Below the Threshold first pages

File One: Monday Evening

The phone started ringing just as Dr. Jack Page settled down with a double Laphroaig before fixing himself some supper. With a sigh he put down his drink, careful not to spill any on his black-gloved false left hand, got out of his recliner and picked up the phone on the third ring.

“Page here,” he said.

“Dr. Page, this is Emily Velasquez. I’m sorry to disturb you but look, could we talk this evening?”

“Let me check,” he said, and took from his shirt pocket the slim appointment book he always carried. He’d love to talk with Emily, any time, but her tone of voice had implied she needed him as her therapist, rather than — otherwise. “I’m free right now,” he said when he found the right page. Emily had no idea of his interest in her, of course. He was too professional for that. “Want to tell me about it?”

“I’m frightened, Dr. Page,” she said. “Maybe I’m just imagining things again, maybe it’s just the dream I had last night, but even if that’s true, I’m frightened, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Now take it easy, Emily, try to calm down. I haven’t had supper yet, do you want to meet me at my office, say about eight?”

“Please, Doctor, I can’t stand it. I’ve got to know if what I saw was real or not. If I just invented it, okay, that’s bad enough, I thought I was getting better —”

“You are, Emily, you know that.”

“Yes, but then maybe it’s real, maybe — and I was right there, and I didn’t even know it, right there with them.”

“With who, Emily, slow down and tell me what happened.”

“Im sorry, Dr. Page, I — I don’t want to talk about it on the phone. I think I’ve stumbled onto some kind of conspiracy. “

“You want me to come over there?”

“No, not here, they may be watching — God, I sound paranoid, don’t I?”

“You do, and that’s not like you. All right, come down to the office, we’ll try to work this out.”

“No, you haven’t eaten yet, how about the Escapades, dinner on me.”

Jack sighed. He was not in the habit of accepting meals from his patients, though if Emily had just asked him, instead of presenting him with this inarticulate story, he would have been sorely tempted. As it was…. “Can you tell me anything about it at all?”

“Im sorry,” she went on. “I can’t explain, I have to — Maybe it’s all in my mind, but if it’s real, it could be important, and I might be in danger. I have to show you something. Then you can tell me what I should do next — go to the police, take a tranquilizer, whatever.”

“All right,” Dr. Page said. “When shall I meet you?” “Seven thirty? Will that be all right?”

“That will be fine. I’ll see you then.”

File Two: Monday Evening

Jack Page drove up Garfield through downtown Freeport, toward the Escapades restaurant and his meeting with Emily Velasquez. The traffic was light, putting no strain on his artificial left hand. Encased in a black glove, it easily gripped the steering wheel in between the mechanical thumb and the rigid but naturally curved fingers.

He turned right onto Clyne, doing most of the work with his right hand. The neighborhood here was a bit rougher, and the hookers, he noticed, were already out, though it wasn’t yet seven thirty.

Emily had been seeing him for a year now, and he had thought that she was making progress in dealing with her schizophrenic tendencies. The phone call had not been like her at all, and had any of his other clients called him with a story like that, he would have insisted on a regular office visit. But Emily was different. Clinical psychologists and their patients should not develop relationships outside the office, but …

He turned left up Wade Avenue. Emily had better have a good reason for this meeting, he thought. But then, he had to admit that it was he who had yielded to temptation. In fact, if he could face the truth, he was falling in love with her. And that, he knew, was interfering with his objectivity in this case.

After another block he saw the restaurant ahead, and made a sharp left into its parking lot. He had to use the spinner on his wheel. His false left hand, as good as it was, could not grip the steering wheel strongly enough to make the turn unaided. The hand — and the arm above it to halfway between his elbow and his shoulder was a compromise between a more powerful but fully artificial metal hook, which might have disturbed his clients, and a purely cosmetic but totally useless plastic hand. He stopped by the attendant’s booth between the restaurant and the parking lot, got out, and gave his keys to the young man on duty.

