CHAPTER TWELVE

"He assumes we went out the door. Hang on. We'll use a little subterfuge." Alex gripped Jenny's hand as she stumbled alongside him.

       At the front lobby, he quickly turned to the right, led her down a long corridor and abruptly stopped. He propelled her toward an open banquet room door.

       "You're invited to a dinner meeting. Whatever it is, become a part of it. And don't go anywhere. Just wait for me in the room."

       He left. Jenny took a deep breath and stepped inside the room. A red-headed woman, sporting an outdated beehive hair style, walked toward her with an outstretched hand.

       "You must be Rhonda's friend. She called to say she couldn't make it and was sending a prospective member in her place. Welcome to VITAMAX. Do sit at my table."

       Jenny glanced around the room. A line of vitamins, stacked brochures and dozens of books were displayed on a long narrow table by the door. She followed her greeter who pulled out a chair for her next to a good-looking man, who, it seemed, was part of a couple. He smiled warmly at Jenny a little too warm to suit his partner who threw her an icy stare.

       Obviously, Jenny thought, I've been propelled into a sales marketing meeting for a multi-management vitamin product. A portrait of the founder stood on an easel and beneath his picture the company logo was emblazoned on a board. THINK POSITIVE... THINK HEALTH... THINK VITAMAX. Think positive, Jenny mused. Now there was something to consider.

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       The men were dressed alike in conservative navy-blue business suits and muted ties. The women, likewise, looked as if they'd held a telephone conference on proper attire for the evening.

       "Welcome," a silver-haired man leaned toward Jenny, "Who is your sponsor?" Did his voice carry a slight of edge?

       Before Jenny could answer, the speaker, a sandy-haired man with a basketball player's build, stood at the mike, and turned on a full-pressure smile. "Before we enjoy our delicious dinner, I want to welcome you and thank you for our best year ever. As we enter 1994, we are carrying positive thoughts that this year will be even better. And," he extended a toothy smile directly to Jenny. "Let's extend a welcome to our visitor. Please stand and introduce yourself."

       Jenny stood with a pounding heart. How could Alex have placed her in this awkward position?

       "Thank you." She nodded to the group. "I'm Jennifer London." The false name fell glibly from her lips.

       "Welcome Jennifer," the speaker turned to his audience. "Let's all give this beautiful young lady a big hand, and encourage her to join our happy family."

       Jenny acknowledged the applause with a smile. Fortunately, the servers were placing salad plates before the guests, diverting attention away from her. If the situation wasn't so ludicrous, she would have laughed aloud at her predicament.

       "We love your friend Rhonda," her redheaded greeter smiled. "She's an inspiration to all of us. I'm Leigh Banks. Let me introduce you around the table."

       As she acknowledged the group with a forced smile, Jenny stole a glance toward the entrance. What in the world was Alex doing? Where was the stalker?

       Since she hadn't eaten any substantial food since she'd nibbled on the redoubtable lunch on the flight, Jenny heartily devoured the chicken

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salad set before her. She lavishly buttered a croissant and feigned interest in the chatting salespeople who were recounting their latest sales gains and future marketing plans.

       On the edge of a sneeze, Jenny reached to the floor for her bag and simultaneously choked. Her briefcase! It wasn't there.

       Abruptly she pushed her chair from the table and stammered to her table companions. "I ...I must go. I've forgotten something."

       The startled guests watched her race for the door. Once, she glanced back over her shoulder and wondered what the VITAMAX people would tell the absent Rhonda about her friend's strange behaviour.

       The corridor was empty. Jenny slung her purse strap over her shoulders, and hurried toward the dining room. The lobby was crowded. No Alex. Had he retrieved the briefcase and deserted her? Had he told her the truth? Was he really with the FBI? Had he shown her his credentials? No, he said he would later, but  he never did. She remembered how one glance at his card to her airline seat mate had sent him scurrying for another seat. What did that mean?

       Tension closed her throat. She stood at the edge of the dining room and caught the eye of the hostess who called out over the heads of waiting diners.

       "Hi there, you must be looking for your briefcase?"

       Jenny's face brightened. "Oh, yes do you have it?"

       "Yes, I found it. Fortunately, your gentleman friend came back for it." Her smiled widened. "So you haven't lost it after all."

       "Which gentleman?" Jenny stepped closer to the hostess.

       "Why the man who was sitting with you, of course."

       Jenny turned pale. "There were two men!"

       "Yes, it was the older, heavier man. He left sometime ago with the briefcase. I hope I didn't do the wrong thing."

        Angry tears filled Jenny's eyes. She turned and stumbled to a secluded corner of the lounge. Where was her father? Where was Alex? Where was the stalker? She pressed her fingers to her throbbing temples

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and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she spotted Alex speaking softly into a lobby telephone. She watched him for a moment. Of course, she'd notice his sky blue eyes, and his polished manners. Obviously he was well educated and a capable man, but now, scrutinizing him from afar, Jenny admired his think, dark hair, styled to perfection, rugged good looks, handsome face, and devastating smile. Was he married? Did he have a girl? What did he do when he wasn't playing cops and robbers?

