His head started to
clear. It felt as if it had expanded and snapped back into place like a rubber
band. He could hear Patsy Cline singing I've Loved & Lost Again in
the background, which was some sick coincidence if you asked him. The song
ought to be banned. Ellie was saying something to him.
'Evan! Have you heard a
word I'm saying?' She took hold of his arm and shook him.
'I'm not sure I heard
you right,' he said. It came out more like a croak than his voice, hollow
behind the blood in his ears.
'I said I can't
guarantee anything, but I think I can help.'
He grabbed hold of her
arm more roughly than he meant to and squeezed. 'Where is she?' Five years'
worth of pain and hurt crammed into three little words.
She slapped at his hand.
'You're hurting me.'
He let go and slumped
down into his seat. 'Sorry.'
'You have to help me
first,' she said.
It took a moment for her
words to sink in. He stared at her open-mouthed. Did she think this was some
kind of game and he'd pulled the short straw? But there was obviously something
in the way he was looking at her that made her realize she'd strayed into
territory where anything could happen. Her face softened and she put a
conciliatory hand on his arm. Her voice took on a calm, measured tone, as if he
was a patient waking from a coma and she had to give him some important, but
bad, news: Sorry, we had to amputate your legs; deal with it.
'If I tell you what I
know now, you'll be out that door'—she nodded her head towards the door which
had just opened behind them—'faster than a scalded cat.'
Evan nodded several
times, his breath exiting through his nostrils. He had to admit—to himself at
least—that she was right about that.
'Also,' she said
squeezing his arm in a patronizing way so that he knew something nasty was on
its way, '. . . and there isn't any nice way to put this, but you've been waiting
five years already. Another day or two won't make any difference.'
He felt as if he'd been
Had she really just
said that? You've been waiting five years already.
'I need help right now.
If you don't help me, I probably won't be around in five days' time, forget
about five years.'
He didn't believe a word
of it—she was being melodramatic. But he was back where he seemed to spend most
of his life—between a rock and a hard place. He was going to have to do what
she wanted if she was going to help him. Unless he took her outside and beat
the crap—and the information—out of her. That idea was currently a very
close second. It wouldn't take a lot to move it to the head of the line. He
stared at his reflection in the mirror, his eyes never blinking, and almost
prayed for her to give him an excuse to erupt.
He rubbed his eyes with
the heels of his hands, his jaw moving tightly, as another hateful hypothesis
intruded into his mind; did she really know something or was she just pulling
his chain, pushing the right button to make him help her? There was only one
way to find out and he hated himself for being so easy to manipulate. He threw
his hands up in the air, unable to put his frustration into words.
'So, what's this guy's
name?' he said eventually, sucking air up from the floor.
He saw a flash of
triumph in her eyes.
He pulled a face.
'No, his full name's
Richard LaBarre, but everybody calls him Dixie.'
'Why? Is he from down
She shrugged. 'I don't
know—it doesn't matter anyway. I know he spends a lot of time in a bar called
Kelly's Tavern. That'd be a good place to start looking for him.'
Evan knew the place; it
was probably the roughest dive in the whole city. No danger, my ass.
'What do you want me to
say to him if I find him?'
'Just ask him to call
me.' She handed him a piece of paper with her number scribbled on it.
'Nothing else? What if
he asks why?' His voice had taken on a long-suffering tone. He wondered if this
is what his life would feel like after a few more years if Sarah ever did come
home. A life of summary orders handed down to him without explanation or the
possibility of non-compliance: do this; don't do that; do this chore now;
what the hell are you doing that for? until he wished that she'd never come
back. If only he knew, because if that's what life was going to turn into, he'd
be out the door right now and Ellie could shove her problems up her (shapely)
'I might be prepared to
do everything you ask without a word of explanation,' he said, 'but not
everybody's so amenable. Some people want a reason before they hop to it.'
'He won't,' she said,
ignoring the jibe, the smug confidence in her voice irritating the hell out of
Everything she said made
him realize there was a lot more going on that she wasn't telling him (all the
important bits) and here he was about to walk into it all blindfolded. If it
wasn't for the carrot she was dangling . . . Christ, how many more times did he
have to think it before he got up and walked out and hoped next time she left
it ten years before she came looking. In fact, make that twenty.
Talk about a prisoner
'Have you got a picture
She fished in her bag
and pulled out half a photograph. It had started out as a photograph of two
people but one of them had been cut out. It looked as if it had been taken
somewhere hot and sunny and he could see a woman's arm but that was all. He
wondered if Ellie was the other person and she didn't want him—or anyone else—to
'Was that you who's been
cut out?' he asked.
'Really?' He leaned away
from her and studied her for a moment. 'Because that'—he pointed very carefully
at the dimples of cellulite pocking the white flesh under the woman's arm in
the photo—'looks like your arm.' He chewed on the inside of his mouth to keep a
grin from breaking out.
Her self-satisfied smile
evaporated and was replaced with a look like she’d sat on a hot coal. She shot
him a look of such hatred and contempt, it gave him goosebumps. At least she
had the presence of mind not to glance down at her arm.
He gave a small it
was worth a try shrug and topped it off with a smug smile. He felt much
better. 'Do you know who it is?'
'No.' She shook her
head. Not no, sorry, just no.
He smiled again as if to
say he'd have been surprised and disappointed by any other answer. He'd find
out who it was if he needed to, but the cellulite would never go away. Ha,
'There's no risk of me
drowning in a sea of facts then.'
She climbed off her
stool and picked her bag up off the bar, ready to go. That suited Evan just
fine; he hadn't been about to offer her another drink anyway. He gave her his
number and she punched it into her phone as if he'd given her the number for dial-a-cockroach.
He watched her in the mirror behind the bar as she walked back towards the
door. He was pretty sure she stole a quick look at her arms in the mirror as
she went. A number of the other guys were watching her too, all sitting in a
line at the bar like grinning idiots. One of them picked up his beer bottle and
blew a hollow toot with it. You couldn't blame them—she was good to look at
after all, in a selfish, manipulative bitch sort of way.
He ordered another beer
and sat staring into the distance, wondering how likely it was that a person,
even one as narcissistic as Ellie, would wait five years before telling her
best friend's husband what she knew about her disappearance. Unless the best
friend had asked her not to, of course . . .
Dixie didn't say anything. He just sat
quietly and waited for Chico to finish. The way things were looking, he should
probably have brought a pillow.