Minute Zero
179 pages
English

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179 pages
English

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Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
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Description

When the world ends in a heartbeat, suddenly old secrets don’t matter anymore.  But new ones still do, and protecting the ones you love is the only thing that still remains.


Two sisters, one a trendy caterer on the run from a vicious killer, the other a country midwife.


Because of a simple mistake, Lori Dovner must flee from the vicious mafioso Raoul Saldata, and her life goes from routine day to terrifying journey in a single moment. On the road with her two children, her only goal is to get to her sister’s Montana farm alive.  But both Lori and Louise have been hiding a devastating secret for years.


Two brothers, one a Navy Seal on leave, the other a good man who wants to do right by his family.


Captain Deacon Hale is taking two weeks to help his brother Roger and his wife Louise on their remote Montana farm.  He loved Lori once, but has finally put her behind him.  Roger Hale just wants to give his pregnant wife and two young children a good life.  He has no idea about the betrayals that have been hidden from him. 


Dangerous identity.


Angela Jones is an FBI agent with a terrible debt that she knows she will someday have to pay.  And when Raoul Saldata calls in that marker she has no choice but to comply.


Evil incarnate.


Raoul Saldata as a child in Albania, would pretend he was a dhampir, the offspring resulting from the mating between a human female and a vampire.  A myth of course, but the evil Saldata practices is anything but.  And when he finds Lori Dovner, he intends to do a lot more than just kill her.


“Minute Zero” Stronghold: Book One is an apocalyptic EMP thriller (with a touch of romance) about an ordinary family struggling to stay safe and find each other in the face of insurmountable odds, an abysmal loss of life and the dawn of a new, post-apocalyptic dark age.     


 


Sujets

Informations

Publié par
Date de parution 11 septembre 2020
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781645635079
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0000€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Minute Zero
Stronghold Book One


Chris Jayne
Published by Inferis Press

©2020
All rights reserved.

No part of the book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Chris Jayne
Minute Zero

eBook ISBN: 978-1-64563-507-9
Print ISBN: 978-1-64563-508-6
Audio ISBN: 978-1-64563-509-3
v7

