In case of drowning, look up addresses. Throw large quantities of money. Les SaintPierre, the safety conscious ship's captain.
Allison hefted a stack of fifties. "What the holy fuck—"
"Later. Right now we get this to the car."
Allison looked dazed, but she helped me repack the ice chest, get it over the side of the boat, then wedge it under the storage unit's tin wall. On our way back to the Audi, each of us carrying one handle of the Igloo, we left the gate open for another family that was coming in to collect their boat.
Maybe they too were stashing money and addresses in their shed.
They smiled and waved their thanks. I smiled back.
Everyone is so damn friendly in the country.
The drive back started out well enough. Allison was coming down off her twenty ounces of bad wine and was starting to warm up to the realization that we had fifty thousand dollars stashed under the backseat. By the time we got onto the highway she was recapping the afternoon in glowing terms, throwing out casual insults about her idiot husband and the Avalon County Sheriff's Department. She suggested we drive out to Miranda's gig at the Paintbrush, see if we could find any more deputies to beat up.
"But first better clothes," she insisted. She tugged on my Tshirt sleeve. "I'm not going with this. And you've got to have cowboy boots."
"I've worn cowboy boots exactly once. It was not a success."
But she kept nagging until, reluctantly, I told her about the photo my mother still shows off whenever I'm foolish enough to bring friends over—me two years old, thighdeep in the Sheriff's black Lucheses, trying not to fall over, my cloth diaper sagging obscenely.
Allison laughed. "You're due for another try."
We didn't tell Rhonda Jean at Sheppler's Western Wear about the diaper photo. We didn't tell her we looked so bad this evening because we'd been breaking into places all around Medina Lake. We just told her we needed a quick change of clothes before the store closed, in fifteen minutes.
Rhonda Jean smiled. A challenge.
Fourteen minutes later she had me outfitted in boot cut Levi's and a cotton pieced red and white shirt and size eleven natural tan Justins. I vetoed the hat and the rattlesnake belt that she promised me she could have engraved with TRES on the back at no extra charge. Allison came out sporting a white fringed shirt and black boots and tightfitting jeans that only a woman with an excellent figure could've gotten away with wearing.
Allison got away with it pretty well.
Rhonda Jean nodded her approval, then sent us on to the cashier. I paid with the last of the fifties Milo had given me at Tycoon Flats.
Allison watched as I emptied my wallet. "You're paying out of pocket? With all we've got stashed in the car?"
The cashier gave us a very funny look. I smiled at Allison and said, "Let's go, darlin'."
Back in the Audi we drove with the windows down. The wind was almost cool now, whipping around the front seats and sending the medicine pouch beads on the rearview mirror into a little jellyfish dance. Allison had taken off the sunglasses and her eyes seemed softer and darker than they had been before.
I was starting to turn some things around in my head, ideas about the addresses we'd found and the money and the trail Les SaintPierre had left.
"You know much about the record industry?" I asked.
Allison held her hands far apart, like she was bragging about a fish. "Two years with Les SaintPierre, cowboy. What you wanna know?"
"What about them?"
"If you were importing them from overseas in large quantities, how would they be packed? Boxes? Crates?"
"Yeah. Big ones. The jewel cases and covers are only added in the destination country, with local suppliers. It's cheaper that way. Why?"
"So much for keeping the business modest."
I waited a half mile before responding. "We should talk about the money."
"What's to talk about? Les was stupid enough to forget it when he ran, it reverts to me.
You want a finder's fee, sweetie?"
"Les probably embezzled that money from the agency."
Allison stared at me. "So?"
"So it isn't yours. I'll store it for a while, until I know what's what. Then, most likely, it'll go to the debtor's court."
I didn't respond. We had come all the way back to Loop 410 to hit Sheppler's and were now heading north again, ostensibly to go to the Paintbrush. I missed the Leon Valley exit and kept driving, circling the city.
"You're going to do Milo Chavez a fiftythousand dollar favour," Allison decided.
"That's not what I said."
"That's what it amounts to—bailing his ass out of debt and leaving me nothing. That's what you're thinking, isn't it? "
"I'm thinking you're overreacting again."
Allison stomped her shiny new boot against the floorboard. She crossed her arms and looked out into the hills. "Shithead."
We passed I10, kept going. I exited on West Avenue and turned left, toward downtown.
"Maybe I should just take you back," I suggested. "Let you collect your car."
We drove in silence. West Avenue. Hildebrand. Broadway. Saturday night was unfolding all along the avenues—neon bar signs and lowrider cars and slow cruising pickup trucks. The air was laced with the smell of family barbecues, pork ribs, and roasted peppers.
When we finally got back to Queen Anne Street I cut the engine and the lights. We sat there, staring at Allison's crookedly parked Miata, until Allison began to laugh.
