Night shadow, p.16
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       Night Shadow, p.16

         Part #2 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
 
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  when you found out about his little vanishing act. You’re too tough for that.”

  “Thank you. I think.” Deborah chuckled and the rest of the toast disappeared in one healthy bite.

  “I know people,” Frank said, taking the tray of bacon Gage passed him. “In my profession—my former profession—you had to be able to make somebody quick. And I was good, real good, right, Gage?”

  “That’s right, Frank.”

  “I could spot a patsy two blocks away.” He wagged a piece of bacon at Deborah. “You ain’t no patsy.”

  And she’d thought of him as the strong, silent type, Deborah mused. She was fascinated by the way he made up for lost time, rattling quickly as he steam-shoveled food away. “You’ve been with Gage a long time.”

  “Eight years—not counting the couple of times he sent me up.”

  “Kind of like Kato to his Green Hornet.”

  He grinned again, then let out a series of guffaws. “Hey, I like her, Gage. She’s okay. I told you she was okay.”

  “Yes, you did. Deborah’s going to be staying, Frank. How would you like to be best man?”

  “No kidding?” Deborah didn’t think Frank’s grin could stretch any wider. Then she saw the gleam of tears in his eyes. At that moment, her heart was lost to him.

  “No kidding.” She shifted, took his big face in her hands and kissed him firmly on the mouth. “There, you’re first to kiss the bride-to-be.”

  “How about that.” Deborah had to bite back a chuckle as a beet red blush stained Frank’s face. “How about that.”

  “I’d like Deborah to move in a few things today,” Gage put in.

  She glanced down at the robe. Besides the borrowed garment, she had an evening dress, a pair of stockings and an evening bag. “I could use a few things.” But she was thinking of the big room downstairs, the computers, the information Gage had at his fingertips.

  Gage had little trouble following the direction of her thoughts. “Do you have someone who could put what you need together? Frank could go by your apartment and pick them up.”

  “Yes.” She thought of Mrs. Greenbaum. “I’ll just make a call.”

  Within a half an hour, she was back in Gage’s secret room, wearing a pair of his jeans hitched up with the belt of his robe and a crisply pressed linen shirt skimming her thighs. Hands on her hips, she studied the map as Gage explained.

  “These are drop points, major drug deals. I’ve been able to run makes on a handful of the messengers.”

  “Why haven’t you fed this information to the police?”

  He glanced at her briefly. On this point they might never agree. “It wouldn’t help them get any closer to the top men. Right now, I’m working on the pattern.” He moved to one of the computers and, after a moment, signaled to her. “None of the drops are less than twenty blocks apart.” He motioned to the reproduction on the monitor. “The time span between them is fairly steady.” He punched a few buttons. A list of dates rolled onto the screen. “Two weeks, sometimes three.”

  Frowning in concentration, she studied the screen. “Can I have a printout of this?”

  “Why?”

  “I’d like to run it through my computer at the office. See if I can find any correlation.”

  “It isn’t safe.” Before she could argue, he took her hand and led her to another workstation. He tapped a code in the keyboard and brought up a file. Deborah’s mouth opened in surprise as she saw her own work reproduced on the screen.

  “You’ve tapped into my system,” she murmured. “In more ways than one.”

  “The point is, if I can, so can someone else. Anything you need, you can find here.”

  “Apparently.” She sat, far from sure how she felt about Gage or anyone else peeking over her shoulder as she worked. “Am I on the right track?”

  Saying nothing, he tapped in a new code. “You’ve been going after the corporations, and the directors. A logical place to start. Whoever set up the organization knows business. Four years ago, we didn’t have the information or the technology to get this close, so we had to go in and physically infiltrate.” Names flipped by, some she recognized, some she didn’t. They were all tagged Deceased. “It didn’t work because there was a leak. Someone who knew about the undercover operation passed the information to the other side. Montega was waiting for us, and he knew we were cops.” Though Deborah felt a chill, he said it calmly. “He also had to know exactly how we were set up that night, to the man. Otherwise he could never have slipped through the backup.”

  “Another cop?”

  “It’s a possibility. We had ten handpicked men on the team that night. I’ve checked out every one of them, their bank accounts, their records, their lifestyle. So far, I haven’t found a thing.”

  “Who else knew?”

  “My captain, the commissioner, the mayor.” He made a restless movement with his shoulders. “Maybe more. We were only cops. They didn’t tell us everything.”

  “When you find the pattern, what then?”

  “I wait, I watch and I follow. The man with the money leads me to the man in charge. And he’s the one I want.”