Cover Art by Inferis Press
Contents




I. Minute Zero


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3


II. One Week Earlier


Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39


Day Zero


Chapter 1

Chapter 2


Chris Jayne
Part I

Minute Zero
Chapter 1



Lori
Monday
11:00 AM Mountain Time
Graystone Rest Area, I90, Montana
L ori Dovner dried her hands on a paper towel, then froze as she caught her own reflection in the grimy restroom mirror. A punk rock college student after a rough night out stared back, pale, utterly disheveled. She looked nineteen, short spikes of black hair everywhere.
What happened to the most sought-after private chef in Miami? What happened to the thirty-four-year-old mother of two? Her friends and clients back home would certainly be shocked to see her now. People invited her into their homes and opened their kitchens to her, expecting her to make an excellent impression on their guests, and she never met the public without carefully tasteful makeup, an expensive handbag, good shoes. Now, she wore no cosmetics, her careless appearance exacerbated by the tacky plastic sunglasses she’d taken to wearing in public, so stupidly large that they approached Elton John proportions. Nevertheless, they had the desired effect. Her five-year-old had cried the first time he’d seen her, and she didn’t even recognize herself when she looked in the mirror. No stranger could possibly associate this grubby black-haired teenager in holey jeans and coffee-stained sweatshirt with the poised, immaculate professional the news channels and tabloids were showing to the public.
She paused a final second, realizing something else. Her face was noticeably thinner, even to her own eyes. It was no wonder: she’d hardly done more than pick at food for the last week. Previously there was never enough time to go to the gym, and she’d despaired for years about the last ten pounds she’d put on when she was pregnant with Brandon. Maybe she could get a new celebrity diet book out of this: “Lose Weight While Running For Your Life.” Yeah, there was a plan.
Swallowing hard, Lori pulled the glasses off, reached for a paper towel to wipe away the hot tears that had suddenly welled in her eyes as she asked the question for the millionth time: What the hell was she doing here? Then, stop , she told herself ruthlessly. Just stop. The questions had no answers. Bad things happened to good people.
Lori finished blotting her eyes, then rinsed the scratchy towel in the warm water, and wiped the parking lot grit off of her skin, telling herself that this was almost over, that she could do this. They had 130 miles to go, just a little more than two hours travel, though she spared just a second for a cynical thought. For a week, all she had wanted to do was get “to Montana,” and when they crossed the state line this morning, the cruel joke hit her: Montana was a big place. A very big place.
They still had almost 250 miles to go.
A toilet flushed. Out of the stall further down the long row, a young woman, perhaps thirty, emerged. She walked to the sink next to Lori and washed her hands. Lori gave her a brief smile as their gazes met in the mirror then turned away quickly to hide her reaction: the woman had quite the nasty bruise on one of her cheeks. Just as she did, thought, she saw the woman return her smile.
Lori watched her surreptitiously in the mirror as she walked towards the door. This sharp-looking professional didn’t seem like the type who would put up with getting popped around by a man, but, Lori reflected, you never knew. Hell, maybe she did kickboxing. In her tailored gray suit, carrying a simple, but obviously expensive black leather bag, she definitely looked out of place in the interstate rest stop which was populated mostly by folks who looked pretty much like Lori did now: jeans, sweats, tee shirts and a lot of hair that looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in days. Women who looked like this generally flew to where they were going, just as, Lori reflected, she had, at least up until now.
As she moved away, Lori was distracted by the woman’s hair. Very long, it was tied back in a neat ponytail that bounced when she walked, and Lori couldn’t stop herself from thinking, for just a second, about her own long hair that she’d cut, about how Brandon had burst into tears when she’d come out of the seedy motel bathroom with short black spikes. She took a final glance into the mirror. Yup, the only thing missing were neon blue highlights.
Enough, Lori sighed. Focus on the next task. Focus on getting your kids to Roger and Lou’s, because one thing was certain: your hair’s not going to grow if you’re dead.
Even as she looked at herself, though, she acknowledged that there was another reason she was hesitating this morning: her brother-in-law, Roger Hale. For most of the trip, she hadn’t allowed herself to think about the reason she had had a falling out with her sister five years ago, but she could avoid it no longer. There were a couple reasons, but high on the list was the fact that Lori thought her sister’s husband was an arrogant misogynistic asshole who had forced his wife - her sister - to move to some Love-Honor-Obey commune. Good looking, really good looking to be sure, (if you were allowed to have thoughts like that about your sister’s husband) but a jerk as far as Lori was concerned. No point in being polite about it, and that wasn’t going to change when she walked through the door.
Of course, there also was another reason she’d been avoiding Roger as well.
Stop it, Lori again told herself ruthlessly. She couldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The reality was that it was his door she was going to be walking through in about three hours. A niggling voice that sounded suspiciously like her father’s rang in her ears: “My house, my rules.” When she’d called Lou, without hesitation her sister had said to come to Montana. In spite of Lori’s falling out with her sister, Lou and Roger were there for her, and personal considerations took a back seat when your children’s lives were on the line.
She stuffed the cheap plastic sunglasses back on her face; she took one final second to ruffle the punk cut back up into spikes. They’d have their lunch, and then drive straight through and be to Lou’s by 3:00. And maybe tonight, in a house with her gun-toting brother-in-law, she would be able to sleep more than a couple of hours without waking in terror. She paused a final moment, wiped a stray hair back from her forehead.
As she exited the restroom she started running a mental inventory of what was left in the cooler. The kids were hoping she’d light up the camp stove and make grilled cheese or hot dogs…
A man was walking away from the men’s restroom, not five feet in front of her. For one instant, she barely noticed him, just another stranger. And then it hit her. She froze, gasped as if she had been punched, a frisson of fear slamming through her body, painful down to her fingertips.
It was Raoul Saldata.
This was the corpulent body that had haunted her dreams for the last week; she’d recognize him anywhere. The last time she’d seen him, he was wearing a bloodstained button-down dress shirt and chasing her with a knife. That shirt, of course, was gone, but it had been replaced with another that looked exactly the same, except for the blood.
Even though she could only see him from behind, there was no doubt. It was him.
Involuntarily, she shrank back towards the door of the woman’s restroom. Had he heard her gasp? Should she run? But where to?
Frozen with indecision, all she could do was watch, not breathing, but within an instant she saw he’d made no movement to alter his gait. Nothing indicated that he’d heard the small, terrified sound behind him. If she hadn’t taken the additional second to check out her hair one last time, they would have walked from the respective restrooms simultaneously. Would he have recognized her with the short hair and sunglasses? It wouldn’t have mattered, because she would have recognized him . She would not have been able to hide an instant and terrified reaction, and he certainly would have noticed that .
Snack and drink machines hummed in the foyer between the restrooms. A middle-aged woman standing at a soda machine had heard her sharp draw of breath and turned to look at her curiously. “You okay?” she asked. Just as the woman asked the question, Saldata pushed opened the glass door and left the building.
