Death Angel (Chapter Fourteen)

A CHILL RAN DOWN DREA'S SPINE AND SHE WHIPPED HER head around, looking in all directions. A sense of imminent danger seized her, making her want to put the car in gear and floorboard the accelerator. She couldn't see anything out of the ordinary, but her lizard brain was screaming Run! and she actually trembled from the effort it took to remain where she was. He wasn't here. She knew he wasn't. Just five more minutes, and everything would be set. She could leave. She could go to Denver and soon have her two million in cash, and then she could disappear so thoroughly even he would never be able to find her.

She had checked out the parking lot when she arrived fifteen minutes ago, even though there was no way he or anyone could have known where she was meeting Mrs. Pearson. The only vehicle with anyone sitting in it was a battered, four-door Chevy. The motor was running, to keep the air-conditioning going in the ninety-degree heat. Sitting in the front passenger seat was an older woman, her face lined with years and fatigue; a whining toddler was imprisoned in a car seat in the back. No threat there, unless the kid escaped.

She recognized Mrs. Pearson as the older woman pulled into the parking lot, then she immediately switched her attention to the passing traffic. Right behind Mrs. Pearson was a red sedan, driven by a woman, then a guy in a pickup truck. Drea stared at the guy, but she couldn't get a good look at him because of the sun's reflection on the window. She could tell he was wearing a ball cap, though, and he was focused on his driving because he didn't turn his head to look in Mrs. Pearson's direction.

Both the red sedan and the pickup disappeared down the street. As Mrs. Pearson, file folder in hand, hurried across the parking lot toward her, Drea anxiously watched the street behind her, wondering what had given her the willies. Another car, this one also driven by a woman, went by just as Mrs. Pearson reached for the door handle.

Drea quickly hit the unlock button, and Mrs. Pearson got in. As soon as she slammed the door, Drea locked the doors again. Every car had a blind spot, and she didn't want anyone slipping up behind her, then getting into the back seat and putting a gun to her head.

"Have you seen him?" Mrs. Pearson asked, her head swiveling as she looked all around them.

"No, not yet." But he was around. She knew he was. The tingle in her spine, the lizard sense of danger, warned her he was near.

She was more vulnerable now than she'd been yesterday, or even this morning, and she knew it. By getting Internet service she'd put her name in the system, verified her presence in the vicinity. She'd been caught on the security cameras at the cell phone store, so she had to assume her changed appearance was no longer a secret.

Maybe she was assigning way too much power and skill to him, but she didn't think so. If she had any skill at all it was in reading men, and her gut said he was capable of finding her. It also said he was the most dangerous man she'd ever met, and while she'd met some stone-cold killers who could curdle your blood, he was head and shoulders above them, which was why he scared the shit out of her.

Mrs. Pearson opened the file folder and removed several sheets of paper. "Fill these out, sign them, and everything's set."

Drea took the papers, giving one more long look around. "Keep an eye out while I'm reading. He's tall, about six-one, good-looking, and in very good shape. Short dark hair." The thumbnail description seemed very inadequate for a man whose very presence seemed to suck all the air out of a room, as if he not only commanded his space but everyone else's, too. But how could she describe the way he moved, the grace and speed, and at the same time get across how very still he was? Saying his eyes were like dark opals was useless, because you couldn't see all those colors unless you were very close, and then it was too late.

Mrs. Pearson took her job as lookout seriously; she didn't say anything while Drea turned her attention to the papers, but Drea was aware of the almost constant movement of the older woman's head. People came and went in the parking lot, but they were mostly harried mothers, wilting in the heat, usually with a kid or two dragging behind to the accompaniment of flip-flops slapping on the pavement.

The paperwork took only a few minutes. Drea scribbled her signature, then replaced the sheets in the folder. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate the trouble you've gone to," she told Mrs. Pearson, returning the folder to her and taking a long look around as she did so. There was still nothing out of the ordinary, and she still had that worrisome tingle running up and down her spine.

"You shouldn't have to live your life in fear," Mrs. Pearson said, her kind gaze a little sad as she looked at Drea. "I hope you can finally get free."

"I hope so, too," said Drea.

After Mrs. Pearson left, Drea sat and watched the traffic for a few more minutes. She hadn't parked at the curb but rather in an open-ended slot, so she wouldn't have to waste time backing up if she had to leave in a hurry. From where she sat in the parking lot she could see behind the store, see the vacant lot, overgrown with weeds, that separated the store from some residences. Was that a dead-end street, or could she use it to come back onto the main drag at a different point?

