Illustrated by Mark Fults

Nora Casey didn’t need to see the gun to know what it was. It was simply a small hard spot pressed against her ribs. She stopped and carefully lifted her hands. A voice behind her said, “Keep them down, Miss Casey. Simply make an effort to keep them where I can see them. We don’t want to attract attention, do we?”

Fat chance of that. Her favorite place to park at the Diamondville courthouse was behind the building. A few judges and one or two lawyers used the area also, but they were all safely inside the building now, discussing torts and misdemeanors and other minutia of the legal system, with no thought at all given to the possibility that their favorite private detective was out behind the building at the mercy of an escaped killer with a gun. She saw her sister’s flashy roadster, also, parked nearby. But Cathy would be waiting inside with Manning.

The escaped killer chose that very moment to reach around and open her purse. The small automatic she carried was conveniently on top, next to her keys, where she could reach it at a moment’s need – or where a killer, searching her, could find it without any difficulty whatsoever. He took charge of the gun and slipped it into his pocket.

“I suppose that was your car you got out of,” he said in that lightly accented voice of his. “At any rate, since you got out of the driver’s side, I suppose those were the keys to it in your purse. So why don’t you go and get back into it.”

She thought about things she could say; they flashed quickly through her mind. You can’t get away with this. People are expecting me. For God’s sake, point that gun somewhere else. They all sounded a little lame, except the one about pointing the gun somewhere else. But as long as he held the gun, she felt it was best to let him do the talking. She turned around started walking carefully and not too fast, back toward her car.

Nora stopped at the driver’s door and waited for him to tell her to get in. He went to the passenger side and held the gun on her. “Very good, Miss Casey. You do this like you’re an old hand at being taken hostage. Open the door please.”

He slipped inside after she had her door open. Where she was standing, she had no chance of making a move without him shooting her. He told her to get in and she did so. He said, “Hand me your purse, please.”

He took her purse and handed her the keys. Then he tossed the purse in back. “That’s just in case there’s another gun in there that’s not so obvious.”

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Not far. At least you won’t be going far. Don’t worry, I don’t plan to harm you. I should probably change automobiles. We’ll find some place safe, I’ll leave you in the trunk of your car, and steal another one. For you it will all be over.”

“It sure will, if I suffocate.”

“Not likely,” he said. “I doubt this vehicle is that well built. Start north, please. On Vine. Then cut over to Central and head toward the outskirts of town.” She started the engine and pulled out of her parking place onto the pavement. He added, “I’ll call the police right away and tell them where to find you, Miss Casey. I’m not the monster the newspapers would have you think I am.”

2

“Well, this is one for the books,” said Manning. “You’re here and your sister is late.”

Cathy Casey, who was sitting on a bench at the side of the third floor hallway, with her ankles crossed in a ladylike manner, said, “I keep telling you she’s only human.”

“I’m still not convinced. But you have gained some points here,” he said. He heard someone at the far end of the hall and looked around. He hadn’t expected it to be Nora, the footfalls were much too heavy, and he was right. It was Sheriff Landry, walking at a brisk pace, straight toward them.

“Manning,” the sheriff said. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”

He was dressed in a somewhat baggy gray business suit and hatless. The only things about him that might say ‘County Sheriff’ were the heavy cowboy boots his pants legs were pulled down over. But he had worn those boots when he was only an alderman, and as far as Jack Manning knew, he probably didn’t take them off when he went to bed. They shook hands, and Manning said, “That’s all right.”

“You’re looking lovely as always, Cathy,” said Landry. “Fresh as a bright spring morning. And speaking of bright spring mornings, where’s Nora?”

“She’s running late, Billy.”

“Nora? I don’t believe you.”

“Well, she’ll be along,” said Cathy, standing up. “Besides, it isn’t her testimony you need, it’s mine.”

“Actually, we don’t even need that. McKenna’s lawyer just agreed to a plea bargain. We got a confession and in return he’ll do a straight eight years behind bars.”

“So that’s what’s been keeping you,” Manning said.

