It was after 10:00 p.m. when we parked on a street that ran perpendicular with Horton's massive Gothic revival.
A thin sheet of rain obscured the street. We sat in the cab of his truck with the engine and wipers off. Moving wipers attracted attention, as did an idling car. So we ate in the cold and wet. The house before us was massive and brooding. Its towering gables spiked the night sky. Hawthorne would have been pleased. The truck's tinted glass made the world darker than it really was. I liked darker.
After a moment, Sherbet shook his head. "Who could live in something like that?" Sherbet shuddered. "Like something in a fucking Dracula movie."
"I like it," I said.
"Why does that not surprise me?"
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"Nothing. Just being a wise guy."
Sherbet was still sipping on his king-sized Coke. Occasionally some of the sips turned into loud slurps. The remnants of his greasy meal were wadded into a greasy ball and shoved into the greasy bag. The strong smell of burgers and fries suffused the interior of the truck cab. My hungry stomach was doing somersaults.
"That your stomach growling?" he asked.
"I don't know. Haven't noticed."
He shook his head and slurped his Coke. The street was mostly empty. Occasionally a big car would splash past, and since tomorrow was trash day, most of the residents already had their trash cans out by the curb. Rick Horton's trash cans were nowhere to be found.
"Maybe he forgot tomorrow was trash day," said Sherbet.
"Maybe he's one of those procrastinators who runs out just as the trash truck pulls up, dragging their trashcans behind them, beseeching the truck drivers to wait."
"Beseeching?" I said.
"It's a word."
"Just not a word you often hear from a cop with a dollop of ketchup on his chin."
He hastily swiped at the dollop, but missed some of it. He licked his finger. "You have good eyes," he said.
"And you have a bad aim." I used one of the napkins to clean his chin.
The rain picked up a little. The drops were now big enough to splatter. Overhead, the weeping willows wept, bent and shuddering under the weight of the rain.
"I could use some coffee," the detective said. "No telling when this guy is coming out with his trash."
So we got some coffee at a nearby Burger King. Or, rather, Sherbet did. He bought me a bottled water.
"You're a cheap date," he commented as he mercifully decided�Dat the last possible second�Dthat an incoming bus was too close to dash in front of.
"And you're the reason fast food establishments stay in business."
"On second thought," he said. "I would never date someone as grouchy as you."
"It's been a bad week."
"Wanna talk about it?"
He didn't push it. We pulled back up in front of Horton's Gothic revival. Nothing much changed. Horton still hadn't taken out his trash, which was, at least tonight, the object of our interest.
So we waited some more. Investigators are trained to wait. We're supposed to be good at it. Waiting sucks. The interior of the truck was filled with the soothing sound of rain ticking on glass and sheet metal. I sipped some water. Sherbet was holding his coffee with both hands. Steam rose into his face. A light film of sweat collected on his upper lip. The coffee smelled heavenly. Coffee was not on my list. Rivulets of rain cascaded down the windshield. The shining street lamps, as seen through the splattered windshield, were living prisms of light. I watched the hypnotic light show.
"What's it like working for the feds?" Sherbet suddenly asked.
"Safe, secure. Often boring, punctuated with the occasional thrill. My days were endlessly fascinating. I loved my job."
"Do you miss it?"
"Hard to say. I miss the camaraderie of my partners. My job now is a lonely one. When I get the chance to work with someone else I often take it."
"Even with an old dog like me?"
I looked at him. The truck was mostly silent. I heard him breathing calmly through his nose. Could smell his aftershave. He smelled like a guy should smell. Moving shadows from the rain dribbling down the windshield reached his face. The man seemed to like me, but he was suspicious of me. Or perhaps just curious. As a homicide investigator, he had his own highly-attuned intuition, which worried me because I was obviously causing it to jangle off the hook. But I had committed no crime, other than draining a corpse of blood, which I didn't think was a crime, although I'd never perused the penal code for such an article.
"Sure," I said. "Even an old dog like you."
Through Horton's wrought iron fence I saw a figure struggling with something bulky. The fence swung open and Horton appeared in a yellow slicker, struggling to wheel a single green trash can. The can appeared awkward to maneuver. Or perhaps Horton was just clumsy. As he deposited the can near the curb, his foot slipped out from under him, sending him straight to his back. I voted for clumsy.
Sherbet shook his head. "Smooth," he said.
"Let's wait a few minutes," said Sherbet after Horton had dashed inside. Horton ran like a girl.
"Doesn't look like much of a killer," I said.
"No," said Sherbet. "They never do."
The rain came down harder, pummeling the truck, scourging what appeared to be a custom paint job. Sherbet seemed to wince with each drop.
"Aren't you a little too old to be into cars?" I asked.
"You can never be too old."
"I think you're too old."
"Yeah, well how old are you?"
"I'd rather not say. Not to mention you've looked at my police record and already know."
"Thirty-seven, if I recall," he said. "A very young thirty-seven. Hell, you don't even have a wrinkle."
"I'm sure it will catch up to me someday," I said, and then thought: or not. But I played along. "And before I know it, I'll look into the mirror one day and find a road atlas staring back at me."
He snorted. "Welcome to my world."
We waited some more. The rain continued to pound. Some of the water collected and sluiced along the windshield in shimmering silver streaks. Sherbet and I were warm and secure in our own little microcosm of leather, plastic, wood, and empty Wendy's bags. Here in this mini-world, I was the vampire queen, and Sherbet was my noble knight. Or perhaps my blood slave, from whom I fed.
"Your name always reminds me of ice cream," I said. "I like your name."
"I hate it."
"Reminds me of ice cream."
A light in Horton's upstairs window turned off. The house was dark and silent. So was the street.
"You stay here while I procure the target's trash," Sherbet said. "We're going to have to adhere to some protocol if we hope to get a search warrant out of this."
"Lot of fancy words to basically say you'll be the one getting wet."
"Oh, shut up," he said.
I grinned. "Procure away, kind sir."
"Okay," he said, pulling on his hood. "Here goes."
He threw open his door and dashed off through the rain. His nylon jacket was drenched within seconds. He moved surprisingly well for an older guy. He reached Horton's trash can, pulled open the lid, and removed two very full plastic bags. I was suddenly very much not looking forward to digging through those. He shut the lid, grabbed a bag in each hand, and hustled back to the truck. He deposited both in the bed of his truck.
"You're dripping on the leather," I said when he slid into the driver's seat.
"I know," he said, starting the truck. "It saddens the heart."READ MORE >>