The cove, p.13
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       The Cove, p.13
 

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  She heard the bed ease up and knew that Dr. Beadermeyer was standing beside her, looking down at her. She heard him say softly, “Holland, if she gets away again, I’ll have to hurt you badly. Do you understand?”

  “Yes, Doctor Beadermeyer.”

  “It won’t be like last time, Holland. I made a mistake on your punishment last time. You rather liked that little shock therapy, didn’t you?”

  “It won’t happen again, Doctor Beadermeyer.” Was there disappointment in that frightening little man’s voice?

  “Good. You know what happened to Nurse Krider when she let her hide those pills under her tongue. Yes, of course you do. Be mindful, Holland.

  “I must go now, Sally, but I’ll be with you again this evening. We’ll have to get you away from the sanitarium, probably tomorrow morning. The decision about what to do with you hasn’t been made just yet. But you can’t stay here. The FBI, this Quinlan fellow, he’s got to know all about this place. I’m sure you did tell him some things about your past. And they’ll come. But that isn’t your problem.

  “Now, let me give you a little shot of something that will make you drift and really feel quite good about things. Yes, Holland, hold her arm for me.”

  Sally felt the chill of the needle, felt the brief sting. Within moments, she felt herself begin to drift out of her brain, to float in nothingness. She felt the part of her that was real, the part of her that wanted life—such a small flicker, really—struggling briefly before it succumbed. She sighed deeply and was gone from herself.

  She felt hands on her, taking off her clothes. She knew it was Holland. Probably Dr. Beadermeyer was watching.

  She didn’t struggle. There was nothing more to care about.

  Quinlan woke up with a roaring headache that beat any hangover he’d ever had in college. He cursed, held his head in his hands, and cursed some more.

  “You’ve got the mother of all headaches, right?”

  “David,” he said, and even that one word hurt. “What the devil happened?”

  “Someone hit you good just above your left ear. Our doctor put three stitches in your head. Hold still and I’ll get you a pill.”

  Quinlan focused on that pill. It had to help. If it didn’t, his brain would break out of his skull.

  “Here, Quinlan. It’s strong stuff; you’re supposed to have just one every four hours.”

  Quinlan took it and downed the entire glass of water. He lay back, his eyes closed, and waited.

  “Doctor Grafft said it would kick in quickly.”

  “I sure as hell hope so. Talk to me, David. Where’s Sally?”

  “I’ll tell you everything. Just lie still. I found you unconscious in that narrow little strip of alley beside the Hinterlands. Thelma Nettro had reported you and Sally missing, so I started looking.

  “You scared the shit out of me. When I found you lying there, I thought you were dead. I slung you over my shoulder and brought you to my house. Doctor Grafft met me here and stitched you up. I don’t know about Sally. She’s just gone, Quinlan. No trace, nothing. It’s like she was never even here.”

  If he hadn’t hurt so badly, Quinlan would have yelled. Instead, he just lay there, trying to figure things out, trying to think. For the moment, it was beyond him.

  Sally was gone. That was all that was real to him. Gone, not found dead. Gone. But where?

  He heard children’s voices. Surely that couldn’t be right. He heard David say, “Deirdre, come here and sit on my lap. You’ve got to keep very quiet, okay? Mr. Quinlan isn’t feeling well, and we don’t want to make him feel worse.”

  He heard a little girl whisper, but he couldn’t make it out. Deirdre meant sorrow. He slept.

  He awoke to see a young woman with a pale complexion and very dark red hair looking at him. She had the sweetest face he’d ever seen. “Who are you?”

  “I’m Jane, David’s wife. You just lie still, Mr. Quinlan.” He felt her cool palm on his forehead. “I’ve got some nice hot chicken soup for you. Doctor Grafft said to keep it light until tomorrow. You just open your mouth and I’ll feed you. That’s right.”

  He ate the entire bowl and began to feel human. “Thank you,” he said, and slowly, her hand under his elbow, he sat up.

  “Your head ache?”

  “It’s just a dull thud now. What time is it? Rather, what day is it?”

