and locked Dickhead inside with some pistachios and a cup of water.
I walked across Guadalupe Avenue to the pay phone.
When I called my own machine, the Chico Marx voice said, "Oh, broda, you gotta plenny messages."
Carolaine Smith had called, cancelling our weekend plans because she had an outoftown special assignment. She didn't sound particularly shaken up about it.
Professor Mitchell had called from UTSA, asking me to bring a curriculum vitae and a dossier when I came to my interview on Saturday.
Erainya had called, reminding me she needed to hear by next week whether I was coming back to work and by the way could I take Jem for a few hours tomorrow night.
It would mean a lot to him. I could hear Jem in the background singing the Barney the Dinosaur song at the top of his lungs.
My next call was collect, persontoperson to Gene Schaeffer at the SAPD homicide office. Persontoperson was the most expensive calling rate I could think of. As usual Schaeffer accepted the charges graciously.
"What a privilege," he said. "I get to pay money to talk to you."
"We should form a calling circle. You, me, Ralph Arguello."
"Screw yourself, Navarre."
Ralph Arguello is one of my less reputable friends. I made the mistake of introducing Arguello to Schaeffer once, thinking they could help each other on a West Side murder case. The problems started when Ralph offered Schaeffer a finder's fee for any unclaimed goods the detective could send to Ralph's pawnshops from the SAPD
evidence locker. Schaeffer and Ralph did not come away from the encounter with a warm fuzzy feeling.
"I assume you have an excellent reason for calling," Schaeffer said.
The walk light on Guadalupe changed. Students drifted across, their faces now featureless in the dusk.
"I remember. The fiddler. I assumed you had enough sense to get off that case."
"Just curious what you'd found."
He hesitated, probably wondering if hanging up would be enough to dissuade me.
Apparently he decided not. "We found nothing. The job was clean and professional?
only a few custodians in the SAC building that time of morning and nobody saw anything. Weapon was a highpowered rifle. Hasn't been found yet and I doubt it will be. Your client's going to have to look elsewhere for her missing demo tape."
"It's a little more than that, now."
I told Schaeffer about Les SaintPierre's disappearance. I told him about Miranda Daniels' problems getting out from under Tilden Sheckly's thumb and Milo's theory that Les might have used information from Kearnes in some kind of botched blackmail attempt. I told him about the man who had been arguing with Julie Kearnes Saturday night.
Quiet on the other end of the line. Too much of it.
"I figured you'd want to know about SaintPierre," I said. "I figured you'd want to find him, clear up some of those pesky questions, like is he still alive? Did he get Kearnes killed?"
"Sure, kid. Thanks."
"The guy in the BMW. Who does that sound like to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't let's obfuscate, Schaeffer. You know damn well it's Samuel Barrera. He was at Erainya's not two hours after Kearnes got gunned down. Alex Blanceagle at the Paintbrush hinted that another investigator besides me had been poking around.
Barrera's in this somehow—not one of his twenty operatives but Barrera himself.
When was the last time Sam had a contract so juicy he handled it personally?"
"I think you're jumping to some large conclusions."
"But you'll talk to Sam."
Schaeffer hesitated. "As I remember, Barrera turned you down for a job. A couple of years ago when you were shopping around."
"What's that got to do with it?"
"What was it he told you—you weren't stable enough?"
"Disciplined. The word was disciplined."
"Really stuck in your craw, didn't it?"
"I got a trainer. I stayed with the program."
"Yeah. To prove what to who? All I'm saying, kid, you would be illadvised to go forward on this Sheckly case, to see it as some personal competition between you and Barrera. I'm advising you, as a friend, to drop it. I know for a fact Erainya isn't going to cover your butt."
I stared up at the phone lines above me. I counted rows of grackles. I said, "You called it the Sheckly case. Why?"
"Call it whatever you want."
"He's already talked to you, hasn't he? Barrera did, or some of his friends in the Bureau. What the hell is going on, Schaeffer?"
"Now you're sounding paranoid. You think I can get pressured off a case that easy?"
I thought about his choice of words. "Not easy at all. That's what scares me."
"Let it go, Tres."
I watched the lines of grackles. Every few seconds another little rag of darkness would flit in from the evening sky and join the congregation. You couldn't identify the screeching as coming from individual birds, or even from the group of birds. The sonar static was disembodied, floating noise. It echoed up and down the malls between the limestone campus buildings behind me.
"I'll think about what you said," I promised.
"If you insist on continuing, if there is anything else you need to tell me, anything that needs reporting—"
"You'll be the first to know."
Schaeffer paused. Then he laughed dryly, wearily, like a man who had lost so many coins in the same slot machine that the whole idea of bad luck was starting to be amusing. "I'm brimming with confidence about that, Navarre. I truly am."
Wednesday night during midterms, to hear a country band, I hadn't figured the Cactus Cafe would exactly be standing room only. I was wrong. A small whiteboard sign out front said: MIRANDA DANIELS, COVER $5. There was a line of about fifty people waiting to pay it.
