Lee gripped the steering wheel so hard his fingers were turning white. As the police car, lights blazing, raced past him going in the opposite direction, he let out an enormous breath and then pushed hard on the accelerator. They were in Lee's car after having ditched the other. He had scrubbed down the inside of the dead man's car, but he could have easily missed something. And nowadays equipment existed that could find things completely invisible to the naked eye. Not good.
* * *
As Faith watched the swirling lights disappear into the darkness, she wondered if the police were heading to the cottage. Did Ken Newman have a wife and kids? she wondered. There had been no wedding band on his finger. Like many women, Faith had the habit of making that quick observation. Yet he'd seemed like the fatherly type.
As Lee maneuvered the car through the back roads, Faith's hand moved up, down and then drew a vertical line across her chest as she finished crossing herself. The near-automatic movement conveyed a subtle sense of surprise to her. She added a silent prayer for the dead man. She whispered another prayer for any family he might have. "I'm so sorry you're dead," she said out loud, to help assuage her mounting feelings of guilt for simply having survived.
Lee looked over at her. "Friend of yours?"
She shook her head. "He was killed because of me. Isn't that enough?"
Faith was surprised at how easily the words of prayer and remorse had come back to her. Because of her nomadic father, her attendance at mass over the years had been sporadic. But her mother had insisted on Catholic schools wherever the family happened to venture, and her father had followed this rule after his wife had died. Catholic school must have ingrained something in her other than the constant bite of the ruler on her knuckles from Sister Something-or-other. The summer before her senior year, she had become an orphan, her travels with her father abruptly cut short by a heart attack. She was sent to live with a relative who did not want her and who took pains to show no attention to her. Faith had rebelled however she could. She smoked, she drank, she ceased to be virgin Faith long before it was fashionable to do so. At school the daily tugging down of her skirt to below her knees by the nuns only made her want to pull the damn thing up to her crotch. All in all, it was a truly forgettable year in her life, followed by several more as she struggled through college, tried to gain some direction in her life. Then for the past fifteen years she had thought her rudder was flawless, the grand movements of her life fluid. Now she was floundering, speeding toward the rocks.
Faith looked at Lee. "We need to call the police, tell somebody that he's back there."
Lee shook his head. "That opens a whole other can of worms. That is definitely not a good idea."
"We can't just leave him back there. It's not right."
"Do you suggest we go to the local precinct and try to explain this thing? They'll put us in straitjackets."
"Dammit! If you won't do it, I will. I am not leaving him back there for the squirrels."
"All right, all right. Calm down." He sighed. "I guess we could place an anonymous call in a little while, get the cops to check it out."
"Fine," said Faith.
* * *
A few minutes later, Lee noticed that Faith was fidgeting.
"I have another request," she said.
The woman's demanding style was really starting to annoy him. Lee tried not to think about the hurt in his elbow, the irritating specks of cold dirt in his eyes, the unknown dangers that lay ahead.
"Like what?" he said wearily.
"There's a gas station near here. I'd like to wash up." She added quietly, "If that's okay."
Lee looked down at the stains on her clothes and his expression softened. "No problem," he said.
"It's down this road—"
"I know where it is," Lee said. "I like to get the lay of the land where I'm working."
Faith simply stared at him.
* * *
In the bathroom Faith tried not to focus on what she was doing as she painstakingly cleaned the blood off her clothing. Still, every couple of minutes she felt like ripping off all her clothes and scrubbing herself down using the soap from the dispenser and the stack of paper towels on the dirty sink.
When she climbed back in the car, her companion's look said what his mouth didn't.
"I'll make it, for now," she said.
"By the way, my name's Lee. Lee Adams."
Faith said nothing. He started the car and they left the gas station.
"You don't have to tell me your name," he said. "I was hired to follow you, Ms. Lockhart."
She eyed him suspiciously. "Who hired you to do that?"
"How could you possibly not know who hired you?"
"I admit it's a little unusual, but it happens, on occasion. Some people are embarrassed about hiring a private detective."
"So that's what you are, a private eye?" Her tone was one of contempt.
"It can be a very legit way of earning a buck. And I'm as legit as they come."
"And how did this person come to hire you?"
