Finder’s Keeper – Part Fifteen
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright (c) 2017
“Are you alright?” Ariana asked.
I wiped my eyes again and focused on the van’s built-in GPS display. I’d programmed a route that kept us off toll roads, hoping to keep us away from the ever-present eyes in the sky EU nations were so fond of. “Fine.”
“You sound like you’re snuffling for truffles. That does not sound fine.”
I started in on the baseball lineups again, this time working on the 2001 Seattle Mariners. Nobody realizes how incredible Edgar Martinez’s season was that year. With an OPS of .966, he could easily have won the MVP if it hadn’t been for the rookie campaign Ichiro Suzuki had. It was easier than biting my tongue to keep from saying something inappropriate.
“So, fool, where are you taking us?”
Sometimes, though, the national pastime just ain’t enough. I hit the brakes hard and pulled over to the side of the road. Ariana and her companion Jennifer may have been buckled in, but that didn’t stop them from being showered with unsecured educational materials. I looked back to see the ladies pushing aside piles of brochures for the Galway Atlantaquarium. “What’s the matter, Princess? Uncomfortable?”
“Imbecile! Since you showed up, everything has gone haywire—”
“Whoa, slow your roll, Xena! The Boss and I were only looking for you because of your sister. He played coy with me about prior knowledge of your domestic arrangements. Frankly, I could care less, although I’m pretty sure Manny’s going to freak when he finds out—”
“Who is this Manny you keep mentioning?”
“I think he means your father,” said Jennifer. She’s been holding her white cane and quietly listening to the conversation. “Meneer Bricke, are we not more likely to be noticed if we wait alongside the motorway?”
Damn, the kid was right. I pulled back onto the M7 toward Dublin. There was little traffic this late, so we were making good time. Still, dumping Fishsticks for something less conspicuous before we reached our destinations was high on my list of priorities.
Eyes forward again, I dialed up the Water Tower to chat with Vee. No answer, but no surprise there. Our girl Friday may finally be crashing for some sleep of her own – it would have been near midnight or close after that. I left her a message to start combing back into Isabeau’s life in Paris. A particular priority was background info on Jennifer. That’s where this case was leading, I was sure.
I noticed a brightly lit parking lot off the motorway to the left. Time to go car shopping. “Hang on ladies, time to ditch Fishsticks here.” A quick veer down a service road and I had the van partially hidden behind a clump of foliage in moments. “Stay here while I scout for something less scaly.”
“You’ll need backup, no?” offered Ariana.
I considered this for less than a second. “No, if this turns sideways you need to take Fishsticks to the address in the GPS as fast as you can. Look for the Boss there.”
“What about you?”
“If I make it back, that won’t matter. If I don’t, well, the Gardai and I have lots to talk about. Take care of each other until I’m back.” I moved out before Ariana could raise any other protests.
I’d pulled Fishticks behind a quorum of bushes near a little hamlet that serviced the overnight traffic on the roads – what we in the states would call a truck stop. I have no idea what the Irish name for it is. Probably ‘Ye Olde Truck Stoppe.” But the used car dealer next door piqued my interest, the one with the 2014 Mercedes E350 in the front row. I hesitated for a moment as I surveyed the landscape. How a ride that sweet came to be in the middle of nowhere was one of life’s great mysteries. Then it hit me. It was a trap car for likely thieves, just like me. I remembered the Mercedes had a sophisticated anti-theft tracking system, the computer equivalent of painting it to look just like Fishsticks back there. Once they figured out it was gone, the owners would ID it, track it by GPS, then remotely brick it and lock the doors, trapping occupants inside until the Gardai came along.
Now the black Ford Focus next to it was an entirely different story. Not as pretty, but perfect for my needs. Phone and tools in hand, I spoofed it and had it purring a moment later. In a couple of minutes later, the newly liberated Focus was next to the van, Ariana assisting Jennifer once more into another vehicle. As soon as they were secure in the back seat, I pulled out around the foliage, over the river, through the woods, and onto the motorway.
As my driving bounced the couple in the back, Ariana swore another untranslatable oath at me. “Can you try to manage to get us where we are going without hitting every ditch and pothole along the way?”
“Sheesh, Princess, is there anything you do like?”
“I don’t know. Is there anything you can do without making a total cockup of it?”
“You’re not sitting next to a couple of cases of coloring books about mollusks. That’s an upgrade.”
“The man has a point, Ariana,” noted Jennifer. “But did anyone reset the GPS? If it was still set to the address in Dublin, won’t the authorities know where to find us?”
“Not my first getaway, kid. But I did that one better. I reset it to Fishstick’s home. Galway Atlantaquarium. Any luck, they will think our plan was to rendezvous there.”
