Read Pearl Cove Online

Authors: Elizabeth Lowell

Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Romance, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Contemporary, #Western

Pearl Cove

Donovans 3 - Pearl Cove
Donovans 3 - Pearl Cove

Donovans 3 - Pearl Cove Lowell, Elizabeth

For my sister Susan Mills always there for me always a pleasure Errors, like straws, upon
the surface flow; He who would search for pearls must dive below. DRYDEN

Donovans 3 - Pearl Cove
Prologue

Those are pearls that were his eyes.

SHAKESPEARE

The sky was violent over the southern sea. There was no horizon, no center, no boundary to
the onrushing storm. Heat lay over the land like an invisible, burning shadow of the sun.

Humidity stuck to the mans naked chest as he unlocked the door to the pearl sorting shed,
entered, punched a code into the security panel, and relocked the steel door behind him.
Even though he had just tossed out the sorters on the pretext of a random security check,
it would quickly become murderously hot inside. In a metal-roofed building,
air-conditioning didnt last long after the switch was thrown to off, but that was the
first thing he did after entering his security code.

He didnt enjoy sweating. It was simply that when the air-conditioning was running, he
couldnt hear the sound of the door opening or footsteps sneaking up behind his back. So he
flipped a different switch and settled for the small comfort of ceiling fans. Overhead,
metal sliced like slow mixing blades through the sullen air. He could have opened
steel-shuttered windows to let light and air flow through the shed, hut he didnt. The last
thing he wanted was to be spied on by any of the eager employees.

Everybody was dying to know where he hid his hoard of magnificent pearls.

Automatically he wiped sweat off his face and arms and hands with a cotton towel. Only
then did he approach the sorting tables. Beneath full-spectrum lights, gleaming sea gems
lay in tidy rows and inviting mounds. The pearls begged to be touched, stroked, savored,
caressed.

Worshiped.

But not by sweaty hands. Pearls were the most delicate of all gems. The oils and acids of
human sweat ate away the thin, smooth layers the captive oyster had so patiently,
mindlessly, created to mask an internal wound. Careless handling dulled the fabled orient
of pearls, dimmed the subtle ribbons of dawn dancing just beneath the satin surface, just
out of reach. Like a dream. Like a miracle.

Just out of reach. Always.

But man reached. Always.

Four thousand years before Christ, man collected, treasured, revered, and wondered about
the gleaming miracles from the sea. Born of thunder, conceived in mist, impregnated by
moonlight, tears of the gods... all explanations for the pearls origin shimmered with the
transcendent mystery of the pearl itself.

Barbarous or civilized, savage or aesthetic, few cultures had been proof against the
pearls allure. It was the most perfect of all gems, for it needed no cutting, no
polishing, nothing but mans recognition. And greed. Believed to embody both the carnal and
the sublime, pearls adorned the altars of Venus and the reliquaries of saints. Dissolved
in wine, pearls cured diseases of the flesh. Buried with the dead, pearls celebrated the
wealth of the living. Worn by kings, priests, emperors, sultans, and sorcerers, pearls
were a signal of absolute power.

Whoever owned pearls owned magic.

Magic lay all around him, trays and mounds of miracles gleaming, pregnant with all
possibilities. The gap between modern rationality and Stone Age awe was as thin as a layer
of nacre spread over the glowing ocean gems.

BROOME, AUSTRALIA November

Surely in the midst of all these miracles, another one was possible....

Slowly he went past the virginal white, shimmering gold, and peacock black of the South
Sea pearls that keen-eyed sorters had been matching for size, color, and degrees of
perfection. None of the pearls on the tables interested him. He had been the one to do the
first sort, at harvest, when he creamed two years of work, taking only the best. When a
man made offerings to gods or devils, only the best would do.

As he moved toward the twin steel doors that went from floor to ceiling at the end of the
shed, the whisper of hard rubber gliding over the tile floor followed him wherever he
went. He no more noticed it than a walking man would notice the soft sound of his shoes on
a floor.

Though this second set of doors led nowhere, another combination lock guarded them; behind
their steel lay a treasure like no other on earth. He released the lock and pushed the
doors wide. The lockers inside the vault were deep, protecting tray after tray of pearls,
the riches of other seasons, other harvests. Each locker had a hefty steel handle and a
tumbler lock of the type popular on low-tech personal safes. The tropical climate was hell
on fancy electronics. Behind the locker doors lay tray after tray of pearls, enough wealth
to make a saint covetous.

Even though he knew he was alone, he couldnt help looking over his shoulder again. Again,
nothing was there but the long shadow of his own suspicions. He turned back to the vault.

