12: Sunday

4:01 AM, Monterey

Kitfox drifted awake more slowly than he liked, prodded from a distance by the insistently ringing phone. Finally reaching some rudimentary level of awareness, his desire to wake turned quickly to annoyance. A glance at the dark window showed him that the time was at least well before dawn. Groping toward the nightstand, he found the phone.

“Kitfox,” he said, letting his annoyance show.

“Leon, Inez.” Her voice was maddeningly crisp. “I need you at the Marriott.”

“What’s up?”

“Just get down here. I don’t want to talk on the phone.”

A dull ache was starting behind his left eye as he levered himself out of bed and switched on the light. That did nothing to make him feel better. Five hours, he thought, checking the time. Is this what municipal cops go through on a daily basis? Surely they have shifts.

Apparently, Zamora didn’t. She could be found on the trail of this mastermind, for surely by now no one thought all these attacks were mere coincidence, at any time of the day or night. She seemed tireless, never appearing out of sorts no matter what time she had been yanked out of bed, or how little sleep she had had; a person really could get used to anything.

Such were his thoughts on the short drive to the big hotel at the center of the tourist district. He arrived on a scene that could have been seen from space. Red and blue lights flashed from two-dozen cars that were drawn up around two sides of the hotel. Yellow tape secured to every conceivable attachment point formed a surreal maze to be negotiated on the way to enlightenment. Even at this hour, a crowd of the curious was gathering.

He parked down the block and walked up to the tape where a large, no-nonsense officer guarded the inner sanctum. His FBI card got him past that obstacle, though the man couldn’t tell him where Zamora was. The lobby was in no way better. Guests milled around in every state of dress, from bathrobes to business suits, some being questioned, others waiting their turn. There was no sign of Zamora here, either.

He spotted a trio of detectives holding a conference in front of the elevators. Walking up behind one of them, he reached over the man’s shoulder to hold his FBI card in front of his face.

“Lieutenant Zamora?”

“Oh, she’s waiting for you, Special Agent. Go to the third floor. You’ll see her as soon as the doors open.”

Kitfox boarded the elevator, and when the doors opened didn’t see Lieutenant Zamora, but took in a great deal more. A middle-aged man in a casual suit lay just outside the elevator, the right side of his head a mass of blood and hair. He lay face down, his arm outstretched as if he were reaching for the call button. A pool of blood soaked the floor around his head and shoulders.

“Jesus!” Kitfox exclaimed, feeling his stomach ball up.

“Careful!” one of the forensics team barked from a point ten feet from the body where he knelt over a bloodstain. “Don’t touch anything.”

“Those comedians in the lobby ought to warn person,” Kitfox grumbled. “I suppose I contaminated the elevator?”

“No, we did that first.”

“Anything usable?”

“Can’t say yet. I doubt it, though. There’s traces of a thousand people in here. It’s hard to tell what’s a clue in a public execution like this.”

“That’s what it was, then?”

The blood guy stopped to fix Kitfox with a look that spoke volumes.

“Unless he committed suicide with a baseball bat that he then somehow disposed of, yeah, that’s my read.”

“Sorry, it’s early yet. Lieutenant Zamora?”

“She went to take a breather. The CP’s in a little lounge down the hall on the left. You might try there.”

“Thanks.” Kitfox went a hundred feet down the hall and turned in at an open door where a lot of cops and lab coats were milling around.

“Leon,” Zamora greeted him at once, “glad you got here so soon. You met Mr. Ludwig?”

“That would be the vic?”

“Yeah. Michael Charles Ludwig, market analyst with Pfenner and Stein in San Diego. Had a faculty card from UCSD in his wallet. We’ll be checking on that, but this being Sunday, it may not go anywhere. Cause of death, blunt force trauma above the right ear. We have the time narrowed down pretty tight, because the hall was clear fifteen minutes before he was found.”

“Any suspects?”

“None credible. We’ve sealed the hotel, but by the time we arrived, it was an hour old. Perp could be in San Francisco by now.”

“Yeah, and even if he’s not, you know what we’re going to hear.”

“Yeah. It’s hard to crack somebody when they don’t know what they’ve done.”

“What stage are you at here?”

“Detectives are interviewing everybody in this place, and uniforms are looking for the weapon. It’s going to take hours to get statements from these people, and already the organizers are screaming because it’s going to disrupt their event schedule.”

“That’s normal. How are you handling them?”

“They’ll have to suck it up. Dead bodies have the right of way.”

“Fair enough. Any feelings?”

“Staff. He’s waiting for the elevator, maybe wants to catch an early breakfast. Who notices a bellhop or a maintenance man?”

“Or a colleague. You and I are the only ones who are sure about our theory, which means maybe it’s wrong, and even if we’re right, we’re still miles behind on this. We have to find some way to catch up.”

“Good thought. How are we going to do that?”

“I’m thinking about it.” He glanced at his watch. “It occurs to me that we have a perp who owes his lack of prosecution to my goodwill. He might be willing to engage in some meaningful dialogue.”

“Mendoza?”

“Correct.”

“Pierce isn’t going to be happy.”

“Pierce can kick rocks. I’m questioning his client as a material witness in a different case in which he is not a suspect.”

“He won’t take that lying down.”

“I can always drop the charges. Mendoza’s as much a victim as I was, and we both know it.”

“Yeah, well, hold that option back as long as you can. It could be useful for leverage.”

“I know. I’ll let you know where this goes. If anywhere,” he added doubtfully.

“I’ll do the same for Mr. Ludwig. See you for lunch?”

“Gotta make it to breakfast first.” He glanced around the room. “No donuts? And you call yourselves cops!”

5:19 AM, Monterey

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Mendoza. I’m not here to cause you more grief, but it’s imperative I talk to your son as soon as possible.”

“Haven’t you done enough? Now you have to come to his hospital bed to do more?”

“Mrs. Mendoza, this is important.”

“Not important enough to bother Mr. Pierce, I see.”

“There is no time. There’s been another murder.”

“Dios! My Filipe has been in this bed where you put him!”

“Yes, I know that. As I explained to you the other night, I don’t believe Filipe is a killer. I think someone of great skill coerced him, tricked him into attacking me, and that’s who I want to put in jail, not Filipe. If I can’t produce that person, though, a jury will convict Filipe in his place. He may be able to help me find out what happened to him, and who did it.”

“I don’t know . . .”

“It’s okay, ma,” Filipe called from the bed.

“Be quiet, hijo, she snapped.

“No, ma, he wants to help me. Come in, Mr. Kitfox.”

“I don’t like it!”

“I don’t care, ma. Go get some coffee. Come in, come in. How can I help you?”

“Filipe, there’s been another murder. I know I told you that if you remembered anything else to call me. Cops always say that to witnesses, and you probably thought nothing else of it.”

“No, I’ve thought about it. I don’t have much else to do here.”

“And?”

“I’m sorry. I just can’t think of anything.”

“Maybe you can. Just take it a step at a time. Now, you stayed at Casa de la Playa, right?”

“Yes.”

“Where was it? On the beach?”

“No. It was six blocks away.”

“Was it modern?”

“Sort of. It wasn’t real old, but time had passed it by, you know?”

“From the sixties, like?”

“That’s right.”

“So, did the rooms have kitchens and bedrooms, or were they all in one?”

“You walked in, the bed was in the living room. There was a little kitchen where you could warm up a snack or leftovers.”

“Pool, game room, anything like that?”

“There was a little square pool with no lifeguard. I don’t think anybody used it. There was no other rooms, no games or books or nothing.”

“Did you meet anyone named Uberoth?”

“Uberoth?” He thought for a moment. “I could have, I guess. The place was full the whole time I was there.”

“No, this Uberoth worked at the hotel.”

“Oh. Well, I didn’t meet nobody like that.”

“Take your time. Be sure.”

“I’m sure. Everybody who worked there was Mexicans. I spoke Spanish the whole time. A guy with a name like that would have stood out like a sore thumb.”

“Something happened to you there, Filipe, and we think this Uberoth guy did it. Did you receive a blow to the head during your stay?”

“No.”

“Did you pass out, or wake up feeling like something wasn’t right?”

“No.”

Kitfox looked down and held his head.

“Did you attend any shows featuring a hypnotist?”

“A hypnotist?”

“I’m reaching, here. Someone convinced you that attacking an FBI agent would be a good idea. They also convinced at least three other people, and I don’t think for a minute that’s all. I want this guy.”

“Please, Mr. Kitfox,” his mother said, “he doesn’t remember.”

“He needs to, Mrs. Mendoza. It’s vitally important. Why did you choose this particular hotel?”

“Because I could afford it,” he said with a nervous sniff. “I don’t exactly make the biggest salary.”

“I see. How cheap was it?”

“Half the regular price for Cabo.”

“All right. I have to get back to the Marriott. I want you to keep thinking about this, Filipe. Anything out of the ordinary may be the clue we need. If you had to do something extra before you could flush the toilet, I want to know what it was. If your shoes were moved when you woke up in the morning, that could be important, get it?”

“I get it. I just don’t remember.”

“Try. Everything depends on it. Here’s my card. I know I gave you one before, but if you remember anything, call me any time, day or night.”

“Okay, Mr. Kitfox.”

“Thanks for talking to me.”

