Finders/Keepers (An Allie Krycek Thriller, Book 3) (6 page)

BOOK: Finders/Keepers (An Allie Krycek Thriller, Book 3)
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“You should try it sometime, partner.”

“Oh yeah? What’s it going to take?”

“Happy thoughts.”

“Was that a joke?” Dwight said. “Shit. Two years together, and that must be the first joke you’ve ever told.”

“You just haven’t been paying attention,” Reese said before keying the radio and saying into it, “Nest, come in.”

He didn’t have to wait long for a response: “What happened?”

Reese ignored the question and said, “Pull out of the rest stop and proceed to the alternate route.”

“What happened back there?” Nest asked again.

“Get going
now
,” Reese said, raising his voice slightly—not out of impatience, she realized, but rather just to remind the man on the other end of the radio who was in charge.

It worked, and Nest said, “Understood.”

“What about us?” the man from the van asked through the radio. He sounded excited, maybe even out of breath.

Definitely jacked up on adrenaline.

“You’re compromised,” Reese said. “If you stay with us, you’ll endanger the whole job. Ditch your vehicle and find another one, then proceed to the backup location and wait for further instructions.”

The two men known as Vanguard didn’t respond right away.

“Do you
understand
,” Reese said.

“Understood,” Vanguard finally answered.

“We’ll be in touch through the secondary method. Until then, destroy this radio and wipe your phones. You are now officially persona non grata.”

“What about our cut?”

“You’ll receive payment as usual. Nothing’s changed. As far as we’re concerned, you did your job.”

“Roger that,” Vanguard said, sounding relieved that time.

“They fucked up their job is more like it,” Dwight said when Reese put the radio back on the dashboard.

“Yes, well, they don’t have to know that,” Reese said.

The familiar sight of the black and red semitrailer appeared in front of them, slowing down just enough for Dwight to drive past and eventually take the lead once again.

It felt like a very long time before she saw one, two—
three
state troopers flash by on the opposite lane. They were already moving at high speeds, and she suspected the only thing keeping them from going even faster were civilian vehicles that didn’t get out of their way fast enough despite their blaring sirens and flashing lights.

She followed the speeding cruisers through the rear windshield, their red and green lights vanishing one by one over a hump in the road.

Jesus, this got bad real fast.

The semi was easily visible behind them, the height of its cab looming over a station wagon moving between their vehicles. She told herself that as long as she kept Nest in sight, she could still save Sara and the others and at the same time find and rescue Faith on the other side of this nightmare.

And all she had to do to accomplish both those things was be lucky.

Be really, really lucky…

Six


H
er name’s Faith
,” Lucy said, showing him a sixteen-year-old teen on the tablet. It was a high school picture, and the girl, blonde with blue eyes, had a big, bright smile on her face as she posed. “She went missing about two years ago when she was seventeen, along with her boyfriend, during a cross-country trip to visit some colleges in the east. They found the boyfriend a few weeks later, in a shallow grave about a mile from where their car was eventually located.”

Lucy swiped at the screen and Faith’s image was replaced with a body partially covered in dirt, surrounded by shrubbery. It looked like a boy, but it could have been anything given its decomposing state. Hank had seen bodies before, but the state of this one still made him physically flinch.

“There was a big manhunt,” Lucy continued. “Local, state, even the FBI. Faith is a pretty girl, and white, and she got plenty of media coverage. But it never lasts. Sooner or later, the media finds another pretty girl to focus on. Two years later and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who even remembers there was a big brouhaha over her.”

“I was already off the force by then,” Hank said. “But I don’t remember seeing it on the news.”

“She didn’t go missing in your state, lieutenant. There was some national news coverage, but you’d have to be a diehard cable news crime watcher to even have glimpsed it. I looked at the old footage; it was basically a minute here, a minute there, nothing that would have stuck in anyone’s mind.”

Hank nodded. He knew all about how fickle the media could be when it came to crime. People who didn’t work in law enforcement never really understood just how much went on that no one cared about, whether because the victims weren’t interesting enough, weren’t pretty enough, or, in many cases, hadn’t been born white enough.

He took a moment and opened the Coke he’d gotten from the vending machine outside and took a sip, balancing the bottom of the can on top of the chair he was straddling. The girl sat on the bed with the tablet while the dog lay on his stomach, chin resting on the dirty motel carpet. The animal looked bored, which Hank preferred over those big brown eyes watching him every second he was inside the room. As hard as it was to believe, Apollo actually seemed to respond to the lack of tension by lowering his guard.

Dog’s smarter than most people I’ve dealt with.

“So that’s what Allie and I are doing all the way out here,” Lucy said. “We’ve been looking for Faith for the last eleven months. Trust me, we wouldn’t be here otherwise. No offense, but there’s not exactly a lot to do around here.”

“None taken,” Hank said. “So, this Faith girl. She’s a friend of you two?”

“No, we don’t know her.”

