"Two thirds of it," I objected without much conviction.
"Yeah," Schaeffer grunted. "So there’s absolutely no connection. I should just take some more Sudafed, crawl into bed, and not worry about it, huh?"
Maia and I glanced at each other. My nerves must’ve been more shot than I figured. I was close to leveling with Schaeffer.
"Listen, Detective—" Then my mind stopped and rewound what I’d just heard. I changed my tack.
"When you said CID, you mean Rivas? As in the creep who showed up at your investigation that night at Sheff’ s offices?"
"As in the Cambridge disappearance?" Maia added.
"As in Lillian Cambridge," I said, "the present stiff’s studio partner?"
Schaeffer wadded up his handkerchief while he thought about that. Whatever he concluded, he didn’t let it show in his face.
"That doesn’t matter," he said. His look said the opposite. “What I want—"
Whatever he wanted, he was distracted when Jay Rivas walked into the room. Rivas sported a newly combed mustache and a silver and turquoise belt buckle the size of a grapefruit.
“Navarre," he said. “Back again. Just like a fucking yo-yo."
Rivas was in a good mood tonight; you could hear it in his voice. After he lit a cigar, over the protests of the forensics crew, he studied everybody in the room, finally nodding to Schaeffer.
"Can I help you, Detective?" Schaeffer said, without enthusiasm.
Rivas came up to me and stuck his face in mine, like I was some kind of weird exhibit. His wandering eye drifted merrily downstream. Then he sat on the arm of the loveseat directly above Maia and put his hand on her shoulder.
Maia didn’t flinch. Her eyes examined Rivas’s hand clinically, like she was locating all its breakable bones and pain-inducing pressure points. Rivas shifted, a little uncomfortably. The hand moved.
"Detective," Rivas said to Schaeffer, “could I get a few minutes with Mr. Navarre and his friend?"
Schaeffer stared at Rivas, then at me. Maybe he remembered what my mouth had looked like after I accidentally hit it on the door last time Rivas wanted a few minutes, that night at Sheff Construction. Or maybe Schaeffer was just pissed off because his sinuses felt like a worn-out transmission and the Hilton was out of Red Zinger. Whatever it was, he made a decision.
"I got a better idea," he told Rivas. "You could explain what you’re doing in my homicide investigations. All my homicide investigations?
Rivas glanced at his audience. When he spoke to Schaeffer again, it was much more polite. And much colder.
“Maybe we could discuss this outside," he said.
“That’s a good idea," Schaeffer said. "You go ahead. I’ll be out as soon as I send these people home."
Rivas got up. “Send them where?"
All of a sudden Schaeffer looked much better. I guess the Sudafed had kicked in. He shook Counselor Hass’s hand.
“Danm fine work, Counselor. Y’all stay in town, but that’s it for tonight?
If Hass had acted any more like an ecstatic puppy he would’ve peed on the carpet. We filed past Rivas, who seemed to be silently assessing Schaeffer as a possible rifle target. I shook Schaeffer’s hand. I shook Hass’s hand. I even shook the assistant coroner’s hand. I probably would’ve shaken my old school chum Mickey Williams’s hand too, but he was in the general manager’s office getting a talking-to when we walked by.
"Mickey," I called. He looked up dismally.
“You need a good lawyer?" I asked. "He comes highly recommended."
We’d been sitting on the steps of La Villita Chapel for so long, staring at the empty building that used to be the Hecho a Mano Gallery, that I thought Maia had gone to sleep. The adrenaline had worn off. With my clothes slowly drying and my nerves shot to hell, I felt as frayed and greasy as the corn husk off a tamale.
Then we both looked at each other with something to say.
“You first," I said.
“No," Maia said. “It’s just—"
“Beau waited a little too long to run," I said. "He was still trying to salvage the scam. He let somebody into his hotel room, sat down to barter for the disk, then whoever it was shot him in the face."
She nodded. “And he wouldn’t be so relaxed if he was bargaining with the mob."
"So we’ve got a dead blackmailer," I continued, “the second disk missing, Dan Sheff looking guilty as hell and Lillian still missing."
An elderly tourist couple walked by. The old woman smiled at us the way people do at lovers in the shadows of a summer night. Then she stared sadly at her oblivious husband. When Maia looked back at me with almost the same expression, it twisted my nerves a little tighter.
“What?" I said. "Lillian’s either dead or involved, or both. Is that what you want me to say?"
She almost got angry. I wished like hell that she would. Instead she hugged her knees and stared out at the empty limestone shell of Lillian’s studio.
"No," she said. "I didn’t want you to say that."
"What then? You still want me to think my dad’s death has no connection? The pictures of Halcomb are a coincidence? You want me to forget about it?"
She shook her head. “I was just thinking about plane tickets."
It was my turn to stare. “Tickets. As in plural, tickets?"
She took a pecanwood twig and poked at the mortar between the flagstones. The twig was so dry it broke into dust.
“Never mind," she said.
"You know I can’t just leave town."
“You never did leave town," she said. "That’s the thing."
