Lois is curled up like a cat, asleep on the backseat of the stolen car. Kiera sleeps too, resting her head on Mitch’s shoulder while he drives. Her purple hair falls forward to shadow her face, a strand carefully following the ridge line of her jawbone. The radio had started fading in and out after they crossed into Nevada, so Mitch sits in silence, watching the hood eat up the highway in the headlight beam. When a car begins to gain in the rearview mirror, Mitch reaches down to feel the re-assuring shape of the gun pushed down by the side of his seat. But the car slides by and he relaxes as he watches its tail lights snake away into the distance until the red pinpricks of light are finally extinguished by the blackness.
They stop for gas and Kiera stumbles out, shaking drowsiness like a lizard shedding its skin. It is a hot night and the cicada chorus is loud. Above the scalpel cut of the horizon line is a drumskin of stars. Mitch pumps gas while Kiera buys Dr. Pepper and Cheetos for herself and coffee for Mitch. As they bump back onto the highway, she peers at the map on her phone.
“You know you need to dump that thing next chance you get,” he tells her. “So they can’t trace you.”
She understands and nods, pressing the power button until the screen darkens, like a flatlining heartbeat. Rolling down the window, she enjoys the feeling of the warm air rushing past her face and she closes her eyes for a moment. Mitch turns to look at her; the shape of her profile and the way the wind ripples her hair.
Without opening her eyes, Kiera carelessly tosses the phone out the open window with just a flick of her wrist. It makes her feel both free and scared in equal measures and she tucks her knees up into her chest, fetal style, resting her feet on the dash.
“We gonna be OK?” she asks Mitch quietly after a while. For a moment, he wonders if he has heard her right. It is the only time since they first met that she has shown even a hint of vulnerability.
But all she has left now are her sister, her doubts and whatever she could throw in a suitcase in the five minutes after Mitch had showed up at her door and told her it was finally time to go.
Mitch takes a sip of coffee and blinks hard, partly from the steam, partly because he is scared too. “It’s hot” he says, to hide his uncertainty.
In the backseat, Lois stirs and lets out a soft sigh, then wriggles to find a more comfortable position. The moonlight covers her in a soft white blanket as she sleeps. Kiera reaches back to calm her while Mitch drinks his coffee and presses a little harder on the gas, bursting on through, deeper into the night.
“So, Mr. Mitchell. Any insights that might help us get to the bottom of things?” asks the man called Levinsky from Internal Controls. He is tall and skinny, balding with small circular eye glasses.
A young woman with purple hair hands him a sheet of paper which he slides across the table towards Mitch.
“Please go ahead, take a look. It may jog your memory,” he says. He waits patiently while Mitch reads it over.
Eventually Mitch shrugs and hands it back. The woman with purple hair raises her eyebrows and, with a half-smile, tilts her head almost imperceptibly to one side. Levinsky removes his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose.
“These transactions all relate to the primary trading account of Mrs. Roland-Baptiste from Phoenix, Arizona, for the period, let’s see, October 17th, 2012 until the present”. Levinsky’s eyes drop to the page in his hand. “A total of twenty six high dollar value foreign currency trades, each one reversed a few days later with the principle returned on each occasion to the client minus any net loss that might have occurred. In the event there was a net gain on the transaction, a portion of that gain was moved via a manually initiated transfer into this Swiss account ending four oh three two. At which point the trail goes cold since our colleagues in Zurich are being entirely uncooperative. As usual”.
If Mitch knows something about all this, he does not show it. His face is as rigid as a Vegas high roller waiting on the flop.
Levinsky continues. “The total amount diverted to the Swiss account over the period in question appears to be…….” he pauses and traces down the sheet with his finger.
“Three hundred twenty six grand.” The woman with the purple hair helps him out. Her voice is low and raspy. It surprises Mitch as otherwise she looks so elfin with her porcelain cheek bones and near albino white skin. But when she speaks it is all smoky, like a late night blues singer.
“Quite so,” says Levinsky. “Equivalent to three hundred and twenty six thousand, four hundred and thirty seven US dollars and thirteen cents”.
