Home > Four Live Rounds(8)

Four Live Rounds(8)
Blake Crouch

It was the weirdest silence Will had been a party to—no radio or talking, just three strangers in a car, driving through Scottsdale, Arizona. Javier stared straight ahead. Will watched him out of the corner of his eye at the stoplights, the man at ease, collected.

As they neared the interstate, Kalyn said, “Take Highway Sixty east.”

Javier spoke for the first time since getting into the car, “Ah, the Superstitions. Am I right?” No one answered. “I’ve done business out there. That was an excellent takedown, by the way. Creative. Outside of the box. And the accent. Beautiful. You realize my mistake. I very nearly averted this entire situation. I keep a forty-five Smith & Wesson under my seat, and I actually started to reach for it before getting out of the car. Out of habit, you see. But I didn’t. Had I”—he caught Kalyn’s eyes in the rearview mirror—“you would be dead.” He looked at Will. “And so would you.”

They sped east, the sun sinking fast into the horizon, molten in the mirrors, on the glass and chrome of passing cars, the mountains in the distance getting bigger, vivid and deeply textured in the fading light.

“I have a question for you,” Kalyn said. “Did that situation back there ring any bells?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, I almost brought along a bat, or a crowbar . . . something to bust out your driver’s side window. Maybe, if I’d done that, you would have realized what was happening.”

Javier shook his head. “I’m sorry. I don’t see your point.”

“No worries. You will.”

The sun was just a flaming sliver in the west as Will drove past the ranger station into Lost Dutchman State Park.

Kalyn told him to park at the first picnic area.

It was late. Only two other cars. Both empty. No hikers in sight. Beyond lay miles of darkening desert and, farther back, the Superstitions, the summits catching light, the bases cloaked in mist.

Will turned off the engine.

Total silence, save for the wind. The car rocked imperceptibly.

“So,” Kalyn said, “have you figured it out yet?”

Javier smiled. “Do not flatter yourself to think you are the only ones who would like to be in this position with me. I have plenty of enemies. But friends also. And it is my friends, my brothers, the threat of them, that make my enemies wise to keep a respectful distance. In short, I am not fu**ed with. This is unheard of. You are not law enforcement,” Javier said, “though perhaps once you were. Will here is shitting himself. You’re trying, so far, to be impersonal, but I sense the rage in you. At me. I don’t know why. You will tell me?”

Kalyn reached into the front seat and dropped four photos in Javier’s lap.

“Line them up, Will, so he can see.”

Will arranged the photographs, two on each leg. Suzanne Tyrpak. Jill Dillon. Rachael Innis. Lucy Dahl. Javier looked down at them. Looked up. Shrugged. Kalyn pulled out her cell, flipped it open. Will saw her pressing buttons. She handed the cell to him, said, “Show him.” On the miniature screen was a digital picture of Misty and Raphael in the back of the Buick. Will hesitated. “Show him.” He held the cell to Javier’s face. Javier registered the image, then looked out the side window toward a distant forest of saguaros.

“You two,” Javier said, his voice low, deliberately measured, “may be the bravest people I have ever met.”

“Why don’t you look at the photos in your lap again,” Kalyn said.

“My family, they’re alive? Unharmed?”

“For now.”

Javier nodded. “I would like to speak to them.”

“Not possible.”

“Then I don’t think we have anything to talk about.”

Kalyn moved into the middle seat so she could see Javier’s face. “Look at me,” she said. “I’m going to tell you something, so you understand how serious we are. So you have no doubts of what we’re ready to do to you, Misty, and Raphael. Those photos on the right? That’s Rachael Innis, Will’s wife, and Lucy Dahl, my sister. So please believe me when I tell you that if you continue on this track, you and your family will have a very long, very bad night.”

“And if I were to provide the desired information?”

“They live. We aren’t like you, Javier.”

“And me? Either way, whether I tell you, whether I don’t, you will kill me, no?”

“You tell us what we want to know, and I leave you here, handcuffed to a picnic table. Maybe someone finds you tomorrow. Doesn’t matter. By then, we’ll be gone.”

