Page 12


"If you don't have anything to be sorry about. Nada, zip, zero."


"If I'd have done something different..."


"If you'd done anything different, maybe Holly would be dead now. So what you've done so far is the right thing."


Mitch nodded. He needed to believe what his brother had said. He felt useless nonetheless. "What do they want us to do?" he asked again.


"First, Mickey, I want to hear everything that's happened. What the sonofabitch on the phone told me isn't a fraction of it. I need to hear it from the beginning until you rang my bell."


Surveying the room, Mitch wondered where an eavesdropping device might be hidden.


"Maybe they're listening to us right now, maybe they're not," Anson said. "It doesn't matter, Mickey. They already know everything you're going to tell me because they did it to you''


Mitch nodded. He fortified himself with some Chianti. Then he gave Anson an account of this hellish day.


In case they were being monitored, he withheld only the story of his encounter with John Knox in the garage loft.


Anson listened intently and interrupted only a few times to ask clarifying questions. When Mitch finished, his brother sat with eyes closed, ruminating on what he'd been told.


Megan had the highest IQ of the Rafferty children, but Anson had always scored a close second to her. Holly's situation remained as dire now as it had been half an hour ago, but Mitch took comfort in the fact that his brother had joined the fight.


He himself had done nearly as well as Anson on the tests. He felt somewhat cheered not because a higher intelligence had set to work on the problem, but because he was no longer alone.


He had never been any good alone.


Getting up from his chair, Anson said, "Sit tight, Mickey. I'll be right back," and left the kitchen.


Mitch stared at the telephone. He wondered if he would recognize a listening device if he took the phone apart.


He glanced at the clock—7:48. He had been given sixty hours to raise the money, and fifty-two were left.


That didn't seem correct. The events that brought him here had left him feeling wrung out, pressed flat. He felt as if he'd already been through the entire sixty hours.


Because he experienced no effect from what he'd thus far drunk, he finished the wine remaining in his glass.


Anson returned, wearing a sports coat. "We have places to go. I'll tell you everything in the car. I'd rather you drove."


"Give me a second to finish this wine," Mitch said, although his glass was empty.


On the notepad, he printed one more message: THEY CAN TRACK MY CAR.


Although no one had tailed him on his way to his parents' house, the kidnappers had known that he'd gone there. And later, when he had parked in the church lot to take the six-o'clock call, they had known his precise location.


Is that the church you and your parents attended?


If they had attached tracking devices to his truck and to the Honda, they had been able to follow him at a distance, out of sight, monitoring his whereabouts electronically.


Although Mitch didn't know the practical details of how such technology worked, he did understand that the use of it meant Holly's abductors were even more sophisticated than he had initially thought. The extent of their resources—that is, their knowledge and their criminal experience—made it increasingly clear that any attempt at resistance would be unlikely to succeed.


On the brighter side, the kidnappers' professionalism argued that any action they directed Mitch and Anson to undertake would have been well thought out and would be likely to succeed, whether robbery by proxy or another crime. With luck, the ransom would be raised.


In response to the warning in the latest note, Anson switched off the flame under the pot of soup, and produced the keys to his SUV. "Let's take my Expedition. You drive."


Mitch caught the keys when they were tossed to him, then quickly gathered the notes that he had printed, and threw them in the trash.


He and his brother left by the kitchen door. Anson neither turned off any lights nor engaged the lock, perhaps recognizing that, in this tempest, he could not keep out those whom he wished to bar, only those who had no desire to enter.


Softened by ferns and dwarf nandina, a brick courtyard separated the front and rear condos. The smaller back unit was above a pair of garages.


Anson's two-stall garage contained the Expedition and a 1947 Buick Super Woody Wagon, which he himself had restored.


Mitch got behind the wheel of the SUV. "What if they have tracking devices on your cars, too?"


As he pulled shut the passenger's door, Anson said, "Doesn't matter. I'm going to do exactly what they want. If they're able to track us, they'll be reassured."


