home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



13

Riker was so happy to hear Mallorys voice. Apparently, in a lapse of apathy, she had forgotten to turn off her cell phone.

The grasslands of the Texas Panhandle were sliding by his passenger window while he told her the story of the dead wolf and a foiled plot to kill Dale Berman. A breeze ruffled the papers in his hand as he read her snatches of correspondence between the government and George Hastings. Dale found the kids body, but he wont release it for burial. So all this time goes by, months and months. Hastings gets tired of begging Dale for Jills body. He bypasses Dales field office and writes to Washington. Mallory, I got copies of everything. Now, all Hastings got back were form letters, but guess whose office they came from?

There was silence on the other end. Guessing games annoyed her. He gave her a broad hint. The Assistant Director of Criminal Investigations.

Harry Mars, said Mallory. He cant be running this circus.

Hes not, and Ill tell you how I know. Marss office sent a whole slew of these damn form letters. It looks like a stall. I dont think the FBI knows where Dale stashed the bodies of any of those kids. Interesting, huh? But I know hes been digging them up for almost a year.

All right, said Mallory. So were looking for a makeshift morgue somewhere in Dales comfort zone-near a Texas field office. Not all of the remains are skeletons. Hed want a place with refrigeration. Get the body count from Horace Kayhills maps.

I cant, said Riker. The Pattern Man defected. Ive got agents and troopers out looking for the little guy. I even used a news helicopter. No luck. But all this new coverage might scare the freak off till we can find Horace.

No, said Mallory, the perp is loving this. Imagine the thrill.

Riker could not, but he deferred to Mallory in all things sociopathic. Oh, the feds finally ran a check against vehicle registration. One of the parents, Darwinia Sohlo-

The names a fake, said Mallory.

The connection went dead, and it would be no use to call her back. His partners cell phone worked only one way-at her convenience.

Riker was not inclined to trust the moles with the lives of any more people. He ordered Charles Butler to change lanes and drop back to the end of a parade that stretched out for more than a mile. And now he watched for exit signs and more defections to Route 66, but all the parents seemed content to drive I-40 to their next interview with the reporters.

The radio was tuned to a news station, and the broadcaster was giving a traffic report on the caravan, -so travelers should avoid that stretch of the interstate. Our helicopter counts two hundred and seventy-five cars going slower than the legal limit.

Understatement.

The speedometer on the Mercedes was showing forty-five miles an hour and falling. The highway was hemorrhaging with the caravan, yet the traffic report had not deterred the local residents. All along the road were groups of people lining the prairie with cars and trucks, picnic baskets and babies in arms, young and old, waving at the cars driving by. Some held up signs of good luck and God love you lettered in bold print that Riker could read without glasses; there was nothing wrong with his long-distance vision, and so he was also able to see the first paper airplane take flight. It was caught by a tall man standing with his family. As the Mercedes rolled by, the airplane was unfolded in the Texans hands. It was a poster of a missing child.

The news helicopter relayed this sight to the radio broadcaster as more paper planes took flight. Flocks of them sailed out from the windows of the caravan vehicles. The reporter was calling it a swarm-so many of them. Some soared upward, and others were captured by high-reaching hands and the lower reach of chasing children. Little ships with big hopes.

Mallorys store of coveted cell-phone numbers included one for Harry Mars, and her call went through to voice mail. She planned to trade on a cops good name-not her name, and so she left the message, Its Markowitzs daughter.

She felt a pang, and supposed that it was guilt or something like it, and this was not the first time since leaving New York City. Now and again, she felt that she was cheating on the man who had raised her from the age of ten. It was the music that called him to mind, again and again, all along this road.

Music was all her two fathers had in common. Louis Markowitz had never been young-except late in the evening after supper, when the volume on the stereo was cranked up high, and the old man had taught her to dance to rock n roll. His wife, gentle Helen, had called him a dancing fool and took her own turns with him on a floor with a pulled-back rug. Some of Mallorys favorite memories were the dancing nights.

Lou Markowitz had lived to dance.

Peyton Hale had lived to drive. Cassandra had told her that defining detail about her real father, but not much else. Or had she? Mallory had been six going on seven the day her mother died. How many memories had been lost? She had always known her fathers name and where her green eyes had come from, though her mother had not kept any photographs, probably wanting no reminder of parting with him and the loss of him.

Before the visit from Savannah Sirus, she had known nothing of her mothers pain. It must have been reborn every morning when young Kathy jumped up and down on her mothers bed, waking Cassandra with Peytons green eyes.

Another pang.

Her cell phone beeped.