“I don’t know that I believe you. If the tables were turned around the other way, I would get the information I needed, and then I would murder you.”

“What’d I just say? We aren’t like you.”

He looked out the window again, said finally, “I am afraid you won’t be pleased with my information, as I am only a small variable in the equation.”

“Just tell us what you know.”

As he spoke, he watched the color of the desert move through darkening shades of purple, noticed the mist slithering up the mountains. “It has been the same way every time. A man named Jonathan calls me and says, ‘They want another one.’ And so I begin looking. There are parameters of course. Caucasian. Big dark eyes. Black hair with abundant curls. Beautiful. They like my taste, I suppose. Perhaps I have a counterpart somewhere who specializes in blondes or redheads. When I find her, I follow her for several days. I learn about her. Patterns, habits. Then, when I feel it is time, I call Jonathan, and I tell him. When she’s in my possession, I call Jonathan once more. The time and place are set.”

“Where?”

“I think I will wait to tell you that. Suffice it to say that a journey of considerable distance is made. We meet. Jonathan is a large man, a truck driver. The woman is put into a trailer, and that is the last I ever see of her. Anywhere from five to ten days later, a deposit is made into one of my offshore accounts. A larger deposit each time. I require this. I do not speak to Jonathan again until he calls and says, ‘They want another one.’ ”

Kalyn wiped her eyes. She could barely form the words, and they came as a whisper. “How many women have you taken?”

“Five. It is not my typical line of work, but the money is good.”

“How did Jonathan find you?”

“Various channels. The first time we did business, he mentioned an important name. The right name. I took a chance.”

“Are there other people like you, people who Jonathan uses?”

“I have no idea. Ours is not a relationship of questions.”

Will said, “Look at me, Javier.” The man looked at him. Will reached down, lifted the photograph of his wife. “I want to hear about the night you took her.” He was trembling with fear, rage, sadness.

Javier looked at the photograph. “That was some time ago.”

“Five years. My daughter misses her mother.”

“I first saw her coming out of a clinic in Sonoyta. That’s all I remember. And that it was raining and the sky full of lightning on the night I took her.”

“How was she?”

“Afraid,” Javier said. “They all are. I try to calm them. They’re drugged for most of the trip, but not mistreated, if that’s what you’re asking. Not by me at least. You don’t pay what I am paid for damaged product.”

Will swung. There was a pop. Javier fell back into the door and spit out a tooth.

“Easy, Will,” Kalyn said.

Javier licked the blood from a cut on his bottom lip, smiling, his eyes shining, and for a moment Will was convinced the man was mad.

“Did that feel good?” he asked. “I imagine it did.”

“Is Jonathan the man who’s buying these women?” Kalyn asked.

“I would think not. Like me, he’s just a well-paid mule.”

“Then who? Where are they being taken?”

“Maybe to Mexico. Maybe they’re shipped on boats to other parts of the world. Thailand. Eastern Europe. I am a blind appendage in the operation, and intentionally so.”

Will looked at Kalyn, his right hand throbbing.

“Javier,” she said, “that was the wrong answer.” She opened the door, stepped out of the car, opened Javier’s door. “Get out.”

Javier didn’t move.

Will leaned over, pushed him out of the seat. Javier fell onto the pavement. Will got out, walked around the hood, finished dragging him the rest of the way out of the car.

Kalyn said to Will, “If you want to wait in the car, I’ll understand.”

“I’m with you now.”

“Then drag him onto the trail. I don’t want blood on the pavement.”

Will grabbed Javier under his armpits and lifted him. The man was heavy, solid muscle. Twenty feet took almost a minute. Will finally collapsed in the dirt, sweating, out of breath.

The sky was now a dark, rich navy, with just a shrinking bar of red in the west, the saguaros silhouetted against it. Will surveyed the parking lot, the road. The only lights, a collection of them, emanated from the park’s campground, a mile away.

Kalyn said, “Roll onto your back.” Javier rolled, looked up at her, the right side of his face swollen, his jaw broken. “What would you do if you were me?” she asked.

