On his boss:
I knew Wenger would be pissed that I was bailing early, but he would have to live with that. Unfortunately, I had to live with it, too. It wasn’t that I considered him a bad person, but as a boss, Rick Wenger was a tremendous pain in the ass.
Wenger looked giddy – the scent of money always did that to him.
I gave him a mock salute as he left, but he was already gone, hunched forward and hurrying down Second Street in the cold February drizzle, a man with figures, decimal points, and high dreams of billable hours at inflated rates on his brain.
I was in the foothills, nearly to Placerville, and thought about stopping for a whiskey at the old Liars Bench Bar, and maybe having one for Wenger, who despised liquor and did not even tolerate a glass of wine with dinner. He had gotten drunk a couple times in college and made such an ass of himself that he swore off alcohol for life.
On his car:
My white Nissan Maxima had served me faithfully since I picked it up brand new ten years ago. I bought it with my fiancée the day before we were married, and when she left me five years later I lost our savings, the furniture, the appliances, and just about everything else of any value, but I kept the goddamned car.
A lot of people here were getting rich. I wasn’t one of them. I just hoped the Nissan could hold up and give me another couple years of reliable service before it faded into the ranks of a beater, a piece of shit, a heap, and then I could drive around Silicon Valley and clearly be identified as a member of the underclass.
I started the Nissan, and the bad muffler rattled like mad. Maybe now that I could afford it, I’d bring the car into the shop and get it fixed. If I had the time. Or made the time. Hell, maybe I’d just get used to the noise and drive the car until one day the goddamned muffler fell off. I revved the motor a couple times, challenging the racket to outlast my patience.
On his ex-wife:
“Well, this is a fancy wedding, don’t try showing up in jeans.”
“Of course not.”
“And getting drunk would be totally uncalled for.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not drinking anymore,” I said.
“Or any less, I’m sure.”
I cleared my throat. “So, who’s the lucky groom?”
At the bars:
A couple of men pulled up seats next to me. One of them, a blonde dude with a three-inch billy goat beard, said, “I’d like a Beam on the rocks, and get my date here a Shirley Temple.”
“No, no, a double Jack and coke!” the other guy exclaimed, while his buddy grinned. I tried to mind my own business, but the blonde guy leaned forward and said to me, “Don’t worry about my friend here. He’s gay, but I’ve trained him to keep his hands to himself.”
“You know, I was in the Y-Not a couple weeks ago, and they still got a chunk of that child molester’s spine on the shelf.”
“What?” I said, my fork hovering in front of my mouth.
“It’s in a jar of vodka behind the bar. And you know what? They put up a sign next to it that says ‘No Preverts.’” Brad started laughing and took a long swig from his drink. “Fuckin classic,” he said.
“Yeah. When you shot him it blew one of his fuckin vertebras into the Corvette the bartender used to drive. Right? So the bartender cleaned it up and put it behind the bar.”
Edward waved at the bartender, ordered another tequila, and gunned it with a quick flip of the head. I could see him start to unwind as the booze hit him. The lines around his eyes and forehead lightened, and he smiled for no reason. He ordered another shot, drank it down, and the tension seemed to leave his body like steam rising off wet concrete under a hot sun.
A deputy was taking a statement from the two gals, who were gesturing vigorously, waving their arms about and throwing punches in the air.
“Then he says, ‘I wouldn’t mind giving an older broad like you the high hard one,’” said the redhead. “Yeah,” the blonde said, “and he asked me if I take it up the ass!”
The redhead looked like she was doing a drunken imitation of a kung fu movie, when suddenly she ran over to the injured man, who was still on his knees, and hooked him in the nuts from behind, as if kicking a field goal.
On the local cops:
“Don’t even spit on the sidewalk,” he said, handing my property back to me.
“You heard me, tough guy,” he rasped. It sounded like he was doing a bad Clint Eastwood imitation.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said.
“Stick around, and you will.” His muscles tensed and he slowly clenched and unclenched his fist. He looked barely old enough to shave, and his skinny body was the type that any respectable man could snap like a pencil.
“Yes, sir, Officer,” I said, standing at attention and saluting. I walked away and tried not to laugh. Evidently Sheriff Grier had a shallow talent pool to choose from.
“You know the penalty for killing a cop?” Pace said through gritted teeth. “You’ll ride the needle.”
“You ain’t a cop, Pace. You’re a crook.”
On Cody Gibbons:
Sometime after high school, he began calling me Dirty Double-Crossing Dan, the result of a forgotten, drunken episode at a pick-up bar. The nickname had survived the years. Cody was like that—on impulse he would nickname people, and the names tended to stick for life. His mom was Old Glory, he called his dad The Big Guy, and one of our old running buddies was No-Morals Andrew. He called Wenger “The Sniveler.”
“It never occurs to you to play it by the book, does it, Cody?”
“Play it by the book? That gets you nowhere except dead, maybe. Come on, Dirt.”
“What are we waiting for?” Cody said. “Let’s go track him down.”