The main entrance of the Escapades was directly opposite the parking lot booth. Jack adjusted his turtleneck shirt and went in. There were several other people in the little lounge area, but no Emily. When the Maitre d’ came over, Jack asked him about her.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the man said. “We have no reservation in the name of Velasquez.”

“I guess I’m a little early,” Jack said. “Can you give me a table, and tell her Dr. Page is here when she comes in?”

“Certainly, Dr. Page. Please come this way.”

He was led to a small table at the back. When the waiter came over a moment later Jack ordered a Laphroaig on the rocks, and was gratified when the waiter knew what that was. Another moment later and he had the fine unblended scotch whisky and took a sip.

All right, he told himself, maybe he was overstepping his professional bounds a bit by coming here, but dammit, that phone call of Emily’s was not a part of her usual pattern. Either there was something real to worry about, or she was developing a new psychosis. In either case, it was best to get to the bottom of it at once.

Though his conversation with her had been brief, the sudden expression of paranoia she had exhibited was not uncommon these days. Indeed, many of his clients came to him for just that reason. Ever since the Visitors had come, three years ago, a large portion of the population had developed exaggerated fears about what the Visitors were and what they were up to.

That there was cause for concern only complicated the issue. Almost everybody had second-hand experience with Visitor violence, and many had felt the impact first hand, even here in Freeport. This was one of the few cities in the south, the zone in which Visitors could live without fear of the red dust, and which was, at the same time, completely controlled by humans. Oh, there were those “naturalized” Visitors, of course, ex-fifth columnists who, known as such to their own people, had come to this human-controlled city for refuge.

But it was one thing to be concerned about tbe realities of the Visitor’s presence, and another to be unable to separate imaginary fears from the truth. It was Jack’s self-imposed task to help those who could not do so, to enable them to be able to come to terms with Visitor influence and presence, even with Northampton so near across the bay. The human mind frequently over-reacted to the sudden strange, the alien, and the unknown. For many of Jack’s clients, this was keeping them from coping with the day-to-day world.

His glass was empty. It was ten minutes to eight. He signaled the waiter, ordered another, and asked the man to check to see if Emily had come in yet. After a few moments the waiter returned and said that she had not.

Emily might be schizophrenic, but she’d never before exhibited any of the Alien Anxiety Syndrome, as Jack called it. What had she said on the phone? Something about being afraid, a conspiracy, wanting to show Jack something, about ‘being there with them,’ whatever that meant. He wished he’d been able to draw her out more. From any of his other AAS clients, he’d just assume an intensification of their paranoia, but Emily didn’t fit in with that syndrome.

It was especially disturbing since, during the last month or so, many of his AAS patients had seemed to be getting a lot better. In itself, that should have been encouraging, but there were too many of them, and it was happening too quickly, as if they all shared a common disease which had run its course. Except that psychological problems didn’t work that way. He was sure there was a pattern there, though there was nothing yet he could put his finger on.

And Emily was going counter to that pattern.

The waiter came back and asked him if he’d like to order yet.

“I’d like to wait a bit longer,” Jack said, “in case she’s just gotten hung up in traffic somewhere.”

“Another drink, then?”

“I’d better not.” He showed the waiter his artificial hand. “I have a hard enough time driving as it is,” he said. The waiter nodded and went off.

It was now after eight. Emily, Jack thought, might be schizophrenic, and might even be developing a latent paranoia, but her strange call to him was more than a little worrying. He noticed the Maitre d’ standing beside his table. “Miss Velasquez has not come in yet,” the man said. “Are you sure you were to met her here, at this time?”

“Quite sure,” Jack said. He could see, beyond the Maitre d’, people standing in the lounge. “Maybe I’d better wait in the bar.”

“That might be best,” the Maitre d’ said, and as soon as Jack got up from the table a busboy came over to make it ready for a paying customer.

