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Cameron Morgan pulled his cowboy hat from his head, leaned his eye against the scanner next to the door and waited for the green light to pan across his eyeball. When the lock clicked open, he straightened and stepped through the heavy glass doors into the spacious offices of Prescott Personal Securities. After being gone for the past month on assignment, he felt as if he was coming home. He inhaled, expecting the soothing scents of eucalyptus and furniture polish. Instead, an acrid aroma stung his nostrils.
"Hi, Angel," he said to the receptionist behind the bleached pine countertop. Cameron wrinkled his nose. "Was there a chemical spill somewhere?"
Angel, the street punk adopted by the agency's owner out of some attempt at being charitable, rolled her eyes. "'Sup?" She barely looked up as she smacked her gum between black lipstickcovered lips while she painted another coat of dead black polish on her clawlike fingernails.
Cameron wrinkled his nose. Ah, the source of the odor. "Do you have to do that here?"
She answered by raising her brows. No wonder memos from Angel were often misspelled and calls were misdirected. With nails like that, she couldn't possibly hit the right keys on the computer keyboard or the telephone switchboard. Despite the everything-black, Goth look, she showed an occasional spark of intelligence that invariably took everyone by surprise and she was puppy-dog loyal to the boss.
"Any messages?" he asked.
"Give me a few, and I'll check." She capped the fingernail polish and shook her hands, blowing on the wet paint.
"A few" meant some time in the next hour or twoif she remembered after the paint fumessubsided and her brain activity reengaged.
Cameron shook his head and continued on to his office.
Before he'd gone five steps, Angel called out, "Hey, wait. I was supposed to tell you something."
Perhaps the cloud of vapor had cleared and she was remembering. Cameron turned and smiled, encouraging the young woman.
Her pale forehead wrinkled and her thickly lined eyes squinted to slits. "Oh, yeah, the boss wants you in the conference room."
"When?" Cameron tapped his Stetson against his thigh.
She stopped chewing her gum long enough to snort and say, "Like, now. I believe her words were ASAP." She resumed blowing on her nails and smacking her gum.
Letters. A S A and P are letters. Cameron inhaled and blew out a calming stream of air before he smiled again. This wasn't the first time Angel had delayed an urgent message or misdirected a memo. He couldn't even count the number of times they'd had to call the repairman to fix the copier after she'd done whatever she did to break it. One of the machine mechanics had gone so far as to nickname her the Angel of Death. "Thanks, Angel. What would we all do without you?" Hire a real secretary?
"I don't know, but you better hurry," she said without looking up.
When Cameron entered the conference room, every gaze turned toward him. Four other agents sat around the table and an elegant blonde stood at the head. He nodded toward his friend, Jack Sanders, seated to his left and then fixed his attention on the woman standing, Evangeline Prescott, head of Prescott Personal Securities. "You wanted to see me?"
With her long blond hair pulled back in a French twist and wearing a medium gray skirt suit, Evangeline was a cool professional with a warm smile. She looked much better than she had when she'd first lost her husband in a plane crash two years ago. Perhaps she was finally moving on.
Evangeline stood with a laser pointer resting in her palm and her back turned to a projected view of a map depicting the state of Colorado. With a brief smile she nodded toward a seat. "Good. You got my message. If you'll take a seat, I'll explain why you're here." She nodded, the few curls that had managed to escape bobbed with the motion. "Remember the disk that arrived at the office during the Nick Warner case?"
The head of Prescott Personal Securities madecaseload. Cameron nodded.
"Cassie deciphered the codes and she's been working with Lenny to figure out what exactly we have and what it means."
"How's that going?" Cameron glanced from Cassie, who hadn't looked up yet, to William Lennard, affectionately nicknamed Lenny, the group's incredibly adept techno geek.
"Good, Cam, real good." The red-haired young man's gaze remained affixed to the computer screen. He clicked the keys and the image on the big screen zoomed closer.
