The Naked Face

Chapter Twenty


"SLOW DOWN, slow down," Angeli said hoarsely. "I can't understand a word you're saying."
"Sorry," Judd said. He took a deep breath. "I've got the answer!" He was so relieved to hear Angeli's voice over the phone that he was almost babbling. "I know who's trying to kill me. I know who Don Vinton is."
There was a skeptical note in Angeli's voice. "We couldn't find any Don Vinton."
"Do you know why? Because it isn't a him - -it's a who."
"Will you speak more slowly?"
Judd's voice was trembling with excitement. "Don Vinton isn't a name. It's an Italian expression. It means 'the big man.' That's what Moody was trying to tell me. That The Big Man was after me."
"You lost me, Doctor."
"It doesn't mean anything in English," said Judd, "but when you say it in Italian - doesn't it suggest anything to you? An organization of killers run by The Big Man?"
There was a long silence over the phone. "La Cosa Nostra?"
"Who else could assemble a group of killers and weapons like that? Acid, bombs - guns! Remember I told you the man we're looking for would be a Southern European? He's Italian."
"It doesn't make sense. Why would La Cosa Nostra want to kill you?"
"I have absolutely no idea. But I'm right. I know I'm right. And it fits in with something Moody said. He said there was a group of men out to kill me."
"It's the craziest theory I've ever heard," Angeli said. There was a pause, then he added, "But I suppose it could be possible."
Judd was flooded with sudden relief. If Angeli had not been willing to listen to him, he would have had no one to turn to.
"Have you discussed this with anyone?"
"No," Judd said.
"Don't!" Angeli's voice was urgent. "If you're right, your life depends on it. Don't go near your office or apartment."
"I won't," Judd promised. He suddenly remembered. "Did you know McGreavy has a warrant out for my arrest?"
"Yes." Angeli hesitated. "If McGreavy picks you up, you'll never get to the station alive."
My God! So he had been right about McGreavy. But he could not believe that McGreavy was the brain behind this. There was someone directing him...Don Vinton, The Big Man.
"Can you hear me?"
Judd's mouth was suddenly dry. "Yes."
A man in a gray overcoat stood outside the phone booth looking in at Judd. Was it the same man he had seen before?
"I don't know who the others are. I don't know what they look like. How do I stay alive until they're caught?"
The man outside the booth was staring at him.
Angeli's voice came over the line. "We're going straight to the FBI. I have a friend who has connections. He'll see that you're protected until you're safe. OK?" There was a note of assurance in Angeli's voice.
"OK," Judd said gratefully. His knees felt like jelly.
"Where are you?"
"In a phone booth in the lower lobby of the Pan-Am Building."
"Don't move. Keep plenty of people around you. I'm on my way." There was a click at the other end of the line as Angeli hung up.
He put the phone back on the squad-room desk, a sick feeling deep inside him. Over the years he had become accustomed to dealing with murderers, rapists, perverts of every description, and somehow, in time, a protective shell had formed, allowing him to go on believing in the basic dignity and humanity of man.
But a rogue cop was something different.
A rogue cop was a corruption that touched everyone on the force, that violated everything that decent cops fought and died for.
The squad room was filled with the passage of feet and the murmur of voices, but he heard none of it. Two uniformed patrolmen passed through the room with a giant drunk in handcuffs. One of the officers had a black eye and the other held a handkerchief to a bloody nose. The sleeve of his uniform had been ripped half off. The patrolman would have to pay for that himself. These men were ready to risk their lives every day and night of the year. But that wasn't what made headlines. A crooked cop made headlines. One crooked cop tainted them all. His own partner.
Wearily he got up and walked down the ancient corridor to the captain's office. He knocked once and went in.
Behind a battered desk pocked with the lighted cigar butts of countless years sat Captain Bertelli. Two FBI men were in the room, dressed in business suits. Captain Bertelli looked up as the door opened. "Well?"
The detective nodded. "It checks out. The property custodian said he came in and borrowed Carol Roberts' key from the evidence locker Wednesday afternoon and returned it late Wednesday night. That's why the paraffin test was negative - he got into Dr. Stevens' office by using an original key. The custodian never questioned it because he knew he was assigned to the case."
"Do you know where he is now?" asked the younger of the FBI men.
"No. We had a tail on him, but he lost him. He could be anywhere."
"He'll be hunting for Dr. Stevens," said the second FBI agent.
Captain Bertelli turned to the FBI men. "What are the chances of Dr. Stevens staying alive?"
The man shook his head. "If they find him before we do - none."
Captain Bertelli nodded. "We've got to find him first." His voice grew savage. "I want Angeli brought back, too. I don't care how you get him." He turned to the detective. "Just get him, McGreavy."
The police radio began to crackle out a staccato message: "Code Ten...Code Ten...All cars...pick up five..."
Angeli switched the radio off. "Anyone know I picked you up?" he asked.
"No one," Judd assured him.
"You haven't discussed La Cosa Nostra with anybody?"
"Only you."
Angeli nodded, satisfied.
They had crossed the George Washington Bridge and were headed for New Jersey. But everything had changed. Before, he had been filled with apprehension. Now, with Angeli at his side, he no longer felt like the hunted. He was the hunter. And the thought filled him with deep satisfaction.
At Angeli's suggestion, Judd had left his rented car in Manhattan and he was riding in Angeli's unmarked police car. Angeli had headed north on the Palisades Interstate Park-way and exited at Orangeburg. They were approaching Old Tappan.
"It was smart of you to spot what was going on, Doctor," Angeli said.
Judd shook his head. "I should have figured it out as soon as I knew there was more than one man involved. It had to be an organization using professional killers. I think Moody suspected the truth when he saw the bomb in my car. They had access to every kind of weapon."
And Anne. She was part of the operation, setting him up so that they could murder him. And yet - he couldn't hate her. No matter what she had done, he could never hate her.
Angeli had turned off the main highway. He deftly tooled the car onto a secondary road that led toward a wooded area.
"Does your friend know we're coming?" Judd asked.
"I phoned him. He's all ready for you."
A side road appeared abruptly, and Angeli turned the car into it. He drove for a mile, then braked to a stop in front of an electric gate. Judd noticed a small television camera mounted above the gate. There was a click and the gate swung open, then closed solidly behind them. They began driving up a long, curving driveway. Through the trees ahead, Judd caught a glimpse of the sprawling roof of an enormous house. High on top, flashing in the sun, was a bronze rooster.
Its tail was missing.