The cove, p.11
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       The Cove, p.11
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         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter
She didn’t respond, just looked up at him.

  “Go to sleep,” he said, gently pushing her hair back from her face. He pulled the string on the bedside lamp. “We’ll work it all out. Just don’t worry anymore.”

  That was a promise and a half. It scared the hell out of him.

  “That’s what he said on the phone, that he was coming for me. Soon, he said, very soon. He didn’t lie, did he? He’s here, James.”

  “Someone’s here. We’ll deal with it tomorrow. Go to sleep. I’m sure as hell here, and I won’t leave you alone, not anymore.”

  She was usually alone. At the beginning some of the patients had tried to talk to her, in their way, but she’d turned away from them. It didn’t matter really, because most of the time her brain was fuzzy, so completely disconnected from anything she could identify either outside herself or inside that she was as good as lost in a deep cave. Or she was floating up in the ether. There was no reality here, no getting up at six in the morning to run up Exeter Street over to Concord Avenue, covering a good two miles, then run home, jump in the shower, and think about all she had to do that day while she washed her hair.

  Senator Bainbridge went to the White House at least twice a week. Many times she was with him, keeping together all his notes for the topics to be discussed. It was easy for her to do that, since she’d written most of the notes and knew more than he did about his stands on his committee projects. She’d done so much, been involved in so many things—press releases, huddling with staff and the senator when a hot story broke and they tried to determine the best position for the senator to take.

  There were always fund-raisers, press parties, embassy parties, political parties. So much, and she’d loved it, even when she would fall exhausted into bed.

  At first Scott had told her how proud he was of her. He’d seemed excited to be invited to all the parties, to meet all the important players. At first.

  Now she did nothing. Someone washed her hair twice a week. She scarcely noticed unless they let water run down her neck. She didn’t have any muscles anymore, even though someone took her for long walks every day, just like a dog. She’d wanted to run once, just run and feel the wind against her face, feel her face chapping, but they didn’t let her. After that they gave her more drugs so she wouldn’t want to run again.

  And he came, at least twice a week, sometimes more. The nurses adored him, saying behind their hands how devoted he was. He would sit with her in the common room a few minutes, then take her hand and lead her back to her room. It was a stark white room with nothing in it to use in attempting suicide—nothing sharp, no belts.

  He had furnished it for her, she’d heard once, with the advice of Dr. Beadermeyer. It was a metal bed covered with fake wood, fake so that it wouldn’t splinter so she could stick a fragment through her own heart. Not that such a thing would ever occur to her, but he talked about it and laughed, saying as he cupped her face in his hand that he would take care of her for a very long time.

  Then he’d strip off her clothes and make her lie on her back on the bed. He would walk around the bed, looking at her, talking to her about his day, his work, about the woman he was currently sleeping with. Then he’d unzip his trousers and show her himself, tell her how lucky she was to get to see him, that he would let her touch him but he didn’t quite trust her yet.

  He’d touch her all over. He’d rub himself. Just before he came, he’d hit her at least once, usually in the ribs.

  Once when his head was thrown back in his orgasm, she saw through the fog in her eyes that there were two people at the window opening in the door, staring at them, talking even as they looked. She’d tried to push him away, but it hadn’t worked. She had so little strength. He’d finished, then leaned down, seen the hatred in her eyes, and struck her face. It was the only time he had ever hit her in the face.

  She remembered once how he’d turned her onto her belly, pulling her back toward him and how he’d said that maybe one day he’d let her have him, let her feel him going into her, deep, and it would hurt because he was big, didn’t she agree? But no, she didn’t deserve him yet. And who cared? They had years ahead of them, years to do all sorts of things. And he’d told her about when he finally allowed his mistresses to have him and what they did to please him.

  She hadn’t said anything. He’d struck her for that, with his belt, on her buttocks. He hadn’t stopped for a very long time. She remembered screaming, begging, screaming some more, trying to wriggle away from him, but he’d held her down. He hadn’t stopped.

