Jeff Coleman came out from the back of the shop. For “liking” me, he didn’t look too friendly at the moment. He jingled a set of keys.
“Where are we going?”
“You’re going to see your brother, dear,” Sylvia said without looking up from her work. “You need to come clean.”
Easy for her to say.
“Do you have another car here?” I asked as I got up.
Jeff had already started out the back again, and I sped up a bit to keep up. He didn’t say anything, just led the way through the office and out the back door.
If I’d thought the gold Pontiac was outdated, then the purple Gremlin that sat against the curb was a dinosaur. I might not have even recognized it if it weren’t for a silly book Tim had brought home about the worst cars ever. I couldn’t remember where the Gremlin was in the lineup, but I did think it got a better rating than the Pinto, which apparently tended to catch fire spontaneously.
Those cars were in and out again before I was even born.
Jeff Coleman, however, was about ten years older than me, if I could hazard a guess, and he probably had some sort of nostalgic warm feeling about this funny-looking car with a long snout and a back end that looked like it had its tail chopped off.
“Whose car is this?” I asked as Jeff opened the passenger door for me. Chivalrous. Who knew?
I had to wait until he got into the driver’s seat before he said, “It’s my mother’s.”
This made sense. Somehow I could see how this car’s quirkiness would appeal to someone like Sylvia. A vintage car for a vintage woman.
“Are you really taking me to Tim?” I asked.
“I’m taking you home. If he happens to be there, then I guess, yeah, I’m taking you to Tim.”
Home. Immediately I thought about my queen-sized bed with the fluffy white cotton sheets. Now I wanted nothing more than to crawl under the covers and sleep for about three days. I felt like I’d been up for a month. And that vodka I’d had at Chez Tango had made me sleepy without my even realizing it.
“Sorry about your tires,” I said.
“What did you do?”
“Hey, I didn’t do it,” I argued.
“No, I know that,” he said, taking a cigarette out of his breast pocket and sticking it in his mouth.
“Can you not smoke in here?” I asked.
He gave me a quick glance before looking back at the road again. He kept the cigarette in his mouth but didn’t light it. Security blanket, I guess.
“I mean,” he said, the cigarette wobbling between his lips, “what did you get into that someone had to slash my tires?”
I sighed. There had been so much all day that it could’ve been any number of things. And for some reason, my brain settled on Frank DeBurra. Maybe he’d found me after all and was mad I’d ducked out on him at the hospital.
No, he didn’t know to look for a gold Pontiac.
He certainly didn’t know to look for a purple Gremlin.
Why the heck would a car company call a car a Gremlin?
“Earth to Kavanaugh,” Jeff was saying.
“Oh, yeah, sorry. I’m a little tired.”
I saw his hand twitch on the steering wheel, like he wanted to maybe reach out and touch me but stopped himself in time.
I studied his profile. Even though he was a couple inches shorter than me and possibly way too old, he wasn’t a bad-looking guy if you looked close enough. The salt-and-pepper buzz cut made him look a little military. Hmmm.
“Were you in the army?” I asked.
His expression changed slightly; he clenched his jaw and his eyes narrowed, but he kept staring straight ahead at the road.
“Marines,” he said, so softly I had to lean over to hear him. “Gulf War.”
Suddenly this was way too much information.
“I found fifty thousand dollars in Trevor McKay’s boots,” I volunteered, eager to change the subject.
Jeff slammed on the brakes, and my body jerked forward, only to be jerked back again by the seat belt.
“Hey!” I said, clutching the dashboard.
He pointed up. “Red light. Sorry. So what was this? Fifty thousand dollars? Boots? Kavanaugh, it’s no wonder someone’s trying to ground you. Where’s the money now?”
“I left it there.”
He did look at me now, with an expression of such incredulity that I started to laugh. “You should see yourself,” I said.
His face didn’t change. “You left fifty thousand dollars in some guy’s boots in his apartment? And he’s dead? And you found a dead guy this morning? And my tires got slashed? What else?”
I managed to ease down to a couple of chuckles. “What else? What do you mean, what else?”
“I’ve never known anyone who had more things happen to her than you, Kavanaugh.”
“Why do you always call me Kavanaugh?” I asked.
He just shook his head and put his foot on the accelerator, and the car shot forward, forcing me this time against the seat back.
“Where does this guy live?” Jeff asked casually. Too casually.
I knew what he was up to.
“We don’t have a key. Kyle’s got it, and he’s all MissTique’d up at Chez Tango right about now.”
“Do we need a key?”
It was the way he said it that made me take notice. Like he didn’t need a key. I was exhausted and wanted to go home in the worst way, but at the same time curious about what he had in mind. I wasn’t eager, either, to face Tim’s wrath. Or possibly find Frank DeBurra parked on my doorstep.
So I told him where Trevor lived.
It was late afternoon and the sun had started to fall, casting a glare across the windshield and causing me to squint. I wished I had my sunglasses, but they were in my bag somewhere with the police. I flipped down the visor, but the rays peeked underneath.
Jeff and I settled into a companionable silence on the way. I was running over all the day’s events; I had no idea what Jeff was thinking. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
I indicated the apartment complex. Jeff pulled into the lot and eased the Gremlin into a visitor’s space.
On the way up to the apartment, I stopped suddenly.
“What?” Jeff asked.
“I left Trevor’s laptop in the Pontiac,” I said. “That was stupid.”
“We’ll just stop and get it on the way back,” Jeff said. How could he be so calm and levelheaded?
We reached the door and Jeff tried the knob. Locked, as I’d said.
“Kavanaugh, you might want to turn around for this,” he said, reaching into his back pocket.
He was right. I didn’t want to see what he was going to do. I stepped away from the door and leaned my back against the wall just to the left of it, eyeing the Gremlin in the lot. It really was an ugly car, and it had been a rather bumpy ride. The Pontiac was much smoother. But then again, it wasn’t half a car.
I was so distracted by the Gremlin that when I heard it, I didn’t recognize it for what it was, and all of a sudden Jeff Coleman was on top of me, forcing us both to the ground, his arms around me, my head shoved against his neck.
The second gunshot registered.