As he drove across the Palmetto drawbridge, Fisher replayed in his head all Jo had said: “I should have told you, she was the one I used to trash Edgar's, yes, I paid her, paid her a couple of times...” Of course! That was the reason Sarah always seemed to be around: at the harness track, at Winward the time Jo showed up late, and now in Manatee lounging around the track bar. She was looking for the next payoff for covering Jo's ass. And he had slept with her! What a brilliant move. Now Sarah had something on both of them.
Fisher noticed a black Jeep trailing behind him. He switched lanes and took the service route into Desota, but the Jeep was still there. Damn. The last thing he needed today was to be followed . He bypassed the clown school and headed for the park. The registrar had already told him that there was no one named “Robin Grant” or “Sarah Dupre” at the school, but he had planned to ask around. Not now, not with that Jeep shadowing him.
He drove to the park's commemorative fountain and stopped. Ten plump ducks waddled over from the shade quacking for freebies. Fisher climbed out of his car and tossed them the remains of his corn muffin. The ducks fought each other for the crumbs like linebackers going after a loose ball.
Fisher caught a glimpse of the Jeep's driver but all he could see was a pair of sunglasses beneath a Devil Rays baseball cap. It wasn't Paduano, not unless he had sweated off fifty pounds in a day. The Jeep circled the park one more time before driving out the west gate. Fisher waited, making sure the Jeep had gone for good while the ducks nipped at his pant legs for more feed. He dug into his pocket, found an old throat lozenge and tossed it into the scrum. A one-eyed male caught the menthol drop on the fly and flapped its wings in celebration. Satisfied his company had gone, Fisher climbed back into his car leaving the ducks to their own devices.
Fisher zig-zagged through town before taking the back route to the motel. Noticing two cars in the sandy lot, he decided to park behind the office. Neither of the cars was a Jeep but for the life of him he couldn't recall what kind of car Sarah drove the night he followed her here. Horny, drunk and stupid; now there was a winning trifecta.
The motel manager didn't seem to remember Sarah, but when Fisher mentioned the clown paraphernalia, the man laughed.
“Oh, yeah. The clown girl. Crazy.”
“But she's not here?”
“Oh, no. She checked out a while ago.”
“Say anything about where she was going?”
“Said something, I think, about going to the islands somewhere.”
“Was it Martinique?”
“Might have been. Yeah. Martinique. Crazy. Guess they need clowns everywhere.”
The Jeep was nowhere in sight as Fisher drove back to the condo. Gone to Martinique? God, Fisher hoped so. Go Sarah, go. Take Paduano with you. Lead him to the other side of the earth, far, far away. Let them be, let he and Jo have a chance. An ex-gambler's chance. A siren was going off someplace. Cars were pulling off the road. An E.M.S. vehicle and police car sped by on his left. It had nothing to do with them. Nothing at all.
“What is it?” Fisher said turning on the light.
“He's here! He's here.”
“Jack. He was standing right there.”
“Right there,” she pointed next to the bed. “He was leaning over me, he had his hands on my throat.”
Jo sat there, shaking her nightgown stained with urine.
“There's nobody there, Jo.”
“I saw him. Standing right there.”
“It was a dream, Jo. A bad, dream.” Fisher climbed out of the bed and turned on all the lights in the room. He stood with his arms wide open. “See. Nobody here.”
“There. Behind the curtains!”
Fisher pulled opened the curtains.
He opened the closets, and looked under the bed. “See? Nobody, Jo.”
“He's in the condo.”
“How do you know?”
“We would hear him.”
“How do you know?” When Fisher sighed and put on his robe, Jo cried “Where are you going?”
“To search the condo.”
“Wait. Don't leave me here.”
They combed both floors, opening every door, closet and hamper. They checked the deck and the garage, Fisher shoving aside boxes to show Jo no one was there. They doubled back, re-checking everywhere they had been, making sure the specter hadn't re-materialized in the bedroom. But still Jo wasn't satisfied. Fisher held her trembling body.
“It was a dream, Jo. A bad, bad, dream." Her body was damp from the urine. Take a shower. A nice shower.”
“Come with me,” she said.
“Leave the door open. I'll be right, here.”
He was stripping the wet sheets from the bed when he heard her shrieking. He ran to the bathroom.
She looked so small in the hospital bed, more like a girl than a woman.
“It's going to be O.K.” he said. The doctor said that there was nothing physically wrong, nothing to prevent you from having another child.”
