Blood Victory

Page 45

“I’m sorry, did you say Sheryl?”

“That’s correct, ma’am. Sheryl Peterson. She gave me this number.”

Peterson. Good. Everything’s going well on his end.

“Well, that’s odd. Could you read me the number, because there’s no Sheryl here?”


She grabs a pen that’s sitting by the phone and writes it down. As with Wally a little while earlier, the first three and last two numbers are the same as hers—the middle five are the seedling’s height and weight. This one’s 5ʹ9ʺ and 180 pounds.

“Sorry, son, but sounds like Sheryl gave you the wrong number.”

“Ah, well. Thanks for your patience, ma’am.”

“Sure thing. ’Night, now.”

She hangs up. The call with Jonah has restored her some, even if the boy did sound as exhausted as she currently feels.


Highway 287, near Harrold, Texas

Charlotte should be long past the point of being amazed by the technology available to Cole Graydon and his business partners, but by the time she discovers the third camera hidden inside the cargo area of Mattingly’s truck, she can’t help but shake her head and exhale in a long, slow hiss.

It’s not a camera so much as a patch of translucent gel-like material. The tiny swirl of milk-colored wiring inside only became visible when she pressed the lens of Luke’s halogen flashlight almost flush with the metal wall and began moving the beam in slow sweeps over it. There’s no lens she can see, so it’s probably less of a camera and more of a motion detector that uses vibrations to send some sort of digital image back to Kansas Command.

However it works, it doesn’t belong here and sure as hell isn’t Cyrus Mattingly’s.

Instead of trying to peel it from the wall, she punches it, leaving a fist-size crater in the wall.

Bound to the gurney, Mattingly yelps and sucks snot through his nose.

If she’s already enraged Cole’s business partners by defying their order to stand down, no doubt they’re currently screaming bloody murder over her casual destruction of another several million dollars’ worth of their secret technology.

As if he’s an obstacle on par with an ottoman in a crowded living room, she pushes Mattingly’s gurney to one wall, then starts raking the ceiling of the cargo compartment with the flashlight’s beam. She spots another faint glimmer of tiny, nearly invisible wires that could easily be mistaken for a patch of lint and drags one of the crates over—the one he didn’t use on her; the one filled with spiders—so she can stand on it gently before punching through one, two, then three cameras adhered to the ceiling.

“You have to let me call,” he says meekly. “If I don’t call, she’ll . . .”

“She’ll what?”

“It’s a code. I’ll just give her a code and then—”

“Yeah, see, that’s just it, Cyrus. How do I know you’re going to give her the right code? You might warn her I’m coming, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone. Especially you.”

“Please . . .”

“Please what, Cyrus?”

“She’s my mother,” he wails with more despair than anger.

“But she’s not, though. Your real mother died when you were a baby, and you didn’t meet this lovely lady until you got sent to some reform school. Isn’t that what you just told us?”

Along with a lot of other seriously crazy shit, she thinks. Seriously crazy shit that was also devoid of full names, addresses, and locations.

She’s staring at him now, but after pouring his guts out in the form of the strangest, most laudatory tale of twisted familial bonding she’s ever heard, Cyrus Mattingly can’t bring himself to look directly at her. She doesn’t mind. What she minds is that he hasn’t been able to bring himself to provide the name and location of the woman he calls Mother, and her kill site.

Mattingly falls silent.

They need to get going. They were only supposed to pull over long enough to buy some burner phones, then get a little ways down the highway from anything that looked like civilization so Luke could make the phone call they’d discussed and she could interrogate Mattingly. Maybe Luke’s making the call now, but she can’t hear him outside. That’s a good thing, though. She doesn’t want Mattingly to hear Luke, either.

“Tell me more about your mother, Cyrus.”

“Let me call her and I will.”

A phone number, she thinks. Without internet access, they can’t use just a phone number to pinpoint Mother’s location. The road between here and Amarillo isn’t exactly lined with cybercafés, and their own devices are all being monitored by the same business partners who somehow frightened Cole into sending coded messages.

“When I can see your mother, literally, like with my own two eyes, then you can talk to her. How’s that?”

“If I tell you where she is, you’ll kill me.”

“I won’t.”


“I’m not like you, Cyrus.”

“That’s for fucking sure,” he barks, then cackles like a mad dog. “If I could do what you could do, I’d . . .” He seems to remember himself suddenly, but it’s too late to stop her from bending down over him and resting a hand atop a chest she could crush with a gentle press.

“You’d do what?” She didn’t mean to growl, but that’s how it came out. “Rescue kids from a burning building? Or break some poor woman’s legs so she couldn’t get away from you?”

What’s worse, she wonders, the malevolent sanctimony of the speeches he gave her when he first tied her up or his pathetic tears of defeat now? Maybe he’s nothing without his mother’s love. Which gives her an idea.

“What do you want?” he wails.

“I want the other two women your mother’s holding captive in that factory.”

“It’s not a factory. It’s a ra . . .”

Too late, Mattingly realizes he fell victim to a classic trick, instinctively correcting wrong information and revealing something in the process.

A ranch, she thinks. It’s not a factory, it’s a ranch. Charlotte makes a point to list all the additional easy-to-overlook facts this information reveals. Ranches are isolated. Ranches often have several structures on the property, barns or otherwise. Earlier, Mattingly bawled up a storm at the mention of Amarillo, which as good as confirmed that Luke interpreted Bailey’s coded message correctly. So they’re looking for an isolated property on the outskirts of Amarillo where no one would bat an eye at the late-night arrival of three large box trucks, and there’s no one close by to hear the screams that would result from the gruesome rituals Mattingly described to them as if he were recounting the baptisms of the saints.

It doesn’t narrow things down as much as she’d like. Amarillo’s surrounded by a lot of vast, open country.

Still, her idea might just work. And more importantly, it might get them back on the road again.

Mattingly sucks snot back from his nostrils, clears his throat with a few coughs, and says, “If I don’t call her, that’s as good as warning her.”

“Not really. Just means you ran into trouble somewhere on the road. But if I run the risk of letting you tip her off, then she knows she’s in trouble, not just you, and she might kill those women and run.”

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