Actions

Work Header

Enemies in High Places

Chapter Text

A large beak gashed the bloodless hand. The man’s body lay on the stones and sand of the winter-frozen shoreline of the East River. Cattails waved to the icy dark sky above him. A splintered fragment of boat lay beneath him.

The sable bird took an awkward leap to one side, then struck again. The fish crow cawed, calling its companions.

Along the horizon the sun had just cleared the skyscrapers, warming the frigid morning air and illuminating the debris the night had left behind.

*****

A small child, wearing a faded, much-patched red snowsuit and a woolen cap pulled tightly over her blond hair, foraged along the beach.

The circling birds made her run forward. Maybe it was something she and her Daddy could cook for breakfast.

She skidded to a stop only when she saw the man lying on the beach.

His garments were worse for a night’s swim in the river. His dark cashmere coat was extensively burned on the back as were his hands.

She bit her lip, then ran back to the small hut where she and her father were squatting this month.

*****

Peter Durban rolled the body over. He studied the man, noting fire-singed auburn hair, dark eyelashes and well-trimmed beard and the expensive tailored clothing.

Memories flooded back so hard that he closed his eyes in pain. He remembered pulling bodies ruptured by bullets from North Korean rivers. He had never forgotten what a small piece of metal could do to a man’s body.

And now here was another body, just as stiff and cold as the ones in his past.

“Rich man,” he grunted, fingering the tie. He felt for a pulse. Nothing. “Just another late night, eh, friend? Jodie, come here.”

“Is he dead, Dad?” the girl asked approaching cautiously.

“Yeah, he is – Wait a minute!”

The exclamation stopped the girl in her tracks.

Opening the shirt he had seen the bullet had exited in the front, just missing the lung, or, maybe, nicking it fractionally. The man had been fortunate that the bullet hole closed before causing major chest trauma. No air had gotten in, and the lung hadn’t collapsed.

He bent over and listened for a heartbeat, just to be certain. He couldn’t tell if the pounding he heard was from his own pulse or something in the chest.

Durban frowned. Somehow, his experience was leading him to believe that this wasn’t a dead man. That wasn’t possible. Was it? The icy chill of the water might have slowed the heat’s beating enough to stop him from bleeding to death. “I wonder…Jodie. Go back to the cabin, and put the wood on the fire good, girl.”

“Daddy?” she said doubtfully.

“Get moving!”

“But, Daddy…”

He turned to her angrily. “Listen to me! He may still be alive! Now get moving!”

Jodie ran, scattering sand. She had been with her father only a couple of years, but knew, when he gave an order, she’d better obey. He hit hard.

Durban turned back to the body. He pulled the shirt closed. “If nothing else, a man like you, there must be a reward attached.” He searched the pockets of the coat.

The breast pocket yielded a calendar book in tan leather. Most of the pages were welted together, but with delicately prying, he managed to see a few names. One name, Edward Richards, Esq., written beside it. This usually indicated a lawyer, Durban remembered. He tucked it into the pocket of the coat.

A stone dislodged under one hand. Durban wondered if it was simply dead muscles unfreezing. He carefully hoisted the body behind one shoulder and headed for the shack. “If nothin’ else, it’s an int’resting face. Maybe she’d like it.”

*****

Jonathan Pope sat in the back of the rocking limousine. The whole problem of Elliot Burch had been solved to his, and Julian Gabriel’s, satisfaction when the ship explosion had blown the young industrialist to smithereens.

Making the most of the golden opportunity provided by the break-up of Burch Industries was keeping Pope fully occupied. The Gabriel might not care if his Avatar Enterprises didn’t profit from Gabriel’s destruction of Burch Industries, but Pope had his own interests beside his mater’s. The breakup was going to be profitable.

The limousine slowed, then stopped. One door opened abruptly and a slender, balding lawyer climbed in, and slammed it shut.

“Where is she?” the man snapped.

Pope eyed him with contempt. The man’s suit had obviously been worn for longer than a day and his face had lines of fatigue and stress. “Your daughter? She’s safe, Mr. Richards.”

“I walked away from Elliot Burch when he needed me the most because you kidnapped my daughter. You said you’d let her go. When?” Richard curled his hands into claws, glaring at the stocky man opposite him.

Pope folded his hands. “I have my orders to take you to her.”

“Orders from Gabriel?” The other man’s voice was ripe with scorn. “From that sociopath out on the Island? What did he have against Burch?”

Pope’s eyes estimated the danger of telling Edwards the truth. Since he would be joining his daughter, there was no danger of anyone else knowing. “Burch wouldn’t give him what he wanted. Vincent.”

“Vincent? Was that the person Elliot was protecting?” Richards said incredulously. “Why didn’t he tell – never mind. Now that Burch has disappeared – “

“You won’t be seeing the good Mr. Burch again,” Pope said with a touch of amusement. “He’s dead.”

Richards went pale.

“Yes, dead. He was blown up on a ship called Compass Rose.”

“You ordered him killed, didn’t you?” Richards whispered in horror. “You and Gabriel? Are you mad?”

“Hardly. Burch was a loose end that Gabriel ordered tied up.”

“A LOOSE end? Is that what people are to Julian Gabriel? Just loose ends?”

Pope eyed him. “At least you don’t have to worry about Burch finding out your little bit of treachery, Mr. Richards.”

“I was a coward to leave him without an explanation. But if I’d told him why, he would have ordered me to go.”

“A good employer.” Pope’s voice had a trace of mockery.

Richards looked out into the passing sunset light. “You’ll find out just how good he is, someday. Where are we going now?”

Pope’s eyes narrowed. Richards might be a good corporate lawyer but his face showed every emotion. He knew something about Burch that he wasn’t telling. What was he trying to insinuate? Was it worth keeping him alive? No, Gabriel had given his orders. “You’re going to see your daughter.”

He fired his gun with deadly accuracy. Richard slumped, his blood staining the door.

Reaching over, Pope searched the lawyer’s body and found in one pocket a gasoline receipt and a slip from an ATM out on Long Island. He frowned. The slip was for a great deal of money, and Richards wasn’t carrying it on him now. What had he done with the money?

Pope disliked loose ends almost as much as Gabriel did.

He tapped on the connecting window. “Are we there?”

“Almost,” the driver replied laconically.

Pope shoved the body away, and picked up the car phone, dialing a number from memory.

A man picked up on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Wilson?”

“This is Pope. Your partner, Edward Richards, is dead. I want you to check his office tonight for anything that would link you or him to Avatar or Gabriel. Also, look for anything on Elliot Burch dated in the last three days.” Pope eyed the slip in his hand as the car flowed by a deserted stretch of river. “I may want you to find out something else for me later.”

“Yes, sir.” The man on the other end was terrified from the shake in this voice. “Anything.”

 

*****

Father, the elderly dark-haired leader of the Tunnels, studied the chessboard intently. Vincent had left him a new chess problem and Father had no idea how to get his knight out of imminent slaughter.

Mouse popped up beside him, giving Father a perceptible start. “Father?

“Yes, Mouse?”

“Explosions.”

Father turned him. “What? Where?”

“North. Where Tower was.”

Burch Towers. Elliot Burch. The man who’d died, trying to help Vincent find his son, young Jacob.

Father frowned. Burch’s extensive New York real estate holdings were being sold off, including the uptown site where Burch had planned a huge building called the Towers. Catherine Chandler, with the help of the neighborhood committee, had blocked his construction. If they were blasting now, someone must have had more power with City Hall than even Burch. Who could it be?

“What kind of damage have they done?” Father pulled himself from behind the chessboard. The pieces wobbled.

“Not through yet.”

“Father, what’s wrong?” Vincent entered the room silently, carrying his infant son. Mary followed closely behind. She’d appointed herself the child’s nanny when Vincent had brought him back from Gabriel’s fortress.”

“They’re drilling in the Tower Site again, Vincent.”

“I thought Catherine ended that. How can we stop this?” Mary asked worriedly.

Father leaned heavily on his cane as he limped to his ornate desk. “We must, first, find out who’s doing it. Then we can plan ahead. “

“You have a plan, Father?” Vincent said softly.

“Yes. Diana… no, she said she was going to be out of town for several weeks.” Father glanced over at a clock, a gift from a very unusual helper, to replace a smashed lamp. It showed 6:07. “It’s night up there now. We need someone who can get in-depth information fast. Mouse? Do you remember a man who helped us who sounded like me?”

*****

Robert McCall spread that day’s Wall Street Business out on his kitchen counter and scanned the front page as he stirred the tortellini. His comrade, Mickey Kostmayer, was firmly ensconced on the couch, his eyes on a basketball game. McCall was finally catching up on the news that had passed them by while they answered Control’s desperate call for help in Romania. Whoever said the falling of the Eastern Bloc would bring harmony? It was a proven fact that espionage increased in times of peace.

His blue eyes were caught were by a headline. Burch Enterprises Out On A Limb. McCall had had dealings with Elliot Burch in Los Angeles years before, and had met him socially several times since. In McCall’s opinion, Burch was supremely confident in his professional abilities, slightly arrogant and capable of a charm that had won him more ladies in a short time than McCall cared to count. He had an unstated admiration for the young builder.

He scanned the article. It was written by Frank Hayes, a writer McCall enjoyed. He’d never been able to fault Hayes’ reporting; the man was as fair as a newsman could be.

Burch Industries Holdings had been huge; shipping, banking and real estate. Elliot Burch built it from scratch. Born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, Burch created another world for himself, rising to the top of his profession. As a builder, Burch’s skyscrapers were solidly constructed, uniquely decorated and comfortable to boot.

Then the world crashed around him. In the course of a month, Burch Enterprises had been forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Burch had been arrested on suspicion of murder for the death of District Attorney Mareno. He’d made bail and vanished, a wanted criminal by federal and state law enforcement. The business world was watching like vultures to see which pieces of Burch Enterprises came up first at the January 25th bankruptcy auction.

McCall shook his head in disbelief. He folded to the continuation of the article. Ah, that’s it! The ladies connection. Burch had been connected with Catherine Chandler, the woman lawyer whom McCall had rescued from a Mexican drug dealer, with the help of her companion, Vincent, the leonine man of shadows, the man who lived in the tunnels under the city.

Catherine had died months ago, in odd circumstances. McCall had sent a donation to the homeless charity that had been listed in the obituary, and gone on with his life.

Something was wrong. McCall could feel it. So had Hayes from the tone of the article. It was slightly skeptical of the charges brought against Burch. Elliot Burch accused of killing a District Attorney? I don’t believe it. Burch had stepped on more than a few toes on the way to the top, and had his fingers in a number of dirty pies – McCall knew that personally, but Burch wasn’t a murderer.

“McCall?” A voice broke in on his thoughts. “That doesn’t look like spaghetti.”

McCall dropped his gaze to the tortellini, then up at Mickey who was now slouched on the counter. The dark hair was freshly cut but still looked as if it hadn’t met with a comb in a month, and the dark eyes were full of mischief. Thought he was 20 years younger than McCall, he was as close a friend as the Equalizer ever had, fighting as his partner in a dozen wars, “Just because we had to miss that dinner in Venice, it doesn’t mean I’m going to miss my tortellini. Let me drain it.”

“But I like spaghetti,” the younger man whined with a grin.

“I know. You made that clear before the trip.” McCall spooned the pasta into a bowl. “The chicken is in the oven.”

“Aren’t we a little early for eating dinner, McCall? The movie’s not until 9.” Mickey opened the oven and breathed in the scent. “Yummmm.” Picking up a plate, the newspaper caught his attention. “What’s that?”

McCall held out the paper. “The death of ambition.”

Mickey shifted a filet onto his plate, then spooned up the pasta. “Elliot Burch. Hmmm…did I ever tell you when I met him?”

The front door buzzer sounded. McCall shared a glance on Mickey, then set the sauce pan on an unlit burner.

“Expecting company, McCall?”

“No, and they got past the alarm.”

Mickey slide a gun out of his pocket and took up position on one side of the door as McCall cautiously looked through the peephole.

He saw two figures, anonymous in winter clothing. Both wore hats that shaded their faces. One, elegant in an antique suit, leaned heavily on a cane.

“Yes? Who’s there?”

The man with the cane looked up. “Jacob Wells. I’m glad you’re finally home. I need your help, Robert McCall. May I come in?”

McCall opened the door to admit Father and Mouse.

*****

The last streaks of the afternoon sun lay across the worn comforter covering the man and reflected off the clock above the door, and in the mirror which sat above the elegant, though small, desk. A pattern of small roses and baby’s breath decorated the wallpaper, and lace curtains that flanked the cracked window overlooking the sand dunes in the back yard.

Jodie sat beside the bed, keeping an alert watch on the sleeping man, despite having a book cradled in her lap. While watching over him, she’d read most of the fine collection of children’s books in the room. She’d be willing to watch the wounded sleeper forever, just to be able to sit in the small bedroom, decorated in ruffles, and read.

The clock chimed as it reached the half-hour. Jodi looked up. 7:30. It was almost time for dinner. Another can of soup if she could get the man to drink it.

He stirred and his eyelashes flickered. She put the book down, and touched his face. It was cool and dry, no longer fevered.

The lawyer, Richards, who’d brought them here, had barely recognized the wounded man. Neither she or her father had seen Richards after he’d dropped them off a the beach cottage. He’d given them money for a nurse Ms. O’Carvey, for a week’s round-the-clock care, but the woman had left as soon as she could. Since then the man had been left up to Jodie to tend with her father’s help.

She felt proprietary. It had been two and a half weeks since the man had washed up on her beach. Maybe, soon, he’d wake up and talk to her.

The old house creaked and she cocked her head. The wind? Or Daddy? She hadn’t seen her father for two days. He’d taken off after reading a newspaper article, ordering her to take care of the man and not call the police.

Jodie shivered. He’d kill her if she did, she didn’t doubt. Or do worse…like last time.

Jodie went down to the kitchen and heated the soup, then brought the bowl upstairs. She had just put it on the desk when the man opened his eyes. His gaze roamed around the room before meeting the girl’s. “

She stared at him, then said, “Hi.”

Silently, he moved his right hand and shuddered. Pain showed on his face, creasing fresh lines. “Where…am I? What’s your name?” His low voice was hoarse.

“Jodie, sir.”

“Where…am…I? Come…here…”

She inched a little closer. “Do you want some water? Or soup?”

“This isn’t a… hospital. Where…am…I?”

“Jodie!” her father called from outside the room. “Come here.”

She jerked, then hunched her shoulders. The man noticed her reaction. His gaze moved from her to the doorway.

“Gotta go,” she mumbled. “He’ll be here in a second.”

“Jodie,” he called from the bed. “Jodie…call…police…”

She fled down the stairs away from the voice that told her to do what she thought she should have done two weeks ago.

Her father was waiting at the bottom of the staircase with two others.

One was an older woman. Her tall, thin body was clad in black, a stark contrast for the light reddish hair surrounding her chiseled face. Behind her, a bulky hulk of a man, with long unkempt hair and dressed in mismatched rags, blocked the hallway.

“What a beautiful child,” the woman replied. “Such innocence in her face.” Her voice was clear and high and colder than the river water. Durban, behind her, stood straighter, upright like a soldier. Jodie felt a shroud of fear falling on her shoulders.

“Who’re you?” she said loudly as if to scare her fears away.

The woman smiled, “And she can talk too. Where did you find THIS one, Peter? Never mind. I am Tamara, Jodie. Your father used to work for me I’ve come for Elliot Burch.”

Chapter Text

Father sat down at the elegant dining table, Mouse beside him. Their plates were full of pasta and chicken. Mickey sat on the opposite side, his eyes full of suspicion.

McCall set down the bowl of peas he’d just pulled from the microwave. “Go on, eat.”

“So you see, Robert, we need to find out who has control of that land,” Father concluded. “It is destroying our world.”

“What can you do about it?” McCall asked sitting down in the last chair.

Mouse eyed the cutlery with apprehension. It had been a long time since he’d had to worry about table manners. He tentatively stabbed a tortellini.

Father sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe we can try and get the building stopped again. Catherine assured us that the neighborhood committee would never allow a building that would disturb our tunnels, but someone is digging!”

“Finding out who owns the property now shouldn’t be a problem, McCall. Just check the land records,” Mickey commented.

“Signs say Nichols.”

Mouse was perking up. He’d enjoyed the tortellini and now he was trying the chicken.

“Nichols… hold on.” McCall put down his silverware and went over to the pile of old newspapers. “Nichols…”

“You’re going to choke on that, friend,” Mickey warned Mouse. “McCall, I know who Nichols is. He’s a major builder up in Queens. Shoddy low-income housing.”

“I saw Nichols’ name somewhere in here. Yes, here it is,” McCall said, brandishing a sheet of newsprint. “Nichols is branching out into Midtown. He has an attorney named Paul Wilson who does his buying. So, if Nichols is the builder, Wilson is probably his counsel. And, Mickey, where’d you put that Wall Street Business on Elliot Burch?”

Father’s brows contracted imperceptibly at the name. He hadn’t mentioned any of the tunnels’ interaction with Burch. Did they know something?

“Left it on the counter. Here, have some pepper.” Mickey handed the enormous grinder to Mouse.

Mouse eyed him distrustfully but his attention switched to the grinder.

“Do I know you?” Mickey asked Father bluntly.

The older man looked him straight in his eyes. “I don’t believe so.”

Mouse looked from one to the other, sensing the tension between them.

“Later, Mickey, McCall interrupted. “I’ll explain later. Jacob, I knew Wilson’s name was familiar. He’s listed as one of the attorneys connected with the Burch Industries’ bankruptcy.”

“Can we do anything to stop these men?” Father asked.

Mickey shrugged. “Sure. Find Burch.”

McCall snorted. “Many people want that, Mickey!”

Father hesitated. “Burch. Elliot Burch is dead. He was on a boat called the Compass Rose when it exploded on the East River. It burned down to the waterline. Vin-there was a witness.”

McCall and Mickey stared at him. “You folks KNEW Burch?” Mickey finally asked.

“Through Catherine Chandler?” McCall asked remembering the article that linked Burch to the woman and the tunnels.

Father nodded. The Catherine connection would have to do.

“So have you told the police—“ Mickey started.

“No!” came from Father and Mouse. Neither wanted the police to know about the Tunnels.

“If Burch is dead, there must be a body,” McCall pointed out. He spared a moment of regret for a young man who had had great potential. “Find the body, and his estate goes into probate which freezes any deals he was involved in. If Nichols’ deal hasn’t been completed, he’ll have to negotiate with the estate to determine if he can continue building. It buys you time. I take it no body has been found.”

Father shook his head. “I don’t believe so. You probably know more about what is going on than we do.”

McCall waved to a pile of newsprint. “I haven’t finished my papers.”

“If Burch had been found, TV and the papers would have it,” Mickey cut in.

Mouse sneezed. The chicken in front of him was now heavily layered with pepper. “Stop the building? Good.” He unscrewed the electric grinder, probing its mechanism.

Father ignored him. “We have to find a way to stop Wilson.”

“Whoa, hold on,” Mickey cut in. “You’d better get all the facts first. And I think that will mean stopping Nichols more than Wilson!”

“Can you help us, Robert?” Father asked. His gaze met McCall’s. The former spy had been one of the few who ever found the Tunnels.

McCall shrugged. “How do I get in touch with you?”

“I’ll do it,” Mouse said. “I’ll ah--!”

“What have you done to the pepper grinder?” Father demanded in exasperation.

