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Authors: Jonathan Valin

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Hard-Boiled

Fire Lake (22 page)

BOOK: Fire Lake
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I picked up the receiver and pressed it against my
ear. "Stoner?" an unfamiliar voice said. "Yes."

"LeRoi say to tell you he be paying you a visit
tonight. 'Bout midnight. He say to tell you there ain't gonna be no
trouble. He just wanna talk."

"He's coming here?" I said.

The black man said, "Yeah. Your crib."

"You tell him if he isn't alone, there is going
to be some trouble."

"Bet, man," the black said with a chuckle.
"You a tough fucker, ain't you?"

"You just tell him," I said, and hung up.

Karen pulled away from me in the bed. "The
nightmare's starting up again, isn't it?"

I didn't know how to answer her. I didn't know what
LeRoi had in mind. I'd gotten what I'd wanted--a meeting with the
candy man. Only I didn't know what had happened to the candy. And
that was all he cared about.

"It'll be all right," I said reassuringly.
"Maybe LeRoi can tell us what happened to Lonnie."

"Do we really want to know?" she said in a
distant voice. "What happens when we find out?"

To be honest, I didn't know how to answer that,
either.
 

31

I told Karen I'd take her out for supper. While she
was in the shower, the phone on the nightstand rang again. I
hesitated for a moment before picking it up, wondering what I was
going to say if it turned out to be LeRoi again. This time, it was
Al.

"Jordan's partner, Lewis, tells me he's been
talking to some biker who hangs out at the Encantada bar. The guy's a
regular at the bar, and he's got some information that Jordan thinks
is crucial."

"Information about what?" I asked.

Al said, "I don't know, Harry. About the murder,
I guess."

"Do you have a name for this biker?" I
asked him. "Sonny Carter. Lewis says he's a big guy with a black
beard. Wears a chain vest. That sort of thing."

"Thanks, Al," I said.

"Harry," Foster said in a concerned voice.
"If you haven't come clean with me about that motel murder, I
think now is the time. I've got my neck stuck out a mile for you,
pal. And Jordan would like nothing more than to chop it off. If he
nails you, he'll nail me too. You can count on it."

I should have told him the whole story. After what
he'd done for me the night before, he deserved to hear it. But I
didn't. Partly because it seemed too complicated to explain over the
phone. Partly out of stubbornness, out of a stupid desire to show
Jordan up, without help from anyone. And, in spite of everything,
partly because of Lonnie.

"I've got nothing to tell you, Al," I said.

He grunted. "You always play it your own way,
don't you, Harry?" He started to hang up, then said, "Oh,
by the way, that guy you asked us to find? That Jackowski guy?"

"Yeah?" I said.

"Jordan's looking for him too."

"Why?" I asked.

"You tell me, Harry," Al said with
bitterness. "You could, if you wanted to. Couldn't you?"

"Al . . ." I said.

"Fuck you, Harry," he said, and hung up.

Great, I said to myself. I was in no position to
alienate one of the few friends I had left, and I knew it. I picked
up the phone--to call Al back. Then I started thinking about Jordan,
about what he would do to Lonnie if he got his hands on him, and I
put the phone back down. Having been through it myself, I simply
couldn't do that to Lonnie. I couldn't do that to any man.

I sat down on the bed, listening to the sound of the
shower pounding against the stall. For a moment, I almost felt
panicky--the way Karen had said she'd felt, waking up alone in the
middle of the night, trying to block Lonnie out of her mind. Out of
nowhere, out ofthe night, he'd come back into my life. Spent one day
in my apartment. Then disappeared again, into the darkness, leaving
me to pay the price for his mistakes. Leaving me fighting for my
life.

There was something so bizarre about his visit, so
inexplicable, that it truly frightened me. It was like he wasn't
real. Like he was some manifestation of a bleak, joking providence.
An incarnation of a zeitgeist, a phantom from the raucous,
irresponsible past-from the wild old days that Leanne Silverstein had
said she regretted and that Karen was trying desperately to
forget--come to teach me a lesson, about nostalgia and brother's
keeping.

But that was giving Lonnie much more than his due.
All he really was, I told myself, was a stupid junkie trying to get
to Fire Lake. A kid playing with matches in a motel room, setting
blazes in wastebaskets and running away. That's what I told myself.
But for a few moments I stayed scared.

Karen came out of the shower and walked into the
bedroom--naked, her hair dripping wet. "Where are your towels?"
she said.

I pointed to the bottom drawer of my dresser.

Karen bent down and opened the drawer, pulling a
towel out.

I sat there, staring at the floor--still thinking
about Lonnie. "We've got to stop him," I said, without
realizing that I'd said it.

"Who?" she said, wrapping the towel around
her as she stood up.

"Lonnie," I said, looking up at her.

"Are you okay?" she said, eyeing me
critically. "Who was that on the phone?"

"It was Al."

"And?"

"And I'm going to have to go out to that goddamn
motel again.

"Christ," she said. "What happened?"

'Jordan may have a witness to the murder. A biker at
the motel."

"But we already know who killed Jenkins,"
Karen said. "It was that black kid, Bo. Wasn't it?"

"Yes," I said.

"So why do you have to talk to the biker?"

"I was there, for chrissake!" I said, and I
could hear the panic in my own voice. "My name's on the
Encantada register. I left my footprints on the fucking floor. I took
Lonnie's license out of the office. I didn't report the murder. I'm
involved. What if the son of a bitch biker saw me coming out of the
office?"

"Christ," Karen said, paling. "I
didn't think of that."

"Jenkins had been dead for a while," I
said, thinking about the way the blood had coagulated on his body,
thinking about the terrible smile on his face. "At least an hour
or more. That would put the murder around two or earlier. I didn't
get there until close to three."

