Sunday, December 24, 2006

Players - 21

The blonde waitress, Janice, was a tall and big-boned young woman, with acne in the corners of her mouth and too much blue eyeshadow. She said that she’d heard about what happened to Edie on the TV news, just about everyone was cut up about it, and confirmed that Edie had been at work last Thursday but hadn’t turned up on Friday. ‘It’s a fucking shame what happened to her, excuse my French. She was a real darlin’. Everyone but Sneaky Pete liked her.’

‘Sneaky Pete?’

‘Mr Schopf, the manager? I don’t suppose he was much help to you.’

Janice had an accent from someplace three thousand miles south and east of Portland that lifted every other sentence into a question. She wore a candy-striped cotton dress and a white apron with a scalloped trim. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail fastened with a rubber band, and there was a ballpoint pen tucked behind her ear.

Summer said, ‘Mr Schopf thought you might be able to help me.’

‘I don’t know how I can, but I can try.’

The girl was shifting from foot to foot in her trodden-down flat-heeled shoes, easing the weight on her ankles. Summer suggested that they sit in an empty booth. When they were settled, she said, ‘Did you know Edie socially, or just here at work?’

‘Just at work. We talked when we snuck cigarettes out back? I know she was on probation, and she wanted to go straight. Her big idea, she wanted to go work in one of those big offices downtown. Excuse me.’ Janice pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at the corners of her eyes and said in a pinched voice, ‘I thought she was sweet, y’know?’

Summer said, ‘Did she have a boyfriend that you knew of?’

Janice blew her nose with surprising delicacy. ‘She sure did. Real nice boy, name of Billy.’

Summer felt a quick flare of hope. ‘Did you ever meet this Billy?’

‘Just the once. He came by on Edie’s first day. I think he wanted to see where she was working?’

Garrulous, sharp-eyed Janice, every cop’s idea of a dream witness, gave Summer a description of Edie Collier’s boyfriend: six foot nothing, brown eyes and cheekbones to die for, shoulder-length black hair, rangy, wearing Hi-Top sneakers, blue jeans out at both knees and a raggedy old T-shirt. ‘And he had a couple of fingers missing from one of his hands.’

‘Which hand?’

‘The right.’

‘Can you remember which fingers were missing?’

‘The little finger, and the one next to it.’ Janice wrinkled her nose, remembering. ‘They were cut off at the knuckle? He kept his hand behind him, or in his pocket, like he was ashamed of it, but I saw it when he lit a cigarette.’

‘Did Edie ever tell you how her boyfriend lost his fingers? Was it some kind of industrial accident, for instance?’


‘How about his last name?’

Janice looked up at the ceiling for a moment, thinking. ‘I don’t believe it ever came up. Like I said, I only met him that one time.’

‘Did Edie mention what he did for a living?’

‘I believe it was something to do with computers. He played games in competition, something like that? I know when he came in that time he had one of those laptop cases. But whatever he was into, it can’t have earned him much money -- the two of them were living out of his van.’
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