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“You’d be surprised," I said.

“I’d be very surprised."

He stared at me for a minute longer. I tried to do my winning smile. Finally he shook his head.

"All right. The corpse that got driven through Sheff”s office wall, Eddie Moraga—we traced the Thunderbird exactly nowhere. Switched plates, the engine block number placed it as stolen from Kingsville. It doesn’t get any more nowhere than that."

“A big stop off for the cocaine trade. Might connect it to White."

“Maybe," Schaeffer said, but he didn’t like the tie-in.

“The fatal shot was through Moraga’s heart, close range, angled down, like he was sitting and the killer was standing right over him. The bullets in the eyes happened postmortem. Weapon was a 9mm Parabellum."

“Glock, maybe?"

He shrugged. "Looks professional. Everything wiped clean. Moraga probably knew the guy who killed him, never even saw it coming."

"If it was a professional job—"

“It means Moraga really pissed somebody off, up close and personal. This bullet-through-the-eye shit--you have to screw up pretty bad to rate that."

"But you still don’t like it. "

He twisted the edge of his napkin. "It’s too showy. The methods, yeah, professional. But these guys—they’re like fucking actors."

"Like somebody imitating what they think a mob killing would be."

He didn’t like that idea either, but he didn’t offer another.

“Garza?" I asked.

"The trailer he rented six months ago. Wife and kids live in Olmos Park, knew nothing about it. He was killed on the scene, sometime that morning, probably around ten."

"Right after I talked to him on the phone."

"Looks that way. Garza was sitting down when he got stabbed, and he was drugged. Heavy valium in his system, couldn’t put up much of a fight. You saw the blood. Slice the artery and it was over. Same problem--looks professional, too flashy."

"Karnau?"

“Not the same. Not a very smart killer, and definitely not a pro. Near as we can tell Kamau just opened the door, bought it instantly, then got displayed. Different M.O.; I’d bet money it’s a different killer from Garza and Moraga."

"But the display?"

Schaeffer shook his head. “Kamau was laid out neatly, like he was sleeping. They didn’t want a mess. Usually means your killer wants to convince himself nothing happened here. It’s like—‘I’ll just comb the dead guy’s hair, tuck him into bed, wash my hands, and everything’s normal.’"

I thought about Dan Sheff, what he’d said about wanting to hold the wound closed on Karnau’s head.

“You said the killer wasn’t too smart."

"Stupid choice of guns. Very clear striations from ballistics. A pretty rare little .22 this guy used."

“A Sheridan Knockabout," I said.

“How the hell did you know that?"

I told him about the deer blind in Blanco. Schaeffer thought about it, then nodded.

“Top of the class, Navarre."

I watched the coroner’s car arrive. Then two more squads. On the porch next door, the neighbors were sharing coffee. Somebody had brought binoculars. In a minute they’d start serving appetizers.

I got up. The sunlight on my skin was just starting to burn off the itchy feeling I’d picked up in Mrs. Gutierrez’s house. A couple of stiff drinks and I might even forget her body in the bathtub long enough to think about a few other dead people. I looked across at the turquoise house that was just being taped off.

“I don’t know how you handle it every day," I told Schaeffer; "My dad hardly ever talked about it. All those bodies on the highways, hunting accidents, bar fights."

Schaeffer blew his nose. He looked at me for a minute like he might even smile. Maybe he was going to gift me his napkin. Fortunately he only offered me a ride in the queasy beat cop’s squad car back to my VW. “I didn’t know your dad," Schaeffer said. "I do know he was in the field a lot. He got shit for it too."

I nodded.

"He a drinker?" asked Schaeffer. "Religious?"

“Drinker."

Schaeffer looked at me like he was remembering every family argument the Navarres had ever had, like he’d been right there with me.

"Usually one or the other. Next time you think about him, Navarre, think about twelve or thirteen Mrs. Gutierrezes a year, maybe a few worse. See if you wouldn’t rather drink it away than tell your kids about it."

We walked back over to the house. The beat cop joined us, looking almost flesh-colored again. He told me sourly that he was ready to go.

“And you?" I asked Schaeffer. “You religious?"

He shook his head. "I just talk to them."

I looked to see if it was a joke. "Who—the corpses?"

Schaeffer shrugged. “It keeps me sane. Keeps me thinking about them like they’re human. Plus they’re a great audience, very attentive."

I looked up at Mrs. Gutierrez’s bathroom window.

"Tell her I said good-bye, then."

"I’ll do that."

Schaeffer turned and patted the coroner on the back, then they went into the blue house like old friends.

56

The fountain in front of the White House was still being worked on. In fact, progress seemed to be going backward. More pipes were exposed now, more gaping holes and piles of dirt marred the lawn. The workmen were taking an extended lunch break under the shade of a live oak. One of the men grinned and gave me the thumbs-up as I walked up to the front door.

