Sunday, July 21, 2013

Baxter: Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

Falconer had her headset in now, conferenced in with the freelancers. The two in the chopper kept their mics muted until they had to speak. 
“I have the cab on a traffic cam near the base of the hill by Oregon Health Sciences University. Maps show it as a serious bottleneck, one main road up to the hospital, two lesser roads out into the hills. If he’s going up there, he has to take the main one based on his route.”
“It’s a hospital?”
“Yeah, teaching hospital.”
“Then he’s after a car, lots of long-term parking.”
A rush of noise interjected and a voice came online. “We got ‘im.”
“The cab, we picked it up, it’s on the road climbing the hill. Visual on the taxi.”
“Confirmed,” said the tech.
She adjusted her route to reach the hospital, pressing down harder on the accelerator. 
“Okay, we have the cab, he’s driving past a parking entrance...past an office block, he’s passing the hospital proper on his left...pulling into a little strip mall...Driver’s getting out.”
“And?” it was hard for her not to yell.
“African-looking guy. He just went inside.”
“Can’t tell.”
“Can’t tell what?”
“Can’t tell anything.”
“Confirm there’s a passenger in the car.”
“Can’t do that, no angle.”
“Heat signature.”
“Calibrating...Negative, there’s a pizza joint next door, big fan up top, hot air all over the place.”
“Keep on it, I’m almost there.”
She kept taking deep breaths as she waited for people on crutches to cross the street, then waited for an ambulance to pull around her, then waited at a stop light, and all the while she just wanted to scream. 
“Taxi’s still there,” the chopper reported. “Dude’s smoking out front.”
She pulled into the lot, clicked something on her phone, grabbed her wallet. She jumped out, walking straight at the guy, who saw the look on her face and froze. She flashed the wallet then held out her phone. “This guy,” she said, “where is he?”
Many people who grew up in third world countries feared security forces, and it was easy to take advantage of. 
“He paid me, but he got out at the bottom of the hill, the stoplight. Said to come all the way up here and wait for a while before I went back to work.”
“Where’d he go?”
“I saw him cross the street in my mirror. That’s it.” 
“Which way?”
“Toward the river.”
Her felt as if someone had shot her up with liquid nitrogen. She turned on her heel and ran to her car. The drive down the hill was mildly easier, but she took two corners in the middle of the narrow, two-lane road, and narrowly avoided dinging an ambulance on the second. She burst out at the base of the hill, an intersection largely shadowed by trees. It was a T-intersection, the road running left and right, but no route directly ahead, toward the river. It was office parks, restaurants, parks, a great place to get lost. 

Baxter felt like he was still getting his breath. He pulled some bills of a brick of cash in his bag and stuffed it in his pocket. He was hiding under the platform deck of an office complex, a place for lunch breaks, maybe, all picnic tables and big umbrellas. It was built into a hill and the space beneath the deck was nothing but shadows and brush. There were several such buildings in a row, and beneath one of them, a few blocks down, a few small lights glowed in the dark. He went toward it, his hand in his bag, his fingers wrapped around his gun.

“Mark my position,” she said, on foot now. She hopped over a drainage ditch between parking lots, getting closer to the water. 
“He’s got a boat, there’s at least one marina ahead of me, right?”
“Confirmed, there are three, one is--”
“I don’t care, stop talking. Look for a heat signature from a small boat in the river. If not now, then soon. Got it?”
“Yes, ma’am.”

Baxter approached the darkness under the deck, and saw that the building wasn’t occupied, windows boarded up, and the lights were from a small group of vagrants living under the deck. They had sheets of tarp hung and were bootlegging power from somewhere, as one of the lights was a small bedside-style lamp. 
He stood at the edge of the pool of light and let them see him. 
At length, a rough voice said, “Help you?”
“I want to offer one of you some money. It’s not a sex thing, it’s just a dumb favor. I need some help, but you won’t get in trouble. I promise.” It was a lie, but the odds were pretty slim that harm would come to anyone. Anyone other than him, of course. 
“How much?” a different voice asked. 
“It’ll take a couple hours, I just need a hand down at the marina. How much you want?”
He saw a shrug from the shadows. 
“Two hundred,” Baxter offered.
“Down at the marina?”
“Money first.”
“Of course.”
There was another whirl of noise in her ear, then a freelancer spoke from the chopper. “I got something.”
“Actually, two somethings. Started out around the same time from the same place.”
“Is it him?”
“Can’t tell. Both appear to be driven by a man based on stature and shape, but that’s about the best we can do. Facial recognition is useless, they’re both wearing hats.”
She put the phone in her pocket, climbed on top of a truck that started howling a siren in protest. She put both hands over her eyes, but couldn’t see anything. She clambered down and put a building between her and the alarm.
“Too much light pollution here I can’t see anything. Are they going the same way?”
“Negative, one heading south, one heading north.”
“North goes to the state line then either east or west to the ocean.”
“Uh...” he hesitated as he looked at maps, matching what was in her head. “Confirmed.”
“Keep an eye on both as long as you can,” she said, heading back to her car.
“We can take them out.”
“With what?”
“This isn’t a secure line.”
“Whatever it is, I don’t trust you firing form one moving object at another one. And even if you do succeed, by the time we confirm that it’s him, and it probably isn’t, he’ll be long gone. Negative, just watch.”

Baxter looked over his shoulder one last time at the other boat roaring away, a gleeful homeless guy grinning at the wheel. 
He didn’t own one boat, he owned two, held under a shell corporation that was in another false name. The boats were bought and paid for, and he had a trust set up to pay the monthly moorage fees and the annual upkeep. Like his car, they were kept in perfect condition, ready to go at a moment’s notice. Just in case. 
Beneath his feet, next to the engine compartment, was his final cache. A big one, an emergency one, but it was all he had in the world right now. If they knew where he was, if they knew how to find him, he had to assume they’d found his money, too. Hell, maybe they’d found that first. 
That was as far as he let himself think about “them,” for the time being he had to focus on himself and on a clean getaway. Just because no one had shot him yet didn’t mean they wouldn’t. 
“Well,” he said aloud to himself (a habit he’d never had in the old days, “I got a bag of money, two more good IDs, two guns, no shoes, and a second pair of pants that are too tight. How can I lose?” 

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