Part 3

There were some people still up when Robert and Ann rolled through Ferlazzo's Queens neighborhood, but they seemed the sort who would look the other way if granted the same courtesy.

Robert slowed as they passed the front of Ferlazzo's building, then he double-parked just past the alley further on. He peered over his shoulder, then looked at Ann.

She tilted her head as she returned the look. "What am I going to do that you don't like?"

"Either you're going to knock on his front door or you're going to be waiting at the foot of his fire escape to stop him if he runs when I knock. Either is dangerous."

"I wouldn't know what to say to him if he opened the door. I'll wait at the fire escape. There's a better chance of being able to hit him."

She reached for the door handle, then paused as Robert put a hand on her arm.

"Be careful," he said seriously. "Bombers have a tendency to be in possession of things that make messy loud noises. He said he wasn't going back to prison. He may be desperate. Watch yourself."

Ann nodded, trying to be responsible in the face of remembering Nate lying still and bandaged. She took a deep breath and bailed out of the car.

Robert pulled an illegal u-turn and parked the car just inside the alley. He didn't see Ann when he got out. Her black leathers were suited to this work. He sighed and headed for the building, hoping she was up to this.

The door was the standard buzz-in type. Robert, knowing New Yorkers, hit buttons until someone, with a few well-chosen curses, buzzed the lock open. He left Ferlazzo's button alone.

Up on the third floor, he checked briefly to make sure his pistol was handy. He went down to apartment 3A and listened. Someone was moving around in there. He knocked firmly, but stood to one side of the door.

The sounds inside ceased.

Robert knocked again. "Joey Ferlazzo, you'd might as well talk to me. Better me than the police."

"To hell with you!" came the desperate shout. The panel of the door exploded with a roar, spraying the hallway with splinters and lead shot. Robert hit the floor, then came up fast at the faint sound of breaking glass. Screams came from the other side of the door across from Ferlazzo's. Robert wanted to stop and check for injuries, but it was too large in his mind that Ferlazzo was armed, willing to shoot, and probably headed down the fire escape towards Ann.

When Ann, waiting below the bottom of the fire escape, heard the shotgun blast, she knew Robert was involved. She jumped for the end of the ladder but missed by inches. Cursing her shortness, she looked for something to climb on, but breaking glass above caught her attention. A man with a bundle under one arm and sawed-off shotgun in his other hand crawled out of a window on the third floor and stumbled down the stairs.

"Yeah," Ann growled, fading back into a shadow near the bottom of the ladder.

Ferlazzo gasped for air as he fumbled with the ladder, swearing in a high monotone. He looked up at the sound of splintering wood above. Robert was a swift shadow peering out the window, then ducking back in case Ferlazzo fired.

Ann breathed a prayer of thanks and discarded her plan to murder the gunman.

Ferlazzo decided in favor of flight and jumped on the ladder to force it down. The rust shrieked free and the ladder dropped with Ferlazzo on the upper rungs.

At the sound, Robert ducked out the window. His night vision wasn't completely in place, but he saw Ferlazzo leap to the ground and a shadowy shape flow out from behind a dumpster. Ferlazzo turned at the last second and raised the shotgun. Robert tried to get a clear shot, but before he could fire, Ann smoothly kicked the shotgun out of his hand. Robert hurried down the fire escape as she blocked Ferlazzo's wild swing with the duffle bag and punched him in the stomach.

Wisdom prompted Ann to drop Ferlazzo fast, but the memory of her brother in the hospital told her not to be in a hurry. A chop to the elbow made him drop the duffle bag, then a carefully gauged kick in the hip made him stagger against the wall. He tried to run, but she punched him lightly in the kidneys.

Robert caught up just as Ferlazzo dropped to his knees. "Enough, Ann!" he ordered as she pulled back a foot for a rib kick.

"He's still conscious," she snapped back.

Robert yanked on her arm, and she missed the kick. "You stay down!" he ordered Ferlazzo as he drug Ann away.

"Let me go!"

"Enough, I said!"

"It's not your brother in intensive care! And he tried to kill us!"

Robert grabbed her arms and shook her. "I haven't forgotten. But would you rather find out who hired him or beat him to death?"

Ferlazzo was half to his feet, and he cringed at the look Ann turned on him. "Sweet Jesus, lady, I don't even know who the fuck you are!"

"I'm the woman you talked to at the bank last night," she snarled.

"The hell you say. I'd remember a stone bitch like you. That other one was a geek." Robert held on tight to Ann. Ferlazzo didn't notice, his pain and fear catching up in despair. "Nobody was supposed to be there," he said, all but in tears. "He said nobody would get hurt, nobody'd be there that late."

Robert silenced Ann with a look. "Who said?"

"The guy who hired me." Ferlazzo's resistance seemed to have all run out as he sat back down, nursing his bruises.

"What did he tell you about the letter bomb?" Robert asked.

"What letter-bomb?" Ferlazzo was more interested in the condition of his elbow.

Ann took as much of a step forward as Robert would let her. "The letter-bomb that went off in my brother's hands tonight."

Ferlazzo blinked at her for a couple of seconds. "I never made no letter-bomb! What the hell are you trying to frame me with!"

