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He doubted that these men would shoot him while in the house. Even when scrubbed away and no longer visible to the signature mat special chemicals and lights could reveal.

One of the gunmen picked up Mitch's coat, searched the pockets, and found only the cell phone.

To his watchful host, Mitch said, "How did you go from being an FBI hero to this?"

Campbell's puzzlement was brief. "Is that the yarn Anson spun to get you here? Julian Campbell—FBI hero?"

Although the gunmen had seemed as humorless as carrion-eating beetles, the one with smooth skin laughed, and the other smiled.

"You probably didn't make your money in entertainment, either," Mitch said.

"Entertainment? That could be true enough," Campbell said, "if you have an elastic definition of entertainment."

The acne-scarred gunman had produced a folded plastic garbage bag from a hip pocket. He shook it open.

Campbell said, "And Mitch, if Anson told you these two gentlemen are candidates for the priesthood, I should warn you they aren't."

The carrion beetles were further amused.

The gunman with the plastic bag stuffed it with the sports coat, cell phone, and other items that they had taken off Mitch. Before throwing away the wallet, he stripped out the cash and gave it to Campbell.

Mitch remained on his feet, waiting.

The three men were more relaxed with him than they had first been. They knew him now.

He was Anson's brother but only by blood. He was an evader, not a hunter. He would obey. They knew he would not effectively resist. He would retreat within himself. Eventually he would beg.

They knew him, knew his kind, and after the gunman finished putting items in the garbage bag, he produced a pair of handcuffs.

Before Mitch could be asked to extend his hands, he offered them.

The man with the cuffs hesitated, and Campbell shrugged, and the man with the cuffs snapped them around Mitch's wrists.

"You seem very tired," Campbell said.

"Funny how tired," Mitch agreed.

Putting down the gun they had confiscated, Campbell said, "It's that way sometimes."

Mitch didn't bother to test the cuffs. They were tight, and the shackle chain between the wrists was short.

As Campbell counted the forty-odd dollars that had been taken from Mitch's wallet, his voice had an almost tender quality: "You might even fall asleep on the way."

"Where are we going?"

"I knew a guy who fell asleep one night, on a drive like the one you're taking. It was almost a shame to wake him when we got there."

"Are you coming?" Mitch asked.

"Oh, I haven't in years. I'll stay here with my books. You don't need me. You'll be all right. Everyone's all right, at the end."

Mitch looked around at the aisles of books. "Have you read any?"

"The histories. I'm fascinated by history, how almost no one ever learns from it."

"Have you learned from it?"

"I am history. I'm the thing nobody wants to learn."

Campbell's hands, as dexterous as those of a magician, folded Mitch's money into his own wallet with an economy of movement that was nevertheless theatrical.

"These gentlemen will be taking you to the car pavilion. Not through the house, but across the gardens."

Mitch assumed that the household staff—night maids, the butler—either were not aware of the hard side of Campbell's business or collaborated in a pretense of ignorance.

"Good-bye, Mitch. You'll be all right. It's not long now. You might even doze on the way."

Flanking Mitch, each holding him by one arm, the gunmen walked him across the library to the French doors. The man with the pitted face, on his right, pressed the muzzle of a pistol into his side, not cruelly, only as a reminder.

Just before stepping across the threshold, Mitch glanced back and saw Campbell reviewing the titles on a shelf of books. He stood with the hipshot grace of a loitering ballet dancer.

He appeared to be choosing a book to take to bed. Or maybe not to bed. A spider does not sleep; neither does history.

Terrace to steps, descending to another terrace, the gunmen expertly conveyed Mitch.

The moon lay drowned in the swimming pool, as pale and undulant as an apparition.

Along garden pathways where hidden toads sang, across a broad lawn, through a copse of tall lacy silver sheens shimmering like the scales of schooling fish, by a roundabout route, they

came to a large but elegant building encircled by a romantically lighted loggia.

The gunmen's vigilance never wavered during the walk.

Night-blooming jasmine twined the columns of the loggia and festooned the eaves.

Mitch drew slow deep breaths. The heavy fragrance was so sweet as to be almost narcoleptic.

A slow-moving black long-horned beetle crossed the floor of the loggia. The gunmen guided Mitch around the insect.

