Life blood, p.13
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       Life Blood, p.13

           Thomas Hoover
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  Chapter Thirteen

  In moments I was heading down the snowy drive, south toward my home(which had been hopefully put back together). I pushed the pace,mesmerized by the snow, and tried to decide what to do next. The thugRamos had stolen some second-generation interview footage from me, butnow I had a tape of something a lot more interesting.

  When I pulled into my street, the time was just past eleven and I wasthinking about calling Lou, or Steve, or both. But then I saw somethingodd. A woman was walking down the steps from the lobby of my building,a woman I recognized from somewhere.

  Her hair was tangled and she was wearing black jeans and a blacksweater. It took a second before I finally processed the fact it wasCarly Grove. And she seemed frantic. I assumed she'd come in a cab, butshe had my home phone number, so why would she come over if I didn'tanswer? New Yorkers don't just drop in. A social no-no.

  Maybe the reason had something to do with how she looked. I felt like Iwas seeing a specter.

  "Thank God you're here," she blurted out, striding up. She was actuallyshaking, and I could tell she'd been crying. Nothing like the gutsywoman I'd seen a few days earlier. "I kept getting your machine, but Ithought maybe you were hiding."

  I looked at her, and forgot all about my own issues. It was hard toremember ever seeing a human being in such distress, except for Sarah.

  "Why would I be hiding?" I was taking out the Betacam bag and closingmy car door, hoping to seem normal and professional.

  "They called me about six o'clock tonight. Children of Light." Shecould barely get the words out. "They'd seen my interview with you. Howdid they get it?"

  I looked down at the snowy--make that slushy--street and felt a chillgo through me, followed immediately by anger. Ramos, that bastard.

  "They . . . Somebody took a copy this morning." Stated like that, itsounded pretty lame. "I'm so sorry--"

  "He threatened Kevin. He actually said if I signed a release to let youuse the film, my child would 'meet with an accident.' And then he saidsomething about you, that your own--"

  "Who? Who called you? Did he tell you his--?"

  "He wouldn't give a name. Just some man. He had a foreign accent." Shethrew her arms around me, and I hugged her back as best I could.

  "Where's Kevin now?" I was so concerned about Carly that I'd repressedthe information that he'd also mentioned me.

  "Marcy was there, so I told her to take him with her. To her mother'splace in the Bronx, where she lives." Carly was still trembling as sheloosened her grip on me. "I called a car service to drive them up."

  "Well, come on in. Let's talk." Truthfully, I wasn't sure how much Iwanted to tell her about what I'd just seen at Quetzal Manor. It wouldprobably just distress her more. Where had Kevin come from? Did Ireally want to de-legitimize him in her eyes?

  As I led her through the lobby, hoping to appear composed, PatrickMooney greeted us, announcing that his sister, Rosalyn, had been gonefor an hour and that she appreciated my memorable tip.

  The place looked like nothing had happened, and Carly immediatelycollapsed onto my "earth-tone" couch. I hadn't told her my apartmenthad been tossed along with the robbery and, thanks to Rosalyn, I didn'tneed to. In fact, it actually looked cleaner than it had in months.Maybe, I thought, I should reprioritize my life and hire her more often.

  Then I got a glass of water for Carly and sat down next to her.

  "I'm really sorry," I began, deeply meaning it. "If I'd known all thiswas going to happen, I'd never--"

  "It's not your fault." She took a long drink. I hadn't bothered withice, and I immediately felt I'd been inhospitable. Kind of a vagrant,minor concern, considering. Then she went on. "I guess I knew down deepI shouldn't have given you that interview. But I wanted the world toknow about Kevin. Now, though . . . should I call the police orsomething?"

  The short answer to that was yes, but my mind was already skipping onto a different topic.

  "Carly, do you know where Kevin came from? Really came from? Did youever actually try to find out?"

  She sighed and took another sip.

  "I told you I don't care. When they brought him, all pink and helpless,I just--"

  "Who brought him?" I interrupted.

  "Well, I'd been up there the day before, signing all the papers. I wassupposed to go up that day, but then somebody called and said one ofthe girls who was staying in the clinic or whatever it is was bringinghim to me. So don't come."

  "You're saying one of the girls--?"

  "Yeah." She looked wistful for a moment, as though remembering. "Thenshe just showed up, looked like some blond college dropout. I guess alittle more fanfare would've been nice, but Marcy was there to help meand that was it. That's the last contact I ever had with Children ofLight." She shuddered involuntarily. "Till now."

