The Doll 17（文稿）
Manage episode 310290941 series 3051597
Chapter 17 DALLAS, TEXAS
Bradford pulled the Explorer into Capstone’s parking spot, a haphazard straddling of the line that welcomed someone to ding his doors.
Adrenaline rush followed by adrenaline dump and around again, sleep deprivation, caffeine and sugar crashes, one after the other, combined to bring him to the point he was at now:
a danger on the roads and virtually worthless for making rational decisions much less the quantitative leaps necessary for pulling together and putting sense to the massive amount of information that had been coming at him over the past days.
Walker wasn’t doing a whole lot better. Time was fleeing, and hope fading just as quickly.
By all accounts, the last hours had been a bust, a wasted opportunity and time lost for nothing except to mark two properties off their list of potential hiding places and prepare to move on to the next.
From the transport depot they’d driven another thirty-five minutes to a warehouse, only to once again find no Logan, no clues nothing but a black and deserted property without security, without vehicles, and without any sign of life.
Now, within the haven of Capstone’s reception area, he buzzed the panel door open and then pointed in Walker’s direction.
“Office. Sleep,” he said. “It’s an order. We’ll reconvene at eleven.”
Walker deflated but didn’t argue and, head hung low, followed him into the hall. She bypassed the war room for the closet to stash the vests.
Jahan turned when Bradford entered and, making eye contact, shook his head.
“I need to sleep,” Bradford said. “Unless it’s an emergency, I’m not available. Sam’s headed to the back office, same story for her. Did you pull all night?”
“I stopped at two,” Jahan said. “I’ll be ready to roll whenever you are.”
“Give me four hours,” Bradford said, and walking away added, “Put in another call to Robertson for latents, will you?
“See if there’s something new on the prints and samples they took at Logan’s. The guy owes me, he’s gotta have something.”
He paused, then returned to the war room and hung back in the doorway. “Anything on the lines?” Jahan shook his head once more.
“You’ve confirmed they’re all operational? Nothing’s down?” “Everything’s working. I’ll let you know if something comes. I swear.” Bradford nodded, turned again.
Exacerbated by the sleep deprivation, waves of anxiety rolled in, and the first touch of fear licked his skin since the morning of the take-down, when he’d so thoroughly pushed it back.
Seventy-two hours and they still had nothing to go on but hope and fumes.
If Logan was alive, they had no proof. If Munroe was pursuing whatever had brought the Doll Maker and his men calling, he’d no indication of it.
And Neeva Eckridge? Time to shred the Tisdale contract, and say he’d been unable to reach the tracker the parents were after.
Bradford checked his phone again, a nervous answer to the same question he’d asked Jahan.
Capstone, international as it was, had voice-mail drops on six continents and in nearly twenty countries phone lines that would record and digitally transfer information to the war room a fail-safe or backup for operatives who might fall into trouble and not have international phone access.
Bradford untied the strings of the bedroll and let it loose beneath the desk.
Munroe would call. If she was alive, if she needed help, if she could get to a phone, she would call and this thought cycled through his mind as the darkness of sleep descended.
JAHAN WOKE HIM in what felt like two minutes later, and Bradford struggled to lift eyelids secured shut by grappling hooks and weighted by sandbags.
He finally resorted to manually opening them with his fingers, squinting against the oxygen burn.
Too many hours awake, too few asleep, and he was too fucking old to keep up a pace that had been hard enough ten years ago.
Jahan was a couple of feet from his head, squatting low and holding forward a cup of coffee.
“It’s been four hours,” he said. Bradford groaned. “You want me to come back in ten?”
Bradford reached for his phone and with eyes still half-shut checked against hope.
Another sixth of a day gone without a smoke signal from her. “Getting up,” he said, and reached for the coffee. “Anything new?”
“Only that Walker’s already in the war room. Unless you want to be the girl here, you best get moving.”
Bradford scooted out from under the desk, juggling the coffee with balancing upward, and left the roll on the floor.
“You look like shit,” Jahan said, and smiled. “Thanks,” Bradford said. Took a sip of the coffee. Winced.
Jahan studied Bradford’s face, his smile morphing into something closer to that of a psychiatrist observing a man on suicide watch.
Bradford held out a palm toward him. “Enough, Mommy, I don’t need this from you right now.” Jahan said, “You have a visitor.” “Visitor.”
