?'" I snapped. "How do you think I do that? Just type 'FBI-dot-gov' into a browser address box?"

"So?"

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Consensual / Heterosexual / Science Fiction / Slow /