Darrack Pinhill leaned back in his desk chair, letting his laptop play a slideshow of low resolution pictures taken from what appeared to be security cameras. Each one depicted a woman, though none of them seemed to attract his interest. He picked up his mug and sipped at his tea, putting his feet up on his desk. He flipped back one picture, studied it for a moment, shrugged, and let the slideshow continue. He exhaled, sinking further into his chair, and stretched out his long form before resting his head to one side; barely watching the screen. He startled when his door suddenly burst open.
“She’s got him. Goddamn it! How did she pull this off? I’ll kill her. I’ll skin her alive and feed her to my dogs!”
Pinhill, realizing he just spilled a bit of tea on his shirt, looked at Corvid stalking around his room like a caged animal. “What the hell are you on about, Boss?”
Corvid stopped, glaring at him. He was wearing silk pajama bottoms and a white tee shirt. His hair was everywhere. He smelled of perfume and sweat, even from here. Pinhill knew he’d taken the time to fuck the hell out of whatever happened to be closest before he came up here to share whatever news he seemed to think was important. Priorities, he thought acidly.
“MY DRIVER! She. Is. Alive. And she’s got. My fucking. Driver.”
“LeCroix.” Corvid punched the wall.
Pinhill’s blood ran cold. He stood up, removing his eye patch as he tended to do when stress sucker punched him. “What the hell did you say?” He cornered Corvid in the bedroom, staring into him, his eyes searing a hole right through him.
Corvid looked up at him defiantly. “LeCroix is alive and is holding my fucking driver hostage.”
“How do you know for sure?”
“I spoke with her when she was kind enough to call me. From his phone. We’ve already verified the call and her voice pattern. It’s her, Mr. Pinhill. She’s back.”
“What does she want?” Pinhill rubbed his shadowed face.
“We don’t know. We’re zeroing in on her as we speak. I know she’s been holing up in the Rocky Mountains. That’s the only way she’d be able to get Mr. Rodchenko the way she did.”
“And how was that?”
Corvid pulled his phone from his pocket and showed Pinhill the surveillance footage from a bank across the street from the hotel where Rodchenko was waiting for Devon Larkey. They watched her truck pull up several feet behind the Audi, step out in full police uniform, glance around, and then approach the vehicle. Several minutes later the Audi went up in a ball of flames; they saw LeCroix shove Anatoly into her truck and leave. The plate was not visible in the footage.
“That is a rather conspicuous vehicle.” Pinhill noted.
“Why else would she need something like that, unless she’s going up into the mountains?”
“Maybe to make you think she’s going into the mountains?”
“She wants me to find her.”
“If she wanted you to find her, Anatoly would still have his implant. I know she took it out, because if she hadn’t, you wouldn’t be standing here right now. She knows you can just send someone to take her out. You could have people at every junction to north within the next 12 hours.”
Corvid growled. He tapped his foot. Then, “Get dressed. We’re going.”
“What? Boss, that’s stupid.”
“You’re welcome to seek employment elsewhere, Mr. Pinhill. I’ll be downstairs in half an hour. Either you’re there, or you’re handing in your keys to security.”
Corvid left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Pinhill lowered his eye patch and exhaled audibly. “I hate the cold weather.” He grumbled and began rifling through his closet, tossing clothes onto his bed behind him.
Rodchenko was already cursing the cold weather, though he’d be damned if he was going to let on his discomfort. They arrived at the towers almost 3 hours after they’d set out. He checked his watch, noting the time was 0732 hours, and not a hint of daybreak, even way up here. They dismounted; she tied their horses to a section of chain link fence. She pulled a pair of bolt cutters out of one of her packs.
She cocked her head toward the gate. “This way.” They gained access in less than a minute, LeCroix leading the way. She brought him to the door on a nondescript building. She pulled out a bump key, pushing it into the lock, and hit it with the bolt cutters. The door swung inward. She smiled, giving Rodchenko a playful punch in the shoulder. “Sometimes all you need is a soft touch and a little bit of smooth talking. They let you right in, eh Toly?” She walked inside, dropping the cutters on the floor.
