Carlo and Juliana waited for Nathaniel at the rendezvous point. Juliana tried to catch her breath. “This happened very fast,” she pointed out.
Carlo patted his pocket that held the card. “Perfectly.”
Juliana searched the street for Nathaniel. It was taking him longer than planned. The worst imagines every abominable thing that could possibly happen to him flashed across her mind. What if police had apprehended him? What if a train hadn't stopped? What if he'd fallen by mistake?
Nathaniel bounded around a corner, as if jetting from her mind, and sprinted to his waiting comrades. Juliana let out a long exhale. When he reached her she wrapped her arms around his torso. “I thought you were dead,” she admitted. He pulled her off him, shaking his sweaty head. “Don't be stupid, Juli.”
Something volleyed passed her ear and struck the wall behind her. Brick dust exploded around the small hole. She yelped and side-stepped away from the damage. Civilians in the vicinity screamed and ran for cover. Carlo scanned the rooftops. He pointed. “There.”
All their eyes shot up to the roof of the building across from them. A marksmen stood aiming his weapon at them. Carlo told them to run. Neither argued. Another bullet was fired but missed as they moved in the nick of time. Nathaniel swore under his breath. “They must have followed me from the station.”
“Don't start blaming yourself, Mr. Unsworth!” Carlo ordered. “Keep running!”
Juliana's vision became tunneled. She could only see the back of Carlo's gray and black speckled head. Just follow Carlo. He'll protect you. Trust him.
They ran around a corner and she heard a bullet fire. Nathaniel yowled in pain. Juliana heard him fall. Carlo stopped and she ran into him. Her eyes blinked wildly, anxious to clear her sight. Carlo went to Nathaniel's fallen form. Juliana saw blood pooling under his leg at an alarming rate.
Carlo tore Nathaniel's pant leg to the knee and examined the wound. “It went clean through.” He touched the torn flesh. Nathaniel screamed and Juliana covered her ears. “Looks like it missed bone,” Carlo assessed. “Lucky for you.” He pulled Nathaniel's arm over his shoulders and got him to stand. Another burst of pain. Another scream. “We can't stay here,” Carlo told him. “Try. You must try.”
“God! I'm shot!” Nathaniel hissed through gritted teeth.
Juliana went to the two men and took hold of Nathaniel's other arm. She helped support his weight. His blood trailed behind them. People pointed it out but were too afraid to go near them. Where there was blood there was danger.
Nathaniel's head began to bob. He was loosing blood too fast. They moved behind a building for cover and they set him down. Juliana pressed the heels of her hands to her forehead. “He's going to pass out.” She stood in front of Carlo. “What do we do?”
Carlo didn't bother beating around the bush. “With him injured we will be captured. There's no way we will all make it back with him this way.”
Reflexively, she punched the man in the shoulder. It didn't hurt him in the slightest, but it got his attention. She pressed her lips together and inhaled slowly. “Don't. Don't even say it.”
“I haven't said anything.”
She punched him again. “We aren't leaving him. He's my best friend.” She looked at her friend's limp body. His eyes were still open but his jaw had fallen slack. He blinked and his eyelids slowly closed. She nudged him with her foot and his eyes shot open. “Stay awake, Nathaniel.”
Carlo peeped around the corner. “We don't have much time. They know he's been hit. It's evident on the snow.”
“Then why are we standing here?” she snapped.
Carlo took Juliana's shoulders in his blood-covered hands. He looked her dead in the eye. “Listen to me, Juliana. Are you listening?”
She grimaced. “Yes.”
He lowered his voice so only she could hear. “10, 21, 12, 9, 1, 14, 1.”
She didn't understand. What was that list of numbers? Did he just tell her the code? He reached in his pocket and took out the key card. Taking her hand, he pressed the card into her palm. He touched his nose and she paid close attention while he repeated the seven digit code. “Memorize it.” He said it once more, making her repeat every number after he spoke it. “Do you have it?”
“I... I think so.”
“You must know.”
“Okay. I know. Why are you telling?”
Carlo went to Nathaniel. He'd fallen unconscious during their memorization game. He lifted him and his eyes fluttered open. Carlo passed him to Juliana. “Take him to the zeppelin. If I don't return in five minutes leave without me.”
