Paradox – Catherine Coulter

Wake up, wake up. Something’s not right . Sherlock’s eyes snapped open, adrenaline surging. But why? She didn’t move, listened. There—three beeps coming from the security monitor beside the bed. She’d never heard them before, but she knew what it meant: the security system was oА. The beeps would get louder and louder. Possibilities scurried through her brain, none of them good. Dillon was on his back beside her, stirring now from the noise. She leaned down, whispered, “Dillon, the alarm’s off.” He was instantly awake. He heard the beeps and turned oА the alarm. “You check on Sean. I’ll see what’s going on.” They’d had this protocol in place since Sean had been born, but this was the Йrst time they’d had to use it.

Savich unlocked the closet safe, handed Sherlock her small ankle Glock and a suppressor. The last thing either of them wanted was for Sean to wake up to a gunshot, terriЙed. He Йtted a suppressor on his own Glock and racked the slide. He prayed for a simple malfunction as he pulled his pants on, but he knew it was unlikely. “Be careful,” he whispered against her cheek. He ran down the stairs, and Sherlock, her bare feet whisper-light on the hall carpet, headed to Sean’s room. His door was partially open, as it always was at night. She stopped, leaned in to listen, heard him make a little snort in his sleep. He was all right, no need to alarm him. She heard a soft footfall and her heart seized.

Someone had disabled the system and that someone was now in Sean’s room. Sherlock slowly pushed the door inward, her heart pounding, her adrenaline spiking even higher. Moonlight poured through the window, silhouetting the man bent over Sean. His head looked distorted—no, he’d pulled a stocking over his face. She ignored the toxic punch of fear, raised her small Glock, and said very quietly, “Getaway from him, or I’ll blow your head off.” She saw the gun clutched in his gloved hand, a Ka-Bar knife in the other. He jerked up but didn’t turn. “I’ll shoot him before you can kill me.” A young voice, low and hard. And something else.

It was fear she heard, she knew it. “Move away from him, and I won’t shoot you. Drop the gun and the Ka-Bar and back away.” He slowly turned, but the gun still pointed at Sean. “How did you know I was here?” “I’ve got batears. Who are you? What do you want?” He looked undecided, then said, “You try to shoot me and he’s dead, you got that?” She wanted to vomit, she was so scared. Hold it together, hold it together. Again, she saw indecision. “You Йre and you’ll see, I’ll still shoot him!” But he didn’t. He ran six feet to the open window and jumped through a gash in the screen and onto the roof.

Sean jerked up, rubbed hiseyes. “Mama? Mama? What’s wrong?” She had to move, had to go after him, but she had to soothe Sean. “Everything’s all right, sweetie. Don’t move.” She ran to the window and jumped onto a thick oak branch that nearly touched the house. She saw him below, nearly to the ground now. She didn’t have a good shot through the thick leaves and he was juking and jiving from branch to branch, but she Йred anyway, missed, the bullet gouging tree bark a foot from his head. He didn’t fire back. He swung from the lowest tree branch six feet to the ground, landed on his side, rolled, and ran, not all-out because he was limping. She Йred until her magazine was empty, but he was zigging and zagging, the limp even more pronounced now.

He disappeared around the corner of Mr. McPherson’s house. She heard McPherson’s puppy, Gladys, barking her head off. Dillon’s quiet voice came from behind her. “Sherlock, stay with Sean. I’m going after him.” They heard a car engine fire up. Sherlock grabbed hisarm. “We can’t get him now.” He helped her back through the slit in the screen.

He studied her face, ran his hands over her arms. “I called 911. The police will be here soon.” Sherlock cupped his face between her hands. “Dillon, I’m not hurt, I’m Йne.” But of course she wasn’t. Her heart was pounding, fear for Sean pouring off her. “Mama! Papa!” Savich quickly slid his Glock into his waistband and grabbed up Sean into his arms, hugged him tight against him. He whispered against his small ear, “Everything’s all right, Sean. Don’t worry, okay?” He closed hiseyesas he rocked his small son.

Sean reared back in his arms and looked over at his mother. Sherlock pressed her own Glock against her leg so he wouldn’t see it. “I heard you yell, Mama. Did you have a nightmare? What were those loud popping sounds?” Her heart still pounded, her adrenaline still pumped wildly, but she could deal with that. She could deal with anything because Sean was all right, the danger was past. She looked at his small beloved face and said a thank-you prayer. She smiled, lightly patted his face. “Like your papa said, sweetie, everything’s all right. The popping sounds, it was probably somebody’s car backЙring. Some messed-up car, right? Too loud for our neighborhood.

