The cove, p.32
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       The Cove, p.32
 

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  “They’re stupid, all of them,” Amory said. He shrugged. “I know things will get even more difficult, but we’ll deal with it. Actually I’ve already set things in motion. It’s true I just didn’t count on that bastard getting you away from Doctor Beadermeyer again. That’s what ripped it apart. All my plans, Sally, everything has had to be rearranged. It has put me out. Now I’m no longer dead, thanks to the two of you. Now I’ll have to leave the country forever.”

  “Just try it. They’ll catch you. With those arms sales to Hussein, you’ve got the Feds ready to tear the world apart looking for you.”

  “I know. Such a pity. But it will be fine. I got most of my money out of the Caymans and Switzerland nearly a year ago. I left just a bit in all those foreign accounts, just to tantalize the Feds, just so they’d realize I knew exactly what I was doing. It will make them crazy, and they won’t catch me.”

  “James will catch you.”

  “Your James Quinlan isn’t going to catch a cold. He won’t have time before he’s sent six feet under.”

  She felt such rage she couldn’t stop herself. She heaved up, hitting him in the face with her bound fists. Hard. He cursed, shoving her back, his own fist raised.

  She heard Amabel yell, “Don’t, Amory!”

  But that fist just kept coming down, not toward her face but toward her ribs.

  31

  “WELL, HELL,” QUINLAN said.“ Sorry, guys, but the old codgers were thorough. My army knife is gone. I always taped it to my ankle. Damn.”

  Thomas said, “Damn is right. Corey, what are you doing? Why are you heaving around like a gutted fish? Why are you making those weird groaning sounds?”

  She was breathing hard. “You’ll see. I didn’t count on Quinlan finding that knife. Just wait a moment, I’ve nearly made it through.”

  “Made what through?” Quinlan said, desperately straining to see her in the darkness.

  “I was a gymnast. I have the dubious honor of being the most flexible agent to go through the program at Quantico. I’m getting my arms beneath my butt and pushing on through and in just a minute—Jesus, this is tougher than it used to be when I was younger and skinnier—” She stopped, breathing hard, straining. “There.”

  She was panting, laughing. “I did it!”

  “What, Corey? For God’s sake, what did you do?”

  “My hands are now tied in front of me, Thomas. Thank heaven they left enough leeway between me and the wall. The rope around my waist was higher than the rope tying my wrists together. Now, I’m going to turn around and untie the rope around my waist. When I’m free, I can do my feet and then get to you guys.”

  “Corey,” Quinlan said, “if you get us out of this, both Thomas and I will recommend that you become the special agent in charge of the Portland field office. Right, Thomas?”

  “If she gets out us out of this, I’ll beg her to marry me and be the SAC.”

  “Thomas, you’re a sexist. I won’t ever marry a sexist.”

  “Corey, how are you doing?” Quinlan said.

  “It’s coming. The knot at my waist is pretty easy.”

  “Good. Just hurry.”

  But how much time did they have left before the old folk came for them? Where was Sally? Quinlan hadn’t prayed much in his life, but he was praying now. Did Amabel have her?

  “Got it! Now let me get my feet.”

  “Oh, shit, I hear something,” Thomas said. “Hurry, Corey, hurry!”

  “Don’t hit her, Amory!”

  Amabel grabbed his arm, jerking it away. It slammed against the bed just an inch from Sally’s ribs.

  He was panting. He wheeled about, his fist raised. “You shouldn’t have done that, Ammie. You shouldn’t have done it.”

  Sally reared up, yelling, “Don’t you dare hit her, you fucking cretin!”

  But he did, his fist hard against Amabel’s jaw, knocking her against the wall. She slid down to the floor.

  Sally didn’t say a word. She was staring at her aunt, praying she wasn’t dead.

  “How could you?” She stared up at the man who had to be mad. “You’re lovers. She called to tell you I was here so you could come and get me. You hit her just like you hit Noelle.”

  “Actually,” he said, rubbing his knuckles, “it’s the first time I’ve ever had to discipline her. She won’t go against me in the future now. I wonder how her skin will bruise.”

  * * *

  No blinding light came through the door as it creaked open—just a tiny bit, then wider until all three of them could see the stars and the half moon.

