“Storm Warning” by Allison Brennan
A Lucy Kincaid Novella
This e-novella by Allison Brennan introduces readers to the world of Lucy Kincaid leading up to the release of the next in the series, Nothing to Hide.
FBI Agent Lucy Kincaid and her colleague Nate are racing a severe storm, but the weather is the least of their worries…
Lucy and Nate head to rural Texas in order to take an FBI Most Wanted armed robber into custody. When they reach the jail hours from San Antonio, the local cops ask them to transport another prisoner too, since the transfer location is on their way. With torrential rain and flash floods keeping everyone busy, Lucy and Nate don’t have much of a choice but to help out.
When the two prisoners stage an escape and take a child hostage on their way, Lucy and Nate must try to rescue the boy and survive the storm, without letting these violent criminals get away.
FBI Agent Lucy Kincaid hadn’t experienced wind this strong since moving to San Antonio nearly two years ago. Old-timers said the storm was bad, but not the worst they’d faced. Last weekend, when the first downpour hit, Lucy and Sean’s retired neighbors came over and spent hours drinking beer and talking about where they were during every major storm in the last thirty years. Sean thought the old couple was cute; Lucy would prefer an earthquake to 60-mile-per-hour winds and flash floods.
Thank God there were rarely tornadoes in San Antonio, or Lucy would be requesting a transfer, ASAP.
Right now, Lucy would rather be home in her warmest pajamas under three down comforters with a mug of hot chocolate—even though it was September. Seventy degrees wasn’t cold, but it was wet and sticky and the wind wasn’t exactly a warm breeze. The drive to Brady, Texas, had taken three hours when it should have taken not much more than two, and she was relieved that Nate was driving. They’d crossed two sections of road that were partly flooded, and three times had to get out to remove debris from their path. If one of San Antonio FBI’s Most Wanted wasn’t sitting on ice in the small-town municipal court, they wouldn’t have been out in this weather.
Hands down, this was the most miserable day of the year.
They pulled up to the rear of the municipal building and ran up the stairs. The employee entrance was locked, and Nate rang the bell impatiently. They were both dressed for the weather in khakis, long-sleeved shirts, and sturdy boots. Nate had left his jacket in the transport van; Lucy put hers on. Not that it did much good—her hair was still soaked from the last time they’d moved a tree branch from their path and it wasn’t even raining that hard.
A minute later, an officer let them in.
“Nate Dunning, FBI,” Nate said, and showed his badge. “Agent Lucy Kincaid.”
“Glad you folks made it, I’m Police Chief Thomas Osgood.”
“The chief answering doors, don’t think I’ve seen it before,” Nate said as they followed Osgood down a long hall.
“We have twelve sworn officers, and the same number in civilian staff. It’s all hands this weekend—and then to have the basement flooded, on top of the trouble outside. We right appreciate your assistance. If it was just a bunch of drunk and disorderlies, we’d have let them go—in fact, I released two brothers this morning who’d been in a bar fight. I know them both, they’re idiots, and when they get to drinking, they’re even more stupid. Two thousand dollars in damage.” He shook his head. “I know where to find them. But these two men—I can’t just let them walk.”
Brady, Texas, was a small community northwest of San Antonio, two counties over. It wasn’t near any major highway. It was by chance and smart thinking that Brady police apprehended a wanted fugitive. They’d been going door to door yesterday morning in an area at risk for flooding, and the officer recognized Samuel Trembly from an FBI Most Wanted flyer. Trembly and his gang had committed five armed robberies—including three bank heists in South Texas—the last of which resulted in two dead, including one of Trembly’s gang. That was a month ago, and the San Antonio FBI had bumped him to the top of their internal Most Wanted list.
The US Marshals had been scheduled to bring Trembly to the federal courthouse in San Antonio on Tuesday, since Monday was Labor Day. The small jail in the Brady Municipal Courthouse was sufficient to house the suspect for the long weekend. But last night the basement—where the cell was located—had flooded when a support wall cracked and the pressure resulted in severe structural damage to the 150-year-old building.
“I thought we were just bringing Trembly in,” Nate said.
“This morning my officers responded to a domestic violence call out by the reservoir. Arrested a guy by the name of John Carr, though he has no ID on him. We’ve sent his prints in to confirm. His girlfriend’s in the hospital. She doesn’t want to press charges, but since Carr took a swing at one of my cops, we hauled his ass in. Hoping to convince the young lady to change her mind. Might not matter since we have two cops who saw Carr throw the girl across the room.”
“And why are we taking him?” Nate asked.
