I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 11: Karma

By: S X Meagher

Part 11

“I don't know if the baby will even fit in here,” Jamie said in amazement as they loaded the mass of presents for Jennie and her friends into the back of the Lexus. It was late that afternoon, and they had been trying to wait out the driving rain, but when it became obvious that it wasn't going to let up, they finally decided to just pack up and go.

Maeve was in charge of Caitlin, and when Ryan suggested that she might like to help play Santa, she was only too willing to release her young charge. “She's been a little terror today,” Maeve warned Jamie when she ran up to the house to collect the baby. “As Ryan would say, she's a little adrenaline junkie.”

“Oh, we can manage her,” Jamie said happily as she accepted the gurgling child.

“Mmh mmh,” Caitlin grunted with a frustrated look on her sunny face.

“Ryan's trying to teach her to say my name,” Jamie informed Maeve. “We've given up trying to teach her 'Ryan',” she laughed. “She can't really get a handle on any part of it.”

“She seems like she's not satisfied with yours either,” Maeve observed.

“No, she's not, but I think she'll get to Jamie a lot sooner than Ryan.”

“Oh, let me go pull her car seat out of my car,” Maeve said as she grabbed her keys.

“No need,” Jamie informed her. “We just decided it was time to invest in our own. We got it all installed this morning. Now we'll always be prepared.”

“Marvelous!” Maeve exclaimed, very happy to not have to wrestle with the seat in the rain.

“Yeah, that silly Ryan was out in the rain for hours! We finally got the bike rack we'd ordered months ago, and she couldn't wait a day to get it on, even though we won't be riding our bikes any time in the near future. Then she had to get the car seat set up, and put the license plates I finally got for her on the car, too. She gets so focused!”

“She's been like that forever, Jamie. Don't waste your time trying to change her.” Sticking her head out of the door she asked, “What is your special new license plate anyway?” She had to crane her neck to read it, then she laughed and said, “Now isn't that the truth!” Bending to kiss Jamie goodbye she said, “I hope you have a lovely time this afternoon, girls. We'll probably go over to your house later to have dinner with the children, so we'll meet you back there.”

“Okay, wish us luck,” Jamie cried as she tucked Caitlin into her bright yellow slicker, then dashed back down the stairs to the waiting car.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Before they left, Ryan had logged on to a local traffic site. Seeing that the freeway was far too congested to get on any sooner than they had to, they cut across the city by taking Mission, trying to get to the Bay Bridge with as little trouble as possible. The heavy gloom made the late afternoon even darker than normal, and everyone had their headlights on even though it was only four o'clock.

The baby was chattering away in the back seat, attempting to make an important point when they pulled to a stop at the corner of Howard and Mission to allow a Muni bus to pass in front of them. Ryan turned to say something to Jamie when a face appeared in the window right behind her lover's head. Something about the look on his face caused Ryan's stomach to clench, and she had her mouth open to warn Jamie when the window behind her own head was abruptly struck with a very heavy object. Twin screams echoed through the car; Ryan could not have said whether or not one was hers. A large, powerful hand reached through the gaping hole and grasped Ryan roughly by the collar, compressing her windpipe as the fabric of her T-shirt was twisted forcefully. She felt something cold, hard and wet press against her neck as a voice ordered, “Unlock the doors and get out.”

Very few viable options presented themselves at that moment. Glancing quickly past Jamie's fear-frozen face, she saw the flash of blue steel pointed through the window at her lover, so any thoughts of trying to escape were quickly abandoned. “My baby is in the back seat,” she said as calmly as possible, her voice thin from the diminution of air. “Let me get her out, and you can have everything we've got — no arguments.”

“You're not in any position to argue, bitch,” he growled. “Now get out, or you're gonna be breathing out the side of your neck!”

Another glance in the rear view mirror showed no other cars directly behind them, and the traffic coming from the other direction was not terribly heavy either, allowing few possibilities of help . She lowered her voice, trying to make it as calm as possible and said, “Can you get out, Jamie?”

