Authors: Jo Leigh
This book is dedicated to my dear friends, Venita, Peter and Vicki, for years of love and kindness.
And to Susan, Terry, Stephanie, Barbara and Debbi for their support, insight, input and, of course, laughter.
he wrong man was dying.
Mike McCullough watched his partner from behind the washing machine crates. Gordon was lying on the concrete floor, not more than ten feet away, a dark pool of blood growing beneath his left ear.
It should have been me,
I should have taken that bullet. It would have been better for everyone.
The warehouse was as dark and quiet as a crypt. The only sound Mike heard was his own labored breathing. Mojo had been silent ever since he’d delivered the last barrage, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t moving. The shots had come from across the cavernous room, the report echoing like thunder in a canyon. Mike had yelled when Gordon hit the floor. Yelled until he was sure Gordon couldn’t answer him. Mojo could have run then. He could be right behind this pallet.
Mike reached inside his pants pocket and pulled out his wallet. He tossed it underhanded so it landed with a skid about fifteen feet from Gordon. Instantly, a shower of gunfire lifted the wallet and sent it skittering across the floor. By the time it came to a halt just inches from his hiding place, it was in shreds. It had served its purpose though. Mojo was behind the refrigerators across the way, deep in shadow. Mike knew there was no way to move from his position. He would be cut down in seconds.
He leaned back, rested his head on the stacked crates and tried to slow his rapid pulse. His .45 was in his right hand, the safety off, a full clip engaged, another in his shirt pocket. He flexed his thigh muscles, trying to ease the tension from standing so still. He glanced again at Gordon—no need to watch him dying any more. That part was over. All Mike had to do now was get his revenge.
The sound of a shoe squeaking on the concrete caught Mike’s attention. He should wait. Backup was on the way. Gordon had called in their position before they’d entered the warehouse. Mojo was alone, with a limited supply of ammunition.
Seconds ticked by in absolute silence. Mike breathed through his mouth while he studied the black shadows that hid the enemy. It was cold, maybe fifteen degrees. Where was that son of a bitch?
He switched his gun to his left hand and swiped his right on his pant leg. When it was dry, he took the weapon back, curling his finger around the trigger. Damn it. Why didn’t Mojo move?
Morris Jones, alias Mojo. Bank robber. Kidnapper. Killer. He’d torn up Boulder like a tornado, leaving pain and destruction in his wake. Two weeks ago he’d broken into the home of Colorado Federal Bank president Jim Greer. He’d held Greer’s wife and child hostage while Greer took three-hundred-thousand dollars worth of cash and bearer bonds from the safe. The FBI had taken charge. By the time it was all over, Greer, his wife and their son were all dead, tossed on the side of a farm-to-market road like garbage. Mojo had his money, and the FBI had excuses.
Then Mike had picked up his trail. Gordon had tried to tell him to wait for the rest of the team, but Mike hadn’t listened. Now Gordon was dead.
Mike leaned to the left, until he could peek around the edge of the crates. Nothing. His eyes hurt from the strain of staring into the shadows.
At first, he thought he’d imagined the sirens. But no, they were coming closer. Then the red spit of gunfire lit up the night, and he felt the impact of bullets smash into the heavy crates behind his shoulder. Ducking down, he waited as the volley of automatic weapon fire slammed all around him. He had just enough time to send his wife and son a silent goodbye. Then he hit the floor, rolling away from his cover, squeezing the trigger as he spun. He heard a scream, but he kept firing, aiming straight at the mouth of the gunfire. His arm jerked with the recoil as he used his left hand to push himself to his feet. He ran straight, the gun an extension of his body.
“Come on, you bastard!” Mike yelled, not able to hear his own words as the roar of gunfire filled the warehouse. “Come and get me!”
He nearly fell over Mojo. In the seconds it took to get his bearings, his mind registered the sirens just outside. He saw the Uzi machine gun near Mojo’s outstretched hand and he kicked it hard. It slid across the floor, but Mike didn’t bother noticing where it landed. He planted his feet wide apart and pointed the muzzle of his gun at Mojo’s head.
“FBI! Mike, where are you?” The voice carried from across the huge room.
“Over here, Tommy,” Mike yelled. “I've got him. Get an ambulance. Gordon is down.”
Mike ignored the activity at the door. He focused on one thing only. That Morris Jones didn’t move a muscle. The overhead lights came on, blinding him momentarily. When he could see, he wished for the darkness.
Mojo wasn’t dead. He was smiling. Staring right into his eyes and grinning. Mike shivered involuntarily and straightened his aim.
“You better pull that trigger, McCullough.” His voice was sharp and high, like a scrape on a chalkboard.
“Pull it now. Do it.”
Mike didn’t respond.
Mojo’s eyes narrowed, and the smile left his lips. “I'll find you. No matter where you run. You're a dead man.”
