Read The Trigger Online

Authors: L.J. Sellers

Tags: #Thriller, #Suspense, #Police Procedural, #Crime Fiction, #FBI agent, #preppers, #undercover assignment, #Kidnapping, #murder mystery, #hacker, #cult, #Investigation, #social collapse, #fanatic, #isolated compound, #sociopath

The Trigger (4 page)

BOOK: The Trigger
8.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

After a few minutes, Grace gave the kids a hands-on assignment, turned them back over to Tina, and walked toward him. The engineer moved with muscular smoothness. A striking, mocha-toned woman of forty, she had served two tours in Iraq, was an electrical and mechanical genius, and had deadly combat skills. Spencer admired everything about her. He wished they had sexual chemistry. Grace would have been a terrific partner, but she seemed content to be single. While she’d served in the Middle East, her husband had left her and moved with their son to Texas. Coming home had been a nightmare for her. After two years of medicated, zombie-like days and terror-filled nights, Grace had joined Destiny and soon found peace in their community.

At the moment, she looked a little worried. “This must be important.”

“It is. I’m sorry to interrupt your class.”

Spencer stepped outside and Grace followed. The bright May sun heated the air, and he moved toward the shade of a tree. Keeping his voice low, he said, “We need the generator at full capacity as soon as possible.” He’d wanted to get her going on it days ago, but he’d thought it best to wait until Emma’s disappearance wasn’t at the top of everyone’s mind.

“Has something happened?”

“Not specifically. But yesterday, a power grid in Indiana went down, and scientists are tracking another asteroid that could hit the Earth next week.” So far, everything he’d said was true—reinforcing his belief that he was doing the right thing. The next part would be a variation of the truth. “More important, cyber rumors are flying about Morgan Bank being hit by hackers. If one of the major banks has a run on cash withdrawals at the same time an asteroid does damage, people are going to panic. It’s time to get ready to be on our own.”

“I’m still having trouble with the lithium batteries overheating.” Her eyes sparked, and he could tell she was already thinking ahead. She’d built the generator at the edge of the creek, which supplied the energy. They also had smaller gas-powered units attached to every home, but the gasoline supply was finite, so the micro-hydro generator was essential for the long term.

He grabbed one of Grace’s hands. “I need you to find a solution. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be fast.”

“Give me a deadline and I’ll make it happen.”


Chapter 5

Tuesday, May 7, 9:45 a.m.

Randall Clayton rounded the curve where Emma’s car had gone off the road and nearly hit the sheriff’s cruiser parked along the edge.
They’d found it—despite the steep drop-off and camouflage. He and Spencer had covered it with shrubs and dirt, hoping to buy time, but it hadn’t been enough.

Slowing, Randall glanced over like anyone would and kept driving. A second, empty sheriff’s patrol car sat on a nearby turnout. Randall expected the FBI would soon be at the scene as well. Would they question him again? He didn’t want the distraction, but the last interrogation had challenged and invigorated him in a way he hadn’t experienced since he’d left politics.

Ten minutes later, he pulled into the community and spotted a dark sedan near his house. McCullen sat behind the wheel, facing him. Randall had no choice but to park and acknowledge his presence. The agent was out of the car and standing in the driveway by the time Randall shut off his engine. The man moved like a running back and was built like one too. McCullen’s height and rugged good looks intimidated Randall, who’d always felt more effeminate than he cared for. His own face was too narrow and too pretty. Women liked it, but men often thought he was gay. Taking testosterone for a year had only made him more short-tempered. And now, knowing that jerk McCullen had dated Emma first enraged him.

Randall climbed from his car and glanced over to see if Spencer was coming out to back him up. The house had no movement.

“I have more questions.” McCullen’s face was expressionless. “Let’s go inside.”

That meant the agent intended it to be a long session. Randall didn’t have time. “We can talk here.”

McCullen hesitated for a long moment. Randall assumed the agent was considering taking him into the Redding FBI office.

“Have you heard from your wife?” McCullen asked.

“No, why? Have

McCullen scowled and squared his shoulders. “We found her car this morning.”

“Where? Is she okay?” Randall expressed the correct amount of alarm, then realized he had to take it farther. “Is that why I saw the officers on the road near the curve?”

