Forced Perspectives – Snippet 11
Behind the lenses of the round glasses, the young man’s eyes were wide; he lowered the little gun and then let it fall to the grass. “I was only –” he began.
Vickery stepped quickly to the side so that he could see both speakers, and he noted the moustache and the plaid sportcoat of a man standing now beside the white car that idled at the curb — this one had been in the entry at Canter’s when Vickery and Castine had run out of the place, and he was now holding a big-caliber stainless steel revolver pointed toward the young man in red suspenders.
“Go!” he shouted now, waving the gun, and then stepped back and opened the rear door of the white sedan. To Vickery and Castine he said, “Inside, quickly! They must not have you.”
The young man hesitated, then went sprinting away east down the Seventh Street sidewalk.
Vickery almost started after him — he was one of the people who had stolen The Secret Garden! — but the gray-haired man in the dark windbreaker and his companion were closer, and moving quickly this way.
“Let’s do it,” said Vickery to Castine. He crouched to snatch up the gun on the grass and toss it to Castine, and then he shoved his own gun back under his belt and scrambled into the back seat after her.
Their apparent rescuer tucked the revolver under his sportcoat and ran around to get in on the driver’s side. The car’s interior smelled of licorice.
In moments the car had sped away west on Seventh Street, but not before Vickery had glance out the back window. The young man in the white shirt and suspenders was hurrying away up the sidewalk, and Vickery noticed something like a bulky white handkerchief stuffed into a rear pocket of his black jeans.
The man behind the wheel raised his right hand. “You needn’t touch your weapons,” he said. “I am employed by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, doing work from the Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard.” He waved ahead vaguely. “You must both leave the Los Angeles region, far, immediately. Funds if necessary can be provided.” He glanced at Vickery in the rear view mirror. “I think,” he went on, “you do not know why those various men are pursuing you.”
Vickery was breathing carefully and focusing through the windshield at the sunlit cars in the lane ahead of them, forcing his eyes to comprehend volume, depth of field; he didn’t want to fall into another involuntary echo vision.
“No, we don’t,” said Castine. “Do you know why?”
“Guesses based on guesses are of no value. My concern is the recovery of an artifact that was negligently curated long ago.” He lifted one hand from the wheel in a dismissive wave. “I will drive you now to the LAX airport, and you will get a flight, do you understand? These men are following you by some means, but they no longer have time to chase you in a distant city. Do you have money, and identification, for tickets?”
“Uh,” said Castine, giving Vickery a bewildered, questioning look.
Equally puzzled, he just shrugged. At least this is getting us away from the guy in the dark windbreaker, he thought. Just so this fellow doesn’t insist on seeing us actually buy tickets.
Vickery cleared his throat. “Well — yes.”
“Good,” said their driver. “In a few days their project will have become ended, willy nilly, and you could safely return, no matter what their intentions toward you have been.”
“Why will their project be ended in a few days?” Vickery asked.
“I will have retrieved the artifact by then, and taken it back to Cairo.”
The man had hesitated very slightly before the word taken, and Vickery was certain that he meant in fact to destroy the artifact, whatever it was.
Castine might have noticed it too. “What sort of artifact is it?” she asked.
“Very new and very old. If you have cell phones, you can arrange a flight even now.”
“We don’t,” said Vickery.
“No matter. It is a large airport, there will be many flights available.”
Harlowe’s men had all fanned out across the park, circling the lake, and Elisha Ragotskie now just needed to get away. The white car had disappeared into the westbound traffic, taking his Beretta Pico with it, so he sprinted across the lanes of Seventh Street to the sidewalk on the south side and began walking rapidly east, his head down. After a few steps he pulled his conspicuous red suspenders off his shoulders and tucked them messily into his black jeans. He was panting, and afraid to look across the street. Harlowe would certainly have Taitz kill him, if they saw him.
Ragotskie looked down at his right hand, which was still visibly trembling. Would I, he wondered, have been able, actually, to shoot the Castine woman? My finger was on the trigger, the gun was pointed at the middle of her. She was wearing sunglasses, so I couldn’t see her eyes — I wonder if I’d actually have been able to pull the trigger, if I’d seen her eyes. It was so much easier, so much less momentous, to shake cyanide powder into her water glass!
And who the hell was that man in the midtown orange-plaid sportcoat? If I hadn’t burned my bridges with Harlowe, I’d tell him there seems to be another player in the situation.
Ragotskie ached to talk to his onetime lover, Agnes Loria, but, as she was now, she might very well just turn him over to Harlowe.
Ragotskie had cautiously followed Harlowe’s three-car procession to MacArthur Park, and when two of the cars had split off to loop around the north half of the park, Harlowe’s SUV had stopped at a red no-parking curb on Wilshire. Harlowe and Taitz and Foster had all climbed out and gone loping away across the grass, leaving only Tony the driver in the vehicle.
Ragotskie had stopped his own Audi right behind it, and then left the motor running while he grabbed a heavy flashlight and ran up to the rear passenger-side door of the SUV and with three rapid blows smashed the window. Tony had quickly got out on the driver’s side, shouting; but Ragotskie had leaned in through the ruptured glass, grabbed the polished wooden box off the rear seat, and raced back to his own car.
He had gunned away in reverse, bouncing up the curb for a few yards and then thumping back onto the street again, while Tony had run after him; but Tony had jumped out of the way when Ragotskie shifted into drive and sped forward.
Ragotskie had then driven around the park and left his car at a bus stop on the south side — he could see his green Audi now, and he was grateful that it had not been towed.
He was hurrying past a storefront church and a clinic now, and he peered left and right past cars parked at the curb. Before running back across the lanes of Seventh Street to his car, he patted his back pocket to make sure the bloodstained sock had not fallen out. He couldn’t even remember now what he had done with Harlowe’s wooden box.
The sock was stiff, and he grimaced and wiped his hand on his damp shirt as he crossed the street to his car.
Maybe Harlowe, for all his insectile cleverness, had no way of tracing Castine or Vickery besides the sock. Or even if he did, maybe they would have the sense to flee L.A. very fast and far, right now. Without those two, Harlowe’s Singularity project would surely fail, and Agnes Loria would not lose her identity — even if losing it was what she wanted. In that case, Ragotskie would be fortunate in having failed to kill Castine!
He peered back over the top of the car as he unlocked the door. He didn’t see Taitz or Foster, and he exhaled and relaxed as he got in.
But Castine and Vickery might hang around. How much did they know? They might have, they probably had, plans of their own. They might even want to approach Harlowe, in some mutually secure location.
Ragotskie’s face was cold with the realization that he might have to kill Castine, or Vickery, after all.
The thought nauseated him.
They had driven away west with the man in the plaid jacket. Luckily Ragotskie’s car was facing that way. He could drive west a few blocks and find a place to park, and then try to make the sock pendulum do its trick.