"Allison," I said.

Miranda frowned at me. "Pardon?"

"That's an Allison SaintPierre line, isn't it?"

Miranda looked uncomfortable. She put the croissant down halfeaten and brushed her fingers. She stared at the .22.

"What about Cam Compton?" I asked.

Miranda took her eyes from the gun. Slowly she worked up a smile. "Does he have it in for me? No, sir. Cam—I know you ain't going to believe this after last night, but Cam is basically harmless. You know how they say, dogs always look like their masters?"


"I'm serious now. Cam's nothing but the poodle version of Tilden Sheckly. He tries awful hard to look wicked and dangerous and like he's got all this violent side ready to let loose, but comes right down to it, he wouldn't do nothing if Sheck didn't say 'sic 'em.'

Even then he wouldn't have the brains to do it right."

"You think so. Even after last night."

"I know. Cam's got himself a little music store down in S.A., bought it after he got this one hit record over in Europe somewhere, about ten years ago. Cam'll go back to that, go back to working the house band at the Paintbrush. Two weeks from now he'll forget all about Miranda Daniels. He's got nothing riding on my chances one way or the other."

Sounding pleased, like she'd just reconvinced herself, Miranda stretched back out on her cot and examined the ceiling. "You know Jimmie Rodgers recorded his last ses

sion two days before he died? The tuberculosis was eating up his lungs so bad he had to lay down in a cot in the studio between songs, just like this here. I keep thinking about that."

"Should I put the gun away?"

She smiled nicely. "No, sir. It's just that Jimmie Rodgers' last sessions sound so good.

It's depressing."

"You're not doing too badly."

She didn't look encouraged.

"Your family supportive about your career?" I asked. "Your mom?"

She studied seven or eight ceiling tiles. "She's dead. A long time ago. Milo didn't tell you that?"

I shook my head. "Sorry."

"I* guess there's no reason he should have. I don't think about it much."

She moved her lips a little more, like she still couldn't get them aligned quite right. "But that wasn't your question again. Yes, Dad is real supportive. He's amazing, how he keeps going. You can say what you please about Tilden Sheckly, Mr. Navarre, but Sheck encouraged Dad to stay with me when we put the band together, to play at any gig he could, and that's been my biggest comfort. We got a standin bassist for him when we do bigger gigs, but still—he's an old workhorse. If it hadn't been for his music when I was growing up, all the Ernest Tubb records and the Bob Wills—that and my mother singing in the kitchen—"

She drifted off. I concentrated on my croissant and let her mind work around to wherever it wanted to go for a few moments.

"What about Brent?"

Miranda's eyes became clearer and cooler. "He's supportive."

"You didn't seem happy with him last night."

"You have siblings?"

"Brother and a sister. Both older."

"You get along with them all the time, Mr. Navarre?"

"Point taken."

She smiled dryly. "You seem like a nice fella. You were asking last night about 'Billy's Senorita.' That's about the only song I wrote myself, Mr. Navarre. The others are Brent's, did you know that? "

I said I didn't. I tried not to look too surprised.

"It's funny about how they sound in the studio," she said at last. "Ace was telling me—"


She did a mental rewind, then smiled. "John Crea. My old—my exproducer. He liked to be called 'Ace,' what with that flight jacket and all."

"I bet he did."

"Anyway, Ace was telling me how some singers have to reproduce what makes them so good onstage in order to sound right in the session. Drugs, audiences screaming at them, what you please. Some got to turn their backs to the control booth or sing in the dark. Ace told me about this one rock and roll fella had to hang upside down to get the blood going right before he sang. I ain't kidding you. Ace said whatever I needed to make the songs sound right, he'd make it happen."

"Do you know what you need?"

I could see her framing the right answer, her face hardening up with a level of seriousness that didn't seem natural for her. Then she looked at me and decided to discard it. She softened again and smiled. "No. I just keep imagining myself hanging upside down in the dark with a bottle of whiskey, singing—Billy rode out last night..

She got that far singing the line, then cracked up. "Don't help me to sound any better, but it sure keeps things lighter in my mind."

A buzzer sounded down the hall from the recording area. Miranda puffed up her cheeks and exhaled.

"That'd be the master, calling me back. You like to stay—watch me sweat out a few more bad takes?"

I shook my head. "I should pay some other visits in town before I head back to San Antonio. You didn't answer my question."

She looked me in the eyes. She tried to keep the smile playful, but it was a strain for her. "What question was that, Mr. Navarre?"

"Who do you think is causing you so much grief, if not Sheckly or Cam? Anybody you know who would like to see you miss your big chance? "

She looked down, her hands on the edge of the cot and her shoulders bending into a U. She was short enough that she could hang her legs over the side and sweep the flats of her feet back and forth.

"I didn't mean to undercut Allison's invitation to our party," she said. "You're welcome to come tomorrow."


