Home > Four Live Rounds(5)

Four Live Rounds(5)
Blake Crouch

“What’s this?”

Kalyn scooted her chair beside his, laid down a photograph of a woman smiling, with ski slopes in the background. Reflective sunglasses. Enormous down jacket.

“Suzanne Tyrpak. Disappeared in July of 2000 between Gallup and Albuquerque.” She dropped another photograph on the table. “Jill Dillon.” She pointed to an X on the southern border of Arizona. “Disappeared in August 2001, outside of Nogales.” Another photograph. Will’s wife stared at him. Beautiful, devious Rachael smile. He remembered taking the picture on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. “Rachael Innis. Disappeared in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, July 2002. Here’s the last one.” She laid a photograph carefully beside Rachael’s picture. “Lucy Dahl. Disappeared August 2004 on the interstate between El Paso and Tucson.”

A strange silence settled in the house. Chimes clanging in discordance on the front porch. Will feeling like it wasn’t just Kalyn and him in the kitchen. Ghosts present. He glanced down at the photographs, lined up side by side, and a chill pushed through him.

“Oh my God,” he said.

“You noticed.”

“These women could be sisters.”

“I know. The dark eyes. Curly black hair.”

“Is that a coincidence?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll show you what isn’t.” Kalyn took four more photographs from the folder, spread them out. A Lexus. Honda Civic. Ford Explorer. Rachael’s Jeep Cherokee. In each photograph, the driver’s side window was busted out. “You can’t see it here, but the right front tire on all of these cars was punctured.”

“So this is like a, um—”

“An MO. Yes.”

“Were any of these women ever found?”

Kalyn shook her head. “Your water’s boiling.”

Will got up from the table and took two mugs from the cabinet.

“I have peppermint, green tea, and Earl Grey.”

“Peppermint, please.” Will dropped the tea bags into the mugs, and as he poured the boiling water slowly over them, Kalyn said, “I think I know who took these women.”

Will set the pot of water back on the stove, turned off the gas, his hands trembling now.

He stared at the floor and took deep breaths. “You think? Or you know?”

“I’m about eighty percent sure. Let me ask you something. You were a defense attorney. You somewhat familiar with how the cartels operate?”

“Sure.”

“Ever heard of the Alphas?”

Will carried the cups of tea over to the table and sat down. “No, what’s that?”

“There used to be an antidrug paratroop and intelligence battalion called the Special Air Mobile Force Group. These were Mexican soldiers, but they were trained at the School of the Americas. In 1991, a large contingent of this elite military force deserted and went into business with the drug traffickers. I guess the profit margins were too lucrative. Today, they’re known as the Alphas, a gang of high-paid mercenaries, primarily tasked with protecting loads of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana smuggled into America by the Gulf Cartel. No one knows how many there are, but estimates run from one hundred to two hundred members. They’re superbly trained, and they operate more like commandos than your run-of-the-mill cartel thugs. They’re fiercely loyal. Their handiwork is obvious. State-of-the-art weapons. Military-style cover and concealment tactics. And they’re brutal. Currently offering fifty-thousand-dollar bounties for the assassination of U.S. law-enforcement officers.

“Now I have contacts and informants in every border town in the Southwest, and I’ve learned that a handful of the Alphas dabble in human trafficking. Let me tell you, information about them is damn near impossible to come by. My informant in Nogales wouldn’t even say this one guy’s name out loud. He insisted on writing it on a piece of paper. And he wouldn’t have done that, but he’s a tweaker. I bought this name for two grand.”

“What name?”

“Javier Estrada. You know it?” Will shook his head. “You sure? You never represented this guy or—”

“No. You have a photo?”

She shook her head.

“And what makes you think these Alphas are involved?”

“Couple of things.” Kalyn sipped her tea. “First off, there was something about the crime scenes that always bothered me. No blood, and aside from the bashed windows, no sign of rape or violence. And it seemed to have been done very professionally. Plus, the bodies never turned up. That always bugged me. If these women were just killed and dumped, wouldn’t you think that at least one body might have surfaced by now? Serial killers tend to want their victims discovered, but these women literally vanished.”

Will leaned back in his chair, blew ripples across the surface of his green tea.

