11pm – 43 hours left…
The salty breeze blowing in off the Pacific slaps my face as I open the front door of my hotel. Drizzle had thickened into fog. I zip up my coat and head north to a location exactly two blocks away where I arranged for a cab to meet me.
Coughing to my left catches my attention. Hidden in the darkened doorway of a closed, bakery shop a figure avoids my stare. It wasn’t a little cough, but a deep-chested one that indicates bronchial infection. I stop.
She couldn’t be more than fifteen, frail, alone and sitting on cement, dressed in faded blue jeans and a sweatshirt. As I approach her, she puts up her hand for me to stop. Fever marks her dark-brown, doe eyes, sweat trickles down her trembling face. My chest tightens. The night can be so cold.
But my clock is ticking. Damn it.
I take off my Italian leather jacket and hand it to her. “There’s two hundred in the inside pocket” I say.
Her eyes widen, but before she speaks I stride off at a fast clip.
The cab lets me out a couple blocks from the Montague home. The traffic on the side street is light. I pass one dog walker with a yappy, white miniature poodle and a couple dressed for clubbing, so drunk they can’t walk straight even though they lean on each other for support. The air smells of the city, wet vegetation, cars and the ever-present wild, salty bouquet of the ocean.
Kate answers the door. Much shorter than my six feet, she has a petite, athletic build like her brother. Her shoulder length, dyed blonde hair has been pulled back into a pony tail. No makeup. I’d call her pretty, if she didn’t have dark circles around her eyes that threatened to take over her face. She wears a top-of-the-line, royal blue, jogging suit and leather house slippers. Expensive French perfume hangs in the air between us, mixed with sweat, edged with fear.
I follow her into a well-appointed kitchen that smells of Thai take-out, and sit on the stool she motions towards, at the marble island. I wait for her.
“I told Jeremiah not to call anyone.” Fear, more than anger laces her words. She stands on the other side of the island opposite me. I can’t see her right hand. I presume it holds a gun.
“I’m not anyone.”
“Who are you, exactly?”
“Jeremiah is a long way away. He’s a good friend of mine and has asked me to help.”
We stare at each other for a long minute.
“Put your gun away and tell me what happened.”
It takes her less than five minutes to go over all the facts. She doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Her chin quivers as she speaks and I pray she can hold it together long enough for me to learn what I need to know. I nod my head after every few words.
When she finishes, she places her gun on the shiny marble surface, but it’s still within her reach.
I lean towards her. “Are you sure Henri is dead?”
“His death… wasn’t an accident.”
to be continued…
a prelude short story for the Mata Hari series launching April Fools Day
Enjoy the season!