Authors: Joseph Finder
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller
“Daddy,” said Annie, one small arm curled around his neck, “when is the man bringing the cake?”
“Do they have to
“Sure seems like it,” Tom said. “It’s certainly taking long enough.”
“Did I tell you the cops think they might have recovered one of the stolen paintings?” Claire said. They’d had a break-in a few days earlier, in which two of their paintings had been stolen—a Corot sketch of a nude woman that was a recent birthday gift to her from Tom, and a William Bailey still life in oil that Tom loved and she hated.
“Seriously? And I was all set to file the insurance claims. Which one’d they find?”
“Don’t know. Of course, it wouldn’t tear me apart if the Bailey’s lost forever.”
“I know,” Tom said. “Too cold and precise and controlled, right? Well, I loved it. Anyway, honey, it’s only stuff, you know? Objects, things. And no one got hurt; that’s the important thing.”
The waiter arrived with a tray. On it were the chocolate cake, a coffee cup, and two flutes of champagne. “Compliments of the house,” the waiter said. “With our congratulations.”
* * *
As they left the restaurant, Annie darted ahead into the mall’s food court, shouting, “I wanna go play in the space ship!” The giant plastic space ship was located in Annie’s favorite kiddie store nearby, in front of which stood giant resin statues of cartoon characters.
The food court was lined with upscale fast-food places and furnished with small round tables, wooden benches, and ficus trees in brass planters. The floor was tiled in highly polished marble. The big open space was three levels high and ringed with balconies that rose all the way up to a glass skylight illuminated by floodlights. At the far end of the atrium was an artificial waterfall that cascaded down a jagged granite wall.
“Slow down, Annie-Banannie,” Tom called out, and Annie circled back, grabbed her father’s hand, and tugged at it, at the same moment that two men in suits approached them.
One of them said, “Mr. Kubik, come with us, please. Let’s make this simple.”
Tom turned to the one on the left, puzzled. “Excuse me?”
“Ronald Kubik, federal agents. We have a warrant for your arrest.”
Tom smiled, furrowed his brow. “You’ve got the wrong guy, buddy,” he said, taking Claire’s hand and striding quickly past them.
“Mr. Kubik, come along quietly and no one will get hurt.”
Puzzled, Claire laughed at the absurdity of this. “Sorry, boys.”
“You’re making some kind of a mistake,” Tom said, raising his voice, no longer amused.
The man on the right abruptly grabbed Tom’s arm, and Claire said, “Get your hands off my husband.”
Suddenly Tom swung his briefcase to the right, slamming the man in the stomach, knocking him backward and to the floor, and then, in a flash, he’d sprung forward and was running away, into the food court, at astonishing speed.
Claire shouted after him, “Tom, where’re you going?”
Annie screamed, “Daddy!”
A voice yelled: “
Claire stared in shock as the two men chased after Tom, and then from all around the atrium men began to move abruptly. Why was he running, if this was indeed a case of mistaken identity? On her left, a couple of short-haired men in their late twenties, who’d been sitting having coffee in front of the chocolate-chip-cookie place, jumped to their feet.
Claire shouted, “Tom!” But he was already most of the way across the court, still running.
One of the men, wearing a navy blazer and tie, had just left the line in front of the pizza place and began gesturing to the others. He was older and appeared to be their leader. “Hold it!” he shouted. “Hold fire!”
On her right, another short-haired man, who’d been loitering near Yogurt ’n Salad, whipped around and joined the pursuit. A pair of tourists with cameras around their necks who’d been inspecting the Williams-Sonoma window display suddenly turned and began running toward the far side of the atrium.
“Tom!” Claire screamed. What the hell was happening?
From every direction now men rose from tables, emerged from nearby shops. Tourists and casual loiterers were suddenly moving quickly, smoothly, converging on Tom from every direction.
A loud, metallically amplified voice came over a bullhorn: “
Freeze! Federal agents!
The place was in an uproar. People were crowding at the glass balconies on the upper levels staring down at the scene in disbelief.
Claire stood still, frozen in terror, her mind racing. What was going on? Who were all these men chasing Tom? And why was he running?
“Mommy!” Annie whimpered. “Where’s Daddy going?”
“Cover the emergency exits!” yelled the man in the blue blazer into the commotion.
