who at eight was just a year older
than Gary’s youngest, Hannah. “An actress and a model. Rock stars are sleaze buckets.
And so are picture takers.”
Ira set his camera on the floor. “I can’t work with this kid, Gary.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Chloe’s mother, Ruth.
“Sorry for yourself is what you should be, lady.”
“You’re an ugly man,” Chloe told Ira. “And your pants are too tight.”
You tell yourself lies for long enough, you start to believe them. Once you believe
them in full, once you put your whole heart into it and believe in those lies the
way you believe in anything—your country, your family, your God —once you do that,
those lies become the truth.
Hadn’t she said that herself, in one of her videos?
Maybe Gary didn’t want to find Lula Belle. He could get by without the extra money
the Web site had been bringing in. He’d tell Jill a client had fired him and so they
needed to tighten their belts. She would understand. She would have to.
Powerful as it was, the memory of Lula Belle would fade, the subscribers would forget.
And Gary would, too. He would make himself forget. He would close down the Hotmail
address, and the subscribers would move on. The Shadow would stay behind her locked
door and the door would disappear, and she would, too. He would never hear from her
again. It would all be over, but for the dimming memory.
Will it ever dim, Lula Belle? Will I ever get over not knowing you?
“That’s it,” Ira said. “We’re done.”
Gary snapped out of it, looked at him. “Do you think any of the pictures are useable?”
“Only if someone is doing a remake of The Bad Seed .”
Ruth Barton gave Gary a pleading look. “One more chance?”
“Next week we’ll reconvene,” Gary started to say, but he didn’t get to the last word.
“Next week we’ll what?” said Ruth.
The phone in Gary’s shirt pocket was vibrating.
He held up a hand. “Back in just a few,” he said.
“But Gary . . .”
Deep intake of air, slow release, and then he was out the door, in Ira’s little courtyard
with the colorful tile and the blush-red hibiscus plants and the bubbling fountain
in the middle. He moved past the fountain and plucked the phone out of his pocket
and looked at the screen . . .
“Yes?” Gary said.
“I have good news and bad news.”
Gary winced. It wasn’t just the words themselves that grated—no one ever really has
good news when they use that cliché—but the way Ludlow said them, so precise, hanging
on to each syllable like it was a goddamn life preserver. Why had he believed this
windbag? Gary said, “Yes.”
“Which would you like to hear first?”
Jesus . “I don’t care. The good news, I guess.”
“I’ve spoken to Brenna Spector.”
Gary’s eyes widened. “You have?”
“Yep.” The P exploded out of Ludlow like cannon fire. Gary practically needed to wipe
the spit out of his ear. “And I hired her.”
“ What? ”
“You wanted her missing persons expertise—I got it for you. She’s on our team.”
“You don’t have to worry about the cost—I’m cutting her in out of my very generous
“I’m not concerned about the cost.” Gary closed his eyes. “You didn’t tell her anything,
“So,” he breathed, “what’s the bad news?”
“I had to give her your name and number.”
Gary’s mouth went dry. “You said you didn’t tell her anything.”
“Only your name and number,” he said. As if that’s nothing, nothing at all . . .
Gary put the heel of his palm to his forehead and rubbed in slow, soothing circles.
“Okay,” he said. “Okay. I can deal with this.” And he could, he knew. It was what
made him such a successful agent and manager, that flexibility. He could roll with
the punches, move past Plan A. It was a talent he’d acquired out of necessity. Don’t fall down. Don’t freeze.