The fair woman was unable to speak, but her head nodded quickly. Her eyes turned towards the screaming baby in the car seat, but Ryan just shook her head. “Get out,” she said firmly. Jamie's small hand was shaking so violently that she could hardly grasp the door handle, but as soon as the lock popped, the man on her side jerked the door open with one hand and shoved the gun against the back of her head with the other. She fumbled for her seat belt, managing to unlatch it just as he started to drag her from the vehicle. He yanked hard and she hit the pavement, landing on her butt with her feet still in the car. Kicking Jamie aside like a piece of trash, he jumped in over her prone body and slammed the door, nearly catching her left foot as he did so. “Caitlin!” she cried pathetically as she tried to scramble to her feet.

The gun at Ryan's neck scraped harshly against her skin as the man jammed it just under her left ear. “You've got three seconds. Then we take you with us. Dead,” he added unnecessarily. Every instinct in her body told her to defy the order and stomp on the accelerator. But the man in the passenger seat looked even more nervous and edgy than the one at her side, and she thought the odds of him killing her just for grins were pretty high. She thought that if she got out, they might allow her to take Caitlin just to avoid the aggravation of having a screaming baby in the car. So with her body resisting the powerful messages flooding her brain, she opened the door and started to slide out. “Please … please let me take the baby,” she begged in her most plaintive voice. “If you just take the car, the police won't even bother to look for you,” she reasoned. “It's just a car! But if you kidnap a tiny baby …” Her plea was cut off by her assailant's left hand striking her hard across the mouth. She tasted the metallic tang of her own blood as her knees buckled and deposited her onto the ground, but she did not waver in her attempt to convince him to allow her to grab Caitlin.

Both men had their attention diverted for a moment while Ryan continued to beg the man to allow her to take Caitlin out. In a move that seemed almost instinctive, Jamie grabbed the rear door handle and yanked it open as the larger man hopped into the driver's seat, intentionally stepping on Ryan in the process. A car came up behind them, and in a panic, he hit the accelerator hard. Jamie wasn't sure how it happened — all she knew was that long months of training her body allowed her to grab the car seat with her left hand and the seat back of the passenger seat with her right and haul herself inside. Gasping for breath, she let out a sigh of relief as she pulled the door closed and began to try to calm the hysterical baby.

Her relief was short lived as the passenger turned and glared at her evilly. “Somebody's in a hurry to die,” he said, with what looked like glee.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Just as Ryan's ass hit the street, a young woman frantically dug her keys from her purse and entered her apartment building, determined to call the police. But a blur of movement caught her eye, and she whirled to look through the glass to see Ryan leap to her feet, take off running at a remarkable rate of speed, and hurl her body through the air, her hands grasping desperately to grab onto the wind foil. The young woman ran back onto the street, forcing herself to witness what was sure to be the foolhardy woman's last act. The woman somehow began to pull herself up onto the roof, using the bike rack as an anchor. Soon, she flopped onto the roof, leaving the witness to stare mouth-agape. The stunned woman knew the police would never believe her story, but somehow she felt obligated to recount the tale, since she was quite sure she was the only witness. The car accelerated to a remarkable degree, the wet tires spinning as the driver hit the accelerator hard. Watching intently, the young woman tried to cement the unbelievable events in her mind, wondering how she would explain the happenings to the police. Going over the scene in her mind, she entered her building again, thinking, I know the police will think I'm mad, but I have to call anyway. That was either the bravest or the stupidest woman on earth, but no matter which, she doesn't deserve to die the way she's going to.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie's heart was thudding louder, faster, and heavier than she knew was possible as the car lurched down the street. She knew that her Ryan was with them — the loud thump and even louder cursing had alerted her to her lover's mad leap, and since that moment she had been turned around in her seat, her eyes scanning the street, making sure that her beloved partner hadn't silently fallen off. But the reassurance that she felt from knowing her lover was close was abruptly quashed by the cold, hard tones that floated over to her from the front seat. “Once we knock her off — you're next.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Okay, two mean guys, two big guns, one slippery car, and a demented woman hanging on for dear life. I've got them just where I want them, Ryan thought wryly. They had been careening down little-traveled side streets for several minutes, trying desperately to lose the determined woman who clung so tenaciously to the roof rack. Thank you, thank you, Jamie for buying me these gloves, Ryan said in silent prayer. The tacky, weatherproof gloves were the only things saving her life at the moment, and she had never had an article of clothing that she was fonder of. But I expect an apology for the hard time you gave me for being outside in the rain, putting on this roof rack! I'd be an oil spot by now if I didn't have this baby to hold on to. Immensely glad that she had taken the time to fully understand the make up of her new bike rack, she grabbed the sturdy pieces of metal designed to hold the front forks of their bikes. With a snap, they lodged into an upright position, giving her two good handles. The basic structure of the rack, which reminded her of a metal bed frame, helped provide a place to brace her feet, and she began to have a little confidence that she would be able to hang on.

