Breathless Page 24

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but a couple of centuries ago, his kind hunted wolves virtually to extinction in Ireland. Wolves, for God’s sake. I won’t risk an attack by a dog that big. I’m ordering you to collar him.”

“Good idea,” said the armed agent. “I concur.”

Cammy could see that the word order was not well received by Grady. Always surprised that the rough quality about him pleased her, she took particular pleasure from the menace in the glare that he directed at Jardine.

“You won’t find a more peaceable breed or one with a gentler disposition,” Grady said. “But I’ll collar him to spare you the need to change your underwear.”

Very nice, Cammy thought approvingly—and almost said it aloud.

Grady took a collar and leash from a Peg-Board, and Merlin crawled on his belly from under the table to submit to restraint.

Uninvited, another and particularly hulking black-uniformed agent appeared from the hallway, carrying two pet crates. He put them on the floor and opened them.

“That one seems to be the male,” Jardine said. “He might be agitated if you grab the female. So cage him first, Carter.”

To this point, the golden-eyed individuals remained obsessed with exploring the kitchen drawers. Riddle startled but didn’t resist when the most recently arrived agent, Carter, seized him by the scruff of the neck and by the tail, and manhandled him into a crate.

Merlin’s restrained growl would not have frightened a wolf, but the disconcerted weasel said to Grady, “Keep that leash short.”

“I’ll kennel the other one,” Cammy said.

“Please stay back,” Jardine said, and in spite of the please, it was a warning. “These animals belong to us now, and we’ll deal with them.”

“But there’s no need to handle them so crudely,” she protested.

“For the record,” Jardine said, “the animal didn’t cry out or indicate in any way either that it was caused pain or even that it was frightened.”

“They don’t seem to know they should fear anything,” Cammy said. “Maybe now they’re going to learn.”

Carter snared Puzzle from the chair and shoved her into the second crate.

Again Merlin growled, but he was too well-behaved to test his leash.

Infuriated by their insensitivity, Cammy said, “What’s the matter with you? Look at them, look how beautiful they are, how amazing.”

“Yes,” Jardine replied, “they’re pretty, they’re very pretty, just like in their pictures. But whether they’re pretty or not, we have a job to do, and we have to get on with it.”

The spaces between the crossbars in the crate door would not allow Riddle to reach through and disengage the latch, but he tried.

From imprisonment, the animals regarded Cammy with bewilderment, as each of the uniformed agents carried a crate out of the kitchen.

No sooner had those two men cleared the doorway than another two entered the room, one after the other. Each of them carried an empty black duffel bag.

Jardine said, “Mr. Adams, officially you have five firearms in this house, but I’m sure you’re in possession of others purchased before background-check applications were required. These gentlemen will accompany you room by room to collect those weapons.”

“You have no right to confiscate my guns,” Grady declared.

“We’re not confiscating them, Mr. Adams. We’re impounding them for the duration of this investigation, which is not only within our rights but is also our duty. You’ll be given a receipt for them, and when we leave, the weapons will be returned to you.”

Once Jardine had served the warrants and crossed the threshold, the movie-hero’s-best-buddy persona had been stripped off and folded away in the costume trunk. Now he was who he had always been. His slight overbite no longer endeared him but was merely the better to gnaw at a bone. The blue eyes no longer twinkled, but darkled.

To Grady, he said, “Don’t you think I would be a fool to leave such weapons in the hands of a marksman who has killed so many people at distances beyond a thousand yards?”

Although the marksman label came as news to Cammy, she found it strangely heartening instead of ominous.

Evidently mistaking the character of her surprise for shock, Jardine said, “So, Dr. Rivers, it unsettles you to know Mr. Adams was a sniper in the Army Rangers?”

“I’m not entirely sure why,” Cammy said, “but it actually gives me a lovely sort of comfort.”

“Every one of the men I took down,” Grady said, “was as bad as a man can be. If you fear me having a gun, Mr. Jardine, then you must know something about your own character that I only suspect.”

This time, Cammy could not keep it to herself: “Very nice.”

The men with the duffel bags worked at being stone-faced, and they were reasonably successful, although they would never make it as guards at Buckingham Palace.