Claire held her Annie tight, stroking her face. “It’s okay, baby,” she said. It was all she could think to say.
What was happening?
From all over, people streamed into the middle of the food court. A young boy clung to his father’s leg, crying.
At the far end of the atrium she could see Tom, running even faster, knocking over chairs and benches as he went, suddenly swerve toward the white-tiled wall next to the Japanese take-out kiosk and grab a fire-alarm pull-box. A deafeningly loud bell began to clang. Screams now came from all directions. People were running everywhere, shouting to one another.
“Mommy!” Annie cried in terror. “What’s going on?”
Hugging Annie even more tightly, Claire shouted, “Tom!,” but her voice couldn’t be heard above the incredible din, the clanging fire alarm, the screams from all around. She watched Tom sprint toward the bank of escalators that led up to the movie theater on the floor above.
One of the pursuers, a tall, lanky black man, managed to reach Tom and lunged for him. Claire let out an involuntary scream. Then, suddenly, Tom whirled around and slammed the flat of his hand against the black man’s neck, grabbed the man’s underarm with the other hand, and forced the guy to the floor. The man bellowed in pain and lay flat on the floor, eyes closed, legs twitching, apparently paralyzed.
Claire watched in speechless astonishment, a dull, almost vacant state of horror and disbelief. None of this made sense. All she could think was,
Tom doesn’t know how to do any of these things.
As Tom streaked past a stand marked P
, another man lunged from behind the counter, and Tom tackled him to the ground, then sprang to his feet, weaving away from him. But the man managed to rise and kept coming at Tom, now pointing a gun. Tom grabbed a heavy-looking metal briefcase out of the hands of a horrified onlooker and flung it at his pursuer, knocking the gun out of his hands and sending it clattering to the floor.
Then he wheeled around and bounded toward the fake waterfall coursing down its granite wall at the end of the atrium, just as two other men emerged from an emergency door next to the Italian restaurant just a few feet away.
Tom scrambled up the rocks and boulders in front of the waterfall and in one great leap—Claire could barely believe what she was seeing—he began scaling the jagged stone wall, grabbing on to jutting edges of stone, using them as finger- and toeholds, pulling himself up with his hands, face-climbing up the wall like a skilled rock climber.
“Freeze!” one of the men shouted at him, pulling out a gun and aiming. He fired a shot, which pockmarked the granite very close to Tom’s head.
She screamed, “Tom!” To the others, she yelled: “Stop it! What the hell are you doing?” She could barely believe what Tom, her husband of three years, the man she loved and knew so intimately, was doing. It was as if another man had taken his place, a man she didn’t know, who could do things her Tom would never have dreamed of.
For an instant Tom actually stopped, and Claire wondered whether he really did intend to halt where he was, almost ten feet off the ground, clinging to the artificial rock face.
Another shot hit the glass wall of the balcony just above him, shattering it, and then Tom continued up the rock face with an awesome agility, and Claire stared in rapt amazement as he reached over to the brass guardrail around the balcony, grabbed hold, and deftly swung himself up into the gawking, frenzied crowd of people who’d been waiting to get into the movie theaters or were streaming out of them, and then at once he was gone.
it!” the leader shouted as he reached the escalators. He swept an index finger around at his men. “You two, to the parking garage! You, up this way, into the theater. Move it!” He whirled around and called to another of his men, “Damn it, we lost the fucker!” Then he pointed directly at Claire and Annie, jerking his thumb to one side. “I want
” he shouted. “
Annie were hustled off to a small, windowless room just off the atrium—a mall security station, by the look of it, and judging by the uniformed rent-a-cops standing guard outside in light-blue shirts with dark-blue shoulder patches. Special Agent Howard Massie of the FBI, the man in the blue blazer, was beefy and crewcut, with small gray eyes and a pockmarked face. The other men were U.S. marshals.
As Annie squirmed in her arms, Claire said, “What the hell is this all about?” The knot of anxiety in her stomach had swollen; the underarms of her blouse were damp with perspiration.
Annie wriggled to the floor and held on to Claire’s skirt. She whined, “Where’s Daddy?”
“Mrs. Chapman,” Agent Massie said, “I think it’s better if we speak alone. Perhaps your daughter can wait outside, in the care of one of these fine gentlemen here.” He leaned forward and gave Annie a brief pat on the head. Annie, in reply, frowned, twitched her head, and shrugged away from him.
