If Stryker could be believed, the woman’s motivations were innocent enough. According to the attorney, Mrs. Evans felt guilty about not having had the courage to view the boy’s mutilated body prior to the burial. She felt as if she had failed to pay her last respects to the deceased. Her guilt had grown gradually into a serious psychological problem. She was in great distress, and she suffered from horrible dreams that plagued her every night. That was Stryker’s story.
Kennebeck tended to believe Stryker. There was an element of coincidence involved, but not all coincidence was meaningful. That was something one tended to forget when he spent his life in the intelligence game. Christina Evans probably hadn’t entertained a single doubt about the official explanation of the Sierra accident; she probably hadn’t known a damned thing about Pandora when she had requested an exhumation, but her timing couldn’t have been worse.
If the woman actually hadn’t known anything of the cover-up, then the Network could have used her ex-husband and the legal system to delay the reopening of the grave. In the meantime, Network agents could have located a boy’s body in the same state of decay as Danny’s corpse would have been if it had been locked in that coffin for the past year. They would have opened the grave secretly, at night, when the cemetery was closed, switching the remains of the fake Danny for the rocks that were currently in the casket. Then the guilt-stricken mother could have been permitted one last, late, ghastly look at the remains of her son.
That would have been a complex operation, fraught with the peril of discovery. The risks would have been acceptable, however, and there wouldn’t have been any need to kill anyone.
Unfortunately, George Alexander, chief of the Nevada bureau of the Network, hadn’t possessed the patience or the skill to determine the woman’s true motives. He had assumed the worst and had acted on that assumption. When Kennebeck informed Alexander of Elliot Stryker’s request for an exhumation, the bureau chief responded immediately with extreme force. He planned a suicide for Stryker, an accidental death for the woman, and a heart attack for the woman’s husband. Two of those hurriedly organized assassination attempts had failed. Stryker and the woman had disappeared. Now the entire Network was in the soup,
As Kennebeck turned away from the French frigate, beginning to wonder if he ought to get out from under the Network before it collapsed on him, George Alexander entered the study through the door that opened off the downstairs hallway. The bureau chief was a slim, elegant, distinguished-looking man. He was wearing Gucci loafers, an expensive suit, a handmade silk shirt, and a gold Rolex watch. His stylishly cut brown hair shaded to iron-gray at the temples. His eyes were green, clear, alert, and—if one took the time to study them—menacing. He had a well-formed face with high cheekbones, a narrow straight nose, and thin lips. When he smiled, his mouth turned up slightly at the left corner, giving him a vaguely haughty expression, although at the moment he wasn’t smiling.
Kennebeck had known Alexander for five years and had despised him from the day they met. He suspected that the feeling was mutual.
Part of this antagonism between them rose because they had been born into utterly different worlds and were equally proud of their origins—as well as disdainful of all others. Harry Kennebeck had come from a dirt-poor family and, by his own estimation at least, made quite a lot of himself. Alexander, on the other hand, was the scion of a Pennsylvania family that had been wealthy and powerful for a hundred and fifty years, perhaps longer. Kennebeck had lifted himself out of poverty through hard work and steely determination. Alexander knew nothing of hard work; he had ascended to the top of his field as if he were a prince with a divine right to rule.
Kennebeck was also irritated by Alexander’s hypocrisy. The whole family was nothing but a bunch of hypocrites. The society-register Alexanders were proud of their history of public service. Many of them had been Presidential appointees, occupying high-level posts in the federal government; a few had served on the President’s cabinet, in half a dozen administrations, though none had ever deigned to run for an elective position. The famous Pennsylvania Alexanders had always been prominently associated with the struggle for minority civil rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, the crusade against capital punishment, and social idealisms of every variety. Yet numerous members of the family had secretly rendered service—some of it dirty—to the FBI, the CIA, and various other intelligence and police agencies, often the very same organizations that they publicly criticized and reviled. Now George Alexander was the Nevada bureau chief of the nation’s first truly secret police force—a fact that apparently did not weigh heavily on his liberal conscience.
Kennebeck’s politics were of the extreme right-wing variety. He was an unreconstructed fascist and not the least bit ashamed of it. When, as a young man, he had first embarked upon a career in the intelligence services. Harry had been surprised to discover that not all of the people in the espionage business shared his ultraconservative political views. He had expected his co-workers to be super-patriotic right-wingers. But all the snoop shops were staffed with leftists too. Eventually Harry realized that the extreme left and the extreme right shared the same two basic goals: They wanted to make society more orderly than it naturally was, and they wanted to centralize control of the population in a strong government. Left-wingers and right-wingers differed about certain details, of course, but their only major point of contention centered on the identity of those who would be permitted to be a part of the privileged ruling class, once the power had been sufficiently centralized.
At least I’m honest about my motives
, Kennebeck thought as he watched Alexander cross the study.
My public opinions are the same as those I express privately, and that’s a virtue he doesn’t possess. I’m not a hypocrite. I’m not at all like Alexander. Jesus, he’s such a smug, Janus-faced bastard!
“I just spoke with the men who’re watching Stryker’s house,” Alexander said. “He hasn’t shown up yet.”
“I told you he wouldn’t go back there.”
“Sooner or later he will.”
“No. Not until he’s absolutely certain the heat is off. Until then he’ll hide out.”
“He’s bound to go to the police at some point, and then we’ll have him.”
“If he thought he could get any help from the cops, he’d have been there already,” Kennebeck said. “But he hasn’t shown up. And he won’t.”
Alexander glanced at his watch. “Well, he still might pop up here. I’m sure he wants to ask you a lot of questions.”
“Oh, I’m damn sure he does. He wants my hide,” Kennebeck said. “But he won’t come. Not tonight. Eventually, yes, but not for a long time. He knows we’re waiting for him. He knows how the game is played. Don’t forget he used to play it himself.”
“That was a long time ago,” Alexander said impatiently. “He’s been a civilian for fifteen years. He’s out of practice. Even if he was a natural then, there’s no way he could still be as sharp as he once was.”
“But that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Kennebeck said, pushing a lock of snow-white hair back from his forehead. “Elliot isn’t stupid. He was the best and brightest young officer who ever served under me. He
a natural. And that was when he was young and relatively inexperienced. If he’s aged as well as he seems to have done, then he might even be sharper these days.”
Alexander didn’t want to hear it. Although two of the hits he had ordered had gone totally awry, Alexander remained self-assured; he was convinced that he would eventually triumph.
He’s always so damned self-confident
, Harry Kennebeck thought.
And usually there’s no good reason why he should be. If he was aware of his own shortcomings, the son of a bitch would be crushed to death under his collapsing ego
Alexander went to the huge maple desk and sat behind it, in Kennebeck’s wing chair.
The judge glared at him.
Alexander pretended not to notice Kennebeck’s displeasure. “We’ll find Stryker and the woman before morning. I’ve no doubt about that. We’re covering all the bases. We’ve got men checking every hotel and motel—”
“That’s a waste of time,” Kennebeck said. “Elliot is too smart to waltz into a hotel and leave his name on the register. Besides, there are more hotels and motels in Vegas than in any other city in the world.”
“I’m fully aware of the complexity of the task,” Alexander said. “But we might get lucky. Meanwhile, we’re checking out Stryker’s associates in his law firm, his friends, the woman’s friends, anyone with whom they might have taken refuge.”
“You don’t have enough manpower to follow up all those possibilities,” the judge said. “Can’t you see that? You should use your people more judiciously. You’re spreading yourself too thin. What you should be doing—”
make those decisions,” Alexander said icily.
“What about the airport?”
“That’s taken care of,” Alexander assured him. “We’ve got men going over the passenger lists of every outbound flight.” He picked up an ivory-handled letter opener, turned it over and over in his hands. “Anyway, even if we’re spread a bit thin, it doesn’t matter much. I already know where we’re going to nail Stryker. Here. Right here in this house. That’s why I’m still hanging around. Oh, I know, I know, you don’t think he’ll show up. But a long time ago you were Stryker’s mentor, the man he respected, the man he learned from, and now you’ve betrayed him. He’ll come here to confront you, even if he knows it’s risky. I’m sure he will.”
“Ridiculous,” Kennebeck said sourly. “Our relationship was never like that. He—”
“I know human nature,” Alexander said, though he was one of the least observant and least analytical men that Kennebeck had ever known.
These days cream seldom rose in the intelligence community—but crap still floated.
Angry, frustrated, Kennebeck turned again to the bottle that contained the French frigate. Suddenly he remembered something important about Elliot Stryker. “Ah,” he said.
Alexander put down the enameled cigarette box that he had been studying. “What is it?”
“Elliot’s a pilot. He owns his own plane.”
“Have you been checking small craft leaving the airport?” Kennebeck asked.
“No. Just scheduled airliners and charters.”
“He’d have had to take off in the dark,” Alexander said. “You think he’s licensed for instrument flying? Most businessmen-pilots and hobby pilots aren’t certified for anything but daylight.”
“Better get hold of your men at the airport,” Kennebeck said. “I already know what they’re going to find. I’ll bet a hundred bucks to a dime Elliot slipped out of town under your nose.”
The Cessna Turbo Skylane RG knifed through the darkness, two miles above the Nevada desert, with the low clouds under it, wings plated silver by moonlight.
“I’m sorry I got you mixed up in this.”
“You don’t like my company?”
“You know what I mean. I’m really sorry.”
“Hey, you didn’t get me mixed up in it. You didn’t twist my arm. I practically volunteered to help you with the exhumation, and it all just fell apart from there. It’s not your fault.”
“Still . . . here you are, running for your life, and all because of me.”
“Nonsense. You couldn’t have known what would happen after I talked to Kennebeck.”
“I can’t help feeling guilty about involving you.”
“If it wasn’t me, it would have been some other attorney. And maybe he wouldn’t have known how to handle Vince. In which case, both he and you might be dead. So if you look at it that way, it worked out as well as it possibly could.”
“You’re really something else,” she said.
“What else am I?”
“Lots of things.”
“Not me. What else?”
“Bravery is a virtue of fools.”
“Not as smart as I think I am.”
“I cry at sad movies. See, I’m not as great as you think I am.”
“You can cook.”
The Cessna hit an air pocket, dropped three hundred feet with a sickening lurch, and then soared to its correct altitude.
“A great cook but a lousy pilot,” she said.
“That was God’s turbulence. Complain to Him.”
“How long till we land in Reno?”