The cove, p.34
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       The Cove, p.34

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  “Of course we can,” Purn Davies said, rising from the sofa, looking a bit less pale. He picked up a shotgun from beside him and walked forward. “We’ve got nothing to lose. Nothing at all. Isn’t that right, Martha?”

  “Perfectly right, Purn.”

  “You’re all senile and stupid!” Sally screamed.

  In that instant, when most attention was focused on Sally, Quinlan grabbed Purn Davies’s sawed-off shotgun and leaped to Martha. He took her down and rolled over her. He had his arm around her throat and the gun digging into the small of her back. His right hand was tangled in the chain that secured her glasses.

  There was stunned silence. Thelma Nettro slowly turned around in her chair. “Let her go, Mr. Quinlan. If you don’t, we’ll just kill her along with the rest of you. You agree, don’t you, Martha?”

  There was no choice, none at all. Quinlan knew that. He knew he had to act quickly, with no hesitation. He had to make them believe. He had to scare them shitless. It had to be shocking. It had to punch these old people back to reality, out of the insane world they’d created and inhabited. He had to show them they had no more control.

  Quinlan raised the shotgun and shot Purn Davies in the chest. The blast knocked the old man off the floor, against an ancient piano. Blood spewed everywhere. The old man didn’t make a sound, just slid onto the floor. There were a dozen screams, curses, and just plain horrified yells.

  Quinlan shouted over the din, “I can get at least three more of you before you get me. Want to bet it’s not going to be you? Come on, you old geezers, come and try it.”

  The shotgun was double-barreled. One of them would realize quickly enough that he had only one shot left.

  “Corey, grab my gun, quick.”

  She had it in an instant. Reverend Hal Vorhees raised his pistol. Quinlan shot him cleanly through his right arm. Corey threw Quinlan his SIG-sauer.

  “Who else?” Quinlan said. “This gun is a semiautomatic. It can take you all down. Anybody else? It will make a bigger, bloodier mess than that wimpy little shotgun did on old Purn. It’ll spew your ancient guts all over this room. I’ll bet none of you has ever dispatched your victim with a semiautomatic. It ain’t a pretty sight. Just look at Purn. Yeah, look at him. It could be you.”

  Silence. Dead silence. He heard someone vomiting. That was amazing. One of them could actually throw up seeing Purn Davies after they’d killed sixty people?

  Thelma Nettro said, “You all right, Martha?”

  “Oh, yes,” Martha said. She flexed her hands. She smiled. She kicked back against Quinlan’s groin. He felt searing pain, felt his head swim with dizziness, felt the inevitable nausea. He took the SIG-sauer and hit her on the temple.

  He didn’t know if she was dead. He didn’t particularly care. He said between gritted teeth as the nausea began to get to him, “Sally, get me Gus’s gun. Be sure to stay clear of any hands that could grab you. The rest of you, drop all your weapons. Ease those old bones of yours down to the floor. We’re going to stay here nice and quiet until my guys arrive.”

  Thelma Nettro said, “Did you kill her, Mr. Quinlan?”

  “I don’t know,” he said, the pain still roiling through his groin.

  “Martha’s like a daughter to me. Don’t you remember? I told you that once.” She raised a pistol from her lap and shot him.

  In the next instant, the front door burst open. Sally, who was running to Quinlan, heard a man shout, “Nobody move! FBI!”


  “MR. QUINLAN, CAN you hear me?”

  “Yes,” he said very clearly. “I can hear you, but I don’t want to. Go away. I hurt and I want to hurt alone. My Boy Scout leader told me a long time ago that men didn’t whine or moan, except in private.”

  “You’re a trooper, Mr. Quinlan. Now, I’ll make that hurt go away. How bad is it?”

  “On a scale from one to ten, it’s a thirteen. Go away. Let me groan in peace.”

  The nurse smiled over at Sally. “Is he always like this?”

  “I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve ever been around him when he’s been shot.”

  “Hopefully that won’t happen again.”

  “It won’t,” Sally said. “If he ever lets it happen again, I’ll kill him.”

  The nurse injected morphine into his IV drip. “There,” she said, lightly rubbing his arm above the elbow, “you won’t hurt very soon now. As soon as you have your wits together, you can give yourself pain medication whenever you need it. Ah, here’s Dr. Wiggs.”