8:09 AM, Monterey

Lieutenant Zamora slouched in a reasonably comfortable executive-model chair, feet on the square table, idly finger-combing her short black hair. An uncomfortable puffy fullness had settled behind her eyes, and the taste in her mouth was pretty close to that of week-old coffee. She had had, what, three hours sleep, and had then been yanked out of bed to deal with another murdered financier. That had been a good five hours ago; she should just be waking up about now.

At least she had her people going door-to-door taking statements. Once they got back, she would have to dive into the next phase, correlating the information they had gathered. She could close her eyes and rub her temples until then.

That was when her cellphone rang. She glared at it for another ring, then picked it up from the table and managed to find the button with her thumb.

“Lieutenant Zamora, this better be good.”

“Sergeant Peters, Lieutenant. I think it’s good. That fax from Mexico you’re waiting for is coming in now.”

“That is good,” she conceded as her feet hit the floor. “Is the picture any good?”

“Portrait quality, so far.”

“Any vitals?”

“No text yet. Cover sheet says there’ll be three more pages, so probably.”

“Excellent! Leave it on my desk, would you?”

“Thy will be done.”

“Thanks, Peters. I’ll see you make chief for this.”

She cut him off in the middle of his laugh, and punched in Kitfox’s number. After a couple of rings, it went straight to voicemail.

“Leon, it’s Inez. Call me the second you get this.”

Damn! Where the hell are you?

She took his card from her wallet and dialed the Holiday Inn number he had written on the back.

“Is Mr. Kitfox in his room by any chance?”

“I can ring him and see. May I tell him who’s calling?”

“Lieutenant Zamora of the Monterey Police.”

“Thank you. One moment.” The line clicked dead for a moment, then the pleasant female voice returned. “I’m sorry, there’s no answer. Would you care to leave a message?”

“No . . . Yes. Ask him to call me at once. He has my number.”

“Call Lieutenant Zamora at once,” the woman repeated. “I’ll put it in his box.”

“Thank you.”

Zamora stood up, frustrated. She strolled to the door and looked out into the hall, hoping he had returned and she would see him right outside. Only a single tech was left, finishing the crime scene processing.

“Nick, have you seen agent Kitfox?”

“That FBI guy?”

“Right.”

“Sorry, Lieutenant. Saw him earlier, right after all this started. Nothing since, though.”

“Thanks.”

She stepped aside to make room for a young man in a hotel uniform to enter their makeshift headquarters. He started emptying ash trays into one of the waste cans.

“Are you with the police?” he asked as she came back in.

“Yes.”

“Uh huh. You look a little stressed.”

“Thanks. What a lovely thing to say.”

“I didn’t mean anything. It’s just, our workroom’s at the far end of this hall. If you’d like some coffee, help yourself. If anybody’s there, just tell them Jimmy sent you.”

“That’s decent of you. I just might.”

“Would you like some food?”

“I’m not a guest.”

He gave a dismissive hiss. “There’s a thousand snack trays out this morning. I’m sure they wouldn’t miss one.”

“Jimmy, you’re a prince.”

“I know what it’s like to be stuck on the job and hungry. Just let me empty these wastebaskets, and I’ll round something up for you.”

Zamora’s cell phone rang again.

“Excuse me. Zamora.”

“Inez, Leon. Just got your message. What’s up?”

“Where the hell have you been? Never mind. That fax from Mexico is coming into my office. The sooner we can get your people working on it, the better. This guy had Casa de la Playa in the palm of his hand for six months. Anybody who went there is at risk.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more. You know what a pain it is to get my office moving on a Sunday, though.”

“We have to try.”

“All right, I’ll meet you at the station. I can be there in fifteen minutes.”

“Good, I’m on the way.” She switched off.

“Excuse me,” the kid with the wastebaskets said. “I couldn’t help overhearing. Miss Benson stayed at Casa de la Playa.”

“Who’s Miss Benson?”

“The hotel’s social coordinator.”

“Oh, my God!” Out came the phone again. “Leon, Inez. Change of plan.”

8:33 AM, Monterey

Zamora paced back and forth in front of the taped-off side entrance the police had commandeered for their own use. She glanced at her watch again; a minute later than last time. It was barely fifteen minutes since she’d gotten off the phone with him, and she had no idea where he was.

Please let him be close.

Her silent prayer was answered as his unmarked Crown Victoria pulled up at the end of the line of police vehicles and he got out and started toward her. She trotted down the steps and met him at the tape line, lifting it for him before the uniform could even ask for his ID.

“Thanks for hurrying,” she greeted him.

“I was nearby. What’s all this about a witness before the fact, or whatever you said.”

“The social director, or whatever, for this hotel stayed at Casa de la Playa,” she said, trying to hurry him a bit by taking two steps at once. “She just came on duty.”

“And what do you think we’ll accomplish by interviewing her? She can’t know she’s a ticking bomb.”

“She may not even be one, but we have the opportunity to pick the brain of someone who stayed there before she goes off. This is a gift beyond price.”

“Slow down.” He actually took her by the arm and stopped her. “Have you given any thought to what you’re going to say to her?”

“Not specifically.”

“Generally?”

“Generally, I’m going to ask her about the situation down there, who she met, what they talked about, all the usual stuff, you know.”

“She isn’t going to know what was done to her, if, in fact, anything was done to her.”

“Well, what’s your plan, to wait until she goes off, and deal with the aftermath?”

“No, I didn’t say that. Just don’t hold out too much hope for this to be a case-breaker. Where is she?”

“I haven’t summoned her yet. I thought we might surprise her.”

“All right. Lead the way.”

Zamora angled across the lounge area they were in and approached a young housekeeper who was fluffing pillows.

“Excuse me,” she said, flashing her badge, “could you direct me to a Miss Kathy Benson?”

“She’s at the front desk until nine.”

“Thank you.”

They entered the main lobby, finding three young women pleasantly and efficiently moving a short line of guests, never quite allowing it to form as the travelers stopped by to make arrangements for the day to come.

“You do the talking,” Zamora said as they crossed the lobby toward the rich walnut counter.

“Me? This is your project.”

“A man with an FBI card? She won’t dare try to stonewall you. Plus, you just made me realize that I’m too close to it.”

“I’ll take a shot,” he said. “Feel free to jump in whenever it suits you. Kathy Benson?”

All three young women swung their heads toward the man holding up the FBI card.

“I’m Kathy Benson,” a slender girl of medium height replied.

8:37 AM, Monterey

Kitfox made a quick assessment of the young woman who answered to the name of Kathy Benson. Her fresh-scrubbed good looks would have been at home in an Ivory soap commercial, and her short auburn hair, gathered into a ponytail by a barrette, lay in a fan at the top of her shoulders.

“Special Agent Leon Kitfox of the San Francisco FBI,” he told her. “This is Lieutenant Inez Zamora of the Monterey Police. Is there somewhere we can talk?”

“Of course, but I’m on duty here.”

“Go ahead, Kathy,” one of the other women told her, “we’ve got it.”

“Thanks. Right this way,” she said, coming out from behind the counter and leading them across the lobby.

The hotel uniform of blue blazer and tan pleated skirt couldn’t hide the girl’s athletic grace as she walked, sure-footed, on her two-inch platforms. She was obviously a powerful tool in the hotel’s quest for business.

She led them into one of the hallways and to a bellhop station, or so Kitfox assumed, a tiny alcove formed by a podium holding a phone, a stapler, a paper spike with a dozen or so order slips already impaled by it, and a roll of tape.

“Take five, Tommy,” she said to the teenage boy lounging against the wall there.

“Yes, ma’am!”

“I’m too young for that,” she muttered, then sliding into the alcove, she asked, “how can I help you?”

“Miss Benson, we’re investigating the murder that took place here this morning, as well as several others, and my colleague was given information that you recently vacationed in Cabo San Lucas, is that correct?”

“Yes, it is.”

“May we ask where you stayed?”

“Of course. It was a little out-of-the-way place that my travel agent found for me. Casa de la Playa was the name of it. Why?”

“We don’t want to upset you, Miss Benson, but there have been three murders, plus one unsuccessful attempt, and the common denominator is that all the perpetrators stayed at Casa de la Playa during the last six months.”

“My God! And you think I’m one of them?”

“Not at all,” he hastened to assure her. “I’m sure thousands of people vacationed there, and the vast majority of them will remain unaffected by the experience. What we were hoping was that with your experience, you may have noticed something out of the ordinary for a small resort.”

“Like what?”

“I’m afraid that if we knew, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We’re looking for anything that might have made you say, ‘now that’s weird.'”

She studied the desktop for a moment, lips pursed, replaying her visit in her mind.

“I can’t think of anything,” she said finally. “It would certainly help if you could give me some idea of what you’re looking for.”

“Anything, anything at all. Was there a Coke machine in your room? That would be unusual. Were your shoes repaired and cleaned while you slept? Did the toiled play Beethoven?”

“No,” she said with a smile playing around her lips. “It sounds almost like you think something down there drove your killers to become killers while they were there.”

“That’s the gist of it. We need to find out what the trigger was, and we don’t know what to ask.”

“All right, now you’re scaring me.”

“How’s that?”

“If you think people were turned into killers while they sat around the pool or something, it could very well have happened to me.”

“Are you a violent person, Miss Benson?” Zamora asked.

“No.”

“Then you’re probably safe. If someone was making killers down there, it’s likely they’d want subjects with a prior familiarity with violent activities.”

“I hope you’re right!”

She hadn’t seen Kitfox look sharply at Zamora’s blatant lie.

