Her round backside aimed at me, the top half of her covered by gray tweed, Franny Dahler Chapman--Ms. Strawberry--listens and whispers to someone on the kitchen wall phone. My body feels weightless. Floating over a deep, dark, bottomless hole.
Luis saying, “Capitan Chapman is hearing now from her detectives.”
Luis rests his hand on my shoulder. Now and then he squeezes muscle beneath my dress shirt. The sturdy weight of his grip lets me breathe slower and more deeply, like a swimmer attached to a harbor buoy. But I am so damn angry. I want to scream out the window.
“My men are inside the house,” Franny says.
I push away from the table and stand. Again, that dizziness whacks me. I bend forward at the waist, but extra blood to the head doesn’t help. My sickness comes from the heart. What the hell would I do if something happened to Beth or Ryan? I can’t even think about it.
Outside, birds squawk. Telling me something, I’m sure. The crows and jays know something I don’t.
Franny glances at me. “Someone’s been inside.”
“Are Beth and Ryan safe?” I say.
Franny points her palm at my chest like a traffic cop, telling me to back off. Screw you, honey. I’m not waiting my turn in a line by the curb while Beth and Ryan get run over by a bus.
“Yes. But I’m staying on,” she says to the phone.
“What?” I say.
“They’re going downstairs,” she says to me. “They hear...noises.”
“What kind of noises?”
She holds up her palm again. My jaws grind. I might yet decide to flatten that statuesque nose of hers. I take steps in her direction. Never hit a woman before. Never thought it was even possible. But Ms. Strawberry here deliberately put my kids at risk.
“Yes?” she says to the phone.
I stop close enough to smell lilac, then lean in, try to hear the mumbled voice on the other end of the phone. Franny’s purple-flower perfume brings back the taste and feel of her nude body. Unfortunately, it’s an image that doesn’t last long.
Having children is a real damper on sex.
Franny covers the mouthpiece to speak to me. “Ryan and your wife’s friend are safe. They were tied up in the basement, but they aren’t injured.”
My heart skips. “What about Beth?”
Franny touches my arm. The concern in her eyes cuts me into digital sections. A hundred slices vertical, a hundred slices horizontal. I begin to disassemble like cable TV on a stormy, electrical night.
“The man who tied them up also took your daughter,” Franny says.
My gut makes a fist. The sound my throat issues is part howl, part growl.
“Did they identify the perp?” Franny says to the telephone.
Her gaze finds me as she listens. My face bulges with blood. I’m ready to pop.
Her slender fingers slowly cover the microphone. She says, “Sounds like our friend Max.”