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The breakthrough, p.22
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       The Breakthrough, p.22

           Jerry B. Jenkins
 
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  “That’s him,” Boone told Jack.

  “Counter personnel confirm he was sleepy to the point of nodding off during the boarding process and that the woman said he was her nephew and they were going to visit relatives vacationing in China. Their documents listed addresses in Palos Hills, Illinois, but the occupants of those residences have no knowledge of anyone by those names.”

  “How’m I supposed to find either one of them in Beijing? You realize how huge that place is?”

  “Just hope they’re still there, Boones. I mean, that’s a monstrous city, but the rest of the country is just a bigger haystack. They’ve got lots of cities many times bigger than New York.”

  “You get into Pitts’s place?”

  “We did. A mansion. Lots of imported marble. Apparently lives alone. No house staff, but there was a separate desk and phone and bunch of file cabinets in another room, like maybe somebody comes in and works for him. Humanitarian awards and pictures everywhere. If you didn’t know—which apparently few do—you’d think he was God’s gift to childless couples and needy children. Files are full of records of adoptions, but so far nothing incriminating. If you didn’t know, you’d figure he was on the up-and-up.”

  “Any whereabouts on him?”

  “He may already be in China, Boones. We didn’t expect that, but we’re trying to match something the techies found on his computer with flights out of Midway.”

  “Are you sure? I didn’t even know you could get there from Midway.”

  “Not directly. Hang on a second. Let me check this message. Antoine again.”

  When Jack came back on, he said, “Bull’s-eye. Flew under his own name but went Midway to Minneapolis to LA to Beijing. He’s in country, Boones.”

  “So Tuttman is going to hold Max till he gets there?”

  “Actually, I think he beat her there,” Jack said. “Hang on, more coming in.”

  Boone allowed himself to hope that finding three people together would be easier than finding two.

  “I don’t know what to make of this yet,” Jack said, “but Antoine just texted me that Ms. Tuttman is already back in the States. Took the first return flight. Alone.”

  “Find her, Jack.”

  “You think? I don’t know who I want first, her or this Kevin Kenleigh character.”

  “I know who I want first. You tell Margaret where I’m going?”

  “Been debating that,” Jack said. “She can keep a secret; I know that.”

  “It’s okay with me. I’ve got another text from her, so if it needs a response, I’ll get back to her before takeoff.”

  When Boone parked at O’Hare and grabbed his duffel bag, he used his thumb to run through messages as he headed toward the international terminal. He had intended to save Pastor Sosa’s until he boarded but found himself in the mood for encouragement.

  Sosa’s text directed him to Lamentations 3:22. Lamentations? Really? Was this going to be like the one from Job?

  His mobile Bible brought up:

  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.

  That, Boone thought, was Francisco—not to mention the Lord himself—at his best. As usual, it was just what Boone needed and just when he needed it.

  The message from Margaret was just as good. Don’t know what this means or how it happens, but all three docs and the nurses keep telling me that Haeley’s vitals are better. Heart rate, pulse ox, BP, all that. She’s getting better, Boone. Chin up.

  31

  Aboard

  When Boone reached the first-class counter at American, he suddenly found himself treated like a king. It was no secret what a premium seat cost on an international flight, and apparently the entire staff was determined to treat him in kind. Once his ticket, passport, and visa had been confirmed, he was directed to the Admirals Club lounge.

  “Don’t think I’m a member,” he said.

  “You are tonight,” he was told.

  Boone wished he was hungry as he passed a buffet filled with delicacies, shrimp, and all kinds of other hors d’oeuvres. What fun it would have been to make a trip like this with Haeley, or even Max. What was he thinking? He was determined to make just such a trip with Max on the way home.

  Boone dropped into an overstuffed leather easy chair and dialed Ragnar Waldemarr. “When I find Max,” he said, “how do I get him home?”

  “Way ahead of you, Boone. Jack briefed me on the alias they used for him. We’ll just use it on the way back. Working with Feng Li on the docs now. Just need dates.”

