The Compassion Trap
By Gil Hale – firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Josephs, once Dr Levine, and possessor of a number of other names since his childhood one, was aware of an unfamiliar pressure of time. He needed longer to work. His CIA contact, and supposed controller, Henshaw, believed he would simply make sure Tanner and Sandburg’s memories were adjusted. That was because Henshaw believed it was some carelessness by Professor Saunders that had allowed Sandburg and a fellow student to become curious about this place and what was happening here. Josephs certainly hadn’t enlightened him as to his own long past encounter with the two of them. Even now the thought of that made the anger build up in him, distorting his thinking. They had been nothing. Worthless. Discountable bits of human flotsam. It was inconceivable that they could have destroyed his whole carefully developed experiment.
It mattered to him obsessively now that they should lose everything they had gained since then. He, at last, had some power and prestige, and was beginning to plan a return to his first research. They must go back to what they had been. And for that he needed to be sure he wouldn’t be disturbed too soon. Henshaw had thought they had a week before anyone would really be concerned about Tanner or Sandburg’s whereabouts. In that time, of course, if their presence had been no more than a whim of student curiosity, Josephs could have made sure they forgot these events and blocks were in place to discourage them from following up any line of thought to do with Saunders or the weekend. Then they would have been ‘found’ in some suitable location, confused as to how they got there, set up to look as if they had been indulging in drink and drugs. The scenario satisfied Henshaw. It was nothing like what Josephs had in mind.
Of course, such an apparent lapse might well cost them their jobs, but that was nowhere near enough to satisfy his need for revenge. They had friends who might stand by them. They would have other chances. He needed to take more away from them than that.
Clear in his mind was the image of the two boys they had once been. He’d seen them around the streets, Tanner especially, but why should he have taken any notice. They’d just been another couple of dirty and neglected children, hanging around. It was only that last night, when it was far too late, that he’d realised they might actually be a threat.
He wanted, obsessively, to have his revenge on those boys. Tanner and Sandburg must become what they deserved to be, part of the drifting, homeless, hopeless subclass of any big city. He had the skill to do it. The image of it had come into his mind the moment he set eyes on them. He would take and warp and block their memories so that much of their adult life became inaccessible; he would give them such a fear of the authorities that they would be completely cut off from any friend or colleague who might help them; he would even take some of the years from them. They were losing weight fast at the moment. A ragged cut to already long hair, clothes even more dirty and less adult than the ones they were now wearing, some sort of reasonably long lasting depilatory. He would make them look as if—and believe—they were barely leaving their teens. Add a drug habit, turn them loose confused onto the streets of any big city, and the natural order of things would carry out his revenge for him. The sort of conditioning he had in mind might not hold up indefinitely, but in the circumstances their situation ought to deteriorate so quickly it would hardly matter.
He’d need to block their memories of each other too, of course. They must be friendless.
And to do all this, even with his abilities, he had to have time. There was the chance that he could persuade Henshaw to give him longer, but Henshaw didn’t know yet what Josephs had used his databases to confirm. The two men really did have the connections they’d claimed. Sandburg might not have been such a problem; the PD were probably glad to be free of him. An ATF agent, though, was inconvenient. Henshaw would probably want to be rid of them one way or another. He was a man with no appreciation of the art involved in manipulating someone else’s mind and memories. All he cared about was whether it worked.
No, Henshaw would not be his ally in this. It was time to put into practice something he had been planning for some time. He had served the purpose of the CIA, and they had served his. Now it was time to return to his own experiments. This would be the first, and would wipe out the memory of that past disaster.
He disabled all the security recordings in the room. Most of the men in the building now were more used to taking orders from him, not the frequently absent Henshaw. He sent for the one he usually put in charge, Whiting. He was more intelligent than the rest, and had proved to be aware of how profitable a liaison with Josephs might be.
Whiting arrived, glanced automatically round the room.
“It’s all switched off,” Josephs said. “What sort of progress have you made with the warehouse?”
It had taken them two years of cautious planning and movement of money to purchase the lease of a small warehouse in a run down area, and then in the last six months they had begun to equip it.
Whiting shrugged. “One lab’s ready, and a couple of rooms. Outside security’s okay. Soundproofing’s done. Other parts are rough and the tank hasn’t even been ordered yet. No hint that the suits have got any inkling we might be branching out on our own.”
“And if I decide that we need to move much sooner?”
“Could be done. We’d be short of staff. Wouldn’t trust any of this lot except Freddy. And leaving without some of the boys noticing might be awkward.”
“I want to leave this afternoon, and take the two current subjects with us.”
Whiting blinked but didn’t offer any objection. “There’s two ways of going about it then. We could go for a major diversion, maybe disable the other transport. Or we could try and slip off very quietly in the van Freddy uses when he picks up deliveries. These young agents are unimaginative. The van comes and goes several times a week. You wouldn’t be able to take much with you, though.”
“I don’t need anything beyond the drugs. Those will go in my bag. I’d much rather try the quiet way, but the problem will be getting the subjects into the van.”
Whiting shrugged. “There isn’t much to them. Bundle them into a couple of crates. There’s plenty in the garage. Freddy can have the empty crates carried to the tank room. Send the guards for coffee—they won’t ask questions. Tip the two patients you’re working on into the crates; Freddy and I can get them down to the van. You stroll down yourself a bit later. You and I get in the back with the crates, Freddy drives off. Nothing interesting for anyone to see. By the time they realise something’s happened, we’ll be long gone.”
Josephs thought about it, and nodded. “Well planned,” he conceded. “All right. I’ll go down to the tank room now. Send Freddy up with the crates immediately.”
Jim Ellison spent his afternoon coming to terms with the fact that at far as the PD computers were concerned, Dr Josephs did no more than exist. He had no address, no vehicle registration, no health insurance; he left no trace of his life on the multitude of databases that could be accessed. He appeared to receive no income and pay no tax. And Jim had an uneasy feeling that some of his searches might have triggered flags, though he hadn’t the computer skills to be sure. He needed Sandburg. Of course, if he had Sandburg he wouldn’t need to be doing this at all.
Simon, who hadn’t been appointed for his computer literacy either, was nevertheless beginning to take Jim’s concerns more seriously. The description of the car, the absence of Saunders and now this at least brought him to looking over Jim’s shoulder at the uninformative screen.
“Only Sandburg,” he muttered. “Poster child for fools rush in…”
“I don’t think he can have known what he was getting into,” Jim said. None of this fitted with his impression of what had been bothering Blair. He pressed return and something unpleasant started to happen to his screen. “Shit. What’s that?”
“Spontaneous combustion apparently. Look, Jim, you’re getting nowhere here. I’ll do what I can at an official level, but your best hope is Kelso—or any unofficial contacts you or Larabee have got. Go and get some rest and a meal and see what they’ve come up with. All you’re doing at the moment is giving us both a headache.”
Jim hadn’t the energy to argue with this. His head did ache, painfully and spasmodically, his sight spiking and ebbing with every throb. He still just about had control of it, but it was probably a good idea to drive home while he still could. He’d had to use his senses a lot during the day, and concentrating, particularly on the interviews, had strained him more than he liked. And there had been that zone… He’d half forgotten it. It was almost certainly too much to hope Larabee had.
He wondered if he dared risk giving Larabee some hint of the sentinel stuff. It would make life easier, and it was the only edge they had in a game which seemed stacked against them.
Larabee would probably think he was insane. Or want him to prove it, and he wasn’t sure he had the control for that tonight.
He hadn’t any real reason to trust Larabee either. He knew his record, but that wasn’t the same as having worked with a man. It wasn’t two days since he’d first met him. If he did trust him, it was only because it was obvious Tanner’s friendship meant to him what Blair’s did to Jim.
On the other hand, was that such a bad reason?
His head throbbed worse than ever. He gave up thinking about it until he got back to the loft. Then he found he didn’t have to make the decision at all. Larabee, black-denimed legs stretched out on the couch, was reading Blair’s old battered copy of Richard Burton (explorer not actor). He was reading it ostentatiously, too.
Jim found to his surprise that all he felt was relief. He dropped into the other chair, and waited for whatever Larabee was going to say. Larabee put the book down, looked Jim over and silently fetched coffee and two Tylenol. Jim swallowed them, welcoming the silence and the coffee equally. After a while, the pounding behind his eyes dulled a little. He leaned back, and decided he could face the conversation now. “I see you found Sandburg’s bedtime reading.”
“Fascinating stuff,” Larabee agreed, only the slightest quirk at the corner of his mouth suggesting he might be enjoying this. “Had a long talk with my profiler. Did I tell you my team’s good? He’d done a pretty thorough job of reading through Sandburg’s published papers, and looking at his dissertation topic. We put it together with a few other things—this not specially loud phone, the way you went round that car, the fact you could walk straight through a campus crowd and find Kelso…”
Jim groaned inaudibly. Had he really been that obvious?
“… and it made more sense than the idea that Banks welcomes in students writing about the closed society he’s running at Major Crimes.”
It did really. He shouldn’t try that line on anyone who was actually going to meet Simon. Jim held out his empty cup. “Pour me a refill and I’ll tell you a story. A long story, starting six years or so ago, in Peru…”
Larabee listened intently, as Jim described his first experience of using his senses among the Chopec, and the return of his heightened abilities during the Switchman case. He tried to keep it dry and factual, but he suspected Larabee picked up some of the subtext. It was hard to be objective about something that had had him heading towards the mental ward before Sandburg came along.
“So who else knows about this?” Larabee asked as Jim wrapped up his story with the events when Brackett had made his bid for the prototype.
“Besides Sandburg, only Simon Banks. Apart from Brackett, I mean, and Brackett luckily was playing a lone hand and decided to keep it that way even when he went down. Maybe one or two people have wondered about my hearing, but I’m normally more careful than I was today. You’re the first law officer I’ve met with an anthropologist in his team, and anyway, when Sandburg’s around he helps me keep it discreet.”
“But you can use your senses without him?”