As if the deputy director had found Riddle’s jar of jalapeño peppers and had tossed back its contents, his face appeared to swell tight, his lips paled, his cheeks flushed, and his eyes phased out of focus for a moment.

When he dared to speak, his voice was tight: “Your house phone and Internet connection have been disabled. These gentlemen will collect your cell phones and text-messaging devices. For the duration of this operation, any attempt to communicate with anyone beyond this property is a federal offense punishable by up to seven years in prison. Scientists on the team will be arriving over the next few hours. During these two days, you will from time to time be asked to answer questions about the two animals, their behavior, their demeanor. You’re free to go to and from the labs to meet with them. At one o’clock this afternoon, I will debrief you here, in this room, Dr. Rivers. We will need two hours. At three-thirty, Mr. Adams, I will need two hours to debrief you. I am punctual. Please also be.”

When Jardine turned his back on them to leave, Merlin issued a single bark so loud it rattled the windows as much as it rattled the deputy director. He jumped, blasphemed, but wouldn’t give the wolfhound the satisfaction of looking back at him.

While Grady went through the house, surrendering his guns to the agents with duffel bags, Cammy sat on the kitchen floor, telling Merlin that he was excellent, noble, true of heart, and wise.

As the agents departed, Cammy accompanied them and Grady onto the front porch. Several inflatable tentlike structures swelled into shape across the yard and in the meadow, the interlocking plastic grids serving as their floors and as the walkways between them.

“Sleeping quarters, mess hall, latrine, communications center, conference space,” one of the agents explained as they descended the porch steps.

Cammy stood at the railing with the wolfhound and with the sniper who shot words and bullets with equal marksmanship.

He said, “It’s like some circus from Hell is setting up for a two-day stand. They don’t have any elephants, their acts are boring, and their clown isn’t funny.”

“Vivisection. Dissection of a living animal. What if that’s on their agenda? What’s going to happen to Puzzle and Riddle?”


“But they’re already gone.”

“They’re not gone. They’re here.”

“I don’t see us getting them back.”

“I do,” he said.




The grenades made Henry Rouvroy happy. He had worried that the haiku-writing sonofabitch had looted the Land Rover. If the grenades had fallen into the mysterious poet’s hands, the balance of power would have shifted dramatically against Henry.

He enjoyed sitting on the living-room floor, staring at the grenades, handling the grenades, and even kissing them. The casing of a hand grenade was actually a steel waffle of shrapnel waiting to be blown apart and rip savagely through the bodies of everyone within range. It was a beautiful thing.

The senator, whom Henry had served as chief aide and political strategist, had acquired considerably more ordnance than Henry could have dreamed of getting his hands on, but right now the grenades and his cache of firearms were enough. When civil order collapsed, the senator would be at a specially prepared retreat, one of many that were well-concealed and protected for the highest of high government officials. He expected Henry to come with him and his family to ride out the half year or year of blood in the streets. But Henry knew in his bones that the social tension in a remote and fortified compound with a slew of politicians and their kin could lead only to paranoid suspicion, ferocious infighting, and eventually cannibalism. While allowing the senator to think he was in for the plan, he made plans of his own. Henry didn’t want to be eaten alive.

Now he began to distribute the grenades throughout the house, hiding them under cushions, in drawers, under chairs. If his enemy launched an assault on the place, Henry wanted to have a grenade always within arm’s reach, so he could open a window and surprise the hell out of the bastard, blow his booty off and put an end to this game. He hid twenty-nine grenades and decided to carry the last one with him everywhere he went until he killed his tormentor.

When he finished, he noticed the disgusting filth under his fingernails. He didn’t know how he could have gotten so grimy just unloading the Rover. Manual labor was such dirty work, it was amazing that the blue-collar class didn’t lose millions a year to pestilence and disease.

He returned to the bathroom, drew a sinkful of hot water, and set to work with cheaply scented soap and with the clever brush that he had discovered the previous night. He scrubbed diligently for forty minutes before his hands were clean enough to satisfy him. His nails were white and shiny.

As he dried his hands, he wondered if something more than a desire for cleanliness drove him to wash his hands until they were fiery red from hot water and bristle abrasion. Having graduated from Harvard, he knew quite a lot about psychology. Excessive washing of the hands could be a subconscious acknowledgment of guilt. Perhaps murdering his brother had affected him more deeply than he thought.