  “You were hurt early this afternoon. It’s eight o’clock in the evening now. I hope the girls didn’t disturb you.”

  “No, not at all. Thank you for taking me in.”

  “Let me get David. He’s tucking the girls into bed. He should be just about through with the bedtime story.”

  Quinlan sat there, his head back against the cushions of the sofa, a nice comfortable sofa. The headache was gone now. He could get out of here soon. He could find Sally. He realized he was scared to his socks. What had happened to her?

  Her father had come for her just as he’d promised he would. No, that was ridiculous. Amory St. John was long dead.

  “You want some brandy in hot tea?”

  “Nah, my pecker doesn’t need optimism.” Quinlan opened his eyes and smiled at David Mountebank. “Your wife fed me. Great soup. I appreciate you taking me in, David.”

  “I couldn’t leave you with Thelma Nettro, now, could I? I wouldn’t leave my worst enemy there. That old lady gives me the willies. It’s the weirdest thing. She always has that diary of hers with her and that fountain pen in her hand. The tip of her tongue is practically tattooed from the pen tip.”

  “Tell me about Sally.”

  “Every man I could round up is talking to everybody in The Cove and looking for her. I’ve got an APB out on her—”

  “No APB,” James said, sitting up straight now, his face paling. “No, David, cancel it now. It’s critical.”

  “I won’t buy any more of this national security shit, Quinlan. Tell me why or I won’t do it.”

  “You’re not being cooperative, David.”

  “Tell me and let me help you.”

  “She’s Sally St. John Brainerd.”

  David just stared at him. “She’s Amory St. John’s daughter? The daughter who’s nuts and who ran away from that sanitarium? The woman whose husband is frantic about her safety? I knew she looked familiar. Damn, I’m slipping fast. I should have made the connection. Ah, that’s the reason for the black wig. Then she just forgot to put it on, didn’t she?”

  “Yeah, that and I told her to relax, that you would never connect her to Susan Brainerd, at least I prayed you wouldn’t.”

  “I wish I could say I would have, but hell, I probably never would have unless I saw her in person and then saw her again on TV. What were you doing with her, Quinlan?”

  Quinlan sighed. “She doesn’t know I’m FBI. She bought that story about me being a PI and looking for those old folks who disappeared around here three years ago. I came here because I had this feeling she would run here, to her aunt. I was just going to take her back.”

  “But why is the FBI involved in a homicide?”

  “It’s not just a homicide at all. That’s only part of it. We’re in it for other reasons.”

  “I know. You’re not going to tell me the rest of it.”

  “I’d prefer not to just yet. As I was saying, I was going to take her back, but then—”

  “Then what?”

  “Her father phoned her twice. Then she saw his face at her window in the middle of the night.”

  “And you found her father’s footprints on the ground the next morning. Her father’s dead, murdered. Jesus, Quinlan, what’s going on here?”

  “I don’t know. But I’ve got to find her. Someone was trying to scare the hell out of her—make her believe she was crazy—and that aunt of hers didn’t help a bit, kept telling her in an understanding, tender voice that she’d be hearing things and seeing things too if she’d been through all that Sally had, and she had been in that sanitarium for so long, and that would make her think differen
tly, wouldn’t it?

  “Then the two murders. I’ve got to find her. Everything else is nuts, but not Sally.”

  “When you feel well enough, you and I will go see her aunt. I already spoke to her, but she just said that she hadn’t seen Sally, that she was staying with you at Thelma’s Bed and Breakfast. We searched your tower bedroom. Her duffel bag was gone and all her clothes, her blow dryer, everything. It’s like she was never there. Look, Quinlan, maybe when she saw you unconscious, she got really scared and ran.”

  “No,” James said, looking David straight in the eye. “I know she wouldn’t leave me, not if I were lying there unconscious. She just wouldn’t.”

  “It’s like that, is it?”

  “God only knows, but she has a thick streak of honor and she cares about me. She wouldn’t have left.”

  “Then we’ve got to find her. Another thing—I’m an officer of the law. Now that I know who she is, it’s my duty to report her.”

