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Death Angel (Chapter Nine)

RAFAEL ALMOST DIDN'T TAKE THE CALL WHEN HE SAW IT was from his bank. He'd been awake all night, fueled by coffee and anxiety, but hour after hour had passed with no word from whoever had taken Drea and he'd lost whatever faint hope he'd had, which had never been much, that she might somehow be ransomed or exchanged.

" Salinas," he said curtly. "What is it?"

"Mr. Salinas, this is Manuel Flores, with-"

"Yeah, I know who you're with, I saw the Caller ID." He just wanted the guy to get to the point and get off the phone. He didn't have the patience today to deal with penny-ante shit, not when he knew Drea was probably dead somewhere and he couldn't even grieve without looking like a pussy in front of his men.

"Ah…yes, well. The bank did send an e-mail yesterday alerting you to the transfer that was made, but I wanted to follow up and-"

"Transfer?" Rafael was exhausted, but not so exhausted his attention wasn't caught. He sat up straight and snapped his fingers at Orlando, pointing to the phone and then his bedroom. "What transfer?"

Orlando strode into the bedroom and a second later there was a click as he picked up on the call.

"Ah…the transfer of funds from your account into Ms. Butts's account. The, ah, account that was listed as Drea Rousseau."

"Yeah, yeah." Like he didn't know Drea's real name? He didn't have a problem with her using Rousseau as her last name instead of Butts. Hell, who would? He sure as hell hadn't wanted to introduce her as Drea Butts. "I didn't make any transfer yesterday."

A distinctly worried note entered Flores 's voice. "A sizable transfer was made yesterday afternoon, and even though the transfer was verified as coming from your IP address, with your password, the amount was unusual so as a matter of policy an e-mail notification was generated alerting you to this transaction. Then, this morning, when I became aware that all of the funds were transferred from Ms. Butts's account late yesterday afternoon, I thought a personal phone call was in order-"

"I didn't transfer anything into her account yesterday!" Rafael bellowed, getting up and walking into his bedroom where Orlando was already sitting in front of Rafael's laptop, checking his e-mail account. With everything going on yesterday, Rafael hadn't bothered with crap like that.

Orlando scrolled quickly through the messages, then looked up at Rafael and shook his head. "There's no message from the bank here," he said.

"I didn't get any e-mail," Rafael snapped. "If I had, I'd have called, because I didn't transfer any money yesterday. How much we talking about?"

"Ah…two million, one hundred thousand dollars."

Rafael felt as if his head was going to explode. "What?" What the hell was going on? Had whoever snatched Drea forced her to give them the money in her account? But who in hell had transferred it from his account into hers in the first place? Drea didn't have his password, and it wasn't like he had it written down anywhere for her to get, not that she'd have recognized it as anything other than his cell phone number anyway.

"Ah-"

"If you say 'ah' one more time I'm going to reach through this phone and rip your fucking throat out," Rafael said harshly. "I didn't transfer anything yesterday, I sure as hell didn't transfer any two million bucks, and I didn't get a fucking e-mail. So put the money back in my account!"

"I-I can't," Flores stammered. Rafael could almost hear the "ah" he'd barely stifled. "The transfer was made from your IP address using your password, and in any case, as I told you, the entire amount was transferred out late yesterday afternoon. Our bank no longer has control of these funds."

"Somebody ripped me off, and I don't give a fuck what the bank controls and what it doesn't. You people let somebody get my money, so you can damn well get it back."

"We can't do that, Mr. Salinas. Legally, the bank's hands are tied-"

"There's no way in hell the transfer was made from my computer, because I didn't do it, so don't tell me about legal!"

Orlando got a very peculiar look on his face. Abruptly he got up and left the bedroom, leaving Rafael shouting into the phone. He was back in less than a minute, carrying Drea's laptop. He placed it beside Rafael's laptop on the desk, disconnected Rafael's machine, and connected Drea's. Then he opened her e-mail program and began scrolling. She had about twenty messages, most of them junk from various stores where she'd done some online shopping, so going through them didn't take long. Orlando stopped scrolling and pointed at the screen.

