I didn’t answer.
She sighed. "I should’ve left you where I found you—tending bar in Berkeley. "
“I was the best person you ever trained."
"You were the only person I ever trained."
It’s hard for a Texan to argue with someone who insists on sticking to the truth. Robert Johnson jumped onto the counter and started smelling the boot print in the sink. He gave me an insulted look that was probably a close approximation of Maia’s expression right then. Two against one.
"All right," Maia said, “let’s assume, even if I don’t agree, that you pull on the two ends of this, Lillian’s disappearance and your father’s death, and you find out they connect somewhere in the middle. That would mean someone besides this dead convict—"
"—it would mean someone besides him was involved in the killing ten years ago, and is now nervous about your questions. Whoever it is, they’re worried enough to threaten you, perhaps to kidnap someone you--someone you know, but not willing to kill you. Why?"
I picked a crushed crape myrtle petal out of the sink and looked at it. Thinking about why I was alive this morning didn’t help the empty acidic feeling the tequila had left in my stomach. The half memory of somebody looking down at me in the night had started to crawl across my skin like the smell of dead javelina and the sticky feel of red acrylic paint.
“I don’t know," I said. “Why does someone search the art gallery, then Lillian’s house, then my apartment? Why does Dan Sheff hang around Lillian’s front yard ready to beat up new boyfriends when Lillian’s datebook declared the relationship dead months ago? Why does Sheff give Karnau a ride? I don’t know yet."
Maia hesitated. “Tres, I know you want to find the connection between this and your father."
"But maybe there isn’t one."
I stared at the ceiling. just above the stove, there was a water stain in the shape of Australia, bowing in the middle like it was desperately clinging to the bottom of the world. When I spoke I tried to keep my voice even.
"You think I want it that way?"
"You want it to be your problem and your responsibility to fix," she said. “I know you. But maybe Lillian was into something all by herself. It happens, Tres."
I know you. The three most irritating words in the English language. When I didn’t answer, Maia muttered a few curses in Mandarin. I think she switched the receiver to her other ear.
"All right then," she said. “Let’s talk about your father. Do you really think one of his political enemies could be involved?"
For a moment I envisioned Councilman Fernando Asante in an extra large brown leisure suit trying to squeeze himself through my kitchen window, his Lucchese boot in my sink, his well-fed belly wedged between crape myrtle branches. It almost cheered me up.
"Even in Texas the politics aren’t usually that colorful," I told her. “Asante, the most likely candidate, has enough trouble just keeping his dick in his pants."
"The drug trafficker, then, the man whose house you so debonairly barged into at gunpoint?"
I had to think longer about that one. "If it was Guy White, I can’t figure his logic. Why murder a retiring sheriff, especially when you know you’re going to get the heat for it? And why get nervous about me now when the Feds couldn’t find anything?"
“You don’t sound convinced?
“Maybe it’s worth another visit."
She paused. “But you can’t just walk up to a Mafia boss twice in one week and start shaking him down for information on assorted felonies—"
I was quiet.
"Oh, Christ," she said. "Don’t even think about it, Tres."
“It’s either that or retrace some leads from these police files I stole."
"Okay, you didn’t hear it."
“Christ," she said.
“Urrr," said Robert Johnson, in sympathy.
"This is information about my father. I consider it an inheritance."
“Insanity was your only inheritance, Navarre."
I protested. “I worked hard for my insanity, Ms. Lee. Nobody handed it to me on a silver p1atter."
“How the hell did I ever fall for you?" she wondered.
Things were awkwardly quiet for a while after that.
Finally Maia sighed. “Tres, I’m thinking about a time you were lying in an alley off Leavenworth with a Balinese knife in your lungs— — "
“Grazed them, actually."
"—because you insisted on going to talk to a crazy hashish dealer by yourself. "
“It would’ve been fine if the illustrious April Goldman had been straight with me."
“You would’ve been dead if she hadn’t sent me after you."
"Good old Terrence & Goldman. Your bosses must miss me," I said.
A little more Mandarin swearing. Then Maia made her final plea bargain. "Is this friend of yours any good in a fight?"
I laughed. "Ralph, you mean? Ralph is a sneaky son of a bitch who fights about as fair as a cornered weasel."
“Good. Will you take him along?" `
“Ralph has business interests. He likes a low profile."
"I don’t want you going into this any further alone, Tres."
"Maia, I’m not exactly living across the Bay Bridge anymore."
She hesitated. “Then what if I were to come down there?"
Silence on my end.
“What happened to a nice clean break?" I asked. “The quiet acceptance of my choice to move?"
Maia thought about that. "Have you ever known me to lie, Tres?"
“Only to get what you want."
She didn’t argue the point.