"We don't want to frame you for anything," Robert said quickly. "We just want answers."

Ferlazzo looked back and forth between them, a hunted creature looking for a way out. "I'll tell you what I know if you let me go."

"I'm not the police to make deals. And while I can forgive an attack on myself, you put the lady in danger." Robert made his fists unclench. "I can't let that slide."

"I've got an alibi," Ferlazzo said, recovering his backbone. "And I ain't going back in stir."

"Then you shouldn't have made bombs on parole," Ann said sarcastically. "You're supposed to know enough to get a real job."

"Yeah, well, real companies don't hire cons. I got this bad habit, I like to eat regular."

Ann wasn't the sort to gloat over a downed foe once the adrenaline wore off. Ferlazzo's terror of prison and his bitterness at what fate had forced him into triggered some of her innate sympathy. "Why didn't you say something last night when you saw us?"

Ferlazzo slumped heavily to the ground. "I wanted to. But I was too scared. I'd have had to say I was the one who put the bomb in there."

Robert relaxed fractionally as Ann calmed down. "You should have claimed you'd just discovered it. You could have been a hero."

"Yeah, and next time I'll win the lottery. You're gonna turn me in, aren't you."

Robert glanced at Ann. "We're not the police," he said, for Ferlazzo's benefit as well as Ann's.

She blinked. "But we can't justó Can we? Bryson's looking for him."

"Bryson can't touch him, unless he breaks the alibi."

"You told him you'd break it."

Robert shrugged. "I've been wrong before."

Ferlazzo stared at him. "Dude, you're setting me up to owe you big. What do you want from me?"

"For now, just information."

"And later?" Ferlazzo asked in a tired, cynical voice.

Robert raised an eyebrow. "Do you want to go back to prison?"

Ferlazzo subsided and began pondering options.

Ann was still wrestling with an upbringing that insisted that bad guys should be punished. "His bomb could have killed us. If you hadn't been able to--" She trailed off at the look on Robert's face.

He forced himself to think past his fear of what might have been. "I'm beginning to believe that our friend the bomber here was as set up as we were."

"Huh?" Ferlazzo said.

"Excuse me?" Ann echoed.

"You were told no one would be around, correct?"

Ferlazzo nodded, baffled.

"You wouldn't have agreed to it if you'd known people would be involved."

The bomber shrugged. "Maybe it's stupid, but I don't want to hurt anybody. I never liked hurting anybody. In the Army--" He broke off, muttering to himself.

"Yes," Robert said flatly. He glanced at Ann. She was the weak point of the plot he was concocting. If she insisted on playing by the rules, refusing to go outside the box, he'd never be able to pull this off. "You told the man who hired you that you wouldn't hurt anyone?" Ferlazzo nodded. "Did he ask you to?"

"Yeah, he said a couple of directors were being nosy where they shouldn't, the Crown Prince and Princess, he called them. He wanted me to make bombs for them."

Robert looked at Ann. "The Crown Princess, he said?" Ferlazzo swallowed at his tone of voice.

Ann blinked in dismay. "Me? Good God, and Nate?"

"The embezzler knows you're after him. He knows who and he knew when you were put on the case. Who knew that?"

She made herself think. "Nate said it was a closed board meeting that decided. He may have said he was going to get my help, I'm not sure. Dear God, Robert, one of the directors?"

"Greed is everywhere, Ann. Ferlazzo, did you ever see who hired you?"

Ferlazzo hesitated, knowing if he gave up the information that he was incriminating himself. "You're not a cop. I don't have to talk to you."

"No, you don't," Robert said softly. "But it would be best if you did. At the very least, your parole officer would not approve of your possessing a shotgun."

"Oh, God," Ferlazzo moaned.

"Robert . . . " Ann started uncertainly. He glanced at her questioningly. She studied her feet. In her fear and anger, all she'd wanted was vengeance. But the object of her wrath was just a guy trying to make a living.

Robert watched her indecision. "No, Ferlazzo, I'm not the police. I don't have to tell them I found you, I don't have to tell them what you told me." Ferlazzo stared at him distrustfully. Robert lost his amiable tone of voice. "Or I can throw you in my car and drag you to the authorities and tell them everything. And you'll be behind bars by dawn."

"Robert," Ann asked suddenly, "why haven't the police showed up by now?"

"For what? I didn't call them."

"Shotguns going off, fights in alleys . . . "

Ferlazzo snorted. "Where do you live? It's been a quiet night."

Robert nodded sympathetically. "No one's been hurt, no one wants to get involved."

"Dear Lord," Ann gasped. She thought it out. "So we can do what we want here?"

"Essentially. What are you thinking?"

She paced a bit, wrestling with shades of grey. Ferlazzo watched her uneasily. He hadn't decided which of this pair he found more frightening, the woman who hit first and hard or the man who offered deals and consequences without remorse.

Ann sighed and nodded. "All I want is the man responsible. Ferlazzo's bomb wasn't meant for me--at least not by you," she said to the bomber. "The one sent to Nate, though, I want the guy who did that. Can I assume, Robert, that you have a plan?" she asked with a grin.

