I looked up and saw the old guy standing in my office doorway, pulling a sawed-off shotgun out of a brown paper bag. He was wild-eyed, winded from the three-flight climb. The bag was the long, thin kind that hero sandwiches come in. He tossed it aside and stepped toward my desk, where my morning coffee steamed in the cup. "You're Mr. Rasmussen ..."
"Whoa!" I threw my hands high.
"I'm gonna give it to you!"
My heart was banging off the tin ceiling. "Hold on."
"It's gotta be now!"
The ugly snout of the shotgun glared at me in the June sunlight sliced by the venetian blinds--maybe the last sunlight I'd ever see. It was double-barrel, big-gauge, and this close it was like looking into the Ted Williams Tunnel. If it went off, I was pâté.
He knew my name. I tried to run the flushed mug. The loser in a bitter divorce case I'd done investigative work for? An insurance cheat I'd outed? A face in the crowd?
And that's when I recognized him.
He worked in the pizza shop around the corner. Tony's, whatelse? A nice old fellow, I'd always figured. So he'd cracked. Standing in the Bessemer blast of the pizza oven, one too many customers saying "Hold the anchovies," and he'd wigged and come through the building at 10 Kearney Square--the Fairburn Building, if you take your irony straight--looking for people to shoot on sight. Another mad dog fizzing with rage, needing someone to blame. Except nobody else was around. The city golf tournament was on, and there wasn't a businessman, accountant, or lawyer to be found; they were all out whooping it up at Mount Pleasant or at Vesper. Not private eyes, though. There was one working, and this old guy had found him.
"Look--" I was still scrambling for a life ring.
I heard the siren then--had been hearing it for the past minute, wailing somewhere. It was on Merrimack Street now, just outside, but rather than calm me, it was a razor strop across the raw edge of my nerves. Would the old guy get me before the cops could get him? He stepped closer, pushing the office door shut behind him. He said, "It ain't working no more, Mr. Rasmussen."
"I was cleaning the vent over the oven. I found it on top the ceiling." I noticed now that the weapon was rust-spotted. "One of them dropped ceilings," he said. "A gun I don't know where it come from, and it's lying up there. You're some kind of cop, ain't you? I don't like guns. Guns scare me. I brung it for you to get rid of it."
I wanted to hug him. He'd found the old gun and it had spooked him and he didn't know what to do about it, so he'd stuck the barrel in a paper bag and gone around the corner because he'd once seen the gold lettering on my third-floor window--ALEX RASMUSSEN, PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS--except someone had spotted him and punched 911. Carrying an unlicensed firearm, even in a sandwich bag, was a one-year mandatory in Massachusetts. And if this seemed silly, stranger things had happened. I couldn't see the scared old guy coping with prison. Or me losing my ability to earn a living. I heard stealthy footsteps in the corridor. I looked around and grabbed an idea. Maybe it'd play. Or maybe it would get us both cells at Concord.
"Give me that," I said. "Quick."
I yanked open the coat closet and stood the shotgun in the dark back corner, behind my trench coat and a vacuum cleaner. I grabbed the vac's flex hose and twisted the black plastic tube off the end. I kicked the closet door shut. I heard the outer door to my waiting room rattle open. I had the eighteen-inch-long tube on the desk as the inner office door flew open and a uniform edged in in a crouch, his 9-mm two-handed in front of him. He was nobody from my days on the job--the faces kept getting younger. He was panting, too: nerves, probably, or the climb. He knew the moves, though. Hands choking the thick rubber grip of the nine, arms twitching the piece this way and that, finger on the trigger. His tension rang off the metal file cabinets. "Where is it?"
"Down, boy!" I said. "Where's what?"
"Bottom drawer. What's going on?"
"Don't move." With his left hand he brought his walkie-talkie to his mouth. "Okay, I'm here on the third floor, suite three-one-five."
"I'm coming up," said a second voice. "The elevator working?"
The cop looked at me. "The elevator work?"
"Not since before Clinton."
"No," he told the other voice. The voice swore and signed off.
"Okay, lay the weapon on the desk," the cop ordered.
I unlocked and opened the drawer carefully. I reached past the fifth of Wild Turkey--a gift from a client--and hoisted the .38 Smith & Wesson by the trigger guard and set it on the linoleum desktop. "It's legal," I said.
"The other, I'm talking. Shotgun." The nine ratcheted toward my visitor. "Someone saw you come up the block hauling steel."
"Hauling steel?" I said. "Where'd you get that? Creative writing class?"
The nine leaped my way. "Knock off the crap. What's your name?"
I told him.
The old guy couldn't get a name out. He looked ready to jump from his skin. "He wouldn't know a Glock from a glockenspiel," I said. "What is this?"
"It's in a bag," the cop said.
"A paper bag?" I let out a breath that I hoped sounded like recognition and relief. "Three minutes ago?" I lifted the plastic pipe, and I retrieved the bag. The rest was easy: my old pal had borrowed my carpet sweeper and forgot to return the attachment, until now. The cop used his walkie-talkie and nixed backup. To justify the hike, I supposed, he asked to see paper for the .38. I was happy to oblige. He lamped the carry permit and my investigator's license, both neat and up-to-date, and looked as relieved as we were.
"How come you're not out at the tournament with the rest of the city?" I asked him when he'd holstered his heater. "You're missing the tee-offs."
"I might ask you the same."
"And give crime a holiday?"
When the cop was gone, the old guy clamped my right hand in a damp double handshake. "I knew you was the one to come to."
"I'm him," I said, my voice finally down in the range where it belonged.
"You take care of the gun, eh? I don't want."
"Okay. I'll take care of it."
He was still pumping my hand. "You come by. Vito--that's me--I make you a pizza, special. Whatever you like. You like anchovies?"
I didn't say a word.
When he'd gone, too, I locked the outer door. I'd had enough company for one morning. I brought the sawed-off out of hiding. It was a Parker Brothers, according to the name etched on the housing; not the board-game makers, I guessed, though it wasn't a gun name I'd ever heard of. It was twelve-gauge, ugly as sin and as empty as my safe-deposit box. Termites had been working on giving it a pistol grip. Under the dust and corrosion, I could make out some scrollwork, but the piece was in dire need of oil and blueing. I tried to remember what the pizza joint had been before it was Tony's and came up with a string of grease pits. If the shotgun was wanted insome old crime, I'd check it out quietly with a sergeant I knew on the force. If it was clean, I'd take it home for dismantling and disposal. Or maybe the hawk shop downstairs would give me ten bucks for it as a curio. For now, it could rust in peace in the closet. As I shut the door, the telephone rang.
"Mr. Rasmussen?" It was a woman asking this time. She had a nice voice, refined and a little uncertain. "Do you--I know it sounds crazy--my name's Mrs. Jensen, by the way. Paula Jensen. Do you make house calls?"
"Where to, Mrs. Jensen?"
"I'm in Apple Valley. Would it be possible to have someone come out?"
"What's the nature of the business?"
"My daughter may be missing."
"You're not sure?"
"Well, I know where she is ... or who she's with, at least. I just haven't heard from them in a few days. I know it's probably nothing. Still ..."
"How old is your daughter?"
I could have pressed on with smart questions--Who was she with? Where?--could have told her to start at the beginning, but I was still shaky from my face-to-face with guns. Besides, voices sometimes told you things about the people they belonged to. Paula Jensen's told me she was trying to mask real worry. "What's your address?" I asked.
GOOFY FOOT. Copyright © 2003 by David Daniel. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.