The cove, p.16
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       The Cove, p.16
 

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  She rose slowly to her feet. She was wearing blue jeans that looked like a second skin. Dillon had misjudged and bought her a pair of girl’s jeans at the Kmart in the closest town, Glenberg. Even the blouse was tight, the buttons pulling apart.

  The look on her face was remote, distant, as if she really weren’t standing on the old veranda any longer, between the two of them. She said nothing for a very long time, just stared at the lake. Finally she said, “Thank you for getting me out of that place last night. He wouldn’t leave my head clear enough so I could figure out how to escape again. I don’t think I would ever have gotten free. I owe you both a lot for that. But now I’m leaving. I have a good number of things to resolve. Good-bye, James.”

  15

  “YOU’RE NOT LEAVING, Sally. I can’t let you leave.”

  She gave him a look that was so immensely damning of what he was and what he’d done, he couldn’t stand it.

  “Listen, Sally, please. I’m sorry. I did what I believed was right. I couldn’t tell you, please understand that. You were coming to trust me. I couldn’t take a chance that you’d react the way you’re reacting now.”

  She laughed. Just laughed. She said nothing at all.

  Dillon rose, saying, “I’m going for a walk. I’ll be back to make dinner in an hour.”

  Sally watched him stride down the narrow trail toward the water. She supposed he was a fine-looking man, not as fine-looking as James, of course. She didn’t like all his bulging muscles, but she supposed some people did.

  “Sally.”

  She didn’t want to turn back to him. She didn’t want to speak to him anymore, give him any of her attention, listen to his damning words that made so much sense to him and had utterly destroyed her.

  No, she’d rather watch Dillon, or the two boats that were rocking lazily in the smooth evening waters. It would be sunset soon. The water was beginning to be the color of cherries.

  “Sally, I can’t let you leave. Besides, where would you go? I don’t know where you’d be safe. You thought you’d have a refuge in The Cove. You didn’t. Your dear auntie Amabel was in on it.”

  “No, that’s impossible.”

  “Believe it. I have no reason to lie to you. David and I both visited her after I got on my feet again. She claimed you’d seen me unconscious and decided to run away. She said that you had probably run to Alaska, that you couldn’t go to Mexico because you didn’t have a passport. She said that you’d been ill—in an institution—as a matter of fact and that you were still unstable, still very weak in the head. My gut tells me that your auntie is in this mess up to her eyeballs.”

  “She welcomed me. She was sincere. You’re wrong, James, or you’re just plain lying.”

  “Maybe she was sincere at first. But then someone got to her. What about the two murders in The Cove, Sally? The woman’s screams you heard that Amabel claimed were a result of the wind, that or the result of you being so bloody nuts.”

  “So you used those old people—Marge and Harve, who drove to The Cove in their Winnebago and then disappeared—as your, what do you call it? Oh, yes, your cover. The sheriff believed you completely, didn’t he?”

  “Yes, he did. And what’s more, the investigation will open again, since a whole bunch of other folk have disappeared in that area as well. Being a PI hired by their son from L.A. was my cover. It worked. After the murders happened, I didn’t know what to think. I knew it couldn’t have anything to do with you directly.”

  He stopped, plowing his fingers through his hair. “Damn, we’re getting off the subject, Sally. Forget about The Cove. Just forget Amabel. She and her town are three thousand miles away. I want you to try to understand why I did what I did. I want you to understand why I had to keep silent about who I really am and why I was at The Cove.”

  “You want me to agree that it was fine for you to lie to me, to manipulate me?”

  “Yes. You lied to me as well, if you’ll recall. All you had to do was scream your head off when your so-called father called you, and I was manipulated up to my ears. A beautiful woman appealing to my macho side. Yeah, I was hooked from that moment.”

  She was staring at him as if he’d lost his mind.

  “Jesus, Sally, I came flying into the room like a madman to see you on the floor, staring at that damned phone like it was a snake ready to bite you, and I was a goner.”

  She waved away his words. “Someone was after me, James. Nobody was after you.”