“What makes you so certain it’s this guy? Javier.” He didn’t like the way the name felt as it rolled off his tongue.

“My informant used to be a mule for the Gulf Cartel. He worked with Mr. Estrada on several assignments. Said that once, over a bottle of mescal, Javier told him about snatching a woman on I-40, between Gallup and Albuquerque.”

“Suzanne Tyrpak.”

“Yeah.”

“So why hasn’t he been arrested?”

“It’s a bit more complicated than it sounds.”

Will sipped his tea. “You need something from me,” he said.

Kalyn nodded. “You’ve said you don’t recognize his name, and I believe you. But maybe if you saw him, something would click. I need you to come to Phoenix with me and ID him when we pick him up.”

“What about the outstanding charges against me?” Will asked.

“I’m working on it. Officially, we aren’t having this discussion, and I never came here.”

“Why is that?”

“Not everyone in the Phoenix Field Office is so gung ho to devote money and manpower to these murders. There’s more pressing business, and since this isn’t directly drug-related, it’s a second-tier priority.”

“Have you contacted the other women’s families?”

“Tyrpak’s husband killed himself three years ago. Dillon’s husband won’t talk to me. He’s got a new wife, new baby, wants nothing to do with the past.”

“I can understand that.”

Kalyn gathered up the photographs and the map and shoved them into the manila folder, dropped it all in her briefcase. She stood up.

“So when would this happen?” Will asked.

“I was kind of hoping we could go in the morning.”

“Tomorrow? That’s sooner than—”

“You’re still a fugitive. What’s to say you won’t disappear tonight when I leave?”

“I thought you believed me.”

“I do. Not sure I’m ready to put my career on the line for it, though. Besides, would you rather sit around waiting, anticipating?”

“I’d have to bring my daughter.”

“Fine.”

“That truck out there is all I’ve got, and it won’t make the trip to Phoenix and back.”

“You can ride down with me. I’m staying at the Mesa Verde Inn. I’ll come by at seven to pick you up.”

Will stood. “We’ll be here.”

Kalyn lifted her briefcase, reached out, and this time, Will took her hand.

“You’re still tortured,” she said.

“Yeah.”

“Comb the Internet for news items about her every day, don’t you? Anonymous calls to police stations across the Southwest to see if any bodies have turned up?”

“I just need to know what happened to her, and how it happened. It kills me not knowing where her body is. It’s stupid, I know. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. You know what I mean?”

Something in Kalyn’s eyes told him that she did.

“It was good to meet you, William Innis.”

“Will.”

He walked her out to the car.

When she was gone, he stood in the driveway in the dark, breathing in the cold chill of the autumn night.

Then he crawled under the truck to finish changing the oil.

FOURTEEN

Will knocked on the door.

His daughter yelled, “What?” and he walked in, saw her sprawled on her back on the bed, staring at him upside down, the cordless phone held to her chest. “What?” she whispered.

“I need to talk to you. Now.”

“About that woman?” she mouthed.

He nodded.

She brought the phone back to her ear, said, “Christie, I gotta go. Okay. Okay. You tell me what he says. Bye, sweetie.”

Will pulled the chair out from the desk and sat down.

“Who was that woman?” she asked.

“Her name’s Kalyn Sharp, and she’s an FBI agent.”

His daughter sat up quickly. “Are they taking you, Dad?”

“No, honey, no. She believes me.”

“It’s about Mom.”

“She thinks she knows who killed her.”

She took a sharp intake of breath. “Who?”

“This man . . . look, that’s not important. She thinks maybe I’ve seen him before, back when we lived in Ajo. She wants me to try to ID him. So we’re all going down to Phoenix first thing in the morning. We’ll ride with Ms. Sharp. Honey, it’s okay.”

His daughter turned over and wept into her pillow. Will climbed in bed with her. He pulled her into his lap, ran his fingers through her hair.

After awhile, she rolled over and wiped her eyes, her face red, tear-streaked.

“This FBI woman really believes you didn’t hurt Mom?”

“Yeah,” Will said. “She knows I didn’t.”

She sniffled, wiped her nose.

“I want to ask you something,” Will said, “and you can tell me the honest truth. I won’t be mad, no matter what you say.”

“What?”

