Martha called every day for the next six days but didn't visit again. His mother came every day, sometimes with Marty, sometimes with one of her friends from church. His brother drove over from Philadelphia on Saturday. He had some other friends who came by and even Burton Marvet showed up and Loomis made him promise he wouldn't tell his father he was in the hospital. He was off the IV quickly and aside from his EEGs and a couple of MRIs he didn't need much tending. He was just waiting until his skull knit up enough to allow him to expose it to outpatient convelescence. He never really stopped thinking about what might have actually happened to the Cap'n and Keever, though. The thing was, despite what Schneider said and whatever Mrs. Fishbein might have to say, he was not off the case. He had gotten the impression from the two OCP investigators that the day he lost his license a glass or two might be lifted around their office. They might well take what he could give them on Ciscone and then shitcan him anyway. He needed something to deal with and the current market was running high on information about Ciscone. What if he could tie them, even indirectly, to the murders? Why, then he was golden. With this in mind he started once more at the beginning and, by the time he was released he had a theory.
Martha drove him home from the hospital and though nothing more had been said about his looking elsewhere for digs, things were definitely different. They spent the afternoon shopping and arranging the couch as a sort of office for him. She didn't say he was sleeping there, but that was pretty much the thrust of it.
He got ahold of Mrs. Fishbein that evening and made an appointment for the next morning. She sounded utterly weary and impossibly distant -- not from Loomis, from everything. She sounded like it would be about all she could do to get to his office so he told her he would come around the house before ten. On the first try he got ahold of Chester Conforti in Jersey City. He was a venal old slob, but he knew his business and owed Loomis. He said he would check around for traces of Joey and charge it to goodwill. If Joey was in Hudson County, Chester would find him.
Then he called Zelbo and left a message asking if he could arrange to have Loomis interview Arlene at the Ocean County Jail anytime the next afternoon. He indicated that he might be in a position to do her a lot of good. He hung up the phone and turned to see Martha looking at him. He knew she was gone. They both knew it, but seemed to be waiting for an event to mark the passing. Without thinking he spoke.
"As I was saying, how about we go on a picnic tomorrow?"
"Oh. Oh, I forgot all about that."
"The arcade's closed, isn't it?"
"No. I mean, I can close it, but I haven't really shut down."
"How about it, then?"
"I don't know."
"All right. I have some appointments tomorrow. I'll bring home the chicken and potatos and stuff tomorrow, we can cook tomorrow night and go on Thursday."
"All right," she said. "I'll make up a list."
That night he slept on the couch.
* * * * *
The Fishbein house was a mess. Sandra opened the door, stared at him blankly for a moment and then started to nod her head. Perhaps in the interest of saving precious energy she didn't complete the nod, but got to the bottom and swung her head around. Her body followed like a coal barge and she began to lead Loomis back through the house to the dining room. She sat on the end chair and didn't offer Loomis any of the vodka from the open bottle on the table. Tony Bennett was on the radio. Loomis took a chair and looked at her. There was none of the animal spirit that characterized her to Loomis, but neither was she totally inert. She looked back at Loomis easily. She looked very tired, as if she was done dealing with things and would prefer to just wait for the next awful thing to happen.
"Mrs. Fishbein, I'm really sorry things turned out this way."
She took that in and then finally began to nod. She nodded away placidly for most of a minute. "So am I," she said. "So am I." She nodded some more and then added: "Not your fault."
Loomis sat as she took a tiny sip from her jelly glass of vodka.
"Do you mind if I ask you a couple questions? Just for my own curiosity?"
She looked up at him as if he had just said something very queer, but she didn't appear to be saying no.
"I'm assuming that the Cap'n handled the bills. I mean, like the mortgage payments, loan arrangements and like that?"
She took a slug and let out a breath, enjoying the burning on her lips.
"Yeah. We were done with that, though. Everything was paid off. That's all he wanted, to get the fucking lawyers and banks out of his hair."
"What bank was that?"
"For instance, who held the mortgage on the boat?"
"I don't know. First Jersey, I guess. That was the only bank I ever heard about. In Manasquan. That's where we had our accounts. Why?"
Loomis practically curled himself into a ball trying to look harmless.
"I don't know. I just hate to have things go wrong like this. I'm just trying to figure everything out."
