Authors: Carla Neggers
Tags: #Detective and Mystery Stories, #General, #Romance, #Suspense Fiction, #Missing persons, #Suspense, #Fiction
He thought of Moose, who really was a hero. “No one’s indestructible.”
“Figure of speech,” Myrtle said. “You know what I mean. Let me buy you a cup of coffee. We can talk about the vice president’s son, a dead ambassador, his best friend, his stepdaughter and assassins.”
“And Drew Cameron,” Grit said.
Reporter that she was, she pounced. “Who?”
“Not here. We’ll take my car,” she said, eyeing the cedar tree. “I don’t do well with rats.”
Staying low, Jo crept to the back window of the cabin. Elijah was checking the window on the side wall. Weapons drawn, they’d taken turns on watch overnight. It was first light, and the storm was over, leaving behind eight or ten inches of wet snow. The branches of the spruce trees surrounding the cabin drooped under the weight of the snow, but the cabin itself had remained dry. Even the worst of the winds hadn’t penetrated its weather-tight walls.
Leave it to a Cameron, Jo thought as she noticed Nora stir. Devin was already awake, just not talking. He’d slept little and had tried several different positions before he’d found one that was the least painful, propping himself against the woodstove. He hadn’t moved since.
Nora sat up, her sleeping bag twisted around her, and tried to smile. “I wish the woodstove was hooked up and we could build a fire.”
“A fire would confirm to Kyle that we’re here and you and Devin survived,” Jo said. “Are you warm enough?”
Nora nodded, then gave Devin a worried look. “You okay, Dev?”
“Yeah.” His lips barely moved as he spoke. Any movement seemed to cause him pain. He was clearly miserable, but he said, “I’m fine.”
As the storm had raged around them, Nora had quietly related how she and Devin had been conducting their own background check of her father’s fiancée. Both Jo and Elijah had forbidden the use of flashlights, and with the storm, there was no moonlight or starlight to help ease the darkness on the mountain. She’d heard the pain, grief and loneliness in Nora’s voice as she’d told her story.
“I’ve made a mess of things,” she’d said, almost tonelessly. “I’m sorry.”
Elijah had spoken up at that point. “Sorry for what?”
“For putting you all in this position.”
“Did you hit Devin? Did you chase yourself into that gully? You’re not the enemy here, Nora. You’re a kid. If you made mistakes—hell, why should you be exempt? Put them behind you. Focus on what you can do right now.”
“I can’t do anything. I’m useless.”
“You can stay warm and dry and get some rest.” When he’d paused, Jo had felt his smile as he teased. “I’ll have all I can do to carry Jo down this mountain.”
Of course she had protested, and Nora had sniffled and laughed, at least a little, Elijah’s comment providing the distraction it was meant to.
He and Jo both checked on Devin regularly through the long night.
A.J. knew his brother had hiked out to the north side of the mountain, and that Jo had followed him. When they didn’t turn up, he wouldn’t sit around for long. Neither would his family. Her paramedic sister, her firefighter brother—and her father, the former police chief. They’d all be raising hell by now.
Then there was Beth’s trooper boyfriend. Jo smiled to herself as she stayed to one side of the window and peered out at the snowy landscape. Scott Thorne would just love to rescue a Secret Service agent and Special Forces soldier.
But she knew that wasn’t exactly true, either. Scott would want what they all did—a good outcome. Kyle Rigby in custody, explaining himself. Devin and Nora safe. Jo and Elijah back on the lake.
It was Elijah, intense. Jo dropped, even as a sharp crack shattered the silence and, simultaneously, the front window splintered and shards of glass crashed onto the cabin floor.
Another shot went through the same window as the first and struck the solid wood beam above the back wall of the cabin.
Staying low, Jo dived for Nora and Devin. Nora had already thrown herself onto Devin and was half dragging him, half rolling with him across the plywood floor around to the back of the woodstove.
She looked up, her eyes wide with terror. “What’s happening?”
“We’re getting shot at.” Jo shoved the backpacks toward them. Devin stirred, white-faced as he caught the strap of Nora’s pack and pushed it at her. “Use the packs for cover. Stay behind the woodstove. Understood?”
