“A little,” she admitted.
“One of Sheriff Bennett’s deputies is keeping Patterson company.”
“Patterson’s having a CAT scan,” Clark told her. “He’s been screaming about pain in his head, so they’re scanning him. The sheriff wants to do everything by the book, which means Patterson has to be treated.”
“There’s not a damn thing wrong with him,” Max said.
“Except he’s frickin’ crazy when it comes to Ellie,” Hershey interjected.
“He already tried the chest pain route. There was nothing wrong with his heart. He knows his rights, and he’s playing it for all it’s worth. He’s just looking for a way out, that’s all,” Clark said. The agent then turned the subject back to the Landrys. “How do we get Cogburn a deal so he’ll cooperate?”
“Ben,” Max answered. “I’ll talk to my partner and let him take it to our superior. He’ll decide what kind of deal Cogburn gets.”
“Does your boss have the clout?” Clark asked. “Or does he have to go higher up? The more people who know about this . . .”
“He has the clout,” Max assured him. “He . . .”
Max didn’t finish. Two loud pops echoed up the stairwell. The agents knew the sound. Gunshots. A second later an alarm sounded. It was a low, pulsating noise.
“I’ll take the south staircase,” Clark shouted as he pulled his gun free.
Hershey yelled that he had the other staircase and sprinted down the long hallway.
A nurse poked her head out of a patient’s room as Max grabbed Ellie. The woman shouted, “The hospital is in lockdown. Get out of the hall,” and then pulled the door closed.
Max pushed Ellie into a room at the end of the hall. “Keep the door shut.”
Déjà vu, she thought. Max was once again pushing her and telling her to hide.
She didn’t give a second thought to who was firing the gun. It was Patterson. Had to be. People didn’t realize how strong and cunning he was, and that gave him the advantage. It was Patterson, all right. And he was on a rampage.
Her heart sank, but it wasn’t because of her own danger. Her concern was for Max. He had followed Clark down the stairs. How could she hide in a room if there was a possibility he could get hurt?
She leaned into the door and strained to hear. She opened it a crack. It was deathly still. Then laughter . . . eerie laughter. Patterson had gotten upstairs. How close was he? She opened the door just enough to peek down the hall. She nearly fell to her knees. At the end of the hall just outside the door to the stairs lay Hershey. He was facedown on the floor, and Patterson was standing over him, laughing. He must have surprised Hershey when he opened the door to the stairwell.
Patterson held a gun in his hand. He raised it and pointed it at Hershey’s head. Ellie had to act. She opened the door wide and stepped out. He was at the opposite end of the long hallway, and his back was to her.
Her voice was strong. “Evan. Come get me. Come on, Evan. Turn around.”
He cocked his head and slowly turned. The grin on his face when he saw her sent chills down her spine.
Ellie had a split-second plan. If he raised his gun, she was going to dive around the corner, and if he came running at her, she would try to fend him off until help came. One thing was certain. She couldn’t let him kill Agent Hershey.
His freaky grin terrified her when he said, “It’s you. It’s really you.”
He stared at her for what seemed an eternity, and then he raised the gun.
Before she had time to react, Max was in front of her, firing his gun. Patterson fired a scant half second later. His bullet struck a light fixture as he dropped backward. He went down hard, but he still had the gun in his hand. He was bringing it up when Max fired again. He ran toward Patterson, his gaze locked on the weapon Patterson still clutched in his hand. Patterson wasn’t moving. Max reached him, ripped the gun away, and checked his pulse. He was dead. Max pushed him off Hershey and shouted for assistance.
Ellie ran forward, slid to her knees, and took over. She saw the welt on Hershey’s head, but fortunately he hadn’t been shot. She gently rolled him onto his back as he groaned and slowly opened his eyes.
“He might have a concussion,” she said.
Max was astounded by how calm she was. “Why, in God’s name, didn’t you stay in that room?” He was so angry, he could barely keep himself from shouting at her. “You could have been killed. Do you understand? I could have lost you.”
“I didn’t have a choice. I saw that Patterson was about to shoot Agent Hershey in the back of the head. He was bringing his gun around and laughing, so I tried to distract him.”
“Distract him?” He nearly choked on the words.
“Yes,” she said. “I stepped into the hall and called to him.”
“Son of a . . .” He threaded his fingers through his hair. “Son of a . . . You deliberately made yourself a target.”
Ellie had never seen Max so out of control. She didn’t think it was a good idea to try to explain her spontaneous plan. She knew he wouldn’t respond well if she told him she intended to call Patterson’s name and then run.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to suffer his wrath long. The hallway filled with doctors and nurses. Aides rolled two gurneys toward them. Forgetting where she was, she rattled off orders to two nurses who were staring at her as though she’d lost her mind.
One of the nurses looked at her with a puzzled expression, and Ellie recognized her. Her name was Natalie, and Ellie had gone to school with her for a short time.
“Why is she giving us orders?” another nurse asked.
“I don’t know,” Natalie answered. “She’s Ellie Sullivan. She does modeling in New York.”
Ellie began to laugh. Oh God, now she was a model.
A doctor stepped forward and gave the same orders. He put his hand out to Ellie to help her stand. Max blocked him and pulled her to her feet.
Clark ran up the stairs, panting. “The deputy’s out cold,” he said. “They’re taking care of him downstairs. The technician said the deputy was taking the handcuffs off. You can’t wear them while you’re getting a scan.”
“Which Patterson knew,” Max said.
Clark nodded. “He overpowered the deputy, got his gun, and started shooting. The technician dived under his desk and stayed there while Patterson shot out the glass. What happened to Hershey?”
One of the nurses pointed to the camera mounted at the ceiling. “Everything was recorded. You can watch it and find out.”
The last thing Ellie wanted to do was replay what had happened. She looked down at Patterson and felt sick to her stomach. In death, the maniacal expression was gone. He looked almost peaceful.
The nightmare really was over.
THIRTY – FOUR
Max and Ellie spent the night in a hotel close to the airport. They didn’t check into their room until late that evening because of all the commotion at the hospital. Hershey and Clark had insisted on watching the surveillance tape. Then there were hours of questions, and papers to be filled out, and by the time Max and Ellie got back on the road, it was too late to catch their scheduled flight. At the hotel, Ellie showered and fell into the king-size bed exhausted.
Max was on the phone with Ben until after midnight. They were brainstorming, wanting to make certain they had a concrete plan in place to take down the Landrys. They couldn’t afford any screwups or leaks. When he finally got into bed, Max’s mind was racing, yet, once he took Ellie into his arms, he relaxed and fell into a deep sleep. Sometime during the night Ellie woke up and reached for Max. They made love and fell back asleep with their legs entwined.
They were able to get an early flight back to St. Louis. Clark’s office had arranged the tickets and had notified the carrier that an FBI agent with a loaded weapon would be going through security. Max carried the necessary papers and badge with him.
Clark reported that Agent Hershey had a bad headache, but othe
r than that, he was good to go. He and Clark were responsible for keeping Willis Cogburn alive and calm until the deal was done. Once his anesthetic had worn off, Cogburn had given them the time and place for what Hershey was calling the deal of the century. Since the Landrys had been in such a hurry to sneak back to Hawaii, everyone had bet that Honolulu was where the meeting would take place, and they were right. The Landrys were going to meet with the gun smugglers in a warehouse smack in the middle of the city.
Max barely said a word to Ellie the entire morning. She knew he was still upset about what she’d done in the hospital, but she wasn’t in the mood to placate him.
