Forced Perspectives – Snippet 33

“I just care that he’s paying me.”

Vickery let out a bitter laugh. “You called him as soon as Tom told you we were here, didn’t you? I bet he’s not paying you a million-four.”

“No,” said Galvan cheerfully, “he’s not. Neither are you.”

“No. But the reason I came here today, hoping you had a line on the guy who has the book, is because a collector in London just lately learned about the existence of it, and he wants it real bad.” Vickery was cautiously pleased with this story; it seemed fairly credible. “He got in touch with a number of people who deal in such stuff.”

Castine had caught on that he was up to something, and gave him a good imitation of a warning frown.

“Ruben is gonna gag you and tie you up,” said Galvan. “The buyer will be along in a minute, and right now neither of you has any broken bones.”

“Dammit, boss,” said Vickery, “listen to me! That book isn’t just another object with a ghost sunk in it, like Hipple’s corncob pipes — it’s an object with a never-born in it.  Remember? My daughter who I never had? You know how rare that is? Well, ‘rare’ doesn’t cover it — it’s absolutely unique. Ask your bruja pals what that’s worth.”

Galvan’s smile was skeptical. “And this London guy is willing to pay a million-four for it?”

“That’s right. I heard about him, and called him, and I was able to tell him enough to convince him I have it. And I worked him up to that figure.”

“So why does Harlowe need you? He can sell the book to the collector in London and leave you out of it.”

“Who’s Harlowe?”

Galvan pursed her lips. “The guy I just called.”

“And I bet the money he gets from selling the book to the guy in London will be just about pure profit,” said Vickery while he tried desperately to come up with a convincing answer to her question. “Is this Harlowe paying you a lot for me today?”

“Five thousand, same as he paid me for steering him to the book itself, in February.”

Vickery realized that Galvan didn’t know about the attempt then to grab him; she imagined that stealing the book had been this Harlowe person’s only goal.

“He’s getting off damn cheap,” he said.

“But why does he need you, now?” persisted Galvan.

Vickery hesitated, and Castine spoke up, in a tone of weary resignation.

“This buyer who just cropped up,” she said, “is what you might call a celebrity clergyman. You’d know the name — books, his own TV show. He can’t afford to have people find out he’s interested in witchy stuff, which would probably happen if Sebastian were to make a stink about the book being stolen from him. The London guy would deny ever having heard of the book — he wouldn’t buy it at any price, much less the million-four he’s willing to pay Sebastian right now.”

“But if I’m verifiably out of the picture,” Vickery said, gratefully picking up Castine’s story, “like if it’s reported that I’ve killed myself, for instance, your man Harlowe will be free to sell it to this buyer with no risk of a counterclaim…and probably for a whole lot less money that what I’ve got the guy to agree to.”

Galvan ran her tongue along the edges of her teeth. Then, “Get in the Honda, quick,” she said, nodding toward one of her ordinary cars. “Back seat, and get down on the floor. Ramon, give me your gun, and you drive.”

“Ramon,” added Vickery, “fetch our guns along.”

The man glanced at Galvan, who rolled her eyes and nodded. Ramon handed her his revolver and sprinted back toward the coffee cart.

Sixty seconds later, Ramon was steering the Honda out of the driveway onto Eighth Street, heading west. Vickery and Castine were crouched head-to-head on the floor in front of the rear seat, and Galvan sat in the front passenger seat, holding three guns in her lap.

As Ramon picked up speed, she reached out through the open window and twisted the mirror. “Stay down,” she said. “A gray SUV just turned in to my lot.” To Ramon, she added, “Around back of that 7-Eleven, and park it.”

As the Honda swung to the right and rocked up a driveway, the top of Vickery’s baseball cap bumped Castine’s head; he caught her eye and winked, and she gave him a brief, impatient nod.

When Ramon had stopped the car and put in in park with the engine still running, Galvan turned around in the front seat. She was holding Ramon’s revolver, but pointing it at the headliner for now.

“I get half,” she said to Vickery, “If we can get the book away from Harlowe and sell it to your London preacher. You get the other half.” She raised her eyebrows and whistled, miming appreciation of how much that would be.

“You get a third,” said Vickery, hoping that disagreement about the nonexistent payment would make the story more convincing. “Can we sit up now?”

Galvan looked around. “Yeah, just be ready to duck again. A third?”

“Four-hundred-sixty-six thousand,” said Castine, straightening up.

Galvan looked amiably baffled. “Why should Betty Boop get a share? It wasn’t her book.”

“She…helped.” Vickery hiked himself up onto the back seat, where he was joined a moment later by Castine. Both of them peered cautiously around at the parking lot. “The guy said his name’s Harlowe?”

“No,” said Galvan, “he didn’t give me a name, so I ran his license plate. He’s from out of town. You don’t need to know any more than that. I can fix up a meeting with him, and then — I don’t know, we could bug his SUV, or frame him for a bad felony bust and blackmail him, or just get rid of his guys and grab him and torture him till he gives us the book — “

“I’m supposed to call my buyer every day before the British banks close,” said Vickery, “and in London it’s already –“

Castine gave him a quick, anxious look, then raised her arm and glanced at her new watch. “you’ve got half an hour,” she said tensely.

“So we gotta run,” said Vickery. “I’ll call you later, or tomorrow.”

“We’ll drive you back to your car,” said Galvan.

Castine shook her head. “We like to walk.”

“And I can call him while I’m walking,” said Vickery, who in fact was not carrying a phone.

Galvan was silent, then said, flatly, “Walk.”

“Sure,” said Vickery. “Pedestrians have right of way everywhere. Eventually I imagine we’ll get on a bus.” He slowly opened the door on his side, and Galvan didn’t object when he stepped out onto the parking lot pavement. Castine carefully did the same on her side.

“A bus,” said Galvan.

“I’m just visiting L.A.,” Castine explained. “I want to take one of those tours where you see the movie stars’ homes.”

Galvan laughed softly and shook her head. “Okay, go. Remember, I’m the one who knows who Harlowe is, and how to contact him!”

Vickery smiled at her. “That’s what I was hoping for when we came to see you. Oh,” he added, “our guns?”

Galvan squinted up at him. “Sure, Vick.” She gave the revolver back to Ramon, then lifted Vickery’s Glock and Castine’s .38 and held them up by the open window. Vickery handed the .38 to Castine and tucked the Glock into his jacket pocket.

“It would be purely dumb,” said Galvan as Ramon clicked the Honda into gear and stepped on the brake, “if you were lying to me about this London buyer.” When Vickery shook his head, she went on, “I thought you liked having your phantom daughter around.”

“I did. But she is fossilized, inert. Not even as present as a picture. And she never actually existed anyway.” He shrugged. “I like four-hundred grand better.”

Galvan gave him an unreadable look. “You used to be more sentimental.”

Ramon lifted his foot from the brake and steered the car toward the street on the other side of the parking lot.

Vickery took Castine’s suede-sleeved elbow and followed, and then led her quickly north along the sidewalk, away from where he had parked his Saturn. Old brick apartment buildings with fire escapes lined both sides of the street, and the bushy curbside trees were easily a dozen feet tall.

“We’ll turn left on Seventh,” he told Castine quietly, “go through a few stores, take a taxi or two. Make sure we’re not being followed.”

He was breathing deeply, still shaky from the tightrope they had just walked with Galvan.

“That story about a London buyer saved us,” said Castine. “Oh — and it was nice of you to put me down for a third.”