He smiled back faintly. "Yes, I do. Ferlazzo, I'm willing to make you a deal. You were the patsy, you were supposed to take the fall for all this. I want the man behind you. Tell us what you know and we'll leave. And you can go on your way."

"Just like that?" Ferlazzo said in disbelief. "Why should I believe you?"

"Because you don't have a choice. Tell us who hired you or I go to ATF with everything."

Ferlazzo weighed his choices, then nodded heavily. "He said his name was Andrew Marshall."

"Uncle Andrew?!" Ann burst out.

"Ann, please," Robert shushed her. "Go on, Ferlazzo."

"He said he found me through some old friends in the Special Forces from Nam."

"But--" Ann started, then she subsided at Robert's look.

"He told me he needed his trail covered. He offered me twenty thousand dollars to blow up that room."

"Did he pay you?" Robert asked.

"Yeah, this morning, just as planned. He asked me again if he couldn't get me to take care of the two directors. I told him to--" He glanced at Ann. "I said no. We shook hands and called it quits. I thought it was settled, till you two showed up at Beetles."

"Where did he meet you?"

"Same place as always, under the Roosevelt Parkway."

"How did you get into the server room?" Ann asked.

"It wasn't locked when I went in. Marshall had it overridden."

"It wasn't locked?" There were a million holes she was dying to rip at, but Robert's glare kept her quiet.

Robert thought hard. He knew what had happened now, and a few questions to Ann would tie everything together. But there was Ferlazzo to deal with. "Where were you going when we got here?"

The bomber clenched his jaw. "I'm not dragging her into this."

Girlfriend, sister, mother. She wouldn't be difficult to find. "What were you going to do? Live off the money for a while, then make more bombs?"

"So here we go, huh? The price for talking. Well, what do you want from me? You got someplace you want blown up for real?"

Robert pulled out his card case and a pen, but before he did anything else, he pinned Ferlazzo with a very blunt look. "Can you hold down a real job?"

"I don't know," Ferlazzo said after a moment. "Every place that risked hiring me before went belly-up. And nobody will hire me now."

"I know someone who might, but if you screw him over you'll be glad when the police finally get hold of you." He jotted a few words on one of his cards. "Lay low for a couple of days, then call this number. I'm giving you one chance." He held out the card.

Ferlazzo stared at it: to stay on the run or be in debt to this very scary guy?

"You're really going to let him go?" Ann asked in amazement. "Why?"

"One less bomber in the world, one less man in the overcrowded prisons," Robert said softly. "The police can't do this. But I can. Come on, Joey, sometimes there is a way out."

A very scary guy--unless he was on your side. "That bomb I set could have killed you and her."

Robert took a deep breath. "I'm trying very hard not to think of that. Do you want a chance or not?" He started to pull back the hand holding the card.

Ferlazzo lunged and grabbed it. Unaccustomed hope warred with experience. "How do I know you won't rat me out anyway?"

"All you'd have to do is tell whatever authorities picked you up that I let you go. I really don't want to deal with a charge of obstruction of justice. You'll just have to trust me." Robert put away his case and pen. "I believe that covers just about everything. Ann, we have business elsewhere. Ferlazzo, I was serious about laying low. You can identify this bomber, and he's willing to kill people who get in his way. Be careful."

Ferlazzo nodded numbly. He was still sitting on the ground when Robert took Ann's arm and escorted her away.

She was in no little shock. A non sequitur occurred to her as Robert unlocked the passengers' door of his car for her. "How come no one ever steals your hubcaps? This is a very nice car to be parked in the kinds of neighborhoods you go to."

"They all think I'm a mobster. They don't dare. Get in, love, we need to talk."

They both sat for a few moments letting the adrenaline level out. Robert started the engine with a sigh. "There's an all-night diner that serves adequate coffee and very good pie."

"I could use some, I'm shaking."

By silent agreement, they didn't discuss the matter until they were seated over heavy mugs of coffee and large slabs of pie. The diner was half full even at three o'clock in the morning. Strangely spiked and glittering punkers sat next to silent truckers waiting to make deliveries when the nearby markets opened for their pre-dawn business. The waitress who served Robert and Ann didn't even blink at the juxtaposition of a respectable middle-aged man in a suit with a youngish biker.

Ann sipped at her coffee, grateful for the artificial calm and energy. "And you do this all the time."

"I do prefer to work during the day. Are you all right?"

"Well, no. Why did you let Ferlazzo go? It was your play and I'll back you, but you told Bryson you'd deliver him."

"I don't like set-ups. And putting Ferlazzo back in jail serves no useful purpose. He'll be much more useful working for Nathan."

"One of your many shadowy friends?"

"One acquires them in my line of work."

"Ferlazzo owes you now, big time. What will you do with him?"

"I don't know. But if I ever have need of someone who understands bombs, I know where to find him." He reached over to take her hand. "And now we need to talk about who hired him."

Ann nodded. "It can't have been Uncle Andrew. He's diabetic, he got a deferment from the military. He can't have old friends from the Special Forces."

"But only a member of the board would have known you were going in last night." Not strictly true, but it would be less of a shock if she figured it out for herself.

"Well, Mark knew, but they didn't tell him why. Somebody on the board could have told other people on their staffs." She fidgeted with the salt shaker in frustration.