“Who will, the Gardai?”
“No. Our real pursuit. Lonnie and her team.”
The two ladies put their heads together, a discussion in low tones I couldn’t, and probably shouldn’t follow. Ariana’s voice rose occasionally, but Jennifer calmed her each time with a shush and a hand to her cheek. You couldn’t fake that move. My curiosity factor on this young lady rang up a couple of notches.
“Meneer Bricke?” Jennifer’s voice had a simple lilt to it.
“We want to apologize for being angry with you. Ariana and I know you have been trying to keep us safe – especially Raven.”
I chuckled. “Ladies, I thank you for the apology. But you can drop the act. I’ve known the truth already.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Oh, take your pick. Papa isn’t aware you two are shacked up, Isabeau dropped out without her degree, she’s had twins, one of whom you’ve been raising as your own.”
Ariana swore under her breath. “Merde.”
Jennifer at least had the decency to appear surprised. “How could you—?”
“Ladies, please. My eyeballs work – no offense, Jennifer. Same ages, same features. Unless their father was a bank donor and got very lucky twice, I’ll shave with Occam’s razor.” I sighed, tapping on my steering wheel. “You do realize the inherent danger of separating twins like that, right?”
“Meneer?” asked Jennifer, her voice hesitant.
“Take it from me. When they get older, just keep the twins away from summer camps. And guitars. And Lindsay Lohan movies.”
“You know. Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Ariana looked at me like I’d sprouted another head. Ah well. You tee the ball up and kick it long. Sometimes these things sail wide right. I decided to try a different tack as I eased into another lane. “Look, I understand. This was not the day any of you had planned at all. Lady Argana has some fun with the fans, you two get some time with the fam, there’s catchup with your sister—”
Ariana’s reply was sharp. “Why do you care about my sister?”
“Personally? I don’t. But the boss does. Tomas—”
“Del Mundo.” Ariana’s voice softened “Cousin Tomas. I couldn’t believe it was him.”
“Believe it. He’s the reason I’m sticking my neck out and risking ten to twenty in an Irish max security prison right now for you two.”
“I met him briefly on the train,” said Jennifer. “But I don’t get the connection, Ari.”
“An old family friend.”
“Wouldn’t that make him an ally of your father?”
“Normally. But you see, we first met Cousin Tomas breaking into our home. Izzy and I captured him.”
“I heard that story,” I replied. “If it’s true, you two are one of a handful to catch him against his will. That’s privileged company.”
“How would you know?”
“I’m in the same group.”
“You caught him, but now you work for him?” Jennifer asked.
“Long story and off topic. Boss says you two stayed in touch even when you stopped talking to Manny.” Ariana shot me a look. “Sorry, with your father, the esteemed Marwan al-Mansouri.” I changed lanes and slid onto the N7. “The Boss still needs to fill in some gaps for me, but at this point, the timeline I have says you’ve been giving him the cold shoulder for, what, going on two years now?”
“It’s been two for Isabeau.” Ariana glanced at Jennifer and reached out for her hand. “Nearly three for me.”
My forty-watt dimly lit over my head. “You two have been an item that long? That means you met at ParisTech?”
Jennifer chuckled. “Somebody has been doing their homework. What else do you think you know about us, Meneer Bricke?”
“Know? Not a lot. These are educated guesses. But a question. Why hide it?”
“You two obviously care for each other. Enough to try to pass as parents for one of your sister’s kids – meaning you’re ready to commit to marriage. So why hide it?”
“Have you met my father?”
“Yeah. He seemed a pretty laid-back fellow, compared to a lot of Islamists I’ve met over the years – especially the ones shooting at me.”
“Appearances deceive, Monsieur Bricke. Let us say Papa is not who he seems to be.”
“Sorry, Xena, I’m not buying that cliché tonight. Especially from someone who wasn’t quite truthful about who they seemed to be. To wit, Raven doesn’t exactly have two mommies.”
“She doesn’t know that,” said Jennifer. “As you noted, Isabeau asked us to do this.”
“I see.” I didn’t. This was as clear as the Mississippi during spring runoff. “Was that the temporary arrangement?”
The silence from the women said more than any answer might have. Either it wasn’t, and they were still dealing with the weight of the assumed parenthood, or it was, but they’d grown attached to the child. Either way, they were avoiding any potential unpleasant outcome. I decided to let them off the hook. “I’m sure you two are doing an amazing job raising young Raven, or whatever her real name is. But won’t the father have a say in what happens?”
“He could, but—,” Jennifer started, but Ariana cut her off.
