Page 46


“Is in our fair city,” Don Tetragna said, gesturing again toward the window and smiling at the populous slopes below.


Vince supposed that the don was smiling fondly at his beloved San Francisco. But the smile didn't look fond. It looked avaricious.


“And,” Don Tetragna said, “you would like for me to give you the names of the people who have my authorization to deal in papers such as this man needed.”


“If you can see it in your heart to grant me this favor, I would be most grateful.”


“They won't have kept records.”


“Yes, sir, but they might remember something.”


“They're in the business of not remembering.”


“But the human mind never forgets, Don Tetragna. No matter how hard it tries, it never really forgets.”


“How true. And you swear that the man you seek is not a member of any Family?”


“I swear it.”


“This execution must not in any way be traced to my Family.”


“I swear it.”


Don Tetragna closed his eyes again, but not for as long as he had closed them before. When he opened them, he smiled broadly but, as always, it was a humorless smile. He was the least jolly fat man Vince had ever seen. “When your father married a Swedish girl rather than one of his own people, his family despaired and expected the worst. But your mother was a good wife, unquestioning and obedient. And they produced you-a most handsome son. But you're more than handsome. You're a good soldier, Vincent. You have done fine, clean work for the Families in New York and New Jersey, for those in Chicago, and also for us on this coast. Not very long ago, you did me the great service of crushing the cockroach Pantangela.”


“For which you paid me most generously, Don Tetragna,”


The Screwdriver waved one hand dismissively. “We're all paid for our labors. But we're not talking money here. Your years of loyalty and good service are worth more than money. Therefore, you are owed at least this One favor.”


“Thank you, Don Tetragna.”


“You'll be given the names of those who provide such papers in this City, and I'll see that they are all forewarned of your visit. They'll cooperate fully.”


“If you say they will,” Vince said, rising and bowing with only his head and shoulders, “I know that it is true.”


The don motioned him to Sit down. “But before you attend to this private affair, I'd like you to take another contract. There's a man in Oakland who is giving me much grief. He thinks I can't touch him because he's politically well connected and well guarded. His name is Ramon Velazquez. This will be a difficult job, Vincent.”


Vince carefully concealed his frustration and displeasure. He did not want to take on a troublesome hit right now. He wanted to concentrate on tracking down Travis Cornell and the dog. But he knew Tetragna's contract was more a demand than an offer. To get the names of the people who sold false papers, he must first waste Velazquez.


He said, “I would be honored to squash any insect that has stung you. And there'll be no charge this time.”


“Oh, I'd insist on paying you, Vincent.”


As ingratiatingly as he knew how, Vince smiled and said, “Please, Don Tetragna, let me do this favor. It would give me great pleasure.”


Tetragna appeared to consider the request, though this was what he expected-a free hit in return for helping Vince. He put both hands on his enormous belly and patted himself. “I am such a lucky man. Wherever I turn, people want to do me favors, kindnesses.”


“Not lucky, Don Tetragna,” Vince said, sick of their mannered conversation. “You reap what you sow, and if you reap kindness it is because of the seeds of greater kindness you've sown so broadly.”


Beaming, Tetragna accepted his offer to waste Velazquez for nothing. The nostrils of his porcine nose flared as if he had smelled something good to eat, and he said, “But now tell me . . . to satisfy my curiosity, what will you do to this other man when you catch him, this man with whom you have a personal vendetta?”


Blow his brains out and snatch his dog, Vince thought.


But he knew the kind of crap The Screwdriver wanted to hear, the same hard-assed stuff most of these guys wanted to hear from him, their favorite hired killer so he said, “Don Tetragna, I intend to cut off his balls, cut off his ears, cut out his tongue-and only then put an ice pick through his heart and stop his clock.”


The fat man's eyes glittered with approval. His nostrils flared.


3


By Thanksgiving, The Outsider had not found the bleached-wood house in Big Sur.


Every night, Travis and Nora locked the shutters over the inside of the windows. They dead-bolted the doors. Retiring to the second floor, they slept with shotguns beside their bed and revolvers on their nightstands.


Sometimes, in the dead hours after midnight, they were awakened by strange noises in the yard or on the porch roof. Einstein padded from window to window, sniffing urgently, but always he indicated that they had nothing to fear. On further investigation, Travis usually found a prowling raccoon or other forest creature.


