The next morning, Monday, I began the laborious process of replacing the contents of my handbag. I hit the DMV first, since the offices opened at 8:00 A.M. I set in motion the paperwork for a new driver’s license, paying three dollars for a duplicate. The minute the bank opened, I closed out my checking account and opened a new one. I stopped by the apartment then and put a call through to Sacramento to the Bureau of Collection and Investigative Services, Department of Consumer Affairs, requesting application for a certified replacement for my private investigator’s registration card. I armed myself with a batch of business cards from my ready supply and hunted up an old handbag to use until I could buy a new one. I drove over to the drugstore and made purchases to replace at least a few of the odds and ends I carry with me as a matter of course, birth control pills being one. At some point, I’d have to have my car window replaced, too. Irksome, all of it.
I didn’t reach the office until almost noon and the message light on my answering machine was blinking insistently. I tossed the morning mail aside and punched the playback button as I passed the desk, listening to the caller as I opened the French doors to let in some fresh air.
“Miss Millhone, this is Ferrin Westfall at 555-6790. My wife and I have discussed your request to speak with our nephew, Tony, and if you’ll get in touch, we’ll see what we can work out. Please understand, we don’t want the boy upset. We trust you’ll conduct whatever business you have with him discreetly.” There was a click, breaking the connection. His tone had been cold, perfectly suited to his formal, well-organized speaking voice. No “uh”s, no hesitations, no hiccups in the presentation. I lifted my brows appreciatively. Tony Gahan was in capable hands. Poor kid.
I made myself a pot of coffee and waited until I’d downed half a cup before I returned the call. The phone rang twice.
“Good morning. PFC,” the woman said.
PFC turned out to be Perforated Formanek Corporation, a supplier of industrial abrasives, grinders, clamps, epoxy, cutters, end mills, and precision tools. I know this because I asked and she recited the entire inventory in a sing-song tone, thinking perhaps that I was in the market for one of the above. I asked to speak to Ferrin Westfall and was thanked for my request.
There was a click. “Westfall,” said he.
I identified myself. There was a silence, meant (perhaps) to intimidate. I resisted the urge to rush in with a lot of unnecessary chatter, allowing the pause to go on for as long as it suited him.
Finally, he said, “We’ll see that Tony’s available this evening between seven and eight if that’s acceptable.” He gave me the address.
“Fine,” I said. “Thank you.” Ass, I added mentally. Then I hung up.
I tipped back in my swivel chair and propped my feet up. So far, it was a crummy day. I wanted my handbag back. I wanted my gun. I wanted to get on with life and quit wasting time with all this clerical nonsense. I glanced out at the balcony. At least it wasn’t raining at the moment. I pulled the mail over and started going through it. Most of it was junk.
I was feeling restless again, thinking about John Daggett and his boat trip across the harbor. Yesterday, at the beach, the notion of canvassing the neighborhood for witnesses had seemed pointless. Now I wasn’t so sure. Somebody might have seen him. Public drunkenness is usually conspicuous, especially at an hour when not many people are about. Weekend guests at the beach motels had probably checked out by now, but it might still be worth a shot. I grabbed my jacket and my car keys, locked the office, and headed down the back stairs.
My VW was looking worse every time I turned around. It’s fourteen years old, an oxidized beige model with dents. Now the window was smashed out on the passenger side. Not a class act by any stretch of the imagination, but it was paid for. Every time I think about a new car, it makes my stomach do a flip-flop. I don’t want to be saddled with car payments, a jump in insurance premiums, and hefty registration fees. My current registration costs me twenty-five dollars a year, which suits me just fine. I turned the ignition key and the engine fired right up. I patted the dashboard and backed out of the space, taking State Street south toward the beach.
I parked on Cabana, just across from the entrance to the wharf. There are eight motels strung out along the boulevard, none with rooms for under sixty dollars a night. This was the “off” season and there were still no vacancies. I started with the first, the Sea Voyager, where I identified myself to the manager, found out who’d been working the night desk the previous Friday, jotted down the name, and left my card with a handwritten note on the back. As with many other aspects of the job I do, this door-to-door inquiry requires dogged patience and a fondness for repetition that doesn’t really come naturally. The effort has to be made, however, on the off chance that someone, somewhere can fill in a detail that might help. Having worked my way to the last motel, I returned to my car and headed on down the boulevard toward the marina, half a mile away.
