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CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

The air felt steamy when I opened my eyes, and warm, like a tropical rain forest. I expected Bill to appear from the bathroom, an apparition in the moist vapor, but his voice came from across the room. He was at the desk talking on the phone. I smiled at the sight. He was obviously discussing weighty issues because he had his professional voice on. But he was sitting, legs crossed, wearing nothing but a thick white towel across his lap. He caught me watching and signaled that he'd be off soon. I stretched lavishly in the big Four Seasons bed-I couldn't reach the bottom with my toes or the sides with my fingertips-then curled up into a twist of cool, extremely high-thread-count hotel sheets.

"Call me back when you figure it out." His tone suggested it should have already been figured out. "I've got a conference call in an hour. Don't make me late."

He hung up and sat at the desk, staring at me, forehead wrinkled, looking concerned.

"Who…" I cleared the sleep out of my voice. "Who was that?"

"Tony Swerdlow."

"In Denver?" I checked the bedside clock-radio.

"I'm about to negotiate one of the biggest aircraft deals in the company's history, and this guy's home in bed sleeping."

"Bill, that's what people do at three-thirty in the morning."

"Not if they haven't done their work. He's a week late with my performance data, I'm talking to Aerospatiale in an hour, and I can't wait any longer."

"No one sleeps until the Big Cheese is satisfied."

The teasing brought a smile. He wrapped himself in the towel and came over to the bed, leaned down and kissed me. "Especially you."

The feel of his smooth chest against the palm of my hand, the smell of him, the taste of him-after going without him for so long, one night was not enough. "Come back to bed."

"I have to shave."

"For a conference call?"

"I don't want to be late. They're already going to be ticked off."

"Why?"

"Because I'm supposed to be there in person." He smiled, waiting for me to catch on.

"And instead you're here with me."

I had to let that sink in. In all our time together, I'd been the one to arrange my life around him. I couldn't remember a single time when he'd done it for me. The fact that he had this time was surprising. More than surprising. It was shocking-and really sexy.

He straightened to go, but I reached out and barely caught the corner of his towel. It came off easily with a quick flick of the wrist. When he tried to grab it, I drew it under the covers with me.

He stood for a moment looking at the clock, but I pulled back the sheets to invite him in, and he slipped into my arms and stretched out beside me.

"You make me stupid," he murmured softly in my ear.

His skin was warm, his hair still damp from the shower. Last night in the dark, I had rediscovered his body-the way his back curved under my hand, the feel of the rough scar on his knee when it brushed against my leg, the way his long eyelashes felt soft on my face when he closed his eyes.

I found the line of his backbone and traced it up and down, going a little farther each time until I heard the catch in his breath and felt his hands on my back.

"How am I ever going to work around you? I can't keep my hands off you." And he couldn't. "You made me crazy yesterday in that meeting. I was imagining you under that sweater, thinking about what it would be like to take it off you."

"Show me."

I felt his hand on my hip. "This is where it started, right? About here?"

"More like here." I pushed his hand down until I felt it on my thigh.

"Mmmm, I think you're right." Then slowly, very slowly, he pushed the imaginary sweater up-a millimeter at a time, his fingertips like feathers tracing the shape of my hipbone, the curve of my waist, stopping to linger on all those good places he still remembered.

"Don't stop doing that," I whispered.

He lifted my hands over my head and ran a fingertip up the underside of each arm. I closed my eyes and as he moved over me, I wrapped myself around him and felt the letting go. Boston, the ramp, Lenny and the Petes, Ellen Shepard and Dan Fallacaro-none of it was important. Nothing mattered except the feel of him inside me and this moment.


"I have to get dressed." He was lying on his back with his eyes closed. Untangling his legs from mine, he rolled off the bed and found his towel, which had somehow ended up on the floor. Before he went into the bathroom, he pulled the sheet and then the blanket all the way up and tucked them under my chin. "Don't distract me anymore."

