State legislator Thomas Gilman lived comfortably in suburban West St. Paul, within an easy five-minute drive of the fashionable Somerset Country Club. Mack Bolan did a preliminary drive-by, scanning the neighborhood for police cruisers or suspicious vehicles, and found none.
On the second pass, he turned his rental car boldly into Gilman's driveway and followed it around to park directly in front of the big Dutch colonial house. It looked as though politics had been quite kind to Thomas Gilman.
Bolan rang the doorbell and listened to melodic chimes sounding deep within the house. After several long moments, footsteps approached, and the door was opened by a middle-aged man dressed in vest and slacks without the matching jacket. His hair was graying at the temples, and he regarded Bolan with vague curiosity from behind wire-rimmed spectacles.
The man nodded, his curiosity deepening.
"Yes?" he repeated.
Bolan briefly flashed his federal ID in front of the guy's face, pocketing it again before Gilman could focus on it clearly.
"Frank La Mancha, Justice Department," he said brusquely. "We need to talk."
Gilman raised an eyebrow.
"About what, may I ask?"
"Your son," the Executioner told him simply.
And it had the desired effect, yeah.
Tom Gilman paled underneath his professional sun-lamp tan, and for an instant Bolan watched him clutch at the ornate doorknob for support. Then the moment passed and Gilman regained control, stepping back to open the door and admit Bolan.
"Come in," he said, his tone formal, curt.
Bolan stepped into the entry hall, and Gilman closed the door behind him, leading the way to a combination library and study. He waved Bolan to a deep armchair and dropped into its mate nearby.
Bolan remained standing, hands in pockets, surveying the room and the man.
"When did you last see your son, Mr. Gilman?" he asked abruptly.
The politician's face showed mild confusion.
"Not in some time, why?"
Bolan countered with a question of his own.
"Was it before he escaped from the hospital?"
Gilman's face sagged, his whole body slumping as if Bolan had punched him hard over the heart. He plainly was stunned by the Executioner's words. His mouth worked silently for a moment; then he cleared his throat and tried again.
"I... I don't know what you're talking about," he offered lamely.
Bolan glowered at him.
"We don't have time to dance, Gilman," he snapped. "I believe you know why I'm here."
A movement in the doorway caught Bolan's eye, and he turned to find himself facing a woman of indeterminate age, her curious eyes shifting back and forth from Gilman to himself, and back again.
When she spoke, there was caution, even fear, in her voice.
"Thomas, you haven't finished your breakfast."
Gilman waved her off with a distracted gesture.
"Not now, Louise, I'm busy."
The woman began to turn away, but Bolan's voice stopped her on the threshold.
"Why don't you stay, Mrs. Gilman?"
She paused, looking again from her husband to Bolan with narrowed eyes. At last Gilman nodded, reluctantly, and beckoned her inside. She walked past Mack Bolan to stand beside her husband's chair, one hand resting on his shoulder.
"Louise," Gilman began, "this is Mr... er..."
"La Mancha," Bolan finished for him.
"Yes, quite. He's here about Courtney."
Conflicting emotions instantly twisted the lady's face into a kaleidoscope of mingled hope and horror. Bolan watched her fingers dig unconsciously into her husband's shoulder, making him wince.
"Have they found him?" she blurted. "Is he... is he..."
Gilman shook himself free, and snapped, "Louise! Control yourself!"
Bolan frowned at them both.
"He's still out there, Mrs. Gilman. I'm hoping you can help me find him."
There was a long pause as Gilman and his wife looked at each other searchingly. Finally, Gilman reached up to take hold of her hand, and she nodded to him, her eyes brimming with tears.
Gilman swallowed hard, and there was a catch in his voice as he began speaking.
"We don't know where he is. That's the truth. He... has no reason to trust us, Mr. La Mancha."
Bolan read the painful truth in Gilman's voice and saw the same hurt on the lady's face.
He believed the guy, yeah.
"All right. Let's start at the beginning."
Another soul-searching pause, and then Gilman resumed speaking, his voice broken.
