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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

First to Kill (35 page)

BOOK: First to Kill
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Grangeland pulled on a pair of latex gloves and told Ernie to hold still. The cuts on Ernie’s knuckles were streaming blood and needed to be wrapped to stanch the flow. Holding the penlight in her mouth, she applied several tight layers of gauze around Ernie’s two mangled fingers and secured them with white tape. Ernie grunted from the pressure.

“You’ll live,” she said.

Nathan kept a close eye on their captive as Grangeland tucked him into the backseat of the Crown Vic and closed the door. Ernie seemed subdued during all of this. Maybe it was shock or the false news about his brother’s capture. More likely, it was the reality of his fate sinking in. He was headed back to prison, only this time to death row. Depending on how cooperative he was on their trip up north to Montana, Nathan might give him an alternative to the living hell awaiting him.

Nathan reluctantly agreed to let Grangeland look at his wounds. He shucked off Ferris’s coat and held out his arm. Once again holding the penlight in her mouth, she pulled on a fresh pair of gloves. When the beam swept across his chest, she frowned at seeing the network of crisscrossing scars. She obviously hadn’t noticed them earlier, when the truck stop went up in flames.

He winked at her. “I lost a bet.”

“Must’ve been some bet.”

“It was.” He let her remove the blood-soaked shirt and apply a dozen wraps of gauze around the torn flesh and secure it with tape.

“Better let me see that leg.”

He put his foot on the lip of the open trunk and pulled his soaked fatigue up.

“Did you have a knife like Harvey’s?” she asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“Take a look.” She shined the penlight on the wound.

“I’ll be damned,” he said. The knife was gone, but sheath was still there. The bullet must’ve hit the knife and broken it free before fragmenting outward, shredding the flesh with shrapnel. All the bleeding had been from lacerated skin, not a bullet hole. “Luck favors the well-prepared,” he said. After Grangeland removed the sheath and wrapped the wound, he turned toward Harv. “Let’s take a quick walk. Grangeland, you’ve got Bridgestone. I need you to relay this position to your team at the truck stop so they can retrieve the Semtex from the back of the SUV.”

“No problem,” she said.

They walked a good fifty feet down the road.

“Based on what Ernie told us, I figure Leonard’s got a six-hour head start on us,” Nathan said. “We should assume seven. That has him arriving at the money drop in Montana by three in the afternoon tomorrow at the earliest. I can’t see him driving up there any faster than that. He’ll drive the speed limit to avoid being pulled over. Whatever disguise he’s using, it’s probably good enough to fool the average law-enforcement officer. Colored contacts, facial hair, whatever. He’ll have fake IDs too. We should assume he’ll make it up to the drop. I’ve driven through that area of I-fifteen, it’s remote. You could drive for hundreds of miles without seeing a state trooper.”

“You’re thinking he’ll drive straight through?”

“No doubt about it. He wants to recover his money and bug out. He’ll pump himself full of over-the-counter caffeine pills for the drive. We need to be one-hundred percent certain we arrive there first.”

“We’ll also need satellite images of the area.” Harv paused meaningfully.

“Damn it, Harv, he could be involved in all of this.”

“Do you honestly believe that? Deep down?”

Nathan didn’t answer right away. “No, I guess not.” Harv was right, they did need satellite images. Without them, they’d be going in blind, without knowing the terrain. Although she could arrange it, he couldn’t risk asking Holly because, quite frankly, he didn’t trust the FBI. More accurately, he didn’t trust Director Lansing.

“I know you don’t want to ask, but we could really use his help. It could make or break this operation.”

Nathan said nothing.

“You want me to make the call?”

Nathan sighed. “He’s my father. I’ll make the call. You realize we’ll have to tell him everything.”

“Nate, it’s me, okay? I know you’ve been wanting to patch things up for a long time. Here’s your opportunity. Give the man a chance.”

“He’s a politician.”

“Has he ever lied to you?”

“No, I can honestly say he hasn’t.” His cell rang. Nathan unclipped it from his belt. He recognized the phone number on the LCD. It was Holly Simpson. “We have Ernie.”

“Nathan, thank God. The truck stop is all over the news. Every network’s covering it.”

“Holly, I can’t talk right now.”

“Are you okay? Special Agent Ferris just told me you were shot twice.”

