I was sitting in the living room of Sam's apartment, wondering what I would do it Jan Sleet never appeared again (not an entirely ridiculous thought, given how people were vanishing around us), when I heard a familiar rap on the door. I got up quickly and went over to open it.
She stood in the doorway, almost bobbing up and down in her excitement.
"Come on," she said. "They want to meet you."
I followed her out, closing the door behind me until I heard it lock.
She was waiting for me to ask who "they" were, so she could not tell me, so I said, "do you want my news?"
She nodded as she pressed the button for the elevator. I told her about Sam and Tammy as we rode up to the fourteenth floor. Fortunately, we were alone in the elevator.
As we stepped out of the elevator, she said, "don't say a thing about this to them."
She pressed the buzzer for an apartment and the door was opened by a short, muscular girl with curly light brown hair. She was carrying what looked like a tiny banjo case
"Go on in," she said, pushing past us. "I'm late."
We ended up in a kitchen which seemed much smaller than the one in Sam's apartment. There was a tiny black and white television on top of the refrigerator, but the noise was nearly drowned out by the conversation, which all stopped the minute we appeared. In the sudden silence, the TV newscaster said, "–Nelson has still not appeared, and his publisher–"
"Welcome," said an elderly man in pajamas and a bathrobe. He was seated on a stool at the tiny table, along with a plump woman with a lot of rings and bracelets, and Sam's brother David. David got down from his stool and offered the seat to Jan Sleet. "This is Marshall," she said, pointing at me as David and I helped her up onto the stool he had just vacated.
The woman introduced herself as T.C., and she said, "We're very pleased to meet you. So, Sarah's home from the hospital?"
Jan Sleet looked at me, so I said, "Yes, she–" and then I was distracted when a mug of hot coffee was shoved into my hand by the elderly man, who introduced himself as Finch. At least the coffee was black, the way I like it.
"Sarah just came home," I continued. "She's pretty weak, and she went right to bed."
Finch nodded, getting back onto his stool. "Always a good idea in these cases. As Andy Warhol used to say–"
"We're suspicious of Nicky," David said. "Or at least I am. T.C. is withholding judgment because Nicky has been giving us a lot of entertainment and information. But her being here is still suspicious."
"In what way?" I asked, sipping my coffee.
"Well, suddenly appearing as she did," T.C. said judiciously. "Happens to have the first name of the protagonist of two of Perry's novels. Her whole name is a character from classic detective fiction, and in that fiction it was a false name. Seduces Sarah, who is very inexperienced, and gets food and shelter and clothing out of the deal, in addition to the sex, of course. Terry didn't like her and didn't trust her, which is Terry's reaction to almost everybody, but Sam and Sarah are on her side. She asks a lot of questions about Perry Nelson and then pretends not to care very much about the answers. David thinks she's not really gay, but the deal she's got going here is just too good to let that interfere." She shrugged. "No definite evidence so far. If she was stalking Perry Nelson, why is she still here when he's gone?"
"Maybe she doesn't know where he went," Jan Sleet said brightly.
"True," Finch said. "Just because she's a stalker, that doesn't mean she's good at it."
T.C. nodded and lit a cigarette. She held out the lighter for Jan Sleet to light hers as well.
"She would be off after him," Jan Sleet said, "if that was what she wanted."
T.C. puffed thoughtfully. "You know where Perry hied himself off to?"
"No, but I'm pretty sure she does." She paused to let that sink in. "I'm willing to trade information for information."
"What are you offering?" David asked.
"Marshall has an interesting story to tell."
"And what do you need?" T.C. asked.
"Information about Nicky Porter and Tammy Nelson. Whatever you know or have surmised."
T.C. smiled. "Done. Let's hear the story."
After I had told my story about Sam and Tammy, and after we had heard a lot of apparently irrelevant hearsay about Nicky Porter and Tammy Everett, we left the apartment. As we waited for the elevator, Jan Sleet said, "Now we're about ready to move."
We got onto the elevator. "Move where?" I asked.
"To Perry's house. To wrap this up."
"Do we know where he lives?"
"No, but Nicky does, as I said. And I think I know how to get her to tell us. But I had to wait until I had everything else in place."
"Tammy must know where he lives," I said.
