Impulseby Catherine Coulter
SIZZLING CONTEMPORARY SUSPENSE from the #1 New York Times bestselling author.
When a journalist learns that her real father is a powerful arms dealer, she travels to his private Caribbean island-where her attraction to a resort manager spirals out of control. See more details below
SIZZLING CONTEMPORARY SUSPENSE from the #1 New York Times bestselling author.
When a journalist learns that her real father is a powerful arms dealer, she travels to his private Caribbean island-where her attraction to a resort manager spirals out of control.
Read an Excerpt
Boston Tribune Newsroom
"Look, he told the police he did it because they treated him like ... What'd he keep saying?"
"They treated him like dirt."
"Yeah, dirt. Well, he's also crazy dirt. Come on, Al, let it go."
"No way, Rare. There's more to it than that, I can smell it." Al tapped the side of his nose. "I want you to go to the lockup and talk to the guy. You got the talent for it, kiddo. I can trust you to find out what's going on. You're the big talent here, aren't you? Our twenty-five-year-old investigative reporter from Wallingford, Delaware? On the big-city paper for only two years and you've already got star fever? Runaway arrogance?"
Rafaella ignored that gambit. "The TV people have gone into it more ways than Sunday. It stinks. It's just exploitation and sensationalism now."
"Actually, the TV folk have screamed `psychopath' and dredged up cases from all over the country for a fifty-year period."
"Longer. They also dredged up Lizzie Borden, Al, listen, it's a crummy stop. This guy isn't bright. I've seen him on TV and I've read what he's said. It's pathetic but that's all there is. It's been overdone and I don't want anything to do with any of it." Hands over breasts, legs slightly spread, chin up. The art of intimidationquite good, actually, but Al wasn't moved. He'd taught Rafe some of his best tricks in the two years she'd beenin his kingdom.
"You ain't got a choice, Rafe, so shut your chops and get with it. The man's in jail. He's harmless now. Talk to him, talk to his lawyera young squirt who looks like he just lost his pimplesand get the facts on this thing. I'm positive there's something everyone's missed."
"Come on, Al, he murdered, axed, three peoplehis father, mother, and uncle."
"But not his eleven-year-old half-brother. Don't you find that just a bit intriguing? Puzzling?"
"So the kid was lucky and wasn't home. The kid's still missing, right? We've already treated the story responsibly. Now you want sensationalism, and I don't want any part of it. Call that goon over at the Herald, Maury Bates, if you want more gore."
"No, Maury'd scare the guy's socks off."
Rafaella played her ace. "There's no way the police would let me in to see Freddy Pithoe. No way his attorney would let me in to see him. No way the D.A. would let me in to see him. You know how touchy everyone is on a case like this, how scared they all are about anything prejudicial happening. Let a member of the press in to see the crazy guy charged? No way at all, Al, and you know the way I workI'd be knocking on their door, bugging everybody so I could see him maybe a half-dozen times. Well, maybe if I had to, twice. Yes, twice would be enough."
He had her. She'd talked herself into it. But he decided to reel her in slowly. It was more fun that way. "No problem, if it were kept real quiet. Benny Masterson owes me, Rafe. I've already talked to him. You keep it low-key, real low-key, and he'll look the other way. He's cleared you."
"Lieutenant Masterson must owe you his life to allow a reporter in to see Freddy Pithoe. He could lose his pension, he could get his tail chewed from here to Florida. He'd be taking a huge risk. Lord, everyone, including Freddy, would have to be sworn to silence."
Al Holbein, managing editor of the Boston Tribune, was more stubborn than Rafaella, and she knew it, plus he had twenty-five more years of practice.
He waved his cigar toward the Tribune's metro editor, Clive Oliver, seated in a sea of assistants and reporters in the middle of the huge, noisy newsroom. There was a near-fistfight at one end, between two sports reporters, and a can of Coke was flying through the air from a police reporter to the cooking editor. "I've talked to Clive. He bitched, but I told him I didn't want him to dump any assignments on you until I told him it was okay." Al reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a folded slip of paper. "Here's your new personal password. Only you and I will be able to access anything you write on this story. Don't show it to a soul"
"Come on, Al, you know I don't."
