Home > Cry No More(15)

Cry No More(15)
Author: Linda Howard

Upstairs, the offices were bare-bones. Naked fluorescent bulbs, cracked linoleum tile on the floor, and industrial green paint were the predominant features. The secondhand metal desks were battered, most of the office chairs were patched with duct tape, and there were only two private offices—semiprivate, that is, since the top half of the front wall in each office was a huge window.

The phone system, however, was state-of-the-art. Finders put its money where it would do the most good.

Milla loved her staff. God knows they didn’t work there for the pay, which was barely adequate. They worked long hours, including most Saturdays, and sometimes even on Sunday. She herself took no pay, not even a nominal amount. Most of the people in the Finders network were volunteers, spread out all over the nation, who offered themselves and their time whenever they were needed to look for people who were lost in their particular area. The core of Finders, however, the group of people here in El Paso, devoted themselves full-time to the job and were on the payroll.

Most of the volunteers did it out of the goodness of their hearts. Some of her full-time staff were the same, but some of them had personal reasons for being there. Joann Westfall’s best friend in grade school had become lost while on a family camping trip and died of exposure before she was found. Debra Schmale’s ex-husband had disappeared with her two daughters, and it had taken her over two years to locate them and retrieve her children. Olivia Meyer, Harvard-educated, staunch New Yorker, chose to live in hell—her term for El Paso, which greatly offended the locals on staff—because her elderly, senile grandfather had wandered away from his house one November day and spent hours walking the cold city streets without even a sweater for warmth before a cop picked him up and took him to a precinct station.

The best way to find lost people was to flood the area with searchers. All of her people understood that and devoted themselves to the task.

Brian was at the coffee machine when Milla entered. “Want a cup?” he called, and she nodded.

Joann looked up with an anxious gaze. “How did it go last night? Did you find out anything?”

“The man who took Justin was there,” Milla said baldly, and there was a collective gasp from everyone within hearing distance. People shoved back chairs and hurried over.

“What happened?” Debra asked, her blue eyes huge. “Did you talk to him?”

Brian approached and shoved a polystyrene coffee cup into Milla’s hand. “No. There were four of them, just two of us.” He flicked a glance at her that said he wasn’t going to spill the beans about her loss of judgment.

She wasn’t about to dissemble, though, so she came clean. “That was the idea, anyway, that we wouldn’t try to talk to them if there were more than two people. When I saw him, though, I lost my head. All I wanted was to get my hands around his throat.”

“Omigod,” Olivia blurted. “What happened? Did they shoot at you?”

“They never knew we were there. I was jumped and knocked out by another man.”

“Omigod,” Olivia said again. “Were you hurt? Did you see a doctor?”

“No, to both questions.”

“I don’t get it,” Joann said. “This other man obviously knew you were there, so why didn’t he tell the others?”

“He wasn’t with them. He was watching them, too.”

“Well, that’s a twist,” someone else muttered.

“Any idea who he might be?” Debra asked.

“Not a clue. I didn’t get a look at him. Whatever he was up to, though, he saved our lives by jumping me. And since I’m confessing, I also went in a cantina and offered ten thousand dollars to anyone who could tell me where to find Diaz. So if you get any phone calls asking about a reward, that’s why.”

“That explains that,” Olivia said, her eyebrows rising. “First thing this morning I got a threatening call, telling me to stay away from Diaz or die. I think that’s what she said, anyway. That was pre-coffee, so my Spanish comprehension wasn’t up to full speed yet. I told her I don’t have a boyfriend named Diaz.”

“Her?” Milla asked, her own eyebrows going north.

“Definitely a ‘her.’ That’s why I was thinking angry girlfriend. Sounds like you pulled on someone’s chain, for sure.”

Yes, it did. This was interesting, and exciting. “Did you get the number?”

“Sure.” Olivia went over to her desk and checked Caller ID. “It says ‘El Paso,’ but I don’t recognize the exchange.”

Brian ambled over and looked at the number. “Phone card,” he said. “Untraceable.”

There was something about Brian that always got on every last New Yorker nerve Olivia possessed. “Really.” Her tone was ice cold. “I suppose you can tell age, sex, and weight from the phone number, too, O Great White Hunter.” The last was a subtle dig at his military background; Olivia was a staunch dove who had only with the greatest reluctance learned anything at all about firearms.

“Not sex,” he said, grinning. “I use another method for that.” He topped things off by ruffling her hair before prudently retreating out of reach. “Not only that, I buy phone cards to use for long-distance calls, so I know how the numbers show up on Caller ID. With my vast expertise, I’d say that’s an AT&T card, easily purchased at any Wal-Mart and a gazillion other places.”

Milla had often bought phone cards to use while she was on the road and cell phone service was spotty, but she doubted Olivia, with her moneyed background, had ever even noticed the cards for sale practically everywhere. If she needed to make a call and didn’t have cell service, she would simply charge the call to her credit card or her home phone, thereby guaranteeing astronomical rates.

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