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Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep 42


  Two syllables fall from my lips with eerie clarity, and they trigger a burst of frantic activity. The word I say is “Sugar.” Then I slap my wrist. “Sugar!” I say again, slapping the bloody IV hole like a monkey on amphetamines. “Sugar, sugar, sugar . . .”

  A white-clad angel bends over me. “I think she wants us to check her glucose level.”

  Then the star winks out, and John’s face vanishes.

  28

  “JORDAN? JORDAN?”

  White light spears my retinas, but I endure the pain. I don’t want the dark. Anything but that.

  “Jordan? Wake up.”

  A shadow floats over my eyes, shielding them. A hand. After a moment, the hand pulls back and a face leans in.

  John’s face. It’s creased with worry, and his eyes are red with fatigue.

  “Do you know me?” he asks.

  “Agent Kaiser. Right?”

  The worry doesn’t leave his face.

  “I told you, John, I’m not a china vase.”

  “Thank God.”

  “Wheaton?”

  John shakes his head. “He ran screaming into the hall when you were down. He had a gun. It was turned around in his hand, like a club. I shouted for SWAT not to fire, but by then someone had. He was killed instantly.”

  “CK,” I whisper.

  “What?”

  “Clean kill.”

  “Oh.”

  Turning my head, I see that I’m lying on a table in what looks like an ER treatment room. There’s an IV running into my arm. I have to fight the urge to rip it out.

  “Where are we?”

  “Charity Hospital. Your blood sugar’s back to normal. The doctors say you’re dehydrated, but they’re fixing that now. Their main worry was your brain.”

  “That’s always been my worry, too.”

  “Jordan.”

  “I feel like I have a bad hangover. That’s all, really.”

  “Physically. But what about inside?”

  Inside. I pick at the bandage over the wrist where Wheaton’s IV was. “A couple of times this past week, I got my hopes up for Jane. But deep down I knew she was gone. But Thalia . . . After Hoffman died in the river, I thought we might find her alive and all right. Waiting for the ax, you know?”

  John’s eyes are steady but somber. “She was probably in that coma within an hour or two after being taken. Once she evaded surveillance and Hoffman got her, there was nothing we could have done.”

  I nod. “Where was I?”

  “Four blocks from Wheaton’s house on Audubon Place. Five blocks from St. Charles Avenue. One block from Tulane.”

  “Jesus, they had some nerve. What’s happening there now?”

  He gives me a hard look. “Are you sure you want to know?”

  “Yes.”

  “They’ve taken two corpses from shallow graves under a crawl space.”

  “Jane’s?”

  “No IDs yet. We’re in the process of gathering all the victims’ families at a hotel. We’re going to proceed very slowly on the exhumations. We don’t want any mistakes.”

  “I understand. Wheaton told me the New York victims are buried in a clearing on the family farm in Vermont.”

  John nods as though not surprised. “We’re already working on paperwork up there. That farm is mostly a commercial district now. Big deal to start poking random holes in search of bodies.”

  “I don’t want to stay here tonight.”

  “The doctors want to keep you.”

  “I don’t care. You’re the FBI. Do something about it.”

  He takes a deep breath, then lays his hand on my arm. “Listen, there’s something you’re going to want to know.”

  “What?” I ask, my throat tight with fear.

  “We just got a message from Marcel de Becque.”

  “What?”

  “An invitation, really.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “He wants to talk to you. In person.”

  “De Becque’s here? In the U.S.?”

  “No. He wants to see you at his house. In the Caymans. He says he’ll send his jet if you need it.”

  “Do I need it?”

  “No. There are still serious questions in this case, and only de Becque can answer them now. Baxter says we can take the Bureau jet. ”

  “When?”

  “When you’re strong enough.”

  “For a two-hour flight? Tell them to get the plane ready. And go handle the doctors. I don’t want to deal with that.”

  John looks at me like a parent who knows his child will not take no for an answer. Then he squeezes my shoulder, bends, and kisses me on the forehead.