The restaurants parking lot would not hold all the vehicles. Reporters and FBI agents had arrived first to take up most of the spaces. Riker left the Mercedes to play traffic cop, and Charles Butler watched his friend unwind the mess of backed-up traffic on the road, steering cars onto adjoining land, shouting instructions to form neat rows, yelling, Fake it! Just pretend youre at the shopping mall!

In search of his own parking space, Charles was looking out over the herd of media in the parking lot when the cacophony of beeping began. The reporters were all answering cell phones.

Oh, stampede.

They were running for their vehicles. He saw the small fleet of news helicopters stirring up dust down the road, rotors whirring, lifting. FBI agents swarmed out of the restaurant, all heading for their vehicles. The sick sound of one fender hitting another could be heard as cars and vans crowded the narrow road leading back to the highway.

Charles now had his choice of prime parking spaces and selected one by the front door. A pleasant surprise awaited him inside-no long line to order food. While he filled a tray for two, Riker had procured a table by the window, and the parents were still filing in the front door-only the parents. Outside in the nearly empty lot, Dr. Magritte was flanked by the FBI moles, the only agents left behind.

Odd.

Well, what could happen here? It was broad daylight. The caravan was perfectly safe. Yet a sense of abandonment pervaded the dining room. All eyes were on the parking lot, though the exodus of FBI and media was over.

Riker held a cell phone to one ear as his fingers drummed the tabletop, the sure sign of a man left on hold. Still here, he said to the phone, you bastard.

Ah, the man must be speaking with Kronewald.

Riker jotted down a few lines on a napkin and ended the call.

Charles was looking out the window when he asked, Where do you suppose they went-the agents and reporters?

Theyre heading down the road about ten miles. The detective dropped the cell phone into his shirt pocket.

Charles set down the tray of fast food, and then turned back to the window. But I couldnt help noticing that they went off in different directions.

Yeah. Riker waved one hand toward the east. According to Kronewald, in that direction, youve got local cops digging up a dirt parking lot. To the west-a grave across the street from a nursing home. Most of the feds will be back soon. The media wont. Digging up little bones makes a better lead on the evening news. Two gravesites, no waiting. So much more entertaining than parents holding up their posters and begging for help.

This is Mallorys work?

No, this time its Chicago PD. They got a new toy, geographic profiling. Theyre giving grave locations to local police. Now the feds are playing catch-up with the cops. Police in eight states report directly to Kronewald. That old bastards just rolling in glory. So he finally won the war-hes running the show. Oh, and he tells me the sun rises and sets on Kathy Mallory. That kid really knows how to stock up the Favor Bank.

Both men were looking at the nearly empty parking lot when one of the FBI vehicles returned. Cadwaller stepped out of the car and pulled his suit jacket from a hanger in the rear seat. He approached the window near Charles and Rikers t able and used the glass reflection to smooth down his red hair, not caring that this toilette was being performed only inches from their faces.

A coat hanger, said Riker, whose own suit jacket was wadded up in his duffel bag. Not a hook but a hanger. For some reason, this made the detective suspicious. And check out his car. See the little beads of water on the trunk? Crimes scenes east and west of here, and this guy stops off to get his car washed.

Charles nodded. Perhaps that was excessively tidy. Even Mallory had allowed her car to accumulate streaks and dirt, not to mention the bugs on her windshield.

Cadwaller turned around to look over the surrounding ten cars, all that remained in a lot that boasted a hundred parking spaces. The agent watched Mallorys car roll into a parking space, and then, with a moue of distaste for her dirty windshield, he turned back to his own vehicle to get a briefcase from the front seat.

Ah, said Riker, with great satisfaction. His eyes were fixed on the silver convertible. The champ of neat freaks has arrived.

Mallory slowly stepped out of the car, her attention already riveted on the FBI agent.

And now, said Riker, with the flair of a sports announcer, shes spotted the contender. Its a match made in hell. She just noticed that his cars cleaner than hers.

Cadwaller straightened his perfectly straight tie and headed for the restaurant door, unaware that Mallory was right behind him, her eyes narrowed and fixed on the back of his neck.

Riker smiled at Charles. Shes very competitive.

The FBI man had spotted them and walked up to the table, saying, Im looking for Darwinia Sohlo.

You dont need to talk to her, said Mallory at his back.

The agent jumped and spun around. Riker grinned.

Ive got orders to interview this woman, said Cadwaller.

Because shes traveling under an alias? Mallory folded her arms. Shes got nothing to do with this case. If youd bothered with a background check youd know that.

