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Thread of Suspicion
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:38

Текст книги "Thread of Suspicion"


Автор книги: Jeff Shelby






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Текущая страница: 8 (всего у книги 13 страниц)

THIRTY-TWO

Jessica helped prop Marc up. He moved with the stiffness and difficulty of someone who’d gotten the crap knocked out of him. Given the condition of his face, I guessed that was exactly what had happened.

Marc ran a hand through his thick, black hair and turned his head in Isabel’s direction. “Isabel? How’d you find me?”

Isabel looked frozen, unsure whether to go to him or stay where she was. Jessica sat close to him, her eyes still moving between us, not sure she trusted us yet.

“We, uh, we’ve been asking around,” she said. “We were worried about you.”

He turned in my direction. “Who are you?”

“My name’s Joe Tyler,” I said. “Isabel has been helping me with something else. She was worried about you. I offered to help her find you.”

“Oh,” he said, clearing his throat. “Okay.”

I noticed a bottle of water on the floor. I picked it up and handed it to him. “Water. Sounds like you need some.”

He held his hand up and I placed the bottle in his hand. He fumbled with the cap, got it off and took a long drink.

“How did you get in here?” Jessica asked.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Laser is taken care of for the moment. We’re going to get you out of here.”

“Get us out?” she asked. “How? And what about…” Her voice trailed off.

“Don’t worry about Laser,” I said. “He’s done. You want out of here, you’re free to go.” I looked at Marc. “What happened to you?”

He took another long drink from the bottle, then handed it off to Jessica. “I tried to get her out of here.”

“Laser?”

He nodded. “And the other guy. Nate.”

I glanced at Isabel. I wondered if she still thought I’d been too harsh in sticking a gun in Laser’s face.

“I found out she was here a couple days ago,” he said, touching her arm, as much to steady himself as to show affection. “They let me in, but they wouldn’t let her go. I tried to break down her door. They came after me.” He shrugged. “We’ve been in here ever since, basically.”

“They know who you are?” I asked.

He sat up straighter. “What do you mean?”

“Your last name? Do they know it?”

“My last name is irrelevant,” he said.

It wasn’t, but this wasn’t the time to argue the point with him.

I looked at Jessica. “I assume you want out of here?”

She nodded. “Yes. Please.”

“Okay,” I said. “Here’s the deal. We’ll get out of here. Your debt with Gino Miller has been settled, as well as the debt with Marc’s father. There is nothing to fear there. So no more running and hiding.”

“How do you know about all that?” Marc asked.

“Because I do,” I said. “You’re square. There’s no danger from Miller and your father isn’t holding you to the deal he made with you.”

“How do you know…?”

“Because I do,” I said. “We can talk more about it after we get out of here. Grab whatever you need.”

Jessica stood and gathered some of the clothes on the ground, stuffing them into a duffle bag. Isabel helped her. I sat with Marc on the bed.

“Anything you need me to get?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I just came to get her. I didn’t bring anything with me.”

“Alright. I’m gonna help you stand. Grab onto my arm.”

He did and we got up together. He was a little unsteady on his feet and leaned into me. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’ve got you.”

Isabel and Jessica filled the bag and left a few things on the ground, things she’d decided she didn’t need, I guess. Or want. Too many reminders maybe.

“You can place them tonight?” I said to Isabel.

“Of course,” she answered. “We’ll just take them back with us.”

“When we walk out, neither of you say a word,” I instructed them. “If either of them talks to you, ignore them. I’m the only one talking. Gino’s guys are out there, but they’re with us. You are safe. Any questions?”

They both shook their heads.

We walked out of the room. The other four were exactly as we’d left them, with Laser a little more slunk down in the recliner. I put Marc’s hand on Isabel’s arm and stepped away from him.

“Go get them in the car,” I said to Isabel. “We’re gonna finish up in here.”

She eyed me, unsure as to what that meant. She started to say something, then shook her head and guided both Marc and Jessica out the way we’d come in.

“Take the gun out of his mouth,” I said.

Stevie pulled it out and stepped back.

“Both of you on the floor,” I said. “On your backs.”

Nate immediately dropped to the floor and complied. It took Laser a moment to pull himself out of the chair and join his friend.

“The kid you beat the crap out of,” I said. “Any idea who he is?”

Neither of them said anything.

“Peter Codaselli’s only son,” I said. “You know who he is?”

Nate’s face paled and Laser’s eyes grew even bigger behind the massive lenses.

“Yeah,” I said. “That Codaselli.”

Nate muttered something under his breath.

“Yo, we don’t have no problem with that dude,” Laser said.

“You beat the crap out of his kid,” I said. “So, you do have a problem with him, whether you like it or not. You both need to shut up and listen carefully.”

They both laid rock still.

