Unwind / Page 35

Page 35



39 Roland

Roland opens the envelope that Hayden has just handed him, and reads the note inside:

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID. I'LL MAKE YOU A DEAL.

MEET ME AT THE FEDEX JET.

The note isn't signed, but it doesn't have to be. Roland knows who sent it. Connor's the only one with nerve enough to blackmail him. The only one stupid enough. The note sets Roland's mind spinning. I know what you did. There are quite a lot of activities Connor could be talking about. He might know that Roland has been sabotaging the generators so he can blame the Admiral for outrageous living conditions. Or he might know about the bottle of ipecac he stole from the infirmary while pretending to flirt with Risa. He was planning to use the stuff to spike the drinks, create a puke-fest, and then blame the Admiral for giving them all food poisoning. Yes, there are plenty of things Connor could have found out about. Roland puts the note in his pocket, showing no emotion, and glares at Hayden. "So you're Connor's messenger boy now?"

"Hey," says Hayden, "I'm Switzerland: neutral as can be, and also good with chocolate."

"Get lost," Roland tells him.

"Already am." And Hayden strolls away.

It burns Roland that he might have to bargain with Connor, but there are worse things. And after all, bargains and subterfuge are a way of life for him. So he heads off toward the FedEx jet, making sure he takes a knife with him—in case there's no deal to be made.

40 Connor

"I'm here," Roland calls from outside the FedEx jet. "What do you want?"

Connor remains hidden inside the hold. He knows he's only going to get one chance at this, so he's got to do it right. "Come inside, and we'll talk about it."

"No, you come out."

Nice try, Connor thinks, but this is going to be on my terms. "If you don't come in, I'll tell everyone what I know. I'll show everyone what I found."

Silence for a moment, then he sees Roland's silhouette as he climbs into the hold. Connor has the advantage now. His eyes have adjusted to the dim light of the hold, and Roland's have not. He leaps forward and firmly plants the muzzle of the Admiral's gun against Roland's back. "Don't move."

Instinctively Roland's hands go up, as if he's been in this position many times before. "Is this your deal?"

"Shut up." Connor uses one hand to frisk him, finds the concealed knife, and hurls it out of the cargo hold. Satisfied, he pushes the gun harder against Roland. "Move."

"Where am I supposed to go?"

"You know where to go. Crate 2933. Move!"

Roland begins to walk forward, squeezing between the narrow rows of crates. Connor is conscious of every movement of Roland's body. Even with a gun to his back, Roland is arrogant and sure of himself. "You don't want to kill me," he says. "Everyone here likes me. If you do anything to me, they'll tear you apart."

They reach crate 2933. "Get in," Connor says.

That's when Roland makes his move. He spins, knocks Connor back, and grabs for the gun. Connor expected this. He holds the gun out of reach and, using the crate behind him for leverage, places his foot firmly in Roland's gut and pushes him back. Roland falls backward into crate 2933. The second he does, Connor lurches forward, slams the hatch, and seals it. While Roland rages inside, Connor takes aim at the crate and fires the gun once, twice, three times.

The blasts echo, blending with the terrified screams from within the crate, and then Roland shouts, "What are you doing? Are you insane?"

Connor's shots had been very precise; they were low, and directed at a corner of the crate. "I've given you something your victims never had," Connor tells him. "I've given you airholes." Then he sits down. "Now we talk."

41 Mob

Half a mile away, a search party returns from the desert. They didn't find Emby. Instead, they found five unmarked graves behind a distant outcropping of rocks. In a few short minutes, word spreads through the ranks like flames in a steady wind. The Goldens have been found, and apparently they weren't so golden after all. Someone suggests that the Admiral did it himself. The suggestion becomes a rumor, and the rumor quickly becomes accepted as fact. The Admiral killed his own! He's everything Roland says he is—and, hey, where is Roland? He's missing too? So is Connor! What has the Admiral done to them?!

A mob of Unwinds with a hundred reasons to be angry have all simultaneously found one more, and that's all it takes to push them over the edge. The mob storms toward the Admiral's jet, picking up more and more kids along the way.

42 Risa

A few minutes earlier, Risa had responded to the Admiral's request and showed up at his jet with some aspirin. She was greeted by the Admiral, who, as she had told Connor, didn't even know her name. Now he chats with her, telling her that the experience she's getting here is better than what anyone her age gets in the outside world. She tells him of her thoughts of becoming an Army medic, and he seems pleased. He complains of shoulder pain, and asks her for the aspirin. She gives it to him, but just to be on the safe side, she checks his blood pressure, and he applauds her for being so thorough.

There's some sort of commotion outside that makes it hard for her to focus on taking the Admiral's blood pressure. Commotion is not unusual here. Whatever it is, Risa suspects it will end with bandages and ice packs for someone. Her work is never done.

43 Mob

Furious kids begin to arrive at the Admiral's jet.

"Get him! Get him! Pull him out!"

