Page 32

I rubbed my eyes again, pondering how to make breakfast from one beer and some baking soda. Thinking about my empty refrigerator led me to thinking about Larry Drapiewski’s card sitting in my medicine cabinet.

I looked at the time—9:00. Almost a civilized hour. If I made it sound urgent enough, he could be here in under thirty minutes, but only if I was prepared to discuss police matters in the serious businesslike manner to which he was accustomed. Which meant only one thing.

I peeled a few fifties off Beau Karnau’s stack.

“First," I told Maia, "we go grocery shopping."

39

I wasn’t sure whether Pappy Delgado was glad to see me or just happy to meet Maia. I harbored illusions that the old grocer took an interest in my well-being. It was probably closer to the truth that he took an interest in Maia’s white culottes and brown legs. Whichever, it was a slow morning in his little pink Christmas—lighted store, and Pappy decided to give us a guided tour of the produce aisle. On the way he helped me correct my Californian Espanol so I sounded more like a Tejano than a Cuban. Sandia instead of patia for watermelon agua fresca. Forget guinea for banana. He seemed endlessly amused to be schooling the gringo. Finally, while Maia was picking out avocados, Pappy nodded his huge nose her way and grinned at me.

"Y la chica?" he whispered.

I told him he was a dirty old man. He just grinned and told me he bathed daily, preferably not alone.

I called Drapiewski from the pay phone at the corner of New Braunfels and Eleanor and told him we had things to talk about and pan dulce to eat. He grudgingly agreed to come over.

"You want to give me some context here, Navarre? What’s the problem?"

“Heard about the murder at Sheff Construction? You guys had some deputies on the scene, I remember."

He was silent.

"Okay, how about Terry Garza dead on Austin Highway? We called it in anonymously last night."

He was still silent.

"Can I take that as a yes?" I asked.

"Holy hell," Drapiewski said. Then he hung up on me. Back at Queen Anne, I heated up the pan dulce Pappy’s wife had made in the back of the shop that morning and added a little butter and cinnamon. By the time they were out of the oven, Drapiewski was at the door. He wasn’t in a jovial mood.

Before he said anything he took a fistful of pan dulce and sat on the futon. On impact, it sank a few feet into the foundation. Robert Johnson was flushed out from underneath and belly-crawled all the way to the closet.

"All right," said Drapiewski. "Now what the fuck is this about homicides?"

Then Maia came out of the bathroom. Larry turned redder than he already was and pulled off his hat. He started to get up.

“Sorry," he said. "Didn’t know you had company."

Maia smiled and motioned him to stay seated.

"That’s all right, Lieutenant. I’m enchanted—I didn’t know anyone apologized for saying ‘fuck’ anymore."

"Ah—" Larry said.

Maia laughed, then introduced herself. One hand shake and Larry was in love. He grinned cinnamon and butter. He tried to make room on the futon for her and just about goosed himself with his nightstick. Since he’d totally forgotten he was supposed to be pissed at me, I decided to help him out. "Homicide, Larry? You were saying?"

He tried to scowl at me. Maybe it was for Maia’s benefit.

"I checked the telex on Garza a few minutes ago. Nothing’s even been posted yet."

Maia sat back as much as she could on the two inches of the futon not occupied by Drapiewski’s body.

“Is that unusual?"

"What’s unusual is that I hear about it from your friend here first." His eyes bored into me with all the accusatory power of a faithful hound dog I’d just kicked.

"I also followed up on Karnau this morning—had one of my deputies swing by his apartment, then his studio. They were both empty, like Karnau’s left town."

Maia and I looked at each other. Larry waited.

“So you want to tell me?" he asked.

I told him. By the time I got to last night’s soiree in Terry Garza’s trailer, Drapiewski didn’t look too happy. When I’d finished he put his hands together like he was praying and pointed them at me.

“You walked out on a murder scene after removing evidence."

"That’s one interpretation," I admitted.

"And the only solid evidence you have about this construction scam you obtained during a B & E at Sheff’s offices, which pretty much ruins it for the courts."

I nodded.

Larry’s huge red eyebrows came together. He exhaled.

“Son, you probably just ruined the best chance we’d ever have to string Guy White up by his balls for murdering your dad. I would’ve given anything, anytime in the last ten years for that chance and you just—" He stopped, collected himself. I could tell he was counting silently. "All right, let’s say you broached this whole thing as a hypothetical. Okay, fine. I’m not obliged to follow up. But here’s my hypothetical advice: Get your ass down to SAPD and cooperate like hell."

"That’s it?"

He exploded. “God damn it. You better believe the FBI will be in this sooner or later. When that happens they’ll take one look at the way you’ve screwed up the scene, and your ass will be flying at half-mast on the Feds’ flagpole. Then I won’t be able to do anything for you."

As we stared at each other, the ice cream truck trolled by outside. Since last week, its version of "La Bamba” had worn down a few octaves to a funeral march.

