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Death Angel (Chapter Ten)

NEVER PISS OFF A SMART WOMAN.

Given the timing, he didn't have to be a genius to understand what had happened. Drea had been more than upset by Salinas giving her away; she'd been furious. This wasn't just an "I'm leaving you" message, but an "I'm leaving you and take that you bastard!" gesture. As gestures went, it was an attention-getter.

Amused, he took another lick of ice cream. He was more inclined to applaud her than go hunting for her. Still, a job was a job. "Make your best offer," he drawled. "What's it worth to you?" He couldn't decide if he'd take the job until he knew how much was on the table.

Salinas looked around and thumbed the volume on the radio even higher. The people passing by gave him annoyed looks, not that he gave a shit. "The same amount she stole."

Two million, huh? That definitely put a different light on the situation. He'd have to think about it, but in the meantime he didn't want Salinas looking for anyone else to take care of the situation. If he didn't take the job, his delay would at least give Drea a better chance of getting away clean, and the thought gave him a certain satisfaction. He didn't have to like his clients, but he had nothing but contempt for Salinas.

"Half up front," the assassin said. "I'll let you know where to wire it." Then he tossed the rest of the ice-cream cone in a nearby trash can and strolled away, his manner relaxed, though his eyes never stopped searching his surroundings. He spotted someone who was almost certainly a fed, too suit-and-tie for his surroundings, stooping to tie his shoe while keeping his head slightly turned in Salinas 's direction. That would be Salinas 's tail, hurrying to catch up.

The assassin wasn't particularly concerned. His meeting with Salinas had taken less than a minute, not enough time for a tail to get in place and snap some photos. By the time the tail had arrived, the meeting was over and he was already walking away. He went across the Bow Bridge, then into the heavily wooded Ramble, where there was plenty of cover. Though the day was hot and humid, the temperature hovering close to ninety, there under the thick shade the air was cooler, and he could feel a slight but pleasant breeze against his skin.

He deliberately didn't think about the offer; time enough for that later, when he was certain he wasn't being followed. As a matter of habit he focused intensely on the right now, aware of everyone around him, whether or not anyone was approaching him from behind, what his ever-changing avenues of escape were. Paying attention to details had kept him alive this long, so he saw no reason to change his habits. That was why he spotted the second tail almost right away; this guy wore jeans and running shoes, so he wasn't the fed who'd been following Salinas.

The assassin calmly analyzed the situation. Just because this new tail wore casual clothes, didn't mean he wasn't a fed. It just meant he was better prepared. The FBI wouldn't have any reason for having him followed other than his meeting with Salinas; it was possible they were exploring any and all contacts. Or the tail could be one of Salinas 's goons, following him for God knows why. Maybe Salinas was pissed because he'd had to walk to the park, and he thought an attitude adjustment in the form of a beating was needed-though, in that case, he'd better send more than one man. Maybe he wanted to know where the assassin lived, no more than that, on the theory that there was no such thing as too much information.

He kept a steady pace. Up ahead the path took a sharp turn, and the tail's view would be blocked by trees and shrubbery for…he considered how far behind him the tail was…about seven seconds, which was plenty long enough. The tail must have noticed the same blind spot, because he picked up the pace. The assassin didn't respond by speeding up, which would have telegraphed his awareness he was being followed. He was close enough that it didn't matter, though his time was down to about five seconds.

He made the turn, whirled, stripped his white shirt off over his head and crumpled it in his hand as if it were a towel, then burst into the steady, loping pace of a runner as he rounded the turn going back in the direction from which he'd come.

The tail didn't even glance at him as he loped by; instead, the guy was hurrying to get around the turn and get him back in vision.

Good luck with that, he thought as he cut off the path and disappeared into the thick growth. He was just another shirtless runner, among hundreds, maybe thousands, who were sweating through their routines in the park that day. His dark gray pants, at first glance, would resemble sweatpants enough that no one would think twice about him. Only his shoes would be a giveaway, because who went jogging in Gucci loafers? Evidently he did, but it wasn't something he recommended.

When he was a hundred yards away, he paused to pull on his shirt. The humid heat had caused sweat to sheen his skin, and the fabric stuck to him as he tugged it into place, but he wasn't breathing any faster than normal. Keeping a leisurely pace, he made his way out of the park.

"DID YOU GET a shot of the meet?" Rick Cotton asked, his expression calm as he listened to the answer.

Xavier Jackson marveled at Cotton's forbearance. He hadn't said, "Did you at least get a shot of the meet?" and there was nothing in his tone that implied any hint of impatience. Most SACs would have been biting heads off left and right, but not Cotton. He was always fair, even when the results weren't what he'd hoped for.