Lori watched him walk, astounded. He had left. He was not going to turn around. He really had not seen her.
“Honey?” the woman persisted. “You look like you seen a ghost.”
Her mind spinning, she glanced over at the woman who was regarding her with a look of concern. “My… uh… ex-husband,” she babbled, saying the first thing that came into her head. “What a coincidence! Out here in the middle of nowhere.” Lori gave a nervous laugh and quickly tried to minimize the situation. “Crazy!”
The woman gave her a skeptical look, then, shaking her head, went back to the candy bar choices. Lori slowly floated just a bit closer to the glass doors and watched intently as Saldata walked across a small courtyard, towards the parking lot fronting the restroom building. The cars were parked in two long rows, one facing the building and the other facing away, looking out towards the interstate.
Lori knew more blind panic. Where were Brandon and Grace? When they’d pulled into the rest area, Simone, her au pair, had brought them to the restroom while Lori had taken her German Shepherd Sasha on a quick initial trip to the fenced dog run. They had no actual reason to come back up to the restroom building, but that meant nothing to a ten-year-old and five-year-old when candy machines were involved. Would Saldata know her children if he saw them? She had to assume he would; all of their pictures had been on the news, and even if Brandon was nothing more than a typical five-year-old boy, Grace, with her long black hair and lovely quarter-Korean features was very distinctive.
What did this mean? Lori’s head spun sickly with frantic questions. Somehow, Saldata had figured out they were on their way to her sister’s. How? Did that mean he knew she was in her Aunt Sylvia’s car? Luckily, in a state where every other vehicle was either a pickup truck or an SUV, Sylvia’s black Escalade was unremarkable. Also, it was parked behind the building right by the dog run, not in the front lot where most of the cars parked. Unless someone actually saw the Florida plates, it wouldn’t stick out.
The monster who was trying to kill her walked across the parking lot to one of the cars in the row facing away, and got into a small SUV. Even at this distance Lori could see the vehicle had the distinctive Montana license plates. A rental? It must be. Parked nearly directly opposite the building’s doors, the car’s reverse lights flashed on, and Lori realized with horror that, as it backed up, the driver would be looking in the rearview mirror. Shaking, she ducked back towards the restroom door and slid between two snack machines. She had no idea if he could see through the glass doors into the foyer area, but she wasn’t taking any chances.
As the car pulled away, her heart stopped all over again. He wasn’t alone. As soon as she saw the car in profile, she saw that there were two other occupants of the vehicle. In the driver’s seat sat a man Lori recognized all too well. He’d been in Saldata’s house both times she’d been there, first for the original visit when she’d met the housekeeper and checked out the kitchen and then, the second time on the night of the party.
Actually, he’d been there all three times she’d been to Saldata’s house. The last time she’d seen him, he had tried to kill her.
The other occupant, the one in the back seat? Her vision spun and she staggered. Just when she thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.
It was the woman she’d just seen in the restroom.
The woman at the snack machine was watching her again with a look of concern. “Honey,” she repeated, “you sure you’re okay?” She reached out and caught Lori’s arm, obviously noticing that Lori was swaying on her feet.
The SUV moved out of her field of vision and Lori shook her head, wordlessly pulled out of the woman’s gentle grasp, and cautiously approached the glass doors. She held her breath in terror, imagining the worst, imaging that somehow her kids would be on the sidewalk, standing right there, in plain sight, but no. The car never slowed, and within a couple seconds, zoomed down the on-ramp towards the interstate.
Lori exhaled, a loud frantic sound that was almost a whimper.
Behind her the woman spoke. “That bad, huh?”
“Yeah,” Lori said, and walked out the door.
A path divided the front area of the rest stop, containing the restroom and snack building, from the back area, where there was tractor-trailer parking next to the dog run. Two trucks idled there and, she saw now, completely shielded the Escalade. Relief slammed through her as she saw that neither her car nor the children were even visible from this vantage point.
They had passed through Billings about an hour and half earlier; she’d even seen signs on the interstate directing traffic to the airport. Given the fact that he was in a car with Montana plates, he’d obviously flown in and rented a car.
So how was he here? Had she been spotted somewhere along the road and it was just a good guess? No, if she’d been seen somewhere, Denver for example, it would take a huge leap of faith to randomly fly three people to Montana, and, for heaven’s sake, for Saldata to come himself. Lori had no idea who Raoul Saldata was, but he wasn’t someone who put himself out in public. Raoul Saldata had others do his dirty work for him. As she sped along the path, she knew it must be more than that. This was no fishing expedition. For Saldata to fly here - with “buddies” - he had to be positive. He had to know she was here.
There was only one way he could have known. Saldata had almost certainly found Michelle and Salvadore and they had been forced to reveal her plans and destination. For the last week, she’d been trying not to think about grim images of a tortured dying man, but now they exploded in her head. She knew what lengths this man would go to.
Lori forced herself to focus on the here and now. Whatever had happened to her employees, it was done. The only way forward for Lori was to get protection, and make absolutely sure that Saldata never found her or her children.
Then, a startling awareness dawned, so staggering she stopped moving for a moment. Saldata was looking for her, obviously, but he wasn’t looking for her here . He’d never even glanced around, never scanned his surroundings as he’d walked out towards the rented vehicle. What did that mean?
Somehow Saldata had figured out that she was on the way to her sister’s. How no longer mattered, but once he’d known that, he probably guessed she’d left Miami almost immediately, last Monday, Tuesday at the latest, and he could read a map. He wasn’t looking for her here because he assumed she was ahead of him, already at Louise and Roger’s house, which she would have been if Grace hadn’t gotten so sick that they had been forced to stop at a hotel for two days. When they’d left Florida last Monday, a week ago, she’d hoped they could make the trip to her sister’s home in Montana by Friday night. They should have been to Louise’s two days ago already.
Panicked, she knew she had to warn Louise, and she started to run so fast on the path she almost stumbled, but then she forced herself to calm down. It was 130 miles from where they were to west of Lewiston, near Hobson, where Lou and Roger’s farm was. He might be a monster, but he wasn’t a magician.
Plus, he had traveled here himself instead of calling the local authorities and giving them a made-up story, which would have been easy enough to do if all he wanted was that she be “picked up” for questioning. No, he was only interested in one outcome, and while he might have connections and influence in Miami, in Montana he had to go it alone.
Lori reached the Escalade and scanned the dog walk area. It was a nice fenced space, and Sasha was off the leash, cavorting ridiculously with a Dachshund about one-tenth her size. Simone and Grace were sitting on a bench within the fenced area; Brandon was running around with the dogs. Good. She could call her sister and talk without the children overhearing.
As long as a steady supply of new toys and videos showed up on the journey, five-year-old Brandon seemed nearly oblivious to what was going on. Grace, however, had realized that something was terribly wrong, and it was starting to show in her face and in her demeanor. Lori had seen the ten-year-old crying several times when she thought no one was looking, though whether that was stress or ongoing consequences from her brief but violent illness, it was hard to tell.
