Page 23


Sheff’s long and healthy profit margin for the past decade until last year suggested that Travis Center had gone way over budget and way behind schedule. Your tax dollars at work. But now Travis Center was completed and it looked like Sheff Construction was heading back into the red.

I looked at their projections for next year—there was only one pending deal. The entire resources of the company were already committed to building the city’s new fine arts complex. Sheff Construction had done their cost estimates based on the bidding price the city had approved, figured their payroll based on that income, and had a pretty good estimated timetable for their sub-contractors. They would be back in the black again easily.

The only problem was that the bidding process for the fine arts complex project, according to my radio chum Carl Wiglesworth, hadn’t even started yet. I stared at the computer screen, wondering how Sheff had monopolized a huge city works project like Travis Center. And, more importantly, how they could be so damn sure they would get the next one. I was just about to ask the computer those questions when the office door swung open.

"Before I call the security guard," the man in the doorway said, "maybe you’d explain why you’re sitting at my desk."

Terry Garza didn’t look as good as his picture. His silver hair was flat on the left side and he had red lines on his cheek like he’d just been sleeping on a corduroy-covered pillow. He was wearing the same dark blue suit pants he’d had on that afternoon, half untucked from his gray justins. His shirt was wrinkled and his tie was hanging loose around his neck. In the picture he also wasn’t holding a tiny silver .22.

I shut down Spider John and spit out the disk. Then I stood up very carefully.

"Sorry," I said. "I talked to Dan earlier, said I’d be coming by tonight. I thought he’d cleared it with you. Tim out front didn’t mention you were still here." I held up my key chain, as if it were proof that I’d come in legitimately. I looked innocent, meeting Garza’s stare.

Garza’s dark eyes narrowed. The gun lowered a few inches, then came back up again.

"I don’t think so," he said.

"Maybe if I was wearing a tie?"

A smile flickered across the left side of Garza’s mouth. "Timothy is his last name. Sam Timothy. Nobody calls him Tim."

"Shit. Missed the comma."

"Yeah."

Garza motioned for me to come around the desk, turned me around, then did a pretty professional job of patting me down with one hand. He took the computer disk out of my pocket.

"They teach you frisking in contractors’ school?" I asked.

He gave me another half smile. We were buddies now. Then he went around the desk to reclaim his leather chair and left me standing on the other side. His face looked calm, still half-asleep, but his dark eyes were alert, maybe a little anxious. They got more anxious when they saw Beau Karnau’s photos on the desk. Garza looked quickly from me to the photos, to the computer, then back at me.

"So," he said thinly, "who have we got here?"

"We’ve got Jackson Tres Navarre. No comma."

Garza stared at me for a minute. Then he actually smiled all the way. "No kidding."

I didn’t like the way he said that. Garza must’ve read my expression. He just shrugged.

"You made Dan angry this morning, Mr. Navarre."

So I said to him, ‘I’ll keep my eyes open.’ I close my eyes for a while and—" He snapped his fingers, then pointed at me. "I just think that’s funny."

He met my eyes and tried to look relaxed, like he was in charge. His teeth were as white as his mustache. His fingers had tightened on the gun a little too much for my taste.

"Hysterical," I agreed. I looked down at the family picture on his desk. "No other place to sleep, Mr. Garza? Problems at home, maybe?"

Garza’s smile hardened. His face turned the rusty color of Hill Country granite.

“Let’s talk about you," he said.

I was thinking about options for leaving Garza’s office without a police escort or a bullet in my anatomy. At the moment the alternatives seemed slim. I decided, for the moment, to confuse him with the truth.

"Dan wanted to hire me," I told him. “We talked this morning about Lillian Cambridge."

Garza stroked his mustache. "Do you always start a job by investigating your boss, Mr. Navarre?"

"Only when I have questions."

Garza leaned back in his chair. He propped one foot on the edge of the desk. I couldn’t help noticing the bottom of his boot—no grooves, pointed toe, maybe a ten and a half wide.

"Such as?" he asked.

"For starters, how you got the contract on Travis Center, and how you managed to win the fine arts complex before the bidding process even started. Last I checked, fixing city contracts was a legal no-no."

Garza said nothing. His smile had frozen.

"I’m also wondering who the two missing people in that picture might be, who the blond guy is, and why it might be worth ten thousand dollars a month to Sheff Construction. I keep thinking, if I were Beau Karnau, and my art wasn’t selling so well, and I somehow came across evidence that my studio partner’s fiancé was up to some very profitable, very illegal insider deals with city contracts—well, I might just be tempted to take some photos of him and whoever his partners were. I might just blackmail the hell out of them."

Garza rested the butt of his little silver gun on the top of the desk. In the light of the computer screen it looked blue and translucent, like a water pistol.

“Is that all, Mr. Navarre?"

