Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes (19 page)

The greasy pizza with oven-charred crust sat above the table on a raised tray. One slice was missing.

“Help yourself,” Jones offered, chewing, smiling, happy to see her.

“I can't eat dairy. I can't eat gluten or meat or fruit. Tomato is a fruit. I can't eat anything on that plate.” Lizzie stared at the pizza a moment, then looked away and took a deep breath. “You know how you guys have ‘Wanted' posters?”

Jones nodded and sipped his Coke.

“And on your website, I saw the rewards you give for tips—the FBI.”

“Yes,” Jones confirmed, taking a bite of the succulent slice. A drop of grease dripped down his chin. He picked up a napkin and wiped it off.

Lizzie took a breath. “My question is: If there's no poster and someone like me gives you a tip that leads to an arrest—a big arrest—can I get money?”

“For the tip?”

“Or does there need to be a poster first?”

Jones smiled and swallowed. He put his slice down and leaned back. He took his napkin from his lap and wiped his mouth again. “Doesn't—doesn't work that way, hon. Money has to be in place. It's chain of command.” He turned and waved the waiter over.

“Chain of command?”

“Something to drink?” the waiter asked Lizzie.

Lizzie glanced at the pizza for a moment. Steam was rising off the cheese, fogging the window. She looked at the waiter. “Coffee, please.”

Jones took his slice, this time with two hands, and held it in front of his mouth, poised to eat. “If I want a criminal and I want to offer cash for tips, I have to write an EC memo—and send it up the chain of command. The guys above me have to sign off. The ASA. The SSA. The ASAC and the Special SAC, agent in charge, at my office. They approve it. Then I make a poster.” He finally took a bite.

Lizzie considered this as he chewed. “Shit,” she said and leaned forward. She placed her elbows on the table and ran her fingers through her long blond hair.

Jones studied her. “Why? Is it big?”

“It's big. It's huge.”

“How do you know?” Jones put down his slice and moved the pizza from in between them toward the window.

“I know,” Lizzie said as the waiter set down a cup of coffee. She leaned in and smelled it. There was nothing better than diner coffee on a hot, rainy night in New York City. Except pizza. Lizzie regarded him.

Jones leaned in and lowered his voice. “Now, Lizzie. A tip is from the public. You're in Cancún. You see a fugitive. You call me. That's a tip.”

She said, “I know.”

“But then there's a source.”

“A source is inside, like on
Homeland
,” she said. “The hooker from Iowa dating the Saudi in season one. The one with the necklace.”

“The one who got shot,” Jones said. “Shot and killed. It's dangerous work.”

Lizzie looked away.

“And sometimes a source is paid for years and sometimes she gets paid once.”

“That's it. I want to be a onetime source.”

“But it still goes up the chain of command. So what are we talking about here, honey?”

“How long does it take? To go up the chain? Like how long until you could get a warrant?”

“I can call a judge for a warrant in an hour.”

Lizzie gazed out the window at Bleecker. She looked back at Jones. “Eighteen thousand. That's what I need.”

Jones paused and eyed Lizzie. “I can't promise and you can't extort me. What do you got?”

Lizzie took a breath and looked at the pizza. “Ah, fuck it. Give me a slice.” She reached toward it and pulled out a hot, dripping slice covered with rings of pepperoni. She took a bite, and as she ate she said, “Tax evasion, pimping, and tampering. False imprisonment, sex trade with minors. Possession and production and distribution of child pornography and Internet crimes against kids.” She swallowed. “No one can live without pizza!”

Jones leaned back and looked at her. He whistled through his teeth.

“That's what I got.” She took another bite and spoke while she chewed. “But not little kids. A couple of mouthy under-eighteens and one Crimean who wants to go home and can't until she pays off her
debt.

Jones studied her. This girl was good. He had had this same funny feeling before, a couple of times, when big cases and bigger convictions fell from the sky into his lap.

He pulled out his phone and dialed the office.

—

Two days later, after the raid, he dropped Lizzie in front of her building. She found her super, went inside, packed a suitcase, her vacation suitcase, and returned to the curb to hail a cab to go to her mother's, where she'd feel safe.

