Alec began with running a trace on all of her aliases. He came up with four hits on the credit cards. One in California, one in Buenos Aires, one in London, one in Rome.
He stared at the laptop screen, leaned back, and put his sneakers up on the desk. He kept staring at the computer screen as he gulped orange soda, the sweetness and the tingle of carbonation tickling his tongue.
Kissing Parker had been better than drinking orange soda.
Letting out a long breath, he closed his eyes and jabbed his finger at the computer screen. Alec opened his eyes to see where he was headed.
Had to start somewhere.
It wasn't hard for him to track down the hotel and room number. It had been a few days since her alias had checked out. Someone else had the room now, an attractive couple from France. Alec sat in the lobby with his Ipod pretending not to be paying attention as he watched them step out of the elevator and leave the hotel.
He went upstairs, hacked the electronic door lock and slipped inside. It was a sure thing that the maids had been through a few times since Parker left, but Parker was good. She'd find a way around that.
"I know you're here somewhere."
Alec checked the bathroom cabinet, looked around the baseboards, reached behind the DVD player in the entertainment cabinet, underneath the dresser, in the light fixtures.
"You're making me work for this. I get it, I get it."
He got down on his hands and knees and lifted up the bedspread.
"Shit." He rested his forehead against the soft carpet a moment, then got up and booked himself a flight to London.
He found it at the Dorchester, which didn't seem like Parker's kind of place. Looking around the furnishings that had far, far too much in the way of floral print for his comfort (that much floral print was just wrong), he got a vivid image of Parker jumping up and down on the furniture, leaving take-out containers all over the place and scandalizing the maids.
It was under the bed, wedged against the corner of a back leg. A five ruble coin.
Well, sort of.
He shimmied himself back out from beneath the bed.
Russia was a big country.
In St. Petersburg, she left him a piece of graffiti on the wall of a hostel. It was a Greek word, her name interwoven around the letters.
Alec didn't think Parker knew any Greek, but she'd probably copied it out of a book or got it online. The word turned out to be the name of a tiny town on the Mediterranean, a fishing village with a resort.
The place was paradise, white sand, incredible blue, blue water--but no Parker. She wasn't there, maybe never was there. She was probably sitting in a nice suite in New York City, laughing her head off at him. The sand was itchy and the internet access at the resort sucked and he had sunburn because he forgot to buy sunscreen, and somewhere in the world, Parker was laughing at him.
As he crossed the lobby in search of air conditioning, a shower, and maybe a better vantage point to pick up a wireless signal, a kid ran up to him and handed him a folded piece of paper.
"Uh-uh." Alec tried not to accept the paper, but the boy spoke to him in Greek, gestured vehemently.
"She paid me a lot," the boy said in assured English, pushing the paper at him.
"All right, all right. Man, what do you care? It's not like she's going to know if I don't actually read this piece of paper..."
"I do my job," the boy said, running off.
At least -- well, okay, she could have a camera set up in the lobby. She was maybe watching his discomfort via satellite from somewhere hundreds or thousands of miles away. It was within the realm of possibility. The technology existed.
He opened the paper and found the name of the nearest airport and a flight number in Parker's handwriting.
She'd given him half an hour.
Luckily the taxi drivers in Greece seemed kind of fearless, what with all the cliffs and twisty roads. They didn't seem to mind going at a ridiculous speed to get him to the airport in time, although Alec thought he might toss his cookies or possibly die in a horrible, grisly accident before they could get there.
He ran through the airport, his laptop in its case jouncing against one hip, his backpack knocking against the other, and got there just as the gate was closing.
They wouldn't sell him a ticket.
Standing the terminal out of breath and feeling like a complete jackass, he heard a whistle. Alec turned and saw Parker on the gangway, behind the barrier the attendants had put up.
When she saw he'd spotted her, she beamed at him, face brightening like the lights going on at dusk on a fairground. She made a happy motion with her hands, as if she was proud he'd figured it out and excited to see him. She even bounced on the balls of her feet.
Then the gangway started to recede and the attendant tugged on her arm. Parker frowned and refused to move. When the attendant started to insist, Parker slouched, rolling her eyes at Alec.
Alec wondered if she'd wind up punching the attendant, and he held his breath, waiting for it. Instead she let herself get bodily dragged back into the depths of the gangway.
"Hey, Parker! Wait, you--" Alec stopped at the barrier.
She grinned and blew him a kiss before she stepped on the plane. The door closed, and he realized that had been her plan all along.
Sadistic, that's what it was.
He stayed to watch the plane take off.
An attendant came up to him and handed him a piece of paper five minutes after take-off. He unfolded it and found a note in Parker's handwriting. Clock tower, Hong Kong Park, it read, with a date and time.
She'd doodled a little heart beneath it.
He bought a ticket for Japan.
On the flight, Alec made it a point to play video games, do some coding, and reorganize his browser bookmarks. Because he was a busy man, really busy, and he had a ton of things to do besides chase Parker all over the world.
He went to the meeting place fifteen minutes early, and spent some time pacing in a circle around the white tower. The glass skyscraper behind it reflected an entire bank of clouds.
The wall around the tower had six openings--you could walk away in any direction you chose. Go towards the city, or go deeper into the park. Six openings, even though there were only five of them. One flew east, one flew west, one flew over the...
Alec didn't just miss Parker. He missed Eliot (and man, Eliot would laugh at him if he knew), he missed Nate, he even missed Sophie, maybe a little. He missed strategy meetings in the state of the art conference room Alec had made for them. Watching football games and eating popcorn, the way his heart jumped before he had to rapel down the side of a building. Knowing he was doing something to justify his use of space in the world.
Alec turned to walk in a circle the other way and there she was, leaning against the wall with her arms folded, satisfied-cat smile on her face.
"Hi," Parker said.
He stopped in front of her. "Hi."
He wasn't sure what the rules were for this part of the game. Alec was just opening his mouth to ask when Parker stepped forward, grabbed a handful of his shirt, and put her mouth over his.
Oh yeah, orange soda was nothing. He put his hand against the small of her back, pulling her closer. Alec heard her whimper happily against his mouth and he started to feel light-headed.
Then she pulled way, disentangling herself from him, colorful and shimmering as fiber-optics.
"Okay," she said, then put her fingers to her lips. She was a little flushed. "I have to go," she said, sounding content but not. He thought he heard hesitancy beneath her crisp, cheerful tone. "Check underneath your hotel room's bedside table." There was a flicker of unhappiness in her eyes. Parker turned on her heel, ponytail swinging.
"Hey, wait." Alec ran to block to her path. "Wait, wait." He held out his hands but didn't touch her, was very careful not to touch her. "Stop."
She did. Her arms were folded across her chest again, as he'd found her. "I have to..."
"Just. Wait. A second." Alec took a step back. "What happens if you stop?"
Parker unfolded her arms and fidgeted with the zipper of her windbreaker. Then she let her hand drop and her body went quiet and still. "I don't know," she whispered.
"Do you maybe want to...try it?" He leaned against the wall, looked up at the clouds. "Y'know, just to see what happens?"
Her eyes narrowed, but she stepped over to him, settled herself against the wall so their shoulders were almost touching.
After five or ten minutes, he felt cool fingers brush against his knuckles. He took her hand and felt her skin growing warm as she squeezed his hand back.