Read Lady Yesterday Online

Authors: Loren D. Estleman

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective

Lady Yesterday (6 page)

BOOK: Lady Yesterday
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“I’m surprised I never heard of him,” I said.

“No reason you would have. He didn’t have the stuff to break the color line when it would have counted. What makes him important now?”

“Woman I’m working for just found out she’s Favor’s daughter.” I told him the rest of it, leaving out the threats against Iris. I didn’t know where they plugged into it myself, or if they did.

The stereo arm had swung back and switched itself off. He turned the record over. “This the same woman belongs to the bullet?”

“Yeah.”

“Why don’t these people go to the cops.” It was rhetorical. He turned the stereo back on and picked up his beer. “Try the union?”

“After I run down this Kitchen lead.”

Following the opening lick on the second side a woman’s voice came in, clear as grain alcohol:

I’m yesterday’s lady, tomorrow you’ll be too.

I’m yesterday’s lady, tomorrow you’ll be too.

Today this lady’s leaving, lose these yesterday blues.

“Who’s the singer?”

“A man’s name. Glen something. It’s on the label.”

The chorus was repeated and then the band came back on, Favor’s horn laying down background. When the side finished, John took the record off the turntable and held it out.

“ ‘Vocal by Glen Dexter,’ “ I read. “What happened to her, I wonder?”

“Went to dope and died happily ever after, probably.” He put it back in its sleeve and laid it atop the console. “What’s Joe Wooding like?”

“Old and scared and alone. His wife left him and he shut up her ghost in the house and moved into a trailer out back. He’s dying.”

“I thought he was dead already. It makes you feel cheated.”

“You’re starting to remind me of him.”

That shook him to his toes. He changed hands on the bottle.

“What happened?” I said.

“She says I never talk. What am I supposed to do, come home and say, ‘You’ll never guess who I found carved into four manageable pieces and individually wrapped in Hefty bags today’? Wives, they watch some bitch with a Ph.D. on television and think talking fixes everything. Last summer we body-bagged two husbands, a wife, and a family of three because they started talking. Must be nice to have a place like Flint to run to.”

I said nothing. He drank.

“I knew this prowl-car officer, Krebbs. Fat slob, his uniforms never fit him. Chief suspended him under consideration for dismissal after he weighed in at fifteen pounds over the limit, but he took his thirty years to the DPOA and got himself reinstated. He went through two wives in six years and there was talk he was shaking down some merchants on his patrol for protection. Everybody hated the bastard.

“Last month he was making an undercover arrest with some suits in a safe house on Fort Street when a rookie from the First Precinct battered his way in and opened fire, thought it was a heist. Fucking little hot dog firing birdshot out of a forty-four mag. Krebbs blew his head off, but not before the little fucker put two good detectives on permanent disability. Department held a hearing and dropped Krebbs from roll call like a hot rivet. They wanted to bring charges against him for manslaughter, only somebody in IAD had placed him under felony advisement and you can’t do both under the Constitution.”

“I read about it.”

“Week or so later Krebbs got drunk and ran his car into an abutment on the Jeffries. State cops said there was no sign he’d made any attempt to stop. A brother or somebody buried him in Wyandotte. No uniforms, no mayor or chief or inspectors at the funeral. He wasn’t a cop anymore, see. The little hot dog with the magnum got the works.

“We used to stand tight,” he said after a moment. “We used to stand tight.”

He took one last swig and stood holding the bottle, bouncing it a little in his hand as if getting ready to throw it. Finally he stood it on the coffee table next to the other empty. “Kind of get the hell out of here, okay? Today even a private badge is more than I can take.”

I got up. “Go skiing,” I said. “Build a snowman. Cut a hole in the ice on Lake Erie and drop a line in and sit down and wait. The inside of one of those bottles looks pretty much like all the rest.”

“I’ll go out in a little while.”

“Put the telephone back on the hook first.”

After a space he smiled. It tightened the flesh over his big facial bones. “It’ll drive the shrink crazy,” he said. “He’ll think I ate my revolver.”

I grinned back. “When’s this Lieutenant Thaler come on?”

“Six.”

“Will we get along?”

He was still smiling. “You’ll want to.”