Now came the difficult part. Everybody knew that he could no longer come to his feet
without help; therefore, he couldnt reach higher than a sitting mans head. No one would
believe that he could get to the top lockers by himself.

When they searched in darkness for his cache of pearls, they always looked low, not high.

With a grim smile he wiped his hands again, reached up, and grabbed the highest handle he
could. His legs might be pipestems, but his arms and shoulders were heavily muscled. He
dragged himself up the ten-foot-high wall of lockers in a series of one-armed chin-ups.
Once his hand slipped on its own sweat. Before he caught himself, the odd stainless steel
ring he wore on his right index finger clanged and scraped steel. The fine scratches
blended with many others, silent testimony to the number of times he had climbed this very
personal mountain.

Breathing hard, he grabbed the handle of the top center locker with one hand and worked
its combination with the other. A latch gave way somewhere at the back, toward the wall.
Click. Click. Then, slowly, a final click.

Quickly he let himself down the cabinet until he could take the weight off his arms. Then
he grabbed two handles at random and gave them simultaneous yanks.

The front of the bank of lockers shifted. Slowly, with elephantine grace, a thick steel
panel swung open on concealed pivots. The lower lockers werent quite as deep as they
seemed from the front. Behind them, cut into the vault itself, lay a series of narrow,
shallow, locked drawers. He fitted the spiky steel edges of his oyster ring into the holes
at the front of the left-hand drawer, turned, and pulled gently.

The drawer slid out.

For the first time he hesitated. Looking quickly over his shoulder to assure himself that
he was still alone, he pulled a long, flat jewelers case from the drawer. With the
reverence of a priest taking communion, he opened the case.

The Black Trinity glowed against velvet the color of dawn.

Though he had seen it many times, the unstrung triple necklace made his heart squeeze and
his breathing quicken. Undrilled, untouched, as natural as the day he had eased them
gently from their cool, slippery wombs, the pearls were like no other on earth.

Each pearl came from a genetically singular strain of Pearl Cove oysters. The result was a
black pearl with unique orient, utterly distinct from the familiar Tahitian gems. The
harvest from Pearl Coves special oysters resembled a black opal as much as a pearl.

That difference alone would have made the triple necklace recklessly valuable. But the
Black Trinity was value piled on value, rarity on rarity. Each strand was made up of a
single size of pearl. The shortest necklace held twelve-millimeter pearls. The second,
longer necklace, had fourteen-millimeter pearls. The third and longest strand was made up
of incomparable sixteen-millimeter gems. Each pearl was round. None had any obvious
imperfections. The color match between pearls in each strand was very, very close, which
added immeasurably to the worth of the necklace as a whole.

Yet it wasnt wealth that had urged the man to claw hand over hand up a steel wall. Nor did
beauty goad him. Like a medieval alchemist or a bloody penitent, he was driven by the hope
of transcendence. A miracle. Something unspeakably valuable replacing the ordinary dross
of life.

He opened drawer after drawer, scanned the oddly radiant black pearls within, compared
them to the Black Trinity, and moved on to the next drawer and then the next and the next
until none remained.

Frowning, he glanced from the shimmering Black Trinity to the last drawer of Pearl Coves
unique midnight-and-rainbow gems. No matter how closely he looked, none of the new harvest
offered a better match or a more perfect pearl for the triple strands than any of the gems
already chosen.

A chill went through him, a panic darker than the blackest pearl. The Black Trinity was
complete.

But he was not.

No! It needs better eyes, thats all. Her eyes, damn her. Damn her to hell for her strong
legs and unnatural eyes.

For seven years he had needed her almost as much as he hated her. He would have to take
the new harvest to her and watch in seething impotence while her profane fingers handled
his most sacred prayers.

Outside, the storm struck with the casual savagery of a beast whose womb had been a
cauldron of warm water as big as an ocean. Lights dimmed and brightened, then dimmed
again. It was early for the monsoons battering storms, but the graveyard in Broome was
filled with men who had drowned out of season in their quest for saltwater miracles.

Finally fuses melted and darkness fell inside the shed. Slowly the fans stopped turning.
There was no lag time for the alarms on the front door. They died as the lights had,
instantly.

The electronic lock on the outside door froze. Unless he used the interior manual release,
no one could get into the shed.

Just before rain battered on the metal roof like buckshot, drowning out the ground-shaking
thunder, he heard the sounds of metal gnawing at metal. He knew it was a chisel against
the hinges of the front door; he knew, because it was what he would have done.

Someone was out there, gnawing away at the barriers to the Black Trinity.

