Finder’s Keeper – Part Fourteen
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright (c) 2017
A buzz in my ear let me know Vee was ready to jump back into the fray. I made the connection. “Any luck chasing down your competition, Vee?”
“Fun’s already started, although I’m about to pop some popcorn and watch Lonnie and Ariana throw down. My money’s on warrior princess.”
“Louis!” Vee’s retort rang sharply in my ear. I winced. “Why are you even sitting back and toying. We have work to do.”
“Outgunned, closed spaces, having to be creative, et cetera. Need I say more?”
Ariana grabbed Lonnie by the shoulders and pulled her back over a seat.
“There shouldn’t be any fighting. Or is that Taser on your belt simply a decoration.”
“First, it’s hidden, so it can’t be decorative.”
“Actually, it could, that’s called camouflage.”
“Why are we arguing?”
“Second, the Boss doesn’t know about it. I still want to keep my ace in the hole, in case I need it for him someday.” There was a distinct pause on Vee’s end. “You don’t approve.”
“Not the time or place for this debate. But you’re wrong. He probably already knows.”
“You’re probably right. But it does give me an idea. How far to Portarlington?”
“Tell me you’ll have Irish Uber waiting for us with a luxury town car?”
“No can. No service to a berg that small that late. I’ll try to ID something you can borrow.”
“Why not. The Gardai are going to be less than fond of us already for mishandling their choo-choo.”
“Give me five.”
I focused back on the fight. Lonnie’s level of pissed off had gone from amber to red with Ariana’s gentle hello. The warrior had managed to disarm Lonnie, and the two now stood in the aisle, trading insults in some foreign language I didn’t recognize. I really needed to start doing some Rosetta Stone courses soon.
The Boss caught my attention and signaled to his left. I looked, and saw nothing, then checked down under the seats. Lonnie’s gun, within reach. I stretched out and grabbed it.
A body hit the floor with a thud next to me in the aisle. It was Lonnie. Somehow Ariana had thrown her. I’m impressed, it took me at least a dozen tries before I succeeded the first time, and I think that was only because Lonnie let me.
Warrior Princess was brooking no chances at a reversal in this brawl. She was on Lonnie’s back and had her arms pinned even as I tried to wiggle my way out from under the seats. There was a ripping sound and more yelling, then another, more decisive thud.
As I stood up, I did a quick sort of catching up. The rip must have come when Ariana liberated one of Lonnie’s sleeves from her outfit to use as a tie-down. Neat trick, I’ll have to remember it. The yelling must have been Lonnie’s protest at the damage to her designer Thug-R-Us ensemble. Sleeveless was so last season. And the thud? Ariana’s counter-argument. The way Lonnie lay on the ground, it seemed quite persuasive.
I offered WP a hand up. “Nicely handled.”
“You had doubts?”
“Durn skippy. I know how many times that lady slammed me to the mat.”
“Truly? Perhaps she is slipping. Or perhaps I should be guarding you instead.”
“Cute. Let’s join the others.”
Tomas had Isabeau and the rest of the entourage at the engine end of the car, huddled down. The sisters fell into each other’s arms, their embrace a mixture of relief and happiness at their escape. The twin babies lay swaddled in blankets, blissfully unaware of the chaos around them.
I looked down at them, feeling like I was standing at the edge of a chasm. Feelings I’d buried for years threatened to push through as I stared at the kids – anger at an idiot who stole my future and never had to pay, sadness for the loss of the future, even jealousy that these two were going to get happiness my daughter never would.
A hand on my shoulder. Tomas said, “I know, Louis. I’m sorry, my friend. But I need you now. They need you.”
The door slammed back on all those emotions, and somewhere, a shrink’s cash register just clicked over gleefully in anticipation. I looked at the Boss. “Sure. Let me assess the situation for you. It sucks.”
“Let me finish. One, we’re on a train, limited maneuverability. Two, we’re now a cattle drive, herding these fine folks toward an unknown destination. And let me add two-a. I don’t think we’re doing the herding.”
“Your instincts may be right in this. Al-Mansour seems to have played on my talent, but I’m not sure the ends.”
“A male heir, for one.”
“That never seemed to be a deep-seated need for him. He could have remarried after his wife passed away.”
“I’m just spitballin’ here, Boss. You know Manny better, to be sure. But this is an awfully big kerfuffle for a family reunion.”
Tomas rubbed his chin in thought. “Agreed. So now what?”
