The cove, p.15
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       The Cove, p.15
 

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  “She’s here. Stop worrying. If she isn’t, well, then, we’ll find her soon enough. Did I tell you I had a date tonight? I had a damned date and look what I’m doing. Playing Rescue Squad with you. Stop worrying. You’re smarter than Beadermeyer. She’s still here, I’ll bet you on it. I get the feeling there’s more arrogance in this Beadermeyer than in most folk. I think the bastard believes he’s invincible.”

  They were moving again, bent nearly double, no flashlights, just two black shadows skimming over the well-manicured lawn.

  “We’ve got to get inside.”

  “Soon,” Dillon said. “Just ahead. Then it’s going to be tricky. Imagine seeing the two of us dressed like cat burglars roaming down the halls.”

  “We’ll find a nurse soon enough. She’ll tell us.”

  “We’re nearly to the back emergency entrance. Yeah, here we are. Help me pull up the doors, Quinlan.”

  Well oiled, thank God, Quinlan thought when they gently eased the doors back down. He turned up the flashlight. They were in an enclosed space that could hold at least six cars. There were four cars there. They made their way around them, then Quinlan turned and trained his flashlight on the license plates.

  “Look, Dillon. Good guess, huh? The bastard would have a luxury plate—BEADRMYR. So he’s still here. I wouldn’t mind running into him.”

  “Marvin would have our balls.”

  Quinlan laughed.

  Dillon used one of his lock picks to get into the door. It only took a moment.

  “You’re getting good at this.”

  “I practiced for at least six hours at Quantico. They have about three dozen kinds of locks. They use a stopwatch on you. I came in sixth.”

  “How many agents were entered?”

  “Seven. Me and six women.”

  “I want to hear more about this later.”

  They were in a long hallway, low lights giving off a dim, mellow glow. There were no names on the doors, just numbers.

  “We’ve got to get us a nurse,” Dillon said.

  They turned a corner to see a nurses’ station just ahead. There was only one woman there, reading a novel. She looked up every once in a while at the TV screen in front of her. They were nearly upon her when she saw them. She gasped, her novel dropping to the linoleum floor as she tried to scoot off her chair and run.

  Quinlan grabbed her arm and gently pressed his hand over her mouth. “We won’t hurt you. Just hold still. You got her chart, Dillon?”

  “Yep, here it is. Room 222.”

  “Sorry,” Quinlan said quietly as he struck her in the jaw. She collapsed against him and he lowered her to the floor, pushing her under the desk.

  “We passed 222. Quick, Dillon, I’ve got a feeling that our charmed existence is about to be shot down in flames.”

  They ran swiftly down the hallway, back the way they had come. “Here it is. No light. Good.”

  Quinlan slowly pushed at the door. The damned thing was locked, just as he’d known it would be. He motioned Dillon forward. Dillon examined the lock, then pulled out a pick. He didn’t say a word, just changed to another pick. After a good three minutes, the lock slid open.

  Quinlan pushed the door open. The soft light from the hallway beamed into the room, right on the face of a man who was seated on a narrow bed, leaning over a woman.

  He whipped around on the bed, half rising, his mouth open to yell.

  14

  “I DIDN’T KNOW you could move that fast,” Dillon said in admiration after Quinlan had leaped across to the bed and slammed his fist into the man’s mouth before he could let out a single sound. He dumped him off the bed to the floor.

  “Is this Sally Brainerd?”

  Quinlan looked briefly at the small man whose nose was flooding blood, then up at the woman on the bed. “It’s Sally,” he said, such rage in his voice that Dillon stared at him for a moment. “Let me get that door closed and then we’ll use our flashlights. Take the little guy and tie him up with something.”

  Quinlan shone the flashlight in her face. He was shocked at her pallor and the slackness of her flesh. “Sally,” he said, gently slapping her face.

  She didn’t respond.

  “Sally,” he said, shaking her this time. The covers slid down and he saw that she was naked. He looked over at the slight man who was now tied up as well as unconscious. Had he been planning to rape her?

