Authors: Marg McAlister
Tags: #cozy mystery, #crystal ball, #psychic detective
He touched his head where they’d used a rifle butt on it to encourage him to be cooperative, and closed his eyes against the bolt of pain when he touched the gash. His fingers came away sticky with blood.
“Just a warning,” Vincent had said without emotion. “So you know not to mess us about. The locations, if you please. Or we’ll be forced to return and pick up that cutesy little girl of yours, see what
It took Jerry a moment to realize that they meant Tammy, and his heart went cold.
Tammy in the hands of this lot?
They left, and after telling him to think it over, had now been gone for some time.
He slumped against the wall, fighting a headache, and looked around him for the tenth time in as many minutes. Dark had fallen a good few hours before, and the thin white light from the moon that filtered in through the small barred window high above him didn’t illuminate much.
His prison appeared to be some kind of shipping container. Apart from the tiny window, the walls and floor were solid metal. It had, he remembered, a standard shipping container bolt
chains with links as thick as his thumb; impossible to breach.
Cold seeped in through the sides of the container, and there was a light breeze blowing rain through the window.
Shivering, he got up and moved to sit against a side wall.
Now he could understand why preppers were always going on about self-protection and guarding against gangs that wanted to take what was yours. There were a dozen nifty things back at the BoV Base that would have been handy to have in his pockets, or his shoe, but he had nothing.
But if he
hidden something, they’d have found it anyway. They’d taken his watch, his shoes, and everything he had in his pockets, including his phone.
There were lots of photos of Tammy on his phone. Tammy in her vintage outfits, Tammy hamming it up on stage…Tammy dressed in her Sandy outfit from Grease, all allure and tumbling blonde curls.
He drew in a long, slow breath, pushed away the image of these guys looking at Tammy while they thought of ways to use her as leverage, and tried to organize his thoughts.
No one back at base was going to locate him through the satellite tracker. This lot had disabled that somehow, before trussing him up with cable ties and tossing him in the back before they drove Barbie away. As near as he could judge, they’d been on the road for a couple of hours before they arrived at their destination and dumped him into his prison. Maybe more, maybe less. It was difficult to judge when you were being tumbled around like a bag of laundry in the back of a truck, wincing at every corrugation.
Two hours, and who knew which direction. He could be still in Kentucky, or any of the states surrounding it.
No matter how many times he went through everything, he came up with the same bleak thought: if they were going to find him, it wasn’t going to be through satellite trackers or phone triangulation or blind luck. It was going to be through his creaky old great-grandmother Rosa or his sister Georgie.
His fate was in the hands of a couple of gypsy fortune-tellers.
Jerry shook his head, and then immediately regretted it as pain lanced through him. He slumped against the wall, and tried to sleep while he waited for Vincent and his sidekick to come back.
Nearly three hundred miles away, Georgie swung herself into the passenger seat of a rugged all-terrain vehicle from the BugOut Base, slammed the door shut and lowered the window to talk to her father. “I guess we’re as prepared as we’re going to be.”
“Tell me what you’re doing, every step of the way.” His voice was harsh with worry. “I’m giving you 48 hours before I go to the police.
“We’ll be fine.” As soon as she said it, she realized it was a stupid thing to say. They had no idea what was in store.
“I want you and Jerry both back alive. I do
want to be going to Kentucky to retrieve a couple of bodies.”
“You won’t be doing that.” Georgie took the hand that he put through the window, and kissed it. “I can’t tell you not to worry, but I can ask you to trust us.”
“I don’t believe I’m agreeing to this,” he said. “You don’t even have a plan. Just ‘go to Kentucky’.”
“Dad,” said Georgie softly, “It’s not just ‘go to Kentucky’. We’re going to the spot where he sent the last known GPS coordinates. I’m sure I’ll pick up something there.” Actually, she wasn’t at all sure, but it was the best they had right now. “Go and sit with Rosa. She’s got some kind of link to Jerry. We don’t know what, but she’ll need you there.”
He grunted, and stepped back. “Go on, then.”
Angela, her forehead wrinkled with concern, put her arm around him. “Come on, Johnny. We’ll pick up your grandmother first thing in the morning and take her back to our place. It’s where she should have been after that accident anyway.”
