Death Angel (Chapter Twelve)

IF BOREDOM WAS LETHAL, DREA THOUGHT, THEN SHE wouldn't live long enough to get her money. She'd left her hometown and eventually worked her way to New York City precisely because she didn't want to live in a town like Grissom, Kansas. She'd grown up in a small town; the life wasn't for her.

It wasn't the people. The people were generally nice, if not nosy. And even though her life in New York hadn't been all glamour and excitement and an endless round of parties-Rafael wasn't one of the Beautiful People, unless there was a subgenre of Beautiful Thugs-and she'd spent a lot of time in her room, at least it had been an extremely comfortable room. She hadn't gone to the theater or movies, but there was always pay-per-view on the television. She didn't have even that in the tiny, dingy room she got that Friday night at the tiny, dingy Grissom Motel, which lived down to its unimaginative name. And she couldn't go to a movie, because Grissom didn't have a movie theater-or much of anything else.

There was a small cafe, and one fast-food restaurant staffed by bored teenagers. For shopping, there was the hardware store, the feed store, the farm-supply store, and a dollar store. For a wider selection, the citizens drove to a neighboring town thirty miles away, which had a Wal-Mart. Big whoop.

She could remember when going to Wal-Mart had been a big deal to her, because that was where she'd bought most of her clothes. If she'd managed to scrape together enough money to buy something at Sears, she was as proud of it as if she'd gotten it at Saks Fifth Avenue.

And here she was again, wearing Wal-Mart clothes. The difference was that she had two million bucks in the bank, and she knew that soon she could wear anything she wanted. In the meantime, living in the boondocks again was driving her nuts. Maybe she hadn't done much when she'd been in New York, but at least she could have.

Nerves ate at her; she felt as if the waiting was scraping her skin raw. After one night in Grissom she checked out of the motel and drove thirty miles to the town that boasted a strip mall, but on second thought kept going, to the next town down the road. The extra distance from Grissom would make it just that much more difficult for anyone to find her.

The next day, she checked out of that motel, and drove some more.

She did that for the next three nights. Living out of a cheap suitcase, not bothering to unpack because she was spending just one night in each place, bothered her on some bone-deep level. Every decision she'd made since the day she'd left home, such as it was, had been made with her eye on one goal, which was to have money, security, and a home. She had money now, even if she couldn't get it yet. A home? She was afraid to stay in one place long enough to unpack her suitcase. She'd had somewhere to stay, but it wasn't hers, a place where she belonged and could let her guard down. Maybe "home" and "security" actually meant the same thing-in any case, she knew she hadn't found it yet.

She was holding her breath, waiting to start living.

On Wednesday she found herself driving in a wide, meandering circle around Grissom, as if she were circling a drain. There was nothing to see except miles and miles of flat land, green with the summer crops, and the wide blue bowl of sky overhead. Traffic was sparse, because I-70 was a long way to the north, and down here in farm country the only people driving around were the people who lived here-and not many did.

Maybe it was the long days of solitude, or the mostly empty road that meant she likely wasn't in grave danger if she let her mind wander, but with nothing to occupy her time except her thoughts she began to feel…uneasy. That was the only way to explain it. She'd made a mistake somewhere, somehow.

All the steps she'd taken ran through her head, and she examined each one. She tried to think what she could have done differently, and other than transferring all the money to the Elizabeth bank and taking her chances with an extended stay in the area, she came up blank. On the other hand, was she taking a bigger chance by hanging around Grissom for so long?

Was she relying too much on the assumption that Rafael wouldn't go to the police? She didn't think so. Rafael would want to take care of her his way, the permanent way, which precluded any cops. Her other assumption was that Rafael, who had lived his entire life first in Los Angeles and then New York, would have no idea how to track her through middle America. This was her territory, not his. But what if she was wrong?

What if he hired out the job?

