Maia Lee probably would've laughed at that. "Took me in" was a nice euphemism for teaching somebody to break a window the right way, disarm a security system, do a skip trace, blackmail somebody with photos to keep a civil case from going to trial.
Maia's associates at Terrence &C Goldman had frowned on her methods until Maia made junior partner.
Mitchell was looking at me, still smiling but with a little more wistfulness in his expression.
"And the fact your father was a lawman," he suggested. "I suspect your mother is right—that had a lot to do with your career getting sidetracked."
I didn't answer. Sidetracked?
"So why would you go back to Academia now?" he asked.
I think I told him something about wanting an intellectual challenge and applying real world experience to the classroom, blah, blah, blah. My mind was pretty well disconnected with my spiel by the time someone knocked on the door.
Mitchell excused himself. He went into the hall and mumbled briefly with one of the other members of the hiring committee.
He came back in and sat down. He kept his face impassive.
"That didn't take long," he said.
I got ready to leave, to tell him thanks anyway.
Mitchell broke into a grin. "They'd like to see a demo next week. Dr. Gutierrez said you're the most refreshing candidate he's interviewed in a long time."
When I left Mitchell's office I had a little slip of paper confirming my demo lesson to the medieval undergrad seminar on Monday. I also had a dazed, sticky feeling, like somebody had already started wallpapering me with Peanuts cartoons and Scotch tape.
A red Mazda Miata was parked in front of 90 Queen Anne Street with its right tires over the curb. When I walked around to my side of the house Allison SaintPierre came out my front door and said, "Hi."
She was wearing white Reeboks, a pleated white skirt, and a white tank top that wasn't lining up with her bra straps very well. A terrycloth sweatband pushed her hair into bangs. Her smile was alcoholfortified. Tennis lesson day at the country club.
She was holding two Shiner Bocks. One bottle was almost empty. The other she gave to me.
"Damnedest thing," she said.
She leaned sideways in the doorway so I could pass if I wanted to do the mambo with her.
I stayed on the porch.
"Let me guess. My landlord let you in."
She smiled wider. "Sweet old fart. He picked up that envelope on the counter and asked me if I knew anything about this month's rent."
"Yeah, Gary has a thing for blondes. Rent money and blondes. Maybe if I brought over more blondes he'd ask less often about the rent."
Allison raised her eyebrows. "Worth a try."
Then she turned inside like her back was hinged to the doorjamb. I almost thought she was going to fall into the living room, but at the last minute she put her foot out and walked in. She said, "Wooo."
I drank some of my Shiner Bock before following her inside.
Allison had taken Julie Kearnes out of the cassette deck and put in my Johnny Johnson. She'd pulled an old Texas Monthly off the windowsill and left it open on the coffee table. The ironing board was down and the phone had been pulled out from behind it.
Allison sat on the kitchen counter stool and spread her arms along the Formica.
"Somebody named Carol called. I told her you weren't here."
"Carolaine," I corrected. "That's just great. Thanks."
She shrugged. Happy to help.
I looked for Robert Johnson but he'd buried himself deep. Maybe under the laundry.
Maybe in the pantry. Unlike my landlord, Robert Johnson didn't go much for blondes.
"You send Sheckly a getwell card yet?" I asked.
Allison had a happy drunk going that was about as thick as battleship skin. My question pinged against her, a small annoyance but not nearly enough to make her change course.
"One of his lawyers left me a message this morning— something about the medical bills." She was turning the tip of her right sneaker in time to the music. Back, forth, back, forth.
"You're in my apartment for a good reason, I'm sure. Mind telling what it is?"
Allison appraised me while she bobbed her head, starting at my feet and working her way up. When she got to my eyes she locked on and smiled, approvingly.
"You look good. You should dress like that more often."
I shook my head. "This outfit reminds me of too many funerals."
"That's where you were this morning?"
"Close enough. Why are you here?"
Allison lifted her fingers off the counter. "You were listed in the book. I felt bad about you getting hit last night."
"You felt bad."
She grinned. " I'm not that terrible, sweetie. You don't know me well enough."
"The guys who know you well enough seem to get flesh wounds."
"Like I said, Tres, I grew up with four brothers."
"How many of them made it to adulthood?"
Her eyes sparkled. No making her mad today. "Maybe I was just curious. Miranda's dad called me this morning. He wanted to know if Miranda was with me last night."
She gave me a smirk. "Yeah. Seems she disappeared last night after the party. So did you, for that matter."
She waited for information.
Fortunately for me the phone rang. Allison offered to get it. I told her thanks anyway. I moved the phone to the bathroom doorway, which was as far as it would stretch, then picked up the receiver.
Erainya Manos said, "RIAA."