‘She was my client,” says Mitch. He looks straight back at Levinsky. “What can I say? You pulled the audit trail showing the authorization history I guess?” He opens his hands wide, like he has nothing to hide.
The woman with the purple hair gives him another crooked glance but says nothing.
“Certainly,” says Levinsky. “And they all seem to be in order, prima facia at least. All appear to be from Mrs. Roland-Baptiste, signed and bearing her passcode, sent from her registered email address”. He slides over a second set of papers to Mitch who does not even bother to read them.
Instead he just shrugs again. “So are we done here?”
Levinsky leans forward in his chair. “As you please”, he says and begins to scoop together the papers on the desk in front of him. “I was just giving you a chance to let me know if you had noticed anything unusual about your client’s activities Mr. Mitchell. An opportunity for you to tell your side of the story, so to speak”.
Mitch waits on Levinsky to gather his things as the clock on the wall clicks one minute closer to the hour.
“Your divorce settlement last year to the ex Mrs.. Mitchell was extremely generous it appears,” says Levinsky, changing the subject as he stands up. “Very generous. Either that or she got herself an excellent lawyer”.
Mitch sighs. “She fucked her tennis coach, got to keep the house, her membership at the Rampling and more than half my wordly goods plus a life insurance policy and a pension that doesn’t even exist yet. So, you could say that, yes”.
“It must be hard to maintain your current lifestyle and make those alimony payments. Especially when bonuses are not what they used to be around here”. Levinsky makes a face, like he is sorry for Mitch’s luck and extends a hand which Mitch leaves hanging in mid -air. “As you please,” he says again. “We’ll be in touch no doubt, once accounting forensics have had chance to examine the audit trail more thoroughly. When do we expect the results?”
“I would think end of the week,” says the woman with the purple hair closing her laptop. She shoots Mitch another look. Her eyes are dark, on one hand full of menace, but also oddly enticing.
“Excellent. Let’s see what forensics tell us then,” Levinsky’s tone is lighter now as he hovers in the doorway. “You never know. Perhaps the Good Lord has had broadband installed in Heaven”.
The woman with the purple hair smiles one last time at Mitch, those dark eyes beckoning to him.
“Because, you see what is truly remarkable in this case, Mr. Mitchell,” Levinsky pauses for maximum effect. “is that Mrs. Roland-Baptiste died in September 1996”.
As Mitch descends the steps of the bank, he sees her. It is the woman with the purple hair. She stands out in the gray brown rush of business suits which flows down the sidewalk past him towards the open mouth of the subway station. She is standing a little way up the street and so he begins to fight his way against the tide. As he approaches her he sees that she is talking to a beggar who is sitting on the ground on a square of cardboard. He is a black man, dressed in a ragged overcoat, baggy blue jeans and gym shoes which miss their laces. He wears an old New York Jets cap with dark glasses and from the way he holds his head, titled upwards and to one side, Mitch figures he must be blind. Propped up against his knees is a carboard sign which reads: ‘Mister, can you spare a dime? Will sing for $’.
When he reaches her, Mitch hesitates, realizing he does not even know her name. “Hey” he says simply. “You never introduced yourself earlier.”
The woman does not answer, but the beggar tilts his head and says “Sound like you got company, Miss K. Who your friend?”
She looks briefly at Mitch and gives him just the tiniest of smiles. Then she turns back to the beggar. “That’s Mr. Mitchell, Gabriel. He’s a thief”.
Mitch laughs at her bluntness. “Don’t listen to her, Gabriel,“ says Mitch. “Her boss Levinsky’s an asshole. He’s got it in for me”.
“Levinsky’s certainly an asshole. That much at least we can agree on”. She glances sideways at him; another smile, this time with a hint more warmth. “But he’s a pretty good thief catcher for an asshole”.
Gabriel gives a look of mock disappointment. “Miss K, yo of all people shouldn’t jump to conclusions ma’am. You know that”. He wags a finger at her and she giggles. It is an infectious laugh and Mitch tries to reconcile her: the purple hair with the slight frame, the corn husk voice with the butterfly laugh.
