The rough fabric of Miguel’s thin jacket rubbed against the back of Naomi’s neck and brushed against her wrists. The jacket was coarse, and too big for her, and much too warm for a day like this. The sun was rising higher, beaming in through the windows of the unmarked cop car and making Naomi sweat.
But she resisted Francis’s suggestion to take it off.
“I know you said he asked you to wear it,” said the cop, seated beside her in the back of the car, which was en route to the address Miguel had half-whispered to Naomi, cringing as he said it, as if Ian Innis might somehow hear him and punish him for his betrayal. “But he’s not here anymore. He’s headed the complete opposite direction, back to the station in protective custody. No reason for you to keep it on and melt.”
“I promised,” explained Naomi lamely, though really it wasn’t the jacket she’d made the promise about: it was the bird. It moved slightly in its “nest”, balled up inside the jacket’s inner pocket. Miguel had made her promise not to tell any of the cops that he’d given her the bird—he wouldn’t say why, for some reason—and when she’d pointed out that she had no way to carry it secretly, he’d draped his jacket over her shoulders and declared that problem solved.
She still wasn’t sure why she cared about fulfilling the promise, especially considering who she’d made it to—he’d tried to kill her! twice!—but the strangeness of it all had piqued her curiosity: why was this little bird so important to him? He’d flung hundred of birds to their deaths today—Francis’s graphic description of the attack on the convoy earlier had unsettled her stomach—so what made this one so very special?
“Here,” said the driver, a balding, middle-aged officer with a thick jaw and a flat nose. “The ERT says they’re another three minutes out, and they’re bringing the heavy artillery.”
“Which house?” asked Francis.
The driver pointed to a nondescript beige home a block down street, set a few meters back from the sidewalk. The siding was cracked and the lawn was turning brown, except for the exuberant weedy patches, which proudly flourished their yellow dandelions. Two old cars were parked out front, hubcaps missing.
Francis stared at it for a minute or two, while the cop in the front listened to some chatter on his radio.
Naomi tried to listen in, but couldn’t pick up much of what they were saying. Sweat was dripping down her forehead. She rubbed the sleeve of the jacket across her face and instantly regretted it: she might as well have scraped her skin with sandpaper. “Can I get out?” she asked.
“No,” said Francis, curtly.
“Can I at least roll down the window?”
The cop in the front seat looked back and exchanged eye contact with Francis.
“Fine,” said Francis, “just a crack. We’re not here to take any chances with your safety.”
Naomi refrained from pointing out that she still didn’t know what she was here to do; that would have only given Francis the opportunity to send her away, and whatever was about to happen, Naomi was pretty sure she wanted to see it, even without Miguel’s odd demand and the little ball of feathers she was carrying. She eased the window down a couple of inches—Francis made her roll it back up a little—and lifted her face to the opening, sucking in the relatively cool, fresh air.
A big, blocky black van rumbled past, followed by two more. They screeched to a halt in front of the house the driver had pointed out, the house Miguel had directed them to, and suddenly what seemed like dozens of body armour-wearing men and women began pouring out of the vehicles into the street, helmets and masks covering their faces, holding assault rifles and shotguns and riot shields, their belts bristling with sidearms and flash grenades.
The driver looked back at Naomi and grinned. “Victoria may be a little city, all things considered, but we take cop-killers pretty seriously, eh?”
“Wow,” Naomi couldn’t help but reply.
“I hope it’s enough,” remarked Francis, tersely, a vein in her forehead beginning to pulse.
“It better be,” observed the driver. “It’s everything we’ve got.”