Snow from the South cover

Snow from the South

By Robert Edward Eckels

Appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, July 1977

© 1977 by Robert Edward Eckels; reprinted by permission of the author

Snow from the South cover art

It had been a bad day from the start. Freedlund had been riding me even more than usual to get everything wrapped up before we left for the conference, and the staff seemed to be conspiring to insure that there would be plenty to wrap up. So when the call came from my wife I was even more off guard than usual. Although what she tad to say would have been like a kick below the belt under any circumstances: our six-year-old had been attacked by an adult on his way home from school.

“Now don’t panic,” Marge said. “He’s all right. Really. And maybe ‘attacked’ isn’t the right word. What happened, as far as I can make out anyway, is that Tom was just walking along when this man picked him up and dumped him down in the nearest mud puddle.”

“That’s crazy,” I said. “Why would anybody do a thing like that?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “At first I thought it might be something he was making up to cover himself for goofing around and falling in on his own. But while Tom’s imagination gets pretty wild at times, he doesn’t lie. Besides, there were other kids around and they all say the same thing. This car just pulled up to the curb behind them, a man got out, headed straight for Tom to dump him in the puddle, and then ran back to the car and drove off.”

“Did they get the license number?” I said.

“No. They’re just kids and they were all excited and upset. One of them did have the presence of mind to run down to Mrs. Rousseau. She isn’t supposed to leave her crossing, but she could hear Tom screaming so she left one of the older kids there with strict orders not to let anybody cross until she got back. When she got to Tom he was still in the middle of the puddle bawling his head off but otherwise OK.”

“Thank God for that anyway,” I said.

“Yes,” Marge said. An odd note entered her voice. “Mrs. Rousseau thinks we should call the police,” she said.

I hesitated. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know. This whole thing has got me so upset I don’t know what to think.”

I looked down at my watch. “Look,” I said, “I’m not going to be any good here the rest of the afternoon. Why don’t I catch the early train and we can talk about it when I get home?”

“That would be great,” she said, “if you can.”

“I can,” I said and waited until she had hung up before putting the phone down myself. It was forty-five minutes before I could catch the train. I never felt more helpless in my life.

* * *

I didn’t expect Marge to meet me but as I crossed the tracks behind the departing commuter train the familiar green Pontiac swooped down to a stop at the foot of the hill, then swung left to meet me.

Marge was alone in the car. “Where are the boys?” I asked.

“Watching TV,” she said. “They’re OK.” It was less than a five minute run from our house to the commuter station, short enough to leave the boys on their own. Ordinarily. “I locked the doors.”

I nodded. “How’s Tom doing?”

“Pretty good.” She accented the “pretty.” “He’s still a little shaky, but otherwise OK.”

“And you?”

She summoned a wry smile. “Same thing,” she said, braking briefly, then swinging left to circle back the way she had come. “I spoke to the police,” she added.

“What did they have to say? Anything?”

“Lots,” she said. “But what it all boils down to is that they’ll have a squad car drive by the school every now and then. It doesn’t seem like much, but I guess there’s not much else they dan do—and it just might scare the man off if he thought he might get caught.’

“Let’s hope so anyway,” I said.

* * *

Both boys were in the family room watching Batman reruns and when I stuck my head in I got the usual perfunctory “hi.” A few minutes later, though, Tom came out to the kitchen to chat while I browsed through the paper. This wasn’t unusual. He was a little more restrained and quieter than usual, but otherwise he seemed to be bearing up well.

After supper I took Tom and Jim outside to enjoy the last of the sunshine just as on any other day. We were shooting baskets—or rather I was shooting baskets and they were heaving the ball in the general direction of the backboard—when Marge came out to tell me I had a phone call.

“Mr. Richards?” The voice was strange but familiar: a salesman’s voice. “My name is Christiansen, and I regret disturbing you like this but I felt it important that I speak to you. About what happened to your son this afternoon.”

“Why? What do you know about that?”

“Only what I heard, Mr. Richards. And, please, don’t be alarmed. I’m not a reporter or anything like that. I’m a parent like yourself. And like you, I’m sure, a concerned parent. The thing is, I’m afraid what happened today wasn’t an isolated incident. Something very similar was done to my little girl three weeks ago. And there have been other occurrences as well. Up to now the incidents have been relatively harmless. Whether they will continue to be is something I don’t care to speculate about—or gamble on. So I’ve invited some people—concerned parents like us—to meet at my home this evening to consider the problem and what is to be done about it. I’d like very much for you to join us.”