Robert sighed. "Ferlazzo said the door was unlocked. What would it take to do that?"

"Somebody would have to access the security protocols and override the procedures and alarms. Only security can do that."

"Or someone with access to the entire computer system of Schaeffer and Marshall."

Ann finally understood the look on his face. He was trying to lead her gently to some conclusion he'd already reached, one that would be unpleasant for her. "You know who it is."

"And so do you, if you'd just think about it. Someone with connections to the board and who has access to the computer. If we rule you out, who do we have left?"

"Mark?" she finally whispered. "My cousin Mark?"

Robert nodded soberly. "IS chief and informed by the board of your presence that night."

"But he had no reason to suspect anything--"

"He does if he's the embezzler. A sudden audit of the system by a computer analyst who happens to be a member of the board? To a suspicious mind, that screams that his cover is about to be blown. Was he in the military?"

"Yes, he was, Special--oh, my god." She put her head in her hands. Robert stroked her hair. "He was there, Robert."

"I know."

"He talked to us. He knew where we were going. If he knew the bomb was in there--" Her voice broke off in shivers.

"He was giving Ferlazzo time to finish and get clear. And he was also finding out why you were there. You insisted on going into the server room when he suggested another place to work."

"But he couldn't have known we'd go in there so he could blow us up."

"I'll grant him the benefit of the doubt and say he didn't plan on your presence." Anger licked into Robert's voice. "But when he knew you were going to look at the heart of the system . . . "

"He sent us in there, knowing what had been put in by Ferlazzo." She rocked back and forth. "He knew what was going to happen. He looked at us and talked to us and all the time he knew. He locked the door on us and cut off the phones. My god, was he sitting there in the building waiting for it go off?"

He took her hands in a tight grip. "I doubt it. He waited long enough to set the door and phone and left so he could make a call attributing the blast to the Broadcast Bomber." He doubted she was listening, as pale and horrified as she was. It wasn't easy to accept that there was someone in the world who could look you in the eye and coldly plot your death. The men she'd worked for whose plot she'd uncovered hadn't had anything against her personally.

Robert gave up on dignity in public and slid out of his seat across from her to sit next to her and put his arms around her.

She leaned against him and clutched his lapel in near-blind panic. A relative? Someone who she'd sat with at the Thanksgiving table? Mark Schaeffer wasn't a close relative, but he was blood. "Why?" she whispered.

"First, to give him time to cover his tracks as the embezzler. That why the bomb was in the server room. Second . . . " He put a protective hand on the head resting on his shoulder. "He hates you, Ann. You and Nate both."

She sat upright in horror. "Nate? He sent the letter bomb?"

"I refuse to accept a third player. Ferlazzo said he used the terms Crown Prince and Princess. In the world of Schaeffer & Marshall, who else could that be?"

"Dear God, Becky--"

"Has nothing to do with the bank. She's safe. What is Mark Schaeffer's position in the family?"

Ann fought to get her thoughts in order. "He's a grandson of Uncle Isaac's by his fourth son."

"I see. Yes, that would put him quite far down on the totem pole. How much of a share of the clan fortune is he entitled to?"

"I don't know, I don't keep track of the Schaeffers that closely. But he's well off, especially with what he got from his mother. His father married well. Geez, I sound like a Victorian novel."

"Is he as well off as you and Nate?"

She couldn't help smiling a little. "Well, no. But then Nate's the heir." Her smile faded. "Crown Prince."

"He may see it as only chance of birth that's given you your advantages."

"Well, he'd be right. Nate works hard, but my only claim to all this is I came down the right birth canal. If the family weren't so blasted medieval--"

"Calmly, love. Social engineering will have to wait. Where did he learn about computers?"

"In school, I think. Dammit, he couldn't have cracked the security network, I set it up myself and I know a lot of sneaky things to do with computer security."

Robert remembered one or two dropped references. "Yes, the easiest way to know how to fight infiltration is to be an infiltrator yourself." He patted her hand. "But that's neither here nor there."

"No, it isn't." Someday he was going to call her on the subject, and she didn't know what she was going to say.

"Is he really as incompetent as you think? A reputation for ineptness is a very good disguise."

Ann thought a while. "Everything he's ever set up has been adequate but basic. He's got big, clunky configurations where a more elegant system would do the job faster and be easier to maintain."

"It's been my experience that systems designed to capacity are very sensitive to tampering. Something big and clunky can hide a multitude of faults. And if you're the only one who understands the configuration, you're the one responsible for looking for trouble. That's how double agents are born."

"That would mean he's been tapping things from the start."

"It also means he's not going to give up easily. Setting the bomb in the server room was understandable, he'd be able to cover everything in the clean-up. Your being there was a bonus." Robert faced the twisted facts. "The bomb to Nate was a double benefit as well. The board was disrupted and a man Schaeffer hates was taken out of the picture."

She remembered her brother lying so still and pale. "Was that bomb meant to kill?"

He took her hand and looked her in the eye. "Cold-blooded attempted murder, yes. As cold-blooded as when he let us go into the server room and locked the door behind us."

Cold anger began burning in her stomach. "He should be home at this hour."

Robert thought for several moments. "Yes, he should be. But you're not going."

