When Loomis opened his front door the apartment was mostly dark. There was a light on in the kitchen and one in the bedroom and a column running across the eating area from one to the other. Martha was enroute to the kitchen along the pathway of light looking a million miles away. She didn't look up when he came in, but after he closed the door he heard 'Hello' from the kitchen. He said 'Hello' and took his time hanging up his jacket and Pirate cap. Martha closed the refrigerator door and headed back for the bedroom, turning off the kitchen light and saying 'You got two calls.' Loomis was busy picking lint off his jacket, but he was reasonably confident that she still hadn't looked at him. She shut the bedroom door and the apartment was dark.
Loomis was very good at hiding his feelings. When there was no one else around to hide them from he would often practice by hiding them from himself. What he was feeling at that moment, however, was not hidable. It was a big, old, toothy, slobbering, snorting, ur-boogie fear monster. He thought 'I'm scared', and he went into the bedroom.
Martha was lying on the bed with a book and a drink. The book was about computers and the drink was about her fourth.
It wasn't a very intelligent question, but it was the best he could do with a fear monster in the room. She stopped trying to look like she was reading but she still didn't look up.
"No," she said. "I can't say that I am."
"Oh," he said and he sat on the bed. They sat in silence for a minute or two and he wondered if that was a good sign. Companionable silences were definitely a positive fixture of their relationship and he ached to put this one in that category. He glanced up at her and caught her eye. There was no rancor or bitterness in it; no heat coming off her at all. No curiosity, no demands, no visible effort to frame the many questions that hung between them. She looked, if anything, like someone listening to a boring speech. Blank. At the outer edges of disengagement. Loomis sought cover under her example and the two of them became like refugees awaiting the next blow of the hammer.
"How much time do you think you have?" she said. Loomis thought that one over. He had little doubt what she meant, but he weighed the consequences of taking it as an idle query on his investigation. No, he thought, that's the trap.
"I don't imagine an awful lot," he said.
"What are you going to do with it?"
He reached over and covered her hand with his. She didn't withdraw it, but it wasn't like it seemed a part of her arm, either.
"Ask for a little more."
She stared at him for a moment and then drew his hand to her cheek. She pressed it there and then put his hand back where she found it as lightly and as carefully as if it were a piece of china. There was actually little warmth in the gesture, but it was a gesture and Loomis thought a pretty generous one, under the circumstances.
"Don't waste it," she said and she smiled a little of the edge off it.
He nodded and stood. He walked to the door and turned.
"How about we go on a picnic tomorrow?"
She nodded and smiled. Like a genie approving a wish.
"We'll get up early and cook up some chicken. Potato salad. Take it over Ocean County Park. Like that."
He was exhausted and tempted to ignore his phone messages. The chances that someone wanted to make him a happier or more wealthy man were slim. In the bathroom, however, it occurred to him that he had to check to see if one of the messages was from Joey. It wasn't. One was from Zelbo marked "vital" and the other was from Mozarsky marked "when you get a chance." Each message included a home number. He wouldn't have wanted to talk to either one of them even if neither one were a lawyer, but he wanted to talk to Zelbo less so he dialed his number.
"Leonard Zelbo." He answered the phone like he hated your guts, whoever you were.
"Mr. Zelbo, this is Loomis."
"Ah, Mr. Loomis, what a pleasure."
Loomis was used to Zelbo's wild mood swings so he was in no way disoriented by Zelbo's sudden crooning.
"What's on your mind, Mr. Zelbo?"
"Well, now, I just think it's important for everyone to maintain the lines of communication. We have to keep talking, that's the important thing."
"I see. Well, you get paid for talking, you know, but unless we're talking about something in particular, I really don't see . . ."
"What we should be talking about are the interests of the people we represent."
"All right. I'll buy that. It just seems to me that when we talked the other day there didn't seem to be that much room left to maneuver."
"There's always room to maneuver, Mr. Loomis. I want you to remember that."
Loomis got the feeling that if they had been in the same room Zelbo would be stroking him and giving him those soft little touches up and down his arm that make your skin crawl. It was a creepy feeling.
"Look, Mr. Zelbo . . ."
"Call me Leonard, please."
"Uh, if you're saying you want to make an offer you really ought to be talking to her lawyer."
"Lawyers, lawyers," said Zelbo. "I didn't say anything about an offer. Did I? No I did not. You might, however, in speaking to your client mention to her that I feel that it's important for everybody to be happy. That's my aim, my goal."
You're reason for living, thought Loomis.
"All right," he said, "I'll do that."
"Good, and . . . oh, by the way, the Cap'n's papers haven't shown up, have they?"
"No, they haven't."
"Just a minor matter, but they do, after all, belong to his estate. When it comes time to get everything settled I want to be able to say they haven't been tampered with or even examined. In that event, something can be worked out, I feel certain of it."
"Are you talking about money or the boat?"
"Well," said Zelbo, "she did spend her life in the party boat business. The trust uses the word 'captain' but as his executor I feel I'm in a position to be able to act on his intentions."
"So there's a chance she could get the boat?"
"Something can be worked out. I feel almost certain."
"What about your client?"
"Mr. Loomis. I don't really have to tell you I'm doing this in Cap'n Fishbein's interest, do I?"
"I meant Arlene Babayev."
Zelbo's lines of communication suddenly went dead.
"Lennie? You there? Hello?"
"I'm here, Mr. Loomis. My job is to allow reasonable people to act reasonably. That's all. Have Mrs. Fishbein call me."
The instant Loomis set the receiver in its cradle it rang. He lifted it.
"That's me. Who's this?"
"This is Elroy Keever."
"Let's make this fast. Joey tells me you got a deal for me."
"Yeah. For the both of you."
"No thanks. You want me to go over it now?"
"No. This is what you do. One o'clock tonight you drive down Route 530 south out of Dover Forge. Three miles past the Dairy Queen the road curves way to the right. Go around the curve and then park beside the road under the Briarcliffe Estates sign. Walk back toward the Dairy Queen. I'll pick you up. That's it. No cops, no Sandra, no promises."
"If it smells I'll disappear for good. That's it. Goodby."
Dover Forge. That was deep pine barrens. Nowhere, New Jersey. Unless you've seen the pine barrens its difficult to picture just how spooky they can be. Loomis had never walked alone down a county road in the middle of the night in them, but he was willing to bet cash money there was nothing spookier west of Translyvania. He had to admit it wasn't a bad plan on Keever's part. He pulled out his Ocean County map and found the stretch of road Keever had indicated. He figured he ought to allow 45 minutes to get there which gave him 45 minutes before he had to leave.
He dialed Mozarsky's number. It was answered by a little boy named Brian who said his father was 'under the bridge.' Brian wanted to tell Loomis about a turtle in the backyard and what they were feeding it but was interrupted by Mozarsky shouting 'Gimme that, you idiot,' and snatching the phone.
"Hello," said Mozarsky into the phone, but he was distracted by Brian's tears. "Hold on," he said and Loomis waited as he put down the phone, apologized to Brian and bribed him with permission for a fudgecycle. A number of other small voices were raised in protest and petition and Mrs. Mozarsky was called in to adjudicate. Once a rough version of domestic tranquility had been achieved Mozarsky returned to the phone.
"Hello," he said again, "Loomis, is that you?"
"It's me. Am I interrupting something?"
"Just my life. You got kids?"
"They're great. They're really great. They'd be perfect if they had plugs you could pull. Listen, you talk to Sandra today?"
"Good idea to give her a call. She's kind of in a flap."
"Well, I had to give her some bad news. I talked to Judge Cilano. We're friends from Seton Hall. That restraining order isn't going to hold up. There's really nothing legally, procedurally wrong with the transfer of the boat to Babayev. As long as she isn't indicted for anything, and there's no indication that she will be, she's entitled. He didn't say so, but the only reason he hasn't vacated it is because we're friends. He's just waiting for a challenge and then it's over. She can sue, and she will, but of course that's a lot more expensive and her chances are anybody's guess."
"Isn't that interesting?"
"Well, I guess, but Sandra took a little more personal view of it. She's kind of a mess."
"No, I'll tell you the interesting part." And Loomis told him of his conversation with Zelbo. Mozarsky listened and then thought for a minute before responding.
"What the hell is this clown up to?"
"I was hoping you might have an idea."
"Me? I'm an honest lawyer. Don't laugh, you may need one some day. You say he sounded like he really wanted to cut a deal?"
"No sounded like. My impression is that he needs to cut one and fast."
"Well, likely he's cut some corners and gotten himself in a twist. He probably wants to get as far away from this as he can as fast as he can and still take something with him. If that's right we can make a mighty fine deal tomorrow or we can stick him with his problems, wait for him to go up in flames and get the whole package."
"Well, I'm only an honest PI, you'll have to figure that out. You know anything about him, anything that says he's a crook?"
"I seen him around. I heard things. Just vague stuff."
"You think maybe you could look into that? Ask around?"
"I guess. Maybe you could call Sandra? Reassure her?"
"I was about to call her anyway."
"Just talked to Keever."
"Get outa here! Where is he?"
"Don't know. I'm meeting him tonight."
"Great. I shouldn't keep you then."
"Oh, I got half an hour or so before I got to leave."
"That's great. Good news. Nothing new on the Cap'n's papers?"
"No. You mind telling me why this is such a hot topic? What do people expect to find in these papers? You know something I don't?"
"I know plenty of stuff you don't, but that's just because I'm smarter. I'm just trying to straighten everything out and it'll be a lot easier with the full financial records. Sandra's my client too, you know."
"Where you supposed to meet him?"
Loomis was suddenly wary of Mozarsky. He couldn't say why. He genuinely liked the guy, but he was, after all, a lawyer.
"In the pines."
Mozarsky allowed him to expand, and when he didn't he grunted.
"Well, be careful."
"Will do. By the way, where's 'under the bridge'?"
"The crapper. Family lore."
Mrs. Fishbein was indeed in a state. It seemed she was always in one state or another; stupefied or furious. Loomis tried to reassure her, tried to tell her that the game wasn't up, tried to tell her to trust Mozarsky even though he didn't, quite. She calmed down some when he told her of Zelbo's offer and surprised him by sounding interested. She agreed to leave it in her lawyer's hands, but she didn't really seem to be in the same conversation with Loomis until he told her why he had called her.
"I knew it. I knew he was alive."
"Well," said Loomis, "we've been proceeding on that assumption."
"Let's go in my car. I'll pick you up in twenty minutes."
"Uh, no. He was very specific about that. It has to be just me. He said you couldn't come."
"He what?" She seemed genuinely stunned for a moment. "Look, Loomis, the sooner I see him the sooner you get paid off. That's what you want isn't it?"
"That's what I want. But what you want is him in custody in one piece. Right? Don't take it personal. He's just being careful. Let me go down there and see what his deal is. I got things arranged as well as they can be and it sounds like he's using his head, too. It'll be alright, Mrs. Fishbein. Trust me tonight and it'll be all over by tomorrow."
"Well, goddam it, why'd you call me if you're not going to take me? I'm going to be a crazy woman all night."
"I thought it might make you feel better to know where things stand. This is really it, Mrs. Fishbein. It's almost over. I thought you might have something you wanted me to tell him."
"Oh, just, you know, what we said. Just I know he didn't do it. Just that. Just come in. Come back. That's all."
She tried to get Loomis to tell her where the meet was to be but gave up quickly. He told her he'd call her when he got back and hung up. He sat thinking for a half hour. The most persistent thought was how did he know he had actually spoken to Keever? He had never heard the man's voice. He remembered the note Ciscone used to sucker him into the meet at the Tilt-a-Whirl. What if Joey had decided to make a deal with his brothers instead of the cops? What if he's walking along Route 530 tonight and John and Douggie pull up?
He made one more call.
"Trooper Schneider? Are you awake?"
"What do you want, Francis."
"Nothing. I just wanted to make sure you were home. You going to be home for a few hours?"
"Francis, I am going to get up in a few hours."
"Good. Stay by the phone. I may have a very fancy arrest for you tonight."
"You found him? You son of a bitch. Where are you? Don't you dare . . ."
"Sleep tight, buddy," he said and he hung up. He went in to tell Martha he was going out but she was asleep, or seemed to be.
As he sat in the Chevy warming it up he pulled the gun from under the seat and checked it over. He believed the voice he heard was Keever's. He was very close to $6,000 if it was. If it wasn't he may well be dead, but he believed it was. He had heard the Indiana in it and he had heard the same somewhat disquieting precision he had seen in the man's trailer. Certitude, anger, emptiness. The Ciscone's had an agenda, as constricted and mean as it was. Anyone working for the Ciscone's would have tried harder to get him into the pines. The man he spoke to tonight saw only what was directly in front of him and felt no obligations whatsoever. Loomis cranked a round into the chamber and headed for the Garden State Parkway.