Watchers by Dean Koontz


  FINE. JUST THIRSTY. NIGHTMARE WOKE ME.

  Surprised, Travis said, “You dream?”

  DON’T YOU?

  “Yeah. Too much.”

  He refilled the retriever’s water dish, and Einstein emptied it again, and Travis filled it a second time. By then the dog had had enough. Travis expected him to want to go outside to pee, but the dog went upstairs instead and settled in the hall by the door of the bedroom in which Nora still slept.

  In a whisper, Travis said, “Listen, if you want to come in and sleep beside the bed, it’s all right.”

  That was what Einstein wanted. He curled up on the floor on Travis’s side of the bed.

  In the dark, Travis could reach out and easily touch both the shotgun and Einstein. He took greater reassurance from the presence of the dog than from the gun.

  6

  Saturday afternoon, just two days after Thanksgiving, Garrison Dilworth got in his Mercedes and drove slowly away from his house. Within two blocks he confirmed that the NSA still had a tail on him. It was a green Ford, probably the same one that had followed him last evening. They stayed well back of him, and they were discreet, but he was not blind.

  He still had not called Nora and Travis. Because he was being followed, he suspected his phones were being tapped as well. He could have gone to a pay phone, but he was afraid that the NSA could eavesdrop on the conversation with a directional microphone or some other high-tech gadget. And if they managed to record the push-button tones that he produced by punching in the Cornells’ number, they could easily translate those tones into digits and trace the number back to Big Sur. He would have to resort to deception to contact Travis and Nora safely.

  He knew he had better act soon, before Travis or Nora phoned him. These days, with the technology available to them, the NSA could trace the call back to its origins as fast as Garrison would be able to warn Travis that the line was tapped.

  So at two o’clock Saturday afternoon, chaperoned by the green Ford, he drove to Della Colby’s house in Montecito to take her to his boat, the Amazing Grace, for a lazy afternoon in the sun. At least that was what he had told her on the phone.

  Della was Judge Jack Colby’s widow. She and Jack were Garrison’s and Francine’s best friends for twenty-five years before death broke up the foursome. Jack had died one year after Francine. Della and Garrison remained very close; they frequently went to dinner together, went dancing and walking and sailing. Initially, their relationship had been strictly platonic; they were simply old friends who had the fortune—or misfortune— to outlast everyone they most cared about, and they needed each other because they shared so many good times and memories that would be diminished when there was no longer anyone left with whom to reminisce. A year ago, when they suddenly found themselves in bed together, they had been surprised and overwhelmed with guilt. They felt as if they were cheating on their spouses, though Jack and Francine had died years ago. The guilt passed, of course, and now they were grateful for the companionship and gently burning passion that had unexpectedly brightened their late-autumn years.

  When he pulled into Della’s driveway, she came out of the house, locked the front door, and hurried to his car. She was dressed in boat shoes, white slacks, a blue- and white-striped sweater, and a blue windbreaker. Although she was sixty-nine, and though her short hair was snow-white, she looked fifteen years younger.

  He got out of the Mercedes, gave her a hug and a kiss, and said, “Can we go in your car?”

  She blinked, “Are you having trouble with yours?”

  “No,” he said. “I’d just rather take yours.”

  “Sure.”

  She backed her Caddy out of the garage, and he got in on the passenger’s side. As she pulled into the street, he said, “I’m afraid my car might be bugged, and I don’t want them hearing what I’ve got to tell you.”

  Her expression was priceless.

  Laughing, he said, “No, I’ve not gone senile overnight. If you’ll keep an eye on the rearview mirror as you drive, you’ll see we’re being followed. They’re very good, very subtle, but they’re not invisible.”

  He gave her time, and after a few blocks Della said, “The green Ford, is it?”

  “That’s them.”

  “What’ve you gotten yourself into, dear?”

  “Don’t go straight to the harbor. Drive to the farmer’s market, and we’ll buy some fresh fruit. Then drive to a liquor store, and we’ll buy some wine. By then, I’ll have told you everything.”

  “Have you some secret life I’ve never suspected?” she asked, grinning at him. “Are you a geriatric James Bond?”

  Yesterday, Lem Johnson had reopened a temporary headquarters in a claustrophobic office at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. The room had one narrow window. The walls were dark, and the overhead lighting fixture was so dim it left the corners full of hanging shadows like misplaced scarecrows. The borrowed furniture consisted of rejects from other offices. He had worked out of here in the days following the Hockney killing, but had closed it up after a week, when there was nothing more to be done in the area. Now, with the hope that Dilworth would lead them to the Cornells, Lem reopened the cramped field HQ, plugged in the phones, and waited for developments.

  He shared the office with one assisting agent—Jim Vann—who was an almost too-earnest and too-dedicated twenty-five-year-old.