"Robert--"

"No. I'm going to take you to my apartment and lock you behind my alarm system, then I'm going to call Mickey and have him go over your house with a fine tooth comb to make sure your loving cousin hasn't installed any surprises."

"I don't want to go into hiding."

"Ann, do you know how many times a situation has gone to hell in my face because someone I was trying to protect decided they wanted to help? Please, for once, do as I say."

She wanted to argue, but he'd ranted before about foolhardy clients who had decided they knew better than he and disrupted his delicately laid plans. "All right," she finally snarled. "But I don't like it."

He chuckled in relief. "I know you don't. I didn't expect you to. But thank you. I can function much better if I know you're safe."

She sighed and finished her coffee. "I just don't want you saying to me the kinds of things you said about that guy last week."

Robert's neighborhood was too respectable for much activity at three thirty in the morning. One or two cars passed them on the way, but they looked like people on shortcuts rather than anyone with business. Robert watched carefully as he pulled up in front of his building. Ann looked around herself as she joined him on the sidewalk.

No unexpected packages waited on the doorstep of Robert's apartment, and they both breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed behind them.

Ann dropped onto his couch and leaned her head back. "Now what, warden?"

"Don't start, this is for your own--"

"Yes, yes, I know, I'm sorry. It's just my family's in trouble and I can't do anything."

Robert brushed a kiss across her forehead in passing. "Now, I wonder where I've heard that before?"

"Yeah. Anyway, now what?"

"I'm going to call Mickey."

"Won't he be asleep?"

"He'll wake up." Robert went to the phone, and the blinking light on the answering machine caught his eye. "Damn," he muttered, running the tape back.

"Leave Schaeffer & Marshall alone," said the partially muffled voice. "It's none of your business. Keep her out of it, if you want to keep her." A click finished the message.

"Good Christ," Ann gasped. "That was him."

Robert pulled his pistol and check the load. "Come on, you're not staying here."

"What?" She got to her feet slowly.

"That number is not in any general directory. If he's found my number he can get my address." He replaced the pistol and took Ann's hand. "You're getting your wish, you're staying with me."

Ann had started to relax and her brain was slow. "What about Mickey?"

"I'll call him from the car. Come on, Ann, wake up. I need you functioning."

"I'm trying, I'm trying." It occurred to her that she was coming up on nineteen hours straight without sleep. Her eyes burned and her hands were starting to shake. "How do you do it?" she muttered as she followed him down the stairs.

"When this is over I plan to sleep for about thirty hours." He flung her a quick smile. "You're welcome to join me."

"I look forward to it."

In the car, he drove suspiciously for ten minutes before pulling over in the financial district and picking up the phone. As Mickey's phone rang, Robert glanced at Ann, who was staring blearily out the window. "Get some sleep, love," he said, brushing her cheek with the back of his fingers.

She shook her head. "I'm bitchy enough when I'm tired, a cat nap will only make it worse." She stared at the BMW that had just pulled up in front of an office building. The driver got out, carrying a brief case, and he unlocked the front door. "Dear lord, people are starting to get up and come to work."

"I like dawns," Robert said. "Very hopeful it is, the sun coming up. Mickey, it's me." He winced. "Yes, I'm sorry I woke you, stop swearing at me in Cantonese."

"Why are you up at this godless hour," Mickey muttered, "and why are you involving me?"

"I am up at this hour because I haven't been to bed yet. Ann and I have been chasing bombers."

"Catch any?"

"Yes, but he was too small so we threw him back. We're after bigger game. I'll explain everything later, but now I need you to pull yourself together and go to Ann's house."

Mickey grumbled, dropped the phone, then yawned hugely as he picked it up. "Why?" he said past another yawn.

Robert fought off an answering yawn. "Because it's fair odds that there's a bomb somewhere in it."

There was a moment's silence. "Tell me this is your sick idea of a joke."

"I wish it were. But a letter bomb put her brother in the hospital early tonight, and I suspect she's the next target. Will you do it?"

"Yeah, sure. But I'm going to get back-up."

"Fine. You shouldn't have any trouble with the door, and the alarm code is--"

"Hey!" Ann protested.

"He has to get in," Robert explained patiently. "You can change it later. Mickey, the code is 18106. Be careful."

"I'll call you when I'm done. Where will you be?"

"In the car." He smiled tensely at Ann. "We have a felony to commit."

"Cool," she said.

 

 

Mark Schaeffer lived on Staten Island in a medium-sized house on a quiet street. Robert turned off the headlights as he coasted by on a preliminary reconnaissance. "Is he married?" he asked Ann.

"No, he lives alone. I don't know that much about him."

Robert drove around the block slowly, scouting the neighborhood. He found an alley that would take them behind the house. "I didn't see a car in the garage. And there's nothing parked back here." He pulled into a narrow parking area behind the house, close to the back door. "Move as quietly as you can, this is the kind of neighborhood where they report prowlers."

They got out into the cold of a November pre-dawn. Ann glanced around and stared a while at the towers of Manhattan rising over the houses from across the harbor. Why were so many lights on at this hour? She started when Robert tapped her on the arm. He smiled very briefly, then tugged her riding gloves out of her jacket pocket and handed them to her. She put them on as she followed him to the gate of the chain link fence.

