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Authors: Rebecca York

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BOOK: In Search of the Dove
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When the waiter brought the food, she cleared her throat. “Say, I was looking for someone I know down here,” she began, getting ready to describe Aubrey again. But to her own surprise, the words that tumbled out of her mouth were not a description of her brother but of the man with the scar who had been sitting across from him in the booth.

The thin waiter shook his head, but she caught a flicker of recognition in his muddy green eyes.

“You know who I mean, don’t you?” she challenged, giving him an unflinching look. Just for a second she caught an image from his mind. It was of flapping white wings and a bird soaring against a leaden sky.

“Dove,” she whispered. “He’s involved with the dove.”

A look of incredulity flashed across his pasty features to be replaced by fear. He turned and quickly glanced over his shoulders. “If Lonnie knows you’re talking about Dove in here—” Instead of finishing the sentence, he drew his finger graphically across his throat.

Jessica shuddered. She didn’t even know what the dove image meant.

“Here, let me write up your bill.” He changed the subject abruptly, taking a pencil stub from his pocket and licking the end before scribbling on the pad.

He wasn’t going to talk, Jessica thought. There was nothing to do but eat her hamburger and go home. When she took a bite, it tasted like greasy sawdust in her mouth.

The waiter left the check facedown on the table. Picking it up, she saw that her meal had cost her five dollars and change. Then her eyes widened. Scribbled at the bottom was an address on the cross street a block away from the bar. The number was 3489—the same as the one she’d seen on the napkin in Aubrey’s apartment.

Chapter Four

T
he streetlight winked on overhead, and Michael Rome took another swig from his paper bag-wrapped Ripple bottle. Of course, his “wine” was more than half grape juice, but his new drinking buddies on the corner didn’t have to know that.

“So what about Harley’s?” he questioned, wiping his mouth on his forearm and gesturing toward the pub near the corner. “I hear there’s some action around there.”

“Yeah. That’s right, man.” There was a chorus of agreement around the little group.

To his disappointment, nobody volunteered any more information. The lead that had brought him there had come from a helpful police officer named Lieutenant Devine who suspected the rundown pub was the center of drug traffic.

So he’d been hanging around the neighborhood asking discreet questions. He was looking in the direction of the bar when a cab pulled up across the street. The passenger who emerged was a petite female with an unruly mop of auburn curls. Even halfway down the block, he recognized the woman he’d talked to two days ago at the university. He’d checked around and found out that her name was Jessica Duval and that she claimed to be the sister of the guy from the chemistry department who’d almost barbecued himself last week. But nobody could confirm that piece of information or come up with her address.

She’d been invading his thoughts at odd moments ever since that strange interview they’d had out on the university lawn. In another context he might have admitted to himself that he found her damn attractive in an offbeat sort of way. But that was entirely beside the point. She knew something about Dove, and he wanted to find out what it was.

Automatically he faded into the shadow of a brick wall and raised his Ripple bottle to hide his face. As he watched, she handed the cab driver some money and then crossed the street to the bar. Today, he noted, her steps were a lot more hesitant than at the university. What’s more, she’d asked the cab to wait for her. He’d bet she didn’t venture into this part of town too often. But what was she doing at Harley’s, of all places?

His first impulse was to follow her down the block and into the bar. But she’d run away from him last time, and he didn’t want to force a confrontation. Maybe he’d just stroll past and have an unobtrusive peek inside.

After waiting ten minutes, he did just that. She was sitting in a booth alone, her back to the window. Then she got up to ask the bartender a question. When she returned to her seat, she looked dejected. Maybe she really was trying to get some information about her brother—or a boyfriend who was in trouble. But that still didn’t explain how she’d found this place.

Fifteen minutes later Michael was surprised to see the waiter who had taken Jessica’s order slip out the side door and head across the street to the waiting cab. After he handed the driver a bill, the man started his engine and pulled away. The waiter nodded in satisfaction and then took off down the block at a trot.

