"You're not following this Barrera guy's advice," Milo noticed, "about getting off the case."
"No, I'm not."
"Even though it could get you in trouble. And your boss. Why?"
I didn't have an immediate answer. I threw another biscuit into the backseat, hoping Sassy's nose would follow it. No such luck.
I turned my coffee mug in little half circles against my thigh and watched the businesses on Broadway go by—the abandoned Whopper Burger, the Witte Museum, the Costume Shop.
"Maybe I don't appreciate how Barrera called Miranda's problem a sideline. Maybe I don't appreciate how certain people are getting run over and Barrera treats them like they're small fish in a big pond. Some corporate client is paying him five or six figures to get them some justice, that much I'm sure of. I keep thinking about Julie Kearnes and Alex Blanceagle and how many more people are going to get killed before Barrera considers it worth his client's financial while to do something."
Milo nodded. "I can't do five or six figures."
"Beer in a coffee mug counts for a lot."
Milo took a right onto Hildebrand. He used huge arm movements to turn the wheel, like he was steering a boat. He had to hunch over to see out the windows that were made for normalsized drivers. "He's wrong, you know."
"Barrera. He's wrong about you not being cut out for this kind of work."
I stared at him. "Finding occasional corpses? Spending most of my time tracking paperwork in county courthouses and getting doors slammed in my face? You think this work you got me into is fun, Milo? Past seven years, it's been like what people say about war—hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror. Take it as a daily routine, it starts to grate on you."
Milo smiled ruefully. He shook his head. "You're kidding yourself, man. What's that martial arts style you do—tai chi, right?" "So?"
"The slowest style there is, the one that would drive most people crazy with impatience. What'd you study at U.C.—the Middle Ages?" "So?"
"So it figures. You're medieval all fuckin' over, Tres. Kind of guy who'd work seventeen years on one illuminated manuscript, or spend twelve hours getting into a suit of armour for a threesecond joust—that's you, Navarre. Process wasn't hard, you wouldn't enjoy it."
"I think I've just been called stupid."
The corner of Milo's mouth crept up.
He drove us over McAllister Highway, past Trinity University, and into Monte Vista. We turned left on Main.
"Your father still live over here?" I asked.
Milo nodded. "Got nominated for Rey Feo at Fiesta last year. He was all excited."
I tried to remember what kind of businesses Milo's father owned. Auto supply stores, maybe.
I tapped the small icon of the Virgin de Guadalupe that Milo had glued on his dashboard. "Your folks finally got you back into the Church?"
"Huh. Not exactly. The Virgin’s for business."
Milo shook his head sadly. "I didn't tell you why Les hired me?"
"Because you did his legal work?"
"No. That was a nice fringe benefit, but no. Les wanted to get into the Tejano market. I finally got Les to drop the idea and give me Miranda Daniels, but for a while there I was driving all around town trying to sign wannabe Selenas."
I frowned. "What did you know about Tejano music?"
Milo pinched the skin of his forearm. End of explanation.
"Your prospective clients liked the Virgin?"
Milo shrugged, looking at the Lady of Guadalupe like she was a purchase he still wasn't completely satisfied with. "Some of them. Put them at ease, frame of reference.
It was bad enough I'd speak to them in English."
I nodded. I'd spoken with Milo in Spanish only enough to know that he wasn't as comfortable with it as I was. There were plenty of Latinos who would consider Milo's lack of fluency a personal insult. A cultural lobotomy. I could almost see Ralph Arguello grinning.
"Can't be the only reason Les hired you," I said.
Milo made a sour face. "No. Not the only reason. Les also needed someone because, he'd just forced his previous assistant to quit. They weren't seeing eye to eye on business decisions."
"Who was his previous assistant?"
For no reason I could see, Sassy barked once, growled a little, then went back to her biscuits. Maybe Milo had her trained.
"Speaking of the happy couple," Milo said.
We pulled in front of the SaintPierres' white stucco mansion.
There were no cars in the driveway, but Brent Daniels' brown and white pickup with the horse trailer was parked on the curb.
Milo scowled at the truck. "Why the hell did he do that?"
"Brent dropped the equipment here. That was stupid."
Milo was already shaking his head. "Shouldn't be anyone here this time of day except maybe the cleaning staff. Come on."
Milo was already out of the car. Sassy needed help getting to the ground, but after that she waddled behind him at a pretty good clip.
Milo had a key to the front door. Assuming nobody was home, he unlocked the dead bolt and let us in. That was a mistake.
The front door led directly into a living room the size of a small church sanctuary. The walls were whitewashed stucco, striped with alternating columns of window and Oaxacan wall hangings that each must've represented the year's work of an entire village. There was a brick fireplace against one wall and a full bar against the other.