  Well, I thought, the last thing I'm going to do is tell her about whatI just saw. She's the ideal customer for Alex Goddard: She trulydoesn't want to know details.

  "Carly, there's not much I can do about what's already happened, but Ican try to keep you from getting into any more trouble. Why don't youcall them in the morning and tell them you've yelled at me andrescinded your permission for Applecore to use the film? And say I'vepromised I won't. You've threatened to sue me or something. That shouldget you off the hook."

  "You really think so?" Her look brightened slightly.

  "Yes, it's me they're worried about, not you. I represent some threatto them, because of the film I'm making. Just bail out and you'll beokay."

  "Thanks. I did get the feeling that's all they really want." She tookanother drink of water. "But if they wanted to scare me, they're doinga hell of a good job."

  "Well, then, why not take Kevin and go away for a couple of weeks? On avacation someplace? And while you're doing that, I'm going to have aone-on-one with Alex Goddard. I've got a little leverage now."

  She looked at me. "What . . . what are you going to do?"

  I couldn't tell her about my videotape of his baby cache withoutexplaining a lot more about Children of Light than I thought she wantedto hear.

  "Don't you think the less you know the better?" I said, taking herhand. "I've caused you enough trouble already."

  "No, I caused myself trouble." She was getting up. "Can I use yourbathroom?"

  "Sure." I pointed the way.

  While she was gone, I went to the kitchen and surveyed it, checking thecabinets. Again, the place was cleaner than it had been in ages. Thelook of it momentarily bucked me up.

  When Carly came back, she hugged me and then announced she wanted to gocheck on Kevin.

  "I'll do what you said about calling them," she concluded, reaching forher bag. "I think you're right. That ought to get them off my case. Atleast for the moment. As for the long run--"

  "Carly," I said, taking her hand again, "we'll get through this. Justtrust me."

  We hugged one more time and then she was gone. I took the moment todouble-lock the door, and then collapsed on the couch. What should bemy next move? I closed my eyes and tried to review all the insidiousthings that had happened in the last twenty-four hours. The illegaldrugs, the break-in and theft of my film, the suspicious nursery ofChildren of Light, the threats to Carly . . .

  Then it finally came back that she'd mentioned Ramos saying somethingabout me. By now I was getting used to being threatened by the man, soone more time was hardly news. But I wished I'd asked her the specifics.

  That was when I roused myself and reached for the phone. The time waspushing eleven, but I still wanted to check in on Sarah, see how shewas doing. Had she come back to reality after I left?

  I was listening to the phone ring, my mind drifting to thoughts of howto gently ask Lou about her, when I realized nobody was picking up.

  What's going on? I wondered, immediately coming alert. Mrs. Reilly hadprobably gone home for the day, but no way would Lou be in bed beforemidnight. He always had trouble settling into sleep.

  Maybe, I then hoped, I'd just dialed the wrong numbe
r. But when I triedagain, still no answer.

  I clicked off the phone and felt a wave of concern. If Colonel JoseAlvino Ramos could find out I was making a movie, and then find outwhere I lived, he sure as hell could locate my extended family. Wasthat what he'd meant when he mentioned me to Carly?

  I grabbed the set of Lou's keys I had stored in my bedroom's deskdrawer and flew out the door.

  The streets were plastered with a grimy veneer of city snow, meltingfast, but I pushed the limits of safety and ran a couple of lightssince the traffic was spotty. There was a parking space just across thestreet from Lou's building, and as I pulled in I looked over at hiswindows.

  Through the curtains I could tell a dim light was on, probably comingfrom Sarah's bedroom. The front room, however, was dark.

  My pulse was pounding as I raced up the steps to the street door. Ithought about pushing his bell, but I didn't have the patience. InsteadI just fumbled with the key set till I found the biggest one and shovedit into the lock.

  The building had no lobby, just a row of stairs leading up to the nextfloor, with Lou's own door set off to the left. I shoved his Medeco keyinto the deadlock and pushed it open. The room was pitch-dark.

  "Who . . ." said a startled voice, and I knew it was Lou, somewhere inthe direction of the couch.

  I clicked on the light switch and saw him lying on the floor, leaningagainst the couch, blood everywhere, his eyes in shock.

  "My God! What happened?"

  "I'm afraid to move. The phone was ringing and I figured it was you,but I didn't dare get up. Knowing you, you'd come over if I didn'tanswer." He was holding his side as he looked at me. "Morgy, she'sgone."

