CHAPTER 18

Piers stayed for a quick cup of coffee, talking with the boys about his work. Eventually he told Jason they should be going. Do you mind if I speak with your mom for a moment? he asked Jason.

Sure, he said. Let me get my backpack from my room.

Piers opened the patio doors and gestured for Ginger to walk with him outside. HeatherLynn was right at her heels. It was a cool October day, and Ginger pulled her cardigan close.

Is everything all right? she asked, noticing a nervous energy in Piers.

He laughed a little. That’s what I wanted to discuss with you.

Ginger stopped walking, and placed her hand on Piers’s forearm. Is it Lucio? Is he all right? She couldn’t prevent the horrible thought from racing through her headsomething had happened to him before she could tell him about the baby!

He is fine, physically. That’s not it. Piers pulled out a chair for her at the outdoor table. Maybe you should sit down.

She did, yanking the sweater tight across her chest, suddenly shivering. HeatherLynn put her paws on her shin, whimpering to be picked up.

I don’t know you very well, Ginger, but you seem like a very nice woman, and so I believe it is my duty to tell you that Lucio may not be exactly what he seems.

Ginger’s heart thudded. For a second, the blood pounded so hard in her head that she couldn’t hear.

I don’t understand, she whispered.

Piers looked racked with uncertainty. I love him. He is like a brother to me, he said, now near tears. But I can’t just sit by and watch him do this to you, the way he’s done it to so many women.

Do what? Ginger asked, her head suddenly clear, the blood rushing to her limbs. She knew she would have to fight the instinct to run awaythat was how much she did not want to hear what was coming next.

You know, Lucio is not very good at keeping relationships going. He left his home in Spain and has had no contact with anyone in his family. It’s sad.

I knew that, Ginger said.

And he’s walked away from every woman he ever professed to love. One of them was so mad she had him tossed out of China and let go from his Geographica contract as her way of getting revenge.

He has told me all about this.

And my late wife, Sylvie? He crushed her heart into a million pieces.

Ginger didn’t like how this sounded. It was as if Piers were trying to poison her view of Lucio.

Unfortunately, that approach even spreads to his friends, Piers went on. When Sylvie died, he didn’t even bother coming to the funeral.

Despite the fact that her hands were tucked under her arms, she felt them begin to shake.

What I need to tell you is that Lucky has taken an assignment very far away and plans to leave any day.

No.

He wouldn’t do that.

HeatherLynn suddenly jumped from her curled-up position in Ginger’s lap, letting loose with a string of high-pitched yips. Ginger’s throat tightened. She began frowning. She ripped a hand free so she could tap her brow.

The assignment is in Mauritius. Are you familiar with it?

Did it matter where the hell it was? she wondered. If the man was leaving for Sacramento it would be a deal-breakersimply because he hadn’t told her in advance.

HeatherLynn would not stop barking. Shush! Ginger hissed.

It’s an independent island nation off the coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean. It is famous for being the home of the dodo bird.

Ginger almost laughed. As Bea would say, What the fuck? Why did this guy feel compelled to give her a geography lesson when her world was falling down around her?

But wait.

Ginger leaned back in her chair and took a deep breath. She studied Piers’s pained expression, his downturned mouth. She didn’t really know Piers Skaarsgard. But she knew Lucio, and she loved him with everything in her. There was no way she would think the worst of Lucio simply because a near stranger told her to.

I don’t believe you, she said. Ginger pointed her finger at him. Look, Piers, I don’t know what game you’re playing here, but Lucio wouldn’t do that to me. I’m sure of it. I can only assume that you’re trying to get back at him for something, but it’s not going to work. Ginger adjusted the direction of her point, gesturing to the backyard gate that would take him to the driveway. You need to leave now.

Piers cast his eyes down and shook his head. He reached in his jacket pocket. Look at this first, he said, pulling out a folded document.

Ginger didn’t reach for it. Whatever it is, I’m not interested.

Piers sighed. He unfolded the legal-size sheets of paper and held them in front of her. Ginger couldn’t help it. She looked. It was a contract between Nature magazine and Lucio. She grabbed it, flipped through pages, and found where Lucio had signed and dated it. She threw it at Piers.

Lucio was leaving her. Just as she feared. And she was pregnant with his child.

