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Authors: Thomas Perry

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General

Shadow Woman (3 page)

BOOK: Shadow Woman
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She bent at the hip and began a
gentle swing. The first sweep brought her out away from the balcony
and tipped her down a little so she had to look directly through all
that empty night air at the tiny figures on the lighted concrete
below. After a sickening pause at the end of the arc, she began to
swing forward. When she judged that the balcony was under her, she
let go.

She dropped and hit the concrete
balcony hard, slid a little, and bumped the railing so it gave a low
vibrating sound like a tuning fork. She turned and saw that the
sliding door into this room was closed. As she stood and reached for
the handle, she knew that, whatever else happened, she was not going
to put herself outside the railing again. She tugged on the door and
it wouldn’t budge. She lay on her back, covered her face with
her purse, and kicked out at the glass with both feet.

The glass gave a loud crack, but
it didn’t break inward. She went to her knees, lifted a long
jagged shard out, set it beside her, then used her purse to push a
bigger one inward. She crawled inside, hurried across the empty room,
burst out into the hallway, ran to the elevator, and punched the
button. But as she glanced upward she saw that the number lit up was
fifteen. The elevator was coming down from above.

She turned and ran for the sign
that said exit, slipped inside the door to the stairwell, and waited.
The bell rang, the elevator doors parted, and she saw that nobody was
inside. She ran for the elevator and got past the doors just as the
big man emerged from the stairwell and dashed toward her.

She rode the elevator down to
the garage level. When the bell rang she took a step toward the
opening doors, but then the space was filled with a blur of moving
flesh and gray fabric as the shorter man with the pink swine face
charged inside the elevator. He slapped the button and used his body
to block the opening while the doors slid together again, trapping
her inside with him.

Jane predicted his half-formed
strategy, because the small space made it inevitable. He had enclosed
her in a tiny compartment, so he would sweep her into a corner before
she could do much flailing and use the strength of his upper body to
keep her there and stifle the screams. She put up both hands in a
weak defense, half cringing before the blow, half supplication that
it wouldn’t come. The man lunged toward her.

Jane’s right hand jabbed
out, more to stagger him than to do harm, but he was moving faster
than she had expected. Her knuckles glanced off the bridge of his
nose and into his left eye. His hands went up, too late, and Jane
rocked back against the wall to deliver the kick to his knee that she
had planned from the beginning. She felt the knee break; he dropped
to the floor, gasping in pain.

She sidestepped past him and hit
the open door button. As the doors slid open his hand shot out to
grasp her ankle. His grip was so strong it hurt, tightening like the
jaws of an animal as he pulled her toward him. She said quietly,
“Think. If you drag me back in there alone with you and your
broken leg, are things going to get better for you, or worse?”

She felt the hand slowly,
reluctantly release its grip. The door closed, she stepped away, and
hurried toward the valet loitering beside her rented car. She was
already chattering. “It’s here already? Gee, you guys are
really fast. I’m sorry it took me so long. Thanks a lot.”

She slipped a ten-dollar bill
into the hand of the valet, threw her car into gear, and drove out
along Bonanza Road and into the darkness to the west.

2

Jane
drove out of the desert into Los Angeles while the morning traffic
was still moving and the glaring sunlight was on the back of her car
instead of in her eyes. The car was rented on a MasterCard that said
she was Wendy Aguilar, so if someone in Las Vegas had seen the
license number, then asking the right questions would lead the
chasers to a fictitious woman who had disappeared in Los Angeles.

She never used her own name,
never started off in the direction of her final destination, never
missed a chance to mislead, but never bet her life on any plan she
had made in advance. What had kept Jane alive during a dozen years as
a guide was not mechanical precautions but unremitting watchfulness.
She lived by scrutinizing the fluid events and configurations around
her – momentary gatherings of people, minor financial
transactions, crowded travel routes – for opportunities to
deceive.

As she drove the rented car up
Century Boulevard to return it to the agency, she spotted a
convenient place to acquire a small extra measure of safety. She
turned off the street beneath the tall white sign that towered above
the car wash and stopped at the entrance to the tunnel lined with
spraying nozzles and whirling brushes. She slipped out of the car and
let the two men loitering nearby climb into the front and rear seats,
steer it forward until the conveyor track caught the front wheel,
then ride it through the tunnel to wipe the prints off every window
and piece of chrome and vacuum the inner surfaces to pick up hairs
and threads. Even if these men overlooked some trace of her and the
clean-up crew at the rental lot missed it too, the process put two
more people with their own clothes and hair and prints into the car.
She used her ten minutes away from the car to stand in the shelter of
the cashier’s kiosk and watch the street to satisfy herself
that no other car was idling nearby to wait for her.

When the men had finished, she
pulled forward to the full-serve gas pump to have the tank filled, so
any prints on the gas door or cap would belong to still another man.
She drove the car around several blocks to dry it, crossed her own
trail after a few minutes, and returned to the lot where she had
rented it two weeks ago.

She took the shuttle van to the
airport with six other people. It was always crowded in the morning
at LAX because anybody who wanted to be on the East Coast by the end
of the business day had to be in the air by eight. The shuttle van
stopped at the loading zone, so she was only in the open for five
quick steps, surrounded by men and women who were in as much of a
hurry as she was. She had nothing but the canvas carry-on bag she had
kept in her trunk.

