The pebble-throwing contest is a tie. Alaia and Evelyn want to head home, but I’m in the mood to walk further, so we split. Alaia continues her coldness in taking her leave of me, with a kind of guarded cordiality. I wonder what Evelyn will have made of this? I doubt she’ll have missed it.
I head inland along the grassy further edge of Sunset Lake, turn right on Main Street, get a coffee from Frank’s Deli and wander into a bric-a-brac store named Zebra. A middle-aged black woman appears at the back and looks at me with kind, perceptive eyes. “See anything you like?”
“Yes,” I say, on a whim, holding up a small, grey, plastic elephant. “How much?”
“You can have that for free.”
“Really? Thank you! What’s your name?”
“How long you staying in Asbury?”
“Not long. But I may be back.”
She shakes her head.
I laugh. “Why d’you shake your head?”
“You’ll never return here.” Witnessing my surprise at this impromptu psychic reading, she adds, “Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad.” She turns away, into a hidden room. “You did good here,” she calls back over her shoulder. “Remember that.”
Does she recognise me? “Anything else you can tell me?”
She pauses in the doorway, holds my inquisitive look with a glance of knowledge, humour and compassion, and shakes her head.
“Thank you, Dotty,” I say, holding the elephant up beside my face. She inclines her head a fraction, then is gone.
I step out, head back towards the ocean and look at the elephant. “Hallo Dotty,” I whisper, give her a kiss and put her in my pocket.
Halfway across the Sunset Lake footbridge, I go down the steps onto the island and up to its inland end and recline on the grass against a tree-trunk, near some ducks.
“Because don’t forget, Jason is manipulating you for cynical and greedy ends. Am I dysfunctional?”
“You’re a complete mess. No, scrub that: you’re just very high-tension with an over-developed moral sense. But do carry on.”
“The trouble is, maybe it was dangerous not to tell Evelyn there and then, because if it comes out in future that Lucan gave us his ultimatum today, then why didn’t I immediately relay it to her? And it gets worse: because I decided not to tell her about the ultimatum, I couldn’t even tell her that I’d given Lucan the wrong disc, because if she knew about the wrongness of the disc, she’d raise it with him and then find out about the ultimatum he gave me… Oh yes, I forgot—as you overheard while I was on the phone with him, I gave Lucan the wrong disc. Sorry about that.”
“Oh, yes. Human error?”
“I don’t know what to do. I guess I could call Evelyn and say that Lucan called me just now and delivered the ultimatum. Then she’d probably never know that I waited for this hour or two… He’d have had to call me just now on my mobile, though, because if I told Evelyn he called the Metropolitan office and asked for me, then she might find out that he hadn’t really done so. And would Evelyn really believe that I would have given Lucan my mobile number? She knows he’s the last person I’d give it to. I guess I could call him from my mobile right now, so then he would have my number … but then I’d first need to ask Evelyn for his number, which would excite her suspicion. Would anyone else here have his number, aside from her? Could I ask Rik, without her knowing? No. Would Shigem have it? He might: he’s from the town … but how could I just casually ask him for Lucan’s number without making him suspicious, especially when he’s one of our targets?… Would Pippa have it? Probably not… Hey! I could look him up online or in the phone book—but damn, Jaymi, we don’t know his surname.”
I rub my eyes: I’m getting a headache here. “Abayomi,” I say wearily.
“But then, there’s no point looking in phone listings, because of course he’ll be ex-directory—how could he not be?”
“What?… Oh. How d’you know?”
“I saw it written on a cardboard box in the corner of his hallway. Alaia, you’re just swirling around in decreasing circles here. Look, I shan’t tell Jason about Lucan’s ultimatum… So long as you don’t say you told me. You see, this is making it complicated for me already.”
“But how do I let Evelyn know about it?”
“I don’t think you can, by now, or she’ll think you’re duplicitous. We’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope it works out all right. I know you’re not duplicitous.”
She sighs. “OK.”
“See you later.”
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