Fifteen minutes later, Vanderdecken logged off, having gotten all the tourist information on the city. Tunica was a tourist attraction in a generally economically depressed state. He’s been in such places before; why had Satan been so petulant? Turning the ignition key, he set out to explore the waterfront, where most of the action was. He passed the brightly lit area where small boats awaited tourists and was heading toward the warehouse district when he saw the girl jump.
Within seconds, Vanderdecken had braked the Hummer beside her discarded purse, jumped from the car, and plunged in after her. His soft, canvas shoes were no impediment, and his instincts were still good. He quickly located the girl, but bringing her in was another matter. She wanted to die, pushing herself ever deeper and dragging him with her – but he knew that trick, too, and eventually surfaced with her.
Powerful headlights nearly blinded him as he rose, and he recognized the blue lights of a police vehicle. Apparently someone besides himself had noticed. Climbing out onto the bank, Vanderdecken looked at the girl’s face for the first time – and nearly dropped her. “Oh, God, not you!” he rasped. “So that’s why Satan’s angry!” Later he realized it was fortunate he had spoken in Dutch.
“Here, let me help you, mister.” Large blue-clad arms reached out and relieved him of his burden. Vanderdecken found himself kneeling on the soil, watching a large young man pressing gallons of river water from the girl’s lungs. Finally the policeman sat back. “If you’ll just hand me that blanket over there… And take the other one for yourself. I thought she’d have you under there for a minute.” Wrapping the blanket around the unconscious form, he began to lift her.
“Put her in the back seat of my car,” Vanderdecken found himself requesting. “There’s room, and she’ll be warm while we settle this business.”
Patrolman Rick McRae stared at him. “That will do for now. Lead the way.” Relieved of his burden, he stood against the broad Hummer door. “Alright, now I need some answers. First, let me see some ID.”
“Philip Vanderdecken,” the Dutchman held out his driver’s license, insurance card, and business card. “I had just arrived in town and was cruising to find a place to stay when I saw the young lady jump. Her purse is still over there where she threw it down.”
“That’s what I saw, too,” McRae confirmed. “I see you’re from out of state, so my question is – are you one of Sally Lou’s customers, or do you know her as State Senator Knudsen’s daughter? Don’t try to tell me you don’t know her.”
“I knew a girl who looked just like her once,” Vanderdecken acknowledged. “You say her father’s name is Knudsen?”
“Yes, the same sanctimonious swine whose campaign signs you’ve been seeing,” McRae growled. “Now you see the situation I’m in. I can’t afford to admit this just happened.”
“But how is it that she’s a prostitute?” Vanderdecken was confused. “Her attire proclaims it, and you affirm it, yet her father is a righteous state senator.”
“Don’t tell me this sort of thing doesn’t happen in Europe.” McRae glared at him. “Heaven knows I may be all kinds of fool, but you look like a savvy customer, and the Department would love a way out of this mess. Here’s the deal. I went to high school with Senta Knudsen – that’s her real name – but even then she was too fast. That damned brother of hers – may he rot in hell – started whoring her out to pay for his habit before he O.D.ed. The Old Man won’t admit that, of course; he’s disowned her and is perfectly happy for her to work off her brother’s debt with Pitstop.”
“Your local pimp?” Vanderdecken studied this young Patrolman McRae, seeing much of what he liked in a junior officer.
“Among other things. Real name Arthur Lavelle, a distant cousin of the Senator’s. We keep it all in the family down here.” The corners of McRae’s mouth turned down. “He owns The Pitstop, one of our nightspots – also a motel that even does legitimate business.”
“So if I pretend Miss Knudsen fell while she was out ‘advertising’ and I decided to make use of her services after rescuing her, you wouldn’t have to write a report.” Vanderdecken eyed him severely. “That won’t take care of your problem in the long run, but this much I can do for you. My schedule is flexible, and I can take time to do a little good.”
Muffled thumps from the Hummer indicated Senta/Sally Lou had come to, and McRae opened the door to speak to her. She sat staring at them muzzily with those blue eyes Vanderdecken remembered so well. “See, stranger, you shouldn’t have pulled me out,” she told him. “Now I’ll just create more problems for decent people like poor Rick here. No sense in trying to save me; whores don’t make old bones.”
Vanderdecken stared at her with the haunted eyes of a 400 year old ghost. “Miss Knudsen, I pulled you out because I am a depressed and lonely traveler and wished to spend the evening with a kindred spirit. Like you, I entered a profession that promised glittering financial rewards only to find it demanded my soul.”
“What’s your racket, anyway?” She couldn’t help but be fascinated by the obsidian gleaming eyes in the unusually pale face.
“I deal in jewel salvage and discovery, tracking down gems in inhospitable places with intolerable human rights records. It’s not a profession to increase your faith in mankind.”
“I’ve got a thermos of coffee in the cruiser,” McRae interrupted. “Let me get you all a cup courtesy of Mississippi’s finest while I write up a simple incident report.”