IT SEEMED LIKE SEVEN YEARS AGO, in another life, coming out to bright sunlight to see Nolen in a lounge with a beer can resting on his chest, sandals and black socks V-ed as though he was sighting on that tanker bound for Port Everglades.
Moran said, “Well, here we are.”
Nolen said, squinting through his sunglasses, “You want me to go first? All right. I waited in the bar out by Ninety-five all afternoon and Jiggs never called, so I came home. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. What’s yours?”
“I was wondering,” Moran said, “if you had any lemons.”
Nolen waited for that to make sense to him and decided it didn’t matter. “Yeah, I got some lemons.”
“And I’ve got a blender,” Moran said. “You didn’t know that, did you? I’ll get ’em when I pick up your trash. But I’m not gonna make your bed.” He walked off toward the office saying, “I don’t do beds.”
Jerry was behind the counter looking through the mail delivery. Moran came around and pulled a black plastic trash bag from a Hefty box, Jerry saying, “Well, look at this.” He handed Moran a letter. “Notice the postmark. Sosua, Rep. Dom. Is that anybody we know?”
Moran put the folded trash bag under his arm and opened the letter with a strange feeling, knowing it was from Luci Palma, the girl who used to run across rooftops… one page of ruled paper neatly handwritten, though each line rose on a slight angle, up and away and he thought, She hasn’t changed. He read it standing there and put the letter in his shirt pocket when he finished. The letter made him feel good and at another time he would have read it to Jerry. But not now. He said to Jerry, “You call de Boya’s again?”
“He still isn’t back. Maid says they haven’t seen him since yesterday. I called the Coral Gables Police, but they wouldn’t tell me anything. Kept asking who I was, so I hung up.”
“They get a lot of calls like that,” Moran said. “How about that Trans-Am?”
“Still parked down the street.”
“Jerry, you don’t have to stay around…”
He said, “If I thought coming here was work, George, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’m your police contact, aren’t I?”
“You sure are. You got the number handy?”
“I know it by heart.”
“ ‘Cause I might only say ‘Jerry’ but that’s what it’ll mean. Call ’em quick.”
“They know my voice,” Jerry said. As Moran went out he said, “Take her easy now. Don’t do nothing dumb.”
Moran said, “I keep trying not to.”
Nolen took a sip of beer, turned his head enough to see Moran come out of the office unfolding a trash bag and go into Number Five with the passkey. Nolen yelled over, “In the fridge! Hey, and bring a beer!”
Moran came out within a couple minutes, the trash bag hanging weighted now with beer cans and whatnot, the sack of lemons and a cold one he handed Nolen. Nolen took it and popped it open to hold the two cans now on his chest, soothing the erratic action of his heart.
He said, “The last time I saw you, George, you stormed out of here, determination flashing in your eyes. I guess you didn’t get shot, did you?”
Moran said, “No, but I bet somebody did. De Boya never came home. Hasn’t been seen since he drove off in his Rolls.”
Nolen took a drink of beer. “With police swarming all over the place.”
“I thought you didn’t talk to Jiggs.”
“George, if I’m inconsistent, what’s the difference? We’re just gonna lie to each other anyway.” He raised his head and took a long sip from the other can.
“You drink two at once? You been putting it away lately,” Moran said, “haven’t you?”
“Jesus, you sound like my wife.”
“Is that right? I didn’t know you were married.”
“Three times. You sound like any one of ’em,” Nolen said. “I got to win soon, man, get the fuck outta here. You make me nervous, feel like I’m being watched.”
“Well, there could be truth to that,” Moran said. “You know that Cuban you say wears sunglasses at night and drives a Donzi?”
Nolen squinted in the sunlight, adjusting his own glasses. “What about him?”
“Does he also drive a Trans-Am, black one with the hood flamed red and gold? He’s parked in front of the Nautilus, next door, and if he isn’t watching you then he’s watching me.” Moran half-turned to look toward the beach. “There’s another one out there on an army blanket getting a Cuban suntan with all his clothes on. Your pal Jiggs doesn’t care for ’em, but he sure uses ’em, doesn’t he? Like the Mendozas, Rafi. He seems to use everybody he can.”
“Don’t,” Nolen said. “You played that one to death.”
Moran said, “Remember the day you came here? We started talking about the D.R. and how some trooper across the Ozama almost killed me with a one-oh-six?”
“It was the next day,” Nolen said. “We didn’t talk much the first day. I registered and asked you where all your palm trees were. You wouldn’t give me a deal on a room.”
