Slowing the RV, he double-checked the address for the interview. He’d expected to meet the mysterious Theodora Hendricks at a law office or even the local police department, but no—it seemed they’d meet at the only restaurant within sight, a quaint eatery called The Second Chance Grill.
Interviewing potential bounty hunters in a restaurant seemed odd, but what did he know? Hector parked the RV and went inside.
The place was jammed with diners at every table and down the long counter in back near the kitchen. A gum-chewing waitress darted between tables. He paused to take in the patriotic decorations festooned throughout the dining room, an extravaganza of pewter sconces set aside bucolic paintings of Colonial America, and gilt-framed portraits of George Washington and other historical personages. The Persian rugs flung out upon the gleaming oak floors and the picture window dressed in deep folds of patriotic bunting lent a welcoming air.
At the counter, a woman was dressed in 1960s era clothes. She splashed coffee in the general direction of the cups lined up before her customers.
“Excuse me.” Hector tried not to stare at her get-up, a satin cocktail dress that brought back childhood memories of loud Greek aunts huddled around the Canasta table. “I’m looking for Theodora Hendricks. I have an interview.”
“You’re Hector?” When he nodded, she offered a hand feathered with veins and sporting bright pink nail polish. “I’m Ethel Lynn Percible. Good heavens, you’re a handsome rascal. Married?”
“Not today.” If this was feminine interest, the vamp was aiming for the wrong man. She was as old as his bossy Nana, minus half the body mass.
Evidently she read his discomfort as bashfulness. “Now, don’t be shy. You should be honored—Theodora dismissed most of the applicants. She chased one man out with her rifle. He was in tears.”
“No kidding.” If the vamp was serious about the rifle, maybe he should get back in the RV. He’d seen enough gunplay for one week.
“Theodora is particular about what she’s looking for.”
“Where is she?”
He followed Ethel Lynn’s gaze over the diners’ bobbing heads to a table in the corner. Someone had cordoned off the area with the kind of heavy gold cord used in swanky bars to keep out the riffraff.
Inside the enclosure, a petite crone caught Hector’s attention with a glittering stare. She wore a severe navy suit with epaulets on the shoulders and a hunting cap in camouflage green. The Winchester rifle resting on the wall behind her seemed to highlight the air of hostility drifting like fog in his general direction.
The man beside her looked friendly enough—he was tall, dark and almost as handsome as Hector—but the raisin-skinned general to his right? Theodora Hendricks looked capable of leading soldiers in the nastiest sort of guerrilla warfare.
Second thoughts nearly propelled him outside. “Am I the only applicant?” he asked Ethel Lynn. He was no coward, but hiding in a crowd sounded better.
“There’s no one else. Don’t keep Theodora waiting. She doesn’t have much in the way of patience.”
“Right.” Taking the plunge, he weaved his way to the corner.
When he reached the rope, Theodora held up her hand. “You’re Hector Levendakis from Philadelphia?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He wondered if a salute was in order.
“Only by twenty minutes. It’s a long drive from Philly.”
A dissatisfied grunt burst from her lips. “Do I look like I care?”
She shuffled papers. “We received two letters of recommendation, both from ex-wives. They say you’re reliable, all evidence to the contrary.” She held him in a disapproving stare. “It’s not often a man breaks a woman’s heart and she wants him anything but dead.”
“I recently broke my engagement to a woman planning to send me to Hades. She’s not supportive like my ex-wives. Does that count?” He lifted the rope then let it swing free. “May I enter? It’s easier to chat about murderous women face-to-face.”
She appeared to weigh his request with misgiving and a peculiar distaste, as if his inquiry was so repugnant it turned her stomach. Or maybe she just had indigestion. Given her advanced years, anything was possible.
Finally she waved him inside. “You may enter.” She motioned him into a seat then made introductions. After he shook Hugh Schaeffer’s hand, she asked, “You were in the military before hanging out your shingle as an investment counselor?”
“Actually it was a few years back. Two tours in Iraq.” It seemed wise not to mention the career disasters endured since then, a humiliating string of missteps culminating in his demise as a day trader. “I’ve been looking for a change, something to get me out from behind a desk.”
“You don’t say.”
Hugh, taking notes until now, began tapping his pen on the table. “Do you have a permit to carry a gun?” He looked like he’d pulled all-nighters for a week straight, and Hector sensed the guy’s involvement in the capture of Wish Kaminsky was somehow personal. “Not that we want you to use it. Wish is a con artist but she’s never been involved in crimes of violence. You may need a gun to corner her until the police arrive to take her into custody.”