By the time he came back out, I had gathered in all the pillows on the bed and propped myself up so that I could watch him. I'd always loved watching him dress.

"I need to ask you something," I said.

"What?"

"Why do you have Lenny working for you?"

"Because he's got valuable contacts in Washington, which has proved very helpful on some of these big route-authority cases. He's not my best operating guy, he's definitely high-maintenance, but I can get what I need from him." He chose two ties and held them against his suit for me to see.

"I like the darker print," I said, "and Lenny doesn't get the job done. He hires fools like me or like Ellen who will go to any lengths not to fail, which means he won't fail."

"Which means I won't fail. What's wrong with that?"

"Don't you care about his methods?"

He put the rejected tie back, then sat on the edge of the bed with his back to me, pulling on his socks. "Is that why you called? Because you're having problems with Lenny?"

"Do you think I would call you to intervene in a dispute with my boss?" When he didn't answer, I poked him through the covers with my big toe. "Do you?"

"No. So what is going on? And tell me fast because I've only got twenty minutes." He went into the bathroom, then came out searching. "Have you seen my watch?"

"It's right here." I plucked it off the nightstand and tossed it to him. "I get twenty minutes?"

"We would have had more time if we hadn't-"

"All right, I'll give you the Cliff Notes version." I adjusted the pillows so that I could sit up straight. "I'm not sure that Ellen Shepard killed herself."

He paused while buckling the watch and looked up. "That's a provocative statement."

"It's possible someone killed her and made it look like a suicide."

"I had a feeling that's what this was all about."

"Why?"

"Because it's a perfect setup for you. It appeals to all of your instincts as defender of the weak, pursuer of justice, she who rights all past wrongs-"

"I take it you don't believe the rumors about Ellen's death."

"All this talk, those dreadful drawings, that's the kind of mean-spirited gossip traded in by people with small minds who live in small worlds and have nothing better to do but chatter on about this sad woman. It's a tragic, tragic situation, and no one should be using it for their entertainment."

"I don't have a small mind, I don't find this entertaining, and this is my twenty minutes."

"It makes me angry."

"So you said. You also said you'd listen to me."

"I'm sorry. Go ahead."

"Ellen got involved in something right before she died. It had to do with Big Pete Dwyer and his son and some guy who works on the ramp named Angelo who might be the key to everything. I think what it all may have to do with is someone paying off Big Pete Dwyer to tank the IBG contract vote that made the merger happen. I suspect Lenny's involved, too, but I don't know how yet."

"First of all, Lenny didn't make the merger happen and neither did this Big Pete asshole. I made that deal happen. Second"-he was making one last check in the mirror, straightening his tie, smoothing his hair- "I hate to tell you this, but none of this is news."

"It's not?"

"That business about the contract has been rumored for years. And I can tell you exactly how Lenny would have been involved."

"You can?"

"He's the one who was supposed to have made the payoffs, and the reason is, when Nor'easter sold, he cashed in all his stock options. Don't ask me how he got them, but he had a pile of them with really low strike prices."

"He did?"

"The guy made a fortune."

"So Lenny is part of this after all."

"I didn't say that. I said it's been rumored. No one has ever proved anything."

"The proof is in the package," I said, connecting the dots.

"What package?"

"Do you know who Dickie Flynn was?"

"The drunk who used to run your station."

"He died last year, but before he did, he sent Ellen a packet of material that he'd hidden in the ceiling of the men's locker room at the airport. I think it was a surveillance tape from the ramp, but whatever it was, I'm beginning to think she was killed for it."

"Why didn't the police find any of this?"

"No one in this Boston operation ever has or ever will talk to the police. But I've got a source, a guy I've been talking to down on the ramp."

"How do you know he's not twisting you around for fun?"

"He's not. I know he's not. He's the one who went and got the package for Ellen."

"Does he have it?"

"Nobody has it. We think Ellen may have stashed it-"

"Who's 'we'?"

