Matchup, p.40
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       MatchUp, p.40
 

           Lee Child

  “I’ll call them on the phone.”

  “And blow a perfectly good excuse to go to Vegas?”

  “Nice try. I’m on my way in. Find out what you can about a guy named Virgil Flowers. Surfer-dude type who works for the MBCA.”

  “Already done. I figured you’d want background on the guy you were meeting.”

  “And?” Regan asked, spying a coffee kiosk and turning in.

  “He’s kind of a big deal. One of their best cops.”

  “Really,” she said. “Thanks.”

  She ordered two oatmeal cookies and a coffee, then zipped across traffic and ended up following the slowest pickup on record up Boxer Hill. So Virgil Flowers was a big deal in Minnesota, she thought heading up the hill.

  Who would have guessed.

  The truck in front of her lugged down even farther, and she considered flipping on the light bar to get him out of the way. Instead she called and checked on the baby, talked with her husband a few minutes, hung up and ate one of the cookies all the while following the lumbering truck.

  Finally, back at her desk, she picked at the second cookie and sipped at the coffee while she fired up her iPad and clicked onto Google maps. She found out that Las Vegas was fourteen to fifteen hours away, if driven straight through. Flowers and Johnson had seen the RV on the road almost twenty-four hours earlier. When she called the Luxury America, the manager of the RV rental company told her, “Got it back at eleven o’clock this morning. That was three days early, actually. Surprised me. But they paid an early-return penalty, no problem.”

  “Credit card?”

  “Let me look.” She heard clicking as he worked his own computer. “No. They paid cash, but they had to provide a credit card and government ID before they could take it out. Hold on a sec. Wait. You’re sure you’re a cop?”

  “I looked at my badge about three or four minutes ago, so I’m pretty sure.”

  “I’d give you the information, if I could see it, but I can’t see it.”

  She provided the guy her badge number and invited him to call the Pinewood County Sheriff’s Department. She’d just taken the final bite of her second cookie when her desk phone jangled and she answered it. Sure enough, Luxury America was calling, the manager having satisfied his need to verify that she was who she said she was.

  “Sorry about that. We have to be supercareful. These days with all of the hacking and identity theft and fraud.”

  “I get it,” she cut in. “Tell me what I want to know.”

  “The credit card you’re asking about was issued to Clark and Delores Foley of Riverdale, California.”

  “Was there another woman with them, named Cheryl?” She checked her notes. “In her fifties, dirty-blond spiked hair, under five five, a little on the heavy side. Sometimes wears half glasses?”

  “No other woman that I saw, but that sounds a lot like Delores.”

  She scribbled down the address and a contact number. “Did they have any kids with them?”

  “Yup. Good-looking kids, too. A boy and three girls. I think. Tweens or younger. I asked them if they were in the movies.”

  “What’d they say?”

  “Mmm, nothing. Their mom hustled them off to their car.”

  “Delores? A little old for kids that age, isn’t she?”

  “Could be their grandmother, I s’pose.”

  “You got a tag on the car?” she asked. “In your rental agreement somewhere.”

  “No, but the car was registered in California, I remember that much. It was an SUV, Japanese, I’m thinking.”

  “That’s pretty broad.”

  “Yeah, sorry. But let me tell you what I do have. When somebody comes in to rent an RV, we’ve got a video camera out of sight behind the desk. We don’t tell ’em we’re taking their picture, but we are. It goes back a month. We’ve got them on video.”

  Finally, a break.

  “Find that video. Somebody will come by to pick it up, either the Vegas cops or the FBI.”

  “You got it.”

  They talked for another minute, but the manager didn’t have much more. As soon as she hung up she rang the FBI, identified herself, got switched to the Violent Crimes Against Children program, identified herself again to the woman who answered the phone, got switched to an agent, identified herself a third time, and told him about the sequence of events.

  She hadn’t always had the best of luck with the feds, and wasn’t that crazy about them. But in this case the agent named David Burch said, “I’ll get on to the Vegas office and have them pick up the tape and get the manager to ID these guys. If we’ve got good head shots, we’ll run it through a facial ID program and see what pops up. Most of the time, nothing does, but if this is as high end and well organized as you’re making it sound, then maybe something will. These people sound like they’ve been doing it for a while.”

  “How long before I hear?”

  “Tomorrow morning, probably. We’ll push it hard. I hate these guys. Hate ’em,” Burch said.

  “Amen.” Her anger hardened at the thought of the kids trapped in whatever the hell scam it was. “So, David. Can I call you David?”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “And you can call me Regan or Pescoli. The ma’am thing makes me feel old. The thing is, I need to talk to you off the record.”

