Schaeffer's face went sour. He nodded like Erainya's name in this case explained everything.

"The Dragon Lady ever hear of day care?"

"Doesn't believe in it," I said. "Kid could catch germs."

Schaeffer shook his head. "So let me get this straight. Your client is a country singer.

She prepares a demo tape for a record label, the tape turns up missing, the agent suspects a disgruntled band member who would've been cut out of the record deal, the agent's lawyer gets the brilliant idea of hiring you to track down the tape. Is that about it?"

"The singer is Miranda Daniels," I said. "She's been in Texas Monthly. I can get you an autograph if you want."

Schaeffer managed to contain his excitement. "Just explain to me how we got a fiddle player dead in the SAC parking lot seventhirty Monday morning."

"Daniels' agent figured Kearnes was the most likely suspect to steal the tape. She had access to the studio. She'd had some pretty serious disagreements with Daniels over career plans. The agency thought Kearnes might've stolen the tape at someone else's prompting, somebody who stood to gain from Miranda Daniels remaining a local act.

As near as I could tell that wasn't the case. Kearnes didn't have the tape. Didn't mention it to anybody over the last week."

"This is not explaining the dead body."

"What can I tell you? Yesterday I finally talked to Kearnes, told her straight what she was being accused of. She denied knowing anything but seemed pretty shaken up.

Then when she bolted out the door this morning I figured maybe I'd been mistaken about her innocence.

Maybe I'd stirred things up and she'd arranged to meet with whoever'd asked her to steal the tape."

Ray Lozano moved Julie's fiddle case off the passenger seat. He sat next to her. He began picking fragments out of her hair with tweezers.

"Stirring things up," Schaeffer repeated. "Nice fucking method."

One of the campus cops came over. He was a heavy guy, a former boxer maybe, but you could tell he hadn't dealt with homicides before. He approached Julie Kearnes the way most people do the first time they see a corpse—like an acrophobic sneaking up to the railing of a balcony. He nodded at Schaeffer, then looked sideways at Julie.

"They want to know about how much longer it'll be." He said it apologetically, like they were being unreasonable. "She committed suicide in the bursar's parking space."

"What suicide?" Schaeffer said.

The big guy frowned. He looked down uncertainly at the gun in Julie's hand, then the little hole in her head.

Schaeffer sighed, looked at me.

"She was shot from a distance," I explained. "You shoot yourself pointblank the wound splits like a star. Plus the entrance and exit wounds here are angled down and the calibre of the gun is probably wrong. The shooter was up there somewhere." I pointed to the top of a campus building where there was a series of big metal airconditioning units making steam. "She was carrying the .22 for protection. Fired it when she was hit because of a cadaveric spasm. The bullet's probably embedded in the dashboard."

Schaeffer listened to my explanation, then waved his free hand in a soso gesture.

"Make yourself useful," he told the campus cop. "Go tell the bursar to park it on the street."

The big man walked away a lot faster than he'd walked up.

A crime scene unit detective came over and pulled Schaeffer aside. They talked. The CSU guy showed Schaeffer some ID and business cards from the dead woman's wallet. Schaeffer took one of the cards and scowled at it.

When Schaeffer came back to me he was quiet, drinking Red Zinger. His eyes over the thermos cup were the same colour as the tea, reddish brown, just about as watery.

He handed the card to me. "Your boss?"

The words LES SAINTPIERRE TALENT were printed maroon on gray. Cantered underneath in smaller type it said: MILO CHAVEZ, ASSOCIATE. I stared at the name

"Milo Chavez." It did not invoke feelings of goodwill.

"My boss."

"I don't suppose you came across any reasons why somebody would want to kill this lady. And don't tell me the fucking demo tape was that good."

"No," I agreed. "It was not."

"You look for large debts, irate boyfriends—the kind of background work real P.I.s do when they're not minding threeyearolds?"

I tried to look offended. "Jem's a mature fouranda half."

"Uhhuh. Why meet somebody here? Why drive the seventyfive miles from Austin to San Antonio and park at a junior college?"

"I don't know."

Schaeffer tried to read my face. "You want to give me anything else?"

"Not especially. Not until I talk to my client."

"Maybe I should let you make that call from a holding cell."

"If you want."

Schaeffer dug a red handkerchief the size of Amarillo out of his pants pocket and started blowing his nose. He took his time doing it. Nobody blows his nose as often and as meticulously as Schaeffer. I think it's how he meditates.

"I don't know how Erainya got you this case, Navarre, but you should shoot her for it."

The Widower's Two it Step 11

"Actually I know the agent's assistant, Milo Chavez. I was doing Chavez a favour."

Ray Lozano was talking with the paramedics about how to move the corpse. The crowd of college kids outside the police tape was getting bigger. Two more uniforms were leaning on the side of my VW now, watching Jem put his magic rings together.

The cowboy fiddle tunes were swinging right along on Miss Kearnes' cassette deck.

Schaeffer finally put his handkerchief away and looked down at Julie Kearnes, still clenching, her .22 like she was afraid it might jump out of her lap.

"Hell of a favour," Schaeffer told me.

