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Authors: Michael Kerr

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

Absolution (6 page)

BOOK: Absolution
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“This isn’t over.” Lance said to Clay.

“I think it is,” Clay said.  “I’ll make it my business to see that you never work in law enforcement again if you’re dirty.  And if I find enough hard evidence, you’ll go down.”

Lance wanted to move round the desk, attack Clay and knock him senseless, but was not that stupid; it wouldn’t change anything, just land him in a cell, and so he got up and walked out of the office, to throw the door back so hard in its frame that the pane in the upper half of it cracked.

Clay told the dispatcher to alert all units that Lance was suspended from duty and had no further jurisdiction within the department, and then made out a report and filed the appropriate documentation, knowing that he had no real proof of Lance’s wrongdoing, and that the report he’d written would just gather dust.

Logan both worried and intrigued Clay.  The ex-cop was undoubtedly taking this case personally.  Slater could find himself up against a force that, unlike the law enforcement agencies, would not play by the book.  A part of him hoped that Logan had what it took to bring the Indian down.  But Logan was getting himself involved in a life or death game. Zack Slater was extremely dangerous, and had the manpower and resources to negate any threat against him.  Clay thought it highly likely that if he did see the ex-cop again, it would be as a dead body in the desert.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Fran
and Andy were sitting at the kitchen table when Logan came back downstairs and entered the room.  He wondered what the hell he was doing out here in the desert, involved in something that he needed like root canal work.  These sisters were made of stern stuff, but through her association with Benton, and her subsequent actions, Andy had now made herself and Fran probable targets.  Once again he’d got into a situation that he hadn’t been looking for.  He should have ignored the Dodge pickup and the buzzards and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  For a loner, he had developed a bad habit of becoming caught up in other people’s problems and finding himself like a fly in a spider’s web, entangled and unable to break free of it without a great deal of effort and difficulty.

“Do you dye your hair?” Logan said to Fran.

Fran gave him a quizzical look.  “That’s an odd question to ask,” she said.  “Are my roots showing?”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Logan said.  “Do you have any hair color in the house?”

“Yes.”

Logan averted his attention to Andy. “I think you should be a brunette,” he said.  “Slater’s men will be looking for a blond.”

“And you should use my SUV when you leave here,” Fran said.

Logan said nothing.

“We’ve been discussing the situation,” Andy said.  “If Fran is at risk, then we can’t leave her here on her own.”

“Terrific,” Logan said.  “Just what I need, two amateurs tagging along.  Why don’t you both pack and I’ll drop you in Tucson.  You could fly off and spend a few days seeing the sights in D.C. or New York; do some shopping and catch a Broadway show.  Andy has plenty of Slater’s money.”

“You need backup, Logan,” Andy said.  “We may both be natural blonds, but we’re not dumb.  We were raised by a father who’d wished he’d had sons not daughters, so he taught us to hunt, fish and live off the land.”

“So you’re both regular Calamity Jane or Annie Oakley types, eh?”

“We won’t be a hindrance, Logan,” Andy said.

“I’m staying put, Sis,” Fran said.  “I don’t believe for a second that they’ll identify you, or link you to me if they did.”

Andy reached out, put a hand on Fran’s bare forearm and squeezed gently.  “I’d feel better if you were with us, or at least moved out of here till it’s settled.”

Logan sighed.  “Have you ever killed another human being, Andy?”

Andy said nothing.

“It isn’t like in the movies,” Logan said.  “When you take someone’s life a little bit of you dies with them.  The act scars your mind.  And you can never go back and undo the deed.”

“You seem to be able to use violence without it bothering you,” Andy said, having seen the result of his actions at the motel.

“I was in the Army, and then I was a cop.  Violence and death were what I was a part of, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t bother me.  Seeing what other people are capable of doing to each other is sickening.  You either build a certain level of immunity to it, or it damages your mind.  I’m able to absorb it, soak it up like a sponge and then dispel the suffering of strangers.  Many people die every day of natural causes, accidental death, suicide and murder.

“We as a species are able to push tragedy to one side if the victims are not known to us.  We can sit and eat a meal as a talking head on TV tells us that an earthquake or flood or other disaster has killed thousands.  It’s a defense mechanism.”

