The cove, p.22
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       The Cove, p.22

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  “Nah, I just wanted to get you in bed and make you come.”

  She hit him in the stomach.

  “Yeah, Sally, I really meant it.”

  The Bonhomie Club on Houtton Street was in an old brick building set in the middle of what they called a “border” neighborhood. It was accepted wisdom to take a cab to and from the club or else take a huge risk of losing your entire car, not just the hubcaps.

  James had never really thought about the possible dangers in this area until he handed Sally out of the cab. He looked around at the streetlights, many of them shot out.

  There was litter on the sidewalks, none in front of the club because Ms. Lilly didn’t like trash—real trash, white trash, any kind of trash.

  “Like I told you, boy,” she’d said when she hired him some four years before, “I like the look of you. No earrings, no tattoos, no bad teeth, and no paunch.

  “You’ll have to watch the gals, now, they’re a horny bunch and one look at you and they’re gonna have visions of sugar cocks dancing in their heads.” And she howled at her own humor while James, an experienced agent, a man who’d heard just about every possible combination of crude words, just stood there, embarrassed to his toes. She tweaked his earlobe between two fingers with inch-long bright-pink fingernails and laughed some more. “You’re gonna do just fine, boy, just fine.”

  And he had. At first the customers, a loyal bunch, the large majority of them black, had looked at him like he was something escaped from the zoo, but Lilly had introduced him, made three off-color jokes about his sax playing, his sex playing, and his red sox playing.

  She was one of his best friends. She’d even given him a raise in January.

  “You’ll like Ms. Lilly,” Quinlan said to Sally as he shoved open the heavy oak door of the club. “I’m her token white.” Marvin the Bouncer was just inside, a heavy scowl on his ugly face until he saw it was Quinlan.

  “Hullo Quinlan,” he said. “Who’s the chicky?”

  “The chicky is Sally. You can call her Sally, Marvin.”

  “Hello, Marvin.”

  But Marvin wasn’t up for names. He just nodded. “Ms. Lilly is back in her office playing poker with the mayor and some of his lame-assed cronies. No, James, there ain’t no drugs. You know Ms. Lilly, she’d shoot anybody before she’d let ’em take a snort.

  “She’ll be out before it’s time for you to play. As for you, Chicky, you just stay in my eyesight once James is up there wailing his heart out on the stage, all right?

  “She’s a cute little chicky, Quinlan. I’ll take care of her.”

  “I appreciate it, Marvin. She is cute, and a lot of bad people are chasing her. If you could keep an eye on her, I can wail on my sax without worry.”

  “Ms. Lilly is going to try to feed her, Quinlan. She doesn’t look like she’s had a good meal in a month. You hungry, Chicky?”

  “Not yet, but thank you, Marvin.”

  “A chicky with real good manners. It warms a man’s heart, Quinlan.”

  “Amazing,” Sally said and nothing more. But she was smiling. She gave Marvin a small wave.

  “He’ll watch over you, not to worry.”

  “Actually I hadn’t even thought about it. I can’t believe you just spit out the truth to him.”

  “Ah, Marvin didn’t believe me. He thought I was worried some guy would try to pick you up, that’s all.”

  Sally looked around the dark, smoky interior of the Bonhomie Club. “It’s got lots of character, James.”

  “It gains more by the year. I think it’s because of the aging wood. That bar is over a hundred years old. It’s Lilly’s pride. She won it in a poker game from a guy up in Boston. She always calls him Mr. Cheers.”

  “Lots of character.”

  He grinned down at her. “Tonight’s just for fun, all right? You look gorgeous, you know that? I like that sexy little top.”

  “You’re into jet beads, are you?” But she was pleased. He’d insisted on buying it for her at Macy’s. She actually smiled. She felt good, light and easy. Tonight, she thought, tonight was for fun. It had been so long. Fun. She’d simply forgotten.

  Nightmares could wait for tomorrow. Maybe when James took her home he’d want to kiss her some more, maybe even make love to her. She could still feel the warmth of his fingers on her.

  “You want a drink?”

  “I’d love a white wine. It’s been so long.”

  He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know if Fuzz the Bartender has ever heard of such a thing. You sit down and let the atmosphere soak into your bones. I’ll go see what Fuzz has got back there.”

  Fuzz the Bartender, she thought. This was a world she’d never imagined. She’d cheated herself.

  She looked up to see James gesturing back at her and an immense black man with a bald head shiny as a cue ball grinning at her, waving a dusty wine bottle. She waved back and gave a thumbs-up.

  Where did the name Fuzz come from?

  There were only about half a dozen whites in the club, four men and two women. But no one seemed to care what color anyone was.

  An Asian woman with long, board-straight black hair to her waist was playing the flute on the small wooden stage. The song was haunting and soft.

  The conversation was a steady hum, never seeming to rise or to fall. James put a glass of white wine in front of her.

  “Fuzz said he got the wine a couple of years ago from this guy who wanted whiskey but was broke. Fuzz got this bottle of wine in trade.”

  She sipped it and gulped. It was awful and she wouldn’t have traded it for a glass of Kendall-Jackson. “It’s wonderful,” she called out to Fuzz the Bartender.

  James sat beside her, a beer in his hand. “The wig’s not bad, either. A little too red for my taste, a little too curly, but it’ll do for tonight.”

  “It’s hot,” she said.

  “If you can just hold out, I’ll try to think of something indecent to do with that thing when we get home.”

  At nearly nine o’clock, he kissed her mouth, tasted the white wine, and grimaced.

  “That’s rotgut.”

  “It’s wonderful rotgut. Don’t say anything to Mr. Fuzz.”

  James laughed, swung his saxophone case off the other chair, and wove his way through the tables to the stage.

  She couldn’t take her eyes off him. He hugged the flautist, then pulled a lower stool forward to the microphone. He took his saxophone out of the case, polished it a bit with a soft cloth, checked the reed. Then he began to warm up.

  She didn’t know what she’d expected, but the sound coming out of his instrument would have made the devil weep. He played scales, bits and pieces of old songs, skipped from high notes to low ones, testing, soft, then loud.

  “So you’re the little white girl that’s hooked my Quinlan, are you?”


  “I WON’T BE so little in another six months.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “I’m not usually so skinny. I’ll fatten up.”

  “Maybe my Quinlan will even get you pregnant. You just watch out, Sally, all the ladies salivate while he’s playing. Poor boy, he tells himself it’s because of his beautiful music. And he does look so soulful while he’s playing.”

  She shook her head, her voice mournful. “I don’t have the heart to tell him it’s his sexy body and gorgeous eyes. Ah, now he’s playing Sonny Rollins, my favorite. Well, aren’t I forgetful? I’m Lilly,” the huge black woman said, grinned wide, and pumped Sally’s hand.

  “I’m Sally.”

  “I know. Fuzz told me. Then Marvin told me. They said it looks like my Quinlan has got it real bad. He’s never had it even mild before. This should be interesting. Hey, you aren’t planning on having your way with him and then kissing him off, are you?”

  “Kiss him off? Kiss off James?”

  “What I mean is, you aren’t married, are you? You’re not just using my Quinlan just to take care of your needs? I hear he’s a treat in bed, so that
would make sense, even though I don’t like it.”

  “Actually, no, I’m not going to kiss him off,” Sally said. She sipped at Mr. Fuzz’s white wine. “I like your dress. It’s magnificent.”

  Ms. Lilly preened and pressed her huge arms against her even more impressive breasts. The resulting cleavage made Sally stare. She’d never seen so much outside of a Playboy magazine.

  “You like the white satin? So do I. I hear tell that a woman built along statuesque lines like I am isn’t supposed to wear white, but hey, I like it. It makes me feel young and virginal. It makes me feel ready to go out and try a man for the first time.

  “Now, you just sit here and listen to my Quinlan. That’s Stan Getz he’s playing now. He makes old Stan sound like a sinful angel. Quinlan’s good. You really listen now, and don’t just think about having your way with him.”

  “I’ll listen good.”

  Ms. Lilly patted her on the back, nearly sending her face into the glass of wine, and moved away like a ship under sail to a booth that was very near the stage.

  Quinlan began to play a sexy, weeping, slow blues song. It sounded like John Coltrane, but she couldn’t be completely sure. It was still so new to her.

  She noticed for the first time that no one was talking. There was total quiet in the club. Everyone was focused on James.

  She watched at least four women get up and move closer to the stage. God, he played beautifully. His range was excellent, each note full and sweet, enough to break your heart. She felt a lump in her throat and swallowed. The song he was playing cried torrents, the notes sweeping lazily from a high register to low, deep notes that tore at the soul. His eyes were closed. His body was swaying slightly.

  She knew she loved him, but she wasn’t about to admit it here and now, knowing that it was his damned music that was making her feel as mushy as the grits Noelle had tried to make for her once. Men in uniforms and men playing soul music—a potent combination.

  James spoke into the microphone. He said, “This one’s for Sally. It’s from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.”

  If she’d ever doubted what he felt about her, that damned song put an end to it. She gulped down Mr. Fuzz’s white wine and her tears.

  Two more women moved closer to the stage, and Sally smiled.

  When James finished, he waved to her. Then he cleared his throat and called out, “I got a request for Charlie Parker.”

  She listened, took a last sip of Mr. Fuzz’s wine, and realized she had to go to the bathroom.

  She slipped out of her chair, looked at Fuzz the Bartender, who was pointing to an open door just beside the bar. She smiled and walked past him, saying, “Can I have another glass when I come out, Mr. Fuzz?”

  “You sure can, Sally. I’ll have it waiting.”

  When she came out of the unisex bathroom, she was smiling. She could hear James getting into his next song, one she recognized, a soft, searching song she hadn’t realized was blues.

  Suddenly she knew she wasn’t alone. She felt someone very close to her, just behind her. She heard breathing, a lot of soft breathing.

  The corridor was narrow. There hadn’t been any other women in the bathroom. But that was silly. It had to be another woman, she thought on the edge of her brain, her attention on the song James was playing.

  But it wasn’t a woman.

  It was Dr. Beadermeyer. There were two men standing just behind him. One of them was holding a needle in his hand.

  He took her arm with a lover’s light grasp. It changed quickly enough. She felt her skin pulling and sinking in at the increasing pressure of his fingers.

  With his other hand, he grabbed her jaw to hold her still. He leaned over and lightly kissed her.

  “Hello, Sally. How lovely you look, my dear. You shouldn’t be drinking, you know, it doesn’t go well with the kind of drugs your body is used to. I watched you drinking that dreadful stuff. Why are you here? I assume that man up there making a fool of himself in this backwater hole-in-the wall is James Quinlan, that FBI agent you were with in The Cove? He’s not bad-looking, Sally. Now I know he’s your lover. A man like that wouldn’t stay with a woman unless she delivered.

  “How desolate poor Scott will be when he finds out. Let’s go now, my dear girl. It’s time you came back to your little nest. A different nest. This time that bastard won’t come to get you.” It couldn’t be him, but it was. Her father was dead. Why did he still want her so badly?

  “I’ll hold her. Bring the needle. Let’s get out of this godforsaken place.”

  “I wouldn’t go to heaven with you.”

  “Of course you will, my dear girl.”

  He was gripping her arm hard now, pulling her back against him, one hand over her mouth. She shoved her right elbow hard into his stomach.

  He sucked in his breath, and she jerked free. “James! Marvin!” Then she screamed, just once before a hand smashed down over her mouth.

  “Damn it, grab her! Gag her. Give her the shot!”

  She grabbed the edge of a small table below the public telephone and gave it a shove, sending it crashing over, knocking against one of the men with Beadermeyer. She screamed once more, just a whisper of sound this time because the man’s hand was hard over her mouth, covering her nose as well and she couldn’t breathe. She was jerking, kicking back with her heels, feeling flesh, but still the man held her.

  She felt fingers fumbling around her arm.

  A needle.

  He was going to shove a needle into her arm. He was going to make her into a zombie again. She kicked back as hard as she could. For an instant the man’s hand loosened over her nose and mouth.