All the way back to the North Side I had to give Jem a lecture about not taking bets on magic tricks from the nice policemen.

Jem nodded like he was listening. Then he told me he could do six rings at a time and did I want to bet?

"No thanks, Bubba."

Jem just smiled at me and pocketed his three new quarters in his OshKosh overalls.

It would've been faster to take McAllister Freeway back to Erainya's office, but I headed up San Pedro instead. Going north on the highway, twenty feet off the ground the whole way, all you see are the hills and the Olmos Basin, a few million live oaks, an occasional cathedral spire, and the tops of some Olmos Park mansions. Clean and forested, like there's no city at all under there. San Pedro is more honest.

For about two miles north of SAC, San Pedro is the dividing line between Monte Vista and the beginning of the West Side. On the right are the old Spanish mansions, The Widower's Two it Step 13

huge acacia and magnolia trees, shaded lawns with Latino gardeners tending the roses, Cadillacs in the wraparound flagstone drives. On the left are the boardedup apartment blocks, the occasional momandpop ice house selling fresh watermelons and Spanish newspapers, the tworoom houses with kids in Goodwill clothes peering out the screen doors.

Go two miles farther up and the bilingual billboards disappear. You drive past white middleclass housing developments and rundown shopping centres from the sixties, streets that were named after characters in I Love Lucy. The land gets flatter? the ratio of asphalt to trees gets worse.

Finally you get to the mirrored office buildings and the singles apartment complexes clustered around Loop 410. Loopland could be in Indianapolis or Des Moines or Orange County. Lots of character.

Erainya's office was in an old white strip mall off 410 and Blanco, between a restaurant and a leather furniture outlet. The parking lot was empty except for Erainya's rusty Lincoln Continental and a newish mustardyellow BMW.

I pulled in next to the Lincoln and Jem helped me put up the ragtop on the VW. Then we got our respective backpacks out of the trunk and went to find his mom.

The black stencil sign on the door said, THE ERAINYA MANOS AGENCY, YOUR


Erainya likes being Greek. She tells me Nick Charles in The Thin Man was Greek. I tell her Nick Charles was rich and fictional? he could be anything he wanted. I tell her she starts calling me Nora I'm quitting.

The door was locked. The miniblinds across the glass front of the office were pulled down. Erainya had stuck one of those cardboard black and white pointing hands over the mail slot, pointing right.

We went next door to Demo's and almost collided with a stocky Latino man on his way out.

He wore a threepiece suit, dark blue, with a gold watch chain and a wide maroon tie.

He had four gold rings and a zircon tie stud and smelled strongly of Aramis. Except for the bulldog expression, he looked like the kind of guy who might offer you credit toward a purchase of fine diamond jewellery.

"Barrera." I smiled. "What's new, Sam—you come by to get some pointers from the competition?"

Samuel Barrera, senior regional director for ITech Security and Investigations, didn't smile back. I'm sure at some point in his life, Barrera must've smiled. I'm also sure he would've been careful to eliminate any witnesses to the event. The skin around his eyes was two shades lighter brown than the rest of his face and bore permanent oval rings from all those years wearing FBI standardissue sunglasses, before he'd retired into the private sector. He never wore the glasses these days. He didn't need to anymore. The glossy, inscrutable quality had sunk directly into his corneas.

He looked at me with mild distaste, then looked at Jem the same way. Jem smiled and asked Barrera if he wanted to see a magic trick. Barrera apparently didn't. He looked back at me and said, "My conversations are with Erainya."

"See you later, then."

"Probably so." He said it like he was agreeing that a sick horse probably needed to be shot. Then he brushed past me and got into his mustardyellow BMW and drove away.

I stood watching the intersection of 410 and Blanco until Jem tugged on my Tshirt and reminded me where we were. We went inside the restaurant.

Two hours before the lunch crowd, Manoli was already behind the kitchen counter carving gyro strips off a big column of lamb meat. It seemed like every time I came in the column of lamb got skinnier and Manoli got thicker.

The place smelled good, like grilled onions and fresh baked spanakopita. It wasn't easy to get a Mediterranean feel in a strip mall, but Manoli had done what he could—

whitewashed walls, a couple of tourist posters from

The Widower's Two it Step 15

Athens, some Greek instruments on the wall, bottles of Uzo on each table. Nobody came here for the decor anyway.

Erainya was sitting on a bar stool at the counter, talking to Manoli in Greek. She wore high heels and a Tshirt dress, black of course. She looked up when I came in, then lifted one bony hand and slapped the air like it was the side of my face.

"Ah, this guy," she said to nobody in particular, disgusted.

Manoli pointed his cleaver at me and grinned.

Jem ran up to his mom and hugged her leg. Erainya managed to tousle his hair and tell him he was a good boy without softening the look of death she had aimed at me.

Erainya's eyes are the only thing big about her. They're huge and blackirised, almost bugeyed except they're too damn intense to look funny. Everything else about her is small and wiry—her black hair, her bony frame under the Tshirt dress, her hands, even her mouth when she frowns. Like she's made out of coat hangers.