If you're actually reading this, then sound off in the comments like you've got a pair. My traffic report is all over the place, and I've no idea if I'm actually reaching anyone or just getting some clicks.
She returned to her car, hazards still blinking, abandoned on the shoulder. She pulled into a parking lot and sat, looking at the map of the area in her head, ignoring the road atlas in the seat next to her.
The river cleaving Portland in two was the Willamette. It intersected with the Columbia at Vancouver, perched on the Washington State border. The Columbia ran out to the west into the ocean and east further into the state, a rural highway running parallel with it.
She shook her head, a humorless look on her face. WWBD? When he had been dead, it had been an honorific, a question she was pleased to ask herself, reminding her to consider what her mentor and teacher would do in any given situation. Now, simply considering it seemed scornful, but she had to do it anyway. She was chasing Baxter, she needed to think like him.
South via the Willamette there was nothing until Salem, at least an hour to the south. Plenty of places to ditch the boat, of course, but nowhere with lots of resources, nowhere he could vanish.
North he could take to the ocean, disappear into any one of a number of tourist beach communities. Even in the off-season, there were plenty of strangers around, and he’d be just a face in a crowd. His boat might even be big enough to make it up to Seattle if he was feeling gutsy, although if they could track the boat that far, it would pretty much confirm it was Baxter and they could take him out at their leisure.
But going east...that move made the least sense. At least Salem was there eventually, heading south, heading east would take him...where? The sticks. Nowhere. Holiday homes on the river, small camping communities. Plenty of places to hide, though. Timeshares that might stand empty for months. Hunting cabins high in the hills. He could go to ground, vanish somewhere for a month, surface later, or circle back around and head back to civilization while Falconer went from tiny town to tiny town with nothing but a picture and a hunch, a pathetic gumshoe after a missing person.
So that was what he’d do. The least likely thing, but a choice that left him options. A choice that played to his strengths. A choice that was a gauntlet thrown at her, catch me if you can.
She started the car and looked for the nearest entry to the highway. She would drive to Vancouver, and then she would go east. She touched her headset.
“I’m heading to intercept north. Go as high as you can to keep an eye on both of them as long as you can. Ops, get me satellite coverage of either if you can.”
The rush of the chopper filled her ear. “We’re already losing the north boat intermittently, he’s coming up to the gorge.”
“Prioritize that boat, move north, keep tabs on the other one if you can.”
“This is Ops, same directive for me, focus on the north boat?”
“If you have to make a choice, affirmative, prefer both.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
The ruse lasted less than an hour. The homeless guy, Steven Long, was laughing his head off and tearing ass downriver near the upscale bedroom community of Lake Oswego. He had the misfortune of booking through a no-wake zone and startling an actual police river patrol. Baxter’s theory of cop to civilian percentages may have been true regarding boats versus cars, but every dog has his day.
The Ops freelancer caught the squawk over the police band.
“Central, this is Ops.”
“Go ahead, Ops,” she said. A highway marker whipped by: Five miles to Vancouver.
“I’ve a no-go on satellite coverage either way, I’m afraid.”
“But a police river patrol just arrested a vagrant speeding in the river south of Portland. He maintains someone gave him the boat, and he has a fistful of cash and a title to the boat with his name scribbled on it. Apparently he’s having the time of his life.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Gotcha,” she whispered.
“What was that, Central, didn’t copy.”
“Nothing, good work. Focus on police bands in proximity to the north-bound boat. And get me that satellite coverage.”
“Pretty sure that’s a hard no on the satellites, ma’am, but I’ll keep at it. Can you give me a higher authorization?”
“God and country, soldier, you beg borrow or steal but you fucking get it done!” she couldn’t remember the last time she was so frustrated. Was Smith skimping on the support or did he just assign her useless freelancers.”
“Uh...copy that,” the harried Ops guy responded, and keyed off.
Burst of noise. “Central, this is Chopper.”
“We have him bearing east at Vancouver, heading inland. We’re gonna need to refuel soon.”
“Copy that. Keep him in sight as long as you possibly can and give me the coordinates when you pull off.”
“Jesus he...he really just put his foot down, Central. He’s in a channel running to the south of...Sauvie’s Island, really opening her up.”
Baxter couldn’t hear the chopper, the wind and waves and engine were too loud, but he assumed it was there. Or at least assumed that something was there. If they were going to go to the effort of killing him, they weren’t going to let him get away this easily. But more than that, he wasn’t going to give whatever asshole decided to take him on the satisfaction of acknowledging whoever it was. Whoever it was. It was...
His thoughts trailed off and his eyes grew wide. A trickle of fear slid down his spine and he gave a small shiver that had nothing to do with temperature. He had to force himself to focus on the boat, his high speed allowed no margin for error, and thanks to a century of the lumber industry, there were treacherous logs floating, hiding in the water, waiting to destroy fast, fragile boats like his. He edged his speed down a little as the thoughts crashed through his head.
“Goddamn,” he whispered. “Of course. Of course they’d send her. And if they know I’m alive Christ knows what they think I’ve been up to. Selling secrets? Working for an enemy. They sent her after me because they think I’m a rogue.” He gave an angry bark of a laugh. “Instead of a couch potato. Son of a bitch.”
He knew where he was going, but now that he knew who was behind him, it was like he could feel her watching, her eyes between his shoulder blades, lining up a killshot.
“Shit. Shit shit shit.”