I stopped in the office to polish off my report on Clara Rainey and made out an invoice and dropped them into a manila envelope for mailing. When that was done I unhooked the paging device that looked like an oversize fountain pen from my breast pocket and tested it. It squawked healthily. I called my service to ask if anyone had left a message. No one had. I decided to give Lester Hamilton some more time to go through those license plates and went to the Kitchen for supper. It was nearly dark out at five o’clock and loose grains of snow were beginning to swarm in my headlamp beams. I scrubbed frost off the inside of the windshield with the heel of my hand.

The little gravel parking lot was full. I found a spot on the street and went inside, brushing snow off my shoulders, and let a young man I’d never seen before in a gold Eisenhower jacket escort me to a corner table cut off from the rest of the room by a thick oaken post. It was one of a very few tables not already occupied that early on a weeknight. The place at night was noisy with voices and the ceiling was becoming mythical with a blue cigarette haze forming between the rafters. Somebody I couldn’t see fumbled with the microphone on the bandstand; an ear-splitting howl of feedback deadened the voices momentarily. I was about to ask the host to fetch Mr. Zelinka when music from Little Georgie Favor’s trombone introduced itself into the room like a cold cloud drifting.

7

I
DIDN’T KNOCK DOWN
the kid in the gold jacket or even push him out of the way. I went around him and stood in front of the bandstand, where a narrow white party in his late twenties was playing a silver trombone away from the microphone, circling his way around “Twelfth Street Rag” about two measures behind the usual tempo. He had lots of wavy brown hair to his shoulders that looked as if he combed it with his fingers and a beard that started just below his eyes and grew down his neck into his collar. The collar belonged to a blue knit pullover shirt under a rumpled white cotton jacket with the sleeves pushed up past his forearms. The rest was black chinos and prairie boots scuffed at the toes.

Behind him on the platform sat a soft fat young black man with white-framed glasses and a modest Afro, not playing a bass viol between his knees, and, behind a set of drums, another white man about the trombonist’s age who I thought at first was an albino. At a second glance he had bleached his straight short hair the color of water. He had his sticks in one hand but he wasn’t playing either, smoking a cigarette and reaching up from time to time to flick ash off the end without removing it from his lips. He had on a tight black vest over a ruffled pink shirt. The bass had breasts like a woman’s under a white T-shirt and rings of fat around his middle.

When the trombonist finished his lick he lowered the instrument and another man joined him on the bandstand, bounding up and seizing the microphone. He was short and solid in a tailored midnight-blue suit and a cinnamon necktie laid beautifully on a white shirt with a soft collar. His beard was gunmetal under his smooth dark face and his black hair shone like bent painted steel in the overhead spot. He looked like a Drago Zelinka.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Kitchen is proud to present the ice-cool jazz of L. C. Candy and Domino.”

That bought a round of applause, and the smooth number stepped off as the trio slid into “Lullaby of Birdland,” the drummer barely brushing the cymbals while the bass grunted and the trombone carried the melody. It sounded even more like Favor’s when you were standing in front of it.

“Mr. Zelinka?”

The smooth number paused on his way past and turned slate-colored eyes on me. He was older than he looked under the platform spot, about fifty; there were lines around his eyes and the flesh under his chin was starting to sag. I had eight inches on him, but he had spent a lifetime looking at men who were taller than he was and could do it without seeming to raise his chin. A muscle moved in his face when I introduced myself. “My office is in back.”

If he did any work there it didn’t show. The desk was polished white maple with an ivory leather top, a pearl telephone and nothing else on it. The walls were paneled in darker maple and soundproof quilting covered the door. It thumped shut on the music, cutting it off like the lid of a music box. I pinched out my cigarette and dropped it into a square woodgrain wastebasket mounted on wheels. It was empty otherwise. The room had no windows.

He circled behind a tufted leather armchair, ivory to match the desktop, and rested his hands on the back. “You wanted to talk about George Favor.”

“That’s his music outside,” I said. I stood in the middle of the neutral carpet with my hands in my pockets. His chair was the only one in the room. “Does Candy know him?”

“Just his music. He has every record Favor ever cut and he can play them all note for note, even the mistakes. The best make them, you know. The difference is after they make them they aren’t mistakes anymore. When Candy auditioned by playing three of Favor’s old standards I hired him on the spot.”

