Stalking Horse - Collin Wilcox - ebook
Opis

A senator's life is in danger - and anyone in San Francisco could be a killer. Senate majority leader Donald Ryan is a kingmaker, with the power to make or break presidencies, and the ability to reshape the country with a flick of his pen. He is also a very sick man, recovering from a heart attack that must be kept secret at all costs. But when a series of death threats jeopardizes his planned return to public life, the FBI calls in San Francisco police lieutenant Frank Hastings to find the would-be assassin. He has one week until the senator's next public appearance - and hundreds of thousands of possible suspects. Because Ryan's recent heart attack is considered a state secret, Hastings is forced to withhold crucial details from his fellow detectives. Any degree of stress could stop the senator's fragile heart, which means that even if a bullet misses, the sound of the gunshot might be enough to kill him. To save the lawmaker, Hastings may have to put himself in the line of fire.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

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

Looking for more suspense?

Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

A senator’s life is in danger—and anyone in San Francisco could be a killer.

Senate majority leader Donald Ryan is a kingmaker, with the power to make or break presidencies, and the ability to reshape the country with a flick of his pen. He is also a very sick man, recovering from a heart attack that must be kept secret at all costs. But when a series of death threats jeopardizes his planned return to public life, the FBI calls in San Francisco police lieutenant Frank Hastings to find the would-be assassin. He has one week until the senator’s next public appearance—and hundreds of thousands of possible suspects.

Because Ryan’s recent heart attack is considered a state secret, Hastings is forced to withhold crucial details from his fellow detectives. Any degree of stress could stop the senator’s fragile heart, which means that even if a bullet misses, the sound of the gunshot might be enough to kill him. To save the lawmaker, Hastings may have to put himself in the line of fire.

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.

Stalking Horse

A Lt. Hastings Mystery

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 © 1982 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 978-3-95859-584-2

 

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

Barbe Hammer,

editor extraordinary

One

“AFTER ALL THESE YEARS,” Friedman said, unwrapping his first cigar of the day and dropping the balled-up cellophane wrapper on the floor of my office, “I’ve finally figured out what it takes to be a good homicide detective. Excluding, that is, a fearless disposition and a natural indifference to the sight of blood and the smell of decomposing flesh mingled with the odor of human excrement.” He bit off the end of the cigar, clamped the cigar in his teeth and began the ritual search for a match, grunting heavily as he shifted from one big ham to another, exploring his pockets.

“Is that supposed to be a poetic way of saying that you’ve learned to hold your nose from the inside?”

Finally finding a match, he lit the cigar, puffed energetically, then flipped the still-smoking match into my wastebasket. For almost two years Friedman and I had shared command of Homicide. Each morning Friedman came down the hallway, settled himself in my visitor’s chair and smoked a cigar while we discussed our case load. And each morning I expected my wastebasket to go up in flames. At first, the prospect bothered me. Lately, I found myself secretly hoping the wastebasket would catch fire—if only to see Friedman’s reaction. During all the years I’d known him, first as my superior officer and lately as my senior co-lieutenant, I’d never seen Friedman surprised. I’d seen him puzzled, and I’d seen him scared. But I’d never seen him surprised.

“That’s pretty good, Frank,” he said condescendingly. “That’s a pretty good comeback.” He nodded, blinking heavily lidded eyes. “‘Hold your nose from the inside.’ Not bad.”

“So what’s your secret of success?” I asked, at the same time initialing an interrogation report. “I’m curious.”

“It’s simple intuition,” he said. “That’s all good detective work is—applied intuition.”

“You’re not the first one to figure that out.”

“I realize that,” he answered blandly. “But the point is, it’s something I keep rediscovering. Like that, for example—” He pointed to the interrogation report. “That’s the Southwick case. Right?”

“Right.” I tossed the report into my “file” basket. Reading the report had been a waste of time; I already knew what the pages contained. But, protecting myself, I’d learned long ago never to initial anything I hadn’t at least skimmed.