  “You awake in here?” It was an old man’s voice. Which one of them? Quinlan wondered. Was there just one of them come to check on their prisoners, or more? God, he prayed it was just the one old man.

  “It ain’t quite morning yet, but you should be awake.”

  “Yeah,” Thomas said, “we’re awake. What? You hoped you’d killed us?”

  “Nah, there weren’t enough of that stuff Doc had on hand to put your lights out. It would have been easier that way, though. Now, well, it ain’t going to be any fun.”

  Quinlan nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Corey whimper. “Oh, please, I don’t feel well. Please take me to a bathroom. Please.” She was moaning quietly, very effectively.

  “Oh, shit,” the old man said. “It’s just you, little gal?”

  “Yes,” Corey managed to choke out. “Please, hurry.”

  “All right. Damn, I didn’t expect any of you to be sick. Nobody was ever sick before.”

  Corey was slumped over, straight ahead of the old guy, against the back wall. The old man opened the door wider as he came into the shed. Quinlan recognized Purn Davies, the old coot who owned the general store. He saw that Corey had her hands behind her back, as if they were still tied there.

  “Please hurry,” she whispered. She sounded god-awful, like she would puke at any moment.

  Quinlan looked at Thomas and shook his head.

  Just as Purn Davies passed Quinlan, he whipped up his feet and kicked the old man on his thighs, knocking him right onto Corey’s lap.

  “Gotcha!” Corey said. When the old man began to struggle, she raised her fists and knocked him cold.

  “Well done, Corey,” Thomas said. “You sure you won’t marry me? What if I promise to change?”

  “Ask me again if we get out of this alive,” she said. “Okay, guys, I’m going to untie Quinlan’s wrists, then yours, Thomas. Keep an eye on the old man.”

  It took her only about three minutes to untie Quinlan. In another three minutes all of them were free. They rose and stretched and tried to get the blood moving back into their legs and arms. “I think I’ll tie him up real good,” Corey said and dropped to her knees. “Look, Quinlan, he’s got one of our guns.”

  “Thank God,” Quinlan said. He looked outside the shed. “It’s near dawn. I don’t see a soul. I guess they just sent him here to make sure we were still alive. Why, I don’t know. There’s no way they could have afforded to keep us alive, no way at all.

  “Ah, look here. The old man brought us some sandwiches. They’re out here on a tray. How the hell did he expect us to eat them with our hands tied behind our backs?”

  “All done,” Corey said, standing behind the two men. “What now, Quinlan?”

  “Thomas, bar the shed door, then let’s get into Doc Spiver’s house and pray the phone’s still connected. We can get the cavalry here. Then we’ll go find Sally.”

  “He’s mad, Amabel, utterly mad.”

  Amabel was rubbing her jaw. She looked bewildered. “He’s never hit me before, never,” she said slowly. “He’s always caressed me and loved me. He’s never hit me. I always thought it was Noelle who brought that out in him, like she made him hit her, like she was sick and needed it.”

  “No, she hated it. He demeaned her, Amabel, and she stood for it all because he’d threatened to kill me if she didn’t stay with him, if she didn’t take his abuse. He hasn’t hit you be
cause you’re not with him all that much and because if he did, you’d probably shoot him or just leave. Noelle couldn’t leave. She had to stay to protect me. Now that he’s got you, he’ll beat the shit out of you whenever he feels like it.”

  “No. I’ll tell him that if he ever hits me again, I’ll leave him.”

  “You can try it, but I bet he’ll find a way to keep you, just like he did your sister.”

  “You’re wrong. You’ve got to be wrong. We’ve been intimate for twelve years, Sally. Twelve years. I know him. He loves me. The only reason he hit me tonight is because he’s afraid. He’s upset and worried that we won’t get away. And you pushed. Yes, you made him furious. It’s your fault.”

  “You’re nuts, Amabel. Wake up. He’s insane.”

  “Shush, Sally, here he comes.”

  “Quick, Amabel, untie me. We can escape.”

  “Now what’s this? My two girls conspiring against me?”

  “No, dear,” Amabel said, rising to go to him. She hugged him, then kissed him on the mouth. “Oh, no. Poor Sally thinks just because you hit me this one time you’ll do it again and again. I know you won’t, will you?”

