‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he said, hoarsely. ‘I simply don’t understand why. Please – don’t hurt her. Don’t kill her baby. I love her.’
The spidery man stayed very close, his face only inches away. He smiled, and then he said, ‘Love is no excuse for mercy, Mr Flynn.’
‘You’re going to regret this, you son of a bitch!’
‘No, I’m not. Go on, Henry. We don’t have all day.’
The blond-haired man walked around behind Jenna’s chair.
’ Noah roared, but without any hesitation the blond-haired man reached around and drew the poultry knife across Jenna’s throat. Jenna stared at Noah in horror and disbelief as the front of her blouse was suddenly drenched in bright, wet blood.
Noah twisted and kicked, but he was professional enough to realize that struggling wasn’t going to do him any good. He had also witnessed enough serious injuries to know that Jenna’s wound was fatal, and that even if these men allowed him to try, there wasn’t a hope in hell that he could save her life.
More than that, he knew that nothing was going to stop them from cutting
Jenna’s head dropped forward on to her chest. She was wheezing and choking as she gasped for breath. A large pink bubble of blood swelled from the side of her neck and then burst.
‘See?’ said the spidery man, with obvious satisfaction. ‘Pretty painless way to go, as ways to go go.’
Noah said nothing, but squeezed his eyes tight shut for a moment and filled his lungs with air. He expanded his chest and braced his arm muscles, like a bodybuilder.
The blond-haired man pulled a dishcloth off the rail and wiped the poultry knife. Then, with a grin, he came gliding around the kitchen table, holding the knife up high as if he were a matador, about to give the
coup de grâce
to a helpless bull.
‘I wish I could say I was sorry about this,’ said the spidery man, with a sniff. ‘But, you know – needs must.’
As the blond-haired man approached him, Noah exhaled and relaxed his muscles and dropped to the floor as if his legs had given way. He fell out of his captors’ grasp as if he had vanished altogether, leaving nothing but his empty polo shirt and jeans.
He knew what a risk he was taking. The Hawaiian could shoot him on the spot. But in a sleepy neighbourhood like North Tassajara, he was gambling that they were reluctant to attract attention with gunfire.
He tilted himself forward and then sprang to his feet. Without any hesitation, he vaulted over the kitchen table and charged straight for the French doors that gave out on to the backyard. Shielding his face with his upraised elbows, he threw himself through the left-hand door. Glazing bars splintered, glass shattered, and then he was tumbling across the red-brick patio in a classic stuntman’s roll.
He heard the spidery man shouting, ‘Stop him, Makaha, you moron!’ But there was no shot. He picked himself up and sprinted around the side of the house, past Jenna’s studio, across the front yard and into the street. As he was climbing into his truck, the Hawaiian and the black man came bursting out of the front door.
Noah started up the Super Duty with a deep whistling roar from its 6.8-litre engine, and pulled away from the curb with an operatic scream from its tyres. But instead of heading back towards the coast, he deliberately drove uphill. If he could lose these bastards anywhere, he could lose them on the curves and chicanes of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
He glanced in his rear-view mirror. The Hawaiian and the black man were already climbing into their sedan, and the spidery man and the blond man were running towards the other car.
After a mile, the neat suburban houses disappeared, and the ground began to rise steeply. The road became narrower, with rocks and scrub on either side, and then bristlecone fir trees and ponderosa pines. Noah swerved around one curve after another, keeping his foot flat on the accelerator, and allowing the Super Duty’s natural understeer to hold it on the road. The sun flickered through the trees like an old-fashioned movie projector.
As he climbed higher, Noah glimpsed the ocean off to his left, intensely blue. The last time he had driven up here, Jenna had been with him. He had pulled off the road and they had sat and talked about their future together – or, rather, their mutual realization that they didn’t have a future together.
He saw a flash of silver in his rear-view mirror. The Hawaiian and the black man were gaining on him. When he took a right-hand curve, their silver sedan disappeared behind the trees, but when he took a left-hand curve, he could see that they were less than a hundred yards behind him. The Hawaiian may have looked like a B-picture heavy, but he was obviously a skilful driver.