“I’m sure we are,” Zamora said, reaching for her wallet. “We need anything you can think of, no matter how odd or insignificant it may seem. I’m going to give you my cell phone number, and I want you to call me the instant you think of anything. Don’t be embarrassed. The weirder a thing is, the more likely it is to help us.”

“All right,” Benson said tentatively, reaching for Zamora’s card as if it had poisonous spines. She still wore her look of confusion, but that suddenly disappeared, replaced by raised eyebrows and open mouth. “You know, this wasn’t in Cabo, but a few nights ago, I nodded off at the library. When I woke up, I had a book open on the table about some Japanese fighting art, or something like that.”

“Was that something you’d normally read?” Kitfox asked.

“No, it didn’t interest me at all. I almost thought the librarian had put it there for a joke. She woke me up when it was time to close, but they don’t make jokes like that, do they?”

“Not generally, no.”

“I’m one of the killers, aren’t I?”

“Not unless you killed Mr. Ludwig this morning. Did you?”

“Of course not!”

“Can you prove it? To yourself, I mean.”

“My alarm woke me at six-thirty, and I got here just before eight.”

“Well, you’re probably not a killer, then.”

“Not yet. What should I do?”

“Just be aware of yourself, keep your cool. I’m sure you’re safe.”

“But that book, Mr. Kitfox. I never would have chosen a book like that to read.”

“Yes. Okay, I’m going to lay everything on the table.” He looked around to verify that no one was standing nearby to overhear, by design or chance, what he was about to say.

“Are you sure about this, Leon?” Zamora asked.

“All I’m sure about is that we’re in over our heads. This could help, and I don’t see any way it could hurt.”

“Okay. I’m with you, for better or worse.”

“All right, Miss Benson, this goes no further, do you understand?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Over the past few weeks, four people have been attacked, three of them killed, and all of them were involved with this economic conference that’s going on. The three that died, including the one this morning, were scheduled to attend. I was the fourth, and I was attacked after I became involved with the investigation.”

“My God, that’s terrible!”

“Indeed it is. There were four different attackers, three of whom are in custody. There were easy to catch because they made no effort to hide or escape. They were all perfectly normal people, productive members of society with no police history until they struck, and after they committed their crimes, they lapsed into amnesia. They couldn’t remember what they’d done, or why, and the common thread that runs between them is that they all vacationed at Casa de la Playa during the last six months. That’s why we’re so interested in anything you may have seen or heard while you were there.”

“This can’t be happening,” she said, making it a plea to the two law enforcement professionals. “There’s the book, plus the very fact that I work at this hotel would make me a natural target. What should I do?”

“We aren’t supposed to offer that kind of advice, Miss Benson, but in this case, if you really think you might be a programmee, you might want to take some time off, get out of town until the conference ends.”

“I’ve just done that. I won’t have days to take off for months.”

“What about your office, Inez? Could you take her into protective custody?”

“Possibly, but against what? If we can’t show a credible outside threat, the bras will just kick her again.”

“I’m not sure that would go down well with management, anyway,” Benson said.

“Well, if you can’t get out of here, it’s hard to offer many other suggestions. Just try to monitor yourself, your mood, whatever, and if you start feeling strange, seek out some coworkers. How have you been feeling, by the way? Since you got back.”

“Generally very good,” she said, visibly running a self-diagnostic as she spoke. “I do get these headaches, though. Almost crippling sometimes.”

“Does anything relieve them?”

“Exercise.”

“That’s almost a standard remedy these days,” Zamora said.

“Yeah. Did you happen to meet a staff member, a male, named Uberoth while you were there?”

“Uberoth? No. Everyone was Mexican.”

“That’s too bad.  Well, one or the other of us will be around here most of the day because of this murder, and we’ll check in on you from time to time. Don’t hesitate to seek us out if you think you need us. You’re on our A-list right now.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s nothing,” Zamora said. “And call that number if you thing of anything, I don’t care how weird it is.”

“I will.”

“All right. Why don’t we go get that fax?” Kitfox said as they stepped away from the alcove. “I’ll get my office moving on it if I have to drive up there. I can do it in an hour if you’ll loan me a marked car.”

“Well, it is Sunday. It’s notoriously hard to get hold of bosses on Sunday, especially if you don’t look to hard.”

“Mr. Kitfox!” Benson called from the alcove. “I just remembered something.”

As the two unlikely partners started back toward here, she said, “the headboards had speakers. I could dial up anything from a tropical thunderstorm to ocean surf. I slept like a baby.”

8:38 AM, Monterey

Ikhilevich had followed them unobtrusively from the moment the FBI man and his puppet, the city cop, had allowed Benson to lead them away from the reception desk. It was child’s play for a man of his skill.

When they stopped at the alcove, he turned quickly up the stairs, crossed above them, and reemerged at the far end of the hall. Engrossed as they were in their conversation, they hardly noticed one more guest studying one of the Federally mandated floor plans.

He had complete faith in Benson’s programming. She couldn’t tell them anything, because she didn’t know anything, not in the brightly lit conscious mind where it mattered. After he activated her and she played whatever part he assigned, she would know even less.

That was the beauty of it. These fools in the West firmly believed that no one would do anything under hypnosis that he wouldn’t do while he was fully conscious. The KGB knew better, and had proven it beyond question decades ago. He, Dr. Uschi Ikhilevich, had demonstrated the ease with which the conscious filters could be bypassed by someone with the knowledge of what drugs to use, always surreptitiously, what sounds, what subtle, barely detectable instructions, breaking the job down into its component pieces, none of which would trigger a protest. He had sent occasional tourists back to their decadent countries to become killers who no one could figure out, and then he began to send agents of the CIA, MI6, and the Mossad to wreak havoc on their controllers. Once their work was done, the portions of their minds that held the knowledge of what had been done to them emptied out like formatting a hard disk. It was all frighteningly easy.

So he had no worries about Benson telling them anything. His motive for watching them was more curiosity than anything else, the monitoring of his own project. What would they do when yet another promising lead ran to a dead end?

They had talked for a long time, the police fishing. These two were good, he grudgingly admitted, but there was nothing to find. He enjoyed the frustration written all over their faces as they asked question after question, only to be met with confused looks and incoherent answers. The woman gave Benson her card. He could almost hear her say, “Call me if you remember anything.” He enjoyed their agitated gestures as they walked away talking.

But then Benson had called them back, and as they turned, she unwisely began talking to them before they reached her, and in the half-shouted sentence, he caught the word “speakers,” and doubt set in.

Doubt, but not indecision. Valuable a tool as Benson was, the overall operation was a more valuable still. He didn’t know what she could have remembered, or what those two pesky cops could do with it, but nothing was going to interfere with the payment Dave would give him when this conference was ruined.

He took out his cell phone, opened it, and dialed. The phone on the alcove desk rang. He saw Benson excuse herself, saw her pick it up, heard the click as it connected, then,

“Station twelve, this is Kathy Benson.”

“Fish ride bicycles in long lines of curvature.”

8:42 AM, Monterey

“Excuse me,” Benson said as the phone rang, and Kitfox stopped in mid-sentence as she picked it up.

“Station twelve, this is Kathy Benson,” she said, then, “Yes . . . Yes . . . Yes.”

Kitfox had his notebook out, jotting down what she had told him about the headboard speakers and their range of sound effects, and the first clue he had that she was through talking was when she hit him in his already bruised eye with the heavy, old-fashioned telephone receiver.

“God damn!” He shouted, holding his face with one hand while the other went up to fend her off. Through the blurred vision of his one good eye, he saw her grab the paper spike and slam it through Zamora’s right hand. She pounded the base with her fist, driving it into the wood and pinning Zamora to the desk.

Before he could think about recovering, she swung back in his direction and kicked him in the nose with the front edge of her wooden platform shoe. She was only a hundred-twenty pound girl, but pain exploded in his face as her powerful cyclist’s leg delivered a blow beyond Mike Tyson’s best haymaker. He felt the back of his head hit the wall nearly as hard as her shoe had hit his nose. Blood was already falling into his hand as he lost his footing and fell to a seated position against the wall. His vision blurred to match the ringing in his ears as the girl vaulted over him and sprinted like a track star into a side corridor.

“Hold it!” Zamora shouted, pulling at the paper spike. “I said hold it! God damn it to hell!”

8:43 AM, Monterey

Kitfox struggled to clear the cotton from his head. He had come within an ace of being knocked out, and for an insane moment he thought about shaking his head. He settled instead for pushing his chin down on his chest and rubbing the back of his neck.

“Leon!”

A voice in the distance prodded him.

“Leon, get this fucking thing out of my hand!”

He started to focus then in earnest, fighting his way onto wobbly legs, taking out his handkerchief to wipe his bleeding nose, then inspecting the brass rod holding Zamora’s hand firmly to the podium.

“Jesus Christ!” he said. “What did we run into?”

“A trained killer. Get me loose, God damn it, I’m going to wring her fucking neck!”

“Take it easy,” he said, testing the strength of the spike’s bite on the wood.

“Yeow, God damn it!” she snarled as he moved the spike inside her hand. “Don’t you take it easy me! That was round one. Round two’s going to be a bit different!”

“You have to calm down,” he told her, bending down to look underneath her hand. “You can’t just run off with a gun in your hand like some kind of vigilante.”

He suddenly grabbed the base of the spike and yanked it straight up out of the wood, her hand coming with it.

“Ah, Jesus!” she shouted, pulling the long, thin rod out with her left hand and throwing it against the wall. Then she danced around in a backward circle, her left hand wrapped around her right, chanting, “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!”

