Two weeks ago, someone had begun ongoing sabotage of his condo site. Holes had been drilled in exposed studs, building materials destroyed or stolen. A fire had consumed part of the framework of a ground floor unit. The guy who ran the motel had called it in to the fire department. Nick couldn’t remember anyone bearing him a grudge, so it seemed natural to focus on some of his tenants.
He assumed the older ones were retired or lived on social security. Or maybe collected small pensions or disability checks. A couple of the younger guys looked rough. He hadn’t a clue how they made the rent, but since they did, they must work. Or got money another way, which he didn’t like to think about.
He went around to the passenger’s side of the van and knocked on the glass. No response. Shit. He’d hired the guy with the expectation he’d stick with the job. When he’d checked last week, the man had binoculars and two cameras, each with a telescopic lens. Now he was AWOL and only two hours into an all-night shift. Nick rapped again. Nothing. He smacked the window hard with the palm of his hand.
He returned to his car and pulled a flashlight out of the glove compartment. He crossed the street and pulled aside an edge of the windscreen and shone the beam through the chain link into the construction site. Building materials, bundled and ready for future use, and a pair of steel beams sat at the far end of the ground floor.
Satisfied everything seemed in order, he moved over to his trailer. He turned the beam on the rear end of the car parked beside it — a Chevy — and illuminated a California license plate. Below it, on the bumper, a sticker read KEEP AMERICA WORKING. Nice touch. He was sure they were grateful in Detroit. However, he doubted the sentiment belonged to anyone bent on sabotage. Buying a domestic car in a market flooded with foreign makes might appeal more to someone like Molly. Molly. Driving American seemed to go right along with the way she thought.
He tried to remember what kind of vehicle she’d arrived in when they met on Sunday morning. He’d only become aware of her when she’d approached his car. Once she’d settled inside, he didn’t think about what make or model she drove. Now, while he stood here in the dark playing detective, her eyes, her lips, her lithe, slender body flooded his mind. If the car belonged to Molly, she was inside the building — his building — and probably pushing a million-dollar agenda at another association meeting.
He snapped off the flashlight and backed up for a better view of the apartments. He scratched off 1A as the meeting place. Raised shades provided an almost unobstructed view of the living room. Empty. That left only the top floor apartment: 3C. Sound escaped through the open windows, but not loud enough for him to clearly distinguish any words. A couple of women sat with their backs to the street. Neither had Molly’s style or shade of hair. That didn’t mean she wasn’t there, leading a seminar on extortion. Maybe he should just crash the meeting. He could give his own pep talk on the ethics of sucking up money when you hadn’t earned it.
Before he had a chance to fully commit, the front door opened and a man stalked outside. One of his tenants, the surly one. Serk. As he approached the construction site, he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of a hip pocket and lit up. Nick tightened his hold on the flashlight in case the book of matches flared and arced behind the security fence. It didn’t, and Serk continued on his way.
Lights began to glow in the other apartments. Nick crossed back to the van. Again, no signs of life. He decided to wait in his car and see who showed up. He bet on Molly, if indeed she were inside. If the surveillance guy didn’t make it back by ten thirty, he’d leave a note on the windshield firing him.
He sat in his darkened car and started the motor so he could pump in air-conditioning. Then he played around with the radio dial until he found an all-night talk station. Only dim light from the street lamps and few apartments kept the area from falling into complete darkness. The single-story commercial buildings across from his project were dark. A few stars poked through the ozone layer. He leaned his head back but kept his gaze focused on the van and the front door of the apartment building.
Molly slipped outside just as his patience began to fade and he thought he might zonk out from fatigue. The sight of her in her knee-length skirt, short-sleeved blouse, and halo of curls gave him a jolt of energy. He cut the motor, grabbed the flashlight off the front seat, jumped out of the car, and closed the door before the ceiling light caught her attention.
Molly headed quickly toward his trailer. Yeah, that was her car parked alongside. He had her pegged — every which way. She had her keys out and in the door lock before he reached the middle of the street. She didn’t waste any time but slid behind the wheel and fired the motor.
Nick picked up his pace. Probably, he should have blocked her car with his. Quite possibly, that would have derailed what happened next. As he approached the driver’s side of the Chevy, he turned on the flashlight and aimed the beam through the window.
“Molly … ”
She turned her head and squinted into the light. The sound of a gunned motor reached him a second later, and he had just enough time to dive out of range before the car fishtailed backward into the street.
He sprinted to his car, but by the time he leaped behind the wheel, the Chevy had disappeared into the night. Shit. That was the second time she pulled a vanishing act on him. It pissed him off this time. She was slick all right. If that was how she wanted to play, he was more than ready to arrange some serious one-on-one private time with her. He thought about it for a minute, thought about where and when and how to sandbag her. He preferred to corral her on her turf, but not at the clinic.
He stuck the key in the ignition and waited. Then it came to him like a blessed revelation. Oh, yeah. He rubbed his hands together as an idea took shape. Why hadn’t he thought along those lines earlier? The where and when fell neatly into place, and a broad grin spread across his face. He had the perfect surprise in store for her. If it was one of the last things he ever did, he was going to get her alone and win her over to his side.
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