Long Lost Page 54

’’It would explain a lot,’’ Esperanza said.

’’Except I don\'t see how. Let\'s say Rick Collins did store his daughter Miriam\'s blood. So then what? He comes here, has it what? unfrozen, brings it to Paris, and it gets spilled on the floor when he\'s murdered?’’

’’No,’’ she said.

’’Then what?’’

’’We\'re missing something obviously. A step or a few steps. Maybe he had the frozen sample sent to Paris. Maybe he was working with some doctors in an experimental program, human testing, that our government wouldn\'t approve of. I don\'t know, but again does it make more sense that the girl survived this car accident and has been hiding for ten years?’’

’’Did you see his face when we mentioned Save the Angels?’’

’’Hardly surprising. They\'re a group that protests abortions and embryonic stem cell research. Did you notice how his rehearsed spiel stressed that cord blood has nothing to do with the stem cell controversy?’’

I mulled that over. ’’Either way, we need to look into Save the Angels.’’

’’No one answers their phones,’’ she said.

’’Do you have an address for them?’’

’’They\'re in New Jersey,’’ she said. ’’But.’’

’’But what?’’

’’We\'re running in circles here. We\'ve learned nothing. And reality check: Our clients deserve better than this. We gave them our word we would work hard for them. And we\'re not.’’

I stood there.

’’You are the best agent ever,’’ she said. ’’I\'m good at what I do. I\'m very good. I\'m a better negotiator than you\'ll ever be, and I know how to find more money-making venues for our clients than you do. But we get clients because they trust you. Because what they really want is for their agent to care about them and you\'re good at that.’’

She shrugged, waited.

’’I get what you\'re saying,’’ I said. ’’Most of the time I get us into these messes to protect a client. But this time it\'s bigger. Much bigger. You guys want me to stay focused on our personal interests. I get that. But I need to see this through.’’

’’You have a hero complex,’’ she said.

’’Duh. That\'s hardly a news flash.’’

’’It makes you fly blind sometimes. You do the most good when you know where you\'re going.’’

’’Right now,’’ I said, ’’I\'m going to New Jersey. You go back to the office.’’

’’I can take a ride with you.’’

’’I don\'t need a babysitter.’’

’’Too bad, you got one. We go to Save the Angels. If that\'s a dead end, we go back to the office and work all night. Deal?’’

’’Deal,’’ I said.

29

A major dead end. Literally.

We followed the car\'s GPS to the office building located in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, at the end of a dead-end street. There was Ed\'s Body Shop, a karate studio called Eagle\'s Talon, and a super-cheesy storefront photo studio called the Official Photography of Albin Laramie. I pointed at the stenciled-glass lettering as we walked past.

’’Official,’’ I said. ’’Because, really, you wouldn\'t want Albin Laramie\'s unofficial photographs.’’

There were wedding shots using a lens so blurry it was hard to tell where groom began and bride ended. There were provocative model poses, mostly of women in bikinis. There were the most garish baby photographs in brown sepia tones that were faux Victorian. The babies were dressed in flowing gowns and looked creepy. Whenever I see a real Victorian baby picture I can\'t help thinking, ’’Whoever is in this picture is now dead and buried.’’ Maybe I am more morose than most, but who wants such overly affected pictures?

We entered the ground floor and checked the directory. Save the Angels was supposed to be in suite 3B, but the door was locked. We could see the discoloration on the door where a nameplate had once been.

The closest office was for a CPA named Bruno and Associates. We asked about the charity next door.

’’Oh, they\'ve been gone for months,’’ the receptionist told us. Her nameplate said ’’Minerva.’’ I didn\'t know if that was her first name or last. ’’They moved out right after the break-in.’’

I arched an eyebrow and leaned closer. ’’Break-in?’’ I said.

I\'m good with the probing interrogatories.

’’Yep. They got cleaned out. Must have been’’ she scrunched up her face ’’hey, Bob, when was that break-in next door?’’

’’Three months ago.’’

That was pretty much all Minerva and Bob could tell us. On TV, the detectives always ask if the inhabitant left a ’’forwarding address.’’ I have never seen a person in real life do that. We went back and stared at the Save the Angels door another second. The door had nothing to say.

’’You ready to go back to work?’’ Esperanza asked.

I nodded. We headed back outside. I blinked into the sunlight and heard Esperanza say, ’’Well, hello.’’

’’What?’’

She pointed at a car across the street. ’’Look at the decal on the back bumper.’’

You\'ve seen them. They are white ovals with black lettering in them to show where you\'ve been. It started, I think, with European cities. A tourist would return from a trip to Italy and put ROM on the back of his car. Now every town seems to have their own, a way to show civic pride or something.

This decal read: ’’HHK.’’

’’Ho-Ho-Kus,’’ I said.

’’Yep.’’

I thought back to that code. ’’Opal in Ho-Ho-Kus. Maybe the four-seven-one-two is a house number.’’

’’Opal could be a person\'s name.’’

We turned toward where we had parked, and another surprise greeted us. A black Cadillac Escalade was parked behind ours, blocking us in. I saw a heavyset man in a brown vice principal\'s suit start toward us. He had a buzz cut and a big, angular face, and he looked like a Green Bay Packer offensive lineman from 1953.

’’Mr. Bolitar?’’

I recognized the voice. I had heard it twice before. Once on the phone when I called Berleand and once in London, seconds before I passed out.

Esperanza stepped in front of me, as if to offer protection. I put a gentle hand on her shoulder to let her know that I was fine.

’’Special Agent Jones,’’ I said.

Two men, other agents I figured, got out of the Escalade. They stood with the door open and leaned against the side. Both men wore sunglasses.

’’I\'m going to need you to come with me,’’ he said.


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