St. Louis, Missouri
North Florissant Avenue
Elena hung up the pay phone's handset. "No answer," she reported as she returned to the Camero.
"I don't like this," Rose said. "Sure, if it was just Amber, she'd be too busy having fun with the assignment. Allison, though? Not a chance."
"I can check with the office, see if they've checked in there. Gives me a chance to see if Tyler arrived safely."
Rose nodded. "And ask her to get us some new cell phones. We'll need them."
Elena returned to the phone booth. She dropped a quarter into the slot and called the main number for Velasco Investigations. The call was answered on the first ring. "Tyler, good, you're back. Any problems?" Elena nodded. "Excellent. Any calls for us?" The Russian mm-hmmed. "Nothing from Allison or Amber? No, nothing to worry about. Did Detective Lepinski leave a message? I'll let Rose know. Tell Amber or Allison, whichever calls, to get in touch with me. Thanks." Elena hung up.
"Well?" Rose asked when her partner returned to the Camero.
"Nothing from the girls," Elena answered. "Detective Lepinski called to find out if anything official needed to be done."
"Nothing he can do. I may need to call Henderson at the Firm, though."
"Clean up crew?"
"He still owes me a few favours."
Elena slipped into the car. "How many CDs have you done?"
Rose held up a stack of ten from beside her. "Think this is enough?"
"Good enough. Take a break."
"Not until Maria is safe."
"Rose, this is why agents aren't allowed to work on cases when there is a personal tie. You're going to use up all your energy before you need it. Let me treat you to a tea." Elena smiled. "Or a shot."
Rose glared at Elena. "I'm fine, Elena."
"You're worried. You don't work well when you're worried."
"Name one time when that happened," Rose challenged.
"San Francisco, 2004."
"You don't remember? I had to get Allison to distract you."
Rose shook her head. "Just what was I worried about?"
"Your husband called because Pascal had to go to the hospital."
"That was different."
Elena nodded. "Yes, because, this time, your daughter is directly involved. You're not thinking clearly. What plan do you have to get her from Sexton?"
"I . . .." Rose's voice trailed off. "I hate you."
Elena laughed lightly. "My point exactly. And you only hate my Russian ruthlessness."
"Point taken." Rose sighed. "Okay, a tea, then I call Sexton, hell or high water."
Elena opened Rose's door. "Good plan." She led her partner to a nearby Starbuck's. The blonde directed Rose to a chair before going to the counter to place her order. A few minutes later, Elena returned to where she left Rose. "Your tea. I think that year you spent in London helped civilize you."
Rose sipped her tea. "English breakfast, thanks. That year also made me appreciate my mother's cooking. At least she used spices. Overused, but better than bland."
"How is your mother?"
"Good, last I talked to her. Still waiting for me to get a proper job or to stay home with the kids. Or to move back to San Antonio."
"I wouldn't mind moving the agency there. I'm getting tired of the cold winters here."
"And here I thought your Russian blood laughed at winter."
Elena laughed. "My blood does. I, however, do not miss that aspect of my homeland."
"What about your folks?"
"They wouldn't miss it either if they left."
Rose waved her hand like she was erasing a blackboard. "No, I mean, do you miss your family?"
Elena shrugged. "I haven't seen them in some time. My mother would be on my case about getting married and giving her grandchildren for her to spoil. She was always asking for /babushka/ before I left Russia. My father probably worked himself to death. I miss them, but I am also very grateful that I am here and they are still back there."
Rose took a larger mouthful of her tea. "I hear you. I hear from my brother from time to time. He's still living near them and gets to hear everything. I'll visit, but I'm not moving back, even with the winters here."
"Once we're done all this, we're taking a vacation. You, me, Allison, even Amber. Doesn't have to be together. Just two weeks to do what needs to be done and to just get away from the job."
"Two weeks of vacation? Elena, do you know how much we have to get done at the office?"
"That's the problem in this country; everyone's expected to work to exhaustion. Europe has it right, I think. Maybe a little overboard, but everyone needs time to recharge. Didn't the Firm have a place for field agents to wind down?"
Rose shrugged. "I think the office arranged for discount tickets to Disneyland."
"I cannot picture you in the Eighties going on 'Pirates of the Carribean'."
"No dissing Johnny Depp."
Elena licked her lips. "I can think of better things to do with him."
Rose laughed sincerely. "You're almost as bad as Maria."
"There has to be some perk to being exotic." Elena joined in the laughter. "Feeling better?"
"Yeah. I needed that."
Elena stood up. "Finish your tea. I need to use the ladies' room."
Rose kept sipping at her tea while Elena was gone. When the Russian returned, the cup was empty and sitting on the table. Rose stood up. "Ready." She started walking to the door. "And thanks."
Elena smiled. "That's what a partner is for."
Outside the coffee shop, the women returned to the Camero. Rose reached inside and picked up Sexton's Blackberry. She dialed his phone number. "Sexton, it's Velasco." She glanced over at Elena. "If you've done anything to my daughter, you're going to pay. Yes, I've got the disks and the laptop. When and where? I can do that. Just hold up your end of the bargain." Rose disconnected the call. "Think he believes the 'overwrought mother' act?" she asked Elena.
"As long as it's an act."
St. Louis, Missouri
117 Herbert Street
Sexton closed his cell phone. He turned to Thompson. "Things are coming together. Where's the girl?"
"Locked back in the bedroom," the henchman answered. "She won't get away."
"Go check. We need to get to the meeting site before those bitches do. And call Rollins. Let him know where to go."
"What about the girl?"
"She's coming with us."