A SMKVirtual6 Episode
The Moroccan police took the term "sweating a suspect" literally. Along with the bare bulb glaring into his eyes, the airless heat scorching the interrogation room gave Lee a hell of a headache. So did being questioned for hours. The questions didn't change, only the interrogators. The latest was this show-off parading his English, instead of letting Lee speak French.
Inspector Jourdain poured himself another glass of ice water and again failed to offer any to Lee. "You lie."
A bead of water trickled down the side of the glass. Lee licked his parched lips. "I've told you everything." Except what the dying man said. And that my wife and I are U.S. federal agents.
"C'est incroyable." Jourdain swished a fly from the scarred tabletop. It rose in buzzing protest, banged against the barred window, and circled back. "All is chance, you say. But you see Bernard many times. On the bus. In your room. At a restaurant."
"He ate at a different table." Lee's stomach rumbled, reminding him he hadn't eaten since then.
"In the bazaar--thousands of people." Jourdain drew a half-circle with his hand, palm outward, as if indicating a crowd, and then pointed at him. "To you, he runs."
"He collapsed where I was standing."
Jourdain learned forward, so his face was inches away. "My men talk to the venders. Bernard says your name. He says, 'Listen.'"
Terrific. For a moment, Lee considered passing on Bernard's message. He stared at the table, avoiding Jourdain's glare, focusing on the fly creeping past a cigarette burn.
The inspector thwacked the fly with his notepad, crushing it. "What does Louis Bernard say?"
No. If he got tangled in the red tape of this murder, he might be stuck in Marrakesh for weeks. And the Moroccan police were notoriously corrupt. When he got out of here, he'd call Billy and let the Agency handle this mess.
"Nothing. He gasped for breath, and then he died."
"He says he works for le Dieuxieme Bureau?"
"I don't know what that is." Yeah, right. Well, now he knew Louis Bernard was a French intelligence agent.
"Perhaps jail helps you remember."
Morocco's jails had a worse reputation than its police force. He ran a hand through his sweat-soaked hair. "I can't tell you something I don't know."
"Someone kills Bernard to silence him. Perhaps he kills you. Perhaps he kills your wife, your son."
The words were like ice sliding down his spine. Lee shifted on the straight-backed chair and bit the inside of his cheek.
Jourdain pounded his fist on the table. "Protect yourself! Protect your family! Tell me what Bernard says!"
"I don't know anything."
Jourdain snorted and tipped back his chair. "You are a stubborn man, Monsieur Stetson. To keep you--it does nothing." He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Go."
toward the door, hoping he'd reach Amanda before Jourdain changed his
mind. His hand was on the doorknob when Jourdain spoke again. "One
thing more, Monsieur Stetson."
"I hope you are not soon a dead man. I have much work. I have no time to solve your murder too."
Why did I take Latin in high school, Amanda wondered. Why not something useful, like French? She hated depending on Lee to handle simple tasks in another language, like asking the hotel receptionist to call the Draytons' room.
This time, Lee seemed to be having trouble. He'd been talking to the receptionist for several minutes, his voice rising in volume and pitch. She plucked his sleeve. "What's the matter?"
"It doesn't make sense." Fear was in his eyes. "He says Mr. Drayton checked out hours ago. And he hasn't seen Mrs. Drayton, or Jamie."
Lee leaned against the doorframe. "Nothing good. I'm sorry." Never had those last two words seemed more inadequate.
Amanda lifted her tear-stained face from Jamie's pillow. "Tell me."
He trudged to the bed and sank down beside her. "The doorman says Drayton left in a private car, with their luggage, around noon. Doesn't remember anything about the car, except it was black. None of the staff have seen Jamie or Mrs. Drayton since early this morning." He tried to swallow the lump in his throat. "The concierge says Drayton claimed he taught college in London. God knows who they really are."
"Did they give an address when they registered?"
"Yeah." He grimaced. "Unless they've got a flat inside Buckingham Palace, they made it up. And they paid cash for everything, so there's no paper trail."
She clutched his wrist so tightly that it hurt, and her voice wobbled. "We have to go to the police."
