“I want to talk to my wife. I want to talk to her right now.”
“Sorry, she can’t come to the phone. She’s all tied up.” Frank thought that was funny, too.
“I don’t talk to her, you don’t get the money.”
“You can talk to her tomorrow morning.”
“I mean it, Frank. You hurt her—”
Frank hung up the phone.
Sykora screamed as if in great pain. I heard a crash. And then another. And then another. “Pen, Pen,” he wailed, followed by a moan that spoke of all the sorrow there was in the world.
I checked the load in both my guns and left the motel room.
Steve Sykora flung open the door of his mobile home after I knocked. My impression was that he was hoping I was someone else.
He was an inch or two shorter than I was—with light brown hair. His eyes were dark, and he was blinking at me like he wasn’t sure I was really there.
“I’m McKenzie,” I told him.
He lunged out of the doorway toward me, his fist leading the way.
I managed to get under the blow and attempted to counter with a ridge hand to his solar plexus, but he was already behind me. I tried to turn, only he caught me in a headlock. I grabbed a fistful of his hair and pulled back hard. At the same time I stomped his knee from behind. His leg folded, and I drove his knee to the ground. He kept rolling, taking me with him. Suddenly I was on my back and he was kneeling on my biceps. My wrist was pulled backward—he could have snapped it with a thought.
“I’m a friend of Pen’s,” I blurted. I didn’t know what else to say. “I’m here to help Pen.”
“What do you know about it?”
“I know Frank kidnapped her.”
“How do you know?”
“I bugged your trailer.”
“You did what?”
“A UHF transmitter on your telephone line.”
Sykora added pressure to my wrist. I closed my eyes, steeling myself for the excruciating pain I knew would come—only he eased up at the breaking point.
All the lies I had told in the past week and a half flashed before my eyes. None of them had done me much good, so I decided to try a different strategy—the truth.
“You’re a sonuvabitch,” I told him. “Frank and his thugs killed my friend and raped another, and you let them get away with it. I hope you all burn in hell. But Pen doesn’t deserve any of this. So I’m going to help you get her back. I only hope she leaves you when we do.”
“Leave me for you?”
“She doesn’t even know who I am. I only know who she is because I’ve been listening to her put up with your bullshit for the past week.”
“You’re the one who burned me with the bureau, aren’t you?”
“You bet your ass I am.”
Sykora chuckled, an odd thing to do, I thought. He released my wrist and abruptly stood up. As I rubbed first my wrist and then my arm, he wandered to the trailer. He tried to slam shut the door, but it bounced back open again.
“I’m supposed to trust you?” he asked.
I didn’t say if he should or shouldn’t.
“Penelope,” he moaned. “I don’t know what I’ll do if …”
The unspoken thought hung between us.
“Yeah, now you care,” I told him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Have you ever listened to her?”
“Of course I listen.”
“I mean really listened to her? Listened to what she had to say about people, about life? Have you listened to her laugh? Have you listened to her music?”
“Not for a long time.” His voice sounded far away.
“You and I—we deserve what happens to us. God knows Frank does. But Pen … not Pen. She doesn’t deserve this. None of it. She’s an angel come to earth. And she needs our help. So what’s it going to be?”
“An angel come to earth,” Sykora repeated. I admit it sounded way over the top when he said it. “You love my wife.”
“No, I don’t. But I could be talked into it real easy.”
I was surprised by the truth of my own words. But despite what Ruth Schramm had said, Pen wasn’t Audrey Hepburn and I certainly wasn’t Humphrey Bogart.
Sykora took hold of the door as if he wanted to slam it again.
“What’s it going to be?” I repeated.
He left the door open.
“Do you know where Frank is?” he asked.
“We can find him.”
“There’s only one person in Minnesota who would help him. Guy called Brucie. I’m betting Frank’s with him.”
“And if he’s not?”
“You can always pay him the ten thousand and hope for the best.”
Sykora closed his eyes.
A moment later, he opened them again and started talking. His voice was brisk and sure, his words clearly enunciated. Yet he paced like he needed to urinate and the restroom was a long way off. His forehead and upper lip glistened with sweat. He reminded me of a poor poker player pushing chips into a pot he couldn’t afford to lose.
“I know this Brucie,” he told me. “He’s one of Frank’s boys. But I know nothing else about him. I don’t even know his whole name.”
“Neither do I.”