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Moving target, p.1
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       Moving Target, p.1

           Elizabeth Lowell
slower 1  faster
Moving Target


  Dedication

  For Cissy Hartley

  web goddess extraordinaire

  and

  all the great global habitués of

  http://www.elizabethlowell.com/wwwboard

  *murfle*

  Contents

  Dedication

  Prologue The sky was a seamless blue, empty as a murderer’s heart.

  Chapter 1 Like much of the town, the law offices of Morton . . .

  Chapter 2 Ms. Charters, are you all right?” Hingham asked.

  Chapter 3 Erik North sat in a lounge chair in his walled . . .

  Chapter 4 Erik was tempted to ignore the ringing demon, but didn’t.

  Chapter 5 Local tradition held that Serena’s house had been built by It might be a paying client. It might be a medieval scholar wanting to discuss some arcane aspect of calligraphy or mixing paints for illumination.

  Chapter 6 Erik looked at his twenty-six-inch flat-screen monitor . . .

  Chapter 7 By the time Serena followed the directions to Warrick’s Palm . . .

  Chapter 8 Head thrown back, muscular neck bulging, the bighorn sheep stood . . .

  Chapter 9 The helicopter wheeled like a falcon beneath the pilot’s steady . . .

  Chapter 10 Cleary, Garrison, and Paul were seated around a steel conference . . .

  Chapter 11 Dana waited until she heard the helicopter taking off to . . .

  Chapter 12 The Rarities helicopter dropped Erik off at the clean, uncluttered. . .

  Chapter 13 Serena knew there was nothing more she could do but . . .

  Chapter 14 Are you all right?” Erik asked the woman whose back . . .

  Chapter 15 Erik stared at Serena. “What makes you think I followed . . .

  Chapter 16 I came here to find out what I could about . . .

  Chapter 17 Serena?” Erik asked, kneeling down beside her on the cold . . .

  Chapter 18 Manhattan wrapped around the House of Warrick’s headquarters like a . . .

  Chapter 19 Thank you for coming in on such short notice,” Dana said . . .

  Chapter 20 As the automatic gate to Erik North’s property rolled shut . . .

  Chapter 21 ‘Tis useless to moan and rend garments at the graveside . . .

  Chapter 22 The initial tells you other things,” Erik continued neutrally.

  Chapter 23 Erik didn’t answer,” Dana said in disgust. She pushed back . . .

  Chapter 24 Cleary Warrick Montclair paced the living room of her personal . . .

  Chapter 25 The call came after midnight.

  Chapter 26 Okay, Shel. Let me see if I have this right,” . . .

  Chapter 27 Promptly at nine o’clock, Serena’s front doorbell chimed.

  Chapter 28 Dana Gaynor was wearing the kind of sleek wool pantsuit . . .

  Chapter 29 Erik looked at the old leather portfolio tucked beneath Serena’s . . .

  Chapter 30 What type of tests?” Serena asked quickly.

  Chapter 31 Still seething over Serena’s lack of trust, Erik organized her . . .

  Chapter 32 I didn’t say the House of Warrick hired anyone,” Erik said . . .

  Chapter 33 The house is clean,” Wallace said into his cell phone.

  Chapter 34 Niall could have watched the transaction from one of the . . .

  Chapter 35 Serena stood in a guest room on the second floor . . .

  Chapter 36 As soon as Serena began weaving, Erik took his computer . . .

  Chapter 37 Niall pushed back from his desk and stretched hard enough . . .

  Chapter 38 Serena didn’t know what time it was when she realized . . .

  Chapter 39 Erik looked at the page on his drafting board waiting . . .

  Chapter 40 Serena’s eyes widened and her mouth flattened into a narrow . . .

  Chapter 41 When Erik’s mental alarm clock went off, Serena was sleeping . . .

  Chapter 42 Serena couldn’t ignore the watery noises any longer.

  Chapter 43 Erik, wait! I’ve got a rock in my shoe.”

  Chapter 44 Risa Sheridan stared at the ringing phone like it was . . .

  Chapter 45 Wallace, aka Bad Billy, eyed the last twenty feet between . . .

