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Cover Of Night (Chapter 7)

Because of the time change, Goss and Toxtel arrived in Boise early in the evening. Goss figured the plane tickets had cost a fortune, purchased at the last minute as they were, but that wasn't his problem. Rather than make the rest of the trip that night, which would have meant they'd have been driving the last leg on unfamiliar mountain roads when they were both tired, they booked into a hotel close to the airport.

In the morning they would procure weapons, then take a prop plane to an airstrip about fifty miles from their destination. The plane was a private hire, so they'd have no problems taking the weapons aboard. Faulkner had arranged for some model of four-wheel-drive vehicle to be waiting for them at the airstrip. They'd drive the rest of the way to Trail Stop, where he'd booked them a reservation at Nightingale's Bed and Breakfast. Staying in the place they'd be searching was only logical, because that gave them a reason to be there.

After they ate dinner in the hotel's restaurant, Toxtel went up to his room, while Goss decided to see something of Boise – specifically, something female. He caught a cab and hit a crowded singles bar, fending off a few women who didn't appeal to him before settling on a pretty, wholesome-looking brunette named Kami. He hated cutesy names like that, but time was short and it wasn't as if she were going to be in his life for any longer than it took for him to scratch his itch, then put on his clothes and leave.

They went to her condo, a cramped two-bedroom. He was always amazed when women he'd just met invited him to their homes. What were they thinking? He might be a rapist, a murderer. Okay, so he was a murderer, but only if he was paid. The ordinary citizen was perfectly safe with him. But Kami didn't know that, and neither had any of those other women.

When they were lying exhausted and sweaty, side by side but no longer connected by even the pretense of emotion, he said, "You should be more careful. You lucked out with me, but what if I'd been some nutcase who collected eyeballs, or something like that?"

She stretched, arching her back and pushing her breasts toward the ceiling. "What if I'm the nutcase who collects eyeballs?"

"I'm serious."

"So am I."

Something in her tone made his eyes narrow. They stared at each other in the lamplight, her dark gaze going flat, and he let his own gaze show his cold emptiness. "Then I guess we both lucked out," he finally said.

"Yeah? How do you figure?"

"I warned you – and you warned me." Meaning that she couldn't get the jump on him now, and if she valued her life she wouldn't try. So what if he was naked; so was she. She might have a knife stuck under the mattress – shades of Basic Instinct�Cbut he was prepared to break her neck if he saw either of her hands start to inch under the pillow or toward the side of the bed.

Slowly, deliberately, she spread her hands wide… and smiled, her head cocked and her eyes flirting with him. "Had you going there for a minute, didn't I?"

"Just keep your hands where they are," he said coolly, sliding out of bed and reaching for his clothes. He didn't turn his back on her for even a second.

"Oh, please. I'm no more a killer than you are."

Wasn't that reassuring? If she only knew. But the prickling on the back of his neck told him not to let down his guard, no matter what she said or how convincing she was. "Maybe you've hit on the perfect way to kick a man out of your bed after you've finished fucking him," he said as he pulled on his shorts and pants. "In which case, congratulations – unless the next guy you pull it on thinks you're about to pop his eyeballs out of his skull and freaks on you. That's a good way to get the shit kicked out of yourself."

She rolled her eyes. "It was just a joke."

"Yeah, hah hah. I'm laughing my ass off." He put on his socks and shoes, shoved his arms into the sleeves of his shirt, and showed her his teeth in what could have been a smile. "Let's just say that if I hear of any eyeballs being cut out, I might have to give the cops your description." A thought occurred to him: he quickly glanced around, saw the small shoulder bag she'd dropped on the floor, and quick as a cat snatched it up.

"Give me that," she snarled, lunging for it, but he caught her and tossed her facedown onto the bed, planting one hand in the middle of her back and leaning his weight on it to keep her in place while with the other hand he emptied the bag onto the bed. She wheezed, trying to suck in air as she bucked and twisted, but he didn't let up. Cursing, she slung her arm back, trying to hit him in the crotch; he twisted sideways, deflecting the blow with his hip.

"Watch it," he warned. "You don't want to make me mad."

"Fuck you!"

"Been there, done that, don't want the T-shirt."

With his finger he poked through the things he'd dumped out of the bag. She didn't have a wallet – at least, she didn't have one in the bag, just a money clip. That struck him as odd, because how many women carried money clips? There was also a little leather thing with credit card slots on both sides. One of those slots held her driver's license. He thumbed the card out of its slot and looked at the photo to make certain the license was really hers, then checked out the name.