“No, not really. It’s that other case, Vitas Kovacs.”

“His hearing was hours ago. You got a trial date, didn’t you?”

Landry nodded. “That part was routine. And the trial was set for a month from now. But about fifteen minutes ago, the son of a gun escaped.”

“What?”

“We had him under guard. Seems the paddy wagon that was to take him back to the lockup blew a damned gasket – beg pardon, Cathy, no offense.”

“None taken.”

The sheriff went on. “We were sending around a car. Meantime, he was locked up in a room on the floor above this one with Harvey Timmons watching over him.”

“Harvey’s a good man,” Cathy said.

“Damn good man – excuse me again – but somehow Kovacs overpowers him. He’s a surgeon and all, I guess he knows a lot about putting people to sleep. We found Harvey asleep, all right, his pistol gone and Kovacs with it.”

“That’s bad luck, all right,” Manning said, nodding.

“That son of gun Kovacs seemed to have slipped right out of here without nobody seeing him. Oh, we’ll catch him all right. But it’s sure a pain in the, uh, neck. Well, one good thing. You folks had nothing to do with the Kovacs case. And it’s good for you, you didn’t. The guy’s loony as a damned fruit cake.” He looked up sheepishly at Cathy.

“It’s all right, Billy. I forgive you.”

Landry shook his head slowly. “I don’t mean to keep apologizing like that, Cathy. I know you’re grown up now. But, by golly, I taught you and Nora in Sunday school.” His expression suddenly became more serious. “Which reminds me, I haven’t seen you girls at church, lately.”

“We’re running Daddy’s detective agency now that he’s gone, remember?” said Cathy. “Our weekends are pretty much filled up with cop-for-hire work. Surely the county sheriff knows about crime and the weekend.”

“You bet I do,” he said with another sheepish smile. He heaved a sigh. “Well, I got me some work. You two, though, just lucked out. With no trial on the docket, maybe you can take the rest of the day off.”

He turned and walked back up the hall.

“You know,” said Manning. “That just might not be bad advice. It’s been a while since we’ve had a clear schedule. Why don’t we both take off? Unless you want to wait for Nora, of course.”

“No need for that. When she gets here she’ll learn the trial’s off and she’ll either head home or to the office. She doesn’t need us for that.”

They went down the stairs and into the back hallway off the courthouse lobby, and let themselves out the back way.

Manning looked around a moment and then gave a grunt.

“What is it?” Cathy asked.

Manning was in the process of lighting a cigar. “Might be nothing,” he said. He’d nodded toward the grassy lot where Nora usually parked.

“The grass is pressed down,” Cathy said.

They walked over there.

The lot was grassy, but there was mud, also. There were fresh tire tracks on the pavement.

“I got to admit, I’m not much for memorizing people’s tire treads,” said Manning.

“Me too,” said Cathy. “But I’m pretty sure those are Nora’s.”

“Now why would she come here, park, and then take right off again?”

3

They had just gotten on Central when a police car turned onto the street and followed them for two or three blocks. Kovacs glanced back at it several times, nervously. Nora watched him out of the corner of her eye but saw nothing in his behavior that promised her any advantage. Unless she wanted to wreck the car, and her in it. She hadn’t finished making the payments on the car yet, and she had no intention of ever finishing making payments on herself.

The police car turned off, apparently seeing nothing interesting about them. Diamondville squad cars weren’t yet equipped with radio; that was still for the big cities, and few enough of them. Besides, no one was probably aware yet that she was riding around with a world famous homicidal maniac.

Kovacs said, “I’m afraid I’ve changed my mind, Miss Casey. Don’t look for anyplace to park. We need to keep going until we get far away from town.”

Nora was thinking that if she were in his shoes and had just been followed by a police car, she’d be in twice as much hurry to ditch the car she was in. But apparently he didn’t think that way. She said, “How do you know my name?”

“What?” he said. “Oh. The same way you know mine, I imagine. I’ve seen pictures of you and your sister in the newspapers. You’re quite famous, you know. And why not? Two very attractive young women who operate a detective agency and are very successful at it. I imagine you find it difficult all ready to mask your identities from those you investigate, am I correct?”

