- The Last King of Texas
Then a metallic rumbling started in the RideWorks courtyard behind me — the warehouse door grinding partially open. I heard Del Brandon's voice, midconversation. My attackers froze.
A few footsteps, more of Del's voice — then nothing.
I chanced a look over my shoulder. Del and Ernie, the human boulder with the blond cornrows, were stopped in their tracks, both staring at the battle scene outside their gates. Ernie had his hand protectively on Del Brandon's shoulder. Del hadn't changed his clothes since dinner at the 410. If anything he was more disheveled, and a lot drunker.
Slowly, Del put his hand on his gun. Probably from his angle, in the dark, he couldn't see Vampire and Porkpie with the P-11 — just me and the three homeboys at his gate.
"Well, well," Del called to me. "Fucking private dick came back already. You figure I sleep? I don't. Not no more."
I glanced at the three locos. Still frozen.
"Listen, Del," I said. "Let's talk inside. You can beat the shit out of me there, okay? You and Ernie come on over."
"Come on, Del," I called. "You want to prove you're on the good guys' team, this is your chance."
I was mentally running through wild possibilities — Del would walk over, I'd roll and run, they'd start an inadvertent crossfire, I would escape in the confusion.
Instead, Del laughed bitterly. "You hear anything worth listening to, Ernie? I didn't hear nothing. Must've been a dog."
Then their steps resumed across the courtyard. The stairs creaked. The office door slammed shut.
Two more seconds of miserable, heavy silence, then Bikechain and Hairnet charged. Hairnet grabbed my arm and found himself grabbed instead, his face yanked down and slammed into my upraised knee. My left hand intercepted Bikechain's punch and directed it aside, the chains raking the skin on the back of my hand. I slammed my other palm against his jaw, tried to step sideways. But Hairnet was up too fast, tackling my waist and sending me into the fence in a full-body slam. I landed a double chop on his ears that almost loosened his grip but Bikechain lunged at me too, knocking all three of us down on the pavement. There is no greater terror than being completely prone, out of control, caught in a tangle of bodies.
It didn't last long — I remember gouging, kicking, elbowing, yelling, getting my head free of someone's choke hold just long enough to catch an image of the man with the bloody gash in his nose, raising the blackjack for a second try. There was a whish sound, then my head turned to ice. My eyesight faded. The pavement and feet walking around me became an afterglow in the darkness, like a television screen turned off in a dark room.
Somewhere, the bored voice of Chicharron was commenting to Porkpie — not about me, or the fight, but about George's red 70 Barracuda and how best to repaint it.
I was surprised to wake up, even more surprised to realize I had been awake for some time without my mind registering the fact.
My eyes burned from staring at a patch of yellow in the darkness. After a while I recognized the patch as a streetlight. I couldn't remember how to blink. There were moths fluttering around the streetlight. I stared at them for centuries. Some part of me knew that I should be concerned, should move, but I couldn't remember exactly why. I just lay there on my back, anesthetized, waiting for the dental surgeon to start drilling, for the doctor to amputate my leg, my brain. Whatever. I had a nice streetlight to stare at.
The side of my head felt warm and wet, like a very affectionate leech had been attached there. I was pleased to have the company.
I'm not sure how many decades I lay like that. The sky had started lightening to gunmetal when I became aware of voices — two males, very close to me. They talked in conversational tones. Every once in a while their words were interrupted by the ker-ploink of liquor being tipped into a mouth and then settling back into the bottle.
I thought it would be just dandy to turn my head and look at the two men, but my head wouldn't cooperate.
Finally an upside-down face hovered above me in the morning gloom. The young man had two beautiful nostrils. The rest of his face was shadowy but one eye seemed darker than the other. I could tell he wore a hairnet. I thought I'd seen him somewhere before.
The mouth under the beautiful nostrils scowled at me, then told someone in Spanish that my eyes were open. An offstage voice said it was probably time to drag me inside.
Hairnet's face went away.
The sensation of movement. I heard the sound of a body being dragged across gravel and after a time realized the body was mine. When we took an L-turn, my head lolled to one side and I saw the place where I'd been sleeping — a dirty blanket on the ground of an abandoned lot. Next to the blanket was a makeshift lean-to against the side of a warehouse — a gutted pink sofa slumped between two cardboard refrigerator boxes, a blanket draped over to make the top of a tent. A young Latino guy sat on the couch, drinking from a liquor bottle. Not far away, standing at the street curb under the lamppost, another Latino guy in a Raiders jacket was talking to a man in a station wagon. They seemed to be trading things.
Then I was dragged through a doorway and the scene disappeared in darkness. My feet hit the ground. I heard footsteps receding, then a metal door rolling shut. I lay on my back admiring the blackness, wishing for more feeling in my body. None came.
Maybe I slept. When I opened my eyes again I could make out the outline of an air duct above me, thin lines of a corrugated metal ceiling. I got excited when my fingers twitched, involuntarily, and I could actually feel the scrape of the cement floor.
I started to be conscious of my own swallowing. I could feel my hands and my feet. The leech on my face started slithering around.
