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Chapter 39

Shes been in there awhile, says Chief Logan.

Its full dark on Lindberg Street, the location of Alicia Reynoldss parents house. Mia disappeared inside an hour ago, after calling Alicia and saying she had to talk to her about a matter of life and death. Logan, Kelly, and I have sat huddled in Logans Crown Vic all that time, trying not to let second thoughts sway our plan. Logan and I are in the front, Kelly in back. The Reynolds house is forty yards away.

You dont think Marko could be hiding in the Reynoldss house? Logan suggests.

Thats a scary thought, I reply, but no. I change positions, trying to keep my feet moving. Theyve been burning badly for the past twenty minutes. If Mia doesnt emerge soon, Im going to have to get out and walk around a little.

If Marko was in there, Kelly says, Mia would have switched on the transmitter.

Youve got a lot of confidence in her, says Logan.

Kelly nods. Girl has her shit together.

Earlier tonight, when Logan tried to tape the transmitter to Mias inner thigh, she shook her head and said, Markos hands will wind up there, I promise you. Hes that kind of guy.

Then where? asked the chief.

Kelly picked up Mias handbag, pulled a knife from his pocket, and slit open the inner lining of the bag. Then he slipped the transmitter into the lining. While Logan stared, Kelly took the duct tape from him, made a loop of it, and neatly sealed the slit hed made in the bag from the inside. He made Mia practice switching the transmitter on and off through the lining until she could do it smoothly by touch alone. Mia seemed encouraged by Kellys professionalism.

Where do you think Markos hiding? Logan asks, peering at some approaching headlights.

Lots of possibilities, I answer, not taking my eyes off the lighted window on the side of the Reynoldss house. He could be staying in an empty house up at Lake St. John. He could be in an empty building downtown.

Plenty of those.

He could be at somebodys deer camp. He could be at one of the other empty factories, like Cyrus. The bottom line is, without somebody like Alicia, wed never find him.

Logan nods. So, hed be stupid to take the bait.

Or arrogant, Kelly says.

Good point.

My cell phone rings. I snatch it up before it can ring again. Hello?

Shes on the phone with him!Mia hisses. Shes got a special phone for calling him. I think were leaving straight from here.

Any idea where youre going?

No! Have you got the tracking device on the car? Mia sounds panicked.

We didnt know which car you were taking.

Hers, I think. Shit, I dont know! Shes coming. Dont lose us!

She hangs up.

Which car? asks Kelly.

She thinks Alicias, but shes not sure. Theyre leaving soon. My heart thumps against my sternum. Markos still here. Jesus.

Put the tracker on Reynoldss car, says Logan, visibly tense.

Not until we know for sure, says Kelly.

Itll be too late then!

Kelly shakes his head. Im gonna wait.

If the girlfriend sees you, its over.

Soft laughter. Nobodys gonna see me, Chief.

Kelly gets out of the car and quietly closes the door. When I look out my window, hes vanished.

Whered he go? asks Logan. I dont see him.

Hes there. Just be glad hes on our side.

Logan leans over and begins fooling with something. The seat between us is littered with gear: walkie-talkies; the receiver for Mias transmitter; and some of Kellys gear, including a subnote-book computer. Lying on the floor in front of the backseat are a carbon-fiber sniper rifle and an MP5 submachine gun like the one the Asian boy was carrying last week. Both weapons are fitted with night-vision scopes.

What are you doing? I ask Logan.

Making sure our radios are on the same channel. Sometimes its the simplest thing that kills you.

The light under the Reynoldss carport goes on.

Here they come, I say.

Alicias white RX-8 is parked under the carport. Mias Accord is in the driveway. Markos girlfriend walks into the carport and stomps around to the drivers door of her Mazda. Shes obviously pissed off. Mia walks out behind her, much more slowly, and opens the passenger door. She glances in our direction, but she doesnt seem to be in distress.

Reynolds could lose us in that Mazda, Logan observes.

Kellys got it. Just wait.

The RX-8 backs quickly out of the driveway, then peels up Lindberg Street, its motor whining as it heads into a large subdivision lying between us and the Highway 61 bypass.

Wheres Kelly? Logan asks.

The door to my left jerks open and Kelly leaps in. Stay fifty meters back, he says. Dont get in a hurry.

Logan wants to hurry, I can tell. He keeps the Mazdas taillights in sight, which makes sense to me.

If you can see her, she can see you, Kelly says calmly, reaching over the front seat for his computer. Trust your gear.

I wouldnt trust the local police departments gear, but this stuff belongs to Kelly.

Have you got them? Logan asks, barely slowing.

I look into the backseat. Sitting sideways so I can see, Kelly pulls up a city map on his screen and studies it. Got em. Slow down, Chief.

Logan lets the taillights ahead wink out.

A red dot on Kellys screen moves along the streets of Montebello subdivision, moving toward the bypass. The dot turns onto the highway and accelerates.

Where are they? Logan asks nervously.