That’s what woke up your papa and me.” Did her smart son buy that whopper? Or would he realize the popping hadn’t happened until after she was in his room? Well, she’d lied as clean as she could. Savich brought Sean close again, rocking him, breathing in his sweet child smell until Sean pulled back. He put his hand on his father’s cheek, cocked his head. “There’s something wrong, isn’t there, Papa? I dreamed I heard a man talking. And Mama, you said something, too, and you sounded angry. And then someone was running to the window. His head was all weird-looking, like a spaceman, and you were running after him, Mama. I saw you going out the window. It wasn’ta dream, was it?” Savich knew he had no choice.

“There was someone here, Sean, but your mama took care of him. He won’t be back. Now, it’s time for you to go to sleep.” While Dillon was speaking to Sean, Sherlock scooped the Ka-Bar off the Winnie the Pooh rug by Sean’s bed. She hadn’teven seen the man drop it. “But—” Sean gave a jaw-cracking yawn. Savich kissed him and tucked him under a single light sheet. He saw Sherlock quietly closing the window over the slit screen. He hoped Sean wouldn’t notice it in the morning, but chances were good he would. Savich would have to Йgure out what to tell him without scaring him.

He waited quietly until he heard his son’s breathing even into sleep. He went to Sherlock, saw her give a little shudder of reaction. The words burst out, low and controlled, but Savich heard the thick fear coating every word. “He was standing over Sean, Dillon, a gun in one hand, a Ka-Bar in the other.” She swallowed. “He wouldn’t tell me who he was. I couldn’t shoot him—he said he would kill Sean. Then he ran to the window. Was he a pedophile who wanted to steal him? Or someone who wanted to kidnap him for ransom? Or some random crazed lowlife?” His brain immediately latched onto pedophile, a word that scared every parent to his toes. He didn’t want to say it aloud, or it would bow him to his knees.

He felt violence stir in his gut, rancid and black. He pulled her close, whispered against her curly hair. “No,” he said, more to himself than to her, “whoever he is, he had to believe we’re rich because of my grandmother’s paintings.” “Well, your Sarah Elliott paintings do make you rich, and a lot of people know it. They also know you’d sell one or all of them in a flash to save Sean.” “No matter who or what he is, we’ll get him, I promise you. You saved our boy. Sean’s safe. You’re my hero.” That brought a hiccupping laugh.

“I tried to shoot him, but he got down that tree in a Мash.” Her breathing hitched. “I wondered why he had both a gun and a Ka-Bar, but he needed the knife to slit the screen. Was he going to kill Sean?” They held each other, saying nothing now, their eyes on their sleeping son, but only for a moment. The Metro cops would be here very soon. While they stood in the open front door, waiting, Savich said, “I asked the dispatcher—it was Jordan Kates—to send them in silent.” He kissed her forehead. “They’ll be here any minute now. Did anything about him seem familiar to you or strike you as different?” “It happened so fast—I don’t think so. Wait, his voice was young, Dillon, and he moved young, too.

Something else—when he told me he could kill Sean even if I shot him, I think I heard fear in his voice. But then again, he hadn’texpected any trouble.” “Maybe he’d talked himself into coming after Sean, but he didn’t have another plan if he was challenged.” She nodded. “Well, at least we have the knife, for all the good it will do us. He was wearing gloves. Dillon, I went after him, emptied my magazine, but I missed him. I actually missed him—me!—can you believe that?” He loved hearing the outrage in her voice. It meant she was getting back on an even keel. “Even you have to miss sometimes.

You were terriЙed for Sean, pumping out adrenaline, and so hyped you could have rocketed yourself to the moon. I hear a car coming. You can fill in the blanks when we tell the police what happened.” “Okay, I’ve got it together—well, I’m close. Thank heavens we had a plan in place if those three beeps ever sounded, otherwise—” She paused, then, her voice shaking. “Without the suppressor, I think Sean would have freaked. Even so, it was loud. So fast, Dillon, it all happened so fast. I wonder why he never fired back at me.” “He knew if he hesitated, turned back to you, you’d nail him.

” A Metro squad car pulled into their driveway, cut its lights, and two oГcers climbed out. “Agent Savich?” After introductions, Sherlock gave them a quick rundown, then OГcers Pattee and Paulette headed out to search the neighborhood. They were back ten minutes later. No sign of their intruder, not that Savich or Sherlock expected them to spot him. Paulette said, “No lights on in any houses, so the sound of the car engine didn’t wake anybody up.” “And no neighbors standing on their porches to tell usanything,” said Pattee. Savich was studying his security system beside the front door. He called, “Come look at this.” Both Paulette and Pattee looked over his shoulder to where he pointed. “That’s more wires than the back of my TV,” Paulette said.

