Stash and I plodded around the building, looking for anything further: garage, garbage, halls, cleaning rooms, all came up with no Frau Sofakissen, and no clues. Ed eventually regained consciousness, and upgraded to frozen peas.
It was hard to say whether to call the cops, but in the end Stash and I agreed that it wouldn’t help. Ed had had worse, delivering milk and cheese to the suburbs, and a break-and-entering, or even a missing person wasn’t enough to bring the boys very far into the Bonneville. The way Stash saw it (and he seemed to know at least as much as I did), working on my own was probably the best, we wouldn’t have to wait around for the cops, and I could get down to sleuthing. I had to agree.
Stash and I fixed his flat, and he packed off with Ed. “Take it easy, Joe. And Miss, I’m sure Dahlia would let you stay with her, just give her a call.”
“Thank you, Mister Stash, I will.” A sober Sofakissen now, not as cool, still blubbery and red. “What do you intend to do now, Mister Stash?”
“We’re going find a place to eat, and talk. Then I’m taking you to, who, Dahlia’s? Then I don’t know what. You can’t stay here tonight, not with a possible abductor loose, or worse. You can’t stay at your own place tonight, we have to assume they know where you live, too. Come on down to the subway.”
It was late afternoon now. We locked up her mother’s apartment, she gave me a spare key. We made it unmolested to the subway, and back downtown. I choose from the many greasy spoons, the Picot by my office. I planted Sofakissen in a booth facing me, and I facing the door. She got really interested in the menu, short though it was.
“Miss Sofakissen, I need some more information. There’s more going on than I know about, and it seems there’s more going on that you know about, too. We need to know the same thing, or my job is that much harder. And the deathless prose of the omelet section can’t keep you busy much longer.”
She started, in spite of herself. She dropped the menu, under her dark glasses, her lip trembled. She was not the self-contained, mousy woman who’d come to my office, watched me calmly beat up Bonneville’s best. She was the woman standing in the bedroom, frightened. The kind of woman you want to comfort and console, to make a big breakfast for, to find that cottage in the country with the picket fence and the sheep dog for, the kind of woman you want to break through this mask of wise-cracks and diffidence to be a tender boy-friend, with ticklish toes and wear a floral-print apron in the kitchen for. That kind of woman.
This was a lot to take in. “I’m sorry,” and I was. I knew Stash’s tenderness was genuine, I knew it helped. “I know you’ve had a raw shock, I know you’re frightened. But I need to do my work now.”
She swallowed, “May we have some food, first? I am faint and famished, and that will calm my nerves.”
“Yeah, you continue perusing the poetry there, I’ll get us some service. Lola!” This to our waitress, my favorite waitress at the Picot, Lola.
Lola knew me from the young copper days, we’d played boy and girl for a while in those days, but she eventually left me for a guy “who could talk in more and longer sentences, and didn’t get beat up so much.” Not wanting a potential body-bag for a boy friend, fair enough, but to pick on a strong, silent type for being silent, well. Lola sidled up all smiles, though, we’d gotten past that, and she was still a looker. “Spline, what’s the shakes? Can I get you and the little lady some- Ooh, look at you!” This to Sofakissen, who had caught up her knitting from her bag, and was already clicking away. “Whatcha making?” Lola leaned over to see.
“Socks,” she held her hands up, and where Lola cooed and went on something about yarn, all I could see was a burnt orange splotch with toothpicks coming out all directions.
Lola and Sofakissen clearly had something to talk about, I couldn’t make it out at all. After a few rounds, “Lola, I didn’t know you knitted.”
“No, Joe,” softened old regret, “you didn’t know that at all. Well, dearie,” back to Sofakissen, “those look glam, certainly better than any sock I’ve made lately. Now,” back to waitress, “I suppose you cats also want something to eat, eh?”
We ordered safe food and black coffee. When it arrived, I started in. “I’m looking for your mother now, Miss Sofakissen, could you me a description?”
“We are much alike, in stature and size, I have her facial features, but she is certainly older than I am, sixty-two. I have a picture here,” she began to sort in her bag.
“If you took off your dark glasses, I could also get a general idea, if you do have the same face.” She handed me a Polaroid, and then with both hands slowly pulled her glasses off to look steadily at me.
The Polaroid looked into the same living room I’d wind-milled yarn in that same day. Past someone’s head, three people sitting on the chesterfield, a fourth sitting on the window sill. They all had something in their hands, some colorful object with sticks. Frau Sofakissen, by the smallness, sat at the window end of the chesterfield, shawl, steel gray hair in a bun, caught mid-laugh. Dahlia Stash on the other end, getting ready to burst at the seams laughing. A thin, salt-and-pepper woman in a gray suit and skirt sat in the middle, head to one side, squinting, frowning. Four was a guy, big, strong, balding, loosened tie and a martini, also on the grin, knitting something pink.
I looked up to Sofakissen. There was her mother, but instead of laughter there was numbness. Frau Sofakissen in the picture had lines of laughter, Frieda had lines of worry. She was a woman, worried and tired. The kind of woman you want to protect and care for, to fold the laundry carefully for, to indulge in the purchase of just one more pair of shoes, the kind of woman you want to break through this mask of cold professionalism and ruthless logic for to be a warm companion, with arms to carry all the groceries and wear her knitted items to the office. That kind of woman. But she was also the client.
I set the photo down on my napkin. “Does your mother go out much?”
“No, she does not go out much at all. She leads a quiet life at her home, she had her necessities delivered as you saw, she did not travel or leave the apartment much at all, after I went to university.”
“Did she have any friends or acquaintances? Someone she could visit or call?”
“Well,” this got me almost a smile, “she does have many friends, yes. There is some kind of knitting gathering almost every evening. She knows and is known by a great many knitters in the city, in the region, I think even some from around the world. As you saw today, her yarn resources are extensive, and her knowledge of knitting arts extends well beyond that.” A pause. “I wonder if they will try to come to her apartment tonight.”
Goldmine. “Miss Sofakissen, do you think you can give me any names of people who would come to her parties? And when do they happen?” The notebook for this.
“Well, yes, I think I know some names of the more frequent. Dahlia Stash, whom you are acquainted with already, let me think…”
“You write them down here as you think of them. What time would they meet?”
“Oh, early evening, at seven or eight, and they would stay until the early hours of the morning, some of them. I would go, too, sometimes, when I was not occupied.”
I tapped at the Polaroid, “This one of her shindigs?”
“Yes, it is, a couple of years ago.” She took up the photo, “I think I can identify most of these people for you.”
I glanced at my watch. It was six now. An hour or so to show up at the apartment. “You write down some names, and I’ll settle up. I need to get you to Dahlia’s in time for me to stake out your mother’s apartment. I can have Judy,” or myself, since I didn’t have a secretary anymore, “look for numbers and addresses.”