On my second visit, after Lillian and I had broached the subject of marriage, Zeke Cambridge didn’t check my driver’s license. He didn’t offer me a butter toffee. He just reminded me that he had been quite a Navy marksman in his younger days and had no compulsion at all against firing at young men who married his daughter and then failed to get a good job following college. He gave me a multiple choice test as to what my major at A & M was—petroleum engineering, prelaw, or business. He was not amused when I answered
“None of the Above."
"He really likes you, in his own way," Lillian told me afterward.
In the later months of our relationship she had tried to blame her father’s bad temper on the savings and loan crisis, which had hit Crockett S&L just as hard as any.
"He just takes out all the bad investments on the people around him, like you," Lillian explained.
"Sure," I said. "And he’s used ‘punk’ for the last three years as a term of endearment."
Whatever bad investments Mr. Cambridge might’ve made back then, he seemed to be doing pretty well these days. Crockett Savings and Loan had moved its corporate offices from a small strip mall in Alamo Heights to a four-story glass and brick office building on Loop 1604, and Grace June, the old secretary with the beehive and the horn-rims, had been replaced in the front office by a young blonde in a silk blouse and Claiborne skirt. I nodded at her, told her I was expected, and walked on through.
"Um, but—" she started to say behind me.
The two-ton leather chair was still in Mr. Cambridge’s office. His plaques from all the right clubs still hung on the wall—Rotary, Republican State Steering Committee, Texas Cavaliers. The butter toffees were still on his desk. Only Zeke Cambridge had changed. He looked smaller than I remembered, less ogreish. His black suit fit a little looser and his rectangular face had started to sag at the corners. His pointed nose, one of the only things Lillian had inherited from him, had collapsed into a network of red veins.
Mr. Cambridge looked up from a stack of legal papers as I came in and started to ask me a question. When he saw that I wasn’t the secretary, he scowled and got up from his chair, a little unsteadily.
Then he showed the other thing Lillian had inherited from him—his temper.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
Behind me, the secretary barely stuck her head in the door, as if she were afraid of having it shot off. "Mr. Cambridge? "
He glared at her over the top of his bifocals, then back at me.
"It’s all right, Cameron. This won’t take long."
Cameron closed the door. I think she made sure it was locked. Zeke Cambridge stared at me for a long time, then grudgingly gestured me toward the leather chair. He threw his bifocals onto the stack of papers.
"What right do you have coming into my office, boy? Haven’t you done enough damage?"
There was a time when those words would’ve been bellowed loud enough to shake the furniture. I would’ve apologized for bringing Lillian home late, for using my horn in the driveway, for wearing the wrong clothes in front of their friends, just for fear of being murdered by this man. Now when he spoke, the words were more like hammer strikes on a saw blade, loud but shaky, so watery they were almost absurd in their force.
"I had a feeling you would’ve refused to see me, sir."
"You’re damn right."
“It’s about Lillian."
His jawline trembled slightly. "Of course it is."
“Mrs. Cambridge told me— — "
He banged his fist on the desk. "Haven’t you done enough to my family, damn it?"
The framed pictures didn’t rattle. The bowl of toffees didn’t move. He sank down into his chair and pounded the desk again with even less force. The anger in his face dissolved into simple frustration.
“Leave my wife alone."
It was strange being able to meet his stare. His green irises had washed down to olive over the years, and his lower lids had loosened so they could barely contain the moisture in the corners of his eyes.
"Mr. Cambridge, I want to help."
"Then leave. Go the hell away."
"If you’d tell me what the police said, maybe I could—"
"The police said nothing. They talk about Laredo. They talk about Lillian being an adult. I’ve been convinced . . . to wait."
"By the police?"
He glared up at me, his jaw still shaking. "By many people."
“But you don’t believe they’re right, " I said. "Neither do I."
"What I believe is that Lillian had a chance at happiness, boy. What I believe is that you took that away from her—again." He spoke like a man who had just swallowed sour milk.
The words weren’t new to me. They brought back years of Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthdays where the conversation had always eventually turned to what I wasn’t doing for Lillian. The only difference was that Mrs. Cambridge wasn’t here now to steer the conversation someplace else. And this time, maybe, I couldn’t argue with him.
Mr. Cambridge nodded, as if agreeing with my thoughts. "They said it might be because of you. The police said that. If it is, boy—"
"Detective Rivas said this?"
Cambridge waved his hand dismissively. "If it is—"
He didn’t have to tell me about his younger days in the Navy. I heard the threat just fine.
"Sir, I’d like to have your help, but I’ll find Lillian with or without it."
"So help me God, if you interfere—if you make it any harder to get my girl back—"
"It is true she had a falling out with Dan?"