“He can’t stay here, and I can’t let him go. I called Austin; they can’t spare a car, and the 87 is flooded between here and San Angelo, so there’s no easy way for one of their patrols to get out here. I knew you were coming in for Trembly, called down to Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, and they said they’d take him. No way am I letting him out, when his first stop will likely be the hospital to terrorize his girl.”
Nate didn’t look happy about the change, and Lucy didn’t blame him—they didn’t normally handle prison transports, but with the storm, and local law enforcement working overtime on emergency calls, they didn’t have much choice. Trembly was an FBI Most Wanted, and he was their responsibility.
“I should have tried to reach you, I’m sorry,” Osgood said. “Last week we had a lot of damage, no flooding—but the ground is so dang saturated right now that there’s been several flash floods. The reservoir sustained damage last week, and now our engineers are trying to prevent a major breech that could take out a community of three hundred folks. We may have to evacuate if they don’t get it under control. I can’t spare the manpower to watch these two outside of lockup.”
“It’s fine,” Nate said. “But it took us three hours to get here because of traffic and weather, so we need to get going. I don’t want to deal with this storm and nightfall.”
It was nearly two in the afternoon, though the dark-gray skies made it appear timeless. Eerie and creepy was more like it.
“We have the paperwork ready. Do you have a good map of the area?”
“Yes,” Nate said. He sounded snippy, which was unlike him.
As soon as the chief walked away, Lucy said, “What’s going on?”
“I don’t like changes. If I had known we had more than one prisoner, I would have brought in a second vehicle.”
Lucy had never worked a prison transport, she didn’t really know what it entailed, beyond what she’d learned at Quantico. And every transport was different. “You want to transport them separately?”
“No—I want a tail or a lead car, someone to watch our ass.”
“We can call in backup. I haven’t done this before, if you want to bring in a more experienced team.”
“It’s not you, Lucy. When Leo called me and said they needed two agents to come up here and transport Trembly, I picked you. I like working with you, and I know you have my back. The point is, I’ve done transports before—in the Army. Albeit it was a different situation, we had shit going on around us, but we always had a minimum of two soldiers for every one prisoner. Preferably three, but since we don’t generally have sniper fire or landmines in the US, two is sufficient.”
He shrugged. “Sort of a joke. The faster we get to I-10, the happier I’ll be. I have a route I want to take that’s longer, but it’ll get us to I-10 faster.”
“Whatever you think is best.”
“I need to talk to the folks here, see what hazards we have. Get an escort. Just be alert.”
The chief came back with two folders and a clipboard and said, “If you can dot the i’s and cross the t’s, you can get out of here.”
Lucy took the paperwork and Nate said, “Chief, can I trouble you for some information on road conditions?”
“Absolutely. We have several road closures, mostly due to flooding or a risk to flood. You’re not from here, are you? There’s several creeks you’ll need to be mindful of. And I’ll give you our emergency channel for your radio, so we can communicate any changes.” They walked down the hall with Nate asking questions.
Lucy filled out the transport forms, signed them with her name and badge number, then flipped through the two prisoner files.
Samuel Trembly, thirty-five, was the apparent leader of the gang of five, who had robbed three banks and two jewelry stores in the last four months in Austin, San Marcos, and San Antonio. They were also suspected of multiple robberies in the Dallas–Fort Worth area last summer. Trembly had landed on the FBI’s radar because his prints had been recovered at the last bank robbery, four weeks ago, when he tried to save his partner, Reginald Hansen, who’d been shot and killed by a private citizen during the robbery after Hansen mortally wounded the bank manager. Trembly had a record—two misdemeanor charges years ago—that made him pop on the criminal database.
Once they had Hansen’s identity, they quickly traced him to Austin, Texas, where he’d grown up and had a construction job until a few years ago, then connected him to his lifelong friend, Trembly. Unfortunately, neither had a known residence in the city and Trembly’s family had long moved out of the area.
According to the FBI file she’d read that morning, Trembly’s father died when he was young and his mother raised four children by working two jobs. Samuel, the oldest, was in and out of trouble. He had two sisters and a brother, but there was next to nothing on them, either. All she had was names and ages, and none of them had been in trouble with the law.
Still, when someone was in trouble, the first place they often looked for sanctuary was their family. This wasn’t Lucy’s case, so she didn’t know what the lead agent had already done. No Tremblys were reported as living here, in Brady, Texas—Trembly had been discovered in a trailer on the outskirts of town and it was just chance that the local police recognized him from the bulletin. The file indicated that the landlord had rented to him on the cheap with no background or credit check because he paid three months up front—starting three days after the last robbery.
