Author’s Note: Remember, this is a couple of days further on than in the regular timeline. And Clarence Weidman is nothing if not efficient.
“Isn’t it too bad,” Logan said, “That his first name isn’t accented on the last syllable? Then you could have said that like Hannibal Lector. “Hello, Cla-RENCE,” he said.
“Well, I do bear a striking resemblance to Jodie Foster,” I said. “Though I have to say, in the multitude of Cla-RENCE’s sins, I don’t think one can count cannibalism.”
“He does have a way of chewing up enemies of the Kane family,” Logan said.
“True, true,” I said.
“Are you done?” Clarence Weidman asked. His voice, do his credit, only came off as mildly exasperated.
“For you, Clarence? I’m never done being a smartass. What do you want?”
“Can we talk alone?”
“Are you out of your mind?” Logan asked seriously.
“I promise you,” Clarence said, “I’m here on business. And nothing that would do you any damage.”
“Why should I believe you?” Logan asked.
“Because I’ve never once lied to either of you,” he said.
More seriously, he was right; lying definitely wasn’t in Clarence’s list of sins. Of course, the shark usually didn’t need to lie to the tuna.
“I think I’m good, Logan,” I said. “If you’re worried, you can move back fifty feet or so and watch. I don’t think he’s here to do any immediate damage.”
“—okay,” Logan said after a minute or so, but he clearly wasn’t happy. He walked away and leaned against the side of the school building.
“I’m really not going to hurt you,” he said.
“I believe you,” I said. “But you realize why you’re on that list of people who don’t get an ounce of slack, right?”
“I helped keep you alive, Miss Mars.”
“And I thanked you for that. Now. What do you want, Clarence? Because I’m fairly sure I haven’t done anything recently to piss you or the Kane family off.” Unless he was aware of our actions against the Mannings, of course, but I wasn’t about to stop that no matter what he said.”
“You haven’t,” he said. “Abel Koontz recently asked you to look for his daughter.”
I blinked. That hadn’t been in the top five of places I expected the conversation to go. “Let’s say he did. So?”
“So I know where she is.”
“Okay . . . “ this seemed suspiciously easy. “So far I’ve tracked her down to Ibiza.”]
“You’re behind,” he said. “She may have been in Ibiza a couple of weeks back, but as of last week she was back in the vicinity.”
“Good to know. Always nice when other people do my work for me. I assume you’re not going to tell me why?”
“Without getting too specific,” he said, “Let’s just say that she had business with Kane Software – but that business would have required her to stay somewhere like Ibiza for a while.”
I was perfectly capable of reading between the lines. “Son of a bitch. She blackmailed you all for additional money.”
“Miss Mars,” Clarence said. “Do you know the phrase ‘I can neither confirm nor deny’?”
“Do you know that that phrase usually confirms?”
He grinned slightly. “Miss Mars,” he said. “I can neither confirm nor deny.”
“Okay,” I said. “And why are you telling me this. ‘Don’t bother trying to track her down, because we’re about to take her out’?”
“Do you think I’d bother telling you that?”
“No,” I said. “But I’m trying to figure out why you’re bothering to tell me any of this. You’re about as free with secrets as the NSA.”
“Because I know you, Miss Mars. You promised Abel Koontz you’d find his daughter, and that means come hell or high water you’re going to find his daughter or die trying. And that could lead you – places. Lyndon Johnson was once asked why he kept certain people in his cabinet, and his line was: It’s better to have them inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. Plus, I’ve been looking for her for a couple of days myself – to remind her of the arrangement she has with Kane Software. I have no problem with her saying goodbye to her dying father, however, while she’s here.”
“First off, the metaphor? Definitely a guy thing,” I said. “Second, I am never coming into your tent. Metaphorically or otherwise. I get what you’re saying, though.” After a second. “You say she’s in the area?”
“Fairly close by,” he said. “She’s staying at a place called the Palm tree Lodge Motel in Waverley, California.”
“And you’re inviting me along for the ride?”
“You and Mr. Echolls,” he said. “I have a strong suspicion if I tried to leave without you he’d call in some kind of cavalry. Even if you said it was okay.”
“Give me a minute,” I said, and as I walked over to Logan to explain what was going on, began to make a call on my cell phone. “Dad?” This was part of my new effort towards greater openness and honesty, in the service of embarrassing my father less.
“I’ve found Amelia DeLongpre. She’s in a hotel in Waverley – no, I don’t know where that is, either, but I’m tracking it down. Logan’s with me. Am I okay to go?” I wasn’t fool enough to mention Clarence Weidman.