“In just a second, I’m going to walk down the hall and unlock every single door,” I said. “Stevie and Boyd—who work for Mr. Codaselli, by the way—are going to stay here and keep their guns on you. If either of you move or say a word, they’re going to shoot you. And when whoever I find in those rooms walks out, if you say a word to anyone, they will shoot you. And then we’re going to leave,” I said. “And if any of us ever see you again or hear of you hassling anybody that walks out of here tonight, we’ll come back and shoot you. Do I make myself clear?”

They both nodded.

“Any questions?”

“Are you gonna tell Codaselli about, uh, what happened?” Nate asked.

“Haven’t decided yet,” I said. “So don’t piss me off.”

I looked at Stevie, then Boyd. “Seriously. Either of them flinches or opens their mouth, empty the guns.”

They both nodded.

I walked down the hall and began unlocking doors. There was movement in the dark in each room, the same unexpected stirrings that happened when we’d gone into Jessica and Marc’s room. I’d open the door, tell them they were free to go, but that they needed to go now if they wanted to leave. There was a lot of mumbling and confusion but eventually girls starting making their way out of the rooms, cautiously sticking their heads into the hallway.

I assured them they were safe, to grab their things and go, that neither Laser nor Nate would stop them or hassle them. They didn’t smile, but they’d grab their things and hustle out.

In each girl’s face, I saw a mixture of things—confusion, fear, relief, indecision. They wanted to leave but the thought of being on their own was almost as scary as being locked up by Laser and forced to do whatever he’d forced them to do.

The one thing I didn’t see in any of their faces was Elizabeth. There was momentary disappointment, in that at some point in entering the building, I felt like there was a chance that I’d find her in there, cold, shivering, afraid and I’d be there to rescue her.

But that disappointment was quickly replaced by relief. The girls emerging from the rooms were not happy, not safe and I was glad that Elizabeth wasn’t one of them. I wanted to find her, but I really hoped it wasn’t going to be in a situation like that.

I walked back to Laser’s room. They were both still on their backs, staring at the ceiling.

I squatted down next to Laser. “Here’s the deal. Listen closely. I’m not going to repeat myself.”

He nodded.

“I unlocked every door,” I said. “Every room is now empty. You won’t go looking for any person that was in those rooms. You won’t ever force anyone to stay in those rooms again. You got somebody that wants to stay voluntarily because you’re dealing to them? That’s their business. But you won’t ever lock a door in here again. You won’t ever keep someone here against their will again.”

He sighed, seemed irritated that I was gutting his plans.

I put my hand over his throat. His body went rigid.

“And if you have a problem with that, you should voice it now,” I said, squeezing his throat. “Because it’s the only time we’re gonna talk about it. But if you think I’m being unfair, by all means, tell me.”

I squeezed harder and he strained against my hand.

“But if you ever lock anyone up in here again, I’ll find out and I’ll come back and I will make sure you can’t ever lock anything again,” I said, squeezing even harder.

He gagged and started squirming.

“And I still may tell Codaselli what you did to his kid,” I said. “I haven’t decided. So if I were you, I’d run. Fast. Because I’m nothing compared to him.”

He started kicking and grabbing at my hand, his face red, contorted.

I pulled my hand away and stood.

He coughed and sputtered, clutching at his throat.

I looked at Nate. “You have any questions?”

“None,” he said. “None.”

I glanced down the hallway one last time to make sure it was empty. Then I looked at Stevie and Boyd.

“We’re done here,” I said.

THIRTY-THREE

Isabel was already in the rental car with Marc and Jessica. I jumped in the driver’s seat, Boyd sat up front with me, and Stevie squeezed into the back.

“Where should I take you guys?” I said to Boyd.

“Back where we met you is cool.”

I U-turned through the snow and drove slowly through the vacant, icy streets. There was enough fresh snow to provide a layer of traction over the ice and I was able to navigate easily enough back to the corner where I’d picked them up. I got out with them and left the engine and heater running at the curb.

“You guys have a place to go tonight, right?” I said, the words coming out in icy swirls of air.

They both nodded.

“We’re good,” Stevie said. “Apartment isn’t too far away.”

“Okay.”

He glanced at the car. “So, what about Mr. Codaselli’s son?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’ll take care of it and I’ll let him know you were both helpful in finding him. Not sure what he’ll do at that point, but I think you’ll be fine.”

They both let out audible sighs of relief.

“And if you hear anything about Laser, you have my cell,” I said. “Call me. I don’t think you will. But just in case.”

They both nodded again and we stood there in the cold, silent for a moment, the only noise the buzz of the car idling behind us.

“I wanna know about my daughter,” I said to Stevie. “You’re clear. Talk.”

They looked at each other anxiously.

“What?” I asked, a million scenarios running through my head.

