Time: 1988. Setting: Northern California
Beaux Roule continues his search for Mrs. Robineson's missing son Alcel,
a college football player. Whitcomb University's football program boasts
of their head coach, Phil Baumgarten, and Deborah, his ideal faculty wife,
are also founders of Just One Man, a Male Bonding evangelical arena event.
When an ex-player, Wilbur Nock, dies in a boating accident his death leads
Roule to a wet-brained ex-jock, Arlis Inman, and then to the program's
Sugar Daddy: multi-millionaire Brent "Coondog" Cooner who insures that
the Whitcomb players receive illegal payments: "Franklin Furpieces," or
pockets full of hundred-dollar bills. Roule discovers that Baumgarten's
daughter, Tiffany, was Nock's wife and also had some connection with Alcel
and he pursues this lead through the Athletic Director and back to Cooner.
In their interview he gets his first taste of official disapproval and
an implied threat comes with it. Roule attends Nock's funeral and is restrained
from approaching Tiffany. He enlists Mrs. Robineson's help in interviewing
some girl friends of Alcel's. These interviews shatter her with news of
interracial loony tunes and jealousies in the football program involving
On a case there's always a point where details touch a little deeper than
seems possible. In this case, how this happened surprised me. When I got
to my office on Wednesday afternoon, I totaled up my expenses, put Baumgarten's
two hundred in with Mrs. Robineson's two grand in my safe, and turned
on my message machine. My hustle for upcoming top-end security jobs buried
me until the next morning when I left the office for my weekly visit to
my mother's nursing home in Orinda.
I called this a luncheon date, but that
was only to make it normal. Mother sometimes knows me. Sometimes I'm her
older brother. Then we talk in French, hers fluent, mine fractured. Looking
at her is a tragedy if I remember her as the most independent woman I've
ever known. But if I stay in the moment, she's only my mother who has
lost her memory. If I can't, I think about who she used to be, it's a
struggle every minute I'm with her.
That was a good day. Mother chatted about
her work at Turn Toward Peace, a '60s pacifist organization in Berkeley.
"I remember how that nasty mimeo machine turned my hands black!" And she
laughed, like a child. When she had memory, I let her talk on and remembered
that place, too.
Turn Toward Peace was a Victorian house.
Its large back porch, its thrift- store office furniture, its table of
telephones for organizing peace marches suddenly combined with the Robinesons'
makeshift office, their telephones. This confusion of two offices turned
me around for a second, and then one aspect of this case broke open for
My mother had been an All-Pro Activist.
She never saw a demonstration she didn't like. Mother had little time
for me, so she raised me to be independent. Our house was a nerve center
for every Berkeley protest march and I was the pacifists' pet for years.
Once, when I was nine, she left me with her volunteers. I fell asleep
on our basement sofa. The volunteers thought I was at a friend's and left
for the march. When I came upstairs, a man was photographing our files.
Groggy, I thought him a volunteer and asked him something. For an answer
he blinded me with his flash and disappeared. It seemed a dream, so I
laid down on a couch and fell asleep. Years later I learned through the
Freedom of Information Act that my dream was an FBI agent. Then, because
of my training, I figured out which of her friends were informants, despite
the attempts to black out their names.
When I hit adolescence, I rebelled, read
only Marvel comics and took up martial arts. When at eighteen I told mother
I'd joined the Army, the look of betrayal on her face was both staggering
and also satisfying. My absentee gambler father had died in a hotel fire
during a poker game when I was seven, but he'd always been separate from
her ideals. There was no more dramatic way to distance myself from her
and become a man.
Our luncheon ended when my cell phone went
off. A stolen equipment crisis developed for my girlfriend Lou Ann and
her band, Clapsaddle. They were on a gig in Southern California. It took
me a few hours to sort it out, amidst another bout of nostalgia for the
rocknroll biz. Lou Ann flew in to handle some further complications with
their next concert in Marin, and then we shared a pleasant afternoon.
I told her about Whitcomb and how this While You're At It Job from E Mack
had blossomed into something interesting. When I got to the random driveby
shooting, Lou Ann suddenly got interested.
"So your client threw you on her porch?"
Lou Ann asked.
"Well, Mrs. Robineson removed me to the
floor, let's put it that way." I went on to explain that she saved my
life. Now this obligation both haunted me and motivated me. "Like my old
platoon. I'm hardwired that way. She locked in on that."
"So your plan was to flip and fluff the
case to another agency?"
