The phone began ringing again.
Paul ignored it. He slipped the clip from his big gun and unchambered the round that was in the receiver, then he emptied the cartridges out of the revolver. He walked to the window and tossed the pistols out one at a time. He didn't hear them land.
Finishing the soda pop, he took his jacket off, dropped it on the floor. He started for the door but paused. He went back to the Kelvinator and got another Royal Crown. He drank it down. Then he wiped his face again, opened the front door, stepped back and lifted his arms.
The phone stopped ringing.
"This's called The Room," said the gray-haired man in a pressed white uniform, taking a seat on a small couch.
"You were never here," he added with a cheerful confidence that meant there was no debate. He added, "And you never heard about it."
It was 11 P.M. They'd brought Paul here directly from Malone's. It was a private town house on the Upper East Side, though most of the rooms on the ground floor contained desks and telephones and Teletype machines, like in an office. Only in the parlor were there divans and armchairs. On the walls here were pictures of new and old navy ships. A globe sat in the corner. FDR looked down at him from a spot above a marble mantel. The room was wonderfully cold. A private house that had air-conditioning. Imagine.
Still handcuffed, Paul had been deposited in a comfortable leather armchair. The two younger men who'd escorted him out of Malone's apartment, also in white uniforms, sat beside him and slightly behind. The one who'd spoken to him on the phone was named Andrew Avery, a man with rosy cheeks and deliberate, sharp eyes. Eyes of a boxer, though Paul knew he'd never been in a fistfight in his life. The other was Vincent Manielli, dark, with a voice that told Paul they'd probably grown up in the same section of Brooklyn. Manielli and Avery didn't look much older than the stickball kids in front of Paul's building, but they were, of all things, lieutenants in the navy. When Paul had been in France the lieutenants he'd served under had been grown men.
Their pistols were in holsters but the leather flaps were undone and they kept their hands near their weapons.
The older officer, sitting across from him on the couch, was pretty high up -- a naval commander, if the gingerbread on his uniform was the same as it'd been twenty years ago.
The door opened and an attractive woman in a white navy uniform entered. The name on her blouse was Ruth Willets. She handed him a file. "Everything's in there."
"Thank you, Yeoman."
As she left, without glancing at Paul, the officer opened the file, extracted two pieces of thin paper, read them carefully. When he finished, he looked up. "I'm James Gordon. Office of Naval Intelligence. They call me Bull."
"This is your headquarters?" Paul asked. "'The Room'?"
The commander ignored him and glanced at the other two. "You introduced yourselves yet?"
"There was no trouble?"
"None, sir." Avery was doing the talking.
"Take his cuffs off."
Avery did so while Manielli stood with his hand near his gun, edgily eyeing Paul's gnarled knuckles. Manielli had fighter's hands too. Avery's were pink as a dry-goods clerk's.
The door swung open again and another man walked inside. He was in his sixties but as lean and tall as that young actor Marion and Paul had seen in a couple of films, Jimmy Stewart. Paul frowned. He knew the face from articles in the Times and the Herald Tribune. "Senator?"
The man responded, but to Gordon: "You said he was smart. I didn't know he was well-informed." As if he wasn't happy about being recognized. The Senator looked Paul up and down, sat and lit a stubby cigar.
Copyright © 2004 by Jeffery Deaver.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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