“Not so efficiently. Brackett called him a guide; that’s not a bad word for it. He seems to sort of know by instinct how I need to go about it. He’s really inventive—comes up with ways of solving problems you’d never imagine. But he’s taught me enough that I can cope.”
“Must be useful on an investigation. You can hear a long way? Overhear conversations?”
“If I can focus on them. And closer, I can hear things like heart rates. Blair’s taught me ways of making a good guess whether a witness is lying.”
“You checked out the people we talked to today?”
“No. Couple of the girls lied when they said they’d hardly noticed them. Don’t think that was any more than embarrassment—I expect they’d thought they were cute.”
Chris smiled slightly. “Could be. What about what you can see. Could you see anything on the car?”
“I could see the details that wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye—differences or blemishes in the surface, anything that would suggest damage had been repaired. I couldn’t find anything worth noting though.”
“What was the ten minute time out?”
Jim pushed down annoyance. “Sandburg calls it zoning out. It’s like I concentrate too hard on one thing, I suppose. It doesn’t often happen.”
With more tact than he looked as if he possessed, Larabee left that subject. “So yesterday, when we were cleaning out the room, you were trying to sense something on that map?”
Jim sat up. He’d forgotten the map. He’d been trying to trace any variation on the surface and then the phone calls had come, and led them off in other directions.
“The map had hardly been used,” he said. “I thought I might get something from it—Sandburg’s navigation is the ‘follow the road with your finger’ variety.”
“I’ll get it,” Larabee said, which in its way was good enough to show he understood what he’d heard and was prepared to trust Jim on it.
Jim spread the map on the table and tried to think how Blair would have talked him through tackling it. There were two problems with that. For a start he always let Blair do the thinking on the sentinel stuff and just followed the lead his voice gave him. Then there was the fact that it brought home to him yet again what it meant to have Blair missing.
Touch or sight? That was the first decision. He lost himself less easily with touch.
He began to ghost his fingers across the surface of the map, registering the texture, sorting and analysing what the traces of variation might mean. After a while he thought he found something, and although it was infinitesimal he tried to follow it for want of anything better. He’d closed his eyes to concentrate on the paper beneath his fingertips. He tried to dial his sense up further, to feel it every difference in the area his fingers followed. If he wasn’t just imagining it, someone had touched it here and here… He opened his eyes again, abandoned touch and used his sight now to focus in on the pores of the paper, the flecks of the ink. Here, on the outskirts of Cascade, where his fingers had led him…
“There’s a fingerprint,” he said. “Just here.”
Without a word Larabee circled in pencil the area he’d indicated. Jim rubbed his eyes. He hadn’t realised how hard he’d been straining until he stopped. Now the pounding in his head was back with full force and the room seemed to focus in and out wildly, as if he was looking through some flexing lens.
Larabee took the map, and took charge. “Okay. We’ll take this with us when we go to meet Kelso. Property’s often easier to trace than people. If the CIA ever owned, leased or come to that, watched anything in this area he night be able to find out. If he can’t, we’ll go there and drive round. Meanwhile we’re not meeting him for an hour. You want to get a shower and change?”
The room had settled to its normal proportions, and the thought of a hot shower was appealing enough to get Jim to his feet. Larabee almost reached out to make sure he was steady, but checked the movement. Jim walked stiffly to the bathroom and let the heat of the shower leach some of the tiredness out of him.
The telephone rang while Ellison was in the shower. Chris picked it up, wondering if enhanced hearing would be able to follow the conversation from a room away and through the sound of the water. It was Jack Kelso, asking what they’d prefer when he sent out for delivery. Chris took the opportunity to ask him to check the area of Cascade Ellison had pinpointed on the map.
“Any CIA use or any other organisation use they know about,” Kelso agreed. “All right, I’ll do what I can.”
Ellison came out of the bathroom towelling his hair. “Who was it?”
“Kelso. You didn’t…?”
“I’ve had enough. I want to keep things on even keel for a while. What did he want?”
“Wanted to know if we’d rather have Indian or Thai. I said Thai.”
They arrived at Jack Kelso’s apartment at the same time as the man delivering a plentiful range of Thai dishes, and Chris discovered that he was hungrier than he’d expected. Time seemed to be flowing differently. He had no idea when lunch had been, and it seemed much more than three days that Vin had been missing.
While they ate, they exchanged what little information the afternoon had produced. Kelso’s contacts had come up with hints and surmises rather than anything substantial. No one had heard the name Josephs. Two or three thought Saunders had occasionally done some work without ever having a high security clearance. One old acquaintance who Kelso respected said there had been rumours for years that somewhere near Cascade was used for some highly sensitive debriefing.
“Did you come up with anything from the map reference?” Chris asked.
“I sent off some emails. Nothing had come back before you came.” He pushed aside his plate and stepped over to the computer, checking for new messages. “There’s something, but the man it’s from…” the pause stretched.
“Anything?” Ellison asked, perhaps noticing some change in Kelso that Chris couldn’t see.
“Yes,” Kelso said slowly. “I wasn’t expecting it from this source—he’s been retired longer than I have. But he’s sent me the address of a safe house that was maintained here when he was in the area nearly twenty years ago, and it’s exactly in the area you indicated. How did you come up with that, anyway?”
“Marked on Sandburg’s map,” Jim said briefly. “Give me the address. I’ve got the mobile number for that man on the desk at Rainier—Bob Freeland, wasn’t it?—who reckoned packages had been sent out to a Cascade address.”
Chris, not equipped with sentinel hearing, could only listen to one side of the conversation, but it wasn’t difficult to get the gist of it. Freeland thought the address was the one he’d seen.
“That’s corroboration enough,” Ellison said.
The atmosphere around Kelso’s table was tangibly different; they were revitalised by the prospect of finally being able to take some action. Piling the empty plates in the sink, they used the surface to spread out the map which they’d brought with them, its pencilled circle marking the target area.
“Well, we don’t know what Blair and his friend were looking for,” Kelso said, “but I think there’s enough things that fit for us to assume that they went out here looking for something or someone, and obviously ran into a situation that wasn’t what they anticipated.”
“We don’t know they’re still there,” Chris said. “And if we make official approaches to the CIA they won’t be.”
“No good prowling round the place either,” Ellison added. “We’re too likely to be picked up on surveillance if its really being used for something sensitive.”
“Do you mind if I make a suggestion?” Kelso asked. “I don’t know who’s in charge of this, and I doubt I could find out, but I can guarantee that whoever it is, the thing they would find really awkward would be the sudden arrival of the uniformed police. Plenty of police, with a good reason for searching the premises. Now suppose you had a reliable tip-off Ellison—from an ex CIA man at Rainier—that one of the professors at the university had been supplying illegal drugs to this address.” He paused. They waited in silent appreciation. “It wants to go down fast, no chance of a warning. How many cars can you get?”
“I can call on some help from Vice,” Ellison said. He glanced at his watch.
“Couple more things,” Chris said. “Might be an idea to let everyone involved know that the drug dealers’ll be masquerading as members of a security organisation. And if we want numbers, how about if an ATF tip off comes in as well. We can get the timing right, make sure the tip off comes direct to the PD. Men with fake IDs in a drugs for firearms deal at this address. Late evening rather than early am would be more convincing I suppose. Reckon we can get organised by then?”
There’d be consequences of course, but they’d got their backs fairly well covered with Kelso being prepared to help out and the evidence of packages being posted from Rainier. He’d get Ezra on to the Denver end; Ez would enjoy this. Well, would enjoy it in retrospect once they’d got Vin there to listen to it…
Chris didn’t give a damn about the consequences, anyway, and judging by the look in Ellison’s eyes, nor did he.
“Let’s draw up a timetable,” Kelso said.
Nigel Henshaw watched the curtain drop on the local drama group’s production of Macbeth. He made a point of attending neighbourhood events. People in the area had known him for years as the director of the small and very private nursing home at Redwoods. It was so discreet it was considered quite a suitable addition to the prosperous community, and Henshaw had always been aware that his donations to local charities and his impeccable appearance when he appeared at community events lent an important public face to it.
The curtain rose again for the actors to receive their applause. Macbeth joined the cast, standing rather incongruously next to what was supposed to be his own severed head. Clapping politely, Henshaw thought what a mess Shakespeare had made of the story. The original Macbeth that Holinshed wrote about had been a man he’d have been happy to do business with, much more efficient in his killing and certainly better at keeping the throne.
After excellent coffee and some civil exchanges with other members of the audience, he drove towards Redwoods. He hadn’t been there since the Saturday night; he had several other projects, and this was the one that usually required the least input from him. He wouldn’t have returned now, except that he had promised to attend this play, and he wanted to make sure Josephs had dealt as ordered with the two student intruders. It hadn’t been a major security incident, but it was a blip he could have done without. Everything had been tidied up satisfactorily, and Saunders, whom he blamed, had been sent to have his training updated, but he was still not clear as to what sequence of events had led the young men to Redwoods. It was a pity he had been unable to stay and question them himself. Josephs’ reports had not been quite as satisfactory as usual—and also, though he hardly acknowledged this, there was just a hint of unease in him recently when he thought about Josephs. It wasn’t that the man was anything less than a genius at what he did; it was something else about him recently, the arrogance showing through more clearly perhaps. The man had always been supremely confident about his abilities of course. Henshaw had been a junior member of the team that recruited him in Denver; it had probably been the key moment in his rise up the organisation. Even then Josephs had believed they were the ones benefiting most from the deal. He never seemed to appreciate the level of sophistication that had gone into creating his new identity and eliminating the memory of his old one. Or the risk. One of the few thoughts that had the power to give Henshaw nightmares was the image of a tabloid headline screaming out CIA AND DENVER’S DR DEATH. That fear had faded over the years. Even in the CIA itself, few people were now aware of Josephs’ origins. But it hadn’t entirely lost its power.
