The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 6

“That’s good to hear,” Willis said. Shaking his head, he added, “You all had quite a commotion here, didn’t you? Were you on duty?”
Roland vigorously nodded. “I sure was, but I didn’t see any of it happen, thank goodness. I didn’t even hear the gunshots.”
“What exactly did happen?”
Roland was eager to recount what he had heard, and when he had finished, another volunteer named Bill added a few facts.
“The way I heard it,” Bill began, “a man and a woman were running away from the federal agents, and then suddenly the man turned around and shot the agent closing in on them.”
Roland plopped down in a swivel chair and rested his elbows on the arms. “That’s how I heard it, too,” he agreed.
“Did they catch the man and woman yet?” Willis asked, knowing full well they hadn’t.
“No,” Bill said.
“But they will,” Roland interjected. “And when they do, that pair will be put away for a long time. You don’t get off with a light sentence when you shoot a federal agent.”
“Have you heard why the FBI was after them?” Willis asked, leaning on the counter as though he had all the time in the world to chat.
“I heard it was a sting operation,” Bill answered eagerly. “They were selling guns or drugs or something.”
Roland shook his head. “That’s not what I heard. One of the secretaries in admissions told me the security guard said they were passing government secrets.”
Before the two men could get into an argument, Willis steered the conversation in another direction. “Does the FBI know who they’re looking for?”
“FBI agents and cops have been crawlin’ all over the place trying to get information, looking for witnesses,” Roland said.
“Miles down in X-ray told me the agent was close enough he could identify them if he had to.”
“That’s great,” Willis replied. “You know what I heard?”
“What’s that?” Roland asked.
“There was a girl on the track who might have seen the whole thing. Someone said she was a high school kid running laps.”
Roland snorted. “There wasn’t any girl on the track,” he scoffed. “It’s our own Dr. Sullivan. Does she look like she’s in high school to you, Bill?”
“No, of course she doesn’t. More like college age.”
“What kind of doctor is she?” Willis asked.
“Surgeon,” Bill answered. “She’s the one who took the bullet out of the agent. Lucky for him she was there when he got shot.”
“Sure is,” Willis said. “Any other witnesses that you know of?”
“I’m sure if anyone else got close enough to see the man and woman, the FBI will find them. They’ve been talking to everyone around here.”
“That’s right,” Roland agreed. “They stopped me on my way in this afternoon to ask me questions.”
After a few more minutes of conversation, Willis Cogburn was on his way to his car. He’d parked in the back lot so no one would see he wasn’t driving a florist van. Once he was inside, he made a call.
He didn’t waste time on a greeting but said, “Goodman will be going home at the earliest the day after tomorrow. He’s in room four twelve, so you can keep tabs on him in case they let him go sooner. Remember, George, we don’t do anything until Cal gives us the go-ahead. Just be ready.”
“Did you find out who the girl is?”
“Okay, then, let’s get this done. The sooner the better to my way of thinking.”
“That’s not your call. You know the instructions. I get her at the same time you get Goodman. Cal doesn’t want any deviations from his plan. He wants it to happen simultaneously.”
“Cal doesn’t even know for certain if Goodman or the girl can ID him or Erika,” George pointed out.
“He’s a careful man,” Willis replied. “He doesn’t take chances, and he’s paying us a lot of money.”
“That’s right,” George said. “But we don’t get the rest of the money until the job’s done, and like I said, the sooner the better.”
“How many times do I have to say it? We wait for the go-ahead.” Willis all but shouted into the phone. “You were in the army, for God’s sake. Show a little discipline. You should be used to taking orders. You don’t want to get on Cal’s bad side. I brought you in because you’re my little brother, George, but my neck is on the line here. Don’t screw this up. If you do the job right, he’ll want to use you again, and each time you’ll make more money until you’re a regular like me. Be patient.”
Unfortunately, George was not the patient kind.
It wasn’t the worst invitation Ellie had ever received. The fact was, it didn’t even make the top ten. Still, it was strange, and the question remained: Had Max actually asked her out? She replayed the conversation in her mind several times and decided, no, he hadn’t asked. He’d told.
Maybe it wasn’t even a real date. Ben would probably be with him. The two of them were in town for only a short while, and they needed someone who was familiar with the city to take them to a good restaurant. Yes, that was it . . . maybe.
Every time she thought about it, she laughed. Max had left his card on the coffee table with his cell phone number. She could have called and canceled, but she didn’t. Instead, she spent an hour the next afternoon going through her pitiful wardrobe, trying on one outfit after another, and finally settling on a black-and-white sundress with a full skirt and a boatneck. The fit through the waist was snug, and the length reached mid-knee. She decided to wear her new-last-year black ballet flats. It was either those or her flip-flops, unless she wanted to wear tennis shoes. The heels she’d worn to the hospital banquet last month were out of the question. Her feet had ached for a week afterward.
She would have put on some cool jewelry, but she didn’t own any. She did have a silver heart her grandmother had given her for her eighteenth birthday, but the chain was broken, and she hadn’t had time to get it fixed.