"Well, well… Deidre Paige Almond. So you really are some kind of nut." She must not have thought his little joke was funny, because she cursed again, Goss grinned, enjoying himself more than he had in a while. What was even funnier was that he'd given her a false name, as well. Twisted minds evidently thought alike. "Let me guess – 'Kami' is a nickname, right?" He tossed the license on the bed beside her.

She bucked under his hand, her tousled dark hair falling across her face as she turned her head to glare at him. "You son of a bitch, let's see if you think this is so funny when I press charges against you!"

"On what grounds?"' he asked, sounding bored. "Rape? Too bad I got in the habit of carrying a voice-activated tape recorder with me whenever I'm with a woman – just in case."

"Bullshit!"

"Actually, it's a Sony." He patted his right pants pocket, where his cell phone made a nice little bulge. "The sound quality is top-notch. Besides, what name would you give the cops?" He made a tsking sound. "You can't trust anything anyone tells you these days, can you? It's been fun, gotta go now, won't be seeing you around. Just remember what I said about the eyeballs. And if you were fooling around, you might want to rethink the routine." He released her and moved swiftly out of her reach. "Don't bother getting up," he said as he went out. the door.

She didn't – or at least, she didn't bother coming after him, maybe because she was naked. Goss let himself out of the condo and walked down the cracked sidewalk. She had driven them here, so he was temporarily stranded, but he wasn't perturbed. He had a phone, and he had a card in his pocket with the number of the cab company he'd used earlier. He walked until he came to an intersection where there were street signs, then called for a taxi.

He wouldn't have been surprised if Deidre-Kami had come speeding down the street in her five-year-old Nissan and tried to run him over, but she had evidently decided not to look for more trouble. Goss didn't know if she was just some kind of flake who thought it would be funny to pretend she was a psycho serial killer, or if she was a real psycho, but his instincts had been telling him he'd better get his ass out of there. All in all, it was one of his more interesting evenings.

After a fairly reasonable length of time – coming close to what he would consider unreasonable – the cab arrived and he climbed in. Twenty minutes later he was whistling softly as he walked down the hotel hallway toward his room. It was after one am; he wouldn't get much sleep, but the evening's entertainment was worth it.

He showered before climbing into bed, where he slept like a baby until the bedside alarm went off at six. There was nothing like a clear conscience – or, better' yet, no conscience – for a good night's rest.

A box containing their weapons was supposed to be delivered by seven am, but that time came and went without the delivery. Toxtel got on the phone to Faulkner, who had arranged everything, and then they waited. Goss used the time to order breakfast. Shortly after nine, and half an hour after they were supposed to have been in the air, a bellman brought up a box marked "Printed Material" and sealed with masking tape. Toxtel took the delivery; he looked like some sort of executive, or maybe a salesman, in his suit and tie. Goss had chosen to dress with more comfort, in slacks and a raw silk shirt, no tie. He imagined people who went to B and B inns were there on vacation, not to work, but Toxtel was going to wear his suit and tie regardless of the circumstances.

The handguns inside the box were clean, the registration numbers filed off. Silently they checked the weapons, the routine just that – routine. Goss's weapon of choice was a Glock, but in situations like this you took what was available on short notice. The two handguns provided were a Beretta and a Taurus, with a box of cartridges for each. Goss had never used a Taurus before but Toxtel had, so Toxtel took it and let Goss have the familiar Beretta. They transferred the weapons to their bags, then called the pilot of their rent-a-plane to tell him they were on the way.

Because they were flying on a private plane, they didn't have to go through security at the airport. The pilot, a taciturn man with the weathered skin of someone who'd never bought sunscreen, grunted a greeting and that was that. They stowed their own luggage, which was fine, and climbed aboard. The plane was a small Cessna that had seen its best days maybe ten years ago, but it met the two most important qualifications: it flew, and it didn't need a long runway.

Goss didn't care for scenery, at least not the country kind. His idea of a good view was one from a penthouse. Still, he had to admit the sparkling, boulder-filled rivers and jagged mountains were pretty, as those things went. They were definitely best viewed from the air, though. That opinion was reinforced when, an hour later, the small plane was set down on a bumpy, dusty strip over which rocky, jagged mountains loomed like malevolent giants. There was no town, only a corrugated tin building; three vehicles sat outside it. One was a nondescript beige sedan, one was a rusty Ford pickup that looked older than Goss, and the last was a gray Chevy Tahoe. "I hope the pickup isn't our four-wheel-drive," Goss muttered.

