Authors: P.J. MacLayne
He had a point. I’d answered all the investigators’ questions, and they had answered next to none of mine. I smiled, and awkwardly folded myself, disguise and all, into the front seat.
After a very long hot shower and a change of clothes, I wandered through the suites to where the guys gathered around the computers. They all looked up briefly as I walked in, and then returned their attention to one of the computer screens. “You got here just in time,” Scotty said. “The police received the preliminary medical reports on your attackers.”
I peered over his shoulder. I didn’t recognize the name on the report. “Who is he?” I asked.
“That’s the one I took down. You called him Rufus,” Elijah said. “John. R. Walters. That’s the name on the ID he carried. The police aren’t sure if it’s his real name or not.”
John R. Walters. Not quite John Smith, but it could be fake. He had extensive bruising, but no permanent damage. Too bad. A low whistle from Scotty broke into my pondering.
“He’s got a list of wants and warrants a mile long,” he said, “assuming this is the right guy.”
Score one for the good guys. One less crook on the streets. Now for Eric. Lando scrolled down. “Remind me never to make you angry, Harmony,” he said. “Looks like you broke at least one of his ribs. The emergency room docs were concerned there might be internal injuries, but the tests so far have come back negative. They’re shipping him off to Pittsburgh for observation to be on the safe side.”
I almost felt bad. Almost. “What’s his real name?” I asked.
Lando scanned the screen. “He didn’t have an ID on him,” he said. “So they printed him, and are sending off to see if there are any matches. Until then he’ll be John Doe.”
Darn it. I had hoped he would be as good of a catch as Rufus—John Walters, I mean. Oh well, there was still hope once they figured out his identity.
“Interesting,” Scotty murmured.
“What?” Elijah asked.
“It seems there’s a reward for information leading to the arrest of our Mr. Walters.” Scotty grinned. “You’ve earned yourself a bonus on this one.”
Elijah shrugged. “Whatever it is, it gets split four ways.”
“Five thousand each. Not too shabby.” Scotty leaned back in his chair and rubbed his hands together. “I see new parts for my Iron Man costume in the near future. If I work on it, I’ll even have it ready for the convention next year.”
“Slow down,” Elijah advised. “I’ve heard that some of those reward offerings are bogus. Just wait and see, someone else will try to claim it too. Don’t count on seeing any money until it’s in your hands.”
Shoot. There went my new career. I was imagining myself as Harmony Duprie, bounty hunter. Has a nice ring to it. Maybe someday.
Elijah tried his hardest to get me to spend one more night. But I was more than ready to go home and sleep in my own bed. Besides, my African Violets needed watering.
After a quick call to Luke to let him know I was coming, and several trips to the car with my boxes of clothes, Elijah drove me home. He insisted on helping me carry everything up the stairs, and checking out the apartment before he let me in. I insisted that he remove his bug and the other one they’d found.
He promised that he would be back first thing in the morning so I could retrieve Dolores from the police impound. I promised I’d come by the hotel once she was back in my possession. The guys were scheduled to leave the next day, and I wanted to say goodbye to them properly.
But Elijah was reluctant to leave me alone, and I was in a hurry to be by myself. What he didn’t realize is that I had noticed the police report had a lot of information about him in it, and I’d talked Scotty into downloading a copy of it to my flash drive. As good as the idea of crawling into my bed sounded, I had some reading to do.
But then Luke and Joe clomped up the stairs to check on me. And not long after that Merrilee and Sarah arrived. The grapevine was operating at full capacity. Anyway, poor Sarah—I felt so bad that not-Eric had duped her to get at me. But she didn’t look as if she was taking it too hard, and the whole thing turned into an impromptu party. Plus, I had phone calls to make and messages to return and I had to chase Joe out when he attempted to camp out in my front room. It was early morning before I finally tumbled into my bed.
I must have set my alarm out of force of habit, because I woke up earlier than I needed to. I was sitting on the second-to-bottom step drinking my coffee, reading the paper, and patting Piper when Elijah arrived. He put his coffee down, pulled a doggie treat out of his pocket, and tossed it to Piper. Piper didn’t bark or growl or anything. He just wagged his tail, gobbled up the goodie, and allowed Elijah to pat him.
“What’s up with that?” I asked, astonished. “Piper doesn’t let strangers touch him, not ever!”
Elijah picked up his coffee and sat down beside me. “Piper and I reached an agreement,” he said, picking up the front section of the paper. I was done with it, and had moved on to the sports section. “I bring him dog cookies, and he lets me help keep an eye on you. He figured it was a fair trade, from what I can tell.”
I snorted into my coffee cup. “Sounds to me like you got the raw end of the deal.”
“Depends on your point of view, I guess.” He avoided my eyes and I didn’t press the issue. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep to worry about what he meant.
We sat in companionable silence, sipping our coffees and enjoying the crisp morning air. It wouldn’t be much longer that I could do this. Once winter arrived, I’d be banished back to my apartment. At least until spring. Winters tend to be long here.
Of course I didn’t tell him, but I enjoyed having Elijah share the moment with me. He would be gone all too soon. I’d lost my ghost in the library.
Problem was, I’d fallen for him.
First thing on the morning’s agenda was Dolores When I started her engine and listened to the low rumble, it was like getting together with a long-lost friend. I’m pretty sure someone else had driven her because I had to adjust the seat back to its normal position. Despite what I had promised Elijah, I took her for a quick drive on the highway north of town. If I exceeded the speed limit for a mile or two, who could blame me?
The constant ringing of my cell phone was the only thing that got me to turn around and head back into town. I didn’t answer because I refuse to talk on it, not even hands-free, while I’m driving. By the time I pulled into the hotel parking lot, I had seven messages, three of them from Elijah. Yes, he had added himself to my contacts. He’d even set a special ringtone for himself, “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” It made me smile every time I heard it.
