I couldn’t turn around and leave. I couldn’t run. For a split second, I didn’t know how to react. Then I did.
In character. I approached the front desk with an authoritative air. I was Linda Frost, New Yorker. A top-tier lawyer in a one-horse town. I hadn’t had a decent tiramisu in weeks; I couldn’t find an Ethiopian restaurant to save my life. I pushed my sunglasses up with a stiff index finger and reached for the sign-in notebook, ignoring everyone around me.
“His office is on the 35th floor?” one of the cops was saying to the security guard, Will, whom I’d met the first day.
“That’s what it says on the directory,” Will said, checking behind him. “Mr. Sam Freminet. He’s at Grun, he’s a partner there. I see him most mornings. He’s always in early.”
Sam. They were looking for Sam. My heart began to thud inside my chest, but I wrote my name in the book as coolly as possible.
“Maybe Miss Frost could take you up there,” Will said to the cops. “You need a security card to get through the gate, but she’s a lawyer at Grun, too.”
What?I swallowed hard but kept writing, oblivious to all needs but my own. A bona fide New Yorker.
“Miss?” asked the cop. “Miss?”
I looked up. I had to. “Yes.”
“Would you mind taking us upstairs, Miss?” The cop was about forty, with light blue eyes, furry blond eyebrows, and a brushy blond mustache. A certified hunk, but he wasn’t my type. I sued his type.
“It’s police business,” added the other cop, tall, thin, and black. They both wore chrome badges and nametags, but I was too scared to read them.
“We’d appreciate it,” said the blonde, expectantly.
Gulp. “I’ll take you up.” I turned on my heels like an automaton and led the police to the elevator bank. I fought to control my panic. My throat tightened. I wanted to run, but instead I pushed the elevator button and reminded myself I was not guilty of a triple murder, but was going to work to pad some pretrial time.
“Shame you have to work on such a nice Sunday,” the blond cop said. He slipped his hat off with the cool of a major league pitcher.
“It can’t be helped. I have a trial to prepare for.”
I scanned his handsome features from behind my dark glasses and determined I didn’t know him from my cases. He seemed to appreciate the appraisal, however, and if I didn’t know better, I would have said he was taking a shine to me. COP FALLS FOR FUGITIVE.
I got in the elevator when it came, and they climbed in behind me, handcuffs jingling on their heavy leather belts. Each had a radio with a thick rubber antenna, and they carried service revolvers with worn wooden handles. I inched away from the guns as the elevator doors whisked closed and sealed us inside.
“We need to go to 35,” said the blond cop.
“Oh, sure.” I pressed the button, noticing with relief that my hand wasn’t shaking.
“Do you know Sam Freminet, Miss Frost?”
“No, I’m not from the Philadelphia office.” I kept my eyes glued to the glowing orange letters on the elevator cabin:3rd Floor. 4th Floor. It was sweltering in here, the air-conditioning must have been turned off for the weekend. “Is there some problem with Mr. Freminet, Officer?”
“Call me Bob. Bob Hall.”
“You were saying. Bob.”
“Right. We found his car, abandoned. Stripped clean as a wishbone.”
8th Floor, 9th Floor.“Too bad.”
“More than too bad. It was an eighty-thousand-dollar car.”
“Jeez.” No wonder Sam had cried.
“We found a briefcase in the trunk, with some of Mr. Freminet’s papers in it. But his license plate was gone, and we couldn’t find his registration or other ID. Do you have any idea where he lives? His number’s unlisted and the DMV can’t give us an answer until Monday.”
“No. Haven’t the foggiest.”13th Floor, 14th Floor. Come on, faster. Damn elevators went too fast when I worked here.
“They have a directory in the office, don’t they? We need to get in touch with him.”
“I don’t know, I’m from the New York office.”
“New Yawk, you’re kidding!” The blond cop’s face lit up. “I grew up in the Big Apple!”
“Really.” Terrific.21st Floor, 22nd Floor.
