Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

Tags: #mystery, #fiction, #kit, #frazier, #midnight, #ink, #locator, #bones, #spinoff

The Knowland Retribution (19 page)

Las Vegas

Pat Grath was not
in Amarillo hiding behind a tumbleweed.

But he wasn't much better off than that. He was laying low on the shore of Lake Mead just outside Las Vegas. He'd been there since the day he learned about Floyd Ochs. His estate house was back from the road a quarter mile and surrounded by thirteen acres, including four hundred feet of shoreline, which fronted a rolling lawn stretching from the back of the main house down to the lake. His family stayed in Texas. He brought nine bodyguards with him. He flew in a top security man to elaborate his house electronics, electrify the fences practically overnight, and add any other foolproof systems available ASAP. Still, Pat Grath was edgy.

He was a short, pear-shaped man just past forty with sandy hair and goatee, a snub nose, and a toothy smile. He'd always liked to have fun. He loved great food and beautiful women. But now he had no appetite. There were no girls in the party. He worried because the place was so secure. He thought his army of nine might grow complacent, and often instructed them not to. It was hard to make the point to his satisfaction. They all knew a twenty-four-hour camera covered the only road in, and one guy was always awake watching the screen. Two more, loaded down with weapons, manned the gate. Another two were always on patrol—the pool, the playhouse, the newly installed high-voltage fences, the lakefront lawn where Pat spent most of his time. The off-duty ones, if they weren't asleep, played cards with him or watched TV.

Pat thought constantly about what could go wrong. He couldn't come up with anything, and that made it worse. He was playing a round of croquet on the lawn, searching his mind for overlooked details. A bullet hit the end of his nose. The back of his skull and some of its contents were found as far as thirty feet back. The rest of him toppled like a log. The man on patrol who saw it happen called to the others and crouched his way to the body, handgun drawn, shaking every step of the way. He and the others threw frightened eyes rapidly from side to side. Had they known exactly where to look, they might have seen the tiny boat far out on the water turning quickly, heading toward the distant shoreline.

Birmingham

Carter Lawrence was sitting
in the food court at the Riverchase Galleria Mall in Birmingham, Alabama. From where he lived in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, the drive had taken him two hours. Interstate 20 runs dead straight from Atlanta to Birmingham. Once outside the Atlanta metropolitan area, it's a dull drive, open spaces punctuated every so often by small towns. Gas stations, McDonalds, and Waffle House restaurants crowded themselves around the exits. This wasn't the first time Carter had made the drive. He remembered the strange billboard outside Oxford. It said “Jesus Is Lord Over Oxford, Alabama.” As far as Carter was concerned, He could have it. Carter picked up an hour passing into the Central Time Zone and scheduled his arrival for ten o'clock local time. After what he'd been reading in the newspaper, watching on TV, and the trips to Raleigh, he looked forward to this day like no other in . . . years.

When he reached the mall he drove around a while looking for
a parking spot. Traffic was brutal, more so inside the mall parking
lot than on the roads. After finally parking he went inside. The place was jammed. He'd been sitting in the food court for nearly an hour,
at a table between a cinnamon bun/coffee shop and a Japanese steakhouse/fast-food operation that was offering samples to passersby. The mad rush to find tables in the mall's food court was a sight to behold. Carter saw grown women pulling their own kids while pushing someone else's children aside to grab an empty place. Others hovered like anxious vultures—overeaters who appeared to be down to the last bites of their quick meals. It took Carter forty minutes to get his food and find a table. He rebuffed every effort to unseat him. “No,” he said, “you can't take that chair.” Still they came at him. “There's someone sitting there,” he told not one, not two, but a half dozen or more eager shoppers wishing to lay claim to the empty seat at Carter's table. He waited patiently. The note he received in the mail a few days ago said only: “Meet me Friday in the food court at Riverchase Galleria, Birmingham—11 a.m.” The letter bore a New Mexico postmark, but Carter Lawrence was sure it came from his father-in-law.