"Yeah, well, don't this time either. I want this thing kept under wraps. As far under wraps as possible."
"The only thing that will be under wraps is what I write. This assignment is probably all over the newsroom by now, probably even down in classified." She opened the paper and stared, then laughed. "'Ruffle'? That's my password? Where'd you get that one?"
Al gave her that smile that had seduced Milly Archer, a TV reporter, just six months before. "It's my favorite potato chip. Now look, Rafe, just maybe there's another Pulitzer in it for you. Who knows?"
That made her laugh. "When was the last time a reporter on a big newspaper won a Pulitzer? No, don't tell me. You've got examples all lined up, don't you?"
"Sure thing. Remember the reporters in Chicago who ran that sting operation with a bar they opened themselves without telling the cops? That was a real beauty, and ..." He paused, a light of wistfulness in his eyes. "In any case, just maybe you'll find something. Think about how good it'll make you feel. Remember how you felt when you cracked that group of neo-Nazis for the Wallingford Daily News?"
It had felt good, no doubt about that. "Yeah, I was pleased that I was still alive and the jerks hadn't shoved their swastika armbands down my throat." Then, "All right, Al, you win. I'll go see the guy and talk to him. I'll try to make him promise he won't tell anyone, including his lawyer, about me. Maybe no one will know. I'll even try to keep it from being public knowledge down in classified. Does your infamous nose have any concrete information for me to go on?"
Al always lied cleanly, to his mother, to his women, and to his reporters, so he shook his head promptly, his expression guileless.
Five minutes later, still grumbling, Rafaella Holland stuffed her oversize canvas bag with notebook, sharpened pencils, and umbrella, waved good-bye to Buzz Adams, the Tribune's other investigative reporter, and left for the lockup to interview a twenty-three-year-old man named Freddy Pithoe, who, in a fit of ragecause unknownhad wiped out nearly his entire family. His very inexperienced lawyer was going to plead temporary insanitynot very bright. Even Rafaella knew that old Freddy had purchased that ax two days before he did his family in. Premeditation, all the way. He wasn't crazy, at least in the sense his lawyer was claiming. Freddy Pithoe was just waiting to get them all together, tell them what he thought of them, and ax them. That's what the cops said, what the D.A. said, what the news media said. It was certainly the take on it that Logan Mansfield, bright and upcoming assistant D.A., shared. He'd made that perfectly clear at great length during a spate of foreplay that had left Rafaella boilingbut not with sexual yearnings.
Al watched Rafaella wind her way through the desks and reporters and assistants to the wide glass doors of the Trib's newsroom. She was nearly stomping, her London Fog raincoat flapping. He pushed himself back in his swivel chair, leaned his head against the ratty brown leather cushion that he'd refused to let Mr. Danforth, owner of the Boston Tribune, replace for five years now, and closed his eyes. He knew that if the anonymous tip he'd gotten from that old womanshe'd refused to identify herselfhad any merit, Rafaella would discover it. He'd joked about her Pulitzer, but the job she'd done in ferreting out that den of neo-Nazis had been damned impressive and Mr. Danforth had called Al immediately after her Pulitzer had been announced. She'd taken a job with the Trib a month later. Imagine that vicious bunch using a candy store in a shopping mall in Delaware as a front. Heil Mr. Lazarus Smith. God, what a story that had made, for months. Rare didn't even have a sweet tooth for all he knew.
Oh, yes, if there was anything to this thing, she'd find out what it was. She was tenacious and, more important, had the talent to adapt her style, her approach, even her look, to each situation, to each person, no matter how disparate, no matter how weird. She'd find out why Freddy had almost decapitated his old man, struck his mother a good three blows in the chest, and very nearly hacked the uncle's two arms off.
Al just had to wait until Rare made the decision that she wanted to know. He'd really gotten her goat, and she'd have to work that through for a couple of hours, most of those hours wanting to punch him out. Then, he guessed, she'd be down at the jail by eleven this morning. She was good, and under his tutelage she'd get better. And she'd keep everything under wraps. No one would get in trouble over a reporter visiting a prisoner. Not this time. Al sniffed things out; she felt things in her gut. This time his nose had had a bit of help from an anonymous tip.
