Authors: B. V. Larson

Tags: #Technological Fiction

SPYWARE BOOK (21 page)

12.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Pushing that thought out of his mind, he opened the car door. He paused and looked back at Nog. Was this a set-up? He couldn’t tell.

“You’re one odd sociopath, Nog,” he told his ex-student.

Nog shrugged and didn’t meet his gaze. Ray could tell he was worrying at his tongue again.

“I’ll take that cell phone,” he said, disconnecting it from the dashboard power outlet. “I might need it.”

“Hold on,” said Nog, he reached behind his seat and pulled out a backpack. “Take this one,” he said, tossing another cell phone on the seat. “It’s got a longer range and a better, fresher battery.”

Ray nodded and took up the offered phone. He thumbed the power button. Digits flashed up on the display. It made a tone as it reached out and connected with another computer several miles away.

Ray climbed out of the car and looked back. Nog glanced at him.

“Good luck, Ray,” he said.


Then he drove off. Ray watched the big Lincoln roll smoothly away. It occurred to him that Nog had never called him by his first name before.

. . . 30 Hours and Counting . . .

Johansen snapped the cell phone shut and brought his fist down on the steering wheel. “Damn.”

“What?” asked Vasquez. She put down the headphones and turned off the player. The sound of Vance’s voice cut off. She wondered how many times she had replayed that conversation between the foggy-minded Mrs. Trumble and Vance. It had to be at least thirty times.

“The squad car they sent over to Brenda Hastings place reported a break-in,” he explained. “It looks like Vance forced his way in and ransacked the place. If we’d just been more on the ball, we could have caught up with him there.”

“That might have been a bad call on my part. I just wanted to listen to the recordings,” she said. “At least we know now that he has fixated on Ingles, his colleague. He left that message for Sarah and for me, putting the blame on him. Clearly, he needs us to believe it too, maybe to assuage his guilt.”

Johansen swung left onto Bovine. They were near Brenda’s place now. Starling Lane was just ahead. “What I don’t get is why he spent the night in the lab with her body.”

“It looks like Brenda got in a blow before he shot her. That paper-cutter looked pretty solid. Maybe he was out cold for the night on the floor.”

“Hmm. But how to you hit someone with three rounds in your chest? And how do you shoot someone when you’ve just been conked on the head?”

“I know,” she said. “The whole thing looks odd. We’ll have to wait for the forensics team to give us their version. It’s not really our field.”

“Okay, let’s go over the time line then. We need to catch Vance on his next move.”

Vasquez nodded. “Brenda’s car was in the parking lot, so it looks like he was on foot. That means he would have to walk for about an hour to get there.”

“I don’t get that either,” he said. “Why did he leave the car? He’s already killed her, so who cares about a wrap for car theft?”

Vasquez frowned. “Well, California law does allow the death penalty only in the case of an additional crime committed in junction with the murder. I don’t think car theft is on the list, but Vance might not know that.”

“You think Vance was trying to avoid the gas chamber?” Johansen shook his head. “No, I don’t think in his state of mind that he would be thinking that clearly.”

“Maybe not,” she admitted. “We don’t know. But we do know enough to pinpoint the time he had to be at Brenda’s place. The janitor came in and surprised him at seven. Let’s say it took till eight to get to Brenda’s. Maybe eight-thirty. Then he wrecks the place, let’s say that takes an hour or so, that puts us up to ten. Now it’s noon. That means we are only two hours behind him, max.”

“I agree. Should we hit Brenda’s place now?”

“Okay,” she said. “Then we’ll talk to Ingles.”


Ray worked his way around the house, staying in the green shadows of the orchard. The gun was in one hand now, the cell phone in the other. Now that he was so close to Ingles, his body tensed up. His neck ached when he turned his head, to say nothing of his head itself. After he had completed a circle around the place and had seen no activity, he crouched down behind the thickest black trunk he could find. There, about a hundred yards from Ingles’ house, he inspected the gun he had been carrying for hours now.