Robert studied the back yard very carefully. No dog, indifferent landscaping, a gas grill under a small shelter near the back door. He studied the gate next, examining the latch and hinges for rust or triggers of any kind. Slowly he raised the latch and pushed the gate open. It made no noise, and he gestured Ann through quickly.

She picked her way across the yard, moving as delicately as Sensei Rayburn could teach her. She was balanced to move any way she had to, and the only noise she made was the occasional creak of the leather she wore.

Robert watched proudly for a moment, but with a few misgivings. If she weren't so good at this, he wouldn't have to worry about her being out here. He ran lightly across the yard to join her on the back porch.

"Don't touch anything," he whispered. "I want to check for an alarm." He took a tiny flashlight from his coat pocket. "Watch for lights in the houses."

Ann nodded and faded away. Robert studied the back door, then the kitchen windows. As expected, tiny sensors were set into the frame. Robert wondered about motion sensors and shone the light into the kitchen. He relaxed when he saw the small bowl of water on the kitchen floor. Most people with pets didn't go to the fuss of getting mass-sensitive motion detectors. He only hoped it wasn't for an obnoxious yappy dog. He'd been forced to do very unpleasant things to yappy dogs in the past, and he would much rather not have to consider that option if there was any chance of Ann finding out.

He was examining the window for wires when a sudden rush crossed the floor and jumped for the window. His pistol was half out of its holster when he realized it was a cat. It was an old, fat tabby that didn't look very fierce. Its mews came faintly through the glass.

If he didn't want to do anything drastic to a yappy dog, even less did he want to do anything to a cat. He had serious doubts of Ann ever forgiving him.

A door slammed somewhere nearby, and Robert froze. After a few moments a car engine started, then the car drove away. Ann appeared from around the side of the house.

"Sorry," she whispered, "the guy across the street just left. He never turned on any lights."

"That's all right. Stay here, we'll be inside in a few minutes. Distract the cat."

"Oh? Hi, kitty." Ann tapped her fingers on the window, and the tabby walked down the window sill to bat at the glass. "Oh, aren't you the fierce guard cat."

Robert pulled out a tiny case of tools. Ann watched him out of the corner of her eyes. She loved watching his hands doing intricate work. His gloved fingers deftly pulled out a glass cutter. The alarm sensor was set to detect the raising of the window, not the removal of the glass. The screech of the glass cutter seemed horridly loud, but Robert never paused. When he'd gone around all four sides, he wiggled his fingers to get the cat's attention. The tabby bumped against the glass in search of petting, and the pane of glass fell into Robert's hands.

"Oh, now, wait a minute," Ann protested softly. Robert smiled smugly and put the glass into a porch chair.

"You first," he told her. "Make friends with the cat."

Ann stuck her head inside the kitchen and looked at the floor. The cat ran to the doorway, tail twitching. Visitors at the window were one thing, but an invasion of the house was something else. Ann clicked her tongue at the cat, who came back a slow step at a time. The floor below the window was clear, and she stepped through. She took a couple of steps towards the cat, then crouched down and trilled again, hand outstretched.

Robert waiting till the tabby finally bumped its head against Ann's hand for a thorough ear scratching, then stepped through. Ann stood, her arms full of purring cat. Robert shook his head, wondering briefly about unnatural bonds with wild creatures.

He looked around the dark room, remembering what he was hunting. He gestured for Ann to follow him quietly.

Quick beams of light from the flashlight in his hand got them through a short hallway to the living room in front. The alarm panel was just beside the front door. Robert studied it carefully. A good system as far as it went, but geared toward the typical house thief. The only lights showing were two steadily blinking red lamps showing the system was armed and that nothing had triggered it. He smiled briefly to himself.

He tugged Ann close. "Let's find out if he's here. Put down your new friend."

Ann nodded and whispered an apology to the cat, who mewed a brief complaint, then trotted towards the stairs.

Robert glanced quickly into a side parlor, then led the way after the cat. He kept to the side of the stairs and gestured Ann to do the same.

All was quiet upstairs. Robert scanned the upper hallway quickly. Four doors, all ajar but one. He pulled his gun, just in case, even though he and Ann were by every definition in violation of the law and Schaeffer would be exonerated for shooting them.

The cat squeezed back out of the door nearest the head of the stairs. Robert held his breath, listening for the sleepy complaint of a man woken up by a cat walking on his face. God knew Robert complained when Ankh walked on him. But it was still quiet.

Ann waited at the head of the stairs as Robert went to investigate doors. Family pictures had followed them up on the wall by the stairs, prints of old photographs of generations of Schaeffers. Ann wondered where Mark Schaefer spent his money, because he didn't spend it on the decor of his house. The table in the upstairs hall was from Ikea, and the vase on top looked like something from Pier 1. She wondered briefly if she was turning into an elitist snob.

Robert noted the bathroom at the end of the hall and listened carefully at the other doors before peeking in. The one the cat had exited was the master bedroom. Robert stared inside, then gestured for Ann to join him.

"I don't think he's here," he whispered. "But the bed's been slept in. Come with me and look, but don't touch anything."

The cat followed them in and jumped on the bed to knead itself a nest. Ann paused in passing to scratch ears again.

Robert studied the open closet and counted shoes and empty hangers. Nothing hung on the clothes valet near the bed, and the change tray on the dresser was empty.

"No pictures," Ann observed, feeling a little bad for spying on family. "I wonder how long he's been gone."

"Not more than an hour, I think."

"How do you know?"

"Later. There's no time for an investigatory seminar. Let's check the other rooms."

Robert scanned the next doorway carefully, still waiting for booby traps, then glanced in. Tiny lights gleamed inside. The whirring noises were familiar to Robert by now. "Ann, time for you to show off. I've found his computer." He opened the door and gestured her in.

"I need more light."

Robert shone the flashlight around and saw no windows, so he switched on a desk lamp.

Ann nodded to herself. His money went where most of hers did, into a really kick-ass home PC. She felt a pang of jealousy: his monitor was bigger than hers. She scanned the shelves, reading the titles of the manuals and pulling down notebooks.

Robert did his own search, grumbling to himself when he found a pile of military guidebooks to demolitions. Civilians weren't supposed to have those, and the ones they did get their hands on were only supposed to be very basic and omitting crucial steps. Possession of the manuals was not an indictable offense, though, and there was no sign of the kind of equipment necessary for building bombs.

"Damn it, the basement," he snapped. "Stay here, see if you can get anything out of the computer. I'm going to scout around." Ann nodded absently.

Robert slipped down the stairs, followed by the cat. A small utility room off the kitchen held the door to the cellar. Robert listened very carefully and stooped to look through the keyhole for light. Silent and dark.

"Is he down there?" he asked the cat, who was stropping his ankles. "Good lord, if you were my cat I'd fire you." He checked the hinges for rust, then turned the knob carefully, his pistol in his free hand.

Dark and the smell of dirt rolled up the steps. He breathed in the smell, searching for the familiar scents of explosives. But all there was were the smells of old masonry and the faint traces of rodents. Robert risked the flashlight on the way down the steps. The cat bounced down alongside him.

The basement had never been used for anything but household storage. The furnace and water heater were festooned with cobwebs, and mice scuttled away behind flower pots. The cat bounced around, too excited to decide which way to pounce. Robert shone the light around, looking for blocked doors and buried cabinets. But wherever Mark Schaeffer made his bombs, it wasn't under his own house. Robert headed for the stairs, whistling for the cat, who elected to follow its new friend.

Upstairs, Ann sat down at the computer and turned on the monitor. "Dear God," she muttered when the picture finally appeared. "Which porno website did you pull that off of? Pervert." She tapped the shift key to tell the computer to erase the screen saver. A small block appeared asking for a password. "Shit, and me without my software." She rebooted the system to see if it would come up with a more cooperative login. The prompt for the password came up again, though this time without the smut background.

Ann glanced around the room, looking for clues. She based her home passwords on characters from books or things overheard on the street. She glanced once more at the screen. Shrugging distastefully, she typed in various obscenities and scatological references. None worked.

"Come on, woman, your reputation as a geek is on the line." She studied the cheesecake posters that hung on the wall behind the monitor. Most of the models were nameless beauties in string bikinis, but there were three of Raquel Welch. Ann remembered hearing how Mark had gotten into trouble for having a poster of Raquel in his office that was considered lewd by his secretary. She thoughtfully reached for the keyboard. "R-A- . . . "

The password block disappeared, and Raquel's voice sighed throatily out of the speakers: "Oh, yes, that's it."

"Oh, my god," Ann gasped. But was it any worse than that Derek Jacobi sound bite on her computer? She watched the desktop assemble on the screen. "I am a goddess," she smirked, cracking her knuckles. "On to pillage."

Downstairs, Robert did a more thorough search of the living room and parlor. He didn't feel he should condemn a single man for his taste in mail order videos. At least they weren't too twisted.

The cat followed him around, perching on chairs and tables. In the parlor, it stropped against a heavy grey metal cabinet.

Robert moved more carefully. The gun cabinet's door was partially open. "Sloppy," he muttered, gently easing the heavy door open. Three hunting rifles lined the back. Two drawers held the proper ammunition for deer hunting. The third drawer held a pistol case, but the row of ammunition next to it had a gap the size of a single box of rounds. Robert drew out the case and opened it. The holes in the foam lining were roughly the size of a .44 magnum automatic and two clips.

Robert lost any remaining sense of restraint in regards to Mark Schaeffer. Wherever he was, he was heavily armed. Robert had always considered magnums a piece of macho overkill designed for movie-style mayhem rather than precision work. But even a glancing hit would cause a lot of damage. He thought of Ann and the hit she'd taken from a professional's gun, and he found the weight of the pistol in his belt holster comforting.

He closed the gun cabinet, making sure to leave it ajar at the same position as he found it. His eye fell on the framed photographs on the wall next to the cabinet. Memories rose and were swiftly dismissed as he looked at the group posed in front of a crudely painted sign reading "Den Bet Phu Recreational HQ. Activity leaders: 9th Special Forces." The men wore jungle fatigues and an assembly of other gear that seasoned fighters in Viet Nam considered adequate daily uniform.

Robert remembered the smell of rotting vegetation and the inescapable clammy heat and the voices of young men who knew they were going to die. He studied faces, wondering if he'd recognize anyone. Mark Schaeffer was two from the left in the back row, saluting the camera with a bottle of the local beer. Awful stuff, that beer. The locals hadn't drunk it themselves, making it solely for the consumption of the foreign soldiers.

Another photograph showed Mark receiving a medal from some officer, and the last picture was a portrait of Mark with his arms around the shoulders of two of the men from the group photo. Tucked into the corner of the frame were two slips of paper. Robert tipped them up and saw they were rubbings of names. He turned away swiftly. He'd never gone near the Viet Nam memorial in Washington, and if he had his way he never would.

He headed upstairs, being less careful of his footsteps now he knew the house was empty. From the computer room he heard the ticking noise of fingers on a keyboard. He peeked in and saw Ann staring at a scrolling screen. He smiled proudly. So she'd gotten in.

He went up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. She started and spun. Robert jumped out of the way of the fist headed for his stomach; Ann aborted the crotch kick that would have followed the hand strike. They stared at each other, he back against the wall and she crouched beside the overturned chair.

Robert caught his breath first. "Brown belt," he reminded himself.

"Brown belt," she agreed. "Did I hit you?"

"No, I managed to get out of the way." He put a hand out and squeezed her shoulder. "I see you got in. What have you found?"

Ann picked up the chair. "One of the reasons I'm so antsy. First off, a private connection to Schaeffer & Marshall unrelated to the normal stuff the IS chief would be expected to have. He's also got a line to a bank with an overseas number. But, Robert, he's also got links to a good dozen other firms on Wall Street. I think he's hitting all of them."

"Show me." He pulled on his glasses and pulled up another chair. The cat, with the advent of laps, jumped up and demanded attention. Robert petted absently.

A list of banks and finance companies appeared. "These are the files. There's a modem connection to each one and programs for getting around their computers. Some of them even have diagrams of the security systems."

"How much has he gotten?" Robert asked, slightly dazed at the scope of it all.

"He's hit us the hardest, not surprisingly. But nothing less than a hundred thousand per. I wonder where the money goes."

"Drugs, gambling, perverse practices. Some habits are very expensive. What else?" He glanced at Ann when she hesitated. "What did you find?"

For answer, she clicked the mouse on another file. A floor plan appeared, along with architectural elevation. Robert only needed a couple of seconds to recognize Ann's house. "Oh, my god."

"It's the alarm diagram," Ann said in a shaky voice. "He knows how to get past my alarm."

"How could he have gotten this?"

"Hacked into the security company," she shrugged unhappily, "half a dozen ways."

Robert checked a few points more carefully. "He doesn't have the modifications I put in."

"He doesn't need them." She clicked on a sub-file, and text commentary appeared.

"Alarm more trouble than it's worth. Either incendiary on roof or through skylight. Access by fire escape in alley."

Robert put an arm around Ann's shaking shoulders. It was as concise a reconnaissance report as any he'd seen. He wanted to call Mickey and warn him, but Mickey was a pro.

"There's more," she whispered. She moved the mouse again.

"I can make that alarm impervious," Robert told her. "And we'll get stronger glass on the skylight."

She didn't reply. "This is Nate's house," she said as another floor plan appeared. She clicked on the text.

"Package bomb? Kids must be out of the way. Abby?"

"At least he was worried about the kids," Ann said bleakly.

"Timothy will want this," Robert commented. A thought chilled him. "Go back to those banks. I want to see any commentary on the ones where he has security diagrams."

Ann put a sort on the directory, bringing up only those with a diagram file. She moved the cursor to the first on the list, but Robert put a hand up. She looked at him, but he was staring at the list intently. "What?"

"These are the only ones with security diagrams?"

"Yes." She looked at the list but didn't see what had caught him.

Robert took a deep breath. "Those are the victims of the Broadcast Bomber." He tapped the first name on the list. "Let me see that one."

Ann knew she should get it, but her brain was shocked and tired. The diagram showed two floors. The commentary file was large, filled with codes and schedules. The last line was a combination of chemical notation and abbreviations. "What is it?"

Robert pushed the cat off his lap. "Can you copy this?"

"I don't have a disk. He might, but I'd have to look."

"No. Shut it down, make it look like no one was in here. We have to go." He stood to take up watch by the door.

His urgency made Ann's fingers clumsy as she reset configurations. "Look, I'm stupid tonight. Tell me what you've found."

Robert tried to listen in all directions at once, desperately afraid the owner of the house would come home too soon. "Your cousin is the Broadcast Bomber."

The cat cried as they headed towards the kitchen. "What about the window?" Ann asked as Robert crawled out and joined her on the porch.

"There's no time," he said curtly, pushing her towards the car.

"But the cat will get out."

He stared at her in disbelief, wanting to consign the cat to Purgatory. But she couldn't help the way she was wired. "The fence will keep it in."

"Oh, yeah. Sorry. But he'll see it when he gets back."

"Your cousin will soon have bigger problems. A simple case of breaking and entering will be easily buried." He got her out of the yard and into the car, hoping no one had heard her.

 

Next