THE REVOLVING DOOR
They always frightened her, stopping for no one. A continuous motion, round and round, people being sucked in on one side and spewed out on the other. Especially this one; the wedges were smaller, room for one or two if you were small like the child whose hand she clutched.
She stepped forward only to be jostled aside by a woman intent on catching the next ride. Like a merry-go-round without the colorful horses and swans. There was noting merry about this one, nothing to pull you in…unless you had to go in.
She had to go in…the small key secured in the zippered compartment of her purse would unlock the box, the box where there had to be some answer inside, something for her or the child.
"Guard this," he’d said, "if anything ever happens to me…" Had something happened? Her instincts told her that it had. He’d been gone too long without contact. It was left to her to unlock the box. There was nothing else to do. He wouldn’t have left like this, he wouldn’t have.
How easily they stepped in the slice of space, hardly missing a beat. It looked so simple, one stepped in and one stepped out. Once inside she would go to the counter there would be someone to help. She only had to go through the revolving door.
Picking up the child, she stepped forward again, watching the panels carefully. One…two went by and she quickly stepped in. Only a bump on her arm and she was on the other side. Relief spread over her as she set the child down; one can be so foolish about such things. She felt for her handbag. The handbag that lay on the other side of the revolving door being pushed and pulled along. The handbag could not step out once inside. She would have to grab it, stick her arm in the space and quickly before someone else spotted it.
She ran back to the door and bent down, reaching, but the bag was now in the 'V' and she couldn’t reach it. She would have to go back in the door with the child; she couldn’t leave the child alone. Panic set in. She would have to bend holding the child and pick up the handbag and quickly before the door sent her on her heels. Her eyes were wide with fright as she watched the door go around again. She couldn’t do it. Closing her eyes, she stepped back into the building.
"Excuse me madam, does this belong to you? I saw you drop it and came as quickly as I could from behind the counter."
"Oh, yes…yes, thank you…I…I couldn’t."
"Yes, ma’am, with the child. Is there something else I could help you with?" he asked.
She set the child down again. "Yes, please…I have a safety deposit box to open."
"Come right with me. Now someone will be here to help you in just a moment, if you’d like to sit?"
"Yes, thank you…thank you very much."
She sat on the smooth leather seat with the child on her lap and felt small among the tall columns that lined the lobby. He had been here in this same building and obtained the box. He must have known someday she would be here to open it without him. She studied the shadows left by the columns and the tall, towering plants reaching for the skylights above. The child was tired and lay against her breast. She comforted him as best she could in the cold marble room.
"You have a deposit box, Ma’am?" He was young with a fresh open face.
"Yes." She began struggling to rise with the sleeping child.
"Here let me help you. Is this your bag?" He took her arm and picked her bag from the seat.
"Yes, thank you."
Once in the small room with the box on a table before her, she shifted the child in her lap and took the key from her bag. Fear kept her from immediately opening the box. What if it contained nothing and she had banked her hopes on an empty box? There could be papers she wouldn’t understand.
She inserted the key and the box sprang open...an envelope. Carefully she unsealed the long white envelope. A letter and a bank book fell out. Scrambling to reach the floor she picked up the bank book and the letter.
If you are reading this, my dear, I am no more. This is all I have to leave you and our child. I have loved you.
Tears blinded her eyes. He never knew…
Folding the letter, she placed it in her bag. She could not look at the bank book, not now, not yet. Whatever it contained could wait. He would not be coming back. There were other papers in the box secured with a rubber band around them. She stuffed them in her purse along with the envelope.
It was some time before she was able to stand with the child and let the man know she was ready to leave. He was very kind, seeing how upset she was, and escorted her to the door.
She stood watching the door go round and round. She couldn’t go through the revolving door back onto the street. She would never get out.
"Ma’am, there’s another door…if you’ll come this way." The man led her to a glass door and pushed a button. "It might be easier…with the child."
People were kind, sometimes.
Back at the walk-up she put the child down and set her purse on the table. She looked at the purse as if it might be a foreign object, not belonging to her at all. It had become a stranger because of what it contained.
He’d been waiting for this. He knew sooner or later she’d pay a visit to the bank. He debated whether to make his move now or wait. Nobody knew Daniels had a wife and kid. He’d kept it all secret, hidden here in the middle of the city. Everybody knew the money had to go somewhere, all that money he stole, but nobody had figured on this. She was a plain-looking woman, maybe a little fey but, hey, anybody that’d hook up with Bob Daniels had to be a little crazy.
He’d been watching her for a month, ever since they got word Daniels had been killed. It was a fluke that he even knew about her. Even city hall didn’t know, the cops didn’t know and no one had informed her he was dead so how did she know?
He threw the cigarette down on the pavement and walked to the mailboxes on the doorway of the apartment building she’d gone back into. He pushed his hat back, no Daniels. Well, of course she wouldn’t be using his name. Barstow, that was it… M. Barstow 2B. He hit the buzzer and stepped back.
"Who is it?" a faint voice asked.
"Mr. White. I’d like to talk with you a minute."
"No…no." She turned off the communication.
Bud leaned against the doorway again. Sooner or later somebody would enter that door and he intended to follow him.
Miranda Barstow got the little boy down for a nap, tucking the sheet tightly around him so he wouldn’t roll out of the bed. She went into the little kitchenette and boiled some water for tea. Her eyes kept sliding to her purse. She bit her lip and wondered what she was so afraid of. Whatever that book contained wasn’t rightfully hers, but then it wasn’t rightfully anyone’s except perhaps the boy’s. Yes, it could rightfully belong to him.
