The target, p.1
The Target, p.1Part #3 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter
Table of Contents
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1998 by Catherine Coulter
This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.
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First edition (electronic): July 2001
Titles by Catherine Coulter
THE WILD BARON
THE WYNDHAM LEGACY
THE NIGHTINGALE LEGACY
THE VALENTINE LEGACY
LORD OF HAWKFELL ISLAND
LORD OF RAVEN’S PEAK
LORD OF FALCON RIDGE
THE SHERBROOKE BRIDE
THE HELLION BRIDE
THE HEIRESS BRIDE
in hardcover from G. P. Putnam’s Sons
TO DR. ANTON POGANY,
WHO HAS THE INSTINCTS,
THE PATIENCE, A LIGHT
TOUCH. IN OTHER WORDS,
HE’S GOT THE RIGHT
STUFF. LET’S KEEP
My thanks to Alex McClure, Esquire, for her intrepid assistance on the workings of the federal justice system.
HE SAW THE man clearly: tall, with dark clothes, a stark figure against the misty gray sky. He was walking into the big granite building, ugly and flat-looking, with scores of windows that didn’t look out over much except if you were up high. Then, suddenly, he was behind the man, just over his shoulder, keeping pace with him, watching him take the elevator to the nineteenth floor. He was nearly beside him as he walked down the long corridor and opened the door to a large office. A smiling receptionist greeted him, laughing at something he said. He watched the man greet two other people, a young man and a young woman, both well dressed, both obviously subordinate to him. He went into a large office with the man, saw a United States flag, a huge desk with its computer on top, the built-in bookshelves behind him, the windows beside him. He punched up the computer. Then, he was right behind the man; he could have reached out and helped him put on the long black robe. He watched him fasten the two clips closed. The man opened a door and walked into a big room, the look on his face somber, becoming cold, all the earlier humor wiped clean. There was a buzz. It stopped abruptly when he came into the room. Then the place went deathly silent.
Suddenly the room began to spin, faces blurred into one another, the very air of the room turned dark and darker still, and then the great main doors burst open and three men slammed into the room. They were carrying guns, assault guns like Russian AK47s. They were shooting, people were screaming, blood was spewing everywhere. He saw the man’s face tighten with horror and fury. He saw the man suddenly leap over the railing that had separated him from the rest of that roomful of people, his black robe swirling. His leg was up, he was turning, striking out, his motion so fast it was hard to see it clearly. Someone screamed loudly.
He was right behind the man now, heard him breathe, could feel the controlled rage in him, the vicious tension and determination, and wondered.
Suddenly, the man whirled about again, turning this time to face him. He stared at himself, looked deeply into the eyes of a man who had just killed and would kill again. He felt the spit pool in his mouth, the coiled muscles, and felt his arm fly out, striking a man’s throat.
He jerked up, flailing at the single sheet that was wound tightly around him like a mummy’s shroud, a yell dying on his lips. He was soaked with sweat, his hair plastered to his head. His heart was pounding so fast and hard he thought he’d explode. Again, he thought, that bloody dream yet again. He didn’t think he could stand it.
An hour later, he let himself out of his house, carefully locking the door behind him. He was on the way to his car when a man jumped out of the bushes and blinded him with a good half dozen photo flashes. It was too much.
He grabbed the photographer, hauled him up by his shirtfront, and yelled right in his face, “You’ve gone over the line, you little bastard.” He grabbed his camera, pulled the film out, and threw him aside. He tossed the camera to the man, who was lying on his back, gaping at him.
“You can’t do that!”
“I just did. Get off my property.”
The man scrambled to his feet, holding his camera to his chest. “I’ll sue you! The public has a right to know!”
He wanted to beat the guy senseless. The urge was so strong he was shaking with it. It was then he knew he had to leave. Otherwise it might not stop before he went nuts and really hurt one of the jerks. Or he simply just went nuts.
HE STOOD AT the edge of the mountain that sheered down a good two hundred feet before smoothing out into tree-covered ledges and gentle wildflower-covered slopes and sharp gaping ridges. He breathed in the thin air that was so fresh it burned his lungs, but, truth be told, it burned less today than it had yesterday. Soon, the frigid clean air at nearly six thousand feet would become natural to him. It had been only yesterday that he’d realized he hadn’t thought all day about a telephone, a TV, a radio, a fax machine, the sound of other voices coming at him from all sides, about people grabbing at him, shouting questions six inches from his face. And those blinding explosions of white from the ever-present flashbulbs. Now, he figured, at last he was beginning to let go, to forget for stretches of time what had happened.
