Read 23 Minutes Online

Authors: Vivian Vande Velde

23 Minutes (13 page)

BOOK: 23 Minutes
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But she does.

1:35.

However, Daniel is shaking his head. “Not really. It's just … sad. Charlotte only recently suffered a miscarriage.”

This seems pretty personal information to have—for someone who describes their friendship as “not really.” Zoe presses on, observing, “But you're close enough she told you about it.”

“No,” Daniel says. “But she was very obviously about six months pregnant. And then she was very obviously not.”

Zoe supposes private investigators need to be observant like
that.
Poor Charlotte
, she thinks, willing—under the circumstances—to forgive the teller's snappy impatience, her peeved-at-the-world attitude.

Daniel brings Zoe back to the matter at hand. “So the guard pretty much doesn't notice the robber …?”

Zoe nods.

“… till Charlotte …?”

“Draws everybody's attention by squealing,” Zoe finishes. “And once he starts shooting, the robber just … keeps on shooting people.”

Daniel is considering all of this, no doubt trying to picture the timing, everyone's positions. He asks, “So he comes by car …?”

If he's hoping that if he sneaks up on the question, she'll be able to come up with more details about the vehicle, he's sadly mistaken. She says, “He parks it across the street, in front of the card shop. There's a woman with a baby who's parked directly in front of the bank. She comes back to the car about 1:36.”

Daniel starts to ask, but then apparently decides he doesn't want to know their fates. He's watching the digital readout on the phone, evidently having finally run out of questions.

Zoe hopes that means he's working on a plan. She tells him, “The rain starts at 1:23. I estimate the robber arrives at 1:29. With you not in the bank, it's 1:37 when he'll start shooting. Earlier, otherwise.”

“You're pretty good for someone without a timepiece.”

She shrugs.

Just as the time changes to 1:36.

Zoe asks, “So what should we do?”

“I suppose it doesn't make any difference
who
he is. The
important thing is to stop him before he gets into the bank.”

“How do we do that?”

“Stop saying
we.
You'll stay here. Inside.”

On the one hand, she's relieved to be authoritatively told she's to remain out of it. No chance of getting shot again. And she will
not
take that chance again. On the other hand …

“Except,” Zoe reminds him, “you won't remember any of this conversation.”

“That's a real pain in the butt,” Daniel says.

“Yeah, tell me about it. How do I win you over real fast?”

“Armadillo
helped. As did your knowing I was carrying a gun.” He hesitates. “I hope this doesn't sound as though I'm the kind of person who enjoys other people's fear … but it was pretty convincing to see how you were so clearly afraid of me and yet just as clearly felt you absolutely needed to talk to me.”

“Can't do that again,” Zoe points out. She's amazed she
could
have been that distrustful of him. She's also amazed at how vulnerable he makes her feel, and how feeling vulnerable … somehow … doesn't feel bad.

Daniel finishes, “And the fact that you were unflinchingly honest about your earlier …” —he drums his fingers on the folder—“… troubles.”

“OK,” Zoe says.

“Oh. Got it: Mention the trust fund papers. Tell me that Nick Wyand”—Daniel nods his head upstairs to indicate the lawyer he was visiting—“finished by saying, ‘Give my love to your mother,' and that kind of creeped me out, Nick being … well, Nick.”

Zoe says, “I have no idea what you just said, but fine.”

Daniel says, “Try not to let me get sidetracked …”

Zoe snorts and says, “Yeah, right.”

“No, really. Tell me: ‘We discussed this already. There's no time.'”

The cell phone shows 1:37.

Daniel glances door-ward. His voice comes out small, and somewhat shaky. “Surely,” he says, “there has to be something—”

Zoe shakes her head. “Next time,” she tells him.

He's very obviously fighting the inclination to be moving, to be doing something. But he takes her at her word. He picks up his phone and tries to hand both it and her folder to Zoe.

“Doesn't make any difference,” Zoe says. “The folder will be back with me at 1:16 whether I'm holding it now or not. And the phone will once again be with you.”

Not being as familiar with the the ins and outs of playback as she is, Daniel nods slowly, taking her word for that, too.