*****

Paul Wilson stepped away from the desk that he had completely covered with papers. Richards’ office had been ludicrously easy to break into despite the police tape and this was the fourth time he’d searched it for any information on Burch. Whatever Richards had had was hidden somewhere else than in his office.

Pope had finally told him about the gasoline charge and the ATM slip yesterday, after Wilson reported that he hadn’t found anything either in the office or Richards’ home, which he had searched on a consolation visited to the stricken widow. Richards’ body had washed up on a beach, and the police were treating it as murder.

This didn’t reassure Wilson as to his future. He knew too much now.

Wilson, cursing Pope’s two and a half week delay, set a young hacker tracking the ATM withdrawal. The gas had been bought from a station out on Long Island.

The lawyer ran his hand through his hair and cursed. Calling Pope back to say that he couldn’t find anything appealed to him like taking an injection in the rear with a blunt needle. Even after Julian Gabriel’s death, Pope ruled Avatar Enterprises like the ex-soldier he was – with an iron death-grip.

The cell phone burred softly. Wilson checked the incoming number It was his that he’d forwarded to Richards’ phone.

“I got somethin’,” the hacker’s youth voice said enthusiastically.

“What?”

“The amount you gave me turns up in another account on the Island!”

“Right, right. Whose?”

“Nurse named Kathleen O’Carvey.”

“Where does she live?”

“Hey, she’s a traveller! Has three different addresses. Got a pad?”

Wilson fumbled for a clean sheet, then his pen. “I’m ready.” He scribbled frantically.

“Now the money?” the hacker said hopefully.

“It’ll be in the mail tomorrow. You’re sure no one caught you?”

The young woman scoffed, “Hell, no. I’m GOOD.”

“Good-bye.” He hung up.

Wilson frowned at the three addresses. One was in Manhattan. The other two were on Long Island in widely different areas. It would take time to check them out. Still, it would be something to tell Pope when he called him later on.

Chapter Text

The waiting man was stoutly built, in his mid-thirties, and had a press badge hanging around his neck, imperfectly hidden by his brown coat. He was watching the bustling office with the expression of someone who had seen it all before and wasn’t impressed.

Joe Maxwell, acting District Attorney, picked up the messages on his secretary’s desk, and headed towards his office. The man intercepted him by stepping forward. “Mr. Maxwell? I’m Frank Hayes of Wall Street Business. I have an appointment to see you.”

“Hmm…oh, yeah. Here it is.” Joe inspected the message that he’d signed and forgotten. “Come on in.”

The office was dark except for the lit green-shaded gooseneck lamp. A potted palm in one corner was stuffed next to a wooden bookcase. The bookshelves held legal books, a television set, and an antiquated videocassette recorder. Maxwell’s desk, built as sturdily as the Empire State Building and layered with papers loomed in the small office. There were boxes with stacked files on the floor.

“Busy?” Hayes looked around at the piles.

“We never stop,” Maxwell replied. “Coffee?” He emptied a pitcher of water into the top of his Mr. Coffee, and flicked it on. From a small cupboard he pulled two mgs.

Thanks.” The two men kept a comfortable silence until they were settled with cups in hand.

“So, Mr. Hayes, what can my office do for you?”

“What is the status of your investigation into the disappearance of Elliot Burch?”

“What? Oh, Burch? Nada, nothing. On the record, we are still investigating his disappearance. Off the record, we have nowhere to go.”

“Really? I have it from a good source that the police, on orders from your office, were dragging the river just last week for Burch’s body.”

“Where’d you – never mind!” Maxwell eyed Hayes suspiciously. Behind the round face, small blue eyes, and dark moustache lurked the mind of a man who’d won a Pulitzer Prize. Joe didn’t feel like running afoul of him. “What does your rag want to know about a murder investigation.”

The newspaperman grimaced. “You know, if I’d wanted the crime beat, I’d have taken it years ago. The amount of white collar crime nowadays… So, there was no trace of Burch?”

Joe took a deep sip of coffee before answering. “We didn’t find any bodies in the river, no.”

“What made you think of the river? The explosion of a boat called the Compass Rose? Is there a connection between Burch and the boat?”

“What, no!” Joe hid behind his coffee cup.

Hayes pulled out a reporter’s spiral notebook. “May I check my facts? Burch checked out of jail on – “

“January third.”

“Thank you. That was roughly three days after Burch Industries filed for bankruptcy. The day before you arrested him for the murder of the former District Attorney Mareno.”

“That’s right.” Joe poured himself another cup of coffee.

Hayes peered over his still-full cup, his eyes inquisitive. “The investigation into D.A. Mareno’s death is still open?”

Joe blinked. “Why?”

“The investigation is still open, correct?”

“We had enough evidence to arrest Burch, Hayes! The blood on his clothes matched Mareno’s and a witness that places him at the murder scene. The case is closed, pending new evidence.”

The chair squeaked as Hayes settled into it more comfortably. “Then, Mr. Maxwell, we can assume that the D.A.’s office is convinced they’ve caught – “

“Look, what are you here for, Mr. Hayes?”

Hayes flipped to another page. “Mr. Maxwell, I’ve been covering Elliot Burch for my paper for the last 4 years. When Burch Enterprises declared bankruptcy, I automatically began researching WHY. I visited the burned Burch Grand Hotel and Casino; I talked with people on Wall Street. Everywhere I went, I was blocked.” He paused. Maxwell said nothing. “So I went a little further into the casino fire. Found that it was first labeled, arson-then, the official line was ‘Negligence.’ There’s a lot of difference there.”

“So?”

“So, I found out that Burch commissioned his investigator, a guy named Cleon, to look into it. Cleon turned up dead a couple of days before you arrested Burch. However, he had time to file a report.”

“So…” Maxwell prodded.

“Someone provide me with a copy. Cleon found traces of C-4 and magnesium in the casino fire. The police report missed it.”

“That’s impossible!” Maxwell sat bolt upright. “That’s a terrorist trick!”

“I got permission to take the report to the FBI. They’re checking on it.”

“So?”

Hayes leaned forward. “Burch Enterprises took a body-blow on that Casino. The liability is still being settled with the insurance company and the bankruptcy court. If Burch is found non-liable, then the insurance company will be out millions.”

“I thought bankruptcy proceedings were closed! What’s your source?” Maxwell asked sharply.

“I don’t reveal my sources.”

“What’re you getting at, Hayes?” Maxwell set his cup down.

“I did some background searching. I checked the financial pages, and the stock quotes. Found companies and pension plans dumping Burch Industries’ stock in what looked like a regular pattern the couple of weeks leading up the bankruptcy filing. Like someone was driving the stock down in preparation for a takeover bid. But no one would talk as to why they were selling. In fact, they were unusually shifty and uncomfortable when I asked. The Securities and Exchange Commission may get it out of them. They’re curious too.”

“Insider trading? Corporate takeovers?” Maxwell was floundering in waters he didn’t understand. His simple case of murder had expanded horrendously.

“It’s good convenient when you look at the facts. The company was driven down to fifty percent of its real value. Mareno was preventing Burch from building. It cost him millions – “

“Wait a minute!” Maxwell interrupted. “Mareno had a good reasons for that!”

“Burch was indicted for Mareno’s death,” Hayes continue. “Add the Casino fire to the stock fluctuations… I think Burch was framed.”

The words reverberated off the walls. Joe was chilled by the implications. If what Hayes was saying was true…

The reporter went on. “Mr. Maxwell, I’m not claiming Burch is a lily-pure businessman; in fact, I know he isn’t. But in the last few months, there seems to have been a calculated vendetta to destroy Burch and his company. I wonder if the D.A.’s office had any more information, theories or comments?”

Maxwell stared at him, digesting his words. Finally, “What can I say? You have nothing conclusive to prove it. It’s a hell of a story if it’s true!”

“I’m convinced I’m right.”

“This office has officially charged Burch with the murder of D.A. Mareno. It has no other comment on his disappearance since it is part of an on-going investigation.”

“I thought Mareno’s investigation was closed,” Hayes said shrewdly.

“Another investigation.”

“Whose?”

“No comment.”

Hayes closed his notebook and capped his pan. “Then, I suppose you will be looking into the fire at Burch’s hotel?”

“Not likely. It’s not part of the investigation." Maxwell watched the reporter stand and button his coat. “Hayes, why’s it so important to you that Burch is innocent?”

The reporter fastened the last button before answering. “A guilty man makes a good story. An innocent man – hounded, framed and arrested by the police for a crime he didn’t commit, makes a better one. It sells. Burch was never proven guilty.”

“He disappeared.”

“Why? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Did he disappeared on purpose?”

Maxwell didn’t have an answer. “Maybe… never mind. Keep in touch.”

“Have a good night,” Hayes replied. He closed the door behind him.

Maxwell sank back into the chair, thinking frantically. The case against Burch was foolproof. They had the bloody clothing; they had Burch’s silence after his arrest; they had his disappearance. What was Hayes going to unearth with his article? “Andrea!” he called, then hit the intercom button, exasperated. “Andrea! Bring me the Burch file.” The police report on the hotel fire was there, and had the name of the police contact in Atlantic City.

“I haven’t got time for this crap,” he grumbled.

*****

Tamara inspected Burch’s back wound. The polluted river water and loss of blood had protracted Burch’s illness but he wasn’t close to death anymore. The antibiotics that Nurse O’Carvey had brought were just about finished. She’d have to get more in the morning. Tamara had exiled Durban and his daughter to the kitchen.

She let Burch roll back to his original position, letting her hands run down the upper body. It was well-kept and muscular, the body of a man who had enough pride in his appearance to keep in shape but not overly-muscled. He’d have made a good model for a Greek stature – maybe a fugitive? She ran her sculptor’s fingers over the contours of his face, memorizing the planes. He hardly resembled the elite businessman he’d been just weeks ago. Her fingers traced the now-blurred line of Elliot’s jaw. All the time he was unconscious, the beard had been growing in unevenly. He didn’t resemble the mask she made for Paracelsus almost a year before. The turmoil that had encompassed him had carved new lines.

“What shall I do with you, Mr. Burch?” she whispered. “Paracelsus didn’t bring me your head, and the mask I made for him could only be used in the dark. But now, you are wanted by so many people… Shall I finish what Paracelsus started or sell you back to your enemies? How can I use you best?”

His eyes flickered open and shut. The light from the lamp across the room fell across his face, causing him to squint.

Tamara flicked it off, leaving only the moonlight to illuminate the room.

Elliot’s eyes re-opened. He looked at her.

She stood, letting the moonlight carve her shape into a shadow across his bed. The reddish hair was a halo around her head.

He went still, his lips parted. “Who… are you?

“I’m the person who’s keeping you alive,” she said. Her voice was cold.

Where’s Jodie? Where…am I? I feel…” he shifted slightly, then went rigid. “The bullet—“

“It went through.”

“Where..AM…I?” he asked.

She smiled and moved to the window. The gauzy curtains stirred in the night breeze sneaking in through the cracked window. “That’s inconsequential. You won’t be here long.”

The moonlight dazzled his eyes. “What do you…what are you… planning?”

Tamara picked up a basin from his bedside. “I will be back.”

“Who are…you?” he whispered. “Who… do you work for? Gabriel?”

“I work for myself, Mr. Burch.” The door clicked behind her.

Elliot tried desperately to move out of the bed. The pain in his back was intense. He let his head drop back on the pillow.

The moonlight spilling on the bed suddenly was blocked.

A face appeared outside the window. Elliot blinked. The face disappeared, then two small hands appeared over the sill, and the small girl pulled herself up.

“Is she gone?”

“Jodie, get away…from here! Call the…police!”

The girl licked her lips. “I can’t leave Dad… But they’re looking for—“ A noise cut off her words. She dropped below the sill.

“Jodie!” An obscure feeling of protectiveness spurred Elliot to pull himself out of the bed.

Dizzy, he bruised his knees on the thin rose carpet. Using precious energy, he dragged himself to the window seat.

Outside, the moon shone through thin clouds. Wooden fence posts cut the light into bars as it outlined the backyard. In the distance Elliot could hear the crashing of breakers. Most of the yard was sand and crabgrass, broken only by several trees. Their barren limbs were the epitome of winter. The girl’s footprints were clear in the sand, but she had disappeared.

Elliot rested on the hard window seat bolster trying to figure out what was happening. Why was Tamara keeping him alive? What happened after he’d been thrown into the water? What had happened to Vincent? WHERE WAS HE?

Before he could move the door opened. Tamara entered carrying a tapestry bag in one hand. “What are you doing out of bed?”

He smiled painfully, turning to her. “A little night air—“

“The night is full of predators. Did you think I would let you go, Mr. Burch? I have plans for you.” She thrust out her bag. “Do you want to see what I have for those I’m done with?”

Tamara reached in and pulled out a severed head, a terrified man’s head. The eyes stared at Elliot.

Behind his ear, Elliot heard a scream. Two small hands had pulled Jodie back up, almost within touching range, but her eyes were on the head. “Daddy!”

Elliot acted without thinking. He swung the bolster as hard as he could towards Tamara. “Run, Jodie, run!”

Tamara threw the head in the middle of the bed as she called down the stairs, “Perun! The girl’s escaping! The backyard!”

Shadows filled Elliot’s sight as he faded into unconsciousness. The last thing he remembered was the feel of the carpet as he hit it.

Chapter Text

McCall started his search by calling an old friend in the library of the New York Herald-Examiner. She faxed him copies of all the articles on Carl Nichols and the uptown lot he’d purchased. Along with the newspaper articles came a number of clips from Wall Street Business, all by Hayes. The detective spent most of the morning reading and clipping old newspapers, and jotting notes about the site and Nichols.

He settled back with a cup of tea when he finished stacking the clippings on one corner of his desk. He had enough proof here to show that Nichols was the builder and that he was going to put up a building that would dwarf the surrounding neighborhood. The Tunnels weren’t the only things going to suffer.

His tea grew cold as he mused on the way the site had come to the market. His suspicions of the two days before were growing. It was too convenient that Burch had had all these problems at the same time, and then disappear. Possibly he had done it to himself, but fraud wasn’t in the character of the man McCall met. Still Burch’s disappearance wasn’t his business. The police investigation had been relegated to the back pages of the metro section of the Herald-Examiner.

Mickey knocked before entering. The young man had spent the morning looking into Wilson. The computerized printout was thick, and expensive from the attached bill.

“Where’d you get this, Mickey?” McCall asked skimming pages.

“NY Public and the IRS. Wilson went to a top law school. He got out, joined the firm of Richards and Botham, and bought Botham out a year ago. The firm became Richards & Wilson. And, you’ll find this interesting, McCall, he is now the sole proprietor of the firm.”

McCall looked up. “What? How?”

The young man handed him a photocopy of a newspaper article. “Wilson’s partner, Edward Richards, was dredged out of a river with a bullet wound. They buried him a week ago. Wilson was the main speaker at the funeral.”

“So Wilson got the whole firm?”

“The whole chili pepper.” Mickey went into the kitchen. “Any of that pasta left, McCall? Keep readin’ the obit. See who Richards worked for.”

“We finished the pasta last night. Have some fruit.” McCall’s eyebrows went up as he read on. “Major corporate lawyer, wasn’t he – my God!”

“That’s what I thought.” Mickey appeared with a banana in one hand. “Edward Richards was Burch’s personal lawyer.”

“Then, if Burch hadn’t vanished, Richards would have been defending him.”

“Seems likely,” Mickey said around a mouthful of fruit. “Keep reading.”

McCall pulled out photocopies with an IRS heading from the pile. “These are Richards & Wilson internal memos for the last several years? How did you – never mind, I don’t want to know. Interesting…”

“Yeah. Wilson did write the contact for the building site for Nichols. My contact told me herself.”

“Wilson is one of the attorneys involved in the Burch Enterprises bankruptcy but is also representing Nichols who is buying one of the properties. Somehow that strikes me as conflict of interest." McCall reached for a stack of papers. “Hayes has a new article on Burch. He’s found out who the major players are in buying Burch’s company. One of them is Avatar Enterprises.”

“Avatar?” Mickey said sharply having finished the banana. He deposited the skin on the kitchen counter. “Check those – “

“Yes, I saw that too,” McCall cut in. “Richards & Wilson did a lot of work for Avatar Industries. Most of the billings to it are made by Paul Wilson.”

“Do you think Wilson’s working all three sides, McCall? That he’s acting on behalf of Avatar against the bankruptcy court as well as for Nichols?”

“He’s doing a good job of hiding his tracks if he is. Where else did I see Avatar just recently…” McCall crossed over to the stack of Wall Street Business that he’d finished reading while waiting for Mickey. “A couple of days ago…yes, here.” He pulled a copy free.

Mickey took the paper from him. “Another obituary?”

“Avatar Enterprises was run by a Julian Gabriel. The District Attorney found him murdered last week in his mansion.”

“It’s a thin obit.”

McCall resat at the desk. “Hayes obviously couldn’t find much information on him. He was a recluse apparently.”

“Do you think he had anything to do with Burch?”

“I think it’s…suspicious that all these men have died in the last two and a half weeks and that they are all connected with Paul Wilson, and our friends downstairs are also involved,” McCall summarized. “That’s a small circle to touch so many deaths.”

Mickey flopped on the couch. “So when are you going to tell Downstairs about Nichols?”

“Not yet.” McCall looked over at the sprawled man. “Fancy a walk uptown? I’d like to check out the site that Nichols bought.”

“We can get lunch too,” Mickey said enthusiastically. “I know a great Greek place.”

Twenty minutes later they looked into the pit of a huge construction site. Behind the barbed wire-topped walls, construction workers plowed deeper into the gaping hole. Down at the bottom, McCall could see a couple of men arguing.

“What a pit.” Mickey verbalized what McCall was thinking.

“And getting deeper by the day, Mickey.”

Mickey nudged him. “Check it out, McCall.”

Three men stood by one of the holes in the walls where they could see the site. A burly red-haired man pointed to a crane, then waved his hand indicating some point he was making. The other man’s head was covered with an expensive fur hat. His bodyguard met Mickey’s gaze, then shifted to McCall, assessing their potential for danger.

“Well, well,” McCall murmured. “Mr. Nichols and Mr. Wilson, no less.”

“Checking out his investment?” Mickey said softly.

“Probably.”

“Ever meet him, McCall? He’s headed this way.”

McCall faced the man in the hat.

Nichols was in his mid-fifties, had a long thin face, and was bean-pole thin. His faded blue eyes watered in the frigid December air. “Mr. McCall, isn’t it?”

“I’m surprised you remember me, Mr. Nichols.”

“We met at the art opening a couple of years ago. You were admiring the African art piece I bought.”

“That’s right.”

“Are you admiring my work?” Nichols waved to the construction site.”

“I was thinking you’re lucky it’s a mild winter.”

“The water? We’ve got the seepage under control, finally.”

“What are you planning to build here?”

Nichols spread his hands expansively. “Several buildings. They’ll have more commercial space than the World Trade Centers!”

“I thought commercial space was overbuilt in New York,” Mickey cut in.

The thin man eyed Mickey’s worn leather jacket and wind-blown hair, and ignored his comment. He addressed McCall. “We’re going down a little further, to make sure we have enough room for working. Then, in the spring, we’ll build.”

“When did you get permission to start?”

“A couple of weeks ago.” Nichols looked over the construction site with greed all over his face. “I’ve wanted this spot for years.”

“I thought it belonged to Elliot Burch,” McCall said casually.

“Not any more.”

“I thought he was stopped from building by the community?” Mickey interjected, determined to get under Nichols’ skin.

