Cover Of Night (Chapter 11)

The next morning, Goss and Toxtel sat in Toxtel's motel room, a map spread out in front of them on the rickety round table. They were drinking bad coffee made in the motel's cheap, tiny four-cup maker, and eating stale honey buns bought in a convenience store. The town had a mom-and-pop restaurant that served breakfast, but they couldn't discuss business in the middle of a local gathering place.

Toxtel pushed a sketch across the table toward Goss. "See, here's the layout of the place, as I remember it. If you remember something different, say so. This has to be accurate."

Toxtel had made a rough drawing of Trail Stop and the road leading to it, putting in stuff like the bridge, the stream, the river roaring on the right, the mountains looming tall on the left.

"I think there's a pig trail coming in from the right somewhere along that sorry excuse of a road," Goss said. "Couldn't tell if it was a driveway or some sort of hunting trail."

Toxtel made a note of that, then checked his watch. He'd called someone who called someone, and a local who knew the area – and was supposedly good at taking care of problems of a certain type – was supposed to meet them here in Toxtel's room at nine. Goss was smart enough to know they were in over their heads and without expert help they wouldn't be able to contain those hayseeds in Trail Stop. They needed someone who was wilderness-savvy and who was good with a rifle. Goss did okay with a pistol, but he'd never fired a rifle. Toxtel had, but many years ago.

This local guy they were to meet supposedly had a couple of other guys he could call on to help. Goss wasn't an expert, but even he could tell there were more avenues of escape than just three people could cover – not to mention the fact that those three people also needed to sleep occasionally. For Toxtel's plan to work, he figured they'd have to have at least two more people, though three more would be better.

Goss was content to play along with whatever wild idea Toxtel came up with; the wilder the better, in fact, because that increased the chances the whole situation would blow up in Toxtel's face and Salazar Bandini would get a lot of attention he wouldn't want – like the Federal kind – which would make him very unhappy with Yuell Faulkner.

Goss had tried to come up with a concrete idea, but there were too many variables. The best he could hope for was that situations would present themselves in which he could surreptitiously foul things up, maybe make them worse. The best outcome would be that they got Bandini's flash drive and no one got hurt or killed – the best outcome for Bandini, that is, and by extension, the best outcome for Faulkner. Therefore he had to make certain the first thing didn't happen, and the second one did. He also wouldn't mind if that bastard handyman was one of the ones who got shot.

The fact that Goss hadn't died during the night meant he probably didn't have brain damage, but he still had a bitch of a headache. He'd taken four ibuprofen when he woke up, and while that had taken the edge off enough for him to be able to concentrate, he hoped he wouldn't be required to do anything more strenuous today than sit and talk.

At nine o'clock sharp there was a single rap on the door, and

Toxtel got up to answer it. He opened the door and stepped aside for their visitor to enter.

"Name," the man said briefly.

Hugh Toxtel was no one's flunky, but neither was he so full of himself that he took umbrage at every little thing. "Hugh Toxtel," he said as matter-of-factly as if the guy had asked what time it was. "This is Kennon Goss. And you are – ?"


"Got a first name?"

"Teague will do."

Teague looked like the Marlboro Man gone junkyard-dog mean. His face was so weathered it was impossible to tell how old he was, but Goss guessed maybe in his fifties. His hair was salt-and-pepper, and cropped close to his head. There was American Indian blood there, a few generations back, evidenced in the high cheekbones and dark, narrow slits for eyes. If he'd let himself go soft, it didn't show anywhere.

He wore jeans, hiking boots, and a green-and-tan-plaid shirt tucked neatly into his waistband. A serious-looking knife rode in a sheath at his right kidney, the kind of knife used tor skinning deer. It sure as hell would never qualify as a pocketknife. He was also toting a worn black canvas bag. Everything about Teague shouted "serious badass," and it wasn't anything he said or wore, it was the utter confidence with which he carried himself, the look in his eyes that said he'd gut someone with no more concern than if he were swatting a fly.

"I got word you need somebody who knows the mountains," he said.

"We need more than that. We're going hunting," Toxtel said neutrally, and indicated the map on the table.

