Chapter 16: You Know That Saying, ‘Don’t Poke the Bear’?
The chocolate cake tasted every bit as good as it looked. Rachel felt tempted to eat it all, even Viktor’s portion, but she still had some manners.
She fished her address book out of her purse, glad she’d put her client information in there and not just on the hard drive. Viktor still hadn’t re-installed it for her, but he said he’d be back. She decided to take him at his word.
She dialed her phone and waited while it rang. Precisely on the third ring, it got picked up. “Carter Lawson.”
“Mr. Lawson, this is Rachel Carmichael. I have some news for you; is now a good time?”
“One moment.” He set the phone down and she heard footfalls, as though his desk sat on a wooden floor. The sounds returned and then he picked up again. “Yes?”
“Mr. Lawson, I can tell you for certain that your wife is not cheating on you with Peter Henkle.”
“You’re sure? But…” He paused. “Absolutely sure?”
She cleared her throat and decided she came this far, she might as well jump in with both feet. “Mr. Lawson, were you aware that Peter Henkle is gay?”
A much longer pause followed this time, though no footfalls. Then a creak, of what she assumed was a chair. “Could… could you say that again, please?”
“Peter Henkle is gay, Mr. Lawson. Your wife loves you, it’s clear to me from following her that she’s not having any kind of an affair.”
He exhaled what sounded like a shaky breath. “You don’t say.”
“Yes, Mr. Lawson.”
“I see. Well. You are worth every penny of your fee, Ms. Carmichael. Every penny. Would you prefer me to send the balance of your fee in the mail, or do you want to send a courier to pick it up?”
Her mind boggled at the idea of her, Rachel Carmichael, having a courier. “Mail is fine, Mr. Lawson.” She confirmed the address and hung up the phone.
She finished up the case file for Mr. Lawson and his wife and put everything away in her empty-looking file cabinets, annoyed all over again at the invasion of her personal space. Maybe she should get a dog. She could just imagine the look on Mr. Singh’s face when she tried to sneak a Rottweiler past him.
Her mobile phone gave a shrill chirp and she jumped. “Carmichael.”
“Raych?” Viktor’s voice sounded scratchy, like he didn’t have good cell reception. “Are you still at your office?”
“Yes. You told me to –”
“Get out of there! Now!”
“What? Viktor, what are you –”
“Just go! Get somewhere public and call me when you’re safe. Go! Go now!”
She stood up, heart pounding in her throat. “You’re not kidding, are you?” She scooped up her purse and her keys and hit the lights. “How bad is it?”
“Just go!” he barked, and the line went dead.
She slipped into the hall, her back crawling with the need to hide. She locked her door and started for the elevator. It ‘dinged,’ someone arriving at her floor, and her heart shot into her mouth.
Rachel dove into the stairwell, easing the door closed behind her, and waited. Footfalls approached and then went past, heading down the hall. She took off down the stairs, her purse clamped under her arm, and fished her keys out of her pocket to clench them in her hand so they didn’t rattle. She made it down four flights and could see the exit door for the ground level when she heard it.
The door on her landing opened.
She froze, one foot dangling in thin air, her hand clamped on the railing to her left. She opened her mouth as wide as possible so the sound of her panting wouldn’t be heard. No sound came for several more moments, and finally the door closed. She waited, suspicious, and then heard it. A soft scrabble, as of a jacket over jeans, and resisted the urge to crane her head over the edge to see if someone looked down at her from above.
The wait stretched, her heartbeat thudding so loud she felt sure the neighbors on the other side of the stairwell wall could hear it, not to mention whoever stood above. Finally, they moved, and the door opened and closed.
She blew out her breath and crept as quickly but quietly as possible to the ground floor door and peered out of the small peep-hole. Nothing moved.
She eased out into the night, wishing for once that the street lights had burnt out. Something to give her more shadows to hide in. She crouched down by the car parked in front of the door and then realized that if someone truly did follow her, they’d know where the stairwell let out. She could either unlock the door and go back up, or get out of there.
Trusting to Viktor, Rachel bolted for her car. She made it with no outcry. She unlocked the door and threw her purse onto the passenger seat with such force that it bounced off the opposite door and fell flat on the floor. She started the engine and pulled out of her space, no other lights moving.
Something drew her eye up, and she stared a moment. She counted the windows to be sure, and then swore.
Someone, equipped with a flashlight, snooped around her office.
She turned onto the main street and headed for Borders, out of habit, then changed her mind. She’d met Steve at Borders. A McDonalds stood in the middle of two wide parking lots, one for a strip mall and the other for a medical complex, so she pulled in and drove around back to park next to the dumpster.
‘Get somewhere public,’ Viktor had ordered. Was this public enough? Was it far away enough?
A sharp boom nearby made her jump and let out a squawk. The young man emptying the day’s trash looked at her quizzically before dumping it in the large container, then turned back inside.
She made up her mind and cut the engine. She’d just get a table in the back and a soda, and wait for Viktor. Should she text him? Call him? Wait?
She decided to wait, in case he needed to be quiet. She had a horrible flash of his mobile vibrating at the wrong moment and alerting some faceless assailant to his presence, and swallowed back sudden tears.
“Viktor, where are you?” she whispered.
An obviously homeless man two tables over eyed her when she spoke and then went back to talking to his tray. The minutes dragged by, slow, like poison.