Tuesday morning, Dallas
Tina caught up with Alex on the way into the salon Tuesday morning.
Alex looked haunted, his face reflecting the strain of the last three days. So preoccupied was he that he never really looked at her and didn’t notice she was trying to send him a message with her eyes. Both of them were uncomfortably aware of the “suits,” as Tina called them, who made no pretense of doing anything but what they were doing, which was keeping Alex under close surveillance.
As he held the door open for her, she stopped in the open doorway with her face inches from his and said “Meet me in the food court, near the yogurt place, at 11:15,” then moved past him and walked directly to her station, about 40 feet from Alex’s vanity.
Alex was momentarily tempted to follow her and ask what was going on when he remembered Turner and Moldenaur—Tooney and Muldoon, he’d nicknamed them, dimly remembering an old TV show he’d seen in reruns. They were not amused. Not by his nickname, and not by the way he talked when addressing them.
“Listen, boys,” he said to them, deliberately affecting a slight lisp, “could you please wait outside the salon? Something about you two just sucks the light right out of a room.”
“We’ll stay out of your way, Albert,” they taunted, “just pretend we aren’t here, unless, of course, your brother-the-felon happens to call. We wouldn’t want to miss that.”
Yesterday, when the FBI made the connection between Alex and Jake, Agents Gabe Turner and Frank Moldenaur were assigned to the case. Their job: Albert James Garret, AKA Alex James, hairdresser, brother of Jacob Philip Garret, a man with a kidnapping charge on his record.
They had spent the afternoon at the salon. Their presence, dampening the usually happy hum of pampered women and doting stylists, was made even more disruptive by their steadfast refusal to sit down. They stood there smugly, and, to Alex’s considerable annoyance, Turner kept one hand in his pocket, jingling change.
Turner and Moldenaur, of course, did not for one moment believe he hadn’t been in touch with Jake, but in truth, he had no idea where he might be hiding. He had to be hiding, Alex assumed, or he would have heard from him. They didn’t see one another very often these last years, but each of the brothers knew he could count on the other if something went wrong.
They had a strong bond, but their personalities were quite different from one another, and even though Jake always treated his older brother kindly, he made no bones about what he thought of hairdressers in general and male hairdressers in particular.
But whatever Jake’s blind spots, Alex thought, he’s not stupid, and if he really has the little boy—Stoner’s grandson, for goodness sake—what are the odds—he would know better than to involve Alex. He was probably the only possible contact the authorities, which now includes the FBI, could find.
He wondered if Tina remembered meeting Jake and wondered, too, why she acted so mysterious when they came in. Maybe she did know something. But how? Oh, it’s probably just Tina’s way of comforting him about his brother and about the suits hanging around, he decided.
It was all he could do to focus on his work—a perm and two clients for cut and style. He would have to work quickly to be finished and out into the food court by 11:15.
He hated to admit it, but despite fiercely maintaining his weight and workout program, he tired more easily lately, especially the last couple of days. Maybe he was feeling his age. No, that didn’t make sense. Probably the strain of worrying about Jake.
Standing in one place, listening to silly suburban broads discussing their hair and make-up, as if any of it mattered, wore thin after a while. And now, wondering what was going to happen to Jake, he wished he could do something physical and sweaty, something where he didn’t have to talk to these rich old biddies all day long.
Outdoor work, like chopping wood. Even walking up and down plowed fields, de-tasseling corn as he and his friends did during the summer between their freshman and sophomore years of high school, was somehow more rewarding, more honest than trying to please these well-heeled, over-perfumed high-society wannabees.
Maybe that’s what he should do. Just chuck this whole life and go back to the ranch. Not that he knew enough about ranching to be productive there, but maybe he could learn. For some reason the reputation he’d worked so hard to build, of being an in-demand top stylist, wasn’t shaping up to be as fulfilling as he’d hoped.
He wished he could sit down and talk this all over with his brother.
Another thing he hated to admit right now was that he would much rather be shampooing and setting Gloria Stoner’s hair than any other woman on his schedule today. He remembered when she had been in Friday, and how devastated she had been to learn that her grandson had disappeared. She always carried pictures of her “babies,” as she called them.
Actually he found the Southern affectation of calling all your children “babies” a bit cloying, but there was no question Gloria loved them deeply.
Turner and Moldenauer were keeping him from calling Gloria to tell her what a great guy his brother was. He knew they had put a tap on his phone at the apartment, and if he called from here they’d be breathing down his neck.
He couldn’t stop the flow of random thoughts.
Gloria probably assumes Jake is gay, too, he thought, which would send her right around the bend. He wished he could call her and tell her of his concern and to tell her not to worry. He shouldn’t have led her on in her assumption about him.
Sure, she’s old and fat, and overbearing with all her Christian rhetoric, but at least she talked to him, seems interested in him.
She doesn’t seem obsessed one way or the other about her appearance. Always told him he had a masterful touch with her hair. Told him at least once every appointment.
He realized that for the most part, even if she did make the little remarks about religion, she cared about him, and wanted the best for him.
She’s probably praying for me right now.
Where did that thought come from?
You’re really losing it, pal, he told himself. Get hold of yourself. Who wouldn’t be upset? The lump in my throat is because I’m so worried about Jake. That’s all it is.
As he was finishing laying an armor-like helmet of hair spray on his last morning appointment, a stereotypical recycled cheerleader-type Dallas blonde, Tina brushed by him and headed out to the mall. Tooney and Muldoon didn’t even look up.
Five minutes later, he shook out the cape and swept up the last of the hair he’d snipped from Dallas Blondie,
noted that the color she insisted he use on her occurred nowhere in nature, zipped his fanny pack, checked his own reflection and strolled out into the mall, his two shadows close behind.