“Is that why you’re a loner, Logan?” Fran said.

“Probably.  I try not to analyze myself.  I’m who I am, period.”

“You’re a big, hard guy with a soft center that you do your best to conceal.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Logan said. “Truth is I just prefer my own company.  Relationships need working at, and a lot of compromise.  I prefer to be a selfish son of a bitch and not feel any responsibility for anyone else.”

“So how come you’re here with Andy, caught up in this predicament?”

“Christ knows.  Your sister just turned up out of the blue, and here we are.”

Fran smiled.  She knew men.  Saw the vulnerability behind Logan’s rough exterior.  He cared, maybe too much over those that were unable to defend themselves against adversity.  He was the type of man that she would like to know better, and spend time with.

“Why don’t you go and take that plate off the Nissan and put it on my Mazda?” Fran said.  “I’ll make fresh coffee, and then you two best go and make the world a safer place for people like me to live in.”

It didn’t take long.  Martin got a call from Al Gorman, who’d worked for Zack for over a decade.

“What’ve you got, Al?” Martin said.

“CCTV tape from the Silver Eagle bar. It has footage of a blond getting out of a Nissan and walking towards the Best Western.  The tape is time-coded and fits with when Wayne and Gary were there.”

“Good work, Al.  Is the bar on our books?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.  Bring the tape out to the ranch.”

“On my way.”

Martin closed his phone.  He was pissed with Zack.  Killing Wayne had been a bad move.  Wayne could have confirmed that the woman he had seen was the same one that was on the tape that Al was bringing over.  Zack was becoming more overconfident, rash and dangerous as time went by.  He thought that he was untouchable and could do anything and get away with it: was losing the ability to appreciate that for every crooked official there was a thousand honest ones that could not be bought and would be only too pleased to see him arrested and put behind bars.

Martin personally drove Wayne’s naked, bagged body out to Barton Gap, – a desolate area crowded with tumbled, sun-fractured and deeply fissured cliffs – that was several miles off the beaten track and a difficult trip even in a 4x4.

With the corpse draped over his shoulder, Martin carefully climbed up to a point where the rock had split over millennia to form a deep arroyo, the bottom of which was permanently steeped in stygian darkness, untouched by the light or warmth of the sun.

Removing the heavy duty plastic garbage bag from the pale, bruised body, Martin rolled the remains of Wayne Miller over the edge of the rift, to watch as it bounced off jagged outcrops, before vanishing from sight for the rest of time.

Sitting on a flat shelf of rock and looking out at a mainly barren vista, Martin lit a cigarette and watched a lone coyote lope across the ground far below him, to skirt the SUV and zigzag out of sight behind a house-sized boulder.

The heat prickled his weathered face as he breathed in the dry desert air and surveyed the land that he had been born and raised in.  This was his home; the place where his ancestors had lived and died, and where he knew that he would one day pass and join them. As the Navajo, the Apache feared the ghosts of the deceased, who were believed to resent the living.  The nomadic Apache buried corpses swiftly and burned the deceased’s house and possessions. The mourning family would purify itself ritually and move to a new place to escape their dead family member’s ghost.  Martin was not a particularly spiritual Indian.  He was more than happy to live well off illegal earnings, and had no regrets over the pain, suffering and deaths he was responsible for.  To his way of thinking, whites and Mexicans deserved all they got for their historical ill-treatment of Native American Indians.  But unlike Zack, he had the sense to know that it was best to keep as low a profile as possible.  Making examples of people like Sam Benton was reckless, and had now attracted trouble to their door.  Whoever this man Logan was, he had bested Miller and Foley, and had now threatened to follow that up by targeting Zack.

Martin stubbed out the cigarette, got to his feet and made his way back down to the Chevy Suburban.  He planned on a leisurely drive back to the ranch, where he would shower and then look at the CCTV footage that Al would have dropped off.  With any luck, Logan would be with the blond.  All he had to do was locate and dispose of them both.  Logan had no idea of just how organized they were.  Zack had eyes everywhere, and very few people could just vanish off the grid in this day and age; there was always a trail to follow.  And Logan wasn’t running, which would make it even easier.

