The Silver Dollar was in Hamilton Township on a stretch of road that was clogged with discount stores and small strip malls. It was almost noon and diner patrons were scarfing down burgers and BLTs. I introduced myself to the woman behind the register and asked about Maxine.
"I can't believe she's in all this trouble," the woman said. "Maxine was responsible. Real dependable." She straightened a stack of menus. "And that business about the car!" She did some eye rolling. "Maxine drove it to work lots of times. He gave her the keys. And then all of a sudden she's arrested for stealing." She gave a grunt of disgust. "Men!"
I stepped back to allow a couple to pay their bill. When they'd pocketed their complimentary mints, matchbooks and toothpicks and exited the diner I turned back to the cashier. "Maxine failed to show for her court appearance. Did she give any indication that she might be leaving town?"
"She said she was going on vacation, and we all thought she was due. Been working here for seven years and never once took a vacation."
"Has anyone heard from her since she's left?"
"Not that I know of. Maybe Margie. Maxine and Margie always worked the same shift. Four to ten. If you want to talk to Margie you should come back around eight. We get real busy with the early bird specials at four, but then around eight it starts to slack off."
I thanked the woman and went back to my CRX. My next stop would be Nowicki's apartment. According to Kuntz, Nowicki had lived with him for four months but had never gotten around to moving out of her place. The apartment was a quarter mile from the diner, and Nowicki had stated on her bond agreement that she'd resided there for six years. All previous addresses were local. Maxine Nowicki was Trenton clear to the roots of her bleached blonde hair.
The apartment was in a complex of two story, blocky red brick buildings anchored in islands of parched grass, arranged around macadam parking lots. Nowicki was on the second floor with a first floor entrance. Inside private stairwell. Not good for window snooping. All second floor apartments had small balconies on the back side, but I'd need a ladder to get to the balcony. Probably a woman climbing up a ladder would look suspicious.
I decided to go with the obvious and knock on the door. If no one answered I'd ask the super to let me in. Many times the super was cooperative in this way, especially if he was confused as to the authenticity of my fake badge. There were two front doors side-by-side. One was for upstairs and one was for downstairs. The name under the upstairs doorbell read, Nowicki. The name under the downstairs doorbell read, Pease.
I rang the upstairs doorbell and the downstairs door opened and an elderly woman looked out at me.
"She isn't home."
"Are you Mrs. Pease?" I asked.
"Are you sure Maxine isn't home?"
"Well, I guess I'd know. You can hear everything in this cheapskate apartment. If she was home I'd hear her TV. I'd hear her walking around. And besides, she'd stop in to tell me she was home and collect her mail."
Ah hah! The woman was collecting Maxine's mail. Maybe she also had Maxine's key.
"Yes, but suppose she came home late one night and didn't want to wake you?" I said. "And then suppose she had a stroke?"
"I never thought of that."
Copyright © 1998 by Evanovich, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of St. Martin's Press, Inc.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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