  It was five a.m. when Quinlan was jerked out of a deep sleep by her scream, loud, piercing, so filled with pain and helplessness that he couldn’t bear it. He was at her side in an instant, pulling her against him, trying to soothe her, saying anything that came to mind, just talking and talking to bring her out of the dreadful nightmare.

  “God, it hurt so much, but he didn’t care, he just kept hitting and hitting, holding me down so I couldn’t move, couldn’t escape. I screamed and screamed, but nobody cared, nobody came, but I know those faces were looking in the window and they loved it. Oh, God, no, make it stop. STOP IT!”

  So it was a nightmare about her time in that sanitarium—at least that’s what it sounded like. It sounded sadistic and sexual. What the hell was going on here?

  His hand was busy in her hair, stroking up and down her back, talking to her, talking, talking.

  Her horrible gasping breaths slowed. She hiccupped. She leaned back, wiping her hand across her nose. She closed her eyes a moment, then began to tremble.

  “No, Sally, just stop it. I’m here, it’s all right. Just relax against me, that’s it. Just breathe real slow. Good, that’s just fine.” He stroked her back, felt the shivering slowly ease. God, what had she dreamed? A memory distorted by the unconscious could be hideous.

  “What did he do to you?” He spoke slowly, softly against her temple. “You can tell me. It’ll make it go away faster if you talk about it.”

  She whispered against his neck, “He came, at least twice a week, and every time he took off my clothes and looked at me and touched me and told me things he’d done that day, the women he’d taken.

  “People watched through that window in the door, the same people, as if they had season tickets or something. It was horrible, but most of the time I just lay there because my brain wasn’t working. But that one time, it hurt so badly, I remember having my thoughts and feelings come together enough to feel the humiliation, so I tried to get away from him, to fight him, but he just kept hitting me and hitting me, first with his hand, then with his belt. It pleased him that he’d made me bleed. He told me maybe sometime in the future, when I’d earned the honor, he’d come into me. I wouldn’t have to worry because he wasn’t HIV-positive, not that I would anyway because I was fucking crazy. That’s what he said, ‘You won’t remember a thing, will you, Sally, because you’re fucking crazy?”’

  Even though Quinlan was so tense he imagined that if someone hit him he would just shatter into myriad pieces, Sally was now leaning limp against him, her breathing low, calmer. He’d been right. Talking about it out loud had eased her, but not him, good Lord, not him.

  Could she have imagined it all? For the longest time he couldn’t speak. Finally he said, “Was it your husband who did this to you, Sally?”

  She was asleep, her breath even and slow against his chest. He realized then that he was wearing only shorts. Who the hell cared? He pushed her back and tried to pull away from her. To his pleasure and consternation, she clutched her arms around his back. “No, please, no,” she said. She sounded asleep.

  He eased down beside her, lying on his back, pressing her face against his shoulder. He hadn’t planned on this, he thought, staring up at the dark ceiling. She was breathing deeply, her leg across his belly now, her palm flat on his chest. Any lower with that hand or any lower with her thigh and he would be in big trouble.

  He was already in big trouble. He kissed her forehead, squeezed her
more closely against him, and closed his eyes. At least the bastard hadn’t raped her. But he’d beat her.

  Surprisingly, he fell asleep.


  “YEAH, RIGHT,” QUINLAN said to himself as he got to his feet. There were two nice male footprints below Sally’s bedroom window at Amabel’s house and, more important, deep impressions where the feet of the ladder had dug into the earth.

  There were small torn branches on the ground, ripped away by someone who had moved quickly, dragging that damned long ladder with him. He dropped to his haunches again and measured the footprints with his right hand. Size eleven shoe, just about his own size. He took off his loafer and set it gently into the indentation. Nearly a perfect fit. All right, then, an eleven and a half.

