“It sounds like your day was hell, Tres. I’m impressed you’re still standing."
“Nothing an enchilada dinner and a beautiful woman won’t cure."
She took my hand. "Any one in particular?"
I thought about it. "Green or chicken mole."
She slapped me on the thigh and called me names.
We knew better than to try making reservations at Mi Tierra on a Saturday night. You just throw yourself into the crowd of tourists and native San Antonians in the front room, wave money, and hope you get a table in under an hour.
It was worth it. We got seats close to the bakery, where trays of cinnamon-smelling pan dulce in neon colors were brought out of the ovens every few minutes. The Christmas lights were still up along the walls, and the mariachis were as thick as flies, only much fatter. I threatened Lillian with having them play "Guantanamera" at our table unless she let me buy dinner.
She laughed. "A dirty trick. And me a successful businesswoman. "
She had promised to show me her gallery the next day. It was a small place in La Villita she co-owned with her old college mentor, Beau Karnau. They mostly sold Mexican folk art to tourists.
“And your own art?" I asked.
She looked down briefly, smiling still but not so much. Sore subject.
Ten years ago, when I left, Beau Karnau and Lillian had been talking big about her career—New York shows, museum exhibitions, changing the face of modern photographic art. As soon as the world rediscovered Beau’s genius (which they’d apparently appreciated for about three months during the sixties) Lillian would ride his coattails to fame. Now, ten years later, Beau and Lillian were selling curios.
"I don’t get as much time as I did in college," she said. "But soon. I have some new ideas."
I decided not to push it. After a large waiter with an even larger mustache came to take our order, Lillian changed subjects.
"How about you? Now that I’ve got you out here without a job, I mean. It can’t be that easy without an investigator’s license. "
I shrugged. "Some legal firms like that—informal help for the messy jobs, no records on the payroll. I’ve got a few leads. Maia has lots of friends of friends."
The minute I said her name I wished I hadn’t. It landed in the middle of the table between us like a brick. Lillian slowly licked some salt from the rim of her glass. There was no change in her face.
"You could always get a job evicting wayward tenants," she suggested.
“Or I could help sell art for you."
She gave me a lopsided smile. "When I have to pin a customer in a joint lock to buy my work, I’ll know it’s him; to put down the camera and the paintbrush for good."
The waiter returned quickly with a bowl of butter and a basket the size of a top hat filled with handmade tortillas. Unfortunately Fernando Asante came up to our table right behind him.
"I’ll be damned!" he said. “If it isn’t Jack Navarre’s boy. "
Before I could put down my half-buttered tortilla I was shaking hands with him, staring up at his weathered brown face and a row of smiling, gold-outlined teeth. Asante’s hair was so thin and well greased, combed back from his forehead, that it could’ve been drawn on with a Marksalot.
I stood up, introducing Lillian to San Antonio’s eldest city councilman. As if she didn’t know who he was. As if anybody in town who read the Express-News tabloid section didn’t know.
" ’Course," Asante said. “I remember Miss Cambridge. Fiesta Week. The Travis Center opening, with Dan Sheff. "
Asante had a gift for names, and that one fell onto the table like another brick. Lillian winced a little. The councilman just smiled. I smiled back. An Anglo man had come up behind Asante and was waiting patiently with that distracted, brooding expression most bodyguards develop. About six feet, curly black hair, boots and jeans, T-shirt and linen jacket. Lots of muscles. He didn’t smile.
"Councilman. You made it into the San Francisco paper a while back."
He did his best modest look. "The Travis Center opening. Millions in new revenue to the city. Friends called me up from all over the country, said they saw the coverage."
“Actually it was that piece about the secretary and you in Brackenridge Park."
Lillian suppressed a laugh by choking on her margarita. Asante’s smile wavered momentarily, then came back different—more of a snarl. We were all quiet for a few seconds. I’d seen him give that look plenty to my dad in the years they had been at each other’s throats. I was downright proud to see it turned on me. I figured wherever my father was he would probably be biting the end off a new cigar and laughing his ass off about then.
Asante’s large friend felt the change of mood, I guess. He moved around to the side of the table.
"Love to have you join us for dinner," I offered. "Double date?"
"No thanks, Jack," the councilman said. That was the second time today someone had called me by my father’s name. It sounded strange.
"I hear you’re in town for good." He didn’t seem to like the sound of that. "It can be tough finding jobs down here. You have any trouble, let me know."
"Least I can do." A politician’s grin smoothed over his face again. "Not every day a Bexar County sheriff gets shot down. Your dad . . . that was a bad way to go."
Asante kept smiling. I was counting the gold caps on his teeth, wondering how hard they would be to break off.
