Authors: Lee Vance
ALSO BY LEE VANCE
For Cynthia, Zoe, Nikki, and Matthew
Judas, his betrayer, knew the place because Jesus and the disciples went there often. So Judas led the way to the garden …
Snow settled on a dark, open-air parking lot. A large man wearing slick leather shoes and a new camel-hair overcoat shuffled carefully across the slippery surface, arms extended for balance. He kept his head down, cognizant of the security camera on a tall pole at the far end of the lot. The red BMW was parked where it was supposed to be, and the freshly cut key opened the door with ease. Still warm, the engine started instantly. Driving slowly across the lot, the man edged the car into traffic beneath a pink neon motel sign. He turned right and then pulled up to the curb. Two more men wearing navy watch caps and oilcloth jackets opened the rear doors and got in, sinking low in the seats.
“Nice coat,” one sneered at the driver. “Looks real good on a putz like you.”
“Somebody owes me three hundred bucks,” the driver replied irritably. “The only use I got for this thing is to shammy the car.”
“Knock it off,” the third man ordered. He mumbled slightly, speech impeded by a decade-old facial burn that had left him with a shiny, puckered band of grafted skin stretched taut from the corner of his mouth to his right ear. “Take Tenth all the way, and don’t speed.”
“We got diplomatic plates,” the driver said. “We can do whatever we want.”
“You’ll do what I tell you,” the scarred man said. “Don’t speed.”
“Stop,” Claire said, lifting her hands from the piano’s keyboard for the fifth time in as many minutes.
Kate lowered her violin. Dark like her mother, and still carrying her baby fat at ten, she looked like a sullen Raphael cherub.
“Play it for her again, please, Kyle.”
Kyle turned from the living-room window, where he’d been watching snow swirl through the treetops in Riverside Park below. He was tall for a twelve-year-old, and had his own violin cradled in his arms. Looking from his mother to his sister, he saw Kate’s lower lip protruding tremulously, the way it always did when she was getting upset.
“I’m kind of hungry,” he said. “Maybe we should take a break.”
“I’d like to hear Kate play this passage correctly first,” Claire insisted. “You’re neither of you babies anymore.”
Kate drew back her arm and threw her violin bow the length of the room.
“I don’t have to practice all night just because you’re angry at Daddy,” she shouted, bare feet booming on the parquet floor as she stomped away.
Claire closed her eyes and exhaled loudly. Kyle took a step toward her and then glanced after his sister. Yolanda was in the front hall. She was dressed to go home, with a brightly patterned scarf tied over her hair, but she pocketed her gloves with a sigh and started after Kate, motioning for Kyle to go to his mother. He nodded gratefully and turned away.
Claire was slumped forward from the waist, forehead touching the music on the rest. Ebony hair, gathered in a bun, shone blue above her delicate neck. Setting his violin aside, Kyle moved behind her and began massaging her shoulders gently, the way he’d seen his father do.
“There’s no reason for you to cancel your performance,” he said. “You’ve still got plenty of time to get to the theater. I can look after Kate.”
“I know,” she murmured. “But your father’s on a plane. It’s one thing for me to call in sick. It’s another to get up from the piano and walk out in the second act of
because I have to rush home for some reason.”
The muscles in her upper back felt as if they were carved from stone. He pressed a little harder, using the heels of his hands. He didn’t want to hurt her.
“You worry too much,” he said. “We’re neither of us babies, you know.”
She laughed, and he felt her relax a bit.
• • •
The man in the camel-hair coat dropped off his companions, circled the one-way system, and then parked the BMW in front of a hydrant on Eighty-sixth Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue, nose pointed toward the park and the Hudson River beyond. He lifted a walkie-talkie from the passenger seat and squeezed the transmit button.
“Check,” he said.
“Check,” came the reply.
A block north, on the corner of Eighty-seventh and Riverside, the man with the burn dropped an identical walkie-talkie into an exterior pocket of his jacket. Reaching into the opposite pocket, he removed a Christmas card and held it out to his companion.
“Look at the picture.”
“I’ve got the goddamned picture memorized.”
“Look at it again.”
The second man took it, careful to mask his resentment. Tilting the card to the streetlight overhead, he studied the glossy photo glued to the front. A family of four gathered in front of a piano, the woman and boy almost the same height. It was the woman they were interested in.
“How much longer?” he asked.
“Fifteen minutes,” the man with the burn said. “Twenty at the outside. She’s punctual.”
Snow melted on the picture, and the second man rubbed it dry against his pants. His pulse quickened as he imagined the evening ahead. The woman was good-looking.
“Kate’s taking her bath,” Yolanda announced, bustling into the living room with her coat on. “And now I really do have to get going.”
Claire rose from the piano bench and kissed Kyle on the cheek. He’d gained an inch on her in the last month or two, and she had to tip up her chin.
“Thanks,” she said to him. “Now scoot so I can talk to Yolanda.”
Both women watched as he walked away. Kyle had a high, serious forehead like his father, and pale, watchful eyes.
“Skinny as a pole,” Yolanda observed. “I remember the same about my Guillermo. They get all stretched at that age.”
“He wears his pants half a dozen times and he’s outgrown them.” Claire dropped her gaze and began toying with her wedding ring. “Is Kate okay?”
“I didn’t mean to be so tough on her.”
“Tough,” Yolanda scoffed. “My
taught me my catechism with her Bible in one hand and her stick in the other. Kate’s trouble is that she’s
, like her brother. I’m not even through the front door and they both know whether I got a seat on the bus or had to stand the whole way. Any bother in the house and the two of them are as miserable as wet cats.”