Charles scanned the crowd of parents and found Darwinia Sohlo in her customary corner chair. Her eyes were a bit fearful, but she always looked that way. Two parents with trays sat down at her table, and the womans shoulders rounded as she tried to make herself smaller.

Cadwaller ignored Mallory and turned to Riker, saying, Im not planning to shoot Mrs. Sohlo. I just want to talk to her. My orders-

Orders from Dale? Riker shook his head. Youve been had, pal. Its busywork.

In Charless estimation, this was no surprise to Cadwaller. The agent scanned the crowd and walked off in Dr. Magrittes direction. After a few words were exchanged, the older man pointed him toward the corner table. Now Cadwaller squared off his shoulders and advanced on Darwinia Sohlo with slow, measured steps, clearly regarding her as a criminal.

Mallory turned to her partner. Hes playing a role.

Riker nodded. Christ, youd think Darwinia was packing a machine gun.

Cadwallers words carried a tone of authority, not shouted, but strong. It was the voice of an enforcer. Miriam Rainard? Come with me. He gestured toward the door.

Charles turned to Riker, who answered his unspoken question. Thats her right name, but I like the fake name better.

The woman, known to all as Darwinia, slowly moved her head from side to side, a gesture of awe and certainly not one of defiance. The man never touched her. No need. Charles could virtually see the strings that had been attached to this womans psyche long ago. She must have been some other enforcers property for years and years. She was rising from the table, not even pausing to consider his order. It was an automatic response. Oh, but now the strings had gone slack. Her head moved in another slow side-to-side as she backed up to the wall, and this time she meant no; she was not going anywhere with him.

Charles turned to Mallory. You know whats going on, dont you?

She nodded. Darwinias cut-rate plastic surgery-thats a repair job.

Of course. The history of a battered woman fitted so well with the camera shyness-a runaway woman hiding from an abusive spouse. So, all this time, said Charles, shes been living with the constant fear of discovery?

And now, said Riker, Darwinia cant decide what she wants most- to stay alive or find her kid.

If shes not a suspect, then maybe you two could persuade Cadwaller to leave her alone?

Well, that was a waste of breath.

Mallory pulled out a chair at the table and sat down with Riker to watch the ongoing show. Charles turned in time to see Darwinias resolve fade and die. The woman was turning toward the door, walking in tandem with the FBI man. Oh, but now she saw Mallory, the boxers champion, and Darwinias e yes were begging. It was Riker who rose to the ladys defense. He moved in front of the pair before they could reach the door. Apparently, this detectives intervention was not in Cadwallers script for the day. The agent stopped short, all authority dissipating-so like an actor with no clue to his next line.

Cadwaller, she cant help you. Riker waved him toward the window table. But we can, me and my partner. Sit down, and well fill you in. Turning to Darwinia, he said, Everythings fine. Go finish your meal.

The FBI man joined Charles and the detectives at their table. He sat down and opened a notebook, unaware that he was now the subject of an interrogation. Charles could see it coming as the two detectives smiled in unison and leaned toward the agent.

Lunchtime.

I get the feeling, said Riker, that you dont know your boss all that well. How long have you been posted with Dales field office?

Three months.

Mallory leaned in. But you dont spend much time with him. He keeps you on the road a lot, doesnt he? Away from the younger agents? Theyre all out at the crime scenes, and here you are-running a fake errand.

Understanding dawned on Cadwaller. His pale skin showed a slight flush of humiliation as he pulled out a pen and looked down at his blank notebook page. So whatve you got for me?

Twelve years ago, her kid disappeared, said Riker. The Wisconsin cops were looking at the father as the prime suspect, and they didnt expect any help from the battered wife. There was a history of domestic disputes. Her jaw was broken twice, but the lady never pressed charges. Two years after her kid goes missing, Darwinia-Miriam, whatever-she disappears, too. And the cops knew they werent looking for a dead body-not that time. They just wished her luck. But Nahlman couldve told you that. It was her catch, and she gave the whole story to Dale. The detective leaned in closer, as if to impart a secret. Now, we know youre from the Freak Squad-

Behavioral Science Unit, said Mallory, correcting her partners b ad manners and startling Charles. This isnt Cadwallers fault. She turned to the agent, giving him her best rendition of sympathy. The minute you saw that woman, you knew Dale was screwing up again, didnt you? Wasting your time again. And now she had saved a federal agent from looking like a fool.

Not her style.

The FBI man closed his notebook and slapped it on the table. Face saved, the agent raised his grateful eyes to Mallorys. And now it was her turn to lean toward him into that close range of conspiracy, so confidential in her tone. What if this isnt a screw-up?

