- The Last King of Texas
A block of sunlight was glowing on my quilt. Ana DeLeon stood over me, snapping her Glock 23 into her Sam Browne holster. She'd changed into business clothes — blazer and skirt and immaculate white silk blouse.
"What's happening?" I asked.
"Your friend Deputy Gerson. That odd man, Mr. Diliberto. They're practicing on your target range."
"Since when does a line of beer cans constitute a target range?"
Ana checked her gun, straightened her blazer over it. "You want me to call them back in? I need to get to town. I'm already late."
"That's okay. Good luck with Rey Feo's murderer."
Ana's eyebrows knit together. "What?"
I was hazy about how much I had told her the night before, or even if it was the night before when we'd talked, so I recounted my conversation Saturday with the bartender at the Poco Mas. I told her that the old man had seen Hector Mara arguing several weeks ago with a heavyset, dark-haired Anglo, a man Hector had derisively referred to as Rey Feo.
"It was Del," I said. "Zeta Sanchez had just gotten back into town. Del and Hector were meeting to figure out what to do."
DeLeon looked at the Army Corps of Engineers' map of Sabinal above the mantel. She seemed to be tracing the elevation lines, trying to separate them.
She shook her head. "I'm fine. It's just — something Kelsey told me once. It rang a bell there for a second..."
Another round of gunfire crackled in the fields.
"Be careful when you go back. Chich knew you had Del. He knew exactly what Del was telling you. Chich has somebody in the department feeding him information."
Ana was silent.
"Kelsey was vice," I said, unnecessarily.
"Tres, he's my partner."
"As soon as you got into Chich's life, Chich was on the phone to Kelsey."
"Look, Kelsey may not be the best partner, but—"
"Ana, just tell me you'll be careful."
She hesitated, then slowly reconstructed her smile. "You're one to give advice. You sure you don't want me to get your friends?"
"Let the boys have their fun with the beer cans."
She kept her eyes on me a few seconds longer.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing. You're going to be okay, is all. I'm glad for that."
"You make it sound like a good-bye."
DeLeon came over and gave me a swift kiss on the lips. Then she was gone. I listened to her car engine start, the sound of gravel pinging under her wheels as she drove off.
After a few minutes I sat up, waited for the black spots to clear, then tried to stand. I felt like I'd just dismounted from an unfriendly bull. I looked down at the black socks and Wild Turkey T-shirt.
"No," I decided.
I made my way through the bedrooms until I found some spare clothes I'd left on my last visit — jeans, a flannel shirt. After a year or two I managed to get dressed.
I checked the cupboard for something easy on the stomach and found nothing except ammo boxes and rat poison. The refrigerator held Budweiser and some cow drugs, massive syringes half full and dirty with blood from their last use. I settled for a large glass of tap water. On second thought, I didn't drink that either. After finding my boots, I opened the front door and did a quick duck underneath the wasp nest forming there. Harold was as good about keeping up the property as he was at stocking the larder.
The morning gray had burned off. The air smelled of steamed grass and cow dung. A Mexican eagle circled over the trees that lined the creek in the center of the property.
The Navarre ranch isn't much of a spread by South Texas standards — 250 acres, about the size of a King Ranch bathroom. The usually dry Apache Creek snakes through its middle, with wheat fields to the north and west, grazing lands and deer-hunting woods to the south and east. Where the land isn't cultivated it's choked with white-brush and cactus, littered with limestone chunks, the topography around the creek gouged with sinkholes and gullies and washouts from years of unpredictable flooding.
I found Ozzie and Harold in a clearing where the mouth of the road dipped down into the trees between the creekbed and the man-made cow pond. Ozzie was dressed in civilian clothes — jeans, white-and-red Hawaiian shirt, boots, white Stetson. A side arm and several extra magazines were spread across a table made from an old door and two sawhorses. Harold Diliberto stood next to him with the Remington 700.
The usual line of beer cans was set up on a hay bale fifty yards downrange. Ozzie had also set out a professional target — a small metal disk designed to rock back on its base when hit and make a resounding ping.
Ozzie grinned when he saw me walking up. "Well — it's alive."
I accepted his congratulatory pounding on my back, which was marginally less painful than an electric nail driver.
Harold Diliberto offered me a hit from his breakfast whiskey flask. I declined.
"Just getting my aim back," Ozzie told me.
His side arm was a .357 semiautomatic that had seen a lot of use. The muzzle was scored as if it had once been fitted with the wrong end sight.
I watched Ozzie aim at the metal target, then fire.
I flinched at the sound, even though I knew it was coming. There is nothing quite so loud as a gun fired by someone else.
There was no subsequent ping against the target. I kept my eyes on the gun. "Used to be the recoil on this thing didn't bother me at all," Ozzie said. "You get stiff in one arm, even if it's not your good arm, it completely fucks you up.
Give me that old rifle, Harold."
Harold looked from the rifle to Ozzie. "You serious?"
