Watchers Page 45

There were five other rooms-an enormous living room and a den at the front of the first floor; three bedrooms upstairs-plus one bath down and one up. One of the bedrooms was theirs, and one served as Nora's studio where she had done a little painting since they moved in-and the third was empty, awaiting developments.

Travis switched on the kitchen lights. Although the house seemed isolated, they were only two hundred yards from the highway, and power poles followed the line of their dirt driveway.

“I'm having a beer,” Travis said, “You want anything?”

Einstein padded to his empty water dish, which was in the corner beside his food dish, and scooted it across the floor to the sink.

They had not expected to be able to afford such a house so soon after fleeing Santa Barbara-especially not when, during their first call to Garrison Dilworth, the attorney informed them that Travis's bank accounts had, indeed, been frozen. They had been lucky to get the twenty-thousand-dollar check through. Garrison had converted some of both Travis's and Nora's funds into eight cashier's checks as planned, and had sent them to Travis addressed to Mr. Samuel Spencer Hyatt (the new persona), care of the Marin County motel where they had stayed for nearly a week. But also, claiming to have sold Nora's house for a handsome six-figure price, he had sent another packet of cashier's checks two days later, to the same motel.

Speaking with him from a pay phone, Nora had said, “But even if you did sell it, they can't have paid the money and closed the deal so soon.”

“No,” Garrison had admitted. “It won't close for a month. But you need the cash now, so I'm advancing it to you.”

They had opened two accounts at a bank in Carmel, thirty-odd miles north of where they now lived. They had bought the new pickup, then had taken Garrison's Mercedes north to the San Francisco airport, leaving it there for him. Heading south again, past Carmel and along the coast, they looked for a house in the Big Sur area. When they had found this one, they had been able to pay cash for it. It was wiser to buy than rent, and it was wiser to pay cash rather than finance the house, for fewer questions needed to be answered.

Travis was sure their ID would stand up, but he saw no reason to test the quality of Van Dyne's papers until necessary. Besides, after buying a house, they were more respectable; the purchase added substance to their new identities.

While Travis got a bottle of beer from the refrigerator, twisted off the cap, took a long swallow, then filled Einstein's dish with water, the retriever went to the walk-in pantry. The door was ajar, as always, and the dog opened it all the way. He put one paw on a pedal that Travis had rigged for him just inside the pantry door, and the light came on in there.

In addition to shelves of canned and bottled goods, the huge pantry contained a complex gadget that Travis and Nora had built to facilitate communication with the dog. The device stood against the rear wall: twenty-eight one-inch-square tubes made of Lucite, lined up side by side in a wooden frame; each tube was eighteen inches tall, open at the top, and fitted with a pedal-release valve at the bottom. In the first twenty-six tubes were stacked lettered tiles from six Scrabble games, so Einstein would have enough letters to be able to form long messages. On the front of each tube was a hand-drawn letter that showed what it contained; A, B, C, D, and so on. The last two tubes held blank game tiles on which Travis had carved commas-or apostrophes-and question marks. (They'd decided they could figure where the periods were supposed to go.) Einstein was able to dispense letters from the tubes by stepping on the pedals, then could use his nose to form the tiles into words on the pantry floor. They had chosen to put the device in there, out of sight, so they would not be required to explain it to neighbors who might drop in unexpectedly.

As Einstein busily pumped pedals and clicked tiles against one another, Travis carried his beer and the dog's water dish out to the front porch, where they would sit and wait for Nora. By the time he came back, Einstein had finished forming a message.


Travis said, “I'm going to have lunch with Nora when she gets home. Don't YOU want to wait and eat with us?”

The retriever licked his chops and thought for a moment. Then he studied the letters he had already used, pushed some of them aside, and reused the rest along with a K and a T and an apostrophe that he had to release from the Lucite tubes.


“You'll survive,” Travis told him. He gathered up the lettered tiles and sorted them into the open tops of the proper tubes.

He retrieved the pistol-grip shotgun that he'd stood by the back door and carried it out to the front porch, where he put it beside his rocking chair. He heard Einstein turn off the pantry light and follow him.

They sat in anxious silence, Travis in his chair, Einstein on the redwood floor.

Songbirds trilled in the mild October air.

Travis sipped at his beer, and Einstein lapped occasionally at his water, and they stared down the dirt driveway, into the trees, toward the highway that they could not see.

In the glove compartment of the Toyota, Nora had a .38 pistol loaded with hollow-point cartridges. During the weeks since they had left Marin County, she had learned to drive and, with Travis's help, had become proficient with the .38-also with a fully automatic Uzi pistol and a shotgun. She only had the .38 today, but she'd be safe going and coming from Carmel. Besides, even if The Outsider had crept into the area without Einstein's knowledge, it did not want Nora; it wanted the dog. So she was perfectly safe.

But where was she?

Travis wished he had gone with her. But after thirty years of dependency and fear, solo trips into Carmel were one of the means by which she asserted- and tested-her new strength, independence, and self-confidence. She would not have welcomed his company.

By one-thirty, when Nora was half an hour late, Travis began to get a sick, twisting feeling in his gut.

Einstein began to pace.

Five minutes later, the retriever was the first to hear the car turning into the foot of the driveway at the main road. He dashed down the porch steps, which were at the side of the house, and stood at the edge of the dirt lane.

Travis did not want Nora to see that he had been overly worried because somehow that would seem to indicate a lack of trust in her ability to take care of herself, an ability that she did, indeed, possess and that she prized. He remained in his rocking chair, his bottle of Corona in one hand.

When the blue Toyota appeared, he sighed with relief. As she went by the house, she tooted the horn. Travis waved as if he had not been sitting there under a leaden blanket of fear.

Einstein went to the garage to greet her, and a minute later they both reappeared. She was wearing blue jeans and a yellow- and white-checkered shirt, but Travis thought she looked good enough to waltz onto a dance floor among begowned and bejeweled princesses.

She came to him, leaned down, kissed him. Her lips were warm.

She said, “Miss me terribly?”

“With you gone, there was no sun, no trilling from the birds, no joy.” He tried to say it flippantly, but it came out with an underlying note of seriousness.

Einstein rubbed against her and whined to get her attention, then peered up at her and woofed softly, as if to say, Well?

“He's right,” Travis said, “You're not being fair. Don't keep us in suspense.”

“I am,” she said.

“You are?”

She grinned. “Knocked up.”

“Oh my,” he said.

“Preggers. With child. In a family way. A mother-to-be.”

He got up and put his arms around her, held her close and kissed her, and said, “Dr. Weingold couldn't be mistaken,” and she said, “No, he's a good doctor,” and Travis said, “He must've told you when,” and she said. “We, can expect the baby the third week of June, and Travis said stupidly, ”Next June?“ and she laughed and said, ”I don't intend to carry this baby for a whole extra year," and finally Einstein insisted on having a chance to nuzzle her and express his delight.

“I brought home a chilled bottle of bubbly to celebrate,” she said, thrusting a paper bag into his hands.

In the kitchen, when he took the bottle out of the bag, he saw that it was sparkling apple cider, nonalcoholic. He said, “Isn't this a celebration worth the best champagne?”

Getting glasses from a cupboard, she said, “I'm probably being silly, a world-champion worrier. . . but I'm taking no chances, Travis. I never thought I'd have a baby, never dared dream it, and now I've got this hinkey feeling that I was never meant to have it and that it's going to be taken away from me if I don't take every precaution, if I don't do everything just right. So I'm not taking another drink until it's born. I'm not going to eat too much red meat, and I'm going to eat more vegetables. I never have smoked, so that's not a worry. I'm going to gain exactly as much weight as Dr. Weingold tells me I should, and I'm going to do my exercises, and I'm going to have the most perfect baby the world has ever seen.”

“Of course you are,” he said, filling their wine glasses with sparkling apple cider and Pouring some in a dish for Einstein.

“Nothing will go wrong,” she said.

“Nothing,” he said.

They toasted the baby-and Einstein, who was going to make a terrific godfather, uncle, grandfather, and furry guardian angel.

Nobody mentioned The Outsider.

Later that night, in bed in the dark, after they had made love and were just holding each other, listening to their hearts beating in unison, he dared to say, “Maybe, with what might be coming our way, we shouldn't be having a baby just now.”

