“I didn’t come for you,” he spit out unwillingly. “I was sent for a man. I was given a picture. I was told there would be a second man, but that the second would be easy. The first would be hard. I never saw that one.”
“When were you hired?”
“Then you rounded up some extra help and came in today,” she guessed. “From where?”
“How did you know where to come?”
“They gave me three addresses. This was the second try.”
“I guess I don’t need to ask what happened at the first place.”
His seething fury twisted into a ghoulish smile. “They were old. A man and a woman. They didn’t fit the description, but I was paid well. It doesn’t hurt to be thorough, and all it cost me was two bullets.”
She nodded. He could see nothing of her expression behind the gas mask, but she kept her features smooth out of habit.
“How far away was the other house?”
“Fifteen minutes south of the little town.”
“Where did the addresses come from?”
“No one told me that. I didn’t ask.”
She hefted the bolt cutters. “No guesses?”
“The other place was nothing like this. I saw nothing in common.”
It could be a lie, but it would make more sense for it to be the truth. Why would Carston or whoever was calling the shots at the Agency need to give the hit man more than this location?
She puzzled over it for a moment, trying to think of another avenue to explore. Her eyes never left his hands. What kinds of things might link Arnie’s home to random others? What similarity would generate a list of otherwise unconnected addresses?
With a sinking feeling, she thought of a possibility. One she did not like much.
“What kind of car was in the driveway of the first place?”
He seemed surprised by her question. “An old truck.”
“With a black camper.”
Her jaw clenched.
So they’d gotten a very good look at Arnie’s truck – the one he’d said had two perfect matches around town. They must have gotten Daniel on camera or they wouldn’t be so certain of the make and model. Daniel would have had to drive down the main drag, passing the bank; that was probably how they’d done it. Why bother questioning the girl who called in about the missing teacher? Just take the CC camera footage from town and get something solid, then call the DMV. They didn’t get everything – if the plates had been clear, that couple across town wouldn’t be dead. But they knew Daniel was alive because Kevin wouldn’t have made that mistake. Also, even in a grainy black-and-white video, Daniel didn’t look exactly like Kevin if you knew what to look for.
She needed Arnie’s truck. She needed it badly. It was inconspicuous. They couldn’t exactly roll through town in the Batmobile and escape notice. Where was she going to get another vehicle out here?
She took a step back, feeling tired. She’d had a good resting place, but now the hunt was on again. It didn’t even matter that, most likely, the bad guys thought she was dead. Because they knew Daniel was alive.
Hector’s right hand was busy. He was scratching at the zip tie with the tips of his fingers, almost dislocating his wrist in the process. It didn’t look like he was trying to break it or even get to the locking tab. What was he doing? She reached for the Glock; it would probably be safest to put a round through that hand —
A single, concussive shot exploded in the silence, much louder than she would have expected it to sound from outside the house. Daniel —
Her eyes had darted to the direction of the shot though she knew better. In the fourth of a second it took her to recall them while simultaneously ripping her Glock from the holster, Hector’s fingers found what they were searching for. He extracted a five-inch serrated blade from the cuff of his sleeve. It sawed across the taut zip tie with a twanging snap. The same motion turned into a cast. She fired into his central mass as the blade flew at her face. She tried to dodge while she kept shooting, ignoring the sudden pressure that wasn’t quite pain as it slashed across her jaw – wasn’t pain yet, but would be soon, when the drug wore off. She could feel the heat of the blood coating her neck as she continued firing into Hector’s chest until the clip was empty.
Hector lay still, his open eyes still pointed in her direction, but no longer focused.
Moving in swift, jerky bursts, she wiped down the Glock and threw it over the banister, wiped and holstered the cutters, and retrieved her shotgun from the end of the hall, trying to concentrate on what to do next. She didn’t know what was waiting for her outside. As she crept down the stairs, her fingers worked quickly to make sense of the new damage. The assassin’s blade had just missed her carotid artery, hitting the bottom corner of her jaw and slicing halfway through her earlobe. The loose piece dangled against her neck. Beautiful.
She fished the remains of her left earring from the damaged lobe – just the hook was left, with a few tiny fragments of thin glass still stuck in the twist of wire – then removed the right. She stowed them in a pocket on the tactical vest. It would be unwise to leave such evidence behind. Even something so small could tip her enemies off, give them a reason to believe she was alive.
On the ground floor, she spared a second to take one quick look at Arnie. His face was turned to the floor. She could see only what was left of the back of his head. It was obvious that he hadn’t suffered, but that was weak comfort.