Most of them were couples in their twenties— cleanlooking young urban kickers with nice haircuts and pressed denim and Tony Lama boots. A few college kids. A few older couples who looked like they'd just driven in from the ranch in Williamson County and were still trying to adjust to being around people instead of cows.
At the back of the line, two guys were having an argument. One of them was my brother Garrett.
Garrett's hard to miss with the wheelchair. It's a custom made job—white and black Holstein hidecovered seat, dingo balls along the edges, bright red wheel grips set close to the axle like Garrett likes them, nothing motorized, a Persian seat cushion designed for a guy whose weight distribution is different because he has no legs.
He's plastered the back of the chair with bumper stickers: SAVE BARTON SPRINGS, I'D
RATHER BE GROWING HEMP, several advertising Nike and Converse. Garrett enjoys endorsing athletic shoes.
The chair's got a beer cooler under the seat and a pouch for Garrett's onehitter and a bicycle flagona pole that Garrett long ago changed to a Jolly Roger. Garrett kids about putting retractable spikes on his wheels like they had in Ben Hur. At least I think he's kidding.
The guy he was arguing with had patched jeans and a black Tshirt and longish strawcoloured hair. If I'd still been in California I'd've pegged him for a surfer—he had the build and the wind burned face and the jerky random head movements of somebody who'd been watching the crests of waves too long. He was blowing cigarette smoke at the floor and shaking his head. "Naw, naw, naw."
"Come on, man," Garrett protested. "She's not Jimmy Buffet, okay? I just like the tunes. Hey, little bro, I want you to meet Cam Compton, the guitar player."
The guitar player looked up, annoyed that he had to be introduced at all. One of his brown irises had a bloody ring around it, as if somebody had tried to smash it in. He studied me for about five seconds before deciding I wasn't worth the trouble.
"You and yo' brother get your brains in the same place, son?" His accent was pure Southern, too rounded in the vowels for Texas. "What you think? She's gonna get eaten alive, isn't she?"
"Sure," I said. "Who are we talking about?"
"Son, son, son." Compton jerked his head toward the cafe door. He flicked ashes at the carpet. "Miranda Daniels, you idiot."
"Hey, Cam," Garrett said. "Calm it down. Like I told you—"
"Calm it down," Compton repeated. He took a long drag on his cigarette, gave me a smile that was not at all friendly. "Ain't I calm? Just need to teach a bitch a lesson, is all."
Several young urban kickers in line glanced back nervously.
Compton tugged on his Tshirt, stretching the blue gray markings above the breast pocket that had probably been words about six hundred Laundromats ago. He pointed two fingers at Garrett and started to say something, then changed his mind. Garrett was down a little low to be effectively argued with. You felt like you were scolding one of the Munchkins. Instead Cam turned to me and stabbed his fingers lightly into my chest. "You got any idea what Nashville's like?"
"Do you need those fingers to play guitar?"
Cam blinked, momentarily derailed. The fingers slipped off my chest. He jerked his head randomly a few times, trying to regain his bearings on the waves, then looked back at me and gave another closelipped smile. Everything under control again.
"She's gonna get one album if she's lucky, son, a week of parties, then adios"
"Adios," I repeated.
Cam nodded, waved his cigarette to underscore the point. "Old Sheck knew what he was doing, putting her with me. She ditches Cam Compton she ain't going to last a week."
"Oh," I said. Sudden revelation. "That Cam Compton. The washedup artist from Sheckly's stable. Yeah, Milo's told me about you."
I smiled politely and held out my hand to shake.
Cam's forehead slowly turned scarlet. He glanced at Garrett, then held up the lit end of his cigarette and examined it. "What'd this son of a bitch just say?"
Garrett looked back and forth between us. He pulled his scraggly saltandpepper beard, the way he does when he's worried.
"Can I talk to you?" he asked me. " 'Scuse us."
Garrett wheeled himself out of line toward the men's room. I smiled again at Cam, then followed.
"Okay," said Garrett when I joined him, "is this going to be another Texas Chilli Parlour scene?"
He gave me his evil look. With the crooked teeth and the long hair and the beard and the crazy stoned eyes, my brother can look disturbingly like a chubby Charles Manson.
I tried to sound offended. "Give me some credit."
"Shit." Garrett scratched his belly underneath the tie dyed I'm With Stupid Tshirt. He produced a joint, lit it, then started talking with it still in his mouth.
"Last time I took you out we ended up with a three hundreddollar bar tab for broken furniture. They won't let me in the Chilli Parlour for dollar magnum night anymore, okay?"
"That was different. I'd burned that guy for worker's comp fraud and he recognized me.
Not my fault."
Garrett blew smoke. "Cam Compton isn't some out ofwork schmuck, little bro. He's been on Austin City Limits, for Chris sakes."
"You know him well?"
"He knows half the people in town, man."