Authors: Andrew Peterson
Tags: #Snipers - United States, #Mystery & Detective, #Intelligence Officers - United States, #Intelligence Officers, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Undercover Operations - United States, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Undercover Operations, #General, #Espionage, #Snipers
“I’m not afraid of you.”
“You will be,” Nathan said. “
You will be.
” He held his hand up and started counting. “I count fourteen knuckles, Harv. Sound about right?”
“Fourteen on each hand,” Harv corrected.
“Brutal. Think he can take it?”
“Don’t know, only one way to find out.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Grangeland asked. Like Harv, she was breathing hard from the sprint up the sandy wash.
“I’m going to start cutting this jerk’s fingers off. One knuckle at a time.”
“The hell you are, McBride. The FBI doesn’t torture its prisoners.”
“We aren’t FBI.”
“I want my fucking phone call,” Ernie said.
“That’s what your cousins said before you killed them.” Harv shoved Bridgestone’s face into the sand.
torturing this man,” Grangeland said.
“Special Agent Grangeland, take a walk with me. You got him, Harv?”
“Oh, I got him all right.” Harv kept his knee on Bridgestone’s back and leaned on the dislocated shoulder. Ernie grunted and spit sand.
Nathan led Grangeland fifty yards up the sandy wash and stopped. “I need the truth. Is my cell phone being tapped?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
He pulled it from his pocket, turned it on, and entered Washington, DC number from memory. Holly had given him Director Lansing’s cell number.
It rang four times. The voice answering was sleepy and a little annoyed. “This had better be good.”
“It’s good,” Nathan said.
“Who is this?”
“Do you mind telling me why you’re calling at… four in the morning?”
“I’ve got Ernie Bridgestone in custody.”
“Right now? You have him in custody right now?”
“Damned good news, Mr. McBride.”
“I need to interrogate him.”
“I’m not sure you do. I mean
“If I understand what you’re implying, we don’t do things that way.”
“I think you’ll make an exception.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Because I know about the Ortega-Bridgestone connection.”
Lansing said nothing.
“And the Semtex.”
“You still there?” asked Nathan.
“Yes, I’m here.”
“Are we on the same page now?”
Nathan kept his tone even. “May I ask why the FBI was at Pete’s Truck Palace?”
“Amber Sheldon wanted the reward money. There’s a million-dollar reward on the brothers. Half a million each. She called and told us about tonight’s money drop.”
Nathan shook his head at the two-dimensional double-cross Sheldon had pulled off. “Well, I guess that money belongs to Harv and me now.”
“What about Sheldon?”
“Bridgestone turned her into red mist.”
“Then yes, the money’s yours. You collared him. It’s yours.”
“One of your field agents is with us. She needs clarification on our arrangement.” Nathan handed the phone to Grangeland. She took it, walked a few paces away, and kept her back to Nathan, but he could still hear her end of the conversation.
“This is Special Agent Grangeland from the Fresno residence office,” she said. After a few seconds, Grangeland tensed as if she wanted to object, but said, “Yes, sir. Understood.” She handed the phone back to him.
“You’ve got one hour, Mr. McBride.”
“I don’t need that long. One more thing, Director Lansing.”
“Keep this under wraps. Tell absolutely no one we have Ernie until we’ve got his brother. Leonard can’t know Ernie’s been apprehended. If it leaks, he’ll bolt and we’ll never catch him. Play along and you’ll get your front-page headline and no one will be the wiser. You have my word on it.”
“All right, agreed. I want you to call me back when you’ve got something to report.”
“Will you put Special Agent Grangeland under my command for the remainder of this operation?”
“She’ll need to hear it from you.” Nathan handed her the cell again.
She listened for several seconds before saying, “Yes, sir.”
Nathan took the phone back. “Thank you, Director Lansing. We’ll collar Leonard if you play along.”
“No mutilations, McBride.”
“We’ll see.” Nathan ended the call. “You’re welcome to stay, if you think you’ve got the stomach for it.”
“Suit yourself, Grangeland, but don’t interfere. Are we crystal clear on that? No matter what you see.”
She nodded tightly.
They hustled back to Harv’s position.
“Are you ready, Mr. Bridgestone?”
