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The telephone receiver was slammed back into its cradle with such force that the paperweight sitting next to the phone slipped off the desk. Two framed pictures of a round-eyed, blond-haired girl rattled and then dropped onto the corner of the desk. The tall man who had slammed the telephone so violently righted the portraits with care, clasped his hands behind his back and resumed his pacing. Would it ever be possible to communicate with Krista again, he wondered. His shoulders were slightly slumped, and there was a pained darkness just beneath the anger in his eyes. He swore an oath, aimed for the most part at himself, and continued pacing in front of the wide plate-glass window.
For a moment he paused to look out the window and try and control his rage. A fading California sun was dispersing the final rays of daylight inland as it settled peacefully into the tranquil Pacific Ocean. Long lavender shadows had begun to deepen against the white sand of the beach, and the first cool hint of autumn hung crisply on the air. Kane closed his eyes tightly, as if to shut out the serene view. Turbulent emotions stormed through his body. He kept telling himself that he couldn't change the past, that he couldn't blame a dead woman for his daughter's condition, and yet he did.
A solid rap on the door interrupted his black thoughts, and automatically Kane called out a terse acknowledgment. A moment later Jim Haney marched through the door carrying an ungainly sheaf of papers and a long manila envelope. Jim's tired face held a genuine smile, although he also noted the severe lines of stress that contorted Kane's body. Kane's normally impeccable wool suit was wrinkled and his expensive silk tie askew. Harsh creases webbed from the corners of Kane's deep-set gray eyes and there was a cold, hard determination in the set of his jaw. It wasn't hard for Jim to surmise the reason for Kane's obvious annoyance. Jim knew Kane well enough to recognize that Kane was angry and concerned over his eleven-year-old daughter. The guilt that Kane bore silently was beginning to show. Kane needed to think about something elseanything elseand Jim hoped that he had found the solution to Kane's studious disinterest in anything other than the near-fatal accident that had left his daughter disabled.
Jim's smile remained intact as he met Kane's annoyed gaze. "I guess this about wraps it up," Jim announced, fanning the air with a smooth sheaf of computer printouts. Kane's cool eyes followed the green and white pages with only feeble interest while Jim continued. "The Seattle saleit's finaland all of the loose ends are tied up except for one."
"So quickly?" Kane asked skeptically as he settled into the worn leather chair behind his desk and began scanning the printout.
"For once it looks like we may have gotten lucky."
"Good!" There was a note of finality to Kane's words. He looked up at Jim with a grim smile. "Then there's really no reason for me to wait, is there?"
Jim coughed nervously before meeting Kane's unwavering gray stare. "Are you sure that you're making the right decision?"
Involuntarily a muscle in Kane's jaw tightened. "Let's just say that I'm making the only decision possible."
"But to just pack up and leave all of this " Jim's voice trailed off as he waved expansively. The gesture encompassed the entire gray concrete office building of Consolidated Finances, the understated but costly furnishings and the calm ocean view.
Kane's eyes swept the office, noting the leather furniture, the thick plush carpet, the book-lined cherrywood walls, and then fell back on his friend. "Think of it as a prolonged leave of absence, if you like."
"Then you will be back?" Jim asked guardedly.
"When I have to be," Kane agreed, with an expression of distaste. "No doubt the board of directors will insist that I come back and oversee the operation from time to time." Kane returned his attention to the computer sheets before him. Quickly shuffling through the smooth, flat pages, he located the report that he sought. A dark furrow etched its way across his forehead as he reread the printout. "Still losing money in the legal department?" he asked, almost to himself. "I thought that we had cleared up that embezzling scam last week and had gotten rid of Cameronor whatever his name was. Didn't we?" He turned his sharp eyes on Jim.
"That's the one loose end that's still dangling. It looks as if Cameron has an accomplice."
"I had a hunch from the beginning that someone was working with him, but I couldn't prove it until I made sure that Cameron was out of commission. I'm not sure who the culprit ishaven't been able to dig up any tangible proofbut I've narrowed it down to a few possibilities." Jim handed Kane the manila envelope. "Here's some personnel information on some of the suspects."
Kane reached for the envelope. "Well, whoever he is, he must be a damned fool! You would think that with all of the hubbub about Cameron, anyone else involved would be busy covering his tracks rather than taking any further risks. This guy must get his kicks by flirting with danger."
"It may not be a man," Jim suggested.
Kane cocked an interested black eyebrow. "A woman?" A satisfied, almost wicked smile crept over his lips.
"Like I said before, I'm not sure, but it looks as if Cameron has always been fond of the ladies. He's had a reputation for promoting women."
"Whether they're qualified or not?"
Jim shrugged. He didn't like the glint of inquisitive interest that had stolen over Kane's features. "I haven't had Cameron arrested as yet, but he's being watched. Hopefully his colleague will surface soon."
"So you're telling me that Cameron is still on the payroll and that although you're sure he hasn't taken any more funds, someone near to him has." Kane Webster was beginning to show his anger.
