I’d spent some time harassing the other men from the poker game, but came up empty. All I had so far was that, on occasion, Nice Mister Bert hit his pregnant wife, she was taking her clothes off for a lowlife to paint her, and he was still missing. The Colonel didn’t seem to know anything about his daughter being smacked around — I didn’t ask out right but I tried fishing for clues there. If he knew, anyway, I figured Bert would be at the bottom of the Mississippi somewhere pinned against a rock by the current, with some chains around him. And then the Colonel wouldn’t need to pay me anything crazy to find him.
I’d even went back and questioned Elaine again. She admitted to the beatings, and the drawings, but she insisted that it was nothing, that she did as much damage to him as he did to her. It sounded a lot like denial to me, and she seemed honestly interested in looking for Bert. So I left again with some names, this time of some women she worried he associated with too much, and too freely.
One Lorraine Friday, a danger of some reputation. Some, but not much reputation. That turned out to be a dead end, too. She knew Bert, of course, and she understood Elaine’s feelings in the matter. But he was more a mark to her than anything else, and Lorraine wanted to know where he was — last she saw him, Bert was tipping big after a poker win and she liked those sorts of nights. Lorraine, interestingly enough, knew all of Bert’s poker buddies, and implied there were drawings of her there, too.
All my running around asking questions had rolled me up nice into the attention of the local cops, and now I found myself sitting across an old scratched up desk from a detective in an old, sweat stained shirt. He was an older gentleman, and he’d seen quite a lot as a detective running the streets of New Orleans. He was drinking coffee, black, and so was I, just as black. Cigarette smoke hung around us like an unwanted guest. I liked tobacco, but his brand offended my nostrils.
He’d been over the standard sheet by now, and wasn’t opening up to me, but I could tell that they were involved in looking now, too. Seems his family had started calling around and barking up their tree looking for the man. He wasn’t the type to disappear. He wasn’t the type to leave his wife. He was a damned angel the way they told it, so saintly he didn’t touch the ground when he walked and never needed a light because of the halo around his head.
I didn’t share their opinion of the man. I’d met worse than him in my time, but I’d met better, too, and in my years I’d learned one thing: Most people aren’t angels, but their family will damn sure insist such around the time they come up dead or missing. Suddenly all transgressions are forgotten, the wagons circle, and the man becomes a hero who saved kitties from trees in his spare time.
It made me want to spit.
So here I was, watching this detective drink his coffee and read the report of the same statement he was present for me to give. I’m not sure why he thought he could play tough guy with me. I didn’t do anything other than take a job, and if anything, I was on his side here. I wanted to find Bert, too. I wanted to find him, all right, and I planned to thrash him a bit. The bastard.
“I don’t have anything against you, Mister Nass,” the detective said, finally, setting his coffee down. “I just need to know who is after one of our more… well to do citizens.”
“Well, you’re off there, Detective,” I said. “I’m not after him. I want to find him, for his family, and make sure nothing bad has happened to him.”
“Well, he’s been found, all right,” the detective said. “A letter arrived here yesterday, we’re asking his wife to identify the handwriting. He left and ran off with some young woman he met.”
“That sounds like a load of manure to me,” I said. “The man has a young, pretty wife. What’d make him run off with a different one, and leave all their combined money behind?”
“Maybe she’s crazy in the sack,” the detective said. “It doesn’t matter. When Elaine comes in, she’ll identify the handwriting or she won’t, and then we’ll proceed.”
“Why the hell did he send the letter to the police station?” I asked.
He shrugged. Idiot.
Sure enough, Elaine arrived on time. I wasn’t in the room when she did it, but the detective was called out to observe and deal with it. So I sat there, watching the steam rise out of his coffee cup. It was still full — he’d been faking drinking it! What a weird man. I waited, and waited. It started to rain, that hard rain that hits the windows loudly. I didn’t particularly want to walk out down the street in that. It aggravated my knee.
FInally, after about an hour, he returned.
“Oh, you’re still in here,” he said.
“Well?” I asked. “Is my job over, or what?”
“Sure is, she said it was his scribbling.”
“Did it ever occur to you that she was lying and maybe got rid of him herself?”
“It did, but she had a letter he’d written to her to compare to it. I looked at it, it was all the same,” he said.
“Isn’t it weird that she brought the letter?” I asked, pushing.
“No, I told her on the phone to bring something with his scratch.”
“All right,” I said, standing. “I’ll go to her father and tell him that the case is solved, and head back home.”
“You do that,” he said.
“Out of curiousity, where did he run off to?” I asked as I put my hat on.
“Montana,” came the reply. I shut his door as I made my way out of the police station. The rain wasn’t quite as bad, and I tried to keep under the awnings various businesses had up here in the central business district. I didn’t have any intention of returning to Escagoula Point, not now, not until I found out what really happened.