I kill rich people 2, p.37

I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 37

 

I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2
 



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  XMercy thought Spencer ought to run up White Oak to the bridge just past Cold Spot Deli. “Might not be as many fish as some other spots, but they’ll be natives, not the stocked rainbows they get across the highway up Loop Creek.

  “Who wants to listen to cars?” Mouse argued back. “I’d get on Thurmond Road and fish it all the way up the river. Must be a hundred spots along there where you won’t see a soul.”

  “Is it ok to ride out on the Polaris?” Spencer asked.

  “Don’t worry about the roads,” Mouse told him. “The sheriffs won’t care. But unless you buy a license, you see any forest green SUVs, you hide those fish real good or they’re going to end up being the most expensive trout you’ll ever eat.”

  Spencer zipped across the highway right through Glen Jean without stopping, then slowed down to a steady twenty miles per hour up Route 25, letting the warm day blow into his face until his eyes ran wet. He passed up half a dozen turnouts beside Dunloup Creek without stopping and kept driving out until the scenery opened out in front of the bridge over New River, where he parked on the gravel along the south embankment and got out. Three bright blue inflatable rafts, each filled with paddlers in orange life vests and matching orange helmets, slipped over the riffles on the far side. He listened to their guides shouting, “Left. Left. Dig!” as the current started to swing the first boat sideways. He watched them figure out how to work together to straighten up into the current. The guide’s encouraging shouts after they were back on flat water reminded him of working with fresh recruits, all eagerness and zero knowhow.

  He watched the next two groups then he worked his way back up along the creek, across rocks and past tree branches, until he got to a sunny spot down the smooth-running clear stream. Lying along the bank perfectly still, he waited and watched for shadows against the rocks and pebbles. When he saw the dark lines, he looked up slightly and could make out the subtle shapes and colors of the pan-sized trout nosing into the current.

  Retreating back to the ATV, he looked through the tackle. Nobody had ever shown him how to use a fly rod; he wished someone had. But the spinning gear he did know. The box held an array of lures, mostly brand-new: rooster tails, minnows, rubber night crawlers, crawfish, and damsel flies, spinning flashers in red, silver, and gold. There was a jar filled with red salmon eggs and another with fish killer marshmallows. A squirt bottle was labeled as fish-attracting scent.

  Spencer watched for spots where the shallow water settled and cast above into deeper pools, letting the current take the line downstream like Jack had taught him. He had the luck; a hookup on his first cast taken by a decent ten-incher. There was no trick to landing it, not at that size. He took in line until the fish was eight feet beyond the rod tip, then swung it over the bank within easy reach. He had it strung behind the gills and back in the water like he had done it yesterday, even though his math said it had been just shy of twenty-five years.

  He worked the creek a hundred yards upstream until he couldn’t go any further without wading around greenery growing well out from the bank. He had two more fish in the creel by then and made his way back to the stringer to keep them fresh. Then he took off his shoes and walked barefoot out to a flat rock and laid back, letting his feet dangle in the cold water. He pictured Jack, not the white-haired, somber man with the gut, but his dad when he was not even thirty, lean and strong, his only care being to figure out why somebody’s circuit was shorting out or to come up with a good solution to work around that with a new wire. He was always smiling back then, quick to catch a garter snake, wrestling with dogs until they all loved him so much they wanted to go home with him.

  Spencer didn’t want to reach down and touch his leg, didn’t want to touch his thigh for the plate and screws that were there. “Why would you pinch yourself to awaken from this?” For a long moment he dreamed that maybe he could have a life.

  *****

  “We have a hit. No, two!” The techs had their system programmed to text Bishop, but Dilip, being Dilip, typed out a redundant notification and sent it manually. Camera Ten, at the Junction of Sun Mine Road and Route 19. The evenly numbered cameras were north-facing against southbound traffic, odd numbers faced opposite. Second hit on Camera Eight.

