The cove, p.19
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       The Cove, p.19

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  They stayed at a Quality Inn, an approved lodging for FBI agents. Thirty minutes later, Quinlan was staring at the phone, just staring, so surprised he couldn’t move.

  “You found her? This fast?”

  “She’s not five miles from here, at a motel called the Last Stop. She didn’t use her real name, but the old man thought she looked strange, what with that man’s coat she was wearing and those tight clothes he said made her look like a hooker except he knew she wasn’t, and that’s why he let her stay. He said she looked scared and lost.”

  “Glory be,” Dillon said. “I’m not all that tired anymore, Quinlan.”

  “Let’s go.”


  SALLY TOOK OFF her clothes—peeled the jeans off, truth be told, because they were so tight—and lay on the bed in her full-cut girl’s cotton panties that Dillon had bought for her. She didn’t have a bra, which was why she had to keep James’s coat on. The bra Dillon had bought—a training bra—she could have used when she was eleven years old.

  The bed was wonderful, firm—well, all right, hard as a rock, but that was better than falling into a trough. She closed her eyes.

  She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. Through the cheap drapes she could see an all-night flashing neon sign: HOT HARVEY’S TOPLESS GIRLS.

  Great part of town she’d chosen.

  She closed her eyes again, turned on her side, and wondered where James was. In Washington? She wondered what Noelle had said to him and Dillon. Why hadn’t Noelle told her the truth about that night? Maybe she would have if there’d been more time. Maybe. Had Noelle told her the truth, that both her father and her husband had conspired to put her in Beadermeyer’s sanitarium? Both of them? And Noelle had bought it?

  She wondered if her grandparents had called Doctor Beadermeyer, and if the Nazi was on his way to Philadelphia. No, he’d wait. He wouldn’t want to chase shadows, and that’s exactly what she was and planned to be. No one could catch her now. The three hundred dollars would get her to Maine. She’d go to Bar Harbor, get a job, and survive. The tourists would flow in in only three months, then she would have more cover than she’d ever need. No one would find her there. She knew she was seeing Bar Harbor through a seven-year-old’s eyes, but it had been so magical; surely it couldn’t be all that different now.

  Where was James? He was close, she just knew it. She hadn’t exactly felt him close, but as she’d told her grandparents, he was smarter than he had a right to be.

  She devoutly hoped he was at home in Washington, in bed fast asleep, the way she should be right now but wasn’t. How close was he?

  “Damnation,” she said aloud. She thought about it a few more minutes, then got out of bed. She would just get to Bar Harbor sooner than expected. Still, she’d spent $27.52 on this room. To waste that money was appalling, but she couldn’t sleep.

  She was out of the room within five minutes. She revved up her motorcycle and swung back onto the road, the garish lights from Hot Harvey’s Topless Girls haloing around her helmeted head. It was odd, she thought, as she passed a Chevrolet—she would have sworn that James was nearby. But that wasn’t possible.

  James was the navigator and on the lookout for the Last Stop Motel. When she pulled out not fifty feet ahead of them, at first he couldn’t believe it. He shouted, “Good God. Wait, Dillon, wait. Stop.”

  “Why, what’s wrong?”

  “My God, it’s Sally.”

  “What Sally? Where?”

  “On the motorcycle. I’d recognize my coat anywhere. She didn’t buy a clunker, she bought a motorcycle. Let’s go, Dillon. Jesus, what if we’d been thirty seconds later?”

  “You’re sure? That’s Sally on that motorcycle? Yeah, you’re right, that is your coat. It looks moth-eaten even from here. How do you want me to curb her in? It could be dangerous, what with her on that damned bike.”

  “Hang back for a while and let’s think about this.”

  Dillon kept the Porsche a good fifty feet behind Sally.

  “That was a smart thing she did,” Dillon said. “ Buying a motorcycle.”

  “They’re dangerous as hell. She could break her neck riding that thing.”

  “Stop sounding like you’re her husband, Quinlan.”

  “You want me to break your upper lip? Hey, what’s going on here?”