I hesitated, then shook my head. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I really don’t know what such a group could hope to accomplish.”

“Nor do I, Mr. Richards,” Christiansen said. “But even if we fail, we’ve lost nothing. And who knows? Perhaps a group mind is more than just the sum of its parts.”

“Perhaps it is,” I said. I looked up. Marge had come into the room and stood frowning at me. Christiansen’s voice rolled on persistently, and finally I agreed. “All right,” I said. “I’ll come. But only to the meeting. I’m not committing myself to anything else.”

“Nor are any of us, Mr. Richards,” Christiansen said. “The address is 165 North Wells. Shall we say nine?”

“I’ll be there,” I said and rang off.

“What was that all about?” Marge asked.

I sighed. “I think I’ve just been invited to join a vigilante group,” I said. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

* * *

165 North Wells was a raw new house on a street of raw new houses. Construction debris littered the packed-yellow-dirt yard. No lights showed. And a quick glance through one of the blank windows confirmed that I’d been brought on a fool’s errand. The house was vacant. I could imagine Christiansen sitting in a bar somewhere laughing his sick head off. But as I turned back to my car, a shadow stirred and resolved itself into a bulky man slouching near it, his hands thrust deep into his topcoat pockets.

“I’m afraid I have to apologize again, Mr. Richards,” he said. “For the inconvenience.”

There was no mistaking the voice; it was Christiansen. He was an older man than I’d expected—mid-fiftyish—with a pale jowly face and small eyes that regarded me with only half-veiled amusement.

“Look, Christiansen,” I said angrily, “just what kind of a joke is this anyway?”

A faint smile tugged at his lips. “No joke, Mr. Richards,” he said. “Quite the opposite, in fact.” He took his hand from his pocket and showed me the gun it held. “Shall we get in the car?” he said.

There was no choice. I got behind the wheel. He slid into the back seat behind me, leaning forward so that the gun was scant inches from the nape of my neck. “There’s no need to worry, Mr. Richards,” he said. “We’re just going to take a little ride. But safety first. Your seatbelt, please. The shoulder strap too if you don’t mind.”

Again there was no choice. I snapped the belt and shoulder strap on and was as effectively constrained as if I’d been in a straitjacket.

“I think we’re ready now,” Christiansen said. “Shall we go?”

I put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb. There were only a few houses beyond 165. Then the street darkened and narrowed. Christiansen leaned back and sighted. “I seem to keep apologizing to you, Mr. Richards,” he said, “which I’m sure you find very tiresome. Let me just add, though, that I regret very much what happened to your son this afternoon. It was, shall we say, a small demonstration of how vulnerable he is—or perhaps how vulnerable you are through him. I trust you understand my point.”

When I didn’t answer, he nudged my shoulder with the gun. “I understand you,” I said. “What do you want?”

“Only a small service, Mr. Richards. You’re going down to the Bahamas next week. What could be simpler than for you to make a small side-trip while you’re there to pick up a package for me and bring it back when you return?”

“What kind of package?” I said, but I already knew the answer. Nothing legal; nothing you could find any possible rationalization for.

“Snow,” Christiansen said. “Snow from the south.” He laughed at his own conceit. “Not that it makes any difference. Because unless you perform this service, your little boy is going to be very badly hurt. There isn’t a thing you can do to prevent it, unless you do exactly as I say. Believe me, Mr. Richards, I don’t like this any more than you do. But, unfortunately, the very qualities that make you an ideal courier also make it unlikely that you would respond favorably to an offer of money. So it boils down to a matter of incentive.”

“You son of a bitch,” I said.

“I prefer to think of myself as a man doing what he has to do. But be that as it may, don’t think for a minute that I won’t do as I say. I will and I think I proved this afternoon that I can.

“You can stop here,” he added.

I braked and he got out of the car. “Let me leave you with one last thought,” he said, looking down at me from outside, his hand and the gun back in his pocket. “Maybe I am bluffing. You can find out very easily simply by calling me. But what if you’re wrong? What then, eh?” The half smile turned even more rueful. “The smartest gambler always plays the odds so that he stands to win more than he can possibly lose. Think about that, Mr. Richards, and act accordingly.” He nodded down the road. “That’s all,” he said. “You may go now.”