HeatherLynn wouldn’t shut up.

Inadvertently, Ginger let out a tiny mewl of agony. Piers did not miss it.

I am so sorry to cause you pain by telling you. He reached out, stroking her cheek with his long, cool fingers. HeatherLynn growled and then snapped at Piers’s hand. He pulled away quickly but not quickly enoughGinger saw a flash of red blood on his knuckle.

I need to go lie down, Ginger said, putting Heather-Lynn on the patio. She didn’t apologize for her dog’s behavior. Part of her was glad HeatherLynn bit the messenger.

Piers briefly scowled at the dog before he returned his attention to Ginger. You have no idea how I debated whether to tell you. It has been eating me alive for days. I have been lost.

You knew about this last night?

Yes, he said.

Ginger thought of how sweet Lucio had been the night before, offering to get her sweater, clearing the table, holding her in his arms before he left, telling her he worried about her health, that he loved her with all his soul.

Ha! No wonder Piers had stared at them when they’d kissed at this very table last night. No wonder he’d looked surprised! Piers knew! He knew Lucio was about to break her heart, the way he’d broken Sylvie’s heart and the hearts of who knew how many others?

Ginger felt as if she were going to be sick.

Oh, my God, she whispered, bringing a hand up to her shaking lips. What had Roxie told her last month? The only thing worse than a man abandoning you is a man abandoning you when you’re carrying his baby

And just that morning, Roxie had called Lucio a low-down, dirty, no-good, chicken-shit motherfucker. And Ginger had defended him!

Perhaps I’ve made a mistake telling you.

Ginger snapped to, noticing Piers sitting next to her. She’d almost forgotten he was there. No. I needed to know.

Maybe I should show Jason my work some other time.

Just then, Jason poked his head out of the patio doors. We going? he asked.

Piers looked to Ginger, his eyes full of sorrow.

No. Go ahead and take him. Can you bring him back by nine?

Sure.

Ginger got up from the chair. She nearly tripped over HeatherLynn, the dog was sticking so close to her feet.

Have a good time, Jase, Ginger said, trying to pretend as if her world had not just spun off its axis as she walked them to the door. Next, she poked her head into the family room to see Joshua watching TV. She went up to her room and collapsed on the edge of the bed. HeatherLynn leaned against her ankle, looking nervous. Ginger picked up the phone and called Bea.

I need you guys. Ginger began to cry. I need help.

Seven at Starbucks, Bea said, not even asking what had happened.

Great, Ginger said, knowing that it wasn’t great. Nothing was great. And she knew there was no way she’d be able to keep it together until seven.

Fuck that, Bea said abruptly. I’ll pick you up in a half hour. Hang on, Ginger. I’m on my way.

She smiled, the relief flooding over her. Mrs. Needleman had been right about Bea. She was something else.

You’ve got a cool apartment, Jason said, looking around at Piers’s place. He’d seen it before, when he was here with Lucio getting the equipment, but he thought it was the polite thing to say. Besides, he hadn’t really had much time to wander around while he was here with Luciothey just got the stuff and left.

Jason’s eyes scanned all the large photographs on the walls.

Your pictures are totally ridonkulous! Jason said. All of these are yours, right, man?

Every one of them, Piers said, following Jason as he went from picture to picture. This is the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster. These are sandhill cranes on the Butte River here in California. This a juvenile Kodiak bear on the Kenai River of Alaska.

God! That fish is flying right into his mouth! Jason said, amazed.

It’s a salmon.

That is the coolest picture I’ve ever seen. How did you get it?

Piers laughed. By lying on my belly in the muck for six hours, waiting for the sun to rise and for a bear to show up.

No way. Jason couldn’t believe it.

That is half the job of being a photographerwaiting around, getting filthy, and staying awake for that second that makes it all worth it.

Dude, Jason said. His eyes scanned the dozens of other photos in the room. Hey, that’s Lucio! Jason walked over to the framed photograph on a ledge that separated the kitchen from the living room.

This must have been right around the time you guys did that documentary together. We saw it on YouTube.

Really?

Jason bent to look closer. He looked up at Piers. Is that your wife?

Piers blinked. He shoved his hands in his pockets. Jason stood up straight, knowing he’d said something wrong. Piers’s face had gone completely weird. It looked like he’d turned to stone.

