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"Yeah well," he said, "my little brother tends to exaggerate."

"He also says you could be running the world if you didn’t spend so much time at jimmy Buffett concerts."

Garrett shrugged. But he had a pleased gleam in his eyes.

“A man’s got to have a hobby," he said. "Just please no jokes about wasting away in Margaritaville. That one got old faster than Ronald Reagan."

Maia laughed. Then in a very quiet, very passable voice she started singing "A Pirate Looks at Forty."

Garrett kept smiling, but he looked at Maia as if he were reevaluating her.

“My theme song these days," Garrett said.

"Mine too."

It was the first and only indicator I’d ever had of Maia’s age. Garrett showed his teeth, all hundred of them.

"So, Tres," he said, "where’d you meet this lady again?"

With that he took out a joint and lit up.

Paranoia was not a concept that existed in Garrett’s mind. I’d seen him smoking pot in shopping malls, restaurants, just about anywhere. If questioned he would talk poker-faced about his "prescription." Nobody ever wanted to argue much with a paraplegic. The line of retired sightseers froze when the smell of the mota hit them. They glanced back nervously at Garrett, then dissolved. We no longer had butts obstructing our view of the bridge.

Maia and I both refused the joint, politely. Then Garrett spent half an hour telling us about his last Parrot-head tour of the South, his asshole bosses at RNI, the impending collapse of Austin society at the hands of Silicon Valley transplants.

"Damn Californians," he concluded.

"I beg your pardon," said Maia.

Garrett grinned. "You can come into the state, honey. It’s just this ugly bastard you brought with you."

I showed Garrett a hand gesture. Maia laughed.

It got dark and cool. God poured grenadine on the horizon. Finally, when he was ready to talk business, Garrett said: "So what’s all this about, little brother?"

I told him. For a minute Garrett blew smoke. He stared at me, then at Maia’s legs. His expression told me he’d just reevaluated my IQ downward a hefty percentage.

"So you and Maia are looking for—"

"Lillian," I said.

"More or less," said Maia.

Garrett shook his head. "Unreal."

"Can you look at the disk for us?" I asked Garrett.

Cameras flashed as the first few bats flitted overhead like sparrows with hangovers. Garrett glanced up at them, shook his head to indicate that the real show hadn’t begun yet, then turned back to us. He pulled his tie-dyed shirt back down over his belly.

"I don’t guess you want my advice," he said.

"Not really, " I said.

"Sounds to me like this is your old girlfriend’s gig," he said. "Turn this shit over to somebody else and walk, little brother."

Somebody on the bridge shouted. When I looked up, a woman in pink was leaning over the railing with her arms dangling into a steady stream of bats.

"They tickle!" she shouted to her friends. People laughed. More cameras went off.

"Fuckers," said Garrett. "The flashes disorient the hell out of the bats. They run into cars and shit. Don’t they know that? Fuckers!"

The last word he shouted into the crowd. Only a few people turned around. Nobody wanted to argue with him, maybe, but nobody wanted to pay him any attention, either.

"Tres?"

In the twilight Maia’s face was losing its features, so it was hard to guess her expression, but her arm still pressed against mine warmer than ever. She waited for me to say something. When I didn’t, she turned to Garrett.

"Can you look at it, Garrett?" she asked.

His scowl softened. Maybe it was Maia’s hand on his armrest. Maybe it was the joint.

"Sure," he said. "Whatever. But it seems to me you got to get a life, little brother. Picking at old wounds--fuck, if I spent my life with that they’d’ve locked me up by now."

He met my eyes only for a second, then he laughed and shook his head. Whatever pain was there, it had been buried a long time ago under drug abuse, wildness, testiness, and arrogance—all the Navarre family values.

I couldn’t help it. I tried again to imagine Garrett at those dark railroad tracks twenty years ago. The confident train-hitcher, the intractable hippie, running away from home for the twentieth and last time—the one time he’d sprinted to the freight car and missed the rungs. I tried to see his face, pale with shock, looking desperately at the black glistening lake where his legs had been. I tried to imagine him for once without that cultivated son-of-a-bitch smile. But he’d been alone then and he was still alone with it. There was no way to imagine what Garrett had said or thought two decades ago, staring at those wet rails that had mercifully sealed the blood flow. He’d been alone and conscious for more than an hour by the time my sister Shelley found him.

"Old wounds," he said now. "Fuck that."

Then the bats came out for real. Cameras stopped flashing. People’s mouths dropped. We all just stared at the endless cloud of smoke drifting east into the Hill Country, smoke looking for a few jillion pounds of insects to eat.

Garrett smiled like a kid at the matinee.

"Un-fucking-real," he said.

In ten minutes more bats passed over our heads than the total number of people in South Texas. Somewhere in that time Maia had taken my hand and I hadn’t pulled it away.