The door buzzer caused her to jump. She went to the speaker and answered it. Later she wished she hadn’t. She didn’t know Mr. White. He could be anybody. He could be someone from the bank come to say there’d been a mistake. She made her cup of tea and sat down at the table. It took two sips before she opened her purse and pulled out the bank book.
The bank book was for a different bank, not the one with the safe deposit box. She looked at it again and at the address. It wasn’t even in the same city. There were some figures scrawled on a page but they meant nothing to her. She couldn’t decipher the numbers and zeros. She would have to go, of course. The train, she could take the train. The child wouldn’t require a ticket. She could afford it, a train ticket.
With shaking hands she pulled out her wallet and laid the money out on the table. $26.72. That was all she had left from the $100.00 he’d sent two months ago. He’d paid the rent for six months in advance. That was coming to an end.
Tomorrow, tomorrow she would go to the train station.
Bud slammed his hand against the door. He couldn’t fault little old ladies for being cautious. She’d slipped in the door and physically closed it behind her, leaving him staring at her through the glass door. He tried the speaker again, buzzing the apartment several times but she wasn’t answering now.
He lit another cigarette and paced off the sidewalk. If she had the money she’d run. At least he figured she would and certainly leave this dump behind. Of course with a kid it wouldn’t be easy for her but might be easier for him. He went to his car parked across the street and settled in for a long night.
He pulled his hat down over his forehead but not far enough he couldn’t keep an eye on the door of the apartment building. Memories of stake-outs floated through his mind but all that was behind him now. A lot of things were behind him. It was in his blood but he no longer wanted to be a policeman. He had his own detective business now. He’d surprised himself coming back to LA but it was what he knew and what he thought he knew out in the desert proved not to be true.
He’d been hired by an attorney for the prosecutor’s office to find the money Daniels stole from the First Bank of LA. Daniels been a small time thief all his life but hit it big one time and disappeared. He’d surfaced out at Redondo Beach literally about two months ago. Nothing on the man to identify him, but a cop knew him. Cause of death was ruled drowning but he’d been drunk when he went into the water.
Bud went though the routine and just happened upon a marriage license taken out by Daniels and one Millicent M. Barstow ten months ago. It had taken him a while to track her down but he had and now he wondered why he was sitting outside of her building instead of pounding on her door and asking for the money. He sighed. Because she was a woman with a child.
He’d been in the little corner store, bought a coffee and used their restroom. He wandered back out on the street and nearly dropped it. She was coming across the street toward him carrying the little boy and a small cardboard suitcase. He realized she wasn’t coming to him. It was the bus stop. Sipping the remaining coffee from the cup, he tossed it in the waste can. He could hear the bus coming and made the decision to follow her wherever she went. He went back and locked his car and had time to make it onto the bus before it took off. Spotting her toward the back of the bus, he sat down near the front.
She patted his leg and held him up so he could see out the window. He really was a good little boy. She changed buses once and this one took her to the station. She smiled slightly when the man held her suitcase for her and thanked him before stepping out of the bus. She went directly into the station and inquired about a train to San Diego. The ticket in hand, she found a place to sit and wait. People really were nice, sometimes.
She fed the baby part of a sandwich she bought while she waited for the 11:44. She was trying to be positive about this, telling herself there would be no problems. She would go to the bank in San Diego with the bank book and someone would help her. There would be funds…there had to be.
He’d told Milli about a fortune he had but she hadn’t believed him. She hadn’t believed anything except he’d left her. Left her with a four month old child. She waited around for him and then followed his example. There were plenty of guys out there to take care of her. The kid wasn’t in the picture. Milli never knew how Miranda felt about him. How she hung on every word he’d ever said, how she dreamed about him and had wanted him for her own. Miranda had lied to her about her feelings.
Milli was the pretty one. They were fraternal twins. No one would associate one with the other. They’d shared a room until Bob Daniels came into their life. He set them up in the apartment but it was evident from the beginning who he was after and it didn’t take much for Milli to fall under his spell. He married her because she told him she was pregnant. But he didn’t hang around long after that. Once the baby was born he’d been in the apartment twice. He gave Milli some money and said he had a fortune put away for them but couldn’t get at it right then.
That had been the last they saw of him. Now, five months later, Miranda was alone with the baby. She loved it because it was Daniel’s son. She hadn’t heard from her sister in nearly six months.
The motion of the train put him to sleep in her arms.
It put Bud to sleep, too. He’d taken a seat in the back of the car. She wasn’t going anywhere so he took the opportunity for a nap.
Everyone was awake when the train pulled into San Diego. Bud fully expected her to buy a ticket for Tijuana. He figured the money was either in the suitcase or she was going to it. She’d had a large purse with her at the bank the day before. Instead of going to the ticket counter she walked out of the station and caught a taxi. He scrambled to the next one and asked him to follow.
She went directly to the bank. This time there were no revolving doors to put her off.
The man behind the counter took the book and looked at it. He went to speak to someone else and Miranda felt her heart skip a beat. There was going to be trouble and she couldn’t handle trouble. She began breathing too fast and leaned against the counter, resting the baby in her arms. Her head was against the frosted wavy partition.
"Yes." She looked up. It was a different man now.
He smiled and took her arm, leading her to a desk and a chair where she could sit with the child.
"Are you unwell?" he asked.
