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RANSOM

BY JON CLEARY

Scobie Malone, honeymooning in New York with Lisa, faces a horrifying

situation — beginning a four-part serial by famous Australian author

 

"LAW and order," said Scobie Malone. "There's something wrong with the system when

that becomes an election issue."

The newscaster on the television screen paused and looked straight at Malone as if he had heard him. He seemed to sigh, then he said, "More election news right after this message."

He disappeared from the screen and a girl floated on to take his place, looked straight at Malone and asked him if, as a woman, he would like to smell like roses.

Malone, a short back-and-sides holdout against long-haired unisex, stood up and

switched off the television set.

"I'm here in America and I just don't believe a word of what I see or hear. I think I'll ask for our money back on this part of the trip — "

"East 69th Street." said Lisa. "Would that be far uptown?"

We've arrived at it, thought Malone with amused resignation. We have reached the stage of being an old married couple. Eight weeks, and already we're not listening to each other, just like my mum and dad after thirty-eight years.

"'Why don't you go down to the desk and ask them to recommend a dentist? They'd know one

around here."

"I make it a point never to ask hotel desks to recommend anything. Everyone who works in

the front of a hotel has a vested interest —

himself. If he recommends anything, it's because he's getting a kickback."

"I don't know that I'll ever learn to live with

your mean Dutch suspicion."

"That's good, coming from a mug copper."

"You're starting to sound like a real Aussie."" he said with approval. "I wondered how long it would take. Now if I can just get you off wine

and French cooking and on to beer and sausage

rolls —"  

He kissed the back of her neck as she leaned

over the Manhattan telephone directory. Lisa had lost a filling last night and a nerve in the tooth had been exposed.

She was now trying to find a dentist who could give her a temporary filling without delay.

So far she had tried four without success.

"East 69th Street would be a long way uptown    

from here."

"I'll go to Boston or Philadelphia if a dentist there says he can see me this morning. Anyhow, I   have to go to the Holland Society and that's on

58th Street, so it won't be much farther. Dr.

Willey. I'll try him."

To page 50

RANSOM

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 49

She picked up the telephone and Malone

walked to the window and looked out. He and Lisa had been travelling for eight weeks and each time he looked out of a hotel window he was still surprised not to be looking out on the

familiar.

None of the world's cities

was really unfamiliar any

more. The television screen

was everyone's window.

But pictures, whether

from television or films or magazines, never gave you the feel of a city: and he was a man very conscious of the feel of his environment, a

policeman who felt the

tension in a crowd, the sad or

sometimes menacing loneli-

ness in a deserted street.

He had not yet got the

feel of New York, but it was

working on him.

He thought, as he had thought each time he had looked out of every window that had presented itself since they had left Sydney, what a tight blind little world

he had lived in.

lt had been just that realisation that had promp-

ted him to blow five thousand

dollars on this honeymoon trip round the world, and every step of the way had proved to himself that he had been right.

"You've gone mental,"

Lisa had said when he had suggested it.

"Look, that twelve thousand dollars was a

windfall. I've been buying lottery tickets for twenty years and I've never even won a fiver before. I've made

the down payment on our house and I've got enough money to furnish it. And now that I've been made Inspector — "

That, like the lottery win, had been totally unexpected. The promotion had come several years ahead of schedule. It had been a month of windfalls and he had wondered if his luck was

proving too good, if sooner

or later he would be

expected to pay for it all in some dreadful way.

"All right." Lisa had said patiently, "so we have security. But we could invest

that twelve thousand dollars and who knows what it would be worth in, say. another ten or fifteen years."

Malone had gently brushed back the lock of blonde hair that had fallen down over her forehead. She was much too beautiful for him and he would never fail to marvel at his luck in

having won her.

"Look." he had said. "You and I have nothing in common except that we love each other. Right?"

"Right. Isn't that enough?"

"No. it isn't. And once

you're over your starry-eyed condition about me you'll realise it. Look at my background. Born and raised

in Erskineville, a slum that

even the rest of Sydney seems to have forgotten.

"I've been a cop for seventeen years and the only

time I've been out of Australia was when I came to

London on police business and met you."

"Darling, I'm not marry- ing your background — "

"You are, that's just it. And I'm marrying yours. What other cop in Sydney, even a Detective-Inspector, has got a wife who was born

in Holland, educated in Switzerland — "

"That was only for a year at finishing school — "

"Only ! You know Europe better than you know

Australia. You worked for

our High Commissioner in

London."

"Darling, I don't know what you're worrying about. You're intelligent, you know what's going on in the world -—there'll always be   something for us to talk

about — "

Malone shook his head.

"Sooner or later you'll be looking for someone to talk to about the things you

know. We'll invest five

thousand dollars against

that."

Actually Lisa's arguments had been more a matter of form than anything else. She was excited by the mere prospect of the trip.

They had visited Bang- kok. Hong Kong. Athens. Rome. They had wandered back and forth across Europe, and visited Lisa's

relatives in Holland.

Now they were in New York on their way home, and in another two weeks he would be back at work.

He had had three months' leave due to him and he had been glad of it. but now he was becoming bored with travelling and filling in his days with sightseeing."

He glanced down at the copy of The New York Times lying on the chair   beside the window. The New  

York mayoral election was tomorrow and the Mayor's face smiled up at him: Michael Forte, all teeth

and sparkling eyes, looking ready to burst into song.  

Yesterday Malone had bought the Sunday edition of The Daily News, which supported the Mayor's opponent, and seen that it

called Forte the Harvard Gondolier.

Politics in America seemed more interesting, if only because the newspapers

could be more libellous.

Lisa hung up the phone.

"His nurse says he's fully booked, but if I can get up there by nine-forty-five she thinks he might be able to fit

me in." She looked at her watch. "I'll have to hurry."

"What are you going to the Holland Society for?"

"Mother wants me to find out how far the Pretorious

family has spread throughout

the world. After I've been there I'll do some shopping for presents to take home. I'll meet you back here for an early lunch, then we'll do that boat trip round

Manhattan."

A few minutes later

Malone, again at the

window, watched Lisa as she crossed the street and hailed a cab. This hotel in the East

Thirties had been highly recommended by the travel

agent in Sydney, but Malone now suspected the travel agent was another of those

who had a vested interest.

lt was clean and comfortable and com-

paratively inexpensive, but it was in an area through which

Malone would not have liked

to walk at night.

Down below, on the other side of the street, he could see two men, drunks or

junkies, lolling on the steps of a shabby tenement. Farther up the street a gang of long-haired youths were blocking the sidewalk, making passers-by step into the gutter to walk round

them.

The cop in him bristled. Then he relaxed. Stay out of

it. Malone told himself. Your business is ten thousand

miles away and you'll be back there soon enough.

He showered, dressed, then went out to pay a

courtesy call on the New

York Police Department. He was glad he did not belong to that Department, not with their crime figures. The longer he was away from Sydney the more he appreciated it. So far that was something he had kept

from Lisa.

