The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 22

“I’m not here to talk about the past,” Max said.
“We don’t know where Evan is. We haven’t seen him in months,” Mr. Patterson insisted.
“If we did know, we wouldn’t tell you,” his wife muttered.
“Your son tried to purchase a gun yesterday,” Max told them.
“I don’t believe it,” Mrs. Patterson scoffed. “You FBI agents always lie.” She pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket and elbowed her husband for his lighter.
“Did that woman call you and tell you the lie about a gun so you would come here and harass us?” Mr. Patterson demanded.
“We know she’s back in town. We read it in the paper. She’s behind this.” Mrs. Patterson lit a cigarette and inhaled. “She won’t rest until she’s destroyed our boy.” Smoke billowed out of her mouth as she spoke. “She ought to be the one locked up is what I think. I hope she gets what she deserves.”
Max was through being diplomatic. “I’m putting both of you on notice. If your son gets hold of a gun, and you do nothing to stop him, you’re as responsible as he is if someone gets hurt. I’ll lock you up, too.”
They gave no response to his threat, but as he was walking down their porch steps, he heard their front door slam.
Clark and Hershey were in the apartment with Ellie. Max was unprepared for what he saw when he walked in. Hershey was shirtless and perched on the arm of the sofa while Ellie appeared to be rubbing his side. Clark was at the coffee table using Ellie’s laptop.
“What the . . . ,” Max began.
“You’re back,” Ellie said. She patted Hershey’s shoulder. “Okay, you can put your shirt on. It’s scar tissue.”
“You’re sure?” Hershey asked.
“I’m sure. It’s all good.”
Ellie went to Max and almost kissed him before she realized what she was doing. She took a step back and asked, “What were the Pattersons like?”
“They won’t ever win parents of the year,” he answered.
Clark closed the laptop. “I talked to your friend Sheriff Spike Bennett,” he said. “Strange name, but a nice guy,” he continued. “He wanted you to know there’s a gun shop close to a town called Lipton, and the owner isn’t real reputable. Spike’s been trying to shut him down, but so far no luck. He said that for the right amount of money Patterson could get anything he wanted. Bennett’s on his way there now to talk to the owner, find out if Patterson came around yesterday.”
“Do you think he’d tell him if he had?” Hershey asked the question.
“Patterson might not know about this gun store,” Ellie suggested.
“Bennett wants to warn him, just the same. After he’s finished in Lipton, Bennett will come here to help with surveillance.”
“You won’t have to worry about anything tonight, Ellie,” Hershey assured. He buttoned his shirt and tucked it in his pants.
Ellie checked the time. “I need to get ready,” she said. “Thanks for babysitting me.”
Both agents, Max noticed, were smiling like idiots at her, but as long as they did their jobs, he didn’t care if they were infatuated.
“Does it seem a little cold in here?” Clark asked.
Ellie’s laughter followed her into the bathroom.
Thirty minutes later she was ready for the party. Max had put on a suit and tie and was tugging on it when she walked out. She looked stunning. She wore a pale pink dress and high-heeled sandals.
“Do I look all right?” she asked. “Max?”
He shook himself out of his stupor. “Yes, you look fine.”
Fine? Ellie knew he wasn’t one to embellish . . . but fine? “Thanks,” she said. She’d spent a long time curling her hair just so, and she’d even put on makeup. All that for fine?
“You look nice,” she said. “But your tie is crooked.”
She crossed the room and stood in front of him while she adjusted the knot in his striped tie. Her perfume enveloped him, and all Max wanted to do was tear her dress off and make love to her.
“I hate ties,” he said instead.
“I’d think you’d be used to them,” she replied. “Don’t you wear a suit and tie every day in Honolulu?”
“No, we wear khaki shorts, no shirts.”
She laughed. “Where do you put your badge and gun?”
“Waistband of our shorts . . . or swim trunks. We have to be prepared for anything.”
