Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot
“That’s right, Jimmy,” I’d said, holding the rifle steady. “We found everything. I’ve already called the cops. They’ll be here any minute.” Ha! Oh, well. You can pull off just about any performance if you believe in it enough. “So even if you shoot us both and make a run for it—which I doubt you’re going to be able to do, because I’m pretty good with this thing—they still have all the evidence they need to prosecute. So what’s it gonna be, Jimmy?”
I saw his beady little eyes darting around as he thought about it good and hard, weighing his options. Make a break for it and hope for the best? Stick around and let himself get arrested?
I don’t know why I never considered option three. If I had, I might have been able to prevent it.
Stop. Wait. Don’t. That’s what I should have said in the seconds before I saw him, as if in slow motion, lift the .44 Magnum toward his own head, then pull the trigger.
But there wasn’t time.
I was careful not to look at the corpse as I snapped at Paul to help me pack up. I was concerned someone might have heard the gunshot and called the cops—for real this time.
But no one had. Outside, the lights on the trunks of the palm trees along the meridian still twinkled, and somewhere Christmas music was playing over a loudspeaker. “Silent Night.”
Paul snaked the whiskey bottle out from beneath the dashboard and took a swig. Fortunately we were the only car on the boulevard, and all of the shops along Ocean Avenue were closed.
“Look,” I said to Paul. “Child killers—and especially child sexual predators—don’t do very well in California state prisons. They have a high gang member population. Gangs have their own code of ethics, and taking out a pedophile can earn a member as much—or more—respect as killing a snitch, or a rival gang member.”
Paul snorted. “Did you learn that in your little counseling school?”
“No.” I refused to let him get under my skin. “Jake told me. And Delgado knew it, too. That’s why he made the choice that he did. He knew he was going to die anyway.”
“That’s just great, Suze,” Paul said. “And if he comes back tonight in spirit form, looking for revenge, what are you going to do?”
I gave him a disbelieving look. “That guy? Revenge? He shot himself in the head because he was too much of a coward to face the consequences of his own actions. Trust me, wherever he is now, he’s staying. Hopefully reincarnated as a cockroach.”
“Fine. But if you think I’m letting you out of our agreement just because of that little stunt back there, you’re crazy.” Paul announced this just as I was pulling the car into the hotel’s circular drive. “We’re still having dinner together at Mariner’s. I’m not losing the reservation I made for two for the chef’s tasting menu. It’s supposed to be one of the top ten restaurants in the country. And by God, Simon, you’re going to sit across from me and pretend to enjoy it like the goddamn lady I know you can be when you put your mind to it. But first I’m going up to my room to take a shower and burn this suit.” He sniffed his sleeve, then made a face. “Ugh. Eau de perv.”
“Are you serious?” I stared at him. “After all that? You still actually expect me to . . .”
“Fulfill your side of our bargain, Simon? Of course. Even though what you put me through tonight more than made up for anything I might have done to you on graduation night.”
“I’m not talking about what you did to me on graduation night. I’m talking about—give us a moment, will you?”
I said the last part to the valet who’d come up to my side of the car to open the door for me. We’d pulled in beneath the porte cochere, which was much more crowded than it had been when we’d left. There were now a dozen handsomely dressed older people waiting for their cars, some of the men in tuxedos, and some of the women wearing fur coats against the brisk November chill—all sixty degrees of it.
Friday nights were dead in downtown Carmel because Friday night was cocktail party night in northern California, when the rich trotted out their best clothing to see and be seen in all the best hotel ballrooms and private mansions (on the pretense of raising money for charities).
“Paul,” I said, feeling a rising tide of panic growing within me. “You can’t be serious. If you think for one minute I’m actually going to let you—”
“Yes, you are, Simon. Those things you did back there? You’re right. You are bad. You can’t help it. You have an evil streak in you a mile wide, just like me. And I love it. We belong together.”
“No, we don’t, Paul. My kind of bad helps people. Your way only hurts them.”
