Authors: Sean Black
About the Author
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Epub ISBN 9781409084211
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First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Bantam Press an imprint of Transworld Publishers
Copyright © Sean Black 2009
Sean Black has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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For Jim and Lorna, whose faith never wavered, andin memory of my grandfather, George Robertson, whosacrificed so much for his country at such a young age.
Sean Blackgrew up in Scotland, studied film in New York and has written the screenplays for many of Britain’s best-known TV dramas.
While writingLockdown, he undertook a gruelling 24-day close protection course encompassing two weeks in an army camp in Wales, followed by a week of firearms training in the Czech Republic. While researching his next thriller, he recently spent time at Pelican Bay Supermax prison, which is home to some of America’s most violent inmates.
Lockdown, the first in a major series featuring Ryan Lock, is his first novel.
Nobody guards the dead. Once that occurred to Cody, the plan had come together in no time. Drive to the cemetery, dig her up, sling the coffin into the back of the truck, and disappear into the night. Easy. Apart from one tiny hitch.
‘Man, this ground is like concrete.’
Cody glanced over at his companion, the moonlight splitting his face in two. ‘Quit bitching.’
Usually he liked to work alone. But moving a body was a twoman job. No way round it.
‘I ain’t bitching. I’m making an observation.’
‘Well, observations ain’t gonna get this done.’
‘Neither’s digging. We’re gonna need dynamite to get this old witch out of the ground.’
Don was right. They’d picked the worst time of the year. November on the Eastern Seaboard. A bitter winter with the wind coming off a slate grey Atlantic. Freezing the living, as well as the dead.
Spring would have been better. The nights would still have been long, but the ground would have been softer. Thing was, though,they didn’t have a choice. Not as far as Cody was concerned.
The way he saw it, the clock was ticking. Every day lives were being lost. Hundreds, maybe even thousands. No one really knew for sure. And these deaths weren’t peaceful. Not like the one this woman had experienced: slipping gradually away, the fiery edge of pain dulled by drugs, her loved ones around her to say goodbye.
No, these deaths were torturous and lonely. A final spit in the face to cap a miserable existence.
The anger he felt thinking about it rose up in him. He punched down hard on the lip of the blade with the heel of his right boot, and finally found some purchase. Frosted grass gave way to frozen top soil. He stamped down again. The blade dug in another inch. His breath clouded in the freezing night air as he sucked in oxygen and repeated the process.
A full hour later, Don was the first to hit something solid that wasn’t earth. The two men were exhausted, but the clatter of metal meeting wood spurred them on.
Thirty minutes after that they were loading the remains into the back of the truck. Cody made a show of dusting off his gloves as Don pulled down the rear door of the box truck they’d jacked a few hours earlier from a quiet street in Queens.
Don opened the cab door and started to climb in. Halfway up, he stopped and turned back to Cody. ‘Well, we did it,’ he said.
Cody smirked. ‘Are you for real, brother? That was the easy part.’One
Ryan Lock peered through the floor-to-ceiling windows which fronted the reception area of the Meditech building. Outside, freezing rain was sweeping down Sixth Avenue in sheets, jamming the dozen or so animal rights protestors into a tight knot on the sidewalk opposite.
‘Who the hell stages a demonstration on Christmas Eve?’ the receptionist asked.
‘You mean apart from turkeys?’ Lock said, hunching his jacket up around his shoulders, pushing through the revolving doors and stepping out into the near-Arctic weather.
Three months as head of security for America’s largest pharmaceutical and biotechnology company had left Lock with little patience for the animal rights people, no matter how earnest their cause.
A fresh gust of wind stung his face. He pulled up the collar of his jacket and scanned the protestors. Front and centre was Gray Stokes, the protestors’ de facto leader. In his early fifties, with a vegan’s bony frame, Stokes stood with his customary smug expression, a loudhailer in one hand, his other hand resting on the handle of a wheelchair.
In the chair sat Stokes’ daughter Janice, a pretty brunette in her mid-twenties, her left leg rendered useless by a rare form of progressive, terminal multiple sclerosis. The placard she held in two red-gloved hands had four words etched on it in thick black capital letters: NOT IN MY NAME.
Lock watched as Stokes raised his loudhailer and began to harangue the half-dozen uniformed cops who were there to ensure good order. Closest to Stokes, one of the city’s finest, a portly sergeant by the name of Caffrey, made a show of eating a Big Mac, punctuating each bite with stage-whisper yum-yum noises.
Lock registered Stokes’ reaction with interest.
‘Hey, pig, you ever wonder what goes into those things?’ Stokes yelled at Caffrey. ‘Maybe the ALF left some of Grandma in with the rest of the meat back at Mickey D’s.’
Anyone who had picked up a copy of theNew York Postor flicked on to a news channel during the past six weeks would have gotten the reference. The manager of a Times Square fast food joint had found the disinterred body of seventy-two-year-old Eleanor Van Straten, matriarch of the Meditech corporation, on the sidewalk outside his establishment.
The link between Mrs Van Straten’s unscheduled appearance so soon after her funeral and the animal rights movement had been a no-brainer. The next day Lock had been invited to head up the Van Stratens’ close protection team.
Lock watched Caffrey slipping the last of his burger back into its Styrofoam container and turned his attention back to Stokes.
‘So how come, if God didn’t want us to eat cows, he made them out of meat?’ Caffrey taunted.
The comeback prompted a few snickers from the other cops, and Stokes to step out from behind the barrier and off the sidewalk.
‘That’s right, buddy, you keep coming,’ Caffrey yelled. ‘You cancool your heels in Rikers for a few hours. Plenty of animals there for you to hang with.’
Lock watched as Stokes eye-balled Caffrey, calculating his next move. The protestors saw arrest as a badge of honour. Lock saw it as a good way to get the company on the news for all the wrong reasons. Speed-walking towards the barrier, Lock’s right hand dropped to the Sig 9mm tucked into his holster. The gesture didn’t go unnoticed by the protestors. Meekly, Stokes stepped back behind the barrier.
Lock checked his watch again. Zero eight fifty. If he was running to schedule, Nicholas Van Straten, Eleanor’s widower, and the company’s new CEO, would be here shortly. Lock’s hand went up to his collar and he pressed down the talk button of his radio. ‘All mobile units from Lock.’
Lock’s earpiece crackled with static, then cleared.
A moment later, the voice of Lock’s second-in-command, Ty Johnson, came back, calm and in control. ‘Go ahead, Ryan.’
‘You got an ETA for me?’
‘Be with you in about two. What kind of reception we got?’
‘Usual sidewalk static.’
‘Principal wants to come in the front.’
‘I’ll make sure we’re clear.’
Lock crossed back to Caffrey, who’d by this time beat a diplomatic retreat to his cruiser. He tapped on the glass and took a moment to enjoy Caffrey’s irritated expression as he cracked the window and the cold air rushed in.
‘We’re bringing him in the front.’
Caffrey rolled his eyes. ‘Ain’t it bad enough that I have half a dozen officers tied down here every freakin’ morning?’
‘Half a billion bucks and a direct line to the mayor, not to mention the US Constitution, says he can walk in the mainentrance of his own office if he so desires,’ Lock said, turning on his heel before Caffrey had a chance to respond.
Caffrey shrugged abig dealto Lock’s back and rolled the window back up as four blocks away three blacked-out GMC Yukons fitted with B-7 grade armour and run-flats muscled their way through the morning gridlock, heavy with menace.Two
Inside the lead Yukon, Ty Johnson checked his weapon, then the position of the other two vehicles in the side mirror. All good.
Ty gave the signal for his driver to move over into the left-hand median and occupy a lane of oncoming traffic, which was momentarily stopped at a light. Blocking the junction allowed the other two SUVs to move up seamlessly on the inside, so Ty’s vehicle was now at the rear and he could have a clear view when the passengers got out.
Ty popped his head out the window and glanced behind. About half a block back, which in this traffic equated to a good twenty seconds, an up-armoured, fire engine red Hummer rolled along.
Inside the Hummer was the CA, or counter-attack team, led by Vic Brand, a former colonel in the US Marines. Ty knew that Lock had resisted their appointment. Normally a CA team was the preserve of the military in ultra-high threat environments, and Lock had felt it was overkill. However, Stafford Van Straten, heir apparent to the family empire and perpetual thorn in Lock’s side, had confused a stint in the Reserve Officer Training Corps when he was at Dartmouth with actual security expertise, and insisted onrecruiting them, somehow convincing his father they’d be a useful addition to his security detail.
Lock had no time for Stafford; neither did Ty. And they had even less time for Brand, a man who delighted in regaling the younger men in the CA team with his exploits in Iraq, many of which, Lock had told Ty, were fictitious. Ty, having checked with a few of his former Marine buddies, wasn’t so sure.
The close protection world was full of guys like Brand, serial fantasists who confused talking the talk with walking the walk. To Ty, a good bodyguard was like Lock, the archetypal grey man who blended into the background, emerging only when a threat arose.
The way Ty saw it, Brand blended like Marilyn Manson at a Jonas Brothers gig.
Lock watched as the protestors on the street were cleared fifty feet further back by the cops. If one of them made a rush, Lock would have Nicholas Van Straten in the boardroom with his decaf latte and a copy of theWall Street Journalbefore they made it to the front door.
The front passenger door of the rear vehicle opened first. Lock looked on as Ty made his way round to open the front passenger side of the middle Yukon for the designated bodyguard. As the rest of the personal escort section deployed, spreading out so that they had eyes on a full three hundred and sixty degrees, the clamour from the activists rose in volume.
‘Hey, Van Straten, how many animals you plan on killing today?’
The bodyguard, a lean six foot two Mid-westerner by the name of Croft, opened Nicholas Van Straten’s door, and he stepped out. For a man who got death threats the way most people received junk mail, he looked remarkably composed. His four-man personal escort section had already made a closed box formation aroundhim, ready to move him into the building. But Van Straten clearly had other ideas.
Taking a right turn behind the Yukon, he began to walk towards the source of the obscenities emanating from across the way. Lock could feel a surge of adrenalin starting to build as Van Straten embarked on this unscheduled walkabout.
‘Where the hell’s Stafford?’ Nicholas Van Straten asked one of his aides, who appeared to be having difficulty keeping pace as his boss made a beeline for the protestors.
‘I’ve no idea, sir.’
‘He was supposed to be here,’ Van Straten said, with an air of disappointment that didn’t stretch as far as surprise. Evidently, he was used to his son letting him down.
Lock watched as Van Straten confronted Stokes at the barrier. Anxiously, he keyed his mike. ‘Where the hell’s he going?’
A second passed before Ty’s response came back. ‘To meet his public?’
The four-man PES stayed tight around Van Straten. Croft glanced over at Lock as if to say, ‘What the hell do I do now?’
Lock could only offer a shrug in return. This didn’t feature anywhere in the playbook, and he didn’t like it.
‘Sir, if you wouldn’t mind . . .’ Croft’s request trailed off.
‘If I wouldn’t mind what?’
Van Straten seemed to be enjoying the panic emanating from the men around him.
A few yards back the red Hummer was drawing up. Lock could see one of Brand’s men in the front seat raising a gun, an M-16, by way of deterrent. Sighing, Lock keyed his radio again, waiting a beat to make sure that the start of his transmission wouldn’t be cut. ‘Brand from Lock. Tell that moron sitting in front of you to put the showstopper away. In case he hadn’t noticed, we’re in Midtown, not Mosul. If I see it again, he’s gonna find it doing double duty as a butt plug.’
Lock breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the M-16 popping back below the dash.
‘What’s your boss doing? Get him inside that freakin’ building before we have a riot on our hands.’ Caffrey had ambled his way across the street and was talking to Lock.
Static in Lock’s ear, then a message from Ty: ‘He wants to talk to them.’
Lock passed it on, and Caffrey’s expression shifted from disgruntlement to apoplexy.
By the time Van Straten had reached the barrier, Stokes was no more than five feet away. Silence descended as the taunting and threats fell away, the demonstrators thrown by the proximity of their chief hate figure. A cameraman from CNN tried to elbow his way in front of Lock.
‘If you wouldn’t mind stepping back please, sir,’ said Lock, trying to keep his voice even.
‘Screw you, dickwad.’
Lock raised his hands, palms open in placation. ‘Sir, I’d really appreciate you moving back,’ he added, simultaneously raking the inside of his right boot all the way down the guy’s shin.
As the camera operator hobbled a retreat, cursing under his breath, Lock turned to watch Van Straten confront Stokes at the barrier.
‘I thought a delegation from your group might like to meet with me this morning,’ Van Straten was saying.
Stokes smiled. ‘You got my message, huh?’
By now, the media had begun to cluster round. A blonde reporter, Carrie Delaney, was first to be heard above the rapid-fire burst of questions. ‘Mr Van Straten, what do you plan on discussing inside?’
Lock caught her eye for a split-second. She made a point of looking away.
A preppy-looking correspondent, with frat boy features and a footballer’s physique, broke in before Van Straten had a chance to answer. ‘Is this a sign that you’re giving in to the extremists?’
Carrie shot the guy a look.Asshole. Lock noticed the guy smiling back.Right back at ya, babe.
Van Straten held up his hands. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be happy to answer any questions you haveaftermy meeting with Mr Stokes.’
More bodies pressed in. A man behind Lock was pushed forward by a surge of the growing crowd. He pushed him back.
Lock glanced around. It looked like every single assassination attempt ever witnessed, five seconds before it went off. A chaotic scrum of bodies, security caught flatfooted, then, from nowhere, someone making their move.Three
As Lock stepped out of the elevator, Van Straten’s bodyguard, Croft, was stationed at the door which led into the boardroom.
‘Just the old man and Stokes.’
‘You check on them?’
Croft shook his head. ‘The old man didn’t want to be disturbed. Don’t worry, I made sure he sat at the top of the table before I left.’
Lock relaxed a notch. There was a panic button fitted directly under that section. Not that he thought even Stokes would be dumb enough to try something here.
‘Any idea why the boss wanted a sit-down?’
Croft shrugged. ‘Nada.’
‘He didn’t say anything in the car this morning?’
‘Not a word. Just sat in back going through his papers, same as always.’
To be fair to Croft, Lock had found Nicholas Van Straten a tough man to read. Not that he was taciturn or impolite. Far from it, in fact. In contrast to his son, Nicholas Van Straten always seemed to make a point of being overly polite to those who workedfor him, sometimes in almost inverse proportion to their seniority in the company.
‘So no one knows what this is about?’
Croft shook his head.
Lock turned to walk back to the elevator as the door to the boardroom opened and Van Straten stepped out.
‘Ah, Ryan, just the man,’ Van Straten said, turning his attention to Lock.
‘First of all, I owe you and the rest of your men an apology. I should have given you some warning of my plans.’
Lock bit back his irritation. ‘That’s quite alright, sir.’
‘It was something of a last-minute decision to open direct discussions with Mr Stokes and his group.’
‘Now, in ten minutes or so Mr Stokes and I will be going back outside to make a joint announcement.’
‘Sir, if I might make a suggestion.’
‘Of course. Please do.’
‘Perhaps if we found somewhere inside the building where you could—’
Van Straten cut him off. ‘Already thought of that, but Missy thought it would be more visual to be out on the steps. Oh, and could you arrange for some coffee to be sent in? No milk. Mr Stokes doesn’t take milk. Something to do with cows finding the process emotionally unsettling.’
‘Right away, sir.’
Van Straten stepped back inside and closed the door, leaving Lock alone with Croft.
‘Who the hell’s Missy?’ Lock asked.
‘Some gal in the public relations office. The old man put a call in to her about two minutes before you got here.’
‘Terrific,’ Lock said, trying hard to keep the exasperation from his voice. Now security strategy was being dictated by someone who probably thought an IED was a form of contraception.
‘Dude, relax,’ Croft said. ‘Looks like the war’s over.’
Lock stepped in close to Croft. ‘Dude, don’t ever use language like that in my presence again.’
Croft was puzzled. ‘What? I didn’t cuss.’
‘In my book, “relax” beats out any cuss word.’
Back outside, word of the sit-down between Gray Stokes and Nicholas Van Straten had got out, drawing even more news crews to the scene. Bystanders and protestors filled the gaps, pilot fish waiting to snatch at whatever morsels of information might float their way.
Lock finished briefing his team stationed on the steps just as Gray Stokes emerged from the entrance, his clenched fist raised in imitation of the black power salute. Next to him, Nicholas Van Straten stared at his feet. A chastened Croft stayed within touching distance of his principal.
‘We did it!’ yelled Stokes, his voice sounding hoarse in the chill air. ‘We’ve won!’
Two protestors whooped as the pack of reporters surged forward. Lock noticed that Croft and Ty, who were flanking Van Straten, were looking nervous as the reporters pushed up against them, jockeying with one another for position.
Lock stepped between Janice in the wheelchair and a reporter squeezing in next to her, worried that she’d be toppled over by the crush of bodies. ‘Folks, if you could give everyone here some space,’ he shouted.
Knowing what Lock had done to the cameraman, those nearest to him hastily made some room.
Van Straten cleared his throat. ‘I’d like to make a short statementif I may. As of midnight tonight, Meditech and all its subsidiaries, alongside those companies we work with in partnership, will no longer engage in testing on animals. There will be a fuller statement released to all media outlets later.’
Before Stokes had the chance to have his say, a volley of questions came at Van Straten. Even in victory, Van Straten was stealing his thunder, and Stokes didn’t seem to be enjoying it one bit. He shifted from foot to foot. ‘I have a statement as well!’ he shouted. But the reporters ignored him, continuing to throw questions at Van Straten.
‘What’s behind your change in policy, Mr Van Straten?’
‘Have the extremists who desecrated your mother’s memory won here?’
Another question, this one more pertinent to a broad section of the audience at home: ‘What do you think this will do to your company’s share price?’
Van Straten stretched out his arms. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please. I think it would be rude if you didn’t at least listen to what Mr Stokes has to say on the matter.’
Struggling to keep his cool, Stokes took a single step to the right. Nowhewas standing directly in front of the Meditech CEO. Now it washisface filling the screens directly behind him, and the millions more around the country.
He raised a bunched right hand to his mouth, theatrically cleared his throat, and waited for silence to descend.
‘Today has been a momentous one for the animal rights movement,’ he began.
But before he could finish the sentence, his neck snapped back. A single .50 calibre bullet had vaporized his head.Four
Lock placed himself in front of Croft and drew his weapon, giving Croft time to spin and sling Van Straten so they were back to back. With his left hand, Croft clasped the collar of Van Straten’s shirt, which allowed him to return fire with his right, all the while backing up as fast as he could. Lock remained steadfast among the scrum of bodies as between them Ty and Croft moved Van Straten back inside the building.
Lock looked around for Brand and the rest of the CA team but they were nowhere to be seen. Backing up, he shouted over to Ty, ‘Get him upstairs!’
In front of him, people were scattering in all directions, the crowd parting in a V directly in front of the building as another round was fired, this one catching a male protestor in the chest. He fell, face first, and didn’t move.
A breath of relief for Lock, as out of the corner of his eye he saw the journalist Carrie Delaney hightailing it for a news van parked on the corner.
Turning to his right, Lock saw Janice Stokes sitting in her wheelchair, her mother struggling to get it to move. At thesame time, he saw an additional reason for the collective panic.
A red Hummer was careering towards the front of the building at full tilt, its trajectory an unswerving diagonal towards the one person incapable of getting out of its way. Even if the brakes were applied at that instant, the vehicle’s momentum would carry it onwards for at least another two hundred feet. Janice was well within that range.
Lock sprinted forward, his left foot slipping under him as he struggled for traction on the icy steps. Another round flew in, taking out what was left of the glass frontage. Desperately, he tackled Janice from the chair, his momentum carrying them both skidding across the polished stone.
Behind them, the Hummer had started to brake, the wheels locking, its sheer weight carrying it inexorably towards the front of the building and up the steps. Janice’s mother stood motionless as it rolled across Stoke’s body and slammed into her. She flipped into the air, a spinning tangle of limbs, and landed with a thud between the Hummer’s front wheels.
Janice opened her mouth to scream as the Hummer ploughed into the reception area. ‘Mom!’ she yelled, as Lock pulled her under him, his body covering hers.
He twisted his head round to see one of the Hummer’s doors open and Brand emerge. Brand hefted the M-16 in his right hand. He looked around at the devastation wrought by the vehicle and strolled calmly towards Lock, glass crunching under his boots, rifle raised.
Lock rolled away from Janice as a paramedic ran over to them and knelt down next to her. The CA team clambered one by one from the Hummer and took up position in the lobby, guns drawn.
Brand reached Lock. ‘I’ll take it from here, buddy.’
Lock felt a surge of anger manifest as bile at the back of his throat. A young woman had just seen her father’s head blown clean off and her mother run over by Brand.
Brand smirked. ‘Relax, Lock, she was a freakin’ tree hugger.’
Lock drew back his right arm and stepped forward. Before Brand had a chance to duck Lock’s right elbow connected squarely with the side of his mouth. There was a satisfying crunch as Brand’s head jolted back and blood spurted from the side of his mouth.
‘She was a human being,’ said Lock, hurrying past.Five
Suddenly aware of his laboured breath, Lock took cover behind a Crown Vic parked fifty feet from the front of the building, making sure to stay a good five feet behind the bodywork so that any fragments of shrapnel zipping off were less likely to find him. Getting too close was called hugging cover. Hugging cover got you killed.
Only ninety seconds had passed between Stokes being hit and him making it here. In a one-sided contact like this, it felt like an eternity.
What was it his father had told him as a ten-year-old when explaining the job of a bodyguard?Hours of boredom, moments of terror.
He glanced over to see Sergeant Caffrey squatting next to him, tight to the cruiser. Lock grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back a few feet.
‘What the hell are you doing?’
‘You’re too close.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You want a lecture on appropriate use of cover right now? Just do what I tell you, and stay the hell there.’
Caffrey grimaced, his pasty complexion hued red by a freezing wind and sudden exertion. ‘Man, I’d be working the Bronx if I’d wanted to sign up for this kind of shit.’
‘I think they’re up there,’ Lock said, nodding towards a three-storey redbrick with a ground-floor Korean deli which squatted among its more refined office block neighbours.
‘They? How’d you know there’s more than one of them?’ Caffrey asked, peeking out.
Lock hauled him back in. ‘A lone sniper is either a college kid gone wild who can’t shoot for shit, or someone in the movies. A professional works with a spotter. And these guys are professionals.’
‘You saw them?’ Caffrey asked.
Lock shook his head. ‘Take my word for it. It’s about the only place they can be. The angle of the first shot would have given him the right elevation to take out Stokes above the crowd.’
Lock keyed his radio. ‘Ty?’
‘Where’s Van Straten?’
‘Tucked up with milk and cookies. What’s the count?’
A middle-aged man in a suit broke cover to Lock’s left. Clutching his briefcase, he ducked out from behind a parked car, only making it a few feet before being blown off his feet by the sniper.
Automatic rounds chattered from inside the lobby as Brand and his CA team returned fire.
‘OK, so, Ty. You leave Croft with Van Straten and get downstairs. Make sure Brand and the rest of his complete asshole team don’t light up any more of the citizenry.’
Lock turned back to Caffrey. ‘What’s the SWAT team’s ETA?’
‘They’ll be here in five. Let’s just sit tight until then.’
‘When they get here, make sure you tell them that I’m on your side.’
‘Where the hell are you going?’
‘To give these douchebags the good news,’ said Lock, making for the nearest doorway.
He tucked in tight to the entrance of the building directly opposite Meditech headquarters. Now he was on the same side of the street as the shooters he could inch his way up, building by building, all the while narrowing any possible angle. His only real fear was being taken out by friendly fire from Brand’s trigger-happy cohort.
The sign on the door of the deli had been switched to ‘Closed For Business’. This store didn’t even close for Thanksgiving. Lock now knew for definite that he was in the right place. He tried the handle. It was locked. With the butt of the Sig, he punched out the glass-panelled door and stepped through.
Inside, there was no sign of life. The relative calm was unsettling as sirens whooped and screamed in the street beyond. He walked slowly towards the counter, the fingers of his right hand wrapped around the Sig’s grip, his left hand cupping the bottom.
Behind the counter there was a young woman crouched beneath the register, her hands cuffed with plastic ties, her mouth sealed with gaffer tape. The space was narrow: these places tried to use every available inch for product. As he knelt down, his hand brushed her shoulder, making her jump.
‘It’s fine, you’re gonna be fine,’ he whispered.
He found the edge of the tape with the nail of his thumb.
‘This is going to hurt a little but, please, try not to scream, OK?’
She nodded, her pupils still dilated in terror.
‘I’m gonna pull it off real fast, just like a Band-Aid. One, two, three . . .’
He tore the tape up and right, a yelp half catching in the woman’s throat.