They hadn't been prepared for Salinas to walk anywhere, much less into Central Park. By the time the agent on the street had realized Salinas wasn't being picked up by a car, he and his entourage had already been halfway down the block. Then, though he'd been hurrying as unobtrusively as possible to catch up, a traffic signal had caught him and forced him to wait before he could cross the street. As a result, the meet had already happened before the agent could catch up, and all he could give them was a partial description of the man Salinas had gone to meet, for all the good it did them. About six-one, two hundred pounds, short dark hair described at least a hundred thousand men in the area, if not more.

"I think it was the same man on the balcony with the girlfriend," Cotton said when he hung up.

Jackson thought so, too. The big question was, where was the girlfriend? She'd left four days ago, and hadn't been seen since. They had stopped following her months ago, because their budget and manpower was limited and using it to follow Salinas himself had been deemed more productive. Besides, she'd never done anything interesting, at least not until that scene on the balcony.

Maybe her absence was due to nothing more dramatic than a breakup with Salinas, but something was going on. Salinas and his men were stomping around as if they were spoiling for a fight with someone, anyone. If it were just a breakup, Salinas might-might-be upset, but his men wouldn't be.

And now Salinas had met with probably the same man who'd been on the balcony making love to Salinas 's girlfriend. Something was going on, but it was more than likely personal crap, and they weren't interested in that. Unless they could use it against him somehow, Salinas 's love life was his problem, not theirs.

THERE WERE OVER twenty-three hundred known street surveillance cameras in New York City, and God only knew how many hidden ones. If anyone was on the street in the city, odds were he, or she, would be caught on camera, which was why he was always so careful to change his appearance on a regular basis. Even if he happened to be tracked on camera, his trail would be lost when he entered a building as one person and left as someone else. Only extensive analysis would, with a lot of luck, pick him up again, and he went to great pains, in this country, to ensure he wasn't worth taking that much trouble.

Drea was smart enough to change her appearance, too; he took that for granted. What he didn't know was where she'd changed, or how she'd looked afterward. He could've asked Salinas what was known about Drea's movements on the day she disappeared, but where was the fun in that? Finding her without Salinas 's help would keep him sharp, sort of like doing math in his head instead of using a calculator.

He had considerable computer skills, but in this case the cons associated with doing his own hacking outweighed the pros. There was no point in taking the chance of setting off an alarm when he could find out what he wanted to know by another avenue. A lot of things truly did revolve around the old truism that it wasn't what you knew, it was who you knew-and it so happened he knew someone who worked for the city of New York, someone who owed him a debt so huge it could never be repaid, and who could access that network of security cameras.

He'd caught a break in that nothing important had happened in the city over the last four days-just the usual number of muggings and murders. There hadn't been any terrorist attacks, no bicycle riders hurling bombs, no sensational happenings of any kind. Because things had been quiet, no one would be paying any attention to a back access to the video records from several days ago.

On the other hand, did he want to go to that much trouble before he even decided to take the job?

Hell, yes. For his own amusement, he wanted to know how she'd done it. He was even a little proud of her; she hadn't let any grass grow under her feet. Salinas had seriously insulted her, and the very next day she'd taken action. He knew the banking hoops she would have had to jump through, knew the timing issues, because he'd played that game himself.

He was seldom amused, and never proud, so the fact that he actually felt both of those emotions was a little puzzling.

Or not. Another thing he didn't do was play games with himself. The way he felt was directly tied to the admitted chemistry he'd had with her-not that chemistry would save her life if he decided to take the job. Attraction was one thing, but two million was two million.

Using his disposable cell phone, he placed the call. When the Brooklyn-accented voice answered with a terse yeah, he said, "I need a favor."

He didn't identify himself; he didn't need to. There was a long pause, then the voice said, "Simon."

"Yes," he said.

Another pause, then: "What do you need?"

There was no attempt to blow him off, or stall him. He hadn't expected there to be. "I need access to the street cameras."

"Live feed?"

"No, from four days ago. I know the starting point. After that-" An invisible shrug was evident in his tone. After that, his search could go in any direction, though after he did some background work on Drea he'd have a better idea of what she was likely to do.

"When do you need it?"

"Tonight."

"You'll have to come to my house."

"What time's best?" He could be considerate. In fact, he made an effort to be considerate; it didn't cost him anything, and a little goodwill could one day make the difference between living or dying, escaping or getting captured.

"Around nine. The kids will be in bed by then."

"I'll be there." He hung up, turned to his computer, and went to work.

Finding out Drea's real name was Andrea Butts took no time at all. He wasn't surprised that her name wasn't Rousseau, though the "Butts" was a bit unexpected. He'd have been surprised if her name really had been Rousseau. Once he had her real name, he went into the DMV records and got her driver's license information. Her Social Security number was a bit tougher, but he had it within an hour; after that her life was an open book.

