Today's Reading

'Take a couple of hours on the sofa,' I told him, 'while I finish my dream about my aunt's cooking. And in the morning, bright and early, we'll go into my office and I'll make some calls. We'll find out who has Etta.'

'It's not going to be that simple,' he protested. 'You don't think I tried to find out who has her?'

'Maybe,' I said. 'But you're not a local hero. With a funny name.'

He didn't want to, but he cracked a smile. A little one.

'I could use a couple of Zs,' he admitted.

And the gun went away at last.

'OK,' I said, and finished my coffee.

'You're not going to rat me out, are you?' It was a tired question, not a worried question.

'I'm with Child Protective Services,' I told him. 'What do I know about escaped convicts?'

He smiled. 'More than you'd like to, that's my guess. But I'm too worn out. I'm going to trust you, which shows you how stupid I am.'

I got up. 'I'm letting a con with a gun sleep on my sofa. Who's the one with questionable judgment? You want a blanket?'

'In Florida in the middle of September? I want an ice bag.'

I smiled. 'You'd be surprised how cold it can get here.'

'I think my internal thermostat broke down.' He yawned. 'I was always either too cold or too hot. Now I don't care. Now all I want to do is find Etta and go away someplace nice. Like Montreal.'

That was it. I went back to the bedroom and fell asleep in under five. I don't have any idea what Mr Roan did. Maybe he dreamed about Montreal. Maybe he stayed awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering where his Etta was.

All I know is that when I woke up at eight the next morning, he was gone.


I figured on an easy day. In the office by nine a.m., a little paperwork and then a long lunch starting at eleven. Check back in at the office by two, and then down to Mary's Shallow Grave by five, in time for happy hour.

The office was a second-floor cell. Peeling paint, moldy smell, letters missing from the sign. My chair squeaked like a train trying to stop, and you couldn't see the top of the desk from all the manila folders. I did my best to make order, but chaos was boss.

By 10:03 I'd decided that Mr Roan was a ghost or a dream or some otherwise negligible apparition. Then, for no apparent reason, at 10:37 I picked up the phone. I had to look up the number for Lake City Family Services. I got a gravel-throated civil servant on the phone.

'Child and Family Services, Bannon speaking,' she rumbled.

'Moscowitz over in Fry's Bay,' I told her. 'Looking for placement information on an Etta Roan, should be eleven years old, mother deceased, father incarcerated. You placed her in foster care, don't know when.'

'Not me,' Bannon said. 'I just got here. From Tampa.'

'Still,' I said.

'Yeah.' She lowered the phone from her face and hollered. 'Etta Roan. Who did her? It's that Jew from over at Fry's Bay, the famous one. He's looking.'

There was a long silence in which I reflected on the dubious nature of being a notorious Jew. Until a man's voice startled me.

'Mr Moscowitz,' he said in a very lush tone. 'May one inquire as to the nature of your interest in the aforementioned subject?'

'Certainly,' I assured him. 'A relative traced her to Fry's Bay and asked me about her. I have no record, so I've been calling around.'

It was mostly true.

'Ah,' he said.

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