‘My dad’s through there,’ she said, her words coming in short gasps. She nodded towards the corridor, which snaked off from the front of the store to the back. ‘He has a heart condition.’
‘Who else is here?’
‘Two men. Upstairs.’
‘Yes. They haven’t come down yet.’
‘Where are the stairs?’
She jerked her head back down the corridor towards a brown wood-panelled door.
Lock reached for his Gerber, flipping out the knife into a locked position with a single motion. The woman winced.
‘I’m going to free your hands.’
She seemed to understand, but her body remained tense and stiff as he reached behind her to cut through the plasti-cuffs. At first he thought whoever bound her up must have improvised using some plastic ties they’d found lying around, but now he saw these were the real deal. Military issue of the kind used in places like Iraq where you might have to detain large numbers for a short period. Still, the thin edge of the Gerber’s blade made fast work of cutting through the thick white plastic band.
‘You take care of your father. If you hear shots, get out, but stay on this side of the street.’
Lock stood up and made his way to the door leading to the stairs. He opened it, stepped through, and glanced up. Dust caught at the back of his throat as he moved up the stairs, careful to keep his weight even on each tread. He focused on slowing his breathing as his field of vision, which had unconsciously tunnelled, started to clear again. By the time he reached the second floor his heart rate had dropped by twenty beats a minute.
Footsteps thumped above him. Whoever it was, they were in a hurry. He crouched down, his back to the wall, his 226 aimed at a gap between the iron spindles of the railing on the third floor.
There was a sudden movement as someone broke cover above him, the person a blur. Before Lock could get him in his sights, he was gone.
Slowly, he began to edge his way up the final flight of stairs, the Sig out in front of him, index finger resting lightly on the trigger. At the top of the stairs there was a single door, offset six feet to the left. To the right, another door, this one ajar.
He went right first, down the corridor, pushing the door open with the toe of his boot. The room smelt musty and damp. Inside was a desk. Next to that was a solitary filing cabinet. The window was open. It faced on to the back alley. A metal pin was hammered into the frame; a length of blue climbing rope looped through it snaked out into thin air. Lock crossed to it and leaned out, glimpsing what he suspected were the backs of the sniper team as they ran.
He keyed his radio. ‘Ty?’ he whispered.
‘Korean deli half a block down. Second floor.’
‘OK, man, I’ll pass it on.’
With any luck the SWAT team could throw up a four-block perimeter and find them before they had the chance to slip away. New York might provide the ultimate urban camouflage environment for crazies, but even here a heavily perspiring assassin carrying the tools of his trade just might stand out.
Lock walked back down the corridor, stopping at the closed door he’d seen. He took a single step back and lifted his right leg. The door flew open under the impact of his boot.
There was a deafening boom as a shotgun, rigged to the door handle with a length of fishing line, went off. The force of theimpact blew Lock back over the railing. He landed heavily on his back, his head smacking off the wall, leaving a dent in the plasterboard. Then everything went black.Six
A cluster of town cars skulked outside the up-scale apartment block. Engines running, they chugged out a mini smog bank that rolled across the FDR Driveway to the very edge of the East River.
Next to the green-canopied entrance, Natalya Verovsky sheltered under a golf umbrella embossed with a Four Seasons logo. Standing apart from the other au pairs and nannies waiting to collect their charges from the Christmas Eve party, she glanced at her watch. They should be coming out any minute now.
After what seemed an eternity, a gaggle of excited children began to emerge clutching bags of party favours. Last, as usual, was Josh, a loose-limbed seven-year-old with a mop of brown hair. He appeared to be engaged in a comically earnest conversation about the existence of Santa Claus with one of his friends.
Spotting Natalya, Josh broke off mid-conversation with a fleeting ‘Gotta go’ and made a dash towards her.
Normally this was the signal for Natalya to sweep Josh up in a big hug, lifting him off his feet and matching the embrace with a sloppy kiss, which Josh pretended to think was gross, but which she knew he secretly relished. Today, however, she took his handwithout a word, even though she knew he disliked having his hand taken more than being kissed.
‘Hey, I’m not a baby,’ he protested.
Natalya said nothing, prompting Josh to look up at her, this faintest of blips on his radar registering immediately. ‘What’s up, Naty?’
Natalya’s voice sharpened. ‘Nothing. Now come on.’ She hurried him towards a town car parked across the street.
As the back door swung open, Josh held back. ‘Why aren’t we walking?’
‘It’s too cold to walk.’
A lie. It was cold. Freezing in fact. But they’d walked home in colder.
‘But I like the cold.’
Natalya’s grip tightened around Josh’s hand. ‘Quick, quick.’
‘Can we have hot chocolate when we get home?’
‘Of course.’Another lie.
Josh smiled, a victory seemingly won. Natalya knew that his dad hated him having anything sweet before dinner and generally she sided with him, only allowing Josh to sneak some candy as a special treat on Friday afternoons when he’d finished all his homework.
He climbed into the back of the town car. ‘With marshmallows?’
‘Sure,’ said Natalya.
Inside the car, the driver, his face obscured by the partition, pressed down on the horn with the palm of his hand before easing the Mercedes out into traffic. At the end of the block, he made an immediate right down 84th towards 1st Avenue.
Natalya stared straight ahead.
Josh looked at her, his face a pastiche of adult concern. ‘There’s something wrong, isn’t there?’
A dull clunk as the doors either side of them locked. Natalyacould see the beginnings of panic in Josh’s eyes now. ‘It’s just so you don’t fall out.’A third lie.
‘But I’m not going to fall out.’
The lights ahead flipped to green. Natalya reached over to secure Josh’s seatbelt as the car lurched forward to beat the next set of signals. The park was on their right now, the trees barren and stripped of their leaves. They passed a lone jogger, his face set as he leaned into the biting wind.
At 97th, they turned into Central Park, cutting across towards the Upper West Side. By now any pretence that they were heading home was gone.
Josh unclipped his seatbelt and scrambled up on to the seat to stare out of the back window. ‘This isn’t the way,’ he protested, his voice pitching high with concern. ‘Where are we going?’
Natalya did her best to shush him. ‘It’s only for a little while.’This part, she’d been promised, was true.
‘What’s only for a little while? Where are we going?’ He paused and took a shaky breath. ‘If we don’t go home right now, I’m telling Dad, and he’ll fire your ass.’
The partition window slid down and the driver swivelled round. His hair was cut military-short and flaked with grey at the temples. The black suit he’d been crammed into, to lend the appearance of a chauffeur, looked in danger of tearing under his arms.
‘Take us home!’ Josh screamed at him. ‘Now!’
The driver ignored him. ‘Either you get the little brat to sit down or I will,’ he said to Natalya, pulling aside his jacket to reveal a shoulder holster with a Glock 9mm pistol tucked into it, the handle showing black against his white shirt.
Josh stared at him, the sight of the gun quietening him, boiling down panic to a silent rage.
Beyond the driver, through the clear glass of the windshield, he could see a trademark blue and white NYPD cruiser drivingtowards them. In a few seconds it would be parallel with them. A second after that it would be gone.
Sensing that this was his one chance, Josh made a sudden lunge towards the front seat. The driver’s right elbow flew up, catching the top of his forehead with a crack and sending him spinning back into the footwell. ‘Sit the hell down,’ he said, pushing a button on the console, the partition gliding back into place.
Natalya pulled Josh back up on to the seat. A welt was already starting to rise where the driver had caught him. An inch or two lower and he would have crushed the bridge of his nose. Fighting the tears was futile.
His eyes burned into Natalya’s. ‘Why are you doing this?’
As Josh’s sobs came, raw and breathless, Natalya closed her eyes, the knot of quiet dread that had been growing in her stomach for the past few weeks solidifying. Knowing now what she’d denied to herself all this time. That she’d made a terrible mistake.
Feet away from them, the police cruiser sped past. Neither cop gave the town car a second glance.Seven
Ten minutes after the driver had struck Josh, the partition lowered again and he tossed a backpack in Natalya’s general direction. She opened it with trepidation, even though she’d been told what would be inside.
First item out was a plastic bag emblazoned with a trademark Duane Read blue and red logo. Digging a bit deeper, she retrieved a set of children’s clothes, brand new and in Josh’s size: blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a navy sweatshirt. No cartoon characters, no brand names, no slogans, no distinguishing characteristics of any kind. Plain. Generic. Anonymous. Chosen precisely for those qualities.
‘Look, new clothes,’ Natalya said, doing her best to coax Josh from the far corner of the back seat.
Josh turned his face to Natalya, half-dried tears like glycerine on his cheeks. ‘They suck.’
‘Let’s get you changed, yes?’
‘Why? What for?’
Josh glanced towards the partition. ‘Forget it.’
Natalya leaned in closer to him. ‘We don’t want to make him angry again, do we?’
‘Who is he anyway?’ Josh asked. ‘Your boyfriend?’
Natalya bit down on her lip.
‘He is, isn’t he?’
‘It doesn’t matter who he is.’
‘Why are you doing this to me?’
Natalya lowered her voice. ‘Look, I made a mistake. I’m going to try and get you out of this. But right now, I need you to cooperate.’
‘Why should I believe you?’
‘Because you don’t have any choice.’
Finally, after more stalling, Josh got changed. Natalya jammed his party clothes into the backpack, the easy part out of the way. Next, she picked up the bag from the drug store, steeling herself, then put it back down. Unless she was going to pin Josh to the ground to do what she had to do, and risk injuring him in the process, this was going to take careful handling.
‘You look nice in those,’ Natalya said.
‘No I don’t.’
‘They look good.’
None of this was cutting any ice and Natalya could see that Josh was getting jittery again.
He shifted position on the back seat. ‘Can we go home? Please? If you want money my dad can give it to you, but I want to go home.’
‘It’s not that simple.’
Natalya pulled a pair of hairdresser’s scissors from the drug store bag.
Josh’s hand shot to his scalp. ‘No. Not my hair.’
The car slowed and pulled to the side of the road, as a car behindblared its horn. The partition fell. This time the driver had the gun in his hand. He pointed it directly at Josh. ‘If I have to pull over one more time, you’ll regret it.’
Shaking, Josh turned his back to Natalya. Legs crossed, she sat behind him, and set to work.
Barely five minutes later the back seat was festooned with long strands of dark brown hair. Josh reached his hand back, ran it through the uneven spikes.
Natalya took Josh’s hand and squeezed it. ‘You can always grow it back. Now, let me tidy it.’
She made some more tiny adjustments, momentarily getting caught up in the task.
‘There. Now you know what would really suit this style?’
‘A different colour.’
‘I guess so,’ Josh said, sounding utterly defeated.
Natalya rummaged in the bag again, sighing as she came up with a plastic bottle of hair dye. Quickly scanning the directions on the back of the bottle, she tutted loudly, then leaned forward and rapped on the partition. ‘I can’t use this now.’
The driver stared at her in the rear-view mirror. ‘Why not?’
‘It needs water. It’ll have to wait.’
‘You think I’m stupid?’
She thrust the bottle through the partition, two fingers covering the part of the label which read ‘unique dry application’. The driver grunted, tucked the bottle into his jacket and restarted the car.
‘Don’t worry, I won’t let anything bad happen to you,’ Natalya whispered, putting her arm around Josh.
‘This isn’t bad?’ he demanded.
Natalya pulled him closer and he finally relented, snuggling in to her.
Fifteen minutes later he was beginning to doze off, his head resting against Natalya’s shoulder, as the car came to a stop and the driver opened the door, pulling them both out into the cold.
As they stood shivering in a freezing mist of rain, the driver produced a brand-new cordless car vac and used it to suck Josh’s hair off the back seat. Someone else would be along later to collect the car.
The area was desolate and semi-industrial, with a road off to the left. They trudged through a sugar coating of powdery snow towards an oversized metal gate which lay smack bang in the middle of a seemingly endless chain-link fence. Cars flitted past in the distance. Other than that they were alone. A man with a gun, Natalya, and the child she’d been charged with looking after and had just so cruelly betrayed.
Natalya looked around, trying to find a point to fix on – a street sign, maybe, or a store – but all she could see was waterfront. Close by she could hear the slurp of waves against a dock.
Everything had changed for her the moment Josh had been hit. Regardless of what was at stake for herself she was determined to make good her mistake. And that meant getting Josh safely home to his father.
She’d have to pick her moment with care, though. There would be no second chance at escape.
They hadn’t driven through any tunnels or over any bridges so she was sure they were still in Manhattan, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that this neighbourhood was a long way from the Upper East Side.
The driver pushed Natalya towards the metal gate with the heel of his hand. ‘Move,’ he grunted.
At the door, a solitary security camera panned round, accompanied by a faint hydraulic whirl. The gate clicked and the driver pushed it open, ushering Natalya and Josh through.
Perched at the end of a pier, a single-engine speedboat was tied up, no one aboard. Painted a dark grey, it sat low in the water. They walked towards it, the driver clambering down into it first, almost losing his footing as a sudden swell rose under the hull. For a split second Natalya considered running, but with the dock stretching thirty feet out into the water she knew they’d never make it in time.
Natalya helped Josh into the boat.
‘Get the rope for me,’ the driver said, pushing Josh down so he’d be out of view of any passing traffic on the river.
Natalya unhooked the stern line from the mooring and threw it back to him. Now was her chance.
The driver waved her forward with his hand as the boat began to inch away from the dock. ‘Quick.’
She hesitated, then caught Josh’s terrified eyes. There was just no way she could leave him. Taking one quick step, she jumped down, the driver catching her hand and half hauling her down into the boat.
The driver gunned the engine and they set off in a wave of spume and diesel oil. Soon the dock was out of sight, a black skyline etched against grey.
Natalya counted off those buildings she recognized. The tower of the Chrysler building. The Empire State. The gaping maw of a breach where the Twin Towers once stood, now replaced by the first nub of the Freedom Tower.
The driver dug into his jacket and pulled out the bottle of hair dye. He squinted at the instructions on the back like they were written in Sanskrit. Finally, he looked up at Natalya. ‘Dry application. Bullshit.’ He threw the bottle at Josh. ‘Make sure you rub it in good.’Eight
Lock woke in a bed in a small room, hooked up to a monitor and some kind of IV. He prayed for morphine, but suspected saline. If he was still in this much pain, it had to be some weak-ass morphine.
He wiggled his toes and fingers, relieved to find that they seemed to be responding. To make sure that it wasn’t some kind of phantom sensation he flipped back the sheet, surprised that he could move so easily, and amused to find that he had an erection. Maybe it was some kind of evolutionary response to a near-death experience. Either that or a full bladder.
He waited for his excitement to subside, conjuring up the most unerotic of images to hasten its demise. No dice. Not even a yoga-emaciated Madonna could shift it. The blinds weren’t closed all the way, and he could glimpse the lights of the city that didn’t sleep beyond the window, getting on just fine without him.
Tentatively, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and, with one hand on the bed rail, stood up. For a second or two the room shifted suddenly, but the sensation quickly abated, and he managed to walk gingerly over to the tiny bathroom.
The man staring back at him from the mirror with a deadpanexpression was sporting three-day-old stubble and a close-shaven head. Running his fingers across the top of his skull, he found a set of stitches. Whether it was a wound or the result of an incision wasn’t entirely clear. He touched his fingertips to it. No real pain, but definitely stitches.
His face was puffy, especially around the eyes. His eyes were set blue amid the deathly pallor of the rest of his skin, his pupils like dots.
He took a moment to work back to how he got here. Relief. It was all there. The protestors, Van Straten’s unexpected walkabout, then Lock standing on the steps outside Meditech and the bullet. Correction: bullets. His glimpse of Carrie running for cover. More relief at recalling that. Then him taking on the threat, the young Korean storekeeper tied up, then walking up that staircase, a bang, and a sudden cut to black.
Total recall. He allowed himself a smile at that.
He filled the sink and began to splash his face with cold water, freezing mid-splash as the door opened into the main room. Pressing his back against the wall, he peered out.
In the room, a man in a blue windbreaker looked around, like the empty bed was evidence of some kind of magic trick. For a second, Lock half expected the guy to start shining his Mag light under the covers.
He stepped out of the bathroom, and the guy’s face relaxed into a smile. ‘There you are.’
‘Here I am,’ was all Lock could think to say in reply.
Overcome by a sudden wave of exhaustion, he took a step back towards the bed, and stumbled. The man put out a hand, steadying him. ‘Easy there.’
Lock waved him off, keen to get some sheets between him and his visitor. ‘Lemme guess, JTTF?’
The Joint Terrorism Task Force’s field office in Manhattan wasbased downtown in the Federal Plaza. Composed of members of the FBI, ATF, as well as NYPD, it was charged with dealing with all incidents of domestic terrorism in the five boroughs and beyond. The campaign against Meditech had fallen under its jurisdiction as the animal rights activists had escalated their actions. Lock had liaised with a number of suits from their office, although the man standing in front of him wasn’t one of them, as far as he could recall.
‘John Frisk. Just got transferred over.’
‘Least you can remember your name, that’s a start.’
‘So where’d they transfer you from?’
Lock sat back on the bed. Frisk pulled up a chair and sat next to him.
‘You’re a lucky guy. If you’d been hit a couple of inches either side of your plates you’d be toast.’
Lock had been sporting four plates. Two front, and two back, they slid into pouches either side of his ballistic vest to provide additional protection.
Lock smiled. ‘Maybe I should hit Vegas, while I’m still on this hot streak.’
‘Take me with you. I could use the vacation.’
Lock eased his head back on to the pillows and stared at a fixed point on the ceiling. ‘What’d they hit me with?’
‘Twelve-gauge rigged to the door,’ said Frisk.
‘Better that than the alternative, I’m guessing. You pick anyone up yet?’
‘We were hoping you could help us with that one.’
Lock chewed the side of his mouth. ‘Professionals. Both male. Both over six feet. I didn’t get much of a look beyond the back of their heels. What did the crime scene team turn up?’
‘I can’t really say.’
‘That many leads, huh?’
It was Frisk’s turn to suppress a smile. ‘I thought I was the investigator and you were the witness.’
‘Old habits die hard.’
Frisk hesitated for a moment. ‘OK, from what we can gather, as you said, it was a pro job. High-calibre sniper rifle – we’re still working on the exact type, but a fifty cal.’
‘Yup. If they’d riggedthatto the door we wouldn’t be having this conversation,’ Frisk said, super-casual.
‘Got that straight,’ said Lock. Having seen what the .50 cal had done to Stokes’ head, Lock knew that no amount of body armour would have saved him.
‘They had the escape route scoped out ahead of time, not much left behind for forensics. No shell casings anywhere to be seen, not like that would have given us much anyway. Plus the room was bleached down before they exited via the window.’
‘What about the shotgun?’ Lock asked, leaning over to reach for a glass of water perched on the locker next to his bed.
Frisk beat him to it and passed it over. ‘Looking to buy themselves a few extra seconds would be my guess.’
Lock grunted in agreement.
‘We traced it to the owner of a house out in Long Island. Place has been vacant since the summer, guy didn’t even know he’d been broken into.’
‘Did the girl make it?’
‘The girl in the wheelchair?’
Lock nodded, took a sip of water.
‘She’s down on four.’
‘Pretty shocked. Knows about as much as you do.’
‘You’ve got some great witnesses lined up by the sounds of it. What was the final count?’
‘Five dead in total.’
‘Three shot, one run over, and one heart attack.’
A knock at the door. A young African American doctor in her late twenties who looked like she’d been awake about as long as Lock had been unconscious poked her head round. ‘I thought I was pretty clear that I didn’t want my patient disturbed until he was ready.’
‘It was my fault, doc,’ Lock said. ‘I was quizzing Agent Frisk, not the other way round.’
‘Well, if you have any questions, you can always talk to me.’
Lock glanced back to Frisk. ‘Never got to ask Agent Frisk what my federal prognosis was.’
‘Well, your weapon was legally held, although how the hell you got a concealed carry in the city these days beats me.’
Lock looked skywards to the ceiling. ‘Friends in high places.’
‘And your luck doesn’t end there,’ Frisk continued. ‘Seeing as you never fired a shot, there won’t be any charges. But next time, leave the cavalry charge to the cavalry, OK?’
Lock bristled. He’d been the only one taking on the threat and here was Frisk treating him like some rookie cop. ‘I’d be happy to, if they manage to show up before the final reel. Speaking of which, what’s happening to Brand?’
‘Police department are keen to go to bat on vehicular manslaughter. But the DA’s getting a lot of pressure to go for a lesser charge, or let it slide entirely.’
‘If you speak to anyone in their office you can tell them I’d be happy to step to the plate for the prosecution on that one.’
Frisk raised an eyebrow. ‘You and he not too close, huh?’
‘Different approaches, that’s all.’
‘Oh yeah, and what’s the difference?’
‘Mine’s correct,’ Lock said curtly.
‘Mr Lock really does need his rest,’ the doctor broke in. ‘I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time for you to talk to him tomorrow.’
‘What day is it anyway?’
‘Thursday,’ said Frisk.
‘Wait. I missed Christmas?’
The doctor arched an eyebrow. ‘You got the gift of life.’
Frisk smirked. ‘Sure Santa’ll catch up with you next year.’
‘OK, he really does need his rest now,’ insisted the doctor.
Frisk took the hint and eased out of the room. ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ he said from the door.
When he’d gone, Lock’s hand reached up to his head wound. He ran the tips of his fingers over it, like a kid worrying a scab on his knee.
‘Pretty good-looking scar you’ll have there,’ the doctor said, perching next to him on the bed.
‘You think it’ll make me more attractive to women?’
‘Didn’t realize that was a problem for you.’
‘I’ll take any help I can get.’
‘Mind if I take another look?’
‘Be my guest.’
He bowed his head so she could get a better view.
‘You had a pretty lucky escape.’
‘So everyone keeps saying.’
‘You suffered a slight haemorrhage. We had to drill into your skull in order to take out some fluid. There’s a risk that you might suffer some additional blackouts. Oh, and there have been cases where trauma to this particular area of the brain can result in a raised level of—’
‘You can stop right there, doc. I think I know where you’re heading. So when can I get out of here?’
She stood up. ‘Head trauma’s a serious business. It’d be best if you stayed here for at least the next few days.’
‘Sure thing,’ he said, already planning his escape.Nine
‘Don’t you have a home to go to?’
The doctor was back at the foot of Lock’s bed, busy looking over his chart as he lay back watching the tube. Even this early on in his convalescence he’d made a number of interesting discoveries, the most surprising being that with a sufficiently high dose of morphine daytime soap operas were damn engrossing.
‘Wouldn’t have had you pegged as a big daytime soap fan,’ she mused as Lock flicked the TV to mute, leaving a cleft-chinned Clooney wannabe to slap around an actress whose Botox-blank face ran the gamut of human emotions from A to B and back again.
‘I was waiting for the news to come on.’
‘Sure you were.’ That killer smile again.
‘Are you flirting with me, doc?’
She ignored the question, jotting down an additional note on his chart instead.
‘What are you writing?’ he asked, doing his best to peek.
She angled the chart so he couldn’t see. ‘Do not resuscitate.’
Lock laughed. It hurt.
She edged a smile herself. ‘Sorry, but I get hit on a lot, and I haven’t been home in two days.’
‘Who said I was hitting on you?’
‘You weren’t? OK, now I feel insulted. Anyway, isn’t this all a pointless discussion? You have a girlfriend.’
‘Well there’s certainly been a woman putting in a lot of calls since you were admitted. Carrie Delaney ring any bells?’
‘Lots, but unfortunately we’re just good friends.’
‘Unfortunate for you or her?’
Lock pushed himself up into a sitting position. ‘Y’know, I’d never really thought about it until now, but our jobs have quite a few things in common.’
‘Saving people’s lives?’
‘I was thinking more along the lines of unsociable hours and only getting any real attention when you screw up.’
‘What did you screw up?’ she asked him. ‘Janice Stokes wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t done what you did.’
‘And neither would I.’
She was staring at him now. ‘So why did you?’
‘This is going to sound like a line from a bad movie.’
‘I get lots of those too.’
‘I did it because it’s what I’m trained to do.’
‘So you make a habit of rescuing damsels in distress?’
Lock shook his head. ‘No, just a habit of walking through doors I shouldn’t. Listen, I didn’t even catch your name.’
‘I meant your first name.’
‘I know you did.’
Over her shoulder, Lock caught a glimpse of Carrie fronting theheadline report on the TV. Seeing her hurt worse than getting shot. She was standing outside a green-canopied apartment building, a white-gloved doorman flitting in and out of frame behind her, apparently undecided between discretion and getting his mug on the tube.
‘That your lady friend?’ Dr Robbins asked, following Lock’s gaze to the TV and reading the bottom of the screen.
‘She was. For a time anyway.’
‘Looks too classy for you.’
‘I get that a lot. Would you mind if I . . .?’
‘Go right ahead,’ said Dr Robbins, stepping out of his way.