The telephone rang in the office on the tenth floor of Cornwall Gardens on East

69th Street. Dr. Willey's nurse. Polly Nussbaum.

answered it.

"This is Mrs. Michael Forte's private secretary." The woman's voice was soft and pleasant and Polly Nussbaum always admired

nice voices.

"I am just double-check- ing Mrs. Forte's appointment for ten o'clock this morning."

" Yes, we arc expecting

her at ten."

"Thank you. Mrs. Forte will bc on time."

Polly Nussbaum rang off, poured sugar into the cup of

coffee she had made for herself and prepared to enjoy the only five minutes of leisure she would have from now until one o'clock.

Dr. Willey did not get in until nine-fifteen and the first patient was due at nine-thirty. She hoped she had done the right thing by trying to fit in that (she

checked her book) Mrs. Malone.

Mrs. Malone would never know it, but it had been her

voice that had got her the appointment.

Come to think of it. Mrs. Forte had a nice voice too. But underneath it all, she

suspected, Mrs. Forte was holding back a screech.

I wouldn't want to work

for her, not even if some day she ends up as the President's wife. Polly thought. She

would be a terror to work

for, always making sure you never forgot the tiniest thing.

That was probably why she had had her secretary check twice in the past week on this morning's appoint-

ment.

Polly spread out The Daily News on her desk, began to leaf slowly through it. Then she stopped.

Michael Forte, handsome in

that nice Italian way, smiled up at her, inviting her vote.

All right. Mr. Forte, you can have my vote, especially if you can bring law and

order back to this town. Your wife I can do without. But

she's your pain, not mine.

I got rid of my pain. Irving Nussbaum. ten years ago. May he never come

back.

"'I have to be at Dr.

Willey's at ten." said Sylvia

Forte. "What?" said her

husband abstractedly. He was a handsome man just above middle height, with a

broad, dark face.

He stood at the window

gazing out at the East River that was dull under the grey November sky. The trees in the grounds of Gracie

Mansion, the official

residence of the Mayor of New York City, had no shine to them in the dull light.

But despite the dullness. Michael Forte could see up beyond the Triborough Bridge to the northern tip of Astoria on Long Island. On such days he imagined he could see clear into the past, the family history that he had never experienced.

Old Michele Forte, his grandfather, had settled over there in Astoria when he had arrived in America from

Italy in 1895, getting off the ship with a wife, three small children, forty dollars, a strong back and a driving

ambition.

The family construction business had begun there and the Triborough was one of the monuments to it. M. Forte and Sons had been one of the contractors on the bridge.

Michael knew that Sam,

his father, the last surviving

son of old Michele, never looked back at Astoria, but

maybe that was understand-

able. America was full of

first-generation sons trying to escape from their back- ground.

But then Sam Forte had

never run for political office,

had never had to convince

the voters that, though rich, he was as good and humble

as they were.

"I hope you listen to your ward bosses more than you do to me." said Sylvia.

Michael smiled at her, his husband's smile, not his

politician's.

"Sorry. I'll be able lo give you my undivided attention after tomorrow — I hope. What are you doing this morning?"

She sighed. a little impatiently. "I'm going to Dr. Willey's at ten. I'm blessing children or some- thing at St. Mary's School at

eleven. Then I'm due at a

luncheon at the Colony

Club."

"Why there? They're not

the sort who'll vote for mc."

"They may — perhaps I can persuade them to. According lo Scotty Reston this morning —" she tapped the copy of The New York

Times that lay on the

breakfast table — "you'll need every vote you can get

tomorrow."

He looked at her

admiringly. Also with some sympathy that he hoped she

would not detect.

She was thc perfect political wife — beautiful, with that red-gold hair that

was a sensation on colour

television, hard-working, always polite to the right people, never wasting her time on the wrong ones.

If I don't make it

tomorrow, he thought, she is the one who is going to be disappointed. She and Old

Sam.

As if on cue, Nathan, the butler, came to the door of

the small dining-room where the Fortes usually break-

fasted.

"Mr. Samuel is here, sir."

Michael smiled to himself

at his father's formality. Ever

since Michael could remem-

ber, his life had been run by

his father. But once he had reached political office, first as a Congressman in Washington and then as Mayor here in New York, his father had always had

himself announced when he

called. Preparing for bigger things. Michael thought with slightly sour amusement.

Sam would never expect

to enter the White House

without being announced. To Sylvia and Old Sam. Gracie Mansion was just a wayside stop on the road to the ultimate destination.

Sylvia rose and went forward to kiss her father-in-law as he came in the door. There was warm affection between the two of

them. They were related by

ambition as well as by marriage.

Michael had to admit

they made a fine-looking pair -—the lovely red-haired   woman and the stiff-backed, white-haired old man.

"Sorry if I'm too early —" Samuel Forte had not quite managed to eliminate the roughness of his early years

from his voice.

He had gone to work for his father at eighteen and it had been ten years before he had been able to escape from the shouting above the job noises and the yelling at the immigrant construction

workers in the dialect that

they understood.

"No, we're finished. We

had a late night and we're going to be late again tonight. We gave ourselves the luxury of an extra hour in bed this morning."

Syliva brought her

father-in-law to the table and

poured him a cup of coffee.

The old man sat down,

carefully arranging the

creases in his trousers.

"The day after tomorrow you may not need to get up at all. I've been talking to Ed Horan — he says things are going against us up in the Bronx. He thinks you have been too complacent.

Michael."

Michael held in his

temper. It was too early in the day to start expending his energy that way.

"Ed Horan is an uneducated fool. He

wouldn't know the meaning of complacency."

"The word was mine. Ed

actually said you had left it too late to get going."

"lt's easy for Horan to sit up there in the Bronx telling

me what I should have done.

He's not running for office, never has." Michael paused, looking at his father. But Sam Forte was carefully measuring sugar into his

coffee.

"When Tom Kirkbride

came out with his campaign

for law and order, what was I

supposed to do? Tell the

Police Commissioner that

the police force had to go out and double its daily quota? Already we're arresting more

law-breakers than we have room for.

"I've done everything I

can. From now on, it's a  

question of luck."

"Luck should never come

into an election. It suggests a poor campaign or a poor

candidate."

"And what do you reckon you've had of those two?"

Sam Forte took his time,

as he always had with his son. When his boy had been

born he had taken the long view. It took years, decades, to put a man into the White House, especially when you

decided, when he was one

day old, that that was his

destination.

"You have been a good

candidate. Michael. You

have been a good mayor too. even though you have had a

lot of critics."

"But you don't think I've run a good campaign this

time?"  

"No." Sam Forte finished his coffee. "You let

Kirkbride get away too soon with his claim that he can bring back law and order if

he is elected. You should

have hit him right at the

start."

To page 51

RANSOM

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 50

"How?" asked Michael.

"By giving him the same argument you've given me Ask him where the money is coming from for more police, for more prisons —"

"Do you think people listen to that sort of argument? When they're scared to walk down the street after dark, scared to open their front door, do you really think they're going to listen to logical argument?"

