I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 25
The highway sign forced him to recalibrate. Highway 66. Jack’s house was forty minutes south, fifty tops, in the middle of the day.
First place they’ll look. Highways have cameras. Cameras all over the building. He was in the doctor’s car. If they didn’t already have it, how long before they knew the make, model, license plate? Pure luck that he had found the car quickly and luck couldn’t hold much longer.
Take surface streets.
Clothes, cash, find another car. He needed all those things fast. Fuck! All that time guessing and you were in D.C.
He flashed on the crazed Pashtun killing in the marketplace, killing everything in his path.
“How much do you take before you go postal? How much!?” Spencer asked himself. They did this. To an American soldier. Here!
“Get it together,” he shouted. “Improvise! Perform, dammit!”
The Prius lurched ahead, narrowly missing the Escalade in front of him. Spencer forced himself to concentrate on managing his legs. He tapped the navigation system, hitting the button reading “Home.” Alexandria, VA. 4.2 miles. Nineteen minutes. A lifetime. He double-tapped. “In one quarter-mile, turn right onto Little River Turnpike.” The mirrors were already set comfortably; he and the doctor were almost identical in height and weight. He reached up and adjusted the mirror to scan behind him. Nothing. “Turn right onto Little River Turnpike. Proceed 2.6 miles to Capital Beltway East.” A brass Schlage key on the chain. House.
Spencer stopped across the street, surveyed replica Georgian row houses, the road ahead, and every mirror before turning into the alleyway gap between the rows. He depressed every button on the car ceiling until a double garage door opened ahead on his right. He pulled inside but could not get his right leg moved to brake. The Prius slammed into the metal shelving unit, shaking loose a cascade of boxes that crashed down onto the hood.
Spencer glued his eyes on the interior door and waited for the noises to bring anyone inside running. A pale green Subaru wagon was parked beside him. They could have phoned 911. Nothing you can do about it. He pressed button 2 again, closed the garage, and turned off the engine.
Directly across his line of sight, an alarm pad chirped on the stairwell landing, its blue lettering glowing 30 SECONDS. Spencer felt along the wall and flipped the light switch. A sticky pad said 6-7-8-9-ON. He punched in the numbers, and then hit the off switch. ALARM DISABLED.
The stairwell led up to a closed six-panel door. Bypass knob. No lock. He grabbed at the hospital greens, lifting his left leg onto the first stair. His chest slammed onto the stairs when the leg collapsed under him. He noted how he was hyperventilating. Adrenalin crash.
His only way up the stairs was sliding over the carpet on his chest, doing pushups to take the stairs two at a time with both legs dragging behind. He tried to be quiet, tried listening for any noises within the upper floors or for the sirens he expected.
It wasn’t a prison. It was black ops in D.C. But Texas on hourly pay? The doc working off student loans?
At the top, Spencer took two deep breaths, pushed off the stairs with his left arm and swung up for the knob with his right. Green Subaru. Whoever drove that might be standing there with a gun. It is what it is.
Nothing. He grabbed at the doorknob across a narrow hallway and used both door handles to press himself upright. The other door was to an entry closet on the main floor. Inside it, he found a stiff umbrella and a tennis racket. These helped him to press on. Spencer dragged a thick ski jacket off its hanger and tossed it beside the staircase. I can use that. It would be enough to stave off hypothermia on a temperate night outside.
Using the umbrella and tennis racket to brace himself, he lifted and swung from the hip, advancing one leg at a time with a rocking motion back and forth.
Beside the closet there was a toilet and sink. An open kitchen, dining area, and living room completed the floor. He scanned for useful items, forcing his brain to recalibrate. You’re in the city. Forget the cooking pot! He scanned the countertops until his eyes caught the knife block. He weighed the challenge of covering the distance to get to it versus the value of carrying a poorly balanced close-range weapon. Later.
