Without a Trace… Chapter 51

Steve drove to the FBI safe house tucked away at the end of the hidden path. Bolstered by his discovery of the anti-personnel device and the empty Tic-Tac case, he had what he needed to light a fire under the FBI’s ass. For the first time in days, he felt a glimmer of hope. The Tic-Tacs were Leslie’s—he knew it in his heart. He also knew another visit to the Diver’s Paradise was in order. If Smythe and Riker wouldn’t listen, their superiors in Washington would take heed. So would the American Embassy in Mexico and every major news network he could contact.

He knocked on the back door of the single-story rambler half-expecting to meet Riker and Smythe with guns drawn from his unannounced visit. Instead, motion sensors activated a pair of spotlights to illuminate the area around the back of the house.

A generator hummed inside a padded enclosure from where strands of electrical wire snaked through a hole cut inside the stucco wall. “Hello?” he called out as he pushed his way inside the unlocked entrance. He heard a clack-clack-clack from the front of the lighted room where a length of spinning audiotape slapped the empty spool on the reel-to-reel player.

“Agent Smythe? Agent Riker?” He checked the whiteboard on the wall and read a series of numbers written in red marker. An oscillating fan stirred the air. On the counter, a monitor flickered with the image of the Jeep he’d arrived in. Glancing at a bank of monitors inside a bookshelf case, he noticed each screen revealed a different snippet of landscape from the sides and front of the safe house perimeter.

He rubbed the Tic-Tac case with his thumb, contemplating a return to the Presidente Suites to look for Smythe and Riker. Whatever they had on their agenda, it was happening somewhere else.

“Smythe?” he called again, noticing a wisp of steam rising from a mug beside the open microwave. Sniffing the fragrance of the herbal tea, he closed the microwave and heard a loud beeping noise coming from the room down the hall. “Agent Riker?”

He checked the bank of monitors. “Hello?”

He took a knife from the kitchen drawer and followed the hallway to the darkened bedroom where a cube-shaped alarm clock flashed the time at five-fifteen a.m. He flicked the lights on and watched a cockroach scamper from its hiding place behind the baseboard.

He knelt beside an open suitcase on the floor with women’s clothing tucked neatly beside a romance novel and a compact semi-auto .22. He recognized the Beretta Bobcat from a Guns and Ammo article on cancelable weapons. He laid the knife down and grabbing the weapon, pulled the slide back to find a round in the chamber.

“Find what you’re looking for?” Riker asked in a sultry voice from the end of the hall.

Employing his best sleight of hand, Steve kept his back to the FBI Agent and slipped the gun down the front of his pants, hoping Riker would account for the bulge as part of his “package” and not her backup .22. “I’ve been looking for you,” he said before he stood up and turned to face her.

“How did you get in here?”

“The door was open. Where’s your partner?”

“He’s out.”

“Where?”

“He had to run an errand in town.”

“How come you’re not with him?”

“How come you’re in my room?”

“Your clock was beeping.” Steve moved away from the suitcase and produced the Tic-Tac case for inspection. “I found this at the Punta Molas lighthouse.”

Riker examined the broken plastic. “What were you doing there?”

“Chasing a hunch. My wife eats these things like candy. I’d bet my life this belongs to her.”

“Tic-Tacs are candy. It could be anyone’s.”

“She’s somewhere on this island, and I need your help to find her.”

Riker was eyeing the bulge in the front of Steve’s pants. A bandage covered part of her forearm where a row of scratches peeked out from the edge of the cotton gauze. “I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because we may have already found your wife and daughter.”

Steve felt his legs buckle as if someone whacked him behind the knees with a two-by-four. “Where? When?”

“About an hour ago. The Coast Guard found an abandoned fishing trawler with a woman and a young girl who fit the description of your family.”

Steve swallowed hard. The room spun in circles. “Alive?”

“As far as we know.”

“Where are they now?”

“A few miles off the coast.”

“You have to take me there.”

“I can’t.”

“Bullshit you can’t!”

“It’s out of my hands. The Coast Guard has jurisdiction on this one.”

“Then I’ll go alone.”

Riker touched her hand on her holster. “I can’t let you do that.”

Steve walked toward the kitchen with his back to her; his eyes trained on the bank of video monitors, revealing a Nissan Sentra out front. He reached for the .22 in his pants and palmed it in his hand before he turned around to face Riker with his arms crossed above his chest. “Your tea’s getting cold.”

“I’ll live without it.”

“What happened to your arm?”

“I bumped my elbow.” Riker smirked. She could sense Steve’s reluctance to stand in the same room with her. She also noticed the bulge missing from the front of his pants. “When did you get here?”

“A few minutes ago. I called Lieutenant Mierez and told him to meet me.”

Riker pointed to the phone. “You can’t dial out from here without an access code.”

“I used my cell.”

“Before or after you returned from Punta Molas?”

Concealing part of his hand in his armpit, Steve slid his finger on the trigger. “Where’s your partner?”

Riker unbuckled her holster. “Smythe’s been detained, indefinitely.”

Steve pointed the .22 at Riker’s head. “What the hell’s going on?”

“It’s a felony to threaten a federal officer.”

“So is murder.”

Riker reached her hand out for the gun. “It’s over.”

“Stay there or I’ll drop you where you stand.”

“I don’t think so,” Riker replied hotly.

Steve’s heart thumped faster in his chest. His thoughts scattered like rays of light through a prism. If he pulled the trigger and made the head shot he was aiming for, he’d murder a federal officer.

He squeezed the trigger, but the .22 didn’t fire.

Riker laughed at the startled expression on Steve’s face. “Gun control’s a bitch.”

Steve pulled the trigger repeatedly, but to no effect.

Riker pulled the Glock from her holster and aimed it at Steve’s chest. “This one works. I assure you. Now kick the weapon to me.”

Steve laid the gun on the floor and nudged it with his foot.

“It’s a prototype. Can only be fired by the registered owner. Some sort of biometric reader gadget. You should have seen your face.” Riker waved her Glock toward the door. “Now let’s go! My ride’s waiting.”

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