The Devil Went Down to Austin - Page 8

"Clyde's a bit overprotective," Ruby apologized. "He runs the marina repair shop for me. He's quite good with boat engines."

"I bet. They break, he shoots them."

"Which brings us back to the point," she said. "You shouldn't be here."

"You have claim to the property?"

"I— No. This was always Jimmy's place. I live on my boat."

"Then what were you looking for?"

Her eyes traced the curve of the ceiling. "Now that Jimmy's dead, your brother and I have to make some decisions. I wanted to get the company paperwork—documents we might need."

Her voice was as thin as drum skin. She was lying.

"Matthew Pena," I said. "He's been pressuring you to sell?"

"If Matthew Pena were harassing me, it would be bullshit. I'd ignore it."

"I didn't say harassing."

I could almost see her mental effort—reinforcing the facade, like a wall of loose blocks.

"There's nothing to tell. Nothing . . . provable."

"Pena offered to buy you out once before. You refused."

"You can thank your brother and Jimmy for that."

"The security problems started shortly thereafter. Your potential worth took a nosedive. Pena's made a second offer—a substantially reduced offer—and when you hesitated, Jimmy died."

"It isn't like that," she insisted. "What you're implying— Look, I know Matthew Pena.

I've had dinner with him. I've gone diving with him. He isn't a monster."

I told her about the shotgun case in Menlo Park a year ago. I told her about Pena's girlfriend Adrienne, who'd also gone diving with him.

Ruby's complexion looked like she'd suddenly developed the flu. She stared at the empty gun on the kitchen counter. "That's got to be other people, misconstruing the facts. Matthew would have no reason to kill anyone, especially not Jimmy."

Matthew, I thought. Firstname basis.

"You talked to the police?" I asked.

"Of course."

"They ask where you were the night Jimmy was killed?"

"I was working late at the marina. Lots of people saw me."

"You mention Pena?"

"The detective, Lopez, told me not to worry about that. He told me something else, Tres—they've already matched Garrett's gun to the bullet that killed Jimmy."

It was my turn to look sick. "When was this?"

"Yesterday evening."

After I'd talked with Lopez. I wondered if he really had a ballistics match, or if he had just been trying to press Ruby into making a statement that would hurt Garrett. I tried not to get angry, to remind myself that all homicide detectives played games like that.

"You believe Garrett shot Jimmy?"

"Of course not." She was a good liar, I'll give her that.

"Your friend Clyde Simms," I said. "Clyde said there was a bastard he wanted to kill months ago. I assume he was talking about Pena?"

Her composure was just about reassembled now—all the blocks in place. She sat back, let the cat rub his face on her diamond ring. "You should leave now, Tres. I have a lot to do."

"Unless you've got legal right to kick me out," I said, "you're the one who should go."

She studied me, apparently decided the battle wasn't worth it. "Let me get a few things upstairs."

"Leave them," I said. "I like you emptyhanded."

She managed a sour smile. "You are related to Garrett, aren't you? A real Southern gentleman."

"See you all at the funeral service?"

"Wouldn't miss it."

Once she'd left, I loaded a full clip into the Taurus, so it would be more of a challenge the next time somebody tried to use it on me. Then I set the gun back on the counter and climbed upstairs to the loft.

Out the window, through the tree branches, I could see Ruby and Clyde walking down toward the lake. Clyde was speaking emphatically, offering Ruby his open palm, like he really wanted to give her a gift.

I thought about what Garrett had said Friday night: Ruby McBride—somebody Jimmy and I knew from way back.

I wondered how a woman like Ruby got involved with guys like Jimmy and Garrett, and how she got the loyalty of someone like Clyde Simms. I wondered what Clyde was capable of in the overprotective department.

On Jimmy's bed was a pink cardboard cake box, the lid open, the contents spilling out.

It contained various memorabilia—love letters signed Ruby? postcards from Jimmy's friends? dogeared photos, many of which included Garrett. The missing photos from the mantel were here, too—Jimmy and Garrett at the seawall? Jimmy's mom, Clara Doebler. Why Ruby would've wanted these I had no idea, but divorce makes you weird. You get proprietary about odd things.

There were no company records for Techsan.

I dug to the bottom of the cake box, came up with an old denimcovered journal. I flipped through the entries quickly—all addressed to Jimmy, each signed by his mother.

After reading a few lines, I realized the book was a lostchild diary.

I sometimes advised my own clients to start such diaries, to keep their hopes up when children had been taken away in custody cases, or kidnapped by exspouses. You chronicle your daily life for your child, as a way of keeping them with you, keeping faith that one day they will be able to read your words. The first entry in Clara's journal was dated 1963, about the time she'd lost custody of Jimmy to the Doebler family trustees.

I didn't remember the specifics of the court battle—only that she'd had mental health problems. Jimmy had rarely talked about the custody case, at least to me, and the diary told me nothing. The entries seemed mundane—what Clara had done during the day, where she'd eaten, what the weather was like, what birds she'd seen in her backyard. The entries ended in mid1967, when Jimmy would've been about ten.

