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Richard Lund hunched down in the front passenger seat of the late-model car. The man holding the gun to his neck—none too gently—sat in the driver’s seat. Richard glanced up, hoping someone passing by would see them and save him from what was being planned, but because a chilly rain was falling, the small park was deserted. He never had good luck.
The man beside Richard jammed the gun harder into Richard’s neck and whispered through clenched teeth for him to pay attention. He was shorter than Richard by several inches but built like a linebacker. That, and the gun, persuaded Richard to turn back around to the phone and stop hoping for miracles to save him.
“Yeah, yeah,” Richard said into the phone. “I understand, Mr. Donovan. And—no disrespect intended—I’d be glad to help you out, but I’ve not seen or heard from my ex-wife for two years. I have no clue where she’d be.”
His tongue slid over his lips nervously. “Yes, sir, twenty-five thousand dollars is a big incentive.” He started sweating—thinking about that much money. “But what happens if I can’t complete the job in a month? Her family won’t exactly give me a map to her place if I show up on their front porch.”
He slouched farther down on the seat and tried to twist his neck away from the gun. It didn’t work. He may as well just bite the bullet and agree, he decided. Well, maybe that wasn’t the best expression to use at a time like this.
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir, I understand. I’ll do my best.” Glancing back at the man beside him, he said, “No, no, he’s been very persuasive.” He grunted as the gun dug into his neck again. “And, thank you, Mr. Donovan. Thank you for thinking of me.”
He snapped the phone closed, and then smashed his fist against the dashboard. Why did he always have to be so polite?
A whimpering sound quickly followed as his companion banged Richard’s face against the window and viciously moved the gun to cover a big chunk of his ear lobe.
“So you think you understand your particular job, Mr. Lund?” he whispered close to Richard’s throbbing ear.
“Yeah, yeah,” he managed to say again as his head started swimming with the pain. “Lighten up, will ya? I won’t be able to find her if you kill me.”
The linebacker pulled the gun away, opened up the door, and pushed Richard out onto the road. Richard’s torso slammed into the ground while his legs remained twisted on the floor of the car.
“I wanna make sure you won’t forget your little deal with the big boss. He’s got hot under the collar sitting in prison thinking about how that pretty little wife of yours opened her mouth and put him in jail. Drug racketeering—pretty serious charges. So, find the lady before a month from today, and twenty-five thousand big ones will be in your sweaty little palms. Just find the lady.” He pushed the gun down into his raincoat and kicked Richard’s feet out of the car.
Richard groaned and then muttered, “Ex-wife.” He hurried to say, “But I gotcha—one month—the lady.”
“Good.” The linebacker patted his raincoat, as if Richard could forget there was a big gun in it. “See you around, I’m sure,” the huge man said. He slammed the door shut, barely missing Richard’s knee.
Richard sat huddled in the rain, moaning and rubbing his neck as the car sped out of the park. His tall, thin frame was bent over as he brushed back the long blond hair that fell over his forehead and onto his wire-rimmed glasses. The rain came down harder and, before the car was out of sight, Richard was drenched. A covered bus stop, empty of riders, was at the corner half a block away. He half-loped, half-limped over to it and sank back into a corner of the bench that reached around three sides of the shelter. But when a bus pulled up a few minutes later, he waved it away.
Sitting there alone he shook the rain off his head then ran his fingers through his stringy hair over and over again.
His luck had been miserable for the past few months. He had not even thought about that ex-wife and the kid in ages. Now his whole life depended on finding her—just when he was about to land the biggest deal of his life. It had taken weeks of hanging around with that lonely old broad and entertaining her giggly bridge-club friends, who were as lonely as she was, to get her to the point of trusting him with enough money to connect with some major suppliers in Miami. She thought he was a business owner who preferred the maturity of older women. He knew how much enthusiasm he had faked to get her to believe that, and now—he had the worst luck.
Where would he begin to find his ex-wife? It hadn’t exactly been one of those friendly divorces. She had made it pretty clear that his shadow should never darken her doorway again, long before the papers were signed. She was young, and he was a smooth talker. But once she realized he wasn’t suited for a regular job and had bigger dreams to fulfill, she stopped appreciating his approach to life. She had said he wasn’t “the man she had thought he was,” but he had heard all women said that eventually. And he had been more than glad to sign over any rights he had to their kid. He had never really wanted kids anyway.
Thinking about that unpleasant time in his life was putting a sour taste in his mouth. He growled at the injustice of it all and then walked from under the shelter and spit into the grass.
The rain stopped and the sun pierced weakly through the clouds. He walked down the street, glancing up now and then to see if the car carrying his tormentor was following him. He schemed, struggling to remember everything he could about Janet—anything to give him a clue to where she would be. But all he could remember was her testimony that put Donovan away and led to the little encounter he’d just endured. He now knew why his former boss had left him alone all this time—he was waiting to use him to find the witness who had sealed his fate.
All he needed was one little break, and all this would be over forever. But, as always, breaks were hard for him to come by.
An hour later, he was back at the seedy motel where the line- backer had found him. He turned the dead bolt on the door—he’d never forget that again—and stumbled into the dreary bathroom for cold water to put on his neck. It was already bruised. He wrapped ice from the ice machine in a washcloth, and when the throbbing was finally reduced to a dull ache, he carefully laid out the expensive suit his lady friend especially liked.
A few minutes later, standing under the steaming shower, a plan began to form in his mind. His confidence, which was never very far from the surface, soared as he began to believe that it just might work. Maybe he could pull them both off—persuade the old lady to give him the money he had certainly earned and then begin to find his ex. The old lady had been close last night to handing it over. Some flowers and a lot of champagne could make tonight be the night.
One thing was for sure, he thought, turning off the shower and tying a towel around his waist: He needed some sleep before he showed up. It might be a long evening tonight—maybe the longest evening of his life. He shuddered at the thought as he sank into the lumpy bed.