The Husband Page 24


"You've got cash somewhere," Mitch insisted. "Money earns interest, dividends. I don't put it in a mattress."


"You read all those pirate stories."


"So?"


"You identified with the pirates, thought they were way cool." Grimacing as if in pain, Anson said, "Please, man, let me go to the bathroom. I'm in a real bad way."


"Now you are a pirate. Even got your own boat, gonna run your business from sea. Pirates don't put their money in banks.


They like to touch it, look at it. They bury it in lots of places so they can get to it easy when their fortunes change."


"Mitch, please, man, I'm having bladder spasms."


"The money you make consulting—yeah, it goes in the bank. But the money from jobs that are—how did you put it?—'more directly criminal,' like whatever job you did with these guys and then cheated them on the split, that doesn't go in the bank. You don't pay taxes on it."


Anson said nothing.


"I'm not going to march you over to your office and watch while you use the computer to move funds around, arrange a wire transfer. You're bigger than me. You're desperate. I'm not giving you a chance to turn the tables. You're in that chair till this is done."


Accusatorily, Anson said, "I was always there for you."


"Not always."


"As kids, I mean. I was always there for you when we were kids."


"Actually," Mitch said, "we were there for each other."


"We were. That's right. Real brothers. We can get back to that," Anson assured him.


"Yeah? How do we get back to that?"


"I'm not saying it'll be easy. Maybe we start with some honesty. I screwed up, Mitch. It was horrible what I did to you. I was doing some drugs, man, and they messed with my head."


"You weren't doing any drugs. Don't blame it on that. Where's the cash?"


"Bro, I swear to you, the dirty money gets laundered. It ends up in the bank, too."


"I don't believe it."


"You can grind me, but it doesn't change what's true."


"Why don't you think about it some more?" Mitch advised.


"There's nothing to think about. What is is." Mitch switched off the light. "Hey, no," Anson said plaintively.


Stepping across the threshold, pulling the door shut behind him, Mitch closed his brother in the dark.


Chapter 47


Mitch started in the attic. A trapdoor in the walk-in closet off the master bedroom gave access. A ladder folded down off the trap.


Two bare lightbulbs inadequately illuminated the high space, revealing cobwebs in the angles of the rafters.


Eager breathing, hissing, and hungry panting arose at every vent in the eaves, as though the attic were a canary cage and the wind a voracious cat.


Such was the disquieting nature of a Santa Ana wind that even the spiders were agitated by it. They moved restlessly on their webs.


Nothing was stored in the attic. He almost retreated, but was held by suspicion, by a hunch.


This empty space was floored with plywood. Anson would probably not conceal a hoard of cash under a sheet of plywood held down by sixteen nails. He wouldn't be able to get at it fast in an emergency.


Nevertheless, ducking to avoid the lower rafters, Mitch walked back and forth, listening to his hollow footsteps. An odd prophetic feeling seized him, a sense that he was on the brink of a discovery.


His attention was drawn to a nail. The other nails in the floor were pounded flat, but one was raised about a quarter of an inch.


He knelt in front of the nail to examine it. The head was wide and flat. Judging by the size of the head and the thickness of the quarter-inch of shank revealed, it was at least three inches long.


When he pinched the nail between thumb and forefinger and tried to wiggle it, he found that it was firmly lodged.


An extraordinary feeling overcame him, akin to—but different from—what he had experienced when he had first seen the field of squirreltail grass transformed into a silvery whirlpool by the eddying breeze and the moonlight.


Suddenly he felt so close to Holly that he looked over his shoulder, half expecting her to be there. The feeling did not fade, but swelled, until a chill nubbed the flesh on the nape of his neck.


He left the attic and went down to the kitchen. In the drawer where he had found the car keys was a small collection of the most commonly used tools. He selected a screwdriver and a claw hammer.


From the laundry room, Anson said, "What's going on?"


Mitch didn't reply.


In the attic once more, he applied the claw end of the hammer and pulled up the nail. Using the screwdriver as a wedge, tapping the handle with the hammer, he levered the next nail a quarter-inch out of the plywood, and then used the claw to extract it, too.


