Deep Down Dead(2)

By: Steph Broadribb


The room seems to shrink. The space feels airless, more claustrophobic. What he’s just said, I hate it. I want to howl at the unfairness of it all, punch him until he feels the pain too. But I don’t, because I know that he’s right. I’ve got no other choice but to trust him. So I put down the beaker. Watch the liquid ripple once, twice, before lying still. Count in my head, all the way up to ten, then look up and meet his gaze. I can’t delay any longer, need to move us on to second, defuse the situation. ‘Honey, I can give you answers, just as soon as I know we’ve got a deal.’

He sits back in his chair, and crosses his legs, real relaxed. Keeps eye contact. ‘Depends.’

There’s a certainty about him, a determination that’s somehow quite attractive. He plays hard to get real well; oftentimes I like that. Not today, though. Not now. Hard to get is hard to read, and one wrong move, one wrong word, will only end one way: everyone I love gone. ‘I’m listening.’

‘You tell me what happened. No bullshit, just the absolute truth from start to finish. Do that, then I’ll tell you if we’ve got a deal.’

No guarantee, but I figure it’s my best shot. So I nod, and let him take third. Act like it’s my idea, though. Force a smile as I swallow down the fear. ‘You best get comfortable, sweetie. This’ll take a little while.’

He nods, and I know that it’s time. Now I have to get us to fourth, tell the story right, secure a deal.

There’s a click as he switches on the audio recorder. He leans forward and places it on the table, dead centre. Looks me right in the eyes. ‘You’re up.’

And so I tell him.





1





Three days earlier


CF Bonds sits two minutes from the main drag of West Colonial Drive. It’s nothing special, just a squat one-storey on Franklin, a few hundred yards from some fancy dog-grooming parlour and a take-out chicken joint. Not that Quinn, their top bondsman, would let fried anything past his lips. He’s a health nut, into protein shakes, moisturiser and eighty-dollar haircuts. Looks good on it though, if having a man all waxed and buffed is your kind of deal. All that gym work does build a guy’s stamina real nice. I found that out when I took him for a little test ride a couple of years back.

So I parked up outside, and me and my baby girl, Dakota, loped across the sidewalk to the entrance. The silver bell above the door jangled as we walked on through. Sounded real quaint, unlike a lot of the folks requiring the services of Quinn and the crew, but anyways, the noise had him jumping from his chair and striding out front to greet us.

I was glad of it. The small waiting area, divided off from the main office by a bulletproof glass screen, could get you to thinking that you were some kind of human goldfish if you stood there long enough. I never did like the feeling of being confined.

Quinn grasped my hand, pumping it up and down in that steady rhythm of his. ‘Lori, good to see you.’

‘You too,’ I said, extracting my hand. Overfriendliness most likely meant he’d got a job that needed doing. Good. What with the rent due and being three months behind with the payments for Dakota’s medical treatment, I needed cash, and fast. ‘Can we talk?’

He nodded. Turning to Dakota, he smiled and ruffled her strawberry-blonde hair. ‘Hey, kitten. Ain’t you growing like a weed. Why, you must be at least ten years old by now?’

Rolling her eyes, she put her hands on her hips and thrust out her chin; a stance that never fails to remind me of her daddy. ‘I’m nine, and I’m not a kitten or a weed, I’m a tiger.’

Quinn laughed. ‘Well, alrighty then. Can I get the tiger a glass of milk?’

Dakota nodded, grinning.

Quinn glanced at me. ‘You want coffee?’

I shook my head. Quinn makes weak-assed coffee. ‘Tea.’

While he fetched the drinks, I led Dakota through the glass door and across the office. It wasn’t a large space, just two desks with a couple of visitor chairs in front of each. On the wall behind Quinn’s workspace a map of Florida was pinned to a bulletin board. The desk itself looked as neat as a showroom display: paper in trays, pens in their tidy, mouse on its mat. From experience I knew that the red tray closest to me was the spot where he stacked the jobs to assign. I took a peek. There wasn’t much, two or three files at best. Damn.

Quinn returned. He sat behind his desk and gestured for me to take the seat opposite. I sat down and turned to Dakota, who’d gotten on to the other chair, her bare legs squeaking against the faux-leather seat. ‘How about you go see what Mrs Valdez is working on?’

She frowned. ‘Can’t I stay here?’