FIVE-THIRTY TUESDAY MORNING FBI Special Agent Brogan was alone in the third-floor meeting room, using one of the newly installed phone lines for an early call to his girlfriend. Five-thirty in the morning is not the best time to deliver an apology for a broken date from the night before, but Brogan had been very busy, and he anticipated being busier still. So he made the call. He woke her and told her he had been tied up, and probably would be for the rest of the week. She was sleepy and annoyed, and made him repeat it all twice. Then she chose to interpret the message as a cowardly prelude to some kind of a brush-off. Brogan got annoyed in turn. He told her the Bureau had to come first. Surely she understood that? It was not the best point to be making to a sleepy annoyed woman at five-thirty in the morning. They had a short row and Brogan hung up, depressed.
His partner Milosevic was alone in his own office cubicle. Slumped in his chair, also depressed. His problem was a lack of imagination. It was his biggest weakness. McGrath had told him to trace Holly Johnson's every move from noon yesterday. But he hadn't come up with anything. He had seen her leaving the FBI building. Stepping out of the door, onto the street, forearm jammed into the curved metal clip of her hospital cane. He had seen her getting that far. But then the picture just went blank. He'd thought hard all night, and told McGrath nothing.
Five-forty, he went to the bathroom and got more coffee. Still miserable. He walked back to his desk. Sat down, lost in thought for a long time. Then he glanced at the heavy gold watch on his wrist. Checked the time. Smiled. Felt better. Thought some more. Checked his watch again. He nodded to himself. Now he could tell McGrath where Holly Johnson had gone at twelve o'clock yesterday.
SEVENTEEN HUNDRED AND two miles away, panic had set in. Numb shock had carried the carpenter through the first hours. It had made him weak and acquiescent. He had let the employer hustle him up the stairs and into the room. Then numb shock had made him waste his first hours, just sitting and staring. Then he had started up with a crazy optimism that this whole thing was some kind of bad Halloween joke. That made him waste his next hours convinced nothing was going to happen. But then, like prisoners everywhere locked up alone in the cold small hours of the night, all his defenses had stripped away and left him shaking and desperate with panic.
With half his time gone, he burst into frantic action. But he knew it was hopeless. The irony was crushing him. They had worked hard on this room. They had built it right. Dollar signs had danced in front of their eyes. They had cut no corners. They had left out all their usual shoddy carpenter's tricks. Every single board was straight and tight. Every single nail was punched way down below the grain. There were no windows. The door was solid. It was hopeless. He spent an hour running around the room like a madman. He ran his rough palms over every square inch of every surface. Floor, ceiling, walls. It was the best job they had ever done. He ended up crouched in a corner, staring at his hands, crying.
"THE DRY CLEANER'S," McGrath said. "That's where she went. "
He was in the third-floor conference room. Head of the table, seven o'clock, Tuesday morning. Opening a fresh pack of cigarettes.
"She did?" Brogan said. "The dry cleaner's?"
"Tell him, Milo," he said.
"I just remembered," he said. "I've worked with her five weeks, right? Since she busted up her knee? Every Monday lunchtime, she takes in her cleaning. Picks up last week's stuff. No reason for it to be any different yesterday. "
"OK," Brogan said. "Which cleaner's?"
Milosevic shook his head.
"Don't know," he said. "She always went on her own. I always offered to do it for her, but she said no, every time, five straight Mondays. OK if I helped her out on Bureau business, but she wasn't about to have me running around after her cleaning. She's a very independent type of a woman. "
"But she walked there, right?" McGrath said.
"Right," Milosevic said. "She always walked. With maybe eight or nine things on hangers. So we're safe to conclude the place she used is fairly near here. "
Brogan nodded. Smiled. They had some kind of a lead. He pulled the Yellow Pages over and opened it up to D.
"What sort of a radius are we giving it?" he said.
"Twenty minutes there, twenty minutes back," he said. "That would be about the max, right? With that crutch, I can't see her doing more than a quarter-mile in twenty-minutes. Limping like that? Call it a square, a half-mile on a side, this building in the center. What does that give us?"
Brogan used the AAA street map. He made a crude compass with his thumb and forefinger. Adjusted it to a half-mile according to the scale in the margin. Drew a square across the thicket of streets. Then he flipped back and forth between the map and the Yellow Pages. Ticked off names with his pencil. Counted them up.
"Twenty-one establishments," he said.
McGrath stared at him.
"Twenty-one?" he said. "Are you sure?"
Brogan nodded. Slid the phone book across the shiny hardwood.
"Twenty-one," he said. "Obviously people in this town like to keep their clothes real clean. "
"OK," McGrath said. "Twenty-one places. Hit the road, guys. "
Brogan took ten addresses and Milosevic took eleven. McGrath issued them both with large color blowups of Holly Johnson's file photograph. Then he nodded them out and waited in his chair at the head of the conference room table, next to the telephones, slumped, staring into space, smoking, drumming a worried little rhythm with the blunt end of his pencil.
HE HEARD FAINT sounds much earlier than he thought he should. He had no watch and no windows, but he was certain it was not yet morning. He was certain he had another hour. Maybe two. But he could hear noise. People moving in the street outside. He held his breath and listened. Maybe three or four people. He quartered the room again. Frozen with indecision. He should be pounding and kicking at the new pine boards. He knew that. But he wasn't. Because he knew it was hopeless, and because he felt in his gut he must be silent. He had become sure of that. Convinced. If he was silent, they might leave him alone. They might forget he was in there.
