CHAPTER TEN

As Alex escorted Jenny out of Los Angeles International Airport into bright sunshine, her spirits lifted. They'd left Chicago under leaden January skies and several feet snow piled along the curbs. Here in sunny California, they stood under a fat and powerful sun.

       "Considering the weather we left in Chicago," Jenny said, "it's no wonder there's a constant exodus to the west coast."

       "Nothing seems to halt it," Alex said. "Not the faltering economy, not the threat of earthquakes or mudslides or floods or crime. Ah, there's a cab. Follow me."

       Before she got into the cab, Jenny glanced over her shoulder. A chill chased down her spine. The stalker was getting in a cab behind them.

       Alex leaned toward the driver. "Marriott Hotel, Woodland Hills."

       Jenny released a jagged breath, settled into her seat and shrank into fearful thoughts. Was Alex Kendall following her or was it the husky stranger? She was no longer sure.

       "Ever been to L.A.?" Alex asked.

       Jenny shook her head. "I've always wanted to visit. I've heard so much about the glitz and glamour of the city."

       "Yes, it does seem glamorous on the surface."

       And yet as the cab rocked onto the traffic laden freeways, Jenny wondered who had dubbed it glamorous. Thickets of enormous buildings stood tall against the smoggy sky. To her it looked like some ill-conceived city of steel. Not that downtown Chicago was paradise. There, crowds jostled, and maniacal traffic whirled madly around the

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loop. Nevertheless Chicago was home and Lake Michigan a comforting and familiar polestar.

       California, and in particular, Los Angeles, held certain fascination for her, as it did for many Midwesterners. Now as the cab sped along, a grey pall hiding the mountains from full view, this city seemed far from her fantasies. Where was the ocean with its rolling waves? Where were the manicured, lawns of celebrity's homes? Where was the exciting glamour of Hollywood?

        The driver accelerated the cab onto the San Diego Freeway to the Ventura Freeway and turned north at the Topanga Canyon offramp. The Marriott Hotel, nestled in the heart of San Fernando Valley, dominated an entire block, standing like a sentinel over the West Valley. Tooling the taxi into the circular drive, the driver hopped from the cab, and unloaded their suitcases.

       Alex fished in his wallet to pay the driver and instructed the valet to carry their two suitcases to the registration desk.

       Jenny slid out of the backseat and stood beside him on the sidewalk.

       "Thank you," she smiled. "You've been very kind." She looked around. "Where's my suitcase?"

       "It's at the desk. I asked them to keep it for you."

       Jenny brushed past him and hurried into the plush hotel lobby toward the registration desk. This persistent man was using some kind of superior authority again. Now, she must call her father's room and reserve a room for herself.

       How she missed him. Missed seeing him at his computer typing furiously, missed him deep in thought, research books piled high as he spun out his latest tale. Knowing what she did now, it was no wonder that during his last year of freedom, his blue eyes had become shallow and restless, losing much of their former brilliance. She hoped that these past months away from criminals had restored some of his vitality.

       Jenny stood in line at the registration counter. Three professional looking young women and one well-dressed young man pounded away

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at computer keyboards, slid flat, square keys into little paper pockets and then turned to the waiting customers. Jenny took a deep breath, trying patiently to await her turn.

       Suddenly Alex was standing at her side. "You didn't think I'd let you go that easily did you? Jenny, I'd better stick with you."

       She stared up at him. "Why?"

       "I think you know why."

       She froze. Meeting this man hadn't been a coincidence after all. He's following me, she thought, or he's been sent to keep an eye on me.

       He took her arm. "Let's sit in the side lobby."

       "But..." Puzzled, she looked back at the counter. Alex led her to a loveseat surrounded by a profusion of green foliage.

       Jenny bit her lip as she perched on the edge of the cushion and pulled her briefcase onto her lap. "Who are you? What's going on?"

       Alex spoke softly. "Agent Tim O'Reilly is my boss. Understand? No, don't get up. Listen to me. He had your phone tapped and he knows your father called you. If he had your phone bugged, then it's a safe bet the Berkowitz mob did, too."

       Jenny's pulse quickened. "Who are you?"

       "Special FBI Agent Alex Kendall. I won't show you my badge now, but I will later. Sit still and smile, we may be watched."

       Jenny was momentarily stunned. "The husky stranger? You know about him? He is following me, isn't he?"

       Alex leaned close, took her hand, and gently massaged her cold fingers. "That's why I'm here. You must smile and pretend we're interested in each other. Stop looking around, look at me."

       Jenny's face froze. She withdrew her hand and stared at him. How dare this... this interloper pretend to have casually met her, and now intrude on her meeting with her father? Her fury extended to Agent O'Reilly. He'd had her phone tapped, had he? Wasn't that an invasion of privacy? O'Reilly probably assumed that Alex Kendall's good looks, smooth manner and professional demeanor might weaken her defense,

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make her more vulnerable. If he only knew that she wanted nothing except to see her father. Yet, she mentally paused and suppressed her anger. Alex was her only keys. She turned her full attention to him.

       "I'll call your father's room under the name he gave you, Peter Thornton. Stay here. Don't move. Understand?"

       As she watched Alex walk to the Registration Counter and hand the young man his card, Jenny clutched her briefcase close. She resisted an urge to stand and look over the hotel's patrons. Where was the husky stranger? Was he behind her, or next to her? Was he suspicious of Alex Kendall? 

       Her exhilaration over seeing her father faded. Fear knocked and reality walked in. Alex was right. If O'Reilly had bugged her phone, then surely a member of the Berkowitz mob had done likewise. And if so they'd heard their conversation and knew her father's assumed name. More important, what if they had already gotten to her father?

       Within ten minutes, Alex strode toward her, held out his hand and lifted her to her feet. "Let's get some coffee," he said, walking with her to a small dining area at the rear of the hotel.

       After they were seated, Alex leaned close to Jenny. "Now, don't panic."

       "What?" she whispered.

       "Your father is not here. He never signed in."

       Her eyes widened. "Maybe he hasn't arrived yet. Perhaps the flight was delayed, perhaps..."

       Alex shook his head. "I talked to our Marshall in Santa Rosa. He said O'Reilly became apprehensive about your dad landing at LAX. He changed their original flight plans and diverted him to the Burbank airport. I called the airline. The plane landed an hour ago."

       "Perhaps the traffic was heavy, or he had a hard time finding a cab or..."

       "Perhaps," Alex nodded. He'd briefly harbored the same thought. More realistically, a man had been placed a man at both airports.

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Probably one or more of Gavota's men had met Lansing at the Burbank Airport and spirited him off to heaven knew where.

       He'd inadvertently murmured his fears aloud. Jenny's thoughts were tumbling over each other. Yes, heaven alone knew where. Dear God, she whispered a silent prayer. You know where he is, please keep him safe.

       In that instant, she looked up and sucked in her breath. The husky stranger was reaching for an empty chair at the next table and pulling it toward them.

       Straddling the chair, he spoke directly to Alex. "Okay, Kendall , you got the girl, but we got the man. Now, why don't you go on back home and let us handle this nasty situation."

       Alex frowned. "You know my name. Why don't you tell me yours and let's talk about this? For starters, where is Lansing?"

       "You don't recognize me, eh, Kendall? Does the name Lucas Darke mean anything to you? I see it does. You and O'Reilly sent me to prison a few years back. But time has a way of settling the score." He smiled as if they were engaging in an amicable conversation. "Now, it's my turn."

Chapter 11  ||  Table of Contents