8:43 AM, Monterey
“But what will the prosecutor do, that’s the ultimate question. I mean, he’s got enough to move on right now, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, Leon, and he wants to, too. I convinced him to wait for a short time in the interest of finding a larger plot she might be a part of, but that’s the only thing that moved him.”
“He has to give us time.”
“I don’t think the media will allow it,” Zamora replied. “We have a pillar of the community murdered by a housewife who, on the face of it, looks psycho. I really think this trial will be the People of the State of California versus the defendant, and those people are going to want their justice swift and deadly.”
“We’ll have to do something to buy more time.”
“What we’ll wind up having to do is work faster—” Zamora was interrupted by the ring of her phone.
“Monterey Police, Lieutenant Zamora . . . One moment, please. It’s for you,” she said, passing the phone to Kitfox. “Your office.”
“Good morning, Leon,” Dixon’s voice hit his ear. “You didn’t call last night.”
“I worked late, sir. You were gone by the time I finished.”
“Then call me at home, dammit! When I stick my neck out to support one of your harebrained schemes, I expect some reciprocation.”
“Sorry, sir. I’ll keep it in mind.”
“You do that. Now, what did you find out?”
“Nothing specific, just things that raise more questions.”
“Motive. There is none. The local prosecutor wants to move right away, and as it stands, Darnall’s a shoo-in for an insanity defense.”
“Well, Leon, maybe insanity is the appropriate defense. This sort of stuff does happen, you know.”
“I know, sir, but that just doesn’t look right from here.”
“Yeah, so you’ve said. How are you going to prove it?”
“By tying these crimes together. The victim in Reno—”
“Right. He was a professor of economics, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah, economic theory, actually. Nothing that applied to the real world. More like the formulas that propped everything up.”
“Okay. I need to know a couple of things about him.”
“Such as, did he know, either personally or professionally, Robert Durant, and did he have any involvement with the PacRim Conference down here? That’s set for this weekend, and Durant was a big player.”
“Done. What are you going to do?”
“Look into this PacRim thing. It’s supposed to lead to a big economic shakeup for Monterey, and it’s possible it might have harmed Darnall’s family to the point where it could be viewed as a motive.”
“Good, Leon, you’re sounding like a cop now. How about Darnall, is she still claiming amnesia?”
“Yes. Nothing new there.”
“Has she been tested?”
“Not yet. Defense and the prosecutor are still haggling over who’s going to do it. I think the defender is stalling for time. He’s hoping we’ll come up with something that will help him.”
“Well, maybe you will. You go ahead and get started. Let me talk to that cop you’re working with.”
“She’s a Lieutenant, sir. Inez Zamora.”
“I don’t care if she’s the Archbishop of Carmel, put her on.”
“He wants to speak to you,” Kitfox said, passing her the phone.
“Lieutenant Zamora . . . Yes, Agent Kitfox has been of great assistance to us already. We never would have connected the two crimes without his insight . . . Well, certainly it’s possible, even likely, but if there is something bigger than one demented housewife here, don’t we all want to know about it? . . . I’ll have my secretary fax it this morning . . . Yes, Agent Dixon, I’ll remind him daily . . . Same to you, sir . . . Have a nice day.”
“Well?” Kitfox said as she hung up.
“He wants our case material. Sounds like you’re here for the duration.”
“He also wants me to remind you to call in daily reports. I don’t think he wants you getting off course.”
“No? Well, everyone has wants.”
9:29 AM, Salinas
Ikhilevich finished setting up the scrambler his client had provided him with barely a minute left. He had been surprised by the complexity and stymied by a part that had stubbornly refused to click into place, but he was finished.
Precisely at 9:30 the phone rang. He waited three rings while the scrambler synchronized with its counterpart, the only one in the world it could talk to. When the ready light finally came on, he picked up the telephone.
“Good afternoon, Uschi, or should I say good morning? It’s good to find you ready.”
“It is goot to find you usink proper channel. Are zere any changes?”
“Hang on, old buddy. That’s why we have these meetings. How is everything looking on your end?”
“Everysink here is fine, olt butty. My people are in place and avaitink my signal. Ze test runs vent perfectly, ze police are looking for crazy killers, and by ze time anyone begins to figure out vat is goink on, ze job vill be completed, I vill be gone, and zere vill be nosink to connect me to you, nor indeet, to ze killinks in any vay.”
“You sound pretty confident, my friend.”
“Confidence comes from sorough preparation ant knowink zat nosink can be srown at you zat you haff not prepared and practiced for in advance. I learned zat from you Nafy SEALs.”
“Hell of a group, those SEALs. Now if you study the Imperial Japanese Navy, they’ll teach you all about the dangers of overconfidence.”
“You vant me to be less confident, zen, on ze efe of ze operation?”
“I want you to be careful, Uschi, that’s all. Allow for the possibility of things going wrong, and be ready to correct them.”
“I tolt you, I haff considered efery possibility. Ve are ready to moof, or vould you maybe like my people to haff doubts just before ze operation?”
“Uschi, no, of course not. I just want you to be careful and calculating, and so on top of things that nothing can trip you up.”
“Nosink vill trip me up. My people vill be vaiting at convention like hungry spiders. Do not vorry so much, olt butty, after all, you hired ze best.”
“I’m aware of that, Uschi. We’re still on track, then. I’ll contact you tomorrow, same time, to make sure we remain on track. Talk to you then.”
