Artie gave Taylor Xanax to take home, and said he’d never seen someone get so paranoid from one of his doobie specials. That didn’t make Taylor feel any better, but the Xanax did. Still, he paced his living room for a while, thinking, My God, I’m going to lose my home, on top of everything else. I’ll end up squatting in a cardboard box.
He felt like he was coming loose, like a tire strip flung off a semi, landing, thump, in the breakdown lane as the massive truck rolled on.
When he finally relaxed, with pharmaceutical help, he decided that, hell, being forced to move to The City wasn’t so bad. He’d have to rent, take a roommate, job hunt, but maybe the best thing would be to escape Shipwreck Bay for good. Maybe, he told himself, you’ll never grow up until you get out of this town.
He was settling into his couch, almost nodding off, when a ferocious knock rattled the door. At first he was too terrified to answer, but when the knocker kept hammering, Taylor, weak kneed, latched the door on its security chain and cracked it open.
There stood Nick Katanjiev.
“What do you want?”
“App works nice. Open please, for my girl, okay?”
Behind him, barely visible, was Cammie. Taylor unlatched the chain. Nick stepped back, shoved Cammie into the apartment, and said: “The girl is yours. Enjoy.”
He turned away and said over his shoulder, “I come back for her, one week.”
Taylor slammed the door and locked it.
Cammie’s face twitched, like she was going to cry.
He touched her on the shoulder. “You’ll be all right. You’ll be all right now.”
She sat in the kitchen and put her head in her hands. Taylor raised the shades on the big windows with their view of downtown.
“Are you hungry?”
She shook her head, hiding her face still.
“Talk to me.”
All she did was gulp.
“Would you like tea?”
Taylor stepped over to the stove to boil water. It occurred to him that she needed a sense of safety, so he said: “You don’t have to stay here if you don’t want to. But you are welcome to stay. We have a spare bedroom and you can have it. I promise I won’t bother you.”
She didn’t say a thing.
He walked around the kitchen island, crouched, looked into her eyes. “You don’t owe me anything. Nothing. Stay as long as you need to, and we’ll get something figured out. You don’t have to go back to that pimp or your cousin either. Okay?”
She nodded, tears leaking through the fingers. He wanted to hug her but it was better not to.
“Stay,” he said. “You’ll be okay here.”
What Taylor needed then, in his low state, was to be somebody’s hero. He wrote out a four-digit code for the front door lock, and gave it to Cammie. He served her tea, a piece of good chocolate, and a muffin, and left her alone in the kitchen, deliberately making himself busy in his work room.
Most young men in his situation would call their Dad, especially if he was cop-connected. But that was out of the question for Taylor. Although Taylor was awfully fond of Artie, he wasn’t going to be any help in a serious matter. So he messaged Maggie.
What time you checking in at the Wonder?
She didn’t answer. He thought about messaging Lisa, but thinking back to his last spa visit, he realized she and Cammie didn’t get along. Penny was too much of a kid to help, and Steffie seemed to have it in for Cammie, so that left Tasha. But she was at work, playing tunes on the radio.
Finally Maggie wrote back:
5 to 2. What’s your problem?
Don’t want to message about it.
Can you stop here on the way over?
He stepped to his work room doorway. Cammie was at the kitchen island, leafing through a copy of Wired.
“I’m going out for lunch. Hungry?”
She shook her head.
“Well, you’ve got the key code, so … come and go as you please.”
She said a barely audible okay.
Taylor closed the door, and left her alone in his condo.
But he had something sneaky in mind. For lunch he ordered a root beer and a chop salad, and took a window seat at Mike Fink’s, just across the street from the condo’s entrance. He wanted to see whether Cammie would walk out, and where to, or whether she might invite visitors.
He saw her ease out to the balcony once, look around, and step back inside.
Mike Fink’s had been Shipwreck Bay’s favorite deli since the 1930s. There were three of them now, this newest one in the Warehouse District. Their specialty is sub sandwiches, the old-fashioned way, meats and cheeses sliced to order, crusty bread fresh from the bakery, and a flood of oily spices. Taylor wanted one of those, but knew he couldn’t resist eating it right away, so he ordered a salad, something to pick at for an hour or so. He had just about got to the bottom of that Cobb Salad when a MyRide pulled up, and Adora slipped out.
She huddled into herself like she was on a spy mission, and disappeared into the revolving doors of Taylor’s condo building. He checked his phone. 3:05 p.m., made a note of that on his notebook app.