“Hurts so good,” Paul slurred drunkenly.
“Oh, my God.” Everything was falling apart. “Look, Paul, you’re obviously not feeling well. Let me take you to your room.”
“Excellent plan,” Paul said.
“I think it would be better if you handed over the keys,” the valet said.
“I’m not staying long,” I replied without even glancing at him.
“I think you are staying,” said the valet firmly. “Don’t you and Mr. Slater have a dinner reservation?”
That made me glance up. There was something oddly familiar about the valet’s voice.
It wasn’t until I looked into his face that I realized why. A chill passed over my entire body.
The man holding my door was no valet. It was Jesse de Silva.
“Monsieur,” said the waiter, bowing as he laid a napkin over Jesse’s lap.
Jesse didn’t look at all bothered by the fact that he’d invited himself to dinner—and forced the waitstaff to add a third chair and place setting to what was obviously a table for two—even though everyone else in the restaurant was staring at us.
Things like that don’t faze Jesse at all.
In fact, I think he was enjoying himself, especially when the sommelier brought over the bottle of Dom Pérignon that came paired with the first course on the tasting menu, chilled oysters on the half shell, topped with Beluga caviar.
“I brought my own bottle,” Paul grumbled, and filled his champagne flute with the whiskey he’d brought from Delgado’s studio.
The sommelier looked disapproving, but since Paul was a paying guest, there was nothing he could do.
“As you wish, sir,” the sommelier murmured, and walked away.
Mariner’s was the Carmel Inn’s four-star restaurant, voted the top destination in the Bay Area by Forbes Magazine, and Paul had gone all out, reserving its best, most romantic table—known locally as “the Window Table” because it was tucked into a dark corner of the restaurant that happened to be paned on both sides by floor-to-ceiling glass, and jutted out a dozen yards above the crashing surf of the southern most edge of Carmel Bay, so that diners had the giddy sensation that they were eating on a cliff, a private aerie above the sea.
Only the aerie was not so private or romantic tonight, since the restaurant had been more than happy to add a third place setting and chair at the Window Table, per my fiancé’s request.
“So,” Jesse said. “What are we celebrating?” He lifted his champagne glass. “The fact that I’m a demon?”
Paul raised his own glass. “I’ll drink to that if it means you’ll finally go to hell, de Silva.”
“Stop it,” I snapped. “Both of you. Jesse, how did you—?”
“Your stepbrother David was trying to reach you,” Jesse said with a shrug. “But you wouldn’t pick up—as usual. So he called me to see if I knew where you were. He seemed to have something particularly urgent to tell you, so naturally I asked what it was. David being David, he was reluctant to betray your confidence, Susannah, but eventually I convinced him it was in his best interest. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I was the reason he was calling. Or rather, the fact that I seem to be under some sort of curse.”
I felt as if someone had poured ice-cold champagne down my back instead of into my glass. “Jesse,” I said. I was going to kill David.
“Oh, I’m sure you can,” Jesse said, enjoying his food with a gusto I found surprising for someone who’d just discovered he was destined to lose his soul and become a mass murderer. “I look forward to hearing all about it. Yes, I will try the wine, thank you.” He smiled up at the hovering waiter.
“But how did you know we’d be here?” I hadn’t told David—or anyone—about my evening plans.
“Where else would Paul Slater stay when visiting Carmel?” Jesse set aside his fork to take a sip. “Only the best. Now, where shall we begin? With the bargain I heard the two of you mention, or whatever happened between you on graduation night?”
“Jesse,” I said after I’d taken several gulps from my water glass. My mouth felt as if it were filled with sand. “It’s not what you think.”
“Oh, it’s quite all right, querida.” There was a dangerous glint in his dark eyes. “If a man is doomed to murder everyone he’s ever loved, it’s nice to know he has reason to do so.”
“Jesse.” I choked. “Stop it. You know that isn’t true.”
