“Please, don’t insult my intelligence. The gun’s empty, and I highly doubt that you have managed to find a magazine full of .32 ACP since you took it off of Wilhelm.” As before, the English carried a heavy Teutonic lit but was clear and understandable.

“Fair enough,” I said. I tossed aside the PPK and raised my hands, thinking that I might at least be allowed to die with some dignity. I was so tired, so winded, so overstimulated from all that running around that it almost seemed like a relief.

“I have to ask, what made you do it?” Zimmerman asked. His crooked nose and receding hairline bookended a furrowed brow and a wide smile…it was as if his face were displaying four emotions at once. “The pretty face? I know from experience that it does little to make up for her coeur d’alene, her heart of an awl. You don’t seem to be a professional, and I know for a fact that she has no more of my money.”

“She grabbed me by the shoulders, and told me I had to help her,” I croaked. “They say that, statistically, that’s the best way to get help from a stranger. What can I say? I’m a samaritan, and by the time I realized what I’d gotten myself into, it was too late.”

“Fair enough,” Zimmerman said, his face still menacing and jolly at the same time.

“Let me ask you a question, if I may,” I said, wheezing out the syllables.

“Anything,” Zimmerman replied. “I’ve no reason to withhold anything from you now.”

“Why did you do it?” I asked. “Did she steal money from you? Is it a hit? Why else would you and your slick gang of stormtroopers go after Laurie? It certainly wasn’t because of her…winning personality. And it wasn’t just because I was able to lead you on a merry chase, much as I’d like to think otherwise.”

Zimmerman reached into his pocket, and fished around. “Allow me to answer that question as succinctly as I can,” he said. A moment later, his hand emerged, holding a diamond ring with a snapped band, where it had been cut off of a finger.

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