CHAPTER NINE

Neither woman had said much. Maggie led Carla away from her office (and the autopsy report) and into the kitchen. She thought about the living room but opted out of that. She wanted the upper hand, and no woman felt less in charge than when in another woman's kitchen. Business attire or not.

They got through the preliminaries - coffee for both, black for Carla, cream and sugar for Maggie. She didn't offer anything to eat with it. Polite, but cool. They sat at the table, Carla, pressed and polished, Maggie, rumpled but professional.

"Now, you were saying I had something I shouldn't have? I'm not sure I know what you mean."

"A report from the coroner in Langley. That wasn't for public access. The doctor there made a mistake. I'm here to correct that."

"I am a doctor, Ms...?" Carla didn't respond to that. Very well. "And I wasn't aware that public records were not public. And certainly not to the decedent's doctor of record."

"Hardly something you'd want broadcast, Doctor, considering he was a fugitive."

"Medical ethics, Carla. Regardless of the legal status, I'm bound by my oath to attend to the sick and injured."

"And legally bound to report it."

"The local authorities were notified." Not formally, of course, but the technicalities were taken care of.

"Hmm." Carla would have to do some checking on the 'local authorities'. "Nevertheless, these documents were not supposed to be circulated."

"I can understand that. It would be awkward."

Carla looked directly at Maggie. The pussyfooting around was coming to an end.

"Awkward, Doctor?"

"Well, considering that the autopsy was done on the wrong man." Carla continued calmly looking at her. "I also received photographs. The man your doctor autopsied was not Templeton Peck, regardless of what he thought."

"Who was it, then?"

"No idea. I'm sure someone in your organization does know, but it's irrelevant to me."

"What is relevant to you, Doctor?" Now they were getting down to the nitty-gritty.

"What really happened to the lieutenant. That's what I want to know, mostly. And then, of course, why?"

"You intend to pursue the matter?"

Dangerous ground, now. Maggie had to watch her step.

"I don't know. Maybe it's just idle curiosity. He was a patient of mine; I like to keep my records complete."

"Hmm." Carla didn't believe her, of course. She recognized the intelligence there - knew Maggie was playing it this way until she knew what Stockwell intended to do. Time to lay the cards on the table.

"What would you say if I could help you find out, exactly, what happened to the lieutenant?"

The two women scrutinized each other. Neither trusted the other, each needed the other.

"Why would you do that?"

"I have my reasons. Nothing to do with you, or the lieutenant. This is strictly a means to an end."

"How humanitarian."

"You haven't answered my question, Doctor. How badly do you want the answers to your questions? Because they won't come gratis."

Maggie thought about the letter which had opened this whole Pandora's box. It had been more open, more emotional, than she had ever witnessed from the writer in person. She would do almost anything.

"Let's hear it."


*****

Randy had been walking for hours. He was tired, hungry and thirsty but he kept walking. Hed ceased thinking long ago. Wasnt watching where he was, what was behind him, even what was around him. Hed followed the sun until it had disappeared below the horizon, and still he kept walking. He paid no attention to his burning feet, or aching legs. He had only one thought - keep walking.

Although his direction was predominately west, he'd stuck to the streets and highways, not gone cross country. He had looked over the land, seen the sign for Lake Okeechobee, and known there would be swamp and marsh and probably he wouldn't make it through. So he took the long way around, using the sidewalk until that ran out, then walking along the shoulder of the highway. He knew this was dangerous, that Sam could more easily find him this way, but overriding everything was his need to get to his destination, somewhere to the west.

He paid no attention to the pickup truck as it drove past, heading the opposite direction. Never heard it slow, nor noticed it making a slow, careful u-turn. Oblivious to the sudden surge in speed as it roared down on him. It swept by, horn blaring, loud raucous curses and laughter ringing out. The oversized mirror on the passenger side caught him, and he was bounced off into the ditch, stunned. His arm and shoulder burned in pain, and his head felt as if it were exploding.

He lay where he had fallen, dizzy and sick to his stomach. He stared at the long grass in front of his face, and felt the dampness seeping into his clothes, and his mind was racing, bouncing from this to that and back again. He had no idea where he was, what he was doing there.

'Sam...?'


*****

Frankie was tired. Johnnie had kept him at him for hours, rehearsing. And when he was done, Murdock took over. Man, what was with these guys? Okay, so he wasn't the greatest actor in the world. He worked behind the scenes. Always. Now all of a sudden he was expected to be another Olivier. No, that wasn't true.

He was expected to be another Face.

That's all they wanted. Him to take over where Face had been. Well, that was logical. He was good looking enough. Charm up the wazoo, when he wanted to show it. He had everything that Face had, except the ability to lie and make people believe him. He just wasn't the kind of person who could do that. No disrespect to the dead, but he could not for the life of him understand what was so great about being an accomplished liar. Or why Johnnie and the rest of them would think being good at cheating people was something to be proud of.

Of course, he never said anything like that around them. Geez, he wasn't dumb. And he felt bad that he was dead. Real bad. Especially for the part he'd played in it. But that wasn't his fault. No way. And he really hated that Murdock had taken it out on him. He'd just supplied the damn pills. It wasn't his fault the guy had some heart thing.

And now they expected him to just waltz in and take over for Face. Like this new mission Stockwell had them on. Johnnie was the damn actor; why couldn't he set up the meeting with the bad guys? Frankie could be the young, sophisticated collector, let Hannibal be the older, nearing-retirement assistant. Why wouldn't that work just as well? Yeah, and Frankie could just sit back, too important to talk to these guys, let the assistant handle the details. Sure, that would work. But Frankie knew he'd never convince the guys to do it that way. No, that would be too easy.

Frankie heard a knock at the door.

"Showtime, Frankie." Murdock practically sang it.

Great. Just great...


*****

Sam had run out of patience. He was close to running out of time. He knew Randy had taken his meds when they were on the bus; Sam had given them to him himself. Sam still had them. Normally Randy kept them in his stash, but Sam was afraid they'd get lost during the trip and subsequent search for a place to stay, so he'd kept them with his stuff. Even if Randy had the presence of mind to remember in the morning, he had nothing to take. And that would be bad. Real bad.

Sam had stopped damn near everyone on the street. Hell, it wasn't that busy, someone had to have seen him. But no one had. At least, they hadn't paid any attention to him. Who would? A man, obviously homeless, wandering around. Not like it was unusual, these days. Even in a town like this one. He'd seen four or five himself. And checked out each and every one of them. Not that he thought they were Randy; he just hoped Randy might have talked with them, asking about the locals, where to hang out, something. Nada. Zip.

Damn.

Finally, as it got later in the night, Sam had 'borrowed' a car. He didn't know if his initial theory about heading west was off-base or not, but he had to have faster mobility. He'd keep going west, along the highway, cut back toward town to continue the search if he hadn't found him within a few miles. He'd been gone over five hours now; if he'd kept walking continually, he'd be maybe 15 miles out. At most. He didn't know if Randy could walk that long without stopping, but Sam would figure that to be his boundaries. He just hoped to God he hadn't gone cross country.


*****

Randy could hear voices. Above him. Around him. Smelled...pot? Yeah. And beer. His stomach, still queasy, fluttered ominously.

"Help..." he could barely talk. His throat and mouth had no moisture in them at all.

"Hey, airhead's talking, man." He felt someone come close, warm acrid beer breath on his face. "Wassa matta, barf bag? Not feelin so good?" The breath moved away. The next second he felt a boot crash into his stomach. Everything came up.

"Geez, man, what a loser!"

"Christ, he got my boots, man! My fuckin boots!"

Randy's vision blurred, disappeared, as those boots came crashing in on him.