He looked at the gun carefully, with new eyes and new concerns. It was a vastly different thing to look at a weapon when he knew his life might depend on its performance. He marveled now that he had come into Brenda’s garage and surprised Nog with a gun that might have been empty, for all he knew. Why should he assume that Ingles would give him a gun that worked at all?

He looked it over carefully and hefted it in his hand. It was a heavy chunk of steel. The black-painted surface was worn down to the shiny metal in places. The grip was textured so that it wouldn’t slip in a sweaty palm. He looked down the slim barrel, but without aiming it directly at his head. The muzzle was a black eye that stared back at him. His father had been in the Navy, and had taught him a minimum of safety about firearms.

He recalled that the caliber of a gun was a measurement of the diameter of the barrel in inches. A .38 caliber bullet was 0.38 inches in diameter, a little more than a third of an inch. It was hard to tell, but to his untrained eye it looked about that size, maybe a little smaller. It might be a nine millimeter gun, he figured. That was a popular size.

Whatever the size, what mattered was getting it to rip a hole in a man’s body, and to do that you had to have bullets and the ability to aim. Aiming was up to him, but was this thing loaded? He examined it anew. It had no revolving chamber, so he figured it had to have a clip inside the grip. He hunted for a catch, found one and immediately a clip of bullets fell into the dirt. There were seven rounds in it. He continued fooling with the gun, feeling like a kid in his dad’s closet, until he managed to pull the slide bolt and get a round into the chamber. Then he found the safety button. He pushed it into the firing position.

With all that done, he decided to call Mrs. Trumble and leave another message for Sarah. Whatever happened next, she needed to understand what he was doing.

He flipped open the phone and pressed the buttons. To his surprise, it actually worked. He had expected Nog’s phone to require some kind of password to be used. He knew that Brenda’s was like that. She had always been paranoid about the wrong things.

“Mrs. Trumble?Hello,” he began. He told her he was outside Ingles’ house and that he was going to look for Justin inside. He told her to call his wife and police if he didn’t call back in a few hours.

Ray stood up then and looked at the house. It was time to act. He put the cell phone into a dusty pocket, wondering if he had just written his epitaph with it.



Sarah got both of Ray’s latest messages at the same time. She hadn’t checked recently, as her mother had come over to comfort her. When she finally managed to slip away from Mom, (who had, of course, been the one who needed the comforting most) she headed for Trumbles’ house. At the door, Abner Trumble appeared. He had an odd look of wariness on his aged face. He invited her in with a hand-gesture. Sarah hesitated, not looking forward to a formal visit. Their house was always dark and dank inside. The house belied the dry, dusty climate of the Central Valley, like a tropical oasis in a desert. The humidity was such that water droplets condensed on the inside of all the windows and Sarah knew she would sweat immediately upon entering. She had long suspected that they kept the shower running twenty-four hours a day.

She sighed and followed him into the living room. She supposed that she owed them the courtesy. The classic sunken living room had frozen in time during the sixties. It was all there: The green shag carpet, the fireplace of painted brick with the sunburst clock over the mantle, all of it matched by furniture of ochre velour. A planter full of redwood chips with a half-dozen plastic inhabitants guarded the archway entrance. Next to the coffee table sat a large ceramic fish with gold-painted eyes and no clear purpose. The fish had a huge open mouth that aimed upwards, as it were gulping air from the surface. Or possibly, Sarah thought to herself, swallowing a duck whole. Sarah avoided the thing as one might a strange, sleeping housepet.

Abner waved her to a couch and took up a velour armchair himself once she had been seated. He reminded Sarah of her own grandpa, recently departed. He wore a white tee-shirt over his sagging body. A black leather belt held up his baggy trousers. A tiny, flesh-colored plastic knob was embedded in his right ear. He stared at her intently.

Right away, Sarah thought to herself that they had finally figured it out. They had finally heard about Ray, and the virus, and the fact that he was now considered to be Justin’s murderer. They had not learned the truth from CNN, not these two, but rather on AM radio, or from one of their bridge club friends.

“Is there something you wanted to talk about, Mr. Trumble?” she asked.

