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Authors: Dennis Palumbo

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BOOK: Phantom Limb
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Biegler scowled, but she ignored it. Giving me a quick, collegial smile, she turned to consult with Barney the tech guy.

“Let's try to keep our composure, okay, Lieutenant?”

Arthur Drake spoke forcefully, striding over to where a gleaming, brass-railed wet bar stood against the wall. He peered avidly at the array of bottles. “Besides, at this point, all we can do is wait.”

“For what?” I said.

“For the next phone call.”

It was a new voice, coming from the opened doorway to a second adjoining room. Accompanied by the low squeak of wheelchair tires turning on the hardwood.

Arthur Drake froze where he stood, fingers half-closed around the neck of a whiskey bottle.

His boss, Charles Harland, was wheeled into the room.

Chapter Seven

Harland looked to be at least eighty, his frail body swallowed up by his incongruous Armani suit. The hair framing his pale, sunken face was a threadbare carpet of gray wisps. His thin hands were gnarled, age-spotted, gripping the rails of his wheelchair as though welded there.

It was only his eyes—sharp, cunning—that were vibrantly, arrogantly alive. As Harland looked intently from one of us to the other, his eyes seemed paradoxically dark and incandescent. Like miniature black holes, drawing everything and everyone into the pull of their urgent, insistent command.

Unlike the small, hooded eyes of the fair-haired man behind him, pushing the wheelchair. Maybe late fifties. Equally well-dressed, though much more casually. Tall and languid, his neck was encircled by a thin gold chain with a pendant hanging at its lower end, though I could only see its vague impression where it was tucked in under his designer-label sweater.

The man brought the chair to a stop, then stood impassively as Charles Harland's gaze settled on me.

“You're
him
, I assume.” Harland signaled that he be brought further into the room. The man behind him complied.

“That's right, Charles.” Drake quickly answered for me. “Dr. Daniel Rinaldi. The psychologist.”

I left Biegler and Agent Reese to meet Harland in the middle of the room. Offered my hand, but he ignored it.

“You're the person Mike told us about.” Harland's voice was clear and strong, despite a slight quaver. “The therapist my wife saw this afternoon. Without my knowledge.
Or
permission. I understand you also consult with the police.”

This time, before I could respond, Biegler spoke up.

“Only occasionally, sir. Dealing with crime victims who need professional help. He has no role in our investigations.” He cut me a disdainful look. “As I mentioned earlier, I see no reason why he should be involved in this present situation.”

With some effort, Harland sat up straighter in his chair, squinting coldly at Biegler.

“Rinaldi's here because I requested it, Lieutenant. As you well know. And for a very
good
reason. He was the last person to be with my Lisa before some vile creature abducted her.”

Harland peered at me again. “I presume you've given a detailed description of the kidnapper to the police.”

“To Sergeant Polk, at the scene. Though I couldn't tell him much. It all happened pretty quickly.”

“So I've been informed by Lieutenant Biegler here.”

“That's right,” Biegler said. “I conferred earlier with my people still there. Dr. Rinaldi was found unconscious in his office waiting room. Apparently assaulted by the same man who took your wife.”

“Too bad you couldn't have done more to stop him,” said the man behind Harland. Though his words were challenging, they had curiously little bite. “Maybe prevented it from happening.”

I stared at him. “And
you
are…?”

“My son,” the old man said brusquely. “James Harland.”

Apparently it was the custom in this household for people to answer questions addressed to other people. However, I didn't see much value at the moment in pointing this out.

“I'm also vice-president of Harland Industries,” James added evenly. “Though, as my father implied, my only
real
title is that of Charles Harland's son. It's also my only real job. Which is why I'm pushing this damned chair in Donna's absence.”

Then the younger Harland left his father's wheelchair and joined Arthur Drake at the wet bar.

“I'll have whatever you're having.” He gave the lawyer a thin smile. “But make it a double.”

“Don't listen to him, Arthur,” Harland said flatly. “Unlike you, James can't hold his liquor. Never could.”

James Harland looked over at me. “My childhood in a nutshell, Doctor. My father's unending disappointment with his only son. Only
surviving
son, that is.”

Drake shook his head. “Jimmy, please…not now.”

“What do you mean? He's a psychologist, right? I'm sure he'd be interested in our family history.”

By now, I was aware of the subtle though unmistakable slur in his voice. He'd already had a few.