There were moments in life when you found yourself totally unprepared. This was such a moment for Special Agent Grangeland. Nothing in her FBI training or competitive athletic background could’ve prepared her for the horror unfolding before her. She found it difficult to watch, but more difficult
to watch. Ernie Bridgestone lay facedown in the sand. Harvey had dragged a large piece of wood over from the dry riverbank and placed it beneath the man’s cuffed hands. He then dragged a second piece over and placed it under Bridgestone’s chin so he wouldn’t inhale sand and choke. She watched in horror as Harvey removed a menacing knife from his ankle sheath and handed it to Nathan. Harvey then placed a knee on Bridgestone’s upper back and applied his full weight. Facing Harvey, Nathan sat on Bridgestone’s legs and grabbed one of his hands. Ernie tried to resist, thrashing about and swearing like a madman, but he was pinned and couldn’t get any leverage.
She watched in abject disbelief as Nathan forced the tip of the knife into Bridgestone’s ring-finger knuckle and shoved, rocking it back and forth as if cutting through a tough piece of steak. She’d never heard a grown man scream bloody murder. She clenched her jaw so tightly her head began to throb. Although Nathan wasn’t actually severing Bridgestone’s fingers, he was coming damned close. Bile rose in her throat as she tried to separate her mind from her body, but the two kept clashing back together. How could she allow this to continue? Surely Director Lansing hadn’t approved what she was watching. What kind of men were these guys? How could they brutally torture another human being with such casual indifference? Was it worth her job, a lifetime’s worth of achievement, to put a stop to this? How could she live with herself knowing she could’ve ended this and didn’t? She looked down in shock and disgust as they started again on the next knuckle up.
* * *
“How does it feel, you piece of shit?” Nathan hissed. “Did you enjoy cutting James Ortega’s fingers off as much as I’m enjoying this? Well, did you?”
In truth, he wasn’t angry and in truth, he didn’t enjoy it, but he wanted Ernie to think he did. He actually found it repulsive, but he needed Ernie to believe otherwise. He hadn’t asked Ernie any questions, nor did he intend to. It was all part of the mind game he was playing.
Nathan pushed the knife.
Bridgestone shrieked in agony. Blood flew from his mouth where he’d bitten his tongue. The tortured man whipped his head back and forth, tearing his cheeks on the log.
Nathan removed the knife after going halfway through the second knuckle and started on the final knuckle. Within two minutes, Bridgestone had been reduced to a sobbing wretch. He was crying like a child and begging for Nathan to stop. He promised to tell Nathan anything he wanted if he’d stop cutting his fingers.
Nathan looked up at Harv. “What do you think?”
“I think he’s full of shit. We’ve got twenty-five knuckles to go. Let’s see how he feels in say…. twenty minutes or so.”
Nathan reached down and grabbed Ernie’s hand again.
“Stop!” Ernie screamed. “I’ll tell you whatever you want, man.”
“What makes you think we want information?” Nathan asked. “This isn’t about information, it’s about payback for James Ortega.”
“The Ortegas fucked me in Pensacola,” Bridgestone wailed. “It wasn’t my fault. I did my time. I was willing to let it go but they fucked me again. Ortega set us up. His grandson sold us the Semtex.”
“Is that why you burned him alive?”
“It was an accident, we didn’t mean to, I swear.”
“Save it for someone who gives a rat’s ass.”
“I’ll tell you where Leonard is, just don’t cut my fingers anymore. He took off for Montana around six o’clock tonight. I’m supposed to meet him up there tomorrow night.”
“We already know where he is, he’s being arrested right now. Do you think we’re stupid?” Nathan looked up at Grangeland, “He thinks we’re stupid.” Nathan grabbed his hand and forced it against the driftwood.
“Wait! There’s money. Over three million in cash.”
“I’m worth twenty times that. I don’t need your blood money.”
“It’s cash, man! Buried in ammo cans near the Canadian border.”
Nathan looked at Harv again. “What do you think, do you believe him?”
“I don’t either.” Nathan jammed the knife into the first knuckle of finger number two. Ernie screamed again, rawer this time. His voice was failing.
Grangeland turned away and threw up. Falling to her knees, she heaved in violent spasms.
Nathan grabbed Ernie’s hair and yanked his head back. “Where’s the rest of the Semtex?”
“My truck. Leonard has the rest.”
“How much is
“Ten bricks. That’s it, man. I swear.”
“Does he have blasting caps?”
Nathan looked up. “Grangeland, let your SWAT team know Leonard’s got ten bricks of Semtex before they take him down.”
She didn’t respond.
“Yeah, yeah, okay.” She pulled her cell phone.
This is it, Nathan thought. She’s either with the program or she’s going to blow it. He couldn’t risk it. “Give me the phone.”
“Give me the phone.”
