Page 15

Heavy pressure on Guy White and the other known drug traffickers in South Texas, trying to connect them to the murder, yielded exactly nothing. White had gotten most of the attention. Every agency in town had conducted raids on White’s properties, tied up his assets in court, slammed anyone who associated with him for the smallest misdemeanor, all to no avail in the Navarre case. just like Rivas had told me: Everyone suspected the connection; no one could prove it.

The compiled list of my father’s other enemies and Halcomb’s associates also yielded nothing.

Finally, the investigation turned back to Randall Halcomb. The revenge motive was nice and clean, the timing and the ID that connected Halcomb to the Pontiac very convenient. The fact that some other party had killed Halcomb was a minor glitch. Maybe Halcomb was killed for reasons unrelated to the murder: Maybe my father’s friends in the department had gotten to Halcomb before the Feds could. It had been known to happen. Either way, the FBI liked dead murderers, probably a lot more than they had liked my father. They sold it to the press as a vengeance killing, classified the case as "ongoing," and quietly shelved it. It was eight o’clock and getting dark before I resealed the folder and handed it back to Larry, minus a few items I’d lifted while his head was in the refrigerator. My eyes felt like melting ice cubes.

“Well?" he said.

"Nothing," I said. “At least nothing that makes sense yet."


Drapiewski took his boots off the coffee table, walked stiffly to the refrigerator, then finding it empty, decided it was time to leave. He took his gun and his hat off the table and stood looking at me.

“Tres, Rivas is right about one thing—you don’t belong in this. Let them find the young lady. Let me look into Karnau and Sheff for you. You put yourself in the way and it won’t help anything. "

My look must’ve told him something. He swore under his breath, then fished out a card and tossed it on the table.

“Your father was a good man, Tres."


Then Drapiewski shook his head, as if I hadn’t heard:

“The kind of man who could get you to take your own gun out of your mouth when you figured nothing else mattered."

I looked up at Drapiewski’s greasy, fifty-year-old adolescent face. He was smiling again, like he couldn’t help it. Maybe I hadn’t heard him right. For a second, I had imagined him in a dark room somewhere, staring down a gun barrel.

“You need something," he told me, "cal1 that number. I’ll do what I can."

"Thanks, Larry."

After he left I took a lukewarm shower, then looked again at my father’s notebook. I reread his notes for the testimonies against Guy White, the cryptic reminder at the bottom: Sabina!. Get whiskey. Fix fence. Clean fireplace. It still made no sense. I closed the notebook and tossed it on the table.

My girlfriend was missing. The other love of her life, who hadn’t been a love of her life for several months, was driving around town with her business partner. And I was sitting on my futon reading my father’s old grocery lists.

I decided to make my perfect day complete. I called my mother and asked for a loan. She was, of course, delighted. I felt about as good as that flyboy who’d just kissed something hairy.


In my dreams that night I was hunting with my father at the family ranch in Sabinal. It was Christmas break, my seventh-grade year, one of the coldest winters South Texas ever had. The mesquite trees were bare as TV aerials, and the brush was a dull yellow-gray that matched the clouds. I was kneeling in an orange parka, holding a .22 rifle my father had given me as a gift that morning. The barrel was slightly warm from ten rounds of fire.

My father, next to me, was also dressed in hunting clothes. He looked like a fluorescent tent for six. His Stetson tilted over his eyes so all I could see were his huge bristly jowls, his nose webbed with red veins, his crooked wet smile half-hidden by a battered Cuban cigar. The mist from his breath mixed with the smoke. In the cold sharp air he smelled like a good meal that was burning.

Out in the clearing the javelina still quivered. It was a huge animal, all black hair and tooth, much too large and mean to kill with a .22. I’d shot it first out of surprise, second out of anger, then again and again out of desperation to finish the job. All the while my father just watched, only smiling at the end.

Finally the beast stopped dragging itself along the ground. It made a thick, liquid sound. Then even that stopped.

"Meanest animal on God’s earth," my father said.

"And the dirtiest. What you reckon you should do now, son?"

He could talk like a Harvard graduate when he wanted, but when he tested me, when he really wanted to distance himself, he put on that accent. The familiar, cracker barrel drawl was easy and slow the way a cottonmouth snake is slow, moving toward you in the river.

I said: "Can we use it?"

My father chewed his cigar.

"You can fix up some mighty fine javelina sausage, if you’ve got the mind to."

He let me take the knife and stood back as I moved up to the warm carcass. It took a long time to gut the thing. From the moment I touched it, my skin began to crawl, but I ignored the feeling at first. I remember the steam from the innards and then the indescribably bad smell—a sour blast of fear, rot, and excitement that beat the worst inner-city alley. That was my first lesson--the gas that a newly dead animal exudes. It nearly knocked me down, nearly forced me to double over, but then I saw my father watching sternly behind me, and knew I had to go on. I’d made my choice.

