7:51 AM, Monterey
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Gloria Roberts, and on behalf of Mr. Durant, I’d like to welcome you all to PacRim One.”
There was a polite round of applause, and Kitfox, standing at the back of the crowded room, marveled at how quickly all the little side conversations ceased when Roberts began to speak; a murdered colleague tended to have that effect on people.
“The last thing I ever expected to do was give the welcoming speech at Mr. Durant’s conference. This was his brainchild, and that he should not have lived to see it come to pass is unthinkable. Aside from that, I have been Mr. Durant’s personal assistant for several years, and the organizers agreed that I should say a few words on his behalf, so I will try to keep my insignificant remarks brief, and allow you to get on with the business for which he worked so tirelessly to bring you together.
“When a good man, a decent man, is struck down at the pinnacle of his achievements, good and decent people of every culture, faith, and nationality wonder why.”
No kidding, Kitfox thought; the elusive answer to that question would blow this case wide open.
“It is certainly no secret,” she went on, “that the issue of free and open trade with our fellow nations around the world has its opponents. One need look no further than the ongoing difficulties that beset the World Trade Organization each time they meet virtually anywhere on the globe. Freedom of trade, just as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, or any other form of freedom, is anathema to the despot, the tyrant, and the dictator, to anyone, in short, whose only means of interacting with his fellow man is to dominate him. A great man, a man of vision, has been struck down by a conspiracy of cowards. It was suggested that this conference be postponed, or even cancelled outright. To do so would be to hand victory to those cowards, and such a course of action was rejected unanimously. I am heartened to see that virtually everyone who scheduled is, in fact, in attendance. I’m sure that Bob Durant, as he looks down from Heaven, whatever you conceive that to be, is heartened by your resounding rejection of terror.”
She had to pause here for a standing ovation. Kitfox was impressed. He had had no idea from their short meeting that she was such a skilled orator. He also hadn’t known that she was Durant’s personal assistant. Could there be a motive there?
“We stand today in the early years of the third millennium. The first was marked by fear and ignorance. The second is renowned for its intolerance, religious persecution, and the enslavement of whole segments of society by their fellow man. Both have been the playground of the warrior class.
“It is the hope of modern, hopefully enlightened people everywhere to make this the millennium of peace and freedom for all.”
She stopped to wait out another long round of applause.
“Peace and freedom are not spread by war. We have the whole annals of human history to prove that statement. Peace and freedom are spread through trade, the commerce of goods and ideas in a free marketplace, where the people reward quality and weed out mediocrity. It will not be an easy path from here to there. You people, those of you in this room today, are the scouts, the point men, the leaders who will take us all into the brave new world. Mr. Durant named his conference PacRim for a reason. Pacific Rim. It was his belief that the economic powerhouse of the United States would be joined initially by the economies of Asia, who share that great ocean, and in time by Europe, Africa, and South America, uniting the globe in the promise of freedom and prosperity for all. This conference, PacRim One, is the first step on that journey. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Monterey, welcome to PacRim One, welcome to the shining future of mankind. Thank you for coming.”
She stepped from behind the podium to offer a deep bow to the thunderous ovation that swept the hall. When the noise died down and everyone took their seats again, she introduced the mayor, who would exhort them to visit his town and spend lots of money, and descended from the dais to take an unassuming place at the back of the room. Kitfox moved to her side, taking a program from the table at the back wall.
“Marvelous speech, Ms. Roberts. Do you write your own material?”
“Just the eulogy. The marvelous bits were pure Bob. We’ve met, haven’t we?”
“Leon Kitfox, FBI.”
“Oh, yes, you’re the one trying to get the murderer off.”
“I don’t get people off, Ms. Roberts. Juries do that. I’m trying to find out who lit her fuse.”
“So you still don’t think she acted alone?”
“The more I learn, the less I believe it. Why didn’t you tell me you were Mr. Durant’s personal assistant?”
“You didn’t ask. Anyway, it was implied, wasn’t it? I was running the bank when you interrogated me.”
“Interviewed. An interrogation is a bit more . . . harsh. Do you realize that being his PA gives you substantial motive for doing away with him?”