“Yeah, some girl who won’t give her name or say why she’s here, just asked for you, says she knows you and that you’d understand. She’s got a baby with her.”
“Baby.” “Kid in a stroller, maybe two years old.” The lightbulb went on.
He’d missed a call from Alexis, Tabitha’s daughter, when he’d been visiting Kate Breeden in prison.
Had sent Walker to check up on her but hadn’t bothered to return the call, needed to do damage control and keep her as far away from this mess as possible.
She was waiting for him on the sofa in Capstone’s reception area, stood and smiled when he walked through the door.
Not so much happiness as relief. “I tried calling,” she said.
It was easy to see Munroe in Alexis, although the hair was lighter and at closer to five foot eight, Alexis didn’t quite have the height.
The lanky frame was the same, as were the high, angular cheekbones and especially the eyes and because of the similarities, at the moment it hurt to look at her. But physical was where the comparisons ended.
In contrast to Munroe, who lived on the edge, off the grid, and had killed men on at least four continents, Alexis was soft and sweet and in some ways still naive.
“I’ve been working a tough job, missed a lot of calls,” Bradford said.
Knelt in front of the stroller, tickled Preston and got him laughing, then stood and guiding Alexis toward the door said, “Let’s talk out in the hall.”
Most who knew Munroe socially assumed from her evasive answers, and at times outright denial, that she was an orphan, or at best estranged from anyone who should matter— and for years that had been true.
She still hadn’t spoken to either of her parents since leaving the Africa of her birth but during the months since Argentina, she had made the effort to reconnect with siblings she barely knew.
Bradford was short on the details, but he did know that for Munroe, Alexis was a tender bond, the only one of her near relatives for whom she cared deeply.
“I can’t get in touch with Essa,” Alexis said. “We were supposed to have lunch day before yesterday, but she never showed and her phone goes straight to voice mail.
“She told me once that if I ever couldn’t reach her, I should contact Logan or you, but nobody’s answering. Do you know where she is?”
Bradford drew down his sigh and through the mental maze searched for the right words, the right lie, that would give Alexis the warning without terrifying her.
“I haven’t heard from her for a few days,” he said, “but I’m sure she’ll turn up.”
“You think?” “She’s pretty badass, I think she’ll be okay.”
Alexis smiled, almost blushed. “I thought maybe I’d upset her, that she didn’t want to talk to me anymore.”
Bradford nudged her toward the elevator and pushed the call button. “Well, at least I know for sure that that’s not true.”
“She was very unclear about why I’d ever need to contact you; it makes me nervous now. I know there are things I don’t know.”
Bradford dug a business card out of his wallet and handed it to her.
“I don’t know how good I’ll be about answering my phone during this next week,” he said. “This is the office number. You think you could give a call a few times a day?”
She took the card and studied the logo, but he didn’t need to be a mind reader to know that she did it as a way to buy time, to figure out how to word the questions running through her head.
“Not to sound all paranoid,” he said, “just a better-safe-than-sorry-type thing, is there any way you and Preston could get out of town for a week or so? Anyplace you could go?”
The elevator arrived and Alexis didn’t move, just stared at him. The doors began to close. Bradford caught them. Held them open.
“What kind of trouble is she in?” Alexis said. Bradford inched the stroller into the elevator. She followed.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I really truly don’t, but I am a bit concerned, and it doesn’t hurt to play it safe, right?”
He stepped back and Alexis, arms crossed, glared at him until the doors began to close.
“Remember to call,” he said, and when she was gone, his shoulders sagged.
Because it had been Kate Breeden who’d fed information to the Doll Maker, the issue of Alexis troubled him greatly.
Jahan was waiting when Bradford returned to the reception area. “Who was it?” he asked. “Michael’s niece.” “Looks like she could have been her sister.”
Bradford nodded, swiped his card to buzz the paneled door open, and said, “They’re a couple of years apart or something,”
and Jahan cocked his head as if doing sibling math, then followed him into the interior.
IN THE WAR room Samantha Walker sat in Jahan’s chair, one hand on the mouse, another around her own cup of coffee, while her head tipped up toward one of the flat-screen monitors.
She scrolled through Veers Transport freight manifests. They stood behind the chair and watched her work.
From the data she scoured, she’d clearly spotted the same incongruity in the Veers Transport warehouse that Bradford had.