I stared at the ceiling. “I’ll be fine. Besides, this is my hometown. They can’t touch me here."
“You’re a true asshole, Navarre."
"So I’ve been told." But she’d already hung up.
I picked up an old Texas Monthly with Anne Richards on the cover and shook it. Anne revved her white motorcycle and dropped the notes I’d stolen from Drapiewski’s files.
There were a dozen or so Xeroxed faces of men who had been under investigation by the FBI—various cons who were at large around the time of the shooting, some of whom had been put behind bars by my father and who possibly knew Randall Halcomb, the probable stealer of the Pontiac used in the drive-by. The faces stared back at me, telling me nothing.
Finally I took out the last page of Lillian’s datebook and looked at it again, at the third line where she’d erased a phone number and a street address in the Dominion.,
I put on my best clothes, my Sunday visiting T-shirt and my least torn jeans, then headed out to pay a call at the Sheff family mansion.
The Dominion is where your ordinary run-of-the-millionaire Texan dreams of going when he dies. George Strait lives there, along with a few congressmen, a few Howard Hughes types, and anyone else willing to pay six or seven figures for a design-your own mansion on a spacious lot of former sheep ranch land. No black sheep, obviously.
It was a thirty-minute drive from Queen Anne, forty with the VW fighting a hot north wind. As I passed Loop 1604 the land opened up and you could see the storm coming in. Blue-black clouds rolled off the Balcones Escarpment in a perfect line. The pastures turned dark green. A dry white branch of lightning cracked off from the sky and hit the horizon, then evaporated. I did what any sensible person would do. I put on my sunglasses.
When I pulled up to the development gates I stopped right in the entrance and got out to put up the ragtop. The condition it was in, it wouldn’t stop the rain but it might slow it down. And putting the top up here was just the kind of non-thinking thing a Dominion resident would do—not rude exactly, just not realizing anybody else of importance could possibly exist in your space.
Two Cadillacs pulled up directly behind me and waited. Nobody honked. The security guard wavered in the doorway of his little booth, not sure whether he should yell at me or help me. I could be a rich person in disguise. I could be a friend of George’s. I was wearing Ray-Bans in a rainstorm.
I got back in my car and drove up to the guard, slowly. I tried to look mortally bored.
“Hey," I said.
He had a vibrating smile, this guy, like it would jump right off his face. He was younger than me. Probably his first week on the job. The white uniform and his twitchy eyes made him look like the ice cream man after a nervous breakdown.
"Your destination, sir?" he said, laying petal-soft hands on the car door. He tried to hide his distaste when he caught a whiff from inside of the VW. It had been doused by plenty of rainstorms before now, and some parts had never completely dried.
“Yeah," I said, yawning. “Two--Aw shit, two—"'
I snapped my fingers helplessly. I gazed off like I was having a flashback.
Behind us the Cadillacs were starting to get impatient. The one in front flashed its high beams. He had places to go, golf games to start.
I almost thought it wouldn’t work. Then the second Cadillac honked. The guard jumped.
“2OO Palamon?" he offered, almost in tears. “The Bagatallinis?"
I grinned. "Yeah."
"Yes, sir, straight up, past the ninth green, your first right."
And I drove through, wondering who the poor Bagatallinis were if they kept sorry company like me. Maybe I should drop by I’d been in the Dominion a few times before. Once, in the last days of their marriage, I’d been sent by my mom to pick up the Sheriff when he was puking Cuba Libras into somebody’s million-dollar cactus garden after a social hobnob. But I didn’t know the place well enough to locate the Sheff house on the first try.
After two passes around the swan pond, however, I finally found it. It was a modest place by Robin Leach’s standards—two white stucco wings that met in a three-story-high point at the center, the middle portion all glass so you could see the coliseum-size living room and the interior balconies that looked down on it. The front yard was all rocks. I looked at the glass house. I looked at the million stones in the yard. I shook my head. The joke probably hadn’t even occurred to them.
Dan Sheff’s silver BMW was parked a little ways down the hill. A brown Mercedes and a restored cherry-red ’65 Mustang were in the driveway. So was an honest-to-God chauffeur, black suit and all, washing the cars.
It wasn’t his first week on the job. He met me at the curb before I’d even taken off my shades.
"Can I help you?"
He was a small Anglo man, lean and well muscled, the kind of guy who’s five feet five with an extra six inches of attitude on top. The plastic sheen of his face told me nothing. He could’ve been anywhere between thirty and fifty.
"I don’t think so," I said. "I usually wait until after the storm to wash my Mercedes."
I’ve never seen anybody smile without making wrinkles somewhere on their face, but this guy managed it, briefly. Then he was Mr. Impassive again.