Willis Daniels was sitting in the driver's seat. If he noticed me walking up, he didn't let on. At least not until I stood at the window for a few seconds.
The old man looked up from his book and smiled a tight smile. "Mr. Navarre."
He offered to shake, gentlemanly. His hand lacked any of the energy it had had when I'd first shaken it, outside Silo Studios a hundred years ago.
"You not hungry?" I asked.
The smile took on a kind of sad amusement. "I'd just be in the way. You go on."
He went back to his book, sighed. It would've been easier if he'd yelled at me, or frowned at least. I went inside.
Milo and Miranda were drinking coffee at the table by the window.
Saying Milo looked nice is superfluous, but somehow there was shock value in seeing him immaculate again after the way he'd looked on that warehouse floor, then in the hospital bed. His trousers were dark and freshly pressed, his white shirt crisp with starch. The bandages underneath the shirt made his left shoulder look bulkier than the right. He was wearing a diamond stud earring and his shortcropped black hair looked freshly trimmed along the edges.
He hooked a pink chair with his fingers and dragged it out from the table.
"Have a seat, Tres."
I sat between them.
Miranda was wearing lightly tinted round sunglasses. She'd chosen all white today—long skirt, blouse with just enough motherofpearl studs to put it into the Western category, white anklelength boots. Even her hair, dark and curly, was pulled back in a white headband, making her forehead look high and her sunglasses that much more obvious.
She was looking into her coffee, holding it with both hands. She glanced up briefly at me, then down again.
"Here." I set my shoe box next to Milo's untouched plate of tinfoilwrapped tacos.
Milo scowled, lifted the lid, then closed it again.
At a table across the way one of the construction workers had apparently seen what was inside the box. He said, "Holy shit" very quietly and nudged his friend.
"You brought me cash?" Milo asked, incredulous.
"That's the way I found it."
Milo looked at me, a little puzzled by my tone. "All right. Fifty thousand?"
He looked at me longer.
"Problem?" I asked.
"The rest I'm giving to Allison. The way things are shaping up, it may be the only thing she gets out of this deal."
Milo let his eyes slide over to Miranda, who looked suddenly very sad.
"Allison," Milo repeated. "You know that this is agency money, Les' and mine. You know she doesn't have claim to it—why the fuck—"
"You want to talk to the IRS, go. I'm sure you were planning on reporting this recovered."
Milo closed his mouth. His eyes had the bull fierceness in them, but he was trying hard to keep it from the surface.
"I hoped we could be a little more constructive here. I didn't want—" He shook his head, disappointed. "Christ, Tres, it's not like we don't owe you something, but—"
He let me see a little bit inside, a little bit of hurt and discomfort, the sense that we were still friends.
I turned to Miranda. "You happy with your deal?"
The question took her by surprise, or maybe it was just the fact that I spoke to her at all.
She sat up, away from me just slightly. "I will be, yes. I'm grateful to you. But—"
She was steeling herself to say something, probably something she'd rehearsed with Milo before coming here.
She couldn't quite manage it. She swallowed and looked on the verge of tears. It was a look she did well.
"Miranda's relocating to Nashville," Milo supplied. "We both are."
I turned my attention back to him. "You both are."
Somehow the words seemed absurd. I felt like I was speaking Spanish, when I hit an unfamiliar colloquialism and the sense of almost being fluent came to a grinding stop.
Milo unwrapped one of his tacos, peeling back the tinfoil with the detached interest of a coroner. A plume of steam zigzagged up from the eggs.
"We've been lucky things have worked out as well as they have," he explained. "Very lucky. We owe you for that, but we thought it would be best—Miranda needs to be closer to the action."
I stared at Miranda. She wouldn't meet my eyes.
"We just wanted you to know," Milo continued. "There's a lot of outstanding problems from all of this. Until Miranda's career really gets going, things are going to be fragile.
Miranda needs a clean break from everything that's happened."
I kept staring.
"She's lost family here," Milo continued. "She can't keep being reminded of that. We want to make sure you feel compensated, but you need to be out of the picture, Tres.
I'm going to insist on that."
"Compensated," I said. Another foreign term. I looked at Miranda. "You plan on compensating the others, too—Cam, Sheck, Les? How about Brent and Julie Kearnes?"
Miranda wiped a tear away. She was wavering between sorrow and anger, trying to decide what approach would be the most effective.
"That ain't fair, Tres," she muttered, hoarsely. "It just ain't."
I nodded. "How long until Milo gets the cleanbreak message, from somebody in Nashville, some slightly bigger big shot who's decided he can look out for your interests better? A week ago you told me Allison was the only person who scared you to death, Miranda. I've met somebody scarier."
"Stop," Milo insisted.
He was strictly lawyer now. Our relationship was about thirty seconds old and would fade as soon as the conversation was over, like finger pokes on bread dough.
