The moment Will opened the door, the stench hit him. He knew it, though rarely had he smelled death so ripe. This was not recent. With his non-weapon hand, he lifted his shirt to cover his face. It barely made any difference. It was too dark to see much of anything, and he did not dare turn on lights.
He inched forward slowly. The light from the hallway was just enough to illuminate a bed. Was that someone in it? Was that the source of the smell? He debated and finally reached for the flashlight that they all carried. He would have much-preferred night vision goggles, but this was not some well-equipped official operation.
But it should have been. He fought back the anger that threatened to overcome his sanity and calm professionalism. The clue had been there all along. In Bebe’s case file. But no one had bothered to investigate. She was nothing more than another missing black girl, presumed to be a runaway. He gritted his teeth as he pushed down thoughts of all his cousin had been through.
Now she would not even look him in the face. He had lost his career, put Mercy into danger, and Bebe fainted over the pedophile who had used her? He drew his mind back to the present. He would think of all that later. Right now, the only thing that mattered was finding Mercy and the McBrides. No, Grace. And Rose.
The light hit the figure in the bed, and Will almost lost the cold beans he had eaten earlier as they waited in that abandoned house. If not for the stained nightgown with frilly lace around the neck, he would not have even been able to identify the body’s sex. He forced himself to look away as he shined the light around the room. But other than a chair and some ornate wardrobe, there was nothing of interest in this room. Was the body another of Garcia’s victims?
All thought of the dead woman was pushed to the back of his mind as the shot rang out. It was close. The other guy, Mason, had taken the other end of the hall. They had agreed to work their way and meet in the middle. Had he discovered something?
Will listened for more shots as he made his way down the hall. He stuck close to the shadows, just in case. He stuck his head in each room, looking for any sign of a disturbance. The next room obviously belonged to a woman. A lamp glowed on the bedside table, illuminating a dressing table, wardrobe, and four-poster bed with luxurious silk sheets, pillows, and comforter. The carpet was plush. But there was no sign of the room’s mistress or anyone else. There was a door on one wall that likely connected to other rooms.
Will crept to the next door. He pushed it open quietly. This was likely Diego Garcia’s bedroom. The furnishings were even grander than the other one. The door on the wall confirmed his earlier suspicions. This room connected to the other, likely his wife’s. Will shone the light around, but there was no sign of life here either.
The next door was open already. A light was on. Will raised his gun as he noticed the body on the floor. Another man sat at the ornate desk, rifling through drawers. He could not see the man’s face since the only light came from a desk lamp that was pointed down. But he watched the shadows as he leaned down to feel for a pulse.
The figure on the floor turned and moaned. Will was relieved to see that Mason was still alive. But that relief was quickly replaced with anger as the other man looked up at the sound, “Saunders.”
“If it isn’t the little traitor,” the man laughed.
Will kept his gun aimed at the man, “We both know who the real traitor is. How much did Garcia pay you?”
“A helluva a lot more than five grand, that’s for sure.”
“Why? Why would you sell out everything you worked for?”
“Such an idealist. Even now? My divorce cleared me out. I was paying for my kid’s college and living in a studio apartment. I’d worked all my life. Put my life on the line. And that’s how I ended up? The bitch even got half my pension in the settlement.”
“Not all of us can afford to be idealists, Williams. I was looking at retirement, and I had nothing. Do you know what that feels like? To have the courts take everything you worked for and give it to your ex-wife? What kind of a country does that?”
“So, you’re looking to cover your tracks? Make certain that Garcia doesn’t have any records that could destroy your reputation, is that it?”
The man laughed, “Not as dumb as most of your kind, are you?”
Will fought back the anger at the man’s prejudices. He needed all his wits about him. If he was to get them out of here. Someone would have heard the shot that took Mason down. If he could just stall a bit longer, someone would come. If Saunders was here, chances were good that other agents were too. Or maybe Reb and the others would find them. Though he was not sure that Chad would save his backside at this point.
“So, what’s the plan? Destroy any evidence. Then join the others, like nothing happened.” Did this man know that Tyler had been tipped off about his activities already?
“Yeah, but of course, we both know that means I can’t leave any witnesses,” the man lifted his gun.
But Will had known this and was ready. He pulled the trigger even as the pain lanced through his shoulder. His only thought as he fought back nausea that accompanied the red bloom on his shirt was, ‘Where are you, Mercy?’