“I always wished I could do something more for your family, jack, but, well, you left town so fast. Like a jackrabbit, heard that shot and boom, you were in California. "
A young orange-haired woman in a glittery dress came up behind Asante and waited at a respectful distance. Asante glanced back at her and nodded.
"Well," he said, parting his belly. "Dinnertime now. Like I said, you need anything, Jack, let me know. Nice to see you again, Miss Cambridge."
Asante’s fan club followed him to a table nearby. My enchilada dinner was probably very good. I don’t remember.
Around midnight Lillian and I drove back to her house with the VW top down. The stars were out and the air was as warm and clean as fresh laundry. "I’m sorry about Asante," she said after a while. I shrugged. "Don’t be. Coming home is like that--you have to face the assholes too."
She had taken my hand by the time we pulled into her driveway. We sat there listening to the conjunto music from the house next door. The windows were lit up orange. Beers were being opened, loud talking in Spanish, Santiago Jimenez’s accordion wailing out "Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio."
"Tonight was hard anyway," Lillian said. “We’re going to need time to figure things out, I guess."
She raised my hand to her lips. I was looking at her, remembering the first time I had kissed her in this car, how she looked. She had been wearing a white sundress, her hair cut like Dorothy Hamill’s. We had been sixteen, I think.
I kissed her now.
"I’ve been figuring things out for ten years," I told her. "It’s got to get easier from here."
She looked at me for a long time with an expression I couldn’t read. She almost decided to say something. Then she kissed me back.
It was hard to talk for a while, but I finally said: “Robert Johnson will be mad if I don’t bring him these leftovers for dinner."
“Enchiladas for breakfast?" Lillian suggested.
We went inside.
Everything with Lillian was familiar, from her linen sheets to the citrus scent of her hair when I finally fell asleep buried in it. I was even hoping I might dream of her for a change, the way I used to. I didn’t.
The dreams started out like a slide show—newspaper photos of my dad, Express-News headlines that had burned themselves into my memory that summer. Then it was a late spring evening in May of ’85 and I was standing on the front porch of my father’s house in Olmos Park. A battered gray Pontiac, probably a ’76, tinted windows and no license plate, was pulling up by the curb as my father walked from the driveway to the front door, carrying two bags of groceries. Carl Kelley, his deputy and best friend, was a few steps behind him. For some reason I remember exactly what Carl was holding—a twelve-pack of Budweiser in one hand and a watermelon in the other. I was opening the front door for them, my eyes red from studying for my last round of freshman final exams at A & M.
My dad was at his very heaviest—nearly three hundred pounds of muscle and fat stuffed into oversized jeans and a checkered shirt. Sweat lines running down his temples from the rim of his brown Stetson, he lumbered up the steps with a cigar drooping off the corner of his mouth. He looked up and gave me one of his sly grins, started to say something, probably a wisecrack at my expense. Then a small hole blew open in the grocery bag in Dad’s right arm. A perfect white stream of milk sprouted out. Dad looked momentarily puzzled. The second shot came out the front of his Stetson.
Fumbling for his gun, Carl hit the ground for cover about the same time my dad hit the ground dead. Dad was three months away from retirement. The watermelon made a bright red starburst as it exploded on the sidewalk. The gray Pontiac pulled away and was gone.
When I woke up alone in Lillian’s bed the conjunto music from next door had stopped. The cranberry glass night lamp was on, making the squares of moonlight pink against the hardwood floor. Through the open bedroom door I could see Lillian standing naked in the living room, her arms hugging her body, staring at one of her photos on the wall.
She didn’t seem to hear me when I called. When I came up behind her and put my arms around her shoulders, she stiffened. Her eyes never left the photo.
It was one of her early college pieces—a black and white photo-collage of animals, human faces, insects, buildings, all of it hand-tinted and merged into one surrealistic mass. I remembered the December weekend when she’d been putting it together for her end-of-term project. I’d done my best to distract her. We’d ended up with photo scraps scattered all over the bed and clinging to our sweaters.
"Naive," she said, absently. "Beau used to take me out into the country—we’d be shivering all night in sleeping bags on some godforsaken hilltop in Blanco for one shot of a meteor shower, or we’d trudge through twenty acres of pasture outside Uvalde so we’d be in just the right position at dawn to catch the light behind a windmill. He used to say that every picture had to be I taken at the greatest possible expense. Then I’d look back at my old collages like this one and think how easy they’d been."
"Maybe naive gets a bad rap, " I said.
We stood there together and looked at it for a minute.
"It just feels strange," she said. “You being here."
She leaned her head against me. The tension in her shoulders didn’t go away.
"What else is it?" I said.
She hesitated. “There are complications."
I kissed her ear. "You asked for me to be here. I’m here. There’s no complication."
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com