The Devil Went Down to Austin - Page 24

Pena studied him. "I'm sure you can understand our security concerns, Mr.

Navarre—not letting unauthorized visitors in. You remember the idea of security, don't you?"

Garrett yanked his knife out of the wall. The headline fell to the floor.

I put my hand on his forearm. "Let's talk, Pena."

"We have nothing to talk about."

"Come on, Tres," Maia Lee said. "We can catch up with the gentlemen from the SEC, have our conversation with them."

Pena's eyes narrowed.

He looked at the point of Garrett's knife, then back at Maia.

"I can give you five minutes," he decided.

Pena started walking toward the conference room.

I turned to Garrett. "Keep it cool, okay?"

"Sure," Garrett grumbled. "One homicide at a time."

I left him holding the knife in one hand, the Chinese warrior in the other like a grenade, and I followed Maia through the frosted glass door.


Pena's newly acquired conference room had one wall that was all window, a rectangular table with six chairs, and a bare bookshelf. On the conference table was a box marked Trash. Inside was a Jimmy Doebler pot, a picture of Ruby and Jimmy's wedding, and a dried bouquet of pink roses.

Pena was looking out the window—his back to us, his hands folded behind his waist.

"Five minutes," he reminded us.

I sat down next to Maia, took advantage of Pena's dramatic pose to stick my bottlecapsize digital recorder to the underside of the table. Maia raised her eyebrows at me.

Pena turned around.


"I'm sorry," I said. "I was savouring the moment."

He checked his watch—a stainless steel Tag Heuer, a diver's model. Three thousand dollars' worth of ticktock. "Perhaps you have time to waste, Mr. Navarre."

"Speaking of wasting time," I said, "thanks for the fish guts. Must've eaten up a chunk of your morning—what with hostile takeovers, lives to ruin. I'm flattered."

His face told me nothing. One of Pena's computers couldn't have spit out data as non sequitur any more quickly than he did. "You now have three minutes."

Maia Lee ran her finger along her lips like the barrel of a gun.

"We need to have our discussion again, Matthew—the one where we review the rules of polite society."

His eyes dimmed.

At least he wasn't a total fool. He'd learned to associate pain with Maia.

"You shouldn't have come here," he warned her. "Ron Terrence agrees with me—it isn't like you to be so unprofessional."

"You haven't seen unprofessional yet," she promised. "But keep talking. Tell me how your little high school lackeys out there—the ones who can't seem to find their way into the program—are going to solve Techsan's software problems in a couple of days."

It took Pena a good thirty seconds to remember to look condescending.

"Dwight Hayes has been talking to you," he decided. "No matter. Dwight's job was terminated last night, the moment he touched me. Whatever he says now can be dismissed as the rantings of a fired employee."

"I thought you two went way back," I said.

Pena stared at me, as if he didn't see my point. "Whatever Dwight told you, Mr.

Navarre, Techsan selfdestructed with no help from me. Like so many other startups, your brother and his friends didn't have the first clue how to bring their product to market. They should feel lucky I gave them as much as they got."

"They should grovel," I agreed. "And if they don't, they should be made to grovel."

"Your brother has enough troubles, Mr. Navarre. Let him pack his boxes. Wheel him home, plan your legal strategies. At least now he can pay his lawyer's bills once he sells his stock."

Maia leaned forward, picked a dried rose out of the Trash box. It crumpled in her fingers. "You've overextended this time, Matthew. Anticipation of the big money has made you sloppy. What did you tell me once?" she asked. "You like to find the fault lines, keep hammering in spikes until the target cracks apart? Maybe I'll try it with you, Matthew."

Pena's expression got close to real anger—almost as if he were human.

"Be careful how you talk, love," he said. "One phone call—your junior partnership at Terrence & Goldman goes into the shredder. Two phone calls, I can have you disbarred."

"Hard to use the phone, love," I said, "if the cord is wrapped around your neck."

Pena came around the table, slowly, and sat on the edge, leaning over me so our faces weren't more than two feet apart. His breath smelled of cardamom. I happened to see the depth gauge on his Tag Heuer, still logged to his last dive. Eightysix feet.

"Don't make this about Maia," he said. "She's good, Navarre, but she's not worth it."

I tried to concentrate on the fact that the recorder I'd placed under the table was running. It calmed me down sufficiently to avoid escorting Matthew Pena out his fourthfloor window.

Pena leaned back, satisfied. "It's been nice talking with you. And, Maia— If you ever change your mind, ever feel that you don't want to go down with the ship ..." He feigned an embarrassed smile. "But that's a bad metaphor. Still terrified of diving, aren't you? A shame. I'd love to get you under the water."

"Shut up, Pena," I warned.

He laughed. "Oh, but this Maia Lee. Inscrutable Maia who was put on earth to protect people like me. She never shows her fault lines, much as I'd like to see them. Where are they, Tres? I suspect you put a few in her yourself."

Maia Lee pushed her chair back, got up gracefully.

Her snap kick caught Matthew Pena in the mouth, sent him backward over the table.

Before I could do anything—assuming I'd wanted to—Maia had collected Pena from the carpet, put him in an armlock, and shoved him against the empty bookshelf.

"First rule of polite society," she said. "Never annoy Maia Lee."

She spun him around, slammed him against the corner of the table—his groin at just the wrong level.

"Second rule of polite society. Never. Annoy. Maia. Lee."

She pulled him off the table—Pena doubled over in pain—and bowled him into the bookshelf, which being empty, peeled away from the wall and fell, the top whamming against the table so it made Matthew a tidy little office furniture tent.

"Third rule," Maia said, catching her breath now. "Figure it out."

She collected her purse, tugged at my arm to bring me out of temporary paralysis, and we left Matthew Pena to his busy schedule.

In the main work area, people were standing up at their cubicles, all looking in our direction—like a prairie dog town on high alert.

"Thank you for your cooperation," I announced. "This safety drill is now concluded."

Garrett was waiting for us by the water cooler. "Did you kill him?"

"Maia calmed me down before I could," I assured him. "This building have a security detail?"

He grinned. "No. Ain't it great?"

"Nevertheless," Maia said, "perhaps Garrett and I should go visit the police now, before they find a reason to visit me."

Her white scrunchie had slipped down on her ponytail, and the third button of her dress had come undone, but something told me this was not the time to point out these details.

Maia escorted Garrett through a cluster of the gaping screen heads, back toward Garrett's cubicle to collect his things.

I went out through the reception area.

Krystal Negley was reading her romance novel. She smiled in surprise. "Hey. Didn't get that equipment?"

"Matthew Pena kicked me out. If he asks, you did not let me have the access code."

Her face paled. "You some kind of spy?"

"A private eye," I said. "Sorry I wasn't straight with you."

"A private eye. No shit?"

"Sorry if I caused you trouble."

She managed a laugh. "With Mr. Pena for a boss? I'm his fourth personal assistant since he got to Austin. I was ready to quit anyhow. But I figure you owe me a favour now, right?"

"I figure I do."

She slid open her drawer, pulled out a small leather binder. "Mr. Pena's appointment book for the year. My predecessors kept printing out hardcover backups from his computer. You figure you could find some annoying ways to use the information?"

I smiled at her. "I think I could, Krystal. And you're something else."

"The wrong men keep telling me that," she sighed, and went back to reading her romance novel.

XMimeOLE: Produced By MimeOLE V5.00.2919.6700

Date: Mon 12 Jun 2000 14:36:400000

From: EL < [email protected] /* */ >

ReplyTo: [email protected] /* */


Subject: firearms

I found the house easily enough—a grimy little bungalow in the shadow of l35.The yard was dirt and crabgrass, the windows covered with silver insulation material. Just the sort of rat hole I'd imagined he would live in.

His back door latch was easy to jimmy.

Inside, the kitchen smelled of raw chicken left out too long. Television light glowed in the next room. I could hear something insipid playing—something with lots of canned laughter.

I remember being thankful for the checkered grip on the gun, because my palms were sweating. This time would be so different. I hadn't planned anything closeup before, nor with a gun. This time would count.

I crept forward, stood in the doorway.

He was slumped in a corduroy recliner, his eyes glued to the set. I was amazed at the way he had deteriorated, how little he looked like the photo in my pocket. His face was a war zone of melanomas and capillaries. His hair had thinned, grayed to the colour of pencil lead, but that stupid moustache was still as black and bushy as ever. His belly was a hard little thing, like he'd swallowed grapeshot.

I watched him a long time, waiting to be noticed. Ten feet away, and he didn't even see me. I got so nervous I started to smile.

He sensed something was wrong. He looked over, locked eyes with me, and it wasn't funny anymore.

"What the hell... ?" His voice dragged itself out of his throat. "Pinche kids."

He started to get up, his eyebrows furrowing.

"Come into my house ... ?" he grumbled.

I tried to say what I'd intended, but things weren't going as planned.

He was supposed to stay there, frozen by my gun, and give me time to talk. Instead, he was struggling to his feet, mumbling that he'd give me a thrashing, that I'd best run before he got his rifle.

He took a step toward me.

Someone had told me the pressure on the trigger would be the same as lifting a jug of milk with one finger. I'm telling you, it was easier than that.

My hand bucked from the recoil.

The arm of his corduroy chair ripped open, spitting out cotton filling. The Old Man's expression just turned angrier. He put a hand out to grab me. My second shot bit off part of his palm, left a bloody groove where his heart line ended.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way.

He started to scold me and the third shot caught him in the shoulder, tore it open like a paper package of meat.

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