“What do the female agents wear in Honolulu?”
“Bikinis,” he answered with a straight face. “We don’t get a whole lot of work done.”
“I’m not nervous about tonight, so you can stop trying to put me at ease.”
He looked at her skeptically.
She kissed his cheek. “Okay, I am a little nervous.”
“Maybe I could think of something to take your mind off tonight.”
“Like what?”
“Give me a few minutes.”
Ellie’s cell phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number and almost didn’t answer it.
“You need to find out who it is,” Max insisted.
She answered the same way she had for years. “Dr. Sullivan.”
The voice on the phone was deep. “No, I’m not going to the Colts.”
Ellie’s hands were still shaking from talking to Simon Daniels, the most spectacular quarterback of all time. Oh God, had she told him that? She couldn’t remember what she’d said for the first minute or two, but she knew she’d gushed, then she had recovered and grilled him on the upcoming season.
It turned out that Simon was a bit of a hypochondriac, and for the next half hour it was quid pro quo. He answered a question she posed, and she then answered one of his. Some of his questions were hilarious, but she didn’t laugh.
“No, that particular disease comes from a parasite found only in the waters of the Amazon, and, no, it isn’t contagious.”
She saw Max roll his eyes, and she shook her head at him.
Max finally took the phone from her when she held it out to him and said, “Simon wants to talk to his white brother.”
“I carry a gun now,” he reminded his brother. “So stop calling me that.”
Ellie listened to the conversation and was shocked at the insults Max was hurling, but then she decided he was giving as good as he was getting. Brothers were so different from sisters. She doubted they whined the way Ava did.
Oh Lord, the party. She was supposed to be at the house fifteen minutes ago.
When she walked down the steps from the apartment, she was glad to see the weather was cooperating. Dark clouds hung overhead, and the air was stifling hot and muggy, but it wasn’t raining. She thought it silly to plan a party outside this time of year, but she wouldn’t share her opinion with Ava or her mother.
Clark and Hershey were checking the backyards on either side of the house and behind it. It was six o’clock when Ellie and Max walked into the kitchen. The house was dressed up with flowers everywhere and candles ready to be lit. Even the worn furniture in the living room looked brand-new because of the roses on the coffee table. Her parents and her aunts were upstairs getting dressed.
Max was being sweet. He gave her shoulder a supportive squeeze and went to the refrigerator to get her a glass of milk. The guests would be arriving soon, and she was ready. She took a couple of steps across the living room and stopped to look out the window.
And there he was . . . Evan Patterson . . . pacing on the sidewalk in front of her house. She froze, and so did he, and for at least two or three seconds they stared at each other.
Then he smiled, and she ran.
“He’s here. He’s here.” She couldn’t get her voice above a whisper, but Max understood what she was trying to tell him.
“Front,” she whispered. “He’s in front.”
Max grabbed her and pulled her to the hall closet. He pushed her inside and said, “You stay here until I tell you it’s okay to come out.??
She saw him draw his gun as the door was slamming shut. Ellie was shaking violently now and couldn’t catch her breath, hyperventilating even as she was sinking to the floor.
Anger came like a shot of adrenaline. She wanted to go after Patterson, to hit him and kick him, to hurt him the way he’d hurt her. She realized she was having crazy thoughts, but she didn’t care. She would rather be furious than terrified.
She reached for the door handle and came to her senses. She strained to hear any noise, but the only sound was the running water from the showers upstairs.
Be careful, Max. He’s mean and dangerous and cunning.
It seemed she waited an hour, but she knew her mind was playing tricks. It should be hot in the closet, she thought, but she was shivering.
Max finally opened the door. She threw herself into his arms. “Did you get him?”
“No,” he answered. He could feel her trembling and hugged her. “Clark and Hershey are still looking, but Patterson vanished. Are you sure . . .”
She tried to push herself away from him. He wouldn’t let her. “Okay, you’re sure it was him.”