"Just a minute," said Teague, and hauled an oblong electronic device out of the canvas bag. He turned it on and walked around scanning the room. When he was satisfied there were no listening bugs, he turned it off and turned the television on. Only then did he approach the table.

"I appreciate a careful man," Toxtel said, "but tell me up front if you have the feds clogging you. We don't need a complication like that."

"Not that I know of," Teague replied, face expressionless. "Doesn't mean things can't change."

Toxtel regarded him silently. In the end, Goss thought, it came down to trust: Did Toxtel trust his contact? Trust was a commodity in short supply in their business, because there was no such thing as honor among thieves – or killers, as the case may be. What trust existed was there because of a sort of mutual-assured-destruction thing. Goss knew enough to bury Toxtel, and Toxtel knew enough to bury Goss. He felt safer with that than he would have with friendship.

Finally Toxtel shrugged and said, "Good enough." He turned back to the map and quickly outlined the situation, without mentioning Bandini's name; he just said that something very important had been left at the B and B and the owner wasn't inclined to give it to them. Then he laid out his plan.

Teague bent over the map, his hands braced on the table and his brows drawn together in a frown as he worked things around in his mind. "Complicated," he finally said.

"I know?. It'll take some people who know what they're doing."

"That's why you're here," Goss said drily. "Hugh and I aren't exactly loaded with wilderness experience." It was the first thing he'd contributed to the conversation, and Teague flashed him a quick glance.

"Smart of you to see that. Some people wouldn't. Okay. There are several things to consider. First, how do you cut off contact with the outside world? Not just physical contact, but phone, computer, satellite?"

"Cut the phone and power lines," said Goss. "That takes care of phones, computers, and satellite e-mail."

"What if one of them has a satellite phone? You considered that?"

"Satellite phones aren't real common," replied Goss, "but just in case one of those yahoos does have one, we'll need to know.

Should be easy enough to find out in a place that small. Likewise, it'll be easy to spot any vehicles new enough to have OnStar or something like it."

"OnStar won't work out there," "league said. "No cell phone service. You're safe on that."

That was good; the situation was already complicated enough.

Since there were only two chairs, they dragged the table over to the bed. Toxtel sat on the bed, while Goss and Teague took the chairs, i hey spent an hour leaning over the map, with league pointing out topographical details.

"I'll have to reconnoiter, make sure the land lies the way I think it does, but I think this is a doable plan," Teague finally said. "Trail Stop is a dead end for the utility lines, the phone company and power company might not know service has been interrupted – and even if they do, taking out that bridge means they won't be able to do anything about it. So we put up 'bridge out' signs here" – he pointed to where the road to Trail Stop joined the large road – "and block the road with construction sawhorses, and we should be good. This won't take forever, probably just a day or so. Put enough pressure on that woman and she'll cave. Hell, the rest of them there may throw her to the wolves; you never know. You said she's got a kid?"

"Toys were lying around. Never saw one, though."

"Could be in school. So we make sure the kid is at home, start this dance late in the afternoon or on Saturday. People tend not to risk their kids. After you get what you want, you gotta disappear fast. My men and I can slow them down, but at some point I'll have to pull out and fade into the woodwork, too. If you aren't gone by then, that's your ass on the line."

"Understood," said Toxtel. Then he frowned. "If the bridge is out, how will we get what we came for?"

"The creek can be forded at other places. What we have to do is keep people from crossing at those places until we want them to. Now, let's talk money."

When league left the motel room an hour later he had his money, and he was both satisfied and so amused it was all he could do to keep from laughing in their faces. Toxtel's plan was one of the most idiotic things he'd ever heard in his life, but if Toxtel wanted to pay him a small fortune for making this Rube Goldberg farce work, he was glad to take the man's money.

The plan was workable, with a lot of trouble and expense. It was also unnecessarily complicated. If it had been left up to Teague, he would have taken two men with him and gone in on foot about two am; the woman would give up whatever it was she had or her kid would die. Simple. Instead, Toxtel had dreamed up this elaborate scheme to hold the entire community hostage.

Toxtel and Goss must have gone in there and had their asses handed to them. Teague had no doubt those two were bad men to cross, but they were out of their element. They were probably used to being the only ones with weapons; out here, everyone and his grandmother had a weapon. Now, wounded ego and hurt pride had come into play and clouded their judgment, which was never good.

On the other hand, making this work would be a challenge, and Teague dearly loved a challenge. There was so much to consider, so many pieces that had to fall into place, that he'd have to be at the top of his game. Maybe Toxtel and Goss weren't the only ones who'd let pride sway their decisions. The difference between them was, Teague recognized the element of pride in his motivation, and would allow for it. His biggest motive, though, was greed: he liked the numbers they'd been talking.

He was familiar with the Trail Stop area. The land surrounding it was rugged, almost impassable. In places the jagged mountains were almost vertical, with sheer rock faces and treacherous ravines. On the other side, the river blocked the way, and it was a bitch of a river. He didn't know of anyone, even white-water rafters, who put a raft in this far upriver. Trail Stop existed only because it had been needed by miners who excavated for gold in the mountains in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, leaving the place riddled with abandoned mines. That jut of land between the river and the mountains was the only reasonably flat piece of land for miles, so that was where a general store to serve the miners had been based. The general store was still there, the miners were long gone, and other than the handful of people who didn't have better sense than to live there, the only people ever there were tourists, hunters, or rock climbers.

Hmm. Rock climbers. That was something else to add to his list: he had to make certain there were no visiting rock climbers staying in the bed-and-breakfast, because they could conceivably offer a way out that he couldn't block. He didn't think so, because even if someone scaled the rock faces of the mountains to the northeast, they were still miles and miles of nigged territory away from help, but he preferred to cover all possibilities.

The way he saw it, his biggest problem would come from Joshua Creed. There weren't many people Teague respected, but Creed topped the list. The former Marine major had a cabin in the Trail Stop area, so it stood to reason he'd get some of his supplies there rather than drive thirty miles to another store. If anyone could throw a monkey wrench into the works, it would be Creed.

There were two options: bottle Creed up with the others inside the contained area and take the risk he would not only organize them but somehow mount a counteraction, or seal off the area with Creed outside it and hope the pretense of working on the bridge would fool him. Teague figured he'd have to be on his toes to manage Creed if he was with the others, but at least Teague would know where he was. If Creed wasn't in Trail Stop, then Teague had no way of keeping tabs on him – and Creed could well take it into his head to see what he could see.

Teague decided he was better off with Creed contained. That meant he'd have to take extra steps, bring in special equipment, to make certain Creed stayed contained.

Timing was everything. Everyone who belonged in Trail Stop had to be there and anyone who didn't belong had to be gone when the trap was sprung. An outsider would have people who expected to hear from him, or that he'd return home at a certain time. A local would certainly ask uncomfortable questions if he couldn't get to his home. Of course, said local could also meet with an accident, so that was more easily controlled than if the trap accidentally caught someone who didn't belong.

First on his list of things to do, however, was reconnaissance.

Cate overslept and as a result had to rush the next morning to get the muffins baked and ready for the usual onslaught of customers. Of course, after the excitement of the day before, it seemed as if everyone in Trail Stop felt the need for a muffin, even Milly Earl, the best cook in town.

As soon as the twins got up, they started pestering Cate about visiting Mimi's house, so it appeared Sheila had done a good job selling the idea to them. Cate pretended reluctance, to whet their appetite even more. The last thing she wanted was to have to physically manhandle the boys into her mother's SUV? when they left. At the same time, neither did she want to act so reluctant that they would think she'd be unhappy if they went. Hoodwinking four-year-olds was a balancing act.

Sheila called the airline to see about changing her departure date, as well as purchasing tickets for the boys. The only flight she could get was at eleven am the next morning, which meant she and the boys would be leaving by six in the morning, at the latest. She had to drive to Boise, return her rental, and shepherd the twins and their belongings to the gate, as well as find time to feed them before they got on the plane. She also called Cate's dad, letting him know she was coming home ahead of schedule and bringing the boys with her. "Brace yourself," Cate heard her mother say, laughing.

Investigator Marbury was due at eleven, so as soon as the morning crowd was gone, Cate rushed to get the kitchen and dining room cleaned up. The climbers had each grabbed a muffin and left early, eager for another day on the rocks. Cate could remember when she and Derek had been like that, with nothing more on their minds than testing their strength and skill on the rocks. These guests were leaving the next morning, so this was their last day to enjoy their sport.

At a quarter to eleven, she dashed up the stairs to change clothes, brush her hair, and swab on some lip gloss. Halfway up, she heard thuds and the boys shrieking with laughter in their room. Since experience told her they generally found things such as burst pillows and flying feathers hilarious, Cate was at a dead run by the time she hit the top of the stairs.

She skidded to a stop in the doorway, blinking at her children. They were both stark naked, jumping up and down, and laughing so hard they kept collapsing on the floor. Behind her, she heard Sheila running up the stairs, too, calling, "Are they okay?"

''What on ear lit… what are you two doing?" Cate asked, completely bewildered. She turned her head and said to Sheila, "They're fine. They've pulled off all their clothes and they're jumping up and down." She looked back at the boys. "Stop – boys, stop jumping! Tell me what you're doing."

"We're making our goobies shake," Tanner said, for once speaking before Tucker could, but mainly because Tucker was laughing too hard to talk.

"Your – " Cate tried to say, then burst out laughing. They looked so funny, jumping up and down and pointing at each other's "goobies," and they were having such a good time all she could do was shake her head and laugh with them.

A flash went off beside her, and she jumped. It was Sheila, a digital camera in her hand.

"There," she said with satisfaction. "Something to blackmail them with when they're sixteen."

"Mom! That'll embarrass them!"

"You bet it will. I'd have given anything to have had something like this to hold over Patrick's head. I'll print out a couple of copies when I get home. Just wait; you'll thank me someday."

The doorbell rang downstairs, and Cate looked at her watch.

If that was Marbury, he was early, and now she had no time to freshen up. Groaning, she said, "Will you get them back in their clothes while I answer the door? It's probably the county investigator."

She ran back down the stairs and pulled open the front door. Calvin Harris stood there, a box from Earl's Hardware Store in one hand and his toolbox in the other; beside him stood a stocky guy she didn't recognize, but since he had a holstered pistol on his belt she was certain this was Marbury. He had medium brown hair, and he wore jeans and a polo shirt, with a dark blue wind-breaker. "Mrs. Nightingale?" Without waiting for her to answer he said, "I'm Seth Marbury, investigator with the sheriffs department."

"Yes, come in, please." As Cate stepped back, she cast a harried glance up the stairs, where childish peals of laughter were still unabated. She could hear her mother, though, sounding increasingly frustrated, as she told the boys to stop shaking their goobies and put their clothes back on, and evidently was being ignored. The thuds from their jumping echoed from the ceiling.

Both men looked upward.

Cate felt color heat her cheeks. "Um… I have twin boys," she explained to Marbury. "They're four." And that should definitely have been all the explanation needed.

"Tannuh, look!" she heard Tucker say in his clear, piping voice. "I can make mine zigzag!


Evidently losing patience with the unproductive cajoling, Sheila said in her sternest voice – which was drill-sergeant stern – "All right! I don't want to see any more zigzagging goobies. I don't want to see your goobies shake, dance, skip, yodel, or anything else you can make them do. I want to see those goobies inside your shorts. Got it? If you're going home with me, we have to make plans, and I can't do that if I can see your bare goobies."

Truer words had never been spoken, Cate thought, as she swallowed a bubble of laughter. She tried not to look at either man's face, because if she did she knew she'd lose it completely. Yodeling goobies? Sheila was in fine form.

Evidently she wasn't the only one trying not to lose it. Calvin sidled toward the stairs, carefully not even glancing at her. "I – uh – I'll just go put this lock on the attic door," he said, and all but bolted up to the second floor.

Cate drew a deep breath, then blew it upward in an attempt to cool her hot face. "Let's go into the den. My mother should have the uproar quieted in a minute."

Marbury was chuckling as she led him into the back den. "They must keep you on your toes."

"Some days more than others. Today is one of those days," she-said ruefully. Thank God, the uproar from their bedroom had subsided as the lure of making plans to go to Mimi's house must have outweighed the entertainment of shaking goobies.

To her everlasting gratitude, Marbury didn't ask what had been going on upstairs, but then that must have been fairly obvious. He'd also been a little boy himself, once. She didn't want to think about him doing anything even remotely like that. She wanted to think of Marbury strictly as a law enforcement officer.

"I've already taken Mr. Harris's statement," he said, and abruptly Cate saw the pitfalls of making any statement at all, because she didn't know exactly what Calvin had told him. Had he told about bashing the other guy, Huxley, in the head? She took a gamble that, he hadn't, and in tact she hadn't seen him do it, so she started at the beginning and even told about having thought someone was listening to Neenah and her talking about the two men and her suspicions about them.

When she finished, Marbury sighed and rubbed his eyes, fie looked tired, she realized; he must have had a lot on his plate, but he'd still taken the time to come out here and take their statements. "These two are probably long gone. You didn't see anything else of them yesterday, did your"

Cate shook her head. "I should have called you sooner yesterday," she admitted, "but I just didn't think of it. We were okay but kind of stunned, if you know what I mean. Everyone stood around talking about it, and the twins were listening, and I – " She spread her hands helplessly. "If I had, you could have cut them oil at the pass, so to speak."

"I could have brought them up on charges, yeah, but they'd have made bail, walked, and we'd never see them again. I hate it, but the county doesn't have the resources for us to spend a lot of time looking for out-of-state felons, especially when no one was hurt and nothing was taken except a suitcase that didn't belong to you anyway. Arc you sure nothing of value was in the suitcase?"

"The most valuable thing was the pair of shoes, and I put them in there myself. They weren't originally in the suitcase."

Marbury flipped his pad closed. "Thai's it, then. If you see them again, call immediately, but they got what they came for, so I think they're long gone."

With the distance of a night's sleep between now and then, Cate agreed with him. She was much calmer today, and beginning to wish she hadn't asked her mother to take the boys home with her, but she had started that train rolling, so she would let their plans proceed, since the boys were so excited about going to visit Mimi.

Shrieks abruptly splintered the air, and Cate, long used to the different qualities in her children's yells, interpreted these as shrieks of joy. "They must have spotted Mr. Harris," she told Marbury. "They love his toolbox."

"That's understandable," he said, grinning. "A boy, a hammer – what's not to love?"

They went out of the den and watched Calvin coming down the stairs, preceded by the twins who jumped and danced in front of him. "Mommy!" Tucker said, spotting her. "Mr. Hawwis let us hold his dwill!"

"Drill," Cate automatically corrected, meeting Calvin's gaze, which was as calm and steady as always.

"Drill," Tucker repeated, grabbing the hammer loop on the side of Calvin's pant leg and tugging at it.

"Stop pulling at Mr. Harris's clothes," she said, "before you tear them off."

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than she felt her face begin to heat. What was wrong with her? She hadn't blushed in years, but. it seemed as if she'd done nothing but blush since yesterday. Everything seemed to have a double meaning, or seem overtly sexual, and, yes, the prospect of tearing Calvin's clothes off definitely seemed sexual.

The realization stunned her.

Calvin? Sexual?

Because he'd saved them yesterday? Was she casting him in a heroic role and, in the time-honored male-female way, subconsciously responding to that display of strength? She'd taken some anthropology courses, because they'd seemed interesting, so she knew the dynamics of sexual instincts. That had to be it. Women responded to strong, powerful, or heroic men. In caveman days, that had meant higher chances of survival. Women didn't have to do that now, but the old instincts remained; how else could one explain the allure of Donald Trump for so many women?

The rationalization relaxed her. Now that she knew what was causing this unusual sensitivity, she could deal.

She introduced the twins to Marbury, and of course they immediately noticed his pistol and were wide-eyed with awe that he was a policeman, though they were disappointed he wasn't wearing a uniform. At least they were distracted long enough for Cate to ask Calvin, "How much do I owe you?"

He fished the receipt for the lock from his pocket, and gave it to her. Their fingers brushed, and she fought a quiver that wanted to shake her entire body, as abruptly she remembered those strong hands holding the shotgun, his finger tightening on the trigger. She also remembered the way he'd held her and Neenah afterward, his arms warm and reassuring around them, his lean body surprisingly hard and sturdy inside the baggy coveralls.

Oh, damn. She was blushing again.

And he wasn't.