Authors: Jennifer L. Jennings
hen I pulled up to Lois's house a little after 8:00 pm, I noticed the green Volvo in the driveway next to Lois's Honda.
I took a moment to scan the neighborhood. All the houses looked the same; two-story, brick structures probably built in the seventies. It wasn't a sketchy looking area, just good working class homes.
When Lois opened the door to let me in, I could see the wrinkles etched into her forehead.
“Still no sign of her?” I asked.
She shook her head, arms wrapped around her torso as if she were cold. “Damn it's freezing out here. Come inside.”
“Cute place.” Not much furniture or knickknacks lying around but there was a cozy feel to it, probably because the heat was cranked up. “I bet you miss Florida,” I said. “Cuz it feels like Florida in the summertime in here. Must be eighty-five degrees.”
“I can't get used to the cold,” she said, shivering “…it's not eighty-five degrees... it's only eighty-three.”
“Well, it's beach weather. I should have brought my sunscreen.”
Lois didn't seem amused by my attempt at levity. “Let's go talk to the neighbor,” she said. “Maybe someone saw Claire get into a car. If anyone knows where she is, it's Tom.”
“Before we go over there, what can you tell me about the neighbor?”
She made a face as if she didn't know where to begin. “He's in his seventies and has a hard time getting around. He doesn't drive anymore, so Claire picks up groceries for him every week, and she takes his dog Pooch to the vet.”
“He named his dog Pooch?”
Lois rolled her eyes. “Oh yes. I usually love dogs, but that thing is annoying. Yappy little monster.”
“Well, let's go see him.”
When we knocked on his front door, we could hear him mumbling inside. The door eventually opened, and I thought I was looking right into the face of Walter Matthau from
Grumpy Old Men
. Tall, lanky and slouched, his black hair was obviously dyed while his eyebrows were silver-white. The smell of tobacco mixed with old dog wafted out from the house.
“What happened?” he said, giving Lois an expectant stare. “Did Pooch take a crap in your yard again?”
“Hello, Tom,” Lois said, flashing me a look of embarrassment. “This is Sarah, an old friend of mine. We're looking for Claire. Her car is here, but she's not home.”
Tom scratched his head as if trying to remember something that'd happened years ago. “Oh. Right. She stopped by with my groceries bout an hour ago. We played one round of Gin Rummy but then she had to go.”
“Where?” Lois asked.
“I don't know.” He just stood there, making no effort to invite us in. His tall frame blocked my view on the inside of his house. I could hear reruns of
on the TV.
“Well, did you see her get into a car?” Lois kept at it, with restrained patience. “Did someone pick her up?”
He rubbed his chin. “Yeah, I saw her leave with someone driving a blue pick-up. Right after she left here. Some guy was driving it. Didn't recognize him.”
“Was it her ex-boyfriend Andy?”
Tom snorted. “No, it wasn't that loser. Someone else. An older guy.”
“Was she forced into the car?”
He regarded Lois with narrowed eyes. “I would've called the cops if I thought she was being kidnapped. You think I'm dumb?”
I decided to insert myself into the conversation. “And what time was that, sir, when she left in the truck?”
He turned to look at me, one eyebrow cocked. “Who are you, again?”
I held up my hand in a casual wave. “I'm Sarah. Nice to meet you.”
He squinted at me in confusion, then turned to Lois and jabbed his thumb toward me. “What's going on? Why is she here?”
Lois seemed hesitant to explain as she cleared her throat. “I'm just worried about Claire. She's been acting weird. Do you have any idea why?”
Tom pursed his lips. He had no intention of making this easy. Time to get straight to the point.
I adopted a confident tone because if you act like you are in control, people will usually respond accordingly. “Has she told you about the money, sir?”
“Money?” he said. “I have no idea what yer talking about.” His placid expression was the dead giveaway. If he ever played poker, he'd lose the shirt off his back.
“I appreciate that you're trying to protect her,” I said. “But so are we. Please tell us where she got the money.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at me some more. “Maybe you should just stay out of her business. She's got things handled.”
Finally, we were getting somewhere. “What
By his annoyed look, I could tell he was upset with himself for implying that he knew what that business might be.
