Read The Border Lords Online

Authors: T. Jefferson Parker

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General

The Border Lords (5 page)

BOOK: The Border Lords
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“Who’s Joe?” asked Hood.
“An Irish priest. He was building a library near Arenal. Sean and him hit it off. They talked and drank a lot. I told you we stayed up late partying one night. There were three Tucson reptile hunters and two American honeymooners, a bunch of German bird-watchers and French butterfly collectors, and Father Joe Leftwich.”
“How often do you write back to Sean?” asked Hood.
“Four or five times a day,” said Seliah. “Janet, scroll down to the ‘weirdest thing ever’ message. It’ll be late last month.”
From: Sean Gravas [[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 7:19 p.m.
To: Gravas, Seliah
Subject: WEIRDEST thing ever
 
Dear Seliah,
I finished up work early today I was heading home and this truck on the road ahead of me hit a dog. Dog went FLYING. The driver didn’t even stop but I did. It was a little black mongrel and she didn’t look busted up but she was just lying there in the desert, breathing hard and BLEEDING from her ears. I took off my shirt and laid her on it and she didn’t do anything but whimper. So I set her on the passenger seat up front of my Range Rover and figured I’d take her to the vet. I drove into town with one hand on her head just petting her real soft and talking to her. I even said a prayer for her, with my hand on her head. And I told her, you may not make it much longer in THIS LIFE but you’ll have another one in HEAVEN if you’ve been a good dog. Like that. It took us a while to get there. Then, when I took my hand off her to make the turn into the vet parking lot, SHE SAT UP! I thought, well, okay, that’s the last of her strength and now she’ll lay down and die, but she shook her whole body like she’d just stepped out of a swimming pool, you know, nose-to-tail, and looked at me with one of those great, doggy, “what are we doing now?” expressions. I mean, there’s BLOOD drops on the windows but she looks just fine. So anyway, was it a miracle? I think that’s entirely possible. Do you? I hope you don’t think I’m NUTS. I am nuts, for YOU! So now I’ve got this dog. I named her Daisy. Maybe she was just dazed by that truck, not really hurt bad at all. That must be it. I got some on video I’ll send you. SEAN GRAVAS AND THE MIRACLE MUTT! I got her a basket and a pad and some food and I’ll bring her home to YOU someday very, very soon. I MUST say that I’m feeling very strong and good today. In my HEART I feel MY great big JOURNEY is ready to continue. I’m ready. I’m more than ready.
 
Your Dog Savior,
Sean
Seliah stood again and snapped shut the curtains against the last of the sunset. She lifted her hair off her neck with one hand and fanned her face with the other.
As if on cue the laptop chimed and the in-box listings shifted down to make room for a new message.
“It’s from Sean,” said Bly.
“Read it to me,” said Seliah.
“ ‘My Dear Seliah, I’m off into the wild blue yonder now. The mission is clear. Good acts and the defeat of evil. Blowdown will be in touch with you soon if they haven’t been already. They will ask you to help them find me. Tell them what they want to hear, dear woman. But hold me in your heart. I will be with you soon. Sean.’ ”
Hood realized something that made his heart drop. There was a long moment of silence until Hood broke it.
“The wild blue yonder,” he said. “Sean has a plane at Oceanside Airport, right? A yellow Piper Cub.
Bobbie
or
Betty
or something like that. The name is under the fuselage.”
Seliah shook her head and held his look. “
Betty
. He moved her three weeks ago. He wouldn’t tell me where.”
“When were you going to tell me this?”
“Damn all of you.”
Both Hood and Bly let the curse hang. Hood figured if Ozburn was in the wind, there would be few better ways to get around than in his own little aircraft. He’d stay away from commercial airports where he’d have to file flight plans. He’d find other ways. Oz could land a Piper Cub on a street, a dirt road, a level meadow, just plain old desert if it was flat and firm enough. Hood remembered Sean talking about his club, the Desert Flyers. He remembered that Ozburn had outfitted his plane with expensive lights but didn’t bother with a radio or transponder. It was a private aircraft—made to be flown literally off the charts and under the radar.
“He cashed in his IRA last week,” said Seliah. “Thirty grand after the penalties.”
Hood thought he heard pride in her voice. “Will you help us find him?”
Seliah left the room. Hood heard her at the kitchen sink, running water. A moment later she was back, blotting her face with a wet paper towel folded into quarters. “I love him. I want to protect him. And now, after what you say he did this morning, I’ll help you find him. But how?”
“Right now, just tell him the truth,” said Hood. He turned the laptop to face her.
“Right now?”
“Right now.”
“Are you going to tell me what to say?”
“Tell him the truth, Seliah. Tell him what you told us.”
Seliah sat on the couch and set the damp paper towel by the computer. She looked at Hood, then at Bly, then down at the keyboard. She composed slowly, a phrase at a time. Five minutes later she turned the computer to Hood:
From: Seliah [[email protected]]
Sent: Thursday, October 13, 2011 7:55 p.m.
To: Gravas, Sean
Subject: With You
 
