"You put some time in."
You bet. Took me couple hours before I gave it up and said nuts. I tried this whole area: Perdido, LA County, Orange, San Bernardino, Santa Teresa County, as far up as San Luis. There's no sign of the guy, so I figure he's dead or moved out of state."
I took a sip of my coffee, avoiding comment. The addition of milk and sugar made the coffee taste like a piece of hard candy.
Teddy tilted his head at me with an air of bemusement. "So you're a private detective? I notice you're listed as Millhone Investigations."
"That's right. I was a cop for two years, which is how I knew John."
"The guy's a cop?"
"Not now, but he was in those days."
"I wouldn't have guessed that I mean, judging from the crap he had jammed in that space. I'dda said some kind of bum. That's the impression I got."
"Some people would agree."
"But you're not one of 'em, I take it."
I shrugged, saying nothing.
Teddy studied, me shrewdly. "Who's this guy to you?"
"What makes you ask?"
"Come on. What's his real name? Maybe I can track him down for you, like a missing persons case."
"Why bother? We haven't spoken in years so he's nothing to me."
"But now you got me curious. Why the alias?"
"He was a vice cop in the late sixties and early seventies. Big dope busts back then. John worked undercover so he was always paranoid about his real name."
"Sounds like a nut."
"Maybe so," I said. "What else was in the bin?"
He waved a hand dismissively. "Most of it was useless. Lawnmower, broken-down vacuum cleaner. There was a big box of kitchen stuff; wooden rolling pin, big wooden salad bowl must have been three feet across the top, set of crockery bowls...what do you call it? That Fiesta Ware shit. I picked up a fair chunk of change for that. Ski equipment, tennis racquets; none of it in prime condition. There was an old bicycle, motorcycle engine, wheel cover, and some car parts. I figure Russell was a pack rat, couldn't let go of stuff. I sold most of it at the local swap meet, this was yesterday."
I felt my heart sink. The big wooden bowl had belonged to my Aunt Gin. I didn't care about the Fiesta Ware, though that was hers as well. I was wishing I'd had the option to buy the wooden rolling pin. Aunt Gin had used it to make sticky buns...one of her few domestic skills ...rolling out the dough before she sprinkled on the cinnamon and sugar. I had to let that one go; no point in longing for what had already been disposed of. Odd to think an item would suddenly have such appeal when I hadn't thought of it in years.
He nodded at the box. "Thirty bucks and it's yours."
"Twenty bucks. It's barely worth that. It's all junk."
"Twenty-five. Come on. For the trip down memory lane. Things like that you're never going to see again. Sentimental journey and so forth. Might as well snap it up while you have the chance."
I removed a twenty from my handbag and laid it on the table.
"Nobody else is going to pay you a dime."
Teddy, shrugged. "So I toss it. Who cares? Twenty-five and that's firm."
"Teddy, a dump run would cost you fifteen so this puts you five bucks ahead."
He stared at the money, flicked a look to my face, and then took the bill with an exaggerated sigh of disgust with himself. "Lucky I like you or I'd be pissed as hell." He folded the twenty lengthwise and tucked it in his pocket. "You never answered my question."
"Who's this guy to you."
"No one in particular. A friend once upon a time not that it's any of your business."
"Oh, I see. I get it. Now, he's 'a friend.' Inneresting development. You musta been close to the guy if he ended up with your things."
Copyright Sue Grafton. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher - Henry Holt
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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