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Authors: Tracy L Carbone

Hope House (10 page)

BOOK: Hope House
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“What are you smiling about?” he asked, grinning at her.

“I just, um.” She felt her cheeks redden.
Am I that obvious?
“Nothing. I just feel safer with you here.”

He stopped walking and faced her. Brushed her cheek with his big calloused dry, strong hands and she considered how good those hands would feel squeezing her—

“Where’s your purse?”

“What?”

“Most women carry bags. You don’t have a blazer or any pockets but you have a cell phone. No one just carries a phone. People use pockets or purses.”

That snapped her out of her fantasy. “I had my purse at the store. It’s a small pink faux alligator Gucci. Damn, I must have left it in the dressing room.”

Kurt looked up and down the street. “Look around. Do you see the guy you think was following you?”

“I didn’t think it. He
was
following me.”

Kurt nodded. “Fine. Do you see him?”

“No. We’re pretty far from my car. It’s way down the street in the other direction.”

“All right. You stand right here by this post. It’ll partially block his view if he’s still watching. I’m going to sprint back to the store.”

“Can’t I come?”

“No. You’re wearing high heels. You’ll slow us down. I’ll be quick and then we can go to my car where you can tell me what’s going on. I’ll take you back to my office.”

She bit her lip. Just because she couldn’t see her stalker didn’t mean he wasn’t lurking in the shadows.

“Hey,” he said and she felt her knees go weak. “I’ll be two seconds. I promised to keep you safe and I will.”

“Just hurry. Please.”

He quickly stepped off and broke into a jog. She decided to call Tommy and fill him in.

Once his secretary patched Gloria through, her ex came on. “
Tommy Carpenter speaking.” 

“Hi. It’s me. Gloria.”


I know your voice. How are you? Headed home?”

“No. Tommy, it’s terrible. The people at the adoption agency won’t even talk to me. I came all the way down here and the bastards won’t even give me five minutes.”


Are you there now?”

“No. They threw me—I left.
I ran out. The man from the airport was there again, lurking around my hotel even though I went to a different one. And then he was here. Right by my car.”


What man? Gloria, do you have any idea how you sound?”

“Yes, damn it, Tommy, I know how I sound for Christ’s sake! I sound as if I’m nuts! But I’m not. Listen, can’t you pull some strings? Order Alison Gander
’s adoption records unsealed?


No. No one can do that.”

“Someone can.”


Not me.”

“Tommy, Alison is your daughter too. Don’t you even care? What? Now that you have the new kids and the trophy wife, you don’t care about your other little girl?”


Calm down, Gloria. I’m warning you.”

“Warn
ing me? Warning me how?” She squeezed her phone so hard her knuckles had turned white. She relaxed her hand and stretched her fingers.


Okay, bad choice of words
.” She heard him sigh on the other end. “
Did you call the PI? This is really a matter for an investigator. If anyone can help you accept the truth, it’s him.

“I did call him. He’s with me.”


Good. If he says there’s something to the story, I’ll listen. But all you’ve given me is hysteria and paranoia.”

Gloria sensed a wave of panic before she felt two hands smash into her back and force her into the path of an oncoming bus. It all happened in slow motion. Her phone flew up and she watched it. Straight up. She saw her hands flay out before her. Saw the faces of the people across the street. The baby in the navy blue checkered stroller with the blue balloon waving in the breeze. The horn honked so loud her eardrums neared the bursting point. The scent of burning rubber filled her nostrils.

I’m going to die. This is how it ends. Pushed in front of a bus by an assassin.

It all happened within seconds, but it dragged out and every detail froze in her mind like a series of photographs.

But then her heel caught on something and kept her from going all the way forward. Just as suddenly as she was propelled forward, her shoe held firm and she yanked herself back out of harm’s way by inches. Then she saw her phone fall to the ground and bounce. Her iPhone danced on the hot asphalt and the monster bus crushed it.

It happened that fast,
she thought.
All in the time it took my phone to land on the street.

She turned around but the man she expected to see
had vanished. Everyone around her, all the pedestrians with the shocked faces, looked innocent. But how could she tell for sure? If nothing else, the man who’d been stalking her was no where in sight.

Kurt ran toward her,
purse in hand.  She stepped out of her shoe, still caught in a crack in the pavement, thank God, and threw herself into his waiting arms.

“Are you all right?” He panted in her ear.

She buried her face in his neck and cried, nodding. “Yes. Call nine-one-one.”

“Later. Let’s just get out of here. We’ll go somewhere safe, and then call the police.”

She held his hand for dear life and raced toward his car. She limped and only had one shoe but was grateful for Kurt’s protection.

 

5.

Maison D’Espoir, Haiti, late afternoon

 

Mick
stepped out of the cool air of the black Lincoln Towncar that he kept stored at the airport and into to the stifling wet heat of Haiti. Within seconds sweat beads appeared on his brow. He frowned. Hated this place. It was a hell of a moneymaker though, and he didn’t have to show up all that often. When he did, his visits were short and sweet.

He liked making surprise visits.
Not that he didn’t trust the girls and Tad, but everyone knew that the mice played when the cat was away. He said hello to Boris who regarded him with a mere nod. No smile. No, “Welcome back, Monsieur Puglisi.” Just a straight-mouthed nod. Whatever. Mick was happy to walk through the gates and leave Boris on the outside.  Maybe he would bring the matter up with Tad. See if he knew anything about this guard except his ability to look big and scare people.

