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Authors: Dennis Palumbo

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Chapter Twelve

“Christ, I
hate
shrinks. Ever since I got sent to one after my brother croaked. I swear, the guy was some kinda perv. Maybe
you
are, too, eh, Doc? Pretty damn freaky finding you in Lisa's bedroom, that's all I'm sayin'…”

For some reason, I didn't take the bait.

“I understand everybody's re-grouped in the library.”

“Yeah. They sent me up here to fetch you. Far as my old man's concerned, I'm just some lame-ass errand boy.”

James was keeping pace with me as we headed down the stairs, though he hewed close to the railing to steady himself. Apparently his father had relented and let him loose on the bar. The glass in his hand was nearly empty, and the telltale slur in his voice I'd noted earlier had gotten worse.

Once we'd descended to the foyer, he led me through a different door, and down a different hallway, to the library.

“Been some changes since you were gone, Doc. Barney got sent off to the hospital, and some new tech nerd's taken his place. And the grounds are practically crawling with cops.”

“Really? I'm surprised your father went along with that.”

“Me, too. But Biegler, Payton, and Drake ganged up on him. Finally wore the old bastard down, I guess.”

By now, we'd arrived at the entrance to the library. With a sardonic nod, James Harland ushered me inside.

As I'd expected, the library was another cavern of a room, with rows of bookshelves lining the walls. Hundreds of old, seemingly untouched volumes upright and close together, as though soldiers at attention.

As I set foot on the polished hardwood floor, I saw Barney's replacement, a young Indian in black jacket and jeans, whose Bureau ID badge hung from his neck on a lanyard. He was bent over an ornate, antique writing desk, setting up new recording equipment similar to that which had been destroyed by the sniper's bullet. Next to it was the library's phone console, a duplicate to the one in the study.

James left my side and pointed theatrically up above his head. I followed his gaze and saw two video cameras jutting out from opposing corners of the ceiling. Or what was left of them. Each camera had been dismantled, lenses detached from their casings, wires hanging in a jumble. Someone had made damned sure that Julian wouldn't have eyes and ears in
this
room.

“That was me.” Mike Payton, as though sensing my thoughts, gave me a grave smile. “Just to even the odds a bit.”

He strode across the room to greet me. Gloria Reese, dark hair now pulled back into a ponytail, joined us.

They led me past a dual row of matching library tables to a suite of leather wing chairs, one of which practically engulfed Arthur Drake. His own inevitable whiskey glass sat on a small table beside him. Lieutenant Biegler, his back to the room, stood with his cell phone glued to his ear.

Meanwhile, James had found another wing chair, and was desultorily sprawled across its wide arms. Perhaps to drive home the point, he yawned.

Though, to be fair, everyone—with the exception of the studiously busy new FBI tech—looked spent. Wrung out. Exhausted by the night's events.

Everyone but Charles Harland, whose knotted fingers clutched the rails of his wheelchair. Eyes hard, black, shining.

“Well?” His withering gaze settled on Biegler, who'd just pocketed his cell.

“That was Banks, one of my detectives on-scene. CSU is still there, though the ME's man okayed removing the body. And the Department's media flack just showed up to handle the press. They're arriving in droves.”

Payton grunted. “I'll bet. A murder victim found at the observatory is roadkill for those vultures.”

“Poor Donna's death will be all over the morning news.” Drake sighed heavily. “Let's pray to God her murder isn't linked to Charles—
or
to Lisa's kidnapping.”

“I doubt it will be,” Biegler said. “Probably all that'll come out is the fact she was Mr. Harland's personal nurse. Which will be withheld until her next of kin is notified.”

“That'd be her sister in Penn Hills,” Payton said. “Donna's only living relative.”

“I'll have Sergeant Polk do the notification. Even after that, no reason we can't sit on it. At least for a while.”

“What good will
that
do?” Harland practically spat out the words. “If you're worried the news of Lisa's kidnapping will leak, you never should've brought in half the goddamn force. Christ, I was a fool to give my consent….”