“Talk to them. They’re adults, not cargo. We keep yanking them around, we’re no better than the bad guys.”
“Agreed, but not here.”
“Lonnie and her team were surely not the only set of hounds on this hunt, Boss. There may even be a team at Portarlington. Any movement is going to be a problem.”
“We’ll deal with it,” said Tomas as he turned back to the women. “Ladies, this looks to be our stop. Can you gather the children?”
I reconnected with the office. “Vee, how’s that ride coming?”
“I found you a pair of rental vans in the lot. Any idea on a destination?”
I looked over at the Boss, who was helping Isabeau and her nanny bundle up the twins. “Not a clue, but the Boss normally has an ace up his sleeve. Any word on your intruder?”
“Yes, but it’s strange. Targeted worm, looking for any interactions between the Boss and our targets – mostly old communications. But the destination was weird. The IP isn’t Miller’s firm.”
“Wait, we have a third player on the field?”
“Seems that way. Whoever they are, they’re somewhere in Europe, and when I twigged on their presence, they shut down the tap.”
“Still, helps to keep an eye peeled. Just wish I knew if they were friend or foe.”
“I’ll keep after it. Meanwhile, you’ve got a van to catch. Out of the station, left side of the lot, third row. Salmon vans.”
“Got it. Thank you again, Vee. Get some rest, we’ll take it from here.”
She chuckled. “With you two in the field? Definitely no rest for the wicked.”
She had a point.
I advised the Boss of our transportation options. He nodded and handed me a piece of paper. “Our best possibility is to split up. I want you to take Ariana and her girlfriend in one van.”
“You sure you wouldn’t rather I play carpool Mom this once?”
“I wouldn’t do that to you, Louis. Not now, not ever.” He handed me a piece of paper with a Dublin address. “This is an old safe house of mine in the city. I doubt anyone knows of it. We’ll meet there in three hours.”
“A lot can happen in three hours, Boss.”
“True. But we need some maneuvering space, and until I know these ones are safe, we won’t have that. Besides, I have a new search now – find the real reason al-Mansour wants his daughters.”
I grinned. “So, we’re starting the clock on this. Our usual stakes?”
“Of course.” He shook my hand. We had an ongoing gentleman’s bet, stemming from our first case. If he were ever stumped and failed to find the object in seventy-two hours, I would win a crisp ten dollar bill. If not, he wins a gift certificate to Whole Foods in Seal Beach – items for his smoothies.
I buy a lot of gift certificates.
Still, I figured he was on thin ice this time. Which was good for my wallet, but bad for my well-being. Sucks when you’ve gotta root against yourself.
The train pulled into Portarlington station, with its hundred-year-old dual stone turrets. We lucked out, the platform was deserted, and no one but us stepped off the train. I lingered on the platform as the train departed while Boss led the procession into the lot. What the locals romantically term ‘Irish Mist’ drizzled down as I caught up with the group inside the station.
“Remember the plan,” said the Boss. “Rendezvous at the address three hours. If you’re there first, do not go in. Wait for me to arrive. I cannot stress this enough.”
“Got it.” We split into our respective groups and headed for the vans. I pulled the set of discrete lockpicks from my wallet and double checked the electronic key scrambler on my phone was ready, just in case. I looked up and stopped short. “Oh, you have got to be kidding.”
“What is it?” asked Jennifer.
Ariana growled, “L’idée de quelqu’un d’une blague. Il est un mobile de poisons.”
“Mobile de poisons?” Jennifer turned to me. “A Fishmobile?”
“I’m afraid so.” Vee had said a salmon van. I’d made the mistake of assuming that was the color. Silly Louis, tricks are for kids. This vehicle was painted to resemble an Atlantic Salmon, complete with a fin and tall affixed to it. It would literally be a fish out of water wherever we went. Worse, once word of its disappearance was out, the Gardai would have no problem finding it, and us. I wasn’t so sure we had three hours.
The rest of the lot was deserted. Given our lack of options, it seemed it was spawning season for the three of us. I picked the lock on the van and opened it, and while I worked on bypassing the steering column interlock, Ariana helped Jennifer inside. When everyone was inside and secure, I pulled out into the night. As I did, I couldn’t stop my mind from flashing on a memory – my Bree in her car seat in the back on the way home after one of those animated films, singing at the top of her lungs.
“Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Just keep swimming,…”
I must have been allergic to something inside the van. My eyes wouldn’t stop tearing up.