MILOSEVIC FOUND THE right place, the seventh of the eleven establishments on his list. It was just opening up for business, seven-forty in the morning. Just a store-front place, but elegant, not really aimed at the typical commuter's cheap worsteds. It advertised all kinds of specialized processes and custom treatments. There was a Korean woman in charge of the store. Milosevic showed her his FBI shield and placed Holly's file picture flat on the counter in front of her.
"You ever see this person?" he asked her.
The Korean woman looked at the picture, politely, with concentration, her hands clasped together behind her back.
"Sure," she said. "That's Miss Johnson, comes in every Monday. "
Milosevic stepped closer to the counter. He leaned up close to the woman.
"She come in yesterday?" Milosevic asked her.
The woman thought about it and nodded.
"Sure," she said. "Like I told you, she comes in every Monday. "
"What kind of time?" he asked.
"Lunch hour," the woman said. "Always lunch hour. "
"About twelve?" he said. "Twelve-thirty, something like that?"
"Sure," the woman said. "Always lunch hour on a Monday. "
"OK, yesterday," Milosevic said. "What happened?"
The woman shrugged.
"Nothing happened," she said. "She came in, she took her garments, she paid, she left some garments to be cleaned. "
"Anybody with her?" he asked.
"Nobody with her," the woman said. "Nobody ever with her. "
"Which direction was she headed?" Milosevic asked.
The woman pointed back toward the Federal Building.
"She came from that direction," she said.
"I didn't a
sk you where she came from," Milosevic said. "Where did she head when she left?"
The woman paused.
"I didn't see," she said. "I took her garments through to the back. I heard the door open, but I couldn't see where she went. I was in back. "
"You just grabbed her stuff?" Milosevic said. "Rushed through to the back before she was out of here?"
The woman faltered, like she was being accused of an impoliteness.
"Not rushed," she said. "Miss Johnson was walking slow. Bad leg, right? I felt I shouldn't stare at her. I felt she was embarrassed. I walked her clothes through to the back so she wouldn't feel I was watching her. "
Milosevic nodded and tilted his head back and sighed up at the ceiling. Saw a video camera mounted high above the counter.
"What's that?" he said.
The Korean woman twisted and followed his gaze.
"Security," she said. "Insurance company says we got to have it. "
"Does it work?" he asked.
"Sure it works," the woman said. "Insurance company says it's got to. "
"Does it run all the time?" Milosevic asked.
The woman nodded and giggled.
"Sure it does," she said. "It's running right now. You'll be on the tape. "
Milosevic checked his watch.
"I need yesterday's tape," he said. "Immediately. "
The woman faltered again. Milosevic pulled his shield for the second time.
"This is an FBI investigation," he said. "Official federal business. I need that tape, right now, OK?"
The woman nodded and held up her hand to make him wait. Stepped through a door to the rear of the establishment. Came back out after a long moment with a blast of chemical smell and a videocassette in her hand.
"You let me have it back, OK?" she said. "Insurance company says we got to keep them for a month. "
MILOSEVIC TOOK IT straight in, and by eight-thirty the Bureau technicians were swarming all over the third-floor conference room again, hooking up a standard VHS player to the bank of monitors piled down the middle of the long table. There was a problem with a fuse, and then the right wire proved too short, so a computer had to be moved to allow the video player to get nearer to the center of the table. Then the head tech handed McGrath the remote and nodded.
"All yours, chief," he said.
McGrath sent him out of the room and the three agents crowded around the screens, waiting for the picture to roll. The screens faced the wall of windows, so they all three had their backs to the glass. But at that time of day, there was no danger of anybody getting uncomfortable, because right then the bright morning sun was blasting the other side of the building.
THAT SAME SUN rolled on seventeen hundred and two miles from Chicago and made it bright morning outside the white building. He knew it had come. He could hear the quiet ticking as the old wood frame warmed through. He could hear muffled voices outside, below him, down at street level. The sound of people starting a new day.
His fingernails were gone. He had found a gap where two boards were not hard together. He had forced his fingertips down and levered with all his strength. His nails had torn off, one after the other. The board had not moved. He had scuttled backward into a corner and curled up on the floor. He had sucked his bloodied fingers and now his mouth was smeared all around with blood, like a child's with cake.
He heard footsteps on the staircase. A big man, moving lightly. The sound halted outside the door. The lock clicked back. The door opened. The employer looked in at him. Bloated face, two nickel-sized red spots burning high on his cheeks.
"You're still here," he said.
The carpenter was paralyzed. Couldn't move, couldn't speak.
"You failed," the employer said.
There was silence in the room. The only sound was the slow ticking of the wood frame as the morning sun slid over the roof.
"So what shall we do now?" the employer asked.
The carpenter just stared blankly at him. Didn't move. Then the employer smiled a relaxed, friendly smile. Like he was suddenly surprised about something.
"You think I meant it?" he said, gently.
The carpenter blinked. Shook his head, slightly, hopefully.
"You hear anything?" the employer asked him.
The carpenter listened hard. He could hear the quiet ticking of the wood, the song of the forest birds, the silent sound of sunny morning air.
"You were just kidding around?" he asked.
His voice was a dry croak. Relief and hope and dread were jamming his tongue into the roof of his mouth.
"Listen," the employer said.
The carpenter listened. The frame ticked, the birds sang, the warm air sighed. He heard nothing else. Silence. Then he heard a click. Then he heard a whine. It started slow and quiet and stabilized up at a familiar loud pitch. It was a sound he knew. It was the sound of a big power saw being run up to speed.
"Now do you think I meant it?" the employer screamed.