Rodchenko looked around, trying to see past the small circle of light cast by the light above the door. He sighed. “I’m pretty sure that was a sexual reference. I’m just not sure for which one of us that was meant.” He pulled his jacket closer and followed her in.
She reached in behind a bank of terminals, interface units, and pulled out a fair sized black box. She pulled the wires off the back and tossed it to Rodchenko.
He caught it easily enough and she clapped him on the back. “Got it. Let’s roll. They’ll be on the ground by now. Corvid and Pinhill. Whatever goons he could round up on short notice.”
“Wait. What the hell do I do with this?”
“Just plug it in to a computer. I’m leaving mine here, in case I need it later.”
“You couldn’t just do this from the comfort of your bedroom?”
“I used a programme aptly named Spectre to gain remote access to Corvid’s personal computer. All the data entry logs, every key stroke, a copy of every file, every email, it’s all on there. Everything you need to buy your freedom. And bring him down. If you want.”
“And he doesn’t know?! How does he not know?”
“Because he thinks with his dick.” She left the base station.
He heard her light a cigarette outside. He looked down at the black box in his hands. “And you don’t?” Frowning, he tucked it under his arm and joined her outside.
They rode straight through until the sun began to droop in the western skies. LeCroix directed them off the logging road and up into the forest surrounding them. They finally stopped beside a small lake. There was a small clearing near the water complete with a makeshift boat launch and a fire pit.
LeCroix took their horses to a post, tying them both, and set them up with their feed. Munching happily, she pulled an axe from one of the packs on Rodchenko’s horse. She was limping again, badly.
He approached her, taking the axe from her hands. “Let me.”
“You sure? It’s shit work, my friend.”
“I got this. You go take a load off that leg. Before your batteries run dry or something.”
She smiled. “Clever.”
The fire crackled, warming them against the oppressive cold and dark of the nightfall. They sat side by side, a blanket wrapped around their shoulders; another over their legs.
“So, you couldn’t remote view Corvid’s computer from your own house, I get that. But, you can see the towers from your property. Wouldn’t they just look around?”
She sipped a mug of tea. “Can’t see my house from the cell towers. But if anyone disconnects either the laptop or the external, I get a notification on my phone. I’d see them coming. Plenty of time to go to ground.”
“You’ve covered all your bases.”
She cleared her throat. “Not quite all of them.”
“Maybe I can help? New pair of eyes?”
She looked at him. “You’re here. No one’s cleaning you up with a sponge off Robson Street right now. That’s more than enough for me.”
He touched her face, drawing her toward him. “You know what would really piss Corvid off?”
She leaned into him, her lips just touching him. “Yes, I do.”
His hand moved under her jacket.
She took his wrist, placing it back into his own lap. “You surviving this. That will enrage him. So let’s keep our heads in the game and make sure that happens.” She stood up, whistling for Arkady to follow her, and went to the horses where she began preparing them for the night.
Rodchenko pursed his lips slightly, watching her by the light of the fire. After a moment, he climbed into his sleeping bag, pulling his blanket over his head, and tried to fall asleep.
Pinhill followed Corvid out of the chopper, the stark cold air hitting him like a slap in the face. He made sure Corvid was clear of the rotors before he allowed either of them to stand up all the way. They were met by a smallish man in a tan coat, a fluffy, dark blue scarf, and thick eyeglasses.
“Mr. Corvid!” he yelled over the roar of the bird behind them, “Glad you made it. The weather this far north is very fussy this time of year!” He handed them a tablet with a map visible on the screen.
“Tell me what you found, Kessler!” Corvid said loudly.
