In his bed that night, Vincent wondered how likely it was that Eric was right. He often found the younger man annoying, but one of his most annoying traits was that he was usually right. For a man who seemed to have a capacity for off the cuff ranting that exceeded Jim’s back in the bad old days, his words were usually backed by solid research.
Which meant that, at very least, what he had told them already was worth looking into a little further. And of the three of them in the house, Vincent was far and away the most discreet, he thought wryly. It would have to be him.
Which is why the next morning found him knocking on the door of Musant Central. The building had once been a theatre, but had been closed down for code violations back in ’69. Now it stood, slowly crumbling away, permanent home to some of San Francisco’s most important Note Heads, and a hostel for a hundred or so more, who slept on the empty dress circle floor. The police raided it once a week or so, and so far they’d never found a damned thing they could tie to the management – just a few transients with saleable quantities of the verboten on them – but that hadn’t stopped them from trying. And trying, and trying, and trying. As if the Musants were going to slip up when they were under this much pressure.
It took a while for anyone to answer the door, and Vincent realised that he probably should have come later in the day – the Musants kept late hours and he was probably waking someone up now. But eventually, the door opened and there stood Tommy Carter, blinking in the late summer sunlight. It was the best result Vince could have hoped for – Tommy sat on the Musant committee, and if anything was going on, chances were he’d have heard about it.
“Oh, hey Vince, I didn’t know you were coming,” he said.
“Surprise visit,” said Vincent. “Kind of a last minute thing.”
“Cool, cool. Y’wanna come inside?”
“Sure,” said Vince, “What I got to say probably shouldn’t be said out in the open.” Tommy nodded and beckoned him in. Closing the door behind them, and he led Vincent to his own room – one of the balconies overlooking the theatre.
“So what’s up?” Tommy asked him.
“Do you know anything about Delores Nash?” asked Vincent.
“I know she got shot,” said Tommy. “I heard it was a stick-up, went bad.”
“That’s what the cops say,” agreed Vincent.
“But you disagree.”
“Let’s just say I’m keeping an open mind. There’s some stuff that doesn’t add up.”
“Like, if it was a stick-up, why was there still money in the register?”
“Yeah, I see what you mean. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that there might have been more to it. You’ve lived here all your life, so I’m assuming that you know a little more of Delores’ backstory than I do.”
“I don’t, actually,” said Tommy. “But I know who does: my mom.”
“Sure. They did the whole Rosie the Riveter thing together back during the war. Worked for the navy somewhere, kept in touch afterwards ‘cos they had the same hometown, that sort of thing.”
“Never knew that.”
“Not a lot to know, you ask me. But my mom’s known Delores forever. I’ll ask her about it next time I see her.”
“When will that be?”
“You in a hurry? Delores isn’t getting any deader, you know.”
“Yeah, she’s not. But I’m a little concerned that someone else might.”
“Anyone in particular?”
“Not yet. But like I said…”
“you think there’s more to this.” Tommy cocked his head and regarded Vincent cynically. “You haven’t been talking to Eric again have you?”
“Well, you know, it’s hard to avoid when you live in the same place.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Okay, it was him first brought this to my attention. But I’ve done a little poking around, and I think that there’s enough here to be worthy of further investigation, you know?”
“Hey, I was just yanking your chain. I know how you think, man. If you say look, it’s going to be worth looking. Just wish I could tell you more.”
“Get back to me after you speak to your mom, and who knows? You might well know more by then.”
“Sure thing. And hey, I’ll call my mom and make a time for dinner as soon as I can.”
“Thanks Tommy. I appreciate it,” said Vincent. “You might also ask her if she knew Fred Howell at all. I know, it’s a long shot, but…”
“Say no more, amigo,” said Tommy. “I’ll get mom on the case as soon as possible.”
“Like I said, thanks,” said Vincent. Both men fell silent for a minute, feeling a little awkward. This wasn’t their normal kind of conversation. Finally, Vincent spoke again. “So, what’s been happening lately? I haven’t seen you in an age.”