A Nondescript Building

Rudy let his head rest against the backseat window of the Audi A6 they rode in. At least the Uber driver sensed they were in no mood for chit chat. He kept his mouth shut.

For his part, Rudy was done with the riddles. Of the word games. Of the shallow nonsense leading to an ever-deepening nonsense. And she still wanted to talk. Geezus.

“It was you and her first,” Kak said. “Wasn’t it?”

At least this was a direct question. If he owed anything around Lili he owed the truth.

“No,” he said. “It wasn’t Lili and me first. But it could have been.”

“I know all about could have been.”

There it was again. The word games. And with no key to decode them. 

“Just shut up,” he said. “Okay?”

He saw the night in his head, a year gone, as clearly as if it had been the night before. Lili. Tucked away in the southwest corner of the plaza doing readings by candlelight. Looking incredible.

“She did a reading for you,” Kak said.

He pressed a finger to his window. “It gave me a chance to talk to her,” he said. “To flirt a little. Stall for time.”

“What did she tell you?”

“She told me money was easy for me. But that love was hard. Like some kind of Santeria fortune cookie.”

He watched the restaurants, gas stations and markets slide by without really noticing them. 

“After my reading,” he said, “she closed up for the night and joined our walking birthday party. It was just a bunch of people Carter collected along the way. You saw it the other night.”

“Except she was into you.”

Was she? Or had she been? He didn’t even know anymore.

“Lili has this thing for South Pacific,” he said. “The musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. You know it?”

“Of course.”

“Then you know the song, ‘Some Enchanted Evening.”

“Where he sees a stanger in the crowd. Love at first sight. Never let her go.”

“Right. We walked, held hands, drank tequila. She started singing the song. We’d cross a street and she’d just burst into it. After awhile I’d join in. Eventually, any time one of us drank, the other would start it up. Over and over.”

He caught himself smiling and smothered it. He still heard her singing in his head. Saw the way she looked at him.

“Suddenly,” he said, “we were alone at the rail by the water. We’d both run out of things to say. Neither of us wanted to sing anymore. There was nothing left to do. I don’t know how to say it. Never in the history of the world has there been a more perfect moment to kiss a woman. I leaned in. She leaned in. And it happened.”

“You kissed her,” Kak said.

“My phone rang.”

Kak blinked. “So?”

Each time he recalled it, he tried to block out the sound of the ring tone. To leave the phone in his pocket.

“I answered it,” he said.

“What?” Kak looked at him for the first time since they got in the car. “Why?”

“Because I always answered it. I walked away from her to take a call from the chief financial officer. By the time I got done and caught up with them, Carter was kissing her at the corner of Greene and Duval.” 

“You didn’t say anything? Didn’t fight for her?”

“With my best friend? She was with him by then. I mean, she pulled me aside later to ask me what kind of guy he was.”

“And?”

“I told her he was okay.”

Kak went back to her window. “Sure. What kind of guy is this King Kong fellow? He’s okay. By the way, how are you with heights?”

The Uber driver pulled over on Roosevelt Boulevard across from the water of Garrison Bight. To the left, past Kak, the slips held hundreds of boats for those fortunate or cunning enough to afford that kind of thing. To the right, a nondescript building that held Lili. Rudy got out and held the car door. Kak exited on the other side.

No sign hung on the building. There was just a street number above the door leading into the small reception area. One table. Four chairs. A stack of magazines. An interior door across from the entrance stood locked. Beside it, a window with two panes of glass slid back and forth in front of a receptionist in a Batman t-shirt.

“Welcome to the Clinic,” she said. 

It wasn’t the kind of place with an ad in the Yellow Pages. There would be no Facebook page posting the latest happenings. The Clinic specialized in helping women with a specific problem.

“You told me she lost the baby,” Kak said.

“Do you have a scheduled consultation?” Batwoman asked.

“Consultation?” Kak asked.

“We’re here to see Liliana Quintero,” Rudy said.

Batwoman studied the ledger on the shelf inside the sliding panes of glass, her forehead crinkling. “We don’t have a Liliana today.” She lit up. “You mean Zamira!”

Batwoman disappeared into the back. Less than a minute later she came back and opened the door beside the sliding window.

“It’s okay,” she said, tipping her head toward Kak.

When Rudy tried to follow, Batwoman raised a hand to block him. “Sorry. Just one.”

“She’s alone?” Kak asked. “Where’s Carter?”

She spun to Rudy. “Where did Carter call you from?”

There was no reason to answer. Nothing to talk about. Rudy found a seat. The airport. Carter had called from the boarding gate for Roatán.

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