If the bullshit I wrote was true, I wouldn't have been standing in the middle of a beehive where all the bees were copsnot one worker bee in the hive, eithertrying to get someone interested in finding out what had happened to my brother.
Then again, if the bullshit I wrote was true, I wouldn't be holding a white-tipped cane in my hand, either. But the bullshit I wrote was just that. Bullshit.
Solid-gold bullshit, though. Which was, after all, why I kept writing it.
"Look, I'm going to need to talk to someone else," I said to the queen bee behind the tall counter. My fingertips rested on the front edge, which was up to my chest. Smooth wood, with that slightly tacky feel from being none too clean. I took my fingers away, but the sticky residue remained. Ick.
"And just who else would you like to talk to?" the queen bee asked.
"Are you getting sarcastic with me now?" I leaned nearer. "How about I talk to your boss, then?"
"Ma'am, that attitude of yours is not going to help.
I told you, your case is getting the same attention any other missing persons case would get from this office."
"The same attention as any other missing homeless heroin-addict case, you mean?"
"We do not discriminate here."
"Not on the basis of intelligence, anyway."
When her voice came again, it came from way closer. She was, I surmised, leaning over her tall counter. I could smell her chewing gum. Dentyne Ice. "Never thought I'd be so tempted to smack a blind woman upside her head," she muttered. It was probably supposed to be under her breath, but I had hearing like a freakin' bat. I heard everything. Every nuance. So I knew she meant it.
"Want to try it now?" I asked. "Because I promise you, I will"
"Miss de Luca? Is it really you?"
That woman's voice wasn't angry. It was adoring, and coming from about seven o'clock. That was how I found things. A clock inside my head where I was always the center. You know, the pin that held the hands in place so they could spin all around me while I stood still. It was an accurate illustration in more ways than one.
I closed my eyes behind my sunglasses, shut my mouth, pasted a fake smile on my face and turned. Sometimes not being able to look in the mirror and see how far I missed the mark from the expression I thought I was making was a blessing, and I suspected this was one of those times.
"Rachel de Luca? The author, right?" The woman was moving toward me as she spoke. I waited until she got just two and a half steps from me before extending my hand. Any farther, you looked like an idiot. Any closer
Any closer was too damn close. I liked three feet of space around me at all times. It was one of a whole collection of quirks I held dearly.
"Last time I checked," I said, pouring sugar into the words, using my "famous author" voice. "And you are?"
"Oh, gosh, this is such a thrill!" She gripped my hand. Cool and small. She smelled like sunblock, sweat and sneakers. Tinny, nearly inaudible music wafted from somewhere near her neck, and I could hear her pulse beat behind her words. No, seriously, I could. I told you, I hear everything. My brain snapped an immediate mental photo. She was too thin, an exercise nut, five-one or so, probably blonde. Her earbuds were dangling, iPod still playing, heart still hammering from a recent run. She probably didn't even hear it. Hearing loss due to cramming speakers into one's ear holes and cranking the volume. Joggers were the worst offenders. Sighted people didn't appreciate how valuable their hearing was.
Also, she had a beaky little nose and bad teeth.
Don't ask. I have no freaking idea how I get my mental snapshots of people. I just do. I don't know if they're anywhere near accurate, either. Never bothered to ask anyone or feel any faces. (Give me a break, people, it's just disgusting to go around pawing strangers like that.)
And she'd been talking while I'd been sketching her on my brain easel. Sally something. Big fan. Read all my books. Changed her life. The usual.
"Glad to hear my methods are working for you," I said. "And it's great to meet you, but I have"
"I'm so glad I came in to check on my missing poodle," she said. "I think she was dog-napped. But I'm staying positive. You know, I used to lose my temper all the time," she went on. "I'd fight with my husband, my teenage daughterand don't even get me started on my mother-in-law. But then I started writing your words on index cards and taping them all over my house."
"That's really" fucking pathetic "nice to hear.
But like I said, I"
"'If you get up in the morning and stub your toe, go back to bed and start over,'" she quoted. "I love that one. Such a metaphor for everything in life, really. Oh, oh, and 'When you're spitting venom onto others, you're only poisoning yourself.' That's one of my favorites."
The woman behind the counter snorted derisively and muttered, "Oughtta be droppin' dead any minute now, then," just loud enough for me to hear. If I had been the metaphorical cobra in my metaphorical affirmation, I would have spun around and spat a healthy dose of venom into her eye to keep her from costing me a reader.
"Sally," I said, struggling for patience. No, that's not true at all. My patience was long gone. I was struggling to hang on to the illusion of it, though. "Like I said" twice now "it's nice to meet you, but I actually have something important I need to do here." This is a police station after all. I mean, do you really think I'm here for shits and giggles, lady?
"Oh! Oh, I'm so sorry." She put her hand on my shoulder. Familiar. Like we were friends now.
I almost cringed. People think they can touch you when you're blind. I have no idea why. I hear pregnant women complain about the same thing, but of course I've never seen it.
"I hope everything's all right. Not that I'm asking, of course."
Yes she was.
"I'll go." Two steps, but then the parting shot. I was ready for it, even guessing which one it would be. "Remember, Rachel," she called back, her overly happy tone making me restrain a gag. "'What you be is what you see'!"
She left as I tried to remember which of my books had contained that particular piece of crapola. Her sneakers squeaked as she trotted away, until the sound got lost amid the buzz of the drones.
I turned back to the woman at the counter. Her image in my mind was short, hefty, with melon-sized boobs and long shiny ringlets.
"Where were we?"
"I believe you were about to threaten to kick my ass," she said. "Or maybe you were gettin' ready to dole out one of those Susie-sunshine lines you're apparently known for." She paused, leaned back in her chairI heard the movementand slurped coffee that smelled stale. "So are you famous or something? 'Cause I never heard of you."
