SHE WASN’T IN KEN’S, the Gold Dollar, the Good Times, the Temple, the Hotel Ansonia, the Royal Palm, the Willis Show Bar, or Anderson’s Garden.
Ryan checked the bars for a couple of days, thinking she might’ve felt safer with the drunks, the familiar atmosphere, and was still in the neighborhood. The trouble was, she could stay in a room drinking and seldom come out. She must have money, some, anyway. And if she did, she could have taken off. She could be anywhere.
He called his answering service several times a day-in case she remembered his number and phoned, which wasn’t likely-and listened to the answering service girl recite the messages. Call Virgil Royal, and the number. Call Raymond Giddy? Gidre. Rhymes with hid-me. Staying at the Eldorado Motel on Woodward, and the number. Call Rita. Call Jay Walt. Call five, six, seven lawyers with papers waiting to be served. The list of lawyers kept growing. The others kept trying.
Ryan went back to the county clerk’s files and checked the marriage license again.
Denise Leann Watson. Occupation: student. Birthplace: Bad Axe, Michigan.
He didn’t notice it the first time he checked. Bad Axe. He’d worked in that area of the Thumb twelve years ago, in the sugar beet and cucumber fields. He might’ve seen her on the street in Bad Axe or Port Austin, the majorette with the blond ponytail and the perky ass, twirling for the consolidated high school marching band. Or in the backseat of a car at the drive-in, drinking Boone’s Farm.
Father’s name: Joseph L. Watson.
Ryan talked to Mrs. Watson on the phone. He could feel her withdraw and lock up when he said he was inquiring about Denise. Was she there? Mrs. Watson said she had not heard from Denise since Christmas. She did not see her then and did not care either, because Denise was not going to hurt her anymore. Ryan asked if, by any chance, Denise had gone to Wayne-picturing the psych or sociology major who’d got lost in the inner city and messed up. No, she’d gone to Michigan State and then to Detroit Arts and Crafts. Ryan thanked her.
He called the art school and found out Denise had studied there four years ago. Graphic design.
So he visited art studios in the Cass Corridor area-storefronts painted over in bright colors, a corner building that looked like the Alamo, painted white, and had been a Hi-Speed gas station. He talked to artists who looked like mechanics. The one who remembered a Denise Watson was building a sculpture out of hubcaps, welding them together. He turned off his torch, put his goggles up, and said, Denise. She did whales. She did wailing fucking whales, man. Denise’s whales, man, she drew whales, she painted whales, she fucking carved whales better than the Eskimos.
Ryan called Dick Speed.
Nothing on Denise Leary yet. Sure they were still looking-a guy is killed and his wife disappears? Her name was at the top of the all-points. For questioning.
“How about Virgil Royal?”
“Yeah, we talked to him,” Dick Speed said. “We talked to his sister, we talked to his brother-in-law. They say he spent the night with them. We talked to Virgil again. We had the night clerk at the Montcalm Hotel happen to pass through the office. He said he didn’t know, maybe, they all looked alike to him. He said the guy had on a raincoat and a knit cap, maybe a beard. You remember Tunafish?”
“That’s Virgil’s brother-in-law.”
“It’s getting like everybody knows everybody,” Ryan said.
“How about birds of a feather?” Dick Speed said. “If they’re not screwing each other’s sister, they strike up meaningful relationships at Jackson. They’re all in the life together.”
“You believe Tunafish? I mean since he’s supposed to be on your side?”
“Tunafish, he gives us a little straight stuff and a lot of bullshit. With something like this-well, if you had a brother-in-law was a hard-time con who might’ve blown away a couple of people with a shotgun-would you get him sore at you?”
“So what do you do now?”
