“What have you got so far, Johnny?”
“Not a lot, Jim. This one’s definitely the weirdest I’ve walked into yet.”
Being five years out of basic training, Jim thought, that wasn’t saying a lot. But Johnny was a nice boy. ‘Promising’ was what it said in his personnel file. Jim had put it there himself. Promising. Knowing the difference between rushing in and holding back. And knowing when to call for help.
He’d just been about to settle in his comfortable chair in front of the bay window, looking out at Forrest Bridge. The river running wild this time of year. There hadn’t been ice for ages, but this one sure promised to be a contender. Johnny Walker’s finest on the side table, John Irving’s latest in his hands. And then the phone rang. Wasn’t often they called him these days. ‘Respecting your retirement, old boy.’ Sure. But he knew that once they’d really stop calling, when his view of Forrest Bridge would be all that was left of the outside world, Walker would beat Irving. Drown him right out.
“Couple of boys found him. They were just fooling around up here. Wanted to go up the mountain, they said, when they saw that this back door was open. The planks that had been nailed across it were neatly stacked against the wall. The first one who took a peek inside turned and ran, the others following suit. They called us from the school right at the foot of the mountain in Lilac Square. Uhm, wait, I got it here, Don Bosco’s.”
“They’re twelve, Jim. Freshmen at the Jesuit College.”
“Should I take that as a ‘yes’?”
“On all counts. Although I think I’ll get Georgy to look into that Jesuit connection. Leave no room for doubt.”
So he’s got a Georgy already to do his menial tasks. How time flies, Jim thought.
They were walking down the main hall, which in any ordinary hotel would have been the lobby. But the Fairview had never been ordinary in anyone’s dictionary. In its heyday it had been the hottest place in the tristate area. A noble forest retreat halfway up Lookout mountain with the world at its feet. The place to be and to be seen. But the problem with heydays, Jim thought, was that they came and went. And that no one appreciated them until they were gone.
The once plush red carpet had turned a threadbare pink with soggy black spots were watery light came in through the ceiling. The couches and wingback chairs were still there, their upholstery slit open, stuffing trailing across the floor. The walls were covered in graffiti. Words and phrases from a generation Jim didn’t understand. But then again, nothing original had ever come from seventeen year old rebels against the system, he thought. He could picture the rest.
Johnny led the way through imposing double doors into what used to be the restaurant. It looked like a battlefield. Or more like a picture he’d seen in Time magazine of some place in New Orleans when they were cleaning up after Catherina. In a far corner, just beside the bar, Klieg lights had been set up. There was a bustle of people at the fringes of the unnatural pool of light. Young people, Jim thought. And he smiled at himself for noticing. Not a familiar face among them. Someone was taking pictures. Two men in white were dusting for fingerprints, taking samples of whatever there was to take. A woman with classic horn rimmed glasses and a clipboard was taking notes. Things were happening here. All very professional, very efficient. But for all their efficiency, he thought, they didn’t have a clue. That’s why Johnny’s first impulse had been to call him. And that’s why Johnny was a promising young man. ×