The Salinger Files
Eddie Sands was none too pleased. She was polite and all, a nice girl, but the whole “I’m a poor student” thing didn’t sit so well with him. It was her way of saying I can’t afford to give you a tip, but for Eddie if you can’t tip at a restaurant you order takeout, and if you can’t tip a cabbie you thumb a ride, take public transit (such as it is), or walk.
The night was a cool lacquer of black, and she sat deep in mid-March shadows, splashes of streetlights catching the thin lines to her face, muddy brown eyes, and the mole near her lower lip, a beauty mark the stylists in salons call it, darkened with eyebrow pencil. Claire was a student at Sanford Polis College, and she was excited about March Break.
A green light atop the Armory’s cupola glinted like a buoy.
“You’re Eddie Sands—the guy with a rep for punching out bad people—”
Eddie had gained some infamy from the press for being an avenging angel of sorts—Winsome’s low-fi variation on the Shadow. He had put two men in the hospital: one for beating his wife; the other for raping his daughter; and three months ago Eddie, with a handful of road flares and an army-issue .45, killed Vic Sizemore, owner of the local pulp and paper mill who had kidnapped his own son and plotted to kill his estranged wife and frame Eddie for it. The rescue took place at an abandoned ice house on Curve Lake, part of the Ojibwe reservation twenty miles west of the Daws Motel.
“I guess people tell you things while riding with you and that’s how—”
She laughed, bright fizzy bubbles. Her joy made him sad. “Women talk about their troubles—”
“Yeah—” Eddie had served as a radio operator in Korea, and since the Sizemore killing had taken to sleeping with his .45 under a pillow, again.
When he first came home it was like that for four years—then he left Michigan, and settled in upstate New York, and his army-issued .45 had found a new home in the car’s glove box. He’d been driving a hack since 1956. Nine, ten years.
Claire sported a big, floppy-brimmed leather hat. “Evelyn says hi.” The librarian? She helped you solve that kidnapping case three months ago?
“Yeah, yeah.” Evevlyn actually was the one who tossed two well-timed road flares through a makeshift ice house window while I rushed Sizemore, Eddie said.
He liked Evelyn. She liked him. But he was thirty-four; she was twenty-one. They had gone on some outings, not really dates, outings, friends, to the gun range. She wanted to learn to handle firearms and was hitting the targets, dead center, frequently. One time some crazy fucker, a Chamber of Commerce joker, brought a flamethrower and torched some unsuspecting racoons. Real Plymouth Rock jackass, full of entitlement. Big laughs, all around.
“She’s a tough chick,” Claire said. “I hear she goes to a gun range—” Anyway, she’s in my English class, American Realism and Naturalism. “Calvin K. Hoops is in that class too.” Claire pointed at the small, zippered case on her lap. “I’m running a draft of his senior thesis over to his professor, Dr. Tatanger. She’s a writer.” Her hands danced like baby birds on the lawn after fresh rain. She’s like twenty-four or something. Had her first novel published at twenty. I’m twenty and I haven’t accomplished anything yet. “But I will—I guess it’s time for me to talk about my troubles, like all those other women who drive with you. Nobody’s beating me or up or anything, but—” Claire dropped her hands and admitted that she liked Calvin. “But he doesn’t pay much attention to me, any suggestions?”
Tatanger. Tatanger. Eddie remembered the name. Tatanger. New Year’s Eve. Two years ago. Black lawn jockeys.
“Is that why you’re delivering his thesis?” Eddie rubbed away bits of a sinker dotting his lower lip. Two donuts and black coffee was all the time he had for dinner. It was a busy night.
“Maybe—?” Calvin had a Glee Club rehearsal tonight so Claire was doing him a favor—
Who was Eddie to offer suggestions? He lived alone in a trailer park. Yes, he had been in love, most recently with Irene Sizemore. It was his affair with Irene that motivated her husband to try and kill her and frame Eddie for her death and the kidnapping of their son. After the violent aftermath of the ice house rescue Eddie and Irene’s love faded. He still sees Irene occasionally for an orange egg cream at Regehr’s, the local drugstore.
“Let this Calvin fella talk about himself. Boys like that—”
Eddie drove past the hardware store and over brick streets with presidential names.
