Liza Rummel lived in a small clapboard house with a single palm tree on the lawn, its leaves dusty and gray. She held the door for him. "Don't mind the mess."
Petrov went inside. He didn't see any mess, didn't see much at all. The only light came through a single round hole in one of the drawn shades, dust motes drifting through the narrow beam. Shadowy furniture shapes stood here and there. He smelled bacon.
"I work nights," Liza said, explaining what, he didn't know: mess? darkness? Amanda?
"Doing what?" said Petrov, although he had a notion.
Pause. "Is everything we discuss between just us, or does there have to be some paperwork first?"
"I'm obligated to report crimes, paperwork or not," Petrov said. "On the other hand, there's discretion in everything."
"How about an escort service?"
"Working for one," said Petrov, "or owning it?"
"Owning it? In my dreams."
"Then it's between you and me." Petrov switched on a lamp.
On the rug at its basea blue rug, same shade as the Mustanglay a stuffed animal. Elephant with a gold crown: Babar.
"Amanda has a little brother or sister?" Petrov said.
"She's an only child," said Liza.
Petrov picked up Babar: spats, green suit, the face of a steady king. He had a sudden memory: the feel of the thick page of a Babar book as his mother read to him, and the crisp sound it made when she turned to the next one. He could also picture the ruby ring on her hand, like a wonderful candy. Another amazing memory came to him: he'd licked the ruby onceno taste at all, like licking a windowpane. And had his mother, thinking he'd been licking her hand, actually smacked him? Petrov was astonished. He'd been three years old when his mother died, had no memories of her or of that time at all. Yet here were two, coming out of nowhere.
He looked up. Liza was watching him. "I know what you're thinking," she said. "Amanda's too old to be playing with stuffed animals."
"Is that your opinion?"
"She doesn't actually play with him, not make-believe or anything like that. They just sort of cuddle when she watches TV."
A big flat-screen, probably worth more than the Mustang, hung on the opposite wall.
"What does she watch?"
"The Weather Channel mostly, I'd say. But I don't see what that has to do with anything. Didn't you want to see her room?"
Amanda's room: unmade bed, desk with two drawers half open, closet door open too, clothes and gum wrappers on the floor; disorder everywhere, except for the Empty Box poster taped perfectly straight on the wall. "I'll need to look around," Petrov said. He noticed a ticket stub stapled to the poster: Empty Box at the Beacon Theater in Inglewood, August 23.
"Do whatever you have to," Liza said.
Petrov took out his notebook, tore out a sheet, handed it to her. "I'd like a list of her friendsaddresses and phone numbers if possible."
"Amanda hasn't really made new friends here yet, not since the move."
"What about her old friends?"
"From Encino? They've kind of fallen away."
"Why is that?"
She shrugged. "Not in the same school anymore, you know kids." An idea came to her: he could see its movements behind her eyes. "Have you got any yourself?"
Unusual: clients seldom had questions about him. First, they weren't interested to begin with. Second, they were consumed by their problem, whatever it was. Therefore: Was this woman interested in him in some way? Was she not consumed by her problem? Or was she an exception to the rule, and if so, why? "I have a son."
The foregoing is excerpted from Oblivion by Peter Abrahams. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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