'I called in at your
office—the guy downstairs said I'd probably find you here.' She made a point of
looking at her watch with a slight raise of her eyebrow. Evan thought that was
a bit rich—for one it was gone five thirty, but apart from that, in the good
old days nobody had been able to keep up with Ellie's drinking and she'd led
Sarah astray more than once. On the few occasions he'd argued with Sarah, it
had been after she'd crawled home drunk from a night out with Ellie. As a
result, his relationship with Ellie had always been a bit delicate—as in,
liable to shatter into tiny pieces at the slightest knock.
'Anyway, aren't you
going to buy me a drink?' she said, leaning forward so her forearms rested on
the bar, her cleavage leveraged against her arms, her breasts pushed upward.
Evan didn't think the display was for his benefit and neither did the other
drinkers along the bar, but that didn't stop them all staring.
Evan ordered her
something with an umbrella in it, got another beer for himself and asked her
again what she was doing looking for him. She took a sip of her drink and
looked down at her glass. Evan could see a slight tremor in her hands. She
An awful thought
suddenly pushed itself into Evan's mind. He felt as if somebody was working an
ice cold knife into his stomach and twisting it just for fun.
She was here with
news of Sarah—bad news.
She looked across at
him. He could see something in her eyes, but it didn't look like concern for
him or his welfare, more like an overarching commitment to self-interest. Then
again, she'd always been a selfish bitch; Sarah had said as much many times. In
fact, now he thought about it, he realized he hadn't minded her fading out of
his life. Hadn't even noticed, in fact.
'I'm in trouble. I need
Evan relaxed and let out
a long breath, pinching the skin between his eyes and the bridge of his nose.
Thank God for that.
Nothing to do with Sarah.
He put on his best,
concerned expression and invited her to tell him all about it.
'I can't really go into
the background details—'
He nodded, thinking good
start to himself. Full and open disclosure from the get-go. He seemed to
remember she'd been devious as well as selfish.
'—but there's someone I
want you to find for me.' She looked at him expectantly, as if she needed
confirmation from him that he'd got his head round the task ahead, before she
gave him any specifics—like a name.
'Uh huh,' he said and
nodded intelligently. He took another pull on his beer. She'd hardly touched
She didn't say anything.
Was she just expecting him to say okay?
'Why do you need me to
find him—it is a him isn't it—for you? I get the feeling this isn't a
missing person case.'
'You're right,' she
said, nodding, 'it's a guy and I suppose it's not so much find him as
get a message to him.'
'But you can't tell me
what it's about?' Or don't want to.
Ellie looked at him as
if she was seriously considering telling him all about it, but she wasn't of
'Can't you just do it
for me without asking a ton of questions?' She tried another smile, but it
didn't really work.
Evan thought it was like
being in a time machine—he'd been taken back five or six years in time, back to
the same old manipulative Ellie. She probably couldn't remember the last time
the world didn't work out for her. At least she hadn't said for old times'
She put her hand on his
arm again and he laughed silently to himself; here it comes, the emotional
'I know we didn't always
see eye to eye,' she said, surprising him with her unexpected honesty, 'but I
really do need your help. I'm in serious trouble.'
He laced his fingers
together, pushed the hands out until the knuckles cracked. He hoped the gesture
implied a degree of tiresomeness; made it clear how little that meant to him.
'And you don't think it
would help if you told me about it?'
She looked down and
shook her head sadly, her hair falling forward, obscuring her face. He leaned
forward and towards her but she didn't look at him.
'Why me?' he said. 'How
did you know I'm working as a private investigator?'
'—but I didn't have
anyone else to turn to.'
Evan knew that was a lie
to begin with. She'd just decided emotional blackmail was the best approach to
use on him. Obviously he looked like a soft touch.
'That's worked out well
then,' he said, 'seeing as I am a private investigator. And putting
those investigative skills to work right now—'
She looked up at him
now, almost as if he was about to deliver the answer to her problems already.
'—makes me think there's
something you're not telling me. In addition to the stuff you've told me you're
not telling me.'
He looked at her for
confirmation and got a don't be ridiculous look back.
'Like it's dangerous.'
She held his gaze and
shook her head. 'Not really,' she said.
Evan's brain did the
translation without him having to think about it: Yes, very.
They sat staring at each
other without talking for a moment. Evan finished his beer and ordered another.
She still hadn't made a dent in her drink. He decided he wasn't going to just
say yes without her giving him something more—some explanation as to why
she needed to get the message to the guy or at least some proof that it wasn't
dangerous. For all he knew the guy might be a drug dealer or a homicidal
'There is another reason
I came to you,' she said eventually.
Evan allowed himself a
small smile as he watched her inching her way cautiously towards the truth. Not
that he expected she would actually get anywhere near something as alien as the
truth, but a little closer would be nice.
She put her fingers
between her eyebrows as if stanching a headache. 'You're right, I could have
gone to any PI and asked them to do it. But there's something I can do for you
in return. Something that would only be of interest to you.'
She sat back in her seat
and finally took a big gulp of her drink.
Thank Christ for that, Evan thought. But if she thought
he was going to bite, she was wrong. He was sure she was only saying it to get
his interest, get him to agree to do what she wanted. She probably didn't even
plan on paying him for his time, let alone do something for him in return. If
he looked manipulative up in the dictionary he'd see her face smiling
back at him.
Then she sat up and
leaned in towards him and the smug, almost sneering look in her eyes that said you
have absolutely no idea what is going on turned into a cold hand that
gripped his innards and twisted and told him he was wrong. That he could not
have been more wrong.
'I can help you find
Sarah,' she said.
It's just a question of
finding the right button and pushing it. Evan's button wasn't hard to find—it
was practically sticking out of the top of his head, and Ellie hadn't so much
pushed it as hit it with a sledgehammer.
That's what he felt had
happened anyway. If Babe Ruth had come charging into the bar, swinging his bat
wildly and caught him round the head with it, he would have been hard pressed
to tell the difference between that and how he felt now. His hands began to
sweat and the back of his neck went cold.
He'd come in for a quick
after-work beer just like any other day and now this. He wasn't sure he'd heard
her correctly. He was vaguely aware that she was still talking—he could see her
mouth moving, going ten to the dozen like all women's do, the vocal cords
twanging away tirelessly, but he couldn't hear anything apart from a roaring
silence, his blood a steady pounding of fists against his ears. He thought his
own mouth was probably hanging open, catching flies.