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Authors: Michael Kerr

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

Absolution (3 page)

BOOK: Absolution
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“Maybe they didn’t do enough.”

“Meaning?”

“That unless both of them were brought here from say Tucson, Phoenix or even farther afield, then they should be known.”

“But you don’t buy that do you?”

“No.  The locations make me think that the perps know the area.”

There was no more to say.  Logan nodded to the sheriff and walked away.  He went back to the hotel, rolled and packed the clothes that Jeff had had cleaned and placed on his bed into his rucksack and checked out.

Strolling down Main Street, Logan headed towards the outskirts of town, attempting to rid his mind of the image of the body on the railroad track, but he couldn’t.

CHAPTER THREE

Zack
Slater was sitting behind his desk in a second floor office at ZS Construction on the Papago Industrial Park a mile east of Ajo town center, and wasn’t pleased with the way the killing of Sam Benton had turned out.

Zack was the son of Caleb Slater and Hattie Cleghorn; both reservation Indians. Zack was short, muscular, had oil-black eyes and wore his thick, ebony hair long, tied back in a ponytail.  He was light-skinned, but had a broad face with prominent cheekbones.  His nose was wide, and his mouth was thick lipped.  He wore a light-blue cotton suit, a bolo tie that was fashioned from braided leather with decorative silver tips and a turquoise and silver slide in the shape of a scorpion, and a pair of snakeskin boots.

Sipping iced tea and thinking things over as the two men in front of him just stood quietly and waited for him to speak, Zack was a little concerned.  Some stranger had found the body on the railroad track just after the event, and reported it.  Could be that he’d seen Gary and Wayne leave the scene in the pickup.  They’d changed the plates, but there was always the chance that he could identify them.

“What did you do with the evidence, Gary?” Zack said.

“Put the teeth and finger ends through a meat grinder, boss.”

“And I bagged what came out and tossed it into a cement mixer truck,” Wayne added.  “The pulp will be in the foundations of the new school out near Chaco by now.”

“You check out the guy that found Benton?”

“Yeah,” Gary said.  “The deputy, Lance, told me that he stayed over in Madison Bend and met up with the sheriff a couple of times.  Just giving a statement, I reckon.”

“What do we know about him?”

“That his name is Logan.  He’s a big guy, maybe six-four.  Lance said that he stated he saw the pickup come out of the desert, but was too far away to get the plate number.  He got a split-second look at Wayne, but couldn’t ID him from mug shots.  He’s a drifter who used to be a cop.”

“Have the pickup sprayed a different color,” Zack said.  “And get back to Lance, now.  I want an update on what this Logan is doing.”

Gary used a throwaway phone to call Lance Deerbolt.  Spoke for a minute and then switched it off.  “The guy left Madison Bend,” Gary said to Zack.  “Just walked away.  He’s history.”

Zack nodded.  “Good.  I don’t like complications.  Go and see to the vehicle, and then get some rest.  You’ve got thirty wetbacks and fifty kilos of coke to welcome into our great country tonight.”

Lance Deerbolt drove out of town in the direction that Logan had gone.  Saw him strolling along the side of the highway up ahead of him, three miles south of the Bend.

Lance stopped the cruiser a few yards in front of Logan, got out and waited.

“Yeah?” Logan said as he approached Lance.

“Just out on patrol, Mr. Logan. Saw you and thought I’d offer you a lift.”

“Thanks, but I’m in no hurry to get anywhere, deputy.”

“The sheriff said that you were heading for Tombstone.  This is the way to Ajo.”

“I said that I
might
take a look at Tombstone.”

“There’s nothing in Ajo, Mr. Logan.”

“Thanks for the heads-up, deputy, but I’ll check it out anyway,” Logan said, and set off walking again, to leave Lance standing next to his vehicle.

It was twenty minutes later when a rust-spotted Toyota stopped alongside Logan.  He had only started putting his thumb out five minutes before it roared up with a shot tailpipe that could probably be heard for miles.

“Where you headed?” Jose Hernandez asked Logan.

“Ajo.”

“Climb in,” Jose said with a broad smile that displayed crooked and nicotine-stained teeth.

Logan tossed his rucksack in the rear, got in the car and adjusted the passenger seat to afford him maximum legroom.

“I am Jose,” the young Mexican said.  “Pleased to meet you, senor.”