She had never done anything like this before.

This wasn't Nancy Drew or Marty's movie.

This was real.

The Screamer was real. Sasha was real. Josh and Fishman and Ted were real, and she was scared.

—

Ally was stunned. She could hardly speak. “Are you kidding me?”

“No,” said Lizzie, gazing at the vapor rising from her tea.

“Lizzie! I thought—”

“Teddy funds it. He sent me. I thought you should know.”

“Weather told me,” Ally said.

They stared at each other. Lizzie then gazed at her tea on the counter. “It wasn't just me. Jones said they had a case open . . . They had been tracking Fishman for months . . . He's connected to stuff. Bigger stuff. They're going to flip him.”

“What does that mean?”

“They're after the bad guys behind him.” Lizzie looked up at Ally and swallowed. “I'm scared, Mom. I'm so scared.”

“Come here, sweetie,” Ally said. Lizzie fell easily into her arms, and Ally's eyes welled as she held her girl. “You're so brave.”

“Please don't cry,” Lizzie begged and pulled back.

“I won't, I won't.” Ally leaned in and squeezed her again for good measure. The oven timer buzzed. “Sit, sit down, and I'll get the cake.”

Lizzie took her mug and sat at the table.

Ally leaned over and opened the oven. She straightened up again, pulled on an oven mitt, and took out the cake.

“I wasn't supposed to be there today,” Lizzie admitted, stirring her tea. It was too hot to drink. In a few minutes it would be perfect, the sting off its boil.

“Then why were you? What do you mean?” Ally asked, cutting the cake.

“They called to say the case was concluding. That I should stay away.”

Ally slid a slice to a plate, turned, and placed it in front of Lizzie. “Why did you go?”

“I made a friend. I wanted to warn her.”

“So dangerous! Lizzie!”

“I know. I know it was dumb.”

Ally turned and drew her tea bag out of her mug. She dropped it steaming into the sink, turned back, and pulled out a chair.

Lizzie straightened and uncrossed her legs. She picked up her fork and took a bite of the olive oil cake, chewing it slowly. Relishing it. “I love this cake. It's so unique.”

“It has flour.”

“I don't care.”

Ally smiled and studied her daughter. “I'm proud of you, Bug.”

Lizzie smiled. “It was the best feeling—ever. Mom?” she continued, looking up from her cake. “Jones said I should apply for a thing—down in Virginia. FBI thing. He's making a call. It would start in a month.”

Ally's mouth dropped open. Her hand floated to her chest in shock.

“They give you housing. Arlington, I think, or maybe DC. He asked for my grades. I faxed them my transcripts.”

“Do you want to do it? Do you want to go?”

Lizzie smiled broadly, as surprised as Ally. “I kind of do. If I get in.”

“If you get in? Of course you'll get in!”

“Please,” Lizzie said in a rare modest moment. She was spent from the rush of the last few days. Tired, fragile, still frightened.

Behind Ally, Jake entered, freshly showered, tucking his shirt into his jeans. “Ladies,” he said.

Lizzie looked up, eyes wide. She looked at Ally as Ally seemed to die a small death. “Hi, Noah. What are you doing here?”

“I was upstairs. In the bedroom. With your mom.”

Lizzie smiled and tried not to laugh. Ally closed her eyes.

Jake took a seat. “Glad you're home safe,” he said to Lizzie, then turned to Ally. “This is good-bye. I'm headed to London.”

“What?” Ally opened her eyes. “But I thought—”

“I can't. My car is outside. I have to be on a nine o'clock flight.”

“Oh.” She studied him. Was he upset? She couldn't tell.

He placed a letter on the table. Five pages, folded in thirds. “I wrote this last night. It's a letter for you.”

“For me?” She reached to pick it up.

“Wait,” he said, “until I leave.”

“Of course,” Ally said and rose. “I'll walk you out.”

Jake rose too. “Bye, Lizzie.”

“Bye, Noah. Best of, you know, luck on your junket.”

“Thanks,” he said.

—

At the front door, he kissed Ally coolly. She was concerned. “Are you mad?”

Jake shook his head. “I'll be in Boston the twenty-first. See you then?”