Sitting at the wheel of the truck beside Georgie, Scott was having a last conversation out of the driver’s window with the overseer, Danny, going over their plans. He and another of their workers, Juan, hadn’t hesitated to stay back until the early hours of the morning to help them prepare for the trip.
“I’ve heard back from a couple of the Kentucky preppers,” Danny was saying. “I’m limiting contact to those we can trust. They’ll be using radio contact, and I’ve given them your phone number.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at a slight, dark-haired man in his twenties. “Juan here is still checking the computer for more names, but we keep limited contact details there. Trouble is, Jerry kept a lot of it in his head.”
Georgie leaned across Scott. “What about on his phone?”
“Jerry only put in numbers if they told him it was a throwaway.”
She nodded despondently, and clipped on her seat belt. It seemed that Jerry had been too careful: nobody had any way of knowing who the important contacts were.
“Thanks for all your help, guys. Better go home and get some sleep.” Scott sketched a farewell salute to Danny and Juan and started the engine.
“That’s OK, we’ll keep digging,” Danny said. “Might find something else, and we’re here if you need us. We can sleep when this is over.”
As they pulled away, Georgie blew her father and Angela a final kiss, and twisted in her seat to watch them recede into the distance, standing outside the BoV Base bathed in yellow security lights.
“This is going to be bad for them,” she said. “All of us heading off, not knowing what’s happened to Jerry.” She glanced around at Tammy and Layla in the seats behind her. “Do you guys want to talk about plans, or try to grab some sleep?”
“Do you honestly think we’d be able to sleep?” Tammy sounded tired, but determined. She’d moved past shock and denial to a simmering anger, furious both at the preppers who’d taken Jerry and at Jerry himself for letting it happen.
“No,” Georgie admitted, “but I thought I’d ask. Can we talk strategy then?”
Scott turned on to the highway and increased the speed. “One,” he said, “Head for Barbie’s last known location, which means somewhere in Bedford county. Two, keep communications open for Danny.” He tossed a question over his shoulder to Tammy. “Got those contact details handy?”
“He gave me eleven names.” Tammy leaned forward. “I know you’ve already looked at them, Georgie, but see if anything kicks in when I read them out loud.” She ran through the list, pronouncing each name clearly and waiting for a beat between each one.
After a minute, Georgie shook her head. “No. Still nothing.”
“They might not even be their real names,” Layla said.
“They probably aren’t. But that doesn’t matter,” Georgie pointed out. “In our first case, I picked up on Peter Fisher’s real name, not the alias he was using. It might not be any of those guys on the list, anyway.”
“Let’s move on to ‘three’,” Scott said. “Equipment and strategy. Since we don’t know what we’ll need, I’ve packed rope, knives, a space blanket and basic medical supplies—essentially a field kit. Tammy’s got guns, and she and I know how to use them.”
“Guns?” Georgie frowned. “You’ve got to be kidding. They’ve got guns out at the BoV Base?”
“Let’s put it this way,” Scott said, “they knew how to access guns.”
know how to shoot, Scott?” Layla asked. “I mean, I understand about Tammy, with her family being into hunting and all, but you didn’t have that background.”
“No, but I have to be able to shoot in the wild, put animals down, that kind of thing.” He glanced back at Tammy. “Was Danny able to locate that tranquilizer gun?”
“No. I managed to round up a couple of stun guns, though.”
“I’ve got pepper spray in different size cans, and Danny ran through other things I can use at a pinch—you know, keys as a weapon, that kind of thing.”
“OK.” Scott was silent for a moment, thinking. “If it comes to having to use a gun to protect yourself, Tams, just do it.”
She let out a huff of air. “You think I’d hesitate, after this?”
Georgie turned around to look at her. “Tammy, what kind of shot
She said nothing for a moment, and then said quietly, “Damned good. Or I used to be. Better than my brothers—which they didn’t like.”
Georgie decided to leave that alone. There was something dark in Tammy’s background, she knew instinctively. She wondered, suddenly, if Jerry sensed that too. That she was a lot more than the bubbly blonde retro chick that people saw on the surface. Not only clever, but nursing some deep hurt.