"The beginning. How do you single out a point in time when you know your child is... different? Courtney was always a quiet boy. Introverted. Smart as a whip, but so damned quiet. Even as a child he could never open up or share his thoughts with us."
"He wasn't a bad child," Louise Gilman chimed in, sounding desperate.
Gilman gave her hand a gentle squeeze and continued.
"We both know what he was. What he is. By the time Courtney was six or seven years old, he had a violent, explosive temper. Not just the normal childish tantrums... there was real fury in him, deep down. He fought with classmates in grade school, and by high school he'd been in trouble several times. We changed his schools twice to protect him... from his own reputation."
"And to protect yourself?" Bolan asked, probing.
Gilman's head snapped up, eyes flaring angrily.
"No, sir!" he snapped, then the voice softened.
"Not then. That all came... later. After..."
Gilman took a moment to compose himself and collect his disordered thoughts before continuing.
"In his senior year, a few weeks before graduation, there was... an incident. It involved a schoolgirl... a co-ed. There was some question of expulsion... of denying Courtney his diploma. I couldn't let that happen."
"So you pulled some strings," Bolan said. It wasn't a question.
Thomas Gilman nodded jerkily, and swallowed as if something had lodged itself in his throat.
"I have friends, Mr. La Mancha, connections. It is possible to arrange certain things. He was our child."
"And you had your own reputation to consider," Bolan added.
The suggestion didn't seem to anger Gilman this time.
"I don't honestly believe I thought of that... at that time," he said. "Subconsciously... who knows? Anyway, I promised to get help for Courtney, and we kept that promise. He spent eighteen months in analysis."
"It didn't take," Bolan said.
Gilman nodded grimly.
"We realized that, in time... too late. It's always too late, isn't it?"
Bolan had no answer. He stood, watching the tortured couple in silence.
Gilman continued his narrative.
"Something over two years ago, there was... a murder. I paid no attention to it at the time. There were elections to win, and there was legislation to pass. Courtney was staying out all night, every night, doing who knows what."
"Anyway, one night he was arrested... as a prowler, I think. Apparently he broke down under questioning and... he confessed... to rape and murder."
The final words were almost strangled, coming out in a barely audible whisper. Beside Gilman, his wife turned away, stifling a sob with one hand.
Mack Bolan was starting to get the picture.
"You got a phone call," he offered, certain what the answer would be.
Tom Gilman nodded, unable to meet Bolan's gaze as he shifted his hands nervously in his lap.
"From a lieutenant named Fawcett?" Bolan pressed, seeking the final raw nerve that would release the last of the story.
Gilman looked up quickly at that, his expression one of confusion.
"Who? No, I don't recognize the name. I was called by Assistant Commissioner Smalley. Of course, he was only a deputy chief at the time."
Bolan concealed his surprise at the name. Things were beginning to fit. Only too well.
"What did Smalley have in mind?"
Gilman flashed a bitter, sardonic grin.
"Oh, nothing complicated," he said. "A sort of symbiosis. Mutual back scratching. He would guarantee 'fair treatment' for Courtney, and I would be... properly grateful."
"Your son's confession was misplaced?"
Gilman spread his hands.
"Presumably. Filed away for future reference, I suppose. At the time, I wasn't interested in the mechanics, only results. Smalley was... effective. The prowler charge was quietly dismissed, and we placed our son in a suitable institution."
"How did he escape?"
Gilman shrugged listlessly.
"No one seems to know, or at least they won't admit it. The hospital wasn't designed for maximum security."
Bolan saw no need to dwell upon the murders that had followed Courtney Gilman's first escape... or his second. The Executioner had heard enough about the lax security in even the best mental hospitals to know that escapes were commonplace. The Boston Strangler, for one, had made a habit of leaving his padded room behind to kill, returning when he was finished, and no one had been the wiser until he confessed, probably from sheer boredom and frustration.
In any case, Bolan was more interested in the mechanics of the cover-up than in the details of murder.
"How was he recaptured?" Bolan asked.
Gilman still wore the bitter smile.
"Smalley has his ways, I suppose. He keeps the details to himself, but he made sure we realized that Courtney had... been in trouble again."