I stood to leave. The waitress came over and offered me coffee apologetically, apparently thinking she'd been too slow. When I didn't respond she raised her eyebrows, offended, and walked away.
"You kept your promise, Chavez," I said. "You made sure things didn't work out like last time."
I walked outside.
When I got to the car Willis Daniels didn't even bother looking up from his book. He was smiling his peaceful, Santa Claus dayafterChristmas smile.
Through the window of the Sunset Cafe I could see Miranda crying, Milo's huge hand on her shoulder. He was speaking to her reassuringly, probably telling her she'd done what she had to. That it got easier from here.
There was nobody in the VW to do that for me.
It was just as well. I would've slugged them.
I turned right on Broadway and headed for the airport. I had a plane to say goodbye to.
San Antonio's main terminal was lollipopshaped— a long corridor with a carousel of gates at the end. At the centre of the circle was a magazine kiosk and a pricey snack shop and a souvenir stand where you had your last chance to buy authentic Texas pickled jalapenos and stuffed armadillos and rattlesnakein plastic toilet seats.
The American flight for New York would be departing from gate twelve. I was an hour early. A flight from Denver had just deplaned—a few businessmen, a couple of college kids, lots of pale retirees, winter Texans.
I got myself a fourdollar draft beer at the bar and sat at a table behind a row of bromeliads, facing the gate. At the table next to me a couple of outofuniform airmen were trading stories. They'd just been let out of basic training at Lackland and were heading home on leave for a week. One of them was talking about his wife.
Nobody I wanted to see came to the gate. The desk wasn't checking anybody's tickets yet. A couple of stewardesses ambled out of the gate, all blond hair and long legs and wheeled luggage. The overweight captain walked behind them, appreciating the view.
Over by the window a little Latino kid who reminded me a lot of Jem was putting his face against the glass wall of the observation area. He blew his mouth against the glass until his cheeks puffed out, then ran a few feet and did it again. The glass was a smudgy drooling foggy mess for a good twenty feet. Dad was a couple of rows away, watching sports coverage on an overhead TV. He probably wasn't much older than I was. The kid was probably five.
Finally a ticket checker changed the signs on the gate display. NEW YORK. ON TIME.
He clacked a few keys on his computer terminal, then joked a little with one of the airport custodians.
Passengers started to arrive.
The airmen got up and left, shaking hands. One was heading to Montana. I didn't know about the other.
I bought another fourdollar beer.
The little Latino boy got tired of sliming the windows and came over to climb on his dad. Dad didn't much care. Pretty soon it looked like Dad was growing a small pair of flailing blue Keds out of his shoulder blades.
Finally the newly christened Allen Meissner arrived, twenty minutes before flight time, just before the airline would start preboarding. He was wearing a cowboy hat that shaded his face pretty well and clear glasses and faded denim clothes that weren't his normal look. He'd dyed his hair a shade or two lighter and I suspected that his cowboy boots were a little taller than they needed to be. He'd taken lessons on how to disguise himself, just like he'd taken lessons on how to construct his new paper identity. He wouldn't have attracted any casual onlookers. He would've stood a fair chance of slipping by any random encounters with acquaintances, unless they knew who they were looking for. I did. He was definitely my man.
The new Mr. Meissner was travelling light—a single backpack, dark green. It was pretty much exactly like mine.
I walked up behind him as he was getting his boarding pass.
I let him check in, answer the questions, mumbled thank you to the attendant. When he turned around he ran into me at such short range that my face didn't register. He started to plow around me, the way strangers do, just another bumper in the pinball game.
Then I took his upper arm and backed him up.
He focused on my face.
"Hey, Allen," I said.
I've seen a lot of shades of red in my time but never one quite that bright, quite that quick to take over a complexion. I'm not sure what Brent Daniels would've done if we'd met under different circumstances, but here in a crowd, without a backup plan, he was stuck. It was my call.
"Buy me a beer," I said.
For one second I really thought he was going to bolt. His knuckles on the strap of the backpack went white. Then he shoved past me, angry but slow—heading for the bar like a kid who'd been told to go to the principal's office and knew the way by heart.
We sat at the same table I'd been occupying. My seat was still warm. Brent slid across from me with a beer. One for me—none for him. He passed the beer over and then waited for my reaction, like I might tell him he could go now.
"New York," I said. "Where then?"
Brent let out a little hiss of air. He looked strange with the fake prescription glasses, older somehow. He also looked strange because for the first time, he'd taken pains with his appearance. Real pains. He was closely shaven and immaculately clean. Not bad for a guy who had been a charred pile of ashes a few days ago.
Apparently a few papery lies floated through his mind before he decided not to try them. Finally he just said, "I don't know."
"Les hadn't thought it that far ahead?" I asked. "Or you just don't know what he had planned?"
Brent shook his head. "What do you want, Navarre?"