I headed home scratching my head. The visit with Amy Wade mostly revealed that her husband Harry had given her short shrift on the family secrets. Which reminded me: I forgot to ask about the estranged son. Oh well, Amy looked like she had had it to the teeth anyway. With my usual lack of foresight, I figured the kid was probably irrelevant and the story could wait.
Pin a note to my head: with families, nothing is irrelevant.
I was looking forward to a hot shower, a midnight snack and a conversation with my cat, Bruno. Bruno is a good listener, never lies and doesn’t vanish wearing one of my good shirts as a nightgown. Not yet anyway. He told me about his day while I dumped some foul smelling stuff in his bowl.
“I don’t know how you can eat that shit,” I said. “Better you than me I guess.”
Bruno stopped eating to meow politely then sank his face back into the bowl, obviously wishing I’d buzz off and leave him in peace, which I did, stripping off my clothes and standing under water as hot as I could stand it. We both felt a lot better by the time I was done. I made a tuna sandwich and he jumped on my lap complaining loudly that it should be his. He got the leftovers while I opened a beer and fell asleep after a couple of sips.
About 10-minutes later, the phone started squawking and I jerked awake, knocking the beer over and Bruno off my lap.
“What?” I barked to whoever was on the line.
“McElroy, did I wake you? It’s Ben Burgess; you said to report in if something came up.”
“Yeah, it’s me and yeah, I did. Fell asleep in the goddamned chair. What’s up?”
“We went to the boathouse like you asked and the kid Mike was there already.”
“I told him to hold on until you two showed up but knew he wouldn’t. And?”
“There was a couple things missing so he wanted to go down to the Marina and see if maybe Wade was hiding out on his sailboat. No sign of foul play there, but he noticed Wade’s skiff was gone. We’re thinking maybe that was the escape route, they threw him in and headed out the bay to parts unknown.”
“You think? Why do you think that? It could be a decoy attempt.” I scratched my head in annoyance – great – now we’re playing pirates out in the big wide ocean.”
“Well, uh, we think that mostly because the boat is gone and so is Mr. Wade’s slicker, boots and tackle box.”
“That doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense. Hijackers don’t waste time putting together an overnight bag for hostages.”
“We only just found this out chief,” said Ben mildly, “I was cluing you in like you asked.”
“Right. Where are you calling from?”
“The office at the Marina – Mike’s got a key.”
Of course he does, Mike has access to everything, I thought.
“Call me back in 10 minutes,” I said and hung up.
Ada’s whiskey came back to haunt me. I heated up yesterday morning’s coffee then stood staring at the wall like a loon. “Think you bastard.” I ordered myself.
Okay, what’d we have? Fact 1: Missing husband; no sign of struggle, evidence: open window, dropped shoe, note in shoe, King of Hearts. Fact 2: Surveillance, Chinese box, we got nothin’. Fact 3: Missing boating gear; missing skiff, no sign of struggle, whereabouts unknown.
The phone yelped again.
“Ben? This is what I want you to do. Call the Coast Guard, have ‘em put out an APB on the boat. Harry Wade wasn’t kidnapped; he left. He wants somebody to know where he’s going but doesn’t want the bad guys to know he went anywhere.”
There was silence on the other line.
“What? Mr. Wade took himself away? Since when?” Ben is a good boy but a few coins short of a roll.
“Since 24 hours ago. We’ve been all yipping after our own tails, looking at the evidence but not seeing it. Detective 101; I flunk. “Go on up to the house”, I ordered. “If the Mexican shows, Wade has him fooled. If he doesn’t, Wade’s in trouble and we need to get to him first. Put Mike on the phone.”
It took a few minutes to get Mike with the new scenario but he came around. He’d been puzzled by the orderly appearance of the disappearance too.
“Mr. Wade is pretty tightly wound. If he was going to blow town, this is his style; all stealth, no flash.”
Fine. As long as he got the gist, we were golden. I told him Amy suggested I talk to his father and Mike was all for it. He agreed to set a meet up with his old man, promising to 'hop on it first thing!'. It must be nice to be young with all that energy without the jaded eyes of middle-age. I wanted to warn him not to get old but he'd never understand.
Do I wake up Amy? No. But Ada’s still up; it’s only 2 AM; she was probably in a bubble bath. I rang and damnit, she was in a bubble bath.
"Along with a night cap," Tom said as he obediantly trotted in the phone, "Hopefully, the day is winding down. I love that girl to death McElroy but sometimes I wish she'd put a cork in it."
"I don't know how you do it, frankly," I told him. "I'd have had a coronory long ago."
"I'm only 26; there's still time," he said cheerfully, "And here is madam..."
