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by George Snyder
Description: Millions of diamonds are enough to tempt even the virtuous into crime and Colt Fallon has never been especially virtuous. While cleaning up a botched kidnapping, Fallon learns of the diamonds and the bank where they're being held. He won't be able to get them on his own, but Fallon has a way of attracting the right wrong people--starting with the woman who once betrayed him and who, Fallon is sure, will betray him again. Unfortunately, Fallon isn't the only person after the diamonds. A Chinese syndicate known as "The Principles" has targeted the jewels and Fallon, putting their top assassin on the job. Yolanda Smart does her killing from a distance. Careful preparation, learning the target's patterns, and a cool hand have made her a top killer. With only a few more jobs, she'll be able to give up this life and head for the islands. A huge diamond stash could provide a shortcut to her retirement. To get them, she'll have to deal both with Fallon and with her criminal bosses who want the diamonds for themselves. Still, Smart feels up to the job. Author George Snyder keeps the action moving as Fallon, Yolanda, the brother of a man Fallon killed while cleaning up the kidnapping and the Principles syndicate all scheme and kill to get their hands on a treasure. It starts out as professional but as the killings escalate, things get very personal. Snyder writes convincingly of a hardened criminals--and the justifications they fabricate to condone their actions. Fallon and Smart, in particular, are engaging and sympathetic at the same time as they're brutal cold-blooded killers. When the two clash, it was hard for me, at least, to decide which I wanted to win.
eBook Publisher: BooksForABuck/BooksForABuck.com, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: October 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [385 KB]
Reading time: 242-339 min.
Colt Fallon figured he could shoot all three men from outside the no-glass mountain shack window. Though dusk brought dark shadows, he saw the men clearly. He eased the five-gallon can of gas and clothes bundle to the ground then pulled his Smith and Wesson SD9 semiautomatic and released the safety. S&W called the 9mm weapon "Homeowner's Insurance." He liked the twenty-two ounce weight of it.
Rain had stopped and the shack sagged like a soggy tent. Raw, classic country music came from a portable CD player, Hank Snow singing about moving on. The window with no glass opened to a main room where the teenage girl huddled in a far corner. She curled in the fetal position, her naked body partly covered with a dirty sleeping bag. Long, surfer blond hair framed her head like a nun's habit. Looking through a kitchen doorway, three men sat around a metal frame table. The table top was cluttered with empty beer cans. Fallon only recognized Raccoon Willy Martin, so called because of dark circles around his eyes due to drugs, booze, too many cigarettes, hard women and bad living. The three men wore heavy coats in the unheated shack. A weak flickering light came from the burning lantern hanging above the table.
One man stood, pushed away from the table. Fat, with sagging cheeks and a thick, black handlebar mustache, he belched then moved through the doorway and leaned against the wall and looked across the empty room at the girl.
Raccoon Willy whispered, "You know we got to do it. Soon as they get the money, we got to get rid of her."
"I know," the other man at the table said. He shifted revolver parts, cleaning and oiling.
Still whispering, Raccoon Willy leaned forward, eager. "Didn't Hombre tell us that? He said do whatever we wanted with her and when the ransom was delivered, get rid of her. I mean she saw us, saw our faces."
"Yeah, Hombre told us that." The man still handled his gun pieces, concentrating on his work, shaved head shiny in the lantern light. He paused to take a sip of Olympia. The lantern showed he had no eyebrows.
The chair screeched when Raccoon Willy stood. He moved through the doorway past the fat guy with the heavy, black mustache to the curled girl. "I'm going to strap her on one more time," he said.
"I had enough of her," the fat guy leaning against the wall said. "Too skinny, I like more meat."
Outside the window, Colt Fallon positioned himself so all three men were in view. He raised the SD9, figuring to go left to right starting with Raccoon Willy.
Raccoon Willy nudged the girl with the toe of his shoe. "Kathy. Get rid of the sleeping bag. Time to go again."
Fallon aimed his weapon. They weren't supposed to touch the girl, just hold her until the ransom was paid then leave her in the shack for cops, FBI and media to find. Hombre told Fallon that. He told Fallon, Raccoon Willy Martin got three boys together to snatch a girl for five hundred thousand in ransom. They were idiots. That's why he wanted Fallon to get the money at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge drop-off. Take a hundred thousand for himself and deliver the rest to Hombre in Carson City, Hombre dumb enough to think Fallon wouldn't take more. Or take it all. Hombre said he would deal with the boys.
Raccoon Willy and his pals had bungled it from the start. They killed that schoolteacher, and now they did more than touch the girl, Katherine Ann Bowman. They hurt her and raped her and treated her like a piece of meat. They weren't supposed to do that. Hombre said they wouldn't. Now Raccoon Willy was going to strap her on one more time.