She grabbed the burner phone from the central console and looked at it. So far, the few times she’d checked in with Louise, she’d called from a pay phone, not wanting to risk that someone was watching Louise’s phone line and then could somehow track the disposable. Should she go back up to the building and see if they had pay phones?
Lori didn’t want to take the time. Every time she called from a pay phone it took about five minutes of fooling around with the prepaid calling card, and half the time the pay phones didn’t even work. She wanted to call Lou this second, tell her what was going on and figure out what to do. Her plans for a safe haven had just been burned to the ground and now there was no way she could go to their house.
Taking a deep breath, she dialed Lou’s number on the burner phone. Now, she prayed that her brother-in-law, a person she had avoided talking to for five years would be the one to answer.
It was. “Hello?” a deep voice rumbled into the phone.
“It’s Lori.”
“Where are you? Louise said you’d be here last night.” No idle chitchat here: her brother-in-law certainly got right to the point.
Still, for a moment, Lori felt as if she were in la-la land. She’d tried to get through to Louise the previous night, getting a busy tone repeatedly, but then this morning her sister had finally answered. How did Roger not know? “I called this morning. Didn’t Lou tell you?”
“You called this morning?” Lori heard her brother-in-law’s rough exhalation. “That explains it. We actually had a little accident here this morning. The child of one of our friends fell off a swing and broke her arm. Louise went to the hospital with the mother. They were in such a hurry to get out of here, get the girl to the ER, I guess she forgot to mention it.” He paused. “So, what happened?”
“There was a huge wreck on the interstate in northern Wyoming just south of Sheridan, but…” She stopped, none of that mattered now. “Roger, I’m in trouble.”
His voice came back, quick and sure. “What’s going on? Where are you?”
“I’m at a rest area about an hour outside of Billings.”
“West or east?”
“West. We’re maybe 20 miles from where we go off the interstate and come north to Hobson. I think it’s at a town called Big Timber, but I can’t remember the road number.”
“191,” he supplied. She heard Roger speaking to someone else in the room, his voice distant, as if he was holding the phone away from his mouth. “Top drawer of the desk. Yeah, there. Should be a road atlas in there.” His voice came back into the phone. “I’m pretty sure I know where you are, but I’m getting a map. What’s going on?”
“The man who is after me is here. His name is Raoul Saldata and…”
“There? Now? With you?” Roger’s voice, while remaining calm, still carried a note of real urgency.
“No. I saw him just by chance. He didn’t see me. He got into a car and left.”
“You’re sure he didn’t see you?”
“Yes. If he’d seen me, there’s no way he would have driven off.” That was actually the understatement of the century. If Saldata had seen her, she would be dead. She quickly shared with her brother-in-law her theory that if it were not for Grace’s illness, they would already be at their destination and because of that, Saldata was no longer looking for them on the road. “Roger,” Lori’s voice cracked, “he wants to kill me. And he’s not alone. He’s got two people with him, a man and a woman.”
Lori heard what sounded like a door slam and then another voice muffled in the background, the words unintelligible, but it was definitely a male voice, and not her sister.
“How long ago was this?”
“Just a couple of minutes. I saw him, watched him leave, walked back to my car and then called you.” She did the quick math. “Four… five minutes.”
“So, two hours from here,” Roger stated flatly. Lori got the feeling he was talking to someone else as well as to her. “Is he armed?”
Lori swallowed, her throat dry as dust, thinking about what she’d seem at Saldata’s house. “I’m sure he is. But,” Lori had a sudden thought, “can you bring guns on the plane?”
“He flew?”
“He was in a rental car. I assume he flew. That means he would have had to bring the guns on the plane, right? Can you do that?”
“You have to declare them if you fly commercial. But, if this guy has enough money or influence, he may have come on a private jet. Then he could bring anything he wanted.” Roger paused. “Tell me about who he’s with.”
“I don’t know who they are. I don’t know this man at all. I don’t know anything about him. I just did a party for him. But, the first one is some sort of assistant. A bodyguard maybe. I saw him at Saldata’s house. About the same age, late forties, early fifties. The other one is a woman. Younger, maybe thirty. Very professional. She looked like,” Lori envisioned what she’d seen in the restroom and suddenly Lori realized exactly what she looked like. “…like a lawyer or a detective maybe. She saw me in the bathroom.”
“She saw you?” Roger couldn’t hide the shock from his voice.
“Yeah,” Lori explained, “but she didn’t recognize me. Even if she had a picture of me, I cut my hair really short and dyed it black. I look very different. And the kids weren’t with me, thank God.”
There was a long pause as Roger was obviously considering the next steps. “Did you notice the model of the car?”
“It was a small SUV.” She thought about car models that she knew, ones that she and some of her friends owned. “It wasn’t as big as my Range Rover. Maybe something like a Toyota 4Runner? That size. It was gray. And it definitely had Montana plates.”
“How did he know you were coming here?”
“I don’t know, but…” Quickly, Lori shared with Roger her fear that Saldata had somehow found her employees, Salvadore and Michelle.
As she waited for Roger to respond, she watched her two children with Simone. Brandon had run over to Simone, and, his face turned up, he said something to her. He smiled, so sweet and trusting. My God, she had to protect them, all of them. The silence on Roger’s side of the call grew. “What should I do? Where should I go? I’m so sorry.” She heard her voice rising to shrill, but she couldn’t stop it.
Roger interrupted curtly. “What’s done is done, Lori. You need to hold it together. And the only thing that matters now is keeping everyone safe.”
“I don’t know what to do. Even if I turn around and I didn’t come to you, he’s still on his way there.”
“I want you to stay there.”
“Here? At the rest stop?”
“Yes, I’m going to send someone to get you. Do you remember my brother Deacon? He’s on leave and visiting us for a few weeks.”
For the second time in ten minutes, Lori felt like she’d been punched in the stomach and for a very long moment, she could not breathe. On a day when things could not possibly have gotten worse, they just did. “Yeah, I met him at your wedding,” she managed to choke out. That flat statement masked a wealth of information. Did Roger notice how strangled her voice was?
Lori remembered Deacon Hale very well, but now was not the time to dwell on it, though why in the name of all that was holy had her sister not mentioned that Deacon was there visiting them? For a brief hysterical second, she wondered if she’d be better off taking her chances with Saldata. And in the next moment, she knew a hard truth, one she had never allowed herself to acknowledge. The main reason she had avoided being around Lou and Roger for the last five years was that Roger reminded her way, way too much of Deacon. She could barely gasp out her next, strangled question. “So, you’re not coming?”
“No.” Roger’s voice was flat and hard. “If what you say is true, I have three people on their way here who are perfectly capable of putting a bullet into the brains of anyone in my family.”
“You think I should just wait here? At the rest stop? What if he comes back?”
“You’re sure the woman didn’t recognize you?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. She just walked right out of the bathroom. I look really different, Roger.”
“Then, they won’t come back,” Roger responded, his voice full of confidence. “Why would they? And even if they’d turn around for some reason, they’d be on the other side of the interstate.” Lori saw the logic in that, as he continued. “Just sit tight. Deke’ll be there in two hours, give or take.”
In less than three hours she’d see him. See Deke. Could she do it? There was no way. No. Fucking. Way.
The phone went dead in her hand.
And in one instant the world changed forever.
Chapter 2