Yes. That’s Sylvie.

Oh. Okay. Jason felt awkward. Does she live here, too?

Piers looked directly into Jason’s eyes. She’s dead, he said.

Oh. Sorry. Jason took a step back, then turned on his heel to pretend to be looking at other stuff. He felt really stupid asking that because now he had a vague memory of Lucio telling him that Piers’s wife had died of cancer or something.

Have you eaten? Piers asked, suddenly cheerful again, already in the kitchen.

Uh, no. Not really. I mean, I had some leftover pie from dinner last night and a bunch of bagel pizzas and some Doritos and stuff after school, but no meal or anything. What you got?

Jason could hear Piers laugh, and that made him relax a little.

I thought I’d make us some chicken and dumplings. Have you ever had that?

Not sure. Is it good?

Piers smiled at him. One of my favorites.

Great. Yeah. That’s cool. Jason wandered around a few more minutes in silence, looking at Piers’s photographs. As Jason strolled around, he noticed how the pictures would make him feel sad, or happy, or excited, or angryand he figured that’s what Lucio meant when he’d talked about Piers’s talent. Lucio said Piers’s pictures always managed to tell a story while they captured an image. Jason had nodded, figuring this Piers dude might be kind of nuts but he was a great photographer.

You can go look around in the spare room if you want. Remember where you got the equipment?

Oh, yeah. The place was a mess.

Piers laughed again, cutting chicken into pieces on a cutting board. There are a bunch of portfolios of my work lying around and some loose prints on the desk in there. I’ll join you once I get the chicken going.

Cool.

Jason opened the door and giggled to himselfthere was more crap in there than in his dad’s garage. He ran a hand over the tripod stands, a whole pile of lighting equipment, packing crates, and what looked like the kind of trunks a roadie for a rock band would wheel around. There were stacks of photos leaning against the wall and even more hanging. Jason opened the closet and laughedit was worse than his.

He peeked into boxes that held camera bodies and lenses and little gadgets he had no idea of the name of. Piers had a bunch of papers jammed in there, loose and in files. Jason noticed the telltale blue of a U.S. passport sticking out from a stack of stuff.

He yanked on it. That’s when half the stack of crap fell off the shelf. When he reached down to gather up all the paper he saw something that didn’t make senseLucio’s signature. On a Geographica expense report. Jason felt a stab of fear go through his body, followed by a slow and sickening understanding.

The smart girl didn’t set Lucio uphis friend did.

Jason got out his cell phone and sent a quick message to Lucio. Then, as fast as he could, he sorted through the other papersthere were a whole lot of forms with Lucio’s signature. Jason’s hands began to shake.

He grabbed the passport and started thumbing through to the last pages. It was hard to think straight, but he tried his best to figure out exactly when Lucio was in China. He’d been in San Francisco for about six months, and six months ago would have been late March or early April. So if he saw that Piers was in China at that time, they had a situation.

And there it wasthe immigration stamp showed that Piers entered China on March 15 and left the country on April 3.

Jason was so nervous his fingers could hardly hit the buttons of his phone. He sent another text and prayed Lucio would get it right away.

What are you doing in there? he heard Piers ask. You’re awful quiet.

Jason threw the passport back on the stack and texted Lucio one last time. HELP was all he had time for.

Hey, Lucio, what’s up?

Lucio strolled into the foyer, giving Josh a high five and then a hug. It is a beautiful day, yes? Where is your lovely mother?

I think she went upstairs.

Where’s Jason?

Piers just picked him up.

Oh? That’s great.

Both Lucio and Josh looked to the stairs, hearing the skittering sound of small paws racing down plush carpet. HeatherLynn bounded up to Lucio, barking, pawing his leg, her tail spinning around over her back.

What is all this, nena? Lucio leaned down to pick her up. She licked his face desperately, whining, wiggling in his grasp. Lucio looked at Josh. Is there something wrong with little Miss Bichon today?

Josh shrugged, then his head turned toward the door. He chuckled. Maybe she’s just excited ’cause Dad’s here!

That’s when Lucio heard the unmistakable sound of a Porsche turbo engine winding down in the driveway. He sighed, not really prepared for a heart-to-heart with Larry, but knowing it was inevitable.

