Garrett closed down the computer, patted the keyboard like you would a puppy, then pushed himself away from the desk. He started digging around in his wheelchair's side bag until he found a Ziploc full of marijuana. He got out a fivedollar bill and a paper and started rolling himself a joint.
"So tell me about it," he said. "What's with the flies? Why the sudden interest in country music?"
I told him about my last two days.
There are no confidentiality issues when I talk to Garrett. It's not so much that he's incredibly honourable about keeping secrets. It's more that Garrett doesn't ever remember what I say long enough to tell anybody. If it's not about programming or Jimmy Buffett or drugs, Garrett never bothers to save it into the old hard drive.
When I finished talking, Garrett shook his head slowly.
He blew smoke up toward the parrot. The parrot leaned into it.
"You scare me sometimes, little bro."
"How do you mean?"
Garrett scratched his jaw line under the beard, using all ten fingertips. "I see you sitting in that chair, drinking and talking about your cases. All you need is a cigar and about a hundred extra pounds."
"Don't start, Garrett. I'm not turning into Dad."
He shrugged. "If you say so, man. You keep playing detective, hanging out in the Sheriff's old territory, working with his friends on the force—the Man's dead, little bro.
Murder solved. You can take off the Superman cape, now."
I tried to muster some irritation but the tequila and the easy chair were working against me. I stared at the tips of my deck shoes.
"You think I like being known as Jackson Navarre's kid every time I work a case? You think that makes it easier on me?"
Garrett took a toke. "Maybe that's exactly what you like. Saves you the trouble of growing up and being something else."
"My brother, the expert on growing up."
He grinned. "Yeah, well—"
I leaned back farther in the recliner.
Garrett noticed how short his joint was getting and reached behind him to get a roach clip out of the ashtray. His left leg stump peeked out briefly from his denim shorts. It was smooth and thin and pink, like part of a baby. There were no signs of scars from the train tracks that had long ago severed Garrett's lower third.
"You remember Big Bill?" he asked.
Garrett's favourite strategy. When in doubt, bring up something embarrassing from Tres' childhood.
"Gee, no I don't. Why don't you remind me?"
Big Bill had been a roan stud Dad used to keep out at the ranch in Sabinal. Randiest, meanest sonofabitch stallion ever born. The horse, I mean, not my dad.
The Sheriff had insisted that I learn to ride Big Bill when I was a kid on the theory that I could then handle any horse in the world. Each time I tried, Big Bill would intentionally head for lowlying tree branches to try and knock me off. On our third ride together he succeeded, and I'd gripped the reins so tightly as I fell that I couldn't let go when I hit the ground. My hands stayed wrapped around the leather straps as Big Bill galloped on for a good quarter mile, dragging me through as many cactus patches as he could find. When I returned home with half the back forty stuck to my clothes and my hair, my father had judged the ride "a little too wild."
"I found his saddle at the ranch last month," Garrett said. "Had it polished up. I've got it back in my bedroom if you want to see it."
"For the biker women, no doubt."
Garrett tried to look modest. "Actually it made me think of my little brother. I still got this image of you, man—nineyearold kid being dragged behind a runaway horse."
"Okay. I get the point."
"How old are you now, twentyeight?"
"Twentynine," I said. "There's a difference."
Garrett laughed. " 'Scuse me if I don't feel sorry for you. Just seems to me you got time to try some different things, little bro. Maybe you could get yourself a life that doesn't get you shot at so often and your girlfriends pissed off and your old brother kicked out of bars when you come to visit."
"I'm good at my work, Garrett."
"That what your boss says—you're good at your work?"
"Yeah," Garrett said. "Like I said, you never could let go when you needed to."
"You saying I should've been like you—hop a freight car every time things at home started to get bad?"
It was a mean thing to say, but Garrett didn't react. He just kept smoking and looking at a point somewhere above my head.
After a while the heavy metal music from the downstairs neighbour started up again, rattling the halfempty tequila bottle on Dad's army footlocker that Garrett used as a coffee table.
Garrett looked down at the floor with tired resignation, then he reached over to pick a new CD.
"Hope you can sleep to music," he said.
"Mr. Navarro, isn't it?"
Miranda's dad shook my hand with both of his ^r and most of the rest of his body. This was a good trick, considering that to do it he had to put his walking stick in the crook of his arm and lean on his good leg and still keep from falling over.
"Navarre," I said. "But call me Tres."
Willis Daniels kept shaking my hand. His face was bright red, beaming like he'd just run the Iron Man triathlon and loved every minute of it.
"Course. Navarre. I'm sorry."
"No problem," I said. "San Antonio. Navarro. Historical connection. I get that all the time."
We were standing in the doorway of Silo Studio on Red River near Seventh. The studio was a singlestory refurbished warehouse with metalframed windows and brown stucco outer walls the texture of shredded wheat. The main door was at the rear of the building, where the parking lot was.
The Widower's Two it Step 119
We were standing right in the doorway, me on my way in and Mr. Daniels on his way out and the guy with a dollyful of electrical equipment waiting two feet behind Daniels shit out of luck. Daniels didn't seem to notice him.
