"You were right." Curtis let his eyes travel over the flower-strewn sitting room of the hotel suite. "He went fancy."
A dozen agents moved cautiously throughout the rooms, examining everything, latex gloves on their hands. Two agents stood side-by-side with weapons trained on the closed outer door, their attention never wavering. One held a large pistol in an isosceles stance; the other, standing a little forward, pointed a device resembling a thick-barreled retractable pen in an odd one-handed grip close to his shoulder.
Ferris picked up a big white flower in its own stand, sniffed it, and set it back down. "When did they leave?"
"Keycard was last used around noon. The door's only been unlocked from outside six times since he registered, once by room service to deliver the flowers. No meals ordered, no housekeeping service. But the bed's still made."
"Let's see the registration data again." She took Curtis's PDA from his hand and stared at the screen. The face of a middle-aged balding man stared back. "Bradley Carson, of Devers, Montana. But the clerk's description matched Lynch to ten points, and the lobby cameras concur. He signed the paperwork 'John Lynch' and presented ID in his own freaking name, yet this is what the computer query turns up. Is this guy real?"
"He checks out in any direction we look. Employment history, tax records, residency data, educational history, a complete record. The only thing we can't produce, anywhere we look, is someone who's ever talked to him."
Ferris huffed and shook her head. "Someday, we're going to figure out how he does this. When that happens, we'll drop the hammer on him before he knows we're on to him."
Curtis kept silent.
An agent came through the door from the bedroom, a wadded black shirt in his fist. "Clothes for a man Lynch's size," he said, then held up an almost child-sized blouse. "And for a petite female. Sorry, Boss. I know you were hoping for the Queen of Hearts." Caitlin Fairchild, Queen of Hearts on the team's card decks, was well over six feet tall and built to Barbie-doll specs. "He must be with Spaulding or Devereaux."
Ferris glanced at the girl's shirt: pale blue, long-sleeved, with cream-colored embroidery at cuffs and neck. "Not Spaulding. She wouldn't be caught dead in that." She added softly, "Damn it."
"They're all dangerous," Curtis said softly. "Does it matter which one we nail first?"
"She seduced one of my best agents," she said. "Broke the bed with him, and murdered him like a rat just twelve hours later. It matters to me." Ferris lifted her wrist mike. "Grissom, Anderson, Terlew," she said, addressing the men watching the building from outside. "Subjects are Ace of Spades and Queen of Diamonds. If anyone remotely matching their description enters or leaves, shout out." 'Shout out' was in instruction to send word on the general frequency, rather than the command one; she wasn't about to let her people be taken by surprise by those two over a delay from communications protocol. She swept the room with her eyes. "Anything here they're sure to come back for? Anything that points to where they are now?"
"No and no," the man said.
"Then button this place up and wire it. Have Watts and Cummins stake out the entrance and lobby. Meanwhile, I want video feeds from every camera they might have passed in front of – hotel security, traffic- and parking-lot cams, everything. Let's find out what they're driving, where they've been and where they're going."
The location for Michael's second meeting with Lynch was very like his first: an open-air restaurant with good views on three sides. This time, however, the time and place had been Michael's choice. He arrived early with Hector and Jocelyn and seated them along the long side of a six-place table with their backs to the bar, where they could see someone approaching from any direction. He took a seat at the end.
As he sipped his juice drink, Hector said, "How's the throat?"
"Recovering." Michael sipped water with lemon. "You've got quite an exercise program, Hector. Three years isn't much time to pack on that kind of muscle." He watched Jocelyn carefully from behind his tinted shades without seeming to, and saw a troubled look pass across her usually sunny face.
The boy nodded into his drink. "The guys at the gym say the same thing. They ask me what I'm taking. I tell em puberty struck hard."
"How do you know Mr. Lynch, Mike?" Jocelyn said, changing the subject artlessly.
"Mostly by reputation." Michael took another sip as he added, "He keeps a few secrets from me, too. He seems to think knowing too much would be bad for my health." He watched her hands rather than her face, and saw them stir restlessly. "Would you say that's a fair assessment?"
"Man," Hector said, "you got no idea. If you find out too much, you'll just disappear."
"Like you did?"
"No, we-" The boy squinted at him. "You're sneaky."
"Goes with the job."
"We already told you too much, didn't we? In the alley."
"You only confirmed Kat's story," Michael lied.
Jocelyn's eyes widened. "You talked to Caitlin?"
Michael filed the name away for further investigation. "Not me. One of my associates. Roxy, too, but not for very long. That girl loves her music." It was the old interrogator's game: try to seem as if you knew more than you did, to encourage your subjects to tell more than they realized. "They're certainly close to Jack and Anna, aren't they?"
She frowned. "Anna?"
"Jack's girlfriend. The little blonde."
"Oh. Never met her. She wasn't with him when he came for us." She made a little face. "A girlfriend. Wow."
Michael nodded. "They must have met her when he brought them home, to the place in California."
Hector's brows gathered. "You sure know a lot for a guy who's not supposed to know anything."