They climb the steel steps. The hatch is open, but just a crack. Risa looks out at the wave of mayhem, like a human tsunami pounding toward her.

"He's got a girl in there with him!"

The first of the kids reaches the top of the stairs and heaves the hatch open, only to be met by Risa, and a brutal punch to the jaw. It sends him tumbling over the side and to the ground—but there's more where he came from.

"Don't let her close that door!"

The second kid is met by an aerosol burst of bactine right to his eyes. The pain is excruciating. He stumbles backward into the other kids coming up the stairs, and they tumble like dominos. Risa grabs the hatch, swings it closed, and seals it from the inside.

Kids are on the wings now, finding every piece of loose metal and prying it up. It's amazing how much of a plane can be shredded by bare-handed fury.

"Break the windows! Pull them out!"

Kids on the ground throw rocks that hit their comrades as often as they hit the jet. On the inside it sounds like a hailstorm. The Admiral blanches at the scene outside the windows. His heart races. His shoulder and arm ache. "How did this happen? How did I let this happen?"

The barrage of stones batters the fuselage, but nothing breaks the armored steel, nothing cracks the bulletproof glass of the former Air Force One. Then someone tears out the power line connecting the jet to its generator. The lights go out, the air-conditioning shuts down, and the entire jet quickly begins to bake in the broiling sun.

44 Connor

"You murdered Amp, Jeeves, and the rest of the Goldens."

"You're crazy!"

Connor sits outside crate 2933, wiping his brow in the heat. Roland's voice comes from inside, muffled, but loud enough to hear.

"You got rid of them so you could take their place," Connor says.

"I swear, when I get out of here, I'll—"

"You'll what? You'll kill me like you killed them? Like you killed Emby?"

No response from Roland.

"I said I'd make you a deal," says Connor, "and I will. If you confess, I'll make sure the Admiral spares your life."

In response, Roland suggests Connor perform a physical impossibility.

"Confess, Roland. It's the only way I'm letting you out of there." Connor is sure that, if put under enough pressure, Roland will confess to what he's done. The Admiral needs evidence, and what better evidence than a full confession.

"I have nothing to confess to!"

"Fine," says Connor. "I can wait. I have all day."

45 Mob

The fortress of the Admiral's jet is impenetrable. The temperature inside is soaring past one hundred. Risa's handling the heat, but the Admiral doesn't look too good. She still can't open the door, because the mob is relentlessly trying to get in.

Outside, whatever kids aren't swarming over the Admiral's jet are spreading out. If they can't get to the Admiral, then they'll destroy everything else. The study jets, the dormitory jets, even the recreation jet—everything is being torn apart, and whatever can burn is set aflame. They are filled with an insatiable fury, and beneath it is a strange joy that the anger can finally be released. And beneath the joy is more fury.

From halfway across the Graveyard, Cleaver sees the smoke rising in the distance, beckoning him. Cleaver is drawn to mayhem. He must be a witness to it! He gets into his helicopter and flies toward the angry mob.

He sets down as close to the chaos as he dares to get. Have his deeds in any way led to this? He hopes so. He turns off the engine, letting the blades slow, so he can hear the wonderful sounds of havoc. . . . Then the angry Unwinds turn toward him.

"It's Cleaver! He works for the Admiral."

Suddenly, Cleaver is the center of attention. He can't help but feel this is a good thing.

46 Connor

Roland is slowly breaking. He confesses to many things, petty acts of vandalism and theft, that Connor couldn't care less about. But this is going to work. It has to work. Connor has no other plan to bring him to justice—it has to work.

"I've done a lot of things," Roland tells him through the three bullet holes in the crate. "But I never killed anybody!"

Connor just listens. He barely speaks to him anymore. Connor finds the less he speaks, the more Roland does.

"How do you know they're even dead?"

"Because I buried them. Me and the Admiral."

"Then you did it!" says Roland. "You did it, and you're trying to make me take the blame!"

Now Connor begins to see the flaw in his plan. If he lets Roland out without a confession, then he's a dead man. But he can't keep him in there forever. His options are now narrower than the spaces between the crates.

Then a voice calls to them from outside. "Is anyone there? Connor? Roland? Anybody?" It's Hayden.

"Help!" screams Roland at the top of his lungs. "Help, he's crazy! Come in here and let me out!" But his screams don't make it out of the hold. Connor gets up and makes his way to the entrance. Hayden looks up at him. He's not his usual cool self, and there's a nasty bruise on his forehead, like he was hit by something.

"Thank God! Connor, you've got to get back there! It's nuts—you've gotta stop it—they'll listen to you!"

"What are you talking about?"

"The Admiral killed the Goldens—and then everyone thought he'd killed you. . . ."

"The Admiral didn't kill anybody!"

"Well, try telling them that!"

"Them who?"

"Everybody! They're tearing the place apart!"

Connor sees the far-off smoke, and he takes a quick glance back into the hold, deciding that, for the moment, Roland can wait. He hops down to the ground and races off with Hayden. "Tell me everything, from the beginning."


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