THE MANAGER LOOKED as though he hadn’t smiled in a long time and had forgotten how. It was a shame, too, Ryan was thinking, because he had a wonderful job taking care of the Mayflower, the actual carved-in-stone name of the apartment building on Selden, in the heart of the Cass Corridor, where he could sit in his window and watch muggings in broad daylight and the whores go by and the people from Harlan County and East Tennessee on their way to the grocery store for some greens and cornmeal. The manager said he hadn’t seen her. She was still living in the apartment for all he knew.
Ryan gave him a five-dollar bill, saying for the inconvenience. The manager stood there in his brown coat sweater, hands pushed down in the sagging pockets, watching while Ryan looked around.
Ryan’s problem, this was the logical place to begin, but he didn’t know what he was looking for. He should at least appear to have a purpose, like he knew what he was doing. He wished the manager would go away. What would anybody want to steal? The only thing he sort of liked was a dinner plate from Stuckey’s that had Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson’s portrait on it, in color. It wasn’t bad.
The dresser and closet were empty. The daybed had been stripped. The kitchen had been straightened up in sort of a half-assed way, the counter and sink cleared but the empty bottles still on the floor.
The business card he had given her-search and serve associates-was in the bathroom, lying on the lid of the toilet tank.
What did that mean? The medicine cabinet was empty. Okay, she’d taken her toothbrush and comb, that kind of stuff, and put them in her purse and saw his card in there and took it out. Because she was thinking about calling him again. Or because she had no use for it. He came out of the bathroom.
The manager said, “You find what you’re looking for?”
“Not yet,” Ryan said. He was looking at the black guy standing in the doorway, recognizing only the familiar shape of the hat, the nice curve to the brim, the hat sitting lightly on the man’s head, down a little, almost touching his wire-frame sunglasses. A tan leisure outfit today, dark-navy shirt open and pale-blue neck beads. It looked good on him. Ryan was thinking if he put it on, though, he’d feel like a showboat-look at me trying to look cool.
Virgil said to the manager, “Go on downstairs. We need you, we let you know.”
The manager might have been a tough little guy at one time who didn’t take any shit and maybe something that hadn’t withered yet stirred inside him. He said, “Who the hell you talking to? You come in here-I don’t know you. I don’t know him either. What business you got coming in here?”
“Hey, Papa?” Virgil said. “Leave us. You understand what I’m saying?”
“If you want to look around,” Ryan said, “it costs five bucks.”
“Get the tour, huh?” Virgil took out a roll of bills and peeled one off for the manager. “Find out all the famous people got laid here. Thanks, Papa.”
The manager grumbled something. Virgil didn’t move from the doorway and the manager had to edge sideways to get past him. Virgil was looking at Ryan with his easy, pleasant expression, almost smiling.
He said, “I’m Virgil Royal.”
“I know,” Ryan said. “From Wyandotte Savings and Loan by way of 4000 Cooper Street, Jackson, Michigan.”
“Hey, shit.” Virgil was grinning now. “How you know that?”
“No sense in keeping secrets from each other,” Ryan said. “A policeman told me.”
Virgil hesitated a moment. “Yeah, looking for Bobby, finding out this and that. But you’re not a cop. What’re you?”
“Confused,” Ryan said. “I know I saw you the other night. Did I talk to you on the phone? Last Friday?”
“No, was a man I had call you.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t know if you were the first one or the second one.”
“Other one must’ve been Bobby. Talk real slow? Like he gonna fall asleep?”
“I don’t remember,” Ryan said. “I never did get to meet him, so I’m not sure it was him.”
“Little too late,” Virgil said. “Now you back looking for his wife. Where’s she gone?”
“I don’t know. She didn’t leave me a note.”
Virgil’s gaze moved over the room. “She didn’t leave much of anything, did she? Moved out.” The sunglasses came back to rest on Ryan. “Now she gets the money, huh?”
Ryan didn’t answer, getting some words together.
“Tell me about the money, say it’s got Bobby’s name on it. Somebody leave it to him?”
“Something like that,” Ryan said. “It’s a legal matter.”
“You a lawyer?”
“Process server. You want a divorce, I’m the one hands the papers to your wife.”
“I don’t want a divorce,” Virgil said, “I want some money Bobby owes me.”
“You talk to him about it?”
“Man, you getting sneaky now. When did I last see Bobby Lear? Other night? After I saw you? Where was I between three and six a.m. and all that shit.”
“The police talk to you about it?”
“Not yet. They do, I have to tell them I was at my sister and brother-in-law’s. Got there at three-something, slept till noon. What else?”
Ryan shrugged. “You’re talking, I’m not.”
“No, I’m asking,” Virgil said, “what this money deal is. See, now that the man’s dead, I should get the money from his-what you call it-his estate. Right?”
“I don’t know,” Ryan said. “I told you, I’m not a lawyer.”
“Yeah, but you not serving papers either,” Virgil said. “You into something else. What’s it about?”
“Let me put it this way,” Ryan said. “I’ve got no reason to sympathize with you or tell you anything about what I’m doing, because it’s none of your fucking business. Okay?”
“Hey, shit, come on,” Virgil said, “talking like that. It’s to our mutual interest, man. You gonna be looking for the lady, so am I. We both in it. We can help each other.”
“You mean all three of us,” Ryan said. “You and I and the Detroit Police Department.”
“That’s all right, it’s cool. Sure, let them do their job. Somebody’s gonna find her and then I’m gonna talk to her. So why don’t you tell me what it’s about now, case I’m wasting my time.”
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Ryan said.
“You wear that hat.”
Virgil gave him a little nod. “Yeah-thank you.”
“See, she doesn’t know what the deal is yet,” Ryan said, “and nobody seems to know where she is, anyway, so why don’t you just be patient for a while. What’s the hurry?”
“Yeah, you right. It messes up your stomach,” Virgil said. “Can cause your knuckles to get broken. No sense in having that, is there?”
“It’s dumb,” Ryan said, “getting worked up, instead of being patient and letting it happen. You know what I mean? It works out or it doesn’t.”
“I can dig it,” Virgil said. “I know, patience can help you through all kinds of anxieties and concerns, including deep shit and solitary confinement.”
“That must be awful, solitary. I don’t think I could do it.”
“If you don’t fight it,” Virgil said.
“Well”-Ryan looked toward the kitchen-“I could make some instant coffee-since neither of us seems to know where the fuck we’re going, anyway.”
“Yeah.” Virgil nodded. “That’d be fine. Something else I been meaning to ask you. Your name’s Ryan, huh?”
“You got any relation name of Sunny Ryan?”