Robert W. Walker’s
Chapter TWENTY THREE
When Marcus emerged from having reset and re-inserted the bug in Paco, Katrina was instantly at Rydell. “If you do this, Marcus, you stoop to Cantu’s level.”
“Getting down to Cantu’s level is how we survive. If we don’t do this, Kat, we might not come out of this alive, including Nora and the children. Human life, Kat.”
“By sacrificing Paco?”
“He’s a trained killer and a helluva spy.”
“Double Agent Paco,” she muttered, unconvinced.
“Counter intel. Besides, Paco here could possibly help us to disable Cantu, maybe lead us to him—his hideout—if my plan works.”
“Or this stunt could just get Paco killed,” she countered.
“This is his chance to play Rin-Tin-Tin instead of the Nazi watchdog. Kat, he’s been relaying everything we say here to Cantu, Kat. Do you get that?”
“I get it, but—”
“Paco was planted here for your good heart to stumble onto.”
“Cantu’s Trojan horse.”
“And now he’s ours if we use him.”
“But these things, don’t they have a short range?” she asked. “Cantu was in Atlanta when we got here.”
“Cantu knew of this place from the beginning. He’s a patient killer. Dropped the dog in these woods long before we even thought of coming here.”
“And since we arrived, Paco’s been transmitting?” she asked.
“Not quite. You’re correct about the range on this thing. A mile, mile and a half at the outside, so it depends on when he got into the vicinity.”
“Then we make a sweep of a mile radius damn it. We find him and take him out. Not the dog.”
“”We use the dog, Kat.”
She paced the room. “You said the chip also controlled Paco’s behavior, turned him into a killer. How?”
“I’ve seen these during my time in the military. A chip that is not only a transmitter, but a receiver. It doubles as a shock inducer.”
“Shock inducer? Like a trigger?”
“The dog is trained on kill mode if it takes a shock where the device is implanted. Look, Kat, you know all about Pavlov’s dog, right. What else would make him race out of a warm, well-lit place and out into a raging storm like he did last night?”
“So you want to take advantage of a dumb animal?”
“Why’s he all of a sudden a dumb animal?”
“I mean innocent.”
“He’s a working dog, Kat, and now he’s counter intelligence. Let me demonstrate.” He turned off the radio that’d kept Cantu from hearing any of their conversation. He then demonstrated, opening the bath door to allow Paco back into the fold, pretending nothing had happened. “Thank God for your laptop we got Atlanta PD on the way.”
She played along, adding, “A-And it’s good to know they’re on their way.”
“In the meantime, they put in a call to Blue Lake to look in on us.”
“Tonight by cover of darkness, we’ll take the kids and Nora outta here.”
“Yes, tonight, after dark set in.”
He then put Paco away again, closing the door on his whimpering. Whispering, he said to Kat, “I hope Cantu was awake for that.”
“Still can’t believe that Paco’s a mule for the creep, and all this time I thought he loved us.”
“In Doggie World it’s—love the one you’re with. Man’s best friend,” muttered Marcus. Ol’ Yeller, faithful and true, I think not.”
Kat sniffled. “ Awww…Paco. Bad dog.”
“He’s no Lassie, but the dog’s been played just like the rest of us,” said Marcus, feeling a bit of sympathy for the black animal. “Cut him some slack.”
“Me? What about you?”
“In the end, it isn’t his doing but Cantu’s.”
“I feel…betrayed. All this time, I thought he was mine.”
“They say a dog serves only one master.”
“So, OK, obviously I can’t change your mind, but are you sure, Marcus, that you can reverse the bug?”
“And the shock.”
“Execution by dog.”
“I Jerry-rigged the device to work for us, but can’t be sure of its working. As for determining the right sequence of electrical shocks to press his kill button, no. I haven’t a clue, so we’re not counting on his turning on Cantu and ripping out his throat.”
“What’s to keep him from turning on us again?”
“I removed the shock wire.”
“Will the transmitter work?”
“I set it to hopefully a frequency he’s not using. But honestly, it’s a toss up. Fifty-fifty chance, maybe a little better.”
She scrunched her face up at him.
