The Devil Went Down to Austin - Page 34

Maia's style was different from my usual routine, but I found it easy to follow—smooth and logical. For her, tai chi had been an afterthought, something she learned to augment the harder Shaolin style she preferred. Despite that, her execution was humbling—the flow of her movements, the graceful stances, the fire and spirit that can't be

faked. She practiced as if her life depended on it, yet her face stayed perfectly serene, her eyes fixed at all times on an imaginary target.

We ended the form facing the water. I was drenched with sweat and a mosquito was floating around my eyes, but I felt good. I'd forgotten what it was like working with someone who was better than me, who made me push the limits.

We unfroze, but still didn't talk. I enjoyed the silence and chi— the feeling of breath and warmth and focus all concentrated in the centre of my body.

Maia wiped her forehead with her wrist. Her face glowed from the workout, a tiny trickle of sweat ran down her neck behind her ear, but she looked neither tired nor winded.

"Good morning," she said. "Sifu."

She smirked, gently kicked my shin with her bare toes. "You don't want me as a teacher. You're overextending your knees. You need to keep your elbows down."

"Yes, master."

"Push hands with me," she said. "And stop with the master shit. I could grow to like it."

We faced each other in cat stance, right hand to right hand, touching at the back of the wrists. We began with small movements— circling our hands, pushing gently on each other's wrist, trying to feel where the other person was going to move. Once that was established, anything was fair game.

Maia advanced a step and I retreated. We reversed. She tried to push me off balance and I stepped back, forcing her to come forward. We corrected positions, kept going. I waited for the next attack, sensed it coming, then withdrew before Maia's push, twisting to the side as Maia committed her weight forward. I pushed. She lost her footing, went over sideways, and landed hard on her hip against the concrete.

A strand of black hair from her ponytail stuck to the side of her cheek with sweat. She brushed it away. There was white cement dust on her thigh.

"Okay?" I asked.

She nodded. "I was too aggressive."

"Shaolin will do that to you."

She stood, dusted herself off.

This time we circled longer. Her fingers were delicate curls, her wrist warm. I should've kept my head clear, used my chi to sense what she was up to, but I happened to catch her eyes and was instantly hooked by them—warm and bright and amber. She smiled just before she pushed me onto my butt.

My teeth clacked. My spine felt like it had been sunk into the cement with a pile driver.

"Not fair," I said.

"Oh," she said. "Now we'll talk about what's fair."

She offered me a hand. I smiled, took her by the wrist and somersaulted backward, pulling her over me.

Someone else I might've hurt, throwing her facefirst toward the cement, but Maia turned the fall into an easy roll, took almost none of the impact, ended up facing me in a crouch.

"So that's the way you want to play?" she asked.

She came at me with a heel kick, which I ducked. I tried to sweep her leg off balance but she spun a 360 and got me in my gut with her other foot. I blocked a punch, then guarded for her next one. It was a feint. She caught me in the trap perfectly—grabbed my wrist as soon as I presented it and twisted herself under my arm, putting my wrist and elbow up between my shoulder blades in the same joint lock she'd used on Matthew Pena two days ago.

It hurt not a little bit.

"Okay," I told her. "You win this one."

She increased the pressure. "Say 'Maia kicked my ass.' "

"Maia kicked my ass."

"Say 'I was a dumbshit to ever leave her.' "

"Go ahead," I grimaced. "Break it."

She let me go, came around front and tried to hit me in the stomach, but the punch was easy to catch.

"Bastard," she said.

I held her fist until it relaxed. Her fingers laced with mine.

A man's voice said, "Damn, I hate to interrupt a good workout."

I hadn't heard him approach, but fifteen feet up the path stood Detective Vic Lopez, smiling his normal diabolic smile.

"What can we do for you, Detective?" Maia asked. "You come to apologize for wrongful arrest?"

Lopez laughed, but there was an edge to it as sharp as a broken bottle. "Maybe later, counsellor. In the meantime, you wouldn't happen to know where Garrett Navarre is this morning?"

Maia and I exchanged looks.

She said, "I assumed— He isn't inside?"

Then I realized Maia and I had both thought the same thing— that Garrett had simply gone to the outhouse. I looked up toward the house, noticed the obvious—that the Carmen Miranda wasn't parked there anymore.

"He's probably picking up breakfast tacos."

Lopez smiled. "I'm sure. You saw him last when?"

Maia told him about the concert. "We came back here, talked until maybe two A.M. He went to sleep on the sofa, right across from me. Why?"

"Two A.M." Lopez seemed to be calculating. "Oh, nothing, really. Just that we have a small problem I was hoping Garrett could help us with."

Lopez watched my face carefully—his nets trawling for any reaction.

"Okay," I relented. "What small problem?"

"We found Ms. McBride's boat moored on the lake this morning," he said. "There was nobody on it. I thought you folks would want to know. The Search and Recovery divers are going in the water just about now."