Lock turned up the volume, catching Carrie mid-sentence.
‘. . . the FBI remaining tight-lipped about this latest twist in the Meditech massacre story which has gripped America. But so far only one fact remains clear: three days after his disappearance, seven-year-old Josh Hulme remains missing.’
The screen cut to a picture of a young white boy with thick brown hair and blue eyes, smiling self-consciously for a family portrait.
Lock moved away from Dr Robbins as she attempted to get a fresh look at the back of his head. ‘What’s this got to do with Meditech?’
‘His father works for them or something.’
Lock felt a jolt of adrenalin. He started to get out of bed, earning a reproachful look from Dr Robbins.
‘I need to make a call.’
‘Fine, but do everyone a favour.’
‘What’s that, doc?’
‘Put on a robe first. Your butt’s hanging out.’Ten
Dressed, and with a baseball cap covering what he’d come to think of as his lobotomy patient look, Lock stepped out into the hall. He still felt a little uncertain on his feet and he remained deliberately unshaven. Looking in the mirror as he’d washed his face, he’d figured that slightly altering his appearance might be no bad thing under the circumstances. Clearly the ‘Massacre in Midtown’, as the press had dubbed it, gleefully unearthing a neat piece of alliteration among the dead, was a first shot rather than a last stand.
Finding a way to call Ty proved tricky. Lock’s cell phone was inconveniently back in the bottom drawer of his desk at Meditech and pay phones seemed to be in short supply. Dr Robbins had told him she could arrange for a phone to be brought to his room for a small charge, but he didn’t want to wait. Finally, he tracked one down on the ground floor, next to the gift shop.
Ty answered on the first buzz.
‘Where’s my fruit basket?’
‘If it ain’t Rip Van Winkle. I was wondering when you were going to surface.’
‘Sleep of the just, man.’
‘I hear you. Good to have you back.’
Lock was grateful for the relief in Ty’s voice. It was comforting to know that someone at the company gave a shit about his mortality.
‘Want to give me an update?’
‘We’re locked down tight. No further incidents. Everything seems to be cool.’
‘And I thought I was supposed to be the one who took a blow to the head. How are things cool when one of our employee’s kids is missing?’
‘You heard about that?’
Lock held the phone away from his mouth and counted to three. Slowly.
Ty appeared to read his silence. ‘Listen, Ryan,’ he said, ‘things are a little bit more complicated than you might think. The FBI are involved, it’s being left to them to handle.’
‘So why the hell have we been paying kidnap and ransom insurance for all this time if we’re just going to hand everything over to the Feds?’
‘Richard Hulme, the father of the missing boy, resigned his position at the company two weeks ago, which means neither he nor his son are our problem any more. Sorry Ryan, I had the exact same conversation when I heard, but the word’s come down from on high. We stay out of it.’
‘But the FBI won’t pay any ransom.’
‘They’ve got their policy and we have ours.’
‘And nine times out of ten our way gets the victim home safe and sound with the only damage being a dent in some insurance company’s balance sheet and a bit of actuarial adjustment for next year’s premium.’
‘I know, man, I know.’
Right on cue, a little girl was wheeled past him, a Magic Marker-adorned plaster cast covering her leg. She smiled at Lock.
‘Listen, Ty, I’m going to get out of here, but first I have to check on something.’
‘OK, man. Hey . . .’
Lock hung up and made a beeline for the gift shop. He grabbed a bunch of flowers that offered a seven-day ‘no wilt’ guarantee (Lock could relate) and a box of candy. As he paid the lady behind the counter, he glanced at the newspapers on the rack. Josh’s face stared out from every front page apart from theNew York Times, which led on weightier matters in the Middle East: there had been a suspected biological attack on coalition troops on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He picked up a copy of thePostand flicked through it as he walked back through the lobby. On a double-page spread inside there was a picture of him pulling Janice out of the Hummer’s way. He didn’t like it: a good close protection operative stayed out of the limelight. A double-page spread in a tabloid wasn’t exactly staying out of the limelight.
In the elevator, Lock was squeezed to the back by a couple of hospital orderlies wheeling an elderly man on a gurney. One of them eyed him warily. Suddenly he regretted not dragging a razor across his face when he’d had the chance.
Lock handed the orderly thePostfolded open at his picture. ‘Relax, I’m one of the good guys.’
The elderly man on the gurney reached out his hand for the paper. ‘Here, let me see that.’ His eyes shuttled between Lock and the picture. ‘That’s him all right.’
With everyone’s curiosity satisfied, Lock got out on the fourth floor, thankful that he hadn’t been asked to sign any autographs orpose for a picture. Janice’s room was easy enough to spot. It was the one with a cop standing outside, sipping from a Styrofoam cup.
Once Lock had run through the rigmarole with the newspaper again, and the uniform had spoken to someone at her precinct, who’d then had to speak to someone at Federal Plaza, he was allowed through the door.
The blinds were closed but Janice was awake, her face turned away from the door. The room was full of flowers and cards. A few bereavement cards were scattered among those wishing her a speedy recovery. Hallmark’s market research clearly hadn’t yet unearthed the ‘Glad You Survived and Good Luck with the Terminal Illness’ niche of the greetings card market.
Lock laid the flowers at the bottom of the bed and pulled up a chair. They sat in silence for a moment.
‘How are you feeling?’ Lock asked at last.
‘Terrible. How about you?’ The question was delivered with the hint of a smile.
‘I feel . . .’ Lock trailed off, uneasily. ‘I’m good.’
She reached her hand across to his. ‘Thank you.’
The simple humanity of the gesture threw him a little. Because he worked for Nicholas Van Straten, Janice and her father had been the enemy for months.
‘I’m glad you made it,’ he said softly.
She glanced down. ‘For now.’
‘You don’t know that. There could be a breakthrough, some new drug or treatment for your condition.’
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. Even if there was, there was more chance of a Jehovah’s Witness agreeing to a blood transfusion than of Janice taking something that would, in all likelihood, have been tested on animals first.
To her credit, she let it slide. Instead she studied Lock’s face long enough to make him shift uncomfortably in his seat, before asking, ‘Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse?’
For a second, he thought of telling her about the six months he’d spent in Sierra Leone, where Charles Taylor and the Revolutionary United Front had embarked on a systematic campaign of amputating the limbs of the civilian population, including babies. At least killing animals to eat them served some purpose, he thought now. Much of what Lock had witnessed over the years was borne out of a darker human impulse.
He sighed, rubbed the back of his head, finding stitches. ‘I’ve seen a lot of death.’
‘Death’s inevitable, though, isn’t it?’ Janice said, her voice rising. ‘I’m talking about murder. The animals know they’re about to be killed. When they’re in the trucks, they know. You can see it in their eyes, hear it in the noise they make.’
Lock leaned forward and touched her arm. ‘Janice, I need to ask you a few questions. You don’t have to answer them but I need to ask them all the same.’
‘Gandhi said that you can judge the morality of a nation by how it treats its animals,’ Janice continued, undeterred.
She was rambling now, her mind on a loop, or so it seemed to Lock. She grasped the bars of the bed frame and pulled herself up into a sitting position. He tried to help her but she waved him away.
‘Janice, this is important. I don’t think whoever killed your father did it by accident. What I mean is, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I can’t help feeling that this wasn’t someone trying to assassinate Nicholas Van Straten and getting it wrong. This was someone trying to kill your father and getting it right.’
‘You think I don’t know that?’ Janice asked, suddenly focused. ‘We’d already had threats from your side.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Phone calls, letters, saying that if we didn’t stop the protesting we’d be killed.’
‘You tell anyone about this?’
‘And who were we going to tell? The FBI? They were probably the ones doing it.’
‘My mom and dad were saving animals twenty years before a bunch of anorexic bimbos took their clothes off for a photo shoot because it was fashionable. I grew up with our phone being tapped and our mail opened. There wasn’t one Christmas went by that I didn’t know what my grandma had gotten me because those assholes opened everything. What’s changed? Apart from the fact that nowadays there’s a hell of a lot more money at stake. For all I know,youcould have been the one making those phone calls.’
‘OK, you got me. Must have been the suppressed guilt that got me to risk my ass pulling you out of there,’ Lock fired back, angry now.
Grandma’s presents, gimme a break. Talk about brainwashing. Ma and Pa Stokes had done such a nice job that their only daughter was prepared to die a martyr for the cause, rather than compromise her principles and live, while they’d been only too happy to stand by and watch. And for what? To prove their moral superiority over the rest of us.
‘Thanks for the flowers, but maybe you should go now,’ Janice said, turning away from him.
Lock stood. He took a couple of breaths. ‘OK, I’ll go. But I’ve got one last thing I need to ask you.’
‘Fine, but make it quick, I’m getting tired.’
‘Your father said something to Van Straten when they were outside. Something about him getting his message.’
Janice looked blank. ‘I already told you,wedidn’t make threats.’
‘I’m not suggesting it was a threat. But if there’d been some kind of back channel discussions going on—’
‘With Meditech? No way.’
‘So what was the message?’
Janice’s voice shook with emotion. ‘I don’t know. And now I never will. My parents are dead, remember?’
Lock got to his feet, his irritation replaced by remorse. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have . . .’
But her eyes had already closed, and by the time he reached the door she had fallen fast asleep. The uniformed officer checked on her before allowing Lock to leave. She looked up at Lock as she performed a cursory pat-down, although what he would have wanted to remove from Janice’s hospital room was a mystery.
‘Must feel pretty good,’ she said.
The rookie smiled up at him. ‘Saving someone’s life like that.’
Lock shrugged his shoulders. He hadn’t saved Janice’s life, merely postponed her death. He turned his back on the cop and walked back to the elevator.Eleven
Brennans Tavern was about as authentically Irish as a bowl of Lucky Charms, but it was dark, which suited Lock fine. Even with the painkillers he’d picked up from the hospital pharmacy taking the edge off his headache, bright light was still making him wince.
Getting out of hospital had proved almost more time consuming than leaving the military, with about as many hours of form filling involved. Dr Robbins had warned him that in his present condition he was a danger not only to himself but also others. He’d declined to tell her that his commanding officer had said the same thing.
Eyes adjusting slowly to the gloom, he took a sip of beer. The label on the painkillers no doubt contained a warning about not taking them with alcohol but his vision was still a little blurred, and who could read that kind of small print in this light anyway?
The door swung open, and in strode Carrie. Seeing her, Lock felt suddenly buoyant. And even more light-headed. Without stopping to look around she made a beeline for him, throwing down her jacket and bag on the table, all business, like they’d never broken up.
‘Tough day?’ Lock asked her.
‘How’d you pick me out so quick?’
‘Corner table with your back to the wall, a view of the door, and easy access to the back exit. It doesn’t take a genius.’
‘See, you did get something out of dating me after all.’ He stood and pulled out a chair for her.
She pantomimed a curtsy and sat down. ‘You always did have good manners.’
They looked at each other across the table, Lock suddenly wishing that the lighting was better.
‘Glad you made it out in one piece.’
‘Yeah. It was scary for a while there.’
‘It was,’ Lock agreed. The only people who claimed not to be scared in a violent situation were liars and psychopaths. Fear was hard-wired.
‘So how’s my hero?’
‘I’m your hero?’
‘Ryan, let’s not—’
He put up his hand in apology. ‘You’re right. So, let’s see, how am I?’ He took a sip, reflected. ‘I’m sore. If I’d seen it coming . . .’
‘It wouldn’t have been sore?’
Lock wasn’t sure he had the energy to explain. Long ago he’d formed the theory that if you knew you were going to be hurt, if you expected it, the brain could send a signal of anticipation to the body which meant that when pain came it arrived with less of a jolt. Since then, every time he’d gone into a situation the first thing he told himself was,this is going to hurt. Bad. And somehow when he did that and the pain came he was able to manoeuvre beyond it and come out on top.
The shotgun rig had been a sucker punch. But then the world these days was all sucker punches.
‘Ryan? Are you OK?’
‘Sorry.’ He ran his hand across his scalp. ‘I was miles away.’
‘Evidently. Nice hairdo, by the way.’
He smiled. One of the many things he loved about Carrie was her ability to pull him out of what she chose to call his ‘tortured soul’ moments. ‘You like it?’ he asked.
‘ “Like” might be too strong a word. It’s certainly . . . different. Let me get you a drink.’
‘Drinks are on me.’
He flagged down the bartender and ordered Carrie a Stoli rocks with a twist of lime.
‘Nice to see you remembered.’
The way she met his gaze as she said it held more than a hint of promise for later. In his current state, Lock couldn’t decide whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand he couldn’t think of anything he’d like better than spending the night with Carrie, but on the other he doubted Carrie would be that impressed if he blacked out on top of her.
That, and it was complicated. They’d first gotten involved vowing that their relationship was only a bit of fun, then quickly realized after he’d stayed over at her place every night for two weeks that maybe it was shaping up to be more. Finally, they reached a mutual conclusion: right person, wrong time. No big argument. No recriminations. Just a slow realization that it wasn’t going to work out. Lock ached, then threw himself even deeper into his job.
The bartender brought Lock another beer and Carrie her Stoli rocks with a twist. Carrie’s finger circled the rim of her glass. She was thinking about something, Lock could tell.
‘Got some pretty good footage of you saving that girl in the wheelchair.’
‘I haven’t asked you a question yet.’
‘I know what it is, and my answer’s still no.’
Carrie sat back, smiling. ‘Will you give me an interview?’
‘You know what I think about media bullshit. Present company excepted. And you know what I think about guys doing the job who big-time it.’
‘But you saved her life.’
‘It’s what I’m trained to do. It wasn’t bravery, it was reflex. Listen, my job is to be the—’
‘Grey man. I know.’
Carrie had made the mistake of curling up on the couch with Lock one evening to watch the Academy Awards. She’d been treated to a stream of invective about the shortcomings of the various ‘bodyguards’ accompanying the cream of Hollywood up the red carpet. It was also the first time Carrie had heard the expression, presumably picked up from his former British colleagues, ‘thick-necked twats’.
‘Then you knew what I’d say.’
‘Can’t fault a girl for trying, can you?’ She drained her Stoli. ‘Why don’t we go somewhere else?’
Lock closed his eyes, tasting the moment.
‘Better than OK. You got some place in mind?’
Over Carrie’s right shoulder, Lock watched a man in his early forties come into the bar. He wore a long raincoat buttoned all the way up but the hair matted to his head indicated that he hadn’t had the additional foresight to carry an umbrella. He scanned the bar quickly, clearly seeking someone out, but his manner was off, too much uncertainty around the edges.
The man stopped at the bar, leaning over to speak briefly to the barman, who nodded in Lock’s direction. As the man headed towards them, Lock edged his chair back a few inches, giving himself the room to be quickly up and on his feet should the need arise.
‘What’s wrong?’ Carrie asked, looking behind her.
The man got within a few feet of them and stopped.
Lock’s focus remained on the man’s hands, waiting for them to move inside his coat. But they didn’t, and when he finally spoke it was with a slightly affected WASPy accent, the words clipped and decisive. ‘Mr Lock?’
Another reporter, no doubt. Lock glared up at the man from his beer. ‘Sorry, but NBC already have me tied up.’
‘You should be so lucky,’ Carrie muttered.
Lock opened his mouth to tell the guy that they were leaving, then stopped as he saw his face up close. He had scaly black bags under his eyes and looked like he was about to burst into tears.
The man’s gaze flitted briefly to Carrie, then back to Lock. ‘Mr Lock,’ he said, his voice breaking, ‘I’m not a reporter. My name’s Richard Hulme. I’m Josh Hulme’s father.’Twelve
‘How did you find me?’ Lock asked Richard Hulme.
‘One of your friends at Meditech. Tyrone. He gave me a list of places you might be. I think he feels bad about Meditech not being prepared to help out.’
They were alone in a corner booth, Carrie having agreed to catch up with Lock later.
‘You want to tell me what happened?’ Lock asked.
Richard launched into his story, his voice contained and even. What many would have taken as a lack of emotion, Lock recognized as a father doing his best not to unravel; not through any overweening macho pride, but because stoicism on his part might help get his son back in one piece. Lock had been here before, and like anyone who’d dealt with a child abduction the memory had never abated.
However, as Richard began to lay out the sequence of events, as methodically as one might expect from a scientist, Lock became more unsettled. This wasn’t like any other kidnap case he had either been involved in or even heard of.
‘I didn’t even know he was gone until the next morning. I shouldexplain. I was at a conference out of town. I’d called from my hotel but I just assumed that because Josh was in bed . . .’
‘Your wife had turned the phone off?’
Richard swallowed hard. ‘Josh’s mother passed away three years ago. Cancer.’
Lock said nothing. This was a time for analysis, not platitudes. Josh’s mother being dead eliminated scenario one. Something like ninety-five per cent of child abductions were the result of some misguided power play by so-called adults.
‘Your au pair, Natalya, she Eastern European?’
‘Russian to be precise. St Petersburg, I think.’
‘How long’s she been with you?’
‘About four months or so. You don’t think . . .?’
‘It’s possible. Take it from me, the part of the world Natalya’s from, kidnapping is right up there with alcoholism and wife beating when it comes to ways to pass the long winter nights, so I wouldn’t rule it out. The good news is the Russian Mafia doesn’t believe in killing their victims. It tends to damage repeat business.’
‘There’s no way Natalya would be involved.’
‘There never is. Until it happens.’
‘Josh adored her, and it was mutual.’
‘You’re not going to like me for asking you this, but . . .’
The way Richard almost flinched, Lock could tell he knew what was coming.
‘I wasn’t fooling around with Natalya. That’s what you were going to ask me, right?’
‘Listen, no one’s going to judge you if you were. Specially not with your wife having passed away.’
‘The FBI asked me the same thing.’
That caused Lock to raise his hand, palm facing Richard. ‘If the FBI are involved, why are you so keen to talk to me? Why not leaveit to them?’ It was the question that had been niggling away at him ever since he’d met Richard.
‘They’re getting nowhere fast. I’m prepared to deal with whoever I can.’ He paused.
‘If there’s something you need to say to me, spit it out.’
‘With Meg gone, Josh is all I have. I need someone who’ll do whatever it takes.’
‘And you thought that would be me?’
Lock got up.
‘Where are you going?’ Richard said, getting up too.
‘The FBI are the experts here,’ Lock said, hating himself for offering such a transparent platitude. ‘Let them do their job.’
Richard grabbed at the lapel of his jacket. Lock stared at his hand until he withdrew it.
‘I’m sorry for your loss. I truly am.’
‘You’re speaking like he’s dead already.’
Lock stayed silent.
‘So that’s it? The company won’t help me and neither will you?’
‘What did they say when you spoke to them?’
‘That I wasn’t their problem any more. Neither was Josh. Not quite in those words, but I could tell that’s what they meant.’
‘You want me to talk to them for you?’
Lock noticed Richard’s nails digging into his palms.
‘What I want is to find my son. I don’t care how it gets done.’
‘I can make a few phone calls for you. But beyond that I can’t go. I’m sorry.’
Richard’s face sank. ‘A few phone calls? That’s it? I come and ask for your help and you’llmake a few calls?’
‘Listen, Dr Hulme, I work for Meditech – y’know, the people who don’t want to help you. What makes you think this is my job?’
Richard rubbed at his face. ‘I don’t know. Maybe because riskingyour life to save that protestor in the wheelchair wasn’t your job either, I thought . . .’
‘Like I said, I’m sorry.’
Richard’s hand trembled as he jabbed an index finger in Lock’s face. ‘You know how this’ll end, and so do I,’ he shouted, drawing looks from the smattering of patrons dotted around the place. Lock pulled him to the door. ‘My son’s going to be sacrificed to those lunatics and all you and Meditech can do is feed me some corporate bullshit.’
Lock dropped his voice to a whisper, hoping that what he was about to say might calm Richard sufficiently that his comments about Meditech were restricted to people in a four-block radius rather than the entire five boroughs. ‘If I thought I was the best person to help you, Dr Hulme, believe me I would. But the fact remains I’m not.’
Richard took a deep breath. ‘You found Greer Price.’
Lock puffed out his cheeks and exhaled slowly, his breath misting in the cold. Richard Hulme had obviously done some digging of his own. ‘Haven’t heard that name in a long time,’ he said.
Greer Price was a four-year-old who had gone missing in a supermarket adjacent to a British military base in Osnabruck, Germany. Despite the fact that there had been at least two dozen shoppers and store employees there at the time, and that Greer’s mother had turned her back for a matter of seconds, there had been no witnesses to the little girl’s disappearance. Lock was a rookie with the Royal Military Police and the trail had been stone cold a full year before he was given it. Richard was right, Lock had solved the case, but he’d never counted it as a career highlight.
‘Greer was dead by the time I found her.’
‘You still found her, though.’
‘For all the good it did.’
‘You brought someone to justice.’
‘I brought someone before the courts, where they were convicted and sentenced. Justice didn’t enter into it.’
For a second, Lock found himself back in the attic of a small insignificant house, owned by an apparently even more insignificant old man. A former accountant, given to ordering everything, even the unimaginable. Lock had spent two days in that attic, searching through box after box filled with clear plastic Ziploc bags. Each bag contained mementoes of an abused child, the bags marked in black ink with the date of their abuse. Greer had been discovered a few days later, buried in the back garden.
He suppressed a shudder at the thought of a place he never wished to revisit, not even in his mind’s eye, as Richard Hulme stood there waiting for an answer.
‘OK,’ Lock said finally. ‘Finish your story. Maybe I’ll catch something that the FBI missed. But if I don’t, will you leave me alone?’
They left the bar and walked to Richard’s car, a late-model Volvo station wagon. The windows fogged as the heater worked overtime to keep them from freezing.
‘So you get home, and no one’s there.’
‘Yeah. I tried to reach Natalya on her cell but it must have been switched off.’
Lock made a mental note. The only way for a cell phone not to be traced was for it to be completely off, otherwise the authorities could triangulate its position from the masts in the area.
‘I thought maybe Natalya had forgotten her phone. I didn’t like intruding on her privacy, but under the circumstances . . . So I searched her room, gave it an extra hour, then called the police. They called in the FBI.’
Lock knew this was standard procedure in these cases, whensomeone of what the Feds euphemistically called ‘tender years’, meaning a minor aged twelve or under, went missing. Over twelve and there had to be some suggestion of the person crossing state lines before they’d step in.
‘Last time they were seen?’
‘A few of the other au pairs at the party said they saw Natalya pick him up. They got into a car, and that was it.’
‘What kind of car?’
‘A grey Lincoln town car.’
‘That usually how Natalya and Josh got around?’
‘Natalya has the number of a town car service I have an account with in case the weather’s really bad during the school run.’ Richard sighed and rubbed at his eyes. ‘But they had no record of Natalya requesting a car in the past week.’
‘Did the FBI talk to their drivers?’
‘At length. They were all accounted for when Josh went missing.’
‘But he was definitely seen getting into the car with Natalya?’
‘Was there any sign of a struggle? Of him being forced into the car?’
Richard shook his head.
‘And you’re still sure Natalya’s not involved?’
‘I know how it looks. Maybe she thought she’d ordered a car and forgot.’
Lock sensed that Richard was clutching at straws, refusing to accept the inevitable: that a woman he’d hired was responsible for the kidnap of his only child.
‘Did she come into the country on a visa or was she already here?’
Richard bristled slightly. ‘I used an agency. I wouldn’t employ someone illegally.’
‘So they would have done a background check.’
‘They assured me they’d checked her out thoroughly.’
‘Have you had any previous threats?’
‘Of course. Everyone at Meditech gets those.’
‘No, I mean stuff that came directly to your home. Letters? Phone calls?’
‘One or two crank calls, just before I resigned. And some emails.’
‘Was that why you decided to leave Meditech?’
‘One factor, yes.’
‘The other factors?’
‘All laid out in my letter of resignation.’
Lock was starting to get irritated. ‘Help’s a two-way street, Richard.’
Richard shifted awkwardly in his seat. ‘I disagreed with the animal testing, but more on scientific grounds than ethical.’
‘But you were involved with it?’
‘For most of my career, yes.’
‘Was the pressure starting to get to you?’
‘It was a decision that I arrived at after a lot of consideration. I wouldn’t have resigned if I didn’t think it was bad science.’
Lock had heard enough about the debate around animal testing over the past few months, and certainly didn’t want another lecture like the one he’d endured from Janice. He moved on. ‘And were there any threats after that?’
‘Not that I made my resignation public, but no.’
‘And since Josh disappeared, what contact has there been?’
Richard’s gaze fell to the floor. ‘That’s just it. There hasn’t been any.’
Lock was disbelieving. ‘No ransom demand? No demands of any kind?’