“Burch Towers was stopped by a class-action suit brought by homeowners,” Wilson said coming up. “But we have permission from them.”

“In two weeks?” Mickey was openly disbelieving. “That must be a record.”

Wilson met Mickey’s stare with a bland smile. “Our plans were better than Burch’s.”

“Well, we must be going,” McCall cut in. “It was a pleasure to have met you again, Mr. Nichols.”

Nichols smiled broadly shaking McCall’s reluctant hand. “I will invite you to the opening, Mr. McCall.”

“Good! I look forward to it. Come on, Mickey.”

As they walked away, a slightly portly man hailed them. “McCall? Mr. McCall!”

“May I help you?” McCall was pretty sure that he’d never met this man before.

“Let me…introduce myself. I’m Frank Hayes—“

“From Wall Street Business,” McCall finished. “I’ve read your stories. You’re very good.”

“Thank you. I saw you talking with Nichols and Wilson down by the pit.”

Mickey grinned. He apparently wasn’t the only person who’d thought of it that way.

“Just passing the time of day.” How did this man know him? McCall wondered.

“Did you know Elliot Burch?” the reporter asked unexpectedly.

“Burch? I met him several times, yes, but I really didn’t know him,” McCall hedged. “Why?”

Hayes pulled out one of his business cards. “I’m writing a story on the bankruptcy. I’m sorry I have to file now, but I’d really enjoy talking with you later about Burch.”

“Mr. Hayes, I really don’t think I can help you,” McCall replied politely.

“I’ve asked around about you," Hayes said unexpectedly. "Got a friend at the Commercial News who raves you saved her life. Won’t let anything go in print if she can help it. I know what you do.”

Mickey wondered how he could take the man out without getting caught.

McCall stared at him coldly. “I haven’t any idea of what you mean. I’m a retiree.”

“Yeah, and I know from where. But, seriously, Mr. McCall, I just wanted to ask some questions about your dealings with Burch.”

“I HAD no dealings with Burch.” The reporter wasn’t going to let him go. McCall had dealt with reporters over his career. They were a stubborn breed. “I’m looking into the building site.”

“Nichols’ piece of garbage?” Hayes looked amazed.

"You know about it?"

The man shrugged. “I can find out if you really want. I know it was one of Burch’s sites, and the problems he had with it. Are you looking for Burch?”

McCall waved a hand in dismissal. “I’m after information on Nichols and Wilson.”

“I take it your investigation into the Nichols site has nothing to do with Burch?” Hayes persisted.

“Is there a connection?”

“No one knows for sure,” Hayes said sharply. He hesitated, his eyes going from McCall to Mickey. “I just spent an hour talking with a Burch lawyer. He said that Burch was getting paranoid before the end. He was convinced someone was out to get him, and, from my research, he was right.”

“Like whom?” McCall asked.

“Julian Gabriel.”

“Gabriel?” McCall fit that piece into the mosaic he’d constructed that morning. It slipped into the slot snugly. “Why would Gabriel want Burch Industries?”

The reporter stepped closer, lowering his voice. “It wasn’t a normal takeover attempt. Burch Enterprises was being destroyed. Burch vanishes. The police dredged the river for his body.”

McCall’s eyes widened fractionally. He hadn’t heard that piece of information before.

“Suicide?” Mickey hazarded. “Burch couldn’t stand to see his company go down—“

Both McCall and Hayes shook their heads. “It’s not in the man’s nature,” McCall commented. “Burch was a fighter.”

“So you know that much about him,” Hayes said. “I can’t believe he’d kill himself either.”

McCall was intrigued by what the reporter was saying. He wondered why the man was telling him so much. “What do you want from me, Mr. Hayes? Not just some discussion on Burch.”

Hayes hesitated. “I want to find out the truth. I’ve talked with Joe Maxwell, the D.A. He thinks Burch is dead or has just run. I don’t believe it.”

“And you want me to find him?” McCall asked dryly. “You have great faith in my powers.”

“So did my friend at the Commercial News.” Hayes smiled. “It’s part of a reporter’s nature to be curious. If you DO think of looking into it, you might start with these.” He handed over some papers. “You didn’t get them from me.”

McCall’s eyes scanned the sheets. Hayes’ contact in the police department had done well. It was a copy of Burch’s arrest report stating Burch had cooperated fully with the police but made no statement in his defense on the charge of killing D.A. Mareno. A blurry sheet on a casino fire saying it had been ‘negligence’ and an attached sheet from the F.B.I. to Hayes thanking him for his help in discovering that the fire had been caused by explosives. Another police report on the dredging of the river dated last week saying a scarf had been found, with Burch’s name tag, but no body. A written sheet of dates and transactions on Wall Street Business letterhead that Hayes must have written, and a rough flow chart of the transactions. Many of them led back to Avatar Industries.

From the evidence, Burch was right to be paranoid about Gabriel.

McCall folded over the sheets and put them in his pocket. “Mr. Hayes, this is all very interesting, but I really don’t know if I can help you.”

Hayes’s gaze met McCall’s. “If you’ll just talk to me about your dealings with Mr. Burch, I would greatly appreciate it.”

“And if I find out an uncomfortable truth?”

“I would like to know.” The reporter smiled. “If Burch is a murderer, I’m a very bad judge of character. How do I get in touch with you?”

McCall handed him a business card. “My answering machine is always on.”

Halfway back to the apartment, McCall and Mickey stopped at the Greek restaurant. Once they were seated, McCall scanned the sheets again, pausing over the boat report. “It’s interesting that they found the scarf, Mickey. If Burch was on the boat when it exploded, he must have been blown overboard. Our friends downstairs said he was on-board when it blew. But why wasn’t a body found?”

“Maybe he was blown apart,” Mickey said ghoulishly as he ordered.

“Why did the scarf remain intact?” McCall looked up. “It makes no sense.”

Mickey raised an eyebrow at him. “You going to take Hayes up on it, and try to find Burch? Our friends said that he’s dead, remember.”

“I’m tempted,” McCall replied. “The evidence is overwhelming that he was a victim, not a murderer.”

“If you are going after him, I’m with you all the way,” Mickey said quietly. “I owe Elliot Burch, Robert. He helped me out of the Caribbean.”

“Really? You never told me about that,” McCall replied abstractly, his thoughts on the papers. “I think we have to start with the river, Mickey.”

“What about our friends?” Mickey gestured with a downward thumb.

“Mouse is waiting for us to call him. Father said we only have to go to the storm drain in Central Park, and call. Right now, though, let’s get a boat and take a look at the river.”

“After lunch.”

“After lunch.”

Chapter Text

Wilson stared out of his tall windows. His computer screen flickered behind him on the black desktop. File cabinets were inset in turquoise walls. To one side were a pair of monitors; one, a television, scrolling stock market quotes; the other, a blank dark screen with a VCR underneath on a small table.

Right now his desk was covered with papers regarding Nichols’ uptown site.

He was uncomfortable. Something about the men he and Nichols had met at the site made him nervous. Nichols had laughed at his worries as they separated, Nichols to his uptown office, and Wilson back here where he’d pulled out the files on the deal. They were in perfect order. No one could possible tell that Wilson had falsified the deeded that sold the site to Nichols at a bargain rate before Burch was officially deemed in bankruptcy. It was taken a great deal of money to fix the official records.

Wilson had profited handsomely. Of course, whatever Richards had had on Burch might toss the whole deal in disarray. Strange how his life dealt with Burch at the moment. Pope had no idea about Nichols, or Nichols, Pope, but both involved Burch.

He pushed the papers back into the files and picked up the sheet of paper with three addresses for Kathleen O’Carvey on them. The Manhattan one had turned out to be a nurses referral center which was of no help. The other two had no answer. Now that it was almost evening, she might be home, and he could call again.

The phone ran under his hand. “Yes?”

“What do you have?” Pope asked coldly.

“I’m still trying to find out about the nurse,” Wilson replied. “I should have something later this evening.”

“Do it.” Pope hung up without waiting for an answer.

Wilson pursed his lips. That was the first time the other man had sounded the slightest bit unnerved by the activity going on over at Avatar Enterprises. The police must be pressing him for information on Julian Gabriel, and looking in the business. Pope had enough on his plate to make the problem of Richards seem small. Still, it wouldn’t do to neglect his wishes.

He rang the other numbers on the slip of paper hopeful of finding O’Carvey. There was still no answer.

He thought for a second, then called the law library. “Janice? Do we have a New York crisscross? Good. Put in this number and tell me where it is.” He heard the librarian flip pages into the telephone crisscross directory, matching the telephone number, and then she was back.

“It’s 501 West Garden Street, sir. Out on the Island.”

“Thank you. That’s all I need.” Wilson flipped back to the sheet that he’d written on the gasoline station. Hmm. They are both out on the Island. What Richards been doing on Long Island the day he died? He pulled out a biography of Edward Richards out of his desk drawer, one that he’d gotten to help with his speech at the funeral last week. Ah-ha. He had a beach house on Long Island.

*****

the setting sun of late afternoon touched everything with red-gold. Mickey scanned the riverside through binoculars, as McCall guided the boat. McCall was pursing an obscure impulse that told him that if Burch had last been seen by the water, that he’d stayed in the water.

“Jeeze, McCall,” Mickey protested. “It’s getting cold out here.”

“Zip up your jacket,” McCall said dryly. “What kind of people live down here, Mickey?”

“The ones who can’t get anywhere else.”

“It’s considerably warmer today,” McCall protested mildly. “Almost feels like Spring.”

“It’s going to hit a high of 10 degrees tonight, McCall!” Mickey shivered as the sun disappeared behind the skyscrapers.

“Well, then,” McCall mused. He ran the small boat onto the shore. “Look at that.”

The river had cast up debris on the small peninsula. Rusty tin cans, plastic bags full of sloshing garbage and tree branches choke the shore. McCall shoved aside several branches before he reached what caught his eye.

“Hey! What’re you doing” Mickey asked, tying the boat to a rock.

The silver-haired man held up a charred board. “This must be where the debris from the wreck ended up, Mickey.”

“Why didn’t the police find it?”

“They weren’t looking for debris. They were trolling for bodies.” McCall looked around the beach, scanning for anomalies. He found one.

Despite the branches and the burned lumber, the beach was abnormally clear of wood. Someone must been collecting it for a while to get the beach so empty. He shaded his eyes against the sun looking for some kind of shelter where a person could build a fire.

Mickey pulled a burned lifesaver from underneath the boughs. “Compa…R..e. Looks like it’s from Burch’s boat.”

“Over there.” McCall spotted a roof over some sand dunes. "Let’s ask if they know anything about this.”

The building had had some renovations. It had a semi-new patches in the roof. McCall scanned the area, seeing broken cattails and trampled grass under one window. He knocked on the door. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

There was no sound from inside.

He knocked again, and the door swung open. Inside, the last sliver of sunlight fell on a kitchen table. On it sat a candlestick with a nubbin of wax and a used packet of matches. He looked around at the tattered bed sheet that split off half the room. There were two beds, one large and one small. On the latter was a dark heap serving as a blanket.

McCall picked up the dark cloth.

The man’s coat was black, silky, woven of the most expensive cashmere blend and tailored to perfection. There was a bullet hole in the bloodstained back that matched a nicked lapel, and a name tag on the inside of the collar.

“Mickey!”

The young man stepped inside, gun in his hand.

McCall held out the coat. “Well, we’ve found a trace of Burch.”

Mickey took the coat from McCall’s hands. “It’s intact, McCall.”

“A bit burned and with a hole, but yes, intact. He must have washed up here.

“Should I look around for a grave?” Mickey’s tone was studiously neutral.

McCall looked over at him, suspicious at the tone. Whatever Burch had done for Mickey in the Caribbean apparently had been very important to him. It was a pity that things had ended up this way. “I guess we had better. I’m afraid our friends Downstairs were right. Burch is dead.”

They walked outside, Mickey carrying the coat. He tossed it into the boat, then went back towards the house, heading right.

McCall went to the left looking for disturbed earth.

Mickey was on his way back to the boat when he saw a trace of red. He crouched down behind a rock, waiting for some movement.
Someone was at the boat. He saw a small figure reach inside, and pull out the dark coat.

Slinking forward, he reached it as the small girl struggled to pull the garment out. “Gotcha!”

She screamed uncontrollably, and kicked out. Mickey almost let her go for fear of hurting her.

McCall came running out of the dunes. “What the devil?”

“Now calm down, calm down,” Mickey said soothingly. It didn’t haven't any effect. In desperation, he put his hand over her mouth. “Now, listen!” he snapped. “We're not here to hurt you!”

Her brown eyes went from him to McCall, then back. She bit him.

“Jeeze!” Mickey yelped. “Stop THAT!”

She finally collapsed, giving up any resistance.

“Who are you?” McCall asked gently. “What’s your name?”

The girl shivered in fear.

“Never mind then. We’ll call the police – “

The girl kicked out, spraying him with sand and squirmed.

McCall’s eyebrows went up. “OK, not the police.”

“What about the coat? Mickey asked. “You were stealing—“

“It’s mine!” She spat out, hugging the coat to her chest.

Mickey’s gaze met McCall’s over the girl’s head. The child might be terrified but still might be able to tell them what happened to Burch.

McCall sat cross-legged in the sand. “What’s your name?”

She eyed him fearfully. “Jodie.”

“Jodie. All right, Jodie, we’re not going to hurt you. We are trying to find someone.” No response. McCall tried again. “We’re trying to find the man who owns that coat.”

“It’s mine!”

“Where did you get it?” McCall persisted.

She shifted a bit. Here eyes met his fearfully. “We… found…he just washed up—“

“He?” Mickey mouthed above her head.

McCall absorbed the pronoun with a small blink. “A man? A man washed up on the beach? When, Jodie? Where were you when he washed up?”

“My Daddy and I were…here about three weeks ago.” Her words came out in a rush. “We were just restin’ in the cabin and I went lookin’ for firewood and …he was on the beach all cold and dead. My Daddy took him inside, warmed him up and called som’ lawyer.”

Mickey grimaced distastefully. The body must have been a pleasant companion in the small building. “So this lawyer took the body away.”

She squirmed making him tighten his grip. “No! All of us. ‘Cause, you know, the man…he was—“

“Alive?” McCall cut her off with a touch of amazement. “Burch was alive?”

“Yeah,” she said defiantly. “And I took care of him until SHE came!”

“She?” McCall prompted.

“She! Tamara. She took over and then…” the girl faltered. “Then she…” Her lips quivered.

McCall glanced at Mickey. They had to get the girl some help. “What are you doing here?”

“I came back. She kill’d Daddy and was gonna kill me, and I ran, ran, ran…” Tears ran down Jodie’s face.

“Let’s take her into town, McCall,” Mickey suggested. “Put her up with Pete or someone.”

“Will you come with us, Jodi?” McCall asked her. “I promise you, we will help you.”

“You won’t hand me to the poli’, will you? Daddy said they’d punish us because we didn’t call them. I tried to help him instead!”

“We’re trying to find the man you saved, Jodie, and we’ll help you too.”

“Are you gonna get HER?” the child said hopefully.

“We’ll get her,” McCall replied with total confidence and reassurance. “Do you think Burch is still alive, Jodie.”

The girl nodded. “She wanted him for somethin’. She’ll keep him alive. He was getting better.”

“Then let’s go, Jodi.” McCall held out his hand. Mickey released her warily. "You can wear the coat while we're on the water."

Mickey untied and shoved the boat out, climbing in. She shrank away from him. “Let’s go, Mickey.”

*****

By the time Wilson reached Nurse O’Carvey on the telephone, it was mid-evening. By identifying himself as Richard’s partner in the firm, he’d managed to confirm that the other man had hired her, but she wouldn’t say why and demanded to know why he wanted to know. Wilson, frustrated, had thanked her and hung up.

His last chance was Richards house on Long Island. He drove there getting caught in traffic. It took him hours longer than he thought it would.

The darkened beach cottage showed no visible traces of life. He parked his car down the road and walk back, leaving no trace of footprints until he reached the sandy entrance to the building.

The wind always blew at the shore. He could smell the Atlantic ocean only a quarter-mile over some dunes. The wind made the naked trees dance and the rays of the full moon cast their shadows on a building.

A faded banner, painted with a giant carp, snapped in the wind with the crack of a whip.

The front door was locked. He tried the windows in front, then went around back. The wooden fence door creaked as he opened it. The back porch was deserted except for piles of sand and a few abandoned planters. It was a bungalow, the main floor several feet above the yard. The weather-beaten exterior was peeling its yearly coat of paint.

A bit of curtain was stuck in the crack of the now-shut window. Coming closer he saw two sets of fingerprint smudges on the sill outside. Someone had stood there and looked inside. He peered through the glass. What he could see of the room was black and empty.

The light over the back door went on, almost frightening him out of his pants. “Won’t you come in?” a woman’s voice called imperiously.

He pulled out his gun and swung to face her.

The woman smiled. “That won’t be necessary, Mr.…?”

He said nothing.

“Come inside if you want.”

The woman led him into the living room.

Drawn curtains hid the one lamp that burned on the mantle above the cold fireplace.

“Who are you?” he asked.

She sat regally in a wing chair. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same thing.”

“I am taking care of the house for the owner.”

“Does he know that?” Wilson glanced around the room.

Tamara stood, sharply cut like a silhouette. “Mr. No-name, let’s not play games any longer. You are obviously here for some reason. What is it?”

“Richards said he had something on Elliot Burch.”

Her eyes stared unblinkingly. “Elliot Burch? Who do you work for, Mr. No-name?” He didn’t answer. “Yet another person looking for Elliot Burch. What makes you think he’s here alive?”

“Is he here?” Wilson’s jaw dropped. She raised an eyebrow at his expression. “Is he—is he ALIVE?” His mind teemed with the implications. God, the whole Nichols deal could go down the drain if Burch was alive!

A huge shape moved out of the shadow of the curtains behind him. A hand enclosed his neck, another grabbed his wrist, forcing the gun upright. His finger flexed. The bullet hit the ceiling embedding itself.

The man stepped in front of him “Mr. No-name, now you will tell us what you want to do with Elliot Burch?”

He gurgled. The huge man released his grip slightly enabling him to speak.

“I want him…dead.”

“Why?”

“He’s an impediment.” Wilson fought for more air in his injured throat. “We need him dead.”

“We?” She moved closer, almost within reach. “Who wants Burch dead so badly that you come all this way to trace him?”

“Nichols… Carl Nichols. He’s a builder in the City.”

“Why does he want him dead?”

“He wants…he DOESN’T want him… coming back,” Wilson lied frantically. “He’s working on one of Burch’s pieces of property. He…I… if Burch shows up dead or alive…he’ll be in the way.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. Her breath was hot on his cheek. “So, you want Burch buried? And how much are you willing to pay for it?”

He felt a surge of optimism. Money he understood. Money he could supply. Maybe this madwoman could take care of all his problems.

“One hundred… thousand dollars.”

“Cheap!” she barked. “Burch used that as petty change when he was building skyscrapers! For his death, you should have offered more!”

Wilson stared into her deep-sunk eyes. “I’ll triple it.”

Her stare sent a chill down his spine. “Mr. No-name, you’ll have to do better than that.”

“You HAVE Burch?”

“I have him.”

“Alive?”

She gestured and the man loosened his grip enough for Wilson to stand free. The woman sank back into the chair.

“I want you to do something for me, Mr. No-name. And then you’ll get what you want.”

“What?” He pulled his jacket straight.

“I want you to get me the deed for the uptown property that Burch used to own.”

