Dan parked in the handicap space and walked through the front doors like he owned the place. He did. I pulled off the road next to a pasture and tried to look inconspicuous.
Think cow, I told the VW.
Carl and I had a nice long chat about local politics while we waited. He told me the socialist environmental types at the Edwards Aquifer District would probably bring about the end of Western Civilization. Then he mentioned the new bond initiative for a fine arts complex that Councilman Fernando Asante had recently pushed through in special election. Carl was skeptical.
"The last thing the taxpayers need," he said, "is another city-funded Travis Center pork barrel."
Then he read the figures on how many double-digit points Asante’s popularity had gone up since that first brainchild of his—Travis Center—had opened on the edge of town. Proof positive, Carl said, that the voters have been deluded. Another pork project like that, combined with Asante’s new push to be the "law and order” candidate, and old Fernando might actually attain his dream of mayorhood. Carl was even more terrified by that thought than I was.
Dan came out after about an hour and stood at the door with an older Hispanic man. White hair, white mustache, dark blue suit.
Dan’s body posture told me he wasn’t thrilled with his employee. He stood back as they talked, arms crossed, shifting his weight impatiently from foot to foot. The white-haired man spread his hands in a placating gesture. He did most of the talking. Finally Dan nodded. Gold rings flashed as they shook hands.
We drove north again until Dan’s BMW turned onto I-10, heading toward home. I exited at Crossroads Mall, then drove back to Alamo Heights.
"Money," said Carl. "It all boils down to money, my friends."
I drove through Terrell Hills, past the Country Club, then into the forested shade of Elizabeth Street. Tall white houses and old old money. I had a flashback to Senior Party (Alamo Heights had been too cool for a prom back then) when I’d driven down this street bringing Lillian a dozen roses and a dozen balloons for her mother.
“She likes balloons," Lillian had said.
"You’re not just setting me up, are you?"
She laughed, then kissed me for a long time. So I brought balloons.
Sure enough, Lillian’s mother and I became fast friends after that, bonded by balloons, much to the chagrin of Mr. Cambridge. Until June fifth in 1985. That night at 8 P.M. I was supposed to meet the Cambridges for dinner at the Argyle with an engagement ring for Lillian. That night at 8 P.M. I was on a Greyhound somewhere outside El Paso, heading west. I hadn’t seen Lillian’s parents since.
The beige Spanish villa hadn’t changed, just sunk a little deeper into the forest of pyracantha. The rough-hewn oak door barely registered my knocks.
"Oh, my, " said Mrs. Cambridge.
She tried to frown at me but it wasn’t in her nature. The ice melted between us in a matter of seconds, then my neck was wet with her tears, my cheeks well kissed, and my hands filled with ice tea and banana bread. She made the best banana bread. We sat down in her small shadowy den, surrounded by photos of Lillian and a dozen bird cages filled with parakeets, while Mrs. Cambridge began patting ten years of stories into my kneecap.
“Then after college," she was saying, "it was so difficult for her. Oh, Tres, I know it’s not your fault, but--well."
Mrs. Cambridge had always been a thin woman, but now she was almost skeletal. Age had left her eyes milky and her skin spotted with chocolate. She held on to my knee like I might disappear any minute. She gave me a genuine smile.
If scum had knees, I was scum. She could’ve called me any name she wanted, just not that smile again. Her love for me closed up my throat like alum powder.
"Mr. Karnau took such an interest in Lillian’s work, you know. They used to go on trips in the country, photographing everything under the sun." She pointed proudly to Lillian’s hand-tinted photos on the wall. When she mentioned Karnau she tried to keep her tone lighthearted. I think it was an effort for her. "I didn’t know—a young lady and such an older man together alone in the woods, but well—they had such high hopes for the gallery. They needed to have that chance, I suppose. Still, she wasn’t really happy."
Mrs. Cambridge had begun crying silently again, wiping away tears with the back of her hand as if it were an old-established habit to cry while you entertained. The parakeets chattered around us.
"Lillian was discouraged, you know, because her own work wasn’t selling. More and more it became a business to her, not something she enjoyed. Then she and Daniel had their falling out . . ."
When she mentioned Sheff’s name she glanced at me guiltily, as if she might’ve hurt my feelings.
I tried to smile. "Go on, please."
More knee patting.
"I don’t know, Tres. When she said she was talking to you again, after all this time, I didn’t know. Ezekiel, of course, well—"
She let that go unsaid. I remembered Mr. Cambridge’s booming voice quite clearly.
I looked at Mrs. Cambridge. Her smile was as watery as her eyes.
“I’m sorry," I said, "but what have the police said?"
"I have to let Ezekiel handle that, Tres. I just can’t—"
I nodded, accepting her hand in mine.
"And the Sheffs?"
Even Mrs. Cambridge had trouble making it sound genuine. "They’ve been very sweet."
For several minutes we were quiet, holding each other’s hands. Her birds chartered. Then she closed her eyes and began to rock, humming a song I couldn’t discern.
