Labyrinth – Catherine Coulter

Sherlock had the next hour planned out to the minute. A quick stop at Clyde’s Market for mozzarella cheese for Dillon’s lasagna and some Cheerios for Sean’s breakfast tomorrow, then thirty minutes at the gym: Йfteen minutes on the treadmill and some quick upper-body work, that is if she managed to avoid Tim Maynard, a newly divorced ЙreЙghter who kept putting the moves on her. She was bummed she couldn’t be with Dillon at the gym as usual, sweating her eyebrows oА, but she’d been tied up in a meeting about the Mason Springs, Ohio, middle school murders. She thought of Agent Lucy McKnight, who’d been in the meeting with her until she had to run out to throw up. Lucy was four months pregnant now, nearly over the heaves, she had announced when she’d returned to the meeting, and everyone had applauded. Sherlock, Shirley, the CAU secretary and commandant, and Agent Ruth Noble were giving Lucy a just-beyond Йrst-trimester party this Friday evening at Shirley’s condo. Not a baby shower, too early for that. Their gift to her would be two pairs of pants with elastic waists. Sherlock Мashed back to her own pregnancy with Sean, how happy and terriЙed she’d been. Lucy had a good man in Agent Coop McKnight. Whata wild ride the two of them had had before they’d hooked up. Sherlock had only enough time to jerk the wheel left, fast and hard, before the black SUV struck her passenger side. The impact hurled her Volvo into a parked sedan, and then spun her into the oncoming traГc. The world sped up, blurred into insanity. As if from a great distance, she heard horns honking, screaming metal, yells.

Her Volvo struck the front fender of a truck, glanced oА, hit a sedan trying to swerve out of her way, ricocheted oА yet another swerving car. Her head slammed against the steering wheel an instant before the airbag exploded in her face. She heard a sharp thunk and saw only a Мash of what looked like a body Мying across the hood of the Volvo, and bouncing oА her wildly spinning car. Her brain registered splattered blood on the windshield—she’d hit someone. He’d come out of nowhere. She looked at all the blood, so much blood. Hers? The person’s she’d hit? The world turned round and round, a whirling kaleidoscope of colors and shapes, until they ended when the Volvo’s rear end slammed into a fire hydrant. Her head was thrown violently forward into the bag and she was out. 2 Justice Cummings ran hard out of the alley between two brick buildingsand into the street, looking back over his shoulder at the man and woman who were chasing him. He wasa geek, nota runner, and he was surprised they weren’t closer.

It had been a Мuke he’d gotten away from them. They’d been slowed down by a homeless man who’d shuЖed between them, his head down, mumbling. Justice didn’t know who they were, but they had to know he was CIA. There was no doubt in his mind they were out to take him, or worse. But why him? Why now? His brain squirreled around. All he could think of was the bizarre chatter he’d been picking up on the Russian dark web, some new kind of covert surveillance technology they were interested in, chatter his bosses hadn’t thought worth pursuing. But why attack him? Besides, how could anyone outside the campus have found out about anything he did? He never spoke about his work when he left Langley, he knew the rules. He was vaguely aware of shouts and screams as he ran all-out into the street to get away from those people. He never saw the wildly spinning Volvo until it struck him, sent him airborne. His face smashed against the windshield, and he kept Мying, the force of the impact bouncing him over the hood.

He landed on his side, not a foot from a car sitting sideways in the street, the driver yelling out the window toward the still-spinning car. Adrenaline rushed through him. He couldn’t lie there, even though blood was spewing from his face and pain seemed to be everywhere. They’d catch him. He managed to jump up and run hobbling through the gauntlet of screeching and stopped cars to the other side of the street, pushed through the gathering crowd, all staring, not at him but at the growing mayhem. He looked back and saw a car slammed into a Йre hydrant, saw the windshield was streaked with blood, his blood. But he wasalive, he could move. He didn’t know where they were, and maybe they’d have a hard time getting to him through the growing chaos of mangled cars, blaring horns, and throngs of people running. A moment later he wasalone in another alley next to a Korean restaurant, the smell of kimchi and the fetid odor of garbage from the two dumpsters mixing with the smell of blood on his face. He ran behind the far dumpster, pulled oА his hoodie, and ripped oА a sleeve to press against his nose.

