Persuader

Chapter 12


I could still hear the Cadillac. I could hear its lumpy V-8 whisper and the faint liquid burble from its tailpipes. I could hear drive belts turning slowly under the hood. I could hear the muffler ticking as it adjusted to a new temperature.

"Rules," Paulie called. "You get past me, you get the guns."

I said nothing.

"You get to them, you can use them," he called.

I said nothing. He kept smiling.

"You understand?" he called.

I nodded. Watched his eyes.

"OK," he said. "I won't touch the guns unless you run away. You do that, I'll pick them up and shoot you in the back. That's fair, right? You got to stand and fight now."

I said nothing.

"Like a man," he called.

Still I said nothing. I was cold. No coat, no jacket.

"Like an officer and a gentleman," he said.

I watched his eyes.

"We clear on the rules?" he said.

I said nothing. The wind was on my back.

"We clear on the rules?" he said again.

"Crystal," I said.

"You going to run?" he said.

I said nothing.

"I think you will," he said. "Because you're a pussy."

I didn't react.

"Officer pussy," he said. "Rear-echelon whore. Coward."

I just stood there. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. And I doubted he knew any words I hadn't heard a hundred thousand times before. Military cops are never very popular. I tuned his voice out. Watched his eyes and his hands and his feet instead. Thought hard. I knew a lot about him. None of it was good. He was big and he was crazy and he was fast.

"Damn ATF spy," he called.

Not exactly, I thought.

"Here I come," he called.

He didn't move. I didn't, either. I just stood my ground. He was full of meth and steroids. His eyes were blazing.

"Coming to get you," he sang.

He didn't move. He was heavy. Heavy, and strong. Very strong. If he hit me, I would go down. And if I went down, I would never get up again. I watched him. He came up on the balls of his feet. Moved, fast. Feinted left, and stopped. I stood still. Held my ground. Watched him. Thought hard. He was heavier than nature intended, maybe by a hundred or a hundred and fifty pounds. Maybe by more. So he was fast, but he wouldn't be fast forever.

I took a breath.

"Elizabeth tells me you can't get it up," I said.

He stared in at me. I could still hear the Cadillac. I could still hear the waves. They were crashing in, way behind the house.

"Big guy," I said. "But not big everywhere."

No reaction.

"I bet my left-hand pinkie is bigger," I said.

I held it out, halfway curled into my palm.

"And stiffer," I said.

His face darkened. He seemed to swell up. He exploded at me. Just launched himself forward with his right arm scything around in a giant roundhouse strike. I sidestepped his body and ducked under his arm and bounced up again and spun around. He stopped short on stiff legs and whipped back toward me. We had changed places. Now I was nearer the guns than he was. He panicked and came at me again. Same move. His right arm swung. I sidestepped and ducked and we were back where we started. But he was breathing a little heavier than I was.

"You're a big girl's blouse," I said.

It was a term of abuse I had picked up somewhere. England, maybe. I had no idea what it meant. But it worked real well, with a certain type of guy. It worked real well with Paulie. He came at me again, no hesitation. Same exact move. This time I crashed an elbow into his side as I spun under his arm. He bounced straight off of locked knees and came right back at me. I dodged away again and felt the breeze as his giant fist passed an inch above my head.

He stood there, panting. I was warming up nicely. I was beginning to feel I had some kind of a chance. He was a very poor fighter. Lots of very big guys are. Either their sheer size is so intimidating it stops fights from ever starting in the first place, or else it lets them win every one directly after their first punch lands. Either way, they don't get much practice. They don't develop much finesse. And they get out of shape. Weights machines and treadmills are no substitute for the kind of urgent, anxious, breathless tight-throat high-speed high-adrenaline fitness you need to fight on the street. I figured Paulie was a prime example. I figured he had weight-lifted himself right out of the frame.

I blew him a kiss.

He swarmed through the air at me. Came on like a pile driver. I dodged left and put an elbow in his face and he connected with his left hand and knocked me sideways like I weighed nothing at all. I went down on one knee and got back up just in time to arch around his next crazy lunge. His fist missed my gut by a quarter-inch and its wild momentum pulled him past me and downward a little which put the side of his head right in line for a left hook. I let it go with everything I had from my toes on up. My fist crashed into his ear and he staggered back and I followed up with a colossal right to his jaw. Then I danced back and took a breather and tried to see what damage I'd done.

No damage.