  “The instant I can get him out of there.”

  “I hear you, Boone.”

  “And has Jack updated you on everything else?”

  “He has. We’re all in this thing together, Boone. And Ms. Velna asked if I would send along her good thoughts about the endeavor. We’ll securely transmit any leads to Feng while you’re in the air.”

  “Thought my new phone was secure.”

  “It is, but agents in the airport might want to turn it on. We don’t want them seeing anything from us.”

  “I appreciate it.”

  “You know, we’ll all be able to monitor your conversations from here, as long as you have your phone with you. Even if it’s off.”

  “I’ll keep you posted so you can all get together for a listening party.”

  “Don’t put it past us.”

  Boone sighed. “Don’t know why I’m so exhausted.”

  “You don’t?”

  “Well, sure, I guess I do.”

  “Don’t fall asleep and miss your flight.”

  “Like that’ll happen.”

  “And take that medication right after dinner.”

  “And do the seat belt thing; yeah, got it.”

  Jack Keller felt good about the momentum building in the case. As was true with homicides and kidnappings, the earliest leads were always the best and most crucial. Virginia Tuttman was no longer in China, but Jasper “Jammer” Pitts and Max were. That at least meant Boone’s trip was no fool’s errand.

  Jack decided to drop in on Margaret at Mount Sinai and check on Haeley. Then he hoped to get some rest. But all those plans evaporated when he got a call from Lieutenant Lefty Tidwell of the Hammond PD. “Just got a big break, Jack. You’re gonna love me.”

  “Talk to me, Tid.”

  “You’ve got this Mannock’s cell phone in cold storage, and we’ve been monitoring every call to it and keeping the voice mail empty so we don’t miss any. Everything so far has been from drinkin’ buddies or collection agencies. Well, he just got a call from AKA.”

  “Kenleigh? Saying?”

  “That if DeWayne didn’t lay low and keep his nose clean, Knives was gonna tell Jammer what he’d gotten himself into.”

  “At least that tells us Pitts still doesn’t know who Max is.”

  “Sounds like it. Thing is, Jack, AKA sounded drunk, and that’s a good thing.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “’Cause he made a stupid mistake. It’s not like him.”

  “Tell me you were able to trace the call.”

  “We were. He was just sober enough not to call with a cell phone, but he used a pay phone—”

  “Who’s still got pay phones?”

  “—from a strip club called Gents in Merrillville.”

  “Was he still there? Did you get him?”

  “I sent two guys in an unmarked squad, and they found a car registered to John Bertalay parked outside, so we think he’s in there, Jack. I wanted you to have the pleasure.”

  “I owe you big time, Lefty. Give me the address.”

  Tidwell read it off.

  “If he comes out before I get there, don’t even let him get to the car.”

  As the time drew near for Boone’s flight, he wandered to a huge plate-glass window overlooking the terminal. As was apparently usual in advance of nightly international flights, the place was full and buzzing. Lines led to every counter. Even the Admirals Club lounge was f
illing, and it was clear many were enjoying its comforts for the first time, as Boone was.

  To his surprise, Boone was beckoned individually to come and board. “You look puzzled,” the steward said. “You are in first, aren’t you?”

  “I am, but surely you don’t offer this to anyone other than premium flyers.”

  “Full-fare first-class passengers are treated like our top frequent fliers. There are a bunch of you tonight, about half in first and the others in business.”

  The steward walked him all the way to the plane, asked where he wanted his bag, and helped him order his meal and something to drink. He told Boone what time to expect dinner and wished him a good flight.

  Boone appreciated it and responded appropriately, but nothing could soothe the turmoil in his mind. This flight was taking him closer to Max, and all Boone could hope for was that the glacial thirteen hours of flying would give Jack and his team a chance to have more leads awaiting him, via Feng Li, when he hit the ground.

