Night Chills / Page 7

Page 7

The squat man looked up at him.

The girls didn’t seem to know that he existed. The blonde had begun to lather the brunette with tanning lotion. Her hands lingered on the other girl’s calves and knees, then inched lovingly along her taut brown thighs. Obviously, they were more than just good friends.

“My name’s Salsbury.”

Klinger stood up. He didn’t offer to shake hands. “I’ve got one suitcase. Be with you in a minute.” He walked back toward the glass-walled recreation room.

Salsbury stared at the girls. They had the longest, loveliest legs he had ever seen. He cleared his throat and said, “I’ll bet you’re in show business.”

Neither of them looked at him. The blonde squeezed lotion into her left hand and massaged the swelling tops of the brunette's large breasts. Her fingers trailed under the bikini bra, flicked across the hidden nipples.

Salsbury felt like a fool—as he always had around beautiful women. He was certain that they were making fun of him. You stinking bitches! he thought viciously. Some day I’ll have any of you I want. Some day I’ll tell you what I want, and you’ll do it, and you’ll love it because I’ll tell you to love it.

Klinger returned, carrying one large suitcase. He had put on a two-hundred-dollar, blue-and-gray-plaid sport coat.

Looks like a gorilla dressed up for a circus act, Salsbury thought.

In the passengers’ compartment of the helicopter, as they lifted away from the roof, Klinger pressed his face to the window and watched the girls dwindle into sexless specks. Then he sighed and sat back and said, “Your boss knows how to arrange a man’s vacation.”

Salsbury blinked in confusion. “My boss?”

Glancing at him, Klinger said, “Dawson.” He took a packet of cheroots from an inside coat pocket. He fished one out and lit it for himself without offering one to Salsbury. “What did you think of Crystal and Daisy?”

Salsbury took off his sunglasses. “What?”

“Crystal and Daisy. The girls at the pool.”

“Nice. Very nice.”

Pausing for a long drag of his cheroot, Klinger blew out smoke and said, “You wouldn’t believe what those girls can do.”

“I thought they were dancers,” Salsbury said.

Klinger looked at him disbelievingly, and then threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, they are! They dance their little asses off every night in the Fortunata’s main showroom. But they’ve also been performing in the penthouse suite. And let me tell you, dancing is the least of their talents.”

Salsbury was perspiring even though the cabin of the Jet-Ranger was cool. Women . . . He feared them—and wanted them desperately. To Dawson, mind control meant unlimited wealth, a financial stranglehold on the entire world. To Klinger it might mean unrestricted power, the satisfaction of unquestioned command. But to Salsbury, it meant ha**ng s*x as often as he wanted it, in as many ways as he wanted it, with any woman he desired.

Blowing smoke at the cabin ceiling, Klinger said, “I’ll bet you’d like having those two in your bed, shoving it in them, one after the other. Would you like that?”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“They’re hard on a man,” Klinger said, chuckling. “Takes a man with real stamina to keep them happy. You think you could handle both Crystal and Daisy?”

“I could give it a good try.”

Klinger laughed loudly.

Salsbury hated him for that.

This crude bastard was nothing more than an influence peddler, Ogden thought. He could be bought—and his price was cheap. In one way or another, he helped Futurex International

in its competitive bidding for Pentagon contracts. In return, he took free vacations in Las Vegas, and some sort of stipend was paid into a Swiss bank account. There was only one element of this arrangement that Salsbury was unable to reconcile with Leonard Dawson’s personal philosophy. He said to Klinger:

“Does Leonard pay for the girls too?”

“Well, I don’t. I’ve never had to pay for it.” He stared hard at Salsbury, until he was convinced that the scientist believed him. “The hotel picks up the tab. That’s one of Futurex’s subsidiaries. But both Leonard and I pretend he doesn’t know about the girls. Whenever he asks me how I enjoyed a vacation, he acts as if all I’ve done is sit around the pool, by myself, reading the latest books.” He was amused. He sucked on his cheroot. “Leonard is a Puritan, but he knows better than to let his personal feelings interfere with business.” He shook his head. “Your boss is some man.”

