“This is Mathew Bennett.” He hated it when readers called him by his first name, assumed familiarity, like they knew him by reading his stories. He hated when readers called him anything, ever. He wrote about them, he didn’t want to talk to them unless he had to.
“Matt, it’s Raminder Richardson.
“Rami?” He could hang up. She’d never know. It was a newsroom of a national daily newspaper. Hundreds of telephones, cell phones, wireless communicators beeping, humming and vibrating. They could easily be cut off. Happened all the time. When she called back he’d let it go to voice mail then hear what the message said. Maybe just delete it unheard. This had to be bad news.
He felt short of breath. “Long time,” he said. Did he just say that? The unflappable Matthew Bennett. The guy who kept his cool in the hottest situation, the master of glib, the sovereign of sardonic, the journalist noted for being able to befuddle heads of state and stare down trigger-happy terrorists.
“You’re a hard guy to get a hold of.”
“Yes.” Did that mean she’d tried before? How many times in the past twelve years? He wasn’t always in a desert, jungle or war zone. Sometimes he’d been here, at his desk. Or at the condo, though lately by the time he got there he was in no shape to talk to anyone. He got messages. Most he didn’t return, but he still got them.
“Matt, your Dad’s missing.”
“Missing?” With the palm of his hand Matt flattened the creased letter and segment of topographical map he’d received from his father in the morning mail. The first contact in twelve years and it read like the ravings of a demented person; directions to a secret gold mine, the location marked on the topo map, proof in a safety deposit box, threats to his life. Not a mention of the terrible thing he’d done that had caused the severing between father and only son. No accepting responsibility, no appeal for forgiveness, no apology. The booze had finally addled his father’s brain.
Speaking of which, all morning Matt had wanted a drink, something to take the edge off last night. Now he needed one, desperately.
“Last time anyone saw him was Sunday, heading out on his boat.”
Four days ago. He must have mailed the letter the same day he headed out. Matt toyed with the safety deposit key that had also been in the envelope. “Why are you calling me?” Matt heard the sigh. They were back where they left off, like it was yesterday and not an eternity ago.
“I thought you’d want to know. Maybe I was wrong to call.”
Was he going to let this go? She was reaching out. She could have let the authorities notify him. He could lance this boil of regret and resentment that still festered after all this time. He could grow up.
“Yes.” He heard her intake of breath and imagined it passing over slightly parted fudgesicle colored lips. She could have changed, but the lips would be the same. And the eyes, black pools you could lose your soul in.
“Yes? Yes, what Matt?”
Still proud, still independent, still short-tempered.
“Yes, you were wrong to call.”
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