He had a choice to make. Either he could tell this Inspector from Madrid to go take a hike so he could go find his sister, or he could trust that Espinal was telling the truth and take him up on his offer to help.
Well, one thing was for sure: Zeb did not trust this man. It was too much of a coincidence that he showed up now, seemingly the deus ex machina promising to save the day. Uno’s – or, as Espinal and Zoe corrected him, Andres’ patch on his clothing may have proved not to have any link to the Madrid police department after all, but if what Espinal was saying is true, he did have a connection to at least one Madrid police officer. But why would Espinal offer up that information if he wasn’t really willing to help?
“Get in,” Zeb said. Either way, it would probably be best to keep the man closer rather than let him go off and confer with the Spaniards behind his back. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer…
Espinal went back to the taxi, paid the driver and retrieved a suitcase from the back seat. Then he came around to the passenger side of Zoe’s car and got in. He held the suitcase on his lap as Zeb backed out of the driveway and then shoved it into the back seat as they drove toward the highway.
“So,” Zeb said after the first ten minutes passed in awkward silence, “how do you know this Andres guy?”
Espinal looked over at him, as if considering what to say. “Do you have any cigarettes?” He leaned forward and opened the glove compartment, rifling around inside.
Zeb frowned. “Uh, no. I can’t smoke and Zoe doesn’t either, so you’re not going to find any in there.”
Espinal closed the glove compartment door and sat back with a sigh. He was dressed similarly to the way he had been when Zeb last saw him: wrinkled lightweight suit and loosened tie. This suit was dark grey, his tie navy blue. His shoes, however, were dark brown. It was fairly obvious from that and the lack of a ring on his finger that this man had no woman in his life to help keep him from looking like a slob, so Zeb concluded that he probably wasn’t directly related to Andres.
Espinal gestured toward his left ear. “Ah yes, your condition,” he said. “Smoking makes that worse?”
“You know, medical information is confidential – isn’t it illegal to eavesdrop on a doctor-patient conversation?”
He pursed his lips thoughtfully but then blew out a breath dismissively. “Probably, yes. But I was not there to eavesdrop, I was merely waiting for the appropriate moment to enter the room.” He shrugged. “Talking of your condition, though: are you okay to be driving?”
“I’m fine. For the moment,” he added in a low voice. They were just leaving Aurelia’s city limits behind, heading out into the sparsely populated area between the city and the Los Padres National Forest. The highway ran around the huge expanse of trees for the most part, but here it cut straight through the outermost edge, where it branched off into smaller roads. He knew the quickest way to get to Zoe would actually be to turn off the highway and take some of these by ways and pass through the mountains to reach Mesa Forest. He was just looking for the right one.
Doing that, however, would mean that, soon, they would be completely surrounded by trees and on a very infrequently travelled road. That would be the best scenario if he did have another attack. It would be the worst scenario if Espinal turned on him…
“I could drive, if you would prefer,” Espinal offered.
Zeb looked at him, brow furrowed, trying to figure out whether or not he was serious. “Thanks,” he said, “but A: you’re not licensed in the US, and 2: you don’t know where we’re going.”
He waved a hand as if to say that neither of those objections bothered him in the least. “You could tell me where we’re going. And, as for the license issue -” he gestured to their surroundings, “It isn’t as if there are a lot of witnesses.”
Zeb turned to him sharply. Was that a veiled threat, a reminder to Zeb of his own vulnerable state? He felt his heartbeat increase in tempo, and had to take a breath to calm himself down. He turned on the radio, fiddling around until he found a classical music station.
“You like classical, eh?” Espinal said in a tone that clearly indicated that he did not.
“It’s calming,” Zeb said. “I love the history attached to the music as well, though.”
Espinal grunted noncomittally. “I have always prefered music that is more…passionate.”
“Really?” Zeb had to admit he was surprised by this revelation. “I took you for an elevator music kind of guy.”
“You know, the really bad instrumental renditions of actual songs that they play in elevators.”
“I have never been in any elevators that play music,” Espinal replied. “But I love to hear the street musicians play in the Plaza Mayor. That is what real music is: live and inspired by the moment.”
Zeb barked a short laugh. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were so poetic.”
“There is much you don’t know about me, señor,” Espinal replied, seemingly unoffended.
“Right,” Zeb said, his thoughts and suspicions whirling in his mind. “For example: do you happen to have any contacts in Interpol who can help me with this thing? Or do you only know murderous soccer referrees and their killer sidekicks?”
Espinal rounded on him. He pointed a finger straight at Zeb’s face. “You know nothing, nothing, about that, Mister Martin,” he said, menacingly quiet with suppressed rage.
The vehemence in his voice was startling, and only served to further fuel Zeb’s distrust of the man. But a frustration arose in Zeb that he couldn’t ignore. “You know, I would really love it if, just once, everyone would stop telling me that I know nothing about all this and actually tell me what’s going on!” He smacked the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. Then he took a deep breath and looked over at Espinal, who sat staring straight out the windshield to the road ahead. “But, of course, you’re not going to do that are you?”
Espinal said nothing for such a long time that Zeb simply shook his head and ignored him, concentrating on driving instead. “I think,” Espinal finally said, “that you should be more worried about getting your sister back in one piece than launching attacks at me. I am only here to help.”
Zeb scoffed. “I’d find that a lot easier to believe if you’d tell me what you know about this Andres guy.”
“All you need to know is that if I can talk to him, I can put an end to all of this,” he replied.