HeatherLynn squirmed and barked until Lucio put her down, but instead of running to the door she ran back upstairs. She sat on the landing, her dark little marble eyes looking down on the foyer.

The front door flew open. Larry sneered at Lucio.

Hello, Lucio said.

Larry laughed. Oh, so this is your place now? You’re doing the meet-and-greet duties around here, big man?

Joshua took a few steps toward his father. Give it a rest, okay, Dad? Please.

Larry put his hands on his hips and tightened his mouth. Where do you get off disrespecting me like that in front of a stranger?

Josh stepped back. His eyes flashed and he shook his head. Lucio is not a stranger. I see him more than I see you. And if you were someone I respected, then maybe I’d treat you that way.

Larry’s face went scarlet with rage.

Hey, hey, Lucio said, putting himself between Josh and his father. Listen, Josh, that was no good. You need to apologize to your father.

Sorry, he mumbled.

Why don’t you take a breather in the family room? He walked the teenager to the kitchen and whispered, This is more about me than you, so give me a few minutes to calm him down, yes?

Josh’s eyes were big with uncertainty, but he nodded and headed toward the family room.

Lucio took a deep breath, turned, and found Larry inches behind him.

You really think you’re the shit, don’t you? Larry laughed sarcastically.

Why don’t we sit down and have a talk, Lucio suggested.

There’s nothing to talk about. You’re my wife’s Eurotrash boy toyher last desperate attempt to prove to herself that she’s still attractiveand you’re trying to turn my boys against me. End of discussion.

Lucio could not believe this man. He did not appear to be drunk and he could not smell alcohol on his breath, but he was behaving the way he had the night of the refried-beans incident. Lucio said, She is no longer your wife, Dr. Garrison. And the reason she is now your ex -wife is because you regularly belittled her, and after you committed adultery here in your home, she divorced you.

Larry looked offended. Nothing happened in this house. It was outside in the driveway.

Lucio could not contain his laughter. What do you want, Larry? he asked, still laughing. Why did you come here tonight?

Oh, so I need to book an appointment to come talk to my own children now?

Of course not, but each time they see erratic behavior like this they trust you a little less. You confuse them.

Excuse-fucking-me?

All I am saying is you need to examine how you have chosen to live your life and ask yourself how it is affecting your sons.

Larry took a step closer, his eyes menacing. And you are their hero now? You are their good example? He laughed in Lucio’s face. Come on, now. I found out a little bit about you. It wasn’t hard. You’re a notorious no-good horn dog with a checkered professional reputation, and that’s putting it kindly.

The text message alert went off on Lucio’s new cell phone again, the second time in the last minute. He wanted to take it from his pocket and make sure all was well with Jason, but he didn’t have that luxury, not with Larry breathing like an angry bull, puffing up his body in preparation for attack.

I do not wish to fight you, Larry, Lucio said. If you are smart, you do not wish to fight me, either.

Ha! You think I can’t take you down, big man? Is that what you think?

Lucio bit his tongue. It was not easy when he would rather give the idiota a tongue-lashing.

Answer me. Is that what you think?

Genevieve’s former husband was a schoolyard bully in a middle-aged man’s bodynot an attractive combination. I refuse to play this game, Lucio said, his voice calm and soft. You should go.

Larry’s eyes burned. You think you’re a badass, don’t you? Don’t you, punk?

Lucio sighed, knowing it was time for Larry to hear the truth. What I think, Dr. Garrison, is that you are having the midlife crisis from hell. I think you are setting a terrible example for your sons, who are on the verge of becoming men with only you as their guidea man who fucks anything that moves, flies off into rages, and cares more about his car than his children. Having a father like this does not bode well for them, I am afraid.

Larry’s jaw dropped.

I think you are an egomaniac, Lucio continued. And I think you are a coward and a brute for treating Genevieve the way you have through the years, not to mention being the world’s biggest idiot for letting her gothough I do thank you for your idiocy.

After the stunned silence continued a moment more, Larry tilted his head back and let go with a roar of laughter. He wiped his eyes and sighed when he was done. And you have become an expert in marriage and child rearing how, exactly? Larry balled his fists at his sides. How many diapers have you changed, Ricky Ricardo? How many five-hour T-ball games have you sat through? How many god-awful elementary-school band concerts have you videotaped? How many boys have you taught how to catch a pop-up, or drive, or shave?