"Yeah. Not completely flip and fluff at
the start, off-load it to a Sacramento PI."
"Then why didn't you?"
"She paid me too much. With that many foster
kids, the money's gotta be from the Speaker of the House. Can't be from
the church. E Mack would have told me. She didn't earn this, the money's
some kind of heavy debt for her, I know it. The two grand has gotta be
the Speaker's dough. Besides, how long has it been since I had anything
but corporate fucking clients?"
"With your mother's debts, no use beating
I told her why Mrs. Robineson's life reminded
me of mother's, Mrs. Robineson's office my mother's old office. "You remember
when I finally cleaned this house out?"
"I made you do it. You were expecting her
to come back, and that was bad for your mental health."
"Whatever. You wanted me to seal her office
in a huge plastic box and donate it to the University Museum for a diorama
of Berkeley activism."
"From Civil Rights to Free Huey Newton to
Save the Whales, she never missed a one. Those posters are worth bucks
"Yeah. They might pay for a month's care."
When I was running my own PI agency, selected cases like Mrs. Robineson
were done pro bono." This is the worst kind of missing person: a cold
trail months old. Tried twice to say no."
"How old is she?"
"Uh, Lou Ann, that was not really an issue."
"So tell me."
I paused, irritated with her. Lou Ann has
a wonky eye. What with her face jewelry, 'toos, and rocknroll rags, she's
different. But that eye focuses off to one side, and the effect's so striking
that most people can't resist telling her things about themselves. When
she wasn't with her band, I liked using her for an interviewer. For that
matter I never could resist telling her the truth myself. Some kind of
magic. "She's probably 38, she's a big, tall, almost lanky woman. Moves
fast for her size."
"Must of, if she surprised you. What, you
spend time every week at Aikido, making sure no one can."
"Hey, Lou Ann, that's not how it happened.
I was high on three days of gospel, you know, old times, a little
tiddley on E Mack's scotch, talking about . . . " I was about to say my
services, but Lou Ann was really jealous. " . . . about my fees. Said
two grand, I'd thought she'd blink. I was not paying attention." I paused.
"Speaking of time, when's your flight back to LA tonight?"
An hour of getting reacquainted seemed to
calm Lou Ann down enough for the shuttle to the San Francisco airport.
But it was funny and irritating. She never was the jealous type. I suppose
that's why I was always attracted to rockers, such attitudes were not
prized or practical in their world. And with my jobs there were lots of
nights when I didn't come home.
On Friday a call came from a bodybuilder.
I'd phoned him the list of Inman's refrigerator medicines. He told me
that anyone taking this particular cocktail, regular, would be a lunatic.
I said, judging by all the rubber bands lying around, he might be injecting
them four vials at a time.
"Four? You going to see him soon? I mean
"Maybe conduct an interview."
"Roule, carry a stun gun for openers, mace
for an equalizer, and a cattle prod for any attitude adjustments."
News from Sue Masuren: Inman's duplex was
owned by CC Corp., which was an arm of CC Rider Corp. which was a subsidiary
of C Jam Enterprises. The CEO was everyone's friend, Mr. Brent Coondog
Arlie's disability and medical insurance
came from his warehouse job with Record Max, owned and operated by Mr.
Brent Coondog Cooner. And Inman's legal representation was provided by
the same firm that represented CC Corp., CC Rider Corp. and C Jam Enterprises.
This prompted me to call Mrs. Robineson
and caution her not to tape Alcel's girlfriends, not openly at least.
"If you want to do it on the sly," I advised her, "have Rasheedi wear
earphones, as if she's listening to a tape, but leave the mic open."
"Ethical considerations don't bother you
much, do they?"
"Without permission we can't use the tape
in a court of law. If Rasheedi tapes it by mistake, then it's for our
I explained about Mr. Cooner's long reach
into people's lives. If the two women were on his pad, and they knew it,
the news was going to be sanitary, if they agreed to talk to her at all.
If they didn't know, they could get fired for talking to her. She agreed,
reluctantly, to covert taping. I told her, "We'll meet at a restaurant
next to the Whitcomb police station."
The minute I said police station, that's
when I got my second good take. I knew what was wrong. Mrs. Robineson
caught the change in my voice, asked if something was wrong. "No, just
a thought." It was hard to get something past her. I went to brew myself
a cup of killer Kona and go over this intuition one more time. First of
all, the Whitcomb cops had done the missing persons report front to back.