  She was deeply unconscious. He shone the light on her bare arms. There were six needle marks.

  The damned bastards. “Look, Dillon. Just look what they’ve done to her.”

  Dillon ran his fingers lightly over the needle marks. “It looks like they gave her a real heavy dose this time,” he said as he leaned down and pulled up her eyelids. “Real heavy dose,” he said again. “Bloody bastards.”

  “They’ll pay. See what kind of clothes are in the closet.”

  Quinlan noticed that her hair was neatly brushed and smoothed back from her forehead. That little man who’d been leaning over her, he’d done that. Quinlan knew it. He felt himself shiver. Jesus, what went on in this place?

  “Here’s a nightgown and a robe and a pair of slippers. Nothing more.”

  Quinlan got her into the gown and robe within minutes. It was difficult dressing an unconscious person, even a small one. Finally, he lifted her over his shoulder. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

  They were through the back emergency door and nearly out the garage when the sirens went off.

  “The nurse,” Quinlan said. “We should have tied her up, dammit.”

  “We’ve got time. We’ll make it.”

  When Quinlan tired, Dillon took Sally. They were almost to the fence when the German shepherds, barking louder than the hounds of Baskerville, came racing smoothly toward them.

  Quinlan tossed out the other piece of meat. They didn’t stop to see what the dogs did with it.

  When they got to the fence, Quinlan climbed it faster than he’d ever climbed anything in his life. At the top, he straddled the fence on his belly and leaned back toward Dillon as far as he could. “Hand her up to me.”

  “She’s like a boneless Foster Farms chicken,” Dillon said, trying to get a firm grip on her. On the third try, Quinlan got hold of her wrists. He slowly pulled her up. He held her around the waist until Dillon was on top of the fence beside him. His arms were cramping by the time Dillon swiveled around and leaped to the ground. He brought her around and began to lower her. “Hurry, Quinlan, hurry. Okay, just another couple of inches. There, I’ve got her. Get down here!”

  The dogs were barking louder. The meat had stopped them for all of forty-five seconds.

  They heard several men yelling.

  Guns fired, one bullet sparked off the iron fence, so close to Quinlan’s head that he felt the searing heat from it.

  A woman’s sharp yell sounded behind the men.

  “Let’s get the hell out of here,” Quinlan said as he hefted Sally over his shoulder and ran as fast as he could toward the Oldsmobile.

  The guns didn’t stop until they’d raced around the bend and were out of sight.

  “If they let the dogs out on us, we’re in deep shit,” Dillon said.

  Quinlan hoped they didn’t. He didn’t want to shoot those beautiful dogs.

  He was relieved when they slammed the car doors some four minutes later. “Thank God for good-sized favors.”

  “You got that right. Hey, that was fun. Now, your apartment, Quinlan?”

  “Oh, no, we’re going to Delaware, just another hour up the road, Dillon. I’ll give you directions. What surprises me is that they took her back to this place at all. They must have figured I’d come here first thing. I’ll just bet you she would have been gone tomorrow morning. So, I’m not going to be as stupid. No way we’re going back to my place.”

  “You’re right. When someone hit you over the head in The Cove, he would have searched your pockets. They know you’re FBI. That’s why they didn’t kill you, I’d bet my Stair
master on it. It would have been too big a risk for them.”

  “Yeah. We’re going to my parents’ lake cottage. It’s safe. No one knows about it except you. You haven’t told anyone, have you, Dillon?”

  Dillon shook his head. “What are you going to do with her, Quinlan? This is highly irregular.”

  Quinlan was holding her in his lap, her head cradled on his arm. He’d covered her with his black jacket. It was warm in the car. “We’re going to wait until she comes out from under this drug, then see what she knows. Then we’re going to clean everything up. How’s that sound to you?”

  “Like we’ll be a couple of damned heroes.” Dillon sighed. “Brammer won’t like it. He’ll probably try to transfer us to Alaska for not being team players. But, hey, don’t sell a hero short.”