I turned to Biegler. “Yes, James mentioned something about a bunch of cops showing up.”

“Chief Logan okayed my detailing a dozen uniforms to scour the woods out back. Looking for spent shells, anything that might've been left behind by the sniper.”

Harland was still grumbling. “A dozen Neanderthals, from a police department notorious for leaks. I don't know why the hell I let Logan talk me into it.”

Drake climbed out of his chair and approached Harland and peered frankly at his employer.

“Because, Charles,” he said, “you know that any clues pointing to the kidnapper's identity helps the police find Lisa. Yes, there's a chance of a leak, but I sincerely believe it's worth the risk. Otherwise, we're at Julian's mercy.”

The old man's jaw tightened as he considered his attorney's words. Finally, he offered a curt nod, then swiveled in his chair to glare again at Biegler.

“All right. But tell those men outside I'll give ten thousand dollars to the first one who finds something that leads to the kidnapper.”

“With all due respect, sir, that's not how we do things.”

“But it's how
I
do things, Lieutenant. It's how I get things done.”

Biegler was still weighing his response when the new tech guy suddenly spoke up. For the first time, I realized.

“All set here, Agent Reese.”

“Good, Raj. Thanks.”

I glanced at my watch. Almost four a.m.

“Sounds like you're all assuming Julian will make contact again tonight,” I said. “Or in the morning.”

“You've got a point.” Gloria rubbed her temples. “The prick could decide to make us sweat for a day. Or two.”

James shrugged. “If he hasn't killed her already…”

His father stiffened in his chair, but said nothing.


He won't
.” Payton stared evenly at James. “Not when he can get another five million for her.”

Gloria nodded. “And he has to demonstrate proof of life again to get it. If nothing else, the new ransom demand means he has to keep Lisa alive.”

“For now,” Biegler added.

I said nothing, keeping my suspicions about Lisa's possible involvement in her own kidnapping to myself. It's not as though I had any proof, anyway.

Then, abruptly, Gloria aimed a steady gaze at me.

“One other thing. After tonight's disaster, I don't think Julian's going to trust our using Dr. Rinaldi again to deliver the ransom.”

I bristled. “Hold on, we don't know that.”

I was surprised at the defensive tone in my voice. Perhaps it was foolish, but I felt blindsided by her comment. Vaguely betrayed.

“I'm just thinking of your safety,” she went on hurriedly. “You were lucky to have escaped with your life back there.”

“I agree with Agent Reese.” Biegler took a step toward me. “Which means there's no reason for you to stay involved.”

Harland spoke up again. Even more sharply.

“Wait a goddamn minute! What if
I
want him here? Rinaldi and I still have things to discuss. About my wife. Things I have a right to know—”

“Charles.
Please
.” Drake leaned down, now eye-to-eye with the old man. “Forget about Dr. Rinaldi. We've all agreed that the most important thing is getting Lisa back safely. Trust me, there'll be time for discussions—for recriminations—later.”

At once, a thick, guttural sound issued from Harland's throat. Gripping the wheels of his chair, he angrily pushed himself back, away from Drake. His cadaverous head swiveling from the lawyer to Biegler to Gloria.

“You tricky, conniving
bastards!
You think I don't know what you're doing? You're trying to
manage
me. You figure you'll just handle the sick old man while
you
deal with the crisis…!”

Drake sighed. “Charles, if you'll just listen to—”

“No!
You
listen to
me
! Despite my wishes, more police are on the premises. Despite my wishes, you want Rinaldi gone. But Lisa is
my
wife, this is
my
house, and all of you—
all
of you—better get that through your heads.”

He raised a shaking forefinger.

“Drake. Payton. My ‘loving' son James…In case you forgot, you greedy, self-serving shits,
you work for me!
Which means you do whatever the hell
I
say!
When
I say it! As for
you
, Biegler—
and
Agent Reese—I make two phone calls and your pathetic little careers are effectively
over
. Do I make myself clear? To
all
you sons of bitches?
Do I?
Or do I
have
to—”

Suddenly, the old man began to sputter, his words slurring. Unintelligible. Coming in short, staccato gasps—.

As though wired to the same trigger, Payton and Drake raced from either side of the room to their employer's chair. The lawyer got there first, just as Harland's thin body began to jerk spasmodically.

By the time I joined them, Harland's head had slumped to one side. Tongue lolling, skin gone deathly white.

Drake gingerly put his fingers to the old man's throat, feeling for a pulse.

As the color drained from his own lean, patrician face…

Chapter Thirteen

“Sounds like gunfire.”

Mike Payton indicated the flag on its pole high above us, snapping in the hard, incessant wind. It was just past first light, a pale spring dawn bringing little warmth in its wake.

He took a final puff on the cigar stub he'd been working over for the past ten minutes and tossed it to the ground.

“Brings back a lot of memories, that sound. All bad.”

I regarded him. “Drake mentioned the SEALS.”

“Usual story. Too many tours. Too many firefights. Too much goddamn sand, 'til you end up fried, freaked, and fucked. That's if you don't come home in a box.”

The security man and I stood in an alcove just outside the entrance to Pittsburgh Memorial. The only other person in sight was a Goth kid—another smoker exiled to the elements—leaning against a mailbox some fifty yards away, near the entrance to the hospital's open-air parking lot.

“So that's when you went to work for Charles Harland?” I asked. “After the service?”

“Nah. For a couple years I worked for a private security firm. Starr Sentinel, Inc. Top-of-the-line personal protection for VIPs. Arab sheiks, CEOs, movie stars. I was part of an elite team in the field. Mostly ex-military. Or ex-cops.”

“Why'd you leave?”

“Going solo made more sense. A bigger paycheck, sure, but what I really wanted was to do things my way. Plus most of the firm's clients were first-class assholes.”

“And Charles Harland?”

He gave me a careful smile. “Not as bad as some, believe me. You just have to know how to deal with guys like him.”

Payton stirred, suddenly uncomfortable. As though he'd said too much. Then he made a point of staring off at the sky.

“Man, I suck at waiting,” he added abruptly. After which, he lapsed into silence.

Three floors above us, Charles Harland was in intensive care. After being brought here by police ambulance, he'd been listed as a John Doe, condition critical, and immediately placed in a secured section of the ICU. His own private doctor had already been summoned, and was waiting to receive his patient when the old man's unconscious body was wheeled in.

Sectional curtains drawn, a plainclothes cop assigned by Biegler inconspicuously lounging nearby, the doctor and two nurses—sworn to secrecy—attended to the stricken man.

All this in an effort to keep the news of Harland's sudden stroke from the ravenous maw of the media. The only person from the house allowed in the ward unit was James, who'd demanded to ride in the ambulance with his father.

I thought about this now, as Payton restlessly fiddled with his watch. To my jaundiced eye, it was obvious that James was playing the “worried son” to the hilt. Yet what did I know? My years as a therapist—as well as one-half of a difficult father/son dynamic myself—taught me that love can sometimes hide, unbidden and unspoken, in the fissures of the most fractured, the most damaged of relationships. In plain truth, what had transpired between Harland and his son, or what residue of feeling—if any—remained behind, was a mystery to me.

Just as Mike Payton's motives were hard to fathom. No sooner had the ambulance left the Harland compound than he and I were on its tail, following in his Lexus. For some reason, the taciturn head of security had insisted I accompany him.

Meanwhile, Biegler, Gloria Reese, and Arthur Drake had stayed behind at the residence. As I'd assumed, Drake had power of attorney in all of Harland's affairs. If in fact the kidnappers
did
call again to relay the next set of instructions, Drake was authorized to speak on Harland's behalf. More to the point, he was empowered to secure any additional funds required to obtain Lisa's release.

Drake had also promised Payton, before we'd left the residence, that he'd call the security man as soon as the kidnappers made contact again. If and when that occurred.

