The veins on Zeke Cambridge’s nose were turning scarlet. “My baby girl has nothing to do with this."
He said it to me but he was looking at Rivas.
"Sure," I said. "Keep saying that and maybe the lieutenant will start believing it. Lillian did make it to dinner last Sunday night, didn’t she? She’d just given me the disk she’d discovered, just gotten up the courage to break off from the gallery again, and Sunday night she must’ve confronted you—told you what she’d seen ten years ago, probably told you she was going to do something rash, like go public. That’s when you knew you had to put her away for a while. Asante wouldn’t be so understanding with her. He might send Rivas to make sure that Lillian kept quiet for good."
"Tres," said Mrs. Cambridge, still crying, "Lillian loved you so much . . . she wanted a second chance with you. Don’t—"
“She was very alone," I corrected. “She needed I someone to solve the problem for her."
“And you did a hell of a job," said Rivas. “Now, Danny Boy, at the count of five I want that disk. You can bring me the one on the coffee table, while you’re at it."
Zeke Cambridge’s eyes, which had been getting watery, now turned hard as sapphires as they focused on Rivas. Cambridge took one step toward the couch.
"Wait just a damn minute."
Rivas trained the 9mm on the older man. "Wait for what, Mr. C.? What are you going to tell me that’s going to make this better? We kept our part of the bargain. We paid good money for that little statue, then Karnau tells us Little Miss Cambridge swiped it. He tells us she’s going to spill what she knows about Travis Center, pin it all on your partners to get you off the hook. And we say: ‘No way, not good old Zeke Cambridge. Old Zeke’s too smart for that.’ Only then we find out you’ve taken your precious daughter out of commission, got your people searching for both disks like you’re getting greedy on us. That’s a real pisser."
"Which is why you killed Moraga and Garza," I said. Rivas flicked ashes onto the couch. "I’m counting to one, Danny Boy."
Dan suddenly became very calm, very composed. The change made me uneasy. His face closed up with a kind of frozen dignity that reminded me uncomfortably of his mother. He took the disk off the coffee table, then started walking toward me.
"We had an arrangement that is still valid," Zeke Cambridge insisted. "Daniel is no part of this, nor is Lillian. You can’t ignore ten years of solid profits just because—you can’t seriously think—"
Rivas shrugged. “There are other construction firms ready to make those kind of profits, Mr. C. Maybe you get whacked, it goes down as another mob killing, Mr. Asante gets a law-and-order speech ready to go in the morning. He can ride this one all the way to the mayor’s office. I’m counting two, Danny Boy."
Dan knelt down in front of me and got the other disk. He kept his hands in plain sight, well away from the Sheridan Knockabout. When he stood up, though, I saw in his eyes what was coming. I tried my best to tell him “no" just by the way I looked back at him, but he’d already turned away.
I said: "You don’t get Lillian, Jay. You don’t get any assurance that the disk I brought tonight is real. You kill me, you’re leaving loose ends."
Jay grinned underneath the mustache. He pointed the gun at me.
"It’s worth it, Navarre. Loose ends we can handle later."
"I should also mention—some friends of mine from the Sheriff’s Department are on their way here."
"Then we’ll just have to make it a quick good-bye."
Dan was back where he’d started, standing next to Rivas with the couch between them. Dan dropped the two CDs on the cushions.
“Good boy," Rivas said. He still had the gun trained on me. He didn’t notice Dan’s face, the tension in Dan’s shoulders.
I wanted to yell no but it wouldn’t have helped.
"What now?" I asked Rivas, trying to keep his eyes on me. "Asante finally gets you that promotion to captain?" Jay looked like the idea pleased him.
Whatever he was going to say next, it never got said because Dan grabbed his gun. It was an extremely stupid move, done exactly wrong. Dan seized the 9mm by the barrel and made the mistake of pulling it down, toward his own body. I don’t remember actually seeing the force of the discharge take off the edge of Dan’s right hand, or the bullet ripping an exit wound out the back of his thigh. I just remember the new red spray pattern that appeared like magic on the flowery pillows of the couch and on Mrs. Cambridge’s yellow dress, and the way the back of Dan’s khakis were suddenly dark and slick as he charged headlong over the sofa into Rivas. The Parabellum went off again but by then I was already in motion.
Nothing else is very clear, looking back on it. I remember a sound like a watermelon rind snapping when I brought the butt of the old .22 down on Rivas’s head. I remember a lot of blood seeping between my fingers as I tried to keep pressure on the large hole in Dan’s leg, yelling at him to keep still as he writhed around on the carpet, clamping what was left of his right hand between his legs. I vaguely recall the sirens and the paramedics coming in to relieve me, and later as I crouched in the corner, I remember Deputy Larry Drapiewski calling my name and gently taking away the Sheridan Knockabout that I was cradling against my cheek.
I woke up with Larry Drapiewski waving a cup of coffee under my nose.
It took a year or two for me to remember where I was.
I was in my underwear, on a cot on a screened-in porch. The breeze from the ceiling fan above me was chilly on my bare skin, but the August sunlight was pouring in hot and low from the west, and the noisy refrigerator I’d been dreaming about was actually cicadas, humming by the thousands in the huisache trees outside. There was a grass fire burning somewhere. A brown and white heifer lay in the mottled shadow of a cactus patch twenty feet away, watching me. I was at the ranch in Sabinal. It must’ve been about three in the afternoon.
I felt dizzy as hell when I tried to move. With some difficulty, I lifted my head and saw my brother Garrett in his wheelchair at the foot of the cot. Or rather I saw Garrett and Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix all blurred together. Until my vision cleared the two airbrushed faces on Garrett’s T-shirt floated around with Garrett’s own like some tie-dyed Holy Trinity.
“Come on, little bro," Garrett said impatiently, "we’re waiting to flush the toilet. "
I squinted and swallowed a taste like dead frogs out of my mouth. "What?"
“We haven’t been flushing all day, man, so you’d have enough water pressure from the tank to take a nice hot shower when you woke up."
Larry handed me the coffee. The bags under his eyes and his uncombed hair told me Larry hadn’t gotten much sleep last night, though he’d changed his deputy’s uniform for jeans and a denim shirt. "You’ve been out for thirteen hours, son. We were starting to get worried."
It was another hour before I could stand up steady enough to take that shower. There was an overnight duffel in the bathroom that I’d apparently packed for myself the night before, though I remembered nothing about going by Queen Anne Street. Inside I found some reasonably clean blue jeans, my City Lights T-shirt, my toothbrush, and my father’s old notebook. Some letters spilled out when I picked the duffel up. I put them carefully back inside.
Once I was dressed, Garrett and Larry gave me the courtesy of some time to myself. I rummaged around the kitchen for some potential breakfast. The candidates were two bottles of whiskey, one egg that had crystallized into a geode, a tangerine of unknown age, a jar of Sanka, and a variety pack of lunch-bag-sized snack chips. I wondered if whiskey poured over Fritos would make an acceptable breakfast cereal. I decided to opt for the tangerine instead.
While I ate the tangerine and drank instant coffee, Larry and Garrett sat in the living room with Harold Diliberto, our trusty overseer, and discussed the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana. Garrett was predictably in favor, Larry was predictably against. Harold seemed to think the whole issue was those damn Californians’ fault and both Garrett and Larry seemed comfortable with that.
I must’ve been washing my hands in the stainless-steel sink for a good three minutes before I realized what I was doing. I kept separating my fingers in the water, watching it flow through, thinking about the sticky consistency of Dan Sheff’s blood.
Finally Larry called from the living room: “You okay, Tres?"
I told him I was. Then I shut off the faucet and looked for dish towels. There were none.
When I joined Larry on the leather couch, he was pouring whiskey into four glass tumblers that all said JACK. Garrett was smoking a joint and looking out the screen door at the fading afternoon. I asked Harold if he’d get some wood for the fireplace.
Larry and Garrett looked at me strangely, but they didn’t say anything. Harold went out to the wood pile. By the time Harold had stacked the wood and started the fire with one of our Bics from the bucket-o-lighters, I was on my second glass of Jim Beam and the shivery feeling in my gut had just about faded. The fire burned it away completely. The mesquite wood, left over from last winter, was so dry after three months of summer that it ignited instantly and burned like a forge. The room got uncomfortably warm, until my fingertips felt almost alive again. I didn’t even mind the smoke rolling out the front of the mantle from the poorly working flue. Harold excused himself to go work on the water pump outside. Sweat started beading on Larry’s fore-head, but he didn’t complain. Garrett wheeled himself a little further away and sat watching the flames.
After finishing my second drink, I got up, went to the bathroom for my duffel bag, and came back out with my father’s notebook. I removed the letters and set them aside. Then I squatted down and propped Dad’s notebook against one of the burning logs.
Nobody protested. The smoke rolled through the pages of the binder, sucked inside by the cooler air. One canvas corner caught fire. Then the outside cover fell open, letting one page burn at a time, each blackening at the edges and curling inward to reveal the next.
Dad’s handwriting looked lively in the red light. The pictures he’d drawn of Korean planes and tanks for my bedtime stories seemed to jump right off the page. After a while the binder was reduced to a mass of black cotton candy at the edge of the fire.
When I turned, Garrett saw my eyes watering.
Garrett squinted, then blew pot smoke toward the ceiling. He kept looking up at the cedar rafters.
"Yeah. Me too."
Larry poured us all some more whiskey. "I suppose that notebook might’ve been potential evidence."
"I doubt it," I said. "But maybe."
Larry grunted. "I suppose after what I helped you do last night, I shouldn’t complain."
I had to think for a moment. Then fuzzy snapshots started coming into my head—Drapiewski getting me away from the investigation early, the two of us taking a long drive into Olmos Park, me having a conversation with someone on Crescent Drive, making a deal. I reached for my wallet, opened it, and found the hand-written piece of paper still inside. I put it back. Larry propped his boots up on the coffee table. He stared at the fire, then started laughing easily, as if he were remembering all the clean jokes he’d heard that week.
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