G is for Gumshoe - Page 62/98

"How tall are you?" I said. "You don't look short to me."

"Five seven."

"She's only five nine. What's the big deal?" Mac Voorhies tapped on his glass with a spoon about then, saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention…" He and Marie had been placed at table two, near the center of the room. Jewel and her husband were at the same table and I could see Jewel begin to squirm, anticipating the speech to come. Maclin Voorhies is one of the California Fidelity vice presidents, lean and humorless, with sparse, flyaway white hair and a perpetual cigar clamped between his teeth. He's smart and fair-minded, honorable, conservative, ill-tempered sometimes, but a very capable executive. The notion of being publicly praised by this man had already brought the color to Jewel's face. The room gradually quieted.

Mac took a moment to survey the crowd. "We're here tonight to pay homage to one of the finest women I've ever been privileged to work with. As you all know, Jewel Cavaletto is retiring from the company after twenty-five years of service…"

There's something hypnotic about the tone and tenor of an after-dinner speech, maybe because everyone's full of food and wine and the room's too warm by then. I was sitting there feeling grateful that Mac had bypassed the canned humor and was getting straight to the point. I don't know what made me look at the door. Everyone else was looking at Mac. I caught something out of the corner of my eye and turned my head.

It was the kid. I blinked uncomprehendingly at first, as if confronted with a mirage. Then I felt a rush of fear.

The only clear glimpse I'd ever had of him was that first encounter at the rest stop. Mark Messinger had been feigning sleep that day, stretched out on a bench with a magazine across his face while Eric knelt on the pavement with his Matchbox car, making mouth noises, shifting gears with his voice. I'd seen him again one night in the motel parking lot, his features indistinguishable in the poorly lighted alcove where his father had taken him to buy a soft drink. I'd heard his laughter echo through the darkness, an impish peal that reminded me of the shadowy underworld of elves and fairies. The last time I'd seen him, his face had beer partially obscured behind the paper sticker on the passenger side of the truck in which his father tried to run me down.

He was small for five. The light in the corridor glinted on his blond head. His hair was getting long. His eyes were pinned on me and a half-smile played on his mouth. He turned to look at someone standing in the corridor just out of sight. He was being prompted, like a kid acting an unfamiliar part in the grade-school play. I could see him say, "What?" I didn't wait to see what the next line would be.

I grabbed my handbag and came up out of my seat, nearly knocking my chair over in the process. Dietz turned to look at me and caught the direction of my startled gaze. By the time he checked the entrance, it was empty. I bolted around Neil's chair, heading toward the hall, tagging Dietz's arm. "It's the kid," I hissed. His gun came out and he grabbed my arm, jerking me along behind him as he moved toward the door. Mac caught the commotion and stopped midsentence, looking up at us in astonishment. Other people turned to see what was going on. Some woman emitted a startled cry at the sight of Dietz's.45, but by then he'd reached the entrance and had flattened himself against the wall. He peered around the doorway to the right, glanced left, and drew back. "Come on," he said.

Still propelling me by the arm, he walk-raced us down the corridor to the left, our footsteps thudding on the tiled surface. I half-expected him to stash me in Vera's room while he ran reconnaissance, but instead he steered us toward the exit at the end of the hall. At the door, we stopped again abruptly while he made sure there was no one out there. The night air hit us like icy water after the warmth of the banquet room. We eased away from the light, hugging the shrubs as we rounded the corner, moving toward the parking lot.

"You're sure it was him?" he asked, his tone low.

"Of course I'm sure."

We were on a darkened walkway that bordered one of the interior courtyards. Crickets were chirring and I could smell the slightly skunky scent of marigolds. Voices up ahead. Dietz drew us into the shelter of some hibiscus bushes bunched against the building. I was clutching the Davis, my hand shoved down in the outside pocket of my shoulder bag. Dietz's fingers dug painfully into the flesh of my right arm, but that was the only indication I had of how tense he was. A couple passed, two of the bridesmaids I'd seen earlier. I could hear their long taffeta skirts rustle as they hurried by.