CHAPTER NINE

Andy
drove Fran’s Mazda south.

Logan moved the front passenger seat back as far as it would go, but still felt a little cramped in the small SUV.  They stopped once at a diner for coffee and a burger, and then carried on, to pass through the ghost town of Oro Blanco, then Ruby, and deeper into the Coronado National Forest, to take a track off the blacktop on to dirt road, that after two miles they left to follow a rocky trail hardly wide enough to negotiate between the lofty trees that grew either side of it.  Another quarter-mile long track opened up to a small clearing in which a sturdy cabin stood, its windows shuttered as if it was either abandoned or protecting something very old and of great value within its solid log walls.

“Who lived here?” Logan said as Andy parked the Mazda at the side of the cabin.

“Uncle Walt left it to Fran and me.  It’s a place to get away from it all once in a while.  Walt was an artist and bought this cabin back in the late sixties.  He lived in Tucson till he was seventy and just stayed up here at weekends. But after Aunt Barbara died, he sold up and moved here permanently, becoming very reclusive until he passed in oh-nine.”

The cabin was a three-roomed structure comprising a kitchen/living area and two bedrooms.  The facilities were basic.  There was no electricity, just a few oil lamps, a large propane stove with two hobs and an oven, and a fire place for burning logs in.  The toilet was an outside privy situated sixty feet away at the rear of the building.  The water supply was a narrow, spring-fed stream that ran west to east beyond the privy.

“Nice,” Logan said with sincerity.  “It’s a perfect retreat with everything that a man could need.”

By eight p.m. Martin had identified the Nissan and its current female owner.  A contact in the motor vehicle division of the Arizona Department of Transportation had taken less than a minute to check the plate number and furnish him with details.  The car belonged to a woman by the name of Andrea Corby, a twenty-nine year old woman with blond hair.  Her address was an apartment in Ajo.

Martin smiled.  It wouldn’t surprise him to find that Logan was at the apartment with her.  This could all be taken care of within a couple hours.  He decided that Logan and Andrea Corby would make fine company for Wayne, out at Barton Gap, at the bottom of the deep, narrow chasm.

They parked on the next street and walked in.  Martin, Gary Foley and Strother Perkins had no difficulty entering the eight unit apartment block.  The entrance door was not locked, and at the side of it was a panel with names on strips covered by translucent acetate next to bell pushes.  A. Corby lived in number five on the second floor.  The street door opened onto a small lobby that had mailboxes bolted to one wall.  There was no elevator.

Martin led the way up the stairs and stopped outside the door of number five.  Leaned forward and put his ear to the door, but could hear nothing.  Perhaps the couple was out, or had gone to bed to do what comes naturally.

Martin nodded to Strother, who picked the cheap lock in less than twenty seconds and silently turned the ball-shaped metal handle to open the door six inches.  The room was in darkness.

They searched the apartment, but found nothing that gave any intimation of where the woman might be.  Martin went across to the wall-mounted phone in the kitchen, plucked the receiver from its cradle and hit redial for the last number called.  Got a voicemail at a local pizza parlor and hung up.

As they left the apartment and went back down to the lobby, an elderly woman was just walking in off the street.  Martin held the door for her.

“My, you’re as tall as Town Hall,” Emily Harmon said, smiling up at Martin.

Martin returned the smile.  Introduced himself as John Thompson, and asked the old woman if she knew where Andrea might be.  Said he was her cousin, and that he couldn’t reach her by cell phone, and that he had been out of touch for several years.

“I saw her leave in a hurry last night, or maybe it was the evening before. I lose track of time these days,” Emily said.  “She had a suitcase and a large bag, so maybe she was going on vacation, or to visit her sister.”

“Is her sister still living in Phoenix?” Martin said to keep the conversation going.

“No, John.  Fran moved to Pisinimo after her last divorce.”

“Do you have her address?”

Emily shook her head.  “I’m not what you would call a really close friend of Andrea’s, but she always takes the time to say hello and ask how I am.”

“Okay, thanks,” Martin said as he led the other two outside.

