LILY IN BLUE
Eldrick’s had a nice crowd for Tuesday night. About half full of the usual clientele, people with more money than was good for them, looking for peers to indulge what would be called perversion if practiced by a lower socioeconomic caste.
The sound system calibrated so you could hear everything your target said and still be able to plead ignorance if necessary. She came in halfway through The Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.” A redhead now, wearing an electric blue sheath. I almost didn’t recognize her, just the sensation of seeing a person who reminded me of someone else until I glimpsed her aquamarine eyes. No one who saw those eyes ever forgot them.
She sat at a table big enough for two drinks and a small bowl of nuts, had Eldrick’s been that kind of place. I waited until her drink arrived and sat down without being invited.
She looked at me without recognition for a couple of beats, then blushed to the roots of what used to be blond hair. “Nick Forte? Oh my God! What are you doing here?”
“Working,” I said. “I hope you aren’t.”
Her eyes flickered to the table, then back. “I don’t do that anymore. Not since…my mother…you know.”
“I’m glad. Really. Look, I won’t stay. Don’t want to limit your availability. I’m sorry. That didn’t come out right. You know what I mean. Like I said, I’m working. A cheating husband job. Lots of pre-nup money at stake. It really is good to see you. You look great.”
“Can you stay a minute?” It popped out like she’d been holding it back.
“Sure, if you want. I can watch for this guy just as well from here. I’ll get my drink.”
“I’m in trouble.”
I left the drink. I didn’t owe Lily O’Donoghue a thing; I’d always owe her mother. “What kind of trouble?”
“That money you gave me—”
“Your mother gave you. I just delivered it.”
“Okay, my mother gave me. I didn’t waste it. I got a Masters at DePaul and used the rest to buy into a psychology practice. We’re doing very well.”
“I knew you would.”
She went on like I hadn’t spoken. “Someone recognized me. From before. Said he’d ruin me if I didn’t pay him.”
“Does that kind of leverage work on a shrink?”
“Not usually. A lot of psychologists have pasts they’d rather not talk about. It’s why we get into the field. The videos he has are the kinds of things you can’t live down. I’d have to leave the practice, leave Chicago. I worked hard for this, Nick. I don’t want to give it up. But I know it won’t stop with just once. He’ll be back for more and more and more. The money I have is tied up in the practice. He can ruin me.”
“What was the plan before I showed up?”
She blushed. “Work out a deal for less money…”
I raised a hand. “I’ll do what I can. Point him out to me when he comes. Give him what you have, tell him you need more time, and make sure he leaves without you. Wait ten minutes, then go straight home. Now act like you’re shooting me down, in case he’s watching.”
He must have been, moved in before my seat had a chance to cool. Almost handsome, early forties, in good shape, nice suit. They talked for five minutes. She laid an envelope on the table. He opened it and counted the money—amateur, counting it in public—then took her wrist in his hand so I knew it had to hurt even though I couldn’t hear. I stayed put. He wouldn’t do anything dangerous in public, and she’d only scare so much, knowing I was around.
He stood and I left before he had a chance to notice me, waited outside by the valet station. He led me to an unlighted house in Elmhurst, pulled into an attached garage while I killed the headlights and drifted to a stop in front. A light came on inside. I took what I needed from my car and rang the bell.
He answered the door with a look between confused and irritated. I opened the switchblade from my car’s console and sliced his tie off right below the knot. His mouth fell open and I stuffed the tie in it.
“I want the money you picked up in Eldrick’s and all the videos.”
He made a sound. Could have been, “What videos?” Hard to tell with the tie in his mouth.
I stuck a leg behind his knee and took him down hard. Pried his jaws apart and started feeding the tie down his throat. “I want everything,” I said. “Slap the floor when you’re ready. Don’t wait too long. You pass out and I’ll leave you for the coroner.” He gave the sign before I could start again.
I pulled out the tie. “The money first.”
“On the island. In the kitchen.” I nodded that way and he led me to it.
“Now the movies,” I said.
We went into a den near the front door. He handed me a jewel box with a disc in it. “That’s the only copy.”
I nodded toward his computer. “There’s a file in there, though. Isn’t there?” He didn’t say, but he might as well have.
Neither of us spoke while the laptop booted. When it finished he moved for the chair.
“I got it,” I said. Brought up a command prompt, typed “format c:” and hit Enter.
“Jesus Christ, that’s my business computer. You’ll ruin me. Who are you?”
“I’m the guy who’s coming back here if she ever even sees you crossing the street again. We good on that?”
I mailed the money to Lily. Broke the disc before curiosity got the better of me.
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