Falling asleep from the sedative, Jo mumbled in a tiny voice, “Maybe God didn't want us to have a baby.”
“No.” He told her “no”, but she was asleep.
He sat and watched her. He hoped she heard him. This had nothing to do with Jack Landy. Nothing. Not one fucking thing.
But what if it did? What if this was the way the Gods stacked the deck? These faceless powers playing “even-Stephen” with lives. An eye for an eye. It couldn't get more biblical. Didn't they see this wasn't fair? Their baby. Their little girl for that piece of shit? God damn it! Fuck the unforgiving gods! Fuck them!
He had lived his life as a shadow, completely unaffected by things like marriages, pregnancies, miscarriages and now he was crying like a baby. Baby. His stomach hurt again. He was beginning to think he had an ulcer. Never in his life had he ever ponied up this kind of emotional investment. If this was the pay-off... Christ. He wanted to get Jo home. He hated hospitals. Nothing good ever happened in them.
Fisher went down to the ground floor to buy flowers. Through the window of the gift shop, he saw a black Jeep pulling out of the parking lot. He banged on the shop windows screaming out “Leave us alone, God damn it. Leave us alone!”
Paduano shielded his eyes from the sun and looked up at the wooden tower on Lower Sugarloaf Key. Built in the late 1920s, the structure was intended to be a roost for bats. The bats, in turn, were intended to eat the mosquitoes that were causing malaria. But when the bats were placed in the tower, they flew away. After driving for a hundred miles across the look-alike series of mangrove islands dotted with seedy motels and trinket shops, Paduano agreed with the bats.
Henrietta Schumer, the landlady for the two room bungalow three hundred yards from the tower, had lived in Sugarloaf Shores for over forty years. She could remember some of the house's tenants, but she couldn't remember the name Paduano mentioned even when he showed her the copy of the old mug shot provided by Paduano's friend from the Key-West police. However, she did keep accurate account books and the detective was clearly surprised when he found a second name along side of the one he had been looking for.
“They were living together!"
“If that's what it says,” Schumer said smacking a mosquito on her arm.
Jo didn't want to talk about the miscarriage, at least not with Fisher. Whatever she had to say, she saved for the G.A. meetings she religiously attended five mornings a week followed by long hours at the Sloop. Business was flourishing, Jo had applied for and received a cabaret license that would permit live music to be played on the premises and construction had begun for a deck outside the second level dining room.
Unless he went to the Sloop, Fisher rarely saw Jo, and if he tried to talk to her she always doing five things at once with a phone in her ear and by the time she came home at night he was asleep. Lonely as hell, Fisher took any assignment Phillips offered, criss-crossing the county two and three times a day grabbing meals on the fly or in the greek diner on Tamiami.
A white-faced clown with a red rubber nose and orange mouth was making the rounds between tables, handing out promotional balloons for a local store. The clown stopped at Fisher's booth.
“No thanks” said Fisher without looking.
“This mean you don't love me anymore, David?” the clown said opening the blouse of her uniform.
“By my tits alone. You are a sweetheart.” Sarah buttoned up her clown suit.
“Mind if I sit down? I promise not to spill anything on you.” Without waiting for him to answer, she tied the balloons to the hat rack and sat across from Fisher in the booth.
“I've been working on my face. What do you think?”
Close enough to see sweat running her face paint, Fisher thought she looked like a crayon in heat, but he was too stunned to say a word; he sat looking at her with his jaw agape.
“Close your mouth, David, you're catching flies.”
The waitress, a food and beverage lifer with lunch-lady arms, brushed past the balloons with a menu for Sarah.
“Get you something to drink, honey?” The waitress asked.
“A shot of Cuervo Gold. And one for my friend.”
“No, that's...” Fisher tried to protest.
“Coming, right up.” The waitress scurried away.
“So David, how's life?” said Sarah, playing kneesies under the table. “How's that restaurant?” She started singing. “Down on the Sloop John B./ My grandfather and me/ around Nassau County we did roam...”
“All right, all right,” said Fisher.
It was hard to be inconspicuous with a clown at the table, but with a singing clown? The waitress returned with the Tequila shots.
“Here you go. Get you something to eat?”
“What's the soup today?”
“Fish chowder, or lentil,” said the waitress.
“Lentil,” said Sarah. “Is there any bacon in the spinach salad?”
“Not if you don't want it.”
“I do not.”