“Is it? It implies immediate inheritance of his duties, his projects, his mantle if you will.”
“All of that was coming to me in time.”
“Maybe. Durant wasn’t old. He could have gone on for another twenty years. A lot could have happened to your relationship in twenty years. It may have been happening already.”
“I think I’m beginning to see the difference between an interview and an interrogation. Are you accusing me of murdering my mentor?”
“Do you see handcuffs? Do you hear the Miranda warning? I’m exploring possibilities.”
“What’s wrong with the possibility that that woman the police have in jail murdered him for her own reasons?”
“She has no motive.”
“Perhaps her livelihood stood to be harmed by free trade. That’s a common theme with the protest crowd.”
“Doesn’t apply to her.”
“So you think somebody who did have motive asked her to do them a favor and kill someone, and she just said, ‘sure, why not?'”
“You were the one who spoke about a conspiracy of cowardice.”
“Implying that that woman was one of the many conspirators.”
“Gloria,” a young man interrupted, “I’m so glad to finally meet you! David Chou, National Bank of Taipei.”
“Ah, David. I’m glad to meet you, as well. Duty calls, Mr. Kitfox. You know where to find me.”
The mayor had wrapped up his remarks, and the delegates were introducing themselves to one another. Roberts moved off to join a small group at the far side of the room, leaving Kitfox to wonder whether she had vacationed in Cabo, and how he might find out.
8:39 AM, Monterey
Inez Zamora walked along the hall taking in a constant buzz of prime rates, treasury bond values, conversion rates, and initial public offerings. She hadn’t realized it was possible for this many boring people to gather in one place without disappearing into some sort of gravity sink. Steeling herself against some paralyzing slide show, she entered the main convention room.
To her relief, everyone still inside was gathered into groups, all droning on in geekinese about their own little areas of expertise. To her even more profound relief, Kitfox stood alone at the back of the room, flipping through a pamphlet and casting furtive glances at one group or another.
“Hey, G-man,” she greeted him quietly.
“Good morning, copper.”
“Did I miss anything?”
“A hell of a speech. That woman in dark suit over there is Gloria Roberts. She is, or was, Robert Durant’s personal assistant.”
“Really. I interviewed her earlier this week. She was the assistant manager of the B of A here, filling in for Durant until she or someone else was named to fill the position, and she didn’t let on otherwise.”
“And this obviously has your antennae quivering for some reason?”
“Durant was more than just a banker. He was the driving force behind this conference, for one thing. What if he led, or was himself a financial empire, and that woman was his personal assistant?”
“Then his sudden demise could lead to quite a windfall for your mystery woman. That will be easy enough to check. I’ll get somebody on it. What about security?”
“What about it?”
“How does it look?”
“Like it’s supposed to.”
“But, it’s a big show. Lots of uniforms, cops and private, standing around looking like they’re ready for Armageddon, but they can’t prevent anything. They can only react after something happens.”
“It’s the best we can do. A big show of force might deter an incident. You know how security works.”
“Yeah. They’re doing their part, now we have to do ours.”
“You’re a detective. I’m an investigator. We have to find out what’s driving this thing, unravel the plot, get ahead of it somehow.”
“How? We’re going to check out Durant to see if your buddy Roberts had motive. Even if she did, that doesn’t mean she’s guilty.”
“What else? There’s the Cabo connection. This town’s cold and wet half the year. I can’t imagine how many people bug out for the sun belt any chance they get.”
“Still, that might be doable. All the perps so far have tracked to one place, that Casa de Maya, what was it?”
“Casa de la Playa. Means house of the shore. We can try to track the guest list, but, Christ, think about it. There’ll be hundreds this time of year. Thousands.”
“Yes, thousands that visited, but they will have paid with credit cards, yes?”
“Most of them.”
“And those companies bill statements to their cardholders’ homes. Now, what if we could get a list of charges to Casa de la Playa filtered by the local zip codes in the area?”
“We’d have a hell of a head start, that’s what. It won’t be easy, though. We’ll need court orders for each company. They aren’t going to hand over their clients’ private financial records without it.”