When she looked at me again, she seemed to have a secret thought. Smiling weakly, she rose from the couch and went over to the grandfather clock in the corner. From the bottom of the pendulum closet she extracted a Joske’s shoe box tied with an ancient ribbon. She brought the box back, setting it on my lap. She removed the lid, then held up a yellowed photograph printed on the thick paper they used in the 1940s. It was black and white but had been lovingly hand-tinted, like the kind of photos Lillian did.
A rakish-looking pilot stared out at me, young and confident. On the back of the photo, in faded blue ink, it said Angie Gardiner + Billy Terrel. Vaguely, I remembered Lillian telling me about this man. It had always seemed to me, though, that Lillian considered Terrel almost a myth, someone her mother had made up.
"My first husband, " Mrs. Cambridge said. When she looked at me then, I could see the multiple colors in her irises, like Lillian’s, and in her smile that vaguest hint of mischief that Lillian mixed so well with love. It was hard to look at.
"Lillian’s father doesn’t like me to keep these things around. He discourages me from talking about it."
Then she added, like a well-worn litany: "Ezekiel’s a good man. "
"Mrs. Cambridge," I said, "Lillian’ may be in a lot of trouble. I’m not sure how much the police can help."
She looked at the picture of Billy Terrel. "Lillian couldn’t understand when you left. She’d never lost someone like that before. Then so many years later, to have a second chance, like it was all a mistake . . ."
I didn’t know what else to do. I bent over and kissed her cheek, very lightly. Then I knew it was time to go.
"I’ll find her, Mrs. Cambridge," I said at the door. I don’t think she heard me. Before I could turn away, I saw her hugging that old shoe box, trying to smile and humming along with the bright and senseless chatter of a dozen parakeets.
Then I went out to the car to tell Carl Wiglesworth what was really wrong with the world.
I was just making Robert Johnson’s usual Friskies taco lunch when Larry Drapiewski called from the Sheriff’s Department.
"I’m pretty sure I don’t want to tell you this," he said. "Beau Karnau had a restraining order issued against him last year—to stay away from Lillian Cambridge."
I put down the heated flour tortilla and spooned the chicken Friskies over it. Normally I would’ve sprinkled cheese on top, but we were out. Then I did my best to convince Robert Johnson that his food dish really was full. I shook it. He stared at me. I pretended to sprinkle cheese. He stared at me.
"You get that, son?" Larry said.
"Unfortunately, I got it."
"The way one of the reporting officers remembers it, Karnau kept showing up at Miss Cambridge’s house drunk, yelling at her, threatening her. He would go on about how she owed him big and couldn’t leave the business. Broke a window once. Never actually struck er."
I stared out the unhinged kitchen window. "What about since last year?"
"The order was rescinded at Miss Cambridge’s request in December. No further complaints. Could be old history. There was never any—"
"Okay, Larry. Thanks."
I could hear him tapping his pencil. "Damn it, son—"
"You’re going to tell me not to jump to conclusions. Not to fly off the handle."
"Something like that."
I hung up.
Robert Johnson was chewing on my ankle. I shook my fist at him. Clearly unimpressed, he started to bury his Friskies taco under the kitchen rug.
When I called Carlon McAffrey at the Express-News he sounded like he was in the middle of an especially noisy sandwich. I asked if he’d heard anything interesting lately.
Carlon belched. "Like what kind of ‘anything’?"
"You tell me."
"Jesus, Tres, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. What the fuck are you talking about?"
I took that as a no. "Okay. How about the name Beau Karnau?"
Carlon covered the phone and shouted to somebody behind him. After a minute, without reducing the volume, he shouted back into the phone. "Yeah. Karnau’s got a photography opening Saturday, Blue Star, some cowboy shit. Why, should I be there?"
“Please no," I said. I could hear Carlon clacking the address and time into his computer calendar.
"Come on, Navarre," he said. He was trying for the "old buddy" treatment now, the syrup in the voice. "Give me something I can use. I’ve been talking with some people about Guy White, working up that angle on your dad’s murder. You thought any more about it?"
"I haven’t been thinking in terms of things you can use, Carlon."
"Hey, all I’m saying is we could help each other out. You come up with something that sells copies, I’ll see about getting you compensated for the exclusive."
“You’ve got the sensitivity of a rottweiler, McAffrey."
He laughed. "But I’m a hell of a lot better-looking."
"Sure. I’ll get you a bitch for Christmas."
Then I hung up.
At least I knew Carlon didn’t have a clue about Lillian. Otherwise he would’ve barraged me with questions, and if Carlon didn’t know, it meant nobody had talked to the press at all. I grabbed my car keys, left Robert Johnson looking mournfully at his buried lunch, and headed into the afternoon heat.
I had visited Zeke Cambridge at his bank exactly twice in the years that I’d dated his daughter. The first time was when I was sixteen, just before my first formal date with Lillian. I remember sitting in Mr. Cambridge’s office in a two-ton leather chair that smelled like cigars, waiting nervously while this monstrous man with a white marble face, green eyes, and an undertaker’s suit checked my driver’s license. Then he explained, very politely, that he’d been quite a Navy marksman in his younger days and had no compulsion at all against firing at intruders in his home or young men who sat on his daughter’s bed. He patted me on the shoulder, offered me a butter toffee from his desk, and told me to have a good time. Of course that was before he knew me.
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