“Right. He wrecked my fucking car.”
“So? Your car was a piece of shit anyway.”
“No, it wasn’t,” I said.
“Anyway, I want to try to take him alive. Right?”
“Hey, Dirt, this fuck shot at you. Let’s go stomp his shit into the tar.”
“Hey, man, why don’t I meet you in Tahoe when you get back?” Cody said. “It sounds like you might need some backup.” Then he lowered his voice. “I got to get out of here. Being home all the time is causing problems with my wife.”
“I don’t know if that would work. I’ve been busy as hell, Cody.”
“So? Come on, I’ll watch your back. Maybe I can help you, run license plates, you know? I got people who owe me favors at the precinct.”
It sounded like a bad idea. I wanted to keep a low profile, and Cody’s style was about as subtle as a buffalo stampede at a tea party.
On the desert:
Things feel mighty lonely at 3:00 a.m. in the desert, I thought as I headed out of Reno, east on Interstate 80, into the quiet solitude of the Great Basin Desert. The land seemed particularly suited for death—cold, endless, void of water or shelter, and unnaturally dark at night. If you wanted to kill someone and hide the body in a shallow grave…yeah, this would be the place.
The Prairie Rose apartments looked like they may have bloomed years ago, then were left to shrivel and die in the cold desert air. The black wrought-iron gate screeched loudly when I entered the courtyard, and I walked around a large pool that, in better days, may have been sparkling and turquoise, but it had been drained and was caked with dirt, the bottom littered with beer cans, broken glass, a tricycle, and a plastic lounge chair.
I left the bar at eight o’clock, picked up the Cadillac from the valet, and drove west into the black abyss of the Mojave Desert. The Caddy’s high beams pierced the night, and the narrow two-lane highway unfolded like a thin ribbon across the bleak terrain. My foot rested heavily on the pedal, barbed wire boundary fences raced past in a blur, and old wooden telephone poles flashed by every few seconds, like ancient signposts marking the only exit from an abandoned wasteland. The road turned north toward Death Valley, led over a modest rise then fell back, and I brought the Caddy up to 110.
As we came off the mountain and glided onto the desert floor outside of Carson City, a jackrabbit darted in front of the car so quickly that Edward didn’t have time to react. We ran straight over it.
“Jesus!” he exclaimed.
“Lookit that,” Cody said, his head turned to the back window. “Lucky bunny made it. Probably just singed his ears a little on the oil pan.”
I wondered if it was an omen.
She smiled, showing teeth that were a little too small for her mouth. But that didn’t distract me—she had smooth skin, long, shiny hair, and her outfit was the type that suggested she was proud of what she looked like when she took it off. The type of woman that made for good, idle, bar fantasies.
“Hi, I’m Joanna. Why don’t you and I go get naked?” she said.
“You’re so gorgeous I doubt I could afford you.”
She stuck out her lower lip in a mock frown and sat next to me. I smelled her perfume and felt her body’s warmth as she leaned toward me, putting her lips up to my ear.
“I’ll give you a blow job that will change your life,” she whispered.
“That’s certainly something to consider,” I said.
I knelt down and started talking to them one by one. They were definitely the B team. One woman had a body like a skinny man, her shoulder disfigured by the blurry remains of a tattoo that looked like it had survived a botched attempt at removal. Another was a pretty brunette with a tempting cleavage, but her hips and ass spread out massively. A third had a pleasant face but a vacant stare, and when she opened her mouth I saw she was missing a number of teeth. I talked to them all, and none had heard of Samantha Nunez.
“Christ, Dirt, get a load of the rack on Mandy,” Cody said once we were in my truck. “She looks like she’d be one hell of a good time. You got her number?”
“My advice would be to stay away from her,” I said. “She eats guys like you and me for lunch.”
Cody laughed as if I were kidding.
“Look, lady,” I sighed, “I’m not a vice cop. I don’t care what kind of business you run. But if you sent a girl there, she may have witnessed a man stabbed to death. That means she’s in danger. Am I getting through to you?”
“I don’t think it’s in my best interest to get involved,” she said.
“You’re involved whether you like it or not.”
“Hey, Samantha,” I said, stepping toward her. “Do you think you can hide out here and this thing’s gonna go away? If you’re an accessory, you’ll be a hell of a lot better off if you cooperate. Worst case, you can probably cut yourself a good deal with the DA, maybe–”
“Shut the fuck up,” she said.
He was in bad shape. The bullet had blown through him, leaving a gaping, sucking wound in his stomach. His guts pulsed, glistening, and blood drained steadily down his side into the dirt.
“I guess the joke’s on me,” he said, trying to smile.
His eyes were clouding over. He didn’t have long.
“You’re dying. It’s time to confess your sins,” I said, hoping I made a convincing priest.
“Gulp yump, motherfucker.” Before I could respond his head fell to the side, his eyes fixed and staring. I checked his pulse and found none. His lips were split in a small smile, as if he died laughing at his own joke.
“Nice last words,” I said.