Enter the Poseur

Somewhere in Brazil, 1989

He walked into the room and laid his single suitcase on the luggage rack. The atmosphere was more that of a resort spa than a medical clinic, but he didn't notice. He opened the suitcase to remove just one item: the photo of the woman and child. He placed it in the middle of the dresser, where, had it indeed been a vacation spot, there would surely have been a mirror. This room, like every other in the facility, had none. It was a deliberate omission. Most guests were there to literally shed their skin in a search for a new life. His presence was part of a desperate attempt to recapture his old life.

He'd seen the puzzlement on the lovely face of the nurse/hostess who'd checked him in. "What was this man doing here?" he knew she'd wondered. "Why change that face?" He'd felt it in the way she'd looked at him and let her hand brush his as she handed him the pen to sign the registry. He wasn't vain, but he did have his pride, built up over the years by the many beautiful women who'd looked at him with admiration in their eyes. And there had been a time-not so many years ago, though it seemed another lifetime-when he would have flirted right back. He may even have gladly brought her to this room to see more of the tawny skin, full lips, and perfect breasts that most likely had benefited from the talents of her employer.

But no more. Now, the only woman he thought of was the one in the photo. And how would she view him when this face was gone, replaced with one unfamiliar to both of them? How he had loved the way she'd looked at him. The first time they'd met she'd been wide-eyed for a moment, a gorgeous gamine in the headlamps of his gaze. And then on their wedding night, she'd pleaded to open her eyes and look at him, declaring him everything she'd ever wanted in a man…. Would she still want him that way, when he had a face not his own?

It was a risk he had to take. Better to have her look upon him as a stranger than to never be able to see her again.

He slowly came out of the anesthesia with a blinding, pounding headache. He put his hand to his temple and realized his head was free of bandages. So was his entire face. That was odd, he thought. Surely he should be nearly mummified after the extensive work the plastic surgeon was meant to do. Then he realized the throbbing in his head was the only discomfort he felt. The doctor had warned him to expect significant pain-and large doses of drugs to help manage it. He certainly felt drugged, but his face felt fine. It was too much to think about now. He fell back into unconsciousness.

He woke again. The headache, thankfully, was gone. Now he felt merely numbed, drugged. Through his haze, he saw a man sitting across the room, watching him. Not the doctor. Who? And what was this room? It was not the room at the clinic.

He tried to shake himself awake, to clear his head, sit up, and look at the observer. The man was thin, with a sharp, angular face and straight, thin brown hair to his shoulders. It wasn't someone he recognized-and he knew he'd remember this person if he'd ever seen him before.

The man spoke. "Finally we meet, Mr. Duke Lavery." He had an accent, Germanic or Scandinavian. But they were in Brazil. Or he had been, anyway. What in god's name was going on?

"Who the hell are you?" Duke asked. How did this man know his name? He'd registered at the clinic under his witness protection identity, Daniel Lund. Duke Lavery was supposed to be dead. Why did this man know otherwise?

"My name is Faison. Cesar Faison. I'm an old friend of your wife."

"Anna? You know Anna? How? How do you know who I am? What's all this about?" He hated being at such an obvious disadvantage.

"She's an incredible woman, isn't she? And you seem to realize it. You were willing to go to great trouble for her. It makes me think perhaps you, unlike others, were even worthy of her. She certainly seemed to think so. It was almost as if you cast some kind of spell over her…."

Duke had a very bad feeling about this fellow, and his instincts were usually right. "You tell me right now, man: Where are we, and what do you want?"

"You should thank me, Mr. Lavery. I allowed you to spare that face that Anna Devane found so attractive. What you paid to your Brazilian physician-I doubled it in exchange for his turning you over to me."

"Why? What the hell is going on?" Duke was infuriated now. He wanted to jump up and shake some straight answers out of this Faison, but whatever the drugs in his system, they wouldn't allow it.

"You know of your wife's sad, gothic girlhood? Orphaned, raised by the kindly Nanny McTavish-who was my mother. We were childhood playmates, Anna and I. I loved her, just as you do, even then. But she didn't return that love, that loyalty. There was always someone else for Anna." The bitterness in Faison's voice made Duke's blood run cold. "I was able to come between her and Scorpio," Faison continued. "That wasn't hard-just a little blackmail, her DVX allegiance in return for sparing his life. I knew Scorpio would never forgive her the transgression. He's so black and white, Robert is. He doesn't understand the shades of gray, as do you and I, Mr. Lavery. As Anna does."

"If you harm so much as a hair on her head…"

"Harm her? Never. I've told you, my sole wish is to love her. But she doesn't make it easy. All these years, I've watched her, waiting for just the right time. After Scorpio, she managed to disappear. For seven years, I could find no trace of her. And then one day, from a small town, big headlines: The lady police chief disgraced by her mobster lover. So I bided my time, here in my Alpine retreat, and I watched, and I learned all I could. You quite impressed me, really. Somehow, you kept her coming back to you. Until the mob prevented that, once and for all. And now your loss, Mr. Lavery, shall be my gain."

