Diamond bay, p.6
Diamond Bay, page 6
Her heart was still hammering in her chest with excitement. Even after she had emptied the bowl of water, turned out the lamp and crawled into bed beside him, she was quivering and unable to sleep. He had opened his eyes and spoken to her, had moved voluntarily. He was recovering! A burden lifted from her shoulders with the knowledge.
She turned on her side and looked at him, barely able to see the outline of his profile in the darkness of the room, but every pore in her skin sensed his nearness. He was warm and alive, and an odd mixture of pain and ecstasy swelled inside her, because somehow he had become important to her, so important that the tenor of her existence had been irrevocably altered. Even when he left, as practicality told her he must, she would never be the same again. Diamond Bay had given him to her, a strange gift from the turquoise waters. She reached out and trailed her fingers lightly down his muscled arm, then withdrew her touch, because the feel of his skin made her heart lurch again. He had come from the sea, but it was she who had suffered the sea change.
“HE’S DEAD, I’M telling you.”
A slim man, with graying brown hair and a narrow, intense face that belied the self-imposed calmness and control of his manner, gave the speaker a look of contemptuous amusement. “Do you think we can afford to assume that, Ellis? We have found nothing—I repeat, nothing—to assure us of his death.”
Tod Ellis narrowed his eyes. “There’s no way he could’ve survived. That boat went up like a fuel tank.”
An elegant red-haired woman had been silently listening to the two, and now she leaned forward to put out a cigarette. “And the report from one of the men that he saw something, or someone, go over the side?”
Ellis flushed angrily. These two had deferred to him when it came to setting up the ambush, but now they were treating him like a rank amateur. He didn’t like it; he was far from an amateur, and they had damned well needed him when they were after Sabin. The plan hadn’t worked out exactly as they’d wanted, but Sabin hadn’t escaped, and that was the most important thing. If they had thought it would be easy to capture him, then they were fools, at best. “Even if he got into the water,” he said patiently, “he was wounded. We saw him get hit. We were miles out. There’s no way he could have gotten to shore. He either drowned, or a shark got him. Why take the chance on drawing attention to ourselves by searching for him?”
The other man’s pale blue eyes looked beyond Ellis, into the past. “Ah, but this is Sabin we’re talking about, not some ordinary man. How many times has he slipped away from us? Too many for me to trust that it was so easy to kill him. We found no remains on the boat, and if, as you say, he either drowned or was attacked by sharks, there still would have been some evidence. We’ve patrolled these waters for two days without finding anything. The logical thing to do is to move our search to shore.”
“We’ll be exposing ourselves if we do.”
The woman smiled. “Not if we do it right. We must simply be discreet. Our biggest danger is the possibility that he was picked up by another boat and taken to a hospital. If he’s had the opportunity to talk to someone, to make some calls, we won’t be able to get near him. First we must find him, though. I agree with Charles. Too much is at stake for us to simply assume that he’s dead.”
Ellis’s face was grim. “Do you have any idea how large an area we’ll have to cover?”
Charles drew a map of Florida closer. “Our position was here,” he said, marking the spot with an X. “Given the distance and the tides, which I’ve already checked, I think we should concentrate our efforts in this area.” He drew a long oval on the map and tapped it with his pen. “Noelle, check all the hospitals in the area, and also the police blotters, to find if anyone has been treated for a gunshot wound. While you’re doing that we’ll be searching every inch of the coastline.” He leaned back in his chair and surveyed Ellis with his arctic gaze. “Can you contact your people and find out without arousing suspicions if he’s called anyone?”
Ellis shrugged. “I have a reliable contact.”
“Then make it. We may have waited too long as it is.”
He would make the call, Ellis thought, but he was sure it would be a waste of time. Sabin was dead; these people persisted in acting as if he were some sort of superman who could disappear into thin air, then miraculously reappear. Okay, so he’d had a reputation when he was in the field; that had been years ago. He would have lost his edge since then, sitting around at a dull desk job the way he’d been doing. No, Sabin was dead; Ellis was certain of it.
