Her robe had come open and the space between her breasts was tan and lightly freckled. She pushed her hair out of her eyes. She was a little out of breath but her tone was surprisingly calm.
"Soon as I get the agency, it's going to be such a pleasure firing you."
Milo dabbed a finger on his neck. "Sure. In the meantime, we got problems. Tres wants to look around upstairs."
Allison took two deep breaths. She stood up. When she readjusted her robe her fingernails left little bloodstains on the terrycloth.
The maid materialized with a hand broom and dustpan. She walked over and began casually cleaning the broken glass, like this was an event that happened every day about this time.
Allison brushed off her palms and looked at me. Her green eyes still had all the friendliness of a crocodile's. "Sure, sweetie. Excuse me. I'm going to get a gun so I can kill Milo if he's still in my house when I get back."
There was nothing in her tone that even remotely hinted at a joke.
After she left the room Milo sat forward and rested his chin in one hand. Sassy came up to him and started licking a gash Allison had made on his forearm.
"What is it with you two?" I demanded.
Milo looked at me sadly, then decided not to try an explanation.
"Go on, bud," he said, waving toward a staircase. "Take your time."
"And if she comes back with a gun?"
Milo stared at the doorway Allison had gone through.
"Her aim is off. She tends to pull to the left. Don't worry unless you hear more than one shot."
As I headed toward the staircase, the maid was sweeping up the ice cubes and glass shards, offering Milo some Spanish words of consolation that I was pretty sure he couldn't understand.
Allison could've been standing in the doorway of Les' room for a long time. I'm not sure. I was sitting at Les' desk with my back to the door? sorting through shoe boxes full of old letters and photographs and getting dizzy from trying to understand Mr.
The task should've been simple. I had the man's whole life in front of me, neatly packaged and labelled in little boxes. Still, I felt like a drunk taking a DUI test. I kept trying to put the old finger on the nose in the centre of my face and I'll be damned if the nose didn't move every time.
Allison watched me at least long enough to identify which shoe box I was pulling letters from.
"That's his 'Gotcha' box," she said.
I'd like to think I didn't visibly jump, but Allison was grinning when I turned around.
She'd changed into a peach polo shirt and black Mylar bike pants and white Adidas.
She wore fingerless net gloves. If you didn't know to look, you wouldn't have noticed the stiffness in her left side where Milo had thrown her to the floor.
I pulled another letter from the box that Les had labelled "Correspondence."
"He's shown you these?" I asked. Allison widened her eyes. "Oh, no, he didn't show me." She came in and sat on the very edge of the bed. From ten feet away, I caught the scent of Halston. Her legs made a V in front of her, only the heels of her Adidas touching the carpet. She looked around with mild interest like this was the first time she'd been in Les' bedroom.
"I'm sorry about downstairs." She sounded like she was apologizing for a random nudge in an elevator. "Milo gets to me." I stared at her.
She tried to mimic my expression—eyes wide, mouth slightly open. "Problem?" "No. I suppose not."
"Look, sweetie, you grow up with four brothers in a little hick town, you learn how to fight. If I sat around acting pretty and taking shit from guys like Chavez I wouldn't have lived past sixth grade."
I decided it was safest to return my attention to the letter I'd been reading.
It was poorly typed on onionskin paper. All the o's were solid black circles and the a's were cocked to the right. It read:
I really appreciate what you said you would do for me and I hope you like the songs and your publishing company will decide to take them for your catalogue. I am really willing to work hard as a staff writer and really had a wonderful time with you this weekend too. Please call soon.
The letter was dated five years ago. Patti had stapled her picture to the back of it just in case Jason forgot who she was. She was cute—roundish face, feathery brown hair, widely spaced eyes lit up with hope.
There were at least twenty letters like that dated as far back as 1982, many with photos attached, all from different women addressed to a different man's name.
Sometimes they were to Larry the label head and sometimes to Paul the producer.
Sometimes, along with veiled references to nights of passion, they mentioned checks they were sending. One woman wrote that she'd enclosed five hundred dollars because she believed Jason PaulLarry was going to buy just the right birthday present that would put her name in solid with the Artists & Repertoire director at EMICapitol.
I looked up at Allison. "These letters—"
"Sure," she said. "They're all to Les."
"Les had a reputation. He had real connections. If he wanted to use women he didn't have to lie about who he was. Why—?"
Allison paddled the toes of her shoes back and forth a few times. "I never confronted him about it, but I think I know what he'd say. He'd tell you it was harmless fun. He'd say he was weeding the crop of would bes and if they were really this stupid, they would fall for the first con man they met in Nashville anyway so he might as well save them the trip."
I couldn't quite grab on to Allison's tone. It wasn't resentment. More like wistfulness.
"You think it was harmless fun?"