From: "McBride Marina" < [email protected] /* */ > To: GN [email protected] /* */

Subject: Defeat Hollow

Date: Wed I4jun 2000 17:14:26 0700

Originator: [email protected] /* */

XMailer: UnityMail


XUnityUser: guest I .com

Moonlight is beautiful around a boat, the way it points to you over the water, no matter which direction you approach from, like a compass needle.

My wet suit was uncomfortable, but that was nothing new. Defeat Hollow is a narrow inlet, its banks mostly wilderness. It would be a short trip, and no one would be watching.

I made silent progress—a dozen paddle strokes, drops of cool on my knees as I changed sides, back and forth. I wondered out of habit how deep the hollow was—forty feet, maybe?

Her Sea Ray blazed with light. She was standing on the forward deck, waiting with a wineglass in her hand.

It seemed impossible she wouldn't notice me, but she wasn't looking upcove. She was expecting me to come from the main channel—the same boat as last time, the shining slick, red and white Conbrio. A friendly, welllit approach.

Mahler was playing—the Fourth Symphony, one of the CDs I'd given her. I knew she hated the music, but she would be interested in setting my mood, making me at ease.

The fact that it was the music of an abused son, a man who died of a diseased heart—these things were lost on her. She could not have chosen better, really. The music always makes me burn with pity, gives me the desire to wipe someone off the face of the earth.

The raft bumped into the aft of the boat with a satisfied hiss, right next to the ladder. No problem to tie on, even wearing neoprene gloves.

Three steps and I was aboard, bringing my pack. I left the air tank on the raft. And the gun. No need for them yet.

The hatch leading below deck was open, a square of buttery light.

She stood in the prow, hugging her arms. A sleeveless dress, her hair loose.

What was in her glass—red wine? I'd hoped it would be white. More convincing to make the switch to champagne.

I watched her over the top of the pilot's deck, and at any time she could've turned, seen me. But she didn't. The Mahler symphony kept playing.

I stripped my wet suit to the waist, left the diver's knife strapped to my thigh.

From my pack, I took the bottle of Moet, still cold from its insulation. I slipped the capped syringe into my shirt pocket. So much

easier to put into the drink, but in case matters got less elegant, the syringe was there.

I went below deck.

The music was louder in the galley—set to a volume to be heard above deck. I found two glasses, prepared one for her.

I was already feeling nostalgic. Of all of them—even Adrienne— this one had been the most interesting. She seemed put together from shards of ice. You always had to avoid the points, the sharp edges. And she was sure of herself. I'll give her that.

The terms she'd offered on the phone—it was touching, how much she was willing to pay. Millions in stock, everything I'd offered her—as if that money would have ever been hers. She wanted to use it as a bargaining chip, give it all up, promise to keep a secret for me—the secret that mattered the least. All she wanted in exchange was a different victim to throw to the idiot wolves.

How could I refuse? She was so sure I could not. After all, she'd done everything I'd asked.


She couldn't know how I'd practiced, how I'd stood over her friend in the dark, studying that wasted, grizzled face, thinking what an unlikely choice. What a perfect choice.

She couldn't have seen me with my makeshift tools the night before—field stripping a weapon for practice, comparing the firing surfaces. Just a few nicks. So easy. She couldn't have known all the other pieces I'd laid out for the puzzle, not knowing whether they'd been found or not. I'd once heard George Lucas say in an interview that he wasn't afraid to spend four months on a scene that might be on screen for five sec

onds, or might not make the final cut at all. That's what made a man a genius.

I let her be optimistic on the phone. I soothed her. It had been easy to win back her faith, even easier than after the shooting. This time she was rational. She was desperate. The two things together made me certain she would operate under the delusion that I play by rules.

I poured champagne.

When I went above, she had just made the discovery. She was staring at my wet prints on the deck, my bag.

I called to her and her eyes widened. It took her a moment to decipher my shape, silhouetted in the light from below. She seemed surprised to find me smiling. To find me so close.

I couldn't help the warmth in my voice, the friendliness, the tone of absolute confidence that everything would now be all right.

"This is a celebration," I told her."I have a plan to solve your problem."


"If she's down there," the lieutenant said, "we'll find her."

I gave him credit for trying to drink coffee while standing on Mansfield Dam. The morning wind was strong enough to knock the breath out of us and make the lieutenant's hair do a Medusa number. But with every bout, he corrected his balance like an old ship's captain and kept drinking.

The clouds were laced with lightning on the eastern horizon. Vic Lopez, Maia, the lieutenant, and I stood on the twolane pedestrian road that ran atop the milewide dam. We were about a third of the way out from the east end, where the cement railing turned to riveted steel.

On the west end, the slope to the water was a gentle mountain of gravel, but here it was a sheer drop two hundred feet. Below, the lake's surface rippled in windsheets of green and silver. Lower Colorado River Authority and Travis County Sheriff's boats made a dotted line from shore to shore. Marker buoys and diverdown flags bobbed in the wind.

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