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Authors: Michael Kerr

Tags: #Crime Fiction, #Thrillers, #Vigilante Justice, #Murder, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime

Absolution (14 page)

BOOK: Absolution
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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Fran
had stood at the door and told Andy to hurry up and drag the man inside.  And as Andy shuffled back on her haunches to heave, pull, tow the inert form of Charlie Lupe across the threshold, Fran moved to the side and her concentration was momentarily disrupted.

Billy had unknowingly walked to within an inch of a stake mine, bypassing it to the left and avoiding the trip wire.  He stepped in front of the door, saw the woman armed with a shotgun, and put two rounds in her.  Watched as she dropped the weapon, reeled back and collapsed to the floor.

Andy saw the jean-clad legs appear in front of her, at the same time as two loud reports deafened her.  She let go of the ankle she was holding and looked up to see a blur of movement as Billy brought his gun hand down in an arc to smash the butt into her head, above her left eye.  She fell back groaning, dizzy, her limbs instantly heavy and unresponsive.  She wanted to react, to defend herself, but was too incapacitated.

Billy picked up the shotgun, removed the shells and tossed the weapon across the room, before stepping back to check on Charlie.  The kid was history, he’d bled out.

Picking up a cell off the table, Billy then grasped Andy by her right arm, dragged her up and steered her back up the trail towards the Discovery that Taza and Charlie had arrived in.  Pushed her into the foot well of the front passenger seat and adjusted the seat forward as far as it would go, to basically pin her in a confined space.  He then phoned Martin for instructions.

After Logan had phoned, Billy switched off both of the cells and set off back for Ajo.  The radio was tuned into KYWD out of Tucson, and the late, great George Jones was singing
Billy B Bad
.

Billy grinned.  He
was
bad; as bad as you can get.  He had grown up the only son of a father who had been in prison since Billy had been three years old, serving life without any chance of parole for shooting two cops dead in furtherance of robbing a liquor store.  And Billy’s mother had quit on him when he was twelve; just left the shitty first floor apartment in Maryvale, West Phoenix, and was never heard of again.  The inner-ring area was plagued by crime and gang activities, and Billy was taken under the wing of the Wetback Boys; a Mexican gang that had existed in one form or another since the nineteen-thirties.

Robbery, rape and murder became a major part of Billy’s life.  He grew up in a culture that resented authority and lived by an amoral code that could not be broken by law enforcement agencies.  Leaving the gang to work for Zack Slater had been his passport out of a rut that he knew would in all probability lead to his catching a bullet, or being strapped to a gurney and given a lethal injection.

Tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, Billy hummed along to a Tim McGraw ditty as he drove through the night and gleefully anticipated the fun he would have with the woman, once she became expendable.

Warmth.  The skin was warm and damp with perspiration, and there was an unexpected intermittent throb beneath his fingertips that immediately gladdened his heart.  Logan had not expected to find a pulse.  Had been positive that Fran was dead.  He went across to the table, picked up a matchbook and lit the oil lamp.  Carried it back to where Fran lay and set it down on the floor next to her.  He found two bullet wounds.  One was high up on her left hip.  He considered it to be serious but not immediately life-threatening.  The other wound
was
serious.  The large exit wound in her shoulder was bleeding profusely, but not spurting, and so she would not bleed out.  Gently turning her, he unbuttoned the front of her blouse and saw that the dime-sized entry hole was rimmed with gunshot residue.  Fran had been shot at close range.

Fran was in a state of shock, but not unconscious.  Her body was a mass of pain, and yet she heard the sound of footsteps entering the cabin.  She froze, consumed by fear and positive that the gunman was about to finish her off.  Closing her eyes, she felt fingers on her neck. The touch was gentle, and then whoever had come to the cabin moved away.  Seconds later the glow of a lamp lit the room, and the figure was back and she was being moved.  Relief flooded through her as she looked up to see Logan with a look of concern in his slate-gray eyes.

“Am I going to die?” Fran said.

“We all are,” he replied.  “But you’ll survive this.  Just hang in there, I’ll get help.”

“Don’t leave me alone, Logan.”