My Dear Sean,
My heart is so heavy for you, sweet husband. Charlie and Janet told me what happened in the Buenavista safe house today. They want me to help them find you. I don’t understand your mission but I want to be by your side. I want to be with you. Six years ago, when I promised you for better or worse, that was more than a promise. It was a statement of unchangeable truth. Please let me come to you. Please let me come to you. Your joy is mine as is your pain and we are one.
 
All My Love,
Seliah
Hood nodded and she sent the e-mail.
“I’ve betrayed him,” said Seliah. A tear ran down her cheek and she dabbed it away with the paper towel.
“We need your computer password,” said Hood. “We’ll monitor his incoming messages every hour, and we’ll forward his correspondence to you, immediately. And you’ll have to do the same for us when you get the mail first. There’s no other way for this to work. You have to trust us and we have to trust you.”
Seliah stood and looked down on them. “You steal Sean’s body and soul and now you even want his words.”
“He needs your help,” said Hood. “And so do we.”
She gave them her password and the three of them sat on the couch and watched the laptop screen and waited for Ozburn to reply. After an hour and no message from her husband, Seliah asked them to leave. When Hood asked for the Piper registration number she wrote it hastily on a notepad, tore off the sheet and handed it to him. She stared at the floor as they walked out, then shut the door behind them.
6
When they were gone
Seliah put on shorts and a tank top and running shoes and drove down to the pier and parked on the street near the ocean. The tourists were gone by now and the beach was nearly empty. There were lights on in the pier restaurants and a few diners in the sidewalk cafés beside the railroad tracks.
She stretched, then set off north along the tracks, running the edges for a while, then running down the middle of them with the gravel shifting underfoot and the moon leading her on. Her heart felt like a weight inside her, a great, cumbersome anchor that was trying to drag her down. She tried to outrun it but couldn’t and it spoke her to anyway:
He murdered three men this morning. He murdered three men this morning. Did you, Sean? Gentle Sean, good Sean? Do I believe Charlie and Janet? Do I dare not to?
After the first mile she checked her wristwatch and, just as she suspected, she was faster than two days ago—already fifteen seconds off her last time. Even carrying a heart that felt like an anchor.
She tried to concentrate on her stride and her breathing but all she could think about were the last four weeks. Four weeks and so many strange things for Sean and for herself. First there were Sean’s aches and pains and his crazy sexual appetite. Then a few days later he suddenly gets much stronger in the weight room, and his body is still aching and he hears things he shouldn’t be able to hear, and his eyes hurt so bad in light that he buys news sunglasses. What causes those things? Flu? Steroids? Drugs? The common cold? The plague? Sean had thought flu at first, but after a few days the symptoms were far stronger and stranger. Then the symptoms would vanish for a day or two. He took no steroids, no prescription drugs, no recreational ones. And he began sounding extreme, almost crazy, in some of his e-mails.
And the extra-weird part, thought Seliah, was that a couple of weeks after Sean got stronger in the weight room,
she
started getting faster on her runs! And two weeks after Sean started hearing things loudly, even hearing things he shouldn’t be able to hear, Seliah start hearing them, too. Just like what happened to Sean, all those near and distant sounds would blend in her brain at night into mysterious, flowing melodies. Some were lovely. And two weeks after all Sean’s sensitivity to light and cold, she got those symptoms, too. And she’d become easily angered and provoked. Thoughts of violence came barging into her usually gentle soul. She was either too hot or too cold, and neither seemed to have anything to do with the temperature of where she was. And the insomnia and the sex and the terrifying dreams.
My God
, she thought,
the sex was almost constant the last time we were together.
