Louise, she's all right, she's just near
She's delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna's not here
The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place
As often happened when I called for Crimson, a resident answered. I asked for the person in charge. I was well-versed in the wiles of the shamus through books and movies, and went the authority figure routine. I adopted a curt professional tone when a querulous voice came to the phone.
“This is the night shift supervisor, how can I help you?”
“I’m Inspector Garrison with the Monterey County investigators,” make it sound official, get them on edge, “I’m working on a case out here in California. Has the Medical Examiner contacted you regarding a Mr. Clover?”
“Any information pertaining to Mr. Clover has to be obtained from the office manager. He will be in the office Monday.”
“What happened to that man is a real tragedy, huh?” I was working with his tone.
“Yes, sir, it was. What was it you needed?”
“I’ll check in with your manager Monday,” back off a little. Beneath the petulance I sensed a need from him to talk or he would have gotten off the line. I didn’t know him, but I was sure he was that sort, the know-it-all guy with the inside information. “How’s Miss Crimson taking it?” I figured he would know her pseudonym. He grabbed the lateral and turned upfield. “That’s the funny part. She left here about the same time as the doctor. All of us around here are shocked. I mean, looks like they took off together.”
“By Doc, you mean Clover?”
“Doc Clover, yeah, that’s right. They left together apparently. Lot of people shaking their head; him leaving with a patient. If that’s what happened.”
“No one really sure if they left together or not, but they were close. Everbody knows that.”
“Crimson’s a patient? A witness out here has stated that she hired him to do some work for the home. Could that be, if you say she’s a patient there?”
“She hired his writing agency to write menu descriptions.”
“That mush? Billowing Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. Insouciant strawberry jam. I thought she wrote it. You know, they like to let the patients feel like they’re a part of everything. Paint the day room, pick out the curtains, stuff like that. She hired someone to write the menus?”
“She was a patient,” I repeated. I held the phone propped on my shoulder as I opened another Olympia. With this info the tattered edges were returning; the cold beer helped.
The night shift nimrod wheeled on, “Nothing to hold her here. The folks here are voluntarily committed. These rich people sure are funny. Some of ‘em are coming here for a rest. Some just for the drugs, if you ask me. And, oh yeah, Clover’s “special treatment”. I wouldn’t want to work in a regular loony bin though. No way.”
Special treatment - I decided he was a jealous asshole, his attitude was wearing thin. I needed to get something out of him, and didn’t want to drift along in the backwash of his various opinions.
“Say, did Clover leave an address, phone or any way to get ahold of him. I’d sure appreciate it, because we really need contact her, just to clear up a couple of things. If she was out here with him, she might be able to help.” I wanted him to feel important, the gateway to a blowhard’s heart.
“Yeah, there was a memo about that. Here somewhere.” The sound of paper rustling and distant voices. “Got it. 1550 Sacramento Street...” The line went dead, and then came back with the chirpy girl from the motel desk.
“I’m sorry, but you’ve gone over the time limit on log distance calls, Mr. Walters.”
“You cut me off right at just the wrong moment,” I snapped. I felt bad as I thought of her soft features and her bravado in the face of a life that one could easily see was not all puppies and picnic baskets. Actually I was tired of that guy’s voice. But with that last piece of information he gave me, locating Clover’s hotel wouldn’t be too tough to figure out. He was either here, Santa Cruz, or somewhere in between. Finding one on a Sacramento St would be relatively easy?
“I’m sorry, sir, but we have a fifteen minute limit on long distance calls. Policy.”
“It’s alright. I was done anyway,” I softened. No way did I want to go through the steps of getting that clown back on the phone.
You have moved the story along. You got the mystery set up. You painted some scenery. You’ve even gotten the readers drunk and high a couple of times. But when a reader picks up this sort of book they want a little romance, something interesting for them. Are we going have to continue to read about this onanist and his oh-so tormented imagination?
“If you’re not doing nothing, me and Fritzi are going over to the fires. If you want to come.”
“Nice of you to ask. Sure.”
Why not. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep. The sky was dark blue with lines of cirrus clouds; not the usual fog blobs. The acrid smell of the city and the bay was in the air along with the wood-smoke. I was halfway out when she appeared at my doorstep.
“Got another beer?”
I smacked a bottle open for her.
She peeked in, “Everybody does that, just don’t get suds on the Gideon.” Motel humor.
We knocked bottles over Fritz’s broad black back; he had nudged in between us. The dog’s effort was unnecessary. I was still too jazzed, besides, I didn’t know who else shacked behind the office with her. “Thanks for the beer, Damon. And I’m Wendy.”
“I stay with the people that own this place Damon. I won’t bite.” We walked on an asphalt path. The dog’s nails clicked. She looked young and innocent as she swung the bottle beside me like a coed at her first frat party.
Competing 1950s music poured from trailer windows into the fire circles. Hale voices and bright laughter. Faces lit like happy burghers in a Norman Rockwell. Exaggerated fun - me with Wendy.
The young girl was very popular with the campers. We grinned and helloed our way through the pits. Smokey meat sizzled. I hadn’t eaten anything other than pretzels, but the thought of food made me queasy. I noticed more bright fire lights beyond a weedy knoll.
“That’s where the real parties are. The beaches are beyond there. Let’s go on over there. I don’t like to go alone.They get a little rowdy over the hill. The office is closed, I’m off for the night. Come on.”
I had already stumbled through one conversation about hitching balls and wasn’t in a doo-wop mood. I didn’t know what sort of protection I could offer or what sort of party demons lay over the ridge, but may as well take it in. We had Fritz. He nudged us away from the campers.
We took a worn white path through the scraggly vegetation. At the top of the hill Fritz drifted off the trail. Wendy stepped in closer. She tossed her bottle into the weeds. Through my wired senses I could feel her warmth. She smelled of vaguely of flowers. Her hair swam softly on her white neck. Her frank eyes reflected the distant fires. Her soft lips found mine. I held the small of her back. Fritz reappeared and worked back into his position.
“Thanks for coming with me, Damon.”
My stressed eyes teared at her tender beauty and kind heart. Fritz took us down the other side.
A crowd of denim clad hirsute partyers milled around a large blaze. There was a makeshift kitchen tent. Savory smoke poured from a grill constructed from a sawed-in-half oil drum. A burnt pig’s head sat lugubriously on a table at the front of the tent. Alongside the head was a glass jar marked for donations. I looked quickly away from the pig not wanting to make eye contact. Shadowy forms inside the tent filled plastic cups from an iced beer keg.
A gravelly, “Thank you, sweetie,” followed my contribution, a folded twenty. A rough hand smacked a skull-and-crossbones stamp on our wrists. The stamp got us free refills and a slab of pork. I asked the pig slicer for a hunk for Fritz. “How about your date?” he said with a touch of sarcasm. I couldn’t see Wendy’s reaction to the tone, but she said she wasn’t hungry. Light from an oil lantern showed the server, his grimy face bearded with black grease from the beast on the spit.
“You shouldn’t show your money like that. Not here, it’s not safe,” Wendy said into my ear. We strode down to the bonfires. As we neared one a roar arose as three young girls dancing lifted their shirts. Their brown-tipped breasts gelatinous in the campfire glow like sea lion pups in a wharfside eddy.
I stretched and rested on an elbow, she sat Indian-style by my chest with Fritz by my legs. I closed my eyes and listened to the music. In the distance outlined by a darkening sky was a row of pines. A figure emergred and sat next to Wendy. She passed me a greasy joint. I hit it once and waved off any more.
I hadn’t taken time to drink in the ambiance - the location where Cannery Row was told in the same scents that floated behind the grills, pipes and sweat. The canneries were now tourist attractions with a different kind of “stink”. I could feel her next to me. I was warm and at ease for the first time since coming to the dreamland.
I felt a tug as she took my cup. I heard the dog shake. She bent over me. “Happy birthday, Danny,” she said, “I’ll be back.” How did she know, I thought as I drifted.
I woke up alone the next day in my room. The door was slightly open. I was clothed on top of the bedspread. I was scratchy from sand. After showering and shaking out my clothes, I placed the key on the dresser intending to leave, but changed my mind. Seemed the right thing to do would be to say goodbye.
Wendy was not working. A rough looking guy sat behind the counter reading a magazine. He barely acknowledged me when I dropped the key on the counter. Grunted. Was he the pig man? Fritz wasn’t there either, but I had the feeling I better not ask questions. I picked up a brochure form the counter as I left. I checked for a phone number and saw the address: 1550 Sacramento St. I hesitated only a second until deciding to call back from the city.