The bricks thudded heavily under the car and the seats shook.
“That’s good. I like hearing people talk. I’m a good listener. You like Salinger?”
“The Kennedy guy?”
“No, no, not Pierre, the writer—”
“The writer? Oh, that guy—I’m more into Kerouac—Big Sur—”
Well, she said, you should check out the school’s library exhibit. We got J.D. Salinger’s correspondence with the New Yorker. “Slight Rebellion off Madison” it’s called. “The story, we got it. It’s the original manuscript. You can even see the bleed marks from an editor’s pen spilling to the corners of the margins—it’s so old—I guess the presidential street names made me think of it.” It was on display, in a glass case, she said, can’t miss it, as soon as you walk in.
“I’ll make a note of that,” Eddie kibitzed. Salinger was a boy’s idea of a writer.
Street lights shot through the car’s windshield and glowed like clipped chevrons along the brim of her hat.
“It’s an early story that Salinger later developed for the first few chapters of Catcher in the Rye.” All that stuff with a horse and never seeing anyone on a goddamn horse, you know? Pencey, the Prep School Holden attends in Pennsylvania? That’s in this original story. Anyway, the brochures for Sanford Polis College feature images of young women on sleigh rides. “I’ve never seen a sleigh or a horse in my three years there.” She laughed.
The streets now had tree names. They turned down Olive. All the late Victorian homes in this district were built in the 1890s and shaped like a series of stacked square boxes, four rooms to a floor.
“This is it—” She pointed to a gray house with white shutters. She grabbed the zippered case and smiled sheepishly. The meter ticked. “I’ll only be a few minutes. Can you lift the flag?” She apologized, but she was really short on cash. “I’ll be fast.”
No tip and now stopping the ticking click of the meter.
Eddie didn’t mind, really. He was no longer displeased. He kind of liked her, her enthusiasm. He raised the flag half-way.
Shadows moved across windows and then a porch light burned brightly.
Somewhere at Pencey Prep horses ridden by young men in jodhpurs were jumping fences. Again, and again, and again.
A half-hour later Claire returned, the inside rim of the suede hat dropping all the way to her eyes. Her energy was now flat oil stains floating atop still water. She apologized for being late, and then drifted into the backseat shadows, the lines of her face full of inner monologues.
Eddie could no longer see the mole near her lower lip. She was also wearing sunglasses. “You okay?”
She nodded briefly.
He drove with the inside of his left wrist to 211 Green Street—
The fare was three dollars and change. Claire said nothing and handed him a ten—
She didn’t wait for change.
As she walked up a driveway, the hemline to her tan coat appeared shorter than before. It came down to the back of her knees, instead of her calves.
Eddie filled out his call sheet. The sky was scratched with the coarse raised lines of a drying paint brush.
EDDIE WIPED SLEEP from his eyes and caught the noon news on WKLL. He messed with the rabbit ears but the signal continued collapsing into flickers of sawdust. He poured a bowl of cornflakes and chocolate chips, but his hands and feet were so cold that he stood and ate over the top of the warm toaster.
WKLL’s lead story featured Frank Post, the curator of the college library’s special collection. They had extensive holdings of old radio plays, especially those from the 1940s that were produced locally in upstate New York, but the prize piece of the collection was clearly, “no doubt about it,” the Salinger Files, J.D’s early draft that evolved into a chapter in The Catcher in the Rye. It was stolen last night.
Eddie buttered a bagel.
He let it sit in his left hand.
“Wasn’t there some controversy about you all having the manuscript?” a reporter asked. The pomade piled atop his pompadour was as thick as black maple syrup.
Post nodded. By contrast, his hair was buzzed, red with gray, almost white along the temples.
Post. That hair. New Years. Two years ago. It was Post and Marilyn Tatanger. An hour before midnight, no one would be home, they laughed, conspiring, heads touching as they sat in the cab’s back seat. Why not, they each said, separately. Happy new year!
Eddie had picked them up at Sanford Polis College, in the library’s parking lot. As he stopped along slick asphalt, their hands broke free of each other and the sharp watchful arc of Eddie’s headlights. Those lawn jockeys are an offensive eyesore, images of racial subjugation—she said, or maybe it was him.
