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PART SIXTY-FOUR

Suzann fished her phone out of her bag and raised her index finger. “Hang on and I’ll call him. Let me give him a little background and then I’ll put him on speaker,” she said to Stacie and Karla.

“It’s ringing,” she said, nodding her head.

“Suzann Layher,” Manny Taisto’s strongly Brooklyn New York accented voice sounded in her ear, “what the hell’s up with you? You been arrested?”

“Manny Taisto,” she responded with a headshake and a hearty laugh, “always full of optimism and encouragement. How are you, old friend?”

“Old friend? Last time I looked we were the same age.”

“Yes, that’s true. But you must admit that I’m aging far better than you.”

“Well,” Manny said, “that ain’t so hard. Plus, you probably made a deal with the devil. You and your voodoo magic. Or is it just that black don’t crack? How the hell are you?! I miss your mug.”

“You’ll never know which. Just be careful or I’ll work some Santeria on you. I’m fine, thank you! How about you? How’s Penni and the girls?”

“They’re terrific. You otta see ‘em. Just beautiful; all three. I’m a lucky man. And you really otta. See em I mean. They miss you.”

“Oh, that’s sweet! I miss them too. Samantha starts middle school next year, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah. Man, talk about time flying. So, what’s up? I mean, it’s great hearing from you and all, but let’s face it, last time you called Eugene’d been picked up by some of my buddies up in the hundred and third. What’s going on, good looking?”

“Oh! Thanks for reminding me about that little incident! But you’re right, only this is much more urgent. And local. I have a woman here with me who has, well, a special set of circumstances. Her estranged husband is hunting her and she’s in fear for her life. I was hoping you could help.”

“Husband, huh? Restraining order?”

“No. It’s a very odd case. Apparently, he’s some kind of skinhead murderer that she ran away from while he was serving time for aggravated assault. He showed up at school today and now she’s scared to death.”

“School today? There’s a kid involved. That’s no good, Suzann. You know that. Don’t screw around here. Call the cops, not some ex-cop from NYC.”

“Yes. That’s what I said. But it gets complicated.’

“Always does. So, what? What kind of complicated.”

“Well, she may have sto-, she may have taken their child away and fled the state while he was in prison. And it’s just possible she told him their daughter was dead and told the daughter her father was dead.”

“Jesus Christ. Are you shitting me?”

“I’m not. And she’s right here and she needs some, well, unofficial advice from a very official friend. What do you say? For old time’s sake? The little girl is only eight-years-old. What do you say, Manny?”

“I say you’re a manipulative bag-a-bones who knows exactly which button to push. You say she’s right there?”

“Yes.”

“Let me talk to her.”

“Perfect. You’re a good man.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just don’t let that get out. Let me talk to her. What’s this chickee’s name?”

“Perfect. Her name is Karla and I’m putting you on speaker phone,” Suzann said, laying the phone on the center of the table.