Death Angel (Chapter Thirteen)

WAS SHE CRAZY? DREA WONDERED AS SHE PLOWED through her to-do list with ruthless determination, but no matter how determined she was, the damn thing kept getting longer.

Every step she took seemed to spawn two more steps, without which the first step wouldn't work. Because she didn't have a credit card, she had to pay cash for the cheapest laptop she could find at Wal-Mart, and she was beginning to run low on cash. Unless she wanted to risk going to the Grissom bank in person, she had to use the cashier's check for eighty-five thousand to open an account at a bank in the same town as the Wal-Mart, which would cause another currency transaction report to be issued.

Still, what choice did she have? She had to have Internet service in order to electronically move the two million bucks. But before she signed up for Internet service, she needed a laptop. And to get a laptop, she needed cash.

Everything seemed to loop back on itself. When she went to the cell phone store to get a wireless card for her brand-new laptop and sign up for the company's wireless service, she either had to have an address to which the bill could be sent, or she had to arrange for the bill to be automatically deducted from her bank account every month.

"Sure, why not?" she muttered to the slim Hispanic kid who was helping her. All of her bank account info was right there in her purse, of course, considering she'd opened the account just two hours before.

And still, she was going purely on supposition. While she was certain Rafael was looking for her, she had no proof he'd hired anyone to track her. Maybe he just had Orlando on the job. That was her best-case scenario: while Orlando was good with computers, she knew he didn't have the expertise to hack into the IRS system.

Not only that, Rafael wouldn't let him. The very last thing Rafael wanted was to bring the IRS down on him, poking into his finances. It was the IRS, after all, that had brought down Al Capone. This past week had taught her how difficult it was to clandestinely move money around. No wonder money-laundering was such a big-time business; how else were all the drug dealers supposed to move their massive amounts of cash into the mainstream so they could openly spend it?

Even if Rafael had hired someone to track her, he might not have wanted to go to the expense of hiring him. The assassin was expensive-very expensive. Rafael had to be aware he wasn't going to get his two million back; he'd know the difficulties she faced, and he'd know that, once the money was credited to her account, he couldn't get to it. Would he be willing to add the cost of the assassin to the two million he'd already lost?

Yes. She was almost positive the answer was yes. Rafael would be in a rage and capable of anything. And considering his profession, the assassin would be well aware of the ins and outs of moving money around and converting it to cash.

That was the one thing she hadn't researched properly, the one weakness in her plan. She had acted hastily, pushed by emotion, and now she was paying the price. Was she never going to learn? she wondered bitterly. All emotion did was cloud the issue and make things more difficult. She should have shrugged off what Rafael had done, steeled herself to endure, and planned better. She could have waited until she had something set up offshore, away from the prying of the IRS, then made her move.

She still had the bag of jewelry that she could liquidate, but probably her best bet would be selling it on eBay or something, and that would take time. Yet now that she had the laptop, she could get started on that. She wasn't broke and helpless, not like the first time. She had options.

What she didn't have was time. Days had passed since she'd left New York, plenty of time for him to track her. Unless she was willing to walk away from the two million, at least for a while. And how long would it be before she felt safe to access it? A year? Two years? Five? She had to move fast.

She didn't even have the eighty-five thousand now, at least not in her hand. Accessing it came with the same risks as accessing the two million. She had some more cash, and she had the jewelry, but while she could probably live off that she wouldn't be able to get that new ID so she could disappear. There wouldn't be a house, a home just for her. She'd have to work at a job that paid her under the table, probably waitressing in some dump. She'd lived that life before, and she didn't intend to do it again.

The way she saw it, risky or not, she had to act.

Finally, with everything in place, she called Mrs. Pearson. "I'm set," she said. "I have a laptop, and I have wireless service."

"Good! I have the application ready. I get off work at five o'clock; I can meet you at…where's a good place?"

"I don't know. Let me think." In a town the size of Grissom, there was no good place. The cafe wouldn't work; Drea didn't want to be caught in a small place, on foot, with the only exit through the kitchen. She'd been in the cafe, and plates were handed out of a large pass-through to the waitress. There was a door at the back of the cafe that led to the restrooms and maybe to the kitchen, but she hadn't checked it out when she was there so she didn't know for certain. Unless she wanted to clamber through the pass-through, which she didn't because the grill might be right there under it, the cafe was a trap.

This was another example of not being thorough in her planning. She should have checked out everything, because her life might depend on it. From now on, she'd assume he was just one step behind her, and act accordingly. She wasn't safe until she'd broken the paper trail, and that would take time.

