“Yes.” A flood rose in her eyes.
“What kind of mother are you, Mary, raising a son to die for you? What twisted values did you teach? You give new meaning to the term domineering mother.”
They talked on the move, Zoey leading at the end of her leash, returning to the south end of the park, where both Tim and Pete had left their cars.
“Michelle gave Mom and Dad a chandelier. Copper birds flying in a circle. A circle is a ring. She said, ‘I’m looking at the ring right now, honey, it gives me hope.’ She’s still at home.”
“Maybe not for long,” Pete said.
They cut across the grass to avoid the skaters and strollers on the pathways.
“I can be there in twenty minutes,” Tim said. “Twenty-five.”
“But if she’s not there,” Linda worried.
“Maybe. But if she’s gone by the time you get there, we can’t make it all the way to Fashion Island for his next call.”
“Fashion Island is bullshit. Misdirection. Just to keep me busy and off balance. It’s too public for any phase of this. He doesn’t have anyone watching the koi pond.”
“That math works the same for me,” Pete agreed.
“What if you’re both wrong?”
“He won’t kill her just because I’m late to Fashion Island. She’s the best leverage he’s got.”
“That’s a cold equation,” Linda said.
Tim recognized the mood he was in. Fear and anger were part of it, but they did not define it.
His fear rose to the level of controlled terror, and the anger might better be called wrath, and the former forged in him a steely resolution, while the latter sharpened a desire to deal retribution, which was in truth a need for vengeance more than justice, but also justice. Emotion of this intensity ought to have clouded his thoughts and hobbled him physically, but as the terror and the wrath became purer and more intense, his thoughts grew clearer and he became acutely aware of his body and its capabilities.
This was in his blood, this clarity in crisis and this dogged purpose in a pinch, and he could take no credit for it and no blame.
They arrived at the Mountaineer before the Honda, and Pete said, “We’ll take my car.”
“I’m going alone,” Tim said.
Opening the tailgate of the SUV, Linda said, “Screw that.”
“She’s my mother.”
“Don’t give me any territorial crap, big head. I don’t have a mother. I think I’ll like yours. So I’m staking a claim.”
As Zoey leaped into the back of the SUV, Tim said, “Get real. You can’t go with me.”
Confronting him, she said, “I’m not going into the house, for God’s sake, I wouldn’t know what to do in the house, like I think you will know, but I’m not gonna sit in the freakin’ park, wondering what’s happened to you, watching that spaced-out acidhead talk to the palm trees.”
“Since both of us know what to do in that house,” Pete said, “we’re going in together.”
“Mom and Dad’s house, a guy with a machine pistol, it’s gonna be tight quarters,” Tim protested.
“Isn’t it always tight quarters, Doorman?”
Slamming the tailgate, Linda said, “We’re wasting time.” She opened a door, climbed into the backseat.
Offering the key, Pete said, “You want to drive?”
“You know the way.”
In the shotgun seat, Tim pulled the door shut as the Mountaineer began to roll.
He asked Linda for her pistol. She took it from her purse and passed it forward to him.
“Is that a lady gun?” Pete asked dubiously.
“It’s a strong little piece,” Tim assured him.
From the backseat, Linda said, “It has a really low bore axis. So there’s almost no muzzle jump. It’s loaded with 147-grain JHPs. It’ll do the job.”
Tim didn’t need to ask if Pete was carrying. On duty or off, he would be armed. “I don’t want it to come to guns,” he said. “Not in those close quarters, my mother in the room.”
“If we can get in there, he doesn’t know we’re in there, we can come in behind him with a clear shot,” Pete said.
“That’s the only way. But let’s hope we can take him alive. We have to know who hired him.”
Linda said, “You think it’s gone too far now, we should go to the police, a SWAT team or something?”
“No,” Tim and Pete said simultaneously, and then Pete said, “A for-hire killer doesn’t structure jail time in his career plan.”
“Especially not this guy,” Tim said. “He’s way bold. He’s all or nothing, he’ll go out shooting.”
