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Gideon Ross heard the vehicle a good couple of minutes before it emerged from the winding mountain road and rolled to a stop out front. There was never any doubt where it was headed. His cabin was the only destination on this particular road. Most days passed without a single engine marring the silence, the town store's monthly deliveries being the only exception. After a couple weeks of trying to be neighborly, the few residents of the town at the base of the mountain who'd even bothered had taken the hint and given up. The cabin was too remote and its owner even more so to make the effort worthwhile.
It was a lesson they'd learned none too soon for his tastes. Ross hadn't bought the isolated cabin deep in the Adirondacks in hopes of meeting people. He'd moved here to get away from them. If he could find a way to bypass those supply deliveries that didn't involve starvation, he'd gladly take it.
He knew long before it arrived that the vehicle making its way up the mountain wasn't the store's delivery truck. He was well acquainted with the sound of its engine. This ominous and steadily rising growl wasn't it.
Lifting the beer bottle to his mouth, he finished off the last few ounces, then dropped it to the floor beside him. With his feet propped up on the porch railing and the chair tipped back on two legs, he folded his hands behind his head. To hell with it. He wasn't about to let some idiot ruin his day. The autumn afternoon was too warm and the sun felt too good to get worked up about much of anything.
The vehicle—late-model Buick, he registered before he even thought about it—stopped a few feet in front of the cabin. The enginewas cut off, and a few seconds later he heard someone climb out.
He didn't bother to remove the fishing hat he'd tugged low over his face to see who it was. He knew two things without looking. Whoever it was didn't know him, because they would know better than to bother him, and they weren't welcome. They'd figure that one out for themselves soon enough.
Footsteps crunched along the rocks and gravel until they hit the front steps. It was a man, or a woman who walked like one. From the sound of it, a man who was carrying more than a little excess weight.
Ross would have groaned if it hadn't meant giving away that he wasn't sleeping. Old habits died hard, and a year of rust hadn't kept him from analyzing every detail without intending to. As long as the visitor didn't intend him harm, it didn't matter who it was. He was an easy target and he wasn't dead yet. Things looked fairly promising on that front.
"You going to stop faking and offer an old man a drink?"
So much for promising. The voice was familiar, but no more welcome than when the visitor had been a stranger. Tension coiled in the pit of his stomach, killing the beer buzz he'd been working on all afternoon.
"Well?" the voice demanded.
The porch railing creaked, no doubt from the strain of Ken Newcomb leaning against it. "Too bad. I haven't been driving for six hours for nothing."
"Plenty of places back in the city to get a beer."
"Except you're out here in the middle of the damn wilderness."
"There's a reason for that."
"Yeah. Because you've lost your damn mind."
"Because I want to be left alone."
"I would be happy not to be here. I wouldn't be, either, if you had a phone."
"There's nobody I'm interested in talking to."
"Well, you're going to want to talk to me. I've got a job for you."
"You will be."
"I let my license lapse. You're going to have to find yourself another bounty hunter."
"You don't need a license. This isn't official. It's personal."
That was what Ross was afraid of.
He finally pushed back the brim of his hat and peered up at his visitor. The homicide detective had a face the texture of tanned leather, seeming to bear the evidence of every case he'd ever worked in twenty-five years on the job. In the scant fourteen months since Ross had last seen him, Newcomb appeared to have acquired a good five years more on that face. Fresh lines were carved into his forehead and around his eyes. His gaze simmered with fevered emotion.
The knot in the pit of Ross's stomach tightened. Whatever it was the man wanted, it was big. That was going to make it even harder to say no to him.
Which didn't mean Ross wouldn't do it.
When he didn't say anything, Newcomb continued, "Did you hear about Chastain?"
Price Chastain. The name was enough to kill the last of the peace Newcomb's arrival hadn't managed to dispel. "I heard."
"Trial starts in a couple of weeks. I thought I might see you back in the city for it."
"Newcomb, how many times has the D.A. indicted Chastain for something?"
Newcomb's hesitation was telling. "Four."
"And how many convictions has he gotten?"
"So you can understand why I didn't hightail it back to the city this time."
"It's different this time. We've got him."
"I've heard that before."
"This time we've got him on tape."
Ross let that sink in, more the excitement in Newcomb's voice than the words themselves. He wasn't going to get his hopes up, but it wasn't like Newcomb was going anywhere. "I'm listening."
"How much have you heard about the case?"
"We don't get much news from the city up in these parts," he drawled.
