Loomis didn't agree with Goesser's definition of virtue, but it pleased him nevertheless. He wasn't enough of a sap to believe that virtue was its own reward, but he knew that, for him, dishonesty was its own punishment.
He was pleased, too, that he had come to something of an understanding with Goesser. He couldn't have defined that understanding, but he trusted it. The best way to describe it was that they both were aware that they hadn't shown all their cards, but the ones on the table were honest ones.
Beyond that, there was little to delight him. In fact, as he sat in the Chevy going over the conversation he felt a familiar sensation of static slippage. He was standing still and the ground was sliding away beneath him. Sure, if he knew for sure that Sandra was a killer he would do the right thing. But he knew how far he would go not to know something like that and that the distance was quantifiable solely by the size of the retainer. When he spoke of dishonesty, he meant things he could get caught at. In a way it was all so simple. Keever had threatened the Cap'n and the murder weapon had Keever's fingerprints all over it. Nothing in Sandra's story was in absolute violation of the facts, but then, Rose Woods could and did say the same thing. There was only one job on the menu and it was a perfectly legit one. Find Keever. But it was impossible not to keep thinking about what had happened the previous weekend when four people (at least four people) had simultaneously gone ballistic and yet, according to all observers, nothing had happened.
Loomis drove away feeling peevish and cynical -- one of his favorite mood cocktails. Everyone -- Goesser, Arlene, Sandra, even Zelbo -- seemed to agree on the picture. A married couple, getting a divorce, losing their tempers, their composure, and winding up in a vindictive frenzy. Loomis was the only one who couldn't see it. As an account of what happened to produce the effects that had been described to him it struck him as decidedly thin. But they all knew each other much better than he did. Either that was the way it was or they all had something to hide. Or, God forbid, they each had something to hide. Without anything more, he had to buy into it, but it made him testy and defensive, as if he were the butt of a pointless joke. There had to be something missing. Unfortunately, he couldn't help thinking it was the most important part.
He tried to concentrate on what he did know, what Goesser had told him. What Goesser had told him about the will made Loomis think of Zelbo. Here was a guy that left a trail of self-interest behind him like a snail. It wasn't hard to imagine him at least trying to set up a trust that was for all practical purposes unrecoverable. It wasn't an enormous amount of money, but just enough to make the effort worth while. Set up a trust that will never be tapped and what you have, in effect, is a money-pump. And with the Cap'n dead and Zelbo the executor, the lawyer's was the only hand on the crank. Maybe the Cap'n wanted to give it away to poor sailors and Zelbo advised him to make it more restrictive in case he changed his mind later. However it happened, it sure worked out well for Zelbo and if he was careful he could work that baby for years. And it should not be forgotten that the Cap'n had been killed in Asbury Park. Had he insisted on meeting Loomis there because he was coming from a meeting with his lawyer? Unless he was killed by an opportunistic stranger the murderer either knew he was going to be there or followed him there. Loomis thought wistfully of Maria, Zelbo's secretary, and how things would be easier if the Loomis charm had been in better working order the day he met her.
It was after eight o'clock by the time Loomis found his spot on Lanyard Lane, across the highway from the Mayflower. Abrupt, cold showers were marching in off the ocean. It might blow over or it might be the start of something nasty. The only tapes he had with him were Steve Earle's Guitar Town and a some various-artist bluegrass tapes and he didn't feel like listening to any of them so he turned on the radio. He found a ballgame, but it was the Phillies and San Diego so he turned it off and listened to the surf. It was probably two hundred yards away. It sounded like a muffled tape of a building coming down being endlessly rewound and replayed, a rolling, crumpled smash. It was the sound, particularly in its cyclical nature, of his relationship with Martha, as well as his investigation into the death of Larry Fishbein and, come to think of it, it could well be the sound track to his entire life. It was the sound of tremendous effort put into a long process coming apart because there was no place left for it to go. It was anti-climactic because it represented failure, but romantic because it always began again. Well, he lived his life within a few miles of the beach, rarely being as much as ten miles from the surf. Maybe the rhythm had been worn into his soul like beach erosion or ran his bodily fluids like a lunar cycle. Very nice image. A cosmic futility pump.
