It Happened One Wedding Page 52

SAYS THE WOMAN WITH THE THIRTY-FOUR-ITEM CHECKLIST.

Okay, so they were getting a little off topic here. JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION. CHAD WILL BE BACK ANY MINUTE.

OF COURSE HIS NAME IS CHAD.

She was tempted to take her phone and shake it. But seeing how she genuinely wanted Vaughn’s opinion, she took a deep breath and counted to ten. ANY HELP? I’M GETTING MIXED SIGNALS HERE.

There was a long pause.

COME ON . . . YOU WOULDN’T WANT ME TO GET BURNED AGAIN, WOULD YOU? she cajoled.

After a moment, he answered.

JUST BE DIRECT. ASK HIM STRAIGHT-OUT IF HE’S SEEING ANYONE.

She rolled her eyes. That was his advice? DID THAT ALREADY. HE SAID HE’S NOT DATING ANYONE RIGHT NOW.

Vaughn’s reply was quick. TIME TO CUT BAIT, SINCLAIR. HE’S PLAYING YOU.

She frowned. HOW DO YOU KNOW?

THAT’S MAN-SPEAK. WHEN A GUY SAYS HE’S NOT DATING ANYONE ELSE “RIGHT NOW,” HE MEANS LITERALLY RIGHT AT THAT MOMENT. LAST NIGHT? ANOTHER STORY.

She scoffed at that. GET OUT OF HERE.

ASK HIM YOURSELF.

Chad’s voice interrupted them. “Texting a friend to say how the date’s going?”

Sidney tucked her phone back into her purse as Chad took his seat. “Maybe.”

He winked at her. “So? How am I doing?”

“Time will tell,” she said jokingly. She toyed with the stem of her wineglass, keeping her tone casual. “Here’s a funny thing, going back to something we talked about earlier. My friend has this theory that when a guy says he’s not dating anyone else right now, he’s being tricky and just means right at that moment.”

Chad opened his mouth, as if to defend himself. Then, perhaps seeing something in her gaze, he stopped.

He reached for his glass and took a sip of his drink, his playful expression now replaced by a smug, busted smirk. “So I’m a little precise with my answers.”

And . . . another one bit the dust.

 • • •

LATER THAT NIGHT, Vaughn, aka Mark Sullivan, watched as Officer Pritchett brought his rented van to a stop. They were in their usual meeting place, an alley behind an abandoned warehouse on the south side of the city. Vaughn had arrived twenty minutes ago, in the Hummer H3 he drove while undercover as Sullivan, and had ensured that the location was secure. As always, Huxley, the backup team from the white-collar squad, and the team from the special operations group were all parked in various locations surrounding the alley, listening in on their encrypted radios via the live transmission wires.

Tonight’s meeting would be a turning point in Vaughn’s investigation. Having tested the waters with the prior run—in which Pritchett’s gang had smuggled several suitcases of handguns—he had decided to up the ante.

“Nice touch,” he said when Pritchett stepped out of the driver’s side of the van. He nodded at the police jacket the cop had displayed in the passenger window, with the letters CPD plainly visible.

Pritchett grinned smugly as another cop stepped out of the van—Officer Ortiz. “I thought so, too. Who’s gonna pull us over when we’ve got that in the window?”

Vaughn saw the headlights of a second vehicle approaching. He stepped back as another van pulled up, this one with Officers Mahoney, Cross, and Howard, all from the Sixteenth District.

After the second group of cops exited their vehicle, Vaughn told Pritchett and Mahoney, who’d been driving the second van, to pop the trunks. He headed over to Pritchett’s trunk first. Inside the back of the van were two large duffle bags. As he unzipped one of them, the cops all gathered around to watch.

Vaughn pulled out an M-16 assault rifle.

This was where the shit got very real. In his hands was an untraceable military rifle, which the police officers believed to be fully functional. Given what they knew about “Mark Sullivan,” there could be no doubt in any of their minds that the weapon would end up in the hands of some thug who would use it against other thugs, civilians, or possibly even police officers.

Vaughn scanned their faces, waiting for any sign of doubt or hesitation among any of them.

Instead, Pritchett nodded at the M-16 and grinned. “And he’s got some friends.”

The rest of the cops laughed.

So much for doubt or hesitation.

Vaughn pulled out the other rifles and examined them. They’d been rendered inoperable by the agents in Indiana, although none of these ass**les knew that. When finished with his “check” of both duffle bags, he zipped them up and then walked over to Mahoney’s vehicle.

In the back of the second van were two more duffle bags. Vaughn unzipped them and saw that each contained twenty handguns, a mix of Ruger, Glock, and S&W pistols. All the guns were nine millimeter or larger calibers and had altered serial numbers. After ensuring that the guns he’d “purchased” were all accounted for, he zipped the duffle bags back up.

“All right, let’s load them up,” he said.

He and three of the cops, including Pritchett, carried the duffle bags over to the Hummer and loaded them into the back of the SUV. Then Vaughn grabbed a large envelope from the passenger seat.

He handed the envelope, which was filled with cash, to Pritchett. “Fifteen thousand for another job well done. My seller in Indiana says he can have shipments ready every two or three weeks. Think you guys can handle that?”

“I told you, Sullivan. This isn’t f**king amateur hour here,” Pritchett bragged. He held up the envelope. “As long as you keep paying, we’ll bring as many guns as you want into this city.”

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