  Four motorcycles passed the Porsche and accelerated toward the single motorcycle ahead.

  “Damn,” Dillon said. “This is all we need. A gang, you think?”

  “Why not? Our luck has sucked so far. How many rounds of ammunition do you have?”

  “Enough,” Dillon said briefly, his hands still loose and relaxed on the steering wheel, his eyes never leaving the road ahead. Traffic was very light going out of Philadelphia at this time of night.

  “You feeling like the Lone Ranger again?”

  “Why not?”

  The four motorcycles formed a phalanx around Sally.

  Just don’t panic, Sally, Quinlan said over and over to himself. Just don’t panic.

  She’d never been so scared in her life. She had to laugh at that. Well, to tell the truth, at least she hadn’t been this scared in the last five hours. Four of them, all guys, all riding gigantic Harleys, all of them in dark leather jackets. None of them was wearing a helmet. She should tell them they were stupid not to wear helmets. Maybe they didn’t realize she was female. She felt her hair slapping against her shoulders. So much for that prayer.

  What to do? More to the point, what would James do?

  He’d say she was outnumbered and to get the hell out of there. She twisted the accelerator grip hard, but the four of them did the same, seemingly content for the moment just to keep their positions, hemming her in and scaring the hell out of her.

  She thought of her precious two hundred and seventy something dollars, all the money she had in the world. No, she wouldn’t let them take that money. It was all she had.

  She shouted to the guy next to her, “What do you want? Go away!”

  The guy just laughed and called out, “Come with us. We’ve got a place up ahead you’ll like.”

  She yelled, “No, go away!” Was the idiot serious? He wasn’t a fat, revolting biker, like the stereotype was usually painted. He was lean, his hair was cut short, and he was wearing glasses.

  He swerved his bike in closer, not a foot from her now. He called out, “Don’t be afraid. Come with us. We’re turning off at the next right. Al—the guy on your right—he’s got a nice cozy little place not five miles from here. You could spend some time with us, maybe sack out. We figure you must have rolled some guy for that coat, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Hey, we’re good solid citizens. We promise.”

  “Yeah, right,” she shouted, “just like the pope. You want me to come with you so you can rob me and rape me and probably kill me. Go to hell, buster!”

  She sped up. The bike shot forward. She could have sworn she heard laughter behind her. She felt the gun in James’s coat pocket. She leaned down close to the handlebars and prayed.

  “Let’s go, Dillon.”

  Dillon accelerated the Porsche and honked at the bikers, who swerved to the side of the highway. They heard curses and shouts behind them. Quinlan just grinned.

  “Let’s just keep us between her and the bikers,” Quinlan said. “What do you think, Dillon? Are we going to have to follow her until she runs out of gas?”

  “I can get ahead of her, brake hard, and swing the car across the road in front of her.”

  “Not with the bikers still back there, we can’t. Just stay close.”

  “In exactly one more minute she’s going to look back,” Dillon said.

  “She’s never seen the Porsche.”

  “Great. So she’ll think not only some insane bikers are after her but also a guy in a sexy red Porsche.”

  “If I were her, I’d opt for you.”

  Why didn’t the car pass her?

  She pulled even further over toward the shoulder. Still the
car didn’t pull around. There were two bloody lanes. There were no other cars around. Did the idiot want three lanes?

  Then something slammed into her belly. The guy in that Porsche was after her. Who was he? He had to be connected with Quinlan—she’d bet her last dime on it.

  Why hadn’t she stayed in her motel room, quiet on that nice hard bed, and counted sheep? That’s probably what James would have done, but no, she had to come out on a motorcycle after midnight.

  Then she saw a small, gaping hole in the guardrail that separated the eastbound lanes from the westbound. She didn’t think, just swerved over in a tight arc and flew through that opening. There was a honk behind her from a motorist who barely missed her. He cursed at her out his window as he flew by.

  There was lots of traffic going back into Philadelphia. She was safer now.

  “Jesus, I can’t believe she did that,” James said, his heart pounding so loud in his chest that it hurt. “Did you see that opening? It couldn’t have been more than a foot. I’m going to have to yell at her when we catch her.”

