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The urban renewers had struck again. They’d evicted me, a fortune-teller, and a bookie from the corner of Mass. Ave. and Boylston, moved in with sandblasters and bleached oak and plant hangers, and last I looked appeared to be turning the place into a Marin County whorehouse. I moved down Boylston Street to the corner of Berkeley, second floor. I was half a block from Brooks Brothers and right over a bank. I felt at home. In the bank they did the same kind of stuff the fortune-teller and the bookie had done. But they dressed better.
I was standing in the window of my office looking out at a soft rainy January day with the temperature in the high fifties and no sign of snow. To the right across Boylston I could see Bonwit Teller. To the left Police Headquarters. In Bonwit’s windows there were mannequins wearing tight leather clothes and chains. Police headquarters leaned more to Dacron. In the window bay of the advertising agency across the street a young black-haired woman in high-waisted gray trousers leaned over a drawing board. Her back was toward the window.
“My compliments to your tailor,” I said out loud. My voice sounded odd in the empty room. The black-haired woman went away and I sat at my desk and looked at the picture of Susan Silverman. It was the blowup of a color picture taken last summer in her backyard. Her tanned face and pink blouse were bright against the dark green of the muted trees. I was still looking at Susan’s face when my office door opened and a client came in carrying a belted poplin raincoat over one arm.
“She said, “Mr. Spenser?”
I said, “I knew my clientele would upgrade when I moved in over a bank.”
She smiled wonderfully at me. She had blond hair that contrasted handsomely with her black eyes and dark eyebrows. She was small and very trim and elegant. She had on a tailored black suit and vest, white shirt, black bow tie with long ends like Brett Maverick used to wear, and black boots with very high narrow heels. She was wearing gold and it looked real: gold earrings, gold watch, gold chains around the neck, gold chain bracelets, a wide gold wedding band, and a large diamond in a gold setting. I was optimistic about my fee.
She said, “You are Mr. Spenser?”
I said, “Yes,” and stood up and held a chair for her. She had a precise walk and a very nicely integrated figure and she sat erect in the chair. I went around behind my desk again and sat down and smiled. Time was they started to undress when I smiled, but I guess the smile had lost a step. The black eyes looked at me very carefully. The hands folded still in the lap. Ankles crossed, face serious. She looked at my face, both shoulders, my chest, and as much of my stomach as showed behind the desk.
I said, “I have a puckered scar on the back of my right, ah, thigh where a man shot me about three years ago.”
“My eyes look maybe a little funny because I used to be a fighter. That’s scar tissue.”
“Apparently people hit you in the nose quite often too,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
She looked at me some more. At my arms, at my hands. Would I seem forward if I offered to drop trou? Probably.
I said, “Got all my teeth though. See.” I bared them.
“Mr. Spenser,” she said. “Tell me why I should employ you.”
“Because if you don’t you’ll have wasted all this sizing up,” I said. “You’ll have spent all this time impressing me with your no-nonsense elegance and your perfect control and gone away empty.”
She studied my forehead.
“And I look very dashing in a deer stalker and a trench coat.”
She looked directly at me and shook her head slightly.
“And I have a gun,” I said. I took it off my hip and showed it to her.
She turned her head away and looked out my window, where it had gotten dark and shiny with the lights glistening off the rain.
I put the gun away and clasped my hands and rested my elbows on the arms of my chair and propped my chin. I let the chair tip back on its spring and I sat and waited.
“Mr. Spenser, do you have time to waste like this,” she said.
“Yes, I do,” I said.
“Well, I do not,” she said and I lip- synched the words with her as she said them. That annoyed her.
“Don’t you want the job?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what the job is.”
“Well, I want some evidence of your qualifications before I discuss it with you.”
“Hell, lady, I showed you my scar tissue and my gun. What else do you need?”
“This is a sensitive job. It is not a matter of guns. It involves a child.”
“Maybe you should get hold of Dr. Spock.”
Silence. She looked at my hands where my chin was resting.
“Your hands are very strong-looking,” she said.
“Want to see me crack a walnut?” I said.
“Are you married?” she said.
She smiled again. It was a good one. Hundred, hundred-fifty watt. But I’d seen better. Susan could have smiled her right into the woodwork. She moved her body slightly in the chair. She remained trim and upright, but somehow a wiggle came through.
I said, “If you bat your eyes at me I’m calling a policewoman.”
She wiggled again, without moving. How the hell does she do that?
“I’ve got to trust you,” she said. “I have no one else. I must turn to you.”
“Hard,” I said. “Hard for a woman alone, I’ll bet.”
Wiggle. Smile. Sigh. “Yes, I’ve got to find someone to help me. Will it be you?” She leaned forward slightly. She moistened her lower lip. “Will you help me?”
“I would gather stars,” I said, “out of the blue.”
“Don’t make fun of me,” she said. “I’m desperate.”
“What are you desperate about?”
“My son. His father has taken him.”
“And what would you like me to do?”
“Bring him back.”
“Are you divorced?”
“Do you have custody?”
“Yes, of course. I’m his mother.”
“Does his father have visitation privileges?”
“Yes, but this isn’t a visit. He’s taken Paul and he won’t bring him back.”
“And the court?”
“There’s a hearing, and Mel’s being subpoenaed but they can’t find him.”
“Is Mel your husband?”
“Yes. So I’ve spoken to the police and they said if they could find him they’d serve him a summons. But you know they aren’t going to look for him.”
“Probably not. They are sometimes busy,” I said.
“And so I want you to find him and bring my Paul back.”
“How’s the boy feel about all this?”
“Naturally he wants to be with his mother, but he’s only fifteen. He has no say. His father has simply taken him and hidden him.”
“Mel misses Paul that much?”
“He doesn’t miss him. He doesn’t care about Paul one way or the other. It’s merely his way of getting at me. He doesn’t want me to have Paul.”
“So he took him.”
“Good deal for the kid,” I said.
“Mel doesn’t care about that. He wants to hurt me. And he’s not going to.”
There was no wiggle when she said the last sentence. “I want you to bring that kid back to me, away from his father. Paul is legally mine.”
I was silent.
“I can pay any reasonable fee,” she said. “I got an excellent alimony settlement.” She was quite brisk and business-suity again.
I took in some air and let it out through my nose. I looked at her.
She looked back.
“What’s the matter,” she said.
I shook my head. “It does not sound like a real good time,” I said.
“Mr. Spenser,” the lower lip moistened again, mouth open a little, tip of the tongue running along the inner edge of the lip. “Please. I have no one else. Please.”
“There’s a question whether you need anyone else,” I said, “but I’ll take a whack at it on one condition.”
“You tell me your name so I’ll know where the bill gets sent.”
She smiled. “Giacomin,” she said, “Patty Giacomin.”
“Like the old Ranger’s goalie,” I said.
“Gentleman of the same name used to be a hockey player.”
“Oh. I’m afraid I don’t follow sports much.”
“No shame to it,” I said. “Matter of not being raised properly. Not your fault at all.”
She smiled again, although this time it was a little unsure, as if now that she had me she wasn’t certain she wanted me. It’s a look I’ve seen a lot.
“Okay,” I said. “Tell me everything you can think of about where old Mel might be.”
I pulled a lined white pad closer, picked up a pencil, and listened.