Whitman walked out to his car. He’d parked it underneath an old oak tree. He sat on a bench near his vehicle and opened the notebook. According to the notes taken by one of the deputies, Sue Ann had blonde hair, pale skin, full lips and an hourglass figure. Her hair was styled in the hip Bouffant style. From one angle she could’ve doubled for a poor man’s Angie Dickinson.
“Might as well start at the last place anyone saw her.”
He climbed into the car and drove to the Mosquito Holler. The juke joint wasn’t much to look at. White paint flaked off the siding, someone had attempted to build a wraparound porch but had stopped a quarter of a way through with the project.
A broken pier led off into a black watered swamp. Someone had tied a flatbottom boat at the end of the wooden pier. Cypress knees jutted out of the water. Whitman had arrived at twilight. Loud music came from inside. Two men threw punches at each other next to a rusted-out truck. He paid it no mind and made his way inside.
“How in the world is the interior in worse shape than the exterior,” Whitman wondered as he sat at the bar. An old man with a glass eye walked up to the counter.
“What will it be, friend?”
“I’ll have a glass of milk, please.”
“Milk,” the old man scoffed. “This is a beer joint, sonny. It ain’t a church.”
“You don’t have any milk? Fine. I am looking for Sue Ann.”
“Don’t know her.”
Whitman handed the old man Sue Ann’s picture. The old man nodded and poured Whitman a glass of milk.
“Yeah. She’s been around. I ain’t seen her this week though.”
“Can you tell me about her?”
“Yeah,” the old man said shoving the glass of milk at Whitman. “She’s loud, obnoxious, and not at all genteel. The gal fit in here. She didn’t seem to mind if the boys pawed her.”
“I heard she had married some ole boy.”
“Yeah, she and he split up though. Riley Hogan is his name.”
“Is he a regular?”
“Not here, he ain’t. He’s one of them well-to-do types. Always has his nose in the air. Sue Ann brought him in here one time. Acted like he thought he was better than us country folk.”
“You think he did it?”
“Killed her, sonny. You think she ran off?”
“I don’t know, that’s why I’m looking around and asking questions.”
“Look around, hoss. The swamp’s out back, chock full of gators, snakes, and diseases. We’re miles away from anybody else. She didn’t run away with somebody, that leaves killed.”
“Yeah, but look at her. Who’d kill a fine looking woman like her? Why would they kill her?”
“That’s the question, ain’t it? What did she know that would get her murdered?”
“Where did you see her last?”
The old man pointed at a small table in the back of the room. Shadows covered the table; Whitman could barely make it out in the low light of the bar.
“She sat back there when she wasn’t dancing. Two old boys talked to her most of the night. At one point they all got agitated, but she got them under control.”
“Did they leave together?”
“No. The two men left before her.”
“Do you know their names?”
“Can you describe them?”
“Both of them were over six feet. One had a long scar over his left eye. He wore an eyepatch that covered some of it. It looked like he got slashed in the war by one of those Japanese swords you hear about.”
“He seemed average.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, average looks and smarts. Not real tall, not real short. He didn’t talk a lot but wasn’t quiet. Average.”
Whitman downed the glass of milk. The old man watched him drink it and took the glass once he set it down. He ran water in the glass and put it in the sink.
“Did you notice anything else?”
“Both of ‘em wore suits, which ain’t nothing new. But Mr. Average had a gun. Again, ain’t nothing new. Still, he seemed like the kind of man who would not hesitate to use it.”
“For a minute there, I thought they were cops.”
“Why would you think that?”
“They seemed like hard men. Like they had seen the worst life had to show ‘em, and it hadn’t fazed ‘em.”
“Could have been military, or government.”
“Government knows better than to stick their nose around these parts. People don’t take kindly to being told how to live or what to do. As for the other part, look around. Most of these boys spent time on the islands. So did you by the looks of it.”
“Yeah. I spent some time over there.”
“I thought so. I’ve gotta get back to it, good luck on finding the dame.”
“Thanks for the milk.”
Whitman made the rounds and flashed Sue Anne’s photo. Most of the people repeated what the old man told him. Others shook their head and refused to answer. Their reluctance to answer didn’t bother him, he understood. Most of these folks had side jobs that fell into the grey category-if not all the way into illegality. To help him might bring heat they would rather avoid.
Still, he had a job to do. He pocketed the photo, pulled down his fedora and headed outside.
If no one inside had seen her leave, maybe someone in the parking lot did.
One of the men that were fighting when Whitman arrived sat on a tabletop. Blood poured from a cut above his right eye.
“Wasn’t no winner.”
“No? Y’all both seemed to give as good as you got. Well, never mind. Do you know this girl?”
“Why are you looking for her?”
“She’s missing. People are concerned about her whereabouts.”
“Yeah? Ain’t that something. No one around here gives a rip about nobody or nothing. Try again.”