57

“Agent Sherlock? Are you here? Are you all right?”

It was Andreas Kesselring’s voice. In that instant everything shifted into place in Sherlock’s mind. She’d tried and tried to connect the dots, but they wouldn’t fit together until she heard his voice and realized they’d all been suckered by another cop.

At least she’d had the sense to ask Kel Lewis to check Jane Ann’s phone records-she’d had this gut feeling, she just hadn’t realized the who. Too bad it was a little late now.

He called out again in his smooth deep voice, “Agent Sherlock? Are you in here? Did those criminals tape your mouth? I got them both. You’re safe now. You can come out.”

Sherlock knew all he had to do was look over maybe twelve feet and he’d see the duct tape lying on the floor. She waited, silent as a stone, her Lady Colt at the ready, her left hand clutching the butcher knife. He had to come closer. Come here, Andreas, come to Mama.

“Ah, I see you got yourself free. That’s great, won’t you come out now? Why are you hiding from me? We’ll go down to the police station and you can question Mrs. Royal and that tennis pro boyfriend of hers. I’ve got them restrained just outside. What a pair, they’ve been talking over each other, each claiming the other is to blame.”

Sherlock peeked through the small space between two plastic garment bags. Kesselring wasn’t wearing a beautiful Armani suit today, no, he was transformed, wearing a baseball cap and a dark blue jacket, jeans and boots, his arms at his sides. Was that a gun in his right hand, pressed against his leg? Yes. He had a much better chance of shooting her dead than she would have getting off any kind of shot that counted. Her Lady Colt was an up-close gun, and Kesselring was at least forty feet away. No way could she disable him enough from this distance unless she was very lucky. And at the moment, she didn’t put much stock in her luck. He stood there, not moving, not stepping any deeper into the storage room. And Jane Ann and Mick Haggarty were probably waiting just outside that door, waiting for a signal from Kesselring. To tell them what? That he’d killed her? How was she going to get past them all?

She heard more footsteps. Kesselring turned back toward the door. She saw Jane Ann Royal walk in and immediately look over at the place she and Mick had left her. She grabbed Kesselring’s sleeve. “She’s gone! Tell me you know where she is.”

Kesselring said to her, “I don’t know how she did it, but our girl got herself free of the duct tape. She’s good.”

“She couldn’t have! I checked her hands and feet, she couldn’t move. What are we going to do? So she’s already gone-“

Sherlock saw Kesselring looked impatient, harried. A bit of contempt came through his voice. “Your lack of guts amazes me, Jane Ann, after all you’ve done. The door was locked so she’s still in here, hiding. Now, if you would look over at that weapons board, you will probably see that something is missing, not that it matters since all the guns hold blanks and all the knives are fake, which means she has nothing. She is somewhere in this room, probably hoping I’ll come and search for her, and she can attack me. Not that it would do her any good. She’s half my size and she’s a girl. She knows I can break her neck with one hand.

“Don’t be afraid, Jane Ann. Come on in. We will find her together. Then I’ll take her away. Or, perhaps I will just end it here. We can lock her in one of those trunks. She wouldn’t be found for at least a month.”

“I don’t know. It’s Mick who knows the theater performance schedule. And what good would a month do us? What kind of a plan is that?”

Kesselring said after a moment, “When I came in, I called to her, told her everything was okay, but she didn’t say a word, didn’t jump out to welcome me. The truth is I expected her to leap straight into my arms when I came in. So that means she figured it out, which, I will admit, surprises me. It was a sound plan, well executed until she went to your apartment, and you and that idiot boyfriend of yours screwed it up.

“She’s smarter than I gave her credit for. Can you imagine, an agent-a woman-who actually thought outside the box? Ah, I understand now. You told her, didn’t you?”

“Of course I didn’t!”

“All right, I’ll believe you. When I first saw her, I knew in my gut she’d be dangerous to me. I wanted to strangle her. I knew she was smart. Much smarter than you, telling that gigolo tennis player all about this. Look what it’s brought you.”

Jane Ann was silent for a beat, then she said in a deadly cold voice, “Of course she’s smart. And so am I. If I hadn’t asked Mick to the house that night, would you have killed me, too?”

He laughed, he actually laughed. “Yeah, right, real smart. It took me all of ten minutes to convince you to get rid of that spineless greedy husband of yours, and another ten minutes to get your pants down.”

Another beat of silence, then Jane Ann said, her voice vicious, “You didn’t give me much choice about Caskie, so don’t go believing you’re the God of Persuasion. All of this was always for my boys.”

“You’re a fine human being and an extraordinary mother,” Andreas said, the sarcasm so thick it seemed to Sherlock it should hang in the air.

“You’re more to blame for this than I am, Andy. It was you and those money-grubbing criminals who wanted Caskie dead and buried.”

“Don’t call me Andy, you foolish woman! I wouldn’t have to be here at all if you had the guts to take care of this agent yourself.”

Jane Ann shouted at him, “Well, now it doesn’t matter. Your whole grand scheme-bilking cancer patients out of billions of dollars, and all of you walking away with millions for your off-shore accounts.”