I parked this time near the Naval Reserve Building, in the lot adjacent to the harbor. There didn’t seem to be much foot traffic in the area. The sky was overcast, the air heavy with the staunch smells of fresh fish and diesel fuel. I ambled along the walk that skirts the waterfront, with its eighty-four acres of slips for eleven hundred boats. A wooden pier, two lanes wide, juts out into the water topped with a crane and pulleys for hoisting boats. I could see the fuel dock and the city guest dock, where two men were securing the lines on a big power boat that they’d apparently just brought in.
On my right, there was a row of waterfront businesses-a fish market with a seafood restaurant above, a shop selling marine and fishing supplies, a commercial diving center, two yacht brokers. The building fronts are all weathered gray wood, with bright royal blue awnings that echo the blue canvas sail covers on boats all through the harbor. For a moment, I paused before a plate glass window, scanning the snapshots of boats for sale-catamarans, luxury cabin cruisers, sailboats designed to sleep six. There’s a small population of “live-aboards” in the harbor-people who actually use their boats as a primary residence. The idea is mildly appealing to me, though I wonder about the reality of chemical toilets in the dead of night and showering in marina restrooms. I crossed the walk and leaned on the iron railing, looking out across the airy forest of bare boat masts.
The water itself was dark hunter green. Big rocks were submerged in the gloomy depths, looking like sunken ruins. Few fish were visible. I spotted two little crabs scuttling along the boulders at the water’s edge, but for the most part, the shallows seemed cold and sterile, empty of sea life. A beer bottle rested on a shelf of sand and mud. Two harbor patrol boats were moored not far away.
I spotted a line of skiffs tied up at one of the docks below and my interest perked up. Four of the marinas are kept locked and can only be entered with a card key issued by the Harbor Master’s Office, but this one was accessible to the public. I moved down the ramp for a closer look. There were maybe twenty-five small skiffs, wood and fiberglass, most of them eight to ten feet long. I had no way of knowing if one of these was the boat Daggett had taken, but this much seemed clear: if you cut the line on one of these boats, you’d have to row it out around the end of the dock and through the harbor. There was no current here and a boat left to drift would simply bump aimlessly against the pilings without going anyplace.
I went up the ramp again and turned left along the walkway until I reached Marina One. At the bottom of the ramp, I could see the chain-link fence and locked gate. I loitered on the walk, keeping an eye on passersby. Finally, a middle-aged man approached, his card key in one hand, a bag of groceries in the other. He was trim and muscular, tanned to the color of rawhide. He wore Bermuda shorts, Topsiders, and a loose cotton sweater, a mat of graying chest hairs visible in the V.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you live down there?”
He paused, looking at me with curiosity. “Yes.” His face was as lined as a crumpled brown grocery bag pressed into service again.
“Do you mind if I follow you out onto Marina One? I’m trying to get a line on the man who washed up on the beach Saturday.”
“Sure, come on. I heard about that. The skiff he stole belongs to a friend of mine. By the way, I’m Aaron. You are?”
“Kinsey Millhone,” I said, trotting down the ramp after him. “How long have you lived down here?”
“Six months. My wife and I split up and she kept the house. Nice change, boat life. Lot of nice people. You a cop?”
“Private investigator,” I said. “What sort of work do you do?”
“Real estate,” he said. “How’d you get into it?” He inserted his card and pushed the gate open. He held it while I passed through. I paused on the other side so he could lead the way.
“I was hired by the dead man’s daughter,” I said.
“I meant how’d you get into investigative work.”
“Oh. I used to be a cop, but I didn’t like it much. The law enforcement part of it was fine, but not the bureaucracy. Now I’m self-employed. I’m happier that way.”
We passed a cloud of sea gulls converging rapidly on an object bobbing in the water. The screeches from the birds were attracting gulls from a quarter of a mile away, streaking through the air like missiles.
“Avocado,” Aaron said idly. “The gulls love them. This is me.” He had paused near a thirty-seven-foot twin-diesel trawler, a Chris-Craft, with a flying bridge.
“God, it’s a beautiful boat.”
“You like it? I can sleep eight,” he said, pleased. He hopped down into the cockpit and turned, holding a hand out to me. “Pop your boots off and you can come on board and take a look around. Want a drink?”