I tried to believe it. The fact that I didn’t made me madder. A group of Mexican nationals went by, talking about their weekend of shopping. They smiled at us.
We didn’t smile back.
“All right," I told Maia. "You want me to feel like shit about you and me, okay. I feel like shit. But I didn’t ask for backup."
“You didn’t turn it down last night," she said. "You should think about why."
Her eyes had turned to steel in the space of those two sentences. My face probably wasn’t much kinder. I counted the strands of lights. I watched the cars go down Nueva. I said: “So you’re leaving?"
“Tres—" Maia closed her eyes. “Why are you staying?"
“You don’t want to hear this again. You saw the damn letters, Maia."
“No. I saw a carriage full of dolls in a grown-up woman’s bedroom. Did it ever occur to you that you’re the only piece of that collection Lillian Cambridge ever lost, Tres?"
It was one of those moments when God hands you the emotional scissors and invites you to start cutting, irrevocably. Instead I just watched as Maia stood up and walked down the stairs. I don’t know why but as she passed I caught the scent of the chapel’s interior smoked into the porch beams—incense and very old wax. It was the scent of confessionals and baptisms and Las Posadas candles that had been snuffed before Santa Ana ever rode through town.
When she was ten feet away, Maia turned and looked at me. Or maybe she just looked at the chapel. I felt like I’d already blended into the limestone.
“Call me when it’s over," she said. “If it ever is."
She walked away slowly enough to give me time to call her back. Then she disappeared behind the outer walls of La Villita, heading up Nueva where the taxi stands were.
Another old tourist couple passed by, but this time I was alone. Nobody bothered smiling kindly. The woman took her husband’s arm. They shuffled a little faster.
I got up and went across the courtyard to stare in the window of the Hecho a Mano Gallery, now filled with nothing but hardwood floors and moonlight and old ghosts.
“Now what?" I asked.
But it was a closed party and the ghosts didn’t have any time to waste on me. I pulled a wad of dead man’s money out of my pocket and went to find the nearest bottle of tequila.
When my brother Garrett called the next morning I had been asleep about fourteen minutes. Most of the night I’d sat cross-legged on the bathroom floor next to the toilet, rereading my father’s old notebook and debating with Robert Johnson about the pros and cons of drinking white tequila by the pint. I don’t remember who won the argument.
“You and Maia find the other disk?" Garrett growled in my ear. “I can’t do shit with this one."
Once I found my vocal chords I told Garrett I had no other disk. Then I told him I had no Maia. My brother was quiet. In the background, Jimmy Buffett was singing about cheeseburgers.
“If I had legs," Garrett said, “I’d come down there and kick your stupid ass."
“Thanks for the vote of confidence," I said.
The line was silent for a few seconds. “So what happened?"
I told him.
Almost as an afterthought I read the four lines to Garrett that had been bothering me for days, the ones underneath my father’s trial notes for Guy White. Sabinal. Get whiskey. Fix fence. Clean fireplace. Afterward I could hear Garrett scratching his beard.
“So what?" he said.
“So I don’t know. I keep wondering how Dad might’ve gotten mixed up with the Travis Center deal. I keep remembering what Carl told me, about some new lady in his life. You got any ideas?"
“Fuck it," Garrett said. "Get your ass back to San Francisco and forget it."
“If I had a dime—" I said.
"Yeah. You ever wonder if all us poor schmucks who care about you might have a point?"
I didn’t tell him how often. Finally he grunted, probably rearranging himself in his chair, then called me a few names.
"Okay," he said. "Sabinal. Hell, he was there damn near every Christmas shooting the fucking bambis. What’s so unusual?"
“I don’t know. That note just doesn’t sit right. For one thing, he wrote it in April. You ever know him to go up in the spring?"
He thought for a minute. "Fireplace. Christ. Only thing that reminds me of was the Christmas Dad stayed sober, burning the furniture in the fireplace. That was a shitter."
A memory started forming. “When was this?"
“Way before you’re talking about. You must’ve been in fourth grade, little bro. You remember the argument about the Lucchese chairs?"
Then it came back to me.
Dad had been "between terms” as sheriff, meaning that he’d gotten voted out of office. My mom had blamed it on the booze, I guess, and Dad was making a real effort not to drink so he could get his campaign in shape for the following four years. So our first day up at the ranch for Christmas he announced this, lined up all his liquor bottles on the fence, and shot them up. After that, all I remember him getting were more deer than usual and a very bad temper. After the second day the trees outside the ranch house had more dead deer strung in them than the Christmas tree had ornaments. When that got old, my dad got his .22 and started hunting cats instead. Somebody had dropped a whole litter off in the country rather than put them to sleep, I guess, and of course they’d grown up feral and started eating all the quail on the property. So Dad went out and popped cats all day, then came home with a bloody bag full like Santa Claus the ax murderer, sank into his recliner, drank coffee, and scowled all night. By the time Garrett and Shelley joined us for Christmas dinner, Dad had just about run out of things to kill and my mom and I were starting to get nervous.
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