Cover Reveal: Part III
For whatever reason, I keep wanting to start this post with, “What up, bitches?” But I will not.
So, you’re here! And I’m here! And Dave is … Well, I don’t know where Dave is, but since you made it here today for the extras, I won’t let you down! Today I have for you a chapter that, although I thoroughly enjoy, was omitted from Rise and Run for pacing reasons. It was originally the second chapter in the book, so you might have questions to which I’ll simply say, “Hey, just go buy the book tomorrow and all your questions will be answered.”
Oh, and, this wouldn’t be a proper part III to the cover reveal without the whole … missing piece of the cover. So, you’ll find that below. For now, read and enjoy!
November 4, 2012, Bar Harbor, Maine
Rian Connell had called in every favor owed to him to get Effie released after she was apprehended on the suspicion of murdering a government agent. And when Mýrún couldn’t be found, Anthony Kenna’s murder was pinned on Effie as well. Not a stretch, considering that both men had died the same way.
The DoD’s reluctance to admit that the stolen boy existed—not even a word was breathed as to his purpose—worked in Rian’s favor. Effie’s case never went to trial, so thoroughly did all parties work to bury the classified project. The only reason Effie wasn’t buried herself was Rian’s high profile and the extensive media coverage it entailed him. Effie was released after three months with full-throated apologies, and no small amount of whispered threats.
But no one went against Rian. No one dared. If there was a problem that his imports and exports business couldn’t pay for, it was dealt with by the less legal aspects of his empire—and the extent of classified information he shouldn’t have was extra leverage.
Rian stood outside the Women’s Center of the Maine Correctional Center, his sandy hair slicked back. His gray and white pinstripe suit jacket was open to show off a matching waistcoat and a deep red tie. He held his arms open just in time to catch Effie as she sailed into him, knocking his glasses askew as she settled into as fierce a hug as she could manage with her pregnant belly between them.
“We have to find him,” Effie said. She looked up at him, searching his eyes for a sign of acquiescence.
Rian’s eyes went heavenward as he searched for the proper response. “I’ve looked for him, Effie. The boy is nowhere to be found,” Rian said, his Irish accent softened by his years in the States. “And Mýrún … she’s vanished just as soundly.”
“She couldn’t stay,” Effie said for what must have been the hundredth time over the past three months.
Rian waved off the chauffeur and opened the limo door for Effie himself. She scooted across the bench seat and Rian took his place beside her before instructing the driver to take them home. He closed the partition.
“I’ve widened the surveillance range. My sources have all confirmed that the DoD hasn’t located the boy yet. At least that’s something.”
“You don’t think …” she whispered, unable to finish the thought.
“No,” he lied. “I don’t think he’s dead.”
“Take me there,” Effie said. “Take me to the pickup location. I need to see.”
“And I need you to be home,” he said “Besides, taking the limo would draw unwanted attention.”
“Then why’d you take it?” she asked. Rian kissed her forehead in answer, then pulled her into him.
“If your mind is set on this we’ll go, but not now.”
She nodded. He was right, of course. He generally was. But knowing that didn’t stop the impatient tapping of her foot or the way she nervously picked at her fingernails. She had to find the boy; she had to.
December 11, 2012, Lewiston, Maine
It was nearing midnight when Rian arrived at the project building where James Moran’s witness reported seeing the boy. Moran, Bar Harbor’s police chief and Rian’s closest friend, drove up with a few of his men following behind. Unofficially. As Moran got out of his car and Rian walked over to meet him, three undercover Chargers pulled up around them.
Moran handed Rian an earpiece and neck loop mic. “Just in case you want to turn me off,” he said as he handed Rian a wireless remote control. The earpiece was small and comfortable, a nanotech prototype that Rian had paid a fortune to get into Moran’s possession. He pulled the mic over his head, then tucked it under his shirt before attaching the remote to his belt.
Rian looked around at the growing unofficial police presence that had spilled from the Chargers. They looked ready.
“Two on you, two on me,” Moran said. “One at the front entrance and one at the back.”
Rian nodded and returned his attention to the building. Its windows were boarded up and the front door hung loosely from its broken hinges. This was Russian territory. Encroaching on it could cause Rian problems down the road, but he’d promised Effie that he’d get the boy.
Rian always kept his promises.
“I’ll take the ground floor,” Moran said. Rian nodded, freeing his pistol from its holster, and followed Moran to the building’s entrance, all but two officers in tow.
Rian and Moran stopped, one on either side of the listing front door. The smell of urine escaped through the opening. Rian peered down the empty hallway, a cancerous throat with torn and molding carpet and wounded walls. He nodded to the two men lined up behind him, trusting them to cover him as he made his way to the stairwell.