Backing out of the garage, into the alley, Mitch said, "So what do they want, what have we got to do? Hit me with it."


"They want two million bucks transferred to a numbered account in the Grand Cayman Islands."


"Yeah, well, I guess that's better than having to give it to them in pennies, two hundred million damn pennies, but whose money do we have to rip off?"


The violent light of a red sunset flooded the alleyway.


Anson pressed the remote to close the garage door. He said, "We don't have to rip off anybody. It's my money, Mickey. They want my money, and for this they can have it."


Chapter 21


The burning sky made radiant the alley, and a furnace glow filled the Expedition.


Flushed with a fiery reflection of the smoldering sun, Anson's face appeared fierce, and a golden eyeshine gilded his stare, but in his soft voice was the tender truth of him: "Everything I have is yours, Mickey."


As if he had crossed a busy city street and, glancing back, saw a primeval forest where a metropolis had just stood, Mitch sat for a moment in bewildered silence, and then said, "You have two million dollars? Where did you get two million dollars?"


"I'm good at what I do, and I've worked hard."


"I'm sure you're good at what you do, you're good at everything you do, but you don't live like a rich man."


"Don't want to. Flash and status don't interest me."


"I know some people with money keep a low profile, but..."


"Ideas interest me," Anson said, "and getting real freedom someday, but not having my picture in the society pages."


Mitch remained lost in the forest of this new reality. "You mean you have, really have, two million in the bank?"


"I'll have to liquidate investments. It can be done by phone, by computer, once the exchanges open tomorrow. Three hours tops."


Dry seeds of hope swelled with the irrigation provided by this amazing, this astonishing news.


Mitch said, "How...how much do you have? I mean, altogether."


"This will almost wipe out my liquidity," Anson said, "but I'll still have the equity in the condo."


"Wipe you out. I can't let that happen."


"If I earned it once, I can earn it again."


"Not that much. Not easily."


"What I do with my money is my business, Mickey. And what I want to do with it is get Holly home safe."


Through the streaming crimson light, through soft dusky shadows fast hardening toward night, along the alley came a ginger cat.


Caught in cross tides of emotion, Mitch did not trust himself to speak, so he watched the cat and drew slow deep breaths.


Anson said, "Because I'm not married, don't have kids, these scum came after Holly and you as a way to get at me."


The revelation of Anson's wealth had so surprised Mitch that he had not at once grasped this obvious explanation of the heretofore inexplicable abduction.


"If there'd been someone closer to me," Anson continued, "if I had been more vulnerable that way, then my wife or child would have been snatched, and Holly would've been spared."


Slinking slowly to a stillness, the ginger cat stopped in front of the Expedition, peered up at Mitch. In a streetscape of reflected fire, only the cat's eyes produced original light, radium-green.


"It could've been one of our sisters they grabbed, couldn't it? Megan, Connie, Portia? And this is no different from that."


Mitch wondered, "The way you live, so middle-class, how did they know?"


"Someone working in a bank, a stock brokerage, one bent nail where there shouldn't be any."


"You have any idea who?"


"I haven't had time to think about it, Mickey. Ask me tomorrow."


Breaking stillness, sneaking forward, the ginger cat passed close by the SUV, vanishing from sight.


In that instant, a bird flew up, a pigeon or a dove that had lingered late over scattered crumbs, thrashing its wings against the driver's-door window as it swooped off toward some safe bower.


Mitch was startled by the sound and by the dreamlike perception that the cat, on vanishing, had become the bird.


Facing his brother again, Mitch said, "I couldn't see a way to go to the cops. But everything's changed now. You have that option."


Anson shook his head. "They shot a guy to death right in front of you to make a point."


"Yeah."


"And you got the point."


"Yeah."


"Well, so did I. Unless they get what they want, they'll kill without compunction, and they'll pin it on you or on both of us. We get Holly back, and then we go to the cops."


"Two million dollars."


"It's only money," Anson said.


