Carmellini stepped to the nearest bookcase, studied the spines of the books that filled the thing. Not a flake of dust.
A diligent maid would not be good.
He pulled a chair over under the chandelier, then stood on it.
Aha! There it was, taped in the junction of the main arms of the chandelier. With the bulbs of the chandelier burning brightly, the tiny recorder would have been almost impossible to see from the floor.
Carmellini reached. In seconds he had the two reels out. Maybe three-quarters of the tape had been used, about six hours' worth.
Back on the floor, he was tempted to put the reels into his pocket, then thought better of it. He pulled up a trouser leg and carefully shoved them down into one sock.
He had a new tape in his other sock, but with China Bob dead, the recorder seemed superfluous. Should he cut the wires and remove the device?
How much time did he have?
If China Bob Chan killed Harold Barnes, why was the recorder still there? Was he waiting for someone to come for the tape?
Suddenly aware that time was fleeing, Tommy Carmellini pushed the chair back to its former position. He vigorously rubbed the upholstered seat of the chair to remove any marks his shoes had made.
As he straightened, he heard a noise. It seemed to come from the secretary's office. When he stepped in that direction the light in the smaller office came on.
Carmellini moved swiftly and flattened against the wall. The door to the secretary's office was to his right. He listened intently for footsteps.
Carmellini desperately wanted to avoid being caught in this room with a dead man on the floor and a tape in his sock. True, he had diplomatic immunity as the assistant agricultural officer at the consulate, but the publicity and hullabaloo of an arrest and interrogation, not to mention expulsion from the country, would not be career-enhancing.
He heard the scrape of a chair being moved.
Coiled, ready to lash out if anyone came through the door, he approached it, staying back far enough that he remained away from the glare of the light.
Someone was sitting behind the secretary's desk, someone small. My God, it was a kid! A boy, perhaps ten or twelve.
Carmellini stepped back so he would be out of sight if the youngster glanced this way.
Now he heard a computer boot up.
There was one other exit from this room, at the far end. Carmellini didn't know if the door was locked, but it led to another suite of offices which opened into the hallway near the elevator.
He walked toward the door, moving quietly and decisively.
The knob refused to turn. Locked. There was a keyhole, but he could not see the brand name or type of lock.
He removed a leather packet from his pocket and unfolded it, revealing a carefully chosen selection of picks. He took one, inserted it in the lock.
As he bent down to work on the lock, he saw for the first time the heads of the bolts in the door. They had been painted the same dark color as the door to make them less noticeable.
Even if he got the lock open, the door was bolted shut.
He put the pick away and stowed the packet in an inside jacket pocket as he walked back toward the secretary's open door.
Standing at least six feet from the door, he moved so he could see inside.
The kid was at the computer, typing.
Now he sat back in the chair, waiting. . .
In seconds a naked woman appeared on the screen, a woman holding what appeared to be a giant penis in her hand. Now she--
Jesus, the kid is into porno!
Just what the woman was going to do with the penis, Tommy Carmellini never discovered, for at that instant the door from the hallway opened and a woman walked in. The boy took one look at the intruder and closed the screen, but not before the woman got a good look at it.
Copyright 2000 © by Stephen Coonts. Published by the permission of the publisher, St Martins Press.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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