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Page 41 of A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro 1)

“I think we’re working under that assumption, yeah.”

“So, that means you’re the first person she trusted. She probably figured Simone’s view of Socia was too naive. And she was right, I’d say.”

I said, “If they were in her apartment in Mattapan, someone would have them by now and there’d be no reason for any of this.”

“So, what’s that leave?”

We spent a good ten minutes not coming up with an answer to that one.

“Shit!” Angie said at the end of those ten minutes.

“Apt,” I said. “Not too helpful though.”

She lit a cigarette, placed her feet up on the desk, and stared at the ceiling. More Sam Spade than I’d ever be. She said, “What do we know about Jenna?”

“She’s dead.”

She nodded. Softly she said, “Besides that.”

“We know she was married to Socia. Common-law or legal, I don’t know, but married.”

“And had his child. Roland.”

“And has three sisters from Alabama.”

She sat up in her chair, her feet banging off the floor. “Alabama,” she said. “She sent it down to Alabama.”

I thought about it. How well did Jenna know these sisters anymore? How much could she trust them? Hell, how much could she trust the mail? This was her chance to be needed, to get a little “justice.” To do a little of what people had been doing to her all her life. Would she risk that by putting the major proponent of her vengeance in transit?

“I don’t think so,” I said.

Angie said, “Why not?” She said it sharply. Her idea  she wasn’t going to just let go of it.

I explained my reasoning.

“Maybe,” she said, her voice slightly deflated. “Let’s keep it on the burner though.”

“Agreed.” It wasn’t a bad idea, and if it came to it, we’d follow it down, but it didn’t quite fit.

It goes like this a lot. We sit around the office and bounce ideas off each other and wait for divine intervention. When that doesn’t come, we chase down each possibility, and usually not always, but usually we end up tripping over something that should have been obvious from the beginning.

I said, “We know she had trouble with creditors a few years back.”

Angie said, “Yeah. So?”

“I’m brainstorming here. I never promised pearls of wisdom.”

She frowned. “She has no record, right?”

“Except for a bunch of parking tickets.”

Angie flicked her cigarette out the window.

I started thinking about the beers in my apartment. Heard them calling me, asking for company.

Angie said, “Well, if she had all those parking tickets...” We looked at each other and said it together: “Where’s the car?”

TWENTY-TWO

We called George Higby at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. It took us fifteen tries to get past the busy signal, and then, once we did, a recorded voice told us that all the lines were busy. Our call would be taken in the order it was received and please stay on the line. I hadn’t been planning on doing much till the end of the month anyway, so I cradled the phone against my neck and waited.

The silence ended after about fifteen minutes and the phone rang on the other end once, twice, three times; four, five, six. A voice said, “Registry of Motor Vehicles.”

I said, “George Higby, Vehicle Registration, please.”

The voice hadn’t heard me. It said, “You have reached the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Our business hours are nine to five p.m., Monday through Friday. If you need further assistance and have a Touch-Tone phone, please press ‘one’ now.” A sonic beep went off in my ear about the same time I realized it was Sunday. If I pressed “one,” I’d get another computer that would gladly connect me to another computer and by the time I got pissed off enough to throw my phone through the window, all the Registry computers would be having a good old yuck for themselves.

I just fucking love modern technology.

I hung up and said, “It’s Sunday.”

Angie looked at me. “Yes, it is. Tell me the date and you’ll be my idol.”

“Do we have George’s home number around here?”

“Possibly. Would you like me to find out?”

“That’d be peachy.”

She wheeled her chair over to the PC and entered her password. She waited a moment and her fingers began singing over the keys so fast the computer had a hard time keeping up. Served it right. Probably hung out with the Registry computers on its off days.

Angie said, “Got it.”

“Give it to me, baby.”

She didn’t, but she gave me the number.

George Higby is one of those hapless souls who goes through life expecting the rest of the world to be as nice as he is. Since he gets out of bed each morning with the desire to make the world a better place, a slightly easier place to get along in he doesn’t understand that there are actually people who get up with the desire to make the rest of the world suffer. Even after his daughter eloped with a guitar player twice her age who left her strung out in a Reno motel room; even after she then ran into some especially nasty people and ended up working her sixteen-year-old body on the back streets of Vegas; even after Angie and I flew out there and took her away from these nasty people with the assistance of the Nevada State Police; even after this sweet apple of his eye blamed the mess she’d made completely on him; even after all this George still meets the world with the nervous smile of someone who only knows how to be open and decent and prays that, maybe just once, the world might reward him. George is the sort of raw material out of which most organized religions create their foundations.

He answered the phone on the first ring. He always does. He said, “This is George Higby,” and I half expected him to follow it with, “Want to be friends?”

“Hi, George, it’s Patrick Kenzie.”

“Patrick!” George said, and I have to admit that the enthusiasm in his voice made me happy to be me all of a sudden. I felt as if I’d been put on this earth for one reason: to call George on July 2 and make his day. He said, “How are you?”

“I’m great, George. How about yourself?”

“Very good, Patrick. Very good. I can’t complain.”

George was the kind who never could.

I said, “George, I’m afraid this isn’t a strictly social call,” and realized with more than a small measure of guilt that I’d never made a “strictly social call” to George and probably never would.

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