“The ball’s in my court,” John said to Jenny. “Hadley clearly thinks I’ve reached the end of the line.”
“So what’s he going to do?” Jenny asked.
“Once I’m in jail, ask you to marry him.”
“John!” Jenny turned red.
“I’m serious, Jenny. You have an admirer.” He smiled at her.“It’s worse, John. He has power over me. I feel it.” She blushed. “I don’t mean like I’m interested in him. It’s different. It’s like, well, like your favourite actor. It’s hypnotic.”
“I guess that’s part of why he likes you, Jenny. He sees it.”
“You’re not jealous, John?” She looked wistful.
“Jenny, I feel the same about Diane. She comes into the room and I turn to jelly.”
“John! Now I’m jealous!” And she was.
“I think that’s how men feel about Diane, Jenny. She’s just…well, forget it. But we wouldn’t swap her for our wives. It’s different. As you said, it’s the silver screen, unreal. I shouldn’t have said that, but you know what I mean.” Jenny did know what he meant. The air cleared.
“Giles says we need bait, Jenny.”
“I’m the bait, John. I know.” John had wanted to keep Jenny out of this thing, but he knew that she was the key. He also knew that this was the best way to safeguard her for the future, but it still hurt. He did not want to take the risk, but he had to take the risk. He could not do this with Jenny alone. He needed Giles to help. He needed Ross to help plan what they should do. He could not do this on his own. It was too close to him.
“Before we do this, Jenny, I want you and me to spend a weekend away, just us, the two of us. I don’t know about you, but I need that to go through with this.” Jenny saw how the decision he had made was tearing him apart, and she agreed. Floating free in the current with Bill Hadley, she would need something to hold on to, she would need all the help he could give her, to escape the evil and the enchantment of that man. Foreboding, excitement, anxiety, it all mingled within her.
The first thing John did the next morning was to book flights to New York. He loved the wide-open spaces, but this time it had to be different. Then he left messages for Ross and Giles, explaining that he would be away for three days and asking that they get together, when he got back, as he put it, to bait the trap.
They landed at La Guardia and fought their way through the traffic to mid-town Manhattan. John told Jenny that they had no particular objective in mind. Just take it as it comes. They wandered down into Little Italy, finally succumbing to the earnest entreaties of a doorman to take lunch. They proceeded to eat cheap Italian crap at five times the price they were used to at Juanita’s. They headed back up north and reached the Empire State Building. They thought they’d give it a go, not having done it before, and joined a massive line at the ticket office. Jenny scouted around while John waited, and established that the haze, smog, call it what you will, meant no views today. So they headed up further north instead. John suggested they book a room in the Roosevelt, but it was full, so they headed down south again.
The bustle began as office workers came out onto the street and the bars began to fill. It was fun and they moved through this for them alien world, populated by overdressed freaks from offices and underdressed weirdoes from god knows where. They had to laugh at the self-seriousness of this contorted existence. John tried a couple of hotels, eventually with success. The room probably should have cost in cents what it cost in dollars, but the bar was pleasant, old world pretence in the basement of a tower block, and they had a couple of beers. After the disaster of lunch, John suggested they be more circumspect for dinner. They ended up in somewhere called Jake’s Steak House. Well, one can experience worse than sitting outside at midnight, consuming a twenty-two ounce steak. Several bars later, they made it back to the hotel, and in their hotel room made up for all the earlier deprivations of big city life.
John awoke in the dim morning, light filtering through net curtains, to see Jenny smiling at him. As he looked into her eyes, they both knew that they were leaving New York this morning. It had been worth a try, but the wide-open spaces beckoned. They knew where they wanted to be, and expectation made the struggle back to the airport bearable.
It was the familiar track up into the hills that John and Jenny chose to take. This time they would fork westwards up the smaller valley where it joined the stream they had followed last time. The climb was steep and the view was restricted to the narrow cleft of the valley, until finally clearing the trees, the wide expanse of the plain spread out below them. Here they decided to halt, exhausted by a solid four hour trek.
“New York, New York,” John said softly, as he broke branches of deadwood for the fire, and Jenny gave a gentle laugh, sipping from a cool bottle of mineral water. As the fire took, John cracked open a couple of beers and handed one to Jenny. There was absolute silence, and then the fire began to spit and broke the spell. They lingered by the fire late into the night before finally extracting the sleeping bag to retire for the night, expectant of the climb to the head of the valley the next day.
