"What about the other ninety percent?"
"It's not such a good deal for them. They get the leftovers."
"Most lawyers I know hate it. They'd rather be doing something else."
"But they can't leave it because of the money. Even a lousy lawyer in a small office can earn a hundred thousand a year after ten years of practice, and he may hate it, but where can he go and match the money?"
"I detest lawyers."
"And I guess you think reporters are adored."
Good point. Gray looked at his watch, then picked up the phone. He dialed Keen's number. Keen read him the obit, and the Post story about the senseless street killing of this young lawyer. Gray took notes.
"A couple of other things," Keen said. "Feldman is very concerned about your safety. He expected a briefing in his office today, and he was pissed when he didn't get one. Make sure you report to him before noon tomorrow. Understand?"
"Do more than try, Gray. We're very nervous over here."
"The Times is sucking wind, isn't it?"
"I'm not worried about the Times right now. I'm much more concerned about you and the girl."
"We're fine. Everything's lovely. What else have you got?"
"You have three messages in the past two hours from a man named Cleve. Says he's a cop. Do you know him?"
"Well, he wants to talk tonight. Says it's urgent."
"I'll call him later."
"Okay. You guys be careful. We'll be here till late, so check in."
Gray hung up and looked at his notes. It was almost seven. "I'm going to see Mrs. Morgan. I want you to stay here."
She sat between the pillows and crossed her arms on her knees. "I'd rather go."
"What if they're watching the house?" he asked.
"Why would they watch the house? He's dead."
"Maybe they're suspicious now, because a mysterious client appeared today looking for him. Even though he's dead, he's attracting attention."
She thought about this for a minute. "No. I'm going."
"It's too risky, Darby."
"Don't talk to me about risks. I've survived in the minefields for twelve days. This is easy."
He waited on her by the door. "By the way, where am I staying tonight?"
"Do you have the phone number?"
"What do you think?"
THE PRIVATE JET with Edwin Sneller aboard landed at National in Washington a few minutes after seven. He was delighted to leave New York. He'd spent six days there bouncing off the walls in his suite at the Plaza. For almost a week, his men had checked hotels and watched airports and walked streets, and they knew damned well they were wasting their time, but orders were orders. They were told to stay there until something broke and they could move on. It was silly trying to find the girl in Manhattan, but they had to stay close in case she made a mistake like a phone call or a plastic transaction that could be traced, and suddenly they were needed.
She made no mistakes until two-thirty this afternoon when she needed money and went to the account. They knew this would happen, especially if she planned to leave the country and was afraid to use plastic. At some point, she would need cash, and she'd have to wire it since the bank was in New Orleans and she wasn't. Sneller's client owned eight percent of the bank; not a lot, but a nice little twelve-million-dollar holding that could make things happen. A few minutes after three, he'd received a call from Freeport.
They did not suspect her to be in Washington. She was a smart girl who was running away from trouble, not to it. And they certainly didn't expect her to link up with the reporter. They had no idea, but now it seemed so logical. And it was worse than critical.
Fifteen thousand went from her account to his, and suddenly Sneller was back in business. He had two men with him. Another private jet was en route from Miami. He had asked for a dozen men immediately. It would be a quick job, or no job at all. There was not a second to spare.
Sneller was not hopeful. With Khamel on the team, everything seemed possible. He had killed Rosenberg and Jensen so cleanly, then disappeared without a trace. Now he was dead, shot in the head because of one little innocent female law student.
THE MORGAN HOUSE was in a neat suburb in Alexandria. The neighborhood was young and affluent, with bikes and tricycles in every yard.
Three cars were parked in the drive. One had Ohio plates. Gray rang the doorbell and watched the street. Nothing suspicious.
An older man opened the door slightly. "Yes," he said softly.
"I'm Gray Grantham with the Washington Post, and this is my assistant, Sara Jacobs." Darby forced a smile.We would like to speak with Mrs. Morgan."
"I don't think so."
"Please. It's very important."
He looked at them carefully. "Wait a minute." He closed the door and disappeared.
