“You really think you can get me all the way there by yourself?” Ben Nichol paused. “I mean, no offence, but…”
Chloe Medina didn’t smile. Didn’t take her eyes off the road. “You keep talking, I’ll get you all the way there in the trunk.”
One hand steady on the wheel of the Shelby, the other near the gun strapped to her thigh. The line about the trunk was mostly a bluff, but it sounded good. Medina had two shotguns, three suitcases and two Kevlar vests stowed back there. A box full of batons, handcuffs and stun-guns. Not room enough for a wanted felon.
Right now, she had two problems.
The same set of headlights had been in the mirror for five minutes. A black van. Outlines of two people visible through the windscreen. Only two vehicles on this stretch of road at night, both heading towards the border. Most likely it was nothing. But the driver was hanging back, keeping a steady distance.
Nichol was twitchy. The tightening of his shoulders and neck. Tattoos moved as he coiled. Even with his hands cuffed to the door handle, Medina could read the signs. He was gearing up for a second go.
He’d reacted the same way when she first caught up with him, sitting at the bar of Eddie’s Safari. A roadside joint on 602, just off Bronco Road and before the Zuni reservation. The place served burgers, burritos and frybread, while women danced around a pole on a stage decked out in a faded jungle theme. Nichol seemed to sense Medina was there for him the minute she walked in, and his body had tensed up right before he bolted into the men’s room. Medina followed him, and they fought a bit. Her shoulder smashed into the mirror. It still stung like hell, but he’d never know. Nichol’s face flushed bright red as she led him out of the place in cuffs. An ego like that could be dangerous. He’d want to go again, make himself feel less of a wimp.
Medina watched the lights. The quickest way back to Phoenix was to stay on the 53, straight through the Zuni reservation to the Arizona border. Problem was, she hadn’t applied for permission to track a fugitive onto tribal land. Even though she’d caught him before crossing the border, technicalities like that didn't go down so well with the Rez cops.
They passed a dirt road on the left. A small gateway with a cattle guard, and nothing but the evening darkness beyond.
The van took the turn.
That left only one problem.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Medina said. “We’ve met before.”
“If I’d met you, I’d remember. Hey, these cuffs are real tight.”
“Deal with it. The trial for your brother’s gang. What was left of them.”
“The bank job?” Nichol grunted. In her peripheral, Medina could see him reappraising her. “That was so dumb. Those masks, firing guns into the air. They’d seen it in a movie the night before, eating edibles like candy. I’d said to Jimmy, don’t do banks like that, you’ll get hurt. Truth be told, I’d said don’t do banks at all. There’s no money in it. Not these days. But he never listened. Comes running out and, right there in the street, there’s this U.S. Marshal. Blonde. Total coincidence. Just having a coffee. Jimmy comes out, and she’s standing there in the road, all on her own, and…” Nichol grunted a second time. “Shit. You look different.”
“I used to dye it. And it was ice cream, not coffee. Still had it in my hand when I walked across the street, told them to freeze. I warned your brother to stop, right there.”
“They said at the trial.”
“Three times.” More like two and a half, Medina thought. “I told all of them. Put your weapons down, drop the bags, in that order. Then put your hands over your heads where I can see them. Your brother started to raise his gun. Semi-auto, I already had reason enough to shoot, but I gave him two more warnings.”
“See what I mean?” Nichol said. “Told you he never listened.”
“I wanted it to go another way. But he was going to shoot.”
“Don’t worry about it. He was an asshole.”
“When the ambulance arrived, the cops, I walked back across the street, bought another ice cream. That’s the one I’m holding in the news pictures. The TV crew got a kick out of that, tried to make out like it was the same one I’d had to start, shot three guys without dropping it.”
“Was the other thing true, the bit you said to the reporters?”
“They asked me why I’d joined the Marshal Service. I said I liked catching the bad guys.”
“That was a good line.”
“I mention this, your brother, because there were three of them, and one of me. I put all three down before they fired their weapons. And I figure whatever you’re planning in the next ten seconds doesn’t beat that math.”
Nichol laughed. Caught out. His muscles started to relax. He eased off slowly, his pride still in control.
“I like you,” he said. Trying to make it sound like his choice to stay in custody. “So how long you been tailing me?”
“Since you ran.”
“I mention this, because, maybe you don’t know why I ran.”
Medina looked over at him now. The threat had passed. He was going for the laid-back charm that probably worked more often than not. His smile. The shock of Jack Nicholson crazy hair.
“You ran. I caught you. That’s all I need to know.”
Nichol leaned forward to rub his bruised jaw. Medina was glad the fight had gone out of him. She didn’t think her shoulder was up to much. She was good at playing tough, but it took a lot out of her.
“I’m just saying, if you knew the reason, we could maybe cut a deal.”
“I meant what I said about riding in the trunk. You start telling me how none of this is your fault, I’ll pull over and change the seating situation.”
They drove in silence for a couple more miles.
Nichol said, “If you like catching bad guys so much, why’d you leave the Marshals?”
Medina heard the van before she saw it. The roar of an engine. No lights. Tyres crossing a cattle guard. The large black shape moved at them from the left. The impact spun the Shelby, taking them off the road.