Louise
Monday
11:00 AM Mountain Time
Lewiston, Montana
N ervously, Louise Hale checked the large clock on the wall in the ER cubicle. Exactly two minutes had passed since the last time she checked. Actually, she was doing better; the prior time she’d checked, only a minute had passed. Sandy Kaplan, Louise’s friend, sat next to her on a wheeled stool, chin resting on her folded arms as she stared at her dozing child.
At least the sedatives they’d given poor little Marie had finally taken effect. Lying on the table in the cubicle, she looked pale but at least she was resting quietly. Her arm was wrapped in a splint.
The emergency room physician had reviewed the x-ray and told Sandy and Louise that the fracture looked very small, what they called a hairline fracture. Ironically, he told them, when fractures were less serious, children often felt more pain, simply because the injury was not especially critical. Sandy had shared with the doctor the fact that the family was scheduled to fly to Chicago the next day, and he had reassured her that nothing he was seeing on the x-ray would prevent that, though he still wanted a radiologist to do a final review.
As was typical with these fractures, the ER physician had explained, they didn’t put a cast on it right away. In this case, they could wait until the family arrived in Chicago and have the case reviewed by a pediatric orthopedic specialist. The ER doctor could make no promises, but to his eye, Marie might not need a hard cast at all.
Now, they were only waiting for the final review by the radiologist who, hopefully, would concur with the emergency room physician’s recommendations.
Louise hated hospitals. It’s why she’d become a home birth midwife. Looking for anything to pass the time, Louise dug her phone out of her purse. “I’m going to call Roger,” she said quietly. “Let him know where we stand.” Sandy nodded without answering, never taking her eyes off her daughter.
Louise’s call, however, only resulted in a busy signal. Had the phone gotten knocked off the table again? Surely not. But then she remembered that when they signed up for the phone plan, in order to save money, they had declined every single “extra” feature, including call waiting. Maybe Roger was just on the phone. But whom would he be talking to, except for maybe Lori?
Louise’s heart sank. She hadn’t considered a serious problem. What if Roger spilled the beans about Deacon? Louise just hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell Lori that Deacon was in Montana. It was the ultimate procrastination decision, but they were just going to have to cross that bridge once Lori arrived.
She pushed the thoughts away. Lori had never called during the day, except for this morning, and she’d told Louise then they’d be to Hobson by 2:00. Why would she call again? Louise told herself to stop being so paranoid. The phone’s busy signal could be anything, including, she realized exactly what had happened the previous night: one of the kids knocked it off the hook. She had to move it off that end table when she got home. She wished she could dump the landline phone completely, but cell coverage was so spotty at their house, they couldn’t.
Away from the house, sitting in this modern hospital, with nothing else to think about, it was inevitable to wonder if some of Lori’s worries were dramatic overstatement. Being chased by bad guys? That was something that happened in the movies, not to real people. Yet, Louise reminded herself, six men with guns had shown up at her own house in Bowenville just the other day when they were doing nothing but moving out. Still, running half way across the country because it was too dangerous to talk to the FBI? That seemed like very extreme drama.
She looked at the clock again. At least this hospital trip was going fast. Actually, she couldn’t believe how quickly they were seen. As soon as the intake nurse had seen how much pain Marie was in, they had allowed Louise to go with her
to radiology even while Sandy filled out paperwork. There was no way they would not be home before Lori arrived, even if they had to stop at the pharmacy and pick up some medication.
Now, however, another concern occurred to Louise, a very practical one. Sandy had planned on leaving this morning. If she didn’t leave, where would everyone sleep? She hated to bring it up, but had no choice. “Sandy? I need to know whether you think you are still going to go into Billings tonight,” she asked softly.
Sandy’s face fell. “I haven’t even thought about that,” she answered, her voice terribly discouraged. “I guess I need to. If we cancel the flights for tomorrow, there’ll be a penalty.”
“I don’t think you should cancel. Nothing the doctor said makes me think she can’t fly.” Louise tamped down her feelings of guilt, because if she were being honest with herself, she knew she was encouraging this at least in part because she wanted Sandy gone by the time Lori got there. Stop it, she told herself sternly. Nothing she was saying was not actually in Sandy’s best interests. “Plus, if you drive now, while she’s still knocked out, it will probably be easier than the morning. Particularly if you have,” Louise cleared her throat, “a bad night.”
Sandy looked at Louise, her face stricken. “I just don’t know what to do,” she said, her voice absolutely devastated.
For just a fraction of a second, Louise felt impatience, then she reminded herself that the husband of the woman sitting in front of her had died in the past six months, in all probability had been murdered, leaving her a widow with three young children. She deserved a little bit of latitude. The chair Louise was sitting on had wheels and she slid herself to Sandy’s side, took her arm. “You don’t have to leave. I didn’t mean it like that. But I really do believe that it will be better to drive today, while she still has pain meds on board, and before you’re up half the night with her.” Louise chose her words with care. “Plus there’s something I didn’t tell you. My sister is coming here because there was some sort of,” she hesitated, “problem in Florida.”
Sandy raised her chin off of her arms. “What sort of problem?” she asked slowly.
“I don’t want to say too much, but she’s involved in some sort of situation where someone is, well, someone is after her.”
“After her?” Sandy blinked. “You mean chasing her?”
Louise shrugged. “That’s what it sounds like.” She paused. “Well, what it really sounds like is a terrible mess. And once she gets here, it may be family drama and a lot of kids.” And Deacon, she added to herself, which was going to add an entirely different flavor to this whole scene. Louise couldn’t even think about that.
Lori was going to kill her.
The curtain slid wide on its smooth metal rings, and in walked the young emergency room physician’s assistant. She pulled the curtain shut behind her and glanced down at her notes. “Mrs. Kaplan?” Sandy nodded, and she continued. “Dr. Tang is with another patient, but he wanted me to talk to you. We got the report from the radiologist. You’re free to go, and…” She paused. “I see you asked about flying tomorrow? Yes, she is fine to fly. We’ll give you some pain meds, and a copy of everything to take to an orthopedic doctor when you get to Chicago. We’re just bringing you a few forms to sign and…”
Every light in the ER shut down. Just like that, with no warning, no preamble. There one instant, the next gone. Then, the constant background hum of the HVAC wound down and disappeared. A complete hush fell, as if the world had, for an instant, just stopped turning.
Maybe it had.
Chapter 3