“What’s your analysis?” he asked. Without turning or breaking rhythm on the mouse, Walker said, “If we discount the trafficking, it has all the earmarks of a healthy money-laundering setup.”
“They do have to have a way to funnel and legitimize the payments for the girls,” he said. “Freight transport is the perfect cover, especially if they’re making the trip anyway.”
“But this much traffic,” Walker said. “They couldn’t possibly be moving that many out of the country.
“Our missing-persons databases would be burning up over numbers like this. Someone would notice patterns, similarities, and begin poking around.
“And what we’re looking at here isn’t the kind of operation that throws a bag over someone’s head and drags her over the Mexican border. This is serious organization and serious investment.”
Jahan, who had until now remained silent, said, “No freight at the depot?”
“Not a lot,” Bradford answered. “Not as much as you’d expect given the manifests, not even if they skipped the warehouse and delivered door-to-door for ninety percent of the stuff.”
“The amount of traffic may be cover,” Jahan said. “They may be transporting girls, but probably not on every trip.
“They need the miles, logs, and manifests to build the documents for a legitimate business and then to infuse the cash into the company— to wash it. Maybe some of those manifests are legitimate.”
Walker said, “That just seems so clunky. Inefficient, you know? To keep an operation like this running just to cover the trafficking.”
“Yeah, but it’s perfect,” Jahan said. “Who would look hard at something like that? Even we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t been pointed to it.
“This is the kind of thing that can operate out in the open for decades without drawing attention “and it probably pulls in enough from legitimate business to break even on its own.”
Bradford shrugged. “It’s a good setup for money laundering. It’s a good setup for transporting human cargo. Probably both.”
He rested his arms on the back of the chair, his focus switching from one screen to the other.
If he was right about Logan being held hostage in order to control Michael, then she was going to demand proof of life along the way.
To release the choke hold so she could save herself, they needed to find Logan, find the safe house, and they were running out of time and options.
He said, “Legitimate business or not, the question remains, where’s the human cargo?”
“There’s still the business office and house.” “I have a hard time seeing it. We’re missing something.”
Jahan said, “We’re searching for a needle in a goddamn haystack. I’d fire myself if I even faked confidence in having found everything.”
A buzzer interrupted— cue that someone had crossed the threshold of the reception area.
Walker turned, began to stand, and Jahan said, “I’ve got it.” He left the room.
Walker, returned to the monitors and Bradford shut his eyes, pulling in the essence of the conversation.
Jahan returned with two bags of takeout that left the room smelling more of deli than coffee or electronics.
Nodding at Walker, he said, “That’s my desk, I want it back.” He handed her a bag. “Get off, go eat.”
He handed the second bag to Bradford. “Talk faster than you eat, because I need to know everything you know, how it went down play by play, and then we need to get moving.”
They took turns, Bradford and Walker, reliving for Jahan the details of the early morning, half-speaking suppositions and theories between shoveled bites while Jahan recorded the facts as they knew them in threads along the whiteboard, threads that led nowhere specific and everywhere vague threads that wound around and around until the food was finished and Bradford stood. To Jahan he said, “Suit up.”
AS PER PUBLIC records, the office condo was owned by Akman, LLC, although the company’s actual business purpose was as nebulous as its name.
Import/ export was the war room’s best guess, although of what was still open for debate.
None of the names of Akman’s three primaries were connected to any of the supposed owners of Veers Transport though according to freight manifests, Akman did considerable business with Veers and not a whole lot else.
If that on its own wasn’t enough reason to go poking around, Katherine Breeden’s name was buried within old corporate records, making the general consensus that Akman was just another face to the same money-laundering and human-cargo operation.
Akman’s office was in Las Colinas, on the north edge of Irving, twenty minutes up from Veers Transport but for all intents and purposes, on the other side of the tracks, if not in another country completely.
Here, stone masonry walls bordered neatly kept patches of grass, widely set apart from mirrored office towers, divided and plotted between golf-course-quality lawns and man-made ponds with pristine strip malls and business complexes competing as prime office real estate.
Las Colinas was clean, structured, cutting-edge, respectable. Definitely respectable.
A block before their destination, Jahan, behind the wheel in a suit and tie, nudged Bradford out of the inevitable sleep of a combat vet who’d learned to take whatever he could when he could because it was impossible to predict when there’d be more.