“Looks untouched to me,” Pattee said, leaning in. “But how can that be possible? The guy got into your son’s window. It’salarmed, right?” “Oh yes,” Sherlock said. Dillon said, “I’m thinking we’ve gota guy with major computer skills.” “You think he disabled the alarm system remotely, using his computer?” Savich nodded. “To do it, he’d have to be very good, because I upgraded the system myself. But he succeeded, and now I’ll have to figure out how he did thatand fix it.” The three men studied the complex mess of wires for another couple of seconds, then Paulette turned to Sherlock. “Could we go inside? You can tell usexactly what happened.” They went into the living room and OГcer Paulette switched on a recorder.

Sherlock went through it all again, answered their questions, and Йnished with “I can’t tell you what he looked like. He wore a stocking mask, but I do believe he was young, twenty-Йve at most. When he ran across the yard, I saw he was limping a bit. From the jump? Maybe. I didn’t notice a limp when he was in Sean’s bedroom.” She closed her eyes, pictured him. “It was his left leg.” They asked questions, Sherlock gave more details, and Йnally OГcer Paulette switched oА his phone recorder and smiled at her. “You really told him you’d shoot his head off?” Paulette, no more than twenty-Йve himself, had a great smile, and Sherlock found herself smiling back as she nodded. “That’s what came out of my mouth, yes.

Come on, guys, if someone was leaning over your sleeping child with a gun and knife, what would you say?” “I don’t know if I’d say anything,” Pattee said. “I’d probably just shoot him.” “Yeah, sure, Joel,” Paulette said, and smacked him on the arm. “That’s what you’d want three-year-old Janet to wake up and see—blood and gore all over her bed.” Pattee pointed. “Yeah, okay, you have a point. I see a dog toy over there. But no wild barking?” Savich said, “Astro would have brought the house down if he’d been here. But he’s in love with a neighbor’s new puppy, so our son let him do a sleepover.” Paulette said, “From now on out, I’ll bet it’ll be the new puppy sleeping over here.

” “You’re right about that,” Sherlock said, “and yes, we’re going to cut those branches oА Йrst thing tomorrow.” Officer Pattee said, “You guys had this plan in place in case something like this happened?” “Yes,” Sherlock said. “It sure paid off tonight.” “Now that’s something I’m going to talk about with my wife,” Pattee said. “You know, it would have been easier and cheaper for him to snatch your son oА the sidewalk or out of a neighbor’s yard or from the playground at school.” Sherlock said, “Yes, it would. I hadn’t thought of that.” Pattee said, “You said, Agent Sherlock, you heard fear in his voice?” She nodded. Paulette said, “Well, he wasn’texpecting her to walk in on him with a gun.” Pattee said, “That isn’t the point.

This doesn’t sound like a pro someone hired to kidnap your son for ransom. Those guys have metronomes for hearts, nothing shakes them.” No one had to say it, but everybody was thinking it—maybe the guy wasa pedophile. Savich said, “OГcers, we’d like to speak to Detective Ben Raven in the morning. Will that be a problem?” It wasn’ta problem. Savich wanted Raven to check for any recent break-ins remotely like this one. Pattee paused at the front door. “I’ve got to say something you already know. The guy who tried to take your son? I’ll wager he’ll keep trying. All his preparations show a big commitment.

I’d say he’s in for the long haul.” Both Savich and Sherlock hated it but knew he was right. Sherlock said, “At least we have the Ka-Bar. I’ll get it to our FBI lab people in the morning.” Paulette said, “You’ll let us know when you catch the guy?” What faith. Sherlock smiled. “Yes, of course we will.” 1 WILLICOTT, MARYLAND FRIDAY MORNING LATE JULY Four years in Vice at the Seattle PD and Police Chief Ty Christie had never seen a murder, until this moment right after dawn on what promised to be a hot, sunny Friday. She was standing on her weathered back deck, sipping her daily dose of sin—thick-as-sludge Turkish coАee—and looking out at the patchy curtains of fog hanging over Lake Massey, man-made, like every other lake in Maryland, 1,800 acres. Lake Massey wasn’t the largest of Maryland’s lakes, or the deepest, only Йfty-six feet, but it was still a popular vacation destination with thirty-three miles of shoreline and water warm enough to swim in during the summer.