"No, I’m sorry…I’m all right."
He thought she looked extremely pale. "I’ll make this a smooth as possible. These numbers listed here in the book are numbers of savings bonds, Mrs. Daniels. I believe you may have thought this was a sum of money referenced. There are, in fact, $75,000.00 worth of bonds."
"75…are they like cash?"
"Yes, in a way. You can cash them in if you like but the idea of a bond is that it gains money when held for a period of time. These bonds are only six months old and they have not reached maturity."
"Mister, I’m not really concerned with maturity right now. I have this boy here to care for." She reached into her bag and pulled out the bonds, still held together with the rubber band.
"But in the long run, Mrs. Daniels, they will assure his future will be taken care of. It is simply not possible for me to cash all these bonds in today. That is more money than we have on hand here. It takes a few days for the funds to be available."
"You mean I can’t get anything today?"
"I can perhaps cash one of them in and that will net you about $750.00. There will be fees and penalties involved."
Miranda had only about $5.00 left. Not enough for them to survive the day. "I don’t care about the penalties, Sir."
She had to wait while he went about cashing in one of the bonds. She had to sign a paper. All the while he had a sour look on his face. Yes, he could cash the remainder of the bonds in but it would take as long as a week for the money to be in the bank. Miranda didn’t believe him. Banks had money. What did they do with all the money people put into them?
He finally came back with the cash and counted it out to her. "Mrs. Daniels, did you notice the little folder in the back of the book? My cashier noticed it. It appears to be from a bank in Mexico." He pulled out the slim, folded brown ledger. "This may be the cash you were looking for." He handed her the card.
"I don’t understand. What is this?" She looked up.
"It’s a bank ledger. No way to know if this is in pesos or dollars. 250,000."
She looked it over. He was right. There was no way to tell. The name of the banking institution was printed in gold lettering on the front of the folder. "Thank you," she said and already was thinking about going across the border.
"One week, you say? I can cash the rest of the bonds in one week?"
"Yes, the funds will be on hand." He raised his brows and stood with her.
All the while, Bud was moving around the perimeter inside the bank. He’d looked over brochures, appeared to study his checkbook while seated a few chairs away from the banker’s desk. He’d heard the words bonds, cashing in, and noted she received some money. He followed her out of the bank and hung back. She appeared lost and unsure. He watched her shift the baby to her hip and walk up and down the sidewalk for a moment. She walked to the corner to hail a taxi. It was time to step in before she disappeared.
"Excuse me, ma’am, mind if I find you a taxi? You look like you’re carrying a load there. Hiya doin’, little fella?" Bud took the child’s hand on a finger.
Her eyes went wide and she clutched the handbag closer to her body.
"Don’t worry. I’m domesticated," he smiled at her and looked up the street for a taxi. He held the door for her and slipped inside. "Hope you don’t mind sharing," he said pleasantly. "Where to?"
"The bus station, please."
A run for the border? "That’s convenient. Same place I’m headed. How old is your little boy?"
"He’s ten months," she replied.
"Cute little fella. You and your husband must be proud." Then he glanced at her left hand, no ring. She was rather attractive once you got close to her. Nice soft brown eyes and her lips had a little curve that interested him. He cleared his throat and looked out the window. Why not wear the ring? Why leave yourself open to speculation?
She looked tired, pale and drawn into herself. "Don’t ya have one of them push chairs for him? He looks like a heavy boy."
"No…I should get one," she answered.
"So where are ya goin’, north or south? When you get to the station."
"South, I’m going south," she repeated with a little more determination.
"Oh, yeah? You know it’s not safe for a woman alone down south of the border and that kid ain’t gonna help you none. Mind if I tag along? I got business down there myself."
"I don’t know you, I’m sorry."
"Name’s Bud Wh…Whatley." He’d almost screwed up. He’d given his last name in LA at her apartment speaker.
"Mr. Whatley, "she nodded, "I’m Miranda Barstow and this is Bobby."
"Happy to meet ya, Bobby." He shook hands with the baby. "Nice to meet you to, Mrs. Barstow."
She sat there a moment and then, "I’m not a Mrs." Then she realized what it must look like. "This is my sister's baby…not mine." But she gave him a reassuring hug.
They arrived at the bus station and she allowed him to carry her little suitcase up to the ticket counter. Now she was going to Tijuana. Bud bought his own ticket, digging into the retainer he charged the attorney’s office. He meant to keep a record of his expenses and see about getting reimbursed for his travel.
They settled to wait for the bus. "So, ah, where’s your sister…baby’s mama?"
"I’m not sure," she smiled a little and looked down.
"She just take off and leave her baby behind?" Bud asked.
"It was hard for her and she couldn’t manage him…she couldn’t, really." She looked at him a moment.
"Lucky for the kid you were around, eh? Where’s his father?"
"I…I don’t know. He hasn’t been around."
"You live where…here?"
"No, in LA."
"Yeah, me too. I’m one of the few that is native to California. Where are you from originally?"
"Phoenix. My sister and I came out here a few years ago. She thought she might get into the pictures."
"Oh, yeah? Did she?"
"No. She did some modeling for awhile. She met someone and…she got married."
"Must be tough saddled with your sister’s kid. You ought to go after the father and make him support his kid."
"It’s not a problem for me." She looked at him with a flash of anger in her eyes. "I think his father might be…dead."
"What makes you think that?"
"He hasn’t contacted us in a long time. He always sent some money but it stopped."
