I had no problems with members of the opposite taking charge, better yet, taking care of the bar tab. I followed her out of the Alondra and into a cab that idled out front. I wondered how long he’d been there. I also wondered how predictable I had become that Benno could tell people where to find me. I made a mental note to work on becoming a little less predictable.
There wasn’t much need to take a cab in Barra unless you wanted a ride back to Melaque. Still, we whipped down the quiet streets, passed well dressed couples who peered into art galleries and glass shops. We drove under a row of yellow lights that glowed to life in the darkening town. A long shadow from a lone palm spilt across the road.
“I didn’t catch your name,” I said.
“That’s because I didn’t give it.”
“You know mine.”
“You will know mine soon enough.”
She gave the smallest of head movements toward the driver.
The place she knew was one of those joints with a huge wooden door and not a window in sight. Even the sign outside, barely readable, Arlos or Arcos, felt unwelcoming. It took a couple of moments to get used to the light, or the absence of it, before the room came into focus. A semi-circle of tables hugged the edges of the bar, only one other table had a couple at it. A man in a dark suit sat at the bar, stirred an ice-filled drink, and spoke in low tones to the bartender.
We took the table farthest away from the bar.
A pair of drinks appeared at our table. I picked out the smell of dark rum, most likely Jamaican. Each glass had four wedges of lime.
“You’re a regular then. What if I don’t like rum?”
“Mr. Fischer, my name is Cynth Forrester. Does that mean anything to you?”
I clawed back into my brain, something vibrated from faraway, down a distant hallway, something I’d read in a paper.
“No matter,” she continued. “If you don’t run in certain circles, and I am guessing you don’t, then you would not have heard my name. It’s most likely better that way, though I couldn’t tell you why.”
“What kind of circles?”
“I am the director of several art organizations in the U.S., and down here. My main office is in Oaxaca. I prefer it down here because I love the air and the pace.”
“Not to mention the limes.”
“Do you like art? Do you go to galleries, Mr. Fischer?”
“You can call me Luke. It feels less like I am being interrogated.”
“Why would you think that? Don’t you have this sort of conversation with your clients?”
“What is it you need?” I chugged back half the drink and didn’t hide my grimace.
“It’s my brother. He has helped me out in the past. Or more accurately, I’ve given him things to do. He doesn’t need to work, our inheritance was more than sufficient for his kind of life.”
“Who did you get the money from?”
“Our parents were partners in a large, and very successful law firm in Montreal.”
“Montreal?” I leaned in.
“Yes. Have you been?”
“Spent some time there. So what happened?”
“When I was just finishing my second year of college, and Jules had just graduated high school, there was an accident.”
“Jules is the brother?”
“Yes, he is my younger brother. It was a drunk driver, crossed the yellow line – it was quick, not that it matters. I am not sure why people always say that when someone dies suddenly, as if the speed of death would make it better. As both our parents were only children, there were no uncles, aunts or even cousins, and we were left by ourselves a fair amount. We had the occasional nanny or au pair, but mostly we were on our own. After their death, well, we were really alone. Completely.”
“Sorry to hear this.”
“If that’s fake sincerity, you’re fairly good at it.” She tapped the table like she did at the rooftop bar. “But yes, of course it was difficult, especially the first few years, but that was a long time ago. Both our parents loved art and were great patrons. I’ve tried to do what I can do honour that.”
She fingered the edge of her glass – something she wasn’t telling me.
“And your brother? Let me guess… he’s an artist. A painter I’m betting.”
“I suppose it’s not such a wild guess to think that, but yes, he did try his hand at painting. And sculpture, and printmaking, glassblowing, and even a stint as a tattoo artist.”
“Good at any of it?”
“Focus problems,” she said.
She was a hard one to read, the way she talked about her brother made me think they were close, but then an edge in her voice would slip through, and I started wondering again.
“Is he a drinker? Pot smoker, shooter, likes the nose candy?”
“Does anyone call it that anymore?”
“I’ve been out of the loop.”
She fished a pack of Virgina Slims from her tiny red purse, like a magic trick, her fitting it in there.
“I don’t suppose you’d like a lady cigarette?”
“Back when I smoked ‘em I’d take anything – even light one of those candy ones if I could get a drag off it.”
“The candy again.” She fired it up, the ember glowing bright in the blue-black room. “Well, good for you.”
“So what’s to say he didn’t head out on a binge with his buddies. Go up to California, or hell, with your two’s bank account, the south coast of France?”
“I didn’t say he was a drinker.”
“No, but I figured.” I downed my overly sweet drink. “Any chance I could get a beer?”
After a few hand waves, though I didn’t know how the server could see a damn thing in the cave of a bar, I had a Negro Modelo in front of me and bowl of house peanuts that weren’t even in the same food family as Jimmy’s. She ordered another lime, sugar and rum special. Seriously, the drink made my teeth hurt.
“So tell me what you know and what you’d like to know.”
“An interesting way to put it Mr. Fischer.”
I ignored that she still wouldn’t use my first name.
“The second one is easy. You want to know where he is,” I said.
“I suppose I should start with the last time I saw him.”
“That would help.”
“You’ll pardon my hesitation. The other detectives—”
“I’m not a detective.”
“Each of them gave me a line about how they could find anyone anywhere. I fell for it. But I won't again.” She glanced back to the man at the bar. His dark suit made him as good as invisible.
“You keep looking for someone. And then hoping they’re not there. What’s the deal?”
“I am just being careful.”
“Like taking me to the darkest bar in Barra? We should be talking in Russian accents and speaking about red crows at night.”
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“Just tell me when you last saw your brother.”
“There’s not a lot to say. He’d met a new group of friends in Oaxaca. Or he called them friends. Most likely they just wanted him along to pick up the tab. I’d asked him to read through some grant applications that I’d put through. He had a good eye, a decent editor, and picked out things I’d missed.”
“You could have hired anyone to do that. Seems like a bit of a throwaway. Make work project.”
“I know. And you are right. I wanted him involved, give him some sort of focus, to feel like he was accomplishing something.”
“But he just wanted to drink margaritas and chase senoritas.”
“He wasn’t like that. Why do you keep insinuating that?”
“Was he gay?”
“I think we’re done here.” She pushed her chair back hard and stood. The scraping raised a couple heads at the bar, including the dark suited one.
“Look, if you want to hire me to find someone, I’ll take a shot. Benno might have talked me up a bit too much. Though, somehow I doubt that. I can’t tell if you’re desperate or just not that bright. Running shows like you do, I’m guessing it’s the first one. I can’t make one dime of a promise that I can find your brother. But if you want to pay me, I’ll take it.”
“You’re honesty is showing.” She remained standing.
“Yeah, it’s a killer. School teachers and nuns really go for it.”
Next time in Surf City Acid Drop
She sat back down. I ordered another Modelo and got a refresh on the nuts. She nursed her drink and stamped out her half-burnt lady smoke.
“So he hung out with his new buddies. Nobody gay. Anyone check down in Oaxaca?”