“And you and I know,” Friedman continued, “that Robert—the kid—dunnit.” Friedman paused, drawing on his cigar and blowing a slow, reflective plume of smoke gently across the desk toward me. This was Friedman’s favorite role: the lazy-lidded, Buddha-faced sage of the squad room, sitting in his rumpled suit, belly bulging, cigar ashes powdering his vest.

“However—” He raised a professorial finger. “However, it’s odds on that we’ll never—never—be able to prove what happened. Not as long as we don’t have a weapon, or a witness, or a confession, we’ll never be able to prove it. We know what happened, just as surely as if we’d seen the crime committed. All we have to do is listen to Robert talk, and watch his eyes, and his hands, and his face. He’s crazy. We know he’s crazy. His teachers, his friends, they all know he’s crazy. But unless he changes his story, or we find the gun, or a witness turns up, there’s no way in the world that he’ll ever fall.”

I leaned back in my chair and clasped my hands behind my neck. “I don’t understand. Is this an argument for intuition, or against it?”

As his full lips twitched into a slow smile, he shrugged his beefy shoulders. “Take your choice. By the way, how’s your head? Still getting headaches?”

“Once in a while.”

“What’d the doctor say?”

“He says to take aspirin and come back next week.”

“Hmm—” Pensively, he tipped an inch-long ash into the ashtray. His eyes were thoughtful, his lips pursed. I knew that expression. He was about to ask me a personal question, poking into my private life.

Typically, he began obliquely: “How long has it been since you got that knock on the head?”

“Six weeks,” I answered shortly, at the same time pointedly picking up a copy of a lab report.

“I was—ah—” He cleared his throat. “I was glad that Ann took you in after you got out of the hospital. I mean—” Still avoiding my stare, he tapped his cigar on the edge of the ashtray. “I mean, I like Ann, as you know. I like her very much. And she’s got plenty of room, even with her two sons. So—” He waved the cigar. “So it was a good solution, I thought. Compared to your going from the hospital to your place and staying alone.”

I decided not to reply, but instead pretended to study the lab report while I waited for Friedman to come out with it.

“I—ah—” Tentatively, he raised his eyes to meet mine. “I never seem to get you at your apartment, lately.”

Suddenly, surprising myself, I guffawed. “The only time I ever see you at a loss for words is when you’re asking questions that aren’t any of your damn business.”

Friedman’s answering smile was almost demure as he delicately lowered his eyes.

“The answer to the question,” I said, “is that, yes, I’m still at Ann’s. And, yes, it feels great living with someone again.” I let a rueful beat pass before I admitted: “And, yes, there are problems. Not big problems, but problems.”

“Are the problems getting bigger?” he asked quietly, “or smaller?”

“That’s a good question. I wish I knew the answer.”

“Is it her kids?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No, the kids are fine. I’ve always liked them. And they like me, too, I think.”

“What’s the problem, then?”

“The problem,” I said, “is her goddamn ex-husband.”

“Ah—” He nodded: a single slow, thoughtful inclination of his head. “Ah, yes. The ex-husband. A psychiatrist, isn’t he?”

“That’s right,” I said shortly.

“A society psychiatrist, I think you once said,” he prodded.

“Right.”

“A real asshole.”

“Right again.”

“Well—” He waved the cigar, now almost a stub. “If I were you, I’d tell him to stuff it. I’d talk to Ann, and then I’d—”

My phone rang. Glad of the interruption, I lifted the receiver and spoke into it. “Lieutenant Hastings.”

“This is William Richter, Lieutenant. How are you?”

“Fine, thank you.” It was an intentionally laconic response. Richter had taken over the local FBI office about the time I’d made lieutenant. For whatever reason, his fault or mine, we didn’t like each other.

“I’ve just been talking to Chief Dwyer,” Richter said. “He’d like you to work with us on a problem that’s come up.”

“What kind of a problem?” I asked. Across the desk, Friedman’s thick eyebrows were raised in a questioning arc. I covered the mouthpiece and said, “Richter.” Friedman grimaced, mouthing a silent obscenity.

