Smalls grabbed his deck of cigarettes and a matchbook and followed King outside to the wraparound porch. King dropped his suitcase to the gallery floor. A motion-sensitive light came on when they stepped outside. It illuminated half the front yard, where the Crown Victoria and Monte Carlo SS were parked. The surrounding forest and gravel road were in darkness.
A branch snapped nearby. King turned his head toward the woods.
“Billy,” said Smalls, redirecting King’s attention.
“What did you want, Louis?”
“I just came out to have a smoke,” said Smalls. “Serge doesn’t like the smell of it in the house.”
“Fuck what Serge doesn’t like.”
“He’s our partner.”
“I want a divorce.”
Smalls lit his cigarette and exhaled smoke. “What about me?” He nearly winced at the desperation in his voice.
King looked him over. He knew what he was to the kid. But someday soon, King would have to cut him loose too. King wasn’t anyone’s sidekick or father.
“What about you, Louis?”
“We’re stayin’ together, right?”
“Sure. I’ll see you soon.”
Smalls eyed him warily. King picked up his bag, walked to his Monte Carlo and opened its trunk.
Lucas and Dupree crouched at the edge of the woods in darkness, several yards in from the tree line. The curtains were drawn in the windows of the house and they couldn’t see inside. Lucas had made a sketch of the colonial. He also drew a circle in the front of the house that estimated the size of the pool of light thrown out from the motion detector mounted above the gallery roof.
When the light had come on, Dupree had instinctively moved back a little, causing a branch to snap. The sudden illumination had surprised them when King and the one named Louis had walked out the front door. So had King’s presence and size.
He was as Grace Kinkaid had described him: strong legs, low center of gravity, powerfully built. Blond and wrinkled by the sun. An aging beach stud, his thighs filling out his shorts, sockless feet in boat shoes, polo shirt stretched tight across his upper frame. Big as he was in the chest and shoulders, it paled in contrast to the massive muscle-and-bone structure below his waist.
Lucas studied him as he walked across the yard, suitcase in hand, leaving the lanky, bearded Smalls behind, still smoking a cigarette on the porch. There was athleticism in King’s step and also a jaunty, you-can’t-fuck-with-me stride. King was something out of a painting hung in the dark corner of a museum, the kind that gives nightmares to a child. A goatish figure, more Minotaur than man.
Lucas looked at the nylon suitcase that King was dropping into the trunk of his Chevy. Its contents bulked out the bag’s sides.
King had packed for more than one day. This was good.
In his head, Lucas made plans.
Dupree phoned him twice the next day. Lucas did not take the calls.
In the morning, he phoned Charlotte to see if they might meet for lunch. He wanted to talk to her in person, tell her how he felt about her before he made his move on the painting, in the event that things went wrong. He realized he’d never told her he loved her. In fact, he’d never said those words to any woman. But now he felt he could and should say it to her.
Outside of their initial meet in the hotel bar, they’d never been together in public. In his mind he saw them at a nice quiet restaurant, having a good meal, him looking into her eyes, reaching out, touching her hand. Practically speaking, and morally, he knew it was wrong. Charlotte was married. She’d never once expressed a desire to leave her husband. She wanted to maintain her status quo: successful career, marriage, a house in Upper Northwest and a young lover in her bed when she wanted it. A lunch with him out in the open was a ridiculous, dangerous proposition. It would threaten all that she had.
Still, he phoned her. Got the message box, as he knew he would. Told her that he needed to speak with her and asked her to call him back that day.
He waited around his apartment for an hour or so. His phone didn’t ring.
After a shower, Lucas grabbed Waldron’s ripstop duffel bag from out of his closet, and his own personal bag, and laid his equipment out on the bed: flex-cuffs, a roll of duct tape, a bolt cutter, a pair of night-vision goggles, his Blackhawk Omega pistol vest and a looped holster belt that would fit below the vest. Lucas withdrew a Mossberg pump-action 12 gauge and loaded it with rounds of buckshot. He put this on the bed alongside the NODs. He took one of the Beretta M9s and a magazine from out of the bag. He checked the top, steel-jacketed round against the spring for tension, palmed the magazine into the grip and slid the nine into a Bianchi holster. He slipped a second, 15-round mag into the pistol vest and dropped several 12-gauge shells into another compartment. Next, he found the S&W .38, released its cylinder and loaded its chambers with hollow points. He snapped the cylinder back in place and put extra rounds into a third pouch. He slid his phone into the shoulder pouch designed for a radio; he was going to need the phone’s compass to navigate the woods.
He dressed in a black T-shirt, dark blue Dickies, a Timex Expedition digital watch and lug-soled Nike boots. He picked up the bag, walked it downstairs and out to the street and placed it in the cargo area of his Jeep.
Dusk had fallen on the streets. By the time he crossed the line from D.C. into Maryland, it was night.
