Insidious, p.1
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       Insidious, p.1

         Part #20 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter
 
Insidious


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  TO THE EINSTEIN OF EDITING, ANTON, THANK YOU

  —CATHERINE

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  * * *

  Fred (Ski) Ludwikowski—thank you for recommending Sherlock’s birthday present from Savich, a new ankle piece, the 9mm Glock 43. She is really enjoying it, practices fast-drawing between floors on the elevator.

  Angela Bell, FBI, Office of Public Affairs—even though I didn’t bombard you with questions and situations with this book, knowing I could have is gold. Having you there with every answer merits an eternal thank-you.

  The town of Malibu—thanks to all the inhabitants I spoke with, both inside and outside the Colony. You guys are the angels atop the LaLa Land Christmas trees.

  Karen Evans—as always, the light in my window, the premium in my tank, the apples in my pie. You are a princess.

  1

  * * *

  LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

  LATE JUNE

  SATURDAY AFTERNOON

  Missy Devereaux, whose real name was Mary Ann Duff, fluffed her hair as she pretended to look in the store window, scanning behind her, wondering if he’d followed her to Las Vegas. And then she saw him, across the street, ducking behind an old gray Volvo in the thick Las Vegas Strip traffic. He looked thin in his baggy jeans and his loose-hanging dark blue shirt. She couldn’t see his face—he wore dark sunglasses and a Giants baseball cap.

  It wasn’t fair. She’d just landed a six-month stint here at the Mandalay in a Beatles musical retrospective, hoping for half a year of peace and calm without a stalker to tie her stomach in knots, but here he was, after only four days. She’d been so careful when the taxi picked her up at her cottage in Malibu nearly a week before—had the driver drop her off at LAX, a terminal away from the airline she’d booked—but still he was here, watching her, following her. All she’d wanted was her life to return to normal. She’d done everything she could. She’d gone to the cops to see if they could stop him. Movie star stalkers were old hat to the Calabasas Sheriff’s Department, responsible for handling all the criminal problems in Malibu. They had a protocol in place, a pleasant older cop had told her four months before, they would talk to him if she would point him out. What, she’d asked, would her stalker do when he got tired of following her around? Attack her? The friendly older cop only shook his head, avoided answering that question. That same day, Missy bought a Becker Ka-Bar knife, a fixed blade three and a quarter inches long, with a three-inch handle. It was made of Cro-Van steel, the salesman had told her, and was favored by sailors going back nearly to the ark. She liked the sound of that, carrying something badass enough for the marines. She liked the feel of the Ka-Bar, too, solid, and ready to go in its sheath hooked onto her waistband.

  The cops hadn’t caught the stalker, even following their protocol.

  She kept fluffing, touched on some lip gloss, and continued to stare into the window. She didn’t see him now, but she knew he was there, watching. She was so used to feeling acid burning her gut, so used to the overwhelming urge to run as fast as she could, that she didn’t at first recognize the bolt of rage that splashed through her. She felt her adrenaline spike, felt her blood pumping hard and fast, the mad mix making her shake. For the first time she let the heat of anger wash over her, and she saw clearly who and what he was—nothing. She wasn’t going to let him destroy her life. Not anymore. She turned on her heel and worked her way through the gridlock traffic on the Strip, not even aware of the horns honking, the tourists jostling her or the wolf whistles. All her focus was on that miserable little man who probably spent his nights licking her publicity photos.

  She saw him straighten, stare at her, then draw back when she started running toward him, not away, her Ka-Bar in her hand.

  She heard growling, realized it was from her, and yelled, “You miserable little worm! I’m going to carve out your tonsils!” He sprinted away, Missy after him, running fast and strong. She’d been a blimp in high school, but all that had changed when she’d turned twenty. Six years later, she was in top-flight shape, ran three miles every single day, worked out at Sam’s Muscle Bar, in L.A. Catch him? Not a problem. He wove through crowds of tourists on the sidewalk, knocking some out of his way, going around others, and Missy followed in his wake, closing in on him. He ran past the Venetian hotel with its Grand Canal and gondolas floating past, knocking two people aside, leaving them cursing after him. When the crush of tourists became too thick, she ran in the street, close to the sidewalk, and gained on him more. When he turned right, toward the Wynn hotel and looked back over his shoulder, she saw it clear as day—fear. He’s afraid of me! It was heady to see that look after so many months of aggravation and, yes, fear. Now it was his turn. She felt fierce, unstoppable. She amped up her speed.