"When did it stop coming?"
"About two months ago. He sent money every two weeks…for the baby. He hasn’t seen him since he was four months old. He had to leave on business and he never came back. My sister left soon after that."
"She just disappeared or do you know where she went?"
"I thought I knew but the letters came back so I stopped trying. I don’t know where she is." Miranda didn’t want to know where she was anymore. If she came back now it would only be for the money and not for Bobby. She never cared about the baby.
They got on the bus and he sat with her. "Miss Barstow, I don’t think you ever said why you were going to Tijuana. It just doesn’t seem like the place you’d head to with a baby."
"Like you, Mr. Whatley, I have business."
Bud nodded his head and smiled. He leaned his head back on the seat and watched the border come into view. He wasn’t sure how much of what she’d told him to believe. He did know Daniels was dead and died about two months ago but this business about a sister? Well, he wasn’t sold on that yet. He still believed she was Daniels’ widow. He believed she was about to come into a half million dollars that didn’t belong to her.
Even the kid knew who she was; he’d just called her Mama.
She’d actually been glad for his company. He was big and solid and reassuring and probably somebody she could lean on, but not today. Not tomorrow. Maybe never. He’d come up to her at the bank and now here he was in a taxi on the way to another bank. He may be a thief, a nice personable one but still she didn’t trust him. Why was he bothering? He could be a cop. She stopped and looked him in the eye.
"I’ll be fine. Thank you very much for your help," she tried at the bank entrance.
"Hey, I’m already family. I’ll stick with you and make sure these jokers don’t cheat you. Do you speak any Spanish? No? Well see there…I do." He smiled and held onto her suitcase.
He made her nervous now and she nearly stumbled going into the bank. She went up to the counter with her card and handed it to the teller. He said something she didn’t understand and left to get the manager. She turned to Bud.
"He’s gone to get the manger. Must be a big pile of money," he grinned.
"250,000 but it could be pesos," she mumbled under her breath. Bud took the boy from her while she waited. He didn’t think she’d take off without him.
She had to produce some identification. She brought out the marriage license and an old ID card given to her sister when she belonged to a modeling agency, an envelope addressed to Milli Daniels. It was enough for her to access the account. He’d listed her on the signature card. She signed as Milli Daniels.
A man took her along with Bud and the baby into a room where he expressed his sorrow at not being able to grant her wish. He could not hand over the money today. It would take him some days to have that amount in his bank. For Miranda it was the same story, different accent. He said three days. For three days she would stay in Tijuana. It was arranged.
Casually Bud asked her as they left the room how much money they were talking about.
"A quarter of a million dollars." She looked at him and then looked away. "Please don’t ask me any more questions. I have trusted you today. It is all we have…the boy’s future depends on this money. I don’t know what your interest or intentions are, Mr. Whately. I realize I have talked to you and told you things that perhaps I shouldn't have. That comes, I believe, from being too much on my own. If you mean to rob me perhaps we might come to some agreement."
"I’m not a thief, Miss Barstow. I mean you no harm." But was that true? She reached for the boy and he released him to her. Didn’t he mean to relieve her of all the money? It technically did not belong to her. It was property of the First Bank of LA. It belonged to the hardworking people who’d deposited it in the bank.
"You have not asked me where it comes from…I find that strange." She looked up the street and down, not knowing which way to go.
Bud found a taxi to take them to a hotel. She signed herself in and took the baby up the stairs. Bud hung around the lobby. He planned to wait until she had the money and then…what? What was he going to do, take it from her…forcibly? No way he could do that but he wanted some answers from her. He wanted the truth and then he could decide which way to go with it. He could contact the attorney’s office and let them handle it from here. After all, he’d been hired to find the money and he’d found about three fourths of it already. It wasn’t in his hands but that was a technicality.
Still he couldn't get her out of his mind. Slim and pale and at the end of her rope. He could tell she hadn’t any money. The heels on her shoes were worn and then there was the shabby cardboard case. It hadn’t been very heavy. A change of clothes perhaps and some for the infant. Her dark brown hair pulled up in a twist. Unlike the current fashion she hadn’t cut hers. Oh, what was he thinking anyway? He should call the attorney’s office…but he didn’t. He went over and got himself a room for the next two nights.
Without so much as a cardboard suitcase for himself he asked where he might purchase a few things. Walking downtown from the hotel he was even more sure he’d done the right thing by accompanying her to Mexico. She wouldn’t have lasted two hours on her own. He bought himself a white shirt, underwear and a few toiletries.
She was in the lobby when he came back. She’d found a woman to sit the the child so she might have a meal.
"I was about to go back up," she said.
"I just ran out for a minute. Let me, uh, get rid of these bags and we’ll find a place to eat. Hope you like enchiladas," he called over his shoulder and ran up the stairs.
She was still in the same place when he came back down. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"That’s all right. I was afraid you’d gone back. You never said that you’d be staying."
"That’s right, I didn’t. I changed my mind."
"Is it because I have money?"
"No, it’s because you’ve got this cute little dimple right at the corner of your lips."
She broke into a smile. He reminded her of Bob Daniels. He used to tease her and play with her.
"You’ve found a place we might eat?"
"I’m sure this gentleman here will tell us about a place." He walked over to the desk and was given some instructions in Spanish.
He ordered drinks for the two of them and pulled out a chair for her. "Doesn’t look like much but Garcia says it’s the best in town."