  “Well, she made it. Looked just like a pro. You told me she had grit. I’d say more likely she’s got nerves of steel or the luck of the Irish. And yeah, you’re sounding like you’re her husband again. Stop it, Quinlan. It scares me.”

  “Nothing short of a howitzer firing would scare you. Pay attention now and stop analyzing everything I say. We’ll get her, Dillon; there’s a cut-through just ahead.”

  It took them some time to get her back in view. She was weaving in and out of the thicker traffic going back into the city.

  “Hellfire,” Quinlan said over and over, knowing that at any instant someone could cut her off, someone else wouldn’t even see her and would change lanes and crush her between two cars.

  “At least she thinks she’s lost us,” Dillon said. “I wonder who she thought we were?”

  “I wouldn’t be surprised if she guessed it was me.”

  “Nah, how could that be possible?”

  “It’s my gut talking to me again. Yeah, she probably knows, and that’s why she’s driving like a bat out of hell. Jesus, look out, Dillon, oh, my God! Hey, watch out, bubba!” Quinlan rolled down the window and yelled at the man again. He turned back to Dillon. “Damned Pennsylvania drivers. Now, how are we going to get her?”

  “Let’s just tail her until we get an opportunity.”

  “I don’t like it. Oh, shit, Dillon, the bikers are back, all four of them.”

  The four bikers fanned through the traffic, coming back together when there was a break, then fanning out again.

  Sally was feeling good. She was feeling smart. She’d gotten them, that jerk driving that Porsche and the four bikers. She’d gone through that opening without hesitation, and she’d done it without any problem. It was a good thing she hadn’t had time to think about it, otherwise she would have wet her pants. She was grinning, the wind hitting hard against her teeth, making them tingle. However, she was going the wrong direction.

  She looked at the upcoming road sign. There was a turn onto Maitland Road half a mile ahead. She didn’t know where Maitland Road went, but from what she could see, it wove back underneath the highway. That meant a way back east.

  She guided her bike over to the far right lane. A car honked, and she could have sworn she felt the heat of it as it roared past her. Never again, she thought, never again would she get on a motorcycle.

  Although why not? She was a pro.

  She’d driven a Honda 350, just like this one, for two years, beginning when she was sixteen. When she told her father she was moving back home, he refused to buy her the car he’d promised. The motorcycle was for the interim. She saved her money and got the red Honda, a wonderful bike. She remembered how infuriated her father had been. He’d even forbidden her to get near a motorcycle.

  She’d ignored him.

  He’d grounded her.

  She hadn’t cared. She didn’t want to leave her mother in any case. Then he’d just shut up about it. She had the sneaking suspicion that he wouldn’t have cared if she’d killed herself on the thing.

  Not that it mattered. He’d gotten his revenge.

  She didn’t want to think about that.

  She took the turn onto Maitland Road. Soon now, she’d be going back in the other direction, and no one would be after her this time. The road was dark, no lights at all. It was windy. There were thick, tall bushes on both sides. There was no one on the road. What had she done? She smelled the fear on herself. Why the hell had she turned off? James wouldn’t have turned off.

  She was a fool, an idiot, and she’d pay for it.

  It happened so fast she didn’t even have time to yell or feel scared. She saw the lead biker on her left, waving to her, calling to her, but she couldn’t understand his words. She jerked her bike to the right, hit a gravel patch, slid into a skid, and lost control. She went flying over the top of the bike and landed on the side of the two-lane road, not on the road but in the bushes that lined the road.

  She felt like a meteor had hit her—a circle of blinding lights and a whoosh of pain—then darkness blacker than her father’s soul.

  Quinlan didn’t want to believe what he’d just seen. “Dillon, Jesus, she’s hurt. Hurry, dammit, hurry.”

  The Porsche screeched to a halt not six feet from where the four bikers were standing over Sally. One of them, tall, lanky, short hair, was bending over her.

  “Okay, guys,” Quinlan said, “back off now.”