“Her car went off the embankment and landed in some shrubs at the bottom.”

Randall brought his hands to his face. “Emma? Is she all right? And the baby?”

“They weren’t in the car.” McCullen’s eyes narrowed. “But I think you knew that. Where are they?”

Randall slumped back against his truck, the picture of concern. “Stop accusing me and tell me what you know. This is my family!”

“Her luggage is still in the car, but her purse is gone. And if she had a diaper bag with her, it’s gone too.”

“She must have gotten out after the wreck and climbed up to the road.” Randall allowed himself to look hopeful. “Maybe someone gave her and Tate a ride. Maybe she’s in a hospital somewhere.”

McCullen cocked his head. “You said you called hospitals.”

“Of course I did. I’m just trying not to think the worst.”

“What was the last thing she said to you when she left?”

Randall blinked, thinking fast. “She said, ‘I love you. I’ll miss you.’ Why do you ask?”

McCullen jotted something in a small notebook, then looked up. “Emma’s mother says your relationship was volatile and that Emma planned to stay with her for a while. She thinks Emma was leaving you.”

“Typical mother-in-law bullshit.”
The bitch!
“Nadine has heart disease, or so she told us, and asked Emma to come take care of her. I told you that. Emma didn’t want to go, but she thought she had to.” Close enough to the truth.

“Did you fight about her leaving?”

“We discussed it.”

“Your neighbor described it as an argument.”

The bitch!
Grace had never warmed to Randall, but he expected Destiny members to support each other. “I didn’t want my wife to leave. Can you blame me? But I understood that she had to.” Randall forced himself to think about his father’s funeral, hoping to produce mist in his eyes. “I love my wife and I’m worried sick. Please stop harassing me and go find her.”

“Who is Timothy Gains?”

Randall was taken aback. “I have no idea. Why?”

“Emma called him the afternoon she disappeared.”

What the…?
“How do you know that?”

“We have her phone records. She texted Gains the day before too. They planned to meet in San Francisco.”

Rage, fear, and confusion collided in Randall’s chest. Had Emma been cheating on him?
The agent was trying to provoke him. Randall forced himself to shrug and be casual. “I’m sure he’s an old friend. Emma grew up in ’Frisco.” Randall leaned toward the agent. “Have you asked Mr. Gains if he’s seen Emma? Are you doing your job? Because this, right now, is a waste of time.”

McCullen stepped toward him, and their faces were only a foot apart. “I will find Emma and bring to justice the bastard who made her disappear.”

Randall ignored the threat. No one would ever locate his wife. “Good. Go do it.” He walked away.

Inside his house, he resisted the urge to watch out the window and make sure the agent drove away. He heard the sedan leave and felt his shoulders relax. Moments later he thought about Timothy Gains, and his tension returned. Randall hurried to his computer and googled him. He found several men with that name in SF, but none seemed connected to Emma. He remembered he had her phone and hurried to the safe in their bedroom closet. Along with ten thousand in cash, he kept two gold bars, the deeds to their properties, and now his wife’s cell phone. He was about to turn it on to read her texts and emails but hesitated. The feds would quickly pinpoint the phone’s location and know he had it.

Why had he kept it? It was better not to think about what he’d done to his wife.

He closed the safe and forced himself to put Emma out of his mind. He still had too many arrangements to make before they set everything in motion. Another trigger of his own was in development, and he had to connect with his non-local followers to finalize their plans. He hadn’t messaged them recently because he thought the FBI was watching him and monitoring his email and phone. This morning he’d gone into town and bought a prepaid cell phone with cash, so he could make calls without worry. He and his followers needed to be able to communicate instantly when it was time.

Randall changed into grubby clothes and headed for the locker where they kept the explosives they would use on the bridges. He needed to reassure himself that they were ready. One thought kept playing in his mind.
How long would the collapse take?
That was a question they’d never had a good answer for. Randall didn’t trust Spencer’s financial and power-station cyber assaults to be destructive enough, so he was planning a supplemental
attack on communication centers, such as internet hubs and tech companies in Silicon Valley. Keeping the plan from his brother had been stressful. Spencer was the one person he rarely lied to, and Randall wished he could tell him, but he worried that his brother would freak out and try to stop him. Spencer thought a financial collapse would be enough to cripple the industries that were doing the most environmental damage. But Randall wanted to ensure a global reset, so his followers around the world were on board and waiting for final instructions.