"I get contacted for jobs by some pretty shady people. I like to know who I'm working for. And, kids, I understand you feel like you owe him, but I have a feeling you don't know him very well at all."
Hector sat back, making the overloaded chair creak, and studied him. "Some people, you don't need their life story to know what they're all about." He looked off to the right. "Hey."
Michael followed his gaze and saw Lynch and Anna coming up from a few steps away. Michael noted that the old spook had traded in his sunglasses for a cream-colored eyepatch that matched his jacket. Hector started to stand, but Lynch waved him back down with a palm towards the floor. Michael stood anyway, smiled at Anna, and crossed the length of the table to pull out a chair for her at its opposite end, facing his seat. "Place of honor. Great job, Sam tells me."
She gave Lynch a glance and sat, allowing Michael to push the chair in. Michael returned to his seat.
Lynch stood at the only remaining chair, at the long side opposite the kids, but didn't sit. "Where's the rest of your crew, Michael?"
"On another assignment. We weren't exactly between jobs when you hired us, and our earlier client's getting impatient."
"My apologies. If my pushing my way to the front of the line caused them any harm, I'll recompense, if it's something money will fix."
Michael leaned back. "Forget it, Jack." He nodded towards the little blonde. "Jocelyn, Hector, this is Anna."
"You're the girlfriend?" Joss grinned. "Not what I expected."
Anna ducked her head and smiled. Lynch cleared his throat and fussed with the hang of his jacket, then sat. "Anna's part of our group. You can trust her with anything you'd tell me." Lynch's eye fastened on them, waiting for them to get it. Hector flicked a glance at Michael to show he understood: Michael hadn't been included in that reassurance for a reason. Lynch went on, "I'm glad to see you. You're looking well."
"We're doing well," Jocelyn said. "Mr. Corteza's been like a favorite uncle. We did everything you both told us." Jocelyn leaned forward. "I think we can trust Mike, Mr. L."
Lynch looked very deliberately at Michael. "I'm sure you're right. But he doesn't need to share our troubles. Michael, thank you. I'll have someone contact you for payment arrangements. But now, I have some issues to discuss with these young people in private, so - "
A small red dot appeared on each of the kids' foreheads.
"DOWN!" Lynch flipped up the table one-handed, flinging glassware and condiments into the air and throwing up a barrier in front of Joss and Hector. A gun appeared in his hand as he turned, eye searching. The red sighting dots lingered on the underside of the table for a moment. One winked out, but the other moved to Lynch's chest. He took a step in the direction of its source before it went out as well. Then Lynch glanced at Michael and Anna, who hadn't left their chairs; Michael was sipping from his glass. He stuck the gun back under his coat at the small of his back. "Sam and Fiona?"
Hector's head appeared above the table. Michael, instead of answering, said, "We should go now."
The restaurant was dead silent, the frozen patrons staring at Michael's group. Anna stood, smiling. "Sorry," she said, addressing the area at large. "Just a practical joke that got out of hand." As the other diners pointedly shifted their attention, she beckoned to a frightened waiter, a fan of twenties in her other hand. "Service and damages, and a little something for the staff."
They headed for the parking lot together, walking briskly, Anna taking two steps to the others' one to keep up. Lynch said, "That was dangerous, Mike. I hope you got what you wanted from it."
"When you met me, you said I understood need-to-know. I needed to know." Michael turned to Anna. "How did you know?"
She showed dimples. "I bet you don't play poker with your mom often. She'd clean you out."
They reached the cars: Michael's Charger and a silver Cadillac Escalade. Hector and Jocelyn paused between the two vehicles. "Hector," Anna said, "ride in front with Jack. I'll sit behind you, and you can run the seat all the way back."
The big Latino boy frowned. "You sure?"
"I'm sure. Caitlin has the same problem."
"Oh. Yeah." He moved to the other side of the car.
Lynch huffed. "All the private dicks I could have hired down here, and I have to pick one with a conscience. It must make clients hard to find sometimes. Whatever you were thinking of charging me, double it."
Michael drew close. "As to that. What would you say to a trade?"
Lynch paused with a hand on the driver's door handle. "What sort of trade?"
"My services in return for getting the FBI and Homeland Security off my back. I'd like to be able to travel outside the city limits without risking arrest."
The scarred eyebrow lifted. "And you think I can arrange that?"
"Come on. You travel all over the world. You must be able to spoof the no-fly lists, at least."
"No-fly lists don't mean much when you own a Gulfstream."
Michael paused. "I see." He went on, "Must have been quite a severance package."
"Better than yours, certainly. But your former employers aren't hunting you with blood in their eyes, either."
Anna touched three fingers from her lips to Michael's forehead. "Say bye to everyone for me. Tell Fi if I'm ever in town again, I'd like to meet her for a drink." She opened the rear driver door and scooted across, leaving the door open for Jocelyn.
Only Mike and Lynch still stood outside the vehicles. Lynch closed the rear driver door behind the girls, giving the two spies a bit of privacy. Lynch said, "I do have a counteroffer to make you."