  “It didn’t matter.”

  She began to laugh. “Actually there were two someones after me, and you were the second, only I was too stupid, too pathetically grateful to you, to realize it. I’m leaving, James. I don’t want to see you again. I can’t believe I thought you were a hero. God, when will I stop being such a credulous fool?”

  “Where will you go?”

  “That’s none of your business, Mr. Quinlan. None of what I do is any of your business anymore.”

  “The hell it isn’t. Listen, Sally. Tell me the truth about something. When Dillon and I got into your room at the sanitarium, there was this pathetic little guy who looked crazy as a loon sitting on the bed beside you, looking down at you. Did he ever hurt you? Beat you? Rape you?”

  “Holland was there in my room?”

  “Yeah, you were naked and he was leaning down over you. I think he’d combed and straightened your hair. Did he rape you?”

  “No,” she said in a remote voice. “No one raped me. As for Holland, he did other things, that Beadermeyer told him to do. He never hurt me, just—well, that’s not important.”

  “Then who the hell did hurt you? That bloody Beadermeyer? Your husband? Who was that man you told me about in your nightmare?”

  She gave him a long look, and again that look was filled with quiet rage. “You are nothing more to me. None of this is any of your business. Go to hell, James.”

  She turned away from him and walked down the wooden steps. It was chilly now. She wasn’t wearing anything but that too-small shirt and jeans.

  “Come back, Sally. I can’t let you go. I won’t let you go. I won’t see you hurt again.”

  She didn’t even slow down, just kept walking, in sneakers that were probably too small for her as well. He didn’t want her to get blisters. He’d planned to go shopping for her tomorrow, to buy her some clothes that fit her, to—damn, he was losing it.

  He saw Dillon standing near the water line, unaware that she was walking away.

  “Sally, you don’t know where you are. You don’t have any money.”

  Then she did stop. She was smiling as she turned to face him. “You’re right, but it shouldn’t be a problem for long. I really don’t think that I’m afraid of any man anymore. Don’t worry. I’ll get enough money to get back to Washington.”

  It sent him right over the edge. He slammed his hand down on the railing and vaulted over it to land lightly only three feet away from her. “No one will ever hurt you again. You will not take the chance of some asshole raping you. You will stay with me until this is over. Then I’ll let you go if you don’t want to stay.”

  She began to laugh. Her body shook with her laughter. She sank slowly to her knees, hugging herself, laughing and laughing.

  “Sally!”

  She stared up at him, her palms on her thighs. She laughed, then said, “Let me go? You’d keep me if I didn’t want to leave? Like some sort of pathetic stray? That’s good, James. I haven’t known a single person for a very long time who cared one whit about anyone, including me, not that it mattered. Please, no more lies.

  “I’m a case for you, nothing more. If you solve it, just think of your reputation. The FBI will probably make you director. They’ll kiss your feet. The president will give you a medal.”

  She gasped, out of breath now, hiccupping through the laughter that welled up from her throat. “You should have believed my file, James. Yes, I’m sure the FBI had a very thick file on me, particularly my stint in the loony bin. I’m crazy, James. No
one should believe I’m a credible witness, despite the fact that you want very badly to have someone to lock up, anyone.

  “I won’t tell you anything. I don’t trust you, but I do owe you for rescuing me from that place. Now let me go before something horrible happens.”

  He came down on his knees in front of her. Very slowly, he pulled her arms to her sides. He brought her forward until her face was resting against his shoulder. He rubbed his hands up and down her back. “It’s going to be all right, I swear it to you. I swear I won’t fuck up again.”

  She didn’t move, didn’t settle against him, didn’t release the terrible rage that had been deep inside her for so long she didn’t know if she could ever confront it, or speak about it, because it could very well destroy her, and the sheer magnitude of it would destroy others as well.

  It bubbled deep, that rage, and now with it was a shattering sense of betrayal. She’d trusted him and he’d betrayed her. She felt stupid for having believed him so quickly, so completely.

