The window groaned when I opened it, letting in the night fog to ease the stuffiness of the place.
“You live here?”
“Why? Did you take a vow of poverty?”
“I never had to take a vow; I was born to poverty.”
“Your dossier said you have a rich aunt?”
“Adelle Wilson. She owns Grayling Motor Freight. This isn’t it. Its a big complex in Oakland. This is just a little outfit she bought out about the same time I came to San Francisco, which she runs as a local annex to the main business. I needed a job and a cheap place to live; she gave me this room and a job as a night watchman. It was ideal. No rent to pay, a small salary, and all I had to do was be here from ten at night to six in the morning. I made rounds a couple of times a night and responded if an alarm went off. Otherwise I could study or sleep.”
I pulled the blanket off the mattress and whipped the room with it. For a minute, the dust filled the air, but cross ventilation carried most of it out the window and made the place more habitable. Ed Wilkes sank down on the sofa while I went through the cupboards and found an unopened can of coffee. I set water to boiling. “If you want to stay here tonight you can sack out on the sofa. I have a sleeping bag you can use.”
“OK. We need to make some plans.”
I plugged in the ancient refrigerator and put water in some ice cube trays. “Excuse me while I’m being domestic,” I said. “The place isn’t very complicated. I’ll have everything that matters running again in a minute.”
Ed looked around and shook his head. “Seven years?” he said.
I filled the filter cone with coffee and poured in boiling water. “Yes. You read my state department documents, so you know that I dropped out of high school to enter the Army.”
“At age sixteen.”
“I was only a month shy of seventeen and those days the Army was pretty unpopular. It was only a short time after Viet Nam. You could still get in if you were upright and breathing.”
“Homemade. It wouldn’t have worked if the recruiter hadn’t had a quota he couldn’t fill.”
“You were in the Army three years out of a four year enlistment. You went out on a medical discharge. How is your knee these days?”
I looked at Wilkes. He was amused. No doubt he had some idea of the truth. I said, “As good as can be expected.”
There was nothing wrong with my knee; never had been. And I was sure Ed knew that.
“How is Sgt. Davenport?”
“Still in prison, as far as I know. I haven’t had any contact with him since I last saw him in Germany.”
“We should talk about him some time.”
I handed Ed a cup of coffee and said coldly, “No, we shouldn’t.” more tomorrow