"Yeah," I said, "only twenty years and a lot of donuts later nobody calls me ‘little'."
"Join the club," the lieutenant said. "So what’s on your mind?"
When I told him why I was calling he was quiet for an uncomfortable amount of time. An oscillating fan on his desk hummed back and forth into the receiver.
“You understand everybody has looked at this," Larry said. "Half the departments in town, the county, the FBI. Everybody wanted a piece of this. You want to find something that nobody’s caught before, it isn’t going to happen."
“Does that mean you won’t help?"
"I didn’t say that."
I heard papers being moved around on the other end of the line. Finally Larry swore under his breath.
"Where’s a pen?" he asked somebody. Then to me: "Let me have your number, Tres."
I gave it to him.
"Okay," he said. "Give me a couple of days."
"And, Tres—this is a personal favor. Let’s just keep it personal."
“You got it."
He cleared his throat. “Yeah, well, I owed your dad a lot. It’s just that the Sheriff is sensitive to taxpayer dollars being used on, let’s say, nonessential work. It also doesn’t help if it’s about one of his predecessors who beat him in three straight elections, you know what I mean?"
I checked with SAPD next. After a few minutes of being transferred from line to line, I finally got Detective Schaeffer, who sounded like he’d just woken up from a nap. He told me Ian Kingston, formerly with Criminal Investigations, had moved to Seattle two years ago and was presently overseeing a large private security firm. Kingston’s ex-partner, David Epcar, was presently overseeing a small burial plot in the Sunset Cemetery.
“Wonderful," I said.
Schaeffer yawned so loud it sounded like somebody was vacuuming his mouth.
"What was your name again?" he asked.
I told him.
“Like in Jackson Navarre, the county sheriff that got killed?"
He grunted, evidently sitting up in his chair.
"That was the biggest pain in the ass we’ve had since Judge Woods took a hit," he said. "Fucking circus."
It wasn’t exactly a show of sympathetic interest.
Seeing as I was out of other options, however, and had to say something before the detective fell back asleep, I decided to give Schaeffer my best song and dance.
Much to my surprise, he didn’t hang up on me.
“Huh. Call me back in a week or so, Navarre. If I get a chance to look at the files, maybe you can ask me some questions."
“That’s mighty white of you, Detective."
I think he was snoring before his receiver hit the cradle.
By sunset it still wasn’t cool enough to run without getting heat stroke. I settled for fifty push—ups and stomach crunches in the living room, then held horse stance and bow stance for ten minutes each. Robert Johnson lounged across the cool Linoleum in the kitchen and watched. Afterward I lay flat on my back with my muscles burning, letting the air conditioner dry the sweat off my body and listening to the dying hum of the cicadas outside. Robert Johnson crawled onto my chest and sat there looking down at me, his eyes half-closed.
“Good workout?" I asked.
I unpacked a few boxes, drank a few beers, watched the fireflies floating around in Gary Hales’s backyard at dusk. I tried to convince myself I wasn’t fighting any kind of compulsion to call Lillian. Give her some time.
No problem. It was just a coincidence that I kept staring at the phone.
I started digging through my box of books until I found Lillian’s letters wedged in between the Snopes family and the rest of Yoknapatawpha County. I read them all, from her first in May to the one that had arrived last Thursday, just as I was packing. Reading them made me feel much worse.
Irritated, I dug around in the box some more, looking for some lighter reading material—Kafka maybe, or an account of the Black Plague. What I found instead was my father’s scrapbook.
It was a huge canvas—covered three-ring binder stuffed with just about every insignificant piece of writing he’d ever scribbled but was too lazy to throw away. There were yellowed drawings he’d done for me when I was live or six-stick figures of armies and airplanes that he’d used to illustrate his drunken Korean bedtime stories to me. There were letters that had never been mailed to friends who had long since died. There were pages of notes on old cases he’d been pursuing that meant nothing to me. There were grocery lists.
I still have no idea why I’d taken the scrapbook from his desk after the funeral, or why I’d kept it, or why I decided to look at it again now, but I sat down on the futon with it now and started flipping through. In several places I’d dog-eared interesting pages, most of which I’d forgotten about. One of them caught my
A yellowed piece of spiral paper, the kind of scrap my dad was always leaving around the house, filled with rambling reminders to himself. It appeared to be a list of notes for a trial testimony he was making against Guy White, a suspected local drug trafficker. Then at the bottom it said: Sabinal. Get whiskey. Fix fence. Clean fireplace.