It ached Йercely, probably broken. His breathing was ragged and too fast. He tried to calm down, but it was hard. He was afraid and he hurt all over. He kept the sleeve pressed hard against his nose and waited. His ribs hurt and his left hip felt like it had been twisted sideways, but he could still move. He looked to see blood running down his leg, and just seeing it, recognizing his leg was hurt, made the pain blast through him. He ripped oА his other sleeve and made a tourniquet, tied it above the wound. He didn’t know how bad his injury was, only hoped to stop the bleeding. He stood there, panting, trying to deal with the pain.

In twenty minutes he had gone from thinking he’d be having a cup of coАee with a nice woman he’d met at Langley who’d never shown up at the café she herself had chosen, to running for his life. Was it all a setup? She’d been part of a plan? He realized he knew next to nothing about her except he’d thought her pretty and very nice. But he’d been lucky, he’d gotten away, only to run full-tilt into a spinning car and bounce over the hood, and maybe that was lucky, too. Wonder of wonders, he hadn’t broken all his body parts, only his nose, and hopefully the cut on his leg wasn’t bad. Yes, he’d call that big-time luck. He wiped the blood from his face, hoped he wasn’t only smearing itenough to scare people. He knew he had to leave the alley. The man and woman must have seen him Мying over the hood of that car, and they were probably still looking for him, maybe thinking he’d been too injured to get very far. They’d come again, work their way through the chaos to Йnd him. It had to be about his work, a foreign government, maybe.

What could they possibly want from him that was worth a kidnapping in broad daylight? Or worse. There were CIA protocols to follow, an emergency number to call. But someone had betrayed him, maybe someone at Langley had set him up. Would they be the ones who came for him? Who could he trust? Justice felt pain building in his ribs, felt his leg throb, and his nose was on Йre and still bleeding, but he wasn’t about to go to an ER, that would be the Йrst place they’d look. He thought of calling his wife, but no way would he put her and their kids in danger. He could hunker down at home, it was empty, his family wasn’t there, but they’d know where he lived. So he was on his own until he didn’t hurt so much and had time to think this through. He had to move, but Justice knew he couldn’t make it far on foot. He called an Uber and set the pickup point on a street three blocks away, and thankfully saw the driver would be there in five minutes. Blood kept oozing out of his nose.

All he could do was keep pressing hard as he slipped through the crowds of people leaving work, all hurrying, many of them focused on their smartphones, none paying him any attention. He kept looking back, but no one was following him. He’d lost them. He began to feel hope. 3 Four blocks away, Savich was walking to his Porsche after a hard workout, his muscles pumped and warm, and feeling pleased with himself. He was whistling, tossing the key fob into the air, catching it. He felt good, but he always felt good after working to his limits. He looked at his Mickey Mouse watch. Sherlock would be arriving soon, he had to get home to get the lasagna together. He climbed into the Porsche, pressed the starter.

He knew she’d bring the extra mozzarella cheese for the lasagna that was defrosting, and maybe some ice cream for the cherry pie she’d made the previous evening, one of Sean’s favorites. He thought of Sean’s birthday list and laughed. His boy, who’d just learned how to ride a bike without training wheels two monthsago, had said what he really wanted was a Schwinn three-speed. Yeah, like that would happen. Fortunately, he also wanted Steph Curry sneakers. Did somebody make Steph Curry sneakers for little kids? Probably so. He was buckling his seat belt when his cell belted out Gilbert Hillman’s “Shining on the Moon.” “Savich here.” “Agent Savich, this is OГcer Ted Malone. There was a car accident.

Your wife, Agent Sherlock, is in an ambulance on the way to Washington Memorial. I’m sorry, but I don’t know her status.” A slight pause. “It looked bad, sir. You need to hurry.” His world shrank instantly to a single black point. He roared out of the gym parking lot, wove between startled drivers on Wisconsin, and quickly picked up two police cars, sirens blaring. Finally, a vicious left brought him to the hospital’s emergency room entrance. He slammed on the brakes and jumped out of his Porsche in front of the ER, his shield held high as oГcers jumped out of their patrol cars, their guns drawn, yelling at him. “FBI,” he yelled, “car accident, my wife.