I drove off.

Twenty yards down the road, rage reasserted itself. I braked hard and wrenched off the safety harness. But when I looked back, he was already gone.

* * *

Marge looked up curiously as I came in. “You’re early,” she said. Then she saw my face. “What’s wrong? Did something happen at the meeting?”

“There was no meeting,” I said. I went past her to the cabinet where we kept the bourbon, splashed some in a glass, and drank it neat. It might as well have been water.

“Well, for Pete’s sake,” Marge said. She rose and came over to me. “I’ve never seen you like this. What is it?”

I opened my mouth. I wanted to tell her, but the words wouldn’t come. Finally I blurted it out, badly.

“Oh, my God!” she said. “My baby!”

I reached out for her. “It’s all right,” I said.

“No, it isn’t. You can’t let this happen, Frank,” she said. “I don’t care what he wants you to do, you do it! You keep my baby safe!”

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” I said. “You don’t mean that.”

“Don’t I?” Her face was unyielding. Then suddenly her shoulders sagged. “Oh, God,” she said. “What are we going to do?”

I didn’t have a good answer. I just looked at her. Finally I did the one thing that seemed least likely to be a blueprint for disaster. I called the police.

* * *

I had no experience to draw on—only what I’d read or seen. I expected a team of detectives. All they sent, though, was one uniformed officer who took down the facts as I related them again and then said his only advice to call immediately if Christiansen attempted to contact me again. Under the circumstances I suppose it was all he could do but now there was a tight knot in the pit of my stomach that hadn’t been there before. What if Christiansen was right?

When I went downstairs next morning Marge was already in the kitchen, brooding over a cup of coffee. She looked haggard and worn.

“I didn’t sleep last night,” she said. “Every time I closed my eyes—” She broke off, looking up fearfully as a solid thump came from overhead—followed quickly by the sudden rush of feet toward the bathroom. She managed a wry smile. “Is this what it’s going to be like from now on?”

“It won’t last,” I said.

“It better not,” she said. “Because if it does, I won’t”

It was a long morning at the office. Then shortly before noon a Lieutenant Guiscard called. He had some pictures he’d like me to look at. Could I stop down at police headquarters sometime that afternoon?

Oh, God, could I?

* * *

Guiscard sat with his elbows on the scarred wooden table and watched patiently as I went through the photos. He was a tall man with a lean, bony face, deep-set eyes, and a bitter mouth. The photos were mug shots, standard front and side views taken in harsh light with a fixed camera. None was familiar and I passed them back to Guiscard with a shake of my head.

Guiscard shrugged philosophically. “It was just a thought,” he said. “We had the State Criminal Investigation Department run the name Christiansen through R and I to see what they’d come up with. Sometimes it pays off.” He tossed the photos back on the table. “Do you have any idea how he happened to pick on you?” he said.

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” I said. “He said I’d be an ideal courier. I guess I was just unlucky enough to meet his requirements.”

“Sure,” Guiscard said. “But first he’d have to know that you were going out of the country and all the rest of it. How would he have found out?”

I shrugged again. “The trip’s no secret,” I said. “A lot of people knew. It was even written up in the paper.”

“It isn’t a pleasure trip then?”

“No, it’s a conference of quality-control experts. My boss is presenting a paper on quality control in service industries. I’m going along primarily to hold his coat.”

“Sounds like a pretty good deal.”

“That’s one way of looking at it.”

“It’s the way a lot of people would,” Guiscard said, “and maybe one of them wants to spoil it for you. Somebody at the office maybe who might feel you’d beaten him out of a soft trip.”

“No,” I said.

“You’re sure?”

“No,” I said again. “I’m not sure of anything except what happened last night. If I knew more I’d tell you. But right now I don’t need questions. I need answers.”

* * *

On Monday some position papers Freedlund had given me had been moved out onto the middle of my desk where I couldn’t possibly overlook them. Equally conspicuous was a pile of report material missing from its usual place.

“Mr. Hartley took it Friday afternoon.” Paula said. She was a thin, fox-faced girl and my secretary for the past year and a half. “He said Mr. Freedlund didn’t want it delayed and you were going to be tied up getting ready for the conference.”

“I see,” I said. I sat down at the desk and looked dispiritedly at Freedlund’s papers.

