Finders/Keepers (An Allie Krycek Thriller, Book 3) (10 page)

BOOK: Finders/Keepers (An Allie Krycek Thriller, Book 3)
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“Is it nice? Your place?”

“It’s okay.”

“So that’s a no?”

He grunted. “It’ll do, kid.”

“What about neighbors? What will they say when you bring a sixteen-year-old girl home with you in the middle of the night?”

He looked over and saw her grinning mischievously back at him.

“It’s in a park where everyone minds their own business,” he said.

“Wait, you said a park? Like, a trailer park?”

“Well, yeah. I’m staying at a trailer home right now. So what?”

But it’s only temporary,
he wanted to add, but didn’t because it would have been a lie. It hadn’t been temporary since four years ago, two years removed from the job and eight years after Diane’s death. Sometimes he wondered what she would say if she could see how he wasted away his days and drank away his nights.

In the front passenger seat, Lucy sighed and said, “I should have stayed at the motel.”

“It’s fine,” Hank said.

“To you, because you’re used to it. But it’s not really fine, is it? An old man living by himself in a trailer park?”

Hank sighed because she was right. It wasn’t fine. It wasn’t fine at all, but when he had a fistful of Wild Turkey in one hand, it was a lot easier to convince himself otherwise.

Eleven

S
he thanked
a big man in a checkered long-sleeve shirt who held the main store door open for her before turning right into the adjoining diner next door. She was already expecting a crowd of people, but she was still surprised by how many there actually were. The noise was so loud she wasn’t sure how the waitresses going and back forth between customers could even hear the orders.

Allie maneuvered her way through the throng of people and slid between the tables, passing the counter and making a beeline for the pay phone at the back. Thank God these places, like the diner earlier today, still had public phones. She stuck her hand into her pocket to make sure she had change. There; just enough for one phone call.

There was no one at the phone as she approached it, which wasn’t surprising. Just about everyone around her either had a cell phone in their hands or on their table within easy reach. Who even used pay phones anymore? She thought about swiping one of the cells—it would be easy with all the activity—but didn’t want to risk it. The last thing she needed was to get into a fight or answer questions.

No, there was a perfectly good phone at the back of the diner, and she was still ten feet away from it when she caught her reflection in a mirror—and at the same time glimpsed a familiar face revealing itself between two men standing near the counter—

Reese, looking around.

Sonofabitch.

She quickly turned left, veering away from the pay phone, and found herself at the hallway entrance into the bathroom. She kept walking, not sure if Reese had spotted her or not, but he had definitely been looking for something.

Don’t kid yourself. He was looking for you.

The question was: Why? Did he suspect her? Had she been unconvincing when she told him she needed to use the bathroom? The man was always watching her, even when she didn’t know it—
especially
when she didn’t know it. Had she given something away without realizing it during one of those moments?

Dammit.

A woman was pushing her way out of the ladies’ room in front of Allie, and they exchanged a brief nod and smile.

“Excuse me,” Allie said, “do you have a cell phone?”

“My what?” the woman said, reaching reflexively for her purse.

Allie flashed her best smile, hoping it wasn’t too creepy. “Could I borrow your phone? I just need to make a quick call—”

“Sorry,” the woman said, and brushed past her.

“Sorry you
don’t
have a phone?” Allie said after her.

The woman ignored her and kept going.

Allie sighed. What did she expect? Even if the woman did have her phone in her bag, she wasn’t going to hand it over to some stranger she had just met for less than a second inside a bathroom hallway.

The kindness of strangers, my ass.

Allie turned around and stepped into the bathroom. It was surprisingly clean, with a pair of air freshener dispensers protruding out of the walls. It took her a few seconds to adjust to the overwhelming smell of lilacs while she looked around. All three stalls were currently occupied, so she went to the sink and washed her hands with soap, then spent another minute rewashing them before moving over to the dryers.

She used the long mirror to observe the stalls behind her, biding her time, until finally one of them became available. Allie waited for the woman to wash her own hands, then took her time drying them with a generous amount of paper towels before leaving. Allie stepped inside the empty stall, the last one at the end.

She stood over the toilet and took out the Sig Sauer and checked the magazine, even though the weight of the weapon already confirmed she had a loaded gun. She wanted to be absolutely certain, and having done so, put it back in its holster and considered her options, knowing full well she was going to need the gun for whatever she decided.