“SHIT!” she cried aloud as a wrenching swerve across two lanes of traffic roused her from her momentary reverie. The driver was trying to dislodge her in any way possible, and she had to admit that his plan was a good one. If she had been driving, she would have stopped the car, shot her in the head and driven like hell; but his plan was also sound.

The fact that they had not yet killed her also gave her a burgeoning sense of security. I could probably survive a fall off the car, she mused as the car jerked sharply in the other direction. Although another car would probably hit me after I fell … I guess I just have to hang on. She began to feel more and more confident that they were not going to hurt the baby, since the easiest thing would have been to take her from her car seat and toss her out. Ryan would surely jump off to protect her, and they'd be able to take off again without drawing much attention. But it seemed that they were now in a state of panic, and were not spending a whole lot of time considering their actions. She was also cheered that they had not forcibly thrown Jamie from the car, something she reasoned they would have done if they were utterly psychopathic.

Seconds later she began to reconsider her own conclusions when she heard the motor for the passenger door window whir briefly, then a shiny blue/gray gun poked out the top of the window and tried to point itself at her. She knew the guy could not aim the gun with any degree of accuracy at that angle, but the thought of a gun firing wildly was not reassuring, either. She wasn't sure where in the hell they were, since her stinging eyes could not blink fast enough to be able to focus properly, but just as the gun came out, they started to descend an extremely steep hill. Her body lurched forward and her feet started to slide forward, but a desperate stab allowed her to shove one foot over the rack, preventing her from sliding all the way off. Without taking the time to think, she removed her right hand from the rack and lunged for the gun. They wrestled over it for a few seconds, with the gun discharging twice during the struggle. Please, God, don't let those rounds hit an innocent person, she prayed. The screams that she heard coming from both Caitlin and her lover assured her that they were both alive, but obviously terrified. Ironically, her position on the roof gave her an advantage over the man in the car, since his arm was raised at an extremely oblique angle. Twisting hard, she wrenched the gun partially free from his grasp, and kept twisting until he let out a startled cry of anguish as she felt at least one bone snap. She shoved the gun under her body, grabbing on to the roof rack and snagging the back bar with her feet just as the car made another ascent. Now the odds are getting a little better, she thought, almost smiling at her small victory.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie offered up a silent prayer of thanks that they were in the always-congested city, and not on the quieter, residential streets of Berkeley. On a less traveled street, it would be much easier to stop the car and shoot both of them without someone seeing the act occur. So she allowed herself a moment of relief when the passenger yanked his obviously broken arm back into the car, now minus a gun. She knew that Ryan was still hanging on since she could occasionally hear her kick some part of the roof, and it was patently obvious that one less gun in the wrong hands was a good thing.

The driver didn't share her optimism, and that became painfully clear when he turned to look at her briefly. “Just your luck that the idiots of this state passed the three strikes law, honey.”

“Wh … wha … what?” she finally asked, her throat raw from screaming.

“I've got two violent felonies on my record. This is my third. If I get caught, I'm gone for 25 to life. Probably life — without parole. My brother here is on his third already, so we're going away for a very long time.”

She looked at him in utter confusion, wondering why he felt the need to relate his criminal history to her. But he clarified his point very quickly. “Death row at San Quentin is a lot nicer place to ride out the rest of your life,” he said in an almost conversational tone. “We've got nothing to lose, so we're gonna go for broke here. Witnesses are definitely not a good thing.” He had turned his big, mean-looking face in her direction as he said this, and the chilling, matter-of-fact tone he used made it clear that he viewed this with as much concern as he gave to his choice of breakfast cereal.

“You're going to kill us?” she asked with much more calm than she felt.

“Yep. Sure am,” he agreed. Looking at his brother he asked, “I bet you want first crack at the one on the roof, huh, Wendell?”

“With my bare hands,” Wendell agreed, fire sparking in his beady eyes.

“Hand!” the driver barked with an evil laugh. “You've only got one that works, dipshit!”

“Fuck you, Elmore!” he spat, and Jamie mused for a moment that their first names could have contributed to making them antisocial killers. “Just find a quiet street and let me at her.”

“Oh, whatcha gonna do, Wendell?” he asked in an evil cackle. “Don't you wanna fuck her first? That's the only way you ever get any,” he added, laughing uproariously at his jibe.

“Oh, I'll fuck her all right,” he agreed, a thin sting of drool running down his face. “While I'm strangling her!”

There was no doubt in Jamie's mind that Wendell was truly psychotic, and that he would indeed attempt to strangle her beloved Ryan if he had the chance. Elmore, on the other hand, did not seem as unstable as his brother, even though he seemed just as unconscionable. Her mind raced, trying to think of anything that would get them out of the situation, but she wasn't able to come up with any clear thoughts. Her mental review was broken, however, by the welcome sounds of a siren; and when she turned and spotted the cruiser right on their tail, she nearly cried with relief.

“Pull the car to the side of the road,” a disembodied voice ordered.

Elmore obviously had not received high marks in “follows orders well” in elementary school. He slammed his foot on the accelerator, laughing maniacally. “This might be our last ride for a long time, Wendell. Let's go out big!”

Jamie was busy reassessing her initial more charitable assessment of Elmore's mental state when he turned and grinned at her with the most chilling look she had ever seen in her life. “It's your last ride too, baby. Any last requests?” Her wide eyes and inability to catch her breath were just the answer he was looking for, and he threw his head back and laughed in a manner that would have been worthy of Satan himself. Ironically, now that the car was speeding faster than Jamie thought possible, Caitlin had not only quieted down, she began to enjoy herself. It was evident that she knew Jamie was upset, and she knew that Ryan wasn't with them, but her “need for speed” caused her to ignore all of these details as she started making her cute little jumping moves in her car seat, jumping up and down and giggling wildly.

The siren was wailing incessantly, but the closer the squad car got, the more risks Elmore took. Jamie was practically out of her mind with panic for her lover, but she was certain that she was still on top, from the occasional burst of Gaelic profanity she heard from her when Elmore intentionally bottomed the car out on a particularly large hill.

“What kinda turning radius ya got on this?” Elmore asked in a casually conversational tone as he took an almost 90 degree roll, skidding for half a block and slamming the side of the car into a fire hydrant, before he hit the gas and sped into an alley. The cops couldn't keep up, and they lost them as they sped on by. “Hmm, not bad, not bad at all,” he decided.

Once again Jamie screamed, perversely reassured when she heard Ryan bang into something hard and curse lustily.

Elmore seemed to be enjoying himself, and he grinned evilly as he turned to Jamie. “Hey, the kid likes it,” he added, nodding in Caitlin's direction. “She's cute,” he said, acting like he had noticed her for the first time. “I don't think I'll kill her.” He turned his attention back to driving for a moment, asking Wendell, “You think they'd go easier on us if we left the kid alive?”

“Fuck no!” Wendell spat. “We never catch a break!”

“Ehh, good point, little brother. Let's kill 'em all!” He hit the accelerator again with a vengeance, laughing heartily as Jamie and Caitlin screamed in unison — one from fear, and one from delight.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Martin and Maeve had just arrived at the O'Flaherty home, and they went into Martin's former room to watch the evening news. With a boyish grin, he sat in his favorite old chair and patted his legs, inviting his bride to sit on his lap. “Oh, Martin, you are such a tease,” she chided. Nonetheless, she sat down and made herself comfortable, ruffling his hair as she did so. “What if the children come home?” she asked as she checked her watch.

“Ha! The girls are constantly knotted around each other like a pair of pretzels, so they can't say a word. Conor and Kevin aren't due for an hour, and Rory's in Los Angeles. We can snog to our heart's content.” He proceeded to do just that, stealing several sweet kisses from his very receptive bride.