On the roof of the parking garage overlooking the restaurant, Sam began breaking down his rifle. He hadn't installed the barrel, so removing the scope and laser sight and stock was about all there was to it. "Did you see that? She didn't even blink. She must've figured it out."
Fiona leaned over her rifle, still resting on the parapet, and continued to look out over the edge at the scene with bare eyes. "I'm getting very tired of hearing about your jailbait girlfriend, Sam."
"Hey, I just said she knows her stuff, and we worked good together."
"Four times. The way you go on, one might think you're ready to leave Janelle."
Sam placed the rifle components in their padded case and snapped it shut. "Just professional admiration, that's all. You should have seen her shaking up Corteza."
"Sam," she said in the singsong voice of a woman dangerously near the end of her patience, "you're doing it again."
Sam bent to hide a smile. "Easy to get along with, too."
Fi's weapon clacked as she drew back the bolt. Sam suddenly was aware that she'd fully assembled her rifle for the op, and wondered if she'd put a round in the breech. He had his answer when she removed the bullet and began disassembling her weapon. "Madeline's attitude towards her is positively saccharine. It must be an age thing."
"You were loaded?"
"Sam," she said patiently, "what if we'd been wrong about him? Best to keep our options open."
Sam's phone buzzed, signaling an incoming text. He glanced at the number, and his eyes widened in horror. "Oh, no, no, no."
"What is it?"
"Janelle's birthday. A weekend at Sanibel. We planned it weeks ago. I was supposed to pick her up an hour ago." He read the longish message, his face smoothing to a blank mask. Finally, he pocketed the phone. "Well. That's that. When we're done here, can we swing by her place and pick up my things from the curb?"
Once both vehicles were on the road, Jocelyn opened the conversation. "I take it they're on to us?"
"Not exactly, but they're very near." The scarred man swung onto a busy four-lane. "In fact, I'm sure our coming here brought them to your door sooner. But I had to make sure I got here first." He glanced across at Hector. "Easy enough to see you manifested."
Hector nodded. "When my clothes started getting tight, I remembered Kat, how she grew twice her size in a month and a half. I started working out like crazy, so the change wouldn't be so suspicious."
Lynch flipped down the visor. A mirror was mounted on its upper surface; he adjusted it until he was looking into Jocelyn's eyes. "I guess that means you're the one who's been buying lottery tickets." The girl's widening eyes were all the answer he waited for before going on. "I'm sure you thought you were being cautious. You never won any really big jackpots, and you spread your purchases all over town. But it made a statistical blip, just the same. Your special talent has something to do with luck?"
"Sort of," Jocelyn said, shrugging uncomfortably. "It's more like… I can see branching possibilities and sometimes choose among them. I play baseball, I never strike out – never even swing at one. Bowling, every game's a three hundred. Guessing games are a yawn."
"You should see her do gymnastics," Hector said proudly. "She was always good, but now… she hits every one of her marks, never makes a mistake. Put her in the Olympics, she'll run away with the gold."
"And I'd be back in my cell before my next meal, prolly." She gave a heavy sigh. "Okay, I screwed up. For what it's worth, I didn't keep much of the money. People around here are just hurting so bad, and there's so many places looking for donations. How did you spot it before they did?"
Lynch turned onto another road that paralleled the western shore of Biscayne Bay, but only occasional glimpses of the water were visible between the high-rises and upscale shopping venues. "One of the reasons I scattered you kids all over the country was to make anomalies like this harder to spot. IO has powerful tools, but they still can't look closely everywhere; it's too easy to gather more data than you can assimilate that way. I had the advantage of knowing exactly where to look."
She nodded. "What now, move again?"
"I'm afraid so."
Lynch paused. "When you arrived here, you had twenty grand in cash, Corteza's phone number, a stolen car, and the clothes on your backs. Is there anything in your apartment you can't leave without?"
Joss's eyes grew round. "You mean, we're already gone?"
The scarred man nodded. "I know we're ahead of them, but I don't know by how much. They might not have hit town yet, or they might be stepping on our heels."
Hector reached a huge arm back between the seats. "Everything I need, I got with me." Joss nodded and grasped his fingers. "Where are we going?"
"Where are you kids from?"
"Chicago," Hector said, looking out at the changing scenery; the hotels or apartment buildings, whichever they had been, had faded away, and big sheds had begun to appear among the stores and restaurants.
"South Dakota." Jocelyn shrugged. "You wouldn't recognize the name of the town."
"Well," the scarred man said, "I hope your stay here has given you both a taste for hot weather."
The restaurant staff was sweeping up the last of the broken glass when Ferris and her team arrived. She'd left most of her people outside, entering with Curtis and two others from her vehicle. While they scanned the patrons, she questioned the staff and learned that their quarry had been there less than fifteen minutes before, and of the event that had prompted his departure. None of them had seen the Crazies from Table Six after they'd passed out the doors. Rather than attract attention by questioning the patrons, she examined the recent visual record from the parking lot's security cams. Six minutes later, she was walking out the door, speaking into her wrist mike. "Team. Subjects are Ace of Spades, Queen of Diamonds, Nine of Spades, and Eight of Hearts, in a silver '07 Escalade."
