Around noon the next day I was in the gym cafeteria, waiting for
Baumgarten's secretary to return with a list of selected players
for my interviews. I'd made the list that morning from a Alcel's
football or college pals. Some contact was my hope, but I'd missed
the players because their lunch was at 11:00. Turned out the practices
were held in the cool early morning and late evening hours, with
weight room workouts and meetings from noon to six.
I was looking over the faxes from
a computer whiz, Sue Masuren, who freelanced for me. She'd dug up
information on anyone connected to Alcel. Checked for rap sheets
on Alcel's buddies: a couple had been booked for assault or resisting
arrest, but all charges were dropped. Then, from behind me, I heard
some guys woofing with each other around the snack machines.
They were all jocks, black athletes,
wearing these long cowboy style dusters. The dusters were shiny
dark gray and came down past their knees. With the noon heat outside,
these fashion statements seemed to involve some sacrifice, unless
they were naked underneath them or planned to stay under air-conditioning.
They were acting like kids, clowning
around with candy bars and chips, cadging chump change or singles
from each other for the goodies.
The center of attention was a wide
chunky guy with a remarkable face. He had Japanese eyes but otherwise
African facial features. The guys were sliding their hands in and
out of this dude's duster pockets, putting in candy bars or taking
out money and talking trash.
"Stand still, Ranny T. Got to
get used to this, " said one, rifling his left hand pocket.
"Gimme that Franklin Handshake,"
another challenged him, holding out his hand.
Ranny T shook his head. "I'm
not giving you one of those, get your own."
"Ranny T you better get down
with this," one of the jocks warned him.
"Let's see how tight."
The biggest jock of the bunch faced him. He stuck both his hands
in Ranny T's pockets, pulling his pockets toward him and shaking
the duster's front like he was working someone's ass into his crotch.
"Yeah, Franklin Handshake's okay but wait'll you get the Franklin
The rest of the jocks busted up, laughing.
"That how Franklin Furpiece work?"
Ranny T laughed, moving his hips along with the rhythm, "that
"Good as natural furpiece itself."
I moved a few steps toward them. They
instantly fanned out to either side of Ranny T. Like fastforwarding
into an old Aikido drill, just as quick I picked the first jock
to take out, then the second. It got that tense, that fast, but
when I smiled, they got confused. I was supposed to be scared. Before
anyone could do or say anything, an assistant stuck his head in
the door behind them and said, "Break's over, huddle up,"
and that fight moment was gone.
As if it never happened, Ranny T and
his posse turned and disappeared down the corridor.
I stood there, wondering what all
that rush was about.
The team PR sheet listed Ransom Togoya,
"Ranny T" as Whitcomb's new star running back, recently
transferred from a junior college. Mixed ancestry, Japanese and
Nigerian, and the school was promoting him as "The Nigerian
Niji." In my list of Alcel's pals he didn't show. Then I remembered
something about Ranny T in Alcel's spring letters to his mother
and made a note to look it up.
From a list of his correspondents,
Brent Cooner, the alumni who'd swung the job for Alcel in the Caribbean,
seemed the best starting place. From his secretary I learned Cooner
was at one of his pet projects: Whitcomb's new museum. He was sponsoring
a Christo show there, not to mention being a founding donor. Apparently
the artist was a pal. He helped finance Christo's more outlandish
projects, like the running fence in Marin county.
On the way to my car, I bought the
morning paper. There was no mention of the accidental boating death.
I thought about the banded hundreds in Baumgarten's inside pocket.
Probably some Sheriff's deputy was going to have no problem buying
his kids' Fall school clothes this week.
In one corner of the museum Cooner
was supervising the installation of a video room featuring a Christo
documentary: hanging a huge curtain across a Colorado canyon. I
hung around and watched Cooner for a while.
Cooner was a sandy-haired guy in a
poplin jacket. About five feet nine, he walked on the balls of his
feet and generally acted like the only rooster in a big henyard,
issuing orders and getting updates from aides. His tennis shoes
looked like Salvation Army rejects, his jeans were torn at the knees,
and his sweatshirt a Whitcomb Athletic department model. He didn't
look like he had a coin to scratch his ass with. From Sue Masuren's
researches I knew only a small amount of his multi-million dollar
worth was inherited. I walked over, introduced myself, and we shook
"Call me 'Coondog." He held
up my card. "Tebeaux, that name mean you from down South?"
"Friends call me Bo. Both my
folks originally came from New Orleans. I grew up in the Bay Area."
I paused. "That nickname ever turn off your inner city recruits?"
"Hell no, it helps. Guys living
in neighborhoods with Flasheeze, Tackhead or NiggazDo can get next
to my name. Plus, I got this little old clincher: play your cards
right with Coach Baumgarten, you got yourself six years of football:
full of greez, grits and getdown. You'd be surprised how that dispels
"Six? How so?"
"Got four years playing, a redshirt
year, and one year assistant coaching, if not here, then elsewhere.
Or two years assistant coaching if no redshirt. Some make out with
seven years. And, you know, Mr. Roule, most of those kids have never
had a year taken care of in advance, let alone a year and a day."
"Sounds like the American Dream.
Get paid for who you are while getting training, security and promotions."
Cooner gave me a sharp look.
"Now, I remember a talk show
about graduation rates."
"The Loggers are way up
in those numbers, compared to Big Ten schools. Whitcomb graduates
almost 40% of our players. "
"Sixty percent don't? What's
the national average?"
"Plus we got the chains."
"You take Record Max--the music
store. We're running about fifteen per cent of our four year players
into job positions there."
"Now how do you do that?"
"I own the motherplucking thing,
that's how, and you know, that's one little going concern, 'cause
all these college kids come out to talk to the players and then
stay to buy."
Cooner flashed a tight grin and, "But
it's cut bait or fish time, Roule. I understand from Coach, you're
okay. You're a man of the world."
"And I understand you're the
alumni fixer supremo and the money recruiter."
"Coach didn't say that,"
he faked outrage, but looked pleased, "now did he?"
"He sure did," I smiled.
"Naw, he didn't say that. I'm just talking all out of my head."
Coondog looked down at his tennis
shoes, as if they made more sense than I did. His runners were Converse,
old style black and whites. Probably part of Coondog's recruiting
costume. Just a regular guy, Coondog was, for a multi-millionaire.
"Tell me about Alcel Robineson."
"Kid had faith, he had family,
he had a strong mother, and he was smart enough to do well in school.
Now, most of these boys need tutors and/or profs with their hands
out. Alcel didn't. By hard work in the weight room, Alcel had developed
into more than a serviceable linebacker. Coach put a word in my
ear, I saw a spring practice scrimmage this April, and he had a
summer job on a beach where there were enough women around to turn
his butt to butter."
"Did you talk to him before he
"Hell yes. I told him try not
to wear out anything there on the sand and if he failed to return
completely relaxed, I'd lock him up in my private hot tub with my
private masseuse. Alcel liked that."
"Anyone else set to travel with
"That was the funny thing. No.
Usually a couple kids go down together, but as a favor to the resort
manager who needed quick help, I shipped this kid down there earlier."
"What was Alcel's mood?"
Cooner shot me a look, as if I were
really dense. "He talked to the other Senior players who'd
made that trip. His nose was so wide open a six pack of beer could've
been shoved in there and still had room for a nurse to make him
"He was a good looking kid."
"And he knew it and the women
"So all his friends knew he was
going? Did he mention any one in particular, say he had something
else he had to do first?"
Cooner thought about that, running
his right hand through his sandy hair, making it a stand up rooster-tail.
He shook his head.
"Anything, an errand, before
he left? Did he sublet his apartment, sell his car, do anything
that would have brought someone else besides his friends or teammates
into his life?"
Cooner shook his head again in a can't
help you way.
"Was he carrying any large sums
of money? I'm thinking, because his car has not been found yet,
that he ran into some problem between here and the San Francisco
"That's probably on the nose,
Roule, but no."
"Maybe you can help me with something
else. I've never been around sports. I'm running into this attitude.
When I mention Alcel to coaches, they get a faraway look in their
eyes. And I know some're new, this is a new staff, most of the ones
I've met, but you'd think--"
"Oh, self-protection. Kid gets
hurt, they drop off the face of the earth. Motivates the kids to
get through rehab fast. Once a guy's not playing, for the coaches
he don't exist."
"Sixty percent leave without
"That's a bump," Coondog
allowed. "But until they leave, Bo, life's full of greez, grits
and getdown! It's all to insure they do their job of winning games
for the team."
He apologized, but it was get back
time to this pet project for his good buddy Christo. No idea what
happened to Alcel. And he told that to the young man's mother, called
her himself. She even asked for his help, when the police were brought
in, and Coondog had done the right thing there.
I thanked him for his help, even though
it didn't add up that if Alcel was so excited about going, as Cooner
said, then why wasn't Cooner curious when Alcel didn't show. Of
course, this job was only small favor, one done many times before,
and Cooner a busy man. Then, "Did you like Mrs. Robineson?"
"Roule, I wish every one of my
recruits had her for a mother. If I did, I'd have a lot more pocket
money to play Texas hold-em. By the way, say hello to the Speaker
of the House. Willie and me have had some fun together. Yes,
we have. So you need anything, you just ask."
"Can you connect me with the
Whitcomb police, let me see their missing persons' report?"
"Soon as I find my phone."
He started to turn, then looked back
at me. "Tebeaux, you didn't call me Coondog once. The Speaker
"Why you ask?"
Cooner gave me what had to be his
tightest smile. "Just wondering. This, uh, political correctness,
well . . . Let's just say, when you've been around, but I was told
you that way, you know what the score is. So, call me Coondog, do
yourself a favor."
One phone call from Cooner fixed me up with a Whitcomb Deputy Sheriff.
The cop didn't know anything about yesterday's boating accident,
but he did fetch me Alcel's missing persons report. He handed it
over with a little flip. The report showed that the cops did more
than a standard job on it; in fact it was above adequate, with more
than three detectives involved. So, after Mrs. Robineson called
him, Cooner had indeed built a fire under them. I reminded myself
to tell her that.
The team's afternoon meetings and
weight work weren't over and Baumgarten's secretary hadn't scheduled
my interviews completely, so there was no point to waiting around.
I drove out to the lake. I cruised around the lakefront road. Almost
directly across from the house was a building site. I caught the
carpenters' crew as they were taking a break. Once he knew I was
working for Baumgarten, the foreman showed me where they were building
a dock and boat house. The lumber had been blown off or knocked
off by waves at the end of their supply float. He showed me that
the lumber was treated to prevent rot, stained either green or brown.
"At night these 2-bys or 4-bys,
can't see them on the lake," he told me, "if there was
any wave action at all. The cops figured that out right." He
was sure the building site owner's insurance was liable, if there
was a claim. "Even if these yahoos're dicking around drunk
at night on the lake."
I didn't ask him how he knew the victim
was drunk: the local cops had been there. But why they'd tell these
guys, that seemed bad procedure.
Because the owners wanted to preserve
the trees between the lot and the road, the easiest way to get materials
on site was to float them over from the boat ramp, especially the
huge prefab roof beams. On the supply float the lumber was bundled
with strapping tape, but loose timbers were stacked up for use.
There was no way of telling how and why they ended up in the drink.
The wake from the ski boat could have rocked them off. I took Polaroids
and taped an interview with the foreman.
I drove back to the house. At the
spot where I saw the sedan stop and pick up someone the night before
was a second path to the house. It looped around through the thick
trees following along a stream. Piled up near the road were two
plastic bags. Empties I thought until I hefted the second one. It
had three sixers of full Coors cans in it. It wasn't as if the bags
were hidden, a local garbage truck could pick them up there,
but somehow I doubted this was a regular trash stop.
In my car I got a transmitter for
tailing cars, stuck it to one of the Coors sixers, and returned
them to the bags.
I followed the stream path to the
back of the house. Recently a concrete sluice had been poured, its
cement still fresh and clean, so the water could run under a new
deck built out into the lake. The sluice prevented erosion of the
deck pilings, and its thick walls and footings were used as part
of the deck foundation. Near the house the sluice even had steps
built into it, so the water made noise. This channel was also for
protection against damage from any spring floods, runoff from the
steep hills around the lake. For whatever reason, this project wasn't
At the house I poked around. The place
was locked up tight. The boat was there. I searched it and found
no flashlight. The bow and running lights worked, but they weren't
bright enough to see debris on the lake at night, especially if
the prow was up at high speed.
I entered the house by picking the
back door lock. That dark smell of low late summer lake water inside
seemed to come in through the floor. While sitting on the deck there
was the pleasant burble as the stream flowed over the sluice's steps
and into the lake. A nice touch.
The house was spotless, as if there
had been no party there the night before. There was a note on the
kitchen counter by the phone. "Dad will call. TR." For
no reason, I took it with me.
My afternoon interviews with the football
players was as easy as sucking oatmeal through a straw.
They gave me the five guys from Alcel's
defensive unit, they had their own nickname: the D-line Boys. The
D-line Boys confirmed Alcel had hung around the college that summer
after the other players deserted Whitcomb for their various jobs
or vacations or whatevers. All anyone knew Alcel was hot to hit
the beach down in the Caribbean, get up close and personal with
the beach bunnies.
By the time I was halfway done, I
remembered a joke I heard on a talk show about the average defensive
player having an IQ six points above a geranium. The D-line boys
were careful and respectful, but their answers were generic, no
matter what question I asked.
Of course, I'd done my homework, called
an ex-UCLA jock turned movie actor who I once befriended during
a bodyguard gig on a movie set. He set me straight. It wasn't that
the players were hiding anything particular; it was that their real
life was always hidden from the public. The con was on from
the moment they took their first free pair of shoes as a recruit
to the cash after the game. So, they had etiquette classes and press
management drills and press conference seminars.
The only interesting thing was a comment
by one of Alcel's teammates: "Oh, Alcel didn't have it easy
last spring. They put a squealer on him."
"A dude fucks up, gets a big
head, Coach gets on his case, he puts a squealer on him in practice.
It's that guy's job to make you squeal."
"No whistle scrimmages. You got
to be on guard all the time. A squealer will level you in the huddle,
getting a drink of water, whatever. There are no off-limits.
Makes you as paranoid as hell."
He didn't know what Alcel had done
to deserve such punishment or even which coach had assigned the
squealer on him. Another guy thought Alcel had played so good in
the last fall games that this harassment was designed to see if
he really wanted that purple jersey of the Loggers' first string.
I asked who the squealer was.
No one could remember that either.
One guessed that it was probably some fourth string dude desperate
to impress the coach. No one could remember if Alcel got off whoever's
shit list he was on by the end of spring practice.
Alcel's steady dates were Geneva Harper
and Voree Gransbury, both in town for the start of fall semester.
I interviewed them separately. Much more lively and opinionated
than the jocks. But the content didn't change from their interviews
in the police reports. I asked each one about Alcel's squealer;
none knew what that was. I explained the term, but nothing was known
about it. Alcel didn't shoptalk about football, unlike some jocks,
which increased his popularity with the ladies. Geneva and Voree
were not all that friendly. Neither had viewed Alcel's Caribbean
trip with favor, "what with the beach bunny trash" as
It was around supper time when I moseyed
out of the student union after my last interview. One of the interns
from the day before spotted me and told me there was something waiting
for me at the Sistine Chapel for Athlete's Foot. It turned out to
be a check for two grand.
Down at the local newspaper, I talked
my way into their library, proving by my receipt that I was working
for Baumgarten. There I copied all the local news and police blotters
during the days between when school was out and the last known sighting
of Alcel. Baumgarten was featured in one color insert: his Just
One Man crusade for Christian living had a mega-conference in
the Logger Football Stadium. The theme was 3 H: Home, Hearth and
Husbandry. The format was a cross between a revival meeting and
a homecoming rally. All across America guys were used to getting
worked up in stadiums and this Just One Man celebration switched
the game on them. Instead of touchdowns, the high was religion and
their primal place in it and their family's life. Pledges of humility
and faithfulness instead of chants of Dee-Fence! Dee-Fence! What
A Friend I Have In Jesus on the monster speakers, instead of
We Will Rock You. Brilliant, really, marketing wise.
And the beauty of it was, like sports,
when you left it was over. Supposedly there were local chapters
forming across America, to Get With The Program. But that wasn't
in line with the primary conditioning of the stadium high: where
the emotions and, I suspected, the resolutions were left behind.
I couldn't see how their rah rah resolutions
would last if it wasn't tied to their local churches. That was where
this kind of work should go on, anyway; or used to in the old days.
Most guys went back to business as usual and looked forward to the
next stadium high. Just One Man was the classic short con:
get 'em up out of their seats and empty out their pockets at the
revival meeting. But between the lines of the article its founders
were lusting for the deep pockets: foundation support and national
Then, on the last page was a photo-spread
of past Just One Man celebrations: Baumgarten with his arms
around the dead man in the boat. He was identified as Wilbur Nock,
a coach at Whitcomb.
There was a nasty eight-car pile-up on the Interstate, four dead.
Bad craziness in a household: wife dead of knife wounds, ex-husband
in hospital not expected to live, two kids potential orphans. And
the Mayor announced that the CC Rider development was opening a
major mall down the Whitcomb river: y'awl come, jobs galore and
free music and grub. That was the local news on page one. Wilbur
Nock rated a page eight story: boating accident, alcohol related;
legally drunk at death. He was titled a sales manager, with retired
coach in parentheses, but Whitcomb University was left off except
for the note that he played there until an injury cut short his
promising career. The funeral was going to be in Kansas City, Missouri
where relatives lived. He was survived by a son. Unless it took
two days for a blood test for booze in Whitcomb, that's what the
Coach's one hundred dollar bills bought: the hottest news day to
bury the item. Of course, the timing of its release could have been
co-incidence, just like the extra two hundred cash I'd been paid
under the table.
The house at the lake belonged to
Nock. Moved in a month ago. At a title company I looked up the transaction
and who sold the place and went to that Realtor. I claimed to have
seen the For Sale sign some months ago. Deep regret over missing
it. The Realtor informed me the property was probably going up for
sale. I claimed to have met Mr. Nock and was shocked. Turned out
he had just taken a managerial job at Record Max. And that was who
the property might revert to, as they were the co-signer for the
mortgage, so I would be dealing with Record Max.
Called Mrs. Robineson at her clinic
and reported that all the information mostly matched the police
report. I asked Mrs. Robineson if Coach Wilbur Nock had ever contacted
her or if Alcel talked of being singled out during spring practice.
Mrs. Robineson said she didn't remember, couldn't talk, because
an emergency situation had come up. So she'd call me back that evening.
I drove out to the lake. The bag
of empties and Coors sixers was gone. I activated my scanner as
I drove back into Whitcomb and picked up a signal near the warehouse
district. The signal brought me to a run-down stucco duplex on a
side street of tire recappers and junkyards.
The two units shared a courtyard but
joined at the back to form a U. Beaters were parked on lawns, but
they didn't look mobile, grass brown around their tires. Nothing
moved, no radio, no sound. I tried to drive down an alley to check
the rear, but it was blocked.
No one answered the front door of
either duplex. I went down the driveway to its backyard. The sixer
with the transmitter wasn't in the garbage, but the empties were
there, still in the bag. Through the duplexes' back door windows,
only two very run-down kitchens were visible. Blinds were drawn
except for the living room window on the right side duplex. I got
up on a stump. The room was an impromptu gym, with free weights
on several sets of racks. Nothing on the walls. No furniture. I
was about to climb down when I saw the bulletin board reflected
in a mirror over a boarded up fireplace. I got a better angle on
it: there was nothing in the bulletin board but hypodermic needles.
For the rest of the afternoon I hunkered down at my motel and collated
accounts for Alcel's last week of school, both from the police report
and his own records and day book. I made a week by week, hour by
hour chart of his documented events and movements. Finished his
coursework, took the tests. His weight room workouts regular. Job
at the gym laundry performed dutifully. Paid the rent. Subleased
his studio apartment for a month. Bought a new swimming suit and
new beachwear. A withdrawal of one hundred and fifty from his account,
but no traveler's checks. Usual phone calls to his usual friends.
His buddies didn't notice him uptight or depressed. No reason for
them to think anything wrong when he was gone. The Caribbean job
explained everything. The two women he was dating Geneva and Voree
admitted that his trip bothered them, but realistically expected
no news from him. His mother was the same, too. The alumni sponsor
Cooner was disappointed when he was informed by the resort that
Alcel didn't show. But he didn't contact Alcel's mother or Coach
Baumgarten. Probably figured he was out of the loop from some change
in Alcel's plans. Alcel was a sophomore. Sophomores do impulsive
things. Cooner was running multi-million dollar businesses. Every
person who knew Alcel had reasonable explanations for why he wasn't
missed until it was time for him to start training camp. Seemed
perfectly normal. And, of course, normal means different things
to different people. Stepping out of your life into thin air and
vanishing is not one.
Of course, on the same normal side,
after years of prime-time success, the athletic program at Whitcomb
was probably rotten and corrupt. My UCLA sports buddy assured me
at this level of athletics violations of rules were almost a daily
occurrence, but: nudge, nudge, wink, wink, oh yes these kids are
amateurs, and uh huh they play for the love of the game while the
colleges pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars. The head coach
lives in a gated estate mansion, performs in ads for car dealerships
and ski resorts, leverages a million-plus dollar deal with a shoe
company for the college, and hosts his own local television show.
This coach had emergency hundred dollar bills that could put the
lid on bad news, such as a former coach being killed while getting
drunk and stupid with Whitcomb football players.
After quitting time, Mrs. Robineson
called me back up.
I repeated to her what I'd discovered.
"Wilbur Nock did help recruit Alcel," she told me, "but
I don't remember much more than his name. I met his sister Carolyn
Nock at a dinner up there." There was a silence. "There
were so many coaches, you know." And, a little more silence:
this time I didn't say anything.
She let it drop that our Sunday driveby
shooters had been caught: fifteen year olds with guns and grudges,
even before they had drivers licenses.
The memory returned of her lifting
me off the sofa and putting her body between me and that driveby
"So," she said softly, "what
do you do next, Tebeaux?"
I had been Mr. Roule up until then.
"Until Alcel's VW convertible
is found, my assumption is that his disappearance connects to the
University and/or town. But everything with the team and his life
seems normal. The cops did the right job on running down his life,
so I got to tell you that nothing looks promising. I don't have
any leads. I'm giving you the news without any French pastry."
"To avoid any pressure on anyone
here, I'm telling people that I'm investigating the time between
his last day here and the time of the flight, but there's nothing
in that time frame to investigate. No credit card slips, no phone
calls, no bank withdrawals."
"Uh huh." There was so much
patience in that uh huh and so much silence after it that
I felt I had to come up with something. And the minute I thought
that, once again I felt her hands on me.
"Look, I may be down, but I'm
not out. I'm going over Alcel's materials. He was an organized young
man, daybook, calendar. Made my own calendar of Alcel's movements.
I'll fax it to your clinic. If you see anything that doesn't fit
Alcel's habits, tell me. I'll look for some angle that leads away
from football and the college, but is in this town. Whatever happened
There was another silence.
"The only reason I haven't been
run out of town is because of my connection with the Speaker."
"If he gets a call and he says
he doesn't know about this, I'll be gone."
"I'll call him, let him know."
She sounded confident. Then, "You know," a silence. "You
never said, Tebeaux, how you got to know " she paused, "the
Speaker of the House."
Happy to talk about something else,
I explained that when I returned from the war in early 1975, I was
a 20 year old wreck, drinking and doping into blackouts, insomnia
and fear. I wandered stoned into the Zen Green meditation center
in San Francisco, believing it was a party, and found some peace.
A concert security outfit hired me. An inheritance from a Louisiana
uncle and a loan from my new rock 'n roll singer wife put me into
the concert security business. I later sold it to start a security,
investigation and bodyguard agency. I in turn sold that after my
mother required home care for her Alzheimer's. When she lost her
savings in the 1987 stock market crash, I had to resume security
consultations but for top dollar people only, to pay the bills for
her 24 hour care.
"And that's where the Speaker
comes in. When I worked for the Zen Green, as the church acquired
property and businesses, I was their liaison man between the Buddhists
and the local politicians. The Speaker knew an up and coming outfit
when he saw it, with enough members to count as voters, and so we
hit it off. Now he throws jobs my way."
Mrs. Robineson murmured that the Speaker
was always good at spotting future voters. A long pause.
Then, "Do you still have your
"Yes. I still meditate, work
with various Buddhist organizations when I have time, which is seldom."
"But do you still, Tebeaux, have
Now it was my turn to be silent. "Yes."
"Well, I have faith in you. Had
since the first time I saw you in church that Sunday. Find my Alcel,
Mr. Roule, and bring him back."
Whitcomb was originally a logging town, sending lumber down South
for the Gold Rush. Now Whitcomb lived off college students and ski
bums Fall through Spring; in the summer months river rafting and
sports fishing and camping. The Crash of '87 had put the kibosh
on a number of developments. There were lots with only surveyors
stakes in them. At a Mexican clipjoint east of town I ate on a patio,
overlooking a mini-mall that only got as far as its asphalt pad.
The grub was mediocre. The wait staff hostile to everything but
fifteen percent tips. The Margaritas were cheap in pitchers. My
fellow customers were required to get drunk and ignore the food.
I stayed sober and suffered. More out of busywork than hope I reviewed
my copies of the local newspaper crime reports for any car hijackings
or crimes around Alcel's disappearance, then gave up and took my
rumbling gut back to my motel. I checked on service and there was
one message from Sue Masuren. Nothing on the whereabouts of Alcel's
VW. She'd traced the license number for the mystery car the night
of Nock's death. The car was owned by Deborah Baumgarten, the coach's
wife. All the land around the lake was owned by CC Corp. which was
an arm of CC Rider Corp. which was a subsidiary of C Jam Enterprises.
The CEO of that was everyone's friend, Brent "Coondog"
Wondered why, with all his staff,
Baumgarten involved his wife in that mess? Ferried the athletic
department lawyer up there and took away someone else who obviously
didn't want their name on any police report, maybe TR of the note
I'd stolen, maybe not. And perhaps that same someone bagged up empties
and leftover booze and dumped them beside the road. On the other
hand, Baumgarten might well be the type to only trust his close
associates and/or family.
Biggest question was why the coach
didn't want me to prep the two players before they interrogated
by local cops.
I assumed that he was sure the cops
would go easy.
And why not?
I'd made two grand plus two large
under the table, went out and spent part of my wages already, on
a plate of microwaved beans, so I was bought and paid for. If that
was my price.
What about that lake accident was
so important to Baumgarten that he'd roust his wife out of some
A-list social event?
As far as I could tell, Coach Baumgarten
was bulletproof, in Whitcomb, at least.
But once I stopped beating myself
up over my lack of progress on this case, I thought, hey, Just
One Man is a non-profit. And that means public records. I called
"Tebeaux, my love, how nice to
hear your voice."
"That may not all you might overhear,
sweet chips, if I'm not brief. I've started to feel the vibrant
power of a mediocre Mexican meal. Need a complete readout on a male
enpowerment op by the name of Just One Man. Non-pro, going
public in a big way, with national franchises looming on the horizon,
so there must be a ton of PR."
