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“Miss,” Travis said, “are you all right?”

“Of course she's not all right,” the runner said. “Your damn dog came barking and snapping at us-”

“He doesn't seem to be terrorizing her right now,” Travis said, meeting and holding the other man's gaze.

Bits of what appeared to be oatmeal batter were stuck on the guy's cheek. Travis had noticed an oatmeal cookie spilling from a bag on the bench beside the woman, and another one crumbled on the ground between her feet. What the hell had been going on here?

The runner glared at Travis and started to speak. But then he looked at the woman and Einstein, and he evidently realized that his calculated outrage would no longer be appropriate. He said sullenly, “Well . . . you should still get the damn hound under control.”

“Oh, I don't think he'll bother anyone now,” Travis said, coiling the leash. “It was just an aberration.”

Still furious but uncertain, the runner looked at the huddled woman and said, “Nora?”

She did not respond. She just kept petting Einstein.

“I'll see you later,” the runner told her. Getting no response, he refocused on Travis, narrowed his eyes, and said, “If that hound comes nipping at my heels-”

“He won't,” Travis interrupted. “You can get on with your run. He won't bother YOU.”

Several times as he jogged slowly across the park to the nearest exit, the man glanced back at them. Then he was gone.

On the bench, Einstein had settled down on his belly with his head on the woman's lap.

Travis said, “He's sure taken a liking to you.”

Without looking up, smoothing Einstein's coat with one hand, she said, “He's a lovely dog.”

“I just got him yesterday.”

She said nothing.

He sat down on the other end of the bench, with Einstein between them. “My name's Travis.”

Unresponsive, she scratched behind Einstein's ears. The dog made a contented sound.

“Travis Cornell,” he said.

At last she raised her head and looked at him. “Nora Devon.”

“Glad to meet you.”

She smiled, but nervously.

Though she wore her hair straight and lank, though she used no makeup, she was quite attractive. Her hair was dark and glossy, her skin flawless, and her gray eyes were accented with green striations that seemed luminous in the bright May sunshine.

As if sensing his approval and frightened of it, she immediately broke eye contact, lowered her head once more.

He said, “Miss Devon . . . is something wrong?”

She said nothing.

“Was that man . . . bothering you?”

“It's all right,” she said.

With her head bowed and shoulders hunched, sitting there under a ton-weight of shyness, she looked so vulnerable that Travis could not just get up, walk away, and leave her with her problems. He said, “If that man was bothering you, I think we ought to find a cop-”

“No,” she said softly but urgently. She slipped out from under Einstein and got up.

The dog scrambled off the bench to stand beside her, gazing at her with affection.

Rising, Travis said, “I don't mean to pry, of course-”

She hurried away, heading out of the park on a different path from the One the runner had taken.

Einstein started after her but halted and reluctantly returned when Travis called to him.

Puzzled, Travis watched her until she disappeared, an enigmatic and troubled woman in a gray dress as drab and shapeless as the garb of an Amish lady or a member of some other sect that took great pains to cloak the female figure in garments that would not lead a man into temptation.

He and Einstein continued their walk through the park. Later, they went to the beach, where the retriever seemed astounded by the endless vistas of rolling sea and by the breakers foaming on the sand. He repeatedly stopped to stare out at the ocean for a minute or two at a time, and he frolicked happily in the surf. Later still, back at the house, Travis tried to interest Einstein in the books that had caused such excitement last evening, hoping this time to be able to figure out what the dog expected to find in them. Einstein sniffed without interest at the volumes Travis brought to him-and yawned.

Throughout the afternoon, the memory of Nora Devon returned to Travis with surprising frequency and vividness. She did not require alluring clothes to capture a man's interest. That face and those green-flecked gray eyes were enough.


After only a few hours of deep sleep, Vincent Nasco took an early-morning flight to Acapulco, Mexico. He checked into a huge bayfront hotel, a gleaming but soulless high-rise where everything was glass, concrete, and terrazzo. After he had changed into ventilated white Top-Siders, white cotton pants, and a pale-blue Ban-Lon shirt, he went looking for Dr. Lawton Haines.

Haines was vacationing in Acapulco. He was thirty-nine years old, five-eleven, one hundred and sixty pounds, with unruly dark brown hair, and he was purported to look like Al Pacino, except that he had a red birthmark the size of a half-dollar on his forehead. He came to Acapulco at least twice a year, always stayed at the elegant Hotel Las Brisas on the headland at the eastern end of the bay, and frequently enjoyed long lunches at a restaurant adjacent to the Hotel Caleta, which he favored for its margaritas and its view of Playa de Caleta.