So far, Payton's cell had been ominously silent.

“Look, Rinaldi…”

I'd been watching the Goth kid casually walk across the near-empty lot when Payton spoke up suddenly. I turned to see that he'd unbuttoned his jacket, and put one foot on the guardrail fronting the alcove.

Without looking at me, he said, “See, the reason I asked you to come down here with me…Well, truth is, I wanted a few minutes alone so I could apologize.”

“For what?”

“For when you first showed up at the house. Frisking you like that. I shouldn't have gone all hard-ass on you. I'm sorry about that.”

“You just overreacted. Happens to the best of us.”

“Bullshit. I'm still alive because I
never
overreacted. Not over there. Not once. But this thing…Lisa getting kidnapped…” A pause. “I've been with Charles Harland for a long time. And it's my job to protect his interests, business
and
personal. That includes making sure his family is safe.”

“So you take your responsibilities seriously. That doesn't mean the kidnapping is your fault.”

He considered this. “Guess we'll just have to agree to disagree, Doc.”

I watched his jaw set, his profile all flat planes and strong lines against the brightening bask of the sun. I saw what Lisa's kidnapping was doing to him. His pride, his sense of mission. His duty.

At the same time, I remembered that she'd sought his help in doing research on me, asking also that he keep her request confidential. Which he hadn't. After delivering his report to her, he'd gone directly to Harland and shown him a copy, plus informed him about where and when Lisa was meeting with me.

Perhaps Payton was now having second thoughts about what he'd done. Arthur Drake was in Harland's office when he handed over the copy of the report. What if Payton now suspected that Drake had something to do with the kidnapping? Or even Harland himself, unlikely as that seemed.

I knew one thing for sure. Mike Payton was feeling guilty. Responsible, for whatever reason, for what had happened to Lisa.

His foot still planted on the guardrail, he turned at last to face me. Pulled tentatively on his lower lip. “You know, Doc, it's important to remember that this thing could still go our way. We could still get Lisa back.”

Frankly, I didn't know which one of us he was trying to reassure. But he needed support, so I gave it to him.

“I agree. In fact, I'm counting on it. I think not hearing yet from Julian is a positive sign.”

“Me, too. I don't see that guy missing out on the chance to get five million bucks richer.”

He managed another half-smile.

“Besides, I remember something my old unit commander once said. ‘Never give up, never give in, never give out.'” He sniffed. “'Course, the next day, he got hit with mortar fire. Split the poor bastard in half, right down the middle.”

And he let me see the unleavened pain behind that smile.

***

By seven a.m., I was in a cab weaving through thickening early-morning traffic toward the Liberty Bridge. And home.

Arthur Drake still hadn't called, so Payton had gone back up to the ICU to consult with Harland's doctor. Meanwhile, since it was a Friday—a regular workday—I had patients to see.

At first, given my concern about Lisa's welfare, I'd considered cancelling the day's appointments. Though there was little I could do at the hospital, and Biegler had made it clear before I left the residence with Payton that I was
not
to return. He smugly pointed out that if, as Gloria had suggested, Julian wouldn't trust using me again as a courier, then what little value I added to the investigation had ended.

As the cab lumbered up the ramp to the bridge, I lay my head back against the torn leather seat. I needed about a gallon of coffee, as well as a shave and shower. Barring some worse-than-usual traffic on the other side of the river, I'd have plenty of time for all three.

After the long climb up to Mt. Washington, I directed the cabbie along Grandview Avenue, my street, 'til we came to my wood-and-brick framed house. The yellow porch light was unlit, reminding me that I hadn't been home since yesterday morning.

To my surprise, my green, reconditioned '69 Mustang was parked out front. Since I'd been driven by limo from my office to the Harland residence, Polk must've ordered some uniforms to bring my car up here to my place.

I paid the cabbie, opened the front door, and stepped into the curtained living room. Tossing my keys on the rolltop desk, I went into the sun-spackled kitchen and put on the coffee.

