Home > Secrets (Secrets #1)(13)

Secrets (Secrets #1)(13)
Author: H.M. Ward

I shake my head and grab the keys to my bike. “Nah, I’ll eat once I get there. Talk to you later.” And I’m out the door.

I fly down the stairs and run across the street into the parking garage. My bike is right where I left it. Grays and blacks cover the frame. There isn’t a spec of chrome or plastic on it. A pink stripe goes down the gas tank and explodes into a splash of color. Swinging my leg over the side, I kick start the thing—mostly because the time constraint is making me nervous—and pull out.

I zip in and out of traffic like I don’t value my life. It’s too close to rush hour. If I don’t get to the Tunnel fast enough, I’ll be trapped. I’m lucky. I manage to get downtown quickly and park on the sidewalk in front of Le Femme.

I rush past Miss Todd, saying that Cole forgot something. She eyes me suspiciously, but doesn’t follow. I find his camera body and flip it over. No scratches. No safe combination. Damn it. Where’d he put it? I turn it over twice in my hands, looking for the markings, but don’t find any.

I’m wasting time. I reach for the other camera bodies, but those are all clean too. I go back to the first body—the one he always uses—and take off the lens. I look at the housing between the body and the lens, tilting it to try to see hidden markings, but nothing’s there. I reattach the lens and flip the camera over in my palms. Opening the battery door, I slide the battery out and still see nothing but black plastic.

My heart is pounding. This is taking too long. Pressing the lever for the memory cards, the little door on the side of the camera swings open. Three numbers are scratched into the curve of the casing on the inside of the door. I exhale a rush of air.

Taking the camera, I run to Cole’s office, and open the safe. There are several things that catch my eye, including a small Tiffany’s ring box. It’s pale blue with the famous logo printed in silver letter across the case. Normally I wouldn’t snoop, but the box looks like it’s been crushed, stomped under foot. The blue leather is gashed and scuffed. The lid no longer closes correctly. It pains me to look at it. Something happened involving this piece of jewelry. I reach for the tiny box and lift it out. The lid falls off in my hands to reveal a solitaire engagement ring. The stone is huge and perfect. I lift it from its padding for a moment, staring at it, wondering who it was meant for and what happened when he gave it to her. From the look of the box, it didn’t end well. My heart sinks as I hold the ring. Cole acts pulled together, but at the moment I’m not so sure. It’s like he puts his best foot forward and hides the rest. Things like lost loves and battered Tiffany’s boxes aren’t visible on his face. I breathe slowly and realize I’m holding a piece of Cole’s past, something he locked away from the world. I return the ring to the box and put it back. Ignoring it, I reach toward the back of the safe where cash is piled in neat little bundles. I grab enough stacks and shove them into my backpack. Miss Todd is going to think I’m a thief if she sees me. I move faster.

Before I slam the safe closed, a piece of paper falls. I reach out and catch it. It’s an old photograph. I can’t ignore it. It’s out an old picture of Cole wearing army clothes. STEVENS is across his chest, some medals line the other side. His eyes are cold and hard. He looks so young, younger than I’ve ever seen him. I flip the piece of paper over, looking for a date, wondering if it’s real. Was Cole a solider? Why would he enlist?

Before I have another moment to consider it, I hear Miss Todd’s heels clicking down the hallway toward me. Her slow steady sashay gives me time to put the photo back where it was, close the safe, and zip up my backpack.

When she walks through the door, I held up his camera like I’ve found it. She cocks her head at me, like she can’t believe it. “He forgot his camera?” she asks, her narrow arms folding over her chest.

I nod and stuff that into my bag too. “Yeah, well, these things are expected. I think Cole’s getting a little senile,” I smile as I say it, half joking and not offering any other explanation. I have to get out of here.

She doesn’t laugh at my joke. “But he went to a business meeting. At least, I thought—”

Nodding, I pass her and head toward the door. Speaking over my shoulder, as she follows me out, I say “He was. Then he said he wanted it. I don’t know. Cole said he usually has one on him, and asked me to grab it. He’ll be back later tonight. Tease him then. I sure will.” Smiling at her, I wave and run through the door, leaving Miss Todd standing there with a response on her lips.