After a long, long time, I was able to make a fist. Light seeped into the high ceiling through constellations of rust holes. They made beautiful patterns — smiling faces, animals, monsters. Metal support beams started appearing out of the darkness.
I tried to lift my arm. I was scared when my hand actually appeared in front of my face.
I opened my mouth and a sound came out — nothing very human, but sound. Whatever they'd drugged me with had a lot of staying power. I still felt no pain, just a greater heat — an invisible finger poking deeply into my rib cage over and over, trying to get my attention.
I was almost cocky enough to try sitting up when there was an explosion of sound, then light. The warehouse doors rolled open behind me and blinding sun poured in.
Men came in, talking. Some stepped around me. I saw flashes of faces — all Latino, most young and bearded, many with ski caps or bandannas.
Somebody told somebody else to move the pile of garbage. I recognized Chicharron's voice. Once I was jerked up off the floor and my vision twisted sideways, I realized the garbage was me.
I was shoved into a chair and promptly slid out of it again. Impatient hands dragged me back into a sitting position.
When my gyroscope readjusted itself, I saw a black leather executive chair with slash marks along the top. Chicharron sat in that chair, his legs crossed, his casual vampire-wear on — jeans, a billowy white shirt, lots of silver. Other men moved around behind him — circling, watching me with predatory eyes. I recognized Porkpie, and the kid with the hairnet who sported a nasty shiner I devoutly hoped I'd given him.
Chicharron adjusted the folds of his shirt, then flicked his fingers toward me.
"You got something to say?"
I worked my jaw and eloquently managed to reply, "Uh."
Chich looked at Porkpie, who moved a little closer, ever ready to serve and protect.
"Is he going to be like this permanently?" Chich demanded.
Porkpie said that I would come out of it eventually and they'd have to give me more of the stuff. "Unless we kill him." He said this hopefully.
Chicharron looked at me like I was a throwaway carpet sample in a color he didn't particularly care for.
"You're still alive for three reasons."
I made a small noise.
Chich examined his fingers. His nails were as long as a classical guitar player's. "First, your name is Navarre. I'd rather not kill a guy who's got friends in the sheriff's department unless I have to. Second, you fight okay. I appreciate that. C, there's a little matter about some heroin."
He waited. I blinked, once maybe.
"You want to talk?" Chich asked. "Or you want to spend another night here with my boys, maybe be their mascot?"
"Another night," Porkpie broke in, "and he won't have no brain left, we keep him on this stuff."
"I can talk."
I think they were almost as surprised as I was that the croak was comprehensible.
I tried to say something else, failed, then realized that the more I concentrated on how to speak, the more I choked. "Chicharron—"
Chich made an X with his index fingers. "Nobody here by that name," he said. "You want any hope of getting out of this place still breathing, you'll remember that. Tell me what I want to hear, Navarre. Where's my heroin?"
I was watching his mouth move. When it stopped it took me a while to realize he needed a response. "Don't know."
"You really want that to be your answer?"
"Ask Del Brandon."
Chich glanced at Porkpie. "If we were to pull some of his fingers off, you think he'd feel it?"
Porkpie opined that I probably wouldn't.
Chich accepted this disappointment with a shrug. "Brandon's been talking to the police, Navarre. He's been in there all night, singing any song the cops tell him to sing. You know what he's claiming, Navarre? He's swearing Zeta Sanchez's wife is still around. He's claiming Mrs. Sanchez and Hector have been using RideWorks to move smack. My smack. He says his job was just to shut up and be silent about it. Says he doesn't have anything that belongs to me. And you know why I believe Del? I believe Del because Del's too fucking retarded to move heroin by himself. Are you hearing me?"
He snapped his fingers, which brought my eyes back from space, back to his mouth.
I said, "You know a lot about what Del Brandon is telling the police."
Chicharron's mouth crept up at the corner. "What I want from you — the only thing — is the heroin."
"Heroin's not important."
"Not important. My heroin's not important."
"Hector needed runaway money. So he ripped you off. But that's incidental."
"If it's so fucking incidental, think I'll just take it back."
"I don't have it."
"You got Mrs. Sanchez, don't you?"
A pain slid through my head like a shard of glass. I closed my eyes and heard myself whimper, hating myself for it.
When I forced my eyelids open again Chicharron had his hand raised, as if to signal his pals to be quiet.
"You fought well," Chich said. "I have three men who will not be healed for several days because of you."
"Good," I croaked. The intrepid detective gracefully accepts a compliment.
"Be a shame to kill you. Tell me where Sandra Sanchez is."
"I don't know."
"Let me kill him." The eager voice sounded like Pork-pie's.
Chicharron thought about it for a full seven seconds. I know: I counted. Then he stood up, nodded to someone behind me. Suddenly I was falling sideways — my chair'd been yanked out from under me. I lurched around on the floor, but it was like swimming through cement. The needle in the crook of my arm was the first sharp sensation I'd experienced since becoming conscious, and as the cement thickened around me I knew this needle would be the last.