Full Circle - Collin Wilcox - ebook

Full Circle ebook

Collin Wilcox

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A dying art collector asks Bernhardt to revisit him in his darkest hour. The first time Betty Giles went missing, her employers wanted her dead. They hired Alan Bernhardt, theater director and sometimes PI, to find her, but when he discovered their scheme, he drew a sawed-off shotgun to save her life. Now Betty's missing again, hiding somewhere in Europe, and her old bosses want her found. Will Bernhardt deliver her to the man who once tried to have her killed? It certainly isn't easy to refuse Raymond DuBois, a billionaire art collector who insists his feud with Betty was nothing but an innocent misunderstanding. He's dying, and promises he can clear her name if Alan can only locate her. The case seems like a trap, but the director has one thing working for him. Unlike last time, he knows that trusting anyone could be suicide.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Prologue

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

Twenty-three

Twenty-four

Twenty-five

Twenty-six

Twenty-seven

Twenty-eight

Twenty-nine

Thirty

Thirty-one

Thirty-two

Thirty-three

Thirty-four

Thirty-five

Thirty-six

Thirty-seven

Thirty-eight

Thirty-nine

Forty

Forty-one

Forty-two

Forty-three

Forty-four

Forty-five

Forty-six

Forty-seven

Forty-eight

Looking for more suspense?

Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

A dying art collector asks Bernhardt to revisit him in his darkest hour.

The first time Betty Giles went missing, her employers wanted her dead. They hired Alan Bernhardt, theater director and sometimes PI, to find her, but when he discovered their scheme, he drew a sawed-off shotgun to save her life. Now Betty’s missing again, hiding somewhere in Europe, and her old bosses want her found. Will Bernhardt deliver her to the man who once tried to have her killed?

It certainly isn’t easy to refuse Raymond DuBois, a billionaire art collector who insists his feud with Betty was nothing but an innocent misunderstanding. He’s dying, and promises he can clear her name if Alan can only locate her. The case seems like a trap, but the director has one thing working for him. Unlike last time, he knows that trusting anyone could be suicide.

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door - a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.

Full Circle

An Alan Bernhardt Novel

Collin Wilcox

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2013 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1994 by Collin Wilcox

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Michel Vrana

 

E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-571-2

 

www.bastei-entertainment.com

 

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book is dedicated

to Scott, my very

first grandchild.

Prologue

AS FRAZER PUSHED BACK his cuff and checked the time, he realized, too late, that he should have included a new watch in the deal: a Patek Philippe, or a Rolex at least. He’d thought of everything else, even the white silk underwear, with his initials embroidered on the boxer shorts. Once, at a gallery party in Paris, he’d heard someone say that there were only two kinds of people: those who responded to the feel of silk against the flesh, and those who didn’t.

What would they think, if they knew his underwear was pure silk? His mum and his dad, with their work-callused hands and their dull, defeated eyes, what would they think?

The time was exactly six-thirty. In mid-March, Manhattan was already dark, and there was a hint of snow in the air. Just ahead, at the corner of Park, he saw the small red neon sign: JERRY’S. How long had it been since he’d last walked this way? Nine months? A year?

Feeling the lice on his skin, watching the erratic progress of the cockroaches across the shit-stained concrete floor, hearing the scurry of rats, smelling it all, had he ever believed he would return here, now, feeling silk against his flesh? As he continued his progress, comfortably conscious of the smartly dressed pedestrians with whom he shared the broad, crowded sidewalk, he drew a deep, appreciative breath as, unconsciously, he fingered the fine melton of the overcoat that had been specially tailored for him.

Behind the glass counter at Jerry’s, two young women, both strange to him, were waiting on customers. He turned to the glass-doored display cabinet set flush with the wall. Yes, he saw exactly what he was looking for: a dozen small red roses. Behind the counter, one of the clerks turned to him. She was a tall, slim woman with cold gray eyes and long, silky blond hair.