"Dan and I, Dan Fallacaro. We haven't been able to find it yet. One thing I know is, we're not the only ones looking. Someone ransacked my hotel room, and it's pretty clear they were looking for Dickie's package."

"What?"

"That was the night I called and left you the message. I think it was Little Pete."

"You're just telling me about this? Did you tell Corporate Security? I can call Ted Gutekunst right now-"

"I told them, I told the police, I changed hotels, and I've calmed down a lot."

He walked over to the bed, hands in his pockets, looking as if he was ready to handle the situation right then and there. "I'm not sure you should be calm about this."

"I think I can find the package," I said, "this surveillance video. It would help you get rid of Lenny, wouldn't it?"

"Maybe, but-"

"Even if Lenny had nothing to do with any of this, he was guilty of not backing Ellen up. This is a hard job, and when she needed help he wasn't there. I suspect he may have even been working against her, which I can't understand because they were sleeping together. Maybe they had some kind of a falling-out."

"How did you know they were sleeping together?"

I looked at him. "How did you?"

"I asked Lenny."

"And he confirmed it?"

"He denied it, which is all I needed to hear. He has a reputation for that sort of thing."

"Then I'll ask you again, why is he still here?"

"Look," he said, "I'm beginning to think we put Ellen in a job she couldn't handle to begin with, and that Lenny put too much pressure on her and made a tough situation worse by getting personally involved with her. He created an environment where she couldn't succeed. He's going to answer for it, don't worry. But in the end when she couldn't handle it, she made the final choice, not Lenny. And if she was involved with him, she made that choice, too. If I tried to police all the affairs in this company, illicit and otherwise, I'd never get anything else done."

"That's a cop-out, Bill."

"Did you know Ellen Shepard?"

"No, but-"

"I did. She was on my merger task force, and I can tell you this-she was more fragile than people think. And high-strung."

"That doesn't mean-"

"I knew her, Alex. And I know you. You can't save Ellen Shepard. It's too late. Don't let this thing be more about you than it is about her. You do that sometimes and you know it. I have whole squads of people who are trained for work like this. There's no reason for you to be involved. I don't want you to be. It's not good for you and it worries me." His attention wandered to the clock on the nightstand. "Alex, I have to get ready for this call. I'm sorry. We can talk more later. We should talk more about this." He disappeared into the next room.

I found one of the hotel's thick white robes hanging on the back of the bathroom door. It wrapped around me one and a half times, but it did what I needed. He was out in the sitting area sorting through his briefcase.

"I need just a couple more minutes," I pleaded. "I promise."

He checked his watch again. "Well, they won't start without me, that's for sure. It might even be a good negotiating strategy to be a little late. Go ahead."

"I need your help on one thing, Bill." I told him the tale of Little Pete and Terry McTavish.

"You say you have a source?" he asked.

"It's the same one I told you about before. He's a ramper and he's as close to Terry as you can get. He's not intimidated by the powers that be in the union. He's a good man. I trust him."

"What about this Little Pete person? What are we doing about him?"

"I heard on my way out tonight that Lenny's already brought him back to work."

He didn't say it, but Lenny was in for a bad day. "Can you nail him again?"

"We plan to make it a priority. Guys like him always give you another chance."

"So you want this McTavish kid to have his Job back?"

"He doesn't deserve to be fired."

"Done."

"Thank you," I said, "and I'm not finished talking to you about Ellen."

"You can talk all you want," he said, picking up the phone. "Just don't do anything that might get you hurt. Please."


After a night at the Four Seasons, my own hotel seemed alarmingly inadequate when I went back to change. As I passed the front desk, I picked up my messages. The first one said, "Where are you?" Dan had wanted to know at eight-thirty and again at nine-fifteen last night. But the message from Molly was the one that made me sorry to be running so late. "Re: Crescent Security," it said, "You're not going to believe this."


CHAPTER THIRTY | Hard Landing | CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO