Page 22

Mitch wondered if two Taser shots in quick succession, and the second held perhaps too long, could have done permanent damage. Anson seemed to have been worse than stunned.

The big man's fall might have contained an element of tragedy if he had fallen from a height, but he had gone from low to lower.

Mitch hounded him, repeatedly making the same commands. Then: "Damn it, Anson, if I have to, I can give you a third shock and drag your ass in there while you're helpless."

The back door rattled, distracting Mitch. Only the hand of the wind tested the latch as a strong gust swept more boldly into the sheltered courtyard.

When he looked at Anson again, he saw an acute awareness in his brother's eyes, a sly calculation, which vanished in that glaze of disorientation. Anson's eyes rolled back in his head.

Mitch waited half a minute. Then he moved quickly toward his brother.

Anson sensed him coming, thought he was going to use the Taser, and sat up to block it, grab it.

Instead Mitch squeezed off a shot, intentionally missing his brother, but not by much. At the report of the pistol, Anson flinched back in surprise, and Mitch slammed the gun against the side of his head, hard enough to hurt bad—hard enough, as it turned out, to knock him unconscious.

The point had been to gain Anson's cooperation by convincing him that he was not dealing with the same Mitch. But this worked, too.

Chapter 43

He ain't heavy, he's my brother. Bullshit. He was Mitch's brother, and he was heavy.

Dragging him across the polished wood floor of the kitchen and into the laundry room proved harder than Mitch expected. Hoisting him into the chair was one door away from impossible, but Mitch got it done.

The upholstered panel on the back of the chair fit between two steel verticals. Between each side of that padded panel and the frame was an open space.

He pulled Anson's hands through those gaps. With the handcuffs that he himself had worn earlier, he shackled his brother's wrists behind the chair.

Among the items in a utility drawer were three spare electrical extension cords. A thick orange cord was about forty feet long.

After weaving it through the chair's legs and stretcher bars, Mitch tied it around the washing machine. Far less flexible than rope, the rubber cord would allow only loose knots, so he tied three.

Although Anson might be able to rise into a half crouch, he would have to lift the chair with him. But anchored to the washer, he could not go anywhere.

The blow with the pistol had cut his ear. He was bleeding but not heavily.

His pulse was slow but steady. He might come around quickly.

Leaving the overhead light on, Mitch went upstairs to the master bedroom. He saw what he expected: two small night-lights plugged into wall outlets, neither switched on at the moment.

As a child, Anson had slept with a lamp on low As a teenager, he had settled for a night-light similar to these. In every room of this house, as preparation for a power failure, he kept a flashlight that received fresh batteries four times a year.

Downstairs again, Mitch glanced in the laundry room. Anson remained unconscious in the chair.

Mitch searched the kitchen drawers until he found where Anson kept keys. He plucked out a spare house key. He also took the keys for three different cars, including his Honda, and left the house by the back door.

He doubted that the neighbors could have heard the shot—or, having heard it, could have recognized it for what it was—after it had been filtered through the boom and cry of the wind at war with itself. Nevertheless, he was relieved to see no lights in the houses to either side.

He climbed the stairs to the condo above the garages and tried the door, which was locked. As he expected, the key to Anson's house also opened this one.

Inside, he found Anson's home office occupying space that would normally be a living room and dining area. The nautical paintings were by some of the artists featured in the front condo.

Four computer workstations were served by a single wheeled office chair. The size of the logic units, far larger than anything ordinarily seen in a home, suggested his work required rapid multitiered computation and massive data storage.

Mitch wasn't a computer maven. He had no illusions that he could boot up these machines—if boot up was even a term in use anymore—and discover the nature of the work that had made his brother rich.

Besides, Anson would have layers of security, passwords and procedures, to keep out even serious hackers. He had always been delighted by the elaborate codes and arcane symbolism of the maps that pirates drew to their caches of treasure in those tales that enthralled him as a boy.

Mitch left, locked the door, and went down to the first of the garages. Here were the Expedition that he had driven to Campbell's estate in Rancho Santa Fe and the 1947 Buick Super Woody Wagon.

In the other two-car garage were an empty stall and Mitch's Honda, which he had left on the street.

Perhaps Anson had stored it here after driving it to Orange and taking two of Mitch's garden tools as well as some of his clothes, to Daniel and Kathy's place to murder them, and then to Mitch's again to plant the incriminating evidence.

Mitch opened the trunk. John Knox's body remained wrapped in the weathered canvas tarp.

The accident in the loft seemed to have happened in a long-ago time, in another life.

He returned to the first garage, started the Expedition, and moved it to the empty stall in the second garage.

After moving his Honda to park it beside the Buick wagon, he closed the big roll-up door on that garage.

Grimly, he wrestled the recalcitrant body from the trunk of the Honda. While it lay on the garage floor, he rolled the corpse out of the tarp.

Serious putrescence had not set in yet. The dead man had a sinister sweet-and-sour smell, however, that Mitch was eager to get away from.

The wind keened at the small high windows of the garage, as if it had a taste for the macabre and had blown itself a long way across the world to see Mitch at this gruesome work.

He thought that all this dragging around of bodies should have about it a quality of farce, especially considering that Knox was stiff with rigor mortis and hellaciously cumbersome. But at the moment he had a serious case of laugh-deficit disorder.

After he had loaded Knox into the Buick wagon and closed the tailgate, he folded the tarp and put it in the trunk of the Honda. Eventually he would dispose of it in a Dumpster or in a stranger's trash can.

He couldn't recall ever having been this exhausted: physically, mentally, emotionally. His eyes felt singed, his joints half-melted, his muscles fully cooked and tender enough to fall off the bone.

Maybe the sugar and caffeine in the Hershey's bars prevented his engine from stalling. Fear fueled him, too. But what most kept his wheels turning was the thought of Holly in the hands of monsters.

Till death us do part was the stated commitment in their vows.

For Mitch, however, the loss of her would not release him. The commitment would endure. The rest of his life would pass in patient waiting.

He walked the alleyway to the street, returned to the Chrysler Windsor, and drove it back to the second garage. He parked it beside the Expedition and closed the roll-down door.

He consulted his wristwatch—4:09.

In ninety minutes, maybe a little longer, maybe a little less, the furious wind would blow dawn in from the east. Because of dust flung high into the atmosphere, the first light would be pink, and it would rapidly squall across the heavens, fading to the color of a more mature sky as it was blown toward the sea.

Since he had met Holly, he had greeted every day with great expectations. This day was different.

He returned to the house and found Anson awake in the laundry room, and in a mood.

Chapter 44

The cut on his left ear had crusted shut, and body heat was quickly drying the blood that had trickled down his cheek and neck.

His bearish good looks had settled into harder edges, as though a genetic contagion had introduced major wolf DNA into his face. Jaws clenched so tight that his facial muscles knotted, eyes molten with rage, Anson sat in seething silence.

The wind wasn't loud here. A vent pipe carried sighs and whispers from outside into the dryer, so it seemed as if a troubled spirit haunted that machine.

Mitch said, "You're going to help me get Holly back alive."

That statement elicited neither agreement nor refusal, only a glower.

"They'll be calling in a little more than seven and a half hours with wiring instructions."

Paradoxically, confined in the chair, restrained, Anson looked bigger than he had before. Shackles emphasized his physical power, and it seemed that, like some figure out of myth, if he attained the pinnacle of his potential rage, he would be able to snap his bonds as if they were string.

In Mitch's absence, Anson had tried determinedly to wrench the chair free of the washing machine. The steel legs of the chair had scraped and chattered against the tile floor, leaving scars that revealed the intensity of his futile effort. Also, the washer had been pulled out of alignment with the clothes dryer.

"You said you could put it together by phone, by computer," Mitch reminded him. "You said three hours tops."

Anson spat on the floor between them.

"If you've got eight million, you can spare two for Holly. When it's done, you and I never see each other again. You get to go back to the sewer of a life you've made for yourself."