A chill shot through her. That was what she'd overlooked. Rafael wouldn't try to hunt her down himself, he wouldn't send his men out to beat the concrete bushes of New York. She'd stolen two million dollars from him, smashed his ego, and thrown his newfound "love" back in his face. To him, the last two reasons would be even more powerful than the first. For an offense that serious, he'd hire the best.

And the best was…him.

Her heart began hammering and her breath came too fast. Jerkily she pulled to the side of the road and gripped the steering wheel as she fought off the panic attack. She couldn't panic; she couldn't afford the wasted time. She had to think.

Okay. The bank wouldn't give out information about her account to anyone without a search warrant, which obviously Rafael wouldn't be able to get. But…what about a hacker? The assassin made his living tracking down people, and he was damn good at what he did, or he wouldn't be able to charge the huge amounts he did. He earned the money by producing results. It followed, then, that he'd either be really good himself at getting into supposedly secure computer sites, or he knew someone who was.

Drea took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds, did that several times to slow her heartbeat. Think it through, think it through.

To hack into a bank's computer system, he'd first have to know which bank, but, damn it, he'd have the starting point because he'd know which bank Rafael used. Or he could get into the IRS system, knowing that every transaction over ten thousand dollars triggered a report to the tax agency, and from what she'd read the IRS didn't have the best computer system around. By the same token, Rafael's bank was one of the huge national banks with billions and billions in assets, so it followed that the bank would have a kick-ass security system on its computer network.

While she'd been wasting time driving aimlessly around looking at fields and sky and not much else, he could have tracked the bank transfers, and be waiting for her in Grissom.

The best thing she could do was walk away from the two million, at least for now, and stay safe. She still had the cashier's check for eighty-five thousand from the bank in Elizabeth, so it wasn't as if she was broke.

As soon as she deposited it somewhere, though, so far as she knew that would trigger another of those damn currency transaction reports, which would lead him straight to the bank where she'd put it.

There had to be a lag time, though, even a short one, between the bank and the IRS. She had an advantage with the cashier's check, because that should mean it would be immediately honored. She needed to go to a large city, use the cashier's check to open an account at a large national bank, let them know ahead of time she was wiring in two million dollars, and make arrangements to get at least a chunk of it in cash.

Suddenly, she knew how she'd work it. With the cash, she'd open up several different bank accounts, in different but neighboring towns, always less than ten thousand dollars so the bank wouldn't have to file those damn reports. Then, in a flurry of activity, she could wire smaller sums out of the Grissom bank to all those other banks, and one by one she could go to those other banks, close out the accounts, and get the money in cash. She would fly under the radar. Getting the entire two million would take longer-a lot longer-but unless he could hack into the bank's computer system she should be home free.

Well, almost home free. At the least she would buy enough time to get a new identity and start over. With a new name, a new Social Security number, she could disappear.

Pulling out her cell phone, she checked the level of service. One bar. Not good enough. She'd have to get closer to a town. That was another thing about the wide-open spaces; they were too wide open, too many long miles of no people, no traffic, no houses, just fields as far as the eye could see. An ear of corn had no need for a cell phone, whereas her ear definitely did.

She drove for almost an hour, keeping an eye on the service indicator on her phone. When the number of bars abruptly jumped to three, she decided to give it a try, and pulled over.

Her first try, she got Mrs. Pearson's voice mail. "Mrs. Pearson, this is Andrea Butts. Something has come up and I don't want the two million in cash. I hope your head cashier hasn't put in the order yet. I really need to talk to you, but I'm afraid to come to the bank. Please call me back at-" She stopped, completely blanking on the number for her new cell phone. "I'll call you back," she said hurriedly, and ended the call.

Damn it, what was that number? She turned off the phone, then turned it back on, and watched the screen as it flashed the info. Grabbing a pen from her bag, she scribbled down the number and called Mrs. Pearson again.

