I kill rich people 2, p.33

I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 33

 

I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2
 



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  He sent Callie a text from the airport. He had to go out of town for work. I was right all along. Will explain later. He looked at the message, added, Enjoy the beach, and pressed send.

  “You’ll take the high road, boyo,” he murmured in his father’s brogue.

  Owen noticed that Miller wasn’t wearing a ring. He didn’t look the type, haggard, in a couldn’t-care-less sort of manner, more world-weary than jetlagged. Miller lifted his drink, sniffed it disapprovingly, like he was used to better, then knocked it back in a gulp and clacked it on the bar, barely nodding his head when the bartender looked over. Every minute or so, he ran his slender fingers through combed-over blond hair.

  “Spencer is out there somewhere,” he whispered toward Miller. “Why are we sitting on barstools?”

  “Take it all in,” Miller replied. “It’s not the Ritz, but it could be a lot worse, believe me.”

  “Jonathan Spencer. Tell me what you know.” Owen’s knees bobbed anxiously.

  “He worked for me,” Miller explained nonchalantly. “Funny, when I heard about the shootings I thought about him for a second, really did. Strange dude, Master Sergeant Jonathan Spencer. I saved his life, you know. Shot the tribesman who stabbed him. One to the brain. Looking back now, I probably should have let him do it. He’d be dead and buried in Arlington National. That would be that. Oh well, twenty-twenty hindsight.”

  Miller’s tone disturbed Owen. The man could not care less whether Spencer lived or died. How do you work alongside a man and be indifferent about killing him?

  “Why do you think they brought us here?” Owen asked. He wasn’t feeling quite as sure of himself as he had a few hours earlier. He knew he needed to do this for Tremaine, but wasn’t this exactly what Gonzalez warned him against, getting in too deeply? All of a sudden Owen couldn’t even order a light beer without second-guessing himself.

  “It’s always the same thing,” Miller responded. “Somebody fucked up and now they can’t figure a work-around. So they bring in new people, us. They don’t really expect you to bring anything shiny and new to the table, but we show up and that takes some of the spotlight off of them. Let me ask you this: why four months to decide it was Spencer? And why now?”

  “My guess is Spencer went to ground and they’re running scared,” Miller continued, answered his own question. “They know what he can do. We had eighty thousand troops in Afghanistan and another couple thousand contractor advisors and another thousand CIA; I ran a string of operatives and I’d bet money right now that there was not another soldier like MSJS. At least none that I ever saw.”

  Miller ordered a fourth round. Owen waived off, taking firm hold of the soda water. “It’s not only the sniper stuff,” Miller explained. “He’s skilled in small arms too, plenty of demolitions experience, plus more martial arts than you’d believe. Aikido, Hapkido, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, even stick fighting. Put the guy on Pay-Per-View and it would just be boring. He’d douche every MMA fighter they put into the ring and I don’t care what weight class, either.”

  Miller chuckled to himself, recalling a conversation about Spencer. “I took him from a major who wanted MSJS to get on cross-country skis. The major figured Spencer would be a world-class biathlon competitor right away. The major was a tall Scandinavian-looking guy. Who in America does biathlon?”

  “He killed my partner,” Owen admitted somberly, already erasing Vosilych from his brain. “Shot a boat out from under us and an FBI guy and nearly blew us up, too. Except that was another time.”

  “No shit! I saw the video! That was you? How funny!” Miller stared at Owen, remembering the YouTube clip. He’d watched it a couple times, not just once.

  “Unfinished business,” Miller added, changing his tone and shifting his gaze into the swirling amber liquid. “I get that.”

  Owen wanted to explain how he and Tremaine had been on the case since right after the Fourth of July shootings, how he spent all night in Central Park after the shootings there. He suddenly needed solid food inside him, coffee too. He also wanted to phone Callie and realized she would know who it was and probably not answer. He should not have said in the text that he was going out of town.

