Andy had no idea how long he slept that morning, but it was glorious. By the time he finally pulled himself awake, as the clock was reaching the noon hour, he felt refreshed. Throwing back the covers, he eased himself out of bed.
The room was darker than usual for this time of day. He guessed—correctly—that it was overcast.
The weather bothered him very little, especially since he was not out in it. He yawned and ran a hand into his hair, brushing it away from his eyes as he shuffled to the doorway.
Tragg had decided it would be wise to send Andy to a hotel, at least for the night. Someone was staking out Andy's house, just in case any of his new enemies came looking for him. When Andy was feeling better, he would probably lead the stakeout himself, using himself as bait to hopefully draw the bad guys into the open.
Right now, all was quiet in the other part of the suite. Jimmy, who had decided to stay over in case someone unsavory had followed them there, was probably asleep as well.
Andy wandered into the main room. Jimmy was lying on the large white couch, but he was wide awake. At the sound of footsteps, he pulled himself up.
"Have you been awake all this time?" Andy asked.
"Nope. I've been catching sleep off and on." Jimmy looked to him. "What about you?"
"I've been dead to the world." Andy paused, discomfort flitting across his features. "That . . . probably wasn't the best term I could have used."
"No, it wasn't," Jimmy frowned. "But I'm glad to hear you were asleep. You needed it!"
"Yes, I did." Andy came around and sat on the couch with him. "Has there been any news?"
"Some." Jimmy reached for his phone, which he had placed on the end table. "Lieutenant Drumm called earlier and said that he and Sergeant Nichols found a guy collapsed at the Stratton Works building that might be the guy who called you."
"What?!" Andy stared. "What would he have been doing there?"
"That's what they've been asking," Jimmy said. "He was alive when they found him, but just barely. He'd been beat up bad. He's at the hospital, last I heard. They're not sure if he'll make it."
Andy frowned. "What did Mr. Stratton have to say about it?"
"They still can't find him," Jimmy said. "They've been checking the building, his house, a cabin he owns in the canyons . . . nothing."
Andy leaned back with a sigh, his hands drifting to his knees. "So it's more dead-ends. Where is his cabin?"
"Not anywhere near the lodge, if that's what you're wondering," Jimmy said.
"Well, it was a vain hope, anyway." Andy looked to Jimmy. "Are you hungry?"
"Hungry? You're kidding me. I'm not hungry, Andy. I'm starving! I haven't eaten since sometime last night."
"Come to think of it, I'm hungry too," Andy mused. "I haven't eaten since before I was abducted." He reached for the phone. "Let's call room service."
Jimmy grinned. "You're on!"
Soon the food arrived and the cousins laughed and talked, enjoying a few moments of relaxation before they would have to return to the outside world and the bewildering problems waiting for them.
"Hey, Andy," Jimmy said as he buttered a roll, "do you remember when we were kids and we used to play astronauts in the backyard?"
"Do I," Andy said, shaking his head. He had even been conned into mentioning it to Mr. Vann, shortly before Vivalene had used her Forbidden Box to warp all of their memories and their very existence. He was still somewhat surprised that Vivalene hadn't decided to make him think he was an astronaut instead of a school principal.
"We could stay out there all hours of the night," Jimmy chuckled. "And boy, did Mom get frustrated sometimes. But she knew you'd always look out for me if I did something stupid."
"Ah yes. Unless we both did something stupid," Andy came back. "Then we were really in for it."
"You did stupid things, Andy?" Jimmy smirked. "I don't seem to remember that."
"Oh, I did," Andy said. "Like the time I decided we could build a rocket in the backyard big enough for us to ride in . . . and launch it into space!"
Jimmy laughed. "I remember that," he said. "Only something went wrong with whatever we were using for fuel and we launched into the neighbor's yard when the rocket tipped over the fence."
"Then we had to contend with her as well as our parents," Andy said, shaking his head. "I can't believe I did that."
"I can't believe you did, either," Jimmy said. "I wonder what Lieutenant Tragg would say if he knew."
"Lieutenant Tragg would say he was glad I gained some better sense by now," Andy said. "But off to the side he'd ask me if I'd figured out how to perfect the fuel system."
Jimmy laughed. "Lieutenant Tragg is a character," he said.
He quickly sobered. "He was really worried about you last night, Andy. I was, too."
Andy grew serious as well. "I know," he said. "And I'm sorry for worrying you. I wonder how things would have gone last night if there hadn't been any mix-ups."