The phone rang, and he lunged for it. "Stetson."
The voice on the other end was muffled, as if the speaker held a handkerchief in front of his mouth. But from the deep timbre and the Arabic accent, he knew it wasn't Drayton.
"We have a valuable package of yours. If you wish it returned unharmed, you will say nothing about what Bernard told you. To anyone."
He motioned to Amanda to pick up the phone by their bed. She raced into the other room.
He took a deep breath. "Who is this?"
"You don't really expect me to answer that. It was very wise of you to keep silent with the police. Do not speak to them again."
Damn! "Let us talk to our son."
"That isn't possible," said the muffled male voice.
He clenched his fist. "Then how do we know he's okay?"
"You'll have to trust me."
Amanda's voice broke in. "If you don't let us talk to him, we'll go to the authorities."
"I don't think so." The voice sounded amused. "You have too much to lose."
"Let him go, you son of a--"
Click. The only sound coming over the line was Amanda, sobbing.
Amanda lifted her head from Lee's shoulder and brushed away tears with the back of her hand. Despite the heat of the day and the warmth of his embrace, she couldn't stop shivering. "I told him everything would be okay. I promised him, Lee."
"I know." He was blinking back tears as well.
"So how do we find him? We can't go to the police."
"I'll call in a favor." He opened the drawer of the bedside table, pulled out the phone book, and dropped it on the bed. "There's a guy in Marrakesh that I worked with in Tangiers. He can keep his mouth shut, and he owes me. Maybe he can help locate the Draytons, or whatever the hell their real name is. If we just had a picture . . ."
"We do." She pointed to a pile of souvenirs on the desk. "Remember how Jamie was taking pictures when we had coffee in the courtyard? He finished a roll and went upstairs for more film. I'll bet there are some shots of the Draytons."
"Good." He squeezed her hands. "I'll get the film developed, call Tom, and start making the rounds. You stay here, in case somebody calls."
"What if they've hurt Jamie? What if . . .?"
"They won't." Lee cradled her face in his hands, and the tightness in her chest eased a little. "Jamie's the only hold they've got over us."
"I don't understand why they did this. Do they think we have a lot of money, or--?"
He put his finger on her lips and shook his head. When he scanned the room, she guessed what he was thinking: *Maybe the room is bugged.* Your debugging kit--don't leave home without it. Unfortunately, they had.
"Let's get some air." He helped her to her feet, led her onto the balcony, and closed the French doors behind them.
She leaned against him and kept her voice a whisper. "What haven't you told me? Is this about the Agency?"
"It's about Louis Bernard." When she stared at him, he looked away. "I didn't tell you before, because I thought it was safer for you not to know. Bernard said a statesman would be assassinated in London, and then he said the name 'Ambrose Chappel.' If we don't find Jamie by tomorrow, I'll go to London and look up this Chappel guy."
"I'm going, too." She touched his arm. "I'm his mother."
He stared into the garden. "This is my fault. I should have known somebody might try to blackmail me. I thought I could just pass the message on to Billy and forget about it." He lowered his head, and his shoulders sagged. "How could I be so stupid?"
"Hey." She put her hand on his cheek and turned his head, forcing him to look at her. "Don't blame yourself. We'll both go to London, and we'll find our son."
The wail of the muezzins, calling the faithful to prayer, floated out from the minarets of nearby mosques. Amanda closed her eyes and prayed that Jamie was alive.
11: 45 P.M.
"What did you find out?"
Lee wasn't surprised to find Amanda sitting on Jamie's bed, clutching the boy's pajamas. He sank down beside her and took her in his arms. "Early this afternoon, somebody who looked like Drayton booked a private plane and flew out of Marrakesh. Nobody asked where he was going or checked the plane. He probably greased some palms, and they assumed he was smuggling hash."
"When can we leave?" She got to her feet, as if ready to start packing.
"I booked the earliest flight I could get. We fly out of Marrakesh at 9:20 tomorrow morning, change planes in Casablanca, and arrive in London around two o'clock in the afternoon. They've got a hell of a head start."