  Three of them twisted around to see two guns pointed at them. “We’re FBI and we want you out of here in three seconds.”

  “Not yet.” It was the lead biker, who was now on his knees beside her.

  “What are you doing to her?”

  “I’m a doctor—well, not fully trained, but I am an intern. Simpson’s the name. I’m just trying to see how badly hurt she is.”

  “Since you’re the one that knocked her off the road, that sounds weird.”

  “We didn’t force her off the road. She went into a skid. Actually, we followed because we saw you go back after her. Hey, man, we just want to help her.”

  “As I said, we’re FBI,” Quinlan repeated, looking at the man. “Listen, she’s a criminal. A big-time counterfeiter. Is she going to be all right? Can you tell if she broke anything? Dillon, keep an eye on these bozos.”

  Quinlan dropped to his knees. “Can I take off her helmet?”

  “No, let me. I guess maybe we should wear helmets. If she hadn’t had one on, she might have scrambled her brains and not necessarily left them inside her head. You’re really FBI? She’s really a criminal?”

  “Of course she is. What are you doing? Okay, you’re seeing if her arms are broken. She’d better be all right or I’ll have to flatten you. You scared the shit out of her. Yeah, she’s your typical criminal type. Why isn’t she conscious yet?”

  At that moment Sally moaned and opened her eyes. It was dark. She heard men’s voices, lots of them. Then she heard James.

  “No,” she said. “No, it’s not possible you caught me. I didn’t think it could be you. I was wrong again.”

  He leaned down over her and said one inch from her nose, “I caught you, all right. And this is the last time I’m going to do it. Now just be quiet and lie still.”

  “I wouldn’t have guessed she was a criminal,” Simpson said. “She looks as innocent and sweet as my kid sister.”

  “Yeah, well, you never know. It’s taken us a long time to catch up with her. We didn’t know she’d gotten hold of a bike. She was in a car six hours ago.

  “All right, Sally, are you all right? Anything hurt? Nothing’s broken, right? Can’t you take off her helmet now?”

  “Okay, but let’s do it real carefully.”

  Once the helmet was off, she breathed a sigh of relief. “My head hurts,” she said. “Nothing else does except my shoulder. Is it broken?”

  The biker felt it very gently. “No, not even dislocated. You probably landed on i
t. It’ll be sore for a while. I think you should go to the hospital and make sure there are no internal injuries.”

  “No,” she said. “I want to get on my bike and get out of here. I’ve got to get away from this man. He betrayed me.”

  “What do you mean, he betrayed you?”

  “He drew me in and made me trust him. I even slept with him one night, but that was in Oregon. Then he had the gall to tell me he’d lied to me, he was an FBI agent. He told me that here, not in Oregon.”

  “You’re sure her brains aren’t scrambled?” Dillon asked, pressing a bit closer.

  “She made perfectly good sense,” Quinlan said. “If you can’t add anything sensible, Dillon, just keep quiet.”

  Quinlan touched the biker’s arm. “Thanks for your help. The four of you can go now.”

  “Can I see identification?”

  Quinlan smiled through his teeth. “Sure thing. Dillon, show the man our ID again. He didn’t get a good enough look the first time.”

  The biker studied it closely, then nodded. He looked back down at Sally, who’d propped herself up on her elbows. “I still can’t believe she’s a crook.”

  “You should see her grandmother. A glacier, that old lady. She’s the head of the counterfeiting ring. Leads her husband around by the ear. She’s a terror, and this one is going to be just like her.”

  Once the bikers had roared off, Quinlan said to Sally, “We’re going to take you to the hospital now.”


  “Don’t be an idiot. You could have hurt your innards.”

  “If you force me to a hospital, I’ll announce to the world who I am and who you are.”

  “No, you won’t.”

  “Try me.”

  He realized he was being blackmailed, but not for anything he had done. She would be the only one to be hurt if she did as she promised. He believed her.

  “How are you, Sally?”

  “Dillon? You were the jerk driving the Porsche? And James was sitting right beside you telling you what to do. I should have known. Well, I did know, deep down.”

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