  “Everybody up the line and down again better know,” Miller insisted, “that when we get near him, we call in the Hellfires and blow a hole in the ground where his ass used to be. I’m not getting anywhere near MSJS.

  “You know this guy can’t be captured, right?” Miller questioned Owen. “He is a fucking one-man army. Anybody tries taking him conventionally, he’ll take out whole companies before he goes down.”

  When his phone starting vibrating in circles on the glass-topped coffee table, Owen snatched it right up. Miller’s phone simultaneously sounded a single gong inside his jacket pocket. He dug his chin into his chest and looked up toward Owen. Same time, same text: Sit tight. New developments.

  A blonde woman dressed in a low-cut black cocktail dress walked through the lobby alone and seated herself. She and the bartender exchanged glances and a drink appeared in front of her. Miller observed that it was pure cola.

  “Mañana,” Miller told Owen dismissively. “I’ll catch you later.”

  Owen stood rigidly, put a five on the bar, and left Miller alone. He felt his pants pocket for the keycard and strode for the elevator. Room service, then a shower. He had St. John’s Wort and folic acid in his shaving kit, and planned to up his regular intake for both.

  Back inside the hotel room, he stared at the phone, wanting to call Callie and dreading another rote play-by-play about the boys. It was a big room, two queens. Granite sink and a tub-shower in the bathroom. A flat-screen TV inside the cabinet. A second telephone on the desk.

  “I should have taken her to nice places,” he observed. “I should have done a lot of things different.”

  She asked him to move out, to give her space, and he did it. He didn’t bust anything. He didn’t shout at her or do anything crazy. It was his house more than hers, Eamonn’s house. She gave it back to the fucking bank, is what she did. But he took his stuff and went. It was killing him, but he did it. After a week he had come back to see her and the boys.

  He knew he shouldn’t have boozed before going. He knew it and he did it and now what could he do to take it back? Grabbing at her, trapping her in his arms, slobbering at her neck, pulling at her shirt.

  “Get help, Owen!” she had screamed at him.

  She twisted away. He let her, but it was too late. “Get out! You need help! I swear to God, Owen! Get out!”

  Shelley answered the phone when he called back to apologize. She hung up on him.

  Owen reached for the remote and switched on the TV. He looked over the movie menu, followed the arrows to Adult Offerings, and touched Enter. Cheerleading Camp. Desert Island Girls. Prison Passions. South Beach Knights.

  He switched off the set and the lamp and stretched out on top of the flowered bedspread and then stared into the darkness.

  *****

  A little after midnight, Miller left the hotel bar with his new acquaintance. Fuck jetlag, he told himself. He didn’t care about sleeping. Everything he did outside of Afghanistan felt like Spring Break.

  At four a.m., he chugged two Red Bulls and phoned an escort service. Another new acquaintance showed up at his hotel room door. She looked bleary-eyed and done-in. Miller folded her over the overstuffed chair and tore off her thong without saying a word.

  He was in dark glasses and drinking a Bloody Mary for breakfast when Owen met him in the hotel restaurant. For some reason, Miller seemed pissed off.

  “Jesus, take off the wedding ring. This is business travel.” Miller waived for the server. “Let me order you a morning pickup.”

  When Owen looked astonished, Miller thought it was funny. “A drink, man. Not a girl.”

  Owen had phoned Callie first thing; i
t took him two cups of hotel room coffee before he could make himself dial, but he did it. He couldn’t get a read on her. She just let him talk. He was in D.C., he explained. Called in to work a case. They were paying him lots of money and he’d be home probably in a few days. Wasn’t she happy he was working? Wasn’t that what she wanted?

  “Where the hell is Bishop?” Owen wanted to know. Now that he knew Spencer was out there, every day Spencer was drawing breath jabbed at Owen’s guts.

  “What’s the hurry?” Miller asked back, blasé to the whole thing. “A whole lot of people want Spencer dead. What does it matter who does it?”

  ““It matters to me!” Owen growled. “I’m thinking he didn’t kill your best friend. Well, he did kill mine!”