Pinhill glanced behind them and watched the rest of their party, four more men, deplane. Each of them capable of considerable destruction on his own. Paolo, the Maori, his entire body, even his face, covered in ancient tattoos. He wore a sweatshirt overtop a long sleeved shirt; no jacket. Beside him, already loading his SPAS-12, stood Thatcher, all 6 feet, 7 inches, and 350 pounds of him. His skin as pale as paper, eyes as green as emeralds, and no voice anyone of them had ever heard. Then there was Raine and DuMaurier; the Bondy Twins. A pair of gangsters from one of the poorest urban areas of France. Pinhill had opened their files once, and decided by page three that he didn’t need to know anything else. They spoke only French, but were thought to understand at least seven other languages, including BSL, and had a penchant for staging their hits to look gruesomely like-
“Did you know any of this?” Corvid interrupted his thoughts.
He looked at the tablet, then to the man in glasses. “What?”
The bird lifted off behind them and they could speak without yelling.
“We think we have a lead. There is a registration for a Jeep Cherokee, black, to a Jean-Luc LeCroix.”
“Her brother?” Pinhill asked.
“Yes. He bought it over a decade ago.”
“He died over decade ago too. Complications from an AIDS-related infection, no?”
“Well, that’s why we think she’s had it painted and that’s what she’s driving around.”
“No doubt with stolen plates.”
“In addition to the Jeep,” the man said in his peevish voice, “we have a contract with a construction agency in Northern BC. They’re based out of Vancouver, but they build in the north. The signature on all the important pages is Yvonne Becquerel, LeCroix’s foster mother for the longest period of time. Now, she died in the early 90s, but the handwriting matches the samples we have on file for Shawn.”
“And you…didn’t think to track any of this down before?” Pinhill arched one eyebrow impossibly high.
The man blustered before he spoke again. “We had very good reason to believe she was dead, and no one’s heard a peep from her since. Even if she wasn’t dead, which did cross our minds, she was keeping as far away from Corvid and the Board as possible. No reason to go chasing ghosts.”
Pinhill’s face was a mask of sarcasm. “Right. Let the dead rise and then try like hell to put them back in their graves.”
“We never put her in a grave, Mr. Pinhill,” Corvid said, thrusting the tablet against Pinhill’s chest. “Not yet, anyway. Let’s go.” He walked toward the two black Suburban trucks waiting for them at the edge of the tarmac.
They climbed into the vehicles. Corvid, Pinhill, Kessler, and Thatcher in the lead truck; Paolo and the Bondy Twins in the other truck behind them. Their drivers a pair of silent, rugged men who would no doubt be competent outdoorsman and familiar with the area. Pinhill was grateful for the distance from the Twins, he knew that Corvid only sent them in when he specifically wanted his target to die. Badly. Their very presence gave him the creeps. He leaned forward, tapping Corvid’s knee. Corvid looked up at him.
“Don’t you think all…this,” Pinhill gestured around them, “is an overkill?”
Corvid leaned forward, half snarling, half smiling. “No. I don’t. Because this time I intend to make sure she stays dead. Like that idiot, Markov.”
Pinhill was taken aback. “You hired Markov personally.”
Corvid’s half-smile disappeared. “A mistake I shall not repeat.”
“She saved your life, Boss.”
“And I saved hers. A mistake I am going to rectify.” Corvid sat back, resuming his conversation with Kessler.
Pinhill watched him for a moment until he felt someone else watching him. He looked up and saw Thatcher looking at him, smiling. Thatcher winked, pulling a cigarette from a large steel case and lighting it. Pinhill cracked his knuckles quietly, watching the mountains rise up around them like ancient gods.
Corvid, Pinhill, and the others stood in the kitchen of the house LeCroix had called home for at least the last five years. Corvid paced the perimeter, running his fingers across the countertop and picking up the odd item, turning it over and examining it. He found two wine glasses in the sink, picking them both up and checking the rims. He held one to his mouth, closing his eyes and inhaling, letting his tongue touch the pinkish substance sticking to the edge of the glass. He growled, dropping both glasses back into the sink where they shattered.
