Page 40


“Learn to drive, sheepdip!" he shouted at an old man whose license plates were from Wisconsin.

Garrett leaned so far out his window, with no legs for ballast, that I was afraid he was going to disappear into the wind. Then he gave the finger to another semi that wouldn’t let him pass. The trucker blasted his horn.

"You ever get worried somebody’s going to get pissed at you?" I asked, when the noise died down. "Somebody with a gun?"

Garrett shrugged. “It’s happened. I’m still here."

We drove for a little longer before Garrett looked over at me again. This time he decided to talk about it.

“He was going to do it, wasn’t he? The son of a bitch was going to ditch a major investigation for a woman. Another guy’s wife, no less."

The Hemisfair Tower appeared on the horizon, sticking up from the orange glow of the city. I stared at it instead of answering Garrett’s question. I wanted to deny the obvious, but the letter was pretty clear.

"Maybe he wouldn’t have," I said.

“For a woman," Garrett repeated. “You know, I guess I always had one consolation, that he might’ve been a bastard and he might’ve screwed up his family, but at least he was honest about doing his job. He was the guy in the fucking white hat. Never mind."

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “Maybe he meant ; to make it public."

"Maybe he died for it anyway, little bro."

There wasn’t much I could say to that. We cranked up the Buffett a little louder and rode into the smell of sulfur springs that always marked the southern entrance of either hell or San Antonio.

Gary Hales was standing in the front yard of Number 90, watering the sidewalk with a garden hose. He watched without expression as Garrett’s van pulled up in front and I hopped out of Ms. Miranda’s air-brushed blouse on the passenger’s side. Garrett’s horn honked to the tune of “Coconut Telegraph? Then the mound of plastic pineapples and bananas shuddered as he put the van into first gear and lurched off toward Broadway. It didn’t seem to wake up Gary much at all. When I walked up he raised his finger listlessly, as if he wanted to say something. After waiting for a few seconds I remembered it was August 2.

“The rent?" I said.

“That’d be fine," said Gary.

He shuffled a few steps behind me as we went into the in-law. If Mr. Hales had been harboring any last hopes that I was indeed an honest and upstanding young man, I managed to shoot them right to hell when I handed him a wad of fifty-dollar bills from my kitchen drawer.

"No checking account yet," I explained.

“Huh," Gary said.

He peeked over the kitchen counter at the drawer, which was now closed. He looked disappointed. Maybe he was expecting some assault weapons.

Then the phone rang.

“Been ringing nigh on thirty minutes now," Gary said. “I reckon I’d answer that."

Gary waited. The phone rang. I reminded Gary where the front door was. Then when I’d herded him out I picked up the receiver.

"Jesus, Navarre, where in Christ’s name have you been?"

“Carlon," I said.

Behind him I could hear glasses clinking, Motown music, the sounds of a bar.

"All right, Navarre. I agreed to twenty-four hours, not forty-eight. You put me off last night, man, and two hours later Karnau gets whacked. Dead bodies cancel our deal."

My stomach twisted. "Carlon, if you’ve printed something—"

“Shit, man. This is getting unfunny. ‘Help’ does not include doing time as an accessory to murder."

“So you haven’t gone to press with this?"

He laughed without much humor. “What I’ve done is put in some footwork for your sorry ass. So you want to know where Dan Sheff, Jr., is right now, getting himself schnockered on Lone Star, or you want me to go ahead and start the interview without you?"

"Where are you?"

“Some private dick, Navarre. You have a little patience, you do little stakeout time—"

"Where the hell are you?"

"Little Hipp’s."

“I’ll be there in ten minutes."

"Better make it five. I got some serious questions to ask the man and I might just—"

I was out the door before he finished the sentence, hoping that in five minutes I wouldn’t have a good reason to break Carlon’s face.

52

Little Hipp’s wasn’t so much a San Antonio landmark as it was a surrogate landmark. When L. D. Hipp’s original Bubble Room got demolished to make room for hospital parking spaces back in 1980, L.D.’s son opened Little Hipp’s across the street and inherited most of the Hipp’s menu and paraphernalia. Despite the fact that the orange aluminum exterior made the bar and grille look like a drive-thru beer barn, the inside was faithful to the Bubble Room—multicolored bubbling Christmas lights, licenses plates, tinsel and neon, netted beach balls, and 195Os Pearl ads hanging from the ceiling. Major league tacky. You could get Hank Williams or Otis Redding on the jukebox, Shiner or Lone Star “gimmedraws" for pocket change, and shypoke eggs—round nachos with Monterey jack whites and longhorn yokes, the jalapenos hidden underneath. The whole place was maybe sixty feet square.