I had hit him four times and it was like I hadn't hit him at all. The two elbows had been solid smashes and the two punches had been as hard as anything I had ever thrown in my life. There was blood on his upper lip from the second elbow, but there was absolutely nothing else wrong with him. Theoretically he should have been unconscious. Or in a coma. It was probably thirty years since I ever had to hit a guy more than four times. But he showed no pain. No concern. He wasn't unconscious. He wasn't in a coma. He was dancing around and smiling again. He was relaxed. Moving easy. Huge. Impregnable. There was no way to hurt him. I looked at him and knew for sure I had no chance at all. And he looked at me and knew exactly what I was thinking. He smiled wider. Got balanced on the balls of both feet and hunched his shoulders down low and held his hands out in front of him like claws. He stamped his feet, left, right, left, right. It was like he was pawing the ground. Like he was going to come and get me and tear me apart. The smile distorted into a terrible wide grin of pleasure.

He came straight at me and I dodged left. But he was ready for that maneuver and he landed a right hook in the center of my chest. It felt exactly like being hit by a four-hundred-pound weight-lifter moving at six miles an hour. My sternum seemed to crack and I thought my heart would stop from the shock. I came up off my feet and went down on my back. Then it was about choosing to live or choosing to die. I chose to live. Rolled over twice and pushed with my hands and levered myself upright. Jumped back and sideways and dodged a straight drive that would have killed me.

After that it was about staying alive and seeing what the next half-second would bring. My chest hurt badly and my mobility was below a hundred percent but I dodged whatever he threw for about a minute. He was fast, but he wasn't talented. I got an elbow in his face. It cracked his nose. It should have punched it out the back of his head. But at least it started bleeding. He opened his mouth to breathe. I dodged and danced and waited. Caught a huge roundhouse punch on the left shoulder that nearly paralyzed my arm. Then he near-missed with a right and for a fraction of a split second his stance was wide open. His mouth was open because of the blood in his nose. I wound up and let go with a cigarette punch. It's a bar fight trick I learned long ago. You offer your guy a cigarette and he takes it and lifts it to his lips and opens his mouth maybe three-quarters of an inch. Whereupon you time it just right and land a huge uppercut under his chin. It slams his mouth shut and breaks his jaw and busts his teeth and maybe he bites his tongue off. Thank you and good night. I didn't need to offer Paulie a cigarette because his mouth was already hanging open. So I just let go with the uppercut. Gave it everything I had. It was a perfect blow. I was still thinking and still steady on my feet and although I was small compared with him I'm really a very big guy with a lot of training and experience. I landed the punch right where his jaw narrowed under his chin. Solid bone-to-bone contact. I came up on my toes and followed through a whole yard. It should have broken his neck as well as his jaw. His head should have come right off and rolled away in the dirt. But the blow did nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. Just rocked him back an inch. He shook his head once and hit me in the face. I saw it coming and did all the right things. I whipped my head back and opened my mouth wide so I wouldn't lose teeth from both parts of my jaw. Because my head was moving backward I took some momentum out of the blow but it was still a tremendous impact. Like being hit by a train. Like a car wreck. My lights went out and I went down hard and lost track of where I was so the blacktop came up at me like a second huge punch in the back. Air thumped out of my lungs and I saw a spray of blood from my mouth. The back of my skull hit the driveway. The sky dimmed above me.

I tried to move but it was like a car that doesn't start with the first turn of the key. Click... nothing. I lost half a second. My left arm was weak so I used my right. Got halfway off the floor. Folded my feet under me and heaved myself upright. I was dizzy. I was all over the place. But Paulie was just standing still and watching me. And smiling.

I realized he was going to take his time with me. I realized he was going to really enjoy himself.

I looked for the guns. They were still behind him. I couldn't get to them. I had hit him six times and he was laughing at me. He had hit me three times and I was a mess. I was badly shaken up. I was going to die. I knew it with sudden clarity. I was going to die in Abbot, Maine, on a dull Saturday morning in late April. And half of me was saying Hey, we've all got to die. What does it matter exactly where or when? But the other half was blazing with the kind of fury and arrogance that has powered so much of my life: You going to let this particular guy take you down? I followed the silent argument intently and made my choice and spat blood and breathed hard and shaped up one last time. My mouth hurt. My head hurt. My shoulder hurt. My chest hurt. I was sick and dizzy. I spat again. Traced my teeth with my tongue. It made me feel like I was smiling. So look on the bright side. I had no fatal injuries. Yet. I hadn't been shot. So I smiled for real and spat for the third time and said to myself OK, let's die fighting.

