At eight-thirty Auggie called Annie's favorite Thai restaurant and ordered Pad Thai for two along with the Tom Yum soup Annie had requested. If she arrived at nine as she'd planned, the food would be delivered shortly afterwards and they could enjoy their meal together while it was hot. But when the delivery driver arrived at ten after nine, Annie still hadn't shown up. She hadn't even called Auggie to let him know she was on her way. He tipped the driver generously and carried the food into the kitchen to warm in the oven, even though the smell was mouth-watering and he was starving.
At nine-thirty Auggie gave up waiting and dished up a portion of the spicy noodles for himself, devouring them hungrily. Between bites he dialed Annie's Blackberry. The call went straight to voice-mail, so he assumed she was probably on her way and had once again let her phone battery die. Gotta break her of that habit, he thought. He knew she wouldn't be angry that he had eaten without her. If the situation had been reversed and Annie had been the one waiting, she'd have dug in the moment the food was delivered. She got cranky when she hadn't eaten in a while.
By ten o'clock Auggie was pacing the pathway between the front door and the bedroom, his hand drumming steadily against his thigh. The skin-crawling sensation was back, and as he replayed their last conversation in his head, a cold sense of dread settle in the pit of his stomach.
"Have fun with the girls."
"Huh? Oh, I will. Thanks. See you soon."
"Damn it, Annie," he swore out loud to his empty apartment. He couldn't believe he'd missed her slight stumble before. He was completely off his game. He hoped maybe she'd already had plans with Jai and simply hadn't wanted to tell him, knowing of his dislike for their co-worker. But her odd manner earlier in the day followed by the brush-off she gave him before she left were rapidly convincing him otherwise.
Suddenly he stopped pacing and turned an ear towards the television. He'd turned it on earlier and left the volume low, finding the constant hum of voices preferable to the empty silence of his apartment. The news was on, and he thought he'd heard something important in the lead-in prior to the dramatic theme music. He fumbled for the remote and increased the volume.
"Earlier this evening firefighters responded to an alarm at a local auction house, but the blaze had already been doused by the on-site sprinkler system by the time the crews of stations six and seven arrived. At least four people were injured in the fire and transported by EMS to George Washington University Hospital for treatment. The names of the victims have not yet been released, pending notification of family members. A number of paintings and sculptures sustained significant damage, totalling as much as thirty million dollars. DCFD officials refused to speculate whether arson was indicated at this point in the investigation."
Auggie groaned in disbelief. Annie had asked him about filing a civ ob on an auction house earlier today. What were the chances that the auction house with the fire wasn't Brambles?
Slim and none, he thought. Annie, what have you gotten yourself into now?
As if in answer to his unspoken question, his cell phone trilled sharply. Auggie breathed an enormous sigh of relief and collapsed onto the sofa as he punched the button to answer the call.
"Annie, I've been worried sick. Where are you?"
There was a moment of silence on the line followed by an uncomfortable feminine laugh.
"Hello to you, too, Auggie," Liza Hearn said in a distant tone. "Who is Annie?"
I so don't need this right now, Auggie thought as he scrambled to think of an explanation that would be plausible and at the same time deprive Liza of any work-related information.
"Hi, Liza. Sorry about that. Didn't I tell you my niece was visiting this week?" he asked, hoping he sounded calmer than he felt.
"Auggie, I didn't even know you had a niece," Liza replied shortly.
"Yeah. Several, actually. Nephews, too. Annie is the oldest. She's a senior this year, applying for colleges. She's visiting campuses with a couple of friends this week so she's staying with me for a few days."
"Oh." Liza's voice had thawed somewhat. "No, you didn't mention it."
"In my defense...we haven't exactly talked much about family, Liza," Auggie said, deepening his voice with just a hint of suggestion. Liza gave him a sultry laugh.
"No, no we haven't. We've had much more interesting things to...talk...about."
Auggie was rapidly losing his patience. He struggled to hold on to the seductive note long enough to convince Liza that Annie wasn't a threat.
"Yeah. Believe me, I'm looking forward to "talking" to you again on Friday. Multiple times. But for now I need to track my cousin down. She went out for supper with her friends earlier and she was supposed to be back an hour ago."