He spoke careful English without an accent. I guessed Hungarian, but only from his name. “Sweet Joe Wooding says Favor told him he sat in here sometimes.”

“I thought Wooding was dead.”

“A lot of people are going to be surprised when they read his obituary in a month or so. Did Favor sit in here?”

“You haven’t yet told me why you’re looking for him.”

I told him. After a moment he moved from in back of the chair but left one hand on it. He had large hands for a small man. One of them would have been enough to cover his face. “A few times, very late. Most of the customers who were still here at that hour could not have cared less, and I don’t suppose he did either. He just wanted to play. The musicians were glad enough to have him.”

“Candy wasn’t one of them?”

“He’s only been here a few months. He became excited when I mentioned Favor used to come in here and play. He asked me all kinds of questions about him, most of which I couldn’t answer. He’s a true fanatic.”

“When did Favor stop coming in?”

The midnight-blue suit moved becomingly with his shoulders. “The nights blur together. How long does it take to notice that someone has stopped coming around? Two years ago, three. He couldn’t have been doing it more than six months, and only eight or ten times then. It wasn’t as if he were a regular.”

“When Wooding saw him four years ago he told him he was playing here.”

“It could be three. The nights all blur together as I said.”

“You never heard where he went?”

“I assumed he died. He didn’t look healthy at all and his wind wasn’t too good. One solo to a set was as much as he could manage, and he had to sit down and wheeze between them.” He paused. “I wasn’t all that unhappy when he stopped coming in.”

“I guess a dead man on the bandstand doesn’t do much for business.”

“It wasn’t that. The musicians’ union looks very darkly upon performers playing anywhere for free. I could have been picketed.”

“Favor might not have been a member.”

“That would have been even worse.”

I took my hands out of my pockets. “Thanks for your time, Mr. Zelinka. Would it be all right if I spoke to Candy?”

“I don’t know what good it would do. I said he wasn’t here then.”

“You also said he worships Favor. I can use anything worth knowing about the man I’m looking for, including his taste in ice cream. Who would know but a fan?”

“Fudge ripple. Or at least it was in the fifties. I don’t know what it would be now.
Downbeat
hasn’t written about him in thirty years.”

We were sitting at my table by the ceiling post. The band was between sets, and Domino—the black bass man and the artificial albino—had left the platform, probably to share a wrinkled brown cigarette in the alley. Unlike Zelinka, L. C. Candy looked even younger away from the spot, about twenty-five, and he had the fresh shallow voice of a teenaged boy. A glass of Pepsi Free stood on his side of the table with ice in it and nothing else. He didn’t smoke and I’d have bet my next car payment he never took dope. The new generation of musicians took some getting used to. I said, “How is it you know what
Downbeat
wrote about him thirty years ago? Your father would have been in high school.”

“I got every issue that ever mentioned him, also Louis and Bird and Roy Eldridge. His records too, all fifteen of ’em.” He sipped his Pepsi and crunched some ice. He had bright eyes that got brighter when he talked about Favor.

“You must’ve started early.”

“Two years ago March. That’s when I heard one of his records for the first time on the University of Michigan station. Dark ages for me, man. I was playing backup for the Pelicans in Ann Arbor.”

“Never heard of them, sorry.”

“You didn’t miss anything. At the end of each concert we set fire to our instruments.”

“You put out your trombone in time.”

“I was playing guitar then. I went back to the ’bone after I heard Little Georgie. Rock’s all gone to shit, but jazz—well, it’s forever, man, you know what I’m saying?”

“You’re not on the bandstand now,” I said.

“Yeah. Shit. They expect us to talk like that. I’ve got an M.A. in Performing Arts and they want me to sound like I flunked gym.” He picked up the straw he had taken out of his glass and bent it. “So you’re working for Little Georgie’s daughter? What’s she like?”

“She’s the best. You didn’t know Favor used to play here before you auditioned?”

“It’s not really such a coincidence. There aren’t that many jazz places left in Detroit. The town’s like that, always following the trend that’s just past. When R-and-B was big it went Motown, and now that jazz is back it wants punk. Disco, don’t even talk to me about disco. I got another set to do without throwing up.”

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