“The uptown site? But that’s why?”

“I want to make sure that there is no more blasting on that site right now. Do you understand, Mr. No-name?”

“What the hell does one building site mean to you?” he blustered.

“It…ruins the view. Stop it, Mr.…” She flipped open the wallet Perun had found in a back pocket and tossed to her. “Mr. Wilson, and I will give you irrefutable proof that Elliot Burch is dead.”

“And no one else will ever know?”

Her eyes flashed. “And no one will ever find him.”

“How do I know you’ll keep your word?”

“I always keep my word.” She abstracted a business card, and handed him the wallet. “I think I will be ready by Sunday. I shall meet you in your office at 8 that evening. Good night. Perun! Make sure Mr. Wilson leaves.”

The mute man was back ten minutes later.

“Is he gone?” The question was rhetorical. Tamara paced the room, hands clasped behind her back. “Perun, get the boat ready. We leave as soon as I get more antibiotics.”

Perun jerked a thumb upwards.

“He comes with us. Burch is our bait to get Vincent.”

He spread his hands in bewilderment.

“And then we bury them all together. “

Chapter Text

McCall and Mickey started early for Long Island. They’d missed a day when Control had insisted they spend it briefing a team aimed for Bucharest. McCall regretted that but it wasn’t a good idea to raise Control’s suspicions. He might lose Mickey to a job just when he needed him.

They’d left Jodie in the care of a child welfare worker McCall trusted, and promised to be back as soon as they found Burch. The child was counting on them to keep their word. McCall was determined to do just that.

A map of bus routes gave them an idea of where to go, and the little girl’s description was good enough to lead them to the Atlantic side of the island. A rough estimate of the time she’d spent on the bus told them the distance. Now, McCall cruised slowly, occasionally letting other cars pass. The roads were deserted of weekend traffic. The few denizens who lived on the deserted stretch year-round were inside preparing for another blustery cold day. It was intermittently sleeting.

Mickey sipped on a large coffee and tried to get the wrapper off his bagel while still wearing his gloves. “Anything, McCall?”

"There’s nothing here, Mickey.” McCall swung the Jaguar in a circle as he came to a dead end. “Let me see the map again.”

Mickey pulled it out from under the bagel. “I think we’ve got it triangulated right, but I’ll be damned if I can find a house like she describes.”

“A one-story house with a banner like a giant fish flying from the porch,’ McCall mused.

“A windsock, maybe,” Mickey ventured.

McCall started down the road again. “I took her fingerprints from her jacket.”

“You could have checked her dental records from the bite on my hand!”

“I sent the prints to Washington to the Center for Missing or Exploited Children. They might have some record of her.”

“I thought Durban was her father," Mickey said, only half his mind on the conversation.

“I very much doubt it.” McCall’s blue eyes narrowed. “She's a nice kid. I think Durban kidnapped her.”

Mickey spotted a windsock and checked through the binoculars. “That’s a goblin flying from that. Must be a hangover from Halloween. She seems determined to find Burch.”

“He’s probably the first adult she’s seen who can’t hurt her. I hope he’s still alive, Mickey.”

“What does this Tamara want with Burch? No one seems to know anything about her.” Mickey looked out over a deserted dune as they slowed at a stop sign. “A real mystery.”

“There!” McCall barked. “Over there.”

Mickey saw the wet banner drooping over the railing. “That’s a pretty dead fish, McCall.”

“Only carp on the road.”

Mickey carefully sealed and set the half-drunk coffee aside, then pulled out his gun. “Are you ready then?”

McCall pulled over next to a picket gate. “Take the back, Mickey.”

The front door was unlatched. McCall’s suspicions were aroused. He went inside, his gun ready.

The hallway was empty. Wind stirred down the small layer of sand that had filtered in through the door and a smashed window in the living room. From the thin layer, the window must have been smashed in the last few hours, maybe to make it seem like a normal break-in. The kitchen was a mess, pots and pans strewn about. He touched the sink. Sniffed. Chlorinated water. Someone had used the kitchen recently. He opened a door that turned out to be a small pantry. The garbage can in it was empty, but also damp. Whatever had been here had used a lot of water.

Mickey’s entrance was announced with a squeak of the back door. “Nada, McCall.”

McCall nodded. “Take that end of the house, Mickey.” He went to the right.

The first door he opened was a study. Book had been tossed off the shelves into heaps. They were mysteries and science fiction, a few spy novels and some non-fiction. They type of reading done on a beach vacation. He picked up a leather-bound law book. The inside bookplate said, “Edward Richards.”

Jodiehad remembered the name correctly then. The house belonged to Burch’s former lawyer.

The chairs lay on their sides. Someone had carefully wrecked the place. Too carefully. McCall’s suspicions grew.

The next door led to the dark, dank basement. McCall fumbled for the flashlight stuck in a niche by the door. The light showed a narrow and steep set of stairs. He descended gingerly, holding his gun ready. He was only a few steps from the bottom before he recognized a familiar smell. Decay.

Two hands, sand piled behind clawed rows of lines, came into the flashlight’s light. The body had kicked and fought, and there was blood all over the back wall. It had a well-worn pair of jeans and an ancient down jacket, and… no head.

McCall overcame a gag reflex and moved in closer. He estimated the body had been dead for a day or two. For a second he’d thought it was Burch but the hands belonged to an older man who’d worked hard all his life. Peter Durban? Jodie hadn’t told them what happened to her father except that he was dead. Restraining his distaste, he searched the clothing. No wallet.

“McCall!” Mickey called from upstairs. He stood at the top. “Up here. What’s that?" He caught sight of the body.

“Peter Durban, I believe.”

“What happened to his head?” Mickey asked. “Come upstairs, I think I got something.”

McCall followed him a young girl’s room. The small desk was sticky with salt and dust. The bookcase next to a window seat, was filled with books on horses and fairy tales.

McCall gazed around, then narrowed down on the bed. Whoever had been in it hadn’t been a child, he could tell instantly. The sheets were oversized, and the bunched comforter was suitable for an adult. “Hmm.”

“What?” Mickey kept an ear out for intruders as he watched McCall.

The detective moved up to the bed. “They must’ve been holding Burch here. How long do you think they’ve been gone, Mickey?”

“From the sand probably a few days, McCall. But where’s Burch?”

“I…don’t …wait a minute.” McCall found a trace of rope on one of the pillows. His gaze examined the metal latticework of the bed. “How do you think these got there?”

Mickey moved up to the bed. There was a faint pattern of scratches on the bedposts. “Looks like someone was rubbing on it.”

“Yes.” McCall stepped back and surveyed the entire bed. “It’s been a couple of days since Jodie ran from here. Burch was able to reach her at the window. He might have been able to move about.”

“Tamara wouldn’t want that,” Mickey hazarded. “She tied him up.”

‘Yes, but why’d she wait so long to move him, Mickey? Why didn’t she move him out the same night she killed Durban?” McCall went over to the window and peered out. The curtain was still caught in the crack. Sleet fell down the pain.

Mickey pulled back the comforter. “Jesus! McCall.”

“What is it?”

The bottom sheet was bloody. “Bet if we test it, it’s Burch's. Maybe why she didn't move him. Looks like we struck gold, McCall.”

“But there’s no trace of where she took him. It’s a dead end, Mickey. Totally dead.”

*****

Mouse had traveled the Tunnels for years and knew Narcissa would be in her chamber. He carried a loaf of freshly-baked bread from Mary.

The blind woman didn’t smile as she faced him. Her hands held a wrapped bundle.

“What’s that?” he chirped.

She turned it over and over without answering.

“Narcissa?”

Her head cocked. “Mouse boy. Trouble, Mouse, trouble.”

He set the bread down on a table. “What?”

“Trouble for Vincent. Trouble from the past.”

Mouse looked his confusion. Trouble for Vincent? What?

Her dark hands unfolded the cloth.

Inside was a clay mask of a face, exact in every detail.

Elliot Burch stared at them. Scratched in the clay forehead was, “Come to me.” The newspaper it was wrapped in was only a day old.

***

“Mr. Wilson?”

The man opened the office door. “Yes?”

Hayes pulled out his press badge. “I’m from Wall Street Business? You asked me to see you today.”

Wilson nodded. “Right, I remember. Come in.”

Hayes squinted against the glare from the windows. The drizzle left runnels down the glass behind the venetian blinds, and the occasional thud of sleet could be heard in the silence of the elegant office.

“Mr. Hayes, I’m sorry for ruining your weekend. This was the only time free in my schedule. How can I help you?”

Hayes settled comfortably in a chair. “Mr. Wilson, I’m covering the bankruptcy proceedings of Burch Industries.”

“Yes?”

“I believe you are affiliated with one of the purchases of one of the piece of real estate. The old Burch Towers site?”

Wilson stared at him, his face impassive. “That is true, Mr. Hayes. I can help Carl Nichols purchase it.”

Hayes leaned forward. “Mr. Wilson, there is a rumor that your firm was negotiating with Mr. Nichols for the lot before Mr. Burch declared bankruptcy. Since your Mr. Richards was also Mr. Burch’s personal lawyer, that might be construed as a conflict of interest. Would you care to comment?”

Wilson leaned forward. “What are you talking about? Where did you hear this?”

The reporter shrugged. “It IS just a rumor, Mr. Wilson. Another rumor is that your firm had connections with Julian Gabriel and Avatar, and that Gabriel was instrumental in Burch’s disappearance. Does your firm have any connections with Avatar enterprises?”

“Mr. Hayes, it wouldn’t be illegal if we did. They’re a legitimate firm devoted to foreign investments. Avatar is helping the government s of several countries develop their industries at this moment. Santo Erasato, for example, has greatly increased its sugar and tourism industries since we profited capital for investment. Besides, I work with the chief counsel over there, Jonathan Pope. I never met this Gabriel fellow.”

“I see. Then you have no idea of the man who you were dealing with?”

“What kind of man was this Gabriel?” Wilson asked.

Hayes hazarded it all on throw of the dice. “The authorities have proof that he murdered a lawyer called Catherine Chandler as well as having other illicit business dealings.” The Chandler connection had come obliquely from a contact in the Gabriel murder investigation.

“I would rather the D.A. spent some of his time searching for my partner’s murderer!” Wilson said heatedly. “From the record, our dealings with Avatar Enterprises are all above board.”

“And the potential conflict of interest of having one member of a law firm representing a man going into bankruptcy while another represents the buyer of a piece of the bankrupt firm?”

“That’s a problem for the Bar,” Wilson replied sharply. “And, if that is all you have, Mr. Hayes, then perhaps, you can leave?”

The reporter stood up. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Wilson. I’ll be in touch.”

After he left, Wilson closed the blinds enclosing the room in darkness. He dialed a number.

“Wilson?” Pope replied.

“Pope, clear skies!” Wilson tapped his mute twice making the call untappable by normal means.

“What’s happening?” Pope asked calmly.

“I just had a visitor, a reporter named Frank Hayes. He’s looking into the Burch bankruptcy.”

“Yes?”

“He says Maxwell’s made a connection between Gabriel and some woman named Chandler who was murdered.”

“Ah, yes. He asked me about that too. Don’t worry about it. How is your search for Burch going?” Pope’s tone dismissed the problem of the police.

“I was told I’d get my proof of his death as soon as I gave Tamara her ‘fee’.”

“Make sure he IS dead, Wilson. Burch could help Maxwell put together a case against Avatar that would make the shredding of Burch Industries look tame!”

“Don’t worry. I want Burch dead as much as you do. But what about Hayes?”

“Let him sniff around. He can’t find anything out there.”

“Maxwell?”

“Gabriel wanted him dead. The contract’s still good. Don’t worry about him.”

“Killing the D.A. isn’t a good idea, Pope.”

“Why not? He’s not the first one who had died because of us.”

Wilson put down the phone. Around him he could mentally visualize bars and a striped suit. He could just run, take the money in the Cayman Island accounts and go south where he couldn’t be extradited. The Nichols payment, coupled with the other contracts, made him a wealthy man.

Still, if Avatar kept intact, the payoffs would be the best on the Street. All he had to do was sit pretty, make sure his records were clean, and make sure Burch was really dead.

*****

Father could tell that Vincent was worry about something. His air of abstraction made playing chess difficult. He couldn’t be chivvied along to make a move.

“Vincent.” The leonine man looked up. “McCall will report as soon as he can.”

“I feel so useless,” Vincent said quietly. “There is nothing I can do about the Tower.”

“McCall will be in touch as soon as he has information.”

The tall man nodded. “I know he will. But they are close to breaking through to the upper levels.”

“I know.” Father studied the chessboard avoiding Vincent’s eyes.

“What do you plan to do about it, Father?” The tall man asked.

“I don’t know.” The words were clipped. “I have tried to come up with a solution and I don’t have any. We don’t have a helper any longer who could help us in this situation.”

“If Elliot was still alive – “

“You said he was dead,” Father interrupted. “If he was alive, we wouldn’t have any of these problems.”

“I feel guilty,” Vincent said in almost a whisper. “If I hadn’t pushed him that night to find out about Gabriel, hadn’t overruled his worries about Gabriel, Elliot would still be alive.”

Father sent him a reproving look. “Vincent, he nearly sold you to Gabriel!”

“He saved my life,” Vincent contradicted him. “If he was going to sell me to Gabriel, he wouldn’t have blocked the sniper!”

“Oh, Vincent!” Father sometimes wondered if he’d raised a naïve half-wit. Vincent was far too trusting of the rest of humanity. Father knew too much to trust in humanity.

“Elliot wouldn’t have earned as much of Gabriel’s enmity if he hadn’t been helping me.” Vincent toyed with one of the pawns on the chessboard. “Gabriel stripped Elliot of everything.”

Father moved his knight across the board. “He’s dead and gone, Vincent.”

“I still think about him sometimes. Do you?”

Mary came in, slightly breathless. “McCall’s outside! It’s on the pipes.”

Father looked over at Vincent. “He must have some information. Bring him down, Mary.”

*****

McCall and Mickey stood outside the drainpipe in Central Park. It was just passed midnight. The occasional rustle in the dark bushes made them both more than jumpy.

“I debriefed the answering machine,” McCall said conversationally.

“Yeah?”

“Hayes wants to talk to us. He’s got something on Nichols that is going to, ah, ‘blow the top right off the deal!' He sent something to the fax which was interesting.”

“Like?” Mickey looked around uneasily.

A woman jogger came by, saw them and speeded up out of their view.

“A copy of the morgue report on Julian Gabriel. He was slashed. Just like the D.A. Burch is accused of killing.”

“What a way to go!”

McCall shook his head. “No, he didn’t die from the slashes. He was shot.”

Mickey shot him a surprised glance. “Someone wanted to make sure he was dead, didn’t they? McCall, we’re going to get picked up for indecency or mugging if we don’t hear from these people soon.”

“One more half-hour and then back to the apartment.”

“I’m here,” Mary said unexpectedly from behind them. “Come on.”

*****

Mickey stopped in amazement at the top of the stairs leading into the book-lined, candle-lit study. It reminded him of the parochial schools of his youth as Father had reminded him of too many priests who’d tried to curb his youthful initiatives. He could almost feel the walls closing in around him. This was a fairy tale world unrelated to his daily reality.

Father and Vincent looked up from the cradle where young Jacob babbled.

Mickey studied Vincent intently for several seconds, then at McCall. “This is…?”

“I’m Vincent,” he smiled slightly with an underlying trace of understanding as he looked up. “What do you have for us?”

McCall held out the black sand-smeared coat he’d carried with him. “I found this by the river.” He held it up by the shoulders.

Father saw a flickering candle through the hole in the back. He flinched. “Whose is it?”

“It’s Elliot’s, isn’t it?” Vincent said sadly.

“Yes. And he’s alive.”

The word hit Vincent like a dose of cold water. Mickey could tell the thought had never occurred to him.

Father’s eyes widened slightly. “But…the explosion—“

“Knocked him off the ship into the water,” McCall finished. “He washed up downriver, just in time to get found by a young girl and her father. I’m not going to go into all the details right now, but as of two days, Burch was alive and getting better.”

“Where is he now?” Vincent asked urgently.

“We don’t know,” Mickey said succinctly. “We found where he had been kept, but --”

Father shook his head in bewilderment. “It must be quite a story, Robert. But, first, did you find anything about the Tower?”

McCall laid the coat on a wooden table. “Yes. Carl Nichols is building and they are going to continue blasting until he has enough room for his parking.”

Father let out a heavy sigh. “I thought that might be the case. This is bad news, Robert. Still, I thank you for it.”

McCall eyed him icily. “Oh, that’s not all of it. One name keeps cropping up, again and again, in this investigation. I’d like to know why you didn’t tell me of your dealings with Julian Gabriel.”

The name was an icy ghost in the candle-lit room. Vincent could have sworn the flames dimmed.

“What about Gabriel?” Father blustered half-heartedly. “He doesn’t have anything to do with the land.”

“He does indeed. From our research, the site wouldn’t been sold if it hadn’t been for Gabriel’s unexplained vendetta against Burch. But Gabriel died weeks after Burch was supposed to have vanished. Burch didn’t do it. The people who tie both these men together are you.” McCall’s gaze shifted from Father to Vincent, then back. “You seem to know the name.”

Vincent paced around the room before returning to his spot beside Father’s chair. The older man had shrunk back in his chair, refusing to meet McCall’s eyes.

“Gabriel killed Catherine. He took my son and held him for months before I got him back,” Vincent said.

“Then you were involved with Gabriel for a while, correct?” McCall asked.

Vincent sighed. “I asked Elliot to find Gabriel since I couldn’t do it myself. He was already looking for Catherine’s killer and I was trying to find my child. He could get information I would never have been able to reach.”

Mickey leaned against the wooden table. The light of a hundred candles flickered off his leather jacket. It matched the cold flames in his eyes. “So, Burch hunted Gabriel for you, and Gabriel destroyed him.”

“Burch lured Vincent to the Compass Rose so that Gabriel could kill him!” Father said defensively.

“But,” Vincent interrupted, “Elliot never permitted him a clear shot. He stood between the sniper and me until…I moved into range. That was when Elliot was shot in the back. He was protecting me.”

McCall snorted. “That explains a lot. I can just see a jury box listening to an explanation of down here and how it plays into Mareno’s death. It was you, wasn’t it, Vincent, that killed him?”

The tall man nodded. “I was meeting Elliot. Mareno and his assistant tried to kill him, and I stopped them.”

“But unfortunately the death was traced back to Burch anyway,” McCall concluded. “Messy, very messy. Now the situation is that Nichols owns the land, is building on it, and Burch is still alive somewhere. What are you going to do about either problem?”

“What can we do?” Vincent asked. “You say that you’ve come to a dead end.”

Mickey’s fingers clenched. “You’re giving up on him?”

“What can we do?” Father protested.

“Vincent!” Mouse came in leading a small woman whose eyes were covered with cataracts. Both Father and McCall rose politely.

“Narcissa? Why are you here?” Vincent went to meet them.

“Vincent.” She patted him on the face. “Father. Evil has invaded the Tunnels!”

Mickey choked. The words were a touch melodramatic for his taste.

She cocked her head. “Who is that?”

“Michael Kostmayer.” Mickey’s tone was very polite.

McCall frowned at him. “I’m Robert McCall.”

She turned to Father almost as if she could see him. “Father?”

He sighed and sat down again. “Not now, Narcissa. We’re discussing something important.”

She clapped her hands sharply, enough to get his attention. “Mouse!”

The boy held out a loosely wrapped bundle.