So I called up to the room to tell them I was in the parking lot—Scotty and Lando wanted to see the car. What they really wanted to do was drive her, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to let them. Their van had numerous dents and dings in it, and so far I had avoided getting any scratches on Dolores. The tow truck driver must have handled her with extreme caution, because she didn’t show any sign of damage from her adventure.
It surprised me when Scotty headed for the van instead of me. Lando, on the other hand, made a beeline for Dolores. “Girl,” he said. “That’s one fine hunk of machinery.” He hesitated with one hand on the door. “Can I at least sit in the driver’s seat?”
I laughed. “My pleasure.”
In the meantime, the only hunk I cared about stood a few feet away, shaking his head. “I was starting to worry about you,” Elijah said.
I confessed. “It’s such a beautiful day with next to no traffic on the road…so I took her for a spin.” I winked at Lando, who was clutching the steering wheel with both hands. “Tempting, isn’t it?”
“What will it take for you to let me drive it?” Lando asked reverently. He grinned up at me. “Marry me, Harmony. Please?”
I crossed my arms and pretended to consider the question. “You’d do that? Is that what you figure it would take to bribe me? How about a big box of chocolates instead?”
“Nobody’s taking the car anywhere until I’m done with it,” Scotty grumbled as he knelt on the ground beside me. He held a long rod with a mirror duct taped to the end of it, which he pushed underneath the car.
“What?” I started and then decided to wait and see what he was up to.
He waved his contraption around and then moved towards the back end. I glanced over at Elijah, frowning as he intently watched Scotty work. Lando swung his legs out of the car and tracked Scotty’s movements as well. Whatever was going on, all three men took it seriously.
“Nothing?” Elijah asked as Scotty moved around to the passenger’s side.
Scotty shook his head. “Not yet.”
“Is that good or bad?” I asked.
“Good,” Elijah answered, not taking his eyes off of Scotty, who crouched beside the front tire.
“And we have lift-off,” Scotty muttered, dropping his contraption. Lying on the ground, belly up, he reached under the car. He pushed with his feet to scoot closer, but the car sat close enough to the pavement that he couldn’t get under it. As he stretched out his right arm, he grunted.
Scotty rolled away from the car, clutching something in his hand. “Amazing what you can find when you think to look for it,” he said, standing up and brushing himself off. He moved into the sunlight, and Lando and Elijah trailed behind him.
“Any markings to identify who planted it?” Elijah asked.
“I can tell you the manufacturer,” Scotty said, “but that won’t tell us who’s responsible.”
“What is it?” All I saw was a grimy black box.
“Tracker,” Scotty said, tossing the device into the air and catching it. “Probably works by GPS. The right people with the right software know where you’ve been and where to find you.”
And I thought the bug in my apartment was bad.
“So what do you plan to do with it?” I asked as I pulled my sweater around me. A cloud moved past the sun and there was a sudden chill in the air.
“Two possibilities.” Scotty tossed the box up again, and this time Lando snatched it out of the air on its downward path. “One, I disable it and dissect it to see if I can learn anything.”
“Or two,” Lando continued for him. “We attach it to another vehicle, say, one going to,” he looked at a nearby license plate, “Montana to confuse the guilty party.”
“Option one is more fun for us,” Scotty said. “But option two usually takes whoever it is a couple of days to figure out.”
Elijah took the contraption from Lando. “I want it to go as far away from here as possible.” He knelt down and reached under the SUV from Montana. “And since it’s magnetic, installation is a snap.”
“I owe you guys,” I said. “Are you sure you can’t stick around for a few more days? I could cook supper for you or something.”
Lando glanced at Elijah. There seemed to be some sort of silent communication between them. “Naw, we have to get back to work. But we’ll take a rain check on supper.”
What was that supposed to mean? I’m sure I looked puzzled, but Scotty interrupted my train of thought. “How about a ride in your car in the meantime?”
I laughed. “I might even let you drive it.”
And I did, with me sitting in the passenger’s seat, of course. They flipped a coin to decide who would go first and Lando won. We only drove to the edge of town and back, but it was enough to get them both drooling and talking about buying something just like her.
I say both, because Elijah didn’t play. Don’t ask me why, because I made the offer. Maybe Dolores just wasn’t his style. When he told me “no thanks” I didn’t push it.
After lunch, saying goodbye, I got a bit tearful. The guys had become like brothers to me. Lando and Scotty, that is. Elijah was a different story. But they needed to get back to work, and I understood. I didn’t expect them stay forever, and Florida was a long drive.
That’s where all three of them worked. A software firm based in Orlando. Something to do with security systems, which explained why they didn’t want to go into detail. Scotty and Lando were programmers too. No wonder they all knew so much about computers.
Elijah caught a ride with the guys to Mama D’s, where we went for lunch, so it was up to me to drive him back to the motel where he’d left his car. It would give me an opportunity to collect myself before he left. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to say goodbye to him.
As I pulled into a parking spot at the hotel, I took a deep breath, turned off Dolores, and got out. I figured I might at least get a hug from him before he left. Nothing wrong with a friendly little hug, right?
So when he came around to my side of the car, I was ready. No matter what, I wasn’t going to cry. I promised myself that.
“Is that offer of supper still open?” he asked, smiling.
It took me a minute. Or two. “What time is your flight?” I asked, perplexed.
The expression on his face shifted. “I’m not leaving,” he said. “I let Jake down and didn’t protect you. I’m not going to make the same mistake again.” He took one of my hands in his. “Those two goons were working for someone, and I can’t imagine whoever that is will give up. Not until that necklace is located. I’m hoping that if we work together we can find it.”
So this was all about Jake. At least I knew where I stood. I forced a smile. “Supper it is then. Drop by about six?”