The next day Loomis parked in the lot of the Lobster Shack across Channel Drive from the Carousel's mooring. Party boat row was inside the Manasquan Inlet, a dredged channel that provided ocean access between Point Pleasant and Manasquan for the Manasquan River. There were a dozen or so party boats on the row. Most of them were simply boats for people who liked deep water fishing. Some, however, were decked out like carnival attractions. They bore festive names such as Hooters II and Wild Thang and were clearly going for the male adolescent fantasy trade. Judging from the decorations on the little office of the Carousel, it leaned more toward the second type.
The Carousel docked at 4:30 and a dozen high-fiving 'sportsmen' wobbled off and into their cars. It was the largest of the boats in the area and set itself apart also with a forbidding array of masts, radar nets and chrome. Elroy, Fishbein and the 'hostess', a pneumatic blond of a certain age, went into the office. Five minutes later the hostess had changed out of her bikini, gotten into her battered yellow Mazda covered with "I Love Cap'n Fishbein and the Carousel" bumperstickers and driven off.
Ten minutes later Elroy emerged with a can of beer in his hand and one in each rear pocket. He was a scruffy looking guy and Loomis stared at him, trying to imagine his appeal. Through his binoculars Loomis could see a yellowish circle around his right eye, like a squash going bad. His lip was a little puffy and he favored his right knee. It looked like it had been close to a week since someone thumped him pretty good. Keever drained his Coors, crushed it, dropped it on the ground and opened another before he drove off in his crumpled pick-up.
After another half-hour Fishbein and his wife turned off the lights, locked up and drove off in a big, blue Caprice Classic. He followed the Fishbein's car south to Arnold Avenue, out to Route 88, over the Inland Waterway drawbridge then up toward the hospital.
Fishbein lived in a ramshackle cottage on the corner of Buena Vista and Aspen. Loomis had always liked this area. It was one of the oldest developments on the Shore. The cedars and pines, the hedges and fences, the little tool sheds and pools that had been added over the years completely hid one house from another and half obscured most of them from the street. They had another car, a silver Stanza, parked on a gravel drive.
The first night Loomis parked a block away and took a little walk around the corner and back. The Fishbein's house was open and airy. Loomis found a spot kitty corner from which he could see most of the dining room, the living room couch and a french doored hallway between them. He could see into the kitchen by moving five feet. A fool could stake out this place.
He could see Mrs. Fishbein banging pots in the kitchen. If anything she was larger than the Cap'n, somewhat round shouldered and her features generous and elastic. While the Cap'n's features seemed hung from his face, however, hers seemed to pull her face along behind. She was vital and strong and it gave her a burly attractiveness. The Cap'n seemed to be setting the table. At first Loomis assumed they were expecting company, but after they sat down together and seemed to talk companionably over their meal, Loomis retrieved his car and thought. How many couples after twenty-five years still sat down and ate together at the dining room table? He wondered if they were talking about their divorce. The majority of Loomis' work was divorce and he had taken money to witness some pretty odd arrangements. Domestic bliss was a first. He sat smoking and listening to Emmy Lou Harris until all the lights were out at 9:30 and then an hour more.
The next night was Thursday and since this was clearly not the kind of job to give up his poker night for he put Marty Baez onto it. This also got Marty out of the game which gave Loomis a chance to win for a change. He did win, $3.75. Marty reported that the Fishbeins had a fight, but seemed to patch things up before the evening was over. He wrote out Marty a check for $125 and tried again to beat him down from his $25/hour rate.
"A job like this, Marty, if I was you, I'd be ashamed to take more than ten bucks an hour."
Marty shivered as if he had caught a chill.
"What's the matter?"
"I was just imagining being you," said Marty, folding the check into his wallet.
The next night Loomis decided to follow the boyfriend. Elroy Keever was a knobby, bony, white-trash blond in his late thirties, given to black tee-shirts advertising heavy-metal bands. The guy looked surly and stupid and as Loomis pulled out half a block behind his pick-up he told himself not to underestimate the guy just because he looked like a doped-out shitkicker. Three blocks later the guy had made the tail. Loomis could tell because Keever pulled over to the shoulder, turned around in his seat and watched through the rear window, the side window and the windshield as Loomis drove past. He also seemed to be looking for something to write the license number on so Loomis hung a fast left and continued toward downtown at a moderate pace.
