circular and asked for Omar Lockhart. 'I'm sorry, sir, but Mr. Lockhart is on business in San Diego,' the secretary said. She recited a phone number and an address for a motel on Ortega Road where he could be reached. She asked him to hold the line. Carr placed his hand over the mouthpiece. 'Lockhart's staying in a motel just up the street from the one where Luegner's fiasco went down,' he said. Kelly wore a puzzled expression.

A man with an authoritative voice came on the line. He introduced himself as the chairman of the board. Carr told him about his visit from Lockhart. He explained about the search for LaMonica and the discovery of the printing press.

'What does this fugitive look like?' the chairman asked.

'Gray-haired guy with a missing little finger on his left hand,' Carr said.

A brief silence. The chairman moaned. Briefly, he explained what Lockhart was doing in San Diego. 'Would this counterfeiter you're looking for involve himself in such a scheme?' he said.

Carr looked at the ceiling. 'I'd say that was a definite possibility.'

'I'll have Mr. Lockhart get in touch with you,' the chairman said, a note of urgency in his voice. He hung up.

Carr chortled. 'It sounds like LaMonica just sold a load of phony traveler's checks to the Travelers Chexcompany itself. He sold 'em a bill of goods that the package was left over from one of Freddie Roth's old printing runs … and they paid him fifty thousand dollars.'

'Maybe the company preferred to take the loss all at once,' Kelly said. 'Less paperwork!' The cops broke into hearty laughter. Rodriguez slapped his knee.

As soon as he caught his breath, Kelly said, 'Where will LaMonica go now that he's made the big money?'

'Maybe he'll come right back here,' Carr said. 'He knows the heat is on for him across the line.'

'On the other hand, with that much money he could pretty much pick and choose his hideout,' Kelly said.

'Good point,' Carr said.

Lockhart paid for his room with a traveler's check (all company executives were required to do so on company business — 'Avoidance of Possible Adverse Publicity' the memo had been entitled). While checking out, he chatted amiably with the clerk, a mature woman wearing a flowered dress that fluffed over meaty thighs.

The switchboard buzzed. The woman picked up the receiver. 'You just caught him,' she said. 'He's standing right here in front of me.' She handed Lockhart the receiver.

It was the chairman.

'I'm glad I caught you before you left,' he said angrily. 'I just took a call from a U.S. Treasury agent named Carr-'

'Yes sir, I've met him,' Lockhart interrupted.

'That's nice,' continued the chairman. 'He told me some interesting things about a man named LaMonica, a counterfeiter. Seems that this LaMonica may have recently printed up some of our traveler's checks. Carr has evidence that he uncovered down in Ensenada.'

'I'll follow up on that immediately, sir,' Lockhart said. 'Since I'm so close to Mexico, I'll just drive down and gather the pertinent details in person.'

'Before you rush off,' the chairman said, 'you might like to know that this counterfeiter is a gray-haired man with a missing finger on his left hand.'

Lockhart felt a rush of heat spread across the back of his neck. The phone felt slippery, he could barely hold it in his hand. He wanted to gag. Nothing was said for a while.

'Are you still there?' the chairman said.

'Yes sir.'

'Please don't tell me that you've already bought the checks, Omar. Please don't tell me that,' the chairman said. Lockhart pictured him with palm against brow.

'Yes sir. Just a few minutes ago… Jesus, sir.' Lockhart made a fist. It pressed against his chin.

'You allowed a counterfeiter, a criminal person, to sell us his own product,' the chairman said. 'You handed over fifty thousand dollars of this year's net profit to someone you hadn't properly checked out. I'm sure I'll have no problem at all explaining that to the other members of the board. Perhaps I can appeal to their goddamn sense of humor!'

'I'm sorry…sir.'

'Fix it, Omar,' the chairman said.


'You're going to go out and repair the damage you've done to us. Do you understand what I'm telling you?'

'Sir…uh… I'm not exactly sure what I can do at this point,' Lockhart said.

'You can go find this LaMonica person and get our money back! That's what you can do! You can go grab this cocksucker by the throat and squeeze until he gives us our money back. Do whatever you have to do. Nobody is going to do this to us and get away with it.'

'I'll do my best, but I'm not sure I can-'

'Find the dirty sonofabitch and bring back our fifty thousand dollars, Omar. If you don't, your desk won't be here when you return. You made the mess. Now you can clean it up!' The phone clicked loudly. Omar Lockhart handed the receiver to the woman. He rubbed his temples. His head ached as if acid had been injected behind his eyes.

'Are you all right?' said the woman. She stared at him as if he were bleeding. 'Mr. Lockhart? Would you like to sit down?'

Lockhart took out a handkerchief. He wiped his eyes and forehead and took a deep breath. 'Mr. Brown's room,' he said. 'Roger Brown. He checked out a short while ago. That…uh…was him on the telephone. He asked if I could get a copy of his room's telephone bill. He needed some of the numbers.'

The woman opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of receipts. She thumbed through a few and pulled one out of the pile. 'He only called one number from his room,' she said. The woman wrote the telephone number on a piece of paper and handed it to him.

Lockhart mumbled his thanks. He shuffled out the door.

Having found a pay phone next to the swimming pool, Lockhart dropped in a dime. The operator told him that it was an Ensenada area code. He gave her the number. It rang.

'Teddy's Bar,' a man said.

Lockhart slammed the phone down. He headed for his car.

The dirt lot in front of Teddy's Bar was filled with motorcycles: the kind with riser handlebars and chrome decorations of one kind or another. Lockhart parked next to a Harley with a tuck-and-roll leather seat.

The front door of the place was open. There was the sound of raucous conversation, jukebox music, some outright yelling. All in all, it was the kind of place that Omar Lockhart would not have set foot in under any other circumstances. But he was angry. He reached inside his coat and felt the butt of his revolver. I am not going to be afraid of a bunch of motorcycle creeps. I have no argument with them nor they with me, he thought.

Lockhart locked his car, hitched up his trousers, and strode into the front door. The smell of marijuana was overpowering. There was a hush in the conversation as he made his way to the bar. The crowd, a bunch of bearded men and fat women wearing an assortment of leather and denim vests, followed him with their eyes. Two men left their bar stools and strolled out the door.

'Are you the proprietor?' Lockhart said to the skinny man standing behind the bar.

'Proprietor?' the man said sarcastically. 'Yes, I am. And who, pray tell, might you be? I know you're not the man who comes to drain the cesspool in back. He's already been here and left.' The bartender looked to the greasers at the bar, with a punch-line smile. They broke into hostile laughter.

Lockhart felt a tingling sensation in his hands as he reached into his wallet for a business card. He handed one of the engraved cards to Teddy Mora. There were eyes on his wallet. He shoved it back into his coat. I'm handling this badly, he thought.

'I'm the director of security for Travelers Chex Incorporated,' Lockhart said.

Teddy picked up a flashlight. He flicked it on and held it to the card. 'That probably means you're an ex-cop,' he said.

Вы читаете The Quality of the Informant
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