They promised Eddie a big bonus if he kept his mouth shut, and they too knew of the newspaper stories, Eddie’s assault on Mark Kosmos, a father who was messing with his own daughter. “You understand justice,” Tatanger said, her eyes narrowing, a lean finger tapping her lower lip.
Her hair was bleach blonde and she wore fishnet stockings and black army boots. Heavy mascara made her eyes look like peach pits. Not a word. She smiled. She wanted to get tenure.
Not a word, Eddie repeated.
“You like working this shift? No hot date?” It’s New Years, she said.
The professor’s words forced Eddie’s tight smile to take a bit of a rictus turn. He liked working on New Year’s Eve, he said. It and Christmas Eve were the two best nights to work. He had made close to a hundred over the years from tips and his 40% cut of fares. Tatanger and Post offered an additional two twenties for thirty minutes of his time. In that time they lifted seven lawn jockeys from the homes of the entitled, Chamber of Commerce types living along the hexagonal lamped streets of Parkhill Dr, and the professionals who lived in the west end exurbs behind the new bowling alley. As they ran along lawns, in the moon’s whispers of yellow light, they bent at the waist, laughing. And upon returning to Eddie’s hack, they mocked their victims, calling them insensitive bigots, and praised themselves for bringing an art-like face lift to Winsome. “Let’s rip off the pink flamingos too,” Post suggested, his fists punching the air, the spaces of their back seat filling up with all their new friends.
“No, let’s stay on point—”
“They’re fucking ugly—”
“They’re not racist. They’re in poor taste. I give you that, flamingoes, very poor taste, but let’s stay on point—”
“Principles. I can dig that,” Post said.
And then their foreheads touched once more.
They stole seven more lawn jockeys in the time remaining. Eddie smoked a cigarette while they dumped their cache of bad art in the river that ran behind the public utilities substation.
Now, on the TV, Frank Post was talking about Salinger and how a district court judge in upstate New York sought to regain possession of the New Yorker manuscript for the author. Salinger’s an artist, an eccentric recluse. “But I’m sure he didn’t steal it.” Post laughed mildly.
Eddie wondered if lawn jockeys at the bottom of the river were laughing too.
“What’s its net worth—?” The reporter’s microphone shook slightly.
“This is a one-of-a-kind manuscript, and that’s why it’s a great loss to the college.” Post had locked up at ten, and Evelyn, he pointed behind him, was there too, and the manuscript, at that time, was secure in its display case.
WKLL’s handheld camera quickly swish-panned to the broken display case, shards of glass clearly visible, a sparkle of jittery icicles. Net worth? You can’t put a price on it. Post’s voice had an angry curve to it. “You can’t put a price on it—”
NEARLY NINETY MINUTES later Eddie was on the red-bricked campus of Sanford Polis College, walking in step with Calvin K. Hoops as the youngster huffed a quick cigarette before his seminar on the Romantic Poets. Hoops had dirty blond hair with a tight side part, husky eyebrows that resembled small field mice, and a long narrow V for a face. His eyes were full of narrative distance as if he were always looking for something better, far along the horizon.
Why was Claire delivering your thesis?
“I had Glee Club, bro—” The cigarette dipped off his fleshy lower lip.
Bells chimed and birds broke above, dark wings against the slits of the College’s campanile.
“Do you even like her?”
“I don’t get you, mister—”
“That girl cares about you—”
“What are you babbling about?” He huffed on his cigarette without using his hands. She’s an Indian. I mean, she’s fun to be with, but there’s no romance there.
Eddie hadn’t realized that she was Ojibwe.
Lives out on the rez, Colin said. “Claire’s from a mixed-race family. Her brother Jimmy looks like a goddamn half-breed—” He frowned.
Eddie’s hands tightened.
Just weeks ago, Eddie returned some confiscated artifacts to the Ojibwe tribal leaders, paintings that a white lawyer felt entitled to. That lawyer thought everything rightly belonged to him, including young Indian girls. But after the attorney got got by, in all probability, a Mexican drug cartel or Cheryl Little Bear, Eddie stole back the paintings by Clarence Strangeways, a member of the tribe. Tribal Chief L’Amoreaux thanked Eddie for the paintings’ safe return, the gift he had given the tribe. He said he owed Eddie a favor.
“Claire’s missing—she never got back in my hack. It was a different girl—”
“Different girl? You on Columbian pot, bro?” Calvin had just come from being questioned at the cop shop. “Claire took the Greyhound out of town—” Calvin had seen her this morning, at the campus bookstore, and accompanied her to the bus station. He shrugged. “She got on the bus, bro.” Get a head start on March Break. He smiled, a polyester grin, nothing real or sincerre about it. “I gotta jet—class—”
“You saw her?” Eddie wiped at the edges of his mouth.
“That’s what I said, bro—” He butted his cigarette with a white-stained sneaker. “Bummer about the Salinger papers, huh?”
That’s all anybody wanted to talk about—
“By the way, she said you were very nice. Gave you a big tip—”
And then, Calvin once more repeated his gotta jet exit line, and was gone, one of his dirty sneakers flapping awkwardly as he ran, a sole loose at the heel, bro.
TWO HOURS LATER, Eddie was at Regehr’s, the local drugstore, having an orange egg cream with Evelyn Williams. Once again, as he did three months ago, he needed her help. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke toward the tin ceiling tiles full of ribbons of rivet-like punches.
From the pocket of his leather jacket he pulled out a charm bracelet. The links resembled stubby pieces of white gold gnocchi. He slid it toward Evelyn on the other side of the Formica booth. “Happy birthday.” It was last month, right? I never got a chance to thank you for helping me rescue Irene and her son. He had been hospitalized, nervous breakdown, for nearly three weeks following the rescue.
She nodded, clasping it around her wrist, reading aloud the circular dog tag of an attached charm: Wherever you go, you meet part of your story—
She leaned across the table and kissed Eddie’s forehead. “It’s beautiful—” Am I part of your story? She smiled, eyes crescent moons.
“I don’t know. I figured a librarian would like a quote by a person who has written books that are in libraries.” He shrugged.
She pushed wisps of black hair behind her ear. “You doing okay, better?”
“Yeah. Thanks for visiting me in the hospital.” He didn’t tell her about the gun under the pillow or the nightmares he still had, full of orange mist, road flare sulphur, and Sizemore’s stippled chest, perforated bloodline, and the screams, Eddie’s screams.
She squeezed his hand.
Calvin’s inner life was a narcissistic gaze, she said.
Eddie said he didn’t like him at all—
“He’s a douchebag—” Evelyn held her shoulders tightly and shook a little. Calvin had raped a classmate of hers at a party a few years back. The College kept it hush-hush. No police report, no press story, nothing. The girl eventually dropped out and moved back to San Antonio. “Her parents were Mexicans. We were exam study partners for a while—”
Eddie pictured Calvin’s face crumbling under a hammer of fists.
Evelyn pushed against the edge of the red Formica table. “So you think the woman who got in your cab after a thirty-minute delay wasn’t the same woman you drove out there, Claire Doniphon?” Evelyn’s muddy brown eyes narrowed.
Eddie tapped his cigarette on the side of a chrome and yellow ashtray. The fat tip she left, the tan coat that came to the calves instead of the back of the knees. The details were all mis-aligned. And the address the second Claire had me drive to, he said, 213 didn’t check. “There’s a 211 and a 215 Green. No 213.”
“So you never saw her enter either house—”
“I was filling out my call sheet, looked up, and she was gone—” Eddie had checked on the two addresses earlier today before visiting the cop shop—“One house is empty, ready to go on the market, and the other is a small Cape Cod affair for a family of four—the husband manages the local IGA.” He never went to college and knows no college students. The girl who got in my cab, late, wasn’t really going where she said she was going. It was all a charade—for me not to notice that the real girl was gone. “I’m not even sure that the second girl had a beauty mark on her face—”
“And she wore sunglasses—you can’t even be sure of the color of her eyes—”
“You think Claire’s dead—?” Evelyn’s eyebrows arched with worry.
“Maybe.” Eddie wiped at the edges of his mouth. “Maybe—”
“I just can’t see that—Professor Tatanger’s a lot of things, but a killer’s not one of them—”
Weird, quirky, eccentric, for sure, Eddie said. Over fifteen months ago she stole a bunch of black lawn jockeys, a kind of whimsical protest. “Is that the MO of a killer? Is there something like the twist of a corkscrew about Claire’s disappearance?”
“Don’t ask—” He shook his head. New Years hi-jinks. “Can you get in touch with Janice Strangeways? She’s a therapist/social worker out there. She’s the one that told Eddie about the hostaged paintings, the ones by her father held in hock by a town bigshot. “She knows everybody. See if Claire was headed anywhere—the Greyhound story stinks.” He butted his cigarette. He wanted the cops to issue a warrant on Professor Tatanger’s home but they just shrugged away Eddie’s suggestion.
Evelyn nodded. If Claire’s missing, she said, no one will notice it for a week or so. Spring Break and all. “So, you figure whoever got on the Greyhound is probably the same girl who got in your cab, after the thirty-minute wait—”
“That’s how it figures—”
Unless Calvin is in on it and nobody got on the bus.
“That could very well be. The guy’s a cold liar. Heart rate never climbs above sixty.” Evelyn dug into her jean pockets and came up with a handful of change—
Seconds later she was at the payphone, leaning her left hip against the wall.
Eddie finished his egg cream and a second cigarette.
Evelyn returned. Janice said Claire was going nowhere. She planned to work over the break, earn some money at the Tribal grocery store. Janice, too, had approached the police about Claire’s disappearance, and got the breeze. Calvin K. Hoops swears he escorted her to the bus terminal, saw her get on the bus, and leave Winsome. L’Amoreaux is not happy and he’s not sitting still—
“Right—” Why would they have to silence Claire—what’s the motive?
Who’s they, Evelyn asked.
Tatanger. Post. Calvin.
Tell me about the lawn jockeys.
Black lawn jockeys. And Eddie told her the story of the Professor and Post and the back seat of his cab filling up with all their friends.
Dr. Tatanger has a weird sense of humor and is committed to social justice, Evelyn said. “What if, what if,” Evelyn tapped her lower lip, eyes widening, “Claire found out something she shouldn’t have?” Evelyn finished off her egg cream. “What if it wasn’t Calvin’s thesis in Claire’s zippered bag but the Salinger files—?” A hand rested on the side of her neck like a bamboo and paper fan. “But, I saw the papers at that time, 8–8:30. They were in the display case—”
“Were they—?” Eddie was buying into her imagined, almost improbable story—when you figured in the black lawn jockeys excursion, this new yarn made a lot of sense—
“I saw them.” Evelyn leaned back on her side of the booth.
“Did you look at them carefully?”
“Well, no.” She was returning books to the stacks and mail to Frank Post’s office, but the display case was intact when they closed up.
“The manuscript under glass might have been a substitute—a copy—”
“And—” Evelyn’s voice bounced with waves crowded full of white caps. “Tatanger adores Salinger. Teaches Catcher in the Rye in her Craft of Voice class every fall—” Her lower lip curled under her teeth. Post had been spending time with Dr. Tatanger, after hours. Evelyn had seen them, just last week, heart-shaped shadows in the parking lot, foreheads touching. Maybe Claire is still alive, “Okay, Eddie, let’s say, Claire knew nothing about the Salinger heist, she thought she was transporting Calvin’s thesis, but she likes Calvin, and after she got to the professor’s house she opened the bag, wanting to read Calvin’s work, saw the Salinger Files, and they seized her—”
Eddie nodded, his lips a tight line.
I can see Professor Tatanger holding onto Claire, trying to convince her that taking the manuscript was the right thing to do, the thing Salinger, a recluse, and a man of intense privacy, would want them to do. “She has all of Spring Break to bring Claire around to her way of thinking.”
“Anything’s possible with that crowd—”
“Don’t underestimate her,” Evelyn said. “Professor Tatanger is intense. She’s all about honoring the vision of the artist—You know, she’s won two O.Henry prizes?” She’s a wheel—And she really likes Ayn Rand: Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, she said.
“Oh, God. That explains everything—” Eddie shook his head. Kerouac, Raymond Chandler were his guys. But Ayn Rand? Nobody ever gets a cold in an Ayn Rand novel. “You ever noticed that?”
That cracked Evelyn up.
AROUND 4:20, Evelyn and Eddie dropped in unannounced at Dr. Marilyn Tatanger’s. She was serving tea to Frank Post. They had been sitting at a small table off from the kitchen. The chairs were decorated with bunting of white antimacassars. The room smelled of fresh biscuits and strawberries—and Lemon Pledge and ammonia. Someone had been cleaning—
Marilyn, if not for the crisp blouse, pleated skirt, and harlequin glasses, could still have been easily mistaken for a college student. Gone was the platinum hair, fishnets, and black shitkicker boots, from two years ago. Now her auburn hair was pulled back in a bun, and her face had a deceptively fresh-scrubbed youthfulness.
Post said the authorities were absolutely clueless on the robbery. He wanted to talk about the Salinger Files—
“Absolutely—” Eddie said. There was also a third plate and an empty saucer at their table.
“The only reason I let you two in is to clear the air—” Professor Tatanger planted her hands firmly in front of her. All of the nails were polished black, except for the pinkies: blood red. “The police called, told me the Ojibwe people are trying to get a warrant on my house, to search it. My house.” She sighed dramatically. “I’m a college professor, an Award-winning professor—” She pointed a finger at Eddie. “You tried to have a warrant issued against me, too—”
“The girl’s not here. She left on a bus, just as Calvin reported—”
“You have the Salinger Files—?”
“I’m not a thief—”
“That doesn’t really answer the question—”
“Those files belong to Mr. Salinger.”
“You still haven’t answered the question—”
“No, she doesn’t have them—” Post said. “But to a collector, on the open market, they’re worth something—” Spiky points of his buzzcut glistened with Brylcreem. Salinger’s a mid-century icon, a literary force. Someone took those papers to turn a profit—sell on the black market—but Dr. Tatanger is a woman of character.
Character is right, a character who tossed fourteen lawn jockeys into the drink—and seriously believes she was committing a community service, moral landscaping, uplift, in Winsome.
“The girl that got in my cab after a thirty-minute hiatus wasn’t the same girl I dropped off here.” Eddie told the whole story, the beauty mark, the hemline, and the no tip talk that ended with a surprising seven-dollar tip. “I think a switch happened—”
“And that’s why you want my house invaded? Claire got in your cab. Calvin saw her leave town—” Dr. Tatanger’s voice was full of broken glass. “Look—” She moved around the table to Post, arms latticed about her chest. “You’re not the police, and I have no intention of being interrogated by either of you any further. Do you follow?” The police believe Claire got on the bus—We done? I’d like to drink my tea in peace, Professor Tatanger said. “And my biscuits are getting cold—”
Eddie stared at the third saucer. “Sure. We’ll be in touch,” he assured her.
“SHE’S IN THAT house—” Eddie said.
They were sitting in his relatively new black-and-orange 66 Nova, the sun a faded red line.
“I know—” Evelyn’s lips pursed together. “I saw the third tea saucer—”
‘Well, if you saw it, and I saw it, they’ll know we saw it and have to get her out of the house—”
“Anyway, if she’s in there, they’re treating her well—third cup of tea and all—”
“Speaking of treating her well, you want a burger or something—?” Gus’s diner was just a block over. From the trash dumpsters in the back, they could keep an eye on Dr. Tatanger’s comings and goings.
“Sure. And a cherry coke.” She laughed, flecking away a strand of black hair that had slid to the corner of one of her eyes. “I told you a long time ago that I was a cheap date—”
Eddie liked Evelyn a lot and he had been lonely for a long time, but—she had just turned twenty-one-—
He was thirty-four—
“Yeah, you did,” he said, slipping the car in gear and driving around the block to Gus’s back parking lot.
“Everything on the burger—?”
“I’ll eat yours—” He reached for his wallet. “You still got that pocket full of change?”
She took another drag, and handed him a fistful of coins.
Eddie was going to call Chief L’Amoreaux at Curve Lake. “If we can’t get some law, maybe we can get the Ojibwe people—”
MINUTES LATER Eddie returned with two burgers, two Cokes. Fries to share. You’re not going to believe this, he said. A member of the tribe, Deborah Smoke cleans the Tatanger home, L’Amoreaux said, and a bedroom upstairs was locked. She always cleans that room, but not today. Dr. Tatanger said she had papers, a new novel, spread all about, and it was off limits, but Smoke says she heard shallow breathing on the other side of the door—a muffled voice maybe, trying to talk—
“Or scream.” Evelyn ate a fry dipped in brown gravy, Canadian style. “Claire?”
Eddie nodded. “L’Amoreaux and a bunch of young fellas think so—they are on their way—”
“An assault on Olive Street—?”
Maybe— Eddie shrugged. Maybe.
THEY ARRIVED FROM the reservation in a 1955 Bluebird bus pockmarked with sunbursts of rust. All of the hubcaps were missing and graffiti was written on the sides. Twelve members of the tribe climbed out. They wore uniforms of blue jeans, red mackinaws, and black high tops. Chief L’Amoreaux was the last to exit. He had high cheekbones and eyes that rarely blinked. He wore a big sweat-stained tan cowboy hat that may just have belonged to John Wayne in Hondo.
They all gathered in the parking lot.
“What did you bring, the basketball team?” Eddie kibbitzed.
“How did you guess?” L’Amoreaux smiled. It was a twist tie that frayed open to the left. “You think we need any artillery?”
Post left the house fifteen minutes ago. Evelyn, a drink between her legs, left hand holding a burger, right hand on the wheel, followed in Eddie’s Nova. Evelyn hoped the trail would lead to Claire. She was to call Eddie at Gus’s, later. Before driving off, she told Eddie not to worry. “You got that gun in the glove box, right?” She’d often seen Eddie place it there after target practice at the gun range. Even though he had been sleeping with it, Eddie put it back every morning. He nodded.
“Artillery? No. Post’s gone, and the Professor, well, she’s into stealing lawn art—” Eddie lit a fresh cigarette. His hands and feet were cold.
“Huh?” L’Amoreaux’s eyes stilled.
The basketball team shrugged and bounced in place. We’ll cut the phone lines, L’Amoreaux said, and then go in.
They all spread across the street and front lawn like fast gliding locusts.
Eddie was told to wait outside. I know how you care about my people, the Chief said, but this is our fight.
Eddie didn’t like it, but he crammed his hands in his jeans and reluctantly nodded. He tightened the zipper of his leather jacket.
It seemed lately he was always cold.
Maybe the nightmares had something to do with it—
“I’m taking a page out of your playbook—” The Chief held up four road flares. The Sizemore assault all over again.
This assault, like the one back then, was over in minutes.
A few broken windows, a scream, orange haze fizzing fast, coughing, and Marilyn Tatanger on the front porch, hands bound in makeshift jute stringed-handcuffs, harlequin glasses sitting with an angry twist on the bridge of her nose. “Get your hands off me,” she screamed at some of the basketball players.
Behind her was Claire, dark crescents under eyes, lips chapped, face lightening when she saw Eddie.
She ran and hugged him, eyes watering from the orange haze. I couldn’t help myself, she said, I looked in the bag, and saw the Salinger papers. And Tatanger talked and talked and talked to me, and then Calvin hit me from behind. “Hit me more than once. He likes hitting people, girls—Then Dr. Tatanger dragged me to a room upstairs, and took all my clothes, my hat, and walked out into your cab—”
Eddie turned to the soon-to-be-ex-professor who was tottering on the front porch, one of the heels to her shoes having broken off in all the commotion. “It was you—”
She said nothing—
“Where’s Calvin,” Eddie mumbled.
Tatanger studied a chipped fingernail.
Claire shrugged. She’d seen him earlier in the day—he often dropped by to paw at her—he was in the room when the cleaning gal tried to get in—“And to think at one time, I liked him—”
“Calvin’s not here now—” The Chief rousted Dr. Tatanger down the steps toward the bus across the way. “We’ll take them to the police station—” He turned to Eddie. “We found this upstairs, in a drawer, next to a stack of pages from a new novel the professor’s writing—”
It was the Salinger Files, but as soon as Eddie held them he knew. This wasn’t the real deal. The pen markings were fresh, no bleed, Claire had told him about the bleed, and the paper was too crisp. It was a damn copy.
Claire agreed when Eddie showed her the manuscript—“no bleed.”
Frank Post had made two copies, she said. One to fool Evelyn and those at the library, and a second to fool Dr. Tatanger.
They all moved across the lawn, the arc of the street lights cutting a scythe-like path.
Eddie would wait at Gus’s for Evelyn.
FRANK POST was dead.
Eddie was finishing off a second hamburger and Evelyn wanted nothing to eat. Her stomach felt like she had swallowed a knotted rope and her face was colorless. She had followed Post back to the library. “I didn’t know what I’d find. The door was locked, glimmers of light squeezing through the spaces of the doorframe.”
But, she had a key. I work there, remember?
Frank was in his office, a back room that overlooked the quad. It had a small couch, file cabinets, a walnut table, a desk with a typewriter, and World War II guns and maps mounted on the walls. Frank had never served but his father had. The Big Red One. North Africa, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Falkenau.
Post’s head was bowed in concentration, before him, under the dim glow of a conical desk lamp, the Salinger Files. Evelyn recognized it by the bleeding pen marks an editor had made years ago.
There was no other light in the room.
“Good reading?” She raised the .45 at her side. She had fired at targets before but never a person. Her heart thudded in her ears.
Post’s breath caught and, startled, his shoulders tightened, raising up, and then freezing in place—
A clock, in the shape of a star, ticked in a corner, and the light from the conical lamp made Post’s hands look larger than they really were.
“I’ll take that—” A smile curled at the edges of Evelyn’s mouth. “You double-crossed Marilyn—”
Post said the prof had lofty ideas about protecting the rights of the author. He thought Salinger was a sophomoric hack. A junior-high lightweight. All he wanted to do was turn a buck. Fence the manuscript. There was a collector in Los Angeles very interested. Very.
“Claire, still alive?”
“Hmm—” He smiled. It was dirty. “She was upstairs all along—” Damn Calvin, always looking for kicks. Underage girls. Sex in the campanile. I told him he should take the manuscript to Tatanger’s himself, personally, but no, he has to get all wise. Have Claire deliver it. She’s totally unaware of being a courier. “Some joke.”
“But Dr. Tatanger doesn’t have the manuscript—you do—”
I switched it, he said. “She gave a flat, modicum fee for it, but I got a big fish in LA on the hook for the real thing—a big-time film producer—worked with Raoul Walsh—”
“Well, Claire’s probably in custody now—” Evelyn mentioned L’Amoreaux and the basketball team.
“Is that all you got to say?”
Suddenly, the conical lamp was knocked to the floor, the bulb popping, the room blackening.
Evelyn dove behind file cabinets.
Bullets caromed into the wall behind her.
A thud, followed by a scraping noise. Maybe guns falling? Maybe some of them had live ammo?
Evelyn knew this room. How many after-hour nights had she spent stacking books and then cleaning this very office? Even in the dark, she saw white slats of venetian blinds, and the slick black cover panels to the skeletal radiators.
Post moved toward the door.
Evelyn returned fire.
Post moaned, gurgled, crashed into a chair, and more guns fell from the wall, as he slid stiff and still.
Now at Gus’s, she pushed the Salinger Files across the Formica table to Eddie.
“What do you want me to do with this?”
“I don’t know—” She shrugged. Turn it in to the police, keep it, or return it to Salinger.
“I’ll back your play—whatever you decide—”
She reached for Eddie’s hand. Police lights flashed outside of Hal’s, the red arc of their glow filling the front window with a watery glaze.
“It was self-defense—”
They’ll believe you. Once Claire talks, Eddie said. “And I don’t think Marilyn will be any too kind to the memory of a phony who was double-crossing her—she’ll talk too—”
“What about Calvin?”
Eddie shrugged. “A no show—”
“The sonofabitch will probably walk.” He has money and privilege, Evelyn said. “Christ. Got away with rape two years ago—”
And all those underage girls in the campanile.
Fucking hate him, she said.
It was now Eddie’s turn to say “hmm.” The murmur stretched into a smile. “Walk, huh? Not for long,” he said.
▪ ▪ ▪
Grant Tracey’s Five Hard Bites, a collection of Hayden Fuller novels and stories, was recently published by Twelve Winters Press. Other crime noir pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in Tough and Groovy Gumshoes. “The Salinger Files” is a sequel to “Winsome,” a chapbook that features Eddie Sands, a Korean War veteran and cab driver in upstate New York. Grant drove a cab in Peterborough, Ontario, for a year before going to graduate school. He currently edits North American Review. Read the author’s commentary on his story.