Death Angel (Chapter Seven)

AFTER LOCKING HER BEDROOM DOOR, DREA GOT HER LAPTOP and logged on. She had carefully researched this, not because she'd been planning all along to wipe out Rafael's bank account and go into hiding, but sort of as a "just in case" type of thing.

If Rafael had played straight with her, she'd have been content to rock along at the status quo for as long as he wanted her, then she'd take her jewelry and leave. That was what she'd expected to happen, and she'd played her part to convince him that she was completely harmless, so he wouldn't worry about something she might have seen or overheard.

Besides all that, what if Rafael had been killed? Things like that happened to people like him. She hadn't seen any point in letting all that money sit in the bank, his accounts frozen, until the feds stepped in and took it all.

So she'd planned for the future-her future.

She truly had no idea where or how Rafael kept his other set of books, for the big money that hadn't been laundered. She hadn't tried to find out, judging that effort way out of her league in terms of the risks she was willing to take. But the bank account that Rafael used for his personal needs, and the one from which he made transfers to the account he'd set up for her, well, that was different.

The penthouse had a hard-wired router for their computer use; Orlando had told Rafael to go that route instead of wireless, as a wireless router made it easier for someone else to capture his information. Drea's laptop's IP number was different from that of Rafael's laptop, but from the router outward only one IP number showed up at the other end, meaning that, if she accessed Rafael's bank account, as far as the bank was concerned, the access came from the correct IP number.

Getting Rafael's password had taken months of watching, catching glimpses whenever she could, watching his hands and working out what keystrokes he was using. If he'd changed his password regularly, she'd never have been able to figure it out, but like most people he didn't bother. Nor was his password particularly imaginative: he used his cell phone number. He had two cells, an encrypted one Orlando had gotten for him, and another one that he used for ordinary stuff. Drea didn't know the number for the encrypted phone, but she'd often called his regular cell. After she'd figured out three of his keystrokes, she'd known what the password was.

She went to the bank's website, then logged on as Rafael, holding her breath until the account information actually flashed onto the screen. First she went into his account preferences and changed the e-mail address so that any notifications would be sent to her e-mail address instead of his. From the research she'd done, she knew that a bank would send an e-mail when any unusually large transfers were made, and she didn't want Rafael getting that e-mail today.

How long it would be before he-or rather, Orlando -thought to check her e-mail account was anyone's guess. At first, when Rafael realized she had disappeared, he'd check her room. He'd never expect her to leave all her clothes behind, so he'd be concerned something had happened to her, and he'd have his men searching for her. Unfortunately, that meant she also had to leave the laptop behind, because he'd notice immediately if it were gone. She didn't care; there were no files she needed to keep, no photos saved on it.

Besides, she wanted Rafael to know what she'd done-after she'd had plenty of time to get away, of course. She wanted him to know that she'd made him pay. He might not find out about his empty bank account until he bounced a check, which could be days. That was the best-case scenario, but sometimes the ball bounced her way. She wasn't counting on it, though; she intended to run far and run fast. She'd have to change her name, spend some money to get a new ID that would hold up under at least a first round of scrutiny, but she knew all about reinventing herself and the prospect didn't bother her.

The e-mail problem taken care of, she went back to Rafael's account information and took her first look at the bottom line. A savage glee filled her. Two million, one hundred eighty-eight thousand, four hundred thirty-three dollars and two cents. She'd leave him the two cents, she thought, because she was transferring only round numbers.

Maybe she'd be smart to take only the two million, and leave the hundred and eighty-eight thousand. That way he wouldn't immediately bounce any checks, which might stack the deck in her favor. On the other hand, as he'd said, a hundred thousand was a hundred thousand. That was the Judas price he'd put on her, so evidently she was worth a hundred grand. Why shouldn't she take it?

Two million, one hundred thousand dollars. It had a nice sound to it. She typed in her account information, jumped through all the electronic hoops, and with a keystroke was an instant millionaire. She waited a minute, then logged into her own account and stared in satisfaction at the nice big numbers. In case Rafael somehow discovered what she'd done, to keep him from simply transferring the money back into his account, she changed the password. He couldn't get to the money now, because as far as the bank was concerned, he'd given it to her and it was hers to do with as she pleased.