“More or less.”

“And do you have any more questions for me, Miss Casey?’

“A couple. Since there’s been a change of plans, I assume that means you actually have one. Where are we going?”

“Drive north out of town until you come to the turn off onto the old Harrison Park Highway. I’ll show you where to stop when we get there. What’s your next question?”

“The big one,” she said. “The one you’ve been expecting. Do you really think you can bring the dead back to life?”

He laughed. “Do I think that?” he said. “My dear Miss Casey, I am a man of scientific learning. I would never just think a thing like that. I would either know it or suspect it, perhaps.”

“Then which one?” she asked.

He smiled softly and in the fading light of the afternoon he looked almost benevolent. “An easy thing to answer, Miss Casey. I know for a fact that I can bring the dead back to life.”

Harrison Park was not really a park, but a private resort in the mountains about forty miles away. The Depression had put the resort out of business about three years ago. The highway was a lonely stretch of road mostly through wooded area, and Nora saw no more than two vehicles, both of them dilapidated trucks probably owned by farmers, carrying produce to market. Kovacs sat calmly in the passenger seat, clutching beside him the big revolver he must have stolen from a sheriff’s deputy.

“We’re coming up on a road,” he said. “To the right up there. Turn off on it.”

She did as she was told. “Stop here,” he said. “And get out.”

She set the brake and opened the door and got out.

There was no sign of human life, not even a dilapidated truck carrying produce from a farm. To get back to the highway she would have to walk miles, and she was not wearing shoes intended for walking. The sun would be setting in another hour.

Still, she was free and that was something.

She said, “It’s been nice knowing you, Dr. Kovacs.”

He was standing next to the passenger door, his gun hand resting on the top of the car. “I’m afraid you aren’t rid of me yet, Miss Casey. Please come around to the back of the car.”

“What?”

“Please,” he repeated.

“It’ll take me hours to walk back to the highway. By that time you’ll be long gone.”

“You misunderstand me,” he said. “But I must insist that you do as I tell you.”

She walked around to the back of the car and he kept the gun pointed at her all the time. He had the car keys. He tossed them to her and said, “Please open the trunk.”

She hesitated only a moment before doing as he told her.

“Now get in. Leave the keys in the lock.”

“It’s makes more sense to just let me walk back to town,” she said. “This way –”

“This way,” he said, “makes more sense to me. Please get in the trunk, Miss Casey. And do it now.”

He was pointing the gun at her and holding it steady, so that the barrel did not waver.

To step into the trunk of her car, it was necessary for Nora to lift up her skirt above her knees. She sat on the edge of the trunk and pivoted herself in, lifting her legs up, conscious that her skirt was hiking up her thighs. Kovacs did not take his eyes off her and whether he was watching her legs appreciatively, or just watching her actions in a businesslike manner, Nora couldn’t say. She fitted herself into the trunk on her side. Kovacs stepped forward, reached for the lid and brought it down, shutting out the light.

She heard the latch catch, but even so as soon as she heard the crunch of his footsteps as he walked away, she pushed against the lid. It was firmly shut. After a few moments she heard the motor start and a moment later felt the car moving.

It was dark and it was stuffy. She hoped the car wasn’t better built than Kovacs seemed to think it was.

4

“Earlier this afternoon,” Landry was saying, “a city patrol car spotted what they think is Nora’s car.” They were in the waiting room of the office of the agency the girls owned and operated together. He was seated on a leather sofa, and Cathy was in a chair facing him. Manning stood.

“They’re not sure?” Cathy said.

“If it was that canary yellow Paragon roadster you drive, Cathy, they’d be damned sure.” He was obviously tired; he didn’t even apologize. “But Nora has more conservative taste. She drives a good car but it blends in. If it was her and Kovacs, they were heading north, out of town.”

“What can you tell us about this Kovacs, guy?” Manning said.

