Authors: Janice Kay Johnson
Mac climbed out of the car, looking dubious. "You're really going to slide down that, huh?"
Megan's smile was a challenge. "And so are you."
"Yeah, right." He glanced down at Zachary. "You don't want to do that, do you, boy?"
Zachary bounced and gave one woof.
Megan chuckled and hooked her hand around Mac's solidly muscled arm. "Come on. Don't be stuffy."
The climb was hard work, with the sand slipping from beneath their feet on each step. Poor Zachary lunged forward and slid back. He was panting and his long pink tongue dangling out of his mouth by the time they reached the top.
"Hell of a view," Mac admitted. The lake below shone like a jewel, and in the other direction dunes rolled like windswept waves toward the ocean, marked only by the wheels of dune buggies.
Megan climbed onto the blue plastic disk and clutched the rope handle. "You can get on behind," she said.
"I can, huh?" Mac's unenthusiastic tone was belied by the amused tilt to his mouth. "Trying to relive your childhood, lady?"
He shrugged and sat down behind her so that she was between his knees. She didn't mind her position at all. "Let her rip," Mac said, and gave a shove with one hand.
The next thirty seconds were exhilarating. Zachary leaped along behind them, barking all the way. They soared down the dune, sometimes going sideways, bumping and lurching until they hit the bottom and went flying. Megan picked herself up laughing.
"God, I'm too old for this." But Mac was grinning, too. He ruffled Zachary's head. "You game, dog?"
They ended up making the trip four times. Megan was exhausted and briefly, shatteringly, happy. She struggled to hold onto the mood as they found a little grocery store and stocked up, then investigated the cabin's cooking facilities. Mac made love to her again that night, tenderly this time, silently.
By morning his mood had changed again, and he seemed remote. When Megan headed for the shower, Mac pulled on a windbreaker. "If you want to put breakfast on, I'll go find a phone and call Norm," he said tersely.
Megan nodded and watched him leave. When he returned twenty minutes later, she put the plate of pancakes she'd made in front of him. "Who this time?" she asked.
"Gary Mercer. He was new in our section about a year ago. The few times I worked with him he seemed okay. But he's more of an unknown quantity than the others, which makes me nervous."
Megan just nodded. What was there to say? And she was afraid that anything she did say would make Mac defensive. He was right; they had to do this. It must be worse for him, because he knew these men.
Except, she reminded herself, that he'd been a target before and coped. He was a law enforcement officer, used to doing dangerous things. She was a kindergarten teacher.
They left most of their stuff spread around, taking only an essential change of clothes and some of the food. They found a hotel room as they had the time before, then rented a second car so they could come and go.
Mac figured it was too soon to expect company; even if the guy who'd escaped at Devil's Lake had stuck around, and word of their new location had gotten to him quickly enough, it was a fair drive over to the coast. Back at their hotel, the evening was another long one.
The next morning, Mac made sure the manager and residents of some of the other cabins saw them ostensibly returning from breakfast, in case anybody asked questions. They were able to slip out the back door unobserved and find a place not fifty yards from the cabin where they could watch from behind a screen of salal and wild cherries. One boring hour stretched into another, but nobody stirred except guests in other cabins who came and went. Megan had to admit their cabin looked like somebody was home. Mac had left the filmy curtains drawn, so the inside was dim, but a light was on and a window was open to let in a breeze. The car was parked close in front, and a radio played softly inside.
By seven o'clock that evening Megan was numb. They had eaten nothing but sandwiches, potato chips, and doughnuts all day. As darkness approached, Mac left her several times to circle the cabins. Compared to the way he melted into the dusk, she felt like a hippopotamus crashing through the brush when she had to find a private spot to answer the call of nature.
Returning, she almost tripped over Mac. His wry glance took in her rumpled, dirty, stiff self before he resumed watching the uneventful scene below.
She dozed briefly, despite the discomfort of uneven ground and weeds that poked at her clothing. When she awakened, it was completely dark.
Megan ran her fingers through her ponytail and sat up, stretching. Blinking to clear her eyes, she said, "You can't see anything. Why are we still sitting here?"