That was two weeks ago, when they snuck a weekend in Las Vegas—snuck it from Sean’s criminal partners, from ATF, from the world. Undercover agents did it all the time. She was fairly sure that Charlie Hood suspected but he said nothing.
And Sean’s crazy sex drive had all but killed me
, thought Seliah.
And now, now, two weeks later?
I
could do it again right now. I know I could. I’d
love
to, hour after hour after hour! And the brightness of the pool water in my eyes? And the roar of tiny noises at night and the pain in my legs and neck and back? All just as Sean had experienced
, she thought.
She lengthened her stride and felt the strength in her legs and the amazing endurance that was now hers. She wasn’t even breathing that hard. She wondered if all of this shared sensory overload was some kind of sympathetic thing with Sean, like when a man feels his wife’s labor pains.
Is there really such a thing? How can I feel what he feels? Am I just lonely and afraid? Am I just making all this up?
Dr. Clements had taken her temperature and looked into her ears and nose and throat and pronounced flu. Rest, plenty of fluids. Would twenty-four hours of sex and a couple of gallons of sports drinks spiked with vodka count? And of course Sean wouldn’t see a doctor if he was well enough to walk through the office door. He had never been sick a day in his life. Until now.
She continued north between the tracks. She remembered the dream she was having early this morning, at about the time that her husband was
allegedly
gunning down three young men for reasons unknown. In the dream she had been ravenously thirsty, but water was revolting to her and sports drinks and sodas and juices and beer were all sickening to her body and soul. But she found one thing that really hit the spot, and she had drunk so much blood out of Sean that he was white and blue-lipped. But he offered his neck so she could have more!
What the hell has gotten into you, girl? Maybe time to cool it on the vampire books and movies and TV shows. Isn’t there enough trouble in your life without feeding your inner devils?
But why were those bloody and ridiculous stories so . . . delicious? So compelling? A few short weeks ago she was dreaming of having babies. Wholesome dreams of beautiful daughters, beautiful sons. Hers and Sean’s.
Soon
, she had thought—
it’s almost time for that part of our lives
. When the undercover mission was finally accomplished they would be ready. Now this. Maybe the thirst for sex and the baby were part of the same larger desire, she thought. One led to the other.
She was pouring sweat now and the sounds were condensing around her: the shuffle of the waves on the beach and the plane droning overhead and the resounding clash of the rocks under her shoes, and she heard the Coaster train coming up behind her while it was still miles away, long before the approach lights began flashing and the train sounded its deafening whistle.
She glanced over her shoulder just once and stayed between the dully shining tracks, and she heard the warning blast again, much closer this time; then she heard it again. She heard the engineer screaming at her, or believed she did. Then she veered to her left and jumped down the embankment, leaping across the boulders toward the beach as the train howled past. She could feel the pull of its slipstream. The roar was almost unbearable to her. She hit the sand and sprinted to keep up with the Coaster, and for a moment it looked like she could stay even with it but the passenger windows began to outdistance her slowly, then quickly. She cut down near the water, laughing, and continued north.
 
 
When she got home
she wrote an e-mail letter to her husband. It didn’t have the rational, somber tone of her last one—the one
suggested
by Charlie and Janet. This one came straight from her heart. She told him of her passion, her loyalty, her love, her need of him. She pledged herself to him again, ’til
death do us part
, and she promised to find a way to help him on this strange and terrible thing he needed to do.
If you needed to stop three professional killers, okay, Sean. It changes nothing in us. And if we have to manipulate ATF and Blowdown and our formerly true friend Charlie Hood, then so be it. I am yours and you are mine and together we are greater than two. We can do anything.
ADS
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