“Children having sex?”
“Sometimes, the older ones with Al, mostly, and with each other,” Weeks said, his voice going low.
“Were you ever involved in that?”
Weeks looked away, scared, maybe, shamed for sure. Then he nodded. “Not for a long time. Not for a couple of years. I got too old. Are you going to put me in prison?”
Her heart bled for the kid, for what he’d been through. Who knew where his mother was, or if she was alive or dead. The old man abused and beat him, then used him for profit, forcing him to pose and have sex.
“No, Phillip. What we’d like to do is to get a complete story from you. Everything you know about Michael Drake and Carla and Al, and then, someday, we’ll want you to talk about it in a courtroom,” she said. “But you won’t be going to prison. You’re a victim here.”
But the people who did this?
Hell wasn’t bad enough for them.
Tarley got sandwiches, chips, and soft drinks, and though there was an out-of-sight recorder covering the interview room, he’d also brought out a small digital recorder that Weeks could see. They talked for an hour, leading the kid through a basic statement. As Regan had expected, Weeks had left his home before Flowers, Johnson, and Katy Waller had been to Weeks’s father’s trailer and to Drake’s log cabin, so Phillip knew nothing about the events that led to the shooting of Cain. His father knew about the child porn but had nothing to do with its production.
“He doesn’t know anything about cameras or lights or any of that shit,” he said demolishing a ham and cheese, then washing it all down with a huge swallow of Dr Pepper. “He just took care of the property when Drake wasn’t there.”
His father had guns, Weeks said. Both rifles and handguns, and he was a hunter.
“It’s not a big deal though. Everybody up there’s got guns. Everybody hunts. That’s why you’re up there,” he said, then finished the final half of his sandwich and tore open a small bag of Doritos.
“So Drake has guns?” she asked.
“I never seen one. Maybe he’s the one guy around Grizzly Falls who doesn’t hunt. He fishes, though. And he runs the cameras.”
“Is he sexually involved with the kids?”
“He doesn’t do the sex. He makes the movies and sells them.”
“Where does he get the kids?”
“You never spoke to any of ’em.”
“If I did, my dad would beat me. He’s got a special belt.”
She couldn’t wait to put Bart Weeks behind bars.
She asked a few more questions, but Phillip had told them everything he knew. When they were done, Tarley told Weeks that he’d be placed in a cell by himself, for his own protection. He’d be allowed to have most of his own belongings in the cell and would be fed separately.
“Almost like a motel,” the detective said. “Keeping you safe. You’re too valuable to be walking around where somebody might hurt you.”
After Weeks had been put away, Tarley walked Regan outside where night had fallen, the sky stretching dark above the illumination of the streetlights.
“I think you got ’em.”
God, she hoped.
She checked her watch. Just after ten p.m. Flowers and Johnson would probably be in the woods around Drake’s place. Given Phillip Weeks’s statement, and the probable imminent arrest of the RV couple, they had enough evidence to raid Drake’s place, could easily get a warrant, and probably didn’t need anything that Flowers and Johnson might turn up.
She called them from the front steps of the police station, but there was no answer. She left a message and went to look for a motel where she could wait for them to call back.
VIRGIL AND JOHNSON HAD WALKED up the road to Drake’s cabin, staying to the side, where they could step back into the brush if anyone came along. Nobody did, and when they crept up the road across from the cabin, they couldn’t see the BMW they’d noticed on their first visit, though the Jeep remained in the open garage.
Virgil whispered, “Garage first. See if the other car’s here.”
They made a long circle through the forest around Drake’s cabin, pausing every minute or so for one of them to tell the other to be more quiet. That was almost impossible. The brush was so dense that they were constantly tangled up in it. Virgil finally took out a flashlight and splashed its beam on the ground at his feet, tilted back enough that Johnson could see where to step. They emerged behind the garage, with the secondary cabin to their left. The garage had a back window and, through it, they could see that the second and third stalls were empty. Nothing inside but some lawn-care machinery and the Jeep.
“Now what?” Johnson whispered.
“Let’s take a look at the small cabin.”
“Could be alarmed.”
“If it is, we run.”