“Now what?” Gary said.

“Get on the phone and find the address of the bitch’s sister in Pisinimo,” Martin said.  “Looks like we have three to take care of now.”

It was almost midnight when the two vehicles pulled off the road and parked a few hundred yards from the secluded house.

There were no lights on.  They flanked the clapboard property and moved in slowly.  The undulating land was a black and white mosaic of pearly moonlight and shadows as dark as tar.

Martin had brought Foley, Perkins and Al Gorman out to Pisinimo. He carried a Glock 17.  The other three men were armed with Heckler & Koch 9mm MP5 submachine guns.

Fran had leant the pump-action shotgun against the wall within easy reach before dousing the lamp and shortly thereafter going to sleep.

They went in at the front and rear simultaneously, kicking the doors open and checking the rooms one by one.  Opening a bedroom door, Gary aimed his MP5 at the bed, but it was empty.  Within sixty seconds they had searched the house and were confidant that no one was inside it.

“The broad’s Nissan is out back,” Al said to Martin after he and Gary had checked the small barn.

“So they took off in another vehicle,” Martin said as he picked up the phone and hit redial.  “They could be driving her sister’s, probably with a false plate.”

The last call had been made to Tucson International airport.  “Shit!” Martin said.  “They may be out of reach.  Unless Logan made a call to the airport to throw us off the scent.”  He thought about it.  He didn’t know Logan, but his actions so far had been those of a guy that knew what he was doing and didn’t back down.  It was feasible to think that he may have put the two women on a plane to keep them out of harm’s way, but that he was still somewhere in the area, planning to do something stupid.

“What do you want us to do?” Strother said.

Martin thought about it and said, “Burn the house down.”

As they got back to the cars, flames licked at the windows of the first floor rooms.  Strother had walked through the timber-built house emptying a two-gallon can of gas, before backing away from the front door to light a cigarette, take a drag from it and then flick it inside as he turned and jogged away.

Martin started the engine of the Suburban, but waited for another minute to relish the sight of the fire raging bright orange in the night.  The house would be reduced to charred timbers and ash, with just the scorched brick chimney stack left standing.

As he put the shift into drive, Martin felt the offside front tire burst.  He gripped the steering wheel hard and cursed to himself.  They had needed to quit the area before some passing motorist saw the blaze and phoned the emergency services.  He turned to Gary and said, “Get one of the others to help and change the fuckin’ wheel.”

The rear tire on the same side exploded as Gary climbed out of the Suburban.  Martin put it together.  They were under attack.  He drew his gun as he dropped down sideways across the passenger seat and said to Gary, “We’re under fire.  Tell the others, and get away from the vehicles.  It must be Logan, so find him and kill him.”

Gary crouched low and ran back to the Dodge Charger that Strother and Al were in. “Somebody’s shooting at us,” he shouted.  “Get away from the car.  We need to spot him and take him out.”

Logan had only stayed at the cabin for an hour.  He had decided that Slater had the resources to quickly ID Andy and then, when his men found that she was not at her apartment in Ajo, do a background check and discover that Fran was her sister. A lot could be learned in a very short period of time in this technological age.  There was every chance that they would show up at the house in Pisinimo, and so he decided to drive back there and wait under cover of darkness to see if his reasoning held water.

He was in place at eleven p.m. Waited, and saw the two vehicles arrive and park a couple hundred yards from the house.  Watched as the four armed men split into twos and advanced towards the property.  He was tempted to move fast and immobilize the vehicles while they were preoccupied, but decided to wait and see what they did next.

When the house started to burn and the men returned to their transport, he determined to let them know that he was there.

The ground rose up to form a low natural embankment that ran for more than a hundred yards to Logan’s left.  He was less than ten yards away from the two vehicles, but had only brought one of the silenced Glocks that he had confiscated from Miller and Foley. The silencer would cut down on accuracy and so he unscrewed it and put it in the side pocket of his windbreaker, before taking careful aim and shooting at a front and then rear tire of the idling SUV.