He was thinking, well, if Keever had gotten the whole number and knew someone that could trace the registration, this might be embarrassing. He was also thinking that unless someone is up to something you can usually sit right on their tail for miles and they never notice. So Keever was up to something. Maybe it was jumping on the bosses wife, maybe it was something else. When he got to Arnold he parked in the train station parking lot, tucked in between a couple of those 4-wheel drive numbers. If Keever had turned north on Route 35 there was nothing he could do. If he had gone any other way he would be coming by and at least Loomis would know the right direction. Five minutes later Keever came by and was stopped by the light at the tracks. The two vehicles were only thirty feet apart. Loomis ducked. When he peeked he could just see Keever heading west on Arnold. It took him a minute to get out of the parking lot and headed in the right direction on Arnold, but this was okay. He had to keep the longest possible distance and if he lost him, he lost him. He could just go stake out the Fishbein's and earn his money.
He drove up Arnold towards the bridge. The new bridge was about twice as high as the old one so it was raised about half as often. This was one of those times, though. As the huge counterweight slowly rose he could see Keever's pick-up puttering down the slope on the other side of the Waterway and around the curve. Ten minutes later, the bridge swung down and Loomis headed as slowly as possible up 88, scanning the pizza parlors, diners and taverns. It was quite possible Keever had turned off on Bridge Avenue or a hundred other places, but Loomis went strait through the light and a mile or two into Brick Township before he saw the pick-up.
It was parked at the Tomahawk Inn. Loomis pulled into the 7-11 next door. This was stupid. What he really wanted to do tonight was watch the playoffs. He wasn't because he didn't want to use up the entire retainer on Marty's $25 an hour. On the other hand it was his own fault that he had gotten almost no useful information out of Fishbein, like, for instance, where Elroy Keever lived and a dozen other things. Fishbein had been in too big of a rush and was evidently too conflicted about what he was doing to get Loomis started correctly. So it was going to cost him. Once Keever was done drinking Loomis wasn't likely going to be able to follow him. If he was paranoid before, he'd be paranoid and liquored up now. Loomis went to the pay phone outside the 7-11. Marty was home. He'd be there in ten minutes. Same rate. Loomis hung up. It wasn't the rate that aggravated Loomis, the client paid that, after all. It was that Marty insisted that it be off the books. That and the fact that Marty was better at tailing than he was.
Marty pulled in, Loomis pointed him at the pick-up, warned him that Keever looked like a nasty bastard and asked him to call in around eleven. Marty didn't say anything.
Loomis' girl friend, Martha, ran an arcade on the Manasquan boardwalk, which was only twenty minutes away. Hers was always among the last on the entire shore to close up, but after Labor Day the hours became pretty much what she felt like. He thought it might be nice to go up and play a little Skee-ball until he could get her to close, take her out to dinner and have some fun. She didn't answer, though, so he drove back down 88 and by the Fishbein's. The Caprice was home, the lights were off. Screw it, thought Loomis, and he went home.
Loomis and Martha were splitting the charge on a one-bedroom beachfront in Bradley Beach. Martha had gotten a deal from her real estate connections, but it was still a stretch. At least Loomis' half was a stretch. Loomis was watching the play-offs. This was the year the Pirates turned to stone against the Reds. He had tried everything. Cap on, cap off, Pirate mug, Pirate shirt, Pirate shirt backwards. He even took his Pirate plaque and put it on top of the TV. Nothing. They just wouldn't hit. He felt that kind of frustration and anger that was inexpressible because it was stupid. Martha got in about nine thirty, dragged through the room, mumbled an endearment and stumbled into the bedroom. Martha worked hard. When Marty called at eleven, it was obvious the Bucs were going to lose so he turned off the set.
"Hi, Marty. I hope you didn't have to wait out there too long."
"Didn't wait at all. Went in and had a drink."
"How long did he stay?"
"Elroy? We stayed till about an hour ago. Just got in."
"I bought him a few."
"You get a receipt?"
Marty ignored the question. "He's not such a terrible guy. He's a chump, but he's not the psycho-retard you made him out."
"I did nothing of the kind. Where did he go after the bar?"
"He didn't meet no client's wife, I know that. Not in his condition. He doesn't drink well. I told him I'd follow him home in my car. Make sure he got there okay."
"I like that. We'll call it the Baez Ploy. Where's he live?"
"That trailer park up by the Laurelton Circle in Brick. Number 74."
"Yeesh. Anything else?"