“Yes?” She was polite but unsmiling, remote and haughty, fire and ice. She wore a skintight beige body stocking covered in front by a navy-blue apron with “Jerry’s” stitched in white. Her breasts were small, perfectly formed. She wore no makeup. Except for one slim gold ring on the little finger of her left hand, she wore no jewelry. Making love, he imagined, she would at first resist. Then, subdued, finally penetrated, she would turn fierce, wild, and abandoned, taking it all for herself, sharing nothing, giving no quarter and asking none.

“Can I help you?”

He pointed. “A dozen of the small red roses, please.”

She turned away, went to the refrigerated showcase, opened the door, bent down. Yes, the shape of her buttocks was perfection. Tomorrow, with more time, he would come back. She would remember him, he was certain of that. His clothes, the way he talked, the way he handled himself—she would remember.

In prison, at night, stroking himself, beginning, she would have been the perfect apparition, his fantasy for the night.

Working deftly, she wrapped the roses, made change for the fifty, thanked him for the five-dollar bill he left on the counter. His answering smile, he could feel, was just right, interested but not fawning, begging for nothing, offering only a little more. Yes, she would remember him.

At the corner of Park and Eighty-fourth, the traffic light turned red. A knot of pedestrians stood clustered around him, waiting for the light to turn green. He raised the roses, protecting them from jostling. With the green light, he was crossing Park, walking east on Eighty-fourth. Once more, he checked the time: six forty-five. In less than five minutes, he would arrive at her building. She would be displeased. Even to arrive at seven o’clock, precisely on time, might irritate her—just as arriving more than ten minutes late would also be unacceptable.

All of it, he knew, was payback, required penance. A woman scorned, someone had once said, was a woman without mercy. And the more desirable the woman, the stiffer the penalty. Jilt an ugly woman, and she might come back for more. But if a beautiful woman came back, without coaxing, it was probably for revenge, not love. He’d just as soon do his penance and get it over with.

At the next corner, another red light, there were fewer people waiting. As he joined the small cluster at curbside, he became aware of a car beside him, a big Lincoln town car. In the light from streetlamps and passing headlights he could see the driver—a small brown man, perhaps a Filipino, wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and a small black clip-on bow tie. He was staring straight ahead.

The traffic light turned green. Holding the roses clear of a teenager on a skateboard, Frazer began crossing Lexington. Just ahead, the Lincoln was progressing slowly, now stopping at the curb on the far side of Lexington. He was aware that the easy, confident rhythm of his steps had gone out of sync; he was walking more slowly, letting the other pedestrians go ahead. But the “Walk” sign was off now; the “Wait” sign was on. Meaning that he should walk faster—just as, ahead, the smoked rear window of the Lincoln was coming down. Inside, in the uncertain light from the street, he could dimly see a man. The man was bareheaded, and wore a bulky leather jacket. Was it a familiar figure? At this distance, in this light, he told himself, it wasn’t possible to know. With the Lincoln on his left, he began angling away to the right. The curb was just ahead; the traffic light had turned red, releasing the traffic streaming down Lexington.

Was discretion the better part of valor? Should he—?

“Ned.” The voice came from the back seat of the Lincoln. Instinctively he turned toward the car—and saw the gun barrel. The gun was a large-caliber revolver with a long barrel. The orange flame erupting from the muzzle was prodigious.

He dropped to his knees. As he fell to his left, striking the curb with his shoulder, he was able to hold the roses clear, protecting them as he rolled on his back.

Forty minutes later, taking the required four pictures from each of four different angles, amused by the corpse clutching the bouquet of roses to his chest as he stared with empty eyes into the dark sky, the police photographer smiled. Saying: “Jesus, rest in peace, huh?”

ONE

“THERE IT IS—twenty-one forty-six.” Haigh braked the Buick to a stop on the steep slope of Vermont Street and pointed to a turn-of-the-century building. The two-flat building was in good repair, newly painted to accent its neo-Victorian gingerbread. “It’s the bottom flat. His office is in the front room.”

Archer glanced at the building, surveyed his surroundings, shook his head. “Jesus, these hills. San Francisco’s got to be paradise for brake shops.”

Haigh released the brake and let the Buick climb the hill in low gear. Because of the grade, parking was permitted only on one side of the street, at right angles to the curb. Haigh checked the mirrors, swung the car into a parking slot. He surveyed the angles. Yes, he could see whoever entered Bernhardt’s building, which was attached on either side, with no alley behind. He killed the engine, set the brake, checked the time: nine-thirty on a foggy April morning. He was running exactly on schedule, always a source of satisfaction. In his financially secure, conservatively dressed, meticulously groomed early forties, with promotion to agent-in-charge clearly in sight, Haigh had made punctuality one of his trademarks.

Seated on the passenger’s side, Archer spoke expectantly: “Are we going to talk to him?”

“I haven’t decided.” Haigh spoke crisply, decisively. When dealing with subordinates, especially new additions to the staff, his first priority was always to establish who made the decisions. “Primarily, I want to get a feeling for his operation, his lifestyle.” Haigh surveyed the cars parked at the curb. Some were upscale imports, others conventional domestics; most were of recent vintage, though a few were aging gracelessly. Located on the north slope of Potrero Hill, Vermont was typical of the district, originally a working-class neighborhood that had lately become gentrified. Thus the trendy color scheme of Alan Bernhardt’s building.

“Nice view,” Archer offered cheerfully as he looked out across rooftops to the downtown cityscape of San Francisco.

Haigh pointedly made no response. Then, after a moment of disciplinary silence, part of Archer’s indoctrination, Haigh continued speaking in the same clipped voice of command.

“When we get back to the office, I’ll have Records cut you a file on Bernhardt. Most of it’s hearsay, but there’s enough to get us started. He’s a private investigator, duly registered and licensed. He’s only been licensed as an individual operator for a few months—six months, no more. He originally worked as a part-time investigator for Herbert Dancer. Apart from that, Bernhardt is an actor. Also a director, mostly at the Howell Theater, which is a very highly regarded little theater. Nobody makes a living in little theater, though. They all moonlight, unless they’re independently wealthy. So Bernhardt decided to work part-time for Herbert Dancer, who runs the biggest, most profitable, most unprincipled private investigative operation in Northern California. Which is why, I’m told, Bernhardt left him. They had a major blowup, after which Bernhardt went off on his own.”

“Did you get all this from Dancer?”

Haigh shook his head. “Bernhardt has two good friends in the SFPD. Frank Hastings and Peter Friedman. They’re both lieutenants, and they run Homicide jointly. It’s a strange setup, but it apparently works. Friedman got lucky in the stock market, and Hastings likes to work outside. Friedman hates office politics, and Hastings hates red tape. So neither of them is interested in a captaincy.”

“How big is the squad?”

“About a dozen detectives, plus Hastings and Friedman.”

“So I gather you got most of your information on Bernhardt from Hastings and Friedman.”

Once more Haigh decided not to reply. Superiors asked the questions. Underlings responded. When so directed.

“Bernhardt came from New York originally.” He continued. “And he once wrote a play that was produced off Broadway.”

“Huh …” Intrigued, Archer sat up straighter, looked at Bernhardt’s building with renewed interest. “Impressive.”

“In fact, it looked like he was on his way in the New York theater,” Haigh continued. “And he was still in his twenties. But then his wife got killed, and his mother and grandparents had all died a year or two before that. So Bernhardt had to get out of New York. He went to Hollywood, wrote a few scripts, made pretty fair money, I understand. But then, a few years ago—six or eight, maybe—he came to San Francisco. He got into little theater. In fact, he bought into the Howell Theater, with money he’d inherited. Which, according to Friedman, wasn’t a very good investment. Which, still according to Friedman, Bernhardt should’ve known. But, in any case, after a year or two, Bernhardt started working for Dancer. And then, maybe six months ago, after their blowup, Bernhardt opened his own shop. Meanwhile, he found a girlfriend. Her name is Paula Brett. I don’t know a thing about her, except that Hastings says she’s beautiful—and Friedman says she has class. Someone also said she was an actress, a bit player down in Hollywood. Both her parents are college professors, whatever that means. Anyhow, regardless of their love life, the past few months Paula Brett has been helping Bernhardt, mostly doing surveillance, things like that.”

