Thanksgiving protector, p.17

Thanksgiving Protector, страница 17

 

Thanksgiving Protector
 

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  He caught a glimpse of Lena’s dust cloud when the road straightened out but couldn’t spot the car. He gripped the wheel as the needle edged past fifty miles an hour on the curving section of road.

  He felt a sense of urgency and concern for Kylie’s and Mercedes’s safety. Lena knew they were on to her. She wouldn’t care about taking things slowly or covering her tracks anymore.

  Down below, he saw where the dirt road joined with the highway. Lena’s blue Lexus was swallowed up by a cluster of cars. Tracking her now would be hard. All the same, he pressed the accelerator and headed down toward the highway. Choosing a gap in the cars and merging with the traffic, he headed back toward El Paso.

  Austin wove in and out of traffic. He spotted the Lexus only once and then lost it when she slipped out of view after passing a semi truck. Brent had probably already phoned headquarters so they would have alerted highway patrol to be on the lookout for her car. Chasing after her himself would be a waste of time. If he really wanted to help, he needed to warn Kylie.

  Austin knew the last person Kylie wanted to hear from was him. But she needed to know that she was in danger. The outskirts of El Paso came into view.

  He tried Kylie’s number. The phone rang five times before going to message. “Kylie, this is Austin. Listen, I think Lena might have had something to do with the attempts on your life. If she comes anywhere near you, don’t trust her. Give me a call. I just need to hear your voice.”

  It was possible she was so busy packing, she hadn’t heard the phone or had chosen to ignore it when she saw it was Austin’s number. Austin decided he needed to swing by and make sure Kylie was okay.

  He took the exit off the freeway that was close to Kylie’s place. He would endure Kylie’s anger if it turned out Lena had simply flown the coop instead of seeking revenge. He just needed to know she and Mercedes were safe.

  Up ahead, a street was closed off to dig up a sewer pipe. Austin rerouted himself and zigzagged through a residential area to get back on the main thoroughfare that led to Kylie’s apartment complex. The detour had cost him about ten minutes.

  His phone rang. Kylie. He let out a breath as the tightness in his chest subsided.

  Kylie’s voice sounded a little cold. “I saw you called. I was busy packing.”

  “Did you hear the message?”

  “No. I’ve been busy. Just a second. That’s the door.”

  Austin listened as he heard voices, a conversation that was too far from the phone for him to follow.

  Then Kylie shouted. “Lena, you don’t want to do this!”

  Austin’s heart skipped a beat. Kylie was in trouble and she was letting him know it.

  Austin pressed the gas as he raced through the city, praying that Kylie and Mercedes were still alive.

  * * *

  Lena held a gun on her. Kylie’s first thought was that Mercedes was in the next room playing in her crib. She needed to protect her baby at all costs.

  Kylie put her phone on an entryway table and held her palms toward Lena. “Lena, you don’t want to do this.” The phone was still on. Maybe Austin would hear what was going on.

  “Sure I do. You destroyed the great life Greg and I were setting up. Why didn’t you have Greg’s back?”

  This was her chance to find out why Greg had really been killed. “I followed standard protocol. Greg died because of who he was really working for.”

  “We had to do it. His pay was an insult. The cartel gave us the money we deserved.”

  “Was that you who pushed me and poisoned me?” Kylie’s heart beat out a wild rhythm.

  “Pathetic attempts. Took me a while to find Greg’s gun at the cabin.”

  Kylie focused on Lena’s face while looking for an opening that would be enough for Kylie to use her training to disable Lena. She chose her words carefully, hoping to provoke Lena into making a mistake. “Maybe if Greg hadn’t felt so much pressure from you to live the high life, he would still be alive today.”

  Lena’s face turned beet red as she raised the gun.

  Kylie dove toward Lena’s hand to try to force Lena to drop the weapon. The two women struggled. It went off.

  Kylie squeezed Lena’s wrist on the nerve endings until she dropped the gun. Both women scrambled for the gun, which slid across the wood floor underneath the couch. Lena snatched a lamp off a side table and crashed it against the side of Kylie’s head. Lena crawled across the floor and retrieved the gun.

