Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

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

The Knowland Retribution (22 page)

BOOK: The Knowland Retribution

His wounded nature reshaped itself around a peculiar structure of isolation. That peculiarity killed his marriage. It kept her out. And who wants to live with that? Gloria waited for him to let her in, but he never did. After four years she told him she had to go. She loved him, but that was all she could do. He knew she was right and he hated being without her.

He tried to try, but whenever she threatened to touch him at a certain depth of feeling, an iron door shut hard in his head. And when that happened he froze her with the look in his eye and the deathly sound of his voice. And all that lasted until his mind relaxed and his shame unclenched and he could think and act like a normal man. It happened, and happened, and happened because the threat was unrelenting. Both of them came to understand it. When she left, Gloria told him, “You'll be fine Walter. You really will.” He never doubted it. And she had been more right than wrong. That iron door had grown rusty over the years. No one had wandered back there for decades.

And now, he thought, this girl. And this idiotic thing about who drove the car—Kermit. For reasons he could not imagine, he felt the rusty hinges move. Yes, he had a fine working method, and it should certainly be maintained. No point at all to pointless speculation. Never bend the rules that matter most. But he'd never had a partner before. He'd made that rule number three (after not promoting himself and never accepting supervision). And it's different with a partner, like it or not. You have to exchange ideas in a different way. Besides, they
conjectured together. They traded hypotheses, worked them to theories, set out conditions for proving facts.

“Are you okay?” She looked concerned.

Walter knew he'd broken a sweat. He knew that she saw his agitation, had to have glimpsed the fear. At the moment it thrashed and towered. It felt like a wave breaking over and inside his eyes. The door squeaked louder; he could hear it. Once it thundered shut he would shiver and freeze again after all those years.

But if he let this other thing out . . .

He confronted the prospect of thirty years of heavy protective machinery wrecked around him. He wondered what the arrangement would be after that.

He said, “I think he's Carter Lawrence.”

And then, to his amazement, he slumped quite comfortably into his sturdy bamboo chair, remembering the time he and Gloria flew to Denver. He'd loaded her up with valium to cut her fear. He'd held her hand as the plane taxied into position. He'd smiled at her as she turned to look out the window. And when the engines fired up and swept them into the smooth silk sky she put her head on his shoulder and giggled. He'd done that. But it was long ago.

“Kermit,” Isobel said, “. . . is Carter Lawrence?”

“I don't know. I'm not even sure why I think so.” Walter felt more than comfortable now—he felt euphoric.

He enjoyed a deep breath of moist Caribbean air. His thoughts jumped like unruly pets.

“So where does this leave us?” said Isobel.

He went to autopilot. “If Carter's the guy, he may help a lot. There's always a way when people are . . .” He waited for the word. They waited together. “Vulnerable,” he said. “He may be vulnerable.”

Isobel offered ideas for going at Carter, reworking their background, designing a quick, simple plan of action aimed to open him up.

By then Walter's mind had shifted back to the point he needed to care about most: the widened gap between what Tom Maloney had told him and the version Dr. Ganga Roy gave to Leonard Martin. To
the extent that Roy had it right, and Walter had no reason to doubt it, Maloney and Stein were far from the relative innocents Tom described, mistakenly targeted by a madman. They were the ones who set the death train in motion. How did Leonard put it? He labeled them “premeditative mass murderers.” Accused them of making a cost-benefit analysis. And he said they “decided to kill my family for money.” That altered the picture. It suggested questions. What else didn't Walter know about his clients? And what did they really expect for their million dollars?

New York

“I'm turning into an
addict. Prozac doesn't do it anymore. I get
up at five and swim sixty laps. I have an agitated depression. Exercise doesn't help. My shrink is useless too. He doesn't listen. I don't listen. I dream about getting shot—over and over again—which might be alright, but it never kills me. I can't even die for a minute.”

Louise Hollingsworth's eyes were inflamed. She'd been flying apart for weeks. Nothing she wore seemed to match. Her stiff yellow hair was at war with itself. Her high hawk nose and razor mouth had become unattractively mobile. She paced like a neurotic crane. Her thin soprano voice had developed a rasp.

“Every time I leave my apartment. Every time I leave the office. Every time I go anywhere. It's all I think about. I am decompensating. Nothing is worth this experience. Not all the money you can . . .”

The meeting had been a bad idea. Getting them all together like this had only reinforced the shared perception of danger. Tom Maloney tried again to offer a drink.

“I'm loaded up with Prozac,” she wailed. “Prozac and whiskey? I don't think that's wise.”

“I've done it a hundred times. Maybe you can take a nap. You can take a nap right here.”

“Bourbon,” she sniffled. “But not too much.”

The others watched as he fixed her drink and got her to sit in one of the black leather chairs.