"Let's Do The Wave for Jesus
"Stadium therapy for male bonders,
"I just love it when the wife
beaters get out of the house and take some rays."
I took that comment in for a moment.
"You sound bitter."
"My hairdresser's married to
one. Justers, they call themselves. They leave out the one man part,
to get closer to their inner 2-year old. I went over for a do on
Sunday, her shop's in the basement, and her hubby's gang was in
the garage. They'd moved the front room in there to accommodate
everyone, much to the wife's disgust, and were pledging to be Upright,
Godfearing and Responsible to the One-Eyed God. A Just One Man
televised rally. Big eaters. On Monday she had to food shop, clean
the sofa cracks of all the chips and offal, and hire in the rug
cleaners for the 30 weight tracks from the garage. She noticed that
she lost their good armchair to that same garage oil slick. She
was told that if said chair was no longer good enough for her, oil
slick and all, why she could purchase a new one out of her hair
bucks. Such is the cost of righteousness. Us gals are trying support
her in her quest for a good divorce lawyer."
"I love and respect you, Sue,
and always will, and I do feel a twinge of awe over the awakening
that is probably going to sweep over that hubby, once you get done
advising his wife in your sweet and succinct manner."
"Yeah, hired your associate Dabroe
to deliver any legal papers and provide some deterrent when she
I was silent. "Dabroe? You must
hate this husband."
"By the way John's in jail, Murder
"Really? What did he do now?"
"They're claiming he put this
creep in a freezer, one with a busted latch, no less, and then sat
on the lid and listened to him die. There were claw marks on the
inside of the lid."
"That's about damn near the last
hope the police have left. Their sole witness to this is about to
lose his credibility. John had me do the research on that roach.
He's been a meat puppet for so many police departments, his belt
comes with his own box of disposable rubber gloves."
"John must be innocent. He's
much too busy for something that time intensive as suffocation."
"Yeah, I think so, too. I saw
photos of the crime site. It was in a storage warehouse. It was
obvious he used a forklift with moving blankets on its blades to
keep the lid on it, so to speak."
"John must have been very annoyed."
"Hey this geekus hotprowled John's
nephew's wife, got upclose and personal, a little knifework, killed
the dog, said he'd be back. Latex all the way."
"In Dabroe's neighborhood? He
did that there?"
"Yes, so he's got to be suicidal
or out of town. Anyway, after two days jailtime, bailed on a serious
technicality. The nephew and wife fled to relatives in Alabama.
The day of this geek's death John was bodyguarding two 49ers along
with an off-duty county sheriff."
"Oh, then his alibi's gone platinum.
How'd he even get put in jail? When Dabroe's sprung, tell him I
have a job for him. Out of town. He'll need some fresh air. Prisons
were ruined for him by the time he was eight years old."
Out of curiosity, I returned to the weightlifter's duplex. I drove
up in time to see this specimen leaving the duplex on foot. A cut-off
Levi jacket and bleached jeans, barechested with muscles snaking
across his many other muscles.
Snake Muscles was halfway down the
block before I got my car turned around. Caught up with him at the
corner, just entering the red vinyl-padded door of The Wage Slave
The bar was so dim, there was nothing
to do but stand still and be seen until I could see. Two patrons
with their suds, a longshoreman-style bartender in a AFL-CIO cap,
and a short woman at the other end, her back to me, working on stacking
empty glasses while an open tap drained into a tilted pitcher.
Snake Muscles was in the last booth,
by the rear door, his back turned to the room. I started toward
him but only got a little ways before I smelled what he was doing.
Burning vinyl. Then I saw him pull his yellow Bic lighter out and
flick it on, tilting it this way and that, to get the chrome top
really hot. Then he pressed the top into the vinyl again, black
smoke rising from the sizzle.
The barmaid, a short woman in a checkered
apron, passed me with a pitcher of beer. She stopped, sniffed, and
then she went ballistic. She slammed the pitcher down on the table
and seized Snake Muscles by his cut-off Levi jacket.
"You're the son of a bitch
who's been doing that?" she screamed. "You? You?"
She was only about five foot four
and Snake Muscles didn't look like the type to come along. He outweighed
her by at least a hundred and seventy pounds, but he came out of
the booth when she yanked.
"Get the fugoutta here! You
are 86'd!" she yelled, pushing him toward the front door.
The bartender came around the bar
with a shotgun. He racked it. "What'd he do?" he
bellowed. "What'd he do?"
I was already half out of the back
"I'm sorry," Snake Muscles
pleaded over his shoulder, "I thought I was home. Home.
I went out of The Wage Slave Room
and caught up to Snake Muscles as he was mumbling down the sidewalk.
You okay?" I said, strolling up to him. "I thought you
were going to get shot."
"Hell, I'll fix it, fix it, fix
it. I'd of offered to fix it!"
He was upset and perplexed. "All
they had to do was give me another chance."
"Yeah," I said. "What's
wrong with people these days?"
We marched around the corner silently
and up into his duplex. In the room opposite the front door I could
see a purple and white Letterman's jacket with Whitcomb Loggers
across the front hung on a clothes hanger.
In front room though there was a destroyed
couch, Coors empties, and rubber bands, hundreds of them, across
Snake Muscles entered the room to
my left. He took off his Levi jacket. I went in and sat down on
a padded bench and saw the burn marks of his Bic lighter in the
vinyl. The indentations made Happy Faces, sorta.
"Whew!" he said, eyeing
a gleaming rack of chrome dumbbells.
"Yeah," I agreed.
"People," he said, "need
to cut a guy some slack."
"Mistakes," he said nodding.
"One," I agreed.
"And they're on you."
"Yeah, what can you do? Hey,"
he eyed me. "Who you?"
"Bo Roule, Class of 74."
We shook hands. "Here for the Logger Booster Luncheon."
Snake Muscles moved a tripod with
a camcorder and set it up to video his workout. I strolled into
the other room. It was a shrine to his football career with his
Logger Letterman's jacket from Whitcomb University the centerpiece.
Framed team photos, headshots, newspaper stories. Three six-foot
bookcases full of hundreds of videos, each labeled and dated: Logger
games, practices, and even gym workouts. Dated talks by Baumgarten
had their own special shelves. In a headshot Snake Muscles was identified
as Arlis "Arlie" Inman. In one group photo, he was standing
behind Alcel Robineson. I took that one down off the wall. When
I came back in, Arlie was on the bench with some 60 lb. dumbbells,
his camcorder his only audience.
I stayed behind his camcorder and
turned it off when he wasn't looking. "Alcel," I said,
tapping the photo "Now, there was a guy."
"Oh yeah," Arlie agreed.
"That Robineson kid coulda done
"I helped recruit him, I was
hoping, well, you know."
"Oh yeah, he could have been
one of their D hitters. D hitters. D hitters." Whenever he
finished repeating the words, his head jerked as if it were resetting
his brain to talk more. "Thought they'd redshirt him, then
he came on so strong." His head jerked again. Then, jerk,
"Strong enough to get a squealer."
"Damn right." Then, as if
reciting a slogan from a TV ad. "How. Bad. Do. You. Want. It.
Howbad doyou wantit. Howbaddoyouwantit." Jerk.
"That's the message!"
"That's the word. Word. Word."
"Golly! This spring," I
slapped my forehead. "Who was put on him?"
"Nock. The Big W." Arlie
stopped lifting to look sideways at me and I went whew. "Get
the Nock on you, you know it's coming from a coach. Coach. Coach."
Jerk. "Of course it was a mistake. No call for
"Yeah, no call."
"No. No. No, not at all. No call.
Got it wrong. The Tiffster wasn't close to Alcel."
"Yeah, that was wrong. Tiffster
wasn't close. He was . . . ." I looked to him for help. Arlie's
eyes clouded over, confused, as if I'd said something wrong. I shrugged.
"Gotta run, the booster lunch." I tucked Alcel's photo
under my arm, went out the kitchen door, walked across the small
courtyard to the matching side door of the other duplex apartment
and went in. Since yesterday when I'd peeked in the windows, things
had changed. There were weight machines there now, instead of free
weights and their racks.
Had Inman moved them overnight?
There was several tons of weights,
racks and steel benches. But I was sure that the racks of dumbbells
were in the other side of the duplex yesterday.
Obviously an interview with Arlie
about the cabin and Nock's death was impossible until he calmed
down enough to stop repeating words and jerking his head around.
The bulletin board used hypos were
still there. In the kitchen I opened the fridge. Boxes of pharmaceuticals.
Inside were vials, bundled together four to a bunch with rubber
bands. I took one vial from each box. The chemicals unknown to me.
Nabbed a couple used hypos. As I went for the front door, I saw
the floor of this duplex was carpeted with the same rubber bands.
I thought he's done hundreds of these bundles. I was out
of there and off toward my car before I dared to look back. In the
window Arlie was doing curls with the big bar, maybe 160 pounds
on it. If he saw me, his face didn't show it. I didn't want to be
around when Inman discovered his workout hadn't been properly recorded.
He might get mad and brand me with his Bic.