"How about the parking lot of the dollar store," she finally suggested. There was more than one entrance; even better, it was on a corner, so she had more than one street to choose. No one who knew anything about her would ever look for her at a dollar store.

THIS WAS LIKE a chess game, Simon thought with relish. He enjoyed matching wits with someone like Drea. Most of the time, his prey was clueless, even people who should know better. Most of his targets took security measures, but then they felt very secure and relaxed their guards. Big mistake. Fatal mistake. The way to stay alive was to never relax, never assume you were safe.

He'd taken a flight out the previous afternoon, rented a pickup truck so he'd blend in with the population in the rural area, and driven the rest of the way. He was dressed in jeans, black work boots, and a short-sleeve, dark blue work shirt like mechanics wore. His shirt even had a name, Jack, embroidered above the left pocket. Everyone knew a Jack. Jacks were everywhere, and it was such a common name no one paid any attention to it. A stained ball cap, sunglasses, and beard stubble completed his disguise.

He was somewhat limited in his disguise choices, because he couldn't pull off the wheelchair routine in a town this small. People would be stopping to help him, they'd ask where he lived, wonder why they hadn't met before. Still, he was satisfied with his appearance; he blended in, which was exactly what he wanted.

If Drea hadn't realized before how difficult it was to get a large amount of cash, by now she did. She might be like the majority of his targets and assume she was safe here in this backwater because she hadn't used a credit card anywhere, and she'd driven instead of flying, but he expected she would be sharper than that.

She had so far played it smart, but by now she'd have figured out the weakness in her plan, and realized how she could be traced. Would she expect him to be the one on her trail? It was possible. She knew Rafael well enough to play him, which meant she was damn accurate in predicting what he'd do.

She'd have to have Internet service to move the money electronically, and she'd have to fill out paperwork to set up the process. That meant the Internet service would have to come first. Last night he'd surfed through the systems of the companies serving this area, and she wasn't listed. Until she was able to get a new ID she'd have to use her real name, and all new paperwork cost more cash than he figured she had. Until she could change identities, she wouldn't be able to shake him.

Sitting in the pickup truck, he used his laptop to tiptoe through the wireless records again, starting with the largest company-and there she was. In the efficient way of cell phone service providers, she'd immediately been entered into the system.

Now she had to deal with the bank's paperwork, which meant she either had to come to the bank in person, or she'd already established a relationship with someone at the bank who would be willing to bring the paperwork to her. Because this was Drea, he was betting on the latter.

A bank employee wouldn't leave the bank by the front door; they all exited through the employee entrance at the side. He parked where he could keep an eye on that entrance; anyone who left, at any time other than closing, would be his number one prospect.

He watched patiently. At four-thirty, the front doors were locked. Okay, this wasn't going to be easy, but he'd have been disappointed if it was. He'd have to visually sort through the bank employees as they left, and follow the most likely.

Not a man, he decided immediately. Drea didn't trust men, with good reason. She was contemptuous of the ones she could play, and distrustful of the ones she couldn't. Eliminating men from his list wasn't much help, because most bank employees were women.

His most likely suspect would be a middle-aged woman, he thought; someone with experience, someone who would be in a position with some authority. An older woman would be more likely to feel protective of someone Drea's age. She would also be carrying papers, either in her hand or in a briefcase or large tote bag. With his parameters in place, he waited, and he watched.

He spotted her immediately. For one thing, she left promptly at five, which suggested she had a purpose. That purpose might be nothing more than cooking supper, but she carried a file folder in her hand. Bless her heart, he thought with mild amusement. She was willing to help, but she was completely out of her element. How much more obvious could she be?

She got into a beige Chrysler. He hated beige cars; they didn't stand out. At least the traffic here was light.

The big question was, where was she going? Grissom was limited in its public choices. Maybe she'd arranged to meet Drea at her own home, which could make things dicey as far as following her went.

He didn't immediately pull into the street, but instead let another bank employee get between him and the Chrysler. He hung back, not wanting to spook her, though he thought there was little chance of that.

She drove two blocks, and at the second corner turned right, into the parking lot of a dollar store. Simon didn't touch his brakes, didn't look directly at the Chrysler as he cruised by, but with his peripheral vision he studied the parking lot looking for cars with someone sitting in them. Would Drea get in the Chrysler, or would the bank lady go to her? He bet on the bank lady being the one to leave the cover of her car; Drea was too smart to parade around in public when she suspected someone was looking for her.

In his rearview mirror, he saw the bank lady get out of her car, pause, then begin walking purposefully across the parking lot.

"Bingo," he said softly. "Your ass is mine, sweetheart."