Devin barely reacted, the pain of his injuries evident in every breath he took. Nora nodded, recoiling as a third round hit the same window, and the report of the heavy-caliber weapon boomed and echoed on their quiet hillside.
Elijah pulled the slide on his .45. He’d already raced to the front of the cabin and was positioned in the corner by the shot-out window.
He aimed and fired one round.
Crouched down, Jo ran to him, ignoring the glass shards as Elijah fired again.
Two more shots in quick succession smacked into the sturdy wood door.
Jo knew she didn’t need to tell Elijah it was a heavy-caliber weapon firing at them: an assault rifle. And she didn’t have to tell him it was Kyle Rigby.
He probably had a thirty-round clip. A lot of bullets.
When he used them up, he’d reload.
“He’s using the trees my father cut down as cover. Right by the spruce trees.” Elijah didn’t take his eyes off the spot. “I’m going after him.”
“I’ll keep him from moving,” Jo said. “He wants us all dead, Elijah.”
“I can tell from the bullets.” He looked at her, his gaze steady. “We’re past negotiations, Jo.”
“Yeah. Go.” Her breath caught. “Stay safe.”
He winked at her. “Be good, sweet pea.”
Moving fast, he crossed to the back of the cabin. Snow blew in as he went out the back door, shutting it silently behind him.
Nora and Devin stayed quiet and still behind the woodstove, huddled among the backpacks, as protected as possible with a madman shooting at them.
Not a madman, Jo thought. Rigby had examined his options and picked the one he’d considered most likely to get the job done. He knew what he was up against. He’d counted on Nora and Devin freezing to death up here, and when he’d realized that wasn’t going to happen, he’d come up with a new plan.
The all-or-nothing approach.
She fired toward the fallen trees before he could get off another shot, ducked low and fired again from another angle. She wanted to provide cover fire and keep Rigby pinned down and guessing. He was aware he was dealing with two shooters. Let him think both she and Elijah were still in the cabin.
“Rigby, I know it’s you out there,” she yelled. “Let’s talk.”
“No talking. You’re all dead.”
“Let’s figure something out.” She moved to another spot on the window and fired again. “You’re not in a good situation. I’m armed, I’ve got food and water and I’m warm. Bet you’re frostbitten.”
Not frostbitten enough not to be able to shoot.
Then she heard three quick shots of a .45.
She waited, poised to shoot again if necessary.
But there was silence. Finally Elijah called to her. “He’s down, Jo. No sign of another shooter.”
She turned to Nora and Devin, who still hadn’t moved. “I have to go out there. I’ll be back in two minutes. Stay put.”
She raced out the front door and into the snow, wet and deep as it sparkled in the bright rising sun. She pushed through the tiny clearing in front of the cabin and slowed her pace as she ducked behind the felled trees and entered the spruce grove.
Elijah had picked up Rigby’s assault rifle—not that there was any chance Rigby would be able to use it. But it was what Jo would have done.
She knew Elijah had checked Rigby but she felt compelled to do so herself. He was dead.
“I’m sure you gave him a chance to put down his weapon,” she said.
Rigby had fired ten rounds.
“Don’t touch anything. The police need to get here.”
There was just a hint of humor in his very blue eyes. “Sure, Jo.”
She heard a cry of pure anguish up by the cabin and turned just as Nora leaped out the front door into the snow and ran, tearing off back toward the gully where Elijah had found her.
Jo went after her, post-holing her way through the deep snow. “Nora, stop,” she called sharply. “You don’t have the energy or the equipment to go far. Neither do I. You’re safe now.”
But she kept running.
She fell onto her knees in the snow. “It’s all my fault,” she sobbed, covering her head with her hands. “It’s all my fault. I should have left well enough alone.”
Jo caught up with her and crouched next to her. She said gently, “It’s okay, Nora. Come on, kiddo. We’re safe. Let’s go back into the cabin. Storm’s over. We can get out of here.”
She dug her fingers into her hair and seemed to try to rip it out as she cried. “I want my mom, but she doesn’t care about me.” She raised her head, dropping her arms as tears flowed down her pale cheeks and she shook uncontrollably. “I’m so scared. My dad—what if he’s involved in whatever’s going on? He’s so caught up in Melanie.”
“First things first, Nora.”
She glared up at Jo. “What if he did something stupid, and now he’s ruined his life? What if he’s being blackmailed?”
