Ballantine Rivard’s wheelchair glides out at top speed. He’s wearing a dark-blue suit with a pale-yellow tie. No comfortable sweat suit today. He’s angry; I can see that from where I slump in the passenger seat up front. All the windows are darkly tinted, which is useful just now. I have my gun out, in case I need to use it, because now my nerves are all firing, and I know we are one smart security guard away from this blowing up.
But they’re not looking at us. They’re looking outward, for threats. Rivard ignores his guards and stops, spins his chair backward, and drives it in reverse up the ramp. Rivard is practiced at this. His back is to the driver’s compartment, and I hear him snap some restraint system in place. Mike pushes in the built-in ramp and gets into the driver’s seat. I don’t think Rivard has so much as glanced at him.
“Where to?” Mike asks Rivard.
“We’re heading to the disaster office. Go,” Rivard snaps.
Mike nods as if he knows exactly where that is, and the whole thing is unbelievably smooth. Rivard still hasn’t realized that Mike isn’t his usual driver, and he doesn’t know he has a silent passenger up front. I was worried one of his guards would ride along, but they’re moving toward another vehicle entirely.
We come out of the garage. There’s a barrier in place, but the men on duty—who aren’t police, not yet—move it to let us pass. The place is still being evacuated. Rivard Luxe holds close to two thousand people in its offices, and this is going to disrupt Atlanta traffic for hours. If they catch us, we’re definitely going to jail now. Terrorism and kidnapping.
It’ll be a while before anybody misses Rivard, but now the clock isn’t just ticking for Gwen . . . it’s ticking for us.
I don’t know when Rivard works out that something’s wrong—maybe when Mike doesn’t follow the expected route—but because I’m watching him in the rearview, I see him take his phone out of his pocket. I put my gun to the back of his head. “Drop it,” I tell him. “Now.”
The phone bounces to the floor and slides all the way to rattle against the back door. Rivard is silent for a moment. When he finally speaks, he doesn’t sound the least bit afraid. “Mr. Cade. I suppose I should have anticipated that you’d come back. I just expected you to try something more conventional.”
“Glad to disappoint you,” I tell him. “Where is she?”
“Melvin Royal’s wife?”
“You mean Gina. She’ll always be his wife first. Surely you realize that by now.”
I feel my muscles tightening, and I have to make a real effort to relax. “You really want a bullet?” I ask him. “Because, hey, keep going.”
“Do you want to explain to me why you’ve taken me hostage?”
“You’re going to tell me where Absalom’s taken Gwen.”
“I have no idea.” That rich, thick Louisiana accent feels like mockery right now. I never wanted to pistol-whip an old man before, but the urge is pretty strong. “Why in the world would I know?”
“Sam?” Mike’s voice is quiet, but tense. “Ease it down, man. Where are we going?”
“Where he left Rodney Sauer,” I say. “Seems appropriate.”
Rivard doesn’t keep talking. Maybe he’s trying to figure out what buttons to press this time, and not finding any. I keep my gun pressed close and tell him to keep his hands up. He’s an old man. His arms tremble, and the shakes get worse the longer we drive. Good. I want him tired and afraid.
We park in a darkened alley between two warehouses. Everything on the block is derelict and empty. The only tenants are rats and pigeons.
While Mike takes a turn holding him at gunpoint, I open up the back, grab his phone, and strip the battery. I wouldn’t put it past a man this rich to have a fail-safe tracker in it, so I find a handy brick and batter the phone into bits, then drown the bits in a muddy puddle. The violence feels good.
I climb in, then kneel down so I’m on Rivard’s level. When he studies me, Rivard’s face changes. It tightens, and for moment I see a skull under the skin, and hell in those eyes. “You’ll go to jail for a long time for this,” he says. “And I’ll still be free. You know that.”
“I know that if you don’t tell me what I want to know, you’re going to die here,” I say. I mean every word. I’m already in this deep.
“You’d kill a helpless old man in a wheelchair. That’s sick.”
“You should know,” I tell him. “Billions of dirty dollars in your bank account from worse than that. You think we don’t know?” I put the gun under his chin. “Because we do.”
Rivard’s eyes dart to Mike. He’s unnerved now. Mike’s stripped off the Rivard security jacket and thrown it in the van, and now he’s zipping up the hoodie. “You, I recognize you. You’re a federal agent,” he says. “You can’t let him do this!”
“Which part?” Mike says. “The terrorism threat, the kidnapping, or the murder? First two are my problem. Last one’s all yours. Murder’s not a federal crime.”
Rivard’s lips are pale and compressed, and his eyes dart from one of us to the other. Starting to realize, I think, how deep the shit hole is.
“You’re Absalom,” Mike says. “The rest are just minions. You’re a bloated white spider getting fat off the dead. How long’s that been going on? Five years? Ten? I’m guessing before Melvin Royal strung up his first victim. Finding out how to use the dark web to find your customers and make your money must have been like tapping a river of pure gold.”
Rivard’s silent. If looks could kill, all of Atlanta would be a mushroom cloud. But I don’t care about finding out more about Absalom. “Gwen,” I say. “Talk. Now. Because I promise I’ll start shooting pieces off you. I’ll be nice. I’ll start with the ones you supposedly can’t feel anymore.” I move the gun to tap the barrel against his kneecap. His raised arms are shaking wildly now. Ready to drop. “Keep those hands up. I’m counting to five, and then you lose a leg.”
It’s almost a normal tone of voice, but there’s nothing right about the corrosive hate that’s churning inside of me. I thought that Melvin Royal was a monster, and he is, but this man . . . this man is the one who uses monsters to make money. And if I have to pull this trigger, I’m not going to care.
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