  As Boone sat waiting for the plane to fill, he rehearsed in his mind everything that had happened from the moment he had heard that Max was missing. Jack had often complimented Boone on his ability to analyze mountains of complex data and come to sound conclusions. Right now this seemed a towering mountain.

  As he sipped an orange juice, a senior couple began getting situated in the sleeper seats directly in front of him. And they seem giddy. Terrific.

  Once they were settled and had ordered their drinks, the woman turned and greeted Boone. “What’s taking you to China tonight?” she said.

  “Going to get my son. He’s . . . visiting there.”

  “How nice! We’re celebrating our fortieth. Can’t believe it. How the time flies.”

  “Good for you. That’s great. Really.”

  “I know,” she said. “Long marriages are so rare these days that when we tell people, they say, ‘That long? To the same person?’” That made her laugh uproariously. She must have noticed Boone smiling only courteously. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re no longer married? Listen to me!”

  “No, no, I am. She’s just . . . under the weather, couldn’t come along. Can’t wait to reunite the whole family.”

  “I know what you mean,” the woman said. “One of our kids is adopting from Thailand, and on our way home we’re going to visit the orphanage and meet our new granddaughter, even before my daughter and her husband do. Isn’t that something?”

  “That’s something,” Boone said, unable to keep his dark thoughts from affecting his ability to sound interested. It was wonderful that a family was taking in an international child. And he had no reason to believe that everyone involved on both ends wasn’t pursuing the thing with the purest of motives and the best interests of the child in mind.

  But the flatness in Boone’s tone must have given the woman whatever hint she needed to stop talking his ear off. She wished him a good flight and turned back around.

  “All the best to you both on your anniversary and meeting your new grandchild,” Boone said.

  I’m off to rescue my son and do whatever damage I can do to the ones behind all this.

  32

  Unconscious

  Boone’s experience with sleep aids told him that even ones he found effective didn’t work quite as well as their advertising claimed. In fact, they didn’t affect him as strongly as they did Haeley. She was able to sleep a full eight hours when she occasionally took one. For Boone, the same medication gave him only about six good hours of sleep. Maybe it had to do with the differences in their sizes. Boone was nearly a hundred pounds heavier than his petite wife.

  Did that mean he should take a heavier dose of what Dr. Sarangan had provided? One had certainly worked last night. Boone had heard bizarre stories—of sleepwalking, sleep-driving, refrigerator raiding—from people who had only slightly overdosed. The last thing he needed was to err with an even more powerful concoction.

  With the announcement that cell phones were to be turned off in ten minutes, Boone called Dr. Waldemarr.

  “Should I take one and a half of those pills I showed you, Doc?”

  “No. That is way past even what a general practitioner would prescribe. You take more of this than you should and you’ll have embarrassing consequences. You could sleep through touchdown, found you’ve wet yourself, stay groggy for another few hours, suffer amnesia. You could temporarily forget why you were flying to China.”

  “Not likely.”

  “I’m just telling you how powerful that stuff is, Boone. At least you’d forget everything we’ve discussed, forget your contact’s name. What your doctor gave you is a hallucinogenic sedative. I’d guess your weight at a tick over two hundred pounds. Close enough?”

  “About 210.”

  “Perfect. Have your dinner. They’ll probably serve it during the first hour and a half.”

  “I’m stuffed, Doc.”

  “At least have the protein.”

  “I ordered the chicken.”

  “Eat as much of that as you can. Then relieve yourself and take one pill. It can take effect within twenty minutes, and you should sleep solid for at least nine hours. You know the rest of the drill.”

  “Glad I asked.”

  “Me too. The last thing we need is you stumbling about in the new Beijing airport, smelling like a bed wetter, and wondering what the heck you’re doing there.”

  In the moments before the doors of the plane were shut, Boone sat staring at the picture of Max. The haircut and color were strange, of course, but Max’s sweet naiveté came through even his panicked expression, despite that Boone could read every bit of the tentativeness and curiosity in his eyes. By the time Max had had his hair cut and colored for the passport photo, Kevin Kenleigh had to have weaved a yarn so puzzling that all Max could hope for was to see his mother soon.