There was no way Jo was going into all that right now. “We’ll get everything sorted out. You knew something was wrong, and you were right. You trusted your instincts.”
“I never thought anyone wanted to kill me. I wouldn’t have come up here. I’m so stupid.” As she spoke, she started shivering. “I’m so cold. Jo…”
“You survived. You did what you had to do.”
“Don’t patronize me.” With a sudden burst of anger, Nora shook off Jo’s offer of a hand and stalked back toward the cabin. But she stopped short of the front door, lurched toward a felled tree and vomited in the snow.
Jo hung back and said nothing. When Nora finished, she just silently returned to the cabin.
Elijah stepped out from the spruce trees and stood next to Jo. “Rigby had his chance to get out of here and disappear. Interesting that he didn’t.”
Jo nodded grimly. “He knew he had to succeed up here. Failure wasn’t an option.”
“We need to get these kids off this mountain. How much time do you figure before the cavalry arrives?”
“My guess is they’re close enough to have heard the shots.”
“I can go down the trail and meet them.”
“No.” Elijah shook his head and brushed a knuckle across her cheek. “We stick together.”
Grit stood outside the revolving doors of the hotel where Ambassador Bruni had been killed and watched the passersby. It was almost noon and cloudy, but other people seemed to be enjoying themselves. Last night, Myrtle had said to meet her there. She’d added a little something to her coffee and was in a maudlin mood when they’d parted, the kind that indicated she had layers and secrets and dark corners that she didn’t like to look in.
He had a bad feeling about Myrtle.
Just down the street a fair, buff teenage boy in a navy Georgetown University cap, hooded sweatshirt and tan chinos was staring at the spot where Bruni was hit.
The pants were neatly pressed.
Well, well, Grit thought, and eased in next to the kid. “Hello, Charlie.”
He looked startled. “That’s not my name.”
“Sure it is. You know a friend of a friend of mine. Jo Harper.”
“The Secret Service agent in the video?”
All innocent. Grit narrowed his eyes. “What’re you doing here, Charlie?”
“What makes you—”
“Prep-school pants. And the hat and the sweatshirt both Georgetown? Come on.”
He reddened some, but not much. “I have a trombone lesson around the corner.”
“You don’t play trombone.”
The kid stared at the asphalt and said calmly, “A doctor’s appointment would have worked better?”
“No,” Grit said.
“Who I am is none of your business.”
“I’m a caring citizen.” But Grit figured Charlie Neal, being a genius as well as sixteen, already knew who he was. “There are no Secret Service agents strong-arming me right now, so that means you gave them the slip somehow. What did you do, hide yourself in a suitcase?”
He shrugged. “I didn’t do anything. You obviously have me confused with someone else. I’m just a kid.”
Grit studied him thoughtfully and considered his research into the life and times of Charles Preston Neal, the only son and youngest child of the current vice president of the United States. “Your cousin,” he said finally, “Conor Neal. You two are the same age. You both look like Prince Harry did at sixteen.”
“You and the cousin switched places. Create a little bedlam, and next thing, he’s you and you’re him. Conor doesn’t have a Secret Service detail. You do.” Grit thought it through and figured that was it. “It’s sort of like
The Prince and the Pauper.
Ever read that book?”
Charlie didn’t answer, but his ears got red under the lower edge of his Georgetown cap.
“Must be refreshing,” Grit said with some sympathy, “just to be normal.”
Big roll of the eyes. “That’s not the point.” Charlie turned his head and glared at Grit. “You’re Petty Officer Taylor, right? You and Petty Officer Michael Ferrerra, also a Navy SEAL, were each awarded a Silver Star last year. It’s for gallantry in action—”
“I know what it’s for.”
“I keep track of Silver Star recipients. I figure it’s the least I can do.” Charlie stuffed his hands into the front pocket of his oversize sweatshirt and kept his blue Prince Harry eyes on Grit. “Petty Officer Ferrerra died in April. He saved your life.”
“I just pay attention, Petty Officer Taylor.”
“Just Grit is fine. And not because you’re the vice president’s son.” He nodded to the spot where Bruni was hit. “Was Ambassador Bruni meeting you the other morning?”
Charlie’s shoulders slumped, and he shook his head but didn’t speak.