The trap was simplicity itself.
And as usual with simple, it worked perfectly.
In the long-abandoned fourth-floor workshop of Welbourne & Sons Fabricators, Colter Shaw moved silently through dusty wooden racks stacked with rusty tanks and drums. Twenty feet ahead, the shelves ended and beyond was a large open area, filled with ancient mahogany worktables, scuffed and stained and gone largely to rot and mold.
Here stood three men, wearing somber business suits, engaged in conversation, offering the animated gestures and the untroubled voices of those who have no idea they're being watched.
Shaw paused and, out of sight behind a row of shelves, withdrew a video camera. It was similar to any you'd pick up on Amazon or at Best Buy, except for one difference: there was no lens in front. Instead the glass eye was a tiny thing mounted on an eighteen-inch flexible stalk. This he bent at a ninety-degree angle and aimed around the side of the storage shelves before hitting record.
After a few minutes, when the men's backs were to him, he stepped out of his hiding place and moved closer, slipping behind the last row of shelves.
Which was when the trap sprung.
His shoe caught the trip wire, which in turn pulled a pin from the supporting leg of the shelf nearest to him, releasing an avalanche of tanks and cans and drums. He rolled forward onto the floor, avoiding the bigger ones, but several slammed onto his shoulders.
The three men spun about. Two were of Middle Eastern appearance-Saudi, Shaw knew. The other was Anglo, as pale as the others were dark. The taller of the Saudis-who went by Rass-held a gun, which he'd drawn quickly when Shaw made his ungainly appearance. They joined the intruder, who was rising from the grainy floor, and studied their catch: an athletic blond man in his thirties, wearing blue jeans, a black T and a leather jacket. Shaw's right hand was gripping his left shoulder. He winced as his fingers kneaded the joint.
Rass picked up the spy camera, looked it over and shut it off. He pocketed the device and Shaw said goodbye to twelve hundred dollars. This was not a priority at the moment.
Ahmad, the other Saudi, sighed. "Well."
The third man, whose name was Paul LeClaire, looked momentarily horrified and then settled into miserable.
Shaw's blue eyes glanced at the collapsed shelf with disgust and he stepped away from the drums, some of which were leaking sour-smelling chemicals.Simplicity itself...
"Wait!" LeClaire frowned. "I know him! He's working for Mr. Harmon. He's in human resources. I mean, that's what he said. But he was undercover! Shit!" His voice cracked.
Shaw wondered if he was going to cry.
"Police?" Ahmad asked LeClaire.
"I don't know. How would I know?"
"I'm not law," said Shaw. "Private." He turned a stern face to LeClaire. "Hired to find Harmon's Judas."
Ahmad walked to a window and looked out, scanned the alley. "Anyone else?" Directed at Shaw.
The man then stepped to the front of the workshop, his body language suggesting taut muscles beneath the fine gray suit. He slowly opened the door, looked out, then closed it. He returned to the others. "You," he said to LeClaire. "Check him. Weapons. And whatever's in his pockets."
weren't followed. You were careless."
"No, I wasn't. Really. I'm sure."
Ahmad lifted a palm: We're not paying you to whine.
LeClaire, more dismal by the moment, walked forward. He patted down Shaw cautiously. He was doing a sloppy job and if Shaw had been carrying, which he was not, he would have missed the semiauto Shaw often wore on his hip.
But his uneasy fingers managed to locate and retrieve the contents of Shaw's pockets. He stepped away, clutching the cell phone, cash, a folding knife, a wallet. Deposited them on a dust-covered table.
Shaw continued to knead his shoulder, and Rass tilted his head toward him, silently warning him to be cautious in his movements. Rass's finger was outside the trigger guard of the pistol. In this, he knew what he was doing. On the other hand, the gun, with its mirrored sheen of chrome plating, was showy. Not the sort a true pro would carry.Never draw attention to your weapon...
LeClaire was looking toward an open attaché case. Inside was a gray metal box measuring fourteen inches by ten by two. From it sprouted a half-dozen wires, each a different color. To Shaw he said, "He knows? About me? Mr. Harmon knows?"
Colter Shaw rarely responded to questions whose answers were as obvious as the sky.
And sometimes you didn't answer just to keep the inquirer on edge. The businessman rubbed thumb and index finger together. Both hands. Curiously simultaneous. The misery factor expanded considerably.
Ahmad looked at the phone. "Passcode."
Rass lifted the gun.
One wouldn't be much of a survivalist to get killed over a PIN. Shaw recited the digits.
Ahmad scrolled. "Just says he's coming to the factory to check out a lead. It's sent to a local area code. Others to the same number. He has our names." A look to LeClaire. "All of ours."