Paulie was still smiling, too. He had blood on his face but other than that he looked completely normal. His tie was still neat. He still had his suit coat on. He still looked like he had basketballs stuffed up into the shoulders. He watched me shape up and he smiled wider and got down into the crouch again and did the claw-hands thing again and started pawing the ground again. I figured I could dodge one more time, maybe twice, maybe three times if I was really lucky, and then it would be all over. Dead, in Maine. On an April Saturday. I pictured Dominique Kohl in my mind and I said I tried, Dom, I really did. I faced front. I saw Paulie take a breath. Then I saw him move. He turned away. Walked ten feet. Turned back. Then he came straight at me, fast. I dodged away. His coat slapped at me as he went past. In the corner of my eye I saw Richard and Elizabeth, far in the distance, watching. Their mouths were open, like they were saying Those who are about to die, we salute you. Paulie switched direction fast and came toward me at a dead run.

But then he got fancy, and I saw I was going to win, after all.

He tried to kick me martial-arts style, which is about the stupidest thing you can do in a face-to-face street fight. As soon as you have one foot off the floor you're off balance and you're vulnerable. You're just begging to lose. He came at me fast with his body turned sideways like some kung-fu idiot on the television. His foot was way up in the air and he led with it, heel first, with his giant shoe held parallel with the ground. If he had connected, he would have killed me, no question. But he didn't connect. I rocked backward and caught his foot in both hands and just heaved it upward. Can I bench-press four hundred pounds? Well, let's find out, asshole. I put every ounce of my strength into it and jerked him right off the ground and got his foot way up in the air and then I dropped him on his head. He sprawled in a stunned heap with his face turned toward me. The first rule of street fighting is when you get your guy on the ground you finish him, no hesitation, no pause, no inhibition, no gentlemanly conduct. You finish him. Paulie had ignored that rule. I didn't. I kicked him as hard as I could in the face. Blood spurted and he rolled away from me and I stamped on his right hand with my heel and shattered all the carpals and metacarpals and phalanges that he had in there. Then I did it again, two hundred fifty pounds of dead weight stamping down on broken bones. Then I stamped again and bust his wrist. Then his forearm.

He was superhuman. He rolled away and pushed himself upright with his left hand. He got on his feet and stepped away. I danced in and he swung a huge left hook and I knocked it aside and landed a short left on his broken nose. He rocked back and I kneed him in the groin. His head snapped forward and I hit him with the cigarette punch again, right-handed. His head snapped back and I put my left elbow in his throat. Stamped on his instep, once, twice, and then stabbed my thumbs in his eyes. He wheeled away and I kicked his right knee from behind and his leg folded up and he went down again. I got my left foot on his left wrist. His right arm was completely useless. It was just flopping around. He was pinned, unless he could backhand two hundred fifty pounds vertically with his left arm alone. And he couldn't. I guessed steroids only got you so far. So I stamped on his left hand with my right foot until I could see the shattered bones coming out through the skin. Then I spun and jumped and landed square on his solar plexus. Stepped off him and kicked him hard in the top of his head, once, twice, three times. Then again a fourth time, so hard my shoe fell apart and the e-mail device came out and skittered away across the blacktop. It landed exactly where Elizabeth Beck's pager had landed when I had thrown it from the Cadillac. Paulie followed it with his eyes and stared at it. I kicked him in the head again.

He sat up. Just levered himself upright with the strength in his massive abs. Both arms hung uselessly by his sides. I grabbed his left wrist and turned his elbow inside out until the joint dislocated and then broke. He flapped his broken right wrist at me and slapped me with his bloody hand. I grabbed it in my left and squeezed the broken knuckles. Just stared into his eyes and crushed the shattered bones. He didn't make a sound. I kept hold of his slimy hand and turned his right elbow inside out and fell on it with my knees and heard it break. Then I wiped my palms on his hair and walked away. Made it to the gate and picked up the Colts.

He stood up. It was a clumsy move. His arms were useless. He slid his feet in toward his butt and jerked his weight forward onto them and levered himself upright. His nose was crushed and pouring with blood. His eyes were red and angry.

"Walk," I said. I was out of breath. "To the rocks."