“I’m okay. I’ll call you back in a few minutes. Don’t talk to anyone about this. No one.”

“Nathan—”

“A few minutes, Holly, I promise.” He ended the call and looked at Harv. “The cat’s out of the bag. It’s a good bet Leonard’s heard about this on the radio by now.”

“He’ll avoid the money cache until he hears from Ernie.”

“I’ve got that covered. We’re going to leak to the press that Ernie got away and all we recovered from the scene was his sniper rifle and his cell phone. We’ll also leak that we’re analyzing the cell company’s call logs. I’m betting that will make Leonard ditch his phone.”

“They must have some contingency meeting location if they’re separated for a long period of time.”

“No doubt they do.”

“Leonard could lie low awhile. He might wait a week or even a month before he approaches the money drop.”

“That’s a real possibility, but I’m betting his love of money will force his hand. For Leonard, this whole thing’s about money, not revenge. As long as Leonard believes his brother’s on the run, we’ve got a chance to nail him.”

“Bringing Ernie along complicates things.”

“We’ll put Grangeland in charge of him.”

“She’ll love that. How’s the arm?”

“Better than the leg. When we get back to Sacramento, can you preflight the chopper while I get our gear from the Hyatt and clean myself up a little?”

“Not a problem.”

“I’ll drop you guys off at Sac Exec Airport and make the call to my father on the way over to the Hyatt. I’d better call Holly back.” He dialed the number from memory and quickly recapped the events at the truck stop leading up to his current situation. She kept turning the conversation to his gunshot wounds and he kept reassuring her he was okay. He told her about his call to Lansing after collaring Ernie.

“Lansing knows I know about Ortega and the failed sting,” he said. “I used it to persuade him I needed some quality time with Ernie.”

“Be careful, Nathan. Lansing can be a formidable enemy.”

“We made a deal. He looks the other way for a spell and I keep quiet about the Semtex business. It’s a good arrangement for him. He knows what’s at stake if this ever leaks. He put Grangeland under my command and she’s okay with it.”

“Nathan, I could get you SWAT backup. You don’t have to do this alone.”

“No. Harv and I can handle it. I don’t want the situation complicated by having friendlies in the area. It’s a shoot-to-kill situation now.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Neither do I, but frankly, it’s easier than trying to capture him alive.”

She had no response to that.

“We tricked Ernie into believing we have Leonard in custody and that all we’re doing is going up there to recover the cash.”

“Smart move.”

“I need your office to leak some information to the press right away. Tonight. Right now, if you can. Leonard has to believe Ernie is still on the run or he’ll never show at the money drop. You need to leak that Ernie got away and all we recovered from the truck stop was his sniper rifle and his cell phone and that the bureau’s analyzing the call logs from the carrier. Leonard will ditch his phone. He won’t risk the FBI tracking it.”

“That’s a good plan. ASAC Breckensen is dating an anchor at News Ten. I’ll take care of this right away.”

“Needless to say, don’t tell Breckensen the truth.”

“He won’t like it when he finds out.”

“We can’t worry about that right now. Leonard has to believe Ernie escaped. If it leaks he’s in custody we can kiss Leonard good-bye. He’ll disappear. This is our only chance to bag him. We won’t get another opportunity. Ever.”

“Nathan, we lost another SWAT agent at the truck stop. Three civilians too.”

“I’m sorry, Holly.”

“I didn’t know SWAT was going to be there or I would’ve told you. ASAC Breckensen was under direct orders from Lansing. They left me out of the loop again.”

“The beat goes on.…”

“End this, Nathan, before anyone else gets killed.”

“You can count on it.” Nathan ended the call. “We need to get moving.” He pointed to the west where several sheriff’s cruisers were racing down the road with their light bars flashing blue and red. “We’ve got less than a minute to clear the area. You get everything we need out of the SUV?”

“Yes.”

They hurried back to the vehicles. Nathan was thankful the Crown Vic’s windows had survived the blast. He was in no condition for a freezing drive back to Sacramento. Grangeland took the rear seat next to Bridgestone while Nathan slid into the front. Harv left the headlights off as he pulled onto the road. He flipped the night-vision scope down to his eye and stomped the accelerator.