“I’m surprised at that language coming from a nice girl like you,” he said, kneeling back down and putting his handkerchief to his nose.

“Shut up. Harley!” she shouted to an officer who had stepped around the corner to investigate the commotion.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Find your sergeant and send him down here. Then bring one of those paramedic teams from out front. Move!”

“Yes, ma’am!” he shouted, wiping the stupid look from his face and running back toward the lobby.

Zamora reached under the tail of her light jacket and drew her pistol. Transferring it to her left hand, she aimed it clumsily down the hall, then laid it on the podium.

“Now, bitch, come on back!”

“Remember, Inez, this isn’t her fault.”

“It’s a little hard for me to hold onto an objective viewpoint right now,” she said, holding up her bloody hand, the hole through the palm blackening as the blood began to congeal.

“Inez?” a voice called from down a hallway.

“Yeah, here.”

A moment later a uniformed sergeant came around the corner and took in the scene.

“Jesus Christ, what happened to you guys?”

“We were Pearl Harbored by a suspect we were questioning,” Zamora said.

“She didn’t become a suspect until after this happened,” Kitfox corrected. “Better seal the building.”

“Who are we looking for?”

“Kathy Benson, female cauc, five six or seven, one-twenty, auburn hair worn short, hotel uniform.”

“Simple assault?”

“So far, but be careful. She’s highly skilled.”

While the sergeant was broadcasting the description, two paramedics arrived carrying their portable hospital in five canvas bags.

“You’d better sit down, ma’am,” one of them said to Zamora. “You may go into shock unexpectedly.”

“I don’t think so!”

“Humor me.”

“Just put a band aid on this,” she said, holding up her hand. “Sergeant, I want you to organize a flying squad and start a room-to-room search. I want that woman. Ow, God damn!”

Both refused transport, Kitfox promising they would report to the local ER for follow-up. His own treatment completed, he took out his cell phone and dialed a number. It being Sunday morning, he waited patiently for it to ring almost a dozen times before his party answered.

“Hello.”

“Harvey, it’s Leon.”

“Leon! You must be sitting on a powder keg to be calling me at home on a Sunday morning.”

“Not any more. It just blew up in my face. Our killers are John and Jane Does who vacationed at a place in Cabo San Lucas called Casa de la Playa. They’re activated by telephone. One got activated while we were talking to her, and the paramedics think she broke my nose. The cop I’m working with has a perforated hand.”

“How’d you come up with this de la Playa connection?”

“By bringing all the separate reports together. It just jumped out at us. There’s a fax waiting for us at the Lieutenant’s office that I’m going to send you as soon as I can get over there. It shows a guy named Uberoth, probably an alias, who’s a good candidate for the mastermind.”

“Mastermind’s a strong term, Leon.”

“Not strong enough. You had to be here. I also need access to an expert on brainwashing.”

“Now, where the hell am I going to find that?”

“Look in your Rolodex under B.”

“Leon—”

“I can’t talk right now, boss. The person who attacked us is loose in the hotel, and the cops are organizing for a room-to-room. I’ll get back to you.”

8:51 AM, San Francisco

“Hello.”

Connection made; no turning back now.

“Mr. Krieger, this is Harvey Dixon. I’ve just heard from Kitfox.”

“And?”

“He’s still in Monterey. He and that cop he’s working with have apparently had a confrontation with one of his remote control assassins, or whatever he thinks they are.”

“Really, Harvey!”

“So he says.”

“What, exactly, did he say?”

“That they were talking to someone, a female I gather, and as they were talking, she answered a telephone and was activated, at which time she attacked them and did considerable damage, from the sound of it.”

“Is that it?”

“No, sir, he’s . . . well, he’s using the word ‘mastermind.'”

“Mastermind?”

“Yes, sir. He’s sending a fax to the office, some lead he and this cop have dug up. I think he’s supposed to be this mastermind.”

“Any idea who it is?”

“Uberoth, I think he said. Yeah, like the sports magnate. Can’t tell anything from that.”

“No. I’ve got half a mind to . . . No, you know what? Call the office and tell the duty section to give top priority to running down whoever this individual turns out to be. Have them get back to you the minute they have anything. If he’s onto anything, our database should tell us, but if he’s hot on the trail of some pizza delivery guy or something, you pull him out of there if you have to send the marshals to drag him back in irons. This wouldn’t be the first time he’s made a laughingstock of the Bureau, but by God, it will be the last.”

“Nobody’s laughing yet, sir. We’ll have a better idea when we get that fax.”

“When will that be, did he say?”

“No, but I gather there will be some delay. Apparently he is assisting the police in searching for this woman who attacked them.”

“Great!  Who is this broad, Rhonda Rousey?”

“He didn’t say, sir.”

“Well, he said she did them both some harm, a police officer and an FBI agent, and still managed to get away so effectively that a substantial number of police are now engaged in a search, now he did say that, didn’t he?”

“That is substantially what he imparted, yes.”

“Uh huh. Just keep him aware of the fact that finding one violent perpetrator doesn’t prove a conspiracy. Seattle taught us what kind of sociopaths are attracted to these economic summits.”

“Yes, sir. Let’s also remember that he’s found nothing to disprove a conspiracy, either. I’d prefer to withhold judgment until we get that fax.”

“Fine, Harvey, I’ve got no problem with that, only he’s down there playing Adam-Twelve. Call him up and remind him that the cops know how to run a dragnet without his supervision. Tell him we’re waiting on pins and needles for that fax. Play up the importance of it, that ought to get him moving.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll also need to alert the duty section. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to finish my round. This is Sunday. You deal with it.”

8:58 AM, Monterey

Kitfox stood behind the two uniformed officers as they knocked sharply on the door of 137, a knock no one could mistake for the friendly tap of room service.

“Who is it?” asked a pleasant female voice from behind the door.

“Police Department, ma’am,” one of the officers replied in a deep, commanding voice. “Could you open the door, please?”

“Police Department?” The door opened on a young blonde woman, short hair, tourist’s pallor, obviously caught in the act of preparing to go out. “What is it, what’s wrong?”

“Sorry to disturb you, ma’am. Has anyone entered your room in the last few moments? A young woman, member of the hotel staff?”

“No.” She looked confused. “What’s she done?”

“Would you mind if we take a look?

“Well, do you think I’m— No, all right, come in.”

She stood aside from the doorway and the police entered. Kitfox waited in the hall, and the woman studied his battered face until he frowned at her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, looking away. “Did she do that to you? Is she dangerous?”

“Probably not to you,” Kitfox told her. “I’m with the FBI, and that’s why I was targeted.”

“Oh.” She looked around, embarrassed, and for want of anything else to do, joined the police inside her room. They came right back out.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am. Thanks for your cooperation.”

“You don’t really think she’s hiding in a guest’s room, do you?” Kitfox asked as they walked to the next door.

“It’s like this, Special Agent,” the senior patrolman said. “We don’t know which of these rooms are occupied, being on the hotel staff, this woman could gain access to any room on a pretext, and Lieutenant Zamora said room-by-room. She didn’t sound to me like she was playing around.”

He knocked on the next door.

“Police Department.”

Kitfox patted the man on the shoulder, nodded, and walked on down the hall.

8:59 AM, Monterey

And two floors above the slow-moving search, another man spoke softly into his cell phone.

“Fish ride bicycles in long lines of curvature.”

9:13 AM, Monterey

The temporary command post on the third floor had taken on a solid permanence since Benson’s attack. The hotel staff hadn’t noticed the signs yet, but they were about to be in for a long visit from law enforcement. Zamora stood before a hastily commandeered visitor’s map to the hotel highlighting out blocks of rooms as search teams reported in. A captain was on the way from the station, and she wanted everything to be orderly and up to date when she handed over control.

An attractive young woman in a hotel uniform stepped into the doorway and waited for Zamora to notice her.

“Are you in charge?” she asked quietly.

“For the moment. Lieutenant Zamora, MPD. What can I do for you?”

“I’ve heard you’re looking for Kathy Benson.”

“That’s right. Do you know where she is?”

“No. I just wanted to ask you not to hurt her. She’s not a violent person.”

“No?” Zamora asked, holding up her bandaged hand. “I’ll reserve judgment on that.”

“Kathy did that?”

“Yeah, and I didn’t get the worst of it. Step over here. What’s your name?”

“Carmen Medina.”

“How do you know Kathy Benson?”

“She’s my friend.”

“You met her here?”

“Yes.”

“How long ago?”

“About two years, I think. Yes, that’s about right. There must be some mistake about her attacking you.”

“There’s no mistake, I’m afraid. Did you go to Cabo San Lucas with her?”

“No. I wanted to, but I didn’t have the time on the books, and they wouldn’t advance me any.”

“Count yourself lucky. What did she tell you about her stay there?”

“Let’s see. Not much. She stayed in a quaint little hotel, dining and dancing every night. No sex, though,” Medina assured her. “Kathy’s quite the prude, you know.”

“I’m not really interested in her sex life. What did she say about this hotel?”

“Nothing much. Just that it was real quiet, sort of like part of the background. Oh, wait a minute. She said there were nature sounds played in the headboard, and she didn’t want the sounds of her having sex to interfere with that. Can you imagine? Must have been the voice of God!”

“Maybe so. Is there anyplace in the hotel—” She  was interrupted by the chiming of her cell phone. “Just a moment. Zamora.”