"He was talking like it was his boat. Coulda been the beer talking. Coulda been typical loser bullshit. Coulda been he thinks good times are around the corner."
"You owe me $27."
"I don't pay for your drinks, Marty. Just his."
"You owe me $27."
"The fuck he drinking? Goldwasser?"
"You want me tomorrow?"
"I don't know. Probably. I'll call you."
Loomis turned on the set long enough to see that Pittsburgh had indeed lost. He spent a few moments adjusting his attitude. They had had a wonderful season and they were an exciting, entertaining young ballclub. If the kid at third turns out to be a real hitter and they hold their starters together and come up with a bullpen, they'll really have something. By the same token, if Loomis hit the Lottery, found Jimmy Hoffa and fixed his relationship with Martha, he'd really have something. The right way to look at it was that the Pirates and Loomis both still had things to shoot for.
He went into the bedroom, threw the cat off the bed and sat in the near dark for awhile, watching Martha sleep.
* * * * *
Saturday was about as nice a day as the shore has to offer. High, blue sky, bright wind, temperature in the low 70's and just enough bite in the air. Martha expected a biggish day at the arcade and was gone early. Loomis drove down to Toms River and served a paper at the high school. This guy was a beauty. An English teacher and football coach, he had been trying for years to extend his income with one crooked deal after another. His friends had, so far, kept him out of jail and in his job, but now he was being chased for false invoicing by some folks connected with the Board of Freeholders. Loomis didn't know what kind of teacher he was, but as a crook he didn't rate. He made a big deal out of mashing the papers into a ball and tossing them carelessly at Loomis' feet, but they both knew he'd pick them up after Loomis left. His career in crime was just about over.
Loomis decided to spend the afternoon at his office catching up on paper work. For years he had run his business out of his great-aunt's rooming house in Asbury Park. Martha had convinced him that he was never going to move up in the world unless he had a real professional office and this was his first try at one. He could make the rent only by doing work for the owner now and then. It was a six store strip along Route 70 in Wall Township. Loomis Associates, Private Investigations was sandwiched between Mike's Subs and The Wonderful Years - Togs for Tots. Martha had handled the decoration and done a splendid job of splitting the difference between H&R Block and The Gap. It was a good looking place in solid, masculine colors -- green shades, dark, solid furniture and a little brass here and there -- yet a little dull, non-threatening. He didn't do much here except take messages off the machine and keep his files, but once things got really going and he hired a secretary and a few full-time operatives, well, by that time he'd be ready to move.
Two doors down was Gallagher's Portraits. When he walked in Gallagher was doing a couple of Hispanic girls whose unhappy little faces were just visible behind a cascade of ribbons, bows and flounces. The parents were even unhappier, tapping their feet and muttering to each other. Gallagher was sweating, shaking and smiling that nervous weasel-smile of his, explaining, as best he could, how he wanted the last shot. It was a tense scene.
"Niņa . . . hold . . . hands," he bellowed, demonstrating for the parents. He tried to grab the children's hands and mash them together. They looked at their parents, ready to panic. He turned to the father. "Hold . . . hands."
"Mr. Gallagher," he said with unaccented, but strained patience, "you want them to hold hands."
"Si, si," said Gallagher, delighted. "Hold . . . hands."
The father was ready to blow. "Listen . . ."
The mother, who was the really angry one, put her hand on her husband's arm.
"Luis," she said, "let's just get it done."
The father nodded to the kids who held hands in a slaughter of the innocents pose. Gallagher snapped.
"Bueno! Bueno, niņos." Gallagher mopped his brow and started to hustle his customers out. They needed no encouragement. In one deft motion Gallagher pounded the father on the back, tucked the bill into his shirt pocket and slammed the door after them. He turned to Loomis.
"I don't care what they do. They can come here and go on welfare if they want. It's a free country, you know. But why can't they learn the language? That's what pisses me off. I just feel sorry for the kids. You hungry?"
Loomis was hungry, but since what Gallagher meant was 'do you want to buy me lunch?' he denied it.
"I got a job for you. Divorce." When Loomis needed shots taken for a client Gallagher took them. Unlike Marty, Gallagher worked cheap, especially for divorce work. For Gallagher, sneaking around in the dark and taking pictures of illicit love affairs was recreation. Almost a privilege. He wasn't the best photographer around -- when it was damaged property or personal injury, they often had to go back for a second session -- but his dirty work was always first rate.