“Did you . . . do you ever wonder if I had something to do with what happened to Mom?”

His daughter stared at the poster on the ceiling, at the two lava lamps glowing on her desk, at the piles of clothing scattered across the floor. She pried off the black curls that had stuck to the tears on her face and finally looked her father in the eye.

“It would be a lie if I said I never wondered.”

He nodded, shoved back the emotion those words had detonated inside of him. What hurt him more than anything was the fear he knew his daughter must have lived with, wondering if he was this monster, responsible for her mother’s death.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I understand.”

“I only mean that sometimes I wonder. Not that I think you did it. And I haven’t wondered in a long time.”

“Baby girl,” he said, “look in my eyes.” They’d sheeted over with tears. “I’m not sure if I ever said this to you, but I’m going to say it now. I did not kill your mother. My wife.”

“I know, Dad.”

“I loved her. And if I thought for a second there was anything I could do to get her back, I would.”

“I believe you.”

They embraced. As they pulled away, she said, “Is there a chance Mom’s still alive?”

“I don’t think so, sweetheart.”

“But anything’s possible, right?”

“It’s been five years. I don’t want you walking around with your hopes up, okay?”

The phone rang. She grabbed it, glanced at the caller ID. “I have to take this, Dad.”

Will chuckled at that. “I love you, Devlin,” he said.

“Dad,” she whispered, “you just said my old name.”

“I know. It’s okay now.” Will got up and walked out of the room, shut the door softly behind him as Devlin said, “Hey, Lisa, what up, girl?”

He walked through the old farmhouse, closing windows. There would be a heavy frost in the morning.

Just the possibility of closure, of returning to some semblance of his old life, thrilled him. He hadn’t seen his parents, his sister, or any of his friends since he and Devlin had fled Arizona, and the pain their disappearance must have caused was always with him. Every day, he’d check friends’ blogs, Facebook and MySpace pages, Google his and Devlin’s name to see if people still searched for them. If they were still mentioned. Still thought of. Still remembered and missed.

And he desperately missed his work, his real work—practicing law. He missed being in a courtroom, missed picking a jury during voir dire and the nerves of verdict day.

Though he knew it wouldn’t return Rachael to him, he still wanted all the vestiges of his old life back. Perhaps going down to Phoenix with Kalyn would be a step in that direction.

He sat at the kitchen table, sipping his cold green tea, couldn’t stop thinking, Tomorrow, you face the man who killed Rachael. He was nervous, but more than anything, just anxious to put it all behind him. Figured he and Devlin were due a little peace.

Jav

FIFTEEN

At 2:30 P.M., after a seven-hour drive down from the high country of southwest Colorado, Kalyn pulled her Buick Regal beside an overflowing Dumpster and turned off the engine. They all stepped out into the potent October heat, crossed the parking lot, and stopped at the cluster of mailboxes so Kalyn could collect her mail.

Four cinder-block buildings boxed in the dirt courtyard where Devlin stood, each containing eight apartments, four on top, four below.

A rusted swing set had collapsed nearby. One roller skate and a deflated soccer ball sat in a sandless sandbox. Between the constant drone of air conditioners and the roar of the nearby interstate, peace and quiet did not appear to thrive here.

They approached the north building and entered the stairwell.

A jet airliner thundered overhead on its descent toward Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Their footfalls clanged up fourteen metal steps and they emerged onto the open second-floor walkway, where Kalyn stopped at the third door. Apparently, the brass lettering had fallen off or been stolen, because the number 22 was scrawled above the peephole in red Magic Marker.

She unlocked the dead bolt and led them in. Even from the foyer, Devlin could tell it wasn’t much of a home. Small living room. Smaller kitchen. White walls in desperate need of several coats of paint. Cramped hallway leading back to the single bedroom.

It must have been over ninety degrees inside.

“Sorry about the heat,” she said. “My AC went out two weeks ago, and I just haven’t been around to replace it.” Sheaves of paper had been spread across the coffee table, the sofa, in numerous piles on the floor. Devlin counted three bulletin boards in the living room alone. One had been covered with what appeared to be crime-scene photos. Another displayed the organization of the Gulf Cartel, with maps of various corridors of the United States, certain highways and interstates highlighted.

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