"Three of them went down the street since you said it," Curtis muttered. "This burg's infested with pricey rides."
She gave him a dark glance and added the plate number. "Last seen headed south on U.S. One. Be advised, Nine of Spades is a probable FDM, Eight of Hearts' talent unknown." She strode briskly across the asphalt to the parked Suburban. "Curtis. Let Daniel and Cal take the wheel and shotgun. I want you to chase that Caddy down. It's equipped with OnStar, so it's got a GPS. If he's disabled it, track him down via traffic cams. If you get realtime feed, download to my PDA."
"What about the guy in the Charger?" Curtis asked. "He's the one who brought the kids. The car's registered to a Madeline Westen, local address."
"We'll get to him later." She reached for her own door handle, and Curtis quickly rounded the back of the big vehicle. "After we've got Lynch and the others. Maybe he knows where to find some more of them." She called up Madeline Westen's stats and sent them to the team's dedicated IT unit in Boulder.
"Miami International's northwest of here, not south." Curtis settled into the rear seat next to his boss as the other two agents got in the front, and everyone shut their doors with a tattoo of thunks.
Ferris addressed the man seated in front of her. "Alert every private field, corporate jet park, and helipad along his path. No one remotely answering his description is to get on an aircraft."
"APB?" He asked dubiously.
"Of course not. Just stay ahead of him by phone. Give whoever's in charge some DHS or FAA credentials and lean on them. Keep it quiet."
As the vehicle fired up and rolled to the street, her PDA chimed. Her display now showed a directory of the contents of Mrs. Westen's cellphone chip: call history, address book, messages sent and received – including deleted ones – and a very long list of GPS coordinates sorted by date and time, a list of the phone's locations and movements since first activation two years before.
A glance at the GPS file told Ferris that Madeline Westen was a homebody, seldom traveling more than a few miles from her address. She closed it and opened the call log. She sorted the numbers by frequency and began matching them to numbers in the address book. Most of the entries were first-name-only, but only three in the top ten were men. Madeline Westen was sixty-one years old. "Curtis. Has the Westen woman got any kids?"
"Two sons. I thought you were going to hold off on that."
"Just laying the groundwork while I've got a couple minutes to kill. You got names?"
"Hang on." He called up another screen. "Michael and Nathan. Nathan lives out-of-state. Hm. No address for Michael."
"No problem." She smiled and returned to the call log. She called up GPS address data on the number corresponding to 'Michael' in Madeline's address book. There weren't many – the phone was a prepay, and appeared to have been activated no more than three weeks before – but about half the phone's locations when calling or receiving a call from the Westen woman clustered within a twenty-meter circle only a couple of miles from her house. "I've got it." The car had been rolling for four minutes. She sent another short text to Boulder, a data request on Michael Westen.
As they rolled down the street and the other three Suburbans formed up in a line behind them, Ferris called up another local map, this time on the eight-inch screen built into the back of the seat in front of her. "It doesn't look like he could have reached an airfield yet. How's the cam chase coming?"
Curtis was busy on his PDA. "Closing fast. He's cruising down Brickell, along the shore. There's nothing there but boats and a lot of water." He stopped. "Whups. Lost him. Hang on … he's turned off, into a marina, maybe ten minutes ago."
Ferris leaned over, intent on the image on Curtis's PDA. "He's taking a boat? He'd never do that if he knew how close we are." She nodded. "He's a sitting duck. Once we identify the boat, we can have people waiting for him anywhere he makes landfall. If he makes for the open sea, we'll alert the Coast Guard and take him on the open water before he can reach international waters. Ditto if he's meeting an ocean-going ship offshore."
"You're not worried about letting the Coasties mix it up with this bunch?"
"Curtis, Lynch has never killed a police officer of any kind. Neither has any of his crew, even the psychotic little blonde. Our people, yes. Not lawmen. I think they'll surrender rather than take out a cutter full of maritime cops, or even a chopper crewed by Search and Rescue types."
"We've finally got him where we want him, then."
The woman's face stiffened. "Just like we did at Charlotte. And Chula Vista."
"Always the pessimist. Like you said, he's got nowhere to run this time."
Ferris's phone chimed. She examined the number, which she didn't recognize. She connected. "Talk."
"That guy you want. I'm looking at him right now."
"What a beautiful day for a little cruise." Anna stood beside Lynch, who sat at the wheel of the forty-foot cruiser, and looked over the sloped windshield and long closed front ending in a pointed prow. The water ahead sparkled with sunshine. A canvas top stretched over an aluminum frame shaded the cockpit, but the view was open all around. Biscayne Bay, she decided, was a thoroughly domesticated body of water. She saw other pleasure craft all around, headed in every direction, churning the water under their prows to foam. The shore on both sides of the bay was lined with docks and high-rises. She could see two causeways, busy with traffic, connecting the mainland to the barrier islands that formed the bay. "You know, this is my first time on a boat."
