Read Pieces of the Puzzle Online

Authors: Robert Stanek

Pieces of the Puzzle (15 page)

A while later, he saw a hand, everything went black, and then when the picture returned, he heard a faint hiss. He pushed
Fast Forward.

There was nothing for a long while, then something passed in front of the camera. He slowed the recording. He heard a woman’s
voice in the background. A door opened, closed. He heard the voice again.

“Is everything all right?” the voice asked, the volume so loud that it made Helen jump. He adjusted the volume, satisfied,
he leaned back.

A second female voice replied, “Yeah, I’ll be out in a moment. I’m going to slip into something more comfortable.”

“You’re not still worried, are you?”

There was a long pause. “Of course not.”

“Well, I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t be.” A door opened. “How do I look? I bought it for you.” The woman who was speaking passed in front of the camera
and sat down on the edge of the bed and for the first time, Scott saw her face. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Helen
bite the back of her hand. The woman was Jessica and the eyes, the eyes were as haunting as ever.

Scott asked Helen “Is that Pattie with Jessica?”

Helen rolled her eyes.

He grabbed her shoulders. “Is it or isn’t it?”

“Sounds like her. Do we have to watch this?”

“Not much more, I just want you to be sure that the other woman is Pattie. I want you to get a good look at her—” He cut short
as the other woman approached the bed. He saw the back of her head as she went around the side of the bed and kneeled on the
floor next to Jessica who was sitting on the edge of the bed. Jessica leaned back onto the mattress and her elbows. The other
woman crawled up onto the bed, halfway up Jessica’s thighs. She reached down to the floor for something Scott couldn’t see.

Helen screamed, “Stop, stop, stop! Stop it now!”

Scott didn’t, instead he held Helen in place so she couldn’t turn away. He was rewarded with a partial view of the woman’s
face. A moment later she was dangling a pair of panties from her right hand and laughing, she rolled onto her back. Scott
lurched forward, pushed Pause. His eyes went wide—wide round globes—and his heart skipped. Two faces were captured in the
frame and at the same instant he said, “Janet?”

Helen said, “Pattie, it’s Pattie. You happy now?”

He felt suddenly queasy. His toes tingled. His legs and jaw went numb as tension swept through him. He turned to her. “That’s
Pattie, you’re sure?”

“Yeah.”

He heard her confirmation, though he didn’t want to. He sucked at the air, turned toward the balcony and the drapes being
played upon by the wind. “Janet is Pattie, Pattie is Janet,” he told himself.

Helen started to say something; he touched a finger to her lips. He heard something, a noise that didn’t come from the TV
because the video was still paused.

He reached for the gun tucked into the back of his pants, turned around. Just as the closet door directly behind Helen swept
open, he jumped, grabbing her as he went down. As they tumbled to the carpet, he saw a flash, heard the muffled report of
a gun, then another and another.

He rolled onto his stomach, aimed, fired. One shot. Two shots. His gun didn’t have a silencer so the report was loud and echoed
in the enclosed space. The figure in the shadows went down, didn’t move again.

He scrambled across the carpet on his hands and knees. The figure was masked so he couldn’t see a face. He checked for a pulse,
wasn’t surprised not to find one.

After taking a deep breath and holding it, he peeled off the mask. There was a sudden emptiness in the bottom of his gut.
He recognized the face. It was Edward. Edward, always the loyal servant, always willing to help out, always there when they
needed him. Cynthia would be devastated if he ever told her, which he wouldn’t.

A thousand thoughts raced through his mind, all demanding attention, all demanding answers. Janet was working for Glen.

This was an absolute. But was Edward working for Cynthia’s father, Glen, Wellmen, or someone else? And how did this connect
to the recording Kim Dong Gi had confronted him with? Did it connect at all? If it was Glen, why would Glen need to blackmail
him? He was already doing everything Glen wanted. What more did Glen want? Or was Wellmen trying to mislead him? In the back
of his mind, Glen’s voice whispered, “The bottom line is to put the hook in someone else’s mouth.”

He took a deep breath, forced calm into his mind. He turned to Helen. She was lying on the floor, motionless, apparently still
in shock. Then his eyes found the spray of blood covering one side of her face and his heart leapt.

He touched two fingers to her jugular vein, looking for a pulse, as he asked, “Helen, are you with me?” He found a pulse.
“Helen, are you with me?” he repeated.

He lifted her to a sitting position, found a nasty bump on the side of her head. “We don’t have time for this,” he muttered
under his breath. He slapped her face.

She winced, opened her eyes. “Don’t hit me,” she whined. “My god, your shoulder?”