“Are you cozied up with any judges here in town?”
“If you think my FBI credentials will carry more weight, I’ll make the request, but if you have an I.O.U. floating around, this might be a good time to call it in.”
“Well, there’s Judge Cavenaugh. He doesn’t owe me anything, but he’s an anti-crime conservative. He might come through once he hears the story. We still won’t get anything out of this before the conference is over.”
“What else have we got? The only other commonality is the amnesia, and they only come down with that after they’ve done the deed. I don’t see any way we can use that, do you?”
“No. So it’s the billing list, then. I’ll pull the good judge off the links and see if he can follow our little tale through the twilight zone.”
“Pitch it good. Lives may depend on this.”
“Let’s hope not. What are you going to do?”
“I think I’ll look around here for a weapons cache maybe, something like that.”
“Talk about the twilight zone!”
“I was attacked by hotel staff. If our mastermind had a guy in my motel, how many more will he have here where the conference is? Smuggling a weapon through this security isn’t going to happen. How much easier would it be to have them prepositioned inside before it all starts?”
“Okay, you’ve sold me. Keep in touch.”
9:02 AM, Monterey
Kitfox wandered aimlessly around the bellhops’ lounge, looking for he knew not what. He had the place to himself, only the careworn furniture there to keep him company. The staff was swamped, kept busy by no less than three conventions including PacRim. He looked under sofa skirts and chair cushions, behind pictures, in cabinets. A supervisor came in, a pompous older man looking for anyone goofing off on his watch.
“May I help you?” he smarmed.
“FBI,” Kitfox replied, holding up his card without looking at him.
“Do you have a search warrant, sir?”
“I have the enthusiastic cooperation of the hotel management.”
“In that case, I ask again, may I help you?”
“I’m looking for weapons. Have you found any?”
“Weapons? Like pistols, perhaps?”
“Yeah, pistols, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, just anything out of the ordinary.”
“I’m sorry, sir. No pistols, no flamethrowers, no bazookas nor trench mortars have I seen. Perhaps the kitchen may have what you’re looking for.”
“Perhaps they might. Well, thanks for your help.”
Kitfox opened a roll-around cart that contained spare uniform parts and rifled through them in search of foreign objects.
“Was there something else?”
“No, thanks again. Carry on.”
The old boy gave him a look that would have curdled milk, made a crisp military turn, and walked out.
He was probably right, Kitfox knew. Nothing especially sophisticated had been used yet, and the most likely weapon was a knife from the kitchen. He was wasting time. Still, there was nothing else to do until Zamora got her hands on that list. Maybe the housekeeping staff was sitting on a stash of firearms.
9:41 AM, Monterey
Kitfox stepped out into the bright and noisy kitchen, ears recoiling from the raw clanging of metal implements. A busboy with a stack of trays bustled in behind him, almost running him down before he could step aside, and then he only stepped into the path of a room service cart whose driver stopped suddenly and rolled his eyes above a muttered curse.
That sentiment was voiced by a wiry man with a pencil mustache, bustling toward him, eyes bugging out below a ridiculously huge chef’s hat. Kitfox looked around to see who he might be addressing.
“You! I am talking to you!” The accent was French, and the target was Kitfox. “Out of my kitchen!”
“Special Agent Kitfox, FBI. I’m investigating—”
“And this gives you the right to stand in everyone’s way on the most important day in the hotel’s entire history? Mon Dieu! What do you want, and make it quickly, please!”
“I’m investigating a multiple homicide, with possibly more to come.”
“In the hotel?”
“Not yet. That’s what I’m trying to prevent. I’m looking for weapons the killer may have stockpiled before the security perimeter was established.”
“Weapons? Do you not know where you are?”
Kitfox gave him raised eyebrows and an upturned palm.
“This is a kitchen. Everything in here is a weapon!”
“This would be something a little more sophisticated than the cutlery. Are there places in here you hardly ever lock”
“Are you blind? Look at this place. You see a hundred people working in a space for fifty. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking a place where you keep something you hardly ever use, like, I don’t know, Tupperware, the microwave, something like that.”