  “Of course not. I’m sorry, Ammie, I’ve been under so much stress, and you were arguing with me. Please, forgive me. I won’t ever touch you again.”

  “He’s lying,” Sally said. “If you believe him you’re stupid, Amabel. Yeah, come on, you lousy human being, come on over here and hit me again. I’m tied, so I can’t hurt you much. You’re safe. Come on, you pitiful excuse for a man, come and hit me.”

  He was heaving with rage, the veins in his neck red and thick. “Shut up, Sally.”

  “Look at him, Amabel. He wants to kill me. He has no control. He’s crazy.”

  Amory turned to Amabel. “I’ll take care of her. I know what to do. I swear I won’t kill her.”

  “What are you going to do?”

  “Trust me, Ammie. Can’t you trust me? You have for the past twelve years. Trust me now.”

  “You think he won’t kill me, Amabel? He’s a filthy liar. Do you want to be an accessory to murder?” Her words swallowed themselves. God, Amabel was already an accessory to murder maybe sixty times over. Maybe she’d even killed some of the people. Sally shut her mouth.

  Amory St. John laughed, low and mean. “I see you understand, Sally. Ammie belongs with me. We’re two of a kind. Now, Ammie, untie her feet. I’m taking her out of here.”

  She couldn’t stand up because her legs were numb. Amabel dropped to her knees and massaged her ankles and calves. “Is that better, Sally?”

  “Why didn’t you just kill me before? Why go through this charade with Amabel?”

  “Be quiet, you little bitch.”

  “You swear you won’t hurt her, Amory?”

  “I told you,” he said, so impatient that Sally wondered how Amabel couldn’t hear it, couldn’t know that he was ready to strike out. “I won’t kill her.”

  When she could stand and walk, Amory took her arm and pulled her out of the small bedroom. “Stay here, Ammie,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ll be back shortly and then we’ll leave.”

  Sally said, “While you’re waiting, Amabel, call Noelle. Tell her how you let him kill me. Yeah, tell her that, Amabel.”

  He pulled her out of Amabel’s sight, then sent his elbow into her ribs. She doubled over, gasping with the pain. He yanked her back up.

  “Keep your mouth shut, Sally, or I’ll just keep hurting you. Do you want that?”

  “What I want,” she said when she could finally speak, “is for you to die. Very slowly and very painfully.”

  “Not in your lifetime, my dear,” he said, and laughed.

  “They’ll get you. There’s no way you can escape, not with the FBI after you.”

  He was still laughing softly, highly amused with her. It made no sense. Then he walked beneath a strong light at the head of the stairs and stopped. He laughed again. “Look, Sally. Look at me.”

  She did. It wasn’t Amory St. John.

  The phone service was still on. Thomas called the Portland office. When he hung up, he said, “They’re bringing a helicopter up here. Thirty minutes, tops.”

  “What about David?” Corey said.

  “Jesus,” Quinlan said. “Here, let me call his wife.” David’s lovely sweet wife, Jane, who’d taken him in when they cracked him over the head, who’d fed him soup. He prayed David was alive. Please, let him be alive.

  When she answered, Quinlan said, “Hi, this is Quinlan. Please tell me David’s there. What? Oh, no. Shit, I’m sorry. Tell his doctors that he was drugged. That’s why he banged himself up. No, no, things are under control here. No, I’m going to call his office and get his three deputies here. Yeah, I’ll speak to you soon. Sally? I don’t know. We’re going to hunt for her now.”

  He hung up the phone. “David’s in a coma. They medivaced him to Portland. His condition’s stable so far. Nobody knows anything yet, just that he ran off the road into the only oak tree in his neighborhood. His wife was the first person to get to him. She said the doctors told her that if he hadn’t been transported so quickly to the hospital he probably would have died.”

  “This is a nightmare,” Corey said. “The whole damned town, all of them murderers. I want to get them, Quinlan.”

  “I sure want them to lose their Social Security,” Thomas said. “No means testing.”

  “That wasn’t funny,” Corey said, but she laughed.

  “It’s Shakespearean. You know, comedy mixed with tragedy.”