“What you find, Boss?” Pinhill asked him.
“Quite obviously matching wine glasses. That’s her lip gloss. She tends to be stuck in certain habits.”
“So he’s playing nice. Look, the kid is a driver, Corvid, and frankly any one of these men-”
“Any one of these men can’t look at a map and memorize it at a glance!” Corvid was yelling now. “Any one of these men can’t sweet talk his way out of a speeding ticket in 135 different countries and 28 languages! Any one of these men can’t operate a vehicle competently even if he’s never laid eyes on it, or dodge bullets, Mr. Pinhill. I. Want. My. Goddamn. Driver. Back.” He accentuated these last words by poking Pinhill in the chest with each syllable.
Pinhill put his hands, backing away a step or two.
Corvid turned to the other men in the room, dismissing them with a wave of one hand. “EVERYBODY OUT! Go…find me something I can use.”
The other men, all 7 of them, left the house, a few of them grumbling about the cold. The front door finally closed and the house was utterly silent.
Corvid looked to Pinhill. He waved one hand nonchalantly. “You and Shawn were…close.” He cleared his throat, as if the last word made him uncomfortable. “Look around and tell me what you see.”
Pinhill did. He circled the kitchen, checking the fridge, testing the temperature of the water in the dog dish, picking up a shard of wine glass with lip gloss stuck to it, turning it over in the overhead light. He walked out into the living room, standing at the large bay window, taking note of the lights from the town below. He traced his fingers across the mantle and saw that no pictures adorned its surface. Same with the walls, which were all darker, muted colours. He crossed the room and started up the stairs, Corvid following him at a distance.
Inside her bedroom, he poked through her dresser drawers, not really expecting to find anything. He was surprised she kept Markov’s sidearm in with her socks. He picked it up, holding the gun to his nose. If she’d fired it recently, he couldn’t tell. He put it back. He saw her laptop on her desk. He glanced back at Corvid.
“She’ll have password protected that, and rigged it to fry itself if we enter the wrong password enough times.”
Corvid nodded. “I’ll have Kessler get it to our tech people.”
Pinhill went into the bathroom. He pulled back the shower door and saw that the bathtub was dry. He looked around for the garbage pail, found it, and leaned down, pushing a handful of cotton balls and cardboard rolls out of the way until his fingers knocked something more substantial. He picked it up and looked at it; a prescription bottle. He handed it to Corvid.
Corvid took it, reading the label. He wasn’t surprised the name on it wasn’t hers. Then his eyes widened and he looked at Pinhill. “Morphine?” he said with noted incredulity.
“I saw a piece of opened mail stuck on the fridge downstairs. Same name. I’d hazard a guess those are hers.”
“What the hell does she need morphine for?”
Pinhill shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Was she using when she was with me?”
He shrugged again. “If she was, she never failed a drug screen. How badly was she injured in Kursk?”
“I’m…not certain. I never saw her again. Anatoly told me she was dead.”
“Either he was wrong, or he was lying.”
Corvid nodded. “Indeed…”
“You sure it’s wise to bring him back into the fold?”
Corvid thought for a moment. Then, “I’ll make that decision when I see him again.”
“Boss, if we send men like Thatcher and the Bondy Twins after her, there’s a solid chance you won’t see either of them again. Not alive anyway.”
“I know.” Corvid’s tone was dismissive.
“That doesn’t bother you?”
Corvid glanced up at him. “Should it?”
Pinhill stared at him for a moment, then growled and stalked out of the bedroom. A moment later he could be hard walking downstairs.
Corvid stared at the door. “Now what’s he’s all in a snit about then?”
Back in the kitchen, Corvid found Pinhill going through her junk drawer; that one catch-all found in every home. He loudly rifled through the contents before pulling out a receipt. He read it, frowning almost indiscernibly.