"It would have been worth a try —"

Michael gestured in exasperation.

"Look, I believe in law and order — I believe in it absolutely. But how do I convince the ordinary man in the street that I'm even more concerned than he is, because it's my responsibil- ity? He just expects miracles and he votes you out if you don't produce them."

Then Michael heard the clatter of the Police Department helicopter as it went over the house and down to the wharf below.

Once a week he rode

downtown by helicopter, one week going down the East Side, the next down the West, like an old-time king surveying his domain.

He had been doing it every Monday for four years and he still got the same thrill. When you stood off

from it New York was still

the most exciting city he had

ever seen.

"lt's time I was leaving."

"I'll stay and have a little talk with Sylvia. We haven't

seen much of each other this past month."

"You can drive me down

to my dentist." said Sylvia. "We can talk in your car."

"How will you get to St. Mary's?" Michael asked. He was forever worried for her. though he knew in his heart she was stronger than he was. "I don't want you riding around in any old crummy

cab."

"Lester can pick me up at ten-thirty." She kissed him. lovingly, but wondering why lately she had begun to lose patience with him "Don't worry, darling."

"Sometimes I wonder if it's all worth it," he said, and his father and his wife

glanced sharply at him "There's some safety in anonymity."

"It's a little late for that," said Sam Forte.

"Yes," said Michael "You saw to that."

Abel Simmons, cruising

slowly down Second Avenue

glanced at his watch. Nine-forty: time to move. He stepped on the gas pedal as he came to East 70th, then had to brake sharply as a green-and-white police car pulled out from the kerb right in front of him.

He cursed; and cursed again when he saw the lights go red at the corner. He halted behind the police car. bouncing his hands impatiently on the steering wheel of the delivery truck. If he missed the lights at East 69th, it could blow the whole show.

Carole was going to be down there in the garage waiting for him, the Forte woman on her hands, the garage jockey wondering what was going on, and all because a couple of pigs

didn't follow their own rules

about pulling out into moving traffic.

It would serve them right

if he took the gun out of his pocket and shot them both in

the back of the head.

The light turned green and instinctively his hand touched the horn button. The

two cops turned round in their seats and for a moment

he thought the guy beside the driver was going to get out

and come back to him.

He smiled and waved in

an apologetic gesture. Neither of the cops smiled back, just stared at him a moment longer, then they faced forward again and the driver unhurriedly set the police car going.

Abel. resisting thc temptation to speed up past

them, fell in behind. Of all

things, he didn't want cops following him.

Their car cruised slowly on, the driver and his partner lolling negligently in their seats. Abel was trembling

now and he could feel a headache coming on.

Then they were at 69th Street. The police car went on along Second Avenue, and Abel swung the delivery

truck round into 69th . . .

Up the street Carole Cox was already turning into the steps that led up into the small garden fronting

Cornwall Gardens.

She was dressed in a plain grey suit, wore dark wrapround glasses and a wig

that was much darker than her own hair. She hoped she looked like a thousand other working girls in New York City, felt sure that she did.

Over the past four years she had come to accept anonymity, something she had once thought impossible

for her. Until she had met

Roy in her last year of college and fallen so deeply

in love with him she had

wanted recognition, to be an

actress, a writer, someone. But

even after today she would still be anonymous. That was part of the perfection of the plan.

She paused at the top of the steps, looked down the street and saw Abel driving up in the delivery truck.

He drove past her, carefully not looking at her, then swung out of sight down the curving ramp that went under the garden to the basement garage.

She moved on to a side

path, and checked her watch. Nine-forty-seven. Would Sylvia Forte be early, right on time, or late?

Then the answer came up the street, the big black Lincoln Continental pulling

into the kerb below her. The

door opened and Sylvia Forte, red-gold hair so easily recognisable, got out of it.

A taxi lurched in behind the Lincoln and Lisa Malone

got out of it. She shoved two

dollars at the driver and

moved quickly to the steps that led up to Cornwall

Gardens. As she did so she saw the red-haired woman

who had just got out of the big black car turn back.

"I'm early, but I don't think Dr. Willey will mind."

she said.

But I will, thought Lisa, seeing her own appointment disappearing. She hurried up the steps.

She saw the dark-haired

girl standing to one side, looking down the street as if waiting for someone who had promised to meet her here and hoped the girl was not another of Dr. Willey's patients who had turned up early for an appointment.

Her hollow tooth began to ache again — with impatience, she guessed.

Lisa went into the lobby,

crossed to the elevator and entered it. There was no time to check what floor Dr. Willev was on. The red-haired woman was

already in the elevator with her, pressing the button for

the tenth floor. That must be where Dr. Willey had his

surgery.

But before thc elevator

began to move, the girl Lisa had seen waiting outside came quickly into it.

She stood in front of the

control panel, pressed the

master button, then a second button, waited till the doors closed, then turned round and faced Lisa and the red-haired woman. In her

gloved hand was a small

revolver.

"I am sorry, Mrs. Forte,   but you will have to see your dentist another day."

Lisa felt the elevator

going down beneath her. It came gently to a stop, the doors opened and Lisa, looking past the girl, saw they were in a basement garage that seemed full of

cars.

A grey delivery truck, its rear doors open, was backed up almost against the elevator exit. A young blond man in coveralls, wearing the same sort of wrapround dark glasses as the girl, stood by the open doors of the truck.

The girl jerked the gun at

the red-haired woman.

"Please don't make any trouble. Mrs. Forte, or you'll get hurt. Get into the truck."

"Who's the other one?"

The young man sounded

worried.

The girl shook her head,

then seemed to look at Lisa for the first time.

"I don't know who you are, but you're out of luck.

You'll have to come with us — "

"But we don't want her!"

The young man swore.

"Shut up!" The gun

shook for a moment in the

girl's hand. Lisa flinched, waiting for the involuntary squeezing of the trigger. "I

know we don't want her. But we're stuck with her. What else do we do with her?"

"I don't know —" Despite the dark mask of the glasses, worry and indecision showed in the thin face of the young

man.

Then there was the sound

of a car coming down the ramp. Thc young man swung round, looking on thc verge of panic.

"I put the chain across the top of the down ramp! He's coming down the other

side!"

The girl jerked the gun at

Lisa and the red-haired

woman.

"Into the truck quick!"

The red-haired woman looked at Lisa.

"I'm sorry. I think we had better do what they say." she

said.

To page 71

RANSOM

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 51

"I'm staying here! I don't want any part of it —!" Lisa

began.

The young man cursed savagely and stepped into the elevator. She felt a blow across the back of her neck, everything was suddenly

blurred and next moment she was flung headlong into the back of the truck.

Her gaze clearing, she saw the red-haired woman being pushed into the truck and the girl scrambling in after her.

The doors were slammed shut and a moment later she heard the young man jump up into the front of the truck and the other car coming down into the garage.

Its horn was tooted twice, then the truck jumped forward. Lisa tried to sit up, but the girl, sitting on the floor of the truck beside the red-haired woman, .leaned   across and poked the gun into her bosom.