Tom was calmer than he'd been in months. In the past few days he'd worked out some ideas. He thought his new thinking might help the others get a grip. But today in Nathan's office was proving to be the wrong time and place.

From the other end of the room, Nathan watched Louise with momentarily calm contempt. He moved the odd-shaped crystals on his desk as though he were playing chess, a game he never understood.

“What's with Sherman? Where's the report?” he asked when Louise was settled. “Didn't he call you, Tom?”

“He doesn't call. I got an e-mail.” Louise looked up from her drink. Wesley Pitts in the other black chair grunted curiously.

“He knows who it is,” said Maloney.

“No shit!” said Wes, on his feet, athletic again for a second. He clapped his hands. “He's going to get him. He's going to nail his ass.”

“Who is it?” asked Louise. “Anyone we've looked at?”

“I don't know,” said Tom. “He's a fellow named Leonard Martin.”

“Well that's great, just great. Why didn't you call him?” Nathan shouted, no longer calm and composed, out from behind his desk, heading for the other three. “We know the guy. Where is he? What's the story there?”

“I called him,” Tom replied. “He doesn't like to talk.”

He doesn't like to talk!” Nathan climbed the register. “Fuck him, he doesn't like to talk. He works for me!”

“I work for you. We all work for you. Sherman's an independent. Very independent. When I called him he told me not to do it again. He meant it. That's how he is, whether we like it or not. He'll be in touch when he thinks it's time.”

“What did the e-mail say?” Wesley Pitts's enthusiasm died. There was a flag on the play.

“Just that he knows who he is.”

“So, where the fuck is this . . . Leonard Martin?” demanded Nathan.

“He'll tell us when he's ready. The entire country wants this guy. Walter Sherman found him.”

“Did he say he ‘found' him?” Nathan's anxious face turned shrewd. “Or does he just say he knows who he is?”

“He didn't say he found him. But it's only a matter of time. That's Sherman's history. That's why we went to him. He will get the job done.”

Wesley had slumped back into the chair. “Somebody better kill this guy in a hurry. I can think of a couple of guys who will do it for
a car.”

Tom Maloney looked at Nathan Stein; they needed to talk. He said, “You two stay here a while. Relax. Unwind. Support each other.”

He led Nathan into the private apartment. Nathan flopped onto the king-sized bed, head on pillow, short leg dangling over the side.

“Why aren't we dead?” Tom said, looking down.

“Why are you asking me?” Nathan whined.

“There's a reason for all this,” Tom said. “I want to tell you first, before I talk to the others. I don't think it's all that bad.”

“Oh? What's the good news? Maybe this nutcase won't boil us in oil before he blows our brains out?”

The grandson of the founder of Stein, Gelb, Hector & Wills turned his face into the pillow and sobbed. “He's gonna kill me because of some shitass meat.”

The sound filled Tom with satisfaction. He heard his voice deepen triumphantly. “We'll hear from Walter soon enough. But that's not what I'm talking about.” Tom had already come to the conclusion that Leonard Martin had stopped killing people because there was something
he wanted. He didn't know what, but felt certain it would be revealed. If Leonard Martin wanted a deal, that was fine with Tom Maloney. Dealing was his life's work.

“Nathan,” he said. “I strongly suspect we're as safe as cows in Calcutta.”

St. John

They wound it up
at six. Isobel badly wanted to go to the beach. “I am a beach girl, you know,” she laughed. “And you are a beach man, aren't you?” They changed, jumped into Walter's open-top Jeep, and took off down the hilly road heading toward the sea.

“Where are we going?” she asked, her girlish enthusiasm bubbling over. “Wheee!” she shouted, smiling, spreading her arms high and wide in the open air as Walter sped down the hill.

“Cinnamon Bay,” he said.

“What a wonderful name,” said Isobel. “Cinnamon Bay.”

There were four beaches, he told her, one after another. Caneel Bay was the first. That's where the island's biggest resort was. Then they would pass Hawk's Nest and Trunk Bay before finally arriving at Cinnamon Bay. Once there, Isobel quickly threw off her long shirt, dropping it at Walter's feet, and, not looking back, dashed to the water, kicking up sand behind her as she ran. She wore a two-piece black suit with the bottom cut low, very low, and the sides, no bigger than the straps on her blouse, rose high on her hip. Walter felt an unfamiliar stirring, watching her from behind as she raced into the surf. “Oh, shit,” he said to himself, “I can't stand here like—this.” He pulled off his T-shirt, slipped out of his sandals, and ran after her. He didn't stop until the cold water covered him above his waist. He had a hard time looking at her and she knew it. She splashed him and he dove headlong into the Caribbean.

Later, Walter offered to throw some steaks on the grill, but at Isobel's insistence, they went back to Billy's for dinner.

