The cove, p.27
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       The Cove, p.27
 

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  “A lot like you. That’s what Mr. Brammer said.”

  She was caressing his bicep again. He flexed again. A man was a man. He guessed there was just no getting away from it.

  “He also said that you liked to play a lone hand but that he always knew what you were doing even if you would swear he didn’t know a thing.”

  “I wouldn’t doubt it, that old con man. He’s got moles everywhere.”

  “Maybe now he’s got a mole who’s living with you.”

  “That’s okay,” Quinlan said and kissed her.

  She was soft and giving, but she wasn’t with him, not yet, and he couldn’t blame her at all for that. He said against her warm mouth, “There’s only your father left, Sally. We’ll get him. He won’t get away. There’ll be a huge scandal, a big trial. Can you deal with that?”

  “Yes,” she said, her voice suddenly very cold and hard. “I can’t wait, actually. I want to face him down. I want to tell the world how he beat his wife. I want to tell the world what he did to me. James?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Was there another woman in my father’s life? Someone he was going to leave the country with?”

  “Not that we know of, but that’s a good thought. We’ll have to keep an eye on it. It’s early, very early. As I said, we have people going through every scrap of paper in your father’s house and at his office. Everything will be scrutinized.

  “You ain’t seen scrutiny until you’ve seen the FBI do it. As for our Norman Lipsy, the plastic surgeon, he won’t be going anywhere even with the best lawyers he can buy. He’ll be questioned by agents until at least next Wednesday. It doesn’t mean a thing that he hasn’t talked yet. He will. Already they’ve found more than enough evidence to convict him on innumerable counts—kidnapping, collusion, conspiracy, that’s just the beginning. Now, Sally, you’re still withdrawn from me. What is it? What’s going on?”

  “James, what if I was wrong? What if I was still drugged up so that I saw things that weren’t really there? What if it wasn’t my father running out those French doors? What if it was someone else? What if I didn’t see anybody? What if I did shoot him and all the rest—well, it’s games being played in my mind.”

  “Nah,” he said and kissed her again. “Not in a million years. If there’s one thing I know, it’s crazy. You aren’t crazy. I’ll bet you don’t even get PMS.”

  She hit his arm—he flexed the muscle—and she giggled.

  “Now that’s a wonderful sound. Just forget all that crazy stuff, Sally. You saw your father. There’s not one single doubt in my mind or in Brammer’s mind or in Dillon’s or, I’ll bet, in Ms. Lilly’s, when we tell her.

  “Your father must have stopped, seen you throw that prized pistol of his away and gone back to get it. That in itself is convincing, don’t you see? If he didn’t go back for the gun, then where is it? When we find him I’ll bet you a Mexican meal at the Cantina that he’s got that Roth-Steyr.”

  She leaned up and kissed his mouth. “Goodness, I hope so. You were so sure I’d remember.”

  “I prayed harder than I did when I was seventeen and afraid Melinda Herndon might be pregnant.”

  “I’m so glad I didn’t shoot him, regardless of the fact that I would have liked to. I wonder where he is.”

  “We’ll find him. His passport’s gone. The agents had Noelle go through his safe at home and his safety-deposit boxes. Chances are he took off to either the Grand Caymans or Switzerland—they found some bank-books from both places. We’ll get him. It won’t take long.”

  She was quiet, utterly still against him. He liked to feel her push against him, he liked her touching him. He was still on an adrenaline high, but she had to be exhausted. She’d been through quite an experience. He sighed. He settled for a light kiss on her mouth. “You ready to sleep now?”

  “I have this feeling, James,” she said slowly, her breath warm against his neck. “It’s weird and I can’t explain it, but I just don’t think he’s gone anywhere. That is, I don’t think he’s left the country. He’s here, somewhere. I just can’t imagine where. We don’t have a beach house or a mountain cabin that I know of.”

  “That’s interesting. We’ll ask Noelle tomorrow. Now come on, Sally, I’m supposed to be the one with the famous intuition, the hyper gut instinct. You trying to show me up?”