“Lovely. Anything for you?” the waitress asked Fisher
“Just a check.”
“Lovely,” said the waitress. She picked up the menu and headed for the kitchen.
“Five-to-one, she gets it wrong,” said Sarah. She lifted the shot glass. “What do you think we should drink to, David? I know. Partnership? A person can never have too many partners, don't you think? I understand you're partners now with Johanna. That's sweet. You two getting together down here in the land of the orange juice. Sad thing about what happened to Jack, though. In his own freezer? Man, that's cold.” Sarah laughed and pounded the table. “No disrespect for the dead, but that is cold.”
“For Christ's sake, keep it down,” Fisher said.
Still chuckling, Sarah nodded and downed the shot. Fisher wanted to knock her rubber nose into the Gulf of Mexico, but he needed to know what she knew. He leaned across the table and whispered, “There was a Rosehill cop looking for you.”
“Oh, yeah? Say what he wanted?”
“He wanted to know what your car was doing outside of Edgar's on Thanksgiving night.”
“Maybe, I was watching you, David.”
“I wasn't there.”
“Oh, that's right. You were at your little friend's house.” Sarah slid her right index finger in and out of the circled fingers of her left hand mimicking coitus.
The waitress arrived with the soup.
“Here you go. Salad is coming.”
“Lovely," said Sarah.
Oblivious to Sarah's mock impersonation of her, the waitress placed the check on the table. “You can bring it to the register when you're ready.”
Sarah blew on the soup and waited for the waitress to leave before saying in a low voice, “I know you killed him.”
“I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Let's cut the shit, David. I've been on to you and Johanna from the start. And after I saw you two get together at the harness races? I even told Jack. ”
“Told him what?”
“To watch his ass. I knew something was cooking. And I know Jo. I know how she likes to find someone to fake rob her restaurant for her. I figured that's what you were up to on Thanksgiving. Then I read about poor old Jack turning into a frozen T.V. dinner?”
“It was an accident.”
“Hey, it was fine with me. Man was a lousy lay. Couple of grunts, shot his jizz and sent you on your way with cab fare. Not like you sweetie.” She poured salt from the shaker on to the back of hand. “He was a prize prick too. For a long time I thought he was the one....”
“He was the one, what?”
"Another time, another place." Sarah licked salt off the back of her hand and drank the second shot of tequila. “Ever do any time, David?”
“I have. No fun. Let me tell you, you get your ass in jail you do some serious thinking, thinking about who put you there.” Sarah pushed an envelope across the table.
“Holiday snaps,” she said. “Click, click.”
Fisher hesitated before sliding two photographs out of the envelope. His hand went over his mouth. “Jesus,” he said. “Jesus.”
He felt the half-digested breakfast rising up his esophagus. Trying to keep his voice under control he asked, “What do you want?”
“Remember I was telling you about going to Martinique and getting a house and...”
Fisher grabbed Sarah by the arm. “What do you want?”
“Fifty thousand dollars cash should cover it.”
“Fifty...! You're out of your mind.”
“I've seen the restaurant, David. It's worth a lot more than that.” She eased out of his grip and took Fisher's hand. “And we're going to need something to live on.”
“Come with me. Martinique is so beautiful.” She put his hand inside her costume on her breast.
He yanked back his hand. “You are beyond fucked.”
“Why? What's left for you here? Going to G.A. meetings with Johanna, covering zitty-faced kids playing ball? That's a life? Face it, you're a dead man walking. You know it. So you, me, we take the fifty-thousand and live. It will last a long time down there.”
Fisher looked back at the photographs, the burning was knotting around his heart. How many copies did she have? Where were the negatives? Had she shown them to anyone?
Reading his mind, Sarah said “Don't worry. No one else has seen them.”
“Monday! No way. Can't get that kind of cash in hurry.”
“Of course you can,” Sarah smiled. “Rob yourself. It's Johanna's house special." She let this idea bang around inside his head for a moment. "You know the track at Troyers Grove?”
“Monday night, bring the money in a bag. I'll meet you behind the binocular stand in section thirty-three before the seventh race. You give me the money, I'll give you the negatives. And come alone. I'll be watching you. If there's anyone with you, I'll send your little candids to the Rosehill cop.”
“Ought to bash your fucking skull in”, muttered Fisher
“What can I tell you, David,” said Sarah. “Life is a bitch with a harelip, and sometimes you gotta pucker up.”