* * *
It was dawn when he pulled into his driveway. All he wanted was a hot shower. He was bone cold. The heater in his Dodge had only managed to make him sleepy. His fingers were so stiff, he had a hard time gripping the door handle. When he stepped out of the car, he noticed the newspaper boy had already been there. Ice formed a diaphanous blanket over the lawn, made visible by the strip of orange sunlight at the edge of the horizon. It looked like it might snow.
The house was dark, but Mike didn’t flip on the hall light. Walking softly, he shrugged out of his coat as he crossed the living room. When he reached the dining room, he listened for a minute. It was as quiet in his home as it had been at the warehouse. But there was a safety in this silence. His wife and child were in their beds, blissfully unaware of how close they’d come to losing him. Becky would figure it out when he told her about Gordon. She would look at him with wounded, frightened eyes. She would ask him again to quit the bureau. He would want to say yes, want to please her. But he wouldn’t.
He reached for the light switch. The first thing he saw was the birthday cake on the table. God, he’d forgotten. He hadn’t even picked up a card for her. One piece had been sliced out—the
of her name and half a flower gone. The candles were still imbedded in frosting. Becky had baked her own cake.
On the walls, he saw pictures of cakes and party hats. All drawn with the fierce crayon of his seven-year-old. Bold black lines filled in with improbable colors. Happy misspelled. Then there were the photographs. All of happier times. There was Sam at his first birthday. Amy on a tricycle, before she’d gotten sick. Becky with a backpack in Estes Park. Him smiling.
He put his coat over a chair and cut off a slab of cake. Then he saw the envelope. His name, in Becky’s handwriting, was written across the front. He sat. For a moment, he just looked at his plate and felt his stomach tighten.
He picked up the envelope and ripped away the edge. There was a single sheet of paper inside.
Mike, I can’t take it anymore. Sam and I have gone to stay with my father. It’s not that you missed my birthday. That didn’t even surprise me. But I can’t stay here and wait for you to get yourself killed. I can’t go another night waiting for that phone call. I'm sorry. I tried.
She’d signed it Becky. As if he wouldn’t know who’d just ripped his heart out.
wo years later...
The second she heard the knock on the door, Becky knew something was wrong. She checked her watch as she hurried down the stairs. Her stomach tightened in a sickening, familiar way. Good news never came after midnight.
“Who is it?” she asked, standing on her toes to look through the tiny peephole. Mike’s distorted features filled her gaze.
Mike? What was he doing here? He never came by without calling. In fact, he rarely came by at all. Becky’s hand shook as she unlocked the door and pulled it open. The icy night air followed him in, giving her a chill that matched her apprehension at his late night appearance.
He didn’t answer. He took off his heavy parka and fur-lined gloves and hung them on the coatrack. His flannel shirt stuck to his back, and when he turned she saw a sheen of sweat on his brow.
“Mike, what’s going on?”
He closed his dark eyes briefly, and in that split second she knew she didn’t want to hear the answer.
“There’s a problem,” he said, his voice low and strained. He reached for her, then let his arm drop. He nodded toward the living room. “Let’s go sit down.”
She tightened the belt on her robe as she walked to the sofa, then sat facing the fireplace. Her mind raced with possible scenarios. Her father, her son—no Sam was upstairs in bed. Mike stood in front of her. She wanted to scream at him to tell her, but she didn’t. It wouldn’t make him talk any faster. She just stared straight ahead at the faded creases in his jeans. The foreboding in her chest swelled with each breath. It was just like when they’d been married. The terror of those late night phone calls. The dread that swallowed her each time he put his gun in his holster.
“Do you remember two years ago, the man who killed Gordon? Morris Jones?” he asked.
The name was so out of left field she felt off-balance for a moment. “You mean Mojo?”
Remember? How could she ever forget? That was the night she’d left with Sam. She nodded.
“He’s escaped from prison.”
She looked up. Mike towered over her. His tall, muscled body blocked out the light behind him and all she could see were the shadows of the man. Except for his eyes. She could see the dark pupils clearly. Black, penetrating, worried. He was frightened. Mike was never frightened.
Her hands started shaking, and her stomach clenched tighter. She didn’t like this. Not one bit. “What does that mean?” she asked.
“It means I'm getting you out of here. I want you to go upstairs and wake Sam. I'll bring in a suitcase from the garage. Take enough clothes for a week.”
“Wait a minute. What does this have to do with us?”
Mike moved to her side and sat down. She could see his face now. The worry there creased his forehead and she could see his jaw muscle tense. His eyes were the most troublesome thing, though. They seemed darker, somehow clouded.
“I don’t want you in Boulder while Mojo is loose.”
“I thought he’d been sent to Leavenworth. That’s in Kansas.”
“So, why do we have to leave?”