The bar was opposite the lounge from the dining room. Jack went into the darkened room and looked for a seat at the counter. He saw an acquaintance with an empty stool next to him, so he went over.

“Lewis,” he said to the naturalized Visitor, “Naturals” as they were called in Freeport. “May I join you?”

“Hey, Jack, sure, sit down.” He appeared to be in his late twenties, with a strong face and short, light brown hair and wearing chinos and a sport shirt, to contrast with the rest of the customers. “How are things doing?”

“Not bad. And yourself?” Jack had known Lewis for almost two years now, and though they didn’t often socialize, he had always liked the alien.

“Doing real well,” Lewis was saying. “Not much excitement, of course, but then I prefer it that way.”

“Don’t we all,” Jack said as the bartender came up. Jack decided that he could handle a third Laphroaig, and Lewis ordered a refill on his red wine.

“You don’t look too cheerful,” Lewis observed.

“It appears I’ve been stood up,” Jack said. “You come in here often?”

“Every now and then. It’s expensive, but then, what can a Natural spend his money on, even here in Freeport? I can’t get a driver’s licence, so I don’t need a car. Don’t have enough to buy a house, and the better apartment buildings won’t rent to Naturals. Nothing to save my money for, so I might as well spend it.”

“How can you eat the food here?”

“Oysters,” Lewis said with a grin. “And at the Golden Carnation, sushi.”

“I guess that’ll waste your paycheck,” Jack murmured.

“You don’t like to spend money on food?”

“Nothing to show for it but an increased waistline. I wouldn’t come here except the person I was supposed to meet offered to pay.”

“That’s too bad. I wouldn’t mind a few nicer things, but what the hell, I really like to eat. But you know, things are beginning to loosen up a bit lately. Clerks will wait on me now, more often than not. Of course, the hassles here are nothing like they are in say New York, or Chicago, or Sacramento. Freeport’s a good place for Naturals, relatively speaking.”

“It would drive me up the wall,” Jack said.

“Freeport’s about the only place where a Natural can hold a regular job. So what if I’m only the head janitor in a rattail building, I’m working.”

“There’s Northampton, where your people are in control —”

“I’d be executed as a fifth columnist. No thanks. I never was very deep into it but as far as Northampton and the rest of my people are concerned, I’m a traitor. I’ll stay here, where I’m at least free.”

Jack wasn’t really listening. He was watched the LEDs on his watch tick off the seconds and minutes. It was now eight thirty, and Emily still hadn’t come in. He caught the bartender’s eye and asked for a phone. Lewis stopped talking while Jack dialed Emily’s home number. There was no answer.

“Not that you don’t have my sympathy,” Lewis said as Jack hung up, “but I don’t even have the opportunity to be stood up.”

“Surely you know some naturalized women,” Jack said.

“A few, but how many are there in Freeport? That don’t already have some sort of relationship, that is. I think that’s probably the hardest thing for me to deal with.”

“Believe me, Lewis, I know exactly how you feel.” He flexed his artificial hand.

“So who is this ungrateful wench?” Lewis asked, keeping it light.

“One of my clients, actually.”

“I thought you weren’t supposed to get involved with them.”

“Im not. And I’m not tonight, either, she wanted to talk to me professionally.”

“But you like her a lot, anyway.”

“That I do, though I’ve never done or said anything about it.”

“So who is she?”

“An interior designer. She’s fairly successful. And an awfully nice person. I have to admit that lately I’ve been having difficulty keeping my attraction for her separate from my professional interest. That’s not uncommon, of course.”

“Can you do anything about it? Or do your professional ethics forbid any romantic entanglement whatsoever?”

“Well, I can’t be both her doctor and her lover. What I should do is tell her about things, and let her find another therapist. But . . . ” he flexed his artificial hand again.

“You’re afraid to tell her how you feel,” Lewis said. “ls that because of your professional concern, or because of your artificial arm?”

