Her hands settle on my arms, and I don’t get the playful reply I expect. “The same things you want, I suspect. Your mother to be well and Ava to be captured.”
“We’ll blow out some candles and make those wishes together.”
“I’d like that,” she says. “And how old will you be on your next birthday, Mr. Compton?”
“Thirty-five, Ms. Smith, and you’ll be twenty-nine.”
“You looked at my file.”
“Of course I looked at your file. You’re running Riptide.”
“We’re running Riptide.”
“I’m not responsible for the balance sheet I looked at today. That’s all you.”
She tilts her head and gives me a curious look. “For a man as arrogant as you, Mark Compton, you aren’t quick to steal someone else’s thunder.”
“Contrary to my mother’s belief, I’m not arrogant, I’m confident. True confidence means you’re prepared to work hard enough and smart enough to make your own thunder. You don’t need someone else’s.” Jacob motions us forward, and I wrap my arm around her. “Let’s get out of here.”
After we return our badges at the guard post, Jacob leads us down the hallway beyond. Opening the door to the parking lot, he stops us with a hand as he scans for trouble. After he waves us forward, he opens the back door of the Escalade for us. I help Crystal into the vehicle, and as I prepare to join her I hear, “Mr. Compton.”
The familiar voice to my right grinds my nerve endings, and Jacob and I both jerk in its direction. Detective Grant steps out of the shadows. “Detective,” I say to him shortly, giving his tan trench coat a once-over. “You’re looking very Inspector Gadget.”
“Compliments will get you nowhere, Mr. Compton,” he chides.
“Nevertheless, I find it hard to resist a well-deserved one when it’s due,” I reply dryly. “How exactly did you find me here?”
“Process of elimination. It’s how I operate, picking away at people, things, and problems, bit by bit.”
“Which would be effective, if you chose your targets effectively.”
“I was right about Ava killing Rebecca, and right about her using her young employee to finish her dirty work.”
“But she got away. Didn’t she?”
“Yes. She got away, and there lies the problem. It’s a huge one, to you especially, I’m sure. One that could, say, make you want to take matters in your own hands.”
“What I want is justice, and the security of knowing my family is safe.”
“I hear you might hunger for a side of vengeance with your justice.”
I manage not to stiffen. Did Blake tell him that? “I’m not sure anyone who’s lost someone they loved doesn’t have that emotion.”
“Now you loved Rebecca? I thought she was just your sex slave.”
The insult is a jab in my heart, but I manage not to react. “What is it you want?”
“I thought I’d give you a heads-up about tomorrow’s meeting with the Long Island PD for your attorney. Per Corey, he and Ava were blindfolded and beaten. She escaped and rescued him, dropping him off at the hospital. But before she left him, he says she bid him a tearful good-bye and apologized for underestimating the violence you were capable of, implying that you were their captor.”
Another setup by Ava? “If you study people as you say, then you must be smart enough to know I wouldn’t bring trouble home with my mother fighting for her life.”
“Ah, but you’d have to bring it here, because you have a mother fighting for her life.”
The nerve he hits is deep and angry, and I actually find myself swaying toward him, even taking a step.
Crystal is suddenly by my side, her hand gripping my arm. “Let your attorney handle this, Mark.”
“Or you could just go all vigilante on me,” the detective taunts.
Every part of me wants to throttle him, but I clamp down on the emotion. “Let’s go,” I tell Crystal, giving him my back as I help her into the Escalade. I join her without another look at the detective.
As Jacob joins us I already have my cell phone out, dialing Tiger. The instant he answers, I say, “Detective Grant paid me a visit.”
“Just now, at my father’s sports facility.” I relay the conversation.
“But he didn’t say Corey saw you, correct?” Tiger asks.
“Then it’s hearsay and they can’t do shit to you. And he knows it. That’s why he showed up. He knows this all has to be wearing on you, and he was trying to set you off and get you to do something erratic. I’ll handle it. You stay away from it. This is my show.”
“Right.” I end the call and I hear Jacob on his phone, relaying the details of the incident to someone. Ava and Jimenez may be trying to destroy me, but they aren’t the masterminds. It has to be either Ricco or Ryan.
I look down to find Crystal’s hand on my leg and I can feel her willing me to look at her, but I don’t. I’m thinking about the letter she received, and how easily she could be in the line of fire, if she isn’t already. And my parents, as well.
Removing the disposable phone from my pocket, uncaring if Crystal or Jacob hears what I have to say, I punch the auto-dial. At three rings, I hear, “I got nothing, man. Ava and Jimenez are ghosts.”