” He threw the nearest oГcer his keys. “Please move my car.” Before they answered him he was through the doors. The place was a madhouse, but that was no surprise, it usually was. Savich threaded his way through the crowd of humanity to the counter. “My wife, Agent Sherlock, was brought in—a car accident. What can you tell me? I’m—” Savich wasn’t aware he was sheet white, his hands shaking, but Nurse Nancy Baker was. She said, her voice matter-of-fact, “I know who you are, Agent Savich. I’ll take you to her. Come.

” “Is she hurt badly?” Nancy paused, laid her hand on his arm. “I’m sorry, Agent Savich, I don’t know the particulars, but the doctor’s with her. She’ll tell you.” She wasn’t about to tell him his wife had been unconscious on a stretcher, her beautiful curly red hair soaked with blood, more blood streaking in rivulets down her face. She’d recognized Agent Sherlock immediately, she’d been in a number of times, notasa patient butasan FBI agent, usually with her husband. More than that, she was well known, the heroine who’d saved countless livesat the hands ofa terroristat JFK several months before. Savich followed her, weaving through men, women, and several children, some upright, some in wheelchairs, some being comforted by relatives. They walked through swinging doors into a large space with curtained-oА cubicles on each side, surrounding a central nursing station. Here it was a controlled chaos, the doctors, nurses, and techs moving fast, their faces intentand focused. From behind the curtains, Savich heard moans, a cry, and low voices speaking urgently or trying to soothe, one voice nearing hysteria, another calm and deep, reassuring.

A doctor. The nurse pulled back the nearest curtain and stepped aside. Two nurses and two doctors were bending over Sherlock. The female doctor looked up, frowning. “Who are you?” Savich immediately held up his FBI creds. They always gave him instant access. “I’m Agent Dillon Savich. She’s Agent Sherlock. I’m her husband. Talk to me.

What’s her status?” The woman straightened, walked to him, lightly laid her hand on his arm just as the nurse had. “I’m Dr. Loomis. That’s Dr. Luther.” She nodded toward a young man who was bending over Sherlock, lightly palpating her belly. “He told me about who she is and that you’d be coming. We have some urgent tests to do now, but I can tell you she’s got a gash over her temple that will need stitches, multiple contusions on her arms and chest. Nothing appears broken, but we’ll need X-rays to be sure. There are no signs of internal bleeding, butagain, we need tests to confirm.

“She was unconscious when she got to us, but she’s awake now, though still confused. She smiled up at me and said her head felt like it was kettledrumming. That’sa good sign, as you doubtless know. We’re about to take her for a CT brain scan and they’ll scan her chest, abdomen, and pelvisas well, our protocol for trauma of this sort. I’ll know more soon. Perhaps you’d like to go to the surgical waiting room on the second Мoor? It’s more private, less intense than the ER waiting room. I’ll come see you there. Agent Savich?” She squeezed hisarm. “Are you with me?” Dr. Loomis knew he was scared senseless and would stay scared until she was willing to swear on a stack of Bibles his wife would recover.

Sometimeseven that wasn’tenough. She would be scared to death, too, if it were her husband or her daughter lying there. “I want to see her, a moment only. I—I need to see her.” Dr. Loomis stepped aside. “Only a moment, they’re ready for her in CT.” Sherlock’seyes were closed. She lay perfectly still on a steel-framed gurney, most of her clothes cut oА, the two nurses and the doctor surrounding her. So many bruises, cuts, and abrasions, as if she’d been thrown every which way.

One of the nurses was speaking low to her, holding her hand as she pressed a strip of gauze over the cut on her temple. He swallowed when he saw all the blood—her hair was soaked with blood, it was black with blood. The other nurse moved aside at a nod from the doctor and Savich stepped in to lean over her. He lightly kissed her cheek, tasted her blood. He wanted to weep. “Sherlock? Sweetheart? Can you hear me?” She opened her eyesand stared up at him, her eyes vague, not quite focused on his face. “Are you here to tell me you’ve got to cut me open now?” “No cutting for you. You’re awake and that’s good. They’re going to take excellent care of you. You were in an accident, but you’ll be all right.