He stood there like a stunned ox. There was blood in my mouth. Loose teeth. I felt no satisfaction. None at all. I hadn't beaten him. He had beaten himself. With the kung-fu nonsense. If he had come at me swinging, I would have been dead inside a minute, and we both knew it.

"Walk," I said. "Or I'll shoot you."

His chin came up, like a question.

"You're going in the water," I said.

He just stood there. I didn't want to shoot him. I didn't want to have to move a four-hundred-pound carcass a hundred yards to the sea. He stood still and my mind started working on the problem. Maybe I could wrap the gate chain around his ankles. Did Cadillacs have tow hooks? I wasn't sure.

"Walk," I said again.

I saw Richard and Elizabeth coming toward me. They were looping around in a wide circle. They wanted to get behind me without coming too close to Paulie. It was like he was a mythic figure. Like he was capable of anything. I knew how they felt. He had two broken arms, but I was watching him like my life depended on it. Which it did. If he ran at me and knocked me over he could crush me to death with his knees. I began to doubt that the Colts would do anything to him. I imagined him swarming at me, and emptying twelve bullets into him and watching them hit without slowing him down at all.

"Walk," I said.

He walked. He turned away and started up the driveway. I followed, ten paces behind. Richard and Elizabeth moved farther onto the grass. We passed them and they fell in behind me. At first I thought of telling them to stay where they were. But then I figured they had earned the right to watch, each in their own separate ways.

He followed the carriage circle around. He seemed to know where I wanted him. And he didn't seem to care. He passed by the garage block and headed behind the house and out onto the rocks. I followed, ten paces back. I was limping, because the heel had come off my right shoe. The wind was in my face. The sea was loud around us. It was rough and raging. He walked all the way to the head of Harley's cleft. He stopped there and stood still and then turned back to face me.

"I can't swim," he said. He slurred his words. I had broken some of his teeth, and hit him hard in the throat. The wind howled around him. It lifted his hair and added another inch to his height. Spray blew past him, right at me.

"No swimming involved," I replied.

I shot him twelve times in the chest. All twelve bullets passed straight through him. Big chunks of flesh and muscle followed them out over the ocean. One guy, two guns, twelve loud explosions, eleven dollars and forty cents in ammunition. He went down backward into the water. Made a hell of a splash. The sea was rough, but the tide was wrong. It wasn't pulling. He just settled in the roiling water and floated. The ocean turned pink around him. He floated, static. Then he started drifting. He drifted out, very slowly, bucking up and down violently on the swell. He floated for a whole minute. Then two. He drifted ten feet. Then twenty. He rolled over on his front with a loud sucking sound and pinwheeled slowly in the current. Then faster. He was trapped just underneath the surface of the water. His jacket was soaked and air was ballooned under it and leaking out of twelve separate bullet holes. The ocean was tossing him up and down like he weighed nothing at all. I put both empty guns on the rocks and squatted down and threw up into the ocean. Stayed down, breathing hard, watching him float. Watching him spin. Watching him drift away. Richard and Elizabeth kept themselves twenty feet from me. I cupped my hand and rinsed my face with cold salt water. Closed my eyes. Kept them closed for a long, long time. When I opened them again I looked out over the rough surface of the sea and saw that he wasn't there anymore. He had finally gone under.

I stayed down. Breathed out. Checked my watch. It was only eleven o'clock. I watched the ocean for a spell. It rose and fell. Waves broke and spray showered me. I saw the Arctic tern again. It was back, looking for a place to nest. My mind was blank. Then I started thinking. Started scoping things out. Started assessing the changed circumstances. I thought for five whole minutes and eventually got around to feeling pretty optimistic. With Paulie gone so early I figured the endgame had just gotten a whole lot faster and easier.

I was wrong about that, too.

The first thing that went wrong was that Elizabeth Beck wouldn't leave. I told her to take Richard and the Cadillac and get the hell out. But she wouldn't go. She just stood there on the rocks with her hair streaming and her clothes flapping in the wind.

"This is my home," she said.

"Pretty soon it's going to be a war zone," I said.

"I'm staying."

"I can't let you stay."

"I'm not leaving," she said. "Not without my husband."

I didn't know what to tell her. I just stood there, getting colder. Richard came up behind me and circled around and looked out at the sea, and then back at me.

"That was cool," he said. "You beat him."

"No, he beat himself," I said.