Colt Fallon shot Raccoon Willy in the back, the hollow point from the "Homeowner's Insurance" shattering his spine. While the fat guy clawed at his revolver, Fallon shot him through the cheek. While the guy at the table scrambled to gather gun parts Fallon shot him in the chest.
Gunfire noise had pounded quick and loud in the sagging cabin. Now graveyard silence took over, except the CD where Kenny Rogers begged his woman not to take her love to town. Fallon stepped along the unpainted warped clapboard and plywood wall to the door. He shouldered it open to the kitchen. The gun cleaner was gone.
A blood trail smeared along a short hallway to the back door, where a coat hung from the doorknob, likely with an operating weapon.
The guy was there. He scratched at the coat, reaching with grunts of effort.
Fallon stepped on his back to shove him down. Using the toe of his shoe, he pushed the guy over.
"You weren't supposed to hurt the girl," Fallon said.
The guy licked his lips. He blinked. "Hombre said okay."
Fallon shot him through the forehead.
He went to the doorway where fat guy lay in his pool of blood and shot him through the heart. Raccoon Willy lie crumpled against the far wall next to a backpack, gurgling, wheezing. His fingers quivered as he reached to his bleeding back. Fallon shot him through the head.
The teenage girl, Kathy, pushed away and sat like an Indian, her oversize blue eyes staring at him in terror. Long blond hair matted around her neck. She'd been doing some crying.
Fallon knelt in front of her. With his fist, he tilted her chin up. "Listen to me, Kathy."
She stared, shivered, tears filled in. The young ones always had clear innocent eyes.
"Are there any more?" he asked. He remembered Hombre telling him it was Raccoon Willy and three buddies. That meant a fourth guy running loose somewhere.
She sat without moving.
"Are there any more?"
Her chin moved against his fist.
"How many? Two?"
She shook her head.
She pushed her chin against his fist again.
Her oversize, tearful blue eyes looked toward the window.
Twenty yards outside the window, young fir branches moved as a bear-shaped bearded man thrashed through. He grumbled as he came, his voice growing louder.
Fallon stood to look out the window, beyond the man, at an outhouse barely visible through firs and brush.
The man stomped loudly. He leaned forward as he slapped and crashed through wet underbrush. Marched over a carpet of fir needles, a shadow in closing darkness, a semiautomatic in his hand, headed for the shack, bellowing as he came.
"What the hell you guys shooting at? This ain't no time for target practice."
Fallon went back to the kitchen. The man probably felt safe with the hidden mountain shack and his armed buddies. Maybe thinking they were shooting flies off the wall. Felt good after his dump. Empty. Get another beer. Maybe strap on the girl one more time. Fallon stood by the door far enough for it to swing free. He waited.
The man banged in mumbling to himself, bringing the smell of the fresh dump. He kicked the door open and stumbled in, the thick black beard hiding his face, his gun hanging slack by his side, small dark eyes looking expectant.
Fallon shot him through the temple. When the man slammed sideways against the far wall, Fallon shot him through the heart.
Blood soaked the beard as the body slumped quickly to sit. That was eight of the sixteen-shot clip. No need to reload with the extra clip in his leather jacket pocket. He holstered his weapon.
Back outside, he picked up the bundle and can of gas and carried them in the shack. He put the can of gas on the metal kitchen table. The bundle, he dropped at the teenage girl's feet.
"Put these on," he told her. Darkness closed in corners of the shack. Only the lantern over the kitchen table provided light.
While Kathy pulled on a gray hooded sweatshirt and overall jeans and her pink sneakers, Fallon pulled spare clothes out of the backpack. Going through the shack, he gathered wallets and guns from the bodies and dropped them in. Something shiny was at the bottom of the pack with a couple business cards and a small thick envelope. He took out the shiny thing and looked at a square key. He dropped it back. He'd check it, the business cards and the envelope later.
Katherine Anne Bowman, now dressed, still sat Indian style, still shivered, staring at Fallon's face. Her young, innocent, large blue eyes followed his every movement, locked on his face. He was used to the stares. Used to strangers telling him he looked like that departed movie actor, Robert Mitchum. He thought it was nonsense so he ignored the stares.
From the CD player Freddie Fender sang about days and nights wasted.
Fallon went back to the kitchen with the backpack. He set the pack on the table and picked up the can of gas. He took it to the room with Kathy. He put the can down and knelt in front of her. Her blue eyes watched him intently No more tears came to streak her cute dirty face. The shivering eased to a slight tremble.
Fallon tilted her chin up with his fist again. "Ready to go home, Kathy?" he said.
