I should have insisted on going home immediately, but I was tired, and it felt good, just for the moment, to be carried along, lying down in the backseat of my mother’s car for the first time in twenty years. I let myself be carried right into Dr. Long’s office. My dentist from elementary school, Dr. Long was older and grayer now, but his hands were just as big and clumsy inside my mouth as I remembered.
“Well," he said, "anything for a friend."
Then my mother smiled her warmest smile. Dr. Long smiled back and immediately cleared his afternoon appointments. Through a haze of anesthetics we had a great one-sided discussion about the advances in porcelain grafting technology. When he poured me out of the chair and into the waiting room, around five o’clock, he didn’t even offer me a lollipop.
The first word I said was: "Vandiver."
Mother looked overjoyed. At least until I walked into her house and started rifling through her knickknack displays for the Mexican statuette that Lillian had given me a week ago at the gallery. I finally found it on top of the piano, the two skeleton lovers in their hideously glazed orange car parked contentedly between a book of Zen poetry and a horseshoe. I repossessed the statuette, then walked out to Mother’s Volvo again.
I said: “Home."
It took my mother a few minutes to realize I meant Queen Anne Street. Then, looking pained, she asked Jess Makar to meet us there when he had liberated my impounded VW. Fifteen minutes later Mother dropped Maia and me off at Number 90, and was almost convinced she could leave us there safely when Jess drove up in my car. The .45 holes in the ragtop flapped wildly.
"Tres—" she said. She started to get out of the car for the third time.
I just shook my head and kissed her cheek. Jess nodded at me, gave Maia a long look, then climbed into the passenger seat.
"Tres—" she said again.
"Mother," I mumbled, "thank you. But go home now. It’s okay."
I couldn’t meet her eyes. I couldn’t look at Maia either as we went up the steps.
After I had made sure that no one had been in the house, I stretched out on the futon. I stared at the water stain of Australia on the ceiling. Maia stood over me, hugging her arms.
"Byron Ash?" I said.
Maia shrugged very slightly. “He owed me a favor. His son and I were at Berkeley together."
"I don’t remember his name on that list of job possibilities you gave me."'
Maia managed a smile as she sat down next to me.
"Not that big a favor, Tex."
Eventually I slept, me and my hollow-eyed chauffeur driving a Thunderbird blindly into some dreams about men with little silver guns, Looney Tunes glasses full of bourbon, and pictures of authentic cowboys. I’m not sure, but I imagined Maia keeping watch over me all night. I think she kissed me once, very lightly, on the temple. Or maybe I just dreamed that too. At the time, I wasn’t sure which thought was more disturbing.
When I woke up the next morning all the police records and news clippings were stacked in neat piles around Maia’s bare feet. She’d changed into a beige sundress, and her hair was loose around her shoulders. Robert Johnson sat on her lap, sticking out his tongue at me.
“So which one is Halcomb?" Maia said.
She looked up and smiled. I tried to focus on the mug shots she was showing me.
"Halcomb?" I repeated.
I tried to lift my head. It throbbed, but the swelling around my jaw had gone down to nothing larger than a Mexican lime. My new teeth felt slick like the side of a pool. I looked up at Maia’s very awake face.
"Shit," I mumbled, "I can’t believe you’re here."
It almost felt good to resent something so familiar for a change. I’d forgotten the way she woke me up with her pop quizzes, always at the bedside, fully dressed no matter how early I tried to rise, ready to pummel me with questions about cases I was working on, world politics, the PGSCE bill. I stared glumly at Maia’s coffee mug.
"Wait a minute," I said, catching the scent. "You brought Peet’s?"
She raised her eyebrows. "You get none until you talk to me."
“That’s inhuman. "
"Talk," she ordered.
I muttered some of her own Mandarin curses, then sat up and straightened my T-shirt.
"All right. That one’s Randall Halcomb."
I pointed to the mug shot of a scraggly-looking man--shoulder-length blond hair, darker beard, thin face, a nose that had been broken at least once. Halcomb’s eyelids were heavy and his mouth upturned at the corners, as if he had been pleasantly stoned when he was booked. He looked much too content to steal a Pontiac, or to drive it past a sheriff’s house with the intent to kill.
"One of the others could’ve been Halcomb’s accomplice in the drive-by," I said. "There had to be at least two people in the car—one to drive, one to shoot. All those guys knew Halcomb in prison, all are still alive and free as far as I can tell, and if you don’t give me that coffee now I’ll have to kill you."
"You can try."
She poured me a cup only after she had poured a little more into Robert Johnson’s saucer.
"He definitely does not need caffeine," I warned her.
"You’re just jealous," she said.
Maybe it was true. The traitor required exactly the right mix of Blend 101 and whole milk, a recipe only Maia had had the patience to master. He lapped at his cafe au lait and stared at me smugly.
