I was dozing late that afternoon in my hospital bed when I got another visitor, a bored-looking white male; a good-looking, dark-haired athletic type. He wore a cheesy faux tweed sports jacket and shiny gray tie. Tacky. Looked like a cop. A poor man's Clint Eastwood. Or an unsuccessful shoe salesman. Definitely not a South American hit man.
We greeted each other without shaking hands and he said, "Police Detective Kirby Rose." He fished out his wallet, whipped it open for me to look at and whipped it shut. I didn't like his looks. A Robo-Cop type like in the movies, except he had the makings of a sneer on his face and he wasn't wearing shades.
"Nice of you to drop by", I said without smiling.
He sighed. "So yer a comic as well as a private, uh, dick . . . or something."
"Have a seat," I gestured at the overstuffed chair by the wall.
He was winning the contest of who had the weariest voice.
"I just want to tell you that you're chasing wild geese and therefore I've been assigned to chase them too, thanks a lot." He looked me right in the eye, and his were redder than mine. I got the impression that he really didn't like me.
He went on: "We didn't find anyone matching the descriptions you gave the captain, or any cars matching your descriptions, or any condominium full of evil-doers."
I interrupted: "I didn't say condominium. It's a friggin' mansion by the sea."
He resumed: "We have a murder on our hands. Webley Poubelle. We know you've been snooping around. However, you have no perps, no suspects, and probably no case."
Cops always talk so fast. They must rehearse their key lines.
"The captain and I also suggest you quit horsin' around and go home before something bad happens."
Me thinking, it already has happened, you dumb cluck. Notice the bandage?
He said, "If there's heavy drug shit goin' on here, the DEA is on top of it and you're probably in the way. In fact", he grinned, "they're probably the ones who shot you. Just kidding. They'll be calling on you." His grin got broader as he turned to go. "Right?"
Uncharacteristically, I couldn't think of a thing to say, so I just frowned and stared at him. He left without saying goodbye, as I stared at him with my mouth agape, like the other old coot in the room, who had started to snore again.
It was going to be a long evening. I wanted outta this hospital, safe though it seemed to be. Except for dinner, which was coming soon. If it was anything like the lunch I'd had, that too could be scary.
Morning comes early in the Geezer Ward. In the pre-dawn hours one of the other guys and I desperately wanted coffee, and we got the night nurse to bring us some, bless her weary heart.
Meanwhile, the poor old guy in the next bed had been moved. He was really gone. Turns out he died in the night. R.I.P. I dimly remembered some commotion after I had gone to sleep. Night nurse and a few other people had been in and out and I'd pretty much dozed right through it. Must've been the meds they issued me. Or the dinner.
This was get-away day, but I needed another cup of coffee first. I called for the night nurse again and politely requested that I be released immediately.
She said, "Soon. Big Nurse will be in about 8, and she'll help you out. Meanwhile, your breakfast is on the way. Enjoy it!"
"You're kidding, right?" I asked.
She laughed. "I'll get you some more coffee now so you won't be so grouchy," she said and left. I guessed she wasn't kidding, so I kept quiet and plotted a secret exit in case they wanted to be tight assed about it.
But she brought the emergency coffee and life looked better almost immediately. Such an addict. Once again, I made a mental note to rein in my coffee habit.
Breakfast finally got to our room and I tried to eat it. But the "food" was weird. I wondered how they managed to take the flavor out of things, without putting any bad taste in. I got my order -- fried eggs, bacon (dried up), potatoes . . . it all tasted sort of like . . . warm stuff, impervious to salt and pepper. I tore a piece of bacon to see if it was actually light cardboard, but it wasn't. It had a fibrous texture, like meat.
At least breakfast came with more coffee, and it was potable, so I hurried through a few bites of warm organic matter and impatiently awaited further instructions. I kept thinking I WANNA GO HOME!
I was watching the TV news and pondering my next move when Big Nurse finally came in with instructions for my departure. I got dressed, feeling a tad weak from shock, lack of food and sleep, etc., and B.N. insisted I sit in a wheelchair.
"It's the law," she said.
I enjoyed the ride around the building and was downright cheery about having a taxi waiting for me, even if the ride was on my nickel.
"Well," I thought, "this has been one hell of an adventure."
I did some heavy thinking during the 15-minute cab ride home. I was prepared to travel, do whatever it took to find Loretta, but I didn't even know where to start. Sure, Los Angeles, but that's a mighty big area. How many thousand apartment buildings? Which, if any, was Carlos's?
I wondered if the fact that Chicken of the Sea was such an important part of the Santa Barbara connection meant that Carlos & Co. were partial to sea-going connections. That would narrow the search territory down to Southland yacht harbors. Start with Ventura Harbor and work down through Oxnard, Marina del Rey, the South Bay, San Pedro, Long Beach, Orange County . . . Forget that. I was already exhausted thinking about it.
Damn, I thought. I really need a clue here.
Back home, I enjoyed a perfect morning, weather-wise. Strolled around my yard in the sunshine after one last cup of decent coffee and a thawed-out bran muffin with a spoonful of honey. It was relaxing to be out in the sun, even though I caught myself looking over my shoulder a few times.
I needed to think some more before taking the time to answer phone messages from friends, including my kids, bless their hearts. But, dammit, now they too would be after me to hide out and stop sleuthing. Also, Mason Stone was waiting for my call. And his wife was still missing; still out there, somewhere, dead or alive.
But the case was at an impasse and I really didn't know what to do except dodge bullets.
To be continued...
# # # #
Gene Cates is a Santa Barbara writer, author of a series
of crime novels involving Dick McNabb, private investigator. McNabb is a retired teacher with a craving for excitement -- which he finds.