If Rafe came up dry, then he'd give her the lead, for what it was worth, but not before. He guessed his caller was a neighbor. Rafe would find the neighbor; he didn't have to worry.
Al lit a cigar and looked down at the story Gene Mallory, the paper's youngest political analyst, had written on the budget crisis facing the governor. Boring but top-notch. Attached to the article was a hand-printed note with the names of his sources. Careful, careful Gene, a clean-cut preppie. Al couldn't imagine what Rafe saw in him. Gene was a plodder; she was spontaneous combustion. Al couldn't imagine the two of them ever sleeping together. Rafe would probably fall asleep while Gene went through his checklist of foreplay tactics. Al had heard something about a guy in the D.A.'s office. Maybe he was more promising.
"Another glass of wine, Gene?"
Gene Mallory shook his head, smiling slightly. "No, I've had enough. Tomorrow's an early day for both of us, Rafaella." He fiddled with the half of his Italian breadstick, then said, "I heard about your assignment to the Pithoe story. All the guys were talking about how you and Mr. Holbein were going at each other. No, don't get upset, Rafaella. No one but me knows what you were yelling about. Iwell, I just happened to overhear Mr. Holbein say the guy's name and warn you about secrecy. I won't say a single word, I promise. I'm just surprised Mr. Holbein decided to make you do it and not Buzz Adams. It's a dirty mess, everyone knows the guy's as guilty as heck, and you're"
"I'm what, Gene?"
"Well, you weren't raised to mix yourself up with that sort of garbage. After all, Rafaella, your stepfather is Charles Winston Rutledge III."
Rafaella slugged down the rest of her wine to keep her mouth shut. She felt tight all over, and the bolus of wine didn't help. "And you were?" she asked mildly. "Raised for garbage?"
"Of course not, but it's more a man's storygoing to the grungy jail, speaking with all those guards and finally to that maniac. It wasn't part of Mr. Holbein's budget. He didn't even mention the story in the news meeting."
"His name is Al. I've heard him tell you to call him Al. He didn't make the story part of his budget because he wants to keep it under wraps, which is very important, critical, as you very well know. However, Sally, the cleaning woman, knows about it. How, I haven't the faintest idea. She left a note on my desk. He's got a weak chin. Guilty, I know it."
"Mr. Holbein still should have brought the story up in the news meeting, and he shouldn't have assigned it to you."
Rafaella forced herself not to get mad and tear into Gene. She didn't know what his problem was, but he was showing himself to be a royal pain in the butt this evening. She hadn't noticed it so much before. He'd interested her simply because he was so straight. And he was good-looking in a very fair WASP way, and had a body that was worked to its limit every day. He'd been on the Trib staff for only two and a half months now.
She chose her words carefully. "I can handle any story that Al dishes out. My sex has nothing to do with anything. Or my background. Do you think you can interview men better than you can women?"
"No, of course not, but I'm not certain about a woman psychopath."
He had a point there. "I'm not so sure about a male psychopath either. But I did it with Herr Lazarus Smith, if you'll recall. Fascinating stuff, GeneFreddy Pithoe, not old Lazarus." Rafaella forgot her irritation and propped her chin on her folded hands.
"Al was right; he got me so mad I was ready to kill him. Instead I boned up on Freddy, read everything we had in the library, then went to see Mr. Pithoe. He didn't want to talk at first. Sullen and blank-faced. It took me ten minutes just to get five words out of him. Tomorrow I'll try my little-sister approach. That might make him respond better. I sure hope so. I can't count on more than two visits to him."
"I still don't like you dealing with the dregs of humanity."
She poured herself some coffee. It brought patience. "We're both reporters. We deal with all kinds of dregs, including the newsroom coffee. You deal with politicians-can you get more dicey than that?"
"At least they can all read and write."
"Which makes them all the more dangerous."
"What did the man say?"
Aha, he wanted all the dirt, the hypocrite. "I'm keeping it under wraps right now. I have to, even with you. It's the way Al wants it."
Rafaella could tell that Gene was put off by her tonight. She wanted to laugh. He'd winced when she said "damn" earlier. She also realized at that moment that she usually tended to censor herself when she was with him. She looked at him now, saw the expression of dissatisfaction that marred his mouth. She was beginning to think she'd been wrong about him. He wasn't an intellectual, just a bore and a chauvinist.