  Quinlan shifted his weight. He was still wearing his pants and shirt. He wished he wasn’t wearing anything. Sally was in one of her new nightgowns, a cotton thing that came nearly up to her chin and went down to her ankles. He wished she wasn’t wearing anything either. He sighed and kissed her right ear.

  He wished all the adrenaline in his body would clear out. He was high and horny. To distract himself, he said, “I forgot to tell you. I got a call from David Mountebank—you remember the sheriff, don’t you?”

  “He’s very nice. He took care of you.” He felt her fingertips lightly touch where the stitches had been in his head. “Hardly even a ridge now.”

  “Yes, well, he still hasn’t got a clue about the two murders, and yes, Doc Spiver was murdered, no doubt about it. He wants FBI help, officially, and he’ll get it since we’re talking about interstate shenanigans. He’s convinced everybody that the older couple—Harve and Marge Jensen—were killed around there and that all the other missing folks are linked together as well. There’ll be agents up from the Portland office, and I’ll be there from the Washington office. They’ll crawl all over that damned town.”

  She was kissing his neck, her fingers lightly tugging on his chest hair. He said slowly, “I’m going, Sally. And yes, Brammer knows I’m going. He thinks it’s a good idea. He wants me to talk to Amabel. We all want to know how she fits into all this. And, believe me, she’s got to fit in somewhere. I think you should consider coming with me, Sally.”

  He had weighed the danger of her being in that small little town on the Oregon coast against the danger of her remaining here, without him, her father still at large. No, he wanted her with him. It was the only way he could protect her. There’d be enough agents hanging around The Cove, no one would have a chance of hurting her.

  “How could she be involved, James? She loves me, doesn’t she? She took me in. She—”

  “Don’t turn blind on me now. She’s involved. When she told David and me how you would probably run because you were scared, well, then I was as sure as I could be that she was involved. How deeply, we’ll find out.”

  “I’ve got my mother back now. I’d sure like to have Aunt Amabel, too. I’m praying really hard that she isn’t involved.”

  “Not only do you have your mama back, you’ve got me, and you’ll never lose me, I swear it. And you’ll have all my family. They’re obnoxious, loving, pains in the butt, all in all a great family. Now, if Amabel is somehow involved with all this, we’ll deal with it, you and I together.”

  He felt her palm slide down his chest, felt her fingers slip inside his shirt to caress him. He nearly bowed off the bed. No, she was exhausted, he couldn’t let her do this, not now, not tonight.

  He’d made up his mind. No way was he going to rush her on this. He shook his head and said, “Sally, are you certain?”

  “Oh, yes,” she said and kissed his chest. “Let me get this shirt off you, James.”

  He laughed. He was still laughing when her mouth was on his belly, then lower, closing over him. He moaned and jerked with the power of it. He didn’t think he’d ever stop moaning, stop wanting, until he was deep inside her. That was what he wanted more than anything, to be deep inside her and for her to accept him completely, to love him, to shout it to him, and to the world.

  And when he was deep inside of her, he knew it was right, better than right. She was his lifeblood, his future. It was about the best thing he’d ever managed in his life.

  She whispered against his chest, “I love you, James.” He was shaking, heaving over her like a wild man, but she was just as wild, and that made him even wilder.

  A man, he t
hought just before his body shattered into orgasm, a man needed to belong as much as a woman. A man needed to be desired, to be cherished, as much as a woman.

  When she bit his neck, then cried out, he knew everything would be just fine. “I love you, too,” he said, his breath warm in her open mouth.

  Life, he thought, just before he fell into a deep sleep, was weird. He’d gone to The Cove to find a crazy woman who could have murdered her father.

  Instead he’d found Sally.

  Actually, life was dandy.

  26

  THE DAY WAS warm, the air salty with the ocean spray, the sun high overhead. The Cove had never looked more beautiful, Quinlan thought, as he helped Sally out of their rental car.