Cameron was used to Lenny being less than communicative at times. When he got wrapped up in solving a computer puzzle, he lost track of everything else, including time and polite conversation. Which made the hairs on the back of Cameron's neck rise. What was Lenny working on now?
Cameron's gaze panned to Mike Lawson and Cassie Allen sitting close together, peering at a printout on the table between them. Mike glanced up and nodded. "We've made a little progress." He nudged Cassie, who looked to Mike first. Deaf since college, she hadn't heard Cameron enter. When she turned toward him, her face lit with a smile. "Hi, Cameron."
He nodded and remained standing. "So what did you find on the disk?" And what does it have to do with me?
"Actually, we think the disk is full of land coordinates. Lenny was just showing us where one of those coordinates is in the state of Colorado. Would you do us the honors?" Evangeline glanced at their techno geek.
Lenny clicked a single key. The projected view zoomed in until Cameron could read the town namesone in particular.
"Are you familiar with a small town northwest of Denver called Dry Wash?" Evangeline used the laser pointer to indicate the position on the map.
Was he familiar? Did spending the first eighteen years of your life count toward familiarity? Cameron molded the brim of the light brown Stetson in his hands. "Yes. It's my hometown." He directed his stare to Evangeline, his eyes narrowing. "But you know that."
Evangeline nodded. "The coordinates pinpoint a location near there. I had Lenny pull up the online county plats and overlay it with the exact coordinates."
Cameron stepped closer to the screen, recognition igniting the nerves in his gut. Lines drawn over an aerial photograph delineated the Bar M Ranch from the Flying W Ranch to the south. The point on the map indicated an area on the border between the two ranches. "The Bar M is my father's ranch and the Flying W belongs to Hank Ward." He glanced at Evangeline. "What's the significance of the location?"
"We don't know exactly, but we know a little more about some of the other coordinates." Evangeline nodded to Lenny. "Show him the other view, please."
"Yes, ma'am." Lenny clicked several keys and a broader view of Colorado appeared on the screen with red dots sprinkled across the map.
"These are some of the other coordinates listed on the disk." She pointed to two of them. "We've researched these two. The land is owned by a company called Tri Corp. Media." She shot a glance toward Mike. "Mike, tell them what you found out about these locations."
Mike's face was poker straight. "They're known to be rich in oil and!they were previously owned by Milo Kardascian and James Durgin, our dead CEOs. They sold their companies and land for cash and shares in Kingston Trust to pay off debt."
"So you have two CEOs who sold out for cash and shares, Tri Corp. Media bought the companies and land and both CEOs are now dead." Cameron shrugged. "Sounds suspicious. Why don't you take it to the police?"
Jack shook his head. "And tell them what? We don't have any solid evidence to point toward Tri Corp. Media. For all we know TCM is just a company that knows when to make a good deal."
Evangeline paced in front of the screen, the light from the projector painting mottled images across her gray suit. "All we have is this land coordinate and the disk. That and a few other puzzle pieces."
"What puzzle pieces?"
Mike jumped in. "Durgin came to us scared he would be the next man murdered from a list of Kingston Trust investors."
None of this was making much sense to Cameron. "Why don't you go to the investment company that manages the trust and get the list of investors?" "That's just it, it's a blind trust," Evangeline responded. "They don't have to share the names of the investors unless we get a court order and send in the police. We don't have enough evidence to do that yet. We're going on supposition."
Lenny raised his hand. "I'm checking into Kingston and hope to know something soon."
Mike added, "There's also Milo Kardascian's connection to the Russian mob through his gambling debts."
"Wait a minute. Do you think the Russian mob is involved in this?" Cameron tapped his hat against his thigh, his brain scrambling to take it all in.
Evangeline's shoulders rose and fell. "We're not certain of anything yet. We do know Kardascian was a habitual gambler. He frequented the mob-run private gambling establishments in Central City where he gambled his way deep into debt."
Jack snorted. "And the mob demands payment in one form or another."
With too many questions and not enough answers, Cameron wasn't liking where this investigation was going. "Do you think the mob or the owners of the trust are going to go after this land because of the oil?"