  He was tiring fast as he ran into the huge hotel garage, nearly empty this time of day, Missy on his heels. She lost him for a moment in the shadows, then spotted him running across to the far side of the garage that opened onto the gardens of the Wynn. She was nearly on him now. Without hesitating, Missy took a flying leap and landed on his back, wrapping her arms around his neck. He fell forward under her weight, half on the grass, half on the concrete garage floor.

  “You move, and I’ll slice off your ear!” She pricked his neck with her Ka-Bar, enough to draw a drop of blood, to show him she was serious. He became still as a stone. So he wasn’t a complete moron. She jerked off his ball cap, grabbed a tangle of brown hair, and pulled his head back. She elbowed off his sunglasses and looked down into a thin, good-looking face, marred by some acne scars on his forehead, and pale brown eyes filled with fear. Of her. Of her Ka-Bar digging into his neck. He didn’t outweigh her by more than twenty pounds. She felt triumphant; she’d brought him down, and not a cop in sight. Missy leaned close, thought about biting him but didn’t. She whispered in his ear, “You’re the one who’s scared now, aren’t you, you creep? Who are you? Why have you been stalking me?”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never saw you before in my life. You started ch-chasing me and I-I saw the knife. I ran.” His voice was high, twitchy, with a bit of a stutter that pleased her immensely.

  “You puking little liar!” She jerked up his head by the hair, dug the knife a bit deeper. He groaned, music to her ears.

  A man’s deep voice from just above her said quietly, easily, “Please don’t carve him up here, ma’am. Mr. Wynn wouldn’t be pleased. I’m Del Conroy, head of security.”

  Missy stilled, craned her neck to look up into a hard face, at odds with that smooth cowboy voice. He was older, with iron-gray hair cut short, a white shirt and slacks. “Please don’t stop me, Mr. Conroy. I’m Missy. Missy Devereaux. I want to carve him up, but I won’t if he tells me why he’s been stalking me.”

  “A stalker? And you brought him down. Well done.” He squatted down beside her. “Nice to meet you, Missy. And what’s your name, sir?”

  “I didn’t do anything. She attacked me!”

  Conroy studied the young man’s face, spotted the midwestern accent, stood. “Up you go, Missy, I’ve got this now, if you don’t mind.” And he scooped her up beneath her armpits and set her on her feet. Both of them stared down at the man, who was rubbing his neck. Missy saw the smear of blood from her Ka-Bar and smiled.

  Conroy said in the same calm, soothing voice, “I suggest you don’t move or I’ll let her cut your ears off.” He turned back to Missy, who was still brea
thing fast and hard, not from all the running, but from the adrenaline rush. “Talk to me.”

  Missy’s foot was raised to slam down on his back if he moved. The urge to kick him was nearly overpowering.

  “Talk to me,” Conroy said again.

  “Phew, well, okay. Like I said, this out-of-shape worm is a stalker, been lurking around corners for months, even followed me here from L.A.” And Missy couldn’t stop herself, she kicked him, not very hard at all, really, since she wasn’t in her boots, only sneakers.

  He lurched to the side, hugging himself, and yelled, “You saw what she did. I’m going to have her arrested; I’m going to press charges. I didn’t do anything. I was walking down the Strip, minding my own, and she starts screaming at me and waving that knife! I want you to call the police.”

  Del Conroy, a retired cop himself and head of security at the Wynn for three years now, knew that very probably nothing was going to happen to this guy, and hated it. He said politely, “Sir, again, what is your name?”

  “Blinker—well, that’s my nickname—I’m John Bayley. I have a good job. I’m a fine citizen.”

  “Why does anyone call you Blinker?”

  “I’m a bond trader. I’m fast, I can make a trade in the blink of an eye.”

  A bond trader who was a stalker? That was a new one, even to Conroy. He said, “Please give me your wallet, Mr. Bayley.”

  The man pulled out a butt-flat alligator wallet, good quality, Conroy saw, and handed it to him. A California driver’s license, three credit cards, an AAA card, a gym membership for Fit Bods in Santa Monica, a couple of hundred-dollar bills. “You want to tell me what you’re doing here in Las Vegas, Mr. Bayley?”

  “Just like the other hundred thousand mutts wandering the streets out there, I’m here to unwind from the high-stress job I’ve got—see shows, play some machines—until this crazy girl came after me with a knife.”

  “You’re thirty-two.”

  “Yeah. Let me up.”

  Conroy memorized the address in Santa Monica and gave Mr. Bayley back his wallet. “Get up, Mr. Bayley. We’ll go back to my office and call the police.” Del Conroy prayed the guy had prior charges, or he’d get off without a doubt.

  Missy became vaguely aware of people’s hushed voices and looked up to see a good dozen bystanders watching the little drama. She slipped the knife back into her pocket, tossed her head until her beautiful hair swirled and danced, and gave them a huge wave. “Come see me sing at the Mandalay tonight! I’m in The Beatles Retrospective.” She turned, shook Del Conroy’s hand. “Thank you for keeping me from sticking my knife in this pervert’s neck. But I wanted to, I really did.”

  “I know, but you didn’t. You did good.”

  “I didn’t do anything! It’s you who’s going to jail!”

  “Be quiet, Mr. Bayley,” Del Conroy said. He turned to Missy. “Keep that Ka-Bar in its sheath, Ms. Devereaux. You don’t want the cops to see it. How’d you get it through airport security?”

  “I bought it here, at Larry’s Pawn Shop. Why would the cops care? I was defending myself.”

  “Better to play it smart. With Mr. Bayley ranting how you sliced him up, they’ll probably take it anyway.”

  Well, that didn’t sound right. Missy eyed her stalker. “It’s over now, anyway, you pervert. I know who you are and I’ll soon be free of you. You’re going to leave me alone or you’ll be going to jail for a good long time. And me? I’ll be normal again.” She felt so very fine she started to sing her favorite song, “Twist and Shout.”

  2

  * * *

  LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

  SATURDAY NIGHT

  Marty Sallas moved quiet as a thief, which he was, to one of the side windows of the small pastel-blue house, his glass cutter in his hand. It was a good fifteen minutes from the Strip, in a quiet middling residential neighborhood. Perfect, really, for what he had planned. He’d kept his eyes on his princess—called Legs by everyone in the cast of The Beatles Retrospective—for the past two days, ever since he’d noticed a rich guy coming on to her. Last night he’d seen the dude give her an expensive emerald-and-diamond bracelet from Laszlo’s, a not-so-subtle inducement to hit the sheets. Tonight the rich guy wasn’t with her, he was playing high-stakes poker again at the Mandalay, where he’d seen her singing and dancing in her show. Molly Harbinger was her name, but to Marty, she was his princess who would give him her crowned jewels. He looked at his watch, lit a cigarette. Of course he’d stick the butt in his pocket. Soon now, Molly should fall into bed, exhausted after her three-hour workout in the show.

  Marty used the time to think about how he’d spend the money he’d get from this job. He was considering the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle, perfect weather this time of year, not like this hellhole, and who cared there’d be no hot girls hanging out drinking beers? He’d buy himself a wet suit and swim in Puget Sound. He had to pay off Alf, a security guard at Laszlo’s, who’d texted him about the bracelet. The rich dude had shelled out fifteen big ones. So one thousand to Alf. It always paid to keep his boys happy.

  Marty froze when the kitchen light came on at the rear of the house. He moved around so he could see into the kitchen. Why wasn’t she in bed, getting her beauty sleep? He’d seen her caress the rich guy’s hand just that afternoon, over two glasses of chardonnay, the bracelet sparkling in the dim bar light, and heard her thank him again, tell him she had two shows tomorrow, and she needed to get to bed early, but—lovely pause—she was off Monday. The guy had bowed out gracefully, no doubt he’d wet-dream his night away. Marty hoped he would win big at poker and give her more bling. The princess deserved that.