With a click, the client was gone.
Ikhilevich hung up, thinking dark thoughts about the employer he had never seen. He took apart the scrambler piece by piece and reassembled it inside-out, transforming it into the sort of innocent video game player any man might use to make the time pass in a cheap hotel room.
12:29 PM, Monterey
Kathy Benson lay in the leg press machine in the hotel gymnasium, straining to find her limit. It was near. She held the padded bench beside her hips for leverage, palms slipping on the sweat-soaked leather. Veins stood out in her neck, her eyes were squeezed shut, and her face was contorted with effort. A deep groove scored the side of her thigh and corded steel muscles stood out in sharp relief as the weight moved slowly but smoothly along its guides. At the bottom of each stroke she would stop and pant deeply, then lock her air inside and drive the weights aloft again with those powerful legs, driven by a determination she never knew she had possessed.
“Kathy, my God!” It was Medina, standing beside the machine, mugging an exaggerated look of amazement. “What is that, about three-fifty?”
“Four,” Benson gasped.
“What are you trying to prove?” Medina asked as Benson began another stroke. She laid her palm just above her friend’s knee as she reached full extension; she could have struck a match on that granite surface.
“Nothing,” Benson replied as she settled back into her rest position. “Those are saddle muscles. Don’t you know that girls with strong legs get the best . . .”
Medina waited as Benson got a funny look on her face and said nothing else.
“Get the best what?”
“Nothing. Forget it. I’ve just got a bad headache today, and this helps it. What did you need?”
“I just wanted to know if you have the schedule ready for the caterers yet.”
“First thing after lunch, hun.” She sucked in her breath and began another stroke.
“Okay. I’ll drop by about two.”
With her eyes closed again, Benson couldn’t see the worried look her friend wore as she left.
2:03 PM, Salinas
In his own room in a different hotel, Uschi Ikhilevich was flexing muscles of an entirely different sort. His exercise machine was a telephone, and personal success was measured in the domination of one mind by another. His.
“Armadillo underpants swimmink in a pile.”
The long pause, then, “Yes?”
“Yes.” Flat monotone.
“Zis is capstone. Are you prepared to follow instructions?”
“Goot. You vill pull out ze linink inside your medium suitcase. Insite you will find a ticket on Sousevest Airlines to Monterey, California. Ze flight leafs at seven sirty fife zis efenink. You vill be on zat flight, unt you vill arrife at Monterey at arount ten fifteen. Do you understant?”
“Goot. Ven you arrife at Monterey, you vill take a taxi to ze Monterey Marriott Hotel. Reservations are already mate for you. Do you understant?”
“Goot. You vill, as alvays, haff no memory of zis talk, but your instructions vill be clear unt imperatife, do you understant?”
“Goot. You may now carry zem out. Goot bye.”
Ikhilevich hung up the phone and took his personal organizer from the bed. He responded to its request for a password by typing Illyana, the name of his beloved, put an X beside Nicholas Ives, and moved the list down to display David Jackson. He reached for the phone again.
3:48 PM, Reno, Nevada
“Monterey Police Department, Lieutenant Zamora.”
“Lieutenant, this is Sergeant Rick Sturgeon, Reno P.D. I have a message here to call this number to speak to an FBI agent, Leon Kitfox.”
“Yes, Sergeant, he’s eager to hear from you. I’ll put him on.”
She clicked the phone onto hold so he wouldn’t hear whatever they said, then, “Special Agent Kitfox.”
Eager, edgy . . . Desperate?
“Rick Sturgeon, Reno Police. May I assist you with something, Special Agent?”
“I fervently hope. I’m working with the Monterey Police on a homicide, and the reason I’m here at all is that we initially linked it to yours, the burger-flipper with the baseball bat.”
“That’s the Shaw murder. And you say these are linked?”
“Very tentatively. I’m working the Durant murder here. Robert Durant, a respected bank manager, mover and shaker on some big economic conference scheduled to play over this weekend. Murdered by a housewife who wouldn’t spray a line of ants, had no combat skills of any kind, and yet she apparently found it in herself to lie in wait for a man she didn’t know and stab him over thirty times. Let’s say the similarities are striking.”
“Son of a bitch!”
“Shaw. Eugene Shaw was a professor of economic theory here at UNR. He was a big name in his field, and our small university here was more a hideaway for him than anything else. He could have done much better. And yes, he was killed with excessive force by a person who everyone swears wouldn’t harm a fly.”
“That much I already know. That’s what drew our attention in the first place. That’s an iffy connection at best. The clincher for me will be whether Shaw was involved in that conference.”
“You know it?”
“Your boss reached me a short time ago. We went back and re-read his calendar. It didn’t mean anything to us the first time we saw it.”
“Detective, you’re a prince among policemen. Let me give you my cellphone number. We need to stay close on this. Your name’s Sturgeon, you say?”
“Yeah, Rick Sturgeon. Extension six-four-four.”
“Okay, got it. Here’s my number.”
Sturgeon wrote the number down, wondering what the hell his random act of violence was beginning to spiral into.
“Got it,” he said, copying the number into his notebook. “I’ll be with you in minutes if anything comes up at this end. I’d appreciate it if you’d do the same.”
“That goes without saying, Detective, since I believe these cases are linked.”
“Of course. Say, can I ask you something?”
“What kind of name is Kitfox?”