Full Scoop(6)

By: Janet Evanovich

Helms looked amused. "Right now you'll have to settle for being a hero. CNN is all over this thing. Everybody from Larry King to Anderson Cooper and Paula Zahn want an exclusive. They want you, Madden."

"I want Paula Zahn."

"They've sworn to protect your cover if you'd grant an interview."

"Not interested," Zack said, "but hey, I'd still like to have Paula sign my cast."

Helms leaned forward, clasping his hands together. "Look, I know this is bad timing, but the bureau could use some good publicity. Maybe we could work a deal. You agree to go on TV and make us look like heroes, and we give you something in return. We'll even let you have yours first since time is of the essence."

"I can't think of anything I want bad enough to agree to an interview where I'd have to sit in the dark and have my voice distorted so I sound like Darth Vader."

"Have you seen the news?"

"I've been sacked out. I'm on medical leave, remember?"

"Does the name Carl Lee Stanton ring a bell?"

Zack gave Helms his full attention. "What about him?"

"He's on the run, and we suspect he's headed to Beaumont, South Carolina, to pick up the stolen money. Plus, there's the old girlfriend who rejected him. I feel sure he'll pay her a visit, so she and her daughter could probably use some protection. I'd like to have an agent inside her house waiting."

Zack looked thoughtful. "Any other agents involved?" he asked.

"Not at the moment. The police are on it, of course," he added, "but I don't have a lot of confidence in those sworn to protect and serve in Beaumont. I plan to keep close tabs on the situation and pass on information as I get it." He paused. "I also have a close friend in Beaumont. He can get anything on anybody at any time because he doesn't have to jump through hoops and deal with red tape like we do."

Helms produced a folded sheet of paper from within his jacket and passed it to Zack. "This printout has all the facts. And this—" He handed Zack a business card. "My friend can be reached at this number. He can be trusted."

"Max Holt." Zack was impressed.

"There's a jet waiting at the airport, and a rental car in Beaumont, South Carolina. If you're interested," he added.

"I can be ready in an hour," Zack said.

* * * * *

It was coming up to one o'clock by the time Jamie returned to the office, having gone by the convention center after leaving Maggie's office so she could cover the Elvis convention. She found her receptionist/assistant editor/bossy office manager, Vera Bankhead, staring at a sheet of paper. Vera looked up, and the expression on her face stopped Jamie dead in her tracks. "What's wrong?"

"Bad news," Vera said. "From the Associated Press," she added. "Carl Lee Stanton has escaped."


"Here's the printout."

Jamie took the sheet of paper and quickly read the article. She looked at Vera. "What are we going to do?"

"Somebody has to warn her," Vera said. "You're her friend."

Jamie reread the article. Carl Lee Stanton had been bad news long before he'd robbed an ATM van and wounded the driver, then, two days later while on the run, killed an FBI agent. She could only imagine how dangerous he was after serving thirteen years of a life sentence at a Texas prison.

"Authorities think he's headed back to Beaumont where they suspect he hid the money before he was captured," Jamie read out loud, her expression deeply troubled.

Vera met her gaze. "We both know that's not the only thing he's after."

* * * * *

The front door opened and Maggie Davenport stepped inside the reception area of the Gazette. She found Jamie and Vera deep in conversation. They were clearly surprised to see her, and even though they gave her the usual smile, Maggie felt as though something were amiss.

"Am I interrupting anything?" she asked.

"Um, no," Jamie said, and Vera agreed.

"I need to run an ad," Maggie said. "I have to unload a goat."

"Goat?" Jamie repeated.

Maggie explained how she'd ended up with Butterbean. "The best part is she's free."

"Well, you've certainly come to the right place," Jamie said, trying to maintain a casual attitude. "Our specialty is finding homes for goats."

Vera nodded. "Like I always say, you can never have too many goats." The phone rang. "Why don't you take Maggie into your office and discuss the ad," Vera suggested. "That way you won't be disturbed."

Jamie nodded. "Good idea."

Maggie followed Jamie inside her office. She chuckled at the sight of Fleas, Jamie's lanky bloodhound, lying on his back in front of a window where light pooled from a partially raised Roman shade. Skin sagged from every body part, as though someone had zipped him up in an oversized doggy suit.