Blood Victory

Page 46

“She’s not going to fucking run,” he says with trembling defiance.

And why not? she thinks. Is it because this place, this ranch, is her actual home?

She keeps this to herself.

“What’s she going to do, load her guns and prepare for battle? Well, I’m just fine with that. I mean, look at me, Cyrus. Do I seem like the type of woman who needs a gun to solve problems?”

I won’t be for another hour or two, at least, she thinks, hoping Mattingly can’t detect this nagging worry in her expression. But he’s wide-eyed and gasping, as if every few minutes he needs to remind himself of the fact that she really does exist and can really do impossible things.

She could waste all night trying to get Mother’s name and address out of this psycho, but they’re not just racing against whatever Mother’s clock is.

They’re racing against the response team Cole’s business partners have probably insisted Cole send after them, most likely with orders to put an immediate stop to her defiance. And since Cole’s playing both sides of the field, no doubt he had no choice but to send one. She’d love to know who the teams answer to, but up until now, that question seemed above her pay grade. In the past, before he involved new business partners, Cole’s commanded all the small armies of fence-hopping, shadow-crawling mercenaries she’s worked with. If that’s still the case, then it doesn’t seem foolish to hope he hasn’t ordered them to stop her in her tracks. Just to make sure she doesn’t vanish into thin air once the operation is through.

In essence, she’s trying to avoid two potential nightmares.

One, allowing Mattingly to give his beloved Mother a warning that would allow her to slip off into the vast Texas night with two innocent women in trucks just like this. And two, sharing Mother’s name and location with Cole’s business partners, who’ve made it clear they’re far more invested in stopping Charlotte from reaching her destination than saving the women being held captive there. If Bailey, and possibly Cole, had really managed to keep Amarillo a secret from the partners, she and Luke would lose their only real advantage over the response team if they gave away that information now.

She’s got a compromise that will allow her and Luke to get back on the road and figure out Mother’s location when the time’s right.

“Tell you what,” she says. “You can call your momma when we get to Amarillo.”

“Liar,” he says, but there’s childlike hope in his desperate tone.

“I guess we’ll have to see when we get there.”

She bangs lightly on the cargo area door so Luke can push it open for her.

This time she doesn’t jump from the truck. She sinks to a seated position, drops one leg to the dirt and then the other. There are no searchlights filling the night sky. If Cole’s been pressured into sending an airborne battalion in pursuit, it’s not on their tail yet. They left the SUV, along with the vials of her blood, in the field where Mattingly first pulled off the highway. It broke Luke’s heart to say goodbye to his favorite car, but between all of its top-secret technology, as well as the paradrenaline-filled vials resting on the front seat, they figured the response team would either stop to collect it first or divert some of its members for the effort. In either scenario, maybe it would buy them a little more time. The skies are empty save for stars and wisps of high-altitude clouds. And she figures the cars whizzing by on the highway are bound for ordinary homes where ordinary people live, most of whom go to bed each night believing monsters like her captive don’t exist outside fiction.

Her eyes focus on the stopwatch dangling around Luke’s neck, counting down what remains of her trigger window. He probably forgot he’s wearing it outside of his shirt, a sign that he’s been nervously checking it every few minutes.

“How’d it go?” she asks Luke.

“Not good. They said they’d get back to me. I tried to make it sound like I had more facts than I did, but if I just started spewing the crazy shit he told us, I’d tip them off that I was fishing.”

Up until a year ago, Luke had worked as a deputy for the sheriff’s department in Altamira, California, so they’d decided to let him pretend like he was back in his old job so he could call the Amarillo Police Department.

“They had no idea who you were talking about?” she asks.

“I said we were trying to close a cold case in the area that might be connected to the Plains Rapist who’d worked in the Texas Panhandle in the late sixties. I said we had someone in custody who was bragging about all the bad shit he’d done with the guy back in the day, but we thought it might be lies and so we wanted to see if the daughter could confirm some of her dad’s movements during that period so we could see if our guy was bullshitting. I even tried to throw in the fact that the daughter might want to talk to us because maybe our guy was responsible for some of what her father went down for.”

“It didn’t work?”

“He had no idea what I was talking about, wanted to know why I was calling so late, and was starting to get curious about why I didn’t have more names. I even threw in the part about the woman’s mother getting killed in a tornado, and that’s when Deputy Dawg started acting like I was on meth. I tried, Charley. I’m sorry.”

“Doesn’t matter. Let’s get going.”

They’re wasting time, but she’s not surprised Luke isn’t rushing to get behind the wheel of the truck again. Given the type of cameras Cole’s men planted on the truck, any audio-only recording devices are probably damn near invisible to the naked eye. Trying to debug the truck’s cab could take all night. Once they’re inside again, it’ll have to be radio silence between them or any information they discuss might get transmitted back to Kansas Command.

“Charley, we don’t know where we’re going,” Luke says.

“We’re going to Amarillo. It’s where your brother told us to go.”

“Yeah, but after that. I mean . . .”

“What?” she asks.

“We could always just start breaking his bones.”

“You drive, I torture?”

Luke nods, then goes silent as he considers the idea. Terrifying Mattingly into revealing his twisted origin story was one thing. Extracting information from him through pure pain is another.

“If it comes to that . . .” But even she sounds unsure.

“If it comes to that,” Luke says, as if trying to encourage her.

But he sounds pretty damn unsure, too.

As Luke starts the truck’s engine, she watches Mattingly on the same little flat-screen monitor he used to watch her. It should be gratifying, but it isn’t. Not with two other women hell bound somewhere on these vast plains, not with the filthy residue of Mattingly’s twisted tale still clinging to her skin.


Lebanon, Kansas

Charley and Luke haven’t said more than a few words for a while now, and the audio feed from the Black Hawk trying to catch up with them is a bore, so Cole removes his earpiece, stretches his neck from one side to the other. Tries for a deep breath that ends up sounding like a growl.

Are there yoga poses recommended for someone whose business venture is coming apart? He should really look that up before they do this again.

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