“Besides,” James went on, “all Rinaldi's heard about us so far came from Lisa. And God knows what that bitch said. I just wanna go on the record, too.”

With a quick, knowing glance at his boss, Mike Payton walked over to the wet bar. But spoke only to Drake.

“Mr. Harland's right, Arthur. Junior's had enough. Time like this, we can't get distracted. We have to stay focused.”

But James kept his eyes on the family lawyer, who'd quietly returned his whiskey bottle to its place on the shelf.

“Dammit, Arthur, pour me a fucking drink. I'm not a child.”

“Then stop acting like one.” Drake stepped away from the bar and went to Charles Harland's side. “This is a crisis, Jimmy, and your father needs us.
All
of us.”

The old man looked up at him, offering a wan smile. “Thank you, Arthur. I can always rely on you.”

“Yeah,” James said, to no one in particular. “Arthur's a good dog. Such a good, good boy.”

A tense, uncomfortable silence settled on the room. Only to be broken, to my surprise, by Agent Gloria Reese.

“People, please. I appreciate that this is a difficult time for everyone. And I know how emotions can get churned up under extreme stress. But the only thing that matters right now is doing what's best for Lisa. Concentrating on that.”

Another long silence followed her words. During which she swept the room with her eyes, as if searching for confirmation from those assembled. Barney, adjusting his digital equipment. The Harlands, Senior and Junior, avoiding each other's stares. Mike Payton exchanging guarded looks with Arthur Drake. Biegler, arms still folded. And me.

Finally, Charles Harland stirred in his chair.

“Agent Reese is correct. All that matters is getting my Lisa back. Nothing else.” A glance at James. “
Nothing
.”

“Understood, sir,” Biegler added importantly. “And to do that, we gotta—”

Gloria interrupted him. “Excuse me, Stu. If I may…?”

Biegler's jaw tightened, but he merely watched as the FBI agent crossed the room and sat on an arm of the couch, looking kindly down at Charles Harland. The movement, as well as her demeanor, seemed to catch him off guard.

“Mr. Harland, can you tell us exactly what the kidnapper said to you on the phone?”

He glowered up at her. “I already
told
you what he said. That he had my Lisa, and that she was unharmed. But if I wanted her to stay that way, I'd have to give him five million dollars in negotiable bearer bonds. When he got the money, and was safely away, he'd release my wife.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes. I wasn't to contact the authorities. And that he'd call again with the time and place of delivery.”

Harland glared at his head of security.

“Perhaps unwisely, I allowed Mike to persuade me to call Chief Logan. As well as the governor, to ask for the Bureau's assistance. I can only hope Lisa doesn't pay the price for that decision. If she does, I promise she won't be the
only
one.”

I have to give Payton credit. He stood, unflinching, for the duration of his boss' less-than-subtle reprimand.

After which Gloria said, hurriedly, “You did the correct thing in calling law enforcement, Mr. Harland. Both Pittsburgh PD and the Bureau have a great deal of experience dealing with crimes like these. Believe me, it's never a good idea for people to attempt to deal with kidnappers on their own. It's simply too dangerous.”

In reply, Harland waved a shaky hand in dismissal and again twisted in his wheelchair. This time, I was on the receiving end of his hard, disapproving squint.

“Perhaps, Doctor, now would be a good time to—”

He didn't get to finish the thought. All of a sudden, the two-way radio on Payton's belt crackled to life. At a nod from his boss, he hurried out of the room, smoothly unhooking the radio as he went.

“Hey!” Biegler called after him. “Wait a minute…!”

He and Gloria Reese exchanged disgruntled looks. It wasn't hard to guess why. This was supposed to be
their
case, their operation. Yet Harland and his head of security were acting as though they were in charge.

I'll never know whether either of them was going to risk challenging the old man about it. In less than a minute, Mike Payton had returned.

“That was Breck, on guard duty tonight at the front gate. The armored truck from the bank has arrived with the bearer bonds. I told them to bring it up to the front of the house. Wait for our instructions.”

Biegler frowned. “I assume this Breck guy and the truck driver are armed. Just in case.”

“Yes. Trevor, too. He's joining them. The perp'd have to be crazy to make an end run move on the truck.”

“So we're back where we started.” James gnawed pensively at a fingernail. “Waiting for this bastard to call.”

Arthur Drake looked longingly at the wet bar. “Yes. I'm afraid so.”