The other gang members weren’t identified, just Trembly and Hansen. Kirk Hansen, Reggie’s younger brother, was wanted for questioning—he had a long rap sheet and the lead field agent for the investigation, Mike Crutcher, suspected he was part of the gang when in the course of his investigation he learned that Kirk and Reggie were practically inseparable. But Kirk was nowhere to be found.
It could be they used a different crew for every heist—Trembly being here in Brady alone supported that argument. Or maybe they had split up after the last robbery because it was the first time someone had been killed. But it wasn’t the first time someone had been seriously injured. The third robbery—a jewel heist—left the store manager beaten and shot, but she survived. Witnesses said there was no reason for the attack, just that one of the criminals “went off” on the manager for no apparent reason.
The gang was bold, well organized, and had some skills and street smarts—they disabled cameras, wore masks and gloves, and communicated with hand signals instead of words, to minimize identification. Lucy suspected they were using sign language—which she knew well—or a variation, but she was relying solely on the thin report for the information and no one confirmed the use of ASL. The Dallas regional FBI office had passed along all the information from their robberies once Trembly’s gang moved into the San Antonio jurisdiction. Crutcher, a senior field agent on the White Collar Crimes squad, had practically done a jig in the office when the Brady police chief informed the FBI that they’d arrested Trembly last night.
Why she and Nate were picking him up and not Crutcher and one of his people she didn’t know.
The second file was even thinner—the booking sheet for John Carr, a copy of his prints, and a statement by the two officers. A neighbor had called 911 about a domestic disturbance. When they arrived they heard a woman scream, entered the apartment, and saw Carr push his girlfriend into a dining-room hutch, which shattered, and the girl was cut badly in the arm. He was arrested and the girl was taken to the hospital. There was no name in the file. Carr didn’t have identification on him and he wasn’t in the system—which immediately made Lucy suspicious. They found no ID in the house and there was no vehicle to search for registration or confirmation of his identity.
Nate returned a few minutes later and Lucy pointed out the discrepancy. “It’s just a matter of time before we ID him,” Nate said. “We need to get going quick—the rain is light now but will get worse before nightfall, and the winds are fierce. We could be dealing with road debris. It’s really a mess out there. But the good news is the chief agreed to give us an escort to Fredericksburg, which is seventy miles down US 87, and the Fredericksburg chief agreed to give us an escort to Comfort, which is off I-10. Leo is sending a tactical team to Comfort to meet up with us and take Carr into custody, plus provide an additional escort.”
Nate smiled. He didn’t smile often enough, Lucy thought. Though they’d been friends for nearly two years now, she didn’t know a lot about him, over and above his ten years of service in the Army and the fact that he was adopted when his parents were older and they were now both deceased. He was a good friend and a great cop.
A few minutes later, the chief had the two prisoners brought down from where they’d been locked under guard in a conference room. They wore handcuffs, orange jumpsuits, and their own shoes, minus shoelaces.
“This is Mr. Trembly,” Osgood said. He looked a few years older than his driver’s license photo, but his appearance wasn’t substantially different—sandy-blond hair and brown eyes. He was physically fit and nearly as tall as Nate.
“And Mr. Carr,” Osgood said. Carr had darker-blond hair and hazel eyes and was on the scrawny side. The only injury from his attack on his girlfriend was a bruise on his right hand.
An officer had two bags with Trembly’s and Carr’s personal effects. “We’ll take these two outside for you,” he said.
“One minute,” Nate said. “I have a call coming in from my office.” He walked away to take the call.
Trembly stared at Lucy. He was trying to intimidate her. She hated that he was partly succeeding. Fortunately, she had a great poker face and stared him down. Then he smiled and winked. “If I’d’ve know the FBI was hiring hot little chicas, I would have gotten myself arrested long ago.”
She didn’t respond—getting in a tit-for-tat conversation with her prisoner wouldn’t be prudent. Unfortunately, the officer kicked Trembly in the back of his shin and he stumbled.
“Respect, boy,” the officer said.
“He doesn’t bother me,” Lucy said firmly, silently admonishing the cop. She didn’t need anyone standing up for her, it would diminish her authority in the eyes of the prisoners. They might think she was a pushover or weak and attempt something on the road; she had to exert her authority without exerting physical control.
Nate returned a few minutes later. “Let’s go,” he said.
The two Brady cops walked the prisoners out to the back. The rain was still coming down, and the wind whipped them. The FBI transport van was reinforced and bulletproof, the glass bullet resistant. The back had attached shackles, which could hold up to five prisoners. Nate first secured Trembly to the shackles on the passenger side, near the cab, then secured Carr to the shackles on the driver’s side, rear. He double-checked them: waist, hands, ankles.
“Your boyfriend doesn’t talk much, does he, sugar?” Trembly said.