The house had a narrow wooden porch with a small veranda over it. They were in the darkness and could not be seen from the street. A car passed slowly.
He opened the door again. "I'm Tom Kupcheck, her father, and she doesn't want to talk."
Gray nodded as if this was understandable. "We won't be five minutes. I promise."
He walked onto the porch and closed the door behind him. "I guess you're hard of hearing. I said she doesn't want to talk."
"I heard you, Mr. Kupcheck. And I respect her privacy, and I know what she's been through."
"Since when do you guys respect anyone's privacy?"
Evidently, Mr. Kupcheck had a short fuse. It was about to blow.
Gray kept calm. Darby backed away. She'd been involved in enough altercations for one day.
"Her husband called me three times before he died. I talked to him on the phone, and I don't believe his death was a random killing by street punks."
"He's dead. My daughter is upset. She doesn't want to talk. Now get the hell out of here."
"Mr. Kupcheck," Darby said warmly. "We have reason to believe your son-in-law was a witness to some highly organized criminal activity."
This calmed him a bit, and he glared at Darby. "Is that so? Well, you can't ask him about it, can you? My daughter knows nothing. She's had a bad day and she's on medication. Now leave."
"Can we see her tomorrow?" Darby asked.
"I doubt it. Call first."
Gray handed him a business card. "If she wants to talk, use the number on the back. I'm staying at a hotel. I'll call around noon tomorrow."
"You do that. For now, just leave. You've already upset her."
"We're sorry," Gray said, as they walked off the porch. Mr. Kupcheck opened the door but watched them as they left. Gray stopped, and turned to him. "Has any other reporter called or stopped by?"
"A bunch of them called the day after he was killed. They wanted all sorts of stuff. Rude people."
"But none in the past few days?"
"No. Now leave."
"Any from the New York Times?"
"No." He stepped inside and slammed the door.
They hurried to the car parked four doors down. There was no traffic on the street. Gray zigzagged through the short suburban streets, and crisscrossed his way out of the neighborhood. He watched the mirror until he was convinced they were not being followed.
"End of Garcia," Darby said as they entered 395 and headed for the city.
"Not yet. We'll make one final, dying gasp tomorrow, and maybe she'll talk to us."
"If she knew something, her father would know. And if her father knew, why wouldn't he cooperate? There's nothing there, Gray."
This made perfect sense. They rode in silence for a few minutes. Fatigue was setting in.
"We can be at the airport in fifteen minutes," he said.I'll drop you off, and you can be out of here in thirty minutes. Take a plane anywhere, just vanish."
"I'll leave tomorrow. I need some rest, and I want to think about where to go. Thanks."
"Do you feel safe?"
"At this moment, yes. But it's subject to change in seconds."
"I'll be glad to sleep in your room tonight. Just like in New York."
"You didn't sleep in my room in New York. You slept on a sofa in the sitting room." She was smiling, and this was a good sign.
He was smiling too. "Okay. I'll sleep in the sitting room tonight."
"I don't have a sitting room."
"Well, well. Then where can I sleep?"
Suddenly, she was not smiling. She bit her lip and her eyes watered. He had pushed too far. It was Callahan again.
"I'm just not ready," she said.
"When might you be ready?"
"Gray, please. Just leave it alone."
She watched the traffic ahead and said nothing. "I'm sorry," he said.
Slowly, she lay down in the seat and placed her head in his lap. He gently rubbed her shoulder, and she clutched his hand. "I'm scared to death," she said quietly.
HE HAD LEFT HER ROOM around ten, after a bottle of wine and egg rolls. He had called Mason Paypur, the night police reporter for the Post, and asked him to check with his sources about the Morgan street killing. It had happened downtown in an area not noted for killings; just a few muggings and beatings.
He was tired and discouraged. And he was unhappy because she would leave tomorrow. The Post owed him six weeks of vacation, and he was tempted to leave with her. Mattiece could have his oil. But he was afraid he'd never come back, which wouldn't be the end of his world except for the troublesome fact that she had money and he didn't. They could skip along the beaches and frolic in the sun for about two months on his money, then it would be up to her. And, more importantly, she hadn't invited him to join in her getaway. She was grieving. When she mentioned Thomas Callahan, he could feel the pain.
