No Exit

By: Lena Diaz

Jace sat up straighter, his irritation forgotten in lieu of the alarms that were starting to go off in his head. “I’ve only known him for a few months, so I can’t predict his behavior. How long have you known him?”

“Long enough. Plus I’ve got detailed files on all of the Equalizers. And I’m telling you this doesn’t fit his profile. Are you sure he’s the guy you saw?”

A cold feeling of dread settled in the pit of Jace’s stomach. He checked his mirrors and pulled to the shoulder of the road. Then he tried to picture Ramsey, superimposing him over the image of the gunman.

At first blush, they matched up: about six feet tall, muscular build, Caucasian—­something he was certain of because the gunman hadn’t worn gloves. And there was nothing remotely female about those hands or the person who owned them, so he discarded the possibility that the person underneath that ski mask could be a woman.

But had the gunman been standing up straight? Or had he hunched down against the cold? If so, he could be even taller than six feet, opening up more possibilities about his identity. But if the gunman wasn’t Ramsey, who was he?

And where was Ramsey?

“You still there?” Concern leached into Austin’s voice, lending it a sharper edge.

“The guy in the van wore a ski mask and a bulky black coat. I assumed he was Ramsey because I had no reason to suspect otherwise. But if you’re right about the profile—­”

“I am.”

“If you’re right,” he repeated, “then let’s assume the gunman was someone else and talk it through. There’s no way another guy just happened to drive a white panel van up this mountain and decided to try to kill or kidnap Miss Cardenas at the same time that we were carrying out our mission. Whoever was in that van must have discovered what Ramsey was going to do and decided to take his place. Why, I have no idea. Have you tried calling him?”

“I waited to hear from one of you first, so I’d know the operation was complete. But as soon as you called, I sent him a text through my computer. He hasn’t responded yet.”

A tow truck chugged past Jace down the mountain road with Melissa’s dented-­up Jaguar sitting on its flatbed. Jace checked his side mirror. A caravan of police cars was coming down the mountain, with the Cardenas limo cocooned in the middle like a protected head of state.

He grabbed his phone from the console and held it to his left ear so anyone passing would realize he was on a call and wouldn’t assume he had broken down on the side of the road. He didn’t want the delay of any of them stopping to help.

“Have you tried tracking his phone through GPS?” Jace asked.

“Duh. That was the second thing I tried after pinging him. I got nothing.”

The last of the cars headed down the road, its brake lights shining bright in the darkening gloom as a reminder that the sun would set soon. Every minute that passed without hearing from Ramsey made it that much more likely that something bad had happened to him.

“Okay. Keep trying his phone. Call Mason and let him know Ramsey’s MIA. In the meantime, I’ll check his house to make sure he’s not there and retrace his steps.”

Forty-­five minutes later, Jace had checked everywhere he could think of and was back on the mountain, taking the same route that he believed Ramsey would have taken for their planned rendezvous. But he’d found nothing.

The sun had set. Temperatures were plummeting. If Ramsey was alive, and the gunman had left him outside in the elements, he wouldn’t last long. They had to find him, fast. And there was only one other option he could think of that might give them the information they needed to locate him.

He called the Equalizer’s home base again and headed down the mountain for the second time that day.

“You found him?” Austin’s anxious voice carried through the phone.

“No. Do you have any contacts who can patch you into the city’s traffic cameras? We might be able to track Ramsey’s movements and see where he met up with ski-­mask guy.”

Austin snorted. “Oh sure. I’ll ring up City Hall and ask them to search through hours of video to find the guy who was supposed to scare Miss Cardenas off the road instead of the guy who actually did. That’ll go over well.”

“What happened, Austin? Did you hear they were giving out asshole genes, and you jumped at the head of the line?”

“Actually, I was second in line. Right after you, Asswell.”

Jace gritted his teeth and pulled around a slow-­moving truck nursing its air brakes. “Maybe Mason or one of the others has a contact we can use. We’ll brainstorm our options, figure something out. I’m coming in.”

“What? No, no, no, hell no. Now that you’ve made contact with Cardenas, he’ll want to keep an eye on you until he’s convinced you’re legit. He might already have someone tailing you to make sure you’re not associated with any rogue enforcers. If you come to home base, you could compromise everything. You are not coming here.”

“Austin,” he bit out, “I was running special-­ops missions while you were still figuring out how to get in some girl’s panties at prom. I know what I’m doing. I know how to make sure no one is following me. And I sure as hell don’t need your permission. I’ll be there in twenty, and you’d damn well better let me in.”

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