Death Angel (Chapter Eleven)

IT REALLY PISSED DREA OFF THAT GETTING HER OWN MONEY from a bank had been so much trouble.

She'd taken her time on the drive to Kansas, because she didn't want to get tired and make stupid mistakes, or maybe even have a car wreck. She had to fly under the radar, which meant paying cash for everything and otherwise not getting herself noticed. Once she had the two million she'd have more options, but until then she was limited.

Taking her time meant the drive had taken her three days instead of just two, but that was okay, because she'd enjoyed herself. She was alone, blessedly alone, answering to no one but herself. She didn't have to act like a brainless twit, didn't have to constantly smile and hide any hint of temper or impatience, or even a too-sharp sense of amusement.

How pitiful was it that for two years she hadn't been able to laugh spontaneously at a joke? If she'd laughed at all, she'd had to ask questions first, as if she didn't get the punch line. Rafael and his goons had spent a lot of time laughing at her in addition to the joke. Bastards.

She'd never have to make herself look stupid again, because she'd never again depend on a man for what she wanted. On the trip she ate whenever the mood took her, stopped to see anything that looked interesting, bought clothes based on what she wanted rather than some image she had to project. Instead of trying to look sexy, she went for the comfort of cotton pants, T-shirts, and sandals. After all, she was spending hours every day in the car, in the middle of summer.

Remembering the lessons learned from the bank in New Jersey, she knew she wouldn't be able to waltz in and get the two million. All she'd get was another few thousand in cash, and the rest in a cashier's check. She was already holding a cashier's check for eighty-five thousand, for all the good it did her. Unless she was buying a big-ticket item, she couldn't spend it. Yeah, like she could drop a couple of hundred bucks and ask for eighty-four thousand eight hundred dollars in change.

There was also the difficulty in carting that much money around with her. She couldn't do it. She'd had to convince herself of the impossibility, so, with time on her hands, the first night on the road, she'd actually measured her remaining hundred-dollar bills. The way she calculated it, a thousand dollars, banded, was one tenth of an inch thick, so a ten-thousand-dollar stack would be an inch thick. That meant, roughly, ten inches for every hundred thousand, in which case a million would be a hundred inches, and two million would be two hundred inches, or a stack over sixteen feet high-kind of tough to carry around, and even tougher to stash out of sight. She'd be practically advertising for someone to knock her in the head and take her dough.

So, the money had to be kept in a bank, but she'd like to break the paper trail of cashier's checks, even though by law the banks weren't allowed to give out any information to Rafael. That didn't mean he couldn't get it, just that he'd have to go to a good deal of trouble, and how much trouble he went to depended on how angry he was. Two million dollars worth of angry, plus the insult to his machismo, meant he'd be willing to spend twice that much money to find her. That kind of revenge might not be cost-effective, but it would definitely be satisfying.

In order to break the paper trail, at some point she'd have to get the two million converted into cash, even if for just long enough to drive to another state and stash it in another bank. The problem was, banks didn't like to hand out two million in cash, even to the person it belonged to.

Remembering that the bank in Elizabeth needed time to get in a large amount of cash, on the second day Drea stopped in Illinois, bought a cheap prepaid cell phone, and activated it, then she went out to the car to call the bank in Grissom, Kansas. With the doors safely locked and the air-conditioning running, she placed the call and said she wanted to speak to someone about closing out her account.

"Just a moment, I'll switch you to Mrs. Pearson."

After several moments, there was a click and a pleasant voice said, "This is Janet Pearson. How may I help you?"

"My name is Andrea Butts," Drea said, wincing as she used the hated name. One way or another, she was ditching that name, forever. "I have an account with you, and I'd like to close it out."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Ms. Butts. Is there a problem, or-"

"No, nothing like that, but I'm moving out of the area."

"I see. We hate to lose you as a customer, but life happens, doesn't it? If you'll come in, in person, I'll take care of the paperwork for you."

"I'll be there sometime tomorrow afternoon," Drea said, estimating her travel time and hoping she was at least in the ballpark. "The thing is, it's a large amount, and I want the bulk of it in cash."

There was a small silence, then Mrs. Pearson said, "Do you have your account number?"

Drea recited it, and she could hear computer keys clicking as Mrs. Pearson pulled up her account information. After another, longer pause, Mrs. Pearson said, "Ms. Butts, for your own safety, I really, really don't recommend taking this amount in cash."

"I understand the difficulty," Drea said. "That doesn't change the fact that I need this in cash, and I'm calling ahead of time so you can have that much available."

Mrs. Pearson sighed. "I'm very sorry, but we can't even order this much cash until we've verified your identity."

Drea struggled for patience, but she'd been on the receiving end of rudeness too many times for her to start snapping at someone who was just doing her job and had to follow bank policy. She couldn't, however, hold back her own sigh. "I understand. As I said, I'll be there tomorrow afternoon. That's too late to get the money, isn't it?"

"Actually, it's too early. We're a small bank, and we order our cash supply from the Federal Reserve just once a week. The head cashier places the order on Wednesday, so our order just went in yesterday. She won't order again until next Wednesday."

Drea wanted to beat her head against the steering wheel. "She can't make a special order, as this is such a large sum?"

"She'd have to have special authorization, I'm sure."

Rapidly she assessed the situation. "How long after she places the order does it take for you to receive the cash? The next day?"

Mrs. Pearson hesitated again. "I'd be glad to discuss this with you in person, but I really don't like to give out that information over the phone."

Again, she couldn't fault the woman, who didn't know her from Adam's house cat; for all she knew, Drea was planning to rob the place and was trying to find out when they'd have the most cash available.

Things were not working out the way she'd planned. Instead of getting the cash and disappearing, it looked as if she'd have to hang around Grissom for at least a week. Grissom was a small town, and from what she remembered had only one tiny motel, which would make finding her incredibly easy.

She could limit her vulnerability, though, by staying, say, within a hundred miles but moving around and never staying more than one night in each place. This was turning out to be a pain in the ass, but if she wanted to break the paper trail she had to do it somewhere, and she'd prefer sooner rather than later.

"I understand," she said. "I know this is a problem. I'll be there sometime tomorrow afternoon."

"I hope we can work something out," said Mrs. Pearson, which Drea thought was probably bank-talk for I hope you come to your senses.

She made it to the bank the next day about twenty minutes before closing; she had miscalculated how long the drive would take her so she'd had to get up at four that morning and drive hard all day long. She was tired, a little punch-drunk from three days of driving, and definitely frazzled. Her hair was a curly mess because she hadn't had time that morning to use the blow-dryer to straighten out the permed-in curls, but at least with curls she more resembled the photo on her driver's license. She couldn't imagine what a mess it would be if the bank didn't believe she was who she said she was. How could she prove her identity? Get a letter or something from Rafael? Yeah, right.

As it happened, her bedraggled appearance worked in her favor. Mrs. Pearson turned out to look like a fugitive from the old Dynasty television show, but her eyes were kind and her big-shouldered power suit was buttoned over a motherly heart. By that time Drea had worked up a sob story to use, involving an abusive ex-husband who had been stalking her, but the story was useless. The bank manager's mother had died overnight; he had left for Oregon and wouldn't be back until after the funeral. No one wanted to bother him, and likewise no one at the bank would take responsibility for placing such a huge order for cash outside their normal routine.

God in heaven, Drea thought despairingly, why couldn't she have gotten an account at a large national bank that probably got cash every day, or several times a day, rather than this podunk bank in a podunk town of not-quite three thousand residents?

She could drive to a larger town, maybe Kansas City, set up another account, and wire the money there, but larger cities meant more drug money came into play, and that gave Rafael more influence. She would be able to get her money faster, but she'd be in more danger while she did it.

As this was now late on Friday afternoon, the earliest she could set up an account would be the following Monday. Even if she then transferred the funds immediately, they wouldn't be posted, probably, until late that day. So it would be Tuesday before she could request cash, and the bank might or might not be able to get in that much the same day. On the safe side, she had to figure the following Wednesday would be the earliest she could get the money from another bank, whereas it would take her two days longer, the next Friday, to get the money here.

Two days longer, weighed against the greater danger. Neither choice looked great, but they were the only two choices she had. The only better possibility was if the bank manager's mother was buried this weekend and he came back to work on Monday, which she doubted would happen.

"I suppose I'll be staying for a few days," she said with a thin, exhausted smile. "Can you recommend the motel, or should I go to the next town?"

SHE WOULD NEED three things, Simon thought: cash, a car, and a cell phone. As smart as she was, she probably had a secret bank account somewhere nearby, so he'd assume she had the cash. A car, though; where would she get a car? Not in New York; she had last been seen in a taxi entering the Holland Tunnel, crossing into New Jersey. A different state made more sense, so he'd look in New Jersey. And somewhere nearby; she wouldn't waste money taking a taxi any great distance.

Not a new-car dealership, either; she'd try to fly under the radar, which meant a used car, fairly good condition but nothing spectacular.

He hacked into the DMV to get a copy of her New York driver's license. A native of the city might not have a license, might not even know how to drive considering how available public transportation was, but in his experience people who moved to the city tended to keep their licenses up-to-date. Once he had the photo, he played with the image, using his computer to cut her hair and darken it. Then he printed out the result, because now was the time for some legwork, and he had to have a picture to show.

He hit pay dirt on Monday, and a hundred bucks later had the make and model of the car, plus the tag number. New Jersey issued two tags, one for the front bumper and one for the back, and some unscrupulous individuals made money by stealing just the front tag and selling them to people who wanted a tag on the rear, just to avoid being pulled over for having no tag at all, and who weren't intending to stay in New Jersey. It was amazing how many people passed through New Jersey, and how many needed just one tag. Once out of state, a smart person could play license plate roulette and keep ahead of the computer system.

A cell phone, though, was more problematic. She could buy a prepaid cell phone and keep her name out of the system. Damn it, that was probably a dead end.

That left the IRS.

He was like everyone else; he didn't like to fuck with the IRS, but the taxman was the only way he could find where Drea had sent the money. Any currency transaction involving ten thousand dollars or more triggered a report to the IRS, which was why he moved his own money in increments, and all of it to an offshore destination. Handling money was a hell of a lot of work.

The IRS, however, had a really pissy computer system, which was good luck for him and really bad news for Drea.

On Tuesday, he learned that she had transferred her two million dollars to a bank in Grissom, Kansas.