"Okay," I said. "We’d like to see Mr. White. If you’d tell him we’re here."
BeeBee seemed to be watching my mouth, trying to learn the words. ‘
"Or you could just stamp your foot," I suggested. "Once for yes."
"Maybe if we just asked inside?" Maia said, smiling innocently. When she tried to walk through the door BeeBee’s arm blocked her at the waist. Then a shape moved behind the beveled glass door. My old friend Emery opened it and stood in the entrance. He didn’t look particularly thrilled to see me.
Today he was wearing a pin-striped suit that was about three sizes too big. His shirt collar was so huge it wrinkled up like an asshole around his neck when he tightened his orange tie.
I offered him my hand. " Que pasa, buddy?"
Emery made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and an asthma attack. “You are one stupid son of a bitch." He put several extra syllables in the word stupid, just for emphasis.
“We’d like a few minutes of Mr. White’s time," I said. "You remember the drill from last time?"
Emery shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
"That’s a good one." He looked at BeeBee for support. "Ain’t that good?"
BeeBee was no help. Even though Maia had backed off, BeeBee’s arm was still blocking the doorway. He’d probably forgotten why it was there.
“Mr. White isn’t disposed to take visitors on a Sunday morning," Emery said. "Mr. White made it pretty clear that includes you, Mr. Navarre. I’m real sorry."
BeeBee stepped forward so I could admire his chest while Emery tightened his orange tie a little more.
"He might be interested in what we’ve got to say, this time."
Emery gave me a lopsided grin. "I surely doubt that, Mr. Navarre."
I looked at Maia. She smiled sweetly.
"Gentlemen," she said, "you are absolutely sure you couldn’t just ask Mr. White? Really, I think it would be best."
“She thinks it would be best," Emery repeated to BeeBee. BeeBee nodded as if he might get it after a few more repetitions. Emery grinned so much his cheeks turned into canyons. "I think you should just go on back to Japan, honey, and Mr. Sheriff’s Boy here can go on back to Frisco. That’d be a whole lot easier."
People always show you their impressive high kicks when they boast about martial arts. They neglect to tell you that the higher you lift your leg, the more you are telling the world: "Here are my balls. Please hit them hard." Sure, a high kick has more reach, but in truth the quickest, safest, most devastating kick, and the one that is hardest to defend against, is a good low kick to the shin. It worked wonders on BeeBee. He crumpled backward into the foyer without ever losing his confused expression. Of course it didn’t help his comprehension when he cracked his head against the marble floor. Emery was less fortunate. Maia grabbed him by his orange tie and slammed his head into the beveled glass door, then dropped him on top of BeeBee.
"Japan," she spat.
I was gratified to discover that Emery was keeping the .38 Airweight in his belt these days. Maia took it. I think she would’ve kicked Emery in the ribs just for good measure if we hadn’t had more company to deal with. We’d barely stepped into the foyer when two more linebackers came down the grand staircase that circled the back wall of the living room. Their uniform of choice seemed to be Italian suits. Their weapon of choice seemed to be 9mm Glocks.
At first they were too busy running down the staircase to fire effectively, and when they got to the bottom they had to circle to either side of a column-shaped glass-and-rosewood display case full of crystal statuettes.
" Good morning, " I said. "Mr. White at home?"
I stepped forward. Nice and easy, I thought.
Maia, the calm and reasonable one, chose instead to start firing Emery’s .38 at the display case. It’s amazing what a beautiful grenade you can make out of some hollow tip bullets and a bunch of Waterford crystal. Shards of glass reindeer, penguins, and delicate swans turned everything in a fifteen-foot radius into a winter wonderland, including the two men’s faces. They were still yelling on the steps as Maia walked up to the staircase and picked up the two Glocks they’d dropped. After I had checked for holes in my body and made sure that I hadn’t soiled my trousers, I asked her: “What did you figure the odds were they’d ventilate my chest before you managed to pull that off?"
She kissed my unbruised cheek. "I didn’t figure."
"Just making sure."
We tried the oak double doors on the left. Before I really knew what I was doing my arms came out, grabbing, and my waist instinctively twisted and sank into lui position, "pull down." The guy with the blackjack went over my knee face-first into the doorjamb.
"This way, " I suggested to Maia.
At the French doors that led to the backyard, Guy White stood waiting for us, his parabellum pointed lazily in our direction. He had apparently just walked in from the patio, and was leaning against the door frame in his khakis, an untucked blue button-down, and slippers. His mole-colored hair was carefully combed and gelled, and his expression was completely peaceful.
"You are the most persistent man," he told me.
Fortunately there was no Waterford crystal to shoot at in the room. Maia dropped her three guns on the nearby desk.
Guy White smiled at her. "Thank you, my dear."