RACHEL SAT ON the front porch swing, a newspaper spread across her lap and heaped with green beans. A dishpan sat on the swing beside her, and she systematically broke the tips off the beans and peeled the string off them, then broke the pods into inch-long sections, which she dropped into the dishpan. She didn’t like stringing green beans, but she liked to eat them, so it was a necessary evil. She kept the swing gently swaying and listened to a portable radio set on the windowsill. She was listening to an FM country station, but the volume was turned low because she didn’t want to disturb her patient, who was sleeping peacefully.
She had spent the morning expecting him to finally wake up for good, but instead he was still alternating between periods of deep sleep, when the aspirin and sponging got his fever down, and restlessness, when his temperature soared. He hadn’t opened his eyes or spoken again, though once he had groaned and held his shoulder with his right hand until Rachel loosened his grip and held his hand, soothing him with soft murmurs of reassurance.
Joe eased up from his position under the oleander bush, a rumble forming in his throat. Rachel glanced at him, then swept her gaze around the yard and toward the road, to the left, but could see nothing. It wasn’t like Joe to pay any attention to squirrels or rabbits. “What is it?” she asked, unable to keep the tightness of apprehension out of her voice, and Joe responded to her tone by moving to stand directly in front of the steps. The rumble was a full-fledged growl now, and he was staring toward the pine thicket, toward the slope that led down to Diamond Bay.
Two men were coming out of the thicket.
Rachel continued to string and snap the beans as if she were totally unconcerned, but she felt every muscle in her body tense. She stared at them, openly, deciding that that would be the normal thing to do. They were dressed casually, in lightweight cotton canvas pants and pullover shirts, with loose cotton jackets. Rachel eyed the jackets. The temperature was ninety-nine degrees and it wasn’t quite noon yet, so it promised to get hotter. Jackets were anything but practical—unless they were needed to hide shoulder holsters.
As the men crossed the road and approached the house Joe’s growls became snarls, and he crouched, the hair along his neck lifted. The men halted, and Rachel caught the movement one man made beneath his jacket before he halted himself. “Sorry about that,” she called, leisurely putting aside the beans and getting to her feet. “Joe doesn’t like strangers in general, and men in particular. He won’t even let the neighbor in the yard. Guess some man abused him once. Are you lost, or has your boat quit on you?” As she talked she came down the steps and laid a calming hand on Joe’s back, feeling the way he shifted a little away from her.
“Neither. We’re looking for someone.” The man who answered her was tall and good-looking, with sandy brown hair and an open, college-boy smile that flashed whitely in his tanned face. He glanced down at Joe. “Uh, do you want to get a better hold on the dog?”
“He’ll be all right, as long as you don’t come any nearer to the house.” Rachel hoped that was true. Giving Joe another pat, she walked past him and approached the men. “I don’t think it’s me he’s protecting as much as his territory. Now what was it you said?”
The other man was shorter, slimmer and darker than Mr. All-American College Boy. “FBI,” he said briskly, flashing a badge in front of her nose. “I’m Agent Lowell. This is Agent Ellis. We’r
Rachel wrinkled her forehead, praying she wasn’t overdoing it. “An escaped convict?”
Agent Ellis’s gaze had been appreciatively measuring Rachel’s long, bare legs, but now his eyes lifted to her face. “No, but prison is where we’re trying to put him. We think he may have come ashore somewhere in this area.”
“Haven’t seen any strangers around here, but I’ll keep a sharp watch. What does he look like?”
“Six feet tall, maybe a little taller. Black hair, black eyes.”
Both men looked startled. “No, he’s not an Indian,” Agent Lowell finally said. “But he’s dark, sort of Indian-looking.”
“Do you have a picture of him?”
A quick look passed between the two men. “No.”