  Mercedes cried from the next room.

  No, dear God, no.

  “Ha.” Lena burst to her feet and stomped into Mercedes’s bedroom.

  Despite the overwhelming panic and dizziness from being hit, Kylie pushed herself to her feet and hurried after Lena. Lena was leaning over the crying baby when Kylie stepped into the room. “Don’t you touch her.”

  “I’ll do what I want.” Lena’s eyes flared with anger and she pointed the gun at Kylie.

  Mercedes reached for Kylie. She didn’t dare move toward the crib while the gun was aimed at her, so she tried to comfort her daughter with her voice. “It’s all right, baby girl. I’m right here.”

  Mercedes cried even louder, arching her whole body backward.

  “Don’t hurt her.” Mercedes’s crying made Kylie’s heart squeeze tight.

  Lena scowled at her. “Come over here and get this kid before she gives me a headache.”

  Kylie rushed over and lifted Mercedes out of the crib, holding her close and making soothing sounds even though her own heart was pounding with fear.

  When she looked up, Lena held the gun on both of them. “You’re going to get in your car and you’re going to drive. Do you hear me?”

  Kylie nodded, wondering exactly what Lena had in mind.

  Lena held the gun close to her body so no one would notice it as she forced Kylie to walk out to her car. Kylie glanced side to side, but there was no one she could call to for help. No one was around at this hour. It was getting dark and people were probably inside eating dinner.

  She placed Mercedes in her car seat. The baby kicked her legs, trying to get Kylie to smile. Kylie’s eyes warmed with tears as she leaned in and kissed her baby on the forehead. She ran a finger down Mercedes’s cheek, saying a prayer that they would both get out of this alive.

  Lena’s words pelted her back. “Get in the car and drive.”

  As she climbed in behind the wheel, Kylie fumbled with the keys, trying to control the tremble in her fingers.

  Lena slid into the passenger side of the car and pointed the gun at Kylie. “Now drive out of the city into the desert. I’m sure you know lots of good places where no one can find two bodies.”

  So that was it. Lena was going to kill both of them.

  “Lena, why are you doing this? Do you really want to face a murder rap? You could walk away right now with no charges against you.”

  “I’m a bookkeeper, who do you think kept track of the money?” Lena bent toward Kylie and poked the barrel of the gun into her upper arm. “Thanks to you and your friends poking around, all of it is going to come out.” Lena spat out her words.

  “Please, kill me if you must. You’ll have to drive the car back out of the desert. Just abandon the car and leave Mercedes in it. Someone will find her.” She prayed it would be someone who wouldn’t harm her baby. “Or let me leave Mercedes in the apartment, please.” It was the only chance she had to save Mercedes. “She’s innocent.”

  Lena unbuckled her seat belt and pressed even closer to Kylie so her mouth was inches from Kylie’s ear. “You took away someone I loved. So I’m going to take away someone you love. Then you’ll know how it feels. Now drive.”

  After a few minutes, Lena stared out the window and then poked Kylie with the gun. “I have a better idea. Take me to where Greg died.”

  Te
ars streamed down Kylie’s cheeks as she fought off the despair that consumed her. She stared through the windshield as the city clipped by. There was still a chance for her and her baby to get out alive. They were both still breathing. God was in control. Evil could not prevail. She would come up with a plan.

  The buildings grew farther apart when they came to the edge of the city and desert stretched before her.

  Mercedes made ooh and ahh sounds from the back seat. Kylie squeezed her eyes open and closed real fast, pushing past the sense of doom that seemed to surround her. Mercedes’s innocent voice was like knife slices on her skin, knowing it was her fault that her precious little girl was in danger.

  Though she could feel hope fading, she wasn’t about to give up. Kylie checked the rearview mirror. No one was behind them.

  It was up to her to save herself and Mercedes before this woman, blinded by rage and grief, put bullets in both of them.