"What do you mean, you watched her? You watched us? What could you possibly know about us?"

"Oh, many things. You'd be surprised at the information enough money can buy. And I have more than enough money. Enough to know about a quaint little cottage in upstate New York, by a lake. About an estate an hour north of Glasgow. About the cars you drove, and the rental space where Anna kept an office with Sean Donely, and the tidy suburban house with heather planted outside the front door. The garden needs weeding, by the way, and the lawn, cutting. I'm afraid Anna hasn't had the heart to keep things up since you've been gone. It's a pity.…"

Duke ached with yearning, homesickness, regret. He tried to concentrate on the problem at hand. "If you know so much, why am I here? What do you need me for?"

"I want to know what went on behind all those closed doors. I want to know the inner workings of Anna Devane's heart. With that knowledge, I can finally convince her to love me. And you, Mr. Lavery, are the one person in the world who can provide that information."

"Are you insane, man? If you know Anna at all, you know she's a strong-minded woman. You'll never trick her into loving you. And why the hell would I tell you ANYthing about her, anyway?"

"Because you have no choice. What are you feeling right now, Mr. Lavery?"

"Like I want to rip your head off your body."

"Then why don't you?"

Duke was taken aback, confused again. Faison had a point-why was he just sitting here? It was so hard to think straight. "Because…because…you've drugged me or something. What have you given me?"

"You've heard of sodium pentothal?"

"Truth serum?"

"But better. An even more powerful concoction that renders one extremely susceptible to suggestion. It will ensure that you tell me what I want to know, and that our Ms. Devane will listen to whatever I want her to hear. And best of all, for you, once you've shared with me your memories of Anna, they'll recede. You'll forget them. You'll forget her. No more yearning, no more pain. Why, I'm almost tempted to have a dose myself. Almost."

Duke was horrified. "You ARE mad. And if you don't let me out of here and let me go to Anna, your crazy plans won't matter. Because the mob that you claim to know about, they plan to kill her. Julian Jerome wants to murder her, and I need to stop him. That's what I was doing at that clinic in Brazil: I needed to change my appearance so I could get close enough to kill Julian before he gets to Anna."

"I told you," Faison assured him, "I've been watching. I know all about it. And I've already accounted for it. Don't worry, 'Duke Lavery'-with a new face and a new name-will indeed go to Anna, and will take care of Julian. Armed with your memories, he'll convince everyone. And then he'll meet an unfortunate, untimely end-clearing the way for me. But we won't tell him that last part, will we?" Faison smiled creepily.

Another man came in, a fellow with brown hair and shifty eyes who stood several inches shorter than Duke. "Listen well," Faison said to him, "and you'll earn your million dollars-and the considerable charms of Anna Devane."

Duke thought it impossible that Anna would ever believe this stranger to be him. It was even less possible that this Faison character could use Duke's love for Anna against her, for his own selfish ends. This could not be happening, Duke thought. This could not be real. This was like the plot of a third-rate, low-budget matinee thriller; it was not his life, not Anna's. The headache was descending again-even worse this time. He couldn't focus. He vaguely heard Faison calling to someone named Desiree. A woman entered with a syringe and came toward Duke to inject him with it. Even then he couldn't seem to think or move to stop her.

Next thing Duke knew, he was lost in memories of his Anna. They seemed so real, almost as if he were reliving them. From that first moment their eyes had met to the last, terrible moment, in the airport, when she had looked at him-she had seen him, recognized him…he knew she had, by the stricken look on her face. Without realizing it, he spoke of all of it, all three years of the most wonderful times of his life, and the most painful, and even the most private and intimate. And as quickly as they came to him, the remembrances melted away and were gone, just as the madman had promised.

He had no idea how long this went on. Hours? Days? Finally, there was nothing left but emptiness and the pounding in his head, and he slipped into the relief that was unconsciousness.

He woke up in a clean, spartan room, with a mind that was just as blank and clear as his surroundings. He got up and opened the suitcase at the foot of the bed, hoping for some clue as to who he was and what he was meant to do next. The suitcase contained nothing but fine clothing, neatly folded. He had a vague sense that something-something vitally important-was missing, but he had no idea what that might be. He turned to the dresser and picked up the wallet that lay upon it. Nice leather; it was a quality billfold. Flipping it open, he found a driver's license in the name of Daniel Lund. He looked in the mirror above the bureau, and the face that looked back matched the photo on the ID card. That must be him. Daniel Lund. The credit cards in the wallet all carried the same name. A money clip on the dresser held a very large sum of crisp new bills. Daniel Lund must be a successful man. Or he soon would be. He dressed in the well-tailored, well-pressed double-breasted suit that hung neatly in the closet, then walked out the door, determined to find out.