That was why he'd given her the code. He didn't think he'd return. She felt a twinge of sorrow for him. “You have to make it. We can't do this without you.”
He smiled. His sad eyes looked happy. “I'll try.” He swallowed. “I'll try, Juliana..... Russo.” He kissed her cheek. “Now go.” He ran out of cover. A stranger's voice shouted his name and Carlo ran at a full-out sprint. Three men soon gave chase.
Juliana stood alone with her semi-conscious friend. She had four blocks to cover before she reached the zeppelin port. “We'll be okay, Nathaniel,” she whispered. Step by step, she towed him with her. 10, 21, 12, 9, 1, 14, 1. She repeated the numbers over and over in her head. Those seven numbers kept her going. They boosted her strength. When Carlo boarded their zeppelin again she would whisper them back to him, returning the code back to its rightful owner.
When she saw the rows of zeppelins her face burst into a smile. “We made it,” she told Nathaniel, even though she was sure he'd passed out a block ago. People in the port recoiled away from the two of them. Blood still leaked from Nathaniel's shin. One woman screamed for help. Juliana tuned them all out.
When she arrived at their zeppelin, Benjamin met them at the bottom of the gangplank. He took over holding Nathaniel. As soon as his weight lifted Juliana realized just how heavy he was. It was as if gravity lifted the second Benjamin took him. Even in the frost-bitten weather she was sweating from the endeavor.
Benjamin took Nathaniel to the deck. Lennon passed them on the way to Juliana. He slid gracefully the last foot on a sheet of ice and parked beside Juliana. “Where's Carlo? His tracker went offline as soon as you separated.”
She stared down the trail of red on the white snow. The clock was ticking. “He said to wait five minutes and then leave without him.”
Lennon rubbed the back of his head. “Dear God. He won't make it.”
Juliana glowered at him. “He will. He must.” She chewed her nails as the time passed. One minute. Two. Three. Lennon shook his head. “I'm prepping for departure.” He ran up the gangplank. Juliana rubbed her hands together. Carlo needed help. She wouldn't leave without him. If Gerard Black got a hold of him all would be for not. Not only that, but he'd risked capture for her and Nathaniel. She couldn't live with herself if they left him behind.
She sucked in a deep, frozen breath, and took off back to the city. She followed Nathaniel's blood trail back to where she'd last seen Carlo. His footsteps were still visible in the snow. She tracked them for two blocks and over the Thames. They ended outside an open door of a shop. Inside, civilians were on their knees against a wall. The men who'd pursued Carlo were banging on a bolted door. A sign on it indicated the door led to a stairwell.
Juliana silently backed out to the street and counted the floors of the building. Four. Carlo could be hiding on any of them. She studied each frosted window for any sign of him. None came to her. Her dark eyes wandered up to the roof. A gasp caught in her throat. Carlo had his back to the street, his hand grasping his gun.
She held back her desire to shout his name. He was safe. If she distracted him now he wouldn't be able to find a safe way down. Not only that but his pursuers would hear and come after her. Their best bet was to stay quiet. She backed up to the building across the street to get a better vantage point. The men inside were finally able to break the door down. They fought their way in the tiny stairwell, directing each other where to search first.
Carlo's body language changed. He knew he had little time. They were coming. His name bubbled up in her mouth like foam. She wanted to warn him. She could help guide him. He turned and she got a good look at his face. His lips with turned down at the corners. Snow stuck to his whiskers making it shimmer like crystals. He clutched his gun for dear life; he would kill anyone who tried to seize him.
Gerard Black's men were on the third floor. Juliana could see lights turning on. Furniture was being overturned. The men were growing impatient.
Carlo measured the distance between his building and the closest to it. Juliana bit down on her bottom lip. Jumping was too risky. The buildings were farther apart than the zeppelin had been to the room where Nathaniel rescued her and Pietro. A sky-train rail ran across the street and he could easily reach it if he jumped. However, if he did he'd have no way of getting down before a train came. He'd be killed. She noticed a drainpipe along the side of his building. He could shimmy down if he moved fast. Only he didn't see it. She had to tell him. She had to help.
As she opened her mouth to shout to him one of Gerard Black's men appeared on the roof. Carlo didn't bother turning around to face his adversary. The man shouted, “Freeze, Carlo Costa! We aren't here to hurt you! Come quietly and your friends won't die!”
