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I looked across the yard at Guy White, who was now stepping carefully but easily between rows of his Blue Princess like this was his minefield and he’d crossed it many times before.

42

After that, the clean air of the country felt good. By one o’c1ock we were speeding along the banks of the Blanco River in Larry Drapiewski’s jeep, and Larry was rapidly consuming the Shiner Bocks and beef fajitas we’d brought him as a peace offering.

“Three beers," Maia said. "What happened to setting a good example for your youngers, Lieutenant?"

Larry laughed. "You get as big as me, Miss Lee, then you can see what three beers does to your blood alcohol content."

Drapiewski’s red jeep seemed right at home in the Hill Country. So did Larry. Off-duty, he was wearing boot-cut Levi’s and black leather Justins that must’ve been made from an entire alligator, a red shirt that made his hair and his freckles seem a little less neon by comparison. Howdy Doody on steroids.

"So what is it you folks are expecting to find?"

Drapiewski said. "It’s been a lot of years since they pulled Halcomb out of that deer blind, son. You expect something with an orange flag on it just sitting out there all this time?"

"That’d be fine," I said.

Larry laughed. The fajita disappeared in his mouth, followed closely by most of the beer. Maia looked on in awe.

Drapiewski’s friend with the Blanco County Sheriff’s Department had the unfortunate name of Deputy Chief Grubb. We met Grubb outside the Dairy Queen, a place he had obviously frequented over the years. His white hair had a slightly greasy tinge to it, and his upper body, once that of a football player, had swollen up over his belt buckle until it bore an uncanny resemblance to a Dilly Bar.

Larry made the introductions.

“Halcomb," Grubb said, by way of introduction.

"That was a luncher."

"Meaning—? "

When Grubb grinned you could get a good feel for how much he liked his coffee. The layers of yellow on his crooked incisors were like glacial flood lines.

"Meaning we ate it, son," he told me. "Never found a damn thing."

It was a ten-minute drive from the DQ in Grubb’s unit. Along the way, he told us about a slave ranch they’d closed down a week before—seventeen Mexican migrant workers kept in a barn, chained up at night, worked with a whip and a double-barrel shotgun during the day. Then he talked about the domestic disputes he’d broken up so far this week, the new Mexican restaurant in town, the high school team’s chances next fall. By the time we’d driven to the site and walked through five acres of brush and live oaks, Maia and I knew every bit of gossip Blanco had to offer, including where to buy your duty-free liquor, what fields the marijuana planes landed in, and which local wives were likely candidates for a steamy affair. All I needed now was a place with cheap rent.

"There it is," Grubb said finally, wiping the sweat off the back of his neck. "Ain’t much."

The blind had probably been old and abandoned when Randall Halcomb’s corpse was stuffed into it years ago. Now it was just a collection of rotten planks and sheets of plywood on four wobbly posts. It had tried to fall down a long time ago but had been stopped by a nearby mesquite that was still propping it up like a sober friend trying to support a drunk. There was a frayed rope ladder hanging from the back. Even if it had held together long enough to climb, the blind would’ve collapsed under the weight of a full—grown man.

Grubb and Drapiewski started trading stories of gory hunting accidents while Maia and I poked around. Nothing was marked with an orange flag. Five cows were standing in a clump in the shadow of the blind, hiding from the afternoon sun. They looked at me with a kind of lazy resentment, wondering what I was doing there. I started to ask myself the same question. I’d been hoping, maybe, to match the terrain to Karnau’s photos, get a sense for where the shots had been taken from, why Halcomb’s employers had chosen this site for a meeting and why Karnau might’ve been here. So far nada.

"Grubb," I called.

The deputy chief came over next to me, with Drapiewski and Maia following.

I nodded at the deer blind. "Did you determine whether this was a dump site or not?"

Grubb took off his deputy’s hat and wiped his forehead on his arm.

"A lot of blood about a hunnerd yards down that way, " he said. "That’s where they killed him. Then they dragged him over here."

"They. As in two."

Grubb nodded. "Could be more. There were tire tracks down that way. FBI took some plaster mold footprints too. I don’t recall exactly what the story was."

"Cause of death?"

"Old boy got it right between the eyes at short range. Hell of a shooter. You know what a Sheridan Knock about is?"

".22 caliber single shot pistol," Maia said, almost absently. "Went out of production in ’62; only twenty thousand were made."

Grubb and Drapiewski gaped at her. In khakis and a white tank top, her eyes invisible behind large black sunglasses, Maia looked like a safari veteran. There was a single line of sweat running from her ear to her jaw. Otherwise the heat seemed to be having no effect on her. She’d been looking toward the deer blind until she noticed that she’d become the center of attention.

She shrugged. "Just a guess."

Larry grinned.

"A Sheridan," I said. "My dad had one, actually got it right after Korea."