She waived her hand and stood with a slight lurch. She leaned toward the sideboard until her body started to move that way, scooped up another jelly glass and landed back on her chair. She filled both glasses and pushed one towards Loomis.
"Forget about it. I said it wasn't your fault and I meant it wasn't your fault."
"The cops figure Keever killed your husband and Arlene killed Keever in revenge."
She shrugged. "Maybe he did. Maybe she did."
"But you don't think so?"
"I don't think so. I am sure so. I mean not so. But I guess we'll never know now."
"Probably not. You going to move on down to Florida now?"
"That's where you were planning to go, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, it was. I don't know. I really haven't thought about it."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot. All those trips you took down there. Elroy went on all of those, didn't he?"
"Sure he did. The whole gang went." She laughed into her jelly glass and then wiped her chin. "You should have seen it. We're all making like its a company picnic; Mr. and Mrs. and the help. I'm banging Elroy down below and Larry and Arlene are going at it on the foredeck. Wierd. Its like two weeks we're all playing this game. It sounds tense, but it was easy. Easy as shit."
"I guess as long as everybody's happy."
"Oh, we were happy."
"How many times you all make the trip?"
"I don't know, four or five times. Every six months or so. It was great."
"Sounds great. When did this start?"
"The fuck I know? Two, three years ago."
"Not long after Elroy and Arlene came aboard?"
"And the last time? When was the last time you all went down."
"I don't know. Maybe six months ago. What the hell are you getting at?"
"Nothing, Mrs. Fishbein, not a thing. I'm sorry."
She stared at him suspiciously for a moment and then snorted and waved her hand as if fanning air into her brain.
"You're a nice kid, Loomis." She stood again and got her purse from the sideboard. She fished her checkbook out and started looking for a pen.
"Mrs. Fishbein, you don't owe me anything. The deal was . . ."
"I know I don't owe you anything. But Larry did. Am I right? You got a pen?"
"Yeah, but, he was paying me to . . ."
"Listen. Loomis. I know what he was paying you to do. And you did it. I got more money than I'll ever spend. And with that bitch in jail it looks like I'll wind up with the boat after all. I can't pay you the bonus we talked about, but you did a job for Larry and you got stiffed. I just want to even things up. That's all I care about anymore. How much did he owe you?"
She didn't even blink.
* * * * *
As Loomis expected, Zelbo had left two messages on his office machine. One stated categorically and rudely that Loomis had no business with Arlene today or ever. The other smoothly said that she would be available to him after four o'clock that afternoon, but only in Zelbo's presence. It was only 10:45 a.m. so he fished out the card Cap'n Fishbein had given him and dialed Goesser's number.
"Hello, Mr. Goesser, this is Loomis. I spoke to you a few days ago."
"Yes, Mr. Loomis. I remember you well."
"That's nice. Look, I don't know if you've been keeping up on what's going on, but Elroy Keever was murdered the other day and . . ."
"Arlene Babayev was arrested and you were treated pretty roughly. I read all about it in the Press."
"Oh, good. Well, I'm up and about now."
"That's good. Well, I appreciate the update, but . . ."
"No, what I called about, see, is I got to be down in Toms River later this afternoon and I thought I might stop by on my way down." The line was silent. "Buy some birds."
"Oh. Yeah, well, I'm here. The store's open."
"Great. See you in an hour or so."
Getting to see Goesser was important, but if he didn't get what he needed out of the old guy there would probably be little point in going on to see Arlene. Driving down on the Parkway he tried to come up with a clever stratagem. Goesser wasn't a guy to be intimidated and he was probably twice as smart as Loomis so he decided the trickier he got the more likely he was to end up looking like an idiot. There was no other way but to come at him with the facts as Loomis hoped they were.
Loomis wished he felt better. He had paid off all his bills except Gallagher with what Sandra had originally given him and now, with the Cap'n's tab paid off he could actually get the Chevy almost fully restored which ought to make him feel better but would undoubtedly piss off Martha since she hated the car. But what she thought about his car would apparently soon be of no concern, which is why he felt so bad. Not as bad as he ought, but no one would ever know that. And it would be good to get the heater fixed, he thought, rolling up the window.