“I’m Logan.  Nice to meet you, Jose.”

It was only a few miles drive to Ajo. Logan used the time to talk to Jose.  “You hear about the guy found on the railroad track?” he said.

“Yeah.  Bad business.  This part of the world has its fair share of death and sorrow.  Best to just turn a blind eye and mind your own business.  The world is full of evil, and if you look it in the eye it will be drawn to you.”

“I found the body,” Logan said.  “And I was told that another guy had been mutilated and tied to a cactus out in the desert south of Ajo.”

“Lots of bodies have been found in the desert, senor.  Why would you care about two of them?”

“Because nobody seems to be particularly bothered.  And I heard that a guy in Ajo may be responsible.”

“Who?”

“Zack Slater.  You know him?”

“I know of Slater, and rumors about him that I believe.”

Logan said nothing.  Just waited.  Silence is something that most people find difficult to maintain, especially in a one-to-one situation.

“Who are you?” Jose said.

“Just a guy.  I was a cop, but not anymore.”

“It sounds as if you are making this your business. And that would be a very dangerous thing to do.”

“So you think that Slater was responsible?”

“I didn’t say that.  Hundreds of my people die every year attempting to cross the border.  There are many signs that say, ‘Icuidado.  No exponga so vida a los elementos. Ino vale la pena’.  You understand that?”

“Yeah; Caution.  Do not expose your life to the elements.  It’s not worth it.”

“They’re desperate and ignore the warnings.  Heat stroke, dehydration, hypothermia, and drowning in canals and ditches kill many.  And more do not make it, but their bodies are never found.  They are also killed by bandits and the border patrols.”

“That doesn’t explain the two mutilated bodies.  Someone wanted them to be found, but didn’t want them identified.”

“Maybe they were what are known as
polleros
or
coyotes
; the guides that lead the illegals across the border.”

Jose had nothing more to say on the subject.  If he had any idea who had killed the men, he wasn’t going to share it.

“Here will do fine,” Logan said as they reached the outskirts of town and he saw a Best Western on the left up ahead.

After Logan had got out of the Toyota, Jose said, “Be careful, Gringo.  If you annoy a snake enough it will bite you.”  And then he drove away.

Lance was parked way off in the distance, and there was enough traffic to hide him from view.  He watched as Logan got out of the car and walked across the sidewalk to the motel.  Once the big man had gone inside the office, Lance set off again, now in pursuit of the Toyota.  Caught up with it inside of two minutes and gave the cruiser’s siren a blast and flashed his high beams.

Jose pulled over and parked.  Waited for the deputy to walk up to the car, then lowered the window and put his hands on the steering wheel.

“You just dropped a guy off,” Lance said.

“He was hitching,” Jose said.

“What did he talk about?”

“He was the silent type.  Hardly said a word.”

“Did he mention why he was stopping in Ajo?”

“No, officer.  I asked him where he was from, just to make conversation, but he just said from nowhere in particular, and closed his eyes.”

Lance walked back to his cruiser.  There was no reason for the Mex to lie to him.  He used an unregistered cell to make a call.

“Logan is in Ajo,” Lance said to Zack.  “He’s at the Best Western on North Gila Bend Highway.”

“Okay,” Zack said.  “Leave it with me.”

Logan checked in, went to his room and switched on the coffeemaker.  He showered, thought it through and decided that his intention to seek out whoever had killed the man he had found was one of the dumbest things he had ever considered doing. After talking with Jose, he now realized that this was not his fight.  He determined to eat, sleep, and then head east at daybreak.

It was seven p.m. when Logan entered the Gunsight Grill, just a couple hundred yards along the highway from the motel.  He made his way to a corner booth and sat with his back to the wall, facing the other tables, booths and the counter, giving him an unrestricted view of the other occupants.  A waitress came up to him almost immediately, smiled at him but said nothing, just put a glass of iced water down on the table and raised her notepad and pen to take his order.

“The biggest cheeseburger you have,” Logan said.  “With fries and a pot of coffee.”

“Any toppings?” the waitress, Stella Walker, asked.

“Why not.  Bacon and mushroom,” Logan replied.

“You got it,” Stella said, and went for the coffee.

Logan sipped the water and took in his surroundings.  Automatically studied other patrons, and subconsciously was aware of the traffic that passed by outside the plate glass windows.  It was a longtime habit; an inbuilt defense mechanism.  He wasn’t paranoid, just careful, especially in places he was not familiar with, which was almost everywhere he happened to be these days.

