Parker said, "I don't want these armored car people dead, but I'm not going to have a lot of time to spend on them."
"No, that's true."
"We're giving them the choice, that's all."
Briggs looked troubled, but then he said, "Let me tell you something I learned about retirement, I mean, besides it's boring."
"It's expensive. Where in New England am I meeting you?"
Dalesia picked Parker up at Bradley International Airport in his Audi, and they drove north toward Ma.s.sachusetts. Along the way, Parker said, "Briggs is aboard. He's got stuff we can use, he'll drive it up, but he doesn't want to be in on the job."
"I was thinking, though," Dalesia said, "we could use a third man."
"You say that," Parker said, "as though you've got him."
"Well, don't you think we do?"
"I've been thinking the same thing," Parker said. "Who've you got?"
"McWhitney? Where did he come from? The last time I saw him, he was carrying Harbin out on his back."
"Remember the bounty hunter braced you a little while ago?"
"Keenan or something."
"He made a mistake with McWhitney," Dalesia said. "He came on like one of the guys, but he didn't know anything about anything, so when he told McWhitney I'd I'd said he should ask him how to find Harbin, McWhitney didn't like it." said he should ask him how to find Harbin, McWhitney didn't like it."
"No, he wouldn't."
"He let Keenan know, and then he came looking for me."
Parker looked at Dalesia's deadpan profile. "He believed Keenan?"
"He did for a while." Dalesia grinned, as though there'd never been a real problem. "We worked it out," he said, "and I asked him aboard. It seemed to follow. If you don't like the idea, I think we'll have to sneak up behind him. He's a jumpy kind of guy."
"No, McWhitney seemed all right," Parker said. "We gotta talk a little, though."
"Yeah, he'll meet us there."
"Turns out," Dalesia said, "this is a good time to slip some extra guests into that motel where Jake works, without bothering the official records."
"I told Briggs we'd put him up there, while the job was going down."
"We're all there," Dalesia said, "you and me and McWhitney. Seems right now there's an annual slump in their business there."
"The truckers they got all the time, but the civilians taper off around now. The people that did their summer vacation in Maine, the people bringing their kids back to college, that's all done. Now there's nothing till next week, when they have what they call the leaf peepers, the people that come out from the cities to watch the leaves turn red. We're outa here before they show up."
"I've been doing some other stuff, too," Dalesia said. "I found the intersection where we do it, it's perfect for us, I'll show it to you this afternoon. That and the church."
Dalesia was enjoying his surprise. "Wait for it. We'll have some lunch with McWhitney, and then I'll show you around."
"You've been busy," Parker said.
"Well, we've only got four days."
Since they weren't actually registered at Jake Beckham's place, Trails End Motor Inne, they didn't have lunch there but at a "family" restaurant nearby. McWhitney drove his own car to meet them there, arriving second, and when the hostess walked him toward their table, Parker said, "He looks irritable."
"He doesn't know if you're gonna love him."
Neither did Parker. He hadn't picked up much of a sense of the man in that first meeting that Stratton had set up; only McWhitney's wide-eyed dumb show of innocence when it had turned out that Harbin was wired, and the immediacy of his silent acknowledgment that it was his responsibility to make Harbin disappear. Which he had done, well enough to confound even a professional bounty hunter.
But was this irritable look also an irritable nature, and would it matter? Dalesia had described him as a "little jumpy," and Parker could well believe it. But, if his jumpiness wouldn't get in the way, it would be a good thing to have a third in the string, particularly when there were armored car guards to handle, and later, when the faster they switched the cash to their own vehicle the better. And Parker could see where, at a moment when McWhitney had been not only jumpy, but suspicious that Dalesia had ratted him out, it had seemed to Dalesia a good idea to offer him a job.
McWhitney stopped at the table to shake both their hands, he standing, they seated. He didn't bother to smile during the handshake, but said to Parker, "Good to see you again."
"Maybe this time it'll come to something," McWhitney said, and sat down.
"It's coming to something, Nels," Dalesia said. "Parker's got the hardware on the way."
McWhitney nodded. "Good."
They were interrupted by the waitress. The menu was printed on the paper place mats. They ordered things, and then McWhitney said, "I understand you met that guy Keenan."
"I take it he didn't push you very hard."
"Not hard," Parker agreed. "He didn't know anything, so he didn't know where to reach for a handle."
"Well, he made a grab at a handle when he came to me."
Dalesia said, "Sounds as though he was desperate by then. Time going by, not getting anywhere, no profit in sight."
McWhitney nodded. "I think he was in the wrong business," he said.
Dalesia grinned. "Well, at the end he was."
Their food came, and while they were eating it, McWhitney said to Parker, "Did Nick talk to you about some church somewhere?"