Johnson handed Virgil a piece of cloth.
“Bandanna. Cover your face. Like a cowboy outlaw. In case there are cameras.”
“Jesus, Johnson. Just because we’re in Montana.”
But Virgil did it anyway.
He was carrying Johnson’s gun, not because he wanted to, but to keep it away from Johnson. A tire iron was Johnson’s weapon because he didn’t want to go unarmed. Virgil also had his Nikon, with the 14–24 zoom lens, in a day pack.
At the corner of the garage, they sat and waited, watching the house. There were two lights on inside, one in back, one in front, but none on the second story. A satellite dish sat on the roof, but there was no visible light from an operating TV. The lights never flickered, as they would if somebody walked between them and a window, and after five minutes, Virgil whispered, “Let’s go.”
They snuck, bent over, to the cabin, and stopped, crouching, by the corner and out of sight from the house, listening again. Nothing but the sounds from crickets and frogs, along with a bit of wind sighing through the trees rimming the property. Not a peep from within the house. After a while, Johnson said, “Weird.”
“No windows on this side. I didn’t see any windows or a door on the back, either. Only windows in this place are on the front.”
“Cover me,” Virgil said.
“With what? A tire iron?”
He laughed. “Okay. Keep an eye out.”
Silently, Virgil crawled past the front of the cabin, staying in shadow, to the first window. He sat still for a moment, then rose up to look through the pane.
Couldn’t see anything.
A minute later was back with Johnson.
“What’d you see?”
“Nothing. It’s a fake window. It’s a board with some curtains painted on it.”
Johnson said, “Cover me.”
But Johnson was already headed for the front of the cabin. A minute later, Virgil heard a crackling sound, like wood splintering and then Johnson saying, low voiced, “C’mon.”
Through the still damp weeds and grass Virgil crept the length of a cabin, where he found that Johnson had jimmied the door with the tire iron and had gone inside.
Virgil followed. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Let me close the door.”
With that done, Johnson turned on the flashlight app of his iPhone and panned the illumination around the inside of the cabin. There was a bed in one corner with an end table and a couple of rolled-up carpets next to it. Three rolls of seamless paper lay along one wall, and a fourth roll was mounted on a roller behind the bed. Camera stands with umbrellas and soft boxes were crowded across the room along with their power supplies.
Virgil turned on his own cell-phone light, and said, “I need photos of the bed and the walls.”
“The walls. That oughta do it,” Johnson said, looking at the knotty pine planks that crawled up the sides of the room. “They’re like the world’s biggest fingerprints.”
Virgil pulled off his pack, took the camera out, mounted the compact flash, se
He shot everything twice, then packed up.
Two minutes later they were gone, and twenty minutes after that they were talking with Pescoli.
THE PHONE RANG JUST AS Regan was getting out of the shower. She wrapped a towel around herself, picked up her phone, and sat on the edge of the bed.
“It’s Virgil. I’ve got the photos.”
“I will. But the connection out here at the ranch, in the bar, is slow. Wi-Fi’s not the latest in technology. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll be sending you nine shots.”
“I’ll move them to the FBI guy.”
“Call me in the morning, when you hear back.”
“First thing,” she said and couldn’t wait.
She threw on her pajamas and waited, pumping milk again, of course. Fortunately, the motel had a minibar fridge.
The last of the photos came in a half hour later. They were, she thought, some of the most boring photographs she’d ever seen. But they were sharp, and exactly what the feds had asked for. She sent them on. After a quick call to Santana explaining that she was staying over and would be home the next day, she charged her phone, turned in, and thought about her family, her job, and the balancing act that was her life.
The feds called at seven o’clock the next morning.
Regan was still asleep and for a second was disoriented, fumbling her phone off the nightstand before answering.
“What time is it?”
Burch, the FBI agent, said, “Nine o’clock.”
“Or seven o’clock, Mountain Time,” she said around a yawn.
She needed coffee.
Then remembered she was still on decaf.
“I’ve got a lot to tell you,” she said into her cell. “Did you see those photographs?”
“I saw them two hours ago, at seven o’clock Eastern Time, because I get up at dawn.”
“Good for you. What do you think?”