The next step: move all that nice money to a different bank. Not right now, though; it was too soon. A routine e-mail alerting him to the transfer was one thing, but the last thing she wanted to do was trigger a personal telephone call. She'd wait an hour, maybe less, before the bank's closing time to move the money to two separate accounts: part of it to a bank in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but the bulk of it she'd put in the little independently owned bank in Grissom, Kansas, where she still maintained the very first bank account she'd ever opened. The bank here wouldn't, by law, be able to provide Rafael with any information about what she'd done with the money after it landed in her account.

She couldn't help smiling. Rafael had insisted she open the account at his bank to make it easier for him to transfer money to her as she needed it. He had intended his name to be on the account, too, but he hadn't been with her and somehow she'd "forgotten" that part of his instructions, though she'd dutifully had the statements sent to him so he could keep track of her spending. He'd been annoyed, but not enough to do anything about it, because he had assumed that, because he controlled how much and when any funds were deposited in her account, he also controlled her. He'd been wrong then, and he was wrong now.

Pacing, she reviewed the steps she'd taken so far, trying to think of any additional details. She added a thin black hoodie to her tote bag, so she'd have something to cover her hair with until she could get it cut. She could take a pair of scissors with her and hack it off herself, but she didn't want anyone finding long hanks of hair in a trash can and putting two and two together. She'd get her hair cut tomorrow, in a hair salon, where people got their hair cut all the time and no one would pay any attention to her.

She checked the charge on her BlackBerry, tossed it in the tote, then added one final item: an empty wallet. That was all, she decided. What she was taking was minimal, just what she needed now. She was ready.

Crap, no, she wasn't. Mentally smacking herself on the forehead, she hurried to her closet and retrieved the key to her safe-deposit box from where she had taped it to the inside top of her satin house slippers. Without the key, she wouldn't be able to retrieve the jewelry she'd stashed there, or the bank routing numbers and her account numbers that were also in the box. She couldn't believe she'd been about to walk out without the key. She'd have been helpless, unable to do anything, and she would have to either walk away without anything, or risk coming back here for the key, which would have meant Rafael possibly could discover what she'd done while she was still within his grasp. The thought made her shudder. Even if he didn't, he would want to make love to her tonight, and she knew she couldn't bear it. She couldn't pretend yet again, couldn't hide what she was thinking and feeling.

Going to the door, she coughed several times to cover any sound as she unlocked the door, then pulled it open. She went to the living room and paused at the entrance. Both Amado and Hector looked around at her. "I'm feeling a little better," she said hoarsely. "Is it okay if I go to the library?"

She knew their orders, but she phrased it as a question anyway. She'd never given Rafael's men any lip or attitude, acting as meek and mild as possible, and she didn't change her act now.

"I'll get the car," Amado said, looking resigned as he got to his feet. He and Hector must have discussed the possibility beforehand, and Amado had drawn the short straw. Hector got to stay at the penthouse and watch sports, while poor Amado had to find a nearby parking space, then sit in the car and wait for her call.

"I'll change clothes and be right out," Drea promised. She knew they didn't believe her, because she usually took forever getting ready, but today she moved with a speed and purpose she normally kept hidden. She pulled on a cream-colored pair of silk pants and matching tank, then slipped on a cropped silk jacket in hot pink. She was now so noticeable, and so easy to spot, that Amado wouldn't recognize her after she changed clothes, even if she walked right past him. He'd be looking for the pink jacket and her mass of curly hair.

Slipping the straps of the tote bag on her shoulder, she looked around the room for one last time, saying good-bye to Drea Rousseau. The act has served her purpose, but good riddance.

"Bye, Hector," she said as she left the bedroom and went to the door. "See you later."

He waved a hand in reply, not looking away from the television. Drea let herself out, and stepped into the elevator. She was alone. As she pushed the Down button and the car began to move, a sense of lightness and relief began to seep through her, as if chains were falling away. Soon, her subconscious whispered. Soon-just minutes now-she would be free. She would be herself again. A few more minutes of pretense with Amado, and she'd be able to close the door on this part of her life.

Exiting into the lobby, she gave the doorman her usual friendly, empty-headed smile. Amado pulled to the curb as she stepped onto the sidewalk. He looked faintly surprised to see her so promptly, but hopped out and opened the rear door of the black Lincoln Town Car for her. There were thousands of cars just like it in New York; all the car services used them. Rafael used them as his personal cars because they blended with all the others, making it easier for him to shake anyone following him.