“Lieutenant Zamora?” the voice at the other end asked.

“Of course.”

“Lieutenant, this is Harvey Dixon. I need to talk to you about Leon Kitfox.”

“Just a moment. Are you on duty today, Miss Medina?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“All right. I’ll find you if I need anything. Excuse me for now, I have to take this.”

“Okay.”

“Sorry, Mr. Dixon. What can I do for you?”

“You sound busy.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“Well, I won’t keep you long. I’m not sure how to broach this.”

She waited without offering any suggestions for him to figure it out.

“I should preface this by saying that anything we discuss is FBI business, and goes no further, is that understood?”

“Okay.”

“Yes or no, please, Lieutenant.”

“Okay, I understand. Now, what do you want?”

“Your professional assessment. Special Agent Kitfox has a history of reaching for the, let us say, the unconventional solution. Last year, up north, he distracted a small town police force with a bizarre science-fiction theory, and while they were looking the wrong way, an extra victim was taken unnecessarily by a serial killer.”

“That would be at Sausalito, right?”

“He told you?”

“I read it in the paper. When a serial killer’s involved, Sausalito’s in my back yard.”

“Quite. Well, here’s what I want to clear up. Leon has made several reports to us involving his search for what he calls a mastermind behind these economist killings, and I’m getting some pressure from my boss behind it. You see, we can’t seem to follow the train of logic that led him to this mastermind theory, and my boss naturally wants to avoid another Sausalito down there.”

“As do I.”

“Quite. So, my question is, what’s your candid assessment of his effectiveness on this case?”

“Do you want me to tattle on him behind his back, is that what you’re after, Mr. Dixon?”

“I want to know whether he’s helping or hindering you, Lieutenant, nothing more nor less.”

“Mr. Dixon, another delegate to the conference was killed here six hours ago. Special Agent Kitfox and I were questioning a potential witness when she got a phone call. Somewhere in the middle of that phone call, she turned from a charming, bubbly meeter-and-greeter type to a stone cold assassin. She put both of us down, using the phone as one of several weapons for the purpose. I’ll need a tetanus shot, and your agent will probably need ER treatment when this is over.”

“When what’s over?”

“We’re involved in a room-to-room search for this young woman. It’s only too obvious that someone at the other end of that phone said something to her that changed her whole personality, and that says to me ‘mastermind.’ Thanks to Agent Kitfox’s leaps of intuition, we’re weeks ahead of where we would have been otherwise. Is he helping us? We wouldn’t have a case to work on without him. Was there anything else?”

“Could I speak to him?”

“I’m afraid not. He’s involved in the search. You might try his cell.”

“No, I’ll go with your assessment for the time being. Thank you for your candor, Lieutenant. He did suggest he had a fax to send us that was supposed to have an important bearing on this case. Do you know anything about that?”

“Oh, yes. That would be a picture of the mastermind.”

“Yes, well, if you happen to see him, ask him to expedite that, would you? We’re standing by to give it top priority.”

“I appreciate that, Mr. Dixon. Anything else?”

“No, that will do for now. Thank you so much, Lieutenant.”

9:23 AM, Monterey

Ikhilevich, back in the main lobby, watched the crisis he had orchestrated unfold. Dapper in his three piece blue pinstriped suit, a folded newspaper under his arm, he lounged casually by the telephone bank, virtually invisible in the sea of bankers.

This was going well. He had lost young Miss Benson, but she would continue attacking cops until they killed her, and that would make the remainder of his unsuspecting commando force just that much more effective. He would soon unleash a full third of his young tigers. They would take down as many as two dozen of the world’s top financiers. This afternoon, after the capitalist police tracked them down and thought they had a lid on things, he would activate the next third. The final group would be waiting outside when the conference began to break up. Genius. That was how you got the best jobs, by being the best man.

He became aware that he was seeing more police entering the building, buy not many leaving. Apparently, Miss Benson had rattled them even more than he had hoped for. There was no point in him staying on the scene. Everything he had left to do could be managed by phone.

He took a casual walk across the lobby to a table holding a stack of cards stating, “Hello, my name is __________,” a box of clear plastic holders, and a cup of grease pencils. Taking a card, he wrote “Mikhail” in the space provided, put it in a holder, and pinned it to his lapel. He turned to find himself eye-to-eye with a uniformed police officer.

“Good morning, Mikhail,” the man said. Was that a smirk? “I’ll have to ask you to step over here for a moment.”

Ikhilevich’s stomach tightened, and a warm flush spread over the back of his neck. Had Dave sold him out?

“Vat iss wrong, pleasse? My English not speak good.”

“Just come with me, sir,” the cop said, taking his elbow and pulling him toward the desk where several other officers were congregated.

“Pleasse!” Ikhilevich whined, digging in his heels, voice rising. “I do nossink!”

“It’s all right, sir,” the cop said, releasing his arm, “it’s all right. George! Come over here.”

Another cop detached himself from the group and joined them.

“What’s the problem?”

“Mikhail, here, doesn’t want to come to the desk.”

“No? Well, that’s all right. We can do it here. We noticed you standing around the lobby.”

“So?  Iss zat ze crime?”

“No, not at all.” The second cop reached behind his back, and the hand came back, not with a weapon or handcuffs, but a picture of Benson. “Have you seen this woman?”

“Zat iss all you vant? Haff I seen voman?”

“Yes. It’s very important.”

Ikhilevich looked at the photo.

“Ah, yes! She vork at hotel.” He smiled, every inch the relieved former communist pleased with his knowledge.

“We know that,” the cop said with a smile of his own. “I mean, have you seen her lately?”

“Oh! Stupit! Ya, ya, I see her on floor two, ten and fife ago.” He held up his watch and moved his hand from the twelve to the three.

“Thanks, Mikhail, you’ve been a big help. Steve!” he called to a colleague as the two cops moved off to join their group.

Ikhilevich breathed a sigh of relief. It was way past time to get out of here!

9:29 AM, Monterey

Kitfox followed the corridor toward the back of the big hotel. Its stained linoleum floors were never meant to be seen by guests, but this would represent familiar, and therefore safe ground to an employee.

The first door he came to was marked Employees Only. Taking the Glock from its holster and holding it behind him, he opened the door with his left hand. A tiny closet holding shelves of cleaning supplies, along with a bucket and three smelly mops greeted him silently. He looked around behind the door, then pulled it closed and moved on.

The next one was marked Keep Out, and had a second tag identifying it as equipment maintained by Pacific Bell. It was locked, but the lock was only meant to keep curious hotel workers out, and it yielded in an instant to his Visa card. It was even smaller than the broom closet, home to a dozen junction boxes.

The hallway turned right ahead, and louvered double doors faced down the hall, again bearing a Keep Out sign. They were unlocked. Pistol in hand, he pushed one open and looked inside.

The room was large and poorly lit, even when he flipped on the sparse energy-saving tubes. Fans and pumps for the climate control system, water heaters, and cabinets lined the room. Three no-frills washing machines stood against the wall, and something with a lot of metal tabs rattled inside the industrial dryer next to them. A catwalk crossed the room above him, and the thought he could see another in the shadows ahead.

One of the pumps started with a low whoosh, rising quickly to a high whine. The tabs in the dryer continued to rattle, and a slow, rhythmic thumping sound began that seemed to be associated with the pump. This place was perfect. Raising the Glock to the ready position, he stepped deeper into the room.

9:31 AM, Monterey

Ikhilevich, innocuous name tag in place, and having sent a room full of cops on a wild goose chase, smiled to himself and stepped to the heavy swinging glass doors. One gentle push, and he was outside in the vestibule formed by the pillars at the top of the steps. All he had to do . . .

Damn! A police line had been set up out here, and a quintet of cops at the only opening was checking the ID of a man going out. This was a problem, but not a big one. After all, no one in the world suspected him. He could wait this out; unless, of course, someone tried to match him to the registry.

One of the cops looked up and made eye contact. Ushci nodded at him, and made a show of fishing out his cell phone and dialing a number. The cop returned his attention to the line of people waiting to be checked, and as the recorded voice began to recite the weather forecast, Ikhilevich held one-half of a conversation about pork futures in Russian. After thirty seconds of this sham. he hung up and reentered the hotel.

9:32 AM, San Francisco

“Hello.”

“Mr. Krieger, Harvey Dixon.”

“Harvey. I presume you’ve dealt with it?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve had a most informative discussion with the Monterey Police lieutenant who’s working with Kitfox.”

“And?”

“She assured me that Leon’s insight has blown her case wide open. She says she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without his help.”

“What did he sound like?”

“I wasn’t able to talk to him.”

“Why not, was his phone turned off?”

“No, sir. He was involved in a manhunt.”

“How long ago was this?”

“About fifteen minutes.”

“What have you been doing since then?”

“Talking to my wife. This is Sunday, you know.”

“All right, all right. What about the fax of this evil mastermind? Did that lead anywhere?”

“I don’t think it’s come in yet. They’re supposed to call me.”

“What’s the holdup?”

“I assume it’s this manhunt. It sounds like a pretty substantial chunk of their police force is involved in it.”

“God damn it, now this is just what I was afraid of! Don’t you remember Sausalito? He took the whole fucking police force down in the sewers, thereby giving that animal Iverson a free hand to kidnap and rape another student at his leisure.”

“This isn’t the same, boss.”