“I can do that. I have a permit, and enough sense not to pull the trigger.” He’d stashed his Glock, the one his ex-fiancé had wielded, in the RV. Hector thought of something else. “How many bounty hunters have you hired?”
Theodora’s brow wrinkled like worn paper. “Counting you? Seven. Five out of state and the sixth covering Ohio’s southern counties. You’re responsible for Liberty, assuming Wish gets this far. We’re hoping she won’t.”
“Only seven? With a reward this large, I’d expect more applicants.”
“Lord, we’ve had those. Mostly ne’er do-wells and irresponsible fools. Even saw a tattoo artist who’d driven all night from Nashville. Big as a Sumo wrestler and as sharp as a marble.”
“I hope he didn’t make the list.”
“He didn’t. Those that did are professional bail enforcement agents. Figured I’d add you to the stew because you’re a jack-of-all-trades and flighty like the no-good mistress of disguise we’re aiming to apprehend. I’m not holding my breath, but you might get a bead on Wish faster than the rest of us. Stranger things have happened.”
The remark about being flighty wasn’t nice, but he took it in stride. “Your confidence is reassuring.”
“In your dreams.” Theodora screwed down her hunting cap, her eyes mere slits. “It’s a stretch, but I’m assuming you’ve got brains in your head. You’ll have to do your homework for any chance of success. Wish’s cons run from simple thefts to elaborate financial schemes. There’s no rhyme or reason to her methods. It’s part of her charm.”
“I’ll do my best to find her.” Not that the effort would matter. If he were placing a wager, he’d bet one of the professional bondsmen would take Wish down before she entered Ohio.
Hugh jumped in. “We’re relying on local law enforcement for backup. The Feds are also looking for Wish but if they’re taking our concerns seriously, they aren’t talking. It’s understandable. Most of the leads they receive don’t amount to much.”
“You’re convinced she’s on her way here?”
Dredging up his military training, Hector mulled over a plan of attack. He was here, so he’d do what he could.
The first order of business? Check in with the local PD and glean the information they had on Wish. The material he’d received from his ex-wives didn’t amount to much. Then it was off to the nearby bars and hotels, assuming Liberty had any—he’d dole out cash and his cell phone number in hopes someone would call in a tip. If Wish were a mistress of disguise, how to give bartenders and hotel maids an accurate description? He reflected on the printouts he’d left in the RV of Wish in an impressive variety of guises. The only thing she couldn’t hide was her height, give or take a few inches for heels.
He was still sorting through the particulars of an impossible situation when, out on the street, a horn blared. Three teenagers jumped to the curb and a sweet, banana yellow Corvette glided to a halt before the restaurant.
The swing of glossy hair, and a stunning blonde got out. Long-legged with an angel’s face complete with pouting lips, she had one of those pretty, upturned noses that Hector loved on a woman.
He did a double take. The woman entering The Second Chance Grill was Wish Kaminsky without one of her disguises.
His surprise elicited a sigh from Theodora’s weathered lips. “Don’t be a fool,” she told him. “She isn’t Wish. That’s Birdie, her daughter.”
The job of bounty hunter was sounding better all the time. “No one mentioned a daughter.” Maybe he’d stick around for more than a few days.
“She owns our new daily with Hugh, the Liberty Post. I don’t mind saying she’s upset about the news of her mother heading our way.”
“She needn’t worry. I’ll do everything I can to protect her.”
Theodora grinned. “I just bet you will.”
Hugh resumed tapping his pen, the pace of the incessant racket increasing as the blonde sashayed toward them, commanding the attention of every man in the dining room and producing dopey grins on the faces of two teenage boys lounging by the counter. Hector dug into his pockets for a breath mint.
Hugh’s pen stopped tapping.
Beneath the table, a foot kicked at Hector’s shin. On a yelp, he wheeled his attention.
Hugh leaned across the table. “Ground rules,” he growled. “Birdie is off limits. You got that?”
“Mind telling me why?” Hector inched his chair back from the table.
“She’s my fiancé.”
Theodora grunted. “In theory. I haven’t seen bluebirds circling your head or hers in days.”
“Stay out of this, Theodora.”
Hector rubbed his shin where Hugh had attacked him. “No bluebirds sounds like an opening to me,” he said. “Especially if the birds have flown the roost.”
A muddy sort of rage flashed across Hugh’s face. But Hector was spared a volley of threats as Birdie let herself past the golden rope. She paused before the table in a cloud of alluring perfume, her attention leaping and assessing and, he was damn sure, sensing she’d just missed a pissing contest.
“Theodora, Hugh—I’ll take it from here,” she said, her matchless violet gaze landing on Hector. “Mr. Levendakis, why don’t you come with me?”
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