Authors: Linwood Barclay
Tags: #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Fiction
ALSO BY LINWOOD BARCLAY
No Time for Goodbye
Too Close to Home
HE MORNING OF THE DAY
, my daughter asked me to scramble her some eggs.
“Want bacon with it?” I shouted up to the second floor, where she was still getting ready for work.
“No,” Sydney called down from the bathroom.
“Toast?” I asked.
“No,” she said. I heard a clapping noise. The hair straightener. That noise usually signaled she was nearing the end of her morning routine.
“Cheese in the eggs?”
“No,” she said. Then, “A little?”
I went back into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and took out eggs, a block of cheddar, and orange juice. I put a filter into the coffeemaker, spooned in some coffee, poured in four cups of water, and hit the button.
Syd’s mother Susanne, my ex, who’d recently moved in with her boyfriend Bob on the other side of the river in Stratford, would probably say I was spoiling her, that our daughter was old enough at seventeen to be able to make her own breakfast. But it was such a treat to have her stay with me for the summer I didn’t mind pampering her. Last year I’d found her a job at the Honda dealership where I work, just this side of that same river here in Milford. While there were moments when we wanted to kill each other, overall it had been a pretty good experience sharing digs. This year, however, Sydney had opted not to work at the dealership. Living with me was enough. Having me keep an eye on her while she worked was something else again.
“Have you noticed,” she’d asked me last year, “that every guy around here I talk to, even for a minute, you tell me something bad about him?”
“It’s good to be forewarned,” I’d said.
“What about Dwayne, in Service?” she’d said. “His
was too oily?”
“Sign of bad character,” I’d said.
“You’re joking,” I’d said. “Way too old. Mid-twenties.”
So this year she’d found a different job, but still here in Milford, so she could live with me from June through Labor Day. She’d gotten herself hired at the Just Inn Time, a hotel that catered to business travelers only looking to stay a night or two. Milford’s a nice place, but it’s not exactly a tourist destination. The hotel had been a Days Inn or a Holiday Inn or a Comfort Inn in a previous life, but whichever conglomerate had owned it, they’d bailed, and an independent had come in.
I wasn’t surprised when Sydney told me they’d put her on the front desk. “You’re bright, charming, courteous—”
“I’m also one of the few there who speaks English,” she’d countered, putting her proud father in his place.
It was like pulling teeth, getting her to talk about the new job. “It’s just work,” she’d say. Three days into it I heard her arguing on the phone with her friend Patty Swain, saying she was going to look for something else, even if she was making good money, since no income tax was being taken out.
“This is off the books?” I said when she got off the phone. “You’re getting paid under the table?”
Sydney said, “You always listen to my phone calls?”
So I backed off. Let her solve her own problems.
I waited until I heard her coming down the stairs before I poured the two scrambled eggs, a few shavings of grated cheddar mixed in, into the buttered frying pan. It had occurred to me to do something I hadn’t done for Sydney since she was a little girl. I took half of the eggshell I’d just cracked and, using a soft pencil from the cutlery drawer, drew a face on it. A toothy grin, a half circle for a nose, and two menacing-looking eyes. I drew a line from the mouth to the back side of the shell, where I printed, “Smile, damn it.”
She shuffled into the kitchen like a condemned prisoner and plopped into her chair, looking down into her lap, hair hanging down over her eyes, arms lifeless at her sides. She had a pair of oversized sunglasses I didn’t recognize perched on her head.
The eggs firmed up in seconds. I slipped them onto a plate and set them before her.
“Your Highness,” I said, talking over the sounds of the
show coming from the small television that hung beneath the cabinet.
Sydney lifted her head slowly, looking first at the plate, but then her eyes caught the little Humpty Dumpty character staring at her from atop the saltshaker.
“Oh my God,” she said, bringing up a hand and turning the shaker so she could read what was on the egg’s back side. “Smile
she said, but there was something bordering on playful in her voice.
“New shades?” I asked.
Absently, like she’d forgotten she’d just put them there, she touched one of the arms, made a minor adjustment.
“Yeah,” she said.
I noticed the word
printed in very tiny letters on the glasses. “Very nice,” I said.
Syd nodded tiredly.
“Out late?” I asked.
late,” she said.
“Midnight’s late,” I said.
She knew there was no point denying when she got in. I never got to sleep until I heard her come into our house on Hill Street and lock the door behind her. I guessed she’d been out with Patty Swain, who was also seventeen, but gave off a vibe that she was a little more experienced than Syd with the kinds of things that kept fathers up at night. I’d have been naive to think Patty Swain didn’t already know about drinking, sex, and drugs.