The embers of the campfire glowed red. Leaves rustled in a soft breeze, and in the distance a coyote howled. In the first glimmers of dawn a cocoon beside the fire gradually took on the form of a dark green sleeping bag. From the west a bank of black cloud took up its battle formation against the light from the east, pushing back the growing light of dawn as it advanced with its deepening gloom. The first heavy drops signalled the attack and then the full force from the west poured down its deluge in torrents.
Even as John scrambled from the sleeping bag, pools of water were forming on the hard baked earth and rivulets formed on the slopes above. Jenny held out in the vain hope of warmth and continued slumber, but the bag was already sucking in the water and the cold. Dressing at dawn under a cold shower as the fire, the chance of breakfast, died was how they started the third day of their break. Soaked to the skin, before and after dressing, with no waterproof gear, they trudged back down the way they had come the previous afternoon. Their clothes were heavy with water and their shoes squelched with each step through the slippery mud. They slipped and skidded, splattering themselves with mud, down the slopes, steep on the way up, treacherous on the way down. Ill equipped as they were for this extraordinary storm, it chased them from the hills relentlessly.
Back at the car, they struggled into dry clothes and sat munching peanuts as the rain poured down on the windshield. It was still just nine a.m. on the third day of their pre-action break.
“Breakfast at the first place we pass on the road,” John proposed.
“You got it,” she replied.
Home by lunch, it seemed as if they had been away for more than a week and the New York experience seemed like ancient history. In retrospect the break had with all its trials turned out to exactly what they needed to develop the mental strength to launch into the whole Bill Hadley and Co. enterprise.
It rankled with Bob Mitchell that nothing had resulted from the letter that Bill had drafted for Jim to send to the woman, the special investigator. Bob decided he had better look into the matter himself. For a few days he hung around in the neighbourhood of the police precinct. She must come and go to her place of work, take lunch maybe, he reasoned. He looked in stores, drank endless cups of coffee in fast food joints, and generally failed to get anywhere. After some days, he was on the point of giving up, when he saw her. She entered the building on the arm of a grey haired older guy, more family than business, Bob guessed.
After half-an-hour they came out together. Bob was sitting in his vehicle, ready to follow them. They climbed into a grey open Mercedes. Traffic was light, so he had no problem tracking them at an unobtrusive distance, only running one red light, and he probably would have done that anyway. The Merc headed out of downtown and soon they were in the leafy suburbs. It swung into the driveway of a brick built house, fronted with a porch and banks of massive white painted windows. Bob stopped fifty yards further on and strolled back towards the house, whistling. Outside the next but one house, a teenage kid displayed adolescent apathy as he hosed down his parents’ Jaguar. Bob took a mighty kick at a coke can, lying on the sidewalk. It sailed over the Jaguar and dropped onto the manicured lawn thirty yards further on, just short of the grey Merc. The kid was impressed, but he didn’t show it.
“They’re not gonna like that,” he said, squinting at Bob.
“You mean that tight little cunt, or her Dad?” Bob rolled his eyes in mock horror.
“The tight little cunt’s the wife,” the kid said.
Bob let out a low whistle. “Where do these guys get ‘em?” And he walked on.
Bob’s first thought was to have Jim Duggan break in with him, to check the house out, and he looked at the time, five thirty. They could do it tonight. Tie them up in bed, lock the kids in a room, if they had any, and trash the place. Then he remembered her quick reactions and violent response, when he had jerked her backwards over the sofa at his place. He decided on more conventional investigations first. He would save the fun for later. There was already a question mark developing in his mind. A stunning number like this one, living in a place like this, with an obviously wealthy husband – what’s she doing with the police. Step one: let’s find out who this guy is. He took down the address and returned to his vehicle.
Bob spent a day on the problem, unsuccessfully. He didn’t want to ask the neighbours. He thought about the mailbox, but that was locked. Finally, on the second day he tracked Giles to his place of work. Giles disappeared into the building, but it was simple enough to quiz the porter and learn what he needed to know.
