He tried to call Mrs. Fishbein again and, having no luck, he drove down to Point with his little photo collection and began working the Carousel's neighborhood. The boats were mostly out to sea, of course, but the offices were staffed and everyone wanted to talk about the case. They all had known the Cap'n and Keever and they all had long ago made up their minds about the case. Loomis was surprised to find that half the people he talked to were convinced that Keever had been set up. Not that they had anything nice to say about him. 'Scuzzbucket' fell about in the middle of the evaluations. They just didn't think he had the balls to kill anyone. A ham-faced lady at the Caliente Baby offices expressed the majority view.
"Tallest stack of bullshit I ever saw. No real harm in him, I don't think. He's the kind of guy who's in over his head when he wakes up every day of his life. I could see him taking a tire iron to someone, maybe, out of frustration. But tracking him down and shooting him? No way."
Maybe. At any rate, no one had seen Keever since the murder and no one had seen Keever and Arlene together ever, except coming off the boat. Everybody had liked the Cap'n, but no one knew that much about him. He was friendly, he ran a tight, profitable ship, and he kept pretty much to himself. Maureen, the Caliente Baby's receptionist was again his pithiest informant.
"He always had time for a word, you know, but he never had time for more. Nice guy, I guess, but you never really knew him. Who knows what goes on, you know what I mean? Who knows?"
Good question. Her remarks concerning Mrs. Fishbein were more guarded.
"She's nice. I like her. I always did. We used to have lunch together sometimes. Lately, though . . . I don't want to say I saw this coming -- I never imagined anything like this. But something was up and that's for sure. They started taking off for weeks at a time a few years ago. I thought that was nice. They always worked so hard. Lately they'd take a day off without warning and I'd wonder what was going on. People make reservations, you know. They show up and nobody's there. Well, its their business and it was good for the rest of us. Last couple of weeks Sandra's been, it's been like she was sitting on a stove. I've just stayed out of her way. Course, she's the one I see all the time. If the Cap'n changed he's just got a little quieter. The guy you want to talk to's Jack Goesser."
Loomis agreed. Not that the Cap'n had gotten quieter, which no one could deny, but that he wanted to talk to Jack Goesser.
"Jack's great. He's retired now, but he used to have that slip right next to the Carousel. He and Larry were always tight."
She thought he lived down in Tuckerton or maybe Little Egg Harbor. She thought that Clarence might know.
"He used to be the watchman. Sweet, sweet man, but, well, a drunk, you know? We gave him a clock and sent him packing last year. Hangs out at the Perquaddy, down the block. You want to catch him before he falls off his stool you better hurry."
It was almost 3:00 p.m. He left his car at the Caliente Baby parking lot and walked across Blank and down to the Perquaddy. It looked like a shack, an old clam bar and probably had been at one time. The weathered siding and antique nautical equipment gave it a look very similar to any one of the expensive lobster restaurants in the area, but a second look revealed genuine shabbiness and structural deterioration.
Inside there was only one customer at the bar and, if it was Clarence, Loomis hadn't gotten there any too soon. Age is always hard to pinpoint with serious drinkers. All you could say was that he looked at least seventy. He had one leg looped over his stool and the other was planted like a shaking peg on the floor next to it. His remarkably thin arms were outspread and his hands were fixed to the edge of the bar on either side of him like bony little claws. He was leaning forward, the bar catching him at about the sternum and staring grimly at a shot glass on the bar in front of him, as if trying to figure out how to get to it without letting go of the bar. The bartender looked up from his newspaper and looked down when Loomis shook his head.
The old man shook his head up and down and tried to speak, but a gigantic clot of phlegm prevented him. He hawked it up and rolled it around while the bartender sauntered over with a paper cup and put it down in front of him. Clarence dropped the phlegm into the cup and the bartender dropped the cup in the trash and went back to his paper and sat down.
"What do you want, young fella?"
"Uh, I'm looking for a friend of yours. Jack Goesser?" Clarence tried to turn to get a look at Loomis and nearly came to grief. Loomis caught him and lifted him, he seemed nearly weightless, onto his stool. Clarence seemed much more at home now and relaxed his grip on the bar. He finished off what was in his shot glass and turned stiffly to Loomis.
"What was that again?"
Loomis took out a ten and tucked it under the empty glass.