“What is it?” Corvid came up beside him.
“New transfer case for a 1998 Jeep Cherokee. Here’s the license plate. Matches the one parked outside.”
“So? We know this is her place.”
“It’s for a place in Fort St. John.”
“So she’s dating a lumberjack? What?”
“She’s taking Anatoly north, to one of the dozens of unregistered airfields.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Because she’s luring you to her turf, challenging you on her own terms, and there are at least two dozen of these little airfields up here, some not much more than a field where helicopters can land easily. There’s rarely any air traffic controllers, just a beacon, a transmitter to tell you how close you are. And a lot of bush pilots don’t have to file flight plans. They lift off from up there, they’re gone. And we have no way to track them.”
Corvid narrowed his eyes. “You’re not trying to throw me off, are you?”
“I want to be there when you find her. Just to make sure you don’t put a bullet in her skull when winging her will suffice. The kid too.”
“You just do your damned job, Mr. Pinhill. Let’s go.”
Pinhill watched him leave. He took one last look around the house and sighed heavily. “This must be what a custody battle feels like.” He rolled his eye and followed Corvid outside.
Kessler approached Corvid as soon as he stepped outside, talking animatedly. “We found tracks from a pair of all-terrain vehicles at the far end of the property. And a mannequin, of sorts, on the ground where they turned around.”
Corvid cocked his head to one side. “A mannequin? What are you playing at?”
“There’s a camera in the chest. Or was. Someone shot it. Probably from a distance. She spotted the vehicles, took one of the riders out, realized they were remotely operated, got spooked, and hightailed it up into the mountains. There are fresh horse tracks going directly north. That way.” He pointed.
Corvid followed Kessler’s finger. He shielded his eyes from the sun. “You think those antennae have anything to do with this?”
“Those are cellular relay towers. We’ll have someone go take a look. In the meantime, I think we need to strategize. She couldn’t have picked a worse time to pull this stunt. There are 10-15 centimetres of snow predicted to fall tomorrow, that’ll slow them down considerably. We’ll form a net around her location and then close it in. She’ll be strangling before she understands what’s happening.”
“Don’t underestimate her,” Corvid said quietly, “yesterday we knew she was dead. Now she’s got my driver. And god knows what else.”
“Get me the keys to her Jeep.” Pinhill said.
Kessler looked to Corvid. “Sir?”
Corvid nodded. “Do it.” To Pinhill he said, “You think you’ll find anything inside it?”
“No. I’m going to chase her up her own goddamn mountain with it. I can match the tread to the tracks already up there.”
“That’s…not a bad idea. I’ll go with you.”
Pinhill arched an eyebrow. “It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, Boss.”
Corvid shrugged. “Nothing to which I’m not accustomed with that bloody woman.” He signalled for Kessler.
Pinhill put on his sunglasses and cracked his knuckles, looking northward with something not unlike visceral dread. He wasn’t even certain why.
He moved and his back and legs flared with pain. He moaned, trying to let sleep swallow him whole again.
“Toly. Get up.”
He rolled onto his back and fluttered open his eyes, surprised at the darkness that still had them in a stranglehold. “Christ.” He sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Does the sun ever come up here?” The dog licked his face and he rubbed Arkady’s head, letting him lean up against him. The dog was warm after all.
“No. Come on, we have to move.” She reached down and gripped his wrist.
He allowed himself to be pulled up. He shivered and looked around. “Oh what the…hell? It’s fucking snowing, LeCroix!”
“That’s why we leave now. Give the weather a chance to obliterate our tracks.”
He looked at her. “Good plan. Tell me you made coffee.”
She pushed a Thermos into his grasp. “I even made breakfast. You can eat when we get moving. Take as many of these charred logs and toss ‘em in the lake. There’s heavy marsh to your left, aim for that.”
He nodded. “On it.”
