HARRY BAIN TURNED TO MITCH CONNORS. "I hate this shithole."

"Yeah, well. Don't we all."

Mombasa was a shithole. Hot and dirty and soulless. Both Mitch and Harry were covered in bites from mosquitoes as big as hummingbirds, and the combined effect of the itching and the heat made sleep all but impossible. No wonder they'd begun to get short with each other. They'd been able to trace John Merrivale's movements as far as Kenya, but since they arrived in Kenya, the trail had gone stone cold. At this rate they might be stuck here for many more days, perhaps even weeks.

Mitch thought about Helen and his daughter, back in New York. It was shamefully long since he'd last seen Celeste. He didn't miss Helen anymore, but Celeste was a different story. He tried to push the little girl out of his mind, to focus all his mental energy on this case, but it was hard.

If Mitch and Harry Bain didn't find John Merrivale before Grace did, Grace would kill the guy for sure. Understandably, she'd lost all faith in the system. The whole notion of an appeal seemed laughable to her. Personally, Mitch couldn't have cared less if Merrivale got a bullet between the eyes. But if Grace ended up with a murder charge against her, she would be beyond his or anybody's help.

There was a knock on the door of the hotel room. Mitch looked at Harry, as if to say, Who the hell can that be? It's after midnight. Both drew their weapons.

"Who is it?"

"It is I, Jonas. We met this morning at the airport. Please, you are letting me inside?"

Mitch grinned. The Kenyans might rob you blind, but they'd say "please" and "thank you" while they did it. As a nation, you couldn't fault them for politeness. Jonas Ndiaye was a pilot Mitch and Harry had interviewed earlier after a tip that Merrivale may have chartered a small plane to fly into Tanzania. But the trip had been another dead end. None of the pilots had recognized John's picture.

Mitch opened the door.

Jonas Ndiaye was thirty years old but looked younger. He had a naughty, boyish face, with no visible stubble, and a spiky, Westernized hairstyle glued into place with some sort of spray or gel. He reminded Mitch of a black Bart Simpson.

"I apologize with the late hour."

"That's okay," said Harry Bain. "We weren't sleeping. What can we do for you, Jonas?"

"The question I am asking is what I can do for you? After you leave today, I am shaking my brains about that photograph. Yes indeed. I think you will be happy to give some dollars to me about the things I am knowing, yes, yes, I think so." He flashed Harry an open, expectant smile. As if asking flat out for a bribe was the most normal, reasonable thing in the world. "Tonight we are doing business, yes indeed! My memory is becoming alive."

Wearily, Harry Bain unlocked his bedside drawer. He pulled out a wad of twenty-dollar bills, held together with a rubber band. You couldn't take a dump in Kenya without bribing somebody. Jonas Ndiaye's eyes widened. He stretched out a hand for the money, but Bain shook his head.

"What do you know?"

"The man in the photograph was traveling in my plane. Yes, it is true! Two weeks ago he came."

"You took him to Tanzania?"

"No." Jonas held out his hand again. Harry Bain peeled off five bills from the pile and handed them to him.

"Where?"

"The gentleman was wishing to fly to Madagascar."

Harry looked at Mitch. No extradition treaty.

"I brought him to Antananarivo airport. He was talking about the wildlife. He will go there on safari, you see, to take many pictures and also to dive in the ocean. Now my memory has come back to me, I can tell you he was a charming gentleman. Very charming, the man in the photograph."

Mitch asked, "Did he tell you where he was staying? Or how long he intended to be on the island?"

Jonas smiled expectantly at Harry. More cash was exchanged.

"He did not."

"Hey! Give me back that hundred, you son of a bitch."

Jonas looked hurt. "Please, sir, do not become agitated. The gentleman did not tell me his plans. But he did ask me some sights to recommend."

"And?"

Another smile. Harry Bain's patience was fraying. "Don't push it, kid."

Mitch looked pointedly at his gun lying on the bedside table. The pilot decided not to push it.

"For diving, there is only one place and that is Nosy Tanikely."

"Nosy what? What is that? A beach?"

"It as an island," Jonas explained politely. "A place of sanctuary for the wildlife of the ocean."

"A marine reserve?"

"It is where the divers go. Your friend, the gentleman, was traveling with diving equipment."

Harry Bain looked at Mitch and smiled. "Thank you, Jonas. You've been a lot of help."