He glanced out his bedroom window at the fields and storage buildings and wondered if it would be enough. Or would they run out of everything in five years and end up living like squatters and cavemen? Sometimes the alternate future scared him, but the idea of a fresh start always drew him back. He wanted to live in a society where he was a leader, a man sought for his knowledge and guidance. Where his political failures were long forgotten and the future always looked brighter than the present.

As he left the house, he spotted Grace crossing her backyard. They had no fences, not around their yards or around the community. Openness was a key philosophy. He jogged over and said hello as she entered her workshop crammed with tools and electrical components.

“Hey, Randall.” Grace turned and their eyes met on the same level. She was bigger and stronger and it bothered him. He had also failed to charm her like he did most other women.

“Was that the FBI again?” she asked.

“Yes. They found Emma’s car near the junction. It went off the road, but Emma and Tate weren’t in it.” He managed a sad, concerned look.

“That means she’s probably alive. Maybe she’s in a hospital somewhere with amnesia.”

“I keep telling myself she’ll turn up.” Randall was glad for the opportunity to confront her. “Why did you tell Agent McCullen that Emma and I argued?”

Grace flinched. “I didn’t say you’d argued. I said I could tell by the conversation that you didn’t want her to leave.”

“I didn’t! But now she’s missing, and the FBI is treating me like a suspect. I could use your support.” His tone was harsh and he didn’t care. This was serious shit.

“I’m doing the best I can.”

For a moment, they stared at each other in silence.

Randall suppressed his anger and asked, “What are you working on today?”

“The lithium batteries for the main generator. Spencer wants it running at full capacity by Friday.” Worry flashed in her eyes.

“He’s concerned about hackers forcing a run on Morgan Bank. The value of the euro has been falling for months, so we think the financial crack is coming soon.”

Grace gave him a tight smile. “We’ll be ready.”

“Damn right we will.”

Chapter 6

Tuesday, May 7, 7:30 p.m.

Dallas spotted McCullen near the baggage claim. Even if she had never seen his photo, she would have known he was an FBI agent. Dark gray suit, short hair, stiff posture, like someone expecting the worst. They all had that stance, and she’d had to unlearn it for undercover work. McCullen saw her, and they nodded to each other across the nearly empty terminal. The Redding airport would have fit inside a small shopping mall, and most of the passengers on the flight had not stopped to pick up luggage. Dallas braced herself for a tedious stay in a rural community. As long as she had the internet, she’d survive.

A couple of strides and he was there, holding out his hand. “Caleb McCullen.”

“Jamie Dallas. But call me Dallas.” Out of occupational habit, she noted his details: Six-three, two hundred and thirty pounds or so, dark blue eyes, and a square boyish face with prematurely gray hair at the temples. She noted his shoulders were broad, his torso was lean, and his thighs were as thick as utility poles. A football player turned cyclist, she guessed.

“Good to have you here.” He turned to the luggage carousel. “I’ll bet you have a few bags.”

“Just two.” Dallas smiled. “I mailed boxes as well.” She was eager to talk about the assignment but not in public. “Thanks for picking me up. I could have taken a taxi.”

“No problem. A trip to the airport is not a big deal in Redding.” He grinned. “Plus, I have the key to your new place.”

Dallas couldn’t help but wonder if he had a family at home. Most likely. The Redding office only had three agents, and they probably got bored, unlike the high-pressure bureaus where agents’ spouses walked away after years of neglect.

McCullen made small talk about the weather and local points of interest while they gathered her luggage and headed to his vehicle. As they drove out of the parking lot, he updated her. “We found Emma Clayton’s car this morning where it went off an embankment about ten miles from the compound. There was luggage in the back seat, but no purse and no diaper bag.”

Dallas had almost forgotten about the baby. “How old is the child?”

“Four months.”

The thought of someone kidnapping or killing an infant enraged her. What kind of people would she be dealing with? “I hope they’re both still alive.”

BOOK: The Trigger
8.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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