Long Lost Page 8

I was also destined to be a family man like the man I most admired in the world: Al Bolitar, my father. He had married his sweetheart, my mom, Ellen, and they moved to the suburb of Livingston, New Jersey, and raised a family and worked hard and threw barbecues in the backyard. That was supposed to be my life supportive spouse, two-point-six children, afternoons sitting in those rickety stands watching my own offspring, a dog maybe, a rusted hoop in the driveway, visits to the Home Depot and Modell\'s Sporting Goods on Saturdays. You get the idea.

But here I am, north of forty now, and still unmarried with no family.

’’Would you care for a beverage?’’ the flight attendant asked me.

I\'m not much of a drinker but I asked for a scotch and soda. Win\'s drink. I needed something to numb me a little, help me sleep. I closed my eyes again. Back to blocking. Blocking was good.

So where did Terese Collins, the woman I was flying across an ocean to see, fit in?

I never thought of Terese in terms of love. Not like that anyway. I thought about her supple skin and the smell of cocoa butter. I thought about the grief coming off her in waves. I thought about the way we made love on that island, two shipwrecks. When Win finally came via yacht to bring me home, I was stronger from our time together. She was not. We said our good-byes, but that hadn\'t been the end of us. Terese helped me when I needed it most, eight years ago, and then she vanished back into her hurt.

Now she was back.

For eight years, Terese Collins had been gone not only from me but from public view. In the nineties, she had been a popular TV personality, CNN\'s top anchorwoman, and then, poof, gone.

The plane landed and taxied to the gate. I grabbed my bag no need to check luggage when it was for only a couple of nights and wondered what awaited me. I was the third off the plane, and with my long stride I quickly took the number one spot as we headed for the customs and immigration line. I had hoped to breeze through but three other flights had just landed and there was a logjam.

The line snaked through roped-off areas Disney World-style. It moved fast. The agents were mostly just waving people through, giving each passport little more than a cursory glance. When it was my turn, the female immigration officer looked at my passport, then at my face, then back at the passport, then back at me. Her eyes lingered. I smiled at her, keeping the Bolitar Charm setting on Low. I didn\'t want the poor woman disrobing right there at customs.

The agent turned away as if I\'d said something rude. She nodded at a male agent. When she turned back to me, I figured I should up my game. Widen the smile. Turn the charm setting from Low to Stun.

’’Step to the side, please,’’ she said with a frown.

I was still grinning like an idiot. ’’Why?’’

’’My colleague will take care of your case.’’

’’I\'m a case?’’ I said.

’’Please step to the side.’’

I was holding up the line and the passengers behind me were not pleased about it. I stepped to the side. The other uniformed agent said, ’’Please follow me.’’

I didn\'t like this, but what choice did I have? I wondered, why me? Maybe there was a French law against being this charming because snap there should be.

The agent led me into a small windowless room. The walls were beige and bare. There were two hooks behind the door with hangers on them. The seats were molded plastic. There was a table in the corner. The officer took my bag and put it on the table. He started rummaging through it.

’’Empty your pockets, please. Put everything in this bowl. Remove your shoes.’’

I did. Wallet, BlackBerry, loose change, shoes.

’’I need to search you.’’

He was pretty thorough. I was going to make a joke about him enjoying it or maybe say a boat ride on the Bateau Mouche would be nice before he felt me up, but I wondered about the French sense of humor. Wasn\'t Jerry Lewis an icon here? Maybe a sight gag would be more appropriate.

’’Please sit.’’

I did. He left, taking the bowl with my belongings with him. For thirty minutes I sat there alone cooling my heels, as they say. I didn\'t like this.

Two men stepped into the room. The first was younger, late twenties maybe, good-looking with sandy hair and that three-day growth pretty boys use to look more rugged. He wore jeans and boots and a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the start of the elbow. He leaned his back against a wall, folded his arms across his chest, and chewed a toothpick.

The second man was midfifties with oversize wire-rimmed glasses and tired gray hair that was dangerously close to a comb-over. He was drying his hands on a paper towel as he entered. His windbreaker looked like something Members Only sold in 1986.

So much for Frenchmen and their haute couture.

The older man did the talking. ’’What is the purpose of your visit to France?’’

I looked at him, then at the toothpick chewer, then back to him. ’’And you are?’’

’’I\'m Captain Berleand. This is Officer Lefebvre.’’

I nodded at Lefebvre. He chewed the toothpick some more.

’’Purpose of your visit?’’ Berleand asked again. ’’Business or pleasure?’’

’’Pleasure.’’

’’Where will you be staying?’’

’’In Paris.’’

’’Where in Paris?’’

’’At the Hotel d\'Aubusson.’’

He didn\'t write it down. Neither of them had pen or paper.

’’Will you be by yourself?’’ Berleand asked.

’’No.’’

Berleand was still wiping his hands on the paper towel. He stopped, used one finger to push his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. When I still hadn\'t said anything else, he shrugged a ’’Well?’’ at me.

’’I\'m meeting a friend.’’

’’The friend\'s name?’’

’’Is that necessary?’’ I asked.

’’No, Mr. Bolitar, I\'m nosy and am asking for no apparent reason.’’

The French are into sarcasm.

’’The name?’’

’’Terese Collins,’’ I said.

’’What is your occupation?’’

’’I\'m an agent.’’

Berleand looked confused. Lefebvre, it seemed, didn\'t speak English.

’’I represent actors, athletes, writers, entertainers,’’ I explained.

Berleand nodded, satisfied. The door opened. The first officer handed Berleand the bowl with my belongings. He put it on the table next to my bag. Then he started wiping his hands again.

’’You and Ms. Collins didn\'t travel together, did you?’’

’’No, she is already in Paris.’’


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