“Okay, thanks.” I hung up the phone, threw the notepad back onto the desk, and put my head down on the wood surface next to it. Trying to track down any level of activity regarding the Mello or Hale names around the old apartment or in general was turning out to be almost impossible. Checks from a third party paid the rent on Hale’s apartment for years from a bank that didn’t exist anymore, and after that it’d been wire transfers. The various owners of the building, at least the ones that were alive still, had no clue what I was talking about, or who Kirby Hale was.
Rob had been silent for a few days, so I walked over to the fridge while on my phone. “Yeah?” he muttered after a few rings, sounding distracted.
“Any luck on your end?” I found a frozen Weight Watchers meal, a leftover from an old girlfriend, and proceeded to try and rip it open to put in the microwave with one hand while holding the phone.
“Not really, though I’m actually heading out of here for a work thing soon that might help. You see the email I sent you?”
“You send me email?”
“Yeah, Helen gave it to me,” I heard faintly, like he’d put the phone down and was yelling at it from a few feet away. “I’m giving a talk at a museum in Ohio about comic books for some librarians, and they might have a few things there about Hale or Mello or whoever, I think. Look,” the voice got normal again, the phone picked up, “I’m out the door for a few days, but check it out. Gotta go!”
The microwave beeped as he hung up, and I stared at the kitchen counter for a second. I’d put the turn-up remnants of the frozen meal down next to the pile of mail I’d taken from Hale’s apartment, forgotten after the whole realization of Hale being Caramello. I scattered the pile on the counter, the bills and junk that I’d discarded and ignored, staring at the names and addresses.
The NOT AT THIS ADDRESS sticker was barely sticking out, the obnoxious orange of the label the Post Office used the only thing that made it stand out amongst the pale white of envelopes and ugly beige of my countertop.
I pulled the envelope out of the pile, the rest of the mail scattering onto the counter and down to the floor as I walked back to my desk, grabbing at my pocket knife and slitting the envelope open to pull the letter out, stiff with age and something else, moisture. The envelope, I realized, was hard and crinkly. It’d been caught in the rain before being brought inside, and a part of my brain started to think to when the last time it rained long enough for mail to get trapped outside and soaked.
It was from an alarm company, reminding whoever lived at the previous address that the payment for a system installed in an apartment listed below had been disconnected due to a lack of payment. The date was a few weeks ago, right when I remembered the big rainstorm had hit us.
The address was in the middle of nowhere in the Bronx, past the furthest the subway even went. I’d been there once or twice, enough to know where it was, not enough to have any kind of connections or idea of what to expect.
Still, t was something, and at this point I needed something to happen. The deadline was starting to approach and I was feeling a little bad that I’d spent two days doing nothing but hoping someone smarter than me would call with a clue or a tip, while I read all the comics that Rob had left for me at my place and ate pizza while avoiding Ramnee’s phone calls.
I reached for my phone, swiping for Kalli’s number as I was out the door, down the stairs, the front door slamming closed behind me. “Hey, you need to meet me in the Bronx.”
“Uh huh, sure.” I could hear paper shuffling in the background. “Look, you and I both know that this comic thing is dying out. The kid sent me that email, and while it might pan out with something, Caramello’s going back to being another thing just left to…wait, why exactly are you asking me to come to the Bronx?” She was excited now and the shuffling of paper had stopped, whatever she was doing put down as I was out the building door and on the street, grabbing a free paper, looking for a bus stop. “What do you have?”