Drumbeat - Marianne
Drumbeat - Marianne
I WAS WRESTLING WITH the bedsheet and dreaming that the hum of the air conditioner was a plane taking me to Copenhagen or Katmandu, Valencia or Vladivostok, when the phone rang. Groping for it, I almost spilled the bottle of Jack Daniel's. The level of the sour mash had dropped below the bottom of the label, which was too much solitary drinking in the wee hours of the morning. "They'll put your liver on display in the Smithsonian if you don't cut it out," I said out loud. I was slightly drunk and feeling more than slightly sorry for myself. I picked up the phone on the fourth or fifth ring and said hello in the general direction of the mouthpiece.
"Mr. Chester Drum?"
"Yeah, more or less." I looked at my watch. It was a quarter after three.
"Are you Chester Drum or aren't you?"
"Speaking," I said, coming wide awake suddenly. It occurred to me that the only one who knew where I was staying was Marianne.
"Can you be ready in twenty minutes?" It was a man's voice, the English so devoid of accent that I got the idea it had been learned from language records.
"Ready for what?"
"A black car. Chevrolet." He pronounced the final syllable the way it was spelled-l-e-t. "We'll come for you in twenty minutes."
"What for?" I said.
"You'll be there," he said.
"What's this all about?"
"You'll be there, if you want to see Marianne Baker alive," he said. There was a decisive little click, and I was holding a dead phone in my hand.
I held the cradle down, fumbled for cigarettes with one hand, came up with an empty pack, dialed for an outside line and called Marianne's number on Riverside Drive. The phone buzzed in my ear six times. Then a boy's sleepy voice said hello.
"It's your Uncle Chet," I said. "Is this Wally or Chester?"
"Wally," he said. "Did you and Mommy have a good time?"
"We went dancing," I said. "Can I speak to her?"
"Just a minute," he said, and the phone went clunk and I waited. He was back in a few seconds.
"That's funny," he said. "She's not here."
"Let me speak to Mrs. Gower."
"She's gone for the weekend. We had a babysitter. She's nice. She lets us watch television late. They had a private-eye show, but it wasn't so hot. I know 'cause I got a real private eye for an uncle. Where's Mommy? It's Uncle Chet," he said, talking to someone else.
"Uncle Chet?" an identical eight-year-old voice said. "This is Chet."
My namesake sounded worried. "I thought I was having a dream but I guess it wasn't a dream," he said.
"What kind of dream?"
"There were two men talking to Mommy. They wanted her to go out. She didn't want to go out, but they made her. Was it real? Is that why she's not here now?"
"When were they there?"
"I don't know. After Mommy came home. I'm scared. Can you come over?"
"Not right now," I said. "I have to meet your mother somewhere."
"Oh." He sounded relieved. "Are you going to meet her?"
"That's right," I said.
"Uncle Chet's going to meet her."
"Can you boys go back to sleep? It's the middle of the night. We should be finished with what we have to do in the morning, but maybe we'll be late. Do you know where Mrs. Gower is?"
"She's spending the weekend with her sister in Brooklyn."
"Well, if we're not there for breakfast, can you call her and ask her to come back home?"
"Tell her you want her to come back home? Okay."
"That's a good boy," I said. "Can you also make sure the door's locked tonight and not open it for anybody except us or Mrs. Gower in the morning?"
"You sound very mysterious, Uncle Chet. Are you on a case?"
"Caper," the identical voice said. "They call them capers. Don't you know anything?"
"No mystery," I said. "We'll tell you all about it in the morning