He looked at her oddly, then stared suspiciously about the room. His eyes alighted on his hands and stayed there. Sarah frowned, wondering if he had perhaps a touch of some grim disease named after a dead physician. Alzheimer’s perhaps, or Parkinson’s.

Mrs. Trumble finally made her appearance. She seemed nervous and apologetic. She worked her hands and sat down on the couch beside Sarah. The ceramic fish sat on the floor between them and both of them glanced at it.

“Would you like coffee?”

“Ah, no thank you,” said Sarah.

“It’s a newspaper bin, you know,” said Mrs. Trumble.


“The fish. He holds rolled up newspapers, you see, in his mouth. Herman, we call him. Everyone asks about Herman, so I thought you might like to know what he is.”

“Oh,” said Sarah, feeling surreal. What were they thinking? Were they going to cut off her only communication path with Ray?

“Abner wants to tell you something,” said Mrs. Trumble.

Sarah glanced at him and found that he was no longer studying his hands. He was staring at her intently. She looked from one of them to the other. “What? Have you heard from Ray?”

They both fidgeted. “Abner was in the war, you see. He was an intelligence officer. He knows about these things.”

“What things?” asked Sarah. And what war? Korea? Vietnam? she wondered, but didn’t ask.

“He wants to tell you that someone is—

“Listening? What do you mean?”

“On the phone lines, and with tiny microphones, maybe even with devices aimed at your windows and ours,” she said.

Sarah’s mouth fell open. She glanced at Abner, who watched them intently. She wondered if he could speak, or if he had written all of this down for her.

“Well, thank you for the warning. I’ll keep it in mind. But have you heard from Ray?”

Mrs. Trumble glanced at Abner again. He was back to studying his hands. “Yes, we have. Twice in fact. It seems that he believes a certain Mr. Ingles has taken little Justin. He is on his way to his house now, I believe.”

Sarah’s eyes widened in shock. “Dr. James Ingles?” she asked.

“Um, possibly. I didn’t get his complete name.”

Sarah’s stomach fell away below her. In a moment, she knew that Ray was right. She should have thought of this before. Ingles had taken Justin. Of course he had. And she knew why.

She felt dazed. She looked at her own hands and some distant part of her mind wondered how soon they would be as old and careworn as Mrs. Trumble’s. All the lotion in the world couldn’t really stop the years. Deep down, all women knew that, but they kept trying anyway.

Sarah felt a touch. “Are you all right, Sarah?”

She looked up. “Yes,” she said, standing. “I’ve got to go now.”

“Of course,” said Mrs. Trumble. She stood as well. “I’ll see you out. You must come by more often.”

“I will,” Sarah said, almost running for the door.

When she reached it, she flung it open and marveled at the brightly colored world outside. Before she could step out, however, a hand closed on her shoulder. It had a surprising strength in it and it stopped her dead. She sensed the warmth of a man’s breath on her neck.

“Remember, this line has been compromised,” Abner’s voice hissed in her ear. She had never heard him speak before. Perhaps he only knew how to whisper.

The hand released her. She stumbled out onto the porch. She looked back to see eyes glinting in the dark interior of the house. The eyes retreated and the door quietly shut.

She shivered. Pulling her keys out of her purse, she headed for her car.


Ray walked up to the back door, took a breath and aimed the 9mm pistol at chest-level. He checked the safety one last time. It was still ready to fire. He tried the knob. It wasn’t locked. He opened it and stepped inside.

The back porch was a screened-in affair. Laundry baskets decorated the tiled floor and two white Kenmore machines sat quietly by their feeding pipes. A door led deeper into the house, into the kitchen. It was ajar. Ray looked through the crack.

12.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Ghosts by Gaslight by Jack Dann
A Field of Poppies by Sharon Sala
Summer at Forsaken Lake by Michael D. Beil
Another Woman's House by Mignon G. Eberhart
Autumn of the Gun by Compton, Ralph
Cupid's Test by Megan Grooms
Los viajes de Gulliver by Jonathan Swift
The Day Before Forever by Anna Caltabiano
Lady of Mercy (The Sundered, Book 3) by Michelle Sagara West