Mitch remembered what his brother had said about not caring to have his picture in the society pages, about instead being interested in ideas and in "getting real freedom someday."


Now he repeated those four words and said, "I know what that means. The sailing yacht. A life on the sea."


"It doesn't matter, Mickey."


"Sure it matters. With that much money, you're close to having the boat and a life without chains."


Anson's turn had come to look for the cat or an equivalent distraction in the rouge light, the mordant shadows.


Mitch said, "I know you're a planner. You always have been. When did you plan to retire, to go for it?"


"It's a child's dream anyway, Mickey. Pirate yarns and naval battles."


"When?" Mitch insisted.


"In two years. When I turned thirty-five. So it'll be a few years later. And I might make it back quicker than I think. My business is growing fast."


"The China deal."


"The China deal and others. I'm good at what I do."


"No way I'd turn you down," Mitch said. "I'd die for Holly, so I'm sure as hell willing to let you go broke for her. But I won't let you minimize the sacrifice. It's one mother of a sacrifice."


Anson reached out, put a hand around the back of Mitch's neck, pulled him close, gently pressed forehead to forehead, so they were not looking at each other but down at the gearshift console between them. "Tell you something, bro."


"Tell me."


"Normally I'd never mention this. But so you don't chew out your own liver with guilt, which is the way you are...you should know you aren't the only one who's needed help."


"What do you mean?"


"How do you think Connie bought her bakery?"


"You?"


"I structured a loan so a portion converts into a tax-free gift each year. I don't want to be repaid. It's fun to do this. And Megan's dog-grooming business."


Mitch said, "The restaurant Portia and Frank are opening."


"That, too."


Still sitting bowed head to bowed head, Mitch said, "How did they figure out you had so much?"


"They didn't. I saw what they needed. I've been trying to think what you need, but you've always seemed...so damned self-reliant."


"This is way different from a loan to buy a bakery or open a little restaurant."


"No shit, Sherlock."


Mitch laughed shakily.


"Growing up in Daniel's rat maze," Anson said, "the only thing any of us had was one another. The only thing that mattered. That's still the way it is, fratello piccolo. That's the way it's always going to be."


"I'll never forget this," Mitch said.


"Damn right. You owe me forever."


Mitch laughed again, less shakily. "Free gardening for life."


"Hey, bro?"


"Yeah?"


"Are you gonna drip snot on the gearshift?"


"No," Mitch promised.


"Good. I like a clean car. You ready to drive?"


"Yeah."


"You sure?"


"Yeah."


"Then let's roll."


Chapter 22


Only the thinnest wound of the fallen day bled along the far horizon, and otherwise the sky was dark, and the


sea dark; and the moon had not yet risen to silver the deserted beaches.


Anson said he needed to think, and he thought clearly and well aboard a car in motion, because it was akin to a boat under sail. He suggested Mitch drive south.


At that hour, light traffic plied the Pacific Coast Highway, and Mitch stayed in the right-hand lane, in no hurry.


"They'll call the house tomorrow at noon," Anson said, "to see what progress I've made with the financials."


"I don't like this wire transfer to the Cayman Islands."


"Neither do I. Then they have the money and Holly."


"Better we have a face-to-face," Mitch said. "They bring Holly, we bring a couple suitcases of cash."


"That's also iffy. They take the money, shoot all of us."


"Not if we make it a condition that we can be armed."


Anson was dubious. "That would intimidate them? They're really gonna believe we know guns?"


"Probably not. So we take weapons that don't require us to be great shooters. Like shotguns."


"Where do we get shotguns?" Anson asked.


"We buy them at a gun shop, at Wal-Mart, wherever."


"Isn't there a waiting period?"


"I don't think so. Only with handguns."


"We'd need to practice with them."


"Not much," Mitch said, "just to get comfortable."


"Maybe we could go out Ortega Highway. Once we had the guns, I mean. There's still some desert they haven't slammed full of houses. We could find a lonely place, fire some rounds."


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