Read Desire & Ice: A MacKenzie Family Novella (The MacKenzie Family) Online

Authors: Christopher Rice

Tags: #Christopher RIce, #MacKenzie Family, #Liliana Hart

Desire & Ice: A MacKenzie Family Novella (The MacKenzie Family) (7 page)

BOOK: Desire & Ice: A MacKenzie Family Novella (The MacKenzie Family)
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My God, how long had she slept?

Gun raised, Danny was advancing on the door.

"State your name!" he bellowed.

A voice on the other side. "The fucking sheriff of fucking Surrender, Montana. How's that, you crazy dipshit?"

Danny took a deep breath. His entire frame sagged.

He holstered his gun, undid the padlock, and threw open the door. There stood Cooper MacKenzie, in uniform, with the same dazzling eyes that were practically the man's signature.

Cooper said, "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you might know something about these two dead jackasses out here in the woods."

 

6

"I want to see them," Eliza said.

"Trust me," Danny answered. "You don't."

He'd just returned to the cabin after taking to the woods with Coop and the three locals he'd deputized for the very simple reason they all owned Ford pickups capable of making the drive there. An access road led to the Flynns' hunting cabin, but it was as iced over as the rest of the town, which meant even once the snow had died down, a twenty-minute drive had taken their search party almost three hours.

Danny had seen some bad accidents since he'd joined the force. But the bloody scene Cooper had led them to halfway down the hill was one for the books, that was for sure.

"Danny––"

"I know. I know, Eliza. I get it. They tried to kill us so you need to be sure they're dead. So trust me. They are. They are very, very dead."

"What happened?"

"The Explorer got stuck about halfway down the slope. Looks like one of them got out to push and then he got stuck in the snow. So the other one got out to help get him get the Explorer unstuck. And that's when the Explorer decided to get unstuck at just the wrong moment and it went sliding backward down the hill and now… Funny thing is the Explorer made it out okay but that's because their heads cushioned most of the, you know…"

"Oh, wow," she whispered, going pale.

Her hands shook around the plastic coffee cup one of the guys had given her. She no longer had the stomach for the steaming brew, that was clear.

"How stupid were these guys?" she asked, once she had control of herself. "What, were they meth cooks or something?"

"Explorer's a rental, apparently. So they weren't from around here. And IDing them isn't going to be the easiest, given they don't have heads anymore. They've got IDs on them but they're probably fake. We'll run them anyway. See what turns up."

Cooper stepped inside the cabin and closed the door behind him with a loud
thunk
intended to get their attention.

"Eliza," he said. "What do you say we get you back to the station?"

"Sure. That sounds fine. Danny?"

"I need a moment with Danny, actually," Coop said. "You go on ahead with Fred and Bill. They're waiting outside."

Leave now, without Danny?
her expression seemed to say.

He gave her a nod and a smile; he tried to keep the latter professional, but apparently it held a trace of what he'd done to her the night before because as soon as Eliza had stepped past him and through the door, Coop cleared his throat and raised an eyebrow.

Once they were alone, the sheriff said, "I oughta ring your neck for taking off your radio."

"Funny. She said the same thing."

"Or fire you. I could always fire you."

"That too. 'Course if you do that first then you don't have cause to ring my neck."

"Says who?"

"The law."

"Oh, good. So we're gonna give the
law
precedence now? That's rich, Patterson. That's real rich."

"She'd be dead if it wasn't for me, Sheriff."

"I'm aware of that. And for a while there, I thought you were both dead, which is why I'm in a better mood right now than I should be."

"I'm not sure I'm following."

"We found your patrol car around midnight last night but we couldn't see three feet in this storm and there was no driving in it. That said, I had Greyson stay up at the Laughlin Place just in case any of you came back. But that was the best we could do until the storm weakened."

"Thank you. I appreciate that, Sheriff."

"Well, it wasn't my favorite thing, knowing one of my men was out here and not being able to do a damn thing about it. And if you'd turned tail and come back to the station when I'd said, it wouldn't have happened. But then…"

"Eliza would be dead."

"Pretty much. And the whole thing gave me some time to work the phones, get in touch with her ex-husband. That's when things got interesting."

"Did you reach him?"

"No, I reached the FBI agents who stopped him from boarding a flight to Australia last night at LAX. If his inbound plane hadn't been diverted because of the same front that's kicking the shit out of most of the plains states, they probably would have lost him."

"Wait a minute. So he's not being held hostage?"

"By the FBI, yes. And I believe they call it
in custody
. Tell me. What does Eliza know about her ex-husband's business dealings?"

"She thinks he got involved in stolen cars. Something about guys who'd use visas that were about to expire to buy luxury cars and then drop them on a ship for Asia where they'd resell them."

"Well, that's one way of putting it. Lance Laughlin, it turns out, was keeping paperwork and holding stolen cars for one of the largest Russian mafia-run car theft rings in the country. In
history,
maybe
.
In fact, these guys were running so many stolen cars through the Port of Los Angeles, Lance figured they wouldn't miss a couple Porsche Panameras."

"Lance gets threatened by the Russian mob so he sends Eliza out here to get some cash for them and then he tries to hop a plane? I'm not following."

"Because the story starts much earlier. The Feds took down the major players in this ring a few weeks ago and ever since then the underlings have been fighting over the scraps. What our friends with the Bureau think is that our dead guys out there were two errand boys who knew what Lance was up to and came asking for a cut of the cars he stole once the big fish were out of the pond."

"So why send Eliza out here to get the money?'

"How much did she know about what Lance was up to?"

"She said she asked some questions, but when he got evasive, she didn't push. Divorce was almost final by then. What does that have to…"

And then it hit him like a ton of bricks.

"I know," Coop said when he saw the expression on Danny's face. "Give yourself a minute to take it all in. It's a big one."

"He sent her out here to get killed. 'Cause she asked a few questions."

"Something like that, yeah."

"Walk me through it if you can, Sheriff. It's been a long night."

"Okay. So Tweedle Shithead and Tweedle Headless down there come knocking on Lance's door, asking for a cut of the
stolen
stolen cars. Lance tells them the money's buried on his family's property in Surrender. And those idiots are dumb enough to believe him. So while they're booking tickets to Kalispell, Lance thinks,
Damn. Lucky break
!
I better flee the country before more of this mess shows up on my front step.
But first, there's the small matter of his ex-wife, who asked a few too many questions. So he picks up the phone and sends her out here to have a run-in with two of the stupidest and greediest assholes in the history of West Coast organized crime."

"'Cause if they run into each other when she's got a shovel on her, the guys will assume Eliza stole the money no matter what she says."

"If there even
is
any money buried on that property."

"So he sent her out here to die," Danny growled. "That fucking son of a bitch literally sent her out here to get killed."

"That's what it looks like… Hey, Danny…"

But it was too late. He'd kicked the stack of firewood and sent half of it rolling across the cabin floor like bowling balls. Cooper held up his hands and bowed his head, as if Danny's fury had taken the form of a cloud that needed time to fill the cabin briefly before it vaporized.

"You good?" Coop finally asked.

"One sec."

He picked up one of the pieces of firewood he'd knocked over and threw it at the opposing wall so hard it cracked into two pieces before it hit the floor.

"Now I'm better," he said, but he sounded like a fire-breathing dragon trying to master English. "I don't suppose Lance actually confessed to all of this."

"He did. To his new girlfriend. The one who was going to flee the country with him. The same one who made the mistake of selling topless photos of her high school friends to some guys on the Internet who were not in high school."

"So the girlfriend's singing to avoid child porn charges?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

They just stood there for a while.

"You're a good deputy, Danny. But I've kept you clear of the kind of work my cousins do, 'cause this is what it's like. Brushes with pure evil. That kind of thing, it'll change you, for sure. You can't control that. But you can control how it changes you. So try looking on the bright side. That's my recommendation. Yes, Lance Laughlin turned out to be a murderous bastard with no conscience, but he also got hit with some of the worst luck of any criminal on the planet. And that's proof of a hopeful universe, if you ask me."

"I understand, Sheriff."

