Chapter 26

The diner was cozy and bright, and Jesse was able to wake up. The miles on the road and the lack of adrenaline in his system had made him tired. He knew that a hearty dinner would only exacerbate his fatigue, but holding off much longer would make him groggy, irritable, or both.

He followed Sascha to a booth in the far corner of the diner. A magazine rack sat against the far wall, and through the window the rental car was plainly visible. There were no patrons in the two booths closest to them. The diner appeared to be staffed by a bartender and a waitress who were discussing something behind the bar.

After they took their seats and shook off the cold, Jesse quietly thumped the table with a flat hand. "So," he said. "What's the plan now?"

Sascha pulled a menu from the end of the table and opened it. "I think we should go back," he said.

Jesse raised an eyebrow. "You're kidding," he said. "The people who've been stalking us are going to be dropping by my apartment tonight, and you want to go back? Shouldn't we let the police handle that?"

"Have you put the pieces together yet? Do you think that we can trust them?"

"Yeah, I've put the pieces together. Only the police knew about the new apartment, but somehow the address wound up on that guy's phone. That means that either someone stole the information or it was leaked. Either way, we need to be careful. Do you think that we could call in an anonymous tip?"

"Oh, I plan on it. But we need to know exactly when they're on site. Even the NYPD won't be happy about hanging out all night just in case someone happens to make a surprise visit."

"Sure, but it's an apartment of someone who's part of a criminal investigation. Wouldn't that be enough?"

"It depends on how the address leaked. If we give away where we are, we don't know who will handle that information. I'm not ready to make ourselves available yet."

"Good point. So what's the strategy?"

"I think that we should go to North Piata, park a couple of blocks from your apartment, and lie low. If they show up, then we make the call. The police will respond the way that they always do, and we'll bag the stalkers. Or, at the very least, we'll bag another set of their employees. Eventually they'll get greedy and do a job themselves, and we need to be ready for it. These failures—Ingo, the girl who mugged you, the guy who rear-ended me—must be wearing on them."

Going back to the city, much less his tiny, bare apartment, was the last thing that Jesse wanted to do, but he knew that Sascha's intuition had an internal logic. If they stayed on the run, then Jesse's apartment would be ransacked and he would need to file a police report. Whoever leaked the apartment's address would be working on the next step and helping the guys who were stalking him to tighten the noose even further. If they made a more aggressive move, though, then they might be able to use the break-in as leverage. Someone within the police department would be keen to paint the incident as a random home break-in and dismiss any other call for investigation. Connecting the dots between the text message containing Jesse's apartment address, the break-in, and the ongoing investigation would make a compelling argument, and it was an argument that they needed to make.

"Come on," Sascha said, seeing a shadow of doubt in Jesse's face. "Where's your heart? Aren't you the one who's always delivering the grand visions of the future of investigative journalism? You've been behind the curtain since college, but I know that your fire is still going."

Jesse grinned and shook his head. "You're right. Of course you're right. You're also a jerk, you know that?"

"Yeah, and a hungry jerk at that. Time for some food."

The waitress arrived, bringing a wave of fresh air with her. "What can I get you, gentlemen?"

When they climbed back into the car, Jesse's mind was much refreshed. He imagined the view of his apartment from several blocks away. The streets were dim at night, giving them an advantage. It would be easy to find a place that was well away from the glare of the street lights. The door to the apartment was directly under a light, and there was an additional safety light on the front of the building. While it was unusual for a New York apartment, there was no rear exit or fire escape.

"How long?" Jesse asked, checking his watch. It was nine o'clock, and the message had requested a late visit.

"Forty minutes," Sascha said. "I took a very circuitous route on the way out here, but we can get back much more efficiently. It could be a late night, but we'll want to be there early." He downshifted and accelerated as they reached a long stretch of straight road. "Have you thought of a place where we can see without being seen?"

"I know just the spot. And there's a great takeout joint about 100 yards away."