Scenario two could be crossed off the list. Beyond a parent or step parent snatching a child, three per cent of abductions fell intothe category of kidnap for ransom. Due to the prohibitive sentences handed down by the judiciary since the Lindbergh kidnapping, only dumb or hardcore felons in the US viewed kidnap for ransom as any kind of business opportunity. Elsewhere, however, it was one of the big growth areas of criminal enterprise, up there with counterfeiting, internet fraud and trafficking. In these cases, where profit was the motive, the ransom demand swiftly followed the abduction, usually accompanied by dire warnings that the victim’s family should not, under any circumstances, contact the authorities.
Lock chewed his bottom lip. What lurked behind the door of scenario number three didn’t bear thinking about. The animal rights activists were people who didn’t mind digging up an old lady and dumping her remains in the middle of Times Square to make a point.
Richard looked at Lock, his pupils wide with fear. ‘It’s bad, isn’t it?’
Lock took a moment before answering. ‘Yes, it’s bad.’Thirteen
Half of the 19th Precinct must be on guard duty, thought Lock, as he and Richard stepped from the elevator and walked towards Richard’s front door.
The patrol officer reacted with a mixture of alarm and relief as he saw them. ‘You’re not supposed to leave without letting us know,’ he said to Richard.
Richard blanched, like a kid caught breaking curfew. ‘I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t get you into trouble.’
As Richard ushered Lock into the apartment, the cop was already on his radio, letting his superiors know that he was back – with a guest.
Like most of the rest of the building, the apartment lay in near darkness. It was close to midnight, and in this part of town the streets were quiet. Lock figured that the kind of money that had to be generated in order to afford a place in this neighbourhood required most of its residents to favour early nights over bar hopping.
Richard flipped on a light switch to reveal a narrow hallway, off which were three bedrooms and a bathroom. Beyond that it opened out into a large open-plan living area.
‘How long you lived here?’ asked Lock.
‘Since before I got married. It was Meg’s place from when she was a graduate student.’
‘Pretty swanky part of town for a grad student.’
‘Rent controlled. An aunt of hers died,’ said Richard as he went to turn on the main light.
‘You may want to close the drapes first.’
‘I forget sometimes. Plus, with Josh gone, I’m not sure I care any more.’
Like every other Meditech employee above a certain level, Richard would have gone through a security awareness programme and review. Lock knew that he would have been advised to alter his daily routine as much as possible, and to watch out for the absence of the normal, like a doorman missing from the front of the building. Ditto the presence of the abnormal, like a doorman suddenly appearing in a building which didn’t have one. All of the advice boiled down to remaining vigilant and employing simple common sense.
Lock wandered over to a tiny kitchen area at the far end of the room. Two couches. No TV. Built-in shelving ran along one wall, crammed with books and papers. A family portrait. Richard, Josh and a strikingly attractive blonde woman that he wouldn’t have put with Richard in a million years.
‘Meg,’ Richard said, saving Lock an awkward question about his dead wife. ‘There’s been no one since we lost her. I didn’t feel it would have been fair on Josh. Actually, that’s not strictly true.’
Lock said nothing. Let him continue.
‘There’s been my work. Maybe I’ve used that as my way of not confronting things,’ Richard added, before rubbing again at his eyes.
Lock was starting to feel Richard coming off a little too noble. ‘You mind if I look around the rest of the place?’
Richard shrugged his agreement.
Lock headed back down the corridor, the walls blank either side of him. He couldn’t help feeling that the place resembled more of a college dorm than a family home.
The first bedroom was similarly utilitarian, although the lack of personal touches was more easily forgiven here. Natalya clearly hadn’t brought much with her when she’d moved. A portable CD player lay on the bed, an already ancient relic. On the bedside table there was a picture of an older man and woman, presumably her parents. What Lock assumed to be her brother stood in front of and to one side of his father, edging him by a good foot in height, even though he couldn’t have been more than fifteen. Natalya stood next to her mother, long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, her eyes and smile bright and confident. No pictures of a boyfriend, nor anyone else for that matter.
An attractive young Russian girl, and, by her standards, a wealthy widower not past his prime. Lock wondered how truthful Richard had been when he’d claimed that there was nothing going on between him and Natalya. From the look of Josh’s mother, Richard could attract good-looking women. Perhaps he’d not wanted to complicate things for the sake of his son. Either that or he was lying.
Although the FBI would have been all over the place with a fine-toothed comb, Lock made a quick search of his own, coming up with nothing that seemed significant. He stepped back into the corridor and pushed open the door of Josh’s bedroom.
In contrast to the neat, almost antiseptic feel of the rest of the place, Josh’s room was a mess of toys, sporting equipment and comic books. A single sleigh bed was backed against one wall. Atop the duvet sat an FAO Schwartz teddy bear, the only concession to his tender years. A catcher’s mitt had been placed on its head at a rakish angle.
Lock’s mind flashed back to Osnabruck. He’d never been able to let go of the sense of failure he’d felt after the Greer Price case. Even though he’d known when he was handed the investigation that Greer was almost certainly long dead, it still gnawed away at him.
It was the loneliness of her death that had got to him more than anything. The feeling of abandonment she must have experienced in her last moments had left him hollowed out. Even at the end of the rope there was no act of vengeance that came close to balancing the murder of a child; if there had been, he would have put a bullet through the skull of Greer’s killer himself.
He squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and walked out of Josh’s room.
In a corner of Richard’s room, a twirling strand of DNA bounced around a twenty-inch flatscreen computer display, which sat atop a desk. Lock moved the mouse and it disappeared, defaulting to a log-in screen.
‘The FBI have already been through everything on there,’ said Richard, framed in the doorway. ‘But if you think they might have missed anything . . .’
‘You mean, in case you’re involved?’
The notion seemed ludicrous but Lock knew he couldn’t dismiss it out of hand. It wouldn’t have been the first time a perpetrator had brought about his own discovery by trying to employ a private investigator as a smokescreen to bolster his appearance of innocence.
Richard looked shocked. ‘No, don’t be ridiculous. I mean, maybe there’s an email, something that might be a clue.’
It couldn’t hurt to look.
Richard pulled up Firefox. ‘I burned all my work emails to disk before I left.’
‘You have a copy?’
‘Here,’ Richard said, pulling a DVD from a carousel next to the computer.
‘Any other email account?’
‘Hotmail, but I hardly use it.’
‘Did the FBI look at your Hotmail account?’
‘Why would they? I didn’t get any threats through it.’
‘You mind if I do?’
‘Go right ahead.’
Richard opened Firefox, which defaulted to Hotmail. He typed in his username and password, handed Lock the disk with his work emails, and left him to it.
Lock doubted that the email threats would yield anything. Or the letters, for that matter. Anyone who went to the trouble of mailing a death threat wasn’t likely to sign their name, either directly or by licking the envelope and leaving their DNA all over it. And the emails would have been sent from an internet café or via multiple proxy servers. One of the things he’d learned about the animal rights people who’d targeted Meditech was that they were savvy as well as motivated. Many of them were college-educated and as up on the science involved as anyone Meditech had to offer.
A half-hour later, Lock was no further forward. There were no specific threats to anyone by name, apart from Richard. Family was mentioned in a catch-all manner; there was no reference to a son, or even a wife, deceased or otherwise. As poison-pen correspondence went, it was all fairly insipid.
He switched back to the web browser. Idly, he clicked on the deleted emails folder and scrolled through the spam offering to enhance the recipient’s sexual performance or asking to use their bank account to rest millions of dollars.
Then he spotted it. Unopened, like most of the rest of the spam. No subject line. A Gmail address. It had arrived the day of theshooting, maybe an hour before Josh was last seen with Natalya. He clicked it open.
Now you will feel the pain you have inflicted on others.
When he walked back into the living room, Richard was standing by the window with the lights off. Lock considered asking him about the email. Richard had been pretty adamant that the threats had ceased once he’d stopped working for the company so he decided to let it go. It had made no reference to Josh or the kidnapping, and crucially it registered as unopened.
A car drew up directly opposite the apartment block and Lock watched as a man got out. As he darted across the street and passed under a streetlight, Lock’s gut instinct was confirmed. It was Frisk.
Lock met the FBI agent at the door.
‘Get the hell out of here, Lock,’ Frisk grunted, ‘we can handle this.’
Lock was still riled from their encounter back at the hospital. When Frisk had given him that bullshit speech about no charges being pressed as if he was doing Lock some kind of personal favour.
‘You seem to be doing a bang-up job so far, Agent Frisk,’ observed Lock.
‘It’s early on.’
Lock pulled the door closed, so Richard wouldn’t hear the rest of the exchange. A pissing contest meant some hard facts might come to light, and Lock wasn’t sure Richard was ready for them.
‘Early’s when you put it to bed. You know that and I know that. But seeing as you’re here, Hulme came looking for me, not the other way round.’
‘Fifteen minutes of fame not enough for you, huh?’ said Frisk aggressively.
‘OK, we can stand out here and compare dicks, or we can try and help each other out,’ Lock said, lowering his voice.
‘And what possible help are you going to be?’
‘Well, for a start, you might want to take another look at his computer.’
‘One of our tech guys already did a data dump from the hard drive.’
‘Which wouldn’t help you with a web-based email account. Check the spam folder. You’re looking for an email from someone calling themselves Lone Wolf. Arrived the day it all went down at Meditech.’
Frisk’s stony face reddened. Some tech was going to get his ass chewed when he got back to Federal Plaza, Lock could tell.
Lock shrugged. ‘That’s it . . . for now.’
‘So what’s your take on all this? Come on, if you’ve got some dazzling insights, I’d love to hear them.’
‘Find the au pair and you find the boy.’
‘Get with the programme, Lock. We already did. The harbour unit pulled her out of the East River a half-hour ago.’Fourteen
A visit to the morgue was a grim affair at the best of times, and this was a long way from the best of times. The fact that there was still no sign of Josh, dead or alive, counted as good under the circumstances, although the river could have been waiting to offer up its misery in instalments. The bad news was that the task of identifying Natalya’s body had fallen to Richard Hulme. As if the poor bastard didn’t have enough to deal with, thought Lock, as he listened to Frisk make the request.
Richard had been stoical about it, agreeing without argument. Even if he hadn’t already offered to help, Lock figured it was the least he could do to tag along as a shoulder to cry on. That, and there might be something to glean from Natalya’s recovery. Something that might just help them to find Josh. If he was still alive.
It was hot in the corridor outside where the identification took place. Lock’s head was still pounding. He found a solitary chair, sat down and made the mistake of closing his eyes.
He came to as Richard was led in, eyes rimmed red, hands trembling, the heavy weight of realizing that very bad things couldhappen to good people bearing down on him. Things that a person might never wholly recover from. Lock had seen that look before, when he’d stood across from the family of Greer Price as her coffin was lowered into the ground. He’d hoped never to see it again, but now here he was, offering a silent prayer that history wasn’t about to repeat itself.
From what little Frisk had told him about the FBI’s investigation, Lock had gathered that they’d garnered the same amount of significant information Lock had managed to glean in his few hours talking to Richard. Almost nothing. So, Lock did something which went against every fibre of his professional being: he made a phone call to a member of the media. A phone call which he knew in all likelihood would get him fired, and might even ensure that he never worked private security again.
That said, he didn’t flinch from it. His approach when backed into a corner was always the same: fast, aggressive action with determination. Which didn’t have to mean using your fists.
‘I need a favour.’
On the other end of the line, Carrie sounded bleary. ‘Ryan?’
‘You know how I said I’d think about giving you an interview . . .’
He could see her sitting up, reaching over for the pad and pen that lived on the left bedside table.
‘You’ll do it?’
‘You woke me up to tell me that?’
‘No, I called to make you an even better offer.’
Frisk’s voice echoed so loud against the tiled walls of the mortuary that one of the orderlies actually asked him to keep it down.
Lock wasn’t entirely sure what decibel level had to be reached to wake the dead, but between Frisk’s outburst and the retina-bustingstrip lights, the headache he’d been feeling since discharge was about to go nuclear.
‘Are you out of your mind? Whackjobs like this love this kind of attention,’ Frisk shouted, poking a finger into Lock’s face.
Lock didn’t react. ‘It’s already out there in the public domain.’
‘So you want to put him on national TV?’
‘International. I’m sure other countries will pick it up.’
‘And what if this pushes the kidnappers over the edge?’
‘If they were going to kill him, if that was the plan, they’d have done it by now.’
‘And what if they haven’t?’
‘Someone has to have seen something. Someone must know where he is. At the very least we’ll get their attention.’
‘You say that like it’s a good thing.’
‘So what’s the alternative? Sit back and wait for a break?’
‘You’re interfering in a federal investigation.’
‘So arrest me.’
‘Don’t be too sure I won’t,’ said Frisk, heading back through to check on Richard Hulme.
As the freezer cabinet clanged shut on the body, Richard shivered involuntarily. ‘I can’t tell.’
Even with the work that had been done to piece together what remained of Natalya’s face, the hollow-point bullet and the river had done their work. It might be Natalya. Likely it was. But he couldn’t be certain.
Frisk put an arm on his shoulder. He was used to this type of uncertainty with witnesses, less so at the morgue. ‘Don’t worry, Dr Hulme, we can do a match with the DNA we picked up back at your place. It’ll take a little longer, but that’s OK.’
Outside, Lock paced the corridor. If he’d been a smoker he’d have been breaking open his third pack of the day by this point. He thought about the body laid out a few feet away and tried to reconcile it with the photograph in Natalya’s room. He thought too about her parents and the phone call they’d be getting. Your daughter, the child whose nose you wiped and tears you dried, the one who grew up into a beautiful young woman, the one who had her chance of a new life in America . . . she’s been murdered.
Lock took in a lungful of air. He knew he had to pack away such thoughts. He couldn’t afford them right now. There’d be plenty of time for all that later. Too much time. Now he had to focus on the living.
He was still sure that Natalya, even in death, was the key. Perhaps even more so in death. If she had no significance, why take the trouble of killing her? Natalya was the last person seen with Josh. Natalya had led him into the car. Active accomplice, or unwitting rube, Natalya’s story was the story of this abduction. He was sure of it.
The door down the corridor clicked open, and Richard emerged alone. He saw Lock and shook his head. ‘I couldn’t tell. She’d been . . .’ His knees folded under him, and he sank to the floor.
Lock wished some of the animal rights people were here to witness this, given how ready they’d been in the past to caricature men like Hulme as heartless vivisectionists who got a kick from inflicting suffering on helpless animals.
Richard looked up at Lock, his skin dishwater grey. ‘They shot her in the face.’
Lock helped him back to his feet. ‘Listen to me, you have to believe that Josh is still alive. If someone had wanted him dead, they wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble.’
‘But say something went wrong? Like they tried to escape and that’s how it happened? Josh can be pretty wilful at times.’
‘In a situation like this, wilful’s not necessarily a bad thing. Wilful might just keep him alive.’
‘Absolutely,’ Lock lied.Fifteen
The room was white and smelled of fresh paint. The door was grey and so heavy that the driver had struggled to open it when they’d arrived. Josh had heard him grunting with the effort, although he couldn’t see him. He’d put a hat over Josh’s head and pulled it down over his eyes for the last part of the journey.
The floor was grey as well. It always felt cold when he stepped on it. There was a bed. It was longer than the one he had at home but not much wider. There was no window, but there was a light. It was a clear plastic dome and was mounted on the ceiling at the farthest end of the room from the door. It never went off. Next to it was a camera, like the kind he had seen in stores sometimes. There was a television, which was hooked up to a DVD player and a selection of DVDs. All stuff for little kids. Stuff he would have watched when he was maybe six.
There was a toilet and a sink. Both of these were silver and shiny. The toilet was directly under the camera so he didn’t think anyone could watch him pee. That was something at least.
And that was it. The entire contents of his room. Apart from him of course. And his clothes. And the photo album. But he didn’tlike to think about the album. He didn’t even like to touch it.
It had been there when he arrived. Next to the DVDs. It didn’t look like anything, just an album with a grey cover and a red spine. No title on the front or anything saying who wrote it. He’d made the mistake of opening it. Every time he’d gone to sleep since then he’d had nightmares about the pictures in it. Horrible pictures of horrible things. Now he was afraid to go to sleep.
There was a metal flap at the bottom of the door. It would open and food would be pushed through. Mostly cereal, sandwiches, or potato chips, with juice. If he got down on his knees he could see a man’s hand push it through. He thought it might be the driver’s hand but he couldn’t be sure because the person never said anything.
The worst part of it was being alone. He wondered if people were looking for him. His dad must be. He tried to imagine the door opening and him walking in. He’d close his eyes and think of him scooping him up in his arms and cuddling him. Like Natalya used to do.
Then his mind would flash on to what happened to Natalya in the boat. Or worse, a picture from the album. Then he’d have to open his eyes again. And when he opened his eyes his dad would be gone, but the album would still be there. Then he’d start to cry again.Sixteen
It was close to four in the morning by the time Lock got back to his own apartment, a studio in Morningside Heights, within spitting distance of Columbia University. There was nothing more that could be done now anyway. The lab was busy running the match to the body they thought was Natalya. From what Frisk had said, it was almost certain to come back positive. NBC were already trailing Carrie’s exclusive with Richard Hulme, which was due to air later in the day. And everyone else with a job to do in the morning was asleep. Lock decided to join them, crashing out on top of his bed, fully clothed.
Less than four hours later he was awoken by a sliver of low winter sun creeping across the room. It took almost as much resolve not to throw a pillow over his head and go back to sleep as it had to storm the sniper position opposite the Meditech building. In the bathroom, he realized that limited time meant the choice was shave or shower. He wouldn’t have time for both. Prioritizing body odour over smooth skin, he undressed quickly and climbed under the blast of hot water.
Standing with a towel around his waist, he rifled through hiswardrobe. He wasn’t short on dark colours, but suspected that blackout gear and a ski mask wouldn’t be considered appropriate attire for a funeral. In the end, he compromised with black trousers, white shirt left open at the collar and a black parka jacket bulky enough to cover a multitude of sins, and his gun – returned to him last night after another heated exchange with Frisk.
As he dressed, he opened his fridge, only to be met by a mouldy and festering collection of food items worthy of a Gordon Ramsay smack-down. Grabbing a black garbage bag, he dumped most of the contents. Breakfast would have to wait.
The buzzer went. Lock pressed the intercom button. ‘State your business.’
Lock cracked the door open and went into the bedroom. When he came back out, Ty was standing in the kitchen, rifling the cabinets. Ty was almost always hungry but no matter how much Lock watched him eat it didn’t appear to make a difference to his lanky six foot four basketball player’s frame.
‘You don’t even keep cereal in this dump?’ Ty asked him.
‘I’m never here.’
Ty turned, stopped and stared at Lock. ‘Wow, man. Just . . . wow.’
‘I look like shit?’
‘No, more like . . .’ Ty paused, ferreting out the word. ‘Roadkill.’
Lock scratched at his stubble. ‘Late night.’
‘Dude, I’ve seen guys who’ve spent ten years on the pipe that look better than you. Anyway, shouldn’t you be resting up?’
‘I should be.’
‘So why ain’t you?’
‘They found Josh Hulme’s au pair.’
‘Good. What she have to say for herself?’
‘Not too much. She’d been shot in the face and dumped in the East River.’
‘Harsh,’ said Ty, his expression unchanging. He studied Lock’s apparel. ‘That why you’re all duded up like Walker, Texas Ranger?’
‘You saying I look like Chuck Norris?’
‘Chuck on a bad day. Look, Ryan, you do remember me telling you that we’re not getting involved.’
‘We’renot. I am.’
‘Ryan, you’re an employee of Meditech, same as me.’
‘And while I’m convalescing, I thought I’d do some pro bono work.’
Lock grabbed a towel, walked into the bathroom and closed the door.
Ty shifted some stale underwear from a chair and sat down as Lock disappeared into the bathroom. He smiled to himself. It had to be said, this was classic Lock. The guy had never found a lost cause he didn’t like.
It was how Lock had been ever since they’d first hooked up in Iraq, Ty in the Marines and Lock, bizarrely, in the Close Protection Unit of the British Royal Military Police. Lock had become a source of instant fascination to Ty. Although he walked, talked, even chewed gum like an American, here he was working with the limeys, having flown to England to enlist straight out of college. The decision, Lock later explained, came courtesy of a Scottish émigré father who’d served in the same unit but had fallen in love and married a girl from California – in the days before the Beach Boys let the rest of the world in on the secret.
Post-Iraq, and both finally out of uniform, Ty had hooked Lock up with the Meditech gig. He wasn’t even fazed when he found out that he’d be working as Lock’s second-in-command. Putting aside his own ego, he knew that when it came to close protection work the RMP Close Protection Unit was as good as it got. No bravado. No special forces heroics. They simply got the job done with the minimum of fuss.
Lock emerged from the bathroom. Ty resolved to give it one more shot.
‘This isn’t a good idea, brother. Brand’s after your job.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know.’
Both Lock and Ty knew Brand had been looking to step into Lock’s shoes ever since his appointment.
‘And he’s been whispering in Stafford Van Straten’s ear. Saying how you were grandstanding when it all went down at headquarters,’ Ty said.
‘Maybe so, but Stafford’s been at his old man to dump you entirely. Listen, you’re on their payroll and they don’t want to get involved with this kidnapping.’
‘Richard Hulme worked for them long enough. They owe him this much.’
‘Not how they see it. Tell me to butt out if you want, but leave this alone.’
‘They send you?’
‘Hell, no. They don’t know anything about this.’
‘So what they don’t know can’t hurt ’em.’
Ty’s face split into a grin. If that was how Lock saw things, then hell, he might as well go along for the ride.Seventeen
Carrie looked straight down the barrel of camera two. ‘It’s every parent’s nightmare. A crime which grips the public like no other. Your son or daughter snatched, by a person or persons unknown. Who can possibly imagine the torment felt by a loving father’ – they cut from Carrie to a close-up of an uncomfortable-looking Richard Hulme as he straightened his tie for the umpteenth time – ‘for whom that nightmare is reality? In a few moments we talk to Dr Richard Hulme. His seven-year-old son Josh disappeared after leaving a Christmas Eve party on the city’s Upper East Side. A body believed to be that of Josh’s au pair, Russian-born Natalya Verovsky, was found yesterday. But, as of this hour, there is no sign of little Josh. Tonight his father speaks about his son’s disappearance, and the role his work as chief research scientist for controversial company Meditech may have played in his abduction. That’s coming up, right after these messages.’
The teaser finished, and they cut to commercial. Carrie turned to Richard who was sitting beside her, ashen-faced.
‘I never agreed to speak about Meditech.’
‘Then just don’t answer those questions,’ she replied, a hint of steel in her voice.
‘But then I’ll look like someone who has something to hide.’
‘Well, do you?’ she challenged.
Richard looked away.
Carrie leaned in closer to him. ‘I’m here to help you find your son. But I also plan on getting to the bottom of this story. With or without you.’
Back from the commercial break, Carrie set about laying out the timeline of Josh’s disappearance, aware that as she did so Richard was doing his best not to break down, his face caught in a slowly creeping zoom. ‘Every morning I wake up and it’s like being underwater,’ he said, his voice cracking. Carrie nodded sympathetically. After the next break she planned on making her move, changing up a gear and moving on to Meditech and the animal rights people. Lock had given her a couple of questions that he wanted out there, like why had Meditech cut Richard loose? They both knew that Richard wouldn’t have the answers but by putting them out in the public domain they could rely on the rest of the media to broaden the focus.
As Carrie segued to the next break, she could hear her producer, Gail Reindl, in her ear: ‘I need to talk to you before we come back live. I’m on my way down.’
Carrie made sure that a production assistant refilled Richard’s glass of water as she headed to the back of the studio to meet Gail.
Gail pulled Carrie into a corner. ‘Lose the Meditech questions.’
‘This is total BS,’ Carrie said, breaking away. ‘I know, don’t tell me: one of their publicity people has been on the phone hollering about pulling their ads from the network. Damn flacks.’
Gail ignored the comment. ‘Listen, the emotional stuff isdynamite. We won’t be losing anything by not asking him about it.’
‘Apart from the truth, you mean?’
Gail snorted derisively. ‘You’re coming off like some first-year journalism grad student at Columbia.’
Carrie bristled. ‘No, I’m going after the story. How can we not mention that he worked for a company outside whose headquarters several people were just killed? It’ll make us look like idiots.’
‘OK, ref it when you come back, but move straight on.’
‘You’ll think of something.’
And with that Gail was gone, in a swish of black cashmere and a trail of Chanel No. 5. Carrie had to speed-walk across the floor to make it back to her position in time.
The eyes of the nation back on her, Carrie didn’t miss a beat. ‘Richard, until a few weeks ago you used to work for the Meditech Corporation.’
‘Yes, yes I did.’
‘And how long did you work for them?’
‘In total, approximately six years.’
‘And what did your work involve?’
‘I was involved in a number of areas.’
‘Which involved testing on animals?’
