Took some doing, but I finally found her little yellow trailer. It was squatted down under a drooping maple tree at the back of a scruffy trailer park somewhere in dead end Oklahoma. A cherub birdbath canted in the front yard and potted ferns straggled from the porch. I parked my car out by the mailboxes and sauntered toward the trailer, my fedora pulled low over my left eye and my snakeskin boots kicking up little clouds of red dust–the bloodhound hot on the scent.
Halfway up the driveway, the door of the trailer opened a crack and a woman’s deep voice came from inside, “That’s far enough.”
I stopped and held up my ID card. “Inez Frasier? My name’s Paul Michaels. I’m a private investigator.” I reached into my shirt packet for a business card.
“Wouldn’t do that if I were you.” The screen door banged open, and I was staring into the cold black eyes of a shotgun.
I darned near jumped out of my skivvies! “Jeez, lady, be careful with that thing. You could accidentally shoot somebody.” Sweat drizzled down my neck and glued my shirt to my back. “I just want to talk to you for a couple of minutes, that’s all.”
“Mind if I come up on the porch outa the sun?”
“Talk from right there.”
It took a few seconds to collect enough spit to speak. “Like I said, Mrs. Frasier, I’m a private investigator. About a year ago Mrs. Natalie Corvel hired me to locate her mother.”
No sounds came from inside the trailer, but the barrel of the shotgun now pointed more toward the ground than at my head. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and took my chances. “All I had to work with was a shoebox full of postcards my client received over the years. I have photocopies here if you would like…” The shotgun rose up a few inches. “Aw, come on. What’s it gonna’ hurt to listen to me for a couple of minutes? Jeez, I wish you’d put that thing down.”
“Okay, okay. You never lived in any of the towns where you mailed the cards, right?” I chuckled. “Real clever of you.” No response. Figured in for a penny, in for a pound. “So, are you Natalie Corvel’s mother?”
Up shot the barrel of the gun again. “That’s none of your business.”
“Au contraire, Mrs. Frasier. I make my living outa other people’s business.” I slid into my best Sam Spade voice. “Look, ma’am, I mean you no harm. I only have a couple of questions to ask, and I’ll be on my way.”
The screen door opened wider. A tall woman with grey hair pulled back at the nape stepped onto the porch and gestured toward a chair with the barrel of the gun. “Make it quick.”
I minced my way up the steps and sidled toward the chair. It wouldn’t do to startle either her or that gun. “If you are Mrs. Corvel’s mother, all she wants is to know you’re okay and where you are.”
Her face turned to granite. “That the only reason you’re here, Mr. Private Eye, to confirm your half-baked theory?”
I slid my business card onto the small table between us. “Well, uh yeah, unless we could reach some kind of, you know–arrangement…”
She barked a harsh laugh. “Uh-huh. I give you money and my trail miraculously disappears, that kind of arrangement?” She leveled the shotgun dead at me. “You get off my property, you gumshoe weasel. Get into that sorry-looking automobile of yours and get out of my sight, or I swear I’ll blow holes in your worthless carcass. I’m counting to three.”
I exited stage-left, churning out of there in a cloud of Oklahoma dust, not looking back or slowing down until I hit the highway. By the time my client acted on my information, Inez Frasier and her yellow trailer had vanished.
But ole Inez never missed a beat. Every so often she sends me one of her blasted postcards, knowing full well I’ll go prowling after her like some fool tomcat chasing catnip. She’s waltzed me across Oklahoma, Texas and even way up into Missouri.
This’s her latest card from some ratty little roadside reptile farm outside Anadarko.
You ever seen a two-headed snake, P.I.? I did once–he drove a hunk of junk Plymouth and wore lizard boots.