“Hey, I never said I guarantee my work.”
“Some PI.” She sent a pretend punch to his arm. “This time when the creep calls for Paco with whatever signal he uses—”
“We’ll know his moves; possibly zero in on his location. Just follow where the dog leads, if we can keep up. This dog moves fast.”
She nodded. “And he’ll assume one or more of us was attacked by the dog. So So why’re we waiting? Why not release Paco?”
“First we’ve got to get Nora and her kids across the lake and out of harm’s way.”
“I’ll tell Nora and the kids we’re leaving as soon as possible.”
“It’s best to do it in daylight.”
“Yeah…while the monster, we hope, sleeps.”
“We’ll send Paco out first. See what we can pick up out there.” He indicated the receiver, a made-over cell phone.
He released the dog, but Paco didn’t want to go. Paco instead hung about the driveway. Marcus had to throw rocks at him to get him to go; his demeanor was at the complete opposite spectrum of the attack dog that’d showed himself two hours before. Like dealing with a schizophrenic dog, Marcus thought.
At the same time, Kat searched out the children and Nora.
As he worked to run the dog off, Marcus struggled to recall everything that had been said in the dog’s presence. It seemed an impossible task, but one thing was sure, the dog was “transmitting” when they’d lied about how they intended getting the Mierkys across the lake and out of the area by cover of night.
A voice in his head said, Paco wasn’t here when we talked about the crawl space escape route….therefore, Cantu can’t know about it. It made sense for them all to get to the boat as soon as possible now. To climb in it and motor away to the far side of the lake.
If the boat were still tethered and undamaged by the storm. He’d raised it out of the water in the small, covered boat launch, but he’d not had time to determine its condition since then. If the boat were fine, and if the escape came off quietly and effectively via the secret route below the deck. If Cantu remained in the dark.
All big ifs.
# # #
After sending Paco out on his counter intelligence mission and wishing him well, Marcus said a silent prayer and rushed back inside to round up the others. He ushered everyone downstairs to what the kids were calling the secret room, where Danny easily found the way out and his way beneath the deck. “Wait up for me, Danny,” Marcus called out. “I go first on this secret mission, understood?”
Soon they were lined up behind Marcus, all inching along on all fours beneath the deck to the open panel at the end. “Wait until I give the signal,” Marcus told the others, crouching through dried leaves that, in a silent forest, might sound like ringing a bell, but all the noises of the forests abounded, covering any noise they made. “Only when you see me signal for you to come out,” he repeated. “Then and only then do you follow. Got that, kids?”
“When’ll that be?” asked Danny.
“When I get the boat into the water, I’ll signal, and when you get to me, all of you get into the boat as fast as you can.”
“What about Paco?” asked Jennifer.
“He told me he wants to stay and guard the house,” replied Marcus.
“He said that, did he?” asked Kat, smiling at him.
“All right, watch for my signal.”
From the house and from below the deck, the boat in dry dock could not be seen as the lift was behind trees. Paco came out of nowhere—out of hiding suddenly to join Marcus the moment he made free of the deck and started running for the boat. Paco yipped at his heels in play. The children giggled. The plan was ruined before it’d begun.
When Marcus arrived at the dry dock, he found the boat gone; someone, most possibly Cantu, had set it adrift on the lake some hundred yards off, twirling about with some sort of haze or fog over it that in a moment he recognized as smoke.
Now what, he wondered. Is Cantu watching right now, laughing at me?
He knew that it’d be Kat’s first question too when she learned of the boat’s having been set adrift. Just then Stan’s boy, Danny came around the corner, impatient for his signal. He shouted, “It’s gone!” He turned back and shouted to his mother and the others, “The boat’s gone!”
Katrina showed up behind Danny, followed by Jennifer and Nora. Together they stared out at the smoldering boat. Something’s afire in the bottom of your boat, Marcus,” Nora unnecessarily pointed out. Even if we could get to it, it isn’t safe. It’s going to sink.”
“Make for the car then,” he said.
“But Marcus,” began Kat,“if he’s sabotaged the boat, who knows what he’s done to the car.”