* * * *
A little girl voice sang about Mama wearing her skirts way too short in Harper Valley while shack flames snaked to a black cloudy sky from the roof, mixed with wet wood steam. The little girl voice gargled once, turned silent as flames ate up the CD. Outside, the girl stumbled next to him, so small she stood no taller than Fallon's chest. He had to help her down part of the path to where he'd parked the battered white Econoline. When they reached the van, he tossed the backpack behind the passenger seat. They got in and he drove bouncing and jerking to asphalt then down the mountain. Snowcapped Mount Rainer watched from behind.
Media had blasted the address for days. Once on Mercer Island, Fallon followed his hand drawn sketch to Katherine Ann Bowman's street. As he drove close, she recognized landmarks. She sat straight, with a grip on the front of the sweatshirt, alert, anxious, interested in her surroundings.
"Put your hood up, Kathy," he told her. "I don't want too much attention."
Fallon parked at the curb, a block away from her house. While Kathy watched, he pulled a small envelope and note from his leather jacket pocket. The note was pasted with newspaper words:
Gather the 50K reward. Carry it with you always.
With the note inside and the envelope sealed, Fallon handed it to Kathy. She looked tiny inside her sweatshirt hood, except those big blue eyes.
"Give that to your dad," he said. "Don't let nobody else see it. Give it only to your dad. Got it?"
She nodded and looked at his face again, eyes dry now. She no longer shivered. Fallon wondered how many male hearts were going to get broken by those eyes.
"They'll ask about me," he said. "They'll pump you about how I look. Want features, unusual markings or tattoos. I'd like it if you weren't too detailed. But you got to say what you got to say to get them off you. They can be relentless. Tell them what you think you need to."
She nodded again, combed long elegant fingers to push her surfer girl blond hair under the hood. She hesitated as if waiting for permission to go. She touched his hand.
"Beat it, kid," he said. "Get on home."
With the envelope shoved in her sweatshirt pocket, she scrambled out of the van. She slammed the door shut and walked fast toward her house halfway down the block, two squad cars parked in front at the curb.
Fallon watched her as she drew close to her home, close to sanctuary, where her bedroom and stuffed animal friends and Mom and Dad and maybe siblings waited. She broke to a run. Like the horror of the ordeal was done, like he had brought her home, safe. Fallon made a u-turn and drove out of the fancy neighborhood.
At an Alki Beach small boat launch ramp, Fallon parked the Econoline among pickups and SUVs. Most had boat trailers still hooked to them. He took the far spot away from the ramp. Hunched, he moved between the front seats to a folding camp chair and sat. There was no standing room.
He'd stripped the van of all seats except driver and passenger. In back was most of what he needed. He had built a double bed across the opening back doors as high as a table, not quite long enough for him to stretch his six-foot frame unless he went corner to corner. A table pulled out from the side of the bed with two camp folding chairs. Along the passenger side were cabinets for storage, a two-burner propane camp stove and sink. Across, behind the driver seat was a portable toilet with a garden sprayer shower and a big ice chest. He didn't buy ice often unless he was having company. Dry food and cans, and books were stored in hammocks and cabinets along both sides. Books were mostly about gold prospecting. Lighting came from lanterns.
He got the lantern going, grateful for its warmth. He sat in the chair at the table and poured a glass with some scotch and finished it to the top with water from one of his one gallon jugs. He sipped the drink and pulled his cell-phone and punched the numbers for Montana Rick.
"Colt, you settled in?" Montana Rick asked.
"I'm in the van, parked stealth temporarily. You find out what I asked?"
"Yeah, Nikki and the bartender Brennan aren't husband and wife no more. He went and died on her. Pancreatic cancer. He left her some insurance money and the duplex free and clear. Little Nikki is now a very merry widow."
"Anybody see her?"
"Yeah, my guy getting the info watched her longer than he needed. What's it been, Colt, I mean since you went gold prospecting up there in Alaska?"
"That makes you, what, forty-four? She was nineteen when you met. Together two years. She's thirty-one now. She's looking good, Colt. My guy tells me she still dances sometimes at the G-Spot Lounge. Not much, though Sal would like her up there every night. She's in charge of the cocktail waitresses now. Word is she's going to quit, now she's a rich merry widow."
"And do what?"
"Hell, who knows? Be merry. You going to hook up with her again?"
"She done a shitty thing on you, Colt. Maybe she changed but I doubt it. You're not forgetting what she did, slipping out on you and marrying that bartender."
"I haven't forgotten."
"And stealing your ten-thousand jewelry heist cut."
"Nobody could prove that."
"But you know."
"I suspect. Maybe I should have taken care of it before I took off."
"Not kill her. Not for a lousy ten thousand. She ain't worth it, Colt."
"If she's loaded, I might still take it back."