It was when she grabbed his arm that he realized he’d been shot, not her—the blood spray on her face was from his arm. He
helped her to her feet. She didn’t say a word. He grabbed her by the shoulders and held her there until she stopped trembling.

“Grab a towel from the bathroom. Don’t touch anything. Don’t look in the tub. Wipe down the bathroom door handle, anything
you touched, anything you think I touched. We don’t have more than a minute. Go!”

He pushed her toward the bathroom, retrieved the disc from the video player, paused. He heard voices in the hall now. He staggered
toward the door, switched on the security lock so that the door couldn’t be opened from the outside even with a card key—and
that’s when the knock came, followed by a voice, “Hotel security. We have a report of shots being fired. Can you open the
door, please?”

He backed away from the door, heard the hotel security person attempt to open the door with a security pass card. Thinking
quickly, he grabbed the top sheet from the bed, wrapped it around his shoulders. He looked around the room nervously, nodded
to Helen, who was still following his instructions.

His plan was to answer the door but blood running down his arm was soaking through the sheet and there was little he could
do to hide the disarray in the room. He could drag the body into the bathroom but what if hotel security wanted to search
the entire room? He could send Helen to the door but the side of her face was covered in blood. He nodded to the bathroom.
“Your face,” he whispered, “Wash, quickly.”

“Your arm?” She mouthed to him, afraid to voice even a whisper.

“I’ll live, go.” He nodded again to the bathroom. He needed a diversion so they could get out of the room. The hotel had fire
detectors and sprinklers, but he didn’t have time or the means to start a fire.

The knocking came louder and more insistent on the door. He was sure Helen could get out safely through the other room if
he could divert attention for a few moments but he didn’t think he could get away as easily. He was wounded and bleeding.
He didn’t have a jacket or anything else to cover up his arm inconspicuously, and if he couldn’t hide the bleeding he was
sure to be spotted.

He looked to the blankets on the bed, glanced at the desk clock. It was pretty late; he could go out of the room wrapped in
the blanket, pretend to have been awakened by the ruckus, race down the stairs after Helen. But what if someone had seen him
come up to the room? Helen could slip out of the room alone but the two of them together would surely catch someone’s attention.

There was no point in both of them being caught by the local police—there was no point in either of them being caught. He
didn’t have time for lockup, questions, and phone calls to D.C. He didn’t want Helen to break down and start saying things
she shouldn’t—No, he had to get her out safely. It was the only way.

He did the only thing he could think of; he picked up the sofa chair and heaved it through the glass doors. The chair went
careening over the balcony. He grabbed Helen as she ran out of the bathroom screaming and pushed her toward the door to the
next room. “Walk out the same door we came in. Wipe the handle inside, touch the outside with the towel. Do it quickly, casually.
Move!”

“What if someone’s in the hall?”

“Someone
is
in the hall,” he said calmly, looking directly at her. “Keep your wits. Walk slowly and calmly out the door and down the stairs.
Get the car, drive out of the parking garage and around the corner, like you’re going to the freeway but stop just up the
block.”

“What about you?”

“I’m going to get your things and meet you.”

She repeated, “What about you?”

He gripped her shoulders harder than he meant to. She winced. He ignored her, didn’t release the grip. “We’re going to meet
at the car, drive to the airport and get on the next flight to Honolulu. You aren’t going to cry. You aren’t going to say
a word. Do you understand?” He grabbed one of the towels in her hand, gave her a shove. “Go!”

She ran into the adjacent room, glanced back. For a few seconds, he could hear a tangle of voices from the hallway. He heard
someone screaming, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” Then the door closed and he couldn’t make out the voices clearly anymore.

They were trying to break down the door from the outside now. He heard a loud thump as a shoulder was levied into the door.
The shouting and the frenzy in the hall grew louder. He knew he didn’t have a lot of time.

He rewrapped the bed sheet around him, so that it covered his body and his head. The blood soaking through the sheet by his
arm was only a temporary distraction as he stepped out onto the balcony. It was dark out, late, but this was Miami Beach,
not Sleepy Hollow, so there were still a lot of people coming and going.

He looked down. Three floors below, people were gathering in the street. The braver ones were crowding around the sofa chair
he had thrown out the window, staring directly up at him. “A jumper!” someone shouted as he stood on the rail of the balcony.
Others shouted, “Look, up there!”

He waited only a moment, listening to the edges of the sheet being played upon by the wind, then he turned and ran back into
the room. He picked up Edward’s gun and mask, stuffing the gun into the back of Edward’s pants and the mask into a pocket.

He unwrapped the sheet, letting it fall to the floor. He rolled the sheet around Edward’s body, took a deep breath, then ran
into Room 336. He dropped the body, reached back and locked the door connecting the rooms just as hotel security broke through
the door of the other room.

Fortunately, Room 336 wasn’t a suite. There wasn’t a balcony outside the window, only air and a three-story drop to the pavement
below. Holding the body about the neck and waist, he ran at an angle toward the window, stopped short, used the momentum to
carry the body through the window.

On the street below, people were screaming and shouting as the body hit the pavement. Fire trucks, ambulances and police cars
started pulling up in front of the hotel. Someone must have called 911 when they heard the gunshots. He ran for all he was
worth out the door and into the hall.

The staircase was nearby. He pushed through the crowd in the hallway, didn’t look back. Someone called out, “Hey! Hey, buddy!
You!” He kept going.

When he reached the staircase, he went up instead of down, racing to the ninth floor. He wasn’t sure if he was followed, wasn’t
about to slow down to find out.

Miami, Florida
Saturday, 22 January

Scott pushed Helen into the window seat and took the seat beside her. He pulled her window shade down to deflect the glare
of the rising sun and fastened his seat belt, good and tight, as if it would keep him safe—he loved flying and hated it at
the same time. He set the morning edition of the
Miami Herald
on his lap, afraid to open it, afraid of what the headlines might read, and afraid of what the small red book folded into
the middle of the paper might reveal.

Since leaving the Ritz-Carlton, he hadn’t had time to think, but now he had nothing but time. His thoughts were moving in
circles. He was battered, bruised, and the bullet that had grazed his arm was the least of his worries. Helen had dressed
the wound; she was getting pretty good at using booze as an antiseptic.

She started to massage his neck. He chased her hand away, breathed in and out slowly as Flight 803 taxied away from the terminal.
He decided right then that he’d call Glen as soon as he arrived in Honolulu. He would tell Glen the search was going well
and everything was looking good, but he wouldn’t say anything about his excursion to Miami, nothing about the meeting with
Kim Dong Gi, nothing about Helen, Jessica or anyone else.

He leaned back against the headrest as the plane taxied to the runway, closed his eyes for a moment, only a moment he told
himself, but when he opened his eyes they were already airborne and the plane had leveled off on its transit altitude. He
thumped the newspaper with his thumbs, then unfolded it.

The headlines could wait. He glanced at Helen, who was sleeping, then turned his attention to the little red book and delved
into the life of Jessica Johnson.

He found dipping into the private thoughts of someone strangely seductive, especially Jessica’s thoughts. He had never kept
a diary or a journal, though Cynthia did. He had peeked into it a few times out of curiosity, but this was entirely different.
In his relationship with C there was a closeness, a oneness, so it hadn’t felt like an invasion of privacy. But now he was
reading the thoughts of someone he had never met, yet felt he had known forever.

Jessica’s thoughts were as organized as her credit cards. He could have divided the entries and put each paragraph under subheadings:

Interesting/Ponderings

Likes/Dislikes

Work/Why I Don’t Have a Life Right Now
People/Relationships

Today I watched a jasmine sunrise. The water, calm and cobalt, invited
me for a swim…
Jessica always started with Interesting/Ponderings, and always ended with People/Relationships.
I’m worried about
Helen. It’s nearly Christmas and she is still decidedly somber…
Before Scott knew it, the pilot was beginning the descent for Dallas-Fort Worth International. In Dallas, they had to change
to Flight 123. It departed at 11:20 Dallas time. He glanced at his watch; adjusting for the time zone difference that was
an hour and forty-five minutes away. He continued reading.

The plane landed, finished taxiing to the arrival gate. He closed the diary, having just finished the entry for Friday, 29
October. Helen unbuckled her seat belt. He snapped the buckle back into place. “Stay put. We’ll get off last.”

***

Scott paced in front of the ladies’ room. “Fifteen minutes,” he mumbled.
Where was Helen?

At one end of the terminal was a cluster of departure gates and on this end, he could see souvenir shops, a snack bar and
a newsstand. The newsstand was the closest. Its racks of magazines and books were hidden from view, but the newspapers were
right there, right out front, demanding his attention. He glanced from the ladies’ room door to the newsstand that was at
most ten yards away.

As he paced, he thought less and less about Helen, and more and more about the
Dallas Morning News
and the
Fort Worth Star
Telegram
. Which would he buy? Or would he buy both?