Bypass, I answer. Now theyre turning onto Montebello Melrose Parkway.

Headed downtown?

Looks like it. Lots of houses before theyre downtown, though. Woods, too.

The red dot sweeps down the long curving lanes that cut through the thick forest between the bypass and downtown Natchez. It passes Melrose, an antebellum plantation purchased by the federal government and turned into a National Historical Park. This part of Natchez is thick with mansions, as many wealthy planters estates abutted in the vicinity.

Logan accelerates along the parkway. We pass a modern bank sited in the midst of the forest, then climb a hill and pass Melrose.

Theyre on Main Street, Kelly says.

Not really, I tell him. Thats the Main Street extension. Theyre not actually downtown yet.

Theyre slowing down, says Kelly. Stopping now.

Where? asks Logan.

Cant tell, I say, thinking furiously.

They turned into blank space on my map, says Kelly.

Ardenwood, maybe? I suggest.

Fuck,Logan curses, and suddenly I know Im right.

Whats Ardenwood? asks Kelly.

Sixty acres owned by a complete nut, says Logan. Son of abitch. Were in trouble, Penn. Mias in trouble.

Just get us there. This makes all the sense in the world.

Whats Ardenwood? asks Kelly. What the fuck are we headed into?

I close my eyes and try to summon what I know. Ardenwood was a majestic Greek Revival mansion built by one of the wealthiest planting dynasties in the pre-Civil War South. One of the few to remain in the hands of its original family, it stood pristine through the war, Reconstruction, decay, rebirth, and then the modern city of Natchez growing up around it. A decade ago, the property fell into the hands of an heir who didnt care to live in it. An eccentric lawyer from Mobile, he preferred to let the house stand unoccupied, slowly rotting away along with its priceless contents. Last year, on a calm Sunday morning, a column of smoke began rising from the center of town. By the time the fire department arrived, a quarter of the mansion had been consumed. A crowd of hundreds gathered to watch it burn, some with tears in their eyes, others cursing the man who had let this jewel of history be destroyed for no reason. Annie and I were part of that crowd. Caitlin was out of town. All that remains now is a dangerous shell patched with plywood against the rain. That and some frightening rumors.

A fucking nightmare, Logan grumbles, filling the vacuum. Its an old mansion sitting on sixty acres of woods and pasture. It burned last year, and the absentee owner blamed a prowler. Hes booby-trapped the whole goddamned place since then. Hes got shotguns wired to the doors, spikes in the yard, crazy stuff. Hes even got night-vision equipment up there. He said hes going to take care of any future prowlers himself.

I think Marko Bakic is more prowler than he could handle, I murmur.

The guy stays over in Mobile most of the time, Logan says. Thats one good thing.

For his sake, I hope hes been there all week.

Logan slows the Crown Victoria, and I look left as we pass the road that leads into Ardenwood.

I see it, says Kelly. Christ.

The front acreage of the property is ten feet higher than the back, but behind the dark mass of land, a hulking black skeleton rises from between oak and magnolia trees. I can just make out the Greek Revival facade: huge Corinthian columns and an immense white capital.

Keep driving, I say. Kill your lights and park in the median.

The median here is forty feet wide and shaded by oak and pecan trees. Were at the edge of downtown proper, but to an urban dweller this would look like deep woods.

Logan parks, then sweeps our radios, the wire receiver, and the tape recorder into a black satchel. While Kelly grabs his weapons and gets out, I concentrate on walking without falling down. We cross the road, climb the berm we saw before, then hunker down under a large pecan tree. Logan passes out the radios.

Now that we know where they are, he says, how do we play it?

Ive got to move up to the house to cover Mia, Kelly says. You two stay here and monitor the receiver. Ill have an earpiece in my walkie-talkie, but you dont call me under any circumstance but one.

Whats that?

The girl needs saving. Well use two codes: Red and Blue. If I hear Blue, Ill try to extract Mia without harming Bakic. If you say Red, I kill him.

Understood, I say.

Got it, says Logan. Why hasnt she switched on her transmitter?

She will, says Kelly. Shes got it down.

He leans his sniper rifle against the pecan tree and shoulders his MP5. Either of you know anything about the interior layout of this place?

There are usually four rooms on the ground floor and four upstairs, I tell him. You should find a big central hall downstairs with a wide staircase, then another staircase somewhere else for the servants. I dont know how much of the interior remained intact after the fire. Even if the stairs are still there, you might not be able to put any weight on them.

Thats better than nothing. Kelly gives us both a questioning look. The codes?

Blue for extraction, I answer.

Red is dead, says Logan.

Kelly nods. Dead as a hammer, Chief. He gives me a grin, then turns and starts to walk away.

Hey, I call after him.

He turns and looks back.

Dont let anything happen to that girl. Shes pure gold.

Kelly smiles. I saw that right off. Dont worry.

Take care of yourself, too.

He waves, then turns and races off under the trees.


Chapter 38 | Turning Angel | Chapter 40