“Which part, precisely, Susannah?” Jesse drained his wineglass. “I told you that we may no longer have a mediator-ghost connection, but I can still tell when you’re lying to me, and you’ve been lying to me all week. Those flowers on your desk at work? They weren’t from a grateful parent. They were from him.” He glared at Paul.
“Guilty as charged.” Paul winked at him. “But isn’t she worth it?”
I felt a spurt of rage at both of them.
“Oh, yes, that’s right, Jesse,” I said, before he could react to Paul’s jab. “Ever since high school, Paul and I have been having a torrid affair behind your back. That’s why I took him and not you to the murder tonight. Paul’s much better at murder than you are.”
Paul looked confused. “Wait. Are you being sarcastic?”
“Yes, you idiot,” I said to him. “We almost got shot tonight because you don’t even know how to fasten a pair of handcuffs.”
“Then why did you take me?”
“Because I couldn’t let Jesse do it. He’s got too much to lose.”
Paul sank back into his chair, looking stunned. “Shit. She used me.”
“Oh, grow up, Paul. Jesse, listen, I—”
“I thought we’d talked about this.” Jesse had folded his arms across his chest in such a manner that his biceps were bulging beneath the suit jacket he wore (jackets and ties were mandatory for male diners at Mariner’s). Jesse’s wasn’t as expensive as Paul’s, but he still looked very, very good in it. “I had to promise to work a half dozen shifts to get another resident to cover my shift in the ER tonight, and then, after waiting here for you for over an hour, I learn that you’re late because you killed Delgado? How could you even think of doing something like that after what you and I discussed this afternoon, Susannah?”
“First of all, I never said I killed Delgado. He took his own life. Second of all, I’m sorry I lied. But I told you, I didn’t want you risking your reputation for a sleazebag like—”
“And I told you I didn’t want you risking your life.”
“I’m sorry,” I said again. I’d never seen him so angry. “But I said I wasn’t going to sit around decorating bonnets. You should know by now I’m not that type of girl. And it turned out to be worth it. I have Delgado’s client list. Not the clients who bought his regular photographs—he had a separate thumb drive of private clients who bought what he called his ‘specialty photos’ . . . photos you definitely don’t want to see. Father Francisco’s name is on that list.”
Jesse made a face as if he’d tasted something bitter, but all he’d done was take another, slower sip from his champagne glass, which the waiter had come by to superciliously refill. “Ah. The good news never ends, does it?”
“It is good news, Jesse,” I said urgently, gazing into his eyes, which were still dark with suppressed anger, and something else I couldn’t entirely identify. “There was enough on that thumb drive to put Father Francisco—and a lot of other people—away, maybe even forever. I’m going to turn everything over to CeeCee tomorrow.”
Jesse’s lips twisted. “So the world is supposed to believe that Delgado had a crisis of conscience before he killed himself, and sent his list of private clients to the local press?”
“I think that’s best. CeeCee will make sure Becca Walters’s name stays out of it.”
Jesse nodded thoughtfully. “And perhaps this will allow the spirit of Lucia to rest.”
“Not to interrupt this touching moment, but can I just say one thing?” Paul held up one hand.
“No.” Jesse stabbed an index finger in Paul’s direction. “You should shut up, unless you want to end up like Delgado. And you”—his furious gaze snapped back toward me—“can hardly blame me for thinking the worst, especially after what David told me tonight. What bargain were you two arguing about when you pulled up? And what could possibly have happened graduation night? I was with you almost the entire time.”
“Jesse,” I said. “I wanted to tell you. I really did. But I was afraid of how you’d react—like now, for instance.”
He looked indignant. “What am I doing wrong?”
“Everything! I had this situation completely under control until you came in here—”
“Oh, please.” Paul groaned. “Much as I’m enjoying watching you squirm, Simon, I need to go shower, because I smell like a Venezuelan flight attendant. So I’m calling it quits for the night. I can assure you, de Silva, nothing happened on graduation night except one little moment of indiscretion on my part, for which your girlfriend kneed me in the balls. And then tonight, as the coup de grace, she forced me to watch a degenerate blow his brains out. There. Are you happy now? Seriously, I give up. She’s all yours.”