“Stay on it. Talk to people. Like the hairdresser out in Pontiac. He gave us the same description, raincoat, knit cap, but no beard. So we don’t think much of the beard the night clerk might’ve seen. The hairdresser looked through the family album. ‘Mmmmmm, no. No… no… no. That’s cute, the earring. I know a fella wears his mother’s wedding ring in his ear.’ We say, How about this mother? And point to a nice full-face and profile of Virgil. He says, ‘Mmmmmm… mmmmm. Well, there is a likeness… no… well, maybe. No, I can’t say positively, so I’d better not say.’ We parade Virgil through the office, Virgil looking around like he’s never been here before-isn’t that interesting, a calendar, and a window, and all those mug shots on the wall-he probably knows half the fucking guys up there. The hairdresser, he’d glance at Virgil and look away, like he didn’t want to be impolite and get caught staring at him. To make a long story, no positive I.D. Virgil’s on the street.”
“He keeps calling me,” Ryan said. “He wants to talk to the wife.”
Dick Speed said, “Who doesn’t? The broad’s sitting somewhere, she doesn’t know how popular she is.”
There was a story about the disappearance of Denise Leary on page 3 of the Free Press and a graduation shot of her out of the Michigan State Spartan. It became a before in the before-and-after pictures of her Ryan kept in his mind. Her blond hair was shorter then, dipping close to her eye in a soft curve, and she was smiling. It was the first time he had seen her smile.
The news story said she was being sought for questioning in the slaying of her husband. Ryan wondered where they dug up words like that. Slaying. He didn’t see anything in the news story he didn’t already know.
Ryan stopped by the Eldorado Motel to see Raymond and find out what Mr. Perez was doing. The Eldorado was a midtown motel on Woodward Avenue. Ryan couldn’t figure out who would stay there. He asked Raymond how it was going.
Raymond Gidre said he had never seen so many niggers in all his life. He said he’d walked from the motel down to the river and all he’d seen was niggers.
Ryan asked him if he liked to walk, since it was about three miles.
Raymond said if he’d known it, he wouldn’t have. He had walked over to the General Motors Building, but there wasn’t nothing to see there. He liked the Fisher Building, though, the way they lit up the gold top at night. He said the street lights on Woodward were funny. They were kind of pink.
Ryan said he’d never noticed.
Raymond said near two weeks, he hadn’t found a good place to eat other than a nigger joint he happened to go into. They had collards and okra. Nobody seemed to have heard of red beans and rice. Raymond couldn’t believe it. He told Ryan he understood one thing now. At the Saint Charles Hotel in New Orleans, before they tore it down, and different places, the Monteleone, he’d wondered why a person couldn’t get a shoeshine no more. It was simple once he saw why. All the niggers had come up to De-troit.
Ryan asked him if he’d heard from Mr. Perez.
Yeah, Mr. Perez had been to Chicago and Fort Wayne and was down to Indianapolis now.
Same kind of business?
You bet. It was what Mr. Perez did. He never sat around much, he was always on the go.
Ryan asked Raymond what he did for Mr. Perez.
Raymond said oh, he looked up people, he drove Mr. Perez on trips, he went with him sometimes to see people. Otherwise he fooled around, worked some at the Jungle Gardens and Bird City, then’d go on down to New Orleans for a while. Shit, Canal Street was about five times wider than Ryan’s Woodward Avenue.
Ryan tried to think of things for Raymond to do. He asked him if he’d been to Belle Isle, in the Detroit River.
Raymond said shit, there was nothing there worth seeing. Some statues, the aquarium-gaw fish were little bitty things. Ryan should see the gaw fish they caught down at Barataria and Grand Isle, man, big ones like Ryan never seen. Ryan said, Oh, you mean gar fish. And Raymond said, That’s what I said.
Raymond was freshly powdered, with his hair wetted down. He looked like he’d shaved with a hunting knife. He said most of the time, shit, he’d get dressed and sit here, waiting for somebody to call. When was something going to happen?
Ryan said well, if it didn’t happen soon, he’d give Raymond a treat and drive him past the Ford plant.