  TWENTY

  When Austin pulled up to Kylie’s apartment complex, her car was five blocks ahead of him and about to turn a corner. Lena’s Lexus was parked on the street. Kylie was clearly in danger. His guess was the two women and the baby were in that car. He could only imagine what Lena had in mind. He hung back, not wanting to alert Lena that she was being followed. He thought about calling for backup, but worried that it might spook Lena into lashing out. Better to figure out where she was going, and then form a plan to neutralize the danger.

  When the car turned the corner, he sped up. He followed them through residential streets until it was clear they were headed for the edge of the city. He knew the streets well enough to intersect them. They sped past him while he waited at a stop sign. He caught a quick glimpse of Kylie at the wheel. There were enough cars on the road that he could stay back and still track them. As they got farther out of town and traffic thinned, he slowed down but still kept the car in sight.

  Now he knew where they were going, toward the old salsa factory where Greg had been shot.

  Austin clicked on his radio. “Requesting backup. Kylie and daughter believed to have been abducted by Lena Norton, who is likely armed and dangerous. Headed up Old Millhouse Road toward the salsa factory.” He gave the dispatcher the license number and description of Kylie’s car.

  He turned abruptly onto a dirt road that was overgrown. He knew a cross-country shortcut to the factory that Kylie had talked about on one of their surveillances together.

  The SUV bounced along the rutted road. He let up on the gas. The road was rougher than he’d expected, forcing him to go slower. It was too late to turn back. He prayed his decision wouldn’t cost Kylie and Mercedes their lives.

  * * *

  “I think this is a fitting place for you to die, don’t you?”

  Kylie pulled up to the salsa factory. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she struggled to get a deep breath. She caught a glimpse of Mercedes in the back seat. “Please, you haven’t thought this through. They’ll catch you.”

  “That is where you are wrong. I learned all about how you guys work from Greg. They will find your car miles from here, which will lead them off the trail. Thanks to Garcia, I have friends in low places who will pick me up. After that, I have enough money so I can just disappear.”

  “Please.” Kylie felt like her spine was being shaken from the inside. “At least let Mercedes live. Take her to a fire station. For the love of God, she’s just a baby.”

  Lena seemed unmoved by Kylie’s plea. “I would have gotten out of El Paso much sooner, if it wasn’t for the unfinished business of making you suffer like I’ve suffered. Plus, leaving too soon would have cast suspicion on me.” Lena waved the gun. “Keep your hands on the wheel. Don’t get out of the car until I do.”

  Lena trained the gun on Kylie while she pushed the door open and hurried around to the driver’s side. “Now open your door and toss me the keys.” Kylie pulled the keys out of the ignition.

  There would be no chance of escape once she gave up the keys.

  “Hurry up.” Lena moved in and pointed the gun through the window at Mercedes.

  The woman’s eyes were wild. Lena was beyond being able to reason with.

  Kylie tossed the keys out on the ground. Still pointing the gun at Kylie, Lena backed up, picked up the keys and put them in her jacket pocket.

  Kylie’s heartbeat drummed in her ears like a funeral dirge. Once she was holding Mercedes, there would be no opportunity to take Lena out. But there was nothing stopping Lena from firing at any moment if Kylie didn’t cooperate. So she followed the instructions to get out of the car. Go to the back seat. Open the door to take out Mercedes.

  Mercedes smiled at her. Kylie’s gaze darted around the back seat, searching for a weapon, until she saw a window scraper used for the rare times it snowed in El Paso.

  “Come on. Hurry up,” Lena said.

  Kylie mimed unbuckling Mercedes while she picked up the scraper, whirled around and threw it at Lena like a boomerang. The scraper hit Lena in the forehead, stunning her for a moment. Kylie dove toward her, knocking her to the ground. The two women wrestled. Lena slapped Kylie’s face and pulled her hair. Her eyes watering, Kylie flipped over on her stomach and tried to crawl away.

  Lena grabbed her foot.

  Rage like she had never known surged through Kylie. No one was going to hurt her daughter. She kicked Lena hard in the nose.

  Lena screamed in pain, placing her hand on her nose and turning away.

