Finder’s Keeper – Part Eleven
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright (c) 2017
It’s one thing to make a bold smart-ass prediction like that. It’s another to pull it off. I’m pretty good at the bravado and bluffing game (Vee says I have a bachelor’s in bull – I won’t disagree). The Boss is much better, but he’s not here. Still, I didn’t see how bluffing would get our two – excuse me, three – little birds past an extraction team and onto an Irish Rail train in a few minutes.
I glanced at the bulletin board behind the counter and spotted two sets of keys hanging on a wall hook. One had a key tag that looked like a target, the other a purple plastic tag with the word “Bogmobile” written in Sharpie. Then again, it just might. Maybe some of the boss’ luck is rubbing off. I looked at the ladies. “How do you feel about community education?”
A couple of minutes later, I stood just inside the door to the parking lot. “Vee?”
“Still here, Louis.,” she said in my ear, quietly.
“Two vans, right? How many, you think?”
“Four in each. Three plus the driver.”
“Think they know about the—“
“Oh, yes. That must be why they’re here. Think about where Manny’s from. He’s liberal for his culture, but that’s not saying much.”
I sighed. The words crossed my mind again. Kids bring baggage. She picked up on it. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Ask me later. Naptime’s over.” A pair of black panel vans popped over the crest of the hill between the buildings in town. One sped down toward the library. The other didn’t, turning right and heading toward Clara House.
Oh, crap. “Vee, call the boss. Tell him he’s got company, coming in hot.”
“I see that. I’ll be back in a couple. Keep your head down.”
Keeping my head down was precisely the opposite of what I needed to do. Four to one odds were within my usual comfort range, but this fight had a couple of extenuating circumstances. First, my arsenal was determinedly Beretta-less, while I assumed the opposition would not face that handicap. The second was Lonnie.
Lonnie Rourke was still tall, still a redhead, and I had to assume as crazy badass as ever. She had this weird dichotomy about her – brilliant by-the-book cop, and extreme adventurer in one. Toss a physical challenge her way, Lonnie was up for it. How up? Trying out for the US Women’s Olympic Luge team and then running the Iron Man in Hawaii in the same year was pretty up. How that bundle of energy ended up in the FBI was a weird story for another time. Suffice it to say we ended as partners out of the L.A. office for more than a decade, and Lonnie invited me to a barbecue.
A barbecue where there was this blonde. Lonnie reached over and pushed my jaw shut. “Alicia. Roommate from college. Stop staring like a creep and go introduce yourself.” And the rest was happy endings and lollipops.
Until the point where it wasn’t anymore. I fell so far off the wagon they should have named a canyon for me. Lonnie violated enough FBI protocols trying to keep me afloat, including trying to be more than just a partner, that she got canned. I got rehab, she got the door. And then I tracked the Boss down. I sometimes wonder if he let me. And sometimes I think maybe he should have found Lonnie instead, or at least in addition to.
But who knows. It’s been nearly a decade, and I still am learning how he works.
Is she bitter? No returned calls or messages in years would be leading indicators. The Boss sending her flowers in my name? Gasoline on the fire. Survey says this is probably not going to end well.
The black van stopped in the middle of the parking lot. All doors front and back opened. Two mercs exited from the rear, and the driver stepped out, dressed in black with tactical vests, but of a design that indicated no body armor. Kevlar free, they aren’t expecting opposition. They carried machine guns – I’d need better light to be sure of the model, but I think they meant to intimidate rather than shoot.
Finally, out of the passenger door stepped a tall redhead. Sure enough, Lonnie. She looked older than I remembered, but then the years had caught us all. The four lined up and walked toward the door.
I stepped through the doors, then lit the roadside flare I’d pulled from the Bogmobile and tossed it out in front of the team of kidnappers. It burned at the edge of the curb with a bright red light, exposing the kidnappers. They stopped in their tracks, alert.
“Nice trick, Ariana,” said Lonnie. “Now come on out and bring your family. Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt.”
I have never been one to miss an entrance line when I heard it. I stepped into the light. “I am relieved to hear that, Lonnie. Here I was thinking I was going to have to hurt your team badly before we left.”