“Do you think its rigged to ignite?” asked Nora.
“Who? Who’s doing this to us?” cried Jennifer, grabbing onto her mother. “And where’s Carl?”
No one wanted to answer Jennifer. Instead, they hustled the children back toward the safety of the house, and once inside, Marcus rushed the car and climbed beneath, checking for any dangerous devices. Finding none, he opened the hood and found the Jeep’s wiring ripped apart, the distributor cap missing. “Son of a bitch,” he bellowed, searched the dense woods, saw nothing, and backed his way into the house.
Once inside again, he told the others, “I’m going for the boat.”
“I’ll swim for it, get in, get it back here.”
“He’s surely jammed the motor.”
“There’re oars at the dock.”
“Let me understand this,” Kat began. “You’re going to swim maybe eighty or a hundred yards—”
“With oars strapped to my back,” he put in.
“With oars dragging behind you? In your condition and at your—”
“Kat, I’m not sitting here and doing nothing while that lunatic decides when and where any longer.”
“But if he sees you in an open boat, a burning one at that, he could take you out with a single shot. He’s a marine, a sniper you said.”
“I have to risk it…hope that he’s playing by night, sleeping by day. Besides, you read his letters. He doesn’t want me dead before…”
“Go ahead, say it, before he rest of us are killed.”
“Before I suffer seeing you all die around me.”
She gnashed her teeth. “It’s still too great a risk. Suppose he changes his mind; suppose he lies?”
“It’s a risk I have to take.”
She grabbed him, held him. “I’m sorry for all the mean thoughts, and the mean things I’ve ever said or done to you, Morg.”
“Like hold a gun on me?”
“Yeah…like hold a gun on you.”
He pulled away. She stopped him, bit her lower lip, pouted, and then she kissed him. He returned the kiss. “I’ll be back, promise.”
“You better keep that one.”
# # #
From the house, using binoculars, Kat watched the drama on the lake. She could see Marcus, the two heavy oars like a target on his back, slowly stroking his way toward the boat. The distance looked impossible, but Marcus was a big man and strong. All the same, she worried terribly. Suppose he should seize up and black out in the water? You’d drown and spoil Cantu’s fun, she mentally screamed at Marcus. Then she had a final supposition: Suppose Cantu put a sniper’s bullet in Marcus?
Danny was the next to see Marcus out on the water from the windows. Now everyone saw and watched the drama that disappeared and returned as the tops of trees obliterated the view. At one point, losing sight of Marcus was too much for Kat, and she opened the glass doors and rushed out to the railing to keep Marcus in sight, when Danny, followed by Jennifer, rushed out after. Katrina grabbed the children and ushered them back inside, handing them off to Nora and ordering everyone to remain inside. She then returned the railing at the end of the deck.
From inside, Nora and the kids watched Katrina’s panic at the railing.
Far below them, Kat saw that Marcus had lost one of the oars to the lake, and that he continued to struggle out to the boat with the single oar left him. Marcus continued with clean, even strokes, narrowing the distance between himself and the boat.
“Even if he can get the boat back here,” came Nora’s Georgia drawl in Kat’s ear, “ it’ll take some repair so far as I can see,” She’d come out to join her and had placed an arm over Kat’s shoulder.”
“Marcus’ll take care of it. He’ll take care of everything,” Kat assured the other woman.
“Come back inside where it’s safe, Kat. If we lose you…what would we do?”
Kat took her advice. Watching Marcus pull this stunt was just too frightening in and of itself. Once back inside, Danny asked, “Who’s doing this to us? Mom? Kat?”
“It’s the man that killed Daddy,” said Jennifer to her brother.
“Whoa…who told you that?” asked Nora, looking accusingly at Kat.
“I heard you and Kat talking last night when you thought I was asleep.”
“Then you’re a brave little girl,” said Kat as Nora swooped Jennifer in her arms. Danny clung to them both.
Katrina turned back to the plate glass window and looked through the binoculars at the drifting boat, the smoke over it having dissipated somewhat, and she tried to measure the distance still remaining between Marcus and the boat. And she wondered anew what would happen this moment should he black out.