  Kylie searched frantically for the gun, which Lena must have dropped. She didn’t see it anywhere, but the glint of metal from the setting sun caught her eye. The keys. They must have fallen out of Lena’s pocket. Kylie picked them up and raced back toward the car.

  She jumped in and twisted the key in the ignition. The car roared to life as she slammed the door. Lena had recovered and was standing holding the gun.

  Kylie hit the gas. Shots shattered the back window.

  Mercedes cried out. Kylie glanced over her shoulder. The baby was alive.

  More shots echoed through the car. The car jerked and slowed as the back tires deflated.

  “Come on.” Kylie pressed the gas out of sheer desperation, even knowing that she couldn’t reach the road. She wouldn’t be escaping in the car with two flat tires.

  She was so grateful for the sound of Mercedes crying. It meant the bullets hadn’t found her baby. When she glanced back, she saw no crimson stain on Mercedes. The cry sounded more like it stemmed from fear rather than pain.

  Please, God, don’t let her be hit.

  The car jerked forward then stopped altogether. Lena was running toward her.

  Kylie jumped out of the car, hoping to keep Lena from getting to Mercedes.

  Lena fired another shot while she ran toward Kylie. The shot went wild.

  How many rounds had been fired? Four, maybe five. Kylie ran toward the factory. It was a risk. What if Lena decided to hold Mercedes hostage instead of chasing after her? Lena touched off two more rounds. Kylie dove to the ground, hoping Lena would fire again and use up her bullets.

  Lena stalked toward Kylie. A handgun was only good at close range. All Kylie had to do was keep some distance between herself and Lena.

  Kylie jumped up and ran toward the next bit of cover, a pile of twisted metal. Lena took the bait and fired off two more shots. Kylie ran into the building and pressed against a wall. Lena had one, maybe two shots left.

  Kylie heard footsteps coming toward her. Then they stopped.

  Kylie took in a breath that felt like it had sharp edges on it.

  She didn’t hear retreating footsteps. That was a good sign. Lena was in the building too.

  Then Kylie saw the glow of headlights in the distance coming from the back side of the factory where the wall had been torn away. Maybe Austin understood her message on the phone and cal
led the police. But how would they know to find her at the salsa factory?

  “It’s over, Lena. Help is on the way,” she bluffed.

  “How do you know that’s not one of my friends?” From the breathlessness of her words, Lena was in motion again. “You know what this old building is used for. All the cartels know about it.”

  Kylie fought off the encroaching fear. If those headlights were Lena’s cohorts, she didn’t stand a chance. She angled her body to get a location on Lena.

  The woman was sprinting back toward Kylie’s car. Kylie took off at a dead run, grateful for the physical conditioning her job required that allowed her to close the distance between herself and Lena. Mercedes’s crying seemed to surround her like some sort of drumbeat. Kylie leaped through the air and tackled Lena. Lena flipped around on her back and struck out at Kylie. Too late, Kylie realized that the gun was in her hand—positioned as a bludgeon that Lena slammed into Kylie’s temple.

  Kylie’s field of vision started to close in on her. She willed herself not to pass out. Even as her vision went black, she could hear Mercedes’s plaintive and frightened cry.

  * * *

  Austin hurried around the factory with his gun drawn. Lena had just pulled herself to her feet and was looming over the fallen Kylie who lay facedown.

  “Back off, Lena.” Austin spoke with authority, though he was scared to death he was too late. “Drop the gun.”

  Lena snarled at him, but complied and held her hands up in the air.

  The sound of Mercedes crying was like music to his ears. The baby was okay.

  Austin moved in and handcuffed Lena. Kylie still wasn’t moving. Up the road, he spotted the glow of headlights. His backup was on the way.

  “Get down on your knees and don’t move,” he ordered, still training the gun on Lena. “Right there, where I can see you.”

  Still keeping an eye on Lena, Austin leaned down and touched Kylie’s bloody cheek. The tension in his chest let up a little. She was still breathing. “Kylie?”

  Two other ranger vehicles pulled into the overgrown parking lot. Men jumped out and ran toward Lena.

 
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