SEVENTEEN

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Louis's tires crunched over the fresh gravel of the restaurant parking lot as he approached the black Lincoln Town Car. Adam leaned forward from the backseat to compare the plate to the info he had stored on his phone.

"That's it," he said.

"Yessss," Ben hailed with a fist pump. "If only cops were this goddamn efficient."

Louis turned his head to look at him.

"I can't believe I just said that," he muttered.

Tom had been a relatively simple case. The public career meant he was easily recognizable. The biggest help, however, had come from the new girlfriend, via the famous father. Trouble a few years back—something about a dead prostitute in a hotel room—had Igor Candor turning to his good friend Augustus Chilvati for help. It had taken only one phone call with a passing reference of that incident to get Mr. Candor to put pressure on his daughter.

According to the girlfriend, Tom had packed a few bags the night before, rented a car, claiming his was in need of repair work, and headed out of town on business. That was the last she'd heard from him. Apparently, he'd been acting odd ever since she'd decided to put off the wedding, claiming she wasn't up to any kind of celebrating after the whole custody fiasco. She didn't believe the news reports, though, telling her father that Tom's ex-wife was a bitch out for revenge. Nevertheless, she did admit that something was off—Tom usually checked in with her every few hours during the day.

So, yeah, Tom was a little whipped.

With a few more favors offered, Louis had gotten the fleet manager at the rental company to track the vehicle. As updates came in, Adam and Ben had made like receptionists, fielding calls and sending out messages to those the family knew in Tom's vicinity, while Louis concentrated on closing the gap between their car and the Lincoln.

Tom, of course, had no idea that the Red Roof Diner in Bakersfield was a Chilvati-owned restaurant when he'd walked in the front door. Had no idea that the normally excellent service had been slowed down to a snail's pace, just for him. Had no idea that the manager had phoned a colleague and reported on the arrival of a dark-haired man travelling with a little girl.

Ben's cell phone rang. He raised his index finger to the two of them. "Yeah, man, whatcha got." He listened for a moment before adding, "We owe ya, pal." A smile spread across his face as he ended the call. "They just got their food."

Louis nodded. Let's hope they eat slowly, he thought to himself. Mark was on his way but still twenty miles out. "Call the boss and let him know." He swung around and parked at the opposite end of the lot. They waited in silence.

It was another half-hour before Ben gave him the elbow and pointed. Tom, with Janine a few steps behind, had exited through the front door. As they climbed into the rental, Louis started his own engine.

Back on the highway, they kept pace at a decent distance so as not to be noticed. Ben stayed on the phone with Mark-he was close, but they needed to find the perfect spot.

Tom provided it by taking the Paso Robles exit onto a deserted stretch of Highway 46. Adam leaned forward again, his thumb making swipes over the screen of his phone. "There's a regional airport not far from here. He must be heading there."

Within five minutes there wasn't another car in view. Louis made his move. He closed the half-mile distance between them and pulled around, passing Tom like any other impatient driver might. As his rear bumper lined up with Tom's front, he began to drift back into the other lane.

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