“Yes. He was wearing black pants and a white shirt.”
“Where were his hands?”
“I couldn’t see them. Behind his back, I guess, or in his pockets. He smiled at me, Max.”
“We’ll get him,” he promised.
“And then what? What can you do? It isn’t illegal to walk in front of my house. I don’t have a restraining order anymore, and that didn’t help anyway. So far, Patterson hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“If he’s gotten hold of a gun, I can take him in.”
“You’re going to have to find him first.”
“Ellie, what are you doing in the closet?” Her father asked the question.
Max pulled her into the hall and draped his arm around her.
“Daddy, the thing is . . .” She was trying to think of a gentle way of telling him about Patterson.
Max was blunt. “Patterson was out front on the sidewalk.”
The smile on her father’s face vanished, and anxiety took its place.
“Dad, this is a good thing. We have three agents here, and if Patterson will try something, they can get him and lock him up.” She didn’t mention the possibility that Patterson might have a gun. “They’ve got this covered. I saw him, but he left before I could tell Max. He’ll come back.”
“Maybe we should cancel the party,” he said.
She tried to make light of the situation. “Are you kidding? I’m more afraid of Ava than Patterson.”
“Should I tell your mother?” he asked, and before she could answer, he shook his head and said, “No, we won’t worry her.” He turned to Max. “If that maniac comes back, you’ll get him. In the meantime, you watch out for my daughter.”
Before long there were caterers and servers going in and out of the house. Max talked to the man in charge, found out how many employees were working for him, and made certain he saw each face and spoke to each one.
Approximately eighty guests were on their way to the house now. The backyard could easily handle the crowd, but there were places Patterson could hide if he got that far. Each entrance would be closely monitored. Spike had offered to watch the street in front of the house. He would arrive soon. Until then, Ellie’s father stood by the front door. Clark and Hershey would monitor the backyard and both sides of the house, and Max would stay with Ellie.
The caterers’ two vans were parked in the driveway, so the guests reached the backyard by following a brick pathway on the other side of the house. They passed under a trellised arch and entered the garden between two tall planters filled with fresh-cut flowers.
Some of the older guests didn’t want to take the roundabout way to the back but instead cut through the house. William ended up being a doorman. He greeted them at the door and escorted them through the house and out to the party, sometimes stopping in the kitchen for a conversation before the doorbell rang again and he was interrupted. As worried as he was about Patterson crashing the party, he was able to relax a little knowing that Ellie was safe with Max. He had no doubt that Max would give his life to protect her, though he prayed to God Patterson would be captured and led away peacefully.
While her father greeted guests inside, Ellie stood outside on the lawn welcoming the new arrivals. She felt as though she had said, “So happy to see you” and “So pleased you could come” at least a hundred times. And her hand had been grabbed and patted more than that. She heard, “You poor thing” and “What a heartbreak this must be for you” from some of her mother’s friends, and “What a trouper you are” and “You’re so brave” from others. Apparently, everyone in town had heard that Ava had stolen Ellie’s fiancé.
Max stood behind her. When one woman patted Ellie’s hand and said, “Don’t you give up on love,” Ellie heard him cough, no doubt to cover his laughter.
Ellie’s mother was having a wonderful time, mingling among friends. Ellie couldn’t remember when she had seen her looking so radiant and happy. Her father walked out the back door with Mrs. Webster, their elderly neighbor, on his arm. He helped her down the steps and smiled across the lawn at his wife before turning around and going back inside. This was as it should be, Ellie thought. Their daughter was getting married. It was a happy time.
Minutes later, Max whispered in her ear, “Spike Bennett just arrived. He’ll keep an eye on the front now. I’ll tell your father he can come outside.”
At seven thirty the violin began to play. Aunt Cecilia and Aunt Vivien were holding court inside the tent and having a fine time. It was much cooler there because the tent company had thought to bring two small air conditioners. Each had been strategically placed near the back of the tent.