“All the roads in this area are laid out at ninety degrees to one another,” Grangeland said. “Take a right at the first major road we come to. That should take us back to the freeway or its frontage road.”

After another mile or so, Harv turned right and said, “Shit.”

The northbound lanes of the freeway were stopped dead. A string of headlights stretched to the south for at least a mile. Emergency vehicles were using the shoulder to advance. The inferno at Pete’s Truck Palace must have closed down the freeway.

“Keep going under the freeway,” Grangeland said. “We’ll take a parallel road until we’re past this.”

They had to go several miles until Harv could make a right turn. Flat farmland lined both sides of the road. Harv gunned the sedan up to seventy miles an hour. Other drivers had the same idea. The once-quiet country road now looked like a prime arterial. Following the pack, Harv made a right heading north and saw the same string of bumper-to-bumper headlights in the southbound lanes of I-5. After another right turn heading east, they passed under the freeway and accelerated up the northbound on-ramp.

Ernie remained silent. Nathan knew how he felt. Hell, he’d lived it. Immediately after his capture in Nicaragua, he’d been beaten senseless and thrown into the bed of a truck under armed guard. Angry faces had sneered down at him, some spat. The drive through the jungle had seemed endless.

Nathan turned his head and addressed Ernie. “Why don’t you give us the real GPS coordinates now.”

“What are you talking about?” Ernie said.

“I’ll be honest with you. You’ve got a nasty ten years ahead of you before you get the needle. And you
are
getting a needle. Think about it, death row at San Quentin with Scott Peterson, your brother Leonard, and the rest of the tattooed mutts. Within your first week, Big Bubba will make you his wife and swap you with all of his friends for packs of cigarettes.”

“Shut the fuck up, McBride.”

“Give me the real GPS coordinates and I’ll give you another option.”

“What other option?”

“A bullet to the head.”

Ernie said nothing,

“See, it’s like this,” Nathan continued. “I’m not turning you over to the FBI just yet. I’ve decided you’re coming with us to the coordinates and if you’re lying about them, we’ll start over. I’ve still got fifty-seven minutes left with you.” He made eye contact with Grangeland, who looked stressed.

Harv jumped in. “It costs the State of California a million dollars to go through the death-row appeals process. Isn’t that money better spent somewhere else?”

“I can’t argue with that,” she said, “but I need to be insulated from what you’re doing here.”

“Special Agent Grangeland, consider yourself insulated. I don’t care how you deal with it. Plug your nose, look the other way, pretend it never happened, whatever works.”

“I’ve got your word you won’t take me in?” Ernie asked, closing the deal.

“Marine to Marine. Now give me the real coordinates.”

 

Chapter  24

After dropping Harv, Grangeland, and Bridgestone at Sacramento Executive Airport, Nathan pulled his cell and looked at his watch. It would be a little after 0700, Eastern time. He dialed his father’s mobile number.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Dad.”

“Nathan. Are you okay? The explosion and fire at the truck stop is all over the news.”

“I need to talk to you.”

“Okay.…”

“Look, I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye. For what it’s worth, I feel like it’s my fault. I have trouble trusting people. Trusting you.”

“Nonsense. You’re my son. Just because we don’t always agree on things doesn’t mean we can’t trust each other.”

“I need to trust you. Now more than ever.”

“You can.”

“What I’m about to tell you can’t go any further. Tell no one. Absolutely no one else can know. It’s life-and-death, Dad. My life, and Harv’s.”

“What’s happened?”

“I need your word.”

“You don’t have to ask for that.”

“Your word.” He heard his dad sigh.

“Okay, I give you my word.”

It took five minutes for Nathan to tell the story and describe the plan going forward. He knew with certainty the news of the Ortega conspiracy to entrap the Bridgestones by selling them Semtex both shocked and angered his father. The only thing that surprised Nathan was how good it felt to know his dad hadn’t been in on it.

“Are you absolutely sure about this?” Stone asked when Nathan had finished. “I mean, absolutely sure?”

“Yes.”

“You think you know someone. Frank and I were in Korea together, fought side by side. I can’t believe this whole thing is about revenge against Ernie Bridgestone.”

“It hurts, I know. Harv feels betrayed too. There is some good news. We recovered most of the missing Semtex. Nearly three hundred pounds.”

“That’s good news.”

BOOK: First to Kill
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