"It won't be. Faulkner took care of us; you'll see."

Toxtel's stolid confidence in Faulkner never failed to irritate Goss, but he didn't let it show. For one thing, he didn't want anyone to have the slightest inkling that he despised Faulkner, but the main reason was Hugh Toxtel was the only one of Faulkner's stable of hired killers that Goss wouldn't want to go up against. It wasn't that Toxtel was a superman or anything; he was just good at what he did – good enough that Goss respected him. And Toxtel had a good ten years of experience that Goss didn't have, maybe more.

As they climbed out of the plane and began pulling their bags out of the storage compartment, a chunky guy in stained coveralls ambled out of the tin building. "You the guys wanting the rental?" he asked.

"Yeah," Toxtel said.

"They've been waiting for you."

"They" turned out to be two young guys from the rental company; one had driven the Tahoe out, followed by the other. Evidently patience wasn't their strong suit, because both of them were irritated by the wait. Toxtel signed some papers; the two guys jumped into the beige sedan and were gone in a cloud of dust.

"Damn kids," Toxtel groused, glaring after them as he waved the dust out of his face. "They did that on purpose."

Toxtel and Goss put their things in the back of the Tahoe, then climbed into the big vehicle. There was a map folded on the driver's seat, with the route to Trail Stop obligingly traced in red and the destination itself circled. After looking at the map, Goss wondered why someone had bothered to circle the name, since the road stopped there and they couldn't go any farther. Trail Stop – wonder how it got its name, har-dee-har-har.

"Pretty country," Toxtel offered after a few minutes

"I guess." Goss looked out the passenger window at the sheer drop to the bottom of a rocky gorge. Had to be three or four hundred feet straight down, and the road wasn't the best, a narrow, roughly paved two-lane with battered guardrails at some of the worst parts. The problem was, the places he thought needed guardrails evidently didn't jibe with what the Idaho department of transportation considered dangerous. The sun was bright, the sky overhead a deep, cloudless blue, but when they passed from a sunny stretch of road to one shadowed by the mountain, he noticed that the temperature on the Tahoe's gauge dropped a good ten degrees. He'd hate to get caught out in these mountains at night. They hadn't seen a single structure or another vehicle since leaving the airstrip, and even though they'd been on the road fewer than ten minutes, that just struck Goss as deeply unnatural.

After half an hour they came to an actual small town, population four thousand and something, with streets and traffic lights – a couple of them – and everything, and he relaxed somewhat. At least there were people around.

Then they took a left turn onto the road indicated on the map, and all signs of civilization vanished again.

"Jesus, I don't know how people live like this," Goss muttered. "If you run out of milk, it's a damn day's expedition to the grocery store."

"It's what you get used to," Toxtel said.

I think it's more a case of not knowing anything different. You can't miss what you've never had." The next turn of the road brought them out into the bright sun again, and the glare on the windshield made him squint his eyes, which made him yawn.

"You shoulda got some sleep last night, instead of going out looking for pussy," Toxtel observed, a hint of disapproval in his tone.

"I didn't just look, I found some, Goss said, and yawned again. "Weird chick. She looked like some small-town poultry queen, or something, but when I told her she shouldn't take strangers home with her, it was too dangerous and I could have been some kind of psycho, she said that she might be the psycho. The look in her eyes right then gave me the shivers, like she might really be nuts. I put my clothes on and got out of there." He left out the part about the struggle, and the fake name.

"You're gonna get your throat cut one of these days," Toxtel warned.

Goss shrugged indifferently. "Always possible."

"You didn't kill her or anything, did you?" Toxtel asked after another few minutes, and Goss could tell he'd been worried by the thought.

"I'm not stupid. She's fine."

"We don't want to draw attention to ourselves."

"I said, she's fine. Alive, breathing, unhurt."

"That's good. We don't need any complications. We find what we're looking for at this place, and we leave. That's it."

"How will we know where to look? Are you going to say, 'Where'd you put the stuff that stupid accountant left behind?' "

"Might not be a bad idea. We could say he sent us."

Goss considered that possibility. "Simple," he admitted. "Might work."

The road had so many twists and turns that he began to get nauseated. He let his window down to get some fresh air into the vehicle. There were No Passing signs all along the road. After they went by what, seemed like the fiftieth sign, he muttered, "No shit."

