The next morning at dawn, Conner dropped Otis's bargain binoculars onto the passenger seat of the Plymouth and drove toward the beach. His eyes blurry, stomach coffee-sour, he made the circuit of likely places.
He didn't really know what he was doing.
By noon, he'd worked all of Pensacola Beach and half the places around Mobile, starting at Old Navy Cove and making his way west through marinas small enough for private craft but still big enough for a guy with a boat on the lam to take on fuel and provisions. He scanned the major channels with the binoculars and spotted a few sloops the right size, but none was the Electric Jenny.
Conner hadn't told Derrick James that the whole deal was probably a waste of time. Teddy Folger and his unpaid-for boat were probably long gone. If it had been Conner, he'd have hauled ass straight across the Gulf to Mexico by now. He didn't say that to James. Conner wanted to get paid, and there was always the chance Folger wasn't too bright. He might be catching a suntan on his boat in the next bay or inlet. Sipping a piña colada with a stupid grin on his face like he'd gotten away with something.
So far, he had.
Conner walked to the end of his third fishing pier, scanned the horizon, saw nothing, sat down, and figured he was going about this like a sucker. The Plymouth had guzzled twenty dollars' worth of gas, and all the sailboats began to look alike. Time to shift gears.
He drove to an IHOP, ordered a cup of coffee, and opened the manila file folder James had given him.
On Rockford Files reruns, Rockford often got his police buddy to show him the file on a suspect. Rockford would dig through the file and uncover some kind of clue that jump-started the case or nudged him in the right direction. Where the hell's Rockford when I need him?
But the package on Teddy Folger failed to produce anything like, say, a map with a big red X labeled secret boat slip here. The file was mostly financial information. Naturally, James had wanted to make sure Folger could afford the boat. Conner couldn't say if any of this was helpful or not. He read the file, drank coffee, picked his teeth, looked at the waitress's legs.
He blinked, rubbed his eyes. He was drifting.
The file listed properties Folger owned and how much he paid on them each month. Another wad of papers looked like a stock portfolio. A statement from a Pensacola law firm detailed the monthly alimony payments Folger was supposed to make to his ex-wife and which of his assets she did or didn't have a claim on.
Jenny Folger, the wife.
The boat was one of the disputed items.
Conner tsked and wondered if Teddy Folger had still loved his wife when he'd named the sloop Electric Jenny. But Folger had dumped the wife and kept the boat. Marriages end, so divorce lawyers and bartenders and Dr. Laura and third-rate repo men can earn a living too. The circle of life in a modern world.
The file seemed pretty useless. Copies of the boat's insurance policy, copies of the contract, copies of copies. A paper clip.
Conner packed it all up and dropped two bucks on the table for coffee and tip.
He sat in the Plymouth and opened Folger's file again, looked at the insurance agreement. The company was called Allied Nautical and specialized in maritime policies. Conner desperately wanted this information to be helpful somehow. He strained his brain so hard thinking about it, he almost shit his pants.
The paperwork from Allied Nautical had scribbling in the margins, little loops and a crude drawing of a frowny face with the tongue sticking out. Conner imagined Derrick James doodling as he made phone calls, tracked down the same leads Conner was trying to track down. Maybe Conner was spinning his wheels. He needed a new approach.
No epiphany manifested itself. But it did remind him the insurance on the Plymouth was a week late. He hated paying bills. He was bad at it. It seemed to take some kind of Herculean effort to write the check, get a stamp, write his return address on the envelope...
Conner got out of the car and went to the pay phone in front of the IHOP. He dropped in the coins, dialed the number at the top of the insurance company's letterhead, and a young, efficient female voice answered.
"Allied Nautical, this is Maureen."
"Hi, Maureen." All cheerful. "This is Denver Colgate from Southbank Mortgage and Trust. I need to consult you about one of your clients." Fake name number thirty-two from the sneaky dude's handbook.
"How can I help you, Mr. Colgate?" Maureen asked.
"Southbank is purchasing the mortgage on a boat belonging to a Mr. Teddy Folger. Derrick James said you guys wrote the policy on that one, and we just need to make sure it's current before we finalize the transaction."
"Hold just a moment, Mr. Colgate. I'll pull it up on the computer. Do you happen to know the policy number?"
Conner did happen to know, and he read it to her from the file. He waited amid the cluppety-clup of her keyboard action on the other end of the phone.
She said, "The policy is still up-to-date, although he is overdue for this month's payment."
"Oh, wait. Here we go."
Conner held his breath for the payoff.
"His most recent payment arrived in the mail this morning. It just hasn't been logged yet."
"Everything seems to be in order then," Conner said. "I just need to know the postmark on the envelope."
"I've thrown it away," Maureen said.
"Uh-huh. What I'm going to need you to do, Maureen, is poke around in the garbage until you find that envelope. Hopefully it's not out back in the Dumpster yet."
Her end of the phone got real quiet.
"Did you say you wanted me to look in the garbage?"
Conner exhaled roughly, an attempt to communicate the appropriate amount of bureaucratic despair. "We need to determine that Mr. Folger's boat remains in American waters. We can't assume the mortgage if he's taken the boat to Mexico or... uh... Borneo."
"Oh, hold on then. I'll check the trash basket."
He heard her rummage the trash, and when she came back on the line she said, "Got it. Pensacola, Florida. That okay?"
Okay? It was beautiful. Folger was dumb as dirt. You don't insure something you're stealing, Mr. Folger, you stupid stupid son of a bitch. Conner pictured Folger at his desk, stuffing bills into envelopes, not really paying attention. A matter of routine.
"Thanks, Maureen. I owe you a big kiss."
Conner hung up, feeling like a genius. Like Philip fucking Marlowe.
"Nymphomania isn't a word we use, Tyranny," Dr. Goldblatt said. "Sexual addiction. A compulsion. Not a choice. Dealing with your condition is a daily struggle. You mustn't beat yourself up for the occasional lapse."
"Uh-huh." Tyranny Jones wasn't listening. She was imagining Dr. Goldblatt naked, her legs thrown over his shoulders, his bony ass thrusting. These fantasies simultaneously thrilled and repulsed her. She did not find Dr. Goldblatt attractive. In fact, she'd interviewed seven psychiatrists and had intentionally chosen the ugliest one. Goldblatt had a nose like a Vienna sausage, thick glasses, and a comb-over that looked like it was trying to eat his head.
Whether or not she found her therapist attractive wasn't the issue. Fifty minutes a week for eight months had at least taught her that much. Control issues. The warped way she related to men. It had nothing to do with being horny all the time.
It had only occurred to Tyranny after five months of therapy that she could have seen a female therapist. She'd often contemplated coming on to Goldblatt, pushing him down, riding him there in the office among the leather-bound books and earth tones, rattling the nonoffensive abstract art off the wall, but he seemed completely professional, detached almost, and probably would have turned her down with a mild rebuke. She couldn't stand the thought of being rejected by somebody so utterly revolting.
"Tyranny, were you listening?" Goldblatt tapped his pencil.
"I asked if you'd been masturbating."
"You're obsessed with my orgasms, aren't you, Dr. G?"
Goldblatt said, "Do you enjoy thinking I'm obsessed with them?"
"What you mean is do I enjoy your obsession more than I enjoy the actual orgasms," Tyranny said. "Yes, Dr. G. That's it exactly. I masturbate just because I know you'll ask about it. Is that what you want to hear?"
"Is it what you think I want to hear?"
"Did you masturbate today, Dr. G?"
"Now, Tyranny. We're here to discuss you," Goldblatt said. "Let's pursue another matter."
"Yes. Let's," Tyranny said.
"Something you mentioned in your last session."
"That was so long ago I hardly remember." She wondered if Goldblatt was circumcised. All Jews were, weren't they?
"You said you'd had sex with three different men in one day. None your husband."
"Oh, that's right. I'm a nymphomaniac. I almost forgot."
"There was another man." Goldblatt flipped through his notebook, found the name. "Conner Samson. You didn't have sexual relations with him."
Tyranny rolled her eyes. "I'd think you'd be happy. A little restraint."
"This is not about my happiness, Tyranny. We're trying to delve into the root cause of your behavior. You said you were attracted to Conner. Why not him?"
She crossed her arms, sank back into the chair.
Goldblatt waited her out, tapped the pencil.
He's always tapping that pencil. He knows it drives me batshit. Dr. clever-smug-son-of-a- "Look, I am married, after all."
"That didn't stop you from engaging in intercourse with the others," Goldblatt said.
"The others weren't-" She waved her hands, groped for words.
"That's my point. He's different. It might be significant."
"Maybe I was just tired. My vagina was sore. I'm a slut, remember?"
"Nobody's called you that, Tyranny."
"Did you pick out the paintings in this office, Dr. Goldblatt? About as bland as fucking dishwater. You should let me paint you something."
"You're changing the subject, Tyranny."
Goldblatt sighed, squinted at his watch. "We only have a minute left."
"Oh, darn. I was having such a good time."
Goldblatt said, "The next time you masturbate, I want you to use a cucumber. Then chop the cucumber into a salad and eat it. It's important."
"I'm afraid our time is up."
Tyranny drove home fast. She liked to drive her Beemer fast, weave through the leaden traffic. She liked to punch the accelerator, feel it kick in, the high-pitched hum of the German motor, the feel of it pushing her back in her seat. She drove fast when she was excited or angry or anything.
Dr. Goldblatt had dug into her brain about Conner. Of course Conner was different. She didn't need a shrink to tell her that. But what exactly did Tyranny see in Conner anyway, what was so special about him? She wasn't immediately able to put it into words, had never before had to dissect her feelings for him. Goldblatt obviously wanted her to give it careful thought.
Conner was handsome, but that wasn't it-although it didn't hurt. Conner was different, unpretentious, simple, straightforward. In a time when she'd been surrounded by an overly complex, pseudointellectual, angst-ridden art-school crowd, she'd often taken refuge in Conner Samson's company. To Tyranny, Conner was an open book, and come rain or shine, hell or high water, Conner would always be Conner. His concrete simplicity balanced the beehive of complicated thoughts and feelings that was Tyranny Jones.
She screeched into her driveway, went in the house, threw her purse and car keys on the table. Then to the breakfast nook, hot summer light pouring through the bay windows. She didn't even bother to change clothes, just picked up the palette and began slinging paint on the canvas. Her project: less a painting, more a frustrated bright smear.
It wasn't working.
She was pent up.
She wanted to masturbate. Had Goldblatt predicted this? She was supposed to use a cucumber, then eat it. She didn't know if she was intrigued by the thought or horrified. Goldblatt had always been fond of unorthodox methods, but this was a new extreme. Stupid fucking psychiatrist weirdo.
The doorbell. She answered it.
It was the UPS guy with a load of art supplies she'd ordered off the Web. He was short, pale, soft around the middle. He set the packages just inside the door, had her sign his clipboard.
She grabbed his arm as he turned to leave, pulled him inside. "Come in here a minute, will you? I need your help with something." Even as the anticipation mounted, there was also the beginnings of guilt. Shame.
But the alternative was a cucumber.