A few pages from chapter 2 of Contract Pending for your enjoyment:
“Spicer and Truman found her walking down the street in her housecoat and slippers,” Detective Grimaldi said twenty minutes later.
I had driven hell for leather into downtown, found a parking space a block and a half from Police Plaza, and hoofed it up to her office with five seconds to spare, only to find her entertaining Tondalia Jenkins, who was drinking Diet Pepsi and eating peanut butter crackers from a vending machine, in front of a TV in the lounge. Her fuzzy slippers were dirty and worn through on the bottom—clearly not meant for walking long distances outside—and her hair stood out at weird angles to her head, the way it had back when she was living in an old folks’ home where nobody cared for her.
“You figured wrong. I have no idea how to get in touch with Rafe. I haven’t heard from him since he left. For all I know, he’s been dead for the past five weeks.”
Mrs. Jenkins glanced up at that, her beady eyes concerned. I mustered a smile. “Sorry, Mrs. Jenkins. I’m sure he’s not. I just haven’t heard from him, is all.”
I lowered my voice again, and added, for Detective Grimaldi’s benefit, “And I have absolutely no idea how to get in touch with him.”
“He didn’t tell you where he was going? Give you a phone number to use in case of emergencies? Call or write?” Tamara Grimaldi’s voice was disbelieving. I shook my head.
“He mentioned Memphis, in a throwaway sort of way, but he didn’t actually say he was going there. And the only phone number I’ve ever had for him, is the one I gave you back in August, after Perry Fortunato’s… um… death. You said it had been disconnected.”
“And you have no other way of getting in touch with him?”
“None at all,” I said firmly. “Have you tried asking Julio Melendez? You’ve still got him locked up, right? Or what about Ishmael Jackson? Doesn’t one of them know how to find him? What would Julio do if he had another job for Rafe?”
“According to Julio,” Detective Grimaldi said, with a wolfish snap of strong, white teeth, “Mr. Collier was the one who approached him, not vice versa.”
I opened my eyes wide. “You don’t believe that, do you?”
“It doesn’t matter what I believe. It doesn’t matter what he says, either, because he can’t prove it. We can’t even prove that Mr. Collier was involved. He left town before I had the chance to ask him about it, but all he’d have to do, would be to say that he knew Julio and Ishmael and the others socially, but that he wasn’t involved in anything criminal. There’s no law against playing pool, even with known felons.”
I hid a smile. “Sorry to hear that.”
“No, you’re not. But that’s neither here nor there. Right at the moment, I need to get in touch with him because his grandmother is all alone and wandering around. If we can’t find him and get him to make alternative arrangements, we’ll have to put her back into the Milton House for the time being.”
Mrs. Jenkins’s hearing must have been acute when it came to things that mattered to her, because she looked up at the name of the nursing home where she had spent a few miserable weeks. Brenda Puckett had arranged for her to live there, after she had swindled Mrs. Jenkins out of her house, and as soon as Brenda’s murder was solved, the first thing Rafe did was get his grandmother out of the Milton House and back into her old home.
“You can’t do that!” I protested, turning away so Mrs. Jenkins couldn’t read my lips. “It’s a horrible place. They never combed her hair or washed her clothes or did anything nice for her.”
“Well, what do you suggest?”
“The best thing would be to find Marquita Johnson. Any idea where she is?”
“None at all,” Tamara Grimaldi said. “From what I understand, she got a phone call on Saturday afternoon, and left. Mrs. Jenkins thought she went to Sweetwater to see her children.”
I nodded. “That’s what she told me too, when I was there on Saturday. I was a little worried about leaving her by herself, but she assured me that Marquita would be home by evening. She said Marquita goes to Sweetwater to visit her children regularly.”
“From what we can gather, she didn’t come back. I’ve contacted the sheriff down there…”
“Bob Satterfield,” I said. She nodded.
“He talked to her ex-husband, apparently he’s a deputy sheriff…”
I nodded. “Cletus Johnson. They’ve been separated for a while.”