"We'll find him. I know we will." The determination he knew so well was back in her face and her voice. "Did you learn anything else?"
"Tom ran an off-the-record search on the Draytons and Ambrose Chappel. The Agency's got nothing on them. Neither does Interpol." He took a deep breath. "From my description, he recognized the guy looking for Mr. Montgomery. He's a hit man."
Her eyes widened. "What does your friend know about him?"
"He's supposed to be the best in the business. And he goes by the alias "Mr. Rien." When she looked confused, he translated for her. "'Mr. Nothing.' The man who's so hard to catch, it's like he doesn't exist."
"There's nothing wrong, Mother, just a change of plans. You know how work is." When Lee slashed one finger across his neck, Amanda rolled her eyes. He should know that a short phone conversation with her mother was an oxymoron.
"But, darling, you're on vacation! Can't someone else handle this?"
"I'm afraid not." Nauseated by the smell of food, she replaced the cover on the congealing eggs and the pain au chocolat sent up by room service. This morning, she could no more eat breakfast than Lee could.
"Next time Mr. Melrose comes to dinner, I'm giving him a piece of my mind." Mother set something down, with a thump that Amanda could hear over the wire. "I hope Jamie isn't too disappointed."
"He hasn't said that he is." That's right, Amanda, stick to the truth for the details, tell the big lie about why you're leaving.
"Well, I suppose it'll be exciting for him to see London, too. As long as you're there, you should have tea with the Sheffields."
"You know, Clive and Matilda, and his sister Sara. Amanda, don't you remember?" Her mother's exasperation was obvious, but unless someone named Sheffield had Jamie, Amanda didn't care who these people were. "We've been writing back and forth, ever since I tracked down their address when I was doing our family tree. They seem like such lovely people, and I don't think Richmond is very far from London. I'll give them a call and say you're coming. Where did you say you'd be staying?"
"The Savoy Hotel. Mother, they charge an arm and a leg for calls from hotels, especially international calls. I really should hang up."
"Oh, Amanda, I was hoping to say hello to Jamie." The plaintive note was as clear as if Mother were in the room.
She wished she could pretend that she was losing the connection, like people did during awkward phone conversations in old movies. No, Mother wouldn't buy that. "He's not here."
"Is it safe for him to be running around on his own?" It was said in a disapproving tone, but not as disapproving as she and Lee deserved.
She swallowed hard. "He's . . . taking more pictures of the hotel."
"Well, that's good. I'm sure you'll want to remember every detail of your vacation."
Amanda sighed. Not exactly.
"Dotty told us all about your wonderful children, and we thought that one of them was supposed to be with you on this trip. Phillip, was it?" Clive Sheffield snagged an ashtray and a book of matches from the desk and settled into the settee, nudging her suitcase out of his way with his foot.
Amanda exchanged a brief glance with Lee. "No, it was Jamie. He's, well, he's--"
"He's staying with some other people, so we can have time to ourselves," Lee broke in. He wrapped his arm around her waist, but his embrace didn't prevent a sudden chill from sweeping over her. Was Jamie still in Morocco? Here in London somewhere? Was he all right?
Sara spoke for the first time. "You two are only recently married, right?"
"Yes, we are."
They spoke together, but Amanda's voice was louder. She went on, "Just over a year now, so this is kind of an anniversary trip for us."
"Ah, no wonder the lad is running around by himself!" Clive's voice rang out.
When she tensed, Lee's arm tightened around her. "That reminds me, I have some business to take care of. Amanda, you'll be all right here?"
She glared at him. In front of these strange relatives, she couldn't argue about going with him. She opened her mouth, but he was talking again. "One of us should be here in case--well, in case someone calls. You know."
Okay, he had a point. "You be careful," she said. Then, with a sideways look at the Sheffields, she gave a forced laugh. "Be sure to look both ways twice before crossing the street, sweetheart. I wouldn't want you to get run over because you forgot the cars are on the other side of the road!"
"I'll be fine." He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Clive, Matilda, Sara, I'm sorry to run like this, but I'll see you later, okay?" Before they could respond, he was gone.