  The surgeon was tall, skinny as a post, with the most beautiful black eyes Quinlan had ever seen. “I’m in Portland?”

  “Yes, at OHSU, Oregon Health and Sciences University Hospital. I’m Dr. Wiggs. I took that bullet out of your chest. You’re doing just fine, Mr. Quinlan. I hear you’re a very brave man. It’s a pleasure to save a brave man.”

  “I’m going to get even braver soon,” Quinlan said, his voice a bit slurred from the morphine. He was feeling just fine now. In fact, if he weren’t tied to this damned bed with all these hookups in every orifice of his body, he’d want to dance, maybe even play his saxophone. He’d like to call Ms. Lilly, maybe even tell Marvin the Bouncer a joke. He realized his mind wasn’t quite on track. He had to remember to ask Fuzz the Bartender to get some decent white wine in stock for Sally.

  “Why is that, Mr. Quinlan?” the nurse asked.

  “Why is what?”

  “Why are you going to get even braver?”

  He frowned, then smiled as he remembered. He said, his voice as proud and happy as a man’s could ever get, “I’m going to marry Sally.”

  He turned his head and gave her the silliest smile she’d ever seen. “We’re going to spend our honeymoon at my cabin in Delaware. On Louise Lynn Lake. It’s a beautiful place, with smells that make your senses melt and—”

  He was out.

  “Good,” Dr. Wiggs said. “He needs lots of sleep. Don’t worry, Ms. Brainerd. He’ll be fine. I was a bit worried for a while in surgery, but he’s strong and young and he’s got a will to survive that’s rare.

  “Now, let me just check him over. Why don’t you go outside? Mr. Shredder and Ms. Harper are in the waiting room. Oh, yes, there’s a Mr. Marvin Brammer there too and a man who’s sitting on the sofa with a computer on his lap.”

  “Mr. Brammer is James’s boss. He’s an assistant deputy director of the FBI. The guy with the computer—”

  “The sexy one.”

  “Yes, that’s Dillon Savich. He’s also FBI.”

  “Mr. Brammer’s got quite a twinkle in those eyes of his,” Dr. Wiggs said. “As for Mr. Savich, no matter how gorgeous he is, I don’t know if he’s even aware of where he is. I heard him say, to no one in particular, ‘Eureka!’ but nothing else. Go out now, Ms. Brainerd, and leave me alone with my patient.”

  The waiting room was just down the hall. Sally ran into Marvin Brammer’s arms. “He’s all right,” she said over and over. “He’ll be just fine. He’s already complaining. He was talking about his Boy Scout leader telling him that men never whine or moan except when they’re alone. He’ll be just fine. We’re going to get married, and I’ll make sure he never gets shot again.”

  “Good,” Marvin Brammer said, hugged her tightly, then turned her over to Dillon, who gave her a distracted hug and kiss on the cheek. “I’ve found them, Sally,” he said. “I’ve found that damned jerk who isn’t your father.”

  Marvin Brammer said, “Eureka?”

  “That’s it. I’ve got to get to the FBI office in Seattle. They’re at Sea Tac Airport. Yeah, the stupid bugger bought two tickets to Budapest, via New York. He used a phony credit card and a phony passport.”

  “Then how the hell did you get him?” Thomas Shredder said, walking over. His arm was in a sling. He had good color in his cheeks again. He was no longer in shock. “He doesn’t look like Amory St. John anymore.”

  “Not hard,” Dillon said, patting his laptop. “Me and MAX here and our modem can
do anything. Sally’s aunt used her own passport. Ain’t that a kick? She had to, I guess. I suppose they just prayed that she’d get through. They should have laid low until they’d gotten a phony one for her too. Corey, you and Thomas must have scared the shit out of them. They couldn’t wait to get out of the country.”

  “So,” Sally said slowly, as Dillon phoned the Seattle FBI office. “It’s nearly over. What’s going to happen to the town, Mr. Brammer?”

  “Agents are all over the cemetery. Like the old folk said, they buried all the people they murdered with their identification, so there’s been no problem determining who anybody is.

  “Mass murder, nothing else to call it, all by a bunch of senior citizens.” He shook his head. “I thought I’d seen just about everything, but this takes the cake.

