On the ride down to the garage, Nora fumbled with the key until she was able to release Evangeline’s wrists. She tossed the department issue bracelets into her bag and handed her friend a tissue and an unopened bottle of spring water. Evangeline took a big swig, rinsed and spit on the pavement as they stepped into the garage. She wiped her mouth and Nora put her arm around her waist and guided her to her cream Volvo station wagon. “Come on, Thelma, let’s get out of here before anyone sees us,” Nora said, hoping to provoke a giggle.
Evangeline raised her head from Nora’s shoulder and looked her dead in the eye. “You are my Louise. Thanks for saving me.”
As they pulled out of the garage, Nora called her ex-husband, Police Commissioner Bo Buchanan. “Bo, I need a favor. John McBain had Evangeline arrested – I know – you can grill his ass later – right now I need you to focus. Yes, she’s fine. Her car is in impound. Would you have it released and get someone to drive it over to her apartment for me? 57 High Street. They can leave the keys with the doorman. And Bo, Natalie doesn’t need to hear any of this from you, all right? You’re a mensch. Yes, that’s a good thing.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Nora saw Evangeline flinch at the sound of Natalie’s name. “Honey, there’s mints somewhere in my bag, if you want one. You might even find some gum and Red Vines in there.”
Hefting Nora’s beat-up old green Coach bag onto her lap, Evangeline did smile a bit as she rummaged through what Nora liked to call her “leather locker”. Notebooks, cell phone, hair brush, cosmetics, a new packet of pantyhose, prescription drugs and OTC antacids and pain killers, bug spray, sunscreen, a half a bagel in foil, an apple, Red Vines, a hairbrush, hair spray, Wet Naps, a copy of “The Killing Club”, and, at last, a tin of Altoids.
“Are you still feeling queasy? Do we need to stop by the doctor’s?” Nora said.
“No! No, I think it was just nerves. Really, I’m…I’m fine.”
They drove on in silence for several more blocks.
“Nora, did you really just crack John upside the head?”
“Yeah. I couldn’t help myself.”
“Anything for you, pal. Do you want me to take you home? Or would you like to come to our house? The guest room is ready and you’d have your own bathroom. You wouldn’t have to see any of us unless you wanted to.”
If it had just been Nora and her son Matthew, Evangeline might have said yes. But she was wary of taking her broken heart into her newlywed friend’s home. Was it just last month that she had stood in Nora’s living room and serenaded her and Daniel Colson with a song she’d written about finding true love? She flashed upon a memory of telling John she’d wanted to be loved the way Daniel loved Nora. And he told her she deserved such love, but he didn’t tell her she would get it from him.
“That’s so kind, Nora, but I think I should go home. I haven’t been checking my messages and I need to do some work.” Evangeline liked Daniel, but she didn’t feel she knew him well enough to let him see how messed up she was.
“Speaking of messages, I imagine you’ll have some from your mother. John called her before he issued the missing persons report. She called me after they spoke. I’m not sure how much she got out of him, but I know she was angry with him.”
Could this day get any worse? Evangeline thought. In the selfishness of her despair, she hadn’t considered what her disappearance would mean to anyone else. She felt awful about worrying her mother and ashamed at what her family must be thinking of her being heartbroken over this man they didn’t think was good enough for her in the first place.
“Thanks, Nora. Thanks for getting me out of there and thanks for not making me talk.”
Nora pulled up in front of Evangeline’s building. “Oh, we’ll talk. In time. But I know you’re tired. Are you sure you want to stay here? You know John is going to come looking for you to finish whatever you two started back there.”
“I know,” Evangeline said, her eyes filling with tears. She shook her head back, sniffed and smiled bravely. “But that’s what doormen and caller ID are for. I’ll call you soon. I’m so sorry for all the trouble.”
Nora reached over and gave Evangeline a hug around the neck and a warm kiss on the cheek. “You are so worth any amount of trouble. I love you.”
“Thanks. I love you, too.”
Once she’d watched the doorman greet Evangeline, Nora phoned Bo again. “It’s me. Listen, I need another favor. Could you keep McBain busy for as long as you can? I just dropped Evangeline off at her place and I know he’s going to be over here hounding her as soon as he can. The poor girl needs a little room to breath. Yes, I know you think I shouldn’t be meddling, but I need you to trust me on this. For Pete’s sake, he had her handcuffed. What? That was her idea? Well, he must have provoked her – the APB and the MPR were his bright ideas. Neither one of them is thinking rationally; they need to calm down a bit before round two. You will? Thanks.”
Through her oversized sunglasses, Evangeline read the mixture of worry, relief and tenderness in Walter Bivens’ eyes as he moved to open the door for her. “Miss Williamson, it’s good to see you back,” he said, taking her by the elbow and gently leading her through the door and to the elevator.
