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Authors: Ridley Pearson

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“What is it?” he asked.

“The launch,” she said, pointing at the white dot of a distant boat approaching. Beyond it, the steady green of the mainland. Through the binoculars the launch carried a distinctive bright-blue flag. Hope knew of what she was speaking: The rules were strict concerning the waters around this island. “You ordered it, or it wouldn't be coming here.”

“Yes,” he answered, “I called for it. But I'm not going anywhere. It's not like that. Come with me?”

Rotem had convinced Larson and Hope to remain in protection through not only the trial of Ricardo Romero, but his sentencing as well. With the trial now less than ninety days away, pressure from Justice remained high for them to maintain the “zero profile” they'd kept over the past few months. The man driving the launch was on the federal payroll.

“It's not time for a rotation,” she reminded.

The nearest town was across three miles of lake, around a bend to the southwest, about a twenty-minute boat trip. Provisions were delivered twice a week. Two marshals remained on the island 24-7, rotating in three shifts a day.

“Just bear with me, would you?” Larson asked.

She slung the binoculars around her neck, crossed her arms defiantly, and joined him in the walk down to the dock. “I thought you were leaving us,” she said.

“Yeah, right.”

Hope said nothing on the way down the path. Larson drank in the sounds, the sights, the smells. “This is a special place,” he said.

“Only because we're sharing it,” she said.

“Damn right.”

“Are we going to talk about it?” she asked.

A pair of squirrels cackled and chased each other overhead, their running up the trunk scratching against the heavy bark.

She said, “
Laena
? Your all-important list.”

Sworn to secrecy, Larson nonetheless owed her an explanation, even if lacking in detail. He'd put it off until she'd asked; and now she had.

“The disk that was being auctioned took a bullet. It was in Philippe Romero's breast pocket.”

“Seriously?”

“Swear to God.”

“The sheriff with the Bible in his coat?” she questioned skeptically.

“Only it didn't save him,” Larson pointed out.

“But the list itself?”

“Katrina Romero's computer was seized. She had compiled the list for Philippe. It was her e-mail that Markowitz had been sending it to. She was convicted on a number of counts, but to my knowledge hasn't been sentenced.”

“And the witnesses?”

“We've lost some. Fewer than we'd feared. Justice has relocated something like five hundred prime targets. A huge undertaking. There have been some early retirements, transfers within WITSEC itself.”

The water came in and out of view. He never got tired of looking at it.

He said, “The computerization of the list is under review. There's no way they'll go back to paperwork, so it's only a matter of encryption and how they prevent something like this from happening again. It's the government, don't forget. It'll take them a couple years to come up with a plan, and by then it will be outdated. The list will always be vulnerable to some extent.”

“What about the children? Katrina's children?”

He stopped on the trail, turned and faced her.

“I don't have an answer for that,” he said.

“They shouldn't end up the victims.”

“No. No one should end up a victim.”

“But children!”

“I understand.”

There was no mention of Paolo. No mention of Larson's having attended the cremation because he had to see the man reduced to ashes. Seventeen members of Ricardo Romero's former “family” had been captured and imprisoned. Like Paolo, Ricardo's empire was ashes.

Larson led her down the trail to water's edge.

They reached the dock and Hope used the binoculars to confirm the launch driver, passing the opticals to Larson so he could do the same.

“It's Neville,” he said.

“I have to tell you I did not like it one bit. Seeing that launch.” She didn't look at him as she said, “I don't want to lose you, Lars.”

“We're going to rejoin the world. You realize that, don't you? Six months, a year? We've talked about this, I know, but don't lose sight that it'll be different when we're shopping for our own groceries, and taking the dry cleaning, and driving Penny to soccer games. As awkward as it is to be this isolated, we've been pampered. It's going to be a whole hell of a lot different.”

“And I, for one, can't wait.”

The launch slowed, the wake lessening, and putted in toward the dock, taking longer than either of them would have wanted.

“So this is some kind of surprise, I take it?” she asked Larson.

He said, “A promise made is a promise kept.”

She viewed him curiously.

Neville, the boat's driver, coaxed the vessel into reverse, foaming the water, as Larson snagged the bowline and tied it off to the dock.

“Special delivery,” Neville announced, as he then secured the sternline as well. He moved forward and opened the cabin and descended a steep set of steps, disappearing. He reappeared a moment later with a sand-colored puppy under his right arm.

“Oh, Lars!” Hope said enthusiastically.

“She's a mutt. Part shepherd, part hound dog.”

“Looks part Afghan.”

“That's the hound dog: Saluki is the breed.”

Neville passed the pup to Hope, who then cuddled it and brought the dog's nose to her face, and was generously licked. She laughed and the dog licked some more.

“Meet Cairo,” Larson said.

Hope looked up with tears in her eyes.

Neville handed Larson several copies each of the
New York Times
, the
Wall Street Journal
, and the
Detroit Free Press
, and Larson thanked him.

“Covers the past four days,” Neville informed him. He brought up a large bag of Puppy Chow and several shopping bags of accessories including two books on dog training.

There was no mail to be delivered, even for Larson. For all the world, he'd disappeared after that night north of Seattle. Even Hampton and Stubblefield did not know his whereabouts.

“See you Thursday,” Neville said as Larson untied first the bow- and then the sternline.

Larson pushed the stern away from the dock, and the boat's motor gurgled. Larson offered a small wave of thanks. Neville mocked a salute, and the launch motored off.

Larson left the food, but got the bags.

“She's going to flip out,” Hope said.

“I hope so.”

Larson switched hands with the bags and threw an arm around Hope. He was going to hate leaving this place, though not what it represented. He planned to ask Rotem if there might be a way to buy it from the government someday, if his finances allowed. No law against dreaming.

“Isn't she cute?” Hope bubbled.

Larson held her just a little bit closer. “Yes, she is,” he said.

And the two walked back up the trail toward the cabin.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Special Thanks to Laurel Shaper Walters and David Walters and Marcelle for the multiple reads of the manuscript; to Paul Kenny, for a place to hang my hat and pen; to Ed Stackler, for his patience in editing many revisions; Leslie Wells, my editor at Hyperion; Al Zuckerman, friend, editor, agent; Amy Berkower, Writers House; Matthew Snyder, CAA; Susan Steiger, attorney; at Hyperion: Karin Maake, Bob Miller, Ellen Archer, Jane Comins, Katie Wainwright. Thanks also to Nancy Litzinger and Louise Marsh for their day-to-day office support.

For helping me with the details: Andy Hamilton, Assistant United States Attorney (retired); Eric Robertson, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Washington State; and to many who choose to remain anonymous.

Copyright

Copyright © 2005 by Page One, Incorporated

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the Publisher. For information address Hyperion, 77 West 66th Street, New York, New York 10023-6298.

ISBN: 9781401382476

First eBook Edition: APRIL 2005

ALSO BY RIDLEY PEARSON

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red

(writing as Joyce Reardon)

Peter and the Starcatchers

(co-written with Dave Barry)

The Body of David Hayes*

The Art of Deception*

Parallel Lies

Middle of Nowhere*

The First Victim*

The Pied Piper*

Beyond Recognition*

Chain of Evidence

No Witness*

The Angel Maker*

Hard Fall

Probable Cause

Undercurrents*

Hidden Charges

Blood of the Albatross

Never Look Back

* features Lou Boldt / Daphne Matthews

WRITING AS
WENDELL M
C
CALL

Dead Aim

Aim for the Heart

Concerto in Dead Flat

SHORT STORIES

“All Over but the Dying” in
Diagnosis: Terminal,

edited by F. Paul Wilson

“Close Shave” in
Murder Is My Racquet,

edited by Otto Penzler

COLLECTIONS

The Putt at the End of the World,

a serial novel

TELEVISION

Investigative Reports: Inside AA

(A&E Network, June 2000)

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer
(Movie)

(ABC TV, May 2003)

BOOK: Cut and Run
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