Jane shopped for a flight on the
television monitors on the wall as she walked. This time she decided
that American Airlines Flight 653 to Chicago was the right one. From
there she could go anywhere without much delay. Until a few years ago
she would have paid cash for the ticket, because that gave her the
option of making up a name. Now they checked identification on every
flight. She rummaged in her purse and selected Terry Rosenberg’s
driver’s license and credit card, because the name was common
enough and wasn’t definitely female. Years ago, when she had
just begun as a guide and had seen these trips as a series of brief
adventures rather than an accumulating succession of risks, she had
sometimes made up names like those of heroines in romance novels.
Dahlia Van Sturtevant had been one, as had Melinda-Gail La Doucette.
Over the years she had slowly, painfully refined the whimsy out of
her routines. A name like Terry Rosenberg might actually send a
tracker off in the wrong direction: Destiny Vaucluse was a taunt.

She went through the metal
detectors and walked to one of the more distant ladies’ rooms
because they were less heavily frequented than the ones near the
entrances and because nobody she met after the security check was
likely to be carrying anything that would make killing her a neat,
quiet task.

Jane had no reason to believe
that the men who had been watching Pete Hatcher in Las Vegas
represented any danger to her. Even if they had seen her rental car
and had the license number, it would take them a day or two to learn
that she had returned it near the L. A. airport. They had seen the
Miraculous Miranda make Hatcher disappear, but they had also seen her
make him reappear, and they had followed him out of the show into the
casino. If their employers were grounded firmly enough in reality to
know that there was no such thing as a coincidence – that
nobody vanished from the stage and the world the same night without
planning – it would get them very little.

Miranda was a Las Vegas
headliner because she was a spectacular performer. She was a
headliner at Bogliarese’s Inside Straight because Vincent
Bogliarese Jr. waited for her in her elaborate dressing suite after
each midnight show for a frolic while she was still in makeup, sweaty
and excited from her triumph. There was a rumor that they were
married, but Jane didn’t know if it was true, and it didn’t
matter. As long as Vincent was nearby, Miranda was not a woman that
anyone but an old friend could safely approach to ask even an easy
question.

Jane washed off her makeup in
front of the sink, dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a black silk
blouse with a print of bright chrysanthemums, put on a pair of
sneakers, threw her old clothes in the trash, and covered them with a
newspaper she found on the counter. She let her long black hair hang
loose and brushed it out, then put on fresh makeup and a pair of
sunglasses. She inspected herself in the mirror, decided she looked
as different from the woman who had been in Las Vegas as she needed
to, and went out.

She bought breakfast and waited
for her flight in the cafeteria, because fewer people could pass
close by and look at her face here than in the waiting area. Every
move Jane made while she was working was calculated to shift the odds
a little more into her favor. Taking Pete Hatcher out of the world
from a standing start had presented special problems and forced her
to accept special risks.

Usually the ones she took out of
trouble could be taken more quietly. A woman with bruises would show
up at a shelter in the middle of a big city a thousand miles away and
talk to a counselor. After an hour or two of listening to options and
remedies that had already been tried and gotten her more bruises, she
would tell the counselor that what she really wanted was magic –
to simply have it all end and start again as somebody else. The
counselor would pick up the telephone, and maybe the woman would
notice that the counselor’s other hand was busy erasing her
name from the sign-in list.

The ones who were children
usually arrived at Jane’s door in the night, holding the hand
of some adult who didn’t think of herself as a hero, who maybe
hadn’t even run the inventory of statutory punishments for what
she was doing but already knew that the punishment for doing nothing
was worse.

The usual victims were the
helpless, and they were almost invisible to begin with. The
authorities who had not seen their agony were no better at noticing
their absence. Their names were simply added to the enormous list of
people all over the country who were missing, and after they had left
Jane’s hands those names were no longer theirs. The petty
criminals – the adults who had burned up one life by an
accretion of small mistakes and infractions – were almost as
easy. They often came to her at a time when they, at least, believed
they were in no immediate danger. That meant they had no friends, no
plans, and no temptations to keep their minds off the emptiness they
had created for themselves.

Pete Hatcher had been the other
kind. He was already trapped, and she had to get him out while their
eyes were on him. He had been a successful middle manager in a town
where the locals were all in the same business and engaged in
ferocious competition to dominate it. Once he had come under
suspicion at Pleasure, Inc. there had been little that could happen
to dispel it.

When he asked why he was being
isolated and kept out of meetings, they decided he must have been
waiting anxiously for signs that his disloyalty had been discovered.
When he mentioned the possibility that it was time to find a new job,
they thought he had been conspiring with a competitor who had already
prepared a safe haven for him. When he offered to resign with no job
in sight, they figured he must not need one – had probably
found a way to skim casino proceeds or helped an accomplice fix a
game. It was when he did nothing that their worst fears were aroused.
They suspected he was staying in place because he had made a deal
with some federal agency and had been bullied into collecting
evidence for them. They had watched him for weeks, waiting to find
out which it was so they could clean it up after they killed him.

Casinos were like a lot of
businesses. A tenth of what went on was disguised by showmanship, and
the rest was invisible. Part of what wasn’t easy to see were
their gigantic security departments. They had people to guard and
transport die vast sums of cash that appeared each day, other people
to watch the dealers, cashiers, and croupiers to be sure that the
nimblest fingers in the world never palmed anything, others to
investigate possible high rollers, still others to find them if they
didn’t pay. They had more to simply protect the casino itself –
people who watched for undesirable visitors who had come to prey on
the guests and quickly, quietly hustled them away before they
disturbed the unreal tranquility of the gambling palace. It had
always struck Jane as ironic that probably the safest place in the
country for a woman traveling alone was inside any of the big Las
Vegas hotels.

In a way, the security was what
had saved Pete Hatcher. Without that enveloping but unobtrusive
protection, a woman named Paula might not have felt comfortable
enough to go there by herself, and certainly wouldn’t have
dared get friendly with a gambler like him. A year later, when he was
in trouble and trying to think of places to stay that his bosses
wouldn’t know about, he had remembered Paula’s number and
she had remembered Jane’s.

BOOK: Shadow Woman
3.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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