The day really had some snap to it; the sharp, ferrous crack of fall. Loomis was always bouyed by October and today he felt an additional boost because he was solvent, he had no client but his own self-interest and his entire agenda was doing something bad to someone he hated. If his assumptions were correct the Ciscones had had no reason whatsoever to smack him around other than that they liked doing it. He wasn't in their way. He'd never heard of the assholes until they started gangstering all over his life. Loomis really had no idea who was in that shack in Dover Forge, but he was now sure John Ciscone was behind it. He was sure because he had to be. He didn't want to lose his girlfriend, his apartment and his career in one week.
The walkway out to Goesser's house was steady but the browning reeds below rippled like a cat's fur. The sky was pure blue and enormous, but the slight wind seemed to hug the ground almost furtively. Goesser greeted him without warmth. Loomis was seated in the living room and handed a handwritten, photocopied price list. Goesser offered him a beer and Loomis disappointed him by accepting. He seemed unhappy about leaving Loomis alone in the room. He returned quickly, handed Loomis his beer and sat.
"You're feeling better?"
"Yeah, thanks. I've moved from Tylanol III to Tylanol II. I just have to remember not to move the old coconut too quickly."
"Yeah. I think it gives me a cool George Raft kind of thing, don't you?"
"I suppose. The bandage gives you more of a Gunga Din kind of thing. I assume you're no longer involved in whatever is left of the case."
"That's right. Completely off. One hundred percent free. Mrs. Fishbein paid me off this morning. Mr. Breeze, that's me."
"And you're treating yourself to some authentic shore bird carvings."
"Just the thing for office or den, is what I say. Wow, there's quite a jump from the little birds to the big ones."
"If you're interested in mid-range art . . ."
"Ha. Sort of like 'sofa-sized paintings.'"
"Very much like. Some people buy several terns and arrange them in a diorama."
"Throw a little sand down, a horseshoe crab, some starfish, clamshells . . ."
"That sounds great, but I really don't have the space for that right now."
"That's a pity."
"You have no idea. No, I really kind of had my eye on one particular gull. You mind I show you?"
They went into the other room and Loomis pointed at one that was hung by the sink.
"That's the one. I'm glad its still there. Where is it on this list?"
"Here. 'Landing Gull.' $275.000."
"Yikes. I don't suppose you could come down on that, could you? Something closer to maybe $200.00?"
"$250.00," said Goesser, after a pause.
"I'm afraid so."
Loomis took another look at it and shrugged.
"What the hell."
He wrote out a check while Goesser packed his bird. He really did like the thing and planned to hang it over his desk at the office as if it were coming in for a landing on the client's head. He handed Goesser the check. Goesser looked up from his packing to accept it and looked back down.
"By the way," he said, "where is the invstigation right now?"
"Well," said Loomis, "like I say, I'm not involved any more, at least on Mrs. Fishbein's behalf, but the cops think that Keever killed Fishbein and Arlene Babayev killed Keever."
"Is that what you think?"
"Oh, I don't really give a shit anymore. I just have to testify against Ciscone and then I'm done with the whole thing."
Goesser's head snapped up and his eyes locked with Loomis'. How about that, thought Loomis, I did trick him. He kept his face deadpan and after a few moments Goesser dropped his eyes and finished tying his package. He handed it to Loomis, but they neither moved nor spoke.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I never mentioned the name to you before, am I right?"
"I . . . I don't know. I . . ."
"How about we sit down, Mr. Goesser?"
They moved back into the living room and Loomis carefully placed his package on the floor behind his chair before he sat.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Goesser. I guess I forgot to mention that in the course of investigating the Cap'n's death I kept running up against the Ciscones. Nothing, at least at the time, to indicate they were involved, but everytime I turn around, there they are. I just happened to stumble onto their drug operation and now, since the cops are more interested in the Ciscones than they ever were in the murder of your friend, I'm stuck. I got to go in front of a grand jury and tell them what I know."
"Oh, now, I'm sorry, Mr. Goesser, but to be frank, I'm in enough trouble with the people who issue my license. I couldn't possible . . ."
"You can't prove anything."
"I'm sorry, but what's the difference? I know some things, I can guess other things. I gotta tell them everything. Did I explain that they got me over a barrel on this?"
"He didn't know, Mr. Loomis."
"Bullshit. Look. I can understand you wanting to protect your friend. And I can understand how he was looking for a fast way out from under his mortgage, especially with his marriage coming apart. I really can. But to get involved in the drug trade at his age. I don't know, Mr. Goesser."
"It was her. It was Sandra. She . . ."