"And you and Eliza are still alive. That's the most important thing."

"Thank you, sir."

"FBI's got agents on their way here soon as the storm clears out for good and the airstrip in Myrna Springs opens again. In the meantime, they've asked us to start digging on the Laughlin ranch to see if this money even exists. You're coming back to the station with me. FBI wants to put Eliza on the phone and have a conversation with her. Only good side of that is that they'll have to break this news to her instead of us."

"So I can't tell her anything?"

"Not yet, no. But you can be there when she finds out."

"I understand, Sheriff."

"One thing's for sure. Lance Laughlin is one of the baddest apples Surrender's ever produced."

"I don't supposed we can blame him on Los Angeles."

"To be honest, I don't suppose we can blame him on any place in particular, much as I'd like to."

It seemed like they were finished, but Cooper stayed in the door, giving Danny a long, cool once-over.

"Long night here in this cabin," he said. "What did y'all get up to?"

"You mean aside from staying alive?"

"Yes. Aside from staying alive."

Danny couldn't meet the sheriff's gaze.

"All right," Cooper said. "Well, congratulations, kid. But know this. You may think you were big guns last night. But the time to show her what a man you are is now, soon as this news washes over her like a tidal wave. And trust me. Keeping her from drowning in it isn't going to be easy and it's going to take every ounce of grown-up you got."

 

7

Even over the phone the Feds were bossy as hell.

They'd asked everyone to leave the room, except for Eliza and Cooper, which had left Danny hovering outside. The room in question was Coop's personal office, thanks to a town council that had twice blocked funding for the type of interrogation rooms you saw on T.V. shows.

He figured he should count his blessings.

Being forced to stand outside a closed, solid door while dispatch fielded calls about downed power lines and escaped livestock probably wasn't so bad, all things considered. Watching Eliza's emotional destruction through a one-way mirror without being able to take her in his arms might have been a form of torture on par with waterboarding.

So he put his best game face on and ignored the curious looks the dispatcher kept giving him in between calls. Hopefully Deputy Greyson would be back soon. Greyson wouldn't give him any shit about what he'd done, that was for sure. Just a few feet from Danny was the jail cell where Greyson had gotten down and dirty with an old flame he'd taken into custody, an old flame to whom he was now married.

Still, being separated from Eliza filled Danny with fear. Like Lance Laughlin's dark energy might somehow reach through the sheriff's phone and spirit her away for good.

When the door popped open and Coop stepped out, every muscle in Danny's body tensed. He locked eyes with his boss and mentor, heard again the challenge the man had issued him before they'd left the hunting cabin.

"You're up," Coop finally said.

Now's the time to prove you're all grown up,
he thought.

He stepped past Coop and into the tiny office.

The last time he'd seen a woman this wrecked was the day after his father had walked out on them for good and he'd come across his mother, sitting by herself in the living room, staring past the wedding photo she was holding loosely in both hands.

Eliza sat on the edge of her chair, arms resting on the front of Coop's desk, staring vacantly at the opposite wall. There were no tears in her eyes. This frightened Danny even more. Tears he knew how to handle. Scoop her up. Take her in his arms, whisper assurances into her sweet-smelling hair. That was how you dealt with tears.

This was something altogether different. A blend of anger and darkness that threatened to take Eliza away from him, away from
everyone
, for a very long time.

"Did you know?" she asked.

"Coop told me back at the cabin. But the Feds wanted us to stay quiet until they talked to you."

"I understand," she whispered.

Danny took a seat. It didn't help. Settling into the sheriff's chair made him feel like he was just playacting at this whole grown up thing.

He reached across the desk and placed a hand over hers. She closed her eyes. But he couldn't tell if she was savoring his touch.

He hoped so.

God, he hoped so.

"Listen, I know I talk too damn much, but I need to tell you a story. It's partly a story about why I talk so damn much, but I wouldn't be telling it if I didn't think it would help."
Don't tell her how to feel,
he thought.
Not right now.
"If I didn't
want
it to help, I mean."

BOOK: Desire & Ice: A MacKenzie Family Novella (The MacKenzie Family)
13.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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