“I don’t guess there’s a lot to tell,” Landry said. “He was a surgeon. Pretty good one, from what everyone says. But more and more the past several years he was turning toward medical research. It was productive research at first. He had grants from the university and several foundations. He still performed the occasional operation, advanced stuff, brain and heart surgery mostly. All Greek to me. But as he got more and more involved in the research, he performed fewer and fewer operations.”

Landry tugged at his ear. “He was born in Hungary, well to do family, not royalty or anything like that, but they had money. He studied medicine in Paris and Berlin. Came to the States just before the Great War, worked at big hospitals in Boston and Baltimore.”

“That’s a puzzling point,” Manning said. “If he was working at top places like that, why did he even think about coming to Diamondville. No offense. It’s a nice berg and all, but it’s not the center of the medical universe.”

“Yeah, but there wasn’t any scandal, if that’s what you’re thinking about,” Landry said. “What lured him here was when the university offered him the research grant. He had some ideas, they were a little off the beaten track, and he must have thought this was a great opportunity to follow through on them.”

“Glandular research,” said Cathy. “I’ve read about it in the newspapers. It was pretty exciting stuff to the medical profession, from what I read.”

“Until he went off the deep end,” said Manning.

“Until he went off the deep end,” agreed Landry. “About a year and a half ago he started getting secretive about the work. Wouldn’t tell nobody what he was working on, not even the folks who worked for him in his laboratory. He also started putting in longer hours, experimenting on rabbits and guinea pigs and the like. Turns out he believed he was developing a serum that somehow would bring the dead back to life.”

“And he was willing to kill somebody to prove it,” Manning said. “I read that part in the paper.”

“He shot and killed one of his assistants at his research lab. He said he could bring the fellow back to life, but somehow that part didn’t work out.” Landry tugged his ear again. “That was the murder he was going on trial for next month.”

“He might still make that date,” Manning said.

“You think Nora’s with Kovacs?” Landry asked.

“The only other possibility is that she spotted him making a getaway and followed him, but that’s a long shot. It would almost certainly require him to have outside help.”

Landry shook his head. “Heck. He couldn’t have known beforehand he’d be left alone with just one guard, and that guard would be dumb enough to look away from him for a minute.”

“Any hint as to where he might be headed?” Manning asked.

“Not much,” Landry admitted. “We’ve traced him to owning some property outside the city limits, and in one of the places we even found a lab. But everything’s east or southeast of Diamondville.”

“What about university facilities he might have had access to.”

“There’s an agricultural station in the direction he was headed, but there’s a few people working there. Just the same, the State Patrol is staking it out, same as the places we know of. My guess is he only went north far enough to be sure of shaking any tail and then he changed cars and turned around and came back to one of those places east of town.”

“He could have just kept on going,” said Manning.

“Yeah, but either way he would have changed cars. And he wouldn’t take Nora with him.”

Cathy said, “That’s what scares me.”

“Well, me too,” Landry admitted. “But for what it’s worth Cathy, I don’t read him as a cold-blooded killer. Not in that way, at least. He’s only killed once and it was that assistant. And that was because he thought he could bring the poor soul back to life. No, he’s more likely to leave her someplace where we can find her.”

“I hope said,” she said.

“We all do, Cathy.” Landry got to his feet. “I got to get back to the station. If anything turns up, how do I reach you?”

“We’ll be here at the office, even if we have to stay all night,” she said.

Landry nodded and left.

5

Inside the trunk of her car, it was not just dark and cramped, it smelled of oil and gasoline and rubber, and the partitions were hard. Whenever the car hit a bump Nora was bounced and if she didn’t strike her head against the lid of the trunk, she could count on bruising her hip or shoulder when she came down. It was very stuffy and she began to worry when she noticed she was getting drowsy. It made sense to be drowsy – the day had been long and nerve wracking. But she was still worried about how much air she was getting.

At last Nora realized the car was coming to a stop.

She heard the car door open and heard crunching sounds that were probably Kovacs walking. He did not come around where she was, at least not now. She fought against a panicky urge that led her to consider beating against the trunk lid, but she was worried about how much air that would use.