  “We’re off.”

  No hesitation.

  Deciding to trust him, she launched into her story and told him about Virgil and Johnson, and about Phillip Weeks. “I have a feeling that the Weeks kid may be running from whatever was going down. The sex, or porn, movies, pictures, whatever.”

  “Nothing good.”

  “You got that right. I’m going to try to corner him tonight and see what he knows. He’s also running from his old man, who could be in on it. I think the dad uses his son as a punching bag.”

  “Needs to be put in jail.”

  Agreed. “While I’m handling the kid, Flowers and Johnson are going up to snoop around the Drake place where they saw the RV. Anything in particular they should look for?”

  “If they were making movies or taking photos, we could use pictures of the inside of the studio, or whatever they’re using as a studio. We got a million miles of digitized film. What we’d be looking for is identifiable marks or structures inside the studio, like an identifiable window with a particular kind of latch. Anything like that. We can run a new image against the digitized film and it’ll kick out any exact matches. If we get a match, we’ll be all over them.”

  “I’ll tell Flowers. I don’t know exactly how reliable these two are.”

  “I started running Flowers as soon as you mentioned his name,” Burch said. “The DEA has been trying to recruit him for years. He’s been involved in some heavy stuff in Minnesota. There’s a note here that says he doesn’t much care for guns.”

  “That’s the guy,” she said.

  “Looks to me like you can lean on him,” Burch said.

  “Good to know,” Regan said.

  So Mr. Hang Ten was the real deal.

  “Something else. He’s a part-time writer, mostly for outdoors magazines, but he’s had stories in both the New York Times magazine and Vanity Fair. Play your cards right—”

  “I’ll keep it in mind,” she said dryly.

  She rotated the kinks from her neck and decided she had to head to Butte, which was about a hundred and fifty miles from Grizzly Falls. That meant over two hours by car. She didn’t look forward to the drive, but had to go for it. The case had taken a serious enough turn that even the feds were scrambling. She stopped by Alvarez’s office. Before her maternity leave she and Alvarez had been partners, but they hadn’t been reassigned together.

  Not yet, anyway.

  Alvarez, always thin and lithe, was doing some yoga pose over her desk, her jet black hair rolled into a tight bun and gleaming under the ever-humming fluorescent lights. The position looked painful and ridiculous, but Alvarez swore by it. Alvarez had always been Regan
s diametric opposite. Into health foods, green tea, worked out at a gym and, of course, yoga.

  “I’m stopping at home to see the kids and Santana for a sec, then heading for Butte. On the Daniel Cain case, the fisherman found shot in the river near the WJ Guest Ranch.”

  Alvarez nodded.

  “It’s gone from homicide to a much wider investigation. Got the feds involved. Zoller can bring you up to speed. Aside from what I’m doing we’ll need to look into who would benefit from Cain’s death. Insurance, wife involved in an affair, him involved in an affair, business problems, known enemies. The working theory was that he was killed by mistake, but I want to cover all my bases.”

  Alvarez rolled back her desk chair, rotated her neck, then her shoulders. “I’ll work with Zoller.”

  “If you find anything interesting, call my cell.”

  After stopping by the house, depositing the bag of breast milk into the refrigerator and spending half an hour feeding and cuddling the baby, she kissed her husband good-bye, assured him that she would be fine and that, though she missed her family terribly, she loved her job and would call them from the road.

  “We have to talk about this,” Santana said.

  He was taller than she by half a foot, a cowboy type who actually worked on a ranch and was tough as nails. His hair was black, his eyes dark above a hawkish nose, his smile, when he rained it on her, an irreverent slash of white.

  “We already did.”

  “Then we need to talk about it again. You’re exhausted, the baby needs you, the older kids, too. Hell, I need you.”

  “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

  “Make it sooner,” he said and kissed her on the lips, a long slow kiss that turned her inside out, just as it had the first time. She weakened, wanted to melt against him, wanted the feel of him inside her, but that would have to wait.

  “I’ll try,” she promised.

  Then she took off.

  On the way to Butte, she called Flowers and brought him up to speed as the miles rolled by. She told him what FBI agent Burch had said about getting photos of the inside of the studio.

  “That’s what we need. Pictures of the place. Something that will nail them, connect the RV or house or some landmark up there to pictures that have already been taken.”

  “We’ll go up there after dark,” Flowers said. “Give us a call later on, around midnight.”

