Long Lost Page 44

’’Two daughters.’’

’’This is my son, Regina. You can call security if you want. But I\'m not leaving my son alone.’’

I wanted to protest, but then again I didn\'t. The nurse turned and left. She didn\'t call security. My father stayed all night in that chair next to my bed. He refilled my water cup and adjusted my blanket. When I cried out in my sleep, he shushed me and stroked my forehead and told me that everything would be okay and for a few seconds, I believed him.

24

WIN called first thing in the morning.

’’Go to work,’’ Win said. ’’Ask no questions.’’

Then he hung up. Sometimes Win really pisses me off.

My father ran down to a bagel store across the street because the hospital breakfast resembled something monkeys fling at you in a zoo. The doctor stopped by while he was gone and gave me a clean bill of health. Yes, I had indeed been shot. The bullet had passed through my right side, above the hip. But it had been properly treated.

’’Would it have required a sixteen-day hospital stay?’’ I asked.

The doctor looked at me funny, at the fact that I had just sort of shown up at the hospital unconscious, a gunshot-wound victim, now mumbling about sixteen days and I\'m sure he was sizing me up for a psych visit.

’’Hypothetically speaking,’’ I quickly added, remembering Win\'s warning. Then I stopped asking questions and started nodding a lot.

Dad stayed with me through checkout. Esperanza had left my suit in the closet. I put it on and felt physically pretty good. I wanted to hire a taxi, but Dad insisted on driving. He used to be a great driver. In my childhood he would have that easy way about him on the road, whistling softly with the radio, steering with his wrists. Now the radio stayed off. He squinted at the road and hit the brake a lot more.

When we got to the Lock-Horne Building on Park Avenue again Win\'s full name is Windsor Horne Lockwood III, so you do the math Dad said, ’’You want me to just drop you off?’’

Sometimes my father leaves me awestruck. Fatherhood is about balance, but how can one man do it so well, so effortlessly? Throughout my life he pushed me to excel without ever crossing the line. He reveled in my accomplishments yet never made them seem to be all that important. He loved without condition, yet he still made me want to please him. He knew, like now, when to be there, and when it was time to back off.

’’I\'ll be okay.’’

He nodded. I kissed the rough skin on his cheek again, noticing the sag now, and got out of the car. The elevator opens up directly into my office. Big Cyndi was at her desk, wearing something that looked like it\'d been ripped off Bette Davis after shooting the climactic beach scene in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? There were pigtails in her hair. Big Cyndi is, well, big as I said before, north of six five and three hundred pounds everywhere. She has big hands and big feet and a big head. The furniture around her always looks like Toys ’’R’’ Us specials built for toddlers, an almost Alice-in-Wonderland effect where the room and all its belongings seem to shrink around her.

She rose when she saw me, nearly toppling her own desk, and exclaimed, ’’Mr. Bolitar!’’

’’Hey, Big Cyndi.’’

She gets mad when I call her ’’Cyndi’’ or, uh, ’’Big.’’ She insists on formalities. I am Mr. Bolitar. She is Big Cyndi, which, by the way, is her real name. She had it legally changed more than a decade ago.

Big Cyndi crossed the room with an agility that belied the bulk. She wrapped me in an embrace that made me feel as if I\'d been mummified in wet attic insulation. In a good way.

’’Oh, Mr. Bolitar!’’

She started sniffling, a sound that brought images of moose mating on the Discovery Channel.

’’I\'m fine, Big Cyndi.’’

’’But someone shot you!’’

Her voice changed depending on her mood. When she first worked here, Big Cyndi didn\'t talk, preferring to growl. Clients complained, but not to her face and usually anonymously. Right now Big Cyndi\'s pitch was high and little-girlish, which frankly was a hell of a lot scarier than any growl.

’’I shot him worse,’’ I said.

She let go of me and giggled, covering her mouth with a hand the approximate size of a truck tire. The giggling echoed through the room, and all over the tristate area, small children were reaching up and grabbing their mommies\' hands.

Esperanza came to the door. Back in the day, Esperanza and Big Cyndi had been tag-team wrestling partners for FLOW, the Fabulous Ladies of Wrestling. The federation had originally wanted to call themselves ’’Beautiful’’ instead of ’’Fabulous’’ but the network balked at the ensuing acronym.

Esperanza, with her dark skin and looks that could best be described as they often were by the panting wrestling announcers as ’’succulent,’’ played Little Pocahontas, the lithe beauty who was winning on skill before the bad guys would cheat and take advantage of her. Big Cyndi was her partner, Big Chief Mama, who rescued her so that they could, together and with the roar of the crowd, vanquish the scantily clad and implant-enhanced evildoers.

Entertaining stuff.

’’We got work,’’ Esperanza said, ’’and lots of it.’’

Our space was fairly small. We had this foyer and two offices, one for me, one for Esperanza. Esperanza had started here as my assistant or secretary or whatever the politically correct term for Girl Friday is. She\'d gone to law school at night and taken over as a full partner right around the time I freaked out and ran away with Terese to that island.

’’What did you tell the clients?’’ I asked.

’’You were in a car accident overseas.’’

I nodded. We headed into her office. The business was a bit in shambles after my most recent disappearance. There were calls to be made. I made them. We kept most of the clients, almost all, but there were a few who did not like the fact that they could not reach their agent for more than two weeks. I understood. This is a personal business. It involves a lot of hand-holding and ego stroking. Every client needs to feel as if they are the only one part of the illusion. When you\'re not there, even if the reasons are justified, the illusion vanishes.

I wanted to ask about Terese and Win and a million things, but I remembered the call from this morning. I worked. I just worked and I confess that it was therapeutic. I felt jittery and anxious for reasons I can\'t quite explain. I even bit my nails, something I hadn\'t done since I was in the fourth grade, and searched my body for scabs I could pick. Work somehow helped.

When I had a break, I did some Web searches for ’’Terese Collins’’ and ’’Rick Collins’’ and ’’Karen Tower.’’ First I did all three names. Nothing came up. Then I tried Terese alone. Very little, all of it old from her days at CNN. Someone still kept a Web site about ’’Terese the AnchorBabe,’’ complete with images, mostly head shots and video grabs from news shows, but it hadn\'t been updated in three years.


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