"I'm looking for Jack Goesser and Maureen told me you might be able to help me."
"Maureen. She works at Caliente Baby."
"I know Maureen. The fat one with the mouth. Who you lookin' for?"
"Oh. Jack Goesser? Used to run a boat out of here? Old guy. He's Jewish, I think."
"You got something against Jews?"
"I want to tell you something, sonny. Your Jew is an intelligent man, a family man. Say what you like . . ."
"Clarence. Clarence. What about this Jew? What about Jack Goesser? You know him or not?"
Clarence remembered how to look like he was thinking and he did that for a minute.
"Old guy, you say?"
Loomis sighed and wanted his ten back.
"Yeah, Clarence. A friend of Cap'n Fishbein's."
Clarence jerked up and almost went flying backwards off his stool until Loomis steadied him.
"Why didn't you say so? Of course I know Jack. Jack Goesser? Of course I know him. Why didn't you say so, young man?"
"I'm sorry Clarence, I must have forgot. You know where he lives?"
"I've been to his house."
"Fabulous. Where is it?"
His lights went dim again and Loomis was afraid he'd lost him. After a few moments, though, he continued.
"Jack Goesser lives in . . . Silverton."
"I've been to his house. Have you?"
"Then shut up. I'm telling you. You go down Hooper to the Silverton cutoff. Turn towards Silverton. You go on down, you go all the way to the end right before that place. With the lagoons."
"That's right. There's only one road there. To the right. That's where Jack Goesser lives."
Loomis placed an additional fiver under Clarence's glass and escaped. He walked past Caliente Baby and right up to the Carousel's gangplank. He had to call several times before Arlene stumbled out of the cabin. She looked awful.
"Hi, Arlene. It's me. You alright?"
"You. Go away," she said and started to turn away.
"Wait a minute, Arlene. I got to talk to you."
She whirled back and stalked down the gangplank right into Loomis' face. The bruise on her jaw was healing, but she looked five years older than when he saw her last. She'd been drinking and seemed strung out on anxiety.
"What's your name again? Loomis? You listen to me, asshole. This here is my boat. Mine. Got it? You tell her she can hire all the lawyers she wants, its not going to make any difference. You tell her that. Tell her to talk to my lawyer."
"Uh, would that be Mr. Zelbo of Asbury?"
She smirked. "That's right, asshole."
"Okay. Fine. I'll tell her. Believe me, I don't care. My business' got nothing to do with the boat. I'm just looking for Elroy."
"I told you before I ain't seen him."
"I know, I know. I just wanted to tell you that I was going to take a look through the office. I was hoping to do that without you waiving a pistol at me."
"Go ahead. I don't give a shit. The office is hers. The boat's mine."
She started to turn, but turned back again when Loomis didn't move.
"What? What now?"
"I was just wondering, Arlene. Was it the Ciscones that gave you that pop on the jaw?"
She stared at him, blinking.
"You know the Ciscones?"
"Oh, sure. We go way back."
She stared at him a few more moments.
"Bullshit. If you knew them . . ."
"What? If I knew them, what? I'd know you used to work for them? Is that it?"
She stood, swaying slightly, thinking.
"Bullshit," she said, finally, and went back into the cabin.
Loomis spent a few minutes trying to call her back outside. He wasn't about to step on the gangway -- in the absence of evidence he preferred to take her at her word concerning the repair of the Python. She looked frayed and exhausted and he would have loved to talk to her in that condition, but would hate to confront her if she had a loaded and functioning pistol.
Finally he called out his office number and told her to call him if the Ciscones bothered her any more.
He made a note to himself to assign all unclaimed bruises in this case to one of the older Ciscones until someone else showed up with a similar penchant for violence. This included the ones he had seen on Elroy.
The office was still locked, which was good since Sandra had told him that there were two keys and she had both of them. As he started poking around the office it occurred to him that maybe the Ciscones weren't looking for Keever as much as something Keever might have. Well, then, the same could be said for Sandra. What, really, was she after? Not that it was really any of Loomis' business. If he found Keever before the cops did he would earn six long. It wasn't totally unheard of for Loomis to be played for a sucker. He couldn't exclude the possibility, but if that were the case, he hoped it was just Sandra that was doing the playing; at least she could pay. What if the Cap'n had been jerking him around? What if the Ciscones had a legitimate beef? Those towels don't come cheap. What if Keever really was a killer? That was, after all, the most likely possibility. He decided it was time to start carrying his gun.