Raymond looked at him, not quite sure, scratching at his forearm where the tattoo showed like an old bruise through the hair. The tattoo was a faded black and red scroll within a flower that said In Memory of Mother.
She could have gone anywhere.
Ryan didn’t like to think of it that way, even after three weeks without a word.
She did go somewhere.
That was better. It gave him something to picture, even if the picture was usually a bar in the afternoon. He always saw it the same way: a cheap, dim lounge with glass-brick windows or venetian blinds holding out the sunlight.
What were her thoughts when she woke up that morning?
What were her options? Keep drinking or quit. Kill herself or quit. Want to quit. Or play the I’ll-quit-tomorrow game. He could picture that easily enough: the girl saying she was going to do it herself, without help, resenting help. First, though, a few glasses to get through the hard part. Then a few more, and then, with the glow, a change of attitude: she was all right, it wasn’t a serious problem, Christ no, she had a lot on her mind and the wine soothed her nervous system and melted anxieties. She could quit anytime she wanted. Maybe she wouldn’t do it all at once, though, in one day. That would be like driving along fast and slamming on the brakes. You could go through the windshield. Better to slow down gradually, ease to a stop, and not get hurt.
Or keep going and not touch the brake at all, finish it.
But she had called him. She had said she didn’t want to be inside herself.
She wasn’t a name in a county clerk’s file or a picture in the newspaper, she was a person and he was aware of her as a person. He should have stayed and been sitting there when she woke up and said to her okay, here’s what you have to do. Here’s what you’re going to do, and don’t give me any shit about doing it any other way, because there isn’t any other way. That close, looking at her. A person inside somebody she didn’t want to be. She had told him that. And he had let her get away.
Maybe not far, if she didn’t have much money. If she didn’t work and if Bobby had been in jail or in a state hospital, where would she get money? Unless she got a job.
Ryan dialed Dick Speed’s number, looking out the window at another overcast day, possible showers. Maybe it was the weather that made him feel depressed. At least it helped. He wanted to be doing something. He hoped he didn’t have to leave word and then wait for Dick to call back. Or go out and have to check with the answering service and take all day to get hold of him. Dick Speed answered, and Ryan felt a little lift.
“I was wondering, if Denise Leary was working, wouldn’t she have to give them her social security number and there’d be a record of it in Washington?”
“I guess so,” Dick Speed said, “but it wouldn’t do us any good. They won’t release that kind of information, not even on a murder warrant. You’re thinking, though. Keep it up.”
Keep thinking. That’s all he’d been doing, trying to put himself in Denise Leary’s place. He realized he wasn’t just thinking about her in relation to the money, the fifteen thousand he’d get. He was thinking about her as a person. She had called for help and he had let her down. He could say it wasn’t his fault, she changed her mind. But the feeling, the concern, stayed with him. He wondered if it was a feeling of guilt. Either that or a strong compulsion to kick himself in the ass.
The phone rang.
Dick Speed said, “Guess what? I was talking to a guy in the Seventh Squad, they’re handling it. They found out a Denise Watson applied for a driver’s license three days ago in Pontiac.”
“How do they know?”
“They checked with Lansing, both her married and maiden name. She gave an address on the application, 1523 Huron Street, Pontiac. The Oakland County Sheriff’s Department’s on it now.”
“What’ll they do?”
“Make sure she’s there first, then get back to us.”
Ryan felt the lift again, the second one that morning, and higher this time. It woke up his confidence and kept him up and eager all the way out Woodward to Pontiac, making it from his apartment in a quick twenty minutes. He found Huron Street and followed the numbers and the lift began to descend. The 1500 block was all commercial. Fifteen twenty-three was a red, white, and blue building with a sign that said Uncle Ben’s Pancake House.
Ryan saw the manager. The manager said he had just talked to the police. Who was this girl, anyway? What’d she do? She certainly hadn’t ever worked for Uncle Ben.
Maybe not, but for some reason she had used the address. She was around, somewhere.
That was on a Monday.