“He claimed not to have spoken to her since last week sometime, and he certainly didn’t call her on Saturday to tell her to come down to Sweetwater. They’re fighting over custody and visitation rights, and he’s not about to give her any more time with those children than he has to.”
“What a guy,” I said. Detective Grimaldi snorted.
“Though he told us that if anything had happened to her, he knew who was to blame.”
“Let me guess. Rafe Collier.”
The detective nodded. “Some history there, I take it.”
“Marquita had a crush on Rafe in high school. Cletus liked her, but she wouldn’t give him the time of day when Rafe was around. Then Rafe went to jail and Cletus and Marquita got married. I don’t think Rafe had anything to do with their splitting up, but I guess Cletus felt he needed someone to blame.”
“I’m sure,” Detective Grimaldi agreed. “We’ll keep looking for her, of course, but aside from talking to her friends and acquaintances down there, there’s not a lot we can do. Sheriff Satterfield said he’d tell his officers to keep an extra eye out as they go about their business, just in case someone has seen her. In the meantime, I have to decide what to do about Mrs. Jenkins.”
I nodded gloomily. She continued, “I don’t really have a desire to put her back into the Milton House—I was there with you, remember, and I know what it’s like—but Mrs. Puckett did pay for her care there, so they wouldn’t be able to turn her away, and sad as it is to admit, it’s a nicer place than some I’ve seen.”
“That’s a scary thought.”
“She can’t stay in her house alone. That’s a disaster waiting to happen, and I won’t allow it.”
“So what do you suggest?” I asked, as if I didn’t already know.
She grinned. “Didn’t you tell me that Mr. Collier asked you to keep an eye on her while he was away? Maybe you can move in with her until we either find Miss Johnson or until Mr. Collier comes back.”
I had known what was coming, but that didn’t mean I liked hearing it. “What am I going to do with her when I have to go show a house? Or write a contract? I have a committee meeting for the Eye Ball tonight, although I suppose I can cancel that. But I also have a date with Todd tomorrow. And believe me, he’s not going to be happy about me bringing Rafe’s grandmother along. Anyone’s grandmother, really, but especially Rafe’s.”
Tamara Grimaldi smirked. “I met Todd Satterfield once, did I tell you that?”
“He told me. He said he gave you those pictures of Rafe and Ishmael Jackson and the others, that he got from his tame P.I. back in September. Isn’t there a law against civilians hiring private investigators to follow other civilians around?”
“You’d think,” Detective Grimaldi said, “but you’d be wrong. Anyway, I formed the impression that Mr. Satterfield doesn’t care for Mr. Collier, or for anyone associated with him. I’d cancel that date, if I were you.”
“On the other hand, it would almost be worth bringing her, just to see his face.” I grinned unbecomingly for a moment, and then got myself under control again. “I guess I don’t have much of a choice. I mean, I promised Rafe I’d look after her. She can move in with me. I’d rather do that, than spend days or weeks in that house on Potsdam Street. I’m sure it’s not haunted, but I still avoid looking into the library whenever I’m there, just in case. And it’s where Walker tried to kill me, too. I have bad memories of the place. I’d rather stay in my apartment. I’ve only got one bedroom, but she can have that, and I’ll sleep on the sofa. And if I have to go show houses, she can come with me. I’ll just have to cancel Todd and the Eye Ball.”
The Eye Ball is a charitable event benefiting the optometry department at Vanderbilt Hospital. I was doing some volunteer work for them, preparing for the gala.
“Sounds like you’ve got a lot to figure out,” Detective Grimaldi said pleasantly. “Don’t let me keep you.”
Right. “I suppose you have work to do?”
“Two dead in a house fire, both with bullets through their brains, and a fatality during a domestic brawl. A woman stabbed her husband four times with a carving knife. Thanks for asking.”
I was sorry I had.
“If you think of any way to get in touch with Mr. Collier, let me know. I’ll let the Memphis PD and the TBI know we’re looking for him, just in case he shows up on their radar. And I’ll let you know if I find out anything about Marquita Johnson.”
“Please do. Believe me, the sooner you find either her or Rafe, the happier I’ll be.”
Detective Grimaldi didn’t answer, but she smiled.