Once the stream of new guests began to dwindle, Ellie walked around the lawn chatting with old acquaintances and checking on the caterers. Max was never far away. If the opportunity arose, she introduced him as a friend of the family. Clark and Hershey were barely noticeable. Every so often she would catch sight of them strolling around the perimeter of the lawn, watching for any signs of danger. They were so inconspicuous, no one would have guessed their reason for being there.
Aunt Cecilia motioned to Ellie and asked her if she would please fetch her wrap. She was feeling the chill from the air conditioner but was too comfortable to move.
“She just wants to show off her new shawl,” Vivien said.
Cecilia nodded. “It is pretty, and I rarely get a chance to wear it. It’s on the chair in our bedroom. Be a dear and get it for me. I hate to move.”
“What time is it?” Vivien asked. “Shouldn’t Ava and John be here? And where’s Annie?”
Ellie checked the time. “Knowing Ava, she’ll be here in five minutes on the dot.”
“Hurry then. You don’t want to miss her entrance.”
Ellie was happy for a break. Max followed her into the house. While Ellie ran upstairs, he went to check the front door. He was pleased to find that her father had locked it. He stood at the bottom of the stairs waiting for her when he heard the scream.
Ellie didn’t get as far as the bedroom. The linen closet door was wide-open. When she reached to pull it closed, Evan Patterson sprang at her from behind it. She saw the gun in his left hand and the loathing in his eyes. She screamed and shoved the door as hard as she could. It caught him in the side, and that gave her a second to get away.
He was strong, terribly strong. As she turned to run, he grabbed her arm and yanked her toward him. His hand felt like a vise, squeezing hard enough to make her think he could snap her bone. It was impossible to get free. She saw his fist coming toward her. She kicked him in the shin with the sharp heel of her sandal, then kicked him again in the thigh. It didn’t stop him.
He aimed for her jaw and would have shattered it, but she lowered her head just as his fist struck. The side of her forehead took the blow, stunning her. The ring he was wearing cut into her. She flinched
from the searing pain.
She was kicking and screaming when Max pulled him off of her. Her dress tore because Patterson wouldn’t let go. As strong as Patterson was, Max easily lifted him and threw him into the wall, but fury gave Patterson new strength.
Max was trying to get the gun away from him and at the same time shield Ellie. Patterson rolled, then went flying down the stairs. Max pulled his gun and aimed, just as Patterson turned and fired one shot at them before ducking around the corner and disappearing. Max flew down the stairs after him, and Patterson shot again. The bullet went wild, hitting the ceiling as he was running out the back door.
With a diving leap, Max tackled him to the ground, but Patterson managed to get two more shots off. The bullets shattered one of the flowerpots, sending ceramic shards, like missiles, into the air. With his knee slammed into Patterson’s spine, Max forced the gun away. Clark grabbed it and helped restrain him while Hershey ran forward, pulling handcuffs from his back pocket.
Screaming, the party guests ran for their lives.
In front of the house, Ava had just stepped out of her car, too impatient to wait for John to come around and open the door for her. She adjusted her skirt, fluffed her hair, and took a step toward the sidewalk.
The stampede all but knocked her off her feet.
The aftermath wasn’t pretty.
Ava stood in the center of the backyard surveying the damage. She didn’t hear the thunder and was still standing there when the skies opened up and rain poured down on her. When she walked into the kitchen, she was soaked through.
John got a towel and tried to pat her arms dry, but she pushed his hand away. She was shaking with outrage.
“Where is she?” she demanded in a shout that vibrated through the house and could have registered at least a seven on the Richter scale.
Her mother sat at the table with her head in her hands as Ava ranted her accusations that Ellie had deliberately set out to ruin her party. After listening to the ridiculous outburst for several minutes, Claire raised up and said, “Ava, stop talking and go home. You’re giving me a headache.”