Authors: A.J. Lape
Once Lincoln told them to “Make things look believable,” they shoved him inside.
“The girl,” Bats moaned loudly. “Darcy … is she all right?”
Employing an unnatural speed, Lincoln lunged through the open door so fast it was barely visible to the naked eye. Next thing I knew, Bats screamed in raw agony, futilely thrashing around until his mouth was muzzled. Maybe this was one of those “ignorance is bliss” situations.
I tasted the coffee I never had, turned, and promptly threw up.
32. OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
PLACED BOTH HANDS ON
shoulders and steered him back toward his room.
I’d met him in the hallway, dressed from the waist down, with his brief case in his hand and a ball cap on his head. He said he was batting cleanup while constructing a memo on counterterrorism to the State Department. I’m not sure what that meant, but I wished him good luck and smacked him in the rear.
Stupid … I was STOOPID.
This man’s mind floated off to the Great Beyond after two weeks of chaos with me. I’d say I was sorry, but I knew he’d never remember, and I’d always felt those after-the-fact sorrys didn’t mean a whole lot anyway. Sorrys were for accidents, not things so premeditated even a temporary insanity defense was useless.
After I lied to myself that there were no lasting effects of the trauma, I slowly tiptoed down the darkened hall to my own personal heater. Wearing boxer shorts, Dylan’s discarded shirt, and tube socks in honor of Elmer, I hoisted myself onto the bottom of the bed, crawling up the black silk sheets to the free pillow. Dylan smelled extra yummy, like a cream puff bar that’d made a baby with a marshmallow.
“Psst,” I whispered, “you smell good. Normally, you smell like dirt, but tonight you’re lip-smacking league.”
“Why thank you,” he said. Okay, that voice didn’t belong to Dylan. It sounded too feathery and …
“Willow?” I giggled.
Willow rose up, switching on the glass lamp by the side of Dylan’s bed. “The one and only,” she laughed. I stood there bewitched by her presence, looking at a legend in the making. No one, and I mean
, had ever been created more beautifully than Willow Taylor. She gracefully threw back the covers, and I slid under the sheets next to her. For once, I’d worn my glasses. Willow had on a tiny black t-shirt with a human skull silk-screened on the front. It looked creepy and marvelous at the same time. Wow, I wanted it and would somehow make it mine before I hitched a ride back to the Midwest.
I rolled onto my side to face her. “When did you get in?”
“A couple of hours ago,” she answered. “Dylan was writing in his journal as I tiptoed by. I always enjoy talking to my nephew.” She unleashed a sly smile, as if it meant something else. “It appears you can’t get enough of him, either.”
The thought embarrassed me. Talking to her was like looking at his dead ringer. Dylan and Willow were both photocopies of Colton. The resemblance was freakishly bizarre, only the contours of Willow’s features were softer. “Where is he?” I asked.
Willow and I both looked around all four corners, seeing only a neat room, not an item out of place. “Last I remember we were deep in conversation,” she shrugged, admitting she’d fallen asleep. “You missed him?”
I always missed Dylan. “He relaxes me, so when I can’t sleep, I seem to seek him out instinctively. It’s hard to explain.” And frankly, he probably couldn’t explain it, either.
Willow unveiled a warm, lazy smile. She gazed around his room once more, like she hadn’t been in here for ages and tried to remember the design. I had a feeling things were easier for her that way. Sometimes walking in someone else’s belongings didn’t resurrect the warmth you had for them. All it did was make you miss them more.
“You don’t need to explain love,” she sighed. “I hear you’ve had quite a bit of excitement this week. Most of it in the last few hours.”
That certainly was one way to spin a date with death. Let’s face it, folks. My sense of survival was a late bloomer. If it didn’t mature soon, I wouldn’t even be here next year. “I was due.”
Willow sighed heavily, “Me, too. It’s been a tough week.”
“What’s wrong? You don’t sound so good.”
