Erainya slid off the bar stool, came up to me, and frowned some more. She stands about five feet tall in the heels, but I've never heard anybody describe her as short. A lot of other things, but never short.
"You got my phone message?" I asked. "I got it."
"What did Barrera want?"
"Let's get a table," she told me.
We did. Manoli sat Jem on the counter and started talking to him in Greek. Jem doesn't understand Greek, as far as I know, but it didn't seem to bother either of them.
"All right," Erainya said. "Give me details."
I told her about my morning. About halfway through she started shaking her head no and kept shaking it until I'd finished.
"Ah, I don't believe this," she said. "How is it you convinced me to let you do this case?"
She scowled at me. "You look good, honey. Not that good."
Erainya smiled. She looked out the restaurant window, checking the office. Nobody was beating down the door of the Erainya Manos Agency. No crowds were queuing up for a fullservice Greek detective.
"Why was Barrera here?" I asked again.
Erainya slapped the air. "Don't worry about that vlaka, honey. He just likes to check up on me, make sure I'm not stealing his business."
It was a point of pride so I nodded like I believed it. Like Barrera needed Erainya's divorce cases and employee checks to stay afloat. Like his security contracts with half the companies in town wasn't enough.
For the millionth time, I looked at Erainya and tried to imagine her back in the days when that competition had been real—back when her husband Fred Barrow was still alive and in charge of the agency and Erainya was Anglicized as Irene, the good little assistant to her husband the sortof famous P.I. That was before she'd shot Barrow in the chest. Then he'd been sortof dead.
The judge had said it was selfdefence. Irene had said God rest Fred's soul. Then she'd cashed in her husband's stocks and returned to the Old Country and come back a year later as Erainya (rhymes with Transylvania) Manos, tan and very Greek, mother of an adopted Moslem Bosnian orphan whom she'd named after somebody in a novel she'd read. She'd taken over her husband's old agency and become an investigator like it had been her destiny all along. Business had been sliding ever since.
Two years ago, when I'd just moved back to town and was thinking about going legit as a licensed investigator, one of my dad's old SAPD friends who didn't know Barrow was dead had recommended Fred as the secondbest P.I. in town to apprentice with, just after Sam Barrera.
After Sam and I had decidedly failed to hit it off I'd gone to Fred Barrow's office address and discovered in the first thirty seconds I was there that Erainya was the trainer for me.
Is Mr. Barrow here?
No. He was my husband. I had to shoot him.
"That's it on the Kearnes case, then," Erainya was saying. "You got what—twenty hours left?"
I hesitated. "Jem says ten."
"Ah, only ten? It's twenty. Anyway, we've got other things to do."
"You said I could do this."
Erainya tapped her fingers on the Formica table. They sounded hard, like pure bone.
"I said you could try, honey. Somebody gets murdered, that's the end of it. It's a police matter now."
I stared at the picture of Athens behind her head.
Erainya sighed. "You don't want to have this conversation again, do you?"
"What conversation? The one where you explain why you can't pay me anything this week, then you ask me to babysit?"
Her eyes got very dark. "No, honey, the one where we talk about why you want to do this job. You spend a few years in San Francisco doing armbreaking for some shady law firm, you think that makes you an investigator? You think you're too good for a regular caseload—you'll just keep churning the ones that interest you?"
"You're right," I said. "I don't want to have this conversation again."
Erainya muttered something in Greek. Then she leaned toward me across the table and switched to English midsentence.
"—tell you this. You think you're a big deal, coming back to town with your Berkeley Ph.D. and whatever. Okay. You think you're too good to apprentice because you've been on the streets awhile. Okay too."
"I did teach you the trick with the superglue."
She used both hands this time, going out on either side of her face like she was slapping people sitting next to her.
"Okay, so you show me one thing. It's even all right you think you want to do this because your dad was a cop. You think you want to do personal favours once in a while, do something out of charity—all right, fine. But that's not what you do to make a living, honey. The job is hard work, which you keep trying not to notice, and mostly it's not personal. You sit in a car for eight hours with intestinal problems taking pictures of some sleaze ball because another sleaze ball paid you to. You look at old deeds and talk to boring credit bureau men that aren't even goodlooking. You keep the police happy, which means you stay away from anything where people end up dead. Mostly you don't make much money so, yeah, maybe you do have to take your kid along sometimes. I'm talking about the breadandbutter work. I don't know if you can handle that part of it, honey. I still don't know that about you."
"If you're not going to recommend me to the Board," I said, "now would be a good time to say so."
The coat hangers that made up Erainya's body seemed to loosen a little bit, and she sat back in her chair. She looked out the window again, checking for clients. Still no lines outside the office.
