"That doesn't sound like Eliot"
Kenny stood there, with his hand out, as knobby and expressionless as a tree. He couldn’t have been older than twenty or so, with a razor-burned jawline and floppy hair. Maybe 120 pounds with his shoes on. White as paste. Grant didn’t know what he’d expected, but this kid looked about as dangerous as a hangnail.
“Are you,” Grant squinted, as if trying to place him. “Are you DJ Yawp?”
The kid’s face spread into a scruffy smile. “Yeah, man. You a fan?”
“Not quite. We have a friend in common. Eliot Wiley.”
At her name, Kenny went gray, that smile drooping. “Oh, yeah, totally. Eliot. Cool chick.”
“You haven’t seen her lately, have you? I’ve been trying to get a hold of her.”
Kenny looked back to his garbage bag, then over his shoulder. “Hit her up on Twitter. She’s on that thing all the time.” He started to nudge the cart. “Anyway. Enjoy the gard—”
Grant stood in his path, looming. “The thing is, she hasn’t been on Twitter in a week. Not answering her phone either. You wouldn’t happen to know where she is, would you, Yawp?”
“Listen, man,” Kenny said, pulling back a step. “I got to get to work. They don’t like me chatting with the guests.”
Grant reached over and gripped Kenny’s shoulder. “This’ll only take a minute.”
One-handed, he steered them both toward the Japanese Garden with its head-tall walls and corners. They ducked into a hut the size of a bus stop, where Grant pushed Kenny to the bench. The kid wobbled a bit in his landing, but he wasn’t hurt.
“If they see my cart—”
Grant planted his feet wide to block the exit. It reminded him of the old days at the Y, on the court with a knee that still bent right and a back that didn’t buckle at jump shots. Thoughts like this usually made him tired, weary from the could’ve beens that played like elevator muzak in his head when he let them. But Kenny’s beady eyes and snarled thin lips stoked his adrenaline. It felt good to do something with his hands.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” he said, as if talking to a child. “I’m going to ask you questions. You’re going to answer them. If you don’t, I’ll tell your supervisor that you followed me around, harassing me, trying to hawk your music. Understand?”
Kenny nodded, sinking further into his seat.
“Good. Now I hear you like to bother our Ms. Wiley.”
“Sh-she’s my friend.”
“Your friend, huh? Ok, then: when was the last time you saw her?”
“A couple weeks.”
Grant hadn’t expected this answer. The way Jules talked, he’d figured Eliot found the kid a nuisance and had probably done her best to avoid him. “Where?”
“Around?” Grant mimicked. “Did she see you too, or do we have a stalking problem?”
“No, man, she called me. Wanted to meet for a drink. We went to this bar in Kirkwood ‘cause she said they made the best old fashioneds in the city.”
“Ration & Dram?”
“That’s the place.”
“What’d you two talk about?”
The kid looked sideways, bobbing in his seat.
Grant shoved him just hard enough. “I asked you a question.”
“She needed my help.”
“Want to be more specific?”
“Dude, I’m not gonna sell out my friend.”
Eyes steady, Grant stepped in close enough to breathe on him. “Maybe I haven’t made myself clear. Eliot is missing. We don’t even know if she’s alive. Got it? You don’t tell me what I need to know, I might start thinking you’ve done something to her. You want me to think that, Kenny?” He spit the name. “You want to see what I’ll do to you?”
Kenny shook his head. “Okay, okay. Geez, man.”
Grant moved back, but not far.
“This isn’t my only side hustle, okay? I got a friend who gets me some temp work on movie sets. Making coffee, sweeping, that kind of thing. A few weeks back, I was working at the Pullman Yards. Eliot saw me tweet about it and asked could I help her sneak through security.”
“She didn’t say. Just that it was important.”
“Did you do it?”
“Man, they barely let me in there. I get caught sneaking someone in, they call the cops.”
“So you told her no?”
Kenny bit at his splinter of a bottom lip. “Not exactly. I made friends with a guy who worked in casting. They were looking for extras, like, a lot of them. I got her on the list.”
Grant wondered why El would want to visit a movie set. Research for a story probably, but what about? “What was the movie?”
Kenny shrugged. “Something about zombies, I think. I might’ve got to be an extra myself, only that stunt she pulled got me fired. My buddy said I should be glad they didn’t blackball me with other studios.”
“Stunt? What did she do?”
He looked up now, animated. “So one minute she’s in line with the other extras, being led to set. The next she’d snuck off, down to the dressing rooms. Someone in wardrobe called security. Said she was harassing the crew.”
“That doesn’t sound like Eliot.”
“I know, man. I was shocked.”
“Did you ask her about it?”
Kenny nodded. “We’d planned to meet back at that bar after work, so when they kicked me out, I went to find her.”
“Was she there?”
“For, like, a minute. She was talking to the bartender, whispering and stuff. When she saw me, she passed him some envelope and came over all apologetic, saying it was a misunderstanding, she got lost, blah blah.”
“Sounds like you were pissed.”
“I liked that job.”
“I bet you wanted to get back at her,” Grant said, his mouth moving faster than his brain. “Hurt her like she hurt you.”
“No, man, nothing like that. All these temp jobs, I get fired all the time. If Eliot says it was a misunderstanding, that’s what it was. Besides, she made it up to me. Got me a sweet gig.”
“The showcase? At the Music Room?”
That uneven smile seeped on his face. “She told you?”
“I heard about it.”
“Man, it was lit. Best show of my life. I met a couple promoters. Even got another gig set up for next week.”
“You say she got you that spot. You know how?”
He scoffed. “Her Asian friend knew a guy.”
“You mean Jules. Her girlfriend.”
“Man, that chick ain’t her girlfriend.”
Grant felt a gulp in his throat. “Why do you say that?”
“Because Eliot told me she wasn’t.”
Just then, Grant’s phone vibrated. It was a blocked number. He placed his thumb on the button, trying to decide.
“That’s all I know, man. Honest.”
“One more question,” Grant said, watching the call go to voicemail. “I’ve been checking Twitter. Usually you’re all up on Eliot’s feed, but you’ve been radio silent for a few days. Something happen?”
Kenny scuffed his tennis shoe against the concrete. “I was sore, is all. She said she was coming to my showcase but didn’t. Not even a text to tell me why.”
“Jules was there. You didn’t ask her?”
The kid scrunched his eyes. “No she wasn’t. I put both their names on the list. Neither showed.”
Grant took a step back, into the open garden, and tried to steady his breathing. It didn’t make sense. First Jules lied about being Eliot’s girlfriend, and then she lied about where she was last Monday night. How could he trust anything she’d told him? For all he knew, she didn’t even see El on Monday. The frame at Noni’s, all that talk about being stuck in your life—maybe none of it even happened. But what he couldn’t figure out was why. If she had something to hide, why agree to meet him in the first place? Why not hang up when he answered El’s phone? What game was Jules playing?
“We cool, man?” Kenny asked from behind him.
“Yeah,” Grant said, waving him away. “We cool.”
The kid scuttled out of there so fast, he nearly trampled a bonsai tree. Grant heard the cart wheels squeak in the opposite direction before he braced himself to play the voicemail.
It was the hospital. Frank had taken a turn for the worse.