Willow suddenly appeared to have aged a decade, her black eyes sorrowful and sallow. “Henry and I broke up,” she exhaled. “Although I know it’s the right thing, I don’t like hurting anyone, you know?”
No one should ever come to me to dispense relationship advice. The relationships in my life were with my dead fish and mutilated hermit crabs. I was pretty sure those were an exercise on “what not to do.”
“I’m sorry, Willow. I’ve never even kissed anyone. I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment.”
Wow, how embarrassing, but I had a feeling my virginal status was something invisibly tattooed to my forehead. Dylan and I might’ve kissed, but the fact that he acted 100 percent the same caused me to believe that my hormonal imagination manufactured the whole darn thing.
Willow reached out and tucked my hair behind my ear. “Why do you suppose that is?”
Good question. I actually didn’t have a legitimate answer that even I’d believe. I guess it boiled down to the fact that I was: one, chicken; and two, well ... there
no two. Chicken trumped everything. Still, there’d been opportunity—mainly by way of her next-door neighbor.
“Kyd still is…”
,” she interrupted with a laugh.
“Yeah,” I giggled, “a proposition per breath, but I don’t want to split my time between Dylan and someone else. There are a couple of girls that texted him this week, and it—”
“Bothers you?” she interrupted softly.
My groan was a dead giveaway. “I hate them already,” I admitted. Well, hate seemed like a minor word—I wanted them quartered and puked out into the universe, knocked around by a few meteors, never to be seen again. Yeah, that sounded good.
“Give me the scoop,” she encouraged with a dancing smile. “I love to gossip.”
Rolling over, I picked up Dylan’s BlackBerry from the nightstand, scrolling to the photographs of whom I referred to as Exhibit A—blonde, and Exhibit B—redhead. Both had two unanswered texts from yesterday, and a quick thumb-through showed he’d responded back to a couple a few days ago. Rather benignly, but still … an answer was an answer. All I knew was that blonde and redhead, et al., needed to G-O.
Taking it from my hand, Willow narrowed her eyes then looked at them with a snort. “There’s no comparison. The blonde looks like an airhead, and the redhead’s attributes aren’t God-given. They’re plastic.”
“Do guys care about that?” I asked, because I already struggled with the airhead quality … and God knew I HAD NO BOOBS.
Willow remained noncommittal. My interpretation was it depended on the guy. “My nephew thinks you’re perfect,” she replied diplomatically, “and I have to agree. Still,” she digressed, “sometimes you have to help things along.”
Before I could object, with her long, graceful fingers Willow typed a text to Exhibit A that said:
Sorry, red is my favorite color
. Exhibit B got:
Blonde is sorta my thing
“Willow, he’s gonna die!” I shrieked with a giggle.
Once again a snort. “
” she emphasized, “isn’t going to know unless you tell him.” Willow deleted their contact information, messages, and “sent box” replies before returning it to his nightstand. “Having your father as a cop taught me a few things. Remove the evidence of your crime.”
Well, that might be a temporary fix, but it sure as heck wouldn’t be permanent. “It still isn’t going to remove his in-demand status,” I grumbled.
“One day and one girl at a time, but he tells me you’re in-demand, too, and I can assure you that might upset him more than it does you. Dylan said you were unbelievably beautiful, but he underestimated his adjective. Frankly, you’re breathtaking.” She leaned over and touched my deltoid muscle. “Do you work out? Yoga? Pilates?”
“I curl a lot of cookies.”
Willow laughed so loud it echoed off the tile. “Well, it’s paying off. I could have you working by noon. Maybe even in a spread with me.”
Cue the dropped jaw. “You’re kidding.”
Willow donned the business demeanor of her big brother. Eyes narrowed, jaw lifted, like she’d bury anything or anyone that threatened her cash flow. “I don’t joke about those sorts of things, and I certainly wouldn’t take a picture with anyone who’d ruin my reputation.”
Let’s be real. Unless we were shooting
The Farmer’s Almanac,
I’d ruin the shot.
When I gave her a polite, “No thanks,” Willow frowned, talked some more about Henry, then rebounded the conversation back on Dylan and me.
