four that afternoon. The house had been gone through thoroughly: drawers opened; pictures moved back in hopes of finding a safe; books, records, and tapes pulled off the shelves that held them. Her own bedroom was a particular disaster. Whoever had done the ran sacking must have been a professional not to have roused anyone. Whole bureau drawers had been upended. But nothing was missing. "Perhaps someone thinks you bring back drugs from those trips of yours," Rundell suggested. Channing shot him a look. He could be a shrewd old prune at times. And a good one -- he'd gone to check on Serafin as soon as they'd left the study. She supposed what he was suggesting was possible. There were occasional break-ins in this neighbor hood, just as there were in so many other areas these days. "Not that things look that much worse than they usually do when you get back," said Rundell . He grunted, retrieving a pair of shoes and the black magician's dress she'd discarded on the back of a chair two nights ago. Last year he'd served notice that he didn't intend to pick up her clothes any more, but now he carried them methodically to the closet. "You know, I won't always be here to pick up after you, madam. Shall I fix you a nightcap?" Channing caught the concern in his sideways glance as he smoothed her dress on its hanger. "Make one for both of us," she said. "And don't worry, I'll call the police tomorrow. I know a detec tive." The lie didn't seem to persuade Rundell , so she pecked his cheek. That always unhinged him.
* * *
Bill Ellery shoved aside the file he'd picked up from the Federal Building that morning. He paced his hotel room wishing he knew less than he now did about Channing Stuart. The reports filtered in through the U.N., State Department, and FBI made a bright mosaic of a woman such as he'd never met before. Her skills at magic would have been enough. Or the crazy job. But now he knew that she'd once pulled a knife and driven off two men attacking a girl in an alley; that she'd reported an engineer she suspected of passing things to the Sovi ets (she'd been right); that her fiance had been blown apart in a restaurant in Beirut. He figured it was the fiance that was motivating her to do this. Dumb, her taking this risk because of something in the past. But he figured he didn't have any right to mention that. It was personal. Like when he'd turned his back on the bar exam he'd never wanted to take in the first place, kissed a law degree and his share in the family fortune good-bye, and found himself in this job. Part of the job was following orders. If Oliver and the powers-that-be thought using Channing Stuart was the best way to get that film back, then he'd give the sort of backup he was supposed to. All the same, he didn't like feeling responsible for her. She was inexperienced, no matter how gritty, no matter how sure of herself she looked when she stood with her hands on her hips. He'd hate to see blood leak ing out on that creamy, freckled skin. With a frown he realized he was growing interested in Channing Stuart. No time for that, Ellery. No sense risking it, either. He picked up a light jacket that would hold the items he had to carry and set out to meet her. Maybe she'd change her mind. After all, she'd taken in that kid and might be getting all wrapped up in mothering him.
* * * At four o'clock the breeze off the ocean was cool. He was glad for the jacket. As he made his way toward the boardwalk he was jostled by the usual assortment of girls in beachwear, kids on skate boards, teens with boom boxes. He grinned to himself. While privacy had been his first consideration in picking this site, he'd also thought the well- heeled lady Ph.D. might feel a little off-balance here. If they did work together, he wanted it clear from the start who was in charge. A pair of kids on roller skates zoomed toward him, splitting to pass. He was in an area lined with open-air stalls