Back up at the college library, more dog work. Fishing by phone,
Whitcomb school newspapers, Logger publicity materials. Computer
searches by Sue Masuren were started. Via a police connection of
mine in Berkeley, I learned Arlis "Arlie" Inman had an
expunged rap sheet, as they say. Charges filed and dropped, or suspended
sentences pending counseling, public service. The charges themselves
were a seesaw of minor and major. For some reason, Inman had not
gone directly into college after high school. The year he roamed
around as a civilian, working construction, indicated his range
of talents: shoplifting, trespassing, loitering, littering, petty
larceny, assault and battery, drunk and disorderly, disorderly conduct,
malicious destruction of property, all of them shuffled, reduced,
dismissed or suspended. However, his team bio stressed all the weightlifting
awards he scored that year. His personal lust for statues was fulfilled.
Some more boys will be boys charges floated up his freshman year.
Dismissed. His sophomore year at WU he redshirted. But just practicing
and no ball games apparently didn't occupy Arlie's mind enough:
vandalism, two disorderly conducts, speeding tickets, DUI, and sexual
harassment charges surfaced and were sunk without further trace.
Over those six redshirt months Inman gained sixty pounds, topping
out at two hundred and ninety, and scored a third-team All American
defensive end honor his junior year and second-team All American
And no charges were filed for those
two years. White as snow Arlie was.
No graduation for him, so his return
to civilian life proved a bump, as Coondog said. Two arrests for
disturbing the peace, plus a serious assault and battery popped
up; the last got him his most weighty suspended sentence in June.
I read that sentence as meaning no Whitcomb baby-sitter for Inman
A backwards fishing trip through newspapers
around the time of his assault arrest revealed he'd been farmed
out to a therapist for anger management as a condition of his suspended
sentence. A stroll through the public health records via Sue Masuren's
greymarket contacts brought up the fact that Arlie had been put
on SSI at the tender age of 24: so that meant a doctor or licensed
therapist had signed off for him on the Federal benefits.
I got the phone numbers for local
counselors and hit paydirt on the third one I called. I claimed
to have a hot need for Mr. Inman to sign an out of court settlement
and got the info that Arlie was indeed a client there, but due tomorrow
for a session. I apologized and said something about court dates.
Under the mistaken impression that she was talking to Inman's lawyer,
the clinic secretary said there was a problem with his billing.
Well, I'd try to help, and she gave me the number of his case and
then reminded me of his insurance carrier.
I left that info on Sue Masuren's
answering service and decided to stop dog work and try to make a
break. I only had one lever, but I was going to try to use it.
Once I got to the gym, Baumgarten's
secretary chased down Deacon Ulthus via some Betty calls to the
other secretaries around the school. She promised she'd get me a
few minutes with him, then directed me to cross the quad outside
her window and use the VIP lounge opposite her office to wait.
I'd almost decided to cool my heels
in the quad garden, when I thought I saw Deb Baumgarten in the lounge.
There was a bank of low windows about knee high that opened out
to let any garden breezes in along the length of the lounge. Today
they were swung out, reflecting the sun. Through the last two I
could see her reach for a diet Coke as she read a magazine.
I hung back in the lounge doorway
and squinted my eyes so her head was only a profile against the
bright windows. I was trying to fit that outline with the silhouette
I'd seen the night of Nock's death. I'd almost decided it was her
when she leaned forward. She was bent over, only the top of her
head and shoulders in my sight. From her arm movement, seemed to
be writing something. I thought for a second about how to approach
her, when my beeper went off. I turned to check it, and she was
up and off, coming across the room. I drifted over to one side,
holding up my beeper, and she hurried past, without acknowledging
Grey hair, sensible glasses, the same
face scarcely aged from the photo at their house. An slim, attractive
Mid-west matron in a pale blue cashmere sweater, white blouse, and
powder blue cotton skirt with stylish soft pink strands woven in
I thought for a second of stopping
her and asking about that night, but she seemed unapproachable right
then, so I got busy working out how I was going to play Ulthus.
After awhile Baumgarten's secretary
crossed the quad and told me that he was ready to see me for a few
minutes. I trailed along after her, still thinking about Ulthus.
When I opened the door to her office, I saw something glitter across
Along the bank of low open windows
only one sparkled, the last window. In a moment of panic, I thought
that shimmer was a tremor, earthquake, then I saw that it
was the sun, shining off the badly scratched window glass.
"Oh no, not again." Baumgarten's
secretary shook her head and crossed to her phone. "Look,"
she said cradling the phone to her shoulder. "Ulthus is in
his office. I've got to call our custodians."
"I know the way." I went
around her desk, thinking that I must have missed something. "What's
"More vandalism. The lounge,"
she said into the phone as I left her office.
Deacon Ulthus was busy, but he managed to squeeze me into a few
minutes of his time. "How's it going?" he shook my hand.
"You got your team interviews?"
"Oh yeah, a fine bunch of young
men you have there. Well-mannered. Very helpful."
"Well, some of them don't arrive
here that way."
"I wondered about that,"
I said. "Some of the fellas, well, they're not, uh, socialized
for--ah uh--need special handling" I waved at the greenhouse
behind him. "Like those plants in there."
He shrugged. "Our student athletes
leave here with some polish. And they know how to present themselves
and represent the Loggers."
"Yeah, whew, and that must be
a chore sometimes." I chuckled and he did, too. "Got a
couple. . . ." I shuffle through some sheets. "Couple
last minute names to track . . . ."
"How are you doing, I mean, on
the whys and wherefores?"
"Think it's some wild hair up
Alcel's ass--like you suspected. Something he jumped sideways on,
for god knows what reason, and probably's guilty about it now. It
happened between the time he left town and the airport."
He chuckled and so did I. Boys will
"Hey, at his age, life can do
a 180 in a second."
"Couldn't agree more," a
little impatient now.
"You know ah--someone ah-a player--called--a
player--" I held up Alcel's schedule, read it, then flipped
the sheet around so his eyes automatically looked at it, not me.
He was staring hard at the sheet when
the name hit. For a moment his eyes glazed over, he blinked, and
then he caught himself, went back to staring even harder at the
sheet, his eyes slowly going back up to the top, as if check it
again what the sheet was. There was a pause, then. "No, none
of our players that I know--"
"No Tiffster?" I paused,
disappointed. "These kids, especially the ones from the uh,
I mean inner cities, have a million nicknames. I got to talking
with Coondog--your booster--he knows all their handles, right?"
"Oh yeah?" Ulthus was uneasy.
"Uh huh, Coondog had hired or,
I mean, got Alcel that job in the Caribbean--"
"You have to take a lot of what
Brent says with a grain of salt. Like any other student Alcel applied
for that job and--"
"Coondog is some kinda Texan,
"Brent's proud of his kinfolks,
as we all should be," he allowed. "Now, if there's anything
There wasn't. I'd gotten what I came
for. Tiffster was a hot button for someone connected to this team.
Brent Cooner held court in the Redwood Lodge's bar, The Pink Elephant.
In the daylight all the walls looked wounded, and the place smelled
like a damp ashtray. When I entered Cooner waved me over while shooing
away his cronies, a crusty bunch with a wildcatter look about them.
"Oh my, have I just gotten an
earful about you," he said.
"How'd I get so lucky?"
"Speaker of the House."
"The Speaker's prone to exaggerations,
Mr. Cooner. It's part of his job description."
Cooner registered the name I used
and then laughed at that. "He's from Texas, too."
"Really? Never could tell that
by Willie's behavior."
Now it was Coondog who smiled at me.
"That environmental case that made your reputation? Cyber Dick,
or New Age Private Eye?'
"That case got our agency's name
in lights, all right." Cooner was referring to my lucky break
six years ago for my new PI agency right after I'd sold my concert
security firm. The case put our name on the map. A pulp mill near
the California-Oregon border was suspected of environmental crimes.
I'd bird-dogged an obscure shipping company until I proved the pulp
mill's illegal chemical dumping--involving not a small amount of
mercury. "I'm out of that business now."
"Well, shit, Roule, not before
that cost me some serious cash. I inherited a stock portfolio in
that sucker. Could have used those certificates for asswipe after
you got done."
"Then, as a self-made entrepreneur,
you could hardly miss those stocks. Not earning those dividends
yourself, hell, Coondog, that must have been a blot on your record,
Cooner regarded me with amazement.
"Cool one, aren't you?"
"Mr. Cooner, your daddy was in
the oil biz. He lost his ass regularly, as wildcatters do,"
I looked across the bar at his cronies, "so that speedbump
was hardly a novel sensation. You inherit these guys from your dad,
too? I expect you just redoubled your efforts to pump up the exchequer."
"You know, Beaux, you are right.
Verdict on that pulpmill hit Thursday, stocks were worthless by
that afternoon, the coffee tasted the same the next morning. By
noon I was back at bringing in the bucks, that Saturday night the
women were as horny as ever, and I went pheasant hunting on Sunday
"How'd you do?"
"What are you here for, Roule?"
"Know a Tiffster?"
Cooner was nodding even before I got
to the -ster of Tiffster. "That's not a player. That
might be Tiffany Rounds, Coach Baumgarten's daughter. Alcel didn't
have anything to do with her, as I recall."
"Yes, she's married."
"Yes, but I don't have her number.
Was there a connection?"
"Just cleaning up names that
surfaced, last minute ones I couldn't find."
"How's it look about Alcel?"
I shook my head. "I've charted
a pattern for his days preceding his disappearance. Seems nothing
unusual." I showed him the chart. He hardly glanced at it.
"Between him leaving Whitcomb and the flight from San Francisco,
I've got several leads. Get back to the Bay Area," Cooner nodded
his approval, "where I've got some San Francisco friends of
his to interview tomorrow morning," I lied. His eyes flickered,
but he covered up quick.
Outside the Pink Elephant I thought
about how Cooner answered my question. He knew I was going to ask
about the coach's daughter, Tiffany a.k.a. the Tiffster even before
I got her name out of my mouth. And The Speaker of the House didn't
tell him that. Ulthus did. Coondog'd been talking to Ulthus on the
phone before I arrived. Seemed like everyone was talking to everyone
else but to me.
Because of business in San Francisco,
I only had time for the service early that morning. The post-mortem
report stated Nock's death was accidental trauma, not drowning,
and he was legally drunk. The morgue released Nock's remains for
shipment to his funeral in Kansas City. No public notice of a Whitcomb
service, but for twenty bucks a morgue attendant said that it'd
be a private one. When I eased into the back pew of the mortuary
chapel, the service was half over. There was a small crowd of large
guys in the front three rows. obviously from the team. After two
fumbling, awkward remembrances from players, Nock's widow, Tiffany
Rounds, gave her eulogy. She was dressed in black, with a big veil
that looked like it belonged to someone else's widow weeds.
"The Nockster was the funnest
guy I ever met," she started, sweeping back her veil. In the
harsh morning light her face looked flat and garish, her makeup
better suited for some other time of day. "Nockster never got
in the dumps, never let himself get too low or too high. But he
had really deep feelings."
Her voice was slightly adolescent,
a little breathless, and I moved forward a few rows, for a better
look at her.
"The Nockster, hey, would never
know where to stop, though, having fun. But it was . . ." She
looked down, as if seeking strength. From the Just One Man
promotional videos I recognized the gesture as her father's. "It
was work hard, play hard. And tell you another thing, though. This
is what the Tiffster says. Word. Nockster went out . . ." she
smiled, "having fun, testing himself. And that's the way he
would have wanted it."
There was shifting and murmurs in
the front rows. This wasn't what they wanted, obviously.
"And listen up, this is what
the Tiffster says. When Saint Peter standing there at the gate,
the Nockster's gonna say, Raise that bar a little higher.
The Nockster's gonna say, Saint Peter, lift that bar one more
once for the Nockster. Cuz I'm ready, but don't mind another challenge!"
There was a dead silence as she scanned the front rows, waiting
for a response. "I mean, he wanted to go out flying,
he told that to the Tiffster, . . ." she faltered, "like,
his ashes thrown from a plane or something."
To her left was the funeral director
beside a woman, slim, older, in a dark blue skirt and jacket. She
was rocking two kids back and forth in a double stroller. Deborah
Baumgarten. She looked at the Director and he took the stroller
and trundled the kids out a side door when they started to cry.
Tiffany Baumgarten bowed her head, lifted the veil back into place,
stepped once to the side, then rushed out the side door past her
mother. Deborah looked around the silent front rows, a tic of a
smile jerked at her lips, then she turned and left. There was an
awkward moment when nothing happened, then an usher scrambled forward
as music started, indicating where the line formed for the viewing.
I started down the aisle for the side
door when this guy slid in front of me. He was one of Cooner's wildcatter
buddies from the Pink Elephant, only dressed in a gray suit with
a black tie.
"Private services, brother."
Two hands came up to push me back. "So, sir, if you would--"
and he stumbled past me as his hands got nothing but air.
I was already hustling for the rear
double doors of the chapel. But the right door was locked. I tried
the other side. It was locked, too. Cooner's pal was watching me,
an easy smile on his mug. I knocked. No one came. Cooner's pal smiled.
"It's locked," I said to
There was a silence. The mourners
were filing past Nock's casket and then they formed a football huddle,
holding each other's hands as they bowed their heads and prayed.
Cooner's pal looked at his wristwatch as if timing how long I was
"Give it two short raps,"
I did. The right side of the double
door opened. Another of Cooner's guys was there, looking sly at
me. I went outside and around back. But Tiffany, Deb, and her kids
were long gone. There wasn't anything for me to do but leave.
On the drive south, I mulled over
the weirdness of that funeral service, the sullen silence after
her pep rally style eulogy, the way Tiffany referred to herself
in third person, and decided to stop in at Sacramento. I called
ahead to Mrs. Robinson. In the clinic's employee lounge I filled
her in on what I found in Whitcomb: Brent Cooner, Wilbur Nock, and
the coach's daughter Tiffany. She said that Alcel had never mentioned
Tiffany or Wilbur Nock or squealers. Or Nock harassing Alcel.
"He never talked football with
me. I was always worried about him getting hurt. I see too many
accidents here every day. I know what a cracked sternum means in
I asked her if she could do something
for me. She said she'd surely try. I showed her the names, phone
numbers of Voree and Geneva, Alcel's girlfriends, plus dupes of
their interview tapes along with one of my field tape recorders.
I asked her to drive to Whitcomb that weekend and tape new interviews.
Make up a different questions from mine, including some about Tiffany.
"What I'm looking for is their
take on Tiffany, or her and Alcel. With me Voree and Geneva were
formal. Maybe talking with another woman, his mother, they'd loosen
up a bit."
"Well, this seems a stretch."
"These two women have, as near
as I can tell, no other group of young black men except the athletes.
Whitcomb's mostly white, as you must know. So there's no percentage
talking to me. Both claimed they weren't upset when Alcel left,
but they knew as well as you did about those temptations on the
beach. Now, there's no sign of any foul play, or anyone being pissed
off at your son enough to anger him or attack him. Alcel got connected
to Tiffany somehow, in someone's mind. It was alleged that Alcel
was harassed for being linked with the coach's daughter."
"Who said this?"
"The most unreliable source I
met in Whitcomb. Take your daughter Rasheedi to break the ice. Say
you're picking up some of Alcel's stuff in storage."
Mrs. Robinson eyed me in that hardass
way of hers. "You're putting me on a fishing expedition."
"Did you call the Speaker of
Another one of her silences. It was
as stony as her eyes. "Yes, I said I would. He's informed and
"Good. Then you are covered up
in Whitcomb as much as I am." I let that idea sink in before
going on. "I'm saying the clock is ticking. Any favors Whitcomb
guys owe the Speaker are almost done. Something between Alcel and
Nock is not getting said by anyone. Brent Cooner's sidekicks made
sure I never got near Tiffany Rounds to find out what it was. Either
the coaches made a mistake or she was the cause of Alcel getting
harassed in spring training. And only this ex-football player Arlis
Inman, a.k.a. Arlie?" Mrs. Robinson shook her head that she
didn't know him, "was the only one not coached about
what to say to me."
I showed her the team photo from Inman's
house of him and Alcel. Mrs. Robinson confirmed that Alcel never
mentioned Inman or Tiffany Rounds and asked me why this guy was
"The guy's cooked on body building
drugs. On SSI. Never be believed in court. But he volunteered
that this squealer routine was a mistake. He didn't say if it
was a mistake for Nock to harass Alcel. Or if it was a mistaken
belief that Alcel ever had anything to do with Tiffany. He's all
She was still balking.
"Look, Mrs. Robinson, I'm a guy.
These women will talk to you about what, if anything, was going
on between Alcel and Nock. If there's jealousy, that's motive for
harm. If Alcel got angry over his treatment, someone may have hit
I waited. She thought this over.
"Alcel usually date more than
one woman? It's a small pond."
"My son never went steady with
either woman. That may be what they wished, but he dated
both." She reached across the table and put a fingertip on
the knuckle on my right index finger. "Ever do something like
that, Tebeaux, double-dipping?"
"I'm not judging him, I'm--"
"But have you?"
"Hmmm, thought you might."
She mulled this over some more, then agreed to do what I asked.
"I'll be up to Whitcomb this
weekend, too. Phone me about where you're staying."