"Except for one thing. What size boot do you wear, Mr. Garza?"

I smiled. Garza smiled. Keeping one eye on me, Garza slipped my disk into the computer.

"Eleven wide, Mr. Navarre. As to the rest, assuming you have any business asking, you’d have to talk to Mr. Sheff. "

"Which Mr. Sheff? The comatose one or the one with the Looney Tunes glass in his desk? They both seem equally well informed about the family business."

Garza shook his head, obviously disappointed in me. He showed me the hand that wasn’t holding the gun, palm out. "You see these?"

"Fingers," I said. “I count five."

He smiled. "Calluses, Mr. Navarre. Something you don’t see much these days. A blue-collar man who’s made a decent living—that’s a dying breed, a dinosaur." He tapped the family photo with the side of his gun. "Worked construction since I was fifteen, don’t have much formal education, but I manage to support my family pretty well. I like my employers for giving me that. And I don’t have much patience for privileged young Anglo shits who break into my office at three in the morning and try to tear it all up."

He was still smiling, his knuckles white on the gun. Legally, we both knew, he could shoot me right now for trespassing and the biggest complication he would face would be how to dry-clean the rug. Then Spider john wove its web across the computer screen one more time to the tune of "Havana Daydreamin’."

"Now let’s see what you’ve got here," Garza said.

"Before I erase it, and decide whether or not I need to erase you."

That’s when I saw the car.

When the headlights got near enough to shine through the window behind Garza’s desk, Garza glanced around briefly and scowled, probably wondering who the new early morning visitor could be. But he was more worried about me. He turned back to the computer screen. I couldn’t see anything but headlights, getting big, very quickly.

Let’s see what happens when it turns toward the gate, I thought.

Stupid, Navarre. The car didn’t turn toward the gate. I stood there frozen and watched it come straight through the fence, past my friend the cow, through the petunias, and down my throat.

I think I rolled toward the doorway before the window exploded. I don’t remember. When I opened my eyes, a few hundred years later, I was wedged between the wall and Garza’s overturned desk, about four inches shy of having been pressed into a human tortilla. The back of my head felt like it had rubbed off against the carpet. Somewhere close by, Terry Garza was groaning. His eleven wide boot was in my face. From floor level all I could see of the car that had nearly killed us was the ruined front end—radiator steam hissing out in several places, blue metal and tangled chrome teeth that looked like they were trying to eat Garza’s desk. I could smell gasoline. Finally I looked above me, hazily, and saw three small holes. It took me a while to realize that two of them were the security guard’s nostrils. The third was the barrel of his gun.

"Jesus Christ, " Timothy, S. was saying. He was pointing the gun at me but looking into the car. "Jesus fucking H. Christ."

I tried to sit up, to see what he was seeing. It wasn’t one of my better ideas.

"Don’t even do shit, God damn it, " Timothy, S. said. The quivery sound in his voice told me he was very close to breaking, even closer to blowing my face off. I sat back and jarred Garza’s boot. Garza groaned. Timothy, S.’s nostrils kept dilating. His face had gone totally yellow now, even his eyes.

"Jesus H. Christ, " he said again. Then he threw up.

"The driver is dead?" I asked.

The guard looked at me and tried to laugh. It came out as a yelp. "Yeah. Yeah, you might could say that, shithead."

Very slowly I put up my hands.

"Look," I said. "I need to get up. You smell the gasoline, right?"

Timothy, S. just stared at me, his gun leveled.

Okay, I thought. I kept my hands in plain view while I got up. Then I hobbled out from behind the desk, bent over like a question mark. Garza kept moaning from underneath a pile of books and unpotted plants.

I looked over at where Garza’s office wall had been. The car was an old blue Thunderbird convertible, or it had been before it was driven through the wall. The hood was crumpled like a contour map of the Rockies. The windshield was shattered. Somebody had tied the wheel straight and laid a slab of granite over the accelerator. The T-bird probably would have barreled right on through the building it if hadn’t lost an axle when it jumped up onto the foundation.

The driver’s seat was occupied.

My intestines started dissolving and trickling down into my shoes. I could still see the eagle killing the snake on Eddie Moraga’s forearm. Eddie was wearing the same denim shirt he’d had on the night he attacked me outside Hung Fong. Except for that he was hard to recognize. A person can be that way when his eyes have been tunneled out with a pistol at point-blank.

I’m not sure what happened after that. I do know that when the police arrived, the guard and I were sitting in the broken glass, staring into space, talking like old friends about the living and the dead. Garza groaned like a chorus in the corner. I didn’t care about Detective Schaeffer asking me questions. I didn’t even care when Jay Rivas arrived, dragged me into a room, and slapped me across the side of the face. I just spat blood and teeth and kept staring into the headlights that I still saw coming at me, running over everything and everyone that mattered.

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***