Words from the play he’d just been watching flitted through his mind again, a few thoughts he could wholeheartedly agree with: If the assassination could be carried out without consequences, Macbeth had mused, if the murder was over and done with when it was committed, he wouldn’t worry about the life to come. Shakespeare had got that part right. Focus on the political dimension, not some ethereal moral one. But it was something it was impossible to get the man in the street to understand, with his woolly worries about right and wrong, or worse, God. The possibility of consequences if anyone found out the true story of the man a government organisation had been using for fifteen years was still enough to chill him, and it was why he disliked even a breath of disquiet about Josephs.
He turned into the drive. The man on the gate waved him on; there should have been a second man, but he decided to park before he sorted this out.
The garage was empty. That was so unusual that it sent him instantly to amber alert. At this time of night the van used for supplies was always there, and it was rare for more than one of the cars to be gone. He was barely out of his own vehicle before Barr, his deputy, was there.
“Mr Henshaw! We seem to have had some… uh… movements off site that were not authorised by me. I’ve been trying to contact you.”
“You knew I was at this play.”
“Yes sir, but I didn’t want to contact anyone else until I knew if you knew…”
“Knew where Dr Josephs is and why he’s removed the two subjects he was working on, sir.”
The news had something of the impact on Henshaw that finding Banquo’s ghost smiling at him over the haggis had had on Macbeth, but he handled it better. “Dr Josephs does act independently if he feels there’s a clinical need,” he said. “Obviously he should have cleared any movements with you though. You’d better come up to the office with me and give me the details.”
The details did not make the situation look any better. The van had departed with its usual driver late afternoon. That had been commonplace enough to be routine. Some time later, the men who were supposed to be on duty in the tank room came to find Barr and asked if they could go off now the subjects weren’t there. Barr had told them to clear it with Dr Josephs, assuming the man had temporarily moved back to his lab. “I mean, he does it all the time, moves people he’s treating. I thought he’d simply forgotten to give the men permission to go.”
“So when did you realise Dr Josephs was missing?”
“Perhaps an hour after that, when they came back again to say they couldn’t find him or the subjects anywhere on the premises. The van hadn’t come back, and Whiting was missing as well. That’s when I first tried to get hold of you, but you must have already gone into the play. I sent out the cars to check the area, and obviously tried to call the driver and Whiting. Josephs doesn’t carry a phone. I mean, he’s so seldom off the premises…”
They’d begun allowing him out six years ago, Henshaw thought. One or two trips in the first year—a lecture, a science fair; there had been no problems. Now he perhaps went once in a month. It had seemed to be working fine. He always had the man watched. He only ever did exactly what they’d agreed on.
None of those places were likely to help them find out where Josephs was now.
A cold and unaccustomed apprehension gripped him. If he didn’t handle this exactly right, his career was going to come to a sudden and very nasty end. He’d probably be lucky if it was only the career… How long dared he try to deal with this on his own before he informed his superiors? Well, he could at least stop the more futile gestures.
“Bring the cars back,” he said. “Dr Josephs didn’t say anything to you to suggest that he felt he’d already made enough progress with these subjects?”
“No sir, I think he was still in the intensive phase.” He paused. “I had the impression he was, well, enjoying it. Some of the men say that he spoke to them as if he knew them—that first night, after they’d been locked up. No one reported it to me then; they’re not the brightest lot on duty in the house, they’re basically guards, but when I asked them if there had been anything out of the ordinary in the last few days, one of them came up with it. Said he’d told them he could recognise them, and said something about fifteen years ago… Sir?”
It meant nothing to Barr, who knew only the basics about the set up here. It meant far too much to Henshaw. He’d thought the original news that Josephs was missing had felt like a shock, but this—this really was what it was like to have the ghost of hidden actions rise up and fill you with the horror of their being exposed.
“Who told you Josephs knew the men?” he asked, trying to keep his voice calm.
“Cooper and Hall. And they said the men claimed they weren’t just students, though they were probably just trying it on. I mean a scruffy couple of kids like that aren’t going to be anything to do with the law… One of them apparently said he was ATF, though…”
“Send Cooper and Hall to me, and get the cars back. How many men are out?”
“Four. I sent one of the men on the gate out on foot, but he should be back by now.”
More futile gestures. Did Barr think they were all going to be coming back from a stroll? Never mind. He had to find out now exactly what level of problem he had here, before it could escalate any further.
“Sir!” Barr said, urgently, looking out of the window.
The burst of sound came at the same moment. Sirens suddenly blared and shattered what was left of his calm. There had been no build up, no gradual warning, just this eruption of noise practically on their doorsteps and blue flashing light in the night sky. It was like being in the centre of a drug bust or bank robbery. He stepped to the window, hardly able to think.
“Sir, there must be half the police force out there,” Barr said, almost equally horrified. “They must have got into position before they put on the lights and sirens…”
He trailed off. Coming into Redwoods’ drive were a startling number of cars with blue lights still flashing and sirens now disrupting the night horribly, and from them began to pour uniformed police and others. In the pulsing light Henshaw could clearly see some of his men offering identity cards and being bundled away regardless. What the hell was going on. He started for the door, started back towards the phone. There was no question now that he needed to call in support.
Before he could pick the phone up his door burst open and two large and angry men came in with apparently homicidal intentions. The phone was ripped out of his reach, and he was almost relieved to find he was only being arrested.
“This is a CIA operation,” Barr protested weakly, as he got the same treatment. “You can’t do this. Who are you?”
“Detective Ellison, Cascade PD.”
The IDs meant nothing to Henshaw, but the mention of the ATF after that fool Barr’s mutterings about the men they’d picked up was alarming. It had to be a coincidence. The young men had looked like students. Uniformed men appeared and took Barr away, and from their rough answers to his protests they had expected men to be posing as CIA agents. Henshaw struggled to believe this was even happening. He gestured wildly at the desk. “You fools. One phone call will prove to you we’re exactly who we say we are.”
But the uniformed men were already on their way out of the door, and he found himself on his own with the two officers, who refused to listen to his increasingly babbling assertions he could prove his identity, and who came forward in a manner that somehow had him backing up towards a window.
“We don’t care who you are,” the cop, Ellison, said.
“In fact, we know who you are,” Larabee added. “You’re the man responsible for the disappearance of his partner and one of my team. We don’t like that.”
“They were here, and they’re not here now,” Ellison went on, “so we’re still extremely unhappy about the situation.”
Henshaw backed up another step and found there was nowhere else to go. Did they mean the ‘students’? They couldn’t know the men had been here. It had to be guess work.
“This is a CIA operation,” he said again. “Everything to do with it is classified. I want to call my superiors.”
They did not look remotely worried by this. Henshaw’s fingers, scrabbling behind him, found the bottom edge of the window. It had begun to dawn on him that whatever the uniformed police believed, these two knew the place was CIA and didn’t care. That said a lot about how they felt about the two young men who he was beginning to believe must have truly worked with them. The two young men who Henshaw no longer had, and didn’t know the whereabouts of… They were never going to believe that. He pushed the window up in one sharp movement and vaulted out. It was a longish drop, but he’d take his chance with the ground and the uniforms outside.
He did something agonising to his ankle, and was arrested on his hands and knees. “There was no need for that, sir,” the officer said reprovingly. “You’ll be regretting you did that tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” Henshaw snarled, incoherent with pain and fury. “Creeps in this petty pace from day to day. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”
“Macbeth,” the arresting officer said with pleased recognition. “Got what he deserved I always say.”
Some miles away. Dr Josephs was enjoying the prospect of a future no longer at anyone’s back and call. He should never have had to prostitute his abilities to that. It had been utilitarian. He wanted the autonomy his grandfather had had, the lack of interference from the unimaginative or those with petty scruples. This small warehouse was primitive to the labs he’d just left, but it would be the beginning of his power base.
He looked round him. It was enough for now. And it was private, on its own small site. They had chosen it carefully, knowing that whenever they made their move, they would have their old employers looking for them very vigorously.
“We’ll have to be careful about purchases,” he said to Whiting, who was storing chemicals on a set of metal shelves. “We need new suppliers, and to go through a reliable third party.”
“We ought to be careful about electric use to begin with,” Whiting said. “A sudden surge in demand from a place like this is the sort of blip a bright boy could just pick up.”
Josephs nodded. “It won’t be a problem until we get in more big equipment. You’re right though. We don’t want anything at all to draw attention here. It would be worth getting rid of the dumpster, too—we don’t want someone coming to pick it up without warning.”
“Damn dumpster company are useless,” Whiting grumbled. “Its full of cardboard packaging turning to sludge in the rain. I rang them to take it away a week ago. I’ll get on to them again.” He looked at his watch. “I’m going to bed if you don’t want anything else.”
He and Freddy Gurney had camp beds in the empty room next door. Josephs was in the small office, but he had no intention of sleeping yet. He was looking forward to beginning the next stage of his ‘treatment’ of the young men. The questioning had been slightly frustrating. He could have broken Tanner, but he’d decided it wasn’t worth the time. Getting information wasn’t so important here; he could find out enough from official records. Then there was Sandburg. He seemed to talk easily, but Josephs had a feeling there was something he was hiding, something to do with the detective who he rode with. There was a pretty obvious explanation for that, given Sandburg’s looks, and he hadn’t troubled to probe further, but it bothered him slightly that both of them had held out, even in such small ways.
He watched their drugged sleep with cold assessment. They looked as if there was nothing to them, but he wouldn’t make that mistake again. He would take that strength of will and warp it, instead. It was time now to begin to twist their memories and build up false layers of the past, until their own determination became part of what kept them in torment. He’d gleaned enough information from Sandburg to know the weaknesses there he could work on; Tanner’s whole career suggested the one thing he wouldn’t cope with was the belief he’d hurt someone innocent.
It would be poetic justice. He would take them back to that night fifteen years ago, and make them believe it had all gone wrong from there.
Jim Ellison stood in the basement and felt Blair’s presence… and absence… drift past him in a breath of familiar scents mingled with the pervasive slightly chemical odour which infused the house. The smell he’d noticed in the car, he thought absently.
A touch on his arm recalled him.
“Sandburg was here, anyway,” he said.