Lynch made a small adjustment to their course, pointing the boat northeast. The craft bobbed gently in the faint trace of some other boat's recent wake, then smoothed out. The rumbling of the engines wasn't loud enough to drown out the call of the gulls and other birds overhead. "Sure about that?"
"Not really." The breeze coming over the windshield stirred her short hair. "But it's the first time I remember." She looked back over her shoulder and studied the moving vehicles on the causeway half a mile to the south. "We're not going very fast. About eighteen, twenty?"
"It'll do. I've crossed rivers wider than Biscayne Bay. We'll be in open water soon enough."
"You look very nautical and in command sitting at that wheel."
He scoffed. "I'm driving a motor home with a hull. I could've gotten something smaller and faster, but this one is big enough to provide a little misdirection about our destination."
"Which is?" Jocelyn said from the open lounge behind them.
"We're meeting a friend who'll take us to our next waypoint." He turned and regarded her, sitting on white leather cushions in the circle of Hector's arm. "How you kids doing back there?"
"Great," Jocelyn said. "All the time I lived here, I never saw it like this. This is the Miami you see on TV."
Hector hoisted his soft drink. "I feel like a drug lord. You travel in style, Mr. L."
Lynch scoffed. "As if any self-respecting drug lord would ever set foot aboard this bathtub toy."
The girl looked over the rear deck appreciatively. "Is it yours? We walked right on like you own it. It was gassed up and ready to go."
He nodded. "Picked it up on my way to the meet, to save time. But I don't hold title. I just paid the owner enough to buy a new one in return for the keys and a full tank of gas. No doubt he'll report it stolen."
The girl drilled the back of Lynch's head with her eyes. "That stuff you told Mike about giving us a choice was a bunch of crap. Wasn't it?"
Hector stirred. "Joss -"
Lynch didn't turn around. "If you really want, I can drop you off and you can surrender to them. Did I guess wrong what choice you'd make?"
The girl settled back into the cushions and her boyfriend. "No way. Just wanted to see what you'd say."
"We're gonna need new IDs," Hector said.
"No problem," Lynch told them. "The new ones will be even better. You'll be able to use your own names again, and no data search will ever find you."
Anna looked off to their left, northward, at an island so large it almost spanned the bay. Its ruler-straight bank indicated it was one of many islands here created, or at least shaped, by channel dredging. It was heavily developed, but with industrial structures rather than residential ones, including several big cranes on steel stilts, and a parking and storage area so vast one might think the island was made of concrete – a shipyard or port. Rising over the tops of the buildings, presumably on the other side of the island, she saw the hotel-like superstructures of a line of cruise ships pointed towards the open sea.
He followed her gaze. "Port of Miami. It has its own channel, three hundred yards wide and straight as a runway leading out to sea." He turned the boat eastwards, towards the line of islands that sheltered the coast and formed the bay. "We're not taking it. There's a smaller and less-traveled opening between Fisher Island and Virginia Key. That's our route."
Anna's phone chimed. She glanced at the number before she connected. "Hello, Sam."
"I tried calling your boss, but he's not answering his phone."
"And I was hoping you wanted to talk to me, lover boy." Anna glanced at Lynch, who seemed a little too oblivious to the conversation. "I'm going to miss you."
"Uh, same here. Do you know where he is?"
"Right beside me. But he's not the jealous type." She passed over the phone. "Are you?"
"Hello, Sam." He listened for a minute. "Fine. It's settled then. I know it's not exactly what Michael wanted, but I hope he feels he wasn't cheated." He listened a little longer, glancing at Anna. "Of course. In fact, I'll make arrangements for five, in case Mike's mother changes her mind. I'll call later with the details. Be ready to go by tomorrow night." He disconnected and sighed.
Anna said, "I never question your decisions, you know that. But I wonder why you didn't offer Michael one of your bulletproof IDs."
"I didn't dare." Lynch's hand tightened on the wheel as the waterway narrowed and the boat approached a gap between two islands. "Our freedom of movement depends on keeping IO in the dark about our full capabilities. If they lay hands on one of our cell phones or IDs, they'll be able to figure out how we're spoofing their surveillance, and how thoroughly." He gave her a hard look. "And, maybe, where we got the tech. We can't afford that."
"But you trust the kids with it. Why not him?"
"Because he's not going to use it to lie low and avoid notice, now, is he? He'll use it to go places he's not welcome, to slip past the pickets put up to stop him and stir things up. Getting noticed is part of his plan, and noticed he'll be." He glanced back at the two teenagers. "I'm not cold to his troubles. But I can't afford to give him that kind of help."
She nodded. "Jack, where's your phone? Sam said he couldn't reach you on it."