"Other than the fact that I've got a killer Yellow Pages ad, I don't have a clue."
"Do you have any idea what you're mixed up in, Mr. Adams?"
"Let's just say I have a better idea now than I did a little bit ago. Getting shot at is the one thing that has always captured my undivided attention."
"And who shot at you?"
"The same guy who nailed your friend. I think I winged him, but he got away."
Faith rubbed her temples and looked out into the darkness. His next words startled her.
"What are you, Witness Protection?" Lee waited. When she didn't answer, he continued. "I did a ten-second down-and-dirty on your friend while you were busy choking out the car. He had a Glock nine-millimeter and a Kevlar vest, for all the good it did him. The shield on his belt said FBI. I didn't have time to check for ID. So what was his name?"
"Does it matter?"
"Why Witness Protection?" she asked.
"The cottage. Special locks, security system. It's a safe house, of sorts. Nobody's living there, that's for sure."
"So you've been inside."
He nodded. "At first I thought you were having an affair. A couple minutes inside told me it wasn't a love nest. Strange house, though. Hidden cameras, tape-recording system. Did you know you were on stage, by the way?"
The astonished look on her face answered his question.
"If you didn't know who hired you, how were you engaged to follow me?"
"Easy enough. Phone message said a packet of information on you and an advance on my fee would be delivered to my office. They were. A file on you, and a big chunk of cash. It said to follow your movements, and I did."
"I was told I wasn't being followed."
"I've gotten pretty good at it."
"Once I knew where you were going, I just got here ahead of you. Pretty simple."
"Was the voice a man's or woman's?"
"Couldn't tell; it was scrambled."
"Didn't that make you suspicious?"
"Everything makes me suspicious. One thing's for sure, whoever's after you, they ain't playing around. The ammo the guy was using back there could have wasted an elephant. I got to see it up close and personal."
He fell silent and Faith could not bring herself to say anything else. She had several credit cards in her purse, all with virtually limitless spending power. And they were all useless to her, because as soon as one went through the swipe machine, they would know where she was. She put her hand in her purse and touched the Tiffany pewter ring holding the keys to her beautiful home and her luxury car. Useless as well. In her wallet was the grand sum of fifty-five dollars and a few pennies. She had been stripped bare except for this cash and the clothes on her back. Her impoverished childhood had come roaring back in all its tarnished, hopeless memory.
She did have a large sum of cash, but it was in a safe-deposit box at her bank in D.C. The bank would not be open until tomorrow morning. And there were two other items she kept in that box that were even more critical to her: a driver's license and another credit card. They were both under a fake name. They had been relatively easy to set up, but she had hoped she would never have to use them. So much so that she had kept them in her bank instead of a more accessible place. Now she shook her head at such stupidity.
With those two cards she could go just about anywhere. If everything collapsed on top of her, she had often reminded herself, this would be her way out. Well, she thought now, the roof's gone, the walls are creaking, the killer tornado's at the window and the fat lady is in the limo on the way back to the hotel. It's time to pull the tent and call it a life.
She looked at Lee. What would she do with him? Faith knew that her most pressing challenge was surviving the rest of the night. Maybe he could help her do that. He seemed to know what he was doing, and he had a gun. If she could just get in and out of her bank without too much trouble, she would be okay. There were about seven hours between now and the bank's opening. They might as well have been seven years.
Thornhill sat in the small study of his lovely ivy-draped old home in a much-sought-after neighborhood in McLean, Virginia. His wife's family had money, and he enjoyed the luxuries that money could buy, as well as the freedom it gave him to be a public servant his entire career. Right now, though, he was not feeling much comfort.
The message he had just received was unbelievable to him, and yet all plans had the potential for failure. He looked at the man sitting across from him. This person was also a veteran at the Agency, and a member of Thornhill's secret group. Philip Winslow shared Thornhill's ideals and concerns. They had spent many a night in Thornhill's study, both reminiscing about past glories and devising plans that would ensure there would be many future triumphs as well. They were both Yale graduates, two of the best and brightest. They had come along at a time when it was considered honorable to serve one's country. And the CIA had gotten its share of the Ivy League's best back then. They had also come from a generation in which a man did whatever it took to protect his country's interests. A man with vision, Thornhill believed with all his heart, had to be willing to take risks to achieve that vision.