After an unmeasured length of time she heard the lock in the key, and the trunk opened.

It was dark but not so dark as the inside of the automobile’s trunk. The dark figure of Vitas Kovacs loomed up against the background of foliage and sky. He stepped back two or three paces and shined a flashlight on her.

“Again, I must ask you to keep your hands where I can see them – just in case there was a monkey wrench inside your trunk. And please come out slowly.”

Well, that was easy, assuming she could move at all. She was so stiff from being cramped up in that space all afternoon that she couldn’t move quickly if she’d wanted to. With effort she sat up inside the trunk. She wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to straighten out her legs again, and her skirt was hiked all the way up, too. But modesty seemed pointless now, somehow. She put her hands on the sides of the trunk and managed

somehow to move herself around and then – slowly and somewhat painfully – shove her legs out of the trunk.

She levered herself forward and felt her feet touch the ground. She had to hold on to the car a moment because she wasn’t sure she could stand up.

“Now go into the building,” said Kovacs.

She forced herself to stand up, forsaking the support of the car in the process. Somehow she made it. She walked with a sort of graceless limp toward the building.

It was a low building, painted white or some other pale color that looked white in this twilight.

She didn’t recognize the building. For that matter she couldn’t say where she was. She knew that there were several businesses out in this general direction that had closed their doors in the last few years, from a bread bakery to a couple of garages, and even a small airplane manufacturer. What sort of place this was she couldn’t say. It might even have been used as a warehouse. There was no sign.

The door was open. There was light inside. As she went in she saw several overhead fixtures. Bulbs had been put in one of them and it furnished what illumination there was. The room they had gone into was large, but except for the lighting, everything else seemed to have been removed. There was a boxed-in room off to one side, evidently once an office. There were some doors in back, probably indicating rooms. Sure enough, he made her walk toward one of them.

“I acquired this place cheaply enough through an assumed name a few weeks ago. All the payments are handled through a bank in Chicago. I’m sure they’ll be able to connect me with this place, but I’m also sure they won’t be able to do it quickly. I have one of my laboratories back there. Meanwhile, we should be able to get a good night’s sleep.” He paused at the door and took out some keys. “I’m fairly sure after your ordeal in that automobile trunk you’ll appreciate a bed, even if it is nothing more than a folding cot.”

The lock clicked and he pushed the door open. He reached in and turned on an overhead light, then stood aside. “Please make yourself as comfortable as you can. I’ll have to lock you in, of course. I’ll bring you something to eat in a few minutes. I’m sure you’re famished.”

“I could eat something,” she said.

She went into the room and he closed and locked the door behind her.

So this was her new home away from home. Well, she thought, as she surveyed the place, it wasn’t much.

There was the cot and there was a small wood table. The floor was tile and the walls plaster. The light was a single bulb hanging from the ceiling by a braided electrical wire. The only switch was on the wall. There were no windows. She was getting used to the idea of stuffy accommodations.

There was no chair. She sat down on the cot. The so-called mattress was little thicker than a wafer, over a latticework of ropes fastened to the frame. No hope of fashioning anything sharp from a spring there. There was a thin blanket and an ordinary pillow but no pillowslip. She sat there, waiting, and before long she heard Kovacs’ key in the lock. She stayed sitting on the cot. The door opened and he came in carrying a tray, which he placed on the small wood table. Without a word he left her, locking the door behind him.

Well.

She got up to examine her meal. The tray held four slices of bread and several slices of cheese. There was a cheap off-brand soft drink in a bottle down the neck of which Kovacs had been considerate enough a host to insert a paper straw. Because the bread and cheese were pre-sliced, there was no knife, not even to spread the mayonnaise, because there was no mayonnaise. There wasn’t even a plate, just a few paper napkins.

In the entire room the only possible weapons she could imagine were the light bulb and the soft drink bottle. When was the last time she had heard of anyone taking a gun away from a killer with either one of those?

Never, that was when.

The cheese was good. It had a nice, sharp flavor, and the bread had not yet gone stale. There was even a bite to the soft drink. She ate her meal and then turned out the light. She stretched out on the cot.

