MITCH COULDN'T UNDERSTAND IT.

You have all the money in the world. You can go anywhere you like - Miami Beach, Barbados, Hawaii, Paris. Why the hell would you buy a house in this dump?

Clearly, Lenny Brookstein didn't have the best judgment in the world. He'd had a beautiful wife who adored him, but had chosen to shack up with an ugly mistress who loathed him. His so-called friends were about as trustworthy as a bunch of used car salesmen. But this took the cake. As far as Mitch could see, Nantucket had nothing to recommend it. With its gray, clapboard houses and rain-swept, desolate beaches, it was the sort of place that could make anyone depressed.

"What do people do here?" he asked the pharmacist at Congdon's on Main Street, one of the few stores that kept its doors open off-season.

"Some people paint. Or write."

Write what? Suicide notes? Leonard Cohen lyrics?

"Some people fish. It's pretty quiet in March."

This was an understatement. The guesthouse in Union Street where Mitch was staying was as silent as the grave. The only noise in the evenings was the heavy tick, tick of an antique grandfather clock in the parlor. A couple more weeks of this and Mitch would end up like the Jack Nicholson character in The Shining.

But it wouldn't take two weeks. Within twenty-four hours of his arrival, word went around the island that a strange guy was in town, asking questions about Leonard Brookstein. Instinctively, collectively, the islanders clammed up. Felicia Torrez, Grace and Lenny's cook up at the Cliff Road estate, now worked at Company of the Cauldron, the only high-end restaurant that catered to locals outside of the summer months. Mitch went to find her there.

"I'm trying to get a clearer picture of the events in the days leading up to the storm, back in the summer of 2009. You were living at the Brooksteins' home at that time?"

Silence.

"How long had you been in their employ?"

More silence.

"Look, ma'am, this is not an official investigation, okay? You don't need to be nervous. Did you notice any tension among any of the houseguests that particular weekend?"

At first he thought she had poor English. Then he wondered if she was mute, or deaf, or both. Whatever it was, Felicia was about as forthcoming as a clam that had swallowed some Superglue. Mitch tried the housekeeper, the maid, the gardener. It was always the same story.

"I don't remember."

"I didn't see anything."

"I did my job and went home."

Tomorrow he would head down to the harbor and talk to the fishermen. Some of them must have been out on the water that day. But he didn't hold out much hope. It's like they're all part of some secret club, like the Masons or something. But it made no sense. Lenny Brookstein was already dead. What did they think they were protecting him from?

HANNAH COFFIN CALLED TO HER HUSBAND.

"Tristram! Come see this."

"In a minute."

The Coffins worked at the Wauwinet Hotel, a five-star retreat in one of the quietest, least-populated parts of the island. Like all the big hotels, they were closed through the spring months, but kept a skeleton staff to work on maintenance and repairs. Hannah and her husband acted as caretakers, overseeing the off-season staff. It was a job with a lot of down-time, which Tristram Coffin spent tinkering with his Ducati motorbike, and Hannah spent watching daytime television.

"Tristram!"

"I'm busy, honey." Tristram Coffin sighed. Just buy the damn earrings already, or the super-duper potato peeler, or the Greatest Hits of Neil Diamond, or whatever it is they're selling! You don't need my opinion.

"It's important. Come on in here."

Reluctantly, he put down his wrench and wandered into the living room of their modest ground-floor apartment. As usual, the television was on.

"Do you remember that guy?"

Hannah pointed at the screen. A man was being interviewed about Maria Preston's murder. The story was getting juicier by the day. It now looked as if the husband had done it, hired a Mob hit man to kill his wife because he suspected her of having an affair. Hannah Coffin was particularly interested in the murder because Maria Preston had stayed at the Wauwinet once.

Tristram studied the man's face.

"He looks familiar."

"He is familiar!" said Hannah triumphantly. "Where's that cop staying? The one that's been asking all the questions about Lenny Brookstein?"

"Union Street. Why?"

"I'm gonna call him, that's why."

Tristram looked disapproving. "Come on, honey. You don't want to get involved."

"Oh yes I do." Heaving her two-hundred-pound frame up off the couch, Hannah lumbered toward the phone. "I know where I've seen that guy before. And when."

"ARE YOU SURE?"

Mitch felt like pinching himself. If he weren't scared of putting his back out, he'd have picked Hannah Coffin up in his arms and kissed her.

"One hundred percent. They checked in here together. It was the day of the storm. Him and Maria Preston."

"And they stayed..."

"All afternoon, like I told you. I'll write it down for you if you like. Make a statement. He was on TV, acting like he hardly knew her. But he knew her all right. Intimately, if you know what I'm saying."

Mitch knew what she was saying. He was due at the harbor in half an hour, but this called for a change of plans. He headed for the airport.