"All right. When, tonight?"
"I don't know. We're still looking for the love-nest. How about I give you fifty to be available nights for the next four, five days."
"You don't need to buy me, pal. You can rent me anytime. Har, har. I ain't doing anything. You ring, I bring. Glad to get out of the house."
"Thanks," said Loomis, and he started to leave.
"I'm telling you Loomis, it's stupid us both paying rent here. Why don't you put me on the payroll? We could really get something going."
"Sure. You work for free?"
"Har, har. What's she look like? She young?"
"Just your type, Gallagher," said Loomis, opening the door.
"Hey, pal. You forgetting something?"
"I think I heard something about fifty dollars."
Loomis gave him a check and left. He picked up half a turkey sub and took it back to his office. He paid some bills. He threw out the mail. He opened a file for Fishbein and wrote some notes. There wasn't much to write. Fishbein indicated it would be a semi-friendly divorce and so far, that's what it looked like. He wanted the pictures just in case it turned into something else, which, nine times out of ten, it does.
Clients often lie, but they always leave stuff out. Most people are fairly desperate by the time they hire you. They don't want to admit they're in the situation they're in and they don't want to admit they're doing what they're doing about it. 'Find her', 'nail him'. They feel wronged, but also that hiring Loomis is stooping to the level of the enemy. They want to get it over with as quickly as possible. So they leave stuff out. It was aggravating, but lucrative, since he often had to spend time finding out things they could easily have told him. So far he had a husband and wife on the cusp of divorce. Boyfriend who is their co-worker. Girlfriend in shadows, but Loomis bet himself it was the 'hostess.' No odds, but still a cozy bet. He pulled Fishbein's card out of his wallet and dialed the business number.
"Cap'n Fishbein's Carousel." Mrs. Fishbein hadn't gotten too much sleep last night. Or maybe she'd been crying. In any case, she was having a bad day.
"I call at a bad time?"
"No, of course not. What can I do for you?"
"My name's Parker. I work at the Arco up on Route 70 in Laurelton?"
"You got someone works there drives a yellow Mazda?"
"What's this about, Mr. Parker?"
"Blond lady? A little heavy?"
She liked that.
"Yes, that would be Arlene. What about her?"
"Oh. See, she dropped a book when she was gassing up last night. I tried to stop her, but she just zipped off. I saw the bumper stickers, thought I'd call on the chance, you know? She really works there?"
"Yes. A book, did you say?" She found that unlikely.
"How about that? I'll tell you what, why don't I just
drop it in the mail for her? I got yer address. What's her last name?"
Mrs. Fishbein had to think it over for a second. She was probably more interested in what kind of book Arlene would possibly read than she was suspicious.
"Babayev." She spelled it. "This is very kind of you, Mr. Parker."
"No trouble at all. Thanks."
There was no Babayev in the Ocean County directory. In the Monmouth directory there were three, including Arlene. She lived in Wall, not more than half a mile from Loomis' office. He called Marty and asked him to take Mrs. Fishbein tonight and if she met someone to call Gallagher. He wanted to spend an evening behind Arlene Babayev. She might not be the girl friend and, if she was, it might not mean anything. It certainly wasn't included in Fishbein's sketchy direction, so if it wound up just morbid curiosity he'd have to eat Marty's fee for the evening. He'd just feel better knowing where everyone stood.
At four-thirty Loomis was in the Lobster Shack parking lot trying to spot Marty. He couldn't figure how the bastard did it. The guy was invisible. His car was invisible. Never had he been spotted on a tail. He couldn't be staked out at the Fishbein's because he couldn't know for sure that they would leave together. It's Saturday night, if there was really whoopie going on it ought to be going on tonight. He was trying to make out a car behind the bait shed across the road when a yellow Mazda flashed past the corner of his eye.
There was no subtlety required in following Arlene Babayev. She was strapped to a Walkman, smoking a joint and didn't even have a rear view mirror. She led him up 35 to the Brielle Circle and down 70, past his office almost to the bridge. The Manasquan River marked the border between Monmouth and Ocean Counties and, west of Point and Manasquan, between Wall Township and Brick Township. The marinas on each side of the river had grown enormously in the past few years till they almost met in the middle of the tidal river. Arlene took the last right turn before the bridge and after a quarter of a mile turned into a small apartment complex. Loomis drove on and turned into a row-boat rental shop a hundred yards further down. Apparently, some people thought you could still catch crabs in the Manasquan River.