“But I did right after. You were trailing Anita de Boya and the piano player.”
“I wonder if she’s getting much these days.”
“You were making a halfway honest living.”
“Not bad. But living by your wits gets tiresome.”
“Then you met Jiggs Scully. He still as funny as you thought he was?”
Nolen stared for several moments. He said, “George, the last thing I want is to see you get hurt. Will you do me a favor?”
“Let’s talk about it in the house,” Moran said, “while I whip up some sours. What do you say?” He started to go and looked at Nolen again, taking the letter from his pocket. “Guess who I heard from? Here, read it.” Moran walked toward his house with the lemons and the trash bags.
Nolen puts his beers down and opened the letter.
Dear George Moran (Cat Chaser!!!):
Was that really you who was in Santo Domingo looking for me? At first I thought it was a lot of far fetch to think you would come here but then I think no it is something the Cat Chaser would do. (I got your address from the hotel) I am married now and have five big childrens going to school. I bet you dont know who I married. He is the one you shot and became wounded on the roof of the building that time. His name is Alejo Valera. He is a salesman of insurance and is also the manager of the Sosua baseball team. After that war he went to the training camp of the Cincinnati Reds but came home to play baseball here. He is very good. He say to tell you he is glad you did not kill him or we would not be married together and have our family. Well I must close this letter. I wish I had seen you but maybe some other time when you come. I tell people I know you and how brave you were in the war. You did not sit behind the barricades. You came to find us. I am very glad I did not shoot you. Do you still like the Rolling Stones? I like the Moody Blues now very much. Please come to see us.
Luci Palma de Valera
Nolen straddled a stool at the counter, contemplating the foamy pitcher of whiskey sours, wiping froth from his mouth with the back of his hand. “Much better in the blender. All the difference in the world,” he said and slid his glass toward Moran behind the counter for a refill.
“Tangy, isn’t it?”
“Perfect,” Nolen said, “for getting that morning goatshit taste outta your mouth. How many eggs you put in?”
“One to a blender,” Moran said.
“Yeah, four makes it too heavy. I overdid it. Which is nothing new, I guess. I figure I’ve got about two years before I land in the weeds and have to join AA. You get to that point your choice is lead a clean life or die.”
“Why wait,” Moran said, “if you know it’s coming?”
“I’m trying to get in all the fun I can.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed what a good time you been having.”
“Well, shit, I try.” Nolen thought of something as he took a drink and said, “Hey, that was a nice letter. Luci sounds like a winner. That part, she thought it was a lot of far fetch.” Nolen grinning, nodding, being a regular guy. “That was a long time ago, wasn’t it? Down there in the D.R. Not knowing shit what was going on. But I had a pretty good time, you know it? Even though I only got laid once and had to take penicillin for it. Come back with a dose and my trusty Forty-five. I used to fire it from up on that grain elevator. For fun, not hit anything.”
Moran said, “How about if I buy it off you?”
“George”-Nolen took off his sunglasses to look squarely at Moran-”now we get down to it. I started to say to you outside, do me a favor. Use your head before it’s too late. You have de Boya’s money? Leave it over there in oceanfront Number One where you got your lady hiding and take off. Get far away from here.”
Moran said, “How’d you know she’s there?”
“The guy in the Trans-Am, Santos, was into B and E at one time. He snuck around here last night listening at doors. It’s my guess if he heard anything it was in Number One and I’m right, that’s where you got her, isn’t it?” Nolen seemed proud of himself.
“Jiggs’s coming for sure, uh?”
“You bet he is.”
“How much you want for the gun?”
“It’s not for sale. I’m telling you-you know all about how to take it and run; well, this time you gotta leave it and run.”
Moran opened a drawer on his side of the counter. He brought out a packet of hundred-dollar bills secured with a money strap, a narrow paper band, and placed it in front of Nolen.
Nolen said, “Jesus Christ,” and seemed afraid to touch it. “How much is that?”
“Ten thousand,” Moran said.
Nolen’s gaze came up, a solemn expression, mouth partly open. “You did it, didn’t you? Jesus, you really did it.”
“If that isn’t enough…”
Moran reached into the drawer again, brought out another packet of inch-thick hundreds and laid it on top of the first one.
Moran reached to take back the money.
“I’ll go get the piece,” Nolen said.
“I already have,” Moran said. “When I picked up the trash. It’s loaded, isn’t it? Full clip?”
“Yeah but… George, don’t try and be a hero, okay? You wouldn’t have a chance. That man’s a pro, it’s what he does.”
“It gives me a little more confidence,” Moran said, “that’s all. I don’t feel so helpless.”