The sound of a yappy dog prompted him to say, “I have to go feed Pooch now, and my show's coming on.”
I kept my tone friendly yet professional. “Has Claire ever mentioned a guy by the name of Norton Cline. There's an article about his death on the front page of the Bridgeport Gazette.”
“Never heard of him. Now, I really have to go.” He closed the door before I had a chance to say anything else.
As Lois and I walked back to her house, I said, “Hard to believe, Claire's only friend is a seventy-year-old man.”
She shrugged. “I don't know why she's so nice to him. Honestly, I find him disgusting. My bedroom window looks into his living room and one day I saw him watching porn--”
I quickly stopped her. “I don't need to know this.”
“But you get my point.”
Eager to change the topic I asked, “Hey, didn't you say Andy Pinkerton drives a pick-up truck?”
“Yes, but his truck is red.”
“Maybe he had it painted blue.”
“I doubt it. The thing is a piece of crap. Besides, Tom said it wasn't Andy. It was some older dude.”
“Maybe Tom's eyesight isn't so great,” I said. “Or he lied to us. Either way, it wouldn't hurt to give Andy a call. You wouldn't happen to have his phone number would you?”
“Well, there's no indication that Claire is in imminent danger. If she's not back by later this evening, then we'll start to worry.”
Lois bit her lip, probably to stop herself from speaking her mind. “You're right. I'm overreacting about all this.”
I checked my watch. “Well, I should get going.”
“Really? I was hoping you could stay for a cup of coffee.”
I decided Carter wouldn't start to miss me for another half an hour. “Sure, actually I'd love a cup of coffee.”
Inside, Lois offered me a seat on her couch then went to the kitchen. While I waited for her to prepare our mugs, I sent Carter a text, asking if he could get me a phone number and a home address for Andy Pinkerton. He quickly sent back a reply with a smiley face.
When Lois returned with two mugs, she handed one to me and plopped down on the sofa adjacent. “I hope Carter won't be upset that I'm keeping you.”
“Not at all. He understands. Besides, this gives you and I a chance to catch up.” I took a sip of coffee and observed my old friend. It really was remarkable, her physical transformation. “Sorry to pry but have you ever come close to getting married?”
She offered me a sly smile. “I've had a few opportunities. One guy even proposed. After watching Peter go through his horrible divorce, I guess it scared me silly.”
It broke my heart to know that Peter had suffered through hard times. Losing his wife and filing for bankruptcy had to be a huge blow. “Why
they get a divorce?”
“Because she's a whore.” Lois covered her mouth with a hand. “Sorry. That slipped out.”
“She cheated on him?”
“Yep. Peter hasn't been the same since. Anyway, it's a long story. Short version: Peter got into financial troubles and instead of riding out the storm, Mrs. Whorebag found some rich guy to screw.”
I understood Lois's feelings, and I didn't blame her for being mad. “So he never found anyone else?”
She tilted her head and regarded me with one eyebrow cocked. “Why do you ask?”
“Don't get the wrong idea. I'm happy with Carter. I'm just curious, that's all.”
“He says he's holding out for the right woman. Too bad you're taken.”
My phone made a beeping sound and I didn't make a move to check it.
Lois pointed. “Go ahead. I know you want to. I won't be offended.”
“I'm sure it's just Carter with the information I asked for.”
“Andy Pinkerton. I wanted his home address.”
She paused to consider that. “You're going to his house, aren't you?”
“I'm considering it, yes. Perhaps I'll drive by on my way home.” I finished my coffee and got up to leave. “Are you working tomorrow at the bakery?”
“Yes. I should start getting ready for bed. Please call me if you find out that Claire is with Andy, okay?”
“Sure. I'll be in touch. Thanks for the coffee.”
arter had come through again.
Not only had he found Andy Pinkerton's home address and phone number, but he also sent me an image of his current driver's license.
Five-foot eleven, 170 pounds, blonde hair and blue eyes. He wasn't a babe but he had interesting eyes. The color of the ocean during a thunderstorm.
I plugged his address into my GPS and followed it to an area of Bridgeport that I rarely had the pleasure to visit. Or I should say,
Everyone knew this was the questionable part of town, known for drug deals, prostitution and riff raff of any kind. There were more arrests made on this street than all the other areas combined.