She turned toward me. Her breath smelled faintly of fortified wine. "All right. Don't get the wrong idea, sweetie."
"What wrong idea is that?"
She reached over and pushed a couple of buttons on my new Western shirt. "That I didn't appreciate the day with you. I got a little upset, that's all. I don't want you thinking—"
"The money is staying in storage, Allison."
She blinked slowly, processing what I said, then decided to laugh again. "You think that's all I'm interested in?"
"I don't know."
"Fuck you, then." She said it almost playfully. She leaned toward me slowly, tugging my shirt, inviting me to meet her halfway.
Something twisted in my throat. I managed to move her hand away and say, "Not a good idea."
She pulled back, raised her eyebrows. "All right."
When she got out of the car she slammed the door, then turned and smiled in the window at me. "You and Milo have fun dividing up Les' estate, Tres. Thanks for the good time."
I watched her get in her car, start the engine and pull off the curb with a grind and a thump, and drive away. I reminded myself that was really what I wanted.
I sat in the dark Audi, leaned my head against the back of the seat, and exhaled. Feel lucky, I thought. You just spent seven hours with that woman and neither of you shed any blood. But when I closed my eyes they burned. I tried to replay our afternoon ten different ways, going through all the placating things or the really nasty things I could've said. It made me feel even more dissatisfied and infuriated than I had been before.
I should've gone out to the Indian Paintbrush. I had plenty of new questions for Mr.
Sheckly, some reports to give Milo, a lady to see who would be singing "Billy's Senorita" right about now, looking out at the audience with some very fine brown eyes.
Instead I got out of the car, my legs shaky from the long car ride, and wobbled toward my inlaw apartment with the feeling that somewhere under the waterline, somewhere toward the prow, I had just been torpedoed.
I tried to treat Sunday morning like the start of any other day. I did my tai chi, had breakfast with Robert Johnson, made a fiftythousanddollar deposit under my landlord's antique rosebush.
Then I drove to Vandiver Street before anyone would be awake at my mother's house, left the Audi out front and the key in the mailbox, and reclaimed the VW.
I headed south toward the State Insurance Building.
If the tower had been downtown it would've been invisible, but where it was—stuck in the middle of the flatlands south of SAC, surrounded by parks and one story office complexes, it looked huge. The parking lot only had a handful of cars, one of them being Samuel Barrera's mustard BMW.
I punched the elevator button for level six and was deposited in front of a frosted glass door that still bore faint discoloured outlines from the stencil letters that used to read: SAMUEL BARRERA, INVESTIGATIONS. Now there was a classy brass plaque above a classy ivory and gold buzzer. The plaque read LTECH.
I didn't opt for the buzzer. I walked into the waiting room and went up to the little sliding window like they have in dentists' offices. The window was open.
The receptionist was so short that she had to crane her neck to see me over the top of the counter. Her hair was mostly calcified hair spray that curled away from her face in capital letter U's.
"Help you?" she inquired.
I smiled. I straightened my tie. "Tres Navarre. I'm here to see Sam."
She frowned. People weren't supposed to come in on Sunday morning asking for Barrera, especially by first name. "Won't you sit down?"
The slidingglass panel shut in my face.
I sat on the sofa and read the latest company bulletin from ITech headquarters in New York. There was some propaganda about how well the company was doing snapping up private firms in various states and selling them back to their owners like McDonald's franchises. One ad aimed at outside readers told me exactly what it took to be "ITech material."
I was just assessing my ITech potential when the inner office door opened and Sam Barrera came out. He walked up to me and said, "What the fuck do you want, Navarre?"
I put down the news bulletin.
Barrera was wearing the standard threepiece suit, brown this time. His tie was a shade of yellow that miraculously matched. His gold rings were newly polished and his cologne was strong.
"We need to talk," I said.
"No we don't."
"I went out to Medina Lake, Sam."
The sunglassmetal quality in Barrera's eyes got a little harder. "You will be talked to, Navarre. But it won't be by me. You'd better tell Erainya—"
"There was more than a cabin out there, Sam. You missed something."
Just for a second, Sam Barrera wasn't sure what to say. It had probably been years since anyone dared to suggest he had missed something. It had probably never come from an amateur half his age.
"Parks and Wildlife," I said.
Barrera processed quickly. His face went through a chameleon phase—red to brown to coffee colour. "Saint Pierre had a boat? He registered a freshwater boat?"
"Would you like to know what I found, or would you like to threaten me some more?"
He was quiet long enough for the cement in his expression to resettle. "You want to come in back?"
He turned on his heel without waiting for my answer. I followed.
Sam's office was a shrine to Texas A & M. The carpet was plush maroon and the drapes were the same. On the mahogany bookshelf, pothos plants were carefully interspersed with Aggie diplomas and photos of Sam and his sons in their Corps uniforms.