  At the moment, Cliff Soames was in charge of the six-man team at the harbor, overseeing not only the NSA agents spotted throughout the area, but also coordinating the coverage of Garrison Dilworth with the Harbor Patrol and the Coast Guard. The shrewd old man apparently realized he was being followed, so Lem expected him to make a break, to try to shake surveillance long enough to place a call to the Cornells in private. The most logical way for Garrison to throw off his tail was to head out to sea, go up or down the coast, put ashore on a launch, and telephone Cornell before his pursuers could relocate him. But he would be surprised to find himself accompanied out of the harbor by the local patrol; then, at sea, he would be followed by a Coast Guard cutter standing by for that purpose.

  At three-forty, Cliff called to report that Dilworth and his lady friend were sitting on the deck of the Amazing Grace, eating fruit and sipping wine, reminiscing a lot, laughing a little. “From what we can pick up with directional microphones and from what we can see, I’d say they don’t have any intention of going anywhere. Except maybe to bed. They sure do seem to be a randy old pair.”

  “Stay with them,” Lem said. “I don’t trust him.”

  Another call came through from the search team that had secretly entered Dilworth’s house minutes after he had left. They had found nothing related to the Cornells or the dog.

  Dilworth’s office had been carefully searched last night, and nothing had been found there, either. Likewise, a study of his phone records did not produce a number for the Cornells; if he had called them in the past, he always did so from a pay phone. An examination of his AT&T credit-card records showed no such calls, so if he had used a pay phone, he had not billed it to himself but had reversed the charges to the Cornells, leaving nothing to be traced. Which was not a good sign. Obviously, Dilworth had been exceedingly cautious even before he had known he was being watched.

  Saturday, afraid the dog might be coming down with a cold, Travis kept an eye on Einstein. But the retriever sneezed only a couple of times and did not cough at all, and he seemed to be fit.

  A freight company delivered ten large cartons containing all of Nora’s finished canvases that had been left behind in Santa Barbara. A couple of weeks ago, using a friend’s return address to insure that no link would exist between him and Nora “Aimes,” Garrison Dilworth had shipped the paintings to their new house.

  Now, unpacking and unwrapping the canvases, creating piles of paper padding in the living room, Nora was transported. Travis knew that, for many years, this work was what she had lived for, and he could see that having the paintings with her again was not only a great j
oy to her but would probably spur her to return to her new canvases, in the spare bedroom, with greater enthusiasm.

  “You want to call Garrison and thank him?” he asked.

  “Yes, absolutely!” she said. “But first, let’s unpack them all and make sure none of them is damaged.”

  Posted around the harbor, posing as yacht owners and fishermen, Cliff Soames and the other NSA agents watched Dilworth and Della Colby and eavesdropped on them electronically as the day waned. Twilight descended without any indication that Dilworth intended to put to sea. Soon night fell, yet the attorney and his woman made no move.

  Half an hour after dark, Cliff Soames got weary of pretending to fish off the stern of a Cheoy Lee sixty-six-foot sport yacht docked four slips away from Dilworth’s. He climbed the steps, went into the pilot’s cabin, and pulled the headphones off Hank Gorner, the agent who was monitoring the old couple’s conversation through a directional mike. He listened for himself.

  “. . . the time in Acapulco when Jack hired that fishing boat . . .”

  “. . . yes, the whole crew looked like pirates!”

  "... we thought we’d have our throats cut, be dumped at sea ...”

  "... but then it turned out they were all divinity students ...”

  “. . . studying to be missionaries . . . and Jack said . . .”

  Returning the headphones, Cliff said, “Still reminiscing!”

  The other agent nodded. The cabin light was out, and Hank was illuminated only by a small, hooded, built-in work lamp above the chart table, so his features looked elongated and strange. “That’s the way it’s been all day. At least they have some great stories.”

  “I’m going to the john,” Cliff said wearily. “Be right back.”

  “Take ten hours if you want. They’re not going anywhere.”

  A few minutes later, when Cliff returned, Hank Gorner pulled off his headphones and said, “They went below decks.”

  “Something up?”

  “Not what we’d hope. They’re gonna jump each other’s bones.”

  “Oh.”

  “Cliff, jeez, I don’t want to listen to this.”

  “Listen,” Cliff insisted.

  Hank put one earphone to his head. “Jeez, they’re undressing each other, and they’re as old as my grandparents. This is embarrassing.”

  Cliff sighed.

  “Now they’re quiet,” Hank said, a frown of distaste creeping over his face. “Any second they’re gonna start moaning, Cliff.”

  “Listen,” Cliff insisted. He snatched a light jacket off the table and went outside again so he wouldn’t have to listen.

  He took up his position in a chair on the stern deck, lifting the fishing pole once more.