Angela
Monday
11:10 AM Mountain Time
Interstate I-90 near Big Timber, Montana
A ngela Jones looked out at the terrain that flashed by the car, impressed by what she saw. Montana was absolutely spectacular, so different from everywhere she’d lived in the United States, and also very different from Albania.
There, she’d grown up in the mountains, but it was nothing like this. Albania was deep valleys, sharp hills, small squalid villages, all rocks and up and down. Here, the glimpses of the ranges she was getting to the north, towering over endless grasslands, were breath-taking, made all the more impressive by the fact that what she seeing was at least fifty miles away, perhaps even more. From the highway, she was even getting occasional glimpses of the Yellowstone River.
Angela had been tracking their progress on the map app on her phone, and she glanced at it now. Just a few more minutes until they’d be pulling off the interstate and traveling north on a two-lane road. Angela’s options were rapidly diminishing.
She understood now, fully, why she was here. They needed someone whose FBI credentials were absolute and unimpeachable. Rossi, as a Miami cop, had some clout in Florida, but across state lines, he was a nobody. She was not. To get out of tough spot, they’d use her. By the time anyone checked that no FBI agent named Angela Jones was working in Florida - or now Montana - in any official capacity, they’d be gone. Her cover would be blown forever, but Saldata didn’t care. Couldn’t care. If they didn’t find and neutralize Lori Dovner, it was likely his life in the United States was over.
Her options were narrow and getting worse. Reflexively, she opened her bag and checked for her gun. Ironic that they had taken away her disposable phone and left her with her own cell and a gun. Clearly, they thought the horrific threats Saldata had made against her family were enough to keep her in check. Unfortunately, at least for now, they were.
Angela was a small woman; unlike the massive handguns that the men carried, she preferred a Glock 43 9mm. Though she’d been an agent for seven years, she’d never fired her gun in the field. She was terrified that those days were at an end. She also knew that in the trunk of this rental car were several long guns in their hard shell cases, as well as a bag containing items she didn’t even want to think about. Bottom line? On a private jet, you can transport quite an arsenal.
Angela knew that the next time the car stopped, she could put a bullet in both of the men’s brains before either could turn his head halfway back to look at her. But what good would that do? The call that Saldata had promised her had to be made at regular intervals would not happen, and she would be signing a death warrant. She might live, but her family would not. Saldata was not a bluffer.
Considering her options, she looked at the stack of papers and folders next to her on the back seat, and wearily she picked up the top folder, wanting to review her notes again about Bowenville, Montana and the home where they all assumed Lori would be staying with her sister and brother-in-law. She’d reviewed the information about the town while on the plane, and she had to say it didn’t look good. Although the town was isolated and rural, it wasn’t tiny. The actual house was in a very standard neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac with eight other houses. A car parked randomly on a street for hours was sure to be noticed as would a car cruising the streets endlessly. Unfortunately, she didn’t see what other choices they had.
Flipping through the stack, she saw Lori Dovner’s face staring out at her on one page, then another and another. They had many photos of her; she’d been photographed extensively through the years at many parties, as well as featured in Miami magazines that covered local food and lifestyle stories. The one in the stack Angela paused on now, however, was Dovner’s driver’s license photo. Most license pictures were horrible, but Dovner’s was actually quite good, clear, her attractive face staring directly at the camera. In most of her photos, her red-blond hair flowed loose around her face, but in her license photo it was tied back in a ponytail, almost hidden, and, her eyes…
Angela paused. Dovner’s eyes. They were so familiar. Those eyes in a face and no hair…
Before she could stop or control her reaction in any way, she gasped out an involuntary, “Oh!” loudly enough for the men in the front seat to hear her.
Raoul Saldata turned sharply and looked at Angela. “What?”
Angela realized in a heartbeat that she had made a terrible mistake, but it was too late to try to cover it. Saldata would know she was lying and if he even suspected she was not being completely truthful with him, they’d stop the car and Garth would start cutting her fingers off until she talked. And talk she would; everyone did eventually. So, in the millisecond after she realized her mistake, she also realized that there was no point in trying to hide anything.
“I saw her.” She raised her face and looked him confidently in the eye. “She was there.” Hopefully her utterly calm demeanor would fool him far more than any attempt at prevarication would.
It seemed to. “Who?”
Tentatively, her hand shaking, she held up the printout of Dovner’s license photo. “Dovner. She was there at the rest stop. I saw her in the ladies room. She looks totally different. Her hair is very short and black and I would never have realized it was her, except she took her sunglasses off.”
Her stomach churned with nausea, but she prayed nothing showed in her face. Her plan - that if she could just find and warn Dovner somehow - had been handed to her. Dovner had been there, in front of her, in the one place Saldata was not watching her, and she’d not seen it.
Her time had just run out. She was either going to
“Go back,” Saldata hissed to Garth. “Now.”
Garth, behind the wheel, stepped on the gas, accelerating to nearly 100 miles an hour, before de-accelerating almost as sharply to near zero. With wheels squealing, they turned into a “Authorized Vehicles Only” crossover in the interstate’s median. The eastbound lanes were clear, Garth jerked the wheel to enter the road and…
…the car slowed, then rolled to a silent stop.
And nothing would ever be the same again.
Part II