"He's been onto you for a while, Paul." Ahmad scrolled some more, then tossed the phone to a desk. "No immediate risk. The plans still hold. But let's get this over with." He removed a thick envelope from his pocket and handed it to LeClaire, who, not bothering to count his pieces of silver, stuffed it away.
"And him?" LeClaire's strident voice asked.
Ahmad thought for a moment, then gestured Shaw back, against a wall.
Shaw walked to where the man indicated and continued to massage his shoulder. Pain radiated downward, as if pulled by gravity.
Ahmad picked up the wallet and riffled through the contents, then put the billfold in his pocket. "All right. I know who you are, how to find you. But I don't think that troubles you so much." He scanned Shaw, face to feet. "You can take care of yourself. But I also
have the names of everyone on your in-case-of-emergency list. What you're going to do is tell Harmon you tracked the thief here but by the time you managed to get into the factory we were gone."
LeClaire said, "But he knows it's me!"
Ahmad and Rass seemed as tired of the whimpering as Shaw was.
"Are we clear on everything?"
"Couldn't be clearer." Shaw turned to Paul LeClaire. "But I have to ask: Aren't you feeling the least bit guilty? There are
about two million people around the world whose lives you just ruined."
He really couldn't think up any better retort?
Silence filled the room... No, near
silence, moderated by white noise, unsettling, like the hum of coursing blood in your skull.
Shaw looked over the configuration of where each man stood and he realized that examining the wallet and the in-case-of-emergency threat were tricks-to get him to move to a certain spot in the room, away from the drums that had tumbled to the floor when the trap sprung. Ahmad had no intention of letting him go. He simply didn't want to take the risk of his partner shooting toward canisters that might contain flammable chemicals.
Why not kill him and buy time? The Saudis would be out of the country long before Shaw's body was discovered. And as for LeClaire, he'd done his part, and they couldn't care less what happened to him. He might even be a good fall guy for the murder.
Ahmad's dark eyes turned toward Rass and his shiny pistol.
"Wait," Shaw said harshly. "There's something I-"2
You're a lucky SOB, Merritt."
The pale and gaunt prisoner, unshaven, brows knit, looked at the uniformed screw.
The guard glanced at Merritt's balding head, as if just realizing now that the man had more hair when he'd begun serving his sentence than now. What a difference a near year makes.
The men, both tough, both fatigued, faced each other through a half-inch of bulletproof glass, a milky sheet as smeared as the walls were scuffed. The business end of eighty-year-old Trevor County Detention had no desire, or reason, to pretty itself up.
Slim, tall Jon Merritt was dressed in a dark suit-the deepest shade of navy blue, good for job interviews and funerals. It was a size too big. A complementing white shirt too, frayed where frays happen. The last time he had worn this outfit was more than ten months ago. In the interim his garb, not of his choosing, had been bright orange.
"You're looking like an ace," the guard said. Larkin was a large Black man whose uniform was much the same shade as Merritt's suit.
"Oh, I just shine, don't I?"
The guard paused, maybe wondering how stinging the sarcasm was meant to be. "Here you go."
Merritt took the envelope that contained his wallet, watch and wedding ring. The ring went into his pocket, the watch onto his wrist. The battery had behaved and the instrument showed the correct time: 9:02 a.m.
Looking through the wallet. The bills-$140-were still there, but the envelope no longer contained the coins he'd had. A credit card and an ATM card were present too. He was surprised.
"I had a phone, a book, paperback. Socks. A pen."
The pen he'd used to jot notes to his attorney at the hearing. It was a nice one, the sort you put a refill in, not threw out.
Larkin riffled through more envelopes and a cardboard box. "That's all that's here." He lifted a huge hand. "Stuff disappears. You know."
More important: "And some work I did in the shop. William said I could keep it."
The screw consulted a sheet. "There's a box outside the door. On the rack. You didn't come in with it so you don't gotta sign." He prowled through more paperwork. Found two envelopes, business size, and pushed them through.
"Discharge documents. Sign the receipt."
Merritt did and put the envelopes in his pocket fast, feeling that if he read them now, he'd see a mistake. The screw could catch it too and say, sorry, back inside.
"And these." He slid Merritt a small business card. "Your parole officer. Be in touch in twenty-four hours. No excuses." Another card made the short trip. It was a doctor's appointment reminder. It was for eleven today.
"Take care, Merritt. And don't come back."
With not a single word he turned. The lock buzzed and snapped and the thick metal door opened. Merritt walked through it. Beside the door, on the rack Larkin had mentioned, was a cardboard box, about one by two feet, j. merritt
on the side. He picked it up and walked to the exit gate in the chain-link. The barricade clattered as it crawled sideways.
Then Jon Merritt was outside, on the go-where-you-will sidewalk.