“December?”

He nodded.

“Okay,” she said. “Thank you . . . for loving me and almost, you know, having sex.”

He laughed, leaned in, and squeezed her tight. When he pulled back, Ally felt woozy. Was he leaving again? Had she sent him off again?

He slipped his knuckle under her chin, lifted her head, and kissed her on the lips one last time. He turned and sauntered down the stoop toward the SUV.

Ally watched as he climbed in. She watched as the Escalade, Jake inside it, took off east toward the Brooklyn Bridge, toward Manhattan, toward London, toward everywhere but Cranberry Street.

—

“I love him,” she said in the kitchen doorway. “So you know. Upstairs? It wasn't just fun.”

“I
hope
it was fun,” Lizzie said. “And I don't care if you love him or not. That's your problem.”

“It's not a
problem.
” Ally walked in. “Choose what you want from the boxes up there. The rest goes back.”

“Why?” Lizzie said. “Is it all from Jake?”

“I don't want him spending money on me. Not like that. It's not right.”

“Mom!”

“What? I'm not the type. I don't need gifts. I have everything I want right now. You're safe. I'll see Jake at Christmas. I guess. I hope . . .” Her voice trailed off, cracking and uncertain. She looked at her cake. “Tea and cake. I have it all.” She tried to smile and picked up her fork, but she didn't feel hungry.

Lizzie studied her. “Mom, read the pages.”

Ally looked at her. Looked at the letter.

“Now,” Lizzie said and slid it across the table.

“You read it?”

“I was born nosy.”

“You were,” Ally said and opened the letter, five pages long. She loved this man. “This isn't a letter. What is this?” She was confused. She looked at Lizzie.

“It's tickets,” said Lizzie.

“What? No, it's not. It's pieces of paper.”

“No, it's tickets. You can print them now.”

“On paper?”

“Yes.” Lizzie laughed. “Welcome to the twenty-first century, Mom.”

Ally read the tickets and gasped. “This is to London!”

Lizzie smiled.

“Tomorrow morning!”

“The second page is your limo confirmation.” She leaned in as Ally flipped the pages. “Mom, it's yours. Your itinerary for
three
months!”


Three
months?”

“On his press tour! He's inviting you!”

She took a breath. “Three months?”

“How can you not?” Lizzie said. “You don't have to teach. You only have to write. You're off for the year. He'll pay the way. The whole thing. I'm moving in, for a few weeks. I'll water the plants.”

Ally read it. “London. Paris. Vienna. Rome.
Sydney
?
Toky
o?” She looked up, stunned. “This is . . . This is . . .”

“Happening.” Lizzie took the pages and put them aside. She took Ally's hands into her own and swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. “I know what you're thinking.”

“You do?”

“Yes. How can I possibly pack for three months? All in one night? How can I get on a flight to
Europe
tomorrow morning when—?”

“No,” Ally said, “I was thinking . . . well—if you're okay—I'd like to go. If you're okay.”

“I'm better than okay! You have to, Mom!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes!”

“But you're scared?”

“Please. I'll be fine. I'm always fine. Better than fine.”

“With Jake!”

“With Jake! As long as your passport hasn't expired. Do you even have one?”

Ally's face dropped. “It might have!” she cried.

—

After a desperate one-hour search, Ally found her passport. It hadn't expired. Then she packed as best as she could for three whole months.

Lizzie brought up a box from downstairs. The smallest one. “Return the rest but open this. I insist.” It was from La Perla. Italian lingerie.

Ally opened it.

The baby-doll nightie and underwear set was wrapped in tissue and hung on a hanger, complete with tags. Ally held it up in the air. They were both entranced.

The mint-green lace, pale, almost white, was delicate and detailed with openwork diamonds, daisy patterns, and rosebud straps. The silk was so thin and so feather soft, it almost felt as if it didn't exist. It felt like a breeze.

—

The plane flew out from JFK at seven fifteen the next morning.

Ally climbed from the back of the town car at Whitehall Place at eight forty-five and breathed in the humid London night.

Pink and white orchids brightened the grand Corinthia lobby. An enormous Baccarat crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, round and shimmering like the sun.

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