One Week Earlier
Chapter 4



Lori
Monday
8:00 AM Eastern Time
Miami, Florida
H ow was it, Lori Dovner asked herself, that the most popular, trendy, sought-after young caterer in Miami, Florida couldn’t manage to get breakfast on the table for a five-year-old and a ten-year-old? How was that even possible?
She’d served sitting senators and congressmen, the CEOs of some of the biggest corporations in America, one ex-president, and the Dalai Lama, but she couldn’t seem to make a frozen waffle that a five-year-old would eat.
“Brandon, you liked these last week.”
Brandon shoved the pieces of cut waffle around on his plate. “No, I didn’t.”
“Pretty sure you did.”
“He only likes the Mickey Mouse ones,” Grace offered helpfully.
Thanks, Grace , Lori muttered to herself.
Brandon started to cry. Big fat tears ran down his chubby cheeks. Lori knew the real problem, and it wasn’t waffles. On a fundamental level, Brandon hated school. He’d been deliriously happy in the pre-K day care he’d attended four mornings a week for two years, but this year, in full day Kindergarten, he’d been miserable from day one. Nearly two months into the school year it was getting worse by the day.
Lori had tried more than once to talk to him, to figure out what was causing this change in her formerly cheerful little boy. Was someone being mean to him? Did the teacher yell? Was the work too hard? Not hard enough? Was he bored? Overstimulated? Just last Thursday, when he’d tried to plead a stomachache for the third day in a row, she’d gone in and talked to the teacher, Joy Brinkley. Ms. Brinkley, who seemed as nice and sweet as could be, had professed herself equally confused. But when she described Brandon as “quiet and withdrawn,” Lori knew it was worse than she thought.
This last weekend, Lori had events Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday night, leaving her no time to puzzle over the problem. This coming week was much slower - only a dinner party for eight on Saturday night - and she was going to make Brandon’s unhappiness her top priority.
However, right this second, she did not need this, not on a Monday morning, when she hadn’t gotten in until after 11:00 last night and - she took a quick look at her phone calendar app - she had a vet appointment with Sasha at 9:00 and then two home visits scheduled. “Brandon, it’s a waffle . You don’t have to cry about it.”
Simone, Lori’s French au pair, breezed into the room. “He likes the big breakfast at McDonald’s.” She shrugged, typically French. “I have time to take him before school.”
“I appreciate the suggestion, but no.” Frozen waffles were bad enough, but the idea that she’d send her five-year-old off to fast food as a better alternative was horrifying. “Brandon, what if I made you…”
Lori froze. As she’d been bustling around the kitchen getting the food out for Brandon and Grace, she’d been simultaneously organizing her own day. Suddenly she realized she didn’t see her catchall hobo bag. She looked at Simone. “Have you seen my bag?” Even as she said it though, she knew the question was absurd. Simone had been asleep when Lori came in last night, and this was the first time the au pair had been downstairs.
“No.”
Her laptop computer, her wallet with her license and all her credit cards, everything was in that catchall. “Oh crap.” Lori slumped.
She knew exactly where the bag was.
“Swear jar, mom,” ten-year-old Grace piped in.
“Crap’s not swearing,” Lori muttered, distracted.
“Then why can’t we say it?”
“I don’t know. Ask me tonight. Oh, crap !” Lori repeated. At Simone’s utterly confused look, Lori explained. “I left my bag at the job last night. I got it out of the car because I needed my laptop to check a recipe.” She shook her head, frustrated. “I know it’s there. I’m positive.”
“How far is it? To go back to get it?”
“It’s not that far. He lives in one of the big houses on the waterway.” Lori paused, not really sure how to go on.
When the silence lengthened, Simone prompted, “What is it?”
“It was sort of weird when I left last night. The last thing I want to do is go back there.” Normally, Lori would not have shared something both professional and personal with the twenty-one-year-old young woman, but so odd had the events of the previous night been, that she found the words tumbling out.
Simone popped a granola bar from the cabinet into her backpack. “Weird?”
“I don’t know,” Lori paused as she pictured the scene. “Yeah, weird. Out of the blue, he just asked us to leave. Walked into the kitchen and told us to go. We hadn’t even served the dessert.”
Simone digested this. “Was he mad?” Simone worked for Lori as an au pair, a live-in household helper, but on several occasions when one of employees had cancelled at the last minute, she had filled in on catering jobs, so she had enough experience to know that this was very unusual. Customers didn’t just ask the caterer to leave in the middle of the party.
“No. Not really. He just wanted us gone.” Lori replayed the scene in her head, trying to come up with a better answer, then shook the train of thought away. “It doesn’t matter. Obviously, I have to go back. It’s my wallet, my computer, everything.” Lori looked at the table. Brandon was still crying and Lori knew when it was time to throw in the towel. “Brandon would you like to go to McDonald’s with Simone?”
“Can I come home after?”
Lori’s heart sank. “No. No, Bran, you have to go to school.”
He stared at his waffle plate. “I don’t like school,” he whispered. “My tummy hurts.”
Lori sank down into the empty chair next to her son. “Bran, tonight, how would you like it if you and I, just the two of us, went to Charlie Cheese and maybe you can tell me why you don’t want to go to school. And whatever it is, honey, I promise I’ll fix it.” She paused. “Sound good?”
Grace looked up, her lip already moving into full-on pout position. “Not fair!” she stated, with all the outrage a ten-year-old could muster. “Why does he get to go to Charlie Cheese and I don’t?”
Normally, Lori was not quite so indulgent, but she had to solve this problem and the last thing she needed was Grace having a meltdown. Lori brought out one of the big guns. “You and Simone can go for pedicures. How does that sound?”
Problem solved. “Okay.” Grace beamed up at Simone and Simone beamed back, nodding with a big smile.
“Can I stay home from school forever?” Brandon asked.
“No, Brandon, no. We’ll talk about it. Tonight. For right now you go to McDonald’s with Simone and then be a good boy at school today, all right?”
In the days, weeks, and months to follow, Lori would think about that morning, and about Brandon’s request to stay home from school forever and she would realize that at least one of them had gotten something they wanted.



