Then suddenly it dawned on him.
“Do you like the soup? I made it myself.”
She’s poisoned me! The bitch put something in my soup!
He tried to look at Sarah Jane, but there were at least six identical versions of her leaning over him as he slid to the floor, clutching his stomach. “Why…?” he gasped. “Why are you doing this?”
Tears filled her eyes. “It’s all right. Don’t panic. I’m going to call an ambulance.”
The sympathy in her voice sounded so real. But he couldn’t let himself fall for it, couldn’t allow himself to slip. He had to stay awake, stay focused. McGuire’s mikes were all in the bedroom. He had to get in there, let the SWAT team outside know what was happening. With every ounce of his remaining strength, he shouted, “Bed!”
He could feel his throat muscles swelling up, his breath getting short. Soon he wouldn’t be able to speak at all.
“Have to lie down. Please.”
“Of course, darling, of course.” Sarah Jane helped him into the bedroom, a look of deep concern and worry on her face. Why is she still keeping up the charade? thought David. It makes no sense. Falling back on the bed, he clutched at his tie. He had to loosen it! He couldn’t breathe! He waved frantically to Sarah to help him, but she had turned her back and was heading toward the phone.
“I’m calling 1298. Hold on, David. Help is on the way.”
BACK IN THE SURVEILLANCE VAN, DANNY McGuire checked his seat belt and clutched the handrail above the door for support. Jassal was on clear, straight road now, his siren blaring. They must be doing ninety at least.
Danny looked at his watch: nine P.M. He felt like a royal idiot.
Matt Daley, of course, was still in the Ishag house. He’d known Danny was there all along and lured him away with a classic bait and switch.
Had they done it yet? Had he and Sarah Jane—Azrael—killed David Ishag?
In the seat next to Danny the sound engineer was struggling with the van’s complex radio equipment. They had to get in touch with the other members of the team, get inside the house before it was too late.
Danny shouted at him, fighting to be heard above the screeching sirens.
The man shook his head. “We’re in range, but I can’t get a signal.”
The lights of Marathi twinkled in the distance. Soon the Ishag mansion itself would be in view.
SARAH JANE HUNG UP THE TELEPHONE. “They’re on their way.”
David drifted in and out of consciousness. What was I supposed to do again? Something about chest pains? It was so hard to tell what was real and what wasn’t. Was Sarah really holding his hand? Mopping his brow? Or was that a dream? She seemed so loving…but wasn’t she planning to kill him?
He closed his eyes again.
When he opened them, a man was standing over the bed. He was masked and dressed from head to toe in black like the grim reaper. In his hand, glinting silver against the dark fabric of his pants, was a knife.
David contemplated screaming, but his larynx seemed to have swollen shut, and in any case he wasn’t as afraid as he’d thought he’d be. He was just very, very tired. I’m probably dreaming. He’ll disappear in a minute.
He closed his eyes and drifted away.
“I’VE GOT THEM, SIR! VOICES. IN the master bedroom.”
Danny McGuire punched the air with relief. “And the others?”
“Yes, sir, we have contact.”
“Demartin, Kapiri, do you copy?”
The Indian policeman’s furious voice was the first on the line. “McGuire? Where the fuck have you been?”
“Never mind that. Get into the house, now! They’re in the master. Get Ishag out of there.” Hanging up, Danny turned back to the sound engineer. “Can you hear Ishag? Is he alive?”
The sound engineer clasped his headphones, closing his eyes in concentration. “I’m not sure. I can hear the woman. She—”
Suddenly the man ripped the headphones from his ears. Danny McGuire didn’t need to ask why.
Everybody in the van heard Sarah Jane Ishag’s scream.
IN DAVID ISHAG’S BEDROOM, THE MAN in black pulled his mask off and smiled.
“What’s the matter, angel?” he asked. “Were you expecting someone else?”
