Finder’s Keeper – Part Ten
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright (c) 2017
Street lamps burn out, sometimes even suddenly and spectacularly. But the pop as the bulb collapsed and the tinkle of pieces of its housing hitting the library parking lot was enough to get me moving. I scooped up Princess Sparkle and headed for the door, staying in a low crouch.
“Were you able to get me the plate?”
“131 Delta 0649. But I have a different sitch. Shots fired.”
Her tone shifted, all playfulness gone. “Give me your status.”
I did my best paint imitation next to the main doors into the library. I figured I was far enough in the shadows that I could assess without my head getting used by the gunman for a Gallagher stunt. “Sniper, silenced rifle, range unknown. So far they’ve taken out the light in the east parking lot.” Three more shots. If there was any muzzle flash coming from the tree line, I missed it.
“Did I just hear something?”
“An update to the body count. In addition to the light fixture, add the Ford Fiesta. Shot out both left side tires and put a bullet somewhere vital into the engine.”
“Glass half full, Louis. You have a direction on your shooter.”
Vee had a point. With those shots, they had to be in the tree line on the other side of the river. If it were me, that tree I’d climbed to spot Ariana made an excellent perch. Something about that played at the back of my head in a not friendly way. “Good news is I played Bridge on the River Kwai getting over here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Means I need to lay off the tiramisu. But also means our sniper would need the long way ‘round to get here. Unless…”
I hate it when my brain plays devil’s advocate. It usually means I’m about to find myself in hell. “The sniper didn’t want Ariana. They just pinned her down in one spot.” I grabbed the library door. “This is far from over. If Tomas gets a free minute, might let him know I’ve got company.” I yanked open the door and slipped inside.
Ariana and whomever she was meeting had all the lights in the place turned on. Let’s make the playing field a little more even. I found the panel of switches and flipped them off. The building plunged into black.
“Fils de pute!”
“What is it?”
About the reaction I expected. Ariana, and her visitor, a British accent. I pulled out my Swiss Army Knife and activated the LED light in its case, then held it up in front of me, so I didn’t walk blindly into a glass display case or some random bookshelf.
“Ariana al Mansouri, my name is Louis Bricke. I’m a private investigator out of L.A. I work with Tomas del Mundo. We’re here to help you. Look, I even brought in Princess Sparkle for your little friend.”
I walked deeper into the library, listening. I thought I heard whispering, but I wasn’t sure. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, then did as Tomas had taught me and listened for the heartbeats in space.
Four of them. One is mine. Three others. One tiny. One rapid, on my right. Eight paces and closing. I braced for the attack and rather than fight back I let Ariana push me up against a wall. The dagger at my throat this time had no pretense of being historical. Standard NATO combat issue.
“How did you find me?”
“We saw each other as the archery contest after you and your sister switched places. You recognized me and took off. I tracked you across the bog here.”
Ariana stared at me in shock, then started swearing again in French. I really need to learn the language, its expletives sound so much more colorful. After a few moments of this, I intervened. “Before I ask Siri to translate, want to clue me in why you’re so upset?”
“I never saw you at the contest.”
“But we made eye contact. You looked scared that I’d figured you out—” At this point, my forty-watt flickered. “It wasn’t me. Who did you see?”
“One of my father’s bounty hunters. He has been hiring them for some time.”
“Vee?” I murmured. I looked at Ariana. “Can you describe them? Man, woman, tall, short, blonde, brunette, etc.?”
“Female, tall, red hair. She was chewing gum, too.”
In my ear, Vee sighed. “Lonnie Rourke was part of the Remington Miller detail that flew out of Long Beach.”
And still with an ax to grind against me. Of course, I just lead Lonnie right here. “I don’t think she’s working alone. A bunch of Miller and Manny’s goons are about to drop in with her.”
Ariana had the decency to look confused. “Who’s Manny?”
“Long story. Why don’t you show me who we have here so I can figure out a way to get us all to safety.”
Ariana hesitated for the briefest time, then led me further into the darkened building. As I walked, I murmured, “Vee, any luck with the Boss?”
“Not yet. And Lonnie’s sniper is smart. She’s also taken down CCTV feeds up and down the road, anything with coverage of the library.”
“Please tell me you have a plan B.”
“Working on it. You rush a miracle, you get mushy miracles. Wait. I have two panel vans speeding along the 539 through Clara. ETA four minutes.” There was a pause. “And I’ve spotted Lonnie – it looks like they’re going to pick her up.”
Okay, Louis. Four minutes, no idea what you’re facing for opposition, no inkling of an exit strategy, and one very pissed off operative who would love an excuse to have an accident with a bullet and your name – if she could get away with it. I turned the corner with Ariana.
Sitting in the arms of a woman wearing a white dress and trying very hard to look brave for her bundle was a one-year-old, dark hair, a splash of freckles across her nose. The child had her mother’s eyes, and when she saw me, her face lit up in a hundred-watt smile. “Joujou!” she exclaimed, pointing at me.
“Joujou! Joujou!” The kid kept pointing. Then I realized, it wasn’t me who was the rock star – it was Princess Sparkle. I left the plush with her adoring fan and look a question at Ariana.
“Her name is Raven, and yes, she’s my daughter. She’s our daughter. Jessica here is my partner.”
Vee murmured in my ear, “Did she just say—”
“Not now, bigger problems.” I’m a live and let live sort. But this case just got a whole lot more complicated – and a little clearer. “Okay. So right now, we need to get you two–”
“Three,” said Ariana, arms crossed, a defiant look on her face.”
“Actually,” interjected Jessica, “there’s Isabeau and her family as well.”
“Do I even want to know? Look, I can only deal with what I have in front of me now. Tomas is with your sister, Ariana. I’m good, but he’s a miracle worker. Trust him to take care of them.”
“Fair enough.” She flipped her combat knife and slipped it into a sheath in her boot. “So now what?”
That was a fair question. My earpiece buzzed. “Yes, Vee?”
“Finally heard from Tomas.”
“And he’ll be here any minute now, right?”
“No, got his own situation. But said to tell you that if you get caught up in a fight, you’ll end up singing the Folsom Prison Blues.”
“Folsom Prison Blues?”
“That’s what he said.”
“Thanks.” I grinned. The man’s a genius. Think about it – what’s the first line of the song? I looked over at the women. “Either of you familiar with this town?”
Jessica raised her hand. “I’ve been here a few times before.”
“Great. Is there a train station nearby, and if so, when’s the next train?”
Jessica pulled out her phone. Of course, there’s an app for that. She started to type, then ran her fingers over it in a strange way. She looked at me as she said, “Clara Station is a kilometer due south of Clara House, straight shot. Train to Dublin, twenty-nine minutes.”
There was something strange in the way the woman looked at me as if I was slightly off center for her. I shrugged it off. “You’re all going to be on that. I assume it will be crowded, end of the day, people from the steroidal Ren Faire—”
Ariana glared at me. “You shouldn’t insult the Gathering like that.”
I was really starting to dislike this half of the twins. “True. After all, where else would I have willingly let you hit me without walloping you back.” I pasted on a grin. “Business before pleasure, princess. After this is done, you and I will go a few rounds, and I’ll wipe the smug off your mug. But for now, I’m here to save your ass.”
“I still have not heard how.”
I reached down and yanked the knife from her boot. “By doing what I excel at. Pissing people off.”