He stayed low against the wall, palms cupping his pistol grip, the barrel facing the floor for now. His right index finger rested against the trigger guard. He took shallow breaths through his nose, not particularly wanting to smell the building, but wanting to taste it even less. One foot crossed over in front of the other and his back lightly scraped the wall. The stairwell was just around the corner to the right. Behind him, Moran shifted, ready to go in. Rian turned the corner, pistol up.
Rian took the stairs slowly, half out of choice and half necessity. The wooden stairs were in disrepair, not creaking as much as weeping when Rian or one of the officers put weight on certain slats. As he reached the landing, he took a moment to adjust his eyesight. It was darker up here, the smell louder.
“Move,” Rian whispered.
“Moving,” Moran answered, his voice coming crisply through the earpiece.
All the doors on either side of the hall had been removed, showing only dark sores along the blue-gray stretch of hallway. Rian and his party cleared the rooms one at a time. Inside the apartments, Rian saw signs of abandoned lives. Barbies and Hot Wheels, Legos, Play-Doh, gaming systems with game cases sprawling like an overturned Jenga tower. Mold spreading from desiccated food on dirty dishes in one kitchen. Overturned chairs, broken tables, empty spaces where television sets might have been, shattered lamps.
The whole second floor had been turned over.
The last apartment was fairly intact. Rian swept through, room to room. He swept his gun through the doorway to a bedroom. Lined up against the far wall were three bare mattresses with barely enough space to walk in between. Chains hung on the wall, about halfway between floor and ceiling, over all three mattresses. The next bedroom had the same setup.
“Ground floor is clear. Going to three,” Moran said.
Rian and his two officers reconvened in the hallway.
“All clear, sir,” the taller one said. The other shook his head. He’d found nothing.
“Two is clear,” Rian said into his mic as he walked back to the stairwell. “Going to four.”
The carpet on the fourth floor had been peeled back. Long, wide strips had been cut out in places. There were holes in the walls where the sheetrock had been broken, exposing the framework. It looked like someone had been pilfering copper wire.
The three men entered the first apartment, sweeping the rooms. “Sir,” the taller officer’s voice came simultaneously over the earpiece and through the wall. Rian walked over to the officer, now standing in a doorway. He stepped aside to let Rian look in.
Chains on the wall, naked mattresses, and five bodies.
“Human trafficking,” Rian muttered. “Looks like the Russians are tying up loose ends.”
The bodies were starting to turn, the smell sticking to the back of Rian’s throat. He patted the officer on the shoulder and turned to leave. As he stepped through the apartment’s front door, he picked up movement coming from the opposite end of the building and ducked back inside.
“Third floor is clear,” Moran said over the comm.
“We’ve got movement on four,” Rian said.
He chanced a peek from around the frame. He watched as three men and four women—some crying, their distress barely audible—were herded into the hallway. A fourth man followed behind them with a gun in hand.
The man looked out of place, plucked from a department store catalog in his cheap suit. The group was about twenty feet away, heading toward the opposite stairwell, when Rian heard a cry from the apartment they had vacated. It was a small sound. A loud thump followed on the heels of the cry.
Rian waited until the hall was deserted.
“Eight coming your way. One armed, the rest …” Rian searched for the right word. He hated using the word victim. He settled for, “Captives.”
Over the comm, Rian heard Moran directing his men to new locations.
“Keep clearing the floor,” Rian said over his shoulder. He crept down the hallway to the last apartment on the left, from where the cry had come.
A quick look inside revealed a man in dark clothes standing over a boy who couldn’t have been more than four or five. Rian couldn’t tell if this was the right boy; the age seemed off. He took a breath, then moved to fill the apartment’s doorframe.
He didn’t say anything, simply lined up his target and fired.
The bullet hit near the man’s kidney, the lack of spray out suggesting there would be no exit wound. The boy made no sound as the body fell forward, collapsing on top of him. Rian hurried into the room to pull the man aside. Unconscious, but not dead yet. He squatted down in front of the boy, who there was no mistaking now.
The boy’s left arm was set at an odd angle and his face and neck were bruised. A bleeding cut trailed from the corner of a bloodshot eye. Rian turned at the sound of the officers clearing the rooms next door. When he looked back to the boy, the cut was nearly closed.
Rian blinked a few times, then shook his head.
“It’s all right now, boyo,” he finally said, trying to sound neutral.
Rian heard a shout, gunshots, and more shouting, this time with additional voices thrown into the mix. A woman wailed.
“Building is secure,” Moran said.
“Perimeter is secure,” a second voice responded.
“The boy is secure,” Rian announced. To the boy, he said, “Just sit tight, huh? You’re safe now.”
Rian stood up as he heard the first set of boots on the stairs. He checked the man he’d shot. Still not quite dead. He met Moran at the door, still keeping an eye on the kid and the soon-to-be corpse.
“We caught ourselves a bad guy,” Moran said.
“One of Kuznetsov’s men,” Rian said.