The knowledge that the special investigator was the wife of a local psychiatrist disturbed Bob Mitchell sufficiently to prompt him to get his brain checked out. He would see what he could find out. He registered with Giles as Mitchell Roberts, who was suffering from headaches and sleepless nights and got an appointment for the next day.
The psychiatric session was routine, mostly to do with his habits, diet, medication and so on. It looked like it would take a few sessions to deal with the headaches. Mitchell was thinking about the fees, which would be enough to give him a real headache, when Giles excused himself and left the room for a couple of minutes. Why he should do this was a mystery to Mitchell, but he jumped at the chance to take a look around and see if he could find out anything useful. Rifling through papers on Giles’ desk, he came upon a card addressed in Giles’ hand to Diane, but otherwise blank, uncompleted. Using the reasoning that you never now what may come in handy when, he slipped the card into his pocket. He tried the grey steel cabinets, but they were locked. Otherwise there were heavy tomes on psychology and clinical psychiatry. All in all Mitchell thought he had drawn a blank. He sat down and waited for Giles to return. Giles suggested another session and Mitchell agreed that he would give a call as soon as he was more definite about his schedule. After Mitchell Roberts left Giles was mystified that he could not find the note he had started to write to Diane. He was sure he had been about to write it when Roberts came in.
The grain of suspicion grew within Bob Mitchell. Bill seemed so smug that his plan was running smoothly, yet what was going on here? He decided that further surveillance was necessary. He thought he should concentrate on the psychiatrist. He would be easier to track than the wife. Bob knew the co-ordinates of both home and office, so he just needed to work out the routine and then watch for anything out of the ordinary. The wife would be more difficult, because he had no idea of what she was up to, where she went or what she did. Certainly the police precinct figured surprisingly little in her role as special investigator. Over a couple of days, he established that Giles was either in his consultancy or at the hospital. Few patients came to see him, but then if he charged them what he had charged Bill, he would not need many madmen to make a respectable fortune.
On the afternoon of the third day, Bob followed the grey Merc back from the consultancy to the house. Well that’s it, he thought, a short day. Bob drove on up the road and turned to head back down the street for home. Then he noticed, as he passed the Merc, that the psychiatrist had not got out of the Merc. He looked in his rear-view mirror, saw the house door open, and the wife came out. Bob pulled over. He waited for them to pass and then pulled out to follow at a distance. They headed for the town centre and were soon on Main Street passing Bob’s favourite bank. They continued a few blocks and turned left. A few hundred yards further and then they stopped right outside the apartment block where Bob had snatched the Ralphs woman. Jesus, he thought, swung into the side street and parked. He jumped out of the car and raced around the corner to see them entering the building. He told himself that he had to be sure, and cautiously followed. As they entered the lift, Bob crossed to the stairwell. He leapt up the stairs. He heard the lift stop, its doors open, and then the ring of a bell. Bob heard her voice as she greeted them, the voice of the hostage, of the Ralphs woman. He stopped where he was on the stairs. Bill Hadley, Bob muttered under his breath, it stretches even my credulity that the special investigator makes a social call with her husband on the prime suspect and his wife. His long low whistle echoed in the stairwell.
I think I found out what I need to know, Bob thought, as he returned to his car. Driving out of town he thought it over. Bill thinks his clever plan is humming along. Meanwhile, these people are playing their own little game. Cat and mouse? Where does that leave me? If I tell Bill, what will he do? Start some other crazy plan? Fiddle around on his planogram? What a joke. Whatever he does he will want to be in control. But he’s screwed up this time, so do I want to risk it a second time. I’ll think this over. We meet tomorrow evening, so let’s mull it over until then. Maybe it’s my turn to take charge now, to play my cards close to my chest.
The next day Bob decided to move his personal surveillance to the Ralphs woman. For much of the morning this meant hanging around in sight of her apartment block. Then what Bob saw made a major decision for him, the decision about what he should tell Bill Hadley, if anything. What Bob saw was that Bill Hadley met the Ralphs woman for lunch at Juanita’s. If Bob was sure of one thing, it was that Bill would not mention the meeting when they came together that same evening. Bob, he told himself, you sure did the right move in deciding to take your own measures to look after number one. Bob Mitchell comes first. Period.
