Bill Pronzini: Camouflage

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Bill Pronzini Camouflage
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Bill Pronzini



I said, “You want us to do what?”

David Virden showed me his teeth in a lopsided smile. “Find one of my ex-wives,” he said again. “The first one.”

“Divorced eight years, you said.”

“That’s right.”

“And you want her located for what reason again?”

“The same reason I had to track down the other two. So I can have the marriage annulled.”

Virden looked, sounded, and acted normal enough. Executive with a manufacturing firm in the South Bay; his business card confirmed it. Forty or so, fair-haired, gray-eyed, handsome in a sleek, metrosexual way. Sitting comfortably in one of the clients’ chairs across my desk, legs crossed and one foot jiggling a little so that his expensive polished loafer threw off little glints of light from the overhead fluorescents. But if there’s one absolute truism in the detective business, it’s that people’s exteriors don’t always reflect their interiors. Some of the most attractive ones are like buildings full of dark rooms and the kinds of things that hide in them.

“I haven’t seen her since the divorce,” he said, “and nobody else seems to have seen her in about seven years. Of course she could be dead by now. If that’s the case, there won’t be any problem.”

“Oh, there won’t.”

“No. Anyhow, we didn’t have any trouble finding the other two. They were both pretty cooperative.”

“In giving you annulments.”

“That’s right. I need the third before I can go ahead. Or proof that she’s no longer aboveground.”

“Go ahead with what?”

“Marrying my fiancee, Judith LoPresti. My fourth and I hope last wife.”

I’d gotten it by this time. A little slow on the uptake these days, but prospective clients who walk in off the street and smack you with a job request you’ve never encountered before are relatively rare. At least Virden wasn’t a head case, the kind with no method to their apparent madness.

I said, “Are you Catholic, Mr. Virden?”

“No. Well, not yet.”

“But Judith is.”

“Devout. Mass every Sunday and the Pope can do no wrong.”

“And she won’t marry you unless you convert, is that it?”

“That’s it. Convert and then have a Church-sanctioned wedding. Only I can’t convert without the annulments from my ex-wives because the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize civil divorce laws.”


“You know about that, right? I mean, your name… I figure you must be Catholic. Most Italians are.”

“Born and baptized,” I said. I didn’t add that I was lapsed, for reasons of my own that were none of his business. I happen to believe that religion, like sex between consenting adults, ought to be-and too often isn’t these days-strictly a private matter. I also believe in separation of church and state, the Golden Rule, the true definition of family values, that anybody ought to be able to get married regardless of gender, that no one has the right to distort the truth for any reason, and that people ought to quit trying to shove their beliefs and opinions down the throats of other people. Just another crazy old radical thinker, that’s me.

“I’ve never been religious myself,” Virden said, as if he was proud of the fact, “but I’d do anything for Judith. She’s a real prize.” He showed me his lopsided smile again and added a wink to it. “Her father happens to be loaded. I’ll be set for life once we’re married.”

Nice guy, Virden. Full of compassion and the milk of human kindness. I wondered if he was as up-front about his motives with his devout intended. If not, I hoped for her sake that she knew what kind of man she was taking into her faith and her bed.

He said, “Here’s the stuff from the Church,” and passed a small manila envelope across the desk.

Inside, paper-clipped together, were a two-page letter from the Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of San Jose addressed to Roxanne L. McManus, at an address in Blodgett, California; a Church brochure; a form to be filled out by Ms. McManus and returned to the Diocese; and an SASE. The letter stated that David Paul Virden had petitioned the Diocesan Tribunal to execute a Decree of Nullity, an official document declaring that his marriage to Ms. McManus did not create a permanent sacramental bond and therefore was not an obstacle to future marriage in the Church. There was a list of twelve points informing Ms. McManus of her rights in the matter, among them the right to appoint a Procurator-Advocate and the right to review copies of the ACTA, the First Instance decision, and the Second Instance decision in the office of the local Tribunal. The brochure, which I skimmed through, provided a lengthy overview of the annulment process.

I returned the material to the envelope. When I started to slide it back to Virden, he said, “No, you keep it. Give it to Roxanne when you find her.”

“Why not just deliver it yourself?”

“I don’t like dealing directly with my ex-wives. You know how it is.”

No, I didn’t. But I said, “Well, we can make the delivery if she’s living in Northern California, but it’ll cost you extra.”

“I don’t care about that. I’d just have to hire somebody else to do it.”

Right-with Judith LoPresti’s money, no doubt. Not that it was any of my business who paid his bills. “Is McManus your ex-wife’s maiden name?”

“Yes. She took it back after the divorce.”

“What does the middle initial stand for?”


“Roxanne Lorraine McManus.” I made a note on the pad I use for client interviews. “You said the last time you saw her was eight years ago?”

“That’s right.”


“In San Jose, right after the divorce.”

“The Diocese letter is addressed to her in Blodgett.”

“Her hometown. She moved back there.”

“But she’s not there now.”

“No. I checked and my lawyer checked. She moved away again about seven years ago and nobody’s heard from her since.”

“Then where did the Diocese get the address?”

“It’s her aunt Alma’s. I gave it to them-they had to have one for the form.”

“But the aunt doesn’t have any idea where Roxanne is?”

“No idea. Complete silence since she sold her pet shop and left Blodgett again.”

“Does the aunt know why she moved?”

“Told Alma she was going into business with a friend.”

“Friend’s name?”

“Didn’t say, or if she did, Alma forgot it. Somebody she’d just met.”

“Male or female?”

“Couldn’t remember that, either. Alma’s memory’s not what it used to be.” Virden chuckled wryly to himself. “But she’s still a crusty old girl, cusses like a teenager. She had a few choice words for Roxie.”


“Pissed because of all the years of silence. Thought Roxie cared more than to blow her off that way.”

“Could she remember what kind of business deal it was?”

“No. But it probably had something to do with animals. Roxie owned the pet shop when I met her.” Virden cast his eyes upward. “The Warm and Fuzzy Shop, she called it. Terminal goddamn cute.”

“Where is Blodgett exactly? I’ve never heard of it.”

“No reason you should have. It’s a nowhere little town up near the Oregon border.”

“Is that where you were living while you were married to her?”

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