Unable to do so, he reaches into his wallet, pulls out a ten dollar bill then bends down, extends his hand and places it in the beggar’s upturned palm. Gabriel clasps it and gives Mitch’s hand a brief shake.
“Well, Gabriel, good to meet you, man. You’re hired to defend me. You know this chick? She’s trying to bury my reputation but she won’t even tell me her name.”
Gabriel considers the question. “Yeah. I know this chick”, he says. “She visit me every day, rain or shine. She my best customer is Miss K.”. He flops his head from side to side.
Mitch is impressed. “Good for you”, he says.
You wanna song, Mitch?” asks Gabriel. He points to the sign he is holding: Will Sing for $.
“Sure” says Mitch. “Sing something for Miss K”.
Gabriel laughs. “Oh, that’s easy brother: Roxanne”. And so, he sings it, right there in the street with all the suits rushing on by. He sings it deep and low. The style is all wrong but he has a good voice and when he is done they both clap.
“Thank you, Gabriel,” says Miss K and Mitch thinks there may even be a little blush on those finely shaped cheeks.
“Yo welcome. The both of you,” he says and he makes a motion like he is taking a tiny bow. “Yo know, one thing they say about being blind? They say when you lose your sight your other senses compensate. And I would surely say I know this to be true”.
“Is that right?” says Mitch
“Yes it is Mr Mitch, sir. And I tell you: I can hear how the both of you really feel about each other”
“Stop it Gabriel,” says Miss K. “I’ll see you tomorrow, OK?” She takes five bucks and slips it into his hand. Then, she turns and begins to walk away towards the subway station.
Mitch watches her, the ways she moves. Then he calls after her. “So what does the “K” stand for Miss K?”
She keeps walking but turns and calls over her shoulder “Kiera,” she says. And then, without looking back again, she is engulfed in the crowd on the sidewalk and Mitch is left tracking her shock of purple hair until it disappears out of sight, down the steps of the subway station.
“Miss K’s the name she use when she doing her thing,” says Gabriel. He rocks back and forth on his cardboard mat.
“How’d you mean, Gabriel?” says Mitch.
“Oh, yo got a wild one there Mr Mitch, sir. Real wild. She work at Simeon’s Place when she not catching thieves”.
Mitch reads the text one more time. “Meet me at Simeon’s Place. K.”
Simeon’s is an S&M club just a few blocks from the office. Its entrance is a red doorway halfway up an alleyway, partially hidden from street view behind a large overflowing dumpster. When he knocks, a peep hole slides open, Speakeasy style, and he is admitted by a man wearing a hood and PVC suit. The man takes twenty bucks and applies an ink admission stamp to the back of Mitch’s hand that reads ‘Retarded Whore’. A flight of stairs leads downwards and Mitch descends cautiously, not quite sure what to make of it all. At the bottom of the stairs a much larger space opens up. There is a long bar, behind which a small Filipino man towels down glasses. In the middle of the room is a raised stage containing a grand piano and a six feet high St Andrew’s cross with leather shackles attached to each of its four points. Wrapping around the stage is an old style polished wood dance floor which a woman in a leopard skin dress is mopping meticulously back and forth. The only other person Mitch can see is tucked away in one of the corner booths, her purple hair visible above the screen of her laptop which she is tapping away at, like a small, brightly colored bird pecking at seed.
Kiera looks up and rests her elbows on the table, cradling her chin momentarily on the balls of her hands. She does not acknowledge him but Mitch walks slowly towards her, catching sight of himself in the bank of mirrors that lines the walls.
“I’m glad you decided to come,” she says. “Take a seat.”
It is her voice that invites him to join her, but it is her eyes that make him want to stay.
He unbuttons his sports coat and sits down, glancing around. Right next to the booth where they are sitting is an umbrella stand containing a tangled bundle of long handled canes.
“Interesting place,” says Mitch, like he is breaking the ice at a cocktail party.
Kiera watches him closely. “It’s still early,” she says. “In a couple of hours you won’t be able to move in here”.