"Yes, I am delighted to make this service to you. Now you are giving me some dollars for my transport, and I think it is the end of our business."

GRACE STOOD OUTSIDE LE COCON FOR a long time. She hadn't expected to feel emotional. After everything that had happened, she didn't believe she was capable of it anymore. But as she stood on the steep cobbled street, looking up at the thick stone walls that had once made her feel so protected, tears streamed down her cheeks.

She was surprised to learn that Mr. Beerens was in residence. She'd assumed he bought Le Cocon on a whim, as Lenny had done, one of a fleet of vacation homes he thought about from time to time but rarely visited. She gave her name as Charlotte Le Clerc, and was even more surprised when Beerens agreed to see her.

"May I offer you a drink, Ms. Le Clerc?"

Jan Beerens was middle-aged, fat and amiable, with thinning reddish blond hair and brown eyes that twinkled when he smiled.

"Thank you. A glass of water would be great." Grace struggled to maintain her composure. Inside, the house had not been changed at all. She hadn't realized that Beerens had bought it lock, stock and barrel, including her and Lenny's furniture and artwork. She even recognized the glasses, crystal tumblers she'd had shipped especially from Paris.

Grace's hair had grown out a little at Dillwyn and in the weeks since her escape. In Mombasa, she'd had it cut into a chin-length bob that she dyed a rich, mahogany brown. Catching sight of herself in the library mirror, she thought, The only thing in this house I don't recognize is myself.

"What brings you to Le Cocon? To Madagascar, for that matter. You are on vacation?"

"Sort of. I stayed here once, with a friend. Years ago."

"You were a guest of the Brooksteins?"

"My friend was. It's actually a little awkward, but this friend of mine, he's been going through a hard time recently."

Jan Beerens looked sympathetic. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Thanks. He took off a few weeks ago and no one's heard from him since. I know he made it as far as Madagascar. I wondered if maybe, out of nostalgia or whatever, he'd stopped by the house." She pulled out a picture. "I don't suppose you've seen him?"

Beerens studied the picture for a long time. Grace's hopes soared, then plummeted when he handed it back to her.

"Sorry. I feel as if I recognize him from somewhere. But he hasn't been here."

"You're quite sure?"

"Positive, I'm afraid. You're my first visitor in over a year. That's partly why I decided to sell. I adore the house and the island, but it's too isolated. I'm only here now to sign the papers, and to say my farewells. You're lucky you caught me."

"Oh." She didn't know why, but it made Grace feel sad that this kind, thoughtful man would be leaving Le Cocon. "Who's the new owner? If you don't mind me asking."

"Actually, it's all rather mysterious. I was approached by a lawyer in New York, and he's handled everything, but he's never divulged the name of his client. Whoever it was clearly knew the house intimately. This lawyer made a number of requests for specific pieces of furniture, carpets, that sort of thing. He's moving in on Monday, I believe."

Grace's breathing quickened. She felt the hairs on her arms prick up. Whoever it was knew the house intimately.

Jan Beerens walked her to the door. "I'll say this for Lenny Brookstein. He may have been a crook, but he'd have made a hell of an interior designer. I'm gonna miss this place. As for your friend, I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help."

Grace shook his hand. "Actually, you've been very helpful. Good-bye, Mr. Beerens. Good luck."

HARRY BAIN AND MITCH CONNORS DECIDED to split up. Madagascar was the size of Texas, and all they had to go on was what Jonas Ndiaye had told them.

Harry said, "I'll stay in Antananarivo. I can interview staff at the airport, taxi drivers, real estate brokers. I'll talk to the managers of all the good local hotels. If he was here, someone'll remember him, especially with that stammer."

Mitch took a small plane to the north of the island. Nosy Tanikely was a tiny atoll in an extensive archipelago off Madagascar's northwest coast. A diver's paradise, there was nothing there but beach and ocean. For a roof over their heads, divers and sightseers alike had to go to nearby Nosy Be. It amused Mitch that the capital of Nosy Be was called "Hellville." If anywhere truly lived up to the brochure fantasy of paradise, with white sandy beaches and tranquil turquoise waters, it was this place. If you were going to spend the rest of your life on the run from U.S. authorities, this was the place to do it, all right. John Merrivale was nobody's fool.

Mitch went to every five-star hotel on the island. Every supermarket, drugstore, bar and car rental office.