“Louis.” In her mouth, she made the word sound like six different levels of nasty. “When my employer figured on using that clown as a stalking horse, he never realized we’d end up with you as part of the bargain.”
“What can I say? Multiple titles. Cook, bottle washer,” I looked at her and grinned. “Loyal companion.”
“Still, accidents happen.” She raised her left arm. A crack, and a puff of smoke on the ground just in front of me. “As you’re about to learn.”
I had guessed right about this display. I didn’t flinch. “True. But it helps to do your homework.”
“Homework?” The puzzled look on Lonnie’s face made this all worth it.
My turn. “Sure. For instance, this building behind me is the Clara Community Education Center. That means it has multiple uses.” I started ticking them off on my fingers. “It’s Clara’s library, and the Bog Education and History Center. It also does one more thing. Care to guess? It’s the Youth Summer Recreation Program Center. You know, nature walks, lanyards, volleyball.” My grin went feral. “Archery.”
Lonnie’s eyes went wide as there was a muffled cry among the trees and a body crashing to the ground. Sounds like Ariana found her target. Good girl. Lonnie turned on me, eyes blazing, and opened her mouth to say something, but I put up a hand. “Sorry, just leveling the playing field, dearest. Now we can all see our cards.”
Lonnie crossed her arms. “Fine. The girl comes with us.”
“First, twenty-three. Thus, woman, not girl. Second, that’s not really what you were asking earlier, And finally – really, Lonnie? Kidnapping? I knew you’d gone private, but since when had you gone dark?”
“Oh, like you’re one to judge. You and your Robin Hood act may play well in the press, but it’s still B-and-E.”
“Guilty as charged, but, again, we see it as ends justifying the means.” I held up my hands. “Tell you what. Convince me.”
Lonnie blinked as confusion played across her face. “What?”
“Convince me. Show me how your end is better than what Ariana has right now. Which, by the way, isn’t that awesome. But she’s happy. Isn’t that what matters?”
“Happy?” Lonnie scoffed. “Get real, Bricke. We both have clients. They pay. That’s all that matters. And worse for you, because you have both customers and that clown pulling your strings, Louis. You must feel like a goddamn puppet at times.”
As Lonnie talked, her mercs moved. Thing One and Thing Three slowly shuffled into flanking positions on either side. I hadn’t seen Lonnie’s signal, but she was getting ready to attack. I took a sliding step back and clucked my disapproval. “And here it was I thought we were going to have a nice talk. Lonnie, tell your men to move back, or they will get hurt.”
“You’re in no place, Bricke-“
“You’re already down one operative. How many more do you want to lose?” I looked past her up the road. Crowds were starting to stream on the road from Clara House down toward the train station. “Especially when a firefight would attract so much attention?”
Lonnie turned around to look. I put my hand behind my back and stuck out two fingers, praying someone was paying attention. When she turned back, her expression was less than pleased.
“Really, that was your game? Stall until the crowds showed up? Then what?”
“Then what? Lonnie, you were always the gal who could do anything. Me, I typically made it up as I went. Like now. The crowds neutralize your weapons advantage – no guns. I was kind of hoping for an occasional police patrol, but with them on crowd control, not likely.”
“Still no exit strategy.”
I shrugged. “True. There was no way for Ariana to get out of this building without me—”
There was a crash from around the corner. A panel van with a picture of a cute hedgehog on the side barreled out of the building and down a roadway opposite the library.
I raised an eyebrow. “Well, except for that.”
Lonnie snarled at Thing Two. “Stay with him. The rest of you, with me.” They headed for the van. As she climbed in, Lonnie said, “We have unfinished business, Bricke.”
“Look forward to it.”
As her van drove off after the Bogmobile, I sidled up to Thing Two. “I kind of feel sorry.”
“What, for them?”
“No, you, for being left behind.” An arrow suddenly sprouted from Thing Two’s thigh. As he cried out and bent down to grab at it, I flicked out my telescoping baton and clocked him across the back of the head. He dropped faster than an elevator on one of those thrill rides.
Ariana stepped out of the shadows. I looked at her. “Anyone tell you you’re pretty good with that?”
Okay, so Miss French isn’t big on small talk. “Van went okay?”