There were noisy seagulls in the air. They were fighting the wind, circling a spot in the ocean maybe forty yards away. They were dipping down and pecking at the crests of the waves. They were eating floating fragments of Paulie. Richard was watching them with blank eyes.

"Talk to your mother," I said to him. "You need to convince her to get away."

"I'm not leaving," Elizabeth said again.

"Me either," Richard said. "This is where we live. We're a family."

They were in some kind of shock. I couldn't argue with them. So I tried to put them to work instead. We walked up the driveway, slow and quiet. The wind tore at our clothes. I was limping, because of my shoe. I stopped where the bloodstains started and retrieved the e-mail device. It was broken. The plastic screen was cracked and it wouldn't turn on. I dropped it in my pocket. Then I found the heel rubber and sat cross-legged on the ground and put it back in place. Walking was easier after that. We reached the gate and unchained it and opened it and I got my jacket and my coat back and put them on. I buttoned the coat and turned the collar up. Then I drove the Cadillac in through the gate and parked it near the gatehouse door. Richard chained the gate again. I went inside and opened the big Russian machine gun's breech and freed the ammunition belt. Then I lifted the gun off its chain. Carried it outside into the wind and put it sideways across the Cadillac's rear seat. I went back in and rolled the belt back into its box and took the chain off its ceiling hook and unscrewed the hook from the joist. Carried the box and the chain and the hook outside and put them in the Cadillac's trunk.

"Can I help with anything?" Elizabeth asked.

"There are twenty more ammunition boxes," I said. "I want them all."

"I'm not going in there," she said. "Never again."

"Then I guess you can't help with anything."

I carried two boxes at a time, so it took me ten trips. I was still cold and I was aching all over. I could still taste blood in my mouth. I stacked the boxes in the trunk and all over the floor in back and in the front passenger footwell. Then I slid into the driver's seat and tilted the mirror. My lips were split and my gums were rimed with blood. My front teeth at the top were loose. I was upset about that. They had always been misaligned and they had been a little chipped for years, but I got them when I was eight and I was used to them and they were the only ones I had.

"Are you OK?" Elizabeth asked.

I felt the back of my head. There was a tender spot where I had hit the driveway. There was a serious bruise on the side of my left shoulder. My chest hurt and breathing wasn't entirely painless. But overall I was OK. I was in better shape than Paulie, which was all that mattered. I thumbed my teeth up into my gums and held them there.

"Never felt better," I said.

"Your lip is all swollen."

"I'll live."

"We should celebrate."

I slid out of the car.

"We should talk about getting you out of here," I said.

She said nothing to that. The phone inside the gatehouse started ringing. It had an old-fashioned bell in it, low and slow and relaxing. It sounded faint and far away, muffled by the noise of the wind and the sea. It rang once, then twice. I walked around the Cadillac's hood and went inside and picked it up. Said Paulie's name and waited a beat and heard a voice I hadn't heard in ten years.

"Did he show up yet?" it said.

I paused.

"Ten minutes ago," I said. I kept my hand halfway over the mouthpiece and made my voice high and light.

"Is he dead yet?"

"Five minutes ago," I said.

"OK, stay ready. This is going to be a long day."

You got that right, I thought. Then the phone clicked off and I put it down and stepped back outside.

"Who was it?" Elizabeth asked.

"Quinn," I said.

The first time I heard Quinn's voice was ten years previously on a cassette tape. Kohl had a telephone tap going. It was unauthorized, but back then military law was a lot more generous than civilian procedure. The cassette was a clear plastic thing that showed the little spools of tape inside. Kohl had a player the size of a shoe box with her and she clicked the cassette into it and pressed a button. My office filled with Quinn's voice. He was talking to an offshore bank, making financial arrangements. He sounded relaxed. He spoke clearly and slowly with the neutral homogenized accent you get from a lifetime in the army. He read out account numbers and gave passwords and issued instructions concerning a total of half a million dollars. He wanted most of it moved to the Bahamas.

"He mails the cash," Kohl said. "To Grand Cayman, first."

"Is that safe?" I said.

She nodded. "Safe enough. The only risk would be postal workers stealing it. But the destination address is a PO box and he sends it book rate, and nobody steals books out of the mail. So he gets away with it."

"Half a million dollars is a lot of money."

"It's a valuable weapon."

"Is it? That valuable?"

"Don't you think so?"

I shrugged. "Seems like a lot to me. For a lawn dart?"