“Friend of the family?”

“No. Her mom just asked us for help.”

“So she’s paying you…”

Lucy shook her head. “No, you don’t understand. We’re helping her because she asked us to, and because we
can
.”

Hank didn’t respond right away. Yes, he understood what the sixteen-year-old girl was telling him, but he didn’t really
understand
it. In his experience, people didn’t pack up their lives and check into a seedy motel in the middle of nowhere just to help out a perfect stranger. And they certainly didn’t invest eleven months of their lives doing it.

Lucy was smiling at the confused look on his face. “We’re kind of independently wealthy. Well, Allie is, anyway. We don’t need the money.”

“How ‘kind of’”—he used air quotes—“independently wealthy are we talking about?”

“Enough that we can get information we’re not supposed to have.”

“Like my police records.”

“Uh huh,” the girl nodded. “And a lot of other things.”

“And the two of you are out here looking for a girl that went missing two years ago? What makes you think she’s even still alive?”

“Because Allie found her.”

“You said that before. How?”

“Allie’s very good at finding people. She once spent ten years tracking one person. I guess you could say she’s honed her skills even more since. It helps that she has money to spend this time, where before she had to dig for every scrap of it herself. Makes things even easier.”

“Still, two years is a long time, kid. I’ve been out there. People go missing all the time. Sometimes on purpose, other times not. They don’t usually show back up two years later.”

“Allie’s sure enough that she did what she did.”

“Which is what, exactly?”

Lucy picked up the tablet again, and Hank watched her fingers dancing across the screen. He barely knew how to peck at his old computer keyboard back when he had one, but to see the kid
tap-tap-tapping
up a storm reminded Hank just how old he was.

Way too old to be in a motel room with a kid and a dog, that’s for damn sure. What if someone shows up? How am I going to explain this?

Lucy finished and held up the tablet showing a picture of a blonde woman in slacks and a black jacket standing in the street. He could tell she was pretty, as if she had just stepped out of a photo shoot even though the shot was clearly taken from a distance and without the woman’s knowledge. There were buildings with Spanish writing in the background.

“This is Juliet,” Lucy said. “Or, it was Juliet three months ago.”

She flicked at the screen, then held it up again. The same woman, except this time she was wearing a black-and-white striped uniform. The glamour was gone, replaced by unkempt hair and angry, hard eyes.

“This is Juliet three weeks ago,” Lucy said.

“What happened to her?”

“She’s in a Mexican prison. I guess looking good isn’t a priority down there.” She put the tablet down. “Allie found a link between Juliet and Faith; then it took her a month to track the woman down.”

“In prison?”

“Well, she wasn’t in prison at the time.”

Lucy smiled, and Hank thought,
Oh man, do I really want to hear what’s coming next?

“How did she end up in prison?” he asked anyway.

“Allie needed leverage. Some way to get Juliet to cooperate. So one day, while Juliet was staying at a four-star hotel in Mexico City, a drug-sniffing dog found a backpack full of heroin in her room.”

“She
framed
the woman?”

“Yes,” Lucy said without hesitation.

“Jesus Christ.” Hank stood up and began pacing the room. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” the girl said, and he thought she might have rolled her eyes at him behind his back. “Juliet is no saint. She’s been helping bad guys smuggle girls back and forth across the Texas-Mexico border. The woman is a real bitch.”

“And you have proof of that? Her criminal activities?”

“Of course.”

Hank calmed down and looked back at the girl, saw the confidence in her face, the look of someone who was one-hundred percent certain they were on the side of the angels. He didn’t want to tell her that he’d encountered plenty of people who had thought that way, except the evidence proved them wrong.

“Go on,” he said.

“After she was incarcerated, Allie visited Juliet and told her what happened, why she was just convicted of smuggling drugs and was never going to get out until she was an old lady.
If
she got out at all.”

“You’re serious…”

“As a stroke,” the girl said. Then, without missing a beat: “Why do you think Allie is out there right now traveling with two assholes while there’s a semitrailer hauling more girls to a place where everything they are, everything they will be, will be stripped from them now and forever?” The girl’s face grew dark. “Juliet put her in touch with them. Told them she was an old friend who could be trusted to replace her while she dealt with…personal issues.”

“They don’t know she’s in jail.”

“Not a clue. These gigs are always last-minute affairs—a day, maybe two days of lead time, which is why they always work with the same groups of people. They needed someone to replace Juliet, and Juliet recommended Allie. Or Alice, as they know her. Allie had to wait almost a month and a half for that call to finally come in, but she can be very patient.”

“And somehow all of this led your friend to robbing Ben’s Diner?”

“I don’t know what happened there,” Lucy said. “Maybe it was some kind of test. I don’t know for sure. But she recognized you from her research. Like I said, you don’t really look all that different.”

“Bigger,” he said, rubbing his gut.

“Just a tad,” she said, and pinched her fingers together.

