Authors: Monette Michaels
“Don’t go back to your apartment,” he said.
“I hadn’t planned on it.” Her gaze swept the building lobby and the noon-time crowds coming and going to lunch. One man, not Hispanic, but tall and Teutonic-looking, watched her closely. He smiled when her gaze paused on him for a second.
Probably just someone who recognized her, but she didn’t want to take the chance he wasn’t a merc hired by Cruz. She stood, making sure her tote was securely on her arm, then walked away from him. She exited onto Michigan Avenue and headed for the Water Tower mall. “I’m walking and talking now. I want to see if anyone follows me.”
“Good, that’s good.” Ren mumbled something to Keely she couldn’t quite make out.
The baby cooed in the background. Callie’s womb contracted at the sound. Nothing could happen to her baby. Risto’s baby.
Finally, Ren spoke to her. “We can’t send anyone to you right now. All our regular operatives are on cases and we haven’t fully vetted the probationary operatives yet.” Which meant Risto was on assignment—and Ren didn’t trust his new recruits. And after a couple of close calls in the last year, she didn’t blame him. So, she was on her own for now.
“I’d come myself—and Keely argued that point adamantly—but with the new baby, I’m uncomfortable leaving her alone.” With the “unknown new recruits” implied.
“No, Ren, you need to stay and take care of your family. Plus, I
you there. I’m sending my brothers to Sanctuary until it is safe for them to go home. They’re coming from a ski trip in Colorado and could be there this evening.”
“We’ll be happy to have them,” Ren said. “Keely’s parents told me they loved having them in September, said they are marvelous kids. Keely and I will keep them safe.”
“I know you will.” Callie wiped away more tears threatening to fall. The moisture would freeze from the cold wind off Lake Michigan. At least she was dressed for the inclement weather. It was supposed to snow later in the day.
“Callie,” Ren said. “I’ll get someone from the Chicago FBI office to check your house. They’ll secure it and remove any video or audio devices and see if they can trace the feed. They can also touch base with the Chicago PD about the break in at your brothers’ place and let the locals know this is connected to a federal crime. Cruz is now wanted by the US government for your attempted kidnapping, drug trafficking, money laundering, and terrorist activities. If they could catch him on US soil, that would be a coup.”
She let out a breath. “That’s good. And if Cruz isn’t here, whoever is doing his dirty work could be picked up and turned on him.” She entered the Water Tower mall, stopped in the lower lobby, and looked back the way she’d come. She didn’t see the man who’d smiled at her. Nor did she see anyone who singled her out. She took the escalator up and headed for the top floor and a lunch place. She was light-headed from hunger after what had become her morning ritual of vomiting. “Once I find a place to go, I’ll let you know where I am.”
“Come to us,” Keely said, her voice insistent. “We can protect you here.”
“Idaho’s so far away.” Her stomach revolted at the thought of a plane ride. She wasn’t a good flier to begin with and the thought of holiday-crowded planes and airport layovers exhausted her just to think about them. She hesitated, how could she explain it and not reveal her pregnancy?
She fell back on the Thanksgiving travel excuse. “I doubt I could get any tickets west which wouldn’t involve a ton of layovers. Flights have to be sold out, and quite frankly, I have some sort of a tummy bug,”
well, it isn’t a complete lie
, “and can’t face the crowds and the inevitable getting bumped because of over-sold planes. Plus, I’m afraid Cruz would have people covering airline and train reservations. And, at this time of year, a car trip would be dicey, weather-wise.”
Not to mention she’d have to do it in stages. She was tired all the time. The doctor had told her that her symptoms seemed to be exaggerated—and then had delicately asked about stress, worry—and the father of the child. Callie had declined to share.
“So, what are you going to do?” Ren asked.
“Greyhound bus, I think. It would be unexpected. Cruz has a vision of me as a sophisticated model—not a Joe-bag-of-doughnuts person who takes a bus.” Plus, with the open-ended ticketing option, she could pick a long-distance destination and get off anywhere along the way and stay in a small, no-name town. The bad guys would have no way of knowing where she got off—if they even discovered she’d taken the bus.