Jesse made a lunge at Paul as he rose to leave the table, catching him by the lapels of his suit jacket and causing all of the dishware to rattle noisily, and some of the silver to slide to the floor.
“She was never yours to give, Slater,” Jesse hissed, his face only inches from Paul’s. “Nor is she mine. Women aren’t horses, they don’t belong to one man or another, though maybe you think they do, since you’ve evidently been working so hard to steal her away.”
“I wouldn’t call it work.” Paul did not sound particularly troubled by the fact that there was six feet or so of fuming former ghost looming over him. “Not when you’ve made it so easy by failing to properly tend to her needs.”
Fortunately the sommelier hurried over at that exact moment, and he and I both managed to pry Jesse away from Paul in time to keep him from physically assaulting him . . . but not in time to keep every head in the restaurant from swiveling toward us.
I felt all of Jesse’s muscles tense beneath my fingers. He was itching to heave a punch in Paul’s face, and truthfully, Paul deserved one.
But neither the sommelier nor I wanted a scene in Mariner’s, especially at the Window Table. With our combined weight and a combination of pushing and pulling, we managed to get Jesse back into his seat before he did any damage.
“Jesse, please,” I begged him as the sommelier fussed over him like a mother hen, folding his napkin back over his lap, since it had fallen to the floor, and brushing off his suit. “Paul’s drunk. And, even if he completely messed it up, he did do you a favor tonight. You know you can’t afford to be anywhere near people like Delgado.”
Jesse turned his glare on me. I felt like one of the tiny cakes inside my stepnieces’ vintage Easy-Bake Oven, burning under the bright white lightbulb.
“Did me a favor?” He looked incredulous. “Susannah, I don’t need those kind of favors, from him or anyone, especially when they involve you. And,” he added with a dark glance in Paul’s direction, “he’s a little too drunk, don’t you think?”
“What? No.” I hurried back to my own seat just as the second course, a gold-rimmed plate of Monterey Bay wild salmon with Meyer lemon, was being laid there by a team o
I broke off as Jesse reached down beneath my chair.
“Really, please, carry on, you two,” Paul slurred drunkenly from the chair he’d sunk back into. To my amazement, he still hadn’t left the restaurant. “Pretend like I’m not even here. I’m used to it.”
Jesse pulled my bag from beneath the table and began to rifle through it. Suddenly I knew exactly what he was doing . . . and what he was looking for. My heart flew into my throat.
“Jesse, no,” I cried, reaching for the leather straps to snatch the bag away. “I—”
But I heard the distinctive rattle, and knew his fingers had closed over the prescription pill bottle before I could stop him. He pulled it from the depths of the bag and squinted at the label in the dim candlelight on the restaurant table.
“What are those?” Paul asked interestedly. “Suze, did you bring party favors? My kind of girl.”
“They’re not the kind you’d like, Slater,” Jesse said, quickly opening the bottle and dumping the contents into his hand. Counting swiftly, he asked, “How many have you given him?”
“Just a few. I put them in the whiskey bottle when he wasn’t looking. I didn’t want him to taste them.”
Jesse swore. “You gave him sleeping pills in alcohol?”
At Jesse’s appalled expression, I shrugged. “It is a big bottle. He’ll be fine, just a little out of it for a while.”
“Thank you for your medical diagnosis, Dr. Simon.” Jesse had already pulled out his cell phone, ready to dial 911. “Why would you do such a thing?”
I bit my lip. I was going to have to tell him eventually. Look at everything that had happened because I hadn’t told—because Becca hadn’t told. Oh, wait. We were talking about me now.
But in the end, Paul was the one who spilled the beans.
Remembrance by Meg Cabot / Romance & Love / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes