I thought about the ransom note all day before I phoned Tate. If I wanted to see my son again, I needed to pay ten thousand. I would have gladly paid that and more, but the funeral flowers had long since faded and the grass on my son’s grave didn’t need watering anymore.
Tate rode the private elevator to the penthouse and tapped so gently on the door that Thornton, asleep on the couch, didn’t bark. I was surprised I heard the knock at all. Since I turned sixty, my hearing has diminished year by year. I’m sixty-three now. Tyler, my son, was forty.
When Tyler and detective Reeves Cunningham Tate were in school together, their classmates called him R. C., but professionally he uses his surname only, something he started doing after he dropped out of law school. He read the note while I poured him a whiskey.
Thornton shook himself and leaned against Tate’s knee, staring up as if expecting a treat or an explanation why there wasn’t one. “Forgot,” Tate said and stroked Thornton’s floppy ear.
When Tate found Tyler’s body, his pockets were empty. No wallet, no driver’s license. I pointed to the note. “What now?”
“Someone could be passing himself off as Tyler, using his personal identification. Let’s play along. Might help us find out what happened to him.”
Tate followed me into the library. He set his glass on the table by the tall window overlooking Sumpter Street and the park. He tossed his suit coat on a chair. Six feet two, once a gangly kid who loved fishing and cars, whose father drove Lincolns and collected art, he was a sturdy two hundred pounds now and certainly the only city detective who had attended Georgia Tech, been a lieutenant in World War II, and ever set foot in a law school. Dropping out earned his father’s disapproval and reduced Tate’s inheritance to a pittance of what his sister received. I noticed the label in the lining of Tate’s coat. He still ordered his suits custom-made.
Tate had discovered Tyler’s body in a room in a house on Water Street in one of the city’s less desirable neighborhoods. A woman named Irma Profitt owned the house and allowed men ready to pay for companionship to find it there, a minor crime for Tate to deal with except that Miss Profitt was rumored to have supplied cocaine to a senator’s son, whose Oldsmobile Super 88 ended up in City Lake with him inside.
Thirty-seven years old, Michael Holly, known as Mikey, was given to evenings of dubious behavior. Both city newspapers supported Senator Holly and declined to report several incidents involving Mikey and women. Of course, both papers headlined Mikey’s “tragic accident.” A rainy night, the “contemplative” lad, graduate of Elon College, had sought the solitude of the lake and, his vision obscured by fog rising from the water, mistakenly driven off the boat ramp and been unable to escape his sinking, and soon submerged, vehicle. Only the autopsy’s confirmation of death by drowning was available to the public. The amount of alcohol and drugs was not.
The papers believed the soulful son–tragic accident malarkey. So did the mayor and Chief Whitman, Tate’s boss. Tate didn’t. Whatever I might have suspected—there were always rumors about Mikey—I wouldn’t have known anything more than what I read in the papers if Tate hadn’t discovered the body of my son, an event that the papers didn’t report because Tate quietly followed protocol while the papers ran with the Mikey story and his grieving parents. Tyler’s death wasn’t newsworthy. Here today, gone tomorrow, he often joked. No obituary. Keep ’em guessing. We—his wife and I—honored his request.
Thornton is a black standard poodle. Like most of us, he craves affection. He pushed his head into Tate’s lap while he reread the ransom note. “Why so little? You live in a penthouse. You own the building. What’s ten thousand to you?”
“Ten thousand,” I answered.
“Well, like I said, we need to find out who someone is who isn’t Tyler.”
“I’ll pay up. Nothing fake. Real money.”
“Any arrest we might recover it.”
“What I want is to recover is my son.” A pigeon landed on the ledge outside the window. Clouds were moving in. I tapped the glass. The bird flew away. “A house on Water Street is an unlikely place for Tyler to die. I’m risking ten thousand on the chance of finding out things I don’t want to know, but I do.”
“If you’re assuming Tyler was there for sex, I’ve told you there’s no evidence he had sex with anyone.”
“Considering the house and the neighborhood, most people would assume he intended to.”