  The heels were pretty deep, which meant he wasn’t a small man, perhaps about six feet and one hundred eighty pounds or so. Close enough. He looked more carefully, measuring the depth of the indentations with his fingers. One went deeper than the other, which was odd. A limp? He didn’t know. Maybe it was just an aberration.

  “What have you got, Quinlan?” It was David Mountebank. He was in his uniform, looking pressed and well shaved, and surprisingly well rested. It was only six-thirty in the morning. “You thinking about eloping with Sally Brandon?”

  Well, hell, Quinlan thought, rising slowly, as he said in an easy voice, “Actually someone tried to get into the house last night and really scared Sally. And yes, if you’re interested, she should still be sleeping in Thelma’s tower room, my room.”

  “Someone tried to break in?”

  “Yeah, that’s about it. Sally woke up and saw the man’s face in the window. It scared the bejesus out of her. When she screamed, it must have scared the bejesus out of the guy as well, because he was out of here.”

  David Mountebank leaned against the side of Amabel’s cottage. It looked like it had been freshly painted not six months ago. The dark-green trim around the windows was very crisp. “What the hell’s really going on, Quinlan?”

  He sighed. “I can’t tell you. Call it national security, David.”

  “I’d like to call that bullshit.”

  “I can’t tell you,” Quinlan repeated. He met David’s eye. He never flinched. David could have drawn a gun on him and he wouldn’t have flinched.

  “All right,” David said finally. “Have it your way, at least for now. You promise me it doesn’t have anything to do with the two murders?”

  “It doesn’t. The more I mull it over, the more I think the woman’s murder is somehow connected to Harve and Marge Jensen’s disappearance three years ago, even though just yesterday I told you I couldn’t imagine it. I don’t know how or why, but you’ve got things that don’t smell right. Well, I have things that just twist and turn in my gut. That’s my intuition. I’ve learned over the years never to ignore it. Things are somehow connected. I just have no idea how or why or if I’m just plain not thinking straight.

  “As for Sally, just let it go, David. I’d consider that I owed you good if you’d just let it go.”

  “It was two murders, Quinlan.”

  “Doc Spiver?”

  “Yeah. I just got a call from the M.E. in Portland, a woman who was trained down in San Francisco and really knows her stuff. Would that there were M.E.s everywhere who knew what they were doing. I got his body to her late last night, and she agreed to do the autopsy immediately, bless her. She determined there was no way in hell he would have sat himself down in the rocking chair, put the gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.”

  “That takes care of the theory that Doc Spiver murdered the woman and then felt so guilty that he killed himself.”

  “Blows it straight to hell.”

  “You know what it sounds like to me? Just maybe the person really believed everyone would think Doc Spiver killed himself. Maybe an older person who doesn’t know all about things a good M.E. can determine. Your man, Ponser, didn’t know, after all. You could say you just lucked out because of how good the M.E. is in Portland.”

  “That sounds right to me.” He sighed. “What we’ve got is a killer loose, Quinlan, and I’m so stuck I don’t know what to do.

  “My men and I have been questioning every damned person in this beautiful little town, and just like with Laura Strather, no one knows a damned thing. I still can’t buy it that one of the local folk is involved in this.”

  “One of them is, David, no way around it.”

  “You want me to take plaster casts of those footprints?”

  “No, don’t bother. But take a look, one impression goes deeper than the other. You ever see anything like that?”

  David was down on his hands and knees, studying the footprints. He measured the depth with his pinky finger, just as Quinlan had done. “Strange,” he said. “I don’t have a clue.”

  “I was thinking the guy had a limp, but it wouldn’t look like that if he did. There’d be more of a rolling to one side, but there’s not.”

  “You got me, Quinlan.” David stood up and looked toward the ocean. “It’s going to be a beautiful day. I used to bring my kids here at least twice a week for the World’s Greatest Ice Cream. I haven’t wanted them to get near The Cove since that first murder.”

  And, Quinlan knew, besides that killer, there was another man here who was out to make Sally believe she was crazy. It had to be her husband, Scott Brainerd.

