"Jem," Erainya said. Jem scootched to a stop, reined himself back to his mom's side. He didn't stop grinning.

"It's late," Del reminded us. "Let's talk business."

Erainya said, "So this is all you got?"

"Right now. We can also repair any old units you got."

She nodded toward the Cro-Magnon man looming behind me. "You always need him in the room?"

Del glanced at Bo Peep, then at me. He apparently decided the security risk was not high. "Get a Nehi, Ernie. We'll be in the office."

Bo Peep drifted away. The rest of us followed Brandon out of the warehouse. "You got to understand about Ernie," Del said as we crossed the yard. "Guy's gone state-to-state with the carnies so long, on the lam, he's just about fanatical to me for giving him a settle-down job, no questions asked. You worked the road long?"

"I know Ernie's type," Erainya assured him.

We walked up the office steps between the plaster horse and the blue elephant. Both glistened with hysterical smiles.

Inside, the reception area was no more than seven feet square, rafter beams lower than a miner's cabin, walls so old and dim and brown it was impossible to tell what they were made of. Whatever it was, it was solid enough to accept nails, which is how the majority of things were posted — an old Hung Fong's calendar, some company notices, photographs of workers at the shop, pictures of the rides. Up along the top of the walls were ripped fragments of old party decorations in several different colors. A truly impressive collection of gimme caps hung on more nails behind the receptionist's desk.

The receptionist, in fact, was about the only thing that wasn't nailed to the wall. She was flat on her back on the desk, snoring. After what I'd already seen of Del Brandon's business practices, it somehow didn't surprise me to find his receptionist in this condition, still in the office at midnight. She was Latina — minute size, frizzy red hair, improbably large bosom, and much spandex. In sleep, her little pointy face twitched and slanted like the drunken dormouse from Alice in Wonderland.

Brandon walked past her and swatted her knee. "Jesus Christ, Rita."

She stopped snoring instantly. "Yeah, Del, like you don't want me horizontal."

Brandon glanced back at us, his face pained. "She's got a lousy sense of humor. I got a wife."

Rita snorted. She sat up, rubbed her eyes, then focused on Jem and grinned.

"Hey. A cutie." She groped in the drawer behind her and came up with a smushed box of Mike and Ikes. "Want some?"

Del grumbled something about Rita getting to work, then led us down a short hall into a somewhat larger office. The carpet was threadbare sulfur. The fluorescent lights gave everything a greasy hue. Lined along the floor next to Del's desk, like luminarias, were leftover Taco Cabana bags filled with aluminum foil wads and smelling of old carne guisada.

Behind the desk was a framed, poster-size black-and-white photograph of Jeremiah Brandon, Our Founder as a young man, leaning against a half- dismantled printing press. The shot looked straight out of a World War II-era Life — the happy industrial worker laboring for Democracy. Except for the youthful softness in his cheeks and neck, Jeremiah looked not much different from the other picture I'd seen of him in middle age. Still the buzzard's face, crooked smile, a merciless light in his eyes that spoke of past poverty and a determination to avoid it in the future. Jeremiah's fingers were long, resting on the rubber-coated rollers and steel gears of the printing press like they were keys of an organ. His arms were black with machine grease up to his elbows. Grease speckled his collarless white shirt, his trousers, his cap. I had a feeling the liquid could've been blood and Jeremiah would've smiled just the same way.

I looked from the photograph to the real-life Del Brandon.

You couldn't miss the contrast. Del looked like his dad after twenty years of Prozac and eclairs — a fatter, duller version of the original, the ferocious hunger in his eyes watered down to a kind of unfocused discontent.

Del sat down at his desk, which was absolutely empty — no pens, no paper, nothing. The desk of an untrustworthy man.

He spread his arms. "Well?"

Erainya patted Jem's head. "Why don't you go play with Rita, honey?" Jem ran fearlessly into the other room — a lot more fearlessly than I would have if someone suggested I play with Rita. Erainya shut the door behind him, then sat in the only free chair. I leaned against the wall by the desk. Del sat back in his chair, waiting.

"Mr. Brandon," Erainya said, "we're private investigators."

Del had been about to prop his boot up on the desk. He missed, dropped the foot to the floor, and sat up. "Come again?"

"I'm a private investigator, honey. I need some information about your brother."

Brandon's eyes got very small. "Did Arno tell you to fuck with me like this?"

"I don't know Arno."

"You said—"

"No, I didn't. You assumed."

Del opened his mouth, looking back and forth between me and Erainya. When the color came back into his face, it came a little too quick. Maybe he wasn't really planning to go for his side arm, but when his hand started slipping toward the edge of the desk both Erainya and I had the same idea. Erainya pulled her 9mm from her purse. I walked around the desk, lifted Del's hand, and removed his .38 semiauto from its holster.

Del didn't object. He took the intrusion calmly, like a man who was used to being disarmed. When he spoke again, he addressed Erainya.