“Sure, I’m from Queens. Richmond Hill, but that was a long time ago.” He was evaluating me more closely, as if he were wondering whether we’d been in French II together.
“Queens, really.” I watched his eyes run down my body and up again, stopping and squinting at my sunglasses. I prayed he wouldn’t recognize me, now that my 8 x 10 was undoubtedly hanging in the Wanted for Murder gallery. Women making progress on all fronts.
“I bet I can guess where you’re from,” he said. “Larchmont or Mamaroneck, am I right?”
Mama-what? “No.”23rd Floor, 24th Floor.
“Where in New York, then?”
“Oh, I’m not from New York originally. I just work there.”
His broad shoulders let down. “Where are you from originally?”
Here we go again. Worst liar in the bar association. I glanced at the black cop. Which state wasn’t he from? “Iowa. Grinnell, Iowa,” I said.
The black cop shrugged, and I flashed him a tight smile.30th Floor.
“Aren’t you gonna take your sunglasses off?” the blond cop asked.
“I can’t.”31st Floor, 32nd Floor. I fought for air and a decent lie. “Hangover. Big, bad hangover.Killer hangover.”
“I see.” The cop’s face relaxed into its confident grin. “Out partyin’ last night, huh?”
“You got it,” I said, with a matching grin.
“Even though you have to work the next day?”
33rd Floor, 34th Floor.Hurry, hurry, hurry! “You know how it is.” What? Help!
He grinned slyly. “No, how is it?”
35th Floor.“Here we are!” The elevators slid aside with their characteristicswoosh, opening onto the snazzy reception area. I was so happy to see the Gold Coast I could have kissed the wafer-thin Persian. An air-conditioned blast hit me full in the face, carrying the twin aromas of power and money.
“Must be nice,” said the black cop. He smelled it, too.
On both sides of the reception area were iron gates, blocking entrance to the floor on other side. I fumbled in my purse for my security card and inserted it in the metal box recessed next to the gate. There was a loudclick, then the gate began to travel upwards. I almost applauded.
“There we go, gentlemen,” I chirped. “You’ll see the nameplates next to the office doors, everybody has a nameplate nowadays. I’ll be in my office, drinking lousy coffee and working away.” I heard myself babbling, so I clammed up.
The black cop nodded, and the blonde extended a large hand. “Orange juice,” he said meaningfully.
“What?” My hand was still in a cold sweat, so I pulled it away.
“Orange juice. Lots of it. It’s the best thing for one of those killer hangovers.”
“That’s just what my boyfriend says,” I said, to discourage any ideas he might be having about our future together. After all, I was true to Grady, right? “Good-bye now,” I called out, and returned to the elevator bank and punched the button. I watched the cops disappear down the hall and almost leapt into the elevator when it came.
Christ. It had been way too close a call. The cops were closing in because of Sam. They would find out where Sam lived, they would go there. They’d be one step behind me all the way, whether by accident or design. Chasing me. Until they caught up.
My stomach tightened. Soon Azzic would catch wind of Sam’s car and start asking more questions. I couldn’t stay at Grun anymore. I had to go.
I took a tense inventory. I still had my cell phone but the bananamobile was stuck at Sam’s with Jamie 17. She was better off there for now, I was back on the run. How could I get away without a car? It was a city. There were trains, buses, subways. Go!
The doors opened and I sprang out on the Loser Floor. The air-conditioning was feeble and the reception area smelled of cat shit. I carded my way past the security gate and slipped under it while it rattled upwards. I hurried to my conference room and opened the door.
My new wardrobe had arrived, all in plastic garment bags, complete with a shoe box. I grabbed my clothes, briefcase, and papers. I was about to run out again but suddenly there was a knock at the door. Shit. I held my breath. Was it the cops?
“Who’s there?” I asked.
The knock came again, louder this time.
“Who is it?” I asked, louder.
Still, no answer. What was this? The Warrantless Entry Game, where the cops fool you into consenting? I put on my frosty Linda Frost face and opened the door.
I wouldn’t have expected it, not in a million years.