Find Her by Kenneth Zink Book Chapter One


Protect her. Those were the words Lyla felt thrumming through Mac, after the grenades clinked along the sidewalk bordering the elementary school and popped out plumes of pale smoke that smelled like burnt sugar, as soon as he detached from the surrounding ring of Secret Service agents to haul her from the ground and swaddle her against his chest. The words belonged to President Molly Walker. Protect her. POTUS said them each morning she left her granddaughter with Mac. It started years ago, back when Molly was a congresswoman and Lyla was a giggling clump of dough. Now the woman was the most powerful person on the planet and the girl was as tall as a kitchen counter, quivering against his chest. Protect her.

“Little Bird is falling,” Mac said into the watch on his wrist, detaching himself from his emotions, “I repeat, Little Bird is falling.”

“Roger, Big Bird, eyes on,” a voice crackled in his earpiece, coming from one of the rooftop snipers, perched on high.

“Targets?”

“Negative.”

“Headed for transport,” Mac said, remembering the hulking armored car further down the sidewalk, outside the mist.

He kicked the grenades into the street while the other agents formed a circular phalanx around him and the girl, turning outward, throwing their forearms across their noses and drawing their guns. Mac drew his own piece and held his breath and buried the girl in his shirt. The hiss of gas sputtered to a stop and the wail of fleeing pedestrians faded, the world masked by a quiet twilight haze.

“Move,” he said.

Together, they crept along the sidewalk, toward the edge of the shroud, but stopped when bullets pebbled the pavement around them.

“Hold.”

Lasers sliced through the smog.

“Eagles, you got anything?” Mac asked into his wrist.

The lasers drifted until they settled on the heads of the agents surrounding him and the girl.

“No,” Mac said.

He squinted through the fog while the ring of agents ducked and the lasers ducked with them.

“No!”

In a single second, a colossus of bullets synchronized into one biblical shot, like a ripple of thunder and lightning, splitting the earth in two. Blood splattered through the grey air, and the agents flopped to the ground.

Lyla saw nothing but the insides of her eyelids and felt nothing but his pulse barreling through his breastbone and heard nothing but the gruesome din of the real world. The roar of gunfire and the dull slap of flesh against stone. Her body shook while her mind desperately tried to fantasize Mac and the other agents as a team of superheroes clobbering a horde of monsters, pows and bams erupting from each hit in colored bubbles that painted an image of the good guys saving an equally good world.

Mac clutched the girl to his chest. Huffed through the smoke. Soaked in the aftermath. Men and women he’d served with for years, people with families and hobbies and even dreams that still endured into midlife, reduced to bodies and blood. A massacre plucked from war. Activating the best and worst parts of himself. The ones that could create and the ones that could destroy.

Protect her.

Mac ran. Away from the carnage, down the sidewalk, out of the smoke. Knowing he was alone. Up ahead, where the car should have been, the road was empty. He pivoted toward the nearest building, looking for targets but finding none, when a bullet tore into his leg and his knee crashed to the cement. He pushed off the ground and into a hobble but another bullet tore into his other leg and then he fell, twisting as he arced down toward the sidewalk so that he would take the blow and the girl would be safe.

His back thudded against the concrete and she rolled out of his arms, his gun skittering across the sidewalk.

Pain. Roasting through his legs, beating the muscles across his back like a mallet against meat, rushing him back to each time he’d taken a bullet while deployed, doing things for what he’d thought at the time was the greater good. He looked down. Blood leaked from his calves and seeped through his pants. He tried scraping himself up to a standing position but kept collapsing, his legs limp and searing.

The girl.

Mac rolled on his side, his head lolled against the pavement, and looked at her.

She was on her side too, facing him, her eyes fluttering open and closed, creating the same look she often had late at night, when he would watch POTUS tuck her under a shield of blankets.

The grenades. They must have spurted sleeping gas to neutralize the girl. Which meant he was next.

Her lips moved but nothing came out. It looked like she was trying to say his name, the man who had sworn an oath to keep her safe, the only thing her brain could formulate as she drifted off to a dangerous sleep.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Mac said. “We’re going to see each other again. You’re going to be okay.”

Out of the swirling smoke, dissipating by the second, strode a masked figure. Black pants, black leather jacket, black motorcycle helmet with the visor down over the face, Heckler and Koch MP5 in its hand. Not an inch of skin in sight. Mac crawled toward his gun but the terrorist kicked it away, stepped on his side, and rolled him on his back.

The terrorist looked down at Mac. Tilted its head, as if out of curiosity. Flipped the selector switch on the submachine gun. Aimed the barrel at his stomach. Pulled the trigger.

One bullet, more blood. This time in his mouth. Iron coating his tongue, his body desperate to spit the stuff out. It wasn’t something the girl should have to see. Mac swallowed it and almost hurled and rocked back on his side to reach out and touch her tiny fingers, curled toward her palm, her curly hair thrown across her face and her eyes barely visible behind her shuddering lids, wisps of smoke worming through the air between them.

Another terrorist snatched her from the ground and then their hands were pulled apart. His and hers. Severed.

Lyla, slung over the shoulder of the monster that had taken her, saw nothing through the slits in her drooping lids but the shrinking image of the man whose name she couldn’t say, laying on his side, spurting blood like a toppled fountain.

Protect her.

Mac watched the terrorists jump in a van and squeal away down the street. As his mind slipped from his body and blood erupted up his throat, the chill of death freezing its way through his legs while the faraway howl of ambulances grew, he held onto only one thought.

He would do anything for her. Even this.