She wiped her mouth and stepped forward. When she was close enough to see his face clearly, he winked at her.
She nodded an understanding. “They’re under my command, I’ll make the call.”
Nathan knew she’d make a fake call and hoped it would sound convincing.
“It’s Grangeland.” She paused. “Yeah, we got him and he’s talking. He said Leonard’s got ten bricks of Semtex and blasting caps.” She paused again. “Where? Okay, don’t approach him until SWAT arrives. Understood? I say again, do not approach him…. All right, good work, I’ll call you in ten minutes.”
Perfect. Nathan couldn’t have played it better himself. Ernie had soaked up every word. Now that he believed his brother was being captured, he’d have no reason to hold back.
Nathan pulled Ernie’s head back again. “Where’s the money?”
“It’s buried near an abandoned ranch in Montana near the Canadian border.”
“Montana’s a big state, that doesn’t tell me squat.” He reached for Ernie’s hand.
“Wait! I got GPS coordinates.”
“Well?” Nathan asked.
Ernie rattled off the numbers. Grangeland pulled a penlight, secured it in her mouth, and wrote the coordinates down on a small pad of paper.
“If you’re lying, we’ll upgrade to a butter knife and use a plumber’s torch to cauterize the stumps. I’ve got fifty-seven more minutes with you, and trust me, I’ll savor every last second.”
“I’m not lying, I swear.”
Nathan got off of Ernie’s legs and stood up. “Harv, keep him company for a minute.”
“Grangeland, let’s take another walk.” He led her across the sand, working his way through the islands of underbrush. After a hundred feet he stopped and kept his voice low. “We don’t have much time, we need to get going. Like I told Lansing, we have to keep Ernie’s capture under wraps. It’s vital it doesn’t leak. If Leonard believes Ernie escaped, he’ll head for the cash, I’m sure of it. Maybe even wait for him there, for a time.”
She pointed to the orange glow from Pete’s Truck Palace. “There’s no way to keep that under wraps. It’s probably on the news already.”
“Here’s what we’ll do. We leak to the press that all we got from the scene was Ernie’s cell phone and his sniper rifle, that Ernie’s still at large, and that your people are analyzing the call logs.”
“Leonard will think Ernie’s phone has been compromised, so he’ll ditch his. They’ll have no way to communicate.”
“I’m going to take custody of Ernie until we have his brother.”
“What? That wasn’t part of the deal with Lansing. I—”
“Think about it, Grangeland. You, me, Harv, and Director Lansing are the only people on the planet who know Ernie’s in custody. He’s number one on your most-wanted list. How long could something like that stay under wraps? People talk, the walls have ears. We can’t risk it. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you get the credit for the collar.”
“I’m not worried about getting credit, I’m worried about going to prison.”
“Director Lansing put you under my command so I’m giving you a direct order. Ernie stays with us until we’ve got Leonard.”
She nodded tightly.
“We need to get up to those coordinates. Just the four of us. We’ll take my helicopter.”
“You own a helicopter? I guess you weren’t kidding when you said you’re worth twenty times that much.”
“We need to bug out of here before the cavalry arrives. By the way, you did a great job with the fake call.”
“How’s the arm?”
“All things considered, not too bad.”
They started back to Harvey’s position. “Bridgestone might need a hospital. And you certainly do.”
“I’ll clean myself up once we’ve made it back to Sacramento. With a little luck, I’ll only need some stitches and antibiotics.”
“Stiches and antibiotics? You were shot twice.”
“I appreciate your concern, but right now, we need to get moving.”
They returned to their prisoner. Grangeland grabbed Ernie’s .45-auto, shook the sand out of the barrel, removed the magazine, and ejected the round. She stuffed the gun and its magazine into her front pockets. Harv took charge of Bridgestone and started marching him toward the vehicles. Five minutes later, they were back at the SUV. Just as Ernie had said, they found nearly three hundred pounds of Semtex and several dozen blasting caps. The orange-colored bricks were packed into cardboard boxes. The blasting caps were in a smaller box. Before Harv transferred the boxes of Semtex and the blasting caps into the trunk of the Crown Vic, Grangeland grabbed the first-aid kit. Not all of the boxes fit into the trunk, so Harv stacked the remainder of them into the rear of the SUV. Nathan would have Grangeland relay the location of the boxes to her FBI counterparts once they cleared the area. He didn’t like leaving the Semtex unsecured, but thought it’d be okay for the next few minutes or so. He laid Ernie’s assault rifle atop the boxes in the trunk.