  “No,” Quinlan said, “it’s evil. It didn’t start out evil, but they’ve made it all the way, haven’t they? Let’s go find my future wife.”

  It was Amory St. John, but it wasn’t. She blinked up at him. No, the light here was excellent. “Doctor Beadermeyer changed your face, just like he did the man you murdered.”

  “Yes. I didn’t want to be completely different, just different enough that if an old friend happened to see me he wouldn’t wonder. He did his nicks and cuts and sutures just after we got you back from The Cove that first time.” He patted his neck. “Gravity was taking a bit of a toll, but no longer. He tucked that all up, too. Would you go out with me, Sally, a young woman your age?”

  She didn’t say anything. She was afraid if he hit her again she’d lose consciousness. She couldn’t let that happen. Her legs were free. The numbness was nearly gone. Surely she could run now. She had to get away from him. She had to find Quinlan and the others. What if they were already dead? No, she wouldn’t think like that. They weren’t dead. There was still time.

  She looked up at him. She hated him more than she believed it possible for one human being to hate another. She wanted to break him. She wanted him to suffer, to realize he’d lost, to realize that he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. “Scott told the FBI everything you’d done. He’s cooperating with them, hoping to save his wretched little hide.”

  “Who cares what the bastard does? Shut up now, and let’s get you out of here.”

  He forced her down the stairs. As if he guessed she would try something, he grabbed her hair and went down behind her.

  What to do?

  There was a noise at the front door. His hand jerked her hair upward. She didn’t even notice. She heard him curse under his breath. She knew the moment when he drew a gun. “Let’s just hope it’s one of the old folk.”

  But it wasn’t. The door slowly opened. If only they’d been upstairs no one would have heard anything. She stared at that opening door, mesmerized.

  She saw Quinlan’s face. She didn’t think, just acted. She raised her arms, grabbed his hair, and dropped down. Her Amory stumbled over her head and rolled over and over down the stairs. He landed on his back, panting hard, but still conscious. Quinlan was on him in an instant, the gun pointed at his temple.

  “Who the hell are you?”

  “It’s Amory St. John,” Sally said. “Doctor Beadermeyer changed his face just like he did that othe
r man’s.”

  Quinlan’s SIG-sauer pressed harder against St. John’s temple. “Sally, are you all right?”

  “I’m fine. My aunt’s upstairs. He was taking me away, probably to kill me. He told my aunt that he wouldn’t, but he’s a miserable liar. James, he hit her and she’s all ready to forgive him. What’s wrong with her?”

  “I’ll get her,” Thomas said. “Don’t worry, Sally. I won’t hurt her.”

  Sally got to her feet. She was sore, her scalp hurt, and she felt better than she’d ever felt in her life. “James,” she said, “I’m so glad to see you. You, too, Corey. Amabel said the three of you were in that shed behind Doc Spiver’s cottage.”

  “Yeah,” Quinlan said, “but we’re special agents. We got out. Well, actually, it’s Corey who’s the hero. You know, Sally, I noticed a gray hair. Let Corey untie your hands.”

  When she had feeling back in her wrists, she went and stood over the man who’d been her father for so many years, the man she’d hated for so long, the man who hated her. He was on the floor, at her feet.

  She got down on her knees. She smiled. “Now it’s my chance to tell you what I think of you. You’re pathetic. You’re nothing. You’ll never have a hold over anybody again for as long as you live. I hate you. More than that, I despise you.” She drew back her fist and slammed it into his nose.

  “God, I’ve wanted to do that for such a long time.” She rubbed her knuckles.

  He was quivering with rage. His nose began to bleed. He quieted only when he felt the gun press still harder against his temple.

  “You want to know something else? Noelle is ecstatic that you’re gone. She hates you as much as I do. She’s free of you. I’m free of you. Soon you’ll be in a cage where you belong.”

  She stared down at him, at the blood seeping out of his nose, at the rage in his eyes. “Fucking bastard.” She rose and kicked him in the ribs.

  “Shut up, you crazy bitch. Hey, you’re a cop. Don’t let her beat me.”

  “I’ll let her shoot you in the balls if she wants to,” Quinlan said. “Sally? Would you like to shoot him?”

 
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