"I don't know," she said. "Maybe not. Not if you can't take a case when it's good and drop a case when it's bad. As long as you're operating under my license I can't risk you getting it revoked."
I examined her face, trying to determine why the warning she'd thrown out so many times before had a harder edge this time.
"Barrera said something to you," I guessed. "He's got pull with the Board. Was he pressuring you about me?"
"Don't be dumb, honey."
"I just watched a woman get murdered, Erainya. I'd like to know why. I could at least—"
"That's right," she said, sitting forward again. "You shake up that Kearnes woman one day and she runs out and gets herself killed the next. What does that tell you about your methods, honey? It tells me you should listen sometimes. You don't blow a surveillance because you're getting impatient. You don't ring the subject's doorbell and ask them to confess to you."
The rims of my ears felt hot. I nodded. "Okay."
Fingers on the Formica. "Okay what?"
"Okay maybe I'll quit. Withdraw. Unapprentice. Whatever you call it."
She waved her hand dismissively. "Ah, what, after this many months?"
I got up.
She stared at me for a few seconds, then looked back out the window like it didn't matter one way or the other to her. "Whatever you want to do, honey."
I started to leave.
When I was at the door she called me. She said, "Think about it, honey. We could treat it as time off. Tell me next week."
I looked over at Manoli, who was telling Jem something in Greek. It must've been a fairy tale, by the tone and the gestures he was using.
"I told you today, Erainya."
"Next week," she insisted.
I said sure. Before I could leave, Jem looked over and asked me what kind of party we would have when my hours got to zero. He wanted to know what kind of cake.
I told him I'd have to think about it.
When I got back to 90 Queen Anne my landlord Gary Hales was out front watering the sidewalk. It looked like he was doing a good job. A few new cracks had sprouted. A couple of slabs that had started to buckle up last week were buckling up a little more.
Gary's got a gray thumb.
"Howdy," I told him.
He looked at me like he was trying to figure out who I was.
Gary's a pale guy, kind of quivery, his skin washed out blue and his face all liquid.
Looking at him with a garden hose is kind of disconcerting because you're never really sure where the stream of water stops and Gary starts.
"Yeuh," he said. "Your lady friend's come by."
I sighed. "You let her in?"
A ripple went across his mouth. Maybe it was a smile. Gary's a sucker for the sweettalking ladies.
"You old dog," I said. "What'd she promise you this time?"
Another ripple. "Yeuh. Should make her a key, I reckon."
I walked around to the right side of the house. The yard was crunchy with pecans and mesquite bean pods and red bougainvillea petals, the closest we get to fall colours in South Texas.
Ninety Queen Anne was a decaying twostory craftsman in a state of major denial. It had a dignified facade, intricate woodwork around the windows, a huge bougainvilleadraped front porch where you could sit out of an evening and sip your margarita. But the white paint had started to peel a long time ago, and the green shingled roof sagged in the middle. Sometime in the 1950s the whole house had shifted on its foundations so the right half drooped slightly backward. My mother said it looked paralyzed. I preferred to think of it as extremely relaxed.
When I got to the porch of my inlaw apartment Carolaine Smith was standing in the doorway, letting the air conditioning escape. She was holding the telephone toward me.
Carolaine had on her anchorperson costume—a white silk blouse and conservative blue skirt and blazer, her dark blond hair done up big, brushed away from her face, her makeup heavy for the cameras. Only her prescription glasses were out of costume.
They were large black mousy jobs left over from her days as a smalltime reporter, back when she still called herself Carolyn. She only wore the glasses now when she wanted to see.
"So who's Annie at First Texan?" she asked. "She sounds cute."
Carolaine handed me the receiver.
Annie at First Texan had pretty much the same question about Carolaine, but she finally agreed to give me the information I'd asked her for last Friday about Julie Kearnes.
Carolaine went into the kitchen, where it smelled like something was burning. I stood in the middle of the living room and looked around. My laundry had been put away for me. The futon was put back into couch position. The swords were off the coffee table and back in the wall rack. Robert Johnson had climbed to the top of the closet and was hiding between two shoe boxes.
He peered out at me hopefully.
I shook my head to tell him that Carolaine was still here.
He made a low growl and disappeared back into the shadows.
Annie started telling me about Julie Kearnes' checking account. Biweekly direct deposits from something called Paintbrush Enterprises—$250 each, steady for the last two months, which was as far back as Annie had pulled the files. A few sporadic pay checks from a temp employment firm in Austin. All other deposits in cash, probably gig money, none of them large amounts. Three overdrafts at H.E.B. Central Market. The usual monthly bills. Julie's balance at the moment was $42.33. About forty dollars more than mine.
Annie told me I owed her bigtime for risking her job.
"Like Garth Brooks," she suggested. "And dinner at La Margarita."