And, yeah, Bolan could see the pattern clearly now. The mad youth escaping, killing, being recaptured — probably by Jack Fawcett — returned to the sanitarium, only to escape and kill again. And again. And with each new crime, each new escape, Tom Gilman's complicity increased, Roger Smalley's blackmail hold was strengthened.
Gilman's taut voice interrupted the Executioner's train of thought.
"I made Smalley, you know," he was saying. "At least, I helped put him where he is. A nudge here, a word there. I was properly grateful, oh, yes."
Bolan read a bitterness approaching self-hatred in the politician's voice.
"Five lives!" Gilman said, almost sobbing. "Five young women dead. Oh, I'm well aware of my achievements, Mr. La Mancha."
Bolan's frown deepened.
"There's guilt enough to go around, Gilman," he said soberly. "Sort it out later. Right now, I need your help. Your son's sixth victim needs help."
Louise Gilman let out a strangled gasp. "A sixth? Dear God!"
"A survivor," Bolan said. "The next may not be so lucky."
Gilman's answering voice was a plea for belief and understanding.
"I swear we don't know where he is. He blames us for locking him away, you see. Our son is logical, if nothing else. He wouldn't contact us if his life depended on it."
"It might," Bolan told him.
Man and wife looked at him long and soulfully. Bolan was certain they had nothing more to tell him. He was ready to disengage when Gilman broke the tortured silence.
"How... how did you find out about our son?" he asked.
Bolan sensed the deep anxiety, a continuing terror, beneath the words.
"It's not common knowledge," he replied. "Not yet. But the numbers are running out, Gilman."
Gilman nodded resignedly.
"I've been expecting it for some time. Maybe hoping for it, secretly — who knows? I plan to make a clean breast of everything this afternoon at a press conference."
Bolan's brow furrowed; his mind raced ahead.
"I hope you'll reconsider that," he said earnestly, "at least until you hear from me again."
"But why?" Gilman looked honestly confused now. "If I can warn one person... save even one life..."
"It's too late for noble gestures now," Bolan said curtly. "Save your story for the courtroom, where it will have some real impact."
The Gilmans were thinking that over as Bolan turned to leave them. He paused in the doorway, half turning.
"I'll be in touch," he told them both. "If you hear from your son in the meantime..."
"I can handle it," Thomas Gilman assured him.
There was infinite sadness in the older man's voice, and yeah, Mack Bolan believed that the guy would be able to handle it if it happened.
He left them alone with their mutual grief and let himself out of the house. Back in his car, he punched the rewind button on the cassette tape deck, recycling a portion of the tape, which was almost used up. When he had reached the midpoint of the reel, he hit the play button.
The taut, anguished voice of politician Thomas Gilman filled the rented sedan.
"It's always too late, isn't it?"
Bolan silenced the tape and started his car. He was releasing the emergency brake when the little radio transceiver on the seat beside him clamored for attention.
"Stony Man... Able One calling Stony Man... Come in!"
Bolan snared the radio and answered.
"Stony Man. I read you, Able."
Even on the airwaves, Pol Blancanales sounded desperate.
"Toni's gone, Sarge," he gasped. "I... when I got back, the place was a mess. She's been kidnapped."
Bolan felt his guts tying themselves into the old, familiar knots.
"Any leads, Able?"
"Negative, dammit! Another two minutes, and... oh, Jesus!"
"Easy, Able. The lady needs you in one piece, so hold it together."
And yeah, he could almost visualize his friend straightening up, stiffening at the other end of the connection.
"Right, you're right," Blancanales answered after a moment. "What do we do?"
"Stay put, Able," Bolan told him. "I have one more base to touch before we connect. Have you called the police?"
"Negative. All I could think of was getting in touch with you."
"Roger, Able. I'll make the contact myself. Out."
Bolan dropped the silent radio onto the seat beside him and put the car in roaring motion. As he headed back toward downtown St. Paul, the words of Thomas Gilman came back again to haunt him.
It's always too late, isn't it?
Bolan clenched his teeth, hands tight on the steering wheel.
For the sake of everyone involved, he devoutly hoped that Gilman was wrong on that score.