“By the way, my name’s Carroll,” he said.
He left it at that.
When they reached the road, the canopy of foliage overhead parted, revealing a streak of sky. But clouds had thickened into a solid cover during the afternoon, obscuring the little daylight that was left.
“It’s down that way,” Marguerite said, pointing to the right. They walked in that direction, Monks searching with the flashlight’s beam until it glimmered off the chrome bumper of a vehicle that was pulled into a turnout.
He almost groaned. It was one of those huge, bloated SUVs, a Yukon or Expedition or something on that order, and brand new. He had unconsciously pictured her driving something small and sassy. But this monster, as his friend Emil Zukich was fond of saying, was as heavy as a dead preacher. That was going to make it tricky and maybe dangerous to jack up, working off the soft and uneven dirt surface of the turnout-assuming he could even figure out how to operate the jack and find the proper lifting point. For all he knew, the system might be computer-operated. He had a heavy-duty bumper jack in his Bronco, but he wasn’t at all sure that bumpers on the newer vehicles were designed to handle that kind of weight.
“How about taking a look in the glove box,” he told her. “If there’s an owner’s manual, that might be where it is.”
She walked to the front passenger door. Monks flashed the light beam on the tires. The two that he could see, on the driver’s side, looked fine. The flat must be on the other side, although the SUV didn’t look like it was listing.
He started to walk around it. The flashlight’s traveling beam caught something pale and round inside-a face. Monks was surprised again. He had assumed that she was alone.
Then he realized that she had disappeared.
A second later, what his eyes had told him caught up to his brain. He flicked the flashlight beam back to the face inside the SUV. It was a young man’s, pale and tense, staring at him.
Monks stared back, not believing what he thought he saw:
His son, Glenn, gone from Monks’s life for almost five years.
Glenn reached to the window and rapped on it sharply with his knuckles.
Something hard and blunt rammed into Monks’s lower back, forcing an unhhh of breath from him and shoving him forward a step.
“Turn off the light and drop it,” a man’s voice said behind him.
Monks did. A second man stepped into view on the left. He was big, squarely built and cleancut, wearing a business suit complete with necktie. But he was aiming the kind of short-barreled shotgun used by SWAT teams-a 12-gauge with a five-round magazine, capable of cutting a human being in half.
“Walk into the woods,” the voice behind him ordered.
Monks did that, too, for ten or fifteen yards, until he was hidden from the road. He couldn’t see what was prodding him along, but he had no doubt that it was the barrel of another gun. The thought of running flitted through his mind, but the way the men were positioned, he could not possibly escape their fire.
“Lay down on your belly. Hands behind you.”
He got facedown in the scratchy redwood duff. The musty scent of damp earth filled his lungs.
The big man strode forward and put the shotgun barrel to the side of Monks’s face, just in front of his left ear. The other man knelt on his back and pulled his wrists roughly together. Monks felt restraints tighten around them, and heard the ratcheting clicks of handcuffs. It started to filter in that they probably would not bother to cuff him if they intended to kill him-at least, right then and there. But the fact that they had let him see faces was not a good sign.
“Taxman! Car!” Marguerite’s voice hissed from the road. Monks felt the man who was kneeling on his back jerk in response. Then he felt cold steel laid against his cheek-a knife blade. It turned so that the edge rested lightly against his flesh. Monks could just see that it was a survival knife with a blade at least six inches long, serrated along the back edge to leave ragged, hard-to-close wounds. The other man stepped behind a tree, gun barrel pointing upright, ready to fire.
Monks could hear the approaching vehicle now, coming southward on the county road, driving at a modest speed. It slowed into the nearest curve, then accelerated again. If it stopped to check out the distressed vehicle, the assailants might flee. Or they might gun down the occupants and cut Monks’s throat.
He lay absolutely still, not breathing, trying to gauge the car’s speed and position. It slowed as it passed the SUV.
But it kept going, the whoosh of its tires growing fainter, until the night was quiet again.
The knife was lifted away from his face. The one called Taxman bound his ankles together with several wraps of duct tape, then kept taping up to his knees, swathing his legs like a mummy’s. He jerked Monks up into a kneeling position, and wrapped his upper body from shoulders to waist, pinioning his arms. Then the two men together rolled Monks into a sleeping bag and zipped it shut. They picked him up as if they were carrying a stretcher, and loaded him into the SUV’s rear compartment.
Taxman bent close to Monks. It was the first glimpse of him that Monks had gotten. He was also well dressed, his hair short and blond, giving him the look of a prematurely balding accountant. But his lean face was etched with intensity. His age was hard to guess-somewhere between thirty and forty. His breath smelled of mints, but Monks caught a hint of a harsh smell that he recognized from the ER-methamphetamine.
“Tell me you’ll stay quiet, I won’t gag you,” he said. This time, the twang of Texas or the South came through clearly.
They quickly threw more sleeping bags over him, covering his face, then piled other stuff on and around him. They closed the rear door and locked it. Other doors opened and closed, and the engine started. Gasoline sloshed in the tank underneath him as the SUV lurched across the rutted turnout to the paved road.
He knew that they were heading northeast. In another twenty-five or thirty minutes, he felt the vehicle go through a series of stops and turns, then accelerate to a steady high speed. They had turned onto Highway 101-north, he guessed, although he couldn’t be sure of that.
Right this second, he was almost certainly surrounded by other vehicles driving alongside, literally close enough to touch. But they might as well have been on Mars.
The ride smoothed out, with the quiet drone of the drive train beneath his ear and the faint reek of exhaust and gas in his nostrils. Monks lay still, cramped and uncomfortable. By now, anger was rising in him to join his fear, although there was still plenty of that. Outwardly, these people looked like a church group-maybe fundamentalists of some stamp. But they operated with military precision. And that brief look into the eyes of the one called Taxman had chilled Monks more than the guns.
He knew he’d made enemies over the years, dangerous and violent ones. The possibility that he or his family might become victims of sadistic revenge was never far from his mind.
But what tore at him more than anything else was the young man he had seen inside the van: his son. Who apparently had identified Monks by rapping on the window-a Judas kiss.
What the hell was Glenn doing in on this?
When the SUV finally stopped for good, Monks guessed that they had been driving for close to six hours. It was sometime around midnight, and the only thing he was sure of was that they were in the middle of nowhere. The first two to three hours had been on freeway, uninterrupted, strengthening his sense that they were heading north, probably on Highway 101. Then came another hour and a half of increasingly slower, curvier roads. The rest was gravel or dirt, rutted and rough. His body had taken a beating. He had started to lose circulation, particularly in his tightly cuffed hands. His wrists were chafed from twisting, trying to keep his fingers from going numb. His bladder was ready to burst.