This page had bothered me the first time I read it and it bothered me now, though I wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t just Guy White’s name. I remembered White’s drug trial vaguely, then later some speculation that White’s mob connections might have been behind my father’s murder, but Dad’s testimony notes revealed no shocking secrets. The seven words Dad had scrawled at the bottom of the page bothered me more. They sounded like a reminder of what to do next time we went to the family ranch outside Sabinal. Except we only went to Sabinal at Christmas, for deer season, and the notes were written in April, a month before Dad died. I finished off my six-pack of Shiner Bock while I read, and felt almost grateful when my father’s shaky cursive started to blur.
I’m not sure when I actually fell asleep, but when I woke up it was full dark and the phone was ringing. I almost impaled myself on the ironing board trying to get to the receiver.
“Hello—" I said. My mind was fuzzy, but I could hear the sounds of a bar in the background—glasses clinking, men talking in both Spanish and English, a jukebox playing Freddy Fender. No one said anything into the receiver. I waited. So did the caller. He waited much too long for a typical prankster, or an honestly confused drunk with a wrong number.
"Leave," he said. Then the line went dead.
Of course it was just the fact that I was half-asleep, probably still half-drunk, and that I’d been thinking about things way too much. But the man’s voice sounded familiar to me. It sounded a little like my father.
The next morning I made the mistake of practicing tai chi sword in the backyard. By nine o’clock I had served as breakfast for a small army of mosquitoes and scared the neighbors half to death. The woman next door came outside in a blue terry-cloth bathrobe around eight-thirty, dropped her coffee cup when she saw me swinging the blade, then went back in and locked the door. She left the coffee cup broken on the back porch. Across the alley, two pairs of large dark eyes were following my movements cautiously through the miniblinds on the second floor.
Finally Gary Hales shuffled out in his pajamas and asked me, in a listless voice, what I was doing. He might’ve been sleepwalking for all I could tell. I stopped to catch my breath.
“It’s a kind of exercise," I said.
He blinked slowly, looking at the sword. "With big knives? "
"Sort of. It makes you exercise very carefully."
“I reckon so. "
He scratched behind his ear. Maybe he was trying to remember why he’d come outside.
"You think maybe it’s better if I don’t practice out here?" I suggested.
“I reckon maybe," he agreed.
Before I went inside, I looked up at the people behind the miniblinds and pretended to stab at them with the sword. The lifted slat flicked down instantly.
After a shower I tried Lillian’s number and got her answering machine. I figured she was in transit to work, so I tried an old number for Carlon McAffrey at the Express-News. I was bounced back to the main operator for the newspaper, who told me Carlon was now working for the Friday entertainment section. She transferred the call.
“Yo," McAffrey answered.
"Yo?" I said. "Is that the way all you slick entertainment writers answer the phone, or do you just have trouble with words over one syllable?"
It took him three beats to place the voice.
"Navarre, do the words ‘piss off’ mean anything to you?"
“Not when you hear them as often as I do."
“Hang on," he said.
He covered the phone for a second and yelled at someone in his office.
"Okay," he said. "So where the flying fuck have you been the last decade or so?"
Carlon and I had been in high school together, then had worked for the A & M newspaper in college. He’d layed the star journalist while I, one of the very few human beings ever to major in both English and physical education, had written a sports editorial column. Young and stupid, we drank to excess and terrorized the cows of Brian, Texas, by pushing them down hills while they slept with their legs locked. After I moved out to California my sophomore year we had eventually lost touch.
"Believe it or not," I said, "I’m back here seeing Lillian."
Carlon whistled. "Sandy over at the society page is going to love that. She’s been getting a lot of mileage out of Lillian and ole Dan the Man Sheff lately."
"You put my picture on the same page as the debutantes and I’ll rip your nuts off."
"I love you too," he said. "So why the warm and friendly call, if not to fill me in on your romance?"
"Tell me about the newspaper morgue. I’m looking for information on my father’s murder and the investigation. "
“Mm. That was what, ’84?"
He asked someone behind him a question I couldn’t catch.
“Yeah," he told me, “anything before 1988 is still on microfiche. After that we joined the computer age. Public access, but it would be a lot faster if I got one of the mole people down in Archives to round it up for you."
"That would be great, Carlon."
"So you owe me. What else is new? Now tell me why you’re digging up family history, Navarre. I thought you wanted nothing to do with that."
The tone of his voice told me the question was more professional than personal.
"Ten years makes a difference," I said. "Especially if I’m back here to stay."
"You got something new on the case?"
"Nothing that would work for the entertainment section."
"I’m serious, Tres. You got anything on the case, I’d like to know."
"This from a man whose biggest scoop in college was a breakthrough in onion-growing technology?
"Some friend," Carlon said, and hung up.