He started to walk to the newsstand. Someone emerged from the bathroom. He heard the door open and turned back. The circles
under Helen’s eyes were clearly visible despite the newly brushed on mascara and eye shadow. He knew she had been crying,
just like he knew whenever Cynthia had been crying. You couldn’t hide what was behind the eyes, you could never hide what
was behind the eyes—the hurt always showed through.

Wordlessly, they walked to the snack bar. He bought a
Morning News
and a
Star Telegram
as he passed the newsstand.

While she ate lunch, he consumed news stories, page after page, until all that was left to read was the funnies. But he didn’t
feel like reading the funnies. The lead story in the front page of both papers was the same:

FINANCIAL CRISIS GROWS,

HYSTERIA DEEPENS

The accompanying articles showed that people were paying attention now. There was talk of a deepening panic, that people were
losing faith in the financial and banking systems, the possibility of runs on banks the likes of which hadn’t been seen since
the Great Depression, but he knew it was a little late to start caring now; they should have cared before, not now. Now it
was too late. Whoever was behind this already controlled the pulse of the markets. They could send the markets up or down
on a whim, but there was nothing whimsical about what was happening. It was planned, carefully orchestrated. The rich and
powerful were getting the message and it was a simple, clear message: We can topple governments, make and unmake billionaires.
You can lose big.

He was back to the old questions. How do you attack democracy and win? How do you take control and keep it? How do you overcome
immeasurable odds and survive? He knew with even deeper conviction that it wasn’t by stockpiling nuclear weapons, dropping
bombs or terror. It was through the fuel that drives our world, which contrary to general opinion wasn’t oil, it was money.
But it wasn’t just about the money; it was about control: Control the flow of financial information, stop global commerce
and exchange, achieve what others couldn’t.

Answers were somewhere in his previous assignments. Glen had subtly indicated that this went back to his days with Harry Johnson
and that he had recruited Scott into this from the beginning—whatever
this
was. Scott knew it was significant that he was the only one to come back from Munich, and even more significant that the Agency
had singled him out as a traitor afterward. But if there was one thing he was, he was a survivor.

Glen should have known this, but would Glen have bet everything on his return against the odds, or was it only happenstance?

He started thinking about what would’ve happened if he’d died with the rest of his team in Munich. He thought about what Glen
would have done without him, then he thought about what Glen had said, “You’re making a mistake, Scott. I’m it, I’m all you
got.” But he’d known that was bullshit the moment Glen had said it. The truth was, he was all Glen had and Glen knew it.

He was just starting to connect the dots in his mind’s eye when Helen poked him. “They’re boarding.”

He glanced at his watch, at the departure monitor just off the snack bar. “You doing okay?” he asked, putting his hand on
hers. He didn’t wait for a response. He got up from the table, said “Let’s go.”

They started back to the departure gate. He was midway through a yawn when he noticed she wasn’t at his side. He stopped,
looked back over his shoulder, didn’t see her, but did see the ladies’ room door closing. He shook his head and waited.

“What’s wrong?” said a voice from behind him, “Did you lose your lady friend?”

He spun around, saw probing eyes filled with purpose. “If you so much as—”“We are hardly barbarous, Mr. Evers. You cooperate
and no harm will befall a beautiful woman. Do we understand each other?”

Scott beaded his eyes. “I understand that you’re not man enough to take me down without an insurance policy, that’s what I
understand.”

Kim Dong Gi snickered. “Do you want to go for another ride?”

“And if I said no?”

“Afraid I would have to insist.”

“And Helen?”

“The rules are the same as last time. What happens after is up to you.” Scott started to speak. Mr. Kim clapped his hands
together. Two men in charcoal gray suits hurried to his side. “Our pilot is a very anxious man. I suggest we hurry.”

***

Wellmen cut Mr. Kim off with a wave of his hand. “There are those who will never understand, there are those who will. Which
are you, Mr. Evers?”

Scott laid the chopsticks across the top of his rice bowl. He was eating to be polite, not because he was hungry. His stomach
was still bunched in knots, every swallow was forced, yet he made certain to maintain his composure to allay Mr. Wellmen’s
expressed displeasure. He looked up at the array of mammoth video screens mounted on the wall directly opposite him—monitors
that currently showed a man sweeping a floor. “And you do this for pleasure?”

Mr. Kim snapped his fingers, signaling to the suits guarding the doors. Wellmen waved them back to their positions. “Put a
man in a room, tell him to sweep it, make sure he believes no one is watching him, and see what he does. A shame that I can
only relax like this on the weekends.”