Thank goodness she hadn't gone to bed with him. He probably would have been mortified in the morning and accused her of having compromised him. That made her smile, and she thought of the message taped on the wall in the Trib's women's room: BE THE VIRGIN OF THE MONTH. STAY HEALTHY.
She was still smiling as she said, "You're right, Gene. Tomorrow's an early day." She rose and walked to the front closet, hoping he'd follow. He did. She helped him on with his fur-lined Burberry and stepped back. He looked at her for a moment, then said good night and left.
No good-night kiss for her. This was probably the end of the line with Gene Mallory. No big loss when you got right down to it, for either of them.
Rafaella methodically locked the door, slid home the dead bolt, and fastened the two chain locks. It was very likely unnecessary having all this paraphernalia in Brammerton, Massachusetts, but she was a single woman living alone. She walked into her living room, furnished with an eclectic collection of Nouveau Goodwill, as her mother fondly referred to her trappings, and went to the large bay window. It was quiet outside; snow covered the street and glistened under the streetlamps.
It was always quiet here in Brammerton. A small town some twenty miles southeast of Boston, near Braintree, Brammerton used to be wildly blue collar. Now it was next to nothing, the paper mill having closed its doors in the late eighties and moved elsewhere. There weren't even companionable drunks out singing at the tops of their lungs on Saturday nights. It wasn't a bit like Boston. There wasn't a single university within Brammerton's city limits, nor had there ever been one. It was a town filling up with retired people and social-security checks.
Rafaella shut off all the lights and went to bed. It was her favorite thinking time, those fifteen or so minutes before falling asleep. If she had a problem, she'd set it up before she went to sleep, fully expecting a solution to appear the following morning. Solutions frequently did appear.
She didn't spare any more time for Gene Mallory.
All her thoughts focused on Freddy Pithoe and what he hadn't said to her that morning. It could be that Al's nose was right again, because now her gut was twisting in that weird way when things weren't actually as they were thought to be. She'd carefully read the police report and the three shrinks' reports. She'd also forced herself to go through the coroner's report and the crime-lab pictures taken of the three dead family members. She thought of those now. Of the information in them, and more important, of the information not in them.
And again and again she found herself coming back to one thing: Why had Freddy axed his family? Rage? Come on, everybody got enraged once in a while. Just working with Al Holbein got her enraged, but it had never occurred to her to take an ax to him. There had to be a reason. Another thing: Where was Joey Pithoe, Freddy's little brother? There had been speculation that the boy had seen the carnage and fled for his life. He would turn up, the police thought, soon enough. Poor kid. What chance would he have? They were trying to find the boy, but they weren't really trying all that hard.
They had their psychopathic killer. Who cared about a kid?
Rafaella did. Because there was more to it than just Freddy buying that ax and doing in his family. Why such mutilation on the mother and the uncle? Sure enough, the near decapitation of the father was gruesome, but it was only one blow. Not multiple cuts like the other two. Rafaella fell asleep at last. Her dreams were quite pleasant but there was a recurrent theme of a boy, lost and frightened andsomething else, something vague, something churning in her gut.
Rafaella was at the jail the following morning. Sergeant Haggerty, a hard-nosed old cop who had been on the force for nearly thirty years, just gave her a bored smile and said she could spend the rest of her life talking to the crazy scum, he didn't care. But, yeah, he wouldn't say a word to nobody. She knew he did care, but Lieutenant Masterson had been good to his wordbut for just this visit and that would be it.
Rafaella was sitting in the interview room on the other side of the wire cooping. It was not a dirty room, just depressing, with the peeling light green paint and the institutional chairs. There wasn't a phone system here, just the wire screen separating prisoners from their visitors. Freddy Pithoe was gently shoved into the room by a blank-faced young guard who'd already seen too much and wanted to protect himself from seeing any more.
She studied Freddy as she had before. He was the most pathetic young man she'd ever seen in her life. He wasn't scum; he was frightened and nearly over the edge with what was happening to him.
And in ten minutes she got him to talk, at least a bit.
