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Page 16


Sometimes—most times—Tawny felt as if bad luck walked two steps behind her, catching up every once in a while, tapping her on the shoulder, reminding her that he was there, her constant companion.
It hadn’t started that way. She had loved her job at La Crème in the beginning. It had been fun and exciting and a dance party every night. And, no, Tawny hadn’t been sexually abused as a child or any of that, thank you very much, but she did have another quality you often found in people who go into her line of work.
Tawny was, she could admit to herself, inherently lazy and easily bored.
People always talk about how the girls are damaged or lacked self-esteem, and, yeah, that was true, but the big thing was, most girls simply didn’t want to hold a real job. Who does? Think about it—what were the alternatives to what she was now doing?
Take Tawny’s sister, Beth. Since graduating high school six years ago, Beth worked data entry for the First Trenton Insurance. She sat in a smelly, airless cubicle in front of a computer screen and plugged in God-knows-what data—hour after hour, day after day, year after year, stuck in a cubicle smaller than a jail cell, until, well, what?
Seriously, Tawny thought, Kill me now.
Here were her options when you broke it down: One, type insurance data mindlessly in a tight, stinky cubicle… or two, dance the night away and drink champagne at a party.
Tough choice, right?
But her job at La Crème wasn’t shaping up the way she thought it would. Here, she’d heard it was better than for meeting eligible guys, but the closest thing to a real relationship she’d had was with Carlton. And what had he done? He’d broken her finger and threatened Ralphie.
Some girls did indeed find a rich guy, but for the most part, they were the pretty ones, and when she looked hard in the mirror, Tawny knew that she wasn’t. Pretty, that is. She had to pile on more and more makeup. The circles under her eyes were getting darker. She needed repair work on the boob job and even though she was only twenty-three, varicose veins were starting to make her legs look like relief maps.
The perky young blonde with the turtleneck gave Tawny a little wave. “Miss, can we talk to you for a moment?”
Tawny felt a tinge of envy for this perky blonde with the toothpaste-commercial smile. The cute guy was probably her boyfriend. He probably treated her nice, took her to the movies, held her hand at the mall. Lucky. Sure, they were Bible thumpers, but they looked happy and healthy and like they’d never known sadness in their whole lives. Tawny would bet her meager life savings that every person that these two had ever known was still alive. Their parents were still happily married and looked healthy, just like them, only a little older, and they played tennis and had barbecues and big family dinners, where the relatives bowed their heads and said a nice prayer.
Soon, they would tell her that they had all the answers to her problems, and, sorry, Tawny just wasn’t in the mood. Not today. Her broken finger ached so damn much. A cop had just threatened to throw her in jail. And her sadistic, psycho puppy of a “boyfriend” was missing and maybe, God willing, dead.
The smiling cute boy said, “We just need to talk to you for a brief moment.”
Tawny was about to tell them to buzz off, but something made her pull up. These two were different from the standard-issue Bible thumpers who stood outside the club and harassed the girls with quoted Scripture. They seemed more… Midwestern maybe? More fresh scrubbed and bright-eyed. A few years ago, Tawny’s grandmother, may she rest in peace, had really gotten in to some hokey televangelist on a crappy cable network. They had something called the Wholesome Music Hour with young teens singing gently with guitars and hand claps. That’s what these kids looked like. Like they just escaped from some cable-TV church choir.
“It won’t take long,” the perky blonde assured her.
Here they were, on her doorstep, today of all days. Not at the club’s back entrance. Not yelling out a bunch of slogans about sin. Maybe, after all the destruction, with her finger aching and her feet hurting and the rest of her feeling too bone tired to take one more step, these two kids were here for a reason. Maybe they had indeed been sent, in Tawny’s hour of darkest need, to rescue her. Like two angels from above.
Could that be?
A stray tear ran down Tawny’s cheek. The perky blond girl nodded at her as though she understood exactly what Tawny was going through.
Maybe, Tawny thought, readying her key, I do need saving. Maybe these two kids, unlikely as it sounded, were her ticket to a better life.
“Okay,” Tawny said, choking back a sob. “You can come in. Just for a second, okay?”
They both nodded.
Tawny opened the door. Ralphie sprinted across the room toward them, his nails clacking on the linoleum. Tawny felt her heart soar at the sound. Ralphie—the one good, kind, loving thing in her life. She bent down and let Ralphie run her over. She giggled through a sob and scratched Ralphie in that spot behind his ears for a few seconds and then stood back up.
Tawny turned to the perky blonde, who still had the smile in place.
“Beautiful dog,” the perky blonde said.
“Thank you.”
“Can I pet him?”
Tawny turned to the cute guy. He smiled at her too. But the smile was weird now. Off somehow…
The cute guy was still smiling when he cocked his fist back. He was still smiling when he turned his hips and shoulders and punched Tawny straight in the face with everything he had.
As Tawny crumbled to the floor, blood spurting out of her nose, eyes rolling back, the last sound she heard was Ralphie whimpering.
BROOME PUT THE PHONE BACK in its cradle. He was still trying to process this—to quote all local newscasters—“latest shocking development.”
Goldberg asked, “Who was that?”
Broome hadn’t realized that Goldberg had been hovering. “Harry Sutton.”
“The shyster?”
“Shyster?” Broome frowned. “What is this, 1958? No one calls lawyers shysters anymore.”
“Don’t be an asshole because it’s easy,” Goldberg said. “This have something to do with Carlton Flynn?”
Broome stood, his pulse racing. “Could be.”
Something to do with Carlton Flynn? Maybe. Something to do with Stewart Green? Definitely.
Broome was still replaying the conversation in his head. After seventeen years of searching, Harry Sutton claimed to have Cassie, the stripper who vanished with Stewart Green, in his office. She was there right now—just like that—materializing out of thin air. It was almost too much to take in.