Anyway, that was something to explore another day.
Right now, it was all about Jerry.
They drove steadily through the night, tossing around ideas about where Jerry might be, and who might have taken him. Who? And why?
As the miles raced away beneath the wheels, and natural tiredness took over, the conversation faded out. Layla and Tammy were both dozing in the back seat – at least, they appeared to be. Georgie was fairly certain that Tammy wouldn't be able to sleep. Her mind would be racing, thinking about what might happen and picturing the worst.
She glanced across at Scott, his face revealing nothing as he watched the highway in front of him. Scott never seemed to be anything else but calm, but by now she was realizing that he kept a lot inside. Every so often the phone chirped and they would all sit up and listen as it was picked up by Bluetooth and went to the speaker.
Danny and Juan back at the base were not making much progress. Regrettably, Jerry had taken client confidentiality a little too seriously.
As Scott terminated yet another call that lead nowhere, Georgie put a hand on his arm. "What are you thinking, Scott? You have any ideas?"
"Quite a few. Nothing that's going to get us any closer to knowing where to find him, though."
"Tell me what you're thinking, anyway."
"Yes, please do," came Tammy’s voice from the back seat. "I'd rather talk about it than just sit here imagining what might be going on."
“OK then. Jerry’s into these prepper vehicles, right? And Jerry being who he is, he’s quite likely to have come up with some scheme that's going to take him into dangerous territory." He cast a quick look across at Georgie. “Maybe he's promised something that he can't come through with. Maybe he has somehow learned something, even if he doesn't know it, that has got someone worried."
Tammy's voice came from behind them. “He’s pretty careful with the BoV clients, judging who he can trust and who is batshit crazy. Until I started going out to the Base with him, I had no idea they varied so much—but actually, a good many of them are just like we are. All they want to do is give themselves and their family a chance to survive if everything goes to hell."
Georgie nodded. “Understandable. Look at us right now, racing after Jerry. Family is important.”
“Having said that,” Tammy went on, “back at the base, I’ve met a few that scare me. They have this maniacal look in their eyes, and they go on and on about how nobody is going to take what’s theirs. Jerry wanted me to talk to them about guns, but I couldn’t. Not that kind.“ Tammy’s voice trembled a little. Although she'd been putting on a brave front, they all knew that she was terrified for Jerry. "I think that's who's got him. But I don’t know what they want." She hesitated. “Did you bring your crystal ball?”
"Right here on my lap. Don’t give up yet, Tams. We’ll find him."
“Don’t worry, I'm not. I've
been one to give up."
The conversation lapsed again and Georgie went into a kind of daze, running her fingers over the worn old cloth covering the crystal ball. She hadn’t wanted to stow it in a bag, or out of sight in the back. She needed it near her, just in case it helped her pick up something about Jerry.
She rested her head on the window, her eyes closing, and the last thing she saw before she dropped off to sleep was Scott’s profile, occasionally lit by passing headlights, as they kept eating up the miles, seeking her brother.
The feeling of increasing heat under her palms woke her. It took a moment to re-orient herself and make sense of the hum of the vehicle and the dark cabin of the truck, and then she was abruptly awake.
The crystal ball! With growing anticipation, Georgie unwrapped the velvet enough to slide her fingers underneath so she was making direct contact with the crystal globe, and then closed her eyes again, letting herself drift.
Don't concentrate too hard, she warned herself. Let it come. Let it come.
The crystal ball ball grew warmer still under her touch, and she drew in a long slow breath.
When an image finally materialized, she was startled. It wasn't an image of Jerry, or hard-faced preppers with guns. Nothing about survivalists, or Doomsday, and no images of an unfriendly dark forest and strange night noises.
Instead, what drifted into her mind was the image of somewhat plump, motherly looking woman with warm grey eyes and wavy salt-and-pepper hair, cropped short. She was wearing some kind of…Georgie tried to get a clearer picture. Some kind of football supporter’s jersey? It didn't look like any team that she was familiar with. It was a kind of maroon color, a bit like the paint she’d chosen for her caravan. And it had what looked like a dragon’s head on it. She consciously tried to relax, and just let the image float in her head.