“He’s not my boss,” Salsbury said.

Klinger didn’t seem to have heard him.

“Leonard and I are partners,” Salsbury said. Klinger looked him up and down. “Partners.” “That’s right.”

Their eyes met.

Reluctantly, after a few seconds, Salsbury looked away.

“Partners,” Klinger said. He didn’t believe it.

We are partners, Salsbury thought. Dawson may own this helicopter, the Fortunata Hotel, Crystal, Daisy, and you. But he doesn’t own me, and he never will. Never.

At the Las Vegas airport, the helicopter put down thirty yards from a dazzling, white Grumman Gulf Stream jet. Red letters on the fuselage spelled FUTUREX INTERNATIONAL.

Fifteen minutes later they were airborne, on their way to an exclusive landing strip near Lake Tahoe.

Klinger unbuckled his seat belt and said, “I understand you’re to give me a briefing.”

“That’s right. We’ve got two hours for it.” He put his briefcase on his lap. “Have you ever heard of subliminal—”

“Before we get going, I’d like a Scotch on the rocks.”

“I believe there’s a bar aboard.” “Fine. Just fine.”

“It’s back there.” Salsbury gestured over his shoulder.

Klinger said, “Make mine four ounces of Scotch and four ice cubes in an eight-ounce glass.”

At first Salsbury gazed at him uncomprehendingly. Then he got it: generals didn’t mix their own drinks. Don’t let him intimidate you, he thought. Against his will, however, he found himself getting up and moving toward the back of the plane. It was as if he were not in control of his body. When he returned with the drink, Klinger didn’t even thank him.

“You say you’re one of Leonard’s partners?”

Salsbury realized that, by acting more like a waiter than like a host, he had only reinforced the general’s conviction that the word “partner” did not fit him. The bastard had been testing him.

He began to wonder if Dawson and Klinger were too much for him. Was he a bantam in a ring with heavyweights? He might be setting himself up for a knockout punch.

He quickly dismissed that thought. Without Dawson and the general, he could not keep his discoveries from the government, which had financed them and owned them and would be jealous of them if it knew that they existed. He had no choice but to associate with these people; and he knew he would have to be cautious, suspicious, and watchful. But a man could safely make his bed with the devil so long as he slept with a loaded gun under his pillow.

Couldn’t he?

Pine House, the twenty-five-room Dawson mansion that overlooked Lake Tahoe, Nevada, had won two design awards for its architect and been featured in House Beautiful. It stood at the water’s edge on a five-acre estate, with a backdrop of more than one hundred towering pine trees; and it seemed to rise naturally from the landscape rather than intrude upon it, even though its lines were quite modern. The first level was large, circular, of stone and without windows. The second story—a

circle the same size as but not concentric to the first level— was a step up from the ground floor. Lakeside, at the back of the house, the second story overhung the first, sheltering a small boat dock; and here there was a twelve-foot-long window that provided a magnificent view of the water and the distant pine-covered slopes. The dome-shaped, black slate roof was crowned with a slender, needlelike eight-foot spire.

When he first saw the place, Salsbury thought that it was a cousin to those futuristic churches that had been rising in wealthy and progressive parishes over the last ten or fifteen years. Without a thought for tact, he had said as much—and Leonard had taken the comment as a compliment. Having been refamiliarized with his host’s eccentricities during their weekly meetings over the past three months, Ogden was fairly certain that the house was supposed to resemble a church, that Dawson meant for it to be a temple, a holy monument to wealth and power.

Pine House had cost nearly as much as a church: one and a half million dollars, including the price of the land. Nevertheless, it was only one of five houses and three large apartments that Dawson and his wife maintained in the United States, Jamaica, England, and Europe.

After dinner the three men reclined in easy chairs in the living room, a few feet from the picture window. Tahoe, one of the highest and deepest lakes in the world, shimmered with light and shadow as the last rays of the sun, already gone behind the mountains, drained from the sky. In the morning the water had a clear, greenish cast. By afternoon it was a pure, crystalline blue. Now, soon to be as black as a vast spill of oil, it was like purple velvet folded softly against the shoreline. For five or ten minutes they enjoyed the view, speaking only to remark on the meal they had just finished and on the brandy they were sipping.