The tourists unfroze. Then one by one, growing bored with the bats, they drifted off to the parking lot. Maia and I stayed perfectly still. Finally Garrett wheeled his chair around and pushed himself up the hill. Maia stood and followed him. Then I followed her. It was hard to miss Garrett’s VW safari van. In the dark, the mound of plastic pineapples and bananas that was hot-glued to the roof made the van look like it had hair. When we got closer I saw that the paint job was just the way it had been years ago, rows of Ms. Mirandas along the sides, all in outrageous Caribbean dresses.

"They don’t dance like Carmen no more?" Maia suggested.

Garrett grinned at her as he slipped his chair into the lift grooves. "Will you marry me?"

A few minutes later we were sitting on beanbags and drinking Pecan Street Ale from Garrett’s cooler. My eyes teared over from the smell of mota and very old patchouli. Garrett had booted up his "portable" computer—several hundred pounds of wires and hardware that had years ago taken over the van’s backseat and whose generator required most of the luggage compartment. Then he stuck in our mystery CD.

Garrett frowned. He thought about it for a minute. He tried a few commands. He cracked open some files and looked inside.

“Slice and dice," he pronounced. "Easy to fix if you’ve got the other disk."

Maia looked at me, then at Garrett. "The other disk?"

"Yeah. You split your data between two disks. The program to reassemble it’s pretty simple. But you read one disk alone, it’s all nonsense codes, man, scrambled eggs. Pretty safe way to store sensitive stuff."

I took a drink of my Pecan Street and thought about that. "So you can’t tell anything about what’s on there?"

Garrett shrugged. “It’s big. That much data usually means detailed graphics."

“As in photographs?

Garrett nodded.

Maia stared at the dingo balls around Garrett’s windows.

"Garrett," she said, "if I was using photos to blackmail somebody--"

He grinned. "You just keep looking better, honey."

"If I was, why a CD? Why not just keep the negatives?"

Garrett took a long drag on his joint. His eyes glittered. You could tell he was enjoying figuring out the devious possibilities.

"Okay. You can’t encrypt negatives. You can’t lock them so that nobody but you can make copies. Somebody finds them, then they’ll know exactly what they’re looking at, right? If it was me, shit yes, I’d scan everything in, keep that as my master print, then shred the negatives. You got your two disks, you got your program to reassemble. In a couple of minutes you can print up as many hard copies as you need, or, even better, upload those suckers onto the net and pretty soon they’re printing out at every news desk and police station in the state, if that’s what you want. But if somebody comes looking through your stuff, unless they’re very good or they know exactly what they’re looking for, they don’t find shit."

Garrett stopped and took another hit. "So who’s got the other disk?"

I took out a flier that had been folded in my pocket for a long time. I looked at the date—July 31, tonight. Nine to midnight. Driving like bats out of hell, we could be there just when things started cooking. No offense to the bats.

Besides, Garrett was leering at Maia’s legs again and about to offer her another beer. If I didn’t make a counteroffer we’d be here all night.

"You like art openings?" I asked her.

34

Even with the windows rolled down at ten at night the Buick felt like the inside of a blow drier. I sat shotgun and watched the subdivisions go by while a cold triangle of sweat glued my shirt to the back of my seat. The smell of dead skunks and brushfires blew through the car.

I guess I was being too quiet. When we passed Live Oak, Maia finally reached out and touched my arm.

“You still thinking about Garrett?"

I shook my head.

In fact I hadn’t thought about much else since we’d left Austin. I’d been foolish to think I’d get away from Garrett without one of his lectures. While Maia retrieved the rental car from the Marriott parking lot, Garrett had given me his philosophy on old girlfriends. Then for the millionth time he’d cataloged Dad’s offenses against the family; how Dad had basically abandoned Garrett and Shelley after their mother had died, left them with his abusive second wife for years while he went out drinking, politicking, falling in love with whores and junior Leaguers. How Garrett took to running away and Shelley took to abusive men.

"By the time he married your mom it was too fucking late to make any difference," Garrett said. "Shelley and I were out of the house and your mom was too damn nice to change him. She never told you the last straw, did she? You were in what--tenth grade? The bastard took your mom to some party at the McNay Museum, then disappeared. When your mom and her friends finally found him, he was down in the woods by the old fish pond screwing the lights out of junior Leaguer number seven. He just smiled, zipped his pants, and went back into the party to get another drink."

Garrett laughed weakly. Then he looked down at where his lap should’ve been. "Let the bastard stay dead, little brother. It’s the only thing that’s ever given me a sense of justice."

Maia exited in downtown San Antonio. We drove past the decaying mansions of the King William District, then across East Arsenal where the San Antonio River flowed by sluggish and polluted with tourist left-overs. Its banks this far south were empty except for the crack addicts.

When we pulled up in front of Blue Star the gravel lot was already full to bursting with BMWs and Ferraris. Women in evening dresses did coke on the hoods of their cars; men in black sweated in the heat and drank champagne on the old loading docks of the renovated warehouses. An apathetic handwritten sign in front of one of the larger galleries announced Beau’s opening upstairs at a loft space called Galleria Azul, perched at the top of a narrow iron fire escape.

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