Authors: Steven J Patrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
Call Me Joe
By Steven J Patrick
This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities
to persons or situations is coincidental and the author takes full responsibility for any and all mistakes and inaccuracies.
This book could not have been written without the generous contributions of Marlene Farnus, who wrestled it into the text form from scribblings in notebooks and legal pads. The author wishes to thank, also, Tom, Sr., and Grace Parkhill, Tom Parkhill, Jr., Greg Vaughn, the folks at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, and the small but irreplaceable core group of mystery writers who provided the inspiration, in particular Michael Connelly.
This book - and, in fact, everything else in my life - would be both impossible and meaningless without my enormous great fortune in knowing and being loved by Peggy E. Body, Olivia Paige Body, and my own personal hero and best friend, Judye Allman.
This is for my grandbabies…all eleven of them.
Prelude & Cantata
It was the light.
She realized it just then, giving in to one of those moments; moments that drove her crazy and always made her swear she’d never set foot in Paris again, knowing as she thought it that she’d run back at the first opportunity. That light that 10,000 artists had tried to capture or even understand. She had never been sure if magic really existed; nowhere near as sure as her father had been. Good God, she laughed, he was a one pointy hat short of a carnie trailer. But, sitting there at her favorite under-patronized bar, the Café de L’Epoque, a couple of blocks from the Louvre, enveloped in that lambent, rosy glow, she felt closer to something...some cosmic truth, some incipient romance, some assignation or rendezvous or fateful encounter. Not that it would turn into anything, she thought bitterly. Not that I could let it.
At the next table, a tiny blonde girl had been staring openly at her for nearly the whole time she had sat there. She had noticed when she first ordered and then got lost in her papers. In the back of her mind, it occurred to her that the little girl would scream and run away if she caught a glimpse of what was in the pile of paperwork. Without conscious volition, she had arranged the pile more neatly, keeping the photos well buried. Now, after nearly two hours, it dawned on her that the girl and her mother had been there even longer than she had - a really long time, even by Parisian standards. She slid a furtive glance across the two and saw that the mother was impatiently tapping her foot and frowning. The girl was sitting primly in her little pink dress and staring balefully down at her hands. The mother was hissing something into the phone, while a waiter hovered a few discreet yards away. One look told her what she needed to know. She motioned the waiter over and beckoned him to lean down.
“The woman lost her purse?” she whispered, in the perfect French her father had made her learn in order to earn her meals.
“Her credit card is supposedly ‘lost’,” the waiter said somewhat scornfully, “The work of a thief, obviously.”
“I’ll take care of their bill,” she said quietly.
“And who will take care of yours?” the waiter sneered.
The hand was cupped under his testicles and fully enclosed so quickly he first thought he had imagined it. As the pressure became uncomfortable, he quickly realized that he hadn’t.
“Madam,” he began, “You....”
“Shut up,” she smiled, as though commenting on the fine service, “You little scrap of shit. Bring the two checks. Do it now and you might get to keep these.”
“Of course, Madam,” he managed, “If you’d please let go, I’ll get right to it.”
She relaxed her grip and waved him off pleasantly. He walked a bit bow-legged for a few feet but regrouped nicely. Parisian waiters, she thought. Really can’t beat ‘em.
She watched out of the corner of her eye as the waiter brought the lady’s check and smiled graciously, advising her that it had been settled. The look of shock on her face was intensely pleasing to her benefactor. It was nice to be able to do something simply out of the goodness of your heart, now and then, she mused, wondering why she had done it at all. It was the child, she realized. There was something about her obvious distress at their predicament that seemed so ugly, so wrong....
As the woman struggled to her feet, glancing around in an obvious attempt to see if she could figure out who had rescued them, the tiny girl walked over, hands clasped before her like a miniature diplomat, and stopped at the side of the table. The mother wasn’t even looking their way and the girl shot a glance at her before speaking.
“Merci, Madam,” she said, in a small, breathy voice that conveyed in clarity and certainty whatever it lacked in power. She bowed and then straightened, delivering one quick, glowing smile.
“C'était mon plaisir,” the woman replied, returning the smile.
The child backed a few feet and then turned and hurried back to her mother. She grasped the lady’s hand and seemed to be the one leading their exodus.
To the woman watching, it was a scene out of her own childhood and it sent an icy finger deep into the folds of her heart. She fought back a sudden upsurge of tears and rose, stunned at her reaction.
It was the first time she had even come close to crying in well over 20 years.
She signed the credit card slip without even acknowledging the waiter’s presence, leaving him a perfectly adequate tip, and gathered up her valise. Within a few seconds, she was rounding the corner, turning onto the Rue Croix des Petits Champs, heading back to her hotel, her face a carefully composed mask again, as always.
The strange little tableau had shaken her, she realized. She could feel her spine stiffening in frustration and umbrage. She stopped on a corner and took several deep breaths. It was just the day, she thought dismissively. It was Paris, the light, the music suffusing the air and the smell of the flowers. She had, after all, done what she sat down in the café to do. It was all wrapped up, planned out, complete and impervious to scrutiny. It would work.
And, in the end, it was just killing; her profession, her craft. Nothing that needed to be stressed over, if you had the basic ability - and will - to plan and execute a plan. The edge of sadness and frustration, she knew, was for a certain one of the victims. Well, honestly...maybe two. But that would pass. With time, all things passed.