“That’s what I’m not sure about. Now, tonight has nothing to do with romance. She asked me here as her therapist. Which is why I’m not being quite as frank with you as I might be, though I’m probably saying more than I should.”

“Jack, you’re the psychologist, but you’re too close to this. If you could hear your voice, you’d know that you’ve got to come to some kind of an understanding with yourself.”

“I know that,” Jack said laughing. “Only, knowing doesn’t make it any easier. But thanks for telling me anyway. I’ve been reluctant to admit my feelings, even to myself.”

“About your arm.”

“About — yes, dammit, about my arm. Hell, Viet Nam was a long time ago. I thought I’d learned to accept it. I don’t have nightmares anymore, I don’t have ghost arm aches anymore.” He finished his scotch. “But I guess I’m not adjusted after all.”

“Has your friend ever shown any aversion to your arm?” Lewis asked gently.

“No. But dammit, that’s my problem, not hers.”

He tossed down the last of his scotch. The question right now was, where was Emily? She had said something at her last session with him about a big contract she was hoping to get. Maybe, he thought, she’s gotten tied up at the office. The phone was still on the bar, so he called her there.

He got only the answering machine. He left a brief message and hung up. Maybe she’d gone to see her client. But she had sounded so urgent on the phone earlier that he couldn’t believe that.

“Is she often late for appointments?” Lewis asked.

“Never. She’s usually very prompt, very meticulous about things, a bit too much so, perhaps.”

“Maybe she’s really in trouble.”

“I’m beginning to suspect she is.” He called the bartender over and asked for his bill from the dining room. “I think I’d better do some checking,” he told Lewis. “She could have had an accident somewhere.”

The bartender brought his bill, and Jack paid. On his way out he spoke to the Maitre d’, giving him a tip and asking him to give Emily a message if she should come in after all.

He pulled out of the Escapades’ parking lot and drove south to Marlin, then west toward Emily’s address. He’d never been to her apartment before, but he knew it was in one of the newer apartment buildings just outside the business district. There was no street parking when he got there, but the underground lot had spaces for visitors, so he pulled in and took the elevator straight up to Emily’s floor.

He knew her apartment number from his records. Her door was slightly ajar. He rang the bell, and felt a surge of relief when, after a moment, he heard someone corning.

The relief was turned to disappointment when a man opened the door. Emily had never said anything about a boyfriend. The man, dark and slender, smiled at him in a friendly way.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Jack said, “but I’m looking for Emily Velasquez.”

The man spread his hands in a kind of a shrug. “I can’t help you,” he said. “Do you have the right apartment?”

“I think so,” Jack answered, and looked over the man’s shoulder at the number on the door.

“Maybe another floor,” the man said with a quick grin. “The halls in this building are all the same, you know.”

“I guess I must have made a mistake,” Jack said, feeling an alarm bell going off inside his head.

“No problem,” the man said, and firmly shut the door.

Jack stood there for a moment. He was sure this was the right apartment. He started to reach for the bell again, and then thought better of it. Instead, be went back to the elevator and took it down to the lobby.

He went over to the mailboxes and found Emily’s name.

The apartment number was the one he’d just visited. Thoroughly alarmed, he went to the phone in an alcove off to the side. The man in Emily’s apartment could be a burglar, or worse, else why deny that it was Emily’s place? Jack turned to the front of the phone book and found the number of the police.

He reported a suspected burglary in progress, and the police said they’d send a car right over. But when he hung up, Jack wondered if that were really the case. A strange intruder, right after Emily’s concern for some kind of a conspiracy, was a bit too much of a coincidence. Jack didn’t believe in conspiracies, but this was not the time to argue about it.

Knowing how inefficient the Freeport police were, Jack was surprised when two officers entered the lobby after only a few minutes. Jack went up to them at once.

“Are you the one who called in the burglary?” the black officer asked.

“Suspected burglary,” Jack said, and told them what had happened as he walked with them toward the elevators.

