The pain had diminished to a faint throbbing.
He changed into soft black jeans and a black sweater-shirt with a spread collar.
The master-retreat bar included a little wine storage. He opened a ten-year-old bottle of Opus One and filled a Riedel glass almost to the brim.
Employing the intercom, he informed Mrs. Amory that he would turn down the bed himself this evening and that he would take dinner in the master suite. He wanted steak, and he asked that the food-service cart be left on the penthouse landing at seven o’clock.
At a quarter till five, he called his best number for Dr. Dougal Hobb in Beverly Hills. On a weekend, he expected to get a physicians’ service, which he did. He left his name and number and stressed that he was a transplant patient with an emergency situation.
Sitting at the amboina-wood desk, he switched on the plasma TV in the entertainment center and muted the sound, staring at 1930s gangsters firing noiseless machine guns from silent black cars that glided around sharp corners without the bark of brakes or rubber.
Having drunk a third of the wine in the glass, he held his right hand in front of his face. It hardly trembled anymore.
He changed channels and watched an uncharacteristically taci-turn Russell Crowe captain a soundless sailing ship through a furious but silent storm.
Eleven minutes after Ryan had spoken to the physicians’ service, Dr. Hobb returned his call.
“I’m sorry if I alarmed you, Doctor. There’s no physical crisis. But it’s no less important that you help me with something.”
As concerned as ever, with no indication of ill temper, Hobb said, “I’m always on call, Ryan. Never hesitate if you need me. As I warned you, no matter how well the recovery goes, emotional problems can develop suddenly.”
“I wish it were that simple.”
“The phone numbers of the therapists I gave you a year ago are still current, but if you’ve misplaced them-“
“This isn’t an emotional problem, Doctor. This is…I don’t know what to call it.”
“Then explain it to me.”
“I’d rather not right now. But here’s the thing-I’ve got to know who was the donor of my heart.”
“But you do know, Ryan. A schoolteacher who suffered massive head trauma in an accident.”
“Yeah, I know that much. She was twenty-six, would be twenty-seven now, going on twenty-eight. But I need a good photograph of her.”
For a beat, Hobb was as silent as Russell Crowe’s ship when it plowed through hushed seas so terrible that sailors were lashed to their duty stations to avoid being washed overboard.
Then the surgeon said, “Ryan, the best man on that list of therapists is Sidney-“
“No therapist, Dr. Hobb. A photo.”
“A photo and a name, Dr. Hobb. Please. This is so important.”
“Ryan, some families prefer the recipients of their loved one’s organs to know who gave them the gift of life.”
“That’s all I want.”
“But many other families prefer that they-and the donor-remain anonymous. They want no thanks, and their grief is private.”
“I understand, Doctor. And in most cases I would respect that position. But this is an extraordinary situation.”
“With all due respect, it’s unreasonable to-“
“I’m in a position where I can’t take no for an answer. I really can’t. I just can’t.”
“Ryan, I’m the surgeon who removed her heart and transplanted it to you, and even I’m not privy to her name. The family wants its privacy.”
“Somebody in the medical system knows her name and can find her next of kin. I just want a chance to ask the family to change their minds.”
“Perhaps it was the donor’s explicit condition that her name not be revealed. The family may feel morally powerless to override the wishes of the deceased.”
Ryan took a deep breath. “Not to be indelicate, Doctor, but with the jet fees and medical expenses, I’ve spent a million six hundred thousand, and I’ll need expensive follow-up care all my life.”
“Ryan, this is awkward. And not like you.”
“No, wait. Please understand. Every penny this cost me was well spent, no charge was excessive. I’m alive, after all. I’m just trying to put this in perspective. With all the costs, no insurance, I’d still like to offer five hundred thousand to her family if they’ll provide her photo and her name.”
“My God,” Hobb said.
“They may be offended,” Ryan said. “I think you are. They may tell me to go to hell. Or you will. But it’s not that I think I can buy anything I want. It’s just…I’m in a corner. I’ll be grateful to anyone who can help me, who has the decency and mercy to help me.”
