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"Dan, did it occur to you Lillian might’ve been shocked because she already knew about those photos? Karnau was her partner for ten years. Maybe she just didn’t realize he was using them for blackmail. Maybe she thought they were destroyed; maybe Karnau had agreed to destroy them, then when she found out he hadn’t—she didn’t know what to do. Maybe—"

I stopped. I had been thinking aloud, trying to sculpt an answer I could live with. Dan was looking at me like I’d just spoken in Arabic.

"Why would she have known?" he said.

I stared at him. I probably looked as dazed as he did. “All right," I said. “You said your mother told you to stay out of it. You obviously didn’t."

Dan tried to look defiant, but his voice got quivery.

“It’s my damn company. My fiancée. When Lillian,. . .when she told me to go away, it just made me more determined to resolve things. I confronted Beau. I told him he’d gotten all he was going to get and I wanted the photographs. I just didn’t know—"

He rubbed his eyes slowly, like he couldn’t quite remember where they were. A sleepless night and too many pitchers of Lone Star were catching up with him.

"You didn’t know what?"

"Beau kept stalling. He asked for more money, then promised he’d bring the disk, then asked for more. He promised if I came to the Hilton that would really be it. He was leaving town. But already he’d done something with Lillian, and then that carpenter, then Garza. It just kept getting worse. If I hadn’t pushed on him so hard—"

“Wait a minute," I said. “You think Karnau killed those two men. You think he kidnapped Lillian."

Dan stared at me. “It’s obvious." .

"Obvious," I repeated. “Who killed Karnau then? Who else knew you were going to the Hilton, Dan?"

"No one."

“Except your mother?"

He didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure he was even listening.

“When Lillian turned up missing," I said, "your mother talked to the Cambridges. She insisted on no

police."

He frowned. "We both did. We knew it wouldn’t help."

"That’s not why she wanted the police out, Dan."

His eyes became unfocused. "What the hell do you know about her? You have any idea how much strength it takes—her husband about to die, some lowlife black-mailing her family, a hundred damn cousins and second cousins and nieces and nephews ready to take over the company as soon as they see the chance? She kept a million-dollar business together, Navarre. She’s done that for me."

It sounded like a speech he’d heard a thousand times. He recited it without much conviction.

I tried to imagine the world as Dan saw it: Beau Karnau capable of shooting Eddie Moraga through the eyes, but scared enough of Dan to not try anything even alone with him in a dark alley. Dan able to save the family business single-handedly, even though he’d looked at the books maybe once. Lillian ignorant of her mentor’s darker side, just too delicate to handle dating a man who was being blackmailed. The fact that Karnau was the one who’d been blackmailing the Sheff family for a year nothing but an odd coincidence. Dan’s mother a frail and besieged protector of Dan’s inheritance. I wondered how many of his mother’s speeches it had taken over the years to make that vision of the world seem obvious to Dan. I wondered how much longer it would be before that vision caved in on him.

“I’d talk to your mother, Dan. She’s been protecting you again."

The Merle Haggard song ended. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Carlon staring over at us, trying to look like he wasn’t.

Dan drained his beer glass.

"Get away from me," he mumbled. "Just leave."

I stood up from the bench. I threw down a five and started to go.

"Ask her, Dan. Go to your party tonight and ask her if the blond man in the picture is named Randall

Halcomb."

When I stopped at the exit and looked back, Dan was slumped over in the booth, his forehead cupped in his hands, furrows of blond hair sticking up between his fingers. The waitress with the beer gut and the golf hat was trying to console him, giving me a dirty look. Carlon had left his table and was walking toward me as quickly as he could without actually breaking into a run.

We went out together and stood next to Carlon’s car in the nighttime heat. The blue Hyundai was parked on McCullough with two wheels on the curb.

"So what do we know?" Carlon said.

"We don’t know much, Carlon. just that Dan’s a victim."

Carlon laughed. “Yeah, poor guy. Forced to put a bullet in Karnau’s head. Give me a break, Tres."

"Dan didn’t kill Karnau. He just isn’t capable."

Carlon took off his inconspicuous tie, rolled it up, and shoved it in the front pocket of his khakis, never taking his eyes off me.

"I’m listening."

"Carlon, what would it take for you to give up on getting a story out of this?"

He laughed again. “You don’t have that much, Navarre. This is the spiciest shit I’ve had since the last Terlingua Cook-off. Murder, blackmail, the mob. We’re talking 40-point orange headlines here."

“I don’t want it like that."

"It’s already there, man. It might as well be me that pops the cherry on it."

I looked over at him. just for the moment I wished I had a bayonet.

“Friday, then," I offered. “At the earliest. This is more complicated than I thought."

“Getting publicity has a funny way of making things unravel, man. I’ve still got about an hour to make copy for the morning edition."