  “I’d appreciate it if you’d wait, David. There’s more at stake here than just Amory St. John’s murder, lots more. Trust me on this.”

  David looked at him for a long time. Finally, he said, “All right. Tell me what I can do to help.”

  “Let’s go see Aunt Amabel Perdy.”

  Dr. Alfred Beadermeyer was enjoying himself. Sally didn’t know the small new mirror in her room was two-way. No one knew, at least he didn’t think so. He watched her sit up slowly, obviously trying to coordinate her arms and legs. Since her brain was fuzzy, it was difficult for her, but she just kept trying. He admired that in her, and at the same time he wanted to destroy it. It seemed to take her several moments to realize she was naked.

  Then, very slowly, as if she were an old woman, she rose and walked to the small closet. She pulled out a nightgown she’d left here when she escaped before. She didn’t know it, but he had bought it for her. She slipped it over her head, teetering a bit but managing finally. Then she walked back to sit on the edge of the bed. She held her head in her hands.

  He was getting bored. Wouldn’t she do anything? Wouldn’t she start yelling? Something? He had nearly turned to go when at last she raised her head and he saw tears streaming down her cheeks.

  This was better. Soon she would be ready to listen to him. Soon now. He would hold off on another shot for an hour or so. He turned away and unlocked the door of the tiny room.

  Sally knew she was crying. She could feel the wet on her face, taste the salt when it trickled into her mouth. Why was she crying? James. She remembered James, how he lay there, blood streaming from the wound over his left ear. He’d been so still, so very still. Beadermeyer had promised he wasn’t dead. How could she believe that devil?

  He had to be all right. She looked at the soft silk gown that slithered against her skin. It was a lovely peach color with wide silk straps over her shoulders. Unfortunately it bagged on her now. She looked at the needle marks in her arm. There were five pinpricks. He’d drugged her five times. She felt her head begin to clear, slowly, so very slowly. More things, memories, began to filter through, take shape and substance.

  She had to get out of here before he either killed her or took her someplace else, someplace where nobody could find her. She thought of James. He could find her if anyone could.

  She forced herself to her feet. She took one step, then another. Soon she was walking slowly, carefully, but naturally. She stood in front of the narrow window and stared out onto the sanitarium grounds.

  The mowed lawn stretched a good hundred yards before it butted against a heavily wooded area. Surely she could walk that far; she had before. She just had to get to those woods. She could get lost in those woods, just as she had before. Eventually she’d found her way out. She would again.

  She walked back to the closet. There was a bathrobe and two more nightgowns, a pair of slippers. Nothing else. No pants, no dresses, no underwear.

  She didn’t care. She would walk in her bathrobe, to the ends of the earth if necessary. Then another veil lifted in her brain, and she remembered that she’d stolen one of the nurse’s pantsuits that first time, and her shoes. Would it be possible to do that again?

  Who had done this to her? She knew it wasn’t her father. He was long dead. It had to be the man pretending to be her father, the man who’d called her, who’d appeared at her bedroom window. It could have been Scott, it could have been Dr. Beadermeyer, it could have been some man either of them had hired.

  But not her father, thank God. That miserable bastard was finally dead. She prayed there really was a hell. If there was, she knew he was there, in the deepest pit.

  She had to get to her mother. Noelle would help her. Noelle would protect her, once she knew the truth. But why hadn’t Noelle ever come to see her during the six months here? Why hadn’t she demanded to know why her daughter was here? As far as Sally knew, Noelle hadn’t done anything to help her. Did she believe her daughter was crazy? She’d believed her husband? She’d believed Sally’s husband?

  How to get out of here?

  Amabel said, “Would either of you gentlemen care for a cup of coffee?”

  “No,” Quinlan said curtly. “Tell us where Sally is.”

  Amabel sighed and motioned the two men to sit down. “Listen, James, I already told the sheriff here that Sally must have gotten scared when she saw you were hurt, and she ran. That’s the only explanation. Sally’s not a strong girl. She’s been through a lot. She was even in an asylum. You don’t look shocked. I’m a bit surprised that she told you about it. Something like that shouldn’t be talked about.