  Chapter 46 What do you mean, you lost them!”

  Chapter 47 No sooner had Erik and Serena walked in the front . . .

  Chapter 48 The long, monotonous thunder of huge jet planes sliding down . . .

  Chapter 49 Erik stepped off the escalator, waited for Serena, and led . . .

  Chapter 50 Heller was pretty sure Erik North had made him.

  Chapter 51 Risa Sheridan smiled at the young dealer who was trying . . .

  Chapter 52 People are still jammed around the book,” Serena said as . . .

  Chapter 53 Erik gave one of his Rarities Unlimited business cards to . . .

  Chapter 54 Despite the cozy honey tones of the Retreat’s large suite . . .

  Chapter 55 The silence inside Erik’s silver SUV was thick enough to . . .

  Chapter 56 Niall went to the car, touched the hood, and felt . . .

  Chapter 57 Dana glanced up from her desk as Erik, Niall, and . . .

  Chapter 58 Coffee steamed gently in front of Serena and Erik. . . .

  Chapter 59 Dana’s calm voice cut through the silence that followed Erik’s . . .

  Chapter 60 Only if there’s no other way,” Dana cut in quickly.

  Chapter 61 Cleary Warrick Montclair paced one of the Retreat’s spacious suites . . .

  Chapter 62 The Retreat’s ventilation system was so efficient that only a . . .

  Chapter 63 Screens around the clean room showed each of the seventeen . . .

  Chapter 64 The remains of Chinese takeout lay scattered across the clean . . .

  Chapter 65 We’re not getting anywhere,” Erik said, pushing away from the . . .

  Chapter 66 It would have been more symmetrical to incinerate the old . . .

  Chapter 67 The helicopter shot a spear of white light over the . . .

  Chapter 68 Lantern and camping gear stowed in back of the SUV . . .

  Chapter 69 The loom was there,” Serena said quietly.

  Chapter 70 The impact of the bullet spun Erik around and dumped . . .

  Chapter 71 Paul Carson,” Erik said grimly.

  Chapter 72 The doorbell chime’s melodious fifteenth-century harmonies blended oddly with . . .

  Chapter 73 Serena sat at her loom, flanked by colorful yarns hanging . . .

  Excerpt from Dangerous Refuge

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Author’s Notes

  About the Author

  Also by Elizabeth Lowell

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Prologue

  EAST OF PALM SPRINGS

  JANUARY

  The sky was a seamless blue, empty as a murderer’s heart.

  The woman who had three names smiled grimly into the rearview mirror of her old pickup truck. The man following her in the white Toyota sedan had blended right into the freeway, but he ran out of luck as the roads grew narrower and lonelier on the dirt track that led to her isolated home.

  It was hard to hide in a desert. Even hanging way back, trying to be invisible, he stuck out like a neon tongue.

  The dry, wild land looked unchanging, but wasn’t. It was full of hidden life, of surprises that ranged from sweet to deadly. Some of those surprises were sand traps that had nothing to do with golf courses. Other surprises were rocks and potholes.

  She hoped the little white car broke an axle and the driver’s neck. It would save her the trouble of shooting whoever was following her—assuming she could still see well enough to get the job done before it was done to her.

  You’re getting old, she told h
erself roughly.

  For more than fifty years she had outfoxed the fox; now she finally had been run to ground. But she wouldn’t be easy prey. Nor would she surrender the ancient, priceless Book of the Learned. She would die first.

  The pickup truck lurched upward as it took the final steep quarter mile to her cabin. NO TRESPASSING signs rushed by in jolts of red. Stones spun and spat beneath the wheels as balding tires struggled for traction. Time went so fast these days; there was never enough to get everything done.

  Or perhaps it was simply her certainty that death was closing in on her that made time hammer like a waterfall on the stubborn boulder of her life.

  Was that how the female descendants of the first Serena felt when their death time came? Did they look at the old, worn loom that had passed through generations of Weavers? Did they lift frail hands to the shuttle to add their own final lines to the ancient pattern?