They reached the mid-point down the north side of the summit by the time daylight finally broke. LeCroix suggested they take a break, and when she offered him half of one of her painkillers, he took it gratefully. She took out her compass and a notepad and scribbled down some numbers.
“We lost but gosh we sure are making good time?” he asked.
“We’re not lost.” She dragged deeply from her cigarette.
She stuffed the compass back in her pocket then looked at him. “They’ll be closing in on us by now. Corvid will circle us, tightening the noose.”
“We’ll slip right through. Bout 50 kilometres north of here.”
“How do you figure?”
She pulled out a topographical map and showed it to him. “See this?” She pointed.
“Old CN rail tunnel. There was a bad landslide, maybe 40-45 years ago. Three people died, including 2 responders trying to dig out the conductor. After that, they redid the survey and found that the summit above this tunnel was extremely finicky. They made a decision to reroute the trains to the south and shut off this line. Then someone started a rumour about ghosts haunting the tunnel and 2 paranormal researchers were killed when they got caught in a freak storm after a day of filming at the tunnel. So, its existence was scrubbed from every map. Only the locals know about it.”
“Fascinating. But I don’t see how it makes a difference whether they get us on one side of a tunnel or the other.”
“This thing is at the bottom of a 2000 foot valley. It’s almost 3 miles long. We’ll wait them out for a day inside. If they’re waiting for us on the other end, we double back.”
“That’s cutting it awfully close, LeCroix.”
“I rigged both ends with explosives. If anyone is waiting for us, they’re going to end the day on a very bad note.”
Rodchenko paled noticeably. “Jesus. That’s a shit way to die.”
She shrugged. “If you think that motherfucker has something more pleasant planned for me, well, I think we both know how that story ends.” She clucked her tongue and then whistled for the dog. The horse cantered forward, Arkady barking from a short distance. He came bounding out of the trees and ran ahead.
Rodchenko followed her, his voice locked in his throat and his uneasiness reaching a fever pitch. LeCroix, like Corvid, could be as insane as she was cunning, and he felt real concern about what was going to happen when these two unstable systems collided headlong.
The man in an uncoloured, long coat, heavy boots, a fur hat, and carrying one Mossberg 590 in his arms and a second slung over his shoulder, next to his pack, looked at the broken quad driver on the ground. He toed a piece of plastic that used to be part of the camera housing, making a mental note to look into stronger casings for the next time. He glanced over at the house. There seemed to be no movement. Still, he wasn’t going to take any chances. Still hanging back in the trees, evading detection in case some of Corvid’s people were lingering. He retreated to a respectable distance, cycled out the rounds from his gun, stuffed them into a coat pocket, tied a length of paracord around the narrowest section of the stock, then ascended the tree to a large branch about 4 metres up, pulling the gun up after him. He took his belt off his jeans and cinched it around his legs, fishing a thermal blanket from his pack and spreading it over himself. He took out his binoculars, switching to night vision, and began scanning the entire property. If he saw nothing by sun up, he would enter the house. He didn’t know who had taken Rodchenko from the hotel, he didn’t know for whom she worked, where her loyalties lie. He knew only that surveillance footage from the lobby of the hotel depicted a female police officer first accosting Rodchenko, then driving away with him in a large off-road vehicle, and now Corvid and his entourage were tracking her. And he was tracking Corvid. Møller knew exactly who she was, but wasn’t sharing the information, so Larkey had someone take a sneak peek at the file and provide him with a name and an address. Shawn LeCroix. Known affiliations: Corvid, Silas Graf, Darrack Pinhill, Ken Markov…
His phone vibrated in his pocket and he took it out. The screen flashed a message from Eidjarn Møller.
“Where the hell are you, Larkey? If you’re chasing down that whelp, don’t bother coming back.”
Devon Larkey ignored the message and rested against the massive tree, settling in for the next several hours. Møller would have his temper tantrum and get over it when Larkey brought him Corvid’s body. He smiled.