“Because he knows we're in Colorado.” Mike’s gaze shifted briefly to the V of her robe.
She wished she’d put on some sweats. It didn’t seem to matter that they’d been divorced for nearly a year. When he looked at her like that, she still felt something, and it made her uncomfortable.
“Mike, I don’t understand. What does he want from us?”
He said nothing. His gaze moved slowly over her face. He studied her so intently she felt her cheeks flush. She wondered if he could see the dread mounting inside her.
His thoughts were unreadable. That didn’t surprise her. She’d loved this man once. She’d shared her bed, her life, her children with him, and even then, as now, she’d never really known what he was thinking or feeling. Even when she’d felt closest to him, there had been secrets.
“It’s possible that he'll be coming this way. Not likely, but possible. He’s a sick bastard, and I'm not willing to take any risks. You need to trust me on this, Becky. Don’t ask any more questions. Just wake up Sam, and get yourself packed.”
There was more he wasn’t telling her. She would probably never know the whole truth. But it was very clear he thought they were in enough danger to warrant this incredible request. The one thing she knew above all else was that Mike was a good agent. His instincts had saved his life more times than she cared to remember. If he said they had to leave town, she wouldn’t argue. She stood. “We'll be ready in fifteen minutes.”
Mike felt the tension in his shoulders ease the moment Becky said the words. She wrapped her arms around her waist in a gesture he found familiar and sad. She seemed so alone when she did that. Hugging herself, seeking solace the only place she had left. It made him feel like hell.
He was grateful Becky didn’t argue. That she accepted his reasons without too many questions. Now he could get her and his son out of there. Far away from the man who’d sworn to kill them. If he needed to, he would take them to the ends of the earth.
The letters had started a few months after Mojo had entered the federal penitentiary. At first they’d been about Mike. Personal letters about his job, his divorce, his life. In each one, Mojo reiterated his promise—he would track down Mike and kill him, no matter what.
It was the most recent letter that had brought him here tonight. He’d gotten it this afternoon, at the office.
This one had been about Becky and Sam.
Accurate, detailed and filled with the promise of revenge. Mike had no idea how Mojo had gotten his information. All he knew was that if Morris Jones said he was going after Becky and Sam, Mike believed him.
“Bring in all three suitcases,” Becky said. “They're in the garage. We'll need them for the heavy sweaters and boots.” With that, she moved toward the stairs.
He looked after her, at the long, lean body he knew so well. What had he gotten her into? She’d left him because she hadn’t been able to stand the unknown quantity of his life on the streets. She’d run here to escape from the killers and the death. Now he had brought it right to her doorstep.
He got up and went to the kitchen. There was the clock they’d gotten as a wedding present, the silver set his mother had given her, the clay bowl Sam had made in first grade. They were relics of a past life, with no connection to him now.
After opening the garage door, Mike flipped on the light. Behind the Volvo, he saw his jigsaw and bench. She’d asked him to take that with him, but he had no room and no time for hobbies. The suitcases were stacked on shelves he’d built for the old house. She’d hired a handyman to put them up. Sam had asked the man if he was going to be his new daddy.
He grabbed the cases and went back through the house without looking at anything. When he got upstairs, Sam’s door was open, but his light wasn’t on. Mike walked in, and saw Becky standing just inside his room. She was still hugging herself, staring at her son as he slept.
She was a beautiful woman, that hadn’t changed at all. No, that wasn’t true—she’d gotten more beautiful after they’d split up. She’d thrown her-self into school and work and the PTA, and it had been good for her. She looked years younger. Her hair was shorter than when he’d seen her six months earlier. He liked it like this, just below her shoulders, smooth and straight. She turned to look at him, her brow furrowed and her eyes full of fear.
It was like old times. Standing in the bedroom, afraid for their child. But this time it was Sam she was worried about, not Amy.
Mike put the cases down, and looked at his son. Sam looked tiny underneath the big comforter. He was on his side, with his fist curled under his chin. His dark hair was smooth, like his mother’s, and so shiny it caught the trace of moonlight filtering in through the window. If Mojo tried to touch him, Mike would kill him with his bare hands.
“There’s no other way.” Becky whispered.
It wasn’t a question. He crossed behind her and walked to the bed. Sitting softly, he put his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Sam. Wake up, son.”
Sam’s eyes flickered, then he kind of snorted and moved his shoulder. Mike gently shook him. “Wake up.”
This time his eyes made it open. “Dad?”
“You need to get up, son. We're going on a little trip.”
Sam’s big brown eyes widened, and his gaze moved from Mike over to Becky.
“What’s going on?”
“Do what your father says, Sam. Get up and get dressed. Wear a sweater and put on long johns under your jeans.”
The boy pushed himself up. He looked back at Mike, and his face formed a question, but he didn’t ask it. He just got out of bed.