Both of them remained quiet on the ride to the airport, but once they had boarded the plane and had fastened their seat belts, Max decided to let her have it. He closed his eyes for a minute to gather his thoughts, and then in a low voice said, “It’s my job to protect you, not the other way around. Do you realize what could have happened in that hallway? If I had been two seconds late, you’d be dead. Patterson would have killed you. What if I had decided to go up the north staircase? I would have been too damn late, wouldn’t I? And I would have found you on the floor, bleeding out. Son of a bitch, Ellie, you scared the hell out of me.” He finally turned to look at her to see her reaction. Then he shook his head and whispered, “Son of a bitch.”
Her deep breathing and closed eyes said it all. She hadn’t heard a word.
THIRTY – FIVE
Max said good-bye to Ellie at the airport, and because he was in such a hurry to catch another flight to Honolulu, he didn’t have time to do more than give her a quick see-you-around kiss.
He was in a hurry, she reminded herself. Otherwise, he surely would have said something sweet in parting, wouldn’t he? Come to think of it, Max had never said anything sweet to her in the past, so why would she think he would start now?
Since she had left her car in the Wheatleys’ garage, she took a cab to their house and then decided she might as well spend the night. Millie and Oliver wanted to hear all about her visit home. Ellie glossed over the horror that had taken place inside the Winston Falls hospital. She told them that Patterson was dead and that she hoped he was finally at peace.
Then she told them about Ava’s garden party, and by the time she finished, they were laughing so hard, tears streamed down their cheeks.
Millie kept saying, “Poor Ava,” and then she’d go into fits of laughter again.
After dinner, Ellie went up to her room and called Ava. Her sister, as cranky as she was, deserved a little sympathy.
Ava answered with, “What do you want?”
“Don’t be rude, Ava. Patterson’s dead.”
“It would have been a wonderful garden party.”
Ava agreed and began to talk about the details for the wedding. “I didn’t mean what I said about staying away. I still expect you to be in the wedding.”
Ellie didn’t make any promises. She listened as Ava described the flowers and the music and even the table settings for the reception. Ellie knew what she was going to have to do, spend a fortune on another airline ticket, put on a black dress, and walk down the aisle for her sister. It didn’t matter whether Ellie wanted to or not; it was the right thing to do.
She was glad she went. It was a quick and expensive weekend by Ellie’s standards, but she was happy she got to spend more time with Annie and her parents. Her mother was thrilled that Ellie had stopped being stubborn and had finally agreed to be in Ava’s wedding. Ava did make a beautiful bride. She was still obnoxious, but beautiful, all the same.
Once Ellie was back in her apartment, she became restless and out of sorts. She could go anywhere and do anything now that she wasn’t hiding from Patterson. There was only one little problem—she didn’t have the faintest idea where she belonged. And oh God, how she missed Max.
She went back to the familiar. Dr. Westfield patted her on her shoulder, which was an effusive gesture for him, and said, “Well done, Prod, well done.”
“Sir, now that I’ve won the Chapman, will you please stop calling me Prod.”
Because he was so happy about the money his department would receive, in a weak moment, he agreed. He also accepted the fact that she wasn’t going to sign a contract but would fill in for a little while.
“We’ll do week by week until you come to your senses and sign a contract,” Westfield said, always wanting to have the last word.
One week passed and then another, and still no word from Max. Ellie went though all the emotions: anger, frustration, misery, and anger again.
Addison texted her on a regular basis—they were becoming good friends—but the only comment she’d made about Max was that he and Ben were doing undercover work for what Ben had told her was a special project.
At least once a day, Ellie told herself she was over him, and she desperately wanted to believe that, someday, it would be true.
She threw herself into her work. It was late on a Thursday afternoon, and she had just finished removing a ruptured gallbladder from a knife attack. She was heading to her locker to change when she saw Carlos Garcia’s wife in the waiting room. She went in to say hello. The news was good, but Carlos had to go through a round of chemo before he could be released from the hospital. Ellie walked into his private room just as he was waking up. She was pleased to hear that his doctors were treating him so well. Amazing what a little blackmail could do.