Father unwrapped the mask. “Oh, my God.”

“Father?” Vincent took it from his hands, studying it. His breath shortened, and then he snarled, unconscious of its effect on the others. His hands tightened.

McCall tugged it from his hand before it shattered. “A death mask? I hope no?”

McCall handed it to him. Small crystals embedded in the eyes flashed almost giving an impression of life.

Mickey's jaw clenched. He hoped it wasn’t a death mask. He remembered the young businessman who had helped him escape Santo Erasato. It would be a crummy way to repay his debt.

“It’s so detailed,” Vince mused. “Like it was cast from life. It almost breathes.”

“Whoever made it must be a sculptor of some note,” McCall commented.

“You could make a mask from it,” Vincent continued. “A rubber mask. Father! The person who made Paracelsus’ masks!”

“Paracelsus?” Mickey asked.

“Tamara,” Narcissa said unexpectedly. “The woman of the Hall of Screams.”

McCall and Mickey exchanged glances. "Tamara, eh? Yes, that was the name we got as well," McCall said. "She has him?

“You KNOW this Tamara, Narcissa?” Father asked.

She cut him off with an imperious gesture. “I know Tamara. Once she came to my cavern. Only once. I drove her out.”

“Who is she?” Vincent asked urgently. “Narcissa, tell me. I must know.”

“You must go back to where Paracelsus was, back to his people. She is one of his own. The one you seek is there also.”

“Vincent, you mustn’t go!” Father broke in. He had no wish to dredge up memories of Paracelsus. “You know what happened the last time you went there! We lost Winslow!”

“Father, Vincent said with quiet deliberation. “I am not leaving Elliot behind.”

“I’ll help you bring him back,” Mickey added. "Dead or alive.”

Father looked angrily at him. “This is not your battle, Mickey Kostmayer!”

Mickey stared at him coldly. “Yes, it is. I owe Burch. I’m going along with you, Vincent.”

“So am I,” McCall added. He wasn’t going to let Mickey go alone. “We can’t leave Burch down there.”

“He may already be dead,” Father said desperately. “Vincent, this could be a trap!”

“Father, I have to know. He helped me when I needed help most. Can I abandon him now when he needs my help?”

Father shrank back into his chair. “Very well. If this is your decision, then perhaps, Narcissa can lead you.”

The old woman cackled. “I know a faster path than the one you took last time, Vincent. I’ll take you to where you will know the way.”

“Then let’s get ready,” Vincent said quietly. “There is no time to waste now.”

Chapter Text

Elliot stirred. A heaviness in his chest felt like a large dog was sprawled over him, making it difficult to breath. Something wet hit his cheek and he thought of water, cool water, for his dry throat. He opened his eyes.

He saw a variegated ceiling full of shadows and pointed objects, stabbing at him, flickering and changing. He closed his eyes and opened them again.

The scene reformulated itself into a cave ceiling. The pointed objects were stalactites, dripping calcium. Another drop hit his face. Hanging above his cell was a wide copper basin held by a tripod of chains. Beyond the metal bars were two flickering torches that shed little light.

Slowly lifting one hand, he touched the wet spot then explored the skin on his face. It was greasy and torn raw in spots. His beard was caked with some kind of dirt that was gritty under his fingertips. He wiped his eyes, and around his mouth. Then he coughed harshly.

His hand reached out, exploring his surroundings. He could remember the house and the child, and blacking out. What the hell happened then? His chest was still bandaged, but the pain was less than before. He moved his head and vision swam, nausea taking over. He doubled up, coughing, and his back hurt like someone had stabbed him.

The room was delineated by stone walls and the bars of an elaborate metal gates that were one side of his prison cell.

He slowly pulled himself upright on the bed of fairly fresh straw. A small pot, with a satyr for a lid, sat in one corner. His clothing was in rags. The tailored pants had huge rips and his Brooks Brothers shirt was stained. It smelled like he’d lived in it for week. He probably had. He didn’t want to think what HE smelled like.

Elliot leaned back with a small smile of triumph. He had to be recovering at least. He’d made it upright. But where the hell was he this time?

A sudden harsh through burst through his satisfaction. Was this Vincent's home? Was THIS where Cathy had met Vincent? Was this what she’d thrown Elliot over for—Hold it! That was an unprofitable train of thought. If this was Vincent’s ‘lair’, it was too late to do anything about it now. Cathy was still dead. The key thing was to get himself free.

An attempt at standing failed dismally. He almost knocked over the pot.

But the attempt had one effect. A flickering light grew outside the cell’s bars, shifting shadows. The blackness turned from velvet to cobweb, to a murky brown and finally into light. Footsteps sounded outside the cell.

Tamara was followed by a hulking giant. He held a branch of candles that illuminated the cavern.

It was breath-taking. And horrible.

The cavern was hung with heads, mouths screaming, contorted in anguish. Several clay hands reached out in desperation, twisted in pain, hung limp in death. Several tables held half-finished sculptures and sheets of paper, fluttering in the cold breeze. Vats sat next to the tables. Somewhere he heard water running. It reminded him of how thirsty he was.

“Mr. Burch is awake, Perun. See to his needs,” Tamara commanded.

The man carefully set the branch of candles down on a work table. He took a small vase and walked away into the darkness. The sound of the water changed as he filed it. Returning, he opened the cell with a heavy iron key, and went inside.

“Exactly, what do…you have in…mind now, Tamara?” Elliot called, holding up one hand against Perun. It was brushed aside like wet tissue paper. He was pulled to a half-standing position, his bullet wound protesting, and the glass held to his lips. He choked, swallowed, and drank the contents. Cold water.

Finally, Perun let him down on the straw and stepped away.

She took a handful of clay and moistened it, not facing him. The sculpture in front of her was a man. “It’s a handsome head, wouldn’t you say, Elliot? So full of personality.”

Burch eyed her creation. The man was in such agony it awoke a pang of sympathy from Elliot’s bruises. “What are you …planning to do…with it?”

She looked at him. “When I’m finished, I’ll get rid of the original.” She waved to another stand.

Elliot’s gorge rose. “What about…me?” He cringed back as Perun lifted the vase and stepped closer.

“I have several plans for you.”

She walked over to the gate as Perun made him drink more of the water, then put down the mostly-emptied container. Her dark eyes stared unblinkingly at him as she tossed a lump of clay from hand to hand. “It depends who give me the most for you.”

“I can give… you a lot.” Elliot felt a small spring of hope. "If it’s…money you’re looking or—“

“Burch Enterprises is being dismembered. You’re dead to the world. No one cares if you live…and several want you dead.”

“Including you?”

She laughed, the sound amplified by the cavernous room. “You’re a pawn, Mr. Burch. We’ll see if you can take out a king.”

Elliot knew, at that moment, that he had rock bottom. If this was Vincent’s home, then the last few months had been all an insane dream and he would be waking up soon enough with Cathy still alive, and his. Or, maybe if it was Vincent’s home, then Vincent would show up someone time, and… and…. “Can you at least tell….me WHERE I am?” His voice cracked in desperation.

“Far beneath the city, far from any person who could help you.” Tamara moved closer to the bars. “If anyone would. Come out, Perun. You’re finished there.”

Elliot hoped she was wrong. He hadn’t exactly cultivated friends in the last few years, but surely someone cared. Still, I’m alive and hope springs eternal, he thought, meeting Tamara’s gaze. “If that’s true…then why,” his voice was fading, “are YOU keeping me alive?”

“Lock him in.” The woman walked back to the head sculpture, threw clay on it, pummeling it into shape until it resembled the decaying head nearby. She worked in total concentration.

Elliot watched in silence, alone with his thoughts.

*****

Supplies bulged through the knapsack loaned to Mickey. McCall stuffed the last of the medical supplies in one pocket. Working off Jodie’s description of Burch’s injuries, he’d borrowed enough antibiotics to stock a medical supply store and enough bandages to wrap a mummy. If nothing else, they could use them as a winding sheet.

“Do you know how to use this medicine?” Father asked in a worried whisper.

“I know enough about wounds to fill several books,” McCall assured him. “I’ve had to treat enough people in my time.”

“No doubt,” Father retorted. “And all over the world as well, I’m sure.”

McCall smiled. “You still don’t approve of me, do you? Think about this, Father. If we bring Burch back alive, he can stop the blasting.”

Father looked at him blankly, then chuckled. “I hadn’t considered THAT aspect of it!”

“Are you ready? Narcissa says to follow her,” Vincent announced from the doorway. He carried three unlit torches.

McCall made sure his gun was still easily accessible. “Ready. Mickey?”

The young man tucked his gun into his holster. “Ready.” He brought up the rear.

The quartet went down a winding staircase lit by torches, through dim grottos, around waterfalls lit by some internal light from the rocks, and through caverns lined with semiprecious stone.

Narcissa stopped and turned to Vincent. “Here, I leave you. You recognize this place, Vincent?”

Vincent looked around. “I think I do. We go ahead for a mile then…then I’ll remember more.”

“Good!” Narcissa gave him an unexpected hug. “Come back safe!”

Vincent hiked them around the tunnels, moving confidently through the near dark. Mickey could hardly have believed that this world existed under the bustling city he’d grown up in.

After many hours, exhausted by walking, they stopped next to a running stream and built a small fire.

McCall couldn’t tell if it was day or night, down here, but his body told him it was time for a rest. He lay back on the rolled coat and watched the other two.

Mickey was moody, stabbing the fire with a stone, stirring the embers. Vincent was a still shadow to one side, slightly apart. His whole stance was alertness.

McCall broke the silence. “I think it’s time for a story, don’t you? Mickey, would you like to start?”

“Nope.”

“I’ll start,” Vincent said unexpectedly. “You asked who Paracelsus was. He was one of us. He was exiled many, many years ago by the will of the community. A brilliant chemist, he dabbled in…”

“Illicit substances? McCall put in delicately.

“Yes. He built a mirror community to ours, but based on his principles.”

“Must be an interesting set of principles,” Mickey commented.

“Paracelsus tried to destroy us several times, using masks so good that we had a hard time telling who was the real person. If this Tamara created those masks, then she is as dangerous as Paracelsus.”

“What does she want with you, Vincent?” Mickey looked up at him, then back at the fire.

Vincent shrugged. 'We will find that out when we get there.”

“And now, Mickey Kostmayer, I think it’s time you told us about your meeting with Burch,” McCall ordered.

Mickey took a final stab at the fire then tossed away the rock. “It’s not a pretty story. All right. Our government was supporting the government of Doctor Torion in Santo Erasato. It’s corruption masquerading as ‘democracy.’ The opposition is—was underfinanced and riddled with informers. I went down there with Stock trying to find out, for the good Doctor, who was behind the opposition’s gun shipments and where they were being stashed. I took the docks and Stock took the hotels.” Mickey hesitated, a finger drawing a circle in the sand beside him. “We found the opposition. I played gawking tourist when the police took them down.” His gaze met McCall’s. “It wasn’t pretty.”

“What does this have to do with Burch?”

“The opposition tried to live up to its name. It killed some of the cops, then tried to run. I headed to the hotel to tell Stock. I didn’t make it before I got in a fight. The guy had a machete. I took him down but got wounded. I blundered my way up to Stock’s room, and collapsed.”

“And…” McCall prodded.

“Mickey sighed. “It wasn’t Stock’s room. It was Burch’s.”

McCall propped himself on an elbow. “What was Burch doing in Santo Erasato?”

“Building resorts,” Vincent said unexpectedly. “Catherine mentioned it once.”

“That’s not all he was doing,” Mickey said grimly. “Burch found me passed out. The first I knew of it, Burch’s doctor was cleaning up the machete cut, and Burch was on the phone to Stock.”

“How did you know about Stock?”

“Stock recommended me for a fishing trip. Burch knew we were connected.”

“Then what?” Vincent asked.

Mickey leaned back, folding his hands behind his head. “Stock said I must have been caught in some riot and that he’d take me away. He came up to the room. Then the good Doctor Torion, himself, shows up with a squad of goons. He wanted to make sure his ‘guest’ hadn’t been disturbed by the rioting that was still going on. Burch must’ve had some reason I don’t know, but he wouldn’t let them in. He could have handed over both Stock and me, because we sure didn’t sound or look like what we were supposed to be. McCall, he not only stopped Torion outside the room we were in, but he got Stock and me out of the country on his private jet!”

No explanation?”

“Nope.” Mickey let out a gust of breath. “And you know what tops it? The guns for the opposition were being brought in on a ship called the Annabelle Lee. U.S. Customs hauled it in about two days later. Robert, it was Burch’s ship. He’d been blackmailed by the opposition into providing guns to them. I got the impression Torion was pressuring him as well. He got screwed by both sides, and by us later. So, that’s why I owe him, McCall. He saved me.”

McCall lay back as he digested the story. “Burch has had a streak of bad luck, didn’t he?”

“He's had bad advisors if he let himself get trapped that way,” Mickey said in disgust.

Vincent said quietly. “We have a long journey tomorrow. Get some sleep. I’ll take the first watch.”

*****

Elliot had found a use for the chamber pot, beyond the obvious. By moving to and from it, he had a reason for exercising, a reason that didn’t get him suspicious glares from the mute giant who sat outside the cell, watching. The pain in his back had diminished to a dull throb. More troublesome was the heaviness in his chest that kept him short of breath and frequent coughing bouts. The constant cold breeze blowing through the cage kept him huddled in the straw when he wasn’t moving about. He sorely missed his cashmere coat.

The giant moved away with a suddenness that started him. He risked a glance at the expensive, if battered, Rolex that he still wore. It was about time for the next meal. He wondered for a second if there would be anything special for Sunday brunch. He’d tried to resist the omnipresent meat stew, especially after he’d seen the severed head disappear, but the first time he’d refused, Perun had come in, sat on him and tenderly spoon-fed it until the stew was gone.

Elliot prided himself on being a practical man. The agony this caused wasn’t worth the rebellion. He also choked down the pills that Tamara mysteriously provided realizing they had to be some kind of antibiotics since he no longer broke into cold sweats and fevers every couple of hours. In fact, he almost felt that he could attack the lock, if only he could get Perun lost for a half-hour or so. Years in Hell’s Kitchen had given him skills he’d long since sublimated, but still remained.

Perun shuffled into the light again. He held the expected wooden bowl of stew, but instead of unfastening the door, he opened a small hinged gate set in the metal scrolling, and pushed the bowl in.

“You’re not joining me this…evening?” Elliot joked.

The look he got from Perun was searing in its hatred. So much for thoughts of getting around the giant; it was impossible. Elliot knew that Perun would have been happier if Tamara let him dismember Elliot, slowly, for her sculptures.

Elliot pulled the bowl over and stared at the contents. Thank God, the light was dim. He didn’t really want to see what he was eating. “Where’s my pills?”

The giant disappeared into the darkness. Elliot worked as fast as he could. The twist of straw that he’d constructed and hardened in clay wetting by his short supply of water was as stiff as he could make it. He fumbled around the lock.

It slipped from his fingers. He cursed and picked it up, fumbling again. Almost there—No!

A burning candlestick swung near his head and he rolled back from the lock. It shattered on the metal grate, sending hot candle wax over Elliot and the straw. A small flame was snuffed as Elliot landed on it as he rolled away.

Perun glared at him, breathing heavily. His shadow blackened the cage and all Elliot could see were two burning light specks where Perun’s eyes reflected the sputtering candle.

One enormous hand held up the small pill container he’d gone to get. He crushed it, letting the plastic fragments fall into the mussed sand.

Then, Perun sat down again, watching the man on the straw.

Elliot tried to catch his breath. Black spots swam before his eyes.

No escape this time. He hoped he’d have another chance before Tamara returned. Before she killed him.

****

Wilson’s view of New York City was restricted to the building opposite his on Madison Ave. He’d seen a number of interesting things over the years, but on Sunday evening the worker ants were gone.

He assembled the papers on his desk, in neat order. Harry, the counterfeiter, had done a brilliant job with his short deadline. He doubted Tamara would be able to tell the documents were faked. Besides the woman was disposable after she’d brought proof of Burch’s death

He didn’t even hear the door open. The tall woman was suddenly in front of him.

“Tamara.” He didn’t move from behind his desk.

“Do you have it?” she asked scorning civilities.

“Do you have the proof?”

“I told you I would when I saw the documents. Are those them?”

He held the papers out. “Nichols’ declaration that he will stop building on the site, and a deed for it. What name do you want on it?”

Silence stretched out between them. The woman moved suddenly and sat uninvited in the chair opposite him, placing a small plastic case between her feet. She wore the same black outfit that he’d seen her wearing in the beach cottage, but it had red smears of dirt. Her face was bloodless and sculptured, harshly carved like a Greek stature of Medea.

“Jacob Wells.”

“A friend of yours?”

Her laugh sounded like a crow alerting the flock to a fresh kill. “Not quite.”

He inserted the name, and handed it over for her inspection. “And what kind of proof can I expect from you?”

“Absolute proof.” Her eyes pinned him to the glassy window. “You’ll see everything.”

“When?”

“Two days from now.” She lay down the document, and picked dup the case. “Mr. Wilson, I will see you in two days.” The door closed silent behind her.

Wilson found his armpits were wet with fear. Only Gabriel had had this effect on him. It was chilling to think that there were two people like that running around the city. He touched the red powder left on the deed from her sleeve. Clay dust?

Chapter Text

Elliot’s watch said it was January thirtieth. Monday. He now kept it in his pocket after Tamara had told Perun to pin his other arm down so she could get a plaster cast of his hand. He didn't want to lose the watch.

Now he knew why his face had felt the way it had when he first awoke. Tamara was not a gentle artist. Then again, most of her patrons were dead before she took the molds. Much longer, and she was going to start going lower. He didn’t really want his corpse to end up a truncated eunuch.

He crawled to the metal gate, feeling the heaviness in his chest. Since Perun had destroyed the pills, he’d been coughing more and more, his breathing made more difficult by the straw dust. Whenever he had a coughing spell, he ran the risk of re-opening his bullet wound, a problem he was very aware off. Still, he was getting stronger. His legs could hold him finally upright if only for a minute or two.

His eyes went to his faithful shadow. Perun was lighting torches in the walls. The abundance of light made Elliot uneasy. It enabled him to see every mask clearly, something he’d tried to avoid. Durban’s face hung close by. On a table, a half-carved sculpture of a woman was three-quarters turned away from Burch, but the curve of the hair and cheek looked familiar. Cathy? Why? Next to it a palette knife stabbed a pile of aging newspaper clips.

A full-length hooded purple cloak draped a stature against the opposite wall, watching the room. Elliot couldn’t’ see if there was a face inside the hood but something gold glinted when the right light hit it. An unshaped head with layers of clay hair and over-emphasized fangs, it looked to Elliot like a vain attempt to do Vincent.

Vincent. Elliot smiled ruefully. Sometime in the dark hours of Perun’s watch and Tamara’s visits, he’d dismissed the idea that Vincent was connected with the sculpture. He might not know much about the leonine man, but anyone connected with Catherine Chandler, close enough to be her lover, wouldn’t have anything to do with Tamara or Perun.

Finishing his task, the mute man hung the last torch by the gates. He squatted watching one of the cavern’s openings.

Another change. Elliot became wary of the situation. He moved closer, up to the locked gate.

Perun didn’t move his head.

Elliot fumbled with the lock, finding it firmly fastened. He sunk his head on the bars, defeated. “Now what?” His voice broke the silence of the room.

Only the torches replied, a crackle and his.

