Chapter Sixty-eight

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I turned around to see my former boss, Simone DuPre, emerge from Jimmy's closet. She wore a long leather trench coat in black.

As I watched, she pulled Kate out of the closet behind her. Kate was in jeans and a t-shirt and had her hands behind her back. Simone held the end of the rope, which I presumed was attached to Kate's wrists, and in her other hand she held a large butcher knife that she kept prodding Kate forward with.

"What the hell is going on, Jimmy?" I said.

He inclined his head to Simone. "Ask her."

Simone smiled warmly. "It's my party," she said.

"Really? So are you crying now or later?" Jeez. With a crazy woman in the room, I had to get snide.

"Ah, the quintessential Paulette," Simone said. "Sarcasm in the face of danger."

"What danger?" I said. "I see only you." The words leapt out before I could stop them. Now I was going to make the crazy woman angry.

Simone nodded. "That's right. You're across the room from me, but Kate isn't."

Simone yanked the rope, which sent Kate spinning toward her. She grabbed Kate by the hair and traced a thin line across Kate's cheek with the butcher knife. Kate howled. The line on her cheek surged red.

Jimmy jumped up from his desk. "Stop that," he said. "Paulette, please, do what she says."

I took my fingers off the doorknob and raised both hands in the air, date purse, too. Even taking the knife into consideration, the odds were still three against one.

I bowed in Simone's direction. "Your wish is my command," I said.

"Excellent," Simone said. "I want you to purge the name Selma Douglas from the database."

"That's you, right?" I said. "You're Selma Douglas." I decided that stalling might be the best tactic until I could actually think of something to do.

"You don't change, do you, Paulette?" she said. "Still trying to use your brain to figure things out."

I dropped my purse to the floor and snuck a look at Jimmy. He stared straight ahead as if he'd been drugged. So much for the largest and strongest member of the home team. I had Odin's digits stored in my phone, on speed dial even, only my purse was on the floor. Damn!

"What, I'm going to figure out the secrets of the universe with my good looks?" I said. I looked at Kate. She, at least, watched the proceedings.

"You don't get it, Paulette," Simone said. "They don't want smart. They want pretty."

I took a step toward Simone. Her eyes were fastened on me, which meant she wasn't keeping an eye on the other two. "Really?" I said. "You saw this in a dream or what?"

Simone took another step in my direction. She hadn't noticed yet, but she'd dropped the end of the rope that connected her to Kate. "I'll cut you," she said. She wasn't smiling now.

I took a good look at the knife. The blade was seven or eight inches long with a nice sharp edge. Kate's blood still colored the point.

I swallowed hard and tried to appear genuinely frightened. Playing scared wasn't much of a stretch. My knees felt like molded Jell-O, jiggly and insubstantial.

"Yeah, I know you will, Simone," I said. "Tell me, why do they want pretty?"

Simone went back to the warm smile. "Isn't it obvious, Paulette?" she said. "If you're pretty, you don't compete."

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