  She suppressed a shudder, promising herself she would somehow convince him to let the police take over when they had enough information. “While you’re looking for that, I’d like to concentrate on finding names—that common thread.”

  “All right.” He ran a hand over her hair until it rested on her shoulder. “This machine is similar to the one you use in the office. It has a few more—”

  “How do you know?” she interrupted.

  “How do I know what?”

  “What machine I use in the office?”

  He had to smile. “Deborah …” Lightly, lingering, he bent down to kiss her. “There’s nothing about you I don’t know.”

  Uncomfortable, she shifted away, then rose. “Will I find my name programmed on one of these machines?”

  He watched her, knowing he would have to tread lightly. “Yes. I told myself it was routine, but the truth was I was in love with you and greedy for every detail. I know when you were born, to the minute, and where. I know you broke your wrist falling off a bike when you were five, that you moved in with your sister and her husband after the death of your parents. And when your sister divorced, you moved with her. Richmond, Chicago, Dallas. Finally Denver where you zipped through college in three years, cum laude, drove yourself through law school to graduate in the top five percent of your class and passed your bar on the first attempt. With enough finesse to bring you offers from four of the top law firms in the country. But you chose to come here, and work in the D.A.’s office.”

  She rubbed her palms over the thighs of her jeans. “It’s odd to hear an encapsulated version of my life story.”

  “There were things I couldn’t learn from the computer.” The important things, he thought. The vital things. “The way your hair smells, the way your eyes go to indigo when you’re angry or aroused. The way you make me feel when you touch me. I won’t deny I invaded your privacy, but I won’t apologize for it.”

  “No, you wouldn’t,” she said after a moment. She let out a little breath. “And I suppose I can’t be overly offended, since I ran a make on you, too.”

  He smiled. “I know.”

  She laughed, shaking her head. “Okay. Let’s get to work.”

  They had hardly settled when one of the three phones on the long counter rang. Deborah barely glanced over as Gage lifted a receiver.

  “Guthrie.”

  “Gage, it’s Frank. I’m at Deborah’s apartment. You’d better get over here.”

  Chapter 11

  Her heart beating erratically, Deborah sprinted out of the elevator and down the hall one step in front of Gage. Frank’s phone call had had them shooting across town in Gage’s Aston Martin in record time.

  The door was open. Deborah’s breath stopped as she stood on the threshold and saw the destruction of her apartment. Curtains slashed, mementos crushed
, tables and chairs viciously broken and tossed in pieces on the floor. The first groan escaped before she spotted Lil Greenbaum propped on the remains of the torn and tattered sofa, her face deathly white.

  “Oh, God.” Kicking debris aside, she rushed over to drop to her knees. “Mrs. Greenbaum.” She took the cold, frail hand in hers.

  Lil’s thin lids fluttered up, and her myopic eyes struggled to focus without the benefit of her glasses. “Deborah.” Though her voice was weak, she managed a faint smile. “They never would have done it if they hadn’t caught me by surprise.”

  “They hurt you.” She looked up as Frank came out of the bedroom carrying a pillow. “Did you call an ambulance?”

  “She wouldn’t let me.” Gently he slipped the pillow under Lil’s head.

  “Don’t need one. Hate hospitals. Just a bump on the head,” Lil said, and squeezed Deborah’s hand. “I’ve had one before.”

  “Do you want me to worry myself sick?” As she spoke, Deborah slipped her fingers down to monitor Lil’s pulse.

  “Your apartment’s in worse shape than I am.”

  “It’s easy to replace my things. How would I replace you?” She kissed Lil’s gnarled knuckles. “Please. For me.”

  Defeated, Lil let out a sigh. “Okay, I’ll let them poke at me. But I won’t stay in the hospital.”

  “Good enough.” She turned, but Gage was already lifting the phone.

  “It’s dead.”

  “Mrs. Greenbaum’s apartment is right across the hall.”

  Gage nodded to Frank.

  “The keys—” Deborah began.

  “Frank doesn’t need keys.” He crossed over to crouch beside Deborah. “Mrs. Greenbaum, can you tell us what happened?”

  She studied him, narrowing and widening her eyes until she brought him into shaky focus. “I know you, don’t I? You picked Deborah up last night, all spiffed up in a tux. You sure can kiss.”

  He grinned at her, but his hand slipped to her wrist just as Deborah’s had. “Thanks.”

  “You’re the one with pots of money, right?”

  She may have had a bump on the head, Gage thought, but her mind seemed to work quickly enough. “Right.”

  “She liked the roses. Mooned over them.”