Richard didn’t hesitate. ‘That’s correct. I believed that the benefits to mankind outweighed any suffering caused to the animals.’
‘But recently you left Meditech’s employ?’
‘A few weeks before Josh went missing, yes.’
She could hear Gail, out of breath from having run all the way back to the booth, in her earpiece: ‘OK, now back to the kid.’
‘What was the nature of the work you did for Meditech?’
‘That I can’t discuss in any detail. There are confidentiality issues.’
Gail again: ‘Back the hell off, Carrie.’
Carrie smiled evenly across at Richard, her next comments directed right back at Gail, and whatever asshole in a suit had decided to try to do her job for her. ‘I understand, and your loyalty is commendable, particularly in light of the fact that your previous employer won’t assist you in finding your son – isn’t that correct?’
Richard hesitated this time. ‘Yes . . . that’s correct.’
As they went to the next break, Gail was back by Carrie’s side. Carrie braced herself for the onslaught. Gail Reindl in attack mode was a sight to behold.
Instead she studied the studio floor and said, ‘Wrap it up with Hulme.’
‘But we still have ten minutes.’
‘I do realize that, but we have a call. I want you to take it live on air.’
Carrie’s heart quickened. ‘We have a lead already?’
‘We have every crank from Long Island to Long Beach jamming the switchboards, but this one’s a bit different. The CEO of Meditech wants to clarify a few points.’
Carrie did her best to suppress a smile. Not at the thought of more ratings dynamite, more at the last thing Lock had said to her when he called to set up the interview with Richard Hulme.
Let’s see if we can’t rattle a few cages.
From the very corner of her vision, Carrie could see Richard being led out by a production assistant. As the floor manager counted her back in with a silent folding of three fingers, she stared straight down the lens.
‘On the line now we have Nicholas Van Straten, majority shareholder and chief executive officer of Richard Hulme’s former employer Meditech. Mr Van Straten, thank you for getting in touch. Our viewers will certainly appreciate your perspective.’Eighteen
There was no need for masks. There were no cameras inside the apartment, and the only witness was the person they’d come to kill. The taller man knocked first, while the smaller of the two men stood off to one side of the door.
No one answered at first. The men traded worried glances, but said nothing. The taller man knocked again. Maybe the TV was up too loud. Or she’d gone out. They were just about to leave when the door cracked open and the side of the woman’s face pressed between door and frame. It was that kind of neighbourhood.
The taller man smiled. ‘Mrs Parker?’ he asked.
‘I told you people already, I don’t know where they’re hiding.’
‘It’s not about that, Mrs Parker.’
‘Did someone complain about my cats?’
‘I’m sorry to disturb you, ma’am, but may I come in?’
He could see her thinking about this, taking in that he was polite, well dressed and, most important of all, white. She closed the door so she could slide back the chain, then opened it again and let him in. He stepped inside.
‘Let me get that for you,’ he said, closing the door, but not all the way.
The smell was overwhelming. He didn’t know how anyone could live like this. A cat vibratoed a miaow and rubbed itself against his legs. He stepped over it and followed the woman into the living room. Sure enough, the TV was on, Cesar Milan lecturing an anorexic woman about how to talk to her Rhodesian Ridgeback. So much for people looking like their animals.
‘Now, let me tell you something about these people next door to me. They don’t like my cats, y’see.’
‘And they’re such lovely creatures,’ he said, moving so that if she was to stay facing him her back would be to the door.
‘You think so?’
‘Absolutely. My favourite domestic animal. By some way.’
‘Do you have one?’
She was side on to the door now. Almost in position.
‘No, afraid I live in a co-op with a no-pets rule.’
‘That’s a shame.’
The smaller man appeared in the doorway now, the woman oblivious to his presence. But the half-dozen cats dotted around the room weren’t. With some kind of feline sixth sense they began to yowl. First one, then another.
The smaller man moved fast, taking the last few steps in under a second, flicking off the plastic cap of the syringe as he did. As she turned, he plunged the tip of the syringe into her left buttock and pushed down on the barrel.
As she started to scream, the taller man wrapped his arms around her. The smaller man clamped his free hand over her mouth. A cat hissed and jumped on to the TV set where it stared, unblinking, as its owner slumped to the floor. Her mouth was open. So were her eyes. The expression on her face was one of complete bewilderment.
‘OK, let’s get her into the chair.’
Together, they hauled her into the solitary armchair, hands resting in her lap. The smaller man folded down her eyelids with thumb and index finger, then stepped back to admire his handiwork.
‘She looks too posed,’ said the taller man.
‘You’re right.’ The smaller man bent down and pulled at her right foot so that one leg was splayed at an angle. A final check. ‘Perfect,’ he said, bending down to retrieve the plastic cap of the syringe.
‘What about the cats?’
‘What about them?’
‘Well, won’t they starve?’
The smaller man took one final look at the dead old lady in the armchair.
‘They got a good three weeks’ supply right there.’Nineteen
Stafford Van Straten appeared to be on the edge of an aneurysm. He combed his mane of blond hair with one hand while his mouth opened and closed with all the articulacy of a goldfish. ‘You’re putting Lock in charge of this?’
His father pulled him to one side, out of earshot of his entourage. ‘I know you and he don’t get on, for whatever reason, but we can use him right now,’ he said, ignoring the fact that they both knew the reason Stafford and Lock didn’t see eye to eye. As reasons went it wasn’t one Nicholas Van Straten was likely to forget either. It was a reason that had cost him no end of sleepless nights, and a quarter of a million dollars.
‘But Richard Hulme’s not our problem.’
‘Listen to me. Whatever our problems with Richard Hulme, or whatever our lawyers are saying—’ Nicholas Van Straten stopped, lowering his voice to an urgent hiss. ‘A child is missing. What if it were you?’
Stafford smirked. ‘I’m hardly a child.’
‘Precisely, so stop behaving like one.’
Dismissing his son with a turn of his shoulder, Nicholas Van Straten waved Ty over. ‘Tyrone?’
‘Any luck getting hold of Ryan?’
‘He’s still off comms.’
‘In English please, Tyrone.’
‘His cell’s switched off.’
‘OK, as soon as you get hold of him, I want him in here for a briefing. In the meantime, can you start actioning our other procedures?’
Stafford strode into his office, picked up the putter leaning in the corner and swung it like a baseball bat, narrowly avoiding his desk. He was the heir apparent, the man who’d be running the company one day, and he wasn’t even asked for his opinion. The building’s super had more say in the running of the company than he did.
The door into the executive bathroom was ajar and he caught sight of his own reflection. He paused, pleased by his own image, by the bright blue eyes and thick blond hair, both inherited from his mother. Only his father’s weak chin let him down. With a solid chin it would have been a face for the front cover ofFortunemagazine. The face of a man born to greatness.
‘You look real pretty.’
Stafford spun round to see Brand framed in the doorway. He let the club fall into a more conventional position and mimed sinking a twelve-footer. ‘Don’t you know to knock first?’ he asked, feeling like he’d been caught with his pants down.
Brand put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Don’t let the old man get to you.’
‘This was our chance to get past all this animal rights crap. Why couldn’t he have given this to one of your guys? I mean, anyone butLock. I hate that guy.’ Stafford kicked out at the wall with the point of his English-made leather Oxford brogues.
‘You’re not the only one.’
‘So what do we do about him?’
‘Can’t you have a word with your old man? Maybe suggest to him that it’s time Lock pursues other opportunities outside the company.’
Stafford smiled. ‘And make you head of security?’
‘Hey, that’s not a bad idea.’
‘He won’t go for it. Not after what’s happened. He thinks the sun rises out of Lock’s asshole.’
‘There’s an image. You know what I think? Lock’s probably the one who set up this interview. The broad who’s doing it, Lock was seeing her for a while.’
‘Maybe I can use that.’
Brand clapped Stafford again on the shoulder. ‘Your chance’ll come, Stafford. You and me, we’re the ones to watch. Your old man and Lock, they’ll be history soon.’Twenty
A ‘For Lease’ sign hung like a white flag outside the Korean deli. Further down, the Meditech building looked the same as it had before the shooting, albeit with one or two muscular additions in the form of half a dozen Metalith™ anti-ram barriers. The glass frontage had been made over too, the tint of the windows, even in this light, hinting at blast-proof capabilities.
They threw back Lock’s reflection at him as he stood outside, studying the face of an ever-changing stranger. What had once been a shadow was now the approach of a full beard. His eyes had large dark half-moons underneath them. His pupils were wide but the whites bloodshot. He was reminded of someone else. It took him a moment to think of who. That was it. He looked like Richard Hulme. He took off his ball cap, reached up and rubbed at the stitches in his scalp. Maybe they’d all end up looking like Richard Hulme before Josh was found.
He took three steps into the foyer.
‘Excuse me, sir, who are you here to see?’
It was one of Brand’s team. A baby-faced former Marine who went by the name of Hizzard.
Lock glanced at the bulge under the guard’s overcoat. ‘Hizzard, it might be freezing out there, but it’s eighty degrees in here. You look like a moron.’
Hizzard reluctantly took off his coat to reveal a Mini Uzi with what Lock guessed from first glance was a fifty-round mag.
‘Jesus, second thoughts, put your coat back on before someone sees that thing. What the hell is this?Get Rich or Die Tryin’?’
Hizzard looked sheepish.
‘Listen up, Fiddy,’ Lock said, ‘you pick a weapon based on its suitability for the job. No other reason.’
Footsteps echoed on the marble floors behind them. Lock looked over, pleased to see Ty loping towards him across the lobby.
‘They want you up on twenty-five. We can talk on the way up.’
‘Damn straight,’ said Lock, glancing from Hizzard to Ty.
Ty directed a ‘kids these days’ shrug at Lock as they headed for the first bank of elevators that would take them as far as the twentieth floor. They got in and Ty pressed the button. The doors slid shut. A camera concealed in the front right corner of the elevator was on them. Lock turned so his back was to it and counted to ten.
‘What’s with all the hardware, Tyrone?’
‘I told you, man, with you out we got the mother of all pissing contests here. Brand’s marking his territory.’
The doors opened on twenty. Waiting for them were two more members of Brand’s CA team. This time they were minus overcoats but both with the same model of machine pistol the boys downstairs were sporting.
Lock and Ty shared a look. The lunatics had clearly taken over the asylum.Twenty-one
Walking into the boardroom on the twenty-fifth floor, Lock felt about as much at ease as a crack-head crashing the Rainbow Room. Not that anyone said anything – far from it. No one commented on his appearance. Or asked how he was. Or enquired as to how he was getting on as ‘official’ Meditech point man in the search for Josh Hulme. Instead, they all studied whatever pieces of paper they had in front of them and waited for their boss, Nicholas Van Straten, to start.
Nicholas Van Straten sat at the head of the table. Stafford was directly to his father’s right, Brand to his left. Not a good sign. Ty took a seat next to Lock, a few seats down. Scattered around the other chairs were five or six other employees. Some of them Lock could put a name to, some he couldn’t. It was a big company.
Stafford looked Lock up and down. ‘I didn’t realize it was dress-down Friday.’
The woman from the media relations department tittered like a schoolgirl.
Lock stared at Stafford. ‘My tux was at the cleaners.’
Nicholas Van Straten closed a thin manila folder with an expensively manicured hand and looked down the table, meeting Lock’s gaze for a second. ‘Thanks for being here, Ryan. I certainly appreciate it. How are you feeling?’
Lock directed his answer to Brand. ‘Ready for duty.’
Lock took a breath, and did his best to centre himself. ‘I apologize for my appearance. It’s been a hectic day or two.’
Lock could see Ty studying the table, trying hard not to laugh.
‘Quite,’ said Nicholas. ‘Now, shall we discuss where we go from here?’
The woman from public relations, who it transpired was the Missy of ‘outside press conference’ legend, launched into an enthusiastic pitch as to how best to handle the Josh Hulme kidnapping situation from a public relations perspective. Like the true professional she was, she started out with a little light ass-kissing. ‘Well, Mr Van Straten, with your brilliant intervention we’ve made a great start at wresting back control of this very delicate situation. Clearly our initial lack of involvement did some damage, but that shouldn’t last too long now that we’re being seen to help.’
The ‘being seen to’ jarred with Lock but he remained silent. The terrain had clearly changed a lot in a very short space of time and he needed to get an overview of it before he said anything.
As Missy continued, using words of three syllables or more when two would have been sufficient, Lock studied Brand. A square head on an equally square torso, he was sitting ramrod straight, staring directly at the woman speaking. His hands were folded on the conference table, his fingers interlocked. He gave the appearance of someone listening intently when, in fact, Lock knew from his experiences with him that he had prettymuch no idea what was being said. Still, he looked impressive. Calm and in control.
‘So, in summary,’ Missy was saying, ‘I think this is, in fact, an excellent opportunity to not only build brand awareness but reposition our company as one which truly cares about the wider community.’
Holy shit. Only in corporate America could a child abduction which had already yielded one dead body be seen as a way to make a business appear warm and cuddly.
‘I’ve an idea,’ Lock said.
All eyes swivelled round to him.
‘Maybe if we get the kid back in one piece we could do a tie-in with one of our drugs. You know, like Ritalin, or something.’
No one laughed. Or looked pissed. Missy jotted something down. ‘Or perhaps set up some kind of foundation?’
‘I think you’ll find Mr Lock was being facetious,’ Nicholas Van Straten said, drily.
‘Oh,’ she said, looking at Lock like he’d just taken a leak in the corner of the room.
‘If I may?’ Stafford interjected.
‘If you must,’ said his father.
Stafford pressed the palms of his hands together in apparent supplication and paused for a moment. ‘I don’t think we have a problem here. This is a public relations snafu, nothing that’ll affect us. And certainly nothing that’ll worry our shareholders. The animal rights protestors, nowthatwas a problem for us. But seeing as they’re out of the equation we can get back to concentrating on our bottom line.’ Stafford stood up. ‘Now, this is what I propose . . .’
Lock shifted uncomfortably, his recurring headache beginning to gnaw away again at the front of his skull. As he watched Stafforddrone on, his mind drifted back three months, to the first time he’d run into the man.
Lock had been supervising a sweep of the upper floors of the building, taking the newly recruited Hizzard through proper civilian search procedure of a location while the place was quiet. Even those employees desperate to avoid returning to an empty apartment, or clocking up unpaid extra hours to impress their line manager, had long gone.
Lock had left Hizzard to check one half of the floor while he did the other. Lock had one office to try. Stafford’s office. A floor down from his father’s, Stafford’s was close enough that he could feel important, but not close enough that his father had to see him all that much. The door was slightly ajar, and as Lock pushed it open he saw a woman bent double over the desk. In Stafford’s right hand was a hank of her hair; his left hand was working its way up between her thighs. The woman was doing her best to fight him off, clawing at Stafford’s face with a free hand.
‘Shut the hell up, bitch,’ Stafford growled, sharply yanking her head back.
‘You’re hurting me,’ she pleaded.
Stafford’s face moved closer to hers. ‘Bet you like it rough, don’t you?’ he whispered.
Lock had seen enough. He stepped through the door.
‘This office doesn’t need cleaning, go somewhere else,’ barked Stafford, not bothering to look behind him.
When no answer came, Stafford let go of the woman’s hair and reached down to unzip his trousers.
Covering the distance between them with six large strides, Lock stopped as Stafford glanced round. The look on Stafford’s face wasn’t shame, or guilt, or anything approximating either of those. He just looked irritated that someone would have the audacity todisobey him. Never before had Lock felt such a strong urge to wipe a look from someone’s face.
He did it with a single strike to Stafford’s face, the ridge of his elbow meeting his nose with a soft crunch. If there was one thing guaranteed to make a rapist lose wood it was a severe jolt of pain. It usually worked a hell of a lot faster than a cold shower.
The woman disentangled herself and turned round. She was breathing heavily from the struggle. She put both hands up to her face and rubbed at it, as if wishing away a nightmare. She looked to Lock to be in her early twenties, either an intern or fresh out of college.
‘Are you OK?’ Lock asked.
She nodded, struggling to pull back up her torn pantyhose. Hizzard, the new recruit, blustered into the room and froze as he took in the scene.
‘There’s a bathroom just down the hall,’ Lock said to the woman. ‘Hizzard here will take you.’
‘Don’t worry, you’re safe now,’ Lock said.
‘OK.’ Her voice wavered slightly. Pulling down her skirt, she walked out, head down, avoiding eye contact with Stafford. Hizzard padded after her, careful to keep his distance.
Lock reached past Stafford for the phone. He was pleased to see a flicker of panic in Stafford’s eyes.
‘Hey, wait a minute.’
Lock pressed nine to get an outside line. He could see that Stafford was desperate to make a lunge for the handset, but too much of a coward to go for it. He cradled the phone between his shoulder and chin. ‘What you gonna tell me? Rough was how she liked it? She’d been coming on to you for weeks now? Why else would she have stayed late on a Friday night withjust you and her left in the building?’ He pressed down on another nine.
‘Lock? That’s your name, right?’ Stafford said, his voice suddenly falsetto with panic.
Lock hit a one. Only one digit to go.
‘Look, man, I’m not going to make any bullshit excuses. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve got a problem.’
‘You do now,’ Lock said, pressing down on the final one. ‘Police department, please.’
A second passed as he was put through, Lock perched casually on the edge of the desk, enjoying Stafford’s obvious discomfort. In his gut he knew one thing for sure: this might have been the first time Stafford had been interrupted, but it sure as hell wasn’t the first time it had happened.
‘The hell with you, man,’ Stafford blurted. ‘What you saw adds up to nothing in court. It won’t even go to trial. It’s her word against mine.’
Lock replaced the handset. What Stafford had read as a scare tactic on Lock’s part was far from it. Lock had put down the phone not because he’d scared Stafford enough but because Stafford was right. A call to the police would change nothing.
He removed his Sig and levelled it at Stafford’s bloodied face. The movement was relaxed to the point of casual. ‘You like guns?’
Stafford’s face was white with shock now. ‘I was in the ROTC at college,’ he stammered.
‘Remember the first thing your firearms instructor told you? The cardinal rule?’
Stafford swallowed. ‘Never point a gun at someone unless you intend to shoot them.’
‘Very good. Ten out of ten. Now, outside.’ Lock waved Stafford over to the door.
There are lots of ways a man might think he’ll react when a gun is pointed at him. In combat, Lock had known blowhards lose control of their bladders, and cowards find a relative calm in which they could fight back. But the first surge of emotion is the same for everyone. Fear.
Stafford walked meekly to the door. In the corridor, Lock holstered his gun but made sure that Stafford was ahead of him and didn’t look back. Behind them, Hizzard stood sentry outside the ladies’ washroom.
Lock guided Stafford to the elevator. Confirmation that they were being watched came in the form of a voice from the control room in Lock’s ear.
‘We’re fine. Just taking a little night air,’ Lock replied.
They got out on the top floor. From here they could access the roof. Lock punched in a key code and pushed Stafford through the door with a shove.
Outside it was dark. High forties at best. A sensor light snapped on, throwing both men’s shadows to the very edge of the roof.
The walk appeared to have given Stafford the opportunity to compose himself a little. ‘So what now? You gonna shoot me?’ he asked.
‘No,’ replied Lock, ‘you’re going to jump.’
‘What? Are you crazy? You walking me up here is all on disk.’
‘You mean the hard drives that are gonna be accidentally wiped on my command about the same time as you’re hitting the sidewalk?’
‘What about the girl?’
‘You think she’s going to say anything after what you did?’
‘There’s no way you could explain this away.’
‘I was ten years in the Royal Military Police. You seriously think I couldn’t cover my bases?’
Keeping his gun trained on Stafford, Lock paced across to the edge of the roof. ‘I catch you trying to rape a junior member of your staff. I pull you off her. All that’ll be corroborated, right?’
Stafford didn’t answer.
‘There’s no cameras up here, no one to know you’ve admitted to anything,’ Lock continued, moving his gun up a fraction so it was pointing directly at Stafford’s face.
Stafford put his hands up. ‘OK, so I accept that she’d support that version of events. What difference does that make?’
‘Well, I have a duty to report you. You beg me to reconsider. You have an offer for me. We take it up on the roof, where no one can overhear us. All that’s on tape is two guys taking a walk up here. We get up here, under the stars, nice and cosy, you make your offer. But I won’t accept it. In fact I’m going to mention it when the case comes to court. My saying you offered to bribe me makes her story a whole lot more convincing, wouldn’t you say?’
Lock had circled round, so he was facing Stafford and Stafford had his back to the edge. As Lock had been talking he’d advanced on him. Just enough to crowd his personal space. Stafford had instinctively inched back, unaware that he was even doing it. He was maybe six feet from the void now.
‘You’re distraught. Sobbing. Not making any sense. Because you know what happens to rapists in prison. Especially handsome young ones like yourself. You’ll be catching instead of pitching. Plus the shame to your family. So’ – Lock wrapped his finger round the trigger of his Sig – ‘you jump.’
‘No one’ll believe that,’ Stafford said, taking a step back.
‘Oh, some people won’t. It’s a hell of a story, isn’t it? But in a court of law it’ll boil down to my word against yours. And you won’t be doing any talking.’
Stafford glanced over his shoulder. Startled by how close he was to the edge, he took a step forward, but Lock waggled the gun. ‘Wrong direction.’
‘I won’t do it. I’m not going to jump.’
‘Then I’ll throw you. It won’t be the first time I’ve done it.’
Lock holstered the Sig and punched Stafford hard in the solar plexus. As he went down, winded, Lock kicked him in the groin, then in the face. ‘No one’s going to notice a little extra trauma on the body of a jumper,’ he remarked, grabbing the back of Stafford’s jacket and shirt and hauling him to the edge.
‘Help me! Someone!’ Stafford screamed.
‘We’re on our own, Stafford. Not even Daddy can rescue you now.’
There was a concrete lip at the very edge of the roof. Lock pulled Stafford up on to it.
‘Please. Please, don’t do this!’ Stafford begged.
‘Why shouldn’t I? Give me one good reason.’
‘I don’t have one.’
‘You don’t want to die, do you?’
Stafford shook his head, tears streaming down his face. ‘No, I don’t.’
Lock stood back, the gun still on him. ‘OK, so here’s what you’re gonna do.’
Lock briefly outlined Stafford’s obligations and what would happen to him if they weren’t fulfilled. Then he retreated back inside the stairwell, leaving Stafford alone on the roof for the night to think about what he’d done.
A few days later the intern had contacted Lock to thank him. A day after the attack a certified cheque in the amount of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars had arrived in the mail at her apartment. Along with a legal agreement that she would take no further action.
Lock knew that it was a cheap way out for Stafford and he felt bad about that. But he also knew what the conviction rate was in sexual assault cases.
Once again, justice hadn’t come into it.Twenty-two
‘I want Ty to work the recovery with me.’ Lock phrased it as a statement rather than a question. It was quicker that way, and they’d already wasted thirty minutes on bullshit that had zero to do with the safe recovery of Josh Hulme and everything to do with Meditech’s share price and Stafford’s ego.
‘Agreed,’ said Nicholas. ‘What else do you need?’
‘We’ll need someone to liaise with the JTTF.’
‘Wouldn’t you be the best person to do that?’ Nicholas asked.
‘I’m gonna have my hands full. Plus, my being involved hasn’t been a popular move with them.’
‘OK, what else?’
‘We’ll need a team of people to sort through all our previous threat assessments. Particularly those relating to Richard Hulme.’
‘Already done,’ Stafford piped up. ‘And I’ve had a briefing go out to all employees warning them to be vigilant and report anything suspicious to local authorities and our security personnel.’
Maybe Stafford’s midnight sojourn on the roof with him had finally knocked some sense into him, Lock thought.
‘So who’s to hold the fort here while you’re out playing detective?’ asked Brand.
‘By the looks of it, I thought you’d already stepped into the breach,’ Lock fired back.
‘Well, someone had to.’
Nicholas Van Straten rifled his papers, signalling the end of the meeting. ‘That’s everything settled, then.’
Ty and Lock rode back down together in the elevator.
‘You sure about leaving this place to Brand?’ Ty asked.
‘Me either. You know, I don’t have the kind of investigation experience you do.’
‘So maybe I’m not the best man to be helping you out.’
‘You fit all three of my main criteria,’ Lock said.
‘Oh yeah, and what are those?’
‘I need someone I can trust. And investigating comes down to one thing those chumps back up there don’t possess. Common sense.’
‘That’s only two. What’s the third?’
‘If there are any more closed doors, I need someone in front of me.’
‘Now, that I can buy. I’m still getting a feeling there’s something else.’
Lock sighed. ‘OK, the political activists we’re going to be dealing with aren’t your right-wing Bill O’Reilly crowd, right?’
‘Meaning it’ll be a hell of a lot more difficult for them to tell a black man to go take a jump.’
‘Got it in one. We need to locate the enemy’s weak spots. If that so happens to be a liberal conscience, that’s what we use.’
