Convenient. Only by the time the FBI found him, two months after Dad`s death, the ex-deputy was curled up in a deer blind in Blanco, shot between the eyes. Inconvenient.
The last thing in Carlon’s files was a photo of my father’s body covered with a blanket, his hand sticking out the side like it was reaching for a beer, while a grimfaced deputy held up his hand to block the camera, a little too slow.
I resealed the envelope. Then I stared at the neon beer signs over the bar until I realized Carlon was talking
"—this personal vengeance theory," he was saying, “just some ex-con with a score to settle. That’s bullshit. Christ, if Halcomb was acting alone, how come he turned up with a bullet between his eyes once the Feds start looking for him?"
I ate a piece of cheesecake. Suddenly it tasted like lead.
"You’ve been doing your homework, McAffrey. You stay up last night reading these?"
Carlon shrugged. “I’m just saying. There had to be a cover-up here."
“Maybe that’s the journalist in you talking."
“My ass. Your dad was murdered and nobody ever did time for it. Not even a fucking trial. I’m just trying to help."
Years of good living had softened Carlon’s face a little, but you could still see the hard edge in his smile. His eyes were cold and blue. There was energy there, self-confidence, a harsh kind of humor. Nothing that might pass for compassion. He was still the same college kid who pushed cows down hills for fun and laughed shamelessly at racial jokes and broken limbs. He came through for his friends. He probably meant what he said about helping. But if you couldn’t use it for fun or profit it meant very little to Carlon McAffrey.
“Halcomb had his own motive," I reminded him.
“Assuming he’s the one who did the shooting, he wouldn’t have needed anyone pulling his strings."
Carlon shook his head. "My money’s on the mob. My sources at the SAPD tell me I’m right."
"I heard that from the SAPD too. Doesn’t exactly inspire my confidence?
"Your dad died right after he brought Guy White in for trafficking, Tres. Don’t tell me that was coincidence."
"Why should the mob target a retiring sheriff? That would be pointless. The charges against White had already been thrown out."
Carlon wiped a piece of sauerkraut off his cheek. He was looking over my shoulder now, toward the booths on the east wall of the restaurant.
"Good question," he said. “Go ask him."
Carlon pointed with the bottom of his beer bottle.
“Guy White, man."
The booth Carlon was pointing at had two men in it. The one with his back toward me was a skinny, middle-aged Anglo whose mother dressed him funny. His slacks rode up at the ankles, his beige suit coat was too big around the shoulders, and his thinning brown hair was uncombed. He had finished his meal and was now tapping a quarter slice of pickle absently on his plate.
The man sitting across from him was much older, much more carefully dressed. I’d never seen Guy White in person, but if this was him the only thing white about him was the name. His skin was carefully bronzed, his suit light blue, his hair and eyes as rich and dark as mole sauce. He had to be the best—looking man over sixty I’d ever seen. Mr. White was about halfway through with a club sandwich and appeared to be in no hurry to finish the rest. He was chatting with the waitress, smiling a Colgate smile at her, gesturing every so often toward his associate across the table. The waitress laughed politely.
Mr. White’s poorly dressed friend did not.
"He comes in here twice a week to be seen," Carlon told me. "Clean-nosed celebrity these days--bailed the symphony out of bankruptcy, goes to the Alamodome for all the games, supports the arts, gets his picture taken with Manuel Flores at charity garden shows. Gone downright respectable. If something new came up in your dad’s case, something that screwed White’s public image to hell, that’d make a nice story."
I shook my head. "You expect me to walk over there right now and confront him?"
"Where’s that old college try? The Tres Navarre I knew would go up to an ROTC captain during live ammunition practice and tell him his girlfriend—"
“This is a little different, Carlon."
“You want me to do it?"
He started to get up. I pushed on his shoulder just enough to sit him back down on his stool.
“What then?" Carlon said. “You asked me for the files. You must have some kind of theory."
I took one more bite of cheesecake. Then I stood, put the manila envelope under my arm, and left my last twenty on the counter.
"Thanks for the info, Carlon," I said.
"Suit yourself," he said. “But you want this thing covered in a friendly way, you know where to come."
I looked back at him one more time as I left. He had pocketed my twenty and was ordering another beer on the Express’s expense account. For a minute I wondered why he had never gone into straight news reporting. He seemed disturbingly well suited for it.
Then it occurred to me that he was probably thriving right where he was, catering to the interests and appetites of the city in the entertainment section. That thought was even more unsettling.
Twenty minutes later I’d reparked my VW at the top of the Commerce Street Garage, one row down from the dark green Infiniti in Guy White’s reserved monthly space.
I knew White parked in the garage because it was the only logical place to park if you’re going to Shilo’s. I knew he had a regular space because ten minutes earlier a nice parking attendant had shown me the list of monthly parkers. In fact he’d shoved it in my face, exasperated, trying to convince me that my name, Ed Beavis, was not registered. Normally I would’ve bribed him for the information I needed, but poverty makes for creative alternatives.
A few more minutes of waiting and the elevator door shuddered open. Mr. White’s skinny associate in the ill-fitting beige suit walked out first, bouncing car keys in his right palm. He wasn’t any handsomer from the front. His face had that sandblasted look farmers tend to get—dark pitted skin, permanently squinting eyes, features worn down to nothing but right angles. Mr. White strolled a few steps behind, reading a folded newspaper in one hand and smiling contentedly like there was nothing in there but good words.
We started our cars. Making no effort to hang back, I followed the Infiniti out of the garage, then onto Commerce and east for a mile to the highway. I couldn’t see anything through the silvered rear window of Guy White’s car, but once in a while my friend the driver would glance back at me in his sideview mirror.
Tailing someone well is extremely hard. It’s rare that you can strike the right balance between being far enough away to look inconspicuous and being close enough not to lose the subject. A full ninety percent of the time you’ll lose the person you’re tailing because of traffic or stoplights, nothing you can do about it.
Then you have to try, try again, sometimes for seven or eight days.
That, of course, is assuming you don’t want to be seen. Tailing someone badly is very easy.
When I got about fifteen feet behind the Infiniti in the center lane of McAlister, the driver looked in his side mirror and frowned. I smiled at him. He said something to his boss in the backseat.
If they’d sped up they could’ve easily left me in the dust, but they didn’t. I guess one guy in an orange Volkswagen wasn’t their idea of terrifying. The Infiniti kept cruising at an easy fifty mph, finally taking the Hildebrand Exit and turning left onto the overpass. I followed it into Olmos Park.
Mansions started rising out of the woods and hills. Bankers’ wives jogged by in warm-up suits that cost more than my car. The natives seemed to smell my VW as it went by. It looked like their noses weren’t pleased.
We passed my father’s old house. We passed the police station. Then we turned off Olmos Drive onto Crescent and the Infiniti pulled into the red brick driveway of a residence I knew only by reputation: the White House.
It wasn’t just called that because of the man who lived there. The facade was an exact replica—wraparound porches, Grecian columns, even the U.S. flag. It was an egomaniac’s dream, except the whole building was scaled down to about half the size of the original. Still impressive, but after you looked at it for a while, it somehow seemed pathetic. It was a Volvo trying to look like a Mercedes, a Herradura bottle filled with Happy Amigo tequila.
I pulled over on the opposite side of the road, where the cactus and wild mountain laurels sloped down toward an old creek bed. The driver of the Infiniti got out and started walking toward me. Mr. White got out next. He brushed some invisible speck off his powder-blue suit, then folded his newspaper under his arm and began walking leisurely toward his front door, not looking back.
The skinny guy came down the presidential lawn and across the street. He put his right hand on the side of the car and leaned in toward me. When his coat fell open I got a pretty good view of the .38 Airweight in the shoulder holster.
"Trouble?" he asked. The number of vowels and syllables he packed into that one word told me he was a West Texas boy, probably hailed from Lubbock.
"No trouble." I gave him a winning smile.
Lubbock ran his tongue around his lips. He leaned in closer and gave me a short laugh. “I’m not asking if you got trouble, mister, I’m asking if you want it."
I feigned bewilderment, pointing to my own chest.
Lubbock’s face turned into one big sour pucker.
"Shit," he said, a three-syllable word. "You a retard, mister? What the hell you want following us like that?"
I tried another dashing smile. "How about a few minutes of Mr. White’s time?"
“That’s about as likely as pig shit."
“Tell Mr. White that Sheriff Navarre’s son is here to see him. I think he’ll agree to talk."
If the name Navarre meant anything to Lubbock, he didn’t show it. "I don’t give a damn whose damn son you are, mister. You’d best get out of here before I decide—"
“You’ve never been a highway patrolman."
He scowled. It didn’t improve his looks any.
Before he knew what had happened, I’d grabbed the handle of his .38 Airweight and twisted it, still in its holster, so the barrel was angled into the side of Lubbock’s chest. His arms jerked up instinctively, like he was suddenly anxious for his armpit deodorant to dry. All the tight lines in Lubbock’s face loosened and most of his color seemed to drain into his neck.
“When you’re stopping somebody in a car," I explained very patiently, "you never wear a shoulder holster. Much too easy to reach."
Lubbock raised his hands, slowly. His mouth was twitching in the corner.
“I’ll be goddamned," he said. Too many syllables to count.
I got the Airweight free of its holster, then opened the car door. Lubbock stepped back to let me out. He was smiling in earnest now, looking at the gun I had leveled at his chest.
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