So Kevin had chosen not to go with the standard round doorknob for more reasons than aesthetics.
She breathed again as Einstein burst into the room, Khan and the Rottweiler close on his heels. She could hear Lola panting pained cries outside, and her teeth ground together.
While the dogs congregated silently around Daniel, forming a furry shield, she got her fighting shoes on and shoved the garrote wire into one pocket, the wooden handles into the other.
“Give the command,” she whispered to Daniel.
The shooter would be running in now, though he would have to be on the lookout for the dogs. If he had the option, he’d switch the distance rifle for something that made bigger holes. Dogs like these would keep coming through a lot of hurt.
“Escape protocol?” Daniel whispered uncertainly.
Einstein’s ears quivered. He gave a quiet cough of a bark, then trotted to the far end of the kitchen and whined.
“Follow him,” Alex instructed Daniel. She darted across the space between the wall and the island, keeping herself in a low crouch.
Daniel started to straighten, but before she could say anything, Einstein hurtled over and caught Daniel’s hand in his mouth. He yanked Daniel back to the ground.
“Keep low,” she translated in a whisper.
Einstein led them toward the laundry room, as Alex had expected, with Khan and the Rottweiler bringing up the rear. As she ducked from the great room to the darkened hallway, she tried to see Arnie. She could see only one hand at first, unmoving, but then she spied splatter against the far wall. It was obvious that there was brain matter mixed in with the blood. So there was no point in trying to drag him with them. It was too late for Arnie. And the shooter was obviously a marksman. The good news just kept coming.
Alex was surprised when Einstein stopped short of the laundry room and pawed at a closet in the hall. Daniel pulled the door open, and Einstein jumped past him and tugged at something inside. Alex crept closer just as a weighty pile of fur fell out on top of her.
“What is this?” Daniel breathed in her ear.
She felt her way through the pile. “I think it’s a fur coat – but there’s something else. It’s too heavy…” She ran her hands quickly over the coat, along the sleeves; there was something stiff and rectangular under the fur. She stuck her hand inside the sleeve, trying to understand what she was examining. Finally, her fingers made sense of it. She wasn’t sure she would have put it together if she hadn’t recently cut Kevin out of a Batsuit.
Einstein pulled another dense bulk of fur down on them.
“They’re lined in Kevlar,” she whispered.
“We should put them on.”
Alex struggled into hers as she worked through it in her head. The Kevlar made sense, but why the cumbersome fur? Had Kevin trained the dogs during cold weather? Was this just preparation for the elements? Did it even get that cold here? But as she yanked up the arms – too long, of course – to free her hands, she saw how Daniel’s coat was blending into Einstein’s fur so that she couldn’t see where one stopped and the other began. Camouflage.
The coat even had a Kevlar-lined hood, which she pulled over her head. Now she and Daniel were just two more furry shapes in the darkness.
Einstein went directly through the doggie door at the far end of the laundry room, and Daniel went right after. She could feel Khan’s heat close behind her. She got through the door and saw Einstein pulling Daniel back down as he tried to rise into a crouch.
“Crawl,” she explained.
It was frustratingly slow; the coat got heavier and hotter with every foot she gained, and the gravel was like knifepoints under her palms and knees. Once they got onto the stubbly grass, it was a little less painful, but she was so impatient with the pace that she barely noticed. She worried, as Einstein led them toward the outbuilding where the dogs lived, that he was trying to take them to the truck that she’d instructed Arnie to move. But the truck wasn’t such a great escape. The shooter might be holding his position, just waiting for someone to try to drive out on the only road. Or this could be a new variation, where the shooter had friends to sweep the house and flush his victims out while he waited.
She could hear the restive dogs penned in the outbuilding ahead, none of them happy with what was happening. They’d made it three-fourths of the way when another sharp thud kicked a cloud of dirt into her face. Einstein barked sharply, and Alex heard one of the dogs behind her thunder off from their little pack, growling in a low bass. The heavy sound of his paws combined with his compact stride made her sure it must be the Rottweiler. Another thud, farther out, but the growling didn’t change tempo. She heard something, maybe a muffled curse, and then a hail of bullets rattled out from what was most definitely not a sniper rifle. Her muscles tensed, even as she crawled as quickly as she could in Daniel’s wake, waiting for the inevitable sound of the Rottweiler’s yelps. The sound didn’t come, but the growling vanished. Tears pricked her eyes.
Khan moved into position at her side – the shooter’s side – and she saw Einstein was providing the same protection to Daniel. Kevin had said the dogs would give their lives for Daniel, and they were proving it. It would probably irk Kevin to know they were doing the same for her.
Kevin. Well, the odds were now better that he was alive. The news broadcasts hadn’t cut off because the Agency had found Kevin but because they’d successfully located Daniel.
They made the outbuilding. She crawled gratefully into the obscuring dark. The dogs inside were whining and barking anxiously. Fighting the heavy mass of the lined coat, she struggled to her feet, still bent over but able to move faster. Daniel copied her, keeping an eye on Einstein to see if he would insist they get back down. Einstein wasn’t paying attention to Daniel at the moment, though. Both he and Khan were doing a stuttering race down the line of kennels, stopping at each door and then bounding to the next. At first she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to run, too, but then she realized what they were doing. The closest kennels swung open, then the following set. Kevin had taught his prize pupils how to open the kennels from the outside.