He felt odd, disoriented. Dizzy. This did not last long. It was like the time he and some cop friends went party boat fishing and it took him a little time to find his sea legs.
Then, steadying, he turned south. Inhaling deeply, wondering if the air outside tasted different from the air inside. Couldn't tell.
His feet hurt already. Merritt had enough cash to buy shoes-he wasn't sure if his cards still worked-but it was easier and cheaper to go to the U-Store facility, where his possessions resided.
The light changed and Merritt started across the asphalt, shoulders slumped, in his tight shoes and baggy, somber suit. On his way to a job interview.
Or a funeral.3
"Wait. There's something I-"
Colter Shaw's words were interrupted by a loud bang from one of the drums that had tumbled to the floor. A huge, dense cloud of yellow gas poured from it and filled the room. In seconds it was impossible to see a foot ahead.
The men began choking.
"What is it?"
"Some shit from the factory!"
The words dissolved into coughs.
"That man... He can't leave here. Stop him. Now!" This was from Ahmad.
Rass couldn't fire, though, not with the lack of visibility.
Shaw crouched, staying under cover of the cloud. He moved in a wide circle.
"I can't see him!"
"There! He's there! Going for the window."
"We're four stories up. Let him jump." Ahmad again.
"No, he's going the other way." Panicky LeClaire's voice was high.
"It's going to kill us! Out. Now!"
Their voices fell into choked shouts and obscenities and then went silent as they pushed toward the door.
Shaw felt his way back through the shelves and to the window he'd entered the factory through. Choking, he descended the fire escape to a decrepit dock that jutted into the river. He jogged over the uneven wood, dark with creosote and slick with ancient oil, and climbed down into an alley that ran beside the factory from the river to Manufacturers Row.
He walked to the dumpster that sat halfway down the alley and worked on clearing his lungs, hawking, spitting, inhaling deeply. The coughing stopped, but what he was breathing here wasn't much better than the fumes. The air was laced with the acrid off-gases from the wide Kenoah River, its hue jaundice brown. He'd come to know the scent quite well; the distinctive sour perfume hung over much of central Ferrington.
At the dumpster, whose top was open, he scanned around and saw no one nearby. First he lifted out the gray Blackhawk inside-the-belt holster containing his Glock, the model 42, and clipped it in place. Then a thirty-two-ounce bottle of water. He filled his mouth and spit several times. Then he drank down half of what remained and collected his personal effects.
Hand on the grip of his weapon, he looked about once more.
No sign of Rass and his small silver gun, or the other men. Were they searching for him?
Walking to the front of the alley, Shaw noted that the answer was no. The three hurried away from the factory, Ahmad clutching the briefcase. The Saudis climbed into their Mercedes, and LeClaire his Toyota. The vehicles sped off in different directions.
Shaw returned to the dumpster.
Reaching inside, he extracted a backpack and into it he slipped the gray metal box that had been in the attaché case upstairs. He slung the bag over his shoulder and exited the alley onto gloomy Manufacturers Row. He turned right, pulling a phone from the pack and sending several texts.
He then continued his walk toward downtown Ferrington.
Thinking of the trap.
Indeed it was simple and efficient. But it was also one of Shaw's making, not one set by the three men in the room.
Hired by a corporate CEO a week ago to stop the theft of a revolutionary industrial component, which had been designed by the CEO’s most brilliant engineer, Shaw had narrowed the list of suspects to LeClaire. The scrawny, nervous I.T. man—a compulsive and bad gambler—had arranged to sell the device to the Saudi buyers. Shaw had learned that the transfer was going down in the factory this morning.
While the CEO just wanted the device—known by the acronym S.I.T.—recovered and the identity of the thief revealed, Shaw thought it was a better idea to swap the real one for a fake that contained a GPS tracker, which would reveal its ultimate destination and, ideally, the identity of the buyer.
Shaw’s private eye, based in the nation’s capital, had found a PI in Ferrington, Lenny Caster. He’d assembled tools, surveillance gear and some other supplies. Then, last night, the two men had rigged the tripwire in the Wellbourne & Sons factory. Shaw had placed a military-style smoke bomb in one of the oil drums that would fall when the "trap" sprung.
In a van not far away, Caster had been monitoring the entire incident via a bug planted in the workshop. When he heard their code—“Wait. There’s something I--”—he triggered the bomb, releasing the dense smoke, whose recipe Shaw and his siblings had been taught by their father, obscuring clouds like this one being just another aspect of the art and science of survivalism. Shaw had made the batch himself with potassium chlorate oxidizer, lactose as a fuel and solvent yellow 33, along with a dash of sodium bicarbonate to decrease the temperature of the burn. Trespassing was one thing; arson another.
Copyright © 2022 by Jeffery Deaver. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.