  She leaned down and bit the man’s hand, the hand that held that needle, and yelled again. “James!”

  The hand went back over her mouth. A man was cursing, another man was jerking at her other arm, but she managed to send her left arm back hard, hitting him in the belly. The touch of the needle fell away. She heard a thunk on the wooden floor. He’d dropped the needle.

  “I should have known you two goons would fuck it up. Pick up the damned needle, you idiot. Jesus, it’s dark in here, but not dark enough. I knew I should have just knocked her out. Or shot the little bitch. Damn, let’s just get out of here. Forget the needle, forget her.”

  It was Dr. Beadermeyer and he was furious.

  Then she heard Fuzz the Bartender yelling the ripest obscenities she’d ever heard. The man released her. She staggered, then screamed, “You’ve lost, you damned bastard. Fuck off and take your two dogs with you or James will kill you.”

  He was panting hard, enraged. “I thought it would be easy, just slip a needle into your arm. You’ve changed, Sally, but this isn’t the end of it.”

  “Oh, yes, it is. I’m going to put you out of business, you Nazi worm. I’m going to put you in jail, and I hope every one of those big inmates takes a fancy to you.”

  He raised his arm to hit her, but his two men crashed into him as they tried to get down the narrow hallway to the exit.

  “Stop it, you fools,” he screamed at them. Then they were all racing toward the back emergency exit. The door pounded open, then slammed shut.

  She looked up to see Marvin the Bouncer bolting toward her like a runaway train. She heard Fuzz the Bartender crashing through the tables, yelling even riper obscenities.

  She realized the whole incident had taken only seconds. It had seemed longer than a winter blizzard.

  She took two steps forward. She saw James leaping off the stage. She saw him pull out his gun.

  She saw Ms. Lilly pick up a baseball bat and stride toward her like an Amazon angel.

  It had all happened so quickly. Yet she’d felt the fear of a lifetime. To have a needle shoved into her arm again. No, she couldn’t have borne that, not again.

  Then she realized that the fear was dimming, releasing her, and she shook her head.

  She’d won. She’d beaten him. She wished she could have shot him. Or stuck a knife in his guts.

  Marvin the Bouncer took one quick look at her, then slammed open the emergency exit door and ran outside.

  Fuzz the Bartender streaked past her and out the door behind Marvin. She heard pounding footsteps. Lots of them. She prayed they’d catch Beadermeyer.

  She suddenly felt so weak she couldn’t hold herself up. She sank to her knees and leaned against the wall. She wrapped her arms around her bent knees and leaned her face against her legs.

  “Sally, hang on, I’ll be right back.” It was James running after Marvin and Fuzz.

  “Well, my girl, Marvin told me that James said you had bad guys after you. I don’t mind this—even though it did interrupt one of my favorite songs. What fools those guys were to try to get you here. They must have really been desperate. Either that or stupid. I’ll bet stupid.”

  Ms. Lilly shook her head, the thick black coils of hair never budging. “You ready to get up now, Sally?”

  “Is the little chicky all right?”

  “Yes, Marvin, she’s just catching her breath. I think she did a good job on those guys. I don’t suppose you nabbed the jerks?”

  “No, Ms. Lilly. We got close, but they pulled away in this big car. Quinlan put a bullet through the back windshield, but then he stopped. He said he knew who it was and he was going to get the bastard tomorrow. Then he laughed and rubbed his hands together. It was hard because he was still holding that cannon of his.”

  Marvin the Bouncer turned, “Ain’t that right, Quinlan?”

  “It was Beadermeyer, wasn’t it, Sally?”

  She raised her head. She wasn’t hyperventilating anymore. She was feeling just fine, thank you.

  Ms. Lilly grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. “There you go. Fuzz, get Sally some more of that wonderful white wine you’ve got stashed.”

  “Yes, it was Beadermeyer with two goons and a needle. I think the needle’s still over there on the floor. I managed to knock it away.”

  Marvin gave her an approving nod. “I knew you were skinny but not helpless. That was good, Chicky.”

  “Thank you, Marvin. Thank all of you.”

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