"Allison has been my best friend the last few months. She's been so good to me."

"You're still not answering my question."

When Miranda stood, we were close enough to slow dance. I saw green flecks in her brown irises I would never have noticed otherwise. She spoke so softly I barely heard her.

"The funny thing is, Allison SaintPierre's about the only person who truly scares me to death. You asked and I told you. Isn't that a terrible thing to say about a friend?"

Milo Chavez wrapped his knuckles on the door. "There's the champ."

He moved past me and wrapped a huge arm around Miranda's shoulders. Miranda unlocked her eyes from mine and smiled up at Chavez. Her head rested on his chest.

She let some of her tiredness show.

"It's going pretty rotten, Milo."

"No," Milo insisted. He'd found his positivity. He beamed the best smile I'd ever seen him beam. I was almost convinced myself, almost ready to believe our recent conversation about his missing boss and the missing funds had been a daydream.

"You wait, Miranda. Give it another week, you'll see. You'll be amazed. You're going to listen to yourself on the finished tape and think: 'Who's that star I'm hearing?' "

Miranda tried for a smile.

As they were walking down the hall together, Milo was rubbing Miranda's shoulders like a boxing coach and telling her how great she was doing. Miranda took one backward look at me, then returned her attention forward. The buzzer blared again, calling them inside.


I called my information broker from the pay phone at the Whole Foods Market complex on North Lamar. One of Kelly Arguello's housemates, I think it was Georgia, answered the phone, a little breathless like she'd been doing her morning aerobics. When I asked for Kelly she said, "I'm not sure if she's in. Who is this? "

I told her.

"Oh." Her voice went up half an octave. "Kelly's in. Hang on."

The phone smashed against something.

I heard Kelly laughing a long time before she got the receiver. She was telling Georgia to shut up.

Clunk. "Tres?"

"Kelly. How's school?"

She made a German ch sound in the back of her throat. "Midterms. Contractual law.

Any more questions?"

"I've got a missing person to track, need some paperwork collected on him. If you're too busy—"

"Did I say that? Are you in town?"

I hesitated. "Yes."

"Come over. I think I've still got a Shiner Bock in the fridge."

I stared at the roof of the parking garage at the other end of the lot. It was lined with giant papiermache groceries—strawberry, eggplant, milk. I said, "I could just Email the information if you need to study or something."

"You know better than that."

After Kelly hung up I stood there, glaring up at the huge papiermache chicken. Any resemblance to persons real or fictional was purely coincidental.

When I was first starting my apprenticeship Erainya had two words to tell me about finding an information broker: law students. They're happy to see even small amounts of cash and they don't ask questions except occasionally "Where's the beer?" They're used to working like dogs, they're bright, and they know how to get the best results out of bureaucracies. All that is a lot more than you can say for most of the people who run information services.

Unfortunately my law student helper had turned out to be a little more than I bargained for. Considering the person who referred her to me was her Uncle Ralph, I don't know why I was surprised.

When I got to Kelly Arguello's house in the neighbourhood of Clarksville she was in front clipping back a huge mass of honeysuckle that was taking over her exterior bedroom wall and threatening to grow into her window.

Kelly's not hard to spot. She's a girl who'd catch your eye anyway, but since she's moved to Austin and put purple highlights in her hair it's doubly easy.

"I love this stuff," she said when I came up behind her. "Unfortunately, so do the bees."

"You're allergic?"

Without looking away from her work she widened her eyes and nodded several times.

"The little guys buzzed in my window all summer long. This is the first morning it's been cool enough to do some pruning. If we keep this place for the spring semester I'm going to have to trade rooms with Dee."

She got her weight balanced on the ladder, then reached a little farther across the window. She was wearing a surgeon's green scrub shirt and men's white swim trunks that should've done a good job hiding her figure but somehow didn't. She still showed off the lean, smoothly sculpted body of a teenaged swimmer. She was twenty one, barely, but no bartender in his right mind would've failed to card her. Her purple and black hair was pulled into a ponytail that swung back and forth every time she clipped.

"You're going to fall," I said.

"Well, hold the ladder, stupid."

I held the ladder, looking sideways so my face wasn't in Kelly's swim trunks. I concentrated on the house next door.

"Your neighbours are gardeners, too."

Kelly made a "sshhh" sound, though nobody could've heard me. The nextdoor neighbour’s front yard consisted of dirt, ragweed, an old Chevy chassis set on cinder blocks, and a brown Frigidaire leaning against an oak tree.

"I've got this idea." Kelly stuck out the tip of her tongue as she tried to clip a vine. "Me and Georgia and Dee are thinking about quitting law school and going into the yard appliance business. You know—selling old washing machines and refrigerators that people can set in their front yards. You drive around this side of Austin you'll see there's obviously a big demand for them. What do you think?"