Grubb was back to swabbing his forehead. "Sure. They were popular with a lot of the vets. Target shooters, mostly. Thing was, it’s a mighty strange gun to murder somebody with. Very clear striations on the bullet—easy to pin down. And by ’85 they weren’t what you’d call standard street issue."

I thought about a picture I’d seen in the Sheffs’ house—Dan Sr. as a young soldier, off for Korea. I thought about the box of .22 ammo in Dan Jr.’s office closet.

"And you said it’s a single shot."

Larry whistled silently. “You got to be pretty sure of your shooting to kill a man like Halcomb with a gun like that. Pretty damn ballsy."

“Or," said Maia, “you’ve got to be not really planning on murder. You might bring a gun like that along for protection to a dangerous meeting, if it’s the only gun you have. Or for a little leverage if things got rough. But probably not for a premeditated kill. Either way you’re not talking about a pro." She looked at me. "Not the mob. They’d come a lot better prepared."

Grubb looked Maia up and down one more time, a mixture of confusion and budding respect on his sticky forehead. "What’d you say you were again, honey? Chinese?"

To her credit, Maia left his face intact. She said dryly, "That’s right, Mr. Grubb. The ones who built the railroads. You remember."

I looked back at the cows and tried to think. The cows didn’t offer any suggestions.

"Is there anything else?" I asked Grubb.

The old deputy took his eyes off Maia, looked at me, and shook his head. "Just a dead end, son."

Drapiewski shrugged. He looked sorry, but not surprised.

I could’ve left then. I had something to go on. Our two law enforcement escorts were definitely ready to get back to the air-conditioning and the Dilly Bars of a friendly Dairy Queen. But after sweating in the sunshine and swatting the mosquitoes for a few more minutes, I started walking down toward the place where Halcomb had been shot.

There were more mesquite trees down in the hollow. The dry brush was so high we had sticker burrs as thick as fur on our pants by the time we got to the murder site. It was a small clearing barely accessible by two tire ruts that led off into the woods. It was the place in Beau Karnau’s photos.

"Not a bad place for a meeting," Larry said. "Very low-profile. "

He started picking the sticker burrs out of his crotch. Maia leaned against a dead tree. Grubb just looked at me, losing patience.

"What are you thinking, son?" he asked.

I wanted to give him an answer. I didn’t have one.

"Who owns this land?" I asked.

Grubb thought about it. "Right now, I don’t know. It was pretty much abandoned in ’84. Old Mr. Baker passed on and none of the sons would move back into the house. Then in ’86 the ranch burned down. It’s changed hands plenty of times since. Nobody uses it nowadays except the neighbors’ cattle."

"What neighbors?"

“Vivians on the north, Gardiners on the south."

Neither name rang a bell.

“A ranch house burned down?"

Grubb nodded. He told me about the big electrical storm they’d had back in ’86. Lightning had caused a dozen small fires, one of them taking the old ranch house up the hill. He looked at me suspiciously.

"I reckon you’ll want to see that too."

Drapiewski laughed.

"Why not?" I said.

It took a lot of compliments and the promise of a free dinner to get Grubb up that hill, but we finally made it. There wasn’t much left of the house, just a thin place in the grass where the foundation had been. I couldn’t figure out why it looked familiar. I made a complete circuit around the place.

"Is this gonna get us something besides a suntan, son?" said Drapiewski after a few minutes.

That’s when I tripped over something large and metal. Grubb and Drapiewski came up to see while I dug it half out of the dirt—a piece of black iron piping that had been shaped into cursive writing about three feet long and a foot high. It said "Lazy B."

“Yeah," said Grubb. "I remember that. The old gates to the place. What do you know."

It took me a minute to place the name. Then something else clicked.

" ‘Lazy Bastard,’ " I said.

Grubb glared at me. "What was that, boy?"

"Miss Lee and I saw a photo of this place recently. Taken at night, during a meteor storm."

Grubb nodded, more hot now than interested, daydreaming of ice cream and shade.

Drapiewski and Maia looked at me, both of them trying to read my expression. My throat suddenly felt very dry.

“So this is the angle Karnau shot from," Maia said. "That only makes sense."

"No," I said. "Lillian said something before she disappeared. She and Karnau used to go on photography shoots, sometimes for days at a time. She mentioned camping out on a godforsaken hilltop in Blanco. She mentioned photographing a meteor shower."

“Funny coincidence," Drapiewski said, looking back into the hollow where Halcomb had been shot. I tried to imagine Randall Halcomb in the deer blind, curled up with a perfect red hole between his eyes, but I kept coming up with Lillian’s face.

"Yeah," I said. “Funny."

43

When we got back to Queen Anne Street, Maia looked tired and angry. She lay on the futon, staring into space while I wrestled off my sticker burr-covered jeans. Finally they flew across the room and buried Robert Johnson in his bed of dirty laundry. I don’t think he even noticed.

I lay down next to Maia, hugging her from behind, my face in her hair. When I reached for her hand it was a clenched fist.

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