“Let’s try to keep some perspective here. We’re talking as if A.Z. has gone off the deep end. We have no evidence of that yet. Keep in mind that she hasn’t ever hurt anyone in her life.”
“That we know of.”
She shot him a swift, searching glance. “What do you mean?”
“Just that no one around here knows anything about her past before she showed up in Eclipse Bay. I remember asking Mitchell about her once when I was in high school. He just shrugged and said that she was entitled to her privacy so long as she didn’t do anyone else any harm.”
“That’s the whole point,” Lillian said. “To the best of our knowledge or anyone else’s she’s never done any damage to people or property.”
He navigated the last tight curve in the road and saw the cabin. Rain and wind slashed the heavy limbs of the trees that loomed over the weather-beaten structure. Arizona’s ancient truck was parked in the small clearing.
He eased the Jag to a halt behind the truck and switched off the engine.
“Well, at least she’s here and not out prowling around the new wing of the institute with her VPX 5000,”
He unfastened his seat belt and reached into the back seat for Lillian’s rain cloak and his jacket.
“She said something about holing up for a while.” Lillian put her arms into the sleeves of her cloak and pulled the hood up over her head. “That’s not like her, either, when you stop and think about it. She’s always out doing recon and surveillance. Says she likes the bad guys to know she’s keeping an eye on them.”
He shrugged into the jacket, tugged the hood up over his head and opened the door. Rain driven by rough winds dampened his hair when he got out.
Lillian did not wait for him to come around to her side of the car. She already had her own door open. A few seconds later she joined him at the front of the Jag.
They both went quickly toward the shelter of the porch. Gabe took the steps two at a time and came to a halt at the front door. Dripping rain from her sparkling cloak, Lillian stopped beside him.
There was no doorbell. Gabe banged the brass eagle knocker a few times.
There was no response. No surprise, he thought. No right-thinking paranoid would open a door without verifying the identity of the person on the other side.
“A.Z.? Gabe and Lillian out here,” he called.
The door did not open. He glanced at the nearest window. It was covered with what looked like blinds fashioned from metal slats.
“I got your message.” Lillian rapped her knuckles on the blank window. “Are you okay in there?”
The wind-driven rain whipped around the cabin. He knew Lillian was getting more agitated. He had to admit that the utter silence from inside the cabin was starting to bother him, too.
He tried the heavy, steel-braced screen door. It was locked.
“She’s not a young woman,” Lillian said. “I hope something hasn’t happened.”
“A heart attack or stroke. Or maybe she fell.”
“Calm down. I’m sure she’s fine. Probably locked in her war room and can’t hear us.”
“Let’s try the back door.” Lillian turned and disappeared around the corner of the porch.
“Hang on, not so fast, damn it.” He went after her, moving quickly. “The woman’s a full-blown conspiracy theorist, remember? Paranoid as hell. No telling how she’s got this place booby-trapped.”
“I just want to see if I can find a window that isn’t covered with those steel blinds. I don’t understand why she isn’t—”
She broke off on a strangled gasp. He saw the crumpled body lying on the porch at the same time.
“A.Z.” Lillian rushed forward. “Oh, my God, Gabe, I was afraid of this. She’s had a heart attack.”
She went to her knees beside Arizona, feeling for a pulse at the throat.
He looked at the blood on the wooden boards beneath Arizona’s head and went cold.
“Not a heart attack.” The cell phone was in his hand. He didn’t remember taking it out of his pocket. He punched in the emergency number.
Lillian followed his gaze. “You’re right. It wasn’t her heart. She fell and hit her head.” Her fingers moved gently on Arizona’s throat. “She’s breathing but she’s unconscious. The bleeding doesn’t seem to be too bad.”
“Better not move her.”
Lillian nodded. She stripped off her cloak and arranged it snugly around Arizona’s chunky frame while he gave a terse account of the situation to the 911 operator.
He saw the overturned plant stand lying nearby just as he ended the call. The stand was made of wrought iron.
Lillian bent intently over A.Z. “Arizona? It’s me, Lillian. Help is on the way. You’re going to be okay.
Can you hear me?”
Arizona groaned. Her lashes fluttered. She squinted up at Lillian.
“What happened?” she mumbled.
“It looks like you slipped and fell. How do you feel?”
“I’ll bet you do,” Lillian said gently. “But you’re going to be okay.
Arizona closed her eyes again. She mumbled something.
“What did you say?” Lillian asked.
“Said I didn’t fall.”
“You probably don’t remember much,” Lillian said soothingly. “I think that’s pretty normal when you’ve had a blow to the head. Don’t worry about it.”
Arizona’s hand moved a little in a small, agitated gesture, but she did not speak again.
Lillian looked up and saw Gabe watching her. She frowned.
“I don’t think she fell, either,” he said.
“Why in the world do you say that?”
“I’m no cop, but it looks to me like someone used that plant stand to hit her on the back of the head.”
They were standing in the busy hallway outside Arizona’s hospital room. Monitors beeped and pinged.
Lights winked on computer screens. High-tech equipment gleamed. Eclipse Bay Community Hospital had moved with the times, Gabe thought.
He noticed that everyone around him who wore a name tag and a stethoscope appeared purposeful and competent and a little high on adrenaline. Those who were not decked out with a name tag and a stethoscope looked worried. Civilians, Gabe thought. He and Lillian fit into that category. Definitely worried.
Sean Valentine, Eclipse Bay’s chief of police, on the other hand, fell into some middle zone. He had the same purposeful, competent air that marked the members of the hospital staff, but he didn’t look as if he were enjoying an adrenaline rush. There were deep lines around his eyes and mouth. The marks weren’t caused by Arizona’s problems. Sean always looked as if he anticipated the worst. Gabe figured the permanently etched expression was a legacy of his days as a big-city cop in Seattle.