Ada professed to be “absolutely thrilled to death” with the news that Harry appeared to departed of his own volition but murmured “Oh my, oh dear, how too terribly awful!” when told there were unsavory characters with unknown motivations on his trail. Ada promised to deliver the update to Amy without engendering more hysteria and managed to sound sincere. I hung up with a sigh of relief.
“We’ll clean up the beer in the morning,” I told Bruno, who, as usual, readily agreed with my wisdom, and dashed up on the bed. I slept fitfully, dreaming of pirate ships where some clown in a King of Hearts outfit sent McElroy the bulldog down the plank.
Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam went the door. It wasn't a woodpecker.
“McElroy!,” snarled the sweet voice of Detective Brice Pierce. “I’m ready to skin you alive.”
It was 6 AM. Didn’t anyone but me need sleep?
“Just a goddamned minute, Pierce. I guarantee you don’t want to see me in my underwear.” Throwing on my robe, I shuffled to the door, looking like hell and feeling worse.
“What?,” I said. “It’s the crack of dawn. What can’t wait?”
Pierce stood on my porch, a slight guy with a ferret-like face; thin with an extra long nose and liver lips. Not a bad fellow as far as badges went, but he could be a royal pain in the patootie when he was working, which was all the time.
“What’s this about the Leper showing up and you not letting me know?”, he snarled. “And then you giving him leave to go?”
“Come in.” I said wearily. To lie or confide, that is the question. It depended on how pissed off Pierce was – is he going to run me in, or is he blowing off steam?”
“What gives you the idea I saw Lenny?” I asked, moving towards the kitchen.
“Not so fast McElroy”, he said, hand menacingly on his holster.
“For cripes sake Pierce, give it a rest. I’m brewing some joe. Want some?”
Pouring scalding tap water into the percolator, I threw in a half a can of Folgers. Coffee should stand on its own two feet or, at the very least, prop up mine.
Pierce plopped down in my easy chair, the one with the beer, and got right up again in disgust.
“Are you a frat boy or what?, he asked. “You need somebody to clean this dump once in a while.” He moved over to the red couch my ex donated on her way out. Red was her favorite color, which is how she left my bank account too.
“Lenny?” I said.
He pushed back his hat and said, “One of my men saw the Leper on his way out of your building last night, that’s what gives me the idea. Then the Burgess brothers show and go and you leave out the lot. What have you got to say for yourself.”
“Oh yeah? If that’s so, why didn’t your men snag him?”, I said.
“It was a tail, not a smash and grab,” he snorted.
“So they lost him and you’re coming after me? That’s lame Pierce, even for you.”
“I can arrest you right now for aiding and abetting. I’m getting a little sore here, McElroy. It’s not gonna take much for me to clap on the cuffs”, he threatened with small animal intensity, like he was about to throw a severe nip to an ankle.
The percolator burbled its last burble. “Hold that thought,” I said. “I can think up better lies with some caffeine”.
I handed him a cup and the brew nearly crawled into his mouth of its own accord. He choked a little.
“Jesus, McElroy, what the hell kind of a night did you have?”
“It was 24 hours of fist fucking if you really want to know,” I said. “You’re here because you’re chaffed your boys lost the tail and think I know where Lenny shagged off to. Well I don’t and he didn’t bump off Shelby either so you’re wasting your time.”
“Says who?”, was the best Pierce could muster.
“Says Lenny. In fact, he handed over a wad and asked me to look into it.”
Forgetting, I sat in the beer soaked chair but didn’t get up. There was no place left to sit but the couch and I wasn’t feeling that cozy.
Pierce mulled over the information looking deflated.
“The Leper doesn’t dish out cash,” he said, flatly. “Shit. Let’s say I believe you, what else?”
Normally, this would be privileged, but seeing as El Asesino, the Assassin, was my only half-assed lead and I had other fish to fry, I told him everything Lenny gave me.
“Mexicans?”, he said incredulously.
“Not necessarily. It could just be the one Mexican. I’d prefer it to be only one, hopefully representing some all American crooks. What do you know about the card dealers Lenny talked about?”
“A couple of shifty fingers from over at the Wild Drake casino. We figured they walked. Nothing special, happens all the time.”
“Now we’ve got a dead card sharp out in the open,” I said. “Maybe Lenny’s on to something.”
Pierce digested the news for a minute, along with the java, and seemed to make up his mind.
“All right, McElroy,” he said, getting up and smoothing out his sharply creased slacks again. “I’ll bite, but you’d better be right if I pull the boys off the Leper and he turns out to be the button man. Keep your nose clean.”
The screen door slammed shut behind him and I relaxed. That could’ve been worse. Come to think of it, Pierce seemed a little off his usual game; he should’ve chewed my ass a lot harder. Then I started laughing. He pumped me, the bastard. He had nothing and I gave up everything for free.
The phone rang again. It was Brad. The Caddy didn't show, so we were on.