He was now at the Jefferson Hotel on Sixteenth, pursuant, of course, to her instructions. He called Cleve at home.
"Where are you?" Cleve asked, irritated.
"A hotel. It's a long story. What's up?"
"They put Sarge on medical leave for ninety days."
"What's wrong with him?"
"Nothing. He says they want him out of the place for a while. It's like a bunker over there. Everybody's been told to shut up and speak to no one. They're scared to death. They made Sarge leave at noon today. He thinks you could be in serious danger. He's heard your name a thousand times in the past week. They're obsessed with you and how much you know."
"Coal, of course, and his aide Birchfield. They run the West Wing like the Gestapo. Sometimes they include, what's his name, the little squirrel with the bow tie? Domestic affairs?"
"That's him. It's mainly Coal and Birchfield making the threats and plotting strategy."
"What kind of threats?"
"No one in the White House, except for the President, can talk to the press on the record or off without Coal's approval. This includes the press secretary. Coal clears everything."
"They're terrified. And Sarge thinks they're dangerous."
"Okay. I'm hiding."
"I stopped by your apartment late last night. I wish you'd tell me when you disappear."
"I'll check in tomorrow night."
"What're you driving?"
"A rented Pontiac with four doors. Very sporty."
"I checked the Volvo this afternoon. It's fine."
"I think so. Tell Sarge I'm fine."
"Call me tomorrow. I'm worried."
HE SLEPT FOUR HOURS and was awake when the phone rang. It was dark outside, and would remain that way for at least two hours. He stared at the phone, and picked it up on the fifth ring.
"Hello," he said suspiciously.
"Is this Gray Grantham?" It was a very timid female.
"Yes. Who is this?"
"Beverly Morgan. You stopped by last night."
Gray was on his feet, listening hard, wide awake. "Yes. I'm sorry if we upset you."
"No. My father is very protective. And angry. The reporters were awful after Curtis was killed. They called from everywhere. They wanted old pictures of him and new photos of me and the child. They called at all hours. It was terrible, and my father got tired of it. He pushed two of them off the porch."
"I guess we were lucky."
"I hope he didn't offend you." The voice was hollow and detached, yet trying to be strong.
"Not at all."
"He's asleep now, downstairs on the sofa. So we can talk."
"Why aren't you asleep?" he asked.
"I'm taking some pills to make me sleep, and I'm all out of sync. I've been sleeping days and rambling nights." It was obvious she was awake and wanted to talk.
Gray sat on the bed and tried to relax. "I can't imagine the shock of something like this."
"It takes several days for it to become real. At first, the pain is horrible. Just horrible. I couldn't move my body without hurting. I couldn't think because of the shock and disbelief. I went through the motions to get through the funeral, which now seems like a bad dream. Is this boring?"
"Not at all."
"I've got to get off these pills. I sleep so much I don't get to talk to adults. Plus, my father tends to run people off. Are you taping this?"
"No. I'm just listening."
"He was killed a week ago tonight. I thought he was working very late, which was not unusual. They shot him and took his wallet, so the cops couldn't identify him. I saw on the late news where a young lawyer had been murdered downtown, and I knew it was Curtis. Don't ask me how they knew he was a lawyer without knowing his name. It's strange, all the little weird things that go with a murder."
"Why was he working late?"
"He worked eighty hours a week, sometimes more. White and Blazevich is a sweatshop. They try to kill the associates for seven years, and if they can't kill them they make them partners. Curtis hated the place. He was tired of being a lawyer."
"How long was he there?"
"Five years. He was making ninety thousand a year, so he put up with the hassle."
"Did you know he called me?"
"No. My father told me you said that, and I've thought about it all night. What did he say?"
"He never identified himself. He used the code name of Garcia. Don't ask how I learned his identityit'll take hours. He said he possibly knew something about the assassinations of Justices Rosenberg and Jensen, and he wanted to tell me what he knew."