She pointed at the tape player. Pointed at Quinn's voice filling the air. "Well, that's what they're paying, obviously. I mean, how else did he get half a million dollars? He didn't save it out of his salary, that's for sure."

"When will you make your move?"

"Tomorrow," she said. "We'll have to. He's got the final blueprint. Gorowski says it's the key to the whole thing."

"How will it go down?"

"Frasconi is dealing with the Syrian. He's going to mark the cash, with a judge advocate watching. Then we'll all observe the exchange. We'll open the briefcase that Quinn gives to the Syrian, immediately, in front of the same judge. We'll document the contents, which will be the key blueprint. Then we'll go pick Quinn up. We'll arrest him and impound the briefcase that the Syrian gave to him. The judge can watch us open it later. We'll find the marked cash inside, and therefore we'll have a witnessed and documented transaction, and therefore Quinn will go down, and he'll stay down."

"Watertight," I said. "Good work."

"Thank you," she said.

"Will Frasconi be OK?"

"He'll have to be. I can't deal with the Syrian myself. Those guys are weird with women. They can't touch us, can't look at us, sometimes they can't even talk to us. So Frasconi will have to do it."

"Want me to hold his hand?"

"His part is all offstage," she said. "There's nothing much he can screw up."

"I think I'll hold his hand anyway."

"Thank you," she said again.

"And he'll go with you to make the arrest."

She said nothing.

"I can't send you one-on-one," I said. "You know that."

She nodded.

"But I'll tell him you're the lead investigator," I said. "I'll make sure he understands it's your case."

"OK," she said.

She pressed the stop button on her tape player. Quinn's voice died, halfway through a word. The word was going to be dollars, as in two hundred thousand. But it came out as doll. He sounded bright and happy and alert, like a guy at the top of his game, fully aware he was busy playing and winning. Kohl ejected the cassette. Slipped it into her pocket. Then she winked at me and walked out of my office.

"Who's Quinn?" Elizabeth Beck asked me, ten years later.

"Frank Xavier," I said. "He used to be called Quinn. His full name is Francis Xavier Quinn."

"You know him?"

"Why else would I be here?"

"Who are you?"

"I'm a guy who knew Frank Xavier back when he was called Francis Xavier Quinn."

"You work for the government."

I shook my head. "This is strictly personal."

"What will happen to my husband?"

"No idea," I said. "And I don't really care either way."

I went back inside Paulie's little house and locked the front door. Came out again and locked the back door behind me. Then I checked the chain on the gate. It was tight. I figured we could keep intruders out for a minute, maybe a minute and a half, which might be good enough. I put the padlock key in my pants pocket.

"Back to the big house now," I said. "You'll have to walk, I'm afraid."

I drove the Cadillac down the driveway, with the ammunition boxes stacked behind and beside me. I saw Elizabeth and Richard in the mirror, hurrying side by side. They didn't want to get out of town, but they weren't too keen on being left alone. I stopped the car by the front door and backed it up ready to unload. I opened the trunk and took the ceiling hook and the chain and ran upstairs to Duke's room. His window looked out along the whole length of the driveway. It would make an ideal gunport. I took the Beretta out of my coat pocket and snicked the safety off and fired it once into the ceiling. I saw Elizabeth and Richard fifty yards away stop dead and then start running toward the house. Maybe they thought I had shot the cook. Or myself. I stood on a chair and punched through the bullet hole and raked the plaster back until I found a wooden joist. Then I aimed carefully and fired again and drilled a neat nine-millimeter hole in the wood. I screwed the hook into it and slipped the chain onto it and tested it with my weight. It held.

I went back down and opened the Cadillac's rear doors. Elizabeth and Richard arrived and I told them to carry the ammunition boxes. I carried the big machine gun. The metal detector on the front door squealed at it, loud and urgent. I carried it upstairs. Hung it on the chain and fed the end of the first belt into it. Swung the muzzle to the wall and opened the lower sash of the window. Swung the muzzle back and traversed it side to side and ranged it up and down. It covered the whole width of the distant wall and the whole length of the driveway down to the carriage circle. Richard stood and watched me.

"Keep stacking the boxes," I said.

Then I stepped over to the nightstand and picked up the outside phone. Called Duffy at the motel.

"You still want to help?" I asked her.

"Yes," she said.

"Then I need all three of you at the house," I said. "Quick as you can."