NANTUCKET AIRPORT WAS LITTLE MORE THAN a shed, a simple L-shaped shingle structure with a pitched roof, one-half of which was designated "Departures" and the other half "Arrivals." As single-and twin-engine Cessnas landed, passengers got out and helped the pilot unload luggage onto the tarmac. In the departure lounge, "security" consisted of a gray-bearded old man named Joe who glanced at the locals' bags before waving them through with a cheery smile and a "See you at the Improv Friday night. Baptist church, don't be late now."

Mitch marched up to the desk of Cape Air.

"I'd like to see your passenger records, please. I'm interested in all flights in and out of the island on June twelfth, last year."

The girl at the desk rolled her eyes. "And you are?"

"Police."

"Darlene?" she called over her shoulder. "I got another one here. Wants those June twelfth records. Can you take him?"

An old woman in a tweed skirt emerged from the office. She wore her snow-white hair tied back in a neat bun, and a pair of pince-nez glasses perched on the end of her nose, like Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother.

Mitch looked puzzled. "Another one? Has someone else been asking to look at your passenger lists?"

"They have indeed. Darlene Winter." She shook Mitch's big, bear-like hand with her thin, wrinkled one. "You policemen are like buses. Never there when you need one, then suddenly you all show up at once. Come on back."

Mitch followed Darlene into an office that was as neat and orderly as she was. There was a computer in one corner, but she led him to a desk on the other side of the room. A big brown leather book lay open. It looked like an antique Bible, or an enormous visitors' book from some medieval Scottish castle.

"All our records are computerized, of course," Darlene told Mitch. "That's the law. But we like to do things the old-fashioned way around here. We keep a daily logbook of our flights as well, handwritten. I suspect I already know what you're looking for."

She pointed to a familiar name, beautifully rendered in italics and black ink.

"He caught the six-ten A.M. to Boston, along with five other passengers. Landed at six fifty-eight. Whatever he was doing that day it looked like he changed his mind, because at seven twenty-five" - she flipped a page - "he boarded an eight-seater right back to the island. This is his landing record, right here. June twelfth, eight-oh-five A.M. Flight 27 from Logan. John H. Merrivale."

Mitch ran his finger across the paper.

So Hannah Coffin wasn't a fantasist. John Merrivale really could have been at the Wauwinet that day, shacked up with Maria Preston.

According to Hannah, the pair of them hadn't arrived at the hotel until early afternoon. A full five hours after John got back to the island, after setting up his alibi. More than enough time to sail out to Lenny Brookstein's boat, get aboard and murder him.

"You mentioned someone else had asked to see this. Another cop?"

"That's right. FBI, I think he said he was, but he came off as more of a military man. Very brusque. A little rude, if you must know. He had one of those army haircuts, you know. Much too short."

"You don't remember his name?"

The old woman furrowed her brow. "William," she said eventually. "William someone-or-other I think it was. Went straight to the same page. June twelfth. John Merrivale. Is this Mr. Merrivale in some sort of trouble?"

Not yet, thought Mitch. Then he thought, Who the hell is William?

THE GUARD LOOKED AT THE MUD-SPATTERED sedan and its lone occupant. He'd expected an armored vehicle, or even a convoy of some sort. Not a middle-aged man in a dirty family car. This guy looks like her dad coming to pick her up after a sleepover.

The camp outside Dillwyn in rural Virginia was a top secret OGA facility. OGA stood for "Other Government Agency," which typically meant CIA, although the Dillwyn camp provided a temporary "home" for a variety of nonmilitary prisoners considered too disruptive or dangerous to be returned to a mainstream correctional facility. Some were terror suspects. Others suspected spies. A few were classified as "politically sensitive." But none of the inmates at Dillwyn was more "sensitive" than the one this man had come to see. The prisoner was being transferred to an FBI holding cell in Fairfax. In a sedan, apparently.

"Papers, please."

The gray-haired man handed over his credentials. For a few moments there was a tense pause while the guard leafed through them. But everything was in order, as he knew it would be.

"Okay, go on through. They're expecting you."

GRACE STOOD IN THE CENTER OF her six-by-eight-foot cell. Planting her legs in a wide stance, she stretched out her arms, focusing on her breathing as she lunged forward into warrior 2 pose.

She'd been at Dillwyn almost two weeks, locked for twenty-two hours a day in a spare, windowless box. With no one to talk to, no human interaction of any kind, yoga had been her salvation. She spent hours going through a series of poses, energizing her body and focusing her mind and breathing, staving off despair.

I'm alive. I'm strong. I won't be here forever.

But would she? Hours, days and nights had already merged into one, long, unbroken stretch of nothing. The lights in Grace's cell were permanently set on dim. Meals were pushed through a tray in the door at regular six-hour intervals, but there was nothing to distinguish breakfast from lunch or lunch from supper.

