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Robert Crais

Stalking The Angel

The second book in the Elvis Cole series, 1988

Dedication

For Lauren,

whose parents will always love her,

amp; for Carol and Bill,

who have made me larger

by sharing their lives.

I love to hear the story

which angel voices tell.

– The Little Corporal

Emily Miller

When the truth is found to be lies,

and all the joy within you dies,

don't you want somebody to love?

– Jefferson Airplane

Chapter 1

I was standing on my head in the middle of my office when the door opened and the best looking woman I'd seen in three weeks walked in. She stopped in the door to stare, then remembered herself and moved aside for a grim-faced man who frowned when he saw me. A sure sign of disapproval. The woman said, 'Mr. Cole, I'm Jillian Becker. This is Bradley Warren. May we speak with you?'

Jillian Becker was in her early thirties, slender in gray pants and a white ruffled shirt with a fluffy bow at the neck and a gray jacket. She held a cordovan Gucci briefcase that complemented the gray nicely, and had very blond hair and eyes that I would call amber but she would call green. Good eyes. There was an intelligent humor in them that the Serious Businesswoman look didn't diminish.

I said, 'You should try this. Invigorates the scalp. Retards the aging process. Makes for embarrassing moments when prospective clients walk in.' Upside down, my face was the color of beef liver.

Jillian Becker smiled politely. 'Mr. Warren and I don't have very much time,' she said. 'Mr. Warren and I have to catch the noon flight to Kyoto, Japan.' Mr. Warren.

'Of course.'

I dropped down from the headstand, held one of the two director's chairs opposite my desk for Jillian Becker, shook hands with Mr. Warren, then tucked in my shirt and took a seat at my desk. I had taken off the shoulder holster earlier so it wouldn't flop into my face when I was upside down. 'What can I do for you?' I said. Clever opening lines are my forte.

Bradley Warren looked around the office and frowned again. He was ten years older than Jillian, and had the manicured, no-hair-out-of-place look that serious corporate types go for. There was an $8000 gold Rolex watch on his left wrist and a $3000 Wesley Barron pinstripe suit on the rest of him and he didn't seem too worried that I'd slug him and steal the Rolex. Probably had another just like it at home. 'Are you in business by yourself, Mr. Cole?' He'd have been more comfortable if I'd been in a suit and had a couple of wanted posters lying around.

'I have a partner named Joe Pike. Mr. Pike is not a licensed private investigator. He is a former Los Angeles police officer. I hold the license.' I pointed out the framed pink license that the Bureau of Collections of the State of California had issued to me. 'You see. Elvis Cole.' The license hangs beside this animation eel I've got of the Blue Fairy and Pinocchio. Pinocchio is as close as I come to a wanted poster.

Bradley Warren stared at the Blue Fairy and looked doubtful. He said, 'Something very valuable was stolen from my home four days ago. I need someone to find it.'

'Okay.'

'Do you know anything about the Japanese culture?'

'I read Shogun.'

Warren made a quick hand gesture and said, 'Jillian.' His manner was brusque and I didn't like it much. Jillian Becker didn't seem to mind, but she was probably used to it.

Jillian said, 'The Japanese culture was once predicated on a very specific code of behavior and personal conduct developed by the samurai during Japan's feudal period.'

Samurai. Better buckle the old seat belt for this one.

'In the eighteenth century, a man named Jocho Yamamoto outlined every aspect of proper behavior for the samurai in manuscript form. It was called 'Recorded Words of the Hagakure Master,' or, simply, the Hagakure, and only a few of the original editions survive. Mr. Warren had arranged the loan of one of these from the Tashiro family in Kyoto, with whom his company has extensive business dealings. The manuscript was in his home safe when it was stolen.'

As Jillian spoke, Bradley Warren looked around the office again and did some more frowning. He frowned at the Mickey Mouse phone. He frowned at the little figurines of Jiminy Cricket. He frowned at the Spider-Man mug. I considered taking out my gun and letting him frown at that, too, but thought it might seem peevish. 'How much is the Hagakure worth?'

Jillian Becker said, 'A little over three million dollars.'

'Insured?'

'Yes. But the policy won't begin to cover the millions our company will lose in business with the Tashiros unless their manuscript is recovered.'

'The police are pretty good. Why not go to them?'

Bradley Warren sighed loudly, letting us know he was bored, then frowned at the gold Rolex. Time equals money.

Jillian said, 'The police are involved, Mr. Cole, but we'd like things to proceed faster than they seem able to manage. That's why we came to you.'

'Oh,' I said. 'I thought you came to me so Bradley could practice frowning.'

Bradley looked at me. Pointedly. 'I'm the president of Warren Investments Corporation. We form real estate partnerships with Japanese investors.' He leaned forward and raised his eyebrows. 'I have a big operation. I'm in Hawaii. I'm in L.A., San Diego, Seattle.' He made an opera out of looking around my office. 'Try to imagine the money involved.'

Jillian Becker said, 'Mr. Warren's newest hotel has just opened downtown in Little Tokyo.'

Bradley said, 'Thirty-two stories. Eight million square feet.'

I nodded. 'Big.'

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