"No shit, what?"

"All these No Passing signs. First, how could you pass anything on this damn road? It's one curve after another. And second, there's nothing to pass."

"City boy," Toxtel said, grinning.

"Damn straight." He looked down at the map. "The next turn should be coming up on the right."

"Coming up" took another long ten minutes. The temperature had dropped another five degrees, and the air felt thin. Goss wondered what the elevation was.

The road they were looking for was marked by a line of thirty or more mailboxes, leaning at all angles like a row of drunken soldiers. There was also a sign that said "Trail Stop," and an arrow, and just past that a neatly lettered sign that read "Nightingale's Bed and Breakfast."

"That's the place," Toxtel said. "Shouldn't be hard to find."

The road had been steadily climbing, but shortly after they turned onto the narrow, one-lane road, it began winding downhill. The way down was even steeper than going up had been. Toxtel shifted into a lower gear, but still had to ride the brakes.

On one curve, they could see what had to be Trail Stop down below, sitting out on a wide spit of earth with a river roaring down the right side. The number of buildings looked as if it might match the number of mailboxes back on the road.

At the bottom of the mountain they went over a narrow wooden bridge that creaked under the weight of the Tahoe. Goss looked down at the wide, rushing stream coming off the mountain on its way to join the river, the water churned white by the black boulders that jutted above the spray, and a chill went down his spine. The stream wasn't as rough as the river they'd seen, but something about it spooked him.

"Don't look now, but I think we're in Deliverance territory," he muttered.

"Wrong section of the country," Toxtel said blithely, not at all perturbed by the wildness around them.

The road curved up and over a small hill, and when they crested it – Goss briefly closed his eyes, in case another vehicle was coming over the hill from the opposite direction – Frail Stop was laid out before them, a cluster of buildings that stretched along either side of the road. There were some houses, most of them small and rundown, a feed store, a hardware store, a general store, another few houses, and at the end on the left was a big Victorian-style house with wide porches, gingerbread trim, and a sign out front proclaiming it to be the bed-and-breakfast. There were two other cars in the side parking area, and one parked in the rear in a separate garage building. The single bay door was open. To the right of the garage door was a regular door. That might be a good place to look for Layton's stuff, Goss thought.

"Well, you were right," he said. "The place isn't hard to find."

As they parked, a woman came down the steps toward them. "Hello," she said. "I'm Cate Nightingale. Welcome to Trail Stop."

Toxtel got out of the SUV first, smiling as he introduced himself and shook hands, then opened the rear door so they could get their luggage. Goss followed more slowly, though he did the smile-and-handshake deal, too. They introduced themselves as Huxley and Mellor – he was Huxley and Toxtel was Mellon Faulkner had taken care of the bill with a credit card under some generic company name, so they wouldn't have to show identification.

Goss didn't attempt to hide the interest in his eyes as he surveyed the bed-and-breakfast's owner. She was younger than he'd expected, with a lanky build that didn't lend itself to curves, though she had a nice ass. She didn't show it off, dressing in black pants and a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, but he could tell it was there. Her voice was good, too, warm and friendly. Thick brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and her eyes were brown – nothing outstanding there. Her mouth, though, was one of those oddly shaped ones, with the top lip fuller than the lower one. It gave her a soft, sensual look.

"Your rooms are ready," she said with a friendly smile that completely lacked any response to the interest he'd shown. He checked out her ass as she turned away. He'd been right about its niceness.

Inside the house, he saw a teddy bear lying outside a room, indicating the presence of a child. That might mean Mr. Nightingale was in residence, too. She wasn't wearing a wedding band, though; he'd noticed that when he'd shaken her hand. Goss glanced at Toxtel and saw that he, too, had spotted the teddy bear.

She stopped at a desk in the hallway, positioned against the side of the staircase, and picked up two keys. "I've put you in rooms three and five," she said as she led the way upstairs. "Each room has its own bathroom, and good views from the windows. I hope you enjoy your stay here."

"I'm sure we will," Toxtel said politely.

She gave him room number 3, and Goss got room number 5. Looking around, Goss saw two rooms to the right, on the front of the house, and four more doors to their left. Considering the vehicles in the parking area, at least two of those rooms were occupied, maybe more, depending on how many people had been in each car. Searching the place might not be as easy as they'd hoped.

On the other hand, Goss thought with a smile as he unpacked his things, knowing there was a kid in the place opened up some interesting possibilities.

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