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NESSA REACHED BEHIND her to clamp Chick's thrusting hip. "A car!" she cried, her words half muffled by the pillow.

The metronome that was Chick abruptly clenched. "A what?"

"A car! See what it is."

Chick wasted seconds staring around the bedroom, as though expecting to see some car drive through here, but then at last he did hop out of her and out of bed and over to stare out the window. "It is a car!" he confirmed. "Two cars!"

Could this be the bozos with the chess set after all? Nessa didn't believe it for a second. "Time to get dressed," she said, feeling grim.

There'd been a few men in Nessa's life since, last November, four months ago, she'd switched from the dreamer Brady to the completely unreliable Hughie the roadie, and if she were the contemplative sort, she would be contemplating right now the fact that her men had not been getting better along the way. Chick, for instance, did not have Brady's deftness with locks, nor Hughie's cleverness and constant cash flow, nor much of anything else to recommend him except a large strong tireless body and an amiable willingness to let Nessa lead him by the nose or some other part, but he was an easy companion in her slow drifting progress toward somewhere or other, so what the hell.

Nessa had not so much hardened in the last four months as jelled toward the person she would eventually be. Leaving Numbnuts with Brady had not been a serious life decision, but just a fun goofy thing to do, on a par with cutting school or piling into a car with a bunch of other kids some summer night to go skinny-dipping out to Lake Gillespie. Leaving Brady for Hughie the roadie had been almost as impulsive and unthinking, but calculation had begun to enter her head: the indolent and unfocused Brady was proving to be useless in her life, but Hughie appeared to be a man with uses. And when he too in very different ways disappointed, there turned out to be somebody else. By now she had become serious enough to understand that she was not yet actually serious, but would be. There was still time to grow up. At the moment, but not forever, she was with Chick, who was gaping out the window, at a loss.

So she pulled on her jeans, crossed to the window next to Chick, said, "Put something on," and looked out and down at two simple sedans parked in front of the garage and, did they but know it, parked also in front of Chick's dented gray PT Cruiser, which was at the moment stashed inside that garage. Another complication, maybe.

A total of four people, all bundled up because in Massachusetts it was still definitely winter in late March, had climbed out of the two cars and, as Nessa watched and behind her Chick finally put his clothes on, the four began to pull other things out of the cars to carry with them off to the guesthouse, away to the right. Mops, brooms, squeegees, buckets holding cans and boxes of cleaning supplies.

Servants, these were, two men and two women, come to clean the guesthouse. We're about to have guests.

Won't they come to this house, too? A good thing they started their work over there. Nessa and Chick wouldn't be able to leave this vicinity while their car was bottled up in that garage, but at least they'd have time to erase their presence from this house before any of the cleaners arrived.

There wouldn't be much evidence of their presence to eliminate, in fact, since Nessa and Chick had only slipped past the locked rear gate and into the compound last night. Driving northward, she had told him about the big empty house in the Massachusetts woods, and how Brady had found the way to circumvent the lock, which she could now do as well. She told him about the people who'd showed up at the place to choose somewhere to hide a valuable chess set they planned to bring up, but then how they never did return, with or without anything of value.

"I still think they're bozos," she'd said last night, "but what else've we got to do? We'll stop by there, see if they actually ever did show up with that chess set, sleep in a nice bed, defrost some of the food there, and take off tomorrow."

"Then let's go to Ohio," Chick had said, for no real reason, and she'd said, "Sure. Why not?"

Why not? One place was as good as another, until it would be time to get serious. In the meantime, that chess set might have come in handy, but of course it hadn't been here. If there was one thing Nessa had learned so far in her travels it was this: Bozos are bozos.

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