“Don’t kill me.”
Nine hundred feet up in the November wind, it’s hard to enunciate properly, especially with the barrel of a Glock nine-millimeter jammed in your mouth. They don’t tell you these things on the Travel Channel.
Gobi takes the automatic out from between my lips. Her eyes sparkle and shine. I think about what she told me back in Venice, what she said at the hotel that night. That all seems like a long time ago now.
She smiles, blood and lipstick smeared over her face. Down below, blue lights on the Champ de Mars flash off the steel framework of the Eiffel Tower, warping in the rain. Over her shoulder I can see the gendarmes on the other side of the observation platform with automatic weapons, yelling at us in the language of love. I remember just enough from two years in Mrs. Garvey’s French class to decipher “police” and “surrender.”
“As tave myliu,” Gobi says. With her free hand, she reaches out and brushes the wet hair out of my eyes. Her fingers are ice cold. “Your hair is getting shaggy, mielasis.” Then she points the pistol back at my head.
“Just tell me what you’ve done with my family.” I’m begging now, and I don’t care how it sounds. “Just tell me where they are.”
“I am so sorry, Perry.” An almost inaudible click as she switches off the safety. “Au revoir.”
“All These Things That I’ve Done”
— The Killers
“Miss me?” she asked.
I leaned forward to kiss the ice cream from her upper lip—maple fudge ripple, arguably the best flavor in the known universe. We were standing barefoot next to the picnic tables by the Twin Star on Route 26, watching the gray waves of October rolling up and crashing on the shore.
Me and Paula.
It was fall, the best time of the year for this battered stretch of shoreline that Connecticut shares with the sea. All around us, the rest of the beach was deserted, a long, unhurried curve of sand, eel grass and wooden fence slats bullied and pushed over sideways by decades of rough Atlantic weather. During the summer this place was mobbed with families and kids, teenagers, bikers, couples—my parents had even come up here on a date once, according to family lore. Now it all felt pleasantly haunted, the parking lot almost empty, the restrooms already locked up for the season, leaving the two of us and the guy behind the ice cream counter just itching to put up his handwritten see you next summer! sign up in the window.
High above us, seagulls squeaked and wheeled in the gunmetal sky, sounding lost and far away.
Paula hugged herself and shivered. “It’s chilly.”
“Here.” I took off my Columbia sweatshirt and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Better?”
“Always the gentleman.” She smiled and looked down at the beach, her cell phone still clutched in her hand from the call that she’d just finished. “So, do you want to hear the big news?”
“I thought you’d never tell me.” “I thought you’d never ask.” “Officially asking.”
“I just got off the phone with Armitage . . . and he wants to book Inchworm . . .” — she paused, making me wait an extra split- second — “ . . . for the whole tour.”
“Twelve cities in eighteen days.”
“No way.” I laughed, and she grabbed me, and I hugged her, lifting her up off her feet and spinning her around. “Paula, that’s unbelievable.”
“I know!” Her smile had blossomed into a full-out grin, and I looked at all eleven of the sun freckles across the bridge of her nose. I’d counted them when we were waiting in line for one of the rides at Six Flags last month.
“How did that happen?”
“I told you the new songs were great, Perry. Armitage heard your demo and flipped.” Now she was clutching my hands, bouncing up and down on her tiptoes with excitement. Her toenails were painted a very dark shade of plum, almost black, and they looked great against the sand, ten little black keys, like the kind you use to play ragtime. “He’s booking you guys on a twelve-city tour, starting in London on the twenty-ninth, then Venice, Paris, Madrid . . .” Paula got out her phone, clicking up the screen. “I’ve got all the dates here.”
“This is amazing,” I said. “I can’t wait to see Europe with you.” She sighed softly, and her shoulders sagged a little. “I wish.” “Wait—you’re not coming?”
“Armitage needs me here in New York. And I’ve got to be back in the studio at the beginning of December. Moby’s recording a new album in L.A., and . . .” She saw my expression. “Hey, maybe I can sneak out to Paris for a weekend.”
“I’d like that.”
“Perry, this is a huge step for you guys. If this works out . . .” I smiled. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“I’m serious,” I said. “You made this happen.”
“Well, that’s sweet of you to say.” Her blue eyes sparkled, appearing and disappearing as her hair blew in front of her face. She’d spent most of the summer in L.A. and somehow held on to her tan into the fall, so that her blond hair looked even blonder by comparison. “But we all know who really deserves the credit.”
“You wrote all of those new songs, Perry.” “Norrie and I wrote them together.”
“Then you and Norrie are the next Lennon and McCartney,” she said. “And now the entire European Union is going to find that out for themselves.”
“This is amazing.”
“I know.” She frowned a little, seeing the hint of apprehension in my eyes. “What?”
“Nothing—it’s just great news.” “Stormaire . . .”
I smiled. “I just wish you could go with me, that’s all.”
“You’re adorable.” She kissed me again, and the kiss lingered this time, her mouth warm and soft against mine, her hair tickling my ears.
She stood there looking at me. We’d been dating for less than three months, but I’d told her everything, and she could read me like a book.
“Europe’s a big continent, Perry.” “I know.”
“You don’t even know if she’s there.” “Right.”
“It’s not like you’re going to run into her.” “I never said— ”
“You didn’t have to.”