Against the Heart(30)

By: Kat Martin

The plan was for Daniel to go in on the high side of the road, climb to a spot they had chosen, and cover her as she met with Joey in the parking lot. Ian would park out of sight a ways away, drop down on the south side and move along the riverbank, cover her from below.

Once Meri had given Bandini the money, the exchange had been made, and Lily was safely out of harm’s way, he and his father would take the men into custody.

Meri looked at the clock on the wall above the sink in the kitchen.

Midnight was getting close.

But thinking of her little girl and what could be happening to her, the hour wasn’t nearly close enough.


A waxing half moon slid in and out between the clouds, enough light Daniel should be able to find his target, not enough he and Ian would be easily seen. The night was quiet except for a slight, temperate breeze that drifted through the dry grass and branches of the cottonwoods lining the Spokane River.

Ian checked his watch as he moved along the riverbank, careful to stay out of sight below the walking trail at the water’s edge. He was getting close to the parking area. By the time he reached his location, Daniel should be in position deep in the cover of the pines on the opposite side of East Upriver Road.

Headlights moved along the ribbon of asphalt winding through the park. Meri signaled to turn, letting him know she was there, and pulled into the empty parking lot. She stopped close to the riverbank, killed the engine, and turned off her headlights, sat in the car to wait.

Only a few minutes passed before another car approached and pulled off the road into the lot from the opposite end. An old, rattle-trap Ford stopped thirty feet from Meri’s older brown Chevy.

Both front doors of the Ford swung open and two men got out of the car. Ian recognized Joey Bandini from the picture he had seen in the file, roughly six feet tall, slender and black haired. The other man was big, thick through the chest and shoulders, his bald head gleaming in a patch of moonlight shining down through a hole in the clouds.

Something else flashed for an instant in the darkness. Sonofabitch. Both men carried semi-automatic pistols in their hands.

Ian’s tension ratcheted up another notch. Dressed completely in black, his face darkened with grease paint, he moved silently, Glock in hand, staying low and out of sight.

He had spoken to Hawkins as soon as he had reached the park. Though he hadn’t told Meri, Gray had convinced him to have a team on standby, ready to go in as soon as Lily was out of danger. The police would be waiting, set to go on Gray’s command.

Ian moved through the shadows along the water, slowed, and elbow-crawled to the top of the bank. Using the base of a tree as cover, he positioned himself and sighted his pistol on Bandini. His dad would be focused on Kowalski.

Ian could hear them now, Meri talking to Joey. She was still twenty feet away from Bandini, following Ian’s instructions.

"I have your money, Joey. Where’s Lily?"

Bandini turned to Kowalski, tipped his head toward the car. "Get the kid."

Kowalski shoved his pistol into the waistband of his pants, lumbered over, and opened the back door of the Ford. There was a brief scuffle as he tried to drag Lily out of the car and she refused to come.

"Lily! It’s Mama! Do what the man tells you!"


"Mama’s here to get you. Just do what the man says!"

Lily settled down and Kowalski pulled her out of the backseat. She winced at the brutal grip he had on her small arm, and Ian clenched his jaw.

Meri held up the canvas bag. "It’s all yours, Joey. Fifty-thousand dollars. Just let her go."

"You think I’m stupid? Toss it over here. I’m not letting the kid go till I know the money’s in the bag."

Meri tossed the canvas satchel toward Joey. Kowalski sauntered over and picked it up, unzipped the bag as he lumbered back.

"You were right, Joey. She brought it. There’s a lot of money in here. Give her the kid and let’s go."

"Lily--come to Mama. Just start walking, sweetheart. Time to go home."

The little girl had only gone a few paces when Joey stepped forward and caught her arm, dragged her back against his chest. The gun gleamed in his hand, and Ian’s control slipped.