“You want coffee?” Paula said sympathetically.


It was impossible to concentrate, though, and shortly after eleven I gave it up and left early for lunch. Usually I ate in the building, but so did Freedlund and all the others, and today I wanted to get away. Absorbed in my thoughts, I walked two blocks before I realized I was being followed.

I was too startled to hide my reaction. The man smiled wryly and lengthened his stride to catch up with me. “It’s all right, Mr. Richards,” he said, taking my arm and keeping me moving. He wasn’t a big man, but he carried himself with an air of quiet assurance that brooked no nonsense. “My name’s Lovejoy,” he said. “I’m a federal narcotics agent, and I think it’s time we had a long talk.”

“When you come right down to it,” Lovejoy said, “it’s really kind of a clever idea. He gets a courier nobody would suspect. Your run all the risks and he reaps all the benefits.”

“I’m glad you find it so admirable,” I said. We sat across from each other in a small bar and I had just explained the whole thing to him a third time.

Lovejoy smiled faintly. “Hardly that,” he said. “But give the devil his due. He won’t enjoy it long now that we know what he’s up to. It’s just a matter of giving him enough rope, then picking him up and putting him away for good.” He leaned back and looked at me curiously. “You look like you don’t believe me,” he said.

“I want to,” I said. “But what if you can’t find him?”

Lovejoy smiled again. “I’ve already found him, Mr. Richards,” he said. “I’ve had him under telephone surveillance for over a month now, just waiting for him to make a move. How else do you think I found you?”

“I assumed the police—Guiscard—”

Lovejoy shook his head. “No,” he said, “Christiansen is my baby, and he’s going to stay that way until the last nail is in his coffin. I’ve seen too many fish slip away because the wrong person found out too soon. You don’t have to worry, though. It won’t be long now.”

“What do you want me to do?” I said.

“Nothing until you hear from me; then you can testify at the trial.” He looked at me shrewdly. “No problem, is there?”

“Problem?” I smiled. “It’ll be a pleasure.”

I called Marge from the office as soon as I got back.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “Is it really over?”

“It will be soon,” I said.

She started to cry.

“Hey,” I said.

“I know. It’s no way to react. It’s just such a relief though.”

As it turned out, our relief was premature. Lovejoy called that evening just as we were sitting down to supper. “We lost him,” he said.

“What do you mean? You had him under surveillance!”

“By telephone,” Lovejoy said. “We had a tap, that’s all. He never used the phone much during the day, and nobody thought anything was wrong. But when we went to close in tonight, he was gone.”

I felt the weight settle back on my shoulders. “So we’re back where we started,” I said.

“Not really,” Lovejoy said. “We may not know where he is, but he knows where you are, and there’s one time when he has to surface—when he picks up the package you bring back. And that’s when we’ll be waiting.”

“No, I’m no here. I’m not playing any games with him or you or anybody.”

“I don’t blame you,” Lovejoy said, “but what choice do you have?”

I told myself it wasn’t true—that Christiansen might have been scared off for good and that I’d never hear from him again. But two days later I received a package and a note in the mail. Inside the package was $10,000 in neatly banded bills. The note was short and simple:

“It’s a lot of money, Mr. Richards, but ours is a cash-and-carry business and I know you won’t cheat me. The man’s name is Lazarus, and you needn’t worry about meeting him. He’ll know you.”

There was no signature, but then there didn’t need to be. And as soon as I could I called Lovejoy at the number he had given me.

“Well, Mr. Richards?” he said.

“You said it yourself,” I said. “What choice do I have?”

* * *

Marge took it almost too calmly. Perhaps that was a good sign, perhaps not. All I knew was that I couldn’t leave her alone behind me, and that Saturday I saw her and the boys off to her sister’s in Michigan, driving along behind them until we were well clear of the city and I was sure no one else was following. The next morning I flew out to the Bahamas. It was a direct flight, and except for Freedlund there was no one on board I recognized. Four hours later, though, I found Lovejoy waiting for me on the ground in Nassau.

“You didn’t think we’d leave you to do it alone, did you?” he said.

Frankly, I’d stopped thinking long before. Which was almost fatal.

* * *

Christiansen’s note had said Lazarus would know me. How I didn’t know, but meeting him was easier than I’d anticipated. Pinned to my reservation card at the hotel was an envelope with a message inside: “Victoria Gardens 3 o’clock tomorrow.” It was unsigned and all the clerk could tell me was that it had been delivered by messenger earlier that afternoon.

“He’s not wasting any time,” Lovejoy said. “Well, so what? The sooner this is over the better.”

* * *

The gardens were on the main island—New Providence—and on Lovejoy’s advice I had the cab drop me at Rawson Square and I walked the last few blocks alone. I almost missed the gardens the first time. They were set slightly above street level and screened off by wrought-iron railings rising out of a low concrete retaining wall. A chunk had broken out of the wall in one place. It might have been recent, because the rubble lay in a neat pile at the base. The real problem was the gardens themselves. They were dry and drought-ruined. Given a free hand, I might have turned around then and there, but there was Christiansen waiting back in the States. And my family. I pushed open the gate and went inside.

The park was deserted except for a small round-faced man seated on a stone bench. He rose and walked away as I approached, but not so fast that I didn’t overtake him easily.

“You’re late,” Mr. Richards,” he said.

“It couldn’t be helped.”

“Everything can be helped,” he said. “Did you bring the money?”

When I nodded, he held out his hand. I hesitated, but his face was set like a spoiled child’s. I shrugged and handed over the envelope with Christiansen’s money. He ripped it open and counted rapidly. Then, apparently satisfied, he stuffed it in his pocket and walked back past me to the bench, reaching down behind it and bringing up a cheap briefcase which he tossed to me. Inside was a clear plastic bag filled with white powder and tied at the top.

* * *

Lovejoy was waiting anxiously in my room when I got back to the hotel.


“So far so good,” I said and handed him the package.

He hefted it, feeling the weight. “A lot of dreams,” he said, “and a lot of money.”

“How much?”

“On the street, after it’s been cut, close to a million.” He looked at me quizzically. “Tempted?”


“Good boy. You’d be surprised how many ‘honest’ people would be. But then that’s what keeps people like me in business. Greed.” He hefted the package once more, then untied it and dipped two fingers in for a taste. His face changed as they touched his lips.

“What’s the matter?”

Lovejoy swallowed. “It’s sugar!” he said. “The son of a bitch deceived you!”

It took a minute, but then the absurdity of it all hit me and I began to laugh.

“You think it’s funny, do you?” Lovejoy said.

“Isn’t it?”

“No,” Lovejoy said. “Damn it, why didn’t you check?”

“It never occurred to me.”

“It—God, you are an amateur, aren’t you?”

I stopped laughing. “I never pretended to be anything else,” I said.

I held Lovejoy’s eyes for a long moment. Finally he sighed. “No, you didn’t,” he said. “Well, it’s done. The thing now is to have a long talk with Mr. Lazarus, pointing out the error of his ways.”

“He could be anywhere,” I said.

“Not really,” Lovejoy said. He was calmer now, back in control. “Think about it for a minute. If you’d pulled off a coup like this, what would you do?”

“Get out of town as fast as I could.”

“Which in this case,” Lovejoy said, “means get off the island. So a three o’clock meeting probably means a four-thirty or five o’clock flight.”

I looked at the clock. It was already past four. Lovejoy smiled grimly. “Don’t worry,” he said. “There’s always a way.” He picked up the phone and dialed rapidly. “Has the plane left yet?” he said into the receiver. “The one with the bomb on board?”

* * *

There was a massive traffic jam-up in front of the airport but a uniformed policeman on guard at the entrance when we got there waved us in without a second glance when Lovejoy flashed his ticket envelope.

The building was crowded but not so jammed we couldn’t move and I soon spotted Lazarus seated alone on a suitcase and holding a smaller attaché case on his lap. He smiled when he recognized me.

“Something wrong, Mr. Richards?” he said.

“You know there is,” I said.

“Of course,” he said. “But I have this policy: no exchanges. And no refunds.”

“Make an exception this time,” Lovejoy said. He had come up behind Lazarus and pressed his knee into the other’s back between the shoulder blades.

Lazarus stopped smiling. “Don’t be foolish,” he said. “You aren’t going to do anything here.”

“Why not?” Lovejoy said. “Nobody’d notice until you started to fall and then it’d be too late.”

Lazarus hesitated, trying to judge whether Lovejoy’s threat was real. Finally he rose, clutching the briefcase to his chest. “Not here,” he said. “The washroom.” Without waiting for a reply he started off across the floor. It was my turn to hesitate now, but Lovejoy simply picked up the suitcase and went after him. Finally I followed.

Lazarus led us on past the main washroom and down to a smaller one on a side corridor. He went in first and as soon as the door started to close behind him he whirled and swung the attaché case in a vicious arc at Lovejoy’s head. Lovejoy was ready for him. Even before Lazarus had started to turn, he had brought the suitcase up and now he shoved it hard into Lazarus’s chest. Caught off-balance and hampered by his own ruined swing, Lazarus went down.

“Block the door,” Lovejoy said, and as I put my back against it he reached down to pick up Lazarus’s attaché case. Inside was Christiansen’s $10,000, still in its original envelope.

“Where’s the stuff?” he said.

“They didn’t send it,” Lazarus said from against the wall, looking up obliquely at Lovejoy.

“Let’s see,” Lovejoy said. He bent down, caught Lazarus by the lapels, and hauled him roughly erect. “Strip,” he said.

Lazarus hesitated.

“You heard me,” Lovejoy said.

Reluctantly, Lazarus pulled out his shirttails and unstrapped a pouched belt from around his waist. Lovejoy snatched it away from him. “Going to work a little deal for yourself, were you?” he said.

Lazarus didn’t say anything. Lovejoy opened one of the pouches to taste the contents. Then, satisfied that he had what he was supposed to have, he folded the belt neatly to fit into the attaché case and started toward the door.

“Wait!” Lazarus protested. “You can’t keep them both!”

Lovejoy smiled grimly. “Your bosses won’t like that, will they?” he said. “Too bad.” He went on out the door. I followed, but not before I got one last glimpse of Lazarus’s face. It was pale and full of hate.

* * *

Halfway back to the hotel I began to tremble.

“What’s the matter?” Lovejoy said.

“I told you I’m no hero,” I said.

“You did all right,” he said. He slapped me on the shoulder. “Besides the worst is over. All you have to do now is take it back into the States.”

* * *

I spent the next two days attending conference sessions with only the pouched belt around my waist to remind me that I had come to the island for any other purpose. That all changed abruptly Wednesday evening. Freedlund had read his paper at the conference that afternoon and I went up to my room later than usual. The delay may have saved my life.

The room had been ripped apart—and by an expert hand. Lazarus trying to get his own back. It took me a minute to take it in. Then I reached for the phone. It had been knocked off its stand, but it still worked and, trembling slightly, I dialed Lovejoy’s number.

The girl at the switchboard said that he had left a message for me that he had gone on an errand and would be back by six. I hung up the phone and surveyed the damage. It didn’t take me long to decide what to do. The conference had two more days to run and there would be hell to pay when they found me gone, but I hadn’t lied when I told Lovejoy I was no hero.

I pulled out the smaller of my two bags and threw what clothes I could into it. Riding the elevator down to the poolside entrance and leaving unobserved. I wondered if Lovejoy had been kidnapped and if I was playing into Lazarus’s hands. If I reached home all right I would call the FBI. I caught a cab at the corner and at the airport had no trouble exchanging my ticket for the next flight out.

* * *

Everything had happened so fast I hadn’t really had a chance to psych myself up for customs, but somehow I carried it off. Or rather the inspector did. He poked around the edges of my suitcase but his attention was clearly centered on the bearded youth behind me. He passed me on through just as Christiansen had said he would, and I carried the package unimpeded out to the garage where my car was parked.

This time of evening there wasn’t much traffic on the expressway and I made good time driving home. The familiar street was vaguely comforting, but the house seemed strange. It was too quiet and empty and I went from room to room, opening them up, before I went to phone the FBI.

Before I made the call, the phone rang.

I stopped in my tracks. Freedlund? A neighbor who had seen the lights? Lovejoy? I reached for the receiver.

Lovejoy. “What are you doing there, Richards?” he said. “Why did you bolt like that?”

I explained it to him—the possibility he had been kidnapped, that he himself was being trapped. “Where are you calling from?”

“The island airport. I’m getting a flight back in twenty minutes. Did everything go all right through customs?”

“Fine,” I said.

“Good. Then it’s just a matter of waiting for Christiansen to contact you. When he does, you know what to do.”

“Call you.”