“The hell it isn’t! He’s pulled some harebrained theory out of his ass and used his FBI credentials to awe some small town cops into following up on it. I want him closely supervised before he turns the bureau into a laughingstock. Again.”

“And what if he’s onto something? Who’s going to be a laughingstock then?”

There was a long silence while Krieger considered this.

“All right, on the outside chance he may be on the right track, I’ll let you continue him in place, but not on his own. I want you to get somebody down there. Let’s see, who should it be? Somebody senior, of course. Ah, I know. Send Forbes and Radicek. A senior agent and a lab guy can evaluate his case and take it over if it actually goes anywhere.”

“That’s not a good idea, sir.”

“The alternative is you go, do you like that better, Harvey?”

“Let me think about that for a minute.”

“Never mind. Just get Forbes and Radicek saddled up and on the road.”

“Right away, sir. What about the fax?”

“Don’t worry about that,” Krieger said around a derisive hiss of breath, “it’s not going to lead anywhere.”

“Unless it does.”

“Look, the duty section knows how to do research. Your job right now is damage control.”

“Excuse me?”

“Leon, Harvey, Leon. You have to control the damage he’s doing to the bureau’s reputation as we speak.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I know the man! I’d have had him in eval right now if you and that bean-counter hadn’t ganged up on me. Now, you’ve got your orders.  Don’t fuck me again!”

9:33 AM, Monterey

She had seen him come in, outlined against the brighter light of the door. He was alone, which was good, but he had a gun. That would have to be dealt with first.

Her hatred almost overwhelmed her. Here was the dirty redskin who wanted to open the floodgates and let the stinking yellow hordes from Asia take over America. They’d come in here and work for fish heads. They’d take over the banks. Soon, no decent American would be able to support his family, and the teeming masses of gooks would spit on them as they stepped over their starving bodies. Well, not on my watch, you son of a bitch!

Kathy Benson placed one hand on the catwalk railing and launched herself over with those powerful legs. Her timing was flawless, and she literally scraped her hard shoes down the front of his body as she dropped, knocking the gun from his hand. She dropped naturally into a crouch, delivered a punch to his groin, and kicked the gun off somewhere behind her as she rose.

He had twisted to the side to avoid her groin strike, and as he turned back, she snapped a sharp kick at the side of his head, adding his momentum to the strength of her leg. He spun around and crashed into one of the huge air pumps, and she was on him like a panther, giving him no chance to recover.

She kicked his calf just below the knee, buckling the leg, and reached around to rake her fingernails across his eyes. He covered his face with one hand, and drove his other elbow into her midsection, the sharp pain forcing her back. As she leaned forward, he backfisted her in the face, and then he was up and facing her.

The duel began in earnest, she using her long legs to keep the bigger man at bay while he tried to close and outmuscle her. Strike and parry, counterstrike and parry went on for what seemed a long time as they moved back and forth between the roaring machinery. She kept her kicks low, attacking his knees, forcing him to guard against a dislocation, then she suddenly brought one higher, making contact with his lower ribs even as his block simultaneously hammered her kneecap.

That was all right with her; that sinewy joint could take a lot more impact than his floating ribs, and she drove in again, going knee-knee-knee-ribs as he gave ground before her rapid onslaught. This was the time! When she came up for the high kick of the current sequence, she drove it in with the opposite leg.

Disaster! He had caught her rhythm, and even as her foot made contact, he wrapped his arm over her calf, pinning her leg high off the ground. Before she could begin to formulate a counter, he stepped into her, lifted her by the throat with his free hand, and drove her to the floor, all his weight coming down on top of her. She felt the back of her head hit the concrete, and she was suddenly swimming in dark cotton, fighting to make her body work even as the darkness deepened and sound retreated to someplace far, far away . . .

9:35 AM, Monterey

Kitfox raised his weight only partially from the dazed woman even though her eyes were unfocused and her body was reduced to a weak side-to-side rolling motion. Favoring his ribs, he removed his handcuffs from the back of his belt, attached them to one of her wrists, then rolling her onto her stomach, locked her hands behind her. Only then did he go to the end of the room to recover his gun.

Returning to the woman, he knelt beside her, rolled her to her side, and gently patted her cheeks as he softly but insistently called her name.

“Ohhhhhhhh,” she moaned. Her eyes opened and she took in the surroundings. “How did I get here?”

“This is where you ran to after you attacked us.”

“Agent Kitfox? Who did I attack?” She tried but failed to sit up. “Why are my hands bound?”

“For both of our safety. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“I was . . . Let me see . . . You and that policewoman were asking me about my vacation.”

“And do you remember anything out of the ordinary now?”

“I don’t know. Vaguely. It’s like a bunch of moving pictures, moving around, you know? Like that contest where you try to grab money in a wind chamber.”

“Can you remember anything at all?”

“A voice. A quiet, deep voice telling me how it’s normal to do the most violent things to other people. It’s because we’re hunters and warriors, that makes it all right. I think I was asleep. It must have been a dream. I said no, it wasn’t all right, but then there was the most terrible pain. In my head. It felt like it would explode, but the voice said I could stop it if I stopped fighting my normal, violent nature. It was, it was horrible!” She pulled her legs up to her chest and started to cry. “It was horrible! Who was that man? What did he do that for?”

“We’re trying to find that out right now. Maybe you can help us. Right now we’re going to get you some help. You’ve hit your head on the floor, so just lie still.”

He opened the door into the service corridor and was fortunate to see two policemen talking at the far end.

“Officers!” he shouted. “Leon Kitfox, FBI. One of you get me some paramedics. The other find Lieutenant Zamora, and bring them all to this room.”

Fishing for his handcuff key, he stepped back into the room.

9:50 AM, Monterey

Inez Zamora watched the floor indicator click into place, then waited impatiently for the elevator doors to open. They finally did, revealing the familiar chaos of the crime scene that was the main lobby. It had been starting to wind down when Benson had unloaded on them; now they were certain to be here for quite a while longer.

She stepped out last and, hidden by a wall of uniformed shoulders, she rubbed her eyes, squeezing out a pitiful trace of tear fluid and lifting her gaze before anyone could see her. She was exhausted, running on empty as the saying went, but she wasn’t about to give an outward sign. Her father had made captain, and her uncle assistant chief, and both agreed that the secret was to look like you’d just come on duty. It would work for Inez Zamora too, until it killed her.

“Lieutenant,” one of her sergeants greeted her, “what’s the news?”

“No news ain’t good news,” she replied. “Where’s Kitfox?”

“I don’t know, but he’s looking for you, too. One of the rookies was just here asking for you.”

“I don’t suppose he told you where he was?”

“No such luck. You weren’t here, so he split.”

“Split?”

“Moved on. Kitfox was with Matthews and Rye earlier, but I just saw them, and he wasn’t with them.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m going to have him paged.” She headed toward the desk to do just that.

Three young women were there, fielding questions from a double rank of disgruntled conventioneers. Two uniformed officers and one of her detectives stood to the side, eyes peeled for trouble, though what guise it might come in no one could say. Holding her badge aloft, she edged her way to the front.

“Excuse me! Excuse me! Police business! Coming through!”

“May I help you, officer?” one of the women asked as she reached the desk.

“Please. I need you to page Special Agent Leon Kitfox to the lobby.”

“Special Agent Leon Kitfox,” the girl repeated slowly as she wrote it down. “What kind of name is Kitfox?”

“Shoshone. Oh, never mind, there he is now. Leon!”

She had seen him emerge from a service corridor leading a paramedic team with a covered patient on a gurney.

“Inez,” he shouted back. “Call off the dragnet. I’ve got Benson.”

She nodded and gave him a thumbs-up sign.

“Frank,” she called to the detective. “Kitfox got Benson. Recall the search teams to the lobby.”

“Right away, ma’am.”

Instantly, the questions flying around her changed from demands for information and discounts to when the conference would get back on schedule. She wormed her way out of the crowd and joined Kitfox. It was indeed Benson on the gurney sporting a cervical collar.

“Is she sedated?” Zamora asked.

“Just a pain killer. She put up a hell of a fight, but once I got a good haymaker in, it seemed to shock her out of whatever kind of trance she was in. Best part is, she seems to be remembering small pieces of her indoctrination.”

“Is that right?” Zamora asked her.

“Sort of,” the girl said. “It’s still like watching a movie too fast and backward.”

“How is she otherwise?” Zamora asked one of the medics.

“Seems all right. Took a whack on the head, so we put the collar on her just in case. The docs will know better when they get an X-ray, but her eyes look good, and she has full movement.”

“That’s good. Did you read her her rights?”

“No,” Kitfox answered defensively.

“Well, we hope she’ll be cooperative, but we want to protect our right to prosecute later if things take a turn in that direction.”

“Of course,” Kitfox said. “Lost in the moment.”

“Kathy Benson,” Zamora began the ritual, “you’re under arrest for assault and battery on two law enforcement officers. You have the right to remain silent.”

“What?” Benson said, struggling against the safety straps to sit up. Kitfox and the medics pressed her back to her reclining position.

“If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

“This isn’t right!”

“You have the right to an attorney, and to have the attorney present during questioning. If you so desire or cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed for you before any questioning. Do you understand each of these rights as I’ve explained them to you?”

“Yes, but I’m not a criminal.”

“We hope you’re right. Foster!”

“Yes, Lieutenant?” A small, clean-cut young man hurried to Zamora’s call.