Scott chose not to respond. He had been on the ranch for two miserable hours, waiting in a dark room to be herded into the
dining hall, and then made to feel about as tall as a gnat pissing on Wellmen’s oriental rug. If he had a gun, he would end
this right now.

Wellmen said, “I don’t suppose you would be interested in a position as Head of Household?”

Scott looked uneasy.

Wellmen chuckled, then said to Mr. Kim, “Dismiss him, send in the next applicant.” Mr. Kim stood stiffly and started to leave.
Wellmen turned back to Scott. “At eighty-five thousand a year, they think they can be uppity, so I hand them a broom and tell
them to sweep. Sometimes their reactions are quite comical—”“Did you call me here to talk about your household staff?”

Mr. Kim lunged across the table and would’ve backhanded Scott if Wellmen hadn’t suggested he shouldn’t.

Mr. Kim doubled over at the waist, his back nearly parallel to the floor. “Forgive my rudeness.”

Wellmen nodded approval. Mr. Kim rose, waited a moment, then continued out of the room. There was a period of awkward silence.
Wellmen said, “He is overzealous at times but his intentions are true.”

Scott pushed his rice bowl aside. The ornate clock on the opposite wall said it was 3:30 p.m. He was pretty sure he was on
Wellmen’s Colorado ranch. Denver time was an hour behind Dallas time; the flight to Honolulu had left long ago. He glared
at Wellmen. “Exactly why am I here? Where is Helen?”

Wellmen smiled politely and dabbed a gold-embroidered silk napkin to the corners of his mouth. The napkin was identical to
the one Scott held beneath the table, mashed in a clenched fist. Only the certainty that one of the four suits that guarded
the double doors at either end of the dining hall would kill him before he reached Wellmen kept Scott in the oaken chair.

“You can tell a great deal about a man by watching him, Mr.

Evers. You are a man who takes for granted a great many things. You insult me at my own table, pretend to be calm and focused,
yet the flittering of your eyes tells me of a thousand ways of hatred. Once only royalty could eat white rice and yet you
cast aside the base of life without thought.”

“Are you American or Chinese? You make me sick, do you know that? You son of a bitch.”

Wellmen seemed delighted at the release of Scott’s temper. He smiled without the usual self-restraint. Scott lunged from the
chair, knowing in an instant he shouldn’t have, yet he found great pleasure in the fact that his hand came within inches of
Wellmen’s neck before the suits grabbed him and dragged him back to the oaken chair.

“A society that had gunpowder five hundred years before Europeans ever dreamed of it is not to be taken lightly, and without
gunpowder, we would still be in the Dark Ages. Make no mistake, Mr. Evers, let there be no doubt, I am an American and my
loyalties lie nowhere else. It should also be clear that I would not be the man I am today without the teachings of Eastern
philosophy.”

Wellmen turned back to his food. The meal continued quietly. Scott tried to speak several times, but Wellmen either raised
a hand to tell him to stop or ignored him. When Wellmen finally cleaned his plate, he dabbed either side of his mouth and
then turned back to Scott as attendants descended upon the table to clear it. “The only crime I have ever committed in my
life, Mr. Evers, is the crime I carry out in my mind. I made a promise to my beloved wife as she was dying in my arms that
I would exact revenge. While I believe in vengeance, Mr. Evers, I am not a vengeful man. I do not blame others for mistakes
that I have made, I blame only myself. Do you understand?”

It took Scott a moment to digest the cold casualness of Wellmen’s tone. He tossed the mangled silk napkin onto his plate as
an attendant took it away. “Why am I here?”

“This is about vengeance, Mr. Evers, not for me, for Glen Hastings. He blames me for something that happened many years ago,
something that nearly destroyed his career and his life, but something I had no part in. I am a legitimate businessman, Mr.
Evers, and if I were otherwise, I would be in jail, billions or no billions. You must know that most of my wealth came from
family money and all I did was invest heavily in ventures that turned a profit, I ask you, is that un-American? Or is that
the American way?”

Scott bunched his eyebrows together. “If that’s true, then why in hell am I here?”

“To end this harassment, here and now. I have many influential and persuasive friends in Washington; their reach extends all
the way to the President. What’s left of Glen Hastings’ life is about to be flushed down the toilet, are you going to follow
him?”

Other books

Gareth: Lord of Rakes by Grace Burrowes
Muriel Pulls It Off by Susanna Johnston
By the Lake by John McGahern
Who He Is (FireNine, book 1) by Shanora Williams
The Daddy Dance by Mindy Klasky
Hair, Greg - Werewolf 01 by Werewolf (v5.0)
Zipped by Laura McNeal
Find a Victim by Ross Macdonald