As I’ve said many times: I don’t like to run. But being shot at makes me need to run, and that’s what I found myself doing shortly after leaving the Colonel’s house. Running, away from shots fired, and heading toward anywhere but there. I didn’t get a good look at the rude individual who decided my insides needed to vent, but I got a look, which was better than nothing. A shorter guy, maybe kind of stocky, holding a briefcase in front of him with one hand, and a gun in the other. It was his odd stance that saved my life; had he not stood out, I wouldn’t have ducked in time.
It seems like a lot of people in New Orleans have developed an intense desire to see me leave, and soon. Let me count them: So far, all the people I’d dealt with. That comes from sticking your nose into the business of someone who isn’t particularly interested in having your nose in their business. But of those people, only one of them had taken it far enough as a trigger pull, and that now took precedent over all my other concerns.
I knew who it wasn’t, because the Colonel was still in the house, and if anything he still wanted me to stay in New Orleans. That left his daughter, the artist, maybe even our magnificent missing husband himself, and the detective I’d dealt with, among other minor roll players. The detective probably hadn’t hired a man to come after me; he had better ways of chasing me off. He was also the next man on my list to see, seeing as how I felt a need to report this to the police.
He was out; I left him a message and filled out a report with one of the officers on duty. He was helpful, concerned even.
My next stop was the artist’s place, but I took the long way around, watching my back near as much as the front. When I got there I went to knock but hesitated when I realized the door was slightly ajar. Peering in just gave me a close up look at his umbrella, sitting beside the door. COuldn’t blame him for that; umbrellas were about as necessary as shoes here, especially in the summer time when most afternoons were capped with a thunderstorm. So instead I turned my ear to it.
“Did anyone see you?” The sketcher was asking.
“No, I don’t think so,” Elaine Ashewood said. “Maybe he did.”
“Great. All right, look,” he was pacing, by the way his voice was moving. “Did you hit him at all?”
“Not once,” Elaine said.
“What did you do with it?”
“I threw it into the first sewer grate it looked like it would fit in. I don’t remember which one.”
“Good, good,” he said, pacing. “And you think only Nass saw you?”
“Yes,” Elaine said.
I thought back as I listened. Could it have been Elaine Ashewood that was shooting at me? The man did have a rather rotund figure about him, similar to a woman far along in a pregnancy. There was one way to find out. I drew my own side arm and stepped into the house. Elaine saw me first and started to bolt for the back door.
“No use,” I said. “Both of you — reach for the heavens.”
“I didn’t do anything,” he said.
“Harboring a criminal, accessory after the fact. Those things aren’t anything to you?” I asked. “You know, Mrs. Ashewood, I thought you were a bit smarter than that. But maybe that gun in that sewer is the same one that took out good old Bert, hm?”
“No, no, I never shot Bert,” Elaine said.
“And you never took a shot at me outside your father’s house.”
“I did that,” she said. “I admit to that. But I only wanted to scare you. I didn’t hit you!”
“By my own luck!”
“No, honest!” Elaine said.
“Listen,” her partner in crime stepped forward. “She’s telling the truth. She’s about as crack a shot as any woman. Ask her father or anyone.”
“Fine,” I was willing to allow this. “But why? Why scare me?”
“So you’d stop looking for Bert.”
“Why? Because I’ll find that you’ve put him under the dirt?” Bert, dirt, hah.
“No,” Elaine said, inching back toward the cupboard. Her arm was behind her back. “He left, honest. I just don’t want him to be found. He was a rascal. A real bastard. He beat me, he hurt me. I don’t want him doing that to our child.”
“Step away from the cupboard,” I said.
“You shot at me, and I heard you admit it. Now, maybe you did aim to miss. But I can’t know that. And now I have to find Bert — and alive, for your sake. If he lays a hand on you, there’s a solution for that, too.”
Her friend nodded profusely. “Yeah, the swamp.”
“I don’t disagree,” I said. “The law is often too easy on men like that.”
“Why would you give a damn?” Elaine asked.
“Because,” I said, stepping back toward the door, lowering my pistol. “On more than one occasion, a man knocked my mother around, and I never appreciated it. This country is lined with the shallow graves of men like that — but not lined near enough. If Bert is alive, then I’ll know you didn’t kill him. That doesn’t mean I’m going to try and bring him back.”
I stepped through the door and slammed it shut, then continued to back away from the place. I had no interest in getting a knife in the back.