Chapter 9


Numb with shock, Peta found herself relegated to the street outside the restaurant. She stood there unmoving. Rooted to the concrete.
"Peta! Peta, are you okay?" The familiar face of Ray Arno forced itself through her stupor. "I was on my way to the apartment. What happened in there?" He stared at the flood of gawkers and the half dozen camera crews that had been drawn away from the New Year's Eve action in Times Square. "Where's Arthur?"
"Ray!" Peta leaned against the man she'd known for seventeen years, since together they'd saved Arthur's life. "There was an explosion. Arthur's...he's dead, Ray."
Ray looked stunned. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Peta at last let go. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she described what she had seen.
Ray gripped her shoulder. "I'll find out who did this to him. I swear I will."
"Did this tohim ?" Peta repeated. "You think someone was out to murder Arthur?" Somewhere at the back of her presently fuzzy mind she remembered Arthur telling her about his mission to the Middle East. Was this a directed act, connected to the trouble in Israel he had mentioned, rather than a random act of violence?
"He was into a lot of dangerous stuff. You know that." Ray paused. "I'll miss him too," he said, more gently. "He was one of my oldest and dearest friends, Peta." His eyes filled with tears, and for the first time since she'd known him, he looked middle-aged.
"Look, I don't mean to sound callous but there's nothing we can do for Arthur. Not right now. It's not going to be easy to get through the crowds, but I have to be at the meeting by midnight. So do you." He put his arm around her. "Arthur said he wanted you to take his place if something...permanent...ever happened to him. There has to be a vote and it has to be unanimous, but - "
Peta shook off his arm. She was stunned. Angry that Ray could even consider such a thing right after Arthur's death. "You're still going to have the meeting? After this?"
"Yes." He buttoned up her coat, took off his scarf and wrapped it around her neck. Then he put his arm back around her. "Listen," he said. "Before we go, there's something I should warn you about. No matter how much we loved Arthur, you won't see us mourning his death, not in any conventional way. It's an agreement we made after our first member died. The meetings go on and we grieve privately, each in our own way."
Peta felt her temper rise, but pragmatism and emotional exhaustion won out. Therewas nothing else she could do right now. She allowed Ray to lead her through the drunk and rowdy New Year's Eve celebrants to Arthur's Manhattan penthouse, a one-bedroom apartment that sat squarely in the middle of the flat roof of the Time Hotel.
The prewar hotel was on West Forty-ninth, half a block from Broadway in the heart of the theater district. At the Ambassador Theater next door, a performance was just letting out. Peta didn't see the people, didn't notice anything but her sorrow. She couldn't think beyond Arthur: his mentoring and friendship; their first visit to New York; their first lovemaking, on her twenty-second birthday, and the evolution of that night into an abiding, all-encompassing love.
She was oblivious to the greetings of the doorman, who knew her from her annual visits and waved them inside, seeing in her mind's eye the pieces of Arthur's tortured and scarred body. She followed Ray into a small, antiquated elevator. On the ride up to the sixteenth floor, she remembered the first time she'd used this elevator, the first time she'd stayed overnight with Arthur, their pillow talk about his dangerous work as an undercover plastic surgeon for a small outcropping of the CIA that sent its people onMission: Impossible jaunts into the firing line - including surgeries on the famous and the infamous.
The elevator opened into Arthur's apartment. Frik stood on the rooftop, his back to her, staring down at the city. Three more men waited inside. She recognized them as acquaintances of Arthur's.
Stone-faced, Ray poured brandy into two glasses and handed one of them to her. "Drink it," he said. He downed most of the contents of his own glass. Then he turned toward the others and told them that Arthur would not be at the meeting that night, or ever again.
Each of the men reacted in his own way. One stood up and began to pace. Another, whom she'd known for some time, had tears in his eyes. He put his face in his hands, as if he did not want the others to see his weakness. The third man yelled out "No!" His cry brought Frik to the doorway.
"What's happened?" he asked, standing in the half shadows.
"It's Arthur," Ray said quietly. "He's dead."
Frik stared at Ray. "Here," he said, reverting to his native Afrikaans. "God." After a moment he asked, "How did it happen?"
As Ray began his recounting, Peta felt on the edge of hysteria. In emotional self-defense, she fell into the habit born of years of training. She looked at the members of the Daredevils Club and cataloged what she knew about them and their activities.