Agitated spiders plucked silent arpeggios from their silken harps, and the wind was never silent.


The chill on the back of his neck intensified nail by nail. When the last was extracted, he eagerly lifted aside the sheet of plywood.


He found only floor joists. Blankets of fiberglass insulation filled the spaces between the joists.


He lifted out the fiberglass. No strongbox or plastic-wrapped bundles of currency were concealed beneath the insulation.


The prophetic feeling had passed, as had the sense that somehow he had been close to Holly. He sat in mystification.


What the hell was that all about?


Surveying the attic, he felt no compulsion to take up other sheets of plywood.


His original assessment had been correct. In concern of a fire, if for no other reason, Anson wouldn't hide a lot of money where he couldn't get at it quickly.


Mitch left the spiders in darkness with the ever-seeking wind.


In the master closet, after putting up the folding ladder and the trapdoor, he continued his search. He looked behind the hanging clothes, checked drawers for false bottoms, felt under every shelf and along every molding for a hidden lever that might spring open a panel.


In the bedroom, he peered behind paintings in hope of finding a wall safe, although he doubted that Anson would be that obvious. He even rolled the king-size bed out of place, but he found no loose square of carpet concealing a floor vault.


Mitch worked through two bathrooms, a hall closet, and two spare bedrooms that had not been furnished. Nothing.


Downstairs, he began in the mahogany-paneled, book-lined study. There were so many potential hiding places that he had only half finished with the room when he glanced at his watch and saw it was 11:33.


The kidnappers would be calling in twenty-seven minutes.


In the kitchen, he picked up the pistol and went to the laundry room. When he opened the door, the stink of urine met him.


He switched on the light and found Anson in misery.


Most of the flood had been soaked up by his pants, his socks, his shoes, but a small yellow puddle had formed on the tiles at the feet of the chair.


Other than rage, the closest thing sociopaths have to human emotions is self-love and self-pity, the only love and only pity of which they are capable. Their extreme self-love is beyond mere rampant egomania.


Psychotic self-love includes nothing as worthy as self-respect, but it does encompass a kind of overweening pride. Anson could not feel shame, but his pride had fallen from a high place into a swamp of self-pity.


His tan could not conceal an ashen undertone. His face appeared spongy, fungoid. The bloodshot eyes were filmy pools of torment.


"Look what you've done to me," he said.


"You did it to yourself."


If self-pity left room in him for anger, he hid it well.


"This is sick, man."


"It's way sick," Mitch agreed.


"You're having a good laugh."


"No. Nothing funny here."


"'You're laughing inside."


"I hate this."


"If you hate this, where's your shame now?"


Mitch said nothing.


"Where's your red face? Where's my blushing brother?"


"We're running out of time, Anson. They'll be calling soon. I want the cash."


"What do I get? What's in it for me? Why am I supposed to just give and give?"


Arm extended full length, assuming the posture that Campbell had taken with Mitch himself, he pointed the gun at his brother's face.


"You give me the money, and I'll let you live."


"What kind of life would I have?"


"You keep everything else you've got. I pay the ransom, take care of this without the police ever knowing there was a kidnapping, so nobody has to get a statement from you."


No doubt Anson was thinking about Daniel and Kathy.


"You go on like before," Mitch lied, "make whatever kind of life you want."


Anson would have been able to pin their parents' deaths on Mitch with ease if Mitch had been dead and buried in a desert grave beyond discovery. Not so easy now.


"I give you the money," Anson said, "you set me loose."


"That's right."


Dubious, he said, "How?"


"Before I leave to make the trade, I Taser you again, and then I take off the cuffs. I leave while you're still twitching."


Anson thought it over.


"Come on, pirate boy. Give up the treasure. If you don't tell me before the phone rings, it's over."


Anson met his eyes.


Mitch didn't look away. "I'll do it."


"You're just like me," Anson said.


"If that's what you want to think."


Anson's gaze didn't waver. His eyes were bold. His eyes were direct and probing.


He was shackled to a chair. His shoulders ached and his arms ached. He had wet his pants. He was staring down the muzzle of a gun.


