Philip Lansing had plenty of reason for agitation. Minutes before he called Jenny, he'd received an urgent call from Agent O'Reilly. In his usual perfunctory way, O'Reilly barked an order.
"Pack your bags. Now! U.S. Marshall Herb Nunnally made reservations for a seven o'clock flight out of Santa Rosa. Be at the airport by six, Lansing. Not half-past six. Six. Nunnally will meet you at the airport."
"Where do I go from there?" Philip was on the brink of panic. His mouth went dry, his heart raced.
O'Reilly ignored his question. "Herb will put you on a plane for Los Angeles. Reservations are made for you under the name of Peter Thornton at the Marriott Hotel in the San Fernando Valley. Keep out of sight. I'll instruct Nunnally to make arrangements for your next stop. Don't call anyone. Especially your daughter. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand, but what happened this time? Has someone spotted me? I've been keeping a low profile."
"Not low enough," O'Reilly answered tersely. "One of your fans recognized you in a bookstore. An article was placed in the town's newspaper. The price of fame, Lansing."
Philip groaned. He knew his novels enjoyed a wide readership, but he never suspected he'd be recognized in tiny Sonoma Valley in Northern California.
O'Reilly's command cut into his thoughts. "Get moving. You blew your cover for the second time so be careful. Nunnally will clue you on the details of your next move. Goodbye."
The phone went dead. Philip slumped on the edge of the bed and stared out at a slanting gray shower. He hesitated just a moment before he picked up the phone. Orders or not, he had to persuade Jenny to meet him in L.A. It was time. He needed the envelope. Glancing at his watch, he sighed. It wasn't yet dawn in Chicago. He'd awaken her, but nevertheless, he must reach her. He dialed her number. The telephone rang in her apartment twice and when she answered, Philip fought to keep panic out of his voice. But when he heard his own frantic insistence that she meet him in Los Angeles, he knew he hadn't hidden his anxiety.
"Catch the earliest flight possible." He spoke quickly in a torrential outpour of words. "I should be at the Marriot no later than eleven, depending on L.A. traffic."
How quickly she agreed, Philip thought, as he replaced the receiver. Good girl. Always was. He released a ragged breath. For one awful moment, an icy thought slipped through his mind like a probing knife. One or both of their phones could have been tapped. If O'Reilly had wired his phone, he'd know he'd disobeyed orders, and if the Berkowitz men had planted a bug in Jenny's phone, he'd just spelled out his whereabouts and the existence off an important envelope. And it wouldn't take much for Benny Berkowitz to figure just what was in the envelope.
He was on dangerous ground and he knew it. He ruefully thought of the appalling circumstances that had intruded into his life. Though he'd always considered himself a thoughtful man, the barometer of his intelligence had certainly plunged during the past two years. An ancient proverb played over and over in his mind. "Whatever you sow, you reap." He had sowed greed and fraud and he was reaping a bitter harvest.
Philip's depression lifted as his thoughts centered on seeing Jenny, his only child, the one light in his lonely life. He quickly emptied his closet, carelessly tossing everything he owned into two large suitcases.
He set his laptop and unfinished manuscript by the door. A simple acknowledgement of his circumstances caused sweat to river down his
neck, soaking his shirt in spite of the cold, hard rain beating a symphony on the roof of the cabin.
Yes, he'd made a dreadful mistake by calling Jenny, but in his frustration he had only thought of the envelope, the key to his freedom. He'd had enough of running, of hiding, of the Witness Protection Program, which, so far had offered him very little protection.
He lived with a sense of walking through a dark hostile valley. For the past two years he'd been cut off from the safe, pleasant life he'd once known. He'd been separated from family and friends, from talk show interviews, book signing and public accolades. No matter how he looked at it, there was no light at the end of this dark ravine. He'd gone against everything he'd once valued. How had he allowed himself to descend into this upside down world? How had he slid from an ordinary man living an ordinary life, into a man on the run playing a dangerous game of hide and seek? True, by plea bargaining against the Berkowitz gang, he'd been given his physical freedom, but he'd lost the freedom of his spirit, of his soul.
Tossing his suitcase in the trunk of his rented Toyota, Philip sped up the winding, back roads of Sonoma County. His thoughts raced back to the bitter day he'd begun his downward spiral. What had begun as a risky adventure, had drawn him down into a raging whirlpool, sucking him deeper and deeper into perilous waters. Though he didn't wish to resurrect the horror, the memory lured him relentlessly back to the past.
It was a chapter in his life Philip wished he could obliterate from his brain as easily as he deleted pages from his manuscripts. But, like it or not, the memory constantly pursued him, invading his sleep with nightmarish dreams. Now, as he raced up the mountainous roads leading him out of the Sonoma Valley, he relived that fateful night when he'd been ushered into a world he'd hardly known existed and never expected to encounter.
Chapter 3 || Table of Contents