When Lucio did not answer, Larry felt free to continue. And how many women have you been married to for seventeen years? How many times have you had that gem of a life experience? Because from where I stand, it looks like you don’t have a fucking clue what you’re talking about, and you sure as hell don’t have the right to tell me how to do any of it.

Lucio nodded, about out of patience. It is true. I may not be a parent, but I was a boy once, and I had a father much like you, whom I have not spoken to in twenty years. Is that the kind of relationship you want with Josh and Jason?

The corners of Larry’s mouth pulled down.

I also happen to be the man who loves your ex-wife and cares deeply for your boys. I am the man who stepped into the giant pile of doo-doo you left behind and has begun to clean it up.

Larry’s nostrils flared.

Lucio gestured graciously to the front door. And now, I must insist that you leave.

HeartherLynn started barking from the top of the stairs.

Larry’s right arm swung out in a wide arc, his elbow cocked, his fist flying right at Lucio’s head. Lucio ducked and Larry’s fist went swishing by. Then Lucio blocked an uppercut coming from the left, and a right headed for his chin. After a few more moments of such ridiculousness, Lucio realized that Larry had no intention of stopping his flailing. That left him with no choice.

HeatherLynn continued her barking frenzy.

Lucio popped Larry right between the eyes.

The doctor cried out in pain. His fists ceased swinging and he cupped his palms under his nose to catch the blood. But the fury still burned in his eyes, and Lucio suspected that a broken nose was not enough to stop him. He braced himself as Larry lowered his head, turned his shoulder, and prepared to inflict a full-body slam.

Stop it! Joshua screamed, running into the hallway from the kitchen. Dad! Stop it!

Ignoring his son’s plea, Larry charged Lucio, who avoided the onslaught with a simple sidestep. Larry head-butted into the wall with a thud.

God, Dad! Joshua went to his father, who was lying in a heap on the tile, blood still flowing from his nose. Larry moaned. Get up, Josh said, with more annoyance than concern in his voice.

Lucio helped Josh pull his father to a stand and walk him into the kitchen. Once Lucio saw that Josh was doing a fine job settling his father in a chair, he went to the freezer for some ice.

Why did you have to do that, Dad? Josh collapsed in the chair next to him and handed him a wad of paper towels. Larry tipped back his head and stuck the paper to his nose.

Where’s your mother? Larry mumbled.

Lucio handed Josh a plastic bag filled with ice and stepped away, leaning up against the stove out of Larry’s view.

Josh nodded his thanks to Lucio. She’s upstairs getting dressed or something. Josh held the ice to his father’s upturned nose.

Go get her. I need her to see this, Larry whined. I want her to see the handiwork of her new boyfriend. I want her to see with her own eyes the difference between usthat I am a healer and he is a destroyer.

Josh glanced at Lucio and rolled his eyes. You started it, Dad. I saw the whole thing, Josh said. Lucio didn’t want to fight you. He was only defending himself.

Larry tried to laugh but just ended up gurgling his own blood. The man is a fraud, Larry said, pointing over his shoulder, well aware that Lucio stood behind him. He’s a thief and a liar and maybe even a spy.

Yeah, Josh said. We know all about the trouble he’s been in.

Larry peered over the ice bag at his son. You do?

Of course, Josh said. He told us all about that stuff the first night we met him.

Larry’s shoulders hunched over. Oh, he mumbled.

None of it is true, Dad, Josh said, gathering the bloody paper towels and tossing them in the trash can below the sink. The State Department has cleared him. There were no criminal charges. And Lucio found out who set him up in the first place and there’s going to be an arrest.

Larry’s eyes traveled to Lucio, leaning back with his arms across his chest. Even from under the ice pack, Larry was producing a sneer.

Since it looked like Josh had the situation under control, Lucio excused himself. I’ll go get your mother, he said to Josh. Then he nodded in Larry’s direction. You might want to get that nose checked out.

I’m a physician. Larry took the ice from his face and glared at Lucio. I know what I need to do, he said, the blood dripping down his chin.

Lucio shrugged. Suit yourself.

