Until Lillian looked around at me I didn’t realize her eyes were wet.
“When you left San Antonio, Tres, what were you running from?"
“I told you. The rest of my life stuck in Texas, the idea of marriage, the careers everybody else wanted me to take--"
She shook her head. “That’s not what I meant. Why did you go when you did, right after your father’s death?"
I hugged her from behind and held on tight, trying to I get lost in the citrus smell of her hair. But when I closed my eyes against her cheek, I still saw the old newspaper photo of my father, the caption that I knew by heart.
"Sheriff Jackson Navarre, gunned down brutally on Thursday evening in front of his Olmos Park home. Deputy Sheriff Kelley and Navarre’s son watched helplessly as the assassins sped away."
My father’s face in the photo just smiled at me dryly, as if that caption was some private joke he was sharing.
“Maybe because when I looked around town," I told Lillian, "all I saw was him dying. It was like a stain." She nodded, looking back at her photo-collage. "The stain doesn’t go away, Tres. Not even after all these years."
Her tone was hitter, not like Lillian. I held her a little tighter. After a while she turned around and folded herself into my arms.
"It doesn’t have to be a complication for us now," I whispered.
"Maybe not," she murmured. But I didn’t need to see her face to see that she didn’t believe me.
She didn’t let me say anything else, though. She kissed me once, lightly, then more. Soon we were back in the linen sheets. I wasn’t sleeping again until almost dawn, this time with no dreams.
I was back at 90 Queen Amie at nine the next morning to meet the movers. Robert Johnson gave me an evil look as I walked in the door, but decided to call a truce when he heard the sound of aluminum foil being peeled away from my leftovers.
He has a system with enchiladas. He bats them with his paw until the tortillas unroll. He eats the filling first, then the tortillas. He saves the cheese for last. This kept him occupied while I did the first hour of my tai chi set, at which point the moving truck gunned up the driveway and scared him into the closet.
Three guys wearing baseball caps and leather weight belts were trying to figure out which way to fold my futon frame to get it through the door when the phone rang. I pulled down the ironing board and picked up the receiver.
Maia Lee said: “Hey, Tex. Ridden any good bulls lately?"
The background noise placed her immediately. It was Sunday morning at the Buena Vista.
"No," I said, "but me and the boys are hog-tying a futon even as we speak. It’s an uppity little filly."
"You cowpokes sure know how to part."
I could picture her standing in the dark green entry hall of the bar, the receiver balanced between her I shoulder and chin. She’d be wearing her business clothes—blazer and skirt, silk blouse, always in light colors to show off her flawless coffee-colored skin. Her hair, chocolate-brown and curly, would be tied back. Behind her I could hear Irish coffee glasses rattling, the unmistakable clanging of cable car bells.
“Listen," Maia said, "I wasn’t really calling for a reason, if you’re busy."
In my doorway the futon seemed to be holding its own. One mover was wedged against the wall and another was trying to extract his leg from between two of its slats. The third guy had just figured out that the bolts could be loosened. An ice cream truck drove by, providing us with a momentary soundtrack: a very warped recording of "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’."
"It’s a whole ’nother world down here, Maia," I said.
She laughed. “I remember telling you something like that, Tex. But everything’s going all right? I mean . . ."
“It’s okay," I told her. "Being home after so long is like—I don’t know."
"Coming out of amnesia?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of infectious skin diseases."
“Hmph. You don’t pick your home, Tres. It just is."
Maia knew about that. Take away the Mercedes and the law practice and the Potrero Hill loft, and Maia’s most important possession was still a photograph of an unpainted Sheetrock shack in Zhejiang Province. Logic had nothing to do with it.
"Some things you don’t choose," I said.
"Isn’t that the truth."
I’m not sure either of us bought it. On the other hand, I figured it was as close to an understanding about what had happened between us as we would ever get. She told me she was on her way to interview a client whose teenage son had been charged with setting part of the Presidio on fire. It was going to be a long morning. I promised to call in a few days.
“Drink one of those frozen strawberry margaritas for me," she said.
"Infidel," I said.
By noon the movers had everything out of the truck and into the living room without any major accidents. I gave them directions back to Loop 410. Then I headed down Broadway toward downtown.
Ten minutes later I turned up Commerce and started looking for street parking. Fortunately I was used to San Francisco traffic. I U-turned across three lanes and beat a Hilton valet to a nice meter spot without so much as a fistfight, then walked south into La Villita.
The place hadn’t changed over the last few hundred years. Except for being cleaner and having higher rents, the restored four square blocks of original settlement were not much different than they’d been back in the days of the Alamo. Tourists wandered in and out of the white limestone buildings. A family of large Germans, severely overdressed for the heat, sat at a green metal table in the sun outside one of the cantinas. They were trying to look like they were having fun on their vacation, mouths open, fanning themselves with menus.