  “Evil,” he added, stroking his chin. “Evil can sprout up just about anyplace. None of the seniors is saying a word. They’re loyal to each other, I’ll say that for them, even though it doesn’t matter. That Martha Crittlan, she’ll pull through, although I’ll bet she’ll wish she hadn’t. Just imagine, that seemingly sweet old lady was the brains and resolution behind the town.”

  “She’s the most wonderful cook,” Corey Harper said and sighed. “That last dinner was the most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

  “Yeah,” Thomas Shredder said, “and it could have been our last meal, since she drugged us.”

  “You’ll survive,” Marvin Brammer said. “Oh, yes, one of the agents found a diary that old Thelma Nettro kept throughout all her time in The Cove.”

  “Oh, yes,” Sally said. “She always had it with her. Do you know that she had a black circle on her tongue from licking the end of the fountain pen before she wrote?”

  “Knowing our people, they’ll probably check for that. Old Thelma was very specific about how everything came about. It’s probably the best proof and history anyone could have of the entire episode. I mean, she wrote everything, beginning back in the 1940s when she and her husband came to The Cove.

  “It’s all the attorney general’s problem now. I’ll wager they’re hating every minute of it. You can’t begin to imagine what the media are doing with all this. Well, maybe you can. It’s nuts. At least Sheriff Mountebank came out of the coma this morning, that’s one good thing. His three deputies are pulling through as well. They were drugged and tied up in that shed where you guys were.”

  “Amory St. John and my aunt Amabel,” Sally said. “Mr. Brammer, what will happen to them when you nab them?”

  “He’ll be in jail three lifetimes. As for your aunt, Sally, I don’t know if they’ll toss her in with the other seniors or if they’ll add kidnapping charges and conspiracy charges. We’ll just have to see.”

  “Eureka again!”

  Everyone turned to Dillon. He looked up, grinning a bit sheepishly. “Well, I just wanted all of you to know that Sally’s divorce will be final in six months. Let’s make it the middle of October. I’ve booked Elm Street Presbyterian in D.C. for the fourteenth. Everything’s set.”

  “Will you marry me, Corey?” Thomas Shredder said.

  She gave him a sharp look. “You have to prove to me that you’re no longer a sexist. That could take a good year, even if you try really hard. Don’t forget, a condition is that I become the SAC of the Portland office.”

  “You could always shoot him in the other arm if he backslides,” Brammer said. “As to special agent in charge, why, Ms. Harper, I’ll do a great deal of thinking about that.”

  Sally just smiled at them all—all of them lifelong friends now—and walked back to James’s room.

  He would live. As to all the rest of it, well, she just wasn’t going to think about it until she had to.

  Life was all in your perspective, she’d decided during that helicopter ride to Portland, James white as death lying on that stretcher beside her, tubes sticking out of him. She was going to keep her perspective on James’s face. A nice face, a sexy face. She couldn’t wait for him to get well so they could go to the Bonhomie Club and he could play his saxophone.

  * * *

  The next morning, Quinlan opened the Oregonian that a nurse had brought him. The headline was:


  Like he didn’t deserve it, he thought. “Yeah, poor bugger,” he said aloud, and read on. Evidently Amory St. John had tried to run, but he hadn’t made it. He’d left Amabel in a flash, jumped onto a baggage truck, knocked out the driver, and driven off, the FBI right behind him. He hadn’t gotten far. He’d even been stupid enough to fire on the agents, refusing orders to stop and throw down his weapon.

  He was dead. The bastard was finally dead. Sally wouldn’t have to go through a trial. She wouldn’t ever have to face him again.

  What about Amabel?

  Apparently the Oregonian hadn’t known which headline to splash—The Cove murders or Amory St. John. Since The Cove had gotten the big print the day before, he supposed they decided it was Amory’s turn.

  Amabel Perdy, he read, had pleaded innocent of all charges, both with regard to Amory St. John and with regard to The Cove, saying she had no idea what was going on in either case. She was an artist, she maintained. She helped sell the World’s Greatest Ice Cream. That was all she did.

  Wait until the media found out about Thelma’s diary, he thought. That would nail her hide but good. All of the seniors’ hides. He was tired, his chest hurt real bad, and so he pumped a small dose of morphine into his arm.

  Soon, he knew, he would be sleeping like a baby, his mind free of all this crap. He just wished he could see Sally before he went under again.

  When she appeared at his bedside, smiling down at him, he knew he must be dreaming.

  “You look like an angel.”

  He heard a laugh and felt her mouth on his, all warm and soft.

  “Nice,” he said. “More.”

  “Go to sleep, buster,” she said. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

  “Every morning?”

  “Yes. Always.”


  SALLY ST. JOHN Brainerd and James Railey Quinlan were married on the date Dillon Savich had set for them—October 14. Dillon Savich was Quinlan’s best man and Sally’s mother was her matron of honor. She attended her daughter’s wedding with Senator Matt Montgomery from Iowa, a widower who’d taken one look at Noelle and fallen hard. She had worn a two-piece bathing suit that summer.

  There were 150 special agents from the FBI, including two special agents from the Portland field office, one of them the newly appointed SAC, or special agent in charge. Every Railey and Quinlan within striking distance arrived at the Elm Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Sally was simply enfolded into her new family.

  Ms. Lilly, Marvin the Bouncer, and Fuzz the Bartender were in attendance, Ms. Lilly wearing white satin and Marvin announcing to everyone that the chicky looked gorgeous in her wedding dress. Fuzz brought a bottle of Chardonnay for a wedding present. It had a cork.

  The media mobbed the wedding, which was expected since the trial of Dr. Beadermeyer—aka Norman Lipsy—had ended just the previous week and Sally had been one of the major prosecution witnesses. He’d been found guilty of conspiracy, murder, kidnapping, extortion, and income tax evasion, which, a TV news anchorwoman said, was the most serious of all the charges and would keep him in jail until the twenty-second century.

  Scott Brainerd had plea-bargained to a charge of kidnapping and conspiracy, which the government finally agreed to, since the Feds could find no solid proof of his activity in arms dealing. He was sentenced to ten years in jail. But Sally knew, she told Quinlan, that Scott would have the best behavior in the entire prison system. She’d just bet the little worm would be out in three years, curse him. Quinlan rubbed his hands together and said he couldn’t wait.

  In the previous June, Sally had become the senior aide to Senator Bob McCain. She had begun showing Quinlan a glitzy Washington, D.C., that was sleazy in a
very different way from what he was used to. He said he wasn’t certain which Washington was more fascinating. Sally was running every day, usually with James, and in July she began to sing in the shower again.

  Amabel Perdy, it had been agreed to in late July, was going to be treated differently from the other fifty members of The Cove. Besides committing eight murders—four by stabbing—she’d also shot a special agent, kidnapped her niece, and aided and abetted the escape of a murder suspect, thus becoming an accessory. Her trial would be held at the end of the year. Neither Quinlan nor Sally was looking forward to it.

  All the murders were detailed in Thelma Nettro’s diary—how they had been done, when, and by whom. Thelma Nettro wrote that there was little or no remorse among the townspeople after the twentieth victim had been dispatched. Poison was the favored method, she wrote, because Ralph Keaton didn’t like mess when he laid the people out for burial.

  She herself had murdered two people, an old couple from Arkansas, she wrote, who’d died quickly, smiling, because they’d eaten slices of Martha’s New Jersey cheesecake and hadn’t tasted the poison.

  It came out that the last two murders of old people who’d had the misfortune to want to try the World’s Greatest Ice Cream had occurred just two months before Sally Quinlan had arrived for the first time in The Cove to hide at her aunt Amabel’s cottage. Reverend Hal Vorhees had drawn the highest number. He’d persuaded an affluent old couple to remain for a special evening spiritual revival service that had just been organized that very afternoon.

  Thelma had written in her diary that it had been a very pleasant service, with many people rising to give thanks to God for what He’d done for them. There were punch and cookies after the service. Revered Hal hadn’t put enough arsenic in the cookies, and the old couple had had to be poisoned again, which distressed everyone, particularly Doc Spiver.

  Three books were being written on The Cove, all with a different slant, the biggest best-seller presenting Reverend Hal Vorhees as a crazed messiah who had murdered children in Arizona, then come to The Cove and converted all the townspeople to a form of Satanism.

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