Merrill Ross was on his way to the 11:10 Chicago flight when he saw them. Two of Paul Brumucci’s men. Goons right out of central casting, standing side-by-side against the wall of the concourse between him and the scanning stations. Both were focused with laserlike stares on the passengers queueing up for the screeners and metal detectors. Merrill froze, his heart in his throat.
He should’ve expected something like this.
On trembling legs he turned and headed quickly back down the concourse. But not quickly enough. He heard the sound of hurried footsteps behind him (hurried, not running; nobody ran in an airport these days), and the grunts and protests that always happened when bystanders got pushed aside. Too late, Merrill realized he should’ve shouted for a security guard—but the only ones he had seen were behind the tables at the screening area.
Merrill walked faster, back toward the ticketing area and the exits, weaving his way through the blank-faced Saturday morning travelers, trying not to let the panic show in his face. He was just another stressed-out businessman, overworked and late and scurrying to catch a cab outside. He slowed only long enough to strip off his sport coat and place it and his carry-on bag beside a bank of elevators before he turned a corner. Maybe it would delay the pursuit a minute or two.
His car was his only hope. Ignoring glares and curses and a few middle-finger salutes, he bullied his way down an escalator, found a staircase to the parking garage, flew down it, and pushed through the door to level P1. Seconds later he spotted his little Honda.
But there was Brumucci himself, standing beside Merrill’s car with a cell phone in his ear and watching the elevators. Merrill threw himself backward against a wall to avoid being seen, but it made little difference. The two musclemen from upstairs would be here any minute now.
He was trapped. Fear knotted his stomach. If they caught him, where would they take him? A deserted pier, a back road, a dark alley? And when his body was found, what would that do to Connie, and his son, and Jake—
A warm rush of hope surged through him.
His business partner, Jake Neely, had left yesterday for Boston. A weekend conference on workplace safety, ending tomorrow—Sunday—afternoon. And when Jake traveled by air he always parked here in the garage, on the second tier.
Jake’s car was here.
If Merrill could get to it.
He took one last look at Brumucci’s swarthy profile and ducked back into the empty stairwell. Up he went, two steps at a time, running almost as fast as if he were on level ground. Moments later he burst through the door to P2 and dashed all the way to the other end of the garage before he finally spotted Jake’s Grand Marquis. Thank God.
Merrill of course had no ignition key, but that didn’t matter—by now, one of Brumucci’s men would be covering the garage exit. And Merrill didn’t need a ride, anyway. He needed a hiding place.
He sprinted toward the big Mercury, slowing once when he saw a scary-looking character with spiked hair and a fishnet shirt shuffling along the adjacent row. Whoever it was was carrying a sports bag and staring at each car he passed. Either a traveler who’d forgotten where he parked, Merrill decided, or a potential thief or vandal looking for a target. The guy didn’t seem to pay Merrill any attention, though, and he gladly returned the favor. Street punks, law-abiding or not, were not his problem today.
Merrill stopped at Jake’s car, checked the license plate to make double sure it was the right one—JNEELY2—and glanced around one last time. The weird guy was gone, doing whatever weird guys do. Not a soul in sight.
Thanks to modern technology, and to a recent conversation with Jake about auto security features, Merrill’s lack of keys was no problem. Without a second’s hesitation he tapped the six-digit entry code—their receptionist’s birthdate—into the little keypad next to the door handle on the driver’s side. The lock disengaged.
Merrill jerked the door open. He knew trying to hide inside would be too dangerous—his pursuers would probably look through the windows of every car in the garage if they had to. For him, it was the trunk or nothing.