  It was after midnight and there she stood, wearing pink pajama boxers and a tank top, drinking water over the kitchen sink. Back to bed, princess, back to bed, time’s a-wastin’. Come on, honey, it don’t pay to hang around in one place too long.

  He heard a man’s wheedling voice but couldn’t make out the words, then the princess yelled, “I told you to get out of here, Tommy! What you did this time tears it. You gambled away all the money I’ve saved. Get out now, you loser, I don’t want to see your stupid face again.”

  Marty had thought she’d already drop-kicked Tommy, a car salesman she’d been seeing over on Marian Avenue. No loss, the jerk. The fact is, he’d believed she was alone. Where was Tommy’s car? Marty didn’t like this, didn’t like it at all. He had to be more careful.

  Whatever, boot the jerk out, princess. Get your beautiful self back into bed and into dreamland, and I’ll give you something to guarantee a good night’s sleep.

  Marty eased back toward the front of the house and hid himself in a mess of red bougainvillea. He was waiting patiently for Tommy to come trooping out the front door, when he heard a motorcycle coming down the quiet street. It was moving slow, as if the driver was looking for an address. At this hour? What was wrong with people? Even in Las Vegas regular people slept at night. It was only delusional brainless yahoos flying in here from who-knew-where who stayed up all night.

  The motorcycle stopped in front of the house, idled. What was this crap? Had Tommy called a friend to pick him up? Or was it someone else sniffing on Marty’s turf? Nah, another thief wouldn’t be cruising around on a loud-ass motorcycle. He’d be hiding, like Marty, biding his time. Marty cursed low. All he wanted was to get in, lay a chloroform mask over his princess’s nose, watch her snap awake, then breathe in and pass out, three seconds, tops. He’d find that bracelet and get out with no one the wiser, but no, he couldn’t catch a break. First a boyfriend and now this motorcycle, and who was this guy? He heard the front door slam. So Tommy had called a buddy to come get him. Everything was all right. Tommy climbed aboard and the motorcycle revved and rocketed down the street. No more drama. Neither idiot was wearing a helmet.

  Marty would give her another twenty minutes at least. If she was mad at the boyfriend, it’d take her longer to calm herself and float off to dreamland. He waited, listening, and now there was
only the sounds of crickets, a coyote in the distance, but nothing else except a light desert breeze.

  Finally Marty pulled the glass cutter out of his pocket and walked quietly toward the second-bedroom window.

  Then he heard something, like a door opening real quiet, like someone sneaking around who didn’t want to be heard. No, impossible, it couldn’t have come from the princess’s house. She was alone. But his heart still pounded. Maybe he was getting too old for the business. He waited, the glass cutter poised in his hand.

  Marty pressed the button on the side of his watch, lit up the face. Nine minutes after one o’clock now. He hadn’t survived this long by being stupid. He waited another five minutes. Nothing, no light, no sound. Everything was as it should be. The neighbors were all tucked in, pets snoozing, Tommy and his motorcycle buddy watching a late movie, guzzling beer.

  Marty carefully carved a small circle in the glass, gently lifted it out with tape, and stuck his hand through the opening to unlock the window. He hoisted himself up and carefully eased inside the second bedroom, more an office, he thought, seeing the small desk, the laptop, a chair. He quietly closed the window, no sense taking a chance that a sudden noise outside would awaken her. He stood a moment in the darkness, listening, then pulled out the cloth wrapped around a small bottle of chloroform from his jacket pocket, and soaked it good. He walked silently to the door, opened it, looked out into the darkened hallway. There wasn’t a sound, not even an air conditioner, and that was good, it meant the princess was fast asleep. Would she have the bracelet on the nightstand next to her? That would make things easy. In his line of work, though, Marty had learned early on that something that easy happened maybe once in a decade.

  He crept toward her bedroom, at the end of the hall, his sneakers soundless against the wood floor. The bedroom door was open. He slowly looked around the edge of the door.

 
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