” “An accident,” she whispered. “What happened?” “I don’t know yet, but your Volvo saved your life. Doesn’t matter, your next car’s going to be a Sherman tank.” “We really need to take her now, Agent Savich, it’s important,” Dr. Loomis said from behind him. He leaned down, kissed her again, and straightened. She was simply staring up at him, her mouth opening. He lightly laid his Йnger over her lips. “No, don’t talk. You can tell me everything later.

I swear, you’ll be all right.” She looked up at the blurred face above her. All the people hovering around were wearing white, so much white. She didn’t understand why, but in that moment, it didn’t seem to matter. “Stay with me,” she whispered, and closed her eyesagain. Savich held Sherlock’s hand as he walked beside the gurney out of the ER down a long hallway. She squeezed his hand once and his heart stuttered. He couldn’t stand seeing the smear of blood on her cheek, the blood matted in her hair beside the pressure bandage they’d placed on her head. No, she would be Йne, her breathing was slow and steady. They pushed through another door, down another hallway, and through a door marked COMPUTED TOMOGRAPHY.

“Time to leave her with us, Agent Savich,” Dr. Loomis said at the doorway. “I promise I’ll come speak to you as soon as I can.” She paused, then said, “Try not to worry, all right?” He leaned down, lightly cupped Sherlock’s face, kissed her mouth, and straightened. They wheeled her in and the door closed in his face. Savich stood staring at the door, aware of low voices, machines beeping, people hurrying past him. It seemed no one walked in this place, and for that he was grateful. He stood in front of the door, unable to move. He realized there was nothing he could do, and he hated it, hated feeling helpless. Slowly, Savich walked up the stairs past two nurses talking abouta patient who’d thrown a bedpan at an orderly, to the second Мoor surgical waiting room.

It was empty. Well, who would want to operate at nearly seven o’clock in the evening? Only for emergencies, like Sherlock. He had to stop it, there was no talk of surgery. Not yet. It had been only a matter of months since Savich had spent time in that waiting room. Nothing had changed. It was small and square, its walls painted a light green, with three eye-level Monet water lily reproductions, lamps on side tables, and year-old magazines stacked neatly on a coАee table. A new Keurig machine held the place of honor on a table in the corner, pods of coАee and tea piled in a basket. He sat down, immediately jumped back up, and began to pace. He stopped, took a deep breath.

He had to get it together, there were things he had to do. That steadied him. He pulled out his cell, called Gabriella. He told her what had happened, where he was. He heard Sean in the background. “Put him on, Gabriella, and please listen, this is what we’re going to tell him for now.” He said simply to his son, “Something has come up, Sean. Your mother and I won’t be home until late. Eat your dinner, ask nicely if Gabriella would like to play Captain Carr with you or maybe watch those clips of Steph Curry shooting three-pointers in China again. Go to bed when she tells you to.

No whining, okay? You promise?” Of course, Sean wanted to know if they were chasing bad guys, and Savich, an excellent liar, spun a Йne tale about three bank robbers on the loose, nothing to worry about. Finally, he said to Gabriella, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for hanging in with him.” There were others to call, but he simply couldn’t do it yet. He slipped his cell into his jacket pocket and eased back down on a surprisingly comfortable chair. He looked straight ahead at nothing in particular, and prayed. Savich was still sitting, his hands clasped between his knees, when Metro detective Ben Raven, a longtime friend, hurried in. “Ted Malone, one of the oГcers at the accident site, knew you and I were friends and called me. Savich, the nurse in the ER said Sherlock was getting tests, no word yet on the results.” Ben plowed his Йngers through his hair.

“Of course, you already know that.” He sat down beside Savich, laid his hand on his shoulder. “Thanks for coming, Ben.” Savich looked at his friend. “It’s strange. There’s nothing I can do, only sit here like a zombie and wait. And wait. I don’t think they ever run out of tests. Her hair was soaked with blood, Ben, it was black.” “You know as well as I do scalp wounds bleed bad.

It doesn’t mean much.” Savich shook himself. “Yes, I know. Do you know what happened? Who hit her?” 4 WASHINGTON, D.C. WASHINGTON MEMORIAL HOSPITAL TUESDAY EVENING Ben said, “An SUV ran a red light, swerved suddenly, and broadsided her passenger side, sent the Volvo into a spin. She ended up rear-ending a fire hydrant.” Savich saw it clearly in his mind. She’d had an instant of awareness, and then wham—the rest would have been a blur. He’d bet Sherlock didn’t even know exactly what had happened.