To her surprise, Mrs. Pearson herself answered. "Hello, Ms. Butts, I just got your message. I was seeing some clients off and missed your call by seconds. I'm giving a note to Judy right now, about the cash order. I have to say, I'm relieved you've changed your mind, but…is something wrong?" She lowered her voice. "You're afraid to come to the bank?"

"It's my ex-husband," Drea said, glad that her hard-luck spiel was making itself useful after all. "I don't know how, but he's followed me this far, and knows I have an account with you. I'm afraid he's watching the bank, and if I show up there, he'll follow me."

"Have you called the police?" Mrs. Pearson asked, a gratifying amount of alarm in her tone.

"So many times I've almost worn the numbers off the phone buttons," Drea said wearily. "It's always the same answer: until he actually does something, they have no grounds to pick him up. He's a salesman for a large agricultural firm, so he has a good reason for being in just about any area, and I don't have a right to keep him from doing his job, blah blah blah. I guess this is what I get for covering for him all those times he hit me, saying I fell down the steps, or closed the car door on my hand when he's the one who broke my finger."

"Oh, you poor thing," Mrs. Pearson murmured. "No, you certainly shouldn't come here if you think he's watching. But…what are you going to do?"

"I don't know." She did know, she just hadn't worked out the particulars yet. "He thinks he's entitled to the money because we were still married when my parents died and I inherited my share of their estate."

"Ah…an inheritance is the personal property of the heir, I think."

"So the law says, but he thinks he earned it by putting up with me." Drea put bitterness in her tone. "I just need to break the paper trail, so he can't keep following me."

"Your account information is confidential. How does he-"

"He has a friend who works for the IRS."

"I see."

The fact that nothing more needed to be said told Drea that her reasoning about the IRS was more on target than she wanted it to be.

"I'll have to work something out, but I don't know what."

"I'm afraid that any transaction you do will have to be reported to the IRS," Mrs. Pearson said regretfully. "Banks are required to make currency transaction reports on any movement of funds involving ten thousand dollars or more, so your two million will certainly leave a paper trail."

"I don't want to cause any trouble with the IRS, and I'm certainly not trying to avoid any taxes. I just need to get my money, and move it to another location before he can find me."

"Your best bet of getting a lot of cash on short notice is to be in a city that has a Federal Reserve Bank. We're in the Kansas City district, but there's a branch in Denver, which is a bit closer to us here. The only thing is, when you get to where you're going and deposit the money, that bank will have to make a CTR, too."

Not if the bank wasn't in this country, Drea thought grimly. If she could ever get her hands on this money, she was taking it offshore as fast as she could, to get out from under the ever-prying eyes of the government. When she got her new ID, she was getting a passport-a legitimate one-and then at least she could go on vacation to the Cayman Islands and take her money with her. She was tired of this crap.

"The safest way to move this money is to do it online," Mrs. Pearson continued.

"I don't have a computer," Drea said. "Can I use a computer in an Internet cafe, or a library?"

"Umm, it would be better if you kept the same IP number. Can you do it from your cell phone?"

"This is a cheapie. It doesn't have Internet capability."

"Get one that does. Then you can manage your account wherever you are. Or get a laptop, which I really recommend."

"Then what do I do?"

"Go to our website, and follow the instructions."

"Don't I have to sign something?"

"Yes, there's an agreement you have to sign. I can mail it to you-"

"I don't have a mailing address," Drea confessed, feeling as if she was once again beating her head against the wall.

After a moment Mrs. Pearson said, "I wouldn't normally do this, but if you'll get a laptop and Internet service, then call me, I'll print out the agreement and meet you somewhere. Where there's a will there's a way, Ms. Butts! We can get this done."

Getting Internet service would also require putting her name in the system, Drea thought, but what the hell, she wasn't getting anywhere by any other means, and she sure as hell wasn't showing up at that bank in person.

"I'll do that," she said wearily. "Thank you. I'll call back when I get things organized." She disconnected the call and let her head drop back against the headrest. Who knew stealing two million dollars would be so damn much trouble?