I wandered down the narrow brick lanes for almost twenty minutes before I found the Hecho a Mano Gallery, a tiny building in the shade of a huge live oak behind the La Villita Chapel. The gallery didn’t seem to be getting much business at the moment. I came in the door just as a glass paperweight flew past, banging into the wall and rattling a few framed pictures of Guatemalan peasants.
A male voice around the corner of the entryway said: “God damn it!"
A loud disagreement followed.
“Lillian?" I called, loudly.
I looked around the corner, cautious for more flying objects. Lillian was standing up at a small wooden desk near the opposite wall. She was pressing her fingertips against her temples and glaring at a man who looked nothing at all like the Beau Karnau I remembered.
What I remembered from the few times Beau had condescended to shake my hand a decade ago was a short, burly brunette with a crew cut, black clothes, and a face smoothed over with acne scar tissue and smugness. Now in his late fifties, Karnau looked more like one of the Seven Dwarfs. He sported a potbelly, a scraggly gray beard, a receding hairline, and a braided ponytail. He’d traded in the black clothes for a gaudy silk shirt, boots, and jeans. His forehead was almost purple with anger.
“God damn it," he shouted. "You can’t."
Lillian saw me, told me with a shake of her head that she wasn’t in danger, then "Jesus Christ, Beau! You’re going to kill somebody with your tantrums."
“Tantrums my ass," he said. "You will not do this to me again, Lillian."
He crossed his arms, huffed, then seemed to notice me for the first time. judging by his sour face he must not have been impressed by my rugged manliness. "This must be Mr. Wonderful," he said.
"Dr. Wonderful," I corrected. "Ph.D., Berkeley, ’91."
How can you fight against lines like "har-de-har"? I looked back at Lillian.
"Beau," she said slowly, staring down at her desk, "can we please talk about this later?"
Karnau shifted his weight from foot to foot, obviously thinking of the most withering comment he could make. Finally he decided to make a grand silent exit. Arms still crossed, he stormed past me to the front door, slamming it shut behind him.
When Lillian’s facial expression told me she had depressurized I came over to the desk. I waited.
"Sorry," she said. “That, of course, was Beau."
"Your great inspiration," I remembered. “Your biggest fan. Your ticket to—"
She cut me off with a look. "Things change."
"Mm. My finely honed deductive skills tell me he was slightly miffed at you."
She sat on the edge of her desk and made a dismissive gesture. “He’s been getting like that over a lot of things."
“You want to say what?"
She gave me a tired smile. “Nothing. I mean I didn’t want to get you involved in this yet. It’s just—I’ve decided to pull out of the business. I want to do my own work full-time, without Beau. I’m getting tired of selling to vacationing Midwesterners."
"It’s about time."
She took my hand. "I figured the time was right, after we talked last night. Time to get back on track in a lot of ways. "
I came closer. After a few minutes Lillian’s mood had improved enough for her to give me a tour of the gallery.
They specialized, she told me, in “Border Morbid."
The main room was devoted to ceramic Day of the Dead sculptures by artists from Laredo and Piedras Negras. There were skeletons playing guitar, skeletons making love, mother skeletons nursing baby skeletons in cribs. Every scene was thickly glazed in primary colors, hideous and comical.
"I’ve been saving this one for you, Tres," Lillian said.
The statuette was tucked away on a corner podium--a dead man’s road trip. The skeletal driver had his arm around his skeletal girlfriend. They were both grinning of course, holding up miniature tequila bottles as they careened along in a bright orange car that looked suspiciously like my Volkswagen.
"Lovely," I said. "So this is the way you remember our road trips?"
Lillian stared at it without replying, a little sad. Then she smiled at me.
“Take it," she said. "A housewarming gift. At least this car won’t break down on you."
“We are not amused, " I grumbled.
I let her wrap it up in tissue paper for me anyway. If nothing else it would be good for scaring the bejesus out of Robert Johnson.
Beau came back with a salad-in-a-box forty-five minutes later. He had gone from inflamed to smoldering, but still said very little. He just nodded when Lillian said she was leaving early.
When we got back to Lillian’s house that afternoon a new silver BMW had pulled up over the lawn and parked sideways across her driveway. A well-built blond man in a disheveled Christian Dior suit was sitting on the trunk, waiting.
He’d put on a few pounds since high school but it was definitely Dan Sheff, former water polo team captain for the fighting Alamo Heights Mules, heir to the multi-million-dollar Sheff Construction empire, jilted ex-hunk of Miss Lillian Cambridge. By the angle of his tie it was fairly easy to see that he’d gotten a little too happy at happy hour. It was also obvious he was not there to welcome me to town.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com