They're trying to break me. Make me crazy so they can lock me up in a mental institution and throw away the key.

It wasn't working. Yet. Between yoga sessions, Grace would lie on her bunk, close her eyes and try to conjure up an image of Lenny's face. He was the reason she was living, after all, the reason she kept fighting. At Bedford Hills, and later when she was on the run, she'd found it easy to summon his kind, loving features at will. Grace talked to Lenny the way that other people might pray to God. His presence was a great comfort to her. But here, in this awful, mind-numbing place, she was distressed to find that his image was fading. Suddenly she could no longer remember the exact sound of his voice, or the look in his eyes when he made love to her. He was slipping away. Grace couldn't shake the feeling that once he was totally gone, her sanity would disappear with him.

The one face she could conjure, ironically, was Mitch Connors's. A few nights ago, for the first time in many months, she had an erotic dream, one in which Mitch was the lead actor. She woke up feeling embarrassed, guilty even, but talked herself out of it. You can't help what you feel when you're unconscious. Besides, at least it proves I'm alive. I'm still a woman, still a human being.

The door of the cell opened. Grace startled. It wasn't time for her daily exercise. The guard said brusquely, "Come with me. You're being transferred."

They were the first words anyone had spoken to her in over a week. It took Grace a moment to unearth her voice.

"Where?"

The guard didn't answer. Instead he slapped handcuffs on her wrists. Grace followed him mutely along a maze of corridors, trying to contain her elation.

This is it. I'm getting out of here. I knew they couldn't keep me here forever.

She wondered if Mitch Connors had had a hand in her release, and was curious as to where they were taking her. Wherever it was, it couldn't be worse than this place. The guard punched a seven-digit code into a heavy metal door. It swung open. Grace followed him outside into a courtyard.

"Hello again, Grace." Gavin Williams smiled. "We've a long journey ahead of us. Shall we get going?"

THE COUNTRY ROADS WERE ROUGH AND RUTTED. Each bump and jolt tore through Grace's frayed nerves like a razor. Williams was a madman. She thought back to the last two times they met - once at the morgue, when he'd grabbed her like an animal - and once in the infirmary at Bedford. That second time Grace was sure he meant to harm her. The feral hatred in his eyes...she would never forget it. Of course, she had been heavily sedated at the time.

"Where are you taking me?"

Without taking his eyes off the road, Gavin Williams took his right hand off the steering wheel and slapped Grace hard across the cheek.

"Do not speak unless I tell you to."

In mute shock, Grace put her free hand up to her throbbing cheek. Her right hand was cuffed to the passenger door. The handcuffs chafed painfully against her wrist. She sat as still as she could, trying not to move against the metal. Gavin Williams began talking, mumbling to himself like a junkie.

"I thought things would be different at the FBI. But of course they weren't. The cancer is everywhere: ignorance, stupidity. That's why the Lord sent me. He blessed me with the gifts of intelligence, of wisdom. He gave me courage to act."

Grace felt her heart rate quicken. I have to get out of here. Since they left Dillwyn, they seemed to have been driving deeper and deeper into the wilderness. It was a sinister landscape. On either side of the unmade road lay dense thickets of stinking sumac, broken only by an occasional black walnut tree. Darkness was closing in.

"Of course Bain trusted him. They all did. He was smarter than Bain. Smarter than Brookstein, too. But he wasn't smart enough for me."

I have to engage him. Keep him talking till I figure out what to do.

"Who wasn't smart enough?" Grace braced for another slap, but this time Williams seemed eager to talk.

"Merrivale, of course," he spat contemptuously. "He tried to humiliate me. In Geneva. He'd been there before with Lenny. Got Bain to throw me off the task force. But my work wasn't done yet. I uncovered his secret." John smiled. Madness blazed in his eyes.

"What was his secret?"

Gavin Williams laughed. "He killed your husband, my dear. Didn't you know?"

GRACE SAT IN SILENCE. WILLIAMS KEPT TALKING.

"John flew to Boston on the day of the storm. But of course, the police were too lazy to check the Cape Air records. I had to do it myself. As soon as Merrivale landed, he turned around and caught the next plane back. He took a helicopter out to Lenny's boat. This was early, mind you, before the bad weather set in. They had a couple of drinks - your husband's was drugged, of course - and then dear John did the deed. Lenny was decapitated, by the way. Not cleanly either. Merrivale must have gone at him like he was a tree stump, hacking away. Did your investigator boyfriend tell you that?" He was taunting her, delighting in her horror like a kitten playing with a mouse before the kill.

Grace felt dizzy.

"It was John who took the money, diverting all those funds from Quorum. After he dispatched your old man, he got you out of the way - that was the easy part - then buddied up with that brainless popinjay Harry Bain." Gavin parodied Harry Bain's gravelly baritone: "'John's our key asset in this investigation. You must stop alienating him, Gavin.' Fool! All this time the truth was right under his nose. Stinking, like your husband's corpse. But Harry couldn't see it."

