Chapter Three, Part Two




    “Anyway,” Reggie began, just as though we had never been interrupted, “I know it’s complicated and crazy, but I’m really getting into this ‘helping people’ thing—” his phone went off to the tune of “Mr. Moonlight,” the Beatles version. “Sorry, Sam. I have to take this. Reginald LaKino speaking. Yes? Oh! Oh of course.” I could vaguely make out a female voice on the other end speaking at a rapid clip. Reggie’s voice dripped sarcasm like coffee onto my upholstery. “Yes, how silly of me. I have no idea what I was thinking. My associate and I will be by right away. No, no, thank you!” He hung up the phone and put it back in his pocket. “Sam, we’re going to have to change course.”
    “Who was that?” I asked.
    “Our good friend Ms. Bonami.”
    “The one who asked you to help find her engagement ring?”
    “Exactly.”
    “And why were you so upset with her?”
    “Did it really show?” he asked. “I guess it did. She set me up.”
    “Now you’re talking like a TV detective,” I laughed.
    “I’m serious. She’s the one who sent the cops to the Prawn Shop!”
    “Why would she do that?”
    “I’m going to find out.”
    “What happened in there, anyway?”
    “I walked in, I started asking questions. I actually started asking questions about where someone would go to fence something like that.” He shook his head. “The guy behind the counter took a phone call. It’s funny. People never account for loud phones. I heard every word of the conversation. It was Bonami, telling the pawnbroker someone had stolen her ring, giving my description, and asking him to call the cops. I ran.”
    “That would tend to make you appear guilty,” I pointed out.
    “Huh.” He considered this for a moment. “Good point. But I didn’t want to spend the night in jail, either.”
    “Also a good point,” I admitted. “So, no idea why she set you up?”
    “Nope. But either she’s too dumb to pick up on the sarcasm in my voice, or she knows I’m looking for payback.”
    “Hope for the best,” I said, “prepare for the worst.”
    “How very boyscoutish of you.”
    “That’s not a word,” I admonished.
    “Language is fluid,” he replied.
    “So’s petroleum,” I countered. There was a pause while we continued to drive on.
    “That seemed like a non sequitur,” Reggie said at last, puzzled.
    “Petroleum,” I repeated. “You know, fuel. Gasoline. I’ve been driving you all over town. We’re pulling over now, and you’re filling my tank.” We pulled into a station as I said this.
    “Ah,” he said, frozen for a moment.
    “Yes.”
    “What if I said—”
    “Not buying it,” I insisted.
    “But—”
    “Nope.”
    “Fine.”
    “Good.”
    “Great.”
    “Stupendous.”
    “Splendiferous.”
    “Not a word.”
    “Language is—”
    “Pump, Reggie.”
    “Yes sir.”
 
    With the Jag gassed up, we made our way to Ms. Bonami’s condo. Reggie pointed her door out to me, but had me drop him off a block up.
    “In case someone is watching the street,” he explained, stepping out of the car door. “Circle around, park across from the complex, and watch the door. If she and I leave, follow us. Above all, try to look inconspic—” his eyes registered the Jaguar hood ornament, “—try not to stand out too much.”
    “What if she leaves alone?” I asked.
    “You mean if she leaves, and I’m still in there? That probably means she’s got me tied up, or I’m dead.”
    “So, I should follow her?” I asked. Reggie gave me a look and I thought about what I’d just said. “You’d rather I come get you first?”
    “Yes,” he said cautiously, as though talking to a picture that had fallen off the wall twice, and been put back up for a third time. “See you soon. I hope.”
    “Good luck,” I said.
    “There’s no such thing,” he smiled, and started walking back towards the building. I circled the block and found a nice parking spot where I could watch her door. I saw Reggie knock, and gain admittance.
    I sat and twiddled my thumbs. I played with stations on the radio. I counted the hairs on my knuckles. Detective work, it turns out, is extremely boring. I sat there in the car for half an hour, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel and singing along with Bob Dylan on my CD player. I had grown rather sleepy from boredom and the burrito, when I was jolted out of my reverie by a sharp knocking on my passenger side door. I looked up to see a hand holding a badge.
    “Out of the car,” Det. Harris said.
    “Detective, I—”
    “Now!” Lt. Summers ordered.
    I complied.
    “What’re you doing here, Brown?” Summers asked.
    “Nothing, I —”
    “You just like parking your car and sitting in it?” Harris chuckled.