The Mayflower was quiet tonight. There was one car parked in the lot and that probably belonged to the desk clerk. He looked like the same guy Loomis had seen before, but he couldn't be absolutely sure. Loomis had a cheap pair of binoculars under the seat, but they were no help. They made him look closer, but pitted and under water. He really ought to upgrade his equipment. Like Martha said, more than once, if he didn't take himself seriously, no one else would. No matter, the more he watched him the more positive he was. He spent most of his time on the phone, feet on the desk and might as well have had a sign around his neck reading 'Lying Sack of Shit.' It was unfair of Loomis to think that, of course, but he couldn't help reading something cheesy and false into the young man's expansive gestures and constant puffing. When he put down the phone he would collapse into sullen depression. He would sit like a burning grudge for a minute, but then he would dial another number and suddenly he was a big guy again.
The guy still looked familiar to Loomis, but from this distance he was unable to improve on that. He knew what the guy looked like because he was now positive it was the same guy he saw in Arlene's photograph, but he still had the feeling that there was another connection. He didn't get it until somebody on the phone said something that made the guy mad. He swung his feet off the desk, stood and pounded the desk once, hard. He turned the phone away from his ear and held the mouthpiece up to his lips like a rock star and poured what looked like a series of ugly sentiments into the New Jersey Bell system. He was a good looking kid, around twenty or so, but there seemed to be extra acreage to his face, a heavy-lidded mooniness that was accentuated in anger. His features seemed to contract into a single central orifice for the expulsion of bile. It was instantly obvious who this guy was. Joey Ciscone.
"Duh," said Loomis. He didn't smack himself on the forehead, but he wanted to. The family resemblance was obvious. He should have made this guy the second Schneider told him who owned the Mayflower. Now he had the Ciscones, John and Douggie, looking for Keever, a former employee, and a picture of another Ciscone, Joey, frolicking on the deck of the Carousel two week previous. He had to consider the possibility that the reason the Ciscone's offer had been so forcibly rescinded was that they had found out where Keever was. This immediately gave rise to the possibility that there wasn't much of Keever left to be found. The fact was that even if the Ciscones had nothing to do with the Cap'n's murder, and there was no evidence that they did, Loomis was morally certain that they had something to do with the reason neither he nor the NJSP had been able to find Keever. Or any part of Keever. And that was the exercise; find Keever. And if the Ciscone's had a weak link, Loomis was looking at it.
He jammed Steve Earle into the player and jerked up the volume on Hillbilly Highway until he had to close the window to keep it from rattling. He lit a Lucky and watched.
In the next hour and a half only two things happened at the Mayflower, or rather the same thing happened twice. The first time it was a young blond woman in black tights and a peasant blouse with a sticky-looking two-year old on her hip. She pulled her Plymouth Horizon into the slot right in front of the office. Joey started hitting on her the second she walked into the office, but she didn't have the time for it. She frosted him but good. Joey was not the kind of guy to take that well and he made a big deal out of counting the fistful of cash she handed him several times before giving her a key. She took the key and walked all the way back to #6, idly slapping her kid around all the way. The interesting part was that she was inside the room for less than a minute before hauling the kid down to the office, dropping the key in the slot in the door, jumping into her car and puttering down Route 35. As hurried as she was on her way in, she made twice the time going. Joey seemed unperturbed by her hasty departure. He fetched the key from the basket and went on wasting time.
About an hour later Joey made a trip down to #6. He was empty-handed, as far as Loomis could see. Of course, he would hardly have needed to change the linen, but if he had he wasn't inside long enough to do it. Twenty minutes later an orange Trans-Am pulled in and a guy with long blond hair and an outrageous tan ran the same routine. Pays Joey, quick trip to #6 and gone.
The logic of all this activity formed in Loomis' mind without any accompanying sense of discovery. Somehow, though it had never occurred to him, it came as no surprise. So the Ciscones were selling drugs out of the Mayflower. Why else make an effort to hide their interest in the place? There didn't appear to be a lot of profits to hide, at least from renting rooms. So the desk clerk is the point-of-sale guy. He puts the product in the room, the customer rents it, presumably leaving a legal register, goes in and picks up the stuff. Kind of like finding a mint on your pillow, but not so bad for your teeth. So Keever used to be the desk clerk. And Arlene, when they had a housekeeper, probably was in charge of planting the drugs in the room. Chief of Stash. So the Ciscones beat up Keever a few weeks ago. So the Ciscones were looking for Keever, and looking hard, then suddenly they weren't. So a pretty hefty chunk of controlled substance was found in Keever's trailer. So.
Loomis turned off the tape player and tried to construct a scenario for the first time since he got the call from Cap'n Fishbein.
What if the reason Keever wasn't working for the Ciscones anymore was because of stock shrinkage? A little bit of dipping might be tolerated, but Keever could be counted on to push his luck. Maybe not enough for them to take any serious action, and maybe they weren't really sure it was Keever that was ripping them off. They just decided to keep it in the family and bumped Keever for their little brother. Suppose the shrinkage didn't stop. They might suspect their brother until they find out Keever is still using the place -- #6, to be exact -- as a love nest. They find him and smack him around. Either he convinces them he's innocent or they're convinced they've thrown a sufficient scare into him. Keever, at any rate, returns to the Mayflower the night the pictures were taken. Before you know it Keever's missing, drugs show up in his trailer and the Ciscones want him and are willing to pay for him. There were two possible reasons why they called off Loomis. One, they decided they couldn't control Loomis sufficiently for their purposes and, two, they found Keever and settled their business with him.
Either way, if this represented anything like the truth Loomis was staring at a blank wall again. Unless.
Unless it wasn't Keever who was ripping off the Ciscones, but Joey Ciscone himself. Or Joey was helping Keever. Or Keever was helping Joey. The point was, the only way Loomis was going any further towards Keever through the Ciscones was if there was some space between Joey and his brothers he could crawl into. There might be nothing to it, but he had to play it that way until he was proven wrong. After all, it was Joey that let Keever use #6 for his rendezvous. Joey was jumping around the Carousel with Keever and mugging for his camera the week after Douggie had put some dents in Elroy. At the very least Joey was closer to Keever than his brothers, but if Loomis was lucky little Joey had more to hide than anyone.
Loomis lit a cigarette. He felt lucky. He deserved some luck. If he didn't get it he was probably dead in the water anyway. Well, he thought, what the hell?
He thought for a minute, put out his cigarette, climbed from the car and walked across Route 35 to the Mayflower.
The air was dense and cold. One shower had passed and headed inland and the next was still a few miles off shore and, in between, the night had fallen with the mists, wrapping the motel in brief isolation. No wind, only the sound of the surf. Occasionally a car would pass, looking and sounding as if it were running down a distant passageway. The lights from the office penetrated only a few feet into the gloom, putting Joey Ciscone in a warm, golden fishbowl. He looked like a painting of The Last Punk on Earth.
A pressure pad rang a jerky little glissando when Loomis walked in the office. Joey was on the phone, striking out and didn't even look at Loomis.
"C'mon, Theresa, what the hell? . . . I got a T.V., we can watch that show . . . oh, sure, I'm fucking sure, you do. You understand what I'm telling you? We can have a good time."
Joey glanced at Loomis and mumbled a few words into the phone. They didn't seem to help.
"Don't bullshit me, Theresa. You think I'm an idiot? . . . You're a skank, Theresa. You let me down."
He slammed down the phone, ruffled his shoulders, turned to Loomis and let his face go entirely slack. The effect was an astonishing combination of insolence and stupidity. Loomis was sure that Joey Ciscone had not gone an entire day in his life without someone wanting to slap his face. Loomis made his face as stupid as possible, which was more than a match for Joey, and arfed a few times.
His idea was to pretend he was a twerp who had heard at a bar that a guy could get some good blow at the Mayflower. Joey fixed him with a barely post-adolescent sneer and just looked at him as if waiting for the next stupid thing to come out of his mouth.
Well, thought Loomis, you're probably right. What's the point of playing a part? Either I'm right or I'm not. Always getting too cute, playing detective instead of detecting. He smiled at himself, took a breath and stared back.
Joey took it for about ten seconds and then sighed dramatically, shifted his shoulders and slung his head to a weary tilt.
"You want a room or something?"
"That's right, douche-bag, number six."
Wrong answer. Way wrong. Joey stared at him as if he were changing color every other second. Soon his eyes cleared and he just stared, thinking. The problem, most likely, was that he didn't recognize Loomis and Loomis hadn't called ahead with an order and he just didn't know what to do. To his credit, though, he didn't panic, he just stared until an answer came to him.
It was, "No vacancy."
Loomis laughed, which didn't seem to bother him, and looked pointedly at the empty parking lot, which didn't bother him at all.
Joey nodded. He knew it wasn't great, but he was sticking with it.
"C'mon, Joey. I want some drugs. Anything you got. What, is there a password or something?"
"Who the fuck are you?"
"You'll take a check, won't you?"
"How do you know my name? I don't know what the fuck you're talking about."
He was pumping himself and, if Loomis didn't stop him, he might well talk himself into acting out a fantasy or two.
"My name is F.A. Loomis. I know your name because I have been following you. I have been following you because you're going to help me. I need your help because I'm looking for Elroy Keever. All clear so far?"
"I know about you. My brother . . ."
"Right. Your brother John told you not to talk to me, right? Lemme point something out to you and we can do business."
Loomis pulled out his wallet on the word 'business' and let Joey confuse himself with his greed. Loomis had seven twenties and as many ones. He began counting and talking.
"John didn't tell you I was looking for Keever, did he?"
Loomis looked at Joey's eyes flicker past his and felt as good as he had felt in a long time. He was home. He knew it.
"No. He told you I was a narc or some bullshit like that didn't he?"
He stuffed the dough back in the wallet and showed Joey his ticket.
"There's my name. Licensed private investigator. Something else he didn't tell you was that he hired me to find Keever. He fired me, but that's okay because someone else is paying me to do the same job. I'm not a narc. I don't give a shit if you rent rooms or chemical weapons here. I just want Keever."
"Don't know no Keever," said Joey. He was holding on to the edge of the desk with both hands.
"Don't tell a lie, Joey. I'm the guy that took the pictures of Keever and Mrs. Fishbein back in #6 a couple weeks ago. I got pictures of you, too, Joey."
Joey's eyes got very big and then very small.
"Oh, him. Is that his name? Friend of my brother."
"Then why'd Douggie beat him up?"
If the kid got any stiffer he'd fall over.
"Ah. Douggie beats up a lot of guys. I can't keep them straight."
"You're not keeping anything straight, Joey. The question you should be asking yourself is how come John is running all over the shore looking for this Keever guy, hiring detectives -- they beat up Arlene, did you know that? She didn't tell them anything, though, because she doesn't know where he is. So how come he doesn't ask you? Or did he? Come to think of it you know very well why he's looking for Keever, don't you? But how come he bullshits you about me? How come? Joey? Any ideas?"
Joey didn't say anything. He was actually thinking about Loomis' questions.
"I'll be honest with you, Joey, the only thing I can think of is that maybe John's figured out what you were up to with Keever."
Joey's breathing was very shallow.
"You're right. If he had it figured out he'd come down on you, brother or no brother. But, if you think about it, he's got to be wondering, right? All right, I'll guess. He asked you if you knew where Keever is and you lied to him about as well as you've been lying to me. He can't lean on you yet for fear of losing Keever. He's gotta figure you helped Elroy lift that 2 oz. of coke out of here."
"Get the fuck out of here, whoever you are."
"Or maybe Elroy helped you."
"I'm telling you . . ."
"I got it. Elroy didn't have anything to do with it. He just figured it out when John accused him of it and Douggie walked on his face. He says to himself 'I didn't do it, Joey must have done it.' Was he squeezing you, Joey? Did you drop that little package on him when you framed him? That must be just a little part of what you've ripped off, then."
"You're nuts. You are so far off."
"Am I? I see two possibilities. One is that you know where Keever is and your brother doesn't. The other is that John and Douggie have already found him. The second possibility is starting to look not so good, because if they found him, and he told them the truth -- and he would, you know -- what are you still doing here in one piece? You follow me?"
"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about."
"Well, it won't be the first time. What kills me is how you've been figuring you had this deal beat. You've been walking around with a world of hurt hanging over you for weeks now and you didn't even know it. A fool's paradise, that's what you got. Here's the real deal, Joey. You can talk to me and there's a chance we can keep your ass out of it or you can just let things go on the way they are. They're going to find him sooner or later, you know. And it doesn't matter if the cops find him or your brothers. Either way you're fucked. Even if he turns up dead you're fucked."
"You said something about doing business?" Joey's face took on a particularly unattractive semblance of cunning. This was good in that he was moving Loomis' way, but Loomis didn't like him thinking too much. He'd just make it worse for everyone.
"Maybe I should just let John decide."
"Ha," said Joey. If you weren't looking at his face his 'ha' might have been half-way convincing, but since Loomis was looking at his face, which erupted into a blur of tics, twitches and unwelcome thoughts, Loomis was unconvinced. It looked like there was a squirrel scampering around just under the skin. Suddenly it froze and then widened in horror.
"Jesus fuck," he said. Loomis started to follow Joey's eyes outside, but Joey grabbed his sleeve and yanked him half-way over the front desk.
"Are you parked out front? Talk to me, are you parked in the lot?"
"No," said Loomis. "Across the street."
Joey began pulling at Loomis' jacket, as if trying to haul him over the desk. He pulled himself free.
"Wait a minute, Joey. What are you doing?"
Joey ran to the back of the desk clerk's area and opened the door to a little broom closet.
"When they're gone I'll talk."
"You've been talking."
"Fuck me. Jesus. I'll talk. I swear."
Loomis lifted the duck-board and walked back into the closet, but stopped Joey from shutting the door.
"I've got the hammer, Joey. Don't fuck with me."
The door closed and Loomis was in blackness. He moved his feet and found the only thing on the floor was a bucket which he could easily avoid. He squatted and leaned against the rear wall in time to hear the front door open and the little digitized glockenspiel announce an arrival. It wasn't until that moment that it occurred to Loomis that if he was wrong about any single part of this, putting himself in the closet was by far the stupidest thing he had ever done. Of course, his gun was still in the Chevy. In for a penny, in for $6,000, he thought, and he shrugged. Loomis bet himself $100,000 on who had just come in and won.
"My brother." That sounded like Douggie. There was some perfunctory high-fiving before John spoke.
"How we doin' tonight, Joey?"
"Oh, you know. Pretty slow."
He could hear John spinning the register around and Joey opening the cash box.
"What, Johnny? What?"
"Look at this. John Smith and Debbie Brown? Why do you let people get away with this? This register looks as phoney as shit."
"Well, Jesus, Johnny, they're not going to sign their real names, you know."
"I know they're not going to sign their real names. They're not supposed to sign their real names. But for christ's sake, get them to sign something that sounds like a real name. We talked about this, Joey. Jesus, I hate having to repeat myself to you all the time. Leave the phone book open and let them pick or something."
"All right. I will, Johnny, all right."
"You all right?"
"Yeah, sure. Why?"
"You're sweating like a pig. "
"Am I? Maybe I'm catching something. I don't know, I feel all right."
"So that's it? Just the two of them?"
"What do you mean am I sure? Sure I'm sure. Just the two. One, two."
"Heard from your pal?"
"Who you talking about?"
"Who am I talking about. Elroy the Exterminator."
"Nah. Why, you looking for him?"
"No. I ain't heard from him. I'll let you know."
John let it hang for a few seconds and then Loomis heard the chimes and the door opening.
"I'd appreciate it, brother. I really would."
Slam. No goodby. No say hello to mom. Nothing. Maybe because he was in darkness Loomis could hear the sound he missed before; John's car starting and departing. He waited a few moments before cracking the door. Joey was standing, barely, slumped against the desk, his head buried in his hands. He was shaking all over. Loomis got him to sit and found a Pepsi in a little half-sized refrigerator. He said thank you but just held it on the desk, open. He was probably afraid of spilling it on himself.
"Okay, Joey, let's figure this thing out."
"I'm fucked, right? No matter what I do. Basically, I'm fucked."
"No, I wouldn't say that."
"Oh, yeah? What would you say?"
"I'd say your options are narrowing rapidly."
"In English I'm fucked."
"Let's just say you're close. Maybe we can think of something. Let me explain something. What I'm getting paid to do is talk Keever into giving himself up."
"Why would he do that?"
"Because he didn't do it. Maybe if you help me find him and I bring him in we can convince him to leave you out of it."
"Oh, sure. He walks in and goes 'I didn't kill the old guy and, by the way, I don't know nothing about the coke, either.' He's gotta explain it. He's not going to walk into a shit-storm like that."
"If he has information about the murder he can always trade down on the possession."
"What if he don't? What if he don't know any more than you do, which is fuck-all. I don't know what world you come from, but where I live when the cops have you cold on two charges they don't fade one and drop the other. Why would they? If that's the best you can do I'll take my chances with my brothers."
Loomis shook his head.
"You're looking at this the whole wrong way. Stop worrying about Keever. If he's guilty he'll go down sooner or later anyway. If he's not I'm his only chance. The point is your fate is not bound up in his."
"I took the blow, okay? I took it. He was holding it. As a favor. Because we're pals. If I was able to put you on to him and you talked him in, he's not going to fuck around with that. 'Joey Ciscone', he'll say. 'C-i-s-c-o-n-e'. We're talking about anywhere from ten to thirty years here."
"It wasn't yours, Joey. It was your brother's. You ripped it off him. Nobody's going to believe you were distributing the stuff. In ten minutes a jury's going to see you're more a danger to yourself than to society."
"Let's face it, Joey. You are a small-time chiseler. I'm sorry, but we've got to be realistic here. But we're straying from the point. Keever's only got to worry about the cops. You got your brothers to worry about as well. Don't spend time worrying about Keever."
"Sure. If he falls he falls right on my head."
"What if your brothers fall first?"
Joey started chewing on the end of his left ring finger as if the good part was somewhere past the first knuckle.
"Joey? Joey, take your finger out of your mouth, I'm talking to you."
"'Splain it to me. Slow."
"It's simple. The state police are putting together a task force. I have a friend that's a trooper. He told me about this this morning. The whole idea is to put your brother away for a long time. So far the plan is to go for tax evasion."
"I think John would love that. Even though he would be a dead duck. Tax evasion. Just like Capone. If they added on a RICO charge he'd come running."
"So you think tax evasion might stick?"
"If they knew where to look."
They each lit a cigarette and smoked it.
Finally Joey said, "He's my brother."
"I heard. I wish I had a big brother like that."
"Yeah, well, fuck him, you know? He's treated me like a retard all my life. He'd do the same thing, you know?"
"Sure. Besides, what choice do you have?"
"That's right. It's his own fault, you know?"
"Sure. Did you tell him to start dealing drugs?"
"No way. I didn't tell him to cheat on his taxes."
"That's right. You got to think of yourself."
Joey sat up, took a sip of his Pepsi and lit another cigarette. He wasn't shaking anymore.
"So how does it work?"
"You take me to Keever. He makes his own decision. You get a lawyer. Once I talk to Keever your lawyer talks to my friend the trooper. He tells him if they can be creative about a simple possession charge he can hand them John and Doug Ciscone wrapped tight. My friend talks to his boss. His boss talks to the Ocean County Prosecutors office. You talk and you walk."
"Complicated. What if it doesn't happen?"
"You're right where you are now."
"Except Elroy's talking and I got no protection."
"Which is right where you'll be soon unless you take this. It'll work, Joey. It's your only chance. For Christ's sake talk to a lawyer and tell him the truth. You don't have a fucking thing to lose."
"I got to think about it."
"I'll give you a day. Call me by six tomorrow night or the deal's off."
"Why wouldn't I just call the trooper's myself? Why should I get into this Keever business."
"Because I got something I want out of this too and if you don't do it my way I can screw it up for you. And I can make sure John knows what you're up to."
Loomis gave Joey his card and wrote his home number on the back. It was just after 10:00. He hated to leave Joey alone with nothing but his brain and his fear for guidance, but sooner or later Joey was going to have to start pulling the train.