But Syd wasn’t exactly an angel. I’d caught her with pot once, and there was that time, a couple years back, when she was fifteen, when she came home from the Abercrombie & Fitch store in Stamford with a new T-shirt, and couldn’t explain to her mother why she had no receipt. Big fireworks over that one.
Maybe that’s why the sunglasses were niggling at me.
“What those set you back?” I asked.
“Not that much,” she said.
“How’s Patty?” I asked, not so much to find out how she was as to confirm Syd had been with her. They’d been friends only a year or so, but they’d spent so much time together it was as if their friendship went back to kindergarten. I liked Patty—she had a directness that was refreshing—but there were times I wished Syd hung out with her a little less.
“She’s cool,” Syd said.
On the TV, Matt Lauer was warning about possibly radioactive granite countertops. Every day, something new to worry about.
Syd dug into her eggs. “Mmm,” she said. She glanced up at the TV. “Bob,” she said.
I looked. One of the ad spots from the local affiliate. A tall, balding man with a broad smile and perfect teeth standing in front of a sea of cars, arms outstretched, like Moses parting the Red Sea.
“Run, don’t walk, into Bob’s Motors! Don’t have a trade? That’s okay! Don’t have a down payment? That’s okay! Don’t have a driver’s license? Okay, that’s a problem! But if you’re looking for a car, and you’re looking for a good deal, get on down to one of our three loca—”
I hit the mute button.
“He is a bit of a douche,” Syd said of the man her mother, my ex, lived with. “But those commercials turn him into Superdouche. What are we having tonight?” Breakfast was never complete without a discussion of what we might be eating at the end of the day. “How about D.A.D.?”
Family code for “dial a dinner.”
Before I could answer, she said, “Pizza?”
“I think I’ll make something,” I said. Syd made no attempt to hide her disappointment.
Last summer, when Syd and I were both working at the same place and she was riding in with me, Susanne and I had agreed to get her a car for nipping around Milford and Stratford. I took in a seven-year-old Civic with low miles on a trade and snatched it up for a couple thou before it hit our used-car lot. It had a bit of rust around the fender wells, but was otherwise roadworthy.
“No spoiler?” Syd cracked when it was presented to her.
“Shut up,” I said and handed her the keys.
Only once since she’d gotten this new job had I dropped her off at work. The Civic was in for a rusted-out tailpipe. So I drove her up Route 1, what I still thought of as the Boston Post Road, the Just Inn Time looming in the distance, a bleak, gray, featureless block on the horizon, looking like an apartment complex in some Soviet satellite country.
I was prepared to drive her to the door, but she had me drop her off at the sidewalk, near a bus stop. “I’ll be here at the end of the day,” she said.
Bob’s commercial over, I put the sound back on. Al Roker was outside mingling with the Rockefeller Center crowd, most of them waving signs offering birthday greetings to relatives back home.
I looked at my daughter, eating her breakfast. Part of being a father, at least for me, is being perpetually proud. I took in what a beautiful young woman Syd was turning into. Blonde hair down to her shoulders, a long graceful neck, porcelain skin, strong facial features. Her mother’s roots go back to Norway, which accounts for her Nordic air.
As if sensing my eyes on her, she said, “You think I could be a model?”
“A model?” I glanced over.
“Don’t sound so shocked,” she said.
“I’m not,” I said defensively. “I just never heard you talk about it before.”
“I never really thought about it. It’s Bob’s idea.”
I felt my face go hot. Bob encouraging Syd to model? He was in his early forties, like me. Now he had my wife and—more often than I liked—my daughter living under his roof, in his fancy five-bedroom house with pool and three-car garage, and he was pushing her to model? What the fuck kind of modeling? Pinup stuff? Webcam porn to order? Was he offering to take the shots himself?
said this?” I asked.
“He says I’d be a natural. That I should be in one of his commercials.”
Hard to pick which would be more demeaning.
or hawking Bob’s used cars.
“What? You think he’s wrong?”
“He’s out of line,” I said.
“He’s not a perv or anything,” she said. “A douche, yes, but a perv, no. Mom and Evan even kind of agreed with him.”
Now I was really getting steamed. Evan was Bob’s nineteen-year-old son. He had been living most of the time with his mother, Bob’s ex-wife, but now she was off to Europe for three months, so Evan had moved in with his dad. This meant he was now sleeping down the hall from Syd, who, by the way, liked her new bedroom very much and had pointed out several times that it was twice the size of the one she had in my house.