"Excuse me, please. I just have to check one thing with Lee." Amanda smiled at the three people still seated, who all looked confused. "See, we didn't know you were coming, and we already had some business to take care of, but it won't take long."
As soon as she was out the door, she sprinted to him. "Lee!"
Looking exasperated, he jabbed the elevator button. "Amanda, you can't just leave them there. We can't have them calling your mother."
"I know that, I just--" She laid her hand on his arm. "Just be careful, please? I worry about you, when I'm not there to watch your back."
"Amanda, I was doing this for a long time before you came along."
He must have seen the hurt on her face, for he placed his hands on her shoulders and said, "Hey, I'm sorry. I'm just a little tense, you know."
"You're telling me."
He pulled her into a quick hug. When they separated, he said, "You stay by the phone. I'll see Chappel, and I'll bring Jamie back."
"No." She shook her head, and he looked confused. "Just feel him out, Lee. Don't try anything risky all by yourself. If Mr. Chappel admits that he knows about us or about Mr. Bernard, say that we won't say anything, and that we just want Jamie back. Then call me."
"Don't." She grabbed his hands and gave them a shake. "These people kidnapped Jamie, and they killed Mr. Bernard, and they're planning to assassinate a politician. They're not fooling around." She tried to swallow the lump in her throat. "I don't want to lose you and Jamie both. You're not even armed, and you don't have backup."
He hesitated, then nodded. "Okay, I'll check the
guy out, and then I'll call you."
The place certainly appeared innocuous--a small, red-brick building, no different from the machine shop and the furniture repair workshop that hugged it on either side. The gold letters on the door spelled out "Ambrose Chappel, Taxidermist."
Lee shook his head. What the hell was he expecting--neon flashing "Murder, Inc." or "Assassins-R-Us"? He took a deep breath and opened the door.
Inside, the place looked like a combination zoo and pet shop, in suspended animation. Snarling lions, crouching tigers, gaping crocodiles, and glittering swordfish cluttered the room, along with dogs and cats and guinea pigs.
The smell of formaldehyde prickled his nostrils. Four men in leather aprons were working on creatures ranging from a moose head to a mouse, doing . . . well, he didn't really want to know what taxidermists did. Particularly not after seeing all the glassy-eyed Fluffies and Fidos displayed here.
A young man wearing a kilt and a Scottish rugby jersey sauntered over. Probably nobody gave him a hard time about his outfit; the beefy Brit would look more at home on a rugby field than in a taxidermist's shop. "Can I help you, sir?"
Lee swallowed. Well, he was outnumbered, and this guy would be no pushover if things got rough. But all that mattered was Jamie. "I'd like to speak to Ambrose Chappel."
"I am Ambrose Chappel."
The speaker must have been at least eighty, thin and stoop-shouldered, with a face as puckered as a dried apple and hair that stood up like a milky halo. He tottered forward and scrutinized Lee. "Are you a collector, sir? Or do you wish a lasting reminder of a beloved pet? A dog, perhaps?"
"Uh, no." Judging from the size of the workshop, compared to the dimensions of the building, there wasn't much more to the place than this room. But maybe Jamie was in a back room, or a storage bin, or a closet. "Actually, I was hoping for a tour of your shop. I work for a film company, and we're doing a feature on unusual businesses." When the man looked dubious, Lee continued, "If we did include your company, you'd be paid, plus get free advertising. And our film crew wouldn't interrupt your work."
Chappel brightened. "Everything is right here." He waved a blue-veined hand, indicating worktables, metal sinks, and open shelving. Knives, saws, and hooked implements hung from a pegboard. "I'm afraid we haven't the modern amenities like employee lounges and such, but the men do enjoy the work."
Damn. Except for the entrance and an obvious back exit, no doors were visible. Jamie must be stashed somewhere else.
"What is your name, sir?"
"Lee Stetson." No, not a glimmer of recognition. Either Chappel was a good actor, or he wasn't the person Bernard meant. "There's . . . something else. Louis Bernard told me about you. You have a package of mine."
Lines of puzzlement added wrinkles to Chappel's face. "I don't know a Louis Bernard." Then he smiled. "Oh, I understand the problem."