“Placed a book on the accelerator and released the brake. It went off down the road.”
“Hopefully into a gully and not someone’s living room. Jessica ready?”
On cue, Ariana’s companion walked out, their daughter Raven in one of those baby backpack carriers. I gulped, flashing back for just a moment on how Bree giggled as Alicia zipped her in and slipped the pack on.
“Where are we going?” Ariana asked, aggravation and nerves evident in her voice. She had the bow down, an arrow nocked, ready to let fly if needed.
I pointed to the crossroads. “Into those crowds. We get into that, we get lost. Then we just need to make the train in,” I checked my watch. “Eighteen minutes.”
“Then we’d best be moving,” said Jessica. I still couldn’t place her accent. I’d thought it was British, it was definitely European, with a weird lilt. It would come to me. Then I realized Jessica had a white cane. “Wait. You’re blind?!”
“Yes,” replied Jessica. “I have been since I was born. Is that going to be an issue?”
My mind is in overdrive. I have a blind woman carrying a one-year-old who is life-partner with the daughter of an Arab shipping magnate who’s being pursued by a hit squad from a shady law firm. Oh yeah, this day just got special.
“No problem at all. Ariana, please keep on point and stay alert for any opposition. Jessica, you’re with me.”
Jessica tapped with her white cane as we moved across the lot. I stepped over as a guide, warning her of curbs and such. As we started up the main road itself, curiosity got the better of me. “I’m sure I’ll get the full bio soon enough. But one thing has got me flummoxed.”
“Let me guess. If I have a white cane, how did I drive Raven and me to Clara?”
I began to nod, then stopped. That style of communication wasn’t going to work this time around. “The thought did occur.”
“I didn’t. Bob did.”
I’m thinking back to the library. I don’t remember a fourth person, large or small getting out of the car. Then I catch her smile. Some severe leg pulling is in progress. “Okay, I’ll bite. Who’s Bob?”
“The autonomous driving program. Self-driver. Bob. More properly, Robert. Part of what I’ve been working on for the last two years.”
That’s when I tagged her voice. Dutch, but a weird sort. Probably Flemish, which would make her Belgian. Beautiful place. “Self-driving? Great idea for someone in your situation.”
“Ya. This was supposed to be Bob’s big test.” She sighed. “Just not this big.”
As we approached the crowd, I took a glance back at the library. The black van came roaring back up the side road. Must have found Encyclopedia Brown, or whoever the driver was. “Quick, everyone, into the scrum, now.” Ariana helped Jessica into the flow of the crowd while I lingered for a moment to watch. Lonnie got out and went to her man. As she did, she touched her right ear. Earwig. Talking to her team.
I swiveled my head around. Sure enough, a pair that looked like it had gotten the wrong memo and were cosplaying like it was 1999 rather than 1599 stepped away from the gates of Clara House. They worked their way through the crowd, heading for my three ladies as fast as, well, me at an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good flapjack.
I let Thing Four and Five pass me, then took up a spot in their wake. Hunter, meet another hunter. Still, I only had my single telescoping baton, I had to assume they had machine pistols, and their boss was really in a pissed off, take-no-prisoners kind of mood. I was going to need additional weapons, but where?
There are moments where Smart Louis wants to smack Working Louis upside the head. Like now. I realized I was in the middle of a crowd of people, many of whom were carrying functional versions of bludgeon-style weaponry. Yeah, I could make this work.
A portly fellow walking beside me had strapped to his back a sizeable striped drum. I sidled up next to him. “Excuse me, do you mind if I borrow those drum mallets for a couple of minutes?”
“I promise, I’ll get them right back to you.”
“Look, what are you talking about?”
I glanced over. Thing Four was almost even with my ladies. So much for being polite. “Look, I apologize for this.” I grabbed the mallets and ran toward the mercs, one in each hand.
Part of my time with Lonnie was exposure to all sorts of different adventures – like the summer she wanted to learn a new martial art. Eskrima, it was called. Popular in the Philippines. Pretty spectacular to watch, too, if you’re not familiar. The combatants use sticks or clubs. I had a lot of bruises that summer. But it also means I can improvise a weapon and fight. Like now.