One of the man-boys comes over to the table and asks Mitch what he would like a drink. Mitch orders Ketel One with just a twist of lemon. When he returns with the drink the man-boy sets it down and tries to make conversation.
“You here for tonight’s show?” he asks. “Miss K.’s doing her thing later with lamb’s blood“. His voice and face are effeminate, although his torso bulges beneath his tight leather vest, cut low to show off his pierced nipple.
Mitch ignores him and takes a drink, feeling it warm him as it slides down.
“We need a moment to ourselves please David,” says Kiera, placing her hand on the man-boy’s arm who smiles awkwardly then sashays away in his leather pants.
“So what do you want?” asks Mitch. He stirs his drink slowly then takes another sip.
Kiera smiles, coquettish now. Her fringe flops down over one eye and she peeps at him from behind a curtain.
“I got the forensic team’s report today. I should give it to Levinsky, but I figure he can wait”.
Mitch says nothing. For a moment he wonders whether she is wearing a wire.
“Looks like the authorization emails were routed via Mrs Roland Baptiste’s account but they originated from an IP address behind our own firewall”.
“You blackmailing me?” he asks her. “I’ve got no money. You know I’m broke. Really”. This much is the truth.
“They all say that,” says Kiera. And that is the truth too.
“All?” says Mitch. He takes another sip. Kiera watches him closely; those eyes.
“Weidman said that. Until I showed him the pictures”.
“Tadd Weidman?” asks Mitch. Weidman is Head of Securities at the bank. “What pictures?”
“Of him fucking the hooker. His wife would have been so disappointed. She wasn’t even pretty”. Kiera laughs; that same giggle, like a little girl who cannot help herself. Despite his predicament Mitch smiles.
“And Lattimer paid up too. Once I told him I knew about his little Caymen Island retirement fund. Stojic was an interesting one. Didn’t want his pastor to know he was gay. Can you believe it? In this day and age? It’s amazing what people will pay to keep secret. In the end we agreed on five hundred grand”.
Mitch does not quite know whether to be scared or relieved that he is not the first.
“So how much you pulled in with this little gig?” he asks her.
At first she does not reply, instead she leans over, picks up Mitch’s glass and takes a sip. Mitch watches the vodka glisten for a moment on her lips and tongue. On the stage a cadaver skinny man in a burgundy vest is tuning up the piano. Kiera gives him a little wave and he returns it with a tip of the brim of his fedora.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she says. “A couple of mill by now I guess. I’m saving it for when we leave. Then I’m going to need it.”
This is an unexpected twist. Mitch takes the glass back out of her hand and looks deep into her eyes.
“Leave?” He takes a drink and holds the vodka in his mouth for a moment.
She leans forward and kisses him, suddenly sucking the liquor from him.
“Before my step father does to Lois what he did to me.” She is whispering now but he can hear her well enough. Still she holds him with her eyes and he does not try to struggle free.
“I was eleven” she says quietly. “Lois is eleven next month”.
“Who’s Lois?” asks Mitch.
“She’s my sister,” replies Kiera.
Mitch does not know what to say. In fact, he is a little breathless. His heartbeat has quickened.
Keira hands him a square of paper. On it is written an address. Then, checking to be sure nobody is watching them, she reaches below the table and pulls out a gun. She chooses to release him and he drops his eyes to look at it as she slides it across the table towards him.
He cannot bring himself to touch it.
“On Monday Levinsky will get that forensics report,” she tells him. “So, go ahead, pick up the gun”.
The truth is that Mitch would probably have done it for her anyway. But, they both know this is the choke hold.
Still he hesitates. So, she slides out of the booth, gracefully like a deer flitting through the trees, and leaves Mitch to decide for himself.
Detective Raul Hernandez has a hunch. He has seen them all over the years: hopeless liars, habitual liars, liars who don’t even know they are liars, liars who want to get caught out, liars who could beat the detector test. But all liars are just the same in the end. And if his instinct is to be trusted, Kiera Stiles is one of them.
“Can I see the body?” she asks him.
Hernandez shakes his head. “No,” he says. “Dr. Lu is still processing the scene”. He pauses. “But, it’s definitely your Dad,” he adds, trying to humanize the corpse that lies beneath the crime scene tent that they have just erected in the victim’s driveway.