Quickly, working by touch alone, he replaced the jewelers case and closed up the trays of
less worthy but still priceless rainbow pearls. In his haste, he wrenched one tray free of
its tracks. Exquisite black rainbows flew in every direction. There was no time to go
after them, for he would have to drag himself over the floor like a snake. Swearing
viciously, he jammed the empty tray back in, swung the heavy panel into place, and closed
up the highest tier of lockers, the ones he wasnt supposed to be able to reach.

He didnt close up the rest of the vault. Instead, he began flinging pearls from the lower
locker trays onto the floor of the shed. When the middle tier of lockers was empty, he
went on to the lowest tier. He emptied those trays, too, scattering pearls like ball
bearings in all directions.

After he emptied the lockers, he left them open, like square tongues sticking out of the
smooth face of the vault. Nor did he close the vault itself. He wanted whoever was hacking
his way into the shed to believe that Pearl Coves treasure lay undefended at his feet.

When he was finished, he grabbed a piece of discarded oyster shell, went into the deepest
pool of darkness he could find, and worked on the shell until he had a pointed fragment as
long as his hand. Then

he did the only thing left for a man in a wheelchair to do. He waited.

Donovans 3 - Pearl Cove
One

Like grains of sand grinding inside the oyster, Like pearls being formed from the grains;
Still waiting, though in unbearable patience Still believing, though almost in disbelief.
ZHOU LIANGPEI

Archer Donovan wasnt easily surprised. It was a hangover from his previous line of work
when surprised men often ended up dead. Yet the unique, peacock-and-rainbow radiance of
the teardrop black pearl Teddy Yamagata was holding out did more than surprise Archer. It
shocked him. He hadnt seen a black pearl with such color for seven years.

That particular pearl had been clutched in a dead mans hand. Or nearly dead. Archer had
fought his way through the riot in time to pull his half brother out of the mess and get
him to a hospital in another, safer place.

Long ago, far away, in another country.

Thank God.

Archer had done everything in his power to bury that part of his past. Years later he
still was shoveling. But he had learned the hard way that no matter how determined he was,
his previous undercover life had a nasty habit of popping up and casting shadows on his
present civilian life. The proof of it was gleaming on the palm of Hawaiis foremost pearl
collector and trader.

Teddy wasnt in Hawaii now. He had flown to Seattle with a case full of special pearls to
show Archer. The extraordinary black pearl was one of them.

Unusual color, Archer said neutrally.

Peering through the thick, blended lenses of his glasses, Teddy measured the expression of
the man who was a sometime competitor in the pearl trade, an occasional client, and an
invariably reliable appraiser. If Archer was particularly interested in the tear-shaped
black pearl, nothing showed on his face. He could have been looking at a picture of Teddys
grandchildren.

You must be a helluva poker player, Teddy said. Are we playing poker? Youve got your game
face on. At least I think you do. Hard to tell under all that fur.

Absently Archer rubbed his hand against his cheek. He had given up shaving several months
ago. He still wasnt quite certain why. One morning he just had picked up his razor, looked
at it as though it was a remnant of the Spanish Inquisition, and dropped the blade in the
trash. The fact that it was six years to the day since he had quit working for Uncle Sam
might have had something to do with it. Whatever, his beard had grown into a short black
continuation of his short black hair.

And if there were a few gray hairs among the black, tough. The dead didnt age. Only the
living did. Must be hot when you go to Tahiti, Teddy said. Its always hot there. I meant
the beard.

I never sent it to Tahiti.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON November

Teddy abandoned subtlety and tried the in-your-face approach. What do you think of the
pearl?

South Sea, maybe fourteen millimeters, teardrop, unblemished surface, fine orient.

Fine? Teddy hooted. His black eyes nearly vanished into lines of laughter. Its goddamn
spectacular and you know it! Its like... like...

Molten rainbows under black ice.

Teddys thin black eyebrows shot up and he pounced. You do like it.

Archer shrugged. I like a lot of pearls. Its a weakness of mine.

In my dreams youre weak. Whats the pearl worth?

Whatever you can get for it. Archers cool, gray-green glance stopped Teddys immediate
protest. What do you really want to know?

What the damn things worth, he said, exasperated. Youre the best, most honest judge of
pearls that I know.

Where did you get it?

From a man who got it from a woman who got it from a man in Kowloon, who supposedly got it
from someone in Tahiti. Ive looked for that man for six months. Teddy shook his head
emphatically. Hes not there. But if you buy the pearl, Ill give you the names.

Are there more? I was hoping you could tell me. Ill bet you were.

Archer looked at the stainless steel space-age clock his father had brought back from
Germany and placed in the front room of the series of suites that were the Donovan family
residence in downtown Seattle.

Two oclock in Seattle. Wednesday afternoon. Autumn closing in on winter.

Where the black pearl had come from, it was early morning. Thursday. Spring closing in on
summer.

What went wrong, Len? Archer asked silently. Why, after seven years, are you selling your
unique Pearl Cove gems?

He looked at the radiant black gem, but it had no answers for him except the one he
already knew seven years ago, his half brother, Len McGarry, had mixed the undercover
life with one too many shady deals. It had nearly killed him. It had certainly maimed him.

Archer was one of three people on earth who knew that Len had discovered the secret of how
to culture extraordinary black pearls from Australias South Sea oysters. But Len had
refused to sell even one of the thousands upon thousands of black gems Pearl Cove must
have produced in seven years.

Yet here was one of those gems: beautiful black ghost of the past.

Part of Archer, the part that stubbornly refused to bow to bleak reality, whispered that
maybe Teddys pearl was a sign that something had gone right, not wrong. Maybe Len was
finally healing in his mind, if not his body. Maybe he was beginning to understand that no
matter how many glorious South Sea pearls he hoarded, he was still the same man.

Linked with the thought of Len came unwelcome memories of Hannah McGarry, Lens once
innocent, always alluring wife. Alluring to Archer, at least. Too much so. He had seen her
only twice in ten years. He could recall each moment with brutal clarity.

She was like the black pearl, unique. And like the pearl, she hadnt the least idea of her
own beauty, her own worth.

When he had showed up with her broken, bleeding husband in his arms and told her she had
two minutes to pack, she didnt faint or argue. She simply grabbed blankets, medicine, and
her purse. It had taken less than ninety seconds. Their flight out of hell had taken a lot
longer. He was bleeding over the

controls of the small plane he flew and seeing double from the concussion he got fighting
his way through to Len.

Hannah hadnt said a word the whole time. She sat in the copilot seat and mopped blood out
of his eyes, ignoring the blood that welled from her lower lip where she had bitten
through skin to keep from screaming her own fear.

Automatically Archer shoved Hannah McGarry from his mind. He wasnt the kind to yearn for
what he would never have. Hannah was married. For Archer, marriage family was one of the
few things left in the modern world that had meaning. Old-fashioned of him, even mulish,
but there it was. The twenty-first century was big enough to have room for everyone, even
unfashionable throwbacks.

So you dont think this is a Tahitian pearl? Archer asked almost idly.

What makes you say that?

Youre asking questions in Seattle, not Tahiti. Either you ran into a dead end there, or
you already know where the pearl came from and want to know if I know, too.

Teddy sighed. If I knew where it came from and how to get more, I wouldnt be wasting time
talking to you. Im here because Im tired of banging my head into walls. As for Tahiti,
none of the suppliers and farmers Ive talked with admit to seeing this pearl or one like
it before. Ever. And its not the type of gem a man would forget.

Unique, fascinating, never the same twice. Like Hannah McGarry. The thought came and went
from Archers mind with the quickness of the colors sliding just beneath the surface of
Teddys amazing black pearl.

What are you asking for it? Archer said, surprising both of them.

Whatll you give me?

Not as much as you want. You cant match the pearls color, so the usual kinds of jewelry
wont work. Maybe one of my sisters Faith, most likely could design an interesting
setting for it as a brooch or a pendant, but then the artistry and workmanship rather than
the pearl would become the true value. I d be paying Faith, not you.

Teddy didnt argue the point. Though cultured by man, pearls werent mechanically produced:
it still took an oyster to make a pearl. Being a natural, organic product, relatively few
pearls matched well enough to be combined in jewelry. Lining up pearls for a necklace was
like lining up a thousand redheads to match nineteen. Once you got past the superficial
similarity, the differences came screaming through.

It could be a ring, Teddy said after a moment.

It could, but not many people would spend thousands of dollars on a ring whose
irreplaceable centerpiece could be ruined by a careless motion of a womans hand. Or a mans.

The Hawaiian grumbled. Your pearl is big, Archer continued, but not nearly big enough to
interest high-end collectors or

museums. They already have black pearls twice that size. Round black pearls. But the
luster, Teddy protested. And have you ever seen a pearl with half the color? Its like a

black opal!

Archer had seen one pearl that put Teddys in the shade, but all he said was, Yes, the
orient is lovely. To someone who collects unusual pearls

Like you, Teddy cut in. this one would be worth perhaps three thousand American. Three?
Try twenty! You try it. I wouldnt pay more than five. Bad joke. Its worth at least fifteen
and you know it. Archer looked at his watch. He had a few hours before he had to help his
sister Faith close her little

shop in Pioneer Square. Though it didnt look like much from the outside, his sisters store
carried a multimillion-dollar inventory of international gems and one-of-a-kind jewelry.
Normally one of the guards from Donovan International escorted Faith and her stock to and
from the Donovan vaults. Today it was Archers job. In the past her useless live-in
boyfriend, Tony, had guarded her, but to the great relief of the Donovans, Faith recently
had rubbed the fairy dust out of her eyes and dumped him.

What else do you have to show me? Archer asked.

Teddy looked at the tall American, measured the steely green of his eyes, and put the
pearl back into its small velvet box with a sigh. I keep hoping for a free lunch.

Archer smiled. Its part of your charm, Teddy. That and your relative honesty. Relative! he
yelped. Relative to what? If I knew the answer, you would be, in effect, completely honest.

The short, thickset man frowned. It wasnt the first time he hadnt been able to follow the
other mans baroque mental twists.

Hungry? Archer asked.

Teddy smacked his stomach with a broad palm. Though hefty, his belly was more muscle than
flab. I m always hungry.

Bring your case to the kitchen. Ill scrape up a sandwich for you. While you eat, Ill look
over the rest of the goods.

Thanks.

No problem. Ill take lunch off the price of whatever I buy. If I buy.

Laughing, Teddy followed Archer through the living room into the condos large,
lemon-yellow kitchen. A view of Seattles muscular waterfront filled the corner windows of
the room. Out in Elliot Bay, huge container ships from all over the Pacific Rim waited at
anchor for their turn to be unloaded by cranes that crouched like immense orange insects
along the docks. Ferries churned among the mammoth commercial ships, leaving white wakes.
Herded by a brisk southeast wind, low clouds trailed veils of rain over the dark gray
water.

Nice view, Teddy said. But dont you get tired of the rain?

Think of it as a moat protecting the city.

Teddy blinked, opened his mouth, and closed it again. Then he shook his head and laughed.

Archer waited until Teddy was wedged into the breakfast alcove with a beer in one hand and
a thick cheese sandwich in the other before he angled the conversation back to the pearl
dealers recent travels.

Because somewhere along the way, Teddy had found one of Lens black beauties.

Did Sam Chang have any special pearls to sell? Archer asked.

Teddy made a muffled sound, swallowed, and said, That son of a bitch. Owns two thirds of
the Tahitian pearl farms and acts like hes selling off his first son at every harvest.
Prices the goods like it,

too.

Golden Rule, Archer said, popping the cap off one of the local microbrews. He has the
gold, he makes the rules.

Japan is going to bust his ass. Hes crowding their sales monopoly too hard. Great cheese
what is it?

Gorgonzola with pesto. What about the smaller pearl farmers? Eyebrows raised, Teddy looked
at the sandwich. Nothings changed. They still line up like milk cows.

Surprising. Aussies are even more contrary than Americans.

Oh, there are some holdouts, Teddy said, waving the ragged remnant of his sandwich. But
theyre being squeezed down to the bone by the consortium. Their shelling licenses are
being cut, theyre not given the results of the latest government research until long after
their competitors have it, their pearls end up in the doggy lots at the auctions. That
sort of thing.

Whos their leader? Archer asked, though he knew very well. Just as he knew more than Teddy
did about who was doing what and with which and to whom in the international pearl trade.
But a man who stopped asking questions never learned anything new.

Len McGarry, Teddy said, downing the last bite of his sandwich. I gotta tell you, that is
one mean bastard. Whatever put him in that wheelchair might have cut off his balls, but it
didnt soften him up one bit.

For an instant Archer saw again the terrible image of Len covered in blood, broken, lying
utterly motionless in the aisle of the small plane. The memory was one that could still
awaken Archer from a deep sleep, covered in sweat and hearing whimpers of pain echoing in
the silence. Some of the sounds were his own.

Rumor is that hes sitting on at least five years worth of the best pearls, Teddy said. His
own, some other farms, and maybe a few of the Tahitian farmers on the sly.

Archer had heard about that, too. He believed at least part of it. For the past five
years, Pearl Coves balance sheets had been sinking like a stone in still water. Either the
oysters had stopped producing pearls reliably or Len was holding out. As half owner,
Archer should have cared. He didnt. Whatever Len squeezed out of the ruins of his dreams
was fine with his silent partner. Money was the least of Archers problems with his half
brother.

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