Paradox, p.1
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       Paradox, p.1

         Part #22 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

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  To Dr. Anton Pogany, a man for all seasons.



  * * *

  To my goddess at the FBI, Angela Bell, for her continued support and invaluable help in hunting down the right resource and hooking me up.

  To Dr. Richard Thomas, FBI forensic anthropologist, who told me what he would do if a pile of disarticulated skeletons were brought to him for analysis.

  To Dr. Angie Christenson, FBI forensic anthropologist, who gave me a quick course on what happens to bodies thrown into a lake.

  To Karen Evans, my woman for all seasons. Thank you.

  If I made any mistakes, I cannot, in good faith, blame either Dr. Thomas or Dr. Christenson.


  * * *





  Wake up, wake up. Something’s not right. Sherlock’s eyes snapped open, adrenaline surging. But why? She didn’t move, listened. There—three beeps coming from the security monitor beside the bed. She’d never heard them before, but she knew what it meant: the security system was off. The beeps would get louder and louder. Possibilities scurried through her brain, none of them good. Dillon was on his back beside her, stirring now from the noise. She leaned down, whispered, “Dillon, the alarm’s off.”

  He was instantly awake. He heard the beeps and turned off the alarm. “You check on Sean. I’ll see what’s going on.” They’d had this protocol in place since Sean had been born, but this was the first time they’d had to use it.

  Savich unlocked the closet safe, handed Sherlock her small ankle Glock and a suppressor. The last thing either of them wanted was for Sean to wake up to a gunshot, terrified. He fitted a suppressor on his own Glock and racked the slide. He prayed for a simple malfunction as he pulled his pants on, but he knew it was unlikely. “Be careful,” he whispered against her cheek. He ran down the stairs, and Sherlock, her bare feet whisper-light on the hall carpet, headed to Sean’s room. His door was partially open, as it always was at night. She stopped, leaned in to listen, heard him make a little snort in his sleep. He was all right, no need to alarm him.

  She heard a soft footfall and her heart seized. Someone had disabled the system and that someone was now in Sean’s room. Sherlock slowly pushed the door inward, her heart pounding, her adrenaline spiking even higher. Moonlight poured through the window, silhouetting the man bent over Sean. His head looked distorted—no, he’d pulled a stocking over his face. She ignored the toxic punch of fear, raised her small Glock, and said very quietly, “Get away from him, or I’ll blow your head off.”

  She saw the gun clutched in his gloved hand, a Ka-Bar knife in the other. He jerked up but didn’t turn. “I’ll shoot him before you can kill me.” A young voice, low and hard. And something else. It was fear she heard, she knew it.

  “Move away from him, and I won’t shoot you. Drop the gun and the Ka-Bar and back away.”

  He slowly turned, but the gun still pointed at Sean. “How did you know I was here?”

  “I’ve got bat ears. Who are you? What do you want?”

  He looked undecided, then said, “You try to shoot me and he’s dead, you got that?”

  She wanted to vomit, she was so scared. Hold it together, hold it together. Again, she saw indecision. “You fire and you’ll see, I’ll still shoot him!” But he didn’t. He ran six feet to the open window and jumped through a gash in the screen and onto the roof.

  Sean jerked up, rubbed his eyes. “Mama? Mama? What’s wrong?”

  She had to move, had to go after him, but she had to soothe Sean. “Everything’s all right, sweetie. Don’t move.” She ran to the window and jumped onto a thick oak branch that nearly touched the house. She saw him below, nearly to the ground now. She didn’t have a good shot through the thick leaves and he was juking and jiving from branch to branch, but she fired anyway, missed, the bullet gouging tree bark a foot from his head. He didn’t fire back.

  He swung from the lowest tree branch six feet to the ground, landed on his side, rolled, and ran, not all-out because he was limping. She fired until her magazine was empty, but he was zigging and zagging, the limp even more pronounced now.

  He disappeared around the corner of Mr. McPherson’s house. She heard McPherson’s puppy, Gladys, barking her head off.

  Dillon’s quiet voice came from behind her. “Sherlock, stay with Sean. I’m going after him.”