Lucy ignored him.
Nate secured the doors, took the two bags of personal effects, and he and Lucy entered the cab.
“What was the call about?” Lucy said. Nate adjusted the camera that showed the rear of the van. There shouldn’t any trouble, but they could watch their prisoners on a camera to make sure no one was in distress or causing problems.
“Backup. Just wanted to clear a few things up with Leo before we head out. We have a three-hour drive ahead of us, half of it on a two-lane highway. Want to make sure we’re being tracked the entire way.”
“Do you want to wait until Leo can send a team up here?”
“We wouldn’t be out of here until near dark, and traveling these roads in a storm at night is too dangerous. Plus, we have escorts all the way down to Comfort. I can’t go the way I wanted—west to I-10—because Menard is knee-deep in water. So it’s back along 87.”
“That’s more of a direct route, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, and the road is better maintained, but there are several low spots and a dozen or more creeks and rivers we have to cross. The chief gave me a heads-up on where to watch out, plus I talked to the patrol escorting us. Officer Dominick Riley is local and knows the area well. We’re just waiting on him to check out equipment. Do you have a good visual on our boys back there?”
Lucy could see both prisoners in the back through the dash camera. The cab was completely sealed off from the rear for agent safety. They had filled up with gas when they first arrived in Brady so had a full tank, and they had a radio, extra water, and emergency supplies.
“Just keep watch. I searched them before they were taken out, not that I don’t trust the cops here, but, well, you know.”
She knew. Nate was a soldier through and through, just like her brother Jack and her brother-in-law Kane. They were cautious by nature, didn’t like to leave anything to chance.
A large, burly black cop came out and waved to Nate. Nate smiled and waved back. “Riley there was a Marine for six years. We’re in good hands,” Nate said.
“Why do I think you hand-picked him?”
“I would have, but he was the only one not out dealing with an emergency.”
Riley jumped into a patrol truck, and a minute later Lucy heard his deep baritone over the radio. “Ready to roll, Agent Dunning?”
“Yes, sir,” Nate said.
Riley laughed. “Call me Riley, all my friends do.”
“I’m Nate, my partner is Lucy.”
“I expect no real trouble, but there’re a few creeks that will roll on over the road, should be passable, but we’ll need to keep our heads on. I’ll update you regularly.”
“Appreciate it, Riley.”
Nate started out, letting Riley take lead. He radioed into FBI headquarters.
“Dunning and Kincaid leaving Brady at fourteen hundred hours. Brady PD escort through to Fredericksburg . . .”—he checked the GPS navigation—“ . . . one hour, forty minutes. Over.”
“Roger that, Agent Dunning. Monitoring GPS for the duration, check in every fifteen.”
“Thanks, Zach,” Nate said, and signed off.
“Zach’s monitoring the radio?”
“Yeah—all hands today. There are multiple teams out assisting SAPD and the sheriff’s department. We’re all wearing a different hat, I suppose. Kenzie may be called up if the storm gets worse.” Kenzie was in the National Guard and trained monthly with her unit. She’d been deployed to Houston immediately after Hurricane Harvey for two weeks to assist in rescues and prevent looting.
“Did the chief get confirmation on John Carr’s ID?” Lucy asked.
“They sent in his prints, system’s overloaded right now. He’ll let us know if there’s anything we need to know. You read Trembly’s file?”
“I read the FBI file this morning and the arrest file. He came in without putting up much of a fight. First tried to say they had the wrong guy, but when they got his ID, he just rolled over. Hiding out here for a month, it seems.”
“Probably could have hid out here for longer if not for the storm.”
“The police didn’t search his place—there could be evidence.”
“Well, shit,” Nate muttered. “You sure they didn’t search?”
“If they did, they didn’t indicate in the report.” She flipped through the file again. “Says they put a police lock on the door, but if the trailer floods, that’s not going to help us.”
“We’ll talk to the lead agent and let him deal with it—this isn’t even our case. They’d need a warrant anyway, and Crutcher probably wants to send an FBI team in to do the search.”
“How did we get called for the transport? Neither of us is even on the task force.”
“Office protocol demands that a SWAT-trained agent is attached to any transport, and apparently I was the only one available. White Collar doesn’t have any SWAT agents. And you were on call this weekend.”
“Lucky me. I could have gotten stuck with Lopez.”
“Jason isn’t that bad.”
“Don’t trust him, don’t like him.”
Jason Lopez had started out on the wrong foot with Lucy as well, but she’d made a point of getting to know him better, and he wasn’t a bad agent. He tended to be a people pleaser, but he was diligent and personable. It did sometimes disturb Lucy that he was so close to their boss—and Nate’s point about trust was well taken. It was known in the squad that anything Jason learned their boss Rachel Vaughn would soon know.