If I looked at it with paranoia, once Coondog gave the green light, the
police knew they'd find nothing and proceeded to cover their asses.
The way the Whitcomb cop flipped their report
over his desk had been nagging at me. The cop knew it was clean. And Cooner
barely glanced at Alcel's daily schedules. He knew his movements already.
His face showed a little tic, when I lied about Alcel having San Francisco
friends. He didn't know about any friends.
And a sinking feeling came over me, too,
when I said police station: despite all the help from the school and athletic
department, I knew Mrs. Robineson and I were about to be alone on this
There was no half-ass cop cover-up. We had
ourselves a Sistine Chapel: marble walls and stooges with hundreds to
buy whatever they needed. Nobody gets any more alone than that.
And yet I had this funny feeling that very
few of these guys really knew squat; they covered up good out of habit.
But her son was dead.
Now, like Mrs. Robineson, I was sure of
The joint was a brew pub, its balcony overlooked the dining area. I got
up there early. I was behind a planter, so I didn't see Mrs. Robineson
and Rasheedi until they were in a booth. I was about to join them, when
Mrs. Robineson came unstuck. Weeping. Collapsing over and over. Shaking
so badly all Rasheedi could do was hug her mother, holding her together.
The only thing I could think was, Oh
shit, what have I done. I chickened out. I left by the rear entrance,
paced around in the alley for awhile, trying out worse case scenarios.
What could Voree and Geneva tell her that would do this? I reran our interviews:
nice polite women, barely memorable. Had I misjudged them. Why couldn't
I have seen something ugly coming?
When I came through the front door, Rasheedi
had soothed her mother so she was presentable. The two had just ordered
lunch. We exchanged pleasantries, but the hurt, whatever it was, was still
in her eyes. And it wasn't directed at me. Rasheedi did the talking, said
the tapes of Voree and Geneva were cued to the important parts, but this
was in a neutral voice. While Mrs. Robineson and Rasheedi ate, I ordered
lunch, then put on the headphones. My food arrived, but got cold. Mrs.
Robineson and Rasheedi didn't bother to ask what I thought. Once the tapes
were over, I suggested that if Mrs. Robineson wanted to talk, we do it
someplace less public. Watching me listen to those tapes. she got wound
up tight. The next time she broke loose, I doubted Rasheedi or I could
When we passed through the restaurant bar
on our way out, a sports channel was on the tube. Baumgarten had resigned.
He was devoting himself to Just One Man and his family. Ted Graycar
was the new coach.
"Hell," a guy at the bar said, "all Bum's
staff was gone anyway. Graycar's got to pull those new coaches together."
I don't remember who suggested we drive
to the Whitcomb Sports Center or if it was just automatic. Once inside
the Center Mrs. Robineson and Rasheedi didn't seem to know what to do.
In that shining marble lobby, both women suddenly looked reduced, smaller.
The feeling came over me that they wanted to say goodbye, but to what?
Tears were coming down Rasheedi's face,
even though she wasn't making a sound.
Mrs. Robineson looked worn and sad.
I started walking. They followed. We trailed
round the halls. Around us students were hurrying this way and that. Some
intramural sports were going on. Doors opened to shouts, grunts and cheers,
along with the sounds of volleyball, gymnastics and basketball. It was
so normal and everyday and just what it was, a bunch of college kids in
a gym built to last the ages.
We circled back around to the lobby.
Mrs. Robineson turned to me, pointed at
the white marble wall, and said, "This was supposed to be our ticket out."
Suddenly I knew what they were saying goodbye
to: they were saying goodbye to their rightful place in this castle.
"Out is all any of us really asked for."
She touched one of its marble panels. "How
could this not do that for us? Look at this! It's so perfect!"
She reeled down the lobby, and just from
the fierce way she was moving, students faded to one side or the other.
We followed along, as she rambled, letting everything out.
"I came up for Mother's Day banquets. Corny.
Alcel loved corny stuff like that. He got to squire his mother around.
It was what he wanted to do. I wanted to do it, too.
"We went to a dance and to a dinner together.
All the mothers got corsages.
"He got me one that I'll never forget."
She looked over at me and her eyes bored through me. Suddenly her voice
began to shudder with anger. "Why aren't we allowed to be people? Just
people? Why do we have to rise up and eat this bread of sorrows? They
promised. I had their promise. I thought they really took care of their
Back at the
motel Rasheedi took over caring for her mother. Faxes had arrived from
Sue. Vital Statistics recorded that Tiffany Baumgarten had married Delond
Rounds five years ago, had a child, and divorced him a year later. She
had given birth to two children after that time, each one by a different
father. Each a different ball player on the Whitcomb squad. Wilbur Nock
was the father of the second child, a boy.