“Call me Joe.”
It was the way he greeted everyone. That and the smile, the high-wattage one that crinkled the fine lines at the corners of his eyes and made most women want to curl up in his arms.
They were good arms, too; sinewy, tanned and obviously strong but oddly graceful, like an athlete’s or a dancer’s. The hands moved like a doctor’s, with long, nimble fingers that suggested craft and precision along with undeniable power.
In Colville, you’d have to say, he was not exactly popular (nothing so extroverted for such an appealingly laid-back guy) but certainly a comfortable, welcome presence.
Not all heads turned when he walked down the street, but enough and nearly all the women’s. Smiles and shy waves were exchanged. People inquired after his health.
He stood out a bit, of course. Couldn’t be helped. In a town so close to the Res, with a Native-American majority, his 6’4”, blue eyes, and corn-silk hair marked him “different” in big block letters. He occupied his entire six-four, too. His posture spoke of the military somewhere in his past; no telling how far back. He was one of those ageless people who might be anywhere between thirty and sixty-five. In terms of vitality and sheer, physical presence, you’d have to guess low. If you just went by the depth of experience contained in those striking blue eyes, you’d go for somewhere north of fifty. It wasn’t, in the world that is Colville, something you just came right out and asked.
The fact that he kept to himself bothered no one. Around these parts, everyone says, keeping your own counsel is a virtue. Plenty of good but casual friends had never seen the inside of each other’s houses. Respect for privacy runs deep, here in the vastness of the Northwest forests. For a fact, they all remarked, he was not one of those gun-toting, camouflage-wearing, Bible-thumping, right-wing survivalist freaks who rolled into town, twelve to a pick-up, and bought enough ammo and beef jerky to ride out a six-month siege. Those morons seemed a little wary of Joe, in fact; like they recognized…something.
What that something might be was the source of strenuous debate. Obviously, a guy as big and fit as Joe would be able to take care of himself. But there was just no air of menace about the guy; none of the tell-tale signs of someone on the run; no scent of malice or hostility. All that showed was just a bland, pleasant, personable neutrality, like a low-rent, reclusive, not-as-good-looking Robert Redford.
Some thought it was his military background. Old Tolbert had him pegged as holding at least a Silver Star, maybe a Medal of Honor. Janice Lutz was holding out for a broken heart via widowerhood. Billy George lobbied strong for retired CIA spook. Alan Trueblood repeated "witness protection program" until Tolbert offered to stuff a bar towel in his mouth.
Whenever anyone asked where he lived, his reply was a vague wave of the hand and a shy smile. "Up there on the ridge", he'd murmur. "Up where?" they'd counter. "Oh," he'd grin, "Up there by my house."
He once allowed as to how he loved sunsets, sending every woman in town into rosy fantasies of purple skies, sweet embraces, and bathing in the reflected glow of those icy blues.
It wasn't really that he was such a flaming hunk. He was just...different. He clearly wasn't the stoic, zip-lipped Native-American male and that was quite enough. Add in the charming reticence, soldier's build, and those eyes and you got a definite flutter in the collective petticoat. The fact that he was totally oblivious to it all only nudged the fantasy along.
If no one saw him for a couple of weeks, it wasn't likely to arouse interest. Plenty of folks came and went around Colville. The common view was, "See ya when I see ya." It was a functional viewpoint, born of a long history of family trees pruned, split, and grafted by the blunt knife of Uncle Sam's treaties. Conversations, often interrupted for six months or more, were resumed in mid-thought. Debts might be carried for years; grudges longer.
So, Joe's occasional two-week absences never even twitched an eyebrow. It was perfect that way, he always thought. It was, as he often mused while watching those flamboyant sunsets or savoring the sweet morning air, perfect in nearly every way.
My office phone was ringing but I decided to ignore it. I'd been doing that for a while. I had no immediate plans to stop.
I had fully invoked what I like to think of as the Truman North Principles:
1. When feeling pushed, slow down.
2. When on deadline, screw off.
3. When demand exceeds supply, remove the supply.
The principles don't apply to everything. Just me. When I'm waiting on my double-cheese at Dick's, I'm definitely not looking for the grill person to slow down. It's hypocritical, I know, but I make the rules, here in the Tru North Universe, and them's the rules.
The Rules stem from a serious, ongoing lack of motivation. That stems from doing very well at the private eye biz for about six years. The "very well" undoubtedly stems from lack of distraction which stems from a pretty solitary, monk-like existence which, in turn, stems from what I melodramatically call "My Broken Heart".
a stems. No roses.
It's become sort of a joke, my going-on-nine-years of celibacy. My friends all laugh about it. So do I. I'm large and lightly scuffed but, so I'm told, still quite serviceable for purposes of romantic entanglement.
For at least 25 of my 50 years, in fact, I was your basic serial monogamist. After that final, cataclysmic falling-out with Carolyn, I ingested a fair amount of Scotch (okay, a small lake of it) and replayed my entire romantic history.
If it were a movie, it would be "Ishtar"--incredibly expensive, lousy script, and dumb acting by both leads. One of them, Hoffman or Beatty, would have had to be female but the analogy works, I think.