  At first what he said didn't sink in as I bent over him. The right sideof his shirt, just above his belt, was soaked in blood. Taking care, Iunbuttoned it and saw an open cut that looked as though he'd beenstabbed with a knife. It also appeared to be reasonably superficial, asthough a thin blade had pierced through a couple of layers of tread onhis ample spare tire. But it was bleeding still, enough to make it lookworse than it probably was. However, if it'd happened to me, I'ddoubtless be in shock too.

  I got up, went to the bathroom, and pulled two towels off the rack,then doused water over one and came back.

  "Don't move. I'm going to pull your shirt away and try to clean you up,see how bad it is."

  He just groaned and stared at the ceiling.

  As I was swabbing his side, what he'd said finally registered.

  "Did you say . . . _Sarah_!"

  I dropped the towels and ran into the bedroom.

  It was empty, the bed rumpled and beige sheets on the floor.

  "No." I turned and feeling a hit of nausea, hurried back to his side."What happened? Did--?"

  "Fat Hispanic guy. Spic bastard. He had a couple of young punks withhim. Mrs. Reilly had just left and I went to the door, thinking it wasprobably you ringing my bell. He flashed a knife and they shoved theirway in. Then one of his thugs went into the bedroom and carried herout. When I tried to stop them, the SOB knifed me. I guess I . . .swooned cause the next thing I remember is waking up here on the floor."

  It sounded garbled and probably didn't occur as quickly

  as he thought. But I knew immediately what had happened Ramos--ofcourse that's who it was--had come to take Sarah. It was his one sureway to stop me from mentioning Children of Light in my film. She was ahostage. My first instinct was to kill him.

  "What else can you remember?" I was already dialing 911. Time to get anambulance. And after that, the cops.

  After about ten rings I got somebody and, following an explanation thatwas longer than it needed to be, a woman with a southern accent told methe medics would be there in fifteen minutes. I took another look atLou and ordered them to hurry, then hung up. I was going to call thepolice next, but first I needed to hear exactly what had happenedbefore he got quarantined in some emergency room.

  His eyes were glazing over again, as shock and blood loss started tocatch up with him. Clearly he would pull through, but right now,sitting there in a pool of blood, he could have been at death's door.

  "Look . . . at that." He was pointing, his rationality beginning tofail. For a second I didn't realize what he meant, but then I saw a faxlying beside the phone. I picked it up. The time on it was 9:08 P.M.and it was from somebody named John Williams. Then I remembered. Wasn'tthat the FBI computer whiz he'd talked about the other day at thehospital, after we'd deconstructed Sarah's waterlogged passport?

  There was no message, just a sheet with a date--two years old--and alist of names accompanied by numbers and a capital letter. Then Inoticed the letterhead of Aviateca, the Guatemalan national airline,and it dawned on me I was looking at a flight manifest.

  I scanned down the page, and then I saw it.

  Sarah Crenshaw, 3B.

  Williams found her, I thought. And she was traveling First Class.

  What caught my eye next was the name of the person sitting in 3A, theseat right next to hers. A. Godford. Probably a computer misprint. Ormaybe it was the name he used when he traveled. So if it was him, whichit surely was, the bastard didn't even try to hide it.

  I just stood there, thinking. Maybe you get one big-time coincidence inlife, and if so, this must be mine. Sarah and I had both found AlexGoddard. Or he'd found us. Other women came and went through QuetzalManor, but we were different. She'd escaped from him, half dead but nowhe'd sent Ramos to bring her back. It was the one way he could be sureto keep me under his control. But again, why? Was it just to stop myfilm, or was there more to the story?

  "Morgy," Lou groaned "that son of a bitch took her tonight. I just knowit."

  That was my conclusion precisely, though I hadn't been planning to sayit to him, at least not yet.

  "How can you be so sure?"

  "Something they said. I didn't quite catch it, but it sounded like, 'Hewants you back.' Then some word. It sounded like 'Babylon' orsomething."

  I stared at him a second trying to remember where I'd heard thatbefore. Then it clicked in. That was the last thing Sarah had saidshe'd whispered that word when I was putting her to bed. What could shehave been talking about?

  He wheezed and I went back to him and pressed the towel against hisside. The bleeding was about stemmed but he was definitely due for ahospital stay. A siren was sounding down the street. Probably theambulance. Thank God I thought. Now it's time to call the police.

  Then I noticed he was crying. What was that about?

  "Morgy, they didn't actually kidnap her. You see, she--"

  "What?" I guess I was trying to take it in. "What do you mean?"

  "Know what she said? Sarah?" He choked for a second, then continued."She said, 'Yes, I want to go back.' "

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