Fishermen loved Lake Massey with its walleye and large- and smallmouth bass eager to leap on their lines. As for Ty, she loved the impossibly thick maple and oak trees, a solid blanket of green covering the hills on the east side of the lake. The only sign of life was a small rowboat Мoating in and out of the gray fog near a hundred yards away. She could barely make out two Йgures, seated facing each other, both wearing jackets and one a ball cap. She was too far away to tell if they were male or female, talking or not talking, or how old they were. Could they be out Йshing for largemouth bass this early in the morning? She was starting to turn away when one of the Йgures abruptly stood, waved a Йst in the other’s face, and brought an oar down hard on his head. She froze, simply couldn’t believe what she’d seen. She watched the man slump forward as the Йstshaker leaned over him, jerked him up, and shoved him out of the boat. She yelled, but the killer never looked toward her. Rather, he looked down into the water, then at his oar.

Checking for blood? He straightened, threw his head back, and pumped his fist. Pumped his Йst? He was happy he’d killed someone? That made it unlikely to be in the heat of the moment. So she’d seen a cold-blooded murder? Had the Йst-shaker brought the other man out in the lake with the intent to kill him? The shock had Ty’s heart kettledrumming in her chest. She watched the killer row smooth and steady back toward shore, quickly disappearing behind a curtain of fog. She hated that her hand was shaking when she pulled her cell out of her shirt pocket and dialed 911. Operator Marla Able always picked up on the Йrst ring. Ty took a deep breath, cleared her throat. “Marla, it’s Ty. I saw what I think wasa premeditated murder on a rowboat in the lake a minute ago. One man struck another with an oar and threw him overboard.

You heard me right. I think it was a man, but I can’t be sure. Listen now, we’ve got to move fast. Call Ted Mizera, have him order out the Lake Rescue Team. Tell him the boat was about one hundred yards out into the other side of the lake directly across from my house. Tell him to hurry, Marla. I’m going out in my boat now.” She grabbed a Мashlight, a jacket, and binoculars, pulled on gloves as she ran down her twenty wooden stairs, out onto her long, narrow dock, unlooped her mooring lines, and jumped on board her Йfteen-foot runabout. She Йred up the outboard engine, carefully steered away from the dock, aimed the boat at the spot where the killer had thrown the other person overboard, and Мoored it. Within four minutes she was at the edge of a sheet of fog, watching three mallards swim toward her, followed by four more, flapping their wings over the still water, then settling in with their brethren.

She slowly motored in, idled the boat, and searched the area with her binoculars, chanting, “Clear oА, clear oА.” Miraculously, within minutes, only wisps of fog dotted the water around her. As for the Йstshaker in the rowboat, he was long gone, the offshore fog blanketing hisescape. She began searching for the body, praying the person was only dazed and still alive. The water was smooth, the surface unruЖed except for the kick-up waves made by her runabout. She cut the engine, pulled out her cell again, and took pictures, but she knew there wasn’t anything to see. She lined up one shot with the ancient oak tree standing sentinel in front of the abandoned Gatewood mansion on Point Gulliver to document her own location. Only its top branches were visible through the fog. She listened carefully but heard only mallards squawking and the soft lapping of the water against the sides of her boat. She scanned the eastern shore with her binoculars, but the fog was too thick oАshore to make out any sign of the rowboat.

Through a small pocket, she now saw Point Gulliver clearly, the pebbled beach, and Gatewood, three stories of stark gray stone, forbidding in the early morning light, its wooden dock stretching out into the lake. She saw nothing and no one. She knew the Йst-shaker could dock the rowboat at any of the dozens of cottages lining the beach, tie up, and run, or pull the rowboat up onto the sand, hide it in bushes, and then disappear. He couldn’t know she’d seen him. Had both people in the boat been staying in one of the rental cottages? She called her chief deputy, Charlie Corsica, jerked him out of a deep sleep, and told him what had happened. He and the other four deputies would head to the eastern shore, scour the area for the rowboat, and interview all the cottage tenants. Most cottages along the eastern shore were rentals. Some of the vacationers had to be up, someone had to have seen something, even though it was barely 6 a.m. Maybe when her deputies went door to door, they’d Йnd him.