Grace tried to process what Gavin Williams had just told her. Clearly the man was unhinged. And yet she knew in her bones he was telling the truth about John. He had checked those flight records. It was John who stole the money, John who killed Lenny, John who stage-managed her trial and sabotaged the investigation. Her instincts had been right all along. Why hadn't she trusted them?

The good news was, if Williams knew the truth about John, it stood to reason he must also know that she was innocent. That she and Lenny had never stolen anything. That they were victims. He's not abducting me. He's rescuing me!

She opened her mouth to thank him, but she never got the chance.

Leaning over, Gavin Williams punched her so hard, she blacked out.

SHE WAS WET. SOAKING WET. GAVIN Williams was pouring a bottle of ice-cold water over her head. She was still in the car. The a/c had been turned up full blast. Grace shivered with cold.

Williams pushed her seat back as far as it would go, then climbed on top of her. Grace screamed and struggled, waiting for the inevitable, but Williams didn't try to rape her. Instead he pinned down her legs with his forearm so she couldn't move, closed his eyes and began reciting what sounded like some bizarre form of liturgy.

"The wicked shall gnash with his teeth and melt away...the desire of the wicked shall perish...even in darkness, light dawns for the righteous...Lord, deliver me from evil..."

"I'm innocent," Grace pleaded. "You know I am."

"You are guilty!" spat Gavin, his face grotesquely contorted with hatred and lunacy. "All of you - you, your disgusting husband, Merrivale. You're all the same, you rich parasites, you bankers, thinking yourselves so much better than the rest of us. Better than me. You're vermin. Depraved, sick vermin. But don't despair. I have been sent to cleanse you." Reaching across to the driver's seat, he grabbed a second water bottle, emptying it over Grace's head.

"I baptize you with water for repentance." The liquid was freezing. Grace shut her eyes and gasped for breath. When she opened her eyes, she saw Williams unscrewing a plastic gas can. Slowly, he began to pour a snail's trail of the viscous liquid over Grace's clothes and hair. "But a second baptism is at hand. A baptism by fire. The winnowing fork is in the hand of the Lord. He will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn." Gavin's voice grew louder, more excited. He climbed off Grace, flinging open the passenger door and clambering to safety. Grace's arm was still handcuffed to the door. As it swung open she roared in agony, feeling her shoulder joint dislocate. Williams was still incanting. "He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a book of matches.

Grace didn't think. On instinct, she propelled herself forward, kicking Williams hard in the groin. He bellowed in pain, dropping the matches.

"You bitch!" He ran at her like a maddened bull, throwing himself back into the car, hands clawing her face, fingernails gouging deep, bloody grooves in the skin. Grace sank her teeth into his arm. Gavin yelped and let go of her for a moment, but his anger was stronger than his pain. I must destroy her. I must rid America of the wicked, cut out the cancerous scourge of greed before it devours us all.

"Repent!" His hands gripped Grace's cheek like a vise. He was trying to press his thumbs into her eyeballs. Grace felt her skull fill with blood. The pain in her shoulder was so excruciating she was surprised she hadn't passed out. "Repent, sinful daughter of Eve!"

"You repent, asshole!"

With all her remaining strength, Grace brought her free arm down hard in a karate-chop motion on the back of Gavin Williams's neck. She heard a crack, like a snapping branch. Williams's hands went slack, a toy robot whose batteries just died. As he slid to the floor of the car, his head dangled from his torso at an absurd angle, like a flower on the end of a broken stem. His eyes were still open, frozen for all eternity in an expression not of hatred, but of intense surprise.

With her free arm, Grace got hold of the lapel of his jacket and pulled the slumped corpse toward her. It was slow work, but eventually he was close enough for Grace to reach into his jacket pocket. Inside, glinting like nuggets of gold in a stream, were the keys to her handcuffs.

The cuffs opened easily, but moving her arm was agony. Grace screamed as she staggered out of the car, tears of pain coursing down her cheeks, mingling with the blood from where Williams had scratched her. She'd seen girls dislocate their shoulders during her gymnast days, and knew what to do. Slumped down in the mud, leaning back against the side of the car, she gritted her teeth.

One. Two...three.

The pain was indescribable. But the relief was instant and sweet. Grace savored it. She laughed, the deep, heartfelt laugh of the survivor. When her strength had returned, she went over to Williams's body, retrieving his wallet and everything else he had of value. Then she stood up, lit a match and tossed it into the sedan. She watched the flames engulf Gavin Williams's body, and stood there, warming herself in their heat. It felt good.

She was alive.

She was free.

But her work wasn't over.




Line : 121

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