Long Lost Page 68

Berleand said, ’’Please listen to me. This case is very important.’’

’’This is still America,’’ Taylor said again. ’’If they don\'t want to speak to you, you have to honor that. That said . . .’’ Taylor looked back at Erickson. ’’You see any reason not to knock on the door and show them this picture?’’

Erickson thought about it a moment. Then he shook his head.

’’Both of you stay here.’’

They sauntered past us, opened the gate, headed toward the front door. I heard an engine in the background. I turned. Nothing. Might have been a car passing from the main road. The sun was gone now, the sky darkening. I looked at the house. It was still. I hadn\'t seen any movement at all, not once since we arrived.

I heard another car engine, this time coming from the general direction of the house. Again I saw nothing. Berleand moved closer to me.

’’Do you have a bad feeling here?’’ he asked.

’’I don\'t have a good one.’’

’’I think we should call Jones.’’

My cell phone buzzed just as Taylor and Erickson reached the porch steps. It was Esperanza.

’’I have something you need to see.’’

’’Oh?’’

’’Remember I told you Dr. Jiménez attended a Save the Angels retreat?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’I found some other people who did too. I visited their Facebook pages. One of them has a whole gallery up on the retreat. I\'m sending one of the photos to you now. It\'s a group shot, but Dr. Jiménez is standing on the far right.’’

’’Okay, let me get off the line.’’

I hung up, and the BlackBerry began to hum. I opened the e-mail from Esperanza and clicked the attachment. The picture loaded slowly. Berleand looked over my shoulder.

Taylor and Erickson reached the front door. Taylor rang the bell. A blond teenage boy answered the door. I wasn\'t close enough to hear. Taylor said something. The boy said something back.

The picture loaded on my BlackBerry. The screen was so small, and so too were the faces. I clicked the zoom option, moved the cursor to the right, hit zoom again. The picture came in closer, but now it was blurry. I hit enhance. An hourglass appeared as the picture started to focus.

I glanced back at the front door of the Victorian home. Taylor stepped forward, as if he wanted to go in. The blond boy held up his hand. Taylor looked at Erickson. I could see surprise on his face. Now I heard Erickson. He sounded angry. The teenage boy looked scared. Still waiting for the photo enhancement to take effect, I stepped closer.

The picture came into focus. I looked down, saw the face of Dr. Jiménez, and nearly dropped my phone. It was a shock, and yet, remembering what Jones had told me, things were starting to click in a horrible, horrible way.

Dr. Jiménez clever to use a Spanish name and probably identity for a dark-skinned man was Mohammad Matar.

Before I could process what it all meant, the teenage boy shouted, ’’You can\'t come in!’’

Erickson: ’’Son, step aside.’’

’’No!’’

Erickson didn\'t like that answer. He put his arms up as though preparing to push this blond teenager to the side. The teenager suddenly had a knife in his hand. Before anyone could move, he raised it overhead and jammed it deep into Erickson\'s chest.

Oh no . . .

I stuck my phone into my pocket as I started running toward the door. A sudden burst of noise made me stop cold.

Gunfire.

Erickson was hit. He spun around with the knife still in his chest and then dropped to the ground. Taylor started reaching for his gun, but he had no chance. More gunfire shattered the night. Taylor\'s body jerked once, then twice, then collapsed into a heap.

I heard the engines again now, a car roaring up the drive, another coming from behind the house. I looked for Berleand. He was sprinting toward me.

’’Run to the woods!’’ I shouted.

Tires shrieking to a stop. Another burst of gunfire.

I ran toward the trees and dark, away from both the house and the private road. The woods, I thought. If we could make it to the woods, we could hide. A car sped across the grounds, its headlights searching for us. There were random barrages of bullets. I didn\'t look back to see where they were coming from. I found a rock and ducked behind it. I turned and saw Berleand still in view.

More gunfire. And Berleand went down.

I rose from behind the rock, but Berleand was too far away from me. Two men were on him. Three others jumped out of a Jeep, all armed. They ran toward Berleand, firing blindly into the woods. One bullet smacked the tree behind me. I ducked back down as another volley went past in a wave.

For a moment there was nothing. Then: ’’Come out now!’’

The man\'s voice had a heavy Middle Eastern accent. Staying low I glanced out. It was dark, night making more of its claim with each passing moment, but I could make out that at least two of the men had dark hair and dark skin and full beards. Several wore green bandanas around their neck, the kind you could pull up to cover your face. They shouted at one another in a language I didn\'t understand but figured had to be Arabic.

What the hell was going on?

’’Show yourself or we will hurt your friend.’’

The man saying that appeared to be the leader. He barked out orders and pointed right and left. Two men started circling toward me. One man got back into the car and used his headlights to sweep the woods. I stayed low, my cheek against the ground. My heart pounded in my chest.

I hadn\'t brought a weapon. Stupid. So goddamn stupid.

I dug into my pocket and tried to get my phone.

The leader called out: ’’Last chance! I will begin by shooting his knees.’’

Berleand shouted, ’’Don\'t listen to him!’’

My fingers found the phone just as a single bullet blast exploded through the night air.

Berleand screamed.

The leader: ’’Come out now!’’

I fumbled with the phone and hit Win\'s speed dial. Berleand was whimpering now. I closed my eyes, tried to wish it away, needed to think.

Then Berleand\'s voice fighting through tears: ’’Don\'t listen to him!’’

’’The other knee!’’

Another gunshot.

Berleand screamed in obvious agony. The sound ripped at me, shredded my insides. I knew that I couldn\'t give up. If I showed myself, we would both be dead. Win would have heard what was going on by now. He\'d call Jones and law enforcement. It wouldn\'t be long.

I could hear Berleand crying.

Then one more time, weaker this time, Berleand\'s voice: ’’Don\'t . . . listen . . . to . . . him!’’


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