Hair brushed and down around her shoulders; makeup, perfume, and body lotion applied—she was good to go.
She was ready at seven and he was on time. He looked surprised when he saw her, as though he expected someone else.
“You look nice,” he said.
So did he. He’d gotten a haircut and shaved. He still looked intimidating, she thought, but then he stood well over six feet and was built like a rock. He couldn’t really look any other way. Black pants, light blue shirt with the sleeves rolled back at the wrists, open collar, and the gun . . . the ever-present gun at his side.
He pulled the door closed and waited as she used her keys to lock both dead bolts. She dropped her keys into her purse and headed down the stairs.
“Is Ben joining us?” she asked.
He smiled. “Do you usually go out with two guys at the same time?”
She turned to him. “Then this is a date?”
They reached his rental car, a new SUV. He opened the door for her and said, “Sort of.”
Before she could ask him to explain, he changed the subject. “I made the reservation for seven thirty, but I got busy and didn’t download directions. Do you know the way? Or should I pull up the GPS?”
“I know the way. What’s a ‘sort of’ date?”
“How about no business talk until after dinner?”
Business? What kind of business? So it wasn’t a date. That realization led to the question: Okay, what did he want? And since it was business of a sort, why wasn’t Ben included?
Might as well find out, she decided. “What’s your partner doing tonight?”
“Working,” he answered. “You did a good thing for his wife. Addison worries.”
She smiled. “Yes, I know she does. I got three texts from her.”
“That’s not bad. Three texts in what? Twenty-four hours?”
“No, three texts in one hour,” she corrected. “By eleven o’clock Friday night we were BFFs
. She’s very nice. A little neurotic about the baby, but I understand why.”
“You’d like her if you met her.”
“I do like her. I talked to her for about an hour this afternoon.”
She crossed one leg over the other and noticed he was noticing. They were at a stop sign, but he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to move on.
“When you’re finished checking out my legs, turn left.”
He wasn’t at all embarrassed. “They’re great-looking legs,” he told her. “I’m hungry. How much farther is it?”
“Not far,” she answered, turning toward him. He had a beautiful profile. Square jaw, great bone structure. Everything about him emanated strength and made her feel safe, but then a gun and a badge would do that. However, Ellie felt there was much more to him than his outward appearance revealed, and she was eager to find out what was behind those intense eyes.
“What’s Honolulu like?”
“Beautiful. It’s always beautiful there, but the city’s crowded. Why don’t you come see for yourself.”
“I don’t know how to surf,” she teased.
“It’s not a requirement.”
“Do you?”
“Surf? No.”
“It looks fun,” she remarked. “I would like to visit Honolulu someday. The climate appeals to me, especially in January with the ice storms and snow here. You told me you’ve lived there for six years?”
“That’s right.”
“Where did you grow up? Certainly not Hawaii.”
“Yeah? Why not?” he asked, glancing at her.
“You’re too . . .” She started to say, “uptight,” then changed her mind. “Rugged,” she finished. “Oh, we’re here. Restaurant’s right around the corner. Parking’s in back.”
A car pulled away from the curb and Max pulled his car into the spot. He opened her door and waited for her to explain her evaluation of him, but she just smiled as she stepped onto the sidewalk and headed toward the awning over the restaurant’s front door. He couldn’t help but notice how her hips moved as she walked away from him.
He caught up with her. “Rugged, huh?”
“Not exactly rugged,” she said. “There’s just something about you . . .”
“Yeah? What if I told you I grew up in Los Angeles?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
He laughed. “You’re nuts. You know that?”
“Oh? Did you grow up in Los Angeles?”
“No, but—”
“Of course you didn’t. The people there are much more laidback.”
“Ellie, these sweeping statements of yours . . .”
They entered the restaurant, and he muttered, “I hate crowds.” He took her arm and led her to the podium, where an elegantly dressed woman stood with a reservation book in front of her.
“Your table will be ready momentarily, Mr. Daniels,” she said with a gracious smile. “If you’d like to wait in the bar, I’ll call you.”
Max rounded the corner and saw that the bar area was packed as well. He spotted one empty stool at the end of the bar and had just put his hand on the small of her back to guide her toward it when a large man with a jovial face called to Ellie from across the room. After threading his way around the tables to get to them, the man threw his massive arms around Ellie and kissed her on both cheeks.
The owner of the Trellis, Tommy Greco, was a former boxer whose nose had been broken more than once. Word had it that he was ruthless in the ring, but outside he was a gentle man, kind and soft-spoken. Nothing much ever riled him, except maybe putting too much garlic in his famous chicken spiedini.
He released Ellie from his grip and said, “Your boyfriend has a gun.”
“It goes with the badge,” she replied.
She stepped back and quickly introduced the two men.
“I heard about that shooting,” he said to Max. Turning to Ellie, he added, “And I heard you operated on the agent who took the bullet.”
“Tommy, how did you know I did the surgery?” she asked. She knew the shooting had been on the news, of course, and in the papers, but the surgeon’s name wasn’t mentioned.
“Come on, kid, you know I hear everything that happens in this town.”