FROM HIS HIDING PLACE, HE COULD see them perfectly. The man in black and the woman now calling herself Sarah Jane Ishag.
She could call herself whatever she liked. He knew who she was. And whose she was. She was his. His love. His woman.
The urge to jump out at that very moment and grab her was overpowering. But he’d waited too long for this, invested too much time and effort. He had to see how the scene played out.
The man in black pointed to David Ishag. “Is he dead?”
David lay on his back on the bed, as still as stone. Sarah Jane leaned over him.
“No. He’s still breathing.”
“I didn’t expect him to go down so fast. You must have put too much in.”
“Don’t blame me!” She was angry. “I followed your instructions to the letter. I told you we shouldn’t have drugged him first. What if he has heart failure? What if the police find the stuff in his system?”
“Be quiet!” The man in black punched her hard in the face.
From his hiding place in the closet, he could hear the sickening crunch of her cheekbone as Sarah Jane slumped to the floor whimpering. He watched as the man in black pulled her up by the hair. “Who are you to tell me what we should and shouldn’t do? You’re nobody, that’s who. Say it. SAY IT!”
“I’m nobody,” Sarah Jane sobbed.
“You have no life.”
Her voice was barely a whisper now. “I have no life.”
Hearing her recite the words seemed to pacify the man slightly. He let go of her hair. “We had to drug him or he’d have fought back. The others were all too old to defend themselves.” He held his knife up to the light. Nodding contemptuously at David, he said, “We’ll do him later. First it’s your turn.”
Sarah Jane backed away, scrambling across the bedroom floor on her hands and knees like a frightened crab. “No! Please. You don’t have to do this!”
“Of course I have to do it. The others were all punished, weren’t they? Angela, Tracey, Irina, Lisa. Why should conniving little Sarah Jane get off scot-free?”
“Please,” Sarah Jane begged. The terror in her voice was unmistakable. “I did everything you asked…You said you wouldn’t hurt me.”
But the man in black appeared unmoved by entreaties or tears. He wasn’t a man at all. He was an animal. With a feral snarl he pounced on Sarah Jane, pinning her to the ground. One hand tore at her skin while the other pressed the knife hard against her throat. Instinctively she struggled, kicking her legs vainly under the weight of him. He was pulling up the skirt of her dress, jamming her thighs open with his knee.
The man in the closet could wait no longer. Bursting into the room, he hurled himself on the man in black, smashing the butt of his gun repeatedly into the back of the man’s skull. Blood gushed everywhere, warm and sticky and vital. In seconds the vile animal hand that had been clawing between Sarah Jane’s legs fell limp.
Sarah Jane screwed her eyes shut, not daring to breathe. Was it really over? Was he really dead? The next thing she was aware of was the deadweight being dragged off her. Someone, her savior, rolled the man in black’s body onto the floorboards with a thud, like a sack of earth.
Was it David, poor dear David, awakened from the effects of the narcotic, loyal and protective to the last?
Or had the police finally figured it out, finally come to take them into custody and put an end to all the years of madness. To save her and her sister. To make it stop.
She turned around and found herself gazing into familiar, loving eyes.
“It’s all right, Lisa,” Matt Daley whispered. “It’s all right, my darling. You’re safe now.”
MATT TOUCHED HER FACE, TRACING HIS finger lovingly over each feature. Her right cheek had swollen up like an overripe plum where the bastard had hurt her. He would never hurt her again.
“Lisa…” Matt Daley started to cry. “My poor Lisa.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but the gunshot was so loud it drowned out her reply. For a second Matt Daley’s face registered something. It wasn’t pain. More like extreme surprise.
Then his world softly faded to black.
RAJIT KAPIRI WAS IN THE HOUSE. Seconds later Claude Demartin and his three-man team joined him, followed by a breathless Danny McGuire.
“Where are the servants?” Danny demanded..
“In the kitchens,” said Kapiri. “I have six armed officers with them. They’ve barricaded the doors.”