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Authors: Jonathan Valin

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

Fire Lake (9 page)

BOOK: Fire Lake
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I climbed out of bed. "I'm going to take a
shower. While I'm in there, I want you to think of some names. Some
people Lonnie might have run to, if he was desperate."

She nodded. "Then what?"

"Then," I said, staring at her, "I'm
going to ask you to do me a favor."

She grinned at me knowingly. "What's that?"

"I want you to go back to St. Louis for a
while," I said to her. "Look after vour kids."

Her smile faded. "You don't want to be with me

"I don't want you to get hurt," I said
gently. "As soon as I've found Lonnie, it'll be different."

Karen eyed me uncertainly. "What makes you say
I'll get hurt?"

I sat down on the bed again and put my arm around her

"If we assume that Lonnie didn't kill Jenkins-"

"He didn't," Karen said with utter

"Then whoever did, whoever left Lonnie's license
at the motel and searched my apartment last night, may think that I'm
in it with Lonnie--whatever it is. And they may make the same
assumption about you. I don't want to scare you too much, but believe
me, if you saw what they did to Jenkins, you'd know why that worries

Karen shivered. "What could Lonnie have done to
make someone so vicious?"

I'd been thinking about that ever since I'd
discovered the systematic wreckage in my apartment. A botched drug
deal was the obvious answer. Since Lonnie had only been out of
Lexington for a couple of weeks, the drugs couldn't have been his
own. Which meant that he'd been acting as a middleman for someone

"Has Lonnie ever acted as a mule in a drug
deal?" I asked Karen.

Her face reddened. "We both have," she said
with embarrassment. "In '73 and '74, when Lonnie was down on his
luck, we use to go to New York regular to cop for a druggist in
Forest Park. It was a way to pay the tab for our habits."

"Did he ever screw up when he was carrying?"
I asked her.

She shook her head. "It was the one thing he was
absolutely reliable about."

"What would have happened if he had screwed up?"
I asked.

She stared at me for a long moment. "I see where
you're heading, Harry. But I don't know how to answer you. Back then,
heroin was a communal thing, the way coke is now. All the dopers more
or less knew all the other dopers on the block. No one ever tried to
take anyone else off." She turned her face away from me. "I
don't like talking about this in front of you. I think it makes you
hate me. It makes me hate myself."

"It's old business," I said, touching her
on the cheek.

She didn't say anything.

I pulled her face around and kissed her on the mouth.
She resisted the kiss for a moment, then opened her mouth and kissed
me passionately. When we broke off, she smiled at me, as if the kiss
had made her feel better.

"Look," Karen said, "I'll go back to
St. Louis tomorrow, if you think I should. I'll do anything you want.
But first I want one night with you. One whole night. Okay?"

I smiled and said, "Okay."


When I came back out of the shower, Karen was sitting
on the bed, talking on the phone. She waved her hand at me, as if to
say that she'd only be another moment. She was partly dressed, in a
white cotton blouse and bikini underpants. I got an erection staring
at her. She noticed and laughed into the phone.

"No, sweetheart," she said, still smiling
at me. "I'm not laughing at you. Mommy's got to go now. Take
good care of your sister. And I'll see you tomorrow."

She hung up. "You need a hand?" she said to

"If we get started again, we'll never stop."

"Yes," she said, looking a little
perplexed. "It's weird, isn't it. Like 1969 again."

"Worrying about Lonnie has made us regress,"
I said.

"You think?"

"A little. But there's something else going on
here." I glanced down at myself and Karen laughed.

"Face it, Harry," she said. "You've
got the hots for me."

"Is that all right?"

"I think it's great," she said with a

Karen kept smiling at me as I walked over to my bed.
The only clothes I had were the ones I'd worn the night before. I
picked up the trousers and stared at the bloody cuffs. Karen's smile
died immediately.

"God," she said, "is that blood?"

I nodded. Reaching into my pants pocket, I pulled out
Lonnie's bloodstained driver's license. Karen turned her face away.

"Why did they kill that man?" she said in a
shaken voice.

"I don't know, for sure," I said. "But
if Lonnie was acting as a mule, and he got clipped at the Encantada
by Claude for the buy money or the drugs themselves, it could explain
a lot of things. What we really need to know is, who Lonnie was
supposed to be copping for."

"Maybe it was somebody in St. Louis," Karen

"Why don't you call some friends," I said.
"In the meantime, I'll go down to the lobby and make a few calls
of my own.

I slipped the pants on and Karen shuddered. "I'll
stop at the apartment later on," I said apologetically. "And
get some fresh clothes."As I put on my shirt Karen said, "I've
thought of a few people here in town we could check with, too. Some
of Lonnie's old crowd."

" Fine," I said.
"We'll get right on it."


I took the same precaution I'd taken early that
morning, walking up one flight before I took the elevator down to the
lobby. I was probably being paranoid, but until we had a few solid
facts I figured my paranoia was excusable.

Karen's room had been heavily curtained. And the
daylight pouring through the lobby doors made me wince. The storm had
blown over sometime during the morning, and it had turned into one of
those cold blue winter days, with a high sky full of blazing,
cheerless sun. I bought an Enquirer at the hotel newsstand and sat
down in a lobby chair to read it. I didn't have to look very hard to
find what I wanted-it was all over the front page.
. I skimmed the
article, looking for some mention of a possible drug tie-in; but the
newspaper was playing up the robbery angle.

I folded up the paper, stuck it under my arm, and
walked over to a phone stand opposite the reception desk. The clerk
smiled at me pleasantly, although his smile wilted a bit when he took
a closer look at my trousers. That was going to be a problem. I
decided to drive over to the Delores when I was done on the phone.
There was no point in taking Karen with me.

