â€śHeat signature, two oâ€™clock, six meters.â€ť Gallagher watched the muted green blob move through the floor plan superimposed on his screen like a radioactive Pac-Man.
Carmen Olivera tapped twice on her microphone to confirm.
On another screen he watched some gaudy dĂ©cor flash by through the small camera lens Carmen wore. Because the home they were rummaging through belonged to a Canadian billionaire, heâ€™d expected some antiques and shit, but so far he hadnâ€™t seen anything that didnâ€™t remind him of his little sisterâ€™s Barbie dream house.
He also hadnâ€™t seen what theyâ€™d come looking for. Jean Arceneau was suspected of laundering money and performing other unsavory favors for a particularly nasty terrorist regime, but the Feds couldnâ€™t prove it.
Arceneau had not only some serious cash flow, but heavy political clout, making his own government reluctant to expose the man to a potentially embarrassing investigation. That reluctance held other interested governments at bay.
So the Devlin Group had been called in because things like jurisdiction, warrants and probable cause didnâ€™t mean jack to them. The boss, Alex Rossi, had sent the pair to Canada to engage in some serious snooping. Carmenâ€™s job was to find evidence Arceneau was involved with the terrorists. Gallagherâ€™s job was to make sure nobody killed her while she snooped.
â€śIf there was nothing in the office, thereâ€™s probably nothing to find,â€ť Carmen said in a barely-there voice. â€śBut Iâ€™ll check the bedrooms to be sure.â€ť
Ten minutes later, the master bedroom had yielded nothing, but several four-wheel drive complications were approaching at a noticeably high rate of speed from the west. From his vantage point on the roof, Gallagher watched the Escalades getting bigger in his binoculars.
â€śIncoming, Carmen,â€ť Gallagher said. â€śArceneau, probably, and Iâ€™m guessing some goons.â€ť
â€śHeâ€™s supposed to be in the city.â€ť
â€śHe didnâ€™t get the memo. And theyâ€™re moving fast.â€ť
â€śJust let me check the kidâ€™s room. Itâ€™ll be clean, but at least Iâ€™ll have looked everywhere.â€ť
After three hours of maneuvering Carmen through the multimillion-dollar camp, keeping her one step ahead of housekeeping and security staff from his less than comfortable seat against a chimney, Gallagher was ready to blow that popcorn stand.
â€śE.T.A. less than two minutes.â€ť
â€śOn my way out now.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s all clear to the rear library window.â€ť It was the way sheâ€™d gone in, and the staff was mostly in the kitchen area, so Gallagher started packing his gear, except for the comm piece over his ear.
The vehicles were turning onto the main loop of the driveway in front of the house when it all started going to shit.
â€śIâ€™m going back for a sec,â€ť Carmen said.
â€śNegative. Subject entering residence in less than one minute.â€ť
â€śItâ€™ll take me thirty seconds, tops.â€ť
Shit. Gallagher popped the thermal imaging screen out of his bag again. Carmen was retracing her steps to Isabelle Arceneauâ€™s room.
â€śCarmen, the girlâ€™s whatâ€¦early twenties? Sheâ€™s not involved. Intel isnâ€™t even sure sheâ€™s ever spent a night in that room.â€ť
â€śEven fishier. Have you ever met a college girl who leaves her pretty pink diary on her desk for anybody to read?â€ť
Carmen didnâ€™t know it, but Gallagher had a teenaged sister, and there was no way in hell sheâ€™d leave her diary out in the open. That didnâ€™t mean, however, a daughter wasnâ€™t devious enough to have a fluff-filled, good-girl journal for Daddy to find and keep a real one well-hidden.
â€śOur objective is evidence against Arceneau, not Orlando Bloom fantasies,â€ť he reminded her.
The comm was silent long enough for the Escalades to slide to a stop in front of the house. Men spilled out of the vehicles with guns drawnâ€”a lot of guns. Their ill-timed return was definitely no accident.
As they charged the house, they left Gallagherâ€™s line of sight. â€śGo. Now.â€ť
â€śHoly shit, Gallagher. This diaryâ€”â€ť
â€śYou tripped something, Carm. Something that called in Arceneau without alerting the staff. You need to get the #@%! out of there.â€ť He kept his eyes on his screen, waiting for her retreat.
â€śThis is what we came for. A list of every transaction heâ€™s made and details ofâ€”â€ť
â€śMove, Carmen!â€ť Red blobs were dispersing across the ground floor with alarming speed. â€śDownstairs is blocked. Plan B.â€ť
Since they didnâ€™t exactly have a Plan B, Gallagher shoved everything but his comm and his Glock 19 into his pack and strapped it on.
â€śYeah, Plan B.â€ť She actually laughed. â€śMeet you at the bird in twenty.â€ť
And shit again. It had taken them forty to hike in, and he wasnâ€™t letting her cover that much ground alone. â€śIâ€™ll cover you from here.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m not having that discussion again. Bird in twenty.â€ť
Gallagher argued with himself all the way down the side of the house.
