N Is For Noose Page 24


’’Well, no, but Selma says he kept it with him and it hasn't turned up yet. I thought maybe you spotted it and turned it into the department.’’

’’I'da probably done that if I'd seen it. I wouldn't want my notes circulating. A lot of it looks like gibberish, but you need 'em when you type up your reports and if you're called on to testify in court. Wasn't among his personal items? The coroner's office would've returned all his clothes and anything he had on him. You know, his watch, contents of his pockets, and like that.’’

’’I asked Selma the same thing and she hasn't seen it. Anyway, we'll keep looking. I appreciate your time. If anything comes to mind, you can reach me through her.’’

’’I can't imagine there's anything to investigate about him. You couldn't meet a nicer fellow. He's the best. A good man and a good cop.’’

’’So I gather.’’

I went back to the motel. I couldn't face another minute of sitting in Tom's den. For all we knew, Tom might have been suffering from a chemical depression. We'd been assuming his problem was situational, but it might not have been. My problem was situational. I was homesick and wanted out.

I let myself into the cabin, noting with approval that the room had been done up. The bed was made and the bathroom had been scrubbed, the toilet paper left with a point folded in the first sheet. I sat down at the table and rolled a piece of paper in my Smith-Corona. I began to type out an account of the last day's activities. Selma Newquist was just going to have to make her peace with Tom's passing. Death always leaves unfinished business in its wake, mysteries beyond fathoming, countless unanswered questions amid the detritus of life. All the stories are forgotten, the memories lost. Hire anyone you want and you're still never going to find out what a human being is made of. I could sit here and type 'til I was blue in the face. Tom Newquist was gone and I suspected no one would ever know what his final moments had been.

SIX

I found myself that night in a place called Tiny's Tavern, one of those shit-kicking bars so many small towns seem to spawn. Cecilia had indicated this was a popular hangout for off-duty law enforcement and I was there trolling as much as anything. I was also avoiding the cabin, with its frigid inside temperatures and depressive lighting. Tiny's had rough plank walls, sawdust on the floor, and a bar with a brass footrail that stretched the length of the room. As in an old Western saloon, there was a long mirror behind the bar with a glittering double image of all the liquor bottles on display. The place was gray with cigarette smoke. The air was overheated and smelled of spilled beer, faulty plumbing, failed deodorant, and cheap cologne. The jukebox was gaudy green and yellow with tubes of bubbles running up the sides and stocked with a strange mix of gospel tunes interspersed with country music, the latter dominant. Occasionally, a couple would clomp around mechanically on the ten-by-ten dance floor while the other patrons looked on, calling out encouragement in terms I thought rude.

I wasn't sure about the unspoken assumptions in a place like this. A woman alone might look like an easy mark for any guy on the loose. For a week night, there seemed to be a fair number of unattached fellows in the place, but after an hour on the premises no one seemed to take any particular notice of me. So much for my fantasy of being accosted by cads. I perched on a bar stool, sipping bad beer and shelling peanuts from a brass bowl that might have enjoyed a previous life as a spittoon. There was something satisfactory about tossing shells on the floor, though sometimes I ate the shells too, figuring the fiber was healthy in a diet like mine, burdened as it is with all that cholesterol and fat.

The bartender was a guy in his twenties with a shavedhead, a dark mustache and beard, and a tattoo of a scorpion on the back of his right hand. I flirted with him mildly just to occupy my time. He seemed to understand there was no serious chance of a wild se*ual encounter in his immediate future. I put some quarters in the jukebox. I chatted with the waitress named Alice, who had bright orange hair. I made trips to the ladies'room. I practised a little balancing trick with a fork anda burnt match. If there were any off-duty cops on the premises, I realized I wouldn't recognize them in their off-duty clothes.

At ten, Macon Newquist came in. He was in uniform, moving through the bar at a leisurely pace, checking the crowd for drunks, minors, and any other form of trouble in the making. He spoke to me in passing, but didn't seem inclined to make small talk. Shortly after he left, my idleness paid off when I spotted the civilian clerk from the sheriff's substation. I couldn't for the life of me remember her name. She came in as a part of a foursome with a fellow I assumed to be her husband and another couple, all of them roughly the same age. The four were dressed in a combination of cowboy and ski attire: boots, jeans, Western-cut shirts, down parkas, ski mittens, and knit caps. They found an empty table on the far side of the room. I stared at the clerk with her dark hair cropped short above her ears, dark brown eyes glinting behind her small oval glasses. The other woman was auburn-haired, top-heavy, and pretty, probably plagued with unwanted suggestions about breast-reduction surgery. The clerk's hubby held a consultation and then headed in my direction, pausing at the far end of the bar where he ordered a pitcher of beer and four oversized mugs. In the meantime, the women shed their jackets, took up their purses, and left the table, heading toward the ladies'room. I signaled for another beer just to hold my place and then made a beeline for the facilities myself. My path intersected theirs and the three of us reached the door at just about the same time. I slowed my pace and allowed the two of them to enter first.


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