Changes

An Hachette Livre UK Company

1

I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, “They’ve taken our daughter.”

I sat there for a long five count, swallowed, and said, “Um. What?”

“You heard me, Harry,” Susan said gently.

“Oh,” I said. “Um.”

“The line isn’t secure,” she said. “I’ll be in town tonight. We can talk then.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Okay.”

“Harry . . .” she said. “I’m not . . . I never wanted to—” She cut the words off with an impatient sigh. I heard a voice over the loudspeaker in the background, saying something in Spanish. “We’ll have time for that later. The plane is boarding. I’ve got to go. About twelve hours.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll . . . I’ll be here.”

She hesitated, as if about to say something else, but then she hung up.

I sat there with the phone against my ear. After a while, it started making that double-speed busy-signal noise.

Our daughter.

She said our daughter.

I hung the phone up. Or tried. I missed the base. The receiver clattered to the floor.

Mouse, my big, shaggy grey dog, rose up from his usual napping spot in the tiny kitchenette my basement apartment boasted, and came trotting over to sit down at my feet, staring up at me with dark, worried doggy eyes. After a moment, he made a little huffing sound, then carefully picked the receiver up in his jaws and settled it onto the base. Then he went back to staring worriedly at me.

“I . . .” I paused, trying to get my head around the concept. “I . . . I might have a child.”

Mouse made an uncertain, high-pitched noise.

“Yeah. How do you think I feel?” I stared at the far wall. Then I stood up and reached for my coat. “I . . . think I need a drink,” I said. I nodded, focusing on nothing. “Yeah. Something like this . . . yeah.”

Mouse made a distressed noise and rose.

“Sure,” I told him. “You can come. Hell, maybe you can drive me home or something.”

I got honked at a lot on the way to McAnally’s. I didn’t care. I made it without crashing into anyone. That’s the important thing, right? I pulled my battered, trusty old Volkswagen Bug over into the little parking lot next to Mac’s place. I started inside.

Mouse made a whuffing sound.

I looked over my shoulder. I’d left the car door open. The big dog nosed it closed.

“Thanks,” I said.

We went into the pub.

Mac’s place looks like Cheers after a mild apocalypse. There are thirteen wooden pillars irregularly spaced around the room, holding up the roof. They’re all carved with scenes of Old World fairy tales, some of them amusing, more of them sinister. There are thirteen ceiling fans spinning lazily throughout the place, and the irregularly shaped, polished wooden bar has thirteen stools. There are thirteen tables in the room, placed in no specific pattern.

“There’re a lot of thirteens in here,” I said to myself.

It was about two thirty in the afternoon. No one was in the pub except for me and the dog—oh, and Mac. Mac is a man of medium height and medium build, with thick, bony wrists and a shining smooth pate that never shows signs of growing in. He could be anywhere between thirty and fifty and, as always, he was wearing a spotless white apron.

Mouse stared intently at Mac for a moment. Then he abruptly sat down in the entryway at the top of the little stairs, turned around once, and settled down by the door, his chin on his paws.

Mac glanced toward us. “Harry.”

I shambled over to the bar.

Mac produced a bottle of