"He said the word 'church,'" Parker said, "but he didn't say what it meant."
"Same with me," McWhitney said. He turned his dissatisfied gaze toward Dalesia. "Look at him," he said. "He looks exactly like somebody with a concealed full house."
Dalesia was pleased with himself. "That's just what I am," he said.
They all traveled in Dalesia's car, McWhitney in the backseat. Dalesia showed them the intersection first, where they would grab the armored car, and they both approved the choice. McWhitney, gesturing at the diner and the gas station, said, "These places are empty at night?"
"n.o.body out here at all."
Parker said, "I like the way it narrows down."
"Let me show you where we go from here," Dalesia said. "The car we want we'll take out this way, to the right." He drove less than half a mile, then stopped where a dirt road angled off to the left. "We stop the car here," he said, "put the guards over on the dirt road there."
Parker looked around. The area was hilly, the road twisty, with pine woods along the right and on part of the left. Just beyond the dirt road turnoff, a cornfield had finished its season and was turning into papyrus. "Not much traffic."
"Don't open a lemonade stand," Dalesia advised, and drove them on.
West Ruudskill was seven miles farther. They didn't stop, but Dalesia told McWhitney, "That's our mill, where we'll switch the cash from their armored car to our truck. Big wide doorway, solid floor."
"Looks good," McWhitney said, peering out the back window at it as they drove by. Facing front again, he said, "I guess, next it's this church of yours."
"Eleven miles from here," Dalesia said. "All c.r.a.p road, twisty, two-lane, but at least it's all paved."
They drove to the end of the road from West Ruudskill, and Dalesia took the left where it came to the T, then in a quarter mile another right; and a few miles later, after pa.s.sing a few farms but mostly woods, he turned off on the right side at a small white clapboard church with a wooden steeple. Across the road was a narrow two-story white clapboard house with a broad porch around the lower floor. Both buildings had the look of long disuse.
"These country churches," Dalesia said, pulling in at a weedy gravel area that would once have been a parking lot, "they're losing their congregations, doubling up, n.o.body can afford to keep every one of these d.i.n.ky things going any more."
They got out of the car, and Dalesia said, "The power's off, here and across the street. The line still comes in, so maybe we could start the electric if we needed to."
"We shouldn't need to," Parker said.
"That's what I figure." Dalesia started off around the church, saying, "Let me show you what I like about this place."
Around back, a large white-clapboard-sided lean-to had been attached to the rear of the church some time after the original construction. The slanted roof was gray asphalt tile, and the addition was completely open across the back, almost the full width of the church. The covered s.p.a.ce was about ten feet from front to back. A few miscellaneous items were jumbled into a rear corner, but the rest of the dirt-floored s.p.a.ce was clear.
"There's bits of their old Christmas manger scene back there," Dalesia said, pointing at the stuff in the corner. "They built this on for storage, I guess back when congregations were getting bigger instead of smaller. But you know what's great about this?"
"The truck," Parker said.
McWhitney smiled for the first time since Parker had met him. "We put it in sideways," he said. "We cover it with a tarp, so there's nothing shiny."
"Run your helicopters," Dalesia said. "Do what you want. We're inside, safe and dry, and our stash, in the truck, is out here, invisible." He grinned around at them, proud of his discovery. "Myself," he said, "I've always been a churchgoer."
Back at the family place for breakfast next morning, Dalesia was irritated. "I went home last night," he said, "check on things. My signal was on that wasn't supposed to be on. The person we had the missus send the fax to."
Parker said, "She sent another fax."
"To my intermediary contact," Dalesia said, "who didn't like that. And neither do I. I told the missus, at the beginning, lose that number."
"They never do," Parker said.
McWhitney paused with a lot of pancake halfway to his mouth to say, "You always have to go back and take it away from them."
"That's what we're gonna do," Dalesia said. He sounded grim.
Parker said, "She wants another meet."
"Noon today, same place. Just one of us, she says."
"Me," Parker said.
Dalesia frowned at him. "Why you? It's my message system."
"She's got you upset. I can stay calm and still get the number out of her."
Dalesia wasn't sure he liked that. "Or?"
Parker shrugged. "Or it turns out, she was afraid the cops were getting too close, coming in on her for shooting Jake, she didn't see how she could go on."
McWhitney said, doubtful, "She offs herself?"
"Only if she's that stupid," Parker said.
"With me she'd be that stupid," Dalesia said. "Okay, Parker, you do it. Nels and me, we'll get some bottled water, candy, s.h.i.t like that, stash it in the church."
At noon, Parker stood by his Lexus in the rest area parking lot as before, and here came the white Infiniti down the lane. He held up a hand to stop her, walked around the hood, and slid in on the pa.s.senger side.
Frowning at him, she said, "Aren't we going in the restaurant?"