She was always a light sleeper and if she dozed it could not have been more than a couple of hours. She got up, turned on the light and looked at the lock on the door.

It was not much of a lock as locks go. It was a few years old, cheap, and not well made, and she knew from listening when Kovacs locked and unlocked it, that it was reasonably well oiled.

But it was a door lock and all she had to open it with were some hairpins.

Now if she were imprisoned with handcuffs, a hairpin would be just the thing. All she needed to open almost any standard handcuff was a hairpin or any other sufficiently narrow metal shim. You just pushed the shim between the ratchet and the hasp, and it would usually be enough to separate the two and allow the cuffs to be opened.

A hairpin on a door lock, even an old fashioned door lock was another matter entirely.

Not that she had anything to lose.

She pulled two hairpins from her hair and set to work.

With the proper sort of lock picks Nora figured she could probably open this door in about forty seconds. Cathy, who obviously was more of a criminal type than she was, could have opened it in twenty. At first, feeling the softness of the metal in the lock as she worked, she despaired of any success.

Then suddenly she heard – and felt – the click that meant something had either worked or broken and for a moment she held her breath; then turned the knob.

The door came open.

She closed the door again, replaced the pins in her hair the best way she could without a mirror, and then snapped off the light before opening the door again. Getting the door unlocked worked wonders for her confidence.

She waited a while for her eyes to adjust. She took off her shoes and carried them with her as she made her way across the room toward the office in her stocking feet.

She found the door and went inside.

The office was dark. She left the door open long enough to let her grasp the lay of the room. There was a desk, some chairs, and on the desk a lamp and – sure enough – a phone.

A common telephone. And one of those lovely dial phones, to boot. She turned the desk lamp away from the door, snapped it on, then went back and closed the door as quietly as she could.

She sat down at the desk before dialing the number she wanted.

When she heard Cathy’s voice on the line, she almost burst into tears. “Cathy, it’s me.”

“Nora – where are you? The cops are searching the state for you.”

“Well, they haven’t found me,” Nora said, keeping her voice low.

“I can barely hear you,” said Cathy. “Where are you?”

“I can’t talk loud or I’ll wake up the wrong person.”

“Kovacs?

“That’s right. How did you know? Well, I don’t guess that many people escaped from custody today, so never mind. As for where I am, I don’t know. I’ve spent most of the day locked in the trunk of my car.”

“You have any clues?” Cathy asked.

“Clues? What do you think I am, a detective? Oh – wait. This phone has a number printed on the dial.” She gave Cathy the number. “That should tell the phone people something.”

She heard a sound.

Quickly she put the receiver back on the phone, cutting off the line. She hastily turned off the light and moved to the door.

She stood against the door, listening. There was no additional sound. After a moment she opened the door enough to peer outside.

The door to the room she’d been locked in was open, the light on.

Kovacs knew she had escaped. He knew …

She slipped through the door and closed it behind her.

She stood in the near darkness, looking around, trying to decide her next move. It came to her that the only thing that made any real sense was the door, the front door, the door she and Kovacs had come in by.

She started for it.

“Stop!” she heard Kovacs call. “Stop!”

She broke into a run.

He was already after her. He screamed for her to stop but she kept going until she reached the door.

She stopped then. The door was locked.

She fought a moment with the handle of the door but it wouldn’t give. She turned around just as Kovacs reached her.

“Damn you,” he cried. “You can’t get away. You can’t escape me.” She felt his hands close around her throat.

His grip tightened and she fought for air. She grabbed his wrists and tried to pull him loose from her. His fingers tightened on her neck. Air, air – there was no air. “Stop it, let me go,” she tried to say.

Her ears were ringing. Her vision was shot with red. Her head was swimming and all she could feel was the pain of his large hands constricting around his neck.

He held on to her and his grip became tighter and tighter…

And things became darker and darker, until she passed out.

When she came too again, she found herself lying on the cot.

The light was on and the door was open. Kovacs was sitting on the foot of the bed, his face buried in his hands. Nora could see the weight of the pistol in his jacket pocket.