At his right shoulder the upper stairwell began, half-staircases meeting at a generous landing. He nearly missed the small mirror framing a line of jay hooks from which spare keys to both cars hung. Spencer snatched at the key with the star-crossed Subaru symbol, tossing that onto the jacket. He switched on the crystal chandelier, tossed the umbrella and tennis racket up to the landing, and used the two handrails for support. An ornate beveled mirror in a carved gilded frame hung from the back wall on the landing; in front of it, the rear of a nude male torso in carrara marble stood atop a wrought iron base.
Too much sensory data all at once. Light, sounds, movement, colors. The flowery scent of an air freshener. He squeezed the handrails and squeezed both eyes shut, becoming a statue to make it all stop. Spencer hyperventilated at forty breaths per minute. His pulse raced as he pushed on to the top of the stairs then sat down heavily and everything ramped down, crashing. Every fiber in his being wanted to sleep. But he had been there before. You’re trained for this. Suck it up. He bit down on his tongue, hard, then cracked hard slaps against both cheeks and pressed himself upright.
At a glance, the upper floor doorways showed a small bedroom being used as an office, a hall bath, and double doors into the master suite. The master was three times the size of the smaller office.
Those student loans don’t seem to be holding you back much Doc, Spencer observed.
He ignored the dresser for now, moving directly into the bathroom, where the medicine cabinet was a treasure trove of prescription meds. In five seconds he had the contents swept into the sink basin, and then he rifled the drawers and moved into the walk-in closet. Using the umbrella, Spencer hooked a gym bag from the upper shelf. He pulled at jeans and shirts, stuffing the bag before realizing that not all of these would fit him. The neatly folded clothing on the right side was all smalls, the pressed jeans twenty-eight-inch waists. He turned the contents onto the carpet and started again, this time more carefully sorting the thirty-four-inch waists and size large shirts. The doc’s stuff. Each alternating row on the shoe rack held one size. The elevens were small, but much better than the diminutive size eights. He grabbed a pair of Adidas tennis shoes and a pair of slip-on loafers. His eyes landed on Tony Lama boots, new, black with tooled rises, before shifting attention to the drawers.
The underwear looked new also, a colorful combination of tiny stretch Speedos with EMPORIO in huge lettering along the waistbands and Diesel briefs. He stuffed a fistful of each into the bag, then untied the hospital greens and shook to make them fall to the floor. He selected a dark blue pair of briefs, spread them on the carpet using the umbrella tip, then stepped into them, flipped the umbrella, and hooked them to pull them on. All of the socks were either dressy pairs in sheer fabric or tiny footie things.
He moved back into the bathroom to stuff the pill containers into the gym bag. Don’t sort now. The image inside the mirror caught his eye, stopping him cold. Hardly recognizable. Christ. A mountain man’s beard, long and scraggly as his hair. Sunken eyes. Skin the color of chalk. An electric trimmer was plugged into its charger. Behind him, a glass shower sparkled. He looked at the face and shook his head. Negative.
The trimmer went into the sink, along with toothpaste, toothbrush, and a cuticle kit. He opened the gym bag and swept them all inside.
Spencer hobbled into the master bedroom. The large windows looked directly on to the neighboring unit. He took time to let down the blinds then flopped onto the mattress with the gym bag beside him. He grabbed up the first pair of jeans, lifted his feet into the pants legs, tugged them up both legs, and bounced, pulling at the jeans until he had his butt inside. He pulled on a polo shirt, a
A large dresser and nightstands were on both sides of the queen bed. Rifling through the first nightstand, he found only magazines, various gels, tweezers, a collection of tiny bottles, all Limoncello. The dresser was stuffed with sweaters, dozens of them, plus scarves and at least fifteen pairs of gloves. He pulled the heaviest gloves and tossed them onto the bedspread beside the gym bag before giving it more thought. Thin gloves, black leather. The right-side nightstand had eight one-dollar bills that he pushed into a front pocket. But no weapons.
Spencer tossed the gym bag down from the top of the stairs, knocking the marble statue off its base. His feet came off the ground this time, like they were beginning to remember their purpose, allowing him to step over the marble obstacle. He retrieved the jacket, gym bag, and car keys, opened the door to the lower stairwell, and sent them tumbling down.