I called Al Foster at Central Station and asked him
if there'd been any news about Lonnie.

"It just went out an hour ago, Harry," he
said irritably. "Give us a chance."

"You must have had a busy night," I said.


"Meaning that motel thing," I said with as
much casualness as I could muster.

"It was pretty ugly, all right," Al said.
"Somebody must have really had it in for that guy."

"The newspapers said it was a robbery."

"That's what we told them," he said.

"What are you telling me?"

"You got a reason to ask?" he said.

"Just plain old curiosity."

"Take it someplace else," A1 said, and hung

I slipped another quarter in the phone and called
George DeVries at the D.A.'s office. A1 was a cop with principles;
George wasn't. DeVries regarded police work as the choicest flower of
the free-market system.

"Can't talk right now, Harry," George said
after we'd exchanged hellos. "Got a million things on my desk."

"How'd you like to make it a million, one
hundred?" I asked.

"Sounds interesting," he said. "Whad'ya
have in mind?"

"The motel murder-tell me about it."

"Don't have much yet, Harry," George said
sadly, as if he could see that one hundred dollars flying south for
the winter.

"Was it a robbery, like the papers said?"

"There was money missing from the till. But,
Christ almighty, nobody carves somebody up like that for a few
dollars. We figure it was personal. Revenge, maybe."

"Revenge for what?"

"This guy, Jenkins was a two-time loser. Real
unsavory character. Statutory rape, indecent exposure, petty larceny.

"What kind of dope?" I said with interest.

"Small potatoes. Grass. Ludes. Probably a little
coke. He was in tight with a bunch of bikers out in Clarmont County.
We're thinking maybe he screwed one of them, somehow. The way he was
taken out--it looks like bikers. Or some other kind of psychopath."

"Thanks, George," I said. "The check
will be in the mail."

"Preciate it, Harry," he said. "Always
good talking to you."

I hung up and stared dully at the chrome facing on
the phone box. "Personal" didn't get me very far. Personal
could be bikers or Lonnie. Or someone else altogether. At least I'd
learned a little more about Claude, whose criminal past hadn't
surprised me. The man was as venal as they come--I'd known that on
Thursday night. It was still possible that his murder had had nothing
to do with Lonnie Jack. But I didn't believe that. There was a
connection. It was just going to take a lot of dangerous work to
piece it together. I hoped that it was worth the effort, that it got
me closer to Lonnie, because if it didn't, I knew that I could end up
dead too--for "personal" reasons.


After finishing with George, I located a house phone,
sitting on a console beneath a gilded mirror across from the
newsstand. I picked it up and rang Karen's room.

"It's me," I said. "Any luck with your
friends in St. Louis?"

"Not really," Karen said. "You've got
to remember, Harry, that I haven't lived the life in almost ten
years. Most of the old crowd knows that."

I sighed. "So nobody's talking?"

"Lonnie was in St. Louis, late last week.
Down-and-out. That's about all I've been able to discover."

"I'm surprised that he didn't contact you."

"Well, I'm not," Karen said with a grim
laugh. "The last time we talked, right before his trial two
years ago, I made it very clear that he and I were history. I think
he finally understood that I was serious. It takes a while with
Lonnie. He'll just keep sticking his finger in the socket, unless
someone turns off the juice."

"How did you turn it off?" I asked.

"At the trial, I told him that if he showed up
at my house or tried to see the kids, I'd call the cops again."


"I called the cops on him the last time he was
at my house," Karen said without apology. "He'd come over
to see the kids--stoned out of his mind, as usual. We got into an
argument over his life-style, if that's the right word, and he began
raving about how he was going to take the children away with him, so
far away that I'd never see them again. Then he started to break
things--little things, stuff my mother had given me and I had given
the kids. He was completely out of his head. I didn't want to see him
get busted--you know how I feel about cops. But I didn't think I had
a choice."

"The cops busted him?"

"It didn't come to that, thank God. Lonnie left
before they showed up, and I didn't press charges. A couple of weeks
later, he got caught for possession in an East St. Louis shooting

"And that's when they sent him to Lexington?"

She said yes. "I worked hard to get my house,
Harry," Karen said with sudden defensiveness, as if I'd accused
her of selling Lonnie out. "I worked hard to build a life for me
and my children. He had no right-"

"I understand, Karen," I said in a soothing
tone of voice. "You did the right thing."

But she didn't sound convinced. "What's the
'right thing' to do with a man like Lonnie?" she said
despairingly. "Sometimes I think if I'd had a little more
patience with him, if I'd given him one more chance . . . And then I
ask myself, 'Who are you kidding; You, of all people!' That day at my
house, he claimed he was going to get straight--that he had a big
deal cooking with some booking agents that was going to make him
healthy again. But when you've heard a thing a hundred times, maybe
two hundred times, and it never happens ... well, it gets old. I told
him he was full of shit, and that's what started the argument that
ended with my calling the fuzz."

She sighed wearilv. "During those last few
years, from about '8o on, it seemed as if Lonnie always had a 'big
deal' cooking. It was like his bow to the spirit of the age. You
know, fuck the sixties. Fuck sharing and peace and love. He was going
to become a capitalist, like the rest of the country. Lonnie, a
capitalist! Well, as he said, who knew more about the consumer
mentality than he did? If he couldn't figure out what would make
people buy it all, who could? His whole life had come down to
engineering a big score. To a magical fix. Something that would even
it all up--all those years of sticking a needle in his arm. He really
believed in his own fantasy-that the clouds were going to part
one day and a savior was going to descend and carry him off to Fire

BOOK: Fire Lake
13.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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