CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Hours later, Alex pulled into the parking lot of the hospital and jogged up the stairs to the fourth floor. Once there he showed his badge to the Deputy Marshall guarding Lansing's door. Immediately the Marshall opened the door for him. The room was dark. He could see an outline of a figure in a huge leather chair pulled close to Lansing's bed. He took a step closer and stopped. It was Jenny. He silently gazed at her until she stirred and opened her eyes.

       "Hi, Jenny."

       She moved uneasily, glanced quickly at her father and stood. "I want to talk to you but not here."

       "The cafeteria's open. How about a cup of coffee?"

       Silence walked with them as they took the stairs to the lobby and into the cafeteria. Under ordinary circumstances, it was empty at this time of morning, but relatives of earthquake victims filled nearly every table.

       "You gave me a scare Jenny." Alex said after their order of coffee and toast was set before them. "I never expected you to bolt like that."

       "It wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done, but I couldn't leave without seeing Dad."

       "Did you talk to him?"

       She nodded.

       "What did he say?"

       "He was only conscious for a brief time. I asked about the briefcase and he didn't seem to care. I guess that wasn't his highest priority right then."

-152-

       "What did he say?" Alex asked again.

       "He was talking about Mother." She said wistfully. "I had to bend close to hear what he was saying. He quoted something he remembered about the Christmas Eve services he'd attended with her."

       "Do you remember what it was." Alex asked gently.

       "Yes I do. I remember seeing those words over a wooden cross in the sanctuary. "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."

       Alex reached over and touched her hand.

       "He...he said, he came to realize that all my mother believed was true."

       Alex tightened his grip on her hand. "It's true Jenny, all of it. Some of us have to go through rough waters before we'll believe. Your Dad obviously made his peace with God during some terrifying moments."

       Jenny withdrew her hand and reached for a tissue. Her voice was barely audible.

      "He suffered a heart attack. The doctor's not sure he'll make it." Her voice broke and she quickly looked away. Alex longed to comfort her and kiss away her tears. Under the circumstances, the best he could manage was to reach over and grip her hand.

       "Jenny," he asked, "I know you're suffering now, but it would help if you can tell me what happened at Sammy's estate?"

       He had a good idea but he wanted her to fill in the details.

       She cleared her throat. "It was a nightmare. That curly-haired kid grabbed me on the hospital stairs. When he got me to the estate, he tied me to a chair and shoved me into an attic."

       Alex leaned forward and wiped her tears with his thumbs. "I'm sorry, Jenny. How did you manage to get away?"

       "I prayed like crazy."

       "And your prayer was answered." Alex's gentle tone brought a fresh rush of tears. When she could speak, she asked what he'd found at the estate.

-153-

       "Curly was waiting for us. He wounded my partner who brought him down as he was about to pull the trigger on me."

       Jenny's eyes widened. She'd been so caught up in her own dangerous plight, she hadn't thought that Alex might be in jeopardy. Now as she met his steady gaze, she offered him a faint smile, longing to speak what her heart shouted. I'm so glad he didn't succeed.

       She told him about the Kleins. "Barbara Klein gave me clothes, since I ran out with nothing, not even my bag." She paused. "Alex, did you find my briefcase?"

       "Yes, I did."

       Jenny stared at him for a long moment. "Where is it?"

       "I have it, Jenny. I have orders to turn it in."

       "But it's mine."

       "You'll get it back in time."

       "I want it now." She straightened and her eyes began to flash green, reminding Alex to slow down.

       "Jenny," Alex lowered his voice. "The agency has a job to do."

       "Such as? Search my briefcase?"

       "If your father risked his life for it, there's evidence in that case we might need. It's matter of the law."

       "I can't believe you still suspect my father. I must get back to his room, Alex. Thanks for the coffee."

       "Jenny," Alex grabbed her wrist. "The last time you walked out on me, you got in trouble. Now sit down and let's discuss this like two mature adults. Jenny, the Gavota mob is after something your dad has. It has something to do with the briefcase. Now they'll be after you. I can easily open the briefcase, you know, and I will, but I'd like you to be with be when I open it."

       Exhaustion lined Alex's face and his temples were pounding, accelerating into a full-blown headache. She slid back into the booth.

Alex rubbed his temples. "I'm sorry if I hurt you, Jenny, but you mustn't run away from me again. Now look at me. I'm not your enemy.

-154-

I'm here to protect you and to bring the Gavota mob to justice. I need to know what's in the briefcase."

       She hesitated and when she spoke, her voice was broken. "I don't know. Dad gave me a sealed envelope and told me not to open it. And I kept my promise."

       He took her hand "Let's take it to him together. When he comes to, we'll let him open it. Does that suit you?"

       "If he comes too, don't you mean?" A sob filled Jenny's throat.

       "Jenny, we're both exhausted. I haven't had any sleep, and I've a long day ahead of me. I must go to the local agency now. When I return, I'll bring the briefcase and we'll settle the matter."

       "Yes, please go, Alex. I'll have another cup of coffee before I go back to Dad's room..."

       Alex fingered a few dollars in his wallet, and laid them on the table. "I'd rather you went back the room now. There's a Marshall guarding the room."

       Jenny sighed. "I'm fine. Curly's dead. Who else is after me?"

       Alex didn't move. "Jenny, you're going to your dad's room."

       His tone was commanding again, and when she didn't move, he grasped her arm and lifted her to her feet. "I'll walk up the stairs with you. God knows what might happen before you get there."

       He walked behind her and the nearness of her shot a desperate urgency thought Alex. He wanted to hold her close, touch his lips to hers, stroke her silky hair and feel her resistance melt. No chance, he thought, in her present frame of mind. He walked with her to her father's room, and went into the room with her.

       He watched Jenny's face as she stood over her father's bed. She obviously adored him and had never seen him as anything but strong and capable. Philip Lansing had probably never looked helpless, and defenseless before. It was no wonder she couldn't imagine him as a swindler of mafia money.

-155-

       Alex took a step back. "I'll return when my job is finished. And I'll bring your briefcase with me."

       He hoped with all his heart that when they opened the briefcase together they would find nothing to destroy Jenny's faith in her father.

Chapter 25  ||  Table of Contents