Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

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

The Knowland Retribution (30 page)

BOOK: The Knowland Retribution
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Northfield

In his other life,
Leonard hated long-distance driving. If Nina hadn't shared the five-hour trek to Hilton Head, they never would have spent so many weekends there. He recalled those days now, now when things were so different. He had been impatient then. Now he felt safe in his SUV: secure, comfortable, at peace with himself. He enjoyed the hours spent on the interstates, the noise of the tires at high speed, the music on the radio, the truck stops and gas stations along the way. The first trip from Atlanta to New Mexico had not been the drudgery he expected, and the drive two years later to Boston had been downright exhilarating—a feeling Leonard credited to his mission.
Justice, at last.
Even though the unexpected arrival of Walter Sherman made it necessary to leave New Mexico quickly, Leonard was not upset. His mission was not complete and he had work to do elsewhere. On the road again.

He watched the high desert mountains and stony foothills of New Mexico and west Texas fade in his rearview mirror. He drove across the flatlands of Oklahoma into Missouri and Kansas. Traffic got heavier in the urban midsection of the country: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio. Still, the long, straight stretches of interstate did not conjure up the unpleasant memories of those sleepy, endless miles on I-16 from Macon to Savannah. And yet the sadness in his belly never left him. Nina was not there sitting next to him, reading her book, napping, ready whenever he needed to share the load. And he fought all thoughts of Dahlonaga.

The skies turned gray and the snows returned in Pennsylvania and western New York. Finally, Leonard arrived to find the mountains
in Vermont thrilling, spectacular, and not at all like the unattractive jagged peaks of the Southwest. The beauty of New England's winter—icicles dangling from the branches of snowy forests, streams flowing rapidly, somehow oblivious to the sub-freezing temperatures, and quaint two-lane roads winding their way through small towns—had him thinking about skiing, although he had never even once tried it. The closest he ever came was playing golf on a trip to Aspen that he and Nina made one summer. Three days after abandoning the cabin north of Albert, Leonard was nearly euphoric as he checked into the Centennial House hotel in Northfield, Massachusetts. He was less than five miles from the Vermont State Line, and no more than twenty minutes from Louise Hollingsworth's new house. Perhaps, he thought, she didn't know—but how could she not? He was a real estate lawyer. Did she think she could buy property and escape his notice?

Dr. Roy's CD laid it out for him. Louise Hollingsworth, at a time of crisis and impending chaos, had a clear appreciation of the gravity of her situation. She had asked Dr. Roy directly about people dying.
The others were cold, calculating, unfeeling bastards, but Louise Hollingsworth knew exactly what she was doing. She weighed the toll it would take on others and she made a conscious decision to participate when her protest might have stopped it. And then she stage-managed the coverup, a scheme that continued to this day. The murderers at Stein, Gelb persisted in their claim they were nothing more than ignorant servants in the employ of their corporate masters. Little more than hired help. They had done their due diligence, they said. Under Louise Hollingsworth's direction, assertions were made that experts (including Dr. Ganga Roy—conveniently dead and unable to speak for herself) told them nothing about the possibility of dire consequences. There had been no mention of a newer, different, more vicious strain of E. coli, they said. No talk of anyone dying. Leonard was not fooled. And, insofar as reasonable people might believe that the Gang of Four at Stein, Gelb were without guilt, Louise Hollingsworth was responsible. Her crimes were compounded. She had killed his family, then led the lie. It was all Leonard could do not to start shaking again the way he had during those first months in New Mexico. He drifted off into a troubled sleep on the floor of his hotel room, praying the dreams would not haunt him again, all night. His prayers went unanswered.

In the morning, Leonard found a spot where he could drive his SUV off the two-lane road that wound its way up and around the mountain overlooking Louise Hollingsworth's house. Unless someone noticed the tire tracks in the snow, there was no way anyone would suspect his vehicle was parked behind the trees in the bushes. There were a few pine trees, their branches fluffy white, but none where they might cause him some concern. The area was heavily wooded, but except for the pines, in December there were no leaves on the trees. His sight lines were clean, undisturbed. He sensed a gentle swirling breeze coming from the northeast. No problem. In only minutes he found a place suitable for the folding chair and the Y-shaped, pointed metal stick he brought with him. The chair was something Leonard had come up with on his own. He took an ordinary metal folding chair, one with a cushioned seat, and carefully filed down each of the legs to a sharp, spiked point. By planting it and pushing down on the crossbars holding the front and back legs to the body of the chair, he could set it firmly into the ground and steady it, stable enough for sitting and shooting. He much preferred that to lying prone. The Y-shaped spear looked like a naked umbrella handle or one of those things rainmakers pretend to use in their act, and he drove it into the ground in front of him and rested the barrel of his rifle on the Y. How many times had he done just that in New Mexico? He'd lost track many months ago. He'd sat in that chair hour upon hour, in the mud, the rain, the snow, the scorching heat of the desert afternoon, and fired what seemed like a million rounds. Now, on a snowy hill in Vermont, he set up his position and watched Louise's house through the powerful scope sitting atop the gleaming barrel of one of the world's most spectacular weapons. His calculations told him the elevation was 247 feet 8 inches above the top stone step leading to her front door, and the distance was 1,380.2 yards from the door itself. Although he could have been much closer, he had no need to be. Leonard was dressed perfectly to withstand the weather. He had a thermos of Earl Grey tea and some hard candy. He settled in for the day. The stock nestled in his shoulder. The scope covered his right eye. The smell of gun oil was in the air. Sooner or later she would walk out that door and he would pull the trigger on his Walther WA2000 and watch her die.