A hour later, Tamara came in, carrying a small plastic case. Perun took her black coat and hat, then disappeared out of the cavern.

Tamara ignored Elliot as she cleared a table opposite the cell.

He watched as she set up a pile of books, then opened the case.

He almost laughed. The contents were a modern contrast with the rest of the room. The camcorder was small and black, and had a padded microphone as well as a long lens. She carefully set it up, aimed it straight at his cell, then pressed a button. The small tape inside popped up. She pressed it down, it closed, and started the camcorder running. A small red eye glowed. She pressed stop.

“What do you have planned, Tamara?” Elliot asked warily.

She walked over to a long cord that dangled next to the hooded cloak. “Our time together is almost over, Mr. Burch.” She pulled hard several times.

The copper tripod over his head began to swing. With each pull, the contents sloshed on the straw and man below.

The fluid soaked his bandages, tattered shirt and pants. It was oil, cooking oil, slightly rancid from the smell.

“Oh, my God. You’re going to burn me alive.”

“The smoke will go straight up. I’ve had fires in there before.”

“And you’re going to FILM it?”

“They require proof of your death.”

“They—Who requires proof? Who—“ Elliot acted in desperation. He shoved as much of the straw as he could into the far corner and added his shirt. The action gave him a coughing spasm and he collapsed.

Tamara watched his preparations in amusement. She walked up to the gate. “In return, I get the deed to an uptown lot, that I believe you had some plans for.”

Elliot blinked. “My Towers lot?” he wheezed.

“They’ve been building again. Those coddled fools of Father’s are being driven closer and closer to me, hemming in my world. For your death, I get the deed.”

“From whom?” His tone was incredulous. “There’s no way they could be building on that…lot! They can’t have probated…my will that fast. I’m not even dead yet!”

“Carl Nichols has control of the property.”

“He CAN’T! Not possible—Tamara, don’t be a fool!” Elliot was desperate. “If you think…Nichols is going to give…up that lot for my death, you’re WRONG!”

“I have seen the deed that Wilson drew up,” she paused for effect, “Complete with Nichols’ signature. Goodbye, Mr. Burch.” She stepped back to the camera and pressed Record.

“Freeze!” A harsh voice cut in. “Move away from that!”

Burch saw a mirage called Robert McCall in the doorway, silver gun taking deadly aim on the woman. Bunch blinked, and realized it really was the man.

Tamara’s face was a study in astonishment. “Who are you?” she asked. “How did you get down here?”

“My God! Robert… McCall?” Elliot sank against the metal bars. “I don’t believe it!”

“Burch? Are you all right?” McCall’s gaze went around the room, noting all the screaming faces, then returned to Tamara. He looked appalled.

Elliot’s reply was cut off by coughing. His body shook.

“Don’t move!” McCall’s voice crackled. Tamara had taken a step closer to the hooded dummy.

“What did you do it for, Tamara?” Vincent asked from the entrance behind McCall.

Her look would have turned him to ash if it could have. “You.”

“You called me here. What do you want with me?”

“Your people are moving into my tunnels, Vincent. I already have to dodge that painter as I come and go. With you gone, they will lose heart and move away.”

Vincent frowned. “Tamara, you didn’t need to go through all this to stop us from encroaching on your territory!”

“Do you think your father would have stopped if he knew? He thinks the underworld is all his. There were people here before he even conceived of setting up his world! The mouse-boy snoops too much."

“Nothing out there, McCall,” Mickey said quietly from behind Vincent. “Just shadows.”

“Shadows that bite, Mickey. Keep a good watch.”

Elliot finally caught his breath. It was getting harder and harder to breath with the dust stirred up from the straw. “Tamara, if I can get back up…there, I can stop them! Let me go…and I will! You can’t trust… NICHOLS!”

“I can trust you?” Her face resembled one of the tortured masks. “No, I don’t think so. Perun!”

The silent giant grasped a torch and pitched it towards Elliot’s cage, directly at the man. He stumbled back as sparks and flames lit the straw and his pants.

“No!” Vincent snarled as he leapt at Perun. They went spinning into a table. Clay dust and shards filled the room.

McCall cursed and headed for Tamara. “MICKEY! Get Burch out of the cell!”

“Watch out! Get back!” Mickey barked at Elliot. Sparks were flying, setting his body alight.

Mickey shot the lock, breaking it, and shoved open the gate. Elliot crawled out as his legs had given way. The most exercise he’d done in the cell was walk the circumference.

McCall loomed out of the dust, tossing Mickey the cloak. “Make sure he’s not on fire! Get out into the—watch out!”

Vincent came rolling into sight. Perun looked as if he was trying to escape, but Vincent had a grip on his throat. The clay sculpture of the woman went crashing into shards. They hit Mickey and Elliot, sending both men into a heap. Mickey’s gun went spinning into darkness.

Elliot was choking. He couldn’t get enough air to breathe clearly. His hands closed around a fragment of the sculpture, and he clung to it as spots began to appear before his eyes.

He felt the strong hands of Mickey helping him up, and wrapping something around him, but his vision was limited to a narrow passage straight ahead. He followed the man’s directions as well as he could.

Mickey hauled him as best he could through the thickening smoke, as the fire caught in the straw. He dodged the contorted faces as they loomed unexpectedly.

He caught sight of McCall at one point, hunting for a good chance to shoot Perun.

The room got darker and darker as torches and candles were smashed in the battle. They reached the outer ledge finally and stopped near the edge of a cliff that fell uncounted meters into darkness.

Elliot coughed uncontrollably. He slumped to the dirt. “Go help him,” he ordered between seizures.

“Sure you can make it?” Mickey asked.

Elliot waved him away, gasping for breath.

 

McCall pulled up his collar, and tried not to breath the smoky air. He had lost Tamara when the fight first started, but he had a feeling that she was still out there. He could tell where the fight was by the sounds and grunts. Frequent crashes came when they hit another table. He was more worried about the woman than Vincent.

A roar nearby grabbed his attention and he saw Vincent had finally torn free. He slashed, once, twice, and the mute man made his only sound, a low guttural moan. The body fell forward slowly into the sand of the cavern.

McCall met Vincent’s fierce eyes and nodded understandingly. “Well done.”

“McCall!” Mickey’s voice work echoes from the walls. “McCall!”

“Over here, Mickey.”

The young man loomed up unexpectedly. “OK?”

“How’s Burch?”

“I left him outside. He’s coughing like he wants to lose his lungs.”

“Smoke probably. Did he burn?”

“He got lightly toasted. Of course, he’s still oiled like a wick.

McCall saw the fire in the cell had reached high enough to reach the remainder of the oil in the copper bowl, and the flames climbed high up the flue. “What a sick way of killing someone. Did you see Tamara?”

“Nope. Let’s get out of here!””

 

Outside, Elliot had finally controlled his breathing. He huddled in the cloak, glad of its warmth after the drafty cell. His lulled sense of safety was broken by footsteps.

He didn’t move. After days in the cell, he could sense Tamara’s presence even without the faint cloud of red dust that always surrounded. He prayed that she thought he was already dead, -- and would not drop a match.

 

Tamara stood over him. She couldn’t tell if Burch was still alive or dead, and really didn’t care. What mattered now was that Vincent, the man who’d ruined her work and life, would come through the door, and she had a gun now, the one that had fallen from the hand of the man who freed Elliot Burch.

She would finish what she’d set out to do, and what Paracelsus had failed to do. Kill Vincent. Then she’d take the camera she’d saved, film Burch’s body riddled with bullets from the same gun, and take the film above.

What came next, she’d deal with later.

 

Elliot opened his eyes. Tamara was standing above him, her hand wrapped around a gun. He heard the hammer click back at the same moment he heard Vincent growl. She swiveled toward the tall man.

“So it’s over,” she said, finger tightening. “Good-bye, Vincent!”

“No!” Elliot grabbed the folds of the cape she was standing on, and yanked hard.

The woman let out a wail as she felt her balance give way. She fell backwards, scrabbling to keep from going over the edge of the cliff. She grabbed at the folds of cloth, dragging it with her. Elliot, using the clay fragment, hit at her hands.

She let go of the cloth and fell over the edge, screaming.

Vincent lunged across Elliot to keep him from being dragged over the cliff after her.

****

Father watched his namesake’s face as they both sat next to the cascading waterfall. The baby was awestruck by the parade of colors flashing from the torrent of water.

He caught sight of Mary in the cave doorway.

She sat down beside him, smiling at the child, who gurgled.

“Is there any news?” Father asked quietly.

“Yes… but not of Vincent.” She stroked young Jacob’s cheek. “Father, the upper tunnels are flooded.”

He sighed and his shoulders drooped. “I was afraid of that. Is everyone out of there?”

“I think so. Mouse is hunting… and getting soaked!” They sat in thoughtful silence for a few seconds.

“I must see to things,” Father said picking up his cane.

“Father?” Mary looked up at him. She patted the seat. “Sit down. I want to talk about something.”

He sat mystified. Mary was being unusually straightforward and blunt. “What is it?”

“I want to ask you about Elliot Burch.”

Father leaned back. “There seems to be a fascination with Burch at the moment.”

“Is he an evil man?”

“No!” Father looked shocked. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

“Your silence. Mouse’s talk. What do you know about him?”

Father gazed at the waterfall. “I don’t know much about him. Vincent knows more. He trusts him. But…Elliot nearly sold him to Gabriel. Vincent chooses to believe that Elliot wasn’t going to hand him over, but…I don’t believe it. I can’t think well of a man who nearly lost us Vincent.”

Mary sighed. “Mouse also had a run-in with Burch—“

Father laughed. “That was the time he got caught sabotaging the Towers site! Catherine never told me how she got Burch to let him go.”

“Burch let Mouse go just because of Catherine? Why?” Mary asked.

“He loved her. Why else?” Father’s mind flicked back to that night when he thought he’d lost Mouse to the judicial system of New York. Then Catherine had appeared with Mouse behind her, freed at the whim of Elliot Burch. Vincent had spoken to Mouse about the stealing, after Father had, and his admonishments had done what Father’s rational discussion couldn’t. If Mouse had ever stolen again from Burch Industries, he had let no one know about it, and had hidden his tracks very carefully. They had been very lucky that the time he was caught, Catherine was in position to help him. And, that Burch had let him go.

Father heard Mary’s voice replay in his thoughts. “Is Burch an evil man?” It was hard to think beyond the negative emotion engendered by the potential loss of Vincent. The man Catherine had spoken of wasn’t a Luciferian Machiavelli whose ethics and morals were totally devoted to greed. Burch was a man like any other man, born to rise to great heights and falls just as fast.

Vincent had asked if Father ever thought of Burch. No. He’d written off the young man without a second thought when Vincent said he was dead. Now in retrospect, he felt a touch of guilt. People shouldn’t be forgotten so fast, not those who had tried to help, even if they failed.

Mary shifted, bringing his attention back. “Mouse doesn’t like him.”

“We’re all likely to get to know Burch a little better if… when they all come back.” Father was prepared to endure Burch for Vincent’s sake.

“I trust Vincent,” she said. “They’ll all be back.”

*****

The four men spent seconds recovering from the battle. Elliot, buried under Vincent’s body, could barely breath. McCall finally stepped forward. “Are you both alive?”

Vincent grunted and rolled off the prostrate man. He pulled him back to safer ground than the cliff’s edge. “Elliot?”

Burch opened his eyes. “Vincent? How’d you get… here?”

Vincent smiled. “We were invited by Tamara.”

“Let’s get moving,” Mickey suggested looking around. “Shadows that might bite, remember, McCall?”

Burch stared at him. “I…know you, don’t I?”

“Santo Erasato. I was the guy you got off the island. Mickey Kostmayer.”

“Oh. Right.” Elliot obviously didn’t remember.

“Let’s move out,” McCall seconded the call. “Can you walk Burch?”

Elliot tried to stand, but his legs wouldn’t hold him. “With a little help…”

Vincent picked him up, cradled like a child, wrapped in the cloak.

“McCall!” Mickey pointed. “Look at this.”

A faint trail walked upward along the cliff's edge.

Vincent saw the path disappear into a doorway set high in the wall. “What about it?”

Mickey strolled forward. “Well, she had to have some way of getting up and down that is faster than the way we came.”

“We don’t have time to experiment, Mickey!” Mark said sharply.

“It’s not our choice anymore, McCall. Look down there.”

Vincent and McCall turned and saw shadows gathering down on the lower path. They firmed into shapes of men and women carrying sticks and bars, and the sound of shuffling feet was audible over the crackle of fire.

Vincent growled. Elliot, in his arms, stirred.

“Vincent…she said she…had allies,” he wheezed.

“There’s no going back, McCall,” Mickey said. “The only way is up.”

“Then let’s go,” McCall said. “Mickey, isn’t that your gun over there?

The young man picked up the gun Tamara had dropped. “I’ll bring up the rear.” He saw something across from the entrance. It was the camcorder reflecting flames from the cavern. He flicked it off, and pulled out the tape. Looks like a long-player. I wonder how long it’s been running…

“Mickey!” McCall called. Mickey jammed the tape into his pocket and ran to catch up. Looking back, he saw a man in ragged clothing and carrying an iron pipe, reach the cavern’s entrance, and step inside.

“McCall?” Mickey called quietly. “I’ve got something for you.” The young man pulled the tape out of his leather jacket.

“What’s—where’d you get that?”

“From the camcorder.” He held it out.

McCall took it, “Interesting. How much is on it?”

“Been running some time from the tape. Probably on all through the fight.”

McCall stowed the tape away in an inside pocket. “Was there a mike on that camcorder, Mickey?”

“Top-of-the-line, McCall. Only the best.”

“Anyone bring…some clothes?" Elliot asked from the depths of the purple cloak.

“Later,” Mickey and McCall said simultaneously.

Chapter Text

Pope sat behind the bank of television screens in the office that had been Julian Gabriel’s. Avatar Enterprises was still a viable company despite the overrunning of the offices by the police and the Securities and Exchange Commission. They had requested access many of the records but most of what they got was above reproach. Pope moved more and more assets to the Cayman Islands beyond the reach of the U.S. government.

The phone rang once before he picked up. “Yes?”

“Sir? There’s a man from Wall Street Business here. He’d like to set up an interview.”

“On what matter?” Pope’s voice was calm.

“The matter of Avatar Enterprises buying parts of Burch holdings, I believe,” the secretary said doubtfully. “He said his name was Frank Hayes.”

“Ah. Him.” Behind the placid tone, Pope’s thoughts ran in convoluted paths. “Tell him I have no comment on current business matters. He can call back in a month or two. I might talk to him then.”

Hanging up, he pressed the button that connected to the outer office camera. A bulky man remonstrated to the secretary, then shrugged and left.

Pope wondered if what Hayes would report if he ever found out Gabriel had tried to kill Burch, and was now – even though he was dead – swallowing Burch’s company. Hayes was a good enough reporter to get the people involved to talk, but not on the record, and he could never have the pieces were below the city. Pope wondered what was happening right now below his feet. He almost picked up the phone to call Wilson but hesitated. No, let the lawyer call me. There is no need to make him more scared than he already is. Wilson would call when he the proof this Tamara woman would provide on Burch’s death. Then Pope would clean up the last loose end.

And be a proper mourner at Wilson’s funeral.

*****

Tamara’s path was rocky. McCall led the way carrying a lit torch, one of the three they’d brought with them, while Mickey and Vincent followed.

Vincent could hear no sounds of pursuit. He had carried Elliot most of the way. The man was so exhausted that Vincent had flatly rejected the idea of letting him try to walk.

He listened to Elliot’s harsh breathing as he carried him. Was this a prince of Above? The emaciated man was a shadow of the man who’d faced him from the dock at the Compass Rose, who’d loved Catherine almost to the point of obsession.

The breathing changed becoming more controlled. Vincent realized that Elliot was awake when his eyes fluttered open.

“Vincent…” A breath of a whisper.

“Elliot?”

“Friends..at last?”

“We could always had been friends, Elliot.”

“Not…before. Not with Cathy…between us.”

Vincent silently acknowledged this with a nod.

“I couldn’t have…shared,” Elliot sighed, and licked his lips. "Tell me what happened…after the boat. Your child?”

“My son is with my Father. He’s a beautiful baby. I can feel him from here, our bond is so strong.”

“What about.. Gabriel?”

“Gabriel is dead.”

Elliot smiled. “I hope it was… painful.”

“I didn’t do it,” Vincent said softly. “But it was clean and quick. It’s over with, Elliot. The nightmare was over.”

“Pity about… Gabriel,” the wounded man whispered. “I would have liked to have…”

“How is he?” McCall asked unexpectedly from the front. He dropped back, letting Mickey lead. “Burch?”

Elliot muttered, “I feel…like hell.”

McCall laughed. “At least you’re honest. I hear a stream around the corner. We can rest there. “

Rounding a corner, they found waterfall pouring down into a dark pond. It sparkled in the torchlight.

“I hope it’s not sewage, McCall,” Mickey commented.

McCall dipped a finger in it, then tasted it gingerly. “Spring water. Tastes OK.”

Vincent set Elliot down carefully. The man’s eyes opened and focused on the men around him. “Oh, good, water. I feel like…an unpopped kernel.”

Mickey chuckled. “Need a hand getting degreased?”

“I wouldn’t turn you…down. I want…a drink too.”

“Mickey, here are the medical supplies I brought. Vincent,” McCall touched his arm, “Can I talk to you?” They retreated back into the passage, warily watching for Tamara’s followers. “I don’t like the way Burch is looking.”

“He won’t die before tomorrow,” Vincent said calmly. “Not before we reach the Tunnels.”

“He’s as weak as a famine victim,” McCall commented. “That coughing sounds like pneumonia. Can Father handle that?”

Vincent smiled. “It won’t be the first time he has had to.”

“Did he tell you anything about what Gabriel did to him?”

“No. He’s not strong enough.” Vincent eyed McCall curiously. “What do you want him to say?”

McCall glanced at Mickey and Burch. “Did Gabriel take him down? All the evidence—“

“Yes. But he was after me, not Elliot,” Vincent said softly. “Elliot was caught in the middle. Can you do anything for him, Robert?”

McCall felt the shape of the videotape under his jacket. “I can make a start. He’s going to have to talk with the D.A. about Mareno though.”

“McCall, I need some help,” Mickey called. “Now!”

*****

 

To Father it was an eternity of waiting. He’d played several games of chess and checked on the damage the builders were doing to the upper caverns, but he couldn’t get his attention off the four men in danger. Finally he’d retreated into the books that lined his study, searching for anything that would distract him. That failed miserably. The way the others were tiptoeing around him didn’t help either.

He had just constructed a scenario of what life was going to be like with Vincent dead, and was trying to reconcile to it, when he heard running footsteps. He reached for his cane and pulled himself upright as Mouse came tumbling in.

“Vincent!”

“Where?”

“Coming back! Sick room,” the boy panted, brushing his hair back out of his eyes.

Father felt a chill of fear. Who was hurt? Vincent? McCall? No, probably it was Burch if they got him back. “Come on, Mouse!”

He met the bedraggled quartet at the infirmary. His eyes went instantly to Vincent then looked at the bundle in his arms.

“Burch?”

“Burch.” Vincent carried the man to an empty bed, laying him down gently.

To McCall the scene looked like a Caravaggio painting, all striking contrasts of light and shadow, bright rich purple cloak and white pallid skin of Burch’s face.