“I’ll stay for as long as I can,” he said, standing up and going over to where a kitchen towel was draped over a piece of wood dowel bracketed to a counter.  Returning to her, he eased her up into a sitting position against the wall next to the door.  He could see by her grimace that she was in agony, but was suppressing the urge to scream out.  “Lean forward a little,” he said, and when she did he bunched the towel against the exit wound in her shoulder.  “Now lean back.  We need to stem the bleeding.”

Fran pressed her back against the timbered wall, grunting at the additional pain she experienced.

Logan wiped his bloody hands on his pants, took out his throwaway cell and punched in 911.  When a call-taker answered, he stated, “I’m reporting a medical emergency.  A woman has been shot and is in a critical condition.”  He gave the location of the cabin and ignored the demands for his name and phone number; just repeated the nature of the emergency and switched off the phone.

“The police and an ambulance will probably be here within thirty minutes, Fran,” Logan said, sitting down next to her, to hold her hand and kiss her lightly on the forehead.  “Tell them that you were here alone, and that you have no idea who shot you.”

“What about Andy?” Fran said.

“I’m going to make the mines I set safe,” he said.  “And then I’m going to get Andy back.”

“And how do I explain the dead body?”

“You don’t have any idea what happened out there.  Just plead ignorance.  You opened the door because you thought you heard something, and somebody shot you.  Then you heard a couple of explosions before you passed out.  And you have no idea who called it in.  Okay?”

Fran nodded.

Logan got up and went outside.  Saw the other body nearby, but stepped over it and dismantled the tripwires that were fixed to the other stake mines.

Back inside the cabin he got a blanket from his bedroom and draped it around Fran.  “I’ve got to go,” he said as they both heard the distant sound of a siren.  “I’ll be in touch, soon.”

Driving east from the cabin with the lights off, Logan considered what might be the best way to get Andy back and then kill Slater.  Worst case scenario would be that he would have to make the trade.  If so, then at a later date he would tie up the loose ends.  Andy’s safe return was paramount. But there was no way that he was going to let Slater walk away from all that he had done.

Carlos Rivas was the ranch manager.  He was tall and slim with a smooth olive complexion, glossy, blue-black shoulder-length hair and dark chocolate-brown eyes.  Now thirty-four, Carlos had a BS in business administration from the University of Arizona in Tucson, and was essentially a very intelligent and honest man, despite having been employed by Zack for the past twelve years.

It had been whilst at university that Carlos had run foul of Zack.  His love of tequila and gambling had been his downfall.  Like a slow and potentially fatal disease, the alcohol-fuelled need to play the ponies and five card stud took him on a one-way ride to being in danger of having serious harm inflicted upon his person.

The evening that a bookmaker – Gus Levine – had arranged for Carlos to be beaten to a pulp by baseball bat-wielding thugs, was when Zack intervened and bought Carlos’s marker.

Carlos had left his apartment the following evening and was strolling down the sidewalk when a black sedan pulled up next to him and the driver’s door flew open, slammed into him and knocked him to the ground.  He had been lifted up and manhandled into the rear of the car, to be faced by a man who was about to make him an offer he could not refuse.

“I own you,” Zack said to Carlos.  “I bought your debt, and so now you owe me thirty thousand dollars.  Do you have it?”

Carlos gulped and shook his head.  He had been in the hole to the tune of nine grand, not thirty.  “I…I only owed Gus nine,” he said.

“I got overheads,” Zack said.  “Gus was going to have you hospitalized last night, so just be thankful I was around to be in your corner.”

“But I can’t―”

Zack pulled a nine-millimeter pistol from his pocket and rammed the barrel into Carlos’s stomach, doubling him up and causing him to whoop in pain, winded and terrified.


But
and
can’t
are two of my least favorite words,” Zack said.  “My interest rates are high, but I don’t get too many complaints.  You have a choice; pay me in full within twenty-hours, or work the debt off.”

“Work for you?” Carlos said.

“That’s right, kid.  I hear that you’re as bright as fool’s gold, and have just graduated with a piece of paper that says you know a lot about business administration.  So you could look after my books.”

Carlos had a third choice.  He could run, or imagined that he could.  After being allowed out of the car, he had returned to his apartment, packed a gym bag and left by the rear door of the building, to make his way on foot to the Greyhound station.  As he sat on a bench and waited for a bus to Flagstaff, a couple of guys walked up.  One sat at either side of him.

“Going somewhere?” the one on his left said.