She'd arrived that morning unnerved and uncertain; the siege with Leonard burdened her, strung her out. When she spoke with Walter on the phone she'd fought against feeling unhinged. Today had dissipated that. She felt a much greater sense of control. She felt that she had a stronger, more subtle grasp of the facts. Her working alliance with Walter made her feel good. It gave her a deeply reassuring groove. And quite aside from that, she'd found a new sense of comfort with herself, some traction on how she felt about her story, some certainty about what to do next. All that and it was still early. She remembered the dishes she'd seen at Billy's and passed up for a sandwich. She'd promised Ike a drink. She'd been feeling a sexy edge for a while, and she wanted to let it sharpen. A long and promising night lay ahead. She wanted some dinner at Billy's.

“Back again?” Ike piped up. “I was just on my way out of here, but if you're ready for that drink, I'm staying.”

Isobel smiled at him, wondering if he ever really went home. It was too early for the dinner mob. The place was far from empty but hardly full. Billy stood behind the bar, at the far end, as usual, reading what looked like a menu from one of his competitors.

“Drinks and dinner,” Walter called to Billy, and then to Ike, “got room?”

“My treat, if you don't go overboard.” Ike garnished the offer by raising his cap and showing off his teeth again.

Billy towered over them. “Diet Coke. Usual. And for the lady?”

“Vodka martini, plain as day.” She unleashed her smile at him.

“Don't look at the menu,” Billy said to Isobel. “I'll take care of dinner. Everything's good, but I know what's best. These two don't know nothing.” He left with what looked like a wink of his own. That was just as well. She'd left her drug-store glasses at Walter's; the menu would be useless.

Ike squinted intently, as though he were trying to see through her skin. It was not an unpleasant sensation. “Is something wrong?” she said.

“Where you from?”


“That's an island too?”

She nodded, charmed.

“Out by Australia, in that direction?”

She gave him the coordinates. He nodded and sipped his usual, visibly satisfied. “Always like to learn new things. You sound like some kind of island, but . . .”

“I don't look it?” she laughed a wondrously full, strong laugh, and looked at Ike as if they shared a secret—which they did: white girl and black man, both island people.

She asked if Ike knew the old man sleeping in the park. “The Poet,” Ike said. He told her everyone did. “You heard of Clarence Frogman Henry? Very good singer, sadly departed. He could sing in three different voices: high, low, and medium. One song goes like this [Ike threw his head back and tried out his partly mended falsetto]: ‘I'm a poor little frog and I ain't got no home.
” His ancient feet kept time loudly beneath the table.

He sipped his usual, cleared his throat, and then told Isobel, “That was in the song. Difference is, the Poet don't
no home. He's what you call the outdoor type. He's the only homeless person we got, to my knowledge. Also, he is a poet. He'll say one for you if you ask, if you got a little money. Sometimes they rhyme. Sometimes they don't. The Poet sell some stuff right here. Got a young boy lives on a boat down here. What's his name, Walter? Kenny something? I don't know. He's got a
great big boat. Boy is a famous performer. Sings rock and roll songs all over the world. Got records and all the rest. And he lives on a boat right here. My boy Truman rebuilt his engine couple years back. That man's got some boat. You can see it from Walter's house most of the time. He bought poems from him and paid him some money too. But the Poet prefers to be homeless and everyone shows him consideration, looks after him very good.” Ike looked around to see where Billy was and then leaned forward toward Isobel and said in a low whisper, “Even Billy feeds him, and won't admit to it neither.”

Isobel quickly came to admire Billy's kitchen. Curried goat, jerk pork kabobs, coconut jasmine rice, sweet potato wedges. Ike warned her off the scotch bonnet peppers. Isobel took care not to stuff herself and noted with deep satisfaction that Walter was eating light. He took it very easy from first to last. At one point Ike said, “You feel okay?” then covered himself with a friendly chuckle. “No reason to get no fatter than you are.” He talked at some length about his family's predisposition to leanness of body and limb, tactfully excepting from this description two cousins on his long-passed father's side and several of their daughters. Very fine girls, but not thin.

“Dessert's on the house,” Billy announced, Jenna trailing. Billy pulled up a chair. Jenna had brought four portions of Billy's Island Pudding with the coffee. “The recipe dies with me,” he said. “I brought it down here from . . . all I can say is one word: ‘Bacardi.' And that's the only word I'll ever say about Billy's Island Pudding.”

He noticed Jenna standing behind him and shooed her away.

They talked a while about smuggling, and how American cops and Island cops, French and English cops, and mostly South American cops are basically the same, except for some being stupider and cheaper to bribe than others. Isobel rang the final bell by faking a generous yawn. As chairs began squeaking, she apologized, saying, “I've got to get an early plane.” She and Walter thanked Ike for the dinner, said their goodnights, and left.