"And what about Rivas’s investigation on Lillian? What about the homicides?"

Drapiewski slowly brushed the pink sugar off his hands. "Let’s just say it would be damned unusual for me to ask SAPD straight out without a reason."

We sat there at an impasse until Maia decided to help. She rested her hand on Larry’s knee and smiled sadly, earnestly. "Could you find a reason, Lieutenant?"

Larry shifted uncomfortably, mumbling something to himself. He looked down at Maia’s hand. His expression broke.

"Aw shit," he said. "Friday I’m doing some off-duty security work with a buddy of mine from CID. Maybe we could talk."

Maia’s smile to Drapiewski was probably worth it. I was too busy watching the linoleum in the kitchen.

"And if Friday’s too late?" I asked.

Larry stood up. His hand on my shoulder felt like warm lead.

“Get your ass downtown, Tres. Before Friday. And stay the hell away from Guy White."

We were silent.

"Damn it, son," he said. “There’s nothing else I can do."

"You got any connections with the Blanco Sheriff’s Department?" I asked. "Randa1l Halcomb was killed out there. I’d like to know more about the scene."

Larry frowned.

"We could go out there alone . . ." I said, glancing at Maia.

"All right," Larry grumbled. "I’m off at noon. I’ll pick you up then, long as you do me two favors."

I gave him my winningest smile. “Anything for you."

"Stay put," he said.

“And?"

"Stop reminding me of your goddamn father."

40

I was hoping Drapiewski would settle for one out of three. We didn’t stay put and we didn’t stay the hell away from Guy White.

My first mistake was trying to get through Brackenridge Park on a Sunday morning. The minute we turned onto Mulberry we were stuck in a line of station wagons and low-rider Chevies, heavily pinstriped pickup trucks with sunbathers sprawled out in the cabs. Since we weren’t moving anywhere, drivers in opposite lanes carried on conversations in Spanish, exchanged beers and cigarettes, flirted shamelessly with the passengers who were invariably girls with red hair and tight black tube tops, even tighter cutoffs. The smell of barbacoa and hamburger smoke drifted through the trees as thick as fog. Picnic spots had been staked out as early as the night before along the riverbanks, so as near as I could tell the people in the cars just cruised in very slow circles, eating their Sunday lunch while they drove. Maia got several propositions and enough whistles to fill an aviary. Nobody whistled at me.

Since there was nothing else to do, I pointed out the miniature railroad tracks, the rent-a-pony stables, the place where the Great Brackenridge Train Robbery had taken place.

Maia looked at me for a translation. "The what?"

"My dad’s claim to law enforcement fame," I told her. "A group of basic trainees from Lackland got let loose on Day 25, drank some beer, decided to steal a few ponies and play Jesse James. They put bandannas on their faces, laid this dead tree across the tracks, then hid in the woods and waited for the kiddie train to come by. Robbed it at gunpoint and made a getaway."

"Charming," said Maia.

I held up my hand. "There’s more. My dad was a deputy at the time. Now that I think about it, that afternoon’s the only occasion I remember him being off-duty and sober at the same time. I think he was taking me to the zoo. When he spotted the robbery he told me to stay put. A local station got some great footage of him, all three hundred pounds, waving his shotgun like he was judge Roy Bean and lumbering after this group of drunk pinheads on ponies. Afterward he got drunk and gave the media a dynamite interview about bringing law to the Wild West. The next year they elected him sheriff."

"The media?"

“Basically," I said.

Maia nodded. I think she was staring at me to find my father’s genetic code, trying to decide whether chasing pony-mounted bandits with a shotgun was a dominant or recessive trait. Whatever she concluded, she kept it to herself.

We finally made it into Olmos Park and turned onto Crescent. When we pulled in front of the White House, we found that Mr. White had been renovating. He’d had a presidential fountain installed in his front yard, and three workers in sweaty denim were busy digging trenches and laying down copper pipes, trying to finish the plumbing. White had also installed a three-hundred-pound Hispanic linebacker at the front door.

The new doorman looked at us with a confused expression as we walked across the lawn.

"Howdy," I told him.

His head sloped straight down into his shoulders like a lamp shade. His features were so flat they almost looked smeared. The only things that added any contour to his face were his hair and his sunglasses—both were huge, shiny, and black. He looked like he had once tried to listen to a calculus lecture and had never quite gotten over it. His eyebrows were drawn together, his mouth frowning, open.

"BeeBee," he said.

Maybe it was his name. Maybe that’s as far as he’d ever gotten with the alphabet. Whichever, he didn’t seem to have much to add. He crossed his arms and waited for us to go away or try climbing over him. I looked at Maia. She shrugged.

“Hablas major Espanol?" I asked.

BeeBee watched me as if I were the most amazing insect in the world. If I were any more entertaining I was afraid he’d start drooling. Behind us the fountain workers were taking a break. Out of the corner of my eye I saw them toweling the sweat off their faces, watching us. One of them quietly bet five dollars.

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