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A Blood-Dimmed Tide By Richard W. Humphries
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and Everywhere the ceremony of innocence Is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
--W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming
Detective Tufts watched the water from the tide pool lap over the dead woman’s body. She was bloated and deformed, but not so terribly that a relative couldn’t identify her. Maybe two, three days in the water. She might even have been cute, he thought to himself. Hard to tell. The water lapped against her naked body. Long ago he had stopped asking himself why, and now only considered who. Why was something he never could figure even when they told him. Besides, why wasn’t his job. Who was.
A sickly smell of death dragged me from my dreaming. Waking from the unmistakable sick-sweet smell, I sniffed at the carpet beneath my nose. Negative. The girl? Her remarkably beautiful nude body lay still on the rug, partially wrapped in a blanket kept near for such doings. Her parted lips dared me to take one last kiss as I pondered snipping a lock of her perfect blonde hair. Would my kiss bring her to life? Prince Charming at your service. I bent closer to her face. "Christ," she cried as her eyes popped open. "What are you doing? Are you some kind of perv?" "No." She stood, leaving me squatting naked; a perfect portrayal of a pervert. "Really." Tiffany checked her watch, from Tiffany and Company of course. "Jesus, what's that smell?" "Coffee?" I offered.
"So?" "So if we did it again. stuffing her panties in the rear pocket. stretching. "But." Pitiful. The odor was invading 7 . I'm gonna be late for my shoot. that would be a relationship wouldn't it?" She rooted in the sofa cushions."No. do something about that smell. jutting her pelvis within nibbling distance. I found a pair of shorts hanging from the fridge handle and turned the telephone machine on. Digby. "I had a great time." "Can I call you later?" "No. she awarded me a kiss on the crown of my head and made for the door. maybe we could do the take-out and cognac thing again?" "The sex was good. "Ta-ta. Count your blessings. ." "Me neither. ." She jumped in her jeans." I said. "But I'm not into relationships." She jiggled into her knit top." She arched her back. "And. Plugging in the coffee pot." she smiled." Bending. Phelps." "Once more wouldn't have to count if we . you got lucky. "Shit. fished out a purse and slung it over her shoulder. good Lord. "Hey. Perv. willya?" She bounced up the gangway and was gone.
it stank and no wonder. A single red-tail hawk lazed above in a loose circle in the blue June sky. I thought to find out what had happened to the beggar. Egg Drop Soup. Lord Have Mercy. and so he was. unaware of the world below. Barf. Sweet and Sour Sauce. Hanging as far as I dared over the worn rope-railing. It was not going to go away on its own. He was the unofficial mascot of our marina and the fat faker never met a handout he didn't like. Lord Have Mercy. Moo-Shu Pork. Gaa-gaa. Gaaaa. Low tide – what time was it? – the sun hanging high over the hills of the East Bay. I surveyed the matted fur on the feline's bloated corpse and decided there was only one thing to do. Christ Have Mercy. I dredged up mementos of the previous evenings entertainment. Moving closer. Salty. The dead cat's name was. Ga-ga-ga-gaa. Good God. Three of Sausalito's small fleet of party boats had already returned from the morning's fishing trips and tied up to the neighboring dock. 8 . used to be. The black Persian's carcass lay in the hardening mud beyond the aft deck.the boat through the sliding doors wide open to the aft deck. clotted blood dimming the tide's final trickle with a burgundy vein.
"Detective Tufts. God?" "You look a little peaked.” I said." “I didn’t kill the cat. gaa-gaa. a fifth of V. "We prefer to mind our own business around here. Now.O. Just. I'm paid to mind everybody's business. "Huh?" Turning.And let’s not forget the four bottles of Beijing beer. well. and now a dead cat as an eye-opener. that he appears to be. 9 ." "Dead? You live here?" "Who are you?" I was going to live.S. Breathing deep. . I was blinded by my dripping sweat and the sun shining in an aura around the stranger.. "That your cat? What happened to it?" "I. "Tough night?" "Is that you. . gaa ." "Yeah." a manly voice from the dock on the starboard side said. . In the hour of my death . I straightened so that I might properly petition all the angels and saints to intercede. gaa. . don't know.P." He flipped some sort of wallet thing open to display something I was supposed to be impressed by but could not see for the sunrays frying my eyeballs.
” The man got the last word in before marching down the wooden pier. I bent to gag again as the telephone rang inside.“Never said you did. A warmed aroma of rotting cat blew my way. 10 .
Pretty scratchy sounding." Joanie's voice chirped. briefcase. "Phelps. by the way? Is she entirely real?" "Almost. Digby Phelps. Time to rise. Who was yesterday's lady. It’s Martinez. but a good try. and drink something healthy. "Good try. here. Digs. It's ten-thirty and I've let you sleep as long as I can. Schroeder wants you to know you've been moved up and are the featured speaker at six o'clock this evening. "What's the dinner about?" "Find out at dinner. They're born with unrealistic expectations.Chapter Two "Digby. 11 . I'll remind him before I leave today and you remind him again at the restaurant. Digger. Digby. Afterward both of you are dining with Mister Martinez at Le Bistro at eight. Oh. "Oh. Joanie." I said in the best baritone I could muster." Stepping over my suit. Be a good boy and pick up the telephone." "You may instill that in them. It's dangerous to date someone named Tiffany. Alphonso Martinez. Eric insists on calling Mister Martinez by the name Herr Hernandez for some deep reason. I reached for the phone on the galley counter. and Chinese take-out cartons from the previous night's festivities.
Phelps. I mean. break a leg. I can squeeze you out one more cash advance this pay period." Joanie said. Digby. It had stood duty as the last big bet in a poker game from Hell before taking up residence in Schroeder’s office safe." I lied. Joanie?" "Let me guess: Tiffany was expensive." Sipping from a jug of either thick vegetable juice or watery soup. "All the time. while collecting names for future shares in 12 . Your topic tonight is Triple A Bonds. Have we ever handled those?" "Absolutely. "Sure. Speaking at the San Francisco Investment Fair." "Good for you. I hunted for a pair of my sweats." "I'm sure there’s some obvious joke here that’s beneath me." "Thank you." No self-respecting bond with safety on its mind would ever venture near Schroeder Capital. May I ask a favor.You sound like a foghorn. I’ll leave it with Schroeder. I believe. "Good luck tonight. I could declare the advantages of rock-solid bonds. Limited--my place of employ. and a dead cat this morning." "Szechwan food last night. We did have one in the building once. you're--" "Save your salesmanship. Joanie.
then tipped his hat and drove off. I just bring the bodies in the door. Before I reached Club Physique (“For classique physiques” as Your Narrator intones in the welcoming video) I had slowed down to a saunter. my beloved Jaguar.” Where the hell does a detective get a car like that? “Good. and intone sincerely about most anything (as long as it's on the cue cards). My acting career may have stalled at the training-film level.the more adventurous investment vehicles put together by the inventive mind of Eric Schroeder. The White Boomerang. my boss. I wanted to yell after him. cruising by in a red TVR Sagaris. sounding wise. “Are you following me?” but that would 13 . The details of the deals are Schroeder's domain. A Judas goat with a dressy wardrobe. “Getting tired of running?” a voice I vaguely recognized said. was in no mood to start so I decided on an easy three-mile jog to the gym.” he said. Like all great theater. “Not at all. It was Detective Tufts. My job is looking trustworthy. but I can look an audience in their collective eye. scratch my graying temples. wipe my glasses. You might need it. and acting honest. it is harder than it looks. a car I always admired.” I said. continuing my pace as he cruised alongside of me. “Just getting my second wind.
" "Lucky Japan." "Lucky California." I said." she said.sound paranoid. straight shoulderlength hair. I was getting flat out jumpy. A two-mile swim. My name? "Digby. Talking in the sauna? Between the sexes? Never. . It being Wednesday morning. Beautiful moist pink lips. "How about dinner. some light weight work. Dear Therese was not working the counter. "What's your name?" she asked in a soft voice with a tint of the South. black as a berry. five-two. a sauna. "I'm visiting from Louisiana. then? I'd like to do my part 14 . I shook my head to clear it and turned my attention back to Club Physique where the beautiful people were trying to stay beautiful. perfectly attired for the sauna in a white terry towel. . I forgot. "I'm Shayna. which would give my growing paranoia away. Are you here long?" "Only till Monday. leaving the club nearly deserted. and . Digby Phelps. so I signed in and got past the front counter without a critique of my green coloration. wide liquid brown eyes. my more driven neighbors were off chasing Mister Dollar Sign in his many guises. something else. and energetic. a hundred and five probably. Very pretty. soon I would emerge clear. She was with someone. I'm going to Japan for a modeling job. somewhere in Mexico." She was far too friendly to be a regular.
"I have a houseboat at the marina just down the road. the point of her tongue on her upper lip. I am not smooth." she laughed." Am I smooth? "Is that so?" she laughed." 15 . we are. "Where do you live?" I will settle for being lucky." Never had cozy promised such carnality. she was still in diapers. pure pink against the dark sheen of her skin. "Shayna. "isn't it?" "It's a very nice boat. Deep breath. "Yes. would you be my guest for a glass of champagne?" "Where?" She tugged at the towel at her breasts." "Really? Sounds cozy." "Are you Sausalito's official greeter?" Was she looking at my lap? "Yes." No. "The Valhalla. "Do you always extend yourself like that?" She was having an obvious affect on me." Her legs were smooth and firm." I said." I made it sound like a famous restaurant. "It can be. "Whenever I can. Digby.in making you welcome. "That's the name of your boat. When I was learning to drive.
How true. It felt like excitement at the time. The 16 . The drive to the marina was sunny and blue as we cruised slowly in her new convertible. singing to an Elvis Presley tape I found wedged on the dashboard. Looking back it's an easy thing to pinpoint that exact moment as the one that changed our lives. The Valhalla was sitting smartly in the water. given our popular culture." "I have a car." "I'll meet you out front."Sounds fun. We smiled at each other's eyes. The aft deck doors depict a Mad Hatter and his tea party while the lower head is a wooden mélange in a mushroom and marijuana leaf motif that inspires all who use the facilities to exit with a “groovy!” or a “far-out!” Blowing my renovation fund by paying for the blueprints." I said. I am now certain." She stood and stretched." "Even better. a two-level floating home of vintage redwood design. She is a handcrafted wonder of leaded-glass and ornately carved gee-gaws. I’m sure. It's a short walk home. "I just need to make a quick phone call to check on my flight. I settled in and let the place become home in spite of itself. We can't go on with suspicious minds. that it is only a matter of time before the Valhalla is discovered as the folk masterpiece it truly is.
"Is your nightie a sight?" "Those aren't the words. This younger generation. “Are you lonely tonight?” I had found the CD I was looking for. This is actually the way my mind works. I love your place. "Are your pee-jays too tight?" I crooned along as the cork bounced off the light fixture over the dining table. my eyes lighting up. 17 . Don't miss the gift shop. "Care to have a look?" "Maybe later." I poured slowly into two flutes.Unknown Burl wood Master of Marin. Ah. Digby. each layer unfolding." "Have a look around. She tasted of cold champagne and warm tongue--Digby Junior was rushing to join in. my wit sharpening. "Cheers." I believe the meaning of life can be found in a woman and it is a glory to wait and watch the unveiling. "Oh. "What's up there?" "The Captain's quarters. no patience." she said and came to me. arching up and pouting for a kiss. are they?" Shayna turned at the foot of the stairs. "Cheers and welcome to the Valhalla." My spine was tingling." She giggled. I'll pop a bottle of bubbly. "I knew we were going to screw when I first saw you. the Eternal Woman." she smiled with her pink tongue again.
too. Phelps. Sex Shayna-style had a decidedly direct approach. The unveiling was moving along in record time." I tried." Draining my glass. This girl had gone through school on a track scholarship (evidence of such included bouncing a dime off her butt at three 18 . Things are moving just a little fast. Shooting champagne out of my nostrils seemed to be the most appropriate response. too. "I mean. lifting her glass in a salute. the thought had crossed my mind. We acted out every schoolboy's wet dream." She smiled and stepped back. "Absolutely. of course. whipping her fuzzy little sweater off in an instant."You did?" I sounded like an amazed Boy Scout. Kiss and shut up. leaving her standing in the tiniest white panties that I have ever had presented to me. young lady. I'm not a big kiss-and-tell man. but what the hell. "Aren't you going to get naked too?" Shayna asked. "Me. I threw off my sweats as Shayna commenced prancing around the main room." Her short denim skirt hit the floor. "Especially when I saw you in your towel. It was very good prancing. Almost professional.
" she moaned. baby.feet). throbbing and thrusting. Other terms for your delectation are juicy. Give it all to me. Maybe one. "Baby. Digby Two eagerly entered the fray. Seriously. "It's so damn big. now.moist." 19 . Diggy. More. Throw in boat rocking and muscular and—um-. More. The sight of the pair up close was enough to make lesser men cry. holding up his end of the bargain and doing us proud as the lady displayed a high degree of grinding satisfaction and cries of approval. I can report that I gave a good showing for our side. turgid and snug. "Now.” Okay. ‘pert' is the term from the gentle porn of my youth. Has lovemaking ever been so delightful for you that you've found yourself regretting its finale while you were still in the midst of it? Was I hoping to steal her youth? Was I a randy old goat or was I embracing life? Was I asking too many questions? "Oh." I couldn't have written better lines for her. Must have a chat with her about the tendency sound has to travel across water. however. Her creamy young tits were gravity defying and firm.
He had frozen in that position when he saw the Shayna and Digby Love Act. I focused and recognized the hat. I lowered the bamboo blinds. They want in closer. Is love random or fated? "This is a cool view of the Bay from here. Live. It was Detective Tufts. she leapt to the bathroom in a single bound. had laid planks out across the mud flat and was bending over to place the dead Salty in a burlap bag. Stepping to the window. gazing at the Bay as I pondered her mystery and breathed deep of her scent. Short epiphany. "It's only the boy from the grocery. "Hey!" she shouted. His eyes were bulging wide with a look frozen somewhere between disbelief and a youthful hope for some of the same some day." I called to her. I bowed to our rapt audience of one and was about to lower the bamboo blinds when I saw another figure standing on the pier. 20 ." she said. Soon. the teenager from the marina store." Disconnecting from me with a happy smile. I was having an epiphany. The kid will probably have fantasies of nubile Nubians for the next fifty years. Softly rocking to our finish. It waved.Woman love to play with a guy’s name. He was beginning to piss me off…and scare me. '"that kid's peeping at us. Jimmy. Shayna was on top of me.
"Old enough to know better." she smiled. laughing and relaxed in her nakedness." Geezerdom may be closer than I think. "Were you a hippie when you were young?" "How old do you think I am?" It didn't sound as offhand as it should have. "Do you want me to stay all night long?" "Absolutely." I called. wherever you are. Digby."Coast is clear. Who could refuse? 21 . "Come out. "Groovy toilet." I said. come out." she said.
They're kept quiet. available to a handful of select investors who get in early and take a position before the mob comes running.Chapter Three We just finished up the investment fair and went back to the office. You know that the really hot investments aren't offered to just anybody who walks in off the street and hands their money to some rookie stockbroker. I work in a beautiful building. It is a beauty. Somehow. All with a smile and a wink. green-eyed. A cup of tea or a dollop of Madeira? Loan you an umbrella for the rain or the entire building for your charity event? Certainly. Our genial staff stands ready to service you. totally genuine. generous. cash in hand. That's when the smart money people grab their 22 . my boss Eric had inveigled a bank large enough to know better into funding the complete renovation of a neglected old firehouse downtown. and greedy Eric Schroeder. now can they? Of course not. from the five-foot two. genteel. don't you? The really new big ideas can't be found at the huge national investment firms. the interior and exterior smelling of money. Founder of the Firm. the immense limestone columns and rooftop flagpole adding an air of righteous rectitude to our activities. red-haired.
Oscar‘s a recent hire and has quickly become Eric’s right hand man. for a cup of coffee. Limited. I was admiring the polished soles of Eric's shoes propped on the desk in front of me. 23 . You'll like him." I said. "We should do it again next year. … "You really cast a wide net today. at Bush and Kearny in old Firehouse Number Six (A Registered Historic Landmark). That's Schroeder Capital. and he’s a good deal younger than me. Do you know that there are still untapped reserves near the original Comstock Lode? That Brazilian scientists are developing a new source of liquid protein? That an unsung stable deep in Tennessee may well be training the next Triple Crown winner? As we speak? How about these new beachfront condos planned for Alaska? How's that for marketing genius? Want to learn more? Come by the office with me. He works much too hard for my tastes. Always scary when one is approaching middle age. butler and confidante.profits and move on to the next ground-floor opportunity. manservant." Oscar came off the elevator with a tray of martinis. "There were some quality prospects at this thing. didn't you?" Eric said. Perhaps Mister Schroeder will be in.
How pretty?" "So pretty that I didn't recognize the family names until just now. "Thought I'd call it a day if there's nothing else. Oscar put down the tray of martinis." I said. Very. It had my initials in Joanie's hand on the front. We're lunching day after tomorrow. sipping." "Serves you right for snatching your speech from the internet. auburn hair."Dry and extra dry." "Very pretty." 24 . Digs. "And very sweet. "Kincaid Paper? Saint Alwyn Wines? Very rich.. He glanced at the pile of business and social cards we collected at the investment fair as Eric grabbed one and waved it. slim. Serene and bemused. The lucky lady." "Lucky you is more like it. taking the card from him." I said. and slid back out the door. "Purely pleasure. elegant. "That one's not business. Oscar makes a superb martini. too." Eric sighed." he said as we reached for the drinks. Looks like a princess. Fiveten. She said I did quite well with some very dry material. his eyes greedy little slits. "Alicia Kincaid-Saint Alwyn?" Eric leered." He slid an envelope to Eric. A little cash advance to keep me going.
"I'm growing and maturing. "that he answered to Hernandez when I called him that last time?" 25 . being born with a few million already parked in your bank account would make almost anyone serene and bemused. Time to settle down. I think this is for you." He was up and at the elevator. okay?" "Did you happen to notice." He's known it since we went to Saint Ignatius High. Digs. "I'm the third. Digby the Third. "Shall we go schmooze with Herr Hernandez?" It’s Martinez. "By the way. Eric. A vision of the young and naked Shayna waiting at the Valhalla came to me. Get a spread in Mill Valley." He casually slid the envelope out of range. "At my own pace. too." "Fourth." I said. In our country that is a princess." The elevator is mahogany. Nice change for you though." Eric speared the olive from his glass." "You're forty years old. "I lose track." He slowly slid the envelope over the polished mahogany. Here." I said.“Got news for you. "Alphonso Martinez." I casually stretched my hand toward the envelope. Sire a kid. though. "No more fantasies of playing pro ball or being a movie star. Beats your usual combination of hysterical and sarcastic.
you and I should be speaking North Beach Italian." Eric says it the way I do. our favorite waiter whooshed us 26 . and unwinding in Maui after. but certainly legal enough. "And the German accent?" "There’s always been a lot of Germans in Argentina. Bunny Walden." That was the most Schroeder had ever admitted to in front of me. "Perhaps not totally admirable. Sammy. Upon entering Le Bistro. The firehouse presented its potential to Eric during a long and liquid lunch with our thenmayor and said-mayor’s social tutor. … Le Bistro's location across the street from our building was responsible for the reincarnation of our humble structure. aren't we?" I like to check from time to time. "Legally and all?" "Ab-so-lutely. Bunny piloted Eric in dazzling the Landmark Board. drawing it out."South American manners." "Following that theory. seducing the loan committee." "We're safe enough doing biz with him. The matching redhead dervishes had been a whirling item ever since." I decided. "Probably grew up hearing it around the neighborhood." I explained.
over to our usual table, an elegant booth in the corner, so we would not be disturbed or overheard. "Hello gentlemen. What shall we pour this splendid evening?" Sammy's wide pink face was set off by his bright white dentures, white hair, and white chest-high apron. "I'm recommending Negronis." "A plate of oysters, too, if you don’t mind, Sammy. We’re expecting company. Digs will give you the nod when he walks in. I forget what he looks like." “Very well,” Sammy replied, and gave me a nod, and a smile, as though he and I were now partners in crime. "Look, Digby, I have him down for a unit in the Gold Town deal, and I'm pretty sure this dinner is his way of passing on it before he flies out tonight. I'm not about to let him off the hook though." "What should I do?" "No offense, Digs," Eric said as he patted me on the shoulder, "but don't do a thing. Especially if there's a long and uncomfortable pause, don't make a peep." "I can do that," I said. My pride was more than a little pricked, but all I knew of the Gold Town deal came from some smeared napkin sketches and one fast meeting with the idea man, a crazed Kiwi promoter who had
banged on the door of every adventurous bank on both coasts before his discovery by--or was it of?-- Schroeder. The idea was to build a theme park in the boonies, the Gold Rush reenacted for all the suburbanites who missed the first one. But with log flume rides, corn dogs, and plenty of restrooms this time around. Twentyfive units at one million per, and only one unit left – according to Schroeder. Sammy returned with the oysters and Negronis. I took a sip before it had time to settle. It was icy and smoothly bitter. "Shit," Schroeder said, "a prospect bearing gifts." Sammy and I followed Eric's gaze to Martinez at the door. "Parting gifts," Sammy said. "Never a good omen for a deal, gentlemen." Alphonso had a half-dozen bags from the better shops. Smiling and waving, we groaned to each other as he approached. "Hello, my friends." Alphonso took our hands in his and shook. "So good to see you," he said, as Sammy pulled out his chair so he would be facing us and the wall behind the booth. "First, I have a gift for you." Alphonso oozed charm. His polished nails drummed on the linen pensively, the low light bouncing off his silver hair and dove-gray silk suit. His face had been freshly tightened and his silver
mustache perfectly barbered. He looked either fifty or ninety, I couldn't decide. "For you, Digby." It was an expensively wrapped shoebox, Italian. "Please," he held my hand, "open it at home." "Thank you, Alphonso," I said, oddly wondering if it held slippers or a bomb. "This," he said, reaching into the jewelry store bag, "is for you, Eric." He sounded more German than I remembered. "Thank you, Adolfo," Eric let slip, His gift was a fountain pen known for its cost. "I'll think of you every time I write a big check." "Or endorse one," I added. "Mister Schroeder," Alphonso began seriously. Uh oh. "I am afraid that I have some bad news and wish to clear the air, as they say, before we dine." "Forgive me, but I must interrupt," Schroeder said gravely. "It's about the Gold Town project." "You have bad news?" Alphonso asked. "I am afraid so, my friend," Eric said. "May I be very candid with you?"
He played with the cap of the pen as Alphonso and I hunched forward. A whiff of garlic floated by our table. "Please," Martinez spread his hands on the linen, "be candid." "The firm greatly values your friendship and your business. We feel, however, that it may be too early in our relationship for us to make this leap together. Digby and I have discussed this at length." Eric nodded solemnly at me, "and we would prefer waiting until we know each other better. Let's let this deal pass." “I see." Alphonso squared his shoulders, appraising Eric. “Please give us your word that you'll forget Gold Town. That you won't let it become the big one that got away. There'll be other opportunities. Won't there, Digby?" Eric was all sincerity, open-faced and earnest. I was impressed with my boyhood chum and thought of a clever way to stress his point. To add my two cents as it were. Eric shot a quick kick under the table to my left shin. I replied with a silent nod. "But,” Alphonso leaned even closer across the table, "we've made money together, haven't we? The cattle futures went beautifully, did they not? You made money, too. Correct?" "Yes, the firm made a profit, I believe," Eric said. "There have been no complaints."
I was losing track of who was selling whom. Keeping quiet was easy. "Then why don't you want me in the Gold Town deal?" Alphonso seemed more hurt than angry. "It's not that," Eric comforted him. "It's just that it's not for the faint of heart." The air at our table turned suddenly cool and all background noise vanished. Silence. I was a statue. So was the gently smiling Eric. More silence. Sammy approached our table, pad in hand until his waiter radar told him to do a quick about-face. And more silence. "How many units are left?" "One," Eric said. It sounded final. And true. "I want it." "It's a million. Cash," Eric warned. "No notes." "I will wire-transfer the money to your account from New York tomorrow." Alphonso held his steady hand out to Eric. A pause and a final slice of the silence. "Welcome aboard, Alphonso,” Eric sighed in surrender as he took Alphonso’s hand in his. "You’re a hard man to say no to." I took a gulp from my glass and Alphonso patted me on the back in
relief. We celebrated over dinner--Alphonso insisting on being the host--and deposited the newest Gold Town partner into a taxi for the airport, sincerely wishing him a safe trip. Schroeder and I were waiting for another cab when a silver BMW Z4 Roadster pulled up and the window rolled down. “Nice dinner?” Detective Tufts asked, smiling. Schroeder shot me a look. “Very nice,” I said to Tufts. “Glad to hear it. It’s good to know you’re living well.” And he zoomed off. “Who was that?” Schroeder asked. “Oh, some guy from the gym. New acquaintance.” “Nice car,” Eric said. Then he tapped the wrapped box in my hand. "Enjoy your shoes." “Thanks. Wonderful moves, Champ," I said as a taxi pulled up. "Think he was good for two units?" he asked as I got in the taxi. "What difference would it make?" I puzzled. "There was only one left. Wasn’t there? Right?" "Concentrate on your lunch date, Digs," he said shaking his head. "Fall in love with her. Get married and live off an allowance."
What does that mean? 33 . heading for Sausalito and my rematch with Shayna. But Shayna wasn’t on my mind anymore. and how does a detective get cars like that? Was he a detective? He showed me a badge.He went back into Le Bistro as the cab pulled away from the curb. Why was he following me. Detective Tufts was.
a hundred and ninety. we've written you off for the day. "I am. "Let's do that again. Sometime between positions forty-one and five. but I was for the fifth time since meeting my track star at the front door in her birthday suit. I try to knock off a three mile swim a couple of times a week and keep the panatelas down to two a day--tops." I squealed in reply. Digs. it's three o'clock in the afternoon. 34 . “Just so you know. "Give it to me." she moaned after an interlude of deep sleep." Eric picked up on the speaker phone. Digby." Shayna squealed. By the way. but the thought that she had a flight to catch soon had occurred to me more than once. I wasn't complaining. Joanie? "Oh. The sun wasn't up. Sex as an athletic event. I phoned the office. Let me give you to Eric. I'm in good shape. Still.” Eric said. Shayna went in the upstairs bath and I escaped downstairs. I have Oscar on the call with us. I began collecting couplings in my mental scrapbook as insurance against a doddering old age. "How much will I be missed today.Chapter Four Six-two.
I really believe in the Gold Town project. right. too." "Spend it fast." "What’s temporary? Being twenty-three?" "That. "This is just a temporary thing. "No.“He’s very much a part of the company now.” “Bully for you. She's twenty-three and . Oscar. Mr. I like it when you're broke. . and presume your discretion is as good as Eric’s." "Oh. "Let's see what I have here. thank you. . We fully welcome you aboard." I picked up the box from the galley counter where I had flung it at the sultry sight of Shayna the night before. "The gift from Alphonso last night. "More than 35 . it keeps you motivated. Digs? Don't tell me you lost it." "Weren’t you going to start aiming for a woman of substance?" Eric said." I slipped the ribbon off the lid." Eric said. thanks for the advance check last night. "More of a layover situation." I was sorry to disappoint him.” “Why.” "I'm having a houseguest. Phelps. so let us speak softly and carry a big stick. Do the shoes fit?" "The what?" I looked at my bare feet." "Not your lady from the fair?" Eric asked in envied surprise. By the way. "Digs.
"They're hundreds. it's full." "Does that mean you'll be giving me a shoebox. sixty-one grand in that box.. all hundreds. new bills." 36 . This box is full of cash.you know.. Digs?" Oscar asked. Eric? Are you okay with that?" "It's all yours." I said. thanks to your introduction. I mean. You've earned a bonus." "Digs. Shayna appeared for a second. "Is this mine to keep. Benjamin Franklin has come to live on the Valhalla." It wasn't entirely strange that Eric knew nearly the exact amount a shoebox of C-notes would total. you should have sixty." "What are they. saying: ’I’m going to get wet.’ I blew her a kiss as she turned around and bounced back up the stairs." "I know you. "It's cash. Alphonso and I have done very well together. Digs. too?" "No." I said.Holy Christmas. Congratulations." I said. rifling through the tight packets of crisp. "God. "Are you having a religious vision?” Oscar’s voice echoed through the speaker phone. "I think so.
grabbed the phone and angrily recited the balance on my account from memory." "Save some charm. Digs. and cash. Shayna was a slippery." "That's the sickening thing about you. She's the very real thing. Eric was still chuckling." Eric chuckled. "Come get wet with me. His father. Time to exit. Hey pal." I said. It‘s part of my job. Keep the chuckles coming. I seldom voice such thoughts. "See you tomorrow. soapy seal under the spray. "I honestly don't want to know. the owner of the store." he said. stashed the cash. the sudsy clouds 37 ." I turned up the music." I phoned the marina store and Jimmy took my request for a case of champagne. Eric. "I have to be a good host. and the total of my past due account." "If you've run a credit report on her."You don't have to give me an answer right away. "You probably don't. for your lunch tomorrow with Alicia Kincaid Dash Saint Ay. a box of panatelas." I said. "Digby?" My gymnast was calling from the shower. and followed my dick upstairs. it wasn't my fault the wife left you.
there’s that greasy place down the hill toward Sausalito. I made a mental note to spend some time in real conversation with her. or shock. and sandy haired. Our synchronized shower routine scored a ten from all the judges and I performed a perfect dismount before she left me on my own to rinse. or awe. Sexy. okay? I'll be right down. from the store. Always. Shayna tousled his hair for a job well done and he glowed three new shades of red. He's at the door. "Hong's?" I asked. sloe-eyed Jimmy was in love.” 38 ." Sweet girl. I went down to the sight of a kneeling Jimmy staring up at Shayna supervising his placement of the champagne bottles in the fridge. Again? "It's the boy who saw us screwing.pure white against her ebony skin. wrapped in a white towel with another as a turban. Let him in. "Digby?" It was my gold medallist at the bathroom door. "It's Jimmy. Pulling on last night's trousers and an ancient polo shirt. "Digs.” Jimmy volunteered as I fished out a bag of chipped ice. Why not? He was nearer her age than I. is there a place we can order some Chinese?" "Well. wore it well. “It’s horrible. She wore a tee-shirt of mine.
Jimmy. 39 . "What's your dream?" She was sitting cross legged on a hassock. The Valhalla rolled gently on the incoming tide.” "Jesus. everyone is a goddamn food critic. "My dream?" A sweet. “It’s the direct number to Jasmine Garden. Just hit the phone button marked GAO. kid. Shayna."How about Jasmine Garden?" Jimmy began to rise to the subject. "There's nothing to feel nasty about. filling a bucket with ice and water and nesting a bottle in it. “I think you’ll love the crab Rangoon. "Tell me about you." Jimmy said at the door." Shayna said.” "I didn't really see anything yesterday. telling him to keep one for all the tips I ever missed and to put the other hundred towards my account at the store." I gave the boy two hundred dollar bills from my newfound riches. Mister Phelps. his eyes bulging white as he stowed the remaining bottles in the cupboard under the counter." I said. Our naked floor revue may have rattled the poor kid. spontaneous. wearing a black silk shirt and a pair of woolly socks of mine that had never looked better. The crab Rangoon is number twelve on the menu. let's be honest.” I finally asked after we laid out the food in front of the fireplace. "That's not what my Dad would say.
I've seen some of your theater books. "Still do some film work when a movie comes through town. Everyone has one. I'm really doing it. yet? “All twenty odd years?" "Most of them. though."Your dream. I never imagined my attraction and affection to be so little. Were you an actor?" Okay." Wanting to know more about this vibrant and free young woman who had dropped into my life before she flew away. I had finally found my calling. I'm not ready for Shakespeare." The firelight played on her cheekbones as she speared a tofu chunk with the end of a chopstick. "After Japan. so late. okay. Special scholarships available. The Digby Phelps School of Acting.” I agreed. Can you help me?" Her nipples suddenly went erect under the back silk shirt." Don't we have enough actors." I took a gulp of champagne and she smiled wide at me. “Who among us is?” I could point her in the right direction. me too." Never had my work in crowd scenes sounded so glamorous. 40 . really. "I mean. I'm using the money to go to New York to study. "Years ago. "I need to put together a monologue to use in auditions." “Well. "Of course." I reminisced. "I've wanted to act my whole life.
wine and enthusiasm didn't inspire lust on the part of the Director. "Let's get to work. The Maestro made every attempt to channel his desire to the service of Art." Slumping. to rehearse her lines as I set up my tape machine and hid a microphone. "I've never met a guy like you. and turned to me. Okay. The originator of the role won 41 . Truly. "Digby. and then Shayna made her entrance and stood near the door." Digby Junior stirred at her voice.” I instructed Digby Junior. "Forget we're recording this. "I've never thought twice about the guys left scratching their heads.” A tear dropped from her eye and rolled down her cheek. eager for at least a cameo appearance." I said. Ready."Stay put. Steeling myself. I punched a button that rolled the tape through the machine. firelight." I scissored my fingers at her and she smiled. "I think I'm ready. "Quiet on the set. paused. alone. sexier than nudity. "Up 'til now. she put her forehead against the door. "I know just the script." she called from my bedroom. I'm not going to say that the combination of her scant clothing." We rehearsed." she sighed. I've always been the one to walk away without looking back." I said. I drilled my prodigy through three scene readings before sending her upstairs. action. so I wanted to hear it. but it is a great little scene.
and I was. "Be honest. "You can do this piece.an Obie and casting directors love bits that pander to their ego." I agreed. It fits you like a glove. "While we do it?" We did. Like real people. "Diggy." she asked. Her lovesick monologue playing in the background inspired my performance and when she went upstairs." I told her. “Absolutely. can we take a bubble bath?" Shayna called down. "You are a natural. 42 . and popped a bottle of bubbly. I happily pushed a few buttons on the stereo and went to the fridge. Want to hear it again?" "How about one more time?" She took the shirt off.
California. Shutting my eyes. The biggest idiot alive on the planet today is Digby Phelps. Digby. Empty champagne bottles and Chinese takeout cartons. A fat dirty gull landed atop a high piling outside my bedroom window and began laughing at me to break the silence. Digby. Empty rooms. The grand prize winner came to mind as I stirred myself. I willed a sound to drift upstairs from below. 43 . Empty Valhalla. Empty cupboard.Chapter Five I remained dead still and face down on the bed as the complete quiet of the early morning taunted me. Shayna making some coffee? Shayna on the telephone? Shayna clearing her throat? My. of Sausalito. A wise inner voice asked. who is the biggest fucking idiot alive on the planet today? That was the question of the hour. Come on down. it was totally quiet.
Joseph. maybe she's at the gym. Hell. in the sauna. sixty thousand dollars and a 1958 vintage. “Cat got your tongue?” 44 . Jesus. I tried to convince myself. Right.smoking getaway. the asylum gate was left open. Insult on top of injury for the idiot. I leaned down and told the undisturbed dew on the window of the very empty auto. My eye went to an empty spot on the mantle. Her car was still there and I ran to it with expectations of foiling her imminent tire. Digby understands. I may owe my neighbors an apology. taking her under wing. I'd give her five or three--make it one and a half--thousand dollars. hair on end and shower thongs flapping. signed baseball from the first Giants game at Candlestick. Sixty thousand dollars. and Mary. Cops and beautiful cars do that to me. “In a hurry again?” “I just…” nothing came to mind.Emptied of a very full shoebox. running to the parking lot. or graciously forgiving her in a moment of weakness. I turned and a perfectly immaculate. I sank to the sofa. sky blue 1963 Caddy convertible pulled up with none other than Detective Tufts behind the wheel. Correction. folks. Why take the car? She could buy a new one. Then again. with the money. feeling ill in the blank.
are you all right? You look a little discombobulated." 45 . … "I leave town for a few days and you start picking up women in the sauna? I have my spies. Do you. She stood behind the counter looking radiant from her Mexico trip. The least you could do is fake a little interest in your conquests. “I know." Therese wagged her finger at me when I walked into the gym." I'm lousy without a rehearsal. know the girl I met here? Shayna Stafford?" "Why? Have you misplaced her?" "No. I wanted to scream after him. "Hey. um. and drove off. "God.” he said with a smile. red tee with an embossed chili pepper. it's just that she had to catch an early flight and I need her home address or phone.“The cat is dead. camera at the boat and I want to get it to her. uh.” I said. She left her. Maybe ask them for their phone number? Sometimes it's a nice touch to promise that you'll call them. Digby Phelps. “Where the fuck do you get those cars?” but luckily I said nothing and for once in my life thought I had made a wise decision. Therese." "Just a tad flustered. Digby. wild black hair to her shoulders.
right?" "I'll throw it in. "I'll wait. Here's their telephone numbers and the billing addresses for five of them." "You. and was half dressed in a boring blue suit when I remembered my lunch date with Alicia Kincaid-Saint Alwyn. Three naked jocks returned my stare. You're sure her last name is Stafford?" "Pretty sure. being a complete idiot. but 46 . Mister Honorary Member." I missed talking with her. and catch up." Shaking her head. I miss our talking." "I'll call this week. Therese went to the office and I checked out the sauna. I whipped through a shower scene of Shayna's greatest portrayal. but there only seven Staffords who are current members in the Bay Area."This abuse is all included with the price of my membership. alternating feeling hopeful and hopeless with each stride. How's the new beau?" "Let's have dinner soon. I don't have the other two. "Digs." She smiled. Getting together with a new woman might qualify as supreme idiocy. too. Dear Therese. Ignoring the palpable emptiness of the Valhalla." Sticking the printout in my waistband. I jogged back to the marina. are a doll. "Call me. I don't have a Shayna Stafford listed exactly that way on the roster. Shouldn't be hard to find the right one. Digs.
and headed for the eight twenty ferry. Didn't they know that I was out sixty thousand dollars? People. gabardines. isn't it?" Christ. Looking sharp. "Those liquor bottles are for decoration?" I asked. Especially as I had nothing left to steal. The reflection of my rumpled bed in the mirror reminded me that I was truly the world's reigning idiot." I was about to pay with my last five dollar bill. Olive and deep blue was the scheme. I sipped a coffee and let a tourist family irritate the hell out of me with their snapping cameras and happy laughter. Escaping to the main cabin. Sitting on the rear deck of the boat. Ha. I locked up. I told myself. I finally found a ferry ticket and five bucks to finance my commute and did a final check in the closet mirror. I asked the goateed server at the counter to build a Bloody Mary.” I turned. “I’ll get that. 47 . when a voice that was beginning to send small shockwaves through my system said. though. woven belt. Rifling through the dresser and a cigar box. black monk shoes. and there was Detective Tufts.this one sure as hell wouldn't steal from me. the day had to get better. "Make it a double. As long as I didn't fall overboard on the way to the city. "Little early. Blazer. a terrific tie. a little late for that. He did not approve.
Mr. feebly trying to one up him." He made a dunking shot 48 . A million smackeroos.“And you can build me a Virgin Mary while you’re at it.” he said to the bartender. “Nice day for a ferry ride. Diggy. Jutting near the water. Paid in full. the ruined walls of Alcatraz held the faded warning for all unauthorized vessels to stay clear or risk being fired upon. Phelps. "A million dollars landed in our account overnight. "Come to my office.” I replied. He's calling at noon before he flies out of JFK to Lima. Phelps. isn't it?" "The one and the only Alphonso. My Hero. I want to kiss you. Digs.” Then he picked up his drink and walked off. Was that an omen? A detective and Alcatraz being in the same line of sight? I was no sooner sitting at my desk. "It's from Martinez. Don’t get seasick. He turned to me and smiled. Mr. “I bet that’s the first virgin you’ve seen in some time. Where do you think it might have come from?" My mood soared at the news and the problem of the stolen sixty grand fell to nuisance level. when Schroeder’s voice rang through the intercom." I sprinted up the back staircase from my second floor lair and was embraced at the top by a beaming Schroeder.” “Most likely.
I think a dozen is being more than generous. "Damn. you have a unit cost of five grand per. How can losing sixty grand be justified?" "Look at it this way. Keep swinging." I said. you poked her. my sociopathic sex-bomb. Eric.at an invisible basketball hoop. too. you're getting older. Willie Mays' would mean a damn thing to?" "Help me here." "I can't wait to see where this is going. the slick bastard. what? A dozen times? Don't act like you can't remember. a new voice for moderation." "Digby Phelps. she stole your Willie Mays ball." "Well. Spilling the news about Shayna." "Something about a bird in the hand comes to mind." I said. What is the world coming to?" "I can tell you what the world is coming to. would be easier with the arrival of Alphonso's large money. you can justify that. too? What kind of woman would do such a thing?" "The stolen sixty grand kind of hurts. Eric. Eric. "God. A dozen seemed very low. But the baseball? Is there anyone else in the world that a ball inscribed 'To Digby. "So. Correcto?" 49 . I knew he would have been good for two units. What the hell.
figuratively. One-Oh-One. You see? Same as when I buy more of a stock that's tanked on me. It's been a long time for us all." "Are you counting that Mardi Gras trip?" "Did I tell you about that?" "I went with you."And?" "Dollar cost averaging. A classic pattern of striking out." "Expensive? Look at it as a lesson. "Account for all the women you've had for free. what's your average cost per poke?" "I'm still doing the math." "But down from five grand each.. right?" "Way down." "I feel so stupid." "And this is the first time?" "Hardly. Now. Let it go. I totally misread this girl." 50 . though. You did pay full retail on the tuition. so. average your cost per poontang unit." Eric gets exasperated with my loose grip on the fundamentals of portfolio management. But this was so. Digs. She.. I may be running a credit. Digs. Now. Bite the bullet. stole your balls. Remedial Life. Think back." "Why would she take the baseball?" "Some deep seated hostility toward male figures. Digs.
rather." "Zank you. doesn't it?" "Yes. "Or. Still." "About my net cost per poontang unit?" "Nothing is lost on you. and consider what I'm saying." It's a long story."Brilliant. Digs. Kind of a beacon to seek safe harbor and drop anchor." "You can go back there? The Phelps name has been redeemed?" "I helped defray the costs of the repairs. Doctor Schroeder. Guide your vessel from love's storm-tossed sea. "Your debacle with the Sixty Grand Girl might be a signal of sorts. Exclusive." "Have a meaningful lunch. absolutely brilliant." "Shoot me a flare if you find it." "The cash infusion really has you waxing today. Digs. but casual. is it?" “Only a little cash from time to time. if the school of thought you are fishing for appears on your depth finder. "Where's the big lunch today?" "The Yacht Club." Eric clicked his heels and bowed." I said. You must present your findings to the academy." … Budding bougainvillea vines clung to the arbor surrounding the thick twin 51 . there might be a sunken treasure of truth in there somewhere.
to ignore heads turned my way." She was. I found myself standing a tad straighter. He tipped his brim and offered his hand for her entrance into my life. for reasons of self-protection. I have learned. One hundred. smiling a few degrees warmer." She would always be late and I would never care.wooden doors of the two story stucco building. "Hello. Especially in the Yacht Club. home to the San Francisco Yacht Club for nearly a hundred years. almost aloof. Particularly since the blaze. Digby." Alicia Miranda Kincaid Saint Alwyn called to me as she arrived for our first meal together. according to Schroeder. 52 . "You are a perfect match for this beautiful day. however. The admiring glances. I waited as a flurry of white-coated waiters and relaxed guests glided past the glass wall of the second floor dining room overlooking the Gate. Standing at the entrance. She looked like a million dollars. that trailed in Alicia's wake were an entirely different sort. forty point two million actually. She was wearing a light peach linen ensemble that lit her creamy skin and auburn hair. "Not a bit. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting." The rear door of the Town Car was held open by an elderly driver in jacket and cap. Her gaze was cool.
So you know." "I think the renovation came out well. The Christmas Gala fire. If I was being probed as future spousal material." "How embarrassing that must have been for you. 53 . I had single-handedly won All City with my famous fastball and was about to escape to college Back East." "There is a belief in certain circles. it was painless. "The media attention was a bit much. that I may have caused it. Limited. I gave generously to the rebuilding." I ventured. I had forgotten. By the time the salmon arrived. Alicia. as it were."I was last here. "when I was sixteen and Daddy brought me to a luncheon to meet my future step-mother. "A panatela." she giggled. We began with glasses of kir and my arduous toils in the investment vineyards for Schroeder Capital. Did they at least name a banquet room after you?" "The barbecue patios." … Never had my life story been as fascinating as that afternoon with Alicia." Alicia smiled as the waiter slid the menu gently on the table and stepped away. and a few Pisco Punches were to blame. "Oh." "Poor Digby Phelps." Her eyes widened. a piñata.
But. breathing deeply of the mentholated air. as the window rolled down the thrills turned to chills.Alicia. rich with eucalyptus and the salt tang of the sea. shortly married once upon a time. Her driver brought the car around to where we stood amidst the grove.” was all I could muster. 54 . was Episcopalian. Kissing her hand. dreamily accepting her invitation to supper and opera the following evening. Normally the site of such a car sent thrills through my body. “Going for a scotch now?” That was exactly what I was planning to do. an only child. smiled and said. We celebrated our delight in each other with a glass of sherry. I held the door for her and waved to the car before turning to meander among the docks. a 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo pulled up. laughing as the amber light from the crystal mixed with the slanting sunlight and swirled upon the white linen. Holding hands. charmed and charming. Opera? Hand kissing? As I turned to head back to the club. I inhaled her perfume as we lightly kissed. the Maitre d' thanking us by name and sending his best wishes to Alicia's father. Detective Tufts leaned over. “Yes. we walked side by side through the nearly empty dining room. in turn.
How the hell did he know I wanted a scotch! And where did he get those cars! I went back to the club and ordered exactly what Detective Tufts suggested. Didn't you hear the boy paging you?" The barman called the taxi. Your office called about a half hour ago and I'm afraid that I told them you had left. a scotch. and left me to ponder until the cabbie stuck his head in the door.He waved and drove off. I didn't realize you were still here. Back to the real world. 55 . "Mister Phelps. I was staring at the bay when the Maitre d' spotted me. poured another. blinking in the low light. Sipping slowly.
you know that I've no idea where that particular bale could be right now. as he put it.’ Jesus. like hay. it's a smaller problem. "But. He's very happy about getting the unit." "Yeah. "Look. you have to get that money back. to use his term. 56 . Oscar tried to get hold of you at your lunch. thank God. some of these people talk about money like it comes in bales. He wants you to keep it intact. Anyway. I talked to Alphonso before he flew out from New York. I honestly have no idea." "Eric.Chapter Six "I wish I could tell you what this is about." Schroeder said as I entered his office." "What is it?" "He wants you to know that there was something wrong. That's what I was afraid it was. No." "This is a more than small problem. Digs. about the gift that he gave you. but you had already left." "He's changed his mind on the deal? So soon?" "No. until he sees us again and can replace it." he bit his lip." "He said words to the effect that there was 'something wrong with the load that it came from. I know.
it looks a little funny. He gives us a hand.." I said. "But I can't see that I'll be able to find her." I was biting my lip.." 57 . I think it’s… Well." and he knew I knew. Just an aroma of shady doings will sink it out of sight. Digs." Schroeder said. we give him a hand. "Meaning we are about to swing the deal of our lives with Gold Town. I mean.I can try." " 'Can try' and 'can't see'. and if I can. " "Funny?" “Funny like phony. you introduced us. You know how this town likes to talk.. we'll be okay.” “Meaning?” I already knew the answer." "Yes. We're looking at getting rich. He can be very resourceful. Eric.Pronto.damn. Don't be shy about involving Oscar. He’s good business. Eric?” “Alphonso has widespread interests. So there’s more at stake here than your missing moola and wounded pride." "We will be when you have that cash back. "aren't going to do it. C’mon Digs.” “What’s going on here." "Definitely not our style. " "Well. Digs. "Not to mention the possibility of somebody going to jail over this.. I know. "Don't worry.
The press would love to strangle this baby before it has a chance." I said. "Get that cash back." He picked up his phone. As soon as it was reasonable I made my way to Le Bistro. … 58 ." he said as I shut the door and slithered to my office. "Going to the opera. I seldom do. Our meeting was over."There's some phone numbers for me to check. yet. not to mention our more conservative banking brethren. I didn’t last long at the office. Phelps." "Got it. Digby. We shouldn't have to pay her face value." he said." "Do you meet the folks tomorrow. Digs. I am impressed." "How did your lunch go?" Subject changed. I'll start there. though. "Dinner at her place tomorrow night." "Get it. One hint of scandal and we'll disintegrate right along with Gold Town." Let's be gentlemen when you find her." "I think a discount would be in order." "Digby. we'll replace it with better money." "We all have to make sacrifices in the pursuit. though. "Hell. too?" "We're not quite at that stage." "We really hit it off.
" I nodded. "Talk around town. aren't they? My retired brother." He was standing in front of me." "As always. "has been dead since the original gold rush. warming the biscuit leather banquettes and exposed brick of the walls. 59 . Digby. Are you eating today? Waiters aren't back for an hour. says everyone thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread." he said as he placed the glass on the bar." "The local politicos are jumpin' on your band wagon." The dying afternoon light bounced off the scattered antique mirrors of Le Bistro. smiling and polishing the wine glasses." "No." "They're very receptive. Just thinking. An oil painting of the Champs-Elysees in the rain was reflected in the mirror of the back bar. I think you're on to a great thing. Mister Phelps?" "Ready when you are. Sammy. thanks. but I could scare you up some cassoulet. is that you fellows are going to pull off this Gold Town dream of yours. half-listening. lives up there in Dunphys. "Make me another." "Hope everything's all right with you. Sammy. your sources are impeccable. okay Sammy?" "That economy up there."Gin and bitters.
you know your Dad and me go back. Sammy." he held the glass up to the twilight from the window. and she has me thinking strange thoughts. Get away from all this. I think my brother might have the right idea. Sammy. "A cabin in the mountains sounds damn inviting. "That's all." "Thanks. today." "Well. Well. sooner or later. I guess I feel I have a sort of interest in you." "Fire away." "And there's no use you ever wanting to be his type. I know you don't think so." He started wiping a spotless glass. "Do you mind if I speak as a friend. Sammy. place in the country. Digby." As clear as the glass he was holding." "Don't forget the loving wife part. See what I mean?" "I do. Sammy." He chose another perfectly clear glass. Loving wife." "It's just that you and Mister Schroeder really are different types of men. I'd appreciate it. Mister Phelps?" "Please. "So." He waved his arms at our city." "I'm sure we are. "These guys." "Sometimes." I waited for the rest of it."I met a woman." He silently made another drink for me. 60 . Sammy. "that're always devising angles. they always get snagged on one. but you are.
they piled the granite sheathed tower up to fourteen floors. in an immense corner apartment facing east to the bay with wide tiled terraces thick with plantings. They really hired him to entertain the ladies on those boats?" "Yeah. thirteen if you didn't count the huge 61 ." "Well. Sammy."How's your old man?" he asked." "Dear Old Dad says he's safe from gardening forever. "There's all kinds of romance. though. Alicia lived on the top floor of Museum Square Towers. The builders of Museum Square Tower were the first to reclaim a central chunk of the colorful and cruddy skid row area well before the trendy crowd caught on. Gentlemen Hosts." he rolled his eyes. "Just got a postcard from Aruba. they're called. He's cruising the South Pacific in May." Sammy reached under the bar to retrieve his snifter of brandy so that we could raise a glass to my father. relieved. No serious affairs allowed." "Good for him. Receiving an easement from the city for their derring-do. No marrying." "There's a guy that knows how to live. that's the important policy I'd imagine.
" "Less deadly than Wagner and Wiener schnitzel. "Hello. Her eyes glowed with seeming promises of sweet secrets to soon be revealed. He was a selfmade man." She gave me a happy peck on the cheek. and then I'll join you in one. Digby. 62 . and if it wasn't true ." her father said. I'll be right back. Too many 'impromptus' to be impromptu.atrium lobby. "It's veal tonight. I was shaking the hand of a leathery bald man in a blue blazer. to the spacious open white and glass living room. grasping my hand in a firm greeting. and standing at the polished steel rail of the balcony with an amused Alicia in a little black dress. joining me." I smiled." Placing her arm around my waist." "Italian opera. accepting a martini from a woman in a white apron. Italian food. she guided me through a gallery of small paintings. "You'd think we were a bunch of Dagos.it seldom is .I was still willing to defer to the publicist fees that had accrued over the years. "Drink your drink. well beyond the original limit. "Come in and meet my father and stepmom." she smiled warmly at the door. That was what every press release had ever told me about Brockton `Rock' Saint Alwyn. From Avanti. land and seascapes in elegant old frames. We thought we'd have an impromptu supper together. "We thought we'd have an impromptu supper together." a woman said. Within seconds.
and had held her own when few women dared to." I said. he's very much involved.” Rock threw in. "Yes." The perverse image of Dear Old Dad at an opera gave me a glow. where Symphony Hall is." 63 . She was real money. "Ocean exploration." "Less deadly than Wagner and Wiener schnitzel. The veal had been superb. predator in a classic Chanel suit and pearls. "It wouldn't surprise me." "Oh. hawk nosed. "He still flies in for Opening Night." "What does he do?" Emily cut to it. I liked her immediately." Sorry. deep-sea stuff. sparrow thin. I try not to pry. raven haired." Emily agreed. Daddy. This stepmother was an eagle eyed. Kincaid Paper. Pops. "Oh." "Very wise. "Italian veal and Italian Opera. "Did he steal that line from you?" Emily Kincaid-Saint Alwyn peered at me. "Phelps Buick on Van Ness. wasn't it?" Rock was surmising.after all. "Not sunken treasure?" Rock asked. I hope? I believe it is essential that a man stay involved." "Not a concern in my father's case. "Sometimes it's as if the children become the parents and the parents become the children. "Not retired." Alicia chuckled.
" "Where is it going to be exactly." "Too late to get a piece of it?" "Not your cup of tea." 64 . yes. young man. You know those birdbrains from Vancouver? Hell. eh?" "Digby's being modest. you see?" "Are you holding a groundbreaking ceremony. dear. aren't you?" "Schroeder is." Thank God. Digby?" "That's a wonderful idea. "There. Digby?" "The foothills.. near Sonora and Dunphys. It's really quite a good development for the area." "Digby's much too busy. I work in developing clientele. Alicia. We're fully subscribed."You're putting together that Gold Town craziness." "Why not my cup of tea?" "You mind your wine ventures.. yes." "Jobs?" "Absolutely." "Why not?" "Too late. Daddy." "I have something for you to look into." "Lining up the money.
let's not make Digby." "Oh. ‘Her first husband?" "Her only husband.." "Daddy. Rock. you see? Hardly had to twist his arm. Digby? Have you been to the Great Barrier Reef?" Alicia asked. Don't tell me you're a friend of his. honestly. Do you." "There. this daughter of mine. did I?" "Where at sea is your father.. Digby?" "No." "No. Digby?" "Well. her only." "So far. "She loves to dive." "Nothing against girls." "Who?" I asked. you mean. he doesn't mind." 65 ." "You married?" "Who?" "You."To make money? Are you. Never. I love women. is it?" "Daddy. Got it from Rodney. we're always interested in...
"All women?" "That's not what he meant. 66 . that is.. you mean." Alicia said. and don't you forget it. that is. That was the problem." "Her ex-husband didn't." "Didn't seem to keep him from giving marriage a shot.." "We hadn't any idea. We're still friends. be fair. either. Like women." "The famous homo." "I don’t think he knew." "One good one is all a man needs." "Daddy." "One woman. that would pose a problem. One at a time. it was a little more complicated than that." "Well. One." "That's right." "Daddy. somewhere." "She didn't know." "Daddy." "Rock. I'm sure. one if it were." "Rodney Haslep? You've heard of him?" "The famous philanthropist?" "Old New York family." "Seems I did read something. sweetie.
It's apricot. Rock. Daddy. it's different in Ali's case. If you're friends. Have to tell you about it. you damn well better be enemies. If you're getting divorced."Never trusted that friendship stuff. try the tart. It's an unnatural pursuit." "Here we are. is there Digby?" "No sir. you know." "Nothing queer about you. Never felt the urge. why are you getting divorced?" "Well. dear." "That's not funny. Alicia." "Tell him about the vineyard. I like your young man." 67 . How about you?" "That's rich. Rock." "I have an opportunity to buy back Saint Alwyn Wines from those halfassed Canadians.
Chapter Seven The morning fog was breaking as we glided toward the Sierras in Eric's giant Mercedes. "First things first. even tee-shirts with a Gold Town logo. Oscar was driving. Eric and I sat in the back seat. You do your overview of the attractions and rides." "You scare me when you do that. Shouldn't run longer than an hour." "Sounds elegant. Joanie's ordered hotdogs and sodas. Digs. I'll give them my inspiring and inspired Capitalism-Goes-Country benediction. I was happy to put off the second item lurking on the agenda.” Eric said to me. "There should be a great crowd." he continued." "Snob. and get down to the high school gym." "Shall we raffle off a prize pig at the conclusion?" "How about we pick a Miss Gold Town? All expense weekend in Las Vegas for the winner? You can chaperone. "Most of the locals were eager to put on the dress overalls. Then. gas up the truck." 68 ." "Alicia wouldn't approve.
" I looked up to the rear view mirror in time to see Oscar's eyes dart to the road with renewed attention." "How does it feel?" "Frighteningly promising. and the fact that Eric is entirely capable of being a prick. See how it feels. Alphonso was painfully clear on the point. "Are we sure all the bills were bad?" "Very." he turned from the window and looked me in the eye. Bristling at the evidence. "Digs." "Sounds like you're counting on it. almost normal. 69 . in a circumspect way." I was. you were a marked man the minute that broad laid eyes on you."I like to try it on for size. Did your playmate ever fly off to Japan?" "My phony sixty grand?” "Well it sure as hell wasn't mine. "I'm having nightmares about your phony sixty grand showing up. God." Eric decided. "I'm still hoping she's left our shores. I insisted on telling myself that I was not a sucker and she was not a con artist." "Speaking of scary subjects.
"You're dragging your feet and we're sitting on a gold mine up here." "Look." He didn't make it sound like a compliment. You know how those guys talk. too. I tracked down six of the gym members with the name she was using." "Think he knows her?" "He might. He has a Chrysler store and she was driving a new one.Peruvians." "I'm thinking she's split." Eric's cologne enveloped me. the Sausalito cops finally came and towed it away. talked to them on the telephone. "Quit depending on your overworked luck and do something. He's been out of town the last two weeks. his office said." "That should be right up your alley." I said. They said it had 70 ." Dick Tracy reporting." "Her car still at your place?" "No. "And number seven?" "A car dealer in the city. I needed some air." "Don't you mean Germans?" "Them. I can safely rule them out as knowing her. "When's he due back?" "Tomorrow. Digs.
"That's the spirit. the million was a wire transfer. take Oscar with you to that car dealer's tomorrow." I pointed out. "Let's not personalize this thing. "I just don't know where to look beyond the last Stafford name." "Don't mope. "I'm no longer aware of any of this. just get the dough back and we can all relax. After all." Eric stretched out and shut his eyes. will you?" "Absolutely. 71 . "Digs." Oscar said from behind the wheel. you mean". All right?" "I should have known better." "The idea of going to jail is very personal to me. give Digby a hand with this. it wasn't intentional. Digs." "I'll try to find her. Agreed?" "We'll handle it." "Oscar.been stolen in the city. especially to throw it away." He said it the way I do." "No more carping from me today." I said." "Especially to throw away on me. I can't see him piddling around with sixty grand in funny money. But. Alphonso insisted he had no idea and we have to believe him." "Did you talk to them?" "Only to say that I didn't know anything about it. He was a marine.
Phelps. "It is very important. Good start. "I need to talk with you today. "I will be after we discuss some important news." Already? I have evaded such conversations my entire adult life. The phone woke me." I assured her." Today? Step up to the plate. What could it be? Concentrate. . Life gives us only a few chances to show true class. adulthood is harder than it looks. and I caught it on the second ring. But. "Are you all right. Alicia. "Alicia." "May I come over?" "Why don't we drive down to Carmel this afternoon for an early supper 72 . But. not on the telephone. . Alicia?" I asked with concern. "We really need to talk." Be a man and have the conversation. Dear Old Dad. there's no need to fret over whatever it is." I ventured. Digs. circa 1962.. Don't try this at home. For variety. where has it got me? "It sounds important. kids. Old Boy. Digs. "Of course." Shit. Digby. "Digby?" Alicia said.
" That voice! “Beautiful day. I have been there for it. I can pack my gear for a nightor a month-out of town. Digby. "Pick you up at two? I have a few errands to run first. batten the Valhalla against most disasters and hit the road within an hour.and spend the night?" Of such gestures. Mr. "Oh. our lives change." Ta-da. 73 . "Really? Oh." she was smiling. Digby. I love you. My single item of flora or fauna is a hundred year old Bonsai tree that simply must have five spoonfuls of water every three months." "That would be wonderful. What timing. Having honed my life to a razor edge. isn’t it?” “Was. what a touching thought. a world-class reputation can be made. Digby. See you at two. Phelps." Thus. Detective Tufts flipped a leather holder out wit practiced ease and showed his badge. I could tell.” I said. "Morning.
” "That’s terrible.” “Is that why you’ve been following me?” “Is there a second reason?” I don’t need a lot of rope to hang myself. Never heard of him.” It was official now..."I'd like your help with something.?" "No. we spoke maybe a dozen times the entire time I 74 . She spent a lot of time on your boat. "Her. "Over to the coast.look. What's this about?" "She's dead. She was the wife of the owner of the marina store. What timing. my Shayna finally surfaces.. "No! I mean none. So. When the place got too slovenly.” "Mister Phelps. I mean. "Going on a trip?" He nodded at my satchel.” "Yes. Not that I can think of. it is. She ran off…didn’t she?” "What kind of relationship did you have with her?" "Me?" It didn't come out right.." "And became friends." "I hired her as a housekeeper from time to time. what can you tell me about Kim Gustafson?" "Nothing. “No.
" Tufts scanned his little spiral notebook. A frightening smile. And don’t run too far. Don’t let it blind you. “I wish I could help.knew her. "One more thing.. but I really have to run. Phelps?" "You have a dirty mind. trying to pretend I didn't see him as I slowed my pace to fall further behind." I had to say. “Don’t go too far. “There’s still time. Is there anything else?" "Not today.” he called back. and walked off in the direction of a white 2008 MercedesBenz C350 Sport. petite. sweet'." He handed me a black and white business card with a gold star on it.” Outside the office Oscar swung the passenger door open and gestured with his large. Sure you weren't a special friend. Cops spook me. heavy hand for me to get in. ".'pretty. I fell into that awkward co-existence...” Inadvertently following Tufts to the parking lot. "Only on the job. She was a sweet woman.” I called after him.. 75 . He smiled." Tufts blocked my way with the bulk beneath his tight watery plaid sport coat. I'm really sorry to hear she's dead. I'm sorry. "Is that real madras?" "Yes. sizing me up..
” "Here. please?" As Oscar passed the front mutely mouthing some words. My luck was springing leaks. the rush of an impending doom roared in my ears." he said and punched the correct button on the first try. or jump ship. a swampy enough raft in smoother seas. choking out a puddle of bile. "Would you. Digby Phelps. or bail. Our last real jazz station came on and Joe Williams crooned about having the blues everyday as we cruised into the fog of the Richmond District.” Sunlight ricocheted off a chrome molding. this will calm your mind. Oscar. The faded glory of the Moorish columns and arches was accentuated by listless plastic pennants and limp Deal-A-Thon-Daze 76 . Time to hike sail. Mr. "You’re looking a bit pale. Never better.“You seem to want to think. A shark was menacing the S. "I was wondering if you're feeling okay?" Oscar asked as we pulled from the curb. Oscar? Would you. Probably best if I drive. S.” “Never better. Phelps. … Stafford Autoworld was a wide stucco building set among its own block in the avenues. warm exhaust blew to my face. A passing bum leaned on a leathery palm against the form of the Schroeder Building.
Excellent cuisine while Dear Old Dad closed one last deal or wrapped up an extra-inning sales meeting. I let Oscar know to grease the salesman's palm behind me. Leading the way. tiled showroom as a suddenly smiling salesman spotted us and rose from his groaning gray office chair in the corner. And coffee. 77 . Let's see what we can see." I said. Lunch on Digby Phelps. always coffee." he said. The grease and oil smells. jiggling his key chain.banners covering the floor length street windows. Mister Phelps?" "Okay. pneumatic wrenches whizzing in the service bays. Okay. Digby. "Mister Schroeder wanted me to come in with you. For hung over employees and folksy prospects who thought it neighborly to join the nice man in a cup. These places are like home to me. drifting cigar smoke." Crossing Geary Boulevard. guys. "We're not buyers. and mirrored vending machines with round pull handles and cheese and cracker snacks or dyed pistachios. "Hi. we entered the bright. Always. isn't it?" This from a guy in a corduroy jacket and a turtleneck in the middle of June. "Nice day. "Where's the boss?" His smile evaporated.
Kent Stafford was a six foot." He eyed us warily." I said. bushy haired man with about forty extra pounds on his frame. "I'm hoping to find her and ask her a few things." 78 . "It's about Shayna. "How are you gentlemen. "If this is some sort of shakedown. metal lunch boxes and dimestore guitars. The wariness returned and his shoulders squared." Oscar said as I was in mid-handshake with Stafford. I felt his clasp loosen. "Whenever feasible. I'll be happy to call the police." Oscar said. Writing with a grease pencil." "Whoa." he laughed. ceramic plates and mugs." I said and his smile returned. he was tracking his salespeople's progress on a shiny wall chart titled 'Fame & Shame'. The remaining three walls of his chapel-size office were movie posters and stills. "Well. we can change that. "Well. today?" "We need your help. "It's nothing like that. I believe in helping folks. his back to the door." I told him. Are you fellas’ customers of ours?" "No.
"A large chunk of my money and a big piece of my pride. I keep an apartment downtown.” "They still have that mirrored ball?" "You haven’t been there in awhile. "What'd she get you for?" Stafford motioned for us to sit as he relaxed behind his desk. Ballsy little bitch. going to Japan." "I was pretty damn fond of my Rolex. the club at the Saint Francis. no car. isn't it?" "Especially with broads. "I thought it was hers. 79 . I bought the whole story. have ya? Anyway. Next morning. no girl. yet." "You. "And a special souvenir I was fond of. she said she was a model." I said. too?" I asked." "Had you known Shayna long?" "Met her one night at Oz. a new ragtop." "Outside of my place." I mentally added Grand Theft Auto to my list of reasons for a trip out of town. With a twang. "She even stole my demo from the garage." "A sense of humor is so important." Stafford agreed. too. no wristwatch." "She seemed to think so."Ask her where my watch is when you do. Cops found it in Sausalito. A white porcelain Elvis smiled at me from the corner of the desk.
A gold frame atop a credenza displayed a grainy backstage photo of a porcine Elvis in a tight white jumpsuit and billboard size shades. no baseball. "Signed by Mays on Opening Day. Next morning. "Seems we have a lot in common. Found the card in the glove box. Next to him stood a slim and sincere Kent Stafford." "Fifty-eight Giants." I said. You a fan." Stafford reached to a silver bowl and produced two business cards as we made laughing sounds. Oscar took the opportunity to roll his eyes at me." I said. "I met him three times." Stafford said. Oscar 80 . no large amount of money. "Elvis fan?" "Loved the man. no girl." "What fucking nerve." Oscar explained for me. "as valuable as your watch. "Think you can find her?" "We're trying. "A collector's item. It was an old photo." He turned and joined me in gazing at the photo." "No baseball?" Stafford laughed." I said.She even had the gall to use my gym membership." I said. “That's where I met her. Oscar smiled benignly and seemed to grow another couple of inches." "Club Physique. too?" "Bigger than my friend here.
." he said.. though. handing him one of my deluxe and tasteful Schroeder Capital cards." I said.on her flight.. 81 ." "I'll bet. okay?" "Let's." "And you'll ask." "Call me when you're in the market for a car." I said.." ".. Did she make any calls when she was at your place?" "No. "Ask her for my watch if you find her." Oscar said." He warmed at the memory. I'll give you a special deal. we didn't dally around once we got to my place." I said and took the card he held to me. "Do me a favor and get the number she called off of your phone bill? I really have to find her." "I'll bet. "Call me when you're looking for a bang for your buck." "One last thing. "Okay." ".laughed loudest and longest..her for your watch. "I'll let you know if I reach her. though. "She did from the club. "Let's keep it to ourselves. Used my cell before we left.. I'll take good care of you.." Stafford stood to show us out. Said she had to check.
Chapter Eight Some ground rules before our overnight in Carmel? Certain details regarding bedtime activities will be left entirely to your imagination. "Telegraph. if Episcopalian. The wind flew in our open windows. Ready?" "Fire. pressing her silk blouse against her gentle breasts and tugging at the knotted scarf at the nape of her long thin. whatever our deep discussion was to be about. Russian. I'll get you started by letting you know that Alicia Miranda KincaidSaint Alwyn was enthusiastic. "The seven hills of San Francisco?" I challenged her. this woman became my wife. It was an unspoken agreement as soon as I picked her up and took her bag from the doorman that. "That's the one people never know. Lone Mountain. After all." she slapped my thigh. Nob. it would wait until we reached the snug confines of Carmel. and Mount Davidson. neck. Give your imagination free rein. And Twin Peaks. The drive down was to be light and amusing and easy." "Who is Pixley Street named after?" 82 . Rincon.
" She gave me another kiss as we crested a long and sloping curve. Where was it?" "Got me. Who were they?" "Australian ex-cons. Where was their headquarters?" "On the Long Pier." Edging the horizon was a new world opening its arms in a rich embrace. Who ran them out?" "The original Vigilante Committee. Jump to the calm and civilized world 83 ." I lied. ten blocks from the Old City Jail. "Where did they live?" "All around the base of Telegraph Hill." she kissed my cheek." she giggled. not the later pretenders." I cried out the window to a cow chewing at a fence. "I had no idea. Why did they get run out of town?" "For threatening to burn it down. "I knew you wouldn't have a clue. either. Time to jump to the new world." "I've been hoodwinked. I decided to file it away forever. the newspaperman who went after the Sydney Ducks."Frank Pixley. A protected habitat where stupid crimes and cops and the neverending money quest were but topics for amused conversation. "Got you." A sepia image of the first jail on Montgomery Street--the 'Monkey Block'-came to mind. "I have to confess. "I have absolutely no idea.
of Alicia. Phelps." "Alicia. A once-in-a-lifetime question." She did love her Digby. "Then I am very. Let the world of Schroeders and Staffords and Shaynas." 84 . Yes. Jump for your life. Alicia. Some things are clear. Jump. Alicia. very happy. I could become that Digby." I said. Step up to the plate. "Absolutely. on her face. Not the Digby that I was. but one I could become. "How do you feel about having a child?" How do I feel about Saturn having rings? "I don't know how I feel about having a child. "Still love me?" Still? Well? Jump." "Then I am. leaving me to consider them as we drove silently down the coast and into Carmel. "I love you. the father. Digs. let's get married. are." It was hard." And the words were there. Digby. especially Shaynas. too. Am I having one?" "Yes." There was no question of her having a child if she was carrying one. "I do. "I love you. I mean you will be. go.
was stepping into the bubbles of the sunken tub. Of course. she would be at a luxury hotel. her torso alone floating on the surface. she would hire a limo. only to look back at the woman who would become my wife. Arching her lithe back in the sudsy water. We would always be so carefree and light I thought. I braced myself as the car neared. Standing in the center of the single lane. flanked by thick cypress trees. Of course. round driver complied. On my way to the bar I heard a woman's lilting laugh float down the hill and I knew it was Shayna. dipping her auburn hair. "Would you be a dear and fetch some champagne?" Yes. The car rolled under the hotel canopy as I ran down the drive to the entrance gate. long and tawny.… We made love in the wide bed at the window overlooking the surf. stepping to the door. I held my hand up in a halting gesture and the smiling. Alicia. gliding to a stop a foot in 85 . They would have to come my way to leave the grounds. Slipping on some clothes. until I was in her and felt in my bones the sea of life surrounding me. Digby can do that. Right out of the brochure. turning to smile lightly as she lowered into the steaming water.
will you?" I asked the barman as he poured two more fingers of cognac for me. I hung on the door frame and stuck my sweaty face almost directly into that of a composed black man and his gentle featured bride. "May I have it sent to your cottage?" "I'll take it with me." Shrugging an okay." I returned his smile. weren't you?" "I'm afraid I missed it. I'm terribly sorry." he smiled. Catching myself." They clucked happily at my apparent drunkenness and wished me a good evening and their wishes that I find my friends. I pulled much too hard on the door handle and fell backward. "I'd like to take it when I leave. "Good evening. "but thanks just the same. Breathing deep." "Dom?" he asked. With a small wave of his fingers at the top of the steering wheel. "I'm. Congratulations. We had never seen each other before in our entire lives." I foresaw much 86 .front of me. "Wrong wedding party. "But I must speak with your passengers. he slid his window down." I stammered. "You were at the wedding." I said. he pushed a button and the locks snapped open around the car. "Chill a bottle of your best bubbly.
The ship was about to sail and I would be aboard. I was dangerously past my threshold of craziness. chasing ghost girlfriends and phantom money. It would become 'our cottage' and we would return on romantic anniversaries to celebrate our betrothal and long life together. with all of its splendor and delights in the person of Alicia. Life was offering a sweet voyage to the opposite side. might as well get the practice in. There were no good reasons to look back. Alicia met me at the door in a nightgown of gold. Kissing me. lo those many years ago. honoring me as the man who started it all. I would take to a series of elegant and sturdy walking sticks as the KincaidSaint Alwyn-Phelps clan grew and prospered. Opening the trunk of the car. God was in His heaven. she slipped the bucket from my arm as I took a final view of the sunset and the returning limousine driver. I paid the man and took the bucket of bubbly.champagne fetching in my future. so we drove in spite of the sodden sky to a deserted beach at Point Lobos. 87 . Our picnic was ready at the front desk. I in my element. She stood gamely beside me in a dark rubberized parka. It fit perfectly in the crook of my elbow. I caught her fleeting expression from the corner of my eye. waving to me from the bottom of the hill. and Alicia in our cottage.
so as not to be noted. a steady stream of drizzle trickling past her soft trance. Sighing lightly. But.Her fine features were deep in the oversized hood. I fell in love with who she was forever. God. It had lasted only a second. a nervous wistfulness passed her brown eyes. 88 . perhaps less. immediately banished by a ready resolve rushing to her lips and chin. in the inner and reflexive struggle of her feelings. keep from causing sadness to this woman.
You 89 . Polish the joint up. Digs.” “And?” "What's it take to get invited over." "Bringing Allen?" "Nice gesture. Therese? I would've asked sooner. "How did your dinner with the new folks go?" "Daddy wants to put me in the wine business.Chapter Nine I picked up the ringing phone." Therese." "Please come over." She was stretching again. Her movements reached through the telephone. warming me. your ship has come in. Relax--he's working late. "I got the phone number you wanted. "I was thinking about you. but this impending state of marriage has me feeling daunted. my beautiful receptionist from Club Physique said. Especially when you think you have all the answers. Digs? Jeez." "Digby Phelps." "We'll continue this in thirty minutes." She was reclining and stretched. "And?" "And I think it's good you're getting married.
want me to pick up some vino?" "I will. Come hither." Hanging the phone up, I looked out the wide window and directly into the eyes of Jimmy as he stood aboard the neighboring boat. The owner is a pilot and never home. Jimmy keeps the place scrubbed in her absence. I went out the open door, calling to him. "Jimmy, is your Dad at the store?" "Yeah, Mister Phelps, he is. Is something wrong?" He seemed a little edgy. "Everything is fine, Jimmy. Everything." I left the door ajar and strolled down to the marina store. But not alone. Detective Tufts cruised by in a mint, fire engine red, 1957 Chevy convertible. “You’ve been busy, Mr. Phelps,” he said, driving alongside me. “I try to keep busy, Detective.” “Must be a fulltime job.” “Where do you get these cars!” I blurted out. “Impound lot.” He smiled, waved, put it in reverse and backed it up to turn around. Well, that explains it, because even my father at the height of his dealership success did not have the kind of cars that Detective Tufts had.
… A 'Bait' Shop specializing in single malt scotches and fresh baked sourdough. Not a single item of bait to be seen, discounting the sushi-to-go packs next to the cash register. I prodded at the cello-wrapped contents of one with a finger as 0llie rang me up. "I was terribly sorry to learn of your loss," I tried. "What loss would that be, Mister Phelps?" He stared down at me from his six-six height, his barrel chest heaving in exasperation at my sudden and stupid sensitivity. "I was referring to your wife? I understood that she had..." What Digby? Passed on? Drowned? Jumped from the bridge? "...died." "I was no longer married to the woman, as you know." He dropped a wine bottle into a sack on the counter with a wooden thud. "So, your pity is unnecessary. Thank you all the same. Cash, please." "Yes, cash," I said. My charge account was apparently closed. "My mistake, sorry. I feel bad for your son." "Don't." He took a hundred dollar bill from me and placed it on the front of the register. "Mister Phelps, whatever was between my wife, ex-wife, and yourself is none of my business. But...," "There was nothing between your wife, ex-wife, and me."
"But my son is my business, and I take care of my business." He rubbed a yellow-tipped pen device over my bill. "I recommend the same to others." The hundred was given a nod and placed in the drawer. "Well, I'm sorry for him all the same." I picked up the sack, invisible to him. "Fifty-seven and three is sixty. Two twenties make a hundred." He looked up from the cash on the counter with a frozen stare. "The matter is shut. Good evening, Mister Phelps." "I wish you would hear me out." "For what?" "For your loss? Of Kim?" His chest heaved hotly. I took up the money and went out the door, but couldn't leave it alone. "You, Mister Gustafson, are under a completely wrong impression. I respected your wife. She helped around the boat, nothing more." The man was mad. "My conscience is clear, Mister Phelps." "And so is mine." "Words come easy to you, don't' they?"
I left it alone. “I don’t think he likes you,” that voice said. I spun around, almost dropping my much needed vino. “Why are you doing this to me?” I shouted at Detective Tufts. “I was just wondering when you’d like to sit down and have a drink with me so we could chat.” “Chat!” I sputtered. “No rush,” he said. “Whenever you’re ready.” And he walked off towards his borrowed, immaculate, fire engine red, 1957 Chevy convertible. I almost ran back to the Valhalla, my safe haven, and waiting for me was the sublime Therese. "On the drive over, I was thinking what a lucky guy you are." She wore a deep brown cotton dress with a high collar, olive skin glowing in the light from the open door. I gave her a chaste peck on the cheek. She smelled of wood smoke and salt air. "You seem tense, Digs. Relax. Put on some lively music. I'll open the wine." Dave Brubeck came to the rescue, 'Take Five'. The wine was a red Chilean and we took it with a platter of fruit and cheese to the aft deck. I asked Therese to explain my run-in with the Bait Shop owner. I didn't
use his name. I was angry and preferred using his job title. Bait Shop Owner. "Did you dangle your bait with the owner's wife, Digs?" "I'm going to miss these sophisticated chats of ours." "Answer the question." "No, honestly. I hired her to clean the place for me. She only came once a week." "Sure doesn't sound like my Digby. Could he have seen you two together and misinterpreted it? A little naked dancing on the roof deck?" "No, really. Never." "Never?" "She was a neighbor for crying out loud. I hired her to clean the place. She did a great job. I'd never risk losing a great housekeeper over mere love. You know that." "She wouldn't have been your first excursion in the marina, Digs. Being a neighbor of yours hardly ruled her out." "Wasn't my type, okay?" "Oh. Okay, then" "Alicia's pregnant."
"Pass the wine. You signed up for the complete package, didn't you?" "Instant adulthood. Am I doing the right thing?" "Digs, you've been wearing your heart, and your hard-on, on your sleeve for as long as I've known you. Usually getting both crushed in the process." "Ouch." "This is a real chance for you to get out from under Schroeder and all that hustling, retire from the romance industry, and get to know yourself." "What's wrong with working with Schroeder?" "Schroeder makes Bluebeard look like a Rotarian." "He is competitive." "Earth calling Mister Phelps. Schroeder's a crook in search of a crime." "Schroeder's my best friend." "No, I am your best friend. Schroeder is Schroeder's best friend. And as your best friend, I say hooray for you. You've been skimming along the surface of life for way too long." "So I should settle down, as they say?" "No, Digs. Not settle; grow. And not down; up." "Ouch and ouch." I went in the boat to fetch another bottle of wine, lick
alone and happy.my wounds and collect my thoughts. "Don't forget sex twice a month. "Whether you're ready or not. 96 . I am lucky. "And get a mortgage and a two week vacation once a year and a pension plan to fantasize about and a garage with a workshop in it. and you see it as refusing to grow up. "It's genetic with you women. as she stood to let me kiss her. twisting the corkscrew." She used to call me that often. to be an adult. "A man swims along. Damn." The cork crumbled in a dozen pieces. Diggerman. I nodded. a whole woman in a sliver of light from the Valhalla. "I didn't mean it as an insult. for chrissakes." I left the bottle in the galley to join her. Digby." I said. "I am. isn't it?" I was standing in the doorway." I went in for a fresh bottle." she called.
Reservations and Rancheterias. Casino Operations. The elevator smelled of lemon and wax. a bit of Brahms whispering through the speaker. I'll tell him you're in. all new to me. "Mister Schroeder asked me if we found your girlfriend. Schroeder Capital Limited. Oscar wants to speak with you once you're settled." she calmly cooed to the next caller. Where do you meet these people?" "Well. My desk was piled with a dozen spilling folders. "A Kent Stafford called and left this number for you. He really tried to sell me a car.. and Native American Nations. "Good morning. Eric wants you in his office in twenty-five minutes--wear your jacket." Oscar whispered over the intercom from his basement office.Chapter Ten "Digby." She shooed me toward the elevator.. Mister Phelps. you're late. I. 97 . "The one with the money?" Shayna's face hazily appeared." Joanie turned at the reception desk to answer her humming telephone. They carried labels such as Tribal Gaming Acts. said you'd know why." "Never mind.
Enough. I waved him over to listen in. "Shit. I knew the San Jose area code and number." "We can safely say she's not a banker. I let it ring at least a dozen times. Shayna had called the same number from the pay phone at Club Physique and Stafford's portable. Time to see Miss Shayna and settle the affair. "Where are your facilities located?" 98 . "Or a teacher. It was a match for the number Therese gave me twelve hours earlier. "We open at noon." the phone was thrown down. lifted with a grunt. Maybe. juggled against a hard surface. Kent Stafford. "You might be wasting your good manners."Should I come up to your office?" "Please. I retrieved the message slip from Stafford's call." I whispered to Oscar. Mister P. "What is the address there?" I asked." Rooting through my pockets. Joanie had written." "Cat club. hold on." a female voice snapped." a male voice grumbled. Oscar came in as the line was answered. Oscar. said 'your mutual friend' called this number from his phone. Dialing the number.
"Downtown San Jose Orange between Fourth and Fifth. "Your missing lady friend works there?" Oscar asked. It's a number she called twice." "I'll play chauffeur. on the double." Joanie ordered over the intercom." Eric said in his best buttoned-down mode. pinched my collar upright. 'Wear your jacket' is Schroederese. 99 . Meet you out front at noon. the woman's keen manner made it clear she was no lightweight." "We'll take the White Nightmare." Let me interpret. "Wear your jacket." "Digs. may I introduce Dani Bearquiver." "You like cats. Running up the rear stairs. We open at noon. Duly noted."Ha-ha-ha. Oscar?" "Depends on the breed. It's a two drink minimum." she groaned. Schroeder's office." "Sounds worth the drive. "Or something. an in-house warning that company has come calling and to be on your best behavior." The phone rattled off. I reflexively patted my jacket smooth. Standing five-two and weighing in at a hundred. "Digby Phelps.
have this first." "Actually.. "What are we discussing discussing?" "The operation of a casino as part of Gold Town." Miz Bearquiver said. Digby. Almost. however." I offered." The room was dripping with seriousness and purpose.. ". This was serious.. "All of them." They laughed. so we are starting to. "My Tribe holds the rights for the area. they were both thinking the statue idea fairly well-deserved." Eric's voice was slipping up the scale. Schroeder's greed had finally managed to choke him.. Behind Schroeder's regained aplomb and Dani Bearquiver's tightly combed hair and tailored tweeds. "And so we." Poor Schroeder.The Great Schroeder meets his match here? "We are discussing the possibility of a joint operating agreement. this first exploratory. Mister Phelps. "If you two can get all the attorneys to agree. we are discussing the possibility of having that discussion. Phelps to the rescue.. Digby." she said. "we'll put a bronze statue of you in the parking lot." She was quite serious. 100 ..
But. I'm pretty sure there's room in it for some more money. If that happens.?" "No. "this casino happens it will make a very." "I'll check my bank account. "If you can be.” "I don't." "If. one iota. I know that look of yours. She would have to. What are you getting at?" "One hint. Eric. She'll never like us." he rocked his head." "Christ." He looked up at me. very large amount of money. I want you to be part of it. "we are not talking specifically about 101 . If she trusts us. are we talking about the girl and."Pretty damn brilliant." "What? I thought we got along well.. of scandal and this woman will walk away from the deal and never look back. "Digs?" "Give it to me straight." Eric said after we saw her to the front door." He straightened his not unstraight necktie." "She's a Stanford biz grad with half the Miwok people looking over her shoulder. "aren't I?" "I think she likes us." "But will she do business with us?" "She may.." he looked at the floor.
‘Give her 50K to go away.hair once and for all." He winked. Scribbling in it. an involuntary reflex with him when he was about to put the screws to someone.anybody or anything. Have Oscar keep me posted on progress. ‘Burn the bad cash." Schroeder plucked a small leather notebook and gold pen from his coat pocket." I said.’ The note read. Are we clear on that?" "I'm leaving at noon to get this thing out of our--my-. "We'll work out a repayment arrangement down the road. "Good. 102 .’ "Got it. Oscar's going with me." Shayna and the funny money had become solely and totally my problem. he flipped it open to me.
The Kat Klub. Mirrored plastic over the glassed front hid the goings-on from passersby." I said. of course.. "Schroeder said he didn't need any receipts this trip. grabbing a few bills. If I'm not back in a week or so. Oscar? I'm more qualified to deal with naked girls than disappointed car thieves. "Maybe one of us should stay with the car?" Oscar read my mind. A defunct appliance store in the midst of a bombed out block of the old downtown district. Not out of any sense of propriety. Mister Phelps. The White Nightmare had earned too many appreciative glances in the last three blocks. "I'll go see if I can find her." "Here. send a posse." "Schroeder's getting off cheap. . "Why don't you." "That's the way I like them. . don't forget." He opened his wallet to me." "Live naked girls. that was killed by the 'Live Naked Girls' signage and oversized bouncer at the door. take some dough. Remind me to tell you about our new project on the way home." 103 . The Cat Club was.
baiting her concentration." I gasped as her hands expertly slid my pants to the floor." the sound track insisted.. Assorted slobs in diverse baseball caps wandered near the platform. "Burning. burning love. burning.. ". The Kat Klub was the place to be for lunch for a certain set. and mutant caricatures of concupiscence. apparently." The promise was of a swinging party with lively people in a cool setting.Sneering a welcome.. posing naked and dazed in a musty back room.. cavities. G-strings. Thirty or so men were grouped in twos and threes around quarter-sized tables." She reached for my trousers. "My 104 . spilling and drinking pitchers of beer. proffering money to their garters.. dispassionate gynecological displays. sweetie. "Okay. cupping my cajones in one smooth movement. the bouncer compared my suit with his silk warm-up jacket and matching parachute pants and found me acceptable enough to earn a grunt. Turning her to face me. "You're not a cop are you?" "God no.. Reality was yours truly with a naked nineteen year old in the express lane to oblivion. I put a hundred dollars up to her good eye. The live naked girls acted out self-adoring acrobatics.burning and burning out of control. Very professional.
"I want to talk with you. "About another girl. "It's really very urgent. I felt Amber vanishing from my side. I was going to rise above it." "This isn't what I want. "About Shayna? I need to talk with her. Leaning back from her. Jesus. instead. "Is she here?" "We never heard of no Shayna. Daddy?" She stood up and coyly sucked her thumb. "You got the wrong place. pressing for her services. Amber. I fixed on her direct eye." 105 . Amber." "Talk to me. following up with a wet tongue and a masterful hand-wrist motion." she hissed in my ear. Really. Turning to face him. I intercepted her efforts with another hundred." the bouncer boomed behind me. she went to her knees in a quick movement." I ejaculated." I equivocated." "What about." My outreach program was faltering with the first client. "Oh." "I got a girlfriend who'll do a three-way with us for another hundred.name's Digby. Digby Two was spanning the distance between us." Relieved." "I'm Amber.
Oscar." "Tell her to call Digby at Schroeder Capital in the city. I'm afraid." I needed to drive." "She knows where she is?" 106 . Not the one I need to find. "You got to go now." "Did the one you saw know the other?" "I'm sure she did." "Never heard of her. snatching the dollars. I left the dancers bouncing and bending." I pulled the car away from the neighborhood of the Kat Klub. your girl?" "A girl."It's important." "Close but no cigar." I said. "Toss me the keys. handing him a hundred. Trying not to skulk." "We got other black girls." He made a strong case for it in his wraparound shades and wraparound muscles." "Did you see her." Reaching down to my pants for a business card didn't seem advisable. Time for you to leave the premises. "Very. to be in charge of something. Sport. "I had trouble getting my point across." "It has to be Shayna. "Bet you got a nice piece of information in there.
you guys are going to be rich. But. I could really use your help." "If I knew for a fact she did just that. you know how Mister Schroeder likes to bounce his ideas around." "We'll find her. I think Shayna's left that joint for good." "Yeah." I cruised onto Highway 280." "Did you leave your name?" "Yeah. Together."Probably." "Or brag." "Oscar." 107 ." "Sixty-grand would make most girls move on. by the time I got through to her the tough guy told me to beat it." "That too. "Starting to wear on you?" "Schroeder's cooking up the biggest deal of our lives. I'm out on a limb by myself here. Even allowing for that. in a very half-assed way." "The casino?" "You know about it?" "Just a little bit. and I have a one-nighter of mine papering the Bay Area in sham C-notes. the scenic way home. I could breathe a whole lot easier.
" "Oscar." "Mister Schroeder wouldn't do that to you." "Mister Schroeder. 108 . Oscar. he's made it clear I'm on my own. day or night. Oscar.The roadway looped through twin hills. together." "Here's the number to my cell. “Will you promise to call me." "If it doesn't. We'll do it." "You--we--have to find the girl. It's precisely because I know him so well I can say that. "I have to catch the girl before someone else does." It was an inspired idea. You two have been friends since being boys." "It'll work out.” He looked me dead in the eyes." "And Mister Schroeder? What's he want you to do?" "He's made it entirely my problem. when you need my help?" "I promise. it occurred to me back at the Kat Klub I am damn well out of my element with this situation. would do exactly that.
You remember my boy Digby?" "Yes. Busy. of course. Chinchin. Mister Tom. sparkling crystal. white table linens. gentlemen?" "Three. he meant "Schroeder's my best friend. Tommie. the Embarcadero sparkling a dozen floors below." Dad gave Tommie a small salute as we neared the podium. "Ah. Tommie. Two for dinner." "Much younger. Ralph." 109 . son. spot lit flower arrangements. Digby?" "Fine. it is so good to see you." Tommie made it sound very true. You know that. you know. a long way from Tommie's Chop Suey on Auto Row. Dad." “Of course. "How have you been.Chapter Eleven "He is not a friend of yours. We'll wait in the bar. You're too old to call me Dad in public. son." Lecture Hall. "You are younger than twenty years ago." Tommie's new place was all polished glass. Digby's fiancée is due to meet us in half an hour." "Call me Ralph.
Digby. son." 110 ." His green Welsh eyes were taking inventory of his only offspring. less if I was found wanting." "We're this close. I helped invent the game." I'd get a scorecard in about a minute. it'd keep you two honest. "Or the main chance. I know all about pitchmen and closers. At least people would drive away with some metal and a motor. "We're not selling cars." "We're investment bankers. Schroeder gives it to me straight."With all due respect Ralph. "to building the Gold Town project. Somebody is going to cry Uncle. "to either jail or respectability." he nodded at the barman's gesture." The martini's first bite was soothing and ice cold." "You're a dreamer and Schroeder's grown into a schemer. We're about to make a pile together." my raised finger caught the barman at the far end of the plank. "Look. "Don't try to tell your Old Man about making money." "And I wish you were." "You're this close. solely for his incompetent boy's own good. Dad." He was being protective. Ralph.
I hustled over to keep my face in front of her before either Tommie or Dear Old Dad absconded with the bride.. nearly kowtowing. caution is either something you have or you don't. building.."I'll be careful... "Well done. white skinned woman in the Mandarin tunic and jade jewelry." "Digby. Bubo." If Alicia was meaning to own the restaurant.. Tommie?" I tried. Missus Digby Phelps to you.." ".. my God. to the slender. ". ".was floored when Digby sent the news. her long fingers held firmly in his hands.nitrogen levels excellent for big reds." Dear Old Dad was on her other hand and ear. 111 .. Speaking of respectability.is planted in cabernet... here she is. leaving the lowly barroom to enter the aura of Alicia Miranda Kincaid-Saint Alwyn.... she succeeded spectacularly with her elegant gracious glide into Tommie's. town--and my father.." Ralph murmured with a low growl as he rose." Tommy was confiding to Alicia's left ear. "... You can't grow it. The namesake of the place was fawning.are you sure?" "Our table.
"..." ".guarantee Digby will age as gracefully as..only have the one son for you to pick from." Dear Old Dad was explaining." I announced and Tommie led our linked trio to a wide round table in a private corner.. too.. "Allow me to design tonight's meal.. Orange blossom was in the air.original cellars hold ten thousand.. please.... ".. ".." "Something by the window?" I thought.windjammer with a crew of." Tommie didn't ask it as a question... The day’s last sunrays fell red-rose against the antique brick of Jackson Square's buildings below... Alicia's long thin thigh pressed mine...." "...." ".. or Saint Bart’s." Alicia's eye darted under a thick lash." "This way. "..Aruba.. "...father can call me or my partner.. What a splendid life can be lived.. 112 ..” Dad was in his trademark white turtleneck--'always wear white to the face'.the Maldives?" she was asking.has his good point.. a squeeze on my leg.can't make up my mind. "...
" "Oh.” Dear Old Dad. "Are you lonely tonight?" The voice sounded promising.” I said. The only thing separating them at that point is the bank account. “A lot worse. and felt the Valhalla shift with the current. Digby.. I remembered Alicia’s smiling face. Don’t I.Tommie came bearing a bottled gift. Get on board and shut up. The Valhalla shifted again. “Hi.” “Things are moving a little too fast for me. son. (Ralph) and I were at the bar having a cognac after putting Alicia in a cab.. and she has one. “My name really is Amber.” “Don’t be a fool. “It’s Amber. After a few years they all look alike. I do. "Could do worse. I’m having a hard time coming to grips with the notion of one woman forever..” My mind was struggling for Amber..know what he wants.” Dad said. Digby?" Two hours later Dad. I picked up the phone on the fourth ring. You don’t.” 113 . ".
tell her. "What?" Digby Phelps. I told them it was a very personal call from Amber. I'm 114 . Really. my Valhalla. too. He says he still loves her. “Of course it is." "Why would Eddy think I have Shayna with me?" "Now. not why that. Besides. before we could work things out?" She gave me her impression of sexy coyness." The phone was covered with her hand. every other dancer is named Amber. Boy Soprano. Why would Eddy think Shayna’s with me?" "Oh. She used to dance. and the strip club sprang into focus. bright silver light. or he's gonna come after you. My name really is Amber. 'cause you stole Shayna from him. "How did you get my phone number?" "Called that office you mentioned. Just a minute.” "Eddy says he wants Shayna back. you know?" “Why.The moon was full over the aft deck. Amber?" "Because my mom always liked it." "No. not for real. I was breathing again. Ah. "Who's Eddy?" "Eddy that chased you off today? You know. But. "I already did two shifts." I heard her take a deep drag on a cigarette.
Don’t you?" "Really. are you calling for Eddy? To locate me?" "I was lying about my period coming. I'm fresh out of luck. Amber. I don't think. people are such a pain. a lighter struck. huh? You're lucky." The phone was uncovered. he won't really come after you. Digby Phelps?" Jesus. You met me too late. "Amber's an elegant name. and Mary. Joseph." Moods were swinging at the House 0' Hormones. I like you. I added to my whiskey." "You're not just saying that?" "I think it’s sophisticated. aren't you?" "I used to be lucky." "And you found me. "Really. "Jesus." Again. 115 . I came down there looking for her. Phelps." "You're a cool guy. Coax her. the muffled phone receiver. I'm not lucky anymore. a puff drawn deep. Hon. you know? Don't worry." I poured a whiskey.starting my period so she's going to have to cover for me. tell him I have no idea where she is. Just a minute. "If so.
okay? I got to go. I felt the rip run. "Where is Shayna?" "If she really. A split was beginning in the fabric of my life--lives. Last time she called." "Where was she?" "At some fancy gym in Marin. Hon. Just don't ever hit her. "Shit. listen to me. I do not know where Shayna is." "I don't hit women. Amber. Don't think you can go rubbing his nose in it. in hooking up with Shayna." Another cigarette--or something-." But. she had just walked out on Eddy." "Damn it. I was dealing with women who got hit. Do you understand that?" "Don't get mad at me.met flame. I don't want to work tonight. If you're trying to cover Shayna's tracks. "She was gonna hide out 'til her flight. just tell Shayna to call Eddy. I don't know where." 116 . you're rotten at it. really isn't with you. I am looking for Shayna. Look." "Rub his nose in what?" "C'mon."Tell her I need something to keep me going if I'm gonna work the bar tonight." The remembering went through me.
I could see the smoke streaming out of her 117 ."Why did she have to hide?" "She walked out on Eddy." "Smart enough at hiding. Thinks you were trying to throw him off her track. men. But. you know. What's his last name?" "Too late." Another cigarette was lit. "So he thinks she's with me?" "That you're hiding her. it appears." Men indeed. Tell her I thought we were friends. I know he hit her again. "She didn't make the flight. Christ. As much as possible. tell him yourself. Women too. lacking all conviction. yeah. Called me twice and said she was all right." "I don't think I want to pursue any further contact with Eddy. He'd never cop to it." "Was it her Japan trip that you mentioned? Maybe she's there?" Saying the words was an empty gesture." "And smart enough to get you to call for her. She's smart. On their last big lovey-dovey weekend before her trip. of course. To tell him it's final. have her call him one last time. Whatever she's doing. Or. We were--are--friends.
speak to me. Tell Shayna to call me. the streetlights glowed on in the marina parking lot. the windows darkened a purple hue and long chrome curb feelers adorned each front fender. Eddy Lo. Storm approaching. Captain. Go. he's a big shot caller down here. 118 . Crossing to the galley to switch off the overhead light. But. Don't hassle me. or worse. I slid the aft doors closed. I really got to go this time." "What is 'too late'?" "Shit." "Amber. In Sausalito. Standing at the window. Hon. the palm pressing over the phone. Batten the hatches." I tried. yes. 'Bye. The wide white six year old Deville was lowered on its springs. film noir stuff. Eddy may have fit in fine in San Jose with such a ride. I spied a car that had to belong to Eddy Lo. Amber had sore feet and a bar to tend. "I really got to go. "I'm coming. "It's Lo. if that's better. Let's party some time. Oh hell." Click. finding absolutely no security in their hippie-dippie stained glass design.puffed lips in a blue swirl in a decrepit room." Again. Some thug was stalking me.
usually depending on it to announce a delivery of a hot calzone or cocktail mixers. the adrenaline rolling in my veins.however. the intruding shape squatted. In a manner of speaking. weightless in the pulse of the silent moment. Soundlessly. 119 . into the lower guest room. the fat evil catfish of a car stuck out like a Detroit pimp at a Carmel fundraiser. One heated San Jose gangster. coming up. I dropped my hand behind the narrow doorframe to my one and only weapon. I hadn't replaced the hinges for that very reason. Edging his shoulders.. The cool wooden knob of the Louisville Slugger fit tight in my palm as I slid the full length of solid hickory to my shoulder. Near silently. the crown of his head within bunting range. Hoisting my weapon. Forty-two solid and balanced ounces of vintage swat floated in my right hand. the stranger reached his hands into the Valhalla. Slipping around the shutter doors. crab-walking toward the stairway leading to the Captain's quarters. took a breath and held it. the door nudged open. A gangway gate banged on the pier with a tired spring twang. The wooden planks of the ramp to my door announced the intruder's step with a cadence of creaks. My faithful Valhalla sidled against her dock in the fat tide as my visitor tested the knob on the unlocked door. I steadied.
I didn't know you were here." "Jesus kid." Throbbing. my fingers interlaced as I trained the sweet spot of the wood to the collarbone of my unfamiliar enemy. "Goddamn. my foot was screaming and swelling as I hobbled to the sofa. Mister Phelps. His answer required answers 120 . Mister Phelps." I screamed as I missed the figure and smashed the bat into my foot. What the hell are you doing sneaking into my place?” I gave the kid all the time he needed. I nearly brained you. I’ll be applying the whiskey internally. the figure on the floor moving. Far too small to be my foe. "I'm sorry. patting my head. even a nuisance." I congratulated myself on feeling my damaged foot was worth saving Jimmy's cranium.Tightly. "Bring me that glass and bottle on the top of the counter there. I'm sorry. "I didn't know you were home." "Mister Phelps!" Jimmy shouted as the slugger rolled. Snapping my wrists as one. clattering along the tile of the entryway." "Do you need a rag too?" "No. "What the hell are you doing?" "I'm sorry." "Goddamn. Jimmy bent to me on the sofa. the small torso close to the floor." Incongruously. "Shit.
gentle answers to allay his belief the Valhalla held memories. the wound torn anew from our talking. a sudden flashlight beam played first on him. Watching the boy walk easily down the pier. back to the kid. I hope he didn’t see the encounter with the baseball bat. Jimmy's eyes wetted at her absence. Jimmy was loose and dryeyed when we shook at the door. missing her. His belief was the very proof she was. desperate to face my new unknown enemy. I assumed it was Detective Tufts with a pit mobile from the impound lot. over to the gangway of the Valhalla. Guarded. of his mother. even mementos. Of course. I was only given a glimpse of the strange car rolling from the gate. she was the most wondrous woman to have come from heaven.from me. Loving her. Relieved that it wasn’t my friend from the club. 121 . Gustafson's angry voice ordered him home as I turned to the parking lot.
old romances and near misses. Gay friend with a need to get out more. Everyone arrived. Regina.Chapter Twelve Checklist for my Bachelor Party: Rug. Esquire. Checked and rechecked. Buffet. Neighbors strategically invited to avoid complaints. rolled up and stowed. a long story. sans the unmet Allan. Rope railings on decks checked and tightened. More standing by. Finger foods. a longer story. self-appointed United Nations Observer of the proceedings. Steffie. Katrina. on ice---six cases. Rounded out with assorted neighbors. Art Dealer. ‘Phelps Retires From The Field’—this they had to see: Tiffany Street. so full of memories. past loves. grapes. Music. Jasper Thornton. rhymes with vagina. Guest List. Steffie’s mother. I gathered snippets of conversation. Turk Tyler's Trombone Choir. Who would miss my last hurrah to my infamous bachelorhood? Strolling around my boat. Set up. Bubbly. sushi. her imaginative name is honest-to-God real. 122 . Secure the perimeter. introduce her to Regina. Dear Therese. Carmen. exchanging barbs with old friends.
.” Turk has a voice made of bourbon and oil.” “Well ahead of you. I chatted him up earlier and it seems the lad may currently be rather unaware of his natural propensities. my happily conspicuous gay friend. Jasper.” We wagged fingers at one another. a cherubic grin crossing his face.” “I should hate you. brave bachelor.” Jasper said. Pity.” “Here.... Captain. All the ladies love it. thanks. An old pirate custom.” “Enlighten him. Chat up the drummer. Digby.“I should hate you. Jasper. “Hand me that towel and three more bottles.” “Cheers. “But.” I turned to Jasper. Nothing like the first glass of champagne of the day. I think you two might have a bit in common. or get thrown overboard. Cheers. is there?” “I’ve told the ladies they have to sleep with the Captain. It may be just as well you’re getting betrothed. “. Some may have believed me. So do some of the fellows. I love you. Jasper.” “An inspired touch. let me open that. Who’s the Cuban firecracker?” 123 . “Beautiful orchid.but I love you.
an old friend. “Look at you.” “Look at you.” “I’d lean to Momma. As his smile brightened. we dance. thank you. Steffie the Serious. apparently.” “I did. The other her sister?” “Daughter. Jasper to the rescue.” “Are you certain you should marry?” “I’ll have my memories. Hand me that glass.” My Cuban firecracker approached.“Carmen.” “Kiss me first. poor dear. Carmen.” I was in tow. Digs.” “It looks like you stand a solid chance of manufacturing some fresh ones tonight. It appears our little drummer boy is thirsty. As I got closer he came into focus.” “You’re only as old as who you feel. reminding me of a summer once spent trying to keep up with Carmen. Detective Tufts. Digby. Did I really want to leave this life? A large man holding two glasses of bubbly was motioning with his finger for me. Come now. my night faded. 124 .
daring the casual visitor to find the way back to the entrance kiosk before the next federal holiday. past an enraptured Jasper and pouting percussionist.” Standing at the crossroads of ‘You Are Here’.. Nice group you got here. “First thing in the morning. Mister Wright’s design placed the second floor in the basement. The third floor was lost.. where Detective Tufts had instructed me to be. Room 228 was. Frank Lloyd Wright designed our Civic Center. on the fourth floor.” he said 125 .” “Why. with the courtrooms. I was twenty minutes late to Tufts. apparently. the Valhalla bobbing in the deepening shadows from Mount Tam. The jail squatted on the roof where the best view could be had. I consulted the umpteenth generation of a photocopied map of the layout. Business hours were disclaimed at the bottom of the page in large letters. “Be at my office first thing tomorrow morning.He handed me a too-full glass of champagne. Some party you were throwing. The Choir gave another two sets their very best before the long rays of the sun spilled over the hills and onto the bay. “Thought you might be late.” He turned and slid out. Take a cab.?” “We open at eight.
“I guess everybody can’t be a cop. looking down at me. I’m just not sure what hand. “We travel in different circles. “Do you get many counterfeiting cases?” “Not for long. “It’s a sin.as I took a seat in front of his desk.” I studied a framed poem and watercolor about footprints in the sand.” Nodding at the poem. You live very well for a fool. What’s this all about?” “Mister Phelps. what can you tell me about this phony currency that seems to be popping up everywhere?” “Nothing. too.” 126 .” “You think I forge money?” “I don’t know yet. “I know you have a hand in this funny money floating around.” It really was best that I leave. First I’ve heard of it. decided aura sent a cold running herd of willies along my spinal column. you and I. now. Printing your own dough is a Federal offense.” He swung around his small desk and sat on the edge. his hard. “Are we all done?” “Are you always so glib in the face of death?” “What death? Whose death?” I pushed my hand against the desk to stop a sudden shaking twitch.
” “What are you talking about?” “The death of Kim Gustafson. Tufts?” “Kim Gustafson’s death was not a suicide. What in hell are you really getting at. Phelps. fast. we’ll never have to deal with each other again. “Once I rule you out. “You’re not as quick on the uptake as I thought.” I wanted to leave.” “Did the husband do it? He’s a pretty big. threatening kind of guy. as they say in Hollywood.” “The wife of the store owner in the marina?” I wasn’t sure if my slow understanding of the subject was due to the early hour or last night’s champagne. I wanted this conversation to be over. or the fact that I was discussing a murder with a homicide detective. He was either versatile or insane. 127 . Mr. “Thought you’d want to clear up some questions.” “Well. good luck with that.“I am tired of your word games and not in the mood to be insulted.” “We don’t think so. Detective. Compliments of Dear Old Dad.” he continued. Tufts was changing tacks. Fair enough?” Fair people never think to ask if something is fair.
“No. Fair enough?” I got up to leave. I’m not one to romance other men’s wives. I’m not all that big on the divorced ones.” “He gave me a statement. I have plenty of emotional baggage of my own to stow.” He paused for my answer. Tufts. What were your intentions?” “Affair? Intentions? You’ve been reading too many romance novels. That it was part of the reason they separated.” “And beyond that?” “No beyond that. Look. either.“Let’s find out. I’m flattered.” “Her husband knew you and she were having an affair. But. Mister Tufts. Truth to tell. Really. I paid her well. Best of luck with your detecting. Thank you. 128 .” “What was your relationship with her?” “She cleaned my boat once in a while.” “Her husband must be a jealous idiot. “Mister Phelps. Ralph. we have information that Kim Gustafson was more than a close friend to you. Sit down” “No thanks. sexual. I stiffed him.” You can always confuse a clod with courtesy. told me you two were having a physical relationship.
” “Are you telling me. that I’m considered a suspect in a homicide?” “ We’re looking at people who knew her. There is no ‘we’ or ‘us’ behind these harebrained ideas. We believe the crime occurred in Marin. thank God.” “Ask.” He smiled. “For information to help clear a few questions. I’m not biting.” “Oh.“It has also been brought to our attention that the flood of fake currency in the area…” “Now it’s a flood? And I am somehow involved? Sounds likes someone’s desperate to clean out his files.” 129 .” “You know what we think?” “No. Tufts. You need to learn how to bluff better. Find another fish. I was beginning to hate his smile. we’re pretty sure we have the right fish. Detective. near your home.” “You did not enjoy a personal relationship with Missus Gustafson?” “No.” He caught himself. “We believe the Gustafson death was a homicide.” “Here’s some free advice. Tufts. just you and your little desk here.
130 .” He smiled. He shrugged. with her?” “Never. “Maybe she did commit suicide. But.” “A senior moment. Good. Phelps?” That was a really low blow to hit a birthday boy with.” he said. “How much did you pay Missus Gustafson for her housekeeping tasks?” “I don’t recall. Mr. Digby.” “And I suppose the ESS EFF Pees never make a mistake. no. “Thank you.” “And you never had a romantic or sexual relationship. but for once I kept my mouth shut. “See you around.” “That’s all? What makes you think she was murdered?” My turn. That couldn’t be all. and he knew it. leaving me in its wake to reflect and realize it was true.“You two—that being Missus Gustafson and yourself—had not made plans to be together? To cohabitate?” “Sounds cozy. Mr.” “She displayed features that weren’t consistent with the SFPD’s assessment of a suicide. Phelps.” The answer was out and gone. Mister Phelps. do they?” “No. they don’t.
I drove to Sonoma. To my real life. 131 . To Alicia. the red curtain of anger clearing in layers from my eyes.Arriving at the White Nightmare.
" "If you're going to get sentimental on me. I had to make sure.." "I love your daughter. Driving up. life. "I've been thinking about that all morning." his shaking forearm wiped the sweat beading on his naked head. I swear. I didn't think there were any real men left. Brockton. Digby. I never feel guilty." 132 ." His arms took in his gardens. Rock. Digby." "A case of your imported Pilsner.. Rock." "Christ." "Bachelor parties can make a man feel guilty." "I envy you. "Don't pee in the pool. he said. son. too. I'll ask Cook to send more beer down and stay in the water all day. I did it on the rose bushes.Chapter Thirteen Lounging around the spa with my future father-in-law." "Innocent as charged." "Digby.. for myself.. Rock. vineyard.but I think you are one. "and not all this." "Not to worry. Please take good care of my little girl once I'm gone. tennis courts. house. I hope it's that." "..
I want to see what I will--can--become with her. There's enough money for the rest of your lives. Rock." "And you?" "I love who--what--she is and the way she knows what she wants. She's stronger than you think. neither. A whiff of Chanel accompanied the muffled tone of tennis shoes on flagstone. It's a totally new way of thinking for me. the poor schnook." "Digby."Me. Where is she?" "Meeting with the minister. 133 ." "You have a deal. Rock. Enjoy your soak. now.” I closed my eyes and watched the bright red lightshow on the inside of my lids. that case of beer." "I've been giving myself away for free my entire adult life. Digby. I could get fused to this." "Sounds sensible. after the wedding. anyway." "What would your loyalty cost?" "For you." "Give me time. See that she's happy. I couldn't stand it if I starting charging. Where is your wife?" "Firing her tennis coach. I can give you anything but time. You want the whole case now?" "Let's drink it together.
How long have you been soaking?" "What time is it?" "Monday. Digby." I put the light show on pause and slid one eye open.” "You're ruining what little work ethic I might have.” She laughed. Alicia was glowing. You have spunk.“Try to relax." "Alicia will teach you. You stay put." She stared at me as if I were a stranger.” "Good for you. Alicia told me she’s pregnant. Do you have any work ethic?" "None that I can put my finger on." Having just met with the minister. Settle my curiosity." "Mea culpa. “I’ll send Alicia down with some refreshments. Any chance you play tennis?" "I've always wanted to learn. Digby Phelps. Emily.” "That’s what she told me.” “I think I’m going to like you." "Lamb and petit-pois.” “Some would say that’s all I have. "You'll learn. Her libido was 134 . too. Digby. "It's the tension of not knowing tonight's entree. You're a bundle of nerves.
looked straight me and smiled again.” “Oh you mean at the Investment Fair. They were probably worried they couldn’t afford to take you to a restaurant befitting your style and taste. Her lips curved into a thin.percolating with every wedding consultation she attended.” “No. “I knew we were going to get married the first time I saw you.” “Perhaps” “I would definitely have bid on you. “You were the auctioneer.” “Really?” The thin smile disappeared.” Her face twisted a bit and the thin smile returned. focused glint in her eyes. “It was quite embarrassing. There was a sharp. The cotton skirt and shirt pooled at her feet. her freckled breasts afloat. but the rules precluded me from making any bids that night. Don’t you remember?” I shot her a puzzled look. arched an eyebrow. how could you forget?” “I was pretty toasted that night. Her auburn thatch lowered to the water. But I’m sure you got a pretty penny. She cocked her head a bit.” “Those men were fools. at the Bachelorette Ball. taut smile. “So I should 135 . I was one of the women being auctioned off.” “I was the one no one bid on.
” “Ouch. Birds sang. Digby. "I want to stay here. "I 136 . Help him with it. We prolonged our desires. and my job?" "Quit. We’ll make this home. and I got you after all. It’s in the past. Let's not go back to the city. you did. Daddy wants to buy the winery back. We’re here now. There is a wonderful stone house down that road that we can rebuild." I said.” The water lapped over the tiled apron of the spa.forget your little comment about shipping me off to the 99 Cent Store?” “I said that?” “You did.” “Yes. Hell has no fury like a woman scorned." "Oh." "The guest house. before it's too late?" "He's reason for staying." "And the Valhalla?" "Keep it for fun? It's so small." "All we need is a gypsy wagon to camp in. Will you forgive me?” “Of course. "Speak to me. isn't he?" "Please?" The union of affections in her eyes was incandescent.
wish you would never have to go back to the city, or that job, or that damp boat. "This house is built of stone?" "Quit your job?" "In for a penny." "Today? I want you all to myself." "In for a pound." "I'll bring a telephone and a bottle of champagne. You soak." "My, you people love to tell a man what to do. Make it a Brut?" "Absolutely," she said. … "Phelps, where the hell are you calling from? Get your ass to the office right away." "About that, Eric. That's why I'm calling." The spa water was still as glass again, our frolic complete. "We'll talk about it when you get here. Christ, hold on." There was a clattering and a door banging, a switching and the speakerphone squawked to life. "Are you still there?" "Yes, but barely, Eric." The Brut was crisp and cold. "It sounds like you're holding a skeet match there."
"Is that him? I want to talk with him." An incensed male, couldn't quite place the voice, though. The champagne flute was an extra large. Ah, me. "Your friend Mister Lo is here, Phelps. Come and meet with him." Do I know a Mister Lo? "Doesn't ring a bell, Eric." Lobbing the entire ball of wax back to him, I let my body float to the surface. Ripples of water beads spilled from my navel. "Don't believe I've had the pleasure." "Listen, sport." It was Lo, all right. "You and I got a big problem." Beg pardon? "Digs, don't you dare hang up." Eric read my mind. "Oscar, will you escort our visitor outside?" Eric was rattled. Eric doesn't normally rattle. "Eric, ask him where Shayna is." "Don't even try, sport. I'll break your face." Sipping at the bubbly, I pondered the hills of Sonoma; so green this time of year. Shrilling, the other end of the phone was dropped, kicked, sent spinning as one of Schroeder's doors slammed and banged. A heavy load hit a piece of furniture with a splitting thud. Rather uncivilized, I felt. "Ahem, Digby, not one of our better moments." Returning to the phone, Eric wanted to charm me. "Your friend--Eddy, was it?" "Not really a friend," I charmed in return.
"Yes, he illustrated that in some detail as he invaded the office. Come into town and we'll talk it over." "Sounds as if all is under control, Eric." "Of course, Digs, it may seem that way. But, I can't properly strangle you over the telephone, can I?" "Well, about that, Schroeder. I think I'm going to follow your advice." "Pray tell." "About retiring from the workaday world. Alicia thinks I should stay in the country and mellow. Like wine." "Well, how nice for you. But we can't really clear up a number of outstanding questions if you're fucking incommunicado, can we?" "But, I'm right here, Eric. On the telephone." "You're not leaving this mess in my lap." "It's your turn, Eric. I'm tired of having it in mine." "I can't believe you'd leave me in a lurch like this." "I know the feeling, Eric. You’ll be at the wedding, though?" "Of course, you asshole. This is just business, isn't it?" "Just. Tell Oscar if he needs help locating the, um, black cat that crossed our path, he shouldn't count on me." "I'll relay your disregard. One last topic, Digby?"
"Is it pleasant, Eric?" "For some idiosyncratic reason, Mister Phelps, A Miz Dani Bearquiver insists you are--quote--the type of person she could work with--unquote. I was going to wait to mention it." "You were never going to mention it, Eric. I know you." "Well, I didn't want it to go to your head." "Or my wallet." "But, now that you are distancing yourself from the firm, I thought you should know." "What's the deal?" "Front the casino project for me, work with her. Do that heartfelt act of yours. I'll give you half a point of the monthly net." "We'll talk, Eric. But, think along the lines of a real percentage--of the gross. Must run, I've been in the spa far too long and we've guests for dinner." "Listen to you, Phelps. For a first rehearsal, you're sounding like a proper fart." "Thank you, I'm sure, old chap. When you speak with Alphonso, tell him I said no wedding presents--thanks all the same." "I have no idea what you are talking about, Digs."
"Me neither, then. Ta-ta, Eric." "What's for din-din?" "Let's see, it's Monday, isn't it? I should hope lamb, if the cook follows instructions, and petit-pois." "Nice to see you're not losing the common touch, Digs." "You neither, Eric." "When things fall apart, I'll still be here." "And if they don't?" "This is Digby Phelps, isn't it?" "Bastard." "Bon appetit." The water grew cold and the champagne warm.
"It's a time of great opportunity for your Tribe, of course. But, also great risk." "How do you mean?" Dani Bearquiver feigned a naive ignorance of my point. She was testing, wondering if I possibly knew what I was talking about. Scratching thoughtfully at my temples of gray, I slid the menu aside. "Miz Bearquiver," we were nowhere near the first name threshold-might never get there--thus our lunch, "of the hundred or so Tribes in this country offering gaming, really only about ten percent have shown any substantial profit." Excellent delivery, Digby. Sincerely concerned. "Really?" She was good. The next line, however, was one of the better parts in the whole script. "Unfortunately, yes." Business, but not all business, I gave it a smidgen of heart. "And the reasons are as varied as each project. Most importantly, however, and I can't stress this enough..." "Are we ready, Mister Phelps?" Pierre was always forewarned when the table mate was a client.
" I smiled. "So far. I spoke in my clearest and softest tone. of course. The man's a professional." "The same here. for instance. "May I interest you in a cocktail or an aperitif?" Pierre inquired without the hint of a smirk." The client's friend." "I'm surprised to hear you say that. It's true. "They have excellent mineral waters here. Pierre." "There have been wonderful exceptions. Phelps. "The lack of real social success to so many Tribes has been gaming's sad history. Mister Phelps?" Leaning forward." "You were saying." I was willing to admit. that's me. hands folding slowly on the table. "Yes."Shall we order. Mister Phelps?" He couldn't resist. "The Oneidas. thank you. 143 . "A bottle of your usual." A sunbeam made its way through the front of Le Bistro and found me. are doing a fantastic job of caring for their people and preserving the old ways while preparing their young for the real world. please." Add a dash of hope. I saw them once. Miz Bearquiver?" "The salade nicoise and onion soup.
"I meant because you were aware of the disappointments gaming can deliver. "From the Caucasus Mountains." I sat back sighing. "Ah. bulb shaped bottle of a liter's volume upon the table and commenced whacking at the metallic blue cork cover with his wine knife. "Don't you?" "Can't get enough." she agreed. "the central goal can't simply be to. between the Black and Caspian seas. Monsieur Phelps loves it." He set a purple. "Eau de Caucasians?" Miz Bearquiver was suitably struck by my pick of potables." Pierre gasped as a gnarled cork from the Caucasus came out with a tweak."But?" she asked. "They are the exceptions that prove the rule." "The real goals of the Tribe must be written into any business plan from Day One. no bother. "Eau de Caucasians. "Exactly. "Sadly." "Here we are.." 144 ." Pierre announced. Mister Phelps.." Pierre recollected fondly." I had jumped over a page of my script. It was natural. imported via Marseilles. I think. "When I said I was surprised." my future business partner warmed." I confessed.
. shaking his head at something. "Miz Bearquiver." I joined her.. please." "And any joint partner we take in. "It is the greater social." "And Digby?" I raised my glass. "I knew you and I could work together." I was with her. "And philanthropic goals.. Not a word." "Dani. "Enjoy. I know we can.make a lot of money." Pierre bowed. No.must be the basis of our.our foray into the gaming industry." I said.. a gentle pause......" she rushed.. Pierre was slowly filling her glass..mind." she said.." she laughed. … 145 .. The finishing line was in sight. Pierre was slowly pouring.. The water was really quite good--for water. too. "A votre sante. ". Phelps.." ".. "Prosit.. Silence.." I galloped." she added.".. "must be of the same." he was waiting for me. ".
146 ." "And you said?" "The Mayor and his pet columnist arrived in a taxi. and Schroeder said.… Sitting across from Schroeder in his opulent office. we raised our martini glasses. "Cheers." "Well done. God. I believe we are of the same mind on the important issues'. Digs." "'Tell Schroeder. wasn't that worth the drive down from the wine country?" "Absolutely. "'I would like to head up this effort. 'I'd be willing to say it would be a deal breaker if you're not'. and both said hello as I put her in the cab. It only stung because it was partly true." "Can't have you completely attached to Alicia's purse strings. at that point." … "Now. what a money machine this will be." I was saying." Schroeder said. Dani. she said'." "And she said?" "She said. "'Be the point man'. "'that I look forward to working with you. can we?" I let it pass." I said. Eric.
giving me an opening to leave my drink and Schroeder's office. It was entirely due to Alicia's bank balance. before the following afternoon's dive into the nuptial pond." Seems I was holding quite a bit more importance with Eric of late. Interesting. Digby. but I still enjoyed it."Everything set for the big event? What time should I pick you up at the boat?" "Around nine. "She said she won't miss your next wedding." "The perils of the publicity trade." The intercom buzzed. I should run and catch the ferry. this money stuff. He held the elevator door for me. we can have a drink before the drive. The double doors slid open on Oscar Clayton's subterranean lair." "Time for another martini?" "Actually. no. I'll be sure and tell Ali." "Bunny was joking." "Bunny is really sorry about not being there. It 147 . Oscar wants to meet with you very quickly before you go. "Digs. "I know. relax." "Sweet." I said. There's no way she can leave New York before the broadcast." Eric said. Digs. Back to the Valhalla for a singular night alone.
Oscar. "I understand the casino deal is done." I said." "Listen to Mister Schroeder. His brick boxer's build was softened by a draping doublebreasted suit and low slip-on shoes. Oscar. "Digs was almost out the door when you buzzed." "Thanks." Eric went to a corner table of black lacquer and picked up an Italian magazine. "You two make me feel like I'm lagging behind. Mister Schroeder helped me pick out a few things to dress it up. Digs. "Oh." Oscar grinned. Digs. "It's magnificent. what with your wedding tomorrow and all." The dark and dank basement of the old firehouse had metamorphosed to a sleek gray walled office and sitting room with thick maroon carpeting. Eric's favorites. "You look terrific." Oscar laughed." Eric said." 148 . you have my undivided attention for the next five minutes. Can I offer you something?" Oscar's wardrobe wasn't the only change. "How long have you had this set-up. Have a seat." "The ink is still wet.had changed. large modern paintings and black leather furniture. that the old business of that bad money seems to have died on its own. Oscar?" I asked. "I wanted to tell you. "Oscar.
" 149 ." I said. The threefold photo he held featured a Ferrari."I thought--if I ignored it long enough--it would." "To Diggy. "Here's why I wanted to see you." "This is all much too sweet for me. Out of guilt." Oscar said." "Alphonso knows it is all a moot point. "Only time will tell." Eric was unfolding a centerfold." Oscar smiled. "Can't we kidnap you. "from Willie. though. Digs." "Not as rare as the one from their first Opening Day. Thank you very much. Digs? Save you from this wedding idea?" "Don't listen to Mister Schroeder. Oscar. He handed me a tissue wrapped ball. "He should be a natural for our next deal. Happy Honeymoon. thank God." Schroeder tossed the magazine on the sofa. but just last week. It was signed by Mays. Oscar. "Don't tell me you got it back?" I hoped. maybe not." "Even better. I knew the heft immediately. "You are one lucky man. unwrapping the paper." An awkward silence marked our changing relationships. "A replacement anyway. Digs." Eric smirked. Mister Phelps." "Water under the bridge. "Maybe." Oscar shook his finger playfully. "Thank you." I read.
"But. Digs? Let this blow over?" "Oscar will play with you." I snapped open my briefcase." "How about the two of us head out for Nassau. then?" "Thanks anyway. Oscar?" "’Fraid I'm not in the same league as you two. I'm past all that nowadays. Mister Phelps. Eric. Eric." "Gentlemen. Oscar." "How's that Oscar?" "They can afford to think life isn't all about money." Schroeder said." 150 . Mister Schroeder." "He's jealous. Eric."You're the one who's been insisting I'm ripe for the picking. Wishes it was him. Won't you." "The rich are different than us." "How about a trip to Reno and a couple of hookers." "Watch out. stowing the baseball. "it is always all about money. He's getting that righteousness that only a trust fund can confer.
151 . lightly drunk in observance of the passing portion of my life. the great pitcher Satchel Paige said. the boat snapped to life as the captain let the engines churn. "Don't look back". A vapor of my youth whispered to me as I entered her. The warm lights and open windows gave her the glare of a spurned lover as she sat heavily in the incoming tide. loosening my collar to exult in the tangible magic of the Golden Gate. The true drinker. "something might be gaining on you." Twin portholes lit up the bow of the Valhalla as I ambled down the ramp. seagull-encrusted stone of the island was dotted with shivering tourists in multi-hued summer clothes. as comfortable as my old baseball jacket. The night would be spent alone. Mid-crossing. Standing alone in the bow. I savored clear title to the moment. The drab. victims of a century's worth of Sunny California advertising. a wide wake cresting behind us.Chapter Fifteen Leaning across the prow railing of the ferry. we blew through mare's tails of fog drifting from the sun-warmed rocks of Alcatraz. we whose souls arise at the infusion of the spirit. Clear of the precious coastal real estate. I let the fresh salt air mist roll on my brow and face.
I hefted the ball Oscar had given me. Whap. A chord is struck warmly and deep within us. the device shut off. Whap. I came across the reel holding Shayna's audition. One last look back. three times. ages 152 . My jacket fit. loose in the shoulders for my windup and delivery. I decided. Shayna. Rummaging for the tape with the song 'Green Dolphin Street'. Settling in front of a fire. "Forget we're recording this. unanswered. my mother's favorite. My control growing with successive cocktails. I stacked sofa cushions as a backstop.gains a special grace through the right application of the grape. Low and outside. I sipped. whap. gripping the ball. I iced another shaker of juniper juice. five and a quarter ounces that once comprised my entire world. the steam rising from the vegetables. 'Green Dolphin' serenading me. I speared a chunk of tofu and remembered my shadow. and called for a delivery of Chinese as I put a bottle of bubbly on ice and steamed in a shower. my slider sounded against the linen fabric. leaving the glass doors beyond unmolested. but hanging in. and whap. snug at the waist. Whap. It happens once in a life. and is not for replication. The phone rang twice." my voice echoed from months.
Had I left the recorder running? "Can we take a bubble bath?" she echoed down from the second floor. I can't help. I heard myself replying. the firelight flickering on her dark skin. "Wise men say. rest assured. Who had she been speaking to? Me? Eddy Lo? Stafford? None of the above. "Still. Whap. a champagne cork popping.falling in love with you.." Recalling the night. drunk in the disremembered night's appetites. My fingernails had traced such light tendrils on Shayna's ebony flesh. lover boy." Elvis blubbered from the background of that erotic night. ". 'absolutely'. I felt a pang of melancholy desire.. "I've never met a guy like you." 153 . Whap. I listened as Shayna confessed to the rotten bastard that she was in love with him. now." Shayna and I had sung upstairs. Drinking and throwing strikes. Ready. "Quiet on the set. action. "Diggy?" her voice surprised me." Sitting at a stool at the counter.. I let the tape continue as I fingered the baseball with 'Diggy' and 'Willie' scrawled on its skin. the ball dented the cushions as the tape spun on. "only fools fall in love.." Shayna's voice surrounded me..ago. the feel of her still fresh in my fingertips.
Then a step. But. 154 . Then the snoring. It would become a shameful slumber I regret to this day. as I snored on. fourth. it was still a strong and angry punch and I waited for the dazed silence to clear. her visitor. so clearly captured on the tape. the ringing phone finally signaling me to sleep." Shayna had softly called that night. I crept to the stairs to my stateroom. letting the telephone call die on the vine. Turning the tape off. deaf to her and whatever visitor was rooting where I had placed the gift from Alphonso. I flinched. Was I so loud? The quiet hum was broken with the sound of the door opening. "Hey. Then labored breathing and something being dragged. Listening a third. the spinning of the room challenging me. and Shayna’s very different. Then the door clicked shut on the tape. eighth time to the recording. my stooping posture tempered the lightning punch to the rear of my head. on that lost evening as I vigilantly snored through the night that had changed my life. turning to see who was calling. my hands over my temples. The sounds of the door opening late that night were intermingled with my snoring. Laughing as I bent to crawl.Bedroom sounds of our mutual delight and hungers spilled from the tape." A pan struck another in the galley cupboard. "hey. “HEY!” and a sudden thump. on Shayna.
" Rolling against the cant of the boat. as I pulled the Slugger across. and cleared for a swing. I picked up my bat. Lo meant crushing and permanent harm. Lo listed toward the stairs. took a steadied stance. landing a flurry of blinding blows to my head. sharp gasp. "Where is she?" my attacker demanded. back. He hit the floor moaning in a liquid. I stood with staggering half-steps and fell against the door to the bow cabin. "I want Shayna. tenth. to the aft doors. counting me as vanquished. a bursting of blood from his nose--smashed 155 . a shudder. up the staircase. Nearly as wide as he was tall." He swung on me. and I accommodated him with a snap pivot. Another wet cough. now. "I want her. landlubber Eddy Lo briefly lurched. twisting the smooth wood to my hands. the whiskey numbing me from the bulk of the damage he inflicted. Reaching around the frame.Rasping breath punctuated with a second punch. jaw. hulking over me. thwacking the solid club to his right kidney. and throat. twentieth. madly glaring toward the center of the room. and down on his collarbone with a cracking chop. a third.
"Haven't seen a forty-five since the Army. Rolling the bat on the counter." "You." he struggled to roll on his side. I flicked on the overhead in the galley.a.... His good arm reaching to his middle.. "Shouldn't go creeping in people's homes..are. his back to me." I gagged.." the inert gangster started. The end of the bat flew to my hand. it's me.... removing the pistol concealed in the tight waistband of his creased camouflage pants.when he dropped as a piece.and.." I went to the aft doors.. telegraphing his intent.. "I'm coming aboard..going to find her. Oscar. Pinning his hard chest to the floor with the tip of the Slugger.. "Digby?" a deep voice hailed from the dock. tossed the blued black steel to the high tide." Quickening at the call. ". Matching Lo's heaving gasps. "You. Are you all right?" 156 . I prodded him onto his back with the bat." "Digby.. "No threats or I'll kill you. close to hand. Dodging around his foyer-filling carcass... Eddy. I held to the counter as a rivulet of blood sprang from beneath his square head. I hoisted the bloodied bat again. Mister Lo. I bent. I shot a fast and full strength hit to his sturdy gut and hidden right arm.
.again.. kneeling at the side of the wheezing ambusher. Mister Lo. No more talkee.. Sorry I didn't get here earlier.Racing with adrenaline. All we want to hear from you is 'sorry' and a promise to go...knows where. didn't you?" Oscar's light laughter pushed my fear down and I plopped onto a stool at the counter...." "Have we learned our lesson." Oscar stepped down on the bleeding bouncer's ribcage.fake money and.go. fella." "The son of a bitch was coming to kill me. "I just knew this guy wouldn't leave it alone. "Have we seen the last of you?" ". A shallow puff of air popped out of Lo..sorry..stole woman." "." "Jeez.. Digby.. happy to let Oscar have his way. I decided on a Scotch. Digs. you ran into a wall. OK?" Oscar pushed a little more with his heel. forever. and stay away.funny money to. "I gave up trying to get you on the phone..... fat boy?" A suddenly hard and vicious Oscar shouted in his ear... "You're trying to talk when you should be listening.." Oscar jammed his foot further into Lo’s chest." 157 ... ". my head swam as Oscar entered. "...
" "Why don't you go clean up. "Diggy. Their sudden squeals of laughter stirred me to wake. Amber and Therese. "Diggy?" A third beauty called. please. It was Therese. "Diggy?" Shayna. Digs? I'll square things down here. A handy thing that bat. Alicia asleep at my side. Give me half an hour and we'll be gone. after all. "Diggy?" "Diggy?" I woke in a house unknown to me. and 158 . In my sleep I heard a woman calling. and turn. Take a long shower and call it a night." Going to the window. Alicia still asleep. I shuddered. Mustn't wake Alicia. I motioned her to be quiet. "Diggy. Once I found the ball." the voice insisted. all wanting to play. "Diggy?" It was cross-eyed Amber from the strip club calling now." three beauties were beckoning from below. they would go away. Digby? Our friend is losing steam. I had found the ball beneath the bed and was tossing it to them." "Plenty good." I rose and nearly ran up the stairs."Was that good enough for you. gazing down to Shayna. thanking Oscar at each sweet step. Mustn't wake Alicia. calling. "come play ball.
afloat on a rising tide in my Valhalla. 159 . in bed. But. I was alone.seek Alicia.
Part Two The Ceremony of Innocence 160 .
I remember them clearly. my experience is worthless. Graceful Spanish arches framed the Spanish Courtyard Restaurant of Spanish tile. It is more than enough. however. is a different story. Not having the benefit of the official photographs. Even so. The floral framed arches along the aisle.Chapter Sixteen Having avoided weddings my entire life. everyone seemed genuinely fond of us and endeared by the performance of the vows. Father Clark's tight collar and florid face remain. Decades of use as a trysting spot for errant Sonoma teens had cleansed the derelict of the stigma of a place to die. The scheme was Spanish Colonial. where one could view the Spanish bayonets with their short trunks and rigid spine-tipped leaves while enjoying a Spanish omelet or 161 . Love conquers all. it is the preferred style in California of tipping our sombreros to the past without having to embrace the Mexicans who built the place. Brockton's strange and scary smile as he gave away his daughter has stood the test of time and haunts me still. The reception. The Santos Inn arose from the shell of the elderly Saint Joseph's Sanitarium. I am afraid the above will have to serve.
” I whispered back. "Are you in charge of him?" I asked Therese." "Gotta sweet deal on a suite for my sweetie. “Did you read it?” he asked as he guided me back to the gathering.” he said and released me. the de-rigueur music vendor for the NapaPacific Heights-Tahoe axis. "C'mon Sal. Her breasts swelled against my arm." 162 . Digs. served by a genuine Spaniard from Sonora." Eric glowed.” I said. We were in the Seville Room. “Of course. “Of course not. Digby. my darling.Spanish rice." a waxen Vinnie crooned beneath the determined drone of guests seeking liquids. as he took my arm and guided me off to the side. “Was there a pre-nup?” he whispered in my ear. "Vaya con dios. "Yes. "Congratulations." Therese cooed loudly in my ear. "Juarez zee Bride?" Schroeder inquired. Digby. “Digby. not to fret. I've already made him reserve a room here for the night. Shoo. two hundred strong and humming to Vinnie Allegro's nine piece band.
"Over here. "He might need some solid food." "What else is new?" Schroeder said. wondering— perhaps--if I may have made a tiny mistake in the past hour. Schroeder." She gave her mock serious look. I'm abdicating all responsibility." Brockton Saint Alwyn hailed across the brick enclosure." "Honeymoons. too." "Vaya con dios. "Weddings can be very emotional." a gray and proud man in a plaid cummerbund hailed me with a practiced grin. "Daddy wants to see you on the patio. "Are you all right. only the shorter Brockton without 163 . Digby. "There's our boy." Alicia tugged at my elbow." Therese Saldini nodded." "Certainly. introduce yourself and Therese. Just a hunch." Therese smiled as I turned. Mister Schroeder?" Alicia asked. congratulations. Joining a tight circle of five tall men. my darling-darling-darling. I've friends for you to meet. "He'll get over it."He likes me. Therese. Spanish doors." "Digby. "Ah." Vinnie twanged as I went beyond the open.
Digby?" "I promise. "Let's let this man celebrate." Rock hissed to me at the door.. "Of course.a glass in hand." Rock shrugged. Christ. I stood at attention. "You're damn close to closing a deal back there. "Means we're able to choose our partners. Digby?" "Seems everyone wants to take a flyer in the wine trade. Have we. "Gonna have any problem raising the whole kitty at once. what with today and all." 164 ." Rock tried. Rock. shaking hands all around and backing away." That should do it. Rock?" A recently tinted fellow in a tight tux was asking. But. Cecil. Aren't we. "Wouldn't you say. "Having to turn down friends who want in the deal late will be the biggest headache. Okay. "Haven't even thought about it. and no play." I nodded. Digby?" "Hardly. It seemed appropriate. "Don't you think you should go back and snap them shut?" "All work. and nodded a second time to a passing waiter offering a Brut de Bruts." the plaid cummerbund said. call me first when you're back from the honeymoon.. "Any half units?" "Just signed the Letter of Intent with the Can-Glo board." I said. Rock?" "How much a unit?" A tall pear of a man in a dinner jacket wanted to know. yet.
and a time to sow. amigo. Besides. and no deal ever closed at a wedding reception lasted past the hangovers. It's your wedding. "Changing his shirt." "Christ. I realized my short chum would be lost among the tall. Digsy. a sack of stones. Schroeder's having enough fun for both of you." Therese said as she swirled to a stop in front of me." "Where is he?" Scanning the room. bueno musica. damn it." "Hey. not a party." Rock flourished his pocket square and wiped his brow of some unjustified sweat. equine women and their mates." I shook his hold on my elbow. catching my face in her cool 165 . "Please tell your friends I hope we can meet very soon and have a serious discussion. "But. Brockton." Emily called from across the parquet. okay?" I punctuated it with a lingering pat on the old boy's back."I'm serious. I happen to know when it is a time to reap. "Do they take requests?" "I'm not enjoying this at all." the newly installed father-in-law moaned. "I'm going to do the same." "So am I." Therese said. "she spotted me. Where's the bride?" "Still greeting people. "come and see Millie's new beau. "Brockton." "Because you're not supposed to." I said.
palms. "Therese is seated at the other end of the room. Oh. "Never?" She was dismayed in our boy's lack of marital trophies." She waited for me to ease her chair back. Digs--not because he had to." One rousing fandango from Vinnie's shiny-suited brigade. tightly presented by the blue satin bodice. Suzie carried a bounty of a further fifteen pounds of crowded curvatures under her cinnamon page-boy." my wife smiled. don't hold it against me. Alicia summoned me with a dainty wave and a daintier smile as she and a too-decorous Schroeder stood at the head table. poor Digby. "Not even a wittle bit. the wife of the presiding Reverend. Schroeder did the honors with exaggerated grace. anywhere. "Probably just as well. Digby. "But. Seated across from the happy couple. Matching him in height." 166 . could move Therese Saldini. Schroeder was making the acquaintance of Suzie Clark." Schroeder addressed her nearest tit. Suzie loved weddings--she was gushing--and my toasted boyhood chum was agreeing with deep genuflections into the cleft of her rosy exposed upper breasts. and it was time for the feeding. "Shall I have her moved?" I smiled in return at the preposterous notion that anyone. "To get more comfy.
pushing Eric to a semi-upright sitting position. I used the opportunity to take an inventory of my testicles. "Is it true. his twenty years seniority according her an indulgent charity. good." Alicia's unintended encouragement was not required. "did you mislay some poor girl?" "Not since summer camp. A knowing glance passed between Reverend and Suzie Clark. "Father Clark. "And this pretty girl has agreed to join our table." "Father Clark. present but shying." Suzie giggled." Father Clark presented a radiant Therese to the joy of the men and the consternation of the women at the table." Alicia admonished the Good Shepard of the Fairway. A bourbon boy. 167 ." Alicia smiled for a camera." I beamed for no nice reason. perhaps. there you are. Uh oh. Eric Schroeder. "Oh."Not even a wittle bit?" She purred with a cute wittle leer of her own. The Reverend had been holding the far end of the bar up since he came in. standing as Therese joined us at the Reverend's side. "We have an empty as Mister Schroeder seems to have mislaid his date.
" Alicia said." "And you. "Let's have a cocktail." Suzie confessed with a nose scrunch to her spouse. "There's hope for us all.Schroeder can map a full marathon out of a given inch. though. "Like horse and buggy? Cock and tail?" "Oh." The Good Father's fingertips grazed along Therese's clavicle as he held her chair. you. It hadn't agreed with her. "I believe it is Saldini. "Strange word. isn't it?" Schroeder pondered. vey. Miss Saldano?" This last was delivered with a bow to her ear and a devil-maycare wink from an antique Handbook For Swingers. It was time to warmly welcome them for the ten seconds or so that most of us would ever spend together in our 168 . She had been kind enough to run interference on the airborne wink." Suzie shared with Schroeder." "Oy. “He's incorrigible. "I've always wondered about that term." I said. "Isn't there. Alicia's abrupt and firm grip on my thigh brought me around to face a conga line of blue-haired guests. Episcopalians. shall we?" I mused. too. Father. Suzanne." "Poetic.
Eric and Suzie were comparing wrist diameters." "Soviet Bloc Party?" Therese decided. It's in five minutes or so. The greetings distributed. "Swing polka?" I tried. producing another entirely overlooked realm of popular music. Relaxing with the first sighting of the risotto with summer squash and porcini-matched with a Sangiovese from the Alexander Valley--the crowd grew convivial." 169 . I reflexively returned Therese's wink as Father Clark assured me he would tend to our table's refreshments. Oh. conversation flourished. the meal was solemnly served. "If you see Alicia on your circuit." Suzie was saying to my right. give her my best. "Join us. The meal a memory and clattered away. All was right with our wedding and glasses of a rich and velvety Sodaccio rang with toasts and promises. Father Clark tugging at her finger for another lap of the dance floor." "Sunset? I love to. Vinnie reappeared. The arrival of the fennel crusted roast pork with glazed onions brought the Chef out for a bow. "We can just get up in time. Digs?" "Think I'll sit this out. boy.entire lives. "It's the best I can do. Standing." I said to Therese's chagrin and the relief of her dance partner.
"I wandered. "Let us fly. here.somebody who.. "." Right." I meant it.The magic of weddings.." Schroeder stood. gliding against my 170 . "Or the view. Alicia was charming an attentive audience with her white dress and whiter smile." "I've never seen the suites. I reached Alicia.. "..around. "Half an hour. Digger. free people turn to married couples and married people turn to coupling freely. "Cover our flanks.. A sudden second of apprehension colored her fair cheeks as she sighted me staring.." Suzie insisted on confiding to me. "more or less." Standing beneath a Spanish arch. like manure and money.. I hope you get to enjoy both. "Well.." she murmured in my ear." Vinnie starting. mercifully solo on the piano. We shall return." Missus Reverend Clark estimated coolly. Dear Old Dad. must be spread around to do any good.. after a fashion. Charm.. dear Suzie.. finally found. I sidled through the throng and solicited a song from Vinnie.." Crossing the opening dance floor.
. kissing Alicia... the guests filling the floor surrounding Alicia and I.." Vinnie gasped through the 171 .." joining in our one true moment together.palm in the small of her back. Stopping center floor. blessing the assembled guests below with our entwined arms and raised glasses of champagne. ".and you ain't no friend of mine. felt precisely the opposite." "Make me feel sad.. I sensed the glad passing to the sad... The bride's garter was Schroeder's.. Eric raised his glass in a salute to his witty bribe of Vinnie to vent some Elvis for the happy couple. "It had to be you." we all sang.... "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog. I saw.." Vinnie's raspy voice leaked from the Seville Room. She. "Somebody who.. ". "." a somewhat sobered Schroeder surfaced. followed by a suddenly circumspect Suzie." we sang together.will make me feel true. her gently dropped bouquet snagged by a determined peer of Emily's with a well placed elbow to the debutante beside her.could make me feel glad.. singing and dancing. across the tiled lobby to the balcony where Alicia and I stood.
. I followed an unseen command and looked away from Alicia's wet eyes. Turning and tripping. the flip side of the fear driving my flight. the key shaking wildly in my hand. Alicia misread my fevered rush as passion. Tufts on my tail. a cacophony of cymbal crashes announcing the end of the affair. my eyes seizing on the eyes of Detective Tufts. to the light streaming from the wide open doors. down.. scratching the surface of the Palomino Suite. as my glass fell from my loosened hand. Sipping. Hail Fellow and Life of The Party washed away as a piece under the tidal weight of trouble. The lightly constructed world of Digby Phelps. A gravitational force was crashing down the hallways. breathlessly arriving at the door of our suite. shattering upon the tiled floor below.microphone. 172 . "You have the right." Tufts began. the Palomino--for crying out loud. leading to the elevator. as close as I would come to its rich and settled surroundings. The Sonoma hills sent the scent of their earth on a slight summer wind. grasping her arm. across the uplifted faces.. hungry for me.
..." .from this day forward...........to have and to hold..cannot afford an attorney.' "..in sickness and in. earning an amused and distant little smile. 173 .better or for poorer..' "... . locked in a shroud of disbelief.." .' "Do you understand these rights?" "'Til death do us part?" I asked..will be appointed for..... Certainly not Digby? '..Alicia's shocked expression..in a court of law." ..' I heard..
gentlemen. The Deputy halted at an open metal door opening to a cheerless cement room with steel table and chairs bolted to the floor and grunted me in. "Phelps!" "Where are the others?" "On the roof.Chapter Seventeen "Phelps. Digby. "You got somebody here. Flip-flopping down the hall in my plastic slippers and one-size-fits-all jumpsuit. You somebody special?" "No. I had never heard the others leave. I was Digby Phelps the Third. in the glow of the divine presence within." Alone in the cell. You got a visitor. "I didn't think so. Eight o'clock Sundays is yard time. All drabness and depression disappeared. sleeping through the din of their movement." Our best and brightest are not to be found working Sunday mornings at the county jail. Let's go. Why?" No? Digby. "There's my client." the presence boomed." Not a brilliant way to do business. Phelps. front and center. Mental Case. his baritone 174 . however.
"Have you met Captain Nelson and Lieutenant Fox? Oh." the Captain wished it wasn't so. A feast for the eyes. the reddish-brownish-grays a perfect match for his thick mane and exquisitely manicured Van Dyke. to give away a hint of the silken. "Mister Phelps. His bay rum perfumed the air. "Might we have some more of that orange juice?" George Talkington. And a pulchritudinous pile of flesh it was. Esquire. all senses actually. 'The Talk That Walks' (Registered Trade Mark). How do you take your coffee?" "We should be going then. an understanding between us that such social niceties were no longer required of him. I presume?" the man who plucked the Posley widow and her Polish lover from the Galveston gallows inquired. "One more photo. too. the Sergeant consigned to coffee and croissant conveyer. the air he deigned to share with the merely mortal Captain and Lieutenant.voice ricocheting against the cinder block walls like a shanked drive on the seventeenth at Spy Glass. Himself. In The Flesh. and Sergeant Parker. He flicked a gentle gesture in lieu of rising. Mister Talkington?" 175 . Three hundred and fifty pounds--minimum--upholstered and draped in a smart bespoke suit of choice tweed. paisley ascot within. The collar of the polished cotton shirt was open. just so!.
" I said around a mouthful of chocolate croissant. no. the cop did as he was told. "Good God. stuffed with cheese and prosciutto. in a practiced masquerade of justice gone haywire. Schroeder. of course." the mouthpiece of a dozen long dead and legendary hoodlums tut-tutted with transparent modesty." Schroeder. an embarrassment to his uniform."Of course. "If Mister Phelps doesn't object?" "Oh. "No hurry. stop!" The Talk That Walks commanded. jumpsuit on the rise. please. I must kiss you for this. "Not from below! You'll get more chins than the Chinatown phonebook! Stand on a chair!" Chagrined. "And one with my client?" the Avenging Angel of the Non-Ambulatory asked. The Sergeant tendered his arm to my attorney. I used the distraction to snag the last pastry. man. "Say mea culpa. face crammed with ham." the Desk Officer squatted with the camera. Schroeder. The newspaper photo also featured Yours Truly. bracing for the gravitational pull of America's Lone Legal Eagle. An obvious conman and bamboozler of the first 176 . a sheltering and comforting arm across my shoulders. He stood above me.
. too? How much does it weigh?" "You have a strange sense of humor. "A possible homicide?" "I know nothing about it. ". Mister Phelps.order." Talkington intoned when we were alone. I'm afraid. Mister Phelps." He thumbed a card from his vest pocket. "Capital tee-rhymes-with-cee. "I will attribute it to nerves." Reaching his short fat hand within his breast. now suspiciously dead woman. "Can't believe they think I'd do such a thing... "What about this woman?" "Woman?" My head ached." Talkington laid open how wide the trouble threatened to become." I gasped on the gin. A missing. "Some rather thick trouble. as in 'counterfeit.Kim Gustafson?" The card became my entire world. peering in my eyes. a silver flask flashed." "Wide trouble. "Is it thick and wide." He absorbed himself in the pouring of the liquor into my paper cup of juice. trouble.." "I don't know anything about it. then dead. "You have some trouble. high on ham and caffeine. Very identifiable 177 . "A." "How wide is it?" I asked." "Is that a fact?" He stroked his Van Dyke..
” Never. and so very.” he instructed. to prison. Are we clear?” “Yes. “I am to shut up until we meet on your boat after my release on Monday. Digby Phelps. The walls of the abyss opened before me. “After your release on Monday…” He kept talking. A detective with a fixation and fantasies of making professional hay on sending me.” 178 . “You will say nothing to anyone.” I said. but I heard little after he said “after your release on Monday. You’ll learn. and neglected it.hundred dollar knock-offs scattered through the bay area. The Saviour of The Sunset Sniper showed me the sanctuary of his stewardship. the refuge built of his expertise. eased me away from the precipice. very slowly. he gently. never were sweeter words whispered in my ear. Talkington slyly left me on the brink to gauge its scale as he slipped out to the restroom.” “Perfect. Reentering the interview room after a respectful interim. I was about to answer when he held a finger to his lips to silence me. The Barrister Who Buried Brisbane Air murmured his matter of fact knowledge of the return route to my life as I had known. Then I heard him say “And we will meet on my boat.
because according to the pre-nup (“See Attached”) I had “embarrassed” her. George Talkington. Huge eyes. wide long nose. Esquire was willing to accept mere money for his magnificence. his cropped tight hair frosted with gray. thanked him. He would talk. I had never read it. I was way ahead of the guy in the embarrassment sweepstakes. He would not forsake me. I thanked him. At our parting. I thanked God each step back to the cell that His wonderful creation and Senior Partner. dark as polished walnut with two glinting gold edged front teeth. A copy of the pre-nup was attached. shaking his doughy hand in both of mine. "Good morning to you. He would deliver me. this was not a repeat at all. It was clear that she didn’t want a repeat of her last marriage. Sitting on my bunk I read the letter from Alicia’s lawyer.I had heard that before. Dear Alicia. Why would I? The letter stated very clearly that I was to get nothing." I recognized the voice as belonging to Proctor. Kissing the hem of his garment was simple courtesy. and was finding it to be true. and thanked him again. "Well. He would be there for me." 179 . Well. look who's up and about. and I would walk. not to worry. a short and taut man.
" You're Phelps." "Just met with him. my. shaking his head at the idea." "There're bad for my dental work. Other inmates filed into the cell." "My. "We'll double down next game. "You're a man that needs a lawyer. that's a lawyer. old gangster. There you go. my. I bet you got a little extra cash here and there." "That Talkington is high-priced as they come. there you are then. be used against me. a pile of groceries growing on Proctor's blanket. thanks."Here." a wiry young man with Aztec features tossed a can of tuna on Proctor's upper bunk." "Mexicans weren't built to play basketball. Now." he smiled luxuriously. I hear. "You want a candy bar?" "No." 180 . Help. then." "I sure as hell hope so. and would. “Well.." "A friend handled it for me." I suddenly became aware that anything I said could. aren't you? The mystery money man? People talkin' about you." Proctor swung up to the bunk with a familiar ease." "It's all a big mistake. George Talkington." I sat on my bunk. "I don't know the details. the talk of the county jail. But then." Proctor proclaimed.
“Here. how 'bout Jay Slick's crime? The judge gave him a dime." "Here. "You got to suck on something. Want an orange?" "No. snagged a pouch of tobacco from the floor. The Slickman’s gonna be out next year. "What's that mean anyway. and withdrew under the covers. that's a good friend. Proctor. Still. if you got the scratch to match. He got the talk that will get you to walk." "Man. Proctor?" A black arm as large as my thigh snaked out of the pile. already. Jay was looking at twenty-five to life. Earl. "Roll me one too. Talkington got him ten with halftime." the wide arm reached a smoke to the upper bunk and disappeared again. "The Talk That Walks. No matter the crime. "Look here. That juniper juice on your breath is a certain infraction." "The Talk That Walks. huh?" A voice rumbled from beneath the mound of dirty laundry on the bunk beneath Proctor. you won't do no time." Proctor flipped a piece of candy to me. thanks. Phelps." 181 . He seems to know what to do."Course not. Earl. "Means the man has the plan." Proctor tossed another candy to me as the shifting round mound shook the frame of the bunks. See what I'm saying?" Proctor widened his eyes at me.
" Proctor lit his smoke. the heap of blankets." Earl pealed. Mister Jay." "That first marriage is always the hardest. shirts and towels rose. you know there's always circumstances surrounding such situations."What did Slick Jay do?" I asked." "He gonna axe for a bail on you Monday?" Proctor half-filled a 182 . We both stared at the cloud curling around the hallway ceiling fixture. easy. Best to get it out of the way lickety-split. a perfectly round black face capping the folds and creases and flaps. "In church.” "Phelps. blowing a long stream through the bars. "I wish somebody would have shot me at mine. a virgin in the woods. Proctor. Two dainty bare feet splatted on the concrete. "Jay Slick." I said." "Listenin' to you two." "At the man's wedding?" Earl inquired. "Lot of folks pretty sure about him doin' it. "Oh. man." Earl said. sheets. I hear you. oh man. man. he shot some dude." Earl rocked. "Give me something to eat. the heap of sheets quaked. Five on the Richter." Shifting. "Oh man. "They say." Earl grunted. "man might as well wake up.
man. Proct." "He sure don't look all right. You got another mustard up there?" "No." Earl belched happily. just ketchup. ain't you?" "You seem to know more about it than I do. I laid flat on the bunk to stop the spinning of the cell. Earl. Proctor. "At your arraignment?" "Sure. man. What happens on Monday?" "They bind you over." "He probably ain't gonna get no bail. "You lookin' at a four-seventy. save one can of that tuna. "That's why you got Talkington. covers most kinds of counterfeiting. That could happen. set a date for your prelim. hold you to the charges. "What's a fourseventy?" "He might could get a bail at his pre-lim." "Lessen the Feds come and get him. No hurt askin'. "You want half of this hot pickle?" Shaking my head. He look like. Earl. They usually do for hanging paper." "Look. You'll be all right.pillowcase with goods." Earl's wide hands tidily constructed a sandwich. Proctor. I would think so. Earl. “Penal code four-seventy is a blanket. 'Mama. say it ain't 183 . I mean. lowering it to Earl." I said.
" 184 . "The center cannot hold." "Proctor." I said. That Talk 'Em probably golfing with the judge right now." "Please.so'. "Turning and turning in the widening gyre. Earl had him recite it again. Proctor. listening hard. just say it." I repeated. You'll be out a here Monday. "Is it Yeets or Yates." I said. Things fall apart. "The center cannot hold'. raising his hand made delicacy to open mouth. "The falcon cannot hear the falconer." "Things fall apart." "Don't listen to Earl." Proctor began. The third time it finally spoke to me. Phelps." Earl burped. we don't care who wrote it. do." Proctor said. hoping to get lost in Proctor's poem." I closed my eyes. "Turning and turning in the widening gear. "You ever have your whole life come apart at the seams?" "Like that old poet said. Phelps?" "Yeats." "The world has gone mad." Earl said. Say the whole thing while I eat this. "Keep recitin'." "See if this sandwich is gonna hold together.
while the worst are full of passionate intensity. "The best lack all conviction. He was feeling it. "The blood dimmed tide is loosed." 185 . his teeth glimmering. and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned." Proctor said in the glow of his cigarette." Earl’s eyes were shut."Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
an open toed and well engineered shoe half-hanging in midair. I considered the fine weave of his herringbone. The pose was not meant to carry a hint of the sensual. I turned as others had and allowed the deputy to compare me with a mugshot on his clipboard. the bracing bouquet of his bay rum... "Mister Phelps. I turned my attention to the representative of the District Attorney's office." Hearing my name. Presenting myself at the door. she dangled a sturdy leg from the light blue skirt of her suit. quite fed up with the likes of me and my compadres in the holding cell. "Good morning." a shiny. dull 186 . Mister Phelps. Dazed. Studying Judge Sutter.Chapter Eighteen "Phelps!" The bailiff was a sour and skinny-butted man. Showtime. I convinced myself that his was the face of reason--seasoned with compassion. peaches-and-cream Talkington enthused from the lectern in front of the judge's bench." His sweeping hand welcomed me to his side. "Come join me here. Jutting a hard round hip against a long table. sixty or so. I hadn't eaten much all weekend. The white hosiery. and didn't. however. Your Honor.
"the poor fellow was bout to embark on his honeymoon." Turning. joined by a tittering of a half dozen spectators behind me." I felt pitiful." George Talkington clucked at a perfectly practiced volume. but naive.bronze hair and wide strong face made for a determined and frightening presence. An owlish man was busily sketching at a pad to my right. "any real reason I shouldn't release 187 .represents a grave economic and financial threat to the State of California. he regarded his jump-suited client with a tightly controlled mirth at the absolute folly his respected. "ho." "Oh. Your Honor. opponent was offering for our amusement. "Is there." "Oh ho.. "Additionally." Talk 'Em tutted. causing me to automatically extend my chin for a clearer profile. Must look my best. honestly. "He doesn't look like much of an economic threat to our great state to me." he exploded." Judge Sutter grunted. after all I was George Talkington's client. Mister Phelps was about to flee the country when he was apprehended. "..
"Thousands. "I have known Mister Phelps." Her attempt at wit matching fell with a thud. deep behind the pupil. I decided. Your Honor. and I took breath for the first since entering the courtroom. An iota of a vapor of a neutrino of something--something I knew-crossed the retina. the separate fishing trips and campfires. I 188 ." Miss Fireplug stood with alarm." Talk 'Em cooed with a special accent on the first word.the defendant on his own recognizance?" "The People have. literally. Mister Talkington?" Judge Sutter cooed in return. many reasons. the times we never nursed each other through heartbreak and illness." I basked in warm remembrance of all the times we never shared. "Yes. A wise and blessed man. A wink had crossed his retina. "Thirty years?" he asked. informing the room that George Talkington--Esquire--was not one to let his eminence preclude the professional proprieties. "Many. for nearly--how long?" Talk 'Em weighed. of his nearest eye." She riffled a manila folder on the table. Digby. Did he expect me to answer? The silence in the room was cotton in my throat. turning to me with a Dutch uncle's concern. "Mmm. "Judge Sutter. It was a wink. the cozy holidays apart.
'My'. gainfully employed victims of his scam until we are able to send him to prison?" "My. muttered. "Well. sensing the game afoot and cagily letting it go." the Great Talkington was aghast. Mister Phelps hasn't been convicted of doing that. What the hell. joining the game. yet keenly saddened by her loss of professional decorum and capitulation to personal emotions in a court of law. For now. "Perhaps." Judge Sutter arose. now can I? I mean. Together.threw in a wistful little smile. time stolen from the fairways. Mister Talkington and Your Honor could direct the defendant not to pass anymore counterfeit money on the hardworking. thirty years it was. we would save the court's precious time. All in one." my assigned prosecutor said. in that case. give or take twenty-nine years and three hundred and sixty-three days." Squaring my shoulders. Amazing. "Actually. Miss Kelly. shocked at the prosecutorial display of emotion. "I can't really do that. has he? I can't very well tell him not to do something that he 189 . I joined Talk 'Em in peering at the bench purposefully. "And personally guarantee his appearance at every opportunity to clear up this entire misunderstanding.
Beaming. Judge Sutter. a cadaverous young man gestured as he led me ever onward and down to a womblike cavern filled with ceiling high beds and shuffling men. . . my fellow inmates. I turned to my attorney. I would walk. open doorways offering an Advent calendar of misery. "No. "Call my office as soon as you get out." Talk 'Em agreed. . indeed. Do not call from this building and do not speak to anyone. My bunk was to be found further on. were everywhere." Miss Kelly's briefcase snapping confirmed the matter was done. in shuffling sandals and stained undershirts and shorts. The rooms were round and low and dingy. The men. "and we thank you. The subterranean hallways led me past opposing rooms every five feet. crammed with decrepit iron bunks three high." The words were a command and I understood I was in deep and wide trouble. can I?" The court reporter punched at his machine. How could I be considered one of them? New to the group. I was assigned the task to run the tap in a 190 .hasn't been shown to have done.
I wanted to scream. only the red leather of the car's rear seat. An icy hand seized my neck. bury us. I turned with a snap to see who grabbed me thus from behind. I needed. became our jailer. untethered from the mundane and happy tasks that earn life and purpose and sense for our existence. Only I was loose. I wanted to run. to wash a fatty and multi-legged maggot down the drain. the stopped traffic fore and aft. As strong as I ran the water. I wanted to cower. Only I was absent from 191 . I had never known one can have nightmares in the middle of a highway on a pretty summer morning. the worm grew. clambering from the sink and growing. All about me the workaday people were tending their duties and responsibilities as I let the White Nightmare idle to the parking lot. freshly free from jail. scaling the wall to the shouting of the inmates and the shrieking at me that I was not paying attention. Finally. needed. fat and wet and grotesque in its naked glistening pinkness. needed to reach my Valhalla. before I lost all of my mind. the caverns. I wanted to be still.monstrous and scummy communal sink. wet frigid sweat snaking down my spine. It would grow to own the rooms. the traffic crawled to my exit to the marina. I was abetting its escape.
an outgoing tide. no. Seriously. I knew. down the gangway to the Valhalla. No. of doing work they did not like and compromising their hopes and dreams to meet more realistic expectations. 192 . Who was I to have thought the rules did not apply? The piper demanded payment at once for each idle day I indulged in. How I wanted my life back. a drink. Could I face a conversation by then? Without sobbing? Drink. A note from Therese warned. the angle steep. beneath the surface of my living. the bar asked? Christ. Now. how I envied 'the others'. the planet growing foreign. Christ. The sunny day and blessing breeze were wasted on their old friend Phelps as I loped along the pier. I must be home at seven tonight. Not a drink. The simple schmucks spending their lives scurrying to safety. It was nearly ten o'clock. yes. The wet stink of the mud and pungent slap of rot were there though. my panic redoubling.the comforting routine of mediocrity I had scoffed at all my years since adolescence. as 'other people' bent to the wheel and shouldered the job of leading a normal life.
the drizzle a distraction for a few minutes. Please hold. some action. A court order. … A shower diluted my fear. yes. When the voice came on I took it to be another automaton and was nearly disconnected for my unreadiness. I realized with a shudder my life was spinning with the water. down the drain. I have questions. Shutting off the tap. Christ.Some answers. but I'll be the playboy of the padded cell. Call the bank. I may be losing my gourd. Joanie was strange. Poetic. Here is a telephone number at our customer service center to help if you have any questions. All funds frozen. Or was I the strange one? Visiting the office would tell. Please Hold. still vain enough to note the non-haunted eyes and tanned face. But. cool and unearthly to me on the telephone. Try to laugh? I could not examine the face in the mirror. 193 . Digby. Not like me at all to miss such a cheap B-movie scene as the self-realization of the furrowed brow and haunted eyes. Available balance of zero dollars the machine voice repeated. Please hold. some demands from the world for my time spent never asking anything. Transferring.
I could see by his dapper suit--my tailor--and waxed shoes. the bartender. leaving me to nod at his stiffened back as he lifted a snifter to 194 . Digs. and too unpracticed. once my confidant.My goateed barman on the ferry was crushed when I went nearly past him without seeing the large bloody mary he built when he saw me board the ten twenty. Digs.” No longer Mister Phelps. the poor and shamed relation. at last. It was meant as a peace offering. “Digs. Joanie did not turn from her telephone as I entered the front doors. site of my long-lost carefree days. Digs. Shall we?” I traipsed behind him. All the better for suddenly screaming out loud if my will finally gave to the ogre tearing inside of my chest. He splashed it down the chrome grill of his counter as I went straight to the rear deck of the boat. The gesture was a second too late. Sammy. sweat soaked on such a mild day by my panic and dread. tried to turn from the door in time to avoid me. a final capitulation that I was the customer and my tips were recognized. as Oscar arrived in the elevator immediately. “Let’s talk about this at Le Bistro. as he skipped across Bush Street to Le Bistro. Her button finger flicked beneath the desk unnecessarily.
our waiter.” 195 .” I said.” “We'll fix that. “Find the girl. “I have no money.” I said.” he said.the window and began to polish it. Pierre brought two scotches. Find the girl. “Let's go to the office now. “I don't know what to do. tonight. Digs.” “You mean us. Oscar quizzed me on a checklist of points I recognized as fresh from my Gold Town files. Oscar just looked at his. Oscar. really-. indeed. Send her away. us. There would be a presentation. the rest of the cash. the source of these troubles. Buy her off. the press. He held up two fingers to Pierre. He and Bunny were combining forces to replicate me. a few investor groups. Not that they could. I sipped mine.” “Okay. Ha-ha.” “Yes. Oscar and I slid into a booth in the corner of Le Bistro. and get you some money from Schroeder--he sends his best. Ha-ha.and get you to solve this stupid scene before it buries you.
of course. But.” I said. And he was right back. And they will be. and we walked across the street to the office. Don’t worry. and noticed that he hadn’t touched his drink. sure. Call and tell me when you do.” I was no longer welcome at my previous place of employment. He held up two fingers to Pierre. but he gently pushed me onto the bench outside the building. It's on Schroeder. I’ll be right back.or should I say I finished. bank envelope in hand. Digs. Okay? Are you all right? Are you listening?” “Yes. Oscar’s first was still untouched. despite his far junior age.” I said. “You stay here. I was about to enter with Oscar. you mustn't be seen or see him right now. who I had known when he was plain Petey from Texas. while I get some cash. Two scotches.” 196 . It was a fatherly gesture. The drinks came. You can do it.” He reached over and patted my arm.“Schroeder. first. I was ready for mine. “Use the dough to find the girl.. Then back to the way things were. First things. “Of course.” “Of course. yes. too. “Let's have one more quick one to celebrate your release?” “Let's. We finished.
We told her you had a death in the family. Oscar. Gold Town will make you rich.” “A cover story. needed time off. Digs. Take care of this. a vise gripping my heart. Good luck. Digs.” “Good choice of words. Good luck. Dani said to say hello. so you can get back in charge.“Don't worry. now. 197 . with money in my pocket.” And I was on the return ferry. a drink balancing in my hand. Go.
A weather fogged plastic shield keeps the wind at bay. really—on the roof of the Valhalla. “Hello. announcing their arrival. Where had I slipped up? Who had I so egregiously offended that they would have gone to such lengths to ruin me? Someone was not only primed to strike. My personal safety spot is a tiny wooden deck—no larger than a palette. announcing the seven o’clock meeting I was not to miss. I heard Ole Blue Eyes playing from below. It was where I went when the rest of world was a storm. Digs. Then I would descend. but also had the hot desire and unmistakable opening to attack. I was trying to unravel how this recent and most frightening storm in my life had begun.” Her arms rested from her sleeveless shirt on the 198 . Beautiful Therese was there with Dear Old Dad. I would wait there until I heard sounds from below. according to Dear Therese. Ole Blue Eyes was Dear Old Dad’s reveille.Chapter Nineteen I waited for Therese and Dear Old Dad in my hidey-hole on the Vallhalla. and I was not to miss it. I pulled myself together and left the safety of my hidey-hole cocoon on top of the Valhalla and went below.
“I don’t think I’m up to this right now. General Manager. Money was how score was kept in his clubs and foursomes. The latter knew at once to steer clear.counter. Pebble.D bellowed. I sure as hell didn’t fly in just to buy you din-din. “Won’t you stay?” I whispered in her ear. he left his uniform at the city’s best haberdasher and met up with my mother at a dinner dance the same night. My father carved his own world at the close of the war from the raw materials presented him and his own resolve. The Old Man knew the class acts from the bums. then the coveted one word designation behind his name that said he had arrived as his own man. Palm Springs. Hard but happily earned through the wonderful vehicle of a Buick Road Master with a special finance plan for fellow veterans.” “Well. Detesting conformity. 199 . The former embraced him in the city. Ralph Phelps Dealership. glowing in the slanted final rays of the day’s sun.O. Vegas and the right parts of Los Angeles. Sales Manager. Top salesman. The few who didn’t would learn at the hand of a master. I went to her for a small kiss.” D.
Bad timing. or so. a cashmere sweater. White cotton slacks. Stay fit —he carried a hundred and sixty well placed pounds. you need a haircut. “Thoroughbreds don’t have litters. Stand straight—he was five foot ten and a half. Wear white to the face. steel watch and platinum signet ring. sweetheart.” he explained when I childishly wondered. The smile was warmly strong and a matter of pride.” he said. “Nineish. hoping she would stay. I may bring the boy with me. a turtleneck whenever practical.” my father 200 . Always a tan. vee-neck and deep emerald green to match his eyes. deep wavy black. I tried the same on him. And that was that. “I’ll leave you menfolk to talk. gentlemen.” Therese said. “Nine. Tata. A thin. Don’t forget to swab your belly button before an evening out. He was my father and I loved him and feared him. I was his only child and was proud of it.” Handing me a glass.” “No need to run. found him amazing and exasperating. “Son. The hair on his head was thick. “Sorry I had to miss the wedding. he squared himself and took me in. And a tan.His handshake and word were rock solid. Never gold jewelry.” I said.
soon enough. Remember. not getting cash.” “You sent him? I thought it had to be Schroeder’s doing.” “He’ll lose interest.. you mean. repeat do not. I played eye-level audience to D. See if you're really my kid. Make me a bourbon. A splash of water. And I’d expect you to more than thank Therese for tracking me down.” “Pops? Who am I. I could tell when I called him in on this. son. I’d imagine. Sitting on a stool at the counter. Charlie Chan? That must make you Number One Son.. Haven’t you had enough of Schroeder’s shenanigans? And don’t put too much trust in Silk ‘Em and Bilk ‘Em. count on Talkington.” “Jesus. Nothing makes a lawyer's eyes glaze over faster than a client on the cuff.” "We have to get one of those new genetic tests.O. I know what you’re going." 201 . Digby.called after her. Do not.” “We’re in. he’s paying back some favors.D. Talkington’s paying me back for a few old favors.” “He still has his reputation to uphold.” “I’m sorry you’ve even heard of this mess I’m in. “Pops.” “He was great at getting me out. son.
This current imbroglio is only the most recent symptom. "Three. In short." "I didn't leave ship to come and listen to you make up some half-assed explanation as you go along. The Old Man's face held a sinewy grace under a very light padding resulting from the good life. enjoying this life." Eyes flashing. I let a sigh ease from my nostrils. free and good-looking. "Two. I suppose. for too long now." Sipping. Listen up. I knew the drill. chin set."I suppose you want to know about the counterfeit money. and toss in another ice cube." 202 . exactly the kind of man that cops hate. Justice is a sweet idea for people who have never left their rooms. his staring eyes were carried on the truth of his words. Don't ever entertain the fantasy our court system is anything other than a fraudulent crock of horse manure. "One. save your questions until the end. son. Points would be made in order of importance. It is one great big screwing machine and gobbles people up. You are sarcastic and glib. You have indulged your mind in wandering all over the map since--well." The Sales Meeting was underway. Let's just leave it at that. Still trying to find yourself. Here's the way this is going. Period. you of all people are raw meat for the square-jaw boys. Always. You.
the lack of sense you've shown in picking others for that spot. Therese should come with you. "We are applying." My butt was suddenly numbing. The alternative of staying and digging into who and what you have let into your life to cause such damage is best left unanswered." "When?" “Before you get hauled back in front of that phoney-baloney judge. "Five. a geographical solution to this mess. she's my favorite person in the world." "Ouch. Much less. as you say. I won't go into. I don't have the stomach for it. Digby. Besides. wife."Four." I stiffened my spine. another bourbon. here." "She's engaged." 203 ." “Besides. trying to reflect a partial inheritance of the resolution The Old Man was emitting. She is nothing less than your best friend." "Might be needing some personal space. Flip some more ice in this. In her age class." "Six.
" "No." "For how long?" “Life is temporary. A stable smallish home on the edge of the Bay becomes a becalming. Hell."Where to?" "Let Therese decide.” "I'm not coming?" "No. You'll call me a cab. even making love. Dad. the Valhalla springs to life. Don't waste yours thinking you should be responsible for other people's mistakes. You stay here. steeping in the tub." "I'll talk to Therese. I’ll talk to her when I meet her for dinner. creaking. drifting den. Cheers." "Cheers. say you're in insurance sales." "First Class or Coach?" "Business Class is the least noted. cooking in the galley. Anyone asks. achieve a surprise and nuance with each untimed and sudden roll of the Valhalla's barge platform 204 ." When the thick of the night tide rolls in. Guaranteed they'll leave you alone. anywhere and everywhere. slow-dancing in the semi-dark. Reading a book in solitude.
" "Your hands feel perfect." "We're a team. The motion was seconded by Therese's stealthy arrival on the side of my bed. Digsy Dear. right now." 205 . "And Lugano. Dinner with Dad. "What are you selling?" "I'm having a special on surplus worry. inspecting me for signs of life." The kiss was light and soft. framed by the mass of ever untamed indigo hair. she plumped the pillows and rested her chin in her palm.'s presentation and dreams of voyages." "And you?" Therese whispered." "You guys should bottle the Phelps sales technique. bedtime with Junior.underfoot. she was freshly inspired by D. the south of France. Olive skin aglow." Stretching next to me.D. "Dangerous in the wrong hands." "See? I knew that would get to you. It was mostly my idea. isn't he?" "Not at all.O." "Make love to me. then deep and hard. sweetheart. Digs." "The Old Man is a hell of a salesman." "The proof of truly great salesmanship is you saying that. "The Mediterranean calls. Venice.
"Hell of a system." She slid her body over mine with the next kiss." 206 . "Hell of a system. Digs.
Somebody was out to get me. scotch. We spoke little. or where I might go if I didn’t get going. It was all unsaid and understood. D. and my nerves calmed down enough to begin doing what I had to do. not contacting anyone. Hum. "Stafford Autoworld. and warmth. I had to think about where I was going.. Singing how shook up he was." "Please hold." Click. My nerves were shattered. and the seriousness of their intent was demonstrated by my visit to the jail.itching like a man on a fuzzy tree. of course.Chapter Twenty I stayed on the boat for two days. except Therese.D. while I was holding.” When I had rested sufficiently. and they needed healing. ". I made the first call I knew I had to make. 207 . love. and the fact that I needed one of the highest priced. was right when he said. and not wanting to be contacted.. Elvis. I paced the deck and jumped at every strange sound.. I read. How may I direct your call?" "Digby Phelps calling Kent Stafford.O. Therese came by with wine. “She is nothing less than your best friend.." Dredging up thoughts of Shayna. I drank. most powerful lawyers in the state of California to help me taste free air and a scotch again.
could you hold one more time?" Click." "You're welcome...." Jasper at the reception." "Well. Mister Phelps." That should get him on the line. Mister Stafford is away from his desk." Of the wedding. "I'm sorry. did you say?" "That's right.. I don't know exactly where Mister Stafford is. manic as a caterer with an unsettled bill.. But.. Mister Phelps.tongue gets tied when I try to speak. "Please hold.. He may be out of town for a few days." Here comes a brushoff. fluttering around the room.. why? "I'm sorry. ". I'm sorry I missed him. ".what?" 208 . I mean.. Thanks for the music.. "Mister Phelps.. Mister Stafford has left for lunch." "Can you page him? I need to buy a car this morning.. I mean. Eddy Lo." "I'm sorry." At ten in the morning? "Oh? Where did he go?" "Harry's.Alphonso's goddamn gift. kneeling with Alicia. My knees are weak.hands are shaking.
white with marbling and blue-flecked with USDA stamps. God help them find new work if Dear Old Dad was busy with a neglected tire-kicker when they traipsed back in. I found out where to find the King's greatest fan at lunchtime. 209 . Harry's Chophouse endured the nouvelle years on such devoted patrons. somehow.Click. produce markets. The Lunch Bunch. long enough to enjoy a new greasy luster with re-born carnivores. I studied my reflection against a backdrop of aged beef racks. Standing at the awning hung windows on Van Ness. I pictured him culling recent Hong Kong flight money at the airport. of my recent photo appearance in the newspaper with my attorney. The Old Man would call them derisively. My turn. But. My quarry was ensconced in a tall leather booth with a rapt audience of a Chinese-American car salesman with a newly minted pinkie ring. I was reminded. Dim lighting. toothpicks jutting from selfsatisfied grins. church. Salesmen--they were all men then--who felt so rich with last month's commission checks they would bail out of the store for a long and lazy lunch during the single hour or two in which a new prospect might wander in. cigar smoke. ice tinkling in highballs. the fifties had never left Harry's.
." Stafford started. Stafford fumed.". Take it outside and smoke it." I said as I slid next to Stafford." 210 . okay?" "Shall I. "Cuban seed." "We both know that's not likely. Okay." "You and I don't have. we have to talk." "Like the fact you've been passing fake c-notes?" "Not me. Phelps. I was told to stay away from you. I'm getting deeper and deeper in some very deep shit and you know more than you're telling me.. Shayna. "This is a private. Jason?" "Kent." "By whom?" "A cop. "Give us ten minutes. my attorney." "Why isn't it?" "Look. and a little common sense. "You must be the salesman of the month." The salesman nodded with genuine pride.." I fished a panatela from my jacket and presented it to the gogetter. Mister Stafford?" "Come back in ten. "Here.."Kent.
I already told them you had come looking for her. Phelps.. Like I told the cop. what? Where is she?" "And it's too late if this is about getting me to keep quiet. when I found my watch I felt pretty bad about thinking she was a thief. so I thought she was something she wasn't. too. too." "Told who? Told them what?" "The cops." 211 . then I suppose I have to accept a little of the blame for that. Look."When's the last time you saw Shayna?" "Yesterday." "And the car?" "I admitted that.well. The detective already had a photo of you when he came to get me. I was a little to the wind that night. I admit that much. Look. told her she could take it as a loaner. But." "Jesus. If what I said made you think the worse of her. Jesus." "You knew where she was all this time?" "No.." "And your wallet?" "Under the bed. Right where I threw them.
"Came to get you when? Why?" "Yesterday. close to hand. It's the girl." "It says it was a teenager. "This can't be her. A woman whose body was found in a remote part of the Marin Headlands was raped and brutally slain." I said to the plate of bones in front of Stafford." 212 . "Read it again. How many times had he reread it? Did he believe it could be Shayna on the first reading. To look at the girl. investigators said yesterday. Authorities Say…." "What the holy hell are you saying?" "You really don't know? Really?" The column-wide piece from the Chronicle had been carefully scissored from page Al. Was Raped…. Stafford had kept it in his jacket breast pocket. Marin County officials had estimated that the woman was in her late teens but could have been as old as 30. "Some poor kid. After conducting an autopsy." "It's her." The newsprint stared at me. Phelps. lower left. as mine were? Slain Woman…. or did his eyes frantically scan the black letters a second and third.
listen. She's dead because somebody killed her."It was her--Shayna--all right. how could this have been. I'm not the one who you have to convince. It was as likely a place as any to hope for an answer. They found her things and she had the keys to the Chrysler and they found me and I had to look at her.." A water glass spilled and I gave the widening wet circle of the green linen tablecloth my undivided attention. standing abruptly. I'd count on seeing him very soon.. Phelps.who would have?" "You probably know a lot more about that than me. "You better do some soul searching my friend. Phelps. So. I didn't know." "At the Coroner's...." "Jason." "I've been looking for her. yesterday you said. "Phelps." "What could have. rattling the table and dishes. I saw her. "have the valet get the car. Shayna was nothing if not very truly alive.” "How could she be dead?" Shayna? It could not be. her body anyway." "What do you mean?" The words sounded utterly fake from me. if I 213 .. It was her. "Your detective friend. Phelps." Stafford waved." "Right. Phelps.
As for me. Was I to frisk him? "It's on the coat rack.." he pinched his collar as he regarded me. "It's about the dead girl?" I plucked the wide suit coat from the rack and held it for him." "How serious?" The knot in my stomach jumped to my throat.were you." He got away as I sat. It's taxis from here on in." "And you?" "Me? You were with her last.. Mister Phelps. I left as well. "and I am late for an appointment. Good-bye. Talkington raked his ginger hair with his pudgy fingers." "I had nothing to do with . "Now." "Then. Good-bye. he spread his arms. and good luck. … "You're in serious trouble. "You know my boat? Come see me for a cocktail at six tonight." he sighed. When the waiters told me to. We need to talk. Phelps. No more loaners for broads." Turning his back to me. I've learned my lesson. even better luck. "is no 214 . hollow." Talkington said without preamble as I walked into his inner office.
shit. Six o'clock. either.I envied them their distance from the great man and his battles. No Amber in sight. Shifting." she said. I waited for her visioned eye to register on my face. Good-bye. "I know what you want. "Oh. memento filled office. I made a bee line for the bar to sit with my back to the room and scout it out via the wall of mirror. again.time for coyness. … Live Naked Girls were the feature of the day. however. at the Kat Klub. I expect some direct answers from you later. Paying for two beers." 215 . I watched as Talk 'Em and Walk 'Em waved to a small assemblage of legal tourists gathered on the sidewalk. Twin redheads in bikini bottoms slid against chrome poles on the narrow ledge of a stage. not you. I was one of about ten miserable men scattered through the dim club. Just a real classy kind of place. snaking onto the stained stool next to me. Standing in the shadow of the door transom." He straightened at the threshold leading to his outer street level. I made my request when the reptilian barman asked if I was contemplating some company of the female persuasion. No Eddy Lo at the door.
"He came after me." She stepped across a puddle and tried to look bored." "Your money's no good."We have to talk." With a shove of her hip." She wiped her nose with a fingertip. Amber. It was fake. Sidling through the door. The dancers took no notice. Eddy took it personally. "When I said you're money's no good. Now. exposing a colony of small hard pimples." "C'mon. But. she led us through the table-strewn room to a narrow door marked Fire Exit. I meant it. neither. pushed her hair off her forehead. startling the pasty faces within. "I need to know what happened to her. I let the sunlight glance past me. the steel door whanged open to a narrow alley alongside the dirty brick building. I'm not leaving until you tell me what you know about Shayna. "That you were 216 ." Trailing bony fingers behind her for me to grasp. I'm surprised you're still standing." The alley smelled of piss. Your money wasn't any good." "He never came back. I figured he whacked you and had to split. "Out here." "Then don't charge me. I'll make it worth your time.
too. right. He must have caught up with her." "I'm serious." "Eddy wouldn't have killed Shayna." "You said yourself he hit her. Who killed her?" "Eddy. Don't you want to know who killed Shayna?" "Listen to me. I'm not talking to anyone." A fly buzzed the fuzzy blue collar of her hostess robe.maybe dead. It wasn't like that." "I need you to come and talk to some people." "Thanks for your concern. cuz I'm serious." She gave a sharp knuckled rap on the metal. too. I think. Especially if he had some of the counterfeits. I just found out. This is all 217 . I knew it. Maybe a detective." "Yeah. "My lawyer." "Shit. for one. That you were passing bad C-notes. What makes you think the bad money was mine?" "That's what Eddy said. "That'll happen. Where's Shayna?" "She’s dead. Eddy loved Shayna. "Only cuz he loved her." "What people?" She went to the fire door.
I can't afford to." "Where will you be?" "Nice try." he said. As for me." "They think it might have been me. Gone. good luck. you're in worse shape than you think. This is my last shift at this toilet. Good-bye. Not setting no example. "Good-bye. if I need you as a witness?" "If you need me as a witness. Got me a nice trucker-not a customer-and he's gonna show me the country. right now. And. Amber. I don't care who killed Shayna. no. No. is where I'll be. Mister Phelps. "Don't you care about Shayna? About what's right?" "I care about doing right.the talking I'm gonna do. slamming the door. I can't help. I'm out of here. the pasty face of the barman squinted at us. then. I only care that they don't kill me. 218 ." "What if I need to get hold of you." The door was shoved open." She stepped into the dark as the bartender held a huge and callused palm to my face." "Well. I'm leaving the life.
Pinstripe man would invent the idea of a hotel room soon." He halved a half dozen oranges with a wide knife." "Digby. A first time for both. "What's the word Sammy?" "The word on you. "What are you recommending. Just a quiet place." The blonde understood. The blonde was going with the program. Cash. Only a nuzzling couple in a far corner. Sammy? Seems I'm persona non gratis at the office. lunch long over. "You're persona non gratis all over town. "Sure you want it?" "It'll be good for me." He set a half glass of thick orange juice in front of me. Digby.Chapter Twenty One Le Bistro was empty." The pinstriped man was portraying a life of unappreciated labor and misunderstood feelings." The pinstriped man laid out money on the small tab tray. Sammy?" "For you? I'll squeeze some oranges. is not good. To talk. "Seen Schroeder. 219 . of course.
People make crap up." Sammy said. People will always fill in the blanks when they don't know the truth. Digby. Digby. 220 . Sammy. word is." "Bye-bye. having them pass the stuff. there. A ring." "Who comes up with this crap? How can anyone be so far off the mark?" The couple stood. "We'll see you next week." the gentleman in the pinstriped suit said. "People. That you were running a string of bimbos around. And they will always use the same crap they're carrying around inside of them as filler."The word is you're a crook. holding the door for the girl. got caught using your position at Schroeder's as cover for a counterfeiting scam." "Give me a martini. You're pretty far done in this town. "Nice family. "Ben Taylor and his daughter." I drank at the juice. Some wife somewhere was about to have her world changed forever. I'm not done." "Drink your juice. Sam. happy with themselves. really. They've been having lunch here every week since she was just a little girl." the blonde was a girl and smiled with a pretty smile.
"You see what I mean. I'm old fashioned." "Can't hurt to look for some answers. The tricky part is to still be around when it does. Digby?" It tasted truly horrible." "You recommend fighting or running. Digby. The secret is to ignore the lies. myself. Digby. On the house. It's better than leaving it to others to make 'em up. too. Digby. Sorry to hear about your wedding." 221 . But. at least until the ice sculpture melted." "A disaster. I thought it would be. though. I understand running is real big these days." "Thanks. "We all make crap up." "This is the worse juice I have ever had. Not so easy when they're coming out of your own head." "The truth always comes out." "Do you speak to her? Does she to you?" "I thought I might wait a decent interval." "Always?" "Always. Sammy?" "I like a good fight. is it?" "No. God's truth.
Talkington's floating Victorian. with attendant publicity. My legal counsel's change of spirit toward me was evidently due to exactly that." … Everyone knows The Tortess. Balmier days. Digby. Talkington called from the foot of the gangway. As a resident of the lower social strata of the marina--West Pier is half the mooring rate of Main--I never had reason to know The Tortess or its Captain beyond a passing wisecrack. But."Thanks. Sammy." Following him. I was engulfed in a boozy vapor trail." "I'd say good luck. That's why certain people feel the way they do about you boys. I am not 222 . you Phelpses have always had it. to lick his wounds after divorce number six--or seven (depending entirely on the awaited court ruling as to the number of times he had legally wed the Countess Zuloagaski). Right this way. Come aboard The Tortess. As I approached the white painted lady. The Great Man had recently repaired to his famous houseboat. Good for you." "How's that?" "They hate you. "Six o'clock on the dot. indeed. Mister Phelps.
" Crossing a thick oriental rug in the half-light of the foyer." "We Phelps fellows are just that way. From every angle sparrows and grapes and lions and swords and crests and dragonheads and pennants and orbs stared down and up and around and over at me. we threaded our way through a dining room dripping with gold-framed mirrors and ancient etchings. Instead. frozen in the carved walnut surfaces. "You are very lucky that I am your attorney. gingerbread and fancies were recent copies. she was of a simple and stolid design of humble origin. Closer inspection of The Tortess revealed the boat's true construction. a stack of antique paper rolls piled atop a claw-footed bench weighing no less than my host.unfamiliar with the process. Braving a corridor infested with dour and worm-ridden portraits of long-dead strangers. 223 . we passed a dejected player piano. Talkington turned to me as I was meditating on the betrayal a new owner would feel if he purchased her from a distance. She appeared to be a grand Victorian house uncannily hovering upon the water. crammed with carved and velveteen-upholstered furniture. defying physics and nature. tacked on and camouflaged under the flat whitewash to make more of her. The geegaws and charms.
"Let us imbibe a jot of the undiluted spirit." he beamed. flicking a switch to light an ersatz Tiffany lamp hung low over an ebony veneer bar with zebra striped stools. "I have a whiskey that will have you speaking in tongues." "Incredible." I straightened." We entered a room as wide as the barge and two stories high. the only light leaking from the serrated edges of heavy hanging draperies. informal sittings." My adjusting eyes swam in the room's design. "Gotcha. here." he exulted as I fell into his fat arms and flammable breath."Watch your step around the corner. "A security device of my own invention. "and a valuable collector's item as well." Talk 'Em warned as I was sent into a half-gainer by an antique train set conveniently underfoot. It was a world-class hodge-podge of snapshots and newspaper clips. Dozens and dozens and dozens of black picture frames spread from the portside to starboard. "Sorry about that. shall we?" Talkington purred." "Brilliant. courtroom charcoals. formal group photographs. Floor to ceiling. inches from the deck to near the roof beams. wax- 224 . the walls were patterned in a zig-zag rhythm of black and white squares and rectangles.
" "Clever. "Single malt good with you? Nectar of the bards. "'Tis a superb dram of Scotland's best somewhere around here. everywhere shone the dignified mask of George Talkington." "Quite. stars with ex-spouses from the Golden Age Before No-Fault jostled with crime scenes and crashes. Pure poetry." Talk 'Em hemmed. Declarations and Proclamations and Certificates of Appreciation." The man had packed enough public wreath laying and private elbow rubbing for an entire Congress and half a Senate into his years. yet remarkably smooth. "Absolutely amazing." 225 . "I had the prescience to include an annual batch as part of the Edinburgh Air settlement. "Peaty and robust. and natural disasters of every caliber. and everywhere." Walk 'Em played at searching among a wall of bottles to allow me time to admire the galaxy of his glory. everywhere. promising politicians. burdened by greatness and vision. confusing my awe of his ego for admiration of his career. leavened by a passable impression of self-effacing modesty and concern for humankind.sealed documents and embossed decorations." "Tut-tut." Athletes and actors from hazy heydays.
"good ole Jack. in a way. "Yes. in its time. “So. detoured and ransacked by my bartender of the rosy glow. Cheers." He drank deeply again as I dutifully swallowed my tongue. "Come and try this. gulping a test slug of the scotch.” Talkington admitted. "It'll have you speaking in rhyme. "Yes. "How could my case rate such distinguished company?" I wondered aloud. Each.. Bottoms up." Heart soaring with hope. had been chased." A smiling John Kennedy and fresh faced George Talkington held drinks and cigars in the place of honor above the bar. What hopes I had for him." I sympathized. 226 . yes. great news one could say. "Ah." Talk 'Em recommended. dazed by the magnitude of the man's self-regard. you've had good news on my case?" We were celebrating something and I wanted in on the fun. "The fools think they can build a homicide case." Talkington recalled with a sigh as he poured." "It must have been hard for you. I oozed sycophancy." "I'm all ears.Every embodiment of ambulance--from Model T's to International Harvester to MedTec--was accorded trophy space.
Here. "It seems they have evidentiary dribs and drabs of all sorts." "That’s a comforting thought." 227 .A."WHAT did you say?" "Oh. Mister Phelps. He gave out a cluck. Salud." "I'm neither. you're starting to drool.'s a dumb schmuck. "They have the girl's body and someone's DNA." He provided a new glass. Besides.” "And then there’s the counterfeit cash. "Show some respect for the dead. some ice and more hootch. It’s not good for the DNA either." He poured a fresh glass and held it up to the light.” "I might be a damn fool but I’m innocent. I have impeccable sources all over the courts." He drank up some more. "What proof could they have?" I was trembling. Remember that movie CHINA TOWN? ‘Salt water no good for the plants’." "HOW COULD THAT BE GOOD--GREAT--NEWS?" My hands went all loose and the glass hit the floor. He poohpoohed my worries. the D. And another dead woman they fished from the bay. But she was in the marsh for too long and the DNA is contaminated. "Don't raise your voice.
But this mystery was not mine. Talkington had convinced me of one. My speeding drive was to speak to the child in Alicia. vamoose. then to Therese's to hide for the night and an early flight to anywhere in the wide world she wanted to go. 228 . My unfinished business with Alicia would take an hour. scram. We are all containers for mysteries. To listen to my heart and the Old Man and leave. the warm earth-scented air blew through the car as I gave her free rein. I sped north in the White Nightmare. He gave me a hope-ectomy. driving and driven to speak to Alicia. I would not abdicate the composing of my legacy to strangers. or he. She. and anything would be an improvement over the plans being made for me locally. Time to take the Digby Phelps Show on the road. and showed me the door.He gave me a napkin and a refill. nothing metaphoric. It would be a fresh start of something. Let Tufts and his swampy world of murder. sure thing. must be left with my story in my words. mayhem and courtroom antics lie in wait for some other sucker. The actual child. Rolling low through the Valley of the Moon. usually unsolved.
I was operating under a special dispensation. Obviously and. free from minor nuisances.Jimmy from the store was there that sexy afternoon. I knew who it wasn't. regardless of my country of residence. Me. eager in celebrating with her. The special grace of a solemn and heavy crisis hung over the car. We are betrothed. expecting to find her there. Who did it? Start at who didn't do it. Think. My face in the mirror was aflame.. ordering their dwarf siblings to pass us by. Start with the money.. The final orange rays of the sunset flitted across the Jaguar's red leather dashboard. spoken for by a custom-tailored tragedy. He had come to the Valhalla looking for Shayna. Who else? Who saw the money? Shayna? Obviously. I was thrilled with my shoebox. and alive. protecting me from the lesser pains of speeding tickets and traffic accidents. 229 . Who knew about the money? Think back. Fishing the dead Salty out of the water as I came down from the bedroom. It wasn't Eddy Lo. The fates single us out at these times. And my real problem would never go away.
Still. 230 . Not scared Jimmy. Show a little reverence. Gustafson. I blame the pressure I was under. The highway split. Not Jimmy. Phelps. Gustafson who would call it simple justice for my imagined theft of his housewife. I pulled to a stop in a weedy drive leading to a defunct diner. big boy. Concentrate. Phelps. The baseball-fan-delivery-kid. Scared. I knew it. spitting gravel under the rear fender as I tamped the brake.easy. Correction. He told his father. though. Christ. preludes to her.Shayna in my tee-shirt and the reddened delivery kid. You think he saw the money? It would explain a certain expression on his face that I had attributed to Shayna's naked legs.. Jimmy came back later in the night? A thief? My face grew redder at the way I was thinking. The car held to the left. It was Gustafson who came that night. He had the type of father you have to tell things to.. for fear he finds them out from someone else. Firm and soft simultaneously. Afraid of his father.
A battered blue van squealed around the tight curve. How do those things ever happen? The heat of the moment? A box full of cash and an unexpectedly awake witness. kids brandishing beers.Or simple greed. blowing its horn. Picking up the baseball as a reward for his kid's scouting work? Watching me run around like an idiot the next morning? Setting me up as the source of the funny money when he found out it was all fake. Killing the witness? Killing Shayna? That's a hell of a stretch. Did Gustafson kill his wife? 231 . hey'? I needed to hear the tape of that night again. hey. Pat's Pie Time. like his wife. Maybe he saw her as another sinner. saying 'hey. I roamed toward the white shack of forgotten conversations. It was sixty thousand dollars. After Alicia's. or at least it looked to be. Stretching. Maybe he saw her as his wife. Jimson weed grew between the curled linoleum squares of the beanery.
Shayna was in the wrong place. If I went searching for the truth. Dear Old Dad.I could not go down that path. 232 . hey' was said to her killer. Call the cops? And hang for it? No thanks.. And Shayna would still be dead.Shards of dirt crusted glass crackled under my shoes. Phelps. spurring a seed of nostalgia for my mechanic.. calling to me. The last lunch special had been ham salad. and deliver it to them? To Tufts? To Talkington? Back to square one. Time to fly away. Get to the truth. And then kill Shayna? The first time's the hardest. And woke up at the wrong time. hey. I would collide with their joint search for a scenario to star in. The White Nightmare glowed in the dusk. and keep going. not her accomplice. Don't let your enemies devise the rules. they say. Do they have Jags in Barbados? Go. The car jumped to life. not yet. Her 'hey.
Why do our lives turn on a dime? What if mother didn't meet father? An invitation to a dance refused? I pulled up to Alicia’s house. You been fishing?" "No.I would. Mr. Good luck. Mister Brockton go to hospital last night. Is she here?" "Not a good time. Teach him how to fish. my idyllic hometown. burrowing in the front hedges when I parked. "You and Miss Alicia gonna be happy again?" "Maybe. Mister Oshiro. I felt a brief glimpse of another life. I worry about you. not a good time now. after one small look back to Alicia and what might have been. Rolling slowly into the town limits. Sonoma. a smell of baking meatloaf from one of the trim. You call and she tell you when? Okay?" "It's okay. The flowerbeds are beautiful. Mister Oshiro. their second generation Japanese gardener was toiling among the shrubs." Mister Oshiro said. My nephew comes with my sister from the city. fresh little homes. Oshiro." 233 . now. Mister Phelps. emerging at my approach with a wide can of earthworms. in back. one I would never live. I'm sorry to say. But. You going fishing?" "Tomorrow. "Oh." "Is she in the house?" "No.
She did not answer me and I sat to wait. Three dirty beige walls. Purposely rattling one of chairs to announce myself. You are under arrest for first-degree murder. a paperback book about brave lawyers. with a small window high up. ringed by cement shelves for seating. a ceiling grill covering a public address 234 . Passing under the replica of an antique streetlamp in the middle of the walkway. The balance of the furnishings are a clock. fictional. scanning the items on the glass table top. masked with a metal grill. Mister Phelps." A chain of squat. . There is a wide metal door in the wall at left. . tiny lamps lit the cobbled way around the pond and to the pool and cabana patios. "Keep your hands on the table where I can see them. and a familiar business card with a small embossed and golden star. I spotted the silhouette of Alicia stirring from the round iron table to the shelter of the cabana. Good luck to you. a non-flushing steel sink and toilet unit in the center. both half-full. a coffee cup. They put me in a holding cell in the wings off the Courthouse. A sherry glass. I called to her softly and twice. Mister Phelps."Thank you." .
“Is my attorney here?” He doesn’t even look at me as he and Emilio leave. I watch the clock on the wall. “Don’t be too impatient to get outta here. The door opens again. and a damp roll of low grade toilet paper.speaker. I jump up and yell at the Guard. The Guard comes to the door. An eternity later the Guard opens the door. They obviously speak English. two black men who are smoking and laughing. My two black friends get up and slowly walk to the door. I am left with Washington and Jackson. Callate!” The man next to me asks. The speaker screams at us. and two Mexican farm workers who are conversing in Spanish in a tone that would make one think they came here just to have lunch together and catch up old times. It’s a lot more comfortable than where they’re gonna send you. “Attention! Attention! Be quiet. The big second hand moves so slowly that one minute seems to take a day. “no”.” the Guard barks. “Phelps!” he barks. slamming the steel door in my face. “Emilio!” he yells. I spring to my feet and run for the door. “Washington and Jackson. “Un cigarillo?” I shake my head.” The Mexicans laugh. bro. and a man who was squatting in the corner gets up and goes to the door. His 235 .
because I had visions of passionate encounters between bookshelves or in office cubicles. “Whose?” I ask. A self indulgent. Look at me. suddenly stunned by life. “I have seen you.upheld hand stops me.” “That suit becomes you. “Yours. A thankless prick at times. yes. yes. “Don’t run. I was a cop once. “They might shoot you. I do them for him. across from an attractive suited woman.” “No I don’t. So many of you.” she said. “I mean it. then you know I’m innocent.” “Yes. Talkington does not do arraignments.” “Don’t even bother. I’m a fool.” she says. Mr. yes. always dangerous for me. “I’m Rachel Weisel.” he says.” “What kind?” “The kind that skate through life on charm and air and arrive here. you do. We hated your kind.” I walk by his side and follow him into another waiting area where I am sat at a metal table bolted to the floor. Look at me and tell I’m a killer.” She pushes the paperwork to the side.” “If you were a cop. A philanderer. Phelps. 236 .
She has enough money to bury you many times. I turned and there was the guard. But not a killer. 237 . Your prelim is in two days.” She slides some papers forward. Then tell me. “Your wife wants an annulment. Her doubt was my greatest hope. Look at me and tell me I’m a killer.” “I never read the thing. over aged child. “I know you believe me. She moved the papers back in front of her. which was clearly stated in the pre-nup. I saw doubt.” “Why would you? It was all a gift anyway. Waiting. Always waiting. Best you sign it. got up and looked at me. yes. “Bail?” I asked. “No bail on a double homicide. based on the grounds that you embarrassed her.” I signed the papers.selfish. You say you know my kind. She filed the papers. am I a killer? She looked at me.” She turned and walked off.
“You have a visitor. When can you get bailed out?" 238 . Thanks for being here. Sorry.” “I will. That bad. too.” “His way of saying thank you?” “His way of being a friend.” “Tell him I said thank you. "Why hast God forsaken me?" I meant it.” he said. I was shuffled out to greet her. a glass partition between us.Chapter Twenty Three While resting in my cell (if one could call being terrified of one’s pending doom ‘resting’) the Guard woke me from my reverie. untouchable for the first time in our long history. "Was that the whole arraignment. So is the little drummer boy he met at your party. huh?" "No. Digs?" Therese's concern was bracing. "Because something about you just pisses Him off." "Jasper is with us. Phelps. and placed at a seat with the beautiful Therese seated across from me. I'm sorry. but I was alone on the planet.
do you think Schroeder might know what the hell is going on?" "Checked and rechecked. your gravy boat is still afloat.D was right about Schroeder. I have to get out of here. at present.O. Digs. Therese. Oscar said to tell you Bunny Walden's handling the Gold Town publicity and he's meeting with Dani--does all this mean anything?--at the site on Thursday." "You told me about the woman from the Bait Shop. the preliminary. Oscar is the go-between for us and Schroeder." "We’re all working on a plan.” "Shit. Tell me about this other girl." I shook my head silently. pointing at the heavy telephone receiver. Therese. Diggy. When's the next hearing?" "Day after tomorrow. So. according to Ms."No bail. and I don't like where it is heading.” "And many other things. I'm on a railroad that has been especially constructed for me. not a thread of hope of getting any either. "In 239 . At least I'll get to see what they've concocted all this out of. Digs. Schroeder and Company feel the need to remove themselves from your association." "D. Weisel. Apparently. an attractive stand-in for the Great Man.
" "Let's keep it from becoming a tragedy.." Like luggage and my passport. if there is one.time. Therese. I'm innocent.O.." 240 .D. Phelps. First.” she said matter-of-factly." "I'll call and come back tonight." Therese's encouraging juju was not dimmed by the thick glass between us. Honest." "What should I do next?" "The Nightmare's at Alicia's and I left some groceries in the trunk. ". tapped phones we held.let's leave that for happy times. Phelps?" "No. Captain?" "Get a line on Ralph's idea?" She was with me. Okay?" "Please? Therese. keep that appointment with D. "They offer you a deal yet. Wouldn't matter. Back in the cell Proctor asked." She nodded. we have to devise our own strategy. you don't know. "What else.". "Today was an honest to God farce. then smiled with understanding at my meaning. “I’ll check both gas tanks. Proctor. "Call Talkington." She knew. "I'll pick them up. Diggy. See you tonight.. or the greasy." "Remember to check the Nightmare. too? I can't get to a phone and I have to know what the strategy is. too. anyway..
"Proctor."Well. rolled." the heap shifted'. gonna let you walk." "Please enlighten me. Earl. so I'm gonna give it to you straight out. Phelps. I didn't do it. me an Earl got a van comin' to haul our asses over to Quentin in about half an hour. is you. This tobacco's dry as a bone. Proctor. at this point." "Specially now you got that big lawyer." "Say." Earl snorted.A." "Number one. was pushed aside as Earl positioned his feet on the floor. allowing the folds of fat to fall on his upper thighs for support." "I'm innocent. No way the D." "Toss me that tobacco. don't you?" Earl was in hibernation under a fresh pile of laundry. talk some sensibility to this man. You got any of them corn chips left?" "Here. Earl." "Being innocent don't have a whole lot to do with things. Put a piece of that orange peel in the can." "Not doin' it got nothin' to do with it. I'll listen. the only person at all interested in you. there you go then. "You bettah talk 'to this man. is what Earl means." "You got a deal maker. have mine. "Gotta let him do his thing. Keep in mind about these charges. You talk. The 241 .
Now. Proctor. along those lines. "What about the real killer? Let's not forget him. true. now. She'll have her job forever by doin' just that. Now. not with two one eighty-sevens. your man says." Proctor stubbed the cigarette out on the flat of a horizontal bar on the door. your man comes to you. Do twenty before the board even knows his name. Number two." "Maybe. 242 ." "He's got nothing to do with it. maybe not." "But he didn't have no choice.people in this building are gonna try to see that you are done with money from here on in. you got to keep an open mind about makin' a deal. you gonna roll them dice? It's your call. that's what you're lookin' at. years minimum you got to do before even thinkin’ bout getting a date. having a big muck can kinda work against you." "Earl's probably right." "'Cept he ain't gonna get no halftime. fellas. Says the D. That's their job. So.--he'll take a manslaughter at fifteen flat. Proc." "No board gonna let a double-lifer go. Gonna get fifteen to life.A. twenty-six. 'We'll try for halftime'.A. So. you go to trial and you're looking at twenty-five." Proctor said. is gonna see Talkington handling your business and she's gonna get wet with the idea of kicking his ass in a courtroom." "True. Still. and they like doin' it. Pretend you take it to the box--you know a jury. This D.
Toss me that apple. maybe. man. Listen." Earl tossed the empty chip bag in the hallway." "And if they won't give me bail?" "Well. Don't give no more thought to this innocent plea of yours. man. that's the only crime in America." "Nobody care about that but you." "I can't be it. if you innocent. if he didn't do it. man. airing his lap. You get out." "That's really your main worry right now." "Just don't run out of money. Learn a foreign language. That's the biggest crime in America." "Man. why would you take a plea? Cuz they not in that box. Earl's right. Hire an investigator. you are a cold dude. I'm innocent. People say. The system needs a customer and you are it. they do credit your county jail time toward your state time. Mister Phelps. Proctor. "And the jury gonna think. Hell."They picked you. tell your lawyer to slow this steamroller down. "you can't get outside to fight this. why they saying he did?" "Gonna be a bunch of scared housewives thinkin' about Ted Bundy when they see you." Earl braced his bulk against the wall behind him. to a pearl from Earl. Consider a change of domicile type solution. They not facing spending the whole rest of their years eatin' slop and wishin' everything in 243 ." "The bitch is.
Phelps..their whole life. And somebody don't mind it being you to pay for it.." "Amen to that.. Especially that D. my brother. "If you didn't do this. cheat the man of as much time as you can.. See what I'm saying?" "And the worst folks are burning with passion and intensity." "Can't go drawin' and quarterin' people like they used to and it's makin’ ‘em mad. somebody did. ." "Listen to Proctor. Phelps. was different. Otherwise. "That's bettah. Proctor and Earl were gone. staring at me batlike." Proctor hung his head over the bunk. Only you know if you did it. . work a deal." "But." "Number three. If you didn't. My new status as a defendant awaiting a preliminary hearing separated me from the herd. "If you did. I'm . the time to figure it all out is right now. never mind. you better get to thinkin'.A." I said. Everything and every minute." Earl said. Your ceremony of innocence is drowned. not one day later." Earl sighed." "I told. on their way to spend a nine month time out at San Quentin and I had a pang of disgust for 244 .. every day. you gonna be filing writs from prison 'til you drop dead.
A brightly lit cement cubicle with a solid steel door enclosing a narrow. Jail totally distorts time. Once in a newer. anger. squats and sit-ups. My last cell seemed a distant and happy club of amiable amateur criminals. towel. comb. and bright red. as well. Meditation is unbearable without some decent jazz and conversation. A deputy at each side. Two and a half days of aloneness. a matching restraint fettering my ankles. I rattled through a series of low and sterile tunnels to the new jail hidden under a distant hillock. would miss my new 'pals'. or sounds or smells. A single metal shelf for a bunk. Every second seems like a minute and every minute seems like an hour. another for my bar of soap. And I should know better. fending off the Book of 245 . my wrists were handcuffed to a waist chain. I opted for pushups. And quiet. change of boxers. plastic window and a food port for passing meals. jumpsuit. Maybe some snacks and drinks.myself when I realized I didn't want to leave 'my' cell. in the new jail. and impotent anxiousness is a hell of a bite to start off with. I had been tapped to move up to the majors. total quiet to hammer one's thoughts home and a Book of Psalms to help the drubbing. No bars or open doors or cellmates.
of course. Saveth thy breath. don't you think? Flattery worketh not on God. They probably already were behind me. It was the only thing to read. Try another. I knew my Twenty-four. Closing my eyes. I remembered Number Twenty-four. No really. Far behind. I bit. The image lingered as I kept reading the tissue pages. Started at Number Twenty-three. all right. Numero Twenty-four. right up here in the driver's seat. I insist. Miz Mercy--after you gals. Not what I was looking for. I love the habitation of thy house. Please Miz Goodness. I saw the bright orange numbers on the pure white flannel of the home game jerseys. I did not need Goodness and Mercy to follow me. Or before me. I needed Goodness and Mercy beside me. Okay. and begging changeth not His mind. The customary first stop on the Gonna-Shit-My-Pants-I'm-So-Scared Highway.” The “Say Hey Kid” played in two thousand nine hundred and ninetytwo games. “O Lord. 246 . Sudden religion-getting in times of trouble reeks of the smarmy side. The Book of Dear Old Dad.Psalms for as long as I could.
Ten thousand eight hundred and eighty-one times at bat. Sweep me not away with sinners. Walked one thousand four hundred and sixty-three times. The path was marked by a 1958 baseball signed by Willie Mays. and be gracious to me. I walk in my integrity. Redemption would be mine. Six hundred and sixty home runs. But. My foot stands on level ground. With three thousand two hundred and eighty-three hits. He struck one thousand five hundred and twenty-six times. nor my life with bloodthirsty men. Redeem me.And the place where the glory dwells. Ending with a career average of three-oh-two. I will bless the Lord. 247 . as for me. In the great congregation.
Glibness will not help you now. But.. Never heard of him.” “You know my father?” “Knew him when I was a cop. We had the steel furnished interview room to ourselves.. How about a Henry Lo? From the South Bay?" "Got a little more to go on?" "Half-owns a strip club on the peninsula? Been there?” “No. or her." "Mr.Chapter Twenty Four I sat across from Miz Weisel. Phelps.” Mr. He was a good man.” 248 . I've knocked off my share of. "No.” “The apple does not fall far from the…” “Barkley Moss. "You ever kill a cat?" Miz Weasel asked. Works at Stafford Autoworld? Seems he was given a phoney hundred dollar bill.” “Will you?” “Do you know a Barkley Moss?" She demanded. "A car salesman? Like your father. Phelps?” "No." "Him.
Phelps." "Bearers of false witness. I like that. "Can you give me a little more specific information." Eddy Lo was a small swirl in a greater sea." "What is our strategy." "It isn't the details that are trying to bury me. The girl who was killed. Miz Weisel?" "Mister Talkington is the strategist. It's a larger power.” “And?” "Came to my place looking for her.” "He knew the girl. But. you’re lying. These people are simply the bearers of false witness against me." "Meaning?" "Meaning the prosecutor did. Mister Phelps? These are all people coming to the prelim tomorrow. Has an evocative. It has been my simple experience that details can 249 . They are not coming to vouch for your sense of humor. ask him tomorrow. it stinks as a contemporary courtroom strategy. Might've worked in Judea. He’s does the show. a tide. scriptural ring to it. I was sure. then. Or irritating lack of memory for details. Mister Phelps.“Mr. about two thousand years ago. Shayna. and I didn't invite them. I do the back-up. Miz Weisel.
I think you'll come to agree with me." "Example?" "Try this one." "I was not stalking Shayna.well. frantically searching for this one-night affair. It's not really all that important. gallivanting from car dealerships to restaurants to strip clubs to who knows where else. Leaves us with the phone 250 . why were you stalking the recently deceased all over the Bay Area if she was simply a 'sudden passion'." "Her husband says otherwise. Gustafson. He's George Washington according to the technician..be rather compelling in a court of law. Sooner or later. And so does the evidence.." "Forgive me. but. You can look it up. from what I've sniffed out so far. Even did the polygraph. as you describe it?" "I never stalked a person in my life. given the certainty the other side has of your very regular relations with Kim Gustafson." "Let's move on." "Am I the only person to whom it has occurred that her husband probably killed her?" "No.” "I was not having a relationship with Mrs. Mister Phelps. that could be construed as stalking someone. He was the first to be vetted.
Mister Phelps." "It's that bad?" "Yes. I'm afraid a jury will actually believe a phone bill over your testimony. thirty-eight.calls to explain." "Details. three-fourteen." 251 . at this point in time." "What phone calls?" "Minor details. I'll defer mentioning certain unmentionables. four-oh-two in the morning at your number? And harassing for twenty-three." "Mention. Repeated calls to your tug? The Minnehaha? Those nights she was sleeping over?" "What?" "It's nice to finally have your attention. Maybe a few short calls about a delivery or my tab at his store. Mister Phelps. damn it. Forgive my presumption." "Who--whom--do you suppose her husband was calling at two-thirty. and fifty-four and two-tenths minutes at a whack? I took the opportunity to rule you out as his wee-hours phone friend." "Gustafson never called my boat." "She never spent a night on the Valhalla.
Nothing beyond the odd kitchen accident. believe it or not. That's how it works. mishandled corkscrews. Phelps. He may have bled in the entryway. is to help you."Undergarments? Dainty accessories of a personal nature? Found stowed on your boat? Simple supposition at this point--pending the lab results--singles out your late non-girlfriend." "This is absolutely not happening. We fought. hat you have to be direct and candid with me." "Tell me about any blood trace that may have been found in your home. my job is not to judge you." "No one can believe this." 252 . if you don’t help me." "Interesting angle. That means." "None. Mister Phelps. Kim Gustafson. Mr. Why?" "A search warrant was exercised for the science boys and girls. can I help you?” "Mister Phelps. My job. please tell me." “I once had an intruder. They've hired a professional for that.” “How.” “I cannot help you. There's a raft of studies on serial-killer underwearcollectors in deep denial.
" "Precisely." "The cops have to find the real killer." "That's your forte. Mister Phelps." 253 . That is entirely the problem. being glib and--candidly-totally unrealistic about the trouble he's facing. But. That the killer is sitting right here with me. or killers. I know.. Mister Phelps. These nuisance details that pester you so much are tiny grains of sand. it is very believable." "They are as sure as I'm sitting here that they have done just that."And Talkington?" "Mister Talkington--and you should appreciate this--has an aversion to knowing too many details of his cases." "Actually." "Anyone who knows me will tell you. Mister Phelps." "It's unbelievable. I have to say I’ve seen far more credible defendants than you be buried by far lesser details. for what good they do. And it has its place. Seems every machete wielding rapist has an aged mother he's been tucking in at night.." "Character witnesses are generally reserved for the sentencing portion of these proceedings.
“Picks a young girl up. to jump at the chance of working a counterfeiting scheme."What's the worst that could happen to me?" “Lethal injection. with a serious drinking problem. 254 . Something goes wrong. No friends. Connives a pair of unworldly women to help him pass his homemade money around the Bay. Starts with a lonely and overworked wife of a bait shop owner. some sex. From this point forward. living beyond his means with a spotty source of income and a steady appetite for the ladies. Good. brand new to the area. "I have somehow managed to make you speechless. She gets nervous? Bye-bye. Marriage? Life in the tropics? A real sleazeball. no job. So that you may give the current lack of detail in our argument the proper introspection. Mister Phelps. Mister Phelps.” She was just getting started. Now. shows her the good life. Promises her God only knows. some charm. I would recommend that tactic whenever you feel compelled to make a sarcastic reply to questioning. “A gadabout." Lunch was being served in the main jail down the hallway. Mister Phelps. I'll leave you as others see you. Mister Phelps. Or gas. I had come to recognize the greasy squeak of the rubber wheeled carts on the polished linoleum floors. You get to choose in the state of California. “A man ripe.
aren't we?” “But you know I didn’t do it. 255 . “Or does it? How many more are sitting in the bay? Scattered around nature trails? None? A dozen? More importantly. . Maybe this one says no way when he explains the scheme. The deputies lining a dozen of us up for delivery to the courtrooms remembered me as the counterfeiter. how many more would it have been? How many more women won't be victims of Digby Phelps? That is the question of the hour. ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Because we're going to fix it so that Mister Phelps has no more helpless victims. leave this one in the marsh. That makes two. you see? Throws the cops off. he's going to show her the world. No special treatment required. We're going to send this scumbag away for the rest of his natural life. Mister Phelps. . a mellow paper criminal with his tit in a wringer. A normal enough guy in the single file snaking through the long bright subterranean hallways. folks. Mister Talkington and I will see you in the morning at the hearing. I know you do.Presto." . No problem.” “Consider the details. A little variety.
I had until the new charges were read to enjoy a degree of anonymity from my keepers. At courtroom four. "Does it look good for you?" "Sentencing. Maybe bad. to me. they had not attributed them.If any of my guards knew of the strange and vicious crimes. But. "I do. I was the pretend money passer of a week ago." he smiled." he slowly arranged his 256 . Preliminary hearing." "No. yet. too?" he asked gently as he carefully separated a single square from the toilet paper roll. Assuming the dull. I shuffled along in my plastic and canvas slippers." Wiping each lens minutely. His black thinning hair was carefully combed over his bald crown and he smiled at me expectantly as we were told to climb down a steep flight of cement and steel stairs to a bleak beige holding cell. dormant expression of the others in my group." I said in the shorthand we single language users resort to when faced with an accent. "You go to sentencing today. "yes. I was cut from the pack with a nervous Hispanic of fifty years. we took benches facing each other along the long walls of the cell. Locked behind a scarred steel door with a permanently fogged and shatterproof window. "Maybe good. a non-threat with a likable enough offense. he spoke to his eyeglasses.
"I think good. no." "Yes. I remember you. For the good luck. "We need to talk before you appear before Judge Sutter." "Yes. Now. I pray for that. I remember you. she sat close on his other side." Flopping a fat file of folders flat on the bench next to him. I say no.glasses behind each ear. yes." His eyes were surprisingly green. that's right. How are you?" He had no more idea of her identity than I and she knew it." "Well." "Are you looking at much time?" Jail parlance is the shortest route between one's business and someone else's. "Yes. So. They say they give a deal if I say I did this thing. good. thank you. I didn't do the thing they say. "Good luck. I find out. Three years? But. "I’m Ms Kane from the public defender's office. "Please. Debra's sick. "Mister Garcia?" A short and wide woman in flat shoes and gray clothing bustled past the deputy opening the door." I slid along my bench to the far corner three feet distant. Of course. to say guilty." A metallic clatter against the other side of the door announced a visitor." 257 . The one who doesn't speak Spanish? Anyway. You are my other lawyer. "Remember me?" "Oh.
many Garcias. Mister Garcia. You went to trial and were found guilty. "There are many." the woman included me in her task. Mister Garcia. "No." "I have some bad news. it means he's going to sentence you to a seventeen year term. this cannot be. Seventeen years cannot be. You turned down their offer. I'm sorry." "No. It is not an easy thing for me to tell you this." "No. let's talk. "it is you. You are the right Mister Garcia. Please tell me what this means?" "Well." I said." "That's okay. Mister Garcia." He smiled politely at her absurd mistake. yes?" He looked to me. "You have the wrong Garcia." "What is the bad news?" "The judge is going to sentence you to the upper term. " Yes." "Seventeen years? It cannot be. Mister Garcia. You are good." he patted the pile of folders. 258 . Can this be? They tell me three years before and I tell them no. You check your papers. "many people are named Garcia.” He was patient in his explaining of the process to her. Mister Garcia. I'm afraid. The court generally--almost always--insists on the upper."Yes.
she thrust her hand at him." she told me. She had her own problems and plenty of clients. As Garcia rose gracefully to lightly shake her fingers. "Whichever prison. "It really isn't your choice to make. Garcias would come and go.” She said. eager to be let go. "Where they are sending me?" Garcia repeated emptily. Get someone in the law library there. 259 . "Maybe the judge? He change his mind. They'll know of someone. He had joined her collection of sad human histories." She stood. I'll see you in the courtroom." Garcia said it as a fact. “ They'll have the forms you need. maybe?" The guard banged the door ajar.at the least the middle term when you make them spend the money for a trial." Her duty done. "I will not do such a time. "You can appeal when you get to wherever it is they send you. "They really hate it when you guys do that." She had already quit calling him by his name." "Who can help me there?" "Ask the other inmates." She shifted on her ample buttocks as her allegiances split. she reached her free hand behind and rapped briskly on the door.
A. 260 . Sorry. I wanted to shout. They could all go to hell. For bringing it into the cell. "I'm sorry." "My granddaughter is three years old." The door closed on a new kind of silence. "You think?" No. My stomach growled. I suddenly hated him for his stupid innocence and damn bad luck. I did not care about Garcia or his granddaughter or his shiny glasses or his decency or his ruined life or any of the Garcias or any prisoner anywhere. seventeen years? It is not possible." I needed to take the easy way. "I cannot. next to me. I could not care. Like his visitor. Seventeen years?" He waited for me to clear up the error that had been made." "I cannot go to prison for what she said." I said too harshly. you see? I could not leave her for three years. Good luck." "You can appeal. I cared about me. It's bad news.'s suggestions." I stood to needlessly stretch. yes?" "I haven't been eating. I'm really. "I don't know. really sorry. Now. I did not care."No. "The food here is not good. this judge pretty much goes with the D. It had used him up and would be looking for new blood and I would be sitting there.
They could lock all the others up and throw away the key or toss them down a well or shoot them at noon on television for all I cared. Out of all of them." "Are you sure? Are you sure you want to run?" "Yes. I was the different one. Let me go. "I am in large and deep trouble. Me and only me. "Are you in trouble?" "Yes. Period. "What will they do to you?" Garcia asked.I cared about what was being done to me. Make sure you are ready. "I want to run. I am sure." "Do you want to talk?" "No. Because I did not belong with them." 261 ." I realized. Digby Phelps." "And I will help you." I said. Just let me out of here first.
It was delivered crisply and trim in a monotone drone from the face above the black robe. 262 . She and Jasper excused themselves from the courtroom." a bent and gray guard instructed us. like a happy face logo on the hangman's hood. eyes front. Jasper’s eyes widened slightly and he glanced at Therese. "No talking. Papers flipped as the clerks and lawyers used their studied notetaking as pretext to avoid Garcia's eyes. Frank Lloyd Wright had provided bubbly light fixtures as a playful note to lighten one's outlook. We were safe. Garcia joined me in the front row of padded spectator seats of the empty public half of the streamlined courtroom. who were sitting at the railing. We all took a small breath and resumed our lives. We would never do anything worthy of seventeen years behind bars.Chapter Twenty Five Garcia got his seventeen years. "You fellas sit over there." Before sitting I mouthed. Seventeen years? How old would we be in seventeen years? We couldn't go to prison for seventeen years. Seventeen years? We all thought. “Get the Car ready” to Therese and Jasper.
To the side of the bench, a desk served as a gathering post for the bailiff, a mean-faced and razor-thin clerk and her highly resented and ogled young assistant. Laughs were going around, upgraded from light chuckles as the judge left the bench for his chambers. We were awaiting the arrival of the players for both teams. Slurping coffee from his special personal mug, the bailiff babbled about his grandkids, the clerk biding to gabble of hers as the assistant feigned fascination. Their laughter grew louder, a demonstration of their carefree and happy lives. They were judged good people and proud of it. I sat, indistinguishable as Digby Phelps, in my red jumpsuit, relishing my namelessness. Once the Great Talkington made his entrance, all considerations would transform. I would become someone to keep a close eye on, an instant threat to career ladders and pension plans should something go amiss in the smooth delivery of my portion of prison time. "We'll get underway when the lawyers finally get here," the clerk told me. “They'll come to take you," she nodded at Garcia, "back to the jail real soon. Meanwhile, keep quiet." I endured five more minutes of sanctioned heehaw before peeking past Garcia's shoulder to the double doors at the end of the aisle leading to the hallway.
The double doors leading to the hallway and what? I had no idea of where I was in the Great Architect's plan. No idea of north, south, out or in, away or toward. I saw only the double doors. The double doors, quilted thickly in vinyl with polished push plates. "I help you," Garcia reminded me, his head held high against the stupidity of the next seventeen years. "Please,” I said. Slouching in our chairs, we were unnoticeable in our bright red uniforms. The longer I remained the deeper I would sink. Preparations were underway in police offices, judge's chambers, in Talkington's abbreviated interest in non-paying cases and losing causes. Somewhere in our great state of California, a convict was being prematurely paroled. His bunk was needed for Digby Phelps, or whatever number I would be known under. "When," Garcia said. It wasn't a question. "Now," I whispered. Garcia snapped to his feet, stumbling toward the clerk's desk, clutching at his heart, burbling through his lips. Midway, he fell, went into spasms, moaned with a death throe, nearly convinced me. "Oh, shit," the bailiff shook, coffee spreading across his khaki shirt.
"Oh shit, he's having a heart attack." The color flooded from the bailiff's face at the sight of his personal demon come calling. "Oh, shit," he said. “I thought he looked bad. Didn't I say he looked bad?" The clerks dove as a team, scrambling to the rear of the bench. It was a well-rehearsed maneuver to get the hell away from courtroom trouble. Abandoned by the faithless in their hurry to avoid the death scene, the bailiff hovered over Garcia. "You can handle it, Henry," the pert assistant called from behind the doorjamb. Henry was utterly devoid of flesh tone, however, and looked to be next in line for the Grim Reaper, after the red jumpsuit with the death rattle. "You," the bailiff weakly ordered me. "You..." "Right," I was ready, "I'll get help." Run. "No," he ordered my vanishing back as I crashed through the double doors, slamming into the padded facade of George Talkington. "Hey, watch it," Talk 'Em barked to the unknown man in the red jumpsuit who was Digby Phelps. Run.
I was invisible, invisible and blind. Racing against the unseen ball, pounding it out to home plate, running full to beat the catcher. Run. Blind to the walls, halls, floors, doors. Run. I saw nothing, nothing but the shadows I was fleeing. Run. The steep stairs five at a time, the small corridor behind a half-wall leading to a dark floor. Run. Opening to an arch of glass with a lagoon beyond. Run. Bright with white ducks burning my eyes with sun. Run. And a grassy slope falling beneath me. Run. And a rock edging the black and perfectly paved drive. Run. And two--no three--cars in the parking lot of the post office at the corner. Run. The corner with the twin drive-up mailboxes. Run. And the cypress needles. Run. Blowing across the asphalt. Run, run, run. With the cool breeze and my hot breath. And the eucalyptus in the wind. Run. And in my nostrils. Run, run. And my chest chugging. With the Lovely Therese waving wildly. The engine rips the morning air in two, marking the exact location where I took title to my life. . . .
We rendezvoused at Jasper's and fell to congratulating ourselves
immediately. We were all breathless--Jasper speechless as well--with stunned amazement at pulling off such an elementary escape from the jaws of the law. In less than two hours and half a bottle of wine, I told myself I was feeling the original Digby Phelps stirring for the first day in many. Therese held unique and confident plans for our future. “First, Mexico, Digs. Then a side trip to Costa Rica for the balance of the year. We’ll get hold of your Dear Old Dad from there through a friend at a certain watering hole. It’ll be wonderfully clandestine and exciting. Sort of like “Casablanca.” Dear Therese had arranged our immediate financing with D.O.D. A shower, a close shave, and a change into plain gray trousers and a nondescript sportcoat, and I was ready to join the exuberant Therese. Behind the wheel, I felt like I was almost myself again. Driving gave me the sense of being in control, and I had been so out of control for long that the wheel in my hand felt like freedom itself. Therese, beautiful, faithful Therese sat next to me, looking more radiant than I had ever imagined. "What was it, Digs?"
"When was the last time this car was tuned up?" "Nice misdirection. You can buy me a new one in Rio. You haven't answered my question." "What question?" "What changed your mind?" "Changed my mind about what? I haven't changed my mind." "We're driving along the north end of San Francisco, Digby Phelps. Not south to the airport. I wonder if the police have any detective openings? I'm a natural, don't you think?" "I'm driving the scenic way." "And here comes the turn off to the highway south, Digs, or do we go north across the bridge? To the Valhalla? That is the question, isn't it?” What reason would I have for not running away with Therese this time? “Well?" she asked again. "I need answers, Therese. I can’t run for the rest of my life, and never know who I’m running from.” “Isn’t it better not to know and be free, than to know and be in prison?” “I know I haven't been the greatest guardian of my life. But, I sure as hell haven't caused harm to others. And I've been given ample
Okay?” "Digby. But. And it seems that I am the only human being who needs to know what.” I'm going to ask you to remain in the car and stay safe while I do this. and dragged to the surface. but my way of conducting myself through this unhappy world of ours. and it is a good enough starting place for me. Not simply things.opportunities. I had to go to the Valhalla and find out. exactly. It is only a small start." "Don't you have a boyfriend somewhere?" "Ask me tomorrow. Something very ugly needs to be dredged up." 269 . and I know where to start. is happening. I have purposely kept myself to small expectations for a long time now. Please let me be with you when you get your life back. and hung out to dry in the sunshine. It's about the Valhalla and the White Nightmare and the child sleeping inside Alicia. everything is okay except your last request. What happened that night on the Valhalla that took Shayna’s life and is trying to steal mine? And why? Why would anyone want to do this to me? So.
San Francisco an ornamented fleet of hills floating against the graygreen of the night sky. "I'll take a look and see what the police situation might be. nobody around. returning to the dark where I stood. "There's some kind of official seal on the door. "I went as far as the gate." A bouquet of swaying boat masts punctuated the lull of the marina. not saying my name aloud." Leaving the car and wandering near the trees. coasting to a stop in the deep shade of the tree line. But. Too expensive. "Is it high tide?" 271 . Our hands fell together as we walked down the soft wooden planks of the wide dock." Therese said. I was electric with the brightness of the moon and the softening fog-lined edges of the bay and boats." Therese was up and out before the car completely halted. "Stay put. The halogen lights cast pools of yellow light to the entrance of West Pier. "Why's the water so high?" she whispered." "I don't think they do stake-outs except in the movies. No stake out. Digs.Chapter Twenty Six I killed the engine of Therese's car at the far end of the marina parking lot.
"About that boyfriend of yours?" "Didn't I say to ask me tomorrow?" 272 . "The cops have been all through her. didn't they?" Therese's voice was hushed behind me. excited times when we had shared the same task. I recalled earlier." We moved in opposite directions around the perimeter of the main room. dark and almost abandoned. "Help me pull all the blinds. I crept into the Valhalla. "They really ransacked her. My boat did not feel right." The Valhalla sat slightly canted in her mooring. "I swear I can read your mind." I said. Tearing the paper warning against entering and disturbing evidence. The three-quarter moon draws all the water in to the shore and holds it there. Scattered books. papers." "The vibration I picked up didn't feel like a trip down memory lane."A neap tide. The boat rocked lightly in the water. Digs." She flapped a bamboo shade with a snap. There's a tape I have to find." "A little reminiscing. battening the windows against leaks of light. recordings were across the floor.
" I held her hair up as she wrapped herself in blue silk. Digs. “ I need you to hear it." Rushing to be naked together. I shuffled tapes." "You're really lucky. "Meet me topside. Captain?" "God. but found I did not know. Digs. "I need to summon her spirit. "I'm not a jealous woman." Downstairs. That's where you find the truth. we dispelled the evil spirits with the same sound at the same time. I turned to see her bright white smile and Medusan hair in the spill of moonlight at the foot of the stairs." And I tried to tell her of Shayna. yes. "Tell me what she was made of. "Come downstairs while I find the recording I made of her?" She went to where the robes were kept. coupling with the creaking and yawing of the Valhalla." She held my waist as I put on my robe." "Summon yours. Digs. Joined." "I know. putting a familiar one into the player as 273 . freed of our disbelief and vulnerability for an inviolable instant."Is there something wrong with me? The way I'm thinking?" Shuttering the final window on my side of the cabin. we laid silently on the bed clasping the length and width of each other.
"What's the big idea?" The lock rattled madly." "And I need you as a witness. I'm going to get him over here and play him some evidence." "It's now. and she was right." she sang along. "This is your idea of an important message?" Therese called. It was now or never.." "Don't make me angry.." "And I'm supposed to stay in la-la hippie toilet world? Let me out this instant. I clicked the lock shut.. Phelps. secure storage when I was away." "You're not sexy as a he-man." Elvis cried at full volume as I was halfway to the bar." "This isn't the right tape. Digby. Phelps." "I'm going to call Gustafson and tell him what I know.or never.. It runs counter to your 274 . "I can't because I love you. "God. 'It's now.she went into the bathroom. "How dare you shut me in here. Quickly and quietly crossing to the bathroom door." Soft hip-level thudding originated on her side of the door. "Hey. it's dark in here. It was a solid door and a strong lock.or never." she shouted immediately. Not funny.
character. the mantle clock announced the hour as I fell to silence. Absolutely not. the Valhalla a hushed stage of silver moonlight shards. sure I had the right one. Let's cut this rot from your life." She stopped trying the door." "Promise me you'll stay put?" "And be a good girl? Is that what you were about to say? " "No. Phelps. Let me out this instant. "Why don't you unlock this door and we can go back upstairs and discuss your strategy? At least call Oscar for back-up." "I'll get him over and get him to talk." I said to the doorjamb. I'm kicking this door down. I cued it up and watched the decibel lights flicker. But. Elvis music and dressing gowns aren't good defenses." Therese knows me too well. This is 275 . Let's reclaim your freedom. With you as back-up. This will end tonight. okay? This is the tape." "That's more in the Phelps style. even Tufts can solve it. Right now. "And if you're right about this man. at the first sign of trouble. Digs?" Threading another tape." Gonging. "Listen to this. I swear. Really. "and record him. I will end it. I went to the bar and made a scotch and water." "I've a better idea.