"Have you seen this man?

"Are you certain? Look again. If we find him, there's a substantial reward."

In Mombasa, that approach was bound to yield a response of some sort, even if not the truth. Here, nothing. The locals had not seen John Merrivale. As for the divers, Mitch got the impression that they saw themselves as a community, and that they might have protected one of their own from the police even if they did know something. Either way, after three days, the tan on Mitch's forearms had deepened from butterscotch to molasses, but he was nowhere nearer finding John, or Grace.

Harry Bain called. "You got anything?"

"Nope. You?"

"A little. Jonas wasn't bullshitting. Two witnesses at the airport confirm seeing him. It looks like he spent two nights at the Hotel Sakamanga, then moved on. He was talking about going diving. Said he was 'meeting a friend.'"

"I'll stay up here till Monday," said Mitch.

Harry Bain didn't ask the obvious question: And then what?

Pretty soon they would both have to head back to New York. It was a minor miracle that neither Grace's escape nor John Merrivale's disappearance had yet been reported in the media. But at some point, a statement would have to be made. There was music to be faced, and while Mitch could probably hope to be reinstated at the NYPD, Harry Bain knew that if he returned home empty-handed, his career was over.

"Keep me posted." He hung up.

GRACE'S HEART STOPPED.

Coming out of a grocery store, she saw him across the street. The guy from the FBI! Gavin Williams's boss, the one who worked with John. She ducked back into the store.

"Vous avez oublie quelque chose, madame?"

Is he looking for John, or for me?

"Madame?"

Grace blinked at the shopkeeper.

"Me? Oh, non, j'ai toutes mes affaires. I'm fine, thank you."

She peered through the window.

The man had gone.

I must lay low. All I have to do is make it through the weekend. After Monday, I won't care anymore. He can haul me back to Super Max in leg irons.

HARRY BAIN RECEIVED AN ANONYMOUS TIP. A note was left at his hotel.

The man you are looking for is no longer in this province. He is in Toliara. Talk to the rangers at Isalo National Park.

Harry tried to reach Mitch but his cell phone was switched off.

I'll go tomorrow.

WHEN MITCH WOKE UP ON SUNDAY morning, he thought his head was going to explode. He wasn't sure whether to blame the whiskey, or the fact that during the night someone had surgically implanted a church bell into his cranium and was now ringing the damn thing at a hundred decibels.

He got up, staggered to the bathroom, threw up, felt better. Opening the white wooden shutters in his bedroom a crack, he flooded the room with laser-bright light. Must be later than I thought. He winced, closing the shutters and crawling back into bed.

This would be his last day on the archipelago. He ought to have been up at dawn, turning over every rock he could think of in hopes of one sighting of the elusive John Merrivale. But he knew it was hopeless.

He fell back to sleep, but his dreams were disturbing and fitful.

Church bells ringing. He was marrying Helen. "Do you take this woman?" "I do." He lifted Helen's veil, except it wasn't Helen; it was Grace Brookstein. "Forget about me."

He was on a beach, chasing John Merrivale. John turned a corner and disappeared. When Mitch reached the corner, it changed into Detective Lieutenant Dubray's office. Dubray's voice: "This is not your case, Mitch. If it weren't for Celeste and Helen..." Then Harry Bain walked in. "He spent two nights at the Sakamanga. He said he was meeting a friend."

Mitch woke up with a start.

He said he was meeting a friend.

Could it be?

He picked up the phone. "Harry Bain, please. Room sixteen."

There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Mr. Bain checked out early this morning. He'll be back on Tuesday, same room. Can I leave a message?"

The bells in Mitch's head were still ringing, but the pitch had changed. They weren't church bells anymore. They were alarm bells.

I have to get back to the city.

GRACE WAS ALREADY AWAKE WHEN THE alarm went off.

Four A.M.

She pulled back the curtains in her cheap hotel room and looked down at the deserted street. According to weather.com, dawn would break in less than ten minutes. Right now it was pitch-dark outside, the buildings slick with the blackness of night, gleaming-dark, as if they'd been dipped in tar.

Grace dressed hurriedly. The backpack was light, but it contained everything she needed. She looked in the mirror.

For you, Lenny my darling.

It's all been for you.

Silently, she slipped out of the hotel and into the shadows.




Line : 107

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