“I’d rather not discuss it on the phone, Lieutenant.” Translation: I should have known better than to ask. “I was hoping you could come over here—about ten-thirty, say. I’m setting up a meeting to get the ball rolling.”

I glanced at the clock, saying, “Ten-thirty. I’ll be there. Shall I bring Lieutenant Friedman?”

“No,” he answered, sniffing slightly as he spoke. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

To myself, I smiled. For me, Richter was a minor irritation. But for Friedman, Richter was the enemy: a pompous, puffed-up bureaucrat, the natural target for Friedman’s scorn.

“Whatever you say,” I answered. “I’ll see you in about an hour.”

“It’ll be a little less than an hour, actually,” he reminded me. “It’s nine forty-five, you know.”

“Yes,” I said, “I know.”

Two

SITTING IN HIS ACCUSTOMED place at the head of a long, polished walnut conference table, Richter beckoned me to a seat on his left. As I sat down, I looked around the table. Besides Richter, I saw two resident FBI agents and two strangers. Both strangers sat across the table from me.

“This is Lieutenant Frank Hastings. And this—” Richter gestured deferentially to the first stranger. “This is Clarence Blake, Lieutenant. Mr. Blake is with the Secret Service. He’s just flown out here to work with us on this thing.” He paused a moment, then solemnly added, “Mr. Blake is deputy director of the Service.”

Blake was a small, intense-looking man with dark, snapping eyes and a fierce guardsman’s mustache. Like the FBI men, he was dressed in a conservative suit, white shirt and understated tie—the approved uniform for government law enforcement officers on the way up. Blake was almost totally bald, but his dark hair was carefully arranged in a glistening coil that only partially concealed a large expanse of gleaming white skull.

Blake bobbed his head in a vigorous up-and-down nod that reminded me of a parrot pecking at his perch. “We’re glad to have you aboard, Lieutenant. This thing’s got to be a combined operation if it’s going to succeed.” Plainly pleased with the phrase, he repeated, “A combined operation. That’s our best shot, no question.” As he said it, he glanced expectantly at Richter, then at the two FBI agents sitting to my right. On cue, Richter murmured agreement. The two agents both said something sincere-sounding.

“And this,” Richter said, gesturing to the second stranger, “is Duane Hickman. Mr. Hickman heads up Senator Ryan’s local office.”

Senator Ryan …

Donald A. Ryan …

Majority leader of the U.S. Senate. California’s kingmaker. The man behind the man in the Oval Office. One of the richest, most powerful men in America, infinitely larger than life, more an institution than a man. On camera or off, Donald Ryan looked and acted like a living legend.

And Duane Hickman, sitting across the table, looked and acted exactly as a living legend’s top staffer should look: slim and trim, incredibly urbane and confident in his beautifully tailored gray flannel suit. He was slightly built, but his pale face was incongruously round and puffy, with a small button nose and a pursed mouth. It was a soft, self-indulgent face: the face of a thirty-year-old man who’d been spoiled as a child and never tested as an adult.

But, behind conventional horn-rimmed glasses, his shrewd eyes were quick and calculating. Hickman was a watchful man. The looseness of his indolent, Ivy-League mannerisms was meant to disarm and deceive.

“I’ve heard about you, Lieutenant,” he said. “In fact, it seems to me that I saw you being carried off on a stretcher a month or so ago on TV. Am I right?” As he asked the question, his petulant mouth stirred, faintly smiling. The memory of my misfortune seemed to amuse him.

“You could be right,” I answered quietly.

“It was in connection with the Rebecca Carlton murder, if I remember correctly.” He spoke slowly and softly, almost lazily. But his eyes never left mine. He was sizing me up, deciding about me.

“Yes.”

He straightened in his chair, leaning toward me, elbows on the table, hands folded under his chin. “Everyone here is filled in, except you, Lieutenant. So—” He glanced at Richter, who answered the silent question with a nod. “So I’ll give you the picture.” He paused momentarily, staring thoughtfully at a point just above my head. Then, in precisely measured sentences, he said, “The problem—the reason for this meeting—is that, for the last three weeks, Senator Ryan has been receiving anonymous threatening letters, one a week.” As he spoke, he pointed to a manila file folder lying on the table before him. “There’re Xerox copies for you, along with FBI reports and field studies.”

