Don't Look

By: Jessa Kane

And I need her back. Something I don’t have nearly enough time to focus on when the Bureau is breathing down my neck for results on the case.

I bite down on the inside of my cheek to keep from breaking the railing, then turn and reenter the house. Ivan Stepanov returned from his overnight trip just under a week ago and the house across the canyon has been pretty silent ever since, apart from the usual vans coming and going, transporting what I know to be forged art and drugs. It’s proof I’m after, though. I need to move soon and it’s becoming more obvious by the day that I won’t get a damn thing on the man unless I get closer.

A lot closer.

I know I’m not thinking clearly right now. I’m the furthest thing from levelheaded when I don’t know how to find Hailey. But if I sit in this stupid mansion for one more day, I’m going to lose my mind. I need action. Once I get this case wrapped up and Stepanov is extradited back to Russia, I can focus on getting the girl back.

My Mercedes was found a mile from here—dinged up on every side—which gives me a starting point, even if the location of the car creates more questions than answers. I assumed she’d been on foot the night we met. Living in the surrounding neighborhood. It didn’t seem likely that she’d taken a cab to the bar, because I don’t remember a purse, a cell phone or a visible wallet. The fact that she ditched the Mercedes so close to here means she also traveled to the bar that night. But how?

And more importantly, from where?

It’s nightfall before I realize how long I’ve been wearing a hole in the living room rug, trying to come up with answers. It’s dark in the house. When I go to the closest lamp to turn it on, I see the house across the canyon is lit up like a fucking Christmas tree tonight. Action. We’ve got some.

I’m not waiting any longer to move.

After calling in to the Bureau and reporting my plans for the evening, I throw on some black slacks and a button down—the price tag on both making me shake my head. I stop in the wine cellar on the way out to grab yet another overpriced item and head out the front door. I feel naked without my gun and badge, but there’s no way I won’t get searched before entering a house full of professional gangsters. If I’m going to get in tight with Stepanov, he needs to believe I’m his clueless neighbor with too much money and time on his hands.

I make the two-minute drive to the house across the canyon, parking behind a yellow Ferrari and getting out. Before I’ve even set foot in the driveway, men are exiting the house and watching me from the porch.

I hope up the bottle of wine. “Behold, I bring good tidings.”

None of them moves so much as an eyelid.

“Is the man of the house available?” I put a goofy, affable grin on my face. The smile of a dude who’s had everything in life handed to him on a platter. “I call that ugly, split-level monstrosity home,” I say, pointing at my house just beyond the trees and casually sliding the wine into the closest thug’s hand. “I also call it the one thing my wife didn’t get in the divorce.”

That gets a couple of laughs. Still…

“This is a private party,” one of them drawls in a thick accent. “We’ll keep the wine, though.”

“It’s yours, man. I’ve got plenty more just like it.”

“Who is this?”

The hair on the back of my neck stands up when Stepanov steps out onto the porch. Small in stature, he’s huge in presence. Silvering brown hair and a pinched mouth. I’ve been studying pictures of him for months, so I know every crease of his face, every expression in his arsenal. But I’m the poster boy for clueless right now. “David Paldino,” I say, extending a hand. “One of us appears to be doing bachelorhood the right way. Here’s a hint. It’s not fucking me.”

There’s a smattering of laughter, but it takes Stepanov another few seconds to shake my hand. I pretend not to notice his hesitation.

“All right, well I don’t want to intrude on a private party.” I toss my car keys up in the air and take a step back, judging I’ve made about as much progress as I can with this crowd for one night. “Good to meet you. Don’t hesitate to knock if you need anything. If you hear my crying late at night over my alimony payments, just ignore me. You all have a good night.”

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