If Anson discovered that Mitch knew about Daniel and Kathy dead in the learning room, there would be no way to force his cooperation. He would think Mitch had already undone the planted evidence to focus the eye of the law on the true perpetrator.

As long as he believed those murders were not yet known, he could hope that cooperation would lead to a moment when Mitch made a mistake that reversed their fortunes.

"Campbell didn't just let you go," Anson said.



"Killed those two."


"Now I've got to live with that."

"You popped Vosky and Creed?"

"I don't know their names."

"Those were their names, all right."

"Because of you," Mitch said.

"Vosky and Creed? It doesn't compute."

"Then Campbell must have let me go."

"Campbell would never let you go."

"So believe what you want."

From under a beetled brow, Anson studied him with sour eyes. "Where did you get it-the Taser?"

"Vosky and Creed," Mitch lied.

"You just took it away from them, huh?"

"Like I told you—I took everything away from them. Now I'm giving you a few hours to think about things."

"You can have the money."

"That's not what I want you to think about."

"You can have it, but I've got some conditions."

"You don't get to make the rules," Mitch said.

"It's my two million."

"No. It's mine now. I've earned it."

"Cool down, all right?"

"If you were them, you'd screw her first."

"Hey, you know, that's just a thing I said."

"If you were them, you'd kill her but screw her first."

"It was just something to say. Anyway, I'm not them."

"No, you're not them. You're the cause of them."

"Wrong. Things happen. They just happen."

"Without you, they wouldn't be happening to me."

"If you want to look at it that way, you will."

"Here's what you need to think about—who I am now."

"You want me to think about who you are?"

"No more fratello piccolo. Huh? You understand?"

"But you are my little brother."

"If you think of me that way, you'll pull some dumb move I would have fallen for then, but I won't fall for it now."

"If we can make a deal, I'm not pulling any moves."

"We've already made the deal."

"You've got to cut me some slack, man."

"So you can hang me with it?"

"How can any deal work without at least a little trust?"

"You just sit here and think about how fast you could be dead."

Mitch switched off the lights and stepped across the threshold.

In the dark, windowless laundry room, Anson said, "What're you doing?"

"Providing the best learning environment," Mitch said, and pulled the door shut.

"Mickey?" Anson called.

Mickey. After all this, Mickey.

"Mickey, don't do this."

At the kitchen sink, Mitch scrubbed his hands, using a lot of soap and hot water, trying to wash away the tactile memory of John Knox's body, which felt as if it had been imprinted on his skin.

From the refrigerator, he got a package of cheddar-cheese slices and a squeeze bottle of mustard. He found a loaf of bread and made a cold cheese sandwich.

"I hear you out there," Anson called from the laundry room. "What are you doing, Mickey?"

Mitch put the sandwich on a plate. He added a dill pickle. From the refrigerator he got a bottle of beer.

"What's the point of this, Mickey? We've already got a deal. There's no point to this."

Mitch tilted another kitchen chair under the knob of the laundry-room door, bracing it.

"What's that?" Anson asked. "What's happening?"

Mitch switched off the kitchen lights. He went upstairs to Anson's bedroom.

After putting the pistol and the Taser on the nightstand, he sat on the bed, his back against the padded headboard.

He didn't turn down the quilted silk bedspread. He didn't take off his shoes.

After eating the sandwich and the pickle, and drinking the beer, he set the clock radio for 8:30 a.m.

He wanted Anson to have time to think, but he was taking this four-hour break primarily because his own thinking had been slowed by exhaustion. He needed a clear head for what was coming.

Raging across the roof, beating on the windows, speaking in the wild voice of a mob, the wind seemed to mock him, to promise that his every plan would end in chaos.

This was a Santa Ana, the dry wind that harried moisture from the vegetation in the canyons around which many southern California communities had been built, turning that dense growth into tinder. An arsonist would toss a burning rag, another would use a cigarette lighter, another would strike a match—and for days the news would be filled with fire.

The drapes were shut, and when he switched off the lamp, a coverlet of darkness fell over him. He didn't use either of Anson's small night-lights.