“That’s right,” he said. “Stall for a meeting until I’ve had time to get back. We’ll take care of the rest.”

I put the phone down and went back to opening up the house. After a drink and a sandwich, I decided to search the house for a hiding place for the belt, which was becoming an intolerable burden.

After considering every corner of the house, I settled on the attic as the best place. I got up on a chair to drop the belt down into the insulation filling the space between the rafters, where once the grey fluff was smoothed back in place it would be as safe as on the bottom of the ocean.

As I was finishing, the phone rang. I looked at my watch. It might be Lovejoy reporting in. I went downstairs to answer it.

“Welcome home, Mr. Richards,” Christiansen said.

* * *

“It’s a shame to pull you away from your family again so soon,” he continued, “but I think you’ll agree that the sooner we conclude our business the better. You do have the package, don’t you?”

“Just tell me where you want me to bring it,” I said.

“Public places are always the best for private transactions,” Christiansen said. “So shall we say the bus station? Just pick out a locker. Put the package in it and leave. As you go out, you’ll notice a line of phone booths just inside the Randolph Street entrance. Go into the one with an out-of-order sign on it, pretend to make a call, and drop the key on the floor as you leave. If I decide everything is all right, I’ll pick it up later.”

“And if you don’t?”

“For your son’s sake, Mr. Richards,” he said, “you’d better hope I do.” And with that he hung up on me. I stood for a long time holding the dead phone in my hand. Something was hammering at the back of my mind, something that bothered me, and when I realized what it was I broke the connection and dialed the two calls I had to make.

* * *

I hadn’t ridden a bus since I was in the service, but the station hadn’t changed. Even the people looked the same: exhausted, and too preoccupied with their own business to notice anyone else. Which, of course, was why Christiansen had picked it.

It took me a moment or two to get my bearings. But then I spotted Lovejoy nursing a cup of coffee at the quick-lunch counter. From where he sat he had a good view of both the entrance and the line of phone booths, and he gave me an almost imperceptible nod as I went past. There were rows of lockers. I picked one at random, then went back to the phone booth and sat for a moment thinking of nothing in particular before dropping the key and going out as directed.

My car was parked two blocks down in a “No Parking” zone. I got in and waited, trying to keep my mind as blank as it had been in the phone booth. It didn’t work. Finally, about thirty minutes later, a police car came up from behind and pulled to a stop in front of me. Guiscard got out and walked back to slide in beside me.

“You sure believe in living dangerously,” he said.

I shrugged, looking up at the parking sign. “I figured if I got a ticket, you’d fix it for me.”

“I meant your two friends back there,” Guiscard said. “They play for keeps.”

“What happened?”

“Just what we figured. As soon as you left, Lovejoy went over to the booth to pick up the key. Then Christiansen joined him and the tow of them went over together to open the locker. That’s when we picked them up. Lovejoy tried to put up a fight.”

“I almost wish Christiansen had too,” I said.

Guiscard shook his head. “He’s not the type,” he said. “Right now he’s spilling his guts, figuring that we’ve got him one way or the other and if he can’t work a deal at least his lawyer can claim cooperation. Anyway, it was the two of them together from the start.” He looked at me soberly. “You know,” he said, “you could have saved yourself a hell of a lot of trouble if you’d checked Lovejoy out with us when he first contacted you.”

“I know,” I said. “The trouble is I was desperate for help and when Lovejoy came along offering it, I bit like a hungry fish. It wasn’t until Christiansen called so soon after I got back that I began to have any doubts. I wasn’t due back until Friday; so how did he know I’d gotten home two days early? He couldn’t have been tipped off from Nassau because no one knew I was leaving. A phone tap would have tipped him off about Lovejoy’s involvement. And if he’d been watching the house, he would have known Marge and the boys weren’t there and he never would have made that remark about pulling me away from my family.

“Somebody had to have told him and the only one I’d told was Lovejoy. And once I’d started to wonder, there were other things Lovejoy had done that didn’t quite fit either. Why, for example, was it so important we get the real package? Christiansen would show up as long as he thought I was bringing it back, and that was the important thing. In any case, I decided I needed some insurance.”

“So then you called us,” Guiscard said. He shrugged. “Better late than never, I guess.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Which reminds me. I have to make a phone call. It’s almost tomorrow in Michigan, but, as you say, better late than never.”