I smiled. “Not on their best days.”
“Uh-huh.” He looked at the mess again. “This got to be about Roland. Got to be.”
He chuckled at that one, looked at me. “Yeah, right.” “No, I’m serious. Who’s Roland?”
He turned and walked out. “Go home, white bread.”
I followed him down the stairs. “Who’s Roland, Jerome?”
He shook his head the whole way down to the bottom floor. When he reached the porch, where his friends had reassembled on the steps, he jerked his thumb behind him at me as I came through the doorway. “He asking who Roland is.”
His friends laughed. I had to be the funniest white man they’d seen in days.
Most of them stood up as I came out on the porch. The girl said, “You want to know who Roland is?”
I walked halfway down the steps. “I want to know who Roland is.”
One of the bigger guys stabbed my shoulder with his index finger. “Roland your worst fucking nightmare.”
The girl said, “Worse than your wife.”
They all laughed and I walked down the steps and cut between the blue Malibu and the green Granada.
“Stay away from Roland,” Jerome said. “What kill elephants, don’t so much as faze Roland. Cause he ain’t human.”
I stopped, turned back, my hand resting on the Malibu. “Then what is he?”
Jerome shrugged, folded his arms across his chest. “He just plain bad. Bad as it gets.”
Shortly after I got back to the office, we ordered out for some Chinese and went over the day.
Angie had done the paper trail while I followed the physical one. I told her what my trail had brought us, added the names “Jerome” and “Roland” to the first page of our file, entered it into the computer. I also wrote “Break-in” and “Motive?” and underlined the latter.
The Chinese food arrived and we went to work clogging our arteries and forcing our hearts to work double time. Angie told me the results of the paper trail between mouthfuls of pork fried rice and chow mein. The day after Jenna disappeared, Jim Vurnan had gone to the restaurants and shops around Beacon Street and the State House to see if she’d been in recently. He didn’t find her, but in a deli on Somerset he got a copy of one of her credit-card receipts from the owner. Jenna had paid for a ham on rye and a Coke with a Visa. Angie had taken the receipt and using the tried-and-true “Hi, I’m (Insert target’s name) and I seem to have misplaced my credit card” method, she found that Jenna carried the Visa only, had a spotty credit history (one run-in with a collection agency back in ‘81), and had last used her card on June 19, the first day she didn’t show up to work, at the Bank of Boston on the corner of Clarendon and St. James for a cash advance of two hundred dollars. Angie had then called the Bank of Boston claiming to be a representative of American Express. Mrs. Angeline had applied for a credit card and would they mind verifying her account? What account?
She got the same response at every bank she tried. Jenna Angeline had no bank account. Which is fine, as far as I’m concerned, but it makes a person harder to find.
I started to ask Angie if she’d missed any banks, but she held up her hand, managed a “Not finished yet,” around some spare rib. She wiped her mouth with a napkin and swallowed. Then she downed a gulp of beer and said, “’Member Billy Hawkins?”
“Of course.” Billy would be doing a dime in Walpole Penitentiary if we hadn’t found his alibi.
“Well, Billy works for Western Union now, out of one of those Check Cashing Express places.” She sat back, pleased.
“Well what?” She was enjoying herself.
I picked up a greasy spare rib and cocked my arm.
She held up her hands. “OK, OK. Billy’s going to run a check for us, find out if she’s used any of their offices. She can’t have survived on two hundred dollars since the nineteenth. Not in this city anyway.”
“And when’s Billy going to get back to us?”
“He couldn’t do anything today. He said his boss would be suspicious if he hung around for too long after the end of his shift, and his shift ended five minutes after I called. He’ll have to do it tomorrow. Said he’ll call us by noon.”
I nodded. Behind Angie the dark sky was streaked with four fingers of scarlet and the slight breeze blew the thinnest wisps of her hair from behind her ear onto her cheekbone.
Van Morrison was singing about “crazy love” on the boom box behind me, and we sat in the cramped office, staring at each other in the afterglow of the heavy Chinese food and the humid day and the satisfaction of knowing where our next paycheck was coming from. She smiled, a slightly embarrassed one, but didn’t look away, and began tapping that pencil lightly against the chipped tooth again.
I let the stillness settle between us for a good five minutes before I said, “Come home with me.”
She shook her head, still smiling, and swiveled the chair slightly.
“Come on. We’ll watch a little TV, chat about old times ”
“There’s a bed in this story somewhere. I know it.”
“Only as a place to sleep. We’ll lie down and... talk.”
She laughed. “Uh-huh. And what about all those lovely young things who tend to camp out on your doorstep and tie up your phone?”
“Who?” I asked innocently.
“Who,” she said. “Donna, Beth, Kelly, that chick with the ass, Lauren ”
“That chick with the ass, excuse me?”
“You know the one. The Italian girl. The one who goes” her voice rose about two octaves ’“Oooooh, Patrick, can we take a bubble bath now? Hee!’ That one.”
She nodded. “Gina. That’s the one.”
“I’ll give them all up for one night with ”
“I know that, Patrick. I hope you don’t think that’s something to be proud of.”
“Well, gee, Mom...”
She smiled. “Patrick, the major reason you think you’re in love with me is because you’ve never seen me naked ”
“In thirteen years,” she said hurriedly, “and we both agreed that was forgotten. Besides, thirteen years is a lifetime to you where a woman is concerned.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”