I don’t like to run.
It’s not that I’m lazy but I’ve got a nagging issue with my fat getting in the way of me being a good runner. It makes my knees hurt, my ankles ache, and after a while of it my hips even seem to swell up. That’s like a practical joke, a fat guy swelling up even more. Also, a big guy like me, when I move around too much and get too sweaty there’s a chafing issue. So I don’t like to run, and I really don’t like people who make me run.
So there I was, chasing a damned weasel through some back alleys in the French Quarter. He was an associate of the missing Herbert Ashwood, and when I went to the address the Colonel gave me for him, I found him there with a lady, half dressed (or half undressed, depending on which direction the romantic interlude was headed when I interrupted). He decided avoiding me was important enough that I was now chasing his half-naked dumb ass around. He jumped a short fence, and I had to jump a short fence. And every joint in my body screamed obscenities at me.
Normally I wouldn’t chase him this hard, or this far. I’d prefer to wait on him to go back to his place, or jump him somewhere else. But he pissed me off by throwing a mug at my head as I stood outside of his door. He missed, of course. But it was the principle of the matter: I couldn’t let liberties like that stand. I had a reputation as an asshole private dick to keep up. And I intended to beat some sense into him when I caught him.
He was in better shape than me. But I was really pissed off and closing the gap. Also, I knew something he didn’t know, which was that the alley he was turning down ended with a rather tall chain link fence. I knew it, because there was a gentleman’s bar on one side and a regular bar on the other. Places I’d frequented in the past. I let dopey run on and stayed around the corner, waiting. Dopey came running back around the corner when he decided against trying to fight the barbed wire, and I was waiting with a right hook.
He spun almost comically as he went down like I’d shot him. I squatted over him, pinning his arms behind his back.
“Thanks for the run,” I said, twisting one arm. “I like doing my interviews like this.”
“What do you want?” He asked, a bit more demand in his voice than I was all right with.
“A thousand dollars more than you can give me,” I said. “But I’m here about Herbert Ashwood.”
“I don’t know the guy,” he said.
“Except you do,” I said, “And I have it on a very good authority that you were good buddies. So let’s cut the crap, bud, and just get on with our lives.”
He tried to take a deep breath, but I put a knee in his back.
“All right, all right,” he said, which to me sounded like, “Uncle, uncle.”
“So you know the guy.”
“Yeah, I know Bert.”
“Bert? Good, we’re getting somewhere. All right, bud. Where’d you last see him?”
“We played cards a few Thursdays ago. Bet some scratch. He won good.”
I tilted my head and thought back. “Was anyone mad about his turn of luck?”
“Sure, sure, we all were bothered by it. Bert was a jerk when he won, which wasn’t often.”
“Who else was at this card game?”
“Johnny Green, Greg George, and Ron Davis,” came the answer.
“I’m going to need addresses,” I said, taking out my notepad and balancing it on one knee, all the while keeping my prey pinned down lest he get any ideas. He spit them out, eager to get out from under my weight, and I took them down and made a note to find these guys as soon as I was finished.
“What about you? How bad did it burn you?”
“Not so bad,” he said. “A couple dollars, I didn’t buy in again after I was out. Not my style.”
“Anyone else who might want to see Bert disappear?” I asked, since I already had my pen out.
“Mr. Brousard, maybe even Elaine.”
I wrote it down even though I was pretty certain this idiot was pulling my leg. “Why?”
“Couple times Bert had a little too much, he roughed Elaine up.”
That had been left off by the Colonel. “Coppers get involved?”
“No, no, they kept that under wraps. I only knew ‘cos…”
I nudged him. “Hey, tell me.”
“When he did it, Bert did it where most couldn’t see. But a couple times, me and Elaine… I draw real good, and she got me to draw her, and sometimes she had bruises.”
“Bert know about these drawings?” I asked.
“No, no, never. I’d never tell him about drawing his wife, he’d belt me until I was a pulp.”
“I’m going to need to see one of those drawings,” I said. I pulled his arms back and pushed my knee into his back. “You’re not going to want to cross me on this.”
“Geeeez!” He yelled. “Let me go, c’mon. I’ll show you just stop with my shoulder!”
I pulled him up and marched him back to his place. He kept his mouth shut the rest of the way, and so did I. I didn’t have any other questions at this point. When we got back, his woman was still waiting, more dressed than before. I told her to scram, and made it known I was serious. She cursed at me, finished dressing, and took off, cursing me all the way.
“She don’t know about these,” he said. He opened a drawer he’d had to unlock with a key I’d watched him snake out from behind another cabinet. When he pulled the drawer open, it was packed
with various sizes of paper, some folded, some rolled. It looked like a rat’s nest.
“My word, are all of those Elaine Ashwood?”
He chuckled. “No.”
He rummaged around, and I crept closer, peering over him at the drawings. He was right, they were quite good, and definitely not the kind of thing a husband would want another man drawing of his wife. How he managed to talk these women into such lewdness was beyond me, but I instantly envied his smooth talking ability. After a few moments he located one he wanted and pulled it out. A rolled up length of paper kept shut by a bit of red ribbon tied into a perfect bow on the ends.
“She gave me the ribbon,” he said. We went over to the table and he carefully slid the ribbon off the paper, taking care to make sure he could slip it back on. He carefully unrolled it and laid it out on the table. I put a hand out to hold one end down.
It was certainly Elaine Ashwood, and it was done since she got pregnant. Hair still cropped short, wearing nothing but a hat and a pair of knee-high socks, her right arm extended out and up, as though she’d just tossed her bra to the artist in question. Her left arm cupped her stomach, he breasts were obviously swollen. It was the most detailed drawing I’d ever seen in my life. He’d obviously spent most of his effort detailing her nether regions, but Elaine’s face was clearly her own. There was no doubting who this was a drawing of.
“Damn,” I said.
“Yeah, she’s something,” he said.
“So are you, bud. So you always sleep with other men’s wives?”
“We never slept together,” he said. “I just like to draw them. I think that I don’t sleep with them keeps them coming back, as if they want to try and break my resolve.”
“You got more resolve than I do,” I said. “All right. Keep the ribbon, I’m going to keep the drawing.”
“No you’re not!” He said, reaching for it. I belted him.
“It may be evidence in a murder, bud. I’m not letting you keep it and maybe destroy it. When it’s all over I’ll let you have it back — unless you cross me. Stay in town.”
I didn’t give him a chance to object or reply, and left him recovering from the busted face. I had other men to see in town, but there was no way I was leaving this picture in town. I got in my car, and I drove the hell home.