He looked around. The room was fairly well lit, and lined with small cabinets holding bottles. Beyond the bed, McCall see unlit tapers in candlesticks sitting by other beds, stretching through several caves. Roped curtains hung so that they could be dropped sealing each bed off from the others to give privacy.

Father pulled back the cloak and flinched. “What happened here?”

The wound had re-opened enough to soak the bandage that Mickey had applied. McCall couldn’t place what had done so much of Burch’s bruising… but he could imagine, given Tamara’s cavern. And of course, Vincent had landed on him in saving his life.

“Father?” Vincent asked. “He has coughed most of the last two days.”

Father’s medical training took over. “He’s very bad off, Vincent. It sound like pneumonia.”

“You CAN do something, can’t you?”

“Well…I hope with the correct antibiotics. I have to make a full examination. And stop that bleeding. Lift him up.” Father’s attention was completely focused on the wounded man.

“In the meantime, I have some work to do upstairs,” McCall said abruptly. “Can someone take me up?”

“Sure,” Mouse piped up behind them. “Me.”

“Fine.” McCall hoped it would be near his brownstone. The first time he’d trusted these people, it had led to a long walk home from Brooklyn.

“I’ll stay here, McCall.” Mickey met his surprised gaze. “I’m curious.”

“When will we see you again, Robert?” Vincent asked.

McCall pulled the videotape from his pocket. “As soon as I’ve talked to a couple of people. “

****

Joe Maxwell had barely finished his first cup of coffee when his secretary opened the door.

“Joe. You have a visitor.”

“Andrea, I thought I said no visitor! I’ve got to be in court—“

McCall walked past the protesting woman. “I’ll only take a second of your time, Mr. Maxwell.”

“Who are you?” Maxwell said truculently.

“My name is Robert McCall.”

“Oh, yeah.” Maxwell’s tone reassured Andrea that the intruder wasn’t a danger. She retreated to her desk. “Lt. Hands called me telling me about you.”

“I see you have a videocassette player, Mr. Maxwell. Would you like to see a tape I’ve got?” McCall inserted it before Joe could protest.

“I haven’t got time—“

The television screen showed a desperate face. Part of his chest bandaged, covered with oil but very much alive, Elliot Burch was behind iron gates. McCall paused the machine. “Now, Mr. Maxwell, would you please make some time for me?”

“Jesus, that’s Burch!” Maxwell’s gaze went from the screen to McCall, incredulously. He hit the intercom. “Andrea, tell Greg to take that guy to court this morning.” He sat back in the leather chair, his eyes back on the screen. “This had better be real good, McCall.”

“It is.” McCall picked up the remote and switched off the recorder. “But, first, I would like to know the status of your investigation into Julian Gabriel.”

Maxwell flinched. “You read the press, you know what we do. We’re investigating his death. The tip that he killed Cathy Chandler was true.”

“Is there any more on what he did to Burch?”

“Yeah, that’s pretty clear. We could have constructed a whole case against Gabriel for Cathy’s death and the fire at the hotel, but that became moot after he turned up dead. Burch is cleared of the casino deaths if that’s what you mean. Is he still alive?”

McCall ignored the question. “The other charge is the murder of D.A. Mareno.”

“True. But the slashes on Gabriel match the marks on Mareno. Whoever killed Mareno probably killed Gabriel.”

“It couldn’t have been Burch then.”

“Is Burch still alive? When was that tape made?”

“How much blood was there?” McCall asked.

“What?” Maxwell eyed him suspiciously.

“You linked Burch to Mareno’s death by the blood on his clothes.” McCall settled in a chair. “Slashing spills a lot of blood.”

“Burch’s clothing had blood on them!”

“Mareno’s” Maxwell didn’t reply. “Come on, Mr. Maxwell, let’s play lawyer. If the blood didn’t match Mareno’s blood type, then he didn’t kill Mareno.”

Maxwell raised a hand. “We have a witness that will testify that Burch was at the carousel when Mareno was killed. Some of the blood matched. “

McCall settled back. Burch’s protection of Vincent was going to be an obstacle. “A witness?”

“Burch’s chauffeur, Pierson. Burch paid him to keep quiet about Mareno," Maxwell slammed his hand on the desk.

McCall stared at Joe long enough make him feel uncomfortable. “Is he an impeccable witness?”

“We have bank records that show a hundred grand was moved into the chauffeur’s account to pay him off.”

“Are you sure that Burch was the one who gave it to him?” McCall asked mildly.

Maxwell felt a chill go through him. He felt the way he had when he faced Hayes and saw a certainty be blown into smoke curls. “What do you mean?”

“At the start of my investigation into Burch’s disappearance, I talked with a reporter named Hayes. He had been interviewing one of Burch’s lawyers. Burch was certain that Julian Gabriel was out to destroy him. I can’t imagine any better way than to get him framed for murder,” McCall said simply.

Joe sat silently, thinking. “It’s all conjecture. Unless Burch is willing to come clean, my scenario is as good as yours. Is Burch STILL alive?”

“He’s alive and recovering. Gabriel shot him in the back.”

Joe flinched. “Will he testify to that?”

McCall retrieve the tape from videocassette recorder. “I’m sure Burch will help as much as he can. I suggest you check on Gabriel’s bank records, Mr. Maxwell. You may find proof that Burch was set up.”

“Burch is withholding evidence even if he didn’t commit murder,” Joe said. “Are you leaving that with me?” He eyed the cassette.

“This tape isn’t admissible in court, Mr. Maxwell.”

“I could make you leave it,“ Maxwell leaned forward, staring at McCall.

“Oh, come on!” McCall almost laughed. “You know as well as I do, that I could walk out right now and you could do nothing to stop me.”

“What do you want, McCall?”

“I would like you to reconsider your arrest of Elliot Burch on murder chargers since further investigation into the Gabriel-Burch relationship will prove that he is innocent of murder,” McCall said concisely. “I also suggest you look into the death of a lawyer, Edward Richards, who was Burch’s counsel until just after his arrest, and has been found dead just recently.”

Maxwell pulled a file from the bottom of a stack. “I have Richards file right here. Are you accusing Gabriel of killing Richards as well as shooting Burch?”

“It seems likely that Richards was involved with Gabriel one way or another, voluntarily or not, and that he was killed to hide this involvement.”

“I can’t believe this!”

McCall slide the cassette back into his coat. “You might check the records of Richards & Wilson, and check if they did any work for Avatar Enterprises, Gabriel’s business.”

The D.A. tossed the file on the desk. “All right. We’ll play it your way. What do you get out of this, McCall?”

“Justice. For once.”

****

Elliot had watched a candle flicker for what seemed like hours. When he’d first cracked his eyelids, he thought he was back in Tamara’s cavern, with Perun ready to kill him. Then Vincent’s familiar tones reassured him.

The candle melted smaller and smaller as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He could see a plastic tubing leading to an intravenous needle in his arm, just to one side, but his attention was mostly trained on the flame.

Something came between him and the light, plunging him into darkness for a second.

He resented that moment of night. It was like Death had flicked a wing over him. Death has been very, very close this time. Perhaps I should change my lifestyle so it never gets that close again.

He shifted his gaze to the man who had blocked the candle. He was older man, distinguished, a scholar from the thick book he laid on a table. Elliot had always felt slightly uncomfortable with intellectuals. He was mostly self-taught, a quick study, but a slight inferiority complex remained. Cathy had been one of the few who’d reached him…then she left.

The candlelight flickered again as a body backed in the curtain. He carried a small tray. The bowl and two glasses on it wobbled dangerously.

“Father?” The voice was tenor, eager, a young man’s voice. Elliot saw bright blew eyes when the boy turned to the older man.

‘Father’ marked his spot in a book he’d picked up. “Is that what Mary made for me, Mouse?”

“Yes.” Mouse shot a glance at the prone figure on the bed. “Him?”

“Yes that’s ‘him.’” What the hell did that mean?, Elliot thought. “Take a good look at him, Mouse. He doesn’t look half as fearful now as he did above.” Father’s voice harshened as he stared at the boy.

Elliot saw Mouse flinch, his gaze dropping. Elliot had no idea of what this ‘Father’ must be talking about. He could have worn he’d never seen the boy before.

“Mouse more careful now.”

“Mouse, everyone knows how you feel about Burch!”

The boy looked mulish. His lips compressed tightly with frustration. “Built Tower.”

“He was stopped.” Father stumped over to the boy putting an arm around his shoulders. “Mouse, I want you to give him a chance. At least stop spreading your tales!”

“Vincent took his message! Got hurt!” Mouse protested.

Elliot mentally winced. That was brutally truthful and nothing would ever change the fact that he’d nearly betrayed Vincent to Gabriel on the Compass Rose.

Vincent might have forgiven him, but others weren’t apparently.

“That’s VINCENT’s business!” Father said harshly. “Vincent also brought him back here. Let it rest, Mouse.”

The boy nodded reluctantly. His blue eyes were filled with suspicion and fear as he looked back at Burch. Elliot couldn’t imagine why his person inspired such emotions, especially in his current condition. He heard the curtain rustle as he left.

Elliot tried to speak, emitting only a groan. Father came over.

“Mr. Burch? Don’t try to speak. It wouldn’t be wise.”

“Who are..” Elliot ignored his command. He choked, and struggled for breath.

Father chided him. “I told you not to try that. You’ve had a long night of it.” He hesitated, then said, “You nearly died.”

Another billow of curtain betrayed a visitor.

“Father?” Vincent’s voice was low. He cast a huge shadow against the wall. “How is he?”

Father turned. “I think he will survive, Vincent.”

“I expected it,” Vincent ribbed him gently. “You’re his doctor.”

The other smiled. The bond of affection between them was almost palpable. “It will be a couple of days before he can be moved though, Vincent.”

“He won’t need an operation then?”

“No.”

Elliot was vastly relieved. He had a dislike of hospitals and this wasn’t even a hospital, this was a doctor’s cramped back room. He had to trust Vincent’s ‘Father’ as he trusted Vincent.

“Then we can send Mickey back up to McCall?”

“Good heavens, I’d forgotten about the boy! What he been doing?”

“He’s been with Mouse.”

Father looked a bit fearful. “What are they doing?”

“McCall said Mickey enjoyed building things that blew up. We know Mouse will build just about anything—“

“They aren’t contemplating blowing anything up, are they?” Father protested. “That is NOT the way I want it stopped!”

Vincent laughed. “Mickey promised me sincerely that he wouldn’t build anything that would be destructive. Not even to blow up Arthur.”

“What’s Arthur done?”

“Drew blood with the first slash.” Mouse’s raccoon was heavily territorial.

Rumble! The room shook. Father grabbed the candle that was in danger of tipping over. “That blasting again!”

“That was what I came to speak to you about. Mary wants to discuss moving to other quarters.”

The older man signed. “Stay here, Vincent. Call me if he starts to choke.”

“I’ll call you.”

Father limped out of the room. Elliot saw the candle flicker. The flame was almost below the rim of the small bowl it was set in. He watched Vincent take another from a shelf, and light it, snuffing the old flame almost ritualistically.

The cat-like face no longer startled him. When he’d first seen Vincent it had been a shock, enough to hurt the other man’s feelings, causing him to retreat. Their other meetings had been dangerous with Gabriel following Burch’s every movement like a hawk. Elliot felt like had been on a playground whirligig, spinning fast and faster, a world no longer in focus, in dangerous of falling off to his death at any moment.

Now the world was still fuzzy-edged, but it no longer felt like it was running away from him. Elliot hadn’t felt this peaceful since he graduated from Pratt with his architect’s degree.

Tamara’s had been harsh red and brown with shadows clustered in every corner. Vincent’s world was all warm cinnamon browns and flickering yellows, a misty world with few sharp edges. Here was a world safe from the knife-edged uncertainties of life.

Elliot wasn’t sure that he could take it for very long. He remembered walking on the white sand beaches of Santo Erasato, climbing through Brazilian rain forest, looking at the Pyramids at dawn. He wouldn’t have given up his life, not even for the security of this place.

Vincent eyed him from the chair next to the bed.

“Vincent,” Elliot finally said.

“How long have you been awake, Elliot?”

“A little while. Who is…Father?”

“He is my father,” Vincent said simply. “He found me, raised me. He built this world.”

“This world. It’s… beneath the city?”

“Yes.”

“Beneath…my Tower?

“Some of it,” Vincent replied honestly. “They have broken through directly below your tower.

“They said it was…flooding.”

“Don’t exert yourself, Elliot. Some of the Tunnels are flooded, yes, but not these.”

Elliot stared at him unblinkingly. “Vincent…why did you go down there?”

Vincent had a trace of a smile. “As I said before, I was invited. By Tamara.”

“For me?” Elliot persisted. “You have the boy…now. Why—“

“You would have done the same for me,” Vincent said.

Damn! Vincent had slid right into the chink in Elliot’s armor. Vincent, he thought, did what Cathy had done – appealed to the best in him, his non-practical, sentimental, honorable streak. The side he’d suppressed over many years in business. Somehow both of them always got him to do what he swore he’d never do. I can either give up and show a streak of ‘softness’ or just turn my back on it altogether. “Why did McCall? And Mickey?”

“Ask them.”

“I will stop the…building,” Elliot said with determination. “That…I can do!”

“We need your help, Elliot. We can’t stop them without you.”

“Your world. What IS your world…Vincent?” Elliot asked. “Why does Mouse dislike me?

“I will tell you about Mouse later. I wish I could give you a tour, Elliot. But for now, sleep. There is time enough for discussion later.”

Elliot wanted to dispute his weakness but he couldn’t. He closed his eyes and sank into sleep.

Chapter Text

McCall waited in the huge front hallway for the maid to return. Nichols’ home was ugly nouveau-rich - the signs of a self-made man who was a hoarder by nature. Porcelain statues by different artists decorated the niches in the cool grey marble hallway. Electric candles sconces lit the wall, giving the rooms an overall dim tonality.

McCall couldn’t help feeling that the foyer was seldom used except to impress people.

He’d spent time with Frank Hayes. The reporter’s information had been the dynamite he promised. McCall wondered how the reporter had managed to get a summary of Burch’s personal holdings but the uptown site that Nichols was building on had belong to the builder personally. As part of Burch’s estate, it wasn’t attachable by the bankruptcy court against Burch Industries’ debts. That meant whole land sale was illegal. The disposition of the land was in limbo until Burch’s death was proven. .

McCall had fobbed off the reporter on Burch’s status, promising him the full story as soon as he could give it. Hayes had taken the promise with a grain of salt. McCall had had to lose him on the way to Nichols’ mansion.

“Mr. McCall?” Coming down the stairs, Nichols greeted his unexpected visitor. He must have been relaxing since his bowtie and tuxedo were undone and his hair was disordered.

“Mr. McCall?”

“Mr. Nichols?”

“This is a hell of a time to call.”

McCall nodded. “I’m sorry, Mr. Nichols, but we have some business to conduct, and I thought it shouldn’t wait.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “Business? May I help you?”

McCall hefted a videotape in one hand. “May I show you this? It's about Burch.” They walked into Nichols’ study.

It was the same tape McCall had shown Joe but now the ending was different. Pete Austin, McCall’s video whiz, had spent a day and a half crafting the special effects that ended it with Burch’s death.

McCall watched Nichols’ face as Elliot plead for his life in Tamara’s cavern. There was horror, a trace of sick fascination, and shock when Tamara mentioned the document. As Elliot’s form dissolved in flames, Nichols turned away walking to one of the tall windows. Opening it wide, he took a deep breath. Then he turned around. “My God.”

McCall measured his response. It was normal. Maybe Nichols hadn’t been part of the attempt on Burch’s life?

“Mr. McCall, why did you show me that? Where did you get it?” Nichols pleaded.

“I showed it to you because, you and Mr. Wilson, are building on the uptown site that belonged to Burch. This makes a pretty convincing reason for Burch's death.”

“I am building, yes, you saw that, but I had nothing to do with that tape, Mr. McCall! I would never kill for a building site!”

“Burch accuses you with his dying breath.”

Nichols slammed his hands on his desk. “I know nothing about it! I’m just a builder!”

McCall put out the tape and laid it on the desktop. “You should have a discussion with Mr. Wilson about this.”

“Where did you get it, McCall? What do you want from me?” The man’s face was white with fear.

“Where I got it was unimportant. What I will do with it…”

“McCall, I’ll pay you for it!”

McCall considered for a second. “If you are innocent, Mr. Nichols, why should you want to suppress this information?”

Nichols wiped his face. Beads of sweat stained his collar despite the icy wind coming in the window. “I’ve worked for years to get where I am. I don’t want to lose my business! That tape’s a lie. I don’t know anything about Burch’s death! All I wanted was the site and I paid through the nose for it!”

“Paid?” McCall scented blood.

“Wilson! He got me the deeds and filed the papers.”

“Wilson was acting illegally when he signed over the land to you. He didn’t have the right to do that.”

“Sure he did! It was part of the bankruptcy proceedings!”

“It was Burch’s personal property. There's proof.”

Nichols yanked at his collar. “McCall, get me out of this.”

“What will you give me?”

“I’ll give you – what do you want?”

“I want you to give us everything. Tell Joe Maxwell about Wilson. You may get out of this. Otherwise, you’ll be in prison within the month.”

Nichols drooped, a broken man. “All I wanted to do… McCall, you’ll get Wilson? I SWEAR I had nothing to do with Burch’s death!”

“Tomorrow morning, call the site. Tell them to stop work. Call Wilson and get the truth.” McCall walked over to the door, then turned. “Mr. Nichols, the land sale was illegal. It still belongs to Burch.”

*****

“WILSON!” The scream out of the telephone could be heard inches away. The lawyer winced.

“Nichols, how—“

“Goddamn it, how could you do this to me?”

“Do what?” Wilson had the uneasy feeling he should have left town days ago.

“You know what it’s about! You contracted to get Burch killed!”

“Impossible. Elliot Burch is just missing. He’s been—“

“Dammit, I have a tape that shows him burning to death! He accused us of killing him! What’s the hell’s going ON, Wilson?”

“What tape is this? Can you bring it over here?” Wilson said urgently.

“I’ll meet you down at the site, you bastard, and you’d better have a good explanation!”

“I’ll meet you there in twenty minutes. Bring the tape.”

“Bring your portable machine.”

Wilson stared at the now-humming phone, assessing his position. Apparently, Tamara had come through and Burch was dead. One in the plus column. How the hell had Nichols gotten the proof? Had she taken it to him? Why? Was Tamara still around?

He called Pope, tapping the mute twice as soon as the man picked up.

“Pope here.”

“Wilson. We’ve got a problem.”

“Burch.”

“Yeah, he’s dead. Tamara apparently torched him on videotape! But he accuses me of setting it up!”

“You have this tape, don’t you?” Pope said calmly.

“I can get my hands on it.” Wilson felt sweat trickle down his back.

“Who has it?”

“A builder named Carl Nichols.”

“How did—never mind. You don’t have anything to worry about if you get the tape, Wilson. You’ll have to take care of Mr. Nichols.”

“You mean murder?”

“Or money. Avatar will advance you a loan if necessary.” Pope paused. “Come on, Mr. Wilson, don’t say you are squeamish at this late date? You were the one who contracted for Burch’s death. You picked up your partner’s daughter from school and brought her to us.”

“I didn’t know you’d kill her!” Wilson hissed. “It seems that there is too much killing going on!”

“It’s in your self-interest to get the tape from Mr. Nichols and ensure he doesn’t talk about it. I suggest you do it neatly and without loose ends.”

“I’m meeting Nichols tonight. I’ll tell him to hold on, maybe sweeten it with a little money, and get the tape.”