‘So you’d use the colour of my skin to game someone?’
Ty thought about that for a second. ‘OK, I can be down with that.’
The elevator’s floor counter ticked down to single digits.
‘So, what do you think our chances are?’ Ty asked.
Lock thought about it. The doors opened into the lobby.
‘Well, we got no ransom demand, no sightings since the kidnap, and the one person who does know what happened was just confirmed dead. Apart from that, I’d say we’re in excellent shape.’Twenty-three
‘We’ll take my car.’
Ty gave Lock a look.
‘You got something to say about my car, you’d better say it.’
‘OK, but if we take your car,’ Ty said, pulling out a black i-Pod, ‘we gotta dock my tracks.’
It was Lock’s turn to eye-roll Ty. ‘Maybe I should have picked Brand as my ride-along after all.’
Ty faked outrage. ‘That cracker listens to country. I got stuck in the CAT vehicle with him once. Made me listen to a tune called “How Can I Tell You I Love You With a Shotgun in My Mouth?” And they say rap lyrics are messed up? Damn.’
‘Point taken. My ride, your music.’
‘Calling your vehicle a “ride” is stretching it.’
‘So’s calling the shit you listen to music.’
Forty minutes later they pulled up at the gates of the cemetery, still debating the pros and cons of Lock’s car and Ty’s taste in music.
Ty scanned the other arrivals. ‘Don’t these folks look in the mirror before they leave home?’
At the top of the hill aWho’s Whoof the animal rights crowd were gathering to watch Gray and Mary Stokes being laid to rest, alongside their long-deceased pets, dogs, cats, rabbits, and even a donkey.
‘Not an animal lover?’
‘Had a pit bull once. Loved that dog, man.’
‘What happened to it?’
‘Tried to eat my little cousin Chantelle. Had to shoot the asshole. I mean, she was pulling its ears and shit, so it wasn’t entirely unwarranted biting her, but family’s family.’
‘Ty, I get a lump in my throat listening to stories about your upbringing. It’s like the Waltons on crack.’
Ty smiled. ‘Screw you, white boy.’
‘Listen, you stay here with the car.’
‘Aw, man. Do I have to?’
‘What’s the problem now?’
Ty regarded the interior of Lock’s Toyota with a look of repulsion. ‘Someone might think this piece of shit’s mine.’
A familiar face greeted Lock as he started up the hill. The sergeant voted ‘most likely to be high on cholesterol but low on patience’ lifted a fillet o’ fish with extra cheese in greeting. Who the hell puts cheese on a fillet o’ fish? Lock wondered.
‘If it ain’t Jack Bauer,’ said Caffrey, swiping at a smear of mayonnaise, which slicked under one of his chins.
Lock was as pleased to see some variation in Caffrey’s diet as he was to hear that the cardiac time bomb’s sarcastic repartee extended to both sides.
‘How’s that sandwich?’
‘Food from the gods,’ Caffrey mumbled, mid mouthful.
‘You really get around, don’t you?’
‘JTTF seconded me,’ spat Caffrey.
‘That a new tactic? Al-Qaeda attack, we Spurlock them till their livers burst.’
‘Spurlock?’ Caffrey asked, missing the reference.
‘Guy who made the movie about eating nothing but burgers for a month.’
‘Well, it’s been nice chatting.’
Lock started past, but Caffrey blocked him. ‘Don’t go upsetting any of these folks, Lock. I’ll be lucky to finish the last set of paperwork you generated by the time I retire.’
‘I’m just here to pay my respects.’
Caffrey stepped out of his way, and took a sloppy bite of mystery fish. To a man who’d missed breakfast, it looked pretty damn good.
Lock carried on up the slope towards a spot where he could see a couple of blacked-out SUVs. As subtle as a brick, the decals on the numberplate might as well have read ‘FBI Surveillance’. Then again, maybe that was the point: the FBI letting the stragglers of the animal rights campaign know they were being watched.
As he passed the FBI vehicle, Lock narrowly resisted a juvenile temptation to tap on the windows. He stopped fifty yards back from the funeral party as it gathered around the plot. Two graves. Side by side.
As Lock got closer he realized that he shouldn’t have worried about his attire. He was about the best-dressed person there. The mourners were a rag-tag mixture of decaying hippies and twenty-something New Agers. One kid in his early twenties had turned up in blue jeans and a brown faux-leather jacket, presumablyhand-crafted from tofu. Lock would have forgiven him black, butbrown?
A few of the mourners turned their heads at Lock’s approach but no one said anything. At the centre of the group he glimpsed Janice sitting in her wheelchair, staring into the void as the two coffins were simultaneously lowered into the earth.
A man in his sixties with an ashen pallor and long greasy hair stood, hands clasped and head bowed, and said a few words. As Lock stepped closer, he caught the last of it.
‘Gray Stokes goes to his grave a hero. A martyr for the cause of animal rights. He was a man who saw genocide where others chose to look away. A man who chose to confront those who ran the death camps. A man who chose to speak up for those who have no voice. But his death will not be in vain. The movement to liberate animals from suffering and torture will go on. And his spirit will travel with us on our journey.’
Martyrdom, sacrifice, struggle. Lock wondered where he’d heard all those words before. Maybe John Lewis, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, had it right when he’d warned a Senate committee a few years back that animal rights extremists were becoming a real threat. But then al-Qaeda had leapt straight to the top of the terror charts with a boxcutter rather than a bullet, and most everyone had forgotten that terrorism wasn’t restricted to guys with a penchant for virgins in the hereafter.
People on the fringes of the group began to drift away back down the slope once the man had finished his eulogy. Lock approached Janice, a couple of the remaining mourners shooting him a dirty look as they passed him. The younger man in the brown jacket was speaking now, head tilted in defiance. ‘They’re gonna pay for this. You’ll see. They’ll be filling whole graveyards by the time we’re through.’ His dire predictions were aimed ateveryone and no one. Janice shushed him as Lock came closer.
Lock reached out and touched her shoulder. ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ The words seemed inadequate. He braced himself for another outburst from the uber-casual hothead, maybe even a punch, but the young man drifted off as well.
Janice kept her eyes on the two coffins. ‘Why did you come here?’
‘To pay my respects.’ Lock flicked his head in the direction of the hothead. ‘Who’s he?’
Janice’s eyes flicked from Lock to the two hulking JTTF SUVs. ‘Why don’t you ask your friends?’
‘Don’t you think things have gotten too serious for us to be playing any more games?’
‘Why are you really here?’
‘Answer my question and I’ll tell you.’
‘That’s Don,’ Janice said. ‘He wasn’t really part of our group. He didn’t agree with our way of protesting.’
‘More of a direct action kind of a guy?’
‘He’s been involved in some liberations.’
‘Liberations’ was the term used by the activists to describe their forcible entry into labs that used animals, in order to free those animals. Occasionally they’d hit farms as well, usually ones with vast sheds of battery chickens.
‘So what’s he doing here?’
‘Same as you.’
‘This guy bothering you?’ said someone, tapping Lock’s shoulder for emphasis.
Lock half turned to see the guy in the brown tofu jacket. He was tall, but he struggled to be imposing. Lock ignored him.
He tapped again. Harder this time. ‘Why don’t you leave her alone?’
‘Don, it’s OK. This is Ryan Lock – you know, the guy who saved me.’
Don looked awkward and studied the ground. ‘Guess I owe you a thank you.’
As apologies went it settled somewhere on the wrong side of grudging.
‘Sure you would have done the same,’ Lock said.
‘Yeah, I would have.’
‘So, what do you know about Josh Hulme?’
Don blinked at Lock’s sudden shift of direction. ‘I know what his father does. You live by the sword, you—’
Lock moved in quickly on Don, making sure he had eye contact and didn’t break it. ‘We’re talking about a young boy here. I’d appreciate it if you gave my question some proper consideration.’
Janice edged her chair up between the two men. ‘There’s no need for this. Especially not here. And not today.’
‘Under normal circumstances, I’d agree. But as long as Josh Hulme’s missing, I’d argue that normal rules no longer apply. Especially as I think you, and your buddies, might know where he is.’ Lock grabbed Don’s wrist and twisted, just enough to make it interesting. ‘Now, Don, maybe we could start with your full name.’
No one moved from either of the two blacked-out SUVs, although Lock would have bet the farm that they had shotgun mikes catching every word of the exchange. Their decision not to intervene didn’t surprise him, even though he’d just committed assault. Government agencies were big on outsourcing these days and Lock would do as well as any Syrian jailer with a cattle prod and some time on his hands. Plus he wasn’t quite as restricted by the niceties.
‘Why the hell should I tell you anything? You’re not a cop.’
‘That’s right, Don, I’m not. Which means I’m not bound by proper procedure.’
Don glared at Lock, his eyes full of hatred.
‘Stop it!’ shouted Janice. ‘We’ve just buried our parents!’
Lock dropped Don’s wrist. ‘What do you mean “we”?’
‘Don’s my kid brother.’Twenty-four
Lock wondered how much of an extremist you had to be to fill the role of the Stokes family black sheep. It did kind of explain some of the young man’s over-righteous anger, though. He almost regretted adding injury to insult by hurting Don’s wrist. Then he thought of Josh Hulme, and his momentary feeling of sympathy ebbed away, as quickly as it had appeared.
Don worried at his wrist. ‘Man, I could use a drink.’
The way he said it, Lock assumed he wasn’t talking about a lactose-free protein shake. Lock had always assumed the animal rights crowd weren’t much for liquor. Lentil casseroles, for definite. Cheap whisky, not so much.
‘There’s a place about five blocks from here. I can give you a ride,’ he offered.
Don seemed unsure.
‘He’s OK,’ said Janice.
Don still said nothing. Lock didn’t want to push it, but this was a great opportunity. Get a few drinks in him and who knew what Don Stokes would cough up?
‘Listen, I shouldn’t have laid my hands on you back there, man. I’m sorry.’
Don almost managed a smile. ‘Forget it, you saved my sister’s life.’
‘We good?’ asked Lock, offering a hand.
Don shook with his left. ‘I’m usually right-handed, but some asshole almost broke it.’
In the language of men, that was a yes. The tension between them lifted.
Lock helped Janice back down the slope. It had never occurred to him before, but if getting a wheelchair up a slope was an effort, getting it back down was an adventure. At the bottom, he could see Ty fully engaged in the seemingly impossible task of trying to make it look like he had nothing to do with Lock’s Toyota while standing right next to it.
Lock made the introductions. Once those were out of the way, Lock, Ty and Don helped Janice into the car and then spent the next ten minutes collapsing the wheelchair and trying to load it into the trunk.
‘Shoulda brought one of the Yukons,’ Ty observed helpfully as they set off, the FBI surveillance vehicle slotting in behind them.
Lock drove, Janice next to him in the passenger seat, giving Ty and Don a chance to buddy up in the back.
‘You must really like animals, huh?’ said Ty.
‘Guess I do.’
‘I had a dog once,’ Ty continued, earning aplease don’t go thereglance from Lock in the rear-view. ‘Man, I loved that dog.’
‘That the one who died at a ripe old age?’ Lock asked, pressing down on the gas, eager to get to the bar.
‘Nah, I’m thinking of a different one. Y’know, the pit bull. I’m sure I told you this story, right?’
‘Which is why I don’t need to hear it again.’
Lock glanced in the mirror. The JTTF SUV was still behind them, keeping the regulation half-block distance.
Ty smiled at Don. ‘Lock gets real emotional when I tell it. It was kind of an Old Shep type of situation.’
‘Well, here we are,’ interrupted Lock, turning so hard into the bar’s parking lot that Ty and Don were thrown around on the back seat.
Having helped Don wrestle the wheelchair from the truck, Lock left him to reassemble it. Then he pulled Ty out of earshot. ‘What are you doing, Tyrone? These people love animals more than they do people and you’re gonna tell him about shooting your dog?’
Ty glanced over at Don. ‘Hey, if they think I’m cold enough to shoot my own dog, maybe it’ll get them thinking about what might happen to them if they don’t cough up that kid.’Twenty-five
Josh woke to the sound of boots in the corridor outside. He tensed as they stopped outside the door. Backing up, he found the wall. The camera whirred, its Cyclops eye tracking his movement. His breathing quickened. He glanced across to the album which lay like an accusation on the dresser.
The door began to open. Josh closed his eyes. When he opened them again, Natalya was standing in the doorway.
But how? Natalya was dead. Josh was sure she was. OK, he’d closed his eyes after the man had raised the gun. But he’d heard the shot. Followed by the splash. There had been blood at the far end of the boat.
Natalya smiled at him. ‘It’s OK, Josh. You can go home now.’
Josh stayed where he was. ‘How can I believe you after what you did?’
‘Don’t you want to go home, Josh?’
‘Then come with me.’
Natalya held out her hand. Josh took a step towards her, stretched out his. Almost there. A matter of inches between fingertips.
Then a loud bang as the door closed on both of them, and Natalya evaporated from view.
Josh sat bolt upright. His back was sore. The flap in the door was open. A tray was pushed through it. Breakfast.
He sank back down on to the bed, listening to the sound of the boots, this time retreating. He got to his feet and rushed the door, pounding against it with his fists. ‘Let me go! Let me out of here!’ The boots faded to silence.
He looked down at the tray. Dry cereal. Toast. OJ. He was ravenous. He ate the cereal with his hands, stuffing it into his mouth, oblivious to the camera. His mouth began to dry and he gulped down the juice. It tasted like the stuff that you made up yourself at home. Gritty. Horrible.
Then he spotted the piece of paper, folded under the plastic cereal bowl. He pulled it out and unfolded it, bracing himself for something horrible like the images in the album. But it was only a note. He sipped at the orange juice as he read it.
Keep doing as you’re told and you can go back to your family soon.
Josh read it slowly, making sure he understood every word.
Lone Wolf. He was sure he’d heard that name before. Maybe it was something to do with the phone calls they’d had at home. He would pick up the phone and no one would speak. He was sure it was something to do with his father’s work for the company. Josh’d been so happy when his father had told him that he was leaving. And then this happened.
He looked again at the note, took another sip of juice. It said nothing about what would happen if the demands were not met. If it was aimed at reassuring him, it was having the oppositeeffect. First chance he had, he planned on getting out of this place.
He sat back down on the bed. His body felt heavy, especially his legs. The horror of Natalya’s visit was receding. He felt safe again somehow.
Sinking back down on to the bed, he closed his eyes. Within a few seconds he was asleep again.Twenty-six
Lock, Janice and Don grabbed a table near the rear of the bar next to an old Wurlitzer jukebox. Ty stayed outside, chasing up a Yukon to take Janice and Don home. It would take twenty minutes to get there, which gave Lock just about enough time.
The bar smelled of stale beer and old men’s farts – an unfortunate side-effect of the state’s smoking ban. Lunchtime trade was sparse, but the barflies seemed to compensate for their lack of numbers by drinking industrial quantities of beer and whisky chasers.
Predictably, Lock took the chair facing the door and studied Don as he got their drinks at the bar. If he was directly involved in Josh’s disappearance he was doing a very good job of covering it. Even the more disengaged criminals Lock had encountered in his previous professional incarnation had given away something, some tiny ‘tell’, as poker players liked to call it. Nor had he gone out of his way to convince Lock of his innocence – something else the guilty were fond of doing when faced with an authority figure bearing down on them with awkward questions.
When everyone was properly settled, Lock raised his glass – Coke in his case. ‘What should we drink to?’
In the present company, a thornier topic was hard to imagine.
‘How about survival?’ offered Janice.
‘And those who didn’t make it,’ Don added.
Lock didn’t have a problem with reflecting on either of those. They clinked glasses, earning a few watery-eyed glances from the men at the bar. Lock found himself studying Janice’s face as she sank her bourbon in one and stared into the bottom of the glass as if some secret might be engraved there. He wondered how much her current composure was a result of having had to face her own death.
‘What about those we can still save?’ Lock asked, directing the question to Don.
‘What I said back there, about the kid.’
‘Emotions are running high on both sides right now.’
‘There’s no way anyone involved with us would do something like this.’
‘So who would?’
‘How would we know?’
‘So who’s Lone Wolf?’
Janice and Don shared a blank look. But not before both of them had glanced down at the table for a split second. It was the first false note Lock had detected.
‘Gimme a break.’ Lock had dropped his voice so it was barely discernible. ‘Who’s Lone Wolf?’
He uncrumpled the copy of the email he’d printed from Richard Hulme’s computer and spread it out flat on the table.
Another glance between the siblings.
‘We don’t know who you’re talking about,’ Don said.
Lock slammed his glass down on to the table with enough force to get the whole bar’s attention. ‘Stop lying to me or, so help me God, I really will do you some damage this time.’
Don drained his glass of beer. ‘It’s not any one person. I mean, it’s like Spartacus or something. People in the movement adopt the name.’
‘When they want to make a death threat?’ Lock asked.
‘When they want to make a stand,’ Don said.
‘Oh for God’s sake, Don, stop this,’ Janice said. She turned her face so she was looking directly at Lock. ‘Lone Wolf is a man called Cody Parker. He was the one who had the idea of digging up that old lady and dumping her in Times Square.’
‘And he took Josh Hulme?’
Don was on his feet. ‘There’s no way, man, no way Cody would do something like this.’
Lock stared at him. ‘And how would you know?’
Don looked away, answering Lock’s question for him.
Lock flipped back to Janice. ‘What do you think?’
‘Don’s right. He wouldn’t have done something like this.’
‘OK, then let’s go ask him.’
Don threw his head back and laughed. ‘And how are you going to do that? The government’s been looking for him for years and they’ve never even got close.’
Lock thought it over for a moment before speaking again. ‘Have you got a quarter?’ he asked.
‘For the jukebox.’
Don looked at Lock like he was nuts, but dug out a handful of quarters and handed them over.
‘Ladies’ choice. Any preferences?’ he asked Janice.
She shrugged, as confused as her brother.
Lock took the coins and pumped them into the Wurlitzer. He selected something by a band with the word ‘death’ in its name. Then he crossed back to the bar and slapped a hundred dollars down on the counter. ‘Drinks are on me, but I need you to max the volume.’
Lock sat back down next to Don and Janice as the first few bars of distorted guitar and pounding drums drowned out everything else. He leaned in closer so that his face was inches from theirs. ‘All that concerns me right now is the safe return of Josh Hulme to his family. Just so you’re both clear on my personal position, I don’t really give a shit about furry little bunnies having shampoo poured into their eyes, and presently I don’t give much of a shit about Meditech either. So I’m going to give you both a choice. It’s entirely non-negotiable, and you have until this song ends to make your decision. With what you’ve already told me I can hand this to the FBI and you’ll both face conspiracy charges. Janice, you’ll die in a correctional facility, probably before you reach trial. Don, with the way child abduction’s viewed by the courts, not to mention guards and inmates, so might you. In fact, I’ll take the stand to maximize the chances of that happening. That’s option one.’
The song was building, the lead guitarist working his way down the fretboard to find notes discernible only to dolphins. At the bar, a shoving match had broken out between two guys over who was to be served next. A glass smashed on the floor.
‘What’s our other option?’ Janice asked.
‘You take me to Cody Parker.’
Don rocked back in his chair. ‘What happened to the dog?’
The question threw Lock. ‘What dog?’
‘Your friend in the car. His dog.’
‘The dog attacked Tyrone’s cousin, and, see, Ty’s real sentimental when it comes to children,’ Lock said, reaching over and grabbing Don’s sore wrist. ‘More sentimental than he is about animals. So you want to know what happened to that dog he loved so much? He shot it dead. And if you dick us around, I’d say there’s a good chance he’ll do the same to you.’Twenty-seven
‘I bet you follow round comedians shouting out the punchlines before they can get to them,’ Ty said, tossing Lock his keys.
‘Hey, it worked. They’re gonna help us out.’
Ty stared at Don, who was busy getting his sister back into Lock’s Toyota. ‘They’d better,’ he said, clambering up into the cab of the Yukon.
‘You know what to do, right?’ Lock asked him.
As Ty pulled out of the bar’s parking lot, Lock walked back to see if Don needed any help.
He had to admit, they made for one hell of a strange-looking search party: a girl in a wheelchair with a left leg prone to random spasms, a young man pushing her with one hand while massaging his wrist with the other, a guy with a patchy buzz cut intersected by a nearly new six-inch scar, and a six foot four African American with no hair and a lot of tattoos.
As Lock pulled his car out of the lot, the black SUV holding the JTTF surveillance team was waiting for them. To ensure that Janice and Don Stokes’ choice of option two didn’t bleed into option one,his first task was to lose the tail. Seeing as the Royal Military Police had been the branch that taught the rest of the British military defensive and, when the need arose, offensive driving techniques, the prospect didn’t overly worry him.
His phone chirped. He flipped it open, driving with one hand.
‘How many other hot blondes who just scored a thirty-five share of the audience do you have calling you?’
‘Ten years ago it was good. These days it’s spectacular.’
‘Should Katie Couric be worried?’
‘Peeing in her pants.’
‘Listen, can you do some digging for me? But I need an embargo on it.’
The request for an embargo was met by silence.
‘Yeah, OK. What is it?’
‘The lowdown on a gentleman by the name of Cody Parker.’
‘You got it.’
‘Thanks,’ Lock said, ending the call.
Turning to Don, he asked a question he already knew the answer to: ‘So, where first?’
Don gave him an address. It wasn’t the one he had given him a few moments earlier.
Don glanced over his shoulder at the JTTF SUV. ‘Won’t they be able to hear us?’
‘Nah, they’re too far back,’ Lock lied, punching on the radio and turning up the volume as an apparent afterthought.
In the back of the black SUV, the comms member of the three-man surveillance team smiled broadly. ‘We got an address.’
The driver glanced back at him. ‘For what?’ he asked.
‘Find out when we get there, I guess. You might as well ease back. This is gonna be easy.’
Don glanced nervously over his shoulder as they stopped at a light.
‘Don’t worry about them,’ Lock said. ‘While we may be in a twelve-thousand-dollar Toyota compact and they’re in fifty thousand dollars’ worth of specially modified government-issue steel, we have a few things in our favour.’
‘Well, for starters, I’m driving a stick,’ Lock explained, banging it into gear and accelerating away as the lights turned green.
Don glanced over his shoulder again to see the SUV also lurching forward. ‘I don’t think that’s going to be enough somehow.’
‘You didn’t let me finish,’ Lock said, continuing to accelerate as they reached the next intersection. ‘More importantly, the problem with what they’re driving is that not only is it an SUV, it’s also uparmoured. Which means . . .’ He concentrated hard on his next manoeuvre, changing down as he came into the corner, braking at the apex and accelerating out again. ‘That it corners like a rubber brick.’
Behind them, the black SUV had dropped back. Too far back. As Lock had predicted, the driver sped up when he should have slowed in an attempt to reel in his target. He took the corner too fast and the wheels of the heavy high-sided vehicle lost traction. As the SUV lurched from one side to the other the driver eased down on the brakes to bring the vehicle back under control.
Behind them, Ty, driving the Yukon, took his opportunity, braking a second too late and rear-ending the FBI vehicle. It lurched forward suddenly, both front airbags deploying. Both vehicles came to a halt.
Ty made his way over to the FBI vehicle, pulling open thedriver-side door as the driver pushed the airbag out of the way.
‘Sorry, man,’ Ty said, ‘you kinda slowed down too fast for me. Braking distance on these things is a bitch, ain’t it? Listen, you want to take down my insurance details?’
Ty peered yokel-mouthed into the back where the comms guy was pulling off a set of headphones while simultaneously trying to extract the front seat from his mouth.
‘Ah, shoot, you fellas ain’t cops, are you?’Twenty-eight
Lock took a deep breath and charged through the apartment door. A blast of a very different kind almost knocked him off his feet. The air reeked of death and decay. His stomach lurched as he stepped down the narrow hallway, matted with old newspapers and other, less salubrious organic matter.
Outside, at the bottom of the stairs, he could hear the homeless man he’d passed on the way in, engaged in a one-sided philosophical discourse. ‘Damn bitches. Draining a nigga dry. Where’s the justice, brother?’
Don and Janice were in the car, Janice exhausted by the day’s events and Don unwilling to face Cody.
If Cody was here.
Lock toed open an already semi-open door leading into a living room area. An elderly woman, sat in an armchair, the TV still on, the volume turned down. She wasn’t breathing. Her eyes were closed.
A big ginger tom cat sat on her lap, gnawing away at her hand. From the scratches on her face, it was obvious her hand hadn’t been the only part of her body to get attention.
Lock stepped towards it. ‘Get.’
The cat waited long enough to show who was boss, then jumped back down on to the floor.
Lock left the body and checked the other rooms. Even with a Vicks inhaler up each nostril, a trick employed by cops and emergency medical technicians, no one could have borne the stench for more than a few minutes.