His head was trembling more now. "Nothing that couldn’t be mended."
"And you knew that Lillian was leaving the gallery she shared with Beau Karnau?"
He liked hearing Karnau’s name about as much as a diminished chord. "She made the right decision--leaving that gallery. It was never right for her. But God damn it, I’ve always supported her. I never said a word. I’d do anything for my family, boy. I’ve seen them through. What have you done besides making the hard times worse for her?"
I don’t know why. Something in his tone made me uncertain which "her" he was talking about. I thought about Lillian, refusing to say a negative word about her father, hugging him when he came in the door, blaming his terminal bad temper on investments. I thought about Angela Cambridge, probably still sitting in her dark room surrounded by her parakeets, crying, hugging an old shoe box full of dead memories.
Then I thought about Zeke Cambridge coming home to that every night for forty years, his determined green eyes eventually washing out with old age, fading a lot faster than that photograph of a pilot who’d never come back. Investments, my ass.
I didn’t say anything, but when I looked him in the eye again he heard the pity as clearly as I’d heard his threats. Face trembling, he slapped his stack of legal papers and his bifocals off the desk.
"Get the hell out," he said, his voice surprisingly soft. I stared at the cracked armrest of the leather chair. I swear I could still see the impressions a sixteen-year-old’s nervous fingers had made there, waiting for his driver’s license to pass inspection. When I looked back up I almost hoped to see the marble features I remembered, the fierce disapproval. Instead, I saw an old man whose last shot at dignity was making the bowl of butter toffees rattle on his desk.
I got up to leave.
As I closed the door Zeke Cambridge kept staring straight ahead, looking more like an undertaker than ever, one who was getting old and angry and still hadn’t successfully buried his first client.
Just to piss off Jay Rivas, I spent the rest of the afternoon at SAPD looking through the blotters for any recent mention of the names in Drapiewski’s police files. They can’t keep you out of the blotters, but they didn’t have to like it. My charming guide, Officer Torres, kept glaring at my jugular and making little growling noises in the back of her throat. I almost asked her if I could put a bow on her neck and send her to Carlon McAffrey for Christmas.
After that I visited the mole people at Carlon McAffrey’s much-touted newspaper morgue, then the County Bureau of Records.
Never let them tell you an English Ph.D. is useless. True, I don’t get many calls to discuss the dirty jokes in The Canterbury Tales, even if that was my dissertation topic, but I can research rings around your average P.I. Terrence & Goldman always loved me for that. By five-thirty when the clone of my third-grade teacher kicked me out of Records, I’d whittled Drapiewski’s list of twelve FBI suspects in my father’s murder down to four viables, or at least questionables. Three others were in Huntsville for life without parole. Four were dead. One was awaiting trial on federal charges. None of them were going anywhere for quite a while, nor could they have been up to anything since I had come back to town. I looked at my four possibles, trying to imagine one of them behind the wheel of a ’76 Pontiac with Randall Halcomb. I waited for a volunteer to jump out at me. Nobody raised his hand.
I picked up the tail on Broadway, just as I passed the Pigstand Coffee Shop. Despite local lore, there were no pigs present.
"Never when you need one," I said to the rearview mirror.
The tail was a black Chrysler, early eighties model. I cursed the lenient Texas regulations on window tinting. I couldn’t see the car’s interior worth a damn. Problem number two with driving a VW bug: Unless your tail is driving a very old Schwinn with less than ten gears, you can pretty much forget losing them.
They weren’t interested in hanging back, either. I hadn’t even had enough time to say a "Hail Mary" before the Chrysler pulled around the intervening cars and went into high gear, coming around on my left. When I saw the shotgun window roll down I remembered why they call it the shotgun window. Then I yanked on the wheel, hard.
I’ll say this for the VW. It handles sidewalks a lot nicer than your average Chrysler. I was across two front lawns, a parking lot, and into an alley before the enemy managed to pull their boat around. Thank God for my high school years, revving around these streets with Ralph like we were James Dean’s drunk and ugly younger brothers. I still knew the turns and I took them. Another good thing about the VW: The engine’s in the back so you aren’t blinded when it starts burning to hell and billowing black smoke.
After ten minutes without seeing the Chrysler I slowed down to fifty in the twenty zone on Nacodoches and took inventory. That’s when I noticed the new ventilation in the ragtop. Three holes the size of .45 bullets on the left side, three identical holes on the right side. The nearest one was about six inches south of my head. I hadn’t even heard them.
"So much for not being willing to kill me," I said, cursing Maia Lee.
I’d like to say I was calm when I got back to Queen Anne. The truth was, when I found that Robert Johnson still hadn’t eaten his Friskies taco, I kicked it across the living room. The dish, that is, not Robert Johnson.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com