"So you're in the clear?" Karen said
hopefully.

"If the biker remembers the time right," I
said without much confidence. "An hour isn't a lot of leeway."
I slapped my knee with my palm. "What the fuck was he doing out
there anyway, in the middle of a freezing cold night? The bar was
closed. The motel was deserted."

"Maybe he was waiting for somebody?" Karen
offered.

"Who?" I said.

"I guess we're just
going to have to find out." She picked up her duffel bag and
walked back toward the john. "This better end soon," she
called out. "Or my kids are going to start wondering what
happened to me."

***

We grabbed a bite to eat at McDonald's and ate it in
the car as we headed out Columbia Parkway to Miamiville. I drove this
time. The aches and pains hadn't gone away. They just didn't seem
that important anymore. The important thing was getting a lead on
Lonnie, before midnight, if I could manage it. I wanted to give LeRoi
something--something to get me off the hook.

I could have paid Cal another visit. It probably
would have been the smart move, especially if Norvelle had come back
home. But I knew that my next visit to Cal was going to end in
violence--he'd made that clear. And, unless it was necessary, I
didn't want to put Karen through that scene again. Actually, I didn't
want her along on the trip to the Encantada. But there was no place
to hide anymore. No place that was safe. Even if I'd stuck her in the
Clarion, I knew that she was still vulnerable to LeRoi or to Jordan.

It was close to eight when we pulled into the
Encantada lot. This time the bar was wide open. A row of bare yellow
bulbs surrounded the Quonset's door, winking alternately, like the
entrance to a peep show. You could hear the roar of laughter, music,
and talk from where we'd parked, a good hundred yards away from the
hut. I stared at the row of motorcycles parked in front of the
entrance. They were all chopped, forks extended and dressed with
chrome. The bar lights played on the fenders, making them look as if
they were spangled with oil.

"This is going to be fun," I said.

Karen smiled bleakly. "What are you going to
do?"

"Whatever it takes," I said grimly. "First
I've got to find the guy."

"And then?"

I turned on the car seat. "Lonnie made his
connection with LeRoi through Norvelle. Then he came out to this
motel, presumably with the crack. There had to be a reason why he did
that."

"You think he was going to sell it to the
bikers?" Karen said, staring at the row of Harleys.

"It would explain why he was here."

"Then he got ripped off and tried to kill
himself, right?"

I nodded. "By Jenkins, I think. That's what
LeRoi must have thought, too, or else he wouldn't have sent Bo out
here to kill him."

"But Jenkins didn't have the crack," Karen
said. "Nope. Somebody else's got it."

"You think Jenkins had a partner?"

"Lonnie was beaten up by a biker, before he
tried to kill himself," I said. "It could have been a
coincidence, but I kind of doubt it."

"So you think one of the bikers has the lady?"
Karen said.

"The guy that Jordan was talking to had to have
some reason to be hanging around out here in the middle of the night.
Maybe he got to Jenkins before Bo and his pals did. Maybe he got the
crack before Jenkins got offed. Maybe he thinks he can pin the whole
thing on me or Lonnie and still keep the dope."

"It makes sense," Karen said. She glanced
at the bar. "He's not likely to want to talk to us."

I laughed. "I'd say not."

"So how do we do this?" she said, turning
to me.

"Let's find him first," I said. "Then
we'll worry about getting him to talk."
 

32

Karen and I got out of the Pinto and walked across
the lot to the Quonset hut. The closer we got to the door, the louder
the bar sounds became. This was no neighborhood saloon; it was a
raucous, redneck hangout. Just the ticket for an evening's fun.

The wind was blowing loose snow from the Quonset's
roof. It trailed from the eaves like a banner, fluttering in the air
above the lighted entrance. I brushed the snow out of my eyes and
opened the door. A cloud of cigarette smoke came pouring out of the
bar, as if the whole place were on fire.

"Jesus," Karen said, swiping at the smoke
and the snow. "It looks like hell in there."

"Pretty close," I said. "When we get
inside, just play along with whatever I say. Can you manage that?"

Karen laughed. "I'm good at playing along,
Harry. I've had years of training. For a couple of months in a row
back in '72, Lonnie and I didn't tell the truth once. Not even to
each other."

"Sounds like you qualify," I said, guiding
her through the door.

The smoke was like a river fog inside the bar. And
the place was even noisier than I had imagined. A jukebox beside the
door was blaring country music through four speakers hung from the
rafters, and the bar talk was being carried on at the top of
everyone's lungs. Even the clink of mugs and pitchers seemed too
loud, as if for every beer that was being poured, someone was
breaking a bottle.

A couple of dozen round wooden tables were set up in
the center of the room-all of them occupied by bikers and their
women. A few strangers were sitting in booths on the left wall. At
least, I assumed they were strangers from their cowed faces. They
looked like travelers who'd wandered into the Twilight Zone from the
highway and who didn't know how to get back out again.

A long polished-wood bar ran the length of the room
on the right, with a mirror behind it and rows of liquor bottles
stacked beneath the mirror. An overworked-looking barmaid in jeans
and a lumberjack shirt was standing at the end of the bar, waiting
for the bartender to fill an order. She was resting her elbows on a
cork-lined tray. She'd lost a barrette at one temple, and wisps of
loose brown hair were hanging down over that side of her face. As I
walked up to her she blew the hair back and smiled at me wearily.

"Busy night?" I said.

"Every night's busy around here," the
barmaid said.

"You always get the same crowd?" I glanced
at the bikers in their chains and leathers.

She nodded. "They ain't as bad as they look,"
she said, a touch defensively.

"I didn't mean to sound smart," I said
quickly. "In fact, we're looking for a guy. We're supposed to
meet him here."

BOOK: Fire Lake
6.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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