"Hold on," Rafael said into the phone, bending down to look at where Orlando was pointing. Orlando opened the message and there it was, the e-mail the bank had sent. What was his e-mail doing on Drea's computer?

"We found your e-mail," he snarled. "It didn't come to me, it went to my girlfriend. You couldn't even get that right, so-"

"I assure you, Mr. Salinas, the e-mail went to the address that's specified in your account information."

"I set it up myself, and I sure as hell didn't use my girlfriend's e-mail address, I used my own."

"Nevertheless, that's the address that's on our records now, and any change came from you using your password, so we have to assume you knew what you wanted to do."

"I'm telling you, I didn't-" Rafael stopped, breathing hard, as an awful possibility began dawning on him. Despite the sudden feeling in his gut, his brain automatically rejected the idea. It wasn't possible. Drea was computer literate enough to order stuff off the Internet, but that was about it-and even then, Orlando had had to walk her through the process several times before she grasped that all she had to do was follow whatever instructions were on the screen. She'd had it in her head that whatever she'd done on one website was what she had to do on every site.

Rafael remembered how she'd kept saying helplessly, "But it doesn't make sense!" Was he supposed to think this same woman somehow got around his password protection and into his bank account, transferred out almost all of his cash into her account, then promptly moved it yet again to God knows where? The Drea he knew not only wouldn't have been able to do it, she wouldn't even have thought of it.

Her attitude toward money had been almost like a child's. She'd never asked him for a penny. The way she looked at it, if she had plastic, or a checkbook, then she had money. If he hadn't kept track of her account himself, she'd have had overdrafts all over the place, because she never paid any attention to her balance.

To accept that she could possibly have done this was to accept that she'd duped him, duped everyone, for two years. His ego violently rejected that, because he wasn't a dupe, he was Rafael Salinas, and anyone who had ever tried to dupe him had died regretting it. He trusted no one. He'd had Drea investigated, he'd had her followed, and he'd kept a check on her. Not once had she said or done anything that would make him think she was anything other than exactly what she appeared, which was sweet and dumb.

"I'll get back to you," he said abruptly to Flores, and ended the call. He stared hard at Orlando, who was staring back at him. "Tell me how this could have happened. Tell me how someone got into my bank account and ripped me off to the tune of two fucking million dollars."

"It had to be done from here," Orlando said. He clicked on the computer's history, and there it was, plainly showing that someone, using Drea's computer, had accessed the bank's website. "On the receiving end, both your laptop and hers would show the same IP address, because they go through the same router. If she got your password, as far as the bank's concerned, you're the one who made the transfer."

"I didn't give her the password," Rafael snapped. "I never wrote it down, either." Not even Orlando knew what his password was.

"She got it somehow." Orlando kept his expression blank as he pointed out the obvious. "If you ever accessed the account while she was in the room, she might have paid enough attention to figure out the keystrokes."

"This is Drea we're talking about. She could barely figure out how to turn on the shower." Okay, so that was an exaggeration; they still weren't talking about a mental giant here.

"That much money's a powerful motivation, and the proof is right here." Orlando tapped the computer screen. "I don't think anybody grabbed her, I think she took the money and ran."

Rafael stood there, rage and humiliation burning through him. He'd let himself care about her, and the slut had played him for a fool. He never should have let his guard down, never for a minute let himself believe that she cared at all about him. She had to be the best actress in the world, to keep up that act for two years without a single slip, to produce all those tears the day before yesterday. And he'd fallen for it; that was what ate at him like acid. He'd bought the whole enchilada, fooled himself into thinking she really loved him, hell, even that he was in love with her.

She'd pay for this. No matter what it cost him, she'd pay.

"She can't run far enough," he said flatly. He'd like to take her apart with his bare hands, but he'd learned to put some distance between himself and the actual act, so even if he ordered it, he had some deniability. He could do without killing her himself, so long as he knew she was dead. He might regret not having the satisfaction of personally meting out justice, but vengeance would do almost as well, and he knew exactly how he was going to get it.

