—I have my fugitive cornered. Bad news
—I don’t have any backup.
The chase had encompassed forty-three hours with no sleep, very little food, and too many cups of cold coffee to count. It had crossed one state and three county lines and twice as many jurisdictions, only to circle back to within three miles of where it all started. And it looked like it was going to end at an abandoned house near Lisbon, Maryland.
Now fugitive recovery agent Nick Shepherd just had to decide whether to wait until his team arrived, or go in after Richie Carver on his own.
The old house didn’t look as if it had been occupied for years. The whole structure was leaning on its foundation, the roof had holes in it, all the glass in the windows had been broken out, and weeds tangled across the yard nearly waist-high, hiding anything from old tires to snakes and groundhog holes.
He’d have to go in low and slow.
Glancing over at the front porch, he discounted it immediately. Half the boards were gone; the rest didn’t look like they were too far behind. One wrong step and he’d be risking a broken leg or worse. His best bet was to enter one of the windows along the side of the house—the same way Richie had gone in—and to pray that Richie wasn’t standing there ready to shoot him as he climbed through.
When a fugitive jumps bail and disappears, fugitive recovery agents suit up and go hunting. They are experts at tracking and pursuing and have powers even local police don’t have. Relentless and more than a little fearless, they sometimes have to run a fugitive into the ground. But a cornered animal can be far more dangerous than one on the run.
Richie Carver was as nasty as they came. He and his brother, Jon, were known for drugs, prostitutes, illegal gambling, and who knew what else. If it was illegal and lucrative, they probably had their hands on it. Jon was the brains of the operation, preferring to stay close to the office and the money. Richie, on the other hand, was the brawn. His job was to make sure that no one crossed Jon. The problem was, Richie had gone beyond breaking legs and busting heads to straight-up murder. And after he jumped bail, he became Nick’s problem. Nick and the
rest of the Prodigal Fugitive Recovery Agents.
Nick glanced at his watch again. It had been nearly seven minutes since Richie had disappeared through that window. He knew better than most that the worst thing a bounty hunter could do was run into a situation like this without backup, but sometimes he had to break the rules.
He keyed the radio on his shoulder. “Conner. Come in.”
It took a couple of seconds, but he heard his second-in-command’s voice crackle through in his earpiece. “Here, Boss. What’s going down?”
“Richie’s run into an abandoned house. Where are you?”
“Rafe and I are ten, maybe fifteen out, Boss. Hold them horses.”
“No can do, Conn.”
“Wait for us, Boss. We’re close.”
“He’s been in there almost ten minutes. Can’t take a chance on him getting away.”
“Don’t do it, Boss. I’ve got my foot to the floor. Hang on.”
Nick stared at the house. He figured the best and worst that could happen and then keyed the radio again. “Just make sure you’re here before it turns ugly.”
He had just pulled the slide on his Glock when his cell phone vibrated. Assuming it was one of the members of his team, he flipped it open. “Yeah?”
“Krys? Honey, I’m right in the middle of something. Can I call you back?”
“Sure. I was just calling to say I love you and also to find out if maybe you want to go out for pizza tonight. Mom’s working late.”
“Sure, baby. I’ll give you a call in a couple hours.”
“Okay. Love you, bye.”
“Love you, bye.” He used his thigh to close the phone and then shoved it down inside his shirt pocket, protected inside his Kevlar vest.
He checked his Taser to make sure it was fully charged and put it back in his thigh holster, then eased up to a low crouch and began to make his way from the edge of the woods to the house. He nearly tripped twice but managed to avoid twisting his ankle on the pile of lumber hidden in the weeds and the gopher hole on the other side of it.
He thought he might have seen a black snake slithering off near an old wheelbarrow, but he didn’t look too closely. He wasn’t exactly fond of snakes, so he resorted to the childhood philosophy that if he didn’t see it, maybe it didn’t see him.
Easing up along the side of the house, he glanced furtively into the window. Living room. White plaster walls yellowed to beige and cracked with age. Light fixtures pulled from the ceiling. Wires dangling. Wood floors. And dust thick enough to leave footprints heading toward the back of the house.
Tucking his gun down in the holster, he prayed that Richie was somewhere else in the house and would stay there long enough for Nick to get through the window and pull his gun back out. He was halfway through the window when he saw the other footprints. Two pair, small, sneakers or athletic shoes. Kids. Probably teenagers. Were they here now? Or were they remnants from a previous night? Nick moved a little faster, scrambling through the broken window, snagging his shirt.
Then he the heard a scream. Female. Young. And in terror.