As Jenny walked up to Juanita’s, Bill climbed out of his truck where he had been waiting. Greeting her, he failed to see Bob drive by with a vicious smirk on his face. Jenny was bouncy and alive, exuberant that she was at last doing something, and safe with the assurance of the group last night that for the time-being there was no personal threat to her from Bill Hadley. If the suggestion of lunch had surprised him, he had not shown it on the phone. And now they were there. Act Three, Scene One, Take One, she thought to herself, as she smiled aat Bill in greeting. Camera.
Juanita’s was in its usual high activity. Broad windows gave on the street, lightly curtained. The tables were set back in clusters with bright checked lunchtime table clothes. Formal linen was reserved for the evening. Most of the tables were full. Jenny headed for a table for three in the corner, explaining that John would join them for coffee, when he was free later. Jenny gave Diane a friendly waive, seated near the bar with a group of ladies.
The plan they had discussed the previous day was that Jenny would try to get closer to Hadley, which should not be difficult, given his evident interest in her. She would then begin to expose to Hadley fault lines developing in her relationship with John, fault lines caused by his suspension from the police and the threat it represented to him. The idea was to draw Hadley out into the open, to play upon his weakness, and then trap him into making a wrong move, or into disclosing something compromising to him.
Bill immediately took the ordering in hand, and, having dismissed the waitress, began to probe Jenny gently about her background and how she came to live in the locality, as she was obviously not local. He then moved on to her aspirations in life, and she found herself gaily chatting about her plans, in just the same way as she had talked during the walks in the woods as a hostage. The similarity struck her, as she spoke, and somehow she wanted Bill to know that she knew. She thought she saw recognition, a knowing look behind his gaze, and she felt him draw her towards him. She was suddenly glad of Diane’s presence across the restaurant, and of the familiar surroundings, which gave her stability, protection. She had to release herself from his power, to get him to speak now. It sounded so false as she put the same questions about his background to him, but he seemed relaxed.
“I’m on the verge of taking the next major step in my life, Jenny.” He was moving on now to his aspirations.
“An organisation. I’ve been working mama and papa style, really. Now I’m going to build a real organisation.” He saw no harm in telling her. He was not going to tell her it was to be a mafia style organisation.
“That sounds ambitious.” She felt a little flattery was in order here.
“I have the means now. I have the will. And, you know, I’m a planner, and organiser, a strategist, not a doer.” He looked at her questioningly.
“I’m a doer, Bill. All natural bounce and action. That’s me.”
“Jenny,” he laughed, “just the sort I’m going to need. What about John? Tell him to give up the police.” She looked darkly, but said nothing. “Just the skills I need,” he continued, amused by the real meaning of what he said. A corrupt cop would be perfect, but not this one. He was heading straight for jail, without passing Go. Maximum sentence with his record. He saw Jenny giving him a quizzical look.
“Leave John and come with me,” he said. She was startled. “Just a joke, Jenny.” He laughed winningly and she joined in. He had not been able to resist testing her reaction, and liked what he had seen. Through the main course he unfolded his picture of what an organisation should be like and how he should motivate his men, and women. He truly is an imaginative guy, she thought, and very charismatic. It was Bill who spotted John come in.
“Hey, John. Over here.” John came across. He did feel like an intruder, and though not an actor by nature, he slotted into the part he had to play perfectly. He was morose, uncommunicative and clearly in the habit of giving Jenny a hard time, taking his grievances out on her. In the end, Bill was glad when coffee was finished and he could take his leave.
“Jenny, thank you. John, that was really great fun. Let’s do this more often. You know what, come out shooting on the truck.” His thoughts were not what he spoke – Jesus, this guy's doing my work for me; he’s driving her round the twist with his petty little problems.
After Bill had left, Diane came over.
“Perfect,” John was laughing. “He thinks I’m a real bastard, and I loved every moment.”
“Nothing new. All men are bastards, John.” Diane sat down in Bill’s place.
“He’s got major plans. He told me about them.” Jenny thought back to the conversation and Bill’s enthusiasm for his organisation.
“What plans?” John enquired.
“Since I don’t know any better, I have to assume he thinks he’s going to be…” Her voice tailed off.
“To be what?” Diane asked.
“I suppose…I suppose it has to be Al Capone, since he’s not Sicilian.”