Allison smiled, picking at the netting on her palm. "No, sweetie. I think Les had an addiction. He was hooked on making himself the answer to everybody's problem—at least until you left the room or signed his contract or whatever. The less you mattered to him, the crazier he could afford to get offering you what you wanted to hear, and the more he liked it. Do you see?"
"I'm not sure."
She shrugged. "I guess you'd have to meet him. It doesn't matter. The point is he couldn't have stopped selling confidence if he wanted to. He was a hell of an agent."
"So why would he want to vanish?"
Allison crossed her legs at the ankles and hunched forward, tapping her finger on her chin like she was pretending to think. "Gosh, Tres. Aside from the fact that he could never get out of his job any other way, that he was a naturalborn son of a bitch, that his client list was eroding so bad he had to pin his hopes on unknowns like Miranda, that he was drinking or snorting or popping most of his profits, that he and I fought every time we saw each other—I just can't imagine."
I stared at my lap, where I'd been collecting the most useful things from Les' desk drawers.
I held up a black leather shaving kit full of pill bottles and bags. I pulled out one Ziploc with a dozen white tablets in it.
"Amphetamines?" I asked.
Allison shrugged. "I can't keep track. He drinks Ryman whiskey straight. The pills change. I think that's Ritalin."
"The stuff they give hyperactive kids?"
She smiled. "That's my husband."
I dug through the other things—a '69 Denton High School yearbook, then some more photographs of Les with various music industry types.
"There's no will," I said.
"He won't make one. He was clear on that. He enjoys the idea of people fighting over his stuff when he's gone."
I shuffled through some other papers without really looking at them. I kept coming back to the photo of Patti Glynn.
"You said Miranda needed protecting from your husband. Is this what you meant?"
The idea seemed to amuse her. "I said she needed to kick butt for herself, sweetie—that's different than being protected. And God, no. Les wouldn't have messed with Miranda. Not like that, anyway."
"Because she has real talent?"
"Partly. Partly because of the way Miranda is."
"Country girl, naive, a little too sweet for her own good. Seems like just the kind Les liked to prey on, not too different from the girls in this box."
Allison smiled, disappointed. "I could say a lot of things, sweetie, but Miranda's my friend. You make your own conclusions."
I tried to read into that, but all I saw in her face was stubbornness. And maybe just the faintest tinge of resentment.
I looked down at the correspondence box. "These other women. Didn't they eventually figure out who Les was? Didn't they get angry? Cause problems?"
Allison frowned, like she was trying to remember some trivial detail from her prom night. "They got taken by Les for a few nights, maybe a few hundred dollars. They felt good that their careers might be going somewhere, then most of them faded back into the woodwork in Piano or Dimebox or wherever the hell they came from."
"You were one of them."
She flashed me exactly the same look she'd given Milo before she'd attacked him. It took her about thirty seconds to mentally stand down.
"No," she said. "You know the difference, sweetie? I got my revenge. I married the bastard."
"Not much of a last laugh."
Allison spread her fingers apart so she could examine the netting between them.
"If you're right, if Les vanished on his own, I bet he left you nothing in the bank and all the payments on the house and the credit cards and no guarantee of any income from the agency, at least not without a court fight. You can't even collect life insurance until you get him declared legally dead, and that could take years."
Allison's anger melted into a little smile, like I'd just made a pass she had no intention of accepting but she appreciated the offer. She stood to leave.
"That's why I'm so glad you're here, Tres. You're going to bring old Les home to me."
She left me alone, staring at the picture of Patti Glynn but wondering this time if there was something besides innocence there, some latent potential for maliciousness that needed to be stomped on. For a disturbing moment, I thought I might be understanding Les SaintPierre.
I put the lid on the shoe box and decided it was time to leave.
Cam Compton's Monster Music was a twostory white cube on PerrinBeitel Road, right next to the Department of Public Safety. The bottom floor was the store, with burglarbarred windows and a five car parking lot and silver doors plastered with brand name guitar stickers. The top floor was Cam's residence. His front door was on the side of the building, accessed by a metal staircase and a narrow concrete walkway. There was one large picture window so Cam could look out every day and enjoy the scenery—an endless stream of gawky adolescents and bulldogfaced patrolmen engaged in the American ritual of parallel parking between the orange cones.
I tried upstairs first and got no answer. Then I tried the music store, which for a Friday afternoon was not exactly crawling with customers.
The guy behind the sales counter said, "Cam can't talk."
I looked over the guy's shoulder, through the glass wall into the room where Cam was giving a guitar lesson to an adolescent kid whose acne was the same shade of red as his Stratocaster.
Cam was hunched over, examining the kid's fingers as the kid moved them on the fret board. Cam's forehead had a pancakesized yellow and purple hickey on it from our last meeting at the Cactus Cafe. He had a heavy drinker's swollen morningafter face and rumpled clothes that suggested he'd crawled out of bed and down the steps just in time for this lesson. Probably a normal week in the life of a superstar guitarist.