After gutting it I tied its feet and pulled it through the brush. Now the itch was intolerable. My father watched as I struggled to get the javelina into the bed of the pickup. My eyes were watering; my entire body crawled. Small red bites were breaking out on my arms like an acid wash. Finally, in desperation, I turned to my father, who was still standing a good distance away. In pain, humiliated, I waited to hear what I had done wrong.

When he spoke it was almost kind.

“Every hunter needs to make that mistake once," he said. “And he never makes it again. You get too close to a javelina that’s just shot, the first thing you get is the smell for a good-bye present. But that’s not the worst."

He dropped his cigar butt and smashed it into the dirt with one huge boot. When he spoke again, the pain was crawling across my scalp, under my armpits, around my groin. It caused a dull roar in my ears.

"The body heat," my father said. “It cools off right fast, and all them little fleas, all them chiggers and ticks and every other form of varmint that breeds in that hide, looks for the nearest warm thing to jump on to. You’re it, son. Don’t never approach a dead thing until it’s as cool as the ground, son. Not ever."

I couldn’t ride back in the truck. I had to walk behind it as my father led me home. I spent one day in the shower, another day bathed in cortisone. And I’d never fired a gun since that Christmas. The other lesson, the one about avoiding the dead, had been harder to learn. Then the scene of the dream changed from Sabinal to the A & M campus. I saw Lillian at eighteen, leaning in the doorway of her freshman painting class, barefoot, her hands behind her. Her denim overalls and her short off-blond hair were both flecked with red acrylic.

A week earlier we’d had another one of our epic fights. I’d stormed out of the Dixie Chicken in the middle of dinner. Lillian shouted at my back that she’d never talk to me again. Now she just stared at me as I walked closer.

When I came up to her she brushed my face with her fingers, lightly, and left sticky red acrylic streaks on my left cheek. Then, keeping a straight face, she decorated the other side, like war paint. She laughed.

“Does this mean I’m forgiven?" I said.

Her eyes turned bright green. She put her head so close to mine that her lips brushed my chin as she talked. Her breath smelled like cherry Life Savers.

“Not even close," she said. "But you can’t get rid of me. Remember that next time you walk away."

The phone was ringing.

I woke up sideways on the futon with the receiver already in my hand. The blinds above me were open and sunlight was pouring onto my face as strong and hot as gasoline. I squinted. Before I could make my voice work, Robert Johnson was on my head talking for me.

"Mur," he said.

Maia Lee said: “Oh, good, Robert Johnson, you’re home."

"Sorry," I croaked. “Should I get off the line?"

She laughed. The sound was a hard one to wake up to; it brought back Sunday mornings on Potrero Hill, drinking Peet’s coffee, watching the fog recede from the Bay. It made me remember a city for runaways where you didn’t have to think about the past, or home, or who had disappeared from your life.

"You’re a hard person to get in touch with, Tres," Maia said.

I sat up, knocking over the empty tequila bottle. Then I looked across the room and noticed the kitchen window.

Maia was waiting for a snide remark. When I didn’t offer one, her tone changed. "Tres?"

I walked into the kitchen as far as the phone cord would go. The rusty metal frame window above the sink was hanging wide open at a crazy angle. Its bottom hinge had been neatly pried away, so the ancient turn-crank that was supposed to hold the window shut could be stripped.

"Tres?" Maia said again. “What is it?"

I sat on the kitchen counter and stared out into the crape myrtles. A few of their pink petals were floating in yesterday’s coffee cup next to the soap dish. A few more were smashed into the single muddy footprint that was in my sink--110 grooves, pointed toe, a large boot, maybe a ten and a half wide.

"Maia," I said, "how much time have you got?"


I blamed Robert Johnson for not being a Great Dane. Maia blamed me for being a heavy sleeper.

"I told you so often," she complained, “if a burglar had ever come in while we were sleeping—" She caught the we part of that statement a little too late. Her voice tangled on it like silk on barbed wire.

When she spoke again it was in her professional tone, careful and even. "All right. Tell me the whole story."

I told her what little I’d learned about my father’s death. I told her about Lillian’s disappearance, my talk with Guy White, the threats against me, Beau Karnau’s mystery photos and his ride with Dan Sheff, the boot print at the gallery and in my sink.

Maia was silent for a minute. Behind her somewhere, a foghorn sounded.

“Did they take anything? These photos you found, for instance?"

"Whoever it was came and left quickly. I don’t think they were looking for paperwork. None of it was touched. Nothing else was taken."

"Not even your life."

I tried to believe there was no disappointment in her voice.

“It’s nice to be loved," I said.

After she had fumed silently for a while, she said:

"Tres, your friend Drapiewski is right. Leave this to the police. Get the hell out of there."

I didn’t answer.

"But naturally," she said, "you’re not going to."


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