  IN BUTTE, REGAN FOUND PHILLIP weeks sitting in the corner of a drunk tank, where the Butte cops had put him after picking him up at the bus station. A Butte detective named Charlie Tarley unlocked the door and pushed it open. Weeks, looking terrified, slowly rolled to his feet.

  Tarley, African American and looking as if he worked out regularly, said to him, “You got a visitor.”

  She stepped forward, into the kid’s range of vision, and held up her badge. “Detective Regan Pescoli. Pinewood County Sheriff’s Department.”

  Fear showed in Weeks’s eyes.

  He was tall, unnaturally thin, weathered in the way of street people, farmers, and lumberjacks. He bore a fading bruise below one eye.

  Tarley said in a calm voice, “C’mon out, Phillip. Detective Pescoli made a long drive to see you. We all need to chat.”

  “What’d I do?” Weeks asked.

  “You probably took six hundred dollars from a young girl at the WJ Ranch, but your old man paid it back, so that’s not it,” Regan said. “But I think you might know why you want to talk.”

  Weeks shoved both hands in his jeans pocket and stared at the floor a second, then looked up through the dark strands of the hair falling over his forehead. Pinning Regan with his suspicious gaze, he said, “He paid it back?”

  She nodded.

  Weeks shook his head. “Where’d he get the money? He was drinking and didn’t even have enough cash to buy a box of cereal. I know he didn’t have six hundred dollars.”

  “He gave it back. All of it. So you’re good on that score,” she said. “C’mon out of there.”

  Shuffling reluctantly Weeks followed Regan along a short hallway to an interview room, Tarley trailing behind, talking on a cell phone. The square, windowless room had a table and four chairs. Regan sat directly across from the boy with his downcast eyes, Tarley on her right.

  “I’m going to read you your rights,” Tarley said.

  “I didn’t do anything!”

  “Just listen,” she ordered. “Hear him out. This is all part of the deal.”

  Weeks sullenly let Tarley go through his spiel. When the detective finished, the room was silent apart from the rush of air through the vents. She peered at Weeks for a long intense moment and remembered when her own son had been held for questioning. She felt some empathy for this kid, whatever he was wrapped up in.

  “Tell me about Michael Drake, and what he’s doing up there in the woods.”

  Weeks’s Adam’s apple bobbed a couple of times. He brushed his long hair back from his eyes and shrugged. “He comes up and fishes.”

  “You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”

  A muscle worked in the boy’s jaw. He looked at Tarley and said, “My old man paid the money back. You heard that. Can I go now?”

  Tarley said, “If you burglarize a place, you don’t get a free pass for giving the money back. And then there’s the murder.”

  Weeks’s mouth dropped open. He blinked and stared at Regan again. “Who was murdered?”

  “A completely innocent fisherman from North Dakota,” she said. “We believe whoever did it shot the wrong guy. The man they were trying to shoot saw a nearly naked girl in that RV at Drake’s, and whoever was behind it decided they had to get rid of him.”

  Weeks stared at the table. “Oh, God. Shit.”

  “What do you know, Phillip? Who are those people?”

  He glanced wildly around the room, as if searching for a way out. “They’ll kill me, too. If I talk. They said it. That they’d kill me if they ever saw me talking to a cop.”

  Tears welled in his eyes.

  She said, “It’ll be hard for them to kill anyone, when they’re doing life without parole.”

  “You can’t keep me safe.”

  “I can.”

  He looked to Tarley who nodded his assessment.

  “Okay,” he finally said. “Okay.”

  A moment of silence passed.

  “What happened to them kids?” Weeks asked. “The girl that the guy saw. The one who was almost naked. What happened to her? Is she there? Is she okay? Are the other ones okay?” He was frantic now, both legs bouncing crazily under the table. “Carla and Al are mean people. Are the kids still up there?”

  “I thought the woman’s name was Cheryl,” she said. “Or maybe Delores.”

  “Not if they were in that RV. That was Carla and Al,” he said urgently.

  All his arguments about not talking seemed to have vanished.

  “Do Carla and Al have a last name?”

  “I think Al’s is Dickens or, no, Dicker. That’s it. I don’t know Carla’s. I never heard. I don’t know much about them.” He squeezed his eyes closed in concentration. “Except maybe they’re from Nevada. I think I heard that once, but I’m not sure.”

  “How often have you seen them at Drake’s?”

  “A bunch. They come up four, maybe five times a year, in the RV.”

  “And what do they do?”

  He looked at Regan as if she were slow on the uptake. “They make movies, ya know, and take pictures either in the cabin, Drake’s house, or out in the woods around there.”

  “You’ve seen them?”

  He nodded.

 
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