“Is he dangerous? I mean, a murderer, or anything like that?” A lump had formed in her chest and was rising toward her throat. What would she do if they told her he was a murderer? How could she bear it?
Again that look, as if they weren’t sure what to tell her. “He should be considered armed and dangerous. If you see anything at all suspicious give us a call at this number.” Agent Lowell scribbled a telephone number on a piece of paper and gave it to Rachel, who glanced at it before folding it and putting it in her pocket.
“I’ll do that,” she said. “Thank you for coming by.”
They started to leave; then Agent Lowell paused and turned back to her, his eyes narrowed. “There are some strange marks on the beach down there, as if something has been dragged. Do you know anything about them?”
Rachel’s blood froze in her veins. Fool! she told herself numbly. She should have gone down to the beach and obliterated all those marks. At least the tide would have washed away any blood and other signs that had been left where he had fallen. Deliberately she wrinkled her forehead, giving herself time to think, then let her face clear. “Oh, you must mean where I collect shells and driftwood. I pile them all on a tarp and haul it up here. That way I can get it all up the slope with just one trip.”
“What do you do with them? The shells and driftwood.”
She didn’t like the way Agent Lowell was looking at her, as if he didn’t believe a word she said. “I sell them,” she said, and it was the truth. “I own two souvenir shops.”
“I see.” He smiled at her. “Well, good luck in your shell hunting.” They turned to leave again.
“Do you need a lift?” she asked, raising her voice. “You look hot now, and it’s going to get hotter.”
Both of them looked up at the blistering sun in the cloudless blue bowl of the sky; their faces were shiny with perspiration. “We came by boat,” Agent Ellis said. “We’re going to check along the beach some more. Thanks, anyway.”
“Anytime. Oh, watch out if you go north. It gets swampy.”
She watched them disappear into the pines and down the slope, and chills prickled her skin despite the heat. Slowly she returned to the porch and sat down on the swing, automatically returning to the task of breaking the beans. Everything they had said swirled in her mind, and she tried to sort it all out, to get her thoughts in order again. FBI? It was possible, but they had flashed their badges so swiftly she hadn’t been able to examine them. They knew what he looked like, but they didn’t have any photographs of him; she thought it would be reasonable that the FBI would have some likeness, even if it was just a drawing of someone they were trying to find. And they had sidestepped the question when she asked what he had done, as if they hadn’t anticipated that and didn’t know how to answer. They had said he should be considered armed and dangerous, but instead he was naked and helpless. Didn’t they know he’d been shot? Why hadn’t they said something about that?
But what if she were harboring a criminal? That had always been one of the possibilities, though she had discounted it. Now it swarmed back into her mind, and she felt sick.
The beans were finished. She took the pan into the house and set it in the sink, then returned to gather up the paper with the strings and broken ends on it. As she carried it to the kitchen to stuff it in the trash can she cast an apprehensive look at her open bedroom door. She could just see the head of the bed and his black hair on the pillow…her pillow. When he woke up again, and she looked into those night-black eyes, would she be looking into the eyes of a criminal? A killer?
Swiftly she washed her hands and flipped through the telephone book, then punched the number. It rang only once before a harried male voice said, “Sheriff’s Department.”
“Andy Phelps, please.”
“Just a minute.”
There was another ring, but this time the answer was absentminded, as if the person had other things on his mind. “Phelps.”
“Andy, this is Rachel.”
Immediately his voice warmed. “Hi, honey. Everything okay?”
“Fine. Hot, but fine. How are Trish and the kids?”
“The kids are doing okay, but Trish is praying for school to start.”
She laughed, sympathizing with Andy’s wife. Their boys carried rowdiness to new heights. “Listen, two guys just stopped by the house. They walked up from the beach.”
His voice sharpened. “They give you any trouble?”