Lucas had humped the half mile through the woods wearing his night-vision goggles while carrying a bag heavy with gear and iron. He was in superior shape, but still, by the time he reached the tree line bordering the house, he needed to rest. He peeled off his goggles, allowed his breathing to slow and opened the bag that he’d dropped beside him. He then removed the Beretta nine-millimeter and the S&W .38 from the bag and fitted them in the holster belt looped into the pistol vest. He took the Mossberg from the bag and placed that on the ground beside the NODs.
Lucas looked up at the house. One window had a light in it, the others were dark. Dark windows had been a primary danger area in Iraq. So were doorways and doors.
The front door of the house opened. The one called Louis closed it behind him and stepped onto the porch. As he did, the motion detector came on and sent light out into the yard. Lucas remained still. He watched Smalls stand there and light a cigarette.
Carefully, quietly, Lucas got two pairs of double-cuff restraints from the bag. Keeping his eyes on Smalls, he put them in a pouch of his vest. He then retrieved the roll of duct tape and slipped that into the pouch holding the loose hollow points. He picked up the shotgun with his left hand; he needed his throwing arm now.
Lucas felt along the earth until he found a stone. He rose from his crouch and stepped out of the woods, into the portion of the yard still in darkness. He planned to use a box tactic; he would avoid the area exposed by light, move in the blackness and stay inside its line. He got as close to the house as he could without crossing that line and threw the stone, arcing it high into the woods on the other side of the house. Smalls turned his head in that direction as the rock skittered through the branches of trees. Lucas moved the Mossberg to his right hand and broke into a run.
He was on the porch quickly, taking its steps while barely touching them, reaching Smalls, startled and frozen, within seconds. Lucas swung the shotgun, putting his hips into the motion. The stock connected under Smalls’s jaw. He lost his legs and Lucas hit him again in the temple as he was going down to the gallery floor. Lucas turned him over, flex-cuffed his hands and ankles and wound duct tape around his head and mouth. Checked his breathing and searched his jeans pockets. Found a phone, a brown envelope holding money, a wallet, matches and a ring holding keys. On the ring were the keys to the Ford. A house key too.
Lucas moved to the door, entered the house and shut the door behind him. He held the Mossberg ready, his finger inside the trigger guard, and stood still. He mentally cleared the room: an open living room–dining room area, a kitchen in the back. Old cushiony furniture, a cable-spool table holding a bong, a chandelier over the dining room table. A banistered stairway leading up to the second floor. Computer equipment heaped in a corner of the room. And square objects wrapped in brown paper leaning against the right wall. His blood ticked.
As his eyes and shoulders moved he moved the barrel of the shotgun. The index finger of his right hand brushed the trigger. His left hand cupped the pump.
He heard a voice from up the stairs.
“Louis. You come back, eh?”
He heard the unmistakable snick-snick of a racking pump.
Lucas stepped toward the stairs and sighted the shotgun. At the top of the stairs he saw an elbow, a small triangle of flesh, peaking over the corner.
“All right,” said Lucas softly.
Bacalov spun around the corner and fired as Lucas pumped off a shell. The banister exploded in splinters before him and Lucas stepped back, then moved forward and rapidly pumped out five more shots up the stairs, hammering the plaster at the top of the landing and tearing up the wall. The shotgun blasts shook the house.
“Fuck you,” said Bacalov, and Lucas heard nervous laughter. He knew what that meant: relief. Bacalov had not been hit.
Lucas tossed the shotgun aside and drew his .38. He stepped out of the field of fire and walked backward, aiming the revolver at the stairs. He stopped and stood beside the couch.
“Take what you want,” shouted Bacalov.
“I’m going to,” said Lucas, blinking his gun eye against the sweat that was trickling into it.
“Who are you?”
“Come find out.”
“I am going to lay down my gun.”
Bacalov appeared on the stairway, shooting in descent. Lucas dropped behind the couch. Bacalov kept his finger locked on the Ithaca’s trigger as he pumped, cycling rounds through the chamber, slam-firing into the buckling hardwood floor and cable-spool table. The room went sonic.
Lucas heard the thump of a shell hitting the back cushion, felt its impact, saw stuffing rise in the air above him.
Bacalov dropped his shotgun and ran across the room. At the sound of his footsteps Lucas came up firing. He squeezed off several rounds and saw red leap off Bacalov’s shoulder.
Bacalov fell behind the dining room table.
Lucas crouched behind the couch. He could hear Bacalov moving chairs. He holstered the .38 and drew the M9, releasing the safety in the same motion. He pulled back on the receiver and let it go. Its recoil spring drove the slide home and chambered a round.
Bacalov, wounded but game, crouched on the floor behind the table and chairs he had pulled together. He drew his Glock with a shaking hand, jacked in a round and wiped at his face. He rested the barrel on one of the crossbars of a ladder-back chair and aimed it in the general direction of the couch.
Lucas readied himself at the edge of the couch. With his left hand he pushed at the couch and moved it, and Bacalov let off several shots, punching lead into the cushions, and at that Lucas came up over the couch-back and fired off many rounds at the chandelier. Glass and metal rained down on Bacalov and bit his face, and once again Lucas dropped behind cover.