  Sally marveled that she felt such passion, such a hideous need to hurt as she’d been hurt. She’d thought he’d drained such savage feelings out of her long ago. It felt incredible to feel rage again, to feel sweat rise on her flesh, to want to do something, to want vengeance. Yes, she wanted vengeance.

  She just lay against him, thinking, wondering, calming herself, and in the end of it all, she still didn’t know what to do.

  “You’ve got to help me now, Sally.”

  “If I don’t, then you’ll take me to the FBI dungeon and they’ll give me more drugs to make me tell the truth?”

  “No, but the FBI will get all the truth sooner or later. We usually do. Your father’s murder is a very big deal, not just his murder but lots of other things that are connected to it. Lots of folk want to be in on catching his murderer. It’s important for a lot of reasons. No more crap about you not being credible. If you’ll just help me now, you’ll be free of all this evil.”

  “Funny that you call it evil.”

  “I don’t know why I did. That sounds a bit melodramatic, but somehow it just came out. Is it evil, Sally?”

  She said nothing, just stared ahead, her thoughts far away from him, and he hated it. He wanted to know what was going through her mind. He imagined it wasn’t pleasant.

  “If you help me, I’ll get your passport and take you to Mexico.”

  That brought her back for a moment. She said with a quirky smile that she probably hadn’t worn on her face in a very long time, “I don’t want to go to Mexico. I’ve been there three times and got vilely sick all three times.”

  “There’s this drug you can take before going. It’s supposed to keep your innards safe from the foreign bugs. I used it once when I went down to La Paz on a fishing trip with my buddies and I never got sick and we were on the water most of the time.”

  “I can’t imagine you ever getting sick from anything. No bug would want to take up residence inside you. Too little to show for it.”

  “You’re talking to me.”

  “Oh, yes. Talking calms me. It makes all that bile settle down a bit. And just listen to you, talking to the little victim, trying to soothe and calm her, gain her trust. You’re really very good, the way you use your voice, your tone, your choice of words.

  “Forget it, James. I’ve got even more to say. In fact, I think I’ve got it all together now.

  “If you’ll notice, Mr. Quinlan, I’ve got your gun pointed at your belly. Try to squeeze me or hurt me or jerk it away from me with one of your fancy moves, and I’ll pull the trigger.”

  He felt then the nose of his SIG-sauer pressing against his gut. He hadn’t felt it even a second before. How the hell had she gotten it out of his shoulder holster? The fact that she’d gotten it without his realizing it scared him more than knowing the pistol had a hair trigger and her finger was on it.

  He said against her hair, “I guess this means you’re still pissed at me, huh?”

  “Yes.”

  “I guess this means you don’t want to talk about Mexico anymore? You don’t like deep-sea fishing?”

  “I’ve never done it. But no, the time for talking is over.”

  He said very quietly and slowly, “That gun is perfectly balanced and will respond practically to your thoughts. Please be careful, Sally, don’t think any violent thoughts, okay?”

  “I’ll try not to, but don’t push me. Now, James, just fall over onto your back and don’t even think about kicking out with your feet. No, don’t stiffen up like that or I’ll shoot you. I’ve got nothing to lose, don’t ever forget that.”

  “It’s not a good idea, Sally. Let’s talk some more.”

  “FALL ON YOUR BACK!”

  “Well, hell.” He dropped his arms to his sides as he keeled over backward. He could have tried kicking up, but he couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t hurt her badly. He lay on his back watching her rise to stand over him, the pistol in her hand. She looked very proficient with that damned gun. She never looked away from him, not even for an instant.

  “Have you ever fired a gun before?”

  “Oh, yes. You needn’t worry that I’ll shoot myself in the foot. Now, James, don’t even twitch.” She backed away from him, up the steps to the veranda. She got his jacket, felt inside the breast pocket and found his wallet. “I hope you’ve got enough money,” she said.

  “I went to the cash machine just before coming to rescue you, dammit.”

