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“If you insist.” Carl sounded reluctant but resolved.

“I do. Right now. I want it to hurt her a great deal.”

Carl walked up to Esperanza. Myron start to move toward him, but Robert placed the gun against his head. There was nothing he could do. He tried fire-throwing a warning glare at Carl.

“Don’t,” Myron said.

Carl ignored him. He stood in front of Esperanza now. She looked at him defiantly. Without preamble he punched her deep in the stomach.

The power of the blow lifted Esperanza off her feet. She made an oofing noise and folded at the waist like an old wallet. Her body landed on the floor. She curled up into a protective ball, her eyes wide, her chest heaving for air. Carl looked down at her without emotion. Then he looked at Myron.

“You son of a bitch,” Myron said.

“It’s your fault,” Carl said.

Esperanza continued to roll on the ground in obvious agony. She still couldn’t get any air into her lungs. Myron’s whole body felt hot and red. He moved toward her, but Robert again stopped him by pressing the gun hard against his neck.

Reginald Squires did the big voice-projection again. “You will listen now, won’t you, Mr. Bolitar?”

Myron took deep breaths. His muscles bunched. Every part of him fumed. Every part of him craved vengeance. He watched in silence as Esperanza writhed on the floor. After a while she managed to get to all fours. Her head was down. Her body heaved. A retching noise came out of her. Then another retching noise.

The sound made Myron pause.

Something about the sound … Myron searched his memory banks. Something about the whole scenario, the way she doubled up, the way she rolled on the floor—it was strangely familiar. As though he’d seen it before. But that was impossible. When would he …? He stopped as the answer came to him.

In the wrestling ring.

My God, Myron thought. She was faking it!

Myron looked over at Carl. There was a hint of a smile on his face.

Son of a bitch. It was an act!

Reginald Squires cleared his throat. “You have taken an unhealthy interest in my son, Mr. Bolitar,” he continued, voice thundering. “Are you some sort of pervert?”

Myron almost flew off another wisecrack, but he bit it back. “No.”

“Then tell me what you want with him.”

Myron squinted into the light. He still couldn’t see anything but the shadowy outline of Squires. What should he say? The guy was a major loony tune. No question about that. So how to play this …?

“You’ve heard about Jack Coldren’s murder,” Myron said. “Of course.”

“I’m working on the case.”

“You’re trying to find out who murdered Jack Coldren?”

“Yes.”

“But Jack was murdered last night,” Squires countered. “You were asking about my son Saturday.”

“It’s a long story,” Myron said.

The shadows hands spread. “We have all the time in the world.”

How did Myron know he was going to say that?

With nothing much to lose, Myron told Squires about the kidnapping. Most of it anyway. He emphasized several times that the actual abduction had happened at the Court Manor Inn. There was a reason for that. It had to do with the egocentricity. Reginald Squires—the ego in question—reacted in predictable fashion.

“Are you telling me,” he shouted, “that Chad Coldren was kidnapped at my motel?”

His motel. Myron had figured that out by now. It was the only explanation for why Carl had run interference for Stuart Lipwitz.

“That’s right,” Myron said.

“Carl?”

“Yes, Mr. Squires?”

“Did you know anything about this kidnapping?”

“No, Mr. Squires.”

“Well, something has to be done,” Squires shouted. “No one does something like that on my turf. You hear me? No one.”

This guy had seen waaaaaay too many gangster films.

“Whoever did this is dead,” he ranted on. “Do you hear me? I want them dead. D-E-A-D. Do you understand what I’m saying, Mr. Bolitar?”

“Dead,” Myron said with a nod.

The shadow pointed a long finger at Myron. “You find him for me. You find who did this and then you call me. You let me handle it. Do you understand, Mr. Bolitar?”

“Call you. You handle.”

“Go then. Find the wretched bastard.”

Myron said, “Sure thing, Mr. Squires. Sure thing.” Hey, two can play the Bad Movie Dialogue game. “But the thing is, I need some help.”

“What sort of help?”

“With your permission, I’d like to speak with your son Matthew. Find out what he knows about all this.”

“What makes you think he knows anything?”

“He’s Chad’s best friend. He may have heard or seen something. I don’t know, Mr. Squires, but I’d like to check it out.”

There was a brief silence. Then Squires snapped, “Do it. Carl will take you back to the school. Matthew will speak freely to you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Squires.”

The light went off, bathing them again in thick darkness. Myron felt his way to the car door. The “recovering” Esperanza managed to do likewise. So did Carl. The three of them got in.

Myron turned around and looked at Carl. Carl shrugged his shoulders and said, “Guess he forgot to take his medication.”

32

“Chad, like, told me he was hooking up with an older babe.”

“Did he tell you her name?” Myron asked.

“Nah, man,” Matthew Squires said. “Just that she was take-out.”

“Take-out?”

“You know. Chinese.”

Jesus.

Myron sat facing Matthew Squires. The kid was pure Yah Dude. His long, stringy hair was parted in the middle and hung past his shoulders. The coloring and texture reminded Myron of Cousin It from the Addams Family. He had acne, a fair amount of it. He was over six feet and weighed maybe one hundred twenty pounds. Myron wondered what it had been like for this kid growing up with Mr. Spotlight as a father.

Carl was on his right. Esperanza had taken a taxi to check out Esme Fong’s alibi and look into Lloyd Rennart’s past.

“Did Chad tell you where he was meeting her?”

“Sure, dude. That hot sheet is, like, my dad’s haunt, you know.”

“Did Chad know your father owned the Court Manor?”

“Nah. We don’t, like, talk daddy’s dinero or anything. Not righteous, you know what I’m saying?”

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