  “Relax,” Miller responded. “Here we’ve got a decent hotel on somebody else’s nickel and you’re all stressed out. Man, first of all,” he explained, “fuck the stipend. Nobody can live decently on eighty bucks a day, c’mon! Spend a couple hundred. They may bitch, but they’ll pay it, and they’ll get the message. Don’t go selling your talent too cheap or you’ll never be appreciated.” He recalled what he could from the prior night and thanked God he had locked his wallet in the room safe.

  “Fucking boney escort wanted $1,000 for a straight screw. I got her down to two hundred.” He couldn’t remember anything else, which made him laugh, which left his temples thumping with pain. “Minibar,” Miller announced.

  Owen gave him a quick look. “I’ll pass on the drink. Thanks anyway.”

  “Different Minibar. It’s a restaurant. Jose Andres?” Miller said. “Never mind. For my money, actually, for Bishop’s money, this is the best food in D.C. I’ve been on eight straight months of shwarmas and rice pilaf or frozen shit out of the commissary. Let’s get into a real meal, maybe get the wine pairings with it?”

  “I’m a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy,” Owen explained. “Nothing fancy.”

  “He’s got meat and potatoes. You like corn on the cob? Sure you do, who doesn’t? Corn on the cob that will blow your mind. Hey, we’re here, right? Bishop’s the one who isn’t, so why shouldn’t we make the most of it? No reason. None at all.”

  “I didn’t come here to sit on my ass eating fancy food,” Owen protested.

  “He already killed your partner, pal,” Miller told him. “Don’t be so anxious.”

  *****

  Nussbaum’s geeks pulled DMV records, IRS records, and myriad data on M. L. White, from which Bishop couldn’t distinguish anything offering confirmation that they were on to a solid lead.

  The geeks continued treating him like they were trying to teach an idiot child. There are no automobile registrations. Neither one of them has filed a tax return since 2010.

  “Omission is the red flag!” Stephen told him. “What you don’t see is as revealing as what we find. Do you get this at all?”

  Their whole techie clique was abuzz, working on Bishop to get his ok for a field trip. Bishop looked over the Wi-Fi mapping, following the color-shading indicating crimson for the strongest signals.

  “So, here is the route map between the library in Fayetteville and the Bank in Mount Hope, both confirmed current sighting locations on Felicia Diane Reynolds. I’m moving that over the Wi-Fi map. Now, using satellite imagery, we plotted on this next map the locations of utility poles along State Route 19. We start here, six miles south of Mount Hope at the intersection of Highway 64 and State Route 19, continue north through Mount Hope, up to Glen Jean, then Oak Hill, and north up to Fayetteville.

  “Now, I’m going to highlight these next utility poles, see, the ones flashing green on the screen. We set two cameras on each of these poles, either connecting to Wi-Fi or using a hotspot card, and we get real-time coverage along twenty-two miles. That one route covers anyone traveling between Highway 64 all the way to Fayetteville. That includes the library where we spotted her and the bank where she keeps her life savings. The next time Felicia Diane Reynolds pops up, we’ll know where she is and potentially get a good handle on where she is going, too.”

  Bishop was skeptical. “That’s going to take days and be conspicuous. I can get to Charleston by air in under an hour. Her family is still at her last known address.”

  “Do the Dick Tracy gumshoe thing?” Stephen looked over at the others, asking, “Dish Network or American Electric Power?”

  “Dish,” all three responded.

  “We confirmed that Dish has the local satellite TV and most of the broadband market. They might recognize the faces of their local utility guys, but nobody would expect to know everybody working for a national outfit like Dish. We get to the pole, raise the cherry-picker, zip-zip with a cordless drill-driver, set a quick laser sight, and we’re done on each pole inside five minutes.”

  “Dish it will be,” Stephen agreed. “We can get a rental van with a cherry-picker in Beckley and we can be installing by ten tomorrow morning if we get out the door right now.” They were already making magnetic mock-ups for the logos.