He looked across the valley at the massive, raw mountains that stretched mile upon mile like unevenly spaced jagged teeth. Mr. Goudge, the owner of the Union 76 gas station down in Dillinger, had told him that many of the locals, lots of them Trekkies, called the whole mess of knuckle-shaped mountains the Ferengi Range. The highest peak rose to twelve thousand feet, bent slightly to the south, and looked like a misshapen phallus. He wasn’t about to climb a mountain with so unsubtle a shape. The folks down
He was aware again as he was so often of being utterly alone. At his elevation there were thick forests of conifers, mainly birch, fir, and more ponderosa pine than anyone could begin to count. He’d seen lots of quaking aspen too. No logging companies had ever devoured this land. On the higher-elevation peaks across the valley, there were no trees, no flowers as there were here in his alpine meadow, just snow and ruggedness, so much savage beauty, untouched by humans.
He looked toward the small town of Dillinger at the far end of the valley that stretched from east to west below. It claimed fifteen hundred and three souls. Silver mines had made it a boomtown in the 1880s, nearly bursting the valley open with more than thirty thousand people—miners, prostitutes, store owners, crooks, an occasional sheriff and preacher, and very few families. That was a long time ago. The descendants of those few locals who had stuck it out after the silver mines had closed down now catered to a trickle of summer tourists. There were cattle in the valley, but they were a scruffy lot. He’d seen bighorn sheep and mountain goats coming down the slopes really close to the cattle, pronghorn antelope grazing at the lower elevations, and prowling coyotes.
He’d driven his four-wheel-drive Jeep down there just once since he’d been here to stock up on groceries at Clement’s grocery. Had it been Tuesday? Two days ago? He’d bought a package of frozen peas, forgetting that he didn’t have a freezer, just a small high-tech refrigerator that was run off a generator sitting just outside the cabin. He’d cooked those frozen peas on his wood-burning stove, then eaten the entire package in one sitting next to the one bright standing lamp that also worked off the generator.
He stretched, caught a glimpse of two hawks flying low, looking for prey, and took his ax back to the stump beside the cabin where he was splitting logs. It didn’t take him long to pull off his down jacket, then his flannel shirt, then his undershirt. And still he worked up a sweat. His rhythm sped up. The sun felt hot and good on his skin, seeping in to warm his muscles. He felt strong and healthy. He was in business. He knew he had more logs than he could use for the next week, but he just kept to that hard, smooth rhythm, feeling his muscles flex and loosen, grow tight with power, and release.
He stopped a moment to wipe the sweat off his face with a sleeve of his shirt. Even his sweat smelled fresh, as if his innards were clean.
He heard something.
A very faint sound. It had to be an animal. But he’d gotten used to the owls and the sparrow hawks, to the chipmunks and the skunks, and to the wolves. This sound wasn’t one of them. He hoped it wasn’t another person invading his mountain. His was the only cabin in the high meadow. There were other cabins, but they were lower, at least a half mile away. No one came up here except maybe in the summer to hike. It was mid-April. No hikers yet. He hefted his ax again. He froze in midswing when the sound came again.
It was like the desperate cry of something—a kitten? No, that was crazy. Still, he pulled on his flannel shirt, and the down jacket. He leaned down and picked up his ax. The weight felt good. Had another man come onto his mountain?
He paused, holding perfectly still, letting the silence invade him until he was part of it. He felt the cool afternoon breeze stir the hair on his head. At last it came again, a soft mewling sound that was fainter this time, broken off into two distinct parts, as if suddenly split apart.
As if a creature was nearly dead.
He ran fast over the flat meadow where his cabin stood. He ran into the pine forest that surrounded the high meadow, slowing because of the undergrowth, praying he was going in the right direction, but uncertain even as he ran.
He heard his own hard breathing and stopped. Little sun could cut through the dense trees. Now that it was late afternoon, it was nearly dark here deep in the forest, where there were suddenly no sounds at all. Nothing. He calmed his breathing and listened. Still nothing. He heard a slithering sound. He whipped around to see a small prairie rattlesnake winding its way under a moss-covered rock. The snake was higher up than it should be.
He waited silent as the trees on all sides of him. He felt a cramp in his right bicep. Slowly he lowered the ax to the ground.
Suddenly he heard it again, off to his left, not too far away, muffled and faint, a sound that was almost like an echo of itself, a memory of what it had been.
He moved slowly now, eyes straight ahead, his stride long. He came to a small clearing. The afternoon sun was still bright overhead. There was rich high grass waving in the breeze. Blue columbine, the Colorado state flower, was blooming wildly, soft and delicate, already welcoming spring. It was a beautiful spot, one he hadn’t yet found on his daily treks.