  “That was nice of you. Don’t worry, James.” She gave him a small salute with his gun, then threw his jacket over her arm. “Dillon will be back soon to make your dinner. I think I heard him talking about some halibut. The lake doesn’t look polluted, so maybe it won’t poison you. Did I ever tell you that my father headed up this citizens’ committee that was always haranguing against pollution?

  “I even wrote a paper about it, and President Reagan even told me how excellent it was. But who cares, when it comes right down to it? No, don’t say it. I’m talking. It feels rather good actually. So you see, no matter what else the bastard did, he did accomplish some good.

  “Oh, yeah, Mr. Quinlan, you wanted to know all the juicy details about who did what to me in the sanitarium. You’re dying to know who did it, who put me there. Well, it wasn’t Dr. Beadermeyer or my husband. It was my father.”

  And how, she wondered, could she ever get vengeance on a dead man? She was off in a flash, running faster than he’d thought she could, dust kicking up behind her sneakers.

  She was at the car when he jumped to his feet. He didn’t think, just sprinted as fast as he could toward the Oldsmobile. He saw her stop by the driver’s door and aim quickly, then he felt the dirt spray his jeans leg as a bullet kicked up not a foot from his right boot. Then she was inside. The car engine revved. God, she was fast.

  He watched her throw the car in reverse, watched her back it out of the narrow driveway onto the small country road. She did it well, coming close to that elm tree but not touching the paint job on the car, which was nice of her because the government was never pleased when it had to repaint bureau cars.

  He was running after her again, knowing he had to do something, but not knowing what, just accepting that he was a fool and an incompetent ass and running, running.

  Her father had beat her and fondled her and humiliated her in the sanitarium? He’d been the one to put her there in the first place?

  Why?

  It was nuts, the whole thing. And that’s why she hadn’t told him. Her father was dead, couldn’t be grilled, and the whole thing did sound crazy.

  “Rein in, Quinlan,” Dillon shouted from behind him. “Come on back. She’s well and truly gone.”

  He turned to see Dillon run up behind him. “Last time I checked your speed on the track you couldn’t beat an accelerating Olds.”

  “Yeah, yeah. Damn, it’s all my fault. You don’t have to say it.”

  “There’s hardly any need to say it. How did she get your gun?”

  Q
uinlan turned to his longtime friend, shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans, and said in the most bewildered voice Dillon had ever heard from him, “I was holding her against me, trying to make her understand that I’d done what I had to do and I wasn’t betraying her, really I wasn’t, and I thought perhaps she was coming around.

  “Looks like I really screwed up on this one. I never felt a thing. Nothing. Then she told me she was pointing the gun in my gut. She was.”

  “I don’t think I like having a partner who’s so besotted that he can’t even keep his own gun in his holster.”

  “Is that some sort of weird sexual innuendo?”

  “Not at all. Let’s get to the phone. I sure hope she didn’t think to cut the wire.”

  “She never went inside the cottage.”

  “Thank God for small favors. It’s about time we got one.”

  Quinlan said, “Are your connections good enough to get us another one?”

  “If not, I’ll call my aunt Paulie. Between her and Uncle Abe, they’ve got more connections than the pope.”

  16

  SHE KNEW JAMES would come here, maybe not immediately, but soon enough. She also knew she had time. Too bad she hadn’t thought to pull the telephone cord out of the wall. That would have really slowed him up. But she had enough of a head start.

  She pulled the Oldsmobile into an empty parking spot just off Cooperton Street. She locked the door and walked slowly, wearing James’s jacket, which should make her look very hip, toward number 337, the gracious Georgian red-brick home on Lark Street. Lights were on downstairs. She prayed Noelle was there and not the police or the FBI.

  She huddled low and ran along the tap line of shrubbery toward the downstairs library. Her father’s office. The room where she’d first seen her father strike her mother. That had been ten years ago. Ten years. What had happened to those years? College, with nightly phone calls and more visits than she cared to make, even unexpected visits during the week to make sure her father wasn’t beating her mother.

 
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