He screamed my name loud enough from close enough to make me leap half a foot in the air. I spun around and went into a clumsy karate stance.
God, you’re out of shape, my inner voice reminded me.
Lieutenant Noehring was standing in front of me, a brilliant smile on his face. He enjoyed startling me. His hands were inside the pockets of his Italian wool overcoat. I had no idea what was in his hands inside his pockets.
“Jumpy, jumpy,” he said.
“Noehring,” I said as if pronouncing his name would placate my fear.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he said.
“This is the third time we’ve met in the past three days. Once more and I’ll have you cited for harassment.”
“Not to worry, not to worry.” He removed his hands from his pockets, showing me that they were empty. “Just trying to make a point.”
“What point is that?”
“I can reach out to you anytime I want.”
“Good for you.”
“But bad for you.” Noehring smiled his Robert Redford smile again. “Just remember what I told you and it’ll all work out.”
“You must have checked on me. You can’t possibly believe I’m going to give you the ransom. You’re not that fucking stupid.”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Such language. You know, you should do a little research of your own before you make such an important decision. Ask for some advice.”
“Nina Truhler. Her daughter, Erica, too. Seems to me you’re sweet on both of them.”
“Do you want to die, Noehring?”
He smiled again. “All I want is the money,” he said. “I’ll get it, by hook or by crook. Think about it, McKenzie. Make it easy on yourself. And your friends.”
He turned then and walked swiftly to the stairwell. He disappeared behind the door. I didn’t know if he went up or down.
I slipped behind the steering wheel of the Audi and gripped it tightly while I fought my anger, telling myself to relax, relax, breathe, breathe. It was difficult. Noehring had threatened Nina and Erica. It was a calculated risk on his part because if he had indeed checked me out, he would know that I would kill for them.
I started the Audi and sat for a moment, listening to the engine purr while I pondered the same question I had asked myself the day before.
“How the hell did he know I was here?”
Gillard had no trouble following me to Rickie’s, and we entered the club together. I suggested a booth, but he liked the bar, so we pulled up a couple of stools and sat. Jenness Crawford was spelling the regular bartender, and after greeting us, she asked for our drink preferences.
“Let’s get this settled right now,” Gillard said. He tapped his chest with both hands. “Everything is on me. McKenzie’s money is no good here.”
“McKenzie’s money has never been good here,” Jenness said.
“My girlfriend owns the place,” I said.
“That’s wonderful,” Gillard said. He looked directly into Jenness’s eyes. “You are lovely.”
Jenness blushed. She knew she was blushing and brought her hands to her cheeks to hide it.
“That may be so,” I said, “but Jenness is not my girlfriend.”
“Even better,” Gillard said. He stood on the rungs of the stool and leaned over the bar, his hand extended.
“Hi, I’m Jeremy Gillard.”
Jenness returned the handshake. “I’m Jenness Crawford,” she said. “Pleased to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Gillard said.
So the dance began, the two of them taking turns trying to outflirt each other. I might have been amused by the exchange except I kept thinking about Noehring and what he had said. Somehow my Summit Ale was served without my noticing. I took a long pull and wondered, how many times have I put Nina in danger? Just that once, I reminded myself, but that was already once too often, and I had vowed to never do it again. Now this.
My frustration must have shown on my face, because when Nina came out of her office and saw me sitting at the bar she asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, that’s just my friend McKenzie psyching himself up for the big game like any great athlete,” Gillard said. “See the ball, be the ball.”
“What big game?” Nina asked. “Who are you? Never mind. McKenzie. McKenzie, you’re going after the Lily, aren’t you? You said you weren’t.”
“What do you know about the Jade Lily?” Gillard asked.
“This is my boss, Nina Truhler,” Jenness told him.
“Alrighty then,” Gillard said. “You’re McKenzie’s squeeze. I get it now. This is a great joint you have here, Nina.”
Nina ignored him. “McKenzie,” she said, “I thought you said you were washing your hands of it.”
“Some unscrupulous types appealed to his benevolent nature,” Gillard said. “They also doubled his fee. Hi, I’m Jerry Gillard. I own the Lily.”