A lot happened in that live seconds. Carolyn looked up and recognized me.
"Tres!" she said.
She probably didn’t mean to yell it so loud, but part of that was shock as she realized a few hundred pounds of camera equipment was starting to topple. Then she realized the camera’s power cord was wrapped around her ankle and she was toppling with it. I didn’t even have time to wave at the other TV station’s camera before the two of us and the KSAT mobile unit went headfirst into the river.
Considering it was the first day of August, the water was downright chilly. The bottom was so slick with algae I fell down the first three times I tried to stand up. It didn’t help that Carolyn was trying to climb to safety over my body. As I stood up in the crotch-high water, the crowd erupted in applause. The mariachis, gratified by the response, launched into my second favorite tune, "La Bamba." I waved, feeling like a fresh mound of bat guano and smelling just about as good.
Not being deaf, the man in the Baja shirt had noticed me. By the time I located him, he’d already decided it would take too long to fight his way through the crowds to the bridge. Instead he took a more creative exit. He made the jump onto the first dinner barge and stood precariously on the center table while fifty tourists spilled their margaritas. The waiters and operator no longer looked bored. Since the second barge passed only a few inches away, heading the other direction, it was a short jump to that for Baja. More drinks spilled. Another group of German nuns in fluted hats, possibly the same ones I’d seen earlier, looked up to see a man on their dining table, then he was gone, sprinting up the steps of the Arneson River Theater.
His hood came off just for a moment as he dodged through the tourists with all the grace of a former athlete. Long enough for me to notice that Dan Sheff had gotten a hair cut since we’d talked last. Then he reached the iron gates at the top of the amphitheater and disappeared into the darkness of La Villita.
Carolyn was yelling at me as she slipped and slid over to the riverbank.
"What the hell do you call that?" she demanded.
The guy at the KENS camera offered a suggestion: "I call that a take."
Fortunately Corporal Hearnes remembered my father. Unfortunately Hearnes was among the majority of the SAPD who had hated my father’s guts. It took me some serious tap dancing and a grudging admission from Carolyn that perhaps I was not a rabid lunatic before Hearnes agreed not to lock me in Detox.
"Maybe I did step back at the wrong time," Carolyn mumbled.
"Wrong time?" I said. "Hell, I want you to teach me that move, Carolyn."
Her fine blond hair had turned into greenish licorice cords in the river. She pushed a few strands out of her face and smiled despite herself. I tried to visualize her as the reclusive computer nerd I remembered from our journalism classes at A & M. But all I saw was a TV model with a babyish face, nice lips, and fashion contacts that had come loose and were slipping into her corneas like dark blue eclipses.
"Carolaine," she corrected me.
She tried to straighten her once-white blazer.
“I’m a media personality now, or at least I was until you ruined my spot. I go by Carolaine."
"Is it Smythe instead of Smith?"
She frowned. If she hadn’t been over twenty-five I would’ve called it a pout. "I’ve heard that one too many times."
I stood and made my apologies to the cameraman. He just stared at me. I thanked Corporal Hearnes for his time and compassion. I left Carolaine my phone number so we could talk about the damages.
“Hey," she said. "What the hell is your hurry?"
I looked behind me at the Hilton and thought about Maia and her .45 alone in Beau Karnau’s suite. Or maybe not alone.
"Duty calls," I said.
"Great," said Carolaine. "See if I share my bath towel with you again."
It was difficult to look dashing as I sloshed down the Riverwalk, leaving a trail of puddles, but the smell cleared a path for me pretty effectively. I waved at Mickey as I jogged past the Hilton concierge desk. His mouth dropped open and stayed that way while the elevator doors closed.
The door to Room 450 was closed, but Maia opened it before I could even knock. When she lowered the gun out of my nostril and stood aside, I saw why she looked so grim.
The room decor was straight out of Versailles. Champagne chilled on the dresser in a silver bucket. The balcony curtains opened onto a perfect summer night sky and all the lights of the Paseo del Rio. The man in the bed was wearing his best velour robe and his comfiest slippers. He lay back, totally relaxed, with two black eyes and the red mark of an East Indian on his forehead. Only Beau Karnau was neither East Indian nor relaxed. He was just dead.
In Maia’s other hand was a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. She sat down next to Beau and took a swig. Then she looked at me. Only the way she breathed, shallowly from her mouth, told me that she was pretty unnerved, and only because I knew her well. Otherwise her face might’ve been made of polished wood, for all the expression she revealed.
I took a soggy index card out of my back pocket—the message Guy White had given us that afternoon.
I said: "Nice of Mr. White to invite us up tonight. Don’t you think?"
I sat down on the other side of Beau. His ponytail had been loosened so that his hair had opened up around his head like a black and gray peacock tail when he fell back. The bruised skin around his eyes was shiny and purple. He had a slight wet smile on his face like somebody had just told him a funny but tasteless joke. Thank God his viscera hadn’t loosened up yet. There was no smell.