“SWAT protocols, you start with a hostage negotiator,” Pete said. “In that situation, Mary’s an instant liability to a guy like this. He knows they’ll never give him free passage with her. She’s dead the moment he hears a bullhorn. He wants to be able to move fast.”
“Speaking of fast,” Tim said, “step on it some.”
Lovely, the tears that flowed freely. Lovely, too, the sobs that she refused to voice, which expressed instead as thick choking noises and brief spastic shudders.
After slipping the Glock into his shoulder rig, Krait moved the cloth satchel, the rubber-tube tourniquet, the hypodermic syringes, and the bowl of sliced apples to the kitchen island. He left nothing on the table within the reach of Mary’s free right arm.
He stood beside her chair, gazing down at her as she wiped at her damp cheeks.
“Tears beautify a woman,” he said.
She seemed to be angry with herself for weeping. Her damp hand tightened into a fist, which she pressed to her temple, as if she could quell her distress by an act of will.
“I like the taste of tears in a woman’s kiss.”
Her mouth was loose with anguish.
“I’d like to kiss you, Mary.”
She turned her face away from him.
“You might be surprised to find you enjoy it.”
With a sudden fury, she looked up at him. “You might enjoy having your lip bitten off.”
The meanness of her rejection would have caused a lesser man than Krait to strike her. He merely stared at her and, after a while, found his smile.
“I’ve got a little something to do, Mary. But I’ll be nearby in another room. If you shout for help, no one will hear you but me, and I’ll have to shove a rag in your mouth and seal your lips with duct tape. You don’t want that, do you?”
The murderous intent in her eyes had seared away all tears.
“You are a piece of work, dear.”
He thought she might spit at him, but she did not.
“Raise a son to die for you.” He shook his head. “I wonder what kind of man your husband must be.”
She looked as though she had a withering response to make, and he waited for it, but she chose silence.
“I’ll be back soon, to put you to beddy-bye in the Expedition. You just sit here, Mary, and remember what a good thing it is that you’ve decided not to get yourself and Zachary and his whole family killed.”
He left the kitchen and stood in the hallway, listening.
Mary made no sound. Krait expected subtle rattling noises as she tested and examined the handcuffs, but she remained quiet.
In the living room, Krait took down the oil painting of happy children running on a sunny beach. He put it on the floor and knelt beside it.
From a pants pocket, he withdrew a switchblade and flicked open the knife. He cut the canvas from the frame, then sliced the painting into strips.
He considered taking from the frames on the bookshelves all the photos that included Tim, and cutting those to pieces, as well. But because he would soon be killing the real Tim, his remaining minutes in the Carrier house would be more enjoyably spent elsewhere.
Pete Santo did not slow down as he drove by the Carrier house.
Nothing about the place appeared different except that the draperies were drawn shut at the first-floor windows. Tim’s mother always kept them open.
At the end of the block, Tim said, “Park here.”
Pete pulled to the curb, screened from the house by trees. He put down the backseat windows and switched off the engine.
During the drive, Zoey had clambered forward from the cargo space to be with Linda. The dog lay now with her head in her new mistress’s lap.
Linda said, “When do I know something might’ve gone wrong?”
“If you hear a lot of gunfire,” Tim said.
“But how long?”
He turned in his seat to face her. “If we don’t have him in ten minutes, it’s gone bad.”
“Wait fifteen,” Pete said, “then drive away from here.”
“Leave you?” she asked. “I can’t do that.”
“You do it,” Tim insisted. “Wait fifteen, then do it.”
He realized that she literally had nowhere to go.
Reaching between the front seats, holding the disposable phone, he said, “Take this. Get out of the neighborhood. Park somewhere. If one of us doesn’t call you in an hour, two hours, we’re both dead.”
She held fiercely to his hand for a moment before taking the phone.
Pete got out and closed the driver’s door.
“You have all that cash,” Tim said. “You can decide whether to go back to your place, get those gold coins. Don’t think I would, but that’s up to you. What you’ve got is what you start a new life with, a new name.”
“I’m so damn sorry, Tim.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. If I’d known what was coming, I’d have done it all the same anyway.”
