The storage room at the back of Collins Bar wasn’t exactly Coldwater’s idea of cozy, but Rachael did check on him before long and asked what he was drinking. He considered sticking to the Martinez, but he’d never had much luck staying with one kind of drink all night. Perhaps he had commitment issues. So instead, he decided to have Josh improvise something for him.
Coldwater had a tendency to get a little cute with his instructions for an improv drink. For his first one, he asked for something that with a medieval flare to it. He was thinking about the sunken city of Lyonesse from Arthurian legend and how it might be relevant to this crazy murder case. Josh didn’t disappoint. Rachael came back with a take on an improved brandy cocktail that involved absinthe, Hellfire bitters, and lavender. Detective Gatlinburg came waddling in behind her.
“This is my night off, Coldwater. It better be good.”
“If you’re off duty, why don’t you have a drink with me?”
Gatlinburg looked over to Rachael and grunted, “All right. I’ll have a sazerac.”
Rachael left to get the drink, and Coldwater commented, “Sazerac. That’s a pretty sophisticated drink for an illiterate like yourself, no offense.”
“You’d be surprised Coldwater. I went to school in New Orleans. I’m not as rustic as you might think. Now what’s this about?”
“Do you still have an interest in talking to the girl, Ashley Rose?”
“We still have some questions for her. Yes. Do you know where she is?”
“I don’t have the exact address, but I’m pretty sure it’s on 9th Avenue in Crestwood, somewhere east of 56th Street. You’ll find a white Caddy there, probably registered to a pony-tailed gorilla named Bruce something or other. I wasn’t able to get his last name, but I wrote down the license plate number.” He pulled a slip of paper from his wallet and handed it over to the detective, who didn’t look impressed.
“Where’d you get the information?”
“I bought it with my good looks. Didn’t you notice I don’t have them anymore?”
“You getting cute?”
“Does this big bruise in the middle of my face look cute to you?” Rachael came back with the sazerac, as rose pink as the detective’s pig-like face. It looked delicious. Coldwater decided he might have one of those next, or something like it. Gatlinburg reached for his wallet, but Coldwater stopped him. “It’s on Feizal. You’re doing him a favor.”
Rachael said, “I’m keeping a tab for you, Coldwater. I still don’t know what you’re doing here.”
“I’m a little confused about it myself, actually. All I can say is I doubt there is a whiskey thief in your midst.”
She crossed her eyes. “What does that even mean?”
Coldwater raised his hand. “If Feizal wanted you to know about it, he’d have told you himself.”
She shook her head and left again mumbling some sort of ancient curse. Gatlinburg called into headquarters and handed off the information Coldwater had given him about Ashely Rose’s probably whereabouts. He said that someone was going to investigate, and they should hear something before long.
“What do you know about this professor’s wife?” Coldwater said. “I didn’t know he had one, but I ran into her earlier this evening, and she struck me as an odd bird, a rara avis if you will.”
The detective sat back and sipped his drink. “Sounds like you’ve been doing crossword puzzles again. I can’t discuss the details of an ongoing investigation, Coldwater. You know that.”
“Oh, come on. I just gave you the blonde.”
“We don’t yet know if anything will come of it.”
“This is what I know. She’s an academic type like him, and also a poet. One of her pieces talks about a town called Lyonesse. Ever heard of it?”
“There’s a town by that name in Pickens County, a little west of Tuscaloosa. I have a cousin with a farm near there. Not much there to speak of but an abandoned train depot, a couple of old homesteads. A ghost town if I ever saw one. Why’s it important?”
“I’m not sure.” Coldwater wanted to keep something in his pocket, and the argument Ashley Rose and the Professor had about Lyonesse seemed as good a piece of information as anything he might be giving away.
“You working for somebody related to this case?”
“I might be, but if I were, I couldn’t tell you who. What kind of P.I. would I be if I didn’t keep my clients confidential?” In a strict sense, he could consider Ashley Rose his client, though he hadn’t gotten any money from her yet. She wanted him to prove she didn’t kill the professor, and she wanted to stay hidden until he had done that. However, he had other ideas. If she was in police custody, he might actually be able to help her. As things were, she was a liability.
“Okay, okay,” Gatlinburg said. “The widow, as you said, is an odd bird. But she’s on the up and up. Published a few books. She was out of town on a book tour when this all went down on Tuesday. She came back immediately, of course, and cancelled her other dates. She’s not a suspect, and she didn’t tell us anything that would lead to one. Happy?”
“Oh yeah, and she’s also loaded. Independently wealthy, you might call it. Her great grandfather was one of those steel barons that built this town, and her grandpa and pops owned an insurance company.”
“I assume you have the knife,” Coldwater said. Gatlinburg gave him a blank look. “That the professor was stabbed with.”
Gatlinburg sat back in his chair, pulled a cigar out of his pocket, and started chewing on it, unlit. “Jesus, Coldwater. Don’t you read the papers? Sure, we have the knife, but Hornbuckle was already dead when the knife went in his back. Coroner said he was probably poisoned, but we still don’t know with what or how. The knife was just for show. This is all public knowledge.”
Coldwater said, “I’ve been a little out of it the last couple of days. I haven’t had time to catch up on the details.”
Gatlinburg’s phone whistled a tune at him, and he went outside to talk. Coldwater asked for another round of drinks from Rachael, another sazerac for the detective and a Vieux Carré for himself. He read back over the notes he had made on the legal pad, adding what Gatlinburg had told him about the widow, the poisoning, and about the ghost town in Pickens County. About then, Feizal returned.
“You changed,” Coldwater said. The bar manager’s checked red shirt had been exchanged for a white one.
“Very humid outside tonight. I had a shower before I came back. Any trouble here?”
“Quiet as a church on Thursday. Gatlinburg is outside on the phone.”
Feizal nodded and handed over two twenties. “Well, thanks anyway. You don’t know what help you’ve been.”
When Gatlinburg came back in the room, he looked troubled. He wiped his sweaty face with a handkerchief.
“We found the house,” he said. “We found the car. We found the girl. She’s dead. Don’t leave town, Coldwater. I have a few more questions to ask you.”