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“Last time I was out here with your daddy, boys, Good Lord it must’ve been ’82 . . ." He proceeded to tell us about the big tornado that had ripped through Sabinal that year and how Dad had invited Larry out to help inspect the damage. The ranch house had been spared, but my father and Larry had spent the afternoon trying to extract a dead cow from the top of a mesquite tree with a chain saw. Larry thought it was so funny I couldn’t help but laugh along, although last time I’d heard the story it’d been a horse in the tree, and a hurricane instead of a tornado that had done the damage.

64

For once, Garrett seemed in no mood to speed. We started following Larry’s red jeep back toward town, but quickly lost sight of the deputy’s taillights when he turned onto Highway 90. The Carmen Miranda drove on leisurely while a brilliant Texas sunset flared up over the edge of the plains. When Garrett dropped me back at Queen Anne Street, I found a courtesy copy of today’s Express-News on the doorstep. I took it inside and tried to read the front page while Robert Johnson, after one unenthusiastic "roww" of greeting, began practicing his "slide-into-home-plate" routine with the other sections, seeing how many square feet of the living-room carpet he could effectively cover with paper.

"Don’t you have anything better to do?" I asked.

He looked up, wide-eyed, like he was shocked by the very idea.

The Express-News said that Dan Sheff, Jr., heir to Sheff Construction, had apparently uncovered a scheme by his own family and their associates to defraud the city of millions in bond monies for the proposed fine arts complex. Dan Jr. had, in the process of heroically confronting the alleged conspirators, been shot once. A policeman was involved in the incident, name not yet released, and there was some indication that the construction scam might extend back as far as ten years. The mayor was already being hounded for an extensive investigation to ferret out any wrongdoing on the part of local officials. I was mentioned briefly as being at the scene of the shooting. The article said Dan was presently in critical but stable condition at the Brooke Army Medical Center, where he was receiving flowers and praise from a number of well-wishers. The location of Lillian Cambridge, who had been missing for several days and whose parents were implicated in the scheme to defraud the city, was still unknown.

I threw section A to Robert Johnson. He used it for a triple play.

When I pulled down the ironing board and checked my answering machine I found about half an hour of messages. Bob Langston, Number 90’s former tenant, claimed he now had enough pinhead friends together to effectively kick my ass. Carlon McAffrey warned me I’d better get him that exclusive interview with Dan Sheff soon in case Dan decided to die. Carolaine Smith, the TV news lady I’d knocked into the river, said KSAT was willing to forgive the whole incident in exchange for an interview with Dan Sheff, if I could arrange it. Detective Schaeffer from the SAPD had left several messages—wondering where the hell I’d disappeared to last night, letting me know that the Cambridges had signed a testimony about some disks that had turned up missing at the scene. Schaeffer wanted to know if I had any ideas about the disks or if he just needed to arrest me. One message from my mother, pleading for me to come over to dinner and please bring Jess’s truck back with me. One from Ralph that simply said: "She’s fine. Que padre, vato."

The only person I called was Maia Lee.

It was six o’clock San Francisco time. Maia was just about to go to dinner. At least that’s what the man who answered her home phone said.

"You want me to get her?" he said.

"Just tell her Tex called. She asked me to let her know when it was over."

The guy made a small grunt, like he was leaning over to tie his shoe, or maybe finish straightening his tie.

“What’s over?" he asked.

I hung up.

The sunset was almost gone when I drove into Monte Vista, to an address I knew only by reputation.

It was a gray adobe house, three stories high, with two Cadillacs in the drive and a huge live oak in the front yard sporting a homemade plywood treehouse. A little Hispanic boy was grinning down at me from the top, pretending to hide. He had his father’s smile. I pretended to shoot him as I walked by underneath. He giggled hysterically. When I got to the door I could smell homemade tamales cooking inside.

When Fernando Asante came to the door, dressed in his jeans and a Cowboys jersey, I said: “Is there a place We can talk?"

His other child, a little girl, came up and hugged his thigh. Asante glanced at me, then motioned me inside.

"What is it, Jack?" he said after we were seated in his office.

Asante was a football fan—even the light on his desk was a Cowboys helmet, the kind of thing a kid might keep in his room. The room was cozy, a little messy. It wasn’t what I’d expected.

Asante looked almost sleepy now, no trace of the politician’s smile.

“I don’t like loose ends," I told him.

He laughed, shook his head. "After the last two weeks, after the last ten years, you say this, son."

I took out a piece of paper I’d received last night when I’d conducted some business in Olmos Park. I held it up.

Asante looked unimpressed. "What is it now? More old notes from your father’s grave?"

He tossed me the front page of the morning paper.

"Already seen it," I said.

Asante smiled. Asante could afford to smile—there was as yet no mention of him.

“Here’s what I think, Councilman. I think you’re going to weather the storm."