"Randy Garcia was his best friend in elementary school."
"I got the impression he had seen something at the office, and perhaps someone at the office knew he had seen it. He was very nervous, and always called from pay phones. He thought he was being followed. We had planned to meet early Saturday before last, but he called that morning and said no. He was scared, and said he had to protect his family. Did you know any of this?"
"No. I knew he was under a great deal of stress, but he'd been that way for five years. He never brought the office home with him. He hated the place, really."
"Why'd he hate the place?"
"He worked for a bunch of cutthroats, a bunch of thugs who'd watch you bleed for a buck. They spend tons of money on this marvelous facade of respectability, but they are scum. Curtis was a top student and had his pick of jobs. They were such a great bunch of guys when they recruited him, and complete monsters to work with. Very unethical."
"Why did he stay with the firm?"
"The money kept getting better. He almost left a year ago, but the job offer fell through. He was very unhappy, but he tried to keep it to himself. I think he felt guilty for making such a big mistake. We had a little routine around here. When he came home, I would ask him how his day went. Sometimes this was at ten at night, so I knew it was a bad day. But he always said the day had been profitable; that was the word, profitable. And then we talked about our baby. He didn't want to talk about the office, and I didn't want to hear it."
"Well, so much for Garcia. He's dead, and he told his wife nothing.Who cleaned out his desk?"
Someone at the office. They brought his stuff Friday, all neatly packaged and taped in three cardboard boxes. You're welcome to go "through it."
"No, thanks. I'm sure it's been sanitized. How much life insurance did he have?"
She paused for a second. "You're a smart man, Mr. Grantham. Two weeks ago, he bought a million-dollar term policy with double indemnity for accidental death."
"That's two million dollars."
"Yes sir. I guess you're right. I guess he was suspicious."
"I don't think he was killed by muggers, Mrs. Morgan."
"I can't believe this." She choked a little, but fought it off.
"Have the cops asked you a lot of questions?"
"No. It's just another D.C. mugging that went one step further. No big deal. Happens every day."
The insurance bit was interesting, but useless. Gray was getting tired of Mrs. Morgan and her unhurried monotone. He was sorry for her, but if she knew nothing, it was time to say good-bye.
"What do you think he knew?" she asked.
This could take hours. "I don't know," Gray answered, glancing at his watch. "He said he knew something about the killings, but that's as far as he would go. I was convinced we would meet somewhere and he would spill his guts and show me something. I was wrong."
"How would he know anything about those dead judges?"
"I don't know. He just called me out of the blue."
"If he had something to show you, what would it be?" she asked.
"He was the reporter. He was supposed to ask the questions.I have no idea. He never hinted."
"Where would he hide such a thing?" The question was sin cere, but irritating. Then it hit him. She was going somewhere with this.
"I don't know. Where did he keep his valuable papers?"
"We have a lockbox at the bank for deeds and wills and stuff. I've always known about the lockbox. He handled all the legal business, Mr. Grantham. I looked at the lockbox last Thursday with my father, and there was nothing unusual in it."
"You didn't expect anything unusual, did you?"
"No. Then Saturday morning, early, it was still dark, I was going through his papers in his desk in the bedroom. We have this antique rolltop desk that he used for his personal correspondence and papers, and I found something a bit unusual."
Gray was on his feet, holding the phone, and staring wildly at the floor. She had called at four in the morning. She had chitchatted for twenty minutes. And she waited until he was ready to hang up to drop the bomb.
"What is it?" he asked as coolly as possible.
"It's a key."
He had a lump in his throat. "A key to what?"
"First Columbia. We've never banked there."
"I see. And you knew nothing about this other lockbox?"
"Oh no. Not until Saturday morning. I was puzzled by it, still am, but I found all of our legal papers in the old lockbox, so I had no reason to check this one. I figured I'd run by when I felt like it."
"Would you like me to check it for you?"
"I thought you would say that. What if you find what you're looking for?"
"I don't know what I'm looking for. But what if I find something he left behind, and this something proves to be very, let's say, newsworthy?"