“My step father,” says Kiera. She corrects him, all matter of fact.
“Besides,” says Hernandez. “It’s not pretty”.
She seems to give just the tiniest smile. The corners of her lips flinch like a camera shutter. For a moment, Hernandez wonders if she is getting off on this whole thing. She might be the type he thinks, with her weird hair and fuck-me eyes.
“Why so?” she says. “Are some deaths prettier than others Detective?” She flicks at her hair. “In your experience?”. Her voice sandpapers the words.
Hernandez ignores her and walks over to look at the mechanism that opens the roll top garage door. He stares up at it for a moment and pulls idly on the red cord which hangs from the metal track.
“This always been this way?” he asks her. The trolley has been disconnected so although the motor still runs, the track just cranks around uselessly. The door will not lift. Anyone wanting to get into the garage would have needed to come inside and open it by hand first. It seems possible to Hernandez that this was how the victim had been lured out of his car. When they found him, his car door was open and he was on the ground in front of the garage.
Kiera shrugs. “I don’t know what you mean, Detective?” She is definitely a liar think Hernandez. His hunch has now become overwhelming. He can smell the deceit on her.
“What time did your step father get home on Friday night?” he asks her.
She looks back at him. “Shouldn’t your coroner be able to answer that, Detective?”
“I’m asking you Miss Stiles,” says Hernandez. “What time did he normally get home?”
She shrugs again. “Any time he fucking well felt like it, Detective. At least in my experience.” She smiles at him but her words leave little doubt about how she feels about her step father.
“And neither you, your mother or your sister were home all weekend?”
She shakes her head. “No. He said he had a deal to close so we decided to spend our weekend out at the lake house. Lois loves it out there. It’s her favorite place”. This time Kiera’s words don’t contradict her smile.
“Lois is your step-sister?”
Kiera frowns. “He was her Dad. But she’s my sister. She’ll always be my sister, no matter what.”
Hernandez nods, letting her talk. She is lost in her own thoughts for a moment. It is the same every time. Sooner or later the lying stops and the truth gets exposed. She killed him. Or at least she knows who did.
“How’d he die, Detective?” she wants to know and her insistence makes him think perhaps she did not pull the trigger herself. But maybe she disabled the garage door from the inside to make him a sitting duck.
“He was shot,” replies Hernandez. “But you know that already, don’t you, Miss Stiles?”
She does not flinch and ignores his accusation. “How many times?”
They lock eyes and Hernandez allows himself momentarily to glance into those two deep circling pools.
“Nine times,” he tells her.
She holds his gaze and Hernandez doesn’t turn away.
Kiera feels the familiar surge of sexual energy as she softly takes control, like wrapping one of the man-boys in chains at Simeon’s Place.
“And it looks like he laid there for a while before he was found”. Hernandez spills some more.
“His body was in a bad state you say Detective? It was a hot weekend, that’s for certain”. She is gentle with him. Her voice is so low it is almost a whisper and she moves her lips to shape the words slowly and deliberately.
“Looks like a coyote got to him pretty good to me. But Dr. Lu will know for sure”.
“What’d the coyote do to him, Detective?” She wants him to hold on for just a little longer so she can extract what she needs. She hopes it was his belly, or his chest. In fact, she wants to hear that it has ripped out his heart, she hates him so much.
But the moment is lost and Hernandez recovers, like a man suddenly splashed with cold water. He takes out his phone and snaps a photograph of the garage door opener. Then another from a different angle.
“I need to speak with your Mom and step sister,” he says.
“Sister,” Kiera repeats, correcting him again. “She’s my sister”.
Saving Miss K.
“Hey Gabriel,” says Mitch.
Gabriel turns his head towards the sound of Mitch’s voice and gives him a broad smile.
“Yo, Mr Mitch, sir. How you doin’ today?” A light summer rain has just started to fall and it begins to wet them both through. It is a warm day and the mix of sunshine and showers creates a strange misty light, the sort that might make a rainbow. Water drops form on Gabriel’s Jets cap and drip, unseen, past his nose. The business suits have sprouted umbrellas as they flow past.