Well, what was done could not be undone. One thing you learned from a good education was to face the reality of existence and not live with the illusion that wrong was always wrong and right was always right. Sometimes wrong was right, and sometimes right was wrong, and most of the time neither word applied. Think, do, accept, move on.

In the kitchen, as he was preparing an inadequate lunch from the pathetic provisions left to him by his departed kin, he heard noises in the attic. Someone was crawling around up there.


Monday morning, less than two hours after his meeting with Liddon Wallace on the eighteenth green, Rudy Neems flew out of Seattle to San Francisco.

He had told the attorney that he would make the trip that afternoon. He also promised to kill the wife and son Tuesday night.

In both instances, Rudy lied.

He didn’t trust Liddon Wallace. A guy who hired you to kill his family couldn’t be relied on to treat you with fairness and respect.

Wallace admitted having other guys like Rudy on tap. Say one of them was named Burt.

Say Burt’s job was to be waiting in Rudy’s hotel room when Rudy got back from killing Kirsten and her little boy.

Say Burt killed Rudy and made it look like suicide.

The suicide note, composed by Burt in a perfect imitation of Rudy’s handwriting, might say Rudy killed a lot of girls over the years and hated himself and hated Liddon Wallace for getting him acquitted in the Hardy case when what he really wanted was for someone to stop him before he killed again.

Alive, Rudy was a loose end. Dead, he couldn’t rat on Wallace.

With Rudy dead, you wouldn’t want to be Burt.

Say one of Liddon Wallace’s other guys was named Ralph—or it could be Kenny or anything. When Burt returned to his own room in the hotel, maybe Ralph would be waiting for him.

Ralph wouldn’t know that Burt just killed Rudy, so when Burt was dead, no one survived who could link the attorney with the murders of his wife and child. No more loose ends.

Or maybe when Ralph returned to his room in the hotel, Kenny—or maybe his name might be Fred—was waiting to kill him. Maybe it just went on and on until the hotel filled up with dead people.

Rudy Neems possessed sufficient self-awareness to know he was paranoid. That was one of the reasons why he killed people. Although not the primary one, of course, because if it had been the primary reason, he would have been insane.

Rudy was as sane as anyone. He did not kill in mad rages. He knew exactly why he killed. His motivation was complex and arrived at by reason: masterless freedom.

So he lied to Liddon Wallace. He flew out of Seattle eight hours before he said he would. And Rudy intended to kill Kirsten and Benny that same night rather than on the following night, when Burt would be waiting to kill Rudy.

The flight from Seattle could not have been more pleasant. They encountered no turbulence, and they didn’t crash.

Rudy chatted all the way with Pauline, an elderly woman en route to San Francisco for the birth of her great-great-grandson.

She carried a little album of snapshots of her family. She had pictures of her two cats, as well. They were cuter than her family.

Rudy had no desire to kill Pauline. Because he didn’t have sex with elderly women, he never killed elderly women.

At the baggage carousel, Pauline’s daughter and son-in-law were waiting for her. Their names were Don and Jennifer.

Pauline introduced Rudy as “the angel who made me forget all about my fear of flying.”

In fact, Rudy chatted with seatmates on airplanes because he, too, feared flying. He needed to distract himself from thinking about all the things that could go wrong in the air. Like, say, an engine might fall off, probably because a mechanic sabotaged it.

At the airport, he picked up a rental SUV and headed for the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County.

Rudy disliked cities. They were chaotic.

Being a golf-course groundskeeper might be the best job in the world. The golf environment remained at all times quiet, serene, orderly, manicured.

And the work didn’t require constant thinking. While you did your job, you could let your mind roam.

On the job, Rudy mostly replayed in memory all the murders that he committed. Indulging in hours of nostalgic recollection seemed to be one reason he could restrain himself for so long between killings.

Another reason that he killed no more than two people a year was because he only killed people whom he found attractive, and very few people met his standards.

There were guys who could do any halfway-appealing woman they met. Rudy would never be one of them. They were transgressing on the installment plan, rebelling against moral order in a tedious series of minor skirmishes. By contrast, Rudy launched only powerful and profound attacks.

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