The Naked Face / Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Nineteen


HE SAT IN THE CAR across from the vacant lot, trying to put it all together. The wrong phone number could have been a mistake. Or the address could have been a mistake. But not both. Anne had deliberately lied to him. And if she had lied about who she was and where she lived, what else had she lied about? He forced himself to objectively examine everything he really knew about her. It came to almost nothing. She had walked into his office unannounced and insisted on becoming a patient. In the four weeks that she had been coming to him, she had carefully managed not to reveal what her problem was, and then had suddenly announced that it was solved and she was going away. After each visit she had paid him in cash so that there would be no way of tracing her. But what reason could she have had for posing as a patient and then vanishing? There was only one answer. And as it hit Judd, he became physically sick.

If someone wanted to set him up for murder - wanted to know his routine at the office - wanted to know what the inside of the office looked like - what better way than to gain access as a patient? That was what she was doing there. Don Vinton had sent her. She had learned what she needed to know and then had disappeared without a trace.

It had all been pretense, and how eager he had been to be taken in by it. How she must have laughed when she went back to report to Don Vinton about the amorous idiot who called himself an analyst and pretended to be an expert about people. He was head over heels in love with a girl whose sole interest in him was setting him up to be murdered. How was that for a judge of character? What an amusing paper that would make for the American Psychiatric Association.

But what if it were not true? Supposing Anne had come to him with a legitimate problem, had used a fictitious name because she was afraid of embarrassing someone? In time the problem had solved itself and she had decided that she no longer needed the help of an analyst. But Judd knew that it was too easy. There was an "x" quantity about Anne that needed to be discovered. He had a strong feeling that in that unknown quantity could lie the answer to what was happening. It was possible that she was being forced to act against her will. But even as he thought it, he knew he was being foolish. He was trying to cast her as a damsel in distress with himself as a knight in shining armor. Had she set him up for murder? Somehow, he had to find out.

An elderly woman in a torn housecoat had come out of a house across the street and was staring at him. He turned the car around and headed back for the George Washington Bridge.

There was a line of cars behind him. Any one of them could be following him. But why would they have to follow him? His enemies knew where to find him. He couldn't sit and passively wait for them to attack. He had to do the attacking himself, keep them off guard, enrage Don Vinton into making a blunder so that he could be checkmated. And he had to do it before McGreavy caught him and locked him up.

Judd drove toward Manhattan. The only possible key to all this was Anne - and she had disappeared without a trace. The day after tomorrow she would be out of the country.

And Judd suddenly realized that he had one chance of finding her.

It was Christmas Eve and the Pan-Am office was crowded with travelers and would-be travelers on standby, fighting to get space on planes flying all over the world.

Judd made his way to the counter through the waiting lines and asked to see the manager. The uniformed girl behind the counter gave him a professionally coded smile and asked him to wait; the manager was on the phone.

Judd stood there hearing a babel of phrases.

"I want to leave India on the fifth."

"Will Paris be cold?"

"I want a car to meet me in Lisbon."

He felt a desperate desire to get on a plane and run away. He suddenly realized how exhausted he was, physically and emotionally. Don Vinton seemed to have an army at his disposal, but Judd was alone. What chance did he have against him?

"Can I help you?"

Judd turned. A tall, cadaverous-looking man stood behind the counter. "I'm Friendly," he said. He waited for Judd to appreciate the joke. Judd smiled dutifully. "Charles Friendly. What can I do for you?"

"I'm Dr. Stevens. I'm trying to locate a patient of mine. She's booked on a flight leaving for Europe tomorrow."

"The name?"

"Blake. Anne Blake." He hesitated. "Possibly it's under Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Blake."

"What city is she flying to?"

"I - I'm not sure."

"Are they booked on one of our morning or afternoon flights?"

"I'm not even certain if it's with your airline," Judd said.

The friendliness dropped out of Mr. Friendly's eyes.

"Then I'm afraid I can't help you."

Judd felt a sudden feeling of panic. "It's really urgent. I must find her before she goes."

"Doctor, Pan-American has one or more flights leaving every day for Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Lisbon, London, Munich, Paris, Rome, Shannon, Stuttgart, and Vienna. So have most of the other international airlines. You'll have to contact each one individually. And I doubt if they can help you unless you can give them the destination and time of departure." The expression on Mr. Friendly's face was one of impatience. "If you'll excuse me..." He turned to walk away.

"Wait!" said Judd. How could he explain that this might be his last chance to stay alive? His last link to finding out who was attempting to kill him.

Friendly was regarding him with barely concealed annoyance. "Yes?"

Judd forced a smile on his face, hating himself for it. "Don't you have some kind of central computing system," he asked, "where you can get passengers' names by...?"

"Only if you know the flight number," Mr. Friendly said. He turned and was gone.

Judd stood there at the counter, feeling sick. Check and checkmate. He was defeated. There was nowhere else to move.

A group of Italian priests bustled in, dressed in long, flapping black robes and wide black hats, looking like something out of the Middle Ages. They were weighed down with cheap cardboard suitcases, boxes and gift baskets of fruit. They were speaking loudly in Italian and obviously teasing the youngest member of their group, a boy who looked no more than eighteen or nineteen. They were probably returning home to Rome after a vacation, thought Judd, as he listened to their babbling. Rome...where Anne would be... Anne again.

The priests were moving toward the counter.

"E molto bene di ritornare a casa."

"Si, d'accordo."

"Signore, per piacere, guardatemi."

"Tutto va bene?"

"Si, ma - "

"Dio mio, dove sono i miei biglietti?"

"Cretino, hai perduto i biglietti."

"Ah, eccoli."

The priests handed their airline tickets to the youngest priest, who moved bashfully toward the girl at the counter. Judd looked toward the exit. A large man in a gray overcoat was lounging in the doorway.

The young priest was talking to the girl behind the counter. "Dieci. Dieci."

The girl stared at him blankly. The priest summoned up his knowledge of English and said very carefully, "Ten. Billetta. Teeket." He pushed the tickets toward her.

The girl smiled happily and began to process the tickets. The priests burst into delighted cries of approval at their companion's linguistic abilities and clapped him on the back.

There was no point in staying here any longer. Sooner or later he would have to face whatever was out there. Judd slowly turned and started to move past the group of priests.

"Guardate che ha fatto il Don Vinton."

Judd stopped, the blood suddenly rushing to his face. He turned to the tubby little priest who had spoken and took his arm. "Excuse me," he said. His voice was hoarse and unsteady. "Did you say 'Don Vinton?'"

The priest looked up at him blankly, then patted him on the arm and started to move away.

Judd tightened his grip. "Wait!" he said.

The priest was looking at him nervously. Judd forced himself to speak calmly. "Don Vinton. Which one is he? Show him to me."

All the priests were now staring at Judd. The little priest looked at his companions. "E un americano matto."

A babble of excited Italian rose from the group. Out of the corner of his eye, Judd saw Friendly watching him from behind the counter. Friendly opened the counter gate and started to move toward him. Judd fought to control a rising panic. He let go of the priest's arm, leaned close to him, and said slowly and distinctly, "Don Vinton."

The little priest looked into Judd's face for a moment and then his own face splintered into merriment. "Don Vinton!"

The manager was approaching rapidly, his manner hostile. Judd nodded to the priest encouragingly. The little priest pointed to the boy. "Don Vinton - 'big man.'"

And suddenly the puzzle fell into place.

Prev Next