A dark-blue sedan slowed to walking speed as it passed, and the brake lights flared as it signaled to turn into the small parking lot at the side of the building.

One, two, then three minutes passed, but no one entered the diner.

Logan ate his meal, drank the coffee, paid the check and left.  Just ambled back along the sidewalk to the motel.  He was in his element, in a place that he had never been before, and with a lot of options to consider.  He had no idea where he would lay his head the following night, and that suited him just fine.  It was hard to believe that he had resided in New York City for over twenty years, living by rules and working shifts and being part of a way of life that had not suited him, and that with hindsight he deemed to have been unsatisfying on several levels.  But that was then.  He was truly the master of his own destiny now, not bound to anyone or anywhere.  The past was of no real consequence.

He lay on top of the bed fully clothed, switched on the bedside lamp and clasped his hands behind his head: let twenty minutes pass before turning the light off, and just lay still, alert, waiting. A half hour later he was contemplating switching the lamp back on and making coffee, when he heard the sound of a key or pick in the lock.

He smiled in the darkness.

CHAPTER FOUR

Wayne
Miller and Gary Foley were watchers being watched.  As they drove into the lot next to the diner, Andrea Corby parked her beige Nissan on the street fifty yards back and waited.

Andrea’s plan was to tail them until one of the men was alone, and then take him off guard and force him to talk.  She had absolutely no proof whatsoever, but knew that Miller and Foley had murdered Sam.  On the evening that he went missing, he had been on edge, worried over something, but wouldn’t talk about it.  She had been at Sam’s place; a second-floor apartment on N Cedar Street. And after Andrea had demanded to know what was on his mind for the fifth time, Sam finally opened up and told her that he had to leave town, and that he would get in touch when he could, so that she could join him. He’d just said, “The less you know the better, honey.  I’m in deep shit with some really bad people.  It’s not safe for me to stay here.”  He had given her a hard embrace, kissed her on the lips and then froze at the sound of screeching tires outside.

Sam had quickly led Andrea through to the bedroom and told her to stay there, to keep quiet, and to take the gym bag that she would find under the false floor in the closet.

Andrea heard the knock at the door, and more than two voices.  Sam called one of the men Wayne, who told him that he had seriously pissed off Mr. Slater.

“Check the place, Gary,” she heard the one called Wayne say, and she somehow forced herself to move.  Seconds later the bedroom light was switched on, in the same instant that Andrea closed the bedroom window from the outside and stood tight up to the side of it against the wall on a narrow concrete ledge that ran around the apartment block.

She was not discovered.  Gary had searched the room, and even walked over to the window and looked out, after checking the closet and kneeling down to look under the bed.

“There’s no one else here,” Gary said to Wayne after he had subsequently cleared the bathroom.

“Okay,” Wayne said to Sam, pointing a gun at him.  “Put your hands in your pockets and lead the way down to the car.  If you try anything stupid I’ll put a slug in your spine.”

When she heard the door close, Andrea climbed back into the bedroom, to rush through to the living room and pull back the drape a quarter inch, to look out and down to where she could see Sam being bundled into the back of a panel truck.  Her immediate thought was to phone the police, but not knowing what trouble Sam was in, she just watched in shock as the vehicle sped off.  The street lights had illuminated the scene, and she had seen and committed to memory the features of both of the men that had abducted Sam.

Back in the bedroom, Andrea slid open the closet door, threw several pairs of boots and shoes aside and attempted to remove the floor panel, but it was affixed by a screw at each corner.  It took her a few minutes to rummage through drawers in the kitchen, where she found a crosshead screwdriver and was able to remove the panel.  Beneath it, laid on its side, was a large tan-colored gym bag. She unzipped it to find a stack of money: banded bricks of hundred dollar bills. And on the top of the money was a small nickel-plated .22 revolver.

Andrea took the bag and left Sam’s apartment, to go back to her own place and pack and then drive out to her divorced sister’s house in Pisinimo, having decided not to return to her own apartment until she felt that it was safe to.

When it was reported that a body had been found on the railroad track, Andrea knew that it was Sam.  He would have contacted her if he had been able to.  She showed her sister, Fran, the money and the gun, and told her what had gone down.

Fran Wallace was five years older than Andrea, but a century ahead of her in being streetwise.  Fran had two failed marriages behind her, had at one time been a pole dancer at a roadhouse on the outskirts of Phoenix for a couple of years, and was now keeping bar at the Longhorn Saloon, that looked to be a throwback to the Wild West, apart from the addition of a Juke a pool table, too much neon and the absence of spittoons.

“You know who the men were that took Sam?” Fran said.

“No, Sis.  But I saw them, and know their Christian names.  And they mentioned some guy called Slater.”

“That’ll be Zack Slater,” Fran said.

Andrea frowned. “Who’s he?”

“Someone you really don’t want to meet, Sis, ever. He’s a real piece of shit.  How did Sam get involved with him?”

“I don’t know.  But I’ve realized that there’s a lot I didn’t know about Sam.  I thought he worked from home as a website designer for small businesses.  He didn’t talk about it much.”

“What do you intend to do?” Fran said.

“Find out what happened, and why.”

“Bad call, Andy.  If Slater had Sam killed, then it was because he was involved with him in some way, and got on his wrong side.  Slater has rep for making people vanish.”

Andrea sat down on a kitchen chair and closed her eyes.  “I suppose I should call the police.”

“Risky,” Fran said.  “Slater has connections.  You could put yourself in danger.”

Andrea hit the pine tabletop with her fist as tears misted her eyes. “I can’t just ignore what fucking happened and do nothing,” she shouted.  “Sam has been murdered, and I need to do something.”

“Think about it for a day or two,” Fran said.  “See what happens.  There’s a chance that it wasn’t Sam that was found.  Don’t do anything until the dust has settled.”

Andrea knew that her sister was right.  But she needed to check out Slater, and the two men that had taken Sam.  She would follow them, isolate one of them, and force him to tell her everything.

“What do you think?” Gary said.

“When he comes out of the diner we’ll leave the car here and go deal with him at the motel,” Wayne said.  “He won’t be expecting company.”

Gary grinned.  “Deal with him?”

“Yeah.  Find out why he’s poking into what doesn’t concern him, and then give him an incentive to move on and stay gone,” Wayne said.

Logan stealthily moved over to the side of the door.  Silence.  He waited.  Felt adrenaline surge through him, and was fully prepared to deal with any intruder.  Whoever it was, he would put money on him, or them, having been in the dark-blue sedan that had crawled by the diner, braked, and in all probability entered the lot and parked up.

After picking the cheap lock, Gary put his ear to the door and listened.  There was no sound from within the room.  The guy was obviously asleep.  He smiled at Wayne and stood to the side.  Wayne knew that the security chain would most likely be on.  No big deal.  As Gary turned the handle and opened the door, Wayne simultaneously raised his right foot and kicked hard at a point above the handle to rip the screws out of the wood of the doorframe.

A second later Gary was inside the room and pointing a silenced Glock at the shape under the bedclothes.  Wayne was behind him, pushing the door to as Gary took a couple of paces towards the bed, too late in thinking that the noise should have caused Logan to sit bolt upright in surprise.

Wayne turned away from the door to be head butted in the face as his gun was taken from his hand.  He dropped to his knees and did not even have chance to be aware of the pain as his weapon was used to pistol-whip him across the temple and render him unconscious.

Gary spun round, finger already tightening on the trigger of his semiautomatic as a devastating blow to his stomach folded him up.  He snapped forward, discharging a round into the floor as his head hit the carpet and a boot to the head robbed him of his senses.

Logan retrieved the two handguns, went to the door and opened it, to look out and see a young woman jogging away along the walkway.

“Hey,” Logan shouted.

The woman half-turned, slowed down, and then came to a stop.  She stared at him for a few seconds, as if unsure as to what to do, ready to run again as she called out, “Are you with the other two?”

Logan shook his head.  “They’re no friends of mine,” he said.  “And they are no danger to you or anyone else at the moment.”

Andrea hesitated.  Didn’t know whether to run or believe the big man.  After mulling it over she walked back towards him, gripping the pistol that was in her coat pocket, hoping that she had the necessary courage to use it if he
was
one of Slater’s men.  Although she felt safe.  She had watched the two men approach the motel room’s door, pick the lock and kick it open.  Apparently the stranger had been ready for them.

“Who are you?” Andrea said as she stopped again within eight feet of the man.

“My name’s Logan.  Who are you?”

“Andrea.  Those two men killed my boyfriend.  I’ve been following them.”

“You’d best leave, Andrea,” Logan said.  “This isn’t something you want to be a part of.  Just tell me your boyfriend’s name, and then go.”

“His name is…was Sam Benton.  And I
am
a part of it, and I’m not going anywhere.”

“Come in, then,” Logan said.  “I need to talk to these guys.  And give me the gun you’ve got in your pocket.  I don’t want anything stupid to happen.”

Andrea handed over the .22 and followed Logan into the room.  He closed the door behind them, having to kick it in place against the now splintered jamb. He then turned on the lights and immediately recognized the guy with the walrus mustache as being the passenger in the pickup that had appeared from the desert and headed towards Ajo.

Logan always carried a pocket knife.  He severed the cord from one of the lamps, then cut the six foot length in half and bound the wrists and ankles of the other man, before dragging him by the coat collar into the bathroom, where he hit him hard in the temple again, to be sure that he remained unconscious.

Wayne Miller came round with a pounding head.  Gathered his thoughts and blinked repeatedly until his blurred vision cleared.  He was laid on the carpet facing the side of the bed.  The pool of blood that had flowed from his broken nose was still warm against his cheek.

Logan said, “Sit up with your back against the wall.  We need to talk.”

Wayne slowly complied, to sit with his legs out straight and his hands palm down on the floor, steadying himself as he looked up to where the man called Logan was sitting on a wooden chair facing him, with
his
9 mm pistol pointing at his face.

“Here’s the plan,” Logan said.  “You answer every question I ask you.  If you refuse, or I think that you’re lying to me, I shoot you in the kneecap, and then if you still play dumb I’ll empty the mag in places that won’t kill you, but will probably make you wish you were dead.  Do you understand?”

Wayne nodded.

“Your name?” Logan said.

“Miller…Wayne Miller.”

“And you’re dearly departed friend.  Who was he?”

Wayne saw more blood on the carpet a few feet away, and couldn’t see Gary.  The big guy had a look in his unblinking gray eyes that he knew was unequivocal.

“You killed him?” Wayne said.

“You came here to kill me, so why are you surprised?” Logan said.  “What you need to decide is whether you want to join him or walk away from this, Miller.  Who was he?”

“His name was Gary Foley.”

“And you both carried out dirty work for Zack Slater.  Right?”

Wayne nodded.

“Why did you kill and mutilate Sam Benton?”

Wayne lifted his right hand off the floor and wiped at sweat that was running down his forehead, through his eyebrows to sting his eyes.  “You expect me to admit to murder?” he said.

“I expect you to tell me the truth or die in this room.  You know the law.  Nothing you say to me at gunpoint would hold up in a courtroom.”

“Shoot the bastard,” Andrea said from where she was now sitting on the far bed.

Wayne turned his head and saw the young woman staring at him with pure hatred in her eyes.

“You want for me to give this lady her gun back?” Logan said.

“No,” Wayne said.  “Benton worked for Slater.  He used to meet up and pay off guides and contacts in cash.  He got greedy and started skimmin’ a few grand here and a few grand there.”

“What contacts?”

“Mainly border patrol officers and cops.”

“Including Sheriff Clay Manders?”

“No.  Manders couldn’t be bought.”

“So who told you about me, and where I was?”

“One of Manders’s deputies. Lance Deerbolt.”

Ten minutes later, Logan had all the information he needed about Slater.  “We’re leaving now,” he said to Wayne, aiming the gun at his head and pulling the trigger, pleased to see the spreading stain at the man’s crotch and his eyes widen in fear as the loud click signaled that he had made sure that there was no round in the chamber.  “Your buddy is in the bathroom taking a nap.  But take it as gospel that if either of you two scumbags comes at me again, I’ll kill you both.  Do you copy that?”

Wayne nodded and then slumped sideways with a low grunt as Logan leaned forward in the chair and swiped him hard across the side of his head with the silencer of the gun.

“You got a car?” Logan said to Andrea.

“Yes, it’s parked round the corner in the next street.”

Logan put the three handguns in his rucksack along with the cell phones he had found in his attackers’ pockets, and then collected his windbreaker from where he’d hung it in the closet.  “So let’s go,” he said.  “We need to talk.”

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