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From this angle, Alex could see the entrance to the underground parking garage. It was kind of sad, actually, that Carston had never moved to a better office. Maybe he liked the depressing surroundings. Maybe it seemed appropriate to the job and he liked things to conform. Making things easier for Alex had probably not been on his agenda, but it was nice it had worked out this way.

She and Val sat in the Jag for more than an hour, Val getting out to feed the meter once. They didn’t talk; Alex’s mind was miles away, working overtime to think through the flaws in her plan and try to fix them insofar as that was possible. There was so much that had to be left up to chance; she hated chance.

Alex imagined Val’s mind was in Beijing. It was a good place to run to. Val might even be safe there. Alex wished she and Daniel were getting on a plane to Beijing right now.

Daniel probably wasn’t enjoying the wait any more than she was. He’d be at the park now, nothing to fill his time until Alex arrived, no way to know what was happening. At least she had Val to sit with, even if neither of them was very good company at the moment.

Finally there was movement below, and she sat up straighter. The white-and-red-striped arm at the mouth of the garage was rising to let someone out. The last two alarms had both been delivery trucks, but this time a dark sedan was pulling out of the garage. Alex started the engine and rolled out onto the street. Someone honked behind her, but she didn’t spare him a glance. She didn’t take her eyes off the car. From this distance, it appeared to match Carston’s black BMW. It was only just after four o’clock now, not quite time for government employees to be heading out.

Here was the first big chance. Once Erin Carston-Boyd was sure her daughter was missing, she would have called her father in a panic. Right? She knew he had some kind of important government job. She would consider him powerful and capable. She wouldn’t rely on just the police with her daughter kidnapped. Should it have taken this long? When Alex had last been able to check, no call had come and Carston was still in his office. Managing Kevin’s interrogation, no doubt.

She thought he would head to his daughter’s side. It seemed the only response. But what if Carston had other options? What if he sent a special ops team instead? Was he that cold? If he had to be… probably yes.

But surely Deavers could manage the interrogation by himself for a few hours. Right?

Alex’s driving was much more offensive than defensive as she weaved her way forward, refusing to stop for even the pinkest of yellow lights. She knew the two best routes from Carston’s office to the zoo, where she assumed Erin’s call had come from. Would the terrified mother leave the last place she’d seen her daughter before she was positive the child wasn’t hiding somewhere in the foliage? If the call came from a police station, of which there were several possible options, Carston could take a number of different routes.

So many things left to chance.

The BMW was heading down the correct street, the one she would have chosen as the quickest route to the zoo. He was driving a little erratically as well. She carefully moved up from behind two other cars. She didn’t want to spook him.

It was the right car. The plates matched. It looked like the back of Carston’s mostly bald head.

Alex watched for eyes in the rearview mirror, but he seemed to be focused on the road. She maneuvered into the parallel lane.

She supposed she should feel better that this part was going according to plan. But it felt like someone was drilling a wide hole into the bottom of her stomach; she thought she might gag as she pulled alongside his car. Because if this part worked, that meant she had to go forward with the rest of the plan.

The light turned yellow ahead. Cars streamed through, but Carston was slowing. He knew he was too far back to make it. The car in front of him braked, too. Alex could have pulled up to the line in her lane – the car in front of her had turned right. Instead, she stopped directly beside Carston.

She waved, her face pointed straight toward his profile. The motion was deliberately large, meant to catch his peripheral vision.

Carston glanced over automatically at the movement, his mind clearly far away, worry making a crinkled mess of his forehead. It took him a second to realize what he was seeing. In that instant of shock, before he could smash down the accelerator, pull a gun, or dial a number, she held up the phone in her hand. She had the image zoomed in on the girl’s sleeping face.

He locked down his expression as the facts began falling into place.

Quickly, she hopped out of her car and reached for the passenger door of his. She didn’t look back to watch Val slide over into the driver’s seat, but she heard the door close behind her. Alex waited with her fingers on the BMW’s passenger-door handle until she heard the locks click open. She climbed in next to him. The whole wordless exchange had taken less than two seconds. The cars behind them might be curious, but they would probably forget the transfer by the next light.

“Turn left,” she told Carston as Val went right and headed east. The Jag disappeared around the corner.

Carston was quick to recover. He put on his blinker and pulled across the left lane, nearly hitting the van headed through the light. Alex took his phone out of the cup holder, powered it down, and shoved it in her pocket.

“What do you want?” he asked. His voice sounded calm, but she could hear the strain in his lack of inflection.

“I need your help.”

He took a moment to digest that.

“Turn right at the next corner.”

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