Carlos looked into the guy’s eyes.  There was no sentiment, just a blank and uninterested stare, which was if anything more frightening than if he had shown anger.

The other guy smiled at Carlos and said, “If you run out on your debt to Mr. Slater, you need to know that we’ll find you and kill you.  And before we do, we’ll take time out to seriously cripple any family and friends you’ve got.”

Carlos said nothing.

“Best go home, unpack and wait for a call,” the stony-faced guy said, placing a hand on Carlos’s shoulder and squeezing it, but not hard.  “Don’t blow it, kid.”

Carlos had gone back to his apartment.  Thought it through and decided that he unreservedly believed the threats that had been made by Slater’s men would be carried out if he left town.  Forty-eight hours later a big, black Lincoln had pulled up outside his apartment block and the unsmiling guy he’d last seen at the Greyhound station knocked at his door.

“Time to start work for Mr. Slater, Carlos,” Johnny Kimble said.  “Grab what you need.  I’ll be outside in the car.”

Carlos often brought the subsequent events of that period of his life to mind.  He had moved out to the Ba’cho ranch to, over time, become an indispensable employee.  He was now in charge of all financial aspects of Zack’s business, and expert in laundering money and investing it wisely.  And for his endeavors he was handsomely rewarded and had all the boys’ toys that money could buy, including a grand house of his own set in five acres, a couple miles north of Ajo.

Logan picked up I-19 and headed north, then got back on the 86 just south of Tucson for the long haul west to Ajo.  After a couple hours he pulled in at a small gas station, filled the tank and got a coffee to go from a machine in the station’s office.

An hour away from Ajo, Logan saw a shotgun pellet-riddled sign for a ghost town. He could barely decipher the name, which was Absolution.  He made a left and drove for a mile and a half over a winding dirt track, before parking between the derelict remains of two ramshackle timber houses, which looked as though the next desert wind would blow them away like clumps of dried-up tumbleweed.

The sky was now clear, and the first almost violet-colored light of dawn illuminated the nearby ridge of mountains that cast a giant jagged shadow on the remnants of what had been a community, but was now a place where no one lived anymore.

Logan got out of the car, stretched and walked round to the trunk and popped the lid.

Zack didn’t move a muscle, just stared up at Logan and waited.  His fingers, hands and wrists had ballooned up, and the nylon rope was now embedded in the swollen flesh.  He had experienced intense, throbbing pain with every single movement of the vehicle’s suspension over asphalt that needed patching.  And the few of minutes over rutted dirt had been almost unbearable.

Logan ripped the tape from Zack’s mouth and pulled the now saliva-sodden sock from between his lips.

“Give me a name and a number,” Logan said.

Zack swallowed several times.  His throat was burning.  He was parched.  “What do you mean?” he croaked.

“I mean a phone number of somebody that you trust to set up an exchange.  Somebody that you can rely on to save your worthless skin.  Somebody that won’t try to be clever and buy you a bullet.”

“Carlos Rivas,” Zack said.

“Who’s he?”

“He looks after my books and the day-to-day running of the ranch.”

Logan found Rivas’s home number in Zack’s cell and called it.  It rang seven times before being answered.

“Zack?”

“Carlos?”

“Who is this?”

“My name’s Logan.  I’m with Zack.  I’ll put him on.”

Logan put the cell next to Zack’s ear.  Said to him, “Arrange for Carlos to bring the woman unharmed to your construction company at ten p.m. tonight. Tell him that if I see anyone else, you die.  If I even think it’s a trap, you’re the first to buy the farm.”

“Carlos,” Zack said.  “Did you hear that?”

“Yes, boss.  But I don’t know what the hell this is all about.”

“Billy should be back at the ranch now.  Get over there and make sure that the woman he has with him stay’s safe.  And do just what Logan says.  Don’t try anything stupid.”

“Okay, I’ll be there at ten.”

Logan pulled the cell away.  “I hope that you have your boss’s interest at heart, Carlos,” he said.  “Keno and the others are dead, and Slater is already in need of hospital treatment.  When I get there I want to find you and the woman standing in the middle of the yard, with the lights on so I can see you.  And I’ll check for a sniper or any other threat.  You need to know that it’s not only Slater’s life on the line if you foul this up.”

BOOK: Absolution
5.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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