He was lighting only his second Lucky when she came out. She really wasn't that heavy, just a little on the sloppy side, but in her lavender tank top and tights anything that jiggled was public domain. She lit another joint, changed tapes and they were off. Over the bridge and west on 70 almost to Laurelton Circle, which really isn't a circle anymore. She took the cut-off over to 88 and headed back east. She made one stop for packaged goods and then a left into Beyers Trailer Park. Loomis eased over the speed bumps and managed to get himself lost for a minute while she parked. Most of the units in the park were large and domesticated with little picket fences and lawn jockeys. The one Arlene entered was really just a trailer -- a small silver bubble built to drag along behind your car. He pulled up close enough to read the sign. It said '74 - If this trailer's rockin', don't bother knockin'.' He parked under a willow and won five bucks from himself. 74 was rockin' less than ten minutes later.
* * * * *
According to Marty, the Fishbeins had spent a quiet evening at home. Very quiet. It looked to him like they weren't speaking to each other. Loomis wondered what happened to the scene of domestic felicity he'd witnessed only two nights before. He considered calling the Cap'n with the news that his wife's boyfriend had outside interests, but without knowing for sure what the Cap'n's interest was in this growing melange he decided to put it off. The Cap'n was due to call for a progress report in a couple days anyway. With luck the Mrs. had decided to cool it until after the divorce and Loomis Associates could collect for tailing her for six weeks and never have to do a thing. These were the kind of jobs that got you to Aruba in February.
Sunday and Monday Loomis packed a lunch and a pile of extra tapes and set up shop down the street from the Fishbein's. Sunday was a long day as the boat was idle and Loomis imagined Number 74 merrily swaying while he observed the deepening chill at Buena Vista and Aspen. The Fishbein's didn't speak to one another at all as far as Loomis could see and stiffened ludicrously when they happened to pass in hallway between the kitchen and living room. None of this eating together in the dining room stuff, either. They didn't go anywhere, just spent the day being unhappy. The Cap'n went upstairs around nine and the Mrs. spent an hour or so slamming around the house and trying to watch a little TV before curling up with some blankets and vodka on the couch. Loomis waited until they left in the morning for work. Not a door was left unslammed, but still they hadn't exchanged a word.
Loomis slept till noon, digested a crabby note from Martha for breakfast and met a client at the office who was looking for his nephew. It sounded like the kind of thing that would be handled on the phone so he took a retainer, got a contract signed and then hustled down to Point to meet the Carousel. Elroy was first out, as usual, but he opened his beer and hoisted himself on his tailgate and appeared to be taking in the sun. Arlene sashayed out and as she walked past Elroy on the way to her car they both looked away. Elroy was even whistling. These children were either new to clandestine romance or just as dumb as they looked. Arlene took off, but Loomis could see her turn right at the next block. There was nothing down that street but clam boats. When the Fishbeins emerged he considered waiting around to see Arlene come back for Elroy but decided to pay himself off the five bucks and do his job.
There were three cars between Loomis and the Fishbein's Caprice, but he could see they were talking again. It didn't look like they were saying anything nice, but at least they were communicating. That's important in a relationship. Martha had mentioned that in her note. Red faced, and with knots and cords sticking out all over their heads, they talked all the way home, into the house, upstairs, downstairs. Fingers were pointed, fists were raised, tears were shed. Many points were being covered. They discussed them from opposite corners of the house and with their noses almost touching. Crockery was used for emphasis. They didn't seem to be making much progress, however, and after about 45 minutes the Cap'n stormed out and roared off in the Caprice.
Mrs. Fishbein held herself together for a few minutes. She went into the kitchen and took a couple of pills with water. She went into the living room, sat down and cried until the Cap'n returned twenty minutes later. She rose and climbed the stairs. The Cap'n looked for her for a minute, started to climb the stairs and then stopped. He went into the kitchen, poured himself a foolish amount of whisky, took it into the living room, sat down and started to cry.
This was going to be tough to write up. The Cap'n may have forgotten his house was under surveillance, or didn't realize how it worked. More likely he just didn't care at the moment. It was almost dark. As the Cap'n sat in the brightly lit room he was slowly becoming more and more visible from the street. He just sat on the couch. He would start to cry, gulp some whisky and just sit some more. Loomis put a Waylon Jennings on, but turned it off after a minute. They were all about drinking and heart-break. He'd had enough for one night.