Mike turned to Becky. “You’d better get dressed. I want to be out of here in ten minutes.”
She nodded distractedly. She looked at her little boy, then back at him. “Make sure he packs enough underwear and socks. And talk to him.” Then she left, flipping on the light as she passed through the door.
Sam walked slowly to the bathroom, without saying anything. He was a quiet kid, although that hadn’t always been the case. The older he got, the more serious he became. Mike understood that. He’d been a loner, too.
He looked around the room. It was comfortable and a little too neat for a nine-year-old. His desk was the only exception. It was filled with the odd treasures of boyhood—rocks and shells and plastic replicas of his favorite TV characters. On the bulletin board above the desk was a newspaper article about Mike from about two years ago. His picture looked faded, and the bottom of the paper was curled.
The posters in the room hadn’t changed since his last visit. A Tyrannosaurus rex still growled down from above his bed.
He turned. Sam stood by the bathroom door wearing his long johns. He looked thin but sturdy.
“Are you coming back to stay?”
He’d prepared for every question but that. “No, son.”
“Oh. I just thought...” He looked down and stared at his bare feet.
“We're just going up to the mountains for a little vacation. That’s all.”
Sam nodded. “Okay. Can you put my clothes in the suitcase? I've got to load up my laptop. I've got a game going, and I want to copy it to disk just in case.”
Mike went to the hall and got the smallest suitcase. By the time he got back, Sam was busy at his desk, quickly typing commands into the machine. He was a whiz at that thing. Mike had come into the computer age so he could keep up with his kid.
He learned the details of his son’s life through the electronic mail. He would turn on his old computer and go to the bulletin board. There, he could not only read the private messages just meant for him, but the posts Sam left for his computer buddies. The kids talked about school and games and baseball. Sometimes about their folks. It was a new world, this electronic community. It left Mike bewildered at times. But he was grateful for this window into Sam’s life. Now, they talked to each other every couple of days.
The sound of breaking glass came from Becky’s room. Mike shot down the hall and was at her door in seconds. She seemed to be okay. A picture had fallen, the glass of the frame splintered, that’s all. He let go of his breath.
Becky leaned over slowly and picked up the broken picture. She turned it, and he saw it was of Amy.
“I didn’t want to leave without her,” she whispered, as she carefully slid the photograph from behind the shattered glass. “Now look what I've done.”
He walked over to her and took the frame from her hands. “Don’t cut yourself,” he said.
She took the sleeve of her robe and ran it over the picture. Amy smiled from a swing set, her tiny hands gripped tightly on the chains, her feet dangling above the sand. Mike remembered the day he’d taken that. They hadn’t known, then, that she had cancer. They wouldn’t find out for months. “It’s just a frame,” he said. “It can be replaced.”
Becky looked at him as if he’d said something wrong. “Did you talk to Sam? Did you tell him not to be scared?”
“What do you mean?”
“You're taking us away in the middle of the night, Mike. There’s an escaped killer out there. Don’t you think your son might be frightened?” The photograph in her hand trembled.
“Sam doesn’t know about Mojo,” he said. “He just thinks we're going on a trip.”
“He’s not stupid. He has to wonder what’s going on.”
“I'll talk to him.”
“What are you going to say?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“I'll make sure he knows there’s nothing to be scared about. There’s no way Mojo can find us where we're going.”
“He has nightmares.”
“We'll be with him.”
She walked over to the bed and put the photograph inside her suitcase, between two sweaters. “Is he packed?”
“Go on, then.”
He looked at the room as he walked out. There wasn’t much familiar in here. She’d sold their old bedroom furniture and gotten this oak set. The comforter was full of flowers. There were flowers everywhere, even the wallpaper. He didn’t know she liked them that much. He did recognize her needlework pillows, though. She liked to keep busy. That hadn’t changed.
She had gone into the bathroom, and he could see her collecting her cosmetics, and he wondered why she cared so much about a broken picture frame.
He got back to Sam’s room and opened the suitcase on the bed. Then he pulled out everything from the dresser—socks, underwear, pajamas, T-shirts. Becky probably would have been more selective, but if he took some of everything, it ought to be all right.
Becky stood at the door. She’d gotten dressed in jeans and a large beige sweater. Her hair was pulled back with a scarf. She was flipping the pages of her day runner. “I'm going to have to stop at a bank. I have almost no cash. And I have to cancel my appointments at the hotel. I'm supposed to lead a PTA meeting tomorrow night, and Sam has his piano lesson. Are we going to be near a phone in the morning?”
“I've got money. We'll take care of the rest when we're out of town. You almost ready? Need my help?”
She walked over and stopped when she saw inside the suitcase. “I thought you said to pack for a week. There’s enough stuff inside there for a world cruise.” She didn’t wait for an explanation, she just got busy.