The Devlin Groupâ€™s NY office was probably still ringing with the echoes of their last discussion.
When an explosion had rocked the DG headquarters and put him at the reins of a hunt for a rogue agent, heâ€™d sidelined Carmen into a non-active role. Heâ€™d whistled a bullshit tune about her having done a job with the guy and keeping the mission to a few non-conflicted personnel, but she hadnâ€™t danced. And she could seriously hold a grudge.
And there was no way in hell he could tell Carmen the real reason heâ€™d pushed her outside the circle. Gallagher had feared the operation would get particularly messy andâ€”with him stuck in an administrative roleâ€”didnâ€™t want her out there in it.
As a qualified, seasoned agent, Carmen would have blown her lid at such an overprotective measure, and rightly so. What he didnâ€™t know was how sheâ€™d react to learning his need to keep her safe was a lot more personal.
Gallagher made the tree line without being spotted, building and discarding scenarios in his head.
He could go back in after her, guns blazing, but if they lived, sheâ€™d kill him after. There was also the matter of being seriously outnumbered. He could create a distractionâ€”make them believe heâ€™d triggered the alarm and was out of the house. Carmen could sneak out while they were shooting at him. Major drawbacks, besides the part where he got shot atâ€”heâ€™d gone in the direction of the chopper and sheâ€™d still be pissed.
Or he could do as he was told and head for the helicopter. Being invisible was her specialty, after all.
But, dammit, he knew they hadnâ€™t tripped any alarms. Even though logic pointed to that, his gut told him it wasnâ€™t anything theyâ€™d done in the house. Something else was going on.
Carmen tapped three times on her microphone and Gallagher stopped moving. Within seconds heâ€™d found himself a half-assed hiding spot and set up shop again. Red blobs were converging on her, and the pattern suggested theyâ€™d settled into an organized sweep.
â€śIâ€™m up,â€ť he said.
Carmen turned slowly, giving him full view of the room. What was noted on their plans as simply a window was, in fact, a span of stained glass. It didnâ€™t open, and even if she started smashing glass, the lead would have to be dealt with, seriously hampering her exit.
Neither of them had noted that detail during her earlier search of the room and now she was well and truly #@%!ed.
Gallagher took one breath, and everything outside of the handheld screen and his objective fell away. Steer the green dot through the maze without making contact with the red blobs, one life left and no more quarters.
Carmen listened to Gallagher breathe while retrieving her weapon from the pocket on her thigh. It was only a .22, nothing like the other agents carried, but she rarely needed a firearm. She liked her .22, was highly proficient with it thanks to range time, and now she felt a hell of a lot safer with it in her hands.
The incriminating diary was secured in her jumpsuit, in a specially made pocket that stretched from her waist to just below her shoulder blades so as not to hamper her movement. Various other pockets held essential tools of the trade. Unlike Gallagher, she traveled unencumbered by a pack.
A few more seconds ticked away and Carmen moved to a ready position at the door. Random thoughts went through her headâ€”with the exception of the office, the doors in the house all stood open. How had they missed the stained glass? Was the interior wired for video?
Then she willfully blanked her mind. Gallagher might be an overbearing Neanderthal, but he was also a mission-planning god. No matter how desperate a situation seemed, obeying Gallagher with no hesitation and no second-guessing substantially increased a personâ€™s chances of survival.
â€śOn my go, exit into hall left, one-point-five meters, enter door on right.â€ť A long pause. â€śGo.â€ť
Carmen went, moving silently in custom, soft-soled boots.
She was in an interior room with no other means of exit but the door sheâ€™d come in.
â€śOn my go, exit hall right, at T go right, three meters, door on left. On the double quick.â€ť
She realized they were in a tight cat and mouse game and Gallagher was keeping her one roomâ€”or maybe even literally one stepâ€”ahead of the cats.
She sprinted to the hallway junction, banged a right and slid into the room just as a glimpse of movement appeared at the other end. Close.
â€śTen seconds.â€ť She kept her voice almost nonexistent, knowing the sensitive mic of her comm would pick it up. Her hand was already on her right thigh pocket, sliding open the well-lubricated, silent zipper.
Carmen threaded the silencer onto the end of the barrel.
â€śIsolated target approaching from left, ETA twenty seconds.â€ť
She tapped twice on her mic.
â€śTen seconds to door.â€ť
Even suppressed, the ballistic crack wouldnâ€™t go unnoticed, but it would make it harder to pinpoint her location. The target never knew what hit him.