"Lie still! If you move, I'll shoot you!"

Lisa lay back, and the truck, engine roaring, swung round the newly-arrived car and went up the ramp out of the garage.

The girl waved the gun at both women, her mouth snarling wordlessly, then she

crawled forward to the

partition that separated the

back of the truck from the driver's seat and hammered on it with her hand.

"Abel -—slow down! We  

don't want to be pulled in for speeding!"

Abel slowed. His head

was aching, as it always did

when he was worried. His

face was streaming with sweat and his dark glasses were beginning to fog up.

But he couldn't take them

off yet, not till he was out of 69th and had turned up Third Avenue. They had worked out the route a dozen times. All he had to do was not panic.

Everything had been going so well until the blonde had unexpectedly appeared in the picture. There had been no trouble with the garage attendant. He had been lounging in a chair in the tiny office as Abel had pulled up the truck, swung down and entered the office.

He had said nothing as Abel had come at him with

the butt end of the gun, just opened his eyes wide. His chair had tipped over right in

front of the toilet where Abel meant to hide him.

Abel had come in here

two weeks ago on the pretext of looking for a job. Two minutes in the tiny office had been enough for him to remember its lay-out. It had

taken him less than a minute

to gag the guy, tape his hands behind him, then shove him into the toilet and lock the door.

Then Abel had run back

up the ramp and put the chain across the entrance, hanging the Garage Full sign

on it.

Two minutes later he had

had the truck waiting outside the elevator, back doors open, engine running, everything ready just for

Carole and the Forte dame

to put in an appearance. Then the elevator doors had opened and there were Carole and the Forte dame and the blonde besides.

Then to top it all there had been the guy who took no notice of signs, who drove down an Up ramp — what if they had met him halfway up the ramp!

Sweat broke more profusely over him. Then he willed his cool to come back, telling himself the worst was

now over.

Even if the guy who had driven down into the garage

found the attendant in the

toilet, they wouldn't know what else had happened. It

could be hours before anyone learned there had been a kidnapping.

In the back of the truck Carole sat with her back

braced against the partition that separated her from

Abel. Mrs. Forte and the blonde sat on either side of

the truck, facing each other.

Neither had said a word

since they had been bundled into the truck. Maybe, she mused, they had both been so scared they had been

struck dumb.

She herself had been scared when Abel had

grabbed the blonde girl. It

had looked as if he were

going to kill her. She would have to watch him carefully.

He seemed to lose his head

too quickly when things got panicky.

Sylvia Forte looked at her trembling hand and cupped

it in the other hand. She looked across at Lisa.

"Perhaps we had better

introduce ourselves. I am

Sylvia Forte."

"Lisa Malone." Lisa looked down at the holes in

the knees of her stockings.

She reached out for her

handbag, but Carole grabbed it and also took Sylvia's. "There's nothing in there but what any woman carries."

Carole smiled, nodded at the gun in her hand.

"Today I was carrying this in mine. You can fix your face when we get where we're going."

"Where are you taking us? And why?"

Carole just shook her

head.

"We're somewhere on

Long Island - I heard us come over the Queensboro Bridge," Sylvia said.

"Very smart, Mrs. Forte," said Carole. "You must be a

great help to your husband if you are always so obser-

vant."

Lisa suddenly tightened her gaze on Sylvia.

"Are you Mrs. Michael Forte? The Mayor's wife?"

"I'm surprised you recognise me. You're not American, are you?" But Sylvia was pleased. One never really knew how much

interest the rest of the world

took in Americans, especially

American wives.

"No. Dutch." Then Lisa corrected herself. She would

have to get used to the idea. "Or Dutch-Australian, I suppose. My husband is an

Australian and that's where I live. I still can't believe this is happening —"

"You're not going to get hurt," said Carole. "If Mrs. Forte's husband listens to

reason you will be released within thirty-six hours."

"Thirty-six hours?" Sylvia pondered. "'You're waiting till tomorrow. Election Day? Is this a political kidnapping,

then?"

"Very smart again, Mrs. Forte." Carole looked at

Lisa. "You're not part of the politics. Mrs. — Malone? You're just unfortunate. You might say you're one of the poor non-voters caught in the cross-fire. It happens too often in this country."

Beneath the wraparound dark glasses the wide sensitive mouth suddenly

thinned with bitterness.

"But Mrs. Forte's hus- band and men like him never know it and never care. But he'll know now."

Malone stuck the stamps on the postcards. He would post them when he and Lisa went out to lunch. They were not large cards but it had

taken him half an hour to

compose the messages on the

backs of them.

His police reports had

never been noted for their

literary quality. Their virtue had been their brevity. But

the cards to his parents and

to Lisa's had needed more thought.

Jan and Elizabeth Pretor-

ious were sophisticated, educated people. Con and Brigid, his own parents, though uneducated, had the Irish respect for garrulity. They might not look for fine words but they wanted a lot

of them.

He looked at his watch.

What was keeping Lisa? She was the most punctual

woman he had ever met and

though she had set no time to

meet him back here at the hotel, she had mentioned an

early lunch which, for a hungry man like himself, was any time after eleven-thirty.

It was now nearly half past twelve and she had been gone three hours. He began to worry, thinking of what Captain Jefferson had told him that morning of the increasing number of attacks on women in broad daylight.

Captain Jefferson was

the officer at Police

Headquarters who had taken

him on the conducted tour.

He was a middle-aged negro and Malone had at once recognised him for what he was, a desk detective who had grown fat in his chair and cynical in his lazy

routine. He had been

friendly enough, but Malone guessed that Jefferson was a professional greeter.

Malone had been sur-

prised when he had approached Police Head- quarters. He had not known what to expect, but he had not, for instance, expected New York to

accommodate its law

enforcement headquarters in circumstances that compared so unfavorably with those in

London.

The New York accommodation did not look

any better than what was afforded back in Sydney, only larger.

Its surroundings looked as if they had been designed to bleed out any optimism any rookie policeman might have

nurtured that he was

To page 72

RANSOM

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 71

contributing to a Brave New World, and the front of the main building was veiled by scaffolding.

"You saw the construc-

tion work going on outside?" said Jefferson. "That'll be the first renovations we've had here in I don't know how long, and we have a bunch of anarchists to thank

for it."

Malone then remembered an item he had read in the newspapers before he had left Sydney. Only the worst aspects of any country were news in another country.

"That was where they planted the bomb?"

"Right there. Blew out three rooms and killed two

of our guys and injured another six. But we got the jerks who did it — they're down in The Tombs waiting trial. We got them in only two days."

"Good going," said

Malone.

"lt didn't satisfy every- body. Some people wanted to know why it took us so long. Others wanted to know why we could act so fast and efficiently when it was cops

who were killed, but took our time when ordinary citizens were murdered. You can't win."

"Do you expect to?"

"We have a force of 30,000 men," said Jefferson, "and if we doubled it, then

we might, and I repeat might, just begin to start controlling this town again."

