Chapter 15

"Clear the hearse going out, and the limousine after it," Williams told his watchman.

The watchman sat in his rocking chair and watched the hearse and long black car go by.

Williams went back over to Doc's house. He was still standing in the driveway. "Doc?"


"That's that. It's a job well handled."

Doc wheeled on him indignantly. "It was terribly handled! Too much improvisation! I want a briefing right now with everybody."


"Everybody, while it's still fresh in their minds." He turned and stomped away into his house.

Williams stood staring after him. He was different. Shaken by this close call, Williams guessed. He was old, not as quick in the reflexes as he used to be. He'd have to be retiring soon. Williams hoped.

Willy raised himself up on his elbow and cracked the casket open. "Do you have enough air?" he asked Jim.

Jim nodded marginally.

"The police picked up the pair in Los Angeles. They're waiting for our signal now. We're almost there."

A few minutes later they came in sight of all the police cars, waiting by the side of the road. The hearse and rental car pulled up; Willy helped the mortuary man pull the casket out of the hearse and lifted Jim out into the black car, while Barney and the policeman removed Doc Tappert into a police car.

"Take this man on to the Bakersfield jail," Willy instructed the driver of the police car. "We'll be there shortly to take him into custody."

"Yes, sir."

"We'll follow you in our car," Willy told the captain. "Go in guns blazing." He got into the front of the car with Barney, and they peeled out after the police cars.

Williams poked his head in the office. "Everyone's in the meeting room, or near enough. Edgar's staying behind to watch the road."

"Tell Edgar to get hisself down here too. This involves him. Tell me when he's here."

Williams shrugged and left. Ten minutes later he returned. "Edgar's arrived."

Rollin wrote a vigorous last word. He didn't know what he was writing. "Thank you. Let's go."

He let Williams fall a step ahead. He'd long ago mastered the art of looking like he knew precisely where he was going when he was actually following someone. The man opened a door in what looked like a shed and went down some stairs into a large basement full of people milling around and looking confused. Rollin took a deep, quiet breath, then clumped into the room angrily.

"Sit down! Sit down!"

"Alright, quiet down!" Williams echoed. "Everybody take a seat. Come on."

People began to slowly move into their seats.

Rollin had spent the last half hour planning out what he would say. All he needed to do was keep all these people together in the same place so they could be easily rounded up. But he had to speak delicately, to keep from alerting anyone to the fact that he had no idea what he was talking about. He strode up onto the platform on one side of the room as they all looked to him to tell them what was what.

"Sit down! What we've had here is most unusual. We've worked our way through the problem, but the element of risk was too high. I suggest we review the entire case step by step, see where we can make some improvements. I'm beginning to believe that I made a slight error in judgment in not moving the first subject that came into town far away from our base of operations. I did what I thought best, but even so, there should be better ways—" He wheeled and stared at Williams, who had been wandering around and whispering to people and now seemed about to leave. "I didn't dismiss anyone."

Williams came up to the edge of the platform. "Liz isn't here."

"That's alright. I told her to get some rest. After all, she's born the brunt of this case."

"I signaled the house, and she didn't answer."


"Uh-uh. She didn't."

Rollin took rapid stock. He turned to all the others. "You will all remain where you are."

A buzz of conversation arose behind him as he preceded Williams up the stairs. He stepped outside and paused in the rapidly-falling dusk; Williams turned to close the door, and Rollin struck him across the back of the neck, just as he had with the doctor. Williams quietly collapsed.

Lights swung through the darkness, and sirens. Rollin gave a wave and gestured over his shoulder to the shed. Policemen came pouring out of the cars and rushed down into the meeting place. With a sigh of relief, Rollin yanked the Doc Tappert mask off and strode down the line of police cars to the long black car that had pulled in behind them. He leaned down into the front window.

"Our people coming?"

"Yep," Willy said. "All the agents will be picked up in Bakersfield from the police station. I brought in enough troops to keep them subdued."

"Well done, Willy." Rollin grinned and went around to the back. Jim was leaning against Cinnamon. Rollin patted his shoulder with a smile, and Jim lifted his arm and patted him back.

"Everything's going to be alright," Jim said.

The End