Dean has the taxi drop him at the turnoff to the private road. It’s dark now and a lone man walking will be less noticeable than a lit cab pulling up to the house. Despite his fatigue from days of chronic vigilance on the run, he notes the significant affluence of his surroundings. Some of it must be true old North Shore money, and some of it probably belongs to the cohort of Boston entrepreneurs who built the early tech firms along Route 128. The homes are grand Victorians and Colonials, some with widows walks and towers.
Dean reaches the end of the road — the great stone mansion by-the-sea, dead ahead, bears the address Sam gave him. He now concludes that Sam is from a seriously monied background. Why would such a girl of privilege take a job as an office admin with a tiny startup? When he first hired her, she’d seemed like a sweet, efficient kid. Then, fleeing for his life, his instincts had pointed to her as the one to trust. His instincts had not steered him wrong. She has become his lifeline.
He walks around to the right of the majestic house, his eyes continuously searching for anyone who might be watching. The pounding surf beyond the sea wall is even louder here. Harder to hear soft footsteps approaching he warns himself. He is reassured to see the stone carriage house Sam mentioned and, sure enough, there is a gardening shed visible beyond it. He goes past the carriage house and continues to the shed, enters, and finds the key in a gardening glove. Thank you, Sam! He follows a brick path past gnarled old oaks and a rambling wall of woody shrubs, bare and dormant for the winter. The brick path leads him to the door at the back of the main house. As he fits the key into the lock of this unfamiliar residence, he feels suddenly uneasy, like some low-life home intruder. The key clicks and the massive door opens.
With only a flashlight to guide him — anyone watching will see a lighted window — he makes his way through an old-fashioned service entryway and into the immense butler’s pantry where Zaira had revived her cousin Joska with shot glasses filled with human blood.
Lieutenant Barton had missed Dean’s taxi. Barton had gone directly to the stone mansion after his conversation with Stephanie Nichols; he’d rung the front doorbell and, when no one answered, he’d walked around the side, noted the carriage house and briefly looked for a way to open its door. Then he’d left. He returned after dark and parked his Crown Victoria on the shoulder of the main road where he could watch traffic coming and going on the private way.
The local Salem cab is easy to spot. It appears to have four passengers; one, a male youth, is riding shotgun with the cabbie. Barton loses sight of the cab as it turns onto the private way, but he notes its departure a couple of minutes later as it comes back onto the main road. Only the cabbie is in it. Lieutenant Barton decides to wait a little longer.
“Sam! It’s incredible!” Rina surveys the elegant marble foyer in deep admiration as Sam quickly closes the front door behind her and locks it.
“So this is your uncle’s house?” Gil asks, making an effort to mask his own awe.
Sandor glances disapprovingly at Sam. She ignores her cousin and leads them to the kitchen; they are carrying bags of takeout — spicy-fragrant Asian dishes. Sam switches on the light as they enter the room. Through the archway that connects to the butler’s pantry they see a tired man with brown hair and a beard. Despite everything that’s happened, he manages a smile and gets up from the table. “It’s me, guys. Sorry for the melodrama. It’s been a pretty strange week. Sam, I’m really indebted to you for this.”
“Hey.” Gil nods a greeting to Dean.
Dean approaches him and places a hand on Gil’s shoulder. “I owe you an apology. I made some serious miscalculations.”
There are many things that cross Gil’s mind to say in response to this; he looks down and replies, “Maybe if I’d interviewed Evan, from the start, I — we, might have seen a red flag. He’s truly creepy.”
“Serious miscalculations.” Dean repeats the phrase.
Rina and Sandor, who barely met Dean before his disappearance in New York, look on, wondering what they should do.
“Did anyone see you come in?” Sam asks Dean as she begins to unpack the bags of food and lay them out on the table.
“I don’t think so. I had the cab drop me off up the road. This is quite the location, Sam. I hope it’s secure — for all of your safety, not just mine.” He sighs. “Things have really changed.” Dean looks keenly at Sam. “You’re certain that your uncle is okay with this arrangement? Won’t he be coming here soon?
“He’s out of the country. This will be fine.” She turns to her cousin. “Sandor come help me check the windows, make sure all the drapes are closed.”