"You think this is a good idea? You think you can treat me like this?"

"We don't want you getting stupid, honey. That's all."

I ejected the gun's magazine into the trash can. I checked the desk, found no other weapons, then nodded to Erainya.

She put her 9mm back in her purse.

"I yell now," Del warned, "that kid of yours will be Ernie's lunch. What are you thinking?"

"All we want is to ask a couple of questions, honey."

"You tricked me."

"I do what's easiest. Tell me about your brother."

"He's dead. What's to tell?"

"You sound real broken up about it," I noticed.

Del shrugged.

"You looked broken up this afternoon," I added, "kicking Aaron's widow and kid out of their home."

Del's eyes got even smaller. "That's where — on the porch, yeah. What the fuck is this about?"

"We're working for UTSA, Mr. Brandon," Erainya said. "The University wants to make sure their professor didn't get shot full of holes through any fault of theirs. You heard the police are holding a suspect in your brother's murder?"

"I didn't know that, you think I'd be out at night conducting business? Years I've been waiting for them to catch that fucker. He killed my father."

"You believe Zeta Sanchez had a grudge against you?"

"Fuckin' A."

"Your brother too?"

Del's gaze slid down to his empty desktop, then back to Erainya. "Look, lady, the police already asked me all about that. I told them I don't know."

Erainya nodded sympathetically. "And the truth is?"

Del licked his lips. "You just want to know so UTSA will relax."

"That's right, honey."

"Then you'll get out of here?"

I gave him the Scout's honor.

"Just so you understand," he started, "Zeta Sanchez— Anthony — he should've been grateful to us. Nobody else would've given him the kind of chance we did."

He looked at Erainya for support.

She said, "Absolutely."

"Sanchez's folks worked for us for ages. His dad was a metal welder. His mom worked in the office." Del nodded past me, toward Rita's reception area. "I remember her pretty well. I was about fifteen when Anthony was born. Sanchez's dad died not too long after that but his mom worked here a few more years before quitting. The thing about my dad, though — once your family worked for him, he kept track of you, tried to help out any way he could. So he kept tabs on the Sanchezes. When Anthony started getting into trouble with gangs, Dad offered him a job here. Dad did that for a lot of the employees' kids."

"Heartwarming," I said.

"Everybody got a chance in Dad's business. Even Zeta Sanchez. Even my stupid fucking brother. Everybody."

From out in the office, Rita's voice exploded with laughter. Jem was singing her something.

Erainya said, "Why would Sanchez want you and your brother dead?"

"We shut the bastard down, that's why. Zeta was moving drugs through RideWorks. Using our fucking company to move heroin for his friends on the West Side. If he'd been found out, we would've been closed down. Everything my dad built, everything Aaron and I were going to inherit— gone. I got Dad to see what was going on. Aaron didn't have much to do with it, but Sanchez didn't know that. He blamed us both, told us we were just jealous he could run the company better than we could. Dad had it out with him after that — threw Sanchez out on his ass. You know what Sanchez did to retaliate."

"And the rumor about your dad sleeping with Sanchez's wife?" I asked.

"That story's bullshit."

"The girl's name was Sandra," I recalled. "Her brother's still around — Hector Mara. You wouldn't happen to know him?"

"I don't have to convince you two of shit," Del blustered. "I told you what you wanted to hear. Now you can get the hell out."

In the reception area, Jem kept laughing along with Rita. They both said "Whoops!" in unison.

Del nodded toward the door. "Ernie'll be coming back about now, checking on things. My transactions don't take this long, miss."

Erainya took a card from her purse, slid it across the table toward Del. "You think of anything you forgot, honey, call us."

"I got other things to do, lady. Either you got thirty thousand dollars to spend or your time is up."

"Your wife awaits?" I asked. "Or Rita?"

His face reddened. "I'll remember you, asshole."

"Good night, Del," Erainya said. "Thanks a million."

We went outside to collect Jem, who was giggling at Rita trying to balance a beer bottle on her forehead. Jem asked if we could come back here tomorrow. He said it was fun even without the amusement rides working.

Erainya told him probably not.

We left Rita still trying to do the beer bottle trick, Del Brandon glaring at us while he reloaded his gun.


Wednesday morning came way too early and it brought along a friend named Margarita Hangover.

I sweated through an hour of the Yang sword form, then showered until Gary Hales banged on the wall to let me know his bathtub was backing up. The plumbing at 90 Queen Anne is fun that way.

I shaved carefully around the gash on my cheek. The discoloration and  puffiness had gone down since yesterday. I could see the shape of the new scar — a little smile, half an inch long.

I read my morning battery of E-mail reports from Erainya, breakfasted,  dressed in coat and tie, and got on the road by nine. Most of Robert Johnson's hair went with me on the coat, since he'd used it as a bed the night before, but  when you have exactly two nice outfits and one of them smells like a bomb  blast, you make do.