I ran up and pirouetted next the Thing Four, letting the arm holding the mallets extend out on the back of my spin. Physics and angular moment and blah de blah do the math later, the drum mallet swung around at a frighteningly fast speed and into the merc’s field of view just before it caught him in the nose. There was a crunch and a spray of blood. Four bent over in reaction, and I turned again, swinging a mallet at the base of his neck. He folded like a paper lantern. I didn’t wait to see if this was temporary or permanent. Locating Thing Five was up on my to-do list.
The crowd was near the bend where it would get off the main road and jog over to the train station. I didn’t spot the remaining merc. Then I realized, no Ariana, either. Damn, did I lose them anyway? I checked both sides of the road and found them. Thing Five had his machine pistol out and jammed in Ariana’s back. Jessica was following, undoubtedly scared in her own darkness.
Time to bring a little light. I checked my watch. Six minutes to the train. Doable, but I needed to move now. Ariana was probably swearing at me for taking her combat knife. I slid it out of the belt behind me. The balance was a little funny, but I’ve had worse. I moved around so I was behind Thing Five and Ariana, now backed against a tree, could see me.
“Hey, Rent-a-Bot.” The merc turned. “Catch!” I threw the knife. It missed Thing Five terribly, high and to the left.
He sneered at me. “They told us you were kind of good.”
“I agree, only kind of. Now her with a knife when you’ve threatened her family, oof.” I shook my head. “I wouldn’t want any part of that.”
“What?” Thing Five turned to see Ariana. The knife I threw had landed in the tree just above her. She had it in her hand now, ready to attack him.
Her expression was pure savage. “Run or die, crétin. Your choice. I know what mine is.”
As I guessed, this paycheck wasn’t worth dying for. He ran. Ariana slipped the knife back in her boot. “I thought you had our back.”
“Dealing with his partner. Come on, this isn’t over yet.” A train whistle sounded in the distance. “That’s our ride, and we need to be on it.”
“Is there a French equivalent to sitting duck?”
Ariana grabbed Jessica’s arm. “Mon ange, we must hurry.”
“I understand. Please, lead.”
Ariana gestured for me to put my arm through Jessica’s on the other side and between the two of us, we half-walked, half-carried her and the baby back into the crowd and toward the station. Through all this, little Raven never once made a peep. She was fast asleep in the warmth of that carrier, Princess Sparkle snuggled close.
The parking lot to the station was jammed. I knew this was Tomas’ plan, but how he was going to execute it was a little lost on me. Then I reran the lyrics to Folsom Prison and wondered if maybe I’d gotten the wrong message. Time to call Vee.
I clicked on the earpiece to dial. She answered on one ring. “Louis, there you are.”
“You promised to call back.”
“Yeah, oops. Oh, and it is Lonnie, and she was pissed and is even more so now. But I’m calling as to, we’re here in the lot outside the station with a couple thousand of my newest close personal friends and no idea how we’re getting on this train, let alone any of the next three.”
“Check your phone.”
“The one I’m talking to you on?”
“You have another?”
I did as told. As I pulled it out of the pocket, it chimed with a new message. I opened it. “Four first class tickets?”
“Problem solved. Now go play rank has its privileges.”
I disconnected and was on my way to grab the ladies when I spotted someone in the crowd. I walked over and handed back the two drum mallets I borrowed. “Thanks for the use of these. I’m an undercover cop, and I needed them to stop someone fast.”
“All right, I guess.” I started to walk away. “Hey, what’s this red stuff on here?”
I walked faster.
We moved over to the cordoned first-class zone, and I showed the electronic boarding pass to the agent. They waved us through, and the four of us stepped onto the platform just as the train to Dublin pulled in.
Given how big the crowd was, I was surprised no one else had sprung for a ride on the posh side, but we ended up alone in our little corner. As the doors slid open the ladies preceded me on board. Another domino fell into place as Ariana collapsed into a hug with her twin, Isabeau, Jessica reached for a seat and helped herself into one, as another black-haired one-year-old played on the floor.
Tomas appeared from behind me. “Smoothie?”
I shook my head. “Bushmills. Neat.”
I took in the scene for a moment. “Make it a double.”