Blow reached the Pine Ridge address first. He parked his pickup behind the two police cruisers. Exhaust puffs from the nearest car's tailpipe signaled that Deputy Rodriguez was nearby, or should be. He didn't see her, in the car or anywhere. He tugged at his door latch, intending to get out, but changed his mind. Might as well sit tight, give her a minute or two. Maybe she'd seen something. Checking on something. She'd have to return to her unit soon. If she hadn't found Tisdale yet, she was alone. Wouldn't stray far for long with the engine running. At least wait for Homer. Nuts. He felt antsy.
On impulse he pulled the cellphone from his belt, flipped it open and called up the text template. In the message box he typed: ASAP 4 richard pine ridge and stone house. He inserted his sister's number in the address box, and pressed send. It was a breach of protocol to communicate with Joan on other than disposable one-time prepaid phones, and he wished he'd thought to keep one in his truck. Time was forcing his hand.
He'd told her much in that compressed message. Her live-together friend, Richard, led the FBI task force assigned to the professional criminal known now as Jamie Moriarty. Joan said Richard's agents had been in Leicester County for the past couple of weeks. Blow assumed their role was to locate Moriarty for capture, if possible. Moriarty likely was at or near the Salzwedel residence, or possibly headed toward the Stone family home. Were any agents nearby and willing to risk blowing their cover in case of a false alarm, now was as good a time as any to find out.
At first glance, distorted through the windshield's solar refractions, the writhing blotch could have been the shadow of a breeze-jiggled tree branch. Blow turned his attention to the dark shape when it seemed to become something of substance, growing larger, a person, moving in his direction. The figure was definitely headed toward the pickup. Squinting over the passenger-side dash he saw a sparkle of sunlight from...what? He leaned forward, holding his breath to avoid fogging the chilled windshield. Insignia. Someone in uniform. Walking like a woman...Connie! But...
Something was wrong. She was off her confident stride. Hesitant, yet hurried, in irregular bursts, head jerking in nervous shallow pivots. Most unusual was the gun in her hand. She held it at her side, arm extended as if to keep it out of sight. She was looking straight at Blow now, through the passenger window, coming steadily at the truck. Hairs pricked the back of his neck. He ducked, to get his face out of sight. Keeping low, he slid back to the driver's side, opened the door and climbed out.
“Connie!” He heard the uncertainty in his voice, he hunkered in the street, keeping the truck between him and the woman whose identity he now was doubting. If it wasn't her, if it was Moriarty, maybe the passing midday traffic would inhibit her. Maybe she wanted his truck. “Connie!” Last hopeful call. His next move, if the woman didn't answer, was to toss his keys onto the seat of his truck and get the hell away. Dodge around the police cars in front of his truck and try to get across the street. He'd tell her to take the truck. He'd survived the last time Moriarty zapped him with the long-range super taser, but he had no desire to repeat the experience. Deep now in his tactical planning, he flinched when her voice reached him.
“Joe!” She sounded distant, scared. Her voice was pitched higher than he knew it, but it wasn't Moriarty's. Nonetheless, he responded with a question.
“Connie?” He straightened and looked over the top of his cab. She broke into a jog. “Connie, what's wrong?”
They met in front of his pickup. She looked at the pistol in her hand as if seeing it for the first time, then looked up at Blow. “It's Arlan. Something's happened to him. You've got to come with me.” She looked back at the gun. “I need to secure this. It's Arlan's” She ran to her cruiser, placed the pistol under the front seat, then powered up the driver's window, turned off the engine and locked up with her remote key caddy. She motioned Blow to follow, and started jogging back to the Salzwedels' house.
“You have to be with me, Joe. Arlan thinks I'm Moriarty. I had to cuff him and tape his mouth. He was going to shoot me.”