He waited now, his face upturned to the slanting sun, listening. There was a squirrel running up a tree, a distinct sound, one he’d learned very quickly to identify. The squirrel scampered out on a narrow branch, making it wave up and down, its leaves rustling with the weight and movement.
Then there wasn’t anything at all, just silence.
He knew the sun wouldn’t be shining on him much longer; shadows were already lengthening, swallowing the light. Soon it would be as dark as Susan’s hair in the forest. No, he wouldn’t think about Susan. Actually it had been a very long time since he’d thought about Susan. It was time to go home, back to his cabin where he’d laid wood for a fire that morning, still waiting for a single match. He’d gotten good at building fires both in the fireplace and in the woodstove. He’d slice up some fresh tomatoes and shred some iceberg lettuce he’d bought two days before at Clement’s. He’d heat up some vegetable soup. He stepped back into the thick pine forest.
But what had he heard?
It was darker now than it had been just two minutes before. He had to walk carefully. His sleeve caught on a pine branch. He stopped to untangle himself. He had to lay down the ax.
It was then he saw the flash of light yellow off to his right. For a moment, he just stared at that light yellow. It didn’t move and neither did he.
He quickly picked up his ax. He walked toward that light yellow patch, pausing every few seconds, his eyes straining to make out what it was.
It was a lump of something.
He saw from three feet away that it was a child, unmoving, lying on her stomach, her dark brown hair in tangles down her back, hiding her face.
He fell on his knees beside her, afraid for an instant to touch her. Then he lightly put his hand to her shoulder. He shook her lightly. She didn’t move. The pulse in her throat was slow but steady. Thank God she was unconscious, not dead. He felt each of her arms, then her legs. Nothing was broken. But she could be injured internally. If she was, there was nothing he could do about it. He carefully turned her over.
There were two long scratches on her cheek, the blood dried and smeared. Again, he placed his finger against the pulse in her neck. Still slow, still steady.
He picked her up as carefully as he could, and grabbed his ax. He curved her in against him to protect her from the low pine branches and underbrush. She was small, probably not older than five or six. He realized then she wasn’t wearing a jacket, only the thin yellow T-shirt and dirty yellow jeans. There were white sneakers on her feet, one of the laces unfastened and dangling. No socks, no gloves, no jacket, no cap. What was she doing out here alone? What had happened to her?
He stopped. He could have sworn that he heard the sound of a heavy foot snapping through leaves and small branches. No, he was imagining things. He pulled her closer and quickened his step, the sound of that crunching step hovering just behind him.
It was heavy dusk by the time he walked through the door of his cabin. He laid the little girl on the sofa and covered her with an afghan, an old red-and-blue-checked wool square that was probably older than he was, and very warm. He lit the lamps throughout the cabin.
He turned to look at the front door. He frowned at it, then walked to the door, locked it, and turned the dead
The child was still unconscious. He lightly patted her cheeks, and sat back, waiting.
His day certainly wasn’t ending as it had begun. “Who are you?” he said to the child. Her face was turned away from him. The scratches were bright and ugly in the lamplight.
He fetched a bowl of tepid water that had been sitting on the woodstove all afternoon, a clean pair of white gym socks, and a bar of soap. He washed her face, as carefully as he could with a gym sock pulled over his hand, blotting the blood off the long scratches.
He brought one of his soft white undershirts that was warm and soft after years of laundering, and began to strip her. He had to examine her as best he could. He was shocked, then furious, at what he saw.
She was covered with bruises and welts, some of them crusted with dried blood. Blood was smeared between her legs. Oh, God. He closed his eyes a moment.
He bathed her thoroughly, examining her as well as he could, but he didn’t see any signs of wounds or cuts, just abrasions and deep bruises. He turned her onto her stomach. Long thin welts scored her child’s flesh, from her shoulders to her ankles, welts that didn’t overlap, as if made by a careless enraged hand, but that had been carefully placed by someone who wanted to mark every inch of the child, to obtain a certain result, a certain effect. She was thin and as white as the clean undershirt he pulled over her head. The undershirt came to her ankles. He smoothed the covers back over her, and spread out her hair about her head on the pillow with his fingers, gentle as he could be, easing out the worst of the tangles. It was just as well that she wasn’t awake while he’d taken care of her. He sat back, staring at the silent child.
He realized he was shaking with fury. What monster had done this to a child? He knew, from firsthand experience, that there were many monsters out there, but to come face-to-face with this made him want to puke and kill at the same time.
The Target by Catherine Coulter / Mystery & Detective / Romance & Love / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes