“Well, you can’t judge a book by its cover,” I said, which was another of Dad’s favorite clichés.
“No, I s’pose not,” the old man said, smiling slightly and patting his ample stomach. The old man was the proprietor of the Paradise Motel, the one I saw watering the asphalt a couple evenings earlier. After sitting in my car for an hour I decided the best thing I could do for my nerves was to get back to work.
I asked about Napoleon Cook. He spoke about the woman.
“The dark-haired lady, she comes in plenty, but I ain’t hardly never got no up-close look at her, if you know what I mean. She always parks at the far end, in front of sixteen. I keep the room empty for her cuz I know it’s her favorite.”
“She comes in often?”
“Couple times a week usually, never no trouble. Sends the man in for the key and to pay up. ’Course it ain’t always the same joe. This guy you’re askin’ about, this Cook fella, I seen him maybe two, three times, no more than that. What I figure, I figure the lady, she must rotate ’em. Like tires.”
I pulled a newspaper clipping out of my pocket, one that featured a photograph of David Bruder, and showed it to the man.
“Have you ever seen him?”
“Could be, can’t say for sure. He looks familiar but after a while, don’t they all sorta look alike?”
I folded the clipping and returned it to my pocket.
“How long has the woman been coming here?”
“A year, maybe. Good customer. Hardly ever messes the room. I figure she’s one of those nymphomaniacs you hear tell of. ’Course I don’t know nothin’ ’bout that except what I see on them there adult movies—we have adult movies here, you know.”
I wasn’t surprised.
“She probably ain’t right in the head,” the man offered. “But her money is healthy.”
I gave the man my card and told him to call me the next time the woman came in.
“You don’t have to wait for no call,” he said. “You want to see her, come by t’night or tomorrow ’round eight, eight-thirty. She’s due.”
“You don’t look so hot,” Nina Truhler said when I sidled up to her at the downstairs bar in Rickie’s. She was shuffling through a deck of time cards, a large calendar turned to the month of October set before her.
“How do you know?” I asked her. “I might never have looked better.”
“In that case, medical science has failed you.”
She had a point. It was just past noon, yet I felt like I had been up for three days and probably looked it. Nina, on the other hand, was stunning in a violet shirt and a steel-colored one-button jacket with matching trousers that set off her magnificent eyes.
“I’m sorry.” She set her cards down on the calendar. “I’m not usually such a smart aleck.”
“I’ve been known to bring out the best in people.”
Her mouth worked like it wanted to say something, but only “Arrrggg” came out. Nina pronounced it like a word.
“Nice command of the English language.”
“I’m frustrated,” she said.
“Emotionally? Physically? There’s a cure for all that which has nothing to do with medical science.”
“Are you flirting with me?”
“Are you flirting with me?” I asked.
“I’m trying to but it’s coming out wrong.”
“You should practice more.” I made a production out of adjusting my sports coat, shaking my head, flexing my shoulders and smoothing my hair. “Okay, I’m ready. Give me your best shot.”
“Hi, honey. Come here often?”
“Baby, I’ve been looking for a man like you all my life.”
“Like I haven’t heard that a hundred times before. C’mon, make an effort. You meet me in a bar and you want to take me home. What do you say?”
“Very good. That works with me.”
“Every time. So, your place or mine?”
“Depends. What do you think of children?”
“I’d like to try dating adults, first. See how that works.”
Nina laughed, which was my intention. Afterward she leaned in closer and said, “Seriously. What do you think of dating a woman with children?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“I have a daughter. I told you.”
“Erica, a.k.a. Rickie—boys bore her.”
“Most men, you tell them you have a child, a family, and they run the other way, guys who’d be all over me otherwise. I learned that the hard way. Now I’m right up front with it. I let them know before date one I have a daughter so not to waste my time.”
“It doesn’t bother me that you have a daughter. I’d like to meet her. If she’s as pretty as her mother she must be beautiful indeed.”
Nina took a deep breath and said, “I told them you were here the other night, that you were following Napoleon Cook—that’s his name, isn’t it?” with the exhale.
“Did you get into trouble?”
“No more than usual, but thank you for asking.”