"So," said Maia, "maybe one of these men was involved in your father’s death and got past an FBI investigation. "
She shook her head. "Or maybe the FBI knew what they were doing, Tres. Maybe this line of suspects goes nowhere."
I drank my coffee.
On the table in front of me, the Express-News headlines for the Thunderbird murder glared in lurid color. Detective Schaeffer was answering questions. Terry Garza was looking battered, trying not to look terrified. Garza told the paper that yes, the dead man Eddie Moraga had worked for Sheff Construction, but that Moraga had been laid-off several months ago.
Eddie’s face had been fuzzed out of the newspaper photos just enough to titillate the gentle reader. You could vaguely see the dark holes of his eyes. "The trademark execution style of a well-known South Texas crime syndicate, " one caption declared. Guy White’s name was mentioned. The nature of the death would lead to speculations about mob involvement. This would be a PR nightmare for Sheff Construction. There was no mention of me, which might explain why Carlon McAffrey wasn’t sitting in my lap yet.
I spent a few minutes bringing Maia up-to-date on what I’d learned from Mr. Garza’s computer. When I finished she stared at her bare feet for a minute, flexing her toes against the stack of police reports.
"Mr. Sheff is involved with some bad people," she said. "These fixed city contracts—I’ve seen two cases like it before in the Bay Area, Tres. Both times the mob was behind it. They give the construction firm an assurance that the city project will go to them with the price tag they want, and with no labor problems. The mob provides the bribery and the arm-twisting; in return, they cut themselves in for several million. The project always goes way over budget and behind schedule. Huge profits all around."
I stared at her. "And you know about this because—"
She shrugged. "One of those cases, I was defending the contractor. We won."
"Terrence & Goldman, always fighting the good fight."
"Tres," Maia said, "if Beau Karnau messed up a profitable arrangement between Sheff and the mob by trying blackmail, and if Sheff’s people got blamed for letting it happen—or botching the payoff . . ."
She looked down at the picture of Eddie Moraga’s corpse.
I nodded, trying to believe it. I remembered Dan Sheff behind his father’s big desk, looking nine years old, his hair sticking up like canary wings. I tried to imagine him playing some kind of hardball game with Guy White’s organization—making millions illegally off fixed bids on city projects, then ordering his employees to kill, abduct, wreak havoc on any who might find out, all while he was drinking Chivas from a Foghorn Leghorn glass.
Then the living-room wall rang. Maia frowned. I pulled down the ironing board and took the receiver.
"Mr. Navarre," the man said.
It took me a minute to recognize Terry Garza’s voice. It sounded like someone had mixed it with a few quarts of water, like Garza had been driving around all night in the same Thunderbird as me and was getting a little shaken up by the company.
"I think it’s time we talked," Garza said.
I looked at Maia.
Her eyebrows came together. She silently mouthed: What?
"I’m listening," I said into the phone.
"No. In person," Garza said. "This has to be in person."
"Because you want me to bring the statuette."
I waited for him to confirm it. Obviously Garza didn’t feel it was necessary.
"I’m a good employee, Mr. Navarre. I told you that. But I didn’t sign on for this. I have a family—"
"Who shot Eddie Moraga?"
Behind Garza I heard the drone of highway traffic, the background buzz of a pay phone connection.
"Let’s just say two parties are interested in what you have, Mr. Navarre. When the other party breaks into your apartment in the middle of the night, you won’t wake up the next morning. Do you understand that?"
I looked at Maia.
“I’ll be at Earl Abel’s tomorrow morning at seven,"
Garza said. "I tell you what you need to know about your girlfriend, you give me what I need to smooth things over. We might be able to get things . . . back to normal."
"If your employers don’t release Lillian Cambridge, there’s not going to be any normal."
Garza exhaled sharply. Or maybe it was a nervous laugh. "We need to have a talk, Mr. Navarre. We really do."
He hung up.
I stared at Maia. She looked at me, her eyes intensely black.
"Tell me," she said.
I looked down at the front page of the paper again, where Eddie’s dead face was a circle of fuzz in the bottom corner. I told Maia what Garza had said. She mixed cream into her coffee by turning the cup in little horizontal circles.
"Garza’s desperate to set things right before he becomes the next sacrificial lamb," she said.
Maia studied me over the top of her cup. "You still think we’re not dealing with the mob?"
"It’s convenient. Homicide will look at how Moraga was killed, then they’ll bring in Vice, then the FBI task force. Pretty soon everything is focused on Guy White. just like it was ten years ago, with my father’s murder."
Maia paused, choosing her words carefully. "Tres, I want you to think about this. What if this is separate from your father’s death? What if you’ve walked into something that has nothing to do with that, or your questions about the investigation, something that isn’t K your fault?"
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