Myron looked at him. “I don’t?”
“No, you don’t.”
“Can I jot that down?” He picked up a pencil and began scribbling. “Don’t … want … to … lose … money.” He grinned at both men. “Am I picking up pointers today or what?”
Larry mumbled, “Goddamn wiseass.”
Otto’s smile remained locked on autopilot. “If I may be so bold,” he continued, “I would think Christian would want to collect quickly.”
“There are those who have serious reservations about Christian Steele’s future. There are those”—Otto drew deeply on his cigarette—“who believe he may have had something to do with that girl’s disappearance.”
“Ah,” Myron said, “that’s more like it.”
“More like what?”
“You’re starting to fling mud. For a second there I thought I wasn’t asking for enough.”
Larry Hanson stuck a thumb in Myron’s direction. “Do you believe this fucking sliver of pond film we’re sitting with? You raise a legitimate issue about Christian’s ex-bimbo, one that goes to the heart of his value as a public relations commodity—”
“Pitiful rumors,” Myron interrupted. “No one believed them. If anything, they made the public more sympathetic to Christian’s tragedy. And don’t call Kathy Culver a bimbo.”
Larry raised an eyebrow. “Well, well, aren’t we touchy,” he said, “for a low-life pissant.”
Myron’s expression did not change. He had met Kathy Culver five years ago when she was a sophomore in high school, already a budding beauty. Like her sister Jessica. Eighteen months ago Kathy had mysteriously vanished from the campus of Reston University. To this day no one knew where she was or what had happened to her. The story had all the media’s favorite tasty morsels—a gorgeous co-ed, the fiancée of football star Christian Steele, the sister of novelist Jessica Culver, a strong hint of sexual assault for extra seasoning. The press could not help themselves. They attacked like ravenous relatives around a buffet table.
But just recently a second tragedy had befallen the Culver family. Adam Culver, Kathy’s father, had been murdered three nights earlier in what police were calling a “botched robbery.” Myron wanted very much to contact the family, to do more than merely offer simple condolences, but he had decided to stay away, not knowing if he was welcome, fairly certain he wasn’t.
There was a knock on the door. It opened a crack, and Esperanza stuck her head in. “Call for you, Myron,” she said.
“Take a message.”
“I think you’ll want to take it.”
Esperanza stayed in the doorway. Her dark eyes gave away nothing, but he understood.
“I’ll be right there,” he said.
She slipped back through the door.
Larry Hanson gave an appreciative whistle. “She’s a babe, Bolitar.”
“Gee, thanks, Larry. That means a lot coming from you.” He rose. “I’ll be right back.”
“We don’t have all goddamn day to jerk off here.”
“I’m sure you don’t.”
He left the conference room and met up with Esperanza at her desk.
“The Meal Ticket,” she told him. “He said it was urgent.”
From her petite frame most would not guess that Esperanza used to be a professional wrestler. For three years she had been known on the circuit as Little Pocahontas. The fact that Esperanza Diaz was Latina, without a trace of American Indian blood, did not seem to bother the FLOW (Fabulous Ladies of Wrestling) organization. A minor detail, they said. Latino, Indian, what’s the difference?
At the height of her pro wrestling career, the same script was played out every week in arenas all over the U.S. of A. Esperanza (“Pocahontas”) would enter the ring wearing moccasins, a suede-fringed dress, and a headband that lassoed her long black hair away from her dark face. The suede dress came off before the fight, leaving a somewhat flimsier and less traditional Native American garb in its stead.
Professional wrestling has a pretty simple plot with painfully few variations. Some wrestlers are bad. Some are good. Pocahontas was good, a crowd favorite. She was cute and small and quick and had a tight little body. Everyone loved her. She would always be winning the fight on skill when her opponent would do something illegal—throw sand in her eyes, use a dreaded foreign object that everyone in the free world except the referee could see—to turn the tide. Then the bad wrestler would bring in a couple of extra cronies, ganging up three against one on poor Pocahontas, pounding mercilessly on the brave beauty to the unequivocal shock and chagrin of the announcers, who had seen the same thing happen last week and the week before.
Just when it seemed there was no hope, Big Chief Mama, a mammoth creature, charged out of the locker room and threw the beasts off the defenseless Pocahontas. Then together Big Chief Mama and Little Pocahontas would defeat the forces of evil.
“I’ll take it in my office,” Myron said.
As he entered he saw the nameplate on his desk, a gift from his parents.
He shook his head. Myron Bolitar. He still couldn’t believe someone would name a kid Myron. When his family first moved to New Jersey, he had told everyone in his new high school that his name was Mike. Nope, no dice. Then he tried to nickname himself Mickey. Unhunh. Everyone reverted to Myron; the name was like a horror-movie monster that would not die.
To answer the obvious question: No, he never forgave his parents.
He picked up the phone. “Christian?”
“Mr. Bolitar? Is that you?”
“Yes. And please call me … Myron.” Acceptance of the inevitable, a sign of a wise man.
“I’m sorry to interrupt you. I know how busy you are.”
“I’m busy negotiating your contract. I have Otto Burke and Larry Hanson in the next room.”
“I appreciate that, Mr. Bolitar, but this is very important.” His voice was trembling. “I have to see you right away.”
He switched hands. “Something wrong, Christian?” Mr. Perceptive.
“I—I’d rather not discuss it over the phone. Would you be able to meet me at my room on campus?”
“Sure, no problem. What time?”
“Now, please. I—I don’t know what to make of this. I want you to see it.”