Not even Price Hardware's retro magic, with its dangling fly strips, dirty light fixtures and earnest, faintly pungent, musty-tangy redolence of old wood and galvanized bins and their contents, nothing was working for Blow as he made his way along the floor's creaking planks past the unpainted counters and laden shelves toward the door in the rear. There was no one on the floor, either. Nearly noon. Elmer'd probably gone for takeout, leaving Homer in the back, or vice versa. The small, office window, which looked as if it hadn't been cleaned since Homer's grandfather inherited the place from his father, became redundant when Homer inherited the store and promptly installed a surveillance camera wired to a monitor on his desk. He'd left the small brass bell above the front door to announce customers' entrance with its candy-shop tinkling, as it had moments ago when Blow stepped out of the midday heat into a cool familiarity that as a boy invariably stirred his imagination with its adult, masculine ambience. Eventually, without his being able to pinpoint the change, Price Hardware would greet his entrance with a spirit of calming nostalgia. But not today.
"Hello!" He called out, instantly feeling foolish for thinking his voice could accomplish what the three-generational bell did not. It was then he understood how unsettled he'd become, letting his spooked imagination conjure something amiss simply because no one responded. As if that had never happened in the most casually run store he'd ever known. Not that understanding his state of mind subdued the visceral alarm warning him something bad was in the air, but despite the pronounced sensation of his heartbeat under the pale blue, cotton/polyester blend short-sleeved shirt (he'd left his tie and jacket in the truck) he was able to administer reason effectively enough to bump the roiling adrenaline-fueled dire speculations into a subordinate status.
For this he drew on improvisational reflexes he'd learned on stage as an actor and refined in the courtroom, where stakes were higher than merely disappearing before an audience and appearing an ass to fellow cast members. The trick was to recognize his greatest fear in the context. In a play it wasn't so much forgetting a line as it was forgetting the play itself--was he Willy Loman or Atticus Finch? In a play an actor could fake a coughing attack, a cue that he or she needed a cue from the prompt corner. Doing something like that, coughing, something neutral, generic, something ordinary, could keep the illusion alive. Failure to sustain that bubble of fantasy could ruin a performance, bring a play's early demise. On stage, few things summoned audience disbelief faster than awkward timing. Blow's performance in a courtroom could define the life or death of a client, and at the moment his challenge was shaping up to wager the presumed innocence of capital murder by Allen Bradley Morowitz III. At the moment these odds weren't looking so hot. And he knew the blame for his sense of impending catastrophe lay solely on him. He'd let Jamie Moriarty cloud his thinking with her perfumed suggestion Chip Morowitz was in fact innocent.
The question was why. What could be the advantage to her of leading him to believe ballistics would clear his client in the shootings? Buying time? With ordinary bullets maybe a few days at most, and then what? They weren't ordinary bullets, so there'd be no delay, and she had to know this. She obviously knew way more of what had happened than any outsider should know, so she must have known Blow would see through her ballistics story almost immediately. He didn't trust her, couldn't trust her, and she must know this, too. She was using him, that was certain. But how? And why? Had she killed the kids herself? Knowing her, even as little as he did, he knew this was possible, but why then show her face. Just to alert him? Set him up to represent her if Callahan were to stumble onto her and catch her? Which would mean she'd have to stick around for some reason, risking being made. This, too, was possible, knowing her as much as he did. He didn't trust her, but he didn't believe she was the shooter, either. She might know who was. Was it one of hers? Was it the "friend" she'd predicted he would end up representing? Did she or the friend frame Chip Morowitz, or did she know for a fact Chip Morowitz did the shooting? Either way, was it her intention to steer Blow from an effective defense? Could she be so arrogant? Did she so underestimate him? He wished it didn't bother him that she might.
"Uh!" Blow's sudden apprehending the large figure standing directly in front of him jolted his nervous system through to the heart. It was pounding in his chest when recognition came an instant later as he focused on the face. He'd halted his forward motion, but his open mouth and widened eyes betrayed the fright. Relief gave way to anger. "What the fuck, Homer? You scared the shit out of me! Why didn't you say something?"
Homer Price laughed, his voice higher than seemed natural for his massive build. "Sorry, Counselor. I thought you saw me. Didn't know you were sleepwalking."
"Yeah, right. You were hoping."
"Nah. You're not my type, Blow. Although that nickname's always made me wonder."
Homer stepped aside and motioned Blow through the door, then followed him and closed the door. The storage area stretched out in front of them, but Blow hung a right through the office entrance. He went straight to the small couch in a corner and collapsed onto its well-worn cushions. Homer lumbered around his desk to the padded swivel chair, which squeaked its welcome at his return. Seated, he lowered the lid on the laptop in front of him. "Bad day, huh?"
Blow nodded. The morning's aggregate of tensions had begun seeping away, and weariness was rushing in to take its place. He rested against a cushion, closed his eyes.
"Nah. Just came from the jail. Thought maybe you'd want to grab something at Marie's."
Homer stared at Blow a moment. "Elmer's at Luigi's getting a pizza. I'll tell him to get a big one. Sound good?"
Blow nodded. Homer pulled his cellphone from a holster on his belt, reached Elmer in time, set the phone on his desk. "The shootings?"
Blow nodded. "What do you know about it, Homer? I'm representing the Morowitz kid."
Homer's turn to nod. His face was grim. "I was there. Damned if it didn't look to be an execution. Never seen anything like it."
"You on duty?"
"On call. I was awake anyway. Heard the pager. Teach was just getting out of his unit when I pulled up."
Homer nodded. "Kid was rolling around in the grass, sobbing his heart out, gun still in his hand, finger still pulling the trigger. I heard the clicks. Teach had me cuff him while he checked the other two. Never seen anything like it."
They were quiet awhile. Blow broke the silence. "Still got your P.I. license, Homer?" Homer nodded. "I was hoping I could hire you for this one."
"Probly be a conflict now, Blow."
Blow nodded. "Yeah, it would--"
"Unless I resigned."
"You'd quit the auxiliary? You love that job, Homer."
Homer was staring at his desk. "Not that much, my friend. You're gonna need help on this one."
"You'd hafta testify as a first responder."
"No need for me to cross-examine, though, I can't imagine. Unless Teach lies on the stand. I could call you back for rebuttal."
"Everything seemed pretty straightforward." He rocked back in the chair, stared at the ceiling. "Teach is an asshole, but I don't see a problem last night. He cursed when he saw me. Knows I wouldn't lie for him."
"Only problem I see is Gobble trying to disqualify you as my witness. I might need you if something turns up down the road."
Homer turned his face toward Blow, moon face open, eyebrows raised slightly.
"Gonna need you to background these kids, find out what the hell was going on. My client says they were looking for pirate treasure. I'm having trouble buying that."
Homer thought awhile, nodding to himself, before he spoke. "You think he killed them?"
Homer shook his head slowly. "It doesn't look good."
Blow closed his eyes.