    “Well, I was waiting on—”
    “Is LaKino supposed to meet you here?” Summers asked.
    “Yes,” I admitted, “but I don’t think he’s going to make it.” As I said the words, I watched Ms. Bonami, accompanied by a man I did not recognize, leave the door through which Reggie had entered. Reggie was nowhere to be seen.
    “What makes you think that?” Summers pressed.
    “He’s, ah, late,” I improvised, thought it was against my nature.
    “What time was he supposed to meet you here?” Harris asked. I checked my watch.
    “Twenty minutes ago.”
    “And why?” Summers stared at me over the rims of his glasses again. I began to think they were just for dramatic effect.
    “He told me he was going to pay me back for the hotel room I’d bought him.”
    “Guess you can’t ever tell who to trust, eh, Slim?” Harris laughed.
    “No,” I agreed. “I guess you can’t.”
    “Have any idea where LaKino might be now?” he continued.
    “If I did, I wouldn’t be sitting here on a street corner waiting for him to bring me money, would I?”
    “No, Mr. Brown, I guess not.” Summers almost smiled. He pulled a shiny metal pen from his shirt pocket. “You want to come down and fill out a report?”
    “A report?” I asked.
    “For the money he stole.” Lt. Summers tapped the pen on my hand three times, then let it rest there. I looked at it. It was very cold. There was something I didn’t understand going on, but I was getting used to being in the dark.
    “He didn’t steal it,” I said eventually. “He just said he’d pay me back and didn’t. Not exactly an ironclad contract there.”
    “Alright, then,” Lt. Summers said, putting his pen away, “you can’t just leave your car parked here. Move along.”
    “Okay, Lieutenant,” I said.
    I got back into the Jag. In my rearview I watched them climb into a Lincoln sedan and realized they must not have been the ones in the SUV earlier. I started the engine and drove around the corner. When I was sure I hadn’t been followed, I parked, got out, ran to room 216, and tried to open the door. It was, of course, locked. I suspected that Reggie would not have wanted me to bring the cops upstairs — if he were alive they’d just haul him off for some reason or other. But now I was in a position of trying to break down a private person’s door, which presented me with two problems.
    First, I didn’t like which side of the law I’d be on if I broke down the door. I may be on the side of right, but “right” and “legal” aren’t exactly synonyms. They’re more like a Venn Diagram, and breaking down this door would fall well outside of the overlap. Second, I didn’t think I was physically capable.
    I needed to try, though. The kid was counting on me. I backed up to get a running start, aimed one shoulder at the door, and charged.
    I woke up in the back seat of my own car.
    Apparently I had neglected to take the simple precaution of calling out to Reggie to see if he was, indeed, bound and gagged inside the room.
    “Oh, I was tied up, alright,” he explained as he mopped my head with a wet rag. “Only not very well. I had just gotten free when I heard you jiggle the door, and I went to open it for you. You raced past me, shoulder first, tripped over the chair I’d been tied to, and went down like a sack of beans.”
    “And you carried me down here yourself?” I asked.
    “I had help,” he said. I noticed that he didn’t make eye contact with me when he said it.
    “Whose?”
    “Never mind.”
    “I mind!”
    “Yep, well, that’s going to have to wait. Did you see which way Bonami and her pal went?”
    “I think so,” I mumbled.
    “Think so?”
    “Your buddies Summers and Harris paid me a visit,” I said by way of an excuse. “You’re lucky I even saw her leave!”
    “Right,” Reggie said. “Well, where do you think they went?”
    I pointed East.
    “That’s just royal.”
    “They’ve got at least five minutes on us,” I said.
    “Longer,” Reggie replied. “You were out for half an hour. But I know where they’re going. Can you give me a ride?”
    At least he was still asking, right?
    “Where?”
    “My place,” he said.
    I peeled out into the street. My tires squealed and my pulse quickened. There wasn’t any traffic to peel into, but it still made me feel like a tough guy half my age. Maybe detective work was fun after all.
    “They going to find anything there?” I asked.
    “I still haven’t figured out what they’re looking for,” Reggie said.
    “You haven’t figured it out?” I shot him a look. “Or you don’t want to tell me?”
    “If I didn’t want to tell you, I could just lie.”
    “Does it bother you that I think that’s the first time you’ve ever told me the whole truth?”
    “Yep,” he said, turning to me. “But it doesn’t surprise me.”