After that there was nothing more to be done until they arrived. I waited by the window and pressed my teeth into my gums with my thumb and watched the road. Watched Richard and Elizabeth struggling with the heavy boxes. Watched the sky. It was noon, but it was darkening. The weather was getting even worse. The wind was freshening. The North Atlantic coast, in late April. Unpredictable. Elizabeth Beck came in and stacked a box. Breathed hard. Stood still.

"What's going to happen?" she asked.

"No way of telling," I said.

"What's this gun for?"

"It's a precaution."

"Against what?"

"Quinn's people," I said. "We've got our backs to the sea. We might need to stop them on the driveway."

"You're going to shoot at them?"

"If necessary."

"What about my husband?" she asked.

"Do you care?"

She nodded. "Yes, I do."

"I'm going to shoot at him, too."

She said nothing.

"He's a criminal," I said. "He can take his chances."

"The laws that make him a criminal are unconstitutional."

"You think?"

She nodded again. "The Second Amendment is clear."

"Take it to the Supreme Court," I said. "Don't bother me with it."

"People have the right to bear arms."

"Drug dealers don't," I said. "I never saw an amendment that says it's OK to fire automatic weapons in the middle of a crowded neighborhood. Using bullets that go through brick walls, one after the other. And through innocent bystanders, one after the other. Babies and children."

She said nothing.

"You ever seen a bullet hit a baby?" I said. "It doesn't slide right in, like a hypodermic needle. It crushes its way through, like a bludgeon. Crushing and tearing."

She said nothing.

"Never tell a soldier that guns are fun," I said.

"The law is clear," she said.

"So join the NRA," I said. "I'm happy right here in the real world."

"He's my husband."

"You said he deserved to go to prison."

"Yes," she said. "But he doesn't deserve to die."

"You think?"

"He's my husband," she said again.

"How does he make the sales?" I asked.

"He uses I- 95," she said. "He cuts the centers out of the cheap rugs and rolls the guns in them. Like tubes, or cylinders. Drives them to Boston or New Haven. People meet him there."

I nodded. Remembered the stray carpet fibers I had seen around.

"He's my husband," Elizabeth said.

I nodded again. "If he's got the sense not to stand right next to Quinn he might be OK."

"Promise me he'll be OK. Then I'll leave. With Richard."

"I can't promise," I said.

"Then we're staying."

I said nothing.

"It was never a voluntary association, you know," she said. "With Xavier, I mean. You really need to understand that."

She moved to the window and gazed down at Richard. He was heaving the last ammunition case out of the Cadillac.

"There was coercion," she said.

"Yes, I figured that out," I said.

"He kidnapped my son."

"I know," I said.

Then she moved again and looked straight at me.

"What did he do to you?" she asked.

I saw Kohl twice more that day as she prepared her end of the mission. She was doing everything right. She was like a chess player. She never did anything without looking two moves ahead. She knew the judge advocate she asked to monitor the transaction would have to recuse himself from the subsequent court-martial, so she picked one she knew the prosecutors hated. It would be one less obstacle later. She had a photographer standing by to make a visual record. She had timed the drive out to Quinn's Virginia house. The file I had given her at the start now filled two cardboard boxes. The second time I saw her she was carrying them. They were stacked one on top of the other and her biceps were straining against their weight.

"How is Gorowski holding up?" I asked her.

"Not good," she said. "But he'll be out of the woods tomorrow."

"You're going to be famous."

"I hope not," she said. "This should stay classified forever."

"Famous in the classified world," I said. "Plenty of people see that stuff."

"So I guess I should ask for my performance review," she said. "Day after tomorrow, maybe."

"We should have dinner tonight," I said. "We should go out. Like a celebration. Best place we can find. I'll buy."

"I thought you were on food stamps."

"I've been saving up."

"You've had plenty of opportunity. It's been a long case."

"Slow as molasses," I said. "That's your only problem, Kohl. You're thorough, but you're slow."

She smiled again and hitched the boxes higher.

"You should have agreed to date me," she said. "Then I could have shown you how slow can be better than fast."

She carried the boxes away and I met her two hours later at a restaurant in town. It was an upmarket place so I had showered and put a clean uniform on. She showed up wearing a black dress. Not the same one as before. No dots on it. Just sheer black. It was very flattering, not that she needed the help. She looked about eighteen.

"Great," I said. "They're going to think you're dining with your dad."

"My uncle, maybe," she said. "My dad's younger brother."