"You’ve been awfully kind to me today and I can’t think why unless it’s the money you’re after. There should be nearly $325,000 when it’s all paid out. That’s it, isn’t it…the money?"
"Where do you think that money came from, Miss Barstow?"
"My sister’s husband deposited it there."
"Where do you think he got it?"
"I don’t know." She took a drink from her glass and looked at him over the rim. A little shrug of her shoulders. "Are you a policeman?"
"No, I used to be. I got shot up pretty bad and quit. I went to the desert for awhile but that didn’t work out. After I recovered I came back here and fooled around until I ran into an old buddy from the force and went into business."
"What kind of business is it that puts you in San Diego and now here with me?"
"I’m a private dick," he told her honestly.
A look of fear came into her eyes. "After me…who…who would hire you to find me?"
"Not find you, nobody knows about you…yet. Nobody knows Bob Daniels was married. He kept a good secret right up to the end."
"You know how he died…he is dead, isn’t he?"
"He drowned. His body washed up on Redondo Beach. How he drowned we don’t know. He was drunk and fully dressed except for one shoe. Nothing in his pockets but a uniform ID’d him."
Her hand went to her mouth and her eyes filled but only for a moment. Their meal arrived and she ate slowly and methodically. Not having eaten anything all day, Bud dove into his with gusto.
She had it figured out. If he wasn’t looking for her, it was the money he was after.
"Why do you think your sister hasn’t been down here looking for the money?" he asked.
"Maybe she doesn’t know. She never believed anything he told her about the fortune. She knew he left her and that was enough. She didn’t wait around."
"Are you still telling me there is a sister?" He looked at her with amusement in his eyes.
"There is a sister, somewhere. We’re twins, fraternal twins. She’s blond and beautiful. Bobby does favor her a lot. I haven’t lied to you, Mr. Whately. You’ve been with me all day. I’ve lied to the banks but not to you. I never thought I could do what I’ve done today." She covered her mouth for a minute. "Her name is Millicent Miranda and mine is Miranda Millicent. I haven’t seen her in six months. She left with a guy she met in Hollywood. They were going to Vegas she said and gave me an address. I wrote to her but the letters came back undeliverable."
"You said he’d been sending you money. How and where from?"
"I got a money order for $100.00 every month. He signed it so I know it was from him. It was addressed to Milli but I cashed it. He never knew she’d left, you see. It was postmarked Los Angeles. I kept hoping he’d just walk in one day and it would have been all right with me." She bit her lip.
Bud caught her look. "You were in love with him?"
"From the beginning. He toyed with both of us but it was Milli, all along it was Milli. She thought he was something else, too. He was a good talker," she smiled a little. "He could make you believe things. She wanted to get married but he wouldn’t talk about it. It was along about then that…I found out I was pregnant. We thought up a plan…she would pretend she was pregnant and he would marry her. She’d get what she wanted."
"But she didn’t want the kid?"
"He was gone a lot on business. I managed to be out when he came into town so he never saw me. Months would go by. Honestly he didn’t want a kid either. I know that now. She was supposedly four months pregnant when they got married. He left a week later."
"Where were you during his visits? Where did you hide out?"
"Down the street there’s a little hotel. Rooms are cheap."
"You did all this for who? Your sister didn’t care about you, did she?"
"She said we’d have it made. We’d live in a big house with servants and…all. That didn’t happen. He stopped coming around after the baby was born. They never lived like married folks, He came and went. He said one time he was having a house built as a surprise for her. He came once more and told me while he was there that I might not see him for awhile. LA was becoming…hot. That’s what he said, hot."
"You know what he was, don’t you? He was a thief, a criminal. The reason he couldn’t come around is because he was in hiding somewhere. He and another guy pulled off a robbery at the First Bank of LA. Got a million dollars or so out of it. Half of that was his cut.
She had her hands over her ears. "He’s dead. Please, I don’t want to hear anymore."
"Did he ever know the kid was yours and not your sister's?"
"No, I don’t think so."
"I’m sorry, Miss Barstow." He was sorry. Now that he’d had the whole story it kind of made his job a little sickening. Hadn’t she had enough problems? The thought of that shitbird living high in LA and sending her $100 a month to look after his kid. It made him angry, made his blood boil that she’d been treated like that. Living in a dump while he…
"Can we go back now? I don’t like to leave him alone with a stranger for very long."
"Yeah, sure, kid." He tossed his napkin down and held her chair. He held her arm walking back down the street, too.
He walked her to her room and said good night. "Look, while we’re being honest with each other. My last name’s not Whately, it’s White. Wendel White but I’m called Bud."
"White. You weren’t by any chance trying to pay me a visit yesterday, were you?" she half grinned.
"Yeah, it was me. I been tailing you for a month."
"Oh, well, how boring that must have been. I’m just a little gray mouse, Mr. White. But now I’m a mouse with dollars. Now I’m interesting and desirable. Good night."
He stood by her door after it closed. "Yep, I deserved that." He went to his own room and quietly closed the door.
Bud lay on his back staring at the ceiling. Sleep was hiding somewhere just out of sight and in no hurry to claim him. Miranda had been used by her sister and by Daniels. Now she had the kid and nothing else except the money. She hadn’t said where she was going but he bet she wasn’t headed back to the dump she’d left in LA. He doubted she would be anywhere her sister might find her. No, if she was smart she’d go east. With that kind of money she…wait a minute. He sat up on the side of the bed. Assuming she had the money.
He had a job to do, a job he was being paid to do.
