There were three of us in the football coach’s office at the rear of the gym: Markey Waters and me and one of the security guards. It was fifteen minutes later and we were waiting for the arrival of San Francisco’s finest. Waters was dejected and resigned, the guard was pretending not to be amused, and I was in a foul humor thanks to a combination of acute embarrassment, some bruises and contusions, and the fact that I had no choice but to keep on wearing the gravy-stained remnants of the Santa Claus suit. It was what I’d come here in; my own clothes were in Kerry’s apartment.
On the desk between Waters and me was a diamond-and-sapphire brooch, a fancy platinum cigarette case, and a gold money clip containing three crisp fifty-dollar bills. We had found all three items nestled companionably inside Markey’s jacket pocket. I prodded the brooch with a finger, which prompted the guard to say, “Nice haul. The brooch alone must be worth a couple of grand.”
I didn’t say anything. Neither did Markey.
The owner of the gold clip and the three fifties had reported them missing to Security just before Waters and I staged our minor riot; the owners of the brooch and cigarette case hadn’t made themselves known yet, which was something of a tribute to Markey’s light-fingered talents–talents that would soon land him back in the slammer on another grand larceny rap.
He had had his chin resting on his chest; now he raised it and looked at me. “My kid,” he said, as if he’d just remembered he had one. “He get away?”
“No. One of the other guards nabbed him out front.”
“Just as well. Where is he?”
“Being held close by. He’s okay.”
Markey let out a heavy breath. “I shouldn’t of brought him along,” he said.
“So why did you?”
“It’s Christmas and the papers said this shindig was for kids, too. Ronnie and me don’t get out together much since his mother ran out on us two years ago.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. “And besides, you figured it would be easier to make your scores if you had a kid along as camouflage.”
He shrugged. “You, though–I sure didn’t figure on somebody like you being here. What in hell’s a private dick doing dressed up in a Santa Claus suit?”
“I’ve been asking myself that question all night.”
“I mean, how can you figure a thing like that?” Markey said. “Ronnie comes running up, he says it’s not really Santa up there and the guy pretending to be Santa threatened him, said he’d shove a pillow down the kid’s throat. What am I supposed to do? I’d done a good night’s work, I wanted to get out of here while the getting was good, but I couldn’t let some jerk get away with threatening my kid, could I? I mean, I’m a father, too, right?” He let out another heavy breath. “I wish I wasn’t a father,” he said.
I said, “What about the wallet, Markey?”
“The wallet and the two hundred in cash that was in it.”
“This stuff here isn’t all you swiped tonight. You also got a wallet belonging to a Mrs. Randolph Simmons. It wasn’t on you and neither was the two hundred. What’d you do with them?”
“I never scored a wallet,” he said. “Not tonight.”
“I swear it. The other stuff, sure, you got me on that. But I’m telling you, I didn’t score a wallet tonight.”
I scowled at him. But his denial had the ring of truth; he had no reason to lie about the wallet. Well, then? Had Mrs. Simmons lost it after all? If that was the case, then I’d gone chasing after Waters for no good reason except that he was a convicted felon. I felt the embarrassment warming my face again. What if he hadn’t dipped anybody tonight? I’d have looked like an even bigger fool than I did right now…
Something tickled my memory and set me to pursuing a different and more productive line of thought. Oh, hell–of course. I’d been right in the first place; Mrs. Randolph Simmons’s wallet had been stolen, not lost. And I knew now w ho had done the stealing.
But the knowledge didn’t make me feel any better. If anything, it made me feel worse.