  “I guess we’re taking a trip.”

  GRAND CAYMAN LIES like an emerald on the Caribbean, smooth and flat after the mountains of Cuba. Our pilot lands the Lear at the airport near Georgetown, but this time there’s no pair of escorts waiting with a Range Rover. At the FBI Director’s request, the governor of the islands has provided state transportation, a black limousine flying the Caymanian flag from its fenders. Our native driver speaks with a crisp British accent, and he loses no time shepherding us to de Becque’s colonial estate on North Bay.

  The door is answered by Li, who stands with the same self-possession I noticed the first time we were here.

  “Mademoiselle,” she says with a slight inclination of her head. “Monsieur. This way, please.”

  This time there will be no body search. John is carrying two service pistols, and the governor knows it. De Becque knows it too, and he’s made no objection.

  Li leads us to the great hall at the back of the mansion, where the massive window looks out onto the harbor. Just as before, the tanned, silver-haired French expatriate stands framed in the lower corner of his window, staring out to sea like a man with an unquenchable yearning.

  “Mademoiselle Glass,” Li announces, and then she backs soundlessly down the hall.

  De Becque turns and nods with courtly grace. “I’m glad you came, chérie. I’m sorry to bring you so far, but alas, my legal situation does not allow me to travel to you.” He takes a step toward us, then hesitates. “I have things to tell you that you must know. For my sake, and for yours.” He motions us deeper into the room. “S’il vous plaît—come in. Please.”

  John and I walk over to the sofa we sat on less than a week ago and sit side by side. De Becque remains standing. He seems ill at ease, and he paces as he speaks.

  “First, the matter of the Sleeping Women. I want to assure you that I never knew the identity of the painter, or of his associate. I did know Christopher Wingate, the art dealer, and it’s him that what I have to say concerns. As you know, I bought the first five Sleeping Women he offered for sale. The sixth painting was also promised to me, and I paid a deposit on it. Then Wingate ‘stiffed’ me, as they say. He sold the painting to Hodai Takagi, a Japanese collector, though he knew I would match any price Takagi paid.”

  “Why would he do that?” I ask.

  “To open new markets,” John replies. “Right?”

  “Quite so,” says de Becque. “It’s a business, after all. But this painting had been promised to me, and I was angry. I’m not a man to brood over an injustice. I’m not what the psychiatrists call ‘passive’—I’m sorry, what is the term?”

  “Passive aggressive?” I suggest.

  “Oui. I happened to know that Wingate was heavily invested in a development project in the Virgin Islands. I made a few phone calls, and very shortly, Monsieur Wingate discovered he had made a very bad investment. His principal was wiped out. Am I boring you, Agent Kaiser?”

  “I’m riveted, actually.”

  The Frenchman nods, his sea-blue eyes flickering. “Wingate was infuriated by what I had done, and he sought revenge. Now, you should be aware that Wingate had visited my estate here on three previous occasions. I’d entertained him over a period of days. He learned a bit about my life. He sat in this room. He saw many of my things, among them certain phot
ographs.” De Becque waves his hand toward the wall where his collection of Vietnam photos hangs. “You have seen these photos. Some, anyway.”

  He walks over to the wall and takes down two black-and-white photos, then comes back to us, studying the pictures all the way. “These were not hanging here during your last visit. Perhaps you’d like to see them?”

  With a strange sense of foreboding, I take the frames from his hand. The first picture is of me, my standard publicity head shot. The second is of Jane, her graduation photo from Ole Miss. My heart begins to pound.

  “What are you doing with these?”

  At last de Becque sits on the sofa opposite us. “Listen to me, Jordan.” Again the soft “J.” “Because of the circumstances when we last met, there were certain things I could not tell you. Now things have changed. You should know that I knew your father much better than I led you to believe. I think perhaps you suspected this.”

  “Yes.”

  “He was a good friend to me, and I to him. I did what I could for his career, and for his life.”

  “What did he do for you?”