  “Third hit, Camera Six,” Stephen called out, accepting the fist bump Dilip offered and exploding his fist in response.

  Bishop showed up ten minutes later. By that time, Felicia Diane Reynolds had passed by Cameras Four and Two and was off their grid, but not before they had identified the make and year of the SUV. They were pumped; they also had a partial plate and were into the West Virginia vehicle registration system, isolating correlating hits for 2009 Toyota 4Runners, plates beginning with YUS.

  The plates turned out to be a dead end; no making registrations within all of Fayette County. But when Bishop watched the four of them, none seemed disturbed at all.

  This wasn’t an academic exercise, he thought. What did it matter if their cameras worked when she drove right off their grid?

  “It’s like a wildlife camera,” Stephen explained with the map on screen. “We know she passed this way; the cameras have corroborated that much.” Stephen managed to be condescending even without trying; Bishop might have to work with geeks, but liking it was another story altogether.

  “I already knew that from the mother,” Bishop objected.

  “Let me finish, ok?”

  Stephen imagined he could download Bishop’s entire skill set in a week. The day was coming on fast when Bishop and his cowboy hat would be consigned to old movies.

  “The cameras were active since yesterday, right?” Stephen continued. “So we know she spent the night somewhere between here, at Camera Ten, and here at Scarbro Loop, the next place to get onto Route 19 and also the location of Cameras Eleven and Twelve. That makes for a very high probability that she will pass Cameras One, Three, Five, Seven, Nine on her way back and I’ll take bets that she doesn’t pass Camera Eleven. After she leaves the bigger city, she’s heading home.”

  Bishop moved into his own office behind closed doors before making the call. They had one working lead, but checking into a person’s identity was a far cry from having a confirmed visual on Spencer, much less any location. The last time his team jumped the gun, five people ended up dead.

  “You contact me the moment there is another hit,” he told them before walking out of the bullpen where Nussbaum’s team worked surrounded by flat-screen monitors. Bishop was closing the door to his own office when a thought occurred to him. He walked back into the techies, asking, “Did any of you program the suspect’s face into your Wi-Fi cameras along the highway?”

  “No,” they answered in unison.

  “Why?”

  Stephen fielded the response for all four of them. “We don’t need to. We set up a simultaneous scan set for continuously screening across every visual feed in North America. The NSA backbone supports that kind of capacity. It’s huge. We haven’t explored ten percent of the capabilities, either. Right at this minute, every camera in the Cloud is looking for Jonathan Spencer.”

  Bishop shut himself inside his office then opened the mapping file on his computer and exploded the scale until he selected a quiet spot off Route 19 at Surplus Lane, 1.5 miles north of Camera One. That was where private investigator Gerry Marsh was going to wait.

  From that spot, Marsh could see up and down the highway in both directions and spot a red Toyota 4Runner from a half-mile out. Cameras could only get them close; he needed feet on the ground. Bishop had thought ahead and hired Marsh, charging a $500 retainer to an untraceable offshore Amex account.

  “I hope you bring your coffee,” Bishop said to himself.

  He picked up his telephone then stared at it, suddenly realizing that Nussbaum and his three stooges had the capability to listen in on everything he said.

  *****

 
Gerry Marsh got most of his work from insurance companies. He sat outside houses and bowling alleys and golf courses with his telephoto lens, taking pictures of the never-ending supply of soft-tissue damaged victims of car accidents and workplace injury claims. But he was heading toward a blood clot or a heart attack for the sixteen dollars an hour, sitting eight hours at a stretch and peeing into a bottle. Plus he waited a ninety-day lag time between invoice and payment. On top of all that, at the investigators convention he learned that the insurance companies employing him also hired in-house investigators to investigate their contract investigators to keep the billable hours honest. If their guys ever wrote you up, then that was it—you were cooked. Not another insurance company anywhere would hire you. Not in this lifetime. Marsh had a hard time maintaining professional indifference when Bishop had offered to hire him at eighty dollars per hour and put a five hundred dollar retainer onto a credit card on the spot.

  He had to follow a young blonde gal, multiple tattoos, face and neck, to locate some forty-year-old male, six feet, slim, brown hair, and possible beard. Significant limps, both legs. May be riding a black Honda motorcycle. He had sharp color images of both faces committed to memory and full-page print copies.

  “Score!” Stephen shouted. Camera One got a hit at 15:34; Felicia Diane Reynolds driving the red Toyota 4Runner heading north on Route 19 in the right-hand lane. On Marsh’s end, the text came through long after Mouse had turned off Route 19. Marsh waited and watched for the 4Runner.

  A quarter-mile south of Surplus Lane he picked up the visual and looked at the oncoming Toyota through a twenty-inch long telephoto lens. Marsh put down the camera and texted Bishop. I see her. Will follow after she passes.

  He hit send as the 4Runner passed him, then pulled his silver Ford Taurus onto the highway well behind her SUV. It wasn’t hard to keep her in view, not with a load of white PVC plastic pipe sticking out her back and a red plastic flag bouncing up and down, practically waving “Here I am!”

  Mouse parked the Toyota outside the Glen Jean hardware store and she and XMercy got out of the car. Marsh shot the two of them together and kept his finger on the button through a set of close-ups, then put the camera down on the passenger seat and pulled the Taurus alongside an old warehouse across the street. Satisfied that he could see back to the front doors, he settled in, twisting open his Thermos flask and taking a sip of coffee straight out of it.

  They came back out quickly, along with a third woman, older, attractive with long silver hair. He watched in the rearview mirror. The one with the hippie clothes and wild hair tore something in her hands and handed half to the blonde, then took a bite and did a little dance. From there, he couldn’t tell what it was. A donut? Maybe an éclair. The blond took tiny nibbles.

  Minutes later, Marsh was following them north along Scarbro Road, heading nearly out to the Whipple Company store, before they turned off. There wasn’t another car on the road so he held the Taurus way back to keep from looking conspicuous. After the turnoff, he kept the red flag flying off the tails of the white plastic pipes in sight and relied on the cloud of dust coming off the dirt road to shield him from being seen.

  They drove near on a mile out into the hills and suddenly they were gone. He drove past every lane and driveway that he crossed the road and he would have lost them entirely if the dry weather hadn’t saved him. He spotted their dust coming up through the trees just about where he had lost sight of them and backtracked, turning in and slowly proceeding along a rough driveway until he saw the 4Runner parked in front of a faded old single-wide.

  He backed the car away, back toward the county road; even in summertime he wouldn’t trust pulling off into any of the muck and mush along that driveway.

  Marsh picked his phone off his console, hoping. Zero bars, of course. No GPS coordinates. No web connection either.

  Marsh opened his sports jacket and removed his Model 686 Plus, opened the Smith and Wesson, and confirmed seven rounds before snapping his wrist to lock back the cylinder. He took two nitrile gloves from a box in the glove compartment and tugged them onto his thick hands before returning the revolver to his shoulder holster and opening the car door. Parking way out alongside a county road has its good side and it has its bad. On the good side, there’s hardly anybody around to see you. Then on the bad side, there’s hardly anybody around to see you. He was on his own, knowing that anybody who did happen by would know right away that he was there. He reached for the trunk release before getting out.

  Marsh always carried camo gear with him inside the trunk, that and a twelve-gauge shotgun with birdshot and a box of slugs plus a new fifty-round plastic box of bullets for the .357.

  Marsh took off his tie and folded it over before putting it into a jacket pocket, then took off the jacket and folded it over before laying it down on the mat that covered his spare tire. Sitting on the rear bumper, he slipped off one Thom McAn and stepped into a leg of the camouflage bib overalls, then pulled a rubber boot on and repeated the same with the other leg before standing up and pulling up the raingear. The hooded jacket came next, followed by a nylon facemask. He looked back at the shotgun, thought about it, then shut the trunk, leaving it behind, but not before gathering a handful of the pistol cartridges.