He sounded tired. Then he smiled, as if he realised he

was letting the side down in front of a stranger.

"But we survive. Us cops,

I mean."

"Where would they be if we didn't?" Malone grinned in reply.

He knew Jefferson would

know whom he meant by "they" — the outsiders, the taxpayers who expected miracles, who hated cops but always came demanding help and sympathy when things went wrong with them personally.

Jefferson's smile widened, became personal and not

official.

"We should swap reminiscences. Inspector. Maybe we could have lunch

—?"  

Then a young uniformed policeman came hurrying down the long corridor where they stood. At once Malone knew that something unusually serious had occurred. Cops, even young ones, did not normally look as agitated as this one.

Jefferson, equally aware, moved toward the young

man, who looked as if he had come to announce the outbreak of World War Three.

"Captain, you're wanted in the Commissioner's office at once. The Mayor's wife has just been kidnapped!"

Jefferson looked

quizzically at the young

policeman, then shook his

head.

'I"ll go along right now. Will you show Inspector

Malone out?" He turned back to Malone.

"You heard that? Thirty- three years in the force and I

can still be surprised. Looks as though we might not get together again. Inspector. But you understand —"

He held out his hand and Malone shook it.

"I'll read the papers and see how you make out. Good luck. I'm just glad I'm not in your shoes."

So Malone had come back to the hotel, the

policeman in him wanting to stay at Headquarters and

watch another force in action

during an emergency, the ordinary man in him wanting to be gone from it and glad he did not live in this city of extraordinary violence.

After a time, the telephone rang and he picked it up, wondering where Lisa was calling from. Was she being feted at the Holland Society and she wanted him to join her?

"'Sir, there is a Captain Jefferson downstairs here.

May I send him up?" a voice

said.

Malone put down the

receiver, puzzled and beginning to be worried. Why would a captain of detectives, in the middle of an emergency, come all the way uptown to call on him at the hotel? Why hadn't he just phoned?

He had the door open

before Jefferson knocked on it.

"What's the matter? Has

my wife been hurt or something?"

Jefferson's voice was

puzzled. "How did you know?"

'"Know what? I don't

know anything! But you haven't come all the way up

here for that lunch —"

"No." Jefferson's voice was a rumble of despair. "I wish that was the reason —"

"Come in." Malone closed the door.

Jefferson had not yet told him anything, but he knew that for the first time in his

life a cop had come to him

with bad news. He could not remember the number of times he had knocked on

strangers' doors with a feeling of utter helplessness

as he delivered the bad news.

"'What has happened to my wife?"

'"The kidnappers took her with them when they took the Mayor's wife."

Malone felt his legs go

weak. For a moment he could not see Jefferson or anything else in the room.

"I don't believe it!" he

blurted out then. "'Why would they want lo take her

—?"  

"They said it was an

accident." Jefferson told

Malone all the police knew.

The kidnapping appeared to have taken place

somewhere in the Cornwall

Gardens building where

Mrs. Forte's dentist was.

A young blond man in dark glasses had slugged the garage attendant, and the kidnapped women must have been in a grey delivery

truck that had been driven at

speed out of the garage as

another man had driven down into it.

'"Accidents like this do

happen. You're a cop — you

know that —"

'"Did the kidnappers phone or what?"

"Some woman phoned the Mayor, told him they had

his wife and another woman named Malone, an Austra- lian. I was going to call you from Headquarters, then I

thought it better —" He made a vague gesture.

"Thanks. I'm glad you didn't phone — I'd have thought it was someone trying a sick joke." Malone

sat down on the bed. "How's

the Mayor taking it?"

"I don't know — I haven't seen him. But some

kidnappings we've had in the past, while he's been Mayor,

he's really ridden us. He's so uptight about law and order, there are some cops wonder if he knows what we're up against."

"'What do the kidnappers want? Money for my wife as

well?"'

"I don't know what demands they're making. If they're socking the Mayor, you can bet the price will be high — he's a very rich man. Maybe they'll include your wife in the price."

"'Don't talk like that!"

Then Malone looked up. "'Sorry, it just made my wife

sound like some sort of commodity."

"Look — I've been on

three kidnappings and I know the history of most of the big ones here in this country. As far as kidnappers are concerned, their victims are a commodity and nothing else. That's brutal, I know, but you're a cop and sympathy isn't gonna be any comfort to you."

Malone nodded. He looked at Jefferson, almost unable to ask the question: "Do you think my wife — and the Mayor's wife — are

still alive?"

The answer seemed to sicken Jefferson as much as the question.

"'We can't tell. You know

the statistics — no, maybe you don't. Most times the kidnappers panic —" His face screwed up in pain.

"It won't be easy for you, Malone. It's never easy for anyone in these circum- stances, but it'll be harder for you. You're a cop and you're not gonna believe any of the stuff we usually dole out. I'd like to say the chances are your wife is unharmed, but we just plain don't know."

"What's happening then? What are you doing?"

"I can't tell you till I go back down to Headquarters.

You're welcome to come down there with me."

Malone was already on his feet. They went out of the hotel, the desk clerk looking inquisitively after them as they went through the lobby and got into the police car drawn up at the kerb.

As they drove off, the radio began to crackle. "It's for you. Captain." the driver

said.

The message was for Jefferson to proceed straight to City Hall, to the Mayor's

office. Jefferson acknowl-

edged the directive, gave the microphone back to the driver and sat back beside Malone.

"'Let's hope they got some good news."

Malone said nothing. Suddenly he hated America

and Americans.

"Declaring war is not going to help Sylvia and this

other woman, this — Mrs. Malone or whatever her name is." said Michael Forte.

'"If we deploy every cop we have, call in every FBI agent in the country, all we are going lo do is panic these kidnappers and they'll —"

He stopped, unable to voice the thought in his

To page 74

RANSOM

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 72

mind. He looked appealingly at Police Commissioner Desmond Hungerford.

"Des. I appreciate your efforts, but I think it would be wrong. I want Sylvia — and this other woman — back alive."

"And you're willing to pay the ransom price?" Hungerford said. "I don't

mean that as a cruel

question. Mr. Mayor. I'm just asking."

Michael Forte put his hand over his eyes, a habit he had developed years ago when trying to evade his father's questions.

The other three men in the room, his father, Hungerford and Cartwright,

from the FBI, watched him closely and sympathetically. Each of them was privately glad he was not in the Mayor's shoes, either as the city's chief official or as a

husband.

"It's not just my decision,

is it?" Forte said at last. "Those men are held on

charges — that means the law is responsible for them. I'm

not the law, Des. The law is an instrument of the State."

"Forgive me saying so, Mr. Mayor, but I don't think the Governor will like the

decision being thrown in his lap."

"I didn't mean it would

be." Forte dropped his hands on to the big desk in front of him. His program for the rest of the day lay there. It was

another life, one that he was

suddenly no longer interest- ed in. "Sorry, Des. I was only trying to evade the issue."

Samuel Forte sat quietly, alert but unobtrusively. He had never made the mistake

of emphasising in public that

he was his son's mentor.