He found Genevieve sitting on the edge of the big bed, slipping on a pair of shoes, listening to a CD with the volume turned up high. No wonder she hadn’t come running downstairs when Larry cried out in pain.

Lucio stood in the doorway a moment, simply watching her. He loved the graceful arch of her foot, her slim ankle, the delicate bones at the top of her feet. His chest tightened at the sight of her arm extended its full length, fingers stretched to buckle the strap.

She was so beautiful. He loved her so much.

I think I broke Larry’s nose, Lucio confessed.

Genevieve’s head snapped up. She blinked at him, surprised to see him there. Really? she asked. Genevieve didn’t look very concerned.

Yeah. He went crazy on me. I had no choice.

She shrugged, then stood. She grabbed her bag from the coverlet. When she raised her eyes to his, Lucio was stabbed with the knowledge that something had changed in her. Her coloring was high. Her eyes were brighter. Genevieve’s expression seemed to hold a subdued peacefulness he hadn’t noticed before.

Are you all right?

She nodded, taking her eyes away.

Genevieve?

She turned quickly, her hair flying around her head with the movement. Tears welled in her eyes. I know, she said. I know you’re leaving. Piers told me all about it.

Lucio’s body tingled. He straightened from his casual pose against the doorjamb, and stared at her. Why would Piers tell her such a thing? He knew Lucio had no intention of taking that job. They’d talked all about it!

And then, seamlessly, everything clicked in Lucio’s head. The paranoia he’d felt leaving Sydney’s office wasn’t paranoia at allit was his intuition. Piers getting him that contract was underhanded and mean-spirited. It was not the act of a friend. It was an attack from an enemy, and the wound was intended to be fatal.

Joder! he hissed.

Don’t use language like that in front of me, she whispered.

It was then that Lucio realized Genevieve’s expression wasn’t peaceful at all. She looked defeated. Devastated.

I was offered a job, yes, but

How nice for you. She clasped her hands to the front of her belly, the small bag dangling by its strap. She looked at him with sarcastic enthusiasm. And how was I going to find out about this little trip? By postcard?

I did not take the job, Lucio said, a lump of sorrow filling his gut. I planned to tell you all about it tonight. I was going to let you know I was offered a contract but did not accept it.

I see.

I am not going anywhere, mi amor. Please believe me.

She did not respond.

Genevieve, my agent called me to his office two days ago to tell me I’d been offered an assignment. That is all.

She said nothing. She hadn’t moved.

He reached for her, cradling her upper arms in his hands. Guapa

Cut the Spanish endearment shit, Genevieve said, slicing her hands straight up to knock his grasp away. That’s enough. I’ve had enough of your Rico Suave act. And that’s all it has beenall alongan act!

The knife of her words cut to his heart. An icy fear ripped through the center of him. He was so stunned that he could hardly speak. I do not understand, he said. Why would you say that to me?

Genevieve let loose with an embittered laugh. Please, she said. I can’t hear any more of this. I told you that I couldn’t survive another betrayal, that all you had to do was not hurt me and everything would be okay. You said you wouldn’t, but that was a lie! You betrayed me and you hurt me anyway.

Lucio raked a hand through his hair in frustration. Genevieve had not heard a thing he said! It was like she’d already written him out of her life!

If I go anywhere, I want you with me.

Mauritius? The independent island off the coast of Africa known for being the home of the dodo bird?

Well, if that is what you wanted, he said, a little confused by her flippant response. It would not be first-class travel the whole time, but you would get to see the world the way I see it. You could watch me workget to know me better by seeing how I’ve lived my life.

She stared at him, her eyes steely and steady but revealing nothing.

Genevieve, is that what you want?

Not hardly.

He reached for her hands.

Don’t touch me.

A wave of nausea flooded through Lucio and he stumbled back from her. What had Piers done?

I couldn’t go there even if I wanted to, she said. It wouldn’t be safe.

Lucio’s attention returned to her face. She looked stricken, afraid. You mean being away from the boys? Leaving them with Larry?

She laughed nervously. That’s always a concern, but that’s not what I mean.

What do you mean, then? It occurred to Lucio that a chasm had formed between them. Untruths and doubts had created a vast, dark separation between them. They weren’t communicating. They could not read each other’s hearts. It had happened fast. It was the ultimate injury.