The old man squinted and leaned his face into mine, like a preacher about to offer me important words of comfort as I filed out of church. He smelled like wet leather and Pert.
"I apologize for last night," he said. "Hard situation, Cam getting out of control like that.
I surely didn't mean to misjudge you."
"Don't mention it."
"Cam was fired, of course."
I nodded amiably.
The guy with the dolly cleared his throat loudly. Daniels kept beaming at me.
With the solid red flannel shirt and black jeans and the curly gray hair now minus straw hat, Daniels looked even more like Santa Claus than he had the night before. He was mighty perky for somebody over sixty who'd played music until two that morning.
"You know you do look Hispanic," he decided. "I suppose that's why I thought Navarro.
It's the dark hair. Bit of a swarthy complexion. You don't mind me saying so?"
I shook my head. Swarthy. Maybe I should have kept the parrot. Gotten myself a cutlass.
"I hear you might be coming to our party tomorrow night," he continued. "I surely hope you can make it."
"Do my best."
We nodded at each other, both smiling.
I pointed to the parking lot, the way he'd been heading. "You're not helping with the recording today?"
He looked surprised, then chuckled and let out a whole string of little no's. "Just dropping off Miranda. Old man like me couldn't keep up."
He said his goodbyes with more handshaking and smiling and then finally noticed the guy with the dolly. Daniels made a big deal about getting out of his way and telling him to have a good day.
I watched Daniels drive off in a little red Ford sedan. The guy with the dolly disappeared around the corner of the building.
I crouched down and looked at the cement steps at my feet. Nothing. I looked up at the sides of the walls. The bullet hole was a puttycoloured gouge in the brown stucco, about four feet up, just inside the doorway. My index finger fit up to the first joint. The rim of the hole was scarred where the police had removed the slug but I could still get the basic trajectory. I looked south and up. Parking garage next door. Probably the third floor. Probably a .22—a stupid shot from so far away, more effective at scaring than killing, unless you got lucky. The police might've been up there looking for casings. Still . . .
I took a fiveminute excursion next door. I had a nice talk with a parking attendant about garbage collection days, then went up to the third floor and found what I wanted on the first try, right by the elevator. I put my prize in my backpack and walked back to Silo.
The studio's lobby was a remodelled loading dock. There was one door on the far wall marked PRIVATE and a sickly ficus tree in the corner that apparently doubled as an ashtray.
Next to the ficus tree, an Anglo guy in a sleeveless Hole Tshirt and Op shorts was leaning against the wall, reading Nashville Today. His head bobbed up and down like he was listening to a Walkman.
"Help you?" he asked.
He looked up with just his eyes, his face still bent over the magazine. "What?"
"There's supposed to be gold records on the walls."
He scratched his nose, then made a small sideways nod to the door marked PRIVATE, the only other exit from the room. "Studio's that way."
"Thanks. I might've gotten lost."
His obligations to building security fulfilled, he went back to his magazine and his invisible Walkman.
I walked down a long hallway with several cheaply panelled doors on either side. Each had an identical PRIVATE sign. Someone must've gotten them on sale.
The hallway ended in a black curtain so thick it could've been sewn together from flack jackets. I squeezed around the edge into a large circular room where I could hear Miranda singing but at first couldn't see her.
The place smelled like burnt Styrofoam. Ducttaped cords ran along the floor, overhead among the fluorescent lights, up the walls that were apparently constructed from egg carton material.
Spaced here and there around the recording area were gray portable partitions, poofy and overstuffed so they looked more like vertical pillows than walls.
In the centre of a V made by two of these was Miranda Daniels. She wore huge black headphones that doubled the size of her head. One large boxy mike was pointed toward her face and another angled down toward her guitar, and with all the wires and cords and the people looking at her from the glassedin control room I couldn't shake the impression that I was watching some kind of execution.
I skirted the room and walked up five steps into the control area, where Milo Chavez and three other guys were standing at a recording console that looked suspiciously like a Star Trek energizer.
Miranda was midsong—one of the faster numbers I'd heard the night before. The sound was crisp and clear from the two shoeboxsize wall speakers, but it seemed thin with just Miranda's voice and the guitar. The studio acoustics seemed to suck all the excess sound out of her voice so the words just evaporated as soon as they left her mouth.
Milo glanced at me briefly, mumbled a greeting, then continued glaring through the Plexiglas.
One of the engineers was hunched so low over the console I thought at first he was asleep. His head was cocked sideways, his ear only an inch from the knobs like he wanted to hear the sound they made when he turned them. The other engineer was keeping a close eye on the computer monitor. More accurately, he was keeping a close finger on it, tapping the little coloured bars as they flickered, like that would somehow affect them. You could see from the greasy smudges on the monitor that he did that a lot. The third man was standing slightly back from the console. From his demeanour and the orders he gave the engineers I guessed he was the new producer, John Crea's replacement, but he looked more like a vice principal—blue polyester shirt, doubleknit slacks, white socks with dress shoes. His hair was gray but worn too long, seventies conservative. He had his meaty, furry arms crossed and a frown on his face that made me want to apologize for coming in tardy. A little goldtinted American flag was pinned on his shirt pocket.