Watchers Page 47

Meanwhile, the investigation into the murders of the Banodyne scientists was dead in the water. In fact, that second NSA task force had been dismantled. Obviously, the Soviets had hired outsiders for those hits, and there was no way to find out whom they had brought in.

A deeply tanned guy in white shorts and Top-Siders passed Lem and said, “Beautiful day!”

“Like hell,” Lem said.


The day after Thanksgiving, Travis walked into the kitchen to get a glass of milk and saw Einstein having a sneezing fit, but he did not think much of it. Nora, even quicker than Travis to worry about the retriever's welfare, was also unconcerned. In California, the pollen count peaks in spring and autumn; however, because the climate permits a twelve-month cycle of flowers, no season is pollen-free. Living in the woods, the situation was exacerbated.

That night, Travis was awakened by a sound he could not identify. Instantly alert, every trace of sleep banished, he sat up in the dark and reached for the shotgun on the floor beside the bed. Holding the Mossberg, he listened for the noise, and in a minute or so it came again: in the second-floor hallway.

He eased out of bed without waking Nora and went cautiously to the doorway. The hail, like most places in the house, was equipped with a low-wattage night-light, and in the pale glow Travis saw that the noise came from the dog. Einstein was standing near the head of the stairs, coughing and shaking his head.

Travis went to him, and the retriever looked up. “You okay?”

A quick wag of the tale: Yes.

He stooped and ruffled the dog's coat. “You sure?”


For a minute, the dog pressed against him, enjoying being petted. Then he turned away from Travis, coughed a couple of times, and went downstairs.

Travis followed. In the kitchen, he found Einstein slurping water from the dish.

Having emptied the dish, the retriever went to the pantry, turned on the light, and began to paw lettered tiles out of the Lucite tubes.


“Are you sure you feel well?”


Surprised, Travis said, “You dream?”


“Yeah. Too much.”

He refilled the retriever's water dish, and Einstein emptied it again, and Travis filled it a second time. By then the dog had had enough. Travis expected him to want to go outside to pee, but the dog went upstairs instead and settled in the hall by the door of the bedroom in which Nora still slept.

In a whisper, Travis said, “Listen, if you want to come in and sleep beside the bed, it's all right.”

That was what Einstein wanted. He curled up on the floor on Travis's side of the bed.

In the dark, Travis could reach out and easily touch both the shotgun and Einstein. He took greater reassurance from the presence of the dog than from the gun.


Saturday afternoon, just two days after Thanksgiving, Garrison Dilworth got in his Mercedes and drove slowly away from his house. Within two blocks he confirmed that the NSA still had a tail on him. It was a green Ford, Probably the same one that had followed him last evening. They stayed well back of him, and they were discreet, but he was not blind.

He still had not called Nora and Travis. Because he was being followed, he suspected his phones were being tapped as well. He could have gone to a pay phone, but he was afraid that the NSA could eavesdrop on the conversation with a directional microphone or some other high-tech gadget. And if they managed to record the push-button tones that he produced by punching in the Cornells' number, they could easily translate those tones into digits and trace the number back to Big Sur. He would have to resort to deception to contact Travis and Nora safely.

He knew he had better act soon, before Travis or Nora phoned him. These days, with the technology available to them, the NSA could trace the call back to its origins as fast as Garrison would be able to warn Travis that the line was tapped.

So at two o'clock Saturday afternoon, chaperoned by the green Ford, he drove to Della Colby's house in Montecito to take her to his boat, the Amazing Grace, for a lazy afternoon in the sun. At least that was what he had told her on the phone.

Della was Judge Jack Colby's widow. She and Jack were Garrison's and Francine's best friends for twenty-five years before death broke up the foursome. Jack had died one year after Francine. Della and Garrison remained very close; they frequently went to dinner together, went dancing and walking and sailing. Initially, their relationship had been strictly platonic; they were simply old friends who had the fortune-or misfortune-to outlast everyone they most cared about, and they needed each other because they shared so many good times and memories that would be diminished when there was no longer anyone left with whom to reminisce. A year ago, when they suddenly found themselves in bed together, they had been surprised and overwhelmed with guilt. They felt as if they were cheating on their spouses, though Jack and Francine had died years ago. The guilt passed, of course, and now they were grateful for the companionship and gently burning passion that had unexpectedly brightened their late-autumn years.