Even in this personal crisis of Michael's there were politi- cal implications just as critical and he waited, though deeply worried for the safety of Sylvia.

Des Hungerford had been his own suggestion to

Michael as Police Commissioner. He had come to see it as one of the few

poor recommendations he

had ever made.

Hungerford, a tall, bony but handsome man, had been an excellent cop and probably the best Chief Inspector the Department

had ever known. But he had been a failure as Commissioner, and every- one, including himself, knew

it.

He was the sort whose

pinnacle of potential was to be second from the top, the man who would always need

another man above him to take the ultimate responsibility.

Sam sometimes won- dered, in the darkness of an

old man's sleepless nights, if Michael would prove to be another Des Hungerford when he got to the White House. But it was something

he would never admit to

anyone, not even fully to

himself.

*'Mr. Mayor, I think

circumstances will decide for us what we can and cannot

do." Cartwright was the Special Agent in charge of

the FBI's New York office.

"We have very little to go on." he went on. "We know there is a young man involved — blond, thin,

maybe in his early twenties.

And there's a woman — the

one who phoned you. What

sort of voice did she have — I mean, did she have an accent or anything?"

"Not that I remember."

Michael Forte gestured helplessly. "I don't think so. I was too shocked to take any

notice —"

Cartwright nodded sympathetically.

"Why had your wife no protection, nobody with

her?"

"She usually does when she goes in one of our own or a City car. A detective from Headquarters goes with her

or trails her in an unmarked

car. This morning she went with my father." He carefully

avoided looking at his father. This was no time to be

scoring points off him.

"We know a grey delivery truck was probably used to transport your wife and Mrs. Malone," said Hungerford. 'The man who drove down

into the garage as they drove out gave us a rough description —but it was very   rough.

"We have the garage attendant over at Headquar- ters going through our mug shots, but he already says he will only be guessing. The

man who hit him had the collar of his coveralls turned

up around his ears and jaw, and the dark glasses just about obliterated the rest of his face.

"He says he could have been a young man who came in looking for a job two weeks ago, but he's not

sure."

"I take it your men are working with the FBI?"

"Naturally, sir." said Cartwright, and looked at Hungerford, who nodded. "That's only newspaper talk, that the Police Department and the Bureau don't get on together. Des phoned me as soon as you gave him the

news."

There was a knock on the door and Michael

Forte's secretary put her

head in.

"Mr. Mayor, Captain

Jefferson is here with

Inspector Malone."

As soon as Malone

walked into the big room

he knew that he and

Jefferson were very much

the low men on this totem

pole.

The handshake Mayor Forte gave him and the

nods from the other three

men were friendly and sympathetic enough. But he recognised at once that he

— and Lisa — were never

going to be anything more than supporting players in

this drama.

Nothing was said, but Malone already sensed politics.

"Inspector Malone. I can't say how sorry I am —"

Then Michael Forte shook

his head in mild disgust, and Malone recognised that

this man at least was an honest one. "No, that's not what you want to hear, is

it?"

"No, sir," said Malone, equally honest. "All I want to hear is what is being done to get my wife back."

"Nothing right now — nothing constructive, that is. The woman who made the

call said they would call back at three o'clock to see if we agreed to their

demands."

"What are their de- mands, sir?"

"They don't want money. Inspector — I wish it were as simple as that.

We have five anarchists held in The Tombs, our detention jail, on conspiring

to set off a bomb — actually, it went off two months ago and killed two policemen —"

"I know about them. C aptain Jefferson told me this morning. What have they got to do with this?"

"They are the ransom fee — their release and a plane to take them to Cuba. The deadline is noon to-morrow."

Malone felt the sick weakness come back on him.

"Go on, sir." he said.

Forte looked at the Australian shrewdly, for the first time really appreciating

that this man had as much

at stake in the kidnapping

as himself.

"What do you mean, Inspector?"

"You hadn't finished.

You've implied that you're not prepared to agree to the kidnappers' demands."

"The Mayor didn't say that!" snapped Hungerford.

"I know he didn't. But

I'm a policeman, like you.

Commissioner — I don't

have to have things spelled

out for me. I don't care about your anarchists — all I want is to get my wife

back!"

"If you are a policeman, you'll realise the conse- quences." Then Hungerford stopped and looked toward

the door as there was a knock and a small dark-haired man looked in.

"Joe Burgmann is here, Mr. Mayor," the newcomer

said.

"Bring him in, Manny."

Michael Forte said and the small dark-haired man.

dapper as a head-waiter, brought in a burly man with thinning grey hair and; hard bright eyes. They were introduced to Malone as; Manny Pearl and Joe Burgmann.

Burgmann looked Ma- lone over cursorily, decided

he was no voter, and turned back to Michael Forte.

"Manny's put me in the picture. Mr. Mayor, I can't say how sorry I am —" Malone caught the swift glance from Michael Forte,

but there was no flicker of

expression otherwise on the Mayor's face, "lt's a real dilemma. Anyone come up with any suggestions?"

"None so far, Joe."

"I have." said Malone.

"I've suggested you give in to them. My wife — and yours too, Mr. Mayor — are

more valuable than a bunch of anarchists, no matter what they've done."

"That's easy for you to say 1" Burgmann began.

"Nothing is easy for me to say." snapped Malone, "not when my wife's life is in danger."

"O.K.. Joe —" Michael

Forte motioned to Burg-

mann, then looked at Malone.

"Mr. Burgmann is my campaign manager — you

know we have an election

coming up tomorrow. I've always been a strong proponent of law and order, but in tomorrow's election my principal opponent has chosen to make an issue of it.

"If I agree to the ransom demand — as you say, Inspector, you're a police- man, you don't have to have things spelled out for you."

To page 88

RANSOM

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 74

"Maybe I do," Malone said slowly. He knew now why he had sensed the atmosphere of politics as

soon as he had entered the room. "What's more impor- tant to you — your political reputation or getting your

wife back?"

At once there was an

angry murmur from several

of the men. Michael Forte stiffened, his face flushed.

Malone poised himself, wondering if he had gone too far but determined not to back down. Then Sam Forte, a veteran of such moments, spoke for the first

time.

"Inspector Malone has asked the proper question, I

think. There will be a lot of

people. Michael, asking where you stand on law and order when you're confront-

ed with this — this

dilemma. All you've said in the past will look pretty

hollow if —"

Malone looked gratefully

at the old man. But Sam

Forte ignored him. I don't mean anything to him. Malone suddenly realised. He's only intent on protecting the image of his

son!

He had an abrupt urge

to spin round and stride out of the building, but he knew that would achieve nothing. If he was to get Lisa back safely, he needed

these men in this room.

All at once he felt more

ragingly helpless than he

had ever felt in his life before.

Then Manny Pearl spoke.

"The reporters have guessed there's something wrong. Mr. Mayor. I think you'll have to make a

statement."

Michael Forte looked at

Hungerford and Cartwright.

"Will that endanger the lives of my wife and Mrs. Malone, do you think?"