Claire winced at the mention of bother, cheeks flushing slightly. Yolanda pulled her scarf from her sleeve and began retying it over her head.
“Now, you listen to me for one minute. You need someone who can stay late if you’re going to be working nights now. I’ll ask around if you want. It won’t be any trouble at all for me to find another situation.”
“God forbid,” Claire said, shocked. “You’re part of the family.” She hesitated and then covered her face with a hand, her voice choked. “I’m just feeling so frustrated. It’s really hard to make the transition from teaching back to performing, and this job is a big opportunity for me. But nobody’s ever going to hire me again if I get a reputation for being unreliable.”
“Mark didn’t know he had to travel?”
“A colleague in London got sick. He’s flying over to deliver his speech at their big European energy conference.”
“And what was it that other time, a few weeks ago?”
“Vienna,” she responded, a note of defensiveness in her voice. “An unscheduled meeting with some people from OPEC.”
Yolanda’s worn brown face creased as she smiled.
“Seems like it’s always going to be something. I been with you eight years and I never know if he’s coming or going.”
“So, maybe it was a mistake for me to start performing again,” Claire said tentatively. “Maybe I should have waited until Kate was older.”
“Maybe this and maybe that. Work’s important. For a man, and a woman.” Yolanda caught Claire by the wrist and shook her arm gently.
“You’re lucky. You got a good man, and good kids, and a good job. The only mistake you made was not finding someone who could stay late.”
“You’re half right,” Claire said, smiling and leaning forward to embrace Yolanda. “I’m lucky—with Mark, and with the children, and with this opportunity. But Kate and Kyle would never forgive me if you left us. I’ll figure something out.”
More than an hour had passed, and the man in the camel-hair coat fidgeted restlessly behind the wheel of the BMW. The weather worked in their favor, limiting the number of pedestrians who might get a good look at him, but it was well past time for them to be gone. He yearned for a cigarette. Whoever owned the car was a smoker, and the smell was driving him to distraction. He’d had to quit after Desert Storm, when weeks spent in the burning oil fields had permanently damaged his lungs. But nothing eased a long wait like a smoke.
A hundred yards north, his companions were equally impatient. Only two people had come out of the apartment building on the opposite corner: an older Hispanic woman with a scarf tied over her hair and a black man with a German shepherd on a leash. The man with the burn looked at his watch again. She hadn’t ever been this late before. He’d checked her performance schedule—curtain-up was in less than half an hour. He wondered if she might have left early because of the weather.
“Ten more minutes,” he said.
The second man stamped his feet against the cold and swore. Bad beginnings made bad endings, and the woman was only the first of two jobs they had that evening.
Kate and Kyle screamed together, heaving couch pillows at the TV while Claire laughed. They’d finished dinner and snuggled up on the couch to watch
, but the opening credits had barely finished rolling when the picture changed to a Latin man in a white tuxedo, lip-syncing a song in Spanish as he danced on top of a taxicab in Times Square. Much as they’d begged Yolanda not to change the channel on the cable box when the VCR was recording, she frequently forgot.
“I’ll run to the store and rent it,” Claire said, setting aside the blanket on her lap.
Kyle glanced outside. The wind was blowing harder, raising long plumes of spindrift from the snow-laden window ledges.
“Let me,” he said, getting to his feet.
Claire looked over her shoulder to check the time on the kitchen clock. Kyle had started moving around the neighborhood by himself only in the last year.
“I could use the fresh air,” she said.
“Liar,” he teased. “You hate the cold. And you said it yourself—I’m not a baby anymore.”
Claire bit her lip and nodded.
“Take your phone.”
“I’ll be right back.”
An iron-and-glass door swung open on Riverside Drive, and Kyle emerged from his apartment building. He was wearing a green knit school hat that rode high on his head and a Gore-Tex parka that belonged to his father. The sleeves were bunched behind the elastic cuffs and the shoulders drooped, but he liked wearing it. Digging his hands into the pockets, he touched a folded piece of paper and removed it. A list was jotted in his father’s hand: Rashid, Azikiwo, Statoil, Petronuevo. Some of the words he recognized, and some he didn’t. Rashid was an old friend of his dad’s who worked for OPEC, and Statoil was the Norwegian state oil company. Azikiwo and Petronuevo were unfamiliar to him. He mouthed the words, liking the sounds. Everything about his dad’s job was cool. He wanted to be just like his father when he grew up.
He put the paper back into the pocket, stepped out from beneath the building’s awning, and headed south. Two men were standing on the corner of Eighty-seventh Street. The streetlight overhead illuminated the side of his face as he hustled past, head down against the wind. One of the men turned, staring at Kyle as he walked away.
“That’s the boy,” the man with the burn said.
“What boy?” the second man asked.
“The son, you fucking idiot. I thought you memorized the picture.”
“Her,” the man protested. “Not the kid. You never said anything about a kid.”
“But she didn’t show. Now we have to improvise.”
The man with the burn took the walkie-talkie from his pocket, whispered
into it urgently, and hurried after Kyle. His companion hesitated a moment and then followed. He was in too deep to object.
The driver of the BMW lowered his passenger window as Kyle approached. Woman or kid, he didn’t see any difference.
“Excuse me,” he called politely.
Kyle took a step toward the car and bent forward uncertainly.
The man with the burn closed in from behind and tapped Kyle behind the ear with a sap. The second man caught him as he sagged, his green hat falling to the ground. When the BMW drove away a moment later, the boy was wedged between the two men in the rear.
The wind caught the hat and sent it tumbling down the mouth of a storm drain. It reached the river an hour later, where the tide was running toward the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Come daybreak, the hat was miles offshore, never to be seen again.