"Why don't you keep away from her? You need a woman, I know plenty. I mean classy broads, some with a lot more than she's got. Women who know what a man likes and is happy to provide it for the right guy. I'm talking slinky women with long legs who buy their underwear at Victoria's Secret. Now, that's the kind of woman you need."
"I'll kick it around, Rick. You got the address of the duplex and the phone number like I asked?" Fallon wrote the information Montana Rick gave him. Nikki lived on Greenlake Way just north of Lake Union, close to the zoo. He knew the area. U-Dub students liked to linger there.
Montana Rick said, "How's your dad? Still living in Kent? Living in that retirement home?"
"Yeah, I'm going to go see him in a couple days."
"What for? You know how he feels about you."
"He's my dad. So, I got to go see him."
"Well, get a few drinks before."
"I intend to."
"How are you for cash, Colt? You okay?"
"Did you find a lot of gold up in Alaska?"
"Enough. I got eight thousand cash with me from selling what I found."
"That ain't much."
"I lived pretty good the last ten years. Most of it paid for that. I had a good woman the first seven of those years."
"You bring her down to the forty-eight?"
"No, she died. A bear got her."
"Jesus! You know, even looking like Robert Mitchum, I just can't figure you a mountain wilderness kind of guy. You need work; I got a couple projects going on. A payroll job, a couple armored truck deals. I might even find some loose jewelry lying around. If you say you're interested."
"Thanks, Rick, but I'm okay. I got a couple deals of my own working. A key I found. And some reward cash I got coming."
"All right. You need anything you let me know. Guys like us who go way back, we got to say connected, you know?"
"Yeah, I'll be in touch."
After shutting off, Colt Fallon took a gulp of his scotch and water and punched cell-phone numbers for Hombre.
When Hombre heard it was Fallon, he got excited. "Christ Almighty, Fallon. What the hell? What the hell did you do in that mountain cabin? You killed everybody and torched everything."
"It wasn't a cabin, it was a dumpy shack."
"But, Christ! I mean what fuck was you thinking?"
"They hurt the girl, Hombre. They hit her and they raped her. You said they wouldn't hurt the girl."
"They weren't supposed to but hell they're dumb as fence posts. They even killed a damned teacher while getting her."
"They said you told them it was okay to hurt the girl. You said to do anything they wanted with her."
"Bullshit! Now Fallon you know that just ain't true."
"I don't know any such thing. I might come to Carson City so we can get deeper in this, face to face."
"Wait a minute. What happened to the ransom, the five hundred thousand?"
"The ransom won't happen. The kidnappers are dead and the little girl is safe at home."
"What the hell have you done, Fallon? You don't even know, you dumb shit. You killed Raccoon Willy Martin. You know what that means? Raccoon Willy has two very badass brothers. Stouter is bad enough but Waco is just getting out of prison for manslaughter. He's meaner than a sack of snakes. When he finds out you killed Raccoon Willy, he'll be looking you up."
"How would he find out, Hombre?"
"What do you mean?"
"Somebody told him it was me. Nobody knows who wiped out the kidnappers and torched the shack. That is, hardly anyone. There's always the guy who sent me there. Who told Stouter and Waco, Hombre?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, you do. You told those goons it was okay to hurt the girl. Then you said to kill her when the ransom money showed."
"Just remember, Hombre, when the brothers come looking for me, they'll also want whoever it was sent me." Fallon clicked off and put away his cell-phone.
He leaned back in the camp chair with the half-empty glass in his hand. Hard classic country music rolled along his thinking. On the table in front of him was the address. The duplex the bartender husband left to Nikki when he died. She was there and she was available, the treacherous bitch.
For Colt Fallon, betrayal from the slinky, swivel hipped, deep breathing blond, Nikki Case, had driven him north. During ten years in Alaska, he had clawed hundreds of ounces of gold from the earth. He had witnessed his fiery, French-Canadian, mountain woman, the great love of his life, mauled to death by a bear, as he fired every slug from every weapon he had into the creature. Lily had made him forget Nikki. After burying what was left of her, he had spent three years living in a wilderness cabin, scratching for gold, hunting small game, fishing. He had lived without human contact.
After ten years in Alaska wilderness, he returned to the lower forty-eight. In Reno, he hooked up with Hombre who brought him into a kidnap scheme. All he had to do was go to Washington State, get to the ransom drop at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and pick up half-a-million in cash. He had nothing to do with taking the girl. The plan was bad, shot full of holes. It took Fallon less than one hour to figure there were at least fifteen ways for him to get nabbed by the FBI. While yanking the girl, the three kidnap clowns killed an innocent bystander teacher. For Fallon, that changed his part in the scheme. He came up with a better idea that might bring him a smaller payday but with less risk. Instead of heading for Tacoma, he went to the mountain shack, tucked back on the way to Mt. Rainier, where the three kidnappers had held the girl.
* * * *
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