  They heard a car engine fire up. Sherlock grabbed his arm. “We can’t get him now.”

  He helped her back through the slit in the screen. He studied her face, ran his hands over her arms. “I called 911. The police will be here soon.”

  Sherlock cupped his face between her hands. “Dillon, I’m not hurt, I’m fine.” But of course she wasn’t. Her heart was pounding, fear for Sean pouring off her.

  “Mama! Papa!”

  Savich quickly slid his Glock into his waistband and grabbed up Sean into his arms, hugged him tight against him. He whispered against his small ear, “Everything’s all right, Sean. Don’t worry, okay?” He closed his eyes as he rocked his small son.

  Sean reared back in his arms and looked over at his mother. Sherlock pressed her own Glock against her leg so he wouldn’t see it. “I heard you yell, Mama. Did you have a nightmare? What were those loud popping sounds?”

  Her heart still pounded, her adrenaline still pumped wildly, but she could deal with that. She could deal with anything because Sean was all right, the danger was past. She looked at his small beloved face and said a thank-you prayer. She smiled, lightly patted his face. “Like your papa said, sweetie, everything’s all right. The popping sounds, it was probably somebody’s car backfiring. Some messed-up car, right? Too loud for our neighborhood. That’s what woke up your papa and me.” Did her smart son buy that whopper? Or would he realize the popping hadn’t happened until after she was in his room? Well, she’d lied as clean as she could. Savich brought Sean close again, rocking him, breathing in his sweet child smell until Sean pulled back. He put his hand on his father’s cheek, cocked his head.

  “There’s something wrong, isn’t there, Papa? I dreamed I heard a man talking. And Mama, you said something, too, and you sounded angry. And then someone was running to the window. His head was all weird-looking, like a spaceman, and you were running after him, Mama. I saw you going out the window. It wasn’t a dream, was it?”

  Savich knew he had no choice. “There was someone here, Sean, but your mama took care of him. He won’t be back. Now, it’s time for you to go to sleep.” While Dillon was speaking to Sean, Sherlock scooped the Ka-Bar off the Winnie the Pooh rug by Sean’s bed. She hadn’t even seen the man drop it.

  “But—” Sean gave a jaw-cracking yawn.

  Savich kissed him and tucked him under a single light sheet. He saw Sherlock quietly closing the window over the slit screen. He hoped Sean wouldn’t notice it in the morning, but chances were good he would. Savich would have to figure out what to tell him without scaring him. He waited quietly until he heard his son’s breathing even into sleep.

  He went to Sherlock, saw her give a little shudder of reaction. The words burst out, low and controlled, but Savich heard the thick fear coating every word. “He was standin
g over Sean, Dillon, a gun in one hand, a Ka-Bar in the other.” She swallowed. “He wouldn’t tell me who he was. I couldn’t shoot him—he said he would kill Sean. Then he ran to the window. Was he a pedophile who wanted to steal him? Or someone who wanted to kidnap him for ransom? Or some random crazed lowlife?”

  His brain immediately latched onto pedophile, a word that scared every parent to his toes. He didn’t want to say it aloud, or it would bow him to his knees. He felt violence stir in his gut, rancid and black. He pulled her close, whispered against her curly hair. “No,” he said, more to himself than to her, “whoever he is, he had to believe we’re rich because of my grandmother’s paintings.”

  “Well, your Sarah Elliott paintings do make you rich, and a lot of people know it. They also know you’d sell one or all of them in a flash to save Sean.”

  “No matter who or what he is, we’ll get him, I promise you. You saved our boy. Sean’s safe. You’re my hero.”

  That brought a hiccupping laugh. “I tried to shoot him, but he got down that tree in a flash.” Her breathing hitched. “I wondered why he had both a gun and a Ka-Bar, but he needed the knife to slit the screen. Was he going to kill Sean?”

  They held each other, saying nothing now, their eyes on their sleeping son, but only for a moment. The Metro cops would be here very soon.

  While they stood in the open front door, waiting, Savich said, “I asked the dispatcher—it was Jordan Kates—to send them in silent.” He kissed her forehead. “They’ll be here any minute now. Did anything about him seem familiar to you or strike you as different?”