"No one can." The two islands flanking their route made for a sharp contrast. The one on the right looked mostly wild and brushy and uninhabited, but the shore of the one on the left was walled with nearly identical high-rises, surrounded by manicured grass and landscaping and swimming pools: a resort of some kind. "All our numbers are going to change by the time we get back home. I'll give you the list. Call the kids and let them know, will you?"
They motored through the gap. Only three boats shared the channel with them, though there were many at the luxurious dockage on the island to the north, and at a rather more institutional one jutting from an inlet leading into the island to the south. As the passage widened and the two islands were nearly behind them, they passed by a yacht basin on the left with half a dozen huge craft moored behind a seawall.
"Yikes," Hector said. "Drug lords?"
"Possibly." Lynch kept his eyes forward as the Atlantic spread out and stretched away in front of them. "Tort lawyers, more likely."
"That big one, with three decks above the rail. How long is it? It looks like a little cruise ship."
Anna looked. "Two hundred feet, give or take." She frowned. "Jack."
"Eh?" He followed her gaze. The craft in question had a sundeck on the third story, high above the water, just aft of the lazily turning radar. A man stood there at the rail, glass in hand, watching them. "Hmph. It looks like one of my contacts here, a gunrunner named Humboldt. He's a golfer, and, as I recall, Fisher Island has a nice little nine-holer." He gave a little wave, and, after a pause, the man slowly raised his glass.
"No." Anna's gaze was as intent as ever, studying the ship now at closest approach, less than a hundred yards away. "Not him. The man on the main deck."
Lynch's attention shifted down to the main deck, and a man standing at the rail watching them, a cell phone to his ear. Anna went on, "He saw us and punched in the number from a business card he fished out of his pocket."
"It's okay, not a problem." But he advanced the throttles to their stops, and the engines shouted as the craft picked up speed, heading into the open sea.
Curtis got off the phone as the convoy rolled down Brickell past the marina the Escalade had entered. "The Coast Guard has a fast launch that should be able to intercept them before they reach international waters, and they're warming up one of their drug-interception choppers right now, a Dolphin. They should be in custody in thirty minutes, tops."
"Good," Ferris said, leaning back in the seat cushion. She indicated a road sign. "I want two of our people aboard that launch in Coast Guard uniform. I want all of them tranked and collared before we take them off their boat."
"Going to call the Director?"
"Bird in hand, Curtis."
"Yes, Roxanne," Anna said indulgently into the phone, raising her voice to be heard over the cruiser's laboring engines, "I agree there may not be another girl your age in the entire world with a midnight curfew. It's only one of many ways you're unique, sweetie, and I treasure every one of them. You know the rule is Jack's, and it's not going to change. It's been this way since you moved in. Quit giving Caitlin a hard time about it. Anything else?" She listened for a moment and smiled. "Eddie won't die if he runs out of cupcakes. We'll be home in a couple days, I think. Give our love to everyone. No, don't hang up. Do you remember Jocelyn Davis?" She looked at the girl, who sat waiting and expectant. "I'm looking right at her. Hector Morales, too. Would you like to-" She smiled and tossed the phone to the girl, who caught it effortlessly.
Lynch glanced back at the smiling girl as she chatted on the phone, with Hector bending close to listen. "Good idea. Give the two of them some reassurance from their peers."
Anna hooked an arm in his. "And keep our little dynamo from badgering you. I'm sure you wouldn't bend on the curfew thing, but that wouldn't stop her from trying. And I know how hard it is for you to say 'no' to her."
He smiled slightly. "As if you don't spoil her just as much." The boat's prow rose and fell, sending spray over the deck, and he turned back to his piloting. "You told her we'd be back in a couple days. What happened to our little vacation?"
"My choice, you said. We have a very nice bed at home. And I can bake and clean between times, while you rest up."
He scoffed and slipped his arm out of hers, then wound it around her waist. He pulled her close, and she rested a hand on the back of his neck. She looked back. The top floors of Miami's tallest skyscrapers were still visible above the horizon, but the land was gone. They were surrounded by the Atlantic.
Jocelyn said, "How much farther? I hope this guy you're meeting has a bigger boat. And when did you set this up? Before we came to the meet?"
"No," Lynch said. "I didn't know how long the meet would take, and I didn't want him hanging around out here waiting for us. I made a phone call while I was warming up the engines and Hector was casting off."
Anna, still looking back, tugged at his sleeve. "Jack. There's a boat coming after us. From the port, I think. Two miles away, but closing."
The two youngsters tensed and looked behind them, but their pursuers were too distant to see. Lynch turned north, paralleling the unseen shore on their left. "Can you make out any details?"
"I think it's in Coast Guard colors."
"Hmph." He looked at his watch. "If that's all they've got-"
Anna whipped her head around. "I hear an aircraft ahead, heading right for us."
Lynch throttled the engines back to an idle. The boat bobbed in the swell. Water chuckled against the hull. A faint deep hum began to fill the silence.
Hector and Jocelyn rose from their seats and drew close. Hector said quietly, "This is it, huh?" Jocelyn shivered and pressed into his side.
Lynch nodded. "Think so."