He and Larabee had secured the site. The searches had finished and they had the place to themselves now. Plenty of substances had been taken away for testing, and there had been some shock and unease at the nature of the laboratories, and this basement with its electrical equipment and large flotation tanks.
“You sure they’re not CIA, Jim?” the senior man from vice had asked.
“We’re just going by the tip off,” Jim had said, shrugging. “Book them in.”
He knew, though, that it would only be a matter of hours before the PD were compelled to release them. He and Larabee needed to find all they could here, and get some questioning in before that. He moved closer to the tank, ignoring the stink of Epsom salts, and dialled up his sight. The tanks hadn’t been cleaned. He found and bagged a hair. It was long, springy, he’d bet on it being Sandburg’s.
“There are lockers out here,” Larabee called from the passage to the garage.
Would they have kept personal belongings? After seeing the car, Jim thought it was unlikely, but then Larabee called more urgently, “Ellison! Take a look at this.”
He’d found more evidence than they needed. It made Ellison wonder more and more what skewed sort of agenda had been going on here, because the clothes he’d last seen Blair wearing were there in a neat pile, alongside ones he vaguely recognised as Tanners. Larabee picked up an old and grimy leather jacket as if it was fragile.
“Where the fuck are they?” he said, and the strain was for once audible in his voice.
“They’d been in the tanks,” Jim said. “They must have stripped them for that…”
It didn’t answer the only question that really mattered, which was where were they now? They’d got what they needed here. Any better answers would have to be dragged out of the men who had just been arrested, and he was in the mood to do some dragging. He picked up the armful of Sandburg’s clothes. Worn jeans, Familiar shirt, smelling of Blair living in it. Trainers that needed replacing. They spoke to all his senses of Blair and home. He clenched his hands angrily at the knowledge of loss, saw the anger and the loss reflected in Larabee.
Without a word they set off for the PD.
In his dream, Blair was running: running from something he’d done; running down long streets he didn’t know where block after block merged with Escher-like geometric twists that tricked his eyes. He knew that however far and however fast he ran it would not be enough, but he had to keep on, not for his own sake but for Naomi’s. If they ever caught up with him, Naomi would be blamed. Maybe they’d even lock her up, and he couldn’t bear the thought of that. As he ran, he struggled to remember. How had he got here? What was the terrible thing he had done? Twin voices now spoke in his mind, and whichever one he listened to, the other slid past his conscious thought and its whispers sank deep into his mind.
It was the third day in a row that Simon Banks had made an enforced early start. Monday had been Ellison at dawn; Tuesday it was the indignant recipients of Ellison and Larabee’s personnel management style, shortly after dawn; he hadn’t expected it to get worse, but on Wednesday it did.
He hadn’t slept particularly well anyway. He was himself beginning to be slightly worried about Sandburg now. His first assumption of a wild weekend was looking less likely, and his further opinion, which was that Sandburg generally landed on his feet, and if he didn’t he bounced, wasn’t holding up quite as well as he’d like. If it was a bad night, though, that was nothing to the effect of being woken up at 5 a.m. by the chief of police, who’d just been ripped from his own slumbers by a phone call from CIA headquarters.
“I can’t make head or tail of what they’re telling me,” the chief complained with a frankness engendered by lack of sleep. “They say Vice has twenty of their men in lock up. Vice says it was Major Crime’s op, working with the ATF. The ATF said they weren’t involved and then they said their computers told them they were but they couldn’t trace the chain of command. When I got Major Crimes they told me some of their men night have gone out with Vice on an ATF tip off. Do you know anything about Major Crimes involvement? Is it possible we have arrested numbers of CIA agents.”
“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Simon said truthfully. “There was no operation of any sort planned when I went off duty last night. I’ll look into it immediately.”
“Get back to me. I’ll be in my office, fielding phone calls.”
He rang off. Simon was in his clothes and into the car with a speed that could only be achieved by a police captain who felt a sinking certainty that he did indeed have quantities of the nation’s intelligence force in his cells, and that he knew just who would have been responsible for putting them there.
He’d hardly set foot in the PD when this theory got all the confirmation it needed. He heard someone calling eagerly along the corridor he was approaching, “Hey, come on guys. You’re missing the next instalment of the Ellison and Larabee show. You’ve got to see this. They’ve got these two men-in-black types up against a wall and…”
He stopped abruptly as he saw Simon Banks and tried futilely to become a silent and inconspicuous part of the background. Several other people melted suddenly away from the scene and found busy things to do elsewhere. Simon glared at the young officer who’d been speaking.
“Where exactly are Larabee and Ellison?”
“Down there, sir. There are two visitors…”
Simon didn’t wait to hear it. He hurried on, found a small crowd in his way, and bellowed, “Haven’t you people got work to do?”
The crowd parted, reluctantly, and revealed the tableau the young officers words had suggested. Two well-dressed and probably senior figures—whose haircuts, suits and ties screamed security organisation—were backed against the foyer wall. In front of them Ellison and Larabee were exuding all the friendly welcome of a pair of irritated rottweilers.
He refrained from shouting, “Down!”, he just said, “Gentlemen!” but he gave it full volume.
Ellison backed off a couple of inches, Larabee rather less. The suits looked as relieved as was compatible with their dignity. Simon was aware that the interested audience hadn’t really withdrawn very far.
“My office!” he said, and years of experience let him hit the tone of a man who really expects to be obeyed. He hoped no one would ever know how relieved he felt when they followed him there.
Vin could no longer get away from the voice. It dripped its poison into his ears in two different sets of words. He listened to one speaking and fled from it, but as he did so he lost track of the other and its low persuasive ugliness filtered through his barriers ’til the stillness he’d found a haven in was destroyed. Lies, he screamed soundlessly. It’s lies. It didn’t happen like that. The voice said it did, and as he tuned into one narrative to deny it, the other slid past him, the words different, but the story the same. Slowly in his mind nightmare images formed, and he was no longer sure they were fantasy.
Simon Banks looked at the two rather pathetic piles of clothing on his desk, and at the two tired and angry men who had put them there.
“They had Tanner and Sandburg,” Jim said. “We’ve proof of that including confessions. Now they’re claiming they’ve lost them.”
The suited men from central intelligence had introduced themselves as Miller and Haines. Miller, who was older and had an air of seniority, cut in now. “It’s completely inappropriate to talk about confessions here. All these men are being released at the moment on orders that your chief of police has confirmed. I accept that there was a weight of evidence leading to the mistaken raid on Redlands, but it should have become much more quickly obvious that a grave mistake had been made. Kelso’s a whistleblower and a troublemaker. The original source of the ATF evidence will no doubt eventually be traced…”
Simon caught the trace of a glance from Larabee to Jim, which seemed to him to suggest some confidence it would not be tracked back to the source he was personally sure it came from.
“… and my superiors are surprised and unhappy about the fact that Cascade PD appears to have a lie detection device unknown to other law enforcement agencies. I hope that as part of getting this matter cleared up that will be made available to us.”
“Tanner and Sandburg,” Simon said briefly, sensing the tension building again. “Sandburg is my responsibility. Tanner is Captain Larabee’s. We’d like to know their whereabouts. It seems plausible now that if they were on or near your property it was because they had some prior hint of the evidence last night’s raid was based on.”
He hoped it seemed plausible, anyway. As he was quite aware that the evidence for the previous night’s raid had almost certainly been cooked up over dinner at Kelso’s it was hard to judge how convincing he was being. Miller seemed to accept it though.
“Obviously the men in charge at Redlands had no way of knowing this.”
“Their man in charge had handed Tanner and Sandburg over to some psycho doctor, and didn’t even know who they were,” Jim interrupted angrily. “Now he’s saying the man’s gone rogue.”
Haines shifted uncomfortably. Miller said smoothly, “Dr Josephs is a highly trained psychiatrist, and had been with the organisation for many years. I have spoken to Mr Henshaw myself, and we expect to trace Josephs as soon as possible.”
“You’re confirming he’s gone rogue then,” Larabee said. “I’ll tell you something Miller. If I don’t find my man, unharmed, you and Henshaw and anyone else involved in this fuck up are going to…”
“We’re aiming to find him unharmed,” Simon cut in before this could get to the threat he could see coming. “Mr Miller, there seems to be something missing from this account. If Dr… Josephs, was it?… has gone missing, do you have any idea why he would have taken Tanner and Sandburg?”
Miller was silent a moment, presumably tossing up between half truths and outright lies.
“We’ve interviewed all the men who were on the site,” Ellison said. “Several of them independently said Josephs spoke to Tanner and Sandburg as if he’d known them. Two said he actually mentioned fifteen years ago.” He glanced sharply at Miller. Simon had seen nothing; he guessed Jim had sensed some internal response to that.
“That meant something to you, Miller,” Jim said. “Fifteen years ago. Had you recruited Dr Josephs then? What have you all got to hide about the man?”
“Everything to do with Dr Josephs is classified,” Miller said. “Furthermore, Captain Banks, you’ll be hearing more about the treatment these officers meted out to Mr Henshaw. He’s now been removed to Cascade General…”
“He broke his ankle jumping out of a window,” Larabee said hastily, perhaps guessing the thoughts that went through Banks’ mind at that remark.
“He should have been taken to hospital immediately,” Miller said. “Instead he appears to have spent the night being questioned in the most unpleasant manner…”
“Something you’d know nothing about?” Jim asked. “We’re still testing the drugs we found at Redlands, and then there was the electrical equipment along with the flotation tanks, and the multiple recording devices—that’s a subtle one, isn’t it, playing two different tapes, one into each ear. Subliminal, I’ve heard. I don’t think you’re in any position to talk about the methods we use for questioning people.”
“What we do is sanctioned by the law in the interests of national security,” Miller said stiffly.
“Returning to Dr Josephs,” Simon said quickly. “If his past has led to the kidnap of a police observer and an ATF officer, I think there is an obvious problem.”
“Everything to do with Dr Josephs is classified,” Miller said again. “I simply don’t have the authority to give you any more than that. We are making every effort to find him and the missing men.”