The cash on my back is making me nervous. If I get pulled over for driving like a crazy person, they’ll instantly add my name to the terrorist watch list. That would suck. Checking the time, I see that I’m cutting it really close.

After pulling into traffic, I open the throttle and punch it. The bike takes off, humming like a bee. I bob and weave through cars and trucks trapped in rush hour traffic. As soon as I’m back on Long Island, the wave of panic recedes. An hour and a half later I’m in Riverhead and my butt is vibrating like I’m still on the bike.

I leave my helmet with the motorcycle and walk into the jail. After a few wrong turns, I’m sent to the right person.

An old lady with face-saddlebags looks up at me, “Who are you here for, hun?”

I’m out of breath, and sweat makes my hair stick to my face. I push it back and say, “Cole Stevens.”

She looks up at me from her metal desk. The eyebrow drawn on her face doesn’t move. “The bail bondsmen closed at five. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Next.”

The guy behind me tries to push me out of the way, buy I hold out my arm like I’m going to close-line him if he tries to push in front of me. “Wait. I don’t need a bond. I have cash.” I say to her, reaching around for my bag. Suddenly I feel like saying that out loud was a stupid idea.

The look on her face confirms my stupidity. She sniffs and raises her bloodshot eyes back up at me, “You have ten grand on you? In cash?”

I nod. The tension in the room jumps about ten slots. She waves a pudgy hand at the guard. He steps closer. “We need a secure desk for this one.” She jabs her thumb at me. “She walked in with ten grand in cash.” They both roll their eyes like I’m an enormous pain in the ass. It’s just after five, but by the time they get a secure desk, which was me and another civil service employee and a cop, it was nearly 6:00pm.

They are talking to each other after the amount is counted, and acting like I’m not even there. Finally, the woman hands me the bail slip and spews a bunch of stuff about how to get the bail money back.

“What do I do now?” I ask.

“Nothing,” the cop says from behind me. “They’ll show the judge the bail, and he approves it. If he gets the slip in the next ten minutes, your friend is out today. Otherwise, come back first thing tomorrow.”

I nod and go to the waiting area. It’s half empty. A pregnant woman sits across from me on a wooden bench from the fifties. No one looks at anyone else. I wonder what Cole did to get tossed in here. Part of me is nervous about that. I don’t want to ask. It will conflict with the new image of him that’s floating through my mind.

I think about the picture in the safe, that younger version of Cole in the uniform. I realize that I have no idea who he is. It’s strange because after the past few days, I felt like I did know him. Cole seemed more at ease. He didn’t hold back when he was teaching me. Passion filled his voice when he spoke about photography and art.

But this? This is insane. I hardly know him and yet I’m the one he trusted with his safe combination and bail money.

The metal security doors open and a cop walks through with Cole. He’s dressed in a black suit. The jacket is hanging over his arm, his shirtsleeves are rolled up. Cole looks like he fell asleep in his suit. The cop tells Cole to get his things from the cashier’s window, and then turns and walks back behind the doors.

The few people in the room look up when Cole walks out and quickly avert their eyes. Cole straightens his shoulders like he doesn’t belong here. His cool blue eyes scan the room. He sees me and nods. I walk over to him. Part of me hesitates, like he could be dangerous, but my feet keep moving. I stop next to him.

Cole turns toward the cashier’s window and takes a yellow envelope from the woman. He puts a ring back on his finger, his watch, and stuffs his wallet into his back pocket. He hands the envelope back to the woman and she throws it in the trash.

Cole turns and I follow him to the doors. When we step outside, there are no reporters. He smiles at me, “You did good, kid. Thanks.” He sounds relieved. His posture changes and his shoulders relax a little. He takes a deep breath and runs his fingers through his hair.

I want to roll my eyes when he calls me kid, but I tease him instead, “No prob old dude,” but I’m tense and I know he can hear it in my voice. Cole looks around, breathing the air like he was inside too long. I can’t keep quiet. I have to know. “So, what’d you do?” He eyes me, startled, almost. He seems surprised that I ask. Tilting my head, I fold my arms across my chest saying, “You can’t ask me to drive all the way out here and not tell me. What’d you do?”

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