       Jenny, her thoughts stalled. What are you thinking? You know nothing about this man. You don't even know if you can trust him. Fear struck her like a padded fist. She must be on guard. Hadn't he deceived her by flying cross-country without revealing his true mission?

       Alex replaced the phone and turned. He spotted Jenny and walked toward her her, his brow knitted into a frown. "What are you doing here? Didn't I tell you to wait at the dinner-meeting?"

       Jenny didn't respond. How could she explain the panic of losing her briefcase that had driven her running from the dinner meeting.

       Alex sat beside her and spoke quietly. "Jenny, I know I'm a stranger to you, but I'm your best friend now. You're in danger, and you don't know it."

       "Yes, I do know it." Jenny bit her lower lip.

       "Then you must do as I say. I'm here to help you."

       Her face dropped into her hands. "I returned for my briefcase. I left it under the table and that awful Lucas Darke came for it."

      Alex raised his brows. "Did the case hold important papers?"

       Alex took her hand and his touch startled her. She withdrew her hand and stood. "Did you say my dad was diverted to the Burbank Airport?"

       "Yes, but if you have any idea of going there, forget it."

       "I can't do that. I'm calling a cab and meeting him at the Burbank Airport."

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       "I'm sorry Jenny," he stood beside her. "It was wrong of your father to ask you to meet him like this. He's placed you in a dangerous position, but it's not possible for you to find him."

       Jenny pulled away. "Of course it's possible." She lifted her chin, and tried to move away from Alex's grasp.

      "I can't let you do that." He tightened her grip on her arm. "You'd be nabbed at the Burbank Airport. It would take them all of three seconds to find you there."

       Jenny's voice dropped to a whisper, "and my father?"

       "We sent two Deputy Marshalls to meet him."

       "Where are they sending him?"

       Alex shook his head, "Even if I knew, you know I can't tell you that."

       "This is ridiculous," Jenny sank back on the bench. "My father has done nothing wrong, and he's being hounded like a criminal."

       "Jenny," Alex said gently. "You're anxious and tired. What we must do now is reserve a room for you, so you can get some sleep."

       "I can't sleep. I'm too afraid. And I'm afraid for my father." Tears spilled down her cheeks.

       Alex waited until her soft, anguished weeping subsided. She looked exhausted and he squelched an urge to pull her close and comfort her fear. "Your father called you against orders and he knew it. I know you're afraid for him, but I promise you we're covering all the bases. Now, come, let's get a room for you."

       "What about you?"

       "I've been ordered to stick around with you. I'll get a room next to yours. You'll be safe tonight. But in the morning, you must return to Chicago."

       "But that man — that awful Lucas Darke — has my briefcase."

       Alex threw her a quick, curious look. "Jenny, what's in the briefcase?"

       "I'm not sure. Perhaps my father's personal papers, a manuscript he needs..." No, she would tell him no more.

       "And he called specifically for you to bring it, did he?"

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       "Possibly he has important research papers for the novel he's writing. Or a letter from his agent or publisher in the sealed envelope."

       "Sealed envelope?"

       "Well, yes, an envelope he asked me to keep for him."

       "I see." Alex helped her to her feet and guided her to the registration desk. He reserved connecting rooms on the third floor. "We left our luggage here when we arrived," he told the reservation clerk. We'd like them now. And would you please send two of your dinner specials to Ms. Lansing's room?"

       Alex turned to Jenny and grinned. "Oh, by the way, how was your meeting?'

       She grimaced. "I doubt if I'll ever be invited to sell VITAMAX. They think I'm crazy. I ran out of the room like a lunatic."

       Alex laughed and picked up their suitcases. They rode silently to the third floor. He unlocked the door to her room, placed her luggage on the bed, and turned to leave.

       "I'll wait until you double-bolt the lock. When our dinners arrive, call me. You can open the adjoining door for me then."

       "I must do something about my briefcase."

       "Not tonight. Now lock your door."

       Alex waited outside her door until she drew the bolt. He was thoughtful as he walked slowly to his room. He'd detected the urgency in Jenny's voice when she mentioned the briefcase. Why had her father risked calling her and insisted on her bringing it to him? An icy thought slipped through his mind like a probing knife. The briefcase! Of course, that was why Lucas Darke was relentlessly tailing Jenny. There was something in that case the mob wanted. Suddenly a flicker, then a flame of comprehension crossed his mind. Philip Lansing was not only the primary witness in their case against Berkowitz mob, but in some insidious way he himself had become deeply involved. The mob wanted him for snitching, of course, but was there something else, something, the FBI didn't yet know?

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