THE FRONT OF THE POSTCARD FEATURED THE SUN SETTING ON A GENERIC CITY SKYLINE. The back said, “Paul, I’ve missed you. Check the top left desk drawer. Key’s in the planter. Joe.”
I stared at those words for three days, curious and scared. The police had brought Joe Mooney in that Easter night two months earlier, but they released him when I chose not to press charges. Then he ran away.
I approached my neighbors more in the two weeks that followed than I had in the first four years I’d lived on Beckman Avenue combined. Someone had to know something about Joe Mooney, I thought, but it seemed that I was wrong. All I got was a string of useless adjectives: quiet, nice, polite, etc. I decided that I needed to check out Joe Mooney’s top left desk drawer, and if I was going to do that, I needed daylight and company, so Josh came over on Saturday morning and we headed for the blue A-frame down the street.
The key was poorly hidden in a green planter on the front porch. We stepped inside half-expecting to find a bloody altar in the living room, or at least a strange odor wafting up from the basement, but at first glance, there was nothing worth noting. It wouldn’t have been impossible for one to imagine that Joe Mooney had simply stepped out for the morning, perhaps to get breakfast at Al’s. It wouldn’t have been impossible to imagine that Joe Mooney would be sitting there in his bathrobe drinking a cup of coffee, a thought that made me uneasy for a moment.
“Pineapple mirror,” Josh said.
“The mirror. It’s a big pineapple.”
“Right. Let’s just find the desk.”
We checked out the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, and the den. Unremarkable. The place was mildly cluttered, but certainly not dirty. No bizarre hobbies or interests were discernible from the cursory glance we gave to his rooms. Quiet, nice, polite, I thought. Sounds about right.
The first four rooms were without desks, but our fifth stop was what appeared to be Joe Mooney’s bedroom, and in the far right corner there sat a cheap-looking desk--the kind you buy at Target and assemble yourself. It was bare except for a few old National Geographics stacked neatly in one corner. It featured a thin middle drawer and two bigger drawers on either side. I wanted a second to prepare myself, but before I could take my obligatory deep breath, Josh had pulled out Joe Mooney’s top left desk drawer.