Entering one of her favorite cafes in Chicago, she sat at a table so that her back was against a wall and her view of the entrance unimpeded. “I’ll withdraw lots of cash for food and motels on the road and use my credit cards one last time in Chicago to shop for some extra clothes and toiletries. Then I’ll find some remote place, take the bus, and disappear until you give me the all-clear to come home to Chicago.”
“What if we don’t catch him, Callie?” Ren’s worry was clear in his voice.
“Then I’ll wait for an SSI escort and plan on an extended stay in Idaho.”
“Sounds like a good plan for now,” Ren said. “How will we contact you? He might have someone monitoring your phone accounts.”
“I’ll buy a throw-away or use a landline. I have my laptop. I can use the secure satellite connection you set me up with for work to retrieve e-mail.” She patted her tote bag and reassured herself that her small computer was still inside. Sometimes she forgot.
It was there, thank God, or she’d have had to buy a netbook or a tablet.
“It’ll take some time, but eventually we can set it up to bounce your cell phone signal, Callie. Tweeter will take care of it as soon as he gets back from Boise today,” Ren said. “We’ll send you an e-mail letting you know when you can use your cell again.
Keely says she’ll use the code you girls used as kids in any e-mails so you’ll know it’s from her. We still have the trapping program on all our incoming and outgoing messages over the NSA satellite.”
“Great. I’ll send an e-mail with my itinerary in code once I’m on the bus.” If the bus was one of the new ones with WiFi that is; it all would depend on the destination. Maybe she should get a network card for her laptop. She could then sign on to the secured SSI server through it.
“Callie, I want you to check in with us every eight hours,” Ren said. She knew he and Keely would try to free up one of the regular operatives to come get her as soon as possible.
“Gotcha, every eight hours, beginning now.” She checked her watch. “It’s eleven central standard time. So, I’ll check in at seven central time this evening.”
“Got it, and good luck, Callie,” Ren said.
Keely chimed in, “Take care of yourself, Calista Jean. Sorry, we couldn’t be of more immediate help.”
“You’ve helped. My brothers will be safe. I have a plan—and you’ll come through if I do get in actual danger. Nothing has happened yet. This could all be a lot of hassle for nothing.” And, God willing, it would all be a false alarm, but she didn’t really think so.
“Bye. Talk to you this evening.” She ended the call.
“What would you like to eat?” Her favorite waitress, Sissy, smiled at her. “We have potato soup today. Sandwich special is a tuna melt.”
“I’ll take a Pepsi.” To hell with what the doctor said about caffeine, she needed the boost. “A cup of the soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, whole grain bread, please.” All of a sudden she was ravenous. Her stomach grumbled loudly. The baby was hungry. She smoothed a hand over the place where her child lay.
“Want chips, fruit or coleslaw with the grilled cheese?”
“Fruit, please. Thanks, Sissy.”
“Got it. Be right back with your soda.”
Callie stared at her phone. She didn’t think Cruz would suspect she would know to run so she should be safe making one more call. So, who to call?
Her gut told her she should leave Risto a voice mail message, letting him know she was on the run. He’d want to know. Her earlier maudlin doubts about him not caring enough to call she chalked up to hormones and shock at being pregnant. Dammit, the man wanted her. She wasn’t sure what bug he’d gotten up his butt that caused him to dump her in the hospital in Panama City, but she suspected it was some dumb macho-idiot thing.
Tweeter had also told her when he’d dropped her and the twins off in Chicago that he thought Risto wanted her. Her childhood friend and brother-by-choice advised her to give the man time to miss her. Men like Risto, Tweeter had said, didn’t like being chased.
They liked to do the chasing. That would be the last time she took romantic advice from an alpha-geek who had no steady woman of his own. She’d wasted two months, waiting on Risto to decide to chase her.
She refused to wait any longer. She’d pursue him—but indirectly.
Her lips twisted into a slightly evil smile. She wouldn’t leave Risto a voice mail message. Instead, she’d call Conn for help and let him call Risto. She snorted back a laugh. If that didn’t light a fire under Risto’s stubborn tight ass, then he really didn’t want her and she’d know once and for all. At the thought he might not care, she started to cry.
Pregnancy had turned her into a Grade-A wuss.
“Here’s your Pepsi, Callie. You okay?” Sissy patted her on the back.