“Thank you, Mr. Bivens.” As long as she’d lived there, she still couldn’t bring herself to call this man by his first name. She stood back as he pushed the button for the penthouse elevator.
“Lt. McBain’s been here the past three nights waiting for you. From what I hear, he’s turned this town inside out looking for you.”
“I needed to get away for a few days. Listen, would you do something for me?”
“Someone from the police department will be bringing my car by. Would you let me know when they arrive and drop off the keys?”
“Certainly. If you’d like, I can get your things out of the car and bring them up for you.”
Her heart melted at his kindness. “Would you? I’d really appreciate that. And one more thing…”
“I’m not ready to see the Lieutenant yet. Please don’t send him up – and would you let whoever is working the door tonight know, too? When I get upstairs, I’m going to reset the access code for the penthouse elevator. I’ll call you with the new one.”
Bivens gave the girl a long look, trying to read her mood. “Whatever you think is best, Miss.”
Entering her apartment, Evangeline saw signs of John everywhere. Empty cardboard coffee cups and Chinese food containers in the kitchen trash, a dozen beer bottles in the recycling bin. She snorted when she saw the Guinness carton: “He must have been really upset.” By the sink in the bathroom, she found his big, square black watch with the wide, butch black leather band. She picked up the watch and sniffed the band – it smelled slightly sour and yet green, like the inner shoot of a blade of grass. There was a pile of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum wrappers next to the chaise lounge and a legal pad covered with his scribbling on the “E investigation” – a list of all the places and people he’d visited and called, crowned with the words, “WHERE IS SHE?” scrawled over and over in one place until the paper looked engraved.
She was surprised to see that the bed looked untouched since she’d left it. She sat down and dialed the phone beside the bed. “Hi Mama,” she began with a deep breath. “I’m back in Llanview. I’m okay….”
* * * * *
Having scrubbed Evangeline’s half-digested breakfast off his new Italian leather boots, John was about to run after her and Nora when Bo called him into his office and told him to shut the door. Not 30 seconds later, Natalie knocked.
“Uncle Bo, do you need me to take notes during your meeting with John?” Natalie said, leaning in the open door with a wide-eyed, butter-wouldn’t-melt look on her face.
Bo glanced from John to his niece with a glare that would flay the skin off a rattlesnake. He’d heard her gossiping with her foster brother Rex Balsom about Evangeline’s disappearance and the “move” she’d made on McBain. He’d felt sorry for the child when he offered her the receptionist job – she’d been widowed twice in a little more than a year – first, when her husband Cristian Vega was killed when a sting McBain was running had gone bad, then when a man claiming to be Cris turned out to be a murderous imposter.
But Bo was growing weary of her lame-brained antics to snag McBain. Natalie needed to grow up before she got involved with any decent man. His voice was low and deliberate. “What I need is for you to understand that this is a professional, civic institution dedicated to upholding the law and protecting the citizens of Llanview, not some high school hangout. If you can’t learn to behave in a professional manner in my police house, perhaps you’d be more comfortable back behind the bar at Rodi’s.”
Bugging her eyes like she’d been goosed, Natalie blushed red and spluttered, “But Uncle Bo….”
“Don’t ‘Uncle Bo’ me. From now on, when you’re in this building, you refer to me as ‘Commissioner’ – you got that? Here, run this stack of files over to the courthouse – and bring me a receipt.”
Realizing the man wasn’t playing, Natalie took the foot-high pile of files from Bo’s desk and scurried out of his office as fast as her aqua Candies would carry her.
Bo slammed the door behind her and turned his attention to John. “Speaking of people not knowing how to behave on the job, what’s this I hear about you having Evangeline Williamson arrested and brought in here in handcuffs?”
John ducked his head and swallowed hard. His face was still smarting from Nora’s slap and here Bo was about to tear him a new one. But this was just the warmup: He was ready to crawl over broken glass if that’s what it took to get Evangeline to give him another chance. “That’s not quite the way things went down. Technically, she wasn’t arrested – although she could have been because she was caught speeding—’’
“I don’t want to hear anything about ‘technically’ – you were wrong and you know it. I’ve spoken to Lloyd and Muxworthy and I’m aware of the missing person report and the APB you filed on Evangeline,” Bo said, waving copies of the reports at John. “She only ran when she was pulled over and ordered to return to the station per your instructions. I believe the great car chase lasted all of two minutes and she never broke 70 mph. And then Nora found you holding her in handcuffs in a freight elevator? Are you sure you’re not one of Asa’s wild spawn? This sounds like the kind of stunt Pa would pull.”