Jim squirmed only slightly as he went on to explain. "That's about the size of it. We're watching Cameron round the clock, night and day. We know that he hasn't pocketed the funds himself, because we've kept him tied up with auditors and the like ever since it became apparent that he was embezzling trust funds. So far he hasn't become suspicious."
Kane wasn't convinced. "And his friend?"
"Somehow she's still manipulating the accounts and taking money." Jim shook his head and grimaced. "I haven't been able to trace it to her as yet. She's very clever."
Kane sat thoughtfully in his chair and pulled out the personnel files that Jim had handed him. He didn't doubt Jim's assumption that Cameron had a woman accomplice. He'd worked with Jim too many years not to respect the younger man's opinion. Jim's suspicions had always paid off in the end for Consolidated Finances.
The names on the personnel reports meant nothing to Kane, and at first glance, all of the files seemed to hold nothing out of the ordinary. "You're sure that the thief is one of these people?"
Jim nodded his head in affirmation. "No one else has the authority to move bank funds so freely."
"But couldn't someone else forge a superior's order?"
"I thought about that too. I had it checked out, but the auditing system of the bank is too complete. No, our misguided embezzler is sitting right there in that envelope. All we have to do is figure out who she is."
Kane puzzled over Jim's recent discoveries in what had appeared to be a sleepy little Seattle bank. His eyes narrowed as he thought about the trap that he would set for Cameron and his accomplice. The fact that it was a woman interested Kane. He had learned several years ago that women could be a devious lot, and it only reinforced his bitter opinion of the opposite sex to learn of the female embezzler.
Jim Haney watched the play of emotions that traversed Kane's dark features. He had worked with Kane for over ten years and had come to know his boss as well as anyone. Kane was a fair employer, but Jim knew from past experience that Kane could be ruthless if crossed. Right now, as Kane's lips thinned, Jim was thankful that his name wasn't Mitchell Cameron. And he couldn't help but feel pity for the unfortunate woman who had gotten tangled up with Cameron. Jim had his own opinion about the accomplice's identity, and he had met the woman. It was damned hard to believe that such an intelligent, sophisticated woman would be involved with the likes of Cameron. Oh, wellthat was Kane's problem. "Did you want me to have the police go to work on Cameron?" he asked.
"No." Kane shook his head, still immersed in his thoughts. "I'll see to it personally. I'm leaving for Seattle tonight." A satisfied grin moved over Kane's features.
"You're really going to enjoy throwing the book at Cameron, aren't you?"
"And the woman! I don't like any thiefespecially when she's got her hands in my pockets!" Kane retorted. "This just gives me one more reason to head north as soon as possible."
"That's something I don't understand at all," Jim admitted. "Why you bought that miserable excuse of a bankit's been losing money for yearsjust so you can freeze your tail off in Seattle."
"California lost its sparkle for me quite a while ago," Kane muttered tersely, then softened his tone as he caught the wounded look in Jim's eyes. "You know of course about Krista. The doctor thinks a change of climate would be good for her. As soon as I have a permanent residence, I'll send for her."
A personal question died on Jim's lips as he noticed the sober tone of Kane's final words. He hadn't gotten to be vice president of Consolidated Finances by asking questions that were none of his business. He'd heard the rumors associated with Kane: a glamorous ex-wife, a sticky divorce and an unfortunate accident. But Jim had never pried. He was too interested in self-preservation to open doors that Kane preferred locked.
Kane pushed the manila envelope into his briefcase along with a small portrait of his daughter. He paused for a minute and looked at the eager young face before tucking the picture into a side pocket in the leather case. That accomplished, he snapped the briefcase closed.
"The moving company will take care of the rest of this litter," Kane observed, looking around his office for one last time. "If you need to get in touch with me, Carla has the number of my hotel in Seattle."
"Good luck," Jim said, clasping Kane's hand warmly.
"Let's hope I don't have to rely on luck!" With a smile that didn't reach his eyes, Kane walked out of his office for the last time.
The early-model Volkswagen Rabbit skidded to an abrupt halt, splashing dirty rainwater from the street up onto the sidewalk. The driver of the little yellow car was a slim, striking woman who pulled the emergency brake, slung her purse over her shoulder and slammed the car door shut without taking the time to lock it. She hastened through the damp September evening toward the cozy Irish bar.
There was a determined and slightly mysterious gleam in her large eyes as she hiked her raincoat up and clutched the collar tightly to her throat. Sidestepping a puddle of water as if it were second nature, she pushed her way through the stained-glass door of the restaurant.
The familiar interior was dark, but Erin's eyes became quickly accustomed to the dim lighting and the air thick with cigarette smoke. Loud, tinny music was coming from a rather bedraggled-looking band reminiscent of the late fifties.
Unconsciously Erin wiped away a few drops of rain that still lingered on her cheeks, while she moved her gaze over the Friday night throng of customers that was heralding the beginning of what promised to be another rainy Seattle weekend.