“Alex! Alex! Over here!” He picked up a salad and iced tea, scanning the lunch hour crowd trying to find the source of Tina’s voice. He nodded as he saw she’d parked herself at a small table for two in the midst of larger tables surrounded by shoppers and their kids. Normally he would consider that situation one of the lower rungs on the ladder down to hell, but after a moment’s pause he mentally congratulated her for finding them a place where Tooney and Muldoon couldn’t possibly hear anything they said.
As he unloaded his tray, Tina spoke rapidly, “Okay, now act like this is a normal lunch, and we are having great fun talking about some of our clients. We won’t talk loudly enough to invite any of these people around us to join in on the conversation. Laugh, make hair gestures, whatever. We’re just here to take a load off while we have lunch.”
“That should be easy, since that’s all I know we are doing, so far.”
She began, holding his eyes with her own.
“I can’t say for sure I know where Jake is, but I do know he has the little boy and that they are both all right. We have to try to figure out a way to deliver the kid back to his parents without Jake being arrested. Once that’s accomplished, we’ll figure out a way to bring Jake in.”
Alex laughed, as if delighted by a joke, and partially covered his mouth with his napkin to hide his astonishment. “Have you talked to him? How? Did he call you? Where is he?”
“Jake and I have been…seeing each other. We didn’t want you to know. I don’t know why; it was just kind of a joke between us. Anyway, he called. Well, actually someone else called, someone I know, and your brother is scared witless.”
“As well he should be if he grabbed the Stoner’s grandson! What on earth possessed him to do a thing like that?” He picked up his iced tea but his hand was shaking so badly he put it down. He faked a laugh and pointed at Tina as if she’d just cracked a joke.
“He did not grab Gloria’s grandson! This kid is evidently a real pistol, and without the sense God gave a goose. He climbed up into the cab while Jake was doing his last walk-around before leaving Illinois. Then he fell asleep and Jake didn’t even know he was there until they were almost to Springfield. Missouri.”
“Why didn’t he go straight to the police and tell them what happened? Now it’s five days later. Nobody is going to believe that story. I’m not sure I do.”
“I know. I’m sure Jake realizes it, too. I don’t know why he didn’t. He just freaked, I guess.”
“Yeah, I suppose. Who could blame him,” he said, remembering. “He’s a trucker, so people expect him to be a tough guy, but he’s so tender-hearted. Barbara blind-sided him terribly—he’s lost all confidence in himself.” He stared at his hands, wondering why both brothers seemed to have such poor self-image. He suddenly felt very lonely. “What a mess!”
He watched Tina’s eyes soften as he talked about his brother. “Oh boy. Am I looking at a woman in lo-o-ve? He asked, drawing out ‘love’ melodramatically.
“He dumped me, so forget about it.”
He looked at Turner and Moldenaur, who were glaring at him from four tables away. Turner threw his napkin down on the table and started to stand up when Alex blew them a kiss and winked, but Moldenaur grabbed his arm and apparently told him to sit down and wait.
“Listen, Tina, the G-men are becoming restless. We’ll have to commiserate about our love lives—or lack thereof—later. We have to come up with a plan before they manage to work their way closer. Do you have anything in mind?”
“So far it doesn’t look like anybody, state police or FBI, have picked up on the connection between Jake and me. If we can bring this lunch off as just a casual meeting, and there doesn’t seem to be anybody checking up on me, I’ll go pick up the little boy and bring him to Dallas.”
She leaned back and laughed, as if making a point. “I’ll call Gloria on my cell phone when I’m about a half-hour away, and she can meet us somewhere. Do you have your appointment book with you? I’ll need her phone number.”
He handed it to her and she flipped through several pages and pointed to certain notations as if asking him about those while she continued talking. “I’ll make up some kind of story to persuade her to come and meet with me. That won’t be a problem. I ran into her yesterday at Hannah’s gallery and we chatted a bit. It would be quite natural for me to call and follow up, you know, just to see how she’s doing. I’m pretty sure I can do it if I’m sure nobody is watching me. It will take about five hours round trip.”
He nodded agreeably and leaned forward while she wrote Gloria’s number on her hand.
“Oh! I know what I’ll do,” Tina said, pleased with herself for coming up with an excellent idea. “I’ll simply take him to a prayer meeting where I know Gloria will be this evening, and then, when I’ve made my delivery, I’ll be under scrutiny, too.” She sobered again. “I can’t figure out how anybody can bring Jake in safely. He’ll be arrested immediately, of course. I hope they won’t hurt him.”
“What if the kid tells his story, about how he climbed in the truck and Jake didn’t know. Do you think they’ll buy that?”
Just then, the family at the next table stood up and left, and before Tina could reply the FBI agents had parked themselves there and leaned over to taunt Alex.
“Having a nice lunch, Albert?” Turner smirked.
“Albert? Albert! Is that your real name, Alex? Oh, that’s precious!” Tina hooted as if it was a total surprise to her. “No wonder you changed it. Listen, dear, I have a 12:15 and then I’m off for the afternoon. This was great. Let’s do it again. Do you have 11:30 free tomorrow? Bring your friends, here. Maybe they’ll buy.”
Her emphasis on buy, Alex assumed, meant that Tina intended to go through with the plan, what there was of it, and hope the authorities believed the child’s version of events. If the kid told the story that way.
One more thing to worry about.
Later, Turner and Moldenauer paid no particular attention as Tina made quick work of her appointment and left the salon. What they did observe was the way Alex looked at them, as if to see if they had noticed.
“I’m getting a hunch,” Turner said.
“Yeah, me, too. What do you say we run a check on the red-head to see if there’s a connection to any of the parties in question?”