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"Sorry. I think I have the wrong house," I said.
"You got that right."
I know exactly what he said, but it still sounded like I'm going to kick your ass.
"I'll be going," I said.
I had the right address. It really just never occurred to me she'd have another guy over for the night. Maybe if I'd called her sometime during the last week or two I would have known better.
The red-bearded guy slammed the door in my face, but I thought he called me a dumb ass when he did. It wasn't what he said, really, it was the inflection in his voice that pissed me off.
But it would be bad to have it out with him. The neighbors might remember that when the police or Homeland Security came looking for me. I was sure they'd get around to Adele eventually. They'd be talking to everybody I knew. So I knew it was better to duck out. Especially with a dead E.T. stuffed in the garbage bag in my trunk.
Instead I pounded on the door and then waited.
His face was red as his beard when he opened the door. It might have been just the porch light or the fact that I was tired, but he looked a lot angrier than when he last opened the door.
"Adele home?" I said. "I just remembered I got the right place."
"Why don't you just get lost?" he said.
"I'm a friend of Adele's. Her regular friend. I need to talk to her."
"We're sleeping," he said.
Big bang as the door slammed shut again.
We're sleeping? He could have said I'm sleeping or she's sleeping, but he had to say we're sleeping. I hammered on the door three more times. A part of my brain knew she had a doorbell, but another part knew with absolute certainty that I should be pounding on something.
The door opened again. This time the red bearded guy held his fist up, squeezed tightly shut to show me he knew how to do it.
"You're starting to piss me off," he said.
"Is she here? I really need to talk to her."
"It's three o'clock in the morning, asshole."
"We're both writers. We're up all hours of the night. We talk a lot. She writes stuff for my magazines."
"She never said anything about you," he said.
He could punch my ticket. I knew that. He knew that. He had a weightlifter's arms and chest. Thick neck like a football player. I weigh about one sixty. Each of his legs looked to weigh that. But he was starting to look more confused than angry.
"What's it about?"
"Writer stuff," I said. "I'm her publisher."
"You're her boss?"
"Yeah, like that."
"Shit," he said.
We both heard her muffled footsteps coming down the hallway behind him at the same time. He turned his head. Stepped off to the side a little as Adele pushed her way between him and the door jam.
Some women look great when you wake them up in the middle of the night. Some look like they've been run over. I'd hate to know what they say about men. Adele was in the "looks even better when she crawls out of bed than when she lays down in the first place" category. Mid-thirties. Short blond hair tinged blue. Wearing a fluffy white robe with a monogram from the hotel we stole it from. Kind of tacky and maybe it came with the room, but I like to think it was the diamond thief in me showing through.
"You could have called first," she said. "This is a little awkward."
"It's important. Really, it is. Private business," I said jerking my chin toward the red bearded guy.
"I don't think so," he said.
Adele turned on the serious porch light. The halogen one. The one that almost blinded me. The one they turn on you when you're caught making a prison break.
"What's in it for me?" she asked.
"I need somebody to take over the company. Got a lead on a story that I'm going track down. Iffy but spectacular if I can pull it off. But I can't run the company and follow the story at the same time."
"You want me to take over the company? What do I get out of that except more work?"
She pushed past red beard, came at me eye-to-eye. Hands on her hips.
"That's between us," I said. "We work it out just the two of us or we don't do it. I need to do this quickly or find someone else."
The other guy wasn't happy and he wasn't poetic.
"Bullshit," he said. "We don't have to listen this."
"You don't have to listen to this," she told him. "Pack up and go home. My career is calling."
"That's bullshit, too. This guy shows up in the middle of the night and you're throwing me out for him? I thought we had something going on?"
Adele didn't like the fact I'd show'd up without calling. Wasn't happy about that at all. But I could tell by her thin smile that she was getting into the idea of tossing the other guy out.
"We did," she said. "But it's time for me to get back to work. Maybe I'll call you when I'm done."
"Maybe? Maybe? This is bullshit, Adele, and you know it."
As loudly as he stomped down the hallway, I just knew he'd been practicing it since childhood.
"Men are such whiners," she said as she let me in and steered me to the kitchen .
"Where'd you meet this guy?"
"Used to be married to him."
"You're kidding, right?"
"How much do I get paid for taking over the company?" she asked.
"Much as you want to pay yourself. I want you to buy the company, not promote you. Not some of the stock- all of the stock. You'll be both the owner and publisher. You'll finally be totally in charge."
She thought about it for awhile. Pulled her robe tighter and fired up her coffee maker. The only light in the kitchen was one she'd turned on over the sink. It was like a movie image. Like the cameraman had asked for the light to be right over her so the audience could see how it lit her hair and transformed it from blond to gold.
"How much? What's the price. And Leonard?"
The last part, the and Leonard part, she shouted.
"What?" came his answer from a few feet down the hallway.
"Don't eavesdrop. It's rude. I want to hear the door slam on your way out and don't try slamming from the inside or I'll have my publisher shoot you."
Silence for a moment, then, "This is bullshit. I mean it."
The front door slammed shut thirty seconds later.
"How much?" she asked again.
"I don't carry a gun. You know that."
"How much? And he doesn't know that."
"Much cash as you can get me tonight. Minimum fifteen grand."
Her eyes got bigger. She turned and poured each of us a cup of coffee.
"I don't have that much cash lying around."
"Bullshit," I said. "You've got twenty in that urn in your living room. You know, the one where you keep your dad's ashes. Money's folded up in a sandwich bag with the ashes on top to hide it."
We both sat down at the kitchen table with our coffee. We were quiet. She was thinking, I was hoping.
"How'd you know about that?" she said.
"You shouldn't drink and play strip poker."
"I told you about it when I was drunk?"
"Yes, you did."
"What else did I say?"
"Let's get back to how much you're going to pay me."
Finally, she said, "You're in big trouble, aren't you?"
"Yes. I'm in big trouble."
"I've got a dead alien in my trunk, Adele."
"For real?" she asked.
"For real," I said.
She blew across the top of the hot liquid for a few seconds, then took a long sip.
"The only way I'll buy the publishing company is if we write it up now with you having no interest or say so or any association with the company the second we ink the deal and I give you the check."
"Cash," I said.
"You are in deep, aren't you?"
"I really am serious, Adele. I've got a dead alien in my trunk and I watched three UFO's shoot down three Air Force planes in a little over five to ten seconds after they noticed them."
"Where'd you get the alien?" she asked.
"I ran into him or her or whatever it is with the car."
"Of course," she said.
"It was foggy."
She ran her finger along the edge of her coffee cup.
"I don't want to know you after we do this," she said.
"You won't," I said.
It's the wrong thing to say to a woman you wake up at three in the morning.
I was still thinking about that when I was walking to my car. It really didn't seem important anymore when I looked down the street and something hovering over the rooftops four or five intersections down from where I was standing. Iridescent gray. Smaller than the three ships I'd seen earlier. Spinning like an extraterrestrial gyroscope.
It's tracking the thing in my trunk, I thought.