Undercurrent (The Nameless Detective)

Undercurrent (The Nameless Detective) by Bill Pronzini Read Free Book Online

Book: Undercurrent (The Nameless Detective) by Bill Pronzini Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bill Pronzini
chance."
    "If I knew at least that much," she said, "I might be able to feel something. I don't feel anything now. I mean, I feel numb now. I can't cry anymore and I can't think any more."
    I said nothing; what can you say?
    Seconds went by, like furtive footsteps, and then she said, "I have to know. I don't think I can live with it if I don't know why he died."
    "You have to live with it," I said, "with or without the answer. You can't hide from it and you can't run away from it."
    "I know. I . . . know."
    "What will you do, later on? Will you go back to Idaho?"
    "I suppose I will. I have nowhere else to go."
    "Do you have family there?"
    "Yes."
    "They'll make it easier for you, if you let them."
    "Thank you, I know they will."
    I felt uneasy. "I didn't mean to preach, Mrs. Paige."
    "No, you're being very practical. I need that just now."
    I wanted my first cigarette of the day, but tobacco smoke would have been as inappropriate in there as the sunlight. I said, "Did the police ask you about the man I saw with your husband yesterday?"
    "Several times."
    "You don't know him, then?"
    "No. I'm very certain I don't."
    "And you've never seen a man of that description?"
    "Not that I can recall."
    "Did your husband mention Cypress Bay at any time?"
    She moved her head slightly in a negative way. "I had no idea there was such a place. I had to ask the officer who came last night where it was."
    "Did he keep an address book—your husband?"
    "No. Walter was . . . well, nongregarious. We didn't have very many friends, you see."
    "Was there anything in his effects?"
    "Chief Quartermain didn't tell me if there was."
    I could not think of anything else of pertinence to say, and she would not want small talk of any kind. I put my hands on the arms of the chair—and I remembered then, for no particular reason or because it had been in the back of my mind all along, looking for a rational escape, about the paperback mystery novel I had seen in Walter Paige's overnight bag. I put voice to the recollection, and then I said, "Did the police ask you about the book, Mrs. Paige?"
    "No, they didn't say anything about it. What kind of book is it?"
    "A mystery novel—a thing called The Dead and the Dying by Russell Dancer."
    "The dead and the dying," she said. "That's very appropriate, isn't it?"
    "No," I said. I did not want her feeling sorry for herself. "Have you ever seen the book?"
    She sighed. "I don't think so."
    "Did your husband read much mystery fiction?"
    "He didn't read any, that I know of."
    "Was he a collector or accumulator of books?"
    "No. He didn't seem interested in them at all."
    "That makes an odd point, then."
    "Do you think it might be important?"
    "I don't know. Probably not."
    "I don't see how it could be."
    "Neither do I," I said. "Still, the book is fifteen or twenty years old—and it isn't common for someone to have a paperback of that vintage unless he collects them or reads enough to frequent secondhand stores."
    "Should you tell the police about that?"
    "I think it would be a good idea," I said. "I have to see Chief Quartermain today and I'll tell him then."
    She nodded quietly.
    "Were you told when you could leave Cypress Bay?" I asked.
    "Not exactly. Chief Quartermain asked me to stay until he makes a more thorough investigation. They're paying for this room, he said. It's a nice room, don't you think?"
    "Yes. Look, Mrs. Paige, I'll be here for a while too. I could drive you back to San Francisco if you like, when the time comes."
    "Yes, I'd appreciate that. Thank you. You've been very nice about everything. I only wish you hadn't had to get involved in a thing like this."
    There was no irony in her words, but I could feel an irony just the same—hot and sharp and virulent. I got up on my feet. "I'd better be going now," I said. "Will you be okay here?"
    "Yes. You mustn't worry about me."
    Somebody was going to have to worry about her—for a while anyway, until she got home to her family in Idaho. I said, "If you

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