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The consensus, I would have to soon learn, was a living, breathing creature that could attack in vicious rage.

And the molders of the consensus had Melinda in a cell where they could get to her at any moment*

VI.

At a quarter to three in the morning, after a short nap and a quick snack of cheese and crackers, I dressed and slipped both loaded pistols into the pockets of the heavy coat I was wearing. Through a series of pedways, escalators, and elevators, I reached the ground level of the west wall of the apartment complex and went outside. For a moment, I savored the cool air, then turned right and walked briskly toward the center of the city. I held my chin high and made my step firm but not rushed. I tried to look as little like a fugitive as possible. In ten minutes, I pa.s.sed a dozen other pedestrians without getting a second glance from any of them, and I thought the ruse was working.

Twenty-five minutes from her apartment complex, the squat, round surface portion of the Tombs hove into sight.

This was the administrative wing, containing offices and files. Light burned in some of the long, narrow window slits. Below this modest and attractive nubbins, bored for dozens of levels into the earth, were the cells and the interrogation chambers. The place had been designed, originally, as a modern progressive prison. But slowly, through the years since the cold war had been renewed, it was converted into something quite less than progressive by those reactionaries who branded change as part of any enemy plot, labeled disagreement as subversion. The ideal of rehabilitation was abandoned by those who thought punishment was better than converting to usefulness. Frustration and boredom and rage were the companions of those locked within these walls.

And Melinda was there now.

There were three howlers parked along the curb, all of them empty and locked. At the four corners of the intersection, there were piles of snow which had not yet been removed. Streetlights threw long shadows against the circular structure. There was no other person in sight, and the scene was almost like still-life painting into which I had walked through some unknown magic.

I had both guns shoved into my overcoat pockets, though I prayed to an insane and unheeding G.o.d that I would not have to use them. Indeed, I didn't think I could use them if the occasion arose. But, clutched in my hands, they gave me a sense of determination, as the dying Catholic must feel when his fingers grip his crucifix and he doesn't feel so bad about meeting the end.

Stepping from the curb, I crossed the icy street toward the main entrance of the building.

The doors opened and two coppers came out, walked to the last of the three howlers, and got in.

I kept moving. Up on the other curb, across the sidewalk, up the long flight of gray steps, my heart pounding and my mouth dry. I pushed through the double doors into the well-lighted lobby of the place, too

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