“Uh-huh.” Mike taps on his phone for a few seconds, then turns it outward to show a photo of an old white man, hair wispy around his skull, black-rimmed glasses framing watery brown eyes. He has a face like a basset hound, but somehow it manages to convey cleverness, too. Maybe it’s the focus in the eyes on whomever, out of frame, he’s addressing. He’s wearing a dark-blue silk suit and tie. Hand-tailored, probably. He looks perfectly stylish despite being in a motorized wheelchair. “Ever seen him in person?” he asks her, and she immediately shakes her head.
“I only know the name. I don’t exactly shop at Rivard Luxe.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t, unless you were a one percenter who thought Neiman Marcus was too down-market,” Mike says. “It’s a department store for people with so much cash they use it for carpet. Upside to only selling to the stupidly rich: they never stop buying, no matter how much everybody else starves. Rivard turned a few million into about ten billion in ten years. He’s worth upward of forty billion now.”
“And the man who died in that video probably worked for him,” I say. “Or at least, he said he did. Rivard makes sense both as a blackmail target and as somebody with the resources to try to fight back on his own terms.”
“And . . . we think those people in the video torturing him are from Absalom. Right?”
“No idea,” Mike says, “since I haven’t seen the damn thing yet.” He holds out his hand. I unzip my backpack and hand it over. Gwen’s eyes narrow, and I see her biting back an impulse to say something cutting to me. I’m sure it’ll come later. We’ll have a good argument about how I don’t have any right to protect her, and she’ll be correct. But Gwen doesn’t need my permission, and I don’t need hers, and sooner or later she’ll protect me, too. She already has, more than once.
The USB drive disappears like a magician’s assistant with a quick, fluid motion of Mike’s hand. Now you see it, now you don’t. I’m glad I made a copy and put it up in cloud storage. Just in case. “And the documents?” he asks. Gwen’s turn; she hands them over in a manila folder. He seems satisfied with that, though he gives the rest of the papers a good going-over, too, once he puts on a pair of evidence gloves. The paper with the warehouse address is on top, and he nods. “Okay, then. Let’s drink up and do this thing.”
My coffee is still too hot to give it another attempt, and Gwen doesn’t seem to want hers at all. Pity, but I dump both cups on the way out the door. Mike follows us, and I frown back at him. “You’re not taking your own car?”
“Nope,” he says. “My official car has monitoring.” And, I realize, he doesn’t want it showing up on any routine GPS checks the FBI might do. He crams himself into our backseat, which isn’t easy to do with those long legs, but then again, he must manage it in airplanes, and the FBI damn sure doesn’t pay for business class. While I’m getting the car started, he takes out his phone and powers it off. “You should shut both of yours off, too,” he tells us. “Trust me.”
I hand mine to Gwen, and she takes care of both. Lustig gives me quiet, terse directions as we glide through Atlanta; we leave the gridlock of downtown and head out into a less affluent part of town. It turns industrial, and then it turns into rusted, mostly abandoned structures that look ready to fall down in another stiff wind. The few people I see are homeless, or hopeless. A group of sullen young men in what passes for Atlanta winter wear sit on a corner and watches us drive by with impassive interest. The gang signs are everywhere.
I drive past the address, turn the next corner, and park. “We’d better take everything with us,” I say. “Not the place you leave stuff in view.”
“Good plan,” Mike says. “Common wisdom is, you don’t park in this neighborhood unless you leave somebody behind to watch the ride.”
“You volunteering?” Gwen asks drily, then gets out. I know she’s armed underneath that leather jacket. My gun is in a pancake holster on my left side; I like cross-body draw because it gives me time to assess before the weapon’s in my hand. Too many shots get fired before the brain catches up. “So. How do we want to do this?”
I lock the rental and mentally kiss the deposit goodbye. “Split up?”
“No,” both Mike and Gwen say. They exchange a look, as if surprised they agree on anything. “Outer perimeter only,” Mike says. “Start at the back, work our way ’round. We see anything sketchy, we’re out, and we sit on the place until I can get some guys here.”
“What are you going to tell them?” Gwen asks as we start walking. To our right is an old, boarded-up convenience store. There are eyes looking out between the boards, so it’s probably being used as a squat. “Since all your evidence is inadmissible.”
“I’ll say we heard sounds of a person in distress,” Mike says. “Which, when we find this video, won’t be too hard to believe. I’ll drop it inside, some point.”
“You seriously think that’s going to play.”
He shrugs. “Gets us a step farther. Right now, progress is all I got.”
We turn right at the alley, which makes my skin tingle and hair prickle painfully on the back of my neck. With two-story crumbling warehouses on either side, it looks like a place shadows gather. I’d rather not get knifed out here. Mike isn’t wearing a protective vest, either. This feels like an ambush waiting to happen.
The first warehouse we pass on the right-hand side is concrete blocks, so it’s surviving better, though the corrugated roof has rusted heavily. The chain-link fence is cut in two places. But the next warehouse, the one we came for, looks worse. Yet this chain link is new and shiny, and there’s a loop of barbed wire across the top to keep out anyone thinking of hopping it. The NO TRESPASSING signs are new and bright red, lacking the gunshot spatter that I’d seen on the ones in front in Google Street View. I wonder if someone has been out to renew all of it. Probably.
“Over here,” Gwen says, pulling on the chain link right at the farthest pole. It rattles, and when I come over, I see that it’s been cut and fastened with a couple of paper clips. I work them free, and Gwen shoves the opening back. It’s big enough to crawl through.
I look at Mike. He holds up both hands. “Not my circus,” he says. “You take care.”
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