Travis enjoyed Thanksgiving more than he had thought he would, given the circumstances. He and Nora cooked an elaborate traditional meal for just the three of them: roast turkey with chestnut dressing, a clam casserole, glazed carrots, baked corn, pepper slaw, crescent rolls, and pumpkin pie.


Einstein sampled everything because he had developed a much more sophisticated palate than an ordinary dog. He was still a dog, however, and though the only thing he strongly disliked was the sour pepper slaw, he preferred turkey above all else. That afternoon he spent a lot of time gnawing contentedly on the drumsticks.


Over the weeks, Travis had noticed that, like most dogs, Einstein would go out into the yard occasionally and eat a little grass, though sometimes it seemed to gag him. He did it again on Thanksgiving Day, and when Travis asked him if he liked the taste of grass, Einstein said no. “Then why do you try to eat it sometimes?”


NEED IT.


“Why?”


I DON'T KNOW.


“If you don't know what you need it for, then how do you know you need it at all? Instinct?”


YES.


“Just instinct?”


DON'T KNOCK IT.


That evening, the three of them sat in piles of pillows on the living-room floor in front of the big stone fireplace, listening to music. Einstein's golden coat was glossy and thick in the firelight. As Travis sat with one arm around Nora, petting the dog with his free hand, he thought eating grass must be a good idea because Einstein looked healthy and robust. Einstein sneezed a few times and coughed now and then, but those seemed natural reactions to the Thanksgiving overindulgence and to the warm, dry air in front of the fireplace. Travis was not for a moment concerned about the dog's health.


4


On the afternoon of Friday, November 26, the balmy day after Thanksgiving, Garrison Dilworth was aboard his beloved forty-two-foot Hinckley Sou'wester, Amazing Grace, in his boat slip in the Santa Barbara harbor. He was polishing brightwork and, diligently bent to his task, almost didn't see the two men in business suits as they approached along the dock. He looked up as they were about to announce themselves, and he knew who they were- not their names, but who they must work for-even before they showed him their credentials.


One was named Johnson.


The other was Soames.


Pretending puzzlement and interest, he invited them aboard.


Stepping off the dock, down onto the deck, the one named Johnson said, “We'd like to ask you a few questions, Mr. Dilworth.”


“What about?” Garrison inquired, wiping his hands on a white rag.


Johnson was a black man of ordinary size, even a little gaunt, haggard-looking, yet imposing.


Garrison said, “National Security Agency, you say? Surely, you don't think I'm in the hire of the KGB?”


Johnson smiled thinly. “You've done work for Nora Devon?”


He raised his eyebrows. “Nora? Are you serious? Well, I can assure you that Nora isn't the sort of person to be involved-”


“You are her attorney, then?” Johnson asked.


Garrison glanced at the freckle-faced younger man, Agent Soames, and again raised his eyebrows as if to ask if Johnson was always this chilly. Soames stared expressionlessly, taking his cue from the boss.


Oh my, we're in trouble with these two, Garrison thought.


After his frustrating and unsuccessful questioning of Dilworth, Lem sent Cliff Soames off on a series of errands: begin the procedures to obtain a court order allowing taps to be placed on the attorney's home and office telephones; find the three pay phones nearest his office and the three nearest his house, and arrange for taps to be put on those as well; obtain telephone-company records of all long-distance calls made from Dilworth's home and office phones; bring in extra men from the Los Angeles office to staff an around-the-clock surveillance of Dilworth, starting within three hours.


While Cliff was attending to those things, Lem strolled around the boat docks in the harbor, hoping the sounds of the sea and the calming sight of rolling water would help clear his mind and focus his thoughts on his problems. God knew, he needed desperately to get focused. Over six months had passed since the dog and The Outsider had escaped from Banodyne, and Lem had lost almost fifteen pounds in the pursuit. He had not slept well in months, had little interest in food, and even his sex life had suffered.


There's such a thing as trying too hard, he told himself. It causes constipation of the mind. But such admonishments did no good. He was still as blocked as a pipe full of concrete.