  “It happened so fast—I don’t think so. Wait, his voice was young, Dillon, and he moved young, too. Something else—when he told me he could kill Sean even if I shot him, I think I heard fear in his voice. But then again, he hadn’t expected any trouble.”

  “Maybe he’d talked himself into coming after Sean, but he didn’t have another plan if he was challenged.”

  She nodded. “Well, at least we have the knife, for all the good it will do us. He was wearing gloves. Dillon, I went after him, emptied my magazine, but I missed him. I actually missed him—me!—can you believe that?”

  He loved hearing the outrage in her voice. It meant she was getting back on an even keel. “Even you have to miss sometimes. You were terrified for Sean, pumping out adrenaline, and so hyped you could have rocketed yourself to the moon. I hear a car coming. You can fill in the blanks when we tell the police what happened.”

  “Okay, I’ve got it together—well, I’m close. Thank heavens we had a plan in place if those three beeps ever sounded, otherwise—” She paused, then, her voice shaking. “Without the suppressor, I think Sean would have freaked. Even so, it was loud. So fast, Dillon, it all happened so fast. I wonder why he never fired back at me.”

  “He knew if he hesitated, turned back to you, you’d nail him.”

  A Metro squad car pulled into their driveway, cut its lights, and two officers climbed out. “Agent Savich?”

  After introductions, Sherlock gave them a quick rundown, then Officers Pattee and Paulette headed out to search the neighborhood. They were back ten minutes later. No sign of their intruder, not that Savich or Sherlock expected them to spot him.

  Paulette said, “No lights on in any houses, so the sound of the car engine didn’t wake anybody up.”

  “And no neighbors standing on their porches to tell us anything,” said Pattee.

  Savich was studying his security system beside the front door. He called, “Come look at this.” Both Paulette and Pattee looked over his shoulder to where he pointed.

  “That’s more wires than the back of my TV,” Paulette said.

  “Looks untouched to me,” Pattee said, leaning in. “But how can that be possible? The guy got into your son’s window. It’s alarmed, right?”

  “Oh yes,” Sherlock said.

  Dillon said, “I’m thinking we’ve got a guy with major computer skills.”

  “You think he disabled the alarm system remotely, using his computer?”

  Savich nodded. “To do it, he’d have to be very good, because I upgraded the system myself. But he succeeded, and now I’ll have to figure out how he did that and fix it.”

  The three men studied the complex mess of wires for another couple of seconds, then Paulette turned to Sherlock. “Could we go inside? You can tell us exactly what happened.”

  They went into the living room and Officer Paulette switched on a recorder. Sherlock went through it all again, answered their questions, and finished with “I can’t tell you what he looked like. He wore a stocking mask, but I do believe he was young, twenty-five at most. When he ran across the yard, I saw he was limping a bit. From the jump? Maybe. I didn’t notice a limp when he was in Sean’s bedroom.” She closed her eyes, pictured him. “It was his left leg.”

  They asked questions, Sherlock gave more details, and finally Officer Paulette switched off his phone recorder and smiled at her. “You really told him you’d shoot his head off?”

  Paulette, no more than twenty-five himself, had a great smile, and Sherlock found herself smiling back as she nodded. “That’s what came out of my mouth, yes. Come on, guys, if someone was leaning over your sleeping child with a gun and knife, what would you say?”

  “I don’t know if I’d say anything,” Pattee said. “I’d probably just shoot him.”

  “Yeah, sure, Joel,” Paulette said, and smacked him on the arm. “That’s what you’d want three-year-old Janet to wake up and see—blood and gore all over her bed.”

  Pattee pointed. “Yeah, okay, you have a point. I see a dog toy over there. But no wild barking?”

  Savich said, “Astro would have brought the house down if he’d been here. But he’s in love with a neighbor’s new puppy, so our son let him do a sleepover.”

  Paulette said, “From now on out, I’ll bet it’ll be the new puppy sleeping over here.”

  “You’re right about that,” Sherlock said, “and yes, we’re going to cut those branches off first thing tomorrow.”

  Officer Pattee said, “You guys had this plan in place in case something like this happened?”

  “Yes,” Sherlock said. “It sure paid off tonight.”

  “Now that’s something I’m going to talk about with my wife,” Pattee said. “You know, it would have been easier and cheaper for him to snatch your son off the sidewalk or out of a neighbor’s yard or from the playground at school.”

  Sherlock said, “Yes, it would. I hadn’t thought of that.”

  Pattee said, “You said, Agent Sherlock, you heard fear in his voice?”

  She nodded.

  Paulette said, “Well, he wasn’t expecting her to walk in on him with a gun.”

  Pattee said, “That isn’t the point. This doesn’t sound like a pro someone hired to kidnap your son for ransom. Those guys have metronomes for hearts, nothing shakes them.” No one had to say it, but everybody was thinking it—maybe the guy was a pedophile.

  Savich said, “Officers, we’d like to speak to Detective Ben Raven in the morning. Will that be a problem?”

  It wasn’t a problem. Savich wanted Raven to check for any recent break-ins remotely like this one.

  Pattee paused at the front door. “I’ve got to say something you already know. The guy who tried to take your son? I’ll wager he’ll keep trying. All his preparations show a big commitment. I’d say he’s in for the long haul.”

  Both Savich and Sherlock hated it but knew he was right. Sherlock said, “At least we have the Ka-Bar. I’ll get it to our FBI lab people in the morning.”

  Paulette said, “You’ll let us know when you catch the guy?”

  What faith. Sherlock smiled. “Yes, of course we will.”


  * * *




  Four years in Vice at the Seattle PD and Police Chief Ty Christie had never seen a murder, until this moment right after dawn on wha
t promised to be a hot, sunny Friday. She was standing on her weathered back deck, sipping her daily dose of sin—thick-as-sludge Turkish coffee—and looking out at the patchy curtains of fog hanging over Lake Massey, man-made, like every other lake in Maryland, 1,800 acres. Lake Massey wasn’t the largest of Maryland’s lakes, or the deepest, only fifty-six feet, but it was still a popular vacation destination with thirty-three miles of shoreline and water warm enough to swim in during the summer. Fishermen loved Lake Massey with its walleye and large- and smallmouth bass eager to leap on their lines. As for Ty, she loved the impossibly thick maple and oak trees, a solid blanket of green covering the hills on the east side of the lake.

  The only sign of life was a small rowboat floating in and out of the gray fog near a hundred yards away. She could barely make out two figures, seated facing each other, both wearing jackets and one a ball cap. She was too far away to tell if they were male or female, talking or not talking, or how old they were. Could they be out fishing for largemouth bass this early in the morning? She was starting to turn away when one of the figures abruptly stood, waved a fist in the other’s face, and brought an oar down hard on his head.

  She froze, simply couldn’t believe what she’d seen. She watched the man slump forward as the fist-shaker leaned over him, jerked him up, and shoved him out of the boat. She yelled, but the killer never looked toward her. Rather, he looked down into the water, then at his oar. Checking for blood? He straightened, threw his head back, and pumped his fist.

  Pumped his fist? He was happy he’d killed someone? That made it unlikely to be in the heat of the moment. So she’d seen a cold-blooded murder? Had the fist-shaker brought the other man out in the lake with the intent to kill him? The shock had Ty’s heart kettledrumming in her chest. She watched the killer row smooth and steady back toward shore, quickly disappearing behind a curtain of fog. She hated that her hand was shaking when she pulled her cell out of her shirt pocket and dialed 911. Operator Marla Able always picked up on the first ring. Ty took a deep breath, cleared her throat. “Marla, it’s Ty. I saw what I think was a premeditated murder on a rowboat in the lake a minute ago. One man struck another with an oar and threw him overboard. You heard me right. I think it was a man, but I can’t be sure. Listen now, we’ve got to move fast. Call Ted Mizera, have him order out the Lake Rescue Team. Tell him the boat was about one hundred yards out into the other side of the lake directly across from my house. Tell him to hurry, Marla. I’m going out in my boat now.”

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