J. A. JANCE
Fire and Ice
FIRE AND ICE
J. A. JANCE is the New York Timesbestselling author of the J. P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, the Ali Reynolds series, and three standalone thrillers. Born in South Dakota and brought up in Bisbee, Arizona, she lives with her husband in Seattle, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona.
For Larry Dever and Ken Wallentine, the real deals
And for Hal Witter, the real deal, too
DRIVING EAST on I-90, Tomas Rivera was surprised to see the snow spinning down out of a darkened sky in huge fat flakes that threatened to overwhelm the puny efforts of the 4-Runner’s hardworking windshield wipers. It was only the sixth of November. Snow this heavy didn’t often come to the Cascades so early in the season. Beyond Eastgate and North Bend electronic signs flashed a warning that traction devices were required in the pass.
The signaled warnings didn’t concern Tomas all that much. He was sure the stolen SUV’s four-wheel drive would get him through any snow on the roadway. Overworked cops would be so busy dealing with multiple fender-benders that he doubted they’d be on the lookout for stolen vehicles. It also seemed likely that it was too soon for the Department of Transportation to be doing avalanche control, but what if they were? What if he got stopped at the pass and had to wait for snowplows or ended up being stuck at the chain-up area for an hour or two? What if the girl on the floor in the far back of the SUV woke up suddenly and started making noises—thumping, bumping, or groaning? If people were standing around outside in the waiting area, he worried they might hear her or see her or start asking questions.
Despite the cold, Tomas found he was sweating. His armpits were soaked, and so were his hands inside the gloves, but he didn’t dare take them off.
“Wear gloves,” Miguel had warned him. “Whatever you do, wear gloves.”
Since it wasn’t a good idea to cross Miguel, Tomas wore gloves.
The poor woman had already been bound, presumably gagged, wrapped loosely in a tarp and dumped in the back of the 4-Runner when Miguel delivered the vehicle to him. Miguel didn’t say where she was from or why she was there, and Tomas didn’t ask. The less he knew about her, the better.
“Take her out in the woods and get rid of her,” Miguel had said. “There’s a full gas can in the back. Use that. Throw her out, pull her teeth, douse her with gasoline, and light a match. When you’re done, ditch the car somewhere far away. Understand?”
Tomas had nodded. He understood all right. And he understood what would happen if he didn’t. Tomas also understood Miguel and the men he worked with. They were rich and powerful, dangerous and ruthless. They were the kind of men who would kill you in a heartbeat, not with their two hands, of course, but they would have somebody around willing to do the dirty work. They’d hand it off to some poor dope who owed them and owed big; or to someone like Tomas who didn’t dare step out of line for fear of what would happen to him—or to his family.
Yes, Tomas thought. Someone just like me.
He understood what it meant to commit a mortal sin. If he didn’t get to confession and died, he’d go straight to hell. And if he didn’t do what he’d been told, he’d be living in hell. In a way, he already was. He had paid good money—money earned doing backbreaking, dangerous delimbing work out in the woods—to have Lupe and the boys smuggled across the border and brought north. But having paid a small fortune to Miguel’s coyotes didn’t mean Tomas and Lupe were home free. Miguel had made it clear that if Tomas didn’t do what was required of him, what might happen to Little Tomas and Alfonso would be worse than death. For the thousandth time Tomas wished he had left well enough alone. Things weren’t necessarily pleasant or comfortable in the little tin-roofed shack where Lupe and the boys had lived in Cuidad Obregon. But he’d had no idea about the real price of bringing his little family to the United States of America.
So Tomas kept driving. He turned off the freeway at Cabin Creek Road and headed off into the maze of National Forest roads that carried loggers and logging equipment off into the wilderness. That’s why Miguel had come looking for him to do this particular job. Tomas knew all those roads like the back of his hand—because he had driven them himself, ferrying crews in and out of the woods. With severe winter weather setting in, the logging crews were out of the picture for the time being—until the snow melted in the spring. Or summer.
Even though it made it hard to see, Tomas was grateful for the deepening snow. There would be no tire tracks left for the cops to trace. And no footprints, either. By morning, all tracks would be nothing more than slight dents. And in weather like this, no one would be out there watching, either. Only the dumbest of cross-country skiers would venture this far off the main roads.
As Tomas drove, he wondered what the woman had