"Look," I said, trying to keep my voice even, “if you stir things up now, if you get the wrong kind of heat onto the wrong people, somebody else is going to die. I need time to make sure that doesn’t happen."

"Lillian, right?"

“Yeah."

Carlon hesitated. Maybe he was thinking about Lillian, or maybe he was thinking about the black eye I’d given Beau Karnau. I didn’t really care which.

“You promise me this will be mine?" he said.

"It’s yours."

“Promise me it’s big."

“Yeah."

Carlon shook his head. “What is it makes me believe you when I know you’re going to screw me around again?"

“Your innate benevolence?"

“Shit."

When I got home I sat down and started feeling very alone. Robert Johnson fighting with my ankles didn’t help. Neither did another half pint of tequila.

I tried to push the thoughts of Cookie Sheff and my father out of my mind, but the only thoughts that replaced them were of Maia Lee. I looked around the room and saw places she had stood, or eaten pan dulce, or kissed me. In her hurry to pack, she’d left a few articles of clothing in the bathroom. I’d folded them neatly on the kitchen counter. I wondered where she was right now, back at work, talking to a client, cursing at a cable car operator, having dinner at Garibaldi’s. Half of me was pissed off because I cared at all. The other half of me was pissed off because I didn’t care enough to do anything about it. All of me agreed it was time to get out of the house.

53

My friend at the Dominion gates was learning his lessons. This time, he remembered to check the list before letting me in.

"B. Karnau," I said. “For the Sheffs."

“Yes, sir." I guess he didn’t get too many VW bugs through there. He frowned at my car. “Wasn’t it the Bagatallinis before?"

I smiled. “Sure. I know a lot of people here."

He nodded, his smile quivering as if he was afraid I might hit him. He checked his notebook, then looked up with great regret.

"Ah, I don’t see—"

I snapped my fingers, then said something in Spanish that sounded like I was scolding myself. What I actually said was that the guard’s mother had obviously mated with a learning-disabled javelina. Then in English: "No, man, they would’ve put it under Garza. I forgot."

He stared at me, trying to figure out how I could go from German to Hispanic in under twenty seconds. I smiled. I had black hair, I spoke the language, and it was dark. I guess I passed the inspection. He checked his list again.

Evidently nobody had thought to cross the dead man off the party list. The guard looked relieved.

"Okay, Mr. Garza. Straight ahead half a mile, turn left."

“Cool."

I shot him with my index finger. Then I kicked up as much smoke as the VW could make just to piss off the jaguar behind me.

I won’t tell you that San Antonians are the only people who love to throw a party. Garrett says Mardi Gras is great. Lillian always talked about Times Square at New Year’s Eve. But in most cities they’re content to have one major party season and the rest of the year is normal. In San Antonio, the normal year is about two weeks long in the middle of March. The rest of the time it’s party season.

The Sheffs’ party that night may have been a little classier than most, but it was just as packed and just as crazy. I could tell they were deeply in mourning for their dead employees Mr. Garza and Mr. Moraga. The walkway up to the mansion was lit with multicolored luminarias. The huge glass front of the building blazed gold, and a country band was cranking out the Bob Wills tunes from somewhere inside. A mob of rich folk spilled out the front doors and into the gravel front yard, laughing, drinking by the gallon, planning sexual escapades that wouldn’t ruin their designer clothes. I guess I stood out a little. I’d put on a fresh T-shirt and jeans, but the tequila bottle in my hand was easily the most expensive thing I had on. Or maybe it was the look on my face that made people stop talking as I walked through the front yard. I pushed past a few city councilmen, some local business leaders, a group of elderly women criticizing the younger women’s dresses. A lot of the people I recognized from the old days. Nobody said hello.

I went around the side of the house, put down my tequila bottle, picked up the outside garbage bin, and went into the kitchen through the servants’ entrance. The place was bustling with caterers, tortilla-makers, waiters. As I started emptying their trash cans into mine I spoke to the nearest group in Spanish.

“Holy shit, can you believe how much these cavrons are eating? The ceviche is almost gone, man. You’d better bring in another few gallons."

In a few minutes I’d put fresh liners in all the cans, whipped the tortilla-makers into a frenzy of activity, and moved across the room without anybody asking who the hell I was. I patted a waiter on the back and handed him my garbage can.

"Hold this for a minute," I told him.

Then I slipped into the hallway.

Once upstairs I only had to look in three doorways to find what I wanted. Cookie had laid out a pile of dresses on her bed. The vanity against the back wall was an explosion of makeup containers. The whole place smelled like very old strawberry potpourri. On the rolltop mahogany study in the corner, a laptop computer was waiting for me.

I didn’t need Spider John’s help for this one. Nothing was protected. Even half-drunk, it only took me about ten minutes. Then I went back out through the kitchen and came into the party through the front door.

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