What threatened to be another tense, awkward silence was immediately dispelled by Charles Harland. Tapping his knuckles imperiously on his wheelchair arm, he called to his son.

“James, since we have no choice but to wait, I'd like to be taken to the library. Dr. Rinaldi will accompany us.”

As though tugged by an invisible wire, James reluctantly roused himself and shuffled sullenly toward his father. Meanwhile, the old man was smiling at my puzzled look.

“As I was about to say, Doctor, before Mike received his call, I believe that now would be a good time for you and me to have a private conversation.”

“If you're hoping to discuss Lisa's therapy session with me, that isn't going to happen.”

“Don't worry, Dr. Rinaldi. I will instruct James to leave us once we're safely behind closed doors. We'll have all the privacy we need.”

“I don't think you're hearing me…”

“Despite my years, my hearing is perfectly fine. I can also assure you that I'm unaccustomed to losing when it comes to difficult negotiations. Sooner or later, we'll arrive at a mutually satisfying arrangement.”

“Look, Mr. Harland—”

Suddenly, I caught sight of Gloria Reese, now standing just beyond the old man. Her face had turned ashen, and she was staring with alarm at something over my shoulder.

“Barney!” she cried. “Freeze! Don't move!”

I whirled, as did everyone else in the room, all eyes falling on the young FBI tech. Stunned by Gloria's panicked tone, he'd frozen where he stood behind the huge desk. Like a human statue, Barney kept his hands locked in position, unmoving, inches above the complex equipment on the blotter.

Then, shifting only his eyes, he allowed himself to glance down at his left arm.

We all did.

There, as though some live thing, an ominous red dot was slowly moving up the sleeve of his sweater. Instantly, his face went as white as Gloria's, and beads of sweat appeared on his brow. Slick, glistening.

Payton was the first to find his voice.

“It's a laser point. Some kind of guided weapon is trained on him. Everybody stay where you are. Nobody fucking move!”

“He's right,” Gloria said. “Nobody move!”

Nobody did, except for Biegler. I noticed he'd crouched behind the pool table. His service weapon was in his hand.

Gauging the angle, I looked past Biegler and saw that the thin, almost translucent laser beam was streaming into the room from outside. Through the opened sliding glass doors. Its origin somewhere beyond the varnished porch. In the darkness.

Payton must have seen the same thing I had.

“Guy's outside,” he said. “In the trees.”

Arthur Drake forced out the words. “But it's so far…”

“High-caliber sniper rifle. Laser-guided. If it's got a Reticle system, it's accurate up to a mile. Maybe more.”

“Oh God…” James Harland's stricken voice was a gasp.

I turned back to check on Barney. By now, the glowing red dot had settled in the middle of his forehead.

As though having guessed the dot's location, Barney gave out a low, sickly moan. But still he did not move a muscle.

Except for his eyes, blinking rapidly, frantically.

Gloria kept her own voice measured, authoritative.

“Everybody stay calm. Just don't—”

Abruptly, the red dot started moving again. Mesmerized, we watched it meander down the sweat-drenched front of Barney's sweater. Finally settling on the chrome top of the recording equipment. On the desk, next to the phone console.

Suddenly, the sharp, booming crack of a gunshot pierced the silence. Along with Barney's anguished screams as he fell backward, the equipment in front of him exploding. Shards of metal, wire, and plastic flying.

Now we were all shouting, ducking under chairs and behind tables. Scrambling for cover. Except for Payton, who took hold of Harland's wheelchair and pushed it into the nearest corner, facing the wall. Bending, he shielded the old man with his body.

At the same time, I rolled under the pool table, near where Biegler crouched. Waiting for the next shot.

It never came.

Ten seconds ticked by. Nothing.

Then I spotted Gloria, across the room, huddled behind the massive couch. Her eyes didn't meet mine. Gun drawn, her gaze was riveted on the opened glass doors.

Another ten seconds of silence.

Steeling myself, I crawled from my hiding place and went around the corner of the desk, where I found Barney. He lay cowering on the floor, covered in dust and slivers of metal, clutching his arm. Blood oozed from between his fingers.

I quickly checked him over. He was hurt, but would be okay. I took a handkerchief from my jacket pocket and pressed it against his wound. The relieved murmurs of the others in the room assured me that nobody else had been injured.

BOOK: Phantom Limb
6.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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