“Hush,” she said.


“We didn't plan for this baby,” she said. “In fact, we took precautions against it. But it happened anyway. There's something special about the fact that it happened in spite of all our careful precautions. Don't you think? In spite of all I said before, about maybe not being meant to have it . . . well, that's just the old Nora talking. The new Nora thinks we were meant to have it, that it's a great gift to us-as Einstein was.”

“But considering what may be coming-”

“That doesn't matter,” she said. “We'll deal with that. We'll come out of that all right. We're ready. And then we'll have the baby and really begin our life together. I love you, Travis.”

“I love you,” he said. “God, I love you.”

He realized how much she had changed from the mousy woman he'd met in Santa Barbara last spring. Right now, she was the strong one, the determined one, and she was trying to allay his fears.

She was doing a good job, too. He felt better. He thought about the baby, and he smiled in the dark, with his face buried in her throat. Though he now had three hostages to fortune-Nora, the unborn baby, and Einstein-he was in finer spirits than he had been in longer than he could remember. Nora had allayed his fears.


Vince Nasco sat in an elaborately carved Italian chair with a deep glossy finish that had acquired its remarkable transparency only after a couple of Centuries of regular polishing.

To his right was a sofa and two more chairs and a low table of equal elegance, arranged before a backdrop of bookcases filled with leather-bound volumes that had never been read. He knew they had never been read because Mario Tetragna, whose private study this was, had once pointed to them with pride and said, “Expensive books. And as good as the day they were made because they've never been read. Never. Not a one.”

In front of him was the immense desk at which Mario Tetragna reviewed earnings reports from his managers, issued memos about new ventures, and ordered people killed. The don was at that desk now, overflowing his leather chair, eyes closed. He looked as if he was dead of clogged arteries and a fat-impacted heart, but he was only considering Vince's request.

Mario “The Screwdriver” Tetragna-respected patriarch of his immediate blood family, much-feared don of the broader Tetragna Family that controlled drug traffic, gambling, prostitution, loan-sharking, pornography, and other organized criminal activity in San Francisco-was a five-foot-seven-inch, three-hundred-pound tub with a face as plump and greasy and smooth as an overstuffed sausage casing. It was hard to believe that this rotund specimen could have built an infamous criminal operation. True, Tetragna had been young once, but even then he would have been short, and he had the look of a man who'd been fat all his life. His pudgy, stubby-fingered hands reminded Vince of a baby's hands. But they were the hands that ruled the Family's empire.

When Vince had looked into Mario Tetragna's eyes, he instantly realized that the don's stature and his all too evident decadence were of no importance. The eyes were those of a reptile: flat, cold, hard, watchful. If you weren't careful, if you displeased him, he would hypnotize you with those eyes and take you the way a snake would take a mesmerized mouse; he would choke you down whole and digest you.

Vince admired Tetragna. He knew this was a great man, and he wished he could tell the don that he, too, was a man of destiny. But he had learned never to speak of his immortality, for in the past such talk had earned him ridicule from a man he'd thought would understand.

Now, Don Tetragna opened his reptilian eyes and said, “Let me be certain I understand. You are looking for a man. This is not Family business. It is a private grudge.”

“Yes, sir,” Vince said.

“You believe this man may have bought counterfeit papers and may be living under a new name. He would know how to obtain such papers, even though he is not a member of any Family, not of the fratellanza?”

“Yes, sir. His background is such that . . . he would know.”

“And you believe he would have obtained these papers in either Los Angeles or here,” Don Tetragna said, gesturing toward the window and the city of San Francisco with one soft, pink hand.

Vince said, “On August twenty-fifth he went on the run, starting from Santa Barbara by car because for various reasons he couldn't take a plane anywhere. I believe he would've wanted a new identity as quickly as he could get it. At first, I assumed he'd go south and seek out counterfeit ID in Los Angeles because that was closest. But I've spent the better part of two months talking with all the right people in L.A., Orange County, and even San Diego, all the people to whom this man could've gone for high-quality false ID, and I've had a few leads, but none panned out. So if he didn't go south from Santa Barbara, he came north, and the only place in the north where he could get the kind of quality papers he would want-”

Prev Next