The television was playing softly in the background, and just a tiny part of Maeve's brain was listening, but that tiny part heard the breathless announcer say, ”Repeating our breaking news, police are in pursuit of a late model, beige Lexus LX 300, license number JDSE SRO. The plate is a vanity type plate, and the JDSE is separated from the SRO by a heart.”

His co-anchor opined, “Most people use those plates to express their love of something or someone, Chuck. So that might read JDSE loves SRO.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” he said happily, enormously pleased to have that mystery revealed. “The car was traveling at a high rate of speed, and an unidentified person was seen hanging on to the roof rack. Boy, Wendy, some people have a very strange idea of fun! Probably some pranksters pledging a fraternity,” he proposed stupidly.

Maeve's grip had loosened as the announcers babbled away, and by the time Chuck was finished with his statement she was on her feet, staring at the television with a stunned expression. Martin hadn't heard a word either anchor had said, so intent was he on his partner's lips, but he knew something was terribly wrong from the look on Maeve's chalk white face. “Darlin, what is it?” he cried, leaping to his feet and grasping her by the shoulders.

“The girls … Caitlin …” she said in a flat monotone. “ Caitlin!” she now screamed as the realization hit her.

Martin's head snapped around and tried to focus as the announcers said, “We have News-chopper Five located over the financial district, where the Lexus was last seen. They're in pursuit, and we'll stay with this fascinating story until it's resolved,” he promised. “Again, police are in pursuit of a late model Lexus RX 300, license JDSE heart SRO.”

Martin's nerveless hands dropped from Maeve's shoulders as he sank onto the bed. “How … why … Maeve?” he finally got out, at a complete loss.

“Call the police, Martin,” she ordered. “Tell them that Siobhán is not on that roof by choice.”

ROOF?” he cried as she pushed him in the direction of the phone.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Both felons, even though they lacked formal schooling, were well trained in the ways of the police. “They'll be all over us like flies on a turd,” Wendell muttered as they sped along.

“Mom always said you were the smart one,” his loving older brother replied. “Any bright ideas, genius? Your first one about carjacking sure went well.”

“You're the one who picked fucking Tarzan up there,” Wendell reminded him. “I woulda picked somebody older and weaker.”

“Sure you would, candyass,” Elmore agreed. “You always like the helpless ones.”

“I'll tell you one thing, Elmore, I might go down, but that bitch on the roof is going down with me.”

Chuckling harshly, Elmore opined, “Well, she won't go down on you without a gun to her head. That's for sure.”

“I got plans for her,” Wendell said, spit foaming out the side of his mouth.

“Well, you don't have long; and knowing you, you'll screw it up once or twice, so you better come up with a good idea quick,” Elmore smirked as he careened through the financial district.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ten minutes after Martin and Maeve were alerted to the emergency, the house began to fill with members of the O'Flaherty clan. Maeve steeled her courage and made the most difficult call of her life — telling Catherine that her only child was in grave danger. Kevin was dispatched to go pick the distraught woman up and bring her to the house.

While she waited, Catherine stood in the kitchen slugging down vodka as quickly as Marta could pour it for her, though the cook was partially successful at trying to put less and less vodka into the glass. As she paced alongside her employer, her fingers silently worked the beads of her rosary.

As the alcohol started to take the raw edge off, Catherine took a breath and dialed her husband, telling Jim of their child's predicament. He was at his apartment, and his voice quickly turned warm when he heard her familiar tones. “Hi, Catherine. It's a nice surprise to hear from you.”

She felt as though a sword had lanced her heart as she forced herself to say, “Jim … it's Jamie.” Fighting for composure, she said, “She and Ryan have been … carjacked.”


“They've been carjacked, Jim. I don't know what happened, or why, but there's a news helicopter that's been following them. It's on every channel.”

“I'll be right down, Cat,” he said immediately. “I don't want you to be alone …”

“No, no, I'm going to Ryan's house. One of her cousins is on his way to pick me up. Call your father, and let him know, honey. I just … I couldn't do it.” She started to sob, her legs giving out just as Marta managed to maneuver a kitchen chair under her. “Oh, God, Jim. What will we do if anything happens to her?”

“It won't!” he vowed. “I'll get on the phone with the police commissioner and make sure every officer in the city is out there, tracking them down!”

“Promise me,” she begged. “Promise me that they'll be all right. Please?”

