On his third time around the apartment -- still wearing his coat
-- Elliot noticed signs of visitors who must have come before his
family had left. Several ashtrays held cigarette butts, and no
none in his family smoked. No one except Denise -- Elliot
amended -- and she only when their parents could not see her.
Whoever it was must have stayed more than a few minutes, too,
otherwise there would not have been time for more than one or two
But who was it, and what could he -- or she -- or they --
have said to make his family leave without even writing a note?
Elliot approached the problem systematically. He first went
over to the video intercom and buzzed the lobby. The doorman
appeared on the small screen, answering with a thick Puerto Rican
accent, "Dominic here." Elliot Vreeland, 50L. Had he sent up
any visitors in the past couple of hours? "No, sir. Nobody."
What time had he come on duty? "Five o'clock." Had he been at
the door all the time since five? Dominic looked as if he had
been accused of desertion during wartime. "Yes, sir." Elliot
thanked him, then cleared the screen.
Next, he checked across the hall with Mrs. Allen, his
mother's closest friend. She was a rather plump, jolly widow in
her seventies, but when she saw Elliot, she was not very jolly.
"Oh, my dear boy. What a tragic day this is! I know how hard
this must be on you. When I lost my poor Gustav --"
Before she could tell him about her poor Gustav, Elliot
said, "Mrs. Allen, do you know where my mother and sister have
gone?" He maintained the cover, just in case.
"Why, certainly, dear."
"Where?" he asked anxiously.
"They've gone to your mother's sister-in-law. My dear,
didn't they tell you?"
"Uh -- yes," Elliot replied as his stomach sank. "I guess
in the confusion I forgot." "Oh, you poor thing. Perhaps you'd
come in for a cup of hot cocoa to settle your nerves."
Elliot thanked her warmly but declined, saying that he had
better go over there before they worried about him.
He returned to his apartment and, after looking up the
listing for Air Quebec, went to the Picturephone in his parents'
bedroom, calling to ask if there were any messages for him. He
used the family code name his father had given him, saying they
were supposed to leave for Montreal that evening on Flight 757
and were accidentally separated. An attractive Air Quebec
reservation hostess told him with a Quebecois accent that company
policy prevented accepting personal messages between passengers.
However, she could have the airport page them. "Uh -- no
thanks." Then, a flash of inspiration. "Is the reservation
She punched data into a computer console, then turned back
to the video camera. "Yes, the reservation is still intact. Do
you wish to change it?"
"No, thank you," Elliot answered, delighted. "Thank you
The reservation was intact; it had not been changed or
canceled. Whatever had necessitated leaving the apartment so
early, his family had to be expecting him to rendezvous with them
on Park Avenue as scheduled at seven o'clock. He checked his
watch. It was only half past six. He had wasted thirty minutes
but still had time to pack and meet them on time -- if he
Elliot was just about to start back to his own room when he
heard the apartment's front door open.
It could only have been his mother or Denise.
He was about to call out but stopped himself. He heard
voices. Unfamiliar, male voices. His reaction now raised to
full alert, Elliot backed again into his parents' bedroom in time
to hear one voice say, "Better check the master bedroom."
Quickly, Elliot slipped into the bedroom's storage closet
and shut the door. He waited in pitch blackness, listening to
his heart race, as footsteps passed by the closet, checked in the
bathroom, then left the bedroom again. When he was certain
whoever it was had left the room again, Elliot slipped back out
of the closet, shut the bedroom door until just two inches
remained, then pressed his ear close enough to pick up
After a half-minute pause, another voice -- a lighter voice
belonging to a young-sounding man -- asked, "How long d'ja think
we have to wait?"
"Don't know," said the first -- heavier, gruffer -- voice.
"He could come any time."
That narrowed it down somewhat. They were -- most probably,
at least -- waiting either for himself or his father.
The younger voice spoke again, "Jesus, I've never seen the
chief so pissed before."
"We'll be seeing a damn sight more if you let the kid slip
through your fingers again."
"My fingers? How the hell was I supposed to know you
Elliot sensed how the cards had been dealt. But what did
"the chief" want with him?
The logical answers were discouraging. His father's cover
story might have been broken, the authorities -- most probably
the FBI -- wanting Elliot as bait to catch him. They might have
wanted Elliot to answer questions about his father's political
activities -- especially if they did still think him dead. They
even might have found out Elliot was carrying a fortune in gold.