Jimmy frowned. "Well . . . you might be dead," he said. "We don't know who's out to get you or why. If they'd really got you instead of Mr. Fallon . . ."
Andy sighed. "None of it even makes sense," he said. "It seems clear now that there are three factions we're dealing with—my enemies, Mr. Fallon's enemies, and whoever deliberately took our identification to further confuse the issue."
Jimmy pondered on the problem. "I guess there's no chance that whoever took yours and Mr. Fallon's I.D. was trying to make sure you'd both live through the mess, if they figured you'd both die if there wasn't a mix-up."
"Not likely," Andy said, shaking his head. "I would have been killed if Mr. Fallon's enemies had learned and believed my true identity even a little bit sooner."
"Yeah." Jimmy looked down. "You're lucky Mr. Pike was going down that road and found you."
"I found him, rather, but yes, I agree." Andy leaned back into the couch with a sigh. "I'd better call in and see what's been happening since you last knew."
"Probably not much, if anything," Jimmy told him. "Lieutenant Drumm said he'd call when he knew something more."
"Probably not, then," Andy agreed. "But we'd better finish up here and get in to work."
"Actually, Andy, don't you remember that Lieutenant Tragg told you to stay home today and recuperate?" Jimmy leaned on the couch with one elbow. "Of course, you were asleep long before you got into bed. I'm surprised you even remembered I stayed over."
"Now, you're exaggerating," Andy said. "I was perfectly awake until the instant I met my pillow."
"Yeah—in the car." Jimmy peered at him. "Do you remember stopping at your place to get some of your stuff? What about getting to the hotel? Getting out of your suit? Lieutenant Tragg telling you goodnight?"
Andy paused. He had vague memories of all of those things, but he felt extremely distant and detached from them, as though he had dreamt them.
"Alright, you win," he conceded. "I wasn't really awake. But did I walk inside the hotel under my own power, at least? That's one thing I really don't remember at all."
"Sleep-walked," Jimmy grinned.
"And the desk clerk probably thought I'd had a little too much to drink, didn't he," Andy grunted.
"Oh, you looked normal enough," Jimmy said. "But you wandered up the stairs in a complete fog."
Andy closed his eyes. "Just you wait and something unholy about me will show up in today's papers."
"Well . . ."
Andy's eyes snapped open. "There was something, wasn't there?"
Jimmy shook his head. "Not like you're thinking, Andy. There's just an article about you and Mr. Fallon both recovering. And it doesn't mention the mix-up at all. Lieutenant Tragg thought it would be better if the crooks didn't know that we know about it, since the last they knew was that we thought Mr. Fallon was you."
"I see." Andy sat up straight. "Mr. Fallon was hoping to get out of the hospital today," he mused. "Will he be allowed to leave?"
"I think so," Jimmy said. "But he and his wife will probably end up in a hotel for a while, too. Just to be on the safe side."
"Hopefully not this one," Andy frowned. "The last thing any of us need is more mass confusion."
"You're telling me," Jimmy said. "But I don't have to go on duty until tonight. And you're off altogether. What do you want to do?"
"It's hard to think much about doing anything not related to the case," Andy admitted. "I want to see it get solved, and soon."
Jimmy nodded. "You and me both. Well . . ." He gave Andy a mischievous smile.
Andy returned the look with a pointed stare. "What?"
Jimmy stretched his arm across the top of the couch. "We could always work on perfecting the plans for that rocket."
Edith regarded her husband with worried eyes as she drove them to the hotel the police had recommended. Amory had only been out of the hospital for less than thirty minutes, and already he was being pestered with company news.
Having lost his cellphone he had borrowed hers, feeling that he needed to find out if all was well at the company. Before he had even had the chance to use it, his secretary had called Edith's phone, panicked after not getting an answer from either Amory's phone or the home phone. Apparently something had gone wrong at the company overnight. And from what Edith could hear of Amory's side of the conversation, it chilled her.
"What was written on my office door?! . . . You called the police, didn't you?! . . . Well, did you?!
". . . Yes, yes, yes. Look, Miss Ames, I'm sorry for snapping at you, but this hasn't been an easy night for me, either. . . . You know the story in the news about a police lieutenant being mugged in Griffith Park? That was me. . . . Yes, I know. . . . Yes. This lieutenant and I look exactly alike. And he may come around either today or later, just so you know to be prepared."
Amory paused, looking frustrated as Vivian Ames picked up her end of the conversation. But when his expression changed to concern, Edith grew more worried than ever. What else had gone wrong?