That didn’t exactly fill Simon with confidence. “And if it turns out that Tanner and Sandburg know something about Dr Josephs classified past?” he asked pointedly.
In the silence that followed this, Larabee’s phone rang, an almost startling sound given the tension that was in the room. Larabee stepped outside to answer it. No one in the room spoke. Simon could tell by the way Jim was standing that he was listening, and wasn’t too surprised when without a word he went out and joined Larabee. He would have given a great deal for sentinel hearing himself at that moment, because if Ellison and Larabee had been angry before, they moved now into some colder and more dangerous mood, perceptible even at a glimpse through the office window. Neither he nor the CIA men said anything to each other. He watched Ellison walk over to a fax machine; Larabee, still talking into the phone, followed him. Sheets of documents began to flip out.
Haines spoke to Miller in a low voice. The two men stood up, then Larabee and Ellison returned with a sheaf of papers they threw down on the desk in front of Simon. They seemed to be parts of newspaper front pages. Simon looked at them blankly, half distracted by the sense he had that both men were barely restraining themselves from some career-ending act of violence towards Miller. And still no one spoke.
The headlines in the paper made no sense for a minute, then he caught sight of half the front of the National Register which blazoned in massive print DENVER’S DR DEATH and as he picked it up Miller snatched it away and finally broke the silence. “You can’t…”
“We have,” Larabee said, but he sounded sick rather than satisfied. “It’s too late to tell us now that this is classified, Miller. You’ll give us all you’ve got or this is going to make such a splash on the tabloid front pages that all your past cock ups are going to look like nothing in comparison.”
Haines looked on blankly. Simon, equally confused, turned over more of the pages and realised he was looking at pictures of children and even babies in what seemed to be—a lab? A photo of a Downs syndrome child in a cage jumped out at him, bits of headlines about experiments on babies, and he realised he was looking at a news story that had run fifteen years ago. Dimly, he thought he remembered it. Even so it was a moment before he made the connection, and then to his own surprise his voice came out in a roar: “THIS is your Dr Josephs?”
In Denver, Team 7 had the complete newspapers spread out on Chris Larabee’s desk. They had faxed copies to Cascade before they’d done more than look at the headlines. Now they were putting together a story so appalling it seemed impossible it could have been forgotten for fifteen years.
“I remember it happening,” Josiah said. “I should have thought of it as soon as Chris gave us a rough date. Fifteen years ago, kids on the streets. I don’t know how I could have been so slow.”
Ezra thought that in fact, he’d been remarkably quick. There had never been one word of this in all the time he’d been in Denver; he would have been willing to wager there had never been a documentary, no mention in any dossier or manual. It wasn’t a case that had ever been mentioned in all the training he’d been through.
“Someone has been obliterating all references to it ever since it happened,” he said. “You can imagine the pattern. First journalists might be told it would compromise the investigation; then there would be the futures of the rescued children; anyone in any official position would have actual orders to avoid publicity on the case, and doubtless they would be given plausibly public spirited reasons why this would be advisable. The next step would probably be the fortuitous breaking of some local scandal that had been held in reserve for just this sort of eventuality.”
They were all looking at him oddly. “It was the mayor,” Josiah said after a moment. “I remember that, too. A sex scandal—all the trimmings the newspapers love. But so many ordinary people read this at the time…”
“It was news for what… a week? Ten days? Followed by fifteen years of silence,” Ezra said, reading as he talked. “Apparently none of these children had families, in fact they were all homeless. Even the babies, it says, were the babies of underage girls who had become pregnant on the streets. No relatives to keep the story alive, no teachers or classmates, no trial.”
“Why no trial?” JD asked; he kept looking away from the pictures.
“The man involved was believed to have died in a fire,” Josiah told him. “No one seemed to know about the place at all, no one else was prosecuted. The… lab, I suppose you’d call it… was only discovered by some freak chance.”
Ezra was reading about that, in one of the more balanced versions of events. Dr Levine, as he’d been known then, had been using the basement of a house which he owned in an area high in decaying housing and social problems. Far from being suspected, he’d been seen as a do-gooder, taking an interest in charitable work among young people with problems or on the streets.
The emergency services had been called there one night by a caller who gave the address and reported a fire and a chemical spillage. The fire had been in roof, easily quenched and not, anyway, an immediate threat to life, but the men who came had been told there were people downstairs in the building and dangerous chemicals. Half expecting a hoax, they had walked in on the scenes of horror that were captured in grainy shots in front of him—courtesy of a news reporter who’d been riding with them planning to write an article on an evening in the life of the emergency services. If it hadn’t been for that, he mused, perhaps the story would have been even more quickly and thoroughly suppressed.
He read on, the others doing the same now, gripped by the grotesque accounts. The doctor had bolted into a back room and locked himself in. When they broke down the door, the room was empty, and they found a shaft in the wall that housed an old service lift leading to the upper floors. Dr Levine was gone. By that time ambulances were arriving to take away the traumatised children, and the manhunt took second place to their distress.
The newspapers had only the barest account of what happened to Levine after that, preferring to follow up the children and the problems of homelessness. The popular version seemed to be he had never left the house but had hidden in the roof timbers. Early the following evening, perhaps because of something he did, the fire had broken out again with much greater force. The whole of the upper floor had burned this time, and a body had been found in it, badly burned, which was identified by dental records as being Levine. Case closed. Within a couple of days the newspapers were running stories calling for the children to be helped without press interference, and setting up charity collections for street children. Within a week, the mayor, the exotic dancer and the bodypaint had completely swept the story from the news.
It had been a rather smooth and sophisticated piece of work.
“So he’s been working for the CIA ever since,” Buck said grimly.
“Looks like it.”
“Now that we know what we’re looking for, maybe you could check Vin’s computer for the names—Levine or the names of anyone else mentioned in the reports,” Buck said to JD, probably noticing the younger man’s shocked discomfort at what he was reading. “I’m going to call Orrin Travis.”
Ezra picked up the newspapers, and reread the accounts through carefully. Nathan, picking up a slightly blurred photo of a baby linked to some machines said softly, “Told you what Vin asked me, ’bout a baby and its memories. Could he have seen this picture?”
“Could we find out any more about the call to the emergency services?” Ezra asked. He had an idea, or perhaps something less definable.
“What do you want to know?” Josiah asked.
“I wondered whether it was possible a child placed that call,” Ezra said slowly. “It… reading these descriptions of what happened, it does appear like an ingenious attempt to bring the authorities on to the scene, the sort of attempt that might be made by someone who thought no one would believe what they had to say. The fire, the phone call, someone there to tell the firemen to go down to the basement. I doubt if that chain of events was as much a matter of chance and coincidence as it seems.”
“You think it might have been Vin?”
“Or his friend. Or both of them, perhaps with others. It’s only a surmise.”
“It’s a good one,” Nathan said, surprising him. “Looking back, something kind of personal was bothering Vin. Makes sense that maybe he was more involved in this than simply knowing about it.”
“I don’t know what I’ll be able to find out after so many years, but I’ll try,” Josiah said, heading off towards his desk and phone. “One thing, no one around that night is likely to have forgotten much about it.”
Ezra’s eyes were drawn again to the photographs that showed the children and equipment in ugly juxtaposition. He knew what it would do to Vin now to see a child suffer like that. He didn’t want to think of him having seen such things when he was all but a child himself.
And even worse than that, if Vin really had had something to do with bringing that horror to an end, he didn’t want to think of him in the power of the man whom he had effectively defeated.
“Best not say anything to Chris until we know for sure,” Nathan said. “He’ll be finding it hard enough as it is.”
Chris was finding it hard, and as the day went on, it became progressively worse. Overnight he and Ellison had taken advantage of the general confusion and had managed to talk to most of the arrested men. They’d used Ellison’s abilities, along with an electronic gadget Chris had had in his pocket—because he’d taken it off JD and Buck the previous week—and had convinced even Henshaw of their superior lie detection capabilities, and in most cases they had got some answers. Knowing Josephs had gone rogue, a number of the younger agents had been concerned to distance themselves from him. Some of them even seemed to think it was their own organisation who had had them locked up. In the long run, though, all the questioning had led them nowhere, except to the realisation that in fact no one any longer knew where Vin and Sandburg might be.
The newspapers faxed from Denver had been almost unbearable to read. Leaving Simon Banks, now very worried and very angry, to deal with the visitors, he and Ellison had taken the documents away and gone through them. He could hardly believe he had never heard of the case. The shocking nature of what he read, though, was made much worse by the thought of Vin somehow being involved.
“It must have happened while Sandburg was in Denver,” Ellison said, his thoughts clearly following a similar uncomfortable path. “This story breaking, I mean. He recognised Josephs, Levine or whatever, and Josephs evidently recognised him and Tanner. So how involved were they?”
“I need to get in touch with my team again. They don’t know Josephs had recognised the two of them. They can do more at their end to see if they can find the connection.”
When he rang, Josiah came on, and after hearing what he had to say, told him Ezra’s theory. “I’m going to call on one of the firefighters who answered the call out,” Josiah said. “He’s retired now. And I know some nuns who worked with street children about that time. But if Josephs recognised the two of them—I think it would take some pretty powerful motivation for a man like that to have even noticed what a child looked like, let alone recollect it after so much time. Makes sense to run with Ezra’s idea.”
It would have made sense if there was anywhere to run with it. He and Ellison left the PD not long after Miller had obtained the release of all his personnel. Everything that could be done from there was being coordinated now by the Major Crimes team. In Denver his own men were filling in the missing details of the story as far as they could. Experience told him that unless they got a lucky break, this was going to be slow, but he desperately needed to be doing something.
“He wants them alive, anyway,” Ellison said, the first time he’d spoken since they left the PD.
“What did you make of what that lad said,” Chris asked. “That Josephs said he was sending them back to the streets, threatened to make addicts of them.”
“He was telling the truth, or thought he was. It makes more sense now in terms of revenge, I suppose. It’s not so easy to make an addict of a person though, and he hadn’t done anything like that while they were at Redlands.”
