The girl in the painting looked alive, but Anderson knew she wasn’t. Her eyes, in the painting, carried an orange-yellow glow in addition to their natural blue. She looked at the viewer, her arms tied behind her back, her bare breasts spilling forward, her blond hair framing her face as though it were a portrait all its own. Ellen Henry. A former model for Anderson, a strange one who took the job modeling without first negotiating a price. Most of his models, his muses, wanted to talk shop before agreeing to work with him.
Not Ellen. A rare treasure, interested in the art, in the process, and in becoming what he wanted to see. He never figured out what her true aims were. She had something in mind, though. It drove her.
Anderson sighed and tucked the painting back into the closet, between two others of different models. The last thing he wanted was a curious police force seeing the art he made for himself. Anderson walked over to the phone on the tall stand at the center of his near-studio apartment, and dialed a number he’d memorized the moment automation came to the service in town.
Ring once, ring twice, thrice, and the husky female voice answered.
“This is Anderson,” he said. “You sent me Ellen Henry. I want to know who sent her to you.”
The pause annoyed Anderson.
“You know better than to trifle with me,” Anderson said.
“Very well,” she said. Then she gave him an address, followed by an inmate number. For a moment Anderson expected it to belong to Chris Martin, but it did not: it belonged to a man named Gary Flynt.
He sighed. Getting to the Farms would take the better part of the day. Still, if he wanted to stay ahead of Ron Cavanaugh… Anderson placed the phone back on the cradle without thanking his source for her information.
Anderson stepped into his storage closet again and pulled down the painting of the naked woman standing in main street. She actually stood in his apartment, and he made the background separate later, but he figured it looked reasonable enough on that wall. Behind her the sheet-rock needed to be painted. Anderson tugged gently on the seam between two pieces, and the top part came free of the wall.
A small safe stared out from the hole in the wall. Anderson played the two turns left, one right game until he managed to get the combination right and pulled out the top manila folder. He thumbed through it for the paper he knew lived inside: one detailing Ron Cavanaugh’s dealings with Gary Flynt.
A grown man sexually attracted to adolescent girls. Kidnapped two of them after his urges went out of control following the fall of the Salt Marsh trafficking ring. Ron nearly killed him when breaking the case. Gary would spend the rest of his days in protective custody upstate.
“I thought so,” Anderson said to himself.
He replaced the folder, closed the safe, re-attached the sheet-rock cutout, and hanged the picture again. Then he locked up and headed for his car.
The bell above my door rang, bringing me around from my thoughts and the scattered notes on the desk before me. In she walked, wearing a light blue sun dress and a wide-brimmed women’s hat: Roseanna Vance, a young woman who met the worst of this world face to face a few months back. I stood and motioned for her to sit. She did, moving with an extraordinary grace. That came from her desire to be the woman she imagined her mother wanted. Both of her parents were dead, but it was only a shame about her mother.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked. When she sat, I waited a breath before returning to my own seat. Her skin glowed, a deeper tan than she’d sported when we first met. Clearly she’d embraced her coloring, previously a detriment to her in her father’s eyes.
“I believe I owe you several favors, Mister Cavanaugh,” Roseanna said.
“Ron,” I said. “You can call me Ron. And you don’t owe me anything.”
“Maybe you don’t think so, Ron, but I do. I heard that you went out and started a fight with the Schaeffers.”
“And you’re here to warn me?”
She shook her head. “You took on my family and the Harmans, you know what foolishness you’re digging into. No, I also heard you went because of a girl named Ellen Henry.”
“I did. She was murdered, and Audrey is being held for it. I want to prove she didn’t do it.”
Roseanna nodded, her face emotionless. That expression was something the woman had mastered. “I also heard you helped arrest a man named Gary Flynt, once.”
“Not too long before we met, actually,” I said.
“You might want to look into Mister Gary Flynt,” Roseanna said. “He wasn’t on the level before you ran across him. I went to school with Ellen and she was one of my friends.” Life just kept kicking Roseanna in the ribs. “Not my best friend, not the girl I’d spend much time with outside of school, but her crowd and mine overlapped enough that we were friends.”
“What does Flynt have to do with it? He’s locked up.”
“You don’t have to be at a crime to be involved in the planning,” Roseanna said. “Based on what I know about him, Gary Flynt has reason to want Ellen Henry dead. That’s all.” She stood.
“Thank you,” I said, standing again and extending my hand palm side up toward her. Roseanna took it.
“My pleasure,” Roseanna said. “I still owe you my life.”
Driving up to the state penitentiary would cost me the better part of the day. Before heading that way I made a few stops — saw Audrey for as long as Elmira could allow it, stopped by my parents’ to ask them to keep trying the attorney, and generally prepared myself for a long, lonely trip. The trip was a familiar one, something I’d done many times to meet with clients and possible sources. It also stood in stark contrast to the violence of a hurricane and my trip to Schaefferville, which allowed my mind to work over the case in a different way.
After locking my guns in the trunk of the car, I went into the front office of the prison and waited my turn to speak to Gary Flynt. It stood outside visiting hours and I wasn’t a prior approval for this inmate, but my private investigator license smoothed that over with the prison worker. The law didn’t spell out any special rights or privileges for a person with a P.I. card and inmate visitation, but the guy behind the desk thought that it did — a lie Elmira helped me work up once years past.
But still, I waited. Flynn had another visitor, another person with the same sort of priviliges I enjoyed. The guard and secretary chatted amiably with me about mundane topics — the weather, specifically the hurricane — while we waited.
Then the visitor left. I locked eyes with the man. Tall, broad at the shoulder, younger than me but not by much. Despite his youth his hair showed salt-and-pepper. He wore a suit and tie, carried a fedora, and had a vaguely familiar look about him. As we passed he looked me straight in the face and winked. His eyes were light gray, a color I’d never seen.
I should know him.
Gary Flynt looked like hell. Rumors abounded about what other prisoners did to men like him. He didn’t have any friends in the system and he’d been accused of several sexual crimes against minors, including his own daughter. He took a plea in exchange for leniency, and tried turning States’ Evidence on other perverts he knew — but the state moved faster than Gary Flynt.
“I don’t have anything to say to you,” Flynt said.
“You know helping me helps you,” I said.
He fixed me with a stony glare. “No it doesn’t. Fuck off.”
“Try this: help me, or I’ll hurt you. I have friends everywhere, Flynt.”
“What do you even want with me, Cavanaugh? I’m in jail.”
“Ellen Henry,” I said. “What do you know?”
He closed his eyes and slowly inhaled through his teeth, an expression worming across his gaunt features that sent chills deep into my soul. The sort of expression a starving dog might give a well-roasted turkey. The sort of expression that made me wholly uncomfortable with the thoughts going through his head.
“Oh, I knew her,” Flynt said. “She’s too old for me now, but I knew her. Blond girl. Little plump, especially about the chest, green eyes with bits of brown, parents too busy to notice.”
“She’s been killed,” I said.
Flynt looked around the room. No other inmates had callers today, at least not at this time. “I have a pretty good alibi, Cavanaugh.”
“I understand that. I just know you knew her, and I want to know what you know.”
“I know she aged out of my interest years ago, and I don’t know anyone who might want her dead. She wouldn’t tell on me, and I don’t have the reach to kill her, though.”
He stood up and motioned to the guard. “I hope your girl rots in prison the way I am, Cavanaugh. Even if she is innocent.”
“How do you know about that?” I asked.
“Word travels faster than cigarettes in here,” Flynt said as he was led away.
“You got another one,” the guard said.
“Somebody said he could help you.”
I sat back down. A few confused heartbeats later one of the guards brought Chris Martin into the room and roughly pushed him into the chair opposite me. Neither guard moved to uncuff the man. Chris Martin, the head of the human trafficking, prostitution, and drug running portion of the syndicate. The man who, under orders, killed my mentor.
He looked better than the last time I saw him. Clearly his rough patch in prison had been supplanted with a period of success. Milk and honey, even, in the form of cigarettes and respect.
“Got a spare stick?” Martin asked.
“Is it worth my time?” I asked.
I sighed. But I took my cigar case out of my pocket, opened it, and tossed an uncut stick across the table to Martin. He snagged it in his hands and held it in his lap, his eyes never leaving my face.
“There’s a club,” Martin said. “Just because I’m gone, or Salt Marsh, or any other thug you’ve killed, doesn’t mean the underground itself goes away. You cleared the pipes, but the pipes are still there. Follow?”
“Sure,” I said.
“What can’t you have in Mississippi?”
“Lots of stuff. Get to the point, I’ve got a drive ahead of me.”
“You can’t have strippers with their tits out. You can’t have sex clubs, or prostitution. You can barely have any fun at all, legally speaking. But people have always been the same, Cavanaugh. I know it, you know it. You make your money on it, just like I did — you’re just the other side of the coin.”
“I’m not exploiting people,” I said.
“You are, just in a different way. But there’s a club, a secret club. I don’t know who runs it now, but word gets around to guys like me. They call it the Pelican Nest internally, but externally it looks like the part of a few old buildings — take a little here, a little there, and you can hide a place pretty well.”
“Where is it?” I asked.
“Not in town: it’s in Biloxi, near the theater. Saenger, I believe. You’ll be able to get in, or sneak in, if you can find it. Good luck.”
“Why help me?” I asked.
“I’m helping me,” Martin said. “You just aren’t fast enough to figure out how.”