BeeBee didn’t exactly smile when he recognized me, but his grunt sounded collegial. He buzzed Emery, who came downstairs within two minutes and shook my hand repeatedly. Evidentally he had new orders concerning my visits. Or maybe he’d just given up. Emery’s tie was dark red today, his shirt olive-colored and just as oversized around the collar.

We compared head injuries—his forehead bruises from where Maia had slammed him into the door, my swollen jaw from where Red had kicked me. Then he started telling me about his three brothers in West Texas and how funny it was that they were all on probation at the same time.

“Shee-it," he said. "Jestin—that’s the one in El Paso, you unnerstand—he made two thousand dollars just last week at cockfighting. You believe that shit? Ole Dean back in Midland, now—"

"That’s great," I interrupted, trying to smile. “Is Mr. White at home?"

“Sure. He’s busy upstairs at the moment, you unnerstand."

He leered at me. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

“Maybe I could wait for him?"

Emery was agreeable. He even apologized when he had to frisk me. Then he led me into the study where White had almost blown my brains out. The elderly black maid brought us margaritas—made without Herradura, but otherwise acceptable. Emery talked about brother Elgin out in San Angelo. I nodded my head a lot. It was all very civilized except for Emery alternately cleaning his .38 and picking his nose while he reminisced.

After about ten minutes Guy White, tan and immaculate as always, appeared in the doorway and shook my hand. He was doing beige today-raw silk pants and an untucked broadcloth shirt open at the top just enough to show off his well-developed pects, perfectly devoid of chest hair.

He sat behind the desk, crossing his legs and leaning back, at ease. He nodded to Emery, who left. The maid brought in the refilled margarita pitcher and then disappeared too.

“My boy," White said, showing off his perfect teeth.

“What can I do for you?"

I took out a page of notes I’d made after talking to Schaeffer and handed it across the desk to White.

"Edit this for me," I said.

White raised his eyebrows just slightly. He looked at the paper, then back at me. He produced a pair of silver-rimmed reading glasses from his shirt pocket. White read my notes without comment or expression. Then he put them down and smiled.

"Flattering," he said.

"That wasn’t the first word that came to my mind."

He laughed without sound. "I mean that I should still be taking up so much of your thoughts. But regrettable that you could be so mistaken?

He patted the paper like it was the head of a puppy. At the moment I wanted very much to stick that well-manicured hand into the nearest food processor and see how well White could maintain his smile.

"Three men are murdered," I said. “Two look like professional hits and the third is probably shot with the same gun that killed Randall Halcomb, the only real suspect, besides the mob, in my father’s murder. The press is already loving the mob angle. And that doesn’t concern you at all."

“On the contrary," he said easily. “It concerns me a great deal. But it doesn’t change the fact that you are still mistaken about my involvement."

He met my eyes level and calm. I sat forward.

"The thing is, Mr. White, for every question I keep asking myself, you keep coming up as a very good answer. It’s possible you’re the person who took over Sheff Construction in the mid-eighties, bailed them out of debt and put their resources to work on illegally contracted city projects. If not that, it’s equally possible you worked with whoever the new owners were to rig the bidding process at City Hall, in exchange for a cut of the very considerable profits. There were two people with Randall Halcomb in Karnau’s photos—both of them saw to it personally that my dad’s killer was eliminated; both prohted from Travis Center then and are interested in profiting from the new fine arts complex now; both had a lot to lose when Karnau started his blackmail last year. You could be either one of those people."

White dabbed the salt away from the edge of his margarita and took a sip. I’d like to say I was rattling him, throwing him into a nervous fit, forcing him to make careless mistakes. Unfortunately the only thing I seemed to be making him was late for his next tanning session. He checked his watch, trying to be polite about it.

“All very imaginative? He looked at me with a half smile. "But really, my boy, you don’t believe a word of it. Allowing myself to be photographed at a murder scene, much less one done by amateurs. Kidnapping Ms. Cambridge. Disposing of people by such sloppy and obvious means. You give me more credit than that."

The margarita was now waltzing pleasantly through my circulatory system, turning my limbs to lead. It took away some of my will to get out of my chair and strangle Guy White with his Gucci belt. What irritated me was that he was right. As much as I might want to, I couldn’t really see him being at the center.

White nodded as if I’d assented out loud, then gazed off toward the ceiling. He looked like he was thinking about rose arbors, philanthropy, anything but decade-old murders.

"Your father was a great rattler of cages," he said after a while. "I would think twice before following that family tradition, my boy."

The words sounded like a threat, but White’s tone conveyed something different. It took me a minute to interpret.

***

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