  The night was cool enough for the jacket, but otherwise it could not have been better. The air was clear and sweet, scented with just a slight tang of the sea. The moonless sky was full of stars. The water slapped lullingly against the dock pilings and against the hulls of the moored boats. Somewhere across the harbor, on another craft, someone was playing love songs from the forties. An engine turned over—whump-whump-whump—and there was something romantic about the sound. Cliff thought how nice it would be to own a boat and set out on a long trip through the South Pacific, toward palm-shaded islands—

  Suddenly that idling engine roared, and Cliff realized it was the AmazingGrace. As he rose from his chair, dropping the fishing pole, he saw Dilworth’s boat reversing out of its slip recklessly fast. It was a sailboat, and subconsciously Cliff had not expected it to move with sails furled, but it had auxiliary engines; they knew this, were prepared for this, but still it startled him. He hurried back to the cabin. “Hank, get Harbor Patrol. Dilworth’s on the move.”

  “But they’re in the sack.”

  “Like hell they are!” Cliff ran out to the bow deck and saw that Dilworth had already swung the Amazing Grace around and was headed toward the mouth of the harbor. No lights at the aft end of the boat, the area around the wheel, just one small light forward. Jesus, he was really making a break for it.

  By the time they unpacked all one hundred canvases, hung a few, and carried the rest into the unused bedroom, they were starving.

  “Garrison’s probably having dinner now, too,” Nora said. “I don’t want to interrupt him. Let’s call him after we’ve eaten.”

  In the pantry, Einstein released letters from the Lucite tubes and spelled out a message: IT’S DARK. CLOSE THE SHUTTERS FIRST.

  Surprised and unsettled by his own uncharacteristic inattention to security, Travis hurried from room to room, closing the interior shutters and slipping the bolt-type latches in place. Fascinated by Nora’s paintings and delighted by the pleasure she exhibited in their arrival, he had not even noticed that night had arrived.

  Halfway toward the mouth of the harbor, confident that distance and the engine’s roar now protected them from electronic eavesdroppers, Garrison said, “Take me close to the outer point of the north breakwater, along the channel’s edge.”

  “Are you sure about this?” Della asked worriedly. “You’re not a teenager.”

  He patted her bottom and said, “I’m better.”

  “Dreamer.”

  He kissed her on the cheek and edged forward along the starboard railing, where he got into position for his jump. He was wearing dark blue swim trunks. He should have had a wetsuit because the water would be chilly. But he thought he ought to be able to swim to the breakwater, around the point of it, and haul himself out on the north side, out of sight of the harbor, all in a few minutes, long before the water temperature leached too much body heat from him.

  “Company!” Della called from the wheel.

  He looked back and saw a Harbor Patrol boat leaving the docks to the south, coming toward them on their port side.

  They won’t stop us, he thought. They have no legal right.

  But he had to go over the side before the Patrol swung in and took up a position astern. From behind, they would see him vault the railing. As long as they were to port, the Amazing Grace would conceal his departure, and the boat’s phosphorescent wake would cover the first few seconds of his swim around the point of the breakwater, long enough for the Patrol’s attention to have moved on with Della.

  They were heading out at the highest speed with which Della felt comfortable. The Hinckley Sou’wester jolted through the slightly choppy waters with enough force to make it necessary for Garrison to hold fast to the railing. Still, they seemed to move past the stone wall of the breakwater at a frustratingly slow pace, and the Harbor Patrol drew nearer, but Garrison waited, waited, because he didn’t want to go into the harbor a hundred yards short of its end. If he went in too soon, he would not be able to swim all the way out to the point and around it; instead, he would have to swim straight to the breakwater and climb its flank, within full sight of all observers. Now the patrol closed to within a hundred yards—he could see them when he rose from a crouch and looked across the Hinckley’s cabin roof—and began to swing around behind them, and Garrison could not wait much longer, could not—

  “The point!” Della called from the wheel.

  He threw himself over the railing, into the dark water, away from the boat.

  The sea was cold. It shocked the breath out of him. He sank, could not find the surface, was seized by panic, flailed, thrashed, but then broke through to the air, gasping.

  The Amazing Grace was surprisingly close. He felt as if he had been thrashing in confusion beneath the surface for a minute or more, but it must have been only a second or two because his boat was not yet far away. The Harbor Patrol was close, too, and he decided that even the churning wake of the Amazing Grace did not give him enough cover, so he took a deep breath and went under again, staying down as long as he could. When he came up, both Della and her shadowers were well past the mouth of the harbor, turning south, and he was safe from observation.

  The outgoing tide was swiftly carrying him past the point of the northern breakwat
er, which was a wall of loose boulders and rocks that rose more than twenty feet above the waterline, mottled gray and black ramparts in the night. He not only had to swim around the end of that barrier but had to move toward land against the resistant current. Without further delay, he began to swim, wondering why on earth he had thought this would be a snap.

  You’re almost seventy-one, he told himself as he stroked past the rocky point, which was illuminated by a navigation-warning light. What ever possessed you to play hero?

  But he knew what possessed him: a deep-seated belief that the dog must remain free, that it must not be treated as the government’s property. If we’ve come so far that we can create as God creates, then we have to learn to act with the justice and mercy of God. That was what he had told Nora and Travis—and Einstein—on the night Ted Hockney had been killed, and he had meant every word he’d said.

  Salt water stung his eyes, blurred his vision. Some had gotten into his mouth, and it burned a small ulcer on his lower lip.

  He fought the current, pulled past the point of the breakwater, out of sight of the harbor, then slashed toward the rocks. Reaching them at last, he hung onto the first boulder he touched, gasping, not yet quite able to pull himself out of the water.

  In the intervening weeks since Nora and Travis went on the run, Garrison had plenty of time to think about Einstein, and he felt even more strongly that to imprison an intelligent creature, innocent of all crime, was an act of grave injustice, regardless of whether the prisoner was a dog. Garrison had devoted his life to the pursuit of justice that was made possible by the laws of a democracy, and to the maintenance of the freedom that grew from this justice. When a man of ideals decides he is too old to risk everything for what he believes in, then he is no longer a man of ideals. He may no longer be a man at all. That hard truth had driven him, in spite of his age, to make this night swim. Funny—that a long life of idealism should, after seven decades, be put to the ultimate test over the fate of a dog.

  But what a dog.

  And what a wondrous new world we live in, he thought.

  Genetic technology might have to be rechristened “genetic art,” for every work of art was an act of creation, and no act of creation was finer or more beautiful than the creation of an intelligent mind.

  Getting his second wind, he heaved entirely out of the water, onto the sloped north flank of the northern breakwater. That barrier rose between him and the harbor, and he moved inland, along the rocks, while the sea surged at his left side. He’d brought a waterproof penlight, clipped to his trunks, and now he used it to proceed, barefoot, with the greatest caution, afraid of slipping on the wet stones and breaking a leg or an ankle.

  He could see the city lights a few hundred yards ahead, and the vague silvery line of the beach.

  He was cold but not as cold as he had been in the water. His heart was beating fast but not as fast as before.

  He was going to make it.

  Lem Johnson drove down from the temporary HQ in the courthouse, and Cliff met him at the empty boat slip where the Amazing Grace had been tied up. A wind had risen. Hundreds of craft along the docks were wallowing slightly in their berths; they creaked, and slack sail lines clicked and clinked against their masts. Dock lamps and neighboring boat lanterns cast shimmering patterns of light on the dark, oily-looking water where Dilworth’s forty-two-footer had been moored.

  “Harbor Patrol?” Lem asked worriedly.

  “They followed him out to open sea. Seemed as if he was going to turn north, swung close by the point, but then he went south instead.”

  “Did Dilworth see them?”

  “He had to. As you see—no fog, lots of stars, clear as a bell.”

  “Good. I want him to be aware. Coast Guard?”

  “I’ve talked to the cutter,” Cliff assured him. “They’re on the spot, flanking the Amazing Grace at a hundred yards, heading south along the coast.”

  Shivering in the rapidly cooling air, Lem said, “They know he might try putting ashore in a rubber boat or whatever?”

  “They know,” Cliff said. “He can’t do it under their noses.”

  “Is the Guard sure he sees them?”

  “They’re lit up like a Christmas tree.”

  “Good. I want him to know it’s hopeless. If we can just keep him from warning the Cornells, then they’ll call him sooner or later—and we’ll have them. Even if they call him from a pay phone, we’ll know their general location.”

  In addition to taps on Dilworth’s home and office phones, the NSA had installed tracing equipment that would lock open a line the moment a connection was made, and keep it open even after both parties hung up, until the caller’s number and street address were ascertained and verified. Even if Dilworth shouted a warning and hung up the instant he recognized one of the Cornells’ voices, it would be too late. The only way he could try to foil the NSA was by not answering his phone at all. But even that would do him no good because, after the sixth ring, every incoming call was being automatically “answered” by the NSA’s equipment, which opened the line and began tracing procedures.

  “The only thing could screw us now,” Lem said, “is if Dilworth gets to a phone we don’t have monitored and warns the Cornells not to call him.”

  “It’s not going to happen,” Cliff said. “We’re on him tight.”

  “I wish you wouldn’t say that,” Lem worried. As the wind got hold of it, a metal clip on a loose line clanged loudly off a spar, and the sound made Lem jump. “My dad always said the worst happens when you least expect it.”

  Cliff shook his head. “With all due respect, sir, the more I hear you quote your father, the more I think he must’ve been just about the gloomiest man who ever lived.”

 
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