“No, nothing like that. They said they were FBI, but I didn’t get a good look at their badges. They’re looking for some man. Are they legitimate? Has your department been notified of anything? I may be paranoid, but I’m out here at the end of the road, and Rafferty’s miles away. After B.B….” Her voice trailed away with the sudden pain of the memory. It had been five years, but there were still times when the loss and regret seared her, when the emptiness got to her.
Like no one else on earth, Andy understood. He had worked with B.B. in the DEA. The memory roughened his tone. “I know. You can’t be too careful, honey. Look, we’ve had orders come down to cooperate with some guys who are looking for a man. It’s all hush-hush. They’re not the local FBI people. I doubt that they’re FBI at all, but orders are orders.”
Rachel’s hand tightened on the receiver. “And an agency is an agency?”
“Yeah, something like that. Keep quiet about it, but keep your eyes open. I’m not real comfortable with the feel of this.”
He wasn’t the only one. “I will. Thanks.”
“Sure thing. Listen, why don’t you come to dinner some night soon? It’s been a while since we’ve seen you.”
“Thanks, I’d love to. Have Trish call me.”
They hung up, and Rachel drew a deep breath. If Andy didn’t think the men were FBI, that was good enough for her. Going into the bedroom, she stood beside the bed and watched the man sleep, his deep chest slowly rising and falling. She had kept the blinds closed since the night she had brought him into the house, so the room was dim and cool, but a thin ray of sunlight crept between two of the slats and slanted across his stomach, making that long, thin scar glow. Whoever he was, whatever he was involved in, he wasn’t a common criminal.
They played lethal games, the men and women who peopled the shadowy world of intelligence and counterintelligence. They lived their lives balanced on the razor’s edge of death; they were hard and cold, intense but casual. They weren’t like other people, the people who worked at the same job every day and went home to their houses, to their families. Was he one of those for whom a normal life was impossible? She was almost certain of it now. But what was going on, and who could she trust? Someone had shot him. Either he had escaped, or he had been dumped in the ocean to drown. Were those two men hunting for him to protect him, or to finish off the job? Did he possess some highly sensitive information, something critical to defense?
She trailed her fingers over his hand, which was lying limply on top of the sheet. His skin was hot and dry; fever still burned inside him as
Her brow furrowed. If he could swallow tea, he could swallow soup. She should have thought of that before! Briskly she went into the kitchen and opened a can of chicken noodle soup, ran it through the blender until it was liquified, then put it on the stove to simmer. “Sorry it isn’t homemade,” she muttered to the man in the bedroom. “But I don’t have any chicken in the freezer. Besides, this is easier.”
She watched him closely, checking on him every few minutes; when he began to stir restlessly, moving his head back and forth on the pillow and kicking at the sheet, she prepared a tray for his first “meal,” such as it was. It didn’t take her long, less than five minutes. She carried the tray into the bedroom and almost dropped it when he suddenly heaved himself up on his right elbow, staring at her with those piercing, fever-bright black eyes.
Rachel’s entire body tensed as desperation flooded her. If he fell off the bed she wouldn’t be able to get him back on it without help. He was weaving back and forth on his precarious prop, still staring at her with burning intensity. She plunked the tray down on the floor where she stood, sloshing some of the soup over the side of the bowl, then darted to the side of the bed to catch him. Gently, supporting his head and trying not to jostle his shoulder, she put her arm around his back and eased his head onto her shoulder, bracing herself against his weight. “Lie down,” she said in the calm, soothing tone she always used for him. “You can’t get up yet.”
A frown laced his black eyebrows together, and he resisted her efforts. “It’s time for the party,” he muttered, his words still drunkenly slurred.
He was awake, but certainly not lucid, drifting in a fever-induced dream world. “No, the party hasn’t started yet,” she reassured him, catching his right elbow and pulling it forward so he wouldn’t be able to prop himself up on it. His weight fell heavily on her supporting arm as she lowered him back onto the pillow. “You have time for a nap.”
by Linda Howard / Romance / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes