The woman's voice was full of the music of business.
'Mr. Stuart Blount is calling. One moment please.'
I hung up.
Cars were double-parked on both sides of Central Avenue, and I watched an Albany police cruiser negotiate the course like a Conestoga wagon up the Donner Pass. By Thanksgiving it could be in Schenectady.
Again. 'Donald Strachey?'
'We were-disconnected, sir. Stuart Blount will be with you in just a moment.'
I hung up.
The sky over Jimmy's Lounge was slate gray and a cold wind chewed at the crumbling caulking around the win-dowpane next to me. Five weeks after Labor Day and already winter was sliding across the state from Buffalo like a new Ice Age. I found some masking tape in the back of my desk drawer. I ripped off a long strip and pressed it against the grime where the pane met the frame.
'Mr. Strachey, this is Stuart Blount. I've been trying to reach you.'
'The damn line's been tied up. What can I do for you, Mr. Blount?'
'My attorney, Jay Tarbell, tells me you've handled missing-person type situations, and I seem to have been, ah, saddled with one. Perhaps you've seen it on the media.'
I said yes, I had.
'I'd much appreciate your getting together with Mrs. Blount and me to discuss the situation. You probably understand that the matter could develop into an extended time frame. Are you available?'
I pitched the Gay Community News I'd been reading for the past hour onto the sooty stack of Advocates and GCNs below the windowsill. Down on Central an old blue Pinto was stalled sideways in the middle of the street, and the midday traffic was backing up on both sides. A foot patrolman glanced over his shoulder and ambled into Jimmy's.
I said, 'I'll do what I can to clear out a block of time. How does next Thursday look?'
'In point of fact, Mr. Strachey, I was thinking hopefully we could do business sooner than that. I could work something out for this afternoon. As you know, we've got one hell of a problem situation over here.'
It was that, though Blount spoke in the tones of a man who hadn't exactly been unhinged by it if when all about you are losing theirs, grace under pressure, or whatever.
'I'll make some arrangements,' I told him. 'Where's your office?'
'Twin Towers, but why don't we make it at my residence? Mrs. Blount will, ah, wish to be present.' He gave me the address. 'Say, one-thirty?'
'I'll be there.'
There were two banks within close walking distance of Twin Towers on Washington Avenue. I phoned my lover's ex-roommate's ex-lover, who worked at the Mechanics Exchange Bank. He called back five minutes later with the information that there was no danger of my depleting Stuart Blount's checking account anytime in the current century.
I walked down to Elmo's at Central and Lexington and ordered a diet Pepsi and a roast-beef sub with extra meat. I wrote Elmo a check for the $2.93 and made sure I had a State Bank deposit slip with me for after I'd paid my call at the Blounts'.
They lived in a three-story neo-Romanesque brownstone on State Street overlooking Washington Park. The place was in the middle of 'the block,' which I knew well enough, if only from the street. The buildings had a solid Edwardian propriety about them, the sort of neighborhood Lady Bellamy might have visited if the Titanic had made it across. Those houses that hadn't been carved up into roomy high-ceilinged apartments for professional people and upper-echelon state bureaucrats were still occupied by families that were rich and, by and large, straight. In recent years my close contact with both groups had been relegated to mainly business.
The heavy oak door had a big oval of glass in it, beveled at the edges, with the name 'Blount' engraved in the center in a fancy script. The Blount family was not new to State Street.
I rang the bell and stood shivering on the stoop, wishing I'd worn a sweater under my corduroy jacket. I looked at my reflection in the polished glass and checked my tie, a pricey tan suede job that had been a gift from Brigit's mother back when she still referred to me as 'our Donald' and not 'that sneaking fairy.' 'I'd once tossed the tie in a Goodwill box, then bought it back a month later for thirty-five cents; it was the only one I owned, and it helped clients like the Blounts meet their need to take me seriously.
A muscular brown woman in a black dress and white apron led me through the foyer, past a ticking grandfather clock into a pale yellow room with a crystal chandelier. Over a walnut sideboard with silver candlesticks were portraits of two early nineteenth century types, a man and a woman, who looked as though they'd absorbed their Cotton Mather. The oriental scatter rugs on the polished oak floor had held their color, and my fee went up as I crossed the room.
The brown woman recited: 'Mr. and Mrs. Blount will be with you in just a moment,' and left.
Big Michael Korda fans, the Blounts. I seated myself on a winged mahogany-trimmed Empire sofa upholstered in deep-blue and off-white stripes of silk. Not a piece of furniture to take off your shoes and curl up on. I sat like a debutante with a teacup on her knee and looked out the bay window to my right and saw the exact tree in the park under which I had met Timmy Callahan. I smiled.
'Mr. Strachey-Hello! I'm Stuart Blount, and this is Mrs. Blount.'
He strode toward me from the foyer, moving like a clipper ship, an elegant hand coming out of the sleeve of a gray, chalk-striped business suit. He had a full head of wavy gray hair and a nicely chiseled face with the lines of age in the most flattering places, as if he'd picked up the design during a February golfing jaunt to the Algarve.
Mrs. Blount, a handsome, slim woman who could have been her husband's sister, wore a mauve dress of a style and cut that would not go out of fashion. Her movements had a calculatedly loose, finishing-school cockiness about them that came across as a kind of stiffness. She carried a small glass ashtray in her right hand and offered me her left. Her tanned and braceleted jingly-jangly arm raised up like a drawbridge, and she said 'Hello' in a voice that once must have been musical.
I declined Mrs. Blount's offer of 'refreshment'-the bank would be closing at three-and resumed my perch on the sofa.
The Blounts faced me from twin Chippendale chairs with lion's-claw feet across a glass-topped coffee table. My stained desert boots with the frazzled stitching were visible through the glass.
'You come very well recommended,' Stuart Blount said, nodding and trying to convince himself of something. 'Jay Tarbell tells me you have quite a reputation around, ah, Albany, and Jane and I are grateful that you could rearrange your affairs and consider our son's rather problematical situation on such short notice.'
I said, 'Luckily a hole opened up in my schedule.' I was ready to join them if they clutched their sides and shrieked with laughter.
'Well, we're very fortunate then,' Blount said, feigning credulity like a man who knew what was important, 'because you've certainly got your work cut out for you. The police have been searching for William for nearly a week now, Mr. Strachey, and they haven't so much as turned up a trace of the boy. However, it's my understanding that you'll have access to resources that the police are, ah, unfamiliar with, relatively speaking.' He gave me a strained smile. 'We're certainly hoping that you can help us out, Mr. Strachey. Can you?'