Then he lowered his Glock and waved his other diamond bedecked hand toward his seven-acre backyard.
"I have some exceptional croissants from Pour la France," he said. "I was just reading Roddy Stinson out in the gazebo. Won’t you join me?"
"Beau Karnau," said White. "Quite a colorful character. "
He laughed without making a sound. Then he sat back in his white wicker chair and proceeded to dissect his croissant. He peeled off each layer and ripped it into small squares with perfectly manicured fingers. If the croissant had been alive I think White would’ve had the same unconcerned smile on his face.
"You know him, then," I said.
I drank my mimosa out of my crystal glass. It was mixed from Veuve Cliquot instead of Dom Pérignon, but the orange juice had probably been fresh squeezed by illegal aliens who had just been flown in from the Valley that morning, so I had decided not to send it back. White said: "Only peripherally, because of my patronage to local art galleries. Why do you ask?"
"Curiosity. And the fact that Karnau’s just about the only one besides you and me with an interest in the disk who isn’t dead at the moment."
No reaction. White looked out over his gardens and waved his champagne glass toward the north.
"What do you think, Miss Lee?" he said. "I’m thinking about tomatoes over in that corner, next to the mountain laurels. "
If Maia was trying to look hard and unapproachable, she was failing miserably. She smiled without even looking at the future tomato patch and agreed that it would be a lovely spot for gardening. I swear to God, White’s eyes twinkled at her on command. When he was ready to entertain my questions again, he pushed the croissant carcass and the Express-News away. He leaned forward across the table, looking earnest and helpful.
"I assure you, Mr. Navarre, Beau Karnau is no associate of mine. I’ve only met him on a few occasions, and I found him . . . tiresome."
He let his eyes reveal just a hint of annoyance, a benign peevishness toward that quite colorful character Mr. Karnau.
“And Dan Sheff?" Maia ventured.
Guy paused momentarily, then decided to smile. I thought for a minute he would pat Maia’s head.
"What of him, my dear?"
“Read your paper," I suggested. "I think the Moraga murder story dropped below the fold today, but you’re still getting page one press."
I couldn’t get White’s attention away from his imaginary tomato patches. His tone stayed pleasantly distracted.
"As I said to you before, my boy, faulty assumptions?
"So you have no relations with Sheff Construction," I said. "No knowledge of how their business changed in the mid-eighties." I finished my mimosa. "I’d’ve thought about that time you would’ve been looking for less high-profile opportunities yourself. The drug trafficking trial, the investigation of my father’s murder. It must’ve been very . . . tiresome."
I warranted only a strained sigh from our host, but you take what you can get.
“All I can tell you about Sheff Construction, my boy, is that Mr. Sheff, that would be Mr. Sheff, Jr., has little to do with the—shall we say the day-to-day running of business. Perhaps—" He raised a finger, as if he’d finally spotted the ideal place for some pink azaleas. "Perhaps you should speak to Terry Garza, the business manager. That might be more enlightening."
"We’d made arrangements," I said. "They were canceled last night, when we found him with an anticucho skewer sticking out of his neck."
That did it. White lifted his eyes off his future garden and stared at me. I think he was genuinely surprised. Then it passed.
"Once the police come to question you, yes."
I put the photo we’d found in Garza’s trailer on top of Guy White’s newspaper, facing toward him. "What I think," I told him, "is that you are either in this photo, or you know who is. Sheff Construction started some extremely lucrative and extremely questionable dealings with city construction contracts ten years ago, Mr. White, and it’s an arrangement which is still going on. I would be surprised if anything that large could’ve escaped your notice. Either you were involved directly, or you’d make it your business to know who was."
White looked over at Maia, smiled like one parent to another when their child has said something cute and foolish.
"Mr. Navarre, I do not appreciate being scapegoated. As I told you, I went through much grief ten years ago, when your father died. Much unwarranted suffering."
"You’re telling me you’re being scapegoated again?"
He stretched like a cat. "Convenient solutions, Mr. Navarre."
"Help me find Karnau, then. He’s got the answers."
White gave me a look I couldn’t quite read. Behind the bland smile, he seemed to be deciding something. He got out of his chair and surveyed his lawn one more time. Then he took an index card and a pen from his pocket. He wrote something on the card, folded it, and let it fall to the table.
"Good-bye, Mr. Navarre." He stretched again, raising himself up on his toes. “So nice to meet you, Miss Lee."
When Guy White was a half acre away, strolling past his newly planted verbena, Maia picked up the index card and read it.
“Try Mr. Karnau at the Placio del Rio tonight. "
"That’s the Riverwalk Hilton. Downtown."
Maia put her champagne glass on the table. She looked at the index card again. "Why do I feel like we’ve just been offered a sacrifice?"
"Or someone’s unwanted ballast."