“I am not getting millions,” Kesselring said shortly, and he sounded pissed.

“Ha! You, the brilliant German agent with all your supposed charisma-what a mistake it was to sleep with you. You, Andy, are a pig in bed and your hygiene isn’t all that great either. Caskie was a cheat, but he always smelled nice.”

“You stupid Americans and your foolish fetish for scrubbing your bodies all the time. You’re idiots, all of you!”

“At least you don’t sweat all that much until you’re heaving like a goat in bed. You wouldn’t get anywhere with American women if you smelled up your beautiful suits. The German dry cleaners must love you.”

Kesselring said, his voice gone dead and very soft, “Do you really want to speak to me that way when I’m holding a gun?”

Jane Ann stopped talking.

Andreas continued in that soft dead voice, “I have listened to you preen and crow enough, Jane Ann. Your greed is as great as mine, or your husband would still be alive.” He stopped, looked at her with utter disinterest, and shrugged. “This is nonsense. We have a job to do here. I will succeed. And I will escape this.”

“How?”

She saw Kesselring shrug again. “You will see I know exactly what I’m doing. Are you ready to help me?”

Jane Ann nodded. “She’s got to be here somewhere, listening to us.”

“At least you were smart enough to take her gun.” He glanced down at his belt line under his dark blue jacket. Sherlock knew at that moment he had her SIG tucked under his belt.

Sherlock watched Kesselring walk over to where she’d lain unconscious, trussed up with the duct tape. “She woke up from your pills, managed to get down a stage knife and saw the tape off, quite an accomplishment, given all the knives retract. It couldn’t have been easy.” He called out louder, “That was quite good, Agent Sherlock. You might as well come out now. There’s no place for you to go. Mick is guarding the outside door, you can’t get past him.”

Sherlock took one step then another down a long row of plastic bagged costumes, toward the door. Her best chance was to get to the door, slam it shut, lock it. She could deal with Mick, he was an amateur. She didn’t have a chance with Kesselring, not so long as he kept his distance. He’d shoot her in the head in a heartbeat.

One more step. Easy. A board creaked. Sherlock froze, then squatted down to peer through a long lacy sleeve of an 1890s ball gown hanging out of the plastic bag. She saw Kesselring whirl around on the balls of his feet, a pistol in his right hand, but he wasn’t pointing it at her, it was aimed at least six feet away from her. He’d heard the board, but missed the location.

“Come out, Agent Sherlock,” came his soft voice. “I don’t have much more time to play with you.” He didn’t sound now like he believed her dangerous to him. He fired two rounds. A bullet splintered a hanger, and a long Victorian gown spilled out onto the floor.

“I see that you do have a weapon, I can see its outline on the board. Is it an axe? A knife? You’ve got to know that unless you’re a circus act, it’s not going to do you much good. If you throw it at me, if it even manages to strike me, it will simply bounce off. Come on out now like a good girl and we’ll get this over with. Tell you what, if you show yourself, one professional to another, I won’t kill you. I’ll tie you up and take you to Van Wie Park and stash you in some bushes.”

Yeah, like she’d believe that. He was enjoying this. He didn’t realize this butcher knife could hurt him. Good. Suddenly Sherlock realized she wasn’t going to be able to get to the door, because there was Mick standing in the middle of the open doorway, looking scared enough to vomit.

Smart man.

Time was her enemy. She didn’t see a weapon in Mick’s hand, but Kesselring was armed and quite ready to shoot her. It didn’t matter, she had to act. Even with the distance and her Lady Colt, she might wound him. If she was really lucky, she’d hit an artery and he’d bleed out. She wouldn’t be sorry about that. But if she didn’t manage to disarm him, she was, quite simply, dead.

Sherlock was raising her Lady Colt when Kesselring walked quickly to Jane Ann, grabbed her wrist, twisted it, and jerked her in front of him, wrapping his arm around her neck. He brought his pistol to her temple. “Mick, come in now, or I will kill this loud-mouthed slut.”

Mick Haggarty shouted, “I knew we shouldn’t trust you! I told Jane Ann you were crazy, told her you had dead eyes, but she said she could handle you. Don’t you dare kill her, you lunatic!”

Mick dove for Kesselring.

Kesselring calmly turned, pulled Sherlock’s SIG Sauer from his belt, and shot him in the forehead in mid-leap. The force of the bullet slammed Mick Haggarty back against the wall. He slid down the wall leaving streaks of blood and brains in his wake, dead before he hit the floor. Jane Ann screamed.

Kesselring grabbed her around the neck again and began choking her. She was gagging, beginning to turn blue, her hands pulling at his arms, but it did no good. He yelled, “You stupid woman, I told you I had a plan!”

Jane Ann stopped trying to pull his arms loose. Sherlock watched her get it together, watched her rip her nails down his face and drive her elbow hard into his belly. Kesselring howled and cursed in German and slammed the barrel of his gun to her head. Jane Ann sagged in his arms.

No time. No time. Sherlock took careful aim and fired one of her precious bullets.

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