Miranda lay down in the bed with Bobby. He’d had a bath and was in his jammies. He smelled of soap and baby shampoo. She began thinking about a stroller for him. He could have a swing too and, oh, so many things she could do for him. They would have to find a place to live and not in LA. No, she might go north to San Francisco or even farther up the coast.
Bud White. She didn’t know what to make of him. He’d acted as her escort, her guardian and her companion for the day and yet he was working for someone who was trying to find the money. Is that what he was waiting for? Waiting for the money to be in her hand before he took it from her? There was no way she was going to allow that to happen. She’d come too far now. She took that step into the revolving door. There was no going back.
They were at breakfast in the courtyard of the hotel. She had the baby in a high chair with toast in his fingers.
"I wasn’t the adventurous one when we were growing up. No, Milli was always the one to do something different. She wore high heels before I did, wore make-up before I did. She dated before I did. She's beautiful."
"I’ll bet she‘s not as soft as you."
"What made you say a thing like that?"
"I dunno. She sounds hard. Add all that on top of what she did to you and she doesn’t come across as beautiful to me. I think you are."
She looked at him a moment and glanced away. He had the most soul-stirring eyes. He could make you believe some things, too. She was wary of him.
"How long are you going to stay with me…until I get the money tomorrow?"
He didn’t answer.
"That’s it, isn’t it? You’ve followed me to the source. You mean to take it all away from me and leave me on the street. I’m broke except for the money I got in San Diego. I haven’t a car or a place to live. The rent runs out at the end of this month and I haven’t any money to pay it for another month, not if I want to feed Bobby. By the time I get back to LA I’ll be in trouble financially. Trains and buses and taxi cabs cost money. I just made it on $100 a month because the rent was paid."
"I didn’t create your problem, Miss Barstow," he said quietly.
"Oh, I know you didn’t. What if…what if I paid you more than you’re making from the people who hired you?"
"I don’t take bribes. I never took them when I was a cop and I don’t take them now. Don’t insult me."
"I’m sorry, but you see I’m desperate." Her eyes pleaded.
He wanted to help her.
"What do you want to do today?"
"I’m not sure I know what to do in Tijuana."
"Wanna go shopping?"
She laughed, "That’s right! Spend me down to bus fare home. I don’t want to do anything until I have the money. Something could happen tomorrow. I’m afraid, Mr. White."
"So am I, Miss Barstow, so am I." He wasn’t afraid she wouldn’t receive the money. He was afraid of himself and what he might do. He thought she understood when she looked into his eyes.
"Miss Barstow, I don’t want to see you in trouble. I think you’ve been badly used and I’d like to help you. That money belongs to the bank and to the working people that deposited their paychecks there. Daniels stole the money and you know it."
"This is Mexico not California. You can’t touch me here."
"I can’t touch you at all. But other people can, people who don’t know you as I do."
"You think you know me? I’m sorry, but you don’t. I may have been used, as you say, but I have Bobby and he means a lot to me. I loved his father and I know what he was. I’m not stupid, Mr. White. I’ll do what I have to do to protect him and myself."
Bud rubbed his jaw, a habit he’d started when it was healing in the desert. It didn’t hurt anymore unless it was going to rain. "I do understand, believe me I do." He sat back in his chair and looked over at the baby, who’d finished his toast and egg. "I’m not your enemy."
"You said you wanted to help me. How? What can you do except look the other way?"
"I’m not going to reveal who you are. I won’t mention you at all. You’ll be free of this. Take the kid and disappear somewhere for awhile."
"I don’t understand what you’re saying."
"Daniels was living high in LA. He had a house on the beach. How he ended up in the surf I can’t tell you but I can tell you he had some money to spend. No way to know how much he spent. All his property has been impounded. It will be sold eventually. The savings bonds were a good idea. Cash them in."
"What about the money here in Tijuana?"
"Let me turn it in. It’s a good chunk of money. It will satisfy my clients."
"Hand $250,000 over to you when I’ve got $500.00 in my purse?"
"Yeah, that’s about it. You go back to San Diego, collect the money and then…"
"What do you think?"
"I think I’m out $250,000. I’ve never been very good at math but $75,000 is hardly a fair exchange."
"It might not look like it but two days ago you had nothing. That’s a lot of money, Miss Barstow."
"If I don’t agree?"
"It could get ugly. I’ll have to tell them about you. You could be arrested when you cross the border for receiving stolen goods."
"Why would you have to tell?"
"Because that’s just how I am. I know too much. There’s an opportunity here for us all to come out smelling like roses."
"How much are you being paid to find this money?"
"Up to $10,000. We’re at 8 right now. Plus expenses."
"You could have $50,000 tomorrow."
"If I did that, I’d have to disappear." He liked her way of dealing. He smiled at her.
Miranda smiled back. He was an honest man but he’d offered her a way out of this. In another life she might have liked him…a lot.
Mostly they hung around the hotel. Miranda busied herself with the baby. They shared meals together and talked about other things. Miranda tried to keep the conversation away from the money. Later in the day she called the bank to make sure there wouldn’t be a problem with the cash. It would be ready by 10:00. The bus across the border didn’t leave until 4:00. She had hoped to have a private conversation but Bud positioned himself close enough to hear her. It was, he said, in case she needed help with the language.