The pavilion contained exquisitely restored cars from the 1930s and 1940s—Buicks, Lincolns, Packards, Cadillacs, Pontiacs, Fords, Chevrolets, Kaizers, Studebakers, even a Tucker Torpedo. They were displayed like jewels under precisely focused arrays of pin lights.

Estate vehicles in daily use were not kept here. Evidently, by taking him to the main garage, they would have risked encountering members of the household staff.

The gunman with the pitted face fished from his pocket a set of keys and opened the trunk of a midnight-blue Chrysler Windsor from the late 1940s. "Get in."

For the same reason they had not shot him in the library, they would not shoot him here. Besides, they wouldn't want to risk doing damage to the car.

The trunk was roomier than those of contemporary cars. Mitch lay on his side, in the fetal position.

"You can't unlock it from the inside," the scarred man said. "They had no child-safety awareness in those days."

His partner said, "We'll be on back roads where no one will hear you. So if you make a lot of noise, it won't do you any good."

Mitch said nothing.

The scarred man said, "It'll just piss us off. Then we'll be harder on you at the other end than we have to be."

"I don't want that."

"No. You don't want that."

Mitch said, "I wish we didn't have to do this."

"Well," said the one with smooth skin, "that's how it is."

Backlighted by the pin spots, their faces hung over Mitch like two shadowed moons, one with an expression of bland indifference, the other tight and cratered with contempt.

They slammed the lid, and the darkness was absolute.

Chapter 28

Holly lies in darkness, praying that Mitch will live. She fears less for herself than for him. Her captors at all times wear ski masks in her presence, and she assumes they would not bother to conceal their faces if they intended to kill her.

They aren't just wearing them as a fashion statement. No one looks good in a ski mask.

If you were hideously disfigured, like the Phantom of the Opera, maybe you would want to wear a ski mask. But it defied reason that all four of these men would be hideously disfigured.

Of course, even if they hoped not to harm her, something could go awry with their plans. In a moment of crisis, she might be shot accidentally. Or events could change the kidnappers' intentions toward her.

Always an optimist, having believed since childhood that every life has meaning and that hers will not pass before she finds its purpose, Holly does not dwell on what might go wrong, but envisions herself released, unharmed.

She believes envisioning the future helps shape it. Not that she could become a famous actress merely by envisioning herself accepting an Academy Award. Hard work, not wishes, builds careers.

Anyway, she doesn't want to be a famous actress. She would have to spend a lot of time with famous actors, and most of the current crop creep her out.

Free again, she will eat marzipan and chocolate peanut-butter ice cream and potato chips until she either embarrasses herself or makes herself sick. She hasn't thrown up since childhood, but even vomiting is an affirmation of life.

Free, she will celebrate by going to Baby Style, that store in the mall, and buying the huge stuffed bear she saw in their window when she passed by recently. It was fluffy and white and so cute.

Even as a teenage girl, she liked teddy bears. Now she needs one anyway.

Free, she will make love to Mitch. When she is done with him, he'll feel as if he's been hit by a train.

Well, that isn't a particularly satisfying romantic image. It's not the kind of thing that sells millions of Nicholas Sparks novels.

She made love to him with every fiber of her being, body and soul, and when at last their passion passed, he was splattered all over the room as if he had thrown himself in front of a locomotive.

Envisioning herself as a best-selling novelist would be a waste of effort. Fortunately, her goal is to be a real-estate agent.

So she prays that her beautiful husband will live through this terror. He is physically beautiful, but the most beautiful thing about him is his gentle heart.

Holly loves him for his gentle heart, for his sweetness, but she worries that certain aspects of his gentleness, such as his tendency toward passive acceptance, will get him killed.

He possesses a deep and quiet strength, too, a spine of steel, which is revealed in subtle ways. Without that, he would have been broken by his freak-show parents. Without that, Holly would not have led him on a chase all the way to the altar.

So she prays for him to stay strong, to stay alive.

During her prayers, during her ruminations about kidnappers' fashions and gluttony and vomiting and big fluffy teddy bears, she works steadily at the nail in the floorboard. She has always been an excellent multitasker.

