Chapter Four

Liquida couldn’t believe his eyes as he tried to focus the binoculars. She was halfway down the path before he even looked up. There in the yellow glow of the vapor lamp was a young woman. She was in running shorts and a top, moving quickly toward the barn. He checked through the field glasses. Same hair. Same build. Her height looked right. It was her. It had to be. Liquida recognized her from his earlier stakeout of the farm, when he had lain in wait but couldn’t get close enough. That was before he was called to Washington to deal with Madriani and his investigator.

Now suddenly the girl was alone in the darkness with no signs of life in the house. Liquida couldn’t believe it. He had been perched behind the bushes along the road for less than ten minutes, and here she was as if served up on a platter.

The thought settled on him. It was too convenient. If the house was under surveillance, they would have seen him when he drove up. They could have called the house to set the trap. Maybe they were waiting for him.

He swung around with the binoculars half expecting to see the gumball lights of police cars screaming in on him from both directions along the road. He looked ahead as far as he could peer into the darkness, cutting through it with the field glasses, searching for any hint of headlights. There was nothing. He looked behind him, toward the parked car. The road was dark for as far as he could see. There was only the cool still air of the night, broken by an occasional breeze rustling through the branches of the trees. If it was a trap, they were using night vision, and the girl as bait, waiting for him to make his move.

She could be a policewoman, someone fitted out to look like Madriani’s daughter. If so, the minute he made a move she would shoot him, or a police tactical unit would have their snipers cut him down from a distance. The thought played on Liquida’s mind that he might not even hear the crack of the shot that killed him.

He aimed the binoculars back at the girl. It could be a double. Still, from what he remembered it looked like her. She was still moving toward the barn. Liquida had to make a decision, either cut and run, head for the car and try to escape, or make his move now.

Forty yards out Sarah could see Bugsy behind the chain link as he started to jump in the air, anxious to get out of his cage. He had come to expect her each morning at the same time. It was as if he had a clock.

The first day he had barked twice before she could get to him to keep him quiet. Sarah was sure somebody in the house would hear him. If they did, they never looked out. The side of the barn where the dog run was located was lit up like a prison yard by the overhead vapor lamp.

Since that first morning Bugsy hadn’t made a peep. When he saw her, he would jump up, six or seven feet, his head soaring over the top of the gate. Inches away, he never once hit the chain link. It was all he could do to vent his excitement. Somehow the dog knew that the two of them were engaged in a conspiracy of silence. How he knew it, Sarah wasn’t sure. As if by osmosis he absorbed it from the secretive ether in the atmosphere around them. Sarah had no way of training him. The dog seemed smarter than many of Sarah’s friends, including almost all of the guys her age that she dated.

She reached the run and lifted the metal latch on the gate. The dog quivered with excitement on the other side as the gate swung open. He rushed out and rubbed himself against her, his long lean body wiggling and squirming like a fish out of water. Sarah felt the warm wetness as he licked her hand and tried to nibble on her fingers with his sizable teeth, the big canines up front. Bugsy was almost three years old. He had the build and bite of an adult Doberman, but he was still a puppy at heart. His docked tail was missing; otherwise he would have beat the hell out of the open gate, making enough noise to wake the dead.

Sarah was hunched over him with her back to the barn and facing the house, trying to calm him, when suddenly she saw the light in the upstairs guest bathroom come on.

Harry was out of bed. She wondered if somehow he heard the gate open or the commotion outside the dog run. She didn’t want to wait to find out. Sarah grabbed the dog by the collar and pulled him around the corner of the barn toward the shadows and the darkness of the barn door yawning open. Quickly she disappeared inside, into the darkness with Bugsy in tow.

There was nothing she could do now but wait and hope that Harry wouldn’t look out the window and see the open gate on Bugsy’s cage. She was praying he would go back to bed, that the bathroom light was nothing but an urgent call of nature. Harry didn’t usually get up before seven, though her aunt and uncle were usually up and about by six thirty.

She waited several minutes, then peeked out through the open door. From where she stood she couldn’t see the bathroom window. She crept along the front of the barn, pulling Bugsy along with her until she reached the corner of the building. When she looked up, the bathroom light was out.

Sarah breathed a deep sigh. She unsnapped the dog’s collar to free him from the underground electric fence and turned him loose. She sprinted toward the open field and the barbed-wire fence beyond, with Bugsy running out ahead of her.

Using the binoculars, Liquida surveyed the girl’s movements through a bald spot in the bushes as he huddled along the side of the road. He watched every detail, the dog and the chemistry of chaos that went on outside the gate when she let him out. For a second he thought the animal might make love to her.

This was not your usual disciplined German Nazi dog, the kind of Doberman Liquida had learned from long experience to treat with respect. He liked to keep an impenetrable fence between himself and the snarling doggy breath and bared foam-covered fangs. A good Doberman was smarter than your average Jurassic Park raptor, and almost as lethal.

This dog was young and not well trained. Liquida was betting that within forty yards, he’d be off on a frolic after a rabbit or rolling in the alfalfa stubble trying to kill the smell and the sting in his eyes from that weird cat with the stripe down its back. By the time Liquida got to the girl, the dog would be off in the next county.

Liquida saw the light come on in the window upstairs. He watched the girl’s reaction as she grabbed the dog and slinked around to the front of the barn where they both disappeared inside.

She didn’t come out again until the light went out. When it did, she checked it. Then she turned and ran the other way as if it was a prison break. It told Liquida all he needed to know.

The girl had given her protectors inside the house the slip, including Madriani’s law partner. Why, Liquida didn’t know, but it didn’t matter. The only thing important now was that she was out in the field without backup, moving farther away from the house with each stride, and no one inside the place knew it.

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