Anna said, peering ahead, "It's an airplane."
Lynch said, "A Grumman Albatross, to be precise. Fifty years old, and lovingly cared for."
An ungainly-looking aircraft approached low, seeming to skim the waves. It looked rather like a Fifties-era cabin cruiser hanging from a pair of wings. Big radial engines, mounted close together, filled the air with a throbbing growl. It dropped into the water with a triple splash, its boat-shaped fuselage and wing outriggers riding the waves as it slowed and taxied towards them. Blue and white lettering on its side said, 'Cook's Island Airline'. The engines chattered, and the propellers creaked to a stop. A small door opened towards the rear, and an elderly man in coveralls shouted through it. "Come alongside, quick."
Lynch applied a touch of power to the boat's props. "Everybody, climb up on the foredeck. Get on the plane." He brought the boat alongside the plane's raised tail with the side of the foredeck carefully up lined up with the door. Jocelyn leaped the four-foot gap with the grace of a gazelle. Hector made the hatch as well, with a leap that made both the boat and the aircraft bob. Anna stood on the deck opposite the door, looking back at Lynch, waiting.
"I'm coming," he said. "What are you waiting for?"
"Then come. Age before beauty."
As soon as the power to the engines was cut, the two vessels began to drift apart. Lynch scrambled over the windshield and rushed across the deck towards the plane's door. He leaped, and just caught the lower lip of the doorway. He scrambled aboard with his pants wet to the knees.
"Step back." Anna stood on the boat's deck looking across a dozen feet of water to the plane's door. The two craft rose and fell unevenly in the swell, and the plane rocked side-to-side as well, making gauging the jump a further challenge. She backed up, sprinted across the width of the deck, and leaped with the force of a catapult, sending the bow reeling away, and arcing above the plane on her way to her target. The spectators in the doorway barely had time to draw back before she tumbled through, fetching up against the opposite wall. "Whew."
"I'll be amazed about that later," the pilot said. "Jack, you come forward. Kids, buckle in." He moved to the pilot's compartment. "We're gonna have company real soon here."
Hector eyed the dent in the cabin wall opposite the doorway as he squeezed into a seat and searched for a belt. "So, you're one of us, huh?"
Anna smiled as she selected her own seat.
Jocelyn settled in next to her boy. "He saved you too?"
Anna nodded, watching Lynch step into the flight deck and turn to the right-hand seat. "He did."
"And now you're his trusty sidekick. And his girlfriend."
"I'm anything he wants me to be."
Jocelyn eyed the scarred-up man three times her age buckling into the copilot's seat. "That's a lotta gratitude."
The little blonde smiled. "You think so? Then I stated myself poorly." She gazed on the man in the right-hand seat with shiny eyes. "I'm everything to him that he'll let me be."
The girl nodded, understanding, and leaned against her man.
In the flight compartment, the plane's owner said, "Good to see you again, Jack. It's been, what, fifteen years? The call yesterday was a real pleasant surprise."
"And then I call you the next day for a huge favor." Lynch donned a headset. "You know this will cost you your certification, Cookie."
The man flipped a few switches, and the engines chattered to roaring life. "They been gonna put me outta business for years, Jack. They just needed an excuse. Might as well give em a good one, eh?"
"You might be throwing away your license, too."
The aircraft rose and dipped like a rocking horse as it gathered speed. "You threw away your commission to nail the sumbitch was giving our 'secret' landing sites to the VC. You probably saved my life." The plane's travel became straighter as the wings bit air, but the ride grew hard and jostling as it plowed over the waves. "Then, a few years later, you got me that gig with the Company. The money from that job got my airline started." The ride abruptly smoothed out as the craft became airborne.
"You earned every penny, considering what would've happened to you if we'd gotten caught. And it was your hot piloting saved all our necks at least twice."
Cook smiled out the windshield. "We can keep trying to balance the books all the way to Maine, if you want. Grumpy here has about two thousand miles range with this load. Where to?"
"Fort Lauderdale Exec."
The man grimaced. Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport was just fifteen minutes away. "You sure?"
"I'm sure. I have another plane waiting. I just needed to lead our pursuit somewhere it would be easy to break contact. No offense, Cookie, but the sooner we're out of this flying monument to nostalgia the better."
"Now, this is what I'd call a perfect vacation." At ease in a lounge chair on the beach facing the water, Sam put his lips to the straw of his drink and noisily pulled up the last swallow. He held up his glass, and a white-jacketed attendant came bustling up. "Would you say?"
"Just about," Fiona said beside him, staring out to sea in her own chair and looking rather less content.
Michael, in the third chair, hid his smile behind his drink. "Sam, where's Janelle?"
"Snorkeling." Sam took a fresh glass from the attendant. "She'll be back in time for dinner, I'm sure."
Fi lifted a knee. "Things all fixed up between you two?"
Sam took a sip, smiling. "Oh, yeah. Once she saw that Gulfstream on the pavement with its door open, her heart melted like a sugar cube in a glass of rum."