From outside there's a noise which they both recognize can only be the sound of gunfire.

If Daniel had any lingering doubt, this settles it. She thinks he looks pale and scared and young. He, too, she realizes, is used to being self-sufficient, and doesn't quite know how to handle being dependent on someone else.

She really, really doesn't want to try again. She also knows Daniel will not forgive himself—and, by extension, her—if she doesn't. “See you,” Zoe tells him just as door 1C bangs open, and M. Van Der Meer sticks his head out, demanding, “Hey! Did you hear—”

Daniel, still sitting on the bottom step with his phone and her folder on his lap, raises a hand to her in farewell as Zoe puts her arms around herself and says, “Playback.”

CHAPTER 11

T
IME
RESETS
TO
1:16.

Zoe holds onto her folder as she runs to Independence Street. If Daniel was persuaded to believe her because of her openness about her psychiatric record, then open she will be. She mentally reviews all the things that Daniel said made him inclined to trust her, desperate to maximize the time they'll have to work on the actual solution to the bank robbery. She's thinking and she's running, and she comes close—but not
that
close—to the biker guy and his Chihuahua. Certainly not close enough to justify how he scoops the small animal up to the safety of his arms as though saving its life, overreaction evidenced by the way he still has time to give Zoe the finger before she passes them.

Once again she dashes into the converted-into-offices Fitzhugh House. Once again she slams the front door. And once again she's able to glower away the nosy man from office 1C.

She's ready and waiting on the landing as Daniel starts down the stairs from the 2A office of Nicholas Wyand, Attorney-at-Law.

“Hi Daniel, I'm Zoe. I'm supposed to say
armadillo
to you to let you know that I'm an OK stranger to be talking to you. Can we sit here on the landing for a few minutes? I know you've just been talking trust fund business with Nick, who's apparently a bit creepy, at least when it comes to your mother. Normally, I'd be afraid of you
because you're carrying a gun, but I know I can trust you, and I hope you feel you can trust me.”

Perhaps she's been a bit too succinct. Daniel looks somewhat taken aback by her rapid-fire words, maybe even a bit uneasy. She stops short of handing him the folder full of psych evaluations, judging the timing for that might be off.

Zoe takes a deep breath. “Sorry,” she says, and repeats it for good measure. “Sorry. I need to talk to you about something very important. Please.”

“Who
are you?” he asks, even though she's covered that already—not a good sign.

“Zoe,” she repeats, trying not to sound rushed, or impatient. “We met before, in a different life, sort of, and you told me about how
armadillo
was sort of a code word for you, when you were a kid, and so you told me to use it … to sort of introduce myself to you …” She drifts off, but is unable to stop tacking on one last, “… sort of.”

He's looking more confused than apprehensive, and Zoe supposes that's a good sign. Though he still hasn't sat down. He tries to sort his way through her words. “We met, so I told you how to introduce yourself to me …?”

“We
sort of
met,” Zoe explains.

“In a different life?”

“Well, in a
sort of
different life.”

Daniel's patience snaps. “Which, I gather, is
sort of
different from reincarnation? Because I don't believe in reincarnation. Oh, wait. No doubt you already knew that.” His tone has just veered off into snarky.

Zoe says, “I think we got off to a bad start.”

“This time or last time?” Daniel asks. He has made his way from befuddlement to wariness to annoyance to sarcasm in sixty seconds flat.

She has messed up
everything.
For someone who only this morning felt relatively satisfied with her ability to deal with people, she is amazed at how quickly things have sped out of control. Zoe sits down on the bottom step of the upper flight because her legs, once again, have gone rubbery. She looks directly at him, into his blue eyes.

He shakes his head, puts on his sunglasses, and starts down the stairs.

Her overeagerness to get started has ruined everything. That one housemother would not be able to refrain from a self-satisfied
I told you so.

Too impulsive.

Except, of course, for those times she's paralyzed by indecision.

Zoe rests her forehead in her hands, unable to watch him leave, and mumbles after him, “I don't know what to tell you. Except that what I need to talk to you about is important.”

She hears the front door open.

And close. Rather forcefully.

What an idiot she is. Yet another wasted playback. And only two more to go.

She tries not to cry, not to feel sorry for herself. It isn't that she's tired from reliving these twenty-three minutes over and over, not exactly, not physically, because her energy level—like everything else—resets each time she returns to 1:16. But
emotionally
she feels battered.

Her mother, she's coming to realize, was right in her evaluation of Zoe. No wonder her father never came back for her once he recovered. Stupid, worthless, messing-up-everything loser that she is.

The floor below her creaks, and she figures M. the Designer has once again poked his head out of 1C to find out what is going on.

But it's Daniel's voice she hears: Daniel, who says, sounding irritated—either with her, or with himself, for not leaving when he had the opportunity to—
“What
is it you need to tell me?”

He crouches on the landing in front of her, but makes no effort to hide how exasperated he is. He's pushed the sunglasses up on his head—a signal, whether he means to proclaim it that blatantly or not, that he can easily pull them back down to block her off. She is on probation, so to speak, and he can leave at a moment's notice.

“Let's start over,” he suggests.

“Yes. Please.” She intentionally speaks slowly and—she hopes—calmly. “My name is Zoe. I know you're Daniel Lentini. I know you're a private investigator. We met once before in a past you don't remember. I know this sounds crazy—and I have the papers here to prove that I have been in the mental health system. But the truth is, I have a very limited ability to travel back in time. And it's precisely because that sounds so crazy that you gave me some key things to mention to you—to prove I
have
met you. Several times already.”

His gaze flicks to the papers she's holding, but he doesn't ask to see them. Neither does he comment on the whole mental illness thing. He stands, and she winces at the thought that she's lost him. But he's only moving from crouching before her to sitting next to her. He sets down his envelope full of trust fund stuff, but it's
within easy reach for him, ready to be snatched up again should he decide enough is enough. He asks, “So you keep reliving the same time over and over? Voluntarily?”

Ooh, good question. He's catching on despite himself.

She nods. “The same twenty-three minutes,” she clarifies. “But only up to ten times. And this is attempt number eight. Which is why I was so … pushy.”

“What's special about
this
twenty-three minutes?”

“There's an armed robber who's about to walk into Spencerport Savings and Loan.” She's aware that it's just started raining, and she adds, “In six minutes. Depending on what we do next, either a few or a lot of people will get killed.”

Daniel is looking at her seriously, which might mean he believes her, or might mean he's thinking,
Crap! Why didn't I run away from this psycho when I had the chance?

She can't afford to go too fast, but she has just as much to lose by going too slow. She finishes, “In almost all cases, you were one of the first to die.”

He's just watching her, waiting, not showing her what he's thinking.

“In the cases where you didn't die, you gave me those details—armadillo, trust fund, Nick Wyand is a bit creepy when it comes to your mom—so I could kind of bring you up to speed quickly. I think I probably tried too quickly.”

Daniel nods, but she isn't sure whether it's to indicate
No kidding, too quickly
, or if he's telling her he believes her. She hopes it's evidence of the second case when he asks, “I couldn't just give you a business card on which I'd written—”

“No, I can't bring anything back with me.”

Next he asks, “I take it we've tried calling the police?”

“We've covered this before,” she tells him. “Doesn't help. You recognized the guy, but,”—she keeps talking as he opens his mouth to ask—“you didn't say his name out loud. And last time when we tried, we weren't able to figure who it was.” Even though it sounds a bit rude to her, she says, “You sort of told me to keep you on track, and to cut you off—in the interest of time—from dead-end conversations.”

Daniel isn't offended. “OK. Got it. Tell me what I need to know.”

Hoping he isn't just trying to see how far her delusions extend, she tells him, “The robber parks across the street from the bank. There are about a dozen customers when he enters, but at least four or five of them leave before the shooting starts. The bank guard doesn't notice him till too late. Charlotte the bank teller—” Zoe figures another proof at this point can't hurt and adds, “and, by the way, you told me how you deduced she had lost her baby—she does something to alert the robber that she's pressed the alarm, and that's when he starts shooting, if you
aren't
there. Otherwise, it's recognizing you that sets him off. This last time when we were planning, you talked about trying to intercept him.”

BOOK: 23 Minutes
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