The mountains grew steeper, and as they did so the curves became tighter. Noah struggled with the steering wheel as the Super Duty threatened to lose its grip on the road, and now its tyres were almost constantly howling. He saw the silver sedan go into a wide, drifting skid around one curve, but the Hawaiian managed to keep it on the road with a snake-like twitch of its tail.
They sped around a long, left-hand curve. As they did so, Noah heard a shot, and then another. Missed, both of them. But then a bullet hit the back of his cab, with a loud metallic bang. A few seconds later, just before the road curved to the right, his rear window shattered.
Damn it, these guys were good. It was one thing to drive in a movie car chase, in which every twist and slide had been meticulously choreographed beforehand, and every bullet-strike was nothing but an electronically-detonated squib, but these guys had no idea where he was taking them, yet they were quickly catching up with him, and they were hitting him, too.
He was only a half-mile away from the place where he had turned off the road to talk to Jenna – a very steep, down-sloping parking area on the right-hand side of the road, with a view through the trees toward Morro Bay, coming after a long right-hand curve.
Noah managed to keep well ahead of the silver sedan as his Super Duty screamed around the curve. Now and then he caught sight of their gleaming front grille, but he didn’t give them the opportunity to take another clear shot.
He flashed past the sign that warned ‘Dangerous Curve’, and put his foot down even harder. He could see that the silver sedan was accelerating too, but he needed to be out of sight when he reached the next bend. He didn’t want them to see his brake lights.
He was screaming around the curve at fifty-five now – sixty – sixty-five – and the Super Duty was swaying and rolling like a boat in a heavy sea. Two or three miles an hour faster and it would lose its grip on the road altogether, and go tumbling over and over into the trees. Noah could feel its tyre treads clawing to keep their hold on the blacktop, and how close they were to breaking away: he had rolled two trucks for the movie
, and he could almost hear the rubber screaming to him in panic.
The turning was suddenly up ahead of him. He saw the gap in the trees, the slope that led down to the parking area. He stood on his brakes and the Super Duty’s tyres gripped the road so hard that they smoked. Even so, he was still going too fast as he hurtled and bounced down the hill, and he had to spin the steering wheel so that the Super Duty slithered sideways. There was a low retaining wall at the bottom of the parking area, made of pine logs, and he collided with it broadside.
But his plan had worked. As he sat there, winded and bruised, there was a bang like a cannon going off. The silver sedan came flying over the parking area, its engine screaming, and crashed into the trees below. There was another bang, but much deeper this time, and a ball of orange flame rolled up into the sky.
Noah jumped down from his truck and balanced on top of the retaining wall. He could see that the silver sedan was wedged on its side between two tall pines, and that it was blazing fiercely. Nobody could have survived that.
He waited a little longer, to see if the second sedan would appear. One minute went past . . . two. All he could hear was birds twittering and the odd buckling sound of overheated metal. At last he climbed back into his truck and drove cautiously back up to the highway. The road was deserted. No cars, no emergency services, nothing. If the spidery man and the blond man had been following close behind, they had probably decided that discretion was the better part of being cold-blooded killers, and carried on going.
Noah drove slowly back down to North Tassajara. Three police cars and an ambulance were already clustered around Jenna’s house, their red lights flashing. Presumably the old lady across the road had called them. Noah parked and walked up to the police line.
‘Help you?’ demanded a freckled young police officer.
‘I shouldn’t think so,’ said Noah. ‘Not unless you know how to bring dead people back to life.’
t was 9.07 that evening before Detective Willis came in to say, ‘It’s OK, Mr Flynn. You can leave now. And your ride’s arrived.’
‘Hallelujah! Are you sure you don’t want to ask me the same questions all over again? That’s all you’ve been doing since you brought me here.’
‘I’m sorry, sir. When it comes to homicide, we have to be thorough.’