Louise Hollingsworth was new to the area. The house was invisible from the main road. She was not missed. After two days of not calling New York—she had been phoning the Waldorf three or four times a day—Tom Maloney reluctantly called the police. They found her body lying in front of the doorway, still ajar behind her. Her contorted face, a Halloween mask frozen in pain, caused the medical examiner to conclude she took a long time to die.

Maloney and Stein were convinced he was headed for New York. They increased security at the Waldorf. When Tom called him, Wesley Pitts was actually relieved, although he made sure not to let on. Vermont was a long way from Mississippi. He'd made the right choice going to Mississippi. He felt safe. Had he known Leonard Martin was already in New Orleans, Pitts would have shit in his pants.

New York

Walter's meeting with Maloney
had gone badly. After the morning's hijinks with Isobel, he fell asleep. The phone woke him. Isobel was gone, but she left a wake-up call for eleven o'clock. He was cranky when he arrived at the Waldorf. He spotted two men in the lobby, near the elevators, trying very hard to be less obvious than they were. When you're working a hotel lobby you have to be in motion. Walter knew that. How could these guys be so dumb? Move around. Check out the restaurant menu, the gift shop, read a paper, change seats every ten minutes, but always keep your eyes on the elevators. It wasn't brain surgery. These guys looked like they had been planted in cement. Walter wondered how much they were being paid. Too much. The elevator at the penthouse level opened to reveal a grand foyer, elegantly appointed, subtly lit. Six security agents, weapons at the ready, waited for him. Two stood directly in front of the elevator door as it opened. They frisked him immediately. He expected something like this and came unarmed. Two more were stationed a few feet back on either side. The last two guarded the door to the suite. “Not bad,” thought Walter. He couldn't see the service elevator, but assumed at least two more men watched it round the clock. No one was going to get through this small army. Certainly not Leonard Martin. Of course, Walter knew Leonard had no intention of coming within a hundred miles of the Waldorf Astoria. One or two men, three if it made you feel better, would have been plenty.

Maloney was fully dressed, the same way he had been on St. John. It was all Walter could do not to smile. Did these guys ever get comfortable? They greeted each other coldly. Walter could not get it out of his head that Tom Maloney had hired someone who meant to kill Isobel Gitlin, and Tom would never forget being called “you stupid shit!” Nathan was here too. Walter knew that much. But the obstreperous little prick never showed himself.

Maloney had some lunch already in the suite. Walter wasn't hungry. He accepted a Diet Coke, but that's as friendly as it got. Maloney lied . . . again. What did Walter expect? He had no heart to argue with the puffy and pink Irish sonofabitch. They just wanted Leonard Martin to know how sorry they were and to demonstrate their contrition with an enormous amount of money. That's what Maloney kept saying. He practically begged Walter to find him again. The meeting was short. Walter felt all Maloney wanted to know was if Walter too might want to kill him. Nathan Stein was probably cowering behind one of the four closed doors leading God knows where. Walter had no idea how big the penthouse suite was, and no inclination to guess. Suitably convinced of his immediate safety, Maloney rose from his seat, signaling Walter that it was time to conclude their little talk.

“Walter,” he said. “We know you've encountered some rather unusual expenses. This has taken more of your time than you probably thought it would. We want you to have this.” Holding a bulky brown envelope in his fingers, he reached out to Walter. “It's another hundred thousand,” said Maloney, as if he were talking about twenty bucks.

Walter considered turning and walking away, leaving Tom Maloney with his hand outstretched. His eyes caught Maloney's, and neither man blinked. Who could walk away from a hundred thousand dollars
? An extra hundred thousand dollars!
“Not me,” Walter realized. He took the envelope, stuck it under one arm, and said, “I'll be in touch.” The last thing he saw before turning to go was relief in Tom Maloney's face.