Had anything ever been that easy when she’d been in Vice in Seattle? Not that she could remember. Even though she knew it was hopeless, Ty turned on the engine and began a slow grid search. She saw nothing until minutes later, when the three boats of the Lake Rescue Team circled her and cut their engines. All four members of the team were lifelong residents of Willicott. Ted Mizera, a local contractor, was big, beefy, and strong as a horse, rumored not to spare the rod on his kids. He’d formed the rescue team long before Ty had accepted the city council’s oАer to become the Йrst woman police chief in the town’s long, fairly peaceful history. Mizera shouted, “Chief, Marla said you saw someone get whacked with an oar from your house? You see anything, like a body, since you got out here?” “If my visual memory serves, I’m near the spot,” she called back, “but so far no sign of a body. After the killer hit the victim on the head with an oar, he dumped the body overboard and rowed back to the eastern shore, toward Point Gulliver. I couldn’t see anything because of all of the fog. I haven’t seen any sign of a body.

Did the killer have a brick tied around his victim’s waist? I don’t know, I was too far away.” Harlette Hensen, a retired nurse, grandmother to six hell-raisers, and owner of Slumber House B&B, shook her bobbed gray head. “You think the killer changed his mind, pulled the man out of the water?” That was Harlette, always the optimist, wanting to think the best of her fellow man. Ty said, “Sorry, Harlette, I’d have seen it if that had happened. I saw him Йst-pump after the victim went overboard, which says to me he rowed his victim out onto the lake to murder him and dump his body. It was premeditated.” She shook her head. “That fist pump. I couldn’t believe it.” Ted snorted.

“Harlette, you wouldn’t recognize the devil even if he perched on your rocker. Ty, I think you’re right. The victim’s probably weighted down. Or maybe held by the water reeds.” “The reeds aren’t that thick this far out, Ted, too deep,” Congo Bliss said. “I’m betting on a brick tied around the victim’s waist to keep him under.” Congo was the owner of Bliss’s Diner, going on twentyЙve years now, known far and wide for his meatloaf and garlic mashed potatoes. He was tall, Йt, goodlooking, going on Йfty, and as proud of his physique as his meatloaf. Congo was on his fourth wife and his fourth rat terrier, all former terriers choosing to depart with the wives. More important, he was the group’s designated diver, and he was already dressed in a partial wetsuit.

He spat over the side. “Water’s about twenty-Йve feet deep here. I’ll do some free dives, see if I can Йnd him before you call Hanger to drag the lake.” Congo pulled on his mask and Йns and made four dives. No sign of the murdered man, but he brought up a present for Harlette and tossed it to her. Harlette caught it, let out a yell, then cursed. “Not funny, Congo.” She held up the skull he’d thrown to her. “This sure isn’t your guy, Chief. I wonder how old this skull is.

Could be Йfty years, who knows? I haven’t heard of any local disappearing, ever. Some long-ago tourist, you think?” Ty pulled her boat closer and took the skull from Harlette, turned it over in her hands. “No bullet hole, no crushed bones, and three teeth left. I’ll take the skull to Dr. Staunton later. Right now we need to find the man I saw murdered an hour ago.” She handed the skull to Albert Sharp, owner of Sharp’s Sporting Goods, with Harlette in her boat. He was the designated provider of any necessary water equipment and once a champion swimmer. Albert looked like he wanted to hurl, but he knew he couldn’t because he’d never live it down. He swallowed half a dozen times.

Nobody said anything. He carefully wrapped the skull in his daughter’s blue polkadot beach towel and laid it on the seat, wiped his hands on his pants, and attempted a manly smile. “You said it was a rowboat,” Harlette said, shading her hand over her eyes as she searched the water. “Did you recognize it, Chief? Was it one of Bick’s rentals?” “I was a good ways away, but it could have been. Yes, of course it was—it was painted an odd green, sort ofan acid green.” Congo nodded. “That’s it. I remember Bick got that green paint on sale a decade ago, long before your time, Chief. Everyone in town had a good laugh.” He looked down at his watch.

“Sorry, Chief, I can’t do any more dives. I gotta get back to the diner. Willie’s the only cook there. He can’t fry an egg worth spitand he’salways burning the toast.” Ty thanked them all, sent them home, and set everything in motion. She called Hanger Lewis over in Haggersville, set him up to drag this part of the lake in hisancient pontoon boat with its big dragging net. She called Charlie to check in. Nothing yet, no one had seen anything, no sign of one of Bick’sacid-green rowboatsand no sign ofanyone who didn’t belong there. She said, “No surprise, though I really did hope someone might have seen something. Okay, Charlie, keep the others scouting the east shore.

Hanger will be here in about an hour. You go out with Harlette and Hanger, she’ll show you guys the exact spot. And Charlie, be on the lookout for loose bones. Congo found a skull when he dived to look for the man I saw shoved overboard.”

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