Friday morning I got up at 6:00 and headed over to the beach for my run. For much of the summer, I’d been unable to jog because of an injury, but I’d been back at it for two months and I was feeling good. I’ve never rhapsodized about exercise and I’d avoid it if I could, but I notice the older I get, the more my body seems to soften, like butter left out at room temp. I don’t like to watch my ass drop and my thighs spread outward like jodhpurs made of flesh. In the interest of tight-fitting jeans, my standard garb, I jog three miles a day on the bicycle path that winds along the beach front.
The dawn was laid out on the eastern skyline like water-colors on a matte board: cobalt blue, violet, and rose bleeding together in horizontal stripes. Clouds were visible out on the ocean, plump and dark, pushing the scent of distant seas toward the tumbling surf. It was cold and I ran as much to keep warm as I did to keep in shape.
I got back to my apartment at 6:25, showered, pulled on a pair of jeans, a sweater, and my boots, and then ate a bowl of cereal. I read the paper from front to back, noting with interest the weather map, which showed the radiating spiral of a storm sweeping toward us from Alaska. An 80 percent chance of showers was forecast for the afternoon, with scattered showers through the weekend, clearing by Monday night. In Santa Teresa, rain is not a common event, and it takes on a festive air when it comes. My impulse, always, is to shut myself inside and curl up with a good book. I’d just picked up a new Len Deighton novel and I was looking forward to reading it.
At 9:00, reluctantly, I dug out a windbreaker and picked up my handbag, locked the apartment, and headed over to the office. The sun was shining with a brief show of warmth while the bank of charcoal clouds crept in from the islands twenty-six miles out. I parked in the lot and went up the back stairs, passing the glass double doors of California Fidelity, where business was already under way.
I unlocked my office and dropped my bag on the chair. I really didn’t have much to do. Maybe I’d put in a little bit of work and then head home again.
My answering machine showed no messages. I sorted through the mail from the day before and then typed up the notes from my visit with Lovella Daggett, Eugene Nickerson, and his sister, Essie. Since no one seemed to know where John Daggett was, I decided I’d try to get a line on Billy Polo instead. I was going to need data for an effective paper search. I put a call through to the Santa Teresa Police Department and asked to be connected to Sergeant Robb.
I’d met Jonah back in June when I was working on a missing persons case. His erratic marital status made a relationship between us inadvisable from my point of view, but I still eyed him with interest. He was what they called Black Irish: dark-haired, blue-eyed, with (perhaps) a streak of masochism. I didn’t know him well enough to determine how much of his suffering was of his own devising and I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out. Sometimes I think an unconsummated affair is the wisest course, in any event. No hassles, no demands, no disappointments, and both partners keep all their neuroses under wraps. Whatever the surface appearances, most human beings come equipped with convoluted emotional machinery. With intimacy, the wreckage starts to show, damage rendered in the course of passions colliding like freight trains on the same track. I’d had enough of that over the years. I wasn’t in any better shape than he was, so why complicate life?
Two rings and the call was picked up.
“Missing Persons, Sergeant Robb.”
“Hello, Jonah. It’s Kinsey.”
“Hey, babe,” he said, “What can I do for you that’s legal in this state?”
I smiled. “How about a field check on a couple of ex-cons?”
“Sure, no sweat,” he said.
I gave him both names and what little information I had. He took it down and said he’d get back to me. He’d fill out a form and have the inquiry run through the National Crime Information Computer, a federal of-fense since I’m really not entitled to access. Generally, a private investigator has no more rights than the average citizen and relies on ingenuity, patience, and resourcefulness for facts that law enforcement agencies have available as a matter of course. It’s a frustrating, but not impossible, state of affairs. I simply cultivate relationships with people plugged into the system at various points. I have contacts at the telephone company, the credit bureau, Southern California Gas, Southern Cal Edison, and the DMV. Occasionally I can make a raid on certain government offices, but only if I have something worthwhile to trade. As for information of a more personal sort, I can usually depend on people’s tendencies to rat on one another at the drop of a hat.
I made up a check sheet for Billy Polo and went to work.
Knowing Jonah, he’d call Probation and pick up Polo’s current address. In the meantime, I wanted to tag some bases of my own. A personal search always pays unexpected dividends. I didn’t want to bypass the possibility of surprise, as that’s half the fun. I knew Polo wasn’t listed in the current phone book, but I tried information, thinking he might have had a phone put in. There was no new listing for him.
I put a call through to my pal at the utility company, inquiring about a possible service connection. Their records showed nothing. Apparently he hadn’t applied for water, gas, or electricity in the area in his own name, but he could be renting a room somewhere, paying a flat rate, with utilities thrown in.
I put calls through to five or six fleabag hotels on lower State Street. Polo wasn’t registered and nobody seemed to spark to the name. While I was at it, I tried John Daggett’s name and got nowhere.
I knew I wouldn’t get so much as a by-your-leave from the local Social Security office and I doubted I’d find Billy Polo’s name among the voter registration files.
Which left what?
I checked my watch. Only thirty minutes had passed since I talked to Jonah. I wasn’t sure how long it would take him to call back and I didn’t want to waste time sitting around until I heard from him. I grabbed my windbreaker, locked the office, and went down the front stairs to State Street, walking two blocks over and two blocks up to the public library.
I found an empty table in the reference department and hauled out Santa Teresa telephone directories for the past five years, checking back year by year. Four books back, I found Polo. Great. I made a note of the Merced Street address, wondering if his prison sentence accounted for the absence of a listing since then.