“Good reason to be suspicious,” the white officer said. Instead of going up, they turned down a side corridor to a door marked “Night Manager.” There they identified themselves, stated the problem briefly, and asked the man to accompany them and bring the pass key. The manager, a craggy gray haired man, complied with obvious concern. Then they all went up to Emily’s floor together.

Jack led them to the door where the officers instructed him and the manager to stand to one side. The black officer rang the bell. There was no answer. He rang again. Still no answer. He knocked, called out Emily’s name. There was no response at all.

The white officer nodded to the manager who came up and unlocked the door, then stepped aside to let the police be the first to enter. He and Jack followed the two officers inside.

Lights were on, though there was nobody home. The place had obviously been searched, and rather thoroughly. Every drawer and closet had been opened, furniture moved and sometimes overturned. The officers told Jack and the manager to stay where they were and made a quick tour of the apartment, guns drawn.

When they came back they asked Jack to describe the man he’d seen. They asked the manager about Emily, known visitors, and known habits, but he was of little help. Then they ushered Jack and the manager out of the apartment. While the white officer remained behind, the black officer escorted them down to the lobby again, so he could call in a report from his squad car.

On the way down the officer took Jack’s name, address, phone, and inquired about his relationship with Emily.

“Can you let me know when you find anything out?” Jack asked as they walked through the lobby to the front door. “She may need some emergency therapy as a consequence of this.”

“There should be no problem about that,” the officer said.

“There’s something else,” Jack said, as they went out to the street and over to the patrol car. “I don’t know if there’s any connection, but there might be.” He then told the officer about the phone call he’d received from Emily.

“We’ll check it out,” the officer said. He reached into the car and took out the microphone.

There was nothing more for Jack to do.

File Three: Tuesday Morning

Jack got to his office shortly before nine the next morning. His secretary, Mrs. McKinley, had coffee waiting as usual.

“Your first appointment’s at ten,” she said, handing him a cup.

“Fine. Has Miss Velasquez called?”

“No, is something wrong?”

“I’m afraid there is,” Jack said, and told her about what had happened last night.

“That sounds very bad,” Mrs. McKinley said, tapping her toes under her desk. “Does her family know?”

“Nothing to say until we find out more from the police.

I’m going to call them right now. “

He went into his personal office and after checking the folders Mrs. McKinley had placed on his desk, had her put the call through. He identified himself to the officer who answered and asked if they had come up with anything yet.

“We’re looking into it,” the sergeant said, “but we don’t have much to go on. She could have messed up the apartment herself, or the man you reported seeing there could have done it, but we have no evidence one way or another. She hasn’t been missing for twenty-four hours yet, so we can’t officially declare her a missing person.”

“I would think that an intruder in her apartment would indicate that she hasn’t just walked off,” Jack said, exasperated by the sergeant’s apparent lack of interest.

“Well, sir, we have only your word for that. Nobody saw a man such as you described going up to that floor, and none of the neighbors saw or heard anything suspicious between the time you say Miss Velasquez called and the time the officers arrived on the scene.”

“That doesn’t mean the man wasn’t there.”

“No, sir, but we have no reason yet to believe that the situation is serious. There are a lot more pressing problems to be handled, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“I think,” Jack said, struggling to keep his voice even, “that there’s every reason to assume that the problem is indeed serious.”

“I’m sorry, sir, we’ve got murders, robberies, muggings, dope dealers, black marketeers, God knows what. We’ll get to Miss Velasquez just as soon as we can.”

“All right,” Jack said stiffly. “You have my number, please keep me informed.”

“We’ll do that,” the sergeant said and hung up.

Jack sat staring at his office door for a long moment, bringing his anger under control. It was true that there was more crime in Freeport than the police could handle, but most of the time they didn’t seem any too enthusiastic about handling it. That didn’t help his worries, however.

He had Mrs. McKinley call Emily’s apartment. There was no answer. Then he had her put a call through to Emily’s office. The familiar voice of Joyce Higgins, Emily’s secretary whom Jack had never met, answered.

“Hello, I called last night and left a message on your answering machine.”

“I’m sorry, sir, we got a lot of messages last night. Which one was yours?”

“I was calling from the Escapades, where I was supposed to meet Emily. She —” a tiny crackling sounded on the line. “Sorry,” be went on, “there’s some static. Emily was supposed to —” the crackling came again, only this time he knew what it was, a poorly installed bug.

He felt the hair on his arms rise up as he hung up without further word. He was grateful that he hadn’t identified himself. Emily could have installed a recording tap herself, but after her call and disappearance Jack doubted that that was the case. He didn’t remember hearing any similar bug-static when Emily had called yesterday evening. Somebody else had put that bug there, someone who wanted to know more about Emily’s business than he had any right to know. And that implied that Emily hadn’t just wandered off, but had been abducted.

But if that were the case, there had to be a reason, and whatever that was, the people who had Emily hadn’t been able to learn what they wanted from her herself. Had they killed her?

He wished Emily had felt free to tell him more about the conspiracy she had feared. He didn’t know what to do next. He thought about calling the police again, but the sergeant’s lack of enthusiasm and interest in the case put him off.

Before he could work himself up into a real state, his intercom came on and Mrs. McKinley announced his first client. Ten o’clock already? It was. Jack composed himself and prepared to deal with Mrs. Atchison’s drinking problem.

After Mrs. Atchison left, Mrs. McKinley came in, coffee cup in hand, to tell him that both his eleven o’clock and one o’clock appointments had been canceled. “What did the police say about Miss Velasquez?” she finished.

“They’re too busy to look into it now,” he said bitterly, glancing at the folders on his desk.

“I can’t believe that,” Mrs. McKinley said.

“Well, that’s the gist of what they told me,” Jack answered. The two patients who had canceled had both been complaining of Alien Anxiety Syndrome. “What reason did they give for canceling?” he asked, holding up the folders.

“Mr. Brown said he just felt a lot better, and Mr. Clancey said it didn’t seem worth the trouble anymore. If I were you, I’d call the police back and demand an explanation.”

“If Miss Velasquez doesn’t show up by seven thirty tonight, I will. Right now I’m going to her office, to see if anybody there has any answers.”

“You could call —”

“Her phone’s been bugged.” He got up and got ready to leave. “I’ll be back at two,” he told Mrs. McKinley, and left her standing there with her mouth open.

Emily’s offices were decorated with the strong colors, patterned rugs, and textured fabrics that were the hallmark of the David Hicks school. The secretary, Joyce Higgins, was a startling contrast, a tall young woman who wore bright, clinging dresses and shoulder-length brown hair. Jack introduced himself and Joyce smiled in recognition.

“Emily’s talked a lot about you,” she said, “but I’m afraid she’s not in right now.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Jack said. “Look, I called a little earlier this morning and hung up rather abruptly. I —” “Oh, was that you? I thought it might have been. That static was terrible.”

“It wasn’t static, it was a bug. I —”

“I don’t understand.”

“Somebody has put a tap on your phone line. The best thing to do is to report it to the phone company and have them come out and —”

“That’s terrible, who would want to listen in on our calls?”

“I don’t know, but I suspect it might be whoever is responsible for Emily not meeting me last night.” He went on — with frequent interruptions from Joyce — to explain about Emily’s call, not showing, and the business at the apartment. “I was hoping,” he finished, “that she might have gotten in touch with you here.”

“No, Dr. Page, she hasn’t. This is terrible. Emily didn’t come in yesterday at all, and we were beginning to worry because of this big new contract she was trying to land.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“Friday afternoon. Shouldn’t we call the police?”

“I have, but I’m not holding my breath. I figure I’d better do a little investigating myself.”

“I think you’d better talk with Marvin,” Joyce said, getting up from behind her desk. She led him through the conference lounge to a small private office at one side.

