The Girl

Rudy slipped his cell phone into his pocket and hurried through Mallory Square. He’d missed the sunset but the celebration pulsed on against the fading Key West sky. Like the sun, Carter had slipped from sight, disappearing into the sea of vacationers dropping their dollar bills into the tip buckets of the sword swallower, the fire eater, the contortionist. When Carter vanished he took his roving band of birthday revelers with him. And the girl. She was gone, too.

He cursed himself for taking the call. Cursed the Pax-Jupiter team for their timing. He’d fixed it, of course. His idea for inventory revaluation did the trick. He worked his magic and the fiscal year would end in record profit. The Great Rudini had pulled off another grand illusion. Bonuses would pay out. Stock price would soar like one of Pax-Jupiter’s new Falcon missiles.

It could have waited until morning. The result would have been the same. But when the call came you took it. He’d plotted his course carefully for twelve years to get this comet by the tail. There was a vast fortune to be made and he wasn’t losing his grip now.

A dozen feet above the paving stones of the square the tightrope walker plied his craft, swaying above the small crowd gathered below. He teetered on the wire, wobbling and stumbling in practiced clumsiness as if he might lose his balance and fall. In his feigned anguish he implored the onlookers to drop an extra dollar in his bucket lest he meet with disaster. 

Rudy had sympathy for the desperate freaks performing in the square. He was one of them. In the end, the only thing separating him from the man on the wire was the size of his tip bucket.

He made his way to the easternmost edge of the square and texted Carter. No reply. You couldn’t blame him. He was having too much fun to monitor his phone. 

With west and east exhausted, Rudy headed south on Duval Street. If Key West was a carnival, Duval was the midway. Carter wouldn’t stray far from that artery. He and his collection of merrymakers would be there somewhere. The girl would be with them.

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