  She woke up to see a strange man looking down at her, his nose not more than six inches from hers. It took her a moment to realize that he was indeed flesh and blood and not some specter dredged up from a drugged vision. Her lips felt cracked. It was hard to make herself talk, but she did.

  “If Doctor Beadermeyer sent you, it won’t matter.” She spit on him.

  Dillon jerked back, wiped the back of his hand across his nose and cheek. “I’m a hero, not a bad guy. Beadermeyer didn’t send me.”

  Sally tried to sift through his words, make some sense of them. Her brain still felt like it wanted to sleep, like parts of it were numb, like an arm or leg that had been in a single position for too long. “You’re a hero?”

  “Yeah, a real live hero.”

  “Then James must be here.”

  “You mean Quinlan?”

  “Yes. He’s a hero too. He was the first hero I ever met. I’m sorry I spit on you, but I thought you were another one of those horrible men.”

  “It’s okay. You just lie still and I’ll get Quinlan.”

  What did he think she would do? Jump up and race out of here, wherever here was?

  “Good morning, Sally. Don’t spit on me, okay?”

  She stared up at him, so thirsty she could barely squeak out another word. Her brain was at last knitting itself back together, and all she could do was throw up her arms and pull him down to her. She said against his throat, “I knew you’d come, I just knew it. I’m so thirsty, James. Can I have some water?”

  “You all right? Really? Let me up just a little, okay?”

  “Yes. I’m so glad you’re not dead. Someone hit you and I was bending over you.” She pulled back from him, her fingers lightly tracing over the stitched wound over his left ear.

  “I’m okay—don’t worry about it.”

  “I didn’t know who’d done it to you. Then someone hit me over the head. I woke up with Beadermeyer leaning over me. I was back in that place.”

  “I know, but you’re with me now and no one can possibly find you.” He said over his shoulder, “Dillon, how about some water for the lady?”

  “It’s the drugs he gives me. They make my throat feel like a desert.”

  She felt the tightening in him at her words.

  “Here, I’ll hold the glass for you.”

  She drank her fill, then lay back and sighed. “I’ll be back to normal in about ten more minutes—at least that’s my best guess. James, who is that man I spit on?”

  “He’s a good friend of mine, name of Dillon Savich. He and I got you out of the sanitarium last night. Dillon, come and say hello to Sally.”

  “Ma’am.”

  “He said he was a hero, just like you, James.”

  “It’s possible. You can trust him, Sally.”

  She nodded, such a slight movement really, and he watched her eyes close again. “You’re not ready to eat something?”

  “No, not yet. You won’t leave, will you?”

  “Not ever.”

  He would have sworn that the corners of her mouth turned up just a bit into a very slight smile. Without thinking, he leaned down and kissed her closed mouth. “I’m glad I’ve got you again. When I woke up in David Mountebank’s house, my head pounding like a watermelon with a stake in it, he told me you were gone. I’ve never been so scared in my life. You’re not going to be out of my sight again, Sally.”

  “That sounds good to me,” she said. In the next moment, she was asleep. Not unconscious but asleep, real sleep.

  Quinlan rose and looked down at her. He straightened the light blanket over her chest. He smoothed her hair back on the pillow. He thought of that little man they’d found in her room and knew that if he ever saw him again, he’d kill him.

  And Beadermeyer. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on Dr. Beadermeyer.

  “How does it feel to be the most important person in the whole universe, Quinlan?”

  Quinlan kept smoothing down the blanket, his movements slow and calm. Finally he said, “It scares the shit out of me. You want to know something else? It doesn’t feel bad at all. How much credit am I going to have to give you?”

  That evening, the three of them were sitting on the front veranda of Quinlan’s cottage, looking out over Louise Lynn Lake. For an evening in March, it was balmy. The cottage faced west. The sun was low on the horizon, making the water ripple with golds and startling pinks.

  Quinlan said to Sally, “It’s narrow, not all that much fun for boaters unless you’re a teenager and like to play chicken. And you can see at least four different curves from here. Well, the sucker has so many curves that—”

  “So many curves that what?” Dillon asked, looking up from the smooth block of maple he was carving.