A few minutes after eleven Carter felt a light tap on his right shoulder. When he turned to see who was there, there was no one. From the corner of his eye he saw a figure moving to his left, and he turned quickly. There he saw a tall, lean, bearded man sitting down in the other chair. He did not immediately recognize Leonard Martin—not at first glance. But he was expecting him, and with that thought fresh in his mind he soon saw the man he remembered underneath the new veneer. For an instant Carter thought the new look might be a disguise. But, of course, it wasn't. No disguise can make you thin, can it? He was stunned, then greatly comforted, to see Lenny Martin, to know it was him. Carter smiled. Leonard saw the young man was near to losing it, quite close to tears it seemed . And then they came. Still smiling, Carter's deep-set eyes overflowed, tears dripping down his bony cheeks, falling from his chin to the table. Carter stifled a heaving sob when Leonard reached out and put his hands on the sides of his head.

“It's okay,” Leonard said. “I'm here.”

“I missed you,” said Carter with a dry-cough mumble, trying as hard as he could not to cry anymore. He knew Leonard was alive, somewhere, because of the notes and the trips to Raleigh-Durham. But, now, seeing him, Carter's emotions got the better of him.

“I missed you too,” said Leonard.

“Lenny, where—”

“No, no, stop,” Leonard interrupted him, sternly waving both hands between himself and Carter. “No questions, Carter, please. Very important: It's essential that you never ask me anything. Not where I've been, what I've done, where I'm going. Nothing's more important. Do you understand?”

Carter looked at him, bewildered and confused.

Leonard said, “What you don't know can't hurt you, or me. If you get a card in the mail from somebody asking you to pick up a package and send it to another place, you don't
know
who asked you and you don't
know
what's inside. Right?” They looked at each other for many seconds in silence.

“Can I have some of those?” Leonard asked. He pointed to a plate of french fries. They were cold by now, but Leonard took a couple, dipped them in catsup, and put them in his mouth. Carter regained enough of his composure to drink some of his iced tea and take a handful of french fries himself. “You still hungry?” Leonard asked.

“No. I'm okay.”

“Good. Let's walk.” When they got up from their seats a flock of women, each with children in tow, descended upon the spot like ducks on pieces of white bread tossed into a lake. Carter couldn't take his eyes off Leonard, and Leonard said, “Don't look at me, Carter. Let's just walk. Not too fast. Not too slow. Do a little window shopping as we go.” Walking just that way, the two approached the mall's main atrium and rode the escalator to the upper level. Halfway down one
of the long arms of the Riverchase Galleria was a Discovery Channel store. Just outside the entrance to the store there was a young man, about nineteen or twenty, with long dreadlocks, a T-shirt with the logo of one of the popular bands of the day, and pants that were neither long nor short. He wore running shoes with colored laces and no socks, and he effortlessly flipped three multicolored balls about the size of grapefruits in the air. As he juggled, a small crowd of mostly teenage girls surrounded him. He laughed and joked with the onlookers, trying, in the time-tested tradition of carnival barkers, to get the people into the store. As the group dissipated, every few minutes or so new members took the place of those departed. The crowd changed size and complexion, but never went away. Leonard directed Carter to the women's clothing store directly across from this action. They stood outside. The store was crammed with young women shoppers all too busy to ever notice them.

“Let's stand here,” he said. He could sense the nervousness in Carter's steps. “Nobody will pay any attention to us.” He was right. The patrons walking past the Discover Channel store in both directions either stopped to join the group being entertained by the good-looking boy with the strange, long hair, or they turned to watch him as they went by. Carter noticed that Leonard carried a shopping bag from Nordstrom. “You want to be a shopper, you got to look like one, huh?” he said.

“Carter, I need your help—”

“I'll help you kill those bastards!” Carter blurted. “I knew it was you! I knew it!” Again, Carter Lawrence was crying; this time all hundred and forty pounds of him shuddered.

“Get hold of yourself,” Leonard demanded. “You don't
know
anything.” There was no sympathy in his voice, and that alone shocked Carter. It had the intended effect. He wiped his nose with a tissue Leonard handed him, and then asked, “What can I do?”

They stood there for ten minutes while Leonard explained what he needed: financial reports, SEC filings, income projections based
on certain types of investments, personal asset data—a whole range
of financial information, some of which would be easy to assemble, some of which would not. Exactly why Leonard wanted this data he didn't say. Carter had quickly learned to ask no questions if they involved Leonard's activities. He thought, “Just tell me what you want. It's yours.”

“It's all here,” Leonard said, handing Carter a list. “It's a couple of pages, I know. It won't be simple and it won't be cheap.”

“Money?” Carter scoffed. “That's all I've got.” Only Leonard could comprehend the sort of sadness and misery that could possibly be felt by a young man with six million dollars. “You know,” said Carter, “I left it all in the bank. My parents don't need any, and my family . . . well, I just left it there where Nick put it. Now they're paying me almost twenty-five thousand a month just to keep it there. Twenty-five thousand. Fucking blood money,” he said angrily. “And I'm still in the apartment. You know that already . . . the notes you sent me. There's a man—he came to see me—he's looking for you. Walter Sherman's his name.” Carter fumbled through his pockets looking for something. Finally he handed Leonard a piece of paper. It was the note Walter had left with him.

“I know,” Leonard said. He glanced briefly at the small note and put it in his own pocket. “I know about him. It's going to be okay, Carter. It is.” Leonard held him close for just a moment, as a father might a son, and then they started walking once more. They talked as they strolled the mall, looking every bit the Thanksgiving Sale shoppers they wanted to appear to be. Leonard went over the data he needed again, this time pointing out certain details they might be interested in following up. “Don't forget this,” he said, or “remember to get . . .” that. He wanted to be clear. He wanted to be sure Carter knew exactly what to do, what to put together. “And then what?” Carter's eyes asked. Leonard told him that when his task was accomplished—and he had only a few weeks to do it—he was to meet Leonard in the restaurant of the Holiday Inn in Clarksville, Tennessee. “I'll send you a note,” he told him. “It'll only have a number. That's the date. Be there at seven o'clock. We'll have dinner and guests.”

“Lenny,” Carter said, his cheeks reddening and his eyes once more watery, “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I want to kill them! Can I kill them? Can we do it?”

Leonard hugged his son-in-law, all that was left of his family, of his life, and said, “We're going to do something even better.”

New York

The box of guns
and ammo made a splash.

Authorities in Tennessee announced that while they had not the slightest doubt as to Harlan Jennings's guilt in the murder of Floyd Ochs, there was now the possibility that questions might be raised by some.

Harlan relaxed in his county cell, and Isobel was pretty much resurrected. The passing of Pat Grath began her beatification. She had written there would be others, and everyone remembered.

The
New York Post
ran her full-face picture again, somewhat misleadingly under the headline: “Meat Murderer Kills Fourth.” The story began on page two, and there, she thought, the headline was even worse. “She Said There Were Others.” Everyone knew who “she” was.

When the third letter came, she followed its instructions.

First, she told no one, not Mel Gold, not even Walter. She took the bus at 34th to Columbus Circle. She walked uptown on Broadway to 64th Street, where she turned east toward Central Park and continued walking. At the corner of Central Park West she turned again, south to 63rd Street. There, she stood across from the YMCA, her back to the park. After waiting exactly twenty minutes she started walking slowly westward. Halfway down the block, in front of what was once The McBurney School, a gray car pulled to the curb. The dark tinted window rolled down. The driver wore a black windbreaker, a large, turned-up collar, and a baseball cap, bill down, hiding his face. His voice was anxious, hoarse. “Get in.”

“A-a-are you—?”

“Next to me!” As soon as she got in, the window went up, the doors locked, the car took off. “Put this on,” said the driver, shoving what looked like a blindfold at her.

“Wh-wh-what?”

“Put it on or I'll shoot you.” He sounded crazy and very young. She put it on as fast as she could.

After several moments, she said, “But you're not . . .”

Her blindness reassured him. His voice came back from the edge. “No, I'm not. Just sit there and don't talk. Take off your watch. Put it in your purse and don't touch it again until this is over. We'll be there when we get there.”

She slipped off the watch and put it in her black purse. She'd been checking it every three minutes or so. Even for October it was cold. A freezing rain mixed with sleet and snow had fallen most of the day. The driver did not have the heat on. The two rear windows were open enough to admit a nasty breeze. The blindfold was uncomfortable. Her sense of smell was useless; the car had the odor of evergreen. She tried to keep track of turns and stops and the seconds between. At the end she had no idea where they were. She was fairly sure they had driven for almost thirty minutes.