The next morning, instead of heading home to St. John, Walter was unexpectedly back at the Waldorf. Maloney had called him at the Mayflower. He was clearly panicked. Walter was already awake, eating his breakfast, contemplating his next move, hoping to take an afternoon flight home.

“Get over here right away,” Maloney said. There was no sweetness in his voice, no pretense of fellowship or comradery. Definitely master-to-servant.

“What's going on?”

“Just be here.” Maloney paused and Walter thought he heard a sigh. “He got Louise.”

Thirty minutes later Walter was in the penthouse again. This time Nathan Stein was there too. Maloney filled him in on the details. The ME's report was not yet available, but the fact that the bullet struck her below the breastbone told Walter she had died a miserable death. Leonard gutted her. He was a better shot than Walter had given him credit for. The Hopman shooting involved such a powerful gun it ripped him in half, but a hit anywhere on his torso would have done that. MacNeal and Ochs were sitting ducks, and he may have passed over Grath's death without enough consideration of the difficulty of that shot. A long-distance shot from a floating boat. Maybe it wasn't a lucky shot. And now, a gut shot from somewhere on a mountainside. Walter worried. Had he misjudged this one too? He remembered what Aat van de Steen told him about the German rifle.

“Where's Pitts?” Walter asked.

“Some place in Mississippi,” Tom said. “He won't even tell us exactly where.”

The image of Christopher Walken trying to get Dennis Hopper to give up his kid came to mind. Walter scoffed at the idea that Leonard would try, or need to try, to get information from any of his targets. He's researched all of them thoroughly. And of course he caught Louise.
Christ, the guy's a real estate lawyer
. Her stupidity cost her her life. Or maybe it was the stress. Maybe it was a mistake she wouldn't ordinarily have made. Now Walter understood what Tom meant, back on the island, when he asked for some understanding of the stress they were under.

“He'll show there,” said Walter, referring to Mississippi, “before he comes here.”

“Show where? How the fuck will he know where Pitts is? Christ, we don't even know.” Nathan's questions, taking the form of only a minor outburst, came without so much as a
“good morning.”

“How'd you know about my wife—ex-wife—my daughter, my bank account?” Walter waited, but there was no response. “You found out, didn't you? So will Leonard.” That hurt. Nathan and Tom prided themselves—a foolish pride to be sure, assumed Walter—on being able to find out things about people, things they felt sure others could not discover. “A problem you guys have, among many, I'm sure,” continued Walter, “is you live in a world where you think you know everything. As a result, you mistakenly underestimate your adversary. You think your resources are somehow exclusive. I haven't looked into it at all, but my guess is that Wesley Pitts has family of some sort in Mississippi, and my assumption is Leonard Martin knows exactly who they are and where they live.” Silence filled the room. Neither Maloney nor Stein reached for a cell phone to call Wes and warn him. In the same tone of voice he might use to ask a waiter what the specials were, Walter said, “Did you guys kill Dr. Roy?” Nathan Stein leaped from his perch on the couch.

“You arrogant fuck! Who the fuck do you think you are!”

“Nathan, calm down!” Maloney cried. “Easy now.” Stein was more given to outburst than real confrontation. Frustrated, he backed away. Walter hadn't moved a muscle.

“No,” said Tom. “We did not kill Dr. Roy. She did that to herself.” Nathan turned and was about to say something. Tom glared at him, and the frightened little man backed farther away, walking over to the French doors opening onto the patio. It was too cold to go outside, but he stood there looking through the glass, his back to Walter and Tom. He mumbled something, and then he was quiet again.

Walter said, “Why did she do it?”

Maloney turned to Walter with his very best “honest to goodness” look, and said, “We arranged for Dr. Roy's apartment to be burglarized. That's true. Made it look like some kind of hate crime. We were concerned she had made a record of her work for us. We needed to find out. We found nothing. But we were right, weren't we? She had it all on a disc, a CD she kept someplace else. And before she died, she obviously sent it to Leonard Martin. We didn't find anything, so we thought our concerns were unfounded. You know the rest of the story. But we didn't kill her.”

“You guys are a piece of work,” said Walter. “Good cop; bad cop. Out of control nutcase; Mr. Calm, Cool, Analytical. Lying bastard; fucking saint. This kind of routine, it really works in your business, doesn't it? Crock of shit! You knew what your interests were and you acted accordingly. People died and you knew they would. Dr. Roy told you, but it didn't matter. Leonard Martin's family died and now he's taking out everyone who knew and let it happen. You're all there on Dr. Roy's CD. You're all lies and bullshit. I'm going to send your money back to you. I don't want anything to do with you.”

“No you're not,” Maloney said. “You are going to find Leonard Martin and you are going to kill him for us. That's your job and you will do it.”