  “We are not a comedy routine,” Quinlan said, grinning to Sally. “Come on now, the lake has so many curves that it very nearly winds back onto itself.”

  Dillon said, as he watched a curling sliver of maple drift to the wooden floor, “You sometimes don’t know if you’re coming or going.”

  “You’re very good friends,” Sally said. “You know each other quite well, don’t you?”

  “Yeah, but we’re not going to get married. Quinlan snores like a pig.”

  She smiled. It was a good smile, Dillon thought, not a forced smile. Now, that showed she knew she was safe here.

  “You want some more iced tea, Sally?”

  “No, I like sucking on the ice. There’s plenty.”

  Quinlan lifted his legs and put his feet on the wooden railing that circled the front veranda. He was wearing short, scuffed black boots, old faded blue jeans that looked quite lovely on him—it was surely a shock that she could even think of something like that—and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows.

  He was also wearing a shoulder holster, and there was a gun in it. She hadn’t realized that all private investigators wore guns all the time. He was comfortable with it, like it was just another item of clothing. It looked part of him. He was long and solid and looked hard as nails. She remembered how she’d hauled his face down to hers when she’d come out of the drugged sleep. How he’d let her. How he’d kissed her when he thought she was asleep again. She’d never met a man like him before in her life—a man to trust, a man to believe, a man who cared what happened to her.

  “Has your head cleared?” Dillon asked. She turned to see him gently rubbing his thumbs over the maple, over and over and over.

  “Why are you doing that?”

  “What? Oh, it warms the wood and it makes it shine.”

  “What are you carving?”

  “You, if you don’t mind.”

  She blinked at him, swallowed a piece of ice she was sucking, and promptly fell to coughing. James leaned over and lightly slapped her between her shoulder blades.

  When she got her breath, she said, “Why ever would you want to immortalize me in any way? I’m nothing at all, nothing—”

  “Dammit, shut up, Sally.”

  “Why, James? Someone wants me out of the way, but that doesn’t make me important. It just makes what I appear to know of interest to someone.”

  “I guess maybe it’s time we got to that,” Dillon sai
d. He set down the piece of maple and turned to face Sally.

  “If we’re to help you, you must tell us everything.”

  She looked from Dillon to James. She frowned down at her hands. She carefully set the glass down on the rattan table beside her.

  She looked at James again, nodding at his shoulder holster. “I was just thinking that I never realized that private investigators wore guns all the time. But you do, don’t you? Another thing—it looks natural on you, like you were born wearing it. You’re not a private investigator, are you, James?”

  “No.”

  “Who are you?”

  He was very still, then he looked at her straight in the face and said, “My name is James Quinlan, just as I told you. What I didn’t tell you was that I’m Special Agent James Quinlan, FBI. Dillon and I have worked together for five years. We’re not really partners, since the FBI doesn’t operate that way, but we’re on a lot of cases together.

  “I came to The Cove to find you.”

  “You’re with the FBI?” Just saying the words made gooseflesh ripple over her arms, made her feel numb and cold.

  “Yes. I didn’t tell you immediately because I knew it would spook you. I wanted to get your confidence and then bring you back to Washington and clear up all the mess.”

  “You certainly succeeded in gaining my confidence, Mr. Quinlan.”

  He winced at her use of his surname. He saw that Dillon would say something, and held up his hand. “No, let me finish it. Look, Sally, I was doing my job. Things got complicated when I got to know you. And then there were the two murders in The Cove, your dear father calling you on the phone and then appearing at your bedroom window.

  “I decided not to tell you because I didn’t know what you’d do. I knew you were in possible danger and I didn’t want you running away. I knew I could protect you—”

  “You failed at that, didn’t you?”

  “Yes.” Damn, but she was angry, it was sharp and clear in her voice. He wished he could change things, but he couldn’t. He just had to try to make her understand. If he didn’t get her to come around, then what would happen?

 
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