"No, I don't think so. No, save it, Mr. Goesser. I don't think she knew shit about it. She's been telling me about these nice trips to Florida and how he handled the mortgage payments and how they set a world record for paying it off and all this stuff I don't think she'd be so free with if she had any idea what was going on. Maybe she's conning me, but if she is she's the best I've ever seen."
"You're a fool, Loomis. It was her boyfriend . . ."
"Start at the beginning, Mr. Goesser."
Goesser stared at him a moment and then shut his mouth as if forever. That pissed off Loomis.
"Its coming out, Goesser. All of it. And they'll be coming for you before long. You just have to understand one thing. I liked the Cap'n. I got nothing against you. But I have been threatened, slapped, pistol whipped, sucker punched and damn near killed and everywhere I look I see the fine Sicilian hand of John Ciscone. This turd needs to be put away. I'm the star witness and I'm going to do everything I can to get it done. Everything. If it can be done without hurting you or Fishbein's reputation, I'm all for it, but I only care about that up to a point. You fill in the fine print for me or I go to the cops with the headlines. This is a one-time offer, Mr. Goesser."
Goesser stood up and Loomis started to follow.
"Sit," said Goesser, pointing sternly down and Loomis settled back into his seat. Goesser went into the other room and rattled around for a few minutes. Loomis could hear a chair dragged across the floor and it sounded like Goesser had to stand on it to get what he wanted. He returned a minute later with a red cardboard folder tied with string. He threw it on the floor in front of Loomis.
"Knock yourself out," he said and he left the room. Loomis stood and leaned enough to see that Goesser was working on one of his birds, then he picked up the folder and pulled a coffee table over in front of his chair and opened it.
There was a stack of checks and check stubs wrapped with rubber band, a white 9 x 12 envelope and a single sheet of legal pad with a 3" x 3" Post-it sheet stuck in the middle and taped down for good measure. In the top left corner of the Post-it in blue pen was the date 9/17/88. Under that was the word 'Ciscon' and a phone number. Below that, in pencil, was written '$50,000 ?' and on the bottom there were several more question marks.
In the white envelope were the Carousel's mortgage papers, issued by First Jersey. Loomis' head started spinning on the second line, but he stuck with it and tried to absorb as much as he could. It looked like the Cap'n had gotten a good deal. The bottom line, literally, was $212,643.09 which included a flat $72,000 for a boat called the Head For Home. That was it. Not exactly a smoking gun.
He unwrapped the checks and flipped through them. On top were First Jersey checks printed with the the Cap'n's name and address, made out to First Jersey beginning 6/1/84 in the amount of $1,643.73 and signed by the Cap'n. On 10/1/88 the issuing bank changed to Atlantic Shore State Bank with no printed name and the amount changed to $3,000. The amounts after that varied from $3,000 to $3,750 and the last check, signed with a flourish was dated 10/1/89.
He wished he had a calculator, but didn't want Goesser over his shoulder. He took the white envelope and a pencil and multiplied $1,643.73 times 33 and got $54,243.09. He added $72,000 to that and got $126,243.09. He subtracted that from $212,643.09 and got $86,400. He divided that by 24 and got $3,600.
He went over his figures a couple of times. Not that mattered that they were exactly right, but just to get it into his head what they meant. That is, beyond the obvious, that the Fishbein's were struggling along under a $1,600 mortgage in 1988 until a conversation with John Ciscone concerning $50,000, immediately after which Fishbein switched banks, more than doubled his payments and paid off the mortgage in less than two years. He also almost immediately began shutting down his business for two week periods for little pleasure trips to Florida along the Inland Waterway. Why switch banks? Loomis could only speculate if he had a $50,000 cash deposit to make he would want to make it as inconspicuously as possible. Maybe the Atlantic Shore account was phoney. That was one of several bank in the area to belly up in the last year. Loomis couldn't remember if it had been bought up by a larger bank, but it would take the state at least to unbury any records. That was work they would enjoy. Fishbein probably would have been better off simply making the same payments since the money was free, sort of, and he was getting interest, but the whole idea was to get clear. A whole lifetime of hard work and struggle brought him to the point where he could almost smell the air and the oxygen made him crazy. Instead of waiting an extra couple of years he found an escalator and paid his fare. He made a deal for freedom that cost him his life.
"Stupid bastard," said Loomis.
"He wasn't stupid."
Goesser was standing by the front door. He had a wooden duck under his left arm and a small v-shaped carving tool in his right hand. He was using it to apply feathering to the duck's back.
"No," said Loomis. "He plays the game for thirty years and almost has it won when he falls in love with a white-trash semi-pro and signs on as a novice drug courier. He's not stupid. He was fucking brain dead."
Goesser set the duck down on a table, but not the tool. He stepped into the living room and sat opposite Loomis. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes wearily. Loomis leaned forward and plucked the carving tool from Goesser's hand.
"No offence," he said. Goesser laughed, Loomis smiled and shrugged. "Tell me," he said, " how come you didn't come forward with this stuff when the Cap'n was killed?"
Goesser just shook his head.
"All right. Help me, Mr. Goesser. Tell me what happened." Goesser sat for a long while, staring into space, and then looked at Loomis.
"The truth is, I never liked Sandra very much for the reason I told you. She's a pig. But there was never any bad blood between us. We got along all right. Then she started sleeping with that cretin Elroy. When he told me about that I told him he had to get rid of her. Quickly. But he . . . he didn't seem to take it seriously. He was amused by it. It didn't seem to hit him personally. I thought it was the perfect opportunity for him to start over before he got too old, but he seemed content to just let it go on. Then. Then he told me about this Arlene person. Carrying on like a fifteen year old over this hillbilly."
"I guess it didn't occur to you that the Cap'n just liked his women a little corse."
"Well, its obviously true, but no more comprehensible for that. Then he came to me and told me about this deal he'd been offered. Keever had arranged it. $50,000 cash and all he had to do was make five trips to Florida with Keever. He didn't have to do anything, see anything or know anything. An account would be set up that would be as blind as it was possible to be. His only risk was an audit and even then there was nothing in particular to red flag the account. That was why he wanted to pay it off in as few years as possible without raising his payments completely over his head. I thought it was insane. I thought it was insane that he couldn't see it was insane. It was his wife's boyfriend, for crying out loud. She didn't know? Nonsense. It was probably her idea. How would a loser like Elroy know someone in the Mafia."
"Ciscone isn't Mafia and Elroy used to work for him."
"If you say so. Still, she had to know."
"Not if Arlene and Elroy were running a game on the both of them."
"What kind of game?"
"Who-gets-the-boat? Dump-the-wife. Fleece-the-geezers. Something like that."
"Is that what . . ."
"I can't prove anything, especially with Keever dead. But I'm certain Sandra knew nothing of the deal with Ciscone or of the drugs Keever was bringing back from Miami. Not that that has anything to do with why you were sitting on these papers. The truth is, you were just scared. Am I right?"
Goesser said nothing. Loomis packed the checks and papers back into the folder, tucked his package under his arm and walked to the door. He set the carving tool next to the duck and turned.
"All this means nothing to me unless I can tie Ciscone to one of these murders. Arlene's certainly got no reason to talk and these papers only tie the Cap'n to Ciscone. I don't think that's really what was going on. If I have to give this stuff up I'll try to let you know before I do."
Goesser must have heard him, but he gave no indication that he did. He stuck the folder under his seat by his gun and began driving slowly toward the lockup. He told himself not to get to giddy. Normally he made his living in areas where the authorities were not even interested. To be so far ahead of the cops on such a high-profile item was giving him a Lew Archer complex. They would eventually make the connection once all the relevant records were obtained, but even if they were looking at the Ciscones in connection with the murders, which was unlikely, they were really running blind as to motive. Not that it was clear to Loomis. It was easy to imagine how Keever, as middleman, could make himself a liability to John Ciscone. Any evidence of excessive greed, carelessness or stupidity on Keever's part would make John extremely nervous. But why the Cap'n? With what he had to lose and with what Ciscone had on him it seemed very unlikely that Fishbein was preparing to blow the whistle on Ciscone. The only thing that made sense was that Ciscone was pressuring him to make more than the contracted five trips and the Cap'n was resisting. Something bad might have come out of that. Also, it was barely possible that the Cap'n and Keever had made some kind of deal that Ciscone had regarded as a double-cross. Whatever was the truth, it was obvious Loomis was getting to the end of his ability to push the story back. Just a few more details, just a little clear, solid evidence against Ciscone and he would be ready to dump the whole smelly pile on Schneider.