“It’s not what I think. It’s what I know. This is large. We got an ID on the two people in Vegas. We’re not sure we’ve got their real names, but we know them as Carla and Allen Dickerson.”
“I got those names last night from the Weeks kid.”
“We’ve had warrants for the Dickersons for years but haven’t been able to nail them down. We thought they were somewhere in Central America. Anyway, we got their address from the Vegas guys, we’ll be hitting that apartment—it’s a condo, really—in a couple of hours. These are bad, bad people. In fact, the only worse guy I can think of is probably this Drake guy you say you’ve got up there. We’ve got flashes of those knotty pine walls in twenty-three films so far, the worst kind of porn you can imagine, which means he’s probably made a couple hundred of them. We had no idea who was shooting it. We need this guy. Can the Weeks kid identify him?”
“Not only identify him, he’s actually worked for him in a porn film when he was a kid.”
“Ah, shit. There’s a kid who’s going to need some help.”
“Yeah. We got him safe for the time being.”
“So we’re flying in a heavy SWAT team from Denver, but they probably won’t get there until early afternoon,” Burch said. “I’ll be there at the same time; I’m on my way to National right now. The director actually got me a Justice Department jet. We’d like you to wait for us in Butte. That’s as close as we can get to your target, and then guide us up there. We don’t want to spook this Drake guy, but it’d be good if Flowers could check on him. You know, cruise the place. The thing is, we’ve got nobody named Michael Drake on file. We’ve looked at the county clerk’s records up there, and they go back to a post office box with a fake name. If we lose him, we might be losing him for good.”
“Alternatively, I could go up there right now and bust his ass,” she suggested.
“I appreciate that, but one-on-one, too much could go wrong. Like I said, we really don’t want to lose this guy. He’s a genuine, no-shit monster.”
“I’ll call Flowers and tell him.”
“One other thing. I’m sending you an encrypted link to a file here at the bureau. In another e-mail you’ll find a code number to open it. You won’t be able to download it. It’s read only. A selection of clips from the knotty pine films. You ought to know what we’re talking about.”
“I’ll take a look,” she said. Then added, “Maybe.”
“If you want to get in touch with me, it’ll have to be in the next half hour,” Burch said. “After that, I’ll be up in the air and the connections to this phone won’t be good. I’ll have other com equipment, though, and I’ll call you if anything changes.”
Regan didn’t really want to look at the films, but thought she had to. She sat staring at the iPad for a minute, then finally opened the mail from Burch, found the code number, copied it, went to the other e-mail from him, and pasted the number in the small square of the encrypted link.
She didn’t even want to speculate on their ages.
Mostly little girls, with an occasional weeping little boy.
“Oh, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” she whispered, tears in her eyes.
She didn’t know if she was praying or cursing. Her stomach turned over and something ugly took hold of her heart and twisted.
“You sick, sick bastard,” she whispered thinking of the man she’d never met, the man who went by Michael Drake. When she was done, she clicked away and received a warning that said, When you leave this link, you will not be able to reenter without obtaining a new authorization and a new password.
She closed the link.
That was something no one should ever see.
The feds were late, as usual.
Burch had called from the plane in early afternoon.
“Had a problem.”
“We hit the condo, the Dickerson-Foley-whoever condo in Riverdale. The Foleys are retirees, eighty-four and eighty-two, respectively. Never had the Visa account the RV was charged to. That account was active, but was paid online, no paperwork, so they never knew. The driver’s license data goes to Clark Foley, but he hasn’t had a license for four years.”
“What, they pulled these old people at random?”
Damn, damn, and double damn.
Her fist clenched the cell phone in a death grip.
“Worse than that. We showed the Foleys the Dickerson photos, and they identified them as a couple named Smith who live in the same building, directly below the Foleys. We got a new warrant and hit that place. But it was empty, except for one of those cheap cell-phone-linked security systems. As soon as our guys cracked the door, a silent alarm went to a cell-phone number. So the Dickersons, whoever they are, could look at full-color moving pictures of our guys coming in. We didn’t find it for three or four minutes after kicking the door.”
“Shit,” she muttered.
MatchUp by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes