Death Angel (Chapter Eight)

RAFAEL TRIED TO LET ONLY ANGER SHOW; HE DIDN'T WANT any of his men to think Drea was actually important to him. Anger, though, was the smallest part of what he was feeling. Uppermost was fear, a gut-wrenching fear that he couldn't shake. Until Amado showed him Drea's wallet, which some kid had found behind a trash can outside the library and turned in-honest little fucker-Rafael had thought Drea was maybe trying to teach him a lesson, except that was foreign to everything he knew about her. But now he couldn't console himself with that theory, what with the evidence of her wallet, which was empty of cash and ID, but all her credit cards were still there.

A stupid thief would take the cash and the credit cards and go on a spending spree that would lead the cops right to him. A smart thief would take the cash and leave the cards. Her driver's license was gone, too. Identity theft was a big business, and a valid driver's license was a valuable thing to have. When he added Drea's disappearance to the fact that the credit cards were right there, not a single one missing, the most probable scenario wasn't a good one. He couldn't even hope the feds had picked her up-though fat lot of good Drea would have done them, unless they wanted to find out all she knew about shopping-because they wouldn't have stolen her cash and tossed the wallet.

He had enemies, a lot of them. If one of them had grabbed Drea, then she was as good as dead. She might be kept alive for a while to be used as leverage against him, but he'd never see her again except in bits and pieces. In his world, violence was commonplace; the only things of value were money and survival. It was a world he thrived in, a business model he excelled at, but now it made him sick to his stomach to think of sweet, dumb Drea being raped and tortured.

He had all of his men gathered in the penthouse, the one place he was certain his conversations couldn't be monitored. Orlando knew what he was doing, so Rafael had sprung for all the fancy safeguards that kept the feds from listening in on everything he said. "Somebody had to have seen something. There are cameras on all the entrances and exits, right?" He directed the last question to Orlando.

"Should be, but who knows what kinda security they got? Who breaks into libraries? I'll see what I can find out."

Obtaining a search warrant was out of the question-no one even suggested it. Call the cops? What a laugh. The cops would piss around with all their legal shit-and that's assuming they'd do anything at all. Rafael wasn't wasting time with that; he'd do things his way. He'd find out who had snatched Drea, and then he'd hit the fucker with everything he had.

"Maybe, when she found out she'd lost her wallet, she went looking for it," Hector offered.

"Dumb ass," Amado replied in a sour growl. "Why doesn't she answer her cell phone?"

"So maybe somebody grabbed her purse, and she chased after him and got lost." Hector was grabbing at straws, and the sadness in his dark eyes said he knew it, but he still felt compelled to offer every possible alternative to what they knew had probably happened.

"She wouldn'ta done that," Amado said. "She turned her ankle getting into the car, and she was limping. She couldn'ta chased nobody down. Besides, if somebody grabbed her purse, she'd of screeched to high heaven, and everybody in the library would've known about it."

"Whoever grabbed her was slick," Orlando said. "When she comes out, put an arm around her like you're friends, only your other hand is holding a gun shoved in her side. She'd have gone with him without making a sound."

If the snatch had happened outside, the library cameras might not have caught anything, Rafael thought, then he realized it didn't matter. Whoever had grabbed Drea would want him to know, because they'd grabbed her for a reason. Just to take her and kill her didn't make any sense; probably whoever had done it would be contacting him soon, asking for money, or maybe something else. He thought furiously, wondering if whoever it was knew what he'd hired the assassin for and had figured out who was behind it. He was pretty sure there was no way. And even if someone had, if killing Drea was vengeance for what he'd done, whoever had done it would want him to know, otherwise there was no point.

"We don't have to check the library's security," he said heavily. "Whoever took her will call." One way or another, whether Drea was dead or alive, they would call. Until then, all he could do was wait.

Unable to stand there in front of his men any longer, Rafael abruptly turned and left the room, going down the hall to her bedroom. Pushing the door open, he stepped just inside, then halted as if he'd hit an invisible wall. Her presence was so strong he could almost touch it. The scent of her perfume hung in the air. The television was on, as usual, the voices of the shopping channel hosts so cheerful they reminded him of chirping birds. Her laptop was open, because she never closed it, and though the screen was dark the power light told him it was in sleep mode and would come to life at the touch of a key. The closet door was standing ajar, the light on inside so the jumble of her clothing was clearly visible. Costume jewelry was scattered across the top of the dresser.

Drea was like a magpie, going for the shiny and colorful. She was messy, careless, and childlike in her enthusiasms. She deserved better than to die a brutal death at the hands of men to whom she meant nothing.

His vision clouded, and to his dismay he realized he was getting teary-eyed. He couldn't let anyone see him like this, so he forced himself to walk farther into the room, to look into her bathroom where the vanity was littered with cosmetics and the air was even thicker with her scent, a feminine mixture of perfumed bath gel, scented candles, lotions, and sprays. Drea loved-had loved-all the frills of being a woman.

There was a huge weight on his chest, and an emptiness inside. He could barely breathe under the pressure, and even his heartbeat seem labored, heavy and slow, from his misery. He'd never before felt such pain, as if he would never be free of this ache. She was gone. It wasn't fair; he had realized he loved her only to lose her the very next day. He resented her for being upset with him yesterday, for forcing him to really see her, resented her for the weakness she'd caused in him, resented her for being gone. Damn her-and damn himself, for being such a fool.

DREA WOKE IN the middle of the night, gasping for air, fighting the sheet as if it were a rope twisting around her. She bolted upright, looking wildly around the room. Enough streetlight seeped in around the edges of the curtains that the room wasn't truly dark; if it had been, she might have had heart failure, but as it was she could plainly see that no one was there. She was blessedly alone.

She'd dreamed of the assassin, dreamed he somehow found her here in this motel and got inside the room, and that this time, after he had sex with her, he really was going to kill her. She couldn't see him, but she'd sensed him there in the shadows, watching her. In the weird way of dreams, she knew that as long as she stayed awake he wouldn't be able to do anything, but in spite of her best efforts to keep her eyes open she got sleepier and sleepier until finally she couldn't resist and fell asleep-now, there was something she'd never done before, dreaming about trying to stay awake and falling asleep instead-only to wake with him on top of her, inside her, and with his hands wrapped around her throat.

That was when she woke up for real, struggling against a phantom, freezing cold from the panic that held her in its icy grip.

Even dreaming, even knowing he was going to kill her, the feel of his penetration had been so real that she'd been close to climax. Fully awake now, angry and humiliated even though no one knew what a fool she was, Drea got out of bed and went to the sink to get a drink of water.

She flipped on the light and stared at herself in the harsh fluorescent glare. She was naked, because she had no clothes other than the ones she'd had on. She had washed her underwear out by hand, and draped it over a clothes hanger to dry.

Normally she wore pajamas; was the abnormality of sleeping nude what had triggered the nightmare? Because that's what it had been, a nightmare. Even knowing she was alone, she looked behind herself in the mirror, as if expecting him to appear there.

The layout of the room was typical of motels, with the sink and vanity area in an open alcove at the rear of the room, and the toilet and tub/shower in a tiny room by themselves. There was no rear exit, she realized; if she was caught in here, she had no way out. Knowing that made her want to immediately bolt, but common sense kicked in. She was relatively safe here; even if Rafael had found out about his bank account so soon, which would be unbelievably bad luck, and somehow got the security video from the library so he had a current description of her, she had changed cabs often enough, and done enough zigzagging across the city on foot, that it would take time for him to put all of it together and follow her trail.

She could afford to wait until she had her money, until she got her hair cut and colored, until she had a chance to buy more clothes and a secondhand car. She shouldn't let herself panic. The dream had her spooked, that was all.

Still, though she turned out the light, she couldn't go back to sleep. She didn't want to dream about him again, didn't want him close, even in her subconscious. Lying awake in the dark, she endured the slow tick of minutes slipping away, bringing dawn and her new life closer and closer. Thinking about the past was useless; she focused instead on what was ahead of her. She was a millionaire now; maybe she'd buy a house, her very own house. She'd never owned a home before. Come to think of it, there hadn't been anywhere she thought of as home, not for a very long time anyway.

Morning came, and Drea ventured out to get something to eat. She was starving, having made do the night before with crackers and chips from the vending machine next to the stairwell. She found a small diner that was so crowded she had to stand and wait for a stool at the counter, rather than having a booth to herself. Finally she was sitting, crammed between two burly guys who looked like construction workers, or truck drivers maybe. She didn't make eye contact, and they didn't speak, just devoted themselves to emptying their plates.

She ordered sausage and eggs and toast, a meal she would never have eaten if she'd still been with Rafael, out of fear she might gain a few ounces. Once the first bite hit her mouth, Drea forgot about watching the clock and lost herself in what was maybe the first complete meal she'd had in…she didn't remember how long. Since way before she'd met Rafael, so…years. She hadn't eaten a complete meal in years.

Screw men. She didn't need a man now. She was rich, and she'd eat whatever the hell she felt like eating.

Finally, filled with a sense of well-being that went beyond food, she walked back to the motel. It was almost time for the bank to open. Sitting in her shabby little room, she waited until nine-fifteen, then turned on her BlackBerry, which immediately buzzed an alert that she had messages, which she ignored, and accessed her account. Nothing. The transfer hadn't been posted yet. Transfers should have been handled first thing. There was no point in even checking the Kansas account, because Kansas was on Central time and it would be another hour before she could realistically expect anything there.

Had something gone wrong? A chill ran down her spine. Legally there was no way Rafael could have stopped the transfer, but illegally…yeah, hold a gun to the bank manager's head and maybe he could have done it, if Rafael had somehow found out almost immediately.

He didn't, as a rule, write a check for anything he wanted to buy; he used plastic. For that matter, Rafael didn't normally write a check at all, even to pay bills. Orlando had told him not to get a debit card, that someone could get the number and wipe him out, so Rafael still paid bills the old-fashioned way, but he didn't actually do it himself. His accountant, the legal one, did that for him.

No, she was almost certain Rafael couldn't have found out anything.

Ten minutes later, she tried again. This time, her account showed the hundred-thousand-dollar deposit.

Limp with relief, Drea fell back across the bed, clutching the BlackBerry to her chest. She looked at the amount again, and began laughing. It was there, and it was all hers, every last penny of it.

And she was going to be late for her appointment at the salon if she didn't hurry. She bounced off the bed, called a taxi, and left the room key and a couple of dollars on the bedside table before going out to wait for her ride.

Things went downhill when she got to the bank and began closing out her account. After providing her identification, and information for the paperwork, she asked for the hundred thousand in cash. The account manager, a middle-aged woman with wine-red hair, stopped what she was doing and stared over the desk at Drea. She looked perturbed. "I don't know if we can do that, at least not for the full amount," she said apologetically. "Usually we give customers a cashier's check when they close out accounts. Obviously we don't keep a huge cash reserve here. If you'd given us some warning we could have had additional funds on hand, but…let me talk to the bank manager. I'll see what we can do."

Drea bit back the stinging remark she'd been about to make. A bank didn't keep a lot of cash on hand? What the hell kind of bank didn't have cash? Antagonizing the woman wouldn't help, though, would probably even prevent her from walking out with any cash at all, so instead she said, "I'm sorry. Everything happened so fast…I wasn't thinking."

She didn't specify what had happened so fast, but her apology seemed to work because the woman said, "Maybe we can work something out. I'll be right back."

As the woman disappeared into another office, Drea thought furiously. What good would a cashier's check for a hundred thousand do her? All she could do with it was open another account. She needed cash, untraceable cash.

Glancing at her watch, she saw that time was getting short if she intended to make her salon appointment. She could skip the appointment, get her hair cut farther on down the road, but she'd like to change her appearance before she bought a car. Maybe if she gave the bank some time, and came back after her salon appointment, she could get more cash, but that would mean the account manager would know how she'd changed her hair, which would make it easier for Rafael to trace her.

This wasn't working. She'd have to adjust her plan. Okay, so she'd give the bank more time to get the cash together, maybe even another day-God, what kind of risk would she be running by staying in Elizabeth another day?

An unacceptable risk, she decided. She needed to leave today.

She didn't have a lot of cash left, though, so she'd have to get some money right now. She didn't have to have the entire hundred thousand in cash; twenty thousand would do, and the rest in a cashier's check. Ten thousand would buy a car reliable enough to get her to Kansas, the remaining ten would be plenty to pay for motel rooms and food. How long would it take her to get to Kansas, anyway? Two days? Three? She'd have plenty of cash to spare.

The account manager came out of the office, her brow furrowed in a way that told Drea there was no way she could get the entire hundred thou in cash. "I'm sorry," she began, but Drea shook her head.

"It's all right. How about twenty thousand in cash, or even fifteen, and the remainder in a cashier's check. That would be plenty. I don't know what I was thinking; I sure don't want to be traveling with that much cash."

The woman's expression cleared. "I know we can do fifteen in cash, but let me see about twenty-"

Time was getting too short. "I've taken up too much of your time," Drea said. "Fifteen would be great."

"Are you sure? It won't take a minute to check-"

"Thank you, but don't go to the trouble."

Finally she had her fifteen thousand in cash, one hundred and fifty hundred-dollar bills, and a cashier's check for the remainder. The cash was surprisingly bulky, which made her glad she hadn't been able to get the entire amount in cash. She'd have had to buy a small suitcase just to hold the money, which would be a tad conspicuous. At least the fifteen thousand would fit in her bag.

She had to sign a couple of forms, then at last the transaction was finished. "Thank you so much," she said, then looked at her watch and hurried from the bank.

She was almost twenty minutes late getting to the salon, and the stylist was in a pissy mood because of it, but he cheered up when she indicated her mass of long corkscrew curls and said, "Cut it off, and I want to go smoother and darker." Like most stylists, he loved cutting long hair and going for a drastic change.

An hour and a half later, she walked out of the salon a brunette, her hair in a shaggy cut that was a little spiky on top. It looked sharp as hell, and she loved it. Her entire face looked different, stronger, the bone structure more evident. She wasn't Drea Rousseau now, she was someone else, a woman who didn't take any crap from anyone.

She'd have to think of a new name, a name that would fit her new self. Somewhere along the line she'd have to get a new driver's license, but she'd worry about that later. Right now, she needed wheels.

A little over five hours later, she crossed into Pennsylvania, heading west. Her car was a maroon Camry, a little the worse for wear with some rust eating at the metal and a collection of dents and dings on the fenders, but the tires were good and the engine ran okay.

Soon, she thought, she'd be driving a Cadillac. Or maybe a Mercedes. In a couple of days she'd be in Kansas, and from there, who knew? She could pick anywhere she wanted, and Rafael Salinas could kiss her ass.