“We would be in a warehouse in Tempe. Acid would be involved. There is also this thing I do with a soldering iron and a powerful magnet.”

“I only have this gun.” She aimed it at his crotch.

“One moment,” he said, though his voice completely lacked fear. “If you do that, I will be in no shape to make the phone call.”

“What call?”

“As it so happens, I received word from Jonathan a month ago. I am still in the searching phase.”

“You haven’t found anyone?”

He shook his head.

“Sit him up, Will.” Will propped Javier against the toppled trunk of a dead saguaro. Kalyn took out Javier’s BlackBerry, turned it on, found the address book. “This him?” she asked. “Jonathan?”

“Yes.”

“What would you text him?”

“I wouldn’t. He lives behind a steering wheel. We speak.”

She squatted down beside him. “When he’s on the line, you tell him you already have a woman, and that you’re ready to meet.”

“In return?”

“You keep your penis a little while longer. Do this right, I leave you here. Maybe you see your family again.”

The Superstitions were now just a black wall in the backdrop.

“Here, hold it to his ear, hit ‘Talk’ when I say.” Kalyn handed the Black-Berry to Will and aimed the Glock between Javier’s legs. “Transparence is key, Javier. If you launch into Spanish, if you say things to Jonathan that don’t make sense, that sound suspect, I will pull the trigger. Clear?”

“Yes. You are handling this all very well.”

“Do it, Will.” Will pressed the button, held the BlackBerry to Javier’s ear. They waited; then came the static sound of the ring. On the third, someone answered—the voice husky and low over the speakerphone. Will could hear the voice on the other end, but he couldn’t make out the words.

“It’s Jav. I have someone. . . . No, I have them already. . . . They’re with me right now. . . . Yes, I can do that. . . . Okay. . . . No, that’s plenty of time. . . . All right, I’ll see you then.”

Javier nodded. Will broke the connection.

“That was it?” Kalyn asked.

“That was it. So. I tell you the information and you both walk away?”

“That was the deal,” Kalyn said.

“And my family stays unharmed?”

“In twelve hours, I call the police, tell them where they are.”

“The exchange is in two days,” Javier said.

“Where?”

“Interstate Eighty-four, exit fifty-six, twelve miles outside of Boise, Idaho.”

“What’s there?”

“An abandoned drive-in movie theater.”

“And you’re supposed to meet Jonathan there?”

“Monday night. Eleven o’clock.”

“What’s he look like?”

“Long red hair, bushy beard, weighs over three hundred pounds. Smells terrible.”

Something rustled a ways off in the underbrush.

“Look at me,” Kalyn said. “You’ve been responsible for the deaths of more than a few people. Am I right?”

“Yes.”

“Ever looked one of their loved ones in the eye? Accounted for what you’d done?”

“I don’t believe so. This situation has been unique in many ways.”

“I want to know if you feel remorse.”

“It is not personal what I do. I did not take your sister because I desired to do her harm.”

“No, you took her for money. But you did cause—”

“Let’s not pretend I am in any way like you. You ask about remorse. You would like me to say that I deeply regret harming your sister, his wife. I can say these things, but they would be untrue. I would know it. You would know it. My line of work does not allow for remorse. Tell me what you were. I’m guessing DEA.”

The whites of his eyes stood out in the growing darkness.

“FBI.”

“You’re very good, Kalyn. I would have enjoyed killing you.”

“How many of you are there?”

“How many what?”

“Alphas.”

He chuckled. “Not as many as people think. Some who believe they are Alphas are not.”

“How many?”

“Fifty-seven at the moment.”

“Any gringos in the bunch?”

“Just two.”

“Come with me, Will.”

He followed Kalyn back to the car, stars now visible.

“You believe him?” Will asked, leaning against the hood. It was the first time since arriving in Phoenix five hours ago that he wasn’t overwhelmed by heat.

“Yeah, actually. I’m going after Jonathan.”

“The trucker?”

“You be up for that?”

“I don’t know. What about Javier? You comfortable just leaving him here?”

“No.”

“Well, what’s the alternative? Take him with . . .” Will felt something tighten in the small of his back. “No. No way.”

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