THE ASSASSIN WAITED three days after receiving Salinas 's latest summons before he got in touch. He wasn't doing anything else, but he was in the mood for some downtime and he was an independent contractor, not one of the bastard's employees. Whatever Salinas wanted could wait.

He didn't trust the summons; it came too soon after his afternoon with Drea. Maybe Salinas had changed his mind about the offer and was, in retrospect, feeling as if his machismo had taken a hit. It had taken a lot more than a hit, but the assassin didn't think Salinas had figured that out yet. Drea was too good at what she did; she'd keep quiet about how much pleasure she'd gotten out of the deal.

So he waited, and he watched. He was as curious as ever about Salinas 's future plans, but while he didn't have many virtues, patience was one he possessed in abundance. Something was going on; he could tell by the expressions on the faces of Salinas 's goons, on Salinas himself. The assassin had observed the man coming and going several times, and it was obvious he was in a bitch of a bad mood.

When he judged Salinas had waited long enough, he first indulged himself with a leisurely tour of the Metropolitan Museum, which was one of his favorite places in New York. He didn't mind the tourists, or the gaggles of children; the exhibits were their own reward. When he was finished, he stood on the broad steps and made the call.

"Come to the penthouse," Salinas ordered. "When can you be here?"

"I'm nearby," the assassin said calmly, "but it's a nice day. Bethesda Terrace, in half an hour." He disconnected, then turned off his phone and slipped it into his pocket. Not only would Salinas have trouble setting up an ambush in such a short time, but the Terrace was a public place, full of both tourists and city residents. It was also wide open, so his avenue of approach wouldn't be limited. From there he could disappear into the depths of Central Park, should Salinas be of a mind to have him followed.

He had no idea exactly where Salinas was, so half an hour might be an impossible deadline for him to meet. For himself, though, Bethesda Terrace was a pleasant walk. If Salinas was up in the penthouse, he'd have plenty of time to get there. If he was across town…tough. For something important, he'd make contact again.

The assassin enjoyed making things difficult for the bastard, even in such a small way. Pleasure came where he found it, though, so he followed both his instinct to play it safe, and his inclination to jerk Salinas 's chain.

He walked into the park, pausing to get an ice-cream cone. Though he knew the park fairly well, he nevertheless bought a map, and spent a few minutes studying it because he liked to know exactly what his options were if he happened to need one. He kept the map in his hand, knowing Salinas would spot it, and draw the conclusion that the assassin didn't live locally and therefore wasn't familiar with the layout of the park. The conclusion would be half right, because he didn't really live in any one place; he stayed in various places for various lengths of time, and right now that place happened to be a few floors below Salinas.

He found a vantage point and watched. If he saw anything that looked suspicious, he'd call off the meet. He knew Salinas wouldn't meet him alone; a man like that couldn't afford to go anywhere without his muscle in attendance. The assassin didn't worry about the thugs he could see, though; it was the ones who weren't out in the open that he looked for.

Finally he saw Salinas, only a couple of minutes late, and with three men behind him. The assassin studied the surroundings, but didn't see anything suspicious: he knew many of Salinas 's men on sight, so he didn't have to rely only on behavior in judging whether or not it was safe to approach. No one appeared to be lurking without reason, no one seemed to be trying to stay out of sight. Finally he left his own concealment and strolled forward, still eating his ice cream.

Salinas was irritably checking his watch when he looked up and saw the assassin. "You're late," he snarled as he gestured his men back.

"Long line at the ice-cream stand," the assassin said lazily. "What's up?"

Salinas looked around, then took an old-fashioned transistor radio from his pocket and turned it on. The volume was loud, so loud that if Salinas hadn't taken a step closer, the assassin couldn't have heard him.

"Drea stole two million bucks from me, four days ago, and took a powder. I want you to find her and take care of the matter. Permanently."

A rivulet of melted ice cream trickled down the cone. The assassin caught it with his tongue, hiding his surprise. "You sure? She didn't seem bright enough-though I guess that would be the proof, right?"

"I'm sure." Salinas gave a grim smile. "And, yeah, on the list of stupid things to do, ripping me off is right at the top."

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