"The FBI agent was killed," Thornhill said to his friend and colleague.
"And Lockhart?" Winslow asked.
Thornhill gave one brief shake of his head. "She's disappeared."
Winslow summed it up. "So we take out one of the Bureau's finest and let the real target get away." He clinked the ice in his drink. "Not good, Bob. The others won't be happy to hear that."
"Just to get all the good news out, our man was also shot in the process."
"By the agent?"
Thornhill shook his head. "No. There was someone else there tonight. Unknown as yet. Serov has been debriefed. He gave a description of the man who was at the cottage. We're doing computer generations of him right now. We should know his identity shortly."
"Could he tell us anything else?"
"Not at present. Mr. Serov is being detained, for now, in safe quarters."
"You know the Bureau will go after this tooth and nail, Bob."
"More precisely," Thornhill said, "they will do everything in their power to find Faith Lockhart."
"Who do they suspect?"
"Buchanan, of course. It's logical," Thornhill replied.
"So what do we do with Buchanan?"
"For now, nothing. We'll keep him informed. Of at least our version of the truth, that is. We'll keep him busy at the same time we keep close tabs on the FBI. He has a trip out of town this morning, so we're covered there. However, if the FBI's investigation gets too close to Buchanan, we'll provide him with an early death and provide our professional brethren with all the sordid facts of how Buchanan tried to have Lockhart murdered."
"And Lockhart?" Winslow asked.
"Oh, the FBI will find her. They're quite good at that sort of thing, in their limited way."
"I don't see how that helps us. She talks, and Buchanan goes down and takes us with him."
"I hardly think that," Thornhill said. "When the FBI finds her, we will be there as well, if we don't find her first. And this time we won't miss. With Lockhart gone, Buchanan will soon follow. Then we can move forward with our original plan."
"God, if it could only work."
"Oh, it will work," said Thornhill with his usual optimism. To last as long as he had in this business, one had to have a positive attitude.
Lee pulled the car into the alleyway and stopped. His gaze swept over the darkened landscape. They had driven around for over two hours until he felt reasonably sure they had not been followed, and then he had made the phone call to the police from a pay phone. Although they seemed relatively safe now, Lee still kept one hand resting on the grip of his pistol, ready to pull it in an instant, to terminate their enemies with the salvos from his deadly SIG. That was a joke.
These days you could kill from a sky away, with a bomb smarter than a man, taking the most important thing a human being had without so much as a "Hello, you're dead." Lee wondered if, during the millisecond it took to cremate the poor bastards, the brain moved fast enough to spark the thought that the Hand of God had struck them down instead of something manufactured by man, the idiot. For a crazy moment, Lee scanned the sky looking for a guided missile. And depending on who was involved in all this, maybe it wasn't so crazy after all.
"What did you tell the police?" Faith asked.
"Short and sweet. The location of the place and what happened."
"And the dispatcher was skeptical but did his best to keep me on the line."
Faith looked around the alley. "Is this the safe place you mentioned?" She took in the darkness, the hidden crevices, the garbage can and the distant tap of footsteps on pavement.
"No, we leave the car here and walk to the safe place. Which, by the way, is my apartment."
"Where are we?"
"North Arlington. It's being yuppified, but it can still be dangerous, especially this time of night."
She stayed right next to him as they made their way down the alley and out onto the next street, which was an avenue of old but nicely kept-up attached rowhouses.
"Which one's yours?"
"The big one at the end there. Owner's retired, lives in Florida. He's got a couple of other properties. I troubleshoot for him, and he gives me a break on the rent."
Faith started to walk out of the alley, but Lee stopped her. "Give me a sec, I want to check things first."
She clutched his jacket. "You are not leaving me here alone."
"I'm just making sure there's nobody there waiting to throw us a surprise party. Anything looks weird, give a shout and I'm back in two shakes."
He disappeared and Faith edged into the crevice of the alley. Her heart was beating so loud, she half expected a window to open and a shoe to come sailing out at her. When she thought she could not take being alone anymore, Lee reappeared.
"Okay, it looks good. Let's go."
The outer door to the building was locked, but Lee opened it with his key. Faith noted the video camera bolted to the wall above her head.