Her pleading tone of voice nearly broke his heart, and he did his best to sound confident. “They'll be fine,” he insisted. “They have to be.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Conor came bursting into the house, his mouth set in a grim mask. He brushed past every member of the family and grabbed the police scanner from the kitchen, turned and started back towards the door. Brendan leapt to his feet and chased him down the stairs, opening the door and barely making it in as Conor brought the big V-10 to life and slammed his foot onto the accelerator, determined to bring his baby sister back home.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Lexus was zigzagging around near the Moscone Center, and as they passed old St. Patrick's church, Ryan offered up a prayer to both the patron saint of her homeland and also to her mother. I'm not ready to see you just yet, Mama, she said as she closed her eyes tightly. I've got a lot to accomplish here, and I've got to stay alive to keep Jamie and Caitlin safe. Please help us get through this, she prayed, her tears mingling with the icy rain that pelted her body relentlessly.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

At the same moment Ryan was saying her prayer, Wendell finally came up with his bright idea. Elmore had just turned onto 7th Street, and after a few blocks hung a right on Leavenworth. He hit the gas hard when they got onto the level but crowded street, switching lanes and veering into oncoming traffic wildly. “I got it, Elmore,” Wendell said thoughtfully, oblivious to the cars and bodies scrambling to get out of their way. “We can't shake her off, so let's shoot her off!”

He looked very pleased with himself and Elmore applauded his idea. “Not bad, little brother. Be my guest.” He reached between his legs and handed his brother his gun, paying only partial attention to the oncoming traffic. “Whoa!” he cried with a wild laugh. “We almost bought it that time!” They had missed an oncoming MUNI bus by inches, and as Jamie lurched and vomited onto Wendell's back, the baby laughed with glee.

“Fuck!” the vomit covered, broken-armed man cried. “Stupid bitch!”

He turned and aimed at Jamie's head, his anger making him decide to take care of her first, but his prudent older brother grabbed the gun just as the shaky index finger of his broken arm tightened on the trigger. “I've only got four rounds in there, dipshit. Don't waste 'em. You can always strangle the one in the back.”

“Fuck,” the woefully disappointed man grumbled. “I can't fuckin' strangle her with a broken fucking arm. I can't even shoot,” he pouted. Wendell fidgeted with the gun, moving it to his left hand, but finding it very difficult to hold it and aim, since that hand was missing the index, third and fourth fingers.

“Told ya not to make that pipe bomb,” his helpful older brother taunted, laughing hard at his own gentle humor.

“You are one funny asshole,” Wendell muttered as he tried to hold the gun with his painful broken arm and pull the trigger with the thumb of his other hand. Jamie's eyes nearly popped from her head as she saw the gun negligently aimed out the windshield — pedestrians filling the sidewalks. “Fuck! I can't do it!” he cried.

“Give it here, dipshit,” Elmore insisted. Wendell looked like he wanted another try, this time aimed at his brother, but he dutifully handed over the weapon. “Watch and learn,” Elmore drawled.

As he lifted the piece towards the roof, Jamie cried out in the most bloodcurdling voice that anyone in the car had ever heard, “He's gonna shoot you through the roof, Ryan!

“Sure am.” Elmore laughed and peeled off three rounds, accompanied by an even louder and more pathetic scream from their passenger.

Ryan was only partially thankful for her partner's warning. She really didn't have a hell of a lot of options at the moment, and since she couldn't guess where the shots would come from, she couldn't brace herself or move. But she was thankful that she could squeeze off a prayer, even though it was only, Save me, God!

The first shot pierced the roof and flew through the sleeve of her new jacket, managing to miss her skin completely. Number two was about an inch from her right cheek, a scaldingly hot piece of shrapnel nicking her skin; and number three would have hit her right between the eyes if they hadn't been climbing Nob Hill and her body had not just shifted back a good five inches.

He didn't get me!” she cried, as elated as she was astounded. Just then the car lurched right and started to descend towards the Embarcadero.

“FUCK!” Elmore cried. “One fucking round left. At the bottom of the hill, I'm gonna jump out and waste the bitch,” he decided. “This is personal!”

That decision made Wendell even angrier. “I owe her,” he ground out. “I wanna blow her fucking brains out!”