Once again, she hadn't done her homework, and fury at herself shot through her. How could she expect to get out of this alive if she didn't start paying more attention to detail? She should have bought a map of the town as soon as she got here, studied it, acquainted herself with every street and road. He probably knew exactly where that street went.

She looked at the vacant lot, wondered briefly how much broken glass was hidden by the weeds, then gave a mental shrug and put the car in gear. Steering it around the back corner of the store, she threaded between two parked cars that probably belonged to store employees, jolted over one of those movable concrete forms that had once blocked the end of the parking slot but had now been pushed half out of the way, and plowed across the lot. The ground was uneven, bouncing her around, and the tall weeds whipped against the side of the car. Then there were two hard jolts as she shot over the curb and into the street, the back wheels fish-tailing a little as they tried to grab traction. Then the rubber grabbed the pavement and the car gathered speed, hurtling toward the end of the street two blocks away where, hallelujah, she could see a stop sign and another street.

FROM WHERE HE was parked down the block, facing the store, Simon watched her circle to the back of the building, then cut across the vacant lot in the rear before heading north on the short side street. The truck was in gear, so he briefly checked for on-coming traffic-none-then let off on the brake and pulled away from the curb, executing a U-turn in the street and heading west.

The side street ended after a couple of blocks; she could go either east or west. He bet on west. The closest Federal Reserve bank was in Denver, and she'd be in a hurry to get that two million converted to cash. Not only that, the farther west she went, the emptier the country was, at least until she hit the West Coast. People could and did disappear all the time in the vast emptiness of the region, but they were people who lived outside the system, without bank accounts or cell phones, or even electrical service unless they happened to rig up a generator. He couldn't see Drea living that lifestyle. If possible, she'd go for comfort.

If he miscalculated and she headed east, locating her again might take him a couple of days, but there weren't that many secondary roads out here that she could use. Not that they didn't exist, but they tended to wind around for miles and then just stop, and you had to either backtrack or cut across country, in which case you better know where in hell you were going and have a four-wheel-drive vehicle with heavy-duty suspension. Her middle-aged car wasn't capable of going cross-country, and Drea was too smart to try.

She might deem it worthwhile to ditch the car and get something more durable, though, if she had squeezed out enough cash to give her some reserves. In fact, he'd bet on that. As soon as she got to Denver, where she'd feel safer because she could blend in with the much greater population, she'd change cars.

He had a full tank of gas; he was ready to go in any direction she chose. But how much gas did she have? If she had to fill up, she'd likely stop at the Exxon station on the western edge of town. It wasn't a huge station, but it was at an intersection and had four pumps on each side of the station, so she wouldn't feel hemmed in.

He still didn't know what he was going to do. Indecision wasn't one of his traits, but this wasn't one of his usual jobs. Maybe it was because he was amused by her sheer guts in ripping off Salinas the way she had done, or maybe it was because of that afternoon of hot sex they'd shared, but at this point he was tracking her because, until he decided on his course of action, he didn't want to lose her. Maybe he was simply enjoying the chase, wondering what wrinkles she would throw at him.

On the other hand, two million was two million. And, unlike Drea, he already had an off-shore account-several of them-so he wouldn't have the difficulties she'd been facing.

At some point, though, he'd have to make a firm decision, and that point was fast approaching. Let her go or collect the two million? Let her go or take the risk of making a hit here in the States? Killings could and did go unsolved all the time, but he never lost sight of the fact that things were different here than they were in an underdeveloped country.

He glanced at his navigation system. The road she was on had a stop sign at every intersection-that would slow her down. He was on the main drag, which had two traffic lights back in the business district, such as it was, but the rest of the way the stop signs were all on the intersecting streets. He'd be at the gas station a couple of minutes before she reached it.

When he got there, he pulled in front of the air hose station and got out, so no matter which side of the gas pumps she chose, he could move around and keep the truck between them. She might have a full tank and not need to stop, which was okay; she wouldn't be able to get so far ahead of him that he'd lose her, not in the couple of seconds it would take him to get back in the truck.

He spotted her, coming toward him at a measured speed, not so fast she'd get pulled over but not poking along, either. He moved as she came closer, keeping the truck cab so it always partially blocked her view of him, in case she happened to glance his way.

She didn't pull in. She stopped at the intersection, looked both ways, and went straight across, heading west toward Colorado.

Good girl, he thought approvingly. She'd already filled the tank, instead of leaving something that important for the last minute. He went around the truck and climbed into the cab, and pulled back onto the highway just a hundred yards behind her.