  She didn’t know. She never would. So much had been lost to the devouring cataract of time. So much, but not all. Words whispered through generations of women told her that in the beginning the Book of the Learned had been more than six hundred pages long. Time and desperate circumstances had reduced the number to five hundred and seven. Those pages held the accumulated history and wisdom of the Learned, pages illuminated in gold and crushed lapis lazuli, bright with the green of life and the scarlet of blood.

  No Weaver in seven generations had been able to decipher the lean, elegant words that graced the Book of the Learned, but no one doubted the value of the object itself: the binding was studded with vivid gems that were the heart of the intricate, mysterious designs etched into the solid gold cover.

  And now, again, the ancient pages were at risk.

  As the last in a long, long line of Weavers, she had had a lifetime to prepare for just this situation. The torch was waiting to be passed. If her own race was over, so be it. The Book of the Learned was safe from man’s greed.

  Shielded from sight by a low ridge, her cabin lay in a small hollow. The wooden planks in the wellhead and in the walls of the cabin had been cooked to iron by the Mojave’s relentless sun. Though cool now, the piles of granite that poked up like bones through the dry land would be burning hot in a few months. Then she would bake bread and beans in the little oven she had made outside the cabin and feel midnight’s cool benediction whisper over her face.

  If she was still alive.

  She braked in a cloud of grit and dirt, shut off the engine, and grabbed for the package on the seat beside her. It was the precious pages inside that had lured her out of hiding, forced her to reach back into the dangerous past she had spent her life running from. Just as she must run now.

  With the determination that had gotten her through almost eight decades of life, she forced her thin legs to run the short steps to the cabin. Sand ground under her worn sneakers. A Joshua tree’s twisted arms stood black against the burnished sky. Overhead a hawk keened into the emptiness.

  She heard only her own ragged breath and saw only the beckoning door of her weathered cabin. Panting, she wrenched open the door and stumbled inside just as a white car shot over the crest and into the hidden hollow. She slammed the cabin door and levered a yard-long iron bar into place across it. Then she closed the interior shutters on the two windows and bolted them into place.

  The darkness inside was nearly absolute, but she didn’t need a light to find her way. As a young “widow” she had built the stone and wood cabin with her own hands. As an old woman she knew every inch of the place: its strengths, its weaknesses, its secrets, everything.

  She limped to the pegs over the door where the shotgun waited. She knew it was loaded. It always was.

  A fist pounded on the front door. “Mrs. Weaver? I’d like to talk with you about—”

  “You’re trespassing and I’ve got a shotgun!” she shouted over his words.

  The man on the other side of the door looked around quickly. No sign of cameras or spy holes. He hadn’t expected any, but he was careful; that was why he was alive and free when others were neither. There was no sign of telephone or electrical wires, or even a radio or TV antenna. He knew from personal experience that cell phones didn’t reach into this particular corner of the Mojave Desert. The old woman was truly alone.

  He smiled.

  With a smooth efficiency that told its own tale, he reached under his lightweight wind jacket. A gun appeared in his fist.

  “There’s no need to be frightened,” he said reassuringly. “I don’t want to hurt you. I want to make you rich. I’ll give you two million dollars for the Book of the Learned. Won’t you let me in so we can talk?”

  “I’ll give you sixty seconds to get off my property.”

  “Be reasonable, Mrs. Weaver. Two million dollars is a lot of money. It’s better than anyone else will pay for what’s left of that damned Druid book.”

  “Thirty seconds.”

  “At least take my business card.”

  The only answer he heard was the unmistakable slide of metal over metal as she readied the shotgun. He gauged the thickness of the stone and walls, the sun-hardened thick wood of the door, and the surprising strength of the prey. He would need armor-piercing bullets for the cabin. For her, too. That was one tough old bitch.

  With a vicious curse he turned, got in his car, and drove away from the very thing he wanted enough to kill for.

  The wind came up after sunset. The invisible rush of air was dry, cool to the point of chill, and smelled of time rather than life. The kerosene lamp inside the cabin threw odd, living shadows over the windows and walls. An old loom waited in one corner with an unfinished weaving partially filling the frame. Bobbins wound with colorful yarn dangled from the loom’s warp strands, waiting for the moment when they would be woven into a seamless design.

  A young fire burned companionably in the hearth, chasing the desert’s nightly chill. The woman wore around her neck a long scarf that was as old as the loom itself. Normally the scarf felt rough to her, and she left it with its companion, the Book of the Learned. But tonight her own spirit was chilled, and the scarf soothed.

  Numbly she sat in front of the fire, staring at the sinuous flames without really seeing them. All she saw were the pieces of thin, blank cardboard that she fed one by one into the fire.

  He had promised to send her the stolen pages of the Book of the Learned. He had betrayed her again, promises made and broken. He had sent modern paper, not ancient vellum. There were no pages of lean, somehow dangerous writing, an old language speaking in silence of people and places long vanished. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t read the words themselves. It was enough that she kept the book safe and passed it on to the next Serena.

  Family tradition held that the Book of the Learned was the soul of a man written on vellum with ink made of oak gall and iron. A powerful man. A proud man. A mysterious man. A deadly man. Erik the Learned. Erik, who had learned too late. But what he had learned and what he had lost were themselves forgotten when the keepers of the Book of the Learned no longer could read the ancient language.

  Yet even without knowing the words, she knew the book itself was a treasure beyond price. Beyond the value of the ancient strip of cloth that she now wore as a scarf, beyond the value of the hammered gold and brilliantly polished gemstones on the cover, knowledge called from the Book of the Learned with its ancient, double-edged lure. Elegant, intricate capital letters teased the mind with designs whose meaning went deeper than words. The feel of previous generations, her own ancestry, people who were wise and foolish, saints and criminals, warriors and witches, advisers and hermits, peasants and aristocrats: the whole experience of humanity called forth in rich colors—sapphire, ruby, emerald, and gold. Above all, gold, illuminating darkness with a light like no other, shimmering with timeless endurance.

  And she was but flesh, worn-out with enduring.

  A sound from outside jerked her from her bitter reverie. She turned in time to see one window burst inward. A bottle
hit the stone floor and exploded, showering the small room with burning gasoline. Another bottle followed, then another and another and another in a merciless rain that burned even the air.

  At the end she saw the pattern that had eluded her for her entire life. Laughing, she reached to embrace it. Her only regret was that she wouldn’t be alive to see his face when he discovered that she had outwitted him again.

  She had already passed the Book of the Learned to its next keeper.

  Chapter 1

  ONE YEAR LATER

  PALM SPRINGS

  MONDAY

  Like much of the town, the law offices of Morton Hingham were left over from a more leisurely, luxuriant time. Second-story arched windows framed a view of low-roofed buildings, tall palm trees, and stony mountains that dwarfed everything human. Inside the reception area, creamy walls and rich green plants soothed the eye. Solid wood furniture gleamed with polish. The carpet was worn, but tastefully so, like a dowager princess.

  The secretary-receptionist was the same. Her voice was crepe, irregular without being rough. “Ms. Charters? Mr. Hingham will see you now.”

  For a moment Serena stared blankly at the receptionist. In this cool, gracious room with its stately aura of law and civilization, it was hard for her to remember that her grandmother had died from a random act of violence of the kind more often associated with inner cities than with the desert’s ageless wilderness.

  Very few animals killed simply because they could. Homo sapiens was first among them.

  “Thank you,” Serena said in a husky voice.

  The older woman nodded, ushered the client into Morton Hingham’s office, and shut the door behind her.

  A quick glance told Serena that the lawyer’s office had shuttered windows and no visible wallpaper. Every vertical surface was concealed by books whose covers were as dull and dry as their titles. Various legal documents lay stacked haphazardly on Hingham’s heavy desk. An array of computers along the far wall looked out of place amid all the leather-bound monuments to past decisions, writs, and opinions.

  Hingham’s swivel chair creaked and jerked when he stood to greet his client. Long past the age when other men retired, the lawyer kept his shrewd mind engaged with the trials and tangles of people generations younger than he was.

 
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