Not that they were ever seen together, except by their victims. They traveled separately. One always drove, and the other two flew, always by different routes. The driver was one of the men, because invisibility was their aim, and a woman driving a long distance alone was still slightly more memorable than a man. The car was always rented, always at LAX arrivals, which had the busiest rental counters in the world. It was always a generic family sedan, a mud-colored nothing car. The license and the credit card used to obtain it were always real, properly issued in a distant state to a person who had never existed. The driver would wait on the sidewalk and then line up when a busy flight was spilling out into baggage claim when he would be just one face among a hundred. He was small and dark and had a rolling duffel and a carry-on and a harassed expression, same as everybody else.
He did the paperwork at the counter and rode the bus to the rental compound and found his allotted car. He dumped his bags in the trunk, waited at the exit check, and drove out into the glare. He spent forty minutes on the freeways, driving a wide aimless circle around the whole of the metropolitan area, making sure he wasn't followed. Then he ducked off into West Hollywood and stopped at a lock-up garage in an alley behind a lingerie salon. He left the motor running and opened the garage door and opened the trunk and swapped his rolling duffel and his carry-on for two big valises made of thick black nylon. One of them was very heavy. The heavy valise was the reason he was driving, not flying. It contained things best kept away from airport scanners.
He closed up the garage and rolled east on Santa Monica Boulevard and turned south on 101 and hooked east again on 10. Squirmed in his seat and settled in for the two-day drive all the way out to Texas. He wasn't a smoker, but he lit numerous cigarettes and held them between his fingers and flicked ash on the carpets, on the dash, on the wheel. He let the cigarettes burn out and crushed the butts in the ashtray. That way, the rental company would have to vacuum the car very thoroughly, and spray it with air freshener, and wipe down the vinyl with detailing fluid. That would eliminate every trace of him later, including his fingerprints.
The second man was on the move, too. He was taller and heavier and fairer, but there was nothing memorable about him. He joined the end-of-the-workday crush at LAX and bought a ticket to Atlanta. When he got there, he swapped his wallet for one of the five spares in his carry-on and a completely different man bought another ticket for Dallas-Fort Worth.
The woman traveled a day later. That was her privilege, because she was the team leader. She was closing in on middle age, medium-sized, medium-blond. Nothing at all special about her, except she killed people for a living. She left her car in the LAX long-term parking, which wasn't dangerous because her car was registered to a Pasadena infant who had died of the measles thirty years previously. She rode the shuttle bus to the terminal and used a forged MasterCard to buy her ticket, and a genuine New York driver's license for photo ID at the gate. She boarded her plane about the time the driver was starting his second day on the road.
After his second stop for gas on the first day, he had made a detour into the New Mexico hills and found a quiet dusty shoulder where he squatted in the cool thin air and changed the car's California plates for Arizona plates, which he took from the heavier valise. He wound his way back to the highway and drove another hour, then pulled off the road and found a motel. He paid cash, used a Tucson address, and let the desk clerk copy the Arizona plate number onto the registration form.
He slept six hours with the room air on low and was back on the road early. Made it to Dallas-Fort Worth at the end of the second day and parked in the airport long-term lot. Took his valises with him and used the shuttle bus to departures. Took the moving stairs straight down to arrivals and lined up at the Hertz counter. Hertz, because they rent Fords, and he needed a Crown Victoria.
From Echo Burning by Lee Child. (c) June 2001, Putnam Pub Group, used by permission
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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