Cry Uncle(10)

By: Judith Arnold


“I’m completely ignorant when it comes to children.”

“I didn’t know anything about children when Lizard fell into my lap,” he admitted. “There I was, busted up over my sister’s death, and suddenly I found myself taking care of an obnoxious little twit who had a vocabulary of a hundred words, most of them variations on the word ‘no.’ She thought toilet paper was for tearing into confetti. She refused to eat any food that wasn’t pink—we went through a lot of strawberry yogurt in those days. Plus she spent the first three months howling for Mama and Dada, which was a real treat, let me tell you.” Aware that he might be coming across as unforgivably self-pitying, he brought his lament to a quick close. “The bottom line is, if I could do it, you can do it. And I mean, I’ll do most of the child care. You’ll be just a figurehead, as it were.”

She smiled, a real smile, not just one of those anemic polite smiles she’d been running past him since they’d met. This smile had the effect of widening her face, launching her cheeks skyward and pleating little crinkles into the skin at the corners of her eyes. He wondered what laughter would sound like coming from her.

He wondered about a lot of things—for instance, how she had happened to witness a professional hit in the first place. And what she did for a living, and how old she was, and what she looked like first thing in the morning, when she was all sleep-tousled and her guard was down.

But now wasn’t the time to indulge his curiosity. If he didn’t get back behind the Shipwreck’s bar soon, Brick’s grunts were going to take on blasphemous overtones.

“Tell you what,” he said, standing and offering her his hand. “Why don’t you come over to my house tomorrow and get a feel for things. Before you agree to anything you ought to meet Princess Liz. We can talk some more...” And check each other out in broad daylight, he almost said, although he had the feeling Pamela Hayes wouldn’t look any worse in the midday sun than she looked in the white glow of the spotlight above the back door.

“That sounds like a good idea.”

“I live on Leon Street. A couple of blocks from the municipal beach. Do you know where that is?”

She reached into the pocket tucked in a side seam of her dress, and pulled out a small coin purse. Opening it, she scowled. “I haven’t got anything to write your address down on.”

“What do you think cocktail napkins are for? Come on inside, I’ll draw you a map.” He closed his hand completely around hers, not exactly sure why he felt the impulse to hold her. It wasn’t because she was on the verge of becoming his wife. It wasn’t simply an act of chivalry, the proper behavior of a gentleman escorting a lady through the rear door of a bar.

Rather, it had something to do with wanting to reassure her, and himself. If he could touch her, he could trust her. And if she was in trouble, he wanted her to believe she could trust him.

Even though, if push came to shove, he wasn’t so sure she could.





Chapter Two





EASY DOES IT, Mick Morrow thought. Don’t make a scene.

He stepped into the small, clean office and bellied up to a counter decorated with house plants. On the other side of the counter, two plump, mild-faced middle-aged women sat across from each other at facing desks, sipping coffee and yammering about an upcoming sale at Nordstrom’s. On each desk stood an African violet in a clay pot.

The women didn’t seem to notice his entrance, so he conspicuously nudged a plant out of his way. That got their attention. The woman on the left ended her monologue about the costs, both financial and emotional, of keeping her husband in up-to-date neckties, rose from her chair and crossed to the counter. “May I help you?”

He gave her his sweetest Sunday-school smile. “You’re the manager here, right?”

“Yes.”

“I’m looking for Pamela Hayes. She owns a unit on the upper floor.”

The woman glanced over her shoulder at her companion, and they exchanged a meaningful fluctuation of eyebrows. Then she turned back to him. “Ms. Hayes does own a unit here, but we’re not a missing persons bureau, Mr....?”

He didn’t supply his name. “Is she missing?”

“This is the management office. We don’t keep tabs on the owners. If someone has a noise complaint or needs a plumbing repair, we take care of it. But if you’re looking for someone who happens to own a unit, we can’t really help you.” She peeked over her shoulder once more, and her buddy gave her an approving nod.

Rage had always been a problem for him, and he engaged in a silent bout with it. The Sunday-school smile remained unaltered, though. He had learned to compensate for his bad temper by being a good actor, never showing his hand until it was time to collect his winnings. “I’ve been trying to reach Pamela for days,” he said smoothly. “I’m beginning to worry that maybe something’s wrong. You know, like, maybe she’s lying on the floor in a pool of blood or something.”

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