"Did the woman who

telephoned say anything about not telling the papers?" asked Cartwright.

"No. Come to think of

it, she didn't even say anything about not telling the police. That's one of their usual demands, isn't it?"

"Most kidnappers hope we'll be kept out of it. Telling the newspapers may result in these people thinking the pressure is being increased on them,

but that is a risk we have to

take, Mr. Mayor."

Cartwright then looked at Malone. He felt sorry for

the Australian, who looked

angry and bewildered by

what must sound to him

like a lot of empty, delaying talk. But maybe things were simpler in Australia.

"Do you agree. Inspec-

tor?"

Malone, his emotion under control again, thought, Here's one bloke who's on my side.

"If we have no real clues of our own, then we may have to rely on the public, hope there's an outside

chance that someone saw

something that will help

us."

He's a worried husband

but he hasn't forgotten how to be a cop, Cartwright thought. He turned again to Michael Forte, who looked just as worried but less

decisive than the Australian.

ls he the sort of man

who'd panic when the chips

were down? He'd make a

hopeless President if he is. But —then how many

Presidents have been faced

with a personal dilemma

like this? A real dilemma,

as the voting machine that went by the name of Burgmann had said.

"I think we may need the newspapers, sir. If Commissioner Hungerford agrees, I think you should

make a statement."

"What do I do? Just issue a statement or call the reporters in here?"

"If I can make a

suggestion, Mr. Mayor. I think you should have 'em in here." Burgmann, Malone was beginning to

To page 90

RANSOM

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 88

realise, was an important man in this room. He showed some deference to Michael Forte himself, but none at all to the other men, least of all to Malone.

"Some of these guys have been very much against us the past few months — they oughta be given the chance to see how you're suffering in this

dilemma."

"Joe, I don't want to have to answer a lot of questions —"  

"No questions then. Just

a statement. Where's some paper?"

Malone felt his anger rising again. He wanted to

smash his fist into the face

of the campaign manager. Burgmann's sole concern was to promote his

candidate.

He scribbled in a large

hand on two sheets of

paper, never stopping to grope for a word, then handed the statement to Michael Forte.

"That do?" he asked.

But without waiting for any assent from the Mayor, he had already moved to the door, opened it and told

the secretary outside to

bring in the newspapermen.

They came trooping in, five reporters and two photographers, all of them

with that mixture of boredom and alertness that Malone had seen on the

faces of newspapermen

back home who had to I cover the same beat day

after day.

"Gentlemen, I have some bad news — bad, that

is, for Inspector Malone

and myself —" Michael Forte introduced Malone, then baldlv and without emotion read out the statement.  

Shock replaced the boredom on the newspaper- men's faces. But they were all veterans and they soon recovered. Shock was grist

to their mill and as they moved in on the Mayor.

Malone wanted to get out of this room before his disgust, anger and frustra- tion made him erupt.

" Where'd it happen. Mr. Mayor? What time?"

"That ransom, Mr.

Mayor how does that tie in with your concept of law

and order?"

Michael Forte's jaw tightened, but all he said was. "No questions. Not at this stage."

"lt's been a terrible

shock to the Mayor." said Burgmann. "Come on, boys. We'll fill you in later —"

"How do you feel about the ransom demand. Inspec- tor?" Everyone in the room

looked at Malone as one of

the reporters put the question. "As a cop, you

must be concerned for law and order."

Malone felt the floor

suddenly rumble beneath him. He looked down in

puzzlement, then Michael Forte spoke.

"It's just a subway train. Inspector, City Hall isn't going to fall down."

Malone stared hard at

the Mayor. He didn't know whether any of the newspapermen read the message in the words, but he quite clearly understood

what Michael Forte meant.

Tell the truth if you like, Malone, we don't need you. But you sure as hell need

us.

"I'm a stranger in this city." said Malone. "I have

to take the advice of Mayor

Forte."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the relief on the faces of Burgmann and

Manny Pearl. But he was

still looking at Michael

Forte. For a moment the

Mayor all at once seemed

another man.

The dark eyes softened and Malone suddenly

realised that Forte was not solely and unalterably a political animal.

For the first time the two men looked at each

other with the recognition

that no one else here could

feel the pain and worry that

was common to them both.

"Commissioner Hunger- ford has every available man in the Police Depart- ment already at work." Burgmann was saying to the reporters, "aided, of course, by the FBI —"

But not aided by me, the

one law and order officer in

this room who has the most to lose.

Again the explosive anger brought on by frustration simmered in Malone. He could not be

expected to sit back while other cops worked on this

case. He had to do

something to get Lisa back

— but what?

"You have no time for

Joe Burgmann, have you?"

Michael Forte asked suddenly.

The abruptness of the

question caught Malone off guard. He took delaying refuge behind his coffee

cup.

Unexpectedly Forte, when the meeting had been breaking up, had invited him to stay behind and

share a sandwiches-and-cof-

fee lunch. Malone, intrigued now by this man with

whom he had to share a

common anguish, had accepted.

He had not expected to be called upon to answer leading questions such as

this one.

"In these circumstances, no," he said at last.

Forte stared down at the

red carpet beneath his feet. He and Malone were sitting

on chairs at one side of the room, a low table between them and a television set

against the wall opposite

them.

On the table, beside the

tray of coffee and almost

untouched sandwiches were

copies of the morning papers and the first edition

of the afternoon Post. Forte

smiled up at himself from

each of the front pages. Yesterday's man.

The photograph that

would be in the later editions of the Post and in the Times and News

tomorrow morning would

be of a worried, more honest man.

"You have to try to understand him. Inspector. I

don't think Joe is without

feelings — he has a wife

and kids and I'm sure he loves them. But all his life

he's been in politics — he sees everything in terms of

vote's."

"I wouldn't want to understand him." said Malone stubbornly, "if that's the way he is."

Forte sighed.  

"What's your wife like? You didn't tell the reporters much. How long have you

been married?"

"Eight weeks."

"Then you're still getting to know her, aren't you? I've been married eighteen years I have two kids, a boy sixteen and a girl

fourteen. I don't know which is worse to lose

someone you've become

accustomed to or someone

you're still finding out

about."

"You think we're going

to lose them?"

"I don't know!" Forte

put his hand over his eves

for a moment.

To page 92

RANSOM

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 90

Then there was a tap on the door and Manny Pearl came in. He waited patiently and without embarrassment till the Mayor had recovered his

composure.

"The news is already on TV and radio," he said then. "All the networks have been on to me asking if you'd do a spot for their main news shows tonight, but I took it upon myself to say No."

"Good." Forte nodded, then looked at Malone. "You don't want to be bothered by them, do you?"

"No, I don't think

they're interested in me, anyway." Then he stopped.

"I'm not offended,

Inspector. If anyone has the right to be offended, it's you." Again there was the glance of recognition

between them, then Forte looked back at Pearl. "What else is happening. Manny?"

"I've taken some phone calls for you. A few people, some organisations. I thanked them all on your behalf."

"Thanks. Manny."