“Ride with her to the hospital. Don’t ask her any questions, but record any statement she may make.” She drew him aside as the medics gathered their gear. “She’s under arrest right now, but don’t be too heavy-handed about it. She’s been Mirandized, so just listen and write.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Son of a bitch,” Zamora fumed as the gurney moved off, “that was so not satisfying. Just once I’d like to turn up a God damned criminal behind one of these people.”

“Lieutenant!” a uniform called from the elevators. “There’s been another attack. Sixth floor.”

9:51 AM, San Francisco

“Hello?”

“Harvey, Krieger here. Were you able to get hold of Forbes and Radicek?”

“No, sir.”

“What’s the matter, they weren’t home?”

“No, sir.” Dixon took a deep breath, then added, “I haven’t tried, sir.”

“You haven’t tried? Who the hell do you think you are, mister?”

“I think I’m Leon Kitfox’s case officer, unless you intend to relieve me, and he’s convinced me that he’s onto something.”

“Oh he has, has he?”

“Yes, sir, he and that cop lady he’s working with. A woman doesn’t rise to lieutenant of detectives by being stupid.”

“Maybe she makes it on her back if she’s got the look.”

“You’re out of line, sir. You don’t know anything about this woman.”

“I know Kitfox, god damn it, and he’s going to get us all— Do you realize what you’re doing?”

“Yes, sir, I think I do. Agent Kitfox made an honest mistake, and a young woman lost her life because of it. I don’t think he’s the kind of man who wouldn’t learn something from that.”

“He’s an idiot!”

“Then fire him.”

“If he fucks this up, Harvey, I’ll fire both of you. I’d strongly advise you to keep in close contact with the situation.”

“Don’t worry,” Dixon said, but he was already hearing the phone disconnect.

9:52 AM, Monterey

Uschi Ikhilevich loitered on the ground floor of the big hotel, unwilling to go out and risk the checkpoint. There was no reason to, anyway. The knots of aggravated attendees from three conventions clogged the lobby, and indeed, every public area of the hotel. All he had to do was hang around, read the paper, and look bored, and eventually the cops would clear him out of here. Hell, he had been in the direct view of at least ten of them when his latest manufactured assassin had struck. The lobby group would probably be the next one cleared. Time to continue with business.

Slipping the folded paper under his arm, he walked unhurriedly around the corner intending to return to the pool area, and nearly walked right into the detective accompanying Benson’s gurney toward the doors. The man seized his shoulders to steady him.

“Easy,” the cop said. “You okay?”

“Ya, ya, fine. So sorry,” Ikhilevich said, stooping to retrieve the newspaper he had dropped in the collision. When he stood up, Benson’s eyes were wide, and locked on his.

“Sorry, sorry, he said. “I go now.”

He moved briskly down the hall, not liking what he had seen in the sharp focus of those eyes. His fears were not unfounded. As he turned the first corner he came to, he heard her begin to speak in a loud and agitated voice.

“That’s him!” she cried out. “That’s the voice! Get agent Kitfox. That’s the man who was in Cabo!”

9:53 AM, Monterey

“Agent Kitfox!”

He turned to look at the source of the shout in time to see a man in a suit slip furtively into a stairwell.

“Yeah?”

It was the detective Zamora had detailed to ride with Benson.

“This girl says she just saw the guy from Cabo.”

With a cry of “Jesus!” Kitfox was running down the hall to reach her. “What did he look like?”

“He was thin, taller than you, he had white hair and a goatee, and was wearing a dark blue suit. His tie was red, I think. No, purple.”

“How old? Detective, get the Lieutenant down here.”

“Sixty, maybe a little older.”

“The Lieutenant’s not in charge anymore.”

“What?”

“Sixty.”

“Captain Bradford’s here. He’s taking over the scene.”

“That’s all right, Zamora can brief him. How was he built?”

“Brief me on what?”

Opposite the gurney stood a huge black man in a fitted suit who looked like an NFL lineman, or a Coke machine with a head.

“Captain Bradford?”

“That’s right.”

“I’m Leon Kitfox, the FBI agent who’s been working with your Lieutenant. We have a fugitive at large in the hotel, so if you please?”

“Certainly, carry on, Special Agent.”

“How was he built?”

“Thin, for a man. He had a little paunch hanging out, though.”

“Okay, think carefully now. Every other man in this hotel has a blue suit on. Was there anything that set him apart?”

“His accent, of course. Russian, or something close to it. And he had a name-tag on. It was Mickey, or Mikey, something like that. There was an L in it, though. Mickel? It was weird, and I can’t get it.”

“It’s all right. You’re sure it was him?”

“Yes. It was his voice. The second I heard it, it just cut through the fog like a knife. That was the voice in my nightmares.”

“Well, your nightmares are about over. Did you see which way he went?”

“Yes. He went into that stairway.”

“Damn! He could be halfway to Salinas by now.”

“No, the janitors and maintenance men use that to stay unobtrusive. It only goes up.”

“Beautiful! Captain, the building’s already cordoned off because of this morning’s murder. I recommend you don’t let anyone in or out until we get this guy. Can I borrow a few of these officers?”

“If you don’t get them dirty.”

“Thanks. Detective, brief the captain, and the Lieutenant when she gets here. You have the description. We’ll need a room-by-room as soon as she can organize it. We don’t know if this guy’s armed, bit I can guaran-God-damned-tee he’s dangerous.” The Glock came out of its holster as Kitfox turned toward the stairs.

“What are you going to do?” Bradford asked.

“Try to get eyes on him and hold surveillance until your men arrive.”

“All right. I guess I don’t need to tell you not to pull any Bruce Willis shit before we have control of the situation.”
“It’s my intention to die of old age in a comfortable bed.” Kitfox brandished his pistol. “This is just in case we surprise each other. You men have radios, right?”

The five uniforms he was borrowing all answered in the affirmative.

“All right. We find him, we’ll call for the cavalry. Gentlemen, the fugitive is an older male, white hair and goatee, dark blue suit with a name-tag reading Mickey, Mickel, or something close to that. He’s wanted for questioning only at this time, and is not known to be armed, but if he points anything at you, protect yourselves in any way necessary. Questions?”

There were none.

“Okay, let’s go.”

9:57 AM, Monterey

Five cops had followed him all the way to the top. At every floor they had stopped and fanned out into the hall, covering every angle in a mutually supporting defensive formation. Kitfox was impressed; for small-market cops, these guys were well-trained.

But no one was in sight, no suspect, at least. Each time the door opened, Kitfox looked for astonished maids, overturned service carts, something to indicate wild flight. There was nothing. A few times they encountered hotel staff and asked about the man in the blue suit, but no one had seen anything. The cops on the sixth floor posted guards at the stairs and elevators, but that was it, end of the line. Now they stood on the rooftop landing.

“Last door,” Kitfox said.

“What would anybody run up here for?” asked one of the cops, a fresh-faced youngster whose shirt still had the factory creases.

Everyone turned to glare at him.

“The only thing on his mind should be getting out of the hotel,” he said plaintively. “Nobody’d let themselves get trapped on the roof, would they?”

“Probably not,” Kitfox told him. “It may just have been bad luck. The girl downstairs told me that this is a stairway for the staff to keep out of sight, so it only goes up. There’s no exit, so if he’s up here, he may very well be desperate. Everybody ready?”

Nods and grunts of affirmation.

“On three, then. One, two, three!”

Kitfox shouldered the door open and followed it all the way to the right, feeling the rest of the bodies swarm out behind him, taking up firing positions to cover the half-circle they could see.

“Vell, Special Agent Kitfox,” a voice came from a jumble of pipes and ducts off to their left somewhere. “You certainly took your time gettink here, but no matter, you’re here now, so feel free to be joinink party. Visout gun, of course.”

Kitfox stepped out into the open space and turned to his left. There, standing back among a woven tapestry of pipes, ducts, conduits, and valves was the man in the blue suit. He held a gun in his left hand, and as Kitfox moved into his field of view, he lifted a cell phone and began to dial.

“Call the cavalry,” Kitfox said to the lead officer.

“Badger base on Tac Two,” the man said into his collar mike, “this is Edward Six.”

“Oh, zat iss not so goot,” Bluesuit said. “Conrat, shoot him.”

Instantly there was a gunshot, the officer went down without a sound, and the rest of the cops opened fire on Bluesuit and another man, heavily concealed in the rooftop clutter.

“Hold your fire!” Kitfox shouted. “Cease fire!”

The shots petered out, leaving only a speaker saying, “Go ahead, Edward Six.”

“Does anyvun vish to answer zat? No? Goot. You may attent your comrade. You vill note zat he vas shot in ze body vere his vest protected him, if he iss vearink a vest.”

Kitfox and another cop moved into the open and quickly checked him out.

“Edward Six, go ahead.”

“Ignore zat.”

The officer was starting to moan and hold his lower right rib cage where a heavy bullet had impacted. There was no sign of Bluesuit or the shooter, both having disappeared into the clutter. They dragged the officer back into their own cover near the door.

“Call for the SWAT team,” Kitfox ordered.

“Before you do zat, I suggest you direct your gaze to your immediate right.”

They all did so, and there in a small open space stood two clean-cut young men, big and burly. Both wore off-the-rack suits that seemed too small for them. They might have been linebackers for the 49ers. One held Zamora’s hands behind her with one of his own while his other covered her mouth. The second man held a large pistol aimed at the side of her head.