Marvin Dahlgren, Emily’s partner, was in his late thirties, very blond, with heavy-lidded eyes in a long face and a slender but muscular build. He wore slacks, a gray blazer, and a dark brown shirt with no tie. When he got up from the drafting table at which he was working, he proved to be a good six feet tall. He did not seem very happy to see Jack.

“This is Dr. Page,” Joyce said by way of introduction. “He thinks something may have happened to Emily.”

“Indeed,” Dahlgren said. He did not offer to shake hands. “And how did you come to that conclusion?”

Jack explained briefly. Dahlgren listened, strangely suspicious.

“Im sure,” Dahlgren said when Jack had finished, “that we’re all very concerned about Emily’s whereabouts, but isn’t looking for her yourself a bit beyond your responsibility?”

“Perhaps,” Jack said, “but the police don’t seem eager to take an active interest, and as I am her therapist, I felt I had to do something.”

“A purely professional interest, I’m sure.” Dahlgren turned away, went to his desk, and sat down.

“There was a man in Emily’s apartment last night,” Jack went on. “If it was a friend of hers, then fine, but he denied knowing her, indeed intimated that it wasn’t her apartment at all. Perhaps you might know him.” He described the man as best he could.

“Means nothing to me,” Dahlgren said, not meeting Jack’s eyes. “Are you accustomed to visiting your ‘clients’ in their homes?”

“What’s the matter with you, Dahlgren? I’m Emily’s therapist. She called me for help. When she didn’t show up at the Escapades, I called her apartment, and called here, and then went there to see if she was all right, or leave a message. What would you have me do, just pass if off as unworthy of attention, as the police seem to have done?”

“I’m sorry Dr. Page, but I don’t know you, and I don’t know that Emily is missing, only that she’s not here nor at her home.”

“Where else might she be, then? I believe she called me from home. Where might she have gone afterwards, given that she was intending to meet me at seven thirty?”

“I really couldn’t say. She was busy all day yesterday with fabric designers. Maybe she had other appointments to keep.”

“That hardly seems likely. Look, Dahlgren, I’m only trying to help. When did you see her last?”

“Saturday afternoon, here in the office. It’s not unusual for either of us to work on weekends. I had to do some paperwork on the Stafford Hotel account, and Emily was developing some film I think.”

“Did she seem at all upset then? Anxious? Afraid?”

“No, she didn’t. She was enthusiastic about the pictures she’d taken Friday evening. I don’t know what they were of.”

“Emily told me something about a big contract she was trying to land,” Jack said, and watched as Dahlgren, who had begun to relax, got stiff again. “Did those pictures have anything to do with that?”

“The pictures, as far as I know, had nothing to do with the contract.”

“Look, there has to be a reason why she didn’t just immediately go to the Escapades. The only thing I can think of is this contract, whatever it is. Could she have gone there for any reason?”

“How should I know? She had an appointment with Vanessa Carpentier Sunday evening, but you say you’ve spoken to her since then.”

“This Carpentier is the one with the decorating job?”

“Yes, dammit, what do you think?” Dahlgren got up from his desk, shoved his hands in his pockets, and paced between his chair and the drafting table. “Look, Page, this is a complete redecoration, a big job, lots of money, and a boost to om: reputation. I can’t just go tossing out information that might hurt us. ”

“You can’t afford to withold information that might help us find out what happened to Emily and why. I’d like to talk with this Vanessa Carpentier, how can I get in touch with her?”

“All I know is that her offices are in the Delmark Building.”

“That’s all? You’re Emily’s partner. If this contract is as important as you say, as Emily has led me to believe, surely You have talked with Carpentier yourself.”

“No, l haven’t. First, I’m busy with other work. Second, Emily wanted to handle this herself. I’ll help out if we get the contract, of course, but I really don’t know much about

“All right,” Jack said. He turned to go. “I’ll let you know if I find out anything.”

“I’d appreciate it,” Dahlgren said.

*  *  *  *  *