“But it might suggest he’s got a base near the homeless here. That would fit with his MO from last time.”
“He’s got people working with him this time. Miller told Simon neither of the men who left with Josephs know his past . Both he and Henshaw say that Whiting would only have taken a risk like this for profit. There’s no profit in Tanner or Sandburg, or the homeless for that matter. Where are they planning to make their money from?”
“Criminal organisations? Business espionage? Drugs.”
“So they’re going to be looking for customers. Or maybe Whiting is, while Josephs enjoys himself.” He stopped the truck outside the loft. “I agree with you about the homeless. A psycho like Josephs doesn’t change that much. He thought he was doing some kind of research then; there’s a chance he’ll want to go back to it now. We can check out any unusual activity on the streets, volunteers in the missions and so on. But we could also set up a buyer for some unusual indoctrination techniques. Preferably someone from out of town.”
Chris almost smiled. “Now there I think I can offer you some manpower. My undercover agent hasn’t got an assignment at the moment.”
He’d thought briefly earlier that day of bringing Ezra up to Cascade, but there hadn’t been anything obvious for him to do to justify it. He wanted Ezra’s input on this one. Well, he’d’ve liked to have all of them, but until he could swing that with Orrin Travis he’d settle for Ezra. And he couldn’t imagine anyone better equipped to carry out the role Ellison had just suggested.
They set that up, with Ezra to arrive in Cascade the next day, then they went on a slow and rather grim trail round the more miserable parts of Cascade. There were few children on the streets; most of the homeless were at least over sixteen. They made a note of hostels and missions, had a quiet word with managers where possible. They achieved nothing tangible. By the time they got back to the loft, they needed the clean air of the balcony. Ellison brought out a bottle of good whisky.
After a couple of glasses, Chris asked the question he’d been wanting to ask all day. “How close would you have to be to track Sandburg. We hadn’t been in that building a couple of minutes before you said he’d been there and he was gone. Could you do that on the street?”
“I checked Rainier from the parking lot. It’s easier if there aren’t too many people about, but yes, I could do it from the street. I’ve been thinking if I can’t sleep I’ll just drive round Cascade and see if I can pick anything up.”
“Probably. If you know a person well, there are things you’d recognise. I can pick Simon up from the smell of cigars. Some people, it’s sounds.”
“A parent knows their own kid’s cry,” Chris said softly.
Maybe Ellison knew about Sarah and Adam, maybe he didn’t, but after a pause he said equally softly, “I can recognise Sandburg’s heartbeat. Weird, but I could pick it from a thousand.”
Chris wondered what that would be like, wished briefly he had some way of finding Vin among a crowd. Ellison poured him another whisky and they sat and drank and stared at the expanse of Cascade running down to the water. There was a lot of city to lose someone in. They’d drunk half the bottle before it seemed worth trying to sleep.
Blair was trapped in a nightmare, reliving events which seemed to become more real and vivid each time they replayed in his mind. He stood in the street, watching the burning of a tall building fill the night sky, and he screamed at the firefighters that there were people inside, people in the basement, but no one seemed to hear him and nobody moved. He could not understand how the small fire in the roof could have become this all-consuming conflagration; he ran to a firefighter and tugged at his arm telling him he had to act, but then with a colossal noise, and with terrible finality the building collapsed in on itself, and he knew there was no longer any hope. No one could have survived that. It was his fault, all his fault. He mourned for the people inside, and he did not care what happened to himself, but he knew if he was caught they would find Naomi and make her suffer as well. That couldn’t happen. He began to run and run.
Josephs and Whiting waited for three days before they thought it was safe for Whiting to leave their new premises. In that time Whiting cropped and dyed his hair and with a change to street casual clothes, was almost unrecognisable. Freddy gave the van a similar makeover. It kept him out of the way; when he wasn’t in the garage he was grumbling about the forced incarceration.
Josephs hardly noticed it. The last thing he wanted was to leave the premises. At last his work was going in a way that satisfied him. Connecting his subjects up to twin recorders playing different monologues into each ear had been particularly successful. He interspersed that with other forms of suggestion and indoctrination and he was sure now that the false memories were beginning to take hold. In a few days this stage would be over. Then he would work on their appearances, and begin to let them approach a waking level of consciousness. At the moment he had them on a fine balance, allowing them occasionally to rise close enough to awareness to swallow liquids and get rid of them. Without solid food, he thought it was already becoming visible that they’d lost weight. That was one of the things he remembered about them—thin faces with straggling hair dangling round them.
Whiting left on the Saturday morning with a long list of jobs. There was the need for basics of food and other stores, a few items of equipment; higher on their list of priorities was to make contact with a man they had been cultivating for some time as a potential business agent. They’d moved earlier than they had originally planned, and funds would soon be a problem. Finding customers for their unique service was now near the top of Whiting’s agenda.
He returned quite late in the afternoon. Josephs glanced down to see the van disappearing into the garage, leaving the site bare and anonymous except for the dumpster which still hadn’t been picked up. He’d caught Freddy that morning dropping packaging from the window into it. That was exactly the sort of thing that might catch the eye of a passerby.
Whiting came up, looking pleased with life.
“What are you grinning about?” Freddy asked sourly. “All right for some, getting out of this dump.”
“You know I set up a couple of long distance bugs on the office at Redlands? I picked up the tapes today.”
“That was an unnecessary risk,” Josephs said.
“No. Our agent had heard there had been problems at Redlands. He thought I’d come to reassure him we were still in a position to do business.”
“It was busted the night we left. BIG police raid, lots of arrests. From what I’ve managed to find out they were all released by morning, but Henshaw’s in Cascade General in traction—broke his ankle jumping out of a window.”
Freddy grinned. “I like it. But how did it happen?”
“It seems that those two,” Whiting jerked his heads at the inert forms on the trolleys, “have got some very determined friends. I’d say from the recording that Henshaw might have had reason for jumping. There were two macho types called Ellison and Larabee, the tape picked up their identification clearly. They sounded very unhappy they’d just missed getting their little friends back.”
Josephs was caught between self-satisfaction that he’d made the decision to leave when he did, and concern at the narrow escape. “They shouldn’t have been able to trace them to Redlands, especially not so quickly.”
“Well, they did; and did us a good turn if you think about it. Our trail will have been nice and cold before anyone had a chance to start looking for us. And something else is going our way too. Our man has a potential customer: one of those smooth guys with an interest in several lines. He seems to be thinking of expanding into Cascade. That doesn’t concern us, but he expressed an incidental need to indulge in some business espionage. He seems to have ready cash, and we need it. I said we could supply anything necessary.”
Josephs nodded. It would be a distraction if he had to start on other work, but money was a pressing problem. “Set it up as soon as you can, then. I don’t suppose he’ll want anything very subtle.”
He went back to what he’d been doing, which was checking the monitors which gave him some idea as to Sandburg and Tanner’s levels of consciousness. His control of Sandburg seemed to work well enough; Tanner he couldn’t understand. He’d lightened the sedation considerably now, yet the man still seemed below the threshold he would have expected. Still, at least he no longer resisted what the tapes were hammering into his subconscious. The content of that might have to be adjusted a little now. Josephs was surprised and faintly alarmed that Sandburg and Tanner seemed to be an object of such personal concern to their colleagues. He’d wondered about Ellison and Sandburg of course, maybe that would explain it in their case, but that Larabee would have bothered to come to Cascade and abandon his other duties was disconcerting. It seemed a good idea to introduce something similar to aversion therapy into his program. If at some future date Ellison and Larabee remained persistent enough in their search to come close to these two, they would find Sandburg and Tanner primed to run from them even more readily than from any other law officers.
Vin watched the building blaze and collapse. Over and again he saw it, and he no longer shouted in his mind that it hadn’t happened like that, couldn’t have happened like that. The plan had gone wrong. The fire had spread out of control. All those kids, the babies… even in the dream he could not bear it. Again and again he saw it and ran, but he could never run far enough to get away from his guilt. And now from somewhere, another image entered his dream. A face that he found a name for. Chris Larabee. He struggled to fit him into this blazing world. Then the voice that always seemed to be there whispered in his mind ‘Larabee knows what you did. He’ll hunt you down’. Despair filled him, because although the voice was silent about it, other images came to him anyway: a good man grieving, a man with the best reason in the world to hate arsonists. Nothing the voice said could have made his image of Larabee ugly, but he could see him as an avenger. He knew his own guilt, but something in him could not endure the thought of paying for it at Larabee’s hands. He ran…
Jim Ellison really disliked people knowing he was what Sandburg called a sentinel. He wasn’t sure he even liked the term; it always suggested a piece of military technology to him, or at best someone only bright enough for guard duty. Over the months he’d known Sandburg, he realised it had different connotations for him: some kind of mystic watchmen, dedicated to the protection of his people. Jim doubted he could live up to that image even if he wanted to.
So he was relieved that Larabee didn’t seem to care what the sense-thing was called, and was only interested in how it was useful, to them now, and perhaps to Jim in his usual work. He seemed to view it as rather like being a phenomenally good shot, or fluent in rare languages—potentially valuable in certain situations, but not something to get too excited about. Jim could relate to that.
It didn’t mean, though, that he wanted it public knowledge in Larabee’s team.
“I won’t send Ez in unsure of his backup,” Larabee said, uncompromising.
“The backup’s good. We’ll be there. I’ll be listening. It’s safer than a wire.”
“It’s not safe if he doesn’t have confidence in what’s going on. I’m not going to give him a fudged story about a listening gizmo you’ve got that doesn’t need any wire. Anyway, he’s professional. He checks equipment.”
“What makes you think he’ll have confidence in the spiel about super-hearing?”
Larabee shrugged. “You could demonstrate that. Look, Ellison, I didn’t tell my team about this, and I told Josiah not to talk about Sandburg’s research or why I was interested in it, but that was when it wasn’t relevant to them. Standish is working with people he doesn’t know, and in a situation that’s not exactly standard. He’s got to be sure we’ll come in if he gives the word.”