"One. If it disparages my husband in any way, you can't use it."
"It's a deal. I swear."
"When do you want the key?"
"Do you have it in your hand?"
"If you'll stand on the front porch, I'll be there in about three seconds."
THE PRIVATE JET from Miami had brought only five men, so Edwin Sneller had only seven to plan with. Seven men, no time, and precious little equipment. He had not slept Monday night. His hotel suite was a mini-command center as they stared at maps through the night, and tried to plan the next twenty-four hours. A few things were certain. Grantham had an apartment, but he was not there. He had a car he was not using. He worked at the Post, and it was on Fifteenth Street. White and Blazevich was in a building on Tenth near New York, but she would not return there. Morgan's widow lived in Alexandria. Beyond that, they were searching for two people out of three million.
These were not the type of men you could rustle out of the bunkhouse and send in to fight. They had to be found and hired, and he'd been promised as many as possible by the end of the day.
Sneller was no novice at the killing game, and this was hopeless. This was desperation. The sky was falling. He would do his best under the circumstances, but Edwin Sneller had one foot out the back door.
She was on his mind. She had met Khamel on his terms, and walked away from it. She had dodged bullets and bombs, and evaded the best in the business. He would love to see her, not to kill her, but to congratulate her. A rookie running loose and living to tell about it.
They would concentrate on the Post building. It was the one spot he had to come back to.
THE DOWNTOWN TRAFFIC was bumper to bumper, and that suited Darby just fine. She was in no hurry. The bank lobby opened at nine-thirty, and some time around seven, over coffee and untouched bagels in her room, he had convinced her that she should be the one to visit the vault. She was not really convinced, but a woman should do it, and there weren't many available. Beverly Morgan told Gray that her bank, First Hamilton, froze their box as soon as they learned of Curtis's death, and that she was allowed only to view the contents and make an inventory. She was also allowed to copy the will, but the original was placed back in the box and secured in the vault. The box would be released only after the tax auditors finished their work.
So the immediate question was whether or not First Columbia knew he was dead. The Morgans had never banked there. Beverly had no idea why he chose it. It was a huge bank with a million customers, and they decided that the odds were against it.
Darby was tired of playing the odds. She'd blown a wonderful opportunity last night to get on a plane, and now here she was about to be Beverly Morgan matching wits with First Columbia so she could steal from a dead man. And what was her sidekick going to do? He was going to protect her. He had this gun, which scared her to death and had the same effect on him though he wouldn't admit it, and he planned to play bodyguard by the front door while she pilfered the lockbox.
"What if they know he's dead," she asked, "and I tell them he isn't?"
"Then slap the bitch in the face and run like hell. I'll catch you at the front door. I've got a gun, and we'll blast our way down the sidewalk."
"Come on, Gray. I don't know if I can do this."
"You can do it, okay? Play it cool. Be assertive. Be a smartass. It should come natural."
"Thanks so much. What if they call security on me? I have this sudden phobia of security guards."
"I'll rescue you. I'll come blazing through the lobby like a SWAT team."
"We'll all be killed."
"Relax, Darby. It'll work."
"Why are you so chipper?"
"I smell it. Something's in that lockbox, Darby. And you have to bring it out, kid. It's all riding on you."
"Thanks for easing the pressure."
They were on E Street near Ninth. Gray slowed the car, then parked illegally in a loading zone forty feet from the front entrance of First Columbia. He jumped out. Darby's exit was slower. Together, they walked quickly to the door. It was almost ten. "I'll wait here," he said, pointing to a marble column. "Go do it."
"Go do it," she mumbled as she disappeared inside the revolving door. She was always the one being fed to the lions. The lobby was as big as a football field, with columns and chandeliers and fake Persian rugs.
"Safe deposit boxes?" she asked a young woman behind the information desk. The girl pointed to a corner in the far right.
"Thanks," she said, and strolled toward it. The lines in front of the tellers were four deep to her left, and to her right a hundred busy vice presidents talked on their phones. It was the largest bank in the city, and no one noticed her.