At the head of the table, Richter cleared his throat. “We’ve been working on the case from the outset, Lieutenant.” As always, Richter spoke quietly, with an air of condescending smugness. Richter was a tall man, narrowly built, with the prim face and fussy manner of a turn-of-the-century schoolmaster. He’d come up through the “accounting” side of the FBI, not the “field” side. Richter’s most prized possession was a pair of cufflinks presented to him by J. Edgar Hoover. In his office or in the field, I’d never seen him without the cufflinks.

I nodded to Richter, then turned silently to Hickman. As I waited for him to continue, I was thinking that again Richter and his bureaucratic friends were succeeding in their obvious attempt to make me feel ill at ease in this elegantly furnished conference room with its superb view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“As you’ll see, Lieutenant,” Hickman was saying, once more pointing to the folder, “all the letters have San Francisco postmarks. Which, of course, is where you come into the picture.”

I couldn’t help smiling at the regret in his voice. Obviously, he would prefer to have me out of the picture.

“Whoever wrote these letters,” he said, tapping the folder, “means business. That’s not only my opinion. Both the FBI and the Secret Service have had experts—psychologists—examine the letters. And they all agree.”

“Are they extortion letters?” I asked. “Or death threats?”

“Death threats,” Hickman said. “Every one of them.”

I turned to Richter. “Are there any suspects?”

Instead of answering the question, Richter said, “When you read the letters, Lieutenant, you’ll see that there’s a strong possibility that the writer, whoever he is, has some kind of a personal connection to Senator Ryan. Or at least he thinks he has some connection. And that’s the problem.”

“The problem?”

“Yes, that’s the problem,” he repeated, at the same time looking to Hickman, who took up the explanation.

“Before I tell you this, Lieutenant,” Hickman said, staring at me intently, “I must have your promise—your guarantee—that what I’m about to tell you won’t go any farther than this room.”

I glanced around the table, from Hickman, to Clarence Blake, to Richter, to the two agents sitting on my side of the table, both of them craning their necks to meet my gaze. Each man’s expression was identical: almost comically grave.

I nodded—and promised.

Hickman exchanged a final look with both Blake and Richter. Then: “Almost exactly five weeks ago,” he said, “Senator Ryan had a heart attack.”

Surprised, I said, “I didn’t know that.”

“Of course you didn’t. That’s precisely the point. Nobody knows it. And that’s the way we intend to keep it.”

“We don’t have to tell you,” Blake said, speaking in his improbably high, tight voice, “how important the senator is to this country. Not only is he the Senate majority leader, but he’s one of the handful of men who actually run this country. Which means, obviously, that his heart attack was nothing short of a national emergency.”

“Which is the reason,” Richter said, “that we’ve got to keep the whole matter of the letters strictly between us. We can’t afford a leak. Because, sure as hell, the word would get to Senator Ryan. Which is something that can’t happen.”

“What you’re really saying,” I said, “is that we can’t question Senator Ryan about the letters because of his heart attack. We can’t risk his health by worrying him. Is that right?”

Almost in unison, the five other men at the table nodded, each one of them looking at me, hard.

“What’s his prognosis?” I asked Hickman.

“His prognosis is excellent,” Hickman said, speaking now in a brisker voice. “The senator is only sixty-six. He’s basically healthy, and he’s kept himself in good shape. His doctors agree unanimously that his heart wasn’t damaged. If he follows medical advice, which he’s doing, he should make a complete recovery. In fact, there’s every hope that by Labor Day, when the Senate reconvenes, he’ll be able to resume his normal duties. The public will be none the wiser. Which, of course, is the purpose of this exercise.”

“Well, then, what’s the problem? Isn’t it possible to keep him under wraps until we find this letter-writer?”

But when I looked around the circle, I realized that there was more.

“The problem,” Blake said, “is that one week from today, on June the nineteenth, the new federal office building here in San Francisco is being dedicated.”