Dougal Hobb, the storm-tossed sailing ship, and Ryan shared a long silence, as if the surgeon were mentally cutting open the situation to explore it further.
Then Hobb said, “I could try to help you, Ryan. But I can’t fly blind. If I knew at least something about your problem…”
Ryan reached for an explanation with which the physician might not be able to sympathize but to which he might accord a higher value than the absolute privacy of the donor’s family.
“Call it a spiritual crisis, Doctor. That she died and I lived, though she was certainly a better person than I am. I know myself well enough to be sure of that. And so it haunts me. I’m not able to sleep. I’m exhausted. I need to…to be able to properly honor her.”
After another incisive silence, the surgeon said, “You don’t mean to honor her in a public way.”
“No, sir. I don’t. The media never got wind of my illness, the transplant. I don’t want my health problems to be public knowledge.”
“You mean honor her…say, as a Catholic might honor someone by having a Mass said for her.”
“Yes. That’s what I mean.”
“Are you a Catholic, Ryan?”
“No, Doctor. But that’s the kind of thing I mean.”
“There’s someone I could talk to,” Hobb acknowledged. “He has the full file on the donor. He could put the question before them. Before the family.”
“I would be grateful. You can’t know how grateful.”
“They might be willing to provide a photograph. Even a first name. But if the family doesn’t want you to have her last name or contact information for them, would you be satisfied?”
“The photo would be enormously…comforting. Anything they can do for me. I’d be grateful for anything.”
“This is highly unusual,” Hobb said. “But I must admit it’s happened before. And we resolved it that time. It all depends on the family.”
The woman with the lilies wanted to torment Ryan, to carve his nerves to ribbons before she put a sharp blade through his heart. Before further violence, she would most likely give him at least a day to consider the shallow incision in his side, to anticipate his next wound.
Night and rain were her allies. Twenty-four hours from now, she would have the collaboration of both.
“One more thing, Doctor. The photo and whatever else the family will share-I need it as soon as possible. Twelve hours or sooner would be ideal.”
If Dougal Hobb whetted his scalpel on those words, he decided not to cut with it. After a silence, he said only, “Spiritual crises often last years, even a lifetime. There’s usually not an urgency about them.”
“This one is different,” Ryan said. “Thank you for your help and your thoughtfulness, Doctor.”
The filet mignon cut like butter.
As he ate, Ryan wondered about the woman’s expertise with the switchblade. She maneuvered him with the lilies, inflicting precisely the wound she intended.
Had she cut deeper, he would have needed medical assistance. She sliced shallow enough to leave him with the option of treating the wound himself-and evidently expected that he would.
Although she might prove herself a killer when the time came, she remained for now a death tease. She wanted this game to last, inflicting the maximum psychological torture before gutting him-if gutting was the only thing she had in mind.
The confidence and delicacy with which she wielded the knife might have been learned on the street, but Ryan suspected she was not anything as common as a gang girl. The bloody business in the shopping-mall parking lot had been not butchery but switchblade ballet.
Unsettling as the encounter had been, he was glad for it.
As recently as the previous evening, he had required himself to consider the possibility that these new incidents-the hooded watcher in the rain of whom no security-camera proof existed, the tiny candy hearts and the inscribed gold heart pendant, which were no longer in his possession-were delusional, as the strange events more than a year earlier had evidently been delusional, and were related to his current battery of twenty-eight medications.
He had rejected that possibility, which of course had been his subjective and perhaps unreliable opinion. The wound in his left side counted as objective proof sufficient to settle the issue.
After dinner, he returned the food-service cart, with the dirty dishes, to the landing, and buzzed Mrs. Amory to retrieve it.
For an hour, he nursed a second glass of Opus One and paged through Samantha’s novel, spot-reading passages, as other men in a crisis might open the Bible at random and read verses in the hope of receiving divine guidance.
At nine o’clock, he went to the Crestron panel embedded in the wall of the master-suite foyer and accessed the security cameras. He toured all the interior hallways, and when he found every one of them dark, he assumed the Amorys had retired to their private quarters for the night.