  And about the time the story would unravel to the point of unbelievability, even for a child, whatever Kenleigh had given Max would have made him too loopy to ask questions.

  Boone switched to the photo of Virginia Tuttman and found himself obsessing over how Max might have been drugged. He loved chocolate milk. Had Kenleigh asked what he wanted to drink? Slipped something into it?

  Boone hardly knew what do with his swirling emotions. The detective part of him kept all angles bouncing off each other in his brain, while his heart burst with love for and worry over Max. Meanwhile he felt rage for Mannock, for Pitts, and especially for AKA. Why Kenleigh or Knives or Alfonso—or whatever he was going by these days—had taken center stage in Boone’s gallery of targets, he didn’t know. Maybe because the con had been so slick? To hear Florence tell it, “Alfonso” had won them both over. She and Max had quickly become enamored with him.

  And all for what? The same motive as Max’s biological father? Greed?

  Pastor Sosa had spoken on that subject recently, and Boone had been struck by the fact that so many people misunderstood and misquoted the famous Scripture about it. People often said, “Money is the root of all evil.” But Sosa had pointed out that money was merely a tool and could be used for magnificent purposes too. “The Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil. It says the love of money is. . . .”

  Big difference. Pitts, AKA, Mannock, and probably this Tuttman woman, too, all seemed to have the same motive.

  There was no sense burning the image of Ms. Tuttman into his consciousness if she was already stateside again. As he sat studying her short, cropped dark hair, hoping he’d see her in person one of these days, the rattling and colliding of all the elements seemed to coalesce. Could these evil ones’ greed trip them up?

  Boone had imagined somehow getting a bead on where Pitts was, busting in, and doing whatever he had to do to extricate Max. What happened to Pitts or any accomplices would be collateral damage in the strictest sense.

  Needless to say, the worst collateral damage would be Max if anything went wrong. Much as Boone loved the idea of attacking, gun blazing if necessary, his priori
ty—his primary goal—was to rescue Max unharmed. He knew the boy was already traumatized. He and Haeley could work through that, finding as much help as necessary. Boone just had to get Max home in one piece.

  Sure, justice had to be served too, and Boone longed to have a part in that. People like Pitts and AKA and Mannock and Tuttman had to be stopped and, if not taught a lesson, certainly required to pay for their crimes. Getting those lowlifes off the street might have scant impact on the ugly world of human trafficking, but every little bit helped.

  Boone’s phone vibrated. A message from Sosa. No Bible reference this time. Just: Praying.

  Boone immediately tapped back Enduring, then shut down his phone. He prayed silently, God, keep me focused. Use whatever gifts you have given me. I’m yours. Be with Max, with Haeley. Somehow let me bring him home to her.

  Jack Keller pulled into the Gents parking lot and found Lefty Tidwell waiting in his unmarked squad next to another with two other Hammond detectives in it. The club sat in a dismal industrial park. As soon as Jack climbed in next to the veteran, Lefty pointed out AKA’s car, the one registered to his Bertalay alias.

  “Knows how to keep a low profile,” Jack said. “I’ll give him that.” The car was a gray four-door sedan, something a family man might drive. “I see you’ve got backup.”

  Lefty nodded. “Need ’em?”

  “I might. Do I look too much like a cop to wander in there and see if I can spot Kenleigh?”

  Lefty seemed to study Jack. “Guy like AKA would probably make you, yeah.”

  “What do I need to do then? I don’t want to sit here all night waiting for him to stagger out.”

  “No jacket, no tie, of course. Loosen your top two buttons, untuck your shirt.”

  “I need my piece. They don’t have metal detectors in these places, do they?”

  “You’ve never been?”

  “Just on duty and only in Chicago.”

  “That so? What’sa matter with you, Jack?”

  “Never appealed, that’s all. I mean, I got nothing against good-looking women, but not at a place like this.”

  “Real Sunday school teacher.”

 
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