  “Mrs. Greenbaum.” Deborah sat back on her heels. “You don’t have to play matchmaker—we’ve taken care of it ourselves. Tell us what happened to you.”

  “I’m glad to hear it. Young people today waste too much time.”

  “Mrs. Greenbaum.”

  “All right, all right. I had the list of things you’d called for. I was in the bedroom, going through the closet. Neat as a pin, by the way,” she said to Gage. “The girl’s very tidy.”

  “I’m relieved to hear it.”

  “I was just taking out the navy pin-striped suit when I heard a sound behind me.” She grimaced, more embarrassed now than shaken. “I’d have heard it before, but I turned on the radio when I came in. That’ll teach me to listen to the Top 40 countdown. I started to turn, and, boom. Somebody put my lights out.”

  Deborah lowered her head to Lil’s hand. Emotions screamed through her, tangled and tearing. Fury, terror, guilt. She was an old woman, Deborah thought as she struggled for control. What kind of person strikes a seventy-year-old woman?

  “I’m sorry,” she said as levelly as she could. “I’m so sorry.”

  “It’s not your fault.”

  “Yes, it is.” She lifted her head. “This was all for my benefit. All of it. I knew they were after me, and I asked you to come in here. I didn’t think. I just didn’t think.”

  “Now, this is nonsense. I’m the one who got bashed, and I can tell you I’m damn mad about it. If I hadn’t been caught off guard, I’d have put some of my karate training into use.” Lil’s mouth firmed. “I’d like to have another go at it. Wasn’t too many years ago I could deck Mr. Greenbaum, and I’m still in shape.” She glanced up as the paramedics came through the door. “Oh, Lord,” she said in disgust. “Now I’m in for it.”

  With Gage’s arm around her shoulders, Deborah stood back while Lil ordered the paramedics around, complaining about every poke and prod. She was still chattering when they lifted her onto a stretcher and carried her out.

  “She’s quite a woman,” Gage commented.

  “She’s the best.” When tears threatened, she bit her lip. “I don’t know what I’d do if …”

  “She’s going to be fine. Her pulse was strong, her mind was clear.” He gave her a quick squeeze, then turned to Frank. “What’s the story?”

  “The door wasn’t locked when I got here.” The big man jerked his thumb toward the opening. “They did a messy job forcing it. I walked into this.” He gestured around the chaos of the living room. “I thought I should check out the rest of the place before I called you, and found the lady in the bedroom. She was just coming to. Tried to take a swing at me.” He smiled at Deborah. “She’s one tough old lady. I calmed her down, then I called you.” His mouth tightened. There had been a time he hadn’t been above pinching a purse from a nice little old lady, but he’d never laid a finger on one. “I figure I missed them by ten or fifteen minutes.” His big fists bunched. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have walked out of here.”

  Gage nodded. “I have a couple of things I’d like you to do.” He turned back to Deborah, gently cradling her face in his hands. “I’ll have him call the police,” he said, knowing how her mind worked. “Meanwhile, why don’t you see if you can salvage anything you might need until tomorrow?”

  “All right.” She agreed because she needed a moment alone. In the bedroom, she pressed her hands to her mouth. There had been such viciousness here, such fury, yet there was a cold kind of organization to the destruction that made it all the more frightening.

  Her clothes were torn and shredded, the little antique bottles and jars she’d collected over the years broken and smashed over the heaps of silk and cotton. Her bed had been destroyed, her desk littered with ugly words someone had carved deeply in the wood with a knife. Everything she owned had been pulled out or torn down.

  Kneeling, she picked up a ragged scrap of paper. It had once been a photograph, one of the many of her family she had treasured.

  Gage came in quietly. After a moment, he knelt beside her and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Deborah, let me take you out of here.”

  “There’s nothing left.” She pressed her lips together, determined to keep her voice from shaking. “I know they’re only things, but there’s nothing left.” Slowly she curled her fingers around the remains of the photograph. “My parents—” She shook her head, then turned her face into his shoulder.

  His own anger was a bright steady flame in his chest. He held her, letting her grieve while he promised himself he would find the men who had hurt her. And all the while he couldn’t get past the sick terror that lodged in his throat.

  She might have been there. She might have been alone in this room when they’d come in. Instead of trinkets and mementos, he could have found her broken on the floor.

  “They’ll pay,” he promised her. “I swear it.”

  “Yes, they will.” When she lifted her head, he saw that her grief had passed into fury. It was just as deep, just as sharp. “Whatever I have to do, I’m going to bring them down.” After pushing back her hair, she stood up. “If they thought they could scare me away by doing this, they’re going to be disappointed.” She kicked at the remains of her favorite red suit. “Let’s go to work.”