"You told the police about this, too, didn't you? . . . Miss Ames, for goodness sake! My employees deserve every possible protection. You should have told the police you were threatened too." Another, uncomfortable pause. "Miss Ames? Miss Ames, it isn't like you to be so hysterical. Is there something else, something you still haven't told me?"
Edith tried to resist the urge to pull to the side of the road and just wait. She had to get them to the hotel as soon as possible. But on the other hand, if something was so terribly wrong, Amory might want to talk with their police escorts about going to the company building instead. He would never be able to sit still in a hotel room thinking about something amiss at the company.
Fallon Paints was his life's work. He had built it up from nothing and made it successful. And it was because of him that it had withstood all the damage it had taken through the years, from Ned and others. He was not about to let something go wrong now.
Edith jumped a mile.
"That's it. That is just it! They've got a lot of gall to pull something like that! And they're going to regret it.
". . . No, I won't do anything rash! I'm sorry you had to be the one to find that, Miss Ames. It won't happen again. I'll make sure it won't!
". . . Yes. Yes, I'll see if I can arrange to inspect the damage now. We have a police escort. I'll be there in a few minutes, if possible. . . . Yes. Goodbye, Miss Ames."
Edith started pulling over as Amory hung up. "Amory, what's wrong?" she cried. "It sounds bad."
"It is." Amory replaced the phone in Edith's purse and looked back to make sure the squad car was pulling over with them. He was seething. "Someone broke into the company building last night. Miss Ames just found the damage when she got in this morning."
"What's the trouble?" Officer Malloy called as he and Officer Reed exited the car and came up to Edith's.
Amory explained again, and this time went on to fill in the disturbing details. "Miss Ames said that she found blood-red spray paint on my office door. Aside from several unrepeatable phrases, the gist of it was that next time they'd use real blood to paint the glass, if I don't give them the information they want. And they were very clear that it would be either my blood . . . or yours, Edith."
Edith's eyes went wide. "Oh no," she gasped. "Oh Amory!"
Of course, she was not worried about herself, save for how her being harmed would affect Amory. She did not even want to think about that.
"They also left a message on Miss Ames' door, threatening her if she doesn't find a way to make me cooperate." Amory was bitterly furious. "And possibly worst of all, when Miss Ames found all of that, she saw what looked like a body slumped over in my chair. She thought it was me. Instead it was a cloth dummy they fixed up to look like me. They put fake blood all over it and pinned it to my chair with a sword through its chest."
Reed looked ill. "Has she called the police?"
"Yes, but she didn't mention on the phone that she was threatened too." Amory sighed. "She said they're on their way now.
"Officers, I want to go there and see the damage. It's my company; I've worked for years to make it what it is! And now, for something like this to happen . . . !" Amory clenched a fist.
"I'm not sure it would be a good idea for you to go out there, Mr. Fallon," Malloy said. "At least not until the police are through checking it over."
"That could be hours!" Amory retorted. "I won't get anything constructive done by twiddling my thumbs at the hotel."
"And you won't get anything constructive done at your company, either. Not until the lab boys have gone over everything." Malloy sighed. "So how about we just go on to the hotel like we planned?"
Edith laid a hand on Amory's arm. "Officer Malloy is right, Amory," she said. "Please, let's just go. What if someone is watching the building and they'll hurt you or follow us if they see you?"
"That's possible, Mr. Fallon," said Reed. "Then they might be led right to where you're staying."
"And that wouldn't be good for you or your wife," Malloy put in.
"But . . ." Amory's shoulders slumped as his rage faded, replaced by conflict and confusion. He certainly did not want to put Edith in danger. Nor was he thrilled at the thought of endangering himself again, either.
". . . What about Miss Ames?" he said at last. "She was threatened too."
"She'll get police protection," Malloy assured him.
Amory sighed, slumping into the seat. ". . . Alright," he conceded, albeit still reluctant. "I won't go there, at least not right now."
Edith relaxed. Malloy and Reed looked pleased.
"I'm sure that's the best decision, Mr. Fallon," Reed told him.
"Maybe so. I can't say I'm happy with it, but if it will keep Edith safe . . ." Amory ran a hand into his hair, sending it into his eyes.
Edith watched him in concern. "Everything will be alright, Amory," she said, as much to convince herself as him. "For both of us. If we just do as the police say, we'll have a much better chance."
"We'd better. But Edith, I don't even have any information for them!" Amory cried. "And I thought they had finally realized that it was Lieutenant Anderson they had and not me!"