John didn’t know whether to be offended or flattered by what Bo was suggesting about his parentage. “She’d been missing more than 48 hours. It’s not like her to run off, ignoring her work and not letting anyone know what was going on. And several officers at the scene told me she insisted on being cuffed.”
Bo bent his head to hide a smile. He liked Evangeline’s spirit – she reminded him of Nora. “Be that as it may, was it necessary to call out the cavalry to catch a butterfly?”
John put his hands on his hips and flashed Bo a defensive look. “We’ve had two murders in this town in the past nine days. Four in the past 26 days. I couldn’t take that chance with her.”
Bo fixed the younger man with a contemplative gaze. He was trying to decide whether to tell him the truth – that Nora had asked him to keep him away from Evangeline for a while, or to simply snarl him up in a project that would keep him in the office long enough for Evangeline to get her bearings. He looked at John’s haggard face, his hair hanging limp around his ears, his goatee merging into a third day of five o’clock shadow. John worked a hipster look, but underneath all the leather and hair products, he was a good cop. Bo figured he’d have a better shot at keeping him under control if he appealed to John’s sense of vocation.
“We’re going to hope she doesn’t decide to bring a civil case against the department, because you know she has grounds. And I’m going to hold off on filing a reprimand against you. But now that you know she’s safe and back in town, I need your undivided attention on this Killing Club case….”
John’s mind started to wander. Was Evangeline really safe? Where had she been? Why had she gotten sick? When would she speak to him again? When would he hold her in his arms? He had been so grateful when the elevator door opened and he saw her sweet, sweet face – even though she looked like someone new – the way she had her hair, the dress and that frightening look of rage and revulsion in her eye, a look he’d never seen before. Mixed in with his relief and gratitude was a powerful sense of shame because he knew he’d put that look in her eye, he knew he’d given her a reason to run from him, to recoil when he’d suggested going to his office.
And yet, in the deepest, darkest horniest monkey corner of his brain, John was stunned to realize how turned on he’d been by the sight of an enraged Evangeline in handcuffs. Even now, sitting in the commissioner’s office, trying to pay attention to Bo, trying to figure out how he was going to get away to see her, he couldn’t stop fantasizing about the handcuffs and that dress and the look on her face. He was used to seeing her in suits and jeans and sexy, swingy jersey things that skimmed her delicious curves and showed off her shapely dancer’s legs. Most of her clothes were easy to remove in a hurry and he appreciated that.
But that vintage dress was so feminine, so complicated, he wasn’t sure where to start. He longed to run his hands up under the full skirt, along her satiny brown legs and search for her lacy panties – or maybe a woman didn’t wear panties under all that skirt? He wanted to unbuckle the narrow belt around her slender waist and carefully unbutton the tiny buttons on the bodice until he could reach a hand inside and cup one of her firm breasts. Evangeline’s breasts. He thought about how her entire aureole swelled like a big bittersweet strawberry before tightening into a hard pointed nipple between his lips. His mouth started to water just thinking about it. What was it about that dress? Maybe it was way the obviously hard to get in and out of garment reminded him the kinds of things worn by women in those old movies where you never saw anyone having sex, but you could tell how hot the stars were for each other. The thought of how hard he’d have to work to get inside the dress to her warm, soft, scented skin was making him hard. And the handcuffs – why in all these months had they never played with his handcuffs? She could lock him up anytime. The handcuffs, the buttons, even the rage – all of those obstacles made him wild for her in a brand new way.
“McBain! McBain! Do you think you can handle that? I need the complete report on my desk by 8 a.m. tomorrow. You’re going to need to work all night. I’m sending Natalie home when she comes back from the courthouse so you’ll need to get your own files and coffee.”
John shook his head, and dropped his arm so the file folder in his hand would cover the bulge in his pants. “Yeah, sure boss. I’m sorry about earlier. I’ve got it covered.”
“About Natalie. I’m not clear what’s going on between the two of you, but…”
John cut him off. “Boss, I’ll thank you to stay out of my personal life.”
Bo shot back, “McBain, you made your personal life my business when you used my department to track down your girlfriend. That APB you issued turned out the whole force looking for Evangeline. Do I need to remind you that there’s a lot of love and respect for that woman around here? As for Natalie, she’s my brother’s child and I’m obligated to keep an eye on her. She’s had you in her crosshairs for a long time. You need to decide what Natalie means to you – and fast – because she’s convinced she’s got a chance with you. You need to clear things up with both of them, but if I were you, I’d give Evangeline a little room to get her bearings. Am I clear?”
“Crystal,” John replied.
“Good. Now let’s do some work around here. We’ve got some killers to catch.”