“It’s the Donald A. Ryan Building,” Hickman added heavily. “And everyone will be here for the dedication. Including the Vice-President and the secretary of state.”

“Is it safe for him to show up?” I asked. “Medically, I mean.”

“Medically,” Hickman said, “There’s no problem. As long as the senator just makes a little speech, and smiles, and gets in his car, there’s nothing to worry about. As long as he avoids stress, it will do him good, according to the doctors. In fact,” Hickman said, “that’s the goddamn problem. His doctors want him to go to the dedication, as a means of phasing him back into his normal routine. It’s made to order, they say,” he added bitterly. “And of course we can’t tell them different. Not without tipping our hand. Plus, the senator would go to the ceremony anyhow, no matter what the doctors said. I don’t have to tell you what the Ryans mean to San Francisco—and what San Francisco means to the Ryans. So there’s no way—no way at all—that we can keep him away. Because, literally, that building is Donald Ryan’s monument. It’s his own personal pile of marble.”

“But if someone should take a shot at him,” I said quietly, “that would be the end. Even if the bullet misses, the shock would probably kill him.”

The five men nodded in unison while Richter said, “That’s your department, Lieutenant. You’ve got to make sure that shot is never fired. And you’ve got to do it secretly, without the senator ever knowing.”

“But, Christ—” I waved an angry hand. “But that’s impossible. That’s absolutely impossible. You’re asking me to put out a dragnet for someone I can’t even identify. And besides, you’re asking me to keep some significant facts from my own men.”

“It’s possible,” Richter said, “that we’ll have to tell Chief Dwyer the details, to get you the men you need. If so, then we’ll do it. But don’t forget, all we need from you is a name. We’ll handle the rest. In fact, that’s the only way we want it.”

Looking Richter hard in the eye, I said, “I can’t do it. Not alone, I can’t do it. Not without at least one person who knows the whole story to work with me at the command level. I don’t mean Chief Dwyer, either. I mean a field commander like me.”

Richter’s eyes narrowed. “One person? Who?”

“Lieutenant Friedman,” I answered. “We work together. There’s no way—no way at all—that I can work on anything without Friedman knowing.”

“Friedman is a troublemaker,” Richter snapped. “He’s good. I’ll admit he’s good. He’s smart, and he knows the streets, there’s no question about it. And, frankly, I thought about him first. But he’s too—too—” Peevishly, he let it go unfinished.

“Too what?” Blake asked quietly, turning in his chair to face Richter fully.

“Too abrasive,” Richter replied. But as he spoke he dropped his eyes before Blake’s hard, flat stare. I saw the Secret Service man draw a long, measured breath. He waited for Richter to raise his eyes. Then, speaking very quietly, he said, “We’ve just been saying, Mr. Richter, that we’ve got what amounts to a national crisis here. It doesn’t seem to be the time or the place for intramural bickering.”

“But—”

“It’s not the time,” Blake repeated. He waited while Richter’s indignation slowly faded, leaving the FBI man sitting slack in his chair, mouth loose, eyes impotent, hands making futile gestures on the gleaming walnut conference table.

“Of course,” Blake continued softly, “strictly speaking, I’m only here as an observer. However—” He let it go unfinished, at the same time glancing meaningfully at his watch. Around the table, everyone looked discreetly away from Richter—everyone but me.

“All right,” Richter said, suddenly pushing his chair back from the table as his hot, baleful eyes met mine. “All right. Get Friedman, then. But just keep him away from me, that’s all.”

Not replying, I reached across the table for the thick manila folder.

Three

DISGUSTEDLY, FRIEDMAN CLOSED THE file folder and slid it across my desk. “Richter strikes again,” he muttered.

I decided not to answer.

“You know how it’ll go, don’t you?” Friedman grated.

“How’ll it go?”

“How it’ll go,” he said, “is that, with luck, we’ll find this guy and turn him over to Richter. Whereupon, surprise, it’ll turn out that suddenly there’s no further need for secrecy. So Richter calls in the reporters and carves another notch in his gold cufflinks.”

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

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Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

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Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!