Page 41 of Imperial Bedrooms

"Really?" I ask, trying to sound neutral. "How's that?"

We're both suddenly distracted by a drunken man in a bathing suit who's gesturing at something invisible in the air at the end of the pier, sunburned, bearded. Trent takes off his sunglasses again and for some reason he doesn't know where to look and he's more agitated than he was before and the land has disappeared behind us and there's no sound coming from the distant shore, which is now completely hidden by haze, and we're out over the water now and two Asian girls pulling tufts of cotton candy off a stick are the only other people wandering by.

"It's much more complicated than you know." Trent says this in a strained voice as he keeps looking around, and I just want him to stop but I also don't want him to look at me. "It's just ... bigger than you think. All you need to do is, is, is remove yourself," he stammers before regaining his composure. "You don't need to know anything else."

"Remove myself from what, exactly?" I ask. "Remove myself from her?"

Trent pauses a moment, and then decides to tell me something. "Kelly Montrose was a close friend of mine." He lets the statement hang there.

It hangs there long enough for me to ask, "What does Kelly have to do with why I'm here?"

"Rain was with him," Trent says. "I mean, when he disappeared. They were together."

"With him?"

"Well, he was paying for it, I guess ... "

"I thought she had stopped doing that," I say. "I thought she met Rip and that she had stopped doing that."

"She knows things," Trent says. "And so does Julian."

"What things?"

"About what happened to Kelly."

I stare at Trent stone-faced but the fear begins swirling around us softly and it causes me to notice a young blond guy in cargo shorts and a windbreaker leaning against a railing on the pier, purposefully not looking at us, and I realize he could not be more obvious if he were holding a hundred balloons. Invisible gulls keep squalling in the hazy sky above him, and the blond guy suddenly seems familiar but I can't place him.

"I'm not saying she's innocent," Trent's saying. "She's not. But she doesn't need someone like you to make things worse for her."

I turn back to Trent. "But Rip Millar is okay?"

For some reason this question forces Trent to shut up and figure out another tactic.

We start walking again. We pass a Mexican restaurant that overlooks the sea. We're near the end of the pier.

"What did you get out of taking Rain on as a client?" I ask. "I'm curious. Why did you take on a girl you knew was never going to make it?"

Trent keeps matching my steps, and his expression momentarily relaxes. "Well, it made my wife happy to help Julian out before she realized ... " Trent pauses, thinks things through, and continues. "I mean, I knew about Julian. Blair and I didn't talk about it but it wasn't a secret between us." Trent squints and then puts his sunglasses back on. "If I have any problems they're not with Rain Turner. And they're not with Blair."

"But you have a problem with Julian?"

"Well, I knew that Blair had loaned him a lot of money - well, seventy grand, but for him that's a lot of money." Trent moves alongside me toward the end of the pier, seemingly unaware of the guy who's following us and I keep looking back at. I notice he's holding a camera. "And I knew she really liked him." Trent pauses. "But I also knew that in the end nothing was going to happen with him."

"And what about me?"

"See, there you go again, Clay," Trent says. "It's not about you."

"Trent - "

"It comes down to this," he continues, cutting me off. "Blair loaned Julian a large sum of money. Julian decided to go to Rip to borrow some cash to pay Blair back. Why? I don't know." Trent pauses. "And that's how Rip met Miss Turner. And, um, the rest is, well, what it is." He pauses again. "Do I need to say anything more? Do you get it?"

I look over at the blond guy again. He's supposed to be in costume, he's supposed to be camouflaged but he's not: it's almost as if he wants us to notice him. He keeps moving down the pier, twenty, maybe thirty yards behind us.

"Rip told me he was going to divorce his wife," I say. "What would they have done then? I mean, if Kelly hadn't shown up? How much longer could they have played this game with Rip if he actually went through with the divorce?"