“Then why don't she take the ferry tonight?” Billy demanded of Ike.

“'Cause she ain't going nowhere tonight. She's going with Walter now.”

“That's my point,” Billy persisted. “ Didn't you say it wasn't gonna be? Better chance I fucked a whatever, and all that?”

“That was then. Now is now. Everything is different now.”

“No it ain't.”

“Boy, you thick?” Ike's patience was not infinite, especially after paying for dinner. “They was not ready before. Now they had some drinks and dinner, they talked things over, and everything's different now. You saw how he didn't eat nothing. He need to be fit for what follows.”

“There ain't no difference then or now.”

Ike studied Billy's long face. “What are you talking about?”

Billy waved Jenna forward to clear the table. As she did, he leaned across so the girl had to scurry around him. His face was now barely six inches from Ike's: “I don't know who's fucking who. But he don't have a clue what's going on. It's been that way since she walked in.
It ain't no different now or then. He's gonna wind up with towels he never heard of.”

Billy did not have many theories, least of all about people. He did have one about Walter. Billy believed he knew why Walter had never had a girlfriend on St. John—or, as far as anybody knew, a date. He believed that Walter's wife would show up one day, and that Walter had a religious nature where that was concerned. He was waiting for his wife. Billy respected him for that, the way he used to respect the Church before his mother lost her faith.

Billy also had a general sense that the worst was most likely to happen. Once in a while he got a more specific feeling—that something was coiling to strike like a snake. He had that accurate intuition to thank for his presence here, in relative safety and comfort, in a business of his own.

He had that feeling the minute he saw the straps on Isobel Gitlin's little white blouse.

Clara brought Walter and Isobel ice in a bucket, and placed a pitcher of white sangria toward the edge of the black marble table. She made an interesting point of saying that she was feeling tired now and would go to bed if that was all right. In the cool repose of her room downstairs she opened the thriller she'd started the day before. Clara hoped Walter knew what he was doing. She understood quite well that the girl knew what
was doing.

Isobel had spent five years discussing great books, and she'd written “Sex and the Serious Scholar.” She had few illusions, and none about this kind of thing. The horny goddess had taken her now for good and sufficient reason. She was overstimulated. The dread, and relief, and intimacy; the sudden rush of ambition, and the unexpected knowledge of her seductive power . . . do things to a girl. And here was Walter, bursting for her, walking around inside her head; a perfect gentleman, with really good eyes, an eminently decent sort, with what looked like a perfectly . . .

who the fuck cared

She'd had enough of gratification delayed. She sipped her sangria delicately and said, “I'll be back in a little while. I have to use the bathroom.”

He told her he had plenty to think about. He did not confide that it wasn't easy because his thoughts were past controlling. He hoped she'd not seen that he was burning up inside.

Where sex was concerned, he had one rule: “Not with anyone close.” That left women he met in the course of his travels—good natured, attractive women without expectations, who asked or implied no questions that required him to lie. Plus, of course, professionals. And over the course of twenty years, that had worked well enough, from time to time.

But now . . . now he was nervous as a kitten up a helluva redwood tree. He could not honestly tell himself when it started—not at the Mayflower, surely. Probably during those days in her apartment, but not as he could clearly recall. On the phone last night? Yes, it was in his head then, as soon as he awoke. Maybe she was in the vanished dream. And when she walked into Billy's, wearing that little white thing with the straps. . . . He wondered how he'd managed to think straight all day, and force his eyes off her, even for seconds, at dinner.

Minutes after Isobel's afternoon arrival, Clara had shown her to a cozy room under the deck beneath where Walter waited now. It had dark walls, a bronze tile floor with throw rugs, a wall of closets, a comfortable-looking king-size bed. She never even looked at the bathroom. Instead, she'd left the wheelie unopened, tossed her coat, and gotten her tour of the house.

She remembered Walter's room at the other end of the hall and stopped there en route to her own. Compared to Walter's, hers seemed awfully small. She peeled off her clothes and opened the bathroom door. The sight astonished her. It was half the size of the bedroom. The toilet and vanity set in a corner hardly seemed to matter. A vast, black-tiled shower filled most of the bathroom. It had no curtain and no wall. It was more like a locker room shower. You walked right onto the sloping tile floor, and you looked out through a huge glass door to the sea, the very same view from the deck just above. She looked for a curtain. There was none. She saw that the door could slide, and she moved it back. The warm, humid air flowed in. She turned on the faucet and water rushed down with extraordinary force from a very large showerhead. She soaped and let the water work on her body and her mind. She watched the ocean outside, the lights on the water; the boats still at sea, testing the darkness, strings of lights across their decks. She remembered Leonard telling her she was being watched. And if they were looking back at her? Fine. And if they could make her out clearly? “I hope they like what they see,” she thought.

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