“Get out,” said the driver, nervous again. “Don't touch the blindfold. Just get out.” She stumbled over the curb. A thin, strong hand suddenly squeezed her arm. The man led her up three steps, which felt smooth and slippery like marble. In a warm building, a lobby, she smelled leather furniture. A carpet took them into an elevator. The building smelled like the Upper West Side. (That could have been hope playing games with her nose.) She tried counting passing floors, but the elevator moved quietly and the music drowned out the clicks.

Theme from a Summer Place” would stay in her head for weeks.

The elevator stopped. The man urged her gently, a hand on her back. He said, “Step out, turn right, walk straight.”

She hesitated.

“Do it. Go!”

Several steps later a hand grasped her shoulder, a silent command to halt. Someone—her driver?—frisked her, first the front, then behind. Treated like this by airport security, her very cells would have raged at the insult. It was just business now.

Leonard Martin, she assumed, must have known she was unarmed, without a recording device, following orders. What did the searching mean? Was he paranoid? Unbalanced? No conclusion to be drawn; searching cost nothing. The cost of a mistake could be high. She would have had herself searched, probably much more thoroughly than this. Isobel remembered what a friend had told her about going through airport security with a pacemaker. The woman couldn't pass through the metal detectors for fear they might set off her pacemaker in the wrong direction. Everyone knows that, and they have a procedure for a hand search at every airport in the world. They usually do a pretty thorough pat down, but at no American airport, she told Isobel, does anyone actually touch her chest to see if she really has a pacemaker. “They're afraid to touch my tits,” she said with a laugh only another woman could appreciate. That was until she arrived at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. There they felt. Isobel had been to Frankfurt. The women attendants there looked like prison guards in a soft-porn cable movie. “I'll bet they had a good time doing it too,” she told her friend. Compared with that, her blindfolded search was really quite respectful. She was used to having her tape recorder. She wished she had it now.

“Okay,” the driver said, the frisk completed. And that was different. They were
acquainted,
more or less . . . and here this
person
had just been . . . “Do not remove your blindfold. Walk straight in.”

“Asshole,” she muttered, blind eyes forward.

Isobel adjusted the blindfold on her head and across her eyes as if she were taking possession of it in an attempt to regain her self-respect. She moved it up on the bridge of her nose, allowing her to see beneath it. “Shit,” she mumbled. “I have to see where I'm walking.” It did the trick. It was now hers, not theirs. She ran her hands through her hair. That smoothed the transition, helped restore some sense of control. She slipped through an open door—into what was for her a dark apartment. The door closed behind her.

“I'm in the kitchen,” a pleasant, distinctly masculine voice called out. “Can you maneuver yourself here or do you need help?”

“Are you . . . ?” Isobel followed his voice finding the kitchen with ease.

“I am,” he said. “Want some tea? I'm heating the water. Please, sit down. Make yourself comfortable. How do you take it?”

“Got any m-milk? Sweet'N Low?”

“Got 'em both. Glad you're here. Kermit's a nervous wreck. I hope he didn't upset you.”

“Kermit?”

“Let's call him that.”

“He—
Kermit
,” she tried to say it sarcastically, “was okay. Hi. I'm Isobel Gitlin.” She extended her hand. He did not take it. “Don't bother to tell me your name. I'm pretty sure I know it. But what would you like me to call you? I mean, for the sake of c-c-conversation?” She felt herself prattling, and stopped.

The kettle started whistling. He removed it from the heat and poured two cups. He put them on the table, then moved one toward her until it touched her fingers. He handed her a tea bag. “Milk, sugar, Sweet'N Low, even honey if you want it.” She refused his offer of help preparing her tea and managed it quite well considering it was a first for her. She was half blind for less than an hour, and already her other senses were noticeably heightened.

“Why the bus, the walk around the corner, and the twenty minute wait?” Isobel stirred her tea. “And the trip to Grant's Tomb, or wherever? Don't you trust me,
Bob
?” She aimed again for that elusive sarcastic tone. “Is ‘Bob
'
okay? I knew a Bob in London. He could have been your son.”

“In my position, who would
you
trust?” he said.

“Knowing me as I do, I would trust me.”

“I do, Ms. Gitlin. I do indeed. But you know you could have been followed. You must know you're being watched.”

“W-w-watched? I don't think so. I really doubt it. I seriously do. But let's not d-dwell on that.”