Moran whistled. “Shit. Well, I’m sure he’ll have an accident in prison.”
“A better alternative would be for him to have an accident before he leaves this building. I’d prefer that Kuznetsov doesn’t find out about this. Or at least not anytime soon.”
Moran nodded. “And the boy?”
“A bit beat up, but alive. His arm looks broken.”
“Who’s that with him?” Moran asked, eying the man on the floor.
“Another of Kuznetsov’s men. Post-accident. Give it a few minutes and all you’ll have to do is hide the body.”
Moran shook his head. “Funny. I’ve got EMTs on the way for the civilians. I’ll send a team up to check out the boy.”
Moran headed back down to his men. Rian returned to the boy, who hadn’t moved. He hugged his knees with his right arm. Rian sat beside him, leaning against the wall.
“Let me see,” Rian said, indicating the boy’s left arm. The boy held out his arm, made no noise as Rian inspected it. Bright bruising mottled the skin. Not broken after all. Fractured, maybe.
“Can you tell me your name, boyo?” Rian asked.
For a long while, the boy didn’t answer. Finally, he whispered, “LS061514.”
“And how old are you?”
“I’m Effie’s husband. Do you remember Effie?”
The boy nodded.
Rian couldn’t think of anything else to say. Kids weren’t his area of expertise—just one of the reasons why Effie’s pregnancy terrified him.
“How’d you manage to get all the way over here?” Rian finally asked.
The boy squirmed a bit. “I got hungry,” he said as though that explained everything.
Rian gazed ahead at nothing. He’d ask again, when the boy was out of this squalor. A week from now, a month from now, he’d ask again.
The paramedics arrived about ten minutes later. Rian moved aside to let them work. When the lead EMT asked which hospital to take the boy to, Rian slipped her a roll of bills and gave the address of a private clinic that one of his shell companies owned.
“We need to evacuate so the cleanup crew can get to work. You almost ready?” Moran asked as he walked back into the apartment.
“Just about. I need to arrange to have papers worked up for the boy,” Rian said.
“Why don’t I start on that while you get him settled? I know a guy who knows a guy.”
Rian smiled a little at that. “Conor Quinn seems like a good name, don’t you think?”
“Sure,” Moran said. “Listen, Rian, the ambulances are going to draw attention to this place. Not to mention our cars and the cleaners. Kuznetsov will know something happened.”
“I’ve got a guy at the Sun Journal. He’ll make sure the right story gets out,”
“Better work fast,” Moran said. “I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”
Rian followed the paramedics out of the building and climbed into the ambulance. “No lights, no sirens,” he said to the driver as the rear doors shut.
March 13, 2012, Kennebunk, Maine
The doctor and a flock of nurses bustled about while machines beeped anxiously. The screaming alarms were endless. Rian heard it all at a distance, his ears as resistant to decode the sound as his eyes were to the sight.
Conor gripped two of Rian’s fingers. The hands of both the man and the boy were clammy. A nurse cleared his throat, but when he saw Rian’s face, he thought better of speaking to him at all, much less trying to persuade him to leave.
She looks so small, Rian thought as he looked at Effie. So small. Somehow everything had gone wrong. The baby was stillborn and complications during the labor led to the subsequent surgical removal of the thing. The thing that would have been Michael.
Rian looked down at the boy holding his fingers in a painfully tight grip, but the boy only had eyes for Effie. One of the machines sang out a long flat line, kicking the noise and rushed movement into a higher gear.
Then everything stilled.
The doctor covered Effie with a sheet as the rest of the team shuffled out in varying states of emotion.
“I’m sorry,” was all the doctor said before leaving Rian and Conor alone with the body.
Conor let go of Rian’s fingers and walked over to the side of the bed where Effie’s arm hung out from under the sheet. He placed her hand on top of his head, like she might wake up and ruffle his hair. He held her wrist in both of his small hands and closed his eyes.
Rian looked around the room, trying to find something that wasn’t there. As he turned toward one of the observation windows, he caught sight of an older woman. Her thin white hair hung in a plait over one shoulder. She was handsome, even in old age, and her bright blue eyes shined with unshed tears.
Rian looked back, saw Conor staring at Mýrún, still holding Effie’s hand on his head. Rian turned and ran out of the room, but she was already gone.
He walked back in and rested his hand on Conor’s shoulder. The boy laid his head on the hospital bed, oblivious to the bloodstain creeping outward. Rian squatted and gently took Conor by both shoulders, turning the boy to face him.
He wanted to say something, but had no words. Instead he hugged Conor fiercely, then picked the boy up and carried him out.
Well, that was fucking depressing! But I hope you enjoyed it all the same. As promised, here’s the final piece of the puzzle! Keep and eye out tomorrow for the Cover Reveal finale (that’s when you get to see the whole damn thing in order). Also keep and eye on this here page for the Amazon purchase links!