At 2:00 she took the baby upstairs for a nap. She lay on the bed in her slip waiting for him to fall asleep. She still didn’t know what to do. Bud made sense and she didn’t need any trouble but the thought of handing that much money over to him after making plans for it…it turned her on her back staring at the ceiling. He would go to the bank with her, she was sure of that. There wouldn’t be a chance…what was she thinking…why take a chance? The way clear was what he’d offered.
Bud waited around for an hour. He didn’t know how long babies napped but he needed an answer from her because he had a phone call to make. He wanted someone to come down from the attorney’s office or the bank and take possession of the money once he had it. He finally went up the stairs and softly knocked on her door.
Miranda sat up on the bed. She though she must have dozed off. Bobby was still sleeping. She went to the door and opened it a crack.
"Mr. White," she whispered.
"I need to talk to you."
She looked over toward the bed and opened the door. "Come in but be quiet."
She was still in her slip but it really didn’t bother her. Everything was covered up that mattered and it was hot in the room. Bud, however, felt uncomfortable with her attire. His eyes strayed to her breasts, to the flat of her stomach, to her hips when she moved beneath the thin material.
There were seats over by the window and she opened the window and lit a cigarette. He hadn’t seen her smoke before, the way her lips held the cigarette.
"I didn’t know you smoked."
"I don’t smoke much. Can’t afford it. I bought these downstairs. Would you like one?"
"Thanks." He took one and lit it.
"What did you need to talk to me about?" she asked.
"About tomorrow. I need to know now what you plan to do because I’ve got a call to make."
"You don’t leave me much choice. I don’t want to go to jail and I don’t want to spend my life on the run. I have to take the $75,000 and be happy with it. Nothing has changed in my life. I still get second best. Why should I expect any more?" She turned away from him.
"I wouldn’t call it second best."
"No, what would you call it?"
"A second chance."
She turned back to him. He hadn’t taken a chair. Her eyes settled on his lips and she wondered what it might be like to kiss him. Where had that thought come from? She ran a hand through her hair. Pins were coming out of it and she let it fall loose around her shoulders.
"Why are you doing this for me? You’re compromising yourself."
"Don’t remind me. I’m doing it because I care about you."
"You don’t know me."
"I know enough. Maybe I don’t want to know everything."
"I was going to northern California and start over. I don’t think that will be possible now."
"Why not? You’ll have enough cash to find you a little place to live."
"Where do you live, Mr. White?"
"LA. I got an apartment close to Hollywood."
"You see the thing is…I don’t know anyone in Northern California."
"You can go anywhere you want to. Go to the east coast. New York or Miami."
"That’s right. I can." She put out her cigarette. "I can go as far as $75,000 will take me or I can stay in LA."
"What about your sister? Aren’t you worried about her showing up?"
"No." She moved closer to him and put a hand on his chest. "Did you get the answer you were looking for?"
He led out a breath. "I think so." His hand covered hers. He could smell her hair. His arms went around her and he kissed her, getting a good feel for what was underneath her thin slip.
"How easy it would be," she said softly. "You’re so strong and handsome. I could forget everything with you."
"When this is over," he said and kissed her again.
Bobby whimpered from the bed and stopped any further progress.
He left her and went to his room and took a cold shower before going down to the desk and calling his client.
She picked up Bobby from the bed and took him downstairs to the lobby. It was cooler down there in the heat of the day. She heard his voice but couldn’t see him. Ah, there he was over at the desk on the phone. He’d distracted her, pulled her away from what she wanted to do. The memory of his hands on her body flooded her and she closed her eyes for a moment. He was powerful. She had agreed to do what he wanted but it didn’t set well with her. She wished she’d never met him, but she had taken that step through the door and there was no going back.
He finished his phone call and lit a cigarette. Glancing around, he saw her standing near a shuttered window with the slat shadows across her body. She’d sucked him in. There was no doubt about that. His conversation with the attorney reinforced his determination to finish the job he was here to do. Even now it was set in motion. Two men were on their way from LA, one from the bank and one from the attorney’s office. Once the money was in their hands his job here was done.
Would he see her back across the border, back to the bank in San Diego? Would he ever see her again? All he had to do was to stay with her until she had the money and handed it over to him. He had to keep it on the up and up.
He walked to her. "Hey, how are ya? Would you like a drink?"
"A drink would be nice, something cool."
"I’ll see what I can do. Anything for the baby?"
"He’s had his meal upstairs."
Their eyes locked for a moment and he backed away and went to find drinks. Now all she had to do was look at him with those doe eyes and he was lost. He tugged at his collar, feeling the heat.
She licked her lips and watched him walk away. Broad shoulders beneath his jacket. She’d felt the strength underneath the fabric. She felt for the back of a chair and sat down. The baby crawled to her and pulled up, patting her knees and smiling up at her.
He brought her an iced drink. "I was, uh, wondering if you could get that woman to stay with the baby for a little while tonight. Last night in Mexico. I thought we might go dancing or something. There’s a cantina attached to the hotel. I hear the music at night from my room."
She stopped the glass nearly to her lips. "Dancing?"
"Yeah, or just…have a drink."
"I don’t know…about the woman. I’ll have to ask." She would ask because the thought of dancing with him, being held in his arms, was an invitation she couldn’t resist.
The tip of his tongue ran over his lips. This was playing with fire. What the hell was he doing? It was though he was standing back watching from a distance as he moved in on her, wanting her and making it possible.
It turned into a long afternoon waiting for dinner and for darkness. Miranda inquired and for a fee had a babysitter for the evening. Bobby had been bathed and fed. The girl played with him as she bathed and dressed in the only other dress she’d brought, a rather bold affair in black and white, something her sister had left behind. It showed off her trim waist and the wide white collar lay across her breasts.