Carlo closed his eyes. “You don't have my friends,” he said just loud enough for Juliana to hear. Gerard Black's man stepped closer; Juliana could see the top of his head. He had his gun raised, pointed squarely at Carlo's back. “We shot your friend! We have eyes on your craft! Everyone will die unless you come with me now!”
Juliana predicted Carlo's next move. He would allow himself to be taken. When that happened she would follow them until the right time came to save him. She would. Somehow. Even if she had to beg Lennon to fly after him. They wouldn't abandon him.
“Mr. Black only wants the code!” the man shouted. “Don't be a hero! No one will ever know about Project Reinisiate! Accept that fact! Come now and everything will be all right!”
Carlo's eyebrows furrowed. He bared his teeth and turned to face the man. Juliana heard the other two men enter the roof. Carlo raised his gun. The men ordered him to drop his weapon. He didn't obey. “Gerard Black is a coward!” he bellowed. “My partners and I only want what is best for the world! We can bring the animals back!” He cocked the gun. “This isn't about money, you fools! It's about peace! Doing what is right! Returning LIFE!” His hands started to shake. He bowed his head. “I will not allow you to have the code!”
Juliana watched in horror as Carlo raised his gun to his own head. His name finally left her lips the rattling moment he pulled the trigger. She screamed but it came out silently, carried off by the wind. Carlo's body shot backwards and tumbled end over end once before slamming onto the street. The civilians inside the shop were at the window when he connected with the ground. They screamed and dashed from the shop and down the street, escaping from the horror.
Juliana ran to his body. His blood coated his head. She vomited at the sight of his destroyed skull. Brain matter decorated the muzzle of the gun which was still pinched between his blue fingers. At least the snow had cushioned his body from much further mutational.
Gerard Black's men were gawking from the roof. They saw her over Carlo's body. “It's the Russo girl!” Without further instruction, all of them started their way down to her. She couldn't stay to mourn her friend. He'd given her the code. She needed to protect it with her life.
She found her feet and ran as fast as she could. She covered nearly the entire width of the Thames before the men exited the shop. Her mind raced. He'd killed himself. Carlo was dead. Now what would they do? She had the key card, she knew the code, yet she still felt completely unprepared. How would they free the scientists without being captured and tortured by Gerard Black?
She knew the men were chasing her, but it was almost comforting to know they wouldn't shoot. They needed her alive. She kept that in mind as she ran into the zeppelin port. Lennon saw her coming and the zeppelin roared to life. Steam shot from the lower steam pipes and the propellers whorled. She ran up the gangplank, grabbing the deck wall to swing herself the rest of the way. She fell to her knees and sucked in as much air as she could. Lennon locked the deck door and shouted, “On board!”
Benjamin turned the wheel from the bridge and the zeppelin pulled away from the dock and steadily rose to the sky. Lennon crossed his strong arms as he stood over her. “Where did you go? We knew Carlo wouldn't make it back. Benjamin and I made a plan for this outcome. You could have foiled it.”
She was surprised by the amount of tears that leaked from her eyes. She pulled her knees into her chest and met Lennon's black eyes. “Carlo killed himself.”
Lennon's stern face grew soft. He lowered his arms to his sides. “What?”
She nodded and saw Alec coming to her from the back of the zeppelin. He lay beside her and she rested her head on his snow-flaked side. She hugged her body and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. A thought came to her. She glanced down at her left wrist. Carlo's red cravat stared at her like a haunting memory.
Benjamin came down from the bridge once they were at their top speed. He pointed at Juliana. “What's going on here?” Lennon told him the news. Benjamin's eyes widened. “No way.”
Juliana untied the cravat from her wrist and balled it in her hand. She should have done something sooner. Cornered on that roof, of course he hadn't seen a way out. Anger built up inside her. How could he? There must have been another way. There was always another way. Instead, he chose to leave her behind. Sure they'd had their spats, but their entire relationship started in the mists of danger, fear, loneliness.... In spite of it all, she'd really admired the man. And now he was gone.
“It's over,” Benjamin said. “Carlo was the one with the code. Without him we can't open the lab.”
Juliana lifted her eyes to him. “He told me.” The men stared at her and she repeated, “He told me. The code. I know the code.” She showed them the key card.
Lennon put his hands on his hips. “I'll be damned.”
End of Part 7