“I don’t know, hoss. You should get on down the road, ‘fore something bad happens to you.”
Whitman’s mouth tightened into a hard line, and his eyes went cold. The man noticed the changes and put his hands up in mock surrender.
“I didn’t mean nothing by it, you know, I was just joshing you.”
“You seemed rather serious about me getting hurt. Is there something you want to tell me?”
“No, sir. I didn’t see anything…”
“Well, you just implied you knew someone who would hurt me if I kept asking questions, tell me who it is so I can talk to them.”
“No, sir. If you’re looking for trouble, you’ll find it on your own.”
Whitman watched as the man walked away from him. The man got into a rust-colored truck. Whitman waited until he fired it up before he got into his car. He followed the man to a metal shop on the corner of Fulton and Florence.
A man in a black suit walked out and leaned close to the window of the truck, Whitman had parked too far away to hear the conversation. The man in the suit nodded and slapped the roof of the truck. He walked back into the metal shop, the truck pulled out of the dirt driveway and Whitman followed him.
Ten minutes later, the truck parked in front of a mobile home, Whitman drove past. Several mobile homes were lumped together in a semi-circle. Hammocks hung between trees, picnic tables, and fire pits were visible when Whitman passed by.
A tall wooden fence blocked anyone from seeing too much of the compound. Two burly guards stood outside the gate. They seemed interested in Whitman’s car, and he noticed one wrote down his license plate. Whitman noticed a gravel path led from the community to a large dirt parking area. Shrubbery and a mixture of trees made it hard to discern from the main road.
Whitman drove on and headed back to the police station to brief Sheriff Lancaster. While he drove back, Aldrich thought about the few things he’d noticed about the case. A lifelong native of Mississippi, Aldrich knew that cathouses were nothing new. Just because they lived in the Bible Belt did not mean that the selling of flesh did not happen here. Maybe the Sheriff could explain why one such place had popped up in his town. Aldrich would love to hear his explanation.
He pulled into an empty parking spot. The only available one rested in front of the drug store that doubled as a barbershop. Whitman walked in. Three chairs were lined up in front of a large mirror, an old man looked up as Aldrich approached him.
“You need something, young’un?”
“A trim and a shave, if you have time.”
“I’ve got more time than money, son. Have a seat.”
The old man ran hot water in a bowl and dipped his brush in it. He lathered shaving cream on Aldrich’s face and told him to lean his head back. He took the straight razor in his right hand and drew it down Whitman’s cheek.
“So, I don’t think I’ve seen you here before. Are you new in town?”
The barber nodded and continued to slide the blade through the cream, his movements smooth and practiced.
“What brought you here?”
“I’m looking for a girl.”
“Aren’t we all?”
A few strokes later, the old man took a hot rag and wiped the remaining cream from Aldrich’s face. Whitman looked in the mirror and ran a hand over his face.
“Thank you. That’s a fantastic shave.”
The old man poured tonic on his hands and rubbed them together, then he dabbed it onto Aldrich’s cheeks.
“You still want your hair trimmed?”
“Just box off the neck and make me look presentable.”
“No problem. What kind of gal are you looking for? There are several young women in town that are looking for a good man. Many of them were left alone because the men went off to war.”
“This one is missing. She disappeared the other night from a juke joint.”
“You’re talking about Sue Ann.”
“Yes, sir. That’s the girl.”
“The Sheriff’s not looking for her?”
“Uh, no sir. He hired me to find her.”
“Yeah, I reckon the Sheriff is far too busy to look for her. Besides, he wouldn’t want anyone to know he had a hand in her missing.”
Aldrich looked in the mirror at the old man. The scissors made a snip, snip, snip as the barber trimmed up the back of his hair.
“Don’t mind me, son. I’m old and crochety. Good luck on your search.” As an afterthought he added, “be careful who you trust around here.”