“It is not our place to say anything.”
“But Ari, he’s here to help.”
“That may be his story. I still don’t trust anyone right now.”
“Not even the Boss?” I asked.
I watched as Ariana bit her lower lip, reluctant to say anything else. After a moment, she looked away at the lights passing by out the car window and said quietly, “Especially him. In the end, Señor del Mundo will always do what is best for himself first.”
Ouch. I’d known Tomas the better part of a decade. I’d never seen that. Just what have you done to hurt these women, Boss?
We managed the drive onto the M50 loop around Dublin without incident. Between the train and ditching Fishsticks, I think we’d muddied our trail enough to give us breathing room from Lonnie’s teams. More important would be finding who was behind them – likely Remington Miller and the girl’s father, but this felt somehow bigger. That group was too big, too well armed for a simple domestic snatch-and-grab.
Clouds hung low and gray skies held the promise of rain as I pulled the Focus onto Nottingham Street and found the address. It was a simple rowhouse, no unique markings. Well, the Boss did say it was a safehouse of sorts. I parked the car and turned to the ladies sleeping in the back. “We’re here.”
Ariana stirred, then gently murmured something to her companion. I got out to give them a moment’s privacy and to survey the block. Things were just waking up, people stepping out for morning runs or to walk their dogs. I nodded at a couple and smiled. From an alley across the road came a woman pushing a double-sided stroller with her girlfriend. I thought nothing at first, then noticed their furtive glances as they started to move away.
Isabeau and Amelie. I rapped twice on the car window. “Ladies, time to move.” When I walked toward the back of the Escort to keep track of Isabeau and the twins, someone grabbed my right wrist and tried to leverage me against the car
The thought flashed through my mind. The Boss was wrong; this wasn’t such a safe house after all. As I twisted around, I caught a glimpse of my attacker on the car’s surface – red hair, female, dressed in black. How Lonnie had beaten me here was a mystery, but I couldn’t afford her getting a shot at the twins. Or the other twins, for the matter.
Lonnie was close in and had put her other hand mid-back. I slid my right foot forward and pivoted on it as I raised and swung my left elbow back toward Lonnie’s head. It connected with a solid crunch, and she let go.
“Son of a bitch, that hurts!” said a distinctly non-Lonnie voice. American, somewhere near Chicago, based on the accent. I finished the turn to look. It was a female, hair more cinnamon color than Lonnie’s flame, and at least a head shorter than my old partner. But I was two for two in my penchant for getting redheads less than pleased with me. What can I say? It’s a skill.
Cinnamon held her nose for a second, dabbed it to check for blood, found none, then turned her attention to me. “Lucky shot, tough guy.” She started to circle me. “You’ll pay for it.”
I had been going flat out for over a day straight now. At this point, I’m too tired for any more of this crap. As she continued, looking for her moment, I held up one hand for a moment to ask for a pause and reached down as if adjusting my pants. I palmed a device attached to my belt buckle. “Look, Cinnamon, I don’t want to fight you—”
“Then you came chasing the wrong ladies to the wrong neighborhood.” She charged.
I raised my hand and fired. The mini-Tazer shot out a pair of darts that hit the woman square in the chest. 10,000 volts of electricity surged through her, and she dropped like a Verlander slider. I walked over and pulled out the darts. “I told you, no fighting.”
“Louis! What did you do?!”
I looked up to see the Boss. He must have just turned the corner. “Hey, nice of you to finally show up. Strangest thing, as soon as I get here and spot Isabeau, this woman comes after me and tries to—”
Tomas pushed me aside as he knelt at the woman’s side and checked her pulse. He sighed in relief. “Thank God. She’s fine.”
“Of course she is.”
“Be quiet, Louis, I’m very cross with you right now.”
“Excuse me? You’re cross with me?”
The woman’s eyes fluttered open. She looked around in confusion before they focused on the Boss. “Tomas? What happened?”
“Shh. You’re alright. I’ll explain in a moment.” The Boss looked at me. “Louis, let me introduce you to Trinity. My ex.”
I blinked as the ground shifted beneath me. Ex?
Ariana and Jennifer were out of the car by now. Jennifer sidled up next to me and reached out a hand, touching my shoulder. “Meneer Bricke, are you alright? Your breathing sounds funny.”
“I’m fine,” I lied. Then a nine-year-old girl, red hair, pigtails, and same damned roman nose, came around the corner and hugged Tomas.
I gave the Boss a look. One look. I left the keys to the Focus on the trunk and started walking.
He should have known. Sooner or later, I’d find an open bar and an open bottle, and I’d be able to climb in it again, and maybe stop feeling again, too.