“Did they work together during the time frame we’re looking at?”

This question, respectfully asked and framed in departmental officialese, Haigh decided to answer. Perhaps, after all, Archer was trainable.

“We think Brett knew about Betty Giles, but we don’t know whether she actually worked the Giles case. We do know that Bernhardt was still working for Dancer when he was assigned to find Betty Giles.”

Archer considered, then decided to say, “I suppose the next question is who hired Dancer to find Betty Giles.”

“Dancer’s client was a high-powered Los Angeles financier. That’s all Dancer’ll say. He won’t give us the financier’s name.”

“Can’t we squeeze Dancer?”

“The one I want to squeeze is Bernhardt. Dancer might be an SOB, but he’s our SOB. He plays ball with us, and he’s got connections. Bernhardt, though—” Haigh shrugged well-tailored shoulders. “He’s expendable.”

Archer nodded, but decided to say nothing. He’d arrived in town from Fresno only a month ago. Until now he’d never dealt directly with Haigh, who was known as a tight-ass manipulator who never laughed during office hours. Which, some said, was the reason he was on the fast track to top management.

“Very briefly,” Haigh said, “I’ll summarize the Giles case for you.”

“Ah.” Archer nodded again, focused his full attention on the other man. “Good. Thank you.”

Haigh acknowledged the tribute with a nod, then said, “About four months ago, the anonymous Los Angeles financier flew up to San Francisco in his corporate jet, and contacted Dancer. The job seemed pretty straightforward. One of the financier’s employees had stolen some company secrets, which were unspecified. Betty Giles was the employee’s name. She lived in Los Angeles with a boyfriend, whose name was Nick Ames. Dancer’s instructions were to find Betty Giles, whose mother lives in San Francisco. Then Dancer was to notify the client. Betty Giles wasn’t to be contacted. She was just to be located, then put under surveillance.”

“The client didn’t want the secrets identified.”

Haigh chose to ignore the opinion, saying instead, “Dancer gave the job to Bernhardt, who tracked Giles to Santa Rosa. Bernhardt staked out Betty Giles and Nick Ames in a cheap motel room, then called Dancer, who called his client in Los Angeles. The client wanted the couple kept under surveillance for a couple of days. Whereupon, surprise, Nick Ames was killed. It happened in Santa Rosa. Bernhardt thought he’d been set up. He thought Dancer had hired him to finger Nick Ames for the killer, who could’ve been a pro. So Bernhardt, who looks like a mild-mannered Abe Lincoln but has a pretty hot temper, decides to go looking for Betty Giles on his own time.”

“Why?” Archer asked.

“Because,” Haigh answered, “Bernhardt figured Giles was in danger. Which, in fact, she was. Bernhardt didn’t want another murder on his conscience.”

“And is that what happened? Was she murdered?”

Choosing to ignore the question, another turn of the disciplinary screw, Haigh continued. “Bernhardt tracked her to a place called Borrego Springs, which is a small resort town in the desert about sixty-five miles southwest of Palm Springs. So then, another surprise, a black hit man, a professional named Willis Dodge, showed up in Borrego Springs. He tried to kill Betty Giles. She was in a motel cabin when the attempt was made, and Bernhardt was with her. When the shooting stopped, Willis Dodge was dead.”

“So Bernhardt is a tough guy.” Once again, speculatively, Archer looked down the hill at the pair of Victorian flats.

“Tough or lucky, take your pick.” Haigh shrugged. “I will say, though, that Dodge was very good at what he did. And smart, too. He was never convicted of anything, never did time, except in county jail.”

“Was Bernhardt held?”

“No. It was pretty clear that he acted in self-defense.”

“So we don’t have any leverage with Bernhardt.”

“Not really. The weapon he used was a sawed-off shotgun, and the state police investigator on the scene was all set to have him locked up for possession of an illegal weapon. But then someone found a ruler, and it turned out that the barrel was precisely sixteen inches long. Which, as you may know, is exactly the legal limit for sawed-offs.”

“Possessing a sawed-off is a federal offense, though. We could’ve kept him for twenty-four hours, and sweated him.”

Deciding on a don’t-give-me-a-lecture-on-the-law expression, Haigh stared the younger man down. Then, with elaborate patience: “We aren’t about to get involved in a pissing contest with the state police. Is that clear?”

In a dark, brooding silence, Archer shifted his gaze to the San Francisco skyline, diffused by the morning fog. After five frustrating years in Fresno, he’d campaigned long and hard for the opening in the San Francisco office. He’d been warned about Haigh, but had chosen to ignore the warnings. Had he made a mistake? Would private industry be his next career move—his only way out? In the Bureau, from a Class A posting like San Francisco, there were only two possibilities: up or out, Washington or the private sector.

“In fact,” Haigh was saying, “Bernhardt and Betty Giles aren’t the primary targets of this investigation. They’re little fish, really.”

Archer nodded. “I figured.”

“They’re our responsibility—this office’s responsibility. But, as of now, the Los Angeles office is calling the plays.” Plainly Haigh was experiencing pangs of bureaucratic discomfort, contemplating the prospect of himself in a secondary role. Therefore, he was compelled to add, “That could change, though, once we talk to Bernhardt and Giles. They’re little fish, admittedly. But little fish wriggling on a hook can catch the big fish.”

“Where’s Betty Giles?”

“That’s the problem,” Haigh admitted. “We can’t find her. She’s in Europe, we’re almost sure of that. But we don’t know where.”

“What’s her mother say?”

“All she knows is that Betty Giles is in Europe. She doesn’t have an address. I’ve talked to her twice, and I’m pretty sure she’s telling the truth. But a couple of times the mother let it slip that Bernhardt knows how to locate Betty Giles.”

“What’s the reason for that?”

“I don’t know. But I definitely plan to find out.”

TWO

“YES, SIR?” THE RECEPTIONIST’S smile was polite but remote. Except for a telephone console and a crystal bud vase that contained one yellow rose, her desk was clear. Both the desk and the receptionist were discreetly high-style.

“I’d like to see Mr. Haigh, please. My name is Bernhardt. Alan Bernhardt.”

“Yes …” The receptionist nodded. The smile faded; the nod suggested discreet disapproval. “Yes—four o’clock.” She gestured to one of two elegantly fashioned couches. “If you’ll just have a seat, I’ll tell Mr. Haigh you’re here.” She waited until Bernhardt had seated himself, then spoke briefly into the phone. As she spoke she avoided direct eye contact with Bernhardt.

Bernhardt crossed his legs and checked the time: three fifty-five. It had been noon when Haigh phoned, two o’clock before Bernhardt had retrieved the cryptic message on the answering machine. “This is Preston Haigh,” the voice had said. “Call me as soon as possible, please.” Followed by a local phone number. To Bernhardt’s theater-trained ear, Haigh’s voice had projected smooth, smug authority. The guess had been accurate: “Federal Bureau of Investigation” had been the first words he’d heard when he’d returned the call. The four o’clock appointment had come as a command, not a request.

Across the waiting room, on the room’s other couch, a woman in her thirties sat beside a girl in her teens. Neither the woman nor the child spoke or acknowledged the presence of the other. Both sat rigidly, hands clenched. Their faces were expressionless, frozen by something more profound than simple fear.

As if he’d been caught eavesdropping, and therefore felt guilty, Bernhardt looked away from the woman and the child, turned his gaze on the oil paintings that were the reception room’s only decoration. The paintings were uniformly framed, and were original oils, certainly painted by the same artist. All four were semiabstract landscapes. The windowless room’s softly diffused lighting was indirect, a glow that emanated from a continuous ceiling cove. The walls were covered with mauve grasscloth. The matching end tables beside the matching sofas were as bare as the receptionist’s desk. The FBI apparently didn’t believe in providing reading material. In Russia, Bernhardt had once read, the KGB provided tea for its waiting victims.

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