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Hatful of Pain
Hatful of Pain   Chapter 13


Through the grimy window I watched the late afternoon lights of Cavalry reflecting off bellies of oceanbound storm clouds.

I called Celtic City and checked my bank account. My balance had all but disappeared due to "service charges," as if the tellers had to take my money for walks or something.

Hoping for some good news, I phoned Dudley. "How'd the stakeout go?"

He yawned. "I spent the morning listening to the car radio for clue number fifteen to the WNN Chain Saw Giveaway. No luck. No luck finding the leak, either. No A.L.F. members went in or out. But get this: Mungo stopped by the Terrigs' and stayed for about fifteen minutes. When he left, I followed him to the Lobster. Three cop cars were there. He parked and watched the place for two hours. Nothing happened except . . . who's the bartender who makes Michael Jackson look tough?"

"Mervyn."

"Chas and Mervyn went inside for an hour or so."

"For questioning?"

"Maybe. After they left, they waited for the police to leave, then went back inside."

"Wow. I don't suppose they came out with a shotgun?"

"Couldn't tell you. They were still inside when I left to meet Corky."

"Why would Mungo be watching all this?"

"Good question. Is Bill with you?"

"He's sabotaging a hunt hosted by Mr. Terrig. Why?"

"I thought he could sub for me on the stakeout tomorrow. I have to work at the Aquarium."

"Take tomorrow off. I'm meeting with the Terrigs so I'll be in the neighborhood anyway."

"Thanks." He paused. "You should see your sister in action. She's good."

I hoped for more explanation.

"She's amazing. I'm learning a lot. Otherwise I'd help you. You know me. I'd poke a grizzly bear with a short stick if I thought it would help us find the guy who shot Richard. But Corky and I are using the letterhead removed from Terrig Corporation to cancel their suppliers and services, and we're directing their clients to competitors like Schick. It'll be a total mess before Terrig gets wind. Oh, and since we don't know how much has been leaked, Corky moved the Laurel mission up twenty-four hours."

He paused so long I thought the line had gone dead. Then he said, "I don't suppose Corky ever mentioned the reason she dumped me?"

I paused. "My guess is that even eight years ago she had no room for romance in her schedule."

"What should I do? She still thinks I'm teasing when I ask her out."

Dudley Mack is asking me for advice about women. I felt as if I had followed a white rabbit down a burrow into a strange world.

"Any ideas?"

"She's probably afraid of getting involved. Tell her that every moment of life shared with someone who loves you is special. Even if the love doesn't endure."

"That's pretty sentimental."

"I admit, it's probably not advice I'd take."

After we hung up, my next call was to Corky. She was still unhappy I wasn't helping.

"You've got Dudley at your service. That's not a problem, is it?"

"Should it be?"

"Certainly not. It just seems like you go out of your way to avoid him sometimes. I'm not sure why."

"It just never worked out, I guess. Dudley was always busy with his own goals." She stopped talking as if that made everything clear.

"Were his goals a problem?"

"Only in the sense that in college, he had no time for us. His idea of romance was popping his beer can away from my face."

"That was ten years ago, Cork. He's changed. Do you know he carries an old picture of the two of you in his back pocket? I catch him looking at it once in a while."

A long pause. People next door were arguing loudly. Corky was thinking something and wasn't with our conversation anymore. I filled the silence.

"Ten years ago, Cork, I would speed up to smile at a blonde in a Corvette. Now I speed up to read a sign on the truck that says Jelly Roger Donuts, 7 Locations to see if one is near me. Dudley's changed, too." After more silence, I said, "Think about it, Cork." She hung up without saying anything. I'm not sure she even heard me.

Twenty minutes later, as I was snapping up the buttons on my jacket, Hoover limped over to the wall, pulled his leash down from the nail, and dragged it over to me.

"Sorry, you look a little swollen. You need rest."

Hoover whined.

I opened the door. Hoover sat, huddled pathetically.

I walked out and closed the door.

I opened it again. Hoover hadn't moved. His head hung low. He was shivering.

I sighed. "Okay."

Hoover bounced energetically up to me, bumping into my leg. What an actor.

We picked up Ann and headed uptown, Hoover leading the way, putting his nose to the ground like a miniature bulldozer and hauling Ann away on the leash.

"If we spot a suspect, what's the plan?" Ann asked.

Plan? "Nothing fancy."

"Could you be a tad more specific?"

Is Plan 'A' more specific? Probably not. "How about I chase him until his ankles smoke."

"What'll you do if you catch him? You have no proof he committed a crime."

The cold wind made the Lobster appear to shiver slightly, as though not yet over the recent trauma. "Something will turn up."

"If not?"

"Then I'll be forced to do to him what I did to Slim Twitchle after I tackled him. Be funny until he begs for mercy."

Ann moaned. "That's cruel. Do I have to watch?"

As we entered the parking lot of the Lobster, Hoover's nose tested the air for familiar smells.

I stopped where I'd tackled Slim and tried to visualize what I'd seen that night, bring the picture back in focus: me sitting on Slim's back, Ann perched on his legs, Bill standing in the doorway--and snow, lots of snow. I concentrated harder, trying to see someone leaving in a hurry, or skulking out of the Lobster. Bill came out. No one else.

We circled to the rear of the Lobster. No windows or doors.

"So, Detective Baker, what are we looking for?"

"Telltale cigar butts, torn halves of claim checks, footprints, a bent twig or two along the trail. . . ."

"Gotcha. Like traces of lint from an imported caterpillar cloth sold by only one store with one customer." A sudden breeze caught her hair and blew a strand of it across my face. I smelled lilac. She shook her head. "No clues here."

We continued circling the Lobster. Awnings and other sheltered areas were marked by clusters of cigarette butts, Twinkie wrappers, wine bottles, beer cans and other signs of uncivilized life. And every conceivable article of clothing. I wondered how people could possibly have walked home lacking some of the things they'd left behind.

We were back in the parking lot. Something told me the gunman hadn't passed this way. Instinct? Magnum says instinct is what the subconscious sneaks into the memory bank without getting cosigned by the conscious.

What sneaked in? I closed my eyes and focused on the night of the murder.

When I'd tackled Slim, only his car and our van were in the parking lot. The gunman would have had to escape across the lot with the shotgun. Why couldn't I remember seeing him?

"He may have hidden inside the Lobster and ducked out later," I said, silently giving myself credit for having figured something out. It was about time.

We advanced on the Lobster. After a few strides, we stopped dead.

In the window was a hand-lettered sign:

          Now Hiring!
Bands--Bartenders--Waitresses
       Opening Tonight

"Who could be behind this?" Ann asked. "We know it's not Richard."

"Someone who wants a band other than Fluke." I glanced across the street at the Stagger Back Inn. "Lester won't be happy."

"Unless he's involved."

"That's possible. We shouldn't deal with him until we know."

"Why?"

"The more involved he is, the more dangerous."

"And the more vulnerable."

I'd forgotten that Lester didn't frighten Ann. Once more our priorities clashed. If we learned that Lester had tried to kill Richard to buy the Lobster, Ann would want to use the information to bargain with him. I planned on burying him alive and dancing on his grave.

"How can we find out who took over?"

Ann tapped the sign on the words Opening Tonight. "Why don't we stop by tonight and have a look around Richard's office."

My mind's eye saw Richard's blood on the wall. "Sure," I said. Let's keep dancing in the minefield.

Hatful of Pain 14

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