  “He enriched my days. That’s a great gift. But what you really want to know is this. Did your father die on the Cambodian border? Today I tell you—he did not.”

  “Oh, God.”

  “He was shot there by the Khmer Rouge, yes. But he was found alive later by others. There are many angles in an Asian war. Business, always business. Even with the Communists, until they win. Jonathan Glass was my friend, and when I heard what had happened to him, I exerted considerable effort to learn his fate. Over a period of months, I managed to negotiate an exchange for him, for certain considerations that need not be mentioned here.”

  “How badly was he hurt?”

  “Very seriously. He had a head wound. There had been infection.”

  John takes my hand and squeezes tightly.

  “He was not the same man he had been before the wound,” says de Becque.

  “Did he know who he was?”

  “He knew his name. He remembered certain things. Other things, no. His vision was impaired as well. Photography as a career was over for him. Though I don’t think he much cared at that point. His frame of reference had been reduced to fundamental things. Food, shelter, wine—”

  “Love?” I cut in. “Is that where this is going? Did he have someone here? Someone like Li?”

  De Becque raises his eyebrows in a way that says, We are all adults here, no? “There was a woman.”

  “She was with him before he was shot?”

  “Oui.”

  I take a deep breath, then plunge on to the almost unspeakable question. “Did he have children by her?”

  De Becque’s eyes tell me he understands my pain. “Non. No children.”

  Relief washes through my soul, but new fear follows. “Did he remember us at all? My mother? My sister?”

  The Frenchman holds up his flattened hand and tilts it from side to side. “Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But let me speak plainly. If your anxiety is that Jon simply decided to abandon you, to not go back to America—this should not be a concern. He was in no condition to do such a thing. I had a plantation in Thailand, and he lived out his days there in a simple way. He did simple work, he knew simple joys.”

  John squeezes my hand again, and I’m grateful for his presence. The emotions pouring through me now are too intense to bear alone. Amazement that my secret hope turned out to be true. Sadness that my father was not himself afterward, that perhaps he did not remember me in any meaningful sense. But deeper than any of these wells a relief that even tears cannot express. My father did not abandon his family. He did not choose others over us. He did not voluntarily stop loving us. Though I do not voice it, a child’s simple cry of joy bursts from my heart: My daddy didn’t leave me.

  There is no sight quite like gentlemen in the presence of a lady reduced to tears. John blushes and reaches for a Kleenex he doesn’t have, while de Becque, the Old World man, pulls a silk handkerchief from his trouser pocket.

  “Take a moment, ma chérie,” he says in a soothing voice. “Family matters . . . always difficult.”

  “Thank you.” I wipe my eyes and blow my nose, and neither man seems to mind much. “Tell me the rest, please.”

  “I anticipate your next question. Your father lived until 1979. Seven years past the wound that probably should have killed him. He was lucky to have those years.”

  Seven years. My father died during Jane’s sophomore year at Ole Miss, the year I became a photographer at the Times-Picayune. Before I can think of what to ask next, John speaks.

  “Monsieur, your story began with the daughters, not the father. With the photographs. And a point about Christopher Wingate?”

  De Becque looks at me. “If you are now composed?”

  “Yes. Please go on.”

  “You understand the situation? Wingate had offended me. Cheated me. I then taught him a lesson about the consequences of breaking promises.”

  “We understand.”

  “Wingate was not content to learn this lesson. Perhaps he could not afford the loss he sustained in the Caribbean. In any case, he wished to revenge himself upon me. And he wished certain people to know he had taken that revenge. To this end, he set about trying to hurt me as deeply as possible. This is not so easy as it might sound. I have no family in the ordinary sense. No hostages to fortune. I’m a businessman, a citizen of the world. Not a vulnerable man. So Wingate had to look hard for a weakness.”

  “I think I know where this is going,” John says.

  “You wish me to continue?”

  “Please,” I tell him, giving John a look that tells him not to interrupt again.

