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Paradox (FBI Thriller #22)
Author:Catherine Coulter

Paradox (FBI Thriller #22)

Catherine Coulter



To Dr. Anton Pogany, a man for all seasons.

—Catherine





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS




* * *



To my goddess at the FBI, Angela Bell, for her continued support and invaluable help in hunting down the right resource and hooking me up.

To Dr. Richard Thomas, FBI forensic anthropologist, who told me what he would do if a pile of disarticulated skeletons were brought to him for analysis.

To Dr. Angie Christenson, FBI forensic anthropologist, who gave me a quick course on what happens to bodies thrown into a lake.

To Karen Evans, my woman for all seasons. Thank you.

If I made any mistakes, I cannot, in good faith, blame either Dr. Thomas or Dr. Christenson.





PROLOGUE




* * *



SAVICH HOUSE

GEORGETOWN

WASHINGTON, D.C.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT

Wake up, wake up. Something’s not right. Sherlock’s eyes snapped open, adrenaline surging. But why? She didn’t move, listened. There—three beeps coming from the security monitor beside the bed. She’d never heard them before, but she knew what it meant: the security system was off. The beeps would get louder and louder. Possibilities scurried through her brain, none of them good. Dillon was on his back beside her, stirring now from the noise. She leaned down, whispered, “Dillon, the alarm’s off.”

He was instantly awake. He heard the beeps and turned off the alarm. “You check on Sean. I’ll see what’s going on.” They’d had this protocol in place since Sean had been born, but this was the first time they’d had to use it.

Savich unlocked the closet safe, handed Sherlock her small ankle Glock and a suppressor. The last thing either of them wanted was for Sean to wake up to a gunshot, terrified. He fitted a suppressor on his own Glock and racked the slide. He prayed for a simple malfunction as he pulled his pants on, but he knew it was unlikely. “Be careful,” he whispered against her cheek. He ran down the stairs, and Sherlock, her bare feet whisper-light on the hall carpet, headed to Sean’s room. His door was partially open, as it always was at night. She stopped, leaned in to listen, heard him make a little snort in his sleep. He was all right, no need to alarm him.

She heard a soft footfall and her heart seized. Someone had disabled the system and that someone was now in Sean’s room. Sherlock slowly pushed the door inward, her heart pounding, her adrenaline spiking even higher. Moonlight poured through the window, silhouetting the man bent over Sean. His head looked distorted—no, he’d pulled a stocking over his face. She ignored the toxic punch of fear, raised her small Glock, and said very quietly, “Get away from him, or I’ll blow your head off.”

She saw the gun clutched in his gloved hand, a Ka-Bar knife in the other. He jerked up but didn’t turn. “I’ll shoot him before you can kill me.” A young voice, low and hard. And something else. It was fear she heard, she knew it.

“Move away from him, and I won’t shoot you. Drop the gun and the Ka-Bar and back away.”

He slowly turned, but the gun still pointed at Sean. “How did you know I was here?”

“I’ve got bat ears. Who are you? What do you want?”

He looked undecided, then said, “You try to shoot me and he’s dead, you got that?”

She wanted to vomit, she was so scared. Hold it together, hold it together. Again, she saw indecision. “You fire and you’ll see, I’ll still shoot him!” But he didn’t. He ran six feet to the open window and jumped through a gash in the screen and onto the roof.

Sean jerked up, rubbed his eyes. “Mama? Mama? What’s wrong?”

She had to move, had to go after him, but she had to soothe Sean. “Everything’s all right, sweetie. Don’t move.” She ran to the window and jumped onto a thick oak branch that nearly touched the house. She saw him below, nearly to the ground now. She didn’t have a good shot through the thick leaves and he was juking and jiving from branch to branch, but she fired anyway, missed, the bullet gouging tree bark a foot from his head. He didn’t fire back.

He swung from the lowest tree branch six feet to the ground, landed on his side, rolled, and ran, not all-out because he was limping. She fired until her magazine was empty, but he was zigging and zagging, the limp even more pronounced now.

He disappeared around the corner of Mr. McPherson’s house. She heard McPherson’s puppy, Gladys, barking her head off.

Dillon’s quiet voice came from behind her. “Sherlock, stay with Sean. I’m going after him.”

They heard a car engine fire up. Sherlock grabbed his arm. “We can’t get him now.”

He helped her back through the slit in the screen. He studied her face, ran his hands over her arms. “I called 911. The police will be here soon.”

Sherlock cupped his face between her hands. “Dillon, I’m not hurt, I’m fine.” But of course she wasn’t. Her heart was pounding, fear for Sean pouring off her.

“Mama! Papa!”

Savich quickly slid his Glock into his waistband and grabbed up Sean into his arms, hugged him tight against him. He whispered against his small ear, “Everything’s all right, Sean. Don’t worry, okay?” He closed his eyes as he rocked his small son.

Sean reared back in his arms and looked over at his mother. Sherlock pressed her own Glock against her leg so he wouldn’t see it. “I heard you yell, Mama. Did you have a nightmare? What were those loud popping sounds?”

Her heart still pounded, her adrenaline still pumped wildly, but she could deal with that. She could deal with anything because Sean was all right, the danger was past. She looked at his small beloved face and said a thank-you prayer. She smiled, lightly patted his face. “Like your papa said, sweetie, everything’s all right. The popping sounds, it was probably somebody’s car backfiring. Some messed-up car, right? Too loud for our neighborhood. That’s what woke up your papa and me.” Did her smart son buy that whopper? Or would he realize the popping hadn’t happened until after she was in his room? Well, she’d lied as clean as she could. Savich brought Sean close again, rocking him, breathing in his sweet child smell until Sean pulled back. He put his hand on his father’s cheek, cocked his head.

“There’s something wrong, isn’t there, Papa? I dreamed I heard a man talking. And Mama, you said something, too, and you sounded angry. And then someone was running to the window. His head was all weird-looking, like a spaceman, and you were running after him, Mama. I saw you going out the window. It wasn’t a dream, was it?”

Savich knew he had no choice. “There was someone here, Sean, but your mama took care of him. He won’t be back. Now, it’s time for you to go to sleep.” While Dillon was speaking to Sean, Sherlock scooped the Ka-Bar off the Winnie the Pooh rug by Sean’s bed. She hadn’t even seen the man drop it.

“But—” Sean gave a jaw-cracking yawn.

Savich kissed him and tucked him under a single light sheet. He saw Sherlock quietly closing the window over the slit screen. He hoped Sean wouldn’t notice it in the morning, but chances were good he would. Savich would have to figure out what to tell him without scaring him. He waited quietly until he heard his son’s breathing even into sleep.