When they are out of earshot of the others, Sam tells him, “Sandor, I apologize about the uncle business, but after all, I’m in guise, so that’s already a much bigger deception.”
“Yes, lies beget lies.”
“They cannot ever know the truth about us! You must understand this.”
Sandor glowers silently as they return to the kitchen. Sam holds Sandor’s arm a moment as she pulls two slender coffee thermoses from a cupboard. She then pulls an unmarked carton from a shelf, opens the top and pours a dark red liquid into one thermos, then the other. She speaks sharply to Sandor under her breath. “You must drink this and please eat sparingly of the food. Avoid the pickled ginger, it can give you terrible nightmares.”
Sandor moves away from the small thermoses. “I’m not hungry.”
“Sandor! You must drink this. We are facing unknown difficulties and will need to talk into the night. You won’t be any use without strength. Understand?”
Rina appears in the archway. “Is everything okay? Come eat something.”
Sandor picks up his thermos, screws the lid on discreetly, and follows Rina into the butler’s pantry.
“I’ll be right there,” Sam says. She lingers in the kitchen and pulls the cellphone from her pocket to review the twenty messages from Anatol. The news is bad.
They’ve gathered in the living room after devouring the Thai and Japanese takeout. The large picture windows are now covered by heavy velvet curtains, but the sound of the pounding Atlantic surf is still audible. Stunned, they listen to Dean describe his strange hostile meeting with Joel Anderson, his harrowing flight through Manhattan streets, hiding out incognito in flop motels, and finally, the terrible conclusion that his trusted friend is in league with Joel Anderson.
“You’re absolutely certain who that guy is, the one with your friend?” Gil asks.
“He’s the top spook at the agency, Gil. He reports to people at the highest level of government.”
Sandor, who has been web surfing on his laptop, shows the screen to Dean. “Patrick Slaughter. Is that he?”
Dean scans the digital image and bio. “Yes, unfortunately. That’s not a recent picture, but it’s him.” Dean covers his face with his hands. “What have I entangled us, BubbleTrendz, in?”
“But how come he would do cyber-extortion?” Rina asks. “Seems kind of small potatoes for such a politically powerful guy.”
Dean looks at Rina gravely. “The extortion stuff is only part of it.”
“The DOW lost over two thousand points today,” Sam tells them. “SEHK, I mean the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, is down nine percent.”
“I can’t prove it yet, but I’m sure Joel’s gang is behind that,” Dean tells them vehemently. “It’s like they are detonating well-placed bombs in the global financial markets. They don’t have to blow up real buildings or people to create fear and chaos.” Dean looks squarely at his employees. “Joel Anderson didn’t care a rat’s ass about our pioneering social data marketing apps. He just wanted access to a big financial driver like Star.” He adds, with a measure of self-reproach, “We worked really hard to win Star as a client. They were our breakthrough.” Dean looks Gil in the eyes. “Your code made that happen. Star trusted us and I let them down, let all of you down. I got sucker-punched by Joel. It’s scary how smooth he was.” Dean adds quietly, “Perry Hinds got worse than sucker-punched is my guess.”
They are startled by the bell chime. Someone is at the front door. Dean looks sharply at Sam, “I need to disappear.”
She thinks quickly. “Upstairs — second room on the right. There’s a walk-in closet with long coats that will conceal you.”
As Dean races up the staircase, Sam adds, “There is also a balcony in that room through French doors. It would be tricky to climb down, but might be possible — if it comes to that.” She turns to the others, “Deep breaths, everyone. Hang out here and look natural, talk about something — computers, music, sports. I’ll deal with whoever is at the door.”
“What is there here to use as a weapon?” Sam sees the focused, determined look on Gil’s face.
“The candelabra!” Rina points to a large brass candle holder on the mantle. Gil rushes to the mantle and grabs it, hefting it, holding it firmly in his hands. It’s the most physically brazen act Sam has ever witnessed Gil perform.
She tries to reassure them. “Guys, it’s probably just a neighbor. I’ll be right back,”
Sam notes that Sandor is unconsciously twitching his fingers and his nails are beginning to sharpen up. She walks past him and whispers, “Your hands! Not yet.” But, Sam begins to curl and uncurl her own fingers as she heads to the front door.
– To be continued