“You get your hands off my child,” Claire said. “You are not touching her. She’s staying here with me.”
Massie nodded and managed to regain a semblance of a smile. “Ma’am, you’re obviously upset—”
“Upset?” she gasped. “Ten minutes ago we were having dinner. Suddenly everyone in the world is chasing my husband, firing guns! You want to know
? You’re looking at a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit for the unnecessary use of force by two government agencies, reckless pursuit, and reckless endangerment of the lives of innocent bystanders. You and your cowboys just stirred up a shitstorm, Agent.”
“Mrs. Chapman, we have a fully authorized warrant for your husband’s arrest. As to the guns, we weren’t authorized to kill, but we were permitted to wound if necessary, and we didn’t even do that.”
Claire shook her head, laughed, and pulled her cell phone out of her purse. She extended the antenna and began punching numbers. “You might want to have a better story prepared for the
,” she said. “You obviously have the wrong man, and you just screwed up royally.”
“If we have the wrong man,” Massie replied quietly, “why did he run?”
“Obviously because you guys were in hot pursuit.…” She faltered, depressed the E
button. “All right, what’s your point?”
“You see,” Massie said, “you don’t want to do that. You don’t want to call the media.”
“Oh, I don’t, do I?”
“Once it’s out of the bottle, you can’t put it back in. You may not want this made public. We’ll have any police report sealed, and we’ll do our best to quash any media coverage. You’d better pray you weren’t recognized.”
“Mommy,” Annie said in a high, frightened voice, “I want to go home.”
“Just a couple of minutes, sweetie,” Claire said, reaching around to give Annie a quick one-armed hug. To Massie, she snapped: “What exactly are you referring to?”
“Your husband, Ronald Kubik, is wanted for murder.”
For a long moment Claire was speechless. “Now I
you have the wrong man,” she said at last. She smiled in relief. “My husband is Tom Chapman.”
“That’s not his real name,” Massie said. He pointed to a cheap-looking white conference table. “Why don’t we sit down?”
Claire took a seat across the table from Massie. Annie at first sat in a chair next to Claire’s, then slid off it onto the floor and began inspecting the underside of the table.
“And even if you do mean my husband, Tom,” Claire said, “who’s he supposed to have murdered?”
“I’m sorry, we’re not authorized to say. Mrs. Chapman, or should I say Professor Heller, believe me, we know who you are. We’re aware of your reputation. We’re being extremely careful here. But what do you know about your husband’s background? What has he told you?”
“I know everything,” she said. “You’ve got the wrong guy.”
Massie nodded and smiled sympathetically. “What you know is his legend, his created biography. Happy childhood in southern California, Claremont College, worked as a broker, moved to Boston, started his own investment firm here. Right?”
She narrowed her eyes, nodded. “‘Legend?’”
“You ever check with Claremont College?” he asked.
She shook her head. “What are you implying?”
anything. And, frankly, I can’t tell you much at all. But your husband, Ron Kubik, has been a fugitive from justice for thirteen years.”
“That’s the name you guys called him out there,” she said thickly, her heart thudding. “I’ve never heard it before.”
“He hasn’t told you anything about his past?”
“Either this is some colossal mistake, or you guys are framing him. I know how you guys work. Tom is not a murderer.”
“Three days ago you had a burglary at your home in Cambridge,” the FBI man said. “The local police ran all the fingerprints in your house, which is standard procedure these days, put them into AFIS, the computerized Automated Fingerprint Identification System, and your husband’s prints came up flagged. They’ve been on the system for years, waiting for him to commit some crime, or get fingerprinted for some other reason. Bad break for your husband. Lucky for us the Cambridge police were so thorough.”
She shook her head. “My husband wasn’t even
at the time,” she said. “He didn’t give the cops his prints.”
“The police ran all the fingerprints in the house in order to eliminate everyone who wasn’t the suspect. Naturally your husband’s prints turned up,” Massie said. “We came close this time. Unfortunately, a few minutes ago, we lost him somewhere in the parking garage. Your husband has disappeared before, and he’ll try it again. But this time it won’t work. We’ve got him.”
Her mouth went dry. She felt her heartbeat accelerate. “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” she said with a small, hollow laugh.
“He’ll get in touch with you,” Massie said. “He needs you. And when he does, we’ll be watching.”