While he'd kept the details a secret, Arthur had told her small things, nonspecific things. She knew that they gathered every New Year's Eve to exchange tales of the past year's most daring and death-defying adventures, that they were all people who, by inclination or profession, risked their lives on a regular basis. They sought out trouble, took on jobs that nobody fully sane would do, and put their lives on the line at every opportunity. The playground for their adventures was the world - be it in military installations, deep undersea trenches, or just on the mean streets of New York. They risked their lives for the thrill, the glory, or the money, and they came together to share their adventures because half the fun was telling the tale.
Peta tried to remember what specifics she could about the three men sitting in Arthur's living room.
The one she knew best, outside of Frik and Ray, was the man who had cried and called out. He was Simon Brousseau, a Miami-based inventor of scuba-diving gear, a womanizer, and an underwater junkie. Judging by his pallor, he had a bad heart condition. Were she his physician, she'd be warning him to take it easy.
The other two men she'd met only briefly, over dinner during one of her trips to New York. The burly one was Terris McKendry, a freelance security specialist. She remembered him as a thorough, stoic, and patient man - the type who could probably sit unmoving for hours when concentrating on something, a man who always had a Plan B thought out in advance. He was trained as a civil engineer but had spent many years working for a large personal-security firm that hired him out as a personal bodyguard. According to Arthur, Terris had received a huge bonus when he'd saved one of his clients, a foreign diplomat, from an assassination attempt. With his reward in hand, he'd set off on his own.
The last man, the pacer, was Joshua Keene, McKendry's "partner in insanity," according to Arthur. Keene was McKendry's opposite, a wild man who placed great stock in his instincts and his intuition. He had a quick and winning smile and was the guy who always bought the next round of drinks. He'd dropped out of college after a succession of majors and was mostly self-taught, a voracious reader and learner who bounced from one fascination to the next and lived in and for the moment. He seemed to have succeeded in life by always doing the unexpected.
Peta had not found McKendry's gruff manner particularly appealing. Keene, however, she'd found to be gregarious and likable.
"That's all I know," Ray said at last. In the ensuing silence, he added, "You're all aware that Arthur wanted Peta to be his successor if something happened to him."
Frik, who had stayed in the doorway listening to the details of his old friend's death, stepped into the light. Peta immediately noticed burn scars on his face. He was wearing gloves, but she could see the traceries of more severe scars on his left hand in the gap between the sleeve and the glove.
"Peta's entry fee for membership will have to be the same as it is for any man," Frik said. "Proof of participation in a new adventure that makes her worthy of inclusion in the club."
"Damn all of you." Peta hurled her brandy glass in Frik's direction. It hit the wall closest to him and splintered, leaving behind a golden brown trickle. "Your friend is dead. Dead. And why? For all I know, it's because of some stunt he pulled to impress you."
She pushed past Frik and went out onto the rooftop. In the distance, she could see the lights of a vessel making its way up the Hudson. Closer and down below, people streamed around the corner toward Times Square to wait for the ball to drop and for the new year to be upon them.
As if it mattered what year it was, she thought. The days and months - and years - would march on. Gradually the pain would leave her. For now, tending her island patients and Arthur's was all she could think of doing to get herself through.
She looked up into the cloudy sky. "Happy New Year, Arthur," she whispered as her tears once again rolled freely, "wherever you are."
In the heat of her fury at the callousness of the men inside the apartment and despite the depth of her sorrow, she considered Arthur's last wish - her inclusion in the club. She wasn't willing to go outlooking for life-threatening stunts so that she could prove herself to the Daredevils. Her own line of work brought her into more than enough danger all of the time. Life-and-death decisions were her stock-in-trade. Then again, if the original members hadn't considered the rescue of Arthur from prison dangerous enough to overcome the fact that she was female, these idiots certainly wouldn't agree that what she accomplished daily was suitably perilous.
Behind her, inside the apartment, someone turned on the local news, apparently to see if the aftermath of the explosion was being televised. Peta moved close enough to see the screen.
Her timing was impeccable, although whether impeccably good or bad was, she thought briefly, up for grabs. Though she'd been unaware of it at the time, it seemed a cameraman had picked her out of the crowd. There she was, a full shot first, then her face filling the screen.
She walked into and across the living room and entered the small bedroom she'd so often shared with Arthur. She stared at herself in the small mirror she'd used to put on her makeup, took off the coat she was still wearing, and fingered the pendant Arthur had given her. Taking it off, she placed it lovingly in her handbag, and began to pack her things.