I went over to the section on Santa Teresa history and pulled out the city directory for that year. In addition to an alphabetical listing by name, the city directory lists addresses alphabetically so that if you have an address and want to know the resident, you can thumb to the street and number and pick up the name of the occupant and a telephone number. In the back half, telephone numbers are listed sequentially. If all you have is a telephone number, the city directory will provide you with a name and address. By cross referencing the address, you can come up with the name again, an occupation, and the names of neighbors all up and down the same street. In ten minutes, I had a list of seven people who had lived in range of Billy Polo on Merced. By checking for those seven in the current directory, I determined that two were still living there. I jotted down both current telephone numbers, returned the books to their proper places, and headed back toward my office.
The sunlight, intermittent for the last hour, was now largely blocked by incoming clouds which had crowded out blue sky, leaving only an occasional patch, like a hole in a blanket. The air was beginning to cool rapidly, a damp breeze worrying at women’s hems. I looked toward the ocean and spotted that silent veil of gray that betokens rain already falling some miles out. I quickened my pace.
Once in my office again, I entered the new information in the file I’d opened. I was just on the verge of closing up for the day when I heard a tap at the door. I hesitated, then crossed to the door and peered out.
There was a woman standing in the corridor, late thirties, expressionless and pale.
“Can I help you?” I said.
“I’m Barbara Daggett.”
Quickly, I prayed this wasn’t wife number three. I tried the optimistic approach. “John Daggett’s daughter?”
She was one of those icy blondes, with skin as finely textured as a percale bedsheet, tall, substantially built, with short coarse hair fanning straight back from her face. She had high cheekbones, a delicate brow, and her father’s piercing gaze. Her right eye was green, her left eye blue. I’d seen a white cat like that once and it had had the same disconcerting effect. She was wearing a gray wool business suit and a prim, high-necked white blouse with a froth of lace at the throat. Her heels were a burgundy leather and matched her shoulder bag. She looked like an attorney or a stockbroker, someone accustomed to power.
“Come on in,” I said, “I was trying to figure out how to get in touch with him. I take it your mother told you I stopped by.”
I was making small talk. She wasn’t having any of it. She sat down, turning those riveting eyes on me as I moved around to my side of the desk and took a seat. I thought of offering her coffee, but I really didn’t want her to stay that long. Even the air around her seemed chilly and I didn’t like the way she looked at me. I rocked back in my swivel chair. “What can I do for you?”
“I want to know why you’re looking for my father.”
I shrugged, underplaying it, sticking to the story I’d started with. “I’m not really. I’m looking for a friend of his.”
“Why weren’t we told Daddy was out of prison? My mother’s in a state of collapse. We had to call the doctor and have her sedated.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.
Barbara Daggett crossed her legs and smoothed her skirt, her movements agitated. “Sorry? You don’t know what this has done to her. She was just beginning to feel safe. Now we find out he’s in town somewhere and she’s very upset. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“Miss Daggett, I’m not a parole officer,” I said. “I don’t know when he got out or why nobody notified you. Your mother’s problems didn’t start yesterday.”
A bit of color came to her cheeks. “That’s true. Her problems started the day she married him. He’s ruined her life. He’s ruined life for all of us.”
“Are you referring to his drinking?”
She brushed right over that. “I want to know where he’s staying. I have to talk to him.”
“At the moment, I have no idea where he is. If I find him, I’ll tell him you’re interested. That’s the best I can do.”
“My uncle tells me you saw him on Saturday.”
“What was he doing in town?”
“We didn’t discuss that,” I said.
“But what did you talk about? What possible business could he have had with a private detective?”
I had no intention of giving her information, so I tried her technique and ignored the question.
I pulled a legal pad over and picked up a pen. “Is there a number where you can be reached?”
She opened her handbag and took out a business card which she passed across the desk to me. Her office address was three blocks away on State and her title indicated that she was chairman and chief executive officer of a company called FMS.
As if in response to a question, she said, “I develop financial management software systems for manufacturing firms. That’s my office number. I’m not listed in the book. If you need to reach me at home, this is the number.”
“Sounds interesting,” I remarked. “What’s your background?”
“I have a math and chemistry degree from Stanford and a double masters in computer sciences and engineering from USC.”
I felt my brows lift appreciatively. I couldn’t see any evidence that Daggett had ruined her life, but I kept the observation to myself. There was clearly more to Barbara Daggett than her professional status indicated. Maybe she was one of those women who succeeds in business and fails in relationships with men. As I’d been accused of that myself, I decided not to make a judgment. Where is it written that being part of a couple is a measure of anything?
She glanced at her watch and stood up. “I have an appointment. Please let me know if you hear from him.”
“May I ask what you want with him?”
“I’ve been urging Mother to file for divorce, but so far she’s refused. Maybe I can persuade him instead.”
“I’m surprised she didn’t divorce him years ago.”
Her smile was cold. “She says she married him ‘for better or for worse.’ To date, there hasn’t been any ‘better.’ Maybe she’s hoping for a taste of that before she gives up.”
“What about his imprisonment? What was that for?”
Something flickered in her face and I thought at first she wouldn’t answer me. “Vehicular manslaughter,” she said, finally. “He was drunk and there was an accident. Five people were killed, two of them kids.”
I couldn’t think of a response and she didn’t seem to expect one. She stood up, closed the conversation with a perfunctory handshake, and then she was gone. I could hear her high heels tapping away down the corridor.