“I wanna be an only child,” Elmore snapped. “Get over it!”

Deciding that the time for prudence was over, Jamie rolled down the left window and shoved her body through until she was sitting on the door. Reaching up with both hands, she grabbed Ryan's leg and cried, “He's gonna get out and shoot you at the bottom of the hill!

The fuck he is,” Ryan decreed as she released her left hand and grasped the gun that had been gouging her stomach during the ride. “Hang on to me!” she demanded. Jamie lunged and put every bit of her strength into hanging onto Ryan with her left hand, grabbing onto the waistband of her jeans, while her right held onto the handle just atop the passenger door. She had never understood why car manufacturers put those handles on cars, but she promised to send Lexus a thank you note as soon as she had a moment.

Ryan leaned over the left side of the car as they descended, and aimed as carefully as she could. They had crossed Market and were just approaching the turn onto Embarcadero, and Elmore had to make a hard right to avoid going into the drink. Just as he turned, Ryan fired the weapon, the recoil stunning her as the red-hot fire flashed from the barrel. The bullet hit Elmore in the right shoulder, then passed through his body and hit Wendell in the left arm, causing both men to scream simultaneously.

The bloodstain blossomed on Elmore's shirt as he tried to control the car through the tight turn. Wendell reached for the wheel, madly trying to steer the car, fighting with his brother for control. Ryan shoved the gun back under her stomach, and grabbed on with both hands again. “Get back in and put your seat belt on, Jamie!” she cried.

Wendell gave up on his attempt to steer, while he groped madly for the gun that had fallen to the floor, determined to at least kill the bitch who had made his simple plan go so horribly wrong. But his wounded left arm, deformed left hand, and broken right arm did not make the task easy. As first one helicopter, and then another, flew overhead, he grasped the gun, but Embarcadero curved sharply just as he did so. Elmore had obviously taken his foot off the accelerator, since the car was going no more than ten or fifteen miles per hour; but even at slow speed, Elmore could not control the turn. Ryan screamed when she saw where the laws of physics dictated they would land. “We're going into the bay! Unbuckle Caitlin's carsea …”

Her words were cut off by the surreal sensation of having the car leave the pavement and head straight into the water. Elmore yanked the wheel desperately, but he only managed to keep the right wheels on the pavement a few moments longer than the left. Just as the nose of the car hit the water, Ryan leapt from the roof and slammed into the ice cold, jet-black water at the same time the vehicle did. Her body urged her to scream, but the water was so unbearably cold and hard that she was unable to. She fought with every fiber of her being just to stay conscious. Every shred of her determined personality decided that she was not going to drown — and no matter what — she was not going to lose her lover or her cousin.

She fought through the water until her head broke through the inky surface, glad beyond belief when a San Francisco Fire Department helicopter hovered overhead, shining a 100,000 candlepower lamp onto the scene.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Amazingly, the 22 people jammed into Martin's bedroom and living room were absolutely silent as the news helicopter captured the entire scene. Hands blindly gripped the nearest hand as the entire group willed the young women to keep fighting. The camera caught Ryan's dark head as it burst through the water, and Martin's legs gave out to deposit him unceremoniously to the floor.

Jim and his father came running into the room, the younger man looking about wildly until he found his wife. He grabbed her and wrapped his arms around her tightly, holding on for dear life as they watched their only child fight for her life.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan's wild leap had left her just a few feet from the rapidly submerging car. She swam the short distance and scrambled across the roof, crying out as Caitlin and her car seat poked out of the water. Grasping the seat with one hand, she blindly stuck the other underwater, grabbing onto Jamie's shoulder, then she yanked as hard as she could, pulling the gasping woman up at least two feet into the air.

Jamie sucked in a lungful of air as she fought to tread water. The helicopter was rapidly lowering a sling, and as it passed by their heads, Jamie grabbed it and held on for dear life. “Grab the baby carrier and climb in,” the voice of the rescue worker boomed.

Ryan handed the car seat to Jamie and ordered, “Go on up with Cait. I've got to get the others.”

What?” she screamed over the whine of the engines.