“I don’t have anything,” Stevie admitted, his eyes cast down. “I was told to tell you I did. To get you to help.”

It wasn’t a complete stomach punch. More like a shot to the chin. I’d been played. I should’ve expected it, but it still stung.

I turned and headed for the car.

“I’m sorry, man,” Stevie said. “I’m really sorry.”

My feet crunched against the snow. I stood at the driver’s door, stared over the top of the car at him. Both of them stood there with their shoulders slumped, maybe ashamed that they’d lied to me or maybe just cold. I didn’t know. I started to say something, cuss them out for lying to me, let them know how much damage that kind of thing could do.

But I didn’t. I got in the car instead.

There was nothing to say.

THIRTY-FOUR

“So now what?” Marc Codaselli asked.

We were sitting in an apartment at Isabel’s complex. They’d insisted they’d be fine on their own for the night but Isabel wouldn’t hear of it. We drove back to the apartments and in minutes she had them situated in an empty unit similar to the one she’d placed me in.

Marc was on the single piece of furniture in the apartment, a small sofa. I was on the floor, my back to the wall, across from him. Jessica was in the shower and Isabel was off hunting for blankets and who knew what else.

“Now, I’m trying to decide,” I said.

“Trying to decide what?”

“Tell me something,” I said, dodging the question. “Now that you know the money isn’t an issue and that your father isn’t holding anything over you, will you go see him?”

He folded his arms across his chest, leaned back in the couch and shook his head. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I hate who he is,” he said. Then he pointed to his swollen shut eyes. “This? He does this to people all the time. And worse. I don’t want any part of that. It’s not who I am.” He shook his head again. “I don’t have to be a part of it anymore. I’m old enough to get out from under him.”

I nodded. “Why’d you tell him you’d step in for him then? With the business?”

“I was desperate,” he said. “I needed that money for Jessica.”

“You love her?”

He hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah.”

“So she’s worth it? All of this?”

“That’s for me to decide, not you.”

“I know it is and I’m not criticizing,” I said. “I’m just asking. You say she is, I believe you.”

“She’s got problems.” He hesitated. “But she wants to get clean. I believe her. And I’m gonna help.”

“Okay.”

“She’s the only reason I’d ever go to my father. Did I like lying to him? No. But we were both screwed at that point.”

“What did you do with the money?” I asked. “After you borrowed it from your father, you didn’t go pay Miller.”

“I never had the chance,” he said. “That asshole Laser had Jessica. Claimed she owed him even more after we’d paid up the first time. I had to get to her before I could do anything else.”

I nodded. I admired his loyalty to Jessica, if not his methods.

“So, I went there. He tried to shake me down for more money and I told him no way,” he explained. “I knew she was locked up in one of those rooms, so I went banging on doors. They obviously didn’t like that. I think it was Nate that hit me in the back of the head. I went out cold. Next thing I knew, I was in the room with Jessica and I couldn’t see. Couldn’t move for three days. I actually feel decent right now compared to how I felt then.”

He was lucky. They could’ve killed him. Still, I liked his toughness.

“I’m glad you’re alright,” I said. “Both of you.”

“Thank you,” he said, clearing his throat. “For coming to get us. For helping Isabel.”

“She was really worried about you.”

His shoulders sagged a bit and he rubbed at his chin. “I know. I knew she would be. But I had no way to contact her. She’s awesome. She really is.”

“I’d like for you to go see your dad,” I said.

He sat there on the sofa and without being able to see his eyes, I couldn’t read his expression. I wasn’t sure if he was angry or frustrated or something else entirely. But I did want him to go see his father. I knew all too well that time could disappear in an instant and no matter how angry he was at his father, the pain of missing someone could be ten times worse.

“And before you say no, hear me out,” I said. “Yes, he asked me to find you. And I’ll tell him that I found you and that you’re safe. If you insist, I won’t tell him where you are. You’re right. You’re old enough to make your own decisions and I’m not going to force anything on you. That would only make things worse. I’m not disputing who your father is and I’m not here to argue that he’s a good guy. I don’t know him well enough to make that judgment.”

“How exactly do you know him?” Marc asked.

I ran down how I got in contact with him.

“So, even though he asked me to find you, I feel no sense of obligation to put you in a car and take you to him,” I said. “That’s your call. But I’ll tell you this. I think you should go see him.”

He ran a hand through his hair, then rubbed at his jaw again. “Why? I hate him. I hate everything he stands for.”

It wasn’t my place to share the news about his father’s health with him. That was his father’s and his father’s only. For all I knew, it might not even make a difference. Maybe he wanted his father to die. But either way, it wasn’t my place to tell him.

“My daughter’s been missing for a long time,” I said finally. “A long time. I would give just about anything to see her again. You were gone a few days. I met with your dad. I have no reason to lie to you. He was worried about you and needs to know you’re okay.”

Marc shifted his weight on the sofa. “You can tell him I’m okay.”

“And I will. But it would be better if he saw you in person. That’s all. It’s your choice.”

He leaned back in the sofa, digesting my words.

Isabel came into the apartment, a stack of blankets in her arms. “This will have to do for tonight. I’ve got a bunch of blankets, Marc. You guys will have to sleep on the floor or the couch.”

“It’s fine,” he said. “Thank you.”

Jessica emerged from the hallway, her hair wet and her face scrubbed clean. She wore a clean white T-shirt and navy sweatpants that swallowed her. She sat down on the couch next to Marc. She looked young, vulnerable.

“Better?” Isabel asked, setting the blankets down on the arm of the couch.

She nodded and yawned. “Yes. Thank you.”

“You need to sleep,” Isabel said. “Both of you. We can talk in the morning and figure out what you guys wanna do next.”

They both nodded, the weariness beginning to settle in over both of them.

“Come on,” Isabel said, grabbing the blankets. “We’ll get you both set up in the bedroom.”

Jessica stood and followed her to the bedroom.

Marc was slower to get up and I went over to give him a hand standing up. I steadied him with a hand under his elbow.

“I can make it,” he said. “I can see a little bit with the light in here. Hopefully the swelling will be gone soon. But thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

He took two tentative steps toward the hallway, then stopped. He turned back to me, the ugly purple orbs where his eyes should have been trained on me.

“I can’t promise you anything,” he said. “I’m not sure I can go see him.”

“I understand,” I said. “I hope you can figure it out. He’d like to see you.”

He nodded, then headed to the bedroom to find sleep.

THIRTY-FIVE

The fatigue wouldn’t let me sleep.

I tossed and turned in my bed. Night gave way to dawn and my muscles ached as the adrenaline of the night wore off. But I couldn’t get comfortable and the more I wished I could fall asleep, the more awake I felt.

Being in Laser’s place had set the wheels in my head in motion. Not the good ones. All I could picture was Elizabeth some place similar, feeling like there was no better place, like that was her best option. It physically pained me to think of her in that kind of situation. Those girls walked out of the rooms like zombies and it was impossible not to see Elizabeth’s face in theirs.

I threw back the sheets, irritated that I couldn’t sleep. I pulled on my clothes and boots and walked outside.

The snow had finally stopped and I shaded my eyes against the brilliant white blanket that coated the roads and sidewalks. The snow crystals sparkled like diamonds in the early morning sunlight and it was as if the snow had muted all of the sound in the world, everything having gone silent for the moment.

I took a deep breath, the cold air filling my lungs, biting, constricting.

A door creaked open and I glanced over to see Isabel stepping out of the office. She did the same thing I did, shading her eyes from the bright light. She saw me and trudged over, her boots sinking into the snow as she walked.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked.

“How’d you know?”

“I always have trouble sleeping after the really long nights,” she said. “Always.”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“When we left you in there last night…”

I shook my head. “Nothing happened. I made some threats, made sure they’d be afraid. That was it. Nothing bad.”

She nodded, squinting into the sunlight. “You seemed capable of…a lot. In there last night.”

“I didn’t say anything I didn’t mean or wouldn’t have done,” I said. “If they’d put up any resistance, I would’ve hurt them.”

“I believe you,” she said. “I saw it in your eyes.”

“What they were doing to those girls was far worse than anything I could’ve done to them.”

“You could’ve killed them.”

“And if we hadn’t gotten to them last night, some of those girls might’ve wished they were dead,” I said. “I would’ve taken them out to help those girls. Not a hard choice for me.”

She pursed her lips and shrugged. “I guess. Regardless. Thank you. For all that you’ve done.”

“I didn’t do much.”

“You didn’t have to do anything. But you did. So, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“So. now what?”

“I need coffee,” I said.

She laughed. “I meant, big picture.”

I sucked in another lungful of cold air. “I’m gonna go see Codaselli. Tell him Marc’s okay. Then I’m waiting for a call from Tim Barron.”

We stood there silent for a moment, listening to the quiet.

“It seems unfair,” she said.

“What does?”

“Life,” she answered. “You find all of these people. You get them home. Or get them safe. But you can’t get the one thing you really want.” She paused. “It’s not fair.”

I swallowed. “It’s not. But there’s nothing I can do about it. Other than keep going.”

“Tim will call,” she said. “As soon as he has something, he’ll call.”

Cars were now crawling down the street, negotiating around the sloppy piles of snow the plows had moved out of the way and shoved to the curb. Their tires hissed and crunched against the icy powder.

If he has something,” I said to Isabel. “And I’m used to ifs turning into nothing.”


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