Noah stood up wearily. ‘You’ll keep me in touch with any progress, won’t you? Especially if you find out who those two dead guys are.’
Detective Willis gave him a non-committal blink. ‘We’ll call you if we need to ask you any more questions, sir. Or if we need you to make any IDs.’
‘You catch those other two sons of bitches, that’s all I’m asking for. The blond one in particular. I want to be sitting there watching when they give him the needle.’
‘We’ll be doing our best, sir, believe me.’
Noah looked at him. Detective Willis was a short, pot-bellied man with a stringy comb-over and two double chins. He looked like Martin Balsam’s less successful brother. He had been interviewing Noah continuously since three that afternoon, joined from time to time by two other detectives from the San Luis Obispo Police Department and two officers from the California Highway Patrol.
Noah had told Detective Willis everything that had happened, six or seven times, in painstaking detail. How the blond-haired man had cut Jenna’s throat. The high-speed chase through the mountains. But in all of that he hadn’t mentioned the medallion. His visit to Jenna had been totally spontaneous, he had explained, simply to see how she was getting along.
He didn’t exactly understand
he hadn’t mentioned the medallion. After all, it could have helped Detective Willis to establish motive, and to identify their assailants. But his natural reticence told him that it was more prudent if he kept it to himself, at least for now.
First of all, he felt that he needed to find out what the medallion really was, and why those men had wanted it so badly. How had they known that he had it in his possession? He had told almost nobody about it, except for Silja and Mo and his friend Bob Fairman, a set designer for
How had they known that he was taking the medallion to show Jenna? And why had they thought it necessary to kill them both? He had no idea what the medallion signified, if it signified anything at all. Jenna had told him that it was very old, probably Babylonian, but he still didn’t know where it had originally come from, or what any of the markings on it meant. Up until today, he hadn’t been particularly interested in finding out.
He knew from the photograph that Silja had shown him that there was a second medallion in existence, but that was all. Maybe that was the key to it. Maybe P R C H A L was the key to it. If he found out what P R C H A L meant, or who P R C H A L was, everything would click into place. Or maybe not.
‘I’ll call you tomorrow, Mr Flynn, when the Highway Patrol have finished with your vehicle,’ Detective Willis said, interrupting Noah’s ruminations.
‘I know this hasn’t been easy, sir, and we’re very sorry for your loss, but if you do think of anything else, you will call me, won’t you? I’d really like to find out why those jokers attacked you.’
‘Just didn’t like our faces, I guess.’
‘That’s possible. Your common or garden variety sadism. But, usually, when somebody’s attacked the way you were, it’s for one of two reasons. Either it’s revenge for some insult or betrayal, real or imagined—’
He hesitated, took out his handkerchief, and wiped his nose.
‘Yes?’ Noah prompted. ‘What’s the second reason?’
‘The second reason is to keep the victims permanently quiet, because they know something the perpetrators don’t want anybody else to know, ever.’
There was a lengthy, uncomfortable silence. At last Noah said, ‘Well, Detective, wish I could have helped you more. But like I told you, I didn’t know any of those men from Adam, and I certainly don’t know why they should have wanted us dead. For whatever reason.’
Detective Willis said nothing, but nodded, as if he only half-believed him.
Silja was waiting by the front desk, in a green silk sweater and tight blue jeans. When Noah came out, she hurried over to him and put her arms around him.
‘Oh, Noah. I’m so sorry! What a terrible shock!’
‘Thanks. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.’
‘Do the police know who it was who attacked you?’
Noah shook his head. ‘I gave them a full description, but no. They’re not on any wanted lists, either. But listen, let’s get out of here. I need to talk to you.’
‘What do you want to do? Do you want to go home? You can stay with me if you don’t feel like being alone.’
‘Let’s just drive.’
Silja’s red Mercedes convertible was parked outside on Walnut Street. Detective Willis followed them out and stood on the steps of the police station with his arms folded, watching them as they climbed into the car. It was a warm, windy night, and a newspaper helter-skeltered along the gutter.