Walter rose to leave. The anger he felt turned his face beet red. He didn't care.

“Do it yourself,” he said.

Nathan Stein said, “Sit down Sherman.” Walter did not stop or look behind. He continued walking toward the door. “Sit down!” As Walter's hand grasped the doorknob, Stein yelled, “Na Trang!” Walter froze.

“What, do you think we're fucking idiots?” It was Stein who was walking now. He went right up to Walter's back and said, “We know. We know.” Walter's head was spinning. He had the look of a man about to pass out. The rules of the game were shifting. “Now sit,” said Stein.

There is no such place as Na Trang and no one knew that better than Walter. But he remembered it. He'd spent the last thirty years trying to forget, but he remembered it. They dropped him by rope because they were too scared to put the helicopter on the ground. Too many warrant officers had touched down, never to rise again. As he reached for the rope, the crew looked at him in a way that Walter knew meant they never expected to see him again. He was less than an hour from a little village, no more than a collection of shacks and huts on the outskirts of a vast rice field. The map they gave to Walter was the only one this place appeared on. Not even captured VC maps showed anything here. Perhaps two or three hundred people lived and worked in what Headquarters had named Na Trang. They chose the name because it closely resembled the sound of a popular Vietnamese slang for “shithole.” Another helicopter had gone down in this area the day before. The crew was killed except the pilot, who suffered injuries to his legs, but had survived and radioed his condition and location back to base. Then communications were lost. Na Trang, that shithole of a village in the middle of fucking nowhere, was the only place a captured American who couldn't walk could be taken. Walter's job was to locate him and bring him back. Nobody told him how to do it, just do it.

Crawling through the wet rice paddies, ducking down under the water whenever he thought he heard someone, Walter approached
the tiny village at dusk. He carried his rifle, his bayonet, a 45-caliber sidearm, and eight grenades. His face and hands were covered in charcoal. The nearest he could get to the shacks themselves was about fifty yards beyond a small hut standing between him and the center of the village. As he lay in the wet rice—it sure seemed like weeds to him—he saw four young men, one in uniform, all armed with rifles. They emerged from one shack, stood in the dirt path outside, talking, and then three of them seemed to be getting instructions from the one in uniform, who turned and walked away, leaving them standing there. The three went back into the shack. A few minutes later, Walter saw the uniformed soldier return, accompanied by another soldier also in uniform. They entered the shack together. None of the other three had left. There were at least five men in there now. The American was undoubtedly there too. The sun was almost completely gone, Walter's vision already compromised. He decided to stay put. No one was looking for him, and with nightfall nobody seemed likely to stumble upon him. He didn't smoke and had no fear of being discovered. He'd adjusted to the water. He had brought a Milky Way bar with him and pulled it out of the small pack he wore on his back. He was careful to put the empty wrapper in his pocket.

The scream was so loud Walter thought it was right next to him. It was followed by another, and then a third. The horror increased in each one. The anguish and pain subsided slowly to a moan. He heard choking sobs. Two or three voices, all speaking Vietnamese, were yelling at the same time. More screams, and finally a moan that was endless. He couldn't lie there any longer. Clearly the man he was looking for was inside being brutalized. God only knows what they were doing to him. Walter scrambled out of the rice paddy. The small hut fifty yards away stood between him and any attempt to rescue the downed pilot. Walter looked, but there was no way around it. He would have to sneak past it. There were people living there. He saw light inside and the smoke from a cooking fire rising from the top of the roof. He crawled quietly, passing only a few feet from the hut. Whoever lived there was still inside. The awful moaning ahead never stopped. And then more bloodcurdling screams. Now they too were unending. He had to hurry. He took a big chance. He ran the last twenty yards. The screams and the moaning so close to him were more than he could stand. Walter looked through the loosely attached walls of thatched reeds and large, heavy leaves. He could not believe what he saw. The American, blonde, in his mid-twenties at most, lay on a wooden table. He was naked. Both legs were mangled at the knees, crushed in the crash of his aircraft. A knife was embedded in the table and stuck through his balls. Half his penis had been cut off. It lay to the side, still bleeding. Two of the men were slicing the fingers off at the first joint. The fingernails had already been torn out. Another was doing the same to the American's toes. The uniformed soldier, the last one to have joined the group, was actually skinning the man alive. He made long, thin cuts across the abdomen, and peeled the skin away as if he were cleaning fish. The longer the American remained conscious the more horrific his ordeal and the more gruesome his death. Walter could not imagine what sort of sanity could possibly remain in the man's brain. There was no way he could save the pilot, not even if he killed the five men and carried him away. The captured American would just as certainly bleed to death being carried by Walter as he would at the hands of his captors.

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