The rest of the journal was blank. Somehow all those empty lined pages, yellowed with age, made a more pathetic statement than the five years Clara had managed to chronicle. I wondered how Jimmy had felt about the journal, and why Ruby would stick it in her take box.

I went downstairs, rummaged through the roll top desk—standard bills, paperwork on the incorporation of Techsan, one folder neatly labelled Family.

I checked Jimmy's phone bills first. The police had apparently taken the most recent one, but April's statement was full of calls to other members of the Doebler clan—a lot of the same numbers I'd called myself on Saturday. I recognized Faye DoeblerIngram's number. Garrett's number a dozen times.

I folded the list, set it aside.

I skimmed through the Family folder and found photocopied requests for county records, listings from the Social Security death index, deeds, marriage certificates, birth certificates. Jimmy had been looking into his own family's past, but apparently hadn't been at it very long. Most of the requests were dated only a month ago, barely enough time for any bureaucracy to respond.

I thought about what Jimmy had told me the night he died, about wanting to make amends with his family. Maybe the background search he'd wanted me to do was simply that—family history. Still, something about the folder bothered me. I put it aside for later.

Robert Johnson was circling my ankles, purring, no doubt asking where his new friends with the weapons had gone.

Jimmy's memorial was tonight. Garrett would be there. Ruby McBride would probably talk to him sometime today, let him know

I was staying at the dome. Better to face him now, let him know I wasn't going to stay out of his problems.

Either that, or I could make the call I was dreading to San Francisco.

Robert Johnson looked up at me smugly, his eyes half closed. "You're lucky," I told him. "You never have to visit your siblings."


Sunday at lunchtime, there shouldn't have been any rush hour heading into Austin from the lake, but I hit one anyway.

It was fortyfive minutes before I pulled in front of Garrett's apartment.

The Carmen Miranda was parked by the stairs, which may or may not have meant Garrett was home. If ballistics had come back positive, that might've been enough for Lopez to get an arrest warrant, start the indictment process, after which things would happen fast. I ran down all the possibilities I didn't like—all the things that could've gone wrong since I'd left Garrett on Friday afternoon. I hoped he'd gotten himself a lawyer.

I parked in the shade, sat with the engine idling, and thought about what to say if Garrett were home. Just checking in. Been indicted yet? Still in debt a few million?

Want to grab a beer?

I walked up the steps of The Friends.

When I knocked at Garrett's door, a woman's muffled voice said, "Just a minute."

Even then, I didn't see it coming.

I stood there stupidly as the door opened, the woman looking down at a fistful of bills, saying, "I don't have correct change."

And then she looked up.

She was barefoot, dressed in khaki walking shorts, an army green tank top. Her skin was a rich honey colour, her hair long and glossy black.

Some vestigial gland in my body started to work, dumping a few cc's of acid into my bloodstream—just enough to make every vein burn.

"Hello, Tres," Maia Lee said. "You're not the pizza man."

She wore no makeup, no jewellery. Her eyes glowed with that internal heat which makes her a formidable enemy, or friend. If she was at all ruffled to see me again, after nearly two years, she hid it superbly.

"Okay, I'll bite," I managed. "Why are you in my brother's apartment?"

"Nice to see you, too."

"Let me rephrase that. Where the hell is Garrett?"

She stepped back, out of the doorway, motioned me inside.

I brushed past her. Acid kept coursing around my circulatory system. My hands were sweating like an adolescent's.

Nobody was in the living room, just Dickhead the parrot up on his windowledge perch.

Music was playing—Buffett's greatest hits, but set to Maia's volume level, so soft, intimate, for Garrett's place that it struck me as insulting.

I walked through the kitchen, into the bedroom. No suitcase on the bed. No unpacked Maia clothes.

Out on the shoeboxsized deck, Garrett was sitting in a patio chair, the tails of an XXL

Hawaiian shirt melting around his waist, a John Deere gimme cap shading his eyes.

Papers littered the deck around him. He had an open beer at his side, a laptop set up on a TV tray, a joint hanging off the corner of his mouth. Hunter S. Thompson does South Texas.

"I see you made your calls," I told him.

He missed a stroke on the keyboard, glared up at me. He spoke with the joint still in his mouth. "I'm busy. Wait a minute."

He went back to typing—the way Garrett always types, with a vengeance, as if the keys needed to learn their lesson.

I stepped to the railing, tried to put aside the appealing idea of throwing Garrett's laptop off the balcony.

Of course, I wouldn't have been the first to have that thought at The Friends. The alley below was littered with broken couches, smashed TVs, mounds of clothes still on hangers.

Floorboards creaked behind me.

Maia stood in the doorway, her arms crossed, pizza money still crumpled in one hand.

The sunlight through the canopy of branches

made her face and shoulders look like camouflage. I resented the fact that she looked even better than I'd remembered.

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