Riley called in on the radio. “We’re making good time to Mason,” he said. “Twenty more minutes or so. Talked ahead to a buddy of mine who has a cattle ranch down there—he says the Llano River, which is eight, nine miles south of town, is right up to the road—it hasn’t gone over yet, but if it rises another foot we’re going to have a serious problem. We should be past it by then, but stay sharp. I’ll give you fair warning before we reach the bridge. There’s a couple places where the road is partly flooded once we get past the Llano, but nothing impassable at this point.”
“Thanks for the update,” Lucy told Riley.
Nate firmly gripped the wheel to keep the van on the road as the wind hit them hard. Lucy was grateful Nate was doing the driving—she didn’t particularly like driving, even in fair weather.
She looked at the two men in the back. They were jostled with the movement of the vehicle but otherwise looked resigned to their situation, their heads hanging low. Good—they shouldn’t give them too much trouble.
Nate asked, “How’s everything going with Jess? He adjusting okay after all the bullshit with his grandfather?”
Jesse was Sean’s thirteen-year-old son. Until last year, Sean didn’t even know he had a child. Jesse’s grandfather, wealthy businessman Ronald McAllister, had threatened to fight for custody after his mother died two months ago, but Sean and Jesse went to California to work out an arrangement that McAllister agreed to reluctantly. Lucy didn’t know all the details—and Sean was still upset about everything that happened—but Sean had full custody of Jesse and McAllister wasn’t contesting his paternity.
“I think he’s okay,” Lucy said. “Started school last Monday. Already found a soccer team that took him on. Jesse seems to be adapting well—stood up to his grandfather about wanting to live with us. I’m glad that’s over. None of us wanted a court fight over custody.”
“Sean is . . . well, he’s not really himself these days.”
“You noticed?” Sean tried to keep a positive attitude, but after Jesse’s mother was killed, he’d had a hard time wrestling with guilt and anger.
“It’s been nearly two months. I’m sure that Jesse is having a hard time—the kid lost his mom—but none of what happened was Sean’s fault. It seems like he’s putting all the blame on his shoulders.”
“He is,” Lucy said. “I talk to him, and sometimes he listens . . . I think he needs to know that Jesse is really going to be okay before he can let it all go.”
“Is something wrong with Jess?”
“I don’t know that anything is,” she said cautiously, “but he hasn’t really talked about his mother at all. A little here and there. I know grief is different for everyone, but he’s a thirteen-year-old kid. I guess—I expected something else.”
“Maybe it hasn’t soaked in yet.”
“It has. I think—Well, damn. It’s just a mess.”
“You don’t have to talk about it,” Nate said. “Seriously, I’m not pushing, I just feel for Sean and the kid.”
“I know you do, and that’s not it. After Madison died, Jesse learned that she was privy to many of Carson Spade’s illegal activities.”
“That’s fucked,” Nate said. “Poor kid.”
“Sean wanted to protect Jesse, but he knew it would be worse if Jesse found out through someone else. So when Jesse asked, Sean gave him a sanitized version. But Jesse isn’t an idiot. He read between the lines. Battling love and anger is hard for anyone, especially a teenager. And then the battle with Madison’s father—that took its toll on Sean. So they are both dealing with some heavy emotional baggage, I think. And being Rogans—they don’t share very well.”
“But Sean has custody.”
“Yes. Honestly, I think if Jesse wasn’t one hundred percent behind Sean, there would have been a battle. Sean was willing to fight all the way, but McAllister has money and friends in high places.”
“So does Sean, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that.”
Nate was right about that—Sean had dug up a lot of dirt on McAllister, and Lucy didn’t know if he’d had to use it.
“I’m just glad they’re home,” she said.
Ahead of them, Riley was slowing down and Nate followed suit. The road wasn’t flooded, but there was a lot of water on the roadway. The gusts of wind continued to jostle the heavy van, and Lucy looked at the camera. Their prisoners had barely moved. Carr, in the rear, was talking. Lucy could somewhat read lips, but the camera was partly distorted so that they could view the entire compartment and it was almost impossible to tell what he was saying to Trembly.
The radio beeped. “Nate, it’s Riley.”
“Trouble ahead? You’re slowing down.”
“We’re coming into Mason. Serious accident in the center of town, so we’re making a little detour. Nothing to worry about, I got word from the sheriff’s deputy that the route I want to use to get back to 87 is clear. Just wanted to give you a heads-up. We’ll be merging back right past town.”
“Roger that. Thanks, buddy.”
Copyright © 2019 Allison Brennan.