"Why didn't you go snorkeling with her, then?"
"Because I've already spent more time underwater than most fish," he replied. "Hey. Mikey. Maybe we can rent a boat tomorrow and go fishing."
Without looking at him, Fi reached over and squeezed Michael's thigh, hard.
"I'll take a pass." Michael turned slightly towards his girlfriend. "Fi. When you put Lynch in your sights. You weren't really thinking of shooting him, were you?"
"Not very hard," she said. "I was just trying to make a point."
"That point being?"
"That a man's never so tough and clever he can't be taken down." She shifted again. "But, you know, I'm not so sure I proved it."
"I was watching his face through the scope, looking for… well, I was hoping for a moment of panic, but I'd have settled for surprise. I've seen a man spotting a sighting dot on his chest react in a lot of ways, everything from disbelief to wet-your-pants. I've never seen a man look peeved before. And I wouldn't believe one could look… menacing. This is going to sound crazy, but he seemed to look me straight in the eye, right through the scope from a hundred yards away, and the expression on his face…. Almost daring me to pull the trigger. As if he was sure the bullet would never touch him. If I'd really been trying to shoot him, I think it might have spoiled my aim. I don't know which side he's on, but I'd rather not work with him again, Michael."
"Still think he's the Devil?" Michael Westen's voice came clearly through the speaker of the PDA sitting on Ferris Mars's desk. All around her, agents were packing up gear. Ferris glanced over the desk at Curtis, seated on the opposite side.
"I don't know what to think," Fiona Glenanne replied. "I only know what I feel, and my instincts tell me to stay well clear of a man who thinks he's pals with Death."
"Perceptive girl," Curtis said, rubbing the bridge of his nose tiredly. "Whose cellphone are we jacking?"
"Presently? The partner with the absent girlfriend," Ferris answered. "According to the phone's GPS, they're at a resort on a private island off the coast of Honduras. Every room is five grand a night." They listened a few minutes more while the three sunbathers discussed dinner plans at a fancy restaurant nearby. Then Ferris shut off the PDA and turned to the screen on her laptop. "Lynch is a monster, but he does pay well."
"Nothing new on the plane?"
Ferris locked down her computer and shut it. "The usual. The boat plane put down at a corporate field west of Fort Lauderdale, where they boarded an executive jet, a late-model Gulfstream."
He nodded. "Which gives them a range of up to seven thousand miles."
"The tail number recorded on the ground maintenance logs doesn't match any aircraft that filed a flight plan in or out of the field, and in fact belongs to a Gulf presently hangared in Chicago for its thousand-hour overhaul. Six similar aircraft they might have been on left within an hour of their arrival, with flight plans ending at six different airports from Heathrow to LAX. We met them all on the ground, of course. None of them had our runaways aboard. But I doubt all six of the planes that landed were the ones that took off from Fort Lauderdale."
"Anything on the backtrack?" In addition to the visual record of their subjects' movements unearthed by the patchwork of camera footage, the Shop's intelligence-gathering unit had provided Ferris's team with Westen & Company's cellphone data. Sam Axe's data dump had been particularly detailed, yielding a record of his contacts and whereabouts years long.
She disconnected the laptop's power cord and wound it up. "As usual, too much to process properly on the fly. Nothing jumped out, so I turned it over to Central. We've already got recordings of all their phone conversations since before Lynch hired them. Every keystroke on their computers, too. This guy Axe is a bulldog for research."
"Did he learn anything?"
Ferris produced a hard metal case and put the laptop in it, zipped it shut, and pushed it to the center of the desk. Curtis pulled it to him, and attached the handle to his wrist with a chain. She said, "About the Shop? Hell, no. He saw through Lynch's cover story, no small feat, but IO's never going to be exposed by somebody who's just curious."
"What about that geek friend of his?"
"He dug for awhile without finding anything, then it looks like he got bored and moved on to something else. Doesn't mean he won't come back to it, though. The way he works is interesting. Looks disorganized as hell, but he gets results. Very intuitive."
"I wonder about his chances, then."
"Zero," Ferris said firmly. "He's doing most of his research on the Web, after all, and we own it." She considered. "Still."
"Thinking of doing something about him, Ferris?"
"Half a dozen possibilities come to mind. Some of them allow him to keep his life and freedom. The simplest would be to recruit him, of course. Or just arrange for a prescription error." She shrugged her head. "I'd say watch him but leave him alone, till he gives us a reason not to. The same for the others."
"You're giving Westen a pass?"
"You heard the phone conversations. Lynch was very careful not to tell him anything important, especially about the Project. We've searched their homes and cars and rental spaces for leads. The phone numbers he had for the Lynch Mob are disconnected already. Westen has nothing."
"He's still a loose end. Why the charity?"
"It's not charity, exactly." Ferris stretched out a leg and put her twined fingers behind her head. "Another group has plans for him, people who've been useful to us in the past. Think of it as professional courtesy." She lifted her eyebrows. "If we change our minds, we'll know where to find him, after all."