Finder’s Keeper – Part Seventeen
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright (c) 2018
As I contemplated the empty coffee cup, something Ariana said on the drive rattled around in my head.
“In the end, Señor del Mundo will always do what is best for himself first.”
Ain’t that the truth, sister. Tomas had managed over the years to turn every misfortune to his advantage, to talk his way out of almost anything. This finder thing may have been a talent or just a finely-honed sense of observation. But after walking into the safe house thing, I couldn’t help feeling I’d been played for a sucker all these years.
My earpiece crackled. “Louis? Louis, it’s Vee. Where are you?”
I took it out, and stared at it for a moment. Vee was the last person I wanted to talk to. Hell, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to talk to myself. You know, like those debates you used to see cartoon characters have, with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. I imagined mine popping up on the table. The angel was a little haggard, robe a dingy gray, feathers unkempt on his wings, halo askew. The devil me was three times larger and pumped. He’d apparently been hitting the gym regularly, probably to process all the anger I was feeling.
The angel coughed and wheezed, then looked up at me. You shouldn’t be so hard on del Mundo. Look at your history together. He’s known from the start about your family and watched out for you.
Watched out? Big Red scoffed as a ridiculously large dumbbell materialized in one hand, and he started a set of preacher curls. He was just making sure you were as good as he needed you to be.
“But it was my job to watch his back. You make it sound like he was managing me.”
Wasn’t he? Besides, he lied to us.
Did he? The Angel countered, head tilted to one side.
Of course. Tomas never said he had a family—
That wasn’t a lie, that an omission.
A damned big one.
Did we ever ask?
That question brought me up short. Through the fog of exhaustion and the whiskey, I tried to remember. Every conversation we’d ever had about family, the Boss had deflected so deftly you’d think he could be a goalie for the Kings.
Every conversation except one.
“London,” I whispered, and the two cartoons evaporated. Damn, how could I have missed that? The one and only night I’d ever seen Tomas drunk, rambling on about a redhead with a Roman nose. I thought it was all about an old girlfriend.
It was his daughter all along.
My hand shook as I dropped the earwig onto the table, covered it with a napkin, and reached for the second shot of Jameson. As I touched the glass Saoirse interrupted. “Might I suggest you try that on something other than an empty stomach?” She slid a couple of plates in front of me that smelled halfway to Ambrosia.
“What am I looking at here?”
“It’s a novelty we here in Ireland call ‘food.’ We think it’ll be big across the pond someday.”
As I said, I was really starting to like this girl. “I’ve heard of it. Anything I should know?”
“As I warned you, I went big, but you’re a growin’ boy. You can handle it. Pork sausages, thick cut bacon, a pair of fried hen’s eggs—”
“Because rooster eggs are tough to find, no doubt.”
Saoirse’s eyes narrowed. “I can take this all back and let you wallow in your stupor of self-pity.”
“And miss out on that bacon? No way. So what else is there?”
“Mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, and baked beans. Oh, and toast. I added a side of toast for you.”
I forced a grin. “Tasty.”
Saoirse was having none of it. “Fine, don’t eat it. Just don’t drain that Black Barrel without at least finishing the best part of those plates, mister.”
I saluted. “Aye, aye, Captain.”
The woman just grumbled, “Yanks.” She topped off my coffee and headed back into the kitchen. Once more, the dining room was mine.
A busy train station in the middle of a downpour, I figured the solitude wasn’t about to last, but I savored the quiet while I had it. I needed time and space. The second slug of whiskey joined the first. This time I did take a bit to enjoy the burn. The bacon was enticing, so I picked up a slice of man-candy and nibbled on it as I tried to figure my next move.
Damn. His daughter. Part of me wanted to finish the meal, turn round and chug back up the Strand. Surely all would be forgiven. I’d just chat with Vee and make the arrangements. My hand drifted toward the earpiece to put it back.
I hesitated, fingers hovering over the device. Even if he’d told me obliquely at the beginning of our partnership, Tomas had never said another word. He knew almost everything about my private life and Vee’s as well. Yet I was supposed to be his Keeper, supposed to keep him safe, and he’d walled off a part of his life from me, a part he knew would be painful, for the simple reason that Tomas del Mundo didn’t think I had the ability to handle it.
Fine. Let him deal with the world on his own. It’ll grind him into that pate’ he is so fond of.
Decision made, now I just had to figure out an endgame for Louis. I had my passport, so getting out of Ireland would be relatively easy. It would take a bite financially since things were on my own dime from now on, but I’d set aside enough of a nest egg. Still, no need to splurge. I wondered if I could do better by taking a ferry over to England and flying out of London, or maybe flying back to the states on the east coast and then heading west on a domestic flight. I realized for the first time that not having Vee to back me up for the legwork was going to suck.
It occurred to me maybe L.A. wasn’t my destination after all. After all, as of now, I had no strings on me. Perhaps I should go somewhere with sand and sun. Getting lost with a frozen drink and a paper umbrella sounded appealing. Alicia and I had once talked about St. Kitts. That seemed as good a starting point as any. As I plowed through my meal, I pulled out my phone and started to check for flights to the island. Nothing was leaving until late that night.
I considered my options. I could still leave in another sixty minutes, or try to lay low until the evening and head out for the islands. I’d just have to hope the case kept Tomas busy until then. Occupational hazard of working for him. No matter where you went, he could find you, eventually. But like he said, people, he doesn’t get. Definitely not this time. He’d regret finding me.