A few minutes later Jessica herself emerged and was apparently puzzled not to see the cab. After looking at something in the palm of her hand, she started hesitantly off in the direction the waiter had taken. Michael guessed that she was heading for trouble. He’d better follow. Maybe she was finally going to lead him to someone connected with Dove.

* * *

J
ESSICA CURLED
her fingers around the paper in her hand. She hadn’t liked this neighborhood when she’d arrived. With the last light of evening fading, she liked it even less. Probably the wise thing would be to give up for now and come back tomorrow.

Her heels clicked on the empty sidewalk as she turned the corner and hurried up the block toward the avenue where she might be able to get another cab.

Taking a deep breath of the humid night air, she tried to calm her growing sense of misgiving. The skin at the back of her neck was beginning to crawl. Was she being watched? she wondered, glancing quickly back over her shoulder. Though nothing moved in the shadows, she knew that coming here alone had been a very bad idea.

She was walking rapidly in the direction of the avenue when she heard footsteps behind her. Instinctively she began to run. Before she had gotten more than a dozen paces, someone grabbed her arm. It was the stoop-shouldered man who had served her at Harley’s.

She tried to wrench away, but his grip was surprisingly firm for someone who looked so anemic.

“Thought I’d better tell Lonnie you were here. He’s expecting you.” He urged her toward one of the houses on the street.

“Let me go.” Though she tried to hold her voice steady, she could hear it rising half an octave.

“Come inside.”

His grip tightened on her arm. When she flailed out at him, he gave her the back of his hand across the face. Suddenly another man—one with a star-shaped scar etched on his cheek—was at his side. Lonnie, she thought, even as she began to struggle in real panic. But she was no match for the two men. Together they half dragged, half escorted her to the gaping doorway. When they reached the front door, Lonnie shoved her inside and slammed it closed with his foot.

“All right, what gives with you, bitch? Are you a cop, a reporter, what?”

It was hard to make her voice work now. “I came down here to find out what happened to Aubrey Ballin.”

The name triggered a violent reaction. The man had his hands on her shoulders again before she could take a breath. “That meddler Ballin stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and got what he deserved.” He shook her roughly. “Why are you stirring up more trouble?”

Before she could even begin to frame an answer, a nasty gleam took over his dark eyes. “Not just Ballin. You want to know about Dove?” he baited her.

Despite herself, she nodded slightly.

“Then we’ll give you some firsthand experience.”

The other man laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound. “We had to sit on your friend Ballin the first few times too. But then he grew to appreciate the stuff.”

“Go get some,” Lonnie ordered, shoving Jessica down to the dirty couch as he spoke.

Terror ripped through her. All at once she realized that Dove was a drug. The drug that had turned Aubrey into a maniac. These men had given it to him, and they were going to give it to her.

“No!” Jessica struck out blindly at the man’s face. She had to get away. She couldn’t let him do this to her.

Lonnie grunted and hit her back, momentarily knocking the breath out of her lungs. When she continued to pummel and kick at him, he threw his weight on top of her struggling body.

“Hurry,” he said with a snarl.

The other man was back almost at once. To her horror, Jessica could see he was holding a hypodermic. Her frantic struggles redoubled. It took both of them to hold her down and stretch her arm out now. But inevitably she felt the sharp prick of the needle invading her flesh. Almost at once a warm lassitude seemed to spread through her bloodstream and her head felt as if it had filled with cotton candy. A wave of warm, syrupy heat seemed to wash over her.

“That’s better now, isn’t it?” Lonnie asked, his voice silky.

His face swam in and out of her vision; it was as if she were inside a fish tank viewing him through the glass.

“What have you done to me?” she croaked. Her body felt very heavy and at the same time almost buoyant.

“Given you a hint of Dove, honey. It makes you horny the first few times. That’s why people get hooked,” he said in a conversational voice. Pausing, he pulled his shirt off and tossed it on the floor.

Then he started to unbutton her camp shirt. His fingers seemed to burn her flesh.

“No.” God, she wanted to get out of there, but she felt weighed down with sandbags.

She was trying to muster a scream when a loud crash split the air. From the corner of her vision, she saw the door cave in on its hinges.