  “It’s a picture postcard,” she said, looking around. “There are the four old men playing cards around the barrel. Look, there are at least six cars parked in front of the World’s Greatest Ice Cream Shop. There’s Martha coming out of the Safeway with two sacks of groceries. There’s Reverend Vorhees walking with his head down like he’s got to tell someone that he’s sinned badly. How could anything bad happen here? It looks perfect. All calm, nobody running around waving an ax, yelling, no kids ruining buildings with graffiti.”

  “Yeah,” Quinlan said. He was frowning.

  “What’s wrong?”

  He just shook his head. His intuition. She poked him in the ribs. He grabbed her hand and said only, “It’s too perfect. Why is that, I wonder? How did it get to be so perfect? Look at all that paint, Sally. It’s fresh. Nothing’s run-down. Nothing’s old. Everything is in tip-top shape.

  “But enough of this postcard place. We’re meeting David and two FBI agents from the Portland office over at Thelma’s at two o’clock. It’s just about two now.”

  “I’ll meet them and then go to Amabel’s house, all right?”

  He looked worried, and she punched him again on his arm. “Do you think she’s going to lock me in a root cellar? Don’t be silly, James. She’s my aunt.”

  “Okay. I’ll be along as soon as I can. Make sure Amabel knows that.”

  David Mountebank looked tired. He looked harassed. When he introduced Quinlan to the man and woman agents, he didn’t sound like a happy camper. He sounded like he was being bossed around, which occasionally did happen when the feds came in and treated the local law as yokels. It had happened a lot in the past, but not as much now. He sure hoped that wasn’t the case here. In the sixteen-week training program at Quantico, agents were told never to usurp local prerogatives.

  Maybe he was wrong. Maybe David was just depressed about these killings. He knew he’d be as depressed as hell.

  Corey Harper and Thomas Shredder didn’t look too happy either. They all shook hands and sat down in Thelma Nettro’s parlor. Martha came in and beamed at them. “Sally. Mr. Quinlan. How nice to see you again. Now, would everyone like some coffee? And some of my special New Jersey cheesecake?”

  “New Jersey cheesecake, Martha?” Quinlan asked as he kissed her cheek.

  “It’s better than any cheesecake from New York,” she said and gave Sally a brief hug. “You folks just get on with your business. I’ll be right back.”

  “How’s Thelma doing, Martha?” Sally asked.

  “She’s primping right now. Not for you, Sally, but for Mr. Quinlan. She even had me go out and buy her some pumpkin peach lipstick, if you can imagine.” Martha tsked and left the large parlor.

  “I’d like to get to work here,” Thomas Shredder said with just enough impatience in his voice to make Quinlan want to loll back, lock his arms behind his head, and take a snooze, just to aggravate him.

  Shredder was about thirty, tall and lanky, and very intense, one of those men Quinlan tried to avoid like the plague. They made him nervous simply because they never laughed, wouldn’t know a joke if it bit them, usually saw the forest but never the individual trees.

  As for the woman, Special Agent Corey Harper, she hadn’t said anything yet. She was tall, with light hair and very pretty blue-gray eyes. She also looked eager, sitting on the edge of the sofa, her notebook on her knee, her ballpoint pen poised above an open page. She looked as if she hadn’t been out of Quantico for very long. He’d bet the Portland office was her first assignment.

  “Corey told me all the excitement you had back in Washington,” David Mountebank said, ignoring Thomas Shredder. “Jesus, that was something. You okay, Sally?”

  “Yes, fine now. They still haven’t caught my father, but James promises me they will. It’s just a matter of time.”

  Quinlan thought that Thomas Shredder was going to explode. He smiled at the man and said, “I came here looking for Sally. I was a private investigator—that was my cover—hired to locate two old people who disappeared over three years ago in this area. And that was true. These folk did disappear in this area. Funny thing was that when I started asking questions, bad things started happening. Sally, tell them about the woman’s screams.”

  She did, leaving out the fact that Amabel hadn’t believed it was really a woman screaming.

  “We came across a woman’s body the following morning when we were walking down the cliffs,” Quinlan said. “She’d been murdered and thrown off the cliffs. Not a very nice thing to do. It’s difficult not to believe that this was the same woman Sally heard screaming on two different nights. She must have been held prisoner somewhere close to Sally’s aunt’s cottage. Why was she being held prisoner? We have no idea. Now, I’m willing to wager the farm that the murders are tied directly to these missing folks.”

