Spring, 2008, an undisclosed location near Chicago, IL
Text from Unknown: Do you know what you’re doing? I’m serious Dottie.
Thea stared at the burner phone she’d paid a teenager to buy her from the convenience store next to the airport. That was the million dollar question—literally—wasn’t it? She knew she didn’t want to be using her phone. She knew Dottie couldn’t do this.
It’s under control, she typed back.
Unknown: That’s not what I asked.
Well. You can’t come do it. I guess I have to.
Thea checked her hair and makeup in the bus station mirror. She’d grabbed the most severe black suit she could find, and worked her hair into the kind of bun she hated. It pulled, and eventually it gave her a headache. She suspected this day was going to end in a stress headache anyway.
Assuming it didn’t end in a gunshot wound.
Unknown: Just stay focused, stay calm. If they get the money we’ll worry about it on the back end. Don’t get shot.
You aren't helping, she texted back. She looked in the mirror one last time, and squared her shoulders. Going now. Comm dark.
Unknown: Check-in expected in forty-five minutes. Forwarded timetable to white rabbit.
It took her twenty minutes to make the warehouse across town. The FBI was with the Senator’s family, and she was alone and she could do this. She had to do this.
“Who the fuck are you?” someone shouted from dark corner to the back of the warehouse.
She watched him for a long moment, before she answered. “None of your concern. Where is the girl?”
He was less scary, face to face. Probably her age, tattoos all over his face—not the professional kind, probably done with an ink pen in the county jail—and a dirt spattered jacket. He stumbled into the light, pulling the girl with him.
She wasn’t in wonderful shape, but she was clearly breathing and conscious.
“She’s right here. You have my money?”
“I have the ransom.” Thea held the bag up. “Three million, as agreed.”
He didn’t need to know there was a camera in the handle of the case, it would transmit its last picture when she let go of the handle. And a transmitter they could turn on later if this turned out to be more organized than it'd appeared from a distance.
He moved forward, and she took a step back. “I have held to all your demands. You will release the girl. Once she is here with me I will leave the case here. Once we have left you may retrieve the money.”
He froze, and pointed the gun at the girl’s head.
She tuned out the uptick in crying, and stood still and stiff. Acting like she cared if the Senator’s daughter took a bullet to the head wouldn’t help either of them. “If you harm her I take the case and leave. If I don’t call her father from the car in five minutes he informs the authorities. You have a very finite window.”
He swallowed, agitated, and looked around the building. “You leave the case there.”
“I do. As soon as she reaches me, I set the case down. You stay where you are, once I shut the door behind us you are free to do as you please.”
“How do I know the money is in there?”
She blinked at him. “How do I know you won’t shoot us both and run as soon as you check it?”
He pushed the Senator’s daughter at her, and the girl shuffled and sniffled her way across the room. Thea would have much preferred to drop the case and run to the car, but the girl was crying too hard to stand or apparently pay attention to where she was going. She wrapped her arm through the girl’s bound wrists, and gently sat the case down.
Thea didn’t turn her back, she watched him until the door to the warehouse closed behind her before efficiently pushing the girl to the vehicle waiting next to the building. She opened the back door. “Lay down.”
“Because I asked you to,” she answered coldly.
Thea heard him yell, apparently having opened the case, as she slammed the car door and peeled away from the warehouse. Four black, non-descript SUV’s streamed passed them as she pulled away.
She had promised the Senator she’d make sure no one opened the case before they were away.
White.Rabbit: Ten minutes until check-in.
Thea rolled her eyes. Readjust to thirty, exchange is made. All clear.
“Who are you?” The girl whispered from the back. “Are you FBI?”
“No.” Thea merged onto the highway. “I represent a friend of your mother’s. Please stay down until we reach the house.”
Come back Monday for H: Hellfire.