Looking less than optimistic, Chris shoves the sleek black leather of his jacket aside, resting his hands on his hips. “Under normal circumstances, I’d say there’s no way in hell Mark would make that kind of a slip. But there’s nothing normal about any of this.”
A gust of cold wind blasts us and I huddle into my black trench coat. “I’m ready to be inside,” I exclaim, making a dash for the building. At the door Chris steps close, using his big body to block the wind, and I key in my code—to receive a beep of rejection.
“The front door it is,” Chris concludes, taking my elbow. “Hopefully we can flag someone through the glass.”
We cut down the side of the building, thankfully out of the torture of the wind, to find the Closed sign in the gallery window. There are no lights on the showroom floor or any sign of life, but I start knocking and Chris joins in.
After ten frustrating minutes I’m ready to give up, when I see Amanda dash through the gallery inside. I wait at the door to greet her and the instant it’s open, she flings her arms around my neck and bursts into tears.
I hug her, not sure what to make of the outburst. Amanda’s young and rather timid, but she’s never been overly dramatic or emotional. “What’s wrong, honey?” I ask, exchanging a concerned look with Chris.
Releasing me, she swipes at her damp cheeks. “Sorry. Just . . .” Hesitating, she seems to register something important. “Come inside,” she says, grabbing my hand and pulling me forward. “Before the press reappear and swarm us.”
I enter the showroom with Chris on my heels, and my stomach is remarkably calm. Amanda rushes to the door to lock up again, and when she faces us again, she’s a frazzled mess as she swipes her long dark hair from her face. “You have no idea how crazy it’s been. We need to move away from the front. The press take pictures from outside the window.” She rushes toward the back, and Chris and I fall in step behind her.
“I saw Ralph’s car,” I comment. “Is it just the two of you here?”
“Yes,” she confirms. “It’s been just us for the whole week.”
Chris moves ahead and holds the door to the offices open for us. “Has Mark been in at all?” he asks as she starts to pass him.
“No,” she says. “His mom got a blood infection from her cancer surgery. She’s better now, but it was bad, I think.”
Amanda enters the office area and I pause beside Chris, whose grim expression isn’t comforting. “You’ve heard of a blood infection like that before?”
“Yes. I’ve seen it a few times since I started volunteering at the Children’s Hospital. It’s never good.”
“How not good?”
“It’s always a fight for your life, with either full recovery or no recovery at all.”
“It sounds like she’s out of trouble, though, right?”
“The way it would have lowered her immune system, when she’s fighting cancer, could be an issue.”
“That sure explains Mark’s silence.”
He nods and we step into the U-shaped office to find Amanda hovering by the reception desk to our right. “Ralph!” she shouts. “Come out here!”
Ralph appears in the doorway of his office just off of the main lobby, and the minute he sees me his eyes light up. “Sara!” he exclaims, holding his hands out and rambling in what I think is Chinese, before he rushes forward and hugs me. “Please tell me that you’re here to help.”
I lean back to give him a critical eye, and nowhere is the Ralph I know. His thick dark hair is rumpled, his royal-blue trademark bow tie is falling off, his white shirt is wrinkled, and his dark-rimmed glasses are tilted. “This is a first,” I say.
His brow furrows. “I’ve hugged you before.”
“I mean the messy clothes and the Chinese. And why didn’t you return my calls?”
He scrubs his head. “My voice mail’s backed up. It’s been a bitch around here. We’re just trying to survive.”
“Tell them why you’re talking in Chinese,” Amanda encourages, but doesn’t give him time to reply. “When he talks to the press, he alternates between senseless fortune cookie sayings and Chinese.”
Ralph shrugs. “It makes them hang up.” He glances at Chris, his tone glowing with appreciation. “Hello, Mr. Merit. So nice to see you. I hope you didn’t come to pull your art, like others have. Of course, Ricco doesn’t count.”
“No,” Chris says, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I’m not pulling my art, but I do want to get this place up and running again. Ricco stopped by? He’s out of jail?”
“His attorney called,” Ralph explains. “I’m not sure where Ricco himself is. I can’t keep up with things here, let alone anything past our doors.”
Amanda drops dramatically into the chair behind the reception desk. “It’s been the worst week of my life.”
I frown, still focused on Ralph. “But Ricco didn’t have any work at the gallery. He pulled it all after Rebecca left.”
“I know,” Ralph confirms. “That’s what made the whole thing strange. His attorney didn’t seem to know the facts.”
“You said the press keeps calling?” Chris asks, and he’s obviously thinking what I am. That wasn’t Ricco’s attorney that called. It was a member of the press.