Ozzie took the Remington from Harold and clamped the stock under his bad shoulder, released the bolt with his good hand. The loading spring dangled uselessly underneath. It would be one shot at a time forevermore with the Remington.
With some effort, Ozzie pushed a .243 bullet into the magazine, slid the bolt forward to chamber the round, locked the handle down.
"Yeah," he said with satisfaction. "In the old days I could fire one of these with my good arm in a cast. Just prop it on a fence. I'm getting old. So, Tres — feel good to be done with the Brandon family?"
I looked down the reservoir road. Clouds of gnats floated over the little bridge of land between the creekbed and the water tank. I remembered a time in high school — coming out here with a half-dozen friends, getting together with some of the local kids who promised us dinner in exchange for beer. We'd set up a barbecue pit on that road, cranked up the truck radio, and watched the local boys shoot ring-necked doves out of the sky one after another, gutting and cooking them for us on the spot. I remembered Lillian, the girl I'd been with at the time, and what it was like trying to make out in the back of a truck with the constant fire of guns and dead birds falling all around us. I hadn't thought of that day in years.
"I don't feel much of anything," I said.
Ozzie nodded. "They doped you up pretty good. I'll give you a ride back to town this afternoon, you want it. I'm going to personally have a chat with Chich Gutierrez, let him know what's what. I'm a civilian now. I'm leaving town. I figure what the fuck — the bastard needs a talking-to."
Harold Diliberto sat back against the door-table and slurped his whiskey. Ozzie brought up his bad arm carefully, used his forearm as a platform to stabilize the barrel.
"You figure Chich's men shot George Berton and Mara?" I asked him.
"I mean to find out."
Ozzie sighted the target. A trickle of sweat wove its way down his cheek. His hatband was already stained brown as a coffee filter.
"The M.E. thought there was somebody else in George's house that night," I said. "A single shooter who came in the back. Maybe the shooter got out of the house before Chicharron got inside."
Ozzie shot and missed. He lowered the barrel, his eyes full of cool amusement. "The timing would be a pretty huge coincidence, kid."
"Not if the shooter choreographed it that way. Not if he knew Chich would be watching the house, knew that any witnesses would most likely implicate the guys in the white van."
Ozzie turned the vertical knob on the telescopic sight. "You ask Sandra Mara about that possibility?"
"Who says I could find her?"
Ozzie laughed, turned to Diliberto. "Dang, Harold. This five-by-thirty sighted for you? How you manage to hit anything?"
"Maybe you were right," I said.
Ozzie smiled at me. "Right about what?"
"Maybe the thing to do is just wait and ask George."
Ozzie turned the horizontal knob. "How's he doing?"
"Erainya says he's still sedated. But he's beat the infection. He's going to make it. Maybe another three or four days and he'll be able to talk."
Ozzie grinned. "That's excellent."
"Where are you and Audrey going? Cancun?"
Ozzie nodded, released the rifle bolt. The spent casing ejected, spiraling past Harold's ear. Harold Diliberto had finished his flask and was now looking for something else to do. He zeroed in on Ozzie's .357, picked it up, and began slowly, drunkenly, field-stripping it.
Ozzie just looked over and laughed good-naturedly. Diliberto liked taking things apart. Sometimes he even got them back together.
"I told Harold I'd leave that old .357 at the ranch for him," Ozzie said. "God knows he needs something better than this rifle. And yeah, kid. Cancun. If I was you, I'd tell Sandra Mara to clear out. They haul her in, they won't go easy on her."
"You're probably right."
"You know I am."
"Chich Gutierrez is still looking for those lost two kilos of heroin," I said.
"Sandra will be the one Chich holds accountable."
Ozzie winced with effort as he reloaded the rifle. "I ever tell you your dad was the first man I saw hunt with a handgun? That same .357 Harold's destroying right there."
Harold looked up like he'd just vaguely recognized his name. He had unloaded the .357's magazine and was now removing the chamber cover.
"Jack and I were out there" — Ozzie nodded toward the creek — "looking at all the gravel in the riverbed. Your dad always talked about selling it for people's gardens, you remember? And this huge buck just appeared. I couldn't believe it. Your dad borrowed my side arm and shot it on the spot. Damnedest thing. We ate venison for months."
He brought up his forearm for a brace, rested the Remington on it, and aimed. Harold looked up sleepily from the half-disassembled handgun. He was rubbing a finger over the irregular scoring on the muzzle. "You been modifyin' for a silencer, Ozzie?"
Ozzie fired. Metal pinged. He smiled and lowered the rifle. "Naw. Bought me a new sight, tried to fit it on the barrel, turned out to be a bad match. You going to have anything left of that gun when you're through?"
Harold blushed. He started collecting the pieces of the .357 for reassembly. I was hit with another wave of nausea.
"Whoa, son." Ozzie quickly put the Remington on the table and caught my arm, guided me over to a flat piece of limestone to sit. "You want us to walk you back to the house?"
"I'll be okay in a second."
"Maybe we should take you back to town sooner than later."