As Drea stepped into the car she thought she saw the assassin and panic froze her heart, her blood. She stumbled, almost falling, as her feet suddenly refused to work. Amado grabbed her arm. "You okay?"

Her gaze darted around, looking for whatever had alarmed her, made her think of him. He wasn't there. She hadn't seen him. Armies of people marched up and down the sidewalks, but he wasn't one of them. She didn't see anyone with that lithe way of moving, or that particular way he held his head. She closed her eyes, sucking in deep breaths as she tried to calm her skittering pulse.

She let herself lean on Amado for just a moment. "I turned my ankle a little," she said, managing a faintly helpless tone. "Sorry."

"Did you sprain it?"

"I don't think so. Not much, anyway." She gingerly rotated her right ankle. "I'm okay." As she got into the car she took another quick look around. Nothing. There were a lot of dark-haired men, but no one like him. A brief glimpse of something, someone, had reminded her of him, but that was all. He wasn't here. She would know if he were here.

Drea wrenched her thoughts away from the killer. She couldn't let herself get distracted, or she'd make mistakes, any one of which could be fatal. She had to concentrate, and she had to move fast.

By the time Amado pulled to the curb in front of the library, she had herself focused again. "I'll be about an hour, I guess," she said vaguely as he helped her out.

"Take your time. Call me when you're ready to leave."

She could tell from the resignation in his tone that he expected her to be much longer than an hour. The Drea he knew, who they all knew, didn't have much concept of time and was habitually late. If she thought something would take "just a few minutes" it would invariably take at least an hour, whatever "it" was.

"What's your number?" she asked. "I think I have a pen…" She let her voice trail off as she began rummaging in the tote.

"Let me have your phone," he said as a couple of irate drivers blew their horns at him.

She pulled the BlackBerry out of its little pocket and gave it to him. He was very patient; he didn't sigh or anything as he quickly programmed his number into the device. "You know how to use your contact list, right?" he asked, just to make certain.

"Rafael showed me," she said, nodding her head and mentally rolling her eyes.

The cacophony of horns was growing more insistent. "Take your time," Amado said as he got back into the driver's seat. Despite the increasingly impatient drivers, he still watched as she crossed to the steps and began climbing them. She put on a small limp, just enough that he would notice. Details added up. Not only would he be looking for her bright pink jacket, but also that telltale little limp.

Once inside, she went straight to the ladies' room. Locked in a stall, she swiftly changed clothes and shoes, packing her things in the tote to be disposed of later. She switched wallets, removing her driver's license and all her cash from the Gucci wallet Rafael had given her, and stowing them in the generic one she'd picked up at Macy's. She left the credit cards in the designer one. Not only would using the cards be suicidal, but if someone less than honest found the wallet and used the cards, it would muddy her trail that much more.

She couldn't leave it lying out in the open, though; that would be too easy, too obvious. Tucking the wallet back in the tote, she flushed the toilet as if she'd used it, and left the stall.

Two other women were at the row of sinks. Drea dawdled, washing her hands, fiddling with her lipstick and generally primping, until they left. Quickly she wet her hands and began dampening her hair, the water both darkening the color and straightening the curl. When her hair was wet enough, she combed it straight back, flattening it to her head, and twisted it into a tight knot that she haphazardly secured by sticking a pen through it. The knot didn't have to hold for long, just long enough.

Just one more thing. Dampening a paper towel, she washed off as much of her makeup as she could. Then she exited the bathroom with her normal stride, just another busy, hurried, focused New Yorker. No one looked twice at her.

She strode out the exit. Removing the designer wallet from the tote, she held it down by her side, and paused by a trash can. As unobtrusively as possible she let the wallet drop, and used her toe to nudge it behind the can where it was mostly out of sight. Someone would find it, and soon. An honest person would turn it in to the library personnel; a dishonest one would take the credit cards and go on a spending binge. Either scenario worked for her, though the second one would be most troublesome to Rafael.

Quickly walking a couple of blocks away, she hailed a cab and gave the driver a destination. A direct route would have been faster but would also make her easier to track. When she exited that taxi, she walked another couple of blocks and took another one. She changed cabs a third time before reaching her final destination in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Time was getting short, the afternoon sun sinking lower. Drea went into the bank and requested access to her safe-deposit box. She signed in, retrieved her key from her bag, and a slim, young Asian-American woman ushered her into the small room lined floor to ceiling with boxes.

