She said, “Patrick?”


“How you doing, Helene?”

Chapter Fifteen

Kenny came in behind her. He looked confused for about half a second before he reached behind his back. I reached behind mine.

He said, “Ho.”

I said, “Hey.”

A young girl came in behind him. She opened her mouth wide but no sound came out. She wrung her hands by her side as if she’d stepped on the third rail. I got a good look as she stepped hard to her left to get out of our line of fire. Sophie Corliss. She’d lost the weight her father had demanded of her. And then some. She was gaunt and sweaty and stopped acting electrified long enough to sink her hands into the back of her head and pull at her own hair.

I held out one hand. “This does not have to go this way.”

“What way?” Kenny said.

“The way where we both pull our guns.”

“You tell me, sport, which other way this can go.”

“Well,” I said, “I could remove my hand from my gun.”

“But I might just shoot you for your trouble.”

“There’s that,” I agreed.

“And if I remove my hand?” He frowned. “It’s the same result, different victim.”

“If we did it at the same time?” I offered.

“You’d cheat,” he said.

As I nodded, he cleared his gun and pointed it at me.

“Sneaky,” I said.

“Let me see the hand.”

I removed my hand from behind my back and held up my cell phone.

“It’s nice,” Kenny said, “but I think mine has more bullets.”

“True, but did your gun call anyone?”

He took a step forward and then another. My screen read HOME. CONNECTED: 39 SECONDS.

“Oh,” he said.

“Yeah.”

Helene said, “Fuck,” very softly.

“You put the gun down or my wife calls the police and gives up our location.”

“Let’s—”

“Tick, tock,” I said. “It’s fairly obvious you’re ripping identities and committing a few thousand levels of consumer fraud here. Plus you’re making crank somewhere nearby and then you’re baking the used coffee filters in the microwave just to squeeze out that little extra. You want the police en route within, oh, thirty more seconds, keep holding the gun on me, Kenny.”

Angie’s voice came through the cell phone. “Hi, Kenny. Hi, Helene.”

Helene said, “Is that Angie?”

“It is,” Angie said. “How you doing?”

“Oh,” Helene said, “you know.”

Kenny frowned and looked terribly tired all of a sudden. He thumbed the safety forward and handed me the gun. “You’re one frustrating motherfucker.”

I put the gun, an S&W Sigma 9mm, in the pocket of my jacket. “Thank you.” I turned my lips toward the phone. “Catch you later, honey.”

“Grab some bottled water on the way home, would you? Oh, and some half-and-half for the morning.”

“Sure. Anything else?”

Kenny rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, but I can’t remember what it is.”

“Well, call me when you think of it.”

“Cool. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

I hung up.

“Sophie?” I said.

She looked over at me, surprised I knew her name.

“You carrying?”

“Huh?”

“A gun, Sophie. Are you carrying a gun?”

“No. I hate guns.”

“Me, too,” I said.

“But you’ve got one in your pocket.”

“That’s called irony. How strung out are you right now?”

“Oh, I’m not bad,” Sophie said.

“You look bad.”

“Who [_are _]you?”

“That’s Patrick Kenzie.” Helene lit a cigarette. “He found Amanda that time?”

Sophie hugged herself and fresh beads of sweat popped on her forehead.

“Helene?” I said.

“What?”

“I’d feel a lot better if you put that bag you’re carrying on that couch and step away from it.”

She placed the bag on the couch and came back over to Kenny’s side.

“Let’s all go in the dining room.”

We sat at the card table and Kenny fired up a cigarette while I got a closer look at Sophie. She kept running her tongue behind her upper lip, back and forth, back and forth. Her eyes rolled right to left, left to right, right to left like they were on ball bearings. It was forty-two degrees outside and she was sweating.

“I thought you were going to let this go,” Kenny said.

“You thought incorrectly.”

“She won’t pay you.”

“Who?”

“Bea.”

“Or Amanda,” Helene said. “She doesn’t come into her money for, like, another year.”

“Well, then, it’s settled,” I said. “I quit. But since we’re on the subject, where’s Amanda?”

“She went to visit her father in California,” Helene said.

“She has a father in California?” I said.

“She didn’t come out of a cereal box,” Helene said. “She had a mother and a father.”

“What’s her father’s name?”

“Like you don’t remember.”

“From a case I worked twelve years ago, Helene? No, I don’t remember.”

“Bruce Combs.”

“But his friends call him B Diddy?”

“What?”

“Never mind. Where’s Bruce live?”

“Salinas.”

“And that’s where Amanda flew into?”

“Yeah.”

“Which airport?”

“Salinas Airport.”

“Salinas doesn’t have a commercial airport. You mean she flew into either Santa Cruz or Monterey.”

“Yeah.”

“Which one?”

“Santa Cruz.”

“Yeah, they don’t have a commercial airport, either. So there goes your dumbass Salinas story, Helene.”

Kenny exhaled a chuck of cigarette smoke and looked at his watch.

“You got someplace to be?”

He shook his head.

Behind him, Sophie fidgeted and kept looking at a spot over my head. I turned, saw the clock on the wall. I caught Helene looking at it too.

“You don’t have someplace to be,” I said to Kenny.

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