Get food, he told himself. He had no immediate sense of hunger, but forced himself the twenty feet into the kitchen. A Dean & Deluca reusable shopping bag hung on the pantry knob. He opened the door and pulled cans of tuna fish off the shelf, then shut it behind him, ignoring the array of pastas, balsamic vinegars, and olive oils. Apples and bananas from a bowl atop the kitchen island went into the bag, and then he ran his eyes down refrigerator shelves. Bottles of Pellegrino, ridiculously heavy, still made the bag. Prosciutto. Burrata. A container of orzo salad.
Six minutes. His eyes locked onto a five-gallon glass bottle filled halfway to the top with quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies. Eight one-dollar bills won’t get you far. He rolled it over to the stairwell door then looked at the steep descent and went back into the entry closet, this time taking a full-length thick overcoat off its hanger and spreading it out along the top of the staircase. Then he sat down, reached the coin-filled carboy onto his stomach, snatched up the food bag, and pushed off, tobogganing himself to the bottom.
He packed everything onto the front passenger seat. A toolbox had fallen from the off the shelving unit, spewing its contents onto the garage floor. That gave him an idea.
Clusterfuck, Bishop thought as soon as Jeffers opened his mouth. The prisoner, who officially did not exist, took down two guards and a doctor and walked straight out of their high-security establishment on legs that weren’t supposed to be functional.
You sonofabitch. Bishop tipped back the Stetson and admired Spencer and the awesome escape. He pictured each of the guards. Ferrell, the sadistic bastard, and Darcy. How do you lose a man with two broken legs?
The doctor remained in a fog from an injection of something called ketamine.
“And now that you need me, I’m supposed to drop everything and come running?” Bishop asked Jeffers. Seven weeks since Jeffers told him that APA would be in touch. Seven weeks and not a word. While the prospect of what Jeffers expected from him darkened his attitude and the value of that money kept shrinking. Every single day.
“You’ve got a hundred-fifty-thousand dollars of my money!” Jeffers shouted so loudly that Bishop pulled the phone off his ear. “Nussbaum was working half an hour ago. Get your ass over there!”
“Get Spencer’s face out to the public,” Bishop told Jeffers. “We don’t need to tie him to the attacks; call him a serial rapist. Say he kidnapped a kid and put out an Amber alert. Just get eyes out on him.”
“No,” Jeffers screeched. “That is precisely what nobody is doing!”
Jeffers’ shrill tone quieted. “There is a quid pro quo for everything,” he instructed with deadly candor. “Nobody in government was ever going to touch the prisoner. We’re not inviting attention. This is a private enterprise. That’s the deal. I bought him and there is a no return policy. Period!”
The fear was masked, but it didn’t escape Bishop. Not one bit. For Jeffers and APA, the story was always what mattered, that and keeping up a private prison system built on low-friction relationships. Another public/private partnership with Vision Partners on both sides.
“We have the eyes to track him. Don’t worry about that. I am coordinating unimpeded access to everything NSA has got. Get over to meet Nussbaum. He has a tech team assembled. You need to coordinate the apprehension side. Pay what you need to staff it fast. Finalize this. Do it fast,” Jeffers said.
“My personal fee is what you offered for the other work,” he told Jeffers, adding, “plus a five-year retainer at $50K per year against future fees.” Bishop played the enterprise card; he had to go big or go home. Either he was going to be in or out—he’d had enough of sitting on the fence waiting on Jeffers’ passive-aggressive whims.
“Set aside $2 million for costs,” he told Jeffers. “I need resources: investigation and operations. Stephen Nussbaum doesn’t come with helicopters and seasoned commandos. I’ll need to reassemble a team. Do we have a deal?”
“Sheriff, why are you still talking? Go!”