"Maybe they know Lieutenant Anderson told you about the letter," Edith worried. "They surely suspect it, at least."
"Oh, I'm sure they do," Amory muttered. "They already act like they know just about everything about this mess, except what they really want to know."
Edith began to pull away from the curb. "And we don't even know what that is," she said sadly. "Except that Ned was collecting it against them."
"Even all these years after Ned's death, he still manages to come back and haunt me," Amory growled. "I thought I'd cleaned up all of his catastrophes. But he had one more stored up, just waiting to spring it on me along with everything else!"
". . . Ned did a lot of horrible things to you, Amory," Edith said softly. "But in all fairness to him, it didn't sound like he did any of them to deliberately hurt you."
"Well, he hurt me anyway," Amory snarled. "And he knew enough to realize he'd hurt me. He didn't care, Edith. That was the whole problem right there. He didn't care!"
He shook his head, suddenly overcome by weariness and sorrow. ". . . You know, if he'd come to me and told me about his money problems, I would have tried to help him. We could have worked something out. Maybe then he never would've got mixed up in any of this. Maybe then he'd still be alive."
"We both know he never would have bothered you about his problems, Amory. He was too proud."
"Yes, he was too proud. And that's a problem bothering a great majority of the people today." Amory passed a hand over his face. "I'm not going to say that I'm immune to it, either. It's just . . . oh, I don't know, Edith. I don't know what to think about any of this.
"I'm still furious with Ned over everything he did. It doesn't help that we've got entangled in another of his prize disasters now. But . . . underneath it all, under all the hurt and anger and pain . . . I miss him.
"Oh, not the Ned who gambled and embezzled and turned our lives upsidedown. The Ned I brought in as a company partner. The Ned I trusted, if he ever deserved that trust. The Ned who was my—our—friend."
Edith nodded. "I know, Amory. I miss him too. And I don't know what happened to him somewhere along the way, but . . ." She hesitated. "I don't think that Ned ever died completely. His letter proves that. He remembered that he was your friend before he . . . before he was killed."
"And he conveniently dropped more trouble in my lap."
"You were the only one he trusted."
Amory gave a short laugh. "Odd, isn't it? I couldn't trust him anymore, and he knew that. But he still thought I would help him if I got hold of that information he hid."
"I don't think he thought it as much as maybe having hoped it," Edith said. "He even said he didn't expect you to want to help him or to catch those people. He thought he might be dead by the time you got his letter. He just wanted you to get the information to the police so they could take care of it."
"And he led his enemies right to me."
". . . I think they would've come after you even without knowing about the letter," Edith said quietly. "It wouldn't have taken them long to decide that you would probably know more about Ned's activities than most. It's just that . . . well, actually, Amory, by sending that information to you, Ned gave you more of a fighting chance. If we just had it, we could put those people in jail."
"If, if. That's the keyword right there." Amory shook his head. "Thanks to your brother, and the police auction, that information could be in Switzerland by now!" But he looked stricken before the words were even fully out of his mouth. "I'm sorry, Edith. I didn't mean to drag Frank into it."
Edith sighed. "I'm afraid Frank already dragged himself into it," she said. "He killed Ned and stole that letter. Oh, if there was a way to turn back time and stop him . . ."
"If you could turn back time that much, why not turn it back enough so that Ned never betrayed me at all?" Amory muttered. "Then Frank wouldn't have been dragged into things, either."
Edith fell silent. It was such a tangled web. One tragedy had led to another in a cycle that never seemed to slow down or stop. And Amory was right that it was still affecting them now, six years later. What was there to say or do? They were caught up in this situation without really knowing how to begin to get out of it.
The teenage girl nodded as she leaned on the doorframe with one arm. "Yeah? What is it?"
Steve held up his badge. "Lieutenant Drumm, LAPD. This is Sergeant Nichols." He nodded to the other man. "We've been here several times since last night, but no one's been home."
"I was at a sleepover," Lily shrugged. "I just got home. What's the beef, Lieutenant?"
Steve said, "I need to talk with you about your father."
Lily pushed herself away from the wood. "Why? What's he done?" She crossed her arms, scrutinizing her visitor.
"I don't know that he's done anything," Steve admitted. "But we can't find him. He had an appointment to meet with Amory Fallon last night, at the Griffith Observatory. Do you know anything about that?"