By twelve-twenty in the afternoon, Vince was seated in a rattan chair with comfortable yellow and green cushions at a table by the windows in that same restaurant. He'd spotted Haines on entering. The doctor was at another window table, three away from Vince, half-screened by a potted palm. Haines was eating shrimp and drinking margaritas with a stunning blonde. She was wearing white slacks and a gaily striped tube-top, and half the men in the place were staring at her.

As far as Vince was concerned, Haines looked more like Dustin Hoffman than like Pacino. He had those bold features of Hoffman's, including the nose. Otherwise, he was exactly as he'd been described. The guy was wearing pink Cotton trousers and a pale-yellow shirt and white sandals, which seemed, to Vince, to be taking tropical resort attire to an extreme.

Vince finished a lunch of albondiga soup, seafood enchiladas in salsa verde, and a nonalcoholic margarita, and paid the check by the time Haines and the blonde were ready to leave.

The blonde drove a red Porsche. Vince followed in a rental Ford, which had too many miles on it, rattled with the exuberance of percussion instruments in a mariachi band, and had fragrant moldy carpet.

At Las Brisas, the blonde dropped Haines in the parking lot, though not until they stood beside her car for at least five minutes, holding each other's asses and soul-kissing in broad daylight.

Vince was dismayed. He expected Haines to have a stronger sense of propriety. After all, the man had a doctorate. If educated people did not uphold traditional standards of conduct, who would? Weren't they teaching manners and deportment in the universities these days? No wonder the world got ruder and cruder every year.

The blonde departed in her Porsche, and Haines left the lot in a white Mercedes 560 SL sports coupe. It sure wasn't a rental, and Vince wondered where the doctor had gotten it.

Haines checked his car with the valet at another hotel, as did Vince. He tailed the doctor through the lobby, out to the beach, where at first they seemed embarked on an uneventful stroll along the shore. But Haines settled down beside a gorgeous Mexican girl in a string bikini. She was dark, superbly proportioned, and fifteen years younger than the doctor. She was sunbathing on a lounge, her eyes closed. Haines kissed her throat, startling her. Evidently, she knew him, for she threw her arms around him, laughing.

Vince walked down the beach and back, then sat on the sand behind Haines and the girl, with a pair of sunbathers interposed between them. He was not concerned that Haines would notice him. The doctor seemed to have eyes only for choice female anatomy. Besides, in spite of his size, Vince Nasco had a knack for fading into the background.

Out on the bay, a tourist was taking a parachute ride, hanging high in the air behind the towboat. Sun fell like an endless rain of gold doubloons on the sand and the sea.

After twenty minutes, Haines kissed the girl on the lips, and on the slopes of her breasts, then set off back the way he had come. The girl called out, “Tonight at six!” And Haines said, “I'll be there.”

Then Haines and Vince went for a pleasure drive. At first Vince thought Haines had a destination in mind, but after a while it seemed they were just heading aimlessly down the coast road, taking in the scenery. They passed Revolcadero Beach and kept going, Haines in his white Mercedes, Vince following as far back as he dared in his Ford.

Eventually they came to a scenic overlook, where Haines pulled off the road and parked beside a car from which four garishly dressed tourists were emerging. Vince parked, too, and Walked to the iron railing at the outer edge of the escarpment, where there was a truly magnificent view of the coastline and of waves breaking thunderously on the rocky shore more than a hundred feet below.

The tourists, in their parrot shirts and striped pants, finished exclaiming Over the sights, took their last pictures, discarded their last bits of litter, and departed, leaving Vince and Haines alone on the cliff. The only traffic on the highway was an approaching black Trans Am. Vince was waiting for the car to pass. Then he was going to take Haines by surprise.

Instead of going by, the Trans Am pulled off the road and parked beside Haines's Mercedes, and a gorgeous girl, about twenty-five, got out. She hurried to Haines. She looked Mexican but with a measure of Chinese blood, very exotic. She was wearing a white halter top and white shorts, and she had the best legs Vince had ever seen. She and Haines moved farther along the railing, until they were about forty feet from Vince, where they went into a clinch that made Vince blush.