At last Dawson turned to the general and said, “Ernst, what do you think of subliminal advertising?”

The general had anticipated this abrupt shift from relaxation to business. “Fascinating stuff.”

“You have no doubts?”

“That it exists? None whatsoever. Your man here has the

proof. But he didn’t explain what subliminal advertising has to do with me.”

Sipping brandy, savoring it, Dawson nodded toward Salsbury. Putting down his own drink, angry with Klinger for referring to him as Dawson’s man and angry with Dawson for not correcting the general, reminding himself not to address Klinger by his military title, Ogden said, “Ernst, we never met until this morning. I’ve never told you where I work—but I’m sure you know.”

“The Brockert Institute,” Klinger said without hesitation.

General Ernst Klinger supervised a division of the Pentagon’s vitally important Department of Security for Weapons Research. His authority within the department extended to the states of Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. It was his responsibility to choose, oversee the installation of, and regularly inspect the traditional and electronic systems that protected all laboratories, factories, and test sites where weapons research was conducted within those fourteen states. Several laboratories belonging to Creative Development Associates, including the Brockert facility in Connecticut, came under his jurisdiction; and Salsbury would have been surprised if the general had not known the name of the scientist in charge of the work at Brockert.

“Do you know what sort of research we’re conducting up there?” Salsbury asked.

“I’m responsible for the security, not the research,” Klinger said. “I only know what I need to know. Like the backgrounds of the people who work there, the layout of the buildings, and the nature of the surrounding countryside. I don’t need to know about your work.”

“It has to do with subliminals.”

Stiffening as if he had sensed stealthy movement behind him, Some of the brandy-inspired color seeping from his face, Klinger said, “I believe you’ve signed a secrecy pledge like everyone else at Brockert.”

“Yes, I have.”

“You just now violated it.”

“I am aware of that.”

“Are you aware of the penalty?” “Yes. But I’ll never suffer it.”

“You’re sure of yourself, aren’t you?”

“Damned sure,” Salsbury said.

“It makes no difference, you know, that I’m a general in the United States Army or that Leonard is a loyal and trusted citizen. You’ve still broken the pledge. Maybe they can’t put you away for treason when you’ve only talked to the likes of us— but they can at least give you eighteen months for declassifying information without the authority to do so.”

Salsbury glanced at Dawson.

Leaning forward in his chair, Dawson patted the general’s knee. “Let Ogden finish.”

Klinger said, “This could be a setup.”

“A what?”

“A setup. A trap.”

“To get you?” Dawson asked.

“Could be.”

“Why would I want to set you up?” Dawson asked. He seemed genuinely hurt by the suggestion.

In spite of the fact, Salsbury thought, that he has probably set up and destroyed hundreds of men over the last thirty years.

Klinger seemed to be thinking the same thing, although he shrugged and pretended that he had no answer to Dawson’s question.

“That’s not the way I operate,” Dawson said, either unable or unwilling to conceal his bruised pride. “You know me better than that. My whole career, my whole life, is based on Christian principles.”

“I don’t know anyone well enough to risk a charge of treason,” the general said gruffly.

Feigning exasperation—it was a bit too obvious to be real— Dawson said, “Old friend, we’ve made a great deal of money together. But all of it amounts to pocket change when compared to the money we can make if we cooperate with Ogden.

There is literally unlimited wealth here—for all of us.” He watched the general for a moment, and when he could get no reaction he said, “Ernst, I have never misled you. Never. Not once.”

Unconvinced, Klinger said, “All you ever did before was pay me for advice—”

“For your influence.”

“For my advice,” Klinger insisted. “And even if I did sell my influence—which I didn’t—that’s a long way from treason.”

They stared at each other.

Salsbury felt as if he were not in the room with them, as if he were watching them from the eyepiece of a mile-long telescope.

With less of an edge to his voice than there had been a minute ago, Klinger finally said, “Leonard, I suppose you realize that I could be setting you up.”

“Of course.”

“I could agree to hear your man out, listen to everything he has to say—only to get evidence against you and him.”

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