"Victim's Kathleen Mulroney, a secretary at his company. On a Friday night last September he caught her trying to sneak out of the building with some files she'd copied. We don't know what was in them. They were long gone by the time the arrest was made. Computer records show she copied some kind of hidden files, but Chastain had already moved them by the time we got there. We think she stumbled on evidence of his dirty dealings."
"You don't have a concrete motive."
"Doesn't matter. That'll be good enough." Ross decided to withhold judgment on that. "Go on."
"He must have been on to her, because he was waiting for her when she came out of the building. He confronted her, they argued, and he shot her in the chest."
"The bastard did her himself?" This was too good to be true. Exactly why Ross wasn't buying it yet.
"Yep. Probably in a fit of rage, possibly out of sheer arrogance. We've never been able to pin anything else on him. What's one more murder?"
"And you got this on tape?"
"What Chastain didn't know was the building across the alley had just had a new security system installed.A camera above its back entrance captured the whole thing. If it hadn't, she would have just been somebody else connected to Chastain who disappeared without a trace. We'd have never been able to connect him to it." Newcomb shook his head.
"Five years of investigating the bastard, and we get him out of dumb luck."
"Isn't that always the way?" Ross muttered.
As if sensing Ross's lack of enthusiasm, Newcomb elaborated. "We've got everything. Chastain catching the Mulroney woman coming out of the building.
The argument. Chastain shooting her. Two of his men removing the body."
"A guy you never heard of, new on Chastain's payroll, Pete Crowley." Newcomb met his gaze head-on. "And Roy Taylor."
A cold trickle slid down Ross's spine. "Why are you here, Newcomb?"
"Taylor skipped town."
Newcomb didn't have to say another word. They both knew it. Those three words told Ross everything he needed to know—and guaranteed his cooperation. He swore, exactly the reaction the detective was looking for. For the first time since he'd arrived, Newcomb smiled, a deep satisfied grin.
Ross closed his eyes before he put his fist right in the middle of those grinning teeth.
RESTLESS,ROSS PULLED a fresh beer out of the fridge
and popped the cap off with the back of his thumb. There wasn't a chance of getting his buzz back, but if anything called for a drink, this was it. He just wished he had something stronger on hand.
Draining half the bottle in one pull, he paced a ragged path across the cabin's hardwood floors while he waited for Newcomb to emerge from the bathroom. The man was taking so long in there he must have been guzzling coffee for the entire drive here.
Part of him wanted to throw the detective all the way back to the city and forget everything he'd been told. Getting pulled back into this mess was the last thing he needed. He'd finally made his escape, bought the spread in the back of beyond he'd been dreaming about for years and made a clean break with his former profession. For the past year, he'd managed to find, if not peace, then at least quiet. No more tracking skips into places no sane person would go, no more dealing with the lowlifes and the overworked, understaffed law enforcement that populated New York. Here he was left alone, and that was all he really wanted.
All except to see Price Chastain behind bars. Ross lifted the bottle to his mouth again. The alcohol burned as it went down. The sensation was nothing compared to the anger that burned in his gut at the thought of Chastain finally getting what he deserved.
Price Malcolm Chastain, born Gary Allan Paine, a self-made real-estate magnate who owned a sizable chunk of three boroughs. A glorified slumlord who'd expanded his empire by whatever dirty means necessary. Not to mention an all-around sleazebag, a man with almost as many underworld connections as the mob.
And the person who'd ordered the death of Jed Walsh, the man who'd taught Ross everything he knew and the only person in the world who'd given a damn about him when Ross was nothing but a kid scrambling to get by on the streets.
Of course neither Chastain nor Taylor, his head enforcer, had been charged for anything related to Jed's death. There'd been no way to prove what everyone knew had happened. That was how it was with Chastain. More than one person who'd stood in the man's way had wound up dead over the years, yet trouble slid off him like rainwater off a slanted roof. The feds were after him. The New York attorney general wanted a piece of him. After being made a fool of four times, the D.A. would kill for a conviction.
Yet nothing stuck. Ross wasn't green enough to think the bad guys always got what was coming to them. As much as it stung, he'd finally had to face the fact that Chastain's reckoning wasn't coming anytime soon.
Maybe he should have held on to some of that old optimism this time.
The bathroom door swung open. Newcomb stepped out into the main room, tightening his belt with both hands. He cast an appreciative eye around the space.
"I wouldn't have thought it, but this is a nice setup you've got for yourself here. Got myself a bit of land out in Jersey I'm going to develop if I ever get around to retiring. Maybe that day'll be coming sooner rather than later, huh?"
Posted May 4, 2011
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