She flew out of Dulles Airport that afternoon. Due to choosing the fastest trip, rather than the most convenient, she routed through Atlanta and Los Angeles. When she landed in Portland, it was close after midnight, but still scarcely more than 12 hours since she had received her assignment. All she carried was her mission bag, an expanded version of a go-bag, with the added convenience of changes of clothes and toiletries, in addition to bare essentials. She had to leave her own handgun behind. Even if it wasn’t TSA’s America when it came to air travel, traveling with a weapon required official paperwork and interactions with officials.
Instead, she was met at the airport by a man holding a sign that said “Ms. Reeder.” For the sake of appearances, he helped her into the back seat of the Town Car and drove her away from the airport. He pulled over at the first mall, parked at the edge of a lot, and got out, leaving the keys in the ignition.
“Fifteen minutes,” he said before shutting the door. It was the only words he had spoken.
She glanced at her phone for a time check and then began thinking about Baxter. In the trunk of the car, if all was as promised, and it always was, she’d find a compact Sig Sauer automatic and a collapsing sniper rifle in a briefcase. The rifle was only a final option, she never opted for distance shots if she could help it. Some preferred the cold distance of a sniper hit. She preferred the reassurance that came from taking a pulse after killing the mark.
She had killed plenty of people, of course, but usually that was just business. When you went on missions, there was often an assumed and accepted body count. That was entirely different from being directly sent to take someone out. And even that was entirely different from being sent to kill the person who taught you most of your moves. Who straight-up gave you his moves.
DMV records were child’s play, so she had his address, had memorized it before leaving DC. She pulled it up on her phone yet again and stared at it. The trunk would also contain a road atlas of the area, that was what she really wanted. In the meantime, she looked again and again at the streets around his home, zooming in with Street View to examine the building Baxter, the mark, she corrected herself, lived in. The information would be useless, of course, as soon as she got the on-the-ground info by checking the place out herself. To her, time spent in strategy was never time wasted.
When the time was up, she got out of the car, went to the front, and popped the trunk. She confirmed the guns, each in its own case, and took the road atlas with her. She sat in the front seat flipping pages under the reading lamp. There were the highways criss-crossing the river. Neither was particularly convenient to the mark’s neighborhood, he’d have to go most of the way through downtown to reach either. Escape to the north would mean Seattle, Eastern Washington on longer, less direct routes. The interior of Oregon was to the east, mountain passes and forest, but few places to stop along the way. Easy to spot a mark from the air. The west was practically untenable, tourist communities on the coast, nothing but a network of dead ends. South was Salem (too small), Eugene (too small) and then nothing more substantial until the California border. The mark had put himself in a really poor position to run. Her mouth tightened. He was slipping. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a challenge at all.
She looked more closely at the map. There was the commuter train, it had a clever acronym, limited reach, but it went out of the city, lots of other passengers for cover...If he had a backup vehicle somewhere out in suburbs, he could reach it quickly during the day. At night, if he wanted to light out, it was car or nothing.
Only...she traced a finger across the map. She shook her head, a memory bursting onto the screen of her mind. Her trained, keen recollection showed her a smirking, confident, tan Baxter. She was squinting up at him, the sun behind him, the slap of the waves against the hull.
“Where are we going?”
“Anywhere but here,” he said. He took a deep breath of the sea air, and the wind ruffled his hair. His shadow fell completely over her as he sat down, his hand on the wheel of the small boat.
“But why a boat,” she asked. She learned a lot of things by asking. Things she thought he might not have bothered to teach her otherwise.
“Naval radar, even in developed countries, is for shit compared to how well we can track stuff in the skies. The number of coastal patrol boats to civilian boats versus the numbers of cop cars against civilian cars is laughable. You can put up a reflective tent over the boat and fuckin’ disappear if you have to. In shitty little countries like this one, you can always find a boat for some reason. Where there’s water, there’s boats, and there’s an escape.”
“So always have a boat.”
He raised the approving eyebrow that it now seemed to her she had been chasing forever. The smile said, That’s my smart girl. Then he nodded. “Always have a boat.”
She began to look for marinas. If he ran, that’s how he would do it. And Portland, being on a river, had plenty to choose from.
But as he had taught her, the idea of her using the skills to track him never in his mind, he taught her that she always had to be two steps ahead.
She knew he was to be killed. She knew where he lived. And she knew how he would try to run. Now she was three steps ahead.
She left the book folded open to the map in question, placed it on the passenger seat, and switched on the ignition.