The after-dinner crowd was sparse, mostly off-duty medical workers and a few assorted white collars. I spotted Carlon McAffrey at a table by the barber’s chair. He was dressed in what he probably thought was camouflage—dark glasses, khaki shirt and slacks, and a tie with only three colors. As I started over, he shook his head, then pointed at the bar.

Dan Sheff occupied one of the three stools. He was hunched over a line of empty Lone Star bottles, ignoring the bartender’s attempts at conversation. Dan’s custom-made business suit was rumpled and one of his hand-stitched shoes was untied. He looked like he’d slept in his car last night.

A tai chi principle: If you don’t want someone to run away from you, run away from them first. Become yin to make them become yang. I’m not sure why it works, but almost always they’ll follow you like air filling a vacuum.

I walked up to Dan and said: "I’ll be over there."

Then I retreated to a corner booth on the other side of the room from Carlon and ordered a Shiner Bock. I didn’t look at the bar. One hundred twenty-two seconds later Dan slid onto the bench across from me.

He looked even worse close up. In the shadows his face looked half-dead, unshaven, the skin loose around his eyes and his short-cropped hair sickly white instead of blond. He’d been continually twisting his gold ring around on his finger until there were red grooves worried into the skin. He looked at me and tried to maintain some anger, or at least some suspicion, but it was too much effort. His expression fractured into simple grief.

"I didn’t," he said.

"Beau?"

He closed his eyes tightly, opened them, then nodded. He looked around for a beer and realized he’d left it at the bar. He almost got up. To keep him there, I started telling him what had happened after he’d run from the Hilton, what I’d told Schaeffer. I didn’t mention the decade-old letter from his mother that was still in my pocket. When I was finished he just stared forward like a sleepwalker.

"It’s only a matter of time before they ID you, Dan. There were cameras rolling, for God’s sake."

He kept turning the gold ring like it was a screw that just wouldn’t tighten.

"How much do you want?" he said.

I shook my head. “I’m not Karnau, Dan."

He accepted the rejection with a listless shrug. He looked down at the checkered tablecloth.

“He was lying there, you know? I came in angry, saying I was going to kill him." He laughed weakly, wiping the water off his lower eyelids. “And then all I could think of was to hold the wound, but it was his head, and I couldn’t—"

The waitress came up. She was about fifty, with a beer gut and a golf hat that had been through the wash too many times. She got out her order pad. Then she noticed Dan’s expression.

I held up my Shiner Bock bottle and two fingers. The waitress disappeared.

“I’m supposed to be at a damn party tonight." Dan laughed again, almost inaudibly. “Mother’s invited the mayor, everyone important. I’m supposed to drink champagne and dance with their wives and all I can think about is—I mean—"

He shrugged, unable to finish the thought.

“I know about the photographs, Dan. Three times I’ve seen you with Karnau. The second time you hit him. The third time he ended up dead. You want to avoid taking the fall, you’ve got to level with me."

The waitress came with our beers. When she left, Dan was staring nowhere again, getting lost in the memory of that hotel room. He got teary and drooped his head like he was going into shock. I reached across the table and pressed my thumb on the meridian point in the base of his palm. The jolt registered in his face like a cup of strong coffee.

"Tell me about the photographs, Dan."

His eyes refocused on me, a little irritated. He pulled his hand away.

“Last spring I was looking through the finances. Garza had said something that made me angry, something about me and my mother taking up space."

"He said this to his employers?"

Dan’s focus drifted down to the tabletop and stuck there, like he was trying to drill a hole through the wood with his eyes.

"Garza worked for my dad for years. He gets "—Dan squeezed his eyes shut—“he got a lot of leeway. Mother insisted on that. But I looked at the accounts and saw--I mean it wasn’t hard to find—"

“You saw the ten thousand dollars a month that was going to Karnau."

The jukebox cranked out a Merle Haggard song.

“I couldn’t believe it. All my mother would tell me is that Karnau had been threatening to publish some old photos of my father. I don’t know where he got them. She said the photos could ruin us. She told me not to get involved; she wanted to protect me."-

When he talked about his mother he started mumbling, head down. It was as if he were five years old, recounting to a playmate how he’d gotten in trouble. I took out the photo from Garza’s trailer and put it on the table. Dan’s forehead turned scarlet.

"You’ve seen this before?"

"One like it. In Garza’s files."

"But you don’t know what it’s a picture of."

Dan looked down at his beer. "No. She wouldn’t tell me. She wanted—"

“She wanted to protect you."

Dan looked miserable.

“You found out right before the River Parade," I guessed. “And you told Lillian. She didn’t take it well."

He swallowed. “I thought she had a right to know. She was working with this guy, for God’s sake. And we were practically engaged. I’d just given her a diamond ring. I showed her the photo, explained what I knew to her. I told her I’d deal with it, but—" He shook his head, blushing. “I guess I can’t blame her. She didn’t want to see me anymore."

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***