"No problem, Auggie," Liza said in a much warmer voice, and Auggie knew he'd been successful. Then she asked, "Hey, she won't still be there Friday night, will she?"
Auggie held the phone away from his ear for a moment as he seriously contemplated throwing it across the room. Instead he stood, walked to the door and thumped it dully a couple of times, before breathing a huge sigh into the mouthpiece of his cell.
"Thank God, I think that's her now. I'll call you Friday."
Before Liza could say anything else, he pressed the END button on his cell and returned to the sofa, reaching in front of him for the laptop on the coffee table. After performing a voice-search for the number he needed, he stood and began dialing, pacing the floor of his apartment once again as he counted the rings until a frazzled-sounding feminine voice answered.
"Bramble's Auction House. Frances Holcomb."
Auggie thanked his lucky stars that a woman had answered. He might at least be able to charm her into getting the information he needed. He cleared his throat and affected a British accent.
"Miss Holcomb, this is Charles Braddock with Lloyd's of London. I'm calling regarding this evening's incident."
"Oh, my. How...I mean, when... I'm sorry. I didn't expect we'd be hearing from you so quickly."
Auggie was simultaneously relieved and dismayed to know that he had been correct in surmising the fire had indeed occurred at Bramble's. At least now he had a possible lead on Annie's whereabouts, but he couldn't shake the bone-deep feeling that she was in trouble.
"We make it our business to anticipate our customer's needs, Miss Holcomb. In order to begin my paperwork, I must obtain a copy of the police report. Is the director on site by chance?"
Auggie heard a strange hiccuping noise over the phone, and when the woman spoke again, it was in a strained voice.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Braddock, but our director was killed in the accident. I'm her personal assistant."
Auggie swallowed firmly, taken aback for a moment. He struggled to gather his wits about him as the chilly ache that had seemed to settle in the pit of his stomach earlier solidified into a block of ice
"Good heavens," he said finally, breathing out hard. "I had no idea. I'm very sorry for your loss."
Auggie heard a quiet sniffle, and even though he felt like an bastard for continuing his facade, he needed whatever details the woman could provide.
"Frances, I know this must be a difficult situation for you, but I do need some information if you can provide it."
"Certainly, if I'm able."
"As I mentioned earlier, I need the police report in order to start a claim file. Were you given a case number?"
"Yes, I made sure to write it down. I have it right here. Are you ready?"
Auggie opened a new document on his laptop and repeated the numbers to the secretary as he typed them with fingers that trembled slightly. He needed to end the call quickly before he lost his cool completely, but before he did, there was one thing he needed to know immediately.
"Frances, I hate to ask this next question, but I'm afraid it's necessary, as there is liability coverage in force as well as the property damage. Were there any other fatalities in the fire?"
The poor girl's voice dropped to nearly a whisper.
"Yes, there were three."
Auggie broke out in a cold sweat as his heart began to thud painfully in his chest. He cleared his throat several times until he felt he could speak in a normal voice.
"Do you know the victims' names?"
"No, I'm sorry. According to the police, none of the men were carrying identification."
Men. She said men. She said none of the men were carrying identification, Auggie chanted to himself. Dizzy with relief, he bent at the waist and took in a deep lungful of air, feeling the pain in his chest begin to subside.
"I see. Thank you, Miss Holcomb. You've been very helpful. We'll be in touch again soon," he said and ended the call. He sat for a moment running through the possibilities in his head.
Annie could be fine. Maybe she just forgot we made plans, or she was too tired and she's safe and sound at home in bed.
Auggie dismissed that possibility almost immediately. It just wasn't like Annie not to at least call and beg off. The easy way to find out would be to call her sister and ask for her, but he did not want to take the chance of alarming Danielle.
She could be at the police station giving a report.
That was probably the best possibility. But again, it wasn't like Annie to call and let him know what was going on.
She could have gotten into a wreck. She could have been abducted. Or shot. Or strangled.
Auggie thought of the many ops Annie had been involved in since her arrival at the CIA that had just gone plain wrong, putting her life in danger countless times. He flipped his phone open and began dialing again, this time calling the office shuttle. As he waited impatiently for it to arrive, he could focus on only one thought.
Annie, where the hell are you?