As the men vacated the vehicles and crouched in the shadows of creosote bushes, Logan bent low and ran fifty yards up what was a shallow gorge, to stop and look over the top of it and make ready.  The seconds ticked by, and it was perhaps three minutes later when two men broke cover; one heading towards his original position, the other unwittingly running almost directly towards where he was lying out of sight, his head and hands indistinguishable on the uneven rim that was topped with scrubby patches of straw-colored, dry grass that had been scorched by the sun.

He fired twice.  The first shot missed, but the second hit the man in the thigh and he pitched forward, spraying bullets into the ground as he pulled the trigger of the submachine gun.

Gary heard the shots, dropped to one knee and searched for a target.  He could see nothing moving against the backdrop of the burning house.  And Strother was nowhere to be seen.  He was shaking, and his mouth was tinder dry.  He knew that Logan was dangerous from his and Wayne’s encounter with him at the motel.  He felt like a sitting duck, and he was.

The bullet hit him in the left side, and he was blown over onto his back, to lie on the grass and groan as the pain blossomed.  He thought that he was probably dying, and began to cry.

Al Gorman saw Gary go down, so stayed under cover.  Being armed with an MP5 was of no use to him if he couldn’t see a target to shoot at.

Martin kept low in the Suburban, opened the door and crawled out, slipping to the ground like a gator entering the water from a riverbank.  “Is that you, Logan?” he shouted, to be heard over the roar of the burning house, as timbers collapsed and windows blew out.

Logan did not reply.  Just fired a half dozen rounds at the SUV, then ducked back out of sight and made his way south along the depression to where he had concealed the Mazda off-road and hidden from view.

Martin waited for approximately two minutes, and then heard the sound of an engine start up and a vehicle accelerating away at speed.  He moved out into the open, to be met by Al, and they made their way to where Strother was limping towards them.  The slug from Logan’s gun had passed through his meaty thigh without hitting bone or severing an artery.

“Go back to the Dodge and get in the rear seat,” Martin said to Strother, before he and Al walked over to where Gary was curled up, clutching his stomach and groaning.

Martin knelt next to Gary, pulled the wounded man’s shirt out of his pants and examined the wound.  The bullet had entered his side, quite high, but there was no exit wound.  It could have hit a rib and glanced off into his chest or stomach.  Martin adjudged that he was beyond saving, so made a decision, raised his gun and aimed it at Gary’s head.

“For fuck’s sake, no, please, don’t do it,” Gary pleaded.

Martin saw the blood in Gary’s spittle as he spat out the words.  The slug had probably punctured a lung.  He put the muzzle of the Glock against Gary’s forehead and pulled the trigger.  The body shuddered and then became still.

Martin holstered his pistol. “Get hold of his arms,” he said to Al.  “We’ll take him over to the house and throw him in the fire.”

A corpse really is a dead weight.  They ventured as near to the conflagration as possible, swung what had been Gary Foley backwards and forwards three times, then let go and watched as the body hit the burning frame of the front door, to tumble through it and be immediately engulfed by hungry flames.

Ten minutes after the firefight with Logan they were ready to go.  With two flat tires the Suburban was redundant.  Al removed the plate and torched it, then climbed in the Dodge.  Martin drove around the burning SUV and headed for the road.  The trip out to Pisinimo had been a disaster, and Martin knew that Zack would be furious.

Logan drove fast for three miles when he reached the blacktop that he knew the shooters would at some stage use to head back to Ajo.  He was positive that he had hit two of the four men, and guessed that whoever had shouted out to him was their leader.  This was now war.  They had driven to Fran’s to find him and the women, and kill them.  He had engaged with them and quit the scene.  But he was not finished yet.

Driving past an abandoned diner that looked as though it had gone out of business decades ago and was slowly being reclaimed by nature, Logan braked hard and reversed back to enter the weed-riddled lot and park at the side of the building.  He got out and made his way to a point near the road and kneeled down behind a large boulder.  He guessed that they would be along within a few minutes, so just waited.

Maybe twenty minutes elapsed before Logan saw the distant high beams appear round a curve and approach at speed.  Holding the Glock two-handed and steadying his wrists on top of the boulder, he waited until it drew near enough to identify it by the light of the moon.

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