“Ah, yes. The microwave is there. Help yourself. Tupperware is not allowed in this room.”
“Louis, your hollandaise!” someone shouted.
“Stir, you fool!” the chef shouted back. “As you see, I have to go. Feel free to amuse yourself, but for the love of God, stay out of the walkway!”
He took off running toward a row of kettles along the far wall.
Kitfox stepped cautiously into the maelstrom, dodging a steaming cauldron carried by a man not tall enough to see over the edge of it. Stepping into a tiny niche out of the aisle, he opened a cabinet and had it instantly slam shut again as someone ran into the back of it with a loud curse. The man passed, and he took a quick look inside. Ladles and strainers.
He moved along the wall to the bulk refrigerator and opened the door in time to let a young woman carrying a rack of ribs into the kitchen; she almost fell into the room, having expected the door to resist her weight. He went in, finding parts of carcasses hanging from racks and, surprisingly, frozen vegetables, but no good hiding places.
Back into the roiling kitchen, he checked another cabinet, getting his toes trod upon for his trouble, and gave a cursory examination to a bin for soiled linen. He also reached underneath, but found nothing but some fresh chewing gum. He stood up to think, stroked his chin, and got shouldered aside once again.
The back row had the stove burners against the wall with the cutting boards opposite. There may have been space below the burners, but it would be folly to hide ammunition there. Cabinets lined the row below the cutting boards, but junior cooks were constantly in and out, and nothing out of the ordinary could possibly remain unnoticed. And then his phone rang.
“Kitfox,” he shouted without elaborating.
“Jesus, Leon, where are you?” Zamora’s voice, barely audible, came into his ear.
“Sounds like a boiler factory.”
“You should hear it from my end. Hang on, let me get out of this place.” He maneuvered his way to the door and stepped out into the service corridor. “Okay, this is better. What do you need?”
“Cavenaugh’s gone to Hollister. Won’t be back until this evening. I can try another one, but the results would be less predictable.”
“Damn! What are we looking at, eight, nine hours?”
“I hate to waste that much time. Maybe he’ll get in early. Let’s give him til after lunch, at least.”
“Sounds good. How are you doing?”
“Compared to what?”
“In your search for weapons.”
“Nothing, although I’ve found a French chef who sounds like he could irritate you to death.”
“Sweet. Oh, sorry. Are you going to keep at that, or go back to the conference, or what?”
“I’ll probably look around a little more. I don’t think they’ll do anything in a room full of people.”
“Leon, something turned these wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly types into killing machines. I have to wonder if they’d care if there was a room full of people.”
“I like to think it’s a deterrent. I’ve got plenty of places to look yet.”
“Whatever you think’s best. Get some of the uniforms to do the routine stuff for you, though. Save yourself for the big stuff.”
“Yeah, as soon as I figure out what that is. What are you going to do until the judge gets back?”
“I’ll probably come back there and join you. There’s nothing else to do until . . . Wait a minute!”
“I’ve got an idea. Hold the fort. I’ll see you in about an hour.”
“What is it? What have you got? Inez? Damn!” He closed his dead phone and slipped it into his pocket.
10:15 AM, Monterey
Woodbury Travel was one of those small businesses that the Chamber of Commerce liked to hold up as a local success story. That was an understatement. Kori Woodbury graduated on the Dean’s List from Monterey Union High School, married the football team’s star receiver, and started a family, all in accordance with the American Dream. Ten years and two kids into it, her loving husband took up with another woman, got caught, and was duly served with divorce papers. Law and sympathy were on Kori’s side, she got the house, the kids, and a big settlement. Mr. Wonderful made exactly two child support payments before dropping off the face of the earth, leaving Kori to fend for herself.
Kori, who had never been farther afield than San Francisco, had combined her fascination with travel and her native intelligence with a burning drive to provide more for her kids than a welfare check, and had turned a rundown storefront into the hottest dream store on the peninsula. She was enjoying a lull in business when her old classmate and partner in crime walked through the door.
“Inez!” she shouted, putting down coffee cup and printout, and rising with a wide smile on her pretty features. “Inez Zamora! Is it still Zamora?”