When he pulled into Della's driveway, she came out of the house, locked the front door, and hurried to his car. She was dressed in boat shoes, white slacks, a blue- and white-striped sweater, and a blue windbreaker. Although she was sixty-nine, and though her short hair was snow-white, she looked fifteen years younger.

He got out of the Mercedes, gave her a hug and a kiss, and said, “Can we go in your car?”

She blinked, “Are you having trouble with yours?”

“No,” he said. “I'd just rather take yours.”


She backed her Caddy out of the garage, and he got in on the passenger's side. As she pulled into the street, he said, “I'm afraid my car might be bugged, and I don't want them hearing what I've got to tell you.”

Her expression was priceless.

Laughing, he said, “No, I've not gone senile overnight. If you'll keep an eye on the rearview mirrow as you drive, you'll see we're being followed. They're very good, very subtle, but they're not invisible.”

He gave her time, and after a few blocks Della said, “The green Ford, is it?”

“That's them.”

“What've you gotten yourself into, dear?”

“Don't go straight to the harbor. Drive to the farmer's market, and we'll buy some fresh fruit. Then drive to a liquor store, and we'll buy some wine. By then, I'll have told you everything.”

“Have you some secret life I've never suspected?” she asked, grinning at him. “Are you a geriatric James Bond?”

Yesterday, Lem Johnson had reopened a temporary headquarters in a claustrophobic office at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. The room had one narrow window. The walls were dark, and the overhead lighting fixture was so dim it left the corners full of hanging shadows like misplaced scarecrows. The borrowed furniture consisted of rejects from other offices. He had worked out of here in the day following the Hockney killing, but had closed it up after a week, when there was nothing more to be done in the area. Now, with the hope that Dilworth would lead them to the Cornells, Lem reopened the cramped field HQ, plugged in the phones, and waited for developments.

He shared the office with one assisting agent-Jim Vann-who was an almost too-earnest and too-dedicated twenty-five-year-old.

At the moment, Cliff Soames was in charge of the six-man team at the harbor, overseeing not only the NSA agents spotted throughout the area, but also coordinating the coverage of Garrison Dilworth with the Harbor Patrol and the Coast Guard. The shrewd old man apparently realized he was being followed, so Lem expected him, to make a break, to try to shake surveillance long enough to place a call to the Cornells in private. The most logical way for Garrison to throw off his tail was to head out to sea, go up or down the coast, put ashore on a launch, and telephone Cornell before his pursuers could relocate him. But he would be surprised to find himself accompanied out of the harbor by the local patrol; then, at sea, he would be followed by a Coast Guard cutter standing by for that purpose.

At three-forty, Cliff called to report that Dilworth and his lady friend were Sitting on the deck of the Amazing Grace, eating fruit and sipping wine, reminiscing a lot, laughing a little. “From what we can pick up with directional microphones and from what we can see, I'd say they don't have any intention of going anywhere. Except maybe to bed. They sure do seem to be a randy old pair.”

“Stay with them,” Lem said. “I don't trust him.”

Another call came through from the search team that had secretly entered Dilworth's house minutes after he had left. They had found nothing related to the Cornells or the dog.

Dilworth's office had been carefully searched last night, and nothing had been found there, either. Likewise, a study of his phone records did not produce a number for the Cornells; if he had called them in the past, he always did so from a pay phone. An examination of his AT&T credit-card records showed no such calls, so if he had used a pay phone, he had not billed it to himself but had reversed the charges to the Cornells, leaving nothing to be traced. Which was not a good sign. Obviously, Dilworth had been exceedingly cautious even before he had known he was being watched.

Saturday, afraid the dog might be coming down with a cold, Travis kept an eye on Einstein. But the retriever sneezed only a couple of times and did not cough at all, and he seemed to be fit.

A freight company delivered ten large cartons containing all of Nora's finished canvases that had been left behind in Santa Barbara. A couple of weeks ago, using a friend's return address to insure that no link would exist between him and Nora “Aimes,” Garrison Dilworth had shipped the paintings to their new house.