He heard a car door slam and folded down a slat of the venetian blinds in time to see Arlene's yellow Mazda scooting out of the parking lot. He briefly considered following her but knew that it was just idle curiosity along with the knowledge that she was easy to tail. He was past the point where he could follow a line of thought on spec. Time was running short.
He spent almost half an hour tossing the office and the only thing he came up with was a plan for the rest of the evening. He would drive down to Silverton to see if he could catch Jack Goesser and then spend a few hours staking out the Mayflower. It wasn't much of a plan but what fascination it possessed was enhanced by his knowledge of the Mayflower's ownership.
It took ten minutes to swing by his office, remove the corner section of wainscotting that hid his 9 mm. semi and clip the gun underneath the seat of the Chevy. As usual, including his weapon in the investigation changed the feel of it entirely. Before, the investigation felt disorganized and unfocused. This was not necessarily bad at the beginning of an investigation, certainly better than picking a line prematurely and following it hard-headedly. A gun concentrates the mind wonderfully, though, and from now on Loomis would feel an external momentum, a steady hand on his back, pushing him faster and faster toward increasingly complex events. This was the part he hated.
He crossed the bridge and drove east along Route 70 and turned south on Brick Boulevard towards Toms River. This area was what passed for a city center in Brick. The small shopping plazas were a little more densely packed together here. Brick has about 60,000 people; a small city. In any town that size there is strip where there is one franchise after another. Convenience stores, fast food, shoes, hardware, housewares, electronics, muffler shops, rugs, clothes, insurance, pet shops, garden centers, each done in brick, glass and plastic, each with their own separate parking lots, all strung together with power lines and drainage ditches. If there isn't an indoor mall, this is where you buy things. This is where the kids cruise and hang out. In Brick, this is all there is. The residential areas are almost entirely developments and there is nothing remotely like 'downtown.' If you like suburbia you get it here in its concentrated form.
The further south Loomis drove on Brick Boulevard the more space there was between plazas until as he crossed into Dover Township he was driving past mostly stunted pine trees on low sandy hills. Toms River was another five miles to the south, but aside from that the Pine Barrens stretched south from here almost a hundred miles. This was the Terra Incognita of New Jersey, a vast area of virtual wilderness with an indigenous population of "Pineys" that existed entirely apart from the rest of the state and were ignorantly regarded by most people as inbred and savage. Most people who lived on the edge of the pines, Loomis included, rarely, if ever entered them. The reason is simple; there's nothing there. Brick Boulevard turned into Hooper Avenue. If you turned right off Hooper onto one of the county roads it wouldn't be long before you were in the barrens and you could wander all day in the pines without seeing anyone, if that's what you wanted to do. Or you could turn left on Silverton Road and head for the ocean. That's what Loomis did.
As he drove east there were fewer and fewer pines and more and more hardwoods. There were a number of homes that predated the rapid development era and it began to take on almost the colonial quality of parts of Monmouth County. Finally the road flattened out entirely and he could see Barnegat Bay through the trees. To his left were lagoons and small retirement homes. To his right was an area of salt marshes dotted with small houses stilted to withstand the tide. Most of them were accessable by narrow raised walkways that snaked out to the houses above the reeds. There was a short macadam road that ran out to where several of these walkways began. He parked at the end of the road in front of a handmade sign that said "Goesser." He smiled at the sign. He had finally gotten something for his money. Mrs. Fishbein's money.
It was almost dark. There were lights on in Goesser's house, but he couldn't see anyone moving around. The walkway seemed to be solid, structurally, but it had a good deal of sway to it. Loomis assumed this was a design feature, but then, Loomis was an optimist. The house was weathered timber and shingle, little more than a shack. More than one hurricane had come and gone and it was still there.
He knocked and, when the door opened, was confronted by a compact, powerful-looking man in bluejeans and an open denim shirt. Goesser's mother hadn't been so far off. He didn't look like Paul Newman, but he sure was a good looking guy. At first glance Loomis would have put his age at fifty, but he was older than that. He was small, tanned and fit, with a well-developed chest covered with thick white hair. He gazed up at Loomis mildly and outlined a crooked grin.
"What is it?"
The grin melted away.
