She cuffed him once, said something in Chinese.
The boy ran through the icons, closed the Internet connection as the woman spouted Chinese as quickly as her lips would move.
Carmellini stepped back against the wall and waited.
He heard the computer go off, heard the scrape of the chair and footsteps, then the door to the hallway close firmly.
He peered into the office.
He opened the hallway door a crack, just enough to see the woman and boy disappear into the elevator at the end of the hallway.
He paused for a second, then went back into the library and scooted the chair under the chandelier. Installing the new tape in the recorder took about thirty seconds; then he found the on-off switch and turned off the recorder. He put the chair back where it belonged and rubbed the seat again.
At the door in the secretary's office, Carmellini checked to ensure no one was coming, then stepped into the hallway and pulled the door shut until it latched. Strains of Gershwin's "An American in Paris" were audible here.
As he walked toward the staircase that led to the rooms below where the party was being held, Carmellini stripped off his latex gloves and put them in his pocket.
Downstairs he found Kerry Kent sipping champagne and talking animatedly with a long-haired intellectual type who was gazing hopefully at her. Kerry was a tall English woman with a spectacular mass of reddish brown hair who spoke both Cantonese and Mandarin fluently. On most working days she labored as a translator at the Greater China Mutual Aid Society, an insurance firm, but in reality she was an officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service, the SIS. Tonight she was wearing an elegant dark blue dress that just brushed her ankles and a modest borrowed diamond necklace.
"Oh, there you are, darling," she said lightly, laying a hand on Tommy's arm. "I have been talking to this brilliant playwright--" She said his name. "His new play is opening next week in the West End. My sister told me quite a lot about it, actually. What a coincidence! When we get back to London we must see it."
Carmellini shook hands with the scribbler and gently led Kerry away. Did anyone watch me come in?" he asked, just loud enough for her to hear over the hubbub of cocktail party chatter and music.
"I don't think anyone was paying much attention. What were you doing up there?"
"Watching porno on the Internet. Fascinating stuff! I'll tell you all about it later. Who is this sicko stalking you?"
He was referring to a Chinese man who was standing six feet away and openly staring at Kerry. When she moved, he moved.
"An admirer from the provinces, obviously, hopelessly smitten. All my life I've had this devastating effect on men. It's such a bore. I'm thinking of having chest reduction surgery to end these unwanted attentions."
That comment was intended as a joke, for Kerry had a slim, athletic figure.
Carmellini snarled at the staring man and guided Kent away by the elbow.
"Did you get it?" She meant the tape.
"It wasn't there. China Bob is stretched out behind his desk with a hole in his head."
"Dead?" A furrow appeared between her eyebrows.
"You found the recorder?"
"In the chandelier. But the tape was missing."
Kerry Kent sipped champagne as she digested Carmellini's lie. Just why lying to her was a good idea he couldn't say, but his instinct told him not to trust anyone. Someone shot Harold Barnes, and another someone, perhaps the same one, put a bullet in China Bob Chan's head--and Carmellini had known Ms. Kent for precisely three days, not exactly a long-term relationship.
There were at least three ways to get from this floor of the mansion to the floor above: two staircases and an elevator. Carmellini had slipped up one set of stairs after he went to the men's room, which was out of sight of the ballroom, just down the hall toward the back stairs. Anyone in this room could have done precisely the same thing in the last few hours, and probably several of them had.
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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