Mick loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar while he walked through the compound. He removed his solid gold
P
cufflinks and rolled up his sleeves. The hard dirt of the ground here always soiled his shoes, but he couldn’t change into sneakers. Even in this mud hole, Mick had an image to present here.  Mick licked his thumb then bent down and tried to wipe away some of the grime.  No good. Someone from the hotel could polish them later. 

There were quite a few girls walking around, flat tummies and big tummies. T
hey all seemed relatively happy. Three of them walked up the hill by the woods, carrying baskets on their heads. Mick laughed and shook his head. They certainly didn’t need to forage through the woods for fruit anymore but old habits die hard.  The compound was fenced in but extended down the hill a little way. Mick reasoned that there must be a few fruit trees down there within the limits. 

These girls were stubborn when it came to accepting the easy lifestyle Mick offered them. They didn’t trust the washers and dryers, and Tad told him many of girls still washed their clothes by hand in the sink. They requested manual buckets and washboards, but Mick had flatly refused. They must acclimate to the modern world. Still, Mick half-expected to catch them washing laundry by hand: guilty looks on their faces, hiding washboards under their shirts when they saw him approach.

It was beyond him why anyone wouldn’t want to accept all he gave them. All the modern conveniences at their fingertips. No need to do anything but relax and carry babies. The residents were ungrateful children.

Off to his left he saw two young girls talking, sitting at one of the patio tables under an umbrella. One of them was wiping her eyes, crying.  He approached.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

The one doing the crying immediately shut her mouth and stared at him, wide-eyed. Trembling. She said something in rapid speech. A garble of Creole.

Her friend looked to Mick, pausing before she spoke. Whatever she was going to say, it would be a lie. He knew it. She chewed her lip and looked from the crying girl to him and back again. She finally offered a Creole explanation for what was going on but he had no idea what the hell the second girl said either.

The tearful girl piped in and then the two of them were squawking back and forth, louder and louder, fighting parrots. Emotions ran high. The crying one grabbed the other’s arm hard and they both fell silent.

This was useless. He couldn’t understand them and whatever petty problem they were worried about, he couldn’t be bothered. Let Tad deal with it. Mick had bigger issues on his plate right now.

He put his hand up to let them know he didn’t want to
talk anymore and was leaving.

Mick wiped his forehead with his handkerchief and walked toward the medical building. Aah, a blast of cooler air. Not too cool because the girls didn’t like it too cool. Again with the refusal to enjoy the comforts he offered.

When he walked into the medical center, Mick saw Martine sitting at the front desk, with Tad leaning on the counter talking to her. They both looked upset but Mick couldn’t hear what they were saying. Martine didn’t speak a word of English and he was impressed how well Tad seemed to be conversing with her in Creole.

“Monsieur Puglisi!” Martine said as she stood up. It wasn’t a happy greeting
but yelled as if to sound an alarm.

Tad spun around. “Mick, hi. Didn’t expect you.”

“I know. I didn’t plan to be here, but I have something important to discuss and it couldn’t be over the phone.”

“All right. Let’s step into my office.”

“Sure. Since we’re here though, I want to ask Martine something.”

“She won’t understand you.”

“Translate for me.”

Martine looked frightened.

“Ask her if she knows the guard.”

“Boris?” Tad asked.

“Yes. Boris Jean-Baptiste.”

Martine’s eyes grew wide as snowballs. She said something to Tad but again; Mick had no idea what.

Tad spoke. “I didn’t know his last name. You know we pay him in cash so all this time I never asked. Are they related?”

“I don’t know. That’s what I want you to ask her.”

Tad and Martine chatted back and forth in Creole.

“She doesn’t know him except as the guard. As you know, the girls never go outside the gate and he only comes in when you’re here. She said she doesn’t have any relatives named Boris but that
Jean-Baptiste is a common surname.”

Mick looked at Martine but spoke to Tad. “Well, he’s been asking about her. He seems to know
her.

Tad turned to talk to Martine.

“Don’t translate that. That was just for your information.”

Tad took off his glasses and wiped them with his lab coat. “Is that what you came all the way here for?”

“I wish it
was
just that.  Let’s get some privacy.”

Tad walked to his office and Mick followed. When the door closed and they were both sitting Mick said, “You remember Gloria Hanes-Carpenter?”

Tad’s white face got whiter. “Yes.”

“It’s Hanes now. She got divorced.”

“I know. And Tommy got the law firm. I don’t need a recap. What about her?”

“Gloria, do-gooder that she is, donated a DNA sample a few years ago for a marrow drive. Through a very bad coincidence, after all this time, one of our adoptees got leukemia. Wouldn’t you know it; they tracked Gloria down through a registry. She was a match.”

Tad put his nearly bald head in his hands. “Jesus.”

“Oh it gets worse.


How much worse?”

“So she donates the marrow and the kid lives and the adoptive parents get the bright idea to contact Gloria, as the donor, because they wonder if she’s a relative who would give them some kind of foundation for their daughter’s heritage.”

“They didn’t tell her, did they?”

“They told her. They said their daughter was adopted and maybe Gloria was an aunt or a cousin.”

“Shit.”

“But you know
Gloria. She insists she’s the child’s
mother
now! And she carries on about how the baby was ripped from her womb, stolen. She got hysterical and they tossed her out.”

“So it’s over? She’s gone?”

“I wish. But no. Before they made her leave they gave her a picture of the kid and let slip out the name of the agency. And who do you think shows up in Miami yesterday morning trying to get in and talk to me?”

BOOK: Hope House
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