Faith.

Sara.

The other twenty-two girls in the back of the rig.

She focused on what she could affect right now, and the choice was obvious. The only thing standing in her way was Reese in the diner and Dwight in the lot. And, of course, the two drivers inside the semi.

Four men. Four
armed
men.

She didn’t know the two drivers’ history—she didn’t even know their names—but she was certain enough about Reese and Dwight to know that either one, or both of them, were going to be dangerous in a gunfight, especially one where she didn’t have the element of surprise. Which she didn’t at the moment. Not even close.

And there was the diner and store full of travelers and truckers. Innocents. She was in a concealed carry state, so how many of those people had a weapon on them at the moment? Probably not many, and when the bullets started flying she wasn’t going to be able to count on perfect strangers to pitch in. She had learned just a moment ago how unreliable they could be.

But that was assuming shots were even fired. Was there another way? A
better
way where she didn’t have to put families and people trying to make a living at risk? Maybe there was, but she couldn’t see it right now.

Allie lowered herself to the floor, careful to avoid a small puddle of something down there, and peeked underneath the wall and into the stall next to her. She glimpsed a pair of legs dangling off the toilet, wearing expensive shoes…and the
tap-tap-tap
of the next occupant playing with a phone.

She picked herself back up and sat down on the toilet, and waited.

Next to her, the
tap-tap-tap
continued for another minute.

Then two…

Allie thought she might have to wait even longer when the
tap-tap-tap
finally stopped. The sound of clothes rustling followed, then the toilet flushing.

About damn time.

Allie stood up and quietly unlocked her stall door—but didn’t open it—and drew the P250 and waited. The woman next door didn’t seem to be in any hurry and took her sweet time opening her own door. When Allie finally heard the
clack!
of the lock sliding out of position, she stepped outside just as the woman was coming out, preoccupied with the smartphone in her hands.

She stepped in front of the woman, who almost bumped into her, but managed to stop in time and lifted her head. She was in her thirties and attractive, even if she did overdo it with the makeup, especially those bright-red lips. If Allie didn’t know better, the woman was either on a date or hoping to get one at the truck stop. She was in the middle of texting when she stopped, then opened her mouth to say something, but Allie clasped her hand over those shiny lips and showed her the gun.

The woman’s eyes expanded at an incredible rate and her body stiffened, but before she could react—minus the already muffled sounds against Allie’s palm—Allie pushed her backward into the stall until the woman stumbled and sat back down on the toilet with a loud
thump.

Too loud, and Allie heard the woman in the first stall to her left shuffle her feet in response. Allie waited for the woman to follow through, but there was just a brief rustling of clothing, then silence again.

Allie turned back to Lipstick, who was staring wide-eyed at her. She leaned forward and whispered against the woman’s face, “Relax; I just want to use your phone. Don’t make a sound, okay?”

Lipstick’s head went up and down like a bobblehead.

“Girl to girl,” Allie whispered, “I just want to use the phone, then I’ll leave, and we’ll never see each other again. Sound good?”

Another enthusiastic round of bobbling.

“Good,” Allie said, and pulled back.

The woman, without prompting, held up her phone. Allie removed her hand from Lipstick’s mouth and thought about checking if there were bright-red marks on her palm, but didn’t. She took the proffered smartphone instead.

She thought about calling Lucy but decided against it. The woman in the next stall was being very good about minding her own business, but that might not last if Allie started talking on the phone about men with guns and teenage girls being held in the back of semitrailers. Even if she lowered her voice to whispering level, that might actually be even worse since it would just create even more curiosity.

She brought up the phone’s texting function instead and punched in Lucy’s number, then made sure the sound was muted to silence the
swoosh!
effect each time the phone sent or received texts. It took Lucy less than ten seconds to answer, then a full minute of back-and-forth between the two of them for Allie to get everything she needed across. It helped that they had developed a texting shorthand that cut down tremendously on unnecessary letters.

Allie had taken a gamble and put her gun away in her front waistband, then took a couple of steps back so Lipstick didn’t get any bright ideas about lunging for it. The entire time she was tapping on the smartphone, Allie kept one eye on the screen and the other on the woman, even though, as it turned out, she didn’t have to. After watching Allie doing nothing but typing for a full minute, the woman started to look a little bored, which brought a slight smile to Allie’s face. A bored hostage was more manageable than one who was worried about not making it through the ordeal. Apparently Allie had been a lot more convincing than she thought.