He led them to a table secluded from the others in a quiet niche. “You two get the executive table tonight,” he said. Wiggling his eyebrows, he added, “Lots of privacy.”
He unfolded her napkin and dropped it into her lap. “It was nice meeting you, Agent Daniels. You take good care of my girl, you hear me. Has she told you how we met?”
“No,” Max answered.
“Make her tell you about the golfer who came in with his friends a while back. It happened just after I opened the restaurant.” Tommy suddenly spotted someone else he knew across the room and was off with his arms spread wide to greet them.
Alone again, Ellie was intent on asking Max why he had asked her out, but a waiter appeared to take their drink order. When he walked away, she turned back to Max.
Before she could get her question out, he said, “Butte.”
“Pardon me?”
“Butte, Montana. That’s where I was born and where I grew up.”
She slapped the tabletop. “Ah, of course. Now you make sense.”
“Now you don’t make any sense,” he countered.
How could she explain it so that he understood? Not possible, she decided. He did make sense to her now, though. There was an unbridled energy about him, and to her he seemed a maverick and a little on the wild side. Yes, that was it. As wild and untamed as the Montana landscape.
Max was looking at her as if she’d lost her mind, and Ellie realized she needed to curb her imagination. “I’m pretty sure you didn’t ask me out so that I’d show you a nice restaurant. What did you want to talk to me about?”
“Let’s have dinner first. What sounds good to you?”
“Uh-oh. You’re avoiding the subject, which means it’s bad.”
He was as good at switching topics as she was. “How come Tommy calls you ‘kid’?”
“He introduced me to some of his father’s friends who all happened to be in their eighties, and to them I was a kid, I guess. He called me the kid doctor, which, by the way, I didn’t like. I told him so, and he stopped. So don’t you try it.”
He laughed. “I won’t. And for the record, I don’t think of you as a kid. I barely glanced at you when we first met. All I saw were shorts and a ponytail.” And legs, he admitted to himself, long, perfect legs. “When I look at you now,” he said, his eyes looking deeply into hers, “the last thing I see is a kid.”
Ellie could feel the blood rushing to her head and her heart pounding again. She quickly picked up a menu and pretended to study it. When she glimpsed at him a few seconds later, he was still staring at her, but this time there was a concerned look on his face.
“It’s time you told me why we’re here,” she said, laying the menu on the table.
“You’re right,” he admitted. He leaned forward. “This isn’t something I would normally do . . .”
Seeing his hesitation, Ellie became anxious. “Just tell me,” she insisted.
“This stays between you and me, okay?”
“Yes, okay,” she said.
“Don’t change your story,” he said finally.
“What story?”
“Your account of the shooting,” he explained. “Don’t change any of it.”
“Why would I change it?” she asked, perplexed.
“As this investigation progresses, you might be questioned again, either by the police or by the FBI, especially Agent Hughes. He may try to lead you or even coerce you to remember details you couldn’t recall before. Don’t tell him or anyone else more than you told Ben and me, that you didn’t see the couple well enough to recognize them.”
Max had become so serious and his tone so persistent, Ellie wondered why he was telling her this. Her thoughts went back to the conversations they’d had in her apartment.
“You haven’t told me much about this case or the people you’ve been chasing. You said their name was Landry, right?”
“That’s right.”
“And you said you’ve been trying to catch them for a long time.”
“When the Landrys moved to Honolulu and started doing business there, Ben and I were brought in. They were arrested, and the case was solid. We had three witnesses, but as I already mentioned, the case never made it to court.”
“You didn’t tell me why it didn’t make it to court.”
“Two of the witnesses disappeared. We’re still looking for them, but no luck so far.”
“What about the third witness?”
“Killed in a hit-and-run.”
Ellie felt a shiver run down her arms.
Max let her absorb the information before continuing. “We need eyewitnesses who will testify against them, people who can positively connect them to a crime. But if those eyewitnesses come forward, we’ll have to guarantee their safety. And that’s why, if you have enough information to testify, you’ll probably end up in witness protection.”
“Oh no, I won’t,” she replied.
“I know how your life was turned upside down by Evan Patterson. You had to leave your home and your family for all those years. If you have to go into witness protection . . .”
“No, I would never allow that to happen. Max, I’ve spent half my life in hiding,” she whispered. “I think I’ve reached my breaking point. Lately, I’ve felt frozen. I can’t seem to make decisions as to where I want to live, and the idea of signing a contract, even for one year, scares me.”
“You’re waiting to find out where Patterson is, aren’t you?”
Time to admit the truth, she decided. “Yes, I am. Even now he’s controlling my life. I hate that. And now you’re suggesting I might have to hide from the Landrys. Enough,” she snapped. “I’ve really had enough. I told you and Ben that I don’t think I can identify either one of the Landrys. Shouldn’t that keep me safe from them?”
He nodded. “Maybe. Just be careful . . . and stick to your story.”
“I will,” she answered. She studied him for a minute, thinking how thoughtful it was of him to try to protect her; then she asked, “Could you get into trouble for telling me about the other investigation that fell apart and about those witnesses?”