Monday night, Dallas
After the fool she had made of herself at Hannah’s studio, Tina was relieved to be able to go back to the salon. Usually buzzing with activity, only Tina and three other stylists tended their customers this evening, and they all appeared inclined toward quiet.
Alex didn’t have Monday evening appointments, and that meant the FBI agents weren’t hanging around trying to look important. Since the moment they had walked in, about 1:00 this afternoon, they deliberately had made themselves so obvious it disrupted the whole place.
Tina was grateful, too, that her last appointment was a regular client, a 50-something laid-back attorney who preferred reading his McMurtry novel to talking. She knew exactly how he wanted his hair cut. She finished, removed the cape and walked with him to the cashier’s desk. Until she thanked him when he handed her a $5 tip, neither of them spoke a word.
Driving home alone in the dark felt like punishment to her, a cruel reminder that seemed to intensify her loneliness. While other people were home with their families, she had filled the hours in hollow routines–washing heads and cutting hair and making small talk. Tonight hurt worse than usual. She normally avoided working at night, but she had intentionally booked appointments for this evening so she would have the day free.
Usually, when Jake came to the city on weekends, he didn’t leave until mid-afternoon Monday. They would have spent today together, beginning with a late breakfast at La Madeleine. He got a kick out of giving her a hard time about having to mind his manners at her “frou-frou” restaurants, but she noticed he made sure he ate his money’s worth of bread and jam.
If I married him I’d have to learn how to bake bread. The thought floated past her mind unbidden. Well, at least that’s one less thing to worry about. Now that he’ll be spending the rest of his life in prison.
She didn’t know how she felt. Angry, first of all. Furious, more accurately. What on earth possessed him do such a stupid thing? And where was he now? He wouldn’t hurt the child, that much she would swear to, but he must really have a screw loose.
Unless he really had hurt his own son. Unthinkable! She couldn’t have been that far wrong. Could she?
Could mean I have no sense about men. Like that’s news.
The blinking light on the answering machine was the first thing she spied when she walked into her apartment. She stared at it, trying to decide whether or not to listen to the message.
If the message was from Angie, she had no intention of calling her back anyway, and frankly, she was fed up with hearing Angie’s opinions about men. As if she were an expert.
If Jake’s voice waited for her behind the blinking light, she was afraid of what he might say. More than anything, she didn’t want to hit the “play message” button and find out it wasn’t Jake after all.
Schotzie stood whining at the door, so she grabbed his leash and took him for his walk, checking the mailbox while she was out. Empty.
Back in the apartment, she kicked off her shoes and decided to fix a cup of herb tea. While the microwave heated water, she poked around in the refrigerator, finally finding a cup of peach yogurt with a sell-by date only three days ago. She set it on the table and spooned in some granola.
Before she ate, though, she went into her bedroom to change into shorts and a tee shirt.
An interesting phenomenon: No matter where she moved around in this apartment, the blinking light of the answering machine nagged at the periphery of her vision.
“I give up, you stupid thing!” She marched over and smashed the red blink the way she might squash a bug.
When she heard the familiar voice she laughed out loud. “This is a call from the hills, honey. You know what to do.”
“Oh, Pop! What made you so paranoid? Okay, fine. We’ll play it your way.”
She grabbed a handful of coins out of the cupboard where she kept a coffee can of change for such occasions, slipped on her sneakers and went back out.
Walking to the pay phone on the corner, she thought about her grandparents and all they had gone through with her. They were the only parents she had ever known; she was too young when her parents were killed to have any real memory of them. It probably wasn’t any wonder that they were over-protective, but the only person they would have to be concerned about now was Richard, and it had been almost a year since she had heard from him. He probably had a whole new life by now.
She didn’t have anything he wanted anymore, anyway. Not that he wasn’t fully capable of snooping into her life for the express purpose of being mean.
Unless. Maybe they have heard about Jake and they think the cops knew about her relationship with him. The FBI might have put a tap on her phone as they did on Alex’s. She doubted it, though. How could anybody know about her and Jake? Alex didn’t even know.
Her grandparents always insisted that she call them from a pay phone. They didn’t want the call to show up on her phone bill, for one thing. They were obsessed with maintaining their own privacy, too. Who knows? Maybe that was the main reason they did it.
The phone rang twice. “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Pop. Who were you expecting? Is everything all right? Are you feeling okay? What about Kate?”
“Whoa! Slow down, little one. We’re fine. What about you? We’ve been praying for you.”
Since she had led them both to Lord shortly after her own salvation experience, they always said they were praying for her. He sounded different tonight, though. Something in the tone of his voice.
“You know about Jake?” She tried to keep the quaver out of her voice, but failed, and hated to worry Poppy.
“Are you sure this phone is safe?”
“I’m at the pay phone on the corner, and there isn’t anybody around. Can’t you hear the traffic on Legacy?”
“Well, if you’re sure, then I have some news for you. And we need your help.”
“My help? That’s a switch. I’ll do anything you ask me to. You know that.”
“You know Jake will have to go to jail?”
“That’s of no interest to me. He dumped me.”
Tina could hear voices in the background. Kate picked up the extension and whispered, “He loves you, Christina, remember that no matter what happens. It’s going to be all right, honey.”
“Don’t!” Tina started crying. “Don’t tell me that. I don’t know what’s going on with that man, and I can’t imagine what he is doing with the little boy—wait! How do you know he loves me?” She was crying harder now. “Have you talked to him?”
“Christina, Kate hung up so you’ll be able to hear me even if I don’t talk so loud.” Poppy waited, and when she didn’t say anything he asked, “Are you still there?”
“Tell me what you know and how I can help you.” Tina took a deep breath and regained her composure. As much as she could manage, she was determined that her grandparents would hear no more weeping from her.
“Can you meet us in McAlester, Oklahoma, tomorrow afternoon?”
“Sure. Are you coming to visit? That’ll be wonderful! I need to see you, in fact. I take it your idea is to leave your car there so that you don’t have to brave Dallas traffic? Wait. What does this have to do with Jake?”
“What we want you to do is to take Austin, that’s the little boy Jake has with him—“
“There? You mean Jake really does have that boy? And they’re there? With you? He didn’t hurt you or anything, did he?”
“Tina, please wait until you have a few more facts before you go jumping off the deep end.”
He sounded impatient and cross. “Of course he didn’t hurt us. You know Jake better than that. Now, can you find out where the boy’s grandparents live and take him to them?”
Poppy continued in a reasonable tone of voice, and by the time he finished, Tina was no less confused about Jake than before, but at least she knew that he hadn’t harmed Austin or her grandparents.
The next question that came to mind was how could she talk to Alex without the FBI agents connecting her with Jake.