  They spent hours in the cavern beneath his house, checking data, inputting more. Deborah’s head was throbbing in time with the machines, but she continued to push. Gage busied himself across the room, but they rarely spoke. They didn’t need to. Perhaps for the first time, their purposes meshed and their differences in viewpoints no longer seemed to matter.

  They were both anxious to make up the time lost while talking to the police—and evading the enterprising Wisner, who had shown up at the apartment in their wak
e. She’d be a Monday-morning headline again, Deborah thought impatiently. The press would only bring more pressure from City Hall. She was ready for it.

  She no longer swore when she slammed into a dead end, but meticulously backtracked with a patience she hadn’t been aware of possessing. When the phone rang, she didn’t even hear it. Gage had to call her name twice before she broke out of her concentrated trance.

  “Yes, what?”

  “It’s for you.” He held up the receiver. “Jerry Bower.”

  With a frown for the interruption, she walked over to take the call. “Jerry.”

  “Good God, Deborah, are you all right?”

  “Yes, I’m fine. How did you know where I was?”

  She could hear him take two long breaths. “I’ve been trying to reach you for hours, to make sure you were okay after last night. I finally decided just to go by your place and see for myself. I ran into a pack of cops and that little weasel Wisner. Your place—”

  “I know. I wasn’t there.”

  “Thank God. What the hell’s going on, Deb? We’re supposed to have a handle on these things down at City Hall, but I feel like I’m boxing in the dark. The mayor’s going to blow when he hears this. What am I supposed to tell him?”

  “Tell him to concentrate on the debates next week.” She rubbed her temple. “I already know his stand on this, and he knows mine. You’re only going to drive yourself crazy trying to arbitrate.”

  “Look, I work for him, but you’re a friend. There might be something I can do.”

  “I don’t know.” She frowned at the blinking lights on the map. “Someone’s sending me a message, loud and clear, but I haven’t worked out how to send one back. You can tell the mayor this. If I manage to work this out before the election, he’s going to win by a landslide.”

  There was a slight hesitation. “I guess you’re right,” Jerry said thoughtfully. “That might be the best way to keep him from breathing down your neck. Just be careful, okay?”

  “I will.”

  She hung up, then tilted her head from one side to the other to work out the kinks.

  Gage glanced over. “I wouldn’t mind taking out a full-page ad in the World to announce our engagement.”

  Confused, she blinked. Then laughed. “Jerry? Don’t be stupid. We’re just pals.”

  “Mmm-hmm.”

  She smiled, then walked over to hook her arms around his waist. “Not one big, sloppy kiss between us. Which is exactly what I could use right now.”

  “I guess I’ve got at least one in me.” He lowered his head.

  When his lips met hers, she felt the tension seep out of her, layer by layer, degree by degree. With a murmur, she slid her hands up his back, gently kneading the muscles, soothing them as his lips soothed her.

  Quiet, content, relaxed. She could bring him to that, just as she could make him shudder and ache. With a soft sound of pleasure, he changed the angle of the kiss and deepened it for both of them.

  “Sorry to break this up.” Frank came through the tunnel, bearing a large tray. “But since you’re working so hard …” He grinned hugely. “I figured you should eat to keep up your strength.”

  “Thanks.” Deborah drew away from Gage and took a sniff. “Oh, Lord, what is it?”

  “My special burn-through-the-ribs chili.” He winked at her. “Believe me, it’ll keep you awake.”

  “It smells incredible.”

  “Dig in. You got a couple of beers, a thermos of coffee and some cheese nachos.”

  Deborah rolled a chair over. “Frank, you are a man among men.” He blushed again, delighting her. She took her first bite, scorched her mouth, her throat and her stomach lining. “And this,” she said with real pleasure, “is a bowl of chili.”

  He shuffled his feet. “Glad you like it. I put Mrs. Greenbaum in the gold room,” he told Gage. “I thought she’d get a kick out of the bed curtains and stuff. She’s having some chicken soup and watching King Kong on the VCR.”

  “Thanks, Frank.” Gage scooped up his own spoon of chili.

  “Just give me a ring if you need anything else.”

  Deborah listened to the echo of Frank’s footsteps in the tunnel. “You had her brought here?” she said quietly.

  “She didn’t like the hospital.” He shrugged. “Frank talked to the doctor. She only had a mild concussion, which was a miracle in someone her age. Her heart’s strong as an elephant. All she needs is some quiet and pampering for a few days.”

 
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