"You the putz that called me? That's working for Sandra Fucking Fishbein?"
His Yiddish accent was slight, but thickened perceptibly as his ire rose.
Loomis smiled. He was looking almost straight down at this guy, but he was the one on his heels.
"That's right. You got a good ear for voices, Mr. Goesser. My name's F.A. Loomis. I'd really appreciate a moment of your time."
Goesser stared at him a moment, made a very slight motion towards closing the door, then pursed his lips and walked back into the house, leaving the door ajar. Loomis wiped his feet carefully and followed him in. It appeared there were only two rooms, each fully visible from the entranceway; a living/bed room and a kitchen/shop. The former was notable for its view of the bay and its books -- the room seemed to be constructed of them -- and the latter for the carvings of shore birds that filled every corner. They were hung from the ceiling, lined up on shelves and milling around on the table. They were in every stage of completion from sketches on blocks of wood to finished products; finely detailed, painted and in full flight. There was nothing naif or stylized about them; they were vibrant and accomplished sculptures. Most of them looked every bit as nasty and filthy as shore birds generally are. What caused Loomis to stand before them like a deer in your headlights was the silence. They were so life-like and there were so many of them that their stillness caught Loomis waiting for the next moment to occur. It didn't occur until Goesser spoke.
"You want to buy?"
Loomis started and turned toward the other room where Goesser was lounging comfortably in a ratty old easy chair. He turned again to look at the birds and then went into the living room. The only space not covered with books were the windows which gave an uninterrupted view along the three walls. Goesser nodded toward the short couch and Loomis sat.
"I probably couldn't afford one."
"What can I tell you, Mr. Goesser? You're an artist."
Goesser shrugged again, but the pleasure Loomis' remark gave him was evident. It took a full lap around Goesser's mouth and then was put firmly away.
"What do you want, Mr. Loomis?"
"Well, as I told you I do represent Mrs. Fishbein. I understand you may have some problem with that, but give me a chance to explain. She's hired me because a man named Elroy Keever has been accused of killing Cap'n Fishbein. She doesn't believe he did it. She wants me to find the real killer. If you are a friend of Cap'n Fishbein, it seems to me that your interests may coincide. Now, the Cap'n was not a man with a wide acquaintanship. I'm told you were a friend of his and I was hoping there was something you might be able to tell me . . ."
"About what, exactly?"
Goesser had a dry, precise way about him that would have been prissy except for the latent force of his personality. His exterior was blank; calm, neat and even. Somewhere, however, it constructed an unmistakable signal that it would be unwise to test him. The room was filled with assurance. Loomis knew he didn't worry this man -- morally, intellectually or physically.
"Mr. Goesser, I have no opinion about Mrs. Fishbein. I know very little about Cap'n Fishbein. I like both of them as much as I know them, but that is very, very little. I've been hired to do a job and the only reason I took it is because she offered a lot of money. It's just a job."
"A job I understand, Mr. Loomis. Let me be frank with you. I think its disgusting that your job lets you switch your allegience so quickly."
He considered what Goesser had said carefully before responding.
"It has nothing to do with allegiances. There's no conflict in my having worked for both of them. When he came to me he still cared about his wife. He wanted to do right by her. On the advice of his attorney he was seeking some help with some technical aspects of a divorce that they agreed was in both their interests."
"In a divorce, the technical aspects are the most emotionally loaded. Nothing is more technical than evidence. I wasn't taking sides, Mr. Goesser. I was doing a job. My expertise is for sale. Like your birds."
"I see. And in this ethically and emotionally neutral job where people get killed and lives become ruined, is there no point where you say to yourself 'I'm part of this. I'm adding to the drama. I am taking money and people are getting hurt.'?
Goesser leaned forward. Whatever was on the other side of the wall he had thrown up was trying to come through and just failing.
"This technical assistance you offered was responsible for the death of a very good man, Mr. Loomis."
"You show me that, Mr. Goesser. You show me how I killed the Cap'n and I'll turn myself in. I'll arrest myself. I'll throw myself at the bars until they let me in."
Goesser waved his hand disgustedly and flopped back into his chair.
"You're not technically culpable, of course. You're a licensed practitioner. You're as safe from the law as you are from your conscience."
Loomis slumped back in his seat and let his head roll back. He shut his eyes and saw himself leaping to his feet and waving his finger under Goesser's nose in a gust of righteous pique. He saw the old man stammering an apology and then the truth, the whole, uncut, unreconstituted truth would pour out of him in all its astonishing detail. He opened his eyes a crack and saw Goesser sneering and puffing. He closed his eyes and spoke tiredly to the ceiling.
"I don't need protection from anything, Mr. Goesser. I need help. I need somebody to start telling me the truth. I'm not getting it straight from anybody. Not the Cap'n, not the wife, not the help, not anybody. Certainly not you."
"There's really nothing I can help you with."
Loomis opened his eyes and lowered his chin.
"Oh, yes there is. Something happened. And it wasn't the pictures I took. When I came into this the Fishbeins were friends going their separate ways. I turn around and they're Donald and Ivana. Suddenly they hate each other. Suddenly no lengths are too great to go to hurt each other. The lid's off. We're in the snake pit. Then I take my pictures. Then the Cap'n gets dead. What happened, Mr. Goesser? What went on last weekend?"
"What does that have to do with your work for Mrs. Fishbein."
Loomis slapped his knees with exasperation.
"Nothing! You understand? Not a fucking thing. I'm just tired of not knowing where I stand. I'm just tired of getting jerked around by the world and getting involved in murder investigations. I'm going to do my job for Mrs. Fishbein, don't make any mistake about that. She doesn't think Keever killed the Cap'n. Fine. I got no opinion about that, myself. I can see it either way. If he didn't do it, I'm glad. If he did do it, I won't be surprised. Either way I get paid. Either way I'm going to find out the truth. You were the Cap'n's friend."
"Bullshit. His best friend."
"You're raving, Mr. Loomis. It's time for you to go."
Loomis stared at him. The old guy was shaken by the line Loomis was taking, but not much. Nothing he couldn't handle. Loomis took out his wallet and found the business card the Cap'n had given him the first day. He looked on the back at the phone number and showed it to Goesser.
"Is that your number?"
Goesser looked at it. His eyes fluttered shut for a moment.
"You know that it is."
"I didn't. I should have, but I didn't. But I do know I didn't tell you I worked for the Cap'n before I worked for his wife. There's only one person he would tell he sicced a PI on his wife. His best friend. You were his confident through this whole thing. You knew about the pictures. You knew all the ugly crap that was going on and he trusted you enough to act as go-between. Tell me, Mr. Goesser. Did she kill him? Did she have him killed? Do you have any proof? Am I working for the bad guys? What the hell's going on?"
After a moment Goesser stood up and Loomis was sure he was getting kicked out. Goesser walked past him, though, and into the other room. He walked back immediately and stood in the doorway. He looked his age.
"I'm going to have a cup of tea, Mr. Loomis. Would you care for one?"
"No. No, thank you."
"I have beer."
"I don't drink. Hardly. You have a Coke or something?"
"I have Pepsi. I'll get you a Pepsi."
"Thank you," said Loomis, and he sat down. Goesser took his time in the kitchen. There was no banging of pots or rattling of crockery, just a number of soft, unhurried trips from one end of the kitchen to another and the sound of a cabinet closing once. Loomis didn't think about anything. He tried to think of something to think about, but he couldn't.
When Goesser returned with his tea and Loomis' soda and a plate of rye crisps he was changed. Nothing dramatic, but there was just enough fuss and feathers over the napkins and coasters to make Loomis feel a little more in charge. Loomis took a sip and set it down and waited. Goesser sipped and stirred, sipped and stirred until the tea was ready to drink and then set it down and ignored it.
"I don't like Sandra Fishbein."
"Ah," said Loomis. He never would have guessed.
"I guess you're probably right, Mr. Loomis. I was his best friend. I never really thought of it that way, but there you are. I've known him for probably twenty years. Not a lot of socializing, we weren't lodge brothers or anything like that. He wasn't here all that often and I have never been in his house. We just were . . . we just understood each other, that's all. A couple of quiet men, private men, who trusted each other."
"What was between Sandra and you."
"Nothing, really. She's coarse. Vulgar, if that means anything anymore. I didn't enjoy her company. I avoided her and, not surprisingly, she began to resent me. It was her idea that I felt I was too good for her."
"She was right, wasn't she?"
"No, Mr. Loomis. I know myself too well to make judgements like that. At most I felt Larry's and my friendship was too good for her to be a part of."
Big difference, thought Loomis. Goesser pointed to a picture standing on the center bookshelf of a neat little woman with blond hair standing, giggling to the camera on the boardwalk. A dream from the fifties.
"I'm alone. I have been for twelve years. The only good part is that I am in control of my time, my space. Naturally, I was delighted to hear Larry was getting a divorce. Naturally I was glad to act as a go between. He said I probably would not hear from you and I didn't."
"I'll be frank with you. Its hard for me to imagine that she had nothing to do with Larry's death. It seems astonishing to me that she hasn't been charged."
"Its crossed their minds, believe me, Mr. Goesser. No proof."
"She didn't know he changed his will, did she?"
"Not until yesterday she didn't."
"What could be more reasonable than the idea that she got Elroy to kill him? Has anyone found a better motive?"
"I haven't seen a motive in this yet that I'm happy with, but that's as good as any. The fact is she's told me some things that more or less take care of most of her motive."
"More or less? Most?"
"Of course I can't tell you what they are. They don't mean she didn't kill him. Just that she didn't kill him because of the boat. Probably."
They sat silently for a moment.
"Mr. Goesser, let me see if I got this straight. Whatever you got against Sandra, it sounds to me like a personality thing. You just don't like her. You haven't said she's dishonest or that she treated him badly or that she left her socks on the floor or anything. You just don't like her. Well, I'm sorry, but that's a long way from believing her capable of murder. Am I right, or am I leaving something out?"
Goesser sat upright with his elbows resting on his knees. He held his right hand, palm up, in his left and studied it for a minute.
"Last weekend. Everything was as you describe. Two friends going separate ways. A serious, but civil disagreement over who would get the boat. He told me about hiring you and that he gave you my number for messages. I was disturbed at this, but he assured me that they, Sandra and Elroy, would never even know they were followed, that they were observed, that they were . . . recorded. It was to be held in reserve. Insurance, if things went wrong."
"The advice of his attorney."
Goesser nodded with some irritation and then went looking for his story in his right palm again.
"Within the space of two days, everything changed. Like an old horror movie. Like they drank some bubbling concoction from a lab beaker and you watch them grow hair and fangs. His voice changed. His eyes changed. I've never seen anyone so angry, so purely furious in my life. There was tension before this, I'm certain. It was quite a step for them, to separate, and even though it was what they both wanted, it had to hurt. But, at least Larry made such a heroic effort to be fair and to maintain communications. He called me several times during the weekend and it was like hearing him descend into hell, each time deeper, burning more fiercely. Of course, I wasn't around her, but the way he was describing her was what I was seeing in him. They were locked in this madness together."
"Yeah. Well, from my limited experience, I'd say that the Cap'n was more tightly wrapped than his wife."
"Meaning if they both blew, he would blow higher? As I say, I only spoke to him during this period, but I can't say I think much of your theory. One of the things I liked about Larry was his self-control, his sense of proportion. I never had the feeling that it was capping any seething cauldron of fury. No, he was not a repressed man, just a calm one. And to give her her due, she was not a harridan, just a loud, sloppy woman. What she became, I don't want to imagine, but by Monday he was a savage. His hatred for her seemed almost exhilarated and if it had been her body they found I wouldn't have wondered for a moment who killed her."
The picture was clear. Sandra and Arlene had described the same event in much the same way.
"But what happened, Mr. Goesser? Don't you have any idea? What did they do to each other?"
"Maybe he found out something about her. Maybe one of them said that one unacceptable thing at the one unacceptable moment. Maybe they backed each other up one step too far over the boat. I suppose its possible that they really hated each other that much all along and both faced it at the same time. I don't know, Mr. Loomis. They just reached a critical emotional mass and lost the ability to think or act reasonably. It was a catastrophe. To be perfectly honest, I don't know who's fault it was, but you cannot be that close to feelings that intense and not believe she was involved in his death."
"Maybe I'll be able to change your mind."
"If you do I will certainly appreciate it. I don't enjoy the feelings I have."
"You'll help me, then? You'll answer some questions?"
He answered with a lie when Loomis asked if he knew what became of the Cap'n's papers and seemed unconcerned with the clumsiness of his denial. Loomis asked him several times, but only gave him an opportunity to practice his lie.
He knew all about the Cap'n and Arlene and about Sandra and Elroy. He didn't high-horse all this sordid coupling as Loomis expected, but spoke of it with almost mute amazement, as though it were a wretched virus he had miraculously escaped. If he had been Catholic he would have crossed himself whenever he made reference to it.
At first he rejected with scorn the idea of Arlene and Elroy being lovers but when the implications caught up with him he adopted it instantly and totally as his own. He began rummaging around his memory for evidence, but as far as Loomis was concerned he was coming up with pretty lame stuff. If he had ever seen a hint of it he would have leapt to conclusions long ago.
They talked about the Cap'n and about fishing and the Shore and how it had changed. Goesser said if there had been anything remarkable, any departure from routine, if the Cap'n had displayed any special anxieties or changes in behavior in the weeks before everything had come apart he would have noticed and would be glad to report it. But there was nothing to report. Loomis believed he was telling the truth, but felt that only meant that whatever it was, Goesser had missed it. There is one thing no one really knows about another, no matter how close they are and that is exactly how much the other person can take. How much they can take before cracking and how much they can take before showing.
"One last thing. About the will."
"That is the last thing, isn't it?"
"Ah. Very good. Were you surprised that he had decided to change it?
"Hardly. By the time he told me about it all he wanted to leave Sandra was poverty and disease. What she deserved."
"I see. Well, from what everyone says, including you, before this shit-storm hit a couple weeks ago, they liked each other fine."
"Even while I had them under surveillance I was struck by how much they liked each other. For a couple going through a divorce."
"If you say so."
"I do. What I wanted to ask was this. Don't you think -- don't you think it's possible that they could have worked through this? That it he hadn't died they might have calmed down and started to act like adults again."
Goesser thought for only a second and then shook his head.
"No," he said.
"But there was no issue. I mean, nothing that couldn't have been negotiated."
"You could say the same about Northern Ireland. Once they decided it was war, issues were irrelevant."
"No incident? No event that triggered all this?"
"Just a divorce. Some are friendly, some are not. Some are neutron bombs."
"I see. By the way, when did he tell you about the will."
"Friday, I think. It could have been Saturday."
"He came here?"
"No. He called me. Late, I guess it was Saturday night."
"What, exactly, did he tell you?"
Goesser's interest in his tea revived and he fussed over it for a minute.
"Yes, Mr. Loomis, I'm here. He wanted to leave everything to me. That's what he told me. What he really wanted, of course, was to make sure Sandra didn't get any of it. That was the whole point. I was, well, I was sympathetic to his wishes, but I told him it was crazy to give it to me. I don't need it. I wouldn't take it. He was insistent, but so was I. I suggested a trust for destitute sailors. Something like that. There's plenty of people like Clarence around. He liked that idea, I think. What he eventually did, I have no idea."
"You suggested destitute sailors? Not captains? Not party-boat captains?"
"Destitute party-boat captains? Is that what he did?" Goesser laughed and shook his head.
"Actually," said Loomis, "I believe the terms are 'destitute Jewish party-boat captains'."
"That's ridiculous" He thought about it some more and seemed to get angry.
"It sounds like he wanted to leave it to you anyway."
"Oh? Do you think I'm destitute? I'm not."
"And you still won't touch it?"
"Not a chance. He knew that. I couldn't have been more clear. I'll sign a quit-claim today."
"I believe you. Would you have taken the money if he had just left it to you?"
"If I hadn't been able to talk him out of it, I probably would have. But I did."
Loomis stood up and Goesser followed him to his feet with distracted courtesy.
"I want to thank you for talking to me, Mr. Goesser. I'll tell you this, and you can take it for what its worth. I'm in this for the paycheck, but I never dick with the truth. If I find out my client's crooked, I'm out of it. I turn 'em in."
"An honest detective."
"Uh, yeah. Well, no. I'm just too chicken to be a crook. Dishonesty makes me nervous."
Goesser smiled and offered his hand.
"A very good definition of virtue."
"Yeah, well, it'll have to do. By the way, how much do you sell these birds for?"
Goesser glanced at his collection with a brief, fond smile.
"I get $30 to $40 for those standing terns, but those characters hanging over by the sink go anywhere up to $700."
"Yikes. Well, if this all works out I'll definitely go a tern or two. Thanks again."
"Good night, Mr. Loomis."