Mac was just a dark shape, but she saw his movement as he glanced at the illuminated dial of his watch. "I suppose we might as well give up," he admitted, his voice low. "Not a damn thing has happened."
Megan nodded and felt around in the darkness for the remnants of the food they'd packed. She didn't ever want to look at another potato chip again. Fresh green beans, she thought. A peach. Broccoli. A nice crisp salad.
A few rustlings beside her indicated that Mac, too, was collecting himself. Megan stood up and brushed leaves and dirt off her jeans and sweater. "Ugh," she muttered. "You sure know how to show a lady a good time."
"Indiana Jones I'm not," came Mac's rejoinder.
Megan wasn't so sure, but she didn't argue. All she wanted was bed, and for once she didn't care whether Mac was in it or not. She gave a last wistful glance at the faint glow of lights in the cabin below, and started to turn away.
That was when the cabin exploded in a blast of orange heat.
"Hell." Mac snatched his gun from its shoulder holster and took off toward the cabin, bent low so he didn't stand out too obviously from the dark background.
He knew damn well that he was too late. Flames crackled as the old, dry cabin collapsed into itself. In the ghostly orange light of the blaze, people emerged from other cabins to stare aghast at the inferno his had become. Just to be sure, Mac circled behind the cabin, then around the entire resort. He didn't find a thing.
How in God's name had the bastard slipped in without Mac seeing him? Making his way back toward Megan, he decided it didn't really matter. The trap had succeeded, object accomplished. Even if he didn't like the results.
Megan stood right where he'd left her, apparently mesmerized by the flames. When he touched her arm, she jumped.
"Invitation accepted," he said grimly.
She bit her lip and nodded. Mac wrapped an arm around her and steered her toward the back road where they'd parked their car. He opened the passenger side and gently pushed her in. She'd already buckled her seatbelt when he got in behind the wheel.
He was calculating, planning, making decisions, so her voice startled him. "Shouldn't we stay so the authorities know we weren't in the cabin?"
"They'll find out soon enough," he said. "The longer the world thinks we're dead, the better."
"Most of my clothes were in there."
"You can buy clothes."
"I shouldn't have left so much."
"It looked better that way." He answered patiently, knowing that she clung to small regrets as a defense against shock.
"Did you register us under our real names?"
"No." Mac backed the car out of the dark turn out. "And we didn't leave any I.D. The police aren't going to be able to figure out who was staying there. They'll decide it was a drug deal gone sour or something of the kind. Nobody died, it'll be forgotten."
"Do you suppose the resort was insured?" she asked anxiously.
"Yeah." Mac stepped harder on the gas. Megan needed the kind of comfort he couldn't give her on the road.
She surprised him then with a long silence. She still hadn't spoken when he parked the car next to the wing of the modern hotel where they'd taken a room. Then she said, "So now you know who it was."
“Yeah," he said implacably. "Now I know."
She didn't look at him. "What will you do?"
"Call Norm, for starters. He can pick Mercer up before he has a chance to do any more damage."
"This didn't help my situation, did it?"
Mac reached for her hand, which felt cold. "Not yet," he admitted. "If we're lucky, Mercer's met some of Saldivar's people. Maybe he knows the right one."
"Will you talk to him?"
"Yeah," he said again. "Tomorrow morning, we find a nice kennel to leave Zachary at, and you and I are heading for Miami."
Mac felt like a stranger when he walked into his own office. Some beefy guy who'd been shipped in to take his place was tilted back in the swivel chair, his loafer-clad feet smack in the middle of the desk blotter, his ear glued to Mac's phone. Norm stood in front of a file cabinet, hunting for something.
Mac leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms, waiting. Norm was the first to glance up. "Well, damn," he said. "Look who's here." Then he grinned and shoved the file drawer shut. "Welcome back."
"I wish I was back," Mac said, straightening. "I think this is just a reprieve."
Norm slapped him on the back hard enough to jar his teeth. "Coffee?"
Mac said some hellos before they headed down the hall toward a conference room. Then he went straight to the point. "Did you get him?"