Now, unpacking and unwrapping the canvases, creating piles of paper padding in the living room, Nora was transported. Travis knew that, for many years, this work was what she had lived for, and he could see that having the paintings with her again was not only a great joy to her but would probably spur her to return to her new canvases, in the spare bedroom, with greater enthusiasm.

“You want to call Garrison and thank him?” he asked.

“Yes, absolutely!” she said. “But first, let's unpack them all and make sure none of them is damaged.”

Posted around the harbor, posing as yacht owners and fishermen, Cliff Soames and the other NSA agents watched Dilworth and Della Colby and eavesdropped on them electronically as the day waned. Twilight descended without any indication that Dilworth intended to put to sea. Soon night fell, yet the attorney and his woman made no move.

Half an hour after dark, Cliff Soames got weary of pretending to fish off the stern of a Cheoy Lee sixty-six-foot sport yacht docked four slips away from Dilworth's. He climbed the steps, went into the pilot's cabin, and pulled the headphones off Hank Gorner, the agent who was monitoring the old couple's conversation through a directional mike. He listened for himself.

". . . the time in Acapulco when Jack hired that fishing boat. .

“. . . yes, the whole crew looked like pirates!”

". . . we thought we'd have our throats cut, be dumped at sea. .

but then it turned out they were all divinity students . . studying to be missionaries. . . and Jack said. .

Returning the headphones, Cliff said, “Still reminiscing!”

The other agent nodded. The cabin light was out, and Hank was illuminated only by a small, hooded, built-in work lamp above the chart table, so his features looked elongated and strange. “That's the way it's been all day. At least they have some great stories.”

“I'm going to the john,” Cliff said wearily. “Be right back.”

“Take ten hours if you want. They're not going anywhere.”

A few minutes later, when Cliff returned, Hank Gorner pulled off his headphones and said, “They went below decks.”

“Something up?”

“Not what we'd hope. They're gonna jump each other's bones.”


“Cliff, jeez, I don't want to listen to this.”

“Listen,” Cliff insisted.

Hank put one earphone to his head. “Jeez, they're undressing each other, and they're as old as my grandparents. This is embarrassing.”

Cliff sighed.

“Now they're quiet,” Hank said, a frown of distaste creeping over his face. “Any second they're gonna start moaning, Cliff.”

“Listen,” Cliff insisted. He snatched a light jacket off the table and went outside again so he wouldn't have to listen.

He took up his position in a chair on the stern deck, lifting the fishing pole once more.

The night was cool enough for the jacket, but otherwise it could not have been better. The air was clear and sweet, scented with just a slight tang of the sea. The moonless sky was full of stars. The water slapped lullingly against the dock pilings and against the hulls of the moored boats. Somewhere across the harbor, on another craft, someone was playing love songs from the forties. An engine turned over-whump-whump-whump-and there was something romantic about the sound. Cliff thought how nice it would be to own a boat and set out on a long trip through the South Pacific, toward palm-shaded islands- Suddenly that idling engine roared, and Cliff realized it was the Amazing Grace. As he rose from his chair, dropping the fishing pole, he saw Dilworth's boat reversing out of its slip recklessly fast. It was a sailboat, and subconsciously Cliff had not expected it to move with sails furled, but it had auxiliary engines; they knew this, were prepared for this, but still it startled him. He hurried back to the cabin, “Hank, get Harbor Patrol. Dilworth's on the move.”

“But they're in the sack.”

“Like hell they are!” Cliff ran out to the bow deck and saw that Dilworth had already swung the Amazing Grace around and was headed toward the mouth of the harbor. No lights at the aft end of the boat, the area around the wheel, just one small light forward. Jesus, he was really making a break for it.

By the time they unpacked all one hundred canvases, hung a few, and carried the rest into the unused bedroom, they were starving.

“Garrison's probably having dinner now, too,” Nora said. “I don't want to interrupt him. Let's call him after we've eaten.”

In the pantry, Einstein released letters from the Lucite tubes and spelled out a message: IT'S DARK. CLOSE THE SHUTTERS FIRST.

Surprised and unsettled by his own uncharacteristic inattention to security, Travis hurried from room to room, closing the interior shutters and slipping the bolt-type latches in place. Fascinated by Nora's paintings and delighted by the pleasure she exhibited in their arrival, he had not even noticed that night had arrived.

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