Attached were items from the Whitcomb society
pages. She'd left the town when Alcel was a freshman. Tiffany returned
in the spring of his sophomore year. The society page of the local paper
recorded her return, did not mention where she'd been, and put her in
a list of names. Her father and mother ("Coach Bum and Deb") were in there.
Then I played the tapes of Voree and Geneva
again. They denied that Alcel ever had anything to do with Tiffany. They
said Tiffany's nickname among the black players was WW, short for Welcome
Wagon. Her privilege and access to the players were legendary. Her parents
were helpless. From that point the gossip got down and it was dirty.
The two women claimed Nock was jealous.
He couldn't be bothered to hang out with Tiffany, once their child was
born. But neither could he stay away from her. The situation turned ugly.
The women believed Tiffany was kited out of town last fall by her parents,
after her third child was born to another player. They heard she went
to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she was hired to preside over some cultural
center for big bucks.
When Tiffany returned in the spring, bad
news all the way. She'd taken up with the new star of the team, Togoya.
Alcel and Ranny T knew and liked each other, but there was no way that
Alcel would ever cross him. Togoya was "a low class Compton thug and
gangster." Besides, as the two women both put it almost exactly in
their separate interviews, Alcel was busy enough with them. They both
were sure that Alcel had nothing to do with the coach's daughter. But
they allowed that he'd hung out some with Ranny T. Why got the answer
he was secretly in awe of Ranny T's rep. "He never was allowed that at
It was interracial loony tunes, gangster
envy, in a hothouse atmosphere of jealousy. In short, a mother's nightmare.
With Geneva, Mrs. Robineson first asked
about the squealer business. She never got around to that with Voree,
because Voree was unstoppable once she got to dishing the dirt about Tiffany
Rounds. Nock had parties out at his lake house for the players, out of
jealousy, and she'd come just to spark him off.
I imagined Mrs. Robineson's unease about
her oldest daughter hearing all this.
Geneva repeated nothing was known about
anything between Alcel and Tiffany, but wouldn't put it past Nock to hassle
him, if he thought Alcel was messing around.
Probably to spare her mother any more details,
Rasheedi broke in and asked Geneva why Alcel wouldn't talk about the squealer
business with her, if Nock's hassling was the case.
"Alcel's a man. He carries his own bags,
thank you." Geneva paused, as if thinking things over. "Besides, during
spring training, those dudes are in lockdown. The players are barely students,
and then only part-time at best. Most of the profs cut them all some slack,
special deals. I know Alcel already had his course projects done by then,
but I can't say for sure what he was doing in-between. When I heard about
that trip, I shut him down."
There was a knock on the door. I turned
off the tape and opened it. John Dabroe was standing there, in a black
and yellow wet suit with a Brooks Brothers sport coat over it. I knew
it was Brooks Brothers because it was inside out and its label was showing.
"Tebeaux, my darling boy," he said, pushing
into the room past me, "I understand you need me, badly. I came as soon
as I heard."
He sat down on one of the beds, reached
down into the left side of his inside-out Brooks Brother special and removed
a 9-mm from his pocket.
"Nice," I said, "with the sports coat inside
out, any cop who stopped you would never think to look there."
"Why would the police want to stop me?"
Dabroe hadn't shaved for about four days,
and something terrible had happened to his head. Something or someone
had wrenched out a patch of hair above his left ear.
"Did you make bail?"
"Didn't have to. Darling Sue Masuren dug
up some shocking evidence against my false accuser. My lawyer, my cousin
the esteemed Peabody Mason Dabroe, threatened to hold a press conference
about this. This would have deepsixed several other cases where this buttsnout
had born false witness against other suspected felons."
"What's with the outfit?"
"Been gold prospecting. This ex-49er pal
owns land near here. He has this portable dredging outfit. Fucking great,
Beaux, like a gigantic Shop Vac. So I was floating on the river and hosing
out the pockets. I'm going to have my nuggets and flakes melted down and
applied to my front teeth."
"Is that the same football player who provided
the alibi for your crime?"
"Yes sir, alleged crime, but wasn't me,"
Dabroe corrected me. "Truth is some drug dealers got to him. What a dull
way to die, suffocating in a deep freezer. The flair and style's gone
out of the drug trade vendettas. It's a loss to our public discourse and
contemplation on personal ethics."
There was another knock on the door. Rasheedi
was there. She started talking even before I could say anything.
"I'm sorry about Momma. She's really taking
this hard. It's good in a way for us to come up here. But she's been trying
for so long to bury all her fears about Alcel. And she really believed
in what Coach Baumgarten told her. . . ."
Suddenly she stopped talking. Her eyes went
stony. I turned. Dabroe had made himself comfortable on the bed, moving
into her line of sight as he stretched out.
I stepped back and let her come into the
room. It wasn't as if she wanted to, but her own fascination won out.
Dabroe's feet were bare, caked with sand,
something I hadn't noticed, but the cracks in the sand were bloody. His
soles were cut up badly, probably from river rocks, they were bleeding
all over the bedcover.
"This is my associate John Dabroe, he handles
our liquid accounts. John, Rasheedi Robineson, daughter of our client."
"Afternoon, ma'am," Dabroe said.
Rasheedi's head went down in the most imperceptible
of nods. Then she saw the gun, then the leaking soles of his feet. She
looked over at me as if I'd suddenly changed into less than human.
I took a roll of paper towels off the bureau,
tore off two, and stuck one each to Dabroe's bleeding feet. "You were
saying," I prompted.
Rasheedi's gaze snapped back toward Dabroe.
"John can hear anything I can hear."
"Well, mother wasn't really unaware of how
things were up here. Those hundreds she gave you? She got them from Alcel."
"I assumed they came from the Speaker of
"No. Alcel shipped them down to us, from
time to time. But never this many. That's how we got set up in telemarketing.
She didn't tell you, I suspect."
"No, but thanks for letting me know that.
I won't let her know you told me. When did she get the last shipment?"
"End of school. More than usual."
"Did Alcel say how he got so many?"
"He said he had moved up from a Franklin
Handshake to a Franklin Furpiece now." A tinge of color crept into Rasheedi's
cheeks as she said that. "I asked him how he got that."
Not what it was. "And what did Alcel
"He said there'd been a mistake. This Franklin
Furpiece was reparations for a mistake. But like I say mama was getting
those hundreds from him before that. But just two, three bills. Alumni
shake your hand after the game, Alcel got a couple folded hundreds. That's
a Franklin Handshake."
"During football season. Alcel sent the
cash registered mail. She knew it wasn't right, but Alcel had a way of
"He called this, reparations for a mistake?"
"Yeah. That's the words he used this spring.
Alcel always liked to use the right word. His business courses taught
him that, he told me once. That's why he liked classes about contracts
and negotiations. Never said what the mistake was."
I thanked her. She backed up toward the
door, keeping her eyes on Dabroe and the blood-blotched towels stuck to
"That a diving wet suit?" she said to him.
Dabroe tilted his head down and looked across
his black and yellow rubber belly, as if he'd hadn't noticed it before.
"I believe if it ain't, then my momma's got some explaining to do."
Rasheedi's face suddenly turned bright red,
she bit her lip, then ripped open the door and slammed it as she left.
I heard her giggling down the walkway.
"Whatta you need me to do, Boss?"
"How long are you available?"
"I think the Oakland police want me to remain
on vacation, out of town, for awhile. I sincerely believe they think I'm
a positive influence on my neighborhood, but they seem to regard me at
the moment as a liability in the public eye, so to speak."
Dabroe and his Alabama cousins, nephews
and assorted in-laws had created a no-fly zone around their many houses
up in a canyon in Oakland that rivaled that of the Hells Angels Club zone
on two blocks of MacArthur Boulevard. Only terminally suicidal criminals
or ignorant out of towners tried to operate in either zones.
"Some press rat got the photos of the claw
marks on the inside of the freezer lid," Dabroe explained, "and published
them. My name was unfairly linked to the public outcry."
"Go to the Pink Elephant Bar here in town.
It's Saturday night, so come as you are. A rich scudder named Cooner there.
Get close to him, or that failing, find out where the university football
team hangs out. There's a crisis at the college, and the head coach has
resigned. Once in the club, you might mention this ex-49er, as your bona
fide, if he's well-known in these parts."
"Hell, I'll bring Bads Eye along. He's passed
out in the back seat. It's time to feed him."
"He used to have two eyes, then one got
lost, but he never could lose the nickname."
"Shouldn't that have been Bad Eyes, instead?"
"His friends were illiterate. That is not