“What the hell?” one of her tormenters exclaimed.

Michael Rome didn’t dignify the question with an answer. He spared a brief glance at the woman on the couch. She looked unharmed but dazed. Drugged. The observation registered in a corner of his mind. But there was no time to worry about her now. Both men in the room were already converging on him.

He met the taller one’s lunge with a well-placed kick that sent the man backward onto the floor. At the same time he ducked a blow from the other aimed at his jaw. In the next second Michael’s hardened hand came up with a quick chop to the man’s shoulder.

The one on the floor groaned and staggered to his feet. As if he’d made a quick decision to cut his losses, he stumbled out of the room while Michael was otherwise engaged with his partner. The other man kept fighting but was no match for the Peregrine agent. In a few moments he was on his knees.

“All right, what did you give her?” Michael demanded.

“Dove. We were just going to show her a good time.”

“Sure. Where did you get it?”

“Lonnie. I don’t know anything else.”

“Lonnie’s the guy who ran out on you?”

The man nodded.

Michael pulled a pair of handcuffs from inside his shirt and snapped the man’s wrists to an exposed water pipe. “Maybe you’re just a mule, but you can tell the police all about it when they get here.”

Striding to the back of the house, he found a phone in the kitchen and quickly called the local stationhouse, telling them he’d check in after they’d picked up the suspect. Then he went back and knelt beside Jessica. He tried to be matter-of-fact as he drew the yellow fabric of her camp shirt across the lace-covered swell of her breasts. She didn’t protest, and he redid the buttons as quickly as possible.

She stared at him, her lips moving, trying to form words. “They...wanted...hurt...me,” she finally managed.

“I know.” He hesitated, then made a decision. He had waited outside long enough for the two men to reveal whether they knew her. Now he cursed himself for not bursting in immediately. “I want to get you out of here before the police come. Can you walk?”

She stared at him blankly.

“Jessica, can you walk?” he said more loudly.

“Um.” But when he pulled her to her feet, she sagged heavily against him. Muttering an imprecation, he scooped up her purse, picked her up in his arms, and strode out of the house. She was light, and he could carry her around the corner to where he’d left his car.

Once he’d deposited her on the front seat, he fastened the seatbelt shoulder strap to keep her upright and closed the door. When he’d slid in behind the wheel, he looked at her with concern. Her face was flushed, her breathing ragged, but the only life-threatening problems he’d heard of with regard to Dove were from continued use.

“Have you ever taken Dove before?”

After a long moment she shook her head almost imperceptibly.

To be on the safe side, he took her arms and turned them over, looking for needle marks. The only one was the recent present from that bastard Lonnie. There was no sense in taking her to the hospital. There was nothing they could do for her. And he wanted to get some information.

She shivered slightly as his finger moved up and down her arm. “Feels good,” she murmured, her southern accent more pronounced than he remembered it.

He looked at her questioningly, but she didn’t volunteer anything else. “Can you tell me where you live?” he probed.

In a halting voice, she gave him an address that didn’t sound like it belonged in the city.

“Where’s that.”

“Annapolis.”

“Maryland?”

“Uh-huh.”

Oh, great, he thought, running exasperated fingers through his already ruffled hair.

“Where are you staying here?” he tried again.

“Brother’s apartment.” Her eyes fluttered open and she stared across the front seat, seeing him for the first time. “The man with the chemistry book—and the muscles—under the oak tree.” Her speech was less thick now. Was she going into another phase of the intoxication? He’d never had an opportunity to observe someone who’d been hit by Dove before.

“My name is Michael Rome. I’m going to take care of you.”

“I like your name. It fits.” She paused for a moment, studying the strong lines of his face. “You won’t hurt me.” The words were spoken with quiet conviction.

“I want to help you.”

“Michael, I feel...strange.”

“Are you going to be sick?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Dizzy?”

“Floating. No, flying. Feels nice.” She reached over and put her hand on the back of his arm, trailing her fingers through the thick covering of sun-bleached hairs. “You feel nice too.”

BOOK: In Search of the Dove
13.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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