“Good. Take care of it. Report to me afterwards.” Pope hung up.

Wilson set down his phone softly. It was going to be a long night.

****

When Elliot awoke, the chair was empty. He flexed his hands. They barely hurt. His chest felt better thought his throat was raw from coughing. Better. He opened his eyes.

Mickey pulled aside the curtain.

Elliot waved a greeting.

“How’re you feeling?” Mickey asked softly.

“Better. I want to talk…to you.” Elliot pulled himself to a half-sitting position, moving on the pillows with a grimace of pain “I want to know what is going on.”

Mickey settled into the wooden chair. “From what McCall sent down in his last message, he’s clearing you with Maxwell.”

“What about the site?”

“They’re still blasting.”

“I’m going to stop that.”

“If you want anything left of Burch Enterprises,” Mickey said, “you’d better start thinking of ways around Mareno's murder. Avatar is sniffing around the properties.”

For a millisecond Elliot wondered if his company was worth fighting for. Then anger grew, the anger that kept him going even in the face of Gabriel’s persecution. He wasn’t going to give in. “My problems stem from Gabriel. I will tear Avatar…to pieces when I get back. Maxwell…”

“Is looking forward to meeting you,” Mickey finished cheerfully. “And there’s another guy who’s been really helpful. Frank Hayes.”

“Of Wall Street Business. A good man…for a reporter.”

“Yeah, he found out the real ownership of the uptown site.” Mickey grinned. “That must have been a real shock for Nichols.”

“I have plans for that…site,” Elliot said firmly. “I didn’t …ever want to lose it.”

“You’ve got one more person who is looking forward to your arrival. A very young lady.”

“Who?” Elliot said puzzled. His mind ran over his list of conquests. Not one of them were below the age of consent.

“The person who found this.” Mickey lifted the coat he had found abandoned in the study.

Elliot studied it. “I was wearing it…when I went overboard. How’d you get it?”

“A girl named Jodie gave it to us,” Mickey chuckled. “And she’s looking forward to seeing you very much.”

“Jodie!” Memories came back to Burch in a rush. “My God, I thought Tamara…had killed her! Wherever did you find her?”

“Back where you washed up. She went back there.” Mickey stretched. “You should do something for her, Elliot. Without her information, we would have written you off for dead.”

“When I get upstairs, I’ll help her.”

“How’s the back feeling?”

“Hurts like a sore tooth. When can I get out of here?”

“Talk to Father. He probably wants you out of here as much as you want to move.”

Elliot grinned. “If I wasn’t tied to this bed, I’d be…more interested in staying.”

Mickey shook his head. “You should check out Mouse’s room, Elliot. It’s full of more bric-a-brac than the city dump.”

“Mouse…tell me about Mouse,” Elliot said. “He doesn’t like me.”

“No sin in that,” Mickey joked. He sobered at Elliot’s expression. “Sorry, very poor joke. From what he said, he was ‘liberating’ stuff from one of the building sites and got caught by your security staff.”

Elliot frowned. “He was caught stealing…and holds it against me?”

“He calls it ‘taking.’ But, yeah, you’re right.“

Elliot shut his eyes for a second, then took a deep breath, opening them again. Now he understood better Father’s harsh words. If the only contact he’d had with Mouse had been that incident, no wonder he was disliked.

“Yeah,” Mickey agreed. “I got a question for you.”

“Shoot.” Elliot winced at the unintentional pun.

Mickey laughed. “Why’d you get me off Santo Erasato?”

“”Santo… oh, yeah. I… honestly, I don’t remember. It seemed the best thing to do…at the time.” Elliot’s memories of Santo Erasato were depressing. He honestly couldn’t remember why he’d saved Mickey and Stock. Maybe it was just to cheat Torion.

“Yeah. Well, thanks. You saved my life.”

They eyed each other for a second. Mickey grinned. “Are you having trouble with that moustache?”

****

McCall’s black Jaguar was parked outside the mansion. He’d thought the tape would light a fire under the man, and apparently it had. He slid lower in the bucket seat as Nichols drove away.

The two cars glided through the late night traffic as McCall followed him to the building site. At night it was deserted, Bright lights shone on the tops of the wire fence and a red light swing in the icy breeze outside the foreman’s office. McCall stopped a half-block away and watched Nichols park, and go inside.

He picked up his car phone and tapped in a number. The phone rang once before someone picked up.

“Yeah? D.A.’s office.”

“Mr. Maxwell, this is Robert McCall.”

“What do you want?” Joe sounded tired.

“I need your help. I have a firm belief that Mr. Wilson is going to commit murder in the next hour, the murder of Carl Nichols. I believe it will be at the uptown site where Burch Towers were going to be.”

“What?”

“I suggest you join me now.” McCall read off the address, then replaced the telephone. He sat back and waited for Wilson and Maxwell to arrive. Occasionally, McCall spotted a white coat going back and forth inside the office as Nichols paced. There were no other signs of life.

A Mercedes pulled up, and the red-haired man, got out carrying some video equipment. He walked into the office.

McCall got out and slunk forward, keeping to the shadows. He could hear the voices inside. The building hadn’t been soundproofed when it was built.

“I have the machine here,” Wilson said. “Where’s the tape?”

“Here’s the damned tape!”

A minute later, McCall heard Wilson say sharply, “God! What a way to go! Where did you get this?”

“I got it from Robert McCall. That guy we met at the site last week? He’s threatening to give it to the D.A.!”

“I can buy McCall off,” Wilson said confidently.

“It’s TRUE, then?” Nichols said in disbelief. “You contracted to kill Burch?”

“Does it really matter, Nichols?” The lawyer's voice dropped. “If Burch is dead, then you never have to worry about losing this site. No body is going to turn up.”

Nichols came into view. McCall could see incredulous horror on his face. “What are talking about? I didn’t bargain on murder!”

“This McCall is the only one who knows about this tape, right? And you and I. I’ll take care of McCall!”

A hand caught McCall’s arm. He reacted instinctively, flinging the owner against the metal fence.

Maxwell cursed.

“Shh!” McCall snapped. “How long have you been here?”

“Long enough to hear what’s going on!”

“Do you have enough to arrest Wilson for contracting Burch’s death?”

Joe’s teeth gleamed. “More than enough for that, McCall.”

“Then we’d better go before Wilson decided to cut his losses.” The men moved in, followed by two uniformed officers.

The door was flung open before they reached it. Nichols stalked out, flinging his words behind him. “Wilson, if you think we can win this, I’ll trust you. But—“ He came face-to-face with Maxwell.

Joe jumped Nichols as he tried to flee.

McCall brushed past the fight into the office and hit Wilson who was reaching for his gun. They hit the floor, sending the desk chairs spinning into the water cooler. It burst, soaking them both.

“McCall!” Joe burst in. “What—Peters! Grab him.”

Maxwell and Peters hauled Wilson off McCall and pinned him to the wall. “You okay, McCall?” Joe asked.

The detective shivered in his soaked coat, despite the adrenalin flowing through his veins. “Where’s Nichols?”

“Outside with Greg, handcuffed to the fence.” Joe turned to the lawyer

Wilson panted his eyes going from one man to the other. “What’s going on here?”

“Oh, come on,” Joe scoffed. “We heard everything you said. I’m Joe Maxwell, the District Attorney.”

“Mr. Maxwell, are you accusing me of some crime?”

“Mr. Wilson, I’m arresting you for the attempted murder of Elliot Burch.”

Wilson’s brows snapped together. “I thought he was missing! Attempted?”

“He’s been in protective custody,” McCall said. “He’s very much alive.”

“I want to see a lawyer.”

“Too bad, your partner’s dead,” Maxwell snapped. “Read him his rights and take him away!” The officer hustled the lawyer outside. “McCall? How you doin’?”

McCall gave a shrug, shedding cold water. “Burch said Wilson was going to give his killer a deed to this lot. I suggest we go to Richards & Wilson—

A shot split the icy night.

They ducked. Another shot splintered the thin wooden walls, narrowly missing Joe.

A door crashed open. Maxwell swiveled, gun ready. “Peters! Get down!”

The policeman dropped, holding his bleeding arm. “Maxwell, Wilson’s dead!”

“What?” Maxwell started crawling for the door.

McCall snagged an ankle, stopping him. “Don’t be ridiculous! If that sniper’s still out here, he could be after you too!”

Maxwell looked at Peters. “What about Greg?”

“He’s calling for help.

“Nichols?”

“He’s in the car. We were just putting Wilson in when he got picked off.”

Joe cursed steadily under his breath. “How’s the arm?”

Peters shrugged. “I’ll survive. That was a hell of a shot, Joe. Took Wilson right in the head.”

McCall remembered a shot that had nailed Burch in the back according to Vincent. The same sniper? Someone must have ordered a hit on Wilson. Then who was running the scene now?

They heard the sound of sirens on the night air. “About time,” Joe muttered.

A head poked around the door. “Mr. Maxwell?”

“Watch out, there’s a sniper!”

“Yes sir. My partner caught him a block away.”

“Great! So we can find out who ordered the hit. And don’t tell me Julian Gabriel, McCall, because the man’s dead.”

“I think,” McCall scrambled to his feet, “that Mr. Wilson had become a liability. If you check the phone records, you might find out who he might have called this evening that would want him dead if he failed to silence Mr. Nichols.”

Maxwell winced. “More paper work.”

“If the sniper talks, you may not have to deal with the phone company,” McCall advised.

“When do I get Burch?” Maxwell asked.

“Soon. Very, very soon.”

*****

McCall drove to Central Park, parking the Jaguar in one of the guarded parking lots. He walked past the carousel, to the sewer entrance. Finding it barred, he hit the bars a couple of times. “Get Vincent!” he yelled. Then he waited, reiterating his demand every five or ten minutes.

It didn’t take long. Vincent appeared on the other side of the grill.

“McCall?”

“How’s Burch?”

“Recovering.”

“Good. I need to talk to him.”

“Come inside.” Vincent led the way down to the infirmary.

They awoke Elliot, who had been sleeping. He sat up, winced, then pulled himself up up on the pillows. Mickey came out of the tunnels followed by Mouse and Father.

McCall took up a stance by the end of the bed. “Tonight, I stopped Nichols from doing any more building in the near future.”

Father’s jaw dropped.

“How?” Elliot finally asked.

“Nichols didn’t know anything about the contract on your life, Elliot. When he found out, he went straight to Wilson who had sold the land to him. Maxwell and I heard enough to prove Nicholas innocent. Unfortunately, Mr. Wilson was killed by a sniper before we could get any further information—“

“Killed!” Father said sharply.

“Shot through the head. Maxwell is looking forward to talk with you, Burch.”

“Is he still going to arrest me… for Mareno?”

“Unless you can come up with a good story, the charge is going to stand. They have a witness that you were there. Your chauffeur.”

“Pierson?”

“He says he got paid a hundred thousand dollars for covering for you.”

Elliot shook his head. “It wasn’t from me. I never discussed it with…oh, God. Of course, I did wonder how Mareno and his thug found me that night. Pierson must have called Mareno and set me up!”

“Prove that and his evidence goes down the drain,” Mickey said calmly. “If you turn state’s evidence about what Gabriel was doing, they might drop the charge.”

“The case is weak as it is,” McCall said. “Still, the sooner you talk with Maxwell, the better.”

“Maxwell doesn’t know anything about the Tunnels,” Father put in warningly.

“The sooner you come back to life, Elliot, the sooner you can stop Nichols,” Vincent said.

“Then let’s go,” the wounded man said flatly.

Father frowned. “It is a little close to dawn, McCall.”

“Yeah, and if you’re driving the Jag, you’ll never get him in,” Mickey cut in unexpectedly. “Better let me bring around the truck.”

“That’s a good idea,” McCall agreed. “Park it next to the storm entrance and we can take him out.”

“Mouse,” Father ordered, “Take Robert and Mickey above. Vincent and I will get Elliot ready. Robert! Call a Doctor Peter Alcott. Tell him I sent you. He’s a helper. I’ll go get a stretcher.”

“That’ll help,” Mickey said. “Let’s go.”

 

Elliot found himself deserted as everyone dispersed. He pushed back the covers, and swung his legs out of the bed. They wobbled dangerously when he stood. After a couple of seconds he sat down, and leaned back, resting. It was going to be a long struggle to recovery.

Vincent stepped into the room holding a bundle. He watched the man silently, but waited until he’d settled. “Elliot?”

“Vincent?”

“You’re leaving. I thought you should meet—“

“Your son?”

“Catherine’s son." Vincent walked forward, the bundle stirring. A small fist grabbed at the blond hair. “Here. Hold him.”

Elliot’s eyes filled. What could have been rose up and choked him.

The child stared at him. He touched the small fist, and it instantly uncurled and grasped his. The baby smiled.

One person who approves of me. Catherine, I wish you were here to see this. I think you’d approve too.” He shifted the baby carefully as he took him.

Vincent watched the naked emotion on Burch’s face. He wondered why Elliot put so much effort into presenting a façade of harsh flint and unresponsiveness, when underneath was an emotional man of great heart. The World Above put great emphasis on the denial of compassion and companionship, leaving its inhabitants alone among the glassy towers and red-bricked apartment buildings. He knew Elliot wouldn’t want him to ever know how much he saw in this moment of an Elliot that Catherine could have fallen in love with – if Vincent hadn’t been there.

The baby made a grab at Elliot’s shaggy hair, catching the longer strands. He yanked.

“Ouch!” Elliot protested. “Vincent, call him off!”

The baby gurgled happily and pulled again.

Both men laughed. The sound rolled out of the tiny cubicle, relaxing the tension which had started when Vincent entered. The baby smiled at the sound.

“He’s beautiful, Vincent. He has your eyes.”

“Catherine’s hair.”

“And your coloring. Hopefully, he’ll grow up a honorable man…like his father,” Elliot said seriously.

“I named him Jacob, after my father,” Vincent replied in a like tone. “And he will be the next generation.”

“If he needs a friend upstairs, tell him to come to me,” Elliot said. “I’ll try.”

“Are you ready to go? I have some clothes,” Father broke in. “And your coat, Elliot. Mary repaired it as best she could.”

“I’ll take him back,” Vincent said, holding out his hands.

Elliot relinquished the baby reluctantly. It was the last trace of Catherine he would have. “I’m ready.”

Chapter Text

March 15

Missing Girl found in New York City returns home by Janice Mills. Special to the Times-Union

DUCK HILL, Alabama.

Alicia Gellis who disappeared four years ago at age four has been found. With the help of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the assistance of real estate titan Elliot Burch, the child was returned to her parents. Alicia, who answers to the name Jodie, was discovered in New York City. It is believed that her abductor was a drifter, and is now deceased.

***

Elliot stood outside the abandoned building site. New York was alight around him. The wire fence was rusting in the late spring humidity.

He was here for a meeting. It had been almost five months since he’d heard for Vincent, so he’d left a message with the saxophonist contact at the Delaney meeting house for Vincent to meet him at the site.

Looking down he could see the naked skeleton of the building Nichols had planned. Burch’s reappearance had tied Nichols in so much litigation that the builder had returned the site with relief, washing his hands of the deal.

Burch looked around at the empty street. It was almost midnight. “Vincent!”

A huge ghostly form flitted from street light to street light before it reached him. “Elliot.”

“I want to tell you what I have planned.”

“How are you?” Vincent asked sincerely.

The man sighed as he crossed his arms. “How am I? I told you about building a sand castle once, one that was washed away by the tide? Gabriel washed away my company, Vincent, and I can’t ever build it again.” He stared at Vincent. “And I am not going to try.”

“You’re leaving?” Vincent asked.

“I’m starting over again somewhere else. I might be innocent but the business world doesn’t think so.”

Vincent waved his hand toward the darkened site. “What about this?”

“This? I’ve sold it.”

Vincent sucked in his breath.

“To a coalition of builders and the community. The plans are for a theatre/residential building to go up." Elliot put his hands on the rusting wire and looked down. “There will be no more blasting, Vincent. In fact, they’ll have to fill in a lot of the site.” He paused, assessing the effect of his words.

“A theater,” Vincent finally said. “A residential building. What do you get out of this, Elliot?”

“Freedom. My company is heavily in debt, Vincent. I have to liquidate the remainder of Burch Enterprises.”

“I’m sorry.” Vincent’s words were sincere. “I wish it had ended differently.”

Elliot chuckled harshly. “Yeah. Me too. One other thing, Vincent. When they searched Wilson’s office, they found a deed to this property made out to a Jacob Wells.” He paused as Vincent perceptibly started. “The deed was a forgery. Maxwell recognized the name, though. I don’t know what trick you folks were playing with the D.A., but he’s curious as hell. I suggest you avoid him as much as possible.”

He laid his hand on Vincent’s sleeve. “I’ll be back one day. You folks haven’t seen the last of me.”

“Good.”

*****

Jonathan Pope looked at the naked girls on the beach sunning themselves in the August sun.

Here in Santo Erasato, he was known as Frank Botner, a lawyer from Washington D.C., with extensive cash reserves. Doctor Torion accepted him without questions with his connections with the late Julian Gabriel. In fact, he’d become Torion’s principal lawyer.

He regretted leaving the United States. The sniper had finally broken, and Maxwell invaded Avatar only hours after his plane took off.

But Burch had gone down as well. It was small consolation for exile. Someday,he vowed, he’d finish Burch for good.

*****

Robert McCall stepped into the covered atrium of the Chandler Theatre built on the Burch Towers lot. The air conditioning took the curse off the unexpectedly humid October air. Well-dressed patrons circled the blossoming rose bushes, set in iron grates, sipping champagne and eating refreshments.

The special premiere of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Henry V had gone off well. McCall had gotten his ticket free, though he suspected it was through Burch’s influence. The man hadn’t been in New York for a year and a half, though.

He paused by a flowering rose bush. Red blossoms had been grafted to a white blossom bush made a startling contrast.

“Do you like them?” A familiar voice startled him.

He turned. Burch stood behind him, tanned and fit, wearing a tuxedo.

“It’s good to see you again. This theatre was your idea, wasn’t it?”

The builder smiled. “My plans at least. I don’t know who talked the RSC into doing Henry.”

“The triumph of a young man over insurmountable odds? Must have been a friend of yours who chose it.”

“There are very few that still fit that description,” Burch said quietly. “Strange thing about this bush, Robert. When they started to plant, they found one extra. This bush. It was so stunning they decided to give it a place of honor.”

McCall studied him. “Why is it so special to you?”

“I think it’s hard to grow roses in the dark.” Elliot gestured down.

“Interesting thought,” McCall replied. “Have you heard anything from them?”

“Not since I arrived in New York.”

“Do you think you will?”

“I doubt it.” Elliot took two champagne flutes from a passing waiter, and handed one to McCall. “By the way, did I ever say thank you for saving my life?”

“I don’t recall if you did or not.”

Elliot’s voice dropped lower. “If you ever need me, McCall, call me. Any time, any place. I’ll do what I can. Mickey, too.”

“I hope the next time we meet, we don't need each other’s help,” McCall said quietly.

“Another familiar face,” Burch murmured as a man came out of the theater. “Joe, it’s good to see you.”

Maxwell came up, a champagne flute in his hand. “It’s nice to see you again, Burch. Been too long.”

“I would have thought you saw enough of me,’ Elliot laughed. "Did you ever finish detangling Avatar Enterprises?”

The D.A. grimaced. “I left it up to the white-collar guys down the hall. What’re you been up too?”

“Surviving,” Elliot replied. “Just surviving.”