Malone was not sure what Pearl's official title was, but it was obvious that he had the Mayor's trust.

Actually, Manny Pearl had long ago dedicated

himself to Michael Forte

and not just for political

reasons. He had a natural warmth of affection, but too

much of his early life had been spent in an atmos- phere where friendship was only an instrument to be

used.

Then he had met Michael Forte and the Italian rich boy and the Jewish delicatessen owner's son had found how much they had in common and a respect and deep liking for each other had grown up.

Wherever Mike went from now on, to the White House or oblivion. Manny hoped he would take him

with him . . .

Malone's thoughts had gone back to Lisa. He was remembering how she looked when she had gone

out of the hotel. She was

smiling . . . with love, not

humor.

"Do we have to sit here

and do nothing?" he said abruptly.

"What can we do?" But

Forte got up and illustrated   his own frustration by moving restlessly about the room. "I have to stay here for that next phone call. Did you cancel all my appointments tor this afternoon. Manny .'"

"Not all. I've cancelled

everything up till four o'clock. At four you are supposed to shake hands with the United Nations

delegation that is looking

over City Hall —"

"Do I have to do that?"

"lt seemed to me the

least demanding of your appointments. It will show you are carrying on with your job."  

"Always the image! You disappoint me sometimes.

Manny."

I'm sure I do," said Pearl, unruffled.

"At four-thirty you were supposed to start touring the campaign offices, thanking your workers for what they've done for you." he went on. I'll just send out a message to each of the ward captains in your name. I hate to say it, but we can't postpone the

election tomorrow."

"I could withdraw my name— " But the threat was half-hearted and Forte knew it. So, too, did Malone and Manny Pearl.

Sharp at three o'clock the telephone rang. By then Sam Forte, Hungerford and Cartwright had returned.

Michael Forte took the call.

"Who are you? lt was a woman who called this morning."

"We're partners — don't worry which one of us makes the calls, Mr. Forte." The woman this morning had been soft-voiced,

almost polite. But this man's voice had a ragged edge to it and Forte heard danger.

"The message is the same, you hear? We want those five guys outa The Tombs and quick. You decided what you gonna

do?"

"I can't release them at

once — there's a legal procedure we have to go through." Hungerford, listening on an extension, gestured to him to keep talking. In the outer office police technicians were taping the conversation and trying to trace the call.

"You gave us until noon tomorrow. How is my wife — can I speak to her?"

Forte said.

"No, man. you can't." There was a note of grating

satisfaction in the man's

voice. "Is that guy Malone there with you? Let me talk

to him."

Forte motioned to the Australian, handed him the receiver.

"Malone here."

"Your wife says you're a cop. Right? I'd sooner deal with someone else, but this

time I'm not gonna hold it against you. You're just lucky, man. you ain't American — but pigs are

the same all over.

"Listen — you tell the Mayor he's not gonna see his wife again and you're not gonna see yours, unless he lets those guys outa The Tombs. Right? That's all for now. There'll be just one

more call from us."

"What time? Where — here?"

"We'll find you. No- body's gonna be more available than you and the Mayor. You just expect to hear from us. And pass on that message to the Mayor.

"We don't want to hurt   your missus, but she's in the same boat now as Mrs.

Forte. It could get awful rough for her."

The room was small but  

comfortably furnished. There was a white carpet square on the polished

floorboards, with two

Colonial-style single beds, a

chest-of-drawers and a

dressing-table in the same style and a built-in

wardrobe.

Two easy chairs had

blue denim covers and an

electric heater stood against

one wall. It was a room

that Lisa guessed was

similar to thousands of others all over America.

Except for two things.

The window was board-

ed up from the inside and three pictures had been removed from the walls, leaving oblong shapes that were slightly cleaner than

the rest of the white

wallpaper.

"We're in a cottage of

some sort. I think." said

Sylvia Forte. "I used to have a room very much like

this in a house we had on Fishers Island."

"I wonder why the pictures were taken off the

walls?"

"I don't know. Unless

they would have identified

those two outside.'*

They had been in the room an hour. At first, after their initial words to each other in the truck, they had fallen silent as they had begun to appreciate the frightening potential of their predicament.

Their growing apprehen-

sion had not been slowed

by the sullenness of the girl

in the back of the truck with them. It seemed to Lisa that behind and below

the dark glasses the girl's

face had hardened into a mask that showed no hint of mercy for them.

After three-quarters of an hour's travelling the truck had slowed, turned and pulled up. Lisa and Sylvia heard the driver get down, then a few moments later he came back, got into

the truck and drove it into

a garage or large shed.

The back doors of the

truck were opened and Abel, smiling widely,

looked in at Carole.

"So far so good. You make the phone call, while

I look after these two."

Carole got out of the truck. She kissed his cheek,

put her gun back in her handbag and slipped cautiously out of a side door of the two-car garage.

Abel gestured to Sylvia and Lisa. They got out of the truck, and he pushed them up against the side of a second delivery truck, a black one, parked in the garage.

He opened the back doors of the black truck, took out two white hoods.

"'Join the Ku Klux Klan."

Lisa and Sylvia took the hoods, hesitated, then slipped them over their heads. There were no eyeholes, but a hole had been cut in the material at mouth level and Lisa found she was able to breathe quite easily.

The young man moved close to her, tightening a slip-cord round her neck.

"Tm not gonna hurt you." he said gently as she tried to pull away. Carole had taught him how to be gentle with a woman. Carole — the greatest thing that had ever happened to

him in his whole life.

"You just behave and we'll get along fine." he

added.

He moved away from her to Sylvia Forte, but as

soon as he touched her, her

hands flew up to push him

off.

"Keep still!" There was no gentleness in him now.

His voice was a hard snarl.

Lisa put out a hand, groping blindly, found Sylvia's hand and held it. They clung to each other, strangers who suddenly

needed each other.

They were bundled into the back of the black truck, then they heard the girl come back into the garage, closing the side door after

her.

"I spoke to him," Lisa heard her say. "The next

call to him is three o'clock this afternoon. You can make that."

"It'll be a pleasure. Let's go—"

The girl got into the

back of the truck and the doors were closed. A

minute later they were back on the road, moving more quickly now as if there was

less traffic.

Lisa, sitting close to Sylvia Forte, felt the other

woman reach for her hand

again, felt the fingers digging into her palm.

"Don't worry, Mrs. Forte." Carole sat watching

the women with cold

amusement. For the past hour she had felt uneasy.

She had never done

anything like this before,

never even broken the law

in a minor way.

She had planned the whole project right down to

the smallest detail, but because she could remem- ber every detail she knew

how many things could go wrong if there was the slightest accident.

The only accident so far had been Mrs. Malone, but

she might prove to be a

bonus. The climax of the

operation had been reached when she had spoken to Mayor Forte himself and

told him her terms.

From now on the show

was to be enjoyed, for she had no doubt that the

Mayor would agree to her

demands. He had no alternative.

To be continued

The novel "Ransom" by Jon Cleary is published by

William Collins Ltd.

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