“Ladies, it’s been a pleasure,” I announced and waved bye-bye. I was about to become a part of hooker folklore. “Did you hear the one about the trick who paid three girls a hundred bucks each just for listening to bad jokes?”
Merci Cole waited at the door, posing more than standing, a puzzled expression on her face. A few moments later we were walking.
“What do you want to talk about?” Merci asked.
“Why did you become a prostitute?”
“What are you, a social worker?”
“No.” I held up a second fifty. “But I have another one of these.”
Merci reached for it, but I pulled it back.
“You’re Merci Cole.”
“What about it?”
“I’m looking for Jamie Carlson.”
“Right, you never heard of her.”
“I haven’t seen Jamie in seven years,” she told me. If it wasn’t for the description given to me by the brother with the Lady Thumper, I might have believed her.
“Then who was the woman who drove you to the apartment on Avon so you could get your stuff?”
“That was someone else.”
Calling Merci a liar wasn’t going to get me anything, so I decided to cut to the chase. “I need to find Jamie Carlson and I’ll pay you to tell me where she is.”
“My friends aren’t for sale.”
“A hooker with a heart of gold.”
She went for my face but I grabbed her hands before she could dig her nails into me.
“Let me go,” she snarled.
I stepped back, waiting for her to resume the attack. She didn’t. Instead she stared at me with eyes wide with hate.
“Merci.” I spoke soft and low, trying to sound sincere. What is it they say? Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you have it made. “Jamie’s parents asked me to bring her home.”
“Yeah? Well screw ’em. Like they really care after all these years.”
“Stacy is sick. She might die.”
I was astonished by how suddenly her manner changed from contempt to genuine concern. It was like she had flipped a light switch.
“She has leukemia.”
“Her parents want Jamie to come home. They need her to donate her bone marrow. Otherwise, Stacy will probably die.”
“Oh, I get it. They want to use her. Yeah, that sounds familiar.”
“I don’t know why you’re angry about this and I don’t care. Just tell me where Jamie is.”
“No way. I’m not going to tell you about her. I might tell her about you, though, next time I see her.”
“Fine, do that.” I was getting nowhere fast and arguing would only make it worse. “You don’t have to tell me where she is. Just give her this.” I gave Merci my card. “Tell her about Stacy. Tell her to call me and I’ll explain. No problem. No hassle for anyone.”
Merci read the card slowly.
“Will you do that? There’s another fifty in it. Make it a hundred.”
Merci smiled. And to prove just how concerned she was for Stacy’s well-being, she tore the card in half.
I hadn’t expected Merci to deliver my message, but you never know. Stranger things have happened. While I waited for Jamie to call, I listened to Curtis Mayfield and read the sports page. Jazzman Art Blakey once said, “Music washes away the dust of everyday life.” So does sports. I only wish more pro athletes were like trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. He once told an audience, “I want to thank everyone for their support and for helping me make a living,” then gave us two and half hours of pure, straight-ahead jazz. Could you see Barry Bonds doing that? Or Randy Moss? Or Shaq?
I rarely eat breakfast—yes, I know it’s the most important meal of the day—and by ten-thirty my stomach was grumbling about it. I strolled down to Como and Carter in the heart of St. Anthony Park and had a cherry munkki and cafe mocha at the combination Taste of Scandinavia bakery and Dunn Brothers coffee house. On my way back I waved at a retired gentleman who was watering his lawn a couple blocks from my house. He waved back even though we had never laid eyes on each other before.
I was back in the house by eleven forty-five. There were no messages on my voice mail, so I checked my e-mail. The Department of Motor Vehicles reported that “JB” was the registered license plate of a 2002 white BMW 330 Ci convertible owned by Bruder, David C., of St. Paul. I had heard the name before. It danced in the back of my head for a few moments, but I couldn’t place it.