On the lowest floor of the house, in the service hall that led to the laundry, he unlocked the storage room that he had visited the previous evening, and quietly closed the door behind him. He unlocked the tall metal cabinet that contained the security-camera recorders, and he switched on the monitor.
Back then, when he had first reviewed the recording that should have captured the hooded figure in the rain, the phantom’s absence rattled him. At that time, of course, he had not yet been confronted by a switchblade diva, and still had reason to wonder if his outré experiences owed anything to pharmaceuticals.
In that frame of mind, he had not been a sufficiently analytical observer of the video. He’d been looking for what was manifestly not there, when perhaps he should have been studying what was to be seen.
Now he selected the first south-lawn camera recording taken at twilight, more than forty-eight hours earlier. He watched it in real time, because a lot of details flew past unnoticed in a fast-forward replay.
Again the drizzle, the slithering shapes of fog, the deodars, and the fading light provided an atmospheric backdrop against which no hooded figure appeared, though Ryan had seen it twice that night.
Something about the lazy coiling and twining of the serpentine bands of fog struck him as curious. When he reversed the twilight to watch it be imposed again upon the day, a moment came when the fog twitched. Following the twitch, the meandering mist repeated the exact movement it had made moments earlier.
He reversed a minute, pushed PLAY, and saw that a piece of the recording had been cloned to fill in for something deleted. Further in the twilight, a second piece of cloned video occurred-when the hooded intruder should have walked out of the deodars.
In the lower-right corner of the screen, accompanying the duplicated video, the timer flashed the seconds in continuous sequence, without repeating the count that went with the original segment. The hacker who had done this was a wizard with the system and a demon for detail.
For a while, Ryan reran the cloned bits-the first forty-nine seconds long, the second thirty-one seconds-thinking through the implications of this discovery.
A day had passed between the time he saw the hooded intruder and when he first reviewed the security-camera video. Someone could have tampered with it in the interim.
But last night, before reviewing the recording of this twilight, he had raced down here in pajamas and bathrobe to see who might have entered and departed the master suite to put the heart pendant on his pillow. The deletion of that person from the penthouse-landing video and the replacement of the incriminating segment with cloned images had to have been done immediately in the wake of action, as the intruder was still on the move.
This suggested that the woman with the lilies worked with at least one partner. Assuming she was the one who repeatedly violated the master suite, her backup had been tied in by computer to the security system-most likely from somewhere inside the house-busily deleting her image from video as soon as she passed out of frame.
She could no longer be considered a psycho loner. The conspiracy theory, previously a sieve, suddenly held water.
More important, the capabilities of those aligned against Ryan were impressive, and suggested depth of support.
Finally he possessed evidence. Without witnesses to the attack, he was unable to prove that the cut in his side hadn’t happened in an accident. But cloned images on a security recording couldn’t be accidental.
This was not much evidence by police standards. But he had no intention of turning to the police until he knew the motives of the conspirators-and perhaps not even then.
The woman with the switchblade claimed to want him dead, and he believed that her intention was indeed eventually to kill him. Her motive, however, remained a mystery.
The Wilson Mott operative, Cathy Sienna, had listed five roots of violence: lust, envy, anger, avarice, vengeance. She had referred to them as failings rather than motives, but they were motives all right. As with anyone intent on murder, more than one might apply.
As Ryan was about to switch off the monitor, the image on the screen flickered and changed. Instead of a view from any security camera inside or outside the house, there appeared a glistening, viscous mass, red and marbled and blue-veined and throbbing, like a menace discovered inside a cracked-open meteor in an old science-fiction movie.
For an instant Ryan had no idea what the thing might be, and then he realized this was video of a beating human heart and its attendant structures, inside an open human chest.
Although he did not touch the remote control, the screen divided into quadrants representing cameras at different locations around the estate-presenting the same gruesome video. A moment later, four other camera views flashed on the screen, all featuring the throbbing heart, and then four more, and four more….
This was not a real-time event, not a mutilation occurring on the estate, but instead an educational film of open-heart surgery. The surgeon’s hands entered the shot, and the camera pulled back to show the surgical team.