Lee looked at her. "My idea. I like to know who's coming to see me."
They went up four flights of stairs to the top floor and down the hallway to the last door on the right. Faith eyed the three locks on the door. Lee opened each of them with another key.
When the door opened, she heard a beeping sound. They went inside the apartment. On the wall was an alarm panel. Screwed into the wall above it was a piece of shiny copper on a hinge. Lee flipped the copper shield down so that it covered the alarm panel. He reached his hand underneath the copper plate and hit some buttons on the panel and the beeping sound stopped.
He looked over at Faith, who was watching him closely.
"Van Eck radiation. You probably wouldn't understand."
She hiked her eyebrows. "You're probably right."
Next to the alarm panel was a small video screen built into the wall. On the screen Faith could see the front stoop of the building. It was obviously the video link to the surveillance camera outside.
Lee locked the front door and then put his hand on it. "It's steel, set in a special metal frame I built myself. It doesn't matter how strong the lock is. What usually gives is the frame. A lousy two-by-four if you're lucky. A crook's Christmas present handed out by the building industry. I've also got pick-proof window locks, outside motion detectors, piggyback cellular on the alarm system's phone link. We'll be okay."
"I take it you're somewhat security-minded?" she said.
"No, I'm paranoid."
Faith heard something approaching from down the hall. She flinched, but relaxed when she saw Lee smile and move toward the sound. A second later an old German shepherd wandered around the corner. Lee squatted and played with the big dog, who rolled over on his back. Lee accommodated the animal with a belly rub.
"Hey, Max, how you doing, boy?" Lee patted Max's head and the dog affectionately licked his owner's hand.
"Now, this thing is the best security device ever invented. Don't have to worry about electrical outages, batteries going dead or somebody turning his loyalties."
"So your plan is that we stay here?"
Lee looked up at her. "You want something to eat or drink? We might as well work on this over a full stomach."
"Hot tea would be nice. I couldn't really look at food right now."
A few minutes later they were sitting at the kitchen table. Faith sipped on herbal tea while Lee worked on a cup of coffee. Max dozed under the table.
"We have a problem," Lee began. "When I went in the cottage I tripped something. So I'm on the videotape."
Faith looked stricken. "My God, they could be on their way here right now."
"Maybe that's a good thing." Lee looked at her sharply.
"And why is that?"
"I'm not into helping criminals."
"So you think I'm a criminal?"
Faith fingered her teacup. "I was working with the FBI, not against them."
"Okay, what were they doing with you?"
"I can't answer that."
"Then I can't help you. Come on, I'll give you a ride to your place." Lee started to rise from his chair.
She gripped his arm. "Wait, please wait." The thought of being left alone just then was paralyzing.
He sat back down and waited expectantly.
"How much do I have to tell you before you'll help me?"
"Depends on what sort of help you want. I'm not doing anything against the law."
"I wouldn't ask you to."
"Then you've got no problem, other than somebody wanting to kill you."
Faith took a nervous sip of her tea while Lee watched her.
"If they know who you are from the video, should we be just sitting here?" she asked.
"I messed with the tape. Ran my magnet over it."
Faith looked at him, a glint of hope in her eyes. "You think you were able to erase it?"
"I can't tell for sure. I'm not an expert in that stuff."
"But at the very least it might take some time for them to reconstruct it?"
"That's what I'm hoping. But we're not exactly dealing with the Camp Fire girls here. The recording equipment also had a security system built in. Chances are if the police try to force the tape out, it might self-destruct. Personally, I'd give the forty-seven bucks I have in the bank if that did happen. I'm a man who likes his privacy. But you still need to fill me in."
Faith didn't say anything. She just stared at him, like he had just made an unwanted pass at her.
Lee cocked his head at her. "I tell you what. I'm the detective, okay? I'll make some deductions and you tell me if I'm right or not, how's that?" When Faith still said nothing, he continued. "The cameras I saw were only in the living room. And the table, chairs, coffee and stuff were set up in the living room only. Now, I tripped the laser or whatever it was going in. That apparently set off the cameras."
"I guess that would make sense," Faith said.
"No, it doesn't. I had the access code to the alarm system," said Lee.