“I envy the easiness of your relationship,” she sighed. “I’ve had to be an adult for so long, I’d love to find the right man to help
relax. You need to hang onto that, Darcy.”
I didn’t like to put people on the spot, but here we were, the dead of night, dissecting my non-existent love life and soon-to-be-over best friendship. After all Lincoln had done for me, I felt obligated to lob a few words on his behalf.
“Your parents missed you,” I whispered.
Willow glanced out toward the lighted hallway. My guess was Lincoln left the lamp on, hoping she’d miraculously appear. “Aunt Susan told me,” she exhaled. “She and Dylan are a lot alike. They’re—”
“Zen,” I answered.
She threw her head back, once again giggling. “I’m
That made two of us. Her definition of Zen included beluga caviar with 50 pulsating jets of a Jacuzzi. Mine involved passing junior year without Saturday school and a prescription for an antidepressant.
“It’s hard to look Daddy in the face sometimes, you know?” she continued. “Daddy’s made a career of what
be. Sometimes my
would hurt him
Well, I guess I got the ‘is’ part. At times you caused the ‘is’; others it was thrust upon you with no time for negotiations or restitution of all those things you put off until tomorrow. But at least she had two parents in the picture.
“I’ve spent many nights with Lincoln this week. I stuck my nose in his business, accidentally attracted a mobster, and he had my back when I didn’t even know he was looking. I think you should trust him with the truth. He and Grandma were the first to forgive me when I should’ve been boxed up and airmailed back home.”
Willow’s face appeared drawn, aged, and pained once more. She didn’t say yes, she didn’t say no. So I took it as a maybe.
I slammed the paper shut while I threw a drink of overly sugared coffee down my throat. Darky Walton. Who in the heckity heck was Darky Walton?? Obviously, it was a less-than-stellar ending to an otherwise perfect caper. But one would at least think—
—they’d spell my freaking name right.
Somebody needed to be fired.
As I dropped down at the kitchen table, I contemplated calling Troy
for a reprint. But I knew that meant he’d unmask Jester as Darcy Walker, and for some reason, I still chose to live in the wind. My iPhone had five missed calls, but I didn’t want to acknowledge my true identity. Not yet, at least, and as far as I could tell, no one knew about Jester except Hector and Bats Giuseppe. Both of them, I assumed, understood confidentiality more than most.
Still, it stunk to be Darky Walton. Darky Walton sounded like varnish remover or one of those super antibiotics.
“Good morning, Darky,” Lincoln chuckled. Lincoln’d crawled into bed the same time as I had. You’d think he’d likewise look like crap. Instead, his demeanor said he could’ve climbed the Matterhorn in Geneva. My brain currently functioned at baked bananas.
He deposited a FedEx overnight package on the table addressed to Legs. “I figured this was you,” he frowned, rolling his eyes.
Oh, boy, I couldn’t venture a guess who’d sent it. Kyd was more the in-person type, and Federal Express didn’t seem like Tricky’s modus operandi.
While he was preoccupied pulling bottled water out of the refrigerator and answering a text, I quickly ripped the perforated zipper off the white carton and opened a shoebox stamped Rock & Republic, size 8. I laughed loudly as I read the note.
It was a pleasure meeting such a talented, beautiful girl as you. The search for your missing shoe wasn’t successful, but please accept this replacement gift from me.
P.S. I actually prefer Jester.
The laugh turned into a snorting hiccup when it registered Grizzly had sent them. I wadded the note up in a fist, stymied. How in the heck did he compute that I was Jester, where I’d been residing, and have something delivered in the course of a few hours—in the right size?
And let me ask again … JESTER??
The Taylors could never know, or it would be a poop storm of epic proportions. Overwhelmed, I sank down in my seat, clonked my head on the rot iron frame, and slid down the black fabric like a sticky slug. I met the floor with an explosive thwack, and the chair whapped twice on the tile. When I told myself that incident only existed in my mind, it screeched again reminding me I was a moron.