While it dripped into the carafe, I pulled open the sliding glass doors and stepped onto my rear deck. The wind had fanned out any threads of clouds, and the arch of blue sky seemed to go on forever. Below me, the city's famed Three Rivers met at the Point, their combined surfaces wrinkled by that same steadfast wind, throwing up shards of twinkling sunlight.

I shaved and showered, relishing the familiar sting of steaming hot water on my sore muscles. I knew I'd be feeling the painful aftereffects of my struggle with the big man in the utility shack. Especially since I'd barely recovered in these past months from the bruised ribs and whiplash I'd suffered during the Jessup case.

Standing naked in front of the mirror, I saw the sorrowful tread-marks of these recent exertions. Once again, I had to remind myself that I wasn't the strapping young amateur boxer I used to be. And that this fortyish body—despite the occasional hour I spent working the heavy bag in my basement gym—was never going to repair itself as quickly and easily as it once did.

After gulping down two mugs of black coffee, I dressed, locked up the house again, and climbed behind the wheel of my car. Though it had gotten pretty banged up itself this past winter, the Mustang's chassis had proved to be as durable as mine.

As I revved the engine, an Earl Klugh track that had been playing in the deck when I last shut off the car flowed smoothly from the speakers. I was about to turn it off when I hesitated. Instead, I pulled out of my driveway and onto Grandview, content to let the guitarist's graceful harmonics soothe me as I drove. Calm me somewhat as my thoughts kept returning to Lisa, and what—despite my doubts—she might be going through.

Before leaving Harland's house, I'd discreetly asked Gloria Reese for her cell number. I wanted to be able to check in during the day between patient sessions to see if Julian had called, or to find out if there'd been any progress on the case. Not the most proactive of moves, given how involved I'd been the night before, but the only one available to me.

I frowned to myself. As worried as I was about Lisa, I was reminded of what Biegler often said about me: I'm a civilian, not a cop. Despite having been drawn into a number of investigations in the past, my real—and only—job was tending to the psychological needs of my patients.

Which I fully intended to do. The lieutenant had informed me that CSU had already finished scouring my office, as well as the hall just outside the door. Meanwhile, Lisa's car had been towed from the parking garage to the police impound, to be more thoroughly examined by lab techs.

When I commented on the unusually fast turnaround at the crime scene, he explained that the area involved was relatively small. And that there was little likelihood of discovering any real evidence. What he
didn't
say—and what I suspected—was that the sooner any signs of a police presence vanished, the better. Less chance of drawing the attention of any curious media types. Though whether this order came down from Chief Logan or Charles Harland was anybody's guess.

By the time I turned onto Forbes Avenue, the Oakland traffic had predictably slowed, impeded even further by blithely jaywalking Pitt students. The sun had risen enough to coat my windshield with a bright morning glare, and the grating bleat of car horns and downshifting semis drowned out my speakers.

I let out a long, slow breath. After the horrors of that endless night, I felt suddenly, inexorably propelled into the sights and sounds of everyday life. The hustle, the noise. Busy commuters. People with shopping bags. Starbucks. For a moment, I couldn't tell which experience felt more surreal.

Finally, forcing my head clear, I arrived at my building. Biegler had been right. When I pulled into the parking garage, I noticed there wasn't even a black-and-white unit at the curb, which meant that the second, expanded canvass of the area had concluded as well.

I went up the elevator to my office. As expected, the crime scene tape was gone, too. I was grateful, since it wasn't the kind of thing I wanted my first patient of the day—due in twenty minutes—to find at the entrance.

But what of the office itself? I unlocked the door and stepped inside. Other than a few pieces of furniture moved slightly out of position, and some sprinkles of leftover fingerprint dust, the suite appeared completely unchanged.

Eerily, disturbingly unchanged.

As though Lisa's kidnapping hadn't even occurred.

As though, in fact, nothing had happened at all.

BOOK: Phantom Limb
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