It was one of those meals where the food wasn't important. I can remember everything else about the evening, but I can't remember what I ordered. Steak, maybe. Or ravioli. Something. I know we ate. We talked a lot, about the kind of stuff we probably wouldn't share with just anybody. I came very close to breaking down and asking her if she wanted to find a motel. But I didn't. We had a glass of wine each and then switched to water. There was an unspoken agreement we needed to stay sharp for the next day. I paid the check and we left at midnight, separately. She was bright, even though it was late. She was full of life and energy and focus. She was bubbling with anticipation. Her eyes were shining. I stood on the street and watched her drive away.

"Someone's coming," Elizabeth Beck said, ten years later.

I glanced out the window and saw a gray Taurus far in the distance. The color blended with the rock and the weather and made it hard to see. It was maybe two miles away, coming around a curve in the road, moving fast. Villanueva's car. I told Elizabeth to stay put and keep an eye on Richard and I went downstairs and out the back door. I retrieved Angel Doll's keys from my hidden bundle. Put them in my jacket pocket. I took Duffy's Glock and her spare magazines, too. I wanted her to get them back intact. It was important to me. She was already in enough trouble. I stashed them in my coat pocket with my Beretta and walked around to the front of the house and got in the Cadillac. Drove it up to the gate and slid out and waited out of sight. The Taurus stopped outside the gate and I saw Villanueva at the wheel with Duffy next to him and Eliot in the back. I stepped out of hiding and took the chain off the gate and swung it open. Villanueva eased through and stopped nose to nose with the Cadillac. Then three doors opened and they all climbed out into the cold and stared at me.

"What the hell happened to you?" Villanueva said.

I touched my mouth. It felt swollen and tender.

"Walked into a door," I said.

Villanueva glanced at the gatehouse.

"Or a doorman," he said. "Am I right?"

"You OK?" Duffy asked.

"I'm in better shape than the doorman," I said.

"Why are we here?"

"Plan B," I said. "We're going to Portland, but if we don't find what we need up there we're going to have to come back here and wait. So two of you are coming out with me right now and the other one is staying here to hold the fort." I turned around and pointed at the house. "The center second-floor window has got a big machine gun mounted in it to cover the approach. I need one of you in there manning it."

Nobody volunteered. I looked straight at Villanueva. He was old enough to have been drafted, way back. He might have spent time around big machine guns.

"You do it, Terry," I said.

"Not me," he said. "I'm coming out with you to find Teresa."

He said it like there was going to be no way to argue with him.

"OK, I'll do it," Eliot said.

"Thanks," I said. "You ever seen a Vietnam movie? Seen the door gunner on a Huey? That's you. If they come, they won't try to get through the gate. They'll go in the front window of the gatehouse and out the back door or the back window. So you be ready to hose them down as they come out."

"What if it's dark?"

"We'll be back before dark."

"OK. Who's in the house?"

"Beck's family. And the cook. They're noncombatants, but they won't leave."

"What about Beck himself?"

"He'll come back with the others. If he got away again in the confusion it wouldn't break my heart. But if he got hit in the confusion it wouldn't break my heart either."

"OK."

"They probably won't show up," I said. "They're busy. This all is just a precaution."

"OK," he said again.

"You keep the Cadillac," I said. "We'll take the Taurus."

Villanueva got back in the Ford and reversed it out through the gate again. I walked out with Duffy and closed the gate from the outside and chained it and locked it and tossed the padlock key over to Eliot.

"See you later," I said.

He turned the Cadillac around and I watched him drive it down toward the house. Then I got in the Taurus with Duffy and Villanueva. She took the front seat. I took the back. I got her Glock and her spare magazines out of my pocket and passed them forward to her, like a little ceremony.

"Thanks for the loan," I said.

She put the Glock in her shoulder holster and the magazines in her purse.

"You're very welcome," she said.

"Teresa first," Villanueva said. "Quinn second. OK?"

"Agreed," I said.

He K-turned on the road and took off west.

"So where do we look?" he said.

"Choice of three locations," I said. "There's the warehouse, there's a city-center office, and there's a business park near the airport. Can't keep a prisoner in a city-center office building over the weekend. And the warehouse is too busy. They just had a big shipment. So my vote goes with the business park."

"I-95 or Route One?"

"Route One," I said.

We drove in silence, fifteen miles inland, and turned north on Route One toward Portland.

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