Bud paced about nervously in the lobby waiting for her. He was drinking soda water and wished he was a drinker. Now would be the time for something to calm his nerves. This was crazy. He’d been with her for two days but this was different.
She left her hair down. That was the first thing he noticed. His hands curled at his sides. "Hi."
The cantina was crowded and lively. He ordered her tequila with lime and for himself, a coke.
"You don’t drink?"
"No, there was too much of that in my house when I was growing up. I don’t drink."
"It’s been a long time since I had a drink. He used to bring a bottle with him." She looked out toward the band and sipped the tequila. "They look like they’re having a good time."
"Yeah." He glanced toward the dance floor. "Want to join them?"
She downed the rest of the drink and sucked the lime. "Wow!" she laughed a little. "Yes, I think I’d better dance."
For a big guy he was a smooth dancer, light on his feet and he led her around the floor as they found their rhythm. "I can’t tell you the last time I danced." She looked up at him.
"You should be out dancing every week."
"Do you…every week?" she grinned.
"No. Not every week I have someone like you to dance with."
The song finished and still they stood on the floor. His hands rested on her waist and hers on his arms. The next one had a slower tempo and she began to sway against his hands. He pulled her closer to him and her arm went around his shoulder. Briefly she lay her head against him and then pulled back. She rested her eyes on his tie, not daring to look up into his liquid eyes. They were moving to the music but it seemed to her they were moving to something else, something much older.
He tucked her hand in on his chest and his arm tightened around her. He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take. As if in a trance she moved her eyes slowly up to where his were waiting to capture her. The next thirty minutes were a blur. That’s how long it took them to leave the cantina and make it to his room.
She fumbled with his buttons and he with her zipper and buttons, little moans and wet kisses, and finally he lay her down in the bed where they poured into each other.
Much later she eased from the bed and found her clothes. She paid the babysitter and bathed before sliding into bed with her baby. By the time she fell asleep her pillow was wet with tears.
Bud woke after midnight in a tangle of sheets. She was gone and a feeling of guilt filled him. He wasn’t sure where it came from. Sex? They both had wanted it. He shook his head and got up for a drink of water.
He hadn’t seen her come down yet but the LA guys were there. He’d had a cup of coffee with them and filled them in on the amount of money they were talking about. He mentioned a courier but not her. He kept looking toward the stairs. It was now after 9:00 and he was becoming a little uneasy. At 9:30 he went up and knocked on her door. The door opened to an empty room. Something went through him and he ran down the stairs. He told the guys he’d be back shortly and he ran out into the street.
A cab came sputtering up and he grabbed the door open. "The Bank of Mexico!" he shouted.
The bank had been open since 8:00. He walked in and looked around. A few people were milling around the teller windows. He went over the room where the man’s office had been the day before, where she had arranged for the money. He knocked and opened the door. The office was empty.
"Where is Senor Barra?" he asked.
"He had to go out, an appointment," he was told.
"Where, where did he go? Who was he meeting?"
"I’m sorry, senor, but I do not know." A shrug followed.
Bud questioned a few more people in the bank. Miranda Barstow had not been in that morning.
He was back out on the sidewalk and then into the street. She’d fucked him over. He looked at his watch. It was 10:10. Wait around for Senor Barra or head back to the hotel? He’d been so sure of her. It pained him now to think of her. There was no reason to hang around the bank. The deed was done. He found the same cab and got a ride back to the hotel. He was angry now.
Both men rose as he entered the lobby and then they noticed he was empty handed.
"I don’t know what’s going on yet," he said through his teeth. "We may have been fucked." He was pretty sure of that but now he had to come up with something for his client besides incompetence.
She paid cash for the vehicle and while she waited for them to find the other keys she transferred the money from the banker’s box to the cardboard suitcase. She’d only spent $2000.00 of it but now she took $25,000 out of the box and stuffed it into her handbag. The rest she closed up in the suitcase.
There was always a boy at the door to carry luggage for a little change. She gave him the change and described the man to him. She sped away before he moved into the lobby with the suitcase.
"Senor White?" he asked and with a wide smile presented Bud with the cardboard suitcase.
Bud’s eyes went wide. He’d just been telling them about the courier and the banker. He quickly took the case and moved over to the windows. "Where is the lady?" he asked the boy, who was still hoping for some change from Bud.
"She drive away in nice new car."
Bud reached in his pocket and handed the boy some change.
He counted it. Short $27,000 but the rest of it was still there. He hadn’t expected this. When he discovered she wasn’t at the bank he figured she’d taken the money and disappeared. Now he felt he was only partially fucked. She didn’t have to put him through hell.
He called his clients over and handed over the money, explaining courier fees. They offered to drive him back to LA and he accepted.
As they passed through San Diego he wondered if she’d hit that bank as well today. He shook his head slightly. He’d let her get to him. Not good for business…dames.
The money was not available in San Diego. She let it be known she was not happy about that and left word with the manager that she would be in contact as to where to wire it.
She looked neither left nor right as she went through LA. The terrain changed the farther north she drove. Bobby seemed quite happy in his little car seat. She reached over and patted his head. She took a deep breath and let her hair fly out of the window. It felt good to be free, to be whole.
Revolving doors, they suck you in one side and spew you out on the other. There’s no going back. You have to exit or forever go around in circles.