What? Rikers face was angry when he left his chair and took the one next to his partner. Youre defending that idiot, Dale?

Charles was confused by this new game of musical chairs and changing alliances.

Mallorys e yes remained fixed on Cadwaller. What if Dales playing you?

The agent turned his face away from hers as he pocketed his notebook and pretended interest in invisible lint on his sleeve. I guess were done, here. Cadwaller rose from the table with no word of good-bye and left the restaurant.

Charles turned from one detective to the other. What did I miss?

Not much. Riker changed chairs again to sit before his tray of food. He pushed the laptop computer to Mallorys side of the table, but she would not even look at it. He frowned, seeing this as an ongoing problem, like a failure to eat her vitamins. I knew Cadwaller wasnt D ales favorite agent. But if that guys got something on Dale, hes not planning to share it.

Charles edged closer to Mallory. So you dont think Agent Berman is just too incompetent to run a task force?

No, she said. Bermans mistakes are really over the top.

Yeah, said Riker, very stupid mistakes.

Youre sure about that? Mallory slung her knapsack over one shoulder. Think about it, Riker. Dale was smart enough to fool Markowitz once. She picked up her car keys, almost ready to leave. The way I remember it, he fooled you, too. She leaned close to her partners ear to deliver a parting salvo. And hes still doing it.

Agent Nahlman had no idea where Barry Allen had gone. She guessed that he had been reassigned to the gravesite west of this one. Dale Berman effected these separations from her partner all too frequently. Today, he had loaned her out to the state police, demoting her to media control. News vehicles had been turned away from the crime scene and into an area where cameras and lights could be set up. Now came the procession of divas, male and female reporters, to take their positions and deliver live feed on a small grave that they would never be allowed to see. Next, she would be called upon to say No comment a hundred times, rephrasing it for the more witless interviewers. Wrangling these bottom feeders and their makeup artists-this was the only thing that Dale was truly good at, but he could not be bothered. No, this was a handmaids job.

Nahlman grabbed a passing rookie agent by his sleeve, promoted him to press liaison, and then walked back to the dig site surrounded by state troopers.

Oh, no.

This corpse had flesh. She had become so accustomed to bones, but this child had been mummified in arid ground. It was easy to make out a button nose, a delicate chin-a slashed throat.

Agent Nahlman looked down the road, as if she could see all the way to the restaurant where the caravan parents would be waiting for the news-the name of a little girl. Some had children to fit the victim profile. Many other parents were spread out all over the country, and they were no doubt following the broadcasts, never straying far from their television sets, as this body was unearthed, layer by layer of dirt.

Who would win the phone call today?

Unlike Dale Berman, the local authorities were not inclined to keep the parents in ignorance, and this child would have a decent burial. One of the diggers held up an object cupped in one hand. He was a burly local man and probably had children of his own, for his voice was hoarse when he said, Its a locket. Her name was Karen.

This would not fit any child belonging to a caravan parent. Nahlman knew all their stories now-which missing girl hated asparagus and which one loved baseball more than God. The FBI agent stared at the corpse in the hole.

And whose little girl are you?

A laminated school-bus pass was gently plied from the childs curled fingers. The bus pass held all the information needed to carry her home.

The caravan had been under way for twenty minutes, and Dr. Paul Magritte was at last feeling at ease. He was more centered now, with many cars between himself and the New York detective in the Mercedes. And the FBI moles were driving at the rear.

The doctor had total privacy.

Eyes on the road, he dipped one hand into his nylon knapsack, fishing blind until his fingers closed upon the photograph of dying April Waylon. He crushed it in his fist. Next, he knocked his pipe from the ashtray, replacing it with the wadded picture. He patted his shirt pockets. Oh, where were his matches? No matter. The cars cigarette lighter would do as well. A few moments later, he held its glowing tip to the crumpled image of April.

It caught fire, followed by smoke-so much of it. He had never burned one in the car before, and he had not counted on this. His other small fires had been more ceremonial, and those had been set with the flames of votive candles. He batted the air in front of his face. Smoke was slipping past him to his partially opened window. Eyes filled with stinging tears, he dared to open all the windows until, at last, the smoke had cleared and the picture was burnt to ashes.

His eyes were also clearing, and now, in peripheral vision, he noticed another car in the passing lane had come abreast of him and kept pace with him. Through his side window, Paul Magritte glanced at this other driver.

And Mallory looked back at him.

Her head was sharply turned to one side. She was facing him with no thought of the road ahead, and the young detective held this pose for so long-it unnerved him so badly-his hands tightened on the wheel, knuckles whitening. She stared at him for miles and miles.


| Find Me | c