She was an excellent driver, but spinning backward into a Йre hydrant? Shut it of . He had to know more, had to see. “Do you have photos of the accident?” Ben hesitated and Savich merely stared at him. “All right.” Ben pulled out his cell and scrolled down, past a dozen shots of Callie, his wife, smiling that wonderful smile of hers, tickling their baby daughter, Taylor, who was showing all her gums she was laughing so hard. He stopped and handed his cell to Savich. “There are several videos witnesses forwarded to us, so, if you wish, you can watch some of what happened after the accident. Since Sherlock is well known, you can bet people will upload some videos on YouTube.” He handed Savich his cell and watched him stare at the totaled Volvo, the Йre hydrant rammed into its rear, the smears of blood across the windshield. “That’s not her blood, Savich.

The blood on the windshield is on the outside, which means the Volvo struck someone when it was out of control.” The next shot was of two paramedics lifting an unconscious Sherlock out of the driver’s side. Then a video of a woman somewhere in her thirties, her hair in black tangles straggling down nearly to her shoulders, wearing a brown trench coat, of all things, in the middle of summer. She was limping slightly as she walked past a paramedic and away from the smashed front end of a big black Escalade. She was holding her arm, and looked to be talking a mile a minute. Savich felt killing rage, swallowed. “This woman’s the one who hit her, isn’t she?” “Yeah.” “And you’re telling me she walked away? With what? A broken arm and a limp?” Ben said, “Yes, and some bruises. She’s downstairs in the ER with two oГcers, along with one other person who was hurt. The woman’s name is Jasmine Palumbo, age thirty-six.

She works as a security engineer for the Bexholt Group, going on eight years.” Savich nodded. The Bexholt Group was a communications security company owned by Garrick Bexholt, headquartered in Maryland. “Witnesses told OГcer Malone how Palumbo came barreling through the intersection like a bat out of hell. Palumbo swears she didn’t see the red light, didn’t see Sherlock until it was too late, said she tried to stop, but maybe her brakes failed. We’ll check out the brakes. Sherlock saw her coming at the Volvo passenger side at the last second and instinctively jerked the wheel left, so she was hit at an angle, and that sent her into a parked car, then into a spin. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot of traГc in either direction, but still, in all she clipped a Tesla, a Ford F-150, and two sedans before spinning backward to smash into the fire hydrant. The airbag saved her life. “As for Palumbo, the paramedic told Malone he thought she would be Йne.

Still, they’re doing a tox screen, checking to see how badly her leg and arm are injured. After she hit Sherlock, she swerved and crashed into a kiosk, injured a couple of passersby and the man selling newspapers. She’ll pay a hefty Йne for reckless driving, but she won’t go to jail unless she was on drugs or drunk. It’ll be ruled an accident. I don’t know anything more yet. I’ll forward her insurance information.” “Whatabout the blood on the windshield, Ben?” “Now, there’s a question I can’t answer yet. All we know for sure is that according to a couple of witnesses, a man ran out into the street in front of Sherlock as she was spinning and she struck him. He was thrown up onto the hood and into the windshield, bounced oА the other side. It wasn’t her fault, of course.

But after that bounce, he disappeared, seems to have run oА. There was pandemonium, as you can imagine, people calling 911, rushing to help, shooting videos, you name it. So far he’s not on any of the videos. We don’t know who he is.” “You have a description?” “We know it’s a man, age undetermined, but young enough and Йt enough to run fast. He looked like a tourist—shirt, jeans, sneakers, a watch cap. We have people out looking for him, checking with other ERs to see if he took himself to one. One woman told OГcer Casspi the guy was running out ofan alley between two buildings, looking back over his shoulder, like someone might be chasing him. “Obviously he has to be hurt, what with the hard impact, all that blood on the windshield. Maybe there was someone chasing him, they picked him up and hauled him away? Don’t know yet.