Lily considered the question, her brow furrowing as she concentrated. "I know he said he needed to talk with some man after dropping me off," she said. "But they never met. He came and found me a few minutes later and said that Mr. Fallon couldn't make it after all and he needed to leave. He asked if I could get a ride home with someone else and I said Yes."
"How did he act when he came to tell you about Mr. Fallon?" Steve queried.
"Kind of funny," Lily remembered. "Jumpy and nervous-like.
"Hey, we shouldn't be standing out here like this. Come in, you guys." She backed away, allowing Steve and Nichols to step into the parlor.
"Thank you," Steve said, slightly amused at her casual choice of words. He shut the door behind him. "Did you ask him about it?"
"About being jumpy and nervous? Yeah." Lily led the detectives to the living room and plopped down in a chair. Steve sat on the edge of the couch, while Nichols took up the spot beside him. "He just said that it wasn't anything for me to worry about."
"Did you believe him?"
"I just figured it was company stuff."
Steve nodded and made a note. "Miss Stratton, did you see anyone with him or near him? Perhaps a man wearing a red baseball cap?"
Lily's eyes flickered with confusion. "No," she said slowly. "I don't think so."
"You're sure now. Do you remember seeing a man like that at all?"
"There were a lot of people with hats, Lieutenant," Lily said.
"This one had pins all over it," Steve elaborated.
Now Lily perked up. "Hey, maybe I did see him," she declared. "Yeah, I think I bumped into him by the front doors. He was really jumpy too. He flew a mile. I think he thought I'd be someone else."
"I have no idea, Lieutenant. Really." Lily frowned. "He said something, though, something kind of weird. There were a lot of people talking all around us, but it sounded like he yelled 'No, I didn't say anything, I promise'. Then, when he saw who I was, he said he was sorry and to just forget what he'd said. He acted embarrassed and still jumpy. He walked away from me and looked around some more, like he was waiting for someone."
"And did someone come?"
"Maybe. I wouldn't know. I just shrugged it off and went inside then. I didn't see him again." Lily leaned forward, peering at him. "What is this, Lieutenant? Who is that guy? And what does he have to do with my father?"
"Possibly nothing," Steve said. "We're not sure who he is yet, but we found him lying half-dead in front of your father's company building. He looked like he'd tried to drag himself to the front doors before collapsing."
Now Lily was staring in disbelief. "No," she gasped. "That's crazy. It was probably just a weird coincidence. My father doesn't know anyone like that."
"That remains to be seen, Miss Stratton. But do you know why your father never came home last night?"
"Like I said, I thought it was company business, a last-minute trip or something," Lily said. She looked from Steve to Nichols. "He does that sometimes, running off on a dime."
A piercing scream from upstairs cut off any further conversation. All three people leaped to their feet, shocked.
"What was that?!" Nichols exclaimed.
"The maid," Lily told him. She ran to the bottom of the stairs. "Janie, what's wrong?!" she demanded, gripping the banister.
A plump woman appeared from a bedroom on the second floor. Her chalk-white skin stood out in stark contrast to her short black curls.
"It's Mr. Stratton's bedroom!" she cried. "I went in to tidy up and it's a terrible mess! It looks like a hurricane ripped through!"
"Or someone looking for something?" Steve asked with a frown.
"Yes!" Janie said, without even inquiring as to why two strange men were in the house. "Oh, this is terrible! Terrible!" She wrung her hands in distress.
Steve came closer and started up the stairs, holding out his badge. "Miss, we're from the police department," he announced. "Can you tell if anything's missing?"
Janie only briefly glanced at the badge before shaking her head and turning away to look back into the room. "No," she said slowly. "I won't be able to tell until everything's put aright again. Except . . ." She frowned. "That's strange."
"What is?" Steve reached the top of the stairs, Nichols and Lily right behind him. They gathered around the open doorway, peering into the cyclone zone.
"The only things untouched are the things on top of Mr. Stratton's desk," Janie said. "They're all in place except for some old pictures and letters he was looking at last night."
"What kind of pictures and letters?" Steve stepped over a fallen multi-level circular table and around the papers, scattered like snow all over the floor.
"Oh . . . it was a bunch of old stuff about one of Mr. Stratton's friends," Janie said slowly. "Ned, I think."
Steve and Nichols whipped around to stare at her. "Ned?!" Steve exclaimed.
"Yes!" Janie nodded. "Ned Thompson. That was it. Why?" She blinked at them. "Does that name mean anything to you?"
Steve and Nichols exchanged a look. "Yes," Steve replied. "Yes, it does."