Ellie was able to get through the days without thinking about Max, but as soon as she got home, he jumped into her thoughts. Sleep became difficult, a problem she had never had before. Misery. The word was synonymous with Max Daniels.
THIRTY – SIX
Max was having a hell of a great day. Seeing Cal and Erika Landry down on their knees with their hands cuffed behind their backs was a thing of beauty.
Seven federal agents and twelve policemen surrounded the couple. The dealers, eight of them, were facedown on the cement floor with their hands behind their backs, but without a doubt, the Landrys were the stars of the show.
“Are you going to try to put hits out on all of us?” Ben asked. He was so happy, he couldn’t stop smiling.
“I think they’ve run out of hit men,” Max said.
Five crates filled with weapons and explosives—some he and Max had never seen before—were being opened and inspected. None of them would reach the streets now, and he was confident Cal and Erika Landry were going away for a long, long time.
Using his phone, Max took a photo of the unhappy couple as they screamed obscenities and claimed entrapment. He sent the photo to Agent Sean Goodman and Agent Rob Hughes.
Exactly one minute after receiving the picture, Agent Hughes was on the line. Max explained to the flabbergasted agent that he had been kept out of the loop because there was a leak in his office. At first, Hughes didn’t take the news well, denying any possibility that there could be a traitor among his ranks. Max told him what the investigation by the special task force had turned up, that one of the assistants in Hughes’s office was selling information to the Landrys for sizable amounts of money, but Hughes was still skeptical. However, when Max named the assistant and the number of cash payments that had been traced to a hidden account, Hughes relented. He was sickened that he hadn’t been more astute. Max told Hughes that special agents from the task force would appear in his office momentarily to make the arrest, and Hughes agreed to assist.
The next day Hughes was on a plane to Honolulu. Since he had been chasing the Landrys for years and had the longest history with the facts, he was needed to help prepare the case. The FBI and the federal prosecutors were determined to leave no stone unturned. After looking at all the new evidence, Hughes strongly urged they add other counts to the weapons charges. With the testimony of Willis Cogburn, he insisted, they should be able to add on convictions for the attempted murder of Sean Goodman and also for ordering the murder of Dr. Ellie Sullivan.
“I want to get them for all of it,” he
The prosecuting attorney agreed.
“Willis Cogburn testifies and then goes into witness protection,” he suggested.
“I don’t think that’s going to be necessary,” the prosecutor said. “There’s no way a judge will allow these two to get out on bail to do their dirty work this time. We’ll watch them closely. Potential witnesses won’t have to be afraid. Dr. Eleanor Sullivan will have to testify, and I want Agent Goodman on call. Get all of them over here as soon as possible. The preliminary trial date has been moved up. Landrys’ gaggle of attorneys isn’t objecting.”
“Why aren’t they?” Max asked.
The attorney shook her head. “I guess we’ll have to find out.”
Max and Ben celebrated the arrest of the Landrys over a couple of beers at their favorite bar, and Max showed him the picture he’d taken of the angry couple as they knelt in front of the agents and policemen with drawn guns.
“I wish you’d gotten one of their faces when the agents first rushed into that warehouse,” Ben said. “Their expressions were priceless.”
“They looked shocked, all right,” Max said. “I especially liked the way Erika tried to feign innocence at first. I fully expected her to say she had no idea how those guns got there.”
Ben raised his mug. “Here’s to the Landrys. May their punishment fit their crimes.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Max said.
Ben downed the rest of his beer and stood. “I’ve got to get home. I promised Addison we could have a quiet dinner with just the two of us tonight. I’ve been away so much lately.”
“How is she feeling?” Max asked.
“The baby is kicking a lot. She’s convinced he’s going to come out carrying a soccer ball. Ellie’s been terrific, texting Addison whenever she has concerns. Speaking of Ellie . . . have you talked to her?”
“She’s one in a million. If I were you, I wouldn’t let her get away,” Ben said as he headed for the door.