"Certainly. It happens all the time. You expected someone else." He pivoted and called out, "Ambrose!"
One of the workmen--a heavyset man in his fifties, with rolled-up sleeves--laid down a knife that looked like it had been stolen from the prop department for Psycho. "Yes, Father?"
"This young man would like to talk to you."
"Of course." Chappel-Junior hurried forward and wrapped a muscular arm around the old man's shoulders. "Why don't you go have a nice rest?"
"Humph!" Chappel-Senior pursed his lips. "I have centuries of rest ahead of me." He shambled to an eight-foot long table covered by a blue and silver Marlin with a spear-like jaw.
Lee cleared his throat. "I'm Lee Stetson. Louis Bernard told me about you."
Chappel-Junior looked thoughtful. "Bernard . . . Bernard. Oh, yes, we handled a canary order for a Mr. Bernard. I thought that was Thomas Bernard, but my memory is worse than Father's. We're always glad to get a referral from a satisfied customer."
This was ridiculous. "Listen," Lee hissed. "If you can't talk here, why don't we take this outside?"
The man stiffened. "We have no secrets from our employees. Say whatever it is you have to say."
"Okay." Lee forced the word between gritted teeth. "There's no point in trying to cover up. I won't talk, and I don't give a damn about anything Bernard told me. All I want is my son back."
The man stared at him as if he'd escaped from the local lunatic asylum, and edged backward. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"He's just a kid. He doesn't deserve this." Lee grabbed his shoulders and shoved him against the wall. "If you want a hostage until you've done your dirty work, take me. If anything happens to Jamie, I swear I'll kill you."
"Hamish! Edgar! William!" The man thrashed, wrenching away from him. "Help! Father, phone the police, quick!"
Lee reached for the gun that wasn't there--and was slammed to the cold, cement floor by someone executing a play that must have been perfected on the rugby field.
The next few minutes were a blur of squirming bodies,
punching fists, toppling stuffed animals, and rolling glass eyes that
dropped from a box upset during the scuffle. Then Lee was frog-marched
to the wall by the rugby player and Chappel-Junior. The two remaining
workmen barreled toward him, clutching the giant Marlin like an oversized
bayonet. Lee braced himself and sent a silent apology to Amanda.
"Boys!" Chapell-Senior tsk'ed. "The poor man has obviously lost his wits. Release him. Now."
The two men stopped twisting Lee's arms and let go. The rugby player brushed some stuffing from his torn jacket. "Sorry, mate."
Lee took a deep breath. "You don't know anything about a Louis Bernard? Or about my son, Jamie King?"
"I'm afraid not." Chappel-Senior wobbled forward and patted his arm. "I hope you're able to work out whatever trouble you're in. I think you should consult the police. And a good doctor, as well. Now you'd best be on your way."
"So when we received a phone call from your mother, we weren't quite sure what to think." Matilda sipped her tea. "But she was very kind in inviting us to stay with your family, if we ever take a trip across the pond. A pity you don't live near Disneyland, but I'm sure Arlington is very nice. So, anyway, we--" She paused to draw a breath. "Amanda, are you listening? Amanda?"
She shook her head to clear it, only then noticing that the Sheffields were staring at her. "I'm so sorry," she said, mentally wrenching herself away from her worries about Jamie. "Here you are, going into town to meet your American relatives, after Mother went to all this trouble to look you up, and I'm not even paying attention. My mother would be ashamed of me."
"I hope you're not worried about your husband," Clive said. "He's only been gone an hour."
An hour. An hour was more than enough time for Lee to call her, unless he was in trouble. She never should have let him go alone. Or maybe Mr. Ambrose Chappel had nothing to do with Jamie's kidnapping, and Lee was grilling someone who didn't know a thing. How clearly would Louis Bernard have spoken, when he was dying? Maybe their only lead was as insubstantial as the puffs of smoke from Clive's Marlboros.
She jumped at the sound of Clive's insistent voice. "Hmm?"
"The chap he was meeting certainly sounds harmless." He gave her a reassuring smile. "What could go wrong with a fellow named Church?"