I placed my hands flat on the tacky countertop and leaned forward. "My brother is missing. I reported it three days ago, and I haven't heard one word from you people since."
"You cop people. I want action. I want my brother found. I at least want some indication that you're looking for him. Can you give me that?"
"I already gave you that. I told you, we're doing everything we can. I'll have an officer call you later in the day. I already have your number."
Oh, brilliant double entendre there. Apparently I was dealing with a genius.
"Thanks a million."
I turned and waved my cane back and forth, half hoping I'd whack someone in the shins on my way out. But no. Apparently the bees were parting like the Red Sea. I was not amused that my identity had been revealed in the cop shop. My agent would lop off my head for being a bitch in public at all, much less being recognized while I was at it.
What the hell did I care? I'd deny it. My legions of followers would believe me. I mean, as long as it didn't happen too often or in front of someone's cell-cam and wind up on YouTube, I was golden. And even if it did, they'd forgive me for losing it if I let them know why.
My brother was missing, for God's sake. A saint would be on her last nerve.
I tapped across the room and out the door, feeling the space around me widen as I moved through it. I turned left down the hall to the main entrance. Lots of doors there. I picked the quietest one and went through it and then down the broad stone steps to the sidewalk. I intended to cross the street to the coffee shop, grab a Mucho-Mocha with extra caffeine, and phone my assistant to come and pick my ass up. My mind wasn't on what I was doing, though. I was flashing back to the last time I'd seen anything.
It had been Tommy's face.
I was twelve and knew I was going blind. I had a corneal dystrophy, a rare one. At that point I could still see, but it was pretty bad. Blurry, dull. Worse and worse. I'd been having a nightmare, dreamed of being completely blind, and woke up screaming.
It was Tommy who came to my bedroom, sat on the edge of my mattress, hugged me close, told me it was all gonna be okay. That he'd be with me, no matter what. And he was, before the addictions took him away. He went from coke to crack, from the oxy-twinscontin and codoneto heroin, his standards lowering with his resources, until he was broke and homeless and taking anything he could find that was stronger than aspirin. Anyway, before all that, when he was a freshly showered fourteen-year-old kid with a future, he hugged me, conceded to my demand that he leave the light on and told me stories until I fell back asleep.
When I woke up, I thought he'd lied to me. I thought he'd turned the light off after swearing he wouldn't. But he hadn't. Turned out my nightmare was a premonition. I was totally blind.
I shook off the memory about the same time I heard squealing tires and a blasting horn, and realized about a second too late that I'd stepped off the curb and into the street without checking first. Sure as shit, the car hit me. I couldn't even believe it. One step, a loud horn, and bam. I flew fast and landed hard, hip bone, then shoulder, then head, in that order. And then I just lay perfectly still while pain blasted through every part of me.
Damn. I'd thought this day couldn't get any worse.
Detective Mason Brown had a series of rapid-fire impressions; leggy brunette. Dark sunglasses. White cane. Blind? OhfuckI'mgonnahither! He jerked the wheel and slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. The thump made his stomach heave. The car slid sideways, but only a few feethell, it was city traffic, he hadn't been moving very fast to begin withand came to a stop. He opened the door and lunged out before he'd even finished processing what had happened. And then he was bending over the felled female in the middle of the street outside the station, hoping to hell she wasn't seriously hurt. Hands on her shoulders. That was autopilot. Then the brain kicked in. Don't move her. Spinal cord and all that. Hell, her eyes are closed.
And then they opened and looked slightly past his left shoulder. They were sky-blue eyes, and they were completely blank.
"I'm okay, I'm okay." She was trying to sit up while she talked.
"Hang on. Hold still a second, just in case."
She was lying on her side, propped up by one bent elbow on the pavement. Short skirt. A brand-new run in her stockings. Long brown hair, kind of wavy. She patted the blacktop with her free hand. "Am I in the road? Get me the hell out of the road." Her questing hand found her big sunglasses and she quickly jammed them onto her face. They were crooked, but he didn't think she knew. "Do you see my bag?"
Since she was apparently getting up with him or without him, he helped onto her feet, then kept hold of one upper arm. "It's over by the curb. Can you walk?"
"Yeah." To prove it, she started limping back the way she'd come. It was closer, though how she knew which direction to go, he couldn't figure. A couple of his colleagues had jumped into action by then, blocking traffic, directing it around his still sideways unmarked car. His partner, Roosevelt Jones, was standing by the hood, shaking his shaved head and smiling so hard his face actually had wrinkles. He was a hundred and sixokay, fifty-sevenand still only had wrinkles when he smiled.
"Quit your damn grinning and move the car, Rosie."
"Nossir. We're gonna need photos and whatnot." He scooped up the handbag and cane just as Mason got her back on the sidewalk. Rosie held her things out to her. "Here's your stuff, miss. You sure you're all right?"
She turned her head toward him and, with a precision that surprised Mason, reached out and took her handbag, then her cane, from Rosie's outstretched hands.
"I think so."
"Do you hurt anywhere?" Mason asked.
"All over, but"
"Best let the medics have a look at you in the E.R.," Rosie said. "Just to be sure. Damn, Mason, I knew you were desperate for a woman, but I didn't think you'd run one down in the street." Then he laughed like a seal barking.
The woman's head snapped toward Mason again. "You were the one who hit me?"
"Damn straight he was," Rosie said and turned to Mason. "What's wrong with you, running down celebrities in the street?" Rosie smiled at her. "I'm Detective Roosevelt Jones. My partnerwho talked me into letting him drive due to my alleged aging reflexesis Mason Brown. And might I just add that it's a privilege to meet you, ma'am? My wife quotes you to me on a daily basis." He elbowed Mason. "Rachel de Luca. The author."