“Hold on a second.” I could hear him fiddling with papers, so I guessed he was pulling out a map or two. At this point I had no idea where Waverley was, though I kind of doubted it was near Sacramento. Or even LA. I knew nothing about it. If it was some crime-ridden hellhole I wasn’t going anywhere, not with Logan accompanying me; hell, not with Dad, Leo, Weevil, and a platoon of Marines accompanying me. “It’s about 45 miles. Mostly inland,” he said. “There and back should be maybe two hours. Plus however long it takes you to find Ms. Delongpre.”
“And how long it takes to get her in to see her father,” I said.
“Home by eight,” he said. “And if you can’t, call.”
“What do you know about Waverley? Anything?”
“It’s a dot on the map,” he said. “I’ve never been there and I’ve never heard of it. It’s on one of the routes between here and Vegas but that’s not the way I usually go. You can go, but keep your phone on – if I hear anything hellacious, like it’s the headquarters of local chapter of the Russian mob, or something, I’ll let you know, and I expect you to turn around. Got it?”
“Got it,” I said. And that seemed reasonable. As far as Vegas is concerned, incidentally, Keith Mars rarely toddled off for a weekend of booze, gambling, and strippers, it must be noted. His visits to Vegas were 90-95% business.
So on the road, we were. Logan and I went in my car. Dad didn’t call, so I’m assuming his research didn’t show anything horrendous about Waverley. We pulled up to the outskirts of the Palm Tree Lodge just past 5 PM.
“Let Clarence and I do the talking in case the manager gets obstreperous,” I said to Logan as everyone got out of their cars. I hadn’t bothered to write down any info on Clarence’s vehicle, as I went by the assumption I’d never be seeing it again.
Waverley itself was a somewhat run down suburb. Not a hellhole, not a garden spot. Like Dad said: Just another spot on the map. Which probably made it a good place to hole up – not a place most people would really stand out.
“So you want me to just stand there and look pretty?” Logan asked.
He nodded. “I can do that,” he said.
I pinched his cheek. “And that’s why I keep you around, sweet thing.”
“Good to know I’m useful for something,” he said, flirtatiously.
“If you two are quite done?” Clarence said.
“Hey, man,” I said. “Don’t interrupt the banter.”
Inside, the place looked about as seedy as the outside did. So did the manager, who was staring at his computer and didn’t bother looking up when we came in. “Rooms are thirty bucks a night,” he said.
“We’re not interested in renting a room,” Clarence said.
“Then get out. I got stuff to do.”
I walked around and looked at his computer. “Ooooh. Porn.”
“It ain’t what you think,” the man said. “I ain’t reading it. I’m writing it.”
“Well, that makes it classier,” I said.
“Rent a room, or get out,” the man said.
“We’re looking for someone,” I said, holding up a picture. “Have you seen this woman?”
He looked up for a second. “Yeah. She took a room a few days ago.”
“Thirty bucks,” the man said.
Suddenly, Clarence had the man by the collar. “Show us or I’ll break all your fingers.” He shoved the man backward. Outraged, the man reached for the phone – the cord of which I’d ripped from the wall.
“That’s not the room,” I said. “That’s the phone. Start with the right thumb. I think he probably uses that a lot.” And ewww, that I was thinking that.
“I was reaching for the room key,” he said.
“We’ll go with that,” I said. “Even though the room keys are against the wall.”
He got the key and took us up to the room with no further trouble. It was empty and the place had been cleaned out.
“When did she leave?” Clarence asked.
“Day or so back.”
“When?” Clarence asked.
“Dunno,” the guy said. “Didn’t see her, just her boyfriend.”
“So she checked in and didn’t check out?” I asked.
“Who knew the place was a literal roach motel?” Logan asked, speaking for the first time.
I ignored him, having a horrid feeling. “Clarence?” I asked. “Call Amelia.”
He was ahead of me.
A phone rang from the ice machine. I walked forward, but he held me back and opened the door. His face darkened for a second. One could almost be forgiven for assuming, in that second, that Clarence Weidman had felt something.
“Tell me she ditched her phone,” I said. Is that a straw? Why yes, it is. Hello, straw. May I grasp at you?
“No such luck,” he answered.
I stepped forward. “It’s her,” he said.
“I believe you,” I said, and in this case I did. “But I need to see for myself.” Because if I was going to try to figure out what to tell Abel Koontz about his daughter I needed to know, know, that she was dead, that there was no chance she was going to poke her head into his room in a couple of days, because this happened to be a look-alike.
I know, a look-alike good enough to fool me and not Clarence Weidman, not likely. But still.
“You really don’t have to,” Logan murmured.
“I really do.”
It was her.
And that’s all the information you’re going to get.
God damn it.