The wood floor is rough. She suspects that the planks are thick enough to have required heavier than usual flooring nails.

The nail that interests her has a large flat head. The size of the head suggests that this nail may be large enough to qualify as a spike.

In a crisis, a spike might serve as a weapon.

The flat head of the nail is not snug to the wood. It is raised maybe a sixteenth of an inch. This gap gives her a little leverage, a grip with which to work the nail back and forth.

Though the nail isn't loose, one of her virtues is perseverance. She will keep working at the nail, and she will envision it loose, and eventually she will extract it from the plank.

She wishes she had acrylic fingernails. They look nice; and when she's a real-estate agent, she'll certainly need to have them.

Good acrylic fingernails might give her an advantage with the spike.

On the other hand, they might break and split easier than her real fingernails. If she had them, they might prove to be a terrible disadvantage.

Ideally, when she had been kidnapped, she would have had acrylic nails on her left hand and none on her right. And two steel teeth set with a gap in the front of her mouth.

An ankle cuff and a length of chain shackle her right leg to a ringbolt in the floor. This leaves both of her hands free to work on the not-yet-loose nail.

The kidnappers have made some considerations for her comfort. They have provided her with an air mattress to lie on, a six-pack of bottled water, and a bedpan. Earlier they had given her half of a cheese-and-pepperoni pizza.

This is not to suggest that they are nice people. They are not nice people.

When they needed her to scream for Mitch, they hit her. When they needed her to scream for Anson, they pulled her hair suddenly, sharply, and so hard that she thought her scalp was coming off.

Although these are not people you would ever meet in church, they are not cruel sheerly for the fun of it. They are evil, but they have a business goal, so to speak, on which they remain focused.

One of them is evil and crazy.

He's the one who worries her.

They have not made her privy to their scheme, but Holly vaguely understands that they are imprisoning her in order to use Mitch to manipulate Anson.

She doesn't know why or how they think Anson can tap a fortune to ransom her for Mitch, but she is not surprised that he stands at the center of the whirlwind. She has long felt that Anson is not only what he pretends to be.

Now and then she has caught him staring at her in a way that the loving brother of her husband should never stare. When he realizes he has been caught, the predatory lust in his eyes and the hungry cast of his face vanish under his usual charm so instantaneously that it's easy to believe you must have imagined the glint of savage interest.

Sometimes when he laughs, his mirth sounds manufactured to her. She seems to be alone in this perception. Everyone else finds Anson's laugh infectious.

She has never shared her doubts about Anson. Until she met Mitch, all that he had were his sisters—who had fled to far points of the compass—his brother, and his passion for working in fertile earth, for making green things grow. Her hope has always been to enrich his life, not to subtract anything from it.

She can put her life in Mitch's strong hands and fall at once into a dreamless sleep. In a sense, that is what marriage is about—a good marriage—a total trusting with your heart, your mind, your life.

But with her fate in Anson's hands, as well, she might not sleep at all, and if she sleeps, there will be nightmares.

She worries, worries, worries the nail until her fingers ache. Then she uses two different fingers.

As the dark silent minutes pass, she tries not to brood about how a day that began with such joy could spiral into these desperate circumstances. After Mitch had gone to work and before the masked men had burst into her kitchen, she had used the kit that she'd bought the previous day but that she'd been too nervous to consult until this morning. Her period is nine days overdue, and according to the pregnancy test, she is going to have a baby.

For a year, she and Mitch have been hoping for this. Now here it is, on this of all days.

The kidnappers are unaware that two lives are at their mercy, and Mitch is unaware that not only his wife but also his child depend upon his cunning and his courage, but Holly knows. This knowledge is at once a joy and an anguish.

She envisions a child of three—sometimes a girl, sometimes a boy—at play in their backyard, and laughing. She envisions it more vividly than she has envisioned anything before, in the hope that she can make it come to pass.

She tells herself that she will be strong, that she will not cry. She does not sob or otherwise disturb the stillness, but sometimes tears come.

To shut off that hot flow, she works more aggressively at the nail, the stubborn damn nail, in the blinding dark.

After a long period of silence, she hears a solid thud with a hollow metallic quality: ca-chunk.

Alert, wary, she waits, but the thud does not repeat. No other noise follows it.