She sat up. He looked around at her.

She tried to speak but couldn’t. She coughed.

“Please,” he said. “Don’t try to speak just yet. Lie back and take it easy. I – I am so sorry.”

She tried to speak again, and again could only manage to cough. She decided to take his advice and lay back down.

“I am not by nature a violent man,” he said. “Armand – my assistant, the man they say I murdered. That was all a mistake, a serious indefensible mistake. I should not have shot him. The violence was too great, excessive. It was wrong, very wrong. It couldn’t be overcome.” He looked at her again. “How do you feel? Are you feeling better?”

“Yes,” she said, hoarsely.

“Ah, good. You can speak. For a moment I thought I had hurt you seriously. I tried to be careful; I tried not to crush your windpipe. It was not my desire to cause you any permanent harm. Far from it.”

She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the cot, but she did not try to stand up. Her head still swum and her ears still rang. But she could get air into her lungs. She said, “You can’t hide out from the police forever.”

“I know. It would be foolish of me to try. I’ve done all I wanted to do, all it’s possible to do. When you think you can speak, you can call the police. I’ll offer no resistance.”

She stood up. “Do you mean that?”

He nodded. “Of course I mean it. Why would I not mean it?”

She stood up. “No reason, I just had to ask.”

That was when the door flew off its hinges and half the armed men in the county poured in through the front door.

Most of them wore the uniforms of either the sheriff’s office or the highway patrol, though she recognized some city detectives. And her sister and Manning in the rear.

Rifles were aimed at Kovacs. Nora leaped to her feet. “Don’t shoot,” she cried. “He just surrendered.” She reached into his jacket pocket and very carefully took out the stolen pistol and put it on the floor. She slid it across the room with a push of her hand.

Kovacs just stared up at them as if he didn’t comprehend.

Cathy elbowed her way through the crowd of cops to her sister, Manning right behind her. While Billy Landry took custody of Kovacs and ordered one of his deputies to handcuff him, Cathy bent down in front of Nora as asked the inevitable question that she would hear over and over again in the next few hours. “Are you all right?” She cleared her throat. “I’m fine, considering.”

“Those bruises on your throat don’t look fine. It looks like someone choked you,” said Cathy, glaring at Kovacs.

“I passed out,” Nora said.

“I don’t wonder,” Manning said. “It looks like they could get a full set of the guy’s fingerprints off your neck. I’m not surprised you passed out. I’m surprised you woke up.”

Kovacs was gone and most of the deputies and state police had gone back outside. Landry came back to her and said, “Well, you’ve had yourself quite a day, Nora. Doc Slocum’s outside. Why don’t you let him take a look at you. Those are bad-looking bruises.”

“So everyone keeps telling me.”

“Well,” Landry said. “You let him take a look anyway. Then get some rest. We can get your statement after you’ve had some sleep.”

“That’s good advice,” Cathy said.

Landry went away. After a few moments Doc Slocum came in, looked at Nora, examined her bruises and flashed a light down her throat. He asked her how she felt and shrugged his shoulders when she told him. “Those bruises look bad,” he said. “But I guess you’re okay.” He wrote her a prescription for the bruises and told her to call him if she noticed any new symptoms or problems.

After he was gone, Nora felt like standing up. She walked to the door, Cathy beside her. She almost stumbled once and Cathy caught her by the arm. She flinched.

“What’s wrong?” asked Cathy. “My arm.” She looked at it. There was a bruise on the inside of her arm, near the bend of the elbow. “What the hell.”

She looked more closely and saw a small mark inside the bruise.

“Is that a puncture mark?” Cathy asked.

“Did he give you some kind of shot?” Manning said.

“Of what? What would he have to give me a shot of?” she asked. And then it all fell into place.

Of course there was too much violence with Armand. The trauma of a bullet wound. And of course Kovacs didn’t want to crush her windpipe. Only now she understood what Kovacs was really talking about.

She caught herself in time before she said, “Cathy, I think I may have died.”

#######