“I can't let them drown!” Ryan insisted, her eyes filled with determination. As her dark head voluntarily submerged, Jamie closed her eyes for just a second, grasped the sling, snuggled the car seat into the harness, and secured the shackle. Taking a lung-filling breath, she dove right down behind her lover.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“For the love of God, what are they doing?” Martin cried from his spot on the floor.

“They're drowning!” Catherine sobbed, unable to look, as her husband held her in his arms.

No! No!” Martin cried. “My baby's too strong to go down that easily! Please, Siobhán! Please come up!” he begged the inanimate television.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Seconds later both heads surfaced, sucking air in as quickly as it would come. A third head bobbed between theirs and Ryan gasped, “Can you hold him?”

“Yes, but I can't let you go back!”

“I have to, baby,” she cried as she dove down again. The sling was lowered again and this time Jamie helped their assailant climb in, ignoring his strangled cries when she grasped his arm roughly to push him away from her.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

My God!” Martin cried. “They're trying to rescue those dirty feckers!”

Just as he said this, a powerful Fire Department speedboat swung onto the scene. The assembled throng watched in horror as Jamie rebuffed the firefighters' attempts to pull her into the boat. She wrenched her arm free and dove again, determined to bring her lover to the surface, or die with her.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan's hands flailed blindly as she felt the open window of the car. Her right hand felt a body, and she gripped it and refused to let go as the form tried to push her away. They tussled briefly, but just as they did so a powerful scuba light hit them, providing blessed illumination. Ryan was below him trying to propel him up to the surface, and once Jamie saw this she grabbed him by the shirt and started to kick. By the time she surfaced, she felt a million tiny stars obscure her field of vision, seconds before everything turned black.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The roar of the crowd was nearly deafening as Ryan bobbed to the surface, her left hand firmly holding the now limp body of her attacker. Half a second later, the cheers stopped abruptly, and all of the air was sucked from the room when it became clear that Ryan cradled her partner's body in her right arm. No one breathed — no one moved — as the fire fighters leaned over the gunwales to lift Jamie's still body into the boat. The only sound was a dull thud as Catherine joined Martin on the floor, slipping limply from Jim's firm grip.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan knelt next to her lover's prone body as the paramedic examined her. “CPR!” she cried, ready to do it if the paramedic didn't.

“She doesn't need it,” the woman said calmly. “Her lungs are clear, and her pulse is good. She just fainted from lack of oxygen.” Turning to Ryan, she smiled briefly and assured her, “She'll be fine.” Climbing over Jamie, she turned to Elmore, calling out to her partner, “Gunshot wound to the shoulder. Radio ahead to prepare two units of O-positive blood.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

When the boat smoothly pulled up to the end of the pier, Ryan felt hands grasping for her. She was pulled to her feet before she knew what was happening, slowly realizing that two of her brothers were standing in the boat with her. Without a word, they assisted her out, Brendan going up behind her on the rope ladder the fire fighters had dropped into the boat. After Conor checked with the paramedic, he gently picked Jamie up and placed her over his shoulder, climbing the ladder with one hand. Brendan grabbed her, and cradled her like a child in his arms as Conor reached the pier. The women were quickly loaded into the waiting ambulance, with both boys climbing in as well, ignoring the instructions to the contrary.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“She's fine!” Martin cried. “She's fine!” he yelled again as he stumbled to his feet.

No one else understood his jubilation as the faces in the crowd looked at him in puzzlement. “How do you know?” Jim cried, his eyes wild with panic.

“The paramedics on that boat would never — never — have let those boys carry her if she was injured. They obviously had their hands full with the other one,” he added, unwilling to even dignify the man with a pejorative term.

“Are you sure, Martin?” Catherine's weak voice floated up to him.

He dropped to his knees and faced her, eyes just inches from hers. “I swear it, Catherine. I promise you. She'll be fine.” He wrapped his arms around her and they cried together, sharing the whirl of emotions that passed between them.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

By the time the ambulance pulled up to the emergency room, Jamie was conscious, although terribly sick to her stomach from the virulent combination of seawater and terror. She vomited several times, missing Ryan by bare inches each time. Waiting for the attendants to open the door, she beckoned Ryan closer. The dark head shifted slightly and hovered over the pale face, only to hear a small voice say, “If we had drowned tonight, I'd be kicking your ass all over heaven right now!”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Concluded in Part 12