9:59 AM, Monterey

Their eyes locked as the seconds ticked by. She gave a tiny shake of her head, side to side, the largest range of motion the gorilla behind her would allow. Did she mean don’t listen to them? Don’t let them kill me? Don’t let them get away?

“So, Special Agent Kitfox, now you see zat I am meanink ze business. Be so kind as to disarm yourself ant your men.”

“How do you expect to get out of here?” Kitfox asked, holding onto his gun. “Unless you can fly, you’re a dozen stories up at the top of a building surrounded by police. What’s your plan?”

“You sink you haff caught me? You are stupit bastart cop! You are not efen zat, you are FBI pencil pusher. Pah! I haff been in nooses tightened by better zan you! Now, you lay down gun before I am causink your pretty friend to haff bad day.”

The man’s steely eyes bored into Kitfox’s, and there was no mercy in them. He was still back among the metal tubes, and there was no shot to take, even were Kitfox willing to risk Zamora’s life. He could feel the frustration of the four officers behind him as they looked in vain for clear targets, and any sort of cover remotely approaching that enjoyed by their adversaries. A bad hand, but he had to play it.

“All right, in the first place, she’s your only hostage, so you aren’t about to shoot her.”

“I’m sorry, did I say shoot? Cheremy, do somesink painful to your date.”

The man holding Zamora released his hold on her mouth, reached up to her ear, and yanked her pierced earring through the meat of her earlobe.

“Ah, God!”

“You see? Now, please, your gun.”

“Shoot them!” Zamora shouted. Her cops strained forward, raising weapons, aiming, but not beginning the action that might cost her her life. “What are you waiting for?”

The man put his hand over her mouth again.

“Zat iss better. Now, Special Agent Kitfox, your gun, yes or no?”

Kitfox laid the Glock on top of a ventilating fan.

“Goot. Excuse me.” Bluesuit dialed his cell phone, waited for an answer, then said, “Fish ride bicycles in long lines of curvature . . . Go to room four twenty two . . . Take action to prevent ze occupant from harmink your beloved America . . . Do you understant? . . . Goot.”

He broke the connection.

“You see how I do it? You had almost figured it out yourself, hadn’t you? You are a very intelligent man, Special Agent Kitfox. You haff been a vorthy adversary. I vill vager zat you are not appreciated by your organization, am I right?”

Kitfox said nothing.

“I sink I am. Ve vould haff taken your talents as for as zey could haff reached. Such a vaste.”

“You’re still here, and we still hold the door. It’s just a matter of time until somebody looks for us up here.”

“I don’t sink so. I am goink to activate an army of assassins. Zey vill begin ze process of destroyink ze conference, ant in ze excitement, I vill disappear, as I haff a sousant times before.”

“Your face is known.”

“Yes, to you, and to zese few policemen viss you. You vill not be a factor ven I valk down zose stairs vis casual clothes ant no beart.”

“We’re not going to let you do that.”

“I sink you vill. You forget your frient, ze Lieutenant.”

“The Lieutenant is a professional. She knew she might find herself in this situation when she joined the force. She wouldn’t want us to save her by letting you go.”

“No? People alvays speak of ideals ant principles until ze gun is helt to zeir own heat.”

“You heard her. Did she beg for her life, or order her men to open fire?”

“Ant still zere iss no firink.”

“Not this time, but you’re still on the roof, aren’t you? What are you doing this for?”

“To escape, of course.”

“Not that. The conference. What’s in it for you?”

“Money. You understant zat, don’t you, mister capitalist?”

“No. How does breaking up this conference make you money?”

“It iss a job I haff been pait to do. It iss nosink personal, just as it iss nosink personal vis you ant police lady. Had you not been so clever, you vould not be in bik fix right now.”

“I’m not the one in the fix, you are. I don’t care how many people you kill, you’re not getting off this roof. What’s your name?”

“You sink I be tellink you zat?”

“Up to you. I just thought you’d want to have a marked headstone. Who hired you? What do you gain from this?”

“Now, zat I really not be tellink you! Vell, as enchoyable as zis iss, iss time for me to be goink.” He dialed the phone again. “Fish ride bicycles in long lines of curvature.”

10:03 AM, Monterey

He was going to make it! He was going to cause a three-ring circus of death and chaos, and while everyone was chasing their tails, he was going to walk out of here and go do this again somewhere else. Well, not today!

The two beefy men were dividing their time between watching the police for signs of resistance, and watching their controller for instructions. Zamora’s sharp front teeth sank into the hand clapped over her mouth. As the man yelped and yanked his hand away, she kicked at the gun hand of his cohort, landing a glancing blow on his forearm, then leaned as far forward as she could, twisting away, trying to use her captor’s body as a shield. She failed.

The second man fired at her from point blank range. His bullet hit the side of her right thigh, knocking her legs out from under her, and as she fell, all hell broke loose. All four of her officers opened a withering fire on her tormentors, and both went down, hit by at least twenty bullets.

Shaking off the shock of the impact, she picked up the dead man’s gun and dragged herself into the sparse cover of a ventilator grill. The ninety decibel ringing in her ears was challenged by the steady fire of an ongoing gun battle, and chatter on the suddenly active radio as one of the uniforms called for the SWAT team to come to the roof, adding, “Officer down, repeat, officer down.”

As she pulled herself together, she saw that Bluesuit was suddenly not interested in the phone anymore, as Kitfox and the four cops were closing in on him and his one remaining henchman. With the SWAT team on the way, this was just mop-up, and she held her position, covering them with the Smith & Wesson she had liberated.

“Inez, are you all right?” Kitfox called to her.

“I will be. Keep your mind on what you’re doing.”

“Okay. Help’s on the way. Stay put.”

“What do you think I’m going to do,” she muttered, “run in a marathon?”

As she turned onto her left side, taking weight off her wound, a flicker of motion to the right caught her eye, and a shot rang out. The bullet barely missed Kitfox, striking the officer next to him in the upper arm. Bluesuit’s hole card!

The only onne who had actually seen the shooter move, she aimed and fired eight shots in rapid succession at her target, joined by the other police as a matter of reflex. A man rose from behind a bin of some sort, and fell with multiple wounds. Just in time, as the slide of Zamora’s borrowed gun locked back, empty. Bluesuit chose this moment of confusion to make his move.

He dashed around the piping, getting between the cops and the door, shooting another one as he broke into the clear.

“Leon!” Zamora shouted.

Bluesuit turned, saw her, raised his gun to her face. She tripped the lock, letting the Smith & Wesson’s slide run forward, and aimed the gun at him. That bluff wasn’t going to work. He had seen it, knew she was out of bullets, and smiled as his finger tightened on the trigger.

She steeled herself to take the bullet. Time hung suspended as their eyes held a silent dialogue. She jerked violently at the first thunderous boom!, but the only thing that hit her was a few specks of blood as a red hole exploded in the middle of his chest. He staggered back, beginning to fall, and was hit twice more. Snapping her eyes to the right she found Kitfox looking over the sights of his Glock 21.

Shooter down, he immediately turned his attention to her.

“Inez?”

“I’m okay. Check him.”

The door opened, admitting two heavily armored SWAT troopers.

“We’ve got one to get in custody,” Kitfox told them. “Get somebody to room four twenty two. You might be able to prevent another killing.”

One of them leveled his MP5 in the direction of the last shooter while the other turned and sprinted down the stairs, but with Bluesuit’s commanding presence gone, the henchman became indecisive, and was quickly disarmed and put into cuffs.

“Special agent Kitfox,” Bluesuit croaked, “I sink you haff killed me.”

“I’m afraid you may be right,” Kitfox replied, eyeing the three hits to his upper torso. “That’s unfortunate, but you put yourself in this position. Want to tell me who you are now? For the headstone?”

“I care to tell you to go to hell.”

“Well, at least it’s over.”

“You sink iss over?” The man coughed, red foam springing to his lips. “At least zese policemen labor in honest ignorance, but a fellow professional like yourself should know better. Just try and stop . . .”

The air rushed out of him, and he was gone.

10:16 AM, Monterey

Kitfox sat on the fan motor housing, watching as the medics began immobilizing Zamora’s leg. They had cut the leg off her jeans, and he was relieved to see the wound was clean and had to all appearances missed the bone.

“Leon, if you hadn’t—”

“Shhh,” he said, “you’d have done the same for me, or anyone else.”

“Yes, but I—”

“Quiet! I know what you want to say, and it isn’t necessary. Not between friends.”

That had the desired effect, and she sat still and looked at him with a surprised expression until one of the medics made her wince.

“Let’s see who our mystery man is,” Kitfox said, and kneeling beside Bluesuit’s body, began to rifle his pockets.

“Passport,” he said. “Hans Stuben, Germany.”

He continued to search.

“Another one. Vladimir Borichescu, Bulgaria.”

A little more digging brought out a large wallet and the infamous cell phone. He opened the wallet and pulled out cards. Lots of cards.

“At least six different identities here, and not one of them named Mikail,” he said, pointing at the name tag.

Opening the cell phone, he switched it on and entered the directory.

“That’s odd.”

“What’s that?”

“Instead of names, his directory is organized by function. Here’s safehouse, papers, weapons, and, look at this, client. I wonder . . .” He tapped the listing, and the phone began to dial.

One ring, two rings, three.

“Central Intelligence, Watley.”

“Central . . . You mean the CIA?”

“Who is this?”

“My name’s Leon. I’ve been working with Mikhail.”

There was a click as the man hung up, followed by the hiss of dead air.

To be continued . . .