  Bishop checked his watch. That was another thing. None of the geeks wore watches. Obsolete except as bulky jewelry, nostalgic emblems of a bygone age.

  “It’s not even eight o’clock. You can leave at four a.m. and be there by nine in the morning driving straight through.” Bishop wanted to pre-authorize the expenditure; this wasn’t coming out from his own pocket.

  “We don’t drive all night,” Stephen corrected. “We wake up fresh, get to the airport, and United flies non-stop at 8:30 a.m. But if we don’t get over to Best Buy for the cameras, the flight won’t do much good, will it?”

  “What do these cameras cost?”

  “Online, cheap, but if we’re doing this tomorrow we don’t have that option. We want one camera throughout. Best Buy has inventory retailing $212 each plus tax. They’ll want five thousand. Don’t worry. They’ll discount the hell out of an order that size. We’ll bring in web prices and hit a couple of their stores. But we need to go. If we keep talking, they’ll be closed.”

  Bishop nodded and was already thinking about where he could pad the three thousand on the invoice to APA. If they came up dry, that amount would be tough to chew from his own end. “Wait a second. You get all these cameras, how do you get them to run online?”

  When none of them responded, Bishop wished he could take back the question. Once again, he didn’t get it. There was Wi-Fi. The rest was laughable; it wasn’t even in question.

  When Bishop walked away, they resumed their work along with their prior conversation. “I’m not shitting you,” Kip explained. “This originated from studying how snakes use their sense of smell. Really. The concept is that we can draw DNA samples right from the air when people exhale. It’s not like we need to run a complete analysis, like we’re going out to the ninth power or anything; all we need is to get a sensor in there and we could get to a one-percent match probability nearly instantly.”

  “So like you get a sensor on a mini-drone and fly a mosquito around the room and map everybody there?” Dale asked.

  “Fuck yeah!” Kip exclaimed. “Totally.”

  *****

  XMercy watched in terror. Whenever Mouse had the chainsaw in her hands, she expected a disaster. New saplings had grown along the base of the greenhouse and as Mouse cut through them XMercy expected the saw to shred their structure or Mouse or both. Over the roar, she stood on tiptoes, her hands on her cheeks, calling, “Ooh. Ooh! Shouldn’t we have a plan?”

  Spencer walked along the perimeter, touching the bigger trees and mentally mapping out where they had to be felled. One glance and it was obvious to him that Mouse was a danger to herself. He couldn’t count the number of lieutenants he’d watched in action over the years looking just about the same, too full of themselves to listen and learn.

  The area needing clearing was mostly white ash trees twenty-five to thirty feet high wi
th trunks eight inches in diameter. Pretty easy to fell, but sometimes brittle and prone to snapping before getting through to a clean cut. He paced off the steps between the greenhouse and an older shagbark hickory, thinking it would be a shame to cut that old tree into firewood just to get it out of the way. Its thirty-inch base was fifteen paces away from the new greenhouse footprint. He wiped his palm along the rutted bark, chipped off a long strand, and rubbed it between his hands before inhaling its rich, verdant scent. If the root system didn’t interfere, the tree could stay, he thought. Another dozen paces through dense undergrowth of fragrant sumac and laurel took him to a pig trail where the ground got mushy underfoot until it was practically bog land covered by a giant root system, tall pointed laterals rising as much as two feet above the forest floor. Sunrays penetrating the growth showed two immense poplars leaning at a fifteen-degree cant, their hundred-foot trunks aimed straight at the greenhouse. One big wind and their greenhouse and their farming season would be crushed.

  When he returned, Mouse had produced a tangled pile that would take longer to clear than it had to cut. Everything needed to be dragged to a slash pile at the center of the meadow before it could be burned off. Whether or not they need a fire permit, or cared, he didn’t ask.

  “So?” XMercy asked, bumping her hip at him while he focused on Mouse as she very nearly put the tip of the saw into the dirt. “What did you think?”

  Spencer looked at her without understanding.

  “The guitar! What do you think I’m talking about?”

 
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