This is it. and your wife's death. Sherlock. I was full of sudden bright ideas. Try again. Digby Phelps. this isn't it." I fed another tape into the player and went to the telephone.around your neck. "The man who did not kill your wife. are those ice cubes I hear?" 'Wear my ring. "If we leave now. One more try... Gustafson. Punching out the number for the bait shop.my life. A gruff Gustafson answered on the third ring.. "Mister Gustafson." "Who is calling for what?" Try again." "And who? Who is this?" Jesus." "Who is saying what to me?" Rest easy. "Digs. "Hang on.. '..' blared through the room. and Shayna's. Dilettante Detective." "Damn. I'm calling for the return of my baseball. we might still be able to catch that flight. Now. Phelps.. "I am calling because I know the truth about you. it's on here somewhere. 276 ." I fumbled at the machine.' "This is your evidence?" Therese shouted. Here it is..
" It was easy once one got the hang. ". Phelps." Quite clear. "Why did you kill her. Gustafson." Good line. Phelps?" "Yes. Gustafson.evidence I think you should listen to... clear and pointed. "I think you should expect me." I gave it an ominous and secret-laden pause. this is Digby Phelps calling to tell you I know about your crimes. Change the subject." Tilt.. for God's sake. Phelps?" Now we were getting somewhere. "No need to sneak in like a thief in the night this time. I think you should pay." "I think the police would want to know where you are. "Where are you.. you coward. Should do the trick. Gustafson? Why did you kill either of them?" Much better. Inspector. "It's good to hear you're in charge out there. Phelps. Solving your wife's murder.. Phelps! "I have some." he said and banged the phone down." Therese called 277 ." "I'm on my way." Now we were rolling. "On my boat. "Is this you. Give him one more kick in the pants."Gustafson.
" "Shit." I begged her.are you sad that we drifted apart?" "Damn it. "You pipe down in there." "Don't change it now. 278 ." Therese whispered from the bathroom. He had to come. If you don't drown in all the testosterone flooding the boat... I'm starting to enjoy him. though. buddy." I said.... gears turned on the amplifier." Silence fell. "Now and then... Too bad you don't have any heavy metal." "Pipe down? Remember. The gangway began creaking under Gustafson's heft." I pulled at another tape frantically." ".there's a fool such as I." "Okay. It's the preferred style of homicide enthusiasts. as to what you plan on doing when he gets here? Besides drinks and dancing.." Shit.." The doorknob clacked. My glass rattled on the bar. either. "Amen. "Now and then.. breaking at his fierce turning. "this isn't the right tape.. as I had to summon him. "Shh. He'll be here any minute.through the door "Have you given much thought. though. I mean?" ". Fates approached. you have to open this door eventually..
He raised on his hind feet like a particularly pissed-off grizzly and I shuddered with the knowledge I had no idea what I intended to do with him.. Bracing his bulk against the coffee table.Gustafson kicked the door out of his way and crashed into the room.. I used the opening to shove against his barrel chest and he twisted.. "You're the one who." Jesus. "Don't be cruuuell..came breaking into my home. whiffing a most unrefreshing breeze across my cheek. "You come back to laugh at me?" He growled. just a damn minute. stealing my. "Listen. you." Dear Old Dad used it once to gain time in front of a drunk bully. as well. "You call me a thief to my face?" A very red face it was." He threw a haymaker at me that swung wide. He slid. stepping firmly on a slick sailboating magazine..... the wooden 279 . you." "Stealing?" He roared.. The Swedish Oak paused long enough for me to dart to his side and beyond his reach. crumpling to a half-kneeling position.. "..." Gustafson led with his right foot. "You think to smirk at me? You take my wife and then you kill her and you come back." "Now. falling backward. the wide bib front of his overalls looming over my nose.
.. twin ham fists hovering above my heretofore unbroken nose. pinning my arms with his iron thighs.. Taken as evidence I surmised. Pouncing to a standing position and yanking my 280 .. "." I screamed in return.." Spittle flew from his wide blue lips in an arc. he was big.... Music.. He moaned and a cloud of booze breath swatted me. not now. Off. raising from the floor like a drawbridge. "You monster...legs collapsed under the sudden strain. My god..." he screamed. "You will die. "You. he was drunk. Gustafson flipped over.. "Please." Mother of Mercy. tumbling with a sprawl. It was hand to hand combat time and I needed every ounce of adrenaline I could summon. Turning." I choked as the sturdy Swede fell full-weight on my chest.." Please God.." "Let… Me...ain't nothin' but a hound. Turn." he snorted. as Gustafson viciously kicked my legs out from under me.. Was he out for the count? "I will kill you. The. I looked for my trusty baseball bat. It was nowhere in sight. ".to a heart that's true. God. let me turn it off?" "Yah.
. ".arm out of the socket." he ranted.Of m-i-i-n-n-ne. Fucking Elvis was going to get me killed yet." I stalled.. but his plan of action lacked any hint of finesse. ". slowly mashing my forehead into the wide edge of the middle shelf. "It is music of the devil." Gustafson demanded. "It is evil. Gustafson began beating staccato meaty punches in a tattoo against the crown of my head as his raised knee drilled against my tailbone." The music stopped with a three beat guitar twang and drum riffle. My left eye socket rang with sharp needles of hurt as a metal shelf bracket found a new home. "It's no good.. "I will break your back.. He slammed my head with renewed inspiration." "Turn it off." "Mmff. flattening my face into the shelves to drive his request home." He reeked of sweat and fish.and you ain't no friend of. punching madly at the glowing buttons with my free hand and the end of my nose." I agreed. "Then.. grinding into me from behind and into the wall." Gustafson was determined to mincemeat me.. he shot me briefly to my feet. 281 . over the sofa and directly into the solid teak shelves holding the audio equipment. I will gut you like a pike.
" "How dare you speak of my boy. "Shit. or even the impromptu savagery of a rampaging sociopath. He certainly had the sheer desire to punish me. but these were not the techniques of a practiced killer. I decided.. Brilliant. doing serious damage with a real possibility of taking my life. Why hadn't it occurred to me before? 0llie.." He was not a guilty man. Why had I locked Therese in.”Oopp. Inside." His patter revealed the marks of an amateur." Of course." He was genuinely hurting me. like you killed my Kimmy. Phelps.of... as well." "Yah.. pulling my face away from the wall in order to reapply it with a wham. "Stop.son.. too late to utilize a more heroic declaration..." I gasped. safely locked away.your. A cracking sound began in my left ear... "And use you for chum. you're going to kill me.Or displayed any experience in death-dealing.. "For the love of God." he bellowed." However.. I was well on my way to becoming his first bona fide fatality. Hardly those of an accomplished assassin. Deep inside." I remembered my lone audience of Therese. for heaven's 282 . "Think . "Help. . Kimmy and Jimmy? Cute.. "Stop.
I was in the water. “My boy! You speak about my boy!” I was still alive and so was Gustafson. and that he would 283 ...sake? She was a big strong girl and I needed reinforcements. Hell. the world rushed in.. As the tearing shouts from my throat tapered off. I swam under the pier and waited. Recorded Live at the Valhalla. Digby Phelps. The Last Performance. it was a wrenching scream and came from the pit of my stomach. bouncing the decibel needles on the tape recorder inserted in my nose. and waited. I heard a voice yelling into the night. Was I dead?. listening to the furious man above me yell into the night about murderers and whores.. broke through the surface and gulped in air. The tide water washed against me and the pier. I wasn’t deaf. and saw the moon. I swam towards it. Was I alone? I wasn’t dead. Detective Tufts would listen to it and determine I committed suicide. and I held on to the barnacled post I found in the dark. And I was not alone. Ollie the Oak was pummeling my ribs for variety as a shout came from the direction of my mouth. Was I deaf?. Available in the lobby. I looked up from my murky depths. silence and blackness surrounding me.
I wanted to tell them that they didn’t hang people anymore. but thought it best to stay mum.see me hang. 284 .
I waited. “I’m so glad you’re okay. I jumped back as she swung. Pour us a scotch. shivering in the cold water. “Digby! Are you alive! Digby!” I swam to shore and ran up the pier to the Valhalla. I thought he killed you!” She yelled through the door. “Not yet. They certainly had done a thorough job of tearing the place apart. I’m home.” I said.” I yelled as I entered. Then I opened the door to let Therese out. I slipped it in the pocket of my wet pants. I saw his big figure turn left and up towards his marina store. as I pulled 285 . “You have to get out of here. until I heard Therese’s voice yelling above.Chapter Twenty Seven Finally I heard his heavy footsteps pound down the pier. then wrapped my arms around her and kissed her.” I released her and stepped back to avoid another swing and a miss.” I said as I searched the floor for some dry clothes. Feeling it. “You fucking bastard! What if he had killed you?” “Then all of this would be over. “Honey. “You bastard! Let me out of here.” I yelled back as I rummaged through her purse in search of her cell phone.
sirens were wailing. Digs. so they think we’re both gone. “Do the right thing. I grabbed her wrists.” “We’re taking the car. If Gustafson didn’t do it. In the distance. The cops will come. I love you. “No.some dry clothing out of the pile on the floor.” she called. “Me?” she asked as she filled a rocks glass with the liquid gold. “I’m with you all the way. Pulling the dry pants on I reached for the glass. “I’m taking the car. 286 .” “Count on me.” “Where are you going?” I drank the scotch.” I yelled back as I ran down the pier to the car. feeling it pour down into me like new life. I need the car and you need to run. I have to find out who did this. “I can’t tell you. Her voice trailed after me. then somebody close to me did. Therese drank it before I could get my hands around that much awaited for scotch. Then she poured another as I slipped a shirt on.” I kissed her hard on the lips and ran off the boat.” she corrected.
What had I ever done to him? 287 . avoiding the driveway. I quietly and carefully made my way through the small wooded grove towards the patio. thirty yards down from Alicia’s driveway. I wasn’t feeling too secure in that notion when I saw the wide white six year old Deville. A wrought iron gate held up by two bluestone pillars was their version of security. where I heard voices and saw lights. although searching my memory banks I couldn’t recall a single incident.Chapter Twenty Eight I parked off the road. Luckily guard dogs were no longer in vogue among the rich and privileged. have to explain to our son why she had done nothing to stop his execution? Surely. if for no other reason for the sake of our unborn child. It wasn’t Eddy Lo’s car after all. I walked around one of the pillars and entered the grounds. the windows darkened a purple hue and long chrome curb feelers. Would she want his father in jail? Or worse. even the rich and mighty have some place in their hearts for justice. Maybe Alicia would help. It had to be another one of Detective Tufts’ impound cars. which had motion detector lights to help guests find their way to the house. lowered on its springs. Good God the man was persistent in his assumption of my guilt.
to Italian slip-ons and an immaculately tailored pinstripe all too quickly.I looked up at the patio and saw two figures. Oscar who was always there. hands flailing. Then I froze. Apparently I was mistaken…again. talking. Oscar who went from cheap black lace-up shoes and a poorly tailored blue blazer. “What thing?” She asked. Phelps”. Oscar. Oscar who wanted to be Schroeder’s go-to man. It was Oscar. It wasn’t Detective Tufts’ car. then hushed. and then “Digs” the last time we met. a man and a woman. “I don’t want this damn thing either. 288 . And there he was. I moved closer and saw Alicia.” Oscar who had called me “Mr. Of course. who was always happy to see me leave. voices loud. I didn’t even know he knew Alicia. It was Oscar’s. keeping low and in the dark.” Oscar said to Alicia. I moved closer. I saw Oscar reach into his jacket pocket and take something out. Oscar who brought me everywhere and always “had my back. who had more to gain by my disappearance than anyone. Oscar. Oscar.
” he said pointing to the Italian shoe box. It’s the Willie Mays ball that was stolen from the Valhalla. ‘Bravo.Alicia took it and stared at it. staring at the ball. he’s free.” “Finish it!” she hissed. She handed the ball back to Oscar and smiled. someone finally knows this. I’m still learning. Oscar. Oscar stared at her for a long moment. Give it to someone you hate more than Digby. and either you see this through.” he said.” Oscar said. I saw Oscar cringe.” “They don’t hang people anymore. 289 . “Oh. “It’s not over. It’s the perfect plant. and I want this money out of my hands.” she said with disdain. Take it and plant it on someone. He’s out of jail. “And I thought it was only murder. “Now go! And take this…stuff with you. “It’s a metaphor. Alicia. but kept my mouth shut. or I’ll have you hanged right next to him. “It’s crime scene evidence. “What the fuck do I want with a baseball?” she said. I want the heat out of my pocket.’ I was tempted to shout. Did you know even Marines can cave-in to the right woman? There is always something new to learn.
jumped in and took off.” he said. trying not to run into one. I saw the big white car pull out of the driveway and head in the opposite direction. through the trees. I’m sorry it’s come to this.” “True.” 290 . but if you do. you will end up with nothing. Digs. “Yes!” I heard an angry voice say. I slipped back into the woods and ran as fast I could in the dark. I was using it as a metaphor. you are an angel. Thank God I found you!” “Thank God you did. I got to the car. it’s Digby. I grabbed my cell phone and punched in Oscar’s cell number. A true angel. breathless. “Oscar. I could hear the sarcasm dripping. I have to get out of the country. put the baseball in his pocket and walked off the patio.” “Thank you for clearing that up. Digs.” “Oscar. What can I do to help?” “I need cash Oscar. Now go. Always have been. but I can get you enough cash to get you out of here and started… wherever.” He picked up the shoe box. Digs. looking in the rearview mirror. Oscar. “I’m there for you.“I know you want to kill me. and that in itself would kill you. True. They want to hang me!” “They don’t hang people anymore.
” “What happened tonight?” Oscar asked. Midnight it is.” “I’ll be there. When it’s all over I’ll explain the missing cash. paying close attention to the speed limit.” “Where’s Therese?” “I don’t know. They would never think I would go back there again. so I’m sure he went to the police. “Gustafson tried to kill me on the Valhalla. Digs.“Where can we meet?” “The Valhalla. Oscar. And I won’t tell Schroeder.” “Your first pang of conscience for the opposite sex?” “Most likely.” I folded my…correction…Therese’s cell phone and kept driving. What time?” “Midnight. He ended up throwing me overboard instead. hoping they would finish the job.” “I’m sure he does. I’m sure he wishes you a bon voyage. 291 . The less he knows about this the happier he’ll be. I can’t do this to her. especially after tonight. I need to check the boat over first to make sure Detective Tufts isn’t lurking around. Better late than never.” “True. I told her to go.
D. gently rocking with the tide. Actually. They had not sent a maid to clean up. or was he born with that gift? It certainly wasn’t passed on in the gene pool.O. or gassed. which was a good many people. or home on dry land thinking about enjoying a nightcap on their boat. He knew Schroeder was worthless and Therese was solid gold. I tore down the new police tape and let myself in. Most marine dwellers were either enjoying a nightcap on their boat. although few. If I were going to be hanged. and made my way through the cars. so very few would measure up to friend. or electrocuted.D. whatever they did these days. There was no sign of police activity. that I had befriended and loved more worthless people than anyone in my acquaintance. because it occurred while speeding towards my Valhalla. very little sign of life. she would be my last thought. I parked at the other end of the marina parking lot. being very careful to stay out of the light. Everything I had ever owned was still strewn around the boat like confetti on parade day. What were they hoping to find? 292 . What a beautiful boat. What memories she had given me. Standing at the end of the pier I saw the Valhalla sitting smartly on the water.You never know who your friends really are. Did he learn that as a car salesman. seemed to have great instinct for that.
when we heard a bang from the outside. Always have.” “I got your back. You are the marrow of my life right now. Here’s a little going away gift for you. Oscar. I stared at it. He put a hand on my shoulder. Oscar. You are a friend indeed. “Digs?” he said in a soft voice. Digs. 293 . I opened the door and let him into the dimly lit cabin. Digs. I hate to see a good man hang.” “Let me pour us a drink. Everybody’s gone. I’m so shaken. Digs.” He handed me a small canvas bag.” “Why.Chapter Twenty Nine I heard Oscar’s footsteps coming up the plank. “Cash. “Thank God you got out. Consider it a long-term loan. scotch is the only thing that can calm my nerves. Digs. Oscar. you’ve outdone yourself.” I lifted my scotch for one last drink for the road.” “Where’s Therese?” “Gone.” “Now let’s get you on a plane. Except you.
” “I saw it here before. you scared me there.” “Digs.” “What are you taking about. Let’s get you on a plane. Digs?” Oscar slipped around my back and stared out the window. you need a vacation. it’s mine. were there?” I went to the window behind where he stood. “I have to get out of here.” He made it sound like a birthright. I thought it was Eddy Lo’s. “Hey. “What?” “There.” “Naw. “that car under the far light.” “Man. “You 294 .” “No. like yours. I jumped back from the window. I’ve had it for nearly ten years.” “And you’re giving me counterfeit money. You’re getting spooky. Digs. He’s come back. over my head. The night I almost brained Jimmy. The night before that. Digs? You okay?” “You were here that night.” “What is it. drink your drink and let’s get going.“There weren’t any police around when you came in.” Oscar patted my back. “That’s my car. Gotta get a Jag for myself.” I grabbed the bag. Digs.” “It was you there that night.” “Of course.” I said. It’s Eddy Lo’s car. The night I saved you from Eddy Lo.
” 295 .” His light chuckle was paper-thin. though. Digs. You knew he was coming.” he smiled wide. Don’t say anything you’re going to regret. “How did you know?” Oscar asked. A fool and sleuth. This time you’re beyond too late. excited.” “Why Diggy.” “Easy Digs. Digs?” “Not enough. confused. “How much is Alicia paying you?” I asked. “That reminds me. Like finally wandering into the office on one of your famous Monday mornings.. you’ve outdone yourself. stared at the scotch.” He reached into his coat pocket. I thought it was his. a day late and a baseball short. “to be so damn late.killed Shayna for this.” “You been drinking too much. Here’s your ball. “You’re upset. a little surprised. didn’t you. wet.” “You were here that night and the night Eddy Lo came after me. I saw your car waiting that night. “I heard you discussing my future on the patio right before I called you. probably gave him my address.” “Just like you. “Old Digby Phelps finds his way out of the fog—way too late. my voice trembling.” He picked up his glass.” His lips were parted. Way beyond the time to be figuring things out.
” “Let’s see you charm you way out of the death penalty. and let you wash up on shore like poor Kim. just like the counterfeit money in this bag. It’s my job description. are we?” he said. “It’s evidence.He tossed me the ball. Oscar? How much can Alicia be giving you that you would risk everything for…what?” “Think.” “Well aren’t you quick on the uptake. Why do think Detective Tufts was on your ass all the time. “Playing ball. “Schroeder set me to thinking last year when we dropped you at the airport to fly off and close some big deal. you get the women…you get everything.” 296 . then notify the police where I was headed. Digs. or kill you.” He took a sip of scotch. Digs. counterfeit money and all?” “That. You’re just too damn lucky.” “What was your plan? Put me on a plane.” “I’m a charming guy. I prefer you run. man. I tossed it back. How much money you’d be making for a weekend of charming some widows. That way I don’t have to dispose of a body.” “And my crime?” “Luck. and it’s all free. You get the job.” “Why would you do this.
Alicia used her family influence to get you into Schroeder Capital. the closer I 297 . Oscar. “So. How could he say no? The rest is history. I’d come out smelling like shit. and he’s talking like if I stepped into roses. and once in you figure you can become Schroeder’s front man. But. didn’t even care.” “We have different jobs. over the hills from the sea.” A spiral of light fell from the moon and softened the aft deck.” I smelled the fog coming down. “Too late. and I’d have given it all to you. like me. Digs.” “Schroeder said you were blessed and didn’t know it. There’s no there there. “Here I am. I used to think you were so smart.” I was tired and could not find a speck of interest in any part of my life as I had lived it.“Why?” “Because he hates you and your kind.” “It was never yours to give. driving the man. anyway. Alicia pleaded with her father that she wanted to help an unemployed Marine.” “All you had to do was ask. Oscar. That you were one of those guys who could step into shit and come out smelling like a rose.” “Exactly.” “You can have it. Schroeder Capital uses the same bank as Alicia’s father. just back from the war.
And the husband thought she was with me.” “That was cruel. I suppose. Not so sure about the lucky part. Digs.” “I’m going to miss your clever sayings. though. Diggy. When she ended up dead. tell her how much I loved her.” “It was you and Kim on the boat. We figured the old man would assume that you were doing his wife. the more I saw you’re just a damn lucky fool.” “Was it worth it?” “I’ll call you on death row and let you know.” “I have that streak. I’d get over here and hook up with the lady. It was clever.” “Yes.” “I suppose Gustafson was probably easy to outperform in the flattery and foreplay departments. Diggy.watched you. “The broad never had nothing. I’d say I’m a fool. you’d be 298 . Digs.” “I already took it.” “I’ve noticed.” “Why kill her then?” “It was all part of the plan. You can have all of my luck. Keep her going all night. Nothing except that kid of hers. wasn’t it?” “Every time you left town.
I had to kill her because she threatened to tell her husband. The price is right. I’ll be his main man forever. I don’t have a million though.” “You handed me money when we went to the Kat Klub. Oscar?” “To be a rich man. And Alicia’s money is real. too. Most men would snap necks all week for a few million dollars. What could Kim give me? A worn out piece of ass?” The tide was flowing forward and backward at the same time. Besides. and I’m not for sale.” 299 . Gold Town is real. Schroeder will never trust an outsider after you disappear. Even the sixty grand I had was fake.” “Well. let’s face it.” “How do you figure you get my Gold Town share?” “I’ll be the guy. It was some of the money you stole from here.” “Many women. I’ll make it even realer with you gone. She wanted me. I’ve already worked harder for it than you ever have. “All for money.the prime suspect. A trail for Detective Tufts to follow. I want it.” “But.” “Except to Alicia. Your share is real. Because I care. The salt air was thick as plasma.
You see. spreading around the cash was even better than the original plan. But. Then I realized that if her body AND the cash. no. She was really a gift from the God’s and a casualty of war. I caught Shayna taking the money. Digs.” “You raped her. I even laid one of the fakes on that broken down car salesman.” “But why take the baseball.“God. and whisked her off to a secure place.” “A bonus. hasn’t it?” “Let’s not blame the booze.” “Actually. All that boozing you’ve done over the years has taken a toll. I’ve been talking too much and I think you’re going to have to wash up on shore. Digs. came floating to the surface. all from your boat. time is running out. you were as good as dead. I don’t think I can take you to the plane. Oscar. My head exploded from the punch and as I went down I saw the bathroom door open and Detective Tufts step out with a gun 300 .” “And Shayna came down and caught you red-handed. I’m foggy all on my own. you catch on late.” His fist shot out. That’s why no one could find her. I had her hidden. Oscar?” “Because it meant something to you.” “I’m going to miss the laughs you’ve given me. too.
looking at the Detective with utter shock written across his face. still unable to fathom what had gone so wrong so quickly. “Thank you for believing me. 301 . Oscar. and an ocean of tears have been shed over your doings. Shakespeare. “Don’t. a fool. But you’re not a killer. Oscar snapped around. My years as a cop taught me to read faces. I’m sure you’ve broken many hearts. Oscar slumped to the ground.” She smiled.” The door to the cabin flew open and two uniformed cops came barging in. is just not determined enough to be a killer’s. and god knows what else. A philanderer. “There’s fifty cops outside waiting for you. “You’re charming. Miz Weisel. although rather handsome. “So quick bright things come to conclusion. Digby. Miz Weasel was right behind him. then up at me.” She looked down at Oscar.” Tufts said calmly.” I turned to Miz Weasel. Oscar dove for Tufts and I heard the shot echoing through the small cabin of the Valhalla like the guns of Navarone. “You’re not even a good liar. But not a killer. his eyes open.in his hand. and yours.” She smiled.” “Those are the kindest words anyone has ever said to me.
“We all make mistakes.” he said. Takes a while for the paperwork to go through. It was an SLR Mercedes McLaren Roadster. I looked behind us and saw the trail of black and whites for back-up.” “And they say who is winning our War On Drugs?” “What do you do with these cars after the owners get sent up the river?” “We drive them for as long as they let us.” he said. and then auction them off.” “I had an idea along those lines to run by you. don’t you?” The police stepped out of the way.Detective Tufts held out his hand. “Can I go with you to Alicia’s? She has my child. “You do like to be recorded. “Do you know what this car is worth. valued at somewhere between four hundred. What an ironic parade.” 302 . We turned and walked off the Valhalla. I shook his hand. fifty to five hundred thousand.” “About half a million. Detective? “Haven’t a clue. We drove to Alicia’s house in Detective Tufts new impound car.
It’s my job to present the facts. And I’ve seen innocent men get the needle.” “Then why did you hound me?” “It’s not my job to decide innocence or guilt. or has a gun?” Detective Tufts patted me on the back and said.” I said. “We’ll hear the shot. just a small wireless microphone pinned to the inside of my shirt. and I would have bet my life on their guilt. Mistakes happen. “What if she denies everything?” “Then the justice system will take over. Detective Tufts wired me himself. 303 . I’ve seen many a guilty man walk.” “Actually it is. Phelps.” We pulled off the road in the same spot I parked last time. It was a simple wire. The Black and Whites stayed a long way back. But it’s the only system we got.” I nodded and walked into the woods. “What if she gets violent. Mr.” “What a quaint notion.” “What a comforting thought. It’s not a perfect system. and then the legal system takes over.“Did it ever occur to you that I didn’t do it?” “Yup.
She looked up and saw me. “I would love some bubbly. There was Alicia. You woke up and there it was. I made my way around the patio to the pool and spa where I heard some splashing. a bottle of bubbly in an ice bucket on the side. There was no way she could hide the shock on her face. I thought it was inherited. I held a towel up for her. but the speed at which she gathered her cool impressed me. never thinking one had to work for luck. He was lucky.” 304 . or you weren’t. Me? I was born into it and took on his habits at a young age. soaking in the spa. It hadn’t come to him easily. You were good looking and charming. But then. I realized that everything I had ever thought to be true about life had changed. naked. Luck of the draw. but usually when a woman wants her spouse dead it’s either for money or jealousy. “Digs! Thank God you’re safe!” She got out of the spa. I suppose that wasn’t so unusual in the grand scheme of things. like Alicia’s money. he worked for his luck. I was going to be the father of a child whose mother wanted me dead. “Is there another glass?” I asked. But what was my crime? Luck? I’ll have to ask Dear Old Dad about that.Walking through the trees. I walked quietly towards her as she took a sip. trying not to bump into them in the darkness.
“What a comforting thought. “Digs.” “Yes. “I should go in and get dressed. “Of course we can Digs.. but I gave them the slip.” “Yes! Yes! So you are. It tasted wonderful. Just ten minutes before my world comes all undone again.” she said again. tell me everything.” 305 .” I could see her brain struggling for a plan. still not moving.” “Your love? Or that I’m here?” “Both! Digs!” “I’ve got to get out of the country. Let me just sit here quietly for ten minutes and bath in your beauty and this wonderful wine. She grabbed the glass and emptied it. I did. and here I am. and you are the one and only person left on this good earth who can save me. and they’re on me like hounds. Alicia.” “Not yet. and I went for a refill.” “I’m worried about the baby. Alicia. “Have mine!” she almost shouted. my love. Can we do that?” I offered her a sip of bubbly.” “It’s been nip and tuck since I got out. Digs.She held out her glass for me as she took the towel.
Digs. and I stress the word.” “I was! And now I’m not!” She stared at me with wide eyes. “Yes. Mister Phelps!” “I’m not following. Something was very wrong with her. “Thank you very much. as though I were speaking about an alien creature. Isn’t it?” “The baby. “But you said you were pregnant. Alicia?” “What’s it to you!” She nearly spat the words at me.” “I’m not carrying a baby.” “It’s always about you. for one.“The baby?” she asked.” “Of course you’re not following. the baby.” Her cheeks reddened deeply.” I tried once again. 306 . The one you’re carrying. little!” “You seemed to be happy with him not so long ago. “What…” “Gone. Just like you will be when I’m through with you.” I said it softly.” “What happened to the baby. Alicia. Alicia.” I set the wine glass aside. “Well.” “I’m missing something here. I’m the father. you dolt! The only thing you ever followed was little Digby. “A lifetime ago! He’s faded with time. Alicia.
“Just drop dead. and an egomaniac who wouldn’t even bid on me at a bachelorette ball.” Her laugh was disturbed and strange. Was the father. Digs. Digby. “What happened to the baby.” “They’ll make an exception if I pay them enough.“Oh. damn you?” “Drop dead.” “Can you forget your petty hurts for one fucking minute and tell me what has happened to our baby. “Why should I tell you?” “I’m the father. A tormenting father. I couldn’t stop asking. “ 307 . what happened?” I was becoming obsessed with the answer.” “Alicia. arrogant man! What did I ever do to deserve a faggot. Digs. Wasn’t I?” “You stupid. you bastard.” “So. what has happened to the baby?” “You made me miscarry. don’t worry. it’ll come to you in a flash of lightening…when they strap you into the chair. Alicia?” “There is no baby.” Alicia.” “I don’t think they electrocute people anymore in California. I knew it.” she hissed. stupid.
Alicia?” I dreaded her answer. think and your stupid notions of supremacy.” I started to feel that this was all my fault. I was immediately convinced otherwise. and the second I heard the news I miscarried. All I wanted was your seed and a piece of paper that said you were legally his father. I just didn’t want you.” “No.” “I’m sorry. I wanted my child to have your beauty. 308 . you dolt.” “What creatures. “What you do. Why do you think I look so pale. The stress of it all. you didn’t want the baby after all. along with all the rest of you miserable creatures. and that was all. or rotting away in some solitary confinement cell hoping for some more of that good luck to come your way. Right there on the spot. “Yes. and it seems like that’s where you wanted me.” “And for that you wanted me dead?” My blood ran cold. I wanted your seed. Period. But. had an idea. And you will be dead by the time I’m through with you. And then I wanted you dead. “You should be.” “So. or any other man. you. I wanted the baby. Alicia.” “I was in jail.“Me?” “Yes. I truly hate you all!” Bingo. “Men.” “But then you escaped.
Briefly. he’d give half his fortune to worthless charities. then. But no! You insisted on fighting for the truth! Why did you have to escape?” She glared at me. and just rotted in jail. I had no idea about a lot of things when it came to 309 .” “Why bother with the marriage and the pre-nup?” “I couldn’t have a bastard.and my money and brains. And the prenup was to make sure I would have custody of the child.” She swung. And I wanted to give my father a reason to leave all his money to me. Mine! And you killed MY child! If you would have been a man and accepted your fate. “Not ours. I now realized that she was totally insane. Alicia. It would disgrace the St. Germaine name. How I didn’t see this clear vein of utter insanity before. But. “You shit! You miserable lowlife. I was a bit late on the uptake. everything would have been fine. I have idea.” “But it was OUR child. Without a grandchild.” I briefly considered strangling her. I ducked and she stooped to regain her modesty.” “You could have just paid me to get you pregnant. but the falling towel threw her aim off. and you couldn’t touch any of my money. Oscar was right.
your fate is sealed. and taken a trip down Mexico way.” “It’s not too late. I wouldn’t hesitate. But.” The sound of the spa was all I heard.” she said sweetly. She turned to run. Unless you plan to kill me right this minute.” “Not really. and you’ll still get hanged. here we are and what’s done is done. and the police heard it all. love of my life. and I am sorry I messed up your plans. and her eyes shone bright with hate and fear.women. She took a step backward. but he confessed everything before his last breath. I’m a free man. the police still think it was you who killed those women. despite the fact that so many people considered me an expert. ask yourself: Is your partner totally sane? Are you sure? “You stressed me to miscarry. Oscar is dead. I mean. 310 . in truth.” I said.” “Don’t be so cocky. So. “For the two of us to take that trip?” “If the child were alive. Alicia’s breasts heaved under the towel. “It’s probably best I go. my love. but saw Detective Tufts standing on the patio. I would have saved the courts the time and you the trouble of killing me. and I’m afraid. you bastard!” “Had I known it would come to this.
“Men are such spineless creatures. “I will see you walk the dead man’s walk before my time is done. She turned to me. no sense of the wind. A sailboat floundered. “You have the right to…” “I will listen as they pronounce you dead.” I said. you slimy pointless thing! Do you think you can win against me and my money. Digby! You idiot. you miserable spittle of a man!” I walked towards the patio as Detective Tufts. “I have enough money to bury you a thousand times. becalmed.looking down at us.” “You pitiful creature!” she yelled at me. Shuffling into 311 . “Huh?” “Our child. I would be reading deep meanings into its predicament if I wasn't careful. I am sorry for our loss.” . . with something so paltry as the truth. such worthless toads!” She clutched the towel to her small breasts. you peon. . flanked by four uniformed cops walked towards Alicia. and she froze. you miserable little …!” “I’m sorry for our loss. you…” “Everything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law.
my cooking. "He's busy right now. Schroeder.the Valhalla. I lifted the cover of the sizzling skillet. her bare legs." Therese thought it was a good idea." I pictured Schroeder involuntarily winking as he wrote it. looking skyward. "He wants to know if you read the note he sent with the case of gin?" "Tell him his handwriting is atrocious. About me.” she said into the phone. Their lazy arcs were deceptive. A pair of red-tail hawks glided on the warm air drafts. We stood in the sunlight. His figure eight looked like a three. admiring the aroma. I could tell. I kissed Therese's head once--twice--as she watched the birds above. 312 . They knew exactly where they were heading. I wondered about her. I was suddenly ravenous for every sensate pleasure. slowly rising above the Bay. “Can I pass a message?" Tasting from the wide wooden spoon. Blowing a kiss to Therese. counting on the gin to soften me for his proposal. The shrimp was crisp and spiced with chilies. "He says it's an eight if you're back in the office by Tuesday.
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