He got out of the Mountaineer, closed the door, and checked to be sure the pistol tucked under his belt was adequately concealed by his Hawaiian shirt.
Her face was at the open window. In all his life, he had never seen a better face.
He and Pete were not going in by the front door. Houses on these streets backed up to one another, without benefit of an alleyway. They would have to go around to the parallel street and approach his folks’ place through a neighbor’s backyard.
Walking away from the SUV, toward the nearby corner, Tim wanted to glance back, to take one last look at her, wanted it almost more than he could bear, but this was business now, this was the thing.
Following Pete around the corner, to the cross street, he nearly collided with an old man whose pants were hitched so high above his waist that if he kept a watch in his watch pocket, the ticking would tickle his right breast.
“Tim! Morning glory and evening grace, if it isn’t our Tim!”
“Hi, Mickey. What a sight you are.”
Mickey McCready, closing on eighty with thickets of bristling white ear hairs to prove it, lived across the street from Tim’s folks. He was wearing bright-yellow pants and a dazzling red shirt.
“These are my walking clothes. Damn if I’m gonna be hit in a crosswalk. How you been, Tim? How’s work? Got a special girl yet?”
“I do, Mickey. A really special one.”
“Bless her, the lucky girl, what’s her name?”
“Mickey, I gotta go. Have an appointment. You gonna be home?”
“Where do I ever go?”
“I’ll come visit. A little later, okay?”
“I want to hear about this girl.”
“I’ll come visit,” Tim promised.
Mickey clutched his arm. “Hey, I been transferring my videos to DVD. Made a disc about you, our Tim, from when you were a toddler.”
“That’s great, Mickey. I gotta go. I’ll come visit.” He pulled away and hurried to catch up with Pete.
“Where does he get shirts that’re only eight inches long?” Pete asked.
“He’s a nice old guy. Everybody’s favorite unrelated uncle.”
At the next corner, they turned right. They were on the street that ran parallel to his parents’ street.
The sixth house featured a sign at the front walkway that said THE SAPERSTEINS’ and showed two teddy bears, male and female, with names on their coveralls, NORMAN and JUDY.
“They’ll both be at work,” Tim said. “Kids are grown. Nobody home.”
He led Pete through a side gate into the Sapersteins’ backyard.
Filigrees of sunlight rippled across the water in a swimming pool, and a cat sunning on the brick patio was surprised into flight, vanishing into the shrubbery.
The property ended at a six-foot-high privacy wall all but concealed by purple trumpet vines.
Pete said, “Doorman, did I ever tell you, you’re the ugliest man I’ve ever met?”
“I ever tell you, you’re the dumbest?”
“We wait till we’re ready, we’ll be as old as Mickey.”
The trumpet vines were mature and thick, so firmly secured to the stucco-coated concrete blocks that they made a good ladder. Tim climbed about a foot and peered over the top of the wall into his parents’ backyard.
Blinds covered the kitchen windows and the kitchen door. The draperies were drawn shut at the family-room doors.
At all the second-floor windows, the draperies were open. He didn’t see anyone up there, keeping watch.
Controlled terror, channeled wrath, that roaring in the blood that he could hear but that didn’t mask other sounds, all told him that the moment was his to seize.
He climbed the wall, knocking off a cascade of purple blooms behind him, dropped onto the grass beyond, and Pete followed fast to his right.
Pulling the pistol from his waistband, Tim hurried to the house, to the back wall next to the kitchen door.
Carrying his service pistol, Pete flanked the door, and they looked at each other, listening. The house lay quiet, but that didn’t mean anything. Duck hunters in a blind were quiet. Morgues were quiet.
From a pants pocket, Tim fished a small ring on which he kept his apartment key and the key to the toolbox on his work truck. He also had a key to his folks’ place because he always looked after things when they were away.
Brass sliding in the keyway made a crisp sound. His dad kept the locks well lubricated, and the Schlage deadbolt retracted with little noise.
This was when you could take a bullet or a bunch of them, going through a door, doors were never easy, but he had an okay instinct for them, could usually tell the safe ones from the doubtful, usually knew the doors behind which one kind of hell or another waited.