'You can't,' she said,
the words bursting out of her mouth a little too quickly. She didn't know if he
was two or three blocks closer or further away than she was? He might get there
first. 'I'm just about to go out.' It sounded so lame in her ears. He was
bound to be suspicious now. But it seemed his annoyance was getting in the way.
'Ellie,' he snapped,
almost shouted, 'this is important . . .'
'What do you need to say
that you can't say over the phone anyway? If it's that important, tell me now.
If not, it can wait.'
She allowed herself a gotcha
smile. There wasn't a lot he could say to that. On the other end of the line
she heard him take a couple of deep breaths. Take as many as you like.
'Yeah, I'm here.' That
was more like it. There was a satisfying amount of defeat in his voice. 'What
time will you be back?'
She relaxed a little.
'Why don't you come over
around six?' she said in an encouraging tone, like she was offering him the
last slice of pie.
'Okay. See you then.'
The phone went dead. He
really was pissed. With any luck he'd have calmed down by the time he
came over—another reason not to meet him straight away. She didn't want to be
on the receiving end of all that testosterone. She dropped the phone back in
her bag and straightened up. She better get back to the hotel just in case he
went there anyway, the suspicious prick. A movement registered in the periphery
of her vision. She turned and looked out the window and her hand flew to her
mouth, an involuntary shriek escaping through her fingers.
'Talk about a lucky
break,' Juan said to José, shaking his head as he backed the car out of the
narrow side street. There was a screech of tires and a long, indignant blast on
a horn as the car they'd backed out in front of made an emergency stop. He
raised his arm lazily and gave the driver the finger in the rear-view mirror as
he straightened up. Asshole shouldn't have been driving so fast in the first place.
'So what are we going to
do now?' José said.
The car behind jerked
into life, pulled around them and drew up alongside. A large guy with a very
red face waved his fist and shouted abuse at them through the window. Specks of
spittle spattered the glass.
José leaned forward in
his seat and the two of them turned to see what all the fuss was about. Oddly
enough, the guy had a quick change of attitude. Something about the sight of
the two of them staring back at him, their dark eyes predatory and mischievous,
made him remember what a hurry he'd been in. He stopped shouting like somebody
had pulled the plug, snapped his eyes front and did his best to put his foot
through the floor. The car shot forward and disappeared down the road.
'How about we go after
that asshole,' José said. 'He called you a wetback.'
Juan turned towards him
and wagged his finger as if to say: liar, liar, pants on fire.
'How d'you know. You
couldn't hear him.'
José grinned. 'I read
his lips.' He mouthed the word a couple of times putting the emphasis on the
'w' and the 'b'. 'You can see it a mile off.'
Juan laughed. 'Yeah, if
you're looking for it. Anyway, we haven't got time—we've got to get back to the
José twisted in the seat
and pulled his head back to get a good look at his partner; make sure there
wasn't something he was missing.
'What for? The guy's not
going to go back there—not ever. Not if he's got any sense.'
'Doesn't matter,' Juan
said. He had that smug look on his face that José always wanted to punch; the
one that said that's why I'm the dog who eats first. 'He left his card
with the guy behind the bar. If it's not already in the trash, I'm sure he'll
be happy to give it to us.'
José grinned back at
him. 'Don't you just love it when people make it easy for you?'
But Juan wasn't
listening to him any more. They were almost back at the bar and he'd been
looking for somewhere to park when his head had snapped around like somebody
had slapped him.
'What is it?' José said,
trying to follow his eyes.
'Who?' José said,
craning his neck to try to see what his partner was so excited about.
'It's that bitch Ellie.
I can't believe it. She's sitting right there in her car across from the bar.
Look, there.' He leaned across José and pointed. 'She's hunched over but you
can see it's her. It looks like she's on the phone.'
'So what's she
'I reckon she must be
the guy's client. She sent him after Dixie and then followed him.'
'Like she doesn't trust
him, you mean? Maybe it's him she's on the phone to.'
'Doesn't matter. Here's
what we're going to do.'
Juan carried on past
Ellie's car and stopped for a second to let José out. Then he made a U-turn and
drove back the way he'd come while José doubled back on the sidewalk. About ten
cars behind her, he made another U-turn and drove slowly forward timing it
perfectly so that he pulled up alongside her, boxing her in between the parked
cars in front and behind her, just as José got to the passenger door.
He pulled gently to a
stop and looked across at her through her driver's window. She was turned away
from him, hunched over and talking on the phone. She finished her call, dropped
the phone in her bag and sat upright. Then she turned and looked straight at
him. She let out a startled shriek as he gave her a massive grin and José
climbed into the passenger seat.
Ellie twisted round at
the sound of the passenger door opening, and saw José's greasy face leering at
her. Her bag was sitting on the passenger seat. She made a dive for it, but she
was way too slow. She got a hand on the strap but José wrenched it out of her
grip, dropped into the seat and started rooting through it. A couple of seconds
later he pulled out a Kahr P380. The five-inch long pocket pistol almost
disappeared in his large hand.
'Nice toy,' he said with
a grin. He dropped the gun in his pocket and carried on digging through the
bag. Next out was a can of pepper spray. That went in the pocket too.
Behind her, Juan opened
the driver's door and leaned in and grabbed her by the collar of her jacket.
'Out you get,' he said,
and hauled her out of the car. José leaned across and pulled the door shut
Juan looped his arm
round her neck and they shuffled backwards in the narrow space between the two
cars like some strange dance move. He tightened his thick forearm across her
throat, choking her. The more she struggled, the tighter he clamped it. Her
head snapped from side to side as she tried to see if anyone was watching, but
there was nobody around to help.
She bent her head
forwards and threw it sharply backwards but he moved easily out of the way. He
clamped his other hand over her mouth and nose, holding her head into his body,
squashing her nose against her face, cutting off her air—but not the stale
smell of cigarettes on his fingers. How is that possible? The callused
skin of his palm on her flesh made her shudder. His mouth was less than an inch
away from her face; she could feel his mustache like a hairy spider's leg and
smell his lunch on his breath. In her mind she imagined little brown pieces of
refried bean caught in the gaps between his teeth and her stomach gave a salty,
burping lurch. She grabbed the hand over her mouth and tried to work her
fingers under it, clawing with her nails in an attempt to prise it away. He
just squeezed tighter.
But she'd achieved
something at least—with no hands left to open the car door he called for José
to stop picking his nose and get his sorry ass around this side of the car and
get the door open. He hadn't expected her to struggle so violently. Thinking
about it now, he should have pulled up next to her facing the other way—it
would have made much easier to get her from one car to the other.