He grunted and walked to the window, then looked out at the parking lot outside. He could see Lucy’s reflection in the glass, watching him closely from the bed, maybe trying to decide if she could trust him with the rest of her secrets. It was a good question, because Hank wasn’t sure he wanted
to know the rest of it.

Oh, who are you kidding, old man. You didn’t come here to grab a can of Coke. You
want
this.

You miss it. Admit it. You miss the action
.

Hank knew all about slavery rings. Too much, in fact. It was a disgusting and brutal trade, the kind where girls—the younger the better—were treated like chattel, passed from place to place, criminal to criminal. Someone like Faith—a blue-eyed, blonde all-American girl—would fetch a better price than most, and for a longer period. But would she last two years?

“Tell me the rest,” Hank said. “How does Allie plan on locating Faith?”

“By getting to the end of the line,” Lucy said.

“The end of what line?”

“Where the girls are being transported to. Finding the people behind all of this. And if that doesn’t work out…” Lucy shrugged. “I think Allie is playing most of it by ear. She’s pretty good at improvising.”

“It’s a dangerous game she’s playing. Ben’s Diner, these two guys she’s riding around with…”

“Trust me, lieutenant, you’re not telling us anything we don’t already know. Allie more than anyone.”

“Which leads me back here. Why did she give me your phone number?”

“I don’t know,” Lucy said. “Maybe she thought you could help.”

“Help how?”

“You’re a former police lieutenant, right?”

“State police lieutenant, yeah.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Well, one’s state—” He stopped and shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, I guess. Why would she think I can help?”

“I don’t know, but Allie doesn’t do anything without a reason. If she gave you my number, that means she wanted you to contact me.”

“She read my files, so she would already know I’m retired.”

“That’s a given, yeah.”

“Meaning…what, exactly?”

“I don’t know. We never discussed bringing someone else into this. It was always just going to be the two of us. I guess when she saw you out there, she took advantage of it. So you’re right; she definitely gave you my number for a reason.”

Hank narrowed his eyes at the darkening parking lot outside. No matter how many times he rolled the question around in his head, the answers didn’t come.
Why
did Allie send him here?
Why
did she think he could help them? Or was there another reason he wasn’t seeing?

“Maybe the fact you’re retired is why,” Lucy said.

He looked back at her. “I don’t understand…”

“I mean, cops have rules, right?”

“I’m not constricted by procedure anymore, if that’s what you mean.”

“Is that a good thing?”

He shrugged. “It depends on what she expects from me. Cops have a lot of paperwork to file, hoops to jump through, before they can even take a fart. It’s a real pain in the ass, and one of the reasons I don’t miss the job. That’s the good news.”

“And the bad news?”

“I don’t have a badge anymore. All I got is that snub nose in the nightstand drawer. I don’t have people to answer to, yeah, but it also means I don’t have anyone who answers to me either, you understand?”

She nodded, and he thought she might have looked a little disappointed. Oh, who was he kidding. She looked a
lot
disappointed.

“So what does all of this mean?” she asked.

“I have no idea, kid,” Hank said. “I don’t even know where your friend is—and neither do you—so I don’t know how she expects me to help her in the first place. For all we know, she might have just sent me here to babysit you.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“I can take care of myself. Besides, Apollo is here.”

“He’s just a dog…”

Lucy smiled at him.

“What?” he said.

“Nothing,” she said. Then, “You said we don’t even know where she is right now, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, I think I might know.” The girl stood up and walked over to him with the tablet. “One of my jobs is to monitor all the local and national news feeds. I saw this one earlier today before you showed up.”

Lucy pushed a small box on the tablet that widened by itself until it filled the whole screen. It was a video feed of a newscast showing the remains of a state trooper cruiser parked on the side of the interstate. Its front windshield was covered in holes, and Hank could make out blood on the front seat upholstery. Uniformed troopers were barricading the scene even as vehicles continued to flash across the TV camera on both sides.

“Jesus Christ,” he whispered.

“Someone killed two state troopers earlier during what the news is calling a routine traffic stop,” Lucy said.

“And you think Allie has something to do with this?”

“I don’t think she shot them, if that’s what you’re saying.”

“Kid, she shot
me.

“She
clipped
you,” Lucy said. “Trust me, if Allie shot to kill, you’d be dead right now. She didn’t do this, but look at that damage.”

“Automatic weapons fire.”

“Yeah. Who would carry that kind of firepower around and shoot up a state trooper car with it?”

“People who can’t afford to be stopped or questioned.”

Lucy nodded. “I think so, too.” She put the tablet away under her arm. “So now we know Allie’s last known location, along with the direction she’s headed.”

“That’s something, I guess,” Hank said. “Still doesn’t tell us where she is
right now
,
or where she’s going. Or what she thinks I can do to help her.”

BOOK: Finders/Keepers (An Allie Krycek Thriller, Book 3)
12.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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