At 9:15 pm on a Friday night, the action was probably just getting started.
Rolling down my window, I couldn't hear any loud music or shouting; a good sign. I wasn't in the mood to get mugged or carjacked.
Andy lived in one of the apartment buildings, and I spotted his red pickup immediately. There was a good chance he'd be home when I knocked on his door.
First, though, I needed a plan. I couldn't just waltz up to his apartment and start asking questions about Claire.
There was a pizza joint on the corner, which gave me an idea.
I parked my car on the street, locked it up and then followed the scent of pepperoni.
“Can I order a small cheese pizza to go, please?”
The young girl behind the counter took my money and said it would take ten minutes. “Great,” I said. “Can I also buy one of your cool hats?”
She looked at me curiously, as if she misunderstood. “You want one of
hats?” She pointed to the one on display with the saying,
Papa John's Pizza,
Have You Had A Piece Lately?
“Sure,” I said. “It's funny. My boyfriend will get a kick out of it.”
She shrugged. “Okay, if you say so.”
I paid ten bucks for the hat and stood by the window while I waited for my food. Outside, a group of young girls in their early twenties sashayed down the street, dressed in high heels and mini-skirts, probably on their way to one of the bars. They were smoking and talking loud. Probably already drunk.
Eight minutes later, I was heading up the apartment steps leading to Andy's apartment, wearing my new hat and carrying a box that contained a freshly baked pizza.
It smelled so good I began having second thoughts about giving it away.
I knocked on the door of apartment 3B and waited.
When the door opened, a young man with a nose ring stared back at me. Not Andy.
“Good evening,” I said. “Pizza delivery for Andy.”
The kid yelled out, “Yo Andy? Did you order a pizza?”
Another young man came into view, wearing a baseball cap backward, blonde hair poking out from underneath. “I didn't order no pizza.” It was Andy.
“Well?” I said. “Someone ordered a pizza.” I pretended to check my receipt. “Andy Pinkerton, Apartment 3B. Is that you?”
The one with the baseball hat nodded. “That's me but, I'm tellin’ you, I didn't order no pizza.”
I raised up on my toes to get a look inside the apartment. Just a guy's pad. No sign of Claire. No sign that any girl had been present. “Well, maybe your girlfriend called in the order.”
The two guys laughed about that. “There ain't no girls here,” Andy said. “But, we'll take that pizza off your hands.” He reached for the pizza box but I took a step back.
“I'll need ten bucks and fifty cents, please.”
They both checked their pockets Andy found a crumpled five dollar bill and handed it to me. “That's all I got.”
“Is this some kind of ploy?” I said. “My manager is gonna be pissed if I don't go back with the full amount.”
“Hey, not my fault someone screwed up,” Andy said, shrugging his shoulders all innocent like.
“C'mon,” I said. “I don't want to get fired. Can't you scrounge up some change?”
“Sorry, lady. I don't get paid till next week.”
“Fine.” I handed over the pizza box. “A five is better than nothing.”
Andy's friend looked me up and down approvingly. “Yo, why don't you come inside and hang. You can have a slice.”
I figured if Claire was here and she was in trouble, they wouldn't be inviting me inside to share their food. “No thanks,” I said. “Gotta get back to work.”
I hoofed it down the stairs and back to my car, where I sat for the next hour, watching the window for any sign of Claire.
At 10:30, Lois called.
“Claire still hasn't come home, Sarah. I keep trying her cell, but it goes right to voicemail. Should I contact the police and report her missing?”
“They won't do much until she's been gone twenty four hours,” I said. “Maybe it's time you called Peter or your parents? They might have some ideas.”
“I called Peter and told him what's been going on, but he doesn't have any clue what Claire's involved in. Where are you?”
“Sitting outside of Andy Pinkerton's apartment. He's got a friend over, no sign of Claire.”
“First thing in the morning, Carter and I will head to Sanford and have a word with the person who's staying in the camper.”
“I don't know how I'm going to fall asleep tonight. I have a really bad feeling about this, Sarah.”
“It's gonna be fine,” I said, hoping those generic words would calm her nerves. “I'll call you in the morning.”
By 10:40, I was on my way home.