"I'm sure she does. But there are two things. One is that we don't have a lever to use on her, and we do on Nicky. Two, if we tell her that's where we want to go, she might call Perry, or she may be in touch with Terry and tell her. I need our arrival to be a surprise."
We stepped out of the elevator on Sam's floor and she was about to ring the doorbell when she stopped and looked at me. "What?" she asked quietly.
"Marshall," she said, speaking very softly, "there are a lot of things I can't tell you. This isn't an ordinary case. It isn't much fun, and it may get worse, but I really need to solve it. And, even then, there will be things I can't tell anybody, not even you."
This was an extraordinary speech from her, and I knew what she really meant. She needed my help to solve this, and she couldn't fill me in. I had to go along with it blind.
"Okay," I said. "Are we going to get a story out of it?"
"I sure hope not," she said, and then we were quiet for a moment. I thought for a second she was actually going to try to take my hand.
We rang the doorbell and Nicky opened the door. She motioned us in. "Where is everybody?" Jan Sleet asked as the three of us went into the empty living room.
"Sarah is asleep," she said quietly. "Sam and Tammy are in his room. Talking, so to speak."
"Listen to me," Jan Sleet said to Nicky in a voice I had never heard before. "I need to know where Perry Nelson lives. We need to go there to solve this."
Nicky shrugged and laughed. "Okay, fine. Go ahead. I only met the man once, and I sure–"
"You know," Jan Sleet said, leaning forward. "You were stalking him, that's how you ended up here. You were probably following Terry to find Perry. When he was admitted to the hospital, he didn't have his wallet. It hasn't turned up since. He was quite badly injured, but you weren't. When his wallet fell out of his pocket in the fight, you were able to grab it."
Nicky was ready to ridicule this, but Jan Sleet didn't pause. "You've seen his driver's license and his other ID. You hid the wallet in Sam's room, which was very clever, but you kept the driver's license. I found the wallet, but nothing in it has his address, and that is what I need.
"Nicky, I saw you pick up the wallet from the street, and I need that driver's license. If you don't give it to me, Marshall will take it from you, and I'll tell Sam and Sarah what you're really doing here. If you give it to me, nobody ever finds out where I got it. Because as much as you wanted to find Perry Nelson, that isn't the most important thing to you anymore, is it? Or you'd have been out on his trail, instead of staying here. You–"
She stopped because Nicky had reached into her pocket and pulled out a driver's license. She handed it over and left the room without a word.
"Did you really think I was going to strip-search her?" I asked. "That's a bit beyond my job description."
She shook her head, not taking her eyes off the driver's license. "It wasn't going to come to that. Come on, we need to rent a car."
"We" meant me, of course, since I was the one with the money, and I was the one who was licensed to drive.
When Tammy and Sam came out of his room, Jan Sleet gathered everybody together in Sarah and Nicky's room, since Sarah was still in bed. "I'm going to see Perry," she announced. "I know where he lives, and I want to find out if he's okay." She looked at Tammy. "You've called him, I assume?"
Tammy nodded. "Several times. There hasn't been any answer."
"I think he's there and he's not answering the phone. But we won't know for sure unless we go and see. Who wants to come with me?"
"I do," Sam said. "If he is there, he may be able to tell us something about Terry."
"I'll go, too," Sarah said. Nicky started to express concern, but Sarah said, "I'll be okay, Portland. I assume we're driving?"
Jan Sleet nodded.
"I'll go, too," Tammy said. She smiled. "To make sure he's okay, and to try to convince him that I didn't reveal his precious secret address." She looked around. "We're not all going to fit on one car. I'll rent a car, too, if Sam will do most of the driving."
Fortunately, I wasn't the only one who felt that food was necessary before we set out. Sam and Nicky went out for take-out Chinese food as Tammy was calling to rent a car. Jan Sleet was impatient, but I explained that the adrenaline which that had been powering her all day wasn't available to everybody.
I did notice that she watched Tammy pretty much every minute until we left the apartment. I was sure this was to make sure that the attorney didn't get in touch with Perry (or Terry) to let them know our plans.
I expected the Chinese food to be unexciting, and I was right, but all I had had to eat all day were two of the reheated danish that I'd disdained when we'd arrived, so I wasn't about to be finicky.
And then, finally, we were ready to go. There was a lot of back-and-forth about who was going to ride with who. Jan Sleet was impatient, but I signaled her to let it play itself out.
Sarah had apparently recovered from Tammy's speech, at least a little, and seemed less thrilled about the relationship than she had been before. Or maybe it was just that it had become clearer that it was a relationship, at least for the moment, not just a fling.
So, Nicky and Sarah decided to drive with us. They sat in the back seat, I drove and Jan Sleet sat beside me. The plan was that we would drive to Perry's and, assuming he was there, make sure he was okay. Then, Jan Sleet and I would drive Sam and the girls back to New York. Tammy would drive her rented car to Boston so she could prepare for the case she had coming up.
As far as I knew, Jan Sleet had not mentioned to anybody else that this was a vital part of solving the mystery, and, true to her word, she had not revealed how she had obtained Perry's address.
We were all quiet for a few minutes as I negotiated the city streets toward the highway. Then, as I pulled into the stream of traffic going north, Nicky asked, "Is Terry going to be there? Are we going to find out what happened to her?"
Jan Sleet nodded, lighting a cigarette. "Yes, Terry will be there. We'll hear her story, all of it."
"It didn't occur to me that she might have gone to Perry's," Sarah said. "I guess because she vanished first."
"That's what made it more mysterious than it should have been," Jan Sleet said. "If Perry had just vanished from the hospital the way he did, it would have been pretty obvious to anybody who knew anything about him that he had skipped out to avoid publicity. But, since it came after Terry's disappearance, that made it seem like there must be a connection. There wasn't, though, not that way."
She turned in her seat and held out her cigarette case to Nicky. There was apparently a brief consultation in the back seat, then Nicky took a cigarette and Sarah rolled down her window a little.
Nicky started to ask another question, but Jan Sleet shook her head. "I can't explain any more of it yet. Terry has to explain a lot of it herself. But when we get there, don't mention anything about Terry, that we're expecting to see her there. Not to Perry or to Sam or Tammy. Something really bad might happen. There could easily be more violence. I think I can prevent it, but I have to do things very carefully, and in the proper order."
That was sufficiently vague and mysterious that there weren't any more questions. Jan Sleet reached forward, turning on the radio and twirling the dial until she found a classical music station.
It seemed she had hold of something, but I wasn't sure. Maybe this was all a smokescreen to get us to Perry Nelson. But she had told me I would be going into this blind, and I had agreed, as she'd known I would. So, I just drove the car and tried not to worry.
I didn't like the idea that there might be more violence, though.
We pulled off the dirt road and I parked next to a battered station wagon. A moment later, Tammy's car pulled up next to us. We both turned off our lights and shut off our motors. I got out and went around to help Jan Sleet out of the car. I knew she'd be stiff after sitting for so long.
We all stood for a moment in the dark, as if suddenly hesitant to invade the author's privacy. The windows of the small house were lit, the only lights visible in any direction through the trees, so it looked like somebody was home. Then Jan Sleet started toward the door and we all trailed behind.
She rapped on the door and after a moment it opened. I'd never met Perry Nelson, of course, but I knew him from his photographs. He had a bruise over one eye and he held his left arm stiffly. He looked surprised, because Jan Sleet and I were in front, but then he saw more familiar faces behind us and motioned all of us inside his house.
"This is somewhat of a surprise," he said dryly.
Jan Sleet held out her hand. "My name is Jan Sleet. I'm a reporter, but I'm not here to write about you. I brought Sam and the others because they were worried about you."
Perry looked resigned. "Well, you're all here, so come in and sit down." Then he smiled. "I'm sorry, that sounded more ungracious than I meant it to." We all sat in the small but comfortable living room and he said, "I thought of getting in touch, many times, but I didn't know what was behind what happened to Terry, or I should say who, so I didn't know if I'd be exposing myself to them, letting them know where I was."
Nicky and Sarah sat together on a couch, Nicky with her arm around Sarah's shoulders. Sam sat next to Tammy on the other sofa. They didn't touch, but I could tell that Perry was aware of the chemistry. I wondered if Terry was observing us, and how she would react.
My employer was sitting in a comfortable chair, but she sat straight up, trying not to look as eager as she was. I saw her looking around, checking the doors and windows, cataloguing the room's contents. Perry looked at her for a while, and then at Tammy, but he didn't say anything about that either.