Mitch is pre-occupied and he takes out his phone and checks it for texts. Nothing. What he does have on there though is Levinsky’s voicemail message, left earlier that day, telling him that he wanted to meet again, to clear up, what Levinsky described as, “a couple of loose ends”. But after he had listened to the message, Mitch had immediately collected a few personal items from his office desk, texted Kiera and then left via the back stairwell and a fire exit.
“Kiera been by today?” he asks.
“No, sir, Mr Mitch. I ain’t seen her yet today.” Mitch did not expect a different answer. Maybe she is a step ahead of him he thinks. Maybe she has already skipped town with her sister.
“You tried Simeon’s?” says Gabriel.
“Yeah. That’s where I asked her to meet me. But she didn’t show’” He is out of ideas.
It had all been easier than Mitch had imagined. Hiding there at the side of the house in the darkness, watching the car door open and the man get out, watching him struggle with the garage door and then turning back to face the barrel of the gun. But now Mitch feels the weight of the gun in his pocket and it scares him. He is lost without her he thinks.
Suddenly Mitch’s phone buzzes and he pulls it out, like he’s received an electric shock.
Gabriel tilts his head, listening intently.
Mitch reads the text. “Hernandez knows. Leave town. K”.
He is wet now from
the rain, soaked through.
“Fuck” says Mitch out loud. “I gotta go Gabriel. Hey man, I’m sorry. I’d like to stay longer you know but, well…..” his voice trails off.
Gabriel does not seem surprised. But he also has one last thing to say.
“Yo know how I got this blindness, Mr Mitch, sir?”
Mitch looks at Gabriel. He knows he must get moving. Levinsky will already have called Corporate Security and by now they will be picking over Mitch’s office and PC looking for more evidence. And, from Kiera’s text it sounds like it won’t be long before Hernandez issues an APB for one or both of them.
“I lost it saving someone,” continues Gabriel. “And know what else?”
Mitch listens. The rain pours off Gabriel’s cap now. Although he cannot see him, he still knows that Mitch is there. He can sense him. “Was the best thing I ever did. Even though it led me here, I’d do it all over again”.
Gabriel’s smile flashes a metal tooth and for a moment his blind eyes see and he is the wisest man on the whole God damn street. “Go try to save her, my brother.” he says to Mitch. You might not be able to, but at least you’ll know you didn’t leave her behind”.
Mitch takes a breath. His chest is tight: Levinsky, Hernandez, the gun, the dead body lying on some police coroner’s slab. He wants to run; get away as fast as he possibly can. But instead he takes out his phone and sends one last text. Bending down he clasps Gabriel’s shoulder and whispers something into his ear. Then he heads away up the street and does not look back.
When the sun starts to chase them in the rearview mirror, Lois finally wakes and stretches. She rubs sleep from her eyes and leans forward between the front seats.
“We nearly there?” she asks.
Kiera looks at Mitch, who does not know what to say. Because the truth is, that to know where you are going, you first need to know where you are.
Lois tracks the silence, reading into it everything. “We gonna be OK?”
It is the exact same question her sister had asked Mitch a few hours earlier and got nothing worth shit for an answer.
But somehow, the way the coming dawn begins to color the wide plains that stretch out in front of them gives Kiera the faintest glimmer of new hope. And also because Lois’ voice is tiny, but it is loud.
Keira touches her sister’s face. Lois smiles, relieved.
“And who’s this?” asks Lois, unfiltered, looking straight at Mitch.
“This is Mitch,” says Kiera. “He’s a……” She pauses and they exchange glances. “Well…., he’s just Mitch” she says in the end.
“Hi Mitch,” says Lois. “I like that name”. She seems to weigh its sound, like she is measuring it in cupfulls. “So are we gonna be OK?” she asks again.
“Yeah,” says Kiera, placing one hand lightly on Mitch’s leg as he drives. “We’re gonna be OK”.
And for the first time on this long journey, Mitch thinks that, just maybe, she is right.