“Let him wear a wire then.”
“Whiting’s ex CIA. Have you any idea how carefully he’ll check?”
After his experiences with Brackett, Jim did. He scowled at the empty bottle he was holding, but was silent. Larabee pushed his advantage. “Whiting won’t bring his prize money-spinner in unless he’s absolutely sure the set up is clean. It was hard enough for Ezra to insist on meeting the man. We put ourselves on line getting the deposit, maybe it’s your turn to put something on the line.”
They weren’t really fighting each other, it was just that the days had passed frustratingly slowly. In real terms, Standish had done wonders. Jim suspected he hadn’t slept at all the night before he arrived in Cascade, and he was impressed at the range of contacts the undercover agent had managed to come up with at such short notice. He’d done what he could himself, and called on Kelso and old friends in Vice for additional names, and Ezra had spent Thursday and Friday sallying out from his expensive hotel room as wealthy Edward Thorpe, giving the impression of a significant new player in town and visiting various haunts where he might meet the appropriate people. Larabee had made it clear to Jim that from their point of view, this was an extremely rushed job—normally Ezra would have put in weeks of meticulous preparation—but time was something they hadn’t got.
Perhaps they were lucky. Or perhaps the men they wanted to meet also didn’t have the luxury of time. On Friday Ezra had an introduction which he thought was promising. He’d had to show interest in several business areas to make his presence in Cascade plausible, but he’d dropped into one or two conversations his need, his urgent need, to find some creative way of persuading an employee of a rival organisation to work for him clandestinely. The man, a Mr Mason, called himself a facilitator, and hinted he might possibly be able to suggest something, though he was unwilling to be any more definite than that; the person he had in mind, he said, had other employers and might not be currently in the position to go freelance. At the time Ezra thought of this as no more than a tentative possibility, but on the Saturday evening, Mason had strolled up to him in a bar, and been considerably more upbeat.
Ezra had played him efficiently—Jim, unofficially listening, had been impressed. Larabee, also unofficially listening, but secondhand, had pointed out, not for the first time, that he had a good team. They’d avoided the issue of Ezra knowing the sentinel stuff at that point. Larabee had been confident in his man, had simply wanted to be around to make sure the rather hasty set up had not placed him in danger, and by mutual agreement he and Jim hadn’t informed Ezra of their presence nearby.
There had been another casual meeting on Sunday, and a more businesslike one on the Tuesday, This had included a man Ezra couldn’t definitely identify as Whiting from the photos he’d seen, but who fitted the bill on things like height and weight. That had got to them to the point they’d reached now. Team 7 had somehow, Jim didn’t enquire into the details, raised an impressive deposit; Ezra had indicated that if he was paying top class prices, he wanted to meet the man who would be doing the actual conditioning. With every meeting Ezra had had, it sounded more promising, but this one they were planning on the Wednesday night would be the proof. It seemed unlikely that there could be two doctors in Cascade who fitted the sort of profile Mason was describing—’many years experience’ ‘has worked with the security forces’ ‘can make a man believe he’s his own brother’—but they would find out.
What was concerning them now was planning what to do if the man was indeed Josephs. It was just possible he wouldn’t turn up, that only Whiting—the man they’d decided to assume was Whiting—would come. If that was the case, Ezra was to refuse to pay the deposit, the man would be allowed to leave, and Jim and Chris Larabee would do their damnedest to follow him ’til he led them to Josephs. If Josephs came as well, they would wait for Ezra to give the word and with a team from Major Crimes would go in and arrest both men.
Ezra had to know he was able to give the word, with certainty of it being acted on.
“If you’re worried he’ll talk, don’t be,” Larabee said. “His life relies on him being able to keep secrets efficiently.”
Jim could sense and accept Larabee’s confidence in the undercover agent; he didn’t know the man adequately to share it. How much did he trust Larabee’s judgement?
Rather to his own surprise, he found he trusted it enough. “All right,” he said reluctantly. “We’ve got most of the day. Lets pick him up and go through the details. Everyone except Standish will have to believe he’s wearing some state-of-the-art equipment though.”
“Thanks,” Larabee said. He didn’t give a speech about knowing what it had cost Jim to agree, but it was there in his eyes. Harmony restored, they went out to pick up their ace in the hole.
“I fail to see why Mr Thorpe needs to meet me personally,” Josephs said. He had been unhappy with the arrangement ever since it was suggested to him the previous day.
“He’s a rich man putting up a lot of money and he wants to see what he’s buying,” Whiting said. “If we want his cash, we go along with it.”
“It’s a most inconvenient moment to leave. You know I’ve begun to lessen the sedation on these two, in preparation for my next phase of treatment.”
Whiting shrugged. “So dope them up again. How hard can it be. It’s going to take us a couple of hours maximum. Freddy can keep an eye on them for that long.”
“You’re sure this meeting is safe?”
“Everything checks out so far. I won’t call you in until I’ve gone over Thorpe to make absolutely sure he’s clean.”
“And our agent?”
“He’d sell his own children, but at the moment we’re a good business proposition for him. He’s been reliable so far, and it’s been several months now.”
Grudgingly Josephs agreed that there seemed little option but to go ahead with the meeting. He spent the rest of the day carefully monitoring and adjusting Tanner and Sandburg. Freddy was reliable in only the most limited sense, and could not be trained to watch monitors and dials. It was made more difficult because Josephs was reluctant to return to the level of sedation he’d been using; it would interfere with his planned program. In the end, he decided to increase Sandburg’s dose slightly, as he seemed now very close to wakefulness. Tanner’s respiration and heartbeat still suggested he was much further under, even though he was already receiving less of the drugs; if he returned him to the earlier levels, it might set the whole thing back by days. He decided to leave him. Even if he began to wake, he was going to be dazed and weak, and no problem for the burly Freddy.
“Ready?” Whiting asked.
“We’re collecting the deposit at this meeting, you said?”
“And we need it, if the electricity is to stay on and we’re going to keep eating. Come on.”
Ezra Standish seldom met a situation he could justifiably term unprecedented. There were, after all, a finite number of permutations on the interactions of human beings. Some parallel incident, some comparable character—there was always a frame of reference if he thought laterally enough.
Tonight’s situation was unprecedented.
When Chris Larabee informed him of the way they intended to follow the course of the meeting he would have thought it some elaborate joke, except that the last thing Chris was likely to do at the moment was to joke about something so important to the hunt for Vin. Then he seriously wondered if anxiety had unhinged the man, but that was even more incredible than the idea of a man who could keep auditory surveillance from a distance simply by ‘cranking up’ his hearing.
Finally, when Ellison, extremely reluctantly, demonstrated that he could indeed see and hear at some phenomenal level of intensity, he accepted the idea and begun to consider potential problems.
“What if there is some other auditory stimulus—a loud noise, for example, closer than the conversation?”
Ellison looked at him as if he’d been surprisingly intelligent. “Good question. The answer is, I’d have a problem. Car horns etc I can cope with; if there’s a thunderstorm I suggest we abort.”
“And the—what did you call it—zone out?” Chris asked.
Ellison shrugged. “It’s a concentration thing,” he explained, even more reluctantly, to Ezra. “Like getting lost in something you’re interested in, only more so. But it hasn’t been a problem so far.” He turned to Larabee. “You haven’t noticed anything when we’ve been listening? I don’t think I’ve missed anything.”
“No.” Ezra registered what he thought was the slightest hint of discomfort in Chris.
“Basically, you can help me with that,” Ellison went on. “Just nudge me, speak to me, if you think I’m concentrating too hard. Even with the possible problems, I think it’s a better option than electronics.”
“Agreed.” Ezra knew he had nothing which would escape the type of detectors Whiting could probably employ.
He looked down at the plans, and tried to ignore the habitual suspicion at the back of his mind, which was just now suggesting to him a reason for the look which had flickered across Chris’s face. He would be willing to wager some of the conversations they’d been listening to were his own. It was entirely understandable. Chris was not going to leave anything to chance, or to a possibly flawed performance… It was absurd to feel distrusted.
“How do you expect the meeting to go?” Ellison asked.
That was something to which Ezra had given considerable thought. “I imagine Josephs will not be involved at first,” he said slowly. “It’s inconceivable that Whiting would risk him before he has satisfied himself the situation is safe. I imagine that I will have to spend some time with him and with Mason, convincing them of the genuine nature of my deposit and allowing them to assure themselves that I am not involved in some sort of entrapment. You should be able to hear when… if… Josephs arrives on the scene. I would suggest that you close in at that point to surround the building. I will give the word for your final entrance based on what seems to me the optimal chance of arresting the men without unnecessary loss of life. You will, I’m afraid, have to trust my judgement on that.”
“That’s not a problem,” Ellison said.
Chris looked at Ezra sharply, but before he could speak—had he been planning to—the rest of the Major Crimes team arrived, and the briefing had to begin. They seemed good men; it was futile to wish it was his own team. He had known before he came that he would be working with strangers.
After the briefing, Chris walked down to his car with him.
“Ez,” he started.
Ezra could guess what was coming, and forestalled it. “I will do my utmost not to let you down,” he said truthfully. “I would not offer less than my best with Vin…”
“Damn it, Ezra,” Chris interrupted, sounding quite unreasonably exasperated. “I know you won’t let me down. Stand still a minute and listen to me.”
Ezra stood still, not because of any particular instinct to obedience, but because his arm was held in the sort of grip that could only be broken by violence, and it would be embarrassing to have two ATF officers struggling under the PD security cameras.
“We listened to you,” Chris went on quickly and bluntly. “We didn’t tell you about it because, in case you hadn’t noticed, Ellison is about as coy on this sentinel business as a maiden aunt discussing sex aids.”