When she was finished communicating with Lucy, she deleted the messages, then made sure to do the same with Lucy’s number. She holstered the gun and handed Lipstick back her phone. Then she leaned forward and whispered, “Don’t leave for five minutes, and don’t tell anyone, okay?”

Lipstick nodded, though by the expression on her face Allie didn’t entirely believe her. But the woman was being smart and agreed anyway. After all, only an idiot argued with someone with a gun. No, you told them everything they wanted to hear. Allie guessed she had a minute, tops, after she left the bathroom before Lipstick followed and told everyone she could grab about what had happened.

Maybe that would be enough time. And if not, well, she’d figure it out when she crossed that bridge. After all, this entire night had been one big, improvised act already. If she hadn’t lost it when Vanguard murdered those troopers, or when Reese and Dwight almost murdered that security guard, what was one more?

She stepped out of the stall and immediately heard the lock
clacking
into place behind her. That brought out another smile as she wondered if Lipstick actually thought a stall door would be enough if Allie wanted to get back in there. Still, the woman locking herself in was a good sign. That meant she wasn’t planning on coming out anytime soon. Maybe Allie would even get more than just a one minute head start.

Don’t push your luck, girl.

She hurried to the door and stepped outside.

“Man, when you girls go to the bathroom, you
really
go to the bathroom.”

The sound of his voice surprised her and the hairs on the back of her neck snapped straight, but she exerted every ounce of willpower under her control not to spin around to confront him. Instead, she stopped and turned around calmly, as if she expected him to be there when she came out of the bathroom.

He was leaning casually against the wall at the back of the hallway that separated the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms, his arms folded across his chest. He didn’t quite look impatient, but he was clearly trying to get the point across that he had been there, waiting for her, for a while.

“I hope you remembered to wash your hands,” he smiled.

She wasn’t sure if that was meant to be charming, because there was very little Reese could do or say that she would find charming—except maybe shoot himself and remove one of her problems. That would just leave Dwight and the two in the semi…

“You checking up on me?” she asked. They were close enough that she didn’t have to raise her voice to be heard, even with the din of people in the dining room behind her.

“Not at all,” he said. “I’m just ordering some extra food for the road. Looks like we’re going to have a long night ahead of us.”

“I hope you didn’t order a chicken sandwich for me again.”

“You didn’t like it?”

“Not enough to eat it twice in a row.”

“Then I guess you better go out there and order something for yourself. That way you can’t complain about it later.”

“You’re paying, right?” she asked, and turned around.

He chuckled behind her. “By the way, meet anyone interesting in the ladies’ room?”

She stopped and looked back at him. “No. Why?”

He was still watching her, this time with that familiar intensity that always unnerved her. “Some woman was telling the waitresses about a weirdo outside the ladies’ room asking people for their phones.”

Bitch
, Allie thought, and said, “I must have missed her.”

“Lucky you.”

“Yeah, lucky me.” Then, without missing a beat, “Are we going to stand in the bathroom hallway all night, or what?”

He grinned and was about to say something when one of his jacket pockets
buzzed
, and he reached inside and took out the same burner phone he’d been using all night. He held out a
just one minute
finger at her and answered the phone.

Allie nodded, but her eyes shot past him and went to the ladies’ room, expecting the door to swing open and Lipstick to race outside and start screaming about the crazy woman with the gun who had demanded to use her phone at any second.

But the door remained closed, and Allie thought,
Maybe she’ll give me all of the five minutes I asked her for after all. Maybe if I’m really
lucky, she’ll tack on an additional five minutes.

Yeah, right.

Reese was listening quietly to the phone and hadn’t said a word since he answered it. Maybe it was just the bad lighting in the hallway, but she thought she saw worry lines form on his forehead, which, if her mind wasn’t deceiving her, would be a first.

“All right,” he finally said. Then, sounding almost annoyed
(Another first; maybe he’s human after all)
, “Yeah, I got it.”

He turned off the phone and stared at it for a moment.

BOOK: Finders/Keepers (An Allie Krycek Thriller, Book 3)
5.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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