Adora in his apartment! That made him feel squishy. Cammie he thought of as an innocent soul, but Adora …
He texted Maggie:
Come to Mike Fink’s instead. ASAP please.
He didn’t hear back. He debated just walking up to his place and seeing what those two were up to. A ruse! Goddamn it, he’d been suckered. They were looting his place, or searching it for something.
In his rising paranoia, he swallowed another Xanax.
At 3:11 Adora pushed out the revolving doors of the condo and hopped into a hailed car.
It was hardly out of sight before Maggie entered the deli, waved, stepped to the counter and ordered. Taylor fidgeted with his phone until she got to the table. She brushed her red hair back, and said, “What’s up, champ?”
He laid it out for her.
“So,” she said, “you’ve got a sex slave living with you, on loan from her pimp. Huh. And you wrote an app for these people?”
“I don’t understand what I can do for you.”
“The girl’s in a fix and I want to get her out of it.”
“Buy her an airline ticket, give her some pocket money, and tell her good luck.”
“Yeah, except, you know I’ve been fired, right?”
“You’ll be working somewhere soon. Hey, how about a GoFundMe?” She covered his hand with hers. “I’m kidding. I shouldn’t kid. This girl’s got two legs, right, and she can walk?”
“You don’t understand.”
“Make me understand,” Maggie said.
“Some women can’t leave. My mom. She couldn’t leave. It’s just too … I don’t know. They feel obligated. They need the family. They need to belong. Maggie, I’ve never told anyone this but once, when I was 12, and we were living in Hawaii, my mom bolted. She’d had it with Dad. She came back to Shipwreck Bay, brought me, stayed with her parents. She called it a vacation but I knew better. It lasted four days. Dad called every day, several times, pestering her. Looking back at it, I think her parents were so smug and triumphant, she just couldn’t take it. For better or worse, her life was bound to my father.”
He waited for Maggie to comment, and when she merely made a sour face he added: “Cammie can’t walk away, either, or she’d have done it by now.”
“I get it. Damsel in distress.”
“I’m worried. I don’t lke the idea of Adora in my home.”
“Cammie called her,” Maggie said. “Something’s rotten in Shipwreck Bay. I say kick ’em all out of your life, Taylor, you don’t need this right now.”
“You’re being investigated, that’s what I’ve heard.”
“There’s …. “
“I know you had nothing to do with whatever happened to your mom. But you don’t need to deal with this pimp and whore stuff right now. Just tell Precious to vamoose, okay? Taylor, she is not a child.”
“Maggie!” shouted the counterman.
“All right all right,” said Maggie and fetched her sandwich, leaving Taylor to gawk out the windows, fixated on his third floor balcony.
Maggie was back with a torpedo-shaped sandwich wrapped in white paper. “So, you’ve decided to share your apartment with a criminal. Congratulations. You’ll find everything you own at Pawns R Us.” She cocked an eye at Taylor. “Is this Cammie cute?”
“Ah, men. Gotta love ’em. So predictable. Makes you wonder. What would the male of our species be like if he had no dick? I mean, what would he do all day?”
“Seriously, Maggie, I was hoping for some help, or at least some wise advise.” Actually, he was hoping Maggie would offer to take Cammie in and hide her, but could see that wasn’t going to happen.
“I gave you my wise advise, Taylor. Buy a circus car and put these clowns in it and point it toward the state line.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
She held his sweaty hand. “I’m lonely tonight. Paul is in the city until Friday.”
“I kind of feel like I’ve gotta be home.”
She sighed. “Rule of the Universe. A man will always prefer a younger woman. Always.”
“That’s not it, Maggie. I like being with you.”
“Ah,” she sighed. “So young. So handsome. Such a dense skull.”
“You need mothering right now, but I’ve got a shift to pull, drunks to flash, tips to earn …”
She rose, picked up sandwich and purse, and said, “If your criminal friends wipe you out, Paul can get you a discount on new, only slightly stolen, furniture.”
“Speaking of Paul,” Taylor said. “He’s all over the RiverPorts, right? I mean, it’s swarming with thieves up there. This Paul must know some real characters.”
“Paul is a real character.”
“I was wondering if he can ask around for me, if anybody up there has ever run into Marco, Marco Gonzales, the ferryman.”
Maggie pursed her lips. “I’ll ask.”