Nolen was looking at the money again, almost in a daze. He said, “You really did it, huh?” A wistful tone, subdued. “Will you tell me something?”
“Maybe,” Moran said.
“How much you get? Both suitcases.”
“No, I’m not gonna tell you that,” Moran said. “It isn’t any of your business. It isn’t any of mine either, when you get right down to it.”
“Your lady walked out of the house with it, didn’t she?” Nolen said, watery eyes showing the pleasure of it. “Where can I get me one like her? Walked right out past her husband, Jiggs, everybody. Of course with you there to help.”
“I didn’t do much,” Moran said. “But I’m looking after her best interest now. You understand I’m not gonna see anything happen to her.” He watched Nolen touch the packets, finally pick them up and feel them, fingers gracefully playing along the edges, riffling the stiff new bills. “Nolen?”
“When’s Jiggs coming?”
“He said around noon. He said he’d set things up then get his eight hours and have a late breakfast. Then he’ll stop by. That’s how he said it, like it’s a business call.”
“What’re you supposed to do?”
“Act dumb. Tell you I don’t know anything, where Jiggs is or what he’s doing,” Nolen said. “But if you look like you’re getting ready to leave I’m supposed to tell you he phoned and wants to see you for a minute, have a quiet talk.”
“What do you do when he comes?”
“Exit. He’s on then.”
“Where’s de Boya?”
Nolen took a sip of whiskey sour and said without looking at Moran, “He’s dead. So’s Corky.” Nolen’s gaze came up slowly now. “Jiggs made them take their clothes off and get in the shower, both at once. Then he shot them.”
“Because they didn’t have the money?”
“He didn’t even know it till after. He was so sure.”
“Were you there?”
“When he did it? No, I came later.”
“Where’re they now?”
“Still in the shower. Place west of Lauderdale, out in the country.”
“You don’t suppose he’s looking to make a deal,” Moran said, “when he says he wants to talk.”
“No, that’s not Jiggs,” Nolen said. “But he does have to talk to you, find out for sure you have the money and where it is. After that he’ll kill you. That’s why I’m saying leave it, forget the whole thing. You run with the money-it wouldn’t work, I’m telling you.” Nolen was emphatic now. “A woman like Mary de Boya, where’s she gonna hide? The cops, once they find her husband, they’ll be looking for her anyway. You see what I mean? It doesn’t matter where she goes Jiggs’ll be hanging around, threaten her till she pays up. So get it over with now, leave it.” Nolen looked at his watch. “We’ve got less’n an hour.”
Moran said, “You on our side now?”
Nolen said, “George, come on. You know where I am. Nowhere. The idea, score off a guy like de Boya, it sounded great, worth the risk. But I saw him in that shower, man… I got sick and you know what Jiggs did? He patted my back while I threw up on two guns down in the toilet, telling me he’d take care of me. I wanted, today, I wanted to look like I was helping him but tell you to get out and then disappear, go to L.A. and get lost among the weirdos and hope to Christ I never make a name for myself. You said it the other day, George, I’m in a no-win deal.”
Moran said, “What if we call the cops?”
“And what?” Nolen said. “He sees cops he waits. The only way, you’d have to have ’em hiding in the closet when he takes his gun out and then pray they’re quick.”
Moran thought about it, picturing Jiggs standing in the living room. “He sure likes to talk, doesn’t he? Goes on and on.”
“He puts you half-asleep,” Nolen said, “telling you stories. Like a fucking spell he puts over you.”
“No, he never rushes into it,” Moran said, “he gives you time to think.”
“This’s the first time in my life,” Nolen said, “I’m gonna suggest we leave what’s in the blender and get the hell out.”
Moran said, “Stay there,” walked around the counter and said, “Mary?”
She came out of the bedroom, her expression composed, eyes moving to Nolen to see him getting off the stool, surprised. She said, “Can you tell me exactly where Andres is?”
Nolen said, “I thought you were over in Number One. You’ve been right here all the time?”
“I wanted you to feel free to talk, be yourself,” Moran said. “You said the place was west of Lauderdale.”
“Yeah, like a farmhouse. Off Eighty-four.”
Mary nodded, almost to herself. “I think I know where it is. Near the airport.”
Moran said, “Let’s wait a little while before we tell the police.”
“But if you can’t deal with him,” Mary said, showing concern now as she looked at Nolen. “Isn’t that right?”
Nolen shook his head. “I wouldn’t even think about it.”
“I just want to ask him something,” Moran said. “Alone.”