As Simone hustled Brandon and Grace into the little Toyota she drove, Lori checked her watch, trying to put her schedule together. It was already 8:30; there was no way she could get out to Raoul Saldata’s house and back to the vet by 9:00. So, she’d have to go to the vet first, then on to the Saldata’s, then back to the house to drop Sasha off, then on to her home visits, the first of which was scheduled for 11:00. She quickly reviewed where the home visits were. One home she knew for sure, but the other she was not positive of without the notes in her planner. She needed her bag. There was absolutely no getting around it.
Twenty minutes later Lori was in her Range Rover, speeding towards the vet. Thank God she’d had her phone in the pocket of her apron last night, so at least that had not been left behind. Suddenly she realized she may have made a miscalculation. Would anyone even be home at the Saldata’s? Lori knew for a fact that Mrs. Saldata was not there; her absence was, allegedly, the reason that Mr. Saldata had hired Lori’s catering company, Top Hat Catering, to do the dinner party. Lori had in fact never met a Mrs. Saldata and wasn’t sure she even lived in the U.S. As much as she didn’t want to talk to Mr. Saldata, she knew she couldn’t just show up unannounced, and reluctantly she brought up the number in her phone and hit dial. However, sixty seconds later, she was no better off, because no one had answered at the house, neither Mr. Saldata nor the housekeeper. Now what?
Sitting in the vet’s office, Sasha obediently curled up at her feet, Lori suddenly remembered that she’d put the housekeeper’s cell number in her phone as well. But what was her name? Lori thought for a moment, frustrated, because, of course, the notes for the job were in her laptop, which was in her bag, but maybe her name was… Rodriguez? She scrolled through her numbers until, yup, Maria Rodriguez and in the note field: Saldata. She hit the number and breathed a sigh of relief when the woman’s voice came over the line on the first ring.
“Mrs. Rodriguez, it’s Lori Dovner.” Silence. “Top Hat Catering? I did the party last night at Mr. Saldata’s.”
“Oh, si, si. Miss Lori, how are you? How did the party go?”
“It went well. It was fine, but, are you at the house?”
“Oh, no señora . No, no. I am off Saturday, Sunday and Monday.”
“Do you know if Mr. Saldata is there? I left something at the house. I called and he didn’t answer.”
“He no like answer telefono .”
“Do you think he’s there?”
“ No se . He come and go and never say de nada to me.”
“Is there any way, I hate to ask, but could you meet me there? I wouldn’t ask, but it’s my wallet. I don’t even have my driver’s license.”
“Oh, señora , I am so sorry pero I am visiting my daughter in Orlando. I am four hours away. I cannot help you.”
“Well, thanks anyway,” Lori spoke slowly, trying to think of a plan. “I’ll just go over there, and hopefully Mr. Saldata will be there…”
There was a long pause. “Miss Lori, I no should do this, pero he no answer the gate buzzer, here is the code. The code for the gate is 7-2-7-2-9. And the back door is 1-9-7-5.”
“Hold on.” Lori hurried up to the desk and grabbed a pen and a post-it note from the secretary. “Tell me those numbers again.”
Maria Rodriguez repeated the codes, speaking slowly, obviously making sure she got the numbers right as she translated Spanish to English. “Don’t tell no one I give you. He say I never give anyone the code, pero he not there, what can you do?”
“Thank you. I’ll call you if I need you.”
“ Buenos dias, señora .”
“ Buenos dias , Señora Rodriguez.”
Twenty minutes later Lori was winging her way towards the Saldata residence. The vet visit, just routine yearly shots, had gone quickly. Lori was hopeful she could get in and out of Saldata’s in just a couple of minutes. That would give her nearly an hour to get home, drop Sasha, change into business clothes and get to her first visit.
Top Hat Catering specialized in private dining, high-end seated dinners served and usually prepared in the clients’ own homes. For that reason, an essential part of Lori’s workday was what she cynically referred to as “location scouting.” What dishes, pots and pans, and kitchen set-up did the client have? More than once in her early days she’d been assured by a client that “we have everything,” only to arrive and discover that “everything,” was a couple old frying pans, and grandmother’s china for eight that the hostess thought Lori, using her super powers, could somehow magically stretch to serve twelve.
That certainly had not been the case at the Saldata’s. It had been a beautiful, fully-equipped kitchen in a lovely residence, all top-shelf. Everything was perfect up until the moment last night when Mr. Saldata had walked into the kitchen and basically kicked them out.
As she drove, she couldn’t help but replay the incident in her head, sick to her stomach. That party was the sort of event that Lori needed to go well. One of Mr. Saldata’s guests had been Senator Kyle Michaels, current United States senator from Florida; a second guest was the assistant chief of police in the Miami police department. A third man Lori had recognized but could not place: a judge maybe? Precisely the kind of people whom Lori wanted to remember Top Hat Catering favorably.
She had another moment of disquiet as she reviewed it, though. It had been an odd party in another way. While she occasionally did high-end bachelor parties, and those were all-male affairs (at least until the entertainment arrived), it was practically unheard of for her to do formal sit down dinners that were men only. But this one had been.
She pushed the thought away: not her problem. The client paid; Lori cooked. Delicious food, beautifully presented, in the comfort of the client’s own home. That was Lori’s mantra, and that’s exactly what had gone down, right up until the moment that Mr. Saldata had walked into the kitchen. Lori had just taken the individual apple pies out of the oven and was ready to plate the desserts when he came in, and with no preamble, told her it was time for her and her staff of two to leave. Astonished, Lori had tried to query him as to whether there had been a problem with the meal. He had assured her that it had been fine, but without engaging in any further discussion, he’d announced, “Please be gone in five minutes. Don’t worry about the cleaning. The housekeeper can do it.” With no further word, he’d turned and left the kitchen, leaving Lori, open-mouthed, with Salvadore and Michelle, all staring speechless at his back.
Not knowing what else to do, Lori had quickly gathered up the cooking things that were her property, her high-end knives, her special soufflé pan. She’d shepherded her two staff members to the door. And, with what-the-hell expressions on all of their faces, hardly speaking, they had left.
As Lori continued to drive, she suddenly thought about her staff members and knew a moment of hesitation. Could one of them have grabbed her bag, accidentally carrying it to their car, and then forgotten to tell her? Best call and check, Lori realized.
Quickly she punched in Michelle’s number, praying that they had her bag. That way she could avoid this errand altogether. Michelle and Salvadore were a couple, and had driven to the Saldata residence together. Lori didn’t know for sure, but she assumed they’d be together.
“Lori.” Michelle’s sleepy voice came on to the phone line. “Everything okay?”
Quickly Lori explained the reason for the call. “I was just wondering if there is any chance you guys grabbed it and put it in your car.”
“I wish,” Michelle responded. “Sorry. I never noticed it.”
“No worries. I’m on my way there now. I just thought I’d call before I got there on the chance you might have it. The housekeeper’s not there, so this means I’m going to have to wake Mr. Saldata up. After last night, that’s the last thing I want to do.” She paused. “Wasn’t that just about the strangest thing ever?”
Because Salvadore and Michelle come in their own vehicle, and no one had wanted to linger in the driveway for a chat, they had not gotten an opportunity to discuss the odd situation the previous night.
“Hold on,” Michelle said. “Sal is still asleep.” Lori could hear the rustle of bedclothes as Michelle moved out of the bedroom. In a few seconds, her voice came more loudly. “Sal and I talked on the way home, Lor. Listen to me. Something’s wrong there.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sal heard Mr. Saldata speaking Spanish to one of the guests. He says that Spanish is not his first language. Saldata spoke it very well, but Salvadore could tell. He had an odd accent to his Spanish. Sal couldn’t place it.”
“Why is that a problem?”
“Because if you live in Miami, and your name is Saldata, you speak Spanish. Period.” Michelle paused for emphasis. “You speak Spanish, your mother speaks Spanish, and your grandmother speaks Spanish.”
“Could Saldata be a Brazilian name?” Lori tried to make sense of it. “They speak Portuguese.”
“Maybe,” Michelle allowed, “but there was something else. That senator? The so-called guest of honor? Sal said he was miserable. Spent most of the night looking like he was scared out of his mind.”
“What?” That was the last thing she wanted to hear. “Really.” Lori’s role at events like this was to prepare and manage the food. Salvadore was the server, and Michelle bridged the gap: helping both Lori in the kitchen and Salvadore in the dining room. Lori had barely set foot in the dining room and had only caught a brief glimpse of the senator.
Lori certainly trusted Salvadore’s instincts and information, and if he said that Mr. Saldata was not a native Spanish speaker and that the senator did not look happy to be there, Lori believed him. But what did it mean? Unless the senator was unhappy about the food, there was nothing Lori could do about it.
She ended up just shaking her head. So, what? Some clients just didn’t work out, and Lori was going to put Raoul Saldata into that group. Whatever the deal at Saldata’s, she was going to get her bag, leave, and not go back. If he called again, she’d politely turn him down.
She said a quick goodbye to Michelle, just as she pulled onto the expressway for the short trip to the Key Barca waterway and Saldata’s house.
Two minutes later, Lori was parked by the side of the road listening to the NPR announcer in astonishment.
Chapter 5

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