  He opened the country mailbox and rifled quickly down through the pile without seeing anything addressed to any Felicia Diane Reynolds. Junk mail, mostly. He took a postcard from the Jiffy Lube to have the address then returned to the car for his cell phone. He checked to make sure that there was nothing tempting in sight then locked the trunk access and the car doors.

  Marsh worked his way inside the tree line, trying to come up as close to the trailer as he could. He only made it seventy-five feet before he walked straight into a line of razor wire that damned near tore him up good. Then he saw the greenhouse and understood; he couldn’t hardly hunt the hills anymore without stumbling on somebody’s grow or still or a trash-strewn meth lab.

  He backed toward the driveway, moving more carefully now and watching for trip lines and booby traps. Lots of war vets were living all across southern West Virginia. Backing along the driveway, the best he could do was to move fast and depend on the camouflage. He was nearly there when the door to the single-wide opened. The hippie woman looked straight at him and retreated back inside, slamming the door and screeching.

  “Crap,” Marsh uttered under his breath. He jogged into the trees on the far side of the driveway, sinking his feet into the mush. The blonde came outside carrying a small-bore rifle like she meant business. Marsh put his hand inside the overalls, wrapping his fingers around the .357’s grip but leaving the stainless steel hidden. His index finger touched on the safety.

  “You really saw a bear?” Mouse called inside the trailer.

  “Yes!”

  “A bear, middle of the day? You sure?” she asked. “Describe it.”

  “It was big. Brown and green. You come back in here and stop scaring me.”

  “I’m scaring you?” she replied. “You’re the one seeing bears. Green bears.” She climbed back inside, barrel down, and shut the front door behind her.

  Marsh waited a full five minutes then made his way past the trailer and tiptoed across the gravel to decaying leaves and soft dirt. He listened, hearing the voices of two women but no man. First, they talked about the bear until they were both laughing about it. Marsh had nearly reached the conclusion that he was chasing a dry lead when he bumped into the blue tarp. Underneath it he found a black Honda motorcycle. He took two photos of the VIN with his cell camera then made a wide loop back to the Taurus. The minute he got back onto Route 19, he picked up three bars. Seconds later, he was sending the photos along with text confirmation.

  Good work. Go back to Charleston. We’ll be using your services again. Bishop hit send, removed the sim card and broke it in two, then tied the phone inside a plastic bag and disposed o
f both.

  “I have him,” Bishop told Jeffers over another phone. “Helicopter and team are ready to go airborne.” Upon receipt of funds. “I didn’t need your New York cop or your mystery man coming all the way from Kabul,” he added. “I said I’d find him, didn’t I?!”

  *****

  “Mouse, get the door! I’m up to my wrists in cake batter. Mouse!” XMercy listened for a response then slid most of the batter off her fingers and ran her hands under the sink.

  There was no one there when she opened the door. Just fishing poles leaning against the siding, a tackle box on the ground beside them, and her wicker creel there on the top step. She poked her head out and caught Johnny’s shoulders and the back of his head as he moved away through the meadow grass. The creel had some heft when she lifted it. Opening the lid like a treasure box, she smiled wide and counted out six beautiful rainbow trout, already cleaned and pan-ready.

  “Yes! Good day!” She danced her way back into the trailer. “Johnny Johnny Johnny!”

  Spencer lifted the door to the shallow cabinet above his bed and reached around until he felt what he wanted, a pair of dark gray sweat pants XMercy had lent him to wear while his freshly-washed blue jeans dried on the line. He felt like running, something he knew that he probably shouldn’t be doing, but he could resist the urge. It was like taking a convertible out from a spin on the first sunny day after a cold winter. His legs had color; the wounds had scarred over into thick solid tissue that wasn’t going to split open.

 

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