Long Lost Page 17

Nothing.

I was afraid to move now. The room was still, as though even the walls and furniture were holding their breath. I didn\'t mean to, but I took a step toward her. I wonder if that\'s part of comforting that it\'s often selfish, that the comforter often needs as much, if not more, than the comfortee.

’’Don\'t,’’ she said.

I stopped.

’’Please leave me alone,’’ she said. ’’Just for a little while, okay?’’

I nodded but she wasn\'t looking at me. ’’Sure,’’ I said, ’’whatever you need.’’

She didn\'t respond, but then again she had made her wishes pretty clear. So I moved to the door and let myself out.

9

I walked back out onto the Rue Dauphine, numb.

I turned left and found a spot where five streets met and sat at yet another outdoor cafécalled Le Buci. Normally I liked to people-watch, but it was hard to concentrate. I thought about Terese\'s life. I got it now. Rebuild your life so it looks like . . . what exactly?

I took out my cell, and because I knew it would distract me, I called my office. Big Cyndi picked it up on the second ring.

’’MB Reps.’’

The M stands for Myron. The B stands for Bolitar. The Reps is because we represent people. I came up with this name on my own and yet I managed to remain modest about my marketing skills. When we repped athletes only, I called the agency MB SportsReps. Now it is MB Reps. I will pause until the applause dies down.

’’Hmm,’’ I said. ’’Modern Madonna, complete with that British accent?’’

’’Bingo.’’

Big Cyndi could vocally impersonate nearly anyone or any accent. I say ’’vocally’’ because when a woman is north of six five and three hundred pounds, it is hard to get away with your killer Goldie Hawn impression in person.

’’Esperanza in?’’

’’Please hold.’’

Esperanza Diaz, still best known by her professional wrestling moniker Little Pocahontas, was my business partner. Esperanza picked up the phone and said, ’’You getting any?’’

’’No.’’

’’Then you better have a damn good reason for being there. You had meetings lined up for today.’’

’’Yeah, sorry about that. Look, I need you to dig up all you can on Rick Collins.’’

’’Who is he?’’

’’Terese\'s ex.’’

’’Man, you have the weirdest romantic rendezvous.’’

I told her what had happened. Esperanza went quiet and I knew why. She worries about me. Win is the rock. Esperanza is the heart. When I finished explaining, she said, ’’So right now Terese isn\'t a suspect?’’

’’I don\'t know for sure.’’

’’But it looks like a murder and a kidnapping or something?’’

’’I guess.’’

’’So I\'m not sure why you need to be involved. It isn\'t connected to her.’’

’’Of course it\'s connected.’’

’’How?’’

’’Rick Collins called her. He said it was urgent and it would change everything and now he\'s dead?’’

’’So what exactly do you plan on doing here? Hunt down his killer? Let that French cop do it. Either get some or get home.’’

’’Just do a little digging. That\'s all. Find out about the new wife and kid, okay?’’

’’Yeah, whatever. You care if I tell Win?’’

’’Nope.’’

’’\'Either get some or get home,\'’’ she said. ’’That\'s pretty good.’’

’’It should be a bumper sticker,’’ I said.

We hung up. So now what? Esperanza was right. This wasn\'t my business. If I could somehow help Terese, okay, maybe then this would make sense. But other than to keep her out of trouble on this other than making sure she didn\'t take the fall for a murder she didn\'t commit I couldn\'t see how I could help. Berleand was not the type to railroad her.

In my peripheral vision I saw someone sit next to me at the table.

I turned and saw a man with a stubble-covered shaved head. There were scars on the top of his skull. His skin was olive dark, and when he smiled I saw a gold tooth that matched the gold chain dangling from his neck, urban bling-bling style. Handsome probably, in a dangerous, bad-boy way. He wore a wifebeater white T under an unbuttoned gray short-sleeve shirt. His sweatpants were black.

’’Look under the table,’’ he said to me.

’’Are you going to show me your wee-wee?’’

’’Look or die.’’

His accent was not French something smoother and more refined. Nearly British or maybe Spanish, almost aristocratic. I tilted my chair back and looked. He was holding a gun on me.

I left my hands on the lip of the table and tried to keep my breath steady. My eyes lifted and met his. I checked the surroundings. There was a man with sunglasses standing on the corner for absolutely no reason, trying very hard to pretend that he wasn\'t watching us.

’’Listen to me or I will shoot you dead.’’

’’As opposed to alive?’’

’’What?’’

’’Shoot someone dead versus shoot someone alive,’’ I said. Then: ’’Never mind.’’

’’Do you see the green vehicle on the corner?’’

I did not far from the sunglassed man who was trying not to look at us. It looked like a minivan or something. Two men sat in the front. I memorized the license plate and began to plan my next move.

’’I see it.’’

’’If you don\'t want to be shot, follow my instructions exactly. We are going to get up slowly, and you are going to get in the back of the vehicle. You will not make a fuss ’’

And that was when I smashed the table into his face.

The moment he sat next to me I had started to consider the alternatives. Now I knew: This was a kidnapping. If I got into the vehicle, I would be cooked. Have you ever heard that when someone is missing the first forty-eight hours are most crucial? What they don\'t tell you maybe because it\'s so obvious is that every second that passes makes finding the victim that much less likely.

The same works here. If they get me in the car, the chance I will be found plummets. The moment I get up and start following him to the car, my odds diminish. He isn\'t expecting an early strike. He figures I\'m listening to him right now. I am a nonthreat. He is still working on his quasi-rehearsed speech.

So I work the element of surprise.

He had glanced away too, just for a second, to make sure the vehicle was still in place. That was all I needed. I already had my hands gripping the table. My leg muscles tightened. I exploded up like out of a power squat.


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