She was thirty years old, born in Nebraska, never been married, no children. Her father had died a couple of years ago, and her mother…her mother was back in Drea's hometown, so that was somewhere to check, even though he thought Drea was probably too smart to go back there. But she would be comfortable in the area, and she might contact her mother. There was one brother, Jimmy Ray Butts, in Texas, currently serving the third year of a five-year sentence for burglary, so she wouldn't be going to him for anything.

That was it for immediate family; if he dug deeper he was likely to find aunts and uncles, cousins, maybe some high school friends. But Drea struck him as a loner, trusting no one except herself, depending on no one except herself.

He understood that philosophy. As far as philosophies went, it was the least likely to result in disappointment.

At exactly nine p.m. he leaned on the buzzer, and in a few seconds the Brooklyn-accented voice said "Yeah" in the same way he answered the phone.

The assassin said, "Simon," and the door was buzzed open. The apartment was on the sixth floor, and he took the stairs instead of the elevator.

The apartment door opened as he approached, and a whippet-thin mixed-race man of about his own age gestured him inside. "Coffee?" he said, by way of both greeting and invitation. Scottie Jansen's real first name was Shamar, but he'd been called Scottie most of his life, because kids in school had started calling him "Shamu" and thereafter he'd refused to answer to Shamar.

"No, I'm good. Thanks."

"This way."

As Scottie led the way into a cramped bedroom, his wife appeared in the kitchen door and said, "Don't start something that's gonna take you four hours to finish, because I'm going to bed at eleven."

Simon turned and winked at her, and said, "I don't mind," and her tired face broke into a grin.

"Don't even try sweet-talking me. I'm immune to it. Just ask Scottie."

"Maybe you're only immune to his sweet-talking."

She snorted and returned to the kitchen. "Close the door if you need privacy," Scottie said, swiveling a battered office chair, the seat patched with duct tape, and plopping his skinny ass in it.

"No state secrets involved," said Simon, and the unspoken words this time echoed in the room.

Scottie flexed his long fingers like a concert pianist about to tackle a difficult score. He began typing commands, his keystrokes so fast they were a blur. Screens zipped past. Occasionally he stopped to stare at one, muttering under his breath the way all geeks seemed to do, then he'd continue. After a few minutes he said, "Okay, we're in. What's the starting point?"

Simon gave him the apartment building address, and the date, and parked his own ass on the foot of the bed, leaning forward so he could see. The room was small enough that they were almost shoulder to shoulder.

Unless you were watching either sex or assorted violence, there was nothing more boring than a surveillance tape. He told Scottie he was looking for a woman with long, blond, curly hair, and that helped, because he could speed through all the comings and goings of people who didn't have long blond curls. Finally Simon spotted her and said, "There," and Scottie immediately paused, then backtracked.

He watched Drea leave the building, carrying a large, bulging tote bag-he'd bet his life she had a change of clothes in there-and stumble as she got into a black Town Car. Scottie finessed the commands, skipping from camera to camera, following the car until it double-parked in front of the library. Drea got out, limping a little, and went in, and the car left.

Simon leaned closer to the screen, intently watching the exit. This would be where she changed. There were a number of things she could do with that mane of hair, but she would also need to ditch that light-colored jacket. What could she do to blend in with most New Yorkers? Wear black, that was what. And she'd pull her hair back, maybe stuff it under the back of her shirt, or wear something with a hood. A hood might be a tad unusual, given the heat, but people did weird shit all the time.

He looked for the shape of her body, the tote bag, anyone wearing black-which was almost everyone-any woman with her hair covered or slicked back.

He was gratified by the speed with which he spotted her. "There she is," he said.

Scottie stopped the tape. "You sure?"

"I'm sure." He knew every line of that body; he'd spent four hours kissing and stroking every square inch of it. It was her, beyond a doubt. She hadn't wasted any time; she was out within ten minutes, maybe even before her driver found a parking space nearby. Her hair was darker, maybe she'd wet it, and it was slicked back, she was wearing head to toe black, and she walked without a trace of a limp, striding along without a hint of sway or jiggle.

Good girl, he thought with approval. Bold, decisive, paying attention to detail-way to go, Drea.

She didn't make it easy for Scottie. She walked a few blocks, got a taxi, and after she got out of the taxi she walked a few more blocks before snagging another ride. She zigzagged her way across the city, but finally she entered the Holland Tunnel and the network of cameras lost her. Still, the fact that she'd used the Holland instead of the Lincoln Tunnel told him a lot.

He was on the hunt. Drea might be good…but he was better.

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