  He dusted his hands off on his dark-brown corduroy pants. “Oh, David, which one got to you first?”


  “Which of your daughters got her arms around your neck first?”

  David laughed. “The littlest one. She climbed right up my leg like a monkey. Her name’s Deirdre.”

  James left David Mountebank and returned to Thelma’s Bed and Breakfast.

  When he opened the door to his tower room, Sally was standing in the doorway of the bathroom. Her hair was wet and plastered to her head, strands falling to her shoulders. She had a towel in her left hand. She stared at him.

  She was stark naked.

  She was so damned thin and so damned perfect, and he realized it in just the split second before she pulled the towel in front of herself.

  “Where did you go?” she asked, still not moving, just standing there, wet and thin and perfect, and covered with a white towel.

  “He wears an eleven-and-a-half shoe.”

  She tightened the towel, rolling it over above her breasts. She just stared at him.

  “The man pretending to be your father,” he said, watching her closely.

  “You found him?”

  “Not yet, but I found his footprints beneath your bedroom window and the indentations of the ladder feet. Yeah, our man was there. What size shoe does your husband wear, Sally?”

  She was very pale. Now she was so colorless that he imagined even her hair was fading as he looked at her. “I don’t know what size. I never asked, I never bought him shoes. My father wears an eleven and a half.”

  “Sally, your father is dead. He was murdered more than two weeks ago. He was buried. The cops saw the body. It was your father. The man last night, it wasn’t your father. If you can’t think of any other man who’s trying to drive you nuts, then it has to be your husband. Did you see him the night your father was murdered?”

  “No,” she whispered, backing away from him, retreating into the bathroom, shaking her head, wet strands of hair slapping her cheeks. “No, no.”

  She didn’t slam the door, just quietly pushed it closed. He heard the lock click on the other side.

  He knew he would never look at her quite in the same way again. She could be wearing a bear coat and he knew he would still see her standing naked in the bathroom doorway, so pale and beautiful that he’d wanted to pick her up and very gently lay her on his bed. But that would never happen. He had to get a grip.

  “Hi,” he said when she came out a while later, wrapped in one of the white robes, her hair dry, her eyes not meeting his.

  She just
nodded, her eyes still on her bare feet, and began to collect her clothing.

  “Sally, we’re both adults.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  At least she was looking at him now, and there wasn’t an ounce of fear in her voice or in her eyes. He was pleased. She trusted him not to hurt her.

  “I didn’t mean as in consenting adults. I just meant that you’re no more a kid than I am. There’s no reason for you to be embarrassed.”

  “I suppose you’d be the one to be embarrassed since I’m so skinny and ugly.”

  “Yeah, right.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “It means I think you’re very—no, never mind that. Now, smile.”

  She gave him a ghastly smile, but again, there was no fear in it. She did trust him not to rape her. He heard himself say, completely unplanned, “Was it your husband who humiliated you and beat you in that sanitarium?”

  She didn’t move, didn’t change expressions, but she withdrew from him. She just shut down.

  “Answer me, Sally. Was it your damned husband?”

  She looked at him straight on and said, “I don’t know you. You could be the man calling me, mimicking my father, you could be the man last night at my window. He could have sent you. I want to leave now, James, and never come back here. I want to disappear. Will you help me do that?”

  Jesus, he wanted to help her. He wanted to disappear with her. He wanted—He shook his head. “That’s no answer to anything. You couldn’t run forever, Sally.”

  “I wouldn’t bet on it.” She turned, clutching her clothes to her chest, and went back into the bathroom.

  He started to shout through the bathroom door that he liked the small black mole on the right side of her belly. But he didn’t. He sat down on the chintz sofa and tried to figure things out.

  “Thelma,” he said after he’d swallowed a spoonful of the lightest, most beautifully seasoned scrambled eggs he’d ever tasted in his life, “if you were a stranger and you wanted to hide here in The Cove, where would you go?”

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