A bald man in a red and gray flannel shirt sat at the counter working on a big plate of food. A corp sat in a nearby booth, sleeves rolled up, sandwich in hand, peering at the screen of a minicomp.
A petite blonde server came around the counter, a smile on her face. "Table for two?"
"We're looking for someone," I said. "She came in this morning."
The blonde frowned. "I wouldn't know. I just started my shift two hours ago." Then her face brightened. "But I can get the manager. Charlie. She's been here all day. She'll know."
She went behind the counter and disappeared into the kitchen.
A few minutes later, Charlie came out from the kitchen wiping her hands on a dishtowel and stopped behind the counter. A sturdily-built fiftyish woman with a thick mane of curly blonde hair who seemed more at home wrangling large pieces of machinery than working in a diner.
"I'm Charlie," she said in hearty, trumpet-like voice. "Who's askin'?"
"We're friends of Val," I said. "We heard she was here this morning."
Charlie gave us an appraising look. "Edgerunners, huh?"
"Yeah," I said.
She nodded. "Val was here. 'Round eight o'clock." She gestured toward a booth at the far end of the diner. "In her usual spot."
"She's a regular?" said Mouse.
"Ayuh, she's a reg'lar," said Charlie.
"She met with someone today," I said. "Here."
"She did. Young fellah. Good lookin'--if you like 'em homely."
"Can you be more specific?"
Charlie thought a moment. "Tall and skinny. Had dark hair. Big nose. Wore black."
"When did he get here?"
"About half after eight. They talked. Left about half an hour later."
"Back onto Harbor," said Charlie. "In her car."
"Val's?" said Mouse.
"Auyh. Blue runabout."
"Did you happen to catch the name of the guy she met?"
Charlie shook her head. "Sorry." Her brow furrowed. "Is Val okay?"
"We hope so," I said.
* * *
On our way back to the loaner, Eddie called.
"Got a lead on your MBV buyer," he said. "Woman by the name of Ekaterina Olson."
I stopped. "A woman?"
"A woman," said Eddie.
"When did she buy it?" I said.
"Last week. Monday."
"Got an address?"
"Sure." He rattled off a street and number. "In Bayside."
"Can you do an info dump?"
"Yeah, but it'll have to wait a bit. Got something else to take care of."
"Call as soon as you have it."
I hung up.
When we got to the car, Mouse said, "How do we want to do this?"
* * *
Ekaterina Olson lived in Bayside in a two-story tract house with a front porch and a well-manicured lawn.
The door cracked open a few centimeters and a pair of eye peered through.
"Yes?" said the eyes.
A male voice.
I flashed a badge. "BCPD," I said in a professional sounding voice. "Is Ekaterina Olson in?"
"What's this about?" the eyes said.
"Better if we speak inside," I said. "May we?"
The door opened wider and the eyes turned into a thirtyish man, tall and skinny, and pale. Slicked back dark hair formed a widow's peak. Angular face with a hawk-like nose. Dressed all in black.
Wagner's description of his Mystery Man.
Charlie's description of the Smith that met with Val.
"Thank you," I said. stepping into the foyer. "I'm Detective Gibson." Gestured to Mouse. "My partner, Detective Sterling."
"I'm Sam Olson. This way, please."
Olson led us into a living room with pastel yellow walls, a cream-colored carpet, and floral print curtains. A beige couch strewn with tasselled throw pillows dominated one wall, flanked by a pair of wooden end tables, and a fireplace occupied the opposite wall.
Mouse and I sat down on the couch.
Olson stayed standing. "I was just about to have some tea," he said. "Would you like a cup?"
"No, thank you," I said.
Mouse shook her head.
Olson excused himself and stepped out.
We heard the clink of silverware from the kitchen. A few moments later, Olson appeared with a steaming mug cupped in his hands. He settled into the armchair across from us.
He took a sip from his mug, then said, "How can I help you, Detective?"
"Is Ekaterina Olson your wife?"
Olson gave a small smile. "No, Detective. She's my mother."
"May we speak to her?"
An odd expression flashed across Olson's face. Too quick for me to catch.
"She's out at the moment," Olson said. "Spending the afternoon with friends. Maybe I can help?"
"We understand she recently bought an MBV convertible from Fairchild Motors," I said.
"That's right," Olson said. "A silver one. Is there a problem?"
"We hope not," I said. "Right now, we're just trying to gather information."
Concern crossed Olson's face. "I see. I hope there's nothing wrong. It was a birthday present to herself, you know."
"Nice present," said Mouse.
"Birthday?" I said.
Olson nodded. "Her 60th. 'Elegance deserves elegance,' she always says."
The hairs on the back of my neck saluted.
I said, "An MBV is definitely elegant."
Olson inclined his head at the fireplace mantle. "Those photographs. Mother. When she was younger."
"May I?" I said.
"Be my guest," said Olson.
I got up and went to the mantle.
There were four old-style photographs, printed, encased in ornate wood frames. All were of a willowy, dark-haired woman with porcelain skin and an alluring smile, dressed in shimmering evening gowns. In each photo, she had a different pose, but held a big bouquet of flowers and wore a sash with the words "Miss Bay City" emblazoned on it in cursive letters, then a number: 00, 01, 02, 03.
She looked familiar for some reason but I couldn't place it.
"Miss Bay City?" I said.
"Beauty pageant," said Olson. "Four years in a row. Elegant?"
"Very elegant," I said. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Olson. We'll be in touch if we need additional information."
"I hope I was able to help," said Olson. "It didn't seem like much."
Mouse got up from the couch. "It was a good start."
"Maybe if you could tell me what you're looking for specifically I could be of more help."
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say," I said. "Not at this time. I'm sure you understand."
The expression flashed across his face again. Just like earlier. And then it was gone.
"I understand perfectly," he said.
"Thanks again," I said.
* * *
"It's him," I said.
We were back in the loaner, parked up the street, watching the Olson house.
"Olson?" said Mouse
I nodded. "I think he nabbed Val. Remember the note left on the MBV? It said 'Elegance deserves elegance'."
Her brow furrowed. "What about the car? Mommy bought it, but it was delivered to the White Rabbit for Val?"
"That's the part that's not making sense right now. But he does match the description Wagner gave us of his Mystery Guy. And he matches Charlie's description."
Then a thought struck. Goosebumps ran up my arms and a chill zig-zagged down my spine.
"Those old pictures. Over the fireplace Did you notice something?"
"Mother Olson looked a little like Val. Darker hair, but the same body type."
Mouse frowned. "You think he's got mom issues?"
"Not sure, but I don't like where this is going."
My phone chirped.
Eddie. I put the phone on speaker.
"Got it," he said. "You ready?"
(to be continued...)