Yet his eyes were steady, and full of calculation. A graveyard rat, having tunneled to make nests in a series of skulls, seemed now to occupy this living head, peering out with rat-quick cunning.


"There's a floor safe in the kitchen," Anson said.


Chapter 48


The lower cabinet to the left of the sink featured two roll-out shelves. They contained pots and pans.


Mitch unloaded the shelves and detached them from the tracks in which they rolled, exposing the floor of the cabinet in perhaps one minute.


In the four corners were what appeared to be small wooden angle braces. They were in fact pins holding the otherwise unsecured floor panel in place.


He removed the pins, lifted the floor out of the cabinet, and exposed the concrete slab on which the house had been built. Sunk in the concrete was a floor safe.


The combination that Anson had given him worked on the first try. The heavy lid hinged away from him.


The fireproof box measured approximately two feet long, eighteen inches wide, and one foot deep. Inside were thick packets of hundred-dollar bills in kitchen plastic wrap sealed with clear tape.


The safe also contained a manila envelope. According to Anson, it held bearer bonds issued by a Swiss bank. They were almost as liquid as the hundred-dollar bills but more compact and easier to transport across borders.


Mitch transferred the treasure to the kitchen table and checked the contents of the envelope. He counted six bonds denominated in U.S. dollars, one hundred thousand each, payable to the bearer regardless of whether or not he had been the purchaser.


Just a day previous, he would never have expected to be in possession of so much money; and he doubted that he would ever find himself with this much cash again in his life. Yet he experienced not even the briefest amazement or delight at the sight of such wealth.


This was Holly's ransom, and he was grateful to have it. This money was also why she had been kidnapped, and for that reason, he regarded it with such antipathy that he was loath to touch it.


The kitchen clock read 11:54.


Six minutes until the call.


He returned to the laundry, where he had left the door open and the light on.


As self-involved as he was self-saturated, Anson sat in the wet chair but was somewhere else. He didn't come back to the moment until Mitch spoke to him.


"Six hundred thousand in bonds. How much in cash?"


"The rest of it," Anson said.


"The rest of the two million? So there's a million four hundred thousand in cash?"


"That's what I said. Isn't that what I said?"


"I'm going to count it."


"Go ahead."


"If it's not all there, the deal is off. I don't turn you loose when I leave."


In frustration, Anson rattled his handcuffs against the chair. "What're you trying to do to me?"


"I'm just saying how it is. For me to keep the deal, you have to keep the deal. I'll start counting now."


Mitch turned away from the door, toward the kitchen table, and Anson said, "There's eight hundred thousand in cash."


"Not a million four?"


"The whole bundle, cash and bonds, is a million four. I got confused."


"Yeah. Confused. I need six hundred thousand more."


"That's all there is. I don't have any more."


"You said you didn't have this, either."


"I don't always lie," Anson said.


"Pirates don't bury everything they've got in one place."


"Will you stop with this pirate crap?"


"Why? Because it makes you feel like you've never grown up?" The clock showed 11:55.


Inspiration struck Mitch, and he said, "Stop with the pirate crap because maybe I'll think of the yacht. You bought yourself a sailing yacht. How much do you have stashed aboard it?"


"Nothing. I've got nothing on the boat. Haven't had time to fit it out with a safe."


"If they kill Holly, I'll go through your records here," Mitch said. "I'll get the name of the boat, where it's moored. I'll go down to the harbor with an axe and a power drill."


"Do what you have to do."


"I'll rip it up bow to stern, and when I find the money and know you lied to me, I'll come back here and tape your mouth shut so you can't lie to me anymore."


"I'm telling you the truth."


"I'll close you here in the dark, no water, no food, close you in here to die of dehydration in your own filth. I'll sit right there in the kitchen, at your table, eating your food, listening to you die in the dark."


Mitch didn't believe that he could kill anyone in such a cruel fashion, but to his own ear he sounded hard and cold and convincing.


If he lost Holly, maybe anything was possible. Because of her, he had come fully to life. Without her, a part of him would die, and he would be less of a man.

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