“Heston says you used to be a cop.”
The speaker was a woman I’d seen around the bar a few times in recent weeks. She generally sat by herself, drinking bottles of Corona and scrolling on a phone propped up against a wadded napkin. From across the room, I would have guessed her at around fifty. Up close I judged the number of years closer to forty, and the nature of the years difficult. She stood at the other side of my table, holding a glass with an alluring, dark amber glow.
“Heston has an underdeveloped sense of the value some attach to privacy,” I said.
The woman put the glass down and pushed it toward me. “The good stuff,” she said. “Heston says you can have it if you hear me out.”
Heston was behind the bar polishing glasses, his heavily inked arms moving rhythmically. A slight dip of his chin when I looked over might conceivably have been meant as a nod.
I picked up the drink and let the aroma drift into my nose. The fifth and last drink of the night. Ending on a high note. “Sit,” I said. “I’m Tim Chadwick.”
“Andrea Court.” She sat down. “So it’s true you were a cop?”
“I was a detective in Major Crimes.”
This was the point where people either asked what happened or made a conscious, visible decision not to. Andrea Court decided not to.
“I got this problem with my nephew Elway,” she said instead.
“Family’s always fun.” I took a tiny sip. Pace it out. The longer this drink lasted, the longer I could put off the next one. Drunks have our own logic.
“He took something of mine. If you can get it back, it’s worth something to me.”
“You gone to the actual cops?”
“Elway’s blood. I wasn’t raised to call the cops on blood. Anyway, I don’t think they’d care. We’re not talking about much actual value.”
“Something sentimental?” The hell with pacing. I threw most of the rest of the drink back and closed my eyes as it coated my throat and spread warmly down into my chest.
“It’s a box about this big.” Andrea ran her hands around an imaginary object the size of a car battery. “Made of cherry, with a brass catch and hinges. When you open it, there’s a tray that nestles in the top. Underneath that, there’s some coins, in those cardboard sleeves collectors use.”
“They worth anything?”
“Not really. Collecting them was a hobby I had when I was a girl. I couldn’t afford much. Some common silver dollars, stuff like that. The whole lot’s probably just a couple hundred. It’s the box I want back.”
“My father made it,” she said. Without warning, she stood up and walked to the bar. Heston knocked the cap off a bottle, shoved a wedge of lime in the neck, and handed it to her. Coming back to her seat, she went on as though there’d been no interruption. “It’s the only thing I have of him. The only thing I have that was made just for me. It’s got my name etched on the bottom.”
“Okay. You’re sure Elroy took it?”
“It’s Elway. My brother named him after some football player, and don’t bother explaining who because I’ve never cared, and I still don’t. Anyway, he came over a couple of nights ago, trying to borrow money. Next morning I noticed the box was gone.”
“Why would he take it if the coins aren’t worth much?”
She took a long swig of the beer. “It’s been kind of a family joke for years, my coin collection. You know, making like it’s a big deal, pretending I’m going to sell it and buy a big car or something. Elway’s not bright. I don’t think he got that we were joking.”
“How much money did he want?”
“Five thousand dollars. I laughed my ass off.”
“You got five thousand dollars?”
“Lord, no. If I did, I wouldn’t give it to Elway. Might as well set fire to it.” She rolled the bottle between her palms. “He means well, I think, but he’s always in trouble. Mixing with the wrong kids, you know. Getting in fights, getting expelled, getting fired.”
“He got a record?” My fingers itched to signal Heston for another drink, but that would be six. I folded my hands on the table and pretended they were glued there.
“He did a few months for shoplifting last year.”
Nobody does a few months for shoplifting on their first fall. I didn’t press the point. “If you’re sure he took it, why not go get it back yourself?”