For the next few minutes, Vince edged along the railing toward them, leaning out dangerously now and then, craning his neck to gawk down at the crashing waves that threw water twenty feet into the air-saying “Whooo boy!” when a particularly big breaker hit the craggy outcroppings of stone- trying to make it look as if his movement in their direction was entirely innocent.

Though they had turned their backs to him, the breeze carried bits of their conversation. The woman seemed worried that her husband might find out that Haines was in town, and Haines was pushing her to make up her mind about tomorrow night. The guy was shameless.

The highway cleared of traffic again, and Vince decided he might not get another opportunity to nail Haines. He closed the last few feet between him and the girl, grabbed her by the nape of the neck and the belt of her shorts, plucked her off the ground, and threw her over the railing. Screaming, she plummeted toward the rocks below.

It happened so fast that Haines didn't even have time to react. The instant the woman was airborne, Vince turned on the startled doctor and punched him in the face, twice, splitting both his lips, breaking his nose, and knocking him unconscious.

As Haines crumpled to the ground, the woman hit the rocks below, and Vince received her gift even at that distance: Ssssnap.

He would have liked to lean over the railing to take a long look at her shattered body on the rocks down there, but unfortunately he had no time to spare. The highway would not long be free of traffic.

He carried Haines back to the Ford and put him in the front seat, letting him slump against the door as if sleeping peacefully. He made sure the man's head tipped back to let the blood from his nose trickle down his throat.

From the coast highway, which was twisty and frequently in poor repair for such a major route, Vince followed a series of lesser unpaved roads, each narrower and more rugged than the one before, traveling from gravel to dirt surfaces, heading deeper into the rain forest, until he came to a lonely dead end at a green wall of immense trees and lush vegetation. Twice during the drive, Haines had begun to regain consciousness, but Vince had quieted the doctor by thumping his head against the dashboard.

Now, he dragged the unconscious man out of the Ford, through a gap in the brush, and deep under the trees, until he found a shady clearing floored with hairy moss. Cawing and trilling birds fell silent, and unknown animals with peculiar voices moved off through the underbrush. Large insects, including a beetle as big as Vince's hand, scuttled out of his way, and lizards scampered up tree trunks.

Vince returned to the Ford, where he had left some interrogation equipment in the trunk. A packet of syringes and two vials of sodium pentothal. A leather sap weighted with lead pellets. A hand-applied Taser that resembled a remote-control device for a television set. And a corkscrew with a wooden handle.

Lawton Haines was still unconscious when Vince returned to the clearing. His breath rattled in his broken nose.

Haines should have been dead twenty-four hours ago. The people who had employed Vince for three jobs yesterday had expected to use another freelancer who lived in Acapulco and operated throughout Mexico. But that guy had died yesterday morning when a long-awaited air-mail package from Fortnum & Mason in London surprisingly contained two pounds of plastic explosives instead of assorted jellies and marmalades. Out of desperate necessity, the outfit in Los Angeles had given the job to Vince, though he was getting to be dangerously overworked. It was a big break for him, for he was sure this doctor must also be connected with Banodyne Laboratories and could provide more details about the Francis Project.

Now, exploring the rain forest around the clearing where Haines lay, Vince found a fallen tree from which he was able to pull off a loose, curved section of thick bark that would serve as a ladle. He located an algae-mottled stream and scooped up nearly a quart of water in the bark vessel. The stuff looked foul. No telling what exotic bacteria thrived in it. But, of course, at this point the possibility of disease would not matter to Haines.

Vince threw the first ladle of water in Haines's face. A minute later he returned with a second scoopful from which he forced the doctor to drink. After a lot of spluttering, choking, gagging, and a little vomiting, Haines was at last clearheaded enough to understand what was being said to him, and to respond intelligibly.

Holding up the leather sap, the Taser, and the corkscrew, Vince explained how he'd use each of them if Haines was uncooperative. The doctor-who revealed himself to be a specialist in brain physiology and function-proved more intelligent than patriotic, and he eagerly divulged every detail of the top-secret defense work in which he was engaged at Banodyne.

When Haines swore there was no more to be told, Vince prepared the sodium pentothal. As he drew the drug into the syringe, he said, conversationally, “Doctor, what is it with you and women?”

Haines, lying on his back in the hairy moss with his arms at his sides, exactly as Vince had told him to lie, was not able to adjust quickly to the change of subject. He blinked in confusion.

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