For three months, since they found Cornell's Airstream in the school parking lot the day after Hockney's murder, Lem had known that Cornell and the woman had been returning, on that August night, from a trip to Vegas, Tahoe, and Monterey. Nightclub table cards from Vegas, hotel stationery, matchbooks, and gasoline credit-card receipts had been found in the trailer and pickup truck, pinpointing every stop of their itinerary. He had not known the woman's identity, yet he had assumed she was a girlfriend, nothing more, but of course he should never have assumed any such thing. Only a few days ago, when one of his own agents went to Vegas to marry, Lem had finally realized that Cornell and the woman could have gone to Vegas for that same purpose. Suddenly their trip had looked like a honeymoon. Within hours, he confirmed that Cornell had, in fact, been married in Clark County, Nevada, on August 11, to Nora Devon of Santa Barbara.


Seeking the woman, he discovered that her house had been sold six weeks ago, after she'd vanished with Cornell. Looking into the sale, he found she had been represented by her attorney, Garrison Dilworth.


By freezing Cornell's assets, Lem thought he had made it harder for the man to continue a fugitive existence, but now he discovered that Dilworth had helped slip twenty thousand out of Cornell's bank and that all of the proceeds from the sale of the woman's house had been transferred to her somehow. Furthermore, through Dilworth, she had closed out her local bank accounts four weeks ago, and that money also was in her hands. She and her husband and the dog might now have sufficient resources to remain in hiding for years.


Standing on the dock, Lem stared at the sun-spangled sea, which slapped rhythmically against the pilings. The motion nauseated him.


He looked up at the soaring, cawing seagulls. Instead of being calmed by their graceful flight, he grew edgy.


Garrison Dilworth was intelligent, clever, a born fighter. Now that the link had been made between him and the Cornells, the attorney promised to take the NSA to court to unfreeze Travis's assets. “You've filed no charges against the man,” Dilworth had said. “What toadying judge would grant the power to freeze his accounts? Your manipulation of the legal system to hamper an innocent citizen is unconscionable.”


Lem could have filed charges against Travis and Nora Cornell for the violation of all sorts of laws designed to preserve the national security, and by doing so he'd have made it impossible for Dilworth to continue lending assistance to the fugitives. But filing charges meant attracting media attention. Then the harebrained story about Cornell's pet panther-and perhaps the NSA's entire cover-up-would come down like a paper house in a thunderstorm.


His only hope was that Dilworth would try to get in touch with the Cornells to tell them that his association with them had been at last uncovered and that contact between them would have to be far more circumspect in the future. Then, with luck, Lem would pinpoint the Cornells through their telephone number. He did not have much hope of everything working out that easily. Dilworth was no fool.


Looking around at the Santa Barbara yacht harbor, Lem tried to relax, for he knew he needed to be calm and fresh if he was to outthink the old attorney. The hundreds of pleasure boats at the docks, sails furled or packed away, bobbed gently on the rolling tide, and other boats with unfurled sails glided Serenely out toward the open sea, and people in bathing suits were sunning on the decks or having early cocktails, and the gulls darted like stitching needles across the blue and white quilt of the sky, and people were fishing from the stone breakwater, and the scene was achingly picturesque, but it was also an image of leisure, great and calculated leisure, with which Lem Johnson could not identify. To Lem, too much leisure was a dangerous distraction from the cold, hard realities of life, from the competitive world, and any leisure activity that lasted longer than a few hours made him nervous and anxious to get back to work. Here was leisure measured in days, in weeks; here, in these expensive and lovingly crafted boats, was leisure measured in month long sailing excursions up and down the coast, so much leisure that it made Lern break into a sweat, made him want to scream.


He had The Outsider to worry about as well. There had been no sign of it since the day Travis Cornell had shot at it in his rented house, back at the end of August. Three months ago. What had the thing been doing in those three months? Where had it been hiding? Was it still after the dog? Was it dead?


Maybe, out in the wilds, it had been bitten by a rattlesnake, or maybe it had fallen off a cliff.


God, Lem thought, let it be dead, please, give me that much of a break. Let it be dead.


But he knew The Outsider was not dead because that would be too easy. Nothing in life was that easy. The damn thing was out there, stalking the dog. It had probably suppressed the urge to kill people it encountered because it knew each murder drew Lem and his men closer to it, and it did not want to be found before it had killed the dog. When the beast had torn the dog and the Cornells to bloody pieces, then it would once again begin to vent its rage on the population at large, and every death would hang heavily on Lem Johnson's conscience.


P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***