G is for Gumshoe - Page 44/98

"I wish I could be more help. We've got an errand to run, but we can check with you later and see what's going on. Give me the address and telephone number at the nursing home." I tucked the phone against my shoulder while I made a note on a piece of scratch paper. "I'll give you a call when we get back."

"Thank you. I appreciate your concern,"

"In the meantime, don't worry. I'm sure she's somewhere close."

"I hope so."

I told Dietz what was going on as we headed down the back steps. I was half-tempted to have him take me over to the nursing home, but it didn't feel like a real emergency. He wanted to see the Edgewater and check the arrangements for the banquet. He suggested I call Irene from the hotel as soon as he was done. It made sense and I agreed, though I knew for a fact if I were on my own, I'd have done it the other way. I was feeling distracted and, for once, his driving style didn't bother me. It was hard to imagine where Agnes could have gone. I knew she was capable of raising hell when it suited her, but Irene had made it sound like she was resigned to the move. I had to shrug to myself. Surely, she'd turn up.


I leaned my head back on the seat, staring out the car window while Dietz circled the area surrounding the hotel. I could see that he was committing various routes to memory, getting a sense of the sections of the road where we might be vulnerable to attack. I wasn't that interested in attending the dinner. Now that I thought about it, what the hell did I care? Jewel was a nice lady, but I really didn't know her well. I wasn't feeling that good and-just to get basic-I didn't have a thing to wear. The all-purpose dress-the only one I owned- had been in my car at the time of the accident. In the auto body lot down in Brawley, I remembered packing soggy items in a cardboard box, which hadn't arrived in Santa Teresa yet. When the dress did get here, it was probably going to smell like a swamp, complete with primordial life forms wiggling out of the wet. I could always ask Vera to lend me some rags. She towered over me, outweighing me by a good twenty pounds, but I'd seen her wearing a sequined tunic cut right to her crotch. It would probably hit me at the knee. Not that I could wear a skirt in my current condition, of course. I was sporting a bruised leg that made me look like spoiled fruit. On a more optimistic note, once I strapped on my body armor, what difference would it make that her bazookas were twice the size of mine?

Dietz had apparently satisfied himself with the general layout of the neighborhood and we were getting down to the particulars. He pulled into the Edgewater parking lot and turned his Porsche over to a parking attendant, passing the guy a folded bill. "Keep the car up here close and let me know if anyone takes an interest."

The attendant glanced down at the bill. "Yessir! Hey, sure!"

Dietz and I moved toward the entrance.

"Why so quiet?" he asked as he steered me through the lobby by the elbow like the rudder of a boat.

I pulled my arm away automatically. "Sorry," I murmured. "I've been thinking about the banquet and it's put me in a bad mood."

"Anything I can help with?"

I shook my head. "What's this feel like to you?"

"What, the job?"

"Yeah. Trailing around with me everywhere. Doesn't it get on your nerves?"

"I don't have nerves," he said.

I turned and scanned his face, wondering if that was really true.

He hunted down the hotel manager and had a long talk with him about the banquet room, the closest medical facility, and matters of that ilk. I would have jettisoned the whole plan, but by now we'd invested so much time and energy, I felt I was obligated to follow through. Meanwhile, Dietz was triggering all the disagreeable aspects of my personality. I was beginning to remember certain personal traits that had probably contributed to my divorces. I prefer to believe it was all their fault, but who are we trying to kid here…

I left Dietz in the manager's office and wandered down the corridor. Just off the hotel lobby, there were little shops where rich people browsed, looking for ways to spend money without having to leave the premises. I went into a clothing boutique and circled the place. The merchandise seemed unreal to me, outfits laid out with all the color-coordinated accessories. My notion of accessories is you wear your gym socks with matching rims. The air smelled of one of those movie-star perfumes that cost a hundred and twenty bucks an ounce. Just for laughs, I checked the sale rack. Even marked down, most items cost more than my monthly rent. I crossed to the section where the evening wear was arranged: long skirts in brocade, tops stiff with sequins, everything embroidered, hand-stitched, hand-painted, applique'd, beaded and otherwise bejeweled. The saleswoman glanced over at me with a practiced smile. I could see her expression falter slightly and I was reminded, yet again, how unnerving my appearance must be to those unprepared for it. I was hoping I looked like I'd just had cosmetic surgery. A little nose bob, eye tucks. For all she knew I was holing up here with some sugar daddy until the swelling went down.