This is the third of three excerpts from Lisa Scottoline's new novel, "One Perfect Lie," now in stores.
Chris pulled into the Central Valley U-Haul dealership and parked his Jeep, a 2010 black Patriot. He slipped on a ball cap, got out of the car, and looked around. There were no other customers, which was why he'd come midmorning on a drizzly Wednesday. He didn't want any witnesses.
The U-Haul office was an orange-and-brown corrugated cube with a glass storefront and two security cameras on its roof line aimed at the front door and the parking lot, mounted high enough that Chris's face would be hidden by the brim of his ball cap.
The dealership was smaller than the Ryder and Penske dealerships, but it had a storage facility out back, and the units were temperature- and humidity-controlled, making them the perfect place to store ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which was the main component of homemade IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, like an ANFO bomb.
Chris crossed to the lineup of gleaming white-and-orange pickups, cargo vans, and box trucks in several different lengths. The ten-foot box truck would be large enough to hold the fifty bags of fertilizer and the other equipment. If a ten-footer wasn't available, the fifteen-footer would do, though it was slower and its large size could attract attention.
Chris spotted only one ten-footer parked in the lot. According to the website, it was available next week, but he wasn't leaving anything to chance.
"Hello, sir, I'm Rick." A salesclerk came over in a green polo shirt with a logo patch and khaki pants.
"Hi, I'm Mike Jacobs. Nice to meet you." Chris extended a hand, and Rick shook it with a smile.
"How can I help you today?"
"I'm interested in the ten-footer." Chris gestured to the truck.
"Is this the only one you have?"
"Yes. When do you need it?"
"Hmph." Chris paused, for show. "Let me think, today is Wednesday the thirteenth. I need it for Monday of next week, the eighteenth. Is it available?"
"I have to check and get you a rate quote. You know, you can check availability and reserve online with a credit card."
"I saw that, but I didn't want to reserve it online and send my nephew over to pick it up, only to find out that it's not available."
The clerk hesitated. "Did you say your nephew's going to be picking it up?"
"Yes, he'll be the one to come in and get it. I'm only in town for the day. I'll pay for it once I'm sure of my plans."
"How old is he?"
"Seventeen, a high school junior." Chris didn't elaborate, because he couldn't. Not yet anyway. He'd just gotten the email confirming that he'd been hired and he was on his way to the school district office, where he'd fill out the remaining forms. He'd start classes tomorrow and he'd have to pick a boy right away.
"Oh, that's a problem. He has to be eighteen to rent one of our box trucks."
Chris blinked. "But I'd be renting it, not him."
"Sorry, but just the same. He can't pick it up for you or drive if he's under eighteen."
"Really?" Chris asked, feigning surprise. Ryder had a minimum age of eighteen and at Penske, it was twenty- one. "But he has a driver's license, and I'll send him in with cash."
"Sorry, I can't help you out. Company rules. It's on the website in the FAQs."
"Rick, can you bend the rules, just this once? I can't come all the way back to Central Valley just to pick up the truck."
"Nope, sorry." The clerk motioned to the trailers at the end of the row. "Can you use a trailer? He'd only have to be sixteen to rent a trailer."
"No, I really need the truck."
"Then I can't help you, sorry. Did you check Zeke's?"
"What's that?" Chris's ears pricked up.
"Oh, you're not from here, that's right. Everybody knows Zeke." The clerk smiled. "He's a Central Valley old-timer. He fixes farm trucks. Actually, he can fix anything. He always has a truck sitting around to sell or rent, and all the locals use him when we don't have availability. I doubt he'd be picky about renting it to a seventeen-year-old. Most of those farm kids been driving since they were thirteen."
"Good to know," Chris said, meaning it. "Where's his shop?"
"Intersection of Brookfield and Glencross, just out of town."
The clerk smiled wryly. "It doesn't have a sign but you can't miss it."
Fifteen minutes later, Chris was driving down Brookfield Road, understanding what the clerk had meant by not being able to miss Zeke's. The intersection of Brookfield and Glencross was in the middle of a soybean field, and on one corner was an ancient cinder-block garage surrounded by old trucks, rusted tractors, and used farm equipment next to precarious stacks of old tires, bicycles, and random kitchen appliances.
Chris turned into the grimy asphalt lot and parked in front of the garage. He got out of the car, keeping his ball cap on though there were no security cameras. No one else was around, and the only sound was tuneless singing coming from one of the open bays.
"Zeke?" Chris called out, entering the garage, where a grizzled octogenarian in greasy overalls was working on an old Ford pickup on the lift. A cigarette dangled from his mouth, and his glasses had been repaired with a Band-Aid over the bridge.
Chris smiled pleasantly. "Hi, my name's Pat Nickerson. I hear that you might have a truck to let. My nephew's going to pick it up for me because I'm only in town for today. But he's seventeen. Can you work with that?"
"He a good boy?" Zeke's eyes narrowed.
"Then no!" Zeke burst into laughter, which turned into hacking, though he didn't remove the cigarette from his mouth.
Chris smiled. The guy was perfect.
"What kind of truck you need?" Zeke returned to working under the vehicle.
"A box truck, a ten-footer."
"I got two box trucks, a twelve-footer and a big mama."
"The twelve-footer will do. Does it run okay?"
"Oh, you need it to run?" Zeke asked, deadpan, then started laughing and hacking again.
Chris smiled, playing along, though he was deadly serious. An unreliable truck would not be the ticket. "So it runs reliably."
"Yes. I'd let you take it for a spin but it's not here. My cousin's usin' it."
"When will it be back? I need my nephew to pick it up next week, on Monday morning."
"No problem. I've got that one and another coming back. This time of year, it's slow, and nobody's been in. I've always got somethin'. You're moving Monday, we'll have it here Sunday night."
"Okay, let me double-check with my nephew to make sure, and I'll get back to you." Chris didn't explain that the truck wasn't for a move. It was for transporting an ANFO bomb that would kill as many people as possible and cause mass destruction. An ANFO bomb was easy to make and safe to assemble. Combine 96 percent ammonium nitrate fertilizer and 6 percent Number 2 fuel oil, diesel fuel, or kerosene in a drum, making a slurry the consistency of wet flour. To make it even more explosive, add nitromethane, a fuel used in motorsports or hobby rockets, readily available. Wire a blasting cap to TNT or a Tovex sausage, fire it with a simple electrical circuit, and drop it in the drum.
"Okay, fella. Call or stop back. My number's in the book. How long you need the truck for?"
"Just the day or two."
"Fine. Seventy-five bucks a day, cash. You gas it up. I'll have it here Monday morning for your nephew. Nine o'clock."
"How can I be sure?"
"Because I said so." Zeke cackled, the cigarette burning close to his lips. "Okay, fella. See ya later."
"See you," Chris said, turning to go. He had so much to do. The bombing was happening on Tuesday. Only six days away.