It doesn’t matter, Genevieve said. Nothing matters anymore.

Where are you going?

Nowhere.

Genevieve! Lucio blocked her way out of the bedroom, unsure how to proceed but certain he had to get to the bottom of this. How he longed to touch her! Please do not leave.

Genevieve’s chin trembled with the effort not to cry. Piers showed me your contract, okay? Let’s just be real here. I saw it. I know. There’s nothing left to say.

Lucio felt the blood roar through his brain. No,mi amor. There is no contract.

I saw your signature, Lucio!

The bad taste in Lucio’s mouth had a familiar tang to it. Suddenly, for the very first time, he knew. He knew everything, the whole picture.

Ilsa may have sent him the rat, but the real rat was Piers. Piers had probably doctored those e-mails from Ilsa. And, of course, Piers knew how to fill out a Geographica expense reporthe’d done it as many times as Lucio had! And he’d certainly seen his signature enough to do a decent job of forging it, on an expense voucher and a contract! Setting up the anonymous bank account? It would be a snap for Piers. Getting the video to the Chinese? A minor errand.

Oh, Mother of God. How could I not have seen this?

Lucio froze where he stood. Whatever was displayed on his face caused Genevieve to raise an eyebrow in curiosity.

The stupid cell phone in his pocket buzzed once again. Why on earth had he let the boys talk him into getting one?

Aren’t you going to see who that is? Genevieve asked, walking around him to get to the door.

Lucio yanked the phone out of his pocket to turn it off, but the small screen announced that Jason had sent him three messages.

It’s Jason, he said, clicking on the button that would bring up his messages. Even before the words appeared on the screen, Lucio was filled with a horrible dread.

I hope he’s learning a lot from Piers, Genevieve said, swinging her bag onto her shoulder. He’ll probably be spending quite a bit of time with him once you’re gone.

The bitterness in her voice barely registered with Lucio, because he was focused on the terrible words now appearing on his cell phone.

The first message from Jason read, Smthin’s f’d upovr here. The second read, Saw P’s passpt was nChna sm tm u were girl didn’t do it cm get me NOW.

And the third message said only one word’HELP.

Lucio looked up. He shoved the phone in his pocket, his breath shallow and fast.

Is something wrong with Jason?

I have to go. Lucio turned, but Genevieve grabbed his arm.

What’s going on? she yelled. Is he okay?

I don’t know, Lucio said. Wait here. I’ll go get him.

He raced down the stairs but Genevieve was right behind him, yelling for him to tell her what had happened to Jason, demanding she go with him.

When they hit the bottom of the stairs, Josh and his blood-soaked father waited for them.

What the hell is going on? Larry asked.

God! Genevieve said, seeing him.

Your boyfriend beat the crap out of me, Larry said.

Josh gripped the stair railing, looking to Lucio and then his mom. There’s something wrong with Jason, isn’t there?

Lucio flung open the front door, his mind racing with all the worst possible thoughts: Piers was unstable and would hurt Jasoneven kill himto get one last jab at Lucio. He couldn’t let that happen. He would not.

?Cono! Lucio hissed, seeing that Larry had blocked his car with the Porsche. We have no time. Give me the keys to your car. He shoved his hand toward Larry. Now, gilipollas!

Lucio could barely think over the dog’s incessant barking.

Larry fumbled in his pocket and pulled out the keys. You are not touching my car, he said, his announcement muffled by the towel. I will drive.

Josh ripped the keys from his dad’s hands and tossed them to Lucio. You can’t even see, Dad! Your eyes are swelling shut!

Lucio was already running across the lawn to the car. By the time he got the door open and got behind the wheel, it was clear that whatever kind of mission he was on would not be a solo oneLarry and Josh had already crammed themselves into the back half-seat of the Porsche and Genevieve was sliding in beside him in the front.

He groaned in frustration and gunned the car into reverse, squealing as he made his way through the neighborhood. It was barely sixty degrees Fahrenheit, but Larry had the top down on the pussy-puller! There was no time to fiddle with nicetiesit would have to stay down.

How could he have missed this? Lucio slammed his palms against the steering wheel. He’d sensed it! But he’d ignored it! ?Estupido! And now the crazy son-of-a-thousand-bitches had Jason!

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