“Black Prius, Virginia plates,” a man, mid-forties, thinning hair, explained when Bishop stepped off the elevator onto the basement floor. “Video confirmation. We have footage from B8 hallway, elevator, main lobby, parking garage, security gate. Fifty minutes ago.” The prisoner had driven off in the doctor’s car. One guard dead, another in x-ray for a possible neck fracture.
“Which man was killed?”
“Jeff Mark Ferrell,” the administrator told Bishop. “Our lead guard. Strangled.”
“Then the prisoner got on the elevator and walked out? Just like that?”
“Further precautions would have been implemented if indicated,” the administrator argued. ”The physician indicated he would not be ambulatory for months. I’m not a mind-reader!”
Inside the exam room, Nussbaum had his laptop plugged into a high-speed data connection inside the exam room. Bishop leaned down to look at the zip ties around Stocky’s neck then stepped over the body.
“What have you got?” he asked Red Pants.
Stephen and three other off-site techs were already running a fifty-mile radius using public and private feeds. Every arterial and highway, every parking structure, every mall—eyes were on every black Prius out there.
“I have this fully under control,” Stephen answered. “Thank you for asking.”
“A lot of good it’s going to do,” Bishop responded. “Identifying him doesn’t get him caught.”
“I’m piggy-backed on the national grid,” Stephen explained while his fingers worked over the keyboard. “I’d rather use my own facial recognition software, but we’re stuck using their proprietary crap.”
“Show me,” Bishop told the stick-thin Nussbaum.
“I have cameras scanning license plates going twenty-five miles in every direction. The minute he stops for gas or fast food, as soon as he moves inside camera range, we’ll have visual confirmation and GPS coordinates accurate within two meters.” Stephen swapped over to a black screen with white lettering than scrolled through pages like a blur. It was one of those magical things that only techs can do, exactly the type of sorcery that was putting guys like Bishop out of work.
“What about the father’s house?” Bishop asked.
“Already on it. Jeffers made a call. There’s drone surveillance on the house. We’ll have cameras mounted outside the father’s to take over inside an hour. I’ve got live emails and phone activity screening in real time.” He threw up a map showing a radius going out 100 miles. “These are known addresses on every local member of his unit, present and past, going back to 2005. We’re pulling bank accounts, cell phones, and email aliases.”
“I’ll arrange for response units,” Bishop added, thinking out loud. Set up a command station, get a comm hub.
“Come with me,” Bishop ordered. “I’ll set you up at my office.”
“I don’t need an office. Just a solid data port. I’m good.”
“I’m not asking,” Bishop
“Do you grasp how much data ships through a fifty mile radius containing a major metropolitan area?” he challenged Bishop. “There are nearly a quarter-million feeds, video; that’s terabytes every nanosecond. We have to piggyback processing straight off NSA channels. Even with the backdoor key, it still takes bypassing firewalls, data-decryption.”
“How many fugitives have you handcuffed?” Bishop shot back as they moved. “What sort of cool algorithm do you have for capturing a Special Forces-trained sniper? What keys do you push? Is there an app for that?” Red Pants, your kind can’t bring in Master Sergeant Jonathan Spencer.
Stephen’s connection dropped inside the elevator but he reconnected on a 4G band once they were outside the building. The connection had just enough bandwidth to observe the scanning protocols. “How are you going to do it?” Stephen wanted to know. “I could have a hit this second. When it happens, it is going to happen fast.”
“I’ll arrange assets and move them here as fast as possible. You get a location, you need to stay on him like glue until I can get them into place.”
Bishop arranged for secure a six-man ops squad over the phone as they drove together.
“You have to know who to call,” he told Stephen, adding, “They’re locked and loaded with a helicopter at ready.”
He turned to look at the impression that his phone call had made, expecting Red Pants would be blown away, and then was disappointed by what he saw. Stephen looked disinterested.
“Supply exceeds demand by an order of magnitude,” Nussbaum sneered. “There’s more ex-Special Forces wanting work than day labor outside the Home Depot. Tech talent is where the jobs are.” Then he smiled wide.