Norm was a tall, rangy man, gray replacing the brown of his close-cropped hair. His suits always fit as if he'd just lost ten pounds. He stopped dead in the hall, ignoring a couple of women who glanced at them as they passed.
"Did I get him? You think I'm incompetent or something?"
Mac grinned. "Okay, let's try it another way. Has he told you anything interesting?"
Norm sobered immediately. "Yeah. It was his wife and kids. They grabbed them all just a couple days before that hit was made on you. They've let the kids go, kept his wife. He talked to her every other day on the phone, hadn't seen her in a month. This morning she was dropped off in front of their house. I don't know how he's hidden the strain."
"So he didn't have a lot of choice," Mac said thoughtfully. He wanted to stay angry, but how could he? Not so long ago he wouldn't have fully understood the choice Mercer had made. Now he did, which made him wonder if he needed to find a new career. No, scratch that. He knew he needed to find a new career.
"He had a couple of contacts, who never admitted Saldivar was behind the grab. He met only one face-to-face. Mercer didn't let on that he knew who the guy was, but he recognized him. Enrico Silva. Ring a bell?"
"The name does. I don't know him."
Norm said, "Well, I have a picture of him. We'll see if he looks familiar."
Then he opened a door and let Mac enter ahead of him.
Gary Mercer sat at the long conference table. His elbows were on it, his head buried in his hands. He didn't look up at the sound of the door opening.
"Mercer," Mac said flatly.
Mercer looked up at last, but Mac wouldn't have recognized him if he hadn't known who was sitting here. His blue eyes were bloodshot, his face ravaged. "You really are alive,” he said.
Mac dropped into a chair on the other side of the table. "I'm alive," he agreed.
"Jesus." Mercer buried his face again.
"Where are your kids?" Mac asked.
"My mother's." The answer was muffled.
Mac looked at the man with deep pity. He was about thirty, a life full of regrets and what-might-have-beens ahead of him. He sure as hell wouldn't be an FBI agent. Mac didn't like to think about what choice he would have made in the same situation. He didn't want to find out.
Norm sat casually on the edge of the table. "Your wife's all right."
Mercer's head shot up. "You mean, they called?" he asked in obvious alarm.
"No. She's home. Saldivar played fair. You told him what he wanted to know, he gave her back."
"She's...they didn't hurt her at all?"
"Nope. She's here. I'll let you see her in a few minutes."
The man's eyes closed, and this time when he covered his face with his hands it was to hide his tears. Mac didn't look at his partner, just waited.
Mercer pulled himself together faster than Mac would have given him credit for. He wiped his tears off on his sleeve and looked at Mac with a face twisted by emotion. "I'm sorry."
"If you want forgiveness from me, you have it," Mac said.
"What else could I do?" the young agent pleaded.
Mac took a long breath. "I don't know," he said honestly.
"I'd do it again," Mercer said.
Mac just nodded.
Norm said, "We're still talking over how to handle this. For now we'll move you and your family to a safe house. On one condition."
Mercer visibly braced himself. "What?"
"That you testify against Enrico Silva."
Bitterly, he said, "You don't have to blackmail me to do that."
Norm inclined his head. "Good." He stood and said, "Your wife's across the hall. Are you ready to see her?"
The chair clattered as the other man shoved it back. "God, yes."
Norm raised a brow, then glanced at Mac. "Take a look at the stuff in that folder."
For the first time, Mac noticed one lying on the table. In the vacuum left by the two men's exit, he reached for the manila folder. When he flipped it open, an eight-by-eleven picture lay on top. His stomach clenched in instant reaction.
One of the two men who had tried to kill him at Devil's Lake was dead. Enrico Silva was the second.
Megan waited what seemed like hours for Mac. She tried to read, but discovered on page 52 that she couldn't remember a thing about the story. She ordered lunch from the hotel's room service, but lost her appetite when it arrived.
What was he doing? she wondered in frustration, for the tenth time, as she paced to the windows and back to the bed. Couldn't he at least call?
At 1:47 she heard his key in the lock. When he stepped inside, she was waiting in the middle of the room, trying to look composed.