“Jeez, Kori, you sound like my mother. How’s life treating you?”
“Very well. How about you? Are you still a cop?”
“Still am. That’s kind of what brings me here.”
“Yeah. I’d like to get a line on Cabo San Lucas. How’s business been to there over, oh, say the last six months?”
“Six months. That’s a coincidence.” She turned to a file cabinet behind her desk.
“It seems like we’v been packing every plane going out of here.” She flipped through the tabs on the folders. “Are you thinking of taking a little getaway?”
“This would be a great time for it. Ah, here we are.” She pulled out a folder, turned, and spread a selection of brochures across her desk. “It’s unusual for a resort to run a special during its big season.”
“So, ever since the spring, this charming little inn called Casa de la Playa has been running a two-week singles package that comes in at about forty percent below the going rate. We try to refer everybody. It’s a great deal. Inez?” She had looked up to find Zamora staring at the colorful folders with wide eyes and gaping mouth. “Inez, what is it?”
“You may have just provided the missing piece of my puzzle. I’ll explain it all later, I promise. I have to get back to the Marriott. I’m working security on the PacRim with an FBI agent.”
“Is he handsome?”
“Spectacularly. He’s also gay. This is work, Kori. Keep those things handy, will you? In fact, let me have one. Thanks. Gotta run.”
11:09 AM, Monterey
Kitfox stood in the fourth floor housekeeping store room looking around without really seeing anything. His mind was numb with the fruitless search, like the way his eyes got when he tried to stare at one thing for too long. At some point after the kitchen he had crossed the line into the ridiculous. He looked at the shelves of cleaning supplies and wondered whether a pacifist murderer could make a delegate drink Liquid Plumber, and what the effect would be if he did. Chlorine bleach and ammonia stood ready and waiting to be mixed in one of the handy plastic buckets, sending clouds of lung-blistering chlorine gas through the ventilation system. It was a positive relief when his cell phone rang.
“Leon, it’s Inez. Sit down.”
“I’m kind of busy. What’s up?”
“Funny you should ask. I dropped in on an old school chum who runs a travel agency now.”
“Travel agency? And this helps us how?”
“Well, it seems that a little hostelry by the name of Casa de la Playa has been offering, for the last six months, a discount package that has been packing them in from all over the country. My friend says she’s had vacationers going on every plane out of here for the last six months.”
“You’re shitting me!”
“Oh ho, that’s not all. I called them. This whole discount during tourist season thing was the brainchild of a fellow named Wilhelm Uberoth. The manager said he had an accent, but it didn’t sound German. Somewhere east of there, more like. Now, get this. This Uberoth guy just up and left last week.”
“Did they say where he went?”
“No. He didn’t give notice and he didn’t collect his last check. They just got up one morning and he was gone. The package was working so well that they continued it, but I don’t think anyone who went there after this guy left is a problem for us.”
“You’re probably right. Where did they find this guy, what’s his background?”
“He applied for an opening for a social director. Gave three references from various European resorts. They called one, a number he gave them, and they confirmed him. Apparently, they were real happy with him. They’re kind of in a backwater down there, and he put them on the map. They were real sorry to find him gone.”
“I’ll bet! They’re going to fax me his employment package, which isn’t much, but there is a recent photo and the reference he gave. Maybe we can track him down from that.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it. The name will be an alias, and the references will have never heard of him.”
“Yeah, but there is the picture. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“Sure, an eastern European con man is sure to show up in your mug book.”
“I was thinking more like your mug book.”
“Oh, sure, we’ll send it up, but photo matching in a file the size of ours takes longer than we’ve got.”
“It’s something, Leon.”
“Yes, it is. I’m sorry. You’ve done some great work here. I just hope it leads somewhere.”
“So do I.”
“Well, what do we do now?”
“I’m going to my office to wait for the fax.”
“You don’t think it’s there already?”
“Leon, it’s coming from a Mexican innkeeper.”
“Are you still at the Marriott?”
“Yeah. I’ll be here all day.”
“Okay. I’ll bring it over as soon as it comes in. See you then.”
“Bye,” he said, but she was already gone.