Nightshades (Nameless Detective)

Nightshades (Nameless Detective) by Bill Pronzini

Book: Nightshades (Nameless Detective) by Bill Pronzini Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bill Pronzini
wrote that threatening letter to Frank too. It doesn’t have to mean anything ominous.”
    He was annoying me again. I still hadn’t managed to work up an active dislike for him, but I was getting closer to it. It wouldn’t be long now.
    I got the letter out of my wallet and shoved it under his nose. “Anything familiar about this?” I asked him. “The printing, the paper, the style of wording?”
    He blinked at the note. Kerry crowded in and peered at it too. I gave her a look, but she didn’t pay any attention.
    “Well?” I said to Treacle.
    “No,” he said. “No, none of it is familiar. It looks like a crank note to me. Doesn’t it look that way to you, Miss Wade?”
    “Yes,” she said, “it does.”
    Bah, I thought. I folded the note and put it back into my wallet.
    Treacle said, “Have you been to Musket Creek yet?”
    “Yeah, I’ve been there.”
    “What did you find out?”
    “Not much from the people I talked to,” I said. “But the fire they had was arson.”
    “It was?”
    “Whoever did it used a candle.” I went back and opened up the trunk and showed him the cup-shaped piece of stone with the wax residue inside. “I found this among the debris,” I said.
    He used one of the rags in the trunk to pick it up, and peered at it. Pretty soon he said, “Travertine.”
    “Huh?”
    “That’s the kind of mineral this is. Travertine—layered calcium carbonate. Geology is one of my interests.”
    “An unusual stone?”
    “No, not for this part of the country.” He rubbed at it with the rag, ridding it of some of the black from the fire. “It’s fossilized,” he said, and showed me the imprints in the stone. “Bryophytes.”
    “What are bryophytes?” Kerry asked.
    “Nonflowering plants. Mosses and liverworts.”
    “Is that kind of fossil uncommon?”
    “Not really. They turn up fairly often in this area.” Treacle picked at the wax residue with his fingernail. “This is purple, isn’t it?”
    I nodded. “One of the women over there makes purple candles as a hobby. Ella Bloom.”
    “That one,” Treacle said. “She reminds me of a witch.”
    “Me too. She threatened me with a shotgun when I tried to talk to her.”
    “My God. What did you do?”
    “What would you do if somebody started waving a shotgun at you?”
    “Why . . . I’d run, I guess.”
    “Yeah,” I said.
    I took the stone away from him, put it back into the trunk, and closed the lid. Kerry was fanning herself with one hand; as late in the day as it was—close to five o’clock—the heat out here was oppressive. Treacle noticed her discomfort and waved a hand toward a restaurant-and-bar that adjoined the motel.
    “Why don’t we go in where it’s cool and have a drink?”
    “That’s a good idea,” Kerry said. “I could use something.”
    I said, “You want to go into a public place dressed like that?”
    “What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?”
    “That bathing suit . . .”
    “I also happen to be wearing a beach robe,” she said. “I’ll button it right up to my neck so I won’t offend you or anybody else.”
    “I didn’t mean . . . Look, I thought you were going to take a shower and read a book.”
    “I’d rather have a drink. That is, if you don’t mind.”
    Well, I did mind. I wanted to ask Treacle some personal questions—questions about Munroe Randall and Helen O’Daniel—and I didn’t want to do it in front of her because it might inhibit him. But if I told her to leave us alone, I’d pay for it later: I’m not hard-boiled enough, or macho enough, despite Kerry’s accusation, to order women around and get away with it. So I sighed—I seemed to be doing a lot of sighing today—and said, “All right.” And the three of us went off together to the bar.
    Inside, the air conditioner was going full-blast and it was nice and cool. We sat in a booth, away from the half-dozen other patrons, and a waitress came over to take our orders. She was Chinese, and she reminded me

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