This last preyed upon his mind. How might the authorities
know? So far as he had been told, the only person outside his
family with knowledge of the gold was Al. But if Al had been so
inclined, he could have informed any previous time, or simply
have invented some reason not to have turned over the belt.
Besides, Elliot had been careful not to let slip to Al that he
was heading home . . . although if he were important enough to go
after in the first place, they might have sent men to his
apartment as a matter of course.
Nonetheless, the important question had been answered. The
men outside were enemies,
and he had to escape.
Armed confrontation was just too risky. What other way out
of the apartment was there? The only door out to the apartment
house hallway was in the living room. Wait a second. There was
also that window right over there. He could easily fit through,
but he was still on the fiftieth floor, and even jumping terrace
to terrace, there was no way he could rappel himself down that
far. But if he could find a rope, perhaps he could lower himself
down to the terrace below, break in, escape through that living
room. If the neighbors were away . . . 50L, 49L . . . That would
be the Herberts. Only the Herberts had moved out last month when
Mr. Herbert's realty company went under. The apartment was still
Elliot returned to the bedroom's storage closet, flipped on
the light, and began scratching around. First he needed a strong
rope -- at least twenty feet -- and he began searching for the
nylon rope used to tie up the family's speedboat on Lake
Winnipesaukee. They always took it home for the winter after
having had two such ropes disappear from the boathouse. He did
not find it. Damn! His father must have forgotten, and by now
somebody else would have stolen it, too. Elliot smiled to
himself as he realized that it did not matter anymore.
A few additional minutes provided nothing more promising
than twenty-five feet of plastic clothesline that he found on top
of a carton filled with copies of Not Worth a Continental.
Elliot measured out the line to a bit over four arm spans, then
tested it. The line would stretch like all hell, but perhaps if
he were to double it over, it might support his weight. If he
swore off sex and hard liquor for the rest of his life . . . and
there were a full moon for good measure.
Wasting no time, Elliot went over to the terrace window. He
had opened it only an inch when he heard a loud thud from behind.
Elliot whirled around, but no one was there. Then he realized
what had happened. The change in air pressure from opening a
high-rise window had caused the slightly ajar bedroom door to
Immediately Elliot drew his gun, then dropped automatically
into a one-knee shooting stance, aiming directly at the door. He
was breathing very heavily -- nervous, sharp breaths.
No one entered.
He waited in that position but still no one entered. Then
he quietly crept to the door, pressing his ear against it. He
heard -- just barely -- the two men still talking in the living
room. Either they had not heard anything, or they had discounted
Relaxing enough to reholster his gun, Elliot returned to the
window, now opening it without difficulty.
It seemed somewhat colder than during daylight hours. As he
climbed out, he could see his breath illuminated by the bedroom
The moon was about as far from full as it could get.
The terrace faced Park Avenue, extending half the
apartment's length; the bedroom window was at the far end away
from the living room. Nothing short of a small explosion could
be heard by anyone there. Closing the window to prevent invading
cold air from eventually betraying him, he glanced across the
street to the opposite highrise and suddenly realized what a
foolish risk he had taken. If anyone had been watching his
apartment, the watcher would have seen his figure silhouetted
against the window. Nonetheless, this was no time for
recriminations, and there were no observers Elliot could detect.
After doubling over the clothesline, Elliot looped it around
the bottom of the railing; this was not only to maximize the
usefulness of his now only twelve-odd feet of rope, but also to
minimize leverage on the rail. Now he tested the hookup by
pulling against the line. It held. He wished there were a way
to secure the rope around his waist but there just wasn't enough
for that. He satisfied himself with wrapping the line several
times around his right wrist.
The terraces were stacked directly on top of one another so
there would be nothing but air between himself and the ground,
six hundred feet below, while he was lowering himself. He would
also have to swing himself out several feet, once he was lowered,
so he would have enough momentum to drop into the terrace
Swearing not to look down, Elliot climbed over the railing,
supporting himself with his left hand, until he was standing with
his back to the air and his toes wedged into the slim space
between bottom rail and terrace concrete. He took a deep breath.
Now came the tricky part -- gradually transferring support to the
line without dropping onto it like a hanged man. He did not
think the plastic line would stand such a sudden jolt.
No point delaying.