No one’s reported seeing anything like that, butagain, all the attention was on Sherlock. “I have two men backtracking him, checking to see if there was a robbery, anything hinky to set someone after him. If he did manage to walk away on his own, there’ll be a blood trail. I hope. We should find him soon.” Ben saw Savich’s hands clench, Мex. “Listen, Savich, when Palumbo is cleared from the ER, the oГcers will take her to the Daly Building until her tox screen comes back. I’ll have control.” Again Ben touched his shoulder. “A favor, Savich, don’t get involved with Palumbo, it’ll keep things cleaner.

It sounds like she wasn’t paying attention, probably looking oА at something, got distracted. If she was high, I’ll clap the irons on her myselfand haul her to a cell.” Savich managed a ghost of a smile. The two men sat side by side, quiet now. Savich couldn’t get the image of Sherlock’s beautiful hair soaked with blood out of his mind. He wasn’t about to call her parents until he knew more. He swallowed, he had to call his boss, Jimmy Maitland. Within twenty minutes FBI agents began to arrive, among them Davis Sullivan, Lucy McKnight, and Shirley Needleham, the CAU secretary, with Mr. Maitland at their head. Ben had to repeat what had happened three more times.

When Dr. Loomis walked in an hour later, the surgical waiting room was full, everyone coming to their feet when she appeared in the doorway. She smiled at them. “Agent Sherlock’s CT scans were completely normal, except for the superficial injuries. No intracranial bleeding, no broken bones, no sign of internal bleeding. She suАered a concussion, of course, and a cut on her head we stitched, and as Agent Savich knows, there are considerable upper-body contusionsand bruising. But with some luck, she’ll be Йne.” Given the photos a police oГcer had shown her of the crash, Dr. Loomis was amazed Agent Sherlock survived, but she didn’t say that. She knew Agent Savich, probably all the agents in this waiting room, had seen the photos.

She added, “Given the severity of the accident, she’s very lucky. Right now, she needs quiet and rest. We won’t know more about how bad her concussion is until tomorrow morning, when any remaining symptoms could manifest themselves. I’ll review what we can expect privately with you later, Agent Savich. I want to monitor her closely throughout the night, so I prefer she stay in the ICU. If you wish to stay with her, I’ll have a cot brought in for you. As you know, the cubiclesare small and I doubt you’ll get much sleep. “As for the rest of you, alas, I can’t oАer you the Йve-star accommodation we’re oАering Agent Savich. I can assure all of you she will get the best of care.” She smiled really big.

“After all, she’s famous, isn’t she? The heroine of JFK.” Dr. Loomis looked atall the relieved faces, some smiling back and nodding at what she’d said. Agent Davis Sullivan raised a finger. “May we see her in the morning?” Now, this young man could raise a Мutter, Dr. Loomis thought, not immune. She said, “Check with Agent Savich Йrst. He’ll let you know if visiting tomorrow isa good idea.” She turned to Savich, who still looked white around the gills, and something else, too. He was angry.

She didn’t blame him. She’d heard the woman who’d struck Agent Sherlock’s car was downstairs in the ER. She’d walked away with a sprained arm, now in a sling, and nothing but bruises on her leg. Didn’t that just Йgure? “Agent Savich, I’ll send an orderly in to take you to her.” When she left, everyone started high-Йving and talking at once. Savich shook Ben’s hand, started to thank everyone for coming, but when a skinny young black orderly with thick glasses and a goatee showed up, he only nodded and left. The orderly had to double-time it to keep up. Savich knew exactly where the ICU was, he’d been there often enough over the years. He couldn’t help himself, glanced at the man’s name tag and asked, “Did you see her, Malcolm?” Malcolm wasn’t deaf to the fear in Agent Savich’s voice. “Yes, Agent, I did.

She’s sleeping, not unconscious. There’sa big bandage around her head, so it looks worse than it is. One of the nurses said all her curly hair would cover the stitches over her temple. Is her name really Sherlock? As in the Baskerville Sherlock?” “Yes, and surprise, she loves dogs.” Malcolm left him in front ofa curtained cubicle in the ICU with a small salute. Savich pulled back the curtain to see a nurse fussing over Sherlock, taking her blood pressure, her pulse. She straightened, nodded to him. “You’re her husband, Agent Savich, right?”

.

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