Back out on the walkway, his body got the better of him, and he threw up. Black shapes swam in front of his eyes. Here it comes, he thought. The first blackout. But it didn’t. His stomach stopped rolling in on itself and his head cleared enough to enable him to dial 911.
In this part of the Bronx, Lock guessed that a dead body alone in an apartment didn’t merit a dash to the scene, and the cops took their own sweet time. If the authorities didn’t care too much how this woman had lived, why would it change now that she was dead?
He walked back down to the car. Janice blanched when she saw him. ‘Are you OK?’
Concern from a dying woman made him feel worse. Don got out of the car and Lock told him what he’d found inside.
‘That’ll be Cody’s mom.’
Lock got Don to give him a quick description. It checked out. He didn’t want to ask Don to go inside and take a look. Not today.
‘Listen, Cody might be a little crazy, but there’s no way he would’ve—’
There had been no sign of any major trauma, stabbing or bullet wounds.
‘Were Cody and his mom close?’
‘Yeah, I think so.’
‘She involved in the movement?’
‘That’s what got Cody started.’
Perfect. Lock reached into his jacket for his cell and handed it to Don. ‘Start putting the word out. But don’t say anything to anyone about her being dead, just say that something’s happened. That she’s in a bad way. Oh, and get back in the car, we need to keep moving.’
If they were to find Cody Parker, he wasn’t going to do it in convoy.
Lock drove as Don made the calls in the back, Lock insisting it stay on speaker so he could hear both ends. Six calls in, they were getting warmer. A woman at an unofficial ‘animal shelter’ out on Long Island confirmed that Cody was out getting supplies, but that he’d be back.
As primed by Lock, Don told her to warn off Cody from going to his mom’s place. ‘The cops are all over the place.’
‘You found her?’ the woman asked Don.
‘Then Cody’ll want to speak to you.’Twenty-nine
On the way, they dropped off Janice at a neat suburban house in Dix Hills, owned by a woman whose daughter had also suffered from MS and who had met Janice in a support group for families affected by the condition. The woman took one look at Lock and hustled Janice into her home, slamming the door without a backward glance.
Lock called back in to Meditech and got Brand, who informed him with delight that Ty was being held by the Feds, and that both Van Stratens were far from happy bunnies. Lock thanked him for the update. None of it mattered: they were getting closer to Josh. Lock could feel it.
On the way to the shelter, Don filled Lock in on Cody’s background. Run by volunteers, and used to house animals ‘liberated’ by the movement, there were shelters dotted around the country. A kind of Underground Railroad for quadrupeds, Lock thought. When animals were taken, they were still technically the property of the company that had been using them for experiments, so the shelters where they were kept tended to stay off the radar. Only the most trusted of activists knew their location, which made Lockwonder just where Don Stokes fell on the spectrum of extremism.
The shelter they were about to visit was run by a woman with whom Cody had an on-off relationship.
A chorus of barking from the back of the house greeted their arrival. Lock checked his Sig. When he saw the gun, Don’s attitude shifted.
‘No guns,’ he said.
‘It’s one of the rules.’
‘One of the rules for you whackjobs maybe. I’ve got my own rules. And right around number six is, when confronting a wanted felon, carry a gun.’
‘You’re not gonna turn him in, are you?’
‘That all depends.’
‘If he has Josh Hulme,’ Lock said, failing to add that if Cody did have him, he’d be turning him in as a corpse.
‘He doesn’t. You have to believe me.’
‘Let’s go see, then.’
In truth, Lock had no intention of handing Cody Parker to the authorities. Not yet, anyway. If Cody was arrested, Lock knew the first thing he’d do would be to lawyer up and take the Fifth.
The house had been painted white but had faded to yellow, and the front yard was overgrown. Don led the way round the side. Lock followed a few steps behind. They were greeted by a pack of dogs who bounded up to them, a blur of wagging tails and lolling tongues. A boisterous yellow Labrador Retriever, shaped like a bowling ball and carrying about the same momentum, shoved its nose into Lock’s crotch. The top of the dog’s head showed a rectangular scar pattern where its skin had been peeled away. Lock wondered if it was the poster dog for the Meditech protests. He scratched behind its ears and it nuzzled in even closer to him.
‘That’s Angel. She was pulled out of a lab in Austin.’
They turned the corner to find Cody Parker, lugging an industrial-size bag of puppy chow. He stared at Lock for a second before turning to Don, but made no move. Nor did he seem to register any grief. Maybe the woman Don had spoken to hadn’t yet broken the bad news.
‘They got her, huh?’ he said to Don.
Uh-oh, thought Lock, here we go. All aboard the paranoid express.
Cody threw down the sack of chow. ‘Who’s this?’
Cody was a big guy with a hooker-blonde ponytail that snaked halfway down his back. Six four and two hundred and ten pounds, none of it fat.
‘I remember now. Meditech. Come to kill me too?’ Cody asked, shifting another bag.
‘You don’t really believe that?’ Lock said, caught flat-footed by the question.
‘That my mother was murdered or that you’re here to kill me?’ Cody stood, feet apart, arms by his side, way too relaxed to believe the second part. ‘If it’s the latter, I don’t see why you’d have brought a witness.’
‘OK, so why would someone have wanted to murder your mom?’
‘Because they think I’ve got something.’
‘I said they think I have, not that I do.’
‘One of the places Cody was staying got robbed a few weeks back,’ Don said, filling in.
Lock thought back to the apartment in the Bronx. How low did a burglar’s ambitions have to be to target a shithole like that, never mind kill an old lady?
‘What’d they take?’
‘What was in them?’
‘Details of places they torture animals.’
‘You mean laboratories?’
‘Among other places.’
‘But Meditech are discontinuing their animal testing.’
‘That’s what they all say.’
‘Listen, I’m here to find Josh Hulme.’
‘He thinks you took him,’ added Don.
Cody didn’t blink. ‘And why would I want to do that?’
‘Because you’re capable of it,’ Lock interjected.
‘Everyone’s capable of some serious shit if they’re pushed hard enough.’
‘So would you mind if I had a look around?’
‘Go right ahead.’
Lock crossed to the screen door at the back of the house. Cody, Don and the Labrador followed him inside. He tried to shoo the dog away but it plodded on after him.
‘Must be more messed up in the head than we thought,’ Cody mused, with a nod to the dog.
Lock scratched at her scar as she rubbed against his legs. If Cody had Josh here, he was remarkably calm.
‘You know a girl called Natalya Verovsky?’
‘Know the name, sure. Same as I know the name of Richard Hulme. And his son. Been all over the news.’
‘You know the FBI are looking for you?’
‘Not about this they ain’t.’
‘Only a matter of time. I doubt grave robbery to kidnapping would be much of a stretch for a jury. Unless you’re denying digging up Eleanor Van Straten as well.’
Cody looked straight at Don. A dead giveaway. Cody knew it too. ‘Have to plead the Fifth on that one, my friend,’ he said. ‘But lemme ask you a question.’
Lock stopped in the middle of the living room. ‘Go ahead.’
‘Why’d Gray Stokes get his head blown off? And don’t give me that stale bullshit the media have been feeding the folks at home about the sniper aiming for Van Straten and missing. That was some cold shit right there. One shot. One kill.’
‘I can’t answer that question.’
Cody stared straight at him. ‘Well I can.’
Lock sat down on a couch matted with dog hair. Angel dropped her head in his lap and stared up at him with thousand-year-old brown eyes. ‘Enlighten me, then,’ he said.
‘Are you for real, brother? Stokes and everyone else in the movement had been yanking Meditech’s chain for months. The way we saw it, if we could get them to stop using animals, a big power-house corporation like that, all the others would fall into line. But they dug their heels in. Just kept hiring more and more guys like you. Then, out of the clear blue sky, they cave. How come?’
Lock was silent.
‘Man, I might not have all the answers, but at least I’ve got some of the right questions,’ Cody said.
‘Say they got tired of the intimidation,’ Lock offered. ‘It happens.’
Cody burst out laughing. ‘To individuals, sure. But to a company who’re going after a big contract from the Pentagon?’
‘Oh, but nobody’s supposed to know about that, are they?’
‘So how come you do?’
‘You think we don’t have people on the inside too? People might join a company like Meditech, buying into all the soft soap about curing cancer, but some of them open their eyes. It’s all about the money. Always has been. Always will be.’
‘So what’s this got to do with Josh Hulme? Or Gray Stokes, for that matter?’
‘Like I said, I’ve only got the questions. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure that settling should have been the last thing on Van Straten’s mind. Big contract like that means more testing. More animals tortured, like your new best friend there.’ Cody nodded towards Angel, who’d now fallen asleep with her head on Lock’s lap. ‘But call a truce is what they did, and next minute Janice is picking her pa’s brains off the sidewalk. He knew something, my friend. Knew something big enough to get them to back down and get him killed at the same time.’
‘OK, so what did he know?’
Cody clapped his hands together. ‘Bravo, Mr “Take the Corporate Dollar”. Now you’re asking the right questions. Listen, I got some stuff around here somewhere, might help you out. Let me get it for you.’
‘Thought all your stuff was stolen.’
Cody’s lips parted, forcing a smile. ‘Not all of it.’
Cody stepped out of the room. Less than five seconds later there was the sound of a screen door slamming shut and Cody running. Lock was immediately up and on his feet, turfing Angel on to the floor. Angel righted herself and slammed into Lock’s legs. He stumbled, but stayed on his feet.
As he hit the doorway, Don made a point of blocking his way. Lock shoulder-charged him to the ground and bolted outside, just in time to see a red pick-up take off down the driveway, snow and mud spinning up from its rear tyres.
Lock pulled his gun, but the truck was already out of effective range to hit the tyres, and he didn’t think shooting an unarmed civilian, even a wanted fugitive, without proper authority would go down too well. He re-holstered the Sig as Don came outside.
Don read the look Lock gave him. ‘I’m sorry I got in your way, but Cody’s my friend.’
‘And you’d make a sacrifice for your friends, right?’
‘And for the movement.’
‘Well, I admire your principled stand,’ Lock said, grabbing Don’s wrist and finishing what he’d started. It snapped with a dull crack.
Don screamed in agony. ‘Son of a bitch! You broke it! You broke my wrist!’
‘Do something like that again and I’ll break your neck.’Thirty
Lock pulled away from the house with an ageing yellow Labrador riding shotgun in the front passenger seat, instead of Josh Hulme. Angel had followed him and Don out to the car, jumped in, and then refused to budge. Lock had stared at her, and she’d stared right back. Screw it, Lock had thought, what’s one more damaged case in a car full of them?
‘Where we going now?’ asked Don from the back seat.
Lock flicked down the button to secure the rear doors. ‘You, asshole, are going to jail.’
‘I found him for you.’
‘And then you helped him get away.’
‘He doesn’t have the kid.’
‘So why’d he run?’
‘He’s wanted, that’s why. But not for this.’
Lock swivelled round. ‘He is now.’
‘You should have listened to him,’ Don pleaded.
‘Gimme a break. You people think everyone’s out to get you.’
‘OK, fine, so why did my dad know he was going to die?’
‘He told you that?’
‘He didn’t have to.’
As Angel stuck her head as close to the climate control vent as she could get it, Lock studied Don in the rear-view. ‘Keep talking.’
‘You ever hear that speech Martin Luther King gave in Memphis before he was shot?’
‘The “I Have a Dream” one?’ Lock ventured.
‘No. This one was about climbing to the top of the mountain, about how the civil rights movement was winning, but about how he might not be there to see the final victory. Something like that anyway. But the thing about it is, when you see the film of it, it’s like he knows that he doesn’t have long left.’
‘People had tried to kill King before.’
‘Yeah, but this was different.’
Lock’s anger at Don had settled enough to rekindle his interest. ‘So what’s that got to do with your father? You think he knew someone was going to try and take his life?’
‘No, nothing that specific, but, well, it’s like he knew something was up. Just the odd thing he’d say. About how things were about to change, that we had to stay strong.’
‘Janice told me you’d had threats. You get any in the days leading up to it?’
‘No, everything had gone really quiet on that front.’
‘Maybe your folks didn’t want to say anything,’ Lock suggested.
‘Believe me, I would have known. What’s the point of making a threat otherwise?’
‘Maybe you should ask your sister that. Or your buddy Cody.’
Don had a point, though. Lock had to acknowledge that. In a crowd, he never worried about the crazy guy shouting obscenities, working himself up into a lather and making all sorts of threats. You only had to worry when they went quiet. There was an ocean of difference between someone telling you they were about to commit an act of violence and someone resolving to do it.Someone who’d resolved to do it wouldn’t feel the need to tell the world about it. In fact, the last thing they would do is broadcast the fact and give the other person the jump.
As Don sulked in the back, Lock dropped back down on to the Long Island Expressway. Angel had somehow managed to push her head under the steering wheel and rest it on Lock’s lap again. It made shifting gears tricky. Lock rested one hand on the steering wheel and stroked the dog’s head with the other, grateful for the relative calm and the time it gave him to decide what to do next.
He’d leave the FBI to chase down Cody Parker. They could have Don too. That left him back at square one. And neatly etched inside that square was a dead woman.
Lock stopped off at a convenience store next to the West Jericho Turnpike and picked up a bag of dried dog food, bottled water, and two bowls. Angel dined al fresco in the freezing parking lot before sauntering over to a patch of grass at the rear of the store and carefully selecting the right spot to take a leak. Then she followed Lock back to the car and jumped on the front seat.
‘This is a temporary arrangement, so don’t go getting any ideas,’ he told her. ‘And if they somehow need you to cure cancer I’m kicking your ass to the curb. Comprende?’
Angel cocked her head.
‘And you can knock off cute shit like that.’
Don leaned forward through the gap between the front seats. ‘So where are we going now?’
‘Wearen’t going anywhere,’ Lock replied. ‘I’m going back to work, andyou’regoing to jail.’Thirty-one
What Federal Plaza really needed was a bigger set of revolving doors, thought Lock as he pushed Don in one direction while Ty was being led out by Frisk in the other.
‘Trade you,’ said Lock, propelling Don towards Frisk.
‘I was letting him go anyway,’ said Frisk with a nod of the head towards Ty.
‘Really? I thought damaging federal property was a serious offence.’
Ty took in Don’s limp hand. ‘So’s breaking some guy’s wrist.’
Frisk reached down to tickle Angel’s ear and noticed the scar. ‘So what’d the dog do to you?’
‘She was like that when I found her,’ Lock said. He glanced back at Don. ‘For the record, so was he.’
‘I don’t think he believes you,’ said Ty.
‘Being suspicious is what I’m paid to be,’ Frisk said. He jerked his head towards Don. ‘What’s his story?’
‘Black sheep of the Stokes family.’
‘That must take some application.’
‘That’s what I thought. But he did find Cody Parker for me.’
This seemed to pique Frisk’s attention. ‘Where is he?’
‘Gone,’ said Lock.
‘But you saw him?’
‘You see the boy?’
‘I don’t think he has him.’
This got a reaction from all three men. Don seemed the most surprised. ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,’ he said.
Lock silenced him with a glance. ‘When I want your opinion, Donald, I’ll be sure to give it to you.’
‘So how come you think Parker doesn’t have the boy?’ Frisk asked.
‘He’s not the type.’
‘Hey, I spoke to him. More than you guys have managed.’
‘And then you let him go.’
‘He escaped. There’s a difference.’
Frisk put a hand on Don Stokes’ shoulder. ‘OK, well, let me see what I can get from this chump.’
‘You might want to get him some medical attention for that wrist. He caught it in the car door when Parker was making a run for it.’
Ty and Lock waited until they were a block clear before they spoke.
‘So what’s really going on?’ Ty asked.
‘What I told Frisk. Apart from Don getting his hand stuck in the car door. I broke it.’
‘Ever decreasing circles, Tyrone. Whisper it, but I don’t think the animal rights people have Josh Hulme.’
‘So who does?’
‘Maybe it’s just a straight K and R.’
‘Mighty big coincidence.’
‘Or not. Meditech’s in the news. Everyone knows they’re big enough to have a sizeable policy. Kidnapper’s not going to go near someone like Van Straten for fear of getting offed, so they grab the kid of the chief research scientist. Week before, it could have been the CEO of Microsoft. We just got unlucky.’
‘Only Richard Hulme isn’t covered.’
‘Could be they didn’t know that.’
‘So where does that leave us?’
‘I can’t get past the au pair.’
‘Because she’s Russian?’
‘What’s one of the fastest growing crimes for profit internationally over the past five years?’
‘Kidnap for ransom.’
‘And who has led the way?’
‘Islamists, Colombians and Russians.’
‘Except the Colombians stay on their own turf, as do the Islamists – which leaves the Russians. The wave’s been moving west though. Remember that banker’s family they took in Frankfurt? And the stockbroker in London? He traded half his firm’s cash reserve without anyone knowing. It was only going to be a matter of time before they made it to North America. And not knowing the territory, they go after whoever has the highest profile and the lowest security.’
‘But there ain’t been no ransom demand or warning of any kind, man. I don’t buy it,’ Ty said.
Lock chewed his bottom lip. ‘No . . . but explain Natalya getting into that car with Josh Hulme for me.’
It seemed like a long time since Lock had been in Carrie’s apartment but it couldn’t have been more than three or four months. Not one to follow any set of rules, Carrie had invited him back there pretty much on the first date, stressing that she wasn’t normally that kind of girl. He wasn’t normally that sort of guy either, but the attraction between them had been both immediate and powerful, more connection than hook-up. Being back here, especially with all the shit that had been flying, calmed Lock.
He’d called Carrie from his car and she’d met him at the outdoor rink at the Rockefeller Center before suggesting that it might be warmer back at her apartment. Lock hadn’t thought to argue.
As he hung his jacket in the hall closet, it hit him just how much he’d missed her. The intensity of work had allowed him to push those feelings to the side. But the quietly ordered domesticity of her apartment, the fresh flowers in a vase on the coffee table, the sharp smell of furniture polish, the warm air flowing gently through the floor vents, all of it conspired to send a wave of regret through him.
Any sense of an opportunity missed was compounded as soon as he flopped down on the couch. He glanced over at the framedphotographs on the mahogany sideboard. Lock was familiar with most of them, apart from one recent addition.
It must have been taken on a skiing trip. Carrie was standing with her arms wrapped around a man’s waist, both of them grinning for the camera like newlyweds. He was about Lock’s age with an expensively acquired natural tan and not so naturally acquired bleached teeth. Lock hated him on sight.
Carrie walked in from the bedroom, having changed into a pair of jeans and a sweater. She saw Lock looking at the picture. ‘That’s Paul,’ she said. ‘He’s one of our producers. Divorced last year. We’ve been seeing each other for a while now.’ She seemed keen to get past the awkwardness of the moment.
‘Hey, it’s a free country,’ Lock came back, a little too quick to be convincing.
‘He’s a really great guy. You’d like him.’
‘I doubt that somehow.’
In a show of support, Angel jumped up on to the couch, lay down next to Lock and began to lick her genitals.
‘Well, this is awkward,’ he said, averting his gaze from the dog.
‘Gal’s got to have a hobby, right?’
‘We still talking about Paul?’
‘So, is it serious?’
‘Oh, Ryan. So if I said to you right now that I’ll ditch Paul and we can give it another try, what would you say?’
He knew where this was going. Like a trial lawyer, Carrie’s profession ensured that she rarely asked a question she didn’t know the answer to.
‘I’d say I have a little boy to find.’
‘And I love you for that, but it doesn’t get us anywhere, now does it?’
They lapsed into silence. Angel finished licking herself and madea move to snuffle Lock’s face. ‘It’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought, but you’re really not my type,’ Lock said to the dog, gently deflecting her head with one hand.
Carrie busied herself preparing some pasta and salad while Lock opened a bottle of red wine. She could, he thought, make even something as mundane as boiling water seem elegant. Everything she did was so precise, done with such attention to detail.
‘Oh, I almost forgot.’ She crossed to a stool, picked up her bag, pulled out a folder, handed it to Lock. ‘Everything you always wanted to know about Cody Parker but were afraid to ask.’
Carrie had accumulated not just the regular press clippings, she’d also gotten hold of arrest reports, court transcripts from Cody’s early transgressions of the law, and some classified profile and wire tap information from the JTTF.
‘How’d you get all this stuff?’
‘I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.’
‘Long as I eat first,’ Lock said, settling down to speed-read through the mass of information.
Don must have been right about the influence of Cody’s mom on his beliefs because his criminal record started early. Fourteen in fact. But almost every offence was against property. He was prime suspect in the exhumation and dumping of Eleanor Van Straten, but even that, it could be argued, involved an inanimate object. The only thing that came even close was a bomb threat against a construction company building a new animal testing and research facility down by the former Brooklyn Naval Yard. The client was Meditech.
‘Who’d you get to do this piece of research?’ Lock slid the piece of paper across the marble towards Carrie.
‘That would have been me.’
‘Well, don’t go clearing any space for that Pulitzer on your shelves just yet.’
‘Oh, and why’s that?’
‘Because I know all of Meditech’s facilities. And I’ve never heard of one down at the naval yard.’
Carrie nibbled on a piece of radicchio. ‘I’ll double-check for you, if y’like.’
‘Probably someone else’s typo. Lot of these companies have similar names.’
‘So what do you say to Cody Parker taking Josh Hulme?’
Lock picked up the file. ‘Don’t see it from any of this. Y’know, he was dropping some hints that all roads lead back to Meditech.’
‘Of course they do. And 9/11 was organized by the CIA. And the Jewish-controlled media are in on the whole thing.’
‘He did say one thing that made me think though.’
Carrie crossed to the sink and began to rinse the rest of the radicchio under the cold tap. ‘And what was that?’
‘Did you hear about this contract that Meditech is going after with the Pentagon?’
Carrie shrugged, shaking the excess water off the lettuce and placing it in a bowl on the counter. ‘So what? The government’s been pumping billions into biotech companies ever since it realized the Department of Defense couldn’t keep up. You should know that. There’s been forty-four billion dollars handed out since 2001. Every pharma and biotech company’s fighting each other to get on the federal teat.’
‘Bio-terror is bullshit. Terrorists that are any good go low tech. Fertilizer. Boxcutters. Stuff that’s easy to acquire,’ Lock said, passing Carrie a glass of red.
‘What about someone slipping something into the water?’
‘It’s possible, I guess.’
He took a sip of wine.
‘Would you do some digging for me?’
‘Into this contract?’
‘And Richard Hulme. I still never got out of him why he resigned.’
Carrie grimaced. ‘Me either.’
Lock knew this was a rare admission. It wasn’t something that happened to her very often.
‘Can I give you some advice, Ryan?’
‘When I’m trying to break a story I always try to keep it simple. It’s easy to see things that aren’t there. Make connections that don’t exist.’
‘Like this contract with the Pentagon?’
‘Precisely. Think about it for a second. If anything, wouldn’t a contract like that make it less likely for Meditech to give up on animal testing, not more?’
‘That’s what Cody Parker said. But Meditechhavegiven up testing.’
‘No, theysaidthey had. Those are two different things.’Thirty-three
The Kensington Nanny and Au Pair occupied a small corner of the top floor of a five-storey walk-up within spitting distance of Alphabet City. Ty had tracked it down as the company Meditech had used to source childcare for its senior employees. ‘Had’ being the operative word. Several complaints that the people referred were wholly unsuitable to care for goldfish, never mind children, had led to it being dropped as an outside contractor.
On the fourth floor, Lock and Ty both had to stop to catch their breath.
‘Man, we are some unfit motherfuckers,’ Ty observed, gulping for air.
‘Hey, I just got out of hospital, what’s your excuse?’
‘Too much good living.’
They continued on to the top floor. The door leading into the office was ajar and they could hear a woman inside fielding calls. Lock pushed it open with the toe of his boot and they walked in.
The woman appeared to be in her late forties. Holding the phone in one hand, she rifled through a stack of papers on the desk in front of her. A cup of coffee sat full and untouched next to thepapers, the milk congealing in a white paste on the top. The rest of the office was a mess, papers scattered randomly over every conceivable surface. ‘Yes, and I’m very sorry that things haven’t worked out, but I simply don’t have anyone else available at the moment,’ she was saying into the phone. She acknowledged Lock and Ty’s presence by holding up her hand and waving them in, directing them to two seats on the opposite side of her desk with another sweeping gesture.
Lock picked up the stack of files that were resting on top of his chair and laid them down on top of a filing cabinet.
‘Listen, I have someone in the office right now,’ the woman continued. ‘If anyone becomes available you’re top of my list.’
Lock could still hear the person on the other end of the line as she put the phone down on them.
When she spoke, the English accent seemed to drop away, revealing something more akin to Brooklyn. ‘Just so you both know, I’ve got a three-month wait list before I can find someone to mind your little bundle of joy.’
‘Er, we’re not together,’ Lock objected.