"Is that Greek?"
The next thing she said was Greek, and unflattering. "No, honey, I'm telling you something you never got from me. Recording Industry Association of America. When it comes to enforcing copyright laws in the music industry, they're it. They've got a branch office in Houston. For all of South Texas, they contract through Samuel Barrera."
I looked across the room at Allison. She smiled at me pleasantly, still moving her feet to the Johnny Johnson.
"That's great," I told Erainya. "I'm glad it was nothing serious."
Erainya hesitated. "You got visitors?"
"Just listen, then. Sheckly's been in court half a dozen times the last few years, sued by bigname artists who've appeared at his place. They all claim he's taped their shows for syndication and given them no rights to anything, no percentage."
"I've heard about that."
"They also claim bootleg CDs of their shows have been turning up all over Europe.
Excellent quality recordings, made at firstrate facilities. My friends tell me it's pretty common knowledge Sheckly is the one making the tapes, getting a little extra money out of them. He speaks German, goes over to Germany frequently, probably uses the trips to strike some deals, distribute his masters, but nobody can prove it. Since the shows are taped for syndication they could've been copied and distributed at any radio station in the country, by anybody with the right equipment."
I smiled at Allison. I mouthed the words sick friend. "Doesn't sound like anything that would kill you. Just a minor annoyance."
Erainya was silent. "It doesn't sound like anything to get killed over, honey. You're right. Then again, how much money are we talking about? What kind of guy is Mr.
Sheckly? You got a sense for that?"
"I'm afraid I might. Why haven't they caught this before?"
"I hear Sheckly keeps things pretty modest. Doesn't import the music back into the U.S., which would make it more profitable but ten times easier to bust. He sticks to the European market, only live tapes. Makes him a lowpriority target."
"And, honey, you heard nothing from me."
"Room twelve. All right."
"If you can use this to squeeze Barrerra's balls a little bit—"
"I'll do that. Same to you."
I hung up. Allison looked at me and said, "Good prognosis?"
"You mind if I change clothes?"
She pursed her lips and nodded. "Go ahead."
I pulled a Tshirt and jeans out of the closet and went into the bathroom. Robert Johnson peeped out the side of the shower curtain.
"Not yet," I told him.
His head disappeared back into the bathtub.
I'd just taken off the dress shirt and was pulling the sleeves rightside out when Allison came in and poked her finger in my back, touching the scar above my kidney.
It took great effort to control my backward elbow strike reflex.
"What's this?" she asked.
"You mind not doing that?"
She acted like she hadn't heard. She poked the scar again, like the puffiness of the skin fascinated her. Her breath dragged across my shoulder like the edge of a washcloth.
I turned to face her, but there wasn't much place to back up unless I sat in the sink.
"Sword tip. My sifu got a little excited one time."
"Teacher. The guy who trained me in tai chi."
She laughed. "Your own teacher stabbed you? He must not be very good."
"He's very good. The problem was he thought I was good too."
"You've got another scar. That one's longer."
She was looking at my chest now, where a hash dealer had stabbed me with a Balinese knife in San Francisco's Tenderloin District. I put on my Tshirt.
Allison pouted. "Show's over?"
I waved her out and closed the bathroom door in her face. She was still smiling when I did it.
Robert Johnson stared at me as I put on the jeans. He looked about as amused as I was.
"Maybe if we rush her," I suggested. "A twoflank approach."
His head disappeared again. So much for backup.
When I came into the living room Allison had opened another beer and relocated to the futon.
"This reminds me of my old place in Nashville," she said, studying the waterstained plaster on the ceiling. "God, that was bad."
She looked at me, puzzled. "I just meant it's small. I was living on nothing for a while.
Kind of makes me nostalgic, you know?"
"The good old days," I said. "Before you married money."
She drank some beer. "Don't knock it, Tres. You know what the joke was in Falfurrias?"
"Falfurrias. That's where you're from?"
She nodded sourly. "We joked that you only go to college for an MRS." She tapped her wedding ring with her thumb. "I bypassed the degree plan."
She closed all ten fingers around the beer bottle and kicked her feet up on the futon. I stared at the beer, wondering how many it would take for me to catch up with her.
"When I was eighteen I was working during the summer as a secretary at A1 Garland's auto dealership." She looked at me meaningfully, like I should know A1 Garland, obviously a bigwig in Falfurrias. I shook my head. She looked disappointed.
"I was trying to sing at a few clubs in Corpus Christi on the weekends. Next thing I know A1 was telling me he was going to leave his wife for me, telling me he would finance my music career. We started taking weekend trips to Nashville so he could show me how rich and important he was. He must've sunk ten thousand into the wallet doctors."