Asante’s eyes were like black marbles. He might’ve been blind for all I could read in them.

“I think you can pull in enough favors and manipulate the investigation enough to get yourself off the hook. I helped out by tampering with most of the evidence myself—your lawyers will have a great time with that. Unless those CDs show up, and you know they haven’t yet, there isn’t enough legally obtained direct evidence to implicate you in anything. The Sheffs and the Cambridges may or may not go down for defrauding the city, they’ll try to take you with them, but I’m betting you’ll survive. Unless those CDs show up."

“Let it rest," Asante told me. "You’re going nowhere with this, son. If you had any such evidence, you’d’ve brought it to your own friends in the police department by now. Then we’d just have to let justice prevail in the courts, wouldn’t we, Jack?"

I shrugged. “Maybe."

Asante looked at the piece of paper I was tapping on the table. His smugness wavered, just for a moment.

"And what have you got there, son?"

There was a knock on the door. Asante’s son scampered into the room, around the desk, and into his daddy’s lap. Suddenly shy, the boy hid his head in his hands. Then he whispered something in his daddy’s ear, got a kiss, and ran off.

Asante’s face softened as he watched the boy leave. Then he looked at me again, his eyes hard.

"My dinner is ready, " he said.

I nodded. "Then I’ll be brief. I couldn’t sit around waiting for you to come claim the disks from me, Mr. Asante. Eventually you would try. Even if I destroyed them—you’d never be sure. For your own peace of mind, you’d come looking. I could’ve turned them over to the police, but I somehow don’t trust the police or the courts with this one. They never did much good with my father’s murder the first time around, did they? That’s why I decided to make a deal."

I unfolded the piece of paper. I slid it across the desktop to him.

Asante looked at the signature, frowned, then tossed it back on the desk. He didn’t get it.

"And this is?" he asked.

“A receipt for my disks. Guy Wliite always writes receipts. It’s one of the few ways he’s decent."

Asante stared at me for a minute, still not comprehending.

"White’s been pretty mad at you for ten years," I explained. "Sending all that heat his way about my father’s murder, then trying to do it again with Garza and Moraga. So we made a deal. Mr. White and I have just bought controlling interest in Fernando Asante."

As it started to sink in, Asante’s face went pale. That was all I wanted to see. I stood up to leave.

"I don’t know what Guy White’s demands will be to keep these disks from going into circulation, Councilman, but here’s mine, for now anyway. Tomorrow morning you call a press conference and renounce any plans to run for mayor. You’re going to tell them you’re happy right where you are—a frustrated little man in a little job. I’m not sure what else you’re going to do yet, but you’ll hear from me. You can plan on that for the rest of your life."

"Tres—"

Asante spoke my name as if he were just now realizing which Navarre I was. I liked the way he said it.

"Enjoy your dinner," I said.

I left him staring at his Cowboys helmet desk lamp, with his children screaming for him to come to the table. His wife, a pleasant-looking fat woman, smiled at me on my way out. The table was set, and the kids were jumping up and down in their seats, anxious to say grace. I’d never smelled better homemade tamales in all my life.

65

"Do I look all right?" Lillian asked.

We both knew the answer to that was “yes," but I confirmed it for her anyway.

We’d just made it past the security guard and the journalists in the lobby and were now in the Northeast Baptist elevator, going up. Lillian and I were both wearing black for what lay ahead this afternoon, so I was grateful to be out of the noonday sun for a while. Even after several minutes in the hospital’s industrial strength air-conditioning, the inside of my linen jacket felt like the liner for a bag of microwave popcorn. I made a conscious effort not to imagine what the inside of Lillian’s clothes felt like. She was wearing a black sheath, Jackie O. style, with no stockings and black sling-back leather pumps. Her coppery hair was pulled back with a wide black grosgrain ribbon. Around the scoop neckline of her dress she wore her mother’s pearl necklace, the one Angela Cambridge had worn the night Dan got shot. The last was a fashion choice I could’ve lived without. After a week of recuperation, Lillian’s color was healthy again. The summer tan showed off the freckles  on her shoulders, chest, and face. Her bare legs looked just line.

It was hard to pinpoint exactly how I could tell, just from looking at her, that she’d spent the last week crying, some of it yelling and breaking things, but I could. Her eyes weren’t red, nothing about her looked shaken or distraught, yet there was a kind of post-flood quality to her. Her features looked harder, weathered, as if her face had been scoured of everything that wasn’t absolutely essential.

The elevator door slid open on the second floor. We followed signs to the orthopedics wing, down a fluorescent-lit corridor that was an obstacle course of wheelchairs and food carts. Toward the end of the hall, one of the private rooms had a security guard in front of it.

As we headed that way, Lillian took my hand and squeezed it. "Thank you for coming with me."

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