Catch up on the case!
BUSTED LOVE, Part One
BUSTED LOVE, Part Two
BUSTED LOVE, Part Three
BUSTED LOVE, Part Four
BUSTED LOVE, Part Five
BUSTED LOVE, Part Six
McCarthy had his badge out when we got to the door. He put his cop face together -- a brutal fug sandwiched together between two inflamed cheeks.
I buzzed and an old woman answered. She had weak, milky eyes and white-blue hair that fell wild over her flower-print robe.
"Thank goodness you're here," April Christian said. She looked at us from behind the screen. "Well, come in, come in."
We stepped into the house. "Right through here," she said. McCarthy flashed me a look but I made like I didn't see it. She led us through the kitchen and into the yard. "She's been out there for hours."
A clothesline ran from a post near the house to a maple tree. In the garden, the tomatoes were starting to come in -- a few green bulbs getting fat on the vine. "Ma'am?" I said.
She pointed to a maple at the end of the yard. A full-sized tabby was sitting on a high branch, looking impressed with the world. McCarthy cleared his throat.
"I was taking the clothes in when the rain started. She got out from behind me. It's been a regular ordeal getting her down," she said. She shouted through the door. "Bad Percy!'
I looked at Jonny. "Officer McCarthy?"
I sighed and draped my jacket over my head to make a tent. I struck out into the yard. The mud made a sucking sound as I lifted my feet through it.
"Come on, Percy," I said.
The cat looked at me.
"Don't make this hard."
I grabbed a low branch and tried to hoist myself up. The bark came off in my hands and made my palms raw. "Damn it."
I leaned against the tree for a minute and started to think. Percy started mewing, but this wasn't helpful. I turned back towards the house and waved my arm. Jonny took his time, hands-in-pockets. He wasn't in any rush.
"Problems?" he said. He had a hard time covering up his smile.
"What do you want?"
"Give me your gun."
"Alright, then." I looked around. "How about this. Stand over there."
He followed the tip of my finger to a spot underneath the cat.
"What are you going to do?"
"Just be ready."
I jumped up again and managed to get my arm around the branch. I swung my body up till my heels got some friction against the tree trunk. I dug my heels in and shook the branch like a baby. Percy yowled and leapt at McCarthy.
"Jesus," he said.
I dislodged myself from the tree trunk. Percy was sitting on Jonny's shoulder. The cat looked at me for a moment, scampered down, and ran back towards the house.
"She had her claws out," McCarthy said.
"Let's go in."
Ms. Christian and Jonny headed into the bathroom for some peroxide. Except for Percy, I was alone in the kitchen. She was lying near the stove. I let her alone and headed into the living room. There was nothing priceless in the china cabinet. Just a decade's worth of flea markets and mail-order catalogs. I recognized a few pieces from home.
The grand piano had a thin skin of dust, ruptured by the occassional paw print. I lifted the keyboard cover and tapped a note -- middle c. The thing had slumped out of tune and had stayed that way for some time.
On top of the piano were photos of a young woman with curly red hair and a graduation gown. Her cap was tucked neatly under her arms. Her nails were neatly trimmed and polished, the cuticles drawn back. I stared at her face for a while. It was a nice kind of face. Drawn-out jaw, small nose, round drinking eyes. You couldn't blame anyone for calling it lamb-like.
"That's my niece." Ms. Christian was standing behind me. She was holding out two cups of tea. I took one. "She stayed with me last summer. Her parents live all the way in San Francisco."
"Very pretty," I said. "What's her name?"
"Angela. My brother's daughter."
I picked up the frame. "Where is she now?"
"She goes to school in Wilmington. She's studying art history."
I smiled. "A college student, eh? Does she have a boyfriend?"
"You're not interested in my Angela are you?" A smile crawled across her face. My thumbprint was on the glass. I wiped it with my sleeve.
"You should be a detective," I said.
"Wait right here."
Ms. Christian left the room and I sat there drinking her tea. It was an herbal mix. Some lemon, some roots. She came back with a scrap of paper with seven numbers on it.
She winked when she handed it to me.
On the way back, me and McCarthy stopped off at Lamont's, a steakhouse off the interstate on the way back to town. The rain had left the roads with a black, greasy smear. A girl in pigtails and braces sat us down near the bar with a pair of menus. Jonny leaned against his seat and groaned. "I'm starved," he said.
"This place any good?"
"They got steaks as thick as my fist." He made a fist and dared me to argue.
A waiter came and took our orders. A few minutes later he came back with two pint glasses filled with dark beer like bread. "You're buying," he said.
I nodded my head and tasted the beer.
"Can I pay you back?" I said. "I got ripped off the other day."
"Someone broke into my hotel room. Messed the place up. Me included."
"You didn't call the cops?"
I smirked. "I don't trust the local law enforcement."
He laughed and called me an asshole. Then he dipped his nose into the beer.
"You ever been to a place called the Weasel?"
He nodded. "It's a college bar. We bust them every now and then for underaged drinking."
"How's the food?"
"The fries are okay. I wouldn't touch anything else."
"You always had a discerning palate."
"Just a sensitive stomach."
We both drank. A few minutes later the steaks showed up, looking like crime scene evidence. "That's too much blood," I said.
"Don't whine. Besides, that's the best part." He dabbed a roll on his steak till it went pink and soggy.
"Is there a lot of criminal activity down at the college?"
Jonny worked chunks of his steak down his throat. He shook his head, said something with his mouth full, then put his napkin up. "The campus have their own police force," he said. "We don't get involved."
I tore off a piece of meat and turned it around a few times in my mouth. "Make any exceptions?"
"Only for damned nosy PIs. What're you driving at?"
I shrugged and drained my beer. It had been a long day and it was starting to get to me. "I don't know."
"That's the problem with you snoops."
"You're obsessed with questions. Those little curly things at the end of sentences." He drew a question mark on the table. "It's not so much the answer -- just all those damn questions."
I dug a hole in my mashed potatoes. I thought about what I could bury in there. It wasn't very much. "Maybe I'm curious."
"I don't think it's even that. I think you just like the sound of it. The way the notes rise at the end." He pointed at me with his fork. "You've got problems, pal."
"Yeah, I've got problems."
The waiter came around. "How're you all doing?"
"I've got problems," I said.
He looked at me.
I pointed at the beer. He took the glass away. It was a while before he came back with a new one.
"I'm tired of this case," I said as we drove back to the hotel.
"I'm tired of you."
"You'll hurt my feelings, Jonny," I said. "Anyway, I'm in too deep to call it quits."
"How far along are you?"
I looked at him then put my hand up to about chin level.
"That's pretty far."
"I can see the end," I said. "But I can't make myself get to it."
"I'm tired. I don't want to chase down leads. I'm trying to close this case, but it keeps on expanding."
"Sounds like my ex."
"Cut the shit," I said. "Why did you leave New York?"
"I told you why, didn't I?"
"No you didn't."
"Then it must not have been very important," he said.
I leaned my head against the window. When I woke up, we were at the hotel. Jonny carried me into the elevator and up to my floor. We stopped in front of my room. There was a light underneath my door.
Posted by billchapters on Thu, 31 Jul 2008 19:17:01 -0400 -- permanent link