Drea's was a small box, located near the floor. She had to squat to insert the key. The young teller inserted the bank's key, turned both of them, and unlocked the door. Drea murmured her thanks and the young woman smiled as she left, leaving Drea alone.

Getting out what she needed took just a minute. She removed her clothing from the tote, then from the safe-deposit box she took the velvet bag containing her jewelry, and dropped it in the tote. The only other item in the box was the manila envelope containing the paperwork on her accounts. That, too, went into the bag. Then she stuffed her discarded clothing in the safe-deposit box, relocked it, and dropped the key in her bag.

She left the bank without looking left or right, intent on getting out of sight. Once out on the sidewalk, she hailed yet another cab and asked the driver to take her to a respectable motel. He grunted in reply. While he drove, Drea got out her BlackBerry and her account information, and set to work.

Five minutes later, it was done. Two million dollars had been wired to her account in Grissom, Kansas, and a hundred thousand dollars to her small account at the bank she'd just left. It was too late for her account to be credited with it today, but it would be there first thing in the morning. She'd wait until after she'd used the BlackBerry to confirm that the transactions had been posted before she disposed of the PDA. She sighed; she would miss the little gizmo.

She turned off the BlackBerry, and sighed again as she leaned back in the seat. It was done. She had moved fast, and she was as exhausted as if she'd run a marathon. With luck, Amado was just now beginning to be worried and impatient. He hadn't called her, so he definitely hadn't yet gone looking for her. Soon, though. When she didn't answer the phone, he'd go looking for her, figuring maybe something in the library blocked cell calls, the way casinos did.

When he didn't find her in the library, he'd get worried. Because he thought she'd been sick, he'd get the library personnel to check all the bathrooms. After that failed, he'd call Rafael.

Given Rafael's suspicious nature, he'd first have Hector check her bedroom, to see if she'd taken her things. Only when Hector reported that her makeup was still in the bathroom, her laptop was still there, her television was still on, and that she hadn't taken any luggage with her would Rafael begin to think that something might have happened to her and he'd have his men start searching for her. They would concentrate on the area around the library. If some honest soul had found her discarded wallet and turned it in to the library personnel, then he might even call the cops.

Now there was an entertaining scenario: Rafael Salinas, going to the police for help. She'd almost pay money to see that.

He'd check with the hotels in the area, to see if she'd registered. Given how much he thought of her brainpower, he'd expect her to do something obvious, which was a big point in her favor.

She wasn't that far away in terms of actual distance, but she was in a different state, and Rafael would never in a million years think she'd go to Elizabeth, New Jersey. He wouldn't even expect her to leave Manhattan.

Later, when he discovered that she'd robbed him blind, he would focus on her hometown. She knew he'd had her investigated, that he knew her real name and all that, but that didn't matter because she wasn't going back to her hometown. She had no intentions of ever going back to that place. She thought some cousins still lived there, but she hadn't contacted them since she'd left and had no reason to ever get in touch with them.

Jimbo, her older brother, had left before she had, and she'd never heard from him again. Good riddance, anyway. He was nothing but a loser. Her parents were divorced and had both sort of drifted away, too, focusing on their own lives and not much caring about their two offspring. Drea had deliberately cut ties with them, too. She had only herself, which was the way she liked it.

The taxi deposited her at a motel that at least looked clean, which was the best she could say for it. For just one night, she figured she could stand a lot worse than this.

She registered with a fake name, and paid cash. The bored clerk rattled off a list of rules and instructions, and slid a key to her. She was on the second floor, which was fine with her as she didn't have any luggage to haul up and down.

The carpet in the room was stained and worn, the furniture was rickety, but at least the room didn't stink. Drea ignored her surroundings and looked for a phone book. When she finally found it-secured on a chain-she flipped to the yellow pages and looked for a hair salon that was close to the bank, then she began calling. She called four before she found one that could give her an appointment at ten in the morning.

That was that. When the bank opened in the morning, she would withdraw her hundred thousand dollars, then go straight to the hair salon to have her hair cut and colored, and she'd be good to go. She'd buy some secondhand car, pay cash, and head west.

She was free.