I barely noticed him though. My attention was all on her. I stopped walking. “Are you following me?”
I didn’t see how she could be, but here she was, and that seemed like a pretty big coincidence.
She’d even had time to change into some kind of black T-shirt dress, so it wasn’t like she’d spent the day trailing me from Aunt Pat and Uncle Mike’s.
It was hard to tell in the wan light, but I thought her look was almost pitying. “Did you really think you were going to walk out on me?”
“Look, I didn’t—I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what it is you want.”
“I know who you are, and it isn’t Joe Berlinger.”
I said, “I didn’t actually mean that I was Joe Berlinger...” I stopped, because even I could hear how it sounded.
“Right. We’re done faffing about. Let’s go.” She nodded to her companion. It was a Sic him, Bruno sort of nod, and, having finally got a good look at him, I shifted into reverse even before he started advancing on me.
It wasn’t so much that he was big, although he was big. It was the way he wore it. Big shoulders, big chest, big head. I kept backing up, and he kept on coming. You wouldn’t think there would be time for noticing details, but that’s the kind of brain I have. Visual. I see things in picture frames. Or maybe flip books. This guy had perfectly coiffed shoulder-length black hair and a long morose face. He wore the sort of expensive suit you mostly see in magazines, with the kind of tailoring that emphasizes every bulge of muscle. Or every bulge of whatever. Was there such a thing as fully dressed indecent exposure?
“Wait.” I held up my hands. “You’re making a mistake. She’s making a mistake.”
He lunged forward and grabbed my wrist, yanking me off balance so that I stumbled forward.
I sputtered, “Are you crazy? I’m not going with you. What—”
“Don’t kill him, Ray,” the girl said.
We did a kind of do-si-do as Ray twirled me around, wrenched one arm behind my back, and slammed me into a national monument.
Well, maybe not. Maybe it was just a brick wall. But it hurt monumentally. You’d have to have been slammed face-first into a wall to understand. My forehead and cheek hit a rough stone surface at about the same time, with a force that stunned me. I was wondering dazedly if my shoulder was dislocated. I was pretty sure I’d broken my cheekbone. I guess I should have been fighting back, but pain has a way of freezing you up. It’s hard to think past it. Beyond wanting, needing it to stop. Beyond complete and utter disbelief.
This can’t be happening...
Someone made inquiring noises from the distance. Not me, though I still had plenty of questions. My crazy-lady kidnapper said cheerfully, “Jetlag. We’re taking him home now.”
Ray swept me into a hug that was more like an affectionate chokehold and proceeded to tow me from the support of the wall. Belatedly, I began to struggle. Not very effectively, and Ray bounced me off the wall again.
From the hazy distance a familiar voice—in a hard, unfamiliar tone—called, “Hey.”
Ray said, “I wouldn’t, mate. Weally, I wouldn’t.”
There wasn’t a reply. I wiped the blood out of my eyes in time to see George, like a juggernaut, coming straight for us. He’d removed his glasses, and he looked so calm it was eerie. He didn’t speak, he didn’t hesitate, his gaze never veered from Ray.
“Ray,” the girl squealed. “Don’t bloody stand there!”
But it was already too late. Ray released me, putting his fists up, but George seemed to reach right through his guard and punch him in the throat. Ray made a strangling sound and doubled over, clutching his neck.
“You can’t do that,” screamed the girl. “Ray, do something!”
Ray continued coughing and choking and grabbing his throat. The girl turned to George, and I could see she was weighing her options.
“Weally?” George said.
He hooked a hand under my arm and we exited stage right.
“She’s insane.” I wiped my nose, which was also bleeding. The sight of that dark sticky substance on my fingers made my stomach roil. My knees wobbled, but George jerked me onward.
I said, from behind my hand, “Are we calling the police? We should call the police.”
George whistled for a taxi, and a black cab veered out of nowhere and promptly pulled to the side of the road. George pulled open the door, thrust me into the backseat, which smelled of cigarettes and curry, and slid in after me.
He gave the driver directions, slid his glasses back on with perfectly steady hands, and turned to me. “That was the girl from the airport?”
And here I’d thought he hadn’t been listening earlier. “Yes. That was her. She’s...” I swallowed blood, and my stomach gave an immediate and almost unstoppable heave. I managed to gulp down my revulsion and what was left of my undigested dinner.
George put a hand on my shoulder and said with embarrassing kindness, “You’re okay now, Jefferson.”
“No, it’s not that,” I said. Not what? I didn’t even know; I just knew I was rejecting anything that made him think he needed to talk to me like I was still in kindergarten. “I need to report this to the police, right?”
“No, I don’t think we want to call the police.”
“Why? Don’t we have to? I think we should. They were going to...” What? Abduct me? How was that possible?
“Are you sure you don’t know them?” George persisted. “Now is the time to speak up, even if it’s something embarrassing or something you’d rather not—”
“What? No! George, I don’t know them. I don’t know her.” Another drop of blood leaked from my nose and fell someplace, hopefully not my suit jacket. I pinched my nostrils tight and said in a squeezed, munchkin voice, “All I know is she came up to me at the airport and then she turned up at my aunt and uncle’s. She’s following me.”
“That makes no sense. Start again. From the beginning.”
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