"It was Dan," I told Maia. "I lost him."
"You still think he’s not a player?"
I didn’t feel like arguing the point.
On the dresser was Beau’s photo portfolio, open to the first page. The article "Dallas Native Follows Dream" had been carefully removed from the plastic and stuck onto the mirror, maybe where Beau could see it when he woke up every morning. Next to that was a black and white photo of nineteen-year-old Lillian smiling over her shoulder at the photographer, her mentor. Her eyes were full of adoration. On the floor at my feet was an open, empty CD case. It was cracked as if someone had stepped on it.
"Someone finally got what they wanted," Maia said softly. "Without a payment."
"Half of what they want, " I corrected.
Maia handed the champagne over Beau’s body. Beau didn’t request any. I finished just enough of the bottle to belch the nausea out of my system. Only then did Maia seem to notice my appearance.
"You’re wet," she said.
Maia nodded, not in the mood to argue, either.
"White gets us here," she said. "Dan leaves us here. And your friend Mickey knows where we are. We can’t just walk away."
When I didn’t respond, Maia went to the phone and calmly made three calls. First to the house detective, second to Detective Schaeffer, third to Byron Ash.
"Got any plans tonight?" I asked. Neither Maia nor Beau seemed to.
The Hilton chief of security, a large black man named Jefferies, took one look at Beau, then helped us finish off the champagne.
"I don’t get paid enough," he said. Then he sat down in the Louis XIV chair in the corner and started mumbling into his walkie-talkie.
Two patrolmen arrived, then the detectives, then forensics. Tape went up, the media arrived, maids, interested guests, everybody but the jugglers, the nuns, and the dancing bear. Detective Schaeffer finally came dragging in too, looking as usual as if he’d just woken up.
"Take these two into the next room," he told a uniform. "They can wait."
And we did.
Maia’s "favored" status with Mr. Ash must’ve been running thin. An hour after she’d called him, we discovered that Lord Byron would be declining a personal appearance. Instead a junior associate who looked about fifteen showed up and introduced himself as Hass. Hass smiled. Shaking his hand was like squeezing a damp Kleenex.
"Don’t worry," Hass said, "I come highly recommended from Mr. Ash. I’ve handled several criminal actions."
Schaeffer decided to notice us then. He lumbered in with red eyes, managed not to bump into anything, then stared at each of us in turn. He took out a handkerchief and blew his nose slowly, meticulously.
"Okay," he grumbled. "Tell me it’s a coincidence."
"Ah, before we start—" said Counselor Hass.
Schaeffer and I exchanged glances.
"He comes highly recommended," I told Schaeffer.
Schaeffer looked sour. "So did my ex-wife."
Hass smiled like he got it. We made ourselves at home in King Louie’s loveseat while Schaeffer sent a uniform downstairs for a garlic bagel and some herbal tea.
"Red Zinger if they’ve got it," he said.
I stared at him.
"What?" he said. "You want some?"
I quickly declined.
Schaeffer made that snoring sound again and it finally occurred to me why he always looked and sounded half-asleep. It was terminal sinuses.
“Cedars?" I asked.
His nasal passages ground like ball bearings. "Damn pecan trees. That yellow stuff gets all over my yard. I forget breathing for three months. It’s a healthy lifestyle. "
"Now, Detective," Hass started, "if we could just—"
Schaeffer looked at him and he shut up. Schaeffer liked that.
"This guy from Ash?" he asked Maia.
Maia nodded. She tried not to smile. Schaeffer liked it even more. After that, Hass participated about as much as a tennis spectator. I had the feeling he would’ve held Schaeffer’s handkerchief for him if asked.
"Okay," Schaeffer said, "let’s hear it."
So we told him, sort of. I did a bad job feigning surprise when Schaeffer told me that Terry Garza, the man I’d been arguing with when Moraga’s corpse was delivered through the wall of Sheff’s office, had also been killed. I told him about the anonymous note we’d gotten to come to the Hilton and how I’d chased a guy from the room who I couldn’t ID. Maia described how she’d found the body. I told Schaeffer I hadn’t fired a gun since I was a kid and certainly not at Beau Karnau’s head this evening. Maia asked if we were being charged with something.
Schaeffer explored his nostrils with his handkerchief one more time.
"How about stupidity, " he suggested.
"Too late," Maia said. "My client’s nolo contendere."
"Your client?" objected Hass.
“Shut up, " we all said.
The uniform came back with Schaeffer’s tea and bagel.
"All they had was Sleepy Time," he reported.
I thought Schaeffer would demote him on the spot, but he just stared into his tea and sighed. Now he really did look tired.
"So let’s run through this, " he said. "A week ago you ask me to check into confidential files. You’ve suddenly discovered your father has been murdered, ten years ago. CID’s on my butt inside five minutes for even fielding your call. Then we’ve got three homicides in the space of three days, and you just happen to be around for all the fun."
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