The bacon was thick and crispy, the sausages plump, and the eggs must have come from very happy hens. I finished most of the food, even slathering the beans on toast before I knocked down the remaining frontline soldier from my whiskey flight. I ended my debate and was about to call for reinforcements when someone slid into the booth opposite me and placed their hand over my shot glass.
“Really, Mr. Bricke. It’s not even ten o’clock.”
I recognized the rings on the fingers. “Hello, Manny. I’d offer you a snootful, but that’s taboo for you, right?”
Marwan Al Mansour sat across from me, his Burberry suit showing little effect of what had undoubtedly been an overnight jaunt halfway across the globe. Private jets do have their perks. He shook his head. “That’s true, but I’ve never been a perfect adherent to the laws of my faith.”
“You really are a pirate, aren’t you.”
“Your rules are just more like guidelines.” Manny’s blank look meant the reference would be lost forever, so I dropped the banter. Besides, my sobriety was listing slightly to port at this point. Manny’s arrival meant I’d need an even keel and fast. I took a swig of coffee and waved to get Saoirse’s attention.
The waitress raised an eyebrow as she brought over the pot. “So you brought a friend to help you nurse that bottle. Good choice.”
Manny bristled. “I am not here to help him drink, young lady.”
“Course not, sir. So, coffee for you?”
“Tea, thank you. And toast with jam.”
“And a side of bacon for him, on me,” I added. Manny glared at me. “All right, make that bacon for me. But put it on his tab.”
Saoirse scribbled the order and topped off my coffee. Manny watched her walk away. “She is a beautiful young woman.”
“Don’t go getting any ideas. I saw her first.” I stared at the bottle of Jameson. “She reminds me of Alicia.”
“My wife. She’s dead. Car accident.”
“Everybody’s sorry. Nobody can do a damn thing about it.” I reached for the bottle and poured a shot. “That was the reason I went to work for Tomas. He made it seem like it wasn’t all for nothing. That we could help people get back things that meant something.”
“Which is why I sought out your company,” said Al-Mansour. “You were searching for something significant to me.”
I slugged back the whiskey. “I can sympathize, Manny. Daughters are like gold. Like the most precious things in the world. You know how I know?”
I waved him in close. As we touched heads, I whispered, “Because I lost mine forever.”
Al-Mansour tried to back away, but I grabbed him by the back of the neck. “You told The Boss how important these girls were in your life, yet the story I find is a pair of girls raised by nannies, shipped off every year to boarding schools in different countries and never spending time with Daddy-dearest.”
“It wasn’t like that at all.”
“Wasn’t it? Tomas thought you all were close. But he doesn’t understand families.” I let him go. “Or at least, I thought he didn’t.”
Manny straightened the collar of his jacket as Saoirse brought the tea and bacon. He waited until she left, stirring his drink. His eyes narrowed. “You think you know me so well, Mr. Bricke.” There was an uncomfortable beat as if he wanted to say more. Then his demeanor shifted, and the pleasant international businessman returned. “But none of that matters. I have reports you, in fact, found my daughters overnight.”
“Reports?” I barked a laugh. “You used us as stalking horses to flush your daughters out of hiding, and sent in a bunch of thugs to kidnap them. Sloppy, Manny. Not to mention borderline illegal.”
“Nevertheless, your contract is completed. What I do with the information is not your concern. Simply tell me where the girls are.”
The hell it isn’t. I smiled. “Well, there’s the rub of the matter, Manny. Mr. del Mundo and I have terminated our business arrangement. We parted ways, much less than amicably.”
“To put it bluntly, I’m no longer the Finder’s Keeper.”
Manny drummed his fingers on the table in thought. “Even so, you were there. You must know the answer to where my daughters are, as well as del Mundo. So, I will offer you the same payment arrangement. Just tell me where the girls are, and the money is yours.”
I considered the offer. That much scratch would go a long way to making a hole I could crawl into and disappear from the world. Given everything that had happened, what was one more line crossed? Problem is, I’d have to live with myself in that hole. I looked at the bottle of Jameson with longing. I really wanted to just crawl inside that and forget about a world that didn’t seem to give a damn about me. But it looked like I wasn’t getting that chance today.
“Let me guess. You have a team waiting, ready to move.” I poked my head up and looked toward the doors. “Remington? Lonnie? Ollie-ollie oxen free. Come out and join us.”
“I assure you I’m completely alone—”
Lonnie stepped through the kitchen door and walked over to the booth. She slid in next to al-Mansour.
“Completely alone, Manny? Right.” I smiled at Lonnie. “You can take you’re your hand out of your pocket, Lonnie. It’s rude to aim a gun at someone when they’re eating. Or was that drinking?”
“Can the jokes, Louis. Just tell us where to find the girls before it gets ugly.”
“Before?” I barked out a loud laugh. “I hate to break the news, Lon, but after Ariana played her little number on you, you’re not looking so daisy fresh. I recommend a New York Strip for that eye.”
“Enough!” Al-Mansour. He turned to Rourke. “He refuses to cooperate. Can you persuade him?”
“Probably not, but I don’t think I need to.” Before I could stop her, Lonnie reached out and grabbed my phone. She started to manipulate it and in a moment had the map function up. She spun it around. “Forgot to disable your phone’s tracking? Sloppy work for you, Louis.”
I stared at the red dot on the screen. Lonnie was right, I’d gotten sloppy, and whether I was part of the Circus del Mundo or not, putting an innocent at risk was never part of the bargain. I tried to push through the haze and figure out my next move.