‘Yeah,’ she said, checking out Ty from head to toe before diverting her gaze back to Lock, ‘he is a little out of your league, sweetie.’
Ty snickered as Lock tried to decide whether or not to be offended.
‘Hey, you guys aren’t nannies by any chance, are you?’ she asked with a beleaguered smile.
‘Only for grown-ups,’ Ty smiled. ‘And I’m most definitely, one hundred per cent, straight.’
Only Ty could turn this into a hook-up opportunity, thought Lock.
‘This how you find your staff? Anyone who manages to hit the door?’ Lock asked.
‘You with the FBI? Because I’ve already told one of your guyseverything I know. Shit, you’re not a reporter, are you? Because if you are I’m making no comment.’
‘We’re here in a private capacity, Ms . . .’
‘Ms Palowksy. Josh Hulme’s father asked us to help find him.’ Lock deliberately kept Meditech’s name out of it.
‘The FBI said I shouldn’t discuss any of this.’
‘The FBI are fully aware of our involvement,’ Lock assured her.
‘Then speak to them.’
Lock’s face set, any trace of amiability falling away. ‘I’m speaking to you. And if you don’t mind me saying, you seem remarkably composed for someone who’s had an employee brutally murdered and the child who they were looking after kidnapped, and possibly murdered too.’
Lauren studied the film of milk floating on top of her morning coffee. ‘I’m trying not to think about it. But let’s be clear about one thing: I didn’t employ Natalya. I’m a broker, that’s all.’
The phone rang again, but Lauren let it go to voicemail.
‘Your lawyer tell you to say that?’
‘No. And anyway, don’t you think I’ve been worried sick about that child since I heard?’
‘I’ve no idea. You tell me.’
She looked down at her desk, grabbed a random handful of papers, held them up at him. ‘All these people are looking for someone to parent their children because they don’t have the time. They all want Mary Poppins, but they’re only prepared to pay minimum wage. Then when something goes wrong, suddenly it’s my fault.’
‘I’m just trying to figure out what happened,’ Lock said, lowering his voice and leaning forward. ‘Tell me about Natalya.’
‘There’s not much to tell, really. Same story as most of the girls who contact me looking for work. Her English wasn’t great, but a lot better than some. She seemed pleasant enough.’
‘How long had she been in the country?’
‘Not long, from what I could tell.’
‘Years? Months? Weeks?’
‘Did she say anything else about her circumstances?’
‘She’d been doing bar work, travelling into the city every day from Brighton Beach or somewhere. She thought a live-in position would suit her, give her a chance to save some money.’
‘Where was she bartending?’
‘I deal with dozens of applications every week. I’m lucky if I can remember any of the names.’
‘What about her visa? She had one, right?’
There was a pause.
‘I’m not the FBI, or the INS, or Homeland Security. I understand that you probably cut some corners,’ Lock prompted.
‘The clients sign a contract that says they, as employers, have final responsibility for checking that kind of stuff. Look, it’s not like I’m smuggling people into the country here.’
‘So what’s the difference between using you and putting an ad in the paper or posting on craigslist?’
Ty answered for Lauren. ‘About four thousand bucks a pop, right?’
‘I’m kind of going off you,’ she said to Ty.
‘Right back at ya, babe,’ said Ty.
‘If these girls were legal, most of them could go get a job that paid them more than seven bucks fifteen an hour, know what I mean? Everyone bitches about illegals, until it comes time to put their hand in their pocket.’
Lock sensed this was a favourite gripe Lauren rolled out when challenged about the ethics of her business. But it wasn’t helping him with working out what part Natalya had played in Josh Hulme’s disappearance.
‘Did you get any references from Natalya’s previous employer?’
‘I gave all that stuff to the FBI already. They took copies.’
‘May we take a look?’
The phone rolled to voicemail again. Lauren sighed, and with what seemed to be a huge effort got up from behind her desk and crossed to the filing cabinet. ‘I didn’t want to give them the originals in case this whole thing comes to court.’ She stopped in the middle of the room. ‘Now, I know I put it all somewhere safe.’
Lock guessed that ‘safe’ in the context of Lauren Palowsky’s chaotic filing system meant somewhere it would probably never be found again.
The phone rang for a third time.
‘Would you mind if I . . .?’ she asked.
‘Listen, do you want me to take a look?’
‘Could you? If I don’t keep on top of my calls I’ll be here till midnight.’
Lock opened the top drawer of the nearest filing cabinet and set to work. He motioned for Ty to start checking one of the numerous teetering piles.
A full hour later, Lock was wondering how people spent their whole lives in offices doing exactly what he was doing now. Not that he suffered from claustrophobia per se, but his mind and body were inherently restless; always moving, rarely still. Even in sleep, his dreams were vivid and kinetic.
The search did double duty: it gave them access to all of the agency’s records and allowed Lock time to weigh up Lauren. One thing had rapidly become clear: she wasn’t involved in any kidnapping. Kidnapping took a level of organization that was way beyond her. She’d probably end up sending the ransom note to the wrong address.
As they picked up and glanced at one piece of paper after another, Ty and Lock had soon discerned that invoices,applications, every piece of paperwork imaginable were simply thrown together with no rhyme or reason. There were applications from prospective nannies going back over ten years and details from parents of children who were probably in college now.
Ty lifted out one green hanging file whose tab read ‘telephone account’, so naturally it contained company credit card statements. Beneath it, on the bottom of the cabinet drawer, was a piece of paper. He lifted it out. It was a letter of reference. He went to place it with the others when he noticed the name. Natalya Verovsky.
Ty walked over to Lauren’s desk, waved it in front of her. She covered the phone with one hand.
‘Did the FBI see this?’ he asked.
‘What is it?’ She looked at the letter. ‘Shoot. It must have got separated from her application.’
Lock had joined Ty at the desk, and he took the single sheet of paper from Lauren and studied it. No letterhead. Handwritten. The writing was spidery longhand. Natalya’s name was written in block capitals about a third of the way down, then the actual reference was scrawled beneath. Just a few lines.
Natalya has worked for me for twelve months now. She has been a very good worker. She is very good with the customers and always on time. I am happy to recommend her services to you.
Then there was a gap of maybe an inch, and it was signed ‘Jerry Nash’. There was an address, but no phone number. No reference to what Natalya’s work had been either, and no mention of what the relationship between Natalya and Jerry had been. Boss? Coworker? Friend?
It took Lock and Ty another forty minutes to locate Natalya’s original application. When they found it, there was nothing on it that they didn’t already know. Crucially, it didn’t list her last placeof employment. Or any other employers. So the reference remained significant, the only new lead Lock was aware of in an investigation rapidly going cold.
Unbelievably, there was no computer in the office, and no way of checking the address on the reference, or whether it even existed. With no phone number, Natalya could have concocted the whole thing herself.
Lauren was still on the phone. Lock waved the reference at her. She made a face at him. ‘What now?’
Lock took three steps, bent down, and yanked the phone jack from the socket. He held the reference directly in front of her face. ‘Did you even check the address on this?’
‘Of course. There’s a letter I wrote here somewhere. Don’t think I ever got a reply.’
‘You ever heard the phrase “not worth the paper it’s written on”?’ Ty asked her.
She looked at him slack-jawed. Lock felt like crumpling the damn thing up and making her eat it.
‘I’m doing my best here,’ she protested.
Lock folded up the reference, jammed it in his pocket, and walked out of the office. He called Carrie from the street. It took her less than ninety seconds to call him back – quicker than the FBI.
‘Well, it’s a real address. Real business too,’ Carrie said.
‘The world’s oldest.’Thirty-four
‘Now this is the kind of investigation I’m down with,’ said Ty, surveying the day-glo pink frontage of the the Kittycat Club from across the street.
Before they’d headed there, Lock had gone home to change. Dressed in black cords, a white shirt, sports coat, and wearing a pair of non-prescription clear glasses, he approached the club parallel to the entrance. There were two bouncers on the door, big guys who relied on their height and steroid-induced muscle to carry out their duties. To get in the front you had to go past them.
Over the years Lock had dealt with enough of these guys to know that the key to getting past them was to appear as non-threatening and compliant as possible. They were wired to see a slight where there was none. Direct eye contact was a definite nono. The glasses, he hoped, would help, as well as give him a geeky look. Amazing how schoolyard stereotypes became hard-wired into us as adults.
He marched along the sidewalk and took a sharp left turn into the entrance, keeping his eyes down and doing his best to appearnervous. Nervous tended not to come naturally to Lock, though, and one of the men stuck a hand across his chest.
‘What’s your hurry, buddy?’ the other guy asked him.
‘Let’s see some ID,’ the bouncer with his arm out added.
The last thing Lock wanted to do was show them something with his name on.
‘Don’t have my wallet, fellas.’
What had been the firm pressure of the man’s hand turned to a light push. ‘No ID, no entry.’
Lock allowed himself to stagger back a step before regaining his balance. He reached into his left pants pocket, pulled out a money clip and peeled off two twenties. ‘Here you go, fellas.’
They took the money, pocketed it, and the hand dropped away from his chest like a drawbridge being lowered.
‘What happened to your head?’ the bouncer asked as he put his hand back in his coat pocket.
‘The wife. Found someone else’s number on the back of a cocktail napkin from the Lizard Lounge in my wallet. Hit me with the side of the iron. I was in hospital for a week,’ Lock said. He delivered the story with his eyes on their feet. It explained the absence of the wallet, his nerves and, more importantly, the four-inch scar on the top of his skull.
The two bouncers snickered. They were both thinking exactly the same thing.What a loser.
‘OK, we just gotta give you a quick pat-down.’
Lock raised both his arms to shoulder level, the loose change in his sports coat pocket heavy enough to stop it riding up and giving them a good view of his Sig. This was Ty’s signal.
‘Yo!’ Ty appeared seemingly from nowhere.
Lock smiled as Ty pimp-rolled his way across the street in long, loping strides. He lowered his arms again as the two bouncers stepped from the curb to confront him.
‘How much is the door entry?’ Ty asked them as Lock stepped past them, gun undiscovered.
The bar ran the length of one wall. Behind it, the solitary bartender was female. And topless. It certainly complicated ordering a drink. She had a motel tan and limp blonde hair pulled back tight, giving her face a Projects facelift.
‘Beer, thanks,’ Lock said.
She noticed him avoiding looking at her breasts even though they were right there at eye level. ‘It’s OK to look at my tits if you like,’ she said jauntily.
All Lock could think to say to the offer was, ‘Thanks.’ Truth be told, he wasn’t much of a breast man. Not much of a leg man either. He liked eyes. And lips. Yeah, give him a great pair of eyes, ones that showed some sparkle. And expressive lips. Maybe throw in a nose that was in proportion to the rest of the face. Which must make him a face man, he guessed.
‘Kinda why I took this gig,’ the woman continued. ‘I mean, guys stare at your tits anyway, so why not cut out the whole charade? Make better tips too.’
‘Been working here long?’ Lock asked, making it sound as much like a lame pick-up as he could.
‘This your first time, sweetie?’ she shot back, teasing him.
‘First time in this place. Just got a new job down the street. Boiler room financial racket.’
She slid his beer over to him. He took out the money clip and paid, leaving her a generous tip. ‘Keep the change.’
‘Just so we’re clear, with me, a tip’s just a tip. If you’re looking to get your pipes cleaned, it’s the dancers you have to take care of.’
A few moments later, Ty sat down at the other end of the bar. Lock acknowledged his presence with a raise of the head.
A crank-thin redhead approached Lock. She introduced herself as Tiffany and he bought her a ten-dollar Coke. He was waiting for an invitation to go through to the back for a private dance, but it never came. Tiffany elected to launch into her life story instead. Lock smiled politely and did his best to listen.
For reasons only known to the young women who frequented these kinds of businesses, he seemed to give off some kind of a father confessor aura as soon as he entered. It had become a running joke with his buddies in the army. He must have been the only soldier in the history of the armed forces who ended up giving out a back rub to a hooker as she poured out her deepest, darkest secrets. He knew the narrative off by heart now: a missing or abusive father followed by a quest to rediscover him in a litany of equally vacant men.
At what felt like an appropriate break in the story – Tiffany had just lost her daughter to social services, which sent her into a tail-spin of ketamine abuse – Lock excused himself from her company and eased off his bar stool, ostensibly heading for the men’s room.
‘You want me to hold it for you?’ she said with a smile, remembering the bottom line in places like this.
‘No thanks, but I really do appreciate the offer. You’re a good kid.’
She slid down the bar to sit next to Ty.
Beyond the door marked ‘gangstas’ for the men’s room and ‘ho’s’, presumably indicating the ladies’, there lay a short stretch of dark corridor which dead-ended with three doors. One led to the men’s room, the other to the ladies’, which classily doubled as the dancers’ changing area, judging from the sound of rap emanating from behind it; the third, up a short flight of stairs, was marked ‘No Entry’. The sign made it a no-brainer.
On the way, Lock unholstered his Sig, chambered a round andthen decocked it using the lever on the left of the pistol grip. Then he holstered it again. It left him ready to go. He did it every time he was about to walk through a door when he didn’t know for sure what lay on the other side and there was a chance it was something bad.
At the top of the stairs he stopped, took out his Gerber, and eased a section of painted-over wire away from the door frame. Cutting through it, he jammed the wire into his pocket before pushing open the door.
A solitary desk lamp cut an arc through the gloom. The smell was of stale sweat and cigarette smoke. An overweight elderly woman with her hair up in a bun sat behind a desk. She fumbled for the panic button.
Lock held up the sliver of wire he’d cut out from around the door frame. ‘It’s not working.’
There was a phone on the desk, but the woman made no move for it. She seemed remarkably composed, as if an armed man storming her office was an everyday occurrence. Lighting a fresh cigarette from the dying embers of the previous one, she sucked down on it, browning the filter with one drag, seemingly resigned to whatever was coming next.
‘What do you want? I’m busy.’
Lock reached inside his jacket and pulled out the picture of Natalya with her parents. He laid it on the desk in front of the woman. She glanced at it, then looked away.
‘You know her?’
She eyed him suspiciously. ‘Who the hell are you?’
‘She’s dead. But before she died a little boy she was looking after was abducted. I’m trying to find him. And you’re going to help me.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
He was getting nowhere fast. Sooner or later someone wouldrealize that a customer who’d gone to the men’s room hadn’t reappeared. Then one of the gorillas would come scouting.
He pulled out the letter of reference, placed that on the desk alongside the photograph and pointed to the signature. ‘This is you, isn’t it? You’re Jerry.’ He could see that right now she’d deny being in the same room as him, so he kept going. ‘Now, you can either answer my questions or I can turn this over to the FBI.’
‘It’s my name, but I didn’t sign it. My name’s spelled with an i not a y.’ She picked up the letter and took her time studying it. ‘She worked here. Until, maybe . . .’ She paused, making an effort to recall. ‘Five months ago. Then she left.’
There was a knock at the door. Then, a man’s voice. One of the bouncers. ‘Hey, Jerri, we need you downstairs.’
‘Answer him,’ Lock whispered.
‘Give me five.’
They listened as the man clumped back down the stairs. Then they heard him push open the door to the ladies’ room and bark something to one of the dancers.
Jerri dragged on her cigarette as Lock rifled through the files on her desk.
‘Listen, if I treated Natalya so bad, why did she come looking for her old job back?’
Lock looked up from the filing cabinet. ‘What?’
‘Didn’t know that, did you?’ Jerri said, a smirk passing across her face.
‘When was this?’
‘Let me think. A month, six weeks ago.’
‘Did she give a reason?’
Jerri blew a smoke ring and shrugged. ‘She didn’t say. But it’ll have been a man. Always is.’
‘She mention anyone in particular?’
‘Some guy called Brody, I think.’
‘Could it have been Cody?’
‘Yeah, might have been.’
‘She just called him Cody.’
Shit. Lock had been wrong. The guy wasn’t innocent, merely cool under pressure.
‘Did she say anything about animal rights?’
Lock took that as a no.
‘You ever meet him?’
‘He might have picked her up once or twice.’
‘Was he older? Younger?’
‘Than her? Older. Listen, our five minutes is up. They’ll be coming back up here and there’ll be trouble.’
Right on cue there was another knock at the door. This one more insistent.
Before she had a chance to respond the door opened and one of the bouncers got a face full of gun.
‘Relax,’ said Lock, ‘I was just leaving.’
The bouncer blanched. ‘OK, man. I ain’t gonna try and stop you.’
Lock pushed past him and headed down the stairs, taking them two at a time. In the bar, Tiffany was perched on Ty’s lap.
‘I gotta go,’ Ty told her.
She threw her arms around Ty’s neck. ‘Will you call me?’
Ty fell into step with Lock. Behind them they could hear the bouncer screaming into his cell phone as he careered down the stairs. ‘Yeah, he’s got a gun. I need someone here now!’
In the office, Jerri lit a fresh cigarette and cradled the phoneagainst her shoulder. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, blowing a perfect smoke ring and watching it slowly dissolve in front of her face. ‘But if I were you, I’d start closing this thing down fast.’Thirty-five
‘So we had him and we let him go,’ said Ty, pacing to the window of Lock’s living room and faking a punch at his own reflection. ‘If they’ve harmed that kid . . .’
Lock sat on the couch, his head in his hands, the tips of his right fingers worrying at his scar. ‘It might not be Cody, y’know.’
‘Ah, come on, Ryan. He knew Natalya, then magically she pops up as Josh Hulme’s nanny.’
‘Au pair,’ Lock corrected him.
‘I guess we should call Frisk. Hand this back over to the Feds. People might not have wanted to cough up Parker when he was the Che Guevara of furry animals everywhere, but this might change his image.’
Lock pulled out his cell from the pouch on his belt. It buzzed in his hand. The prefix was for the Federal Plaza. ‘Speak of the devil.’ He flipped to answer.
‘What the hell are you playing at?’ The voice was unmistakeably that of Frisk.
‘Just the man I wanted to speak to.’
‘The hell with you, Lock.’
‘We know who has Josh Hulme.’
‘That’s great. You know who has his father too?’
Ty read Lock’s face. ‘Wassup?’
Lock waved him away. ‘Richard Hulme is with your guys, isn’t he?’
‘He was until about an hour ago.’
‘He left his apartment and now we can’t find him.’Thirty-six
Stafford Van Straten took some papers from an eight-hundred-dollar leather attaché case and laid them out on the back seat of the Hummer. ‘I spent most of the day negotiating with our insurance company,’ he said.
Richard looked down at the documents, a glazed expression on his face.
‘I managed to convince them that because there’s only been a short window between your terminating your employment and your decision to rejoin the company, they won’t void the policy which covers you in relation to kidnap for ransom. In other words, you’ll still be covered.’
Stafford smiled to himself. He would have made a great door-to-door salesman.
‘It wasn’t an easy negotiation under the circumstances. They’re placing a limit on any ransom of two million dollars. Usually they’d go to five. But I think we were lucky to get them to extend their cover at all, don’t you?’
Again, Richard said nothing.
‘In the event that any ransom that’s paid exceeds two milliondollars, Meditech have agreed to cover the excess beyond two to the usual ceiling of five. We can write it off against tax, in any case.’
Finally, Richard looked up at him. ‘This is my son’s life you’re putting a figure on.’
Stafford loosened his tie, undid the top button of his shirt. ‘I’m sorry, Richard. I don’t mean it to sound so clinical. I’m not really the best guy when it comes to dealing with emotions. I tend to suppress things, you know. It’s easier for me to try to fix things than worry about why they went wrong in the first place. I understand that you’d give anything to get him back.’ He eased a contract across the seat with the fingertips of his right hand.
Richard looked down at the thick sheaf of laser-printed heavy bond paper. ‘What’s this?’
‘Well, in order for this to work you have to be in our employ for at least the next twelve months. Any less and the insurance company would void the policy again. Along with the cover for other employees. Which in turn would make it near impossible for us to be insured with anyone else. Andthatwould present major difficulties, especially for our overseas operations. Major difficulties for you too, as you’d be liable for any ransom. And I’m guessing if you had a spare few million lying around we wouldn’t be here now. You do see what I’m saying here, Richard, don’t you?’
Richard hesitated, then reached out for the contract. He began to flip through it, looking for where his signature was required.
‘It’s all fairly standard stuff,’ Stafford said quickly, handing him a Mont Blanc. ‘All the usual caveats, in particular with regard to the commercial sensitivity of your work.’
Richard stopped flipping. ‘I won’t go back to using animals.’
‘And neither will we. Our word is our bond on that issue.’
Richard flicked to the last page and signed his name. Stafford handed him the copy. He signed that as well.
‘You’re talking about a ransom,’ Richard said, ‘but there hasn’t been any demand yet.’
‘That’s not entirely true.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘We had to resolve some other issues first. Before we told you.’
For a moment Stafford thought Richard was going to stab him through the throat with the pen.
‘The kidnappers have contacted you?’
‘They were obviously confused about your status with the company. Didn’t you think it was strange when you didn’t receive any demand?’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ Richard sounded disbelieving.
‘If we had, you’d have told the FBI, and where would that have gotten us? Listen, Richard, you’ve been a bit of a loose cannon for the company. Even prior to all this. All your objections to the animal testing didn’t go down well with senior management.’
‘It’s bad science. The genetic structure of a primate isn’t close enough for something of this nature. Fine if you want to come up with something to treat, say, diabetes, but there’s no margin of error with these agents.’
Stafford cut him off. It was tough love time. ‘Well, while you were busy baring your soul on national TV, I was hard at work trying to get the company to sort out this damn mess. The people who have your son have made it plain they don’t want news of any ransom demand getting to the FBI. Nor do we. How many kids of our employees would be snatched if this were made public? Millions of dollars involved. Every scumbag loser in the country would be looking to repeat the trick. Every child whose parents were employed by a major corporation would be a target. Do you want that?’
‘Of course not. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.’
‘Good. So no telling anyone else. Especially not the FBI. If they find out, they’ll block it, and your son will likely die.’
‘How can we be sure he’s still alive?’
‘Proof of life?’
Stafford reached back into his smart leather attaché case and retrieved a clear plastic bag with a bright blue Ziploc sealer at the top. Inside were four locks of brown hair. ‘We’ve had it analysed using our own labs. It’s definitely Josh’s. And they sent us this.’
Aware that a Polaroid avoided any suspicion that the image had been doctored, Stafford produced a white-edged snap, and passed it to Richard. In it, Josh stood, blinking against the flash, hair shorn and coloured, holding a two-day-old copy of theNew York Post.
‘Oh Jesus. My son. What have they done to him?’ said Richard, breaking down at last.Thirty-seven
Close to midnight, lights still shone from inside the Korean deli. A pool of hard commercial reality illuminating the ‘For Lease’ sign.
‘This’ll only take a minute,’ Lock said, pushing open the door.
‘You could just send a card,’ Ty objected.
On the way back to headquarters they’d got word from Carrie that the old Korean man hadn’t made it, that his heart had stopped working.
His daughter was behind the counter. She stiffened as Lock walked in. Even more so when Ty followed in his wake. Lock sighed: some things in the city never changed.
He took off his ball cap and held it against his chest. ‘I’m sorry about your father.’
She looked away, grief still catching her unawares. Tears welled. Ty studied the ground.
‘That’s all we came to say, really.’
They started back to the door.
‘Wait,’ she said, moving from behind the counter. ‘My father thought you were a hero. You know we’d been robbed once before.And people did nothing. Just stood there and watched it happen.’
‘Have the police said anything about the men who broke in?’
‘They’ve asked about the people who were doing the protests down the street.’
‘Why?’ she asked.
‘Doesn’t matter. When the shooters came in, what did they say?’
‘They didn’t say anything.’
‘Nothing at all? Not even “get down” or “don’t move”?’
‘They gave us each a note.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Instructions on a piece of paper. The one they gave my father was in Korean.’
Lock felt suddenly wide awake. Ty, who had picked up a newspaper to kill time, put it back on the rack.
‘And what did it say?’
‘Just told us what to do.’
‘And the notes were definitely written out in Korean?’
‘And English. Yes.’
‘Did you tell the police this?’
‘And what did they say?’
‘Did you give them the notes?’
‘The men didn’t leave them behind.’
Lock looked at Ty, both thinking the same thing. They told her again how sorry they were to hear about her father’s passing and left.
A civilian cop wouldn’t have made the connection. To him or her it would just have been a neat trick, perhaps a way of making sure that the victim didn’t pick out an accent. But to Lock and Ty the written instructions meant something else. Something heavy.
In Iraq, when military patrols conducted raids on houses where they didn’t have access to a local interpreter, they used cards written out in all the local dialects. They relied on the fact that the Iraqi population was an educated one, and that although literacy levels were high, it wasn’t guaranteed that people could speak English. They also knew that a failure to understand instructions led to misunderstanding, and misunderstandings led to death. So the cards were brought in.