"No, it was Chappel." Then she blinked. "That's it! It's not a man, it's a place. Ambrose Chapel!" She sprang to her feet. "Do they list churches in the phone book?"
"They should, yes." Clive reached for the phone book on the table beside him. "Here now . . . " He thumbed through it, finally settling on one spot and running his finger down the page. "Here it is. Ambrose Chapel, 17 Ambrose Street, SE16."
"Where is that?"
"Well, let me see . . . " He flipped to the map in the front of the book. "Amber, Amberton, Ambrian . . . Ah! Ambrose. E5. Now, then . . . "
Amanda had to restrain herself from rushing over and looking it up herself. The Sheffields were obviously confused by what was going on, but she couldn't exactly explain it to them. And with her worry about Jamie, and now about Lee, she didn't think she could make up a convincing lie.
"Here you are, Amanda. Ambrose Street. It's south of the river, in Southwark."
"Southwark?" Mildred said, in a disapproving voice. "My dear, I don't think that's an area you want to be wandering around in."
"Oh, I'll be fine. I'll just take a taxi there and back." She studied the map. "Thank you so much. I'm very sorry to run out on you like this, but it's really important."
"Do you want one of us to go with you?" Clive asked.
"Oh, no, you just wait here." She'd ordered pastries and tea sandwiches from room service, to counter the Sheffields' suggestion that they go to the hotel bar, and she gestured toward the food. "Have more of this, and order anything else you like. And please explain to Lee, when he gets back."
Closing the door behind her and patting her pocket to make sure she had the room key, she heard Clive's muffled voice. "Explain what?"
Lee leaned against the elevator wall and sighed. That had not only been a waste of time, that had been a disaster. If Louis Bernard had really meant to say "Ambrose Chappel," he must have misunderstood what it meant. Damn! He clenched his fists, glad there was no one in the elevator to see his frustration.
The bell dinged for the tenth floor, and the doors slid open. Lee dragged himself into the hallway and tromped toward Room 1013. Maybe he should have called Amanda, like he'd promised. No, he couldn't tell her by phone that their only lead to Jamie was worthless.
Outside the door, he paused at the sound of voices. Oh, great. Their unexpected guests were still here. Pasting on a smile, he turned the key and walked in. "Hello, all. Sorry to keep you waiting like that. Just some business I had to attend to."
The two women exchanged glances. "Well, Mr. Stetson, it seems like your business might not be over," Mildred said.
He stopped pretending to smile. "What does that mean?"
"It's Amanda," Sara answered. "She's gone to Ambrose Chapel."
"Oh, come on, I just left there!"
"No, no, it wasn't *your* Ambrose Chappel." Clive punctuated his words with emphatic shakes of his half-eaten scone. "It was a building, not a person. Ambrose Chapel, like a church."
He was so tired he could almost feel his mental gears whirring into place. "A building. Not the taxidermist."
Mildred nodded excitedly. "Yes, that's it. She got this look on her face and just dashed out the door. I'm surprised you didn't run into her in the lobby."
Trust Amanda to go racing off on her own. He rubbed his forehead and plodded to the door. "All right, where is it? Did she leave the address?"
Clive gestured at the phone book open on the side table. "It's right there."
"Well, come on, what is it?" He dug his nails into his palm, to keep from strangling the man.
The Englishman sniffed. "Really, are you always in such a hurry?"
Lee sighed. "Sorry, Clive. But, yes, this time we are in a hurry."
"It's 17 Ambrose Street," Mildred chirped. "Just take a taxi. That's what Amanda said she'd do."
"Thank you." He tried to inject an extra bit of gratitude into his voice. "If Amanda calls, tell her I'm on my way. And if she comes back without having seen me, tell her to just wait here, please."
"Do you know when you'll be back?" Mildred called after him.
He paused with one hand on the doorframe. "Soon, I hope." He put on a reassuring smile. "Just make yourselves comfortable. And thank you for all you've done." Then he took off down the hallway at a trot.
Maybe this Ambrose Chapel would lead them to Jamie.