â€śTarget down,â€ť she reported. â€śWindow?â€ť
â€śNegative. Guy on the ground. Shit.â€ť
That wasnâ€™t what a girl wanted Gallagher whispering in her earpiece. â€śSince we were never here, telling the Feds about the diary wonâ€™t do shit. At least get me to a place I can toss it to you. Get it out of here.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m getting you out, so just donâ€™t lose it.â€ť
â€śNot to get pushy, but that shot had to have attracted some attention. I need to move.â€ť
â€śI think things are about to get worse. It looks like the staff is evacuating through the kitchen and the goons seem to be retreating.â€ť
She felt a brief, stupid moment of relief before the bigger picture developed in her mind. â€śAre they going to smoke me out?â€ť
â€śSmoke we can deal with. A big boom we canâ€™t.â€ť
â€śYou think theyâ€™ll blow this place? Youâ€™re talking millions andâ€”â€ť
â€śThink how much he stands to lose. Not just financial, but political ruin.â€ť
â€śHow long until theyâ€™ve cleared the building?â€ť
â€śNot long enough. And you having free run of the house does no good if theyâ€™re outside waiting. Iâ€™m monitoring on the move now, circling.â€ť
â€śThereâ€™s a pool,â€ť she said.
â€śNo diving board, so Iâ€™m not chancing it being deep enough for that kind of jump.â€ť
She could hear the whisper of his breath grow slightly more ragged. Considering his physical conditioning, he must have been seriously hauling ass through the woods.
â€śThe garage,â€ť he shouted, and she winced as it echoed around her eardrum.
â€śWe donâ€™t know whatâ€™s in there, since we didnâ€™t search it yet. And with the freakinâ€™ computers in high-end cars nowadays, Iâ€™m shit out of luck hotwiring unless heâ€™s got a classic stowed in there.â€ť
â€śThe floor plan shows six doorsâ€”three in the front and three in the back so they can drive in, then drive out. Two sets are significantly smaller than the third.â€ť
â€śIf I throw up a distraction, you can punch out of there and youâ€™ll be hard as hell to hit.â€ť
â€śOne, Iâ€™ve got to get the door open and two, most of the snowâ€™s gone. Thereâ€™s none around the house.â€ť
â€śItâ€™ll be sketchy on the garage floor, but as soon as youâ€™re free of the cement itâ€™ll fly. Just like the grass drags.â€ť
What the hell was he talking about? â€śGrass drags?â€ť
â€śTheyâ€™re almost clear of the house. Get to the garage and let me know when youâ€™re there.â€ť
It took her almost a full minute because the house was big and she thought it wise to be cautious since he couldnâ€™t monitor his screen and run through the woods at the same time. He talked to her the entire time.
â€śThe good newsâ€”I think theyâ€™re going to smoke you out rather than blow you up,â€ť he said. â€śBad newsâ€”theyâ€™ve set up a pretty tight perimeter and Iâ€™m on the outside of it. You canâ€™t start a two-stroke on the QT, so no #@%!ing around. You fire it, then go like hell. Straight shot thirty yards across the grass, clear trail into the woods.
â€śSixty yards in, then a sharp right turn. You blow that, youâ€™re #@%!ed. Another twenty-five yards, the trail dips into a gully. Leave it running. I dropped my pack there, so grab it, then sit way back on the seat. Iâ€™ll be coming hard, and then you stick yourself to me like weâ€™re one person. And listen up, because this is important.â€ť
As if thirty wide-open yards and becoming one with a tree werenâ€™t? â€śIâ€™m listening.â€ť
â€śWhen you come out the door, Iâ€™ll be to your right. Once you clear the door I wonâ€™t be able to shoot across you, so you need to lean down over the gas tankâ€”make yourself a smaller targetâ€”and keep your head lowered to the right because Iâ€™ll be covering that side.â€ť
â€śWrap my body around the gas tank theyâ€™re shooting at. Got it. Which side is the throttle on?â€ť
â€śJesus, Carmen, itâ€™s a snowmobile.â€ť
â€śYeah, we rode those a lot in southern Texas.â€ť
â€ś#@%!.â€ť Again with the sweet nothings. â€śItâ€™s on the right. Listen, can you ride a motorcycle?â€ť
â€śInstead of turning the grip, thereâ€™s a thumb lever, and no shiftingâ€”the higher you rev it, the faster it goes. Other than that, close enough.â€ť
Carmen cautiously entered the garage and found it empty but for a truck and four snowmobiles. â€śIâ€™m here. Four machines, all facing the right direction. Keys in them.â€ť
â€śGood. Saves time yanking the ignition. Describe the floor.â€ť
â€śCement, but thereâ€™s a rubber track under the machines that extends to the doors.â€ť
â€śYou wonâ€™t spin the track trying to take off. Tell me about the machines closest to the doors.â€ť
One was a bad-ass looking sport model, the other a comfortable two-seater. Since she wasnâ€™t embarking on a Sunday drive, Carmen wasnâ€™t surprised when he passed on the touring model.
â€śHow, exactly,â€ť she asked, â€śam I supposed to get through a closed door?â€ť