“I better not, thanks. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover yet. Is there any way you can introduce me to the guy whose skiff was stolen?”
Aaron shrugged. “Can’t help you there. He’s out on a fishing boat all day, but I can give him your name and telephone number if you like. I think the police impounded the skiff, so if you want to see that, you better talk to them.”
I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but I thought I’d leave the door open just in case. I took out a business card, jotting down my home number on the back before I passed it on to him. “Have him give me a call if he knows anything,” I said.
“I’ll tell you who you might want to talk to. Go down here six slips and see if that guy’s in. The Seascape is the name of the boat. His is Phillip Rosen. He knows all the gossip down here. Maybe he can help.”
The Seascape was a twenty-four-foot Flicka, a gaff-rigged sloop with a twenty-foot mast, teak deck, and a fiberglass hull that mimicked wood.
I tapped on the cabin roof, calling a hello toward the open doorway. Phillip Rosen appeared, ducking his head as he came up from down below. His emerging was like a visual joke: he was one of the tallest men I’d seen except on a basketball court. He was probably six-foot-ten and built on a grand scale-big hands and feet, big head with a full head of red hair, a big face with red beard and moustache, bare-chested and barefoot. Except for the ragged blue jean cut-offs, he looked like a Viking reincarnated cruelly into a vessel unworthy of him. I introduced myself, mentioning that Aaron had suggested that I talk to him. I told him briefly what I wanted.
“Well, I didn’t see them, but a friend of mine did. She was coming down here to meet me and passed ’em in the parking lot. Man and a woman. She said the old guy was drunk as a skunk, staggering all over the place. The little gal with him had a hell of a time trying to keep him upright.”
“Do you have any idea what she looked like?” “Nope. Dinah never said. I can give you her number though, if you want to ask her about it yourself.”
“I’d like that,” I said. “What time was this?”
“I’d say two-fifteen. Dinah’s a waitress over at the Wharf and she gets off at two. I know she didn’t close up that night and it only takes five minutes to get here. Shoot, if she walked on water, she could skip across the harbor in the time it takes her to get to the parking lot.”
“Is she at work now by any chance?”
“Monday afternoon? Could be. I never heard what her schedule was this week, but you can always try. She’d be up in the cocktail lounge. A redhead. You can’t miss her if she’s there.”
Which turned out to be true. I drove the half mile from the marina to the wharf, leaving my car with the valet who handles restaurant parking. Then I went up the outside staircase to the wooden deck above. Dinah was crossing from the bar to a table in the corner, balancing a tray of margaritas. Her hair was more orange than red, too carroty a shade to be anything but natural. She was probably six feet tall in heels, wearing dark mesh hose, and a navy blue “sailor” suit with a skirt that skimmed her crotch. She had a little sailor cap pinned to her head and an air about her that suggested she’d known starboard from port since the day she reached puberty.
I waited until she’d served the drinks and was on her way back to the bar. “Dinah?”
She looked at me quizzically. Up close, I could see the overlay of pale red freckles on her face and a long, narrow nose. She wore false eyelashes, like a series of commas encircling her pale hazel eyes, lending her a look of startlement. I gave her a brief rundown, patiently repeating myself. “I know who the old guy is,” I said. “What I’m trying to get a fix on is the woman he was with.”
Dinah shrugged. “Well, I can’t tell you much. I just saw them as I went past. I mean, the marina’s got some lights, but not that great. Plus, it was raining like a son of a bitch.”
“How old would you say she was?”
“On the young side. Twenties, maybe. Blonde. Not real big, at least compared to him.”
“Long hair? Short? Buxom? Flat-chested?”
“The build, I don’t know. She was wearing a raincoat. Some kind of coat, anyway. Hair was maybe shoulder length, not a lot of curl. Kind of bushy.”
She thought briefly. “God, all I remember thinking was there was something off, you know? For starters, he was such a mess. I could smell him ten feet away. Bourbon fumes. Phew! Actually, I kind of thought she might be a hooker on the verge of rolling him. I nearly said something to her, but then I decided it was none of my business. He was having a great old time, but you know how it is. Drunk as he was, she really could have ripped him off.”
“Yeah, well, she did. Dead is about as ripped off as you can get.”