The air-conditioning unit in the modest apartment had just clicked off. Its rattle was replaced by the whiz- hum sound of the nearby Hollywood freeway.

Linda Gleason was in her bedroom, standing in front of a dressing-table mirror. She reached behind for the zipper, tugged at it, and the cocktail waitress outfit split in half. She gave a shrug and it dropped to the floor.

In her underwear she turned and faced the man sitting on the edge of the bed. She knew him only as Paul, and his hair was styled, graying, perhaps dyed. His pants were off. He had the paunch, the fish-skin folds on the belly, that all the Hollywood rounders, the credit-card bullshitters, the confidence men with open-collar Beverly Hills shirts wore like a uniform. To her, it was a telltale mark of prison.

But there were other signs: his generally cautious demeanor; the vague remarks on the telephone; his reluctance to leave messages or to tell her where he lived; the way he parked his car around the corner from the Castaways Lounge rather than in the parking lot. And the missing little finger … could he have lost it in a prison knife fight?

Ile only thing she liked about the man so far was the way he had come right out and put the question to her. No beating-around-the-bush crap about 'going out for breakfast' or 'taking a drive to the beach.' His had been a simple and straightforward 'Let's fuck.' (Much to his surprise, she'd said, 'Shouldn't we wait until we get to my apartment?') Even as a teenager she had preferred the boys who straight-out pulled her sweater off over those who insisted on the crawling-hands-breath-holding-kissy-face act before getting down to business. Of course she had learned early on that women could not express such thoughts. Richard, her dead husband, had made that point more than once. 'It kills the mystery,' he'd said.

'Small world,' Linda said, unsnapping her bra.

'Like how?' Paul pulled off his undershirt and tossed it on the floor. He had a florist's smile.

'You having known my husband,' she said, shrugging off the bra and sitting down at the dressing table. As she ran a brush through her hair she watched him in the mirror. He leaned back against the headboard.

'Richard and I were at Terminal Island together ten years ago,' he said. 'Maximum security. I heard about what happened to him after we got out. Too bad.' He said 'too bad' without shaking his head. He pulled off his shorts and tossed them on the floor.

Linda leaned closer to the mirror and applied lipstick. 'I told him it would happen if he took money from a loan shark, but he never listened to me … or to anyone else, for that matter.' She made her lips flat and pressed them together.

The man's hand was between his legs. He was pulling on himself. Linda hoped it wouldn't mean one of those marathon efforts to make him come. At least he wasn't drunk, she thought.

Linda Gleason stood up and pulled off her panties. She tossed them at a chair. Crawling onto the bed, she perched on her knees in front of him. 'Relax,' she said. 'Let me do everything.' Without hesitation, she took his cock firmly in her hand and pumped gently. 'Tell me what you like,' she whispered.

The man gave a moan and soon became erect. He whispered things for her to do, positions to assume, and she complied. None of the requests surprised her. It was the usual bill-of-fare fantasy cock-worship act that always excited men. Hurrying like an adolescent, he was on top of her, rutting, sweating, exercising his ugly abdomen, and Linda made periodic joy-yelps to help him along. Finally, his eyes closed and he gave in to orgasm. As the man groaned in a wave of pleasure, Linda glanced at a clock on the nightstand. She made an expected aaaah sound. With a wet kiss, he rolled off her in exhaustion.

Linda snuggled next to him. Her hand danced gently across the hair of his chest for a while. 'Mmmm,' she said. 'It's nice to be with someone who turns me on.'

Paul fondled a breast. 'I don't come to L.A. very often,' he said. 'The feds here are looking for me.'

Linda's neck tingled. She had guessed right. 'Why?' she asked.

'Funny money.' He flicked her nipple.

Hiding her excitement at the remark, Linda took his hand and covered it with little kisses.

'When are you leaving town?'

'Tomorrow night,' Paul said, looking at the ceiling.

During the next half hour or so, they showered separately and Paul dressed.

While Linda stood drying off in front of the bathroom door, Paul said something about using the telephone. Tucking in his shirt, he went into the living room.

Linda tiptoed to the half-closed door as he was dialing the phone.

'This is Robert French,' she heard him say. 'May I speak to Mr. Lassiter please?'

Linda put her ear to the crack of the door.

'Hello, Robert French here,' Paul said. 'I ordered thirty reams of safety paper and some inks yesterday. Would you check and see if the order is ready?' Nothing was said for a while. Then, 'Fine,' Paul said. 'No, that won't be necessary. I'll be in to pick it up. Thanks.' He hung up the phone and made another call. 'Yes, for one month only,' he said. 'I want you to answer: 'International Investigations Incorporated.' I'll call in for messages once a day. Whoever calls, just tell them I'm out of town.' He hung up the receiver.

Linda dashed to the closet and grabbed a robe. Paul came back into the bedroom and sat down on the bed. He started putting on his shoes.

'Sounds like you've got something cooking,' Linda said, fearing to be any more direct. She ran a brush through her damp hair.

'You might say that,' Paul said. 'Matter of fact, I'll be needing a female backup in a week or so. Interested?'

Linda shrugged and continued to brush. She wished she'd had a chance to look through his wallet. 'Tomorrow is my day off,' she said, sitting down next to him on the bed.

'How about coming over before you leave. We can barbecue steaks.' She nuzzled his ear. 'And maybe I can have a repeat performance before I let you go,' she whispered, giving his crotch a squeeze.

'Why not,' he said proudly. He stood up and threw on his camel's-hair sport coat. Linda followed him to the front door.

He patted her on the bottom and said, 'See ya tomorrow,' in a confident tone. Linda Gleason winked. The man walked outside.

Having closed and bolted the door, she found her purse on the kitchen counter, dug out a pack of filter tips and lit up. Plopping down on the sofa, she grabbed the phone off the coffee table and dialed.

A sleepy-voiced man answered. 'U.S. Treasury Field Enforcement.'

'I'm trying to get in touch with Special Agent Charles Carr,' Linda Gleason said. She took a deep drag on the cigarette and blew out a stream of smoke.

'He works the four-to-twelve shift. Would you like to leave a message?'

'I'll call later, thanks.'

The phone clicked.

It was 3:00 P.M.

The apartment's solitary bedroom was bare except for a bed with a suitcase opened on it and a dresser. The second-story view from the window was of another apartment house. In Santa Monica, a blocked ocean view was the sign of an affordable address.

Having shaved, showered, and donned slacks and a short-sleeved white shirt with a frayed collar, Charles Carr fastened a holster to his belt. He realized as he dressed that he had taken the shirt with him to Washington, D.C., when he'd been transferred there from L.A. two years ago. Unable to find his handcuff case after rummaging through the suitcase, he hung the cuffs over his belt at the small of his back. He shoved his.38 into the holster.

While shaving, he had momentarily considered leaving the stubble on his upper lip to begin a mustache. A lady bartender he'd dated in D.C. had once told him it would make him look younger. He had quickly scotched the daydream and shaved clean. So he looked like a fifty-year-old man with a barroom flush on his cheekbones-so what? The Treasury Department's requirements had been for veterans with 20/20 vision and 'no distinguishing traits.' Though his looks, dress, and general demeanor might keep him from making it to the pages of Gentleman's Quarterly, he figured he still filled the bill as a street-level T-man.

He emptied his suitcase of the personal items he always seemed to cart along with him from transfer to transfer: a grainy Treasury Agent Training School class photo with everyone wearing hats; old bullet pouches and

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