“Just a little blue today. Thanks for asking.” She attempted a smile. It must’ve been a pathetic one because Sissy looked even more concerned and patted her back once again before leaving to wait on another table.
Callie took a sip of her Pepsi. Aah, the elixir of life—pregnancy be-damned, the baby would just have to acclimate his diet to caffeine and sugar. Taking a slow calming breath, she punched the speed dial number for Conn. She smiled, recalling how jealous Risto had been when he discovered she had Conn’s private line. Yeah, the marine cared all right.
“Conn?” she asked when the call was connected and she heard only silence.
“Callie? What a pleasant surprise? How are you, sweet cheeks.” She smiled at the endearment and got all teary again. It was so Conn. “Not good. I’m in trouble. I need help.”
“Talk to me.” His voice had gone from happy to concerned and all business in a nanosecond.
She sighed and knew this call had been the right move. “Cruz is after me again.” She heard Conn’s snarling “fuck”, then him yelling for Berto to get his ass in there.
“Where are you?” His voice echoed and she realized he had put her on speaker phone.
“In the Water Tower mall in Chicago … eating.”
“What the fuck are you doing in a fucking mall? It’s like a fucking shooting gallery in those fucking places.” He sounded like an angry marine; his f-bombs were an indication of his concern and frustration at being too far away to help.
“I’m fine.” She laughed nervously. Yeah, hysteria was imminent. “No one followed me here.”
“Then how in the fuck do you know Cruz is after you?” She could almost see him ruffle his fingers through his hair. The snarl in his voice was so familiar, so alpha, so like Risto. It centered her.
She quickly filled him in on the break-in at her brothers’ apartment and her call to SSI. “I’m afraid Cruz wants to use my brothers to get to me—just as he threatened before.”
“Maybe, or maybe he just wants to fuck with your head before he comes after you directly.” He sounded calm, but his intense anger still thrummed over the connection.
“The security of my apartment is better than my brothers’. Plus, if they’d been casing my place, I would’ve sensed it.” She paused. “Ren’s notifying the Chicago FBI to check my place out just in case they do try to break in and wire it.”
“Go to Idaho, Callie. Sanctuary is a fortress.” His words sounded like an unconditional order.
“I can’t.” She swallowed, taking the biggest chance in her life. He’d seen her with Risto—he might guess her condition. “I’m sick.”
“Sick? What kind of sick? Did you pick up a bug in the Darien? Risto told me you’d been wounded, had heat stroke and some dehydration…”
The news that Risto had talked about her to Conn made her happy. “Yeah, something like that. Just the thought of the plane ride, well, I can’t. I’m dizzy, weak, sick to my stomach … I’d be afraid to chance it. I’m not all that good on planes to begin with.”
a liar you are, Calista Jean.
“Plus, the weather here is getting bad—so no car trip. And Amtrak wouldn’t get me close enough to Sanctuary to be worth it. I was thinking about a Greyhound bus and getting off at one of the stops and hiding in some rural motel until Ren can get someone to me.”
“Callie, you aren’t telling me everything.” She remained silent.
he was putting it together just as she feared—and hoped. “Why didn’t you call Risto? You’re all he talks about. He bragged the other day about how you’re nailing Cruz’s secret accounts right and left. And let me tell you, Paco ain’t too happy about his drug profits being taken by the Colombian government. Only good thing is Paco’s blaming Cruz, not you. Tom and Rosa made sure of that.”
“Risto is unavailable, according to Ren.” The tears in her voice were real and not forced at all. “I haven’t seen or heard from Risto since Panama City. He doesn’t want me, Conn.” Her sob was loud. Sissy looked over, a frown on her face. Callie waved the girl off when she started to walk toward the table.
“Bullshit. The man would give both his nuts for you. As much as I like the guy, I’ll admit he’s a stubborn shithead.” Conn exhaled loudly. “Okay, this is what is gonna happen. Berto will set up your Greyhound itinerary and pay for it out of one of my accounts so Cruz’s minions and the fucking DOD traitor can’t track it to you so easily.
Hold the line, Berto just came in. I want to bring him up to speed and get him on that detail.” Mumbled masculine tones and the slight hum of the connection were all she heard for a few seconds. “Okay, he’s working on it.”