A.I.
Chapter 45

I'd thought Spook and I had planned for every contingency, but we hadn't for what actually happened.

For an hour or more I tooled around Charleston restlessly, trying to keep an eye out for cars paying me too much attention but doubting I'd succeed. Twice I thought I might have a candidate, but the first time it was just a tourist drinking in the sights and the second a woman with apparent car trouble. She pulled over and got out and popped the hood and stared in blankly at the apparently malfunctioning engine. Ordinarily I would have helped, or tried to, but she wouldn't thank me if I inadvertently involved her in the mess I was in; I walked on.

Finally, disgusted—what the hell was Estrada waiting for?—I stopped for lunch. I ordered a club sandwich but could eat only half of it. I had no appetite, and no patience for just sitting and eating. Usually I'd have told them to box up the rest and taken it home for later, but when the waitress asked I just shook my head. I gave her my credit card, signed the chit and went back to the street. I hoped my body language was conveying what I felt: "Hey, take me, take me, I'm available and unprotected!"

Nothing.

Had he given up?

After all that surveillance it seemed incredible, but why in God's name hadn't he moved on me yet? Was he waiting for me to go home, planning to take me there? But how could he know, he'd pulled everybody out of the rental and nobody was watching me walk, I was sure. Was he waiting for evening, when his people had told him I was certain to be home?

Too many questions, no answers at all.

I decided to give it up and go home. Brownie probably needed a walk, and I didn't want dog poop in the hallway. I was actually on my way when my cell rang.

"Jack, you must come home now." It was Spook, of course; but I thought I picked up a note of urgency in his uninflected simulated voice.

"I'm close," I said. "Five minutes, OK?"

"Spend your time," he told me. I guessed he meant to "take" my time, no true urgency, but he'd called and he didn't usually.

I redoubled my pace.

"What?" I demanded as I burst into the study.

"Please review," he told me over the speaker. I went—well, ran, to be honest—around to see the laptop screen.

It was a "breaking news" story on one of the on-line news services, something about a shoot-'em-up at some vacation spa. I almost said something to Spook when the dateline on the story belatedly registered in my mind.

The Georgia island resort where I'd sent Lee and Johnnie.

Five men had come by boat and had stormed in at gunpoint. A "vacationing couple" had tried to resist with guns of their own; my two bodyguards, I was sure. Two of the attackers had gone down, but so had my guards—the man dead, the woman in critical condition—along with "several" other guests and "resort security personnel" who'd been wounded in the crossfire.

And "an unidentified woman and her toddler" had been kidnapped.

All I could do was stare at the screen in the worst misery of my life.

"Do you have anything more?" I finally roused myself to ask.

"The Coast Guard searches for the boat," Spook told me. "I hear their radio talk, and their telephones. They have not located it yet."

And they wouldn't, I knew. Estrada had timed it meticulously; the waterways were loaded with weekend traffic, and a single, poorly identified motorboat would be all but impossible to single out. Besides, it was—I checked the clock on my desk—an hour and change since all this had gone down, he'd be well away by now, very possibly already docked wherever he was going.

Wherever he was taking my wife and my child.

The report said two of the kidnappers were dead on site. I could hope Estrada was one of them.

I doubted it.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Consensual / Heterosexual / Science Fiction / Slow /