The three white sofas around the fireplace would've taken up most of any other living room, but here they seemed ridiculously small, huddled together in the corner of a Sautillotiled wasteland. Plopped with apparent randomness around the rest of the room were pedestals displaying artwork—some folk art, some bronze sculpture, some ceramic vases. All valuable but totally unrelated to each other.
There were two people together on the edge of the nearest white sofa but before I could really process what I was seeing Brent Daniels had jumped sideways and was straightening his checkered shirt and his jeans.
That left only Allison SaintPierre on the edge of the sofa, leisurely tightening the belt on her white terry cloth robe.
Her blond hair was dishevelled, her face a beautiful shade of red like she'd just taken an invigorating swim in ice water.
"Sweetie," she said to me. "Don't you knock?"
Allison took a cigarette from a teak box on the coffee table. She lit it with a ceramic roadrunner that had the business end of a lighter sticking out of its mouth, then held the cigarette with all five fingers, like a cigar.
We were sitting around the fireplace on the big white sofas. Milo crossed his arms and glared at Allison. I looked at the flecks in the iced tea the maid had just poured me.
Sassy dozed contentedly with her head hanging off the sofa and her rump in Milo's lap, her tail thwacking against his belly. Brent Daniels was frowning at his own zipper, which he'd probably just realized was still halfdown.
"This is fun," Allison decided.
If she was at all uncomfortable being halfdisrobed in front of three men and a basset hound, she did a good job hiding it. She hooked her left foot behind her right knee, then made a feeble attempt to nudge the terrycloth back over her thigh with the bottom of her iced tea glass. It was quite a nice thigh.
Next to her on the couch was a foldedover section of newspaper. I could see half a headline—DANIELS SET— and half a photo of Miranda. Allison caught me looking at it.
"You read this yet?" she asked.
When I shook my head she glanced at Milo, silently asking him the same question. It was the first time she'd acknowledged Chavez's presence.
"I've seen it," Milo muttered.
I looked at Milo for elaboration. He didn't look back.
Allison grinned at me. "Pressure's on, sweetie. This morning's Recording Industry Times. They did a nice writeup on Miranda, found out her demo is going to Century Records next week. Apparently one of their in house reviewers caught a show of hers last week—said if the tape was half as good as the concert, Miranda Daniels was going to be Century Records' next chart buster. That's the kind of article creates a nice buzz going into a contract negotiation. Chalk up another one for Les SaintPierre."
Her eyes glittered with amusement. Milo's did not. Brent shifted uncomfortably, eyes still fixed on his zipper.
Allison continued, unfazed. "We were smart, we'd use this to sweeten the deal. Get Brent better than fifty percent on the song royalties, go for a multirecord contract.
Screw Les, anyway. We could do better."
"We?" Milo scratched the base of Sassy's tail. "You going to start managing again, Allison?"
She kept smiling. She lifted her pinkie as the cigarette burned down, but there was nothing dainty about the way she did it. "That depends."
Milo sipped his tea. "Geez, I don't know. You think the agency could afford it? You willing to start collecting commission payments outside the bedroom?"
Allison's expression hardened instantly. She shook her head, like she'd just asked herself a silent question and had decided the answer was no. "You're a complete asshole, Chavez."
Milo nodded his thanks.
"Brent?" Allison stretched out his name, making her voice sweet again like she was about to ask for a really huge favour.
Brother Daniels looked at her. She waved her cigarette toward the front door. She smiled nicely.
Brent frowned. He reluctantly undraped his arms from the top of the couch, stood, then zipped his pants. He looked at me like he wanted to say something.
"Bye bye, sweetie," Allison said, dismissing him. "Thanks again."
Brent closed his mouth, lost a very brief staredown with Allison, and left. Allison looked me in the eye, daring me to speak. I didn't.
"I've been staying in Austin with friends," she explained. "Miranda's party being tonight and all, I thought I'd come back to town. Brent was nice enough to drive me down."
"Uhhuh," Milo said.
Allison set down her glass very slowly. "You want to say something about that, Chavez?"
"Don't act so sensitive, honey. Not like Les would be surprised. Not like it's the first time you've tried to sleep your way in good with a major client."
Allison stood and dropped her cigarette. She took two normal steps toward Milo and then two very quick ones, making fists right before she came down on top of him.
Sassy extruded out the middle like a sausage coming out of the grinder. Milo's tea glass toppled off the sofa and shattered on the tiles.
By the time I realized just how ferociously Allison was hitting, it was too late for me to do anything. With difficulty Milo managed to grab both of Allison's wrists and launch her sideways, off her feet and onto the floor, but in that short amount of time she'd done her share of damage.
Milo had a red, fistshaped welt burning under his right eye and another on his temple.
Allison's fingernails had ripped two dotted lines of blood and skin across his neck.
Milo's babyblue buttondown was wrinkled and splattered with tea.
A little stiffly, Allison sat up on the floor. She'd just missed landing on any broken glass.