“It's important for you to understand—”

“And the driver with the frisky hands? What if he was caught? Would he have given up? Did he really have a gun? Would he have sacrificed himself for you?”

“Sacrifice? The word has a different meaning to us. We have already
been
sacrificed. We have nothing left to lose. What should I fear? Harm to my family?” There was a cruel irony in that and she knew it. “Freedom. Isn't that what makes us so dangerous? Survival makes us free, doesn't it?” Then he muttered to himself. It sounded like, “Freedom's just . . .” She couldn't make it out clearly. “. . . to lose.” It made no sense to Isobel. She wondered whether she'd heard it right, but did not ask; if he'd wanted to say it out loud he would have.

He reached behind for a box of sugar cookies, and offered one, which Isobel took. He did not notice that she reached directly in the box to take one. Perhaps it meant nothing. “Of course,” he went on, “as a tactical matter, what I have day-to-day is not getting caught. If I do get caught, it's over.” He went silent for a moment, made all the longer by her darkness. “Does this seem like some kind of game to you? Believe me, it's not. It's everything because it's all I have left. You should understand how important that is.”

“I know who you are.”

“Yes, I'm sure you do. I thought you would have known some time ago. At first I was concerned, but I'm not anymore. See, I told you I trusted you.”

“What about your followers?”

That seemed to amuse him. “There are no followers.”

“Do you act alone? What if something happened to you? What if you got caught?”

“If I were gone tomorrow, who knows? Someone else might come along. You think I should groom a successor? Do you think I want to be Robin Hood? Or Joltin' Joe—where have I gone? You think I should have an understudy?” He shrugged. “That's the last thing I want to think about.”

There was no anger in his voice. His tone was warm and friendly. But this was a self-proclaimed multiple killer. How could such a person be normal, regardless
of how he sounded? They sipped tea. Behind blackened eyes she flashed on two old men she'd seen in a Reuters photo last week: in the mountains of Armenia drinking tea from glasses through sugar cubes held in their teeth.

Leonard Martin drinking his tea might just as well have been one of them. Walter had signaled number
8,
but this Leonard Martin, was he the one in the photographs tacked to her kitchen wall? Was she sitting inches from the fat man with long blue eyes? Leonard Martin? Yes, of course, Walter was right. For a moment she wondered how often he'd been right, the same way, in the past thirty years. To be sure, she sat facing number
8.
Unable to see Leonard Martin's unhappy eyes, in her own mind's eye she put them, quite definitely, with the picture.

She asked, “Are you in good health, Mr. Martin?”

“I am in good health, thank you. I can't and won't, of course, confirm my identity. There are many things in life we think we know, but the list of things we don't is far longer. I may be Leonard Martin—then again, I may not be. You know, I thought you'd find me before I found you. ‘Who Is Seeking Revenge?' That is
a bit pretentious, don't you think?”

He continued sipping his tea. Isobel wanted badly to see him at that instant, to look at his hands on the cup. The sound of his voice hinted that he might be suddenly nervous. Was he staring at her? She tilted backward in her chair for just an instant. If she could only get a fleeting glance . . . and then she stopped breathing. “Oh, my God!” she thought.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

Isobel said, “I'm fine, fine.” She took her notebook and Sharpwriter pencil from her purse, then, realizing she was in no shape to take notes, she laughed. Then she asked, “When did you meet your wife?”

“It's not that kind of story.”

“No?” Isobel asked, “I thought we could get some background.”

“No.”

“What kind of story is it then?”

“A story you've never written before. Maybe nobody has,” Leonard said.

For the first time, Isobel felt frightened.

“I am going to tell you about the people I've killed and the people I will kill. And I'll tell you why I will kill them.”

The fright passed, but not the shakes. “Yes? And why will you be telling m-me that?”

“I don't want any more Harlan Jennings.”

“I see. Well that's . . . a good idea.”

“Are you ready to start?”

Isobel nodded, still working on her breath. “You rejected speaking in the plural before. You just said ‘I' will kill, not ‘we.' Can you clear that up for me? Are there others working with, if not for, you?”

“Others give me support. They don't know what I've done until you do. They read about it in the papers. The boy in the car knows nothing before the fact. He does not know anything that would make him a contributer to any illegal act. We avoid such conversations.”

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