He'd bought the ax at his father's request, he told her. This was familiar ground to him.
"But, Mr. Pithoe, didn't you tell the police that?" she asked, trying to keep her voice calm and pitched low; her eyes never wavering from his face.
"Yes, ma'am, but they said I was a fucking liar and crazy. I told `em again and again, but it didn't matter. They said I was a crazy fucking liar."
"Did your father tell you why he wanted you to buy the ax?"
Freddy just looked at her, his brow puckering, nearly drawing his thick dark eyebrows together over the bridge of his nose. "I don't know, ma'am. He just told me to buy it. That's all, I swear." Then Freddy Pithoe said something Rafaella hadn't expected in a million years. "He sáid he'd beat my fucking head in if I didn't buy the ax."
Rafaella felt a tingling along her backbone, and her gut was playing the marimba. She had to tread carefully now. "You know, Mr. Pithoe-do you mind if I call you Freddy?you can call me Rafaellayou need to see a doctor. Your left eye is red and kind of weepy. Did he ever actually beat you?"
Easy now, Rare, easy. "Your father. Did he beat you?"
Freddy nodded, his expression stolid. "Since I was a little kid. It weren't just me, though. It was Mama and my little brother. Pa called Joey a bastard and said he was gonna beat the shit out of him. He did, all the time."
"You should have told this to the police."
Freddy gave her a puzzled look. "Why would they want to know about that? Everybody beats everybody. They wouldn't care."
"What about your lawyer, Mr. Dexter?"
"Mr. Dexter just said I was to keep my mouth shut and don't worry because I was crazyfor about ten minutes I was crazy, he saidsomething like that."
Freddy Pithoe, twenty-three years old, didn't look particularly intelligent with his small dark eyes and the coarse dark hair. Nor did he look particularly crazy. His complexion was unnaturally pale, his shoulders slumped, making him appear much shorter than his six feet. He'd tried to grow a beard to cover his receding chin. It just made it look worse because it was so splotchy. He was a mess, no doubt about that. An abused mess. And he was telling her the truth. He did need to see a doctor about that eye.
"Did you ever go to a doctor, Mr. Pithoe?"
"You can call me Freddy."
"Thank you. Did you ever see a doctor after your father beat you?"
"Oh, no, ma'am. He said I weren't worth it. Once when Uncle Kipper let me have it, he broke my arm, but Pa just bound it up and told me to shut up. It was just Mama who had to go and"
"Do you remember which hospital, Freddy? How long ago was it?"
"Yes, ma'am. It were that general place, the emergency room."
Mass General. Excellent. Why had none of this come out before? Because everyone thinks he's a fucking liar, that's why.
"Didn't the psychologists ask you about this, Freddy?"
"Yes, ma'am, but I didn't tell `em that Pa beat any of us."
"But why not?"
"It was just one of their questions on this long sheet of paper. They wanted to know what it really felt like to sink that ax in my pa's neck, and if my mom pleaded with me not to kill her."
"I didn't like any of `em. One reminded me of Uncle Kipper."
Rafaella had the vagrant thought that if she vomited in this holding room, no one could tell, it would all blend in. She looked closely at Freddy. Such a mess.
"When did your ma go to the hospital, Freddy?"
He looked blank for about a minute, then said very carefully, "Fourteen months ago, ma'am. She was hurting real bad. Pa told `em her name was Milly Mooth. He thought that was real funny."
"Did you ax your father to death?"
"Yeah, sure I did, and the others too."
Rafaella leaned close to him. "I think you're a fucking liar now, Freddy."
He stared at her, drawing back. "I ain't no fucking liar, ma'am, I ain't!"
She'd just said the words, not really thinking about them. They'd just come out, and now there was this look in his eyes. She said more firmly, "Yes you are. Tell me the truth, Freddy. All of it."
He refused to say anything else. He screamed for the guard, nearly tumbling `off his chair. And he was rubbing frantically at his eye. Oh, damn. Had she blown it?
"I'll see you tomorrow, Freddy," she called after him. "I'll tell them you need a doctor for that eye."
Excerpted from Impulse by Catherine Coulter. Copyright © 2001 by Catherine Coulter. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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