He was awake as soon as Jahan touched his shoulder. Reached for the backpack and stepped out.
Jahan idled at the curb, waiting a few minutes to give Bradford a head start.
An earpiece kept them connected, and Bradford continued on with the eyes of the world staring at his back, car after car flying by in an area where a man walking was about as common as a stray dog.
THE OFFICE COMPLEX was shaped like a digital figure-eight made out of single-story buildings, connected in units of three, and gapped by manicured hedging and driveway.
Akman’s unit was in the back right corner, and although the spaces fronting the business were empty, Jahan had parked two doors down.
Bradford continued the stroll forward, approaching from the far side, backpack unzipped, MP5 inside, the butt sticking out.
Reached the go point. Jahan stepped from the vehicle and approached Akman’s door.
Tried the handle. Knocked. Waited. No response, so Bradford slowed.
Jahan returned to the vehicle, shut the door, and held an imaginary conversation on his cell phone.
Bradford continued to the business that shared wall space with Akman. The door sign said INTELISET, with office hours scripted beneath.
Bradford opened the door and went inside. The interior was one large room with a shallow hallway off to the left that appeared to lead to a second smaller room.
Five desks occupied the floor space; two were in use: one man, one woman, both young and in casual attire.
Both looked up from papers and keyboards when he entered. “I’m trying to find Akman, LLC,” Bradford said.
“Next door,” the guy said, head tilting toward the wall with more emphasis than volume.
“Yeah, I tried them. Door’s locked and no one answers. I wasn’t sure if I had the right place.”
“Oh, you’ve got the right place,” the guy said. His tone carried all the disdain and scorn of a home owner toward the jerk who let his dog crap on the lawn. “That’s Akman.”
“I’ve got a courier envelope to deliver and need a signature,” Bradford said. “Any idea how they get packages?”
“Usually just collects on the doorstep,” he replied, and the woman added, “Gets cleared away about once a week, supposedly by the owners. I’ve never actually seen them.”
“Thanks,” Bradford said. The guy already had his face reburied in paperwork before Bradford turned to leave. The woman offered him a smile. “Good luck,” she said.
Even from InteliSet’s front door, Bradford could see Akman’s doorstep was free of mail, which meant either nothing had been recently delivered or someone had been by to pick it up. Bradford bent down to tie a shoelace.
In response, Jahan stepped out of the vehicle and passing Bradford returned to Akman’s door. He reached for his pocket. Bradford stood and strode in his direction.
Another few seconds and Jahan had opened the door, and Bradford was beside him, then past him, first into the building, weapon drawn, scanning quickly for threat, then alarm systems, then cameras, and found nothing.
Bradford tapped on the slightly open door and moved inward enough for Jahan, still the suited businessman waiting on the outside, to slip in beside him.
The interior was nearly identical to the office next door: one large room and a shallow hallway to the left, which intimated at a second room.
There were extra windows along the right wall, a bonus of being a corner unit.
The place was trashed in the way of a quickly abandoned campsite:
opened food containers, used plastic utensils, a cardboard box filled with half-empty chip bags and drink bottles, and an as-yet-unopened two-liter bottle of Coke.
Furniture was sparse: a couple of floor lamps, window blinds, and a folding table to the right of the room near the windows.
Laid on it were a heat lamp, duct tape, and a box of Ziploc bags but what caught Bradford’s attention, and jacked up his heart rate, was the baseball bat propped against the wall next to the table.
He nodded toward the piece of wood, and Jahan acknowledged it.
Coincidence, maybe, that a bat had featured in Logan’s surveillance footage.
If one was inclined to believe in coincidence. Fuckers.
On the carpeted floor, small spots of brown flecked the multi-toned Berber in a nearly invisible trail that led from the doorway toward the table.
Bradford followed a few steps inward and the trail ended abruptly, about ten feet from the wall.
More of the tiny flecks speckled the white walls on an area just beyond where, according to telltale streaks, a sponge, rag— something— had wiped the rest of it down.
Bradford signaled, finger toward the hall, and Jahan moved to the second room, using his elbow to nudge the open door farther inward.
Nodded Bradford in for a look-see. Here again no furniture, only a set of copy machines.
Jahan backed out, and Bradford continued to the end of the hall, to the last door, which opened to a bathroom.
In the sink, bloody and torn, a match to what he’d seen on the captured surveillance, were Logan’s pants.