  “Yes, yes, we know all this,” Shredder said, and he actually swatted at Quinlan as if he were a fly to be removed from the bread.

  “We also know your opinion about this so-called tie-in. However, as yet we don’t have any real proof that there is a tie-in. What we’ve got is two murders, one a longtime local in Doc Spiver and the other a woman from the subdivision, not at all local in the same sense. What we need is a tie-in between the two of them, not between them and the disappearance of these old folk over three years ago.”

  “Well, then,” Quinlan said, “David, why don’t you bring me up-to-date. What have you done since I flew home last week?”

  Shredder interrupted, his voice fast and sharp, “Sheriff Mountebank didn’t do much of anything. Ms. Harper and I have been here since Monday, not long enough to solve the crimes yet, but we’re getting close, very close.”

  Corey Harper cleared her throat. “Actually, David had collected interviews from just about everyone in town. They’re very thorough, but no one could tell him much of anything. Everyone is shocked and very depressed about the deaths, particularly Doc Spiver’s.”

  “We’ve already started to repeat the interviews,” Thomas Shredder said. “Someone must have seen something. We’ll get it out of them. Old people have difficulty remembering unless they’re prodded just right. It takes special training to learn just how to do it.”

  “Nah,” Quinlan said. “I did it perfectly even before my training. Another thing, David knows all these people. He’d know when they were lying and what about.”

  “That remains to be seen,” Shredder said. Corey Harper looked embarrassed.

  Martha appeared in the doorway, a huge tray resting on her arms.

  Quinlan got up and took it from her. “He’s such a nice boy,” she said to Sally.

  “Right there, Mr. Quinlan. Yes, that’s right. Now, I know you don’t want me listening to all this important talk, so I’ll just leave you with everything. You’ll manage?”

  “Yes, thank you, Martha,” Quinlan said. “How’s Ed?”

  “Oh, that poor man. Thelma just won’t leave him alone. Now she’s accusing him of compromising me on the kitchen table, and she’s going to buy a shotgun. He’s in the hospital right now having tests for that prostate of his. Poor man.”

  Thomas Shredder looked at Corey Harper, then at the tray. She bit her lip and began to place cups on saucers. Quinlan grinned at her and began to do the same. Sally
poured a cup and said, “Cream, David?”

  Thomas Shredder sat there while everyone served each other. Quinlan gave him a big grin and pointed to the last cup on the tray. “Help yourself, Thomas. Ah, best hurry—I bet these New Jersey cheesecakes are going to be inhaled.”

  “My, this is beyond delicious,” Corey Harper said and took the last bite of her slice of cheesecake.

  “James and I want to ask Martha to come back to Washington with us,” said Sally. “She’s the best cook I know. Her pasta makes you weep.”

  Quinlan knew that Shredder was going to blow up any minute. Well, he’d pushed the ass far enough. He said easily, “Forget the interviews, Thomas. We need to come at this from another angle. I know it sounds weird that the missing persons would have anything to do with the two murders, but the thing is that up until about the time Marge and Harve Jensen disappeared, The Cove was a run-down old shanty of a town. No paint on anything, potholes in the road, fences falling over, even the trees sagging, all the kids gone, just old people left, living on Social Security. My question is, why is The Cove so different now from what it was three years ago? Why did everything here begin to wake up about the same time that Harve and Marge disappeared?”

  “My God,” Corey said. “I didn’t realize the timing.”

  “I did,” David said, “but I never questioned it, Quinlan, for the simple reason that it was common knowledge that Doc Spiver had come into a lot of money right around then. Since he didn’t have any heirs, he invested the money and used all the proceeds to improve the town. But you don’t think so, Quinlan?”

  “I think it’s worth checking into, closely. I remember you telling me that in Doc Spiver’s will he left his estate to the town and it amounted to about twenty thousand dollars. If he was that low, then the town would start sliding again, really soon, don’t you think? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

 
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