  “But listen, she was very ill. She still is. It makes sense that she would run again, just like she ran away from what happened in Washington. If you doubt me, just go to Thelma’s. Martha told me that all of Sally’s things were gone from James’s room. Isn’t that odd? She left not even a memory of herself in that room.

  “It was like she wanted to erase her very self.” She paused a moment, then added in a faraway gypsy’s voice, “It’s almost as if she’d never really been there at all, as if we all just imagined she was here.”

  Quinlan jumped to his feet and stood over her. He looked as menacing as hell, but David didn’t say a word, just waited. Quinlan stuck his face very near hers and said slowly and very distinctly, “That’s bullshit, Amabel. Sally wasn’t an apparition, nor was she nuts, as you implied to her, like you’re implying to us now. She didn’t imagine hearing a woman scream those two nights. She didn’t imagine seeing her father’s face at her bedroom window in the middle of the night. You tried to make her doubt herself, didn’t you, Amabel? You tried to make her think she was crazy.”

  “That is ridiculous.”

  Quinlan moved even closer, leaning over her now, forcing her to press her back against the chair. “Why did you do that, Amabel? You just said you knew she was in a sanitarium. You knew, didn’t you, that someone put her there and kept her for six months drugged to her eyebrows? You didn’t try to assure her that she was as sane as anyone—no, you kept on with the innuendos.

  “Don’t deny it, I heard you do it. You tried to make Sally doubt herself, her reason. Why?”

  But Amabel just smiled sadly at him. She said to David, “Sheriff, I’ve been very patient. This man only knew Sally for a little over a week. I’m her aunt. I love her. There’s no reason I would ever want to hurt her. I would always seek to protect her. I’m sorry, James, but she ran away. It’s as simple as that. I pray the sheriff will find her. She’s not strong. She needs to be taken care of.”

  Quinlan was so angry he was afraid he’d pull her out of the chair and shake her like a rat. He backed off and began pacing around the small living room. David watched him for a moment, then said, “Mrs. Perdy, if Sally ran, can you guess where she would go?”

  “To Alaska. She said she wanted to go to Alaska. She said she preferred Mexico, but she didn’t have her passport. That’s all I can tell you, Sheriff. Of course, if I hear from her, I’ll call you right away.” Amabe
l rose. “I’m sorry, James. You know who Sally is. It’s likely you’ve told Sheriff Mountebank her real name. There’s a lot for her to face, and she’ll have to face it eventually. As to her mental status, who’s to say? All we can do is pray.”

  James wanted to wrap his fingers around her gypsy neck and squeeze. She was lying, damn her, but she was doing it very well. Sally wouldn’t have run away, not with him lying unconscious at her feet. She wouldn’t.

  That meant that someone had her.

  And that someone was the person who had pretended to be her father. James would bet on it. Now he knew what to do. He even had a good idea where she was, and it curdled his blood to think about it.

  13

  IT WAS A black midnight, not even a sliver of moon or a single star to cast a dim light through that cauldron sky. Roiling black clouds moved and shifted, but never revealed anything except more blackness.

  Sally stared out the window, drawing one deep breath after another. They would be here soon to give her another shot. No more pills, she’d heard Beadermeyer say, she just might be able to hide them again in her mouth. He announced that he didn’t want her hurt again, the bastard.

  There was a new nurse—her name tag said Rosalee—and she was as blank-faced as Holland. She didn’t speak to Sally except to tell her tersely what to do and when and how to do it. She watched Sally go to the bathroom, which, Sally supposed, was better than having Holland standing there.

  Dr. Beadermeyer didn’t want her hurt? That could only be because he himself wanted to be the one to hurt her. She’d seen no one except Beadermeyer and Holland and Nurse Rosalee. They’d forced her to keep to her room. She had nothing to read, no TV to watch. She didn’t know anything about her mother or about Scott. Most of the time she was so drugged she didn’t care, didn’t even know who she was, but now she knew, now she could reason, and she was getting stronger by the minute.

  If only Beadermeyer would wait just a few more minutes, maybe fifteen minutes then she’d be ready.

 
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