  “Wingate knew about more than painting. He knew photography. When he was here, he naturally noticed my Vietnam photos. He encouraged me to tell stories. I confess, I am fond of doing so, especially after a few bottles of wine. I know when to keep my mouth shut, but some stories seem harmless enough.”

  He sighs with regret. “I always kept pictures of you and your sister, for Jonathan’s sake. I showed them to him sometimes. I had a newer picture of you because you are famous. Anyway, Wingate knew your story. He knew who your father was, and that I cared about you.”

  “Cared about us?”

  “On one of your father’s better days, he asked me to look after you. This was near the end of his life. You were almost grown then, and I didn’t know you were in financial difficulty. Had I known . . . well, what are words worth now? After Jonathan’s death I learned that you were doing all right but that Jane needed money for university. I made sure she got it.”

  I shake my head in wonder. “I never knew how she stopped depending on me. I thought she had scholarships or something. Pell grants.”

  “She did, I’m sure.” De Becque smiles. “But she also had help from Uncle Marcel.”

  “You’re telling us Wingate chose Jane Lacour as a victim to hurt you,” John says, unable to contain himself. “Right?”

  “I believe it happened this way. Wingate never knew Roger Wheaton’s identity, but I think he knew where the victims were coming from. I believe he had close ties with an associate of Wheaton’s.”

  “Conrad Hoffman,” says John.

  “Perhaps,” says the Frenchman. “In any case, by this time, I too had surmised that the girls in the paintings were being taken in New Orleans.”

  “You told us you had no idea—”

  “No proof,” says de Becque. “Merely the conjecture of an old man. But I was interested enough to watch the New Orleans newspapers, and keep an ear to the ground through contacts I have there. I suspected that if another victim were kidnapped there, a new Sleeping Woman might soon come on the market.”

  “Jane was victim number five,” John says in a cold voice. “You suspected all the way back then?”

  De Becque suddenly looks very serious. “Do you wish to waste time with another useless philosophical debate? I assure you, a Frenchman likes
nothing better.”

  “No,” I cut in. “Just tell us what you know.”

  “All right. I think it happened this way. Wingate was casting about for a way to revenge himself upon me. One day, as he searched his memory, he remembered the story I’d told him of the famous Jonathan Glass, and of the lovely twin girls I watched from a distance: the world traveler, and the southern belle of St. Charles Avenue.”

  My mouth falls open.

  “A simple matter of mental association. In any case, once he hit upon it, the mechanics were simple. He sent a photograph and an address to Wheaton’s associate, made a request, possibly promised a bounty, and the thing was done.”

  John and I sit in stunned silence.

  “So,” says de Becque. “Jane Lacour, née Glass, became the only Sleeping Woman chosen by someone other than Wheaton or his associate. At least that is my guess.”

  “It’s a good guess,” John says. “Jane Lacour died because she knew you. How did that make you feel? No big deal, I suppose?”

  De Becque’s lips flatten to a thin line. “You are near to offending me, young man. I do not advise it.” A tight smile now. “Because I was watching New Orleans for other disappearances, I learned very quickly of Jane’s disappearance. I owed my dead friend. I could not let this thing pass without taking steps.”

  “What did you do?” I ask.

  “I sent an emissary to discuss the matter with Wingate.”

  “Who did you send?” asks John.

  “A retired military man. A friend from my Indochina days. Perhaps you’ve met the sort of man I mean.”

  “A persuasive man?”

  De Becque gives a single firm nod. “Just so. He made clear to Wingate that the death of Jane Lacour would mean not only the death of Christopher Wingate, but the death of his line. His women, children, parents—”

  “Stop,” I plead. “I don’t think I want to know this.”

  De Becque makes a gesture of apology. “I merely wished you to be aware that I spared no effort.”

  “But you didn’t do much good, did you?” says John.

  De Becque sighs. “Some things, once set in motion, are difficult to stop. Wingate understood the stakes, and he used all his influence to get Wheaton’s associate to release Jane. The associate agreed to try.”