“Understandable,” Ezra said. “The potential use to the government might well induce some level of paranoia, and anyway, the tabloids would probably dub him Supercop if by any chance…”
“That’s not the point. The point is, that’s the only reason you didn’t know about it. I TRUST you. If you don’t start believing it soon, I’ll tattoo it on your ass. We were listening because we wanted to be on hand if a rushed job blew up on you. I’ve lost one of my team. I’m not losing any more. You did a damn good job, and Ellison wants to recruit you. When we’re listening tonight, there’ll only be two things on our mind—being in the right place when you give the word, and making sure that you’re okay. Did you follow that?”
Ezra realised he was standing there mesmerised and in danger of looking altogether too affected by this. Seizing back control, he managed to say blandly, “A tattoo would be entirely uncouth. I’m sure I can assimilate this in a less destructive manner.”
“Good. And good luck, Ez. We’ll be there.”
Vin lay still. If anyone looked at him, or at the monitors which still measured his breathing and heartbeat, it seemed like the stillness of drugged sleep, but it was no longer that. There were other reasons for stillness. Vin was alert now, and waiting, with the silent patience of a predator.
He hardly knew when the change had begun. Come to that, he hardly knew where he was now, or what was going on, but he knew that he was among enemies. His wariness had been instinctive, coming before thought really returned. The unnatural lethargy, the intrusive voices, even the smell of the place had blended with some half forgotten memory of danger to make him hide all sign of his waking. In the jumble of dreams and memories in his mind he remembered clearly the man who had taught him this. Chanu. How he’d known him, or where, was lost, but he could almost hear Chanu’s voice as he told him the ways to slow his breathing, keep his heart like that of someone asleep.
At first he had done it without a plan, with nothing but the desire to keep his awareness hidden from whoever had forced this confusion on him. Very slowly, his thoughts had become clearer. The more awake he became, the greater his control was. He was finding it easy now to fool the people who held him. Very cautiously he had begun to build up a picture of them and the place. He thought he had been properly awake for about a night and a day. In the night he had risked opening his eyes when everything was quiet; in brief glimpses he’d built up an idea of the room and what was in it. The biggest shock had been to see a still figure on a neighbouring trolley. It was lucky no one had been checking on him then. He sought through the mess of voices and nightmares and half-memories, and it was like swimming against a strong current. He struggled, found it caused a sort of physical pain to get near the memory, but at least he recaptured a series of images and a name. Blair. The images blurred from boy to man, confusing him, but his feelings were clearer. Blair was a friend, it was Vin’s fault somehow they were in this mess. Whatever he planned, he must allow for Blair. And he didn’t think Blair was awake.
Once he heard people moving, he had to be careful. For hours now he had maintained the outward slow rhythms of sleep while his mind worked with increasing clarity. There were three men. One belonged with the voices and it took all his skill to hide any evidence of the sick fear he felt when he heard him or felt him adjust wires near his skin. A doctor? Not a real doctor. All his mind would offer was monsters from children’s stories and he didn’t struggle for clearer memories in case some sign of the discomfort showed to the people watching him. One of the other men was sharp and confident. One was probably paid muscle. He listened to their words when they spoke, and later in the day to something like an argument.
He remembered what it felt like to hope.
Two of them were going away. Better, it was the doctor and the confident man who were going out.
He listened carefully, picking up what was important. They would be away for perhaps as much as two hours. Freddy—that seemed to be muscleman’s name—was to do nothing more than keep an eye on things. He must check the monitors every fifteen minutes, the doctor said. If either of the men seemed to be waking up, he could administer the syringe of sedative that lay ready measured on the table between the trolleys.
Vin’s face looked completely relaxed in sleep, but inside he was close to grinning. That would be very useful. Once he heard the door close behind the more dangerous men, he began to get ready. Very cautiously he flexed muscles that had not been used for too long. He knew he felt weak; he had to do what he could and hope surprise would help him.
It was more than fifteen minutes before Freddy moved. Vin heard a slight grunt and the sound of a magazine dropping to the floor. He could plot the man’s progress across the room as clearly as if he could see him: footsteps, cloth brushing a chair, breathing audible now, the smell of spicy food as the man leaned over for a closer look.
He timed it right. His body almost let him down.
He opened his eyes as the man turned away to look at Blair. It was the work of a moment to get hold of the syringe, but his grip as he caught Freddy round the neck was too easily broken. He hung on desperately just long enough to be sure he’d injected the whole dose into him, then was sent flying. He didn’t know how long the stuff would take to work. He rolled over, found himself near a table and flung it, though without much force.
“You little bastard,” Freddy said, swinging at him wildly and missing.
Vin got behind the trolley, kicked the brake off and rammed it into the man’s ribs. Freddy grunted and went down. Maybe the sedative was working by then, or maybe he just hadn’t much stomach for a fight. Vin didn’t care which. What mattered was he didn’t get up fighting. Vin picked up an empty beer bottle which had fallen off the table, and knocked the end off it.
“Get in the store room,” he said.
Freddy got up unsteadily, and obeyed. Vin locked the door and leaned for a moment on the trolley getting his breath. He felt as if he’d run twenty miles, but he daren’t stop to rest any longer. Blair hadn’t even stirred at the noise. Vin went to him and ripped the wires from his skin. It was only then that he realised they were both undressed, in some kind of hospital gowns. He rubbed his hand across his eyes. Shit. How could he not have noticed that before. Still, these men seemed to sleep here. There must be something.
He found a shirt and sweatshirt folded on the foot of a bed in the next door room, some stained jeans in a pile of washing and one pair of clean sweats. he took the shirt and jeans for himself, and the other things for Blair. They’d have to go commando.
It took him a long time to get Blair into the clothes—too long. His eyes were open now, but he was no help, flopping back asleep onto Vin’s shoulder as soon as he could. Vin hauled him to his feet.
“Come on, kid. We’ve got to run.”
“Run,” Blair agreed vacantly.
Vin had noticed a small fridge. He propped Blair against the wall while he grabbed two cokes and some ham from it, and the remains of a loaf of bread from on top, and dropped the lot inside his overlarge shirt. Blair had slid to the floor. He pulled him up again. His own legs were shaking with tiredness now, and he was beginning to feel seriously alarmed about how long it was all taking.
Getting them both down the stairs and outside was nothing more coordinated than a staggering, stumbling controlled fall. He paused, gasping, to lean against the doorframe, clutching Blair with what was left of his strength, and knew he needed to think again. They couldn’t go far like this. Hell, the way he felt now, he couldn’t even imagine getting out of the warehouse lot. He looked around.
There was one possibility, and it might not be a very good one. A large dumpster, of the sort builders or home improvers used for their waste, was standing close to one wall of the warehouse. He left Blair a moment and went and looked into it. It was almost full. It seemed to contain more packaging than rubble; that made it a slightly more promising option. They hadn’t got a lot of choice anyway.
With a last effort he got Blair, walked him over and somehow bundled him up onto the side of the dumpster, so that he fell in. Then he climbed in after him, and set about concealing them both, very thankful for the amount of cardboard boxes that seemed to have been flattened and thrown into it. Near the bottom the cardboard was slimy and damp, but they could manage without actually being in water. He found some broken pieces of wood, and used them to shore up a small space around them, then pulled back the cardboard above them until they were completely concealed. It might do. It was his best shot, anyway. He thought the doctor would expect them to have run as far as they could get. The other man might be more of a danger; he sounded like a man who would check all the possibilities, but there was no more Vin could do.
He settled back into the damp cardboard cave he’d made, and pulled Blair up against his shoulder to try to give him some warmth. Blair was asleep again now, and talking in his sleep. “Jim, please, no, not Naomi, you can’t arrest Naomi.” Vin thought the names should have meant something to him, but his head was aching and giddy and he couldn’t force himself to think about it. He’d got out. He’d got Blair. That would have to be enough for now. He’d save the food until Blair seemed ready to wake up. After that they would have to get much further away from here, and he didn’t know how they were going to do it. He wanted to stay awake to think about it but he was too exhausted. His head dropped against Blair’s and he let sleep take him.
Mason was jittery. Ezra noticed it as soon as he stepped into the man’s office. It wasn’t anything overt, but reading the tiny signs of someone’s body language was a part of Ezra’s professional existence. Mason was more tense than he’d seen him before; he moved a little too much, glanced a couple of times out of the window as if he was impatient for the other men to arrive, picked up a pen unnecessarily. Ezra didn’t doubt the man was uneasy; what he wasn’t sure of was why. It could be simply that his financial position was less secure than he’d indicated and the outcome of the negotiations were vital to his future prosperity. More likely he felt, as Ezra did, that the speed with which this deal had been set up was unusual, and had left less time for any cautious assessment of the other participants. If it was for either of those reasons, his edginess was not a real problem. There were two other possibilities though: he suspected Ezra’s real role or he anticipated some other trouble when Whiting and Josephs arrived.
At the moment Ezra judged it was safe to continue as planned but he wondered if he might manage to give Ellison a hint.
“I’m in no hurry, Mr Mason. If Whiting has been held up it’s not a problem.”
“No, no, I’m sure he’ll be here in a minute,” Mason said. He was trying to sound casual, but the tension was not quite masked. Ezra thought Ellison would probably have noted it.
At that moment they saw the headlights of a vehicle pulling up outside. Mason’s relief was palpable.
Jim Ellison and Chris Larabee were also relieved to see the van arrive, but after silently listening as the engine died away, Jim said, “Whiting’s alone.”
“Are you sure?”
“There’s only one heartbeat. I can judge that accurately enough. I guess Whiting has dropped his man off somewhere nearby and they have an audio link. He’s being careful.”
“It won